Welcome to the last short story in this collection. These are fun little peeks into the background of Mystery of the Golden Shells, which comes out this coming Monday, August 15th. If you missed the first five stories, you can find them here: The Scribe and the Rug, The Dresser and the Color, The Shellfish and the Cook, The Performer and the Faux Pas, and The Storyteller and the Help.
Or here’s a brief recap: Marissa is the new Queen of the capital. Her marriage was an arranged marriage with King Ashwin and as she’s started to take her place and gain the trust of the King, she may have rubbed some people the wrong way.
Let’s jump into the story!
The Queen and the Poison – A Mystery of the Golden Shells Story
Ashwin paced in front of the small dining table.
She’d stood him up. After months of Marissa Carey’s timid smiles and helping gestures, he’d finally begun to believe that maybe, just maybe, his queen had married him because she actually wanted peace between her Sky Kingdom and the Capital. He’d suspected her as a spy. Suspected the arranged marriage was the final ploy to steal the trading ports of the Capital.
But he’d finally thawed to her feminine whiles. And now she stood him up.
What possible reason could she have to leave him staring at two plates piled high with strawberry pancakes?
Was she making a fool out of him?
He spun toward the door. “I’m a fool,” he told his steward, Robert, who’d just entered.
Robert cocked his white head. “Perhaps. Have you sent someone to check on her?”
“I’ll do it myself.” Ashwin stormed past the older man.
His boots thudded on the stone as he headed down the hall and, a moment later, he heard Robert’s lighter tread following. They turned into the Queen’s wing just as a maid was ducking out the door of the Queen’s chambers.
She spotted them and bowed but Ashwin didn’t miss the terror on her face.
Am I that angry?
“Your majesty,” she said, “the Queen—she’s—she’s umm—”
“She’s what?” he pushed past her into the room, hearing her squeak in surprise.
He caught the words right as he shoved into Marissa’s bedchamber. She lay still in her bedclothes with her dark hair mussed around her face. But it wasn’t her disheveled appearance that made him freeze, it was the sorrow in the dark eyes that stared back at him.
“Ill how?” he asked, lowering his tone and moving to sit on the edge of the bed.
Marissa’s eyes followed him, but her head did not.
“I tried to get her out of bed,” the maid said, “but she’s—she’s—”
“You may go,” he said. The maid didn’t have to finish her sentence. Ashwin lifted Marissa’s hand from the coverlet. A steady pulse beat against the fingertips he placed on her wrist, but there was clearly no muscle reaction in her hand when he threaded his fingers through hers. “Get the physician,” he told Robert.
Hours later, Ashwin still sat on the edge of Marissa’s bed with his face cradled in his palm. “Who would poison her? Everyone knows how important our peace agreements are.”
Across from him, Robert sat in a chair with a boot propped on his opposite knee. The line between his heavy brows was a familiar one. It told Ashwin his longtime friend was thinking.
“She’s started to take her place here,” Robert finally said, “and it’s made some waves. The palace scribe almost lost his job, the cook was questioned by the guard and is on probation for the next month, your own dresser’s chaffing because the Queen doesn’t like his color choices—”
Ashwin groaned, knowing that at least the last one had been a ruse to cover his own color-blindness.
“—the performer from the other night probably lost all business in the city after being thrown out,” Robert continued, “and the storyteller filed a formal complaint at the guild against the palace for putting unreasonable stipulations on her craft. That’s just to name the ones I know about.”
Ashwin waved all that away. He wanted the poisoner, absolutely, but he had a more pressing problem. “There’s no cure.”
Robert grunted. “So the physician says.”
Aswin’s head swung up. “You don’t agree?”
His friend hesitated, then leaned forward, “I think we have to try. And while we’re at it, we might be able to kill two birds with one stone.”
“Isbell Island. Run a contest like usual but have the contestants be our suspects and have the challenge be the shells. Dangle the reward as ownership of the island.”
Ashwin stared at the older man. Isbell Island was dangerous in and of itself. But the myths said its golden shells could heal anything. And the carrot of land for the contestants might just be enough to get the poisoner to show his or herself.
A small grin started on Ashwin’s face, then faded. “But we’d need someone on the island we can trust, someone to search out shell and poisoner.”
It was Robert’s turn to smile. “A hunter.”
Ashwin shook his head. “If the poisoner sees a hunter, they’ll know what’s up.”
“Then it just has to be someone they don’t recognize.”
Ashwin tilted his head to look at Marissa. Although she couldn’t move or smile or wink at him, her eyes still followed his movements.
“You have someone in mind?” he asked.
“I have just the person.”
Threading his fingers through Marissa’s again, he nodded. “Good, set it up.”
As Robert left, tears trailed from the corners of the Queen’s eyes out into her dark hair. Ashwin wiped them away with his free thumb, hoping they were tears of hope.
Thank you for stopping by! Obviously, this leaves you hanging concerning the story, but you get to be the hunter in the upcoming Adventure book, so I had to leave it here to lead into Mystery of the Golden Shells 🙂
P.S. Pre-orders for Mystery of the Golden Shells are open until Monday. If you’d like a signed copy, pre-order here.