Christopher Key, chapter eleven cont’d

It’s Stampede week!

Half of Calgary is dressing up in cowboy duds and taking to the bars and midway; the other half is keeping low, or maybe just getting out of the city. I’m probably in the second half. The Stampede is wild and great, but it’s exactly the same every year, and when you’ve attended since you were six, eventually you’ve seen enough. The horse barns are always worth visiting, though.

To go, or not to go? Still thinking …

————-

Coming back with a note: I originally posted only part of this scene, ending with “He’d run away.” That’s a cliffhanger moment, which makes it a good point to break off, but then it didn’t look right on the page. I went back and added in the rest of this short scene, which breaks off with a moment of magic instead. That works better. It’s the best choice. Interesting. Always go with sense of wonder, I guess.

————-

Later, in her empty bedchamber, Crown set fire to the letter. She watched it burn, and crisp into to ashes and the ashes go dull and finally cool and the skeletal sheet fall to powder; then she ground the remnants under the heel of her hand. She sat still for a long time after, but never let her shoulders slump. Then she jumped up, shook herself and strode off to Christopher’s chambers.

Mere had returned, she was pleased to see. She was a still point in the midst of bustle, the others being all occupied with wooden practice daggers, swinging them, jabbing them. Pretty maids all in a row and busy with knives. Crown stopped for a moment just to envy them. She ought to be taking those lessons too, she realized. And from Sir Percevale, the most accomplished of all the knights-royal; he was the one who should teach her. Well, there would be time later. She’d make sure of it.

She waved them off when they would have stopped to curtsey. “Go on, don’t stop.”

“Crown?” Mere said. Her eyes were like mirrors, like still water reflecting the sun on a brilliant clear day, like polished quartz with a rainbow sheen. It made the back of Crown’s neck go cold. She sat down opposite her.

“Yes, it’s me,” she said.

“Your royal mother,” Mere said, and the others gathered around them, their faces pinched with worry.

“There has been no change,” Crown said quickly. She clenched her hands together in her lap, and then shook herself hard and straightened her back. Anger is better than worry. Be angry. She’d have yanked on her braid, except that she’d cut it off yesterday. Her head still felt lighter, an odd sensation. “Where’s the boy? I don’t see him.”

Merriment said, “Your grace, he’s out on the balcony looking at the sky. He’s been there all afternoon. He said he wanted to be alone.”

“Did the queen explain to him what he is?” Mere asked, those blind eyes looking at nowhere.

“Yes, she did.”

“So now he knows his duty. That’s good, then. He was upset, he wouldn’t talk to any of us, but if he knows what his duty is, he’ll do very well.”

Did Mere honestly think so? Crown rubbed her jaw, looking at the windows—it was full night out there, lights crossing above from the palace walls, but she couldn’t see a thing on the balcony. She shrugged. “Mere? I feel strange again. Stronger. Maybe it’s a knightly power, do you think?” She crossed her fingers on the thought. “Arm-wrestle me. You can use both hands to my one if you want. I feel strong, I’m sure to win.” Though to tell the truth, she always won against Mere, no matter what the game. “I don’t see the boy out there. We quarreled earlier …”

“What?”

“Nothing. Are you sure he’s there?”

“He wouldn’t run away,” Mere said, astonished. “Not now he knows we need him so.”

Didn’t she know anything about people? “Of course he’d run.” Crown stood up. “In his place I’d be leagues away by now.” She strode to the balcony doors and threw them open. “Damn, damn, why am I always right? Blast it.”

The balcony was empty. He’d run away.

Behind Crown, Dimity uttered a faint scream, and swooned.

“Useless.” Crown came back into the room very fast. The others were already setting up a horrified outcry, not to mention rushing in all directions—toward the balcony, toward Dimity lying prone on the carpet, toward nowhere in particular. Yes, useless, all of them. In their midst, Mere rose unsteadily from her chair, hands out at her sides as if for balance. Crown took her by the shoulders and gripped hard. “Mere. Those eyes of yours. Use them. Can you see where he went?”

“He must have climbed somehow … As soon as dark fell, he climbed down the walls? But, in the dark— He couldn’t have. But I can’t do anything, I’m blind. Crown, he may have fallen and killed himself already!”

“Forget that, if it’s happened Father will flay us with his tongue and we’ll be dead too, so forget about it. Mere, your eyes.” Crown shook her. “You have a knightly power. Then do something with it. Now!”

And like a pool going transparent as shadows crossed it on a cloudy day, Mere’s eyes cleared. Mere gasped. She turned it. Her expression of horror turned to astonishment. She said, “Oh.”

She jerked free of Crown’s grip, took two steps—following whatever she saw, not seeing anything else—and plunged through the wall and vanished.

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