Natalya didn’t stay at Castle Kroestov as she had originally intended. Instead she returned to the comfort of The Hand as quickly as she could without raising suspicions. Before she left she managed to find a moment alone with Annabelle.
“What are you doing here?” Natalya spat, pulling Annabelle to the corner of the room so they could speak privately.
“Francesca met your king and found herself quite besotted with him.”
“They will burn the both of you. It’s too dangerous here. They are hunting witches. Leave whilst you still can,” Natalya tried to warn.
Annabelle’s lip curled. She raised her eyebrows and her eyes clouded over with bemusement.
“They will never catch us,” she stated confidently.
Natalya looked across the room to where Roman was standing with Francesca on his arm. The king was busy talking with his cousin. Francesca returned her look. A self satisfied smile was printed on her rose coloured lips.
“I was supposed to be queen,” she grumbled.
Annabelle interjected. “I was led to be believe you wanted our help because your husband was a violent piece of shit.”
Natalya turned her attention back to the witch.
“He is,” she said. “He was,” she corrected. “Where is he?” she asked.
Annabelle shrugged her shoulders. “Perhaps she devoured him herself. Maybe she is keeping him in a state of torture the likes of which you couldn’t imagine so she can feed off his pain for an eternity. Or perhaps she fed him to one of her pets for amusement. That is what she did to her brother, her twin.”
Annabelle lowered her voice. Her tone was low and ominous. “Francesca has decided to make this kingdom her home. Whatever she wants she will have no matter the consequences. She destroyed everything I had. My friends, my home are all gone. All is lost and I am bound to her forever. You have no idea what you are dealing with in her. You can still leave. Go home. Stay there.”
At that Annabelle pushed passed Natalya with a brush of her broad shoulders.
Natalya slept with Charles close to her that night. She couldn’t bear to be parted from him. Hearing him wheeze and gurn in his crib comforted her. Even if Roman was willing to recognise Charles as his son Francesca wouldn’t allow it. She had Castle Kroestov now and so the keys of the kingdom. If Francesca produced legitimate royal children Charles would be all but forgotten. She had deluded herself into thinking she and Roman could live happily together. Before he met Francesca, Roman had offered to abdicate so they could raise Charles together. Now it seemed he was so bewitched by his bride to be that couldn’t see the danger she brought with her.
Charles began to cry. She climbed out of bed and lifted him into her arms. The large floor to ceiling windows allowed the silvery glow of a fat moon to splash onto the ground. Charles settled and turned towards her breast.
“Put the child down,” she heard a voice urge whisper.
Perhaps it was the wind she surmised.
“Put it down,” the voice repeated.
The handle on the doors of her chambers rattled. She gently placed Charles back in his crib. As she approached the door she heard footsteps scurrying down the hall like those of an excited child. She shivered. She felt the lock and found the door closed tight.
There was a giggle. There was no mistaking it this time. It was that of a young girl. In a panic Natalya ran to Charles. The glass from the window shattered outwards as though someone had leapt through it. Natalya tried to snatch her baby but she felt her feet dragged across the floor. The pull on her feet caused her to lurch forward and her head hit heavily on the hard, wooden floor. She was dragged to the window ledge. She tried to crawl against the first but her nails snapped against pressure. She screamed but her wails were muffled by the strong wind that was gathering.
You helped the witch,
You fed the bitch,
You can’t lie,
for that you die.
Natalya heard the girlish voice sing as though it was part of a nursery rhyme. She was pulled onto her feet like a puppet on a string. She was turned to see the rocky death that waited below.
“Bye, bye,” called the invisible girl child.
Natalya was thrown from her window. As she plummeted to her end her last thoughts were of the infant. The prince that should have been.
“It’s my fault,” Roman cried. “She needed me. I should have been there for her.”
Justus shook his head. “If we were granted the gift of foresight a lot of cruelty in this world could be avoided, Majesty. You weren’t to know what Natalya would do. We can only mourn those we lose.”
The king was strangely comforted by the Susinamian’s words. Since meeting the boy Roman was impressed by his obvious intelligence, so much so he removed him from slavery and entrusted him with a position by his side.
“She must have been so worried about her husband even though he didn’t deserve it,” remarked Roman. “I can’t believe she would take her own life and leave Charles behind though.”
He lifted a goblet of wine from the table in the centre of the room. He drank some of It but it was too bitter to his taste. “What will happen to my nephew now?” he asked.
“He is Lord of The Hand now. He will be taken care of by the staff until he comes of age,” Justus informed him.
“I want to make sure he has everything he needs,” stated the King.
Justus bowed in agreement. “You are a most generous uncle.”
Roman hadn’t disclosed Charles’ true parentage to his adviser. Despite the castle being alive with rumours there were some secrets he wanted to take to his grave.
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