Where the story last left off (you can read Chapter One here: http://masqueradestory.blogspot.com/2012/09/a-small-teaser.html) King Alric has been found dead and Mary the Mute has been decided as the primary suspect. What horrors await her and Newgate at the hands of the Queen?
This is really the chapter where the main antagonist of the story is introduced in conversation. You'll see what I mean if you read to the end...
Newgate paced around outside the cell room where Mary was being tortured. Even though he was the Captain, he was forbidden to enter the cell to confront the girl. Count Wymund had decided to keep him company during the wait.
“I’m sure this is all just some huge misunderstanding, right Captain? I mean, the girl’s not even a teenager after all!”
“I wish there was a mistake, my lord.” Newgate responded coldly. “I really do.”
“But where’s the proof? I mean, all they did was find her in the room. The King was killed by the dagger and pushed through a window. How can a little girl do something like that?”
“I don’t want to believe it Wymund, but there’s enough proof to put her in prison…”
Newgate crossed his arms and began recollecting the evidence. “First off she was the only person in the room at the same time as King Alric. Second, I know for a fact that I locked the door before I left her inside and the lock had been intact when they found her. Finally, she doesn’t deny her charges; she isn’t even putting up a fight to defend herself.”
“But she a mute isn’t she?”
“Then why hasn’t she made a fuss about being arrested? Kicked us, punch us, bite us? She hasn’t done anything but accept her fate. The Queen can only assume she is responsible.”
“To hell with the Queen, aren’t you her father Newgate!?”
Newgate gave the angriest stare Wymund had ever seen. “In name and only in name, she is no blood child of mine especially after this…This…Complete shame. If she didn’t do it, she must have seen who did. Why wouldn’t she try to communicate to us as to whom really did it unless she was the one?”
He then turned to pacing again while the young count stood there with fists clenched with rage.
“Shouldn’t family come before duty!?”
“Must I repeat myself? She is no child of mine…”
“So you believe she did that of her own accord then!? You think a young girl would just murder someone in cold blood for no clear reason!?”
Newgate paused in thought before facing Wymund with a look of sternness and seriousness most befitting a Captain of the Guard. He closely approached the Count as to not be overheard.
“No, no I do not Wymund and there’s a reason why she wouldn’t, though I dare not speak to anyone about it. Mary is-“
But before the Captain could begin, the door to the cell opened to a particularly bloody looking man wearing an apron and carrying tools of torture.
“The Queen has asked to bring you in, Captain. Just the Captain, kid,” he spoke to Wymund.
The torture room was a grizzly sight; rusty tools lined the walls like trophies while bones and other human remains hung from the ceiling to serve as a warning. At the end of the room was Mary strapped naked to a board on the wall, she was spread out like a star with spikes gouged into her hands and feet. Tears were pouring down her face, mixing in with the blood from fresh wounds. Newgate didn’t even so much as look at her as he approached the Queen who had been quietly sitting in the corner next to two torturers observing everything.
“The guests have all been safely escorted back to their rooms in the palace,” she spoke to Newgate. “No one has since exited the castle after the incident. We are left with few other suspects.”
“Why have you come here, your majesty?”
“I much desired to see the little whore my husband had been keeping as a pet receive her just reward. I’d say my husband had also claimed his punishment, as well.” She sneered.
“Forgive me for being so blunt, your highness. But it seems as if you are enjoying this.”
“I told you before, Captain, you should be mindful of your careless accusations. What I am enjoying is the relative safety in knowing that my husband’s murderer is now in custody and I am no longer in danger.”
Newgate grunted and finally looked over at Mary. Seeping wounds were gaping all over her tiny body. It was a traitor’s punishment, the most brutal and the most torturous. The sight was even more difficult to look at knowing that she was considered related to him, even though it was not by blood, in the eyes of the Avalot court.
“I’m sure this is very difficult to swallow, Captain Newgate. After failing to protect the person whom you were swore to only to have the murderer be your daughter.”
The Queen grinned and grabbed Mary’s face with one plump hand. “I personally find it ironic that the girl Alric had kept from me ended up being the death of him.”
Newgate remained silent for a while, staring at Mary like she was a work of art. As Wymund had said, it was difficult to believe that such a little girl could be responsible for pushing a grown man out a window. Another solitary fact made Mary an unlikely suspect, though that was something not to be repeated in public. Though the Queen certainly knew of if, she seemed to choose to ignore it.
“I’ll need a full team of investigators,” said Newgate at last. “I need men who will work around the clock to solve this mystery.”
“There is no mystery Newgate and as I recall, you are not the man in charge of this investigation because of your biased opinions in the matter, father.”
He glared at her, like an angry dog. “I owe it to my king to investigate matters further.”
“Your king is dead. You should accept this simple fact, Captain Gunter Newgate.”
A silence filled the void between both the Captain and the Queen, save for the hushed whimpers of Mary. The torturers had taken a step back. Were they to take sides, they’d either be beheaded by order of their Queen or impaled by their Captain’s own sword. Only they could speak so sharply and imprudently with each other without being reprimanded. The loyal soldier and the glutinous queen, they were two paragons that had been in conflict with one another for quite some time.
