Home > The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(12)

The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(12)
Author: G.A. Aiken

And yet, even though her hair blew back a bit from his explosion, the queen did not flinch. She never flinched. Agathon was beginning to believe she was incapable of flinching.

“First,” she said calmly, “I’d ask that you explain to me what you’re talking about.”

The king began to pace around the bedroom while Agathon pushed himself into a corner to avoid the king’s wrath.

“You’re having monks killed? Nuns? Mages? Witches?” the king finally demanded. “Monasteries and churches burned? Their treasures stolen?”

Agathon couldn’t help but gawk at the queen. Could she have been so reckless? So crazed? She was bold, it was true. Especially when it came to waging war. And the king, out of fear, gave her more leeway than any king had ever given his queen. But to toy with the gods in such a manner? To kill their earthly representatives?

Beatrix said nothing until the king again faced her and yelled, “Well? Answer me!”

The queen studied her husband for several long moments, but it wasn’t to craft an answer. She never did that. She was boldly direct. To the point of recklessness, in Agathon’s opinion.

No. Beatrix was analyzing.

“I never did any of that,” she finally informed the king.

His eyebrows went up in surprise. “You didn’t?”

“No. Would it have benefited us, if I had?”

“No!”

“Just checking.”

The king began to pace again. “If not you then . . . your sister?”

The queen suddenly laughed. It was such a surprising sound, coming from her, of all beings, that both Agathon and the king froze and looked at her. Almost as if they were wary deer that had just heard a branch crack in the forest.

“My sister?” the queen said, still laughing. She waved her hand. “That’s a good one.” Her laughter died away. “No. Not Keeley. Never Keeley. If she knows about any of this, I’m sure she’s running around attempting to fix it.”

“Disgusted by such an affront to the gods?” the king asked.

“More like appalled by the harm to all the innocent people,” she said with an eye roll of annoyance. “My sister, always attempting to save the world.

“Of course,” the queen continued, “if it wasn’t us and it wasn’t Keeley . . . who was it?”

The angry redness that had covered the king’s face drained, leaving him looking pale and afraid.

“Oh, gods,” he groaned.

“What?” She looked back and forth between the king and Agathon. “The twins?” she suggested. “They must need gold and silver for their pathetic little army. I heard they’re losing men every day.”

When her gaze rested on Agathon, he could only shake his head.

“Then who?”

“Cyrus,” the king replied before he dropped into a chair, resting his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

“Cyrus the Honored? The one who didn’t kill any of the Old King’s wives? Or any of his half brothers? The one that half your father’s army left with as soon as the old bastard died? He’s killing your precious monks and priests? Destroying their temples?”

The king leaned back in the chair until his head could rest on the wall behind him.

“My precious brother earned his name because he followed a strict code of honor. He never wavered from it. Everything he did was in the name of his one god. Or, as he called it, his one true god.”

“Who only worships one god?”

“My brother. Some cult his mother belonged to. She infected him with that stupidity. But her son took the teachings many steps further. He has a strong code, but living under that code, he made my father look like a soft, fluffy bunny.”

The queen glanced at Agathon and he gave a small nod, letting her know that her husband’s words were true. Agathon had attempted to flee with Cyrus’s army when the Old King died but he’d been unable to get out of the castle. He believed he could pretend to worship any god Cyrus wanted him to, and Cyrus wasn’t actively attempting to kill the Old King’s direct bloodline . . . unlike Marius. Besides, Agathon had had no other choices. The twins were as volatile as Marius, and traveling on his own would only make Agathon a ready victim for any thieves on the road.

But now that the restraint of the Old King had been lifted from Cyrus, Agathon wondered if something truly terrible had been unleashed in Marius’s half brother.

“All this time,” the king continued, “when we didn’t hear much from my brother, I thought maybe he’d found another territory to focus on. Now I think maybe he’s preparing to come after the crown. We’re going to have to worry about him and your sister.”

Instead of appearing worried, though, the queen smiled. And, gods love him, the king looked as Agathon felt. Panicked.

Because of that smile.

It wasn’t something she did. She had a fake smile she used on the royals who visited but it was only to placate those who provided soldiers and gold. Her true smile, she kept to herself. But on those very rare occasions when she did unleash it, the recipient was unsettled.

