Season 1, Episode 9
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
After the tumult of Kaye’s birthday feast, I was eager to head back to my chambers and be alone for a while. I slipped away during the migration from the great hall to the ballroom, happy to skip out on the backbiting gossip of the courtiers and the elaborate dances I didn’t know the steps to. Kaye and I were at least matched in that respect, as he couldn’t dance and I didn’t know how. My prince was the only thing that could have kept me there, but he was surrounded by an impenetrable coterie of minor nobles. I thought he glanced my way once or twice, but no-one else noticed or cared as I left.
My thoughts wandered as I walked and, to keep them from returning to the infuriating behavior of the merchant’s daughter, I allowed myself to puzzle over Geoff’s strange blunder. It didn’t make sense. Geoff is precise in his movements—I’d never seen him out of control before. He’d been moving fast, like he’d come barreling down the hallway at a full run—and what for? After the incident with the custard, he’d left without saying a word.
As I changed for bed, I heard a small sound—plaintive cheeping. The egg in my windowsill nest had hatched, and the chick was begging for food. As the cheeping continued and no mother bird appeared with food, I became worried. I thought of the dead lovebird Orestes had found, and wondered if that bird was this chick’s mother. What a crowning strangeness to a very out-of-sorts day. This felt like an omen, an ominous and disconcertingly personal one.
I lay down and tried to sleep, but the chick kept cheeping. It wasn’t very loud, but I couldn’t seem to ignore it. I got up and searched my room for a crust of bread, a bit of cheese, anything to give to the hungry lovebird chick. Nothing, and I doubted I could find a servant if I tried. It would have to wait until morning. I flopped back into bed and pulled a pillow over my ears.
I was still awake and staring at the ceiling of my room when there came a knocking at my door. These mid-night interruptions were becoming a pattern. I threw off the sheets and tromped my way to the door, figuring I could at least give a piece of my mind to whoever was bothering me.
I wasn’t expecting to see Geoff’s face when I opened the door. I also wasn’t expecting to smell human excrement. He looked terrible: he was sweating and his face was drooping, as if he were about to fall asleep standing up. As I stood there, his hand started to shake and fell off the door handle. And then there was the smell—he’d definitely soiled himself.
Geoff made an effort to open his eyes and looked straight at me. “The Queen…” he started to speak.
I pushed the door open and pulled him inside. “Nevermind the Queen, what happened to you?”
He shook his head and continued. “Would have gone to the Queen, but she’s with Lycius tonight.”
A tremor convulsed his leg so I helped him down to the floor—the bare flagstone, not the rug. Stone is easier to clean. “Geoff, tell me what happened to you.”
“She had me taste Karamon’s food.”
Suddenly everything snapped into place. “The custard—Geoff, did you taste the custard?”
Geoff looked at me again, forcing his eyes open. His gaze was surprisingly sharp. “Yes,” he said, “poison.”
“Geoff, what was your first symptom?”
“My head hurt.”
I looked at his hands. There were small white dots on his fingernails. “Geoff, I think I know what the poison is. When the custard was cooking, did you smell something like garlic?”
Geoff’s brow knitted. “Tasted it raw…but I think so.”
“Toxic metal poisoning.” I was already headed for my cache of herbs and medicines. There was a cure, but it was dangerous in itself.
I ground some garlic in a mortar and combined it with a few dark, shimmery drops of tincture and a little calcinated metal powder. The resulting unpleasant sludge then went into half a goblet of wine, which I gave to Geoff to drink.
He sniffed the cup, then looked at me as if I was trying to poison him further, which was technically true.
“Geoff, this will chelate the toxic metal…” I paused as Geoff gave me a blank look, and rephrased. “It will draw the poison from your body. It will also make your blood pound and your headache worse and you’ll have to piss a lot. Rest and drink lots of water for two days, and you’ll live. Don’t strain yourself or your heart will stop.”
Geoff gave a quick nod and drained the goblet in a single swig. I refilled it with water and he again quaffed the contents. I waited a few minutes in silence as Geoff gazed intently at the floor, then gave him more water. We repeated this cycle several times. Geoff didn’t seem to want to talk further, and I wasn’t going to rush him.
He raised his head, sniffed, then said, “Chamber pot.”
I waved toward the nook with its curtain, and he rose with a squishing noise, took my pitcher of the water, and went behind the curtain. I gazed at the smear on the stone where he’d been sitting and tried to ignore the sounds coming from behind the curtain. Geoff emerged, somewhat cleaner and much damper. My water pitcher was now empty.
He made a beeline for the door, so I got there first and stopped him. “Wait, Geoff. Tell me the rest. Do you know who tried to poison Kaye?”
He looked at me, and his gaze was clearer and steadier than before. The best way I can describe his expression is that he seemed to be trying to hide behind his beard.
“Can’t,” he said. “Told you too much anyway.”
I wanted to grab him and shake him, but no good could come of that. “Tell me at least this, Geoff. Is Kaye still in danger?”
“No. Not right now.”
I waited, hoping for more, but it wasn’t coming. “Fine. Go, just remember to rest and drink water.”
I stepped away from the door and Geoff made his exit. I then did what I could about the spot on the floor with a rag and the traces of water left in the pitcher. That’s the part people never think about: the mess that’s left behind afterwards. I tossed the rag back by the chamber pot and changed into a clean nightgown before getting back in bed. This time, sleep came easily enough.
I woke with the dawn to the sound of cheeping. After Geoff’s visit, I’d forgotten about the baby lovebird. I then noticed the lingering stench in my rooms. I sighed as I got up. I unbolted the door, just in case there was a fresh pitcher of water outside. The Goddess was kind to me that morning, as a fresh pitcher waited outside my door, with a small white flower floating on the top. That was a nice touch I hadn’t seen before.
I dressed quickly, determined to go to the kitchen and get some bread for the abandoned baby bird, but before I left the room, I heard the rustling of a larger bird. Fearing that it was the falcon that had killed the chick’s mother, and also what such an omen might mean, I rushed to the window. A hawk-sized shadow loomed over my tiny, helpless chick.
I pulled aside the curtain, prepared to strike the intruder, only to see that the hawk was Kaye’s Orestes. Orestes was feeding a crushed bug to the chick, which chirped happily between messy bites. This was simply too much. My head spun and I sat down. I looked up at the window, recalculating. A supposition, hardly less fearful than the first, twisted my stomach into sick knots. My chick. Dead mother. Kaye’s falcon. Breakfast forgotten, I sat there and felt, almost against my will, not supposition but certainty. This was a certainty that could drown me.
There would be birth, and death.
A thump came from behind me. I turned and saw that a deck of fortune-telling cards had fallen from my stacked belongings on a shelf. Three cards had escaped from the pack. The Lovers, the Child, and the Reaper.
I heard myself say, “Two, One, Three, Two.” I was repeating it like a mantra. “Two, One, Three, Two.” Over and over again. “Two, One, Three, Two.”
This was true Foretelling, this was Prophecy, and I was cursed.
© 2012 Copyright Tof Eklund
Presented by BigWorldNetwork.com