BtQC – Chapter 34
As she entered the library, Brenna stopped and inhaled deeply. Libraries had such a distinctive, comforting smell, and this one was no different. Even though Charcond Abbey’s library was smaller than the one at Streestown, but it appeared to be well-stocked and she felt confident that the answers she sought would be contained within the shelves and stacks.
She located the books on herbology and medicine and began to search. She remembered the Baron telling her that his tea was a blend imported from far away across the sea, but that didn’t mean the poison was necessarily foreign. Still, her apothecary knowledge was fairly extensive, and she knew of no local substances that would cause the Wasting Sickness or produce symptoms similar to it. No one knew what exactly caused the Wasting Sickness, or if they once knew, that information was lost to the mists of time, but it was well known that once someone contracted the disease, death was not far behind.
Brenna had three goals – to discover what poison Machieve had used on Alfonse, to discover an antidote to that poison if he was currently using it on Alamara, and to find a way to prove that the Baron, and possibly Father Leonard as well, were trying to kill the queen so that they could assume the throne. She would not rest until she had found the answer to those three things.
Brenna read, researched and scribbled notes until well past midnight, when she found herself nodding off while reading, her nose bouncing off the open pages of a particularly large tome. She retired to her room for a few hours of sleep without even bothering to change out of her traveling clothes, but was back at the books before dawn the next day, so eager was her desire to find the information she sought. The Abbess and other priestesses left her to her work, and Agatha discreetly left meals on her little table for her, which Brenna picked at between research sessions. Her mind was constantly on Alamara and Garan, and the longer she worked the harder it was not to worry about her friends and what was happening back at the castle.
It was late in the evening when she found it – a reference to a strange plant from an exotic land on the other side of the world. The plant was called Mothere and the author noted that the locals claimed that touching or ingesting it caused one to wither and die. The author wrote that many in his party did not believe the tales since the plant smelled and tasted quite wonderful, and they had ingested large quantities of it, harvesting some to dry and bring with them. Sure enough, several months after their voyage was ended, all of those who had eaten the plant had grown ill, wasting away until they finally died. Upon further examination, the author found that the plant was covered with tiny worms, too small to see without magnification, that seemed to infest those who had eaten the plant, gnawing at their entrails until they perished.
Brenna was horrified, but it made perfect sense. When she’d scanned King Alfonse’s energy upon her arrival at the castle, it had not been the energy of a man with Wasting Sickness, even though his symptoms indicated that that is what he suffered from. This also explained why he seemed to rally a bit after she had sent healing energy into him. He was being eaten alive from the inside and the energy of her healing had caused it to subside temporarily. And now, the Baron was doing the same thing to Alamara!
She read on, searching desperately for information on how to expel the parasites and cure her friend. She knew that Machieve had been poisoning Alfonse every day for many years, but Alamara had only just begun to drink the tea, so perhaps the horrible creatures had not gotten purchase inside her yet. Finally, Brenna read something that gave her a bit of hope, one line the author mentioned about being able to find none of the worms in a tin of the dried plant that had been left open and out in the sunlight for several hours. She remembered how Machieve had insisted on keeping the king’s curtains drawn and his rooms darkened, and wondered if that was so the worms could grow more quickly. She knew she was grasping at straws, but it was all she had to go on and was worth a try.
Armed with her new-found knowledge, Brenna moved to a different part of the library. She needed a way to be able to prove that Machieve had poisoned Alfonse and was poisoning Alamara, and she had an idea. If there were tiny creatures in Alamara’s tea, could Brenna make them bigger, so that they could easily been seen? She knew there were lenses and devices that one could look through to see tiny objects – indeed, she herself had used them at Streestown Abbey when sorting sweet pea seeds – but Brenna wondered if there was another way, a way to actually make them bigger, not just to make them appear bigger. That would require a spell, or some substance that would cause them to grow and expand, and she dug through the books looking for such a thing.
Hours later, Brenna started awake, looking around in confusion before she remembered where she was and what had happened. She’d fallen asleep over her books in the library again, apparently, and it was now late in the morning of her third day away from the castle. She sat up, wincing and rubbing her stiff neck. She was no closer to being able to prove that the tea was what Machieve had used to poison Alfonse. She had a few more hours to search here and then she would need to start back to the castle, so she resigned herself to another long day and stood up, intending to stretch and relieve herself before settling in for more work.
On her way back from the privy, she met Agatha, carrying a tray laden with porridge and tea for Brenna’s breakfast. “Good morning, priestess,” the girl said with a shy smile. “How is your research going?”
