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The Hidden Queen
By Alma Alexander
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Alma Alexander
All right reserved.
"One. Already -- and he was Anghara's."
Rima, Red Dynan's widowed queen, paced her chambers, lacing restless fingers in and out of one another in palpable frustration.
"How, my lady?"
"Poison, they think. The healers who tended him say he died in great pain. And now there are six in council. And I can be sure of only two." She looked up, her eyes haunted. "How long, March? How long before some poisoned sweet is handed to Anghara? I cannot be with her constantly, I cannot protect her all the time, not while I am trying to save her throne!"
March, the queen's man from long before her marriage, stirred from where he stood staring into the leaping flames on the great stone hearth. "It might not be too much longer," he said carefully. "There has been other news."
"What? When? Why wasn't I told?"
March smiled, an indulgent smile from an old retainer for a mistress he had known from her cradle. "You are the first to know, my lady. The messenger arrived less than an hour ago."
Rima crossed the room and stood before him. She had to look up at his face; she had always been physically frail, small-boned, almost bird-like. In moments of tenderness, Dynan used to call her his little sparrow. But there was that in her face right now, which would make many a man twice her size tread lightly. "The message?"
"They are coming.They are coming here, for Miranei, for the throne. Sif will never be content with less, not with the army behind him. We knew this would happen."
"Damn Kalas!" murmured Rima, looking away into the fire. "Now, when I needed him most, he lies dying. He would never have given Sif the army."
"They won the second battle," March pointed out. "Perhaps Fodrun knew what he was doing."
Rima made an impatient gesture. "Tath!" she said. "They have always been a thorn in our side. Our men were not that wanting. If only Fodrun hadn't lost heart. If only . . ."
They both knew if only what. If Dynan had lived . . . But if Dynan had lived, Sif would have still been waiting for his chance. Now at least he had declared himself, as openly as he could; his first act of defiance was to claim his father for himself, and for Clera, his mother. It was to Clera's manor that the messenger bearing the news of Dynan's death had gone, not to Miranei. Rima had known of it, probably as it had happened; she was Sighted, and gifted that way. She had known, perhaps, that she would never see Dynan again when she had girded his sword on him for this battle. But Sif had sent her no official messenger. What she could not have foreseen was just how fast things would fall apart at Miranei, after one of the squires had galloped from the battlefield at Ronval to gasp out the news of Dynan's death and Sif's bid for the kingdom.
Rima had always been very good at hiding her feelings. Her court face was a carefully cultivated mask, pleasant, pretty, interested, a little abstracted -- people said a lot in the presence of someone who seemed not to be listening half the time, and not fully comprehending what she heard even when she did pay attention. They had always thought her weak, the council lords and those who jostled for favors at Dynan's flanks. But here, in the presence of someone whom she trusted and who would not have been fooled for an instant with her court pretenses, Rima allowed her true feelings to percolate across her features. March, watching the play of emotion there, smiled, a little grimly. The court was about to learn how badly they had underestimated Dynan's "little sparrow."
"They have accepted Anghara as queen, in full council," Rima was saying softly.
"And when they see Dynan's own banners on the moors before Miranei?" said March.
Rima glanced up briefly, acknowledging the question as one she had pondered herself. "I must get them to seal their vows. In writing. Now, while I can still control the council. You say nobody knows of Sif's coming as yet?"
"Nobody, my lady."
"Good. Make sure the messenger is rewarded for his trouble -- I am sure he is another whose interests do not lie with Sif -- but don't let him speak to anyone until I have done with the council. Where is he now?"
"I told him to wait in my chambers, my lady."
They exchanged conspiratorial smiles. "Keep him there," Rima said, "for the time being. And tell the stewards to convene the council. Now, within the hour."
March made her a slight bow and turned to leave. Her voice stopped him even as he reached for the door. "March."
"Which of Anghara's ladies do you think we can trust?"
March considered this. A little too long; Rima's mouth thinned. Had it really come to this? That she couldn't find one of her daughter's ladies who would be loyal to the future Queen of Roisinan? But March met her eyes steadily enough. "I would think Lady Catlin, or Lady Nessa. I would keep Lady Deira as far from any secret plan as I could."
Rima smiled despite herself. Deira was an elderly gossip, to whom one could entrust any rumor one wanted spread around Miranei and the surrounding countryside within the space of a single day. The warning was well-placed. There was an equal warning in March's words, though, in the two names he had omitted to mention. Those who might sell Anghara, if they had the chance. Rima considered the two ladies March had named for a brief moment, while he waited patiently by the door for further instructions. "Catlin," she decided finally. "Send Lady Catlin to me. And make sure Anghara is attended by Lady Nessa at all times, when Catlin or I are not with her."
Excerpted from The Hidden Queen by Alma Alexander Copyright © 2006 by Alma Alexander. Excerpted by permission.
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