The door creaked open a crack, and Mary heard the familiar voice of Saden Flettica.
“Halden kassit?” (What is your business?) He asked. Mary replied.
“j hesik tu gresi tu adenk tendelle.” (I want to speak to your master/leader.) She said. Saden recognized her, and with a smile, he opened the door.
“j lasen adenne gretae.” (I wish you [feminine] luck.) He said. Mary smiled gratefully.
“Adigen.” (Thank you.) She replied. “je reton ti.” (We need it.) They continued on, Saden having helpfully pointed out the way. They recognized Glevanne’s door, and saw a glimpse of Dusak behind it, but they dared to show they knew him and continued on their way without so much as a glance in his direction.
They passed the tapestry of the queen, and Mary looked at it with a new respect in her eyes. The queen seemed to smile down at her, encouraging her to do the mission well. Next to this poster, Mary saw another for the first time. It was smaller, but the lady was dressed in rich gowns and looked like an older version of the princess, Shetta. She guessed that this must be the king’s young wife. She studied the faces of both women, frowning. There was something about those two faces that reminded her of someone, but she just could not place them. She puzzled over this for a moment, but the boys were anxious, and pulled her away.
They continued down the hall, and at last came to what must be the throne room. They paused, for in front of the door stood two imposing guards. Mary spoke up tentatively.
“j hesik tu gresi tu adenk tendelle.” (I want to speak to your master/leader.) The guards exchanged surprised looks. A human, speaking their language? This had been unheard of since a man named Elliot came through. But these humans were children. Their surprise turned into curious excitement. For this was something exciting, and they wanted excitement. With a nod, the taller of the two guards swung open one of the doors, and the children stepped into a room far more magnificent than the hall.
It’s high ceilings were covered in beautiful, delicate designs, and from it hung glass lamps which had the appearance of icicles. Huge columns, also elaborately designed, supported the castle’s ceiling. Justin looked at the width and barely suppressed an admiring whistle. He knew he and Duncan could probably reach around the sides without being able to touch their fingertips together.
They walked down the carpet that lay exactly down the middle of the room, and stood in front of the throne, waiting.
At the moment, the king was in a deep discussion with his counselor, and Mary could tell from the frantic movement of his hands and the telltale terror in his face that time was running short, the counselor was getting impatient and wanted the throne for himself soon. She cleared her throat with emphasis, and the king and counselor stopped immediately. Mary looked pointedly at the king when he asked their business in a still shaken voice.
“We wish this conversation to be private.” She said, and looked at the counselor. He whispered something into the king’s ear that made him turn pale, and then shuffled from the room with one last sneer toward the humans.
“What do you want?” the king asked, his voice tired and strained. Mary looked at him. She let her clear gaze meet his fearful one. The king dropped his eyes, and he motioned them closer. Mary’s gaze didn’t flicker.
“I have come with my brothers to tell ye a thing or two about yerself.” She said. The king’s face was a picture of confusion, and even Justin and Duncan wondered what Mary meant by that statement. She continued, pleased that the king didn’t know what she meant. “Ye have done something wrong.” She said, as if she was reading his guilty mind. The king started and looked at Mary, but she ignored this and continued, her blue eyes burning into the king’s brown ones. “Ye think no one knows, except one, who is your enemy.” The king sat forward in his chair, and glanced nervously at the door the counselor had gone out from. Mary realized that her suspicion was correct, the counselor was eavesdropping. “Ye can’t hide any longer.” She said. “Others know what went on in that room where the good queen died, others know that it was only an accident.” The king jumped from his throne, and his eyes darted from Mary to her brothers and back again. He was worried. How much did they know, and how did they know it? Mary continued. “Aye.” She said with satisfaction. “Ye will not listen, for ye don’t believe me.” This was true, and the king’s attention was arrested again. “But ye had better, for ye are a watched man, and ye know ye have evil council.” There she had said it.
The king licked his lips and glanced again at the door. What did this girl mean? How could she be so bold in such danger filled times? He was puzzled, and concerned, but also somewhat glad. If another person was there, maybe he could be free from the oppression of his counselor.
Mary paused for a moment, her mind racing. What could she say to completely convince the king that he needed to get rid of the counselor? Suddenly, she remembered the princess, and the king’s young bride. She smiled to herself in triumph, yes; this would bring the king to himself. She took a deep breath, thinking her words over carefully.
