“Tonight,” the motley fool declared, “the King will die!”
“Are you sure, Farago?” Gesphas had a merchant’s caution, a merchant’s waistline and a merchant’s gold. Only his heart was that of an assassin.
“He is.” Miklos spoke with the surety of the tested general he was. “My men will secure the royal guard’s barracks a half-hour before the midnight change-over. Then we’ll simply show up as the relief for the guards standing watch.”
“But the King will call for his wench long before then!” Gesphas said.
“True enough.” Lady Sophia, the final conspirator, spoke from behind her silken veil. “But it is no mere agent we’ll be introducing to Aquilonias’s bed chamber. I’ll go myself.” She raised a hand to forestall the merchant’s worried objection. “King Aquilonias doesn’t know my face, for all I’ve been in his court for half my life. I doubt he’d notice if he did, and if I’m wrong–well, it won’t be the first time some simpering court doxy’s gotten herself switched with the royal concubine.”
“Tonight, then,” Gesphas sighed.
“My liege.” Farago managed to grovel, cringe and leer simultaneously.
“Took long enough.” Aquilonias was a powerful man, hardened by years of battle and strife. If the decade he’d spent in luxury after taking the crown had softened him any, it didn’t show. A fur-lined robe of patterned silk fell open to reveal the iron muscles of a warrior, scarred in a dozen places. His iron grey hair was still cropped short, as if a helm were still its usual adornment, instead of a crown of gold and jewels.
Farago gave a capering bow. “I’ve brought you the fair Seraph, an exquisite dancer and courtesan recently received as a gift from–”
“Whatever,” the King growled. “You’ve brought her, fool. Now get out.”
Farago withdrew with a mincing grace, his usual expression of mocking laughter not at all in variance with the cruel glint in his eyes.
Gesphas sobbed in terror as a heavy wooden truncheon probed his backside, sending him stumbling into the doorway. His robes of heavy silk, normally a walking advertisement for the largest portion of his wares, were torn and filthy. The unkind touch of wood sent him stumbling forward again and a well-placed boot before his ankle had him sprawling onto his face, his hands fixed behind him with iron shackles.
The merchant landed in line with his co-conspirators, Farago’s motley garb stripped of its bells, his eyes blackened. Beyond the fool, Miklos knelt defiantly, his wrist shacked to his ankles, a dozen minor wounds bleeding as freely as the merchant’s nose once he’d managed to heave his bulk onto his knees. Before them, Aquilonias stood like a tiger.
Once his guard secured Gesphas, binding wrist to ankle with a stout thong, they withdrew, leaving the traitors alone with their King, who then smiled like a tiger as well.
“It’s not so easy, is it?” The king sneered. “To usurp a usurper? You idiots were undone before you began. Betrayed by your co-conspirator and my consort!”
From behind the throne came the Lady Sophia, still clad in the provocative wisps of a royal concubine at work. Despite her costume or its lack, she did not walk like a concubine. Instead she strode into the chamber like a queen.
The three condemned men gaped at her. Miklos spat.
“You stupid bitch!” the battered general roared. “You’ve sold us out for nothing! He’ll not share the throne with you–not with you or any other.”
“You should have poisoned him as we planned,” Farago added. “Your fate will be the same as if you’d tried and failed.”
The King’s smile never left his face as he shook his head, and Sophia’s joined it as she came beside him.
“Farago, you are well suited to be a fool, and you, Miklos, have taken one too many blows on the helm. Aquilonias did not make me his consort for exposing you.” Sophia turned her loving gaze to the king. “He made me his consort when I was fourteen, the first time I tumbled into a plot against him, and foiled it.” She looked again at the would-be usurpers. “I do thank you for the conjugal visit. They are so hard to arrange with this faÃ§ade.”
Brushing a hand lightly across her flat belly, exposed well below the navel, Sophia said, “Perhaps this time, I’ll finally conceive an heir.”
“Perhaps,” the King replied. “Perhaps it’s time you took your throne anyway. We could work on making that heir more frequently, then.”
Sophia smiled. “Perhaps.”
After helping to defeat the invasion of the Iguanamen in Yucatan, narrowly escaping the wrath of an Aztec mummy while vacationing in Mazatlan, and having survived being shipwrecked on a dinosaur-infested island in the South Seas, Michael D. Turner settled down into a quieter life working and writing in Colorado Springs with his wife of twenty-four years and their three sons.