“I regret being the one to tell you this, but your father is gone.”
William stared at his old nurse, hardly comprehending. “Gone?”
“I’m so sorry, my dear boy.” The old woman held open her arms to him, inviting him to find comfort in her embrace, as he had from the moment of his birth, but he stiffened and took a step back.
“It’s my half-brother, isn’t it?”
“No one is certain what happened. You know his heart has been ailing him.”
“Don’t lie to spare my feelings. Maury has always wanted the throne. And now that my father is gone, he’ll have no trouble wresting control away from me.”
The old woman’s eyes looked pained, and she looked older than usual. William couldn’t remember her ever looking other than ancient, but the creases that accented her features seemed particularly deep today.
He forced himself to see beyond the façade of caring nurse to what she really was—a co-conspirator with his half-brother for the throne. The throne that rightfully belonged to him.
Shoving past, he stalked down the hall toward his father’s chamber.
Maury sat at the foot of the bed, affecting sorrow at the king’s passing. He looked up when William entered. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m paying my respects to my father.”
Maury nodded, but his eyes went to the guard that stood by the door.
William seethed. As if he would desecrate his father’s deathbed by picking a fight here, now.
He took his father’s lifeless hand and held it, feeling the cold flesh slide over the bones. The king’s lips looked blue around the edges, and his face had a sickly pallor. That the death was unnatural seemed obvious to William, but he had no proof. Not yet. He would demand that tests and enchantments were performed, and he would find out the truth.
He turned to Maury, plastering a smile on his face. “Thank you for your attention to him, brother. I know I can count on your continued support at my coronation.”
Maury’s face paled, his jaw formed a hard line. “Your coronation?”
“Of course. I am the king’s son. The royal line falls to me.”
“Our mother was the queen before she married him. The royal line follows blood, and I am the firstborn.”
“Parliament will agree that as I am the son of both nobles, and no one knows the identity of your father, that I am the rightful heir,” William insisted.
“We shall discuss it at the meeting tomorrow,” Maury said in that superior tone he always used to assert his authority as the eldest.
William narrowed his eyes. “Yes. Tomorrow.”
That night, when everyone else slept, William made his way to his father’s chamber. The burial process wouldn’t start until the following morning, so he had just enough time to find it.
The guard at the door shifted as though trying to stay awake. Clearly, he didn’t take his duty too seriously, and rightly so. Fear of spirits kept any sane person out of the same room with a corpse the night after a death.
William crept on silent feet toward the guard, keeping to the shadows, and pulled out the concoction-doused handkerchief from his bag. He had seen his nurse with her herbs and potions often enough to know what would accomplish his purpose.
Holding his breath, so not to breathe the foul smell himself, he sprang toward the guard and placed the handkerchief under his nose.
The guard stepped back in surprise, but within moments slumped to the floor.
William stepped over him and slid into the room. He made his way to his father’s body. A chill ran through him, like a cold breeze passing, only the window was tightly shuttered. He hoped his father’s spirit knew his intentions were pure as he reached his hands toward the king’s neck and pulled away the chain that hung from his neck.
The next morning, he held his head high at the meeting of parliament. He scarcely had time to sit before the Grand Vizier stood and held out his hands for silence. “It pains me, in this time of tragedy, to have to perform such a duty, but the country must not be without a king. And so it is with both joy and reluctance that I name the son of Her Majesty, Queen Rose of the royal line of Evintide, Maury, king of Evintide.”
William jumped from his chair. “This is preposterous. I am the rightful heir.”
The Grand Vizier held up his hand. “I understand your frustration, William, but the Parliament has discussed it in depth, and we agree that as the firstborn son of your mother, Maury is the rightful king.”
“If my father wanted the crown to be passed to Maury, why did he give this to me?” William held up his hand. From his fingers dangled a gold chain, from which hung a brilliant purple stone set in an ornate amulet with writing from the Old Language etched in it.
A gasp rose from the rest of the people sitting at the table.
“I don’t know why your father would give you that, but it was not his to give. It belongs to the royal line, and now it belongs to Maury.”
“No. My father gave it to me.”
“You will relinquish it before your brother’s coronation next week. That is all.”
The Grand Vizier made a spectacular exit, his robes flowing behind him and the rest of Parliament trailing after.
William stood alone in the room clutched the jewel. Maury might take the crown, but he would never get the amulet.