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CHAPTER 3: Dances, Music and Mayhem

Dressed in a black floor length gown and a bodice, decorated with rubies and diamonds, Queen Mary I was on the knee-rest with her head bowed down and her chin touching her clasped hands. The light from the afternoon sky seemed to bless the queen through the windows of the cathedral as she prayed for herself, her kingdom and her people. She lifted her head and gave a yearning look at the crucifix, and ended her prayer with the sign of the holy trinity.

     She rose onto her feet and turned to a thin-framed man in full red robes with a red biretta on his head, kneeling before her. “Cardinal Lawce, I had never thought the church would send you.” Her pencil eyebrows perked up as her puffy lips moved to one side.

     Cardinal Lawce stood by her acknowledgment, revealing the jeweled cross laced on his neck and his diamond grey eyes piercing through his spectacles. “Neither did I Your Majesty. Though may I say, you are looking most splendid,” he said.

     The queen’s three ladies-in-waiting gathered to her side and fell behind her as she walked forward to the cardinal. “Your Eminence, I am sure we have more important discussions ahead of us rather than useless exchange of flattery.”

     “As always, Your Majesty cuts to the chase,” said Lawce with a smile.

     “You know I dislike wasting time. Especially my time.”

     “Then may I have a word in private Your Majesty?”

     “Walk with me then.”

     He bowed and offered his elbow. Mary slipped a hand in between as they started out of the church and into the castle grounds. Her ladies followed three beats behind.

     “Your Majesty, the Pope sends his thanks for returning Catholicism as the national religion once again,” said Lawce. “You have our utmost gratitude.”

     “No thanks necessary, Your Eminence. I only undid the blasphemy inflicted by my ghastly father and continued by my ever loyal half-brother.” Her tone turned to a blade, cutting through the words she spoke

     A wry smile came onto his face. “As for your request for help to properly set and return Catholicism to your kingdom, the clergy will be arriving late next week.”

     Her left brow rose. “I do not understand. I thought Your Eminence was supposed to be that help.” She stopped in the middle of the field of grass and faced Lawce.

     “I am a man of God Your Majesty, but you know my talents aren’t suited for reformation and rebuilding what once was.”

     Mary’s eyes darkened; her thoughts fleeted to a darker side, where no common man dares unravel. “Then this could only mean it’s about the demons.”

     “Yes and no. Though the Pope did say I am to investigate damonen movements, I am afraid there is a bigger issue than that.”

     She flinched at the word damonen when the cardinal had spoken of it. She disliked the term and preferred the word demon; the way bishops and other clergymen coined it. For that is what they are—evil corruptors of human souls. “What is it then?” she asked.

     “Settlers,” his voice grew lower and raspier. “Ever since the start of this year, settlers have been increasing in number. They have been roaming around our lands more frequently and have been spreading their demonic powers.”

     “How can that be? Haven’t they been given their own land to live in?”

     “Most of the older ones stay at Telios,” answered Lawce. “But the younger tend to explore more and extend their reach further than they are allowed to, breaching treaties and contracts in different countries. Their motives are unknown as every kind has a different sense of malice and deviousness. But we assume that their goal is but one…” As Mary raised a brow, he said lastly, “The desire to rule over us.”

     “Then I trust the church is doing all there is to quell this starting war?”

     “The church has sent emissaries such as me to places where the threat is sighted,” stated Lawce as they started moving forward again.

     “And the Bringers? What do they have to say about this?” she asked, clutching Lawce’s arm again.

     “Inconclusive. Some think it is only natural, others think it should be stopped while others care not.”

     Her eyes narrowed as a quiver escaped her lips. “What would you have me do then? Seeing as the only power you may require does not wish to rally under your banner?”

     “Perceptive as much, Your Majesty,” said with Lawce with a grin. “I ask for your cooperation in this matter, lending your soldiers to the fight whenever need be. And any help you may impart. Of course, I shall lend my services to your cause as well.”

     Her eyes fluttered in glee. It was another chance to be on the grace of God; another chance she could put her motherland back into His arms of mercy and prove their worth as children of the Lord. As the fight against the Protestants ensue, then so shall the fight against evil will commence. “Your Eminence, I think I may just have what you need. The very existence of which these settlers live on shall crumble beneath our feet.” Triumph, justice and a hint of wickedness reveled in her smile.

“I will bet three shillings,” was the first words William heard when he awoke, staggered upright and gasped for air. Flashbacks bombarded his head of Garret, the shadows and Death. He snapped his attention to himself, patting his arms, chest, and legs and back, pressing for pain and inspecting his wounds. Though covered with bandages, the wounds felt healed and itching, not the usual after pain and soreness he’d expected.

