BtQC-Chapters 15 and 16
They climbed a set of spiral stairs up to the third floor and then passed through a door near the end of the hallway. Brenna stood in the doorway, marveling at the site. The room was huge, bigger even than Mother Yoshiko’s private chamber at the Abbey. There were two massive windows hung with heavy, velvet curtains opposite the door which looked out over the rear of the castle grounds. The stone walls were hung with stunning tapestries depicting various scenes from nature. Ornate, plush rugs covered most of the stone floor and the furniture in the room was intricately carved from a dark wood Brenna didn’t recognize. There was a large table and chairs, several shelves and cupboards and a couple of big, soft chairs near a beautiful stone fireplace. There were bookshelves full of books and curiosities, and a wonderfully inviting desk near the windows filled with writing paper and pens. But the best part were the cabinets full of every tool and ingredient Brenna could possibly want or need for her herbcraft and healing work. It was easily the most opulent room Brenna had ever been in and it stood in stark contrast to the small cell she and Lorianne shared back at the Abbey.
As Brenna wandered about, gawking at the sight, Torrie took her pack and walking staff and passed through a small door at one end of the room. Brenna soon followed to discover a second room, slightly smaller than the first but no less opulent, occupied by stunning four-post bed with a canopy and drapes. There was a small antechamber at one end of the room where Torrie was hanging up the few items of clothing Brenna had brought with her. She turned as Brenna entered the room, smiling shyly as Brenna gasped in amazement at the bedchamber.
“Shall I draw you a bath, my lady? You must be tired and dusty from your long journey.” Torrie pulled aside a curtain near the antechamber, revealing a gleaming, white tub that looked to be carved from marble and big enough for two people.
A bath did sound heavenly, but Brenna hesitated. “Oh, no, I couldn’t put you to such trouble.”
“It’s no trouble at all, my lady,” Torrie said and she grasped a round, metal knob at one end of the tub and turned. Suddenly, steaming water began pouring into the tub through an open pipe on the side of the tub, as if by magic.
“What … how … “ Brenna’s voice trailed off as she stared dumbfounded at the rapidly filling tub. She’d read stories of water that flowed magically through pipes into houses but had always assumed they were just fantastical tales invented by those with wild imaginations.
As the water neared the tub’s edge, Torrie turned the knob in the other direction, stopping the flow of water. Brenna walked to the side of the tub and dipped her fingers into the water, half expecting it to be an illusion. The water was very real and very warm, though. “How does it work?” she asked.
Torrie was pouring a violet-colored liquid into the tub from a small bottle and she smiled at Brenna again. “There is a tank on top of the tower that fills with rainwater. The houseboys fill it with water from the spring whenever it starts to run low and make sure the fire underneath the tank stays lit all the time. Then, when we turn the knob, the warm water comes out.”
Brenna felt the water again and inhaled deeply. “Mmm, that smells wonderful. What is it?”
“It is bath oil. Her Majesty says it helps to keep her skin soft and that His Majesty likes the scent.” Torrie had moved to Brenna’s side and started unlacing her gown, but she glanced worriedly at Brenna at the last bit, hoping she hadn’t said too much.
Brenna gave her a reassuring smile. “Well, since I will be attending His Majesty, it behooves me to wear a scent he prefers.” Torrie pulled her gown over her head and Brenna stepped out of her drawers, stockings and shoes, reaching up to unfasten her braids. With her clothing removed and her hair unbound, Brenna stepped into the tub and sunk down into the perfumed water with a sigh. She lay completely immersed up to her chin for a long moment, eyes closed, feeling wonderfully decadent. Although she’d been able to wash occasionally during her travels to the castle, including one memorable bath with Garan in the pond at the edge of the desert, she hadn’t had a proper bath since she’d left the Abbey. Even then, baths at the Abbey were quick, efficient affairs done in small copper tubs that were often shared by several priestesses. Weeks of dirt and grime from the road sloughed away as she soaked for several long minutes, but finally she reached for the cake of soap and soft cloth Torrie had set on the side of the tub for her use.
