Chapter Thirty-One – continued
And now he stood, the cold of the sand seeping into his boots and chilling his toes. Had he really worn them that thin? The cold early morning air whipped around him, playing with his too long hair and rubbing his cheeks raw. Beside him, Abigail huddled in her cloak, the hood pulled so far forward he wasn’t sure she could even see anything. Behind them were four guards, their eyes watchful and their hands resting on sword hilts.
At their feet was the body of a mermaid. As Abigail had said, it wasn’t just anyone’s body.
Adrian turned, fully alert, and met the eyes of one of his guards. “Get the sea witch’s body to the castle. Immediately.”
Two of the guards saluted before jumping to pick up Merike’s body.
Adrian strode behind the men as they carried the body. Abigail shivered as she walked quickly beside him, but he wasn’t sure if it was from the cold or the fact that the mermaid princess, the sea witch, was dead.
“Quickly,” Adrian barked. “We can’t let anyone else see her. I want to know how and what she died from as fast as possible.”
The streets were silent as they made their way back to the castle, their breath puffs of clouds that froze on their faces as they walked through them. He could feel Abigail shivering beside him, but she was so wrapped up in herself, the edges of her cloak practically impeding her steps, that he didn’t dare step closer and try to keep her warm. He remembered when she was like this when they were children, remembered trying to wrap his arms around her. He’d only knocked them both into the snow and her lips had turned blue even as she had giggled.
Their steps were soft shuffles on the cobblestones, the only sounds the chattering of Abigail’s teeth and the huffing from the guards carrying the body.
Adrian’s mouth was set in a grim line. Someone had killed the mermaid princess. It would be known soon enough when the weather began to clear. Whether it would mean the end of the war was still murky. After all, they really had been at war with Merike, but there had been no confirmation as to whether the Pearl King and Queen were involved in it or had shunned their sea witch daughter, the daughter they had tried so valiantly to foist on the Glass Kingdom.
There was a hush as the six of them burst into the infirmary, eyes turning to stare at the tail clenched in the hands of one guard. But, as he expected, Lacile was keeping her composure and already rushing over, her face just as grim as his.
“Over here,” she said, her voice clipped.
The guards grunted, hefting the body once again, and followed Lacile into a room set up for surgeries. A woman stood, her white clothing stained brown with old blood stains. She looked up in surprise as the body was dumped on a table that had been repurposed as a bed.
“What is this?” she asked, bewildered. “Why have you brought a dead mermaid to me?” She waved a hand. “I do not have any dealings with the mer.”
“I need to know how she died,” Adrian said, his voice as imperious as any king’s. “This is the sea witch. She just washed up onto shore this morning. I need all the information I can gather about what happened to her. And I require you to be discreet.”
The woman pursed her lips and turned to look out the windows. The morning was dawning dark and gray, the storm clouds still swirling and threatening rain and hail.
“It must not have been long,” she finally said. “The weather still shows the effects of her magic. I’ll get started as soon as all of you clear out.”
Adrian nodded to her before turning and walking out, leaving her to her work. Abigail was quick to follow with the guards trailing behind.
“You should return to bed,” he said quietly to Abigail. “You couldn’t have slept much more than I did, and you’re freezing. I’ll have someone bring up a warm meal and stoke the fire in your chambers.”
Abigail clutched at her elbows and shook her head. “I’m wide awake, Adrian. Besides, I’m needed in the kitchens. It’s warm there.”
He stopped, pulling her to a stop as well. “Abigail, you don’t have to.”
She frowned up at him, her brow creased. “If I’m to be the future Queen, I need to be doing my part. Besides, Aunt Coryn has completely withdrawn.” Her frown eased a little. “I don’t think she and Uncle Gray have spent much of their marriage apart.” She shook her head. “The kingdom needs to see us working together here. If Merike is dead, I have to ask if my father and Uncle Gray are well. For all we know, you could be King right this very minute.”
“Let’s not think that way.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, wincing as his fingers struck knots. “At least take a moment to dress for the day.”
She narrowed her eyes as she looked him up and down. “I could say the same for you. Don’t worry, Adrian, I still hear my mother’s voice whenever I’m the slightest indecent.”
A small smile cracked his face. “Your mother raised you to be Queen, didn’t she?”
Abigail shrugged. “Who knows? She was just as hard on Camille, but, well, you know my sister.”
With a kiss to his cheek, Abigail scurried off. The castle was quickly coming awake and she was still in little more than her nightgown. Unlike him, she hadn’t taken a moment to throw on any decent clothing, but he couldn’t blame her. They had a dead mermaid princess on their hands.
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