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Milady’s Wiles             by: Brandy Dewinter, with the invaluable assistance of P.J. Wright

 

Chapter 16 - Blind Justice?

The servant that had found us turned immediately back down the stairs. We followed, after a glance at each other that revealed no greater understanding in either set of eyes. The servant led us directly to the throne room, already largely populated. Queen Selay sat in her high seat with Julia in the position I often occupied. A flicker of a glance from Mother and I stood beside Lyonidas instead of displacing Julia, though I was not sure why that should be my place. While I was handing my cloak and gloves to Minah, Reynal was brought into the chamber.

He appeared more disheveled than actively abused, but it was signi-ficant that all four of the guards that escorted him were Achaiean. He also looked more confused than I could remember seeing him. Angry, sus-picious, arrogant as always, but still there was that surprising note of confusion as well.

Lyonidas, who never sat in the King’s throne except when hearing a capital case, remained standing. His first words were to his general, "Reynal, what is going on here?"

"These fools are accusing me of something. It doesn’t make any sense."

Queen Selay now spoke, "He is accused of assault on my sister-in-law, the Duchess Amity. Sexual assault."

"What?" Lyonidas asked.

"Preposterous," Reynal snorted simultaneously.

Before either could speak again, Queen Selay continued, "Milord Regent, in the laws of Achaiea and the claimed laws of High Canyon, rape is considered a capital offense."

Lyonidas whirled to look at her to find a calm but determined ex-pression on her face. Her strength of will was such that she didn’t even need to glance at the King’s throne to make it clear what action she expected Lyonidas to take. In this case he had no desire that Mother could reinforce with the white-cold mind so I knew his choice would be his own.

All this took only a few heartbeats even at the accelerated pace my own was struggling to sustain. In fact, before Reynal even got past his spluttering expletives the challenge had been made . . . and the resul-ting decision. Lyonidas turned and sat in the King’s throne. Now, as I took my place it was in the position taken by a Prince’s intended, with Queen Selay in the role of dowager Queen. It made it look like I was there to support Lyonidas, not Mother.

A glance from Lyonidas and Reynal stilled his expostulations. Lyonidas took on the role intended for him, but not in a way he ever intended. "Who brings these accusations?"

"I will do, for now," Queen Selay proclaimed.

At Lyonidas’ nod, she began her interrogation. "Reynal, tell us what happened when you left the dining hall."

"Nothing. I took Amity to her room," he made a surly reply.

"And then?"

"Well, she invited me in for a drink of wine. She had been drinking too much at the feast, but she insisted that I share one last glass with her."

"Did anyone else see Her Grace drink too much at the feast?" Queen Selay asked of the room at large.

"Actually, no," Hugh, the Chamberlain replied. "I was monitoring the servants as usual and no special amount was taken to Her Grace."

"Was she in the habit of drinking to excess?" Queen Selay now asked the Chamberlain.

"No, she always drank quite moderately."

The Queen now turned her questions back to the accused. "General Reynal, on what basis do you accuse Duchess Amity of excessive drinking?"

"Well, she was nodding in her cups, at the table. You all saw that," he replied.

Julia spoke up now, "All I saw was her nodding off, perhaps from boredom rather than drink."

I felt as much as saw Lyonidas respond to this observation with a tightening of his already tense shoulders.

"Was Duchess Amity in the habit of inviting you in to drink in her rooms?" the Queen continued.

"No, this was the first time," admitted Reynal.

"Was she in the habit of inviting you into her rooms for other reasons?"

"No! This was the first time, all right?"

Queen Selay demonstrated her typical disregard for questions from others and continued, "Did anyone else see her invite you in?"

He just shook his head no, a look of concern beginning to grow on his features. His eyes sought out those of Lyonidas but I could tell that the Regent would not meet his gaze.

"What happened next?" asked Queen Selay.

"I don’t remember," Reynal muttered.

"What?!" This question came from Lyonidas.

"I don’t remember," Reynal repeated, louder.

Queen Selay paused to see if Lyonidas had further questions. At his silence she asked her own. "What do you remember?"

"The next thing I remember is a bunch of shouting, and someone hol-ding my arms, and this blasted headache!"

"Very well," the Queen responded, then looked to Lyonidas. "With your permission, Milord Regent, I would like to ask questions of others who were there."

At his nod, Queen Selay nodded at Hugh, who nodded in turn at a guard by a side door. From this door marched another Achaiean guard and Mother’s servant, Amy.

"Who was the first to come upon the scene?" Queen Selay asked again of the room at large.

"I was," Amy replied.

"Tell us what you saw."

"I saw Her Grace struggling under the arms of General Reynal. He had his arms around her, but her own arms were against his chest."

