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Queen & Picnic Basket

Book cover created with Canva (as always)

“The king has requested your presence.” These were the first words she heard from anyone outside of her personal staff this morning. It was Alrick, the King’s personal butler. Alrick was a stiff, cold, older gentleman. She had been told he’d been with the king since his father ruled. “The king would like for you to join him for luncheon in the gardens this afternoon.” Alrick said. He then promptly turned on his heel and left the room.

“I suppose no is not an option.” She said aloud.
Elamya had been betrothed to the king, Drane, since she was a child. She was raised to be a queen to this man she only met once before their marriage. She was a good daughter and had always done as she’d been told, knowing her only possible future was as a queen to this king.

The night of their marriage was the moment she had been the most nervous for, she’d had butterflies. However, she learned more about King Drane in their brief encounter that night than she ever wanted to know.

“My lady?” Georgina, her handmaiden, who had come with her from her childhood home. “I’m not sure you should go.” Her brows were furrowed, and lips pursed.

“I apparently have no choice, Georgie.” Elamya said, sipping the tea Georgina had just poured.
“He is the king, I must do as he says.”

“But he hurt you.” The concern in her voice was palatable. Georgina was the only servant she’d been allowed to bring with her to her new home.
Elamya remembered that night, the night that made her hide in her rooms for days. She still had bruises to remind her. Georgina had been the one to come to her aid.

It had been a week. A full week since their marriage and that terrible night. Georgina and her other servants had cared for her, fed her, ensured she had what she needed. Drane had largely ignored her lack of presence at court. He’d sent notes via Alrick a handful of times, checking in. They all contained veiled threats about what would come, regardless of whether or not she left her rooms.

“He has made it abundantly clear what he expects of me, and what he plans to do to me, regardless of how long I choose to stay in these rooms.” She looked around at the opulent sitting room. She’d been given these rooms, and had inspected them the day of the ceremony. She’d been in such awe of the elegance and beauty. With windows overlooking the gardens she had no shortage of things to admire.

“I won’t have him hurt you, my lady.” Georgina could be stubborn, Elamya had allowed it to an extent over the years. Her handmaiden was fiercely protective of her.

King Drane had made zero effort to learn anything about her other than what he’d learned that violent night. One thing he failed to learn was that she’d been taught that she deserves to be treated with respect as does anyone else, and take disrespect from no one. Whether this applied to the king, she wasn’t sure, nor did she care.

“My dear Georgie,” she said, sitting her tea cup on the tray before her. “Your kindness and loyalty is most precious to me. But I do not need your protection.” She said, patting the seat beside her. When Georgina sat, she continued, “but I do need your assistance.”

A few minutes later, Georgina carried the tea tray to the kitchen on the lowest floor of the castle. A heavy weight in her apron pocket thumped against her leg as she’d descended the stone stairs.

She sat the tray to the side with the rest of the morning’s soiled dishes, and surveyed the room. On a table near the stoves was a basket. “Is this the luncheon being prepared for this afternoon?” She asked one of the cooks.

“Yes,” mumbled the cook. “His majesty requested a picnic in the gardens.”

Georgina grasped the lump in her pocket. “I’ll carry it out, ma’am, when it’s time.” She said. “I’d like to assure her highness there’s offerings to her liking.”

“Take a gander now if you like, it’s nearly ready,” the cook said, putting her hands to her hips. “But his majesty has preferences who handles his food. Besides, it’s he who sets the menu round here.”

“Thank you, cook,” Georgina said, and waited for the grumpy old woman to turn back around. She grabbed the lump from her apron pocket and quickly slipped it in under a long loaf of bread. The white cloth of the wrapping hid well in the depths of the picnic basket.

“Alight, get your hands out of there!” The cook had turned, and was about to pull the basket away.

A throat cleared behind Georgina, and she jumped in surprise. “Allow the help to do their jobs, cook.” He said, glancing in Georgina’s direction. “As you’ve been reminded, everyone is replaceable. Even you.”

