The shadows slanted, dousing the chamber into darkness. I sat alone, in the recessed corner of my boudoir, slumped like a rag doll.
“No, no, no.” I whispered a fervent hymn, holding my frail body together. I gripped the vial of yew extract, obtained so dearly with a slew of lies and a bagful of coins. Bringing it to my quivering lips, I scrunched my eyes closed, awaiting a swift end.
“No!” A scream echoed through the empty chamber, dislodged from my own core.
I cannot take two lives. One, so innocent.
“There must be a way. I must find a way.” Strangled words bubbled up as I rocked my body, succumbing to a fitful sleep.
I cannot take two lives. Can I?
*A few nights later*
Ripe, swollen, sweet.
The berry juice trickled down, soaking my parched lips, slaking my thirst, and settling my frayed nerves. I pinched my cheeks to bring some color to my pale visage. The sickness had taken more than some weight.
Adjusting the ruby that rested on my bosom, I dabbed a few drops of pressed rose water at the delicate curve of my nape.
My heart beat a furious crescendo as the moment of truth beckoned. Dressed in a gown of a deep burgundy, snugly tugged together with boned stays, I pulled a few curls loose, framing my face.
Satisfied, I left my chamber and ambled around the winding corridor to the solar. The candles flickered in their sconces, casting eerie shadows.
One shadow followed me from afar. I halted outside the large double doors of the solar. The guards remained at attention, paying no heed to my late visit. They were trained to ignore worse. The wooden doors could never contain the screams, cries, and sadistic jeers.
I shuddered at the memories of those dreadful nights. With a bolstering breath, I entered the solar.
“My King!” I curtsied deeply.
He turned around and a waft of unwashed body and liquor hit me, making me gag.
King George – a noble ruler, cunning diplomat, dauntless warrior and…a ruthless husband, walked languidly towards me. With an unceremonious haul, he crushed his lips on mine, mauling and bruising every inch of me. I barely managed to tamp down the rising bile, biding my time.
“My King,” I gently halted his assault, “May I have your ear, but for a moment?”
He relented begrudgingly, fussing with the ties of his robe.
I felt another presence, moving stealthily behind the heavy curtains.
“You are going to be a father. I’m with a child.” The words stumbled out and I held my breath, awaiting his response.
But my world tilted, and I felt my lip split with the resounding blow of his heavy hand. I braced my hands to break the fall, crumpling into a heap of shame and trepidation.
He knew! But how?
“That is no child of mine, you harlot!” His face turned puce with anger as he pulled me up with my hair.
“You dare to bring shame to our House by passing off a low-blood bastard as my son.” He thundered.
“Don’t say thus, believe me…” But I couldn’t complete my words as another hard slap sent me sprawling. He was upon me, with the fury of a mad bull and the strength of ten.
This was not going according to the plan. But I had one last move to make. As I reached for the object hidden within the folds of my gown, a dark, towering presence emerged from the shadows.
The King was momentarily distracted by the sudden arrival of his Royal Guard.
“Marcus, it’s you! Tie this wench and throw her in the darkest dungeon.” He slurred, moving unsteadily. Marcus’ dark gaze scanned me for injuries, imperceptibly halting at my middle.
Before either of them could move, I unsheathed the dagger and plunged it deep into Henry’s heart. He roared with pain and shock, twisting and collapsing with a heavy thud. In a blurred moment, Marcus snatched the dagger, holding it firmly in his hands, as the guards rushed in.
Their faces registered the shock and horror, taking in the macabre tableau before them – their King lying lifeless, the Queen drenched in his blood and the Royal Guard holding the weapon in his hands.
Without a thought, they tackled Marcus slicing him open with their swords.
His eyes met mine, just before his life was snuffed out.
I slumped over the crimson-streaked floor, rivulets of blood seeping through my hair. Two lives were lost that night – one, my husband and other, the father of my child.
An inhumane cry tore out as I laid a bloody hand over my womb.
We shall survive, my love!
*Present – 18 years later*
You kneel before the assemblage, rheumy eyes affixed upon the grimy soil, soaked with your tears and sweat.
Feeling faint, as the heat of the boiling sun and countless eyes crawl over your bowed head, like a flaming tongue.
The sound of a blade being sharpened pierces your senses. Your tattered body shivers involuntarily, seeking one last look from him.
Your son – the King!
Every sin committed was to ensure he lived and claimed the throne with you beside him.
Seeking absolution, you remember that fateful night when blood ran deeper than river.
You didn’t have to kill your husband.
Oh, but you had to!
He would’ve never accepted your child as his own. He knew, so did you, that an old hunting accident had maimed his ability to sire any kids.
And Marcus…ferocious, kind-hearted, blinded by his love for you. You made sure he was there, to swoop in and save you. A worthy gambit, after all, he was just a pawn in a greater game.
You left no loose ends. None stood between you and the power the throne promised.
Now, YOU are a loose end – the last one, for your son.
The Queen must fall for the King to remain standing.
You look up at him one last time, sensing the broad-sword being raised over your head.
His dark gaze meets yours, just as the blade slices through.