Excerpt from Cassandra's Castle

Chapter 17 excerpt.

Martim from Cassandra's Castle


Cassie dressed quickly, making certain she had her revolver and her cellphone tucked into her pocket. When she opened the door, not only was Sister Bernadice waiting for her, but there were two guards as well. They stood erect, their chins high, their stark white baldrics and gauntlets bright. They each carried a rifle. The blood drained from Cassie’s face.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“The prince has some questions he needs to ask you. That’s all I know.”

As they made their way down the foyer, no one spoke. Only the gentle whoosh of Sister Berndice’s habit, and the sharp click of the soldiers’ boots on the marble floor, resounded through the corridor.

When Cassie reached the library, Elizabeth was there waiting. She didn’t speak, but her expression mirrored the same fear and bewilderment.

The soldiers opened the double glass doors and marshaled the women inside. Sister Bernadice did not follow. Instead, she took Cassie’s hand and squeezed, crossed herself, and left.

Martim stood by the fireplace in his uniform. His coat was unbuttoned, and his collar loose. His appearance showed he lacked sleep, as his hair was uncombed, and his eyes were sunken and red. His friendly grin was gone, replaced with a stern frown that made him look years older than he was. Maestro Sanchez leaned against the wall near the window. The morning light cast a golden glow on his pressed uniform. He was not unkempt like Martim, and yet his frown was equally chilling.

Martim nodded to them as Cassie and the duchess stepped inside. The guards closed the door.

“Ladies,” Martim greeted in a cordial tone.

The air of formality thickened. No one offered them a seat. No one even spoke for the longest while. After studying both her and Elizabeth, Martim paced from the fireplace to the window and back again. His steps were slow and deliberate. Cassie watched him, controlling her breathing so that she didn’t faint, for her heart thundered.

“I’ve had some disturbing news late last night,” he said, his glance moving between her and Elizabeth. Cassie caught the duchess looking at her.

“Marques was nearly assassinated Thursday evening.”

Elizabeth gasped. Cassie’s eyes widened. Martim observed their reaction, his hands behind his back. He then exchanged glances with Sanchez.

“Oh, Martim. I’m so sorry. What happened?” Elizabeth asked. She moved toward him, but he stepped back.

“A sniper. Someone stole into the stables, made themselves quite at home. It appeared he had camped in the hayloft where he waited until my brother took his valise to the carriage. They fired four shots in the dark. Luckily for Marques, his coat saved him. If my brother hadn’t been so quick on his feet, and keen witted, he would have been killed. Marques dodged away in the nick of time. Perhaps he heard breathing in the loft or something, I don’t know. I’m not convinced Valerio doesn’t have a sharpshooter in his clique.” Martim transferred his glare to Cassie and there he settled his focus.

“That’s horrifying!” Elizabeth said.

“Yes. Horrifying. Fortunately, he carried on. A bit shook up, I imagine, as we all are. He continued his journey with my father as though nothing had happened. For some odd reason, I didn’t learn about the attack until yesterday. I’m in charge of my father’s kingdom in their absence.” He became candid at that moment and loosened his collar even more.

“Equally horrifying! The son and acting king are the last to hear about an attempted assassination. And to have the news presented to me as an afterthought by the Prime Minister, two days later, no less!”

Maestro’s cough was a stern interruption, which quieted Martim’s temper.

“But that’s not your concern.”

“Did they find out who did it?” Cassie asked.

Martim’s stare pierced through her like a dagger. He didn’t answer, but continued with his discourse.

“It’s been brought to my attention that an insurrection is stirring in Alisubbo.” He switched his focus to Elizabeth, and paced over to her, his hands behind his back, his voice admonishing, “The instigator has been identified as someone we all know. And love.” The last words were emphasized, stretched with cynicism and disdain. Whether he meant to hurt Elizabeth, or if he were digging for a reaction, Cassie couldn’t tell, but she immediately felt sympathy for the duchess.

“Martim,” Elizabeth pleaded.

“The scoundrel is not working alone. No one could plan an insurrection by himself. Valerio has too many followers to do this solo. How many men and women…?” He paused as he gave the duchess a critical eye. “… how many he’s gathered in the name of treason is not known, nor are his plans known.”

“I have nothing to do with this. Please believe me,” Elizabeth begged. “I have no relationship with him anymore.”

“You were seen talking to Bernardo Thursday morning.”

“Martim, it’s not what you think. Bernardo stopped me on my way to the stables. We spoke for only a moment.”

Martim raised a brow.

“You must stop this, Martim! Before you let your imagination carry you away, I have a confession.” She struggled for words as she reached into her corset. Her hand trembled. She was on the verge of tears. “If I had seen this coming, I would have said something. If I had known what kind of person Valerio was, I would have reconsidered my feelings toward him. I did not know he would turn against you. We grew up together, all of us. He was your brother as much as he was mine. How could I possibly know treason was in his heart? Ever since I received this letter,” she held the envelope in front of her. “I’ve been tormented by the truth.

Cassie gawked.

Martim took the envelope, giving pause, his countenance softened by the tears that streamed down Elizabeth’s cheeks.

“Please forgive me for waiting so long to give this to you. I didn’t know. I love your family and would do nothing to wrong you or harm you.”

“What is this?” He pulled the letter from the envelope.

“It’s a request from Valerio that I leave you and join him. I did not know it was related to an insurrection.”

Martim unfolded the letter and walked to the window. When he finished reading, he handed it to Sanchez. After studying the parchment, Maestro raised his brow and cast Cassie and Elizabeth a stern glare.

“When did this come? By whose hand was it delivered?” Martim asked.

Elizabeth looked at Cassie. There was no need to say anything else. Martim took the newspaper that Sanchez had tucked under his arm, unfolded it, and walked toward Cassie. His face was filled with pain, hurt, and betrayal. He held the paper up in front of her. There, under the headline, was an image of Valerio, his smile daunting, his arm around Cassie. They looked like a happy couple rollicking in their rebellion. Cassie’s heart skipped a beat and her breath left her.

“You brought the letter? A plea for Elizabeth to leave the castle?”

“No. I mean yes I brought it, but I didn’t know that’s what it said!”

“I don’t suppose you knew that the Gazette was taking a photograph of you with the insurgent, either.”

“Well, I knew but…”

“What exactly does Valerio have up his sleeve?”

“I don’t know.”

“What were you doing at his camp?”

Sanchez moved from his spot by the window and put his hand on Martim’s shoulder. “Martim this is urgent. Take care of these women quickly and let’s secure the castle.”

Martim pivoted to Elizabeth.

“I trust your innocence. You have been a friend to our family too long, and your father has been a loyal colleague to my father. I’m saddened by your relationship with Valerio, but what he does is not your fault. We’re betrothed to marry, and I will stay faithful to that vow.” He strode to the door and swung it open. Pointing to Cassie, he signaled the guards.

“Come now and arrest this woman. Search her for weapons and then take her to the garrison. Call the troops and secure the castle. Make haste. Send armed riders to meet my father’s landau.”

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