That night Ezra gazed into his mother’s scrying glass, saying the magic words that would let her know he wanted to speak to her. Her face appeared in the glass, blurry at first, but coming sharply into focus.
“Well, child? What information do you have for me? It had better be good seeing as how you’ve neglected to summon me for several nights.”
“I have a few questions, Lady Morgan. I…I’m… Are you sure that it was King Christofer that sullied you? He doesn’t seem like the type to…”
“Are you questioning me? It was him! I could never forget his cruelty.”
“Perhaps he was not himself that night. Perhaps he was ill or drunk or…” Dare he say it? “…drugged.”
Lady Morgan’s face blanched. She narrowed her eyes. “You’ve been listening to lies, dear child.”
Yes, but from whom? “I’ve heard a few things. I’m very confused and I think I deserve some answers.”
“You deserve?! You deserve nothing! Everything you are, I created. You would not exist if it weren’t for me. But it seems Christofer has turned you against me. This is the thanks I get for all the love and care I’ve taken with you. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. You always were an ungrateful little brat, a terrible disappointment. Fortunately, I planned for such a betrayal.” She closed her eyes and began to chant in some strange language.
Ezra clutched at his chest. The amulet she had given him felt like it was on fire. With a gasp of pain, he dropped to his knees, desperately clawing at the fiery metal. It wouldn’t come off! He couldn’t get it off! After several agonizing minutes that dragged on and on, the pain subsided. Ezra collapsed. The scrying glass lay on the floor beside him, broken. Lady Morgan’s cruel face smiled back at him from every shard.
“Ezra, Ezra. I knew you’d disappoint me. I’m not about to let you ruin everything for me now. Sit up.”
Ezra was tired, angry. He was through listening to her. The amulet flared against his chest for a moment. Ezra felt himself moving. He tried to resist the compulsion, but it was as if his limbs weren’t his own.
“That amulet is very old and very powerful. When properly invoked, it makes the wearer do whatever he’s bid by the one who cast the spell. I’m through with waiting for you to do your part and I’m tired of your little rebellions. Now we do it my way. I’ve been thinking about what would devastate dear Christofer the most. From the information you’ve given me, the most important things in his life are his friends, his knights. Vin and Buck are his closest friends, but I can’t think of any handy weaknesses that Sir Vin has that we could use. Sir Buck on the other hand… He loves women, doesn’t he?”
Ezra just glared at her.
“You will answer any question I ask you truthfully and promptly. His weakness is women, isn’t it?”
Again the amulet burned. Ezra felt his mouth open. Words formed without volition. “Yes. He loves women.”
“And the king is newly married. How is the relationship between the king and queen?”
“They clash at times, both being strong-willed people, but for the most part they have an equitable relationship.”
“Is there an attraction there?”
“I’m not sure. There’s something between them.”
“Good, good. That may be enough. And from what you’ve told me before, the king cannot abide betrayal. This will be perfect. I’m going to give you a list of ingredients. I want you to gather them all as swiftly as possible without arousing suspicion. And I want you to check in with me every night—more often if anything unusual arises. You will alert no one to what you are doing nor will you give any information in any way about me, my relationship to you, yours to Chris, the pendant, or my plans. If anyone becomes suspicious or asks questions, you will mislead them in whatever manner works. Understand me? Good. We’re going to mix a special potion. Something similar to what I gave poor Christofer the night you were conceived. I think the king will be quite shocked to find his oldest friend in bed with his new wife, don’t you?. Knowing him, he may even try to kill them. Wouldn’t that just destroy him and his little band of knights?”
“You can’t do this! Please!”
“I can do anything I like. I’m going to destroy Christofer and take Camelot…and you’re going to help me.”
An hour later Ezra had the full list of ingredients for the potion written down. In the morning he would begin collecting the items. He didn’t want any part of this. Buck and Queen Mary… That would destroy Chris and the others. But what could he do? He was trapped by his mother’s power. Even now that she had gone for the night, he could still feel her magical hold over his body.
