The kingdom of Navaria mourned the loss of Countess Natalya. She was well known among the people and the nobility alike. She was loved for the most part.
King Roman had lost his zeal for life. His usual excitable nature had simmered to a cool calmness. He would answer those who spoke to him in short, sharp sentences.
“I loved her,” Roman told Justus, sat in the king’s study. “But I can’t understand why I would mourn her so much.”
Justus heard rumours of the king’s involvement with Natalya. People said that the baby, Charles, was more than the king’s nephew but Justus never gave any credence to such talk.
“I’m afraid you don’t have the privilege of time,” Justus replied. “The kingdom must go on without her.”
Roman was still distracted. He stared into the fire as though Justus wasn’t there.
“There is something I’m forgetting about her already,” he said to himself. “There is something about Natalya that has escaped my memory.”
Justus went on to discuss the king’s pending marriage to Francesca. The words were lost in the king’s ear. His attention was drawn to the chair beside the fireplace.
“Who are you, boy?” the king asked. “How did you get in here?”
Justus turned to see who the king was speaking to but the chair was empty.
To Roman there was a boy of about eight years old. His skin was so pale it was almost blue. His features were finely carved. The boy reminded him of Francesca, his bride to be. His eyes were just vacant, bloody sockets. The boy was blind.
“I asked you a question,” Roman continued, becoming more agitated. “How did you get in here?”
Still Justus saw nothing. He tried to calm Roman down but the king became furious.
Roman could see the boy stretch his soft, youthful face into a grin of needle sharp teeth.
“Get out of here! What are you grinning at!?”
Roman lifted the iron rod from the fireplace and swung it at the empty chair. Justus snatched the poker from the king and pushed him away.
“I think grief is getting to you more than you realise,” Justus said as he returned the poker to it’s rightful place.
“There is a horrid little boy there,” Roman explained. “I see him.”
Justus raised his eyebrows but spoke without condescension.
“There was no boy,” Justus insisted. “You need some rest.”
Roman growled with anger most unlike him. “You are not my nurse maid,” he spat. “Get out.”
Justus bowed. He obeyed the king’s command and left him alone. He wrote an urgent note to Doctor Hogran.
Roman sat in the chair staring for hours. The little boy still grinned with his empty eye sockets and a smile filled with malicious intent.
“They will destroy everything,” Annabelle warned.
Francesca was pacing the room.
“I’ve never known you to be a coward,” she barked at her long time companion. The truth was she had felt Their presence getting stronger. Francesca was always so sure of her own ability. Annabelle found it unsettling to see her flustered as much as she tried to disguise it.
Francesca pulled the silver clips from her hair and let her flowing black locks drop down her back.
“I destroyed Them,” she growled. “Every last one of them.” She turned to Annabelle. “They can’t stop me.”
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