For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Jester Queen challenged me with “The king has died and nobody knows which of his twins should inherit the throne, because the healer who delivered them has long since passed on and the Queen won’t answer the question of who was delivered first.” and I challenged Lance with “The silence that had come between them was thicker than ice.”
“Let me see the child, my queen.”
Regina smiled serenely at her husband. “There are two, Phillip.”
The king gasped. “A boy and a girl?”
No, Regina replied. “Two boys. First…”
“No, Regina.” He shook his head. “If I know which is to succeed me, I will treat him differently. I will train him harder; I will have higher expectations for him.” He gazed at the boys, small and clean and new. Full of promise and hope for the kingdom. “Both boys need to know discipline. Both need to learn leadership and weaponry and defense.”
“Yes m’lord,” Regina said, secretly overjoyed. She didn’t want either of the babies to receive preferential treatment.
He looked at her. “Who else knows which is first?”
“Only the midwife.”
Phillip turned to his advisor. “Kill her.”
* * *
The king’s advisor found the midwife in the forest gathering herbs and roots, tucking them into the basket on her arm. “Midwife,” said he.
“Why are you here?” She laughed. “No man of the king visits these haunted forests.”
The advisor was a shrewd man. Before he slew the midwife, perhaps he could learn the truth; truth he could tuck away like so many herbs. “The king wishes to inquire as to which of the babes was firstborn.”
“His wife was there. Surely she can tell him.” She pulled some sorrel, lush and green. These would make a fine spring tonic.
“Mayhaps he doesn’t believe her.”
“If a man cannot believe his woman, he’s got no cause to believe in the words of the midwife.”
She shook her head. “I shant.”
The advisor pulled his sword from its scabbard.
Again, she laughed, pressing a hand against her chest, as if to contain the laughter there. “Really, sir. Threats won’t extract the information from me.”
“You want to know the truth, witch? The truth is, the king doesn’t want to know which child was born first. The king wants to treat them identical-like.”
She nodded. “A wise king have we.”
“Only two people know the identity of the true heir.”
She nodded. “I’ve told no one.”
“The king is afeared you will.”
She spied some chives nestled among the rocks. They would help with spring birthing. “A midwife takes many secrets to her grave.”
“That’s what the wise king had in mind, midwife.” The advisor lifted his sword above his head and prepared to strike.
“Curse King Phillip and all his filthy progeny.”
The advisor paused.
“Your curses will truly kill?”
The midwife stood. “My curses never fail me. You slay me and the king and his descendents will die before the moon next reaches her fullness.”
Satisfied, the king’s advisor struck down the midwife. He left her body among the forest; her herbs scattered across the path.
King Phillip died first. They said it was the sudden shock of having not one, but two children after all these years.
After a suitable amount of time had passed, the shrewd advisor sought out Regina in her chambers. He pretended to be concerned. “My queen. It is time. We need to know the heir. Which of the babes was born first?”
“Leave this place,” the queen replied, pointing to her door.
The king’s advisor smiled to himself. Nightly, the moon grew fuller in the sky. Soon, he told himself.
He woke that night, feverish and disoriented. He wrapped himself in blankets. He threw the blankets aside. He sat. He stood. He paced the floor. He grew weak. He called to his wife who brought him water and sent for the doctor.
He heard a door open.
“Is that the doctor?” The king’s advisor called.
“It’s Queen Regina,” his wife murmured.
“What ails you?” The queen demanded. She carried one of the newborns in her arms.
“The babes, Queen. They’ve been cursed.”
The queen shook her head. “You cannot curse innocence.”
“Just before she died, the midwife cursed King Phillip and all of his descendents.”
Regina smiled. “I’ve got no cause for concern, then. These babes are not Phillip’s.”
“Could he not…?” The advisor’s wife said.
“Oh, indeed, yes. He has a son.” Regina looked at the king’s advisor. “You are he. You are the true heir to the throne. Phillip never knew. Midwives take their secrets to the grave.”
His death was quick. Painless. Complete.
His wife ran from the room to check on their children.
The chambers filled with screams.
Queen Regina looked at her babe and smiled.
She took the throne and ruled with a kind and gentle heart.
Surprisingly, she remarried soon after the death of her husband.