Chapter 25

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It was late afternoon when Maelyn sauntered into the throne room. The long walk home had not tired her. She had taken her time, enjoying the sights of her kingdom as she never had before.

As usual, the knights swarmed about Coralina’s throne like a plague of beetles. The raucous laughter fell silent when Maelyn drew near.

Coralina stood up. “Maelyn!”

Maelyn held up the document. “I’m afraid Uncle Jarrod had a change of heart. I am the next queen of Runa Realm after all.” She smiled at the dumbstruck knights. “You may leave now.”

It didn’t take long. A few doubtful faces. A few scornful glares. Then the knights tramped a disgruntled path out the door, leaving Maelyn alone with Coralina.

Coralina flicked her scepter onto the throne and flounced down the steps. “Tired of this anyway. At least now I won’t deal with the stuffy ambassadors.” She stalked to a side door but Maelyn reached out and brushed her arm. “Wait, Coco.”

“What?” Coralina snapped.

“I want to talk to you.” Maelyn gestured to a window niche wide enough for sitting. Coralina’s eyes narrowed but she followed Maelyn to the other end of the room.

“Did you murder Uncle Jarrod?” Coralina flopped into the seat and leaned her shoulder on the stained glass window.

“It looks as if he has Red Fever,” said Maelyn. Coralina gasped sharply and covered her mouth. Maelyn laughed. “But he doesn’t.”

Coralina looked bewildered. “What?”

“Do you remember the first time Father tasted Lumen wine?” Maelyn asked.

Coralina began to shake her head, but then her expression cleared. “Yes! He got horribly ill!”

“His face became dark red and swollen,” said Maelyn. “Mother panicked, thinking it was Red Fever, until someone told her the Fever never causes swelling. Father was well again in two days.”

“But Mother drank the wine too,” said Coralina. Maelyn nodded. “Only Father was affected. Somehow, Lumen fruit is bad for him.”

“And that’s what happened to Uncle Jarrod?” Coralina asked.

“He’s Father’s brother,” said Maelyn. “I was hoping the wine would have the same effect.”

Coralina’s purple eyes grew wide. “You planned this?”

Maelyn laughed. “More like I tried this. When Heidel mentioned the Lumen wine, I remembered Father’s reaction. And I suspected Uncle Jarrod had never tasted it. I didn’t know if he’d become ill, but I planned how I would act if he did.” She told Coralina about the vial of ‘medicine’ she’d used to barter for her crown.  “I made it in the kitchen last night! A mixture of goat milk, molasses, and dried mustard!”

Coralina was laughing now. “You sold him a bottle of fake medicine to cure a disease he doesn’t have! Why Maelyn, that’s – that’s devious!”

Maelyn grinned. “I’m a devious damsel.” And suddenly she thought of Willow.

“But Uncle Jarrod will soon realize he was tricked,” said Coralina. “He’ll be mad. Possibly execution-mad!”

“He might.” Maelyn shrugged. “Or he’ll think he’s one of the few people who survived Red Fever and brag to the world about it.”

Coralina laughed. “That sounds like him! But he’ll still be furious about the document. He didn’t want you to be queen.”

Maelyn smiled. “He’ll find it much harder to stop me now. I’ll see to that.”

Coralina’s eyes fell to her shimmering skirt. “Mae… I’m glad.”

“Glad?”

Coralina looked up again. “I’m glad you’re not leaving.”

Tears stung Maelyn’s eyes. “I’m glad too.” She reached out and the two hugged each other tightly. Coralina smelled faintly of rose water and fresh linen. Comforting, familiar smells that told Maelyn just how much she loved her home and her family.

When they pulled apart, Coralina folded her arms and smirked. “Now. There’s something I want you to tell me. So long as we’re friends for a few minutes.”

Maelyn laughed. “All right.”

Coralina’s finely etched features became solemn. “Maelyn, why did you dismiss our servants?”

Maelyn lost her smile. She turned to the stained glass window. “I – I didn’t.”

“What?” said Coralina.

Maelyn rested her head against the colored panes of glass. “I didn’t dismiss the servants. They left.”

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