BtQC – Chapters 39 and 40
Brenna lit a single candle on her altar, murmuring a few words of prayer and protection and asking for the Goddess’ blessing before packing her things into her medicine bag and picking up her staff. She felt confident that she could prove that the tea was poisoned and that Machieve was the culprit behind it, but would her proof be enough to dissuade his attempt to overthrow Alamara? Machieve appeared to have garnered enough support amongst the nobles to stage a coup, it seemed, and Brenna worried that her little presentation this evening would not be well received, throwing the kingdom into war.
The Grand Court had already begun when Brenna arrived, and Baron Machieve was addressing the nobles. “Friends, King Alfonse is dead and although we mourn for him, we must think about the future of the kingdom. Now, more than ever, we must finish the work my dear niece, Sonnette, started so many years ago. We must unite the kingdom once and for all!”
There was a smattering of applause as the crowd murmured amongst themselves. Alamara raised her hand, signaling for silence. “Baron Machieve, I keep hearing about the great dissent throughout the kingdom, but only you and Father Leonard have approached me with these concerns. Who amongst the populace feels that they are not free to worship as they choose? Who amongst the populace feels that their needs are not heard and met, besides you and Father Leonard, of course.”
A snicker rippled through crowd, but Baron Machieve seemed unfazed. “Why, Your Majesty, many of these good nobles present represent those who feel disenfranchised.” There were a few nods of agreement among those who supported the Baron.
“And you feel that, as a follower of the Old Ways, I am unable to deal fairly and justly with those in the kingdom who do not share my beliefs?”
“I merely suggest that King Alfonse, in his wisdom, consented to a merger, if you will, of the Old Ways and the One God when he agreed to marry Sonnette, and that even after she passed, His Majesty saw the benefit of not sitting the throne alone. You, too, have shown yourself to be a wise and benevolent ruler, and I wish nothing more than to see you succeed and prosper, of course.”
“And in your opinion, you are the most worthy to sit the throne with me?”
“I humbly suggest that I am the most qualified, Your Majesty.” The crowd erupted into a cacophony of chatter, with everyone seeming to talk at once.
“Your Majesty, I am of a different opinion.” Brenna’s voice rang out strong and clear from the back of the hall, and the chatter died away as all assembled turned to look at her. There were gasps and whispers as she made her way up the aisle to the front of the hall, leaning heavily on her staff and noting with relief that both Garan and Briance were standing to the right of the Queen. A small table stood just in front of the dais, as she had requested, and she stopped before it, facing the crowd as she began to remove items from her medicine bag.
Baron Machieve’s face was full of rage, but Brenna cut him off before he could speak. “My lords and ladies, I have proof that Baron Machieve poisoned King Alfonse and is attempting to poison Queen Alamara as well.” The room erupted in disbelief, but Alamara raised her hand for silence and Brenna continued as she removed a small bottle from her bag. “I have here a sample of the special, imported tea that Baron Machieve gave to King Alfonse every day leading up to his death and is currently giving to Queen Alamara. Many of you have witnessed as much, have you not? Unfortunately, the tea is made from a plant called Mothere, which contains tiny parasites which, when ingested, eventually kill their host.”
There were cries and shouts amongst those assembled, but it was Machieve’s words that cut through the din. “That is preposterous! His Majesty died of the Wasting Sickness. You said so yourself!”
“Indeed, I thought at first that he had. But that was before I saw this!” She poured a small amount of the tea onto a saucer and picked it up, hefting the lens into her arms and angling it so that those nearest the table could see through it. The gasps and cries of those who could see was soon supplemented by others jostling for a look. Even Father Leonard peered into the lens, backing away in shock and staring at Machieve in wide-eyed disbelief.
“This is absurd! You can’t possibly believe her!” Seeing the expressions of those around him, he continued. “You have no proof that what is in that bottle is my tea.”
