Anastasia was not really concerned about what was happening. The overall feeling I got was she was a threat. Any simple creature on this world knew a danger when they came across it and ran. That’s what I wanted to do. Run.
Christian nodded. “And he was going to break any alliance by killing me?” He said. “How was that going to work?” He moved a little closer.
She shrugged. “I’m not sure.” She looked around the throne room almost absently. “He and a few felt Blethos should be independent.”
I frowned. “But it is independent.”
She shook her head. “They didn’t see it that way.” Then she turned, looking coldly at Christian and me. “It was obvious what was going to happen.” Yet she didn’t see anything to tell her we could see her point. “Okay. There were four great powers on this continent. “A’Dore, Blethos, Darma and Criede.” She began as if teaching school. “A’Dore was the largest because of land. We have the most land for growing crops than any of the other kingdoms and the most fertile. At one time, Blethos, which was half growing fields and rocky terrain had a crisis like they just had. The king of Darma married a nobleman’s son and merged the kingdoms of Blethos and Darma…”
“We know this.” I said feeling annoyed she was giving history lessons instead of telling us about this attempt on the royal family.
“Well, Blethos became almost as large as A’Dore.” Anastasia said simply. “Things were becoming friendlier between A’Dore and Blethos and then the crisis of an heir to the throne happened again and they turned to A’Dore to help.” She pointed at me. “The thing was, they were worried if you married a woman of noble birth and had children then there was a threat. Any child born from that union was perceived as a threat. A king on the throne of Blethos that was also from A’Dore? You married the son of King Alexander, who gave the crown to his brother. The threat was delayed. You two would have no heirs, so Blethos was secure for another generation.”
“But we have two sons.” I frowned. “Seth and I.”
“Yes, but are they in line for the throne?” Anastasia asked.
I shook my head. “I never thought about it. I don’t suppose they are. If they are, they're after Thomas, Edward and Michael.”
“And there you go.” Anastasia said.
“This is nice, reviewing what we know.” Christian growled. “What’s wrong with the fact we get along?”
She shrugged again. “Nothing, but they saw a second merger was going to happen. The kingdom that would come of this eventual merger would be mightier in power on this entire world! You would have troops that numbered in the hundreds of thousands.”
“And that would be a bad thing.” Christian said trying to follow this to some logic.
“Controlled by one man?” Anastasia pointed out. “Thousands of square miles controlled by one man, one family they feared was too much. They thought a man should be chosen to rule, not born to rule. Basically it is now. The royal families of A’Dore and Blethos have combined. You are essentially one family now. Two kings, yes, but one family.”
I nodded. “Because Christian and Samuel are doing such a bad job.”
She grinned. “Well, there are other things they thought were too important for one man to decide about, or one family. They didn’t trust that you could rule wisely over a huge kingdom or empire. And it is an empire.” She waved all this away like one does a fly buzzing around you head. “But I don’t care. I’m not politically interested. But when you married your brother to Prince Phillip, they saw that you weren’t a man God would approve of. Therefore were not going to trusted to make any hard decisions.” She smiled again. “Then you, Your Majesty and King Alexander both married your families by marrying Prince Erik to Prince Phillip to each other. They were going to strike you, too, Seth. The King Alexander dies and you were king. But you stepped down. You, King Christian did not.”
Christian nodded as he began to pace and think. “But in killing me, they’d have the same issue, my son is next in line.”
Anastasia nodded again. “That’s why they did what they did. Hoping it would take care of several barriers. Ella and the family included.” She smiled. “Like I’ve stated, this is all Jean Claude’s agendas, not mine.”
“And you knew about these plans…when?” I asked.
“A couple of months ago.” Anastasia said. “I had no time to warn anyone. Not on speculation.”
Ella walked toward Anastasia. “And the fact you were once my step-sister? I can’t believe that fact was just a coincidence.”
“That was just happenstance.” Anastasia shook her head. “No, the marriage for me was one for two reasons. They hoped that my having something of a relationship with you would get them closer to the throne. And Jean Claude needed the….distraction for others.”
“Distraction?” Ella frowned. “Why did he need distracting? You’re not making sense.”
“Jean Claude was a very devote man. He even studied to be a priest.” Anastasia said. “And it wasn’t a distraction for him, but everyone else. It seems that Jean Claude liked them young. Very young.”
“By the term them, you mean for sex?” Seth asked a little appalled. “He was into children?”
Anastasia nodded. “Little boys.” She said it as if to specify what a color really was. No alarm or concern. “And I knew he would give all that money he had to the Church if he joined and became clergy. Why should the Church profit from him? If I married him, he would throw some of those people fearful for their children off and I would be a wealthy woman and I married him making him appear…normal.”
“But you knew he was like this when you married him.” Ella said, and it was all done and said like it was to be sure we got the real picture as to what had happened.
