Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Yalera the Brave - Chapter 7
Yalera had wanted to meet Prince Crispin's other women before she married him. Part of her thought that if she didn't get along with them, she might be able to call off the wedding after all. The rest of her knew that that was just not possible. In any case, there simply wasn't enough time to meet them.
So here she was on the morning of her wedding being prepared by her mother and sister. Her twin was also in the room since he was the only male – other than her father – that could be trusted to guard her at such a time. Well, the only one that her mother would agree to. Apparently, there were specially trained guards who wore blindfolds when their female charges were dressing. Prince Crispin had told her that she'd be assigned one after their marriage. In any case, Rohan sat out of the way stroking their cats.
Rolanna chattered on about how exciting it was for Yalera to be getting married, and how wonderful her own wedding had been. Yalera was grateful for her cheerfulness. It took her mind of her nervousness.
“Oh! You look so beautiful!” Rolanna exclaimed when Yalera was ready.
“I feel beautiful,” Yalera murmured, admiring herself in the mirror. Slowly, her nervousness was being replaced by excitement. “I still can't believe that in just a few short hours, I'll be a married woman!”
“I like being married,” Rolanna informed her with a smile. “No matter what you might have heard, the wedding night is not scary at all.”
Yalera chuckled wryly. “Well I wasn't scared about it until just now.”
Her mother sighed and shook her head. “Rolanna's right. So long as your husband has any regard for you, he'll make sure not to hurt you.”
“But... what if he doesn't? Have regard for me, that is. What if I am just another woman to him and he doesn't care if I'm hurt?” Yalera wondered.
Both Rolanna and their mother exchanged helpless looks before shrugging. “Well... if it comes to that, just do your best to relax and endure it,” Lady Yalena advised.
“The hell with that!” Rohan blurted out fiercely. He was blushing at the topic, but also felt this was too important to remain silent about. “If he hurts you, hurt him back! Also, you might want to remind him that he said he owed you for saving his life, and the least he could do is treat you well.”
“That's an excellent point!” Yalera exclaimed cheerfully. She walked over, and then bent to kiss her brother on the cheek. “You always know just what to say to make me feel better.”
Lady Yalena pulled Yalera aside, took a deep breath, and then looked at the ceiling. “You've seen your brother naked, so you know what to expect in that regard. Although I hope you haven't seen him in that state... Anyway, since you have been properly sheltered, you probably don't know much about what is going to happen. I think I should tell you what to expect so that you aren't too shocked.”
Yalera smiled at her mother. “Thank you for wanting to prepare me, but I've seen our livestock mate. I am pretty sure I can guess what will happen.”
“Oh thank the Gods!” Her mother muttered. “I wasn't very good at explaining this to Rolanna either!”
Rohan cleared his throat and looked away as he muttered. “That's probably why dad explained things to us...”
“Yeah,” Rolanna agreed with a small laugh. “He made us promise not to tell you, but he had an enlightening talk with both Yemry and me when we were younger, and it was a lot more informative than your talk was.”
Lady Yalena sighed in relief. “I wish he had told me that. I wouldn't have felt so terrible for not knowing what to say!”
In practically no time at all, Yalera was clutching her father's arm as they waited to walk down the aisle in the palace throne room. Contrary to expectation, there was no maid of honor or best man. Thus, Rolanna was already seated.
The music started playing, and then the doors opened. Yalera took a deep breath and plastered a smile on her face. The guests got to their feet and turned to look at her as she slowly walked forward.
Mixed in with all of those visiting from Rubidium were Nandians. It was strange to Yalera that most of the Nandian women in attendance wore veils. These were not veils designed to hide their faces, but rather sheer veils that seemed to have no real purpose other than to look pretty. However, Prince Crispin had already told her that she would be expected to wear one in public as a way to let others know that she belonged to the Royal Family and should not be looked at. This concept made no sense!
Pushing the subject of veils to the back of her mind, Yalera looked around at those she knew. Unexpectedly, Baethan caught her eye. He looked extremely frustrated about something. So much so that Yalera wondered if he was about to cry. She then noticed that he was standing more or less directly behind her sister, so she figured that he must wish that he could reach out and stroke her hair or something like that.
