The palace soon quieted from the clamor of combat to the subdued din of cleaning the halls and walls, dragging away corpses of friend and foe for accounting, and assembling the key courtiers for royal council. In a sealed side room, secret from most that walk the halls of the Solar Nation’s royal palace, an unwelcome—yet sadly familiar—meeting commenced. Therein the privy council of the Solar Nation met in circumstances that would be shocking to the majority of courtiers at court.
Zebulon sat on a stool, naked to the waist, bleeding from a number of cuts about his arms and torso. Behind him Keela stood, herself bereft of queenly modesty as she again assumed the demeanor of a doctor, bandages covering her own wounds as she wielded her instruments again upon her royal husband. The council, slim in number, consisted of long-time trusted companions- but that didn’t mean that they found the scene acceptable, only that it was unwise to voice such opinions.
“Now that all five of you are here,” Zebulon said, “I expect a report.”
The Lord Chancellor, a man as ancient as Ilker, and thus remembering when his king was but an infant in his mother’s arms, looked up from a hastily-written letter to say “My king, the assassins are no more. All of the traitors are slain, as are their confederates, save for one.”
“Lord Chancellor, I bid you hold that a moment. Lord Marshall, what word of my daughter and the boy?”
A man in his prime, the Lord Marshall was once Zebulon’s squire during the wars. “Master,” he said, out of long habit, “neither I nor my men can find either child within the walls. The last report was that they got to the stables and defeated a group of traitors that assailed them there, leaving a few slain and the rest dazzled.”
Quickly, the Court Fool—also the Master of Spies—added that “…two of my men saw them ride hard away from the palace out a sally port. They are gone, Your Majesty, but not beyond the eyes and ears of my people.”
Keela tapped her husband on the shoulder, and he gripped two iron holds on either side of him- holds anchored to great weights of stone. She took up a short iron bar, whispered an unheard word in a curt and insulting manner, and saw it immediately grow red-hot as if plunged into a forge or fire. Then she seared closed the wound on his shoulder, and all saw his grasp on the holds tighten instant as the touch- but not a sound passed his lips. Keela removed the brand, and with her free hand whispered a second phrase unheard to the seared flesh in a loving and tender manner; instantly the scar healed and only a red bruise-like mark remained.
Keela handed the brand to a woman next to her, who whispered to it and cooled it thereby, before putting it aside. This woman was the Mistress of the Palace, the Lord Chancellor’s grand-daughter, one of Keela’s former students and the lover of the Master of Spies. “Majesty,” she said, “if they are followed, then certainly they shall flee for safe and friendly places. Would we not be wise to send word to those closest to the palace, telling them to expect our precious personages?”
Another woman, the Court Healer (sister of the Mistress, student of Keela and the Marshal’s wife), disagreed with this proposal, saying “Word of disaster travels faster than word of warning, and more so at short distances, and thus I say that our friends would already expect them. Instead, let us have words with the living traitor. I suspect that this was an attack of opportunity, not a well-planned act of treachery, but nonetheless the first move in a great scheme of treason and insurrection.”
Keela and Zebulon looked knowingly at each other, then smiled.
“Proceed now, Lord Chancellor.” Zebulon said.
The old man harrumphed. “The guard captain we have chained and isolated in the Sorcerer’s Cell. We stripped him from head to toe, having discovered nothing by way of hidden marks of any sort.”
“Did you have him shaved?” Keela said.
“No, my queen.” the old man said, “You intend to have him examined?”
“I intend to secure his health.” Keela said as she bound up her husband’s wounds,
“Transfer him to the House of Healing and place him under guard therein. His wounds shall be cleaned and dressed as if he were a free man.”
“Mistress,” the Chief Healer said, “shall I attend personally?”
“Yes, in my presence.” Keela said.
The council saw Keela’s intention, and that ended discussion. The corpses, once identified, were disposed of properly—lest unclean things foul the palace—and by dawn the palace betrayed no signs of its overnight occurrence.
When the prisoner awoke, he found himself naked and chained to an infirmary bed. Standing over him was the woman he betrayed, Queen Keela, and the Chief Healer- her former student. Two of the royal ladies-in-waiting stood by to assist their mistresses in their intended task of interrogation.
“You are wounded.” Keela said to the surprised prisoner, “I chose to attend to you myself.”
The Chief Healer motioned to the waiting ladies to bring water and cloth as Keela prepared to administer treatment.
“I ordered your transfer during the night.” Keela said, “I have prepared you for treatment, which is why you might feel utterly exposed.”
The prisoner looked closely at his arms, for that was all the more of himself that he could see, and noticed that what hair he had was gone- his flesh now seemed smooth like a baby. That was when he noticed the lack of hair upon his head, and his countenance withered from shock to horror.
“What are you going to do?” he demanded, his voice trembling.
“Heal you.” Keela said, and just then the other women began washing his body- starting at the feet and moving up, “I shall clean and close your wounds, as I’ve done for so many men before, such that you shall be back on your feet before midday. I shall not harm you in any way, nor allow others to do so.”
His disbelief needed no words, for his face said all that Keela needed to hear. She took a wet cloth and wiped clean a wound, and with that bloodied cloth she whispered a question. She then stood as if listening to an unseen messenger speaking into her ears, and then she again looked at her patient.
“I thought as much.” Keela said, and the Chief Healer nodded her agreement, having done the same into another, differently-soiled cloth.
“You are a fool.” Keela said, “Tell me this woman’s name, and mercy may yet be had despite your weakness.”
“I guarantee sanctuary for your daughter,” the Chief Healer said, “and a future greater than any that her mother would grant her, an honorable and harmonious future.”
They looked at him, wordless, for another five minutes as all four women finished preparing him for treatment. Then he broke down, sobbing, and could not stop. Keela wiped away his tears, and then soothed him with words whispered into his ears. She handed that cloth to the Chief Healer, who then took her leave and reported to the Master of Spies the name of the spy that compromised him and got her in chains before midday. By evening, she too confessed- and revealed that civil war had begun.