Ezra stared at the pendant, thinking how proud he’d been to receive it. It was the first gift he’d ever received that hadn’t been given of necessity. Sure he’d been given things like food, clothes, books, a horse, a sword. Those things had been for his physical care or for his education as a future knight. No one had ever given him a gift just because—a present freely given with no expectations from him. That pendant had meant so much to a boy starved for some token of affection.
It was all lies. He’d never meant anything to her. The amulet was just to keep him in line. Lady Morgan had used him ruthlessly. Now he truly understood betrayal. Not since he was a little boy locked in the dark of his room had he felt so alone and helpless. Ezra curled up on his bed and cried for the first time in a long time.
For the next few days, Ezra worked reluctantly to gather the ingredients, all the while consumed by guilt. He didn’t know why, but ever since the night Chris had revealed his secret, the others had been even more amicable to Ezra than before. Even Nathan, who Ezra was sure didn’t like him all that much, had made overtures of friendship. The king seemed softened in his attitude towards his newest knight, as well.
Lady Morgan’s plans were in motion. She’d already lured Josiah away with a false message. Even though she’d always said the wizard was weak in power, Morgan was taking no chances. Ezra had tried to talk the man out of going, but he was unsuccessful. He could give no reason for his request. Josiah was firm about his departure. The message said that his sister was desperately ill and asking for him. How could he refuse to go to her? Ezra’s heart had plummeted as he watched Josiah ride off. Who else was there who could possibly see Lady Morgan’s machinations at work and stop them?
The next morning Ezra had brewed the ingredients into the potion that would probably destroy the Round Table forever. He mixed them into a bottle of wine and sprinkled them generously over a plate of food. As per Morgan’s instructions, he then penned three notes. He sent one to Buck masquerading as a request from Chris to meet him and the queen in the throne room. He told Buck to go ahead and have something to eat and drink in case he was late. Ezra sent a similar note to the queen. Then after about twenty minutes, Ezra would make sure the king received a message requesting his presence in the throne room. The only hitch would be if neither Buck nor Mary ate or drank anything. Ezra had been distracting Buck all morning to make sure the man had no chance to eat. He would be hungry by the time he got to the throne room. Buck was sure to consume something. Then he wouldn’t be able to control himself. Even if Mary didn’t eat, Buck’s unrelenting amorous advances would be enough to destroy his friendship with Chris and break the trust among the men.
Like a man sentenced to death, Ezra waited anxiously as the time passed. He didn’t want this! He’d tried everything to stop himself from going through with Lady Morgan’s plans, but to no avail. What little magic she’d taught him wasn’t nearly enough to counteract her power. He could do nothing but watch himself destroy the first honorable men he’d ever known.
It was time. He took the note for Chris and slipped it under his door. When Chris opened it to see who left the message, Ezra was long gone.
Chris read the scrap of parchment. Buck needed to speak to him right away in the throne room. It was something he’d found out about Ella that he wanted to discuss with him. Chris hurried down the hall. In the shadows, Ezra closed his eyes with resignation.
Buck kissed the woman in his arms. He couldn’t believe his luck. That fiery Iberian had finally come to her senses. Inez had been putting him off for years. Now she wanted him. She really wanted him. He felt light-headed, foggy, but happier than he’d been in a long time. If was like a dream he didn’t want to end.
Mary didn’t understand. Stephen was dead, wasn’t he? But he was here, holding her, kissing her. He was alive! She felt dizzy and flushed, but everything was as it should be. It felt so strange, but so right.
Both of them were too lost in their own fevered dreams to notice anyone entering the room. Chris stood at the threshold, frozen. Buck and Mary were against the wall, pulling at each other’s clothes. They were both half dressed and panting like animals in heat. A strange force propelled Chris into the room, haltingly at first, then with a speed born of anger. He grabbed Buck by the shoulder and pulled him away from Mary. He punched him square in the face, sending the stunned man flying.