He caught her looking at him and quickly changed his expression to a goofy one. He even went so far as to stick just a bit of his tongue out at her. Rather than laugh loudly like she wanted, Yalera simply chuckled softly, grinned, and turned her attention to her groom.
Prince Crispin was looking at her as if he was mildly stunned by her beauty. He didn't seem nervous at all, yet he must be! They hadn't had any time at all to get to know one another!
From the moment that her hand was placed in her groom's, the ceremony was surprisingly short. They weren't asked to make any vows – as she expected – instead, they were blessed on behalf of the Gods for a couple of minutes, and then declared man and wife, which was sealed with a nerve-wracking kiss. She was asked to stand aside with her husband as the two Kings signed the peace treaty, and then the Priest beckoned them forward again.
This time, they were asked to kneel as a box was held out by an attendant. The Priest selected a sturdy gold circlet – which looked bold and manly – and then placed it on Prince Crispin's head. “I now declare you officially the Crown Prince in the eyes of the Gods. Please...” He gestured for Crispin to look into the box.
Prince Crispin nodded to indicate that he knew what was expected of him. He took hold of a solid gold circle about a half an inch wide. It was fairly flat and thin, and had a well crafted hinge so that it could be opened. Crispin placed it around Yalera's neck.
“This is the symbol that you belong to me. I'm told that in your Kingdom, a man gives his wife a ring. In my Kingdom, we give our wives collars...” he explained as he closed the collar and fastened it. Next, he placed a tiny golden lock through the clasp so that she couldn't take it off without his permission – slipping the key into his breast pocket. Lastly, he took a thick gold chain from the box and squeezed open the hook so that he could hook the chain to the collar. It dangled about a foot and a half before forming a loop.
Like a leash... Yalera thought with a numb feeling.
Satisfied, the priest grinned at her. “And now!” He took hold of the last item in the box – which was a delicate gold circlet that subtly matched Crispin's. It sat on a sheer veil which was carefully placed over her head, and then the circlet was pressed down over it. “I pronounce you the Crown Princess Consort in the eyes of our Gods.”
The crowd applauded them loudly enough as they stood and turned to face them that Yalera felt confident that no one would overhear her. She leaned closer to Crispin to whisper in his ear. “Why am I wearing a leash?”
Crispin chuckled and whispered in her ear. “Don't worry. Tomorrow, after we've consummated our marriage, you will place the leash around my neck where it will remain. This is a symbol that I belong to you as much as you belong to me.”
“Oh,” Yalera murmured.
“Come,” Prince Crispin tugged on her hand. “We're going to go wait for a few minutes while the guests move to the ballroom.”
“I see,” Yalera murmured, following him out the private entrance to the throne room. Select people – such as her parents and King Eric – would be allowed to wait with them, but the majority of the guests had to use the main entrance. Since there was quite a crowd, it would take them some time to relocate.
The Prince actually led his new wife into a small waiting room where they would have complete privacy before joining his father in the King's private waiting room. Crispin shut the door and silently looked at his wife for a few seconds. She was tempted to run her hands through her hair nervously, but resisted the urge.
“What?” She wondered.
“Just that we don't have to attend the banquet. If you are embarrassed or nauseous – or anything like that – we can go to my, I mean our apartment and try to relax,” Prince Crispin suggested.
Yalera laughed nervously. “Are you saying you want to skip straight to our wedding night?”
He chuckled with an impish grin. “No... Not unless that's what you want. It's just that my mother told me that sitting there in front of so many people she didn't know on her wedding day had been something of a minor nightmare, and I thought I might spare you from that.”
Yalera smiled at him. “Thank you for being so considerate... but I think I'll do just fine at the banquet.”
“If you're sure,” Prince Crispin murmured. Then, he placed a hand on her cheek. “Part of me was hoping that you would want to skip directly to our wedding night,” he whispered softly, and then kissed her.
Yalera didn't really know what to do, so she did nothing at all for a long moment, and then slowly placed her hands on his chest. When their kiss ended, they silently looked at each other. Yalera felt mildly panicked, but also hopeful that he would be a gentle husband.