“Ye know yer daughter loves ye?” she asked, and was pleased to get an immediate reaction from the king. His head shot up again, and his brow furrowed in thought. “Aye,” she continued, nodding wisely. “And she was yer wife’s last gift to ye.” The king was glancing nervously from the door to Mary. But Mary was only beginning her reproof to the unfaithful king. “Aye, ‘twas her last gift to ye, and ye were glad. Yer wife gave birth to a girl, yet,” she now paused, realizing she was on very dangerous ground, and licked her lips. “Yer wife not only had a daughter, Shetta Gloriheem, but she also gave birth to a son. She had twins.” The king rose slightly from his throne, and his hollow eyes searched Mary’s.
“How come you know this?” he demanded hoarsely. Mary smiled and returned the king’s stare evenly.
“How did I come to know this?” she asked innocently. “Why didn’t ye ask yer mother?” The king’s face turned red with rage and then a deadly pale.
This news was a shock to him. He had an heir? The counselor had been tricking him, and conniving against him, and pressuring him, for nothing? The king was angry: at himself, at the counselor, at all those he had hired for his own gain. Suddenly he realized what a fool he had been. He realized that he needed to get rid of his counselor, the start of all his problems. His beautiful wife’s face came into his mind, and his mother’s gentle caring one. He felt he could no longer be a king, he wanted to give up, and he wanted to have someone else take over. He was finished, an old and worn king, used by many for their own profit.
In front of the children’s surprised faces, he broke down under the unseen strain, and he cried. All the years of a false face, and a weak ruler in the hands of a crafty counselor, the king finally gave in to his better judgment.
Awkwardly, the three children stood in front of him. When he finally looked up, he searched their faces carefully, and read in them honor, loyalty, and plain honesty. This refreshed the king, who was so used to fear, manipulation, and flattery. He was actually relieved to see someone willing to stand up against him. He smiled for the first time in years, in fact, the first time since his mother died, and looked into Mary’s eyes. Her gaze still did not falter.
“Find the prince.” He said hoarsely. “Find him and bring him to me. I want to see him before I die.” The children turned as if to go, but the king’s next words stopped them. “Tell Shetta.” With that they left, and although they were aware of a sense of danger, no one molested them on their way out.
They went the long way back to Dusak and Vinea’s house and entered by the back door. They didn’t want to bring any trouble to their friends. Valkin greeted them, giving them all a smile.
“How did it go?” he asked. Mary shrugged.
“I don’t know, the king wants the prince back, and he wants us to tell the princess she has a brother.” She replied. Valkin’s brow creased slightly in surprise.
“There is a prince?” he asked. Mary raised an eyebrow.
“Then ye don’t know too?” she asked in some surprise. She looked at Vinea who was setting the table for an early supper. “Ye should ask the one you call sister about yer history Valkin, I think ye would find it mighty surprising.” Valkin stood in between Mary and Vinea and his eyes darted from one face to another. Finally, he turned and went to Vinea.
Poor Justin and Duncan were still in the dark, so Mary took them aside to explain her story. They went into the room that they were sharing during their stay, and she told them the short history as told by first Old Elliot, and then Valkin Tredhale.
“It started that one bonnie day when I went down to Old Elliot’s house to deliver some things Father had just mended for him and for my weekly language lesson. He opened the door and led me in with a troubled smile. Puzzled, I asked him what was wrong. He sighed wearily and ran a hand through his hair.
“‘Ah, ye would not understand lass.’ He said, but I begged him to tell me, so he finally gave in and sat down heavily. ‘Ye know that I’m a great friend of the elves, aye?’ I nodded, so he continued. ‘Well, they’re a troubled people right now, and I want to help, but I’m an old man and can’t lift a finger to relieve them.’ I asked to know more, so he did his best to tell me.
