As a Sword in My Bones |

As a Sword in My Bones

By Jessica Joiner

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"If the Royal Council does nothing to curb my mother's cruelty, the oppressed people of Boldaria will revolt and this nation will be engulfed in a civil war," Prince Tristan Leander warned as he finished speaking before the gathered members of the twelve man Royal Council.

"You speak treason, young man." Lord Windemere stood from his chair and wagged his finger at the young prince. "Who would lead this uprising? You?"

"I oppose violence from either side, which is why I came to you. The Royal Council holds the power to check my mother's abuses." Tristan's research on the Council found Lord Windemere sided with the queen. He was not surprised by the accusation, but did not appreciate it all the same.

"Your Highness, I fear you overestimate the authority of this Council." Lord Applegate spoke with a grim shake of his head. "Perhaps when you are of age to be crowned king you can affect the changes you seek yourself."

Lord Applegate was the leader of the Council and, as far as Tristan had been able to discern, shared his dread of the impact of the queen's abuse of power.

Why will he not stand against her? Tristan wondered, clenching his fists at his side. A word from him could sway many members of this Council.

"How many more people will you allow her to kill in the year that remains until I am crowned?" Tristan demanded as his eyes raked the group of men. His gaze locked with Lord Blakemore's. Lord Blakemore was the same age Tristan's own father would have been, and was rumored to be a member of the resistance himself. Surely he would stand against the queen.

Lord Blakemore only scowled as he leaned back in his chair and folded his arms over his chest.

"I am sorry, Your Highness," Lord Applegate responded. He gestured to the men sitting on either side of him. "I do not see how we can do anything. Your mother's power is too great."

They fear her, Tristan realized as he took a stunned step back. Even the twelve most influential men in the kingdom did not dare oppose her publicly. "Then you had all better pray my coronation comes before she pushes the people too far." He whirled on his heels and stormed from the Council chamber.

"How did it go?" Lucas Medellin asked from where he stood leaning against the front of the building. He pushed off of the wall and scrambled to keep up as Tristan stomped past. "Not well, I gather."

"They will do nothing but wait until I am crowned." Tristan stopped in the street and turned to face his best friend. "But will the people put up with my mother's harsh rule that long?"

"They have put up with it for nearly twenty years," Lucas said with a shrug, "one more will hardly make a difference. Especially when they know they have you to look forward to as king."

"Some king I will be." Tristan raked his fingers through his black hair. "I could not even sway the opinions of twelve men, how can I rule a nation?"

"There are those of us who are concerned you will even survive to be crowned in the first place," Lucas said under his breath. "Your meeting with the Council would be enough to put your life at risk, but when you consider what I learned today..." His expression was dark with worry as he continued, "Must you return to the palace tonight? I fear it is not safe."

"Not safe?" Tristan raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Surely you do not believe my mother would retaliate against her own son?"

"Yes, actually, that is precisely what I believe." Lucas rubbed the back of his neck. "How much do you know about how your father died?"

"He became ill shortly before I was born," Tristan replied. He narrowed his eyes as he tried to determine how his father's death twenty years earlier could worry his friend today. "Your father did everything he could, but even his skill could not save him."

"I stumbled on my father's notes from that night while organizing his records today." Lucas looked around to make sure no one was near enough to overhear and lowered his voice. "King Justin was poisoned. My father suspected your mother."

"No, Lucas," Tristan shook his head. His mother may be a ruthless monarch, but he refused to entertain the suspicion that she would have murdered her own husband. "As much as I respect your father, I cannot believe she would harm my father – or me. You need not fear for me."

Lucas forced a laugh. "Someone has to, my friend. If anything happens to you, I would lose my best friend, my future brother-in-law, and my king."

* * * * *

"I think it was very brave," Aleatha spoke up as she laid a piece of rich birthday cake on the table in front of Tristan. She looked at him with twinkling eyes. "I would not have had the courage to stand before the Royal Council, knowing at least half of them are loyal to the queen."

"It was brave," Dr. Medellin agreed with his daughter. He gestured at Tristan with his fork. "I am very proud of you, Tristan. We all are. You will make a fine king."

Heat rose to Tristan's cheeks and he focused his attention on devouring the cake.

