Season 1, Episode 10
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
“Two, One, Three, Two,” I muttered to myself. The lovers, then the child, then the reaper. My mind scrambled for rationalizations, alternate interpretations, but it was obvious, and cruel. Two become one, then there are three, and then there are but two again.
I pulled out my star charts and spread them all over the floor, casting about for anything to offset this doom.
Useless, all useless.
It was a relief to have my grim mood interrupted by a firm rapping at my door. That could only be Geoff. If he was on his feet at this point, he was definitely recovering, no matter how ill he might feel.
I pulled the bolt and opened the door, glad for the distraction, but it was not Geoff. Two guardsmen stood there, in full armor. One was a bit stouter and older, and the other one young, with green eyes that bespoke a noble family reduced by debt or disgrace. He gazed past me at the mess that was my room, tossed sheets and scattered scrolls, but the stout one stared straight at me, warily, and spoke.
“You are summoned to the King’s presence.”
That sent a chill down my spine. I summoned my dignity for a chilly “very well,” as I stepped out into the hallway.
The younger guard goggled at me.
“Ah…” he said, “you may dress first.”
Right. I was still in my nightgown, my head and hands uncovered. So much for dignity.
Once the door to my rooms was closed and barred, with the guards on the outside and me, momentarily safe, on the inside, I took a deep breath. Refusing to come out would only make things worse. I dressed with the utmost attention to propriety, taking particular care to make sure that not a single hair escaped from my burnt umber snood. As I pulled on my chocolate silk gloves, I recalled Kaye’s intention of getting me a new pair, and wondered what he meant when he called this pair “old fashioned.” I shook my head—drat him, creeping into my thoughts at a time like this.
The guards escorted me to the throne room in silence, and the massive carved doors opened with a soft ‘whoosh’. Lycius sat in his throne, and Theobel beside him, with a few advisors clustered to one side and the gaggle of court physicians off to the other.
The guards assumed their stations as I approached and made the proper obeisance: Sisters of the Order kneel, but we do not prostrate ourselves, nor do we curtsy. Lycius’ face was set in a frown, and his mouth remained downturned as he spoke.
“There has been an attempt upon our life.”
Our life? Was he including Kaye in the royal we, or did he mean his own life?
He continued, “Last night, a member of my household was poisoned in my stead.”
So he knew about Geoff. I prepared myself for questions, but the King of Thrycae wasn’t done.
“One of our cooks has been poisoned. The royal physicians have not been able to help him, and he is near death.”
Goddess! I hadn’t given a second thought to the cook. Even if he hadn’t tasted the custard, he had been working with the ingredients.
Lycius continued, “Maiden Yelena, your Order teaches you about toxins and their treatment, does it not?”
“Bring forth our servant.”
A litter was brought forth, bearing a strong-armed and soft-bellied man. A sheet covered him from the waist down, but he was otherwise naked. He appeared to be unconscious, but his limbs twitched on their own.
“We require your services in treating this man.”
I approached the litter and inspected the cook. His fingernails bore the same spots that Geoff’s had, but the poison had had all night to work on him. I measured his shallow breath, the slow beating of his heart, and lifted his eyelids with a gloved fingertip. His eyes were dilated and he did not respond to touch. I turned his head to the side and watched as his gaze remained fixed, like that of a doll’s glass eyes. I then jabbed him hard below the ribs with one hand. The court physicians gasped, but there was still no response from the cook.
I turned to the king. “Sire, I regret to inform you that this man is beyond my aid.”
Lycius’ gaze narrowed. “Can you not use your…art…to heal him?”
“My lord, the Art of the Order can only enhance nature, not reverse it. This poison does not leave the body on its own, so I cannot hasten its departure, and the man is nearly dead. I am sorry.”
This was not quite exactly the truth: it is easiest to work magic with nature, or to restore a natural pattern, as with the singing together of broken bones. Altering or overcoming nature can be done, but only with great power and at great risk, and Lycius did not need to know that a more experienced Sister might be able to do what I could not.