“Before I forget,” Crispin stated with a smile. “Here's that Royal Decree I mentioned.” He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to her. “With this, you won't have to worry if one of your brothers touches you.”
“Thank you,” Yalera gushed in relief as she slipped the paper into her bodice. She was happy enough that she rewarded him with a kiss.
Prince Crispin took advantage of her goodwill and kissed her far more thoroughly than she was prepared for, but she found it fairly enjoyable nonetheless. After a few minutes of heavy kissing, Crispin pushed her slightly away.
“Oh Gods! If we keep this up, I'm going to carry you to our apartment and skip the banquet after all!” He announced.
Yalera giggled, but then shook her head. “I want to go to the banquet.”
“As you wish,” he responded in disappointment. A moment later, he took her hand in his and led her to the waiting room everyone else was in.
King Bruno boomed out a congratulations and beckoned them to come closer. “While we wait, I have decided to give my daughters a rare opportunity...”
Yalera placed her hand in her father in law's at his insistence. He grinned at her warmly. Just when she was starting to feel uncomfortable by his scrutiny, he gestured to a long screen lining one wall.
“In our Kingdom, any woman belonging to the Royal Family is considered sacred. They are not meant to be seen by ordinary people, and so they quite often remain in their quarters. Thus, my daughters haven't had a chance to congratulate their brother. His mother – as my wife and Queen – is allowed to do whatever she wants, but the rest of my women remain in seclusion with my daughters,” he paused to take a breath. His wife smiled at Yalera from her husband's side. She wore a veil and a crown along with her kindly aura.
“So long as every man here promises to not look at any of the women directly, I'll consider the rule maintained and let my women come greet you,” King Bruno stated, looking around to see that King Eric and all the men from Rubidium looked confused, but nodded in agreement. “Good!”
King Bruno paused before granting permission, staring at Yemry and Rohan. “You there! You two are Yalera's brothers, correct?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” they both murmured with a respectful bow.
“I'll make an exception for you two. If you're in the mood for a bride, feel free to choose one of my daughters. They can doubly cement this wondrous peace treaty!”
Yemry and Rohan exchanged a surprised look. Yemry cleared his throat. “Thank you for the generous offer. I might just take you up on that!”
“Good answer!” King Bruno roared in genuine delight. He clapped his hands. “Girls!”
As King Bruno was introducing the long line of women that emerged from behind the screen, Yalera noticed that the ones who were his lovers wore red veils while the ones who were his daughters wore blue veils. The lovers greeted them by saying: “Congratulations my Prince; my Princess,” as they curtseyed. Crispin's sisters greeted them by saying: “I'm so happy for you, brother!” Then they kissed Yalera on the cheek and added: “Welcome to the family.”
Yalera was more than a little astonished to realize that her husband had approximately 20 sisters! The oldest was about 25, and the youngest was only five or six. She held a small flower in one hand and her mother's hand in the other. Her mother was maybe 21!
“This is for you,” the youngest Princess murmured shyly as she handed the flower to Yalera.
“Aww,” Yalera purred as she accepted the flower. “Thank you!”
“My oldest is a little girl about the same age as her,” Prince Crispin whispered in Yalera's ear. “I'm so happy to see that you like children.”
Yalera was a little surprised since Crispin was only 21 or 22 himself, but since she had been warned that he had women and children, she wasn't too flustered. King Bruno didn't really give her a chance to respond.
“You'll meet my other sons at the banquet,” he assured her. He then turned his attention to Yemry. “Did any of my daughters catch your eye?”
Yemry blushed since he wasn't used to being in a position to look women over like they were mares on auction. Even so, he felt he should be honest as well as respectful. “Actually, yes. Your daughters are all very beautiful, but there is one in particular that I can't seem to stop staring at.”
King Bruno roared with laughter even as Lady Yalena muttered murderously under her breath. She was disappointed in her son since she thought she had taught him to know better. As for Ronin, he was impressed that his son had made such a major decision so quickly.
