Disclaimer and rating - see first part.
Chapter 18: Confessions
Clarisse lunged towards Mia while Joseph went for the goblet. In all of the activity, the contents almost spilled onto the floor. Joseph was able to maintain his balance well enough to preserve a small amount of the liquid.
Forgetting momentarily there was a crowd surrounding them, he barked out his order. “Take this to the Royal Guard to process the contents. Have them check for poison.”
There was a slight pause before panic broke out among the witnesses to the event. As people began to hastily make their exit in an entirely disorderly fashion, Joseph scanned the room for signs of Paul. He was nowhere to be seen. He checked to make sure Mia and Clarisse were alright. Mia still looked shocked and Clarisse was standing there, just holding her as the chaos swarmed around them.
“Yes, sir!” Captain Kip Kelly was now standing in front of Joseph, saluting and awaiting his orders.
“Take the Royal Guard and search the palace. Check everywhere remember he was formerly ‘one of us’ and will know all the hidden passageways and tunnels. Leave no place unturned. Find him!”
Convinced that this was no longer a place for the monarchy to be, Joseph decided that he would put Charlotte in charge of clearing out the room while he escorted Clarisse and Mia to the throne room. The throne room was more secure and would offer more protection until Paul could be detained.
Now worried that she could not see Charlotte in the crowd and she was not responding, Clarisse called out as well. “Charlotte!! Where are you?”
Still nothing…Charlotte was gone.
Panic began to rise in Clarisse’s chest as she remembered the look of distaste that had crossed Charlotte’s face at the mention of Paul’s name. “Joseph, they must find them! If he hurts her, I personally will hang him by his toes in the courtyard!”
“And I shall enjoy every second of that, my dear; but for now, we must get you and Mia to safety. Captain Kelley will take care of finding Charlotte.” He offered to console his wife as he ushered her and Mia towards the throne room. On their way, he radioed Captain Kelly and Shades to advise there was a strong possibility that Paul now had a hostage.
Inside the Throne Room
“Joe? Grandma? What is going on here?!” The shock had worn off and Mia was less than pleased that every time she turned around, it seemed someone was trying to take the crown away from her.
Joe was standing guard slightly in front of and in between Clarisse and Mia, only partially listening as Clarisse began to explain the information that she and Joseph had uncovered about the threat against the Renaldi rule.
“Shut up! You mean someone is trying to kill me?!”
“Mia, darling, please try and stay calm. The entire Royal Guard is after him and we will get to the bottom of this before the night is over.” She slipped her arm through Joseph’s as he stood, ever vigilant, watching the doors. “Right, Joseph?”
There was no verbal response forthcoming, only a slight nod of his head and squeeze of her hand as he kept his eyes trained around the room.
Time stretched slowly by as minutes passed into hours. Occasionally Shades would radio in that they believed they had caught sight of the fugitive; but because of Paul’s intricate knowledge of the palace and the grounds, he continued to elude them.
Joseph noted that after her initial outburst, Princess Mia had remained uncharacteristically quiet. Clarisse’s face was etched with worry. Both women stood in regal silence as they awaited news on their best friend, Charlotte.
Just when they thought they could bear the silence no more…
“Your Majesty!” Everyone looked up to follow the sound of Charlotte’s voice. They saw Paul with a strong hold around Charlotte’s waist with one arm and the other arm holding a gun pointed in the direction of the remaining Renaldi rulers.
Joseph stood between the two women trying to determine which one Paul would take aim at first. He suspected it would be Mia; but he could not leave Clarisse unprotected. After spending an entire lifetime protecting her and what seemed even longer waiting for them to be together, he couldn’t bear the thought of losing her now.
The sound of a bullet being fired from the barrel of a gun rang throughout the large room and his entire life with Clarisse passed through his consciousness: their past filled with stolen moments together; their present filled with so much love and passion; and, their future filled with the promises of all that could be.
In an instant he made the decision, for the first time in his life, with his heart rather than his head. Remembering the nightmare of Clarisse dead in the throne room, for him there could be no other choice. As he leapt in front of Clarisse, knocking her to the floor, he heard Mia scream.
The rest played out in slow motion…he heard, rather than saw, the commotion from the balcony area. Charlotte had twisted in Paul’s grasp and had landed a solid fist to his groin area. Joseph thought he would have to remember to thank Shades for teaching all the women in the palace some basic self defense.
