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In the Shadows

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A mysterious cloaked figure hurries down the street, his feet clacking loudly against the cobblestones in the silent night. His dark cloak billows behind him and his hood is drawn up, shielding his face from the occasional light of a late tavern or the candles of drunk men, swaying in the windless air. He keeps looking over his shoulder, as if he is checking for something–or someone–not there. Nothing follows him, the mysterious cloaked figure.

Finally, he stops, in front of a great church. The church is old, anyone can see that, but it is as strong as if newly built, and as imposing as facing a hundred armies. The stranger sinks into the shadows, the inky blackness hiding his impure darkness.

He lifts his face toward the stars, as if praying for courage, and his hood slips. A flash of pale skin, a high cheekbone, a curl of dark hair–characteristics, but hardly incriminating. Any one of hundreds of men could have high cheekbones, and even more with dark hair. The pale skin, however, tells another story. His skin is still fair because the man has never worked a day in his life. He is obviously well born, which raises a question: what is a member of aristocracy doing outside during an hour for thieves?

He hastily pulls his hood back up and hunches his back. Through the thin material guarding his throat, one can see a fearful gulp. He then draws himself out of his inky haven and walks directly toward the church doors. Unlike most men, he doesn’t pause and turn at the sight of royal guards guarding the entrance. Although his back is hunched and his hood is drawn, he walks with the confidence of a proud man.

Two blades whiz in front of his face. Had he been a centimeter closer, it would have chopped off his nose. Still, he doesn’t move an inch, and instead stands firm, eyes gazing at the church door.

“Halt. Who are you and what business do you have here?” one of the guards asks in a gruff voice.

For a moment, the man stands straight, and he pulls his off his hood with a flourish, revealing his dark hair, his porcelain skin, and his gray eyes, which match the faces of the guards holding blades against him.

Both guards gasp and fall to their knees, bowing their heads in the presence of the stranger. “Your Grace,” they murmur, placing their weapons on the ground in a show of complete loyalty.

“Let me in,” he commands in a hushed voice.

“Your Grace, but, the Queen–” the guards protest.

He cuts them off. “Let me in,” he orders again, this time raising his voice by the slightest degree.

The guards gulp. They know that when this man raises his voice, it usually means a trip to the dreaded block. Valuing their own lives more than that of the queen who once ruled more than their country, they bowed their head further and stepped aside to let him pass.

He walks into the abbey, his footsteps echoing in the still, stifling air. They make an ominous sound, they foretell death–death to an occupant of the abbey.

He finds her, the fair-haired queen, bowing her head in prayer, her pale lips moving fervently and her hands clutched tightly together.

He glances about the small chapel and his eyes finally find the small, golden-haired prince crouching in the shadows. He smiles.

“Elizabeth?” he calls, lightly, in a teasing manner.

The once beautiful queen whips around, her hair flying, her face twisted by terror. “No,” she whispers, horrified, “No!”

She runs to the small boy and thrusts him behind her, as if she, small and delicate, could ever protect something from him, tall, strong, and brutally handsome.

“Give him to me,” he says, extending a long-fingered hand in her direction. His face looks so kind, and if she didn’t know better, she would give the boy to him without a second thought.

“Never,” she snarls, backing up against the altar.

“Dear, dear Elizabeth,” he croons mockingly, “nothing you can do will ever stop me. I can toss you aside with a flick of my wrist and grab the boy for myself, but I am a kind man. I won’t hurt you. Give the boy to me.”

“No,” she replies, still adamant, shaking her head furiously.

The man grows frustrated. “Dear sister–”

She cuts him off. “You stopped being a brother to me the moment you stole my son away from me! I will not let you take another!” she exclaims, her face warping into one of animal-like determination.

“Elizabeth, Elizabeth. Resisting me will do you no good. I have every other child of yours in my grasp. Anne, Bridget, Cecily, Mary, shall I go on? Remember, I promised that no harm would come to the girls. I can change that all with one word, one command. Do you really want to defy me? Think of it this way: you’re simply giving me one life to ensure the safety of many others,” he says convincingly.

She still refuses. “Please don’t take him away from me,” she pleads, tears running down her cheeks.

The man clicks his tongue impatiently. “Feminine wiles do not work with me, Elizabeth. You’ll have to do better than that.”

Seeing that her tears do nothing to help her case, she bares her teeth in a feral grin and reaches behind her, as if to pull out a dagger. When her fingers grope air, she stops, terrified, and looks up at the man.

“I took the liberty of removing all of your weapons. Don’t think I don’t remember what you did to Edward,” he says.

She drops to her knees in utter misery. “Please spare him. He’s my baby, my son,” she begs, tears coming down faster than ever. Her beautiful face looks tired, lined with wrinkles from stress and worry.

The man extends his hand once more. “The prince,” he commands, his voice no longer warm and teasing. He has warped into something cold, unfeeling, and it chills her to the core.

Gently, she guides the trembling boy in front of her and pushes him slightly toward the man. “May God protect you,” she whispers in the boy’s ear.

“Thank you,” he says regally, his voice gaining a touch more warmth when he looks at the boy.

“You promise no harm will come to the girls?” she asks desperately.

“I promise,” the man says. He places one hand on the boy’s back and turns to exit the chapel.

“Richard?” she calls.

Both the man and the boy turn around.

“Don’t hurt him,” she pleads.

The man nods once and leads the boy out of the church. They pass the guards, they pass the late taverns, they pass the candles of drunken men swaying in the windless air, and they disappear into the night.

She has a terrible feeling that she will never see one of them again.



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