The thing was, Yemry had already been in talks with King Eric for a while and knew that the King wanted him to get married soon so he could start on a family. The only real problem was that none of the eligible ladies were quite the right fit for a cousin of the King. On the other hand, a Nandian Princess would be the perfect bride.
“Well out with it, my boy!” King Bruno roared. “Which one?!”
“The dark beauty off to the side,” Yemry stated, pointing to a girl who looked about 19 or 20. She was staring at Yemry with a sultry look that left little doubt that she liked what she saw. However, a good half of the King's daughters looked ready to mob Yemry and beg him to marry them.
“Marlena! Congratulations my dear!” King Bruno boomed as he beckoned her forward. As she walked to him, he turned to King Eric. “And what say you? Is she suitable to marry into your family?”
“Of course!” King Eric agreed, highly pleased with this turn of events.
King Bruno pointed at a guard. “Go summon the Priest before he gets too drunk to see straight!”
“Whoa, now?” Yemry gasped softly, gulping at the suddenness of the situation.
“Of course now,” King Bruno stated with a laugh. “You leave for home in a few days and I cannot in good conscious allow my daughter to go with you if she's not properly your wife!”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Yemry murmured, sending another – still very interested – look at his sudden bride to be.
King Bruno grinned even wider as he turned his attention to Rohan. “And what about you, my boy?”
“Uh...” Rohan droned on for a moment, not sure how to answer that. He looked to the floor with a bright red face.
“Oh! Pick me!” Three girls who were either 16 or 17 exclaimed, rushing to kneel before him. “Please pick me!”
Rohan took a step back, looking almost aghast. What do I do?
Yalera giggled. Pick one, I suppose.
I can't do that! Rohan insisted, shaking his head.
Then politely explain that to the King, Yalera suggested with a shrug.
Rohan took a deep breath and sighed. “I... I'm not ready to get married...”
“No one is ever truly ready,” King Bruno informed him sagely.
The three girls dared to tug on the bottom hem of his shirt. “Please...” they begged.
“I can't marry all three of you!” He blurted out, holding his hands up helplessly.
“Then pick one,” King Bruno insisted with a grin. His expression let everyone know that he fully understood how funny it was to have three beautiful Princesses begging to marry a young man who wasn't expecting to get married so suddenly.
Do you like any of them? Yalera wondered. Rohan blushed and cast her a sharp glance.
Well yes, but...
Which one? Yalera wondered.
What does that matter? What would I do with a wife? Rohan asked.
Yalera held her hands up in a sort of large W, giggling softly again. She would help you run our estate, and you could eventually have children.
Rohan bit his lip and considered this. That wouldn't be so bad...
King Bruno wasn't the only one watching this silent exchange with interest. He turned to Yalera. “How far apart can you two be and still talk to each other like that?”
Yalera shrugged. “We've only ever tried it when we were together but not able to talk out loud, for whatever reason.”
Rohan sighed in defeat before anyone could say anything else. “I... I suppose...” He held his hand out to the girl on the right. She was short and plump with long wavy blonde hair and blue eyes. She also knew better than to take his hand or let him touch her without her father's permission. Even so, she inhaled a gasp of wonder.
“Me?!” She had honestly assumed that he would choose her taller sister who was thin with wildly curly red hair and adorable freckles all over her face.
Rohan shrugged. “There's just something about you... It's like an aura...”
“Wonderful!” King Bruno exclaimed. “Hannah, come stand next to Marlena.”
Lady Yalena whispered to her husband. “Are we really going to let both our boys get married so suddenly?”
Ronin shrugged. “How is this any different than Yalera getting married? An arranged marriage is an arranged marriage whether the couple has a lot of time get used to the idea or not.”
King Eric overheard their soft conversation and turned to add his two cents. “Besides, I like this marriage for Yemry. It solves a lot of the problems I was having finding him a suitable bride. Rohan may be a bit young, but it's a good marriage for him as well.”
“That's true,” Lady Yalena agreed with a frustrated sigh. The only real problem she had was that the marriage was being thrust on them so suddenly. Even so, she understood that they were at least lucky enough to choose their brides. Most arranged marriages – like Yalera's – happened between couples that hadn't really met before the wedding, thus she had no real reason to object.
