Author Topic: Twin trouble at Royal Court.  (Read 310 times)

Offline Shelley

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Twin trouble at Royal Court.
« on: March 14, 2021, 11:58:26 AM »
Hi Folks

First from me in too long and the first written in medieval times.
Comments as always welcome.

Regards
Shelley.
AKA Wingco.

Astrid attended the coronation of her slain husband’s brother. Clad in the same creamy gown worn during her own enthronement five years ago. Seeing the glare of her sister-in-law at the recently widowed Queen still showing her up. Aurille’s own dress in pale blue but being outshone again by Astrid as she took a step to one side. Least she gave a curtsey to the new Monarch-in-waiting as the couple passed the assembled hoards and took their places on the thrones.

Arielle still annoyed at having to wait until Haakon was crowned before her own ceremony followed. Least this time a more respectful curtsey from Astrid as she pledged allegiance to the new King and Queen. However Aurille had other ideas and once back in their quarters after the evening’s State banquet she had a series of workmen summoned to do her bidding. Handing over the paper with her design scrawled on it.

They were appalled at what she proposed but none of them dared answer her back. Knowing that to even tip someone off about what would happen tomorrow would result in summery dispatching of each head from their shoulders. “It will be done as you requested Your Majesty and will be ready when you require it. We will begin preparing the bier immediately.” They were dismissed with a wave of hand and she began to smile after the door clumped shut. 

Next day the populous attended the ‘dispatch’ of their beloved King Harold to the river Gods. The new King and Queen taking the lead of course. Queen Astrid three paces behind them. The lady wondering why she’d been asked to use the same gown worn yesterday. Something unheard of in Royal events, especially as normally she’d have been expected to be clad in black from head to foot. Even her veil was white though that didn’t help as the sun was shining, making it damn difficult to see through the opaque material as to where she was going.

King Harold’s body was carried out of the castle on a cart. Pulled unusually by men rather than horses. Another one of Arielle’s plans. His stable of equines already removed and her own installed there with almost indecent haste.

The populous noted that unusually the bier was covered, including the late King’s body. A shame but that was the way she wanted it. Not to see how reverently he’d been thought of but just another King out of the way before her Haakon had taken the throne, giving her ultimate power over ALL females in the Kingdom…

Including Queen Astrid!     

The procession stopped at the pierhead and the men tugged the bier towards the edge where the longboat awaited a passenger… Haakon himself bowed deeply towards the departing King, a ragged cheer breaking out in the crowd seeing this. Arielle’s curtsey that followed was a brief one and she was sure someone had booed!

Astrid came closer now. trying to maintain her composure. Curtseying to her new Sovereign then about to go towards the bier when Arielle placed a hand on her arm. The two Queens paused and nobody, even King Haakon heard their conversation. Astrid amazed on being asked if she wanted to be with her husband one last time. She looked puzzled, seeing several darkly dressed men gathering nearby.

The former Queen assuming they were to load the bier onto the longboat. Haakon would then proceed aboard to light the fire then leave the ship, thus the longboat would be launched into the river and the flaming pyre would head to the waterfall and into the next life. The way it’d happened for centuries even though now turning into the 1650’s things were changing in their little country.

Astrid thought for a moment then nodded yes. Wanting to see her beloved’s face again and they headed that way. The men following as several more uncovered the bier from the far side and lifted another cover up. Shielding the boat from the shore as Arielle and Astrid vanished behind it along with the others. The bier was loaded onto the longboat and the women followed it aboard. Astrid now raised her veil to see what she’d hoped to see…but NO!

The closest of the crowd thought they heard a gasp and squeal that was quickly muffled. Astrid seeing the covered area in front of her husband’s body as the sheet was pulled away and she realised what was on it… that was obviously FOR HER!

Hands quickly grabbed Astrid’s arms, others for her legs and held her tightly as Arielle came closer. “You really think I could tolerate you remaining in the Kingdom?” she hissed as the stunned widow stared at the throne. A throne with accompaniments that none had ever possessed before.

“You planned this all along…you scheming bitch, my Harold was right. Haakon should have married your better sister,” Astrid muttered as she was dragged towards it. Seeing Arielle smiling evilly as she clamped her hand over the captive’s mouth to stop her calling for Haakon to stop his crazy wife.

They stopped short and Astrid stared at Arielle. “Please, I’m sorry. I beg you not to do this,” she said, trying to calm down, but the other Queen wasn’t having this, especially after what had just been said to her. She pointed to the men.

“Put her in…now!”

So they did. Turning Astrid around then forcing her to sit down on the throne. The white loops on the armrests now being clamped over her wrists, pins knocked in to secure them. Other men doing poor Astrid’s kicking ankles together in the restraints that were behind her feet. Another that was brought over her waist so she couldn’t lift up.

The worst was done by Arielle herself. The one that would go around her rival’s neck and keep her upright. She smiled and pushed it closed, taking the little hammer and tapping those pins in with relish, sounding SO final now and Astrid finally gave up the struggle, not even thinking about screaming. It was hopelessly tight, she couldn’t even turn her head to either side and she prayed this would be over soon enough.

Arielle bent down and stared into Astrid’s eyes. “Least you won’t share Ariana’s current predicament. She’s EXACTLY where I want her!” and that to the former Queen told her a lot more. Princess Ariana was the gentle sister…who’d vanished a month ago without trace and her disappearance had caused a sensation throughout the Kingdom. Probably now forgotten with the news a fortnight later of Harold’s death after a night raid had gone wrong.

“She’s still at the castle?” Astrid asked and Arielle thought about it then nodded. “Yes, deep in the lowest level dungeon and oh, the joys of tormenting her, it’s been a wonderful month getting even with her, only me and my two guards know that. And you dear Queen…but that doesn’t matter anymore!”

Rubbing her tearstained cheeks then offering her defeated victim a drink. The captive swallowed the lot, realising it was brandy and for once she didn’t mind.

