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Author Topic: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen  (Read 2648 times)

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Offline Evie

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Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen
« on: March 09, 2012, 09:07:17 am »
   Chapter Eighteen

   Eddington Manor
   November 3, 1136
   

   Helena poured herself a goblet of wine, but she did not drink it.  Instead, she extinguished the candles in the room until the only source of light remaining was the flicker of flames on the nearby hearth.  She brought the goblet to the middle of the room and sat, her body automatically sinking into a comfortable position suitable for  putting herself into a meditative state.  Focusing her attention on the goblet's contents, she counted down until she was in a light trance, concentrating her efforts on finding the visage she wished to see in the reflections on the wine's dark surface.

   Ædwige's face and form came into focus after just a few moments of scrying.  She had not been hard to find, nor was Helena having any trouble casting out with her senses to hear what she was saying now.  Ædwige's close proximity had certainly helped; even without using her Deryni powers, Helena could hear the sound of Ædwige's agitated voice through the wall currently separating them, although had she not been using her powers to enhance her natural senses, that voice would have been too muffled for her to make out distinct words.

   Helena spared a moment to give thanks to God that her pupil had missed the lessons on anti-scrying measures during her months-long absence from the Schola.  At any rate, even if she had managed to learn such measures on her own, it was clear that she was too distracted now to think of putting them into place.  And that was hardly surprising, after all; most people didn't put such countermeasures into place unless they had good reason for concern that they might be eavesdropped upon.  So far, that thought had not seemed to have crossed the young widow's mind, and Helena was certainly not going to suggest the possibility to her now!

   Helena cleared her mind, focusing only on what her pupil was doing and saying.

#

   "And what in the world did you have to go and open his coffin for anyhow?" Ædwige exclaimed, throwing up her hands in exasperation as she paced the room in front of her steward, clearly agitated.  "He's not been dead long enough for his bones to be moved to an ossuary—he's got to rot for something like one to three years for that, hasn't he?  And he's only been dead for three months!  What, were you planning on boiling his carcass to get the job done sooner?"

   Martin Steward suppressed a wince at this callous comment.  Eddington's Lady might have been wed to his late master, but it was clear to him that he'd held no place in her affections, or surely she'd not be speaking of him now as if he were little more than some noisome offal that had yet to be carted off properly by the knacker.  “No, my Lady, it was naught like that.  You know the Eddington family tomb isn’t all that large, and we rarely have need for more than one full-sized coffin above-stairs at a time.   With Lady Catherine passing, we’d planned on shifting Sir Gilrae’s coffin downstairs to the rear of the crypt, next to the ossuaries of his forefathers.  Only….”  The man looked abashed.  “We managed to drop the coffin as we were setting it in place, and the lid came off.”

   “The lid came off,” the young widow repeated, sounding irate.  “Well, it’s a good thing for you then that Gilrae’s corpse wasn’t bloated and stinking, isn’t it?!  And who is ‘we’?”

   Martin swallowed hard.  “Myself, Bartleby the gardener, Sam Crofter, and Johnny Stabler.  They weren’t being careless, my Lady; it’s just that Johnny’s a growing lad, and he managed to trip just as we were starting to set the coffin down—just not used to the size of his own feet yet, Johnny’s not—and the box took a slight drop, enough to set the lid ajar.  But naught’s damaged, My Lady, and we’ve returned the coffin to how we found it.  Except for leaving it in the rear of the crypt, of course.”  He gave a nervous, deferential bow.

   Ædwige stared at him in cold silence for a moment, then shrugged.  “Oh well, I suppose what’s done is done.  So, when is Lady Catherine’s funeral to be scheduled?”

   “Tomorrow morning, my Lady.  We were just waiting for your return to Eddington.”  Martin paused, as if reluctant to say anything that might stir the hornet’s nest further, but continued after a wary silence.  “Did your…ah…inspector from the Schola wish to examine Sir Gilrae’s body before the funeral or afterwards?”

   “The inspec…Oh!  Yes.  Sister Helena.”  Ædwige frowned.  “I’ll bring her by the crypt tomorrow morning, before the funeral, I suppose.  Lady Catherine’s body is still in the chapel awaiting entombment, is it not?”

   “Yes, my lady.”

