“You seem a little distracted,” commented Francesca as she walked in the gardens arm in arm with her betrothed king.
Roman beamed a warm smile. “I couldn’t be happier,” he said.
“You worry about Charles,” Francesca surmised.
The king looked confused. “Who?”
“Your nephew. Lord of the Hand? The infant. Charles.”
“Ah yes, Jerome and Natalya’s son.”
Francesca took his hand. Hers was ice cold compared to Roman’s. His flesh was burning despite having nothing to cover them from the icy wind.
“You don’t have to worry about him.”
Roman sighed. “It’s not Charles,” he explained. “Everywhere I go I see a boy.”
“A boy?” Francesca enquired.
“He’s young, only about eight years old,” Roman told her. “No one else seems to be able to see him as I do.”
“Perhaps you just think of what Charles will be as he grows. He’s on your mind more than you realise.”
Roman was not convinced.
“He is without eyes. He is taunting me. He will not speak. He only stares at me with a crooked smile.”
Francesca’s hear beat a little faster. “What does he look like?”
Roman stopped. He looked at his bride to be and contemplated for a few moments. “He looks a lot like you actually. He has the same paleness of skin and the same blackness of hair.”
Francesca’s face dissolved of emotion. Roman had never known her to show concern for anything.
“No eyes you say?” enquired the soon to be queen.
“Does that worry you?” asked Roman.
“Only concerns for you, my love,” she replied.
There was no mistaking the fear that sat in Francesca’s brilliant blue eyes. It was an emotion that was alien to them, made unwelcome by the stoicism of her ruby lips
“Just figments of an exhausted imagination,” the king assured her feeling guilty that she had been made to worry.
“It’s getting colder and the snow is falling again,” stated Roman. Small flakes of white fell onto his brown beard.
“The moment you return to the castle you will be called upon,” Francesca reminded him. “But I won’t keep you. I will find Annabelle and she will substitute your company.”
They said no more about the blind boy but when they returned to the castle the parting kiss that Francesca offered was nervous. It was an almost inhuman touch. This time the coldness was felt.
Annabelle had been in the study awaiting Francesca’s return. She was sat by the window watching the snow become heavier.
“What’s wrong?” asked Annabelle. Even Francesca’s long time companion was unaccustomed to seeing her in such distress.
“’They’ are here,” said Francesca simply.
Annabelle smiled, assuming a jest.
“They can’t be,” she said. “You destroyed them all. You left none alive.”
“Roman has seen the blind boy,” Francesca returned.
Annabelle joined in her friend’s concern. “Are you sure?”
“Without knowing, Roman described the boy perfectly. It was him. The others will be there too.”
“What are you going to do?” asked the fairer haired of the two.
Francesca narrowed her gaze on Annabelle.
“You mean, what are we going to do?”
Annabelle folded her arm across her chest and raised her chin.
“I have already accepted my part for what happened. ‘They’ can do whatever they like to me.”
Francesca lunged forward and snatched the crystal pendant around Annabelle’s neck. It glowed a cobalt blue in her hand.
“Whilst you have this you are bound to me,” Francesca snarled. “I came here to live a new life and nothing will stop me.”
Annabelle had no words. Francesca saw this as a challenge. “Do you think they frighten me?”
Annabelle shook her head. Francesca let the pendant go. She paced to the other side of the room. She spoke, but it was to herself.
“I can protect this castle,” she murmured. “If they thought the pain inflicted on them before was terrible let them step over my threshold.”
Francesca returned to good spirits that evening when she, Roman and a few select courtiers dined.
Roman seemed to have forgotten the blind boy. His cheeks were red with wine.
“I am honoured to have a place at your table, Your Majesty,” said Annabelle.
Roman beamed a wide grin. “Think nothing of it. The pleasure is mine. Eat up and drink up for tomorrow we feed the people.”
Seeing Roman so jolly caused a cloud of melancholy to form over Annabelle. Natalya was all but forgotten now and a darkness was approaching the castle. Only Francesca could stop it and now like Annabelle the king would find himself bound to the dark witch until the day of his death.
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