King Lycius relaxed into his throne and asked, “But you can confirm that this is the effect of poison and not any natural illness?”
This felt like a trap, but I cleared my throat anyway and spoke. “Yes, sire.”
“And the nature of the poison?”
“Toxic metal, sire.”
“Very well. Guards, arrest the would-be assassin.”
I stiffened, my fears realized, but the guards did not come for me. The pair who had brought me here turned and tromped out of the throne room.
“Maiden, you are dismissed.”
No one had mentioned Geoff in all of this. I wanted ask about him, make sure he was recovering, but when I looked up at Queen Theobel, instinct held my tongue. Her face was a neutral mask but she was tapping a finger rapidly on her thigh, and that subtle show of stress was enough to dissuade me.
I returned to my rooms, only to find Lily there on her hands and knees, scrubbing my floors with soapy water and a stiff brush. She was working with impressive vigor, as if she was trying to wear her way through the stone. She’d already cleaned the nook with the chamber pot, and the lingering stench of diarrhea was gone, replaced by the mild odor of castile soap and lilac.
Lily looked up at me as I stood in the doorway. “Good day, Milady. Your floor was due to be cleaned, nothing special.”
She then winked at me. Grateful, yet disconcerted by the divide between the Thrycaen court, where everything is secret, and that court’s servants, where nothing is, I went off to find myself some breakfast.
It was nearly noon, so I wound up eating just outside the kitchen, the same kitchen where that poor cook had been the victim of someone else’s plotting. I was still working on some fresh bread and soft cheese when Kaye found me.
He came crutching up to me, slightly out of breath. “Yelen, I’ve been all over the castle looking for you. They just arrested Lord Hasimus for treason!”
“Yes, you remember the custard last night, the one Geoff spilled? Well, it was Lord Hasimus who gave my father the crocus pollen. The pollen was contaminated with poison, Yelen! Hasimus was trying to kill my father, and he almost killed me!”
“Wait, Kaye.” I paused before continuing. “Have you spoken to Geoff?”
He frowned. “No, I haven’t seen him since last night. That’s strange.”
“Kaye, let’s go for a walk in the gardens.” I wanted privacy for what I needed to talk to him about.
Kaye gave me a quick nod and a knowing look. “All right, Yelen,” he said, then smiled at me. I found myself smiling back, caught up in his mood. I didn’t want to talk about poisons or plots, not now that I had Kaye to myself, but I worked my way around to it as we walked among spring flowers that were going to seed as the days grew warmer.
I told him about Geoff’s late-night visit, hurrying to assure him that Geoff should recover without lasting harm. Kaye, who had grown up with castle intrigues and a sometimes-overprotective mother, was not surprised to hear that she’d ordered Geoff to taste his food.
“That’s just like her,” he said, shaking his head.
“Kaye, if she hadn’t—”
“I know, Yelen, but it was coincidence. Hasimus wasn’t trying to kill me. Who would bother assassinating me?”
“Kaye, I’m not sure. Why would Hasimus want to assassinate Lycius? He doesn’t stand to benefit.”
“Actually he might. Nestor’s still young and I’m unfit, so he was probably expecting that the peerage would approve his claim.”
“Kaye, you are not ‘unfit’. Never say that again. You will be the best King in the history of this nation.”
“In the history of this ‘backwards and benighted nation’, Yelen? That’s faint praise. Besides, I still think my father will find a way to put Nestor forward instead of me.”
“That’s why I’m worried, Kaye. I think that poison was actually intended for you.”
Kaye paused, then lifted his right hand off of his crutch in order to place it upon my upper arm. I could feel his fingers through the fabric of my dress’ sleeve, solid and reassuring. I leaned into his touch. He’d matured so much recently; he really was becoming a man in the best sense of the word.
“Yelen,” he said, “I know what you’re thinking, but he’s my father. I might be a disappointment to him, but he would never harm me.”
© 2012 Copyright Tof Eklund
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