The halls rang loudly with the sound of solid heeled sandals. It carried on for several minutes before it halted abruptly and was punctuated by a slamming door. It was Areh and she was angry. A mood which she seemed to prefer as she spent so much time in that state. It was an affront to her authority that she was still forced to answer to Suez and that no matter how secretive or careful her plans for assuming more power or vengeance over perceived wrong doers were he always seemed to find out about it and undo it. Leaving him was impossible. Her husband refused to let her go despite his blatant infidelity. She had tried in the passed and he had talked her round. She loved him. That was not a fault but the fact that she allowed him to treat her as property infuriated her. She had no choice. It was the way things were and because she was royalty she had to set an example. As a queen she had power over the council, her staff and even the guards. As a woman and a wife, she had the status of any other in the eyes of her husband and she hated it.
She was his and he would not let her forget it. Her spy approached her cautiously. It was not unusual for her to strike him out of spite and a slap from her felt like the lash. He knelt and lowered his eyes.
“Mistress? Are you unwell?” He knew it was a stupid question but sometimes showing concern for her wellbeing softened her mood enough for her to be receptive to his ideas.
“No, dear servant, I am not unwell.”, it had worked. He dislike manipulating her but sometimes it was necessary. He had no intention of becoming her latest entertainment. “What is your news?” She examined her nails.
“The twins are still alive.” he had dreaded bringing her this news but the urgency of the information meant he dare not delay. “The reports of their deaths were exaggerated. I have only just found out. The bodies of the infants that were claimed to be them were not so, Mistress. The bodies were incinerated so there was no chance of an examination. All that was left was a pauper’s grave marker where the ashes were buried. I apologise for my sloppy work.”
“The deception was a clever one and you had much less experience then. You should not be too hard on yourself. I forgive you as you came to me as soon as you knew. Tell me, Semreh, how have you come by this conclusion?”
“It is complicated, may I take my time to explain?”
“You may. Settle yourself next to me.” She moved gracefully to a low couch and sat with her hands in her lap. He followed her lead cautiously. It didn’t do to be overly familiar.
“Mistress, I was sent by the Guards to monitor the behaviour of a brother and sister after their units were searched on suspicion of treason and apostasy. I know the charges were false but we are placing these random charges in hope of flushing out the real traitors. The girl has never done anything worse than be insubordinate to the Guards. I do not encourage this behaviour but the other peasants frown upon it to and so avoid her for her outspoken ways unless they require her help. Her notoriety is limited to the fact that she is a loner and some what of an oddity. The boy is more trouble though again has never done anything serious. He is know to become drunk, start odd fights and make regular use of the girls in the pavilions. A harmless rogue really. The fact that they are twins and their resemblance to Suez and Otel is unmistakable. They bear the traits of royal blood.” This was true. They both had the thick dark curls and olive skin that marked the royals from the rest of the colony. Had they ever had a glimpse of any of the royal family then they may have guessed their parentage.
Areh rose from the couch with a sleepy look in her eyes and moved to a window. She remained there for several minutes without speaking.
“Are they aware of this?”
“No. Their conversation indicated they have no idea of who they are so as yet there is no chance of them confronting any of the council. It may be problematic if they do. It would look bad for the palace to be suspected of abandoning their own.”
“Agreed. If we make a show of a search for the twins and request their attendance at the palace for a simple blood test we could trap them.”
“But madam that would surely tell them more than they already know. They re not unintelligent and Otel is still alive.”
“Yes but she is also quite mad. Grief has some terrible effects on people. They are unlikely to pay much heed to the ramblings of a lunatic.’
Semreh had his own ideas about the sanity, or apparent insanity, of Otel. It was only her high birth and the threat of a war they could not hope to win should she come to an unnatural end that prevented Areh from having her disposed of entirely. No, he believed she was sane. Otel had her own agenda and she was clever, he was certain, and that made her all the more dangerous to him. She could reveal all to much about the goings on at the palace. One word to the right person and they could have an open rebellion on their hands. Her incarceration was necessary. Necessary to him at any rate. It was also a fact he could use to his advantage. He could act too and all he had to do was play outraged hero in front of the right people and his skin was safe no matter which side the Fates took. Peasants wouldn’t know the part he played in her torment. Even Otel did not know who was responsible. Willing or unwilling, Otel was a useful pawn to him at any rate. The Doctors had pronounced her mad years ago after repeated attempts to escape from the palace. As the only option other than the Provider’s hospitality was to live in obscurity in conditions that in their opinions were only slightly above squalor they decided that se must be. So ingrained in their minds was it that the peasant class were seething with jealousy over the differences of the living standards, they could not see why anyone would want to live any other way. Who could blame them? It had been part of their conditioning practically from birth. The Doctors’ ideas were abhorrent to him but useful. They kept her where she was, they kept Areh amused with reports of her madness and they provided him with a very useful tool to get rid of them when the time came. He could use them as he pleased once he had the power and influence over the council he deserved.
‘No lady, they would have no reason to believe her any more than they would have reason to trust any one.’ He paused. ‘Perhaps a little nudge in the right direction wouldn’t go amiss though. Ollopa is not unintelligent so it will not be easy to mislead him but separating him from his sister would make it a little less difficult. She is more cautious than he and outspoken in her judgment of events. I will need a few days and access to the public record in order to lay a false trail for him. It will not be an obvious one but it will be the only one he picks up. All leads will take him where we want him.’
‘And just where might that be?’ Areh was vengeful and deliciously malicious but the idea of using people to destroy themselves was beyond her. She wanted fast vengeance and would go to great lengths to see that no slight ever went unpunished but that was her limit. Now it was his turn and he would show her how much fun it was to let them do the work for them.
‘Several places. I, above all, want him dead but to just have him killed would create lose ends. We push him into a position where he’s working for us and indebted to the palace. All those outside the palace and the council would despise him and then we set him up for an ‘accident’ involving Suez.’ Now he had her attention. Suez had flaunted his infidelity in front of her too often for her not to want to be free of him. Leading her blindly in a plot against Suez would be almost too easy. He would have to be careful that even a false plot would not lead back to him. He despised Areh with a deep and lasting passion. He was of noble blood and they had made a servant of him. He now knew she was receptive to this plan and didn’t have to explain further. His plans had worked well so often in the past that he could spare her the details.
‘Don’t go boring me with the ins and outs, Semreh, I’m not interested in how it works just tell me it will work and get about your business.’
‘It will work lady.’ Just not how you think it will, he thought. He was practiced at schooling his expression for her. He could simper and flatter with the best of them but only he was trusted.
‘Very well. Go.’
With that he gave a bow and left the room. When the door closed behind him he shuddered. This would be dangerous for him but the result would mean the end of servitude.