Buck got up unsteadily, a confused look on his face. Chris didn’t see it. All he could see was betrayal. Chris punched him again and again, knocking Buck over tables and chairs.
Nathan, Vin, and JD heard the noise and came running. Ezra followed. Nathan and Vin grabbed Chris, trying to hold him back. JD went to check on his cousin while Ezra covered the queen with his robe and escorted her back to her private chamber. Even as she left, Mary couldn’t help but give Buck a look of longing.
Chris saw it and jumped at Buck again, pushing JD aside. He grabbed Buck’s tunic, shaking him furiously. “I TRUSTED YOU! You were with me from the very beginning and I trusted you! I’ve always known you liked the ladies, Buck, but I thought you had some boundaries. How long had this been going on? How long have the two of you been sneaking around my back?”
Buck said nothing. He just stared at Chris. Where did Inez go? Why did he hurt so bad?
“Saints, Buck! I left you alone with Sarah a thousand times. Was she fair game, too?” Chris couldn’t stand that look on Buck’s face—the one that said, “what have I done wrong?” He was going to knock it off permanently. Chris drew back, only to have Nathan catch his arm. Buck slumped to the floor as Vin grabbed Chris’s other arm.
Vin nodded to JD. “Get Buck out of here. Take him to the village. I’ll catch up to you later.” Vin didn’t like the look on Buck’s face or the one he’d seen on the Queen’s. There was something wrong here.
Chris fought against the hands that held him. “Let go of me! I’m your king and I said let go of me!”
Vin shook his head. “If you were just my king, I might. But you’re my friend, too. I’m not going to let you do something you’ll regret.”
“I’m with Vin on this one. We’ll let you go when you calm down some.”
After a time, Chris stopped struggling. They figured JD and Buck were far enough away by now so they let him go. Without a word, Chris stormed out of the room. They were both pretty sure he was going somewhere to get drunk.
Vin picked up a few of the tables and chairs, setting them aright. He stopped at the food and drink. “Nathan? You know lots about herbs and such. Do you think you could tell what ingredients were in something by looking it over or smelling it or…whatever? Like maybe if something was added to food or drink that shouldn’t be there?”
Nathan’s eyes narrowed. “You think the food was drugged?”
“Maybe. Maybe the wine. Maybe both.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Buck weren’t acting right. The queen looked off, too. Buck likes the ladies, but he’d never betray Chris like that. Something about their eyes… I’ve seen it before.” Vin hadn’t told anyone but Chris about his past, but this was too important to keep secret. “You know I’m from Cornwall. You ever wonder why I serve Chris instead of my own king?”
“Figured maybe you were sent by King Mark as an envoy or something. Or maybe you were a knight errant who just fell in with Chris.”
“Chris gave me a home, Nathan—a place to belong after I lost my own. There’s a death sentence hanging over my head back in Cornwall.”
“King Mark was my king and my friend. He trusted me to bring his queen-to-be to him for his wedding. Someone slipped a magic potion into Isolde’s things. It was supposed to be drunk by her and Mark so they’d be attracted to each other and maybe fall in love. We accidentally drank it on the way to Cornwall. We couldn’t help ourselves after that. It was like a burning fever. When we came back to our senses, we realized we were both being hunted for treason. We didn’t figure anyone would believe us, so I took her to a nunnery where she would be safe and I left Cornwall forever. That look I saw on Mary’s face. I saw it on Isolde’s face when we ran away together. And I know she saw the same thing we saw on Buck’s face when she looked at me.”
He knew Vin had secrets, he just didn’t think they were that dark. “I’ll take a look at the food and wine. Maybe I can find out if anything is in them that shouldn’t be.”
“Thanks, Nathan. I’m going down to the village. I’m pretty sure JD’s taken Buck to the Four Corners Tavern. I’ll see if he remembers anything. Maybe you could talk to the queen when you get a chance.”
“Okay. What about Chris?”
Vin looked back at the doorway where Chris had left in such a hurry. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do for him until we figure out this mess.”