The Queen brought out a small object and showed it to Astrid. About three inches long, two wide and an inch thick and flexible. Holding it in front of her mouth with a questioning glance. The captive thought it was some sort of new biscuit or cake so nodded that yes she’d like it please. Seeing Arielle smile and her heart froze…as again it wasn’t a friendly one

She produced another bottle and tipped a drop onto the end of a finger then spread it all over the object then offering it to Astrid…guiding in into her mouth in one go, rubbing both lips from side to side as well then her other hand pushed the jaw up…gluing Astrid’s mouth tightly closed!

It was the final betrayal now as she felt the spongy thing expanding then solidifying, her mouth sealed and unable to even make a tiny sound, so Astrid’s eyes blurred with tears as the veil was lowered and tidied up. Of course this was to hide her neck restraint. The cuffs clamped over her wrists matched the fabric of the dress exactly. The length of the gown also covering her ankles!

Astrid barely heard the gathering departing the longboat. Knowing Haakon was soon to come aboard to light the fire. He appeared a few moments later, the torch flaming in his left hand but the King stopped. Astonished at the sight of the veiled Astrid atop a throne overlooking the fallen Monarch. Why was she still aboard…unless…

Haakon bent down and carefully lifted the veil, seeing Astrid’s devastated face looking up at him. Eyes widening as she looked at the torch. She tried to speak but there was nothing. The faintest mew almost drowned by the murmur of the crowd expecting to see the flames roaring up soon enough.

The King placed the torch in a holder nearby and knelt at Astrid’s feet. His hands now touching the thick bands holding her wrists. The former Queen tugging frantically but of course going nowhere. He looked up and saw the one around her neck, the thick one clamped over the waist…

“Did my Arielle do this to you Astrid?” he asked and she froze then her eyes closed and she nodded as best she could. “Why?” and she knew but couldn’t say. “But you don’t agree with the idea of self-sacrifice?” and of course Astrid tried to shake her head ‘NO!’ A deep sigh from the King. He stared at the pins and tried to lever them out, but it was impossible and he knew he’d been tricked. “Your Harold was right my dear. I should have married Ariana!” and even the captive tried to smile now.

“You know where she is?” and there Astrid realised that while her own life might end soon enough, she might be able to save Ariana. Nodding more vigorously now. “You may speak…where is she?” he said but a look of pain crossed her face. Haakon’s finger gently rubbing her lips, now seeing how they were stuck together and there was nothing he could do to help. To raise the alarm might cause a disturbance that could lead to the fall of the Monarchy itself.

Astrid tugged again at her wrists. Fingers bending and pointing to the opposite cuffs. “She’s still in the castle? In the dungeons wearing these?” Haakon guessed and Astrid nodded in relief, yes! Making a 3 sign with her fingers. “Third level. The one that hasn’t been used since my grandfathers’ last battles? Arielle knows this and has done nothing?” and Astrid nodded and wept silently.

“Very well. I promise you now Astrid, I’ll do all I can to save her…but I cannot save you as well…” he said sadly and she guessed that would happen. A sigh and she nodded, finally accepting her fate, wishing she’d told him some other news earlier. But being distracted by the arrangements she’d never been able to talk with him alone and her eyes blurred at the fact that maybe not just her was about to pass into the next world. 

However King Haakon said he’d not set the longboat afire. He’d let the people see their brave Queen committing herself for her husband’s memory. Something not done since the oldest times and she’d become a heroine to her people. That would REALLY get up Arielle’s nose. “I have to go now Astrid,” he said, then leaned in and kissed her on both cheeks. Holding the trembling hands before coming out to tidy her again. Both eyes streaming with tears as she heard him leave and go back around the screen.     

Wincing moments later as the shield to her left was lowered to show the gathering what they wanted? The sight of their former Queen dutifully accompanying her late husband into the afterlife.

“Farewell beloved Astrid and Harold, may the River Gods be merciful to you both,” he said loudly and the crowd cheered as he bowed deeply. A lurch as the longboat was pushed away from the shore and the view faded as the boat drifted gently downstream. She didn’t even bother looking at her restraints now and the birdsong was quite pleasant as the journey continued and it slowly got darker.

Astrid knew the giant waterfall awaited her thirty miles distant would carry her out of this life. Soon enough she could hear the roar getting louder. She had a head start on Arielle in the next, so her revenge plotting began even as she felt the longboat accelerate. Starting to thrash frantically in her restraints and a wail of anguish before the cold cloudy mist at the edge of the precipice enveloped…

Meanwhile back at the castle King Haakon was thinking deeply. The sight of poor Astrid secured to the throne, knowing she was to be sacrificed had really got to him, also angry that he’d not had the courage to stop it. Although brought up as a warrior Prince he wasn’t one for mistreating the womenfolk of the towns and places he’d raided. “Loot and leave,” was the policy of his father, Harold and now himself, though his new advisors were wanting to trade more than steal. Yet his wife now had not only managed to dispose of one rival, it appeared she was doing a second as well. No sign of Arielle since they’d returned so maybe it was time to find out what she was up to.

Summoning his chief of staff Haakon went to go downstairs to somewhere rarely visited. He knew the dungeons ‘should’ be empty. Most of the prisoners doing short or medium sentences had been released as a goodwill gesture by the new King. A few that were there for treason and murder of course had been dispatched but most of those had been overdue anyway.

He arrived at the stairs leading down to the lowest levels. “My King, this is most unusual. Even your grandfather…he was the last Royal to go down there…” and Haakon raised a hand. “Really? swear on your life Edmund that it is true!” he retorted and the man looked amazed and obeyed, so maybe even HE didn’t know what was going on. But entering the first chamber there were two who did. And one of them shouldn’t have been here anyway.

“Lord Eldred of Bromma, why are you here? This is not yours’ or anyone’s domain,” the King asked the shocked soldier, currently in mid-bow, amazed to see his Sovereign here. The man spluttered and looked fearful…as indeed he should.

“My Liege, I must confess on my life. There is pure evil being done here and I have no power to stop it!” he said at last. Haakon’s eyes widened and he suspected but didn’t want to accuse one of his wife’s guards without due course. Didn’t want his own throat slit during the night!