At the Queen’s nod she continued. "Her Grace’s clothes were, uh, all torn. Her, um, bosom was exposed and her skirts were stripped away."

"And General Reynal?" the Queen pressed.

"His, um, well, he was, um . . ." she hesitated.

Lyonidas was impatient. I could sense his concern with the way things were going in this shortness with Amy. "Tell us what happened!"

"His manhood was exposed!" she blurted out.

"What!?" exclaimed Lyonidas.

Amy didn’t answer, just blushed furiously and looked at the floor. Before Lyonidas could pursue her further Queen Selay asked a question of the guard near Amy.

"What did you see?"

"Well, I came when I heard the screaming from my post at the en-trance to the private corridors. I guess it was Amy I heard. Anyway, when I got there, Her Grace’s clothes were as Amy described. Both Her Grace and Amy were struggling with General Reynal, with their hands against his chest as he leaned over them."

Now Lyonidas asked, "And General Reynal’s condition?"

"He was, um, as Amy described," claimed the guard.

Queen Selay resumed as questioner. "What did you do?"

"I took his arms and tried to pull him off the women."

"His reaction?" This was from Lyonidas, in a sort of two-sided interrogation.

"He seemed to sag in my arms, as though defeated. When the women had retreated into another room, I let him fasten himself up. By this time other guards had arrived and we took him into custody. I saw to it that the Queen was notified. She told me to find you. It, um, took a bit longer to find you than I expected, Milord Regent."

Lyonidas gave a quick glance to me, a bit of heat showing at his neck, before he asked, "Did General Reynal say anything?"

"Well, Milord, it was not very clear," replied the guard.

"What did he say, man?!" Lyonidas demanded.

"He was mumbling, mostly, but it sounded to me like, ‘stupid bitch’.

Your pardon, Majesty," the man said stiffly to Queen Selay.

As though this were her cue, Queen Selay asked a new question, "Amy, was there wine in Her Grace’s room?"

"Yes, Majesty, always. But she hardly ever drank any."

"Was any drunk tonight?" the Queen asked.

"No, Majesty, the bottle was full," replied Amy. This brought a shocked gasp from the entire throne room.

"That’s a lie!" Reynal shouted. He had not contradicted the other testimony. Instead, the confused look had become stronger than ever.

Instead of replying, Queen Selay merely looked at Hugh, who gestured with his head for a nearby servant to leave. In a few minutes the ser-vant returned with a bottle of wine in his hands.

"This is the bottle that was in Her Grace’s room!" he announced.

It was unopened.

"That’s not right!" Reynal shouted. "Lyonidas, can’t you see what they’re doing? They put something in the wine to drug me and then made up all the rest!"

"You will have your chance to speak later," Lyonidas grimly replied.

"For now, we are just trying to gather facts."

"Milord Regent," Queen Selay said, "I think there is one more person whose report we should hear."

On that cue, Duchess Amity entered from the same side door that had provided entrance to Amy and the guard. She was wrapped in a long cloak and seemed to have shrunk somehow. It was almost as though she were a young girl, not in her face or hair which were the same, but in her al-most painful timidity.

Julia left her place by Queen Selay’s side and went to Amity. She put her arms around the older woman and helped her to stand in front of the high seats.

"Tell us what happened," Queen Selay ordered, but her tone was soft and gentle.

"I have not been sleeping well lately. It was at Christmas so many years ago that Duke Kestrel had taken me as his wife. The memories made my bed seem so lonely that I often slept hardly at all. I suppose I was just too tired tonight, so I admit that I dozed off in my seat in the dining hall. General Reynal took me to my room, and then, and then he .

. ."

She started to sob. Julia tried to comfort her. I was about to move to her myself but some instinct prompted me to look at Mother, whose eyes ordered me to remain in my place.

"Take your time, but you must tell us what happened," Lyonidas now said in a surprisingly gentle voice.

"General Reynal had been trying to get me to accept his advances for some time," Amity claimed.

"I had not!" denied the general.

"Silence!" Lyonidas ordered with even greater force. Then, again softly, he said to Amity, "go on."

"I was still sleepy when we got to my room. I turned to thank the General for escorting me, when he started to push me back into my room. He reached out . . . and he . . . grabbed me!"

Her voice had risen with this last declaration, and she seemed to take power from her own anger for her voice became stronger, more stri-dent. "When I pulled back, he tore my gown! He grabbed my bosom and fondled me! Then he ripped my skirts away!"

By now she was shouting, but the sharp-edged tones of her voice clattered to a stop like shards from a breaking window, leaving dead silence in their aftermath.

Julia was the one who broke the silence. Almost in a whisper, she asked, "And then?"

Her soft voice was answered by an even quieter voice from Amity, only audible because of the absolute silence in the chamber. "And then he took his manhood from his pants and tried to force it into me."