“Perhaps not, but here is a way to test it. Priestess, I should like to look at this cup of tea the Baron has just brought Her Majesty this evening.” Brenna turned to see Briance stepping from the dais and moving toward her, a brimming teacup in his hand. She did as he asked and once again, the crowd saw the tiny, horrible creatures. Many began to physically move away from the Baron.
A shadow crossed Machieve’s face and Brenna knew that she had him. “You are an herbalist and apothecary. You could have easily poisoned the cup, or anyone else for that matter,” he said.
A disturbance at the side of the room interrupted Brenna’s reply, and she turned to see Yvette making her way toward the front. The girl looked as though she hadn’t changed clothes or slept since they’d returned to the castle the night before, and her sunken eyes and ashen skin made her look like a walking corpse. She came to stand beside Brenna, facing Machieve accusingly. “I swear before the One God and all those assembled that I have been making this tea and delivering it to Her Majesty just as the Baron instructed. If you go to his rooms, you will find a tin of it in his cabinet. I can show you where, if you’d like.”
The room exploded in shouts and calls. Alamara sent a squad of guards to go to Machieve’s rooms, while another squad advanced toward him, ready to seize him lest he try to escape. Machieve looked around wildly, but his supporters would not rally to him, most of them trying to distance themselves from him so as not to be found guilty by association. Even Father Leonard, once his biggest supporter, turned against him, calling for justice and an end to the treachery. Realizing he was truly alone and his cause was lost, he launched himself forward, a small dagger clenched in his hand.
Time slowed to a crawl as people screamed, pushed and tried to flee the hall. Garan surged toward them, leaping in front of Alamara to shield her and drawing his sword. Briance drew his weapon as well, moving to intercept Machieve as Yvette screamed and recoiled backward. Brenna stepped in front of her, raising her staff and thrusting the end of it as hard as she could into Machieve’s stomach. He buckled and groaned, collapsing to the floor as Briance and the guards fell upon him, disarming him and holding him fast.
Machieve raised his head, a look of fury upon his face. He glared at Alamara, who had risen and was standing before him. “Baron Machieve, despite your efforts to the contrary, I am the sole ruler of this realm, named by His Majesty, King Alfonse, upon his deathbed. As such, I hereby find you guilty of high treason, an offense which is punishable by death. However,” she continued as everyone in the room froze, anxious to hear her words, “there has been enough death in the kingdom to last for quite some time and my spiritual path teaches me to be merciful. I hereby sentence you to imprisonment in the dungeon until such time as I decide upon a suitable punishment for your crimes.”
The guards hauled Machieve to his feet, but he shrugged them off, making no move to escape and trying to muster his last shreds of dignity. He faced Alamara with a look of contempt but she returned his gaze evenly, no fear showing in her eyes. He leaned close, whispering through clenched teeth, “I will have my revenge.” As the guards led him away from the hall, he repeated the phrase, growing louder each time until with a final shout he was led from the room.
Brenna moved to Yvette’s side. She had fallen as she tried to back away from Machieve and was lying in a heap on the steps of the dais. Brenna quickly scanned her and realized with relief that she had merely fainted from illness and shock. She looked to Garan for assistance but he was already moving forward, scooping the fragile girl up in his arms and striding from the hall. Brenna murmured a hasty, “By your leave, Your Majesty,” and hurried after them as Alamara nodded her assent, Briance stepping in to stand guard in Garan’s place.
They entered Brenna’s rooms and Garan gently set Yvette on the couch while Brenna moved to her cabinets to make up another batch of the medicine to expel the worms. She worried that they had gotten too firm a purchase in Yvette to be removed, but she was determined to try to save her. The irony of trying to save someone who had once tried to kill her was not lost on Brenna, but as Alamara had said, her spiritual path taught her to be merciful and she was indebted to Yvette for leading Garan to her rescue. She would do everything in her power to save the girl’s life.