"That's what I told him," Lucas spoke up. He swallowed the bite of food in his mouth and continued, "Anyone would be better than the witch we have now."

"Lucas Gaius Medellin," his mother scolded. "In this house we speak respectfully of the queen, even if we do not approve of her actions."

"Sorry, Mother," Lucas apologized as he pushed a crumb around on his plate.

Pounding at the door shook the plates on the table. "Open in the queen's name!"

"That would be my summons," Tristan said, taking a deep breath as he pushed his chair away from the table. He never looked forward to the end of his visits with the Medellins. "Thank you all for the birthday celebration."

"Next year we will celebrate both your birthday and coronation," Dr. Medellin promised.

The front door swung open and a pair of soldiers stepped into the house.

"Let's go, Prince," one of the soldiers sneered. "The queen hates to be kept waiting."

"Allow me to say good bye, Captain Brogan," Tristan answered. The disrespectful captain of his mother's guard would be one of the first to go when he was crowned.

"Tristan, please," Lucas protested, grabbing Tristan's arm and pulling him aside. He leaned close and whispered, "It is not safe. Not after how you opposed her openly this morning. Your mother will...”

"My mother will be furious, yes," Tristan returned, "but she is my mother. She will not harm me. You worry too much."

"Of course I worry. You are my friend and the only hope this kingdom has for freedom." Lucas glanced back at the soldiers standing by the door. "At least promise me you will be careful."

"I will, Lucas, I promise." Tristan frowned. His friend's concern was catching. Though Tristan did not believe Queen Brigitte would murder him, he understood the punishment for his failed attempt to curb her excesses would likely be unpleasant. "God is in control, my friend." Tristan gripped both of Lucas's shoulders and met his eyes with a reassuring gaze. "If He wills for me to take the throne, nothing my mother does can change that."

Lucas took a deep breath and nodded, his look of concern only slightly faded. "I will not stop praying for His hand of protection on you, then. I do not think you understand how dangerous this next year will be."

He truly believes my mother will seek to keep me from the throne, Tristan realized as he regarded his friend. There would be no time now to question Lucas further, but perhaps it would be wise to keep a watchful eye at the palace. Even if his mother were not involved, he would not have made many friends among the servants loyal to her today. Danger could easily come from a direction other than the one Lucas suspected.

"You will be coming to church with us tomorrow, won't you?" Aleatha interrupted as she stood from the table and crossed the room to Tristan.

"I'm afraid sneaking out again tomorrow may not be wise," Tristan apologized as he took her hands in his. He did not deceive himself into thinking his mother was unaware he avoided her state-sponsored church, but he could not risk provoking her further by slipping away to attend the Medellins' dissenting church. "Perhaps next week. Until then, my lady, good bye." He bent and pressed his lips gently to the back of her hand.

"Ahem," Dr. Medellin cleared his throat, looking at Tristan with a raised eyebrow as he rose to stand behind his daughter. He placed a protective hand on Aleatha's back. "Until next week, Tristan, may God be with you."

Tristan released Aleatha's hands reluctantly and turned to follow the guards. Next Sunday seemed so far away.

* * * * *

You speak treason, young man. Lord Windemere's accusation echoed in Tristan's mind as he entered his mother's chambers with his head held high. Nervousness gripped his stomach. Lucas's warnings nagged at him. His mother was going to be furious. While he did not fear his mother would truly hurt him, he was keenly aware he would have to pay the price for his speech this morning. A price he was certain would be calculated to make him think twice before questioning her again.

Heavenly Father, be with me, he prayed as he stepped onto the plush red carpet of the opulent room. It was excessive, like everything else about his mother. The queen herself sat on an upholstered chaise waiting for him. Her quiet regard as he approached increased his nervousness.

"Tristan, my dear son," she purred as she leaned back in the chaise, lifted her feet onto it, and crossed her ankles. "Lord Windemere told me you spoke to the Royal Council this morning. You know you could have come directly to me."

Any hope Tristan may have had of trying to explain his behavior in a softer light was clearly gone. If only it had been Lord Applegate who had reported to the queen, rather than Lord Windemere! Lord Windemere's accusation of treason and Lucas's worried warning clashed in Tristan's mind and a seed of real fear took root for the first time.