“He said he was stopping.” Anastasia said but she didn’t believe he would. “I trusted him. I married him.” Then she looked at Christian. “Now, am I under arrest?” Even standing before her king, she seemed as if she thought she was above it all. Entitled!
Christian didn’t know what to do. “Should you be arrested?”
I held my hand out. “Do you know the members of this…group your husband was with?”
She shook her head. “I have no idea.” Then she smiled. “They burned their communications, so there isn’t even a letter to read. I saw a few letters about how they saw you and what was happening. I saw what they were going to do too late to report it.” You didn’t need Demetrius or any crystal ball to know she was lying, but what proof did we have?
“And we just have your word for that.” Christian said.
“Unless you have another, yes.”
I shook my head. “You will of course understand why we don’t necessarily trust you. You have a history that’s not trustworthy.”
“Why?” Anastasia looked like she really knew, but wanted us to say it. “Because I dared not to like Ella? Because I was mean to her when we were younger? How dare I do that?” She said the last part in mocking disgust.
“I was always nice to you.” Ella said, but her feelings were hurt. “What did I do that made you dislike me so much?”
“You were perfect.” Anastasia answered simply. “You are pretty and kind and everyone loved you. Still do.” She chuckled. “Even now, the whole kingdom is upset for poor Ella.”
“I never asked them for that.” Ella said, still not understanding.
“You don’t have to ask.” Anastasia frowned. “They just do. This goody-goody act you do, all those causes you head….feeding the poor, educating the children and medical care done by roving teams of doctors that travel to the other towns….who wouldn’t like you?”
“You don’t.” I said.
Anastasia looked back at me. “Is that a crime?”
“No.” Christian shook his head. “But I wish I could make it one, but that isn’t right either.” He looked at Anastasia. “You may return home. But know this…you will be watched.”
“Because I’m so dangerous.” Anastasia said mockingly again.
“I think you are.” Christian said. “And until the people tell me I’m not king anymore…I am king. On my say so, you will be watched.”
Anastasia nodded. “Fine. Can I go now?”
“See to it Mrs. Rainere is returned safely.” Christian said to Delbert who instantly bowed and was walking Ella’s former step-sister out. Then Christian waved at a man at one of the tables who was part of the military. The man came before Christian. “I want someone, even a few men to watch her. I want to know who comes and goes, who her friends are and who is in this group that want me removed…who are these people? We’ve got to know.”
The man bowed. “I’ll see to it, Sire.” And went to put things in place.
“Now!” Christian smiled clapping his hands together once and rubbed them together quickly and the spoke loudly for the entire room. “As of this moment…we are going back to the way things were before.” He looked at each of their faces around the room. “I trust all of you. I like almost every one of you…others I’m just getting to know, but given time I will like you, too I’m sure. I’m not going to let these people make me see the need for tasters and all these extra precautions. If there is someone new in the palace, find out whom they are, but no more searches without provocation. Do I make myself clear?”
There was a general agreement.
“We need to let Sam know about this group.” I said to Christian and Seth. “If it’s as spread out as Anastasia says they are. We’re not done yet.”
“Will we ever be?” Seth grumbled.
“No.” Christian smiled as Ella walked over. “I’m sorry you had to see this.” He said to her gently.
Ella nodded. “It wasn’t a surprise that she still doesn’t like me, but it did hurt again.” Then she smiled. “We can’t punish her because of it.”
Christian looked at Seth and me. “I’ll write a message for Sam. The fastest way is through the mirror/doorway. You can deliver it faster that way.” He thought about what we’d heard. “The concern about the size of the kingdom is valid. We are becoming a vast empire.”
“There have been many empires that have been as large in history. Rulers and military men held many in their control over enormous distance.” I said.
“The problem is, we’re not united.” Christian stated. “There’s a king in Blethos and I’m here in A’Dore.”
“A kingdom this big…there is problems because of distance. But they are right, we are one family now.” Seth said. “The problem is getting word to the outlying towns is difficult. Making sure everyone is on the same page is hard.”
“The problem is access.” I said. “There are no river accesses, going around is too long. The only rivers go North to South, not East to West.”
“We’ll begin what you recommended when you left for Blethos.” Christian smiled. “Remember? The horse driven messages? So long you ride a horse hard, pick up another and keep going?”
I grinned. “Well, it would be faster. We could have points…” I thought. “…about twenty miles apart?”
“We’ll need fast horses, too.” Christian said. “Of course we can do it faster with the mirror, but we need to have the other in place. We could cut the time in half.”
“A week instead of two and a half.” Seth nodded. “And you know there will be problems.”
“Of course there’ll be problems.” Christian threw his hands up helplessly. “Horses can break legs or the courier up and die and the message doesn’t get there. All sorts of problems. Do we have another choice?”
Seth and I shook our heads. “We can’t think of one.” I said. “Let’s work with what we’ve got. We’ll need men that are light and horses that are faster.”