The Priest entered the room. “I was summoned?” He inquired with a lightly slurred voice.
“You have two more weddings to perform,” King Bruno informed him joyously.
“Excellent!” The Priest exclaimed. He looked around to find that a servant rushed into the room holding a box. With a grin, he beckoned to the the two he assumed were the brides since they were standing next to the King. “And where are the grooms?”
Yemry cleared his throat nervously before stepping forward, and Rohan took a very deep breath. He held it for a moment, then exhaled slowly as he walked over to the Priest. The Priest scrutinized them both for a moment. He thought Rohan a bit too young, but shrugged a moment later.
“Take your bride's hand in yours,” he advised them both. Yemry took Marlena's with a soft smile. Rohan took Hannah's with a shaky hand and another deep breath. Very quickly, the Priest recited the blessing, then he gestured toward the proffered box. The servant promptly opened it. “Take a collar...”
“Can't we just give them rings when we get home?” Yemry wondered with a frown.
“If you wish,” King Bruno stated with a shrug. “But for now, please...” He gestured toward to box.
With a shrug, Yemry took one of the collars. This one was made out of gold as well, but it was only about a quarter of an inch wide – as opposed to the half inch wide one that Yalera wore. He was a bit shocked to discover that he had to actually unlock the tiny gold lock before he could open the collar. As he did this, King Bruno explained things to him.
“This golden collar indicates that she is a member of the Royal Family. Thus, even though she will no longer bear the title of Princess, all will know that she has Royal Blood in her veins. That is why it's my gift to you both.”
“Oh...” Yemry murmured in both understanding and confusion. He placed the collar around his bride's neck, and then blushed redder than he thought possible when he had to put the tiny lock in place.
“The leash is the symbol of your devotion to her,” King Bruno explained as he firmly gestured for Yemry to continue. “For today only, you will place it on her collar, but after tonight, she will place it around your neck and you will wear it always – much like the rings in your Kingdom – to tell the world that you are a devoted husband to your wife.”
Yemry cast a startled glance at the King. He hadn't understood this at all! He thought that the whole thing was a dominance gesture meant to proclaim that he literally owned her, or something like that. King Bruno pulled the chain around his own neck out from beneath his clothes.
“You see, even I wear one.”
“Oh,” Yemry murmured, feeling a little better. He opened the hook before fastening it into place.
Rohan repeated his brother's actions, also blushing at the implications of a collar and chain. The moment he was done, King Bruno boomed out a congratulations, and then announced that it was high time that they joined the banquet.
Baethan paced anxiously as he waited for his best friend and everyone else to finally enter the ballroom. The banquet was technically not able to commence until the King gave permission. Thus, most people were sitting around chattering as they wondered what was taking so long.
Baethan was having a hard time accepting the fact that Yalera was really married now. He hadn't been around for Rolanna's wedding, and he hadn't fancied himself in love with her until after she'd been married for a couple of months. Thus, watching a woman he was pretty sure he loved marry another man was a new experience for him. And to be honest, it hurt a lot more than he thought it would!
When the King's private entrance opened, Baethan stood off to the side. He hoped to get a few words in with Yemry before they had to sit down to eat. In a matter of seconds, he completely forgot everything he wanted to say! Right behind Yalera and her husband walked both Yemry and Rohan... holding the hands of women who wore collars like Yalera now did.
“No...” Baethan exhaled softly in shock.
King Bruno addressed the assembly a moment later. “My dear guests... We are triply blessed today since two of my beloved daughters are now married to Princess Yalera's brothers!”
Baethan was floored and nearly tripped over nothing in his shock. He quickly located a seat with the rest of the soldiers from Rubidium, and slumped into it before he could faint. They all looked just as incredulous as Baethan!
The first part of the banquet was fairly formal. The brides and grooms ate at the table on the dais with their families. Light and airy music was played to enhance the mood, but dancing was not in the plans.
Eventually, Yemry was allowed to bring his new bride to sit with his soldiers, and so was Rohan. Except that Rohan preferred to sit at an out of the way table that no longer had people sitting there. He smiled at his wife, finally feeling like he had a chance to talk to her.
