“I know who you are, who you really are Noone.” Duncan watched for Agatha’s reaction. When she didn’t flinch, he continued. “You know how old women tell children stories about monsters to make them behave? I already knew about monsters. My nanny told me about you, to give me hope.”
Duncan handed Agatha’s rosary back to her. “Will you help me now?”
The question hung in the air between the two. Before Agatha could answer, a scream broke the spell.
Agatha tried to get to the tent opening, but Duncan held onto her hand.
“That was not Queen Maud, she is safe,” Duncan struggled with Agatha.
Agatha tried to pull away from the boy, but he was stronger than he appeared.
“Stop, Noone,” Duncan was worried Agatha would break away. “Please, it is a trap.”
Duncan still held her wrist, but Agatha no longer fought against him.
“King Rajá does this to test me. He wants to find my weaknesses, and he thinks my devotion to Maud makes me vulnerable.” Duncan eased his grip, and guided Agatha back to the cushions
“He can no longer exact his cruelty on her or other defenseless victims, his malady has drained him of his strength and endurance. Now, he likes to watch others inflict punishments or better listen, fantasizing about what he would do… did.”
Agatha tried to shield her ears from the continued wailing.
“This,” Duncan swept his hand toward the closed tent door, “is all a performance. The guard took Maud to another tent, away from Rajá’s view. One of Maud’s retinue is skilled at gastromancy. She can perfectly mimic anyone.”
Duncan searched Agatha’s face, hoping she believed his explanation.
“No one is actually being tortured?” Agatha pleaded with the young prince.
“No one,” he said. “Maud will be back soon. She will be unharmed.”
For the next hour, the young prince and his newly found friend waited for Queen Maud to return. Agatha spent the time learning all she could about Duncan’s life in the castle, as the only son and scion of a mad King.
Since reaching an age when he could begin training as a squire, Duncan’s father had become increasingly more suspicious of him. Until then, Rajá tolerated the boy’s presence in the castle, accepting praise from his counselors on the sturdiness of his offspring.
Duncan, while merely a boy, was forced to mature faster than other noble successors. He also understood the implication of the King’s insanity, and what that meant for the Duncan and the kingdom.
In public, the young prince was a typical child in every way. In private, he was a skilled strategist, with an intricate plot in place to usurp the King and his throne. If his intrigue was discovered, the King’s wrath would be swift and merciless, and the very earth would bleed.
As if in anticipation of a sanguinary coup, night came to shore like an angry horde. The blood-orange sun rode low on the horizon, a seething scar of vibrant color slashing the otherwise gray sky.