BtQC – Chapters 37 and 38
Garan pulled off his cloak, wrapping Brenna in it and she clung to him, desperate to hold him as closely as she could. After a long minute, she remembered the urgency of her still uncompleted task. She pulled away slightly, but he spoke first. “When we found your things beside the well, I didn’t know what to think, and when the Abbey said you’d left two days before …”
“My things? You have my pack?”
“Yes, and your staff. I’m surprised you made it as far as you did, too. What is that heavy lens for?”
“The Queen is being poisoned. I hope to use that lens to prove it.” She quickly recounted what she’d learned at the Abbey and what she suspected about Machieve and the tea he had fed Alfonse and Alamara. When she was finished, she struggled to stand, Garan supporting her. “We must return to the castle at once. Time is of the essence.”
“Especially now. I’m sure Father Leonard is already halfway back to the castle to report to everyone who will listen about all this. It may force Machieve’s hand or force him to do something desperate.”
“Alamara! Oh Garan, she is in danger!”
“I left her under the watchful eye of Briance, whom I would trust with my own life. He will keep her safe until we return, or he will die in the attempt. The bigger problem is how to get there. You are in no condition to travel quickly.”
There was a small cough, and they looked up to see Yvette standing in the doorway again. “Viccy has a wagon. You could take that.”
“A wagon would be perfect. Can you take me to it?” Garan was already moving toward the doorway, supporting Brenna with one arm.
“Sure.” Yvette turned and headed out to the courtyard again, turning to go around the side of the house to a small stable and barn.
It was still raining, but the thunder and lightning storm had moved on. Garan helped Brenna to sit on a small bench and hurried to catch up with Yvette as Brenna looked over the scene once more. There were dead and wounded soldiers littering the ground and a few moving among them, helping their comrades or scavenging armor and weapons from the fallen. Brenna could see Victice still lying at the base of her funeral pyre and she mouthed a little prayer of crossing for him, more out of obligation than any real sense of pity or mercy for him.
Something rattled and clattered out of sight, and then a horse-drawn wagon rounded the corner of the house, with Garan at the reins and Yvette seated in the back. He leaped down as it came to a stop, lifting Brenna gently into the back of the wagon with Yvette. Then, he climbed back up to drive, urging the horse into a brisk trot which sent them bumping and jostling across the yard toward the main road and the castle. Brenna pulled Garan’s cloak tightly around her, then noticed Yvette huddled miserably in the corner, trying to suppress her coughing. Brenna motioned for the girl to come nearer then spread the cloak over the two of them. Yvette gratefully leaned against Brenna and closed her eyes, glad to be out of the rain somewhat as Brenna gently took her hand to send some healing energy into her. She closed her own eyes as well and tried to doze as the wagon jounced along.
It was well after dark when they arrived at the castle, and Garan stopped the wagon at the stables, helping Brenna through a servants’ entrance and up the stairs so as not to attract undue notice. They urged Yvette to come with them but she declined, assuring them that she would be fine and slipping away before they could protest. As Garan helped Brenna into Alamara’s rooms, the Queen sprang up from her seat on the couch and rushed toward them, Briance at her side. “Oh, thank the Goddess, Brenna! You’re safe! Blessed Mother, what has happened to you?”
Alamara called for broth and bread for Brenna to eat as she recounted her tale, with Garan picking up the story where she was blank. Alamara sat in stunned silence at first, but as she listened a firm resolve settled over her features. When the tale was finished, she simply said, “We suspected the Baron’s machinations, but I would never had expected this from Victice. What madness the love of power brings. What is your plan, Brenna?”
“First, have you had any more of the tea?” When Alamara shook her head, Brenna sighed with relief. “I will need to mix up some medicine for you to help expel any worms which may have gotten purchase inside you. You already look so much better than I feared you would.” Brenna smiled at her friend and Alamara smiled back. “Next, I need to look at a sample of the tea under the lens. With any luck, it will magnify the creatures enough that we can see them. Then, we will have our proof.”
“I have half a mind to bring the Baron before me now and to confront him with this treachery. Treason is a capital offense,” Alamara said.
“Your Majesty, if I may interject, I think your priestess offers wise counsel. If the Baron can be exposed as a traitor, especially with irrefutable proof of regicide, his supporters will vanish and your rule will be unchallenged,” Briance said quietly.
“You’re right, of course, Briance. And thanks to you, I have many supporters who will rally to my cause.” Brenna noticed the look of affection between them and saw that Garan had seen it as well.
“By your leave, Your Majesty, I would like to put your priestess to bed,” Garan said. He helped Brenna stand and she shook her head as Alamara chuckled.
