Path to the Throne (Part IV)

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Prince Rudolph turned red with anger. Meanwhile, the princess didn't waste any time. She turned her gaze to the captain and said, "Captain, it is not right to badmouth a poor girl. Maybe your tongue didn't work because of your spite? Still, you got lucky. They say the tongues of slanderers fall off for good. And their noses rot, as if from a horrible disease. Isn't that right, Martha?"

Martha stared at the prince and smiled, baring all forty of her teeth. "'Tis the honest truth," she said. "Your Highness, the Bright Saint puts a mark on an evildoer. His nose rots, his tongue withers, his eyes leak out of their sockets..."

And she used some of her power. A wave of cold spread throughout the room, driving both the prince and the captain away—quick and efficient.

The next day, the royal party started on their way back. Michelle insisted on it, saying she would recover more quickly in her homeland. Nobody said out loud that Henry needed to get away from the duchy as fast as possible, Rick had family in Radenor, and Martha didn't care about where she went as long as her friends were with her, but all of them knew that.

That was the hand fate dealt—two queens, two jacks on one side, a jack of diamonds and a queen of diamonds on the other.

On the road home, Abigail tried to get to Michelle, once, in an inn. She got more than enough, though. Martha asked her to wait a bit while her mistress had her braids done, and Abigail sat on a couch in a room. A dead rat crawled out from beneath it—a foul-smelling, half-decomposed creature—and started to climb her skirts, clearly aiming for her head.

You could hear her shrieks from half a country away. Abigail took off from the room like a shot from a crossbow, losing the rat as she went. Michelle laughed until she cried, but made a serious face when her brother came to her. He repeated the entire tirade about her servant being a necromancer and a witch who should be burned. After all, it is a real blasphemy! Attacking his beloved wife, the mother of his heirs—how dare she!

That made Michelle angry, furious, even. She carefully hid it, however, asking, in turn, for him to show her the proof. Or was there none? Then it was slander! Not to mention that rats, especially dead ones, were a sure sign of a guilty conscience. Are they plaguing her brother as well? After he had tortured his own sister, accusing her of a fratricide attempt? Prince Rudolph tried to put on a brave face but, confronted with the scathing looks of both Michelle and Martha, he couldn't do a good job. He left with nothing.

The rats, meanwhile, paid them occasional visits all the way to Radenor—dead ones, either corpses or skeletons, whatever they stumbled upon. Martha did her best. Even if she couldn't raise a rat for long, it was enough for Rudolph. When they reached the capital, he looked noticeably thinner and more haggard. Those twenty days made Abigail look much worse, as well. Too bad they didn't make her smarter, but you can't create something out of nothing. I'm talking about brains, of course. Cunning and nastiness, now those she had in abundance.

My grandfather, the father of Rudolph and Michelle, welcomed his children back in different ways. He treated Michelle with a lot of affection, showered Rick and Martha with titles, making them a baron and a baroness, affirmed all of Michelle's promises to Henry, yelled at court healers so they'd help her recover, and then turned to his son.

Grandfather gave him the tongue-lashing of his life. His only son turned out to be a rotten apple—sparkling armor and an empty head. How could he do that to his sister? Other people were doing their best to clean up their act, to spare their families any embarrassment, and he didn't just dive headfirst into the dirt but dragged the others along as well. To torture a princess! Did he have at least half a brain? Bringing shame upon the whole kingdom just like that! Why would Michelle need to burn them all if she was to be married off to a foreign groom anyway, putting her rights to the throne up in the air? And who was going to marry her now? His son was a real imbecile. No doubt about that.

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