Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 14 - Part 3
It took Sophia the better
part of a day to recover her composure. When she finally ceased crying
anger took hold. How dare Albion think to ignore his duty? After all, he
had vowed himself to her before bishops not a month past. If he had been
forced to the vows what of it?
She had plans, too. Plans and dreams and desires for children, a family, a husband. By the saints but he was going to fulfill them!
She rose and called her maids. An hour later, dressed in her finest gown and wearing her coronet to remind all she was heir to the throne of Howicce, she stalked from her chambers in search of King Festil. Let him deal with his nephew!
The voice of the man she sought came from a council chamber that should have been empty. Sophia paused to listen. Best to make certain she'd found the right room before she barged in.
What she heard chilled her bones.
"With any luck," King Festil was saying as if he were discussing a mare put to stud, "Albion's got his seed in her by now. We'll give it another two or three days. Then I'll casually ask the chit if she's carrying."
The old seneschal, Lajos, answered with the same lack of feeling. "And I have a skilled healer standing by in case she is reluctant to answer. We'll have the truth from her by force if necessary. I think it best she complete her confinement here, Sire, if you agree."
"Absolutely. After all, she'll have lost husband and father in the same night. We want to be certain that babe's well set. Or that we have a good substitute should something go wrong."
Sophia's heart pounded as the meaning of the conversation sank in. She could not possibly be hearing them correctly. There had to be some alternate she missed. She edged closer to the door and held her breath as Lajos spoke again.
"How fortunate your sons and nephews are so prolific with their seed. There's more than one babe to chose from if we need." Metal clinked against wood as something was laid on the table. "Here they are, Your Grace. You will be able to share the wine with your nephew and the Supreme of Howicce. Perhaps in celebration of the heir to be born?"
Festil gave a nervous laugh. "You expect me to share the wine with them? That's a poor jest, Lajos."
"And what better way to assure you are held blameless, Sire? The wine is perfectly safe." Metal clattered again. "Just take care which of the cups you drink from. Two are poisoned on the rims."
For a space measured in breaths Sophia thought she would faint. She could not have misheard this. There was no other explanation. The king of Gwynedd was plotting to kill her father and his own kin.
She leaned against the solid wall, savoring its' strength. Dear Mother of God! What had she done? Played right into their hands, that's what!
And now she had to correct it. She tiptoed away from the council chamber, lifted her skirts as soon as she rounded the corner and sped in search of her father.
He was pulling on his gloves, obviously ready to ride. Sophia ignored his shocked look as she burst into his chamber. "Father, I have to speak with you! Now!" she insisted when his squires did not move. "Alone!"
"All right, girl. All right. Get out of here, all of you." He waved the squires of impatiently. "Make it quick."
"It will be faster if I show you." Sophia linked her mind with his and let the entire conversation she had overheard flow between them.
Her father's face went from flushed to white in the space of a heartbeat. "You are certain of this?"
"You heard what I heard, Sire. How certain are you?"
The Supreme of Howicce dropped into a leather chair as if his legs would no longer support him. "Girl, if you're right we've walked into an adder's den. Thank God you've a good ear at doors."
"Father, we have to leave here. Now." Sophia knelt beside his chair and clasped his hand in both of hers. "I can go without my trunks. I've other clothes. Let us be away."
The door swung on its hinges before her father could answer. Prince Festil stood in the doorway, dressed as her father was, for riding in the cold.
"Your pardon, Your Highness, but it may not be that easy to leave. You are not the only targets of my father's plans."
"You heard?" Sophia rose, her shields flaring around her as her fear and anger focused on this single entity of the house of Furstain. "How dare you listen at doors?"
Prince Festil gave a short laugh as he stepped in and shut the door firmly. "Unlike you, Your Grace, I was expected here. The door was not entirely shut. It seems to be a fault of these hinges in the chill of winter."
"And what do you mean to do, now that you know your plans are exposed?" The Supreme of Howicce rose and faced the prince. One hand hovered near the hilt of a jeweled dagger at his waist.
"I don't mean to finish my father's plan, if that is what you're asking. If anything, I'm on your side. Albion's my friend and I want no part of ruling the world."
"Ruling the world?" Sophia felt incredibly stupid. The conversation had gone far beyond her in a single statement. "You mean there is more?"
"From what I have seen, yes. I discovered some of my father's and uncle's plans in Corwyn a month past. They mean to have control of all the Eleven Kingdoms, either by marriage or conquest, within the next five years."
"Then we cannot simply save ourselves." The Supreme of Howicce shook his head, looking for all the world like a tired bear in a pit bracing for the dogs' next attack. "We must put a stop to this. Now."
Sophia read the prince as he spoke. He truly wanted no part of his father's scheme.
"What do we do?" She glanced from one man to the other. "I want to help, too."
"We have to let my father know his plans are compromised beyond repair. I suggest we wait until Yule court. The ruling houses from a number of target kingdoms are gathering here even now. What better time to reveal the plot than before so many witnesses?"
The Supreme of Howicce nodded with a slight smile. "It feels good to have a friend in this, Your Grace. It's a pity, really, that you're already married. My daughter might have done better with you than with young Albion."
The prince shook his head. "Albion's a far better man than I, Your Highness. He'd not have stood by for so long and let something like this continue before he stepped in. For his safety now, however, I must ask your daughter if she knows where he is. We will need to contact him and let him know how dangerous the situation has become."
Sophia lifted her chin to hide the desolation filling her heart. "I can try to reach my lord tonight, Your Grace. I believe he will receive me."
Prince Festil nodded. "Good enough, then. Tell him wherever he is he must remain there. Unless he is out of my father's reach I cannot guarantee his safety. We will have quite enough to do guarding our own backs.
"Which brings me to a very delicate subject." The prince fixed Sophia with such a penetrating gaze she felt he could read her heart's secrets. "Your Highness, is there any chance you have conceived from your marriage?"
Sophia let the silence stretch for some minutes. At last she shook her head. The answer seemed to fill her chest with lead.
"No, Your Grace. Not as yet."
* * * * *
Sophia waited until well after the rest of the castle had settled for the night. Then she sat, staring into the brazier and willed Albion's image to come to her mind.
It took several minutes before he answered. *I'm here. What is it?*
*I need to warn you. Your life is in danger!* She sent the image of the conversation she overheard and her later encounter with Prince Festil and her father through the link.
Albion fairly chuckled. *So my uncles think to murder me? Let them try. I thank you for the warning.*
*Then you will stay away?*
She felt him shake his head. *Of course not. Festil is right. This plan stops now. Tell him I will return to Rhemuth for Yule Court.*
*I wish you would not.* Sophia's stomach clenched at the thought of the danger his return would bring.
*I realize that, but I have to. I cannot let this pass.* Albion hesitated, then spoke again in a softer tone. *I think we need to talk, as well.*
She knew then that he would leave her. Sophia stifled a sigh of despair. She had known that since he discovered the love charm. There was none to blame but herself in this.
*I agree.* She did her best to sound casual as she closed the link. *I will be waiting for you.*