The little girl's body lay swathed in a lavender-colored silk gown woven by the Mist Maidens of Gillikin Country atop the green marble viewing platform carved in Central City, a platform spilling over with forget-me-nots from the Munchkins and rubies from the Quadlings. This platform had been raised high above the people, and totally encased in glass. "Look, but don't touch" was the clear message of the setup. D.G., cold and still, remained separated from her mourners by several feet in any direction, and ringed by a gold-robed Winkie honor guard. The Queen sat just outside this circle to accept condolences and to watch, to make sure no one got too close.
Besides these precautions, Ambrose had drugged D.G. so she'd appear dead – even her breathing would be invisible – and the Queen had temporarily masked her magical light. The effort of this was clearly taking its toll, and the Queen trembled with the effort of staying upright in her seat. But she did stay upright, ever regal and ever in control. She knew she had a vital role to act out – she had to pretend that her daughter had just died and her husband had just stolen from the palace, and Ambrose had to silently applaud her. Not only was her performance heartfelt, but it was heart-wrenching as well, for the Queen fully believed that she was losing a daughter and a husband.
Ambrose himself lingered nearby, meeting with nobles and diplomats from beyond the Deadly Desert and a slew of the Queen's own subjects, all of whom had adored both of the O.Z.'s sweet little princesses. Ambrose knew presence was expected, as he was the Queen's oldest friend and close advisor, but he had to fight the urge to flee the square, maybe retreat to the Dillamond Memorial Library for some solitude.
Something here stifled him. He wasn't sure exactly what until a small hand curled familiarly into his own. "Ambrose, I don't want to stay here," Princess Azkadellia told him. Her voice, once soft and kind, had hardened beyond her years, and Ambrose swallowed hard, the collar of his palace uniform suddenly tight around his throat.
"Neither do I, Princess," he replied honestly, hoping that the more truths he told, the more he'd be able to disguise his lies.
"D.G.'s dead. Why can't we just bury her and be done with it?"
"We all want this to be over," Ambrose soothed, locking eyes with the Sorceress trapped inside the princess. "I arranged everything so that it will be as quick as decently possible."
Azkadellia's pink lips twisted into a cynical smile, and she murmured to herself, "By all means, let's be decent." To Ambrose, she added, "But that doesn't mean we have to stay and watch the whole display."
On the one hand, he thought it would be good to get her away from the body. If there was any flaw in D.G.'s mask of death, he didn't want Azkadellia picking up on it. On the other hand, if she already suspected something, she could be trying to isolate him and interrogate him alone. This wasn't their Azkadellia. This was an ancient, cruel witch with an agenda that apparently included stealing his Queen's throne.
"I'm sorry, Your Highness, but I must stay here by the Queen's side."
Azkadellia's hand dropped away, and a petulant scowl cracked through whatever friendliness she'd been projecting. "Of course you would say that. Well, now I know." She turned on the heel of her silver slippers, ruffled dress billowing behind her as she stalked away.
It crossed Ambrose's mind that she'd just tried to recruit him, that she was already lining up the sides for her eventual coup, but that wasn't the thought that lingered in his mind. This little girl who he'd watched grown up had become the most evil creature he'd ever met, and the touch of her felt unclean. He wanted to wash his hands in the fountain of the square, to burst into tears, to take D.G. and the Queen and run far away. But he didn't.
"Trust in the Queen's plan," he told himself. "D.G. will be safe soon enough." What happened to him and the Queen, that remained to be seen.