“Tell me everything Eldred about our secret prisoner…I assume there is one?” and the man did. What he said sent shivers through everyone who heard it. 

“It appeared a month ago. In a cell down in the lowest level at the far end and we do not know who brought it. Cedric here was cleaning the cells, it’s his duty when he heard it making noise and alerted me. About as deep and dark as you can go my King. She was…” and the King raised a hand. “How do you know it’s a she?”

“The captive was stripped bare my Liege. She has attributes that I and all of us here now do not have,” Pointing to his chest then down at his midriff. Fairly obvious then, the King thought.

Do you know who she is?” he asked next and got a surprised look.

“No my King. Her eyes are always thickly wrapped in cloth. All I’ve seen is her from here,” pointing to his nose and down to a rather sharp chin. Most of the time she is hooded too. Only at feeding time twice a day is that removed. But her eyes, have never been seen by us.”

Go on,” the King ordered. “What else is there, this evil that afflicts her?” Eldred nodded. “The prisoner is moved twice a day. At sundown she is laid flat then chained to a raised wooden platform above the floor. Her arms up like this, her legs opened to form this shape, once secure she cannot move more than a couple of inches,” he said, spreading his own limbs to form an X. “There she remains until sun-up when she is freed. Myself and Cedric here are the only two who know and do the work my King. Who built the platform or how it got here we do not know. During the day however she is chained again, but this time against the wall and left until sundown, but always in this shape,” and he demonstrated it again. The King was appalled.

What about…well…the body matters…” Haakon asked. Always an awkward question but Eldred dare not smile. “She has a short break between chaining while being fed, so is allowed to do…that over a tub. If she cannot wait then she does it while chained, but that only happened twice the first week while standing. After the second she was told she would be killed if she did it again!”

“By you or you man?” Haakon asked, pointing to the so far silent Cedric. “No my Liege, by someone else. By Queen Arielle…” and his eyes dropped to the ground. Not wanting to see the reaction of his Sovereign. “You mean Arielle KNOWS about this!” he stormed and all the men shuddered.

“Yes my King. Shortly after the prisoner was discovered we were about to alert someone when Her Royal Highness as she was then came down and stopped us. Telling us both that we would be punished severely if word got out about what was happening. We obeyed and since then have breathed not a word,” Eldred replied, shaking now and Haakon saw he was terrified. “Is there more?” and Cedric was about to speak but Eldred glared at him. The King however wanted all the details so made the other much younger man tell the rest of the routine.

“Most days Her Majesty visits once or twice. Spending only a short while there. But when she leaves the prisoner is always crying. But on Holy Day(Sunday) the captive is never put against the wall. Instead she is washed from head to foot by me then given a big chair. Made to sit down and is secured, at several places.” Pointing to his limbs and waist. Haakon nodded, he’d seen one of those today. “Like the one for Queen Astrid?” he asked and there Eldred nodded as he’d been the leader of the black dressed men who’d been involved in dispatching the former Monarch.

“Go on Cedric.” Was the order and he did. “Once the prisoner is secure she is left until after midday. Queen Arielle as she is now, arrives after your banquet and comes in. There she is presented with plates of food and she proceeds to hand feed the captive!”

The King was intrigued. “With scraps?” but discovered no. All the other days it was kitchen leftovers or gruel. But on Holy Day she ate the same as the Queen, though probably cold as it’d be a couple of hours later than they dined. Now Haakon knew where his wife had started going after the meal!

“Do they talk?” and neither man knew. “Once we have handed the plates over we leave the cell. Secure the door and wait here so we do not know my King. The first time the Queen did this we were still there and the captive tried to speak, Her Majesty ordered her on pain of death to be silent. Then we were dismissed and ordered to wait here in future. She still weeps but not as badly as normal days.”

“This happened yesterday as well?” and now the men really shook. “No my Liege, yesterday was not a Holy Day” Eldred said. “That’s…that’s when the evil began. There was no food given and the captive was up against the wall as normal. It’s when the screams…” and his face fell into his hands. The King had never seen a grown man cry. Even Edmund looked appalled now.

“Sire, are you sure they should continue?” Edmund asked and Haakon thought… “Yes. You should. Your King deserves to know everything. But I assure you will not be punished as long as you tell the truth. Lord Edmund, these men will not be harmed. Understand?” and they all nodded and bowed.

Eldred took over. “After the Coronation procession returned to the castle. Queen Arielle demanded to go downstairs, she was really angry. Ordering a blacksmith fire-tub and implements to be brought down to the dungeon and lit in the captive’s cell. We carried out her bidding and the fire was made ready. Then she banished us from the cell so we locked the door and came here as normal. Only once the screaming began later did I creep back. My King, I wish I hadn’t. please forgive me for what I say next,” he wept. A gentle pat to his shoulder. “Go on.”

“Queen Arielle had the fire-tub just in between the captive’s legs. A thick rod came out of the coals and stretched here and…into the hole all women have!” he said pointing to where he meant’. Even Lord Edmund gasped at that. “It wasn’t glowing at the top. But the bit near the tub was. The warmth must somehow go up the rod and she was really screaming. Her arms tugging against the restraints, legs kicking as well. I’ve heard men hurt in battle as have we all…but this…her noise was like nothing I’ve ever heard or want to hear again!”

“How long did this go on?” and it was thankfully not too much longer. The screams faded to silence and soon Arielle had called for release. They’d done so and she’d quickly left. The men had then followed orders to remove the tub and hide the evidence that it’d been there…until later today or tomorrow as she intended to do it again!

“What was her condition when you entered.” The King asked and ‘Silent as the dead’ was the reply. Just hanging there in her chains. “But she woke up later, crying and tugging but we could not free her till sundown. When we undid them, she was unable to stand up anymore. We had to hold her over the tub to do her thing then secure her on the platform. By this morning she was able to stand again when we put her up against the wall. My Liege, I beg you with my life to make it stop…” Cedric wept.

