Mirabelle and Sir Carrey sat in the Queen’s chamber now. Their mutual witness and incipient guilt at the death of their king, and her father bonded them beyond fealty.
The arrow laid on the round, oak table between them, on a swatch of black silk, handled with a slow care which befitted its awful role presence in their lives.
Carrey found his eyes drawn to the glowing symbols set along the shaft, passed to the scholars of the kingdom, whose worn fingers danced along ancient texts in search of meaning and found none in recent memory. The arrowhead remained sharp, its edges marred with a black tarred substance which carried the bitter tang of roots and leaves distilled to dust and essence. No one touched the head without protection on Carrey’s orders, but an apothecary and the head gardener had studied the substance for its origin.
Mirabelle stared at the arrow with pain and hatred, fighting the urge to snatch it up and break it in two between her hands.
‘We have nothing?’ she said.
Carrey sighed and rubbed his face, exhausted from the relentless pace of the investigation and his own, unspoken guilt. He had sworn an oath to defend the king and stood before its failure. He had gone out into the field, offered rewards and threatened violence against anyone who might have gained from the king’s death but it had all been for nothing.
‘Aside from this.’ He said.
Mirabelle sighed. Eilhu was out in the forest and she ached for his presence to reassure her, but it was thin comfort as he conducted the terrible, bright burden of her grief through his own manner and actions.
‘The arrow is unusual.’ He said.
She pursed her lips together and stared at the arrow. Her education had vaulted to unknown heights and part of it had been admiring lectures on the craftsmanship of the offending arrow. It held no record in the military histories and intelligence of the surrounding kingdoms, aside from references to hedge magic which made her skin prickle with gooseflesh.
‘It is not the arrow which concerns me but the hand which wielded it.’ She said.
Carrey leaned over the table and looked at her.
‘We must follow each sign to its origin, your highness. Leave no stone unturned and we shall uncover who ordered this.’ He said.
Mirabelle wiped her eyes with a handkerchief and gazed around the room. Duty was cold, lonely work and she took it upon herself to spare anyone the worst excesses of grief, aside from Eilhu.
‘Then?’ she said.
Carrey frowned and sat back in his chair.
‘Justice, your highness.’ He said.
Her head throbbed with withheld emotion.
‘None of it will bring him back.’ She said.
Her voice betrayed her, and she caught the emotion before it spilled outwards. A woman’s tears were a weapon with a cold ease of application. Mirabelle took a deep breath and sat up in the chair.
‘No, but his descendants and subjects. An assassin strikes at memory and reputation.’ He said.
Carrey’s words held bitter experience. He was a man of honour, a titled noble with an impeccable reputation. Still, a man for all his station and the man had committed acts of ill repute to break the back of a situation.
‘Carrey, who do you believe has done this?’ she said.
He clapped his hands together and exhaled through his nose, lowering his eyes as he retreated to his intuition and found an answer.
‘Not Roderick or his ilk. The nature of an action reveals its origin.’ He said.
They looked at one another, searching for reassurance in a time when it had fled their grasp.
He pointed to the arrow.
‘It is rough, old magic within this arrow. We closed down the castle and found no trace of an assassin. Your highness, we are not dealing with matters of state here but something else.’ He said.
Mirabelle stared at the arrow and wanted to snatch it up, crack it into splinters and stamp upon them. Such impulses were not appropriate for a princess, least of all a queen.
‘Are we dealing with it, Carrey? Eilhu hunts in forest shadow and we sit there, thwarted and sick with lack of success. How is it a strategy?’ she said.
Carrey’s lower lip trembled. He bit into it and turned his head.
‘I know the simple fact of sword against shield, the invisible web of obligation and diplomacy but magic combines the worst of both.’ He said.
Mirabelle folded her hands over one another and pressed her lips together.
‘Yet the one man who knows more of it is almost silent on the subject.’ She said.
Carrey straightened in his chair and regarded his queen.
‘You would have me follow him?’ he said.
Mirabelle bit the inside of her lip and turned her head to hide her gaze, gave a tight, choked nod and Carrey understood.
‘I will be discreet.’ He said.
His words were thin, crumbling on his palate and dry as dust. Mirabelle stared at him, eyes aglow with guilt and grief. Each decision was uglier, bred from rough, desperate stock and bearing the scars of their parents, duty and obligation.
Carrey got up, bowed from the waist and left his queen to her devices.
She looked outside, the sun was high and bright, golden like Eilhu’s hair and the betrayal sat in her stomach, a poisonous meal which would kill her by degrees. Mirabelle stared at the arrow and cursed it with every fibre of her being. Her hate was such, she imagined plucking the arrow up and tossing it with enough force to find the assassin and strike them dead. The world resisted her wishes, and she sat, amidst a standing army, a population of loyal, grieving subjects and a consort who had gone out to hunt her father’s murderer down.
Mirabelle had set the former against the latter, and it made her sick to the stomach with guilt.