Torrie pushed up her sleeves and moved to the end of the tub, gathering Brenna’s long hair up in her hands and washing it gently. It was wonderfully relaxing and Brenna sat back, closing her eyes. Her mind returned to Garan and his tender ministrations. How would it feel to share a bath like this with Garan? There was plenty of room for the two of them, not that they needed much space when they were together. In fact, she was almost certain that it was wide enough that she could straddle him if he were to lie back against the end …
Brenna blinked and sat up, turning to look at Torrie. She was slightly embarrassed to have been fantasizing about making love to Garan with the girl so near, but Torrie had left the tub’s edge and was laying Brenna’s clothes out on the end of the bed. Brenna realized that the water was beginning to cool and stood up as Torrie hurried to her side with a big towel to dry her. She stepped out of the tub and dried herself off as Torrie pulled a little stopper at the bottom of the tub, draining it. Brenna turned and watched the water disappear in amazement. Life at the castle was certainly going to be different than life at the Abbey.
Torrie had laid out Brenna’s best gown, a deep, chocolate-brown linen one with front laces and long, fitted sleeves. Loriane had painstakingly embroidered the neckline, hem and cuffs with tiny, silver, crescent moons and stars, and Brenna smiled at the memory of her friend. She knew that her clothing must look plain to Torrie, but this gown held special memories for her and she was honored to wear it.
With her hair freshly combed and braided, Brenna gathered a few items up in her medicine bag and turned to Torrie. “I’d like to see His Majesty, Torrie. Where are his chambers?”
Torrie looked uncomfortable. “My lady, you can’t just walk into the king’s private chambers uninvited. Perhaps if we ask the Baron …”
“I don’t believe I’m unexpected,” Brenna said. “Surely Her Majesty told the king that she had sent for me. I would like to see for myself how he is feeling.”
“Yes, but the Baron …” Torrie began before Brenna interrupted her.
“Baron Machieve. He attends His Majesty whenever the Queen is otherwise occupied,” Torrie said. “He is very particular about who sees His Majesty and has made it quite clear that the King is not to be disturbed.”
“Well, I would like to meet this Baron, then,” Brenna said. “If he is the King’s gatekeeper, I will need to get past him sooner or later.”
“Very well, my lady,” Torrie said, but the doubtful expression on her face told Brenna she was not comfortable with the idea. They moved through the main room and into the hallway, turning left and passing several doors before stopping at a large, double door at the far end.
Brenna rapped on the door softly. At a brusque “Enter” from the other side, she opened the door and peered inside. The room was similar to her own, but much larger and more elaborate. It was also dark and gloomy, with the heavy draperies drawn across the windows and a few, low lamps burning at the far corners of the room. As Brenna’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, she could see two men in the room. The first was an elderly man lying on long couch, covered up to his chin by a thin blanket, with only a bit of grey, ashen skin and pale, once-reddish hair visible. The second man was seated next to the first with his back to the door, but Brenna could tell that he was tall and thin. He was dressed all in black and his hair hung down his back in long, luxurious curls. As Brenna stood in the doorway, the seated man turned irritably, looking Brenna up and down. “What is it? Have I not made myself clear? The King is not to be disturbed.”
Brenna crossed the threshold and moved toward the men. “Please pardon the intrusion, my lord. I am Brenna Samuels, priestess of Streestown Abbey. I’ve come to attend His Majesty.” She turned her attention to the prone man, who lifted his head slightly to look at her.
“Brenna Samuels? From Streestown? The one Alamara sent for?” He closed his eyes as his head sank back onto the pillow, seemingly exhausted from that small effort.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Brenna said, starting to move toward the King’s side. The tall man stood then, towering over her and blocking her path.
“Oh, yes, the priestess, of course. We weren’t expecting you so soon.” The man had pale, almost luminescent skin and dark, beady eyes that pierced into Brenna’s own. There was something terribly disconcerting about him, but Brenna held her ground, keeping her gaze steady.
“And you would be …” Brenna began.
“Baron Machieve, at your service,” he said, taking Brenna’s hand and bowing over it as he pressed it to his lips. Brenna shuddered at his touch and slipped her hand from his grasp. He straightened up, smiling at her unpleasantly.
“If you will excuse us, Baron, I’d like to speak with His Majesty about his illness,” Brenna said.
