Ada bathed the queen’s head in cool water. “It’s almost time, now. Just a little longer.”
The queen screeched again as another contraction gripped her.
Ada felt the queen’s stomach. “Very good, your majesty. Your son will be here soon.”
She nodded toward the young serving girl, ordered to help but completely at a loss for what to do, who stood in the corner wringing her hands. “Come hold her hand. Keep her cool. I’ll be right back.”
She shuffled down the corridor and out to the front hall. The king’s personal guards stood by the door, the last line of defense. At their center, she found King Maury. “Your majesty, what is happening?”
Maury looked at her, his eyes vacant. “We are being attacked. An army of sorcerers is very quickly demolishing our army. Any minute they’ll breach the gate. How is my wife?”
“Her labor is hard. I have rarely seen a woman work so hard to bring a life into the world. But I believe she and the babe will make it through this and be healthy.”
“Good. Stay by her side. Be ready. If the sorcerers break through, you will hide my wife and the baby and keep them safe.”
Ada bowed. “I will do what I can.”
She made her way back to the queen’s chambers. The queen screamed in agony as Ada reentered the room. Ada smiled. “It is time. Your son is coming. Keep pushing now.”
Several excruciating minutes later, the infant was born. Ada lifted the child, then stopped.
What devilry was this?
Had the sorcerers somehow bewitched the queen? Ada had seen clearly in a vision that the queen would bear a son, but the child in her arms was a beautiful baby girl.
She snapped her jaw shut. No sense in letting the queen see her anxiety.
She swaddled the child and lay her on the queen’s chest. “Congratulations, your majesty. You have a daughter.”
The look of rapture on the queen’s face dispelled any fears Ada had about her reaction to the child’s gender.
Suddenly the queen groaned, clutching her stomach.
“Don’t fret,” Ada soothed. “It’s just the afterbirth.”
Ada took the baby and handed her to the maidservant, then turned back toward the queen. “Just another few minutes, and then it will be over.”
A crash from somewhere down the hall made her jump.
“No, please!” King Maury’s voice. “Please, I surrender, just don’t hurt—”
There was no time to think, only to act. Ada swept all the gold in the room and the queen’s jewels into a blanket and tied it at the top, then thrust it at the serving girl. “Take the baby. Use the back stairs and get out of the palace, quickly. You must care for her until I come get her. Keep her safe, no matter what.”
The girl stood, frozen, clutching the baby and the bundle of jewels to her chest.
Ada slapped her.
She stumbled back, shock on her face.
Ada didn’t have time to be gentle. “Go now. Use the gold to buy whatever you need. Just keep the baby safe.”
The maid turned and fled through the servant’s entrance, the echo of her footsteps drowned out by another of the queen’s screams.
Ada turned to her patient.
What she saw made her breath stop.
It couldn’t be! She would have seen it!
The door slammed open and King Maury backed in, his hands stretched out in front of him as if to slow the wave of sorcerers that pushed through.
A wave led by King Maury’s own brother.
“Ah, it looks as though we’re just in time.” William strode over to the bed just as the queen delivered a second baby into Ada’s waiting arms.
Ada held the baby close and eyed William.
William he sauntered toward them. “Congratulations, Maury. You have a son.”
“Your nephew,” Maury said, his tone pleading.
William ignored him. He reached out to touch the baby, his hand brushing Ada’s as he did so.
A vision tore through Ada’s mind, searing, violent. She wanted to weep, but the horrors were too vivid. William, rampaging for years and years, destroying everyone who stood against him, with no one to stop the spread of his evil. She could only stare, frozen, as William took the child from her.
“The firstborn of the king. The heir to the throne.”
The queen began sobbing, and Maury fell to his knees, begging. “William, please, not my son.”
“As I see it, since you are no longer king, you have no need of an heir.”
“Yes. Take the crown. We’ll leave and you’ll never hear from us again. You will be king. You are king.”
William chuckled. “If only it were that simple. You’ve already given me the power.” He fingered the amethyst that hung from a heavy gold chain around his neck. “However, we both know it’s not enough. As long as you are alive, as long as your heir is alive, the crown can never be wholly mine.”
William pulled a knife from his cloak and plunged it into the child, then into the king.
The queen’s screams cut off as she fainted.
William finished by sending her to be with her husband and son. He wiped the knife clean on the queen’s blanket and looked at Ada. “You have cared for me since I was a child, and I take no pleasure in killing the infirm. With your pledge of fealty, I will spare your life.”
Ada knelt on sore, creaking knees. “I have always served the crown, no matter whose head it rested on.”
William nodded and turned away. He pulled the crown from Maury’s head and placed it on his own.
“I swear to you my fealty, my king.” Ada spoke the words, and she had no choice but to follow them. She only prayed that one day this evil could be righted, that Maury’s true firstborn would one day defeat the evil she saw in her vision. She prayed the child would be safe with Margaret.