“We also can look into the bird delivery you spoke about.” Christian suggested. “They could cut more time down.” He scratched the back of his head as he chuckled. “I sort of got used to writing you a letter, sending it by Demetrius and getting a reply in a few minutes.”
I frowned. “And that’s the problem.” I said making them look. “I was dependent, too. When I had something I didn’t know a solution, I was thinking I could ask Demetrius. He says they will be gone in a few hundred years. Well, we’ll have to come with some magic of our own. We’ll have to have a quicker means of travel.”
“But that could be a while yet.” Ella said.
“But it will happen.” I smiled. “It could be many generations before we find it, but we’ll find it. Until we do, we do with what we have.”
“The connecting factor is you two.” Christian said sadly. “Because of your marriage, Blethos and A’Dore are woven together. You’re in danger because of it.”
I shrugged. “We’re in danger because we’re related to rulers. That is a constant.”
Christian nodded. “We do need to improve precaution until we find these people.”
Seth smiled and shook his head. “Why do I feel we should break this up with a big hurrah? Like military men or men on a sports team before they try a new move?”
I chuckled. “Because that’s just what happened. We’re putting plans in motion. A move was made, now a countermove is being planned.”
Christian grinned. “A big hurrah!” He put his fist in the center where we were talking, to which Seth and I added ours, touching all fists. “Representing the kingdom of A’Dore and Blethos, united!” We gave the “hurrah!” Which Ella just rolled her eyes.
“Men.” She said quietly, shook her head and smiled.
Christian did write a letter to Samuel to be delivered when we got back. A reply was going to be sent as soon as it was done. There were going to be stations set up from both sides where a fresh horse could be waiting. A rider could cover one hundred miles a day. This was the more reliable way we could communicate. But even a week each way, the telling and response would take time and if troops were needed, even more time. At least the mirror/doorway cut even more time out. Then I wondered what would happen if we moved the mirror to the palace in Blethos. We didn’t move them at all, they were placed by Demetrius or Lukus. I couldn’t even ask them if we could. I missed Demetrius. I missed them all, but mostly Demetrius.
It wasn’t but a few days later, we bid the family here good-bye and stepped through the mirror again. Back to Royal Valley and our homes. We traveled at night while the boys were asleep carrying them in our arms.
It was while I was putting Dennis down in his bed and Seth was putting Toby in his bed when a very large shadow appeared on the doorway.
“You’re back!” Zek’s friendly voice said hopefully.
“Yes, for a while.” Seth nodded holding his finger to his lips to make Zek be quieter. Dennis could hear and wake up. “Is Gabe with you?” Seth asked.
“No, he’s home.” Zek came over and looked down at our boys. “So, you’ll need me to bring horses?”
Seth frowned. “No, it’s okay. We’ve got the boys, maybe they’ll think we came in the night and they left.”
Zek nodded. “Sure. So, you won’t need anyone tomorrow?”
I shook my head walking over to him. “We didn’t need you when we gone, but thanks for watching our place.”
Zek looked surprised. “Are you kidding? There are some crazy people out there. You guys have a nice place, some nice things that bandits would love to get ahold of. We had to watch the place. They’re nuts out there!”
Seth chuckled hugging Zek. “And we appreciate that.”
Zek shrugged. “We’re friends.” He said logically. Then he looked at our boys. “So…they went to sleep in the beds in A’Dore and are waking up here, in their own beds in Royal Valley, a thousand miles just like….” He snapped his fingers. “…that!”
I smiled at his amazement and just the look of…well, it is hard for Zek to believe. I snapped my own fingers. “Yeah, just like that.”
“Incredible.” Zek shook his head and then knocked his head with his fist. “It’s hard to get in here.” He took after his father Ebb. A very big man and Zek was fast making up any difference as time had passed. Working with his father, the blacksmith had shaped his youth in a very nice shaped man, but now he was more like a little boy. Now that he was in the light of the room, I could see his youthful face in the lamp light.
I grinned walking over to the big man. I ran a finger over his shaved face. “What’s this? What happened to the beard you were growing the past three years?”
Zek looked at me and then his face blushed and he rubbed his face and looked sheepishly at me. “Yeah, Gabe didn’t care for it. So, I shaved it off.”
Seth chuckled. “What we do for love.”
“Yeah.” Zek smiled. Then he grinned. “Well, I’m no longer needed for now. I’ll go home.”
“Good idea.” I nodded as we walked out of our boys’ room.
Zek nodded. “See you tomorrow.” And he left.
Seth walked up behind me. “We’ll need to talk to the mayor. Let him know what’s happening.” He put his arms around me from behind.
“And we need to deliver that message to Sam.” I nodded. “We will need guards for this house. We can use men here from Royal Valley, but…”
“We might need help.” Seth’s face came down to my neck.
“I feel this is going to be a danger that may be a while before it’s resolved.”