The Page stood, his knees a-tremble, his face turned downwards to match the slope of his shoulders. On either side of him was a Town Constable. On one arm the Page had a small, woven basket, its cloth covering askew to reveal a half dozen jam tarts.
The Queen shifted in her throne as though uncomfortable. Abruptly, she stood to hike up the waist of her close-fitting gown, which was wrinkled as though it had been stretched unduly. She sat down again with an exasperated huff and fixed her eye upon the adolescent in his red livery.
“What have you to say for yourself?” she asked.
The Page’s knees increased their trembling, but he did not look up, nor did he speak.
“It’s obvious you took them,” the queen pointed at the basket. “Did you eat the rest?”
The Page’s chin came up and he shook his head firmly.
“Then where are they?”
“Where are what?” The King, exercising his usual quick stride, was halfway to the dais before he finished asking his question. He more or less fell into his throne and saw the Page and the Constables. And the basket of jam tarts. When the Queen began to speak, he held up his hand and gave a sigh, then winked at the Page. “Release him,” he said.
The Queen went red in the face, but whatever she would have said next was swallowed when the King continued, “It’s my fault. I told him to do it and not to mention it.”
While his lady was trundling through expressions of anger, puzzlement, and anger again, the King turned toward her. “You’ve been eating a lot of sweets lately.”
The Queen went red again, but her expression was not one of anger. She looked away. “I haven’t.”
“You have. You’ve eaten more sweets in the last week than I’ve seen you eat in six months before that.” He looked pointedly at her waistline. You’re gaining weight.”
The Queen turned back to him, her eyebrows arched highly. “I am not the only one.”
The King blinked. Then he looked down at his own tunic, where a small ridge overflowed the top of his leather belt. “Ah,” he said. “I’ll have to do something about that.” He looked back at the Queen. “Don’t mistake me, my dear; I don’t mind the weight, but such a large amount of sweets can’t be good for you. Perhaps something is wrong – perhaps you’re ill.”
The Queen laughed, which had the effect of making the King smile. “It’s only temporary.”
The King lifted one eyebrow.
“I’m pregnant and I’m temporarily craving sweets.”
The King flung himself out of his throne and knelt by the Queen. “My dear! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wanted to wait a little to be sure and then I decided to tell you before the anniversary ball next week. Now you’ve ruined the surprise, you ninny!”
The Town Constables and the Page were giving each other uncomfortable glances. One of the Constables jerked his head towards the great doors that led out of the throne room and the three walked backwards – quietly – out of the presences of the King and Queen. The page dipped into the basket of jam tarts and handed one to each of the Constables.
“What did you do with the others?” one asked as he bit into the flaky, buttery crust.
“Handed them out in the marketplace to the poor children,” the Page replied.
“The King said he told you to do it,” the other Constable said around his own mouthful. “Why didn’t you just eat them? No evidence, no crime.”
The Page’s mouth slid into a sideways smile. “I don’t like jam tarts,” he said.