“Everything seems to my lady’s liking, and smells lovely as well. Thank you, cook. Your work is appreciated.” Georgina made a small bow to both, and turned to leave as the cook grunted in response.

“I do hope everything is to her majesty’s liking,” Alrick said low to Georgina as she passed. “I will send for her when it’s time.”

A few minutes later, Georgina was back in Elamya’s rooms and helping her ready for luncheon with the king. “I’m afraid he saw me my lady.” She whispered, even though they were alone.

“Nonsense, he would have said something immediately.” Elamya wrung her hands as Georgina brushed her hair. “Was it wrapped well?”

“It was indeed, my lady.” She began the intricate twists and braids for the delicate style.

“We must hope against hope that he suspects nothing, lest we both be in more than we could imagine.” Elamya said, closing her eyes.

“I shall take the fall for you, my lady,” Georgina said proudly. “I will protect you at all costs.”

“You are the sister I never had, so I shouldn’t let you do that.” She grabbed Georgina’s hand and squeezed. “Besides, I don’t think I could continue this life without you with me.”

A half hour later, a footman knocked on the door announcing it was time. Elamya insisted Georgina stay in the rooms, and the footman escorted her down to the gardens.

Elamya did as she was taught, and put on her golden mask. A mask of demure and kindness, when inside all she had was fear and something she’d so rarely experienced. Anger.

King Drane’s outward appearance belied what he was really like. He was tall and handsome, with bright blue eyes and silvery blonde hair. The afternoon sun turned it golden, and his wide grin spread across his face. But she could see the sinister in his eyes. The brightness was a facade, like a shining silver mask hiding black malevolence. A wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“I am perfectly safe,” Drane shooed away the two footmen who stood on each side of him. They reluctantly trotted away. “And I’m perfectly capable of emptying a picnic basket myself,” he gestured halfheartedly to the butler that stood beside the basket. With a quick bow he too, left. And the king and queen were completely alone.

Elamya’s stomach twisted itself into knots as Drane gestured toward the cushioned stools that sat on either side of the small table where the picnic basket sat. She glanced at the basket, and ignored the hand he offered to help her sit. He took the seat opposite her, taking a moment to adjust his position.

She glanced around the gardens, at the lovely flowers that surrounded them. Had the circumstances been different, she would have strolled along the flower beds, smelling each plant, perhaps choosing flowers for a vase in her room. But this was not the time, perhaps she might never have a chance.

“The gardens are lovely, your highness,” she began, still looking at the flowers, but keeping him in her peripheral vision. “Whose artistic vision can be thanked for such beauty?”

“Certainly not me,” he said, halfheartedly, while pouring them both a cup of tea. “I hate flowers. The gardens were apparently the former queen’s work.”

“Your mother? I’m sure she was a lovely woman, I wish I could have met her.” Elamya said, thinking she might have shed a light on his cruelty. “What was she like if I may ask?”

Drane rolled his eyes. “She was a woman, her only purpose was to bear children. And that she did well.” He said snuggly sitting up straighter. “My father insisted he raise me.” He sighed. “Of course a king should say how a king should be raised. What does a woman know of ruling?”

“A sight more than you’d expect, I’m sure.” She thought this, but didn’t dare say it.

“Of course, this will be the way for our marriage. Should you bear me a son right away, I shall have no further need of you, and you may continue to hide away in your rooms as you have been.” He said, glaring at her over his cup of tea.

“And should I bear a daughter? What then?”

“Oh you can do what you want with it. I care only for sons. The line of succession is male, it always has been. If you provide a female child I’d prefer to not lay eyes on it at all.”

Elamya imagined his eyes falling on a new born baby girl, and his being unable to resist the urge to toss the child out of the window of the birthing suite. She stifled a shudder to not reveal her fear or anger at the thought. “And should I bear all females, or am barren?” She asked, afraid of the answer.

