Path to the Throne (part II)

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Upon the arrival of the royal delegation to the dukedom, everything seemed first. But then, during the first night they spent on foreign turf, a fire broke out in the palace. At that time, Uncle was quite busy...with Abigail.

When a noble knight and a noble lady deign to procreate, they won't notice a roof falling on their heads, and they didn't, before it was too late. They managed to leap out of the window, but two of their children and a part of the retinue all perished, suffocating to death in their sleep. It happens a lot during fires. First, it's the smoke, then the flames.

The majority of the attendants suffocated as well. The minority, mostly Abigail's aunts and uncles, in-laws, and other forty-second cousins, all survived. Princess Michelle did as well. She was one of the first to escape. She tried to put the fire out, calm it down, make it disappear as hard as she could. She failed.

Abigail accused her of starting the fire. What an imagination! Or was it more than imagination—intent? She said that Michelle had been about to get married, which would have put a stop to her dreams about the throne, which is why she had decided to get rid of her brother and his family. She said Michelle had managed to kill the older children—the heirs—but had no luck with her brother. Get this nasty woman, good people! Grab her! Tie her up!

Michelle couldn't resist. She was all spent during the fire. And, when a mage is spent, they're helpless as a baby, can't even run away. You can do whatever you want to with them. And so they did with Michelle. They had her bound hand and foot and locked in a cell. Took the initiative, you could say.


For my mother, it came as a total shock. She was a princess, after all, used to luxury and adoration, never encountering a hardship in her life, and here she was, grabbed by someone, accused of something, shackled, imprisoned! And, she had lost so much of her strength, all to save her ungrateful brother, by the way. If Michelle hadn't calmed the fire down, Rudolph and his bitch would never have gotten out.

Yet even that was used against the princess. Traces of her magic were discovered in the ash—her aura. If there had been a skilled mage, he would have examined the charred ruins and understood what had happened.

There was no mage. Mages are odd birds in general. It's a rare talent, manifested maybe in one person in ten thousand, and then you'd have to find that one, teach them, and help them survive the rigors of training. Magic is not pottery. And, almost always, you're born with only one type of magic. Which one? You can't simply decide to become a wizard. You either have the gift, or you don't. And, if you don't, you can jump through hoops, but it won't help you any. In total, there are seven types of magic. Four are elemental: air, water, fire, and earth. Three are spiritual: life, death, and mind. Out of them all, death mages are the least popular; they're also called necromancers.

But we aren't talking about them right now. So, if your gift is fire, you can do your best, but you'd never do anything with water, and if you can conjure air, mind is outside your skill set.

In that case, they needed a fire mage—a powerful one, a competent one, and trusted, too. Of course, they didn't find anyone like that in the royal retinue or anywhere within three days' travel. By then, the traces of aura had vanished. Nothing could be proven. The only one they had was a life mage. He could heal, cure, prevent illness, but he knew about fire about as much as a pig knows about politics.

The trial was led by my uncle, and the investigation, too. Abigail helped, naturally. Uncle held his own sister imprisoned for ten days straight, trying to find out how she had planned to murder him and his family. First, she was just questioned, then threatened with torture and execution... Who knows what Prince Rudolph could have ended up doing? They did break her fingers, at least. No rape, thankfully, but broken bones hurt a lot, too.

The princess was rescued by an old servant, Tom Horn. He had known Michelle since she was a baby and loved her to death. He learned about her imprisonment right away and couldn't believe his ears—neither about her guilt nor about the fire. He grabbed a horse and rushed to my grandfather's side.

The royal party had traveled for twenty days. Tom crossed that distance in eight. He traveled by the stars, avoiding roads. Roads would take five days more. He chose the direct route via the wasteland. Rode down two horses, almost died himself, ate and slept in the saddle, but he made it in time.

He told the king everything, and Grandfather's fury was terrible indeed. He sent carrier pigeons and messengers into the duchy right away. Royal guards followed. On top of profuse swearing, the letters contained an order to return the princess to the castle, TREAT HER WITH UTMOST RESPECT, and if any lowlife dared to accuse her of anything, Grandfather would...and then...stick the royal scepter the very knob.

Uncle had never even deigned to inform him about anything, neither the fire nor the trial. Or maybe he had, but the messengers encountered some wolves on the road—hungry wolves, who, incidentally, really loved parchment. Maybe they didn't get enough vitamins? And Uncle's pigeons were set upon by falcons. Did I mention that some of Abigail's cousins were avid hunters? But there was no proof.

And here, destiny threw the first card onto the table—a queen of spades—a necromancer and a dark witch. She had been caught trying to put a hex on somebody. They had wanted to burn her at the stake straight away, cleanse her unholy spirit, and send her to the abode of the Bright Saint, but my uncle arrived and was made an honored guest for the execution, and the feast, of course.

They didn't get the chance. The evening after his arrival, my uncle had other plans, and in the night, the fire happened. Everybody forgot about the necromancer girl...except for the princess. They were kept together, in neighboring cells, and they had a lot of time to talk. Who said that necromancers were all dark and evil?

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