Duncan backed away from his father as his conspiracy rant became more shrill and incoherent. Being the Prince afforded him the privilege of ignoring the court custom of waiting for proper dismissal from the King. Ráfa typically paid his son no heed, and didn’t notice his departure.
Once out of the royal tent, Duncan made his way to the cooking fire, hoping to pilfer a few morsels from the embers. Stuffing roasted chestnuts into his trouser pockets, Duncan looked up to see his mother watching him from beneath her canopy.
His mother, the Queen, usually seemed afraid of him. He would often catch her staring at him with an expression mixed of longing and apprehension. Wet nurses and nannies raised him, and he rarely spent any time with her. Studying her, he could imagine she was once a handsome woman, now she carried a mantle of despair, overshadowing any beauty there once was.
When she beckoned, he turned around, looking for who she was gesturing to, only to realize she meant him. Curious, he joined her on a blanket spread beneath a wide, colorful awning.
“I saw you speaking to one of the locals earlier, who was she?” Queen Maud, smoothed out the blanket, patting a spot near her for Duncan to sit.
Maud had dismissed her staff, so she and Duncan were alone. He stood for a moment, wondering at her sudden interest in him and what he did.
Understanding his hesitation, Maud made a fateful decision. She chose to trust that her son was nothing like his father.
“She is Noone,” he said.
“That is an odd name.”
Duncan sat beside his mother, and looked intently at her, as if for the first time.
“When I asked her who she was, she said, ‘I am no one’.”
His mother laughed. A sound that reminded him of the lutes the visiting minstrels play. It made him want to make her laugh again.
“I asked her to come back tomorrow.” Duncan said. “She wasn’t like the women at the castle. She was clever and talked to me like a real person. I like her.”
Maud saw the woman earlier, and recognized her instantly. They were at court together when Agatha was chosen to be Ráfa’s wife. Maud was already one of his consorts and pregnant with Duncan. After Agatha disappeared, Maud was quickly married to Ráfa. As raving mad as he was coming out of the catacombs, any alliance with a neighboring kingdom was impossible.
Agatha was always kind to Maud, and ministered to her bruises and cuts many nights after Ráfa called her to his bedchamber. Perhaps she would come to Maud’s aid again.
“There are some people you like immediately, some whom you think you might learn to like in the fullness of time, and some that you simply want to push away from you with a sharp stick.” Maud said.
“Does that also apply to relatives?” Duncan whispered, scooting closer to his mother.
A smile passed between them, and a connivance was forged.