Edmund and Eldred were amazed when Haakon embraced the crying guard. Cedric himself stiffening but eventually the King let go. Wiping his own eyes dry. “It will. It will as of now. you know now of course who she is?” and again got baffled shakes of heads.

“Queen Arielle’s captive…is her missing twin sister Princess Ariana!”

The three men gasped and stared at each other before Haakon nodded.

“What colour hair?” same as Arielle they noted but it’d all been cut away now.
“What size of body” probably Arielle again as Cedric said she came up to his own head height.

But they didn’t know her voice as few had heard Ariana speak anyway. She’d always kept herself out of the way once she and Arielle had moved to the castle.

“I will see for myself to be sure,” King Haakon said at last. Edmund volunteered to do the foul deed instead but was refused. “It’ll help me decide what next to do with…them.” He said at last.

Cedric nervously took his King down the corridor and opened the door. Haakon walked in and saw her there. Spreadeagled and trembling at the strain of standing like that for so long each day. Edmund and Eldred followed and the chief’s eyes widened just like his King’s had done earlier. Haakon stood close and stared…then nodded and headed for the entrance. Indicating for them to follow. The door was closed and locked and soon the men were back at the other end.

“It IS Princess Ariana. She has a scar on her shoulder. Given to her by Arielle as a child many years ago playfighting with knives when they’d been told not to. Begging her sister not to say anything for fear of punishment. She’s always wondered when Ariana might try to get her own back. I’ve been a damn fool Lord Edmund. A damn fool.”

“Very well. Cedric, free her and let Ariana rest on the platform without being placed in restraint. Tell her to remain silent, do not let on that we know her name. Also leave the cloth over her eyes until we return in an hour. If she does struggle then you will have to restrain her. Understand?” the guard did, bowing in thanks and the first smile they’d seen of anyone since this had been discovered.

Upstairs Haakon discovered that the Queen had gone out for the afternoon into the grounds with just a lady-in-waiting. “Good. Lord Eldred, prepare a dress and some shoes for Ariana in her quarters along with hot water. Doesn’t matter what colour.” And he hurried off, hoping not to get caught. Meanwhile Haakon and his chief went to the kitchen, stunning the staff by walking in like two guards. A clatter of pans as the cook dropped a pile seeing her Sovereign here. Edmund took over, asking for a hot meal to be delivered to the King’s quarters in one hour. More scurrying around and they departed back upstairs.

Edmund left his King and returned downstairs to see the Princess on the platform and already asleep. “She just got on then stopped moving my Lord,” Cedric said. But both men could see her chest move as she breathed so Ariana hadn’t passed. The two men dithered before touching her and she awoke with a painful gasp. Turning onto her back and spreading her arms awaiting the restraints.

“Prisoner, you are about to be freed. Walk with us if you can.” Cedric said. She obviously knew his voice and obeyed. Starting to sob as she crawled to the edge of the platform and stood upright. The men took her shaking hands and led the crying woman slowly along the block. Forgetting of course she was barefoot and it took a while to come up and around the staircase. Into the better part of the castle and Eldred saw her nose twitching as she smelt cooked food. A faint sigh and another groan as the next staircase was negotiated and now Ariana could feel fabric under her feet. Starting to keen a little and it seemed she knew where to go as her door opened and Haakon came out.

They took her inside and Haakon motioned the men to stand by the door but not leave yet. Seeing the girl sniffing the air and it seemed her instincts were right.

“Ariana, it’s Prince Haakon. Please listen to me,” The others staring now, but realised that for her to find out King Harold and Queen Astrid were also dead might sent the Princess over the edge. She’d find that news later as he continued to speak to her. 

“Be at peace dear girl. Your sister does not know you have been freed and are now in your room. If you can, get cleaned and dressed. Cedric, the voice of the guard you’ve known for this time will assist you in that. I have forgiven him, as it was he and another good man, Eldred of Bromma who alerted me to what happened. When you are ready you will come to my quarters and be fed. Understand?” 

She nodded, already sobbing as the others withdrew. Nervously Ariana reached behind her head to undo the cloth. A gasp of pain…her muscles were too sore. “Cedric, please help me…” she whispered. Jumping as his fingers undid the knot. Warning ‘ma’am’ to close her eyes then he removed the material and tossed it aside.

It took Ariana ages to try opening them again. Already in the bath being helped to wash as again her muscles were failing her. Cedric did his best but was so nervous about touching the Princess anywhere sensitive. “You’re not married then,” she said with a tired grin.

“No ma’am. I’ve never…been with a girl yet. I’m only ten plus seven years old,” and she smiled a bit more now as her arms grew less painful. “So it was your fingers that gently examined my chest while I was being washed, then other times you went below, yes?” an embarrassed look from the young man. “I was curious my Lady, please forgive me?” and she did. Thanking him for those brief moments that took her mind off the troubles she faced when Arielle was with her. “When this is over Cedric. Find yourself an honest girl and treasure her always, understand?” and he agreed to do that.

Within the hour he was being verbally guided into how to lace up a dress as Ariana sat at her dresser. Eyes squinting as she struggled to focus on her reflection in the mirror case. Bemoaning the loss of her hair as she patted the rest down. He finished the lacing as best he could and she stood up. Having the shoes placed on her feet. Cedric led her out and along the corridor. Lord Eldred sat outside the King’s chambers leapt to his feet and bowed to the exhausted but thankfully alive Princess as they approached.

“Cedric, I thank and forgive you also, I owe you my life,” she said as the young man bowed. Nodding also to Lord Eldred who shook the guard’s hand. “I must return to my post My Lord, if…Princess Arielle comes down. What am I to do if she goes to the cell and finds…ma’am gone?”

Ariana smiled and told the guard to let her go in…then lock the door! “Then it’ll be her turn to face the consequences. When Harold finds out…” and she saw their faces change. Eldred gestured to the door. Telling the curious Princess that Prince Haakon had important news for her ears only. She knocked and was bidden entry.

