Hereward took a deep breath as he walked through the halls of the Scarlet Palace. It felt… wrong for him--a palanquin-bearer--to do this, even if, as the Prince’s equerry it was both his right and his duty. Those fine walls and elaborate decorations seemed to accuse him, seemed to whisper ‘go back to your place’.
He shut his eyes, and paused for a moment. He was being foolish of course. Why, his great-great-grandfather Arbolast had served King Wilhelm in this very role--though that had been on his mother’s side. Men rose--and fell--as the Holly Throne demanded. That was an iron law of Tintagel.
He turned down a hallway, and entered the third room on his left, then waited, his frustration building. Had he gotten the wrong room? He could have sworn that he followed Amfortas’ directions precisely…
“H-Hereward? Is… that you?” came a whisper. Hereward turned to see where it had come from, and immediately wished he had not.
She sat there in a very large chair, which made her seem smaller. And she was doing her best to seem as small as she could, huddling there, her knees drawn up to her face. There was something… awful about seeing her of all people, the Living Symbol of Tintagel like this. It went beyond the bruises on her face and the blackened eyes, to that awful look on her face and the entire way she carried herself. For as long as he’d known her, Queen Yolande had carried herself with perfect poise. Now she sat there, this shivering, nervous woman who he could barely recognize…
“I… Your Majesty…” said Hereward nervously, cautiously approaching. “I… what… what happened…?”
“She fell from her horse when we were out riding,” said Amfortas. Hereward wheeled around, trying to figure out where the Prince had come from. He was certain that he hadn’t heard him approach. As he did so, the Prince stepped forwards, a sad apologetic little smile on his face. “I am sorry for not being here earlier. A little bit of internal business came up, and I’m afraid I lost track of the time.”
“The Queen had a riding accident?” asked Herewad. “Sir… why has no one been informed…”
Amfortas stepped behind Yolande and placed two gentle hands on her shoulders. “Oh, it was a minor thing, really. No… serious harm done.” As the Queen shuddered beneath his touch, he raised a hand and lightly caressed her cheek. “I fear my dear little Yolande is a clumsy girl at times.” He smiled at Yolande “Isn’t that right, darling?”
Yolande gulped several times, and then nodded in a strange, unsteady manner. “Y… Yes… I’m s-so s-s-s-sorry for wor-worrying you. I’m clumsy. I’m clumsy. I’m…” She stopped speaking and sobbed softly.
Amfortas leaned down and placed a kiss on the top of her brow. “Now, now, dear. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” The Prince stood up, and walked towards Hereward. “I’ll need you to prepare a palanquin for me. I have a visit to… ahh, what was it again? Oh, yes, the Pomegranate Palace.” He chuckled lightly and shook his head. “Ahhh, the names you Tintagelians come up with for your places of state. It’s really quite enchanting.” He looked at Hereward smiling. “Just enchanting.”
Hereward took a deep breath and walked to the door. He felt very glad to be leaving this room, and yet also ashamed to feel so glad. “I will have one sent to the South Gate in an hour sir.”
Amfortas followed him to the door. “Excellent. I do so enjoy the punctuality with which you serve me. I made an excellent choice in you.”
Hereward was about to leave, but somehow, looking at that calm--almost smug--face, he couldn’t. “Sir, about the Queen…” Hereward tried to put it diplomatically, as he had been instructed to speak for years when dealing with his betters. A thousand polite ways of asking what he needed to ask popped into his mind. ‘She seems distraught’--‘Is all as it should be?’--‘Perhaps she should go out more often’. And he found he could ask none of them, only state the thing that was on his mind.
“What are you doing to her?” asked Hereward.
If Hereward had hoped to discomfort the Prince, it was a vain hope. Amfortas merely smiled. “Why merely what the Seven have permitted me to do.” And then he stepped forward, and placed a hand on Hereward’s cheek. “Perhaps, my dear boy,” he said, idly caressing Hereward’s cheek, “I can make you understand what that means, one of these days.”
Hereward backed away as if scalded. Amfortas nodded. “Ah, yes. You have to go prepare the palanquin.” The Prince walked back in the room. “Please do be quick. I have important affairs, to be dealing with.”
And then he shut the door.