"Pale as a winter moon"
"This is a strange business, thought Newel. "On the first night of my dukedom." He fingered the crest of his new office. His brother made him "Duke of Northumber" that very morning. Newel had laughed up his sleeve during the ceremony. He did not know how his mother intended to put him on Alton's throne, but he knew that very soon the new "duke of Northumber" would be known as King Newel instead.
Newel rose to his feet and followed his summons. "Slow down, you side-winding crab!" Newel growled, irritated with the speed of servant's steps. Something had obviously upset the servant's usual demeanor, and Newel found it rather aggravating.
Through the dark halls and winding staircases, the servant led the Duke of Northumber until they stepped out into a small courtyard garden underneath his mother's rooms. Newel's heart sped up pleasantly, as he imagined a bower such as his mother might have prepared for him. It was like her -- to have a private celebration of his dukedom with a promise of her plan to raise him higher. She had been quite obsessed with her plans of late.
Newel glanced up at her balcony, half expecting to see her there, looking down to greet him. But the wind billowed through empty curtains and there was not a soul on the balcony.
"Here, your Grace," implored the nervous servant. Newel followed him around the shrubbery and nearly ran into him as the servant stopped abruptly.
"Fool!" Newel spat, but suddenly he felt his heart stop and all thoughts of the servant fled his mind.
There was a form of a woman on the ground. Her queenly gown lay motionless around her still form. Newel stood as if he were a statue, staring wide-eyed at the tiny gloved hands splayed out to one side.
"It's the queen mother, your Grace," another servant informed him. For the first time, Newel became aware that there were a collection of servants standing around the lifeless form. But still, Newel did not move.
"She's dead, your Grace," the servant continued. "We thought you should be the first to know."
Newel's lips moved before the words came out. "How did this happen?" he demanded.
"It would seem she fell from her balcony. No one saw it happen. We heard a noise and found her here," the servant said.
"Get out," Newel said, quietly but forcefully. He trusted no one, and with the same fury that his mother had guarded him as a baby he wished to guard her.
The servants stared at the wild-eyed duke incredulously. Newel moved then, swinging his fists like a crazed man. "Get out! Get out!" he shouted, shaking with anger.
The servants fled the scene, tripping over one another in their hurry to escape. Newel watched them until they disappeared. He paced around the courtyard, finding an outlet for his emotions in the brisk, rhythmic march. For several minutes, he refused to look at the body on the ground.
When he finally returned to the lifeless form, he could not bring himself to touch it. He grabbed a garden rod and used it to turn the head so he could see the face. It was his mother.
"Nooo!" he screamed, dropping the rod. Then he bent down and scooped the rod up and flung it as far and as hard as he could. "Noooo!" he screamed again. He grabbed another rod and began to beat the columns under the balcony as though they had committed the crime. He flogged them until he had no more strength left. Then he sank to the ground with his back against the column, put his head in his hands, and cried.
"What do I do now, mother? What do I do?" he sobbed. "I don't know what to do."
He thought of everything she wanted. She wanted him to be king. The uncomfortable thought arose that Newel owed it to her to become king now. But where would he started on such a plan? The very thought of facing Alton without his mother by his side filled Newel with an overwhelming fear. Ever since Alton had caught Newel beating the mangy dog, there had been no love lost between the brothers. Newel knew that Alton despised him.
"I can't do it, mother," Newel moaned, depairingly. His eyes fixed once more on her tiny gloved hands, remembering the promise she made at Alton's coronation. "I'm lost without you," he murmured.
And for many minutes, there was no sound heard in the garden other than the heartbroken cries of the Duke of Northumber, crying over the only person he had ever loved.