Azebel could scarcely believe it. He had seemed as permanent as the castle itself, a fixture that would be passed down from regent to regent. She had even thought that he would continue to work for Vance and her when they assumed control of the kingdom. She knew that he was mortal, obviously, but she had always assumed that he would die of old age. And to be killed in a brothel? She would never suspected the chamberlain of having any inclination toward such activities.
She hadn’t been surprised when the king summoned her, and she was even less surprised when he ordered her to go and examine the place where his body was dumped. She did as she was told, leaving the castle at first light and heading through the city until she reached the brothel in question. The building itself was abandoned, the girls fleeing either out of guilt or out of fear of being punished. Azebel could hardly blame them. The king had been in a foul mood when he ordered Azebel to investigate. He would likely vent his considerable anger on someone, whether they were guilty or not.
What Azebel learned wouldn’t help his mood in the slightest. She used every spell she could think of, scouring the building and the pit where the chamberlain’s body had been dumped. She hadn’t gleaned any insight into who might have been responsible. In some ways, she should have expected that. Many people went through the building itself and they would have easily muddled the impressions she got. But to find absolutely nothing useful in the pit either was troubling. She should have found something, some shadow of the killer’s presence. To find nothing suggested that the murderer knew how to mask his or her presence from Azebel and that possibility was troubling, to say the least.
She was mulling over her lack of new information as she walked into the palace. Azebel didn’t want to go and see Bartholomew. Without any new information to give him, she would quickly become the target of his wrath. So instead of hurrying to his study, she instead sought out Vance, if only to assure herself that he was still all right.
He quickly ushered her into his quarters, a spacious suite in one of the towers of the palace. He pulled her into a tight embrace once the door was shut.
“Thank the gods below that you are all right, my dear.” His breath tickled her ear. “When I heard that Gerard was murdered, I feared that she had gone after you as well.”
Azebel tried to ignore the delicious tremor that wormed down her spine. “Who? You mean Edrys?”
Vance nodded. “Who else?”
“Why would she have killed Gerard?”
He steered her to a nearby couch. “Because he was going to confront her last night.”
With that explanation, he launched into the story of how he and the chamberlain had discovered the Queen Georganna’s tomb had been vandalized, and how that discovery had galvanized Gerard into action.
“The last I saw of him, he was planning on confronting Edrys straight away. The next thing I hear, he’s found dead. One doesn’t need your form of insight to see the connection.”
Azebel’s entire body had gone numb, and it felt as if her thoughts were draining from her mind as well. “Then we need to tell the king about this! Immediately!”
Vance shook his head. “Healey and I considered that, but what good would it do? You know how smitten the old goat is with that wench. Unless you found something at the brothel, we have no way of connecting his death with her aside from our guesses.”
He was right, as much as Azebel didn’t want to admit it. Without solid evidence to prove that Edrys was responsible for Gerard’s death, Bartholomew would never believe them. Even worse, it was entirely possible that Gerard had been killed by someone else. He could have been ambushed by highwaymen on his way back to the palace. Or he could have visited the girls to prepare himself to confront Edrys. As unsettling as Gerard’s death was, it was a distraction. No, if they wanted to deal with Edrys, they would have to find another way.
Azebel’s eyes widened as she realized what they had to do. She grabbed Vance’s arm and squeezed as her thoughts tumbled into a semblance of order. “I think I know how we can prove that Edrys is a fraud.”
Vance turned to her “Go on…”
“There is a ritual I could perform. I’ve never had to do it before, but I have all the instructions in my grimoire…” Her voice trailed off as she started thinking through the logistics of her idea. Why hadn’t she thought of it before?
Frustration flared across Vance’s face, a slight reddening of his cheeks. Azebel had seen that expression many times; it usually led to violence of some kind.
“At times, the Order of the Eighth Eye is called on to make determinations of parentage, usually when an illegitimate child tries to claim an inheritance. This spell can show if a child’s claims are true or not.”
Vance’s anger faded and was replaced by a dazzling smile. “You mean…”
She nodded. “We would be able to determine if Edrys really is related to the king once and for all.”
Vance clamped his hands and his smile turned feral. “And then we’ll be able to get rid of her. What do we need for this ritual?”
“That will be the difficult part. We will need a part of both Bartholomew and Edrys.”
“A part of them, something like a bit of skin, some blood or hair. I could even use saliva.” Azebel fidgeted with the hem of her robe. “I somehow doubt that they would simply volunteer to give us what we need.”
Vance stroked his chin. “Yes, you are correct, of course. In this case, though, I think it would be better to…acquire what we need in more creative ways. I will try to get a part of Edrys. You get it from the king.”
Azebel’s mouth went dry. She wasn’t a thief. Far from it. The thought of trying to trick the king into giving her what she needed…she had no idea how she would do that. But she knew she had to. For the good of the kingdom. For the good of her future with Vance. She’d do it. She didn’t have any other choice.
Vance’s hands lashed out and caught her behind her neck. She flinched at the sudden movement, but he pulled her into a passionate kiss. She easily melted into his arms.
“Once we have done this, we will be able to ascend the throne. Together…”
And with that promise, he left the room.
Azebel took a few moments to compose herself, then she slipped out of Vance’s quarters and headed for the king’s study. He’d want to know what she found at the the brothel and he likely wasn’t happy about her delay.
Sure enough, the king was still in a foul mood by the time she arrived. He glared at her from behind his desk. “Well? What did you learn?”
She ducked into a quick bow. “Unfortunately, Your Majesty, I didn’t learn much. The building itself is gone and, in spite of the many spells I cast, I was unable to discern anything about his killer.”
Bartholomew snarled, muttering something under his breath. Then he wrenched around in his chair to glare at one of the serving boys. “You! More wine!”
The boy darted forward to the decanter on a side table and poured a goblet. He set it into the king’s hand, who quaffed the entire thing in one gulp. He slammed the goblet back on the desk. The boy bowed and removed the cup and left the room.
Azebel jerked as a though occurred to her. That goblet would likely contain some of the king’s saliva! She had to get it before the boy took it back to the kitchens!
“I am sorry that I failed you, sire.” She took a step backwards, toward the door.
Bartholomew stared at the desktop, his face pinched into a frown. But then he winced and looked up at her, a momentary confused expression flitting across his features. “Azebel? Oh, yes. Yes. I…I know you did your best and I appreciate it.”
She frowned. The king’s tone had softened considerably. But if he wasn’t angry anymore, for whatever reason, this was the best opportunity to escape. “If you have no further need of me, sire?”
He dismissed her with a lazy flick of his wrist. She turned and left the room, keeping her gait steady so long as she remained in his gaze. But as soon as she left the room, she hurried down the hallway until she caught up with the boy. “You there!”
The boy paused and turned to face her. She studied him, trying to remember what his name was. He was a new servant, that much she knew. It didn’t matter. She held out her hand. “Give me the goblet.”
His eyes widened. Was that fear in his expression? He shrank back. “Why?”
“Do I need to explain myself to you? Give me the goblet. Now.” She held out her hand.
The boy appeared as if he were thinking about running. She pulled herself up to full height and snapped her fingers, opening her hand again. Thankfully, he didn’t protest further. He gave her the goblet and then retreated down the hall.
She held up the goblet and examined it. There was still a little bit of wine swirling in the bottom of the cup. She’d have to consult the grimoire to be sure, but she thought it would be enough. Hopefully Vance would be able to procure what they needed from Edrys. Then they’d be able to put all of this behind them.