     “Looks like the nugget-head’s awake,” said a man with a golden hoop through his left ear and a curly short brown mane for hair. He was the same man who played the viola in the town performance earlier.

     “Raise you then,” said the other man with a bandana sitting opposite the table. The man who played the lute tossed money next to a pile of cards and smiled testily at his opponent.

     In a plain dress, the girl who danced with the tambourine entered the room carrying a basin of water in her arms. Her black curly long hair swayed to the sides, creating shadowed silhouettes against the light from the fireplace. “Do not tease him Paolo. He has yet to recover his wounds.” She sat on a chair right next to William, who lay on a bench, and placed the basin on the floor.

     “Who are you? Where am I?” asked William, looking around a plain room with only tables and benches and large chests near the door outside.

     “I am Isabelle,” said the girl with a mixed accent, hinting a bit of Spanish-esque and something else. “That tall one with the bandana on his head is Mikael, my brother. And that loud obnoxious one is Paolo, my cousin.”

     “She meant loud, obnoxious and devilishly handsome,” corrected Paolo, dropping his card on the table and collecting all the coins that had stacked up in the middle.

     “Are you cheating?” asked Mikael to Paolo. “You know I hate cheaters.”

     “I do not cheat my dear cousin. I am simply the best on card games in the whole of Egypt.” He waved his hand joyfully as if celebrating his title as the best card player.

     Mikael slammed his fist down the table. “Again. And this time, I deal.” His hands collected the cards and started shuffling them.

     “Your death cousin,” he smiled mischievously.

     Isabelle sighed. “Do not mind them. When they play cards, they tend to be overly dramatic about it.” She immersed a damp cloth inside the basin of water and reached for William’s arm but he snapped it back.

     Fear roused in his eyes, gripping his arms tightly and looking at Isabelle accusingly.

     “Do not worry. I am here to clean you. I will do nothing to hurt you,” she said softly, stretching her hand towards him.

     William looked at the hand then back at her dark brown eyes. He sensed something different about her, the same way he sensed something different about his father compared to other people. With a nod of her head, he placed his arm at Isabelle’s palm and tried to ease the tension in his body.

     “That wasn’t so bad was it?” She patted his arm with the cloth, cleansing the parts where it wasn’t covered.

     He shook his head.

     As she continued above his arm and the next, she said, “You are in the town’s inn. We found you lying in an alley on our way here. Do you have a name?”

     “William,” he croaked.

     “Do you have a house? A mother or a father?”

     He nodded. “A father.”

     “If you have a father and a house, then that means you are not a beggar. If you are not a beggar, then what were you doing in a dark alley, pounded and looking like a dead dog?”

     In the alley? I was attacked by shadows and Death saved me. Was that all just a dream? “I was robbed and I fought back,” he lied.

     “A nugget-head, in a doll’s body challenging a thief,” joked Paolo. “We never get one of those these days.”

     “Paolo, stop,” said Isabelle.

     “Is that yours?” Mikael pointed a chin towards a sack at the corner of the room.

     “Yes sir,” answered William quickly. “I purchased it at the market.”

     “Weird taste you have there. Wonder what you’ll do with mandrake roots and dragonfly wings,” he stated. “Are you sure you were robbed?”

     “Yes sir.”

     “Hmmm,” he sounded. “No one was around when we saw you. Nobody would have noticed you if it not for my sister’s keen eyes.”

     Isabelle placed the cloth on the basin and stood up. “That is that. I will be cooking now, you may continue washing yourself if you want.” She stretched her arms and walked towards the other door.

     “Cooking?” asked William.

     “For supper,” she answered. “I make the best lamb stew.”

     His eyes bawled.

     “Is something wrong nugget-head?” asked Paolo. “You don’t like lamb stew very much? I can say I feel the same way when Isabelle’s making it.”

     “No stew for you then,” grumbled Isabelle.

     “Oh come on dear cousin. Don’t be so sensitive.”

     William dragged himself from the bench and dressed with his tunic and shoes. “I’m sorry, but I have to go. It is very late and my father will be angry. Thank you for your help. I am most grateful. I will find a way to repay you. Thank you.” He crossed the room and rushed out the door.

     “See what your cooking’s effect on men are,” joked Paolo.

     Isabelle sent dagger eyes on him.

     “Gin,” screamed Mikael. “Finally!” His hands grabbed the stacked pennies and hugged them into his side.

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