As Charlotte started to run down the stairs to the main throne room, Paul stood slightly from his doubled over position and fired a shot in Charlotte’s direction. Shades and Captain Kelly burst through the balcony doors a moment later with the rest of the Royal Guard in tow. They quickly apprehended him and took him away to a holding area until the Queen would determine what should be his fate.
Shades ran to the stairs praying that Paul’s second bullet had been less than on target.
Joseph turned and saw Mia on the floor, holding Lionel in her lap. Her hands were pressing down on his shoulder where blood was slowly seeping out. She was calling for help.
He couldn’t believe it Lionel really had been willing to take a bullet for the Queen well, the future Queen. Thanks to Charlotte’s squirming, Paul’s aim had been knocked off a little and the bullet had hit Lionel in the shoulder. Fortunately, that was not a fatal wound. However, due to the way Mia had been standing; if Lionel had not jumped in front of her, it would have fatally pierced her heart.
Sensing the immediate danger had passed and fearing for Mia, Clarisse didn’t wait for Joseph to move. She pushed him off and rushed to Mia and Lionel’s side. Again she yelled for Charlotte, not yet realizing the second bullet had been aimed straight at her young assistant. “Charlotte!”
The next time she called her name, the realization had come and Clarisse’s call was more of a plea than a summons. “Charlotte? Please…”
Clarisse held her breath…waiting.
A weak response was finally heard. “Yes, your Majesty.”
Clarisse jumped up and ran to the woman who was being helped out of the stairwell by Shades. She enthusiastically embraced her causing the young woman to wince in pain.
“Are you hurt?”
“Not really, your Majesty. I think I sprained my ankle and perhaps bruised a rib as I dove for the stairs. But, I’ll be fine.”
Snapping into Queen mode, Clarisse began issuing orders. “Shades, get a doctor in here right now to tend to Charlotte and call an ambulance for Lionel.”
Clarisse ran back to kneel besides Mia. Using the scarf from her gown, she placed it over Mia’s hand to aid with applying pressure to the wound. She looked into Mia’s eyes expecting to see fear from all that had transpired; but rather, she found a steely resolve. She moved Mia’s hand and let the material of the scarf replace the pressure.
“Are you alright, my love?”
“Yes, Grandmother. You?”
“Now that all those I care about are alive and the enemy has been subdued, I do believe that I am.”
Moments later, Shades arrived with the requested emergency personnel. Once on a stretcher, Mia leaned down and placed a kiss on Lionel’s forehead.
“Thank you, Lionel.”
Clarisse repeated the gesture. “I find I am at a loss to express how grateful I am, Lionel.”
Lionel took her hand and kissed it. “I was only doing my duty, your Majesty. I look forward to future service to Her Majesty, Queen Amelia.”
She smiled at him as he closed his eyes to succumb to the medication being administered. As he was wheeled away, his hand slipped from her grasp. “That you shall, my boy. You have forever earned the trust of this family.”
Joseph came up to stand behind Clarisse, wrapping his arms around her waist. “I think I may have been wrong about that boy.”
Breaking the moment, Shades cleared his throat to get attention directed towards himself. “Excuse me, your Majesty?”
“Lord Palimore is outside the throne room and is requesting an audience with you.”
“What? Not now, Shades.”
“I’m afraid he is very insistent, your Majesty. He states it is a most pressing matter that will not wait until morning. He is requesting an ‘official’ audience, your Majesty.”
Sensing she was about to deny his request, Joseph interjected, “Clarisse, if I may?”
“Earlier today, Shades and I learned that Lord Palimore was the Member of Parliament who recommended Paul for service to the Royal family. I think it may be beneficial to hear what he says. If it pleases her Majesty.” He referred to her title to let her know he recognized that everything that happened from this point needed to come from Clarisse, the Queen. The emotions from the night would be reserved for later for Clarisse, the woman. Right now her family her country needed her to be their strong ruler.
She walked out of the room and returned moments later having obtained a crown from the safe in the ante-room. She placed the crown on her head and sat on the throne. Everyone else remaining in the room cleared to the side as she nodded for Shades to bring in Lord Palimore.
Lord Palimore seemed to have aged several years over the past hours. Shades helped him lower himself as he insisted that he kneel before the throne as he made his confession.
“What have you to say to me, Lord Palimore?”
“I wanted you to know what role I played, even if unwillingly, in the events that transpired tonight.”
“It was I who recommended Paul for service to the Royal family. I suppose you could say…no, the time for excuses is over. I accepted a bribe in exchange for recommending him. I was offered my seat in Parliament by the grandfather of Viscount Mabrey’s wife. All he asked in exchange was that I recommend the candidate of their choice when the time came.”
