“So, it’s just after moonrise, and I’m dictating to that fool of a king, once again, what he’s to say in his address to the Royal Council. I was just about to slip away to release those vermin peasants from their filthy hole in the ground, when in walks Zahlamaer!”
Mitch started, nearly knocking over her tea.
“Yes,” the marquis nodded, mistaking the reason for Mitch’s surprise. “It was quite the shock.”
He took a long sip from his crystal goblet as Mitch did her best to recompose herself. She resisted the urge to scratch at her corset. Her dressing this morning had been almost as painful as her shapeshifting into the voyage vessel, but the marquis had instructed the servants to see that “Princess Vella” came to breakfast properly dressed. And now here she was, in a stiff, itchy gown, sharing croissants and jam with a viceroy of the Trust!
“Now mind you,” the marquis went on, paying no attention to Mitch’s discomfort. “I had no idea the Corridor had been closed! I don’t think any of us could have seen that coming.”
Mitch shook her head, hoping her silence wouldn’t give her away as an imposter.
“Still, I certainly wasn’t expecting Zahlamaer to drop in! He bursts into the throne room, holds up a coin, and says to me, ‘How did you do it?’ HA! Now how do you respond to a question like that from Zahlamaer? I didn’t know if he believed I had done something worthy of punishment or reward, but I certainly couldn’t let on I had no idea what he was talking about!
“So I tell him, ‘Grandmaster, I am but a servant to your will.’ And he takes my hands in the sign of the Trust—honestly, a part of me still feared he may be getting ready to cast me into the Dark—but I returned the sign. What else could I do? And then he says to me, ‘I know, Marquis Richelieu, that you are afraid. But I did not come here to harm you. I came to learn.’”
The marquis paused, stroking his pointy beard, deep in thought.
“He could have penetrated my mind,” he said finally, “—took everything he needed to know by force. But he simply removed the king from the throne, took a seat, and asked me to tell him what I had been up to.”
Mitch listened carefully as the marquis described the rest of his meeting with Zahlamaer. He explained the details of his scheme to generate dark energy all over the land and confessed he had been confused when his power over the soldiers began to weaken. He told Zahlamaer about the Countess de Fontaineflamme and revealed his suspicions she was somehow behind it all. Everything he knew about time travel told him it was impossible, but he couldn’t deny the strange changes taking place from one moon cycle to the next, and the countess did have cause to hold a timeless grudge against him.
“After all,” the marquis smirked. “In our own time, she was…shall we say…a casualty of my most glorious rise to greatness.”
Mitch’s blood began to boil, but she forced herself to stay calm. She needed the marquis to believe he could trust her, so she swallowed the fierce urge she felt to give him a piece of her mind.
The marquis went on to explain that he had passed word through the kingdom he would richly reward anyone who could provide him information on the countess’ activities. He had received a few leads, but nothing that could give him a clear idea of what she was up to…until, that is, the groveling groundskeeper had revealed what he had seen in the woods.
The marquis was tempted to have both the countess and this “Prince Ian” imprisoned immediately, but he knew it would be more useful to observe them from a distance and work out the details of their scheme against him. This is exactly what he had been doing for the last two weeks.
“I told him all that I knew,” the marquis admitted. “And while I spoke, Zahlamaer said not a word…but his eyes were shining.”
He looked meaningfully at Mitch.
“He was thinking hard about something, Vella. Working out an idea in his mind. When I finished my story, he rose from the throne and guided the king back to his seat. Then he turned to me.
“‘Observe the boy closely tonight,’ he instructed. ‘Watch what he does when the fighting breaks out. Follow him until the moon cycle resets. Find out where he goes and what happens to him at dawn. Learn all you can about his activities, and then imprison him.’
“‘And the countess?’ I asked.
“‘Do what you wish with the countess,’ he said. ‘She is of no concern to me. But the boy, you will be more careful with. I am most interested in speaking with him when I return.’
“And then he told me he had business to attend to, that he would be back in two moon cycles’ time. I think he is getting close, Vella dear. The final leap cannot be far off, and with it will come our own taste of ultimate power!
“Imagine it!” he exclaimed, his excitement growing. “The infinite possibilities, the surge of immortality, the present bending to our pre-ordained will as we assume our rightful place in the future—HA HA!”
The marquis slammed his jeweled hand onto the table, rattling the porcelain dishes. Mitch started again, this time actually knocking over her tea.
“Oh dear,” the marquis laughed. “Just look at me, going on like this again. My apologies—I can get so excited, and you’ve always been such a careful listener.
“But look, I’ve been talking all morning! Tell me now, how in the world did you come to be here? And what are you doing in that absurd vessel? A witch?” he scoffed. “And a smelly one at that? It doesn’t quite do you justice, my beautiful friend.”
The marquis eyed Mitch with intense interest. Mitch searched her mind, desperate to come up with a believable response.
“Well—” she began lamely. “Well I—”
Suddenly, the doors of the parlor swung open. A servant entered and bowed deeply.
“Monsieur Marquis,” he said. “Our Majesté is ready to receive you.”
“Oh good,” the marquis replied, rising from the table.
“Come dear,” he said to Mitch with a conspiratorial smile. “This should be great fun.”
He offered his arm, but then pulled away sharply. “Oh!” he said, waving a hand in front of his nose. “I thought a bath and some new clothes would help with that smell, but I guess I was mistaken!”
The marquis led the way to the throne room.
“Anyhow,” he called over his shoulder. “The king is not likely to notice. His mind will be…shall we say…preoccupied. He has much work to do before the Royal Council arrives—even if he doesn’t know it just yet…”
As they approached the throne room, the guards parted, and the great golden doors opened inward. Mitch’s breath caught in her throat.
Before her was a spectacular sight—gold-plated panels, glittering chandeliers, and a polished parquet floor that reflected the magnificent scenes of battle and conquest painted on the ceilings above. The marquis seemed pleased at the impression the room made on his guest.
“Good morning, Your Majesté,” he said brightly as he crossed the hall to the Sun King’s throne with Mitch trailing behind. He stopped just short of the stairs and bowed his head. Mitch did her best to curtsey in the heavy gown.
“Marquis Richelieu,” the king said absently.
Mitch couldn’t help but notice how unwell he looked. His cheeks were sallow and his eyes stared vacantly out into the empty room.
“Your Majesté,” the marquis continued. “May I introduce a friend of mine, Princess Vella of Crawford.” He winked at Mitch as he said her mother’s last name. “She has traveled a great distance to be with us for the opening of the Royal Council.”
The king looked confused. “Princess Vella,” he said softly.
“The Royal Council,” interjected the marquis. “That is really what we are here to talk about today, is it not?”
“The Royal Council? Yes,” the king nodded, but he still looked terribly mixed up.
“You know, Your Majesté,” the marquis began in a silky voice. “I have had a fabulous idea. What if, as a way to show your great generosity to the nobles, you invite them to take up residence at the chateau this month?”
“Yes, Your Majesté, invite them. Here. To the chateau. We shall send out the edict this morning, shall we not?”
The marquis slipped a piece of parchment and a quill into the king’s hands and produced a small vile of ink from his robe.
“Now write,” he commanded. “By order of the Sun King…” He glanced at Mitch. “You see,” he whispered sinisterly. “Great fun.”
New chapters of The Secret Corridor will be published every Friday to CorridorCounty.com. Listen at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Buzzsprout.