“So... Why did you want to marry me?” Rohan asked.
“I'm ready to be married,” she stated with a smile and a shrug. “None of my sisters are – you know? Not even the oldest. Most girls in the Kingdom are married and maybe even have a baby on the way by the time they're my age. I figured that if my father was giving his permission, I'd jump at the chance.”
“And why didn't your father find you all suitable husbands already?” Rohan wondered curiously.
Hannah shrugged. “Probably because picking 12 men – that how many of us are old enough to marry – anyway, picking 12 perfectly suitable men to marry us is a lot harder than if he had to pick just one or two men.”
Rohan looked down with a sense of dread. “You were raised a Princess, you're not going to know how to help me run our estate.”
“I'll learn, I promise!” Hannah vowed earnestly. “I would gladly work a pig farm if it meant that I'd be free to go outside and enjoy the sun whenever I wanted!”
“They keep assuring Yalera that she'd be free, but you make it sound like you've been locked in a cage,” Rohan muttered darkly.
“Oh she will be – more or less. She's the Crown Princess now, so she can do a lot of things we can't. As our father explained, we're considered sacred, and so should not be looked at by anyone. Especially men! Especially not handsome men...” Hannah purred this last bit with a flirty smile. She rested her hand on Rohan's chest. “My father rushed us out here before we could even perform the traditional kiss...”
“Uh...” Rohan droned hesitantly. He blushed so red that he'd swear that he could feel it all the way down to his toes!
Hannah kissed him before he could do anything. “Oh wow...” she whispered reverently. “That's a lot more interesting than I thought it be...”
“Yeah...” Rohan whispered in return. He was suddenly nervous and excited. “A-a-are you, um... interested in staying at the banquet a while longer?”
She shook her head. “Not at all!”
“I am pretty sure that now that Yalera is married, the room we shared is all mine now. Do... Do... Do you...” Rohan cleared his throat, frustrated that he couldn't say it out loud.
Hannah giggled, instantly understanding what he was trying to ask. “Yes... I do...”
Rohan took her by the hand and stood up. “Come on.” They both felt inexplicably guilty as they snuck out of the ballroom, but no one could stop them even if they wanted to. The two of them were married after all.
Meanwhile, Yemry held onto one of Marlena's hands as he explained the situation to Baethan. Baethan was still having a hard time wrapping his head around the news. He kept looking back and forth between Yemry and Marlena.
Yemry laughed and whispered into Marlena's ear. “Baethan's never speechless!”
“Well can you blame me?!” Baethan burst out. “This might well be the very last thing I expected to happen today!”
“I understand!” Yemry stated with a chuckle. “I wasn't expecting it myself!”
Their fellow soldiers repeatedly offered their congratulations and mugs of ale. Yemry tried to only drink a little, but they kept insisting that he drink more and more.
“Where did Rohan go, I wonder?” Yemry asked a little while later.
“He and my sister snuck off a while ago,” Marlena informed her husband with a giggle.
“Seriously?!” Yemry roared in astonishment. “I didn't expect him to warm up to the idea for several more hours at least!”
“How did that happen anyway?” Baethan asked. “Rohan getting married, I mean?”
Yemry snorted in amusement. “Well, when the King offered us a choice of his daughters, I was interested because I've been thinking about getting married soon anyway.”
Baethan nodded because this topic had come up before, even though he had assumed that it was still a vague and distant future thing.
Yemry continued with a wry grin. “But Rohan practically panicked! When those three adorable Princesses got onto their knees before him and begged him to marry them, I thought for sure that he was going to either have a heart attack or vomit!”
“I did too,” Marlena confessed in a giggle.
“Son of a!” Baethan swore incredulously. “He had three Princesses beg to marry him?!”
“Yep!” Yemry confirmed, laughing at the look on Baethan's face. He downed the last of the ale in the cup he was holding, and then looked at his new wife. “So...”
“Yes!” She blurted out before he could even ask the question.
Yemry was surprised. “Really?”
“I've been longing to get married for years,” she informed him. “Believe me, I'm ready!”