"Tried?" Lyonidas seized on the key word.

Amity only nodded, but her shoulders straightened a little and she held her head a bit higher.

After a moment she continued without further prompting. "I held him off as best I could. He promised me that if I screamed he would kill me, but I held him off! When Amy showed up she screamed and tried to help me. I guess her scream brought others. When I could get free of him, I ran to my other room. Amy helped me until we were summoned here."

Lyonidas had a look of horror in his eyes when he turned again to Reynal. "General, now you may explain what happened."

"It is as I told you. Amity gave me some wine. It must have been drugged. The rest is a pack of lies."

Julia released Amity, who was standing stronger now, and started her own interrogation. "General Reynal, are you familiar with any drugs that would produce the effects described?"

"Yes! There is one called ‘canthus clove’ that makes you weak and confused, and makes you forget what happened while you were drugged," he replied.

"Where does one get this, whatever?" she asked.

"It is found, in um, some places in High Canyon," he replied furtively.

"Is it generally available in Achaiea?" asked Julia.

"I should hope not! It is a state secret of High Canyon!" Then his eyes widened as he realized he had undermined his own excuse.

"So it is not likely that anyone in Achaiea would know of it," Julia concluded.

Her response was a sneer from Reynal. "Oh, I don’t doubt you witches have your own foul equivalent."

Julia ignored his comment, at least outwardly, but I could see color in her cheeks that most of the castle denizens had long learned to use as a warning.

Her tone was surprising though; seductive rather than sharp, heavy with an unexpected promise. "General Reynal, are you a lusty man?"

"What?" he replied.

"Are you a lusty man? Do you enjoy being with women?" Julia repea-ted. Then, before he had a chance to answer, she added, "Or perhaps you enjoy being with boys?"

"I do not!" he shouted.

"You do not enjoy being with women?" Her tone showed more disap-pointment than surprise.

"That’s not what I said!" he yelled in frustration. "Ask any of my men. I can handle my women!"

"Do you handle them all so roughly? Perhaps that is the only way to get one to accept you." Julia now sneered, all heat banished from her tones to leave frigid disdain.

"General Reynal," she continued, "you ask us to believe that Her Grace invited you into her room, something she never does, and offered you wine, something she never does. You say she drugged you but you offer no evidence of this and the only drug that could so conveniently produce the effect you claim is not known in Achaiea. Even if it were available, her wine bottle is unopened. For your story to be true Duchess Amity, Amy, the rest of Her Grace’s servants, the guards, perhaps even Her Majesty would have to have conspired together against you, yet you offer no evidence of this, either."

Then Julia turned to Lyonidas and continued, "I think there is a simpler explanation. General Reynal saw that Her Grace was sad and lonely. He believed her to be more than a little drunk and decided to take advantage of her weakness. Instead of being drunk though, she was just tired. She fought off his advances until help arrived. All the witnesses support this version of the story, the true version. Only General Reynal offers an alternative version, one supported by nothing but his unsubstantiated, hardly unbiased claims."

When Lyonidas next spoke to the General he had such a tired tone in his voice that I found myself unconsciously rubbing his shoulder where my hand rested upon it. His own hand rested briefly on mine.

"Reynal, have you anything further to say?"

"This is all a pack of lies. They have arranged things to look bad for me, but I have done nothing wrong."

Lyonidas rose from the throne and stepped down to become face to face with Reynal, then almost nose to nose.

"You mentioned that your men can attest to your enjoyment of women, Reynal," Lyonidas began. "I can attest to it as well. I can attest to you enjoying yourself a lot more than the women, especially in places where my father’s forces have been victorious in battle. I can attest to your often-expressed belief that women are only good for one thing, and I can attest to your disdain for what you consider to be weakness."

Lyonidas backed up a step or two as though the physical distance were a part of a more important gulf between them.

"You disgust me, Reynal. I only now realize how much you have al-ways disgusted me. Or perhaps should have disgusted me, for I know to my shame that I sat around the same campfires with you and expressed the same sentiments. Or at least, nodded along with you when you did."

Lyonidas then looked at Queen Selay, "Your Majesty, Reynal was accused of sexual assault. By her own testimony, Her Grace has stated that he was not successful in his attempt so I find him innocent of this charge. But I find him guilty of assault, and of attempted rape, and of more things than I even care to think about. In our law these are not capital offenses and I will not execute him in punishment. You have shown me that retribution is seldom appropriate anyway. However, I will banish him from Achaiea and see that my father strips him of all his possessions in High Canyon. These will be forfeit to Duchess Amity."

Then Lyonidas stepped over to Amity and gently took her chin in his large hand. I had felt that same touch, though with Amity it was not a prelude to a kiss, merely a way to get her to look at him.

