“HERMIONE!” shouted a furious Caecilius. “How dare you! Stealing from my private rooms!” He dragged her by the arm, Anna following with the jewels, into a door to his left. The room inside was obviously a study of some sort.
“Sit.” Hermione sat. She was in huge trouble. Why, oh why, had she gone along with the plan in the first place? There were so many things that could go wrong, it was like a sock with more holes than cloth!
So Hermione explained. She told the king about the man who had approached her, a week previously. She told him how this man had asked her to keep an eye out for anything or anyone unusual, and to report back to him. Hermione had heard about Anna, and told this man, who asked her to find out more. However, living like this meant she needed something in case she was found out and sacked, so she had stolen the jewels. She knew it was wrong, but had to take the risk.
“That is all you have to say for yourself?” said Caecilius incredulously. “Very well. Anna, please fetch my bodyguard. They are waiting in the room on the right.” Anna left. Secretly, she was flattered that the king was now trusted her. It was as though she’d always been there.
When she re-entered, flanked by the tall grey shapes of the king’s bodyguard, she found Hermione kneeling, begging for mercy. Anna felt a twinge of pity – until she remembered that Hermione had been selling information about her.
“This woman is a spy,” declared Caecilius. “She must be punished accordingly.” Anna turned a frightened face on him.
“Sir, what are you going to do to her?” she asked, biting her lip. He looked at her gravely.
“I am afraid, child, that she will have to be put to death. It is the only way.” Anna felt nausea rising in her throat.
“No, sir, please, don’t! I’ve seen the earth as it is now, and it’s a peaceful place. As soon as you start executing people, you could lose that balance and end up with wars again!” She didn’t know quite why she was pleading on Hermione’s behalf, but felt so sick at the idea of a death sentence just for spying … although she knew that in some places that was an acceptable punishment for much more minor crimes.
“You don’t want me to kill her?” said Caecilius. “What would you have me do to her?”
“Exile her,” said Anna. “Send her away to the other side of the universe or something. Just don’t kill her.” Everyone in the room looked at her in amazement. Caecilius clapped his hands to recall their attention.
“As you say. Send this woman on the next prison shuttle out of here. And make sure she doesn’t come back,” he said. The bodyguards and Hermione left the room. Anna remained.