Chapter XX

‘Can you believe him?’ exclaimed Beatrix, slamming the door to her chamber and flinging herself onto her bed. ‘He thinks he’s King already!’

She lay there, panting, staring up at the red velvet of her bed hangings, contemplating how much she disliked Aaron, and how much Disnarta had fallen since her birthday, when it was ruled by a kind and just king, not some ridiculous Prince Regent who thought he could do whatever he wanted to. If they weren’t careful, Disnarta would turn into an absolute monarchy. It was then only a small step to dictatorship.

About twenty minutes later, she revived enough to shout that she required tea, and even managed to sit up. In a single glance, she took in the state of her room. Her nightgown was still where she’d left it this morning, her breakfast things were still on the table, her choices of dress for this morning were still laid out.

Carla scurried into the room carrying the silver tea tray with the tea things set out on it, her face the same colour as the apron she wore.

‘What on earth’s got into you, girl?’ Beatrix said crossly. ‘My chamber’s a mess. What’ve you been doing all day?’

As Carla bent down to sweep away the breakfast things, Beatrix noticed the red rings around her eyes.

‘Gracious, Carla! What on earth is the matter?’

‘I’m sorry, Milady…’ But she got no further. As if her legs could no longer support the heavy weight of her grief, Carla crumpled to the floor, sobs wracking her whole body.

‘Carla! I order you to stop this extraordinary display of emotion at once! You know it’s not right!’

‘Yes, Milady… I’m sorry… It’s just… Quigley!’

‘Stop it! I shall not allow such a lapse in appearances among my staff, not while I am a Lady…’

But you’re not, she realised. You’re not a Lady any more, at least not in the court. Despair flowed unbidden into her heart, and as tears threatened, she made her decision. It was stupid and rash and, looking back on it, she would forever wonder what on earth possessed her even to consider it as an option.

But sometimes it is in those strange, mad moments that we are the strongest.

Gently, she leaned down and pulled Carla up with her.

‘I know,’ she said quietly, realizing the truth of her words as she said them. ‘It’s terrible and wrong, and we must do something. But we’re no use to Quigley here. My powers are all gone. We must leave.’

Carla wiped tears on her sleeve. ‘Milady… Can you mean…?’ Looking up at her mistress, she saw an unfamiliar light in Beatrix’s eyes. In the months to come, she would learn to recognise it as the light of battle.

‘Yes, Carla. We’re going to run away. Tonight.’

The End

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