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#Excerpt 3 - Through the Meadow

Alfred declined quicker than anyone expected. Master Cleworth said that this was it. There was no hope for him now.

While the Cygnets were rejoicing, Nora was disconsolate. Even though she could have stayed with Alfred, she chose to keep to her bedchambers and take some of us with her (I was one of them, of course). She ordered us at the doors that she wanted nobody to visit unless it was necessary and when she was not crying.

In her rooms, day after day, she told us repeatedly: Alfred had been her mentor for years. This elderly man had been one of her mother’s closest confidantes, being there moments before she was executed by the sword at Veen House. She told us more about how he survived to help her gain the Crown. This man was dangerous in his own right – escaping imprisonment many times, fighting a war on many fronts and rebuilding a kingdom. Form their meeting in Vicroy onward, he has guided her and never failed her.

I said nothing. Inside, I was seething. Of course, I felt sorry for the Queen’s loss, but I never openly spoke of my deep dislike for Alfred. His legacy was the torture and executions of countless innocent women. That is something I

cannot forgive nor forget him for. I longed to do something to poke some fun at him.

Before I could write to her, Misty sent me a message in code: she organized the Cygnets into action. She led scores of women to post notices around Ploum, calling for the citizens to pray for a hasty and painful death for Alfred. Nora and Char were very upset and ordered an investigation. Jerry had the Elmwood pull them down immediately and investigated the source. Unfortunately, all they could find was a printing press in an abandoned house against the walls of Ploum. The owner was an old lady raising thirty-one grandchildren and she had no idea that the building was being used.

It hurt Nora. She would stare at the pictures, crying silently. She exclaimed that she could not believe that anyone would be so vicious and cruel towards her Archbishop. While we all comforted her, my heart sang. I did not care about Nora’s feelings. I was gladdened that Misty struck hard and true. I sent her word at Squier House.

After a time, Nora threw us out of her apartments and demanded time alone with Char. She appointed Edward, James and I to act in her and Char’s name when it was appropriate. James and I agreed to allow the Prince free reign over any royal duties while we gave small fetes and chatted with the courtiers. I did not know James’s feelings on the matter. Openly, he was like me. We showed concern for the Archbishop. James came up with the idea to help the causes closest to his heart. So, for any entry to our meals and parties, we asked for coins for his wards or they paid for extra prayers in various churches.

It was becoming more and more difficult to put a smile on my face for that bastard. Soon, I noticed that James felt the same way. By the middle of the cooling season, we both took a day’s rest. When we finished our last meal, we mutually decided to retire to his bedchamber. James had his intentions. I wanted the privacy to talk.

As he led me into his bed, I saw an uneasy ally for the Cygnets. Now, James and I had a common enemy and that was Alfred. I did not see why he was so upset (most likely separating him from his dead whore), but I had to count my blessing with him. I had his protection while next to him. Of course, Shaeriden and Brenton had common interests with our marriage. Maybe there was something else?

For the Cygnets to succeed, we had to be armed with as much information as we can grab and the prices we paid were usually steep. I weighed my options. If James did not care about Julia, as long as he had sons, what did some gossip passed to his wife matter to him? What harm could there come to a member of the Council?

James had an information web still. He used it when he was annoyed and he hardly shared. But now that I was warned by Eurick, I’d like to put an extra set of eyes on Prince Edward, who might also be another common enemy.

How do you want to handle it?

Damn you, Nora, this question gets old, but I love where it takes me.

My husband was so enthralled between my legs that he did not really think about what I was saying and agreed to the terms without thinking past the idea of more boys. Then, I made another offer. The promise of forgiveness from the same men he double-crossed enticed James more. Finally, I spoke of the benefits that the two groups (military and merchants) can give us. Now that I had the Shaeriden officers in my pocket and James had his Brenton merchants, we can hold some sway together That could give us the power to speak to other kingdoms. Maybe some nobles will be sympathetic, or their landowners and tenants will give some space to the Cygnets. And with the Klenard Military in my pocket, I might be able to persuade some of the soldiers to guard the defenseless.

But first, I had to keep my end of the bargain. I had to give James more sons. If I failed, there was no telling what he will do to me.

“When can we begin?” I asked him between kisses. “When will you tell me something?”

“When a son is born,” James promised me. He stuck his member inside and moaned as it quivered. “Oh, Miranda…”

During the night, as I repeated the process with James, I thought about Edward. He is a strong supporter of Mother Church. He’d do anything the Holy One told him to. And if Eurick’s final words were telling me to keep an eye out, there was a reason. I had to find every brick and build a castle so strong that he could not penetrate us.

Despite our family ties, he was still our enemy…and he had to go.

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