CHAPTER 21

After a stumbling journey through the corridors of the palace, Lily was unceremoniously pushed through the library to a large window. She put out her hands just in time to brace herself against smacking face-first into the wall beside the window. Lily looked back at her captor, who turned out to be a scowling, long-haired man with a newly-split lip.

"Have a good look below, cousin."

Lily started at the deep voice to her left. Blinking against the dizzying rotations of the room, she turned towards the tall, black-clad figure. He turned slightly towards her and gestured politely to the window, causing her to put out her hand to the wall again to steady herself against this new shock.

"There are two hundred of them. Mercenaries."

Blinking again to clear her vision, Lily turned back to the window and took in the scene below. Straight, clean lines of soldiers stood at the ready on the palace grounds. At the very front of the lines stood two of the royal standards, which flapped in the wind. She watched, wide-eyed, as a small group of people in night clothes were shepherded through the lines. Lily's jaw dropped as she recognized the figures of Rebecca and her children alongside the stooped Miss Vera and the broad-chested kitchen cook. Beyond the lines of soldiers and through a line of tall trees, she could catch glimpses of a gathering crowd of curious capital residents.

Lily turned back to the black-clad man, jumping as she found herself face-to-face with him. He had taken a quiet, large step towards her and now loomed close. She stared up helplessly, taking in the blue eyes and facial characteristics that marked a strong familial resemblance. As she stared, he stared back, his face impassive. She shuddered.

"Garret Moorstan, I presume," Lily said, her voice shaky.

"Well met," said Garret, face and voice devoid of emotion.

Lily cleared her throat and straightened her back. "Charmed. Why are there soldiers standing on the front lawn?"

"It should be obvious," said Garret in a low tone, and Lily only just resisted the urge to step backwards. "I have taken possession of the palace and of the throne."

Lily glanced back at the long-haired man, who had a pistol out and trained at her head. "That's somewhat curious, cousin, as I myself have possession of the palace and throne."

Garret raised one dark eyebrow.

"You might not have known that, as you were unable to attend the wedding. Regrettable, really."

Garret turned away from her and faced the window. Looking down at his army, he clasped his hands behind his back. "Appearances suggest otherwise. I control all entrances and exits to the palace. My guards and sentries are posted on the perimeters and within the halls. You are without your guards or any of your attendants, and are my prisoner now."

Lily took a shuddering breath. "The guards and... attendants, they are all out of the palace now? And safe?"

Garret allowed a moment to pass. "The attendants are safely out of the palace grounds. Any armed man was dealt with accordingly."

"Dealt with?" Lily asked, horrified.

"They offered resistance."

Lily stared, her heart pounding as a new wave of dizziness and nausea threatened to tug her under.

Garret turned away from the window and took another step closer to Lily. He bent his tall frame to bring himself to eye level with her. "A small group of guards on duty in the early morning. Still, they had to be dealt with. They are dead. All of them. Regrettable, really."

Tears sprang to Lily's eyes as a shock of breath was forced from her lungs. "Why?"

Garret narrowed his eyes and stood straight. "It was their loyalty to the usurper king and his queen."

"Usurper?" asked Lily, eyes darting between the aimed pistol and Garret.

Garret took another step closer to Lily. "Recall your family history, cousin. The throne is meant to be mine."

"You were removed," said Lily, giving into the impulse and taking a step backwards.

"Removed. A bland term for an act of betrayal," said Garret, his voice finally showing a faint strain of emotion.

Lily took another step back, but her progress was halted by the wall.

"It was betrayal, you know. But you are going to make it right again," said Garret, his voice pitched low.

Lily stared. "I don't... understand."

Garret took another step forward and raised his arm, his hand braced against the wall above Lily's shoulder, trapping her there. "You are going to abdicate the throne to me. Then all will be right again."

Lily's jaw dropped.

Garret leaned forward. "You will sign away the throne and restore it to its rightful monarch. I will let you leave the palace. I will allow you your freedom."

Lily was suddenly yanked aside by the long-haired man as Garret took a step backward. Pushed into a chair, Lily landed with an oof. A piece of paper and a pen was placed on the table in front of her. She looked up, brows furrowed. Garret, his face impassive as ever, gestured towards the paper.

Lily skimmed the paper. "Writ of abdication?"

Garret leaned down, hands braced on the table beside her. "Sign it. Restore the throne and earn your freedom, cousin."

Lily looked up. Garret stared at her with unsettling intensity. At the corner of her eye, Lily could see the long-haired man raise his pistol again. Lily picked up the paper and read the first line a second time. She raised her eyes to Garret, whose cerulean stare remained fixed and unyielding. The long-haired man shifted behind her, bringing the gun closer to her head. With a sudden movement, Lily grasped the paper in both hands and ripped it in half.

A long moment passed. Garret stood slowly and the gunman put away his pistol. He grasped Lily at the top of her arms and bodily lifted her from the chair. Hands digging into her arms, the long-haired man hauled Lily quickly from the room.

The journey took several minutes of stumbled, graceless walking and dragging. At the end of the journey, in an unlit hallway, the long-haired man opened a heavy door. With a final hard push to the back, the captor sent Lily crashing into hell.