Another chapter for The Vulture (provisional title), and another POV character.
Hope you like it.
‘The stupid fool!’ I shouted. My ladies withdrew hurriedly and left me alone in the long audience chamber of the old family home of Castle Haut Pass, lined with portraits of old ancestors and scenes of happier times.
I had just heard the news from the capital and I was furious. Chabald’s mistake meant that I was now an exile in my own kingdom. How could he have let Phalon get free? Granted the man had died of his poisoned wound within a few hours. But that was long enough for the whole story to spread around court. It was lucky that I had made the contingency plan of being absent at the time, on a pious pilgrimage at the Convent of Haut Pass, which happened to be uncaringly loyal to my cause and also extremely defendable. I had told Chabald that the main reason for not being with the King was to avoid any possibly confusion if he called me to his chamber that night. I could hardly refuse – I survived by pretending to be a loyal wife – but if I was there when Chabald made his attempt then I might well get in the way – Chabald didn’t want to risk collateral damage after all.
Chabald is a sweet brother, as he is older than me by just two years he rather dotes on me and sees himself as my protector, but like all men, he is rather slow-witted. He probably thinks that I even love him. But what I really wanted is to be free of old Shabald, the once and now dead king, who though he was my eldest brother was also old enough to be my father. His personal cleanliness was somewhat lacking. All that hair! And all in the wrong places! Urggh! And the flabby belly, the wine-soaked breath and foul lecherous red face when he came to me after drinking with his cronies.
Unfortunately the only way to be free of him truly was to take power for myself. All my life I have been around powerful men, my father, my uncles, my mother, and seen women suffer. My mother is who I am thinking of, and of course myself. I don’t care about all those petty noblewomen, or the serving wenches, or peasant women and girls. They toil or try hard to please their men, without a thank-you, and more often or not their gratitude consists of the back of a hand, or an actual fist. But at least they weren’t unlucky enough to be born royal and female. For the first born female of the line is damned to carry on the incestuous blood-line. Oh because we represent the land, the nation, the country, the soul of the people.
In truth it’s just a transparent way to try to maintain loyalty to the crown – by having the king symbolically marry the land, you can hardly rebel against the king without rebelling against your own country can you?
The sad thing is that this tradition which has lasted for over six hundred years has never resulted in peace with Realh Dorn for very long. Not since the time of the Magi they say. But those are legendary times, and who knows if the stories of a kingdom united against the dark forces of evil are true, or just another myth to promote national cohesion.
So rather than carrying on as normal, but with Chabald stepping into Shabald shoes and falling under my sway, like the older brother never would, I had to go to war, with Chabald merely a pretender to the throne. But what would the opposition do? The logical thing to do would be to declare Chabald outlaw and to seize me for my own protection and have me wedded to some other noble, but the opposition were hardly united – who would lead them. Phalan was dead. The Dukes and Earls would spend much of their time squabbling amongst themselves. The Lord High Chancellor and the Lord High Marshall of the realm had jointly written to each township and fort declaring Chabald murdered. But the Lord High Chancellor, Sigzmund, was a greedy bureaucrat, and Marshall Alzcar, old, pompous and forgetful. Apart from expressing a general outcry of horror at the fratricide, they could do little more without substantial support of a group of the senior noblemen.
This was our moment. And all I had to do was to seize it. I couldn’t wait for Chabald to appear. Was he hiding from me I wondered? He can’t have been captured, or we would know about it. Unless, some noble was offering him for sale to whoever most wanted the throne? If so why hadn’t they asked me? I felt a pang of hope, and a warm wetness around my eyes. All this time I had been looking at our family portrait, the Last Supper I called it, it showed us all a happy family gathered around a feasting table. My father, his two brothers, my brothers and me. Chabald’s handsome visage stared back at me, the wisp of hair almost hiding his eyes as he glanced down with boyish slyness.
I gripped my fists together until the finger-nails dug into my palms. I couldn’t let emotions enter into this. Any love for him I had was purely pre-conditioned. He was handsome yes, but also unimportant to me and expendable. If someone used him as a bargaining chip to win advantage over me they would be sorely disappointed.
In this game the winner would be the one who was more ruthless. The one who didn’t have anything to lose except herself. Men would call me foolish as I didn’t worry about the size of the armies at my disposal, the number of castles, or access to strategic resources. These things didn’t concern me. All I needed was the will to win whatever the cost.
I glanced at the rest of the portrait looking for a figure of a man. Not a family member. There he was. His visage had been scratched out. An inept attempt had been made by another painter to cover it with part of a tree branch (the feast was in a garden), but I remembered who was underneath. That despicable man. The one who had killed my mother. For love he had claimed.
If ever there was a definition of will to power and lack of honour then you would only need to say that man’s name.
My heart beat faster. Of course why didn’t I see it before? If I truly wanted to rule this kingdom then I needed that man.