After what felt like hours but could not have been more than ten or fifteen minutes, we arrived at the duke’s private apartments, where he had received me three days earlier. Neither courtiers nor servants filled the antechamber this time; there were only two stone-faced guards standing sentinel on either side of the inner door. My sense of foreboding increased.
Zygmunt August stood gazing pensively into the fire in his private sitting chamber. His doublet of black velvet and bronze-colored brocade and splendid coat trimmed with sable fur suggested he had not yet changed from his evening attire. At first I thought he was alone. Then I spotted Barbara Radziwiłł propped up on the silk-covered cushions of a chaise longue at the opposite end of the chamber. Her long, slender fingers stroked the head of a white cat, yet the tension with which her other hand gripped the fine woolen scarf wrapped around her shoulders revealed her disquiet. In the light of the candles burning in the sconces around the chamber, her dark eyes, wide and alert, shone with ill-disguised fear as she shifted them from Opaliński to me and the duke, then back.
In the corner closest to the fire two black hunting dogs lounged on a large pallet. I guessed they were Sybilla and Gryf, the duke’s favorites, who always accompanied him to his hunting lodge at Knyszyn. They lifted their heads when we entered, their noses rising to sniff the air, but they laid them back down in response to a restraining gesture from Zygmunt. Despite the charged atmosphere, the whole tableau had a cozy air of intimacy and domesticity.
“Pani Konarska.” The duke turned his head, although the rest of his body remained motionless. His expression was grave. “Rest assured that I didn’t relish disturbing you at this hour, but the matter is of utmost importance.” He spoke in Polish, no doubt for Barbara’s benefit.
“I am at Your Grace’s service.” The room was cool, and in my haste I had forgotten my cloak, but even so I was beginning to sweat.
He paced in front of the hearth, his steps heavy and his shoulders slumped. In fact, his entire body appeared weighed down by a great burden. “There is no easy way to say this,” he spoke at length, “so I’ll be direct. There has been a murder in the palace tonight.”
Midnight Fire is available in paperback and the ebook is on pre-order. Silent Water, a Jagiellon Mystery Book 1 is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon and FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited.