Elymas felt a bolt of rage so strong that he lifted his arm to strike. Slowly, he brought it down. It would do little good to strike Ondred. He thought of another torture. The truth.
“I poisoned William as well. The King is dead.” The man’s eyes were on him again. Elymas smoothed the sleeves of his robe. “For all practical purposes, I rule. The city is mine, and I will make the flower bloom.”
Ondred managed to move his head from side to side.
The old man’s mind was resisting what his body couldn’t conquer. Death was minutes away. Why not spill his plans?
” It’s blood the stump wants, not water, and I’ve flooded the stump with blood. There is a shoot now growing from it. With blood, fresh blood, it will be a tree, and blossom. I will pluck the bloom.”
The old man was making wet bubbling sounds. Ondred opened his eyes one last time and with the clarity of the dying muttered, “Fool.”
This time the Earth Skyll did strike. He struck the newly dead.
He’d left the councilor’s chamber immediately where he’d rung for a servant to bring him three bottles of Frennin White. The vintage was royal, served only at the King’s bidding, but the servant, a wizened old man, didn’t so much as raise a brow. He merely returned with three bottles and a goblet on a sturdy tray.
Now, Elymas sat in the Great Throne Room — where he belonged. The fact that he was sitting in the King’s chair while the King lay dead by his own hand was an irony only he could appreciate. No one else must know the work of this night.
The feast had been thick with the talk of the earth child. Fie on the Whitehair’s cursed announcement. The talk would die down at the news of William’s death but the respite would be temporary. Too many eyes had met his only to look away, too many conversations had stopped at his approach. The silences as he passed had been waiting; the whispers beginning as even as he turned to go.
They’d been speculating on his successor, but the speculation would cease once he had the child killed. Oren Whitehair would also be eliminated; the only question being when. It would be simple enough to brand him as a traitor and hold him responsible for the King’s death, but that would cause problems with the Shautau. He’d no wish to quarrel with the Sikestran of the Eld Forest and Head of the Brethren of the Blue Stone at this juncture.
William’s widow would hardly be an obstacle. She’d come late to the banquet hall tonight, looking harried and helpless. The Peasant Queen. A tender mortal whom he planned to woo with dependency, the subtlest form of control. Every decision made in Casoria would soon be his, though the royal seal would be upon the scroll.
He opened the third and last bottle of Frennin White, this time pouring the goblet only half full. He’d been drinking too much and too quickly, he realized, for the shadows that had skittered on the floor were now on the ceilings and walls. Nor where they floating leaves or darting minnows. They were grotesque shapes joined in hideous ways.
Suddenly, shadows and shapes were everywhere. Elymas set down his goblet and rubbed his eyes with his fists. Had he really seen a woman sporting a boar’s head enter the door?