“Then I’d have no use for you. We are only wed for the legitimacy of a male heir. Should you be unable to provide that which you are required, then our arrangement,” the emphasis he placed on the last word was upsetting, “shall be ended.”

Elamya did not want to know what that meant.

“What if,” she took a deep breath, “after the events of the night of our marriage, I should not want to share a bed with you ever again?”

He stopped in the middle of a sip of tea and did not say a word. He just stared at her with his cold blue, no, not blue, gray, gray eyes. Finally he set the delicate porcelain tea cup aside. He spoke in a flat tone, clearly controlling an anger inside, “Our marriage is nothing more than a binding contract that says I own you. You belong to me and I will do to you what I please. You may try to hide in your well appointed rooms with your homely little handmaiden. But those rooms are in my castle and that maid is paid with my coin. And every other person in this castle and in these grounds is paid with my coin. Had I wanted access to you before today, I would have had it. Do not think you can refuse me. I am the king and I do what I want.”

“I am no man’s property,” fear and anger had boiled up inside her and she’d practically shouted the words. She stood and turned to rush away but he was faster. She heard behind her the tea set topple over, clattering, and the contents of the picnic basket overturn.

He grabbed her arm with a vise-like grip and squeezed, spinning her to face him. She went to slap him with her gloved hand, knowing full well that it’d do nothing, but he caught her hand with his and held it tight. She screamed in pain and in hopes to alert someone, but he shook her to silence her.

“They may hear you scream but they know better than to disturb me.” He growled the words into her ear and began to force her to the ground. She knew immediately what was happening.

He laid his full weight on top of her, forcing her arms over her head with one of his large hands. She tired to wiggle and kick away from him but his weight and force was too great. He tore at trim of her bodice, ripped it away and exposing slowly fading bruises and bite marks she had covered and tired to forget. All injuries from the first time he’d abused her.

She stifled a cry, she would not let him hear her cries this time, he’d seemed to relish in them before. She would deny him this one pleasure. He fought to lift the layers of her gown, layers he hadn’t had to deal with before, in attempt to expose her to the elements. She looked away from the horrifying grimace in his face and saw the bundle that had been placed in the picnic basket by a loyal friend.

He was grunting in frustration at the many layers, and in his anger and rush his grip on her wrists faulted and she did not let the opportunity pass. With lightning reflexes one only has in moments of duress, she reached for the bundle, the glint of Damascus steel shining in the sunlight, grabbed the jewel encrusted handle, and swung.

She felt the sharp point of the dagger enter his flesh, and plunge deep into his side. She heard him grunt and his face switch from violence to shock. The color drained from his cheeks and he coughed. She felt something wet on her face and saw dark, almost black blood dripping from his agape mouth. His eyes then rolled back into his head as he sputtered wetly one last time then slumped lifeless onto her still bear chest.

Elamya lay beneath the body of the now expired King Drane, fist still clenching the hilt of the dagger, blood running down her hand as stones bit into her gloved palm. When she heard softened footsteps on grass approach, panic started to set in and she could not move. She closed her eyes and waited for the ax to fall.

“We should get you cleaned up my lady.” It was not the voice of her companion, handmaiden, and one true friend and ally in the castle she heard. But the voice of the servant said to be most loyal to the king. Alrick ungraciously rolled the king’s corpse off of her, covered her exposed upper body with a linen napkin from the overturned picnic basket and offered her a gloved hand.

She took it, numbly. She hadn’t expected Alrick of all people to assist her in this moment. She got to her feet, swaying, and he steadied her with a hand at her elbow.

She then watched as he pulled the dagger from Drane’s side, and blood oozed out of the wound. He wrapped the dagger in cloth and dropped another less unique blade beside the body. He turned toward her once more, and offered her his arm. She took it with her clean hand, and he said, “A warm bath will be drawn for you. We must clean you up, we have much to discuss.”

There’s a bit more of the story in me. If you’d like an extension, please let me know. Just not tonight!