"What have you to say of her?"
"I wish to defend her."
A clever woman keeps her ears and eyes wide open.
When they meet for the first time, Ulrica is perhaps the cleverest woman in all of Sweden. She knows where to place the candles and the curtains, the mirrors and the masks, the smoke and the spy. She knows almost exactly what to look for - what and where and when and why. She has been holding court among the shadows for years; and were she not a worthy queen, she would have dissolved into the darkness long ago, like so many others before her.
The boy wears expensive shoes and a borrowed cloak - she can tell by the click of the soles and the swish of the skirts. Tonight is his first visit and - should he hear what he wants to hear - probably his last. Ulrica pretends not to recognize his companions as she takes his money and his hand.
His skin is soft and clean, his nails are smooth and even; yet his bones protrude. He neither works nor eats properly. While she reads the lines on his palm, her fingers trace the family crest on his ring.
"Your heart burns with love." By the placing of her thumb, Ulrica catches the quickening of his pulse. "As bright as the fires of Valborg, it illuminates the night."
The boy leans forward, as if to inspect the lines himself, and Ulrica get a clear view of his face at last. His eyes are bright, his cheeks are flushed; yet his lips are bitten. He is the king's page - fresh as a daisy and silly as a butterfly, the exasperating delight of the entire palace and the irreplaceable parrot on Gustav's shoulder. But he is also young - too young. And for all of his power and peculiarity, Gustav of Sweden refuses to tread on flowers.
Ulrica sighs deeply, as if it were her own heart that was about to be broken.
"Alas, your fire shall not spread." She shakes her head as ruefully as her reputation allows. "You shall keep your beloved warm, but their hands shall never touch your flames."
And, just as she expected, the boy grows cold and pale. Gone is the light from his gaze, the blood from his face. At that moment, Ulrica of Lästmakargatan almost pities Oscar of the Royal Palace. Before she can think better of it, she adds a crumb of solace to the bitter cup:
"However, is it not said that love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres?"
The boy appears to be more surprised by the Bible passage than he was by the demonic invocation in the beginning of the séance. Still, he manages the correct reply:
"Is it also not said that love never fails and that where there are prophecies, they will cease?"
Ulrica almost smiles.
"Indeed it is."
"Your genie did not tell you who I am – nor that today you were to be banished."
"You are magnanimous, but among them there is a traitor. Perhaps more than one."