Yourstone made his way into the castle. He’d been summoned earlier, surprised that the queen was now west of London, at Windsor. Once the massive fortress had been her favorite retreat, but as Parkinson’s slowly consumed her muscles it had become increasingly difficult for her to travel in comfort. Nonetheless, for some reason the court had fled the city and was now in residence at a place royalty had continuously occupied since the time of William the Conqueror.
He was still dismayed over the events of yesterday. News reports continued to speak of an errant military drone plunging into the Thames. The military had accepted full responsibility. Some members of Parliament were calling for an investigation.
But he doubted that would occur.
Whoever was controlling the spin of this story would squelch any official inquiries. Something bad was happening. He needed details. But Eleanor had not returned to the town house, and his attempts to telephone the voice he’d many times spoken with had been futile. Andrew had proven the most annoying. Unaware of the connection between the missile and Albert, his son had pressed for the details of how he would become king.
But there was none to tell.
He stopped at the mention of his name and turned to see Richard strolling down a carpet runner that bisected the wide loggia. The prince was dressed casually, as there was no danger of a prying press here.
“I need to speak with you.”
Concern filled the heir’s face.
He was led into a nearby parlor, the room paneled with beveled glass windows. Richard closed the door behind them.
Yourstone wanted to know, “What is this about? I was summoned here with no notice of why.”
“You are to tell me the truth. I will not tolerate any lies. Did you conspire to murder Albert?”
The question confirmed his fears of what had failed at the Tower. “Are you mad?”
“Do not anger me. Answer the question.”
He grabbed his riddled composure and calmed himself. “Why would you ask such a thing?”
“Mother believes you are conspiring with my sister to usurp the Crown. I cannot believe that you would ever do such a thing. Tell me, please, that it is not so.”
Richard was being his usual na?ve self. But he had to learn what he could. So he asked, “You must tell me what is going on. It sounds as if the queen has begun to lose her senses.”
“She’s intent on the fact you were involved yesterday with an attempt on Albert’s life. Something about that missile in the Thames. Albert himself believes it, as well.”
“Albert is here?”
Richard shook his head. “He left a short while ago. To a place of safety.”
“You cannot possibly believe I would do anything to harm your son. I myself was at the Tower yesterday.”
“That’s why I wanted to speak with you prior to your seeing the queen. I wanted to hear your explanation myself.”
“What of your father? Does he believe the same?”
His mind raced with possibilities. He needed to speak with Eleanor. But his thoughts were interrupted by the opening of the door. Victoria was wheeled into the room by a uniformed attendant. Eleanor entered behind them. The attendant withdrew and shut the door.
The queen faced her son. “I told you to escort Lord Yourstone to me.”
Richard straightened like a scolded schoolboy. “I wanted to speak with him first.”
“Will you ever learn to follow instructions?”
The prince stared at Yourstone. “She wanted me to deceive you. To lead you astray. To help elicit a confession. But I will not be a party to such folly. I do not believe that you are capable of this treachery.”
“You are a blithering fool,” Victoria said. “And your sister is a usurper.”
“I resent that,” Eleanor said.
“You are an ambitious, dangerous woman. Both of you should be grateful that your father is not here. His anger was too intense. I asked him to allow me to handle this alone.”
“What does it matter?” Eleanor asked. “Soon you will be in St. Albert’s Chapel, entombed with the rest of the Saxe-Coburgs.”
“I may disappoint you.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You are as evil as your brother is stupid.”
“I admit to nothing.” Eleanor stepped across the room toward the rays of midday sun pouring through the windows.
“You don’t have to admit to a thing,” the queen said. “The proof was found in your purse.”
“I doubt you will implicate your own daughter in a plot to overthrow the Crown.”
“What are you saying, Ellie?” Richard asked.
“Mother is right. You are stupid. You have nearly cost us all.”
“Did you attempt to kill Albert?”
Eleanor said nothing.
“You would shed Saxe-Coburg blood? My son’s blood?”
“You would destroy our reputation?” she fired back. “Our family’s honor?”
“My son is more important.”
“Since when, Richard? You consistently avoid him. Your public comments are nothing like a doting father. You actually seem to resent Albert, as the press has repeatedly observed. Since when has your son meant anything to you? Were you thinking of him while bedding Lady Bryce?”
Her brother’s eyes flared with rage. For an instant Yourstone saw a flash of the Scottish heritage their father had bestowed upon them.
Then confusion reappeared.
“You may think me ignorant,” Victoria said to her daughter. “Feeble and not of sound mind. But you are wrong. I will have you, and Yourstone, prosecuted and jailed for treason.”
“You will do nothing,” Eleanor declared.
“What makes you so sure?”
“Because of Albert. You want him to be king. For the people to learn that a royal sibling plotted the overthrow of the monarchy would forever end the Saxe-Coburgs. Thanks to Dickie, here, our tolerance level among the public is virtually nonexistent. No. You will do nothing that jeopardizes the succession to Albert.”
The queen shifted in the wheelchair. “Your father wishes never again to lay eyes upon you.”
“If that is my only punishment, I can endure the loss.”
“And you will be removed from the civil list. No more money.”
She shrugged. “My husband is wealthy.”
“Your in-laws are traitors.”
“But that, too, will remain our secret,” Yourstone said. “Now, won’t it?”
The queen said nothing, but the look of contempt on her face was piercing. Richard retreated to the far side of the room.
Something else Sun Tzu had taught 2,500 years ago occurred to him.
He was home free.
“Richard, push me from this room before I vomit,” the queen said. “You can perhaps be forgiven for your idiocy. Your soul is totally without malice. But this devil, your sister, and her traitor of a father-in-law cannot.”
The prince grasped the wheelchair.
“You will both remove yourself from the palace immediately and neither of you will ever set foot here again.”
“Until you’re dead,” Eleanor said.
“No, Ellie,” Richard said.
The prince’s eyes focused tight.
“That order will remain in my reign, and in my son’s and his children’s thereafter. That much I swear will be done.”