He waited to see if she would say anything. The Queen had learned a great deal of patience in her years of ruling. She waited for him to continue.
With a sigh, he continued. “You must believe me, your Majesty when I tell you that I never suspected that he was involved in any foul play over the years he was in service to your family. Otherwise, I would have said something sooner. Recently, I received a private message, prior to Princess Mia’s arrival in Genovia, stating that unless I supported the marriage law in Parliament, my family would be at risk. As it was the law, your Majesty, I didn’t see any harm in doing so to protect my family. Then when I learned that she had found a nice husband and the wedding was to take place, I thought all was well. Of course, you know what happened next. It was at that point that I decided to choose my duty to my country and the Crown over my own family. That is why I supported the Princess’ motion to abolish the law after being such a staunch supporter of it. It wasn’t until later that Prince Pierre contacted me to confirm his suspicions and offer additional protection for my family.”
Her schooled features slipped a bit. “Pierre knew about all of this?”
“He didn’t have his suspicions confirmed until recently, your Majesty; but yes, he knew.”
The room was eerily silent as everyone, including Lord Palimore, waited for the Queen to speak.
“Lord Palimore, I appreciate your honesty and forthrightness in sharing this information with me. My ruling is that you shall forever be barred from recommending anyone for service to the Royal family or palace. As to your future in Parliament, I shall leave the decision to that body rather than pass judgment now as the Crown is grateful for your support of Princess Mia’s motion to abolish the marriage law.”
“Thank you, your Majesty.”
“You are excused, Lord Palimore. Joseph.”
Shades helped Lord Palimore up and Joseph took his place, kneeling in front of his Queen. “Yes, your Majesty.”
“Bring him to me.”
Joseph looked up at her to determine if it would be worth risking treason to argue with her about this. One look at her eyes told him it would be a moot point.
Standing and bowing, he simply said, “As you wish, your Majesty.”
Silence followed as no one dared say a word. An eternity seemed to pass before Joseph returned with Shades, Captain Kelly and Paul.
Joseph escorted him before the throne and applied pressure to his shoulder to “encourage” him to kneel.
Her voice cut through the silence that was deafening the room.
“You have one opportunity, young man, to confess exactly what role you played in the attempt to overthrow the Renaldi family rule. Failure to do so will not bode well for you.”
His head remained bowed as he spoke, “They will kill me, your Majesty, if I speak.”
“They will not have the opportunity to do so if you do not speak to me now.” She glanced at Joseph who emphasized her point by placing a hand on the man’s shoulder and squeezing tightly.
She continued, “I may be at the end of my rule; however I am still Queen of this country and I have no qualms whatsoever at using all of the power available to me to ensure that you never see the light of day again if you do not speak.”
Paul glanced up slightly to see a sight that would forever be etched in his memory. He saw her Majesty, clad in a red silk gown, the crown sparkling in the light that shone from above her head the picture of power and strength. It was the look in her eyes, however, that caused his heart to catch in his throat. The blue steel in her eyes provided a look of unbridled determination that spoke volumes primarily that she fully intended to follow through on her threat if he didn’t comply.
He thought for a moment that, ironically, his employer had probably gone about this whole thing the wrong way. She had been and still was the backbone of the Renaldi family. Her strength and determination to handle everything that had been thrown her way ended up being more than a match for them even the way she had kept the last heir to the throne, Princess Mia, a secret for so long.
“I will not ask again.”
With a sigh, he began. Fearing he would not live long enough to tell the story again, he hoped that perhaps with his confession, God might see clear to forgive him…but he doubted it. “I was but a pawn, your Majesty, but a very useful one. I was trained from a very young age in many different trades and other matters that might concern the Crown so I could be ready for whatever opportunities may arise. I received schooling in everything from diplomacy, international trade, persuasion, herbology, and even auto mechanics. When the time was right, they called in a favor and I was recommended to serve in the Palace. My assignment was made very clear: eliminate the Renaldi blood line.”
The color had slowly drained from Clarisse’s face as he began his confession and her knuckles were white from gripping the armrests of the throne. She held her composure, though, and never ceased her glare at the subject kneeling before her. No one else dared breathe.
“I started with the King. I put a minute amount of poisonous, tasteless herbs in his coffee every day. It would take a while, but would certainly look as if an illness had taken our King from us. No one would…more accurately…no one did…suspect foul play.”
Clarisse fought the bile back down her throat as he continued.