An hour later a devastated Ariana was sobbing in her brother-in-law’s arms. Unable to comprehend how things had changed. It was Astrid she was most upset about. She’d really made an effort to befriend the Queen and the couple had really got on despite their difference in rank. Astrid had often confided in her things that would always remain secret. Probably why Arielle hated her so much.

She was the outgoing mouthy one who’d captured Haakon’s eye as a free spirted girl but was annoyed at having to play second fiddle to the others, despite marrying the King’s younger brother, The others not knowing the scheming that went with the woman who’d now been Queen barely two days.

“So Your Majesty what happens no…” she was asking when Lord Edmund arrived and in a state of agitation. His news was brief.

Queen Arielle had fallen straight into the trap!

“Good, tell the guard she will remain there until I decide what to do,” Haakon exclaimed and Edmund bowed and departed. “Why has she done this Ariana, to you and what she did to Astrid yesterday?” and the girl paused and looked puzzled. “Did Astrid say anything to you, about herself after I’d vanished last month?” Ariana asked and the King said no ‘apart from natural concern for your wellbeing’. She sighed and knew she had to tell him the worst was yet to come.

“Queen Astrid was feeling poorly when you and King Harold went off with the Lords on the Great Hunt. She…I’m sorry my King, please forgive me…but Astrid believed she was with child…” then Ariana broke down in tears. Later looking up at her stunned brother-in-law. 

“Did Harold know?” and Ariana said no. “At first she didn’t know either. It was a pain, a sickness here…” pointing to her stomach. “I had the same once before then I l…lost the child later,” she wept trying not to think about that dreadful time two years before. Her own husband Lord Laakron had fallen in battle the following month and Ariana had withdrawn completely from Court life after that to grieve alone.

“But it’s a time all women with child go through. She didn’t want Harold to know until signs began to show,” indicating an expanding belly. “She didn’t want him worrying on the raid…though that turned out badly anyway,” and Haakon nodded without smiling. But if Astrid had been with child then they’d have had to wait until the birth to see if it was a boy, who’d then be King instead of himself!

“Did you mention this to Arielle?” Haakon asked and Ariana froze…then her face paled and she wept again. “I must have done, I’m sure I said she wasn’t well, but I didn’t know why. Remember my King she’s had children so knows the illness we would get. Your Princes Pukki and Panii. She’ll…she must have realised that if Astrid was…and delivered a son then her chance of the throne was gone!”

Haakon was shocked, but also mortified about what had happened yesterday. If he’d known this…
“Ariana, there’s something you should know,” he began and told her the full story. Originally he’d said Astrid had died, now he had to confess that he’d not stopped what had happened! “So that’s what you meant about ‘what she did to Astrid’ How could she?” Ariana wept, Haakon at a loss as to what to do. She dried up and the King saw her face changing.

“I’m sorry my King, I hate to speak ill of the Queen, but Arielle has been like that for years. I couldn’t say it before, you’d think I was jealous or angry. I was happy with Laakron but she always wanted to be happier. Even as children she always begged and pleaded, more this, more that and she never let up. I was tiring of her, but we were a close family. When she moved here I came as well because Laakron was in your service, not as a rival but she was always watching me. Once he’d died I wanted to leave, but Queen Astrid said no. she wanted me to stay… Arielle was envious of this.”

“Downstairs she made it clear that I lived only at her whim. She teased me often. Both with words and then food. Waving nice food under my nose and allowing me to eat a tiny bit, then she’d snatch the rest and I’d hear her finish it. Otherwise she’d…touch me all over. Here, and down there. Saying that soon I’d never be with child again. It’s what she was doing yesterday with the fire,” Ariana wept. “The heat, it was agony. I was starting to burn from the inside. But it wasn’t for long thank goodness. I think my screams scared her from doing it for too long. Maybe she’d pushed too far. She stopped then said that well, today she’d come back and really do me harm. That is the truth and I swear on my life. Please my King, don’t let her touch me again!”

King Haakon made his decision. “She will not. However there are things that must be done if we are to stop her committing further evil. Lord Edmund will join us soon and we will plan. You Ariana will play your part my dear. Can you do this?” and she asked what it might entail. He didn’t yet know but once Edmund arrived the plotters began to work it out. It would take a week.

For that time the castle was quiet. Few allowed through the gates and the King’s normal appearance at the market in the town nearby was cancelled. Nobody was allowed near the pier once another longboat had appeared three days ago. News swept the area, maybe King Haakon was dead? But he was seen standing one afternoon by the tallest tower talking to a guard so that rumour was quashed.

Not so Queen Arielle’s spirit deep below ground. Locked in her cell and screaming every time the door was opened and food brought in. She wasn’t fully restrained like Ariana. Just her neck secured with a long chain that stopped her reaching the door. All she could do was sit in a normal chair, stand up or lie on the platform. Least the guard had removed the rest of the restraints when bringing in cloth and furs for the Queen to use on the platform to keep herself warm. A fresh dress was provided each day and Cedric had to use his new found skills in helping her robe up. She was forbidden from talking but still made threats to his life and anyone else who knew she was here. Haakon himself came down one day to listen, and what he heard strengthened his resolve.

On the seventh day she was still asleep when Cedric crept into the cell. Not even awaking when the collar was removed then he left. Leaving the door ajar and silence fell. She eventually awoke and was amazed, feeling the restraint no longer locked on her. Cautiously she crept out of the cell and sneaked up to the next level, then again until she was back in the normal part of the castle. Fleeing to her chamber in tears, but mostly of anger and her level of hatred was rising rapidly.

Her lady-in-waiting was called for and the girl was shocked at hearing what had happened, though she too had been co-opted into the plan by the King himself last night, but she was warned of the severest consequences if anything was leaked. The terrified youngster naturally agreeing. She’d also been Ariana’s dresser before she too had gone missing and Lady Koping was relieved to see her alive. The two sharing an embrace and it was the gentle twin who’d encouraged the girl to go through with it and the reasons why.