The Baron raised one eyebrow at her but made no move to leave. “Highly improper, don’t you think? A beautiful woman alone with the King when he is … compromised?”
“It is hardly improper of a healer and a priestess to be alone with the King. And Torrie is here to attend me.” Brenna refused to be intimidated by the Baron and turned to look at the King again. He had opened his eyes once more and was watching their exchange with the faintest hint of amusement on his face. Brenna felt emboldened by that and she turned back to the Baron. “I shall send for you if the King needs you. Good bye,” she said pointedly, forcing a smile to be polite.
The Baron smiled too, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He bowed again toward Brenna and with a low, “Your Majesty,” turned on his heel and left the room, closing the door behind him. Brenna took a deep breath and turned back to the King, who was smiling at her.
“Alamara was right. You are a feisty one.” He gave a little chuckle that turned into a cough and closed his eyes again. Brenna sat down beside him and took his hand, concerned at how cold and clammy it was. She reached out with her mind, scanning his energy and frowning. She had been told that he had the Wasting Sickness, and he certainly looked as though he was ravaged by it, but his energy was different from anything she’d ever felt before. She began sending healing energy into him, gently.
“Torrie, please open the curtains. It is as dark as a tomb in here. If that’s alright with you, Your Majesty,” she added.
“Yes, please do. Machieve keeps closing them because he thinks it will help me rest, but I’d rather see the sunlight while I still can.” He studied Brenna’s face as she gently checked his pulse and rested one hand lightly on his chest to feel his heartbeat. “You are beautiful, just like her. Abbey life must suit you.”
“It has, for more than twenty years,” she said, moving her hand to his forehead. His skin was too cool and clammy for an early summer’s day and his pulse felt weak and uneven. Even though his skin was graying and his bright red hair was fading to a pale straw color, Brenna could still see the traces of the rugged handsomeness of his youth. His eyes were still a deep, brilliant emerald green despite their sunken shadows and he seemed alert and aware, although tired. Brenna had treated a few people with the Wasting Sickness and she knew it which would slowly drain all the life and vitality from him until he finally died. She felt sad that it was incurable and there was nothing she could do to help him other than to keep him comfortable. “Your Majesty, are you in any pain?”
“Right now, not at all. Your beauty must be distracting me.” Brenna was puzzled at that, but realized that he was trying to tease her, to lighten the mood.
“Are you flirting with me?” Brenna said, seeing no harm in the game.
“Absolutely! It’s the king’s prerogative, you know, to flirt with pretty girls. You’ll not get my heart, though. That belongs only to Alamara.”
“As it should, Your Majesty,” Brenna replied. She liked King Alfonse, in spite of herself. She’d blamed him for years for stealing her best friend away from her, but the more they spoke the more she could see why Alamara had fallen in love with him. Brenna silently said a little prayer of forgiveness, taking his hand again and smiling down at him.
“So, don’t hold back. Give me the bad news. How much time do I have left?” He was still smiling, but his eyes held a look of urgency.
“Your Majesty, it is impossible to say. The Wasting Sickness sometimes moves very quickly, but as your illness seems to have progressed more slowly over the past few years, I would predict that you have several months left.” Brenna sent a last push of soothing, healing energy into him and released his hand. His expression grew thoughtful for a moment and he opened his mouth to speak, but a knock on the door interrupted him.
“Enter,” he said instead, looking toward the door. A servant entered the room, carrying a tray with broth and bread. The king gestured toward a low table and the servant set the tray on it, turning to Brenna.
“Her Majesty has asked that I fetch you for supper.” Brenna started to protest, but thought better of it as other servants and vassals entered the room. The king would be well attended without her and she was hungry.
“Very well. Please tell Her Majesty that I would be honored to dine with her this evening. I shall be down shortly.” Brenna turned to the king. “Your Majesty, may I take my leave of you? Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No, Brenna Samuels, go enjoy your supper with my queen. You two have a lot of catching up to do, I suspect.” He winked at her. “I am glad to have met you, finally. Your reputation precedes you.”
“Oh, dear,” Brenna laughed, turning to go. “I certainly hope not!” She headed down the hall toward the stairwell, Torrie trailing behind her.