Tragedy Over Tea

Prompt: His wife was having tea with the King, and he didn’t even know about it.

Genre: Tragedy.

+++++

Lady Miranda, wife of Jorge, Duke of Glasdown, folded her hands in her lap and willed her restless legs to be still. What was she doing here? She should leave, now, before the King arrived. 

Jorge and King Reginald were good friends, so it hadn’t seemed too out of place when Queen Ilya had invited the Duke’s young bride to enjoy an afternoon tea together. What was strange was the way the Queen had left the table so prematurely, then sent one of the servants in to apologize and announce the King’s intention to dine in his wife’s place.

‘Twas bordering on improper, but Miranda was young and had come from one of the lesser noble families with little to recommend her; she dared not displease her august host. And so she sat, as the seconds crawled by.

“Ah, my dear Lady Glasdown,” said the King by way of introduction as he crossed the dining room floor and took the seat at the tea table which his wife had recently vacated.

“Your Majesty,” replied Miranda, who rose to curtsey.

“Please,” said Reginald with a wave of his hand. “No ceremony here. I’ve had you summoned here for a particular purpose, and I haven’t much time.”

Stunned, Miranda took her seat again and tried to look nonchalant as she sipped her tea.

Reginald cleared his throat, picked up his own cup and then set it back down without drinking. He seemed just as nervous as Miranda, so she took courage and dared to speak. “If you haven’t much time, Sire, perhaps ‘tis best to get on with it.”

“Hmm. Yes, well… It’s not easy for me, your husband having been my… particular friend these many years. But, I have had it on good authority that the Duke of Glasdown might very well be the man responsible for the loss of significant funds from the royal treasury– embezzled the money, to be exact.”

Miranda gasped. “Surely not!” she said. “I haven’t known my husband long. But, I should hope I would know him well enough to say that– while he can have a temper at times– I cannot believe him capable of such treachery towards you, either as his sovereign or as his friend.”

“I admit, it troubles me as well. But there are precious few with access to the treasury in the first place, and the Duke is one of them. I know it’s hard to hear,” he said, cutting off Miranda’s further objections. “I haven’t enough evidence yet to formally accuse him– or anyone else. I only ask you– for now– to watch your husband, find out what you can, and report back to me in two weeks’ time when the Queen next invites you to visit her.”

Numbly, Miranda nodded. She didn’t want to believe it, but could it be true? Could her husband actually be guilty?

+++++

“What have you discovered?” Reginald demanded without preamble, the next time they met. Miranda noted his tousled hair and bloodshot eyes, which mirrored her own state of sleep deprivation.

“I wish I could assure you otherwise, Sire, but…” she frowned and her eyes dropped. “Jorge has made some unusual purchases lately which concern me. He doesn’t share with me his financial status, but I question whether he should have enough money to– well…”

“Go on,” Reginald ordered, leaning forward over the table and looking so intently at Miranda that her heart fluttered at the sight of his deep green eyes.

“He has purchased a second carriage, and a team to pull it. He’s traveled three times in it, heading north for I know not what purpose; except that he always brings me back expensive gifts upon his return. He brought me this dress.”

“It is stunning,” said Reginald in a low voice; but Miranda found it strange how even as he said the words, his eyes never strayed from gazing into hers– or maybe she was the one guilty of gazing into his. It was confusing and befuddling, and her cheeks blushed red and hot at the thought. Did her husband suspect anything? Was that the reason for his gifts? 

But there wasn’t anything to suspect– not really. Only, perhaps she had behaved rather colder toward him the last couple weeks since the King’s revelation. Pull yourself together, Miranda.

“Is there anything else?”

“No,” said Miranda.

“Thank you for your time.” Reginald escorted her to the castle exit, kissing her hand before releasing it and bidding her farewell. 

Miranda took that kiss home with her, and there it stayed, wedging itself ever deeper between herself and the Duke.

+++++

Three weeks later, a desperate and disheveled Miranda found herself pounding upon the castle doors, demanding to see the King. When he met her in the grand hall, she threw herself at him, sobbing and wailing, “He’ll kill me! He’ll kill me!” Alarmed by scratches upon her face and arms, and her blood-stained clothing, Reginald picked her up and carried her to a couch in the lower sitting room.

It took him some time– with more than a few sips of wine– to finally soothe Miranda enough to get the full story. She told him how she had– in a moment of frustration– revealed to Jorge her suspicion that he was not coming by all his wealth honestly, and Jorge had demanded to know the source of her information. He’d grown incensed as the argument rose in intensity. He’d dashed up to his wife’s rooms and begun destroying many of the things he’d bought her. Miranda tried to stop him, and he had pushed her forcefully and caused her to fall into a full-length mirror, which broke and rained pieces of sharp glass down upon her. Horrified and in pain, Miranda had run from the house and commanded their driver to take her to the castle.

“Did he say he would kill you?”

“No,” Miranda confessed. “But I saw the murder in his eyes.” She shuddered. “Oh! It terrified me so– it does still. I daren’t go back!”

Reginald rose and ordered a servant to fetch salve and dressings for the Lady’s wounds. He stooped and kissed Miranda’s fingertips. She shuddered again for quite a different reason and drew her hand away.

“I will go to him,” said Reginald. “It was cowardly of me not to do so before– to push you into such a confrontation when it should have been my own responsibility.” His eyes looked tenderly upon Miranda, before growing hard and resolute as he stood and called for his sword.

“You don’t intend to fight him!” Miranda’s eyes grew wide. 

“I will do what I must,” replied the King, taking his sword from a servant and fastening the scabbard to his belt.

+++++

Miranda waited for an eternity, attempting in vain to warm herself by the fire. When Reginald returned, she rose but did not run to him as in the past. His shoulders drooped and he trudged toward her, dragging a ruddy stained sword behind him, caring not that it scraped the floor.

He dropped the sword at Lady Miranda’s feet and fell to his knees. “It is done,” he said without emotion. Miranda dropped then, tears flowing fast and furious. 

A knock at the door. Miranda quieted her sobs. Reginald rose and– with a weary voice– bade their visitor enter.

A pair of guards approached, escorting the King’s son between them. The Queen– white-faced– followed closely behind. “Sire,” said one of the guards. “We have just caught His Highness in the royal treasure room, in the act of fleecing gold from your personal vault.”

“I’m sorry, Father!” the young Prince cried. But Reginald picked up his sword and held its bloodied tip to his own son’s throat. Tense moments passed in which nobody dared breathe, as the King stared into his son’s wide, pleading eyes. At last, the sword clattered to the ground and Reginald’s wails then were loud enough to be heard throughout the castle, piercing the hearts of all who heard them.

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