“I’ve found some of the information I need, but not all of it. I need to find a spell or substance that can enlarge very small objects or creatures, to make it easier for them to be seen with the naked eye.”
“We have such a thing, here at the Abbey,” Agatha said. “I’ve seen it in Mother’s study.”
“Like a lens? I have seen one too, back at my Abbey. No, I will need something to make things much bigger than that.”
“This lens makes things look very big. Mother says it is a holy relic from the time before The Purge. Its magic is something I’ve never seen before.”
Brenna was intrigued. “Can you show me this thing?”
“Yes, follow me.”
They hurried to the Abbess’ private chambers and were admitted readily. Brenna apologized for the intrusion and brought her up to speed on her findings in the library, without going into detail about Machieve and his treachery, and before she could even finish her tale, the Abbess bade Brenna to join her at glass-topped table. She lifted the lid and handed an object to Brenna that looked very much like the handheld lens she had used in the past, but much, much larger. It was big and heavy, the size of a dinner plate and as thick as her arm. It appeared to be made of polished glass or mirror, and its surface gleamed and shone. When Brenna looked into it, she could see the tiny, fine grain of the table clearly, as though her face were right up against the wood, and when she moved the object slightly, she could see all the individual fibers of the black velvet lining of the table. She brought the lens closer to the material and gasped when she saw miniscule dust motes dancing about as though they were fairies in the moonlight.
“This is incredible! Where did it come from?”
“I do not know. Its true origins are lost in the mists of time, but it has been at the Abbey for as long as the Abbey has been here, at Charcond. The legends say that it was used by the ancient mystics in their healing and divination work. If this is true, it is only fitting that it should go with you.”
Brenna had been looking through the lens in fascination but now she looked up, catching the Abbess’ eye. Her expression told Brenna that she knew or suspected far more than Brenna had shared about why she was here and Brenna thanked her profusely for it.
“Will you be able to carry it back to the castle with you? I will wrap it securely so that it will stay clean and unscratched, but it is quite heavy.”
“I will manage. Locallen is but a days’ walk away, thankfully.”
“Very well. Take it with my blessing, Brenna Samuels.” She took the lens from Brenna, setting it back into the case and rifling through a nearby cupboard for suitable wrapping cloths.
“Thank you for your generosity, Mother. I will return it safely to you, I promise.”
Brenna hurried to her room, eager to gather her things and start her journey back to Locallen. She knew that starting out so late in the day would have her traveling in the dark for a good portion of the trip, but the urgency she felt at returning to save her friend and put an end to Machieve’s treachery outweighed for caution for traveling alone in the dark. Garan would be cross, most likely, but it was not like she was completely helpless. She had traveled alone, and often in the dark, long before they’d met and the road back was well marked. And with as many people as she’d seen on her journey to Charcond Abbey, she felt sure she wouldn’t be the only one making her way back to the castle late in the evening.
She said her goodbyes, thanking the Abbess once again and shouldering her pack. It was indeed much heavier than before, but Brenna leaned on her staff, determined to persevere. It was well past midday when she started out, hoping to reach Locallen by midnight. She walked for hours, hardly stopping to rest but making much slower progress than she had on her trip to the Abbey. The sun was hot and in her eyes for much of the way, making her trek that much more arduous, but she consoled herself knowing that she would see her beloved Garan soon and that she carried with her a possible solution to Alamara’s problem. She was relieved when the sun finally set and she stopped for a bit near a well, setting down her heavy burden and staff to stretch and eat some of the provisions Agatha had packed for her trip. She was tired from lack of sleep and from her labors and she found her eyes blinking, despite her best efforts. Hoping that a short nap would leave her refreshed, she leaned back against the mossy stones of the well and succumbed to exhaustion, closing her eyes.
Some time later, she snapped her eyes open. She heard, or rather felt, something that wasn’t quite right and her senses tingled. It was quite dark with what moon there was obscured by a thick layer of storm clouds which had rolled in from the sea, and Brenna suddenly felt afraid. She stood and looked around, but could see no one on the road and nothing to cause her to be fearful. It appeared that she was completely alone, although she was not convinced. Trying to shake off her unease, she hauled up the well bucket and dipped the dipper into it, taking a long, slow sip of the cold water.
Just then, she felt a presence behind her and she spun around. A pain exploded behind left ear, worse than anything she had ever felt or imagined, and she cried out, squinted her eyes against it and feeling herself reeling and falling. A heavy blackness descended upon her and she was unconscious before she even hit the ground.