"Mother, I have come to you, countless times. and yet the cruelty continues." Tristan swallowed against the dryness in his mouth. "The people of Boldaria deserve..."

"The people of Boldaria deserve a strong ruler willing to do what it takes to make sure the laws are obeyed." Queen Brigitte cut him off . "And I am in no way certain you are ready to be that ruler. I knew your association with Dr. Medellin and his family was making you soft. Would they also turn you against me?"

"No," Tristan answered quickly. He was willing to face his mother's anger for his actions, but he would not have her turn her wrath on his friends. "The Medellins are faithful to Boldaria."

"But not to me," the queen amended with a wave of her hand. "You need not be concerned about them, the good doctor has been in my service since before you were born. I know well his feelings for me. He does not need to agree with me, so long as he does not oppose me." She propped herself up on one elbow and gave Tristan an intent look. "Fear is loyalty, Tristan, at least where the common people are concerned. You think the Medellins are your friends. They only seek to align themselves with the next king. How better than to make an advantageous match for their daughter and place their son, a member of the resistance, where he could do the most harm: by the king's side."

"Dr. Medellin has not yet approved of my attentions to Aleatha and Lucas is not a member of the resistance," Tristan argued. Not yet, at least. Lucas felt as strongly as he did about the queen's harsh rule; it would not be too far a stretch for him to join the rapidly swelling number of citizens resisting her reign.

"My poor naive boy," Queen Brigitte said with a sigh, "what do you think that church of theirs is, if not a cover for the resistance?" A cunning look glinted in her eyes as she sat up and placed her feet on the floor "Anything that does not promote loyalty to me is resistance. You wish to worship their God, marry their daughter, promote their son, and now I find you publicly condemning me at their behest. I believe 'treason' was the word Lord Windemere used." She stood and crossed to Tristan, tilting his chin so his eyes met hers. Her voice was like the blade of a sword as she asked, "What will it take to break the hold they have over you?"

Cold fear wrapped around Tristan's heart. His mother might not hurt him, but she was very capable of ordering the Medellins killed. "Please, Mother, let them be. I swear to you my speech today was my own foolishness."

"Swear your allegiance to me," Queen Brigitte demanded, her fingers on his chin tightening.

"Of course I am loyal to you," Tristan responded without hesitation. After all, she was his mother.

"No, Tristan," she snapped. "I want you to pledge your faithfulness to me above everything else. I am your mother and your queen. I will not have either the Medellins or their God taking your loyalty from me."

Tristan bit off the sharp reply that rose to his lips. To cross her now could bring death to everyone he cared about, but he could not do as she asked. Not even to save the only family he knew.

"You cannot do it, can you?" his mother sneered. She shoved his chin as she let go and returned to her chaise. "Lord Devon, come in here," she called.

An immaculately dressed man with black hair and the dark eyes of a predator stepped into the room and stood behind her. His eyes raked over Tristan as if sizing him up. "He should be no problem, Your Majesty."

"This is Lord Devon," Queen Brigitte announced. "I have hired him to turn you into the ruler this kingdom needs. His methods are a bit rigorous, but after our little discussion I am afraid they are necessary. He will take you somewhere far from the influence of the Medellins and bring you back when you are ready to lead this nation."

"If I go with him, will you swear not to harm the Medellins?" Tristan attempted to negotiate, knowing full well he had little control over what his mother did to either him or his friends. Heavenly Father, they are in your hands.

"The Medellins are in no danger as long as they can no longer turn you against me," Queen Brigitte assured him.

The fear that had gripped his heart turned into a hard ball of dread in his stomach. The ominous stare Lord Devon had fixed on him since entering the room left him with a sense of foreboding. What have I gotten myself into?

"When do we leave?"

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About Jessica Joiner

I have loved writing for as long as I can remember. My first novel was a 20,000 word sci-fi novel I wrote when I was sixteen. My love of writing has only grown since then.

Starting with As a Sword in My Bones, I'm starting on a journey to publish my novels. (Well, other than those first ones. Everyone needs to practice!) Over the next two years, I plan to publish ten novels focusing on themes of faith, loyalty, and adventure.

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