Yvette’s eyes fluttered open and she coughed weakly as Brenna approached. “Drink this, dear,” Brenna said, raising her head gently and holding a small cup to her lips. Yvette took a small sip, grimaced and shook her head, but finally drained the cup at Brenna’s urging. She settled back onto the couch and closed her eyes as Brenna took her hand, sending pulses of healing energy through her.
“Am I going to die?” Yvette whispered.
“Not today,” Brenna replied.
“But I will die.”
“All creatures return to the Goddess in Her time, but Goddess willing, you will live to see your grandchildren.”
“Grandchildren. I never thought of that.” A tiny, peaceful smile touched Yvette’s face and she slept.
The next morning, Garan opened all the curtains in Brenna’s room to let in as much light as possible, and they carefully lifted the couch and turned it to face the windows. Brenna covered Yvette with a light blanket and they moved toward the door, embracing for a long moment. A million words were spoken between them in an instant with only a touch, and then Garan moved away to return to the queen’s side and Brenna took up vigil beside her patient, watching and worrying.
Alamara breezed into the conservatory, escorted by Garan, Briance and her usual entourage of servants and attendants. Brenna noted happily that the older knight once again accompanied the queen and she could see the growing fondness between them. Although the need for constant vigilance and protection had passed, both seemed to enjoy each other’s company, and Briance had become an almost permanent fixture at the queen’s side, even more so than Garan.
Brenna stood as the queen entered, Yvette rising to stand as well. Several days had passed since Brenna’s dramatic revelation in the Grand Hall and Yvette’s strength and color was slowly returning. Brenna felt confident that she would soon be completely well, and she thanked the Goddess daily for being able to help facilitate the healing. Not only had Yvette’s health improved, but her demeanor had changed as well. She was quiet, shy and almost awkward now, unsure about the turn of events and wondering what punishment she would suffer for her part in the failed coup attempt. As Alamara approached them, Brenna bowed low but Yvette dropped to her knees in front of the queen, dropping her eyes.
“Let me look at you, dear,” Alamara said, taking Yvette’s hands in hers. Yvette raised her head to look at the queen and Alamara exclaimed with joy. “You look so much better than you did the last time I saw you! Brenna, you have worked a miracle!”
“Thank you, Your Majesty, but I am merely the channel,” Brenna replied.
Alamara urged Yvette to stand and they moved to a small group of chairs near the window. “You are too modest,” she chided, smiling at Briance as he took up his now customary place slightly behind and to the right of her chair. Yvette picked at her skirts nervously, trying to remain calm and composed as she awaited her fate, but Alamara noticed and reached over to pat her hand. “I’m glad we could talk here in the Conservatory. I have always loved this room and it is much less formal and intimidating than the Grand Hall, don’t you think?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Yvette replied, glancing at Alamara and seeing no hint of malice or disapproval on her face. She allowed herself to relax a tiny bit and stilled her hands.
“Yvette, I haven’t had a chance to tell you before this, but I am sorry about Victice’s passing. I know how hard it is to lose someone you love.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty. And I am truly sorry to you and to Priestess Brenna and to everyone for the awful things he did … we did … I didn’t know … his madness …” She broke off, stifling tears. Alamara nodded and said nothing, waiting for her to compose herself. “I have been so foolish, so blind,” she sniffled, finally.
“Our pasts are often full of regret and missed opportunities, dear, but I believe if we are truly contrite and we work to make amends to those we have wronged, the Goddess smiles upon us. That has certainly been the case in my life.”
“Please forgive me, Your Majesty. I am truly, deeply sorry.”
“I forgive you, Yvette.”
At Alamara’s words, Yvette looked up with a start, her tear-streaked face searching the queen’s expression. Finding nothing but sincerity, she turned to Brenna, the fear in her eyes fading to a tiny spark of hope. “Priestess, will you forgive me as well? I have wronged you terribly.”
“Of course, Yvette. I forgive you.” Brenna smiled to see the spark of hope growing in the young woman.