"Perhaps, Your Grace, you can use Reynal’s wealth to buy yourself a new dress. Would that I could use it to restore your husband to you."

Lyonidas turned back to Queen Selay and asked, "If this is accep-table to Your Majesty?"

She nodded tightly, then rose. Lyonidas never even looked back at Reynal, just left the throne room himself. The pain in his eyes made me want to follow him but the anger that was there kept him from seeing my offer to go with him. Instead, I heard Mother’s quiet tones, "Cherysse, please come with me."

We reached her quarters in the normal few moments, accompanied by Julia, Amity, and Amy the servant. As soon as the door was closed Mother sighed. A tenseness left Julia as well. Surprisingly, instead of sagging into a seat in a further sign of weakness, Amity stood taller and threw off the cloak covering her.

"Amy, be a dear and fetch me something to wear, will you?" she asked with no sign of her previous timidity. Her dress was torn as reported, but there were no other signs of injury.

Mother took her accustomed seat and waved the rest of us to find places of our own. I was so confused that I just stood there inside the door until she spoke to me directly.

"Sit, Cherysse, we have more things to discuss."

"Many things, I think," I said with dawning comprehension.

Julia had relaxed enough for her sense of humor to return She re-peated with ponderous mimicry of Lyonidas, "Reynal, you disgust me!"

"As well he should," Amity said, showing teeth in a feral grin that transformed her round face into that of a lioness after a particularly-satisfying kill.

Mother said nothing, or at least nothing with words. Her eyes met mine though, in gentle challenge.

I moved to my usual stool and asked, "So, did Queen Giselle send us anything besides this ‘canthus clove’?"

Julia’s eyes widened at my conclusion but it was obvious now that I had a moment to think about it. I assumed that my impulsive red-headed companion had been part of the conspiracy, but had only been told enough for her limited part.

Mother just smiled, though the quiet pride in her eyes lifted my heart into my throat almost as much as the kisses I had shared with Lyonidas so short a time before. Then she answered, "No, not yet. But she is working to send us something, or actually someone, who might be even more helpful."

I just lifted an arched brow at her in invitation to continue.

Before she could, Julia interrupted.

"Wait just a moment. How did you know that Queen Giselle sent the drug?"

"The drug is a state secret in High Canyon so it must have been someone fairly high up in their nobility. Queen Giselle and Queen Selay are cousins," I replied.

The light dawned in Julia’s green eyes, revealing a bit of respect as well as her accustomed humor.

Mother continued with her interrupted explanation, "After Reynal escapes, Kragdle will . . ."

Julia interrupted again, "Reynal is going to escape?"

"Of course, dear. If he stays here in Achaiea until the spring he may be able to get Lyonidas to think about things we don’t want him con-sidering. He will have to escape and try to make it back to High Canyon."

"In the winter?" Julia snorted.

"I didn’t say he would make it all the way," Mother said, a cold smile on her face that would have given me nightmares if I had seen it when I was a child. Amity’s round face, for all its predatory gleam, could never match that diamond-hard implacability.

Amity had plenty of anger, though, regardless of how fiercely her face revealed it. "That man killed my husband, or at least he was re-sponsible for it. If it were up to me, I’d do a lot more than lie to get back at him. I hope he freezes alone and forgotten in some nameless mountain pass."

"And the even greater help?" I prompted Mother to return to the topics of our business.

"Lyonidas has a friend of his youth, a man named Elgion, who will be sent by Kragdle at Giselle’s urging to assist Lyonidas now that Strane and Olrin are dead. They don’t know of Reynal’s disgrace in High Canyon yet, of course. Giselle’s last message says that Elgion will be sent as soon as travel is reasonable early in the spring. Giselle will also insist on accompanying Kragdle when he visits, as he is sure to do once the story of Reynal reaches him. This will delay Kragdle’s party until late in the spring or early in the summer. This will give us time to move Elgion to our side."

"As Lyonidas is already on our side," I mused.

"Not entirely, dear, which is why you had your own part to play to-night. You kept him distracted while our plot against Reynal proceeded."

"Distracted? Is that what you call it?" Julia laughed.

I blushed both ways from my neck, though only the part above my bosom showed to them. Still, I knew my own mind had certainly not been considering things beyond the balcony earlier that evening. In the light of what happened even my inebriated indiscretion that had revealed to Lyonidas my maiden’s lover fit nicely into Mother’s plans. Imagine that!

Instead of responding to Julia’s good-natured jibe I looked at Mother. I reached one hand above my head as though grasping at strings, then moved my other hand up and down while lifting on my imaginary strings. For just an instant pain showed in her eyes, but they cleared when I held my own smile.

 

(continued in Part 17)

 



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Milady's Wiles 1998 by Brandy Dewinter. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, compilation design) may printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without express written consent of the copyright holder.