“This way, sir.”
The serving girl’s voice was tremulous as she led the man into a great banquet hall with high ceilings.
What illumination there was came from ensconced torches, but the fires seemed subdued, intimidated, as they made a futile attempt to eradicate the shadows pulsing in their wavering light.
On the dais were the thrones, and on the thrones were the dead king and queen, bedecked in their finest, cold as the fires were hot, and dead as the silence that permeated the place.
Their mouths and eyes were blood filled, their mouths in rictuses, as if they’d just eaten raw lemons.
Overall, the effect was one of scary clowns.
Their crowns reflected amber flares from the torch fires.
As they entered, the serving girl began to cry anew, and turned and ran, leaving the stranger alone to contemplate the bizarre tableau before him.
He looked at them a long moment, and was about to step closer, when to his right, two people entered and stepped up onto the dais.
A boy, and a girl, both finely bedecked as well.
They stopped before the dead couple, and bent to look at their faces.
Reaching out their hands, they touched the wrists to search for signs of life that long departed.
Satisfied there were none, the girl straightened first, and saw him, and touched the boy on the shoulder; he still preoccupied with the king’s face, straightened at her touch and saw her pointing.
They both looked at him with calm curiosity, as if he had a familiar face but they’d forgotten his name.
“Who are you,” the boy said.
“I am Trace.”
“What do you want here, Trace?” the girl asked.
“I’ve come to see who killed the king and queen. Are you their children?”
“We are,” said the boy.
“You don’t seem to be grieving.”
“We’re not,” said the girl. “They were awful to us.”
“And now you stand to inherit their thrones. Did you kill them for that?”
The boy stepped off the dais, the girl trailing, as they approached him, and stopped some five feet away.
“We have no intention of occupying the thrones of the dead; we’re leaving.”
“None of your concern,” the girl said.
“May I ask your names?”
“You may,” she said, “but we won’t answer you.”
“You’re here to investigate the deaths of our parents, and you don’t know our names?” the boy said.
“This is not my homeland,” Trace said.
The boy looked at the girl, and she nodded. “I don’t suppose there’s harm in it.”
“I am Kihari,” the boy said.
Trace looked past them at the thrones with their occupants.
“I would say it’s a pleasure, but given the circumstances…”
Anjallay looked at them too. “Yes, the circumstances.”
“We’ll leave you to it, Trace. We’ll send the servants in to clean up when you’re done.”
“Where can I find you?”
“We’ll find you,” Kihari said. “Let’s go, Anjallay.”
Anjallay took Kihari’s arm, and turned to smile at Trace as they walked past, and out of the banquet hall.
Trace walked up the dais, walked behind the thrones, placed his right on the king’s, his left on the queen’s, and whispered his spell in the dark.
Everyone was in high spirits; laughter, dancing, drunkenness, gluttony, groping under skirts, rubbing of raised crotches, moans and grunts from dark corners, and over it all, the light hearted music from musicians who large eyes betrayed they were fearful of the chaos around them, but dared not play badly for fear of the king’s displeasure.
A servant girl approached, buxom and golden haired, and the king’s eyes roamed over her as if she were a fertile field, which in his mind, she was.
The queen looked her daggers and ice at him, but he ignored her.
The dark wine shimmered in gleaming crystal glasses, and the queen took hers and poured it over the girl’s head.
The king’s eyes followed the rivulets wine running down into her cleavage.
She blinked, and though her face twitched to blubber, she dared not under the queen’s murderous glare; she curtsied, whispered, “Your majesties,” and quickly walked away.
“That wasn’t necessary, Milal.”
“As was your undressing her with your eyes, my ‘lord.’”
He turned to her, reached for her hand.
“You know it is you, and only you, that I truly love.”
She did not take his, and kept her eyes on the dance floor.
“I grow bored,” she said, and rose to leave, and could not.
Her eyes grew large, as she tried again, and barely managed to lift the folds of her gown.
“Is something wrong, dear?”
“I can’t get up…my legs…Natay, I can’t move my legs…”
Natay went to stand up to call out for an attendant, and found he couldn’t stand either.
“What’s happening?” He looked out over the floor, and the people, obsessed in their festivities, were oblivious.
He went to shout, and his throat seized, as if a giant had him by the throat.
He tried to turn his neck, but could not; from the corner of his eyes, he looked at Milal, and she was convulsing, her fingernails scraping, hands shaking as she trembled.
Her eyes began to bleed, and she went still, her hands going slack, fingers loose, and a pool of blood filled her mouth and bearded her chin, spilling in rivulets down the elegant gown.
Natay’s own eyes were growing dim, but unlike her, he didn’t convulse; a massive jolt of pain hit his chest, as if a giant had stepped on his exposed heart; his eyes and mouth spurted red liquid, and he gurgled and moaned, and his death rattle was loud on his trembling lips, which finally grew still.
A scream ripped through the hall, loud and long and high, and as everyone turned to see the screamer, she pointed at the dais.
At first there was a ripple of laughter, mixed with some confusion, wondering if the royal couple was playing a joke.
An older nobleman called for the physician; he arrived quickly, his bag in his hand.
“You won’t be needing that,” the nobleman said, close to his ear.
The hall was quiet, except for the crackling torch flames.
The physician approached dais, his eyes searching, but his voice fearful, low so only they would hear his reprimand.
“If this is a jest, majesties, it is done in poor taste at the expense of your guests.”
He touched them both, and quickly drew back his hands.
Turning, his face pale, his voice thick with sadness and anger, he said, “Call the guard. The majesties are dead, murdered on their thrones.”
Amid screams and cries, the guards entered and cleared the room; it took a long time, but eventually, the hall was empty except for the physician and the Captain of the Guard.
“What should we do, doctor?”
“I know a man who can help; he’s in the next town. He will come tonight, if paid well. Send a messenger to get him.
“His name is Trace. He is a mage, and he will tell us who did this.”
“The king forbade magic.”
The doctor sighed. “He is not a position to refuse, and beyond wellness, Captain. I seek his murderer,” then he gestured, taking in the queen. “Their murderer.
“Send the messenger.”
The captain nodded, and they walked out together into the hall, where two guards with severe faces, pinched from the fear of things beyond their ability to see or control, kept vigil over the dead.
“And Captain, send him to me when he arrives.”
“I will, doctor.”
They parted in opposite directions.
Trace took his hands off the backs of the thrones.
His palms were crisscrossed with keloidal scars that receded back to smooth flesh even as he looked at them; they always plagued him during a tracing.
The weakness he felt in his legs was dissipating, and he pushed himself away, not having realized he leant against the large, high backing for support.
The blonde serving girl was the only one who’d approached the dais in the time before the poisoning, but the queen did not drink her wine, yet was still struck, and struck first, by whatever spell had killed them.
It was a place to start, and Trace went to inquire of her whereabouts.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015