“Yes, if it is alright with you, I will take my leave,” Brenna agreed, “but I have too much work to do before I will sleep. If Yvette or the Baron brings you tea in the morning, will you have it sent to my room, please?” Seeing Alamara’s nod, she turned to Garan. “Where are my things?”
“In your rooms, if the guards are to be trusted.”
“Excellent well. Good night, my friends.” Brenna rose to go and stumbled with fatigue. Garan was at her elbow in an instant, steadying her. He shot Alamara and Briance a knowing glance, then helped Brenna down the hall to her rooms.
Brenna was happy to see her pack and staff on the table when she entered the room, and hurried to unwrap the lens, worried about its condition. She sighed with relief to see that it was unscathed and started toward her apothecary cabinet, rummaging through tins and bottles, and pulling down her tools. Garan moved behind her, grasping her shoulders gently and turning her to face him. She started to protest, but he stopped her with a gentle kiss and she sagged against him, letting him lead her away from her work table and toward the bedchamber. He began unlacing her filthy, damp gown and shoes and then scooped her up in his arms, carrying her into the bath and filling the tub as she made half-hearted protests. Finally, she conceded that a bath would be good and consented to settle into the warm, soapy water. With a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Garan stripped and climbed into the tub with her, pulling her to lean back against his chest. He bathed her gently, taking care to wash the blood from her hair, his touch tender and careful, especially around her wounds. When she was clean, Garan wrapped her in a towel and carried her back to the bed, and she was asleep almost before he climbed in next to her.
The day dawned clear and bright, with no trace of the storm that had lashed the landscape the day before. Brenna awoke with her head on Garan’s chest and his strong arms around her, feeling stiff and sore but much improved from the day before. She longed to languish in bed with Garan all day, but knew that she had much work to do to save Alamara, so she gently disengaged herself from Garan’s embrace and sat up, much relieved to find that the splitting headache she’d endured for several days had subsided to a dull ache. Garan awoke as well and noted that she was more steady on her feet and more clear-eyed than the day before.
Brenna set about her work almost at once, brewing up a mixture to start Alamara’s healing. Garan promised to deliver it to the Queen and to convey Brenna’s instructions that she should spend as much time in the bright sunlight as she could manage with her schedule. He left her to her work with a nonchalant kiss, but his concern for her was obvious. She reassured him that she would be working in her rooms for most of the day and promised to not go adventuring off by herself, and he left just as a servant entered the room carrying a steaming teacup in her hands.
“Her Majesty asked me to bring this to you, my lady,” she said, placing the cup on Brenna’s table.
“Thank you,” she said and began to set up the lens to do her experiments. Soon, she hoped, the truth would be known.
Around mid-afternoon, Alamara entered her room with Garan in tow. Brenna hardly looked up from her work, peering into the lens and scribbling notes into a small notebook. Her breakfast and lunch sat practically untouched nearby. Alamara cleared her throat, causing Brenna to look up in irritation, but then she smiled apologetically. “Forgive me, Your Majesty. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“It’s alright, dear, given the circumstances. What have you found?”
“Well, my suspicions have been confirmed about the tea. Take a look for yourself.”
Alamara peered into the lens and then recoiled with a gasp of horror. “Blessed Mother, are those things inside of me?” She put her hands to her chest, backing away from the table.
“I certainly hope not. Have you been drinking the medicine I made for you this morning?”
“Yes, and it is quite unpleasant, but now that I see what we’re dealing with, I’ll stop complaining about the taste.”
Brenna smiled at her friend and took her hand, sending a wave of healing energy into her and scanning to see if she could feel anything amiss. She was greatly relieved to sense nothing unusual. “Have you been outside in the sunshine today, like I asked?”
“Yes, and it was very funny to watch the ladies and gentlemen of the court squinting in the sunlight while I was holding audiences. I think we should all enjoy the outdoors on a more regular basis, don’t you think?” She grew serious then, frowning with worry. “Brenna, it’s all the talk this morning, how Victice went mad and tried to kill you. Everyone knows you are back at the castle, but most of them think you were at the harvest festival. The Baron has grown impatient, though. He confronted me this morning when he brought me the tea, insisting that I give him and his supporters an answer regarding the future of the kingdom and my intent to rule. I put him off until this evening and have called for a grand court tonight, at his request, to make my announcement. Will your proof be ready by then?”
“Yes, I will be ready,” she said, sounding more confident than she felt.
“Briance has gone to rally my supporters, to make sure there is a goodly showing of them tonight as well. Whatever happens, we will have the truth tonight and an end to Machieve’s machinations and political intrigue, either by his downfall or by war.” Alamara spoke with resolve and Brenna could see the grim determination in her eyes. The Queen left then, and Brenna marveled once again at how she had blossomed into the capable, confident monarch she had become.