Moonlight fell through the single barred window of the jail cell atop the castle’s west tower. A thin rectangle of it moved slowly across the floor as the hours passed, finally illuminating the rightful king of Dandoich, curled up on his side in a fetal position. A trickle of dried blood streaked the side of his face from where the ruby pommel of Sir Antion’s sword had struck him. His unconscious body shivered from the night’s cold which also seeped through the one window high above.
Far below, Barris and Agathas had the three children taken to a large bedroom on the ground floor for the evening. The eldest had seen nearly three summers while the youngest was barely half a year old. Barris and Agathas had not the slightest idea what to do with children, and had immediately sent for the three best nannies in the castle to look after them. The nannies fed and bathed the children and dressed them in clean clothing from the castle nursery. The youngest was unable to do much more than lay on the stone floor, swaddled in cloth, looking around with wide eyes. The middle child was almost two and together with the eldest child, made the room echo with their shouts and laughter as they played with a stuffed jester provided by one of the nannies.
When the youngest child began to cry, a nanny picked her up and held her close. Noting the little one seemed cold, the nanny moved nearer the fire. As the little body warmed, the cries stopped. The nanny found the old bear skin rug they had come in, and, thinking that familiar smells and textures may be comforting, fashioned a little nest near the fire for the youngest. In a trice, she was asleep. When the boys tired, more bear skins were summoned and before long a large furry place had been established before the fire, three children sleeping on it as though they had lived there all their lives.
“Look at them, Barris,” Agathas said. “Like little angels.”
“They will be, one way or the other,” Barris muttered. “No matter what that lout Orteg does, we cannot let them live.”
“Of course not.”
Above, in Orteg’s cell, a rattling at the door echoed in the small stone chamber as a key was inserted in the lock. The deadbolts shot back with a bang and Zavier entered, his black robe swirling around him in the moonlight. He stopped and looked at Orteg’s immobile form with an expression of amusement and disdain. He prodded Orteg with one boot. Orteg slept on.
The wizard’s staff tapped the floor once, twice, a third time, then touched Orteg on the forehead.
“Rise,” Zavier said.
Unbidden, Orteg’s eyes opened. He clambered to his feet and stood, eyes staring sightlessly at the wall in front of him. Zavier waved a hand before Orteg’s face. Orteg did not flinch, nor did his eyes.
“Go,” Zavier said and waved his staff in the direction of the doorway.
Orteg’s face did not change under his sightless eyes, nor did they move as he walked sure-footed across the cell and out the door. After giving Orteg a prudent lead, Zavier followed.
Orteg walked down the spiral stairs, never missing a step and turned right at the corridor at the bottom. After several more twists, turns and stairways, all made with no hesitation, he came to a bedroom door on the ground floor. Making a fist, Orteg pounded twice upon the door. After a moment, the door creaked open. Barris stood there, his bloated face grotesquely lit by torchlight.
“Your Highness,” said Barris, his tone one of surprise. “We did not expect—”
“The children.” Orteg said. His voice was devoid of any inflection.
“They are here, Sire,” Barris said. He observed the lack of movement in Orteg’s eyes with some interest. Barris had seen this lack of movement before in enchanted individuals, and he opened the door for Orteg. “Won’t you come in?”
Orteg moved forward, his unmoving eyes scanning the room, zeroing in upon the pile of bearskin rugs and the three little ones asleep on it before the large fireplace. Agathas stood in front of them, looking as surprised by Orteg’s appearance as Barris.
“My Lord King,” she said, with the hint of a curtsy. “We just succeeded in putting them to—”
Orteg shouldered her aside, not looking at her, causing her to stagger. Her bewildered face fell upon Barris. The look of elation on his own features told her much. Quietly, she stepped back from the fireplace as Barris closed the door softly and moved to join her. He slipped an arm around her, fondling her breast as Orteg sunk to his knees on the bearskin. Barris and Agathas held their breaths as Orteg reached down and put both hands around the neck of the eldest child.
Zavier stood outside the locked door to the chamber containing the children, their father and the two prefects. There was not a sound from inside. The wizard’s face was lit by a smile. There was a green flash as a stone he held in his hand ignited with an emerald light burning deep within. The light turned clear and inside the stone he could see the occupants of the room, moving in real-time. Zavier watched as Orteg methodically strangled his two eldest children before snapping the neck of the youngest as though he were dispatching a chicken. Getting to his feet, he turned and walked past Agathas and Barris, opening the door just as Zavier melted into the shadows behind it. Still not present behind his eyes, the king shuffled down the hallway, back to the king’s chambers.
Zavier waited in the shadows for some time, watching the figures of Barris and Agathas in the emerald stone. Finally, he marched forward, stowing the stone in his cloak as he did so, and threw the door open wide with a bang.
“Honorable Prefects!” barked Zavier, striding into the room and slamming the door behind him. He turned to face Barris and Agathas on the bearskin rug, grinning as they moved awkwardly to cover their nakedness. He stared, eyes wide and mad as they pulled their clothing back on, breathing heavily, darting their eyes at the bodies of the three children, now arranged against the wall like an audience for their coupling.
“This will be the talk of the kingdom for years, don’t you agree, Barris?” Zavier said, his voice light and musing though malice shone from his every feature. Barris cursed the wizard mentally as he continued. “For some time now, it has been known to me that you and your sister Agathas have been having relations, Barris, but until now it has been of no consequence to me. Now, I have reason for wanting your bloated behind out of this castle, and I daresay that those you have governed so harshly for so long would perhaps be sufficiently moved by your incestuous ways to make an example of you. As for you, Agathas—” Zavier grinned at her, so much like a shark she flinched. “It will reflect very poorly on you if it is known that it was your idea to use the bodies of three dead children to simulate an audience for your coupling.”
“What do you want, wizard?” Barris asked, his voice filled with anger and fear.
“If you are never seen nor heard from again, there would be no reason for me to say anything to anyone,” Zavier said, extending a hand. “The choice is yours.”