Murder at Midnight

Murder at Midnight by Avi Read Free Book Online

Book: Murder at Midnight by Avi Read Free Book Online
Authors: Avi
the end of the room. There, seated on a bench covered with golden cloth, sat the king of Pergamontio himself — Claudio the Thirteenth.
    The king was a short, wide man of middling years. His skin was coarse, his nose thick, his lips — surrounded by a heavy close-cropped gray beard — were frowning. His hands — barnacled with great glittering rings — were large, broad-fingered, and in constant fidget while moist, edgy eyes kept looking now here, now there, as if on alert for an attack that might come at any moment. Indeed, he kept gripping and releasing the ruby-encrusted dagger that hung from his belt. Fabrizio had no doubt: The dagger, despite its jewels, was not merely ornamental.
    As Prince Cosimo joined his father and stood on the king’s left, Fabrizio kept trying to catch his eye, but to no effect.
    Next to Prince Cosimo stood Prince Lorenzo, the king’s second and younger son. Fabrizio saw nothing elegant or powerful about him, nothing to suggest he might help.
    And then Fabrizio realized that standing on the king’s right was Count Scarazoni. Dressed entirely in black, Count Scarazoni had a thin, pinched face with dark eyebrows that swept over his angry eyes like a bar of iron. His mouth was a grim, bloodless line while a sharp, pointed beard shaped his chin. His hands — encased in tight black leather gloves — were balled into fists. A dagger hung from his belt, too. Fabrizio thought him coiled with fury, ready to strike.
    There were, Fabrizio knew, a Queen Jovanna and a Princess Teresina, the king and queen’s daughter. Neither was present.
    Confronted by such riches and magnificence, and all these powerful people staring at him, Fabrizio feltutterly alone.
Why did I ever offer to collect those papers?
he asked himself.
    Then he realized that in the king’s hand was one of the treasonous papers.
    “My lords,” bellowed DeLaBina, “I have requested your presence here so I might speak on dangerous matters of state!” He bowed to the king.
    Fabrizio, feeling he must do something, bowed as well.
    King Claudio had been whispering to Prince Cosimo, showing him the paper. The prince, with nervous care, took the paper in his hands cautiously. Hearing DeLaBina, he looked up. To Fabrizio’s surprise, however, it was the count, his face knotted with rage, who called, “Yes, DeLaBina! Why did you ask us to come down here?”
    “Your Majesty, noble princes, great count,” replied DeLaBina, “vile writings have been circulating throughout the city.”
    The king shifted uneasily on his bench. “You mean this attack on me?” He pointed to the paper in the prince’s hand.
    “The same, my lord.”
    “Which has appeared in such great numbers?” said the count.
    “Yes, my lord.”
    “And circulated freely throughout the city?” the count added.
    “Quite true, my lord,” said DeLaBina.
    “There are those,” cried the count, “who apparently would like to depose the king and end his rightful rule! Let me state here and now, that
such conspiracies will be crushed without mercy. I don’t care whose evil hand concocted this plot.” The count glared at DeLaBina. “Anyone —
— high or low — who so much as touches our anointed king — shall pay a dreadful penalty!” His hand went to his dagger.
    Fabrizio trembled at his rage.
    King Claudio, white-faced, retreated into a corner of the bench as if wishing to hide. “That’s true enough, Count,” he said. “We intend to remain on our rightful throne so long as a loving God gives us strength to breathe.” In a feeble display of anger, he pulled out his dagger and rested it on his lap.
    “And let the world know,” Prince Cosimo added, “that I, too, have the strength and will to protect my father.” He put one hand on the king’s shoulder as if to reassure him, even as he took away the king’s dagger, the way a parent might remove a dangerous toy from a child.
    “Quite correct, my lords,” said DeLaBina, bowing toward the king

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