“Alright then,” Yemry agreed happily. He stood and held out his hand to her. Just as she giggled and slipped her hand in his, Yalera shocked everyone in the ballroom by screaming.
“Crispin??? Crispin?!” She shook his shoulders as his head rolled around on the table.
King Bruno leapt to his feet in concern. “Son?!”
Yalera was crying as she shook him again. “Wake up!”
“What happened?!” King Bruno demanded.
“I don't know!” Yalera wailed. “He was eating... drinking some wine... And then he just fell over!” She looked over to where a servant had been standing, but the servant was no longer there. Yalera assumed that he was merely trying to stay out of the way, and didn't really give him a second thought.
King Bruno also shook his son, being rough enough that he actually lifted Crispin's shoulders off the table and sat him up. Crispin's eyes gazed unseeingly at the room in front of him. Yalera gasped in shock, then covered her mouth and looked away. Cries erupted from her.
“Who did this?!” King Bruno roared in outrage and grief. He didn't need the Court Physician to tell him a moment later that the Prince was dead. It was obvious to anyone who looked at him.
The Physician looked at the goblet of spilled wine and focused on Yalera. “Was this the last thing he consumed?”
Yalera nodded. “We had both just gotten a refill. The moment the servant stepped back, Crispin lifted his cup to salute me, and then drank at least half of it in one gulp. A moment after he set the cup down, he...” Yalera started crying even harder, making it difficult to speak.
“And you?” The Physician asked as he dipped a finger in her goblet. He tasted it, a frown puckering his face before he spit the little bit out.
“I was still too nervous,” Yalera finally explained. Focusing on remembering things helped calm her just a little. “I haven't eaten or drank much of anything at all.”
“Why not?” The Physician wondered curiously.
“Crispin kept kissing me, and the more he did, the more I got nervous about what will happen... was supposed to happen tonight!” Yalera confessed, and then gave into her crying once more.
“Ah,” the Physician stated, understanding that the event was often considered terrifying to a young woman. “Well, it's lucky you didn't drink any of this wine... It was poisoned.”
Yalera gasped and turned around in her chair to look for the servant. He was nowhere to be found. She pointed to where he had been standing. “I think it was him!”
“What?” King Bruno demanded.
“The servant. When he poured our wine, I looked up at him briefly. He had the appearance of an old man, but I'd swear I'd seen him before,” Yalera explained. “I think it was Prince Hugh!”
“Search the palace!” King Bruno shouted.
The Captain of the palace guard saluted. “Already on it, Sire!”
The banquet was officially disbanded. Everyone was sent to their quarters. As they left, guards searched them to be sure that they weren't the rogue Prince in disguise.
Time passed strangely for Yalera. She moved beyond teary grief to a sort of numb acceptance. She held onto Crispin's hand, not knowing what else to do. She wished that she had recognized Hugh the moment she saw him!
About a half an hour later, the palace guards dragged a body into the ballroom, where the King and those he deemed most important were still waiting for news. By this time, most of the guests had cleared the guards and left. King Bruno looked at the body carefully.
“Sire,” the Guard Captain murmured respectfully. “It's confirmed. A man dressed as an old man was spotted and killed resisting capture...” He removed the wig and lifted the man's face for inspection.
“Hugh...” King Bruno whispered. His heart was heavy with grief – not just for his beloved Heir, but additionally for his oldest and also well loved son. Both were now dead because Hugh could not accept the fact that he simply wasn't suited to rule the Kingdom.
Yalera sensed that this lost grieved the King every bit as much as Crispin's had. In sympathy, she placed a hand on the King's arm. “I'm sorry...”
He took comfort in her genuinely kind compassion, pulling her into a hug. When he finally released her several long and uncomfortable (for her) moments later, he sighed. “Now what?”
“Now what?” Yalera parroted in confusion.
“Now what am I supposed to do with you?” King Bruno whispered, biting his lip in thought.
Yalera inhaled in shock and a sudden sense of dread. He took pity on her, returning her kindness with kindness of his own. “Don't worry, I'll honor the treaty...” With a regal wave of his hand, he dismissed her.