Now she was faced with a raging Queen, young Lady Koping swearing blind that she’d just thought Her Majesty had gone away without warning to grieve over the funerals. “That’s the LAST thing I’d have done girl,” she snapped, ordering a bath and a meal to be made ready. The youngster obeying but unbeknown to Arielle passed a message to a guard outside that the Queen had ‘escaped’ and was now in her quarters. A reply was received soon enough that was fine and to await further instructions.

Fortunately Arielle was too busy eating to see the deceit being committed a few feet away. They left it till late then Haakon himself arrived and walked in without prior warning. Arielle leapt to her feet and rushed sobbing into his arms. It was so hard for the King to kiss his wife, knowing what she’d done but to appear anything other than relieved would blow the plan.

He got her simmering down again as she told him how ‘Ariana had secretly returned from nowhere and kidnapped the Queen last week!’ The lies were amazing as they rolled off her tongue but eventually the King managed to get a word in. “Well in that case Arielle you’ll be pleased as I have news. Princess Ariana has indeed been captured outside the walls this day and is now in custody. We will go and see her. Wait here for me and I’ll make arrangements, I’ll be an hour, no less.”

He returned on time and said Ariana had already confessed! Well Queen Arielle was delighted to hear that. Another kiss to Haakon and the two Royals made off out of the door. The guards following at a distance. Even they didn’t know what was occurring now.

To Arielle’s surprise they went outside. “She’s not in the dungeon?” she asked and the King said no. “You wouldn’t want to go down there soon after so bravely escaping, it’ll be horrific stirring up such a memory, yes?” and she nodded. Trying not to grin as she knew no such thing existed. They walked out onto the pier and she could see in the moonlight a shape of a longboat like the one here last week for the departure of Harold and Astrid.

“She’s on here?” Arielle asked and the King nodded. “After her confession Ariana swore that if she escaped that you’d be killed straight away…” and that made her stop. “It’s no joke, we had to secure her aboard in restraints, can you not hear?” and Arielle paused. Yes’ the faint sound of crying female! So she nodded, took Haakon’s hand and hurried onto the deck.

Seeing what lay there once the sheet was tugged back.

For Princess Ariana the worst thing had been to use herself as bait to ensure Queen Arielle was caught in the act of treason. This had taken Haakon an hour of gentle hugs and persuasion for the girl to agree that week before. Once that had been achieved she’d paid a brief visit to the longboat days later to enable the men to place the restraints in the right place. Only Haakon, Lord Eldred, Cedric and the blacksmith had gone aboard with her and she’d shuddered on realising what needed to be done.

Ariana had laid down and spread herself into that awful ‘X’ shape, though not as severe as her wrists were now either side of her head, allowing the blacksmith to put marks on the deck. Then the restraints were hammered into place and left opened. He showed her the smaller thinner pins they’d use for her, then the thicker ones that’d be used if this worked. She nodded then laid down again and put her limbs inside, trying not to cry at resting her neck in the last and thickest of them. That was the only one they’d not be able to secure. Using this as the real ‘bait’. Each restraint was pinned closed and she struggled and tugged but there was no give and that was why they’d had to test them. She still wept once the pins were knocked out again and she was released.

So the following evening she’d returned this time only with Cedric and Lord Eldred while the King dealt with the other escapee. The blacksmith already waiting for the party. Bowing deeply as she came closer. Ariana couldn’t help it. Begging the man to make sure he used the right pins first! “The others are over here my Lady” he said. Showing the Princess a tub full of the bigger ones. The other tub in his hand clearly the smaller size and only after seeing that, and thanking the man for his diligence did she agree they should continue.

Laying down and spreading herself again. Shuddering as her left leg was clamped into the restraint.
‘Tink…tink…tink… then again for her right leg. But to avoid distressing the Princess too much it was decided that her wrists would not be done until the torches were seen coming from the castle. All too soon Cedric sighted them. “It’s time my Lady…” as he removed the cushion from under her head and she sat up for a moment. This time he had to wrap her eyes and worst of all her mouth had to be filled with cloth as well. That had terrified Ariana when Haakon had first proposed it, once done the guard positioned her back down then moved both wrists…

‘Tink tink tink…tink tink tink…” and she was completed. Haakon had said for her to pretend to cry! Well she was genuinely sobbing long before the covering was laid over her body and she heard Cedric hiding himself alongside the blacksmith up the far end of the longboat. All to soon she heard voices and heavy footsteps come aboard.  The King commanding someone to remove the sheet.

Ariana felt someone kneeling alongside her quivering body. Two hands cradle her head then fingers undoing the blindfold. Not too gently either as they let go afterwards, her skull thumping into the deck. She struggled to see who it was…oh NO. it was HER!

The smirking face of Queen Arielle looking at her from a few inches away. “Well, the traitor returns,” she hissed, reaching down and pinching a cheek. A muffled squealing in reply as Ariana began to beg her sister to free her from this torment. “Oh I’ll do that alright my beauty,” she said getting up again and coming back to stand next to Haakon.

“So what happens now my love?” he asked, “Do we finish securing your sister in her bonds, or do we release her…” and Arielle said ‘stop!’ “Of course we do that, she’s admitted being a trait…” and now Haakon stopped her in mid flow. Instead pointing to the just arriving blacksmith to FREE her. The man bowed and began work, ignoring the spluttering woman nearby. Tapping out the pins from Ariana’s arms first, a screech of pain as she sat up and tore out the gag. Moments later she was being helped to her feet by Cedric.

The Queen staring at the guard who’d seemingly appeared from nowhere. A closer look…

“YOU, you were my jailer! You held me captive!” the Queen barked at the young man. He nodded, not even bowing to his Sovereign’s wife. He’d been briefed by the King himself that anything said on the boat would remain there and he’d not be punished. It gave the nervous youngster bravery beyond his years. “I was Your Majesty. And with good reason. I was also your sister’s jailer as you know well. Obeying YOUR orders for a month at least, listening to you torturing your own flesh and bl…”

“Haakon, how DARE this thing…this peasant even accuse me of this. I am your wife, I am the Queen of this Realm. Yet you allow him to speak so freely. Why?” she stormed. Turning on her husband who stood there silently.