Yvette looked from Alamara to Brenna, her smile growing wider. “Oh, thank you! The blessings of the Goddess on both of you!”
Alamara beamed at her and Brenna. “Have you given any thought to your future, dear?” she said.
Yvette looked confused. “My future? Uh … no … I hadn’t even … I mean, I didn’t think …”
“Would you be interested in staying in Locallen? I am told we are in need of capable attendants here at the castle, and you do know how to make a good cup of tea.”
Yvette let out a little cry of surprise and clasped her hands together in joy. “Me? An attendant to the queen? Oh, yes! Thank you, Your Majesty!” The look of relief and happiness on her face caused Alamara to laugh with joy as well.
“It is settled, then.” She extended her hand to Yvette, who kissed it reverently and rose to leave, turning back at the last moment to clasp Brenna’s hand as well.
“Thank you, Priestess.” She said with such sincerity that Brenna smiled with joy as well. And with that, she hurried from the room.
“Well then, dear, that leaves you. Have you given any thought to your future?” Alamara asked.
“My future? No, Your … my friend, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t had a chance, although it would seem that my work here is done.”
“Well, I am in need of a personal physician and spiritual advisor, especially given the current state of the kingdom, it would seem. And you would be an admirable counter-balance to Father Leonard and his followers of the One God. Would you consider staying here, at the castle, with me?”
Brenna noticed that Garan had moved to stand behind her and she reached up to touch the hand he had placed on her shoulder. She was torn between her desire to stay here with him and her duty to return to the Abbey. “I would be honored to be your personal physician and spiritual advisor,” she said, “but before I can accept your generous offer, I must return to Streestown Abbey. Not only must I seek release from my duties from Mother Yoshiko, I have a promise to keep.” She thought of Lorianne and their conversation on the eve of her journey, another lifetime ago, it seemed.
“I understand, my friend, but I will miss your terribly while you are gone, and as summer is drawing to a close, it is best that you start out right away, before the weather turns. As it is, you will have to winter over at the Abbey before you can make the journey back to us. Are you sure you are strong enough to make the trip? Your imprisonment at Victice’s hand …”
“I am recovered enough to travel,” Brenna said, “and with your leave I will start out first thing in the morning. The sooner I am away, the sooner I can return.” She stood to go, her mind awhirl with preparations and plans for the journey, but Alamara’s voice stopped her.
“You will need a guide and an escort for the trip, my friend. Sir Garan,” she turned her gaze to the knight, who moved to her side and dropped to one knee before her, “you have served me well and faithfully, both in the past and in the present. Alfonse was wise to entrust my safety to you. Now, however, I release you from your duty as my personal guard and charge you to accompany the Priestess Brenna Samuels as she travels to Streestown Abbey and back here to Locallen. I feel confident that she will be in good hands, with you at her side.” Alamara flashed a knowing smile at Brenna.
“Of course, Your Majesty, but there are those who might still seek to do you harm.”
Alamara glanced up at Briance and smiled. “Sir Briance has been kind enough to fill in for you in the past. Perhaps I can call upon his good graces yet again.”
“It would be my pleasure, Your Majesty,” Briance said.
“It is settled then.” Alamara rose to leave and Garan rose too, coming to stand next to Brenna and joining her in a low bow before the Queen. Alamara pulled Brenna all at once into a fierce embrace, and Brenna hugged her friend back tightly. “No, no tears,” she said, dabbing at her eyes. “There will be time enough for that in the morning.” Taking Briance’s arm, she left the room, leaving Garan and Brenna alone.
They turned to face each other and Brenna moved into Garan’s arms. She tilted her head up to look into his eyes and saw the bemused smile that she had come to love and know so well. “What is it?” she asked.
“Your witchery has ensnared me again,” he murmured, leaning down to kiss her.
“I’ve done no such thing. Her Majesty set you to the task of guarding me. I had nothing to do with it.”
“Of course not. Are you ready for another adventure?”
As long as we are together, I am ready for anything.”