“What do you mean by that?” Edward asked. “Should you have already notified the guards that your castle is in danger?”
“Peace, brother,” Helen said, gently patting his arm. “I am sure His Majesty knows what he is doing.”
“Indeed, daughter,” the king said. “We mean escaped, not on the loose of course.” He cleared his throat and started his tale.
“This morning, one of the morning guards was found incapacitated, flung against the wall of the prison cell we were keeping the assassin. After we contacted the medical to treat the guard, we found that the thief was still there, which was odd. We found out that the body was there only.”
“What do you mean?” Helen said. “Like a statue?”
“Indeed, daughter,” Cain said. “We found it not dead but not alive either. Just lying on the bed with the eyes opened and looking like death.”
“So someone killed him?”
The king shrugged. “That I do not know. All I know is that there was no mark, no blood. In fact, the medical thinks he was suffocated, but by what, he had no idea.”
“Why now?” Antony said. “The theft happened four days ago and now the thief gets killed?”
“We do not know if he was the thief, son,” the king said. He walked to an empty seat and slouched down. He motioned to the tray. “Minister Norton,” he said to the minister still talking to the guard. “Please ask to bring a fresh pot of tea over.”
“Of course,” he said, bowing, his arms covered by his sleeves. He turned and walked off.
“So what happens now?” Helen asked.
The king shrugged, the fabric of his robe flawlessly following the movement. “We do not know what is going to happen,” he said. “I will be blunt as my husband. We have some relief over the fact that such a dangerous creation is out of our hands, but the problem of who took it and why still remains.”
“He wore grey,” Edward mused. “Could he be a wind elemental?”
“I do not think so,” Antony said. “Elementals are not confined like we are. They can use their orientations to move around.”
Helen and Edward nodded.
“Still,” the king said as a maid walked in with a steaming pot of tea, “we must be on guard. No telling what the next move is.” He looked at the lady. “That was quick, miss.”
“It is for your visitors,” she said, glancing at Helen and her brother. After picking up the empty pot, she curtsied with one hand, the other holding the pot above her head. “If you excuse me,” she finished, walking out.
“I would be careful with that one,” Antony joked to Edward, helping himself to a cup of tea and adding a few cubes of sugar to it. “She seemed to glance at you for a bit before she moved on.”
“Any of that tea for me?” another voice, more rough and outspoken, said.
The king smiled and rose from his chair, going to the other person. A head shorter than him, this gentleman reminded Helen of a malevolent demon. He had wide, brown eyes that are like bronze coins. His silky, curly, black hair is neck-length and matched the wide, thick moustache. His loose-fitting blue robe made him look somewhat portly.
“Husband,” Cain said, giving him a brotherly embrace. “I was talking about the thief a moment ago. Should I let you pick up the thread?”
King Rorden Foghaven, Grace of the Light and Holder of the other Throne of Foghaven, Twenty-Third Province of the Kingdoms of Redhedge returned the embrace and kissed his husband’s cheek. “Nay, my love,” he said, his voice rumbling like a distance avalanche. “I was only wanting to partake in your company.” He bowed to the visitors, a courtly gesture. “Welcome to Foghaven, Prince of Gaynesford. Welcome to Foghaven, Princess-Betrothed of Gaynesford. The Crown welcome you and your allegiance.”
Helen curtsied while Edward return the bow.
“Thank you, King,” Helen said.
“Thank you, King,” Edward said.
Rorden glanced at Antony. “How is it that my eldest is up and about, when he should be resting from the attempt that was made on his life?”
Cain rested a shoulder on his husband’s arm. “He was visiting his betrothed. Surely you can let him have that opportunity.” Rorden nodded as Cain continued. “That does not change the fact that he should still be in bed, though.”
Helen placed a gentle hand on Antony’s shoulder. “I will be more than happy to escort my betrothed to the medical,” she volunteered.
Rorden snorted softly. “I have not seen an effort so transparent since I charmed you on our first date,” he said to his husband.
“But it went through as planned, of course,” Cain said.
Antony went into a fiery blush while Helen went still as a statue.
“No matter,” Cain said, smiling on the two. “You have my permission.”
Helen went into another curtsy. “Thank you, King.”
“Remind me again how long they have been together?” Helen asked Antony as they slowly walked down one of the corridors, pale tapestries covered the walls to catch any drafts, simple mirrored lamps shone down on the group and made the tiles sparkle. The guard was discreetly a few steps behind the two.
“Five years,” Antony said, grinning. “I still remember about the courtship. Father going down on one knee with his lute and singing a love song to propose marriage.”
“Will you do that to me?” Helen said.
“I do not know,” Antony said. He gingerly placed his hands behind his back. “I have yet to learn how to play the lute. Maybe I should try the fiddle. Or the piano.”
Helen smiled. “If I can make potions, you can play the lute.”
“I’m sure father will not let me learn the instrument.”
Antony drew a blank with that question. After the first marriage failed, his true father Rorden set out to look for a royal partner – according to the traditions, a king had to be married. When he found Cain, he set out on a courtship that lasted a year before Cain submitted to his persuasions. Of course, there were critics over the circumstances of the marriage – A king marrying a nobleman? Outrageous! – but the populace did not mind one whit, including the neighboring countries, who found the second spouse, with his wit and his modern tastes, a welcome change from the first.
Speaking of which, Antony thought as he saw a short, plump lady gliding down the hall. “A greeting, mother,” he said, giving her a bare nod of the head.
Helen stared at the women she met days before at her home. She was still dressed in silver silk, and her hair was piled in whirlwind fashion.
“I was looking for my ex-hu-,” She choked off and corrected herself. “Your father. And that ridiculous excuse of a spouse,” she finished off in a growl.
“You are in luck,” Helen said primly. “They are together in the parlor.”
She glared at Helen, which Helen returned with all the snobbishness she could summon. After an eternity, the lady turned and glided off, grumbling all the while.
“How she became your mother, I have no idea,” Helen murmured to Antony as they saw her walk down the hall.
“Neither do I,” Antony responded, continuing the walk. “I mean, she is my mother, but I am still in shock over the way she lost her rank and title. I mean, with both of the statues?” He shook his head. “Appalling, of course, but you can’t hide the facts.” Helen nodded.
They turned a corner, and the hall took a different feel. The rafters shifted to vaulted ceilings. The tapestries gained substantial woolen heft. The colorful tiles melted together to sterile white. Even the walls pulled back, allowing for greater room for the occasional chair and sofa. Most of them were filled with various people: aristocracy rubbed shoulders with the poorest peasant, women with one to several children chatted sociably with single women, men of all degrees sat in groups and played cards or chatted on various subjects. Wide windows showed off the royal grounds, the paths sparsely populated by nurses in sky-blue dresses and drooping white hats walking and carrying various items.