“‘The kingdom began to fall when the king’s wife died of childbirth about twenty or so years ago. I was much younger then. She was a young lass, and could not bear the strain of giveng birth to two children. One was a boy, but he was a weak lad, and the midwife, a wonderful and wise woman, took him in as her own to train as a page until his time came. The girl was healthy and strong, and given to the king as his child. Only four people knew of there being two children: the queen, the king’s mother, the midwife, and myself. The king’s young wife was a friend of mine, and trusted me more than herself, bless the wee lass.’ He paused for a moment and I saw his eyes glisten some with unshed tears. He went on. ‘We all swore to one another that we would not tell another living soul that there were two unless it came to saving the kingdom from falling.’ He looked me directly in my eyes and I felt them go clean through me. ‘I’m telling ye this now, because the kingdom is falling, and fast. I just got word from an elf, one of my old friends, that the king’s mother has been dead these three years, and only now had they time to tell me. The prince is safe, but he must be put on the throne. The only way ye can save the kingdom and the prince is with the help of yer brothers. Ye must work quickly; there is no time to lose. Go home now, for I see yer brother’s coming on down the lane, it looks as if they’ve found something, and probably want my help, I’ll tell them, and ye can fill them in on any other details. Go!’ He turned to the window as he finished all this, so I left quickly out the back way.
“My mind was racing over all this information and I tried to work it out. There were still many holes I had to fill when you came back with the note. It was the perfect opportunity to get into the kingdom without suspicion, and I forgot for a time to tell you two what our conversation was about, I’m sorry. I was busy finding clues as to where the prince was, and who the prince was. After I had looked at the tapestries for the second time, and put two and two together about it, I figured out who the prince was and where he was. I now just needed the throne to open up to him.” Mary paused to take a deep breath and moisten her lips. The boys were both leaning forward in their chairs, drinking in the information.
“Who is the prince?” Justin demanded when Mary paused. “How did ye guess, and what were the clues?” Mary smiled.
“Aye, well ye may ask.” She stopped again, her eyes sparkling. “You’ll never guess.”
“WHO IS THE PRINCE!” bellowed Justin. Mary smiled again, unruffled by her brother’s reaction.
“The former Valkin Tredhale, messenger for his Majesty the King.” There was a long silence. The boy’s mouth’s hung open. The clock on the wall ticked, and somewhere a rooster crowed. The silence was broken by a chuckle from Mary.
“Aye, ye weren’t expecting that were ye?” she asked. The boy’s shook their heads dumbly, still not over the shock. “As to yer other questions, I guessed when I took a second look at the tapestries. The first time I noticed a strange resemblance in the king’s mother’s face to someone I knew, so I kept a sharp look out for that person, and then I saw the one tapestry again, and the smaller one that must be the king’s wife. The resemblance was so clear when I looked at it again, that I knew the prince must be Valkin. As for how Valkin ended up here, I think Vinea will have the answers to our questions.” She paused and sighed. “I think I shall go ask her next, would ye two like to come?” The boy’s, still somewhat in shock, stood and followed Mary mutely down the stairs.
As they came closer and closer to the kitchen, they started to hear muffled conversation. Mary knocked on the door, and it was opened by a somewhat flustered Vinea. The three children stepped in, and Mary looked squarely at Vinea.
“I’m ready to hear yer part of the story.” She said matter-of-factly. Vinea turned slightly pale, and darted nervous glances at Valkin, who had an angry frown on his face, and Mary, who stood in front of the door, her only chance of escape.
“I don’t know what you mean.” She said weakly. Mary cleared her throat.
“Aye, ye do.” She said. Vinea darted another look over at Valkin who was fuming silently over in a corner. Mary continued. “Start when ye got Valkin from the midwife.” Vinea saw that they knew, and saw that the secret was out.
“How do you know about that?” she asked, paling even more. Mary raised an eyebrow.
“Old Elliot told me, because it needed to be told.” She replied. Vinea sat down heavily in a chair looking like a cornered animal.
“Very well, I shall tell you. The midwife was my mother.” There was a gasp from behind Mary, and Vinea smiled grimly. “Yes, it was not supposed to be known. My mother and I raised Valkin up as a page, and then he stopped that to become a messenger for the king. For some reason he preferred that job. We have kept him a secret this long, everyone thinks that Valkin and I are brother and sister, and shall continue to until he is on the throne. My mother made me swear to tell no one until his time had come.” She looked at us and sighed. “I suppose this means his time has come.” There was a silence, and finally Valkin stepped out from his corner, trembling with barely contained emotions. He went over to Vinea and tried to look into her downcast eyes.
“Why did you not tell me?” he asked. Vinea had a tear run down her cheek.
“Because mother told me not to.” She said softly. Mary and her brother’s drew back quietly, and left the two to sort things out in their own time. Dusak was sitting outside moodily, so they did not disturb him and went back up to their room.