One minute the king was laughing with his best knights and courtiers and the next minute he clutched at his throat gurgling in his own blood. He tossed forward in his chair, his head hitting the table with a resounding thud as he struggled to take a breath. The Duke of Benair rose, immediately on the look-out for the assassin. “Was it poison?” he shouted down at the knight who had succeeded in prying his master’s fingers away from the wound.
“No!” came the reply. “Some kind of projectile. Buried deep in His Majesty’s neck. I cannot see it.”
The Duke scanned the upper galleries of the Great Hall, knowing there had to be an assassin present, and spied a figure darting away through a curtain. He leapt into the mass of people who were beginning to panic as they realized their ways out were limited. “Out of the way, out of the way!” his voice cut through the noise and a few soldiers began to help part the crowd for him. The Duke skidded into the hallway just in time to see the same figure disappear at the end of a long corridor towards the castle gates.
“Halt in the name of the king!” he shouted as he again caught sight of the flurry of robes and possibly a cape. Knowing the cry was futile, he redoubled his speed, grinning to himself as he saw the figure vanish into a room that had only one entrance and exit. Clearly this assassin did not know the castle well. The Duke charged into the room, and the door slammed shut behind him, plunging him into complete darkness. Never one to be taken by surprise, he allowed twin blades to fall into his hand from their concealed sheaths on his forearms. “I can hear you breathe,” he said to the darkness. “I know you’re there.”
The room was absolutely silent, which was unnerving for the Duke. He moved silently to the right and forward three steps to keep himself invisible to his possible attacker. He moved again in the same pattern, which, if memory served, moved him closer to the windows with their thick drapes. He could open one and flood the room with light. His hand found the velvet, heavy and soft beneath his touch and he yanked hard to the left.
Just then he felt the blood bubble up in his mouth and felt the excruciating pain of the sword that had been jammed through his torso from behind. He looked down in shock at the tip poking through his waistcoat and an odd fascination came over him. His one consuming desire now was to see who could have done this to him and to his king. He turned, staggeringly, and spat the blood that had filled his mouth. The enormous red drops landed at the feet of Her Majesty the Queen.
“I knew it was you the moment I saw you,” she hissed. “I knew you’d try to pin it on me, you fhealltóir. He took you in and treated you as a son. He made you a Duke, gave you the title of Heir Apparent when we did not have children. I have conceived, and you are but an inconvenience to me now. Scotland will have a proper monarch on its throne!“