Subtitled: Watch What You Say
Wow…we’re officially here: The halfway point. It’s possible I might be able to get this thing wrapped up by the end of the month. Wouldn’t that be cool? Of course, the updates would have to continue through March so I don’t spam you fine folks with posts; it’s a pet peeve when a blog I follow updates 4 or more times each day. The occassional double (or even triple) posting doesn’t bother me, but once it becomes obvious that someone has hired a person to do nothing but write posts? Come on… Maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, out of the rabbit hole, I had no idea how this scene would play out. Sure, I knew what needed to be accomplished: Throw in the King so Belle knows who she is making the decisions for. That alone is enough to complicate it for her, but I ended up throwing in an extra doozey for her to think about. My poor characters. I do so love to torture you. And it comes so naturally to me.
Feast and enjoy, and I hope my spelling less holey this time!
Your Dearest Nicolette
Morning found me in the sick wing with Hilda brooding over the best attire to stuff me into; she had already yanked my hair into a coiffed braid and scrubbed my face raw with florally soap. Between going to bed late last night and sleeping restlessly—Belle’s absence pestered me more than my morning meeting—I was worn and tired this morning.
“…don’t think you’re listening to me,” said Hilda, jabbing me with a pin.
I jumped and hissed before I caught myself. “What?”
“I said, you need to kiss his signet ring when you meet the King.”
“Mmm.” That was typical formal procedure, but I paid closer attention to the details of greeting the King while she yanked a tunic over my head. Hilda made me repeat the steps as she slipped a snug jacket on.
“Would the black skirt go better with this combination?” she mused, cutting me off midway through the introduction I was supposed to give the King.
I did not want to take off these layers to switch out the emerald skirt I was currently wearing. “It’s fine.”
“Black is a little more formal.”
“It’s an interview with the King, not the queen’s tea party,” I said with an edge I didn’t intend.
“The King doesn’t have a queen, you should be careful not to slip-up.”
I had been thinking of the old queen—but she was right. I needed to be careful about referring to the old king and queen, particularly while in the presence of the new rulers. “It was a long night.”
She turned heavy eyes up to me, and I saw the lines that suddenly appeared. “That is the understatement of the decade. Never seen a patient so worked up with sedatives running through her veins as thick as mud.”
It was about time that Hilda decided to talk about Belle—she had dodged my questions and hints all morning, and only strictest civility kept me from bursting at the seams. “How is she?”
Hilda walked over to a backroom, opened the door, and stood aside. A blur of white and black fur zipped across the room, weaving between or under cots, then jumped up to my armpits, careful to not touch me as she hopped circles about me in excitement.
“Settle down! I want to pet you,” I said, suppressing laughter. Belle did after two more waist-high hops, leaning against my shins and accepting my calming strokes. There was a knot on her head, only noticeable when I rubbed her ears, and many scabbed-over scratches, some of which had come open during her hopping.
“Are both Belles ready to meet the King?” Hunter was leaning against the door frame, his face cool and free from expression. “Brush off the dog hair, and let’s go.”
I started to pick the white strands from my skirt, but stopped when I noticed that Hunter was leaving. Giving it a shake that only removed the loosest of hairs, I picked up my skirt and trotted after him, Belle loping and bouncing by my side. She nearly tripped me twice by cutting in front of me trying to incite play, before Hunter waited for us at the corner. He lead us through the hallways, but I could have taken us to the throne room quicker—if Hunter had allowed me to. On the flip side, it was nice to have my own secrets—that is, secrets that I actually wanted to have.
The guards took one glance at Hunter and threw open the doors for us, exposing the throne room left in much the same condition as it had been before—minus the war trophies and golden challises littering the damask-painted walls. Wood from the rainbow forest shone beneath a fresh polish, the grain seeming to point to the throne. I took an instant to admire the way the stained glass accented the purples, greens, and orange hues in the wood before I looked at the King.
He was nothing like the old king, a grizzled bear of a man with a beard to his waist and a belly to his knees, and a shout deep enough to rattle even the uppermost window shutters. This new King wasn’t like any king I had ever seen before—he was not short and bald, nor was he wiry and athletic.
This king had a giant, hooked nose like an eagle’s beak, hair that fell in front of his eyes, and an almost feminine frame with long, skinny fingers. There was a look to his golden eyes, something that made me think that he could either be the best ally, or the worst opponent. I wondered which way he tended to rule.
I bowed, as did Hunter after a hesitation, as though he despised ceremony, then started on the rehearsed speech. “My Liege, I, your humble servant, come—”
I raised my head despite not having been told that I could. “Sire?”
He spoke as though he had said this hundreds of times before. Perhaps he had. “You aren’t my servant. You are a prisoner of war who has been suggested to fill a role I did not think needed to be continued.”
“Phinneus,” said Hunter, but the King hushed him with one raised hand.
“I know your view. But what I speak is the truth, and I will not consider someone for the job who is not my servant.”
Hunter looked like he was going to argue, but I cut him off with the smooth, soothing tone I used when I had addressed the princess. “I understand your concerns, My Lord, and ask that you consider me for the honor of formally serving you.”
This made the King pause, and his gaze shifted from Hunter to me. It pinned me to where I stood, and for a while, I could not breathe. When he blinked and stared into the distance, my body swayed in relief.
“Will you swear allegiance to me?”
“Hunter tells me you were a servant to the previous royal family. Here you are, prepared to pledge allegiance to your sworn enemy. What good is your pledge?”
His words bit, not due to the truth behind them so much as for the injustice. “I am asking to serve you. For the princess, I had the choice of serving or jinxing my family. They would be stripped of their land, their cottage, their clothes, their livestock, and their names, and then be sold into slavery. I do as duty requires, Sire, and for your information, I took no oath to them. I promised myself I would take care of my family, and I did so by serving the former royalty. If my word was truly no good, then the hound would not be beside me this morning.”
I had never addressed authority with so much venom, and my calm words were punctuated by abrupt timing; the prior king would have sent me to the scullery for a week for having spoken so rashly. This king, this Phinneus, simply stared at me with blank eyes.
“That hound is the last of its kind, and it has been kept alive by a farm maiden. I do tend to forget that simple countryfolk do not think in the same terms as the Quality. Instead of honor by names and titles, they do honor by tending to those dependent upon them, those who need them. Yes, yes I think so. You, Madam, will make a fine liaison. Swear to me your loyalty. Come here, and kneel before me.”
My knees did not want to move, but I forced them to as I drifted down the isle to him, my skirt brushing my ankles, my head drifting as though in the clouds. The King unsheathed a sword as I knelt before him. He could change his mind and cut off my head in two whacks if he so chose. I swallowed hard, hoping I would find the courage to speak again.
A loud voice rang in my head, screaming at me as I repeated the words that tumbled from his mouth. Within minutes, the oath was done, and I couldn’t remember a word of it, and his sword tapped the top of my head.
“Rise, my liaison and sworn servant. Heed and obey your oath, and may every action you take be a reflection of your office.”
When I turned around, the light poured into my eyes and reflected off the floor, casting the throne room into an ethereal dimension through which I seemed to be floating. Only when I caught Hunter’s gaze—specifically, his bemused, raised eyebrow and a smile he was just holding in check—did I feel the weight of reality crush back in again.
I had taken an oath. I’d never sworn to anyone before—no one besides myself, and possibly Belle. I had taken an oath.
What had I done?