“Because my dear Arielle. He speaks the truth!” the King said simply.

Time stopped on the boat. Lord Edmund and Eldred’s arrivals only noticed by Ariana and Cedric as they nodded politely to the pair. Bows in return as of course the Princess outranked them. 

“How can you say that to me,” she squealed. Unable to believe that Haakon might be siding with her twin against his own wife. The King came closer and took hold of her arms.

“Sweetheart. When you were busy, I was alerted to what happened with your dear sister. I saw Ariana heartlessly chained against the wall and learned of the abuse she was suffering. I stood inches from her and she had no knowledge of who was there.” A look from both at the shuddering Princess showed that even she didn’t know this yet?

“But then Lord Eldred told me about the fire tub, what YOU did to her just last week…he SAW you standing there watching her burn from inside,” and the shocked gasp from the blacksmith interrupted him. The man falling to the deck. “My King, I had no idea she’d use it for that. I assumed it was just to warm the cell…please forgive me?” he spluttered and it was Lord Eldred who knelt alongside the man and lifted him to his feet.

“You see Arielle? You see the shame of grown men forced to obey your orders. Now listen, you too Ariana. I will leave the boat and discuss you both with Edmund and Eldred. Once the decision is made one of you will return with me to the castle, the other will remain aboard when this is launched to the afterlife.” He paused and both women gasped this time.

“I cannot have both of you remaining alive.”

Raising a hand when Arielle tried to speak, even Ariana looking stunned. “Enough, be silent, both of you.” And he turned and gestured to the Lords to follow him. They bowed and dutifully followed their King ashore. Of course in his own mind the decision had been made.

The three talked and a fearful Ariana watched the two Lords nodding. Sure in her mind that despite the horrors inflicted on her that he’d still side with the mother of his children. Not that Arielle had cared much for the young Princes but she’d dare not say that! The Queen however seemed confident she’d survive, walking around, even a closer look at the restraints that till recently had contained her sister.

Ariana’s heart froze as the two Lords deeply bowed to their King and walked to the pierhead.

Haakon returned aboard and the men waited behind as the King came closer to the women. “I have made my decision,” he said simply. Arielle seeing him stare at her then he reached for his Queen. She walked forward with a relieved smile into his embrace and they kissed for seemingly ages.  Ignoring the gasps of shock from Princess Ariana at the realisation that she WAS about to be sacrificed after all?

“About time this charade was ended, she should be gone soon enough,” Arielle said once they’d let go of each other and she’d stepped back a pace, turning and speaking to the men who’d gathered nearby. “Guards, put Aria…” but Haakon raised a hand. “You will NOT give orders while I’m present!” he snapped and she glared at him…then it dawned as the men advanced on her instead. A squeal of ‘NO’ and she rushed towards her husband, arms flailing and definitely not in loving mode this time as she’d drawn that knife she always had! Cedric leapt forward to defend his King and grabbed her wrist.

The same hands that had once taken Queen Astrid now took hold of her as Ariana jumped back a pace, the blade clattering to the floor. Only Lord Eldred clutching her arm stopped the stumbling Princess falling overboard as the others wrestled their shrieking Queen to the deck. Flipping her around then forcing her arms and legs into the restraints and the blacksmith moved quickly into position.

‘Tink…tink…tink…’ they all heard as the first pins secured Arielle and soon enough the last was done as she begged and screamed for Haakon to stop it. He bent down and clamped his hands over her jaw. Slapping her as she tried to bite!

He grabbed her own knife and held it to her nose, saying ‘ENOUGH!’. Those glowing eyes now fearful that he might run her through and she stopped struggling. Ariana crying hysterically as she witnessed her sister committing treason right now.   

“Listen to me Arielle and listen well. You may have been Queen for barely two weeks but NEVER has this country endured one like you!” he stormed and ran through the terrible things she’d done. The fact her eyes glared again and a cruel smirk appeared showed him and the sobbing Ariana that the King was right all along.

“You go behind my back and kidnap your own sister and torture her…”
“You’re prepared to see your twin dispatched to clear the path for what YOU alone want.
“You then try to attack me as witnessed by the same sister and many good men who would swear on their lives that this is true.”

“But worst of all. You KNEW Queen Astrid was with child…YOU KNEW!” and again she glared. “Of course I knew, even before Ariana as I recognized her illness. Why do you think I couldn’t allow her to stay. It would have caused a Royal crisis…” and an appalled Ariana stepped forward and knelt down, grabbing her sister’s chin and silencing the hissing.

“I’ll give you a Royal crisis you wicked…evil…thing. You’re certainly no Queen in my eyes. Forgive me my King but I must speak,” she said looking up at her Sovereign who nodded.

“I thought I was doing the right thing by telling you before anyone else. If Queen Astrid had died in childbirth…or not leaving an heir… But it appears you knew all along, that’s what you wanted. You planned this and only by holding me captive prevented Harold from knowing. He may not have gone raiding knowing this….yes?  Arielle shrugged and nodded.

“Not only did you want her child gone. You’ve hardly been a good mother to the Princes either.” And that did get her a ferocious glare and a squeal of anger. “Your sister…yes, poor little me and young Lady Koping ended up nursing them when they were small. While you danced and pranced showing off to your Court,” and even Haakon looked shocked at that. He didn’t know this yet, but then raising children wasn’t really his concern. Well once they could speak and pick up swords and learn chivalrous ways and it made him think a bit more but he let Princess Ariana finish.

“Maybe one day I could have forgiven you for what you did to me. But Queen Astrid was innocent, a good Queen, a loyal one to her Harold yet you condemned her to death. Can you imagine how she felt in that chair? Struggling helplessly in the bonds like you are now, her life ending in the roaring of the falls. I can NEVER forgive you for that!” and she stood up and bowed to her King.

“It’d be better for the reign of King Haakon if Queen Arielle shared the same fate.”

