John’s hands were burned, his fingertips were blistered from their brief contact with the poisoned bridal shirt before he threw it in the fire. How he had managed to find the dexterity necessary to draw the poisoned splinter from Marigold’s chest was a mystery to him. The court panicked around him, calling for his arrest at his unexplained conduct over the last few days. First the horses, then the diamond encrusted silk shirt, now this public assault on the Queen? John knew the dangers to himself, felt a wash of relief as his adopted daughter in-law opened her eyes. She was safe. Franz was safe. Nothing else mattered.
King Franz rushed to hold his wife, pale with worry. The guards yanked John away from the young couple on the banquet room’s floor.
“What do you think you are doing!” Franz yelled at the guards, cradling Marigold’s head to his chest. “Can’t you see he has saved your Queen’s life!”
The guards still held John’s arms, but ceased in hauling him out of the room.
“My Lord, John is crazed! He is a danger to you and the Queen! You keep excusing his destructive behavior because he was your father’s favorite, but since he has returned, he’s run mad! We will not stand for it!”
The people of the court murmerd in agreement. They had witnessed the unpredictable actions of John since the King and Queen’s arrival.
The ship reached its home shores safely, much to the relief of all on board. A few days before landing, a messenger pigeon was released to prepare a Welcoming party for the King and his new Queen. On the day of their arrival, the ship was met with great enthusiasm by a cheering crowd. The King and Queen disembarked from the ship with great dignity. The excited crowd rushed forward to see their new Queen’s face and to touch the royal couple’s robes. Franz and Marigold smiled brightly, and greeted all the people they could. The procession weaved through to an awaiting coach and carriage, which would carry the Royal party back to the capital in a dazzling parade.
The carriage was splendid: Creamy ivory in color, with a gilded royal crest. Two well-matched horses with gleaming coats stamped frantically at the ground. The driver pulled on the reigns to steady the horses’ rolling heads, and grooms adjusted the blinders around their bulging eyes.The strange behavior of the horses went largely unnoticed by the crowd, who’s attention was take on examining their new Queen. That was until John released the horses from their harness and the usually docile creatures ran wildly away from the dock and the loud crowds, jumping over barrels and crashing into stalls in their panic.
Nonplussed, everyone’s attention was on John as he stood by the horseless carriage with a huge raven perched on his shoulder.
The crowd erupted into hisses of gossip. The guards and knights shifted their feet uncomfortably as the captain moved toward to confront John.
“My Lord!” The driver and captain both took a knee before his King and John respectfully inclined his head. “Your Majesty-” the driver stated again, “this man has cost your highness the best horses in the kingdom. They are each worth their weight in -”
“That is enough!” Franz repeated again, firmly. “This is my faithful John. Whatever he has done, I am sure there is a good reason.”
New horses were borrowed at a generous rate from a stable near the docks. The parade went forward only an hour behind schedule, and hunters were sent to try to recapture the King’s nobel steeds.
“The drugged horses was only the Midas’s first trap.” The old Raven reminded John as they rode behind the royal carriage.
“Yes, I am aware.” John replied. “There are still two more. The burning shirt and poisoned spintler, am I correct?”
“Yes. If you can thwart all three night’s end the sorcerer’s magic will be powerless.”
John said nothing in his own defense, he only stood calmly at the floor. He had always been prepared to live and die for Stefan and Franz.
“Let him go!” Franz ordered.
The crowd stood in rapt silent. The guards looked uneasily at their king and their captain.
“With all due respect, your majesty. I cannot.” The grave man replied.
“He is my faithful John. I will not have him treated like a common criminal!”
“My King, he is a threat and a danger. He has offered no explanation for his behavior. Therefore we must conclude he is not in his right mind.”
“Do you dare to disobey your king?”
“My sword and my life are sworn to your protection your majesty. If I must disobey you to protect you, I will do so.”
Franz stared at the guard with a look of begrudging understanding and respect. Instead he turned his focus on the man who had been his protector since childhood.
“John,” he started with the edge of a sigh in his voice “I trust you with my life. You are, and always have been my faithful John. I do not doubt you, but I cannot watch as others do. It causes me pain to see such suspicion and hatred toward you. I cannot bear to see you like this”
Franz and Marigold’s pleading eyes, the angry glare of the captain of the guard, the whispers of the court that doubted Franz’s judgment, the tight grip of the guards on his arms- it was overwhelming. The Raven cawed and landed on John’s shoulder once again. His weight offered reassurance that he did all for love.
“My boy, my king–”
The Raven tried to stop John’s tale, but it was too late. John revealed Mida’s plot, and as soon as the words left his lips he was turned to stone.
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