And both Agathon and the king . . . they were unsettled.

They both leaned away from her as she raised her forefinger and waved it with that smile on her face.

“This is perfect.”

“How?” the king asked. “How is this perfect?”

“First, we send out troops under your seal, inviting all monks, priests, nuns, witches, whatever, to our castle and grounds for their protection.”

“Uhhhh, my lady . . .” Agathon regretfully interrupted.

But Beatrix only had to look at him once and roll her eyes, before she amended, “Fine. Send it under my seal if it will make them feel safer.”

“You have a seal?” the king asked.

“Of course I have a seal.”

“I never gave you a seal.”

“Can I finish?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. “We bring them here, we give them all sanctuary. Now, my sister has probably already started this process because I’m sure she’s just soooo upset about the killings.”

The king frowned at her flippant tone.

“Is . . . is she going to slaughter them all once she has them in her clutches or something?”

“Oh, no! She’ll absolutely give them protection. Trust me, I know my sister. She is very upset about all this.”

“But you don’t care.”

“I don’t care at all.”

“Then why are we doing it?”

“Because this puts religious orders and their gods in our debt. Make sure you get as many war monk orders as you can, Agathon.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“You know what else?” she asked the king.

“Other than that you’re incredibly disturbing?”

“Yes, other than that.”

“What?”

“My sister, warrior for good that she is, can’t stay away from a fight. If Cyrus is killing innocents, Keeley won’t stop until she destroys him.”

“Cyrus will destroy her first.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Beatrix said with a laugh. “That’s the beauty. It doesn’t matter if she kills him, he kills her, or they kill each other. When it’s all over . . .” She shrugged. “We destroy what’s left and take the crown. We take it all.”

“You mean I destroy what’s left and take the crown. I take it all. Right?”

There was that smile again. And it spread across her face like leprosy across an infected body.

“Absolutely.”

The queen turned away from them and walked to the window she’d been staring out when the king first stormed in.

“Get to work, Agathon,” Beatrix tossed over her shoulder, her gaze once again focused outside; her mind furiously working on her future plans. “There’s much to be done and so little time. Dear Cyrus the Honored seems to have a calling from his god.”

CHAPTER 5

Her head was dragged up from the ground while blood poured onto the cobblestones. She was grabbed by both arms and lifted to her knees. She was too weak to fight. Too weak to speak. Too weak even to cry. Carried to the stake to join her already burning brothers. Flames surrounded her; her screams joined the others. And her loyal gods were no longer by her side. Her betrayal too great. They would never forgive her; never accept her into their halls.

Forever she would be known as the Great Betrayer and there was nothing she would be able to do about it. Except scream while she burned . . .

But one of the soldiers grabbed her, pulled her from the flames. He shook her.

“Gemma!” he screamed at her. “Gemma!” She punched at him. She would burn with her brothers. She would not be a slave to those who would kill those loyal to their gods.

“Gemma!” he called again, continuing to shake her.

She decided to fight him, even though she was covered in flames and blood and stank of betrayal.

Gemma wrapped her right arm around his throat and swung her body onto his back. She wrapped her legs around his waist and placed her left arm against her right so he couldn’t break her hold. Then she tightened her grip. If she took only one more enemy with her, it would be this one. She would take this one to honor the god she had deserted. He would be her sacrifice. It might not get her into Morthwyl’s hallowed halls but at least she could wander the valleys of his hells with her head held high.

The soldier no longer called her name, too busy gasping for air and desperately attempting to drag her arms off his neck.

But then Gemma was growing, expanding.

Gods! Morthwyl was making her a giant! She grew and grew, reaching amazing heights! Standing tall!

Then she saw . . . antlers? Why did she see antlers? Did she have antlers? Did she have antlers instead of a face? Would Morthwyl have done something so cruel?

No! No! She didn’t want antlers for a face!

She immediately slapped her hands to her face, rubbing her fingers over the flesh, ready to rip off any antlers she might feel where skin should be. But she felt nothing but human flesh. As she continued her examination, the world beneath her shook and jerked and Gemma went flying. Away from the flames. Away from the persecution. Away from the evil soldiers and her burning brothers and into a wall that didn’t move.

   
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