King Haakon stared at the pair, wishing for someone to help him decide. But he knew this was all down to him. Ariana shrugged and went back to stand next to Cedric and the blacksmith. Currently holding the hammer and those last pins to do the restraint around Arielle’s neck.

The King moved and held his hand out. Arielle seeing him take the hammer and pins before he came closer and knelt down beside her. Grabbing the cloth and silencing the scream as he rammed it into her mouth and tied it off. Taking the restraint and clamping it across her neck as those eyes bulged. The blacksmith took over and accepted the first pin and eased it into the hole. “My Leige…” and Haakon moved his hand.

‘Tink…tink…tink…” as Arielle’s muffled squeals continued until he stood up again and handed the tool back to the blacksmith.

“The job is done, it is time,” he said and everyone bowed.

“My King,” Eldred said once the deed was done. Ignoring the hysterical noises from below. “It maybe the case that the River Gods will reject Queen Arielle for what she has done. I feel responsible for not stopping the Queen earlier in her wickedness, but I am also ill, have been for a while and I feel weaker every day. Even my sword strength is leaving me. I have no family left to mourn me. May I command this boat to see that the Queen is delivered safely to the afterlife?”

Haakon was amazed as the muffled screams persisted. “You are sure Lord Eldred. You have served me well for years and my father long before me. This is your last wish?” and the man nodded. Drawing his sword and holding it hilt first to his Sovereign. “You presented this great blade to me my King on my ennoblement. I beg you to pass it to someone as worthy if not more.” Also removing his scabbard and handing over the Ring of Bromma, his Seal of Office.

He thought more then nodded. “I will need a new Lord of Bromma,” and he stared at the gathering and saw someone and the King smiled. “Master Cedric, present yourself to me,” he commanded and the shocked youngster obeyed. Coming from Princess Ariana’s side that he’d not left since the last pin to condemn Arielle had been secured. Even Lord Edmund standing nearby looked surprised but a look between the King and his senior courtier and he too nodded.

“A perfect choice my Liege. Master Cedric has saved his King and country from possible death by his actions. My fellow Lords would be honoured for him to become one of us, he may be young but we promise to teach him the ways of your father, brother King Harold and yourself,” bowing deeply, to both his King and the newest member of the Nobility.  The deed was done. Lord Cedric of Bromma was sworn to valour then accepted the sword and the Ring of Office. Being welcomed with hugs from his kinsmen and he bowed to Princess Ariana and pecked the offered hand. She then embraced him and kissed the guy on both cheeks and even the King smiled at this. Arielle was furious at seeing this and her screaming got louder.

“It is time we left,” the King said. Ariana looked down at her helpless sister and despite the hatred glowing from those eyes her own were filling with tears. She turned away and Lord Cedric escorted her from the boat, Edmund followed along with the guards until only the King, the good skipper and their captive were left. “It is late Eldred but I thank you with all my heart. Brave man, find somewhere to lay up the boat downstream. Let Arielle wait and suffer a little of what she has put us through…farewell.”
The man obeyed and kissed his King’s hand, accepting Arielle’s knife then bowed before going to the tiller and preparing himself.

“Push off…now!” he commanded and the shore party obeyed, the boat drifting out to the centre of the river then he steered it downstream. Ariana hearing the desperate squeals fading away stood crying before King Haakon took her hands and led the Princess back towards the safety of the castle.

“Let this be the end of it Sire?” she wept and he nodded. Asking the Princess if she would remain at the castle and raise the young Princes alongside Lady Koping, as if they were her own, and she accepted. They departed the walkway and soon the pier was empty of life.

Not so the boat and Arielle stared up at the impassive shape of Eldred as the voyage began. She tried everything, crying, screaming, begging as she tugged at the restraints but was going nowhere. The moonlight was so bright and she could see the details as they passed through the forest. They’d been going maybe an hour and both of them could hear the roar of the waterfall when Eldred jerked the tiller to the left and to her amazement the boat grounded on sand. “That’s close enough for us not to be heard, now shut up,” he said. She stopped making noise and relaxed, thinking that Eldred would free her after all. He picked up the hammer and a knocking pin left by the blacksmith, showed it to her then removed Arielle’s gag.

“It is time we escaped, be quick,” she said, not even thanking him for stopping the boat. He stared down and looked her over. A relieved smile as he placed the pin against her left wrist restraint.

‘Tink…tink,” she heard from down there but a tug later and it was still… “What is the problem?” she cursed, wondering why he was going to the other side.

“Nothing, I’m just making sure you hadn’t loosened them with your actions!” he snapped. Starting to tink…tink…tink going all round the others and finally the last two by her neck.

She berated him with every curse she could think of. Death to him… “I’m dying already. So will you,” he said smiling as he produced her knife. “Recognize this?” he said tapping her nose with it. Her eyes bulged as he sat astride her struggling body. The point held above her face before he reached below her neck and began to slice through the material…

“Nooooo! You will NOT do that!” she screamed, voice cracking as the full enormity hit. What he was about to do to her as he got off to continue cutting down between her legs to the hem. Peeling the dress back and even in the moonlight he smiled. His own wife had died in childbirth years ago and he’d not gone wenching afterwards to find another bride. Yet now, with his life seemingly about to end…   

He stripped off and she stared up at his… her eyes bulging as he straddled her again and she tried to hump him off but no as he rammed the material back into her mouth.  Eldred placed his fingers upon the Queen’s torso and did the same manipulations for ages as he’d remembered with his wife, then going below and feeling the wetness. Seeing that same expression appearing that Lady Eldred had often worn. “You are SO shameless,” he said when Arielle nodded on being asked should he continue.

After that Eldred moved down and positioned himself and she squealed as he thrust forth. “All the time you tortured your own sister yet now you want to be loved?” he said pumping hard and seeing her eyes glazing over. To his surprise she began moaning… again like his late wife had done? And it drove him ever onwards in intensity.

He didn’t notice that the rocking had dislodged the boat until he looked up to see the trees drifting past and the roar getting louder. The mist ahead glowing in the moonlight. One last effort and he climaxed just as the longboat was swallowed by the cloud…

The end.


 

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