“Enough of this incessant banter, your duty is to protect me now, Newgate. A funeral and an execution shall be held after the festival, shortly after my father arrives. And that will be the end of it.”
“That man is coming here?”
“And why should he not? The Emperor of Berma was invited to the masquerade originally, was he not? He has every right to attend his son-in-law’s funeral.”
Newgate looked more shocked than he did when he learned Mary had been accused of the killing.
“Is there a problem, Captain?”
He did not answer. He merely retreated from the cell room, slamming the door open and passing a confused Count Wymund on the way out without stopping. She did not stop until his path ended at the edge of a balcony overlooking the city.
“I should have known…He would be coming…”
“I suppose this is not the time to be inquisitive on if a potential release will be possible for the girl?”
“Bigger matters to attend to Wymund,” replied Newgate without a glance behind him. “Much bigger matters.”
“You’re hardly what I’d call a good father then, Captain.”
“I’d never lay claim to such a thing…”
The two men stared off into the capital city below them, beyond the glorious tall walls of the castle. Like a lighthouse on an island, the castle stood on top of and surrounded by the main districts of Avo. Imagine a construction of toy blocks piled up with a single tower on top and you’d have Avo and Castle Decre. Everything inside the castle behind the wall was beautiful, from the luscious gardens, to the stained glass windows, to the marble statues, and even to the servants working. Castle Decre was an entity of perfection for all who dwelled within it and its beauty stood in stark contrast to the city below it. Avo’s colors were feces brown and gray, while the castle’s colors were that of gold and emerald green. It was a beacon of light rising above the swamp of sorrows. It was as if the city itself was built to support the much smaller castle.
“Why does her fate concern you so much, Wymund?”
“I wish to wed her.”
“I merely jest, Captain. If you truly wish to understand my motives, you need only look ahead.”
Newgate gazed first at the slums beneath them, then the forest beyond the city, and then the mountains even further beyond that. “What am I supposed to be seeing?”
“Exactly, my plight rests with what cannot be seen from upon this throne.”
The Count slumped laxly on the balcony railing, staring at the city below with an almost saddened look in his eyes. “Few nobles consider the impact of their decisions on others save for the others in their select circles. What do they care about the sufferings of others without the money or status to be of importance to them? What of the blacksmiths and the barkeepers? The laborers and the whores? The merchants and the beggars?”
“What of them?”
“Indeed, what of them? They are the quiet force holding up everything we know. It’s fitting that this castle is directly in the center and build on top of the city that supports it. Who knows what would happen should the bottom give way?”
“Are you speaking from experience, Wymund?”
“I suppose my youth as an orphan has offered a unique view of things. But father always cared about those below him; his will demanded half of his fortune go to a new sewer system for the commoners and even raised orphanages, after all. Why can’t all the nobles be as generous?”
“Because when you take away their money and status, all they really are is empty husks in the form of people.”
Wymund laughed. “Yes, some of us certainly act like it at times. When it comes down to it though, we’re all people with feelings. We bleed, we laugh, and we live.”
“A rather optimistic point of view, especially in these dark times, I fail to see how this relates to Mary though.”
“If you don’t protect your feet, Newgate, your whole body ends up tripping over. There’s nothing just about the treatment she’s going through and judging by the look in your eye, you know it too. No trials and no investigations are unfair for anyone.”
“They will not execute her. At least not until the Emperor arrives.”
“The Emperor of Berma, Queen Beatrice’s father, will be coming here, soon.”
“Now I’m the one who does not understand. Is this a problem of sorts?”
Newgate opened his mouth as if to say something but instead closed it and rubbed the long scar across his nose as if it suddenly had started to ache. “I forget, this was a long time ago. Such names must mean nothing to you young people.”
“Where are you going?”
“To retire,” Newgate replied as he turned to leave down the prison tower. “I suggest you do the same, the Queen plans to continue the masquerade tomorrow.”
Newgate left Wymund there alone on the balcony, quietly excusing himself to the barracks for a meal and some rest. But no one could rest easy that night, the King was dead and the halls of the castle were filled with the restless spirits of the long forgotten kings and queens. It was almost as if a curse had been placed on the inhabitants. Soon, a quiet midnight covered Castle Dacre, as only two eyes in the whole grounds remained awake and open while the rest slumbered in a fitful sleep under the dark red sky.
Mary quietly shivered in the corner of her cell, still naked and badly wounded but alive. After all that had happened, sleep would be an impossible thing. Her guards saw no reason to keep watch over a harmless little girl, had they thought to stay awake they might have caught the long dark figure approaching the cell door.
The figure threw some food to Mary, who had been denied food since her arrival. She looked up at the entity with eyes of hopeful grace and relief, tears rolled down her cheeks as she devoured the beard.
“You have endured much already,” spoke the figure. “But there is a long ways to go. Things will only get worse from here on. You must be strong, you will be free soon.”
Mary nodded hesitantly.
“You’ve done well. Have no fear of what the future holds. Claim what is rightfully yours.”