Ravensedge is a mighty kingdom perched high on the Elinway mountains. The king’s residence in the Sparrington Fort had been an impenetrable fortress for generations. The old king, Alfred, had died leaving only his daughter – Princess Anne. With no male heir, Alfred had made a selection amongst his trusted Knights Guard as a suitable successor. Sir William Raleigh had been the most obvious choice. William was a noble knight, a learned man and if the rumours were to be believed, already held the heart of the fair princess. However, to the astonishment of the kingdom, Alfred chose instead Sir Henry Deveraux to be his son in law and therefore king of Ravensedge. Henry too was a fierce knight but he had always struggled to best William in tournaments. Henry focused on his accomplishments more than his learning. Anne didn’t care too much for him either. Something had inexplicably changed Alfred’s mind. The wave of support Alfred had shown towards Henry spread. Anne married him and he was crowned king. Like a creeping curse the people of Ravensedge followed Henry without question. Only Henry himself knew how he came to be on the throne and he would show no mercy to those who would uncover the truth.
It was a warm day in Ravensedge. The sun was high and strong. A cool breeze flowed down the mountain to the luscious greenery and the Wilton Woods that lay at the bottom. King Henry was holding court in the Kings Hall. It was a long room with thin slits for windows. The floors were a heavy marble. Henry sat on the throne of Ravensedge as his subjects brought their concerns to him. The queen’s chair beside him was vacant.
Henry could see that Sir William was eager to speak so he leaned his head on his hand, stifling a yawn and ushered him forward.
“You look a little anxious, Sir William,” said the king. The gold of the crown that circled Henry’s dark feathery hair glinted in what little light the room allowed.
William raised his chin and stood proudly. He would always be Henry’s closest rival, even if no one seemed to remember it so. “It’s been several weeks since the death of King Alfred. It was always his wish to demonstrate the might of Ravensedge across the kingdoms. Now would be the best time to do this. If Your Majesty agrees that a suitable time of mourning has passed.”
A smile broke on Henry’s thin lips. Before Alfred’s travel away from the mortal coil the people of the court barely looked at Henry twice. He was of no noble blood and fought tirelessly to be taken into the Knight’s Guard. Now that they asked his permission for everything he was given a great deal of satisfaction.
“You’re suggesting that we go to war?” asked Henry. “To what end?”
As the king’s dark eyed focus narrowed on him, William ran his fingers through his thick blonde hair nervously. “Imperialism, Majesty, pure and simple.”
Henry laughed. “I like the way you think Sir William. I have always wished to see the kingdoms of Navaria, our closest neighbours, draped in the black and yellow of Ravensedge. It would also be quite a boon to have the wealth of Elgany at our disposal.”
William’s gaze dropped to the vacant chair. “Will the queen not be joining us?”
Henry felt a flutter in his stomach. He was angry what he should be asked such a question.
“She needs her rest,”he replied, probably saying more than he should have. “Pregnant women can be terribly fussy. Only her own maids will see her until she gives birth to my son.” The court was watching him. Their judgemental stares caused his own to lower to the ground. “You impudent knave!” he barked. “You have no right to ask of the queen.”
William bowed low. “I’m so sorry Your Majesty. I meant no offence.”
Henry stood as tall as he could. His chest heaved. “You have overstepped your bounds too many times. I will have your head if it ever happens again.”
When the court had cleared Henry told his aides that he wished for some time alone.
“I’m not to be disturbed,” he warned.
“Of course, Majesty,” said the young squire. He was an apple cheeked young boy who hailed from a long noble lineage. Henry had never learned his name. The boy dashed off to see that the knights and nobles met the king’s demands. Henry removed his crown and sighed. He wiped the sweat from his brow. The crown was a much heavier burden than he ever imagined.
Through the Kings Hall was a narrower corridor that led to the south west of the fort. Along the corridor lined images of previous Ravensedge kings, watching Henry with judgemental stares like those of his court.
‘What do they know?’ grunted Henry to himself. ‘They had the throne handed to them by birth. They didn’t have to struggle as I did to become king. Kissing the arse of some old fool just so he’ll give me a second glance and perhaps consider letting me marry his daughter.’
His thoughts carried him through the corridor and up to the second floor of the south west tower. He had the only key to the room. He kept it on him at all times. The long, black, iron key was too important to be entrusted to inferior hands. The door opened with a soft click. As it swung open he was met with a shrill shriek. Anne had thrown herself in the corner. Her flowing, white gown was stained with blood. The stain was heaviest around her pregnant stomach. She was holding a silver dagger in one hand, the other was splayed like the claws of a cat. Her magnificent hair was in disarray. She looked more like a mad witch than a queen.
Henry pulled the dagger out of her clutches. “What have you done!?”
“I will never bear your child!” she screamed. “My womb is for regal children and will never be infected with the dirt of your seed!”
Henry slapped her. She stumbled backwards.”I am your king,” he roared. “You will bear me one hundred children if I order you to do so.”
“My father never wanted you,” she spat venomously. “You are a useless knight then and a joke of a king now. My father wanted William.”
Henry threw her onto the floor. “I am the only one who knows you are here. Where did you get this dagger?”
Anne was breathing heavily. At first she refused to answer, until finally she said, “I will never tell you.”
Henry growled, “Now I have to fetch a doctor. You are lucky you didn’t kill yourself you stupid whore of a woman.”
As Henry locked the door again he heard crash as Anne threw her piss pot against the other side.
When Alfred had first chosen Henry as his successor, Anne had been as compliant as the rest of them. Now she remembered the struggles Henry had trying to prove himself against William. Whatever bewilderment the kingdom had fallen under it was wearing thin. Henry was running out of time.
It had been a trip to the surrounding Wilton Woods where everything had changed for Henry. He had been frustrated by his constant humiliations trying to beat William, the king’s failing to acknowledge him and Anne’s refusal to offer him a second glance. He met a tall, skulking creature named Benedict there who offered him the chance for all his dreams to come true. A month had passed and all his dreams were beginning to take the shape of nightmares. He had to find Benedict again. He had to make Anne succumb to him and have his child. With a son of true royal blood his rule would never be questioned again.
He waited at the same spot he had first met the unusual man, until darkness began to charge across the sky. He was preparing to leave when he heard a rustling in the foliage of the forest floor. There was Benedict again. He was so pale he almost glowed in the dusk.
“I get the sense I don’t have a happy customer,” he said with an underlying shrill malice. A wide grin spread from ear to ear.
“Anne hates me. My knights want to go to war. It won’t be long before they all remember.”
Benedict emitted a throaty laugh. “You were warned that ambition can be toxic. You can only control people for a time. Sooner or later their minds become their own again.”
Henry became flustered. “I need more of the drink you gave me. I need to secure my place as king and then it won’t matter if they have their own minds. They won’t be able to question my crown.”
Benedict stretched out his arm and turned the palm to the sky. A small glass vial appeared containing luminescent green liquid. “Now I want you to be sure of this. The last dosage left quite a bitter taste.”
Henry snatched the vial and gulped down the contents. Benedict watched him intently. “Aren’t you going to ask what the price is? Ambition like that doesn’t come for free.”
Henry climbed onto his waiting steed. “If it will make Anne bring me a son and controls my knights I don’t care what the price is.”
“I’ll seek you out when payment is due,” called Benedict as the king rode back to his castle. “You will care for the price,” he grinned. “And you will pay it.”
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