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A Careful Plan
by Christian R. Bonawandt
The only light in the room was the shuffling glow from the fireplace. Prince Devian's shadow lay over most of the room, waving with the fire's rumbling and snapping. Such a vile image his shadow was. Stretched and mangled, the shadow perfectly displayed his arched back. The bulky clothes he wore covered his emaciated body, but thickened the shadow and accented his arch.
He threw his head back and let the remainder of the wine slip from his goblet down his throat. Forthwith, his manservant, Gettan, emerged with a tray to relieve him of the goblet. Upon taking it, he whispered, as if to keep a secret from the shadows.
"Please, my lord, you should take seat."
Prince Devian ambled away, into the gloom. "Not until I hear word that my love has arrived," he said stiffly.
"My lord, I know of your uneasiness." Gettan hesitated. "But the physicians -- they say that you must reserve your energy."
"The physicians say many things."
"All this worrying and pacing will not aid your health, my lord," Gettan said. "Please, sit."
"Nothing I or the physicians do aids my health, Gettan. Please do not ask anything of me again. Now, light this torch, it is too dark in this room. And when you finish send for Yolli."
Gettan obeyed, using a flint-and-steel clapper to ignite the tinder, then scurried out of the room. The next few minutes passed like hours. Devian starred wide-eyed and anxiously at the portal until he heard the scraping of slippers echo in the gray stone hall.
Yet when Yolli entered, four other of his wife's indentured servants followed. In silence the five women dusted, replaced the seat pillows, laid an assortment of cheeses and cakes on the table before the couch, and lit the other five torches. Yolli kept a fair distance and only caught his eyes twice. Prince Devian kept his glare on the chamber portal until Lord Sedrick made his dramatic entrance.
Flailing his cape like a flag in the wind, Lord Sedrick bounded into view and bowed in a single motion. "Everything around lacks life and energy, my Prince," he said. "Without your wife and her servants the entire abode would be dismal wretch."
Prince Devian turned his back to him. "Such flattery often gets men beheaded."
Lord Sedrick clasped his hands together and fired a horribly noisy laugh. "When do you expect Lady Leishan's return from Kaalazar?"
Devin turned to see Lord Sedrick's unwanted smile slip from his face like the wine down his gullet. Sedrick tossed his glance around the room, snapping his fingers. Presently the servants fled the room. "I apologize, my Prince. I was unaware of this. I thought you were in one of your moods again. I mean, they have been so frequent since the physicians said--"
"I know what the physicians say, Lord Sedrick." Devian wandered to the window. For some time he gazed longingly, leaving Sedrick to stand in uncomfortable silence. He could feel the fool's tension and heard him shifting his feet.
"With whom was she traveling?" Sedrick asked at last.
"Baron Cortese's caravan." Devian said mechanically.
For a few more moments, both were silent.
Sedrick forced a chuckle. "I would worry not about her, my Prince. They say that a pack of wild horses could not stand in the path of the Lady Leishan. She is a fiery one, you know."
Prince Devian said nothing, seemingly mesmerized by the empty gravel court.
"All this standing about is good for no one," Sedrick said. "We should sit. Here." Lord Sedrick threw himself into the velvet-laced oak chair that Lady Leishan usually occupied. "If it pleases my Prince, I would like you to sit with me."
"I will stand." Prince Devian said.
"My Prince, for your health's sake I really think you--"
"Worry about your own bloody health, Sedrick!" Prince Devian burst out so suddenly he fell into a fit of coughing. Lord Sedrick leapt to Prince Devian's side.
"Away," Devian muttered between coughs. He thrust out his arm to shove away Lord Sedrick only to trip over his own force and fall.
Stunned from the fall and exhausted from the coughing fit, a starry dizziness swooped over Prince Devian and carried him into unconsciousness.
* * *
He awoke in his bed with two physicians staring over him demanding materials from Leishan's indentured servants. His shirt was open and oil had been smeared on his bony chest, making it shine like polished silver.
Prince Devian shouted, "Be gone! All of you be gone. Yolli, fetch me a blanket."
All of the servants scattered like frightened mice. The physicians hesitated. With a slow, deliberate growl, Prince Devian chased them out. As they left, Yolli entered with a thick wool blanket.
"Leave it on the bed," Prince Devian said.
"My lord--?" she began. Devian raised an eyebrow and threw his glance at the chamber portal. She hurried out.
Finally Devian lay alone; the only sound was that of his wheezing breath.
At least for few minutes it was. Soon he heard Lord Sedrick's voice. But it lacked its usual jolly manner. Prince Devian held his breath to hear.