“In the meantime, we decided that two members of the family could not get mysteriously sick and die. So we threatened Prince Pierre, forcing him to abdicate the throne. He came up with joining the church as a cover. We told him that if anyone suspected he had been forced, we would carry through on our threat.”
She forced the question that she feared she now knew the answer to. “Which was?”
“To kill you, your Majesty.”
Joseph started towards him. His anger raging almost beyond control. He had decided he would not wait for Clarisse to order his death or his employer to kill him. He would throttle him where he knelt on the floor with everyone as witnesses.
As quietly as she spoke it, later everyone wondered how he even heard it, “Joseph.”
To his credit, Paul had not moved from his position on the floor even though Joseph’s hands were now on him. When he heard her voice, it cut through his rage and he looked at her. She didn’t even have to speak the softness he saw in her eyes said everything she needed. He released him, but not before leaning down to whisper in his ear, “If they don’t kill you…rest assured, I will.”
He took his place over to the side, placing his hands behind his back and waited for the confession to resume.
“So in exchange for my life, my son abdicated the throne?”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“I see. Continue.” While she remained calm on the outside, her emotions were threatening to explode inside of her. Pierre had taken a great deal of grief from his father, the country, and, yes, at times, even her for shirking his duty to the Crown. Even as recently as Mia’s wedding, she had indicated her disapproval at his refusal to come. Knowing what she knew now, he probably had been told not to come and had, once again, had her life held hostage to ensure his compliance. She would have to set things right with him as soon as this matter was settled.
“With the King and Pierre out of the way, that only left Philippe. I was able to get myself assigned to the garage citing pain over the loss of the King and needing a change of pace. I simply bided my time until the Prince requested his car to go out for a drive. I made a few adjustments by loosening some bolts and other connections, a small slice to the brake line for a drive in the mountains of Genovia. It fairly guaranteed the success of a fatal accident. After that, my employer was certain that you would step down as you had lost everyone you had ever loved. If I may say so, your Majesty, they seriously underestimated you.”
She thought back to how dark those days had been. She knew she would not have made it if not for Joseph’s friendship, love and support. No, they had been right, she would have given in perhaps even should have given in. Their problem had been that they had seriously underestimated Joseph. But she would not provide any more opportunities for them to see anyone else she loved as a target, so she let him continue to think as he wished.
“Indeed, they did.”
“They were just waiting for you to step down. They did not know of the Princess until you came back from California with her. Her presence required me to reinsert myself into the palace which led to my stint with the catering company. I’ll save your scientists the trouble, the wine was poisoned. Princess Mia would not have survived to be crowned Queen tomorrow afternoon had she ingested any of the wine.”
“Why did they just not kill me?”
“After Pierre abdicated, Rupert and Phillipe were dead…why not just kill me and be done with it?” She had to know the answer.
“They had promised your son, Pierre, not to harm you in exchange for his abdication.” He made it sound completely logical.
Her laugh sounded strangely hollow in the quiet room, “Honor among murderers…how fascinating. You were responsible for killing or trying to kill almost every member of my family, but didn’t harm me because of a promise…now that I find unbelievable.”
“But true, your Majesty.”
Joseph tried to think of how he could possibly repay the debt of gratitude he felt for Pierre right at that moment.
“Is there anything else you should confess?”
His face now absent of any expression, Paul simply shook his head no.
“Very well then, please escort him back to a secure area. His fate will be decided at a later time.”
Nodding, Shades and Captain Kelly took him away.
“Yes, your Majesty.” Joseph came to kneel before the throne again.
“Please arrange for the Royal Guard, along with your security, to obtain from Mr. Debrowsky and Lord Palimore the names of the persons responsible for this act of treason and see that they are taken into custody with all due speed.”
“It would be my sincere pleasure to do so, your Majesty.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“See that no harm comes their way. We must allow our legal system to take its course it is the only way.”
His eyes spoke volumes as they met hers. He knew what she was asking; because she knew what he was thinking. They held each other’s gaze for several moments. Finally, he broke the gaze as he dipped his head, “I will make no promises, your Majesty…but, I shall try.”
“That is all I can ask. Thank you, Joseph.”
Joseph stood and approached the throne, taking her hand to help her to her feet.
They led the somber procession out of the throne room tiredness had overtaken each person as the adrenaline from the evening passed.
“Try to get some rest, everyone.” Clarisse looked around and saw the doctor with Charlotte, who had obviously resisted the doctor’s continued plea to withdraw. “Before you get to bed yourself, Charlotte, which is where you obviously belong right now, please let everyone know that the Coronation will continue as planned tomorrow.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“Are you sure, Grandma?”