"I beg of you, allow me to tell him," he was saying. "In his condition we must be gentle with such news. I can break it best."
A few moments later Lord Sedrick turned into the chamber. He approached the bed; his long grin remained, but his wide eyes showed fear and remorse.
"What news have you heard, Lord Sedrick? Tell me bluntly -- no digressive or devious talk."
Lord Sedrick inhaled, his breath trembling. "Apparently you had sent scouts to intercept Westwerd's caravan."
"I know that," Devian barked. "What did they report? Get to it!"
He looked away and clenched his eyes as if the transformation of thoughts to words was painful. "The caravan was attacked by brigands and looted. The men were slaughtered. Not one among them was found living."
Prince Devian stared blankly at him.
"Did they find her?" he said, gasping for air.
"They said none was alive, including Baron Cortese," Sedrick said.
Devian grabbed Sedrick's shirt and used it pull himself up from the bed. "She could still be alive," he said through his teeth. "She might have fled. You know what a quick-wit she is."
Sedrick shook his head. "You know her better than that, my prince. By Hades she was more likely to take up a sword and try to slay one of those brutes for their insolence then she was to flee."
"Not so! She is not that stubborn," he said, falling back on the bed.
"My prince, I am sorry."
"I must take a walk in the garden." Prince Devian crawled from his bed, using Lord Sedrick to steady himself.
"My prince, I think it would be best if you rested. You have been through so much today."
"I must walk."
* * *
Yolli found him sitting on the marble bench by the false pond.
"It is over," he said. "The trap was sprung and all went well."
She cringed. "Please don't speak of such morbid matters with such lightheartedness. Wasn't there another way?"
He stood and went to her. "It matters not. We are both free now, my love."
"You are, but I am still a slave for another ten winters. I will be given to her benefactor."
"She had no benefactor. The money she had bought you with was the same money that was paid to the brigands who attacked Westwerd's caravan. You are mine, my love; no one will contest that. Not with me, especially after this. Others look upon me and see a man who suffers greatly and think it is because of my humors. But it was she who made me suffer. What others called her spirit I called her temper; what others called her strength I called her wrath. Without her squawking voice and raging temperament I may even have a chance to heal my body. I am free now, and so are you."
"What if others discover us?"
"People will expect me to mourn her for many months. If my attitude and habits change during that time none will suspect a thing. And who will question newfound joy in a slave whose master is dead? My love, we are free."
* * *
"I cannot believe the sluggishness of those men," Lady Leishan shouted at Lord Sedrick, his jaw still agape. "I told them that my husband was expecting me and they all the did was say 'I understand, milady, we are going as fast as we can.' But I tell you their speed did not increase one iota. Naturally I was furious and left with Sir Rupert Plank's men. Ah, Sir Plank! For a baronet he is a true gentleman. Not like my sickly prince. Sometimes I think I'd have been better off being born of a lesser status. I stress sometimes. Anyway, where is my ragged husband?"
"In the garden, I believe," Lord Sedrick stuttered.
"Very well. Yolli, fetch my things! Where is that girl? She is a terribly lazy servant; the worst slave I have ever bought, I tell you that."
* * *
Reveling in his happiness with his head in Yolli's lap, Prince Devian did not notice that someone else had entered the garden.
"My prince! Where have you gone to?"
Lord Sedrick thrust himself through the bushes into the opening, spitting leaves into the pond and tearing his cape.
Prince Devian leapt to his feet.
"My prince? Great Gods--!"
"Lord Sedrick!" Devian grabbed his chest as he began coughing. "How dare you," he said between coughs. "I had asked to be alone."
"This is outrageous. She is a servant. And what about your wife?"
"My wife is dead."
"I sure as Hades am not!"
Her shrill voice cut the air like a fine blade. Its sound pierced his soul more than his ears. It could not be! His heart swelled twice its size and Devian thought it might burst through his ribs. He grabbed his chest and spun to look at her. The bestial gleam of her dark eyes enveloped him, bringing a heavy weight on his soul like a shackle and chain. Under this seeming weight he collapsed backward into the pond.
Yolli shrieked a painful, bloody shriek. Hunched over the body of her lover, she could think of nothing else to do but scream and sob.
"Can't someone shut her up?" Lady Leishan protested. She turned to Sedrick. "See, this was the better trap. If you want to marry me you must trust my plans. Now leave him there long enough to say he drowned."
Sedrick nodded mechanically. "Yes, my love."
Story © 2003 by Christian R. Bonawandt email@example.com
Artwork © 2003 by Mike Finucane firstname.lastname@example.org
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