   Eddington’s young widow nodded in satisfaction.  “Definitely before the funeral, then.  The crypt smells nasty enough as it is even when it’s just filled with musty old bones and damp; adding my newly putrid mother-in-law to it certainly won’t improve matters!”

   “I’ll have Mistress Nell wake both of you ladies at dawn tomorrow, in that case.”

   Ædwige shook her head.  “No need, Martin; I’ve already given Nell all necessary instructions.”

#

   Helena puzzled over the steward’s question.  The inspector from the Schola?  Did Ædwige truly mean to have her inspect Sir Gilrae’s body for some reason?  Granted, that’s exactly what she’d come here hoping for a chance to do, but she’d never dreamed gaining access to him would be that easy.  And why, if Ædwige had had any part in Sir Gilrae’s death in the first place, would she ask a Deryni magistra to inspect his body?  Could it be that Ædwige was innocent of what she and Duncan had suspected her of, but that she in turn also suspected something was amiss about her late husband’s death, and so she planned to ask her Deryni mentor for her opinion?  Possibly, though flattering as the notion was, Helena couldn’t quite believe that theory either.  Had Ædwige already known about her late husband’s body’s unusual state of preservation before their arrival earlier today?  Now that Helena thought the matter through, she imagined the steward must have sent her some mention of it at the same time he informed her of her mother-in-law’s death.  Had Ædwige asked for her as a chaperone specifically because she knew her magistra was also a Healer and might know what had caused such a strange phenomenon?  But surely if that were her hope, wouldn’t she have mentioned something about the matter on the trip to Eddington?

   Helena wished Duncan were there.  Perhaps Ædwige had mentioned something of the sort to him.  The thought of him brought the memory of their last meeting to mind, and she smiled, reaching into her gown for the Saint Camber medallion she wore around her neck.  Holding it cupped in her hands as a focus, she concentrated on the bond between them, using it as a guide to send her thoughts his way.

#

   St. Hilary’s Basilica, Abbot’s Tower
   November 3, 1136


   Duncan was beginning to drift off to sleep when he felt his beloved’s questing probe brush up against his mind.  He immediately strengthened the link between them, sending back a greeting of his own.  Good evening, heart.  He smiled to himself in the darkness.  How’s your trip so far?  I could sense you at the back of my mind all day, at the very edge of my consciousness but still present whenever I stilled my mind long enough to focus on it.

   I sensed you there as well, cariad,
Helena replied. And right glad am I for it; it’s been a rather trying day, and I’m exhausted, but feeling your presence in the background has helped.   I’ve not had a moment to rest until just now, but I wanted to wish you a good night at the very least, and I have something to ask as well.  When Ædwige asked you for permission to bring me along with her to Eddington, did she say anything to you about needing me to inspect Sir Gilrae’s body?

   Duncan was startled.  No, she didn’t.  Why, has she asked you to?

   No.  At least not yet.  Though she’s told her steward that’s why she brought me here.  Helena Mind-shared the conversation she had witnessed between Ædwige and Martin Steward through her scrying goblet.

   That’s…very strange.  And no, she gave no hint of anything like that to me at all. Duncan felt a renewed twinge of concern. Be very careful.  And let me know what you discover when you can.

   I will, but that’s not likely to be before tomorrow night at bedtime.  Before that, I suppose both of us will be kept too busy to maintain the necessary focus.

   Duncan chuckled.  That’s quite all right.  Having your voice be the last thing in my mind before I fall asleep at night is hardly a hardship.  Though I suppose I’d better let you get your rest now, and I need to get caught up on my own.  I have an early morning tomorrow.  He stifled a yawn.  Oh, that’s right, I’ve not had a chance to tell you!  Alaric went to find the Earl of Danoc today to tell him our theory about the mortweed, but the Earl’s left Court already.  With the King’s and the Archbishop’s leave, I’ve offered to go to Danoc to apprise him of the details and see if the coroner there might consider looking into the matter again.

   You?  He sensed her startlement.  But…can they spare you?

   He grinned. I’m not quite that indispensable, love.  Kelson and Thomas can manage to get along without me here for a few days.  It’s hardly like they’ve never had to do so before.  Besides, weren’t you the one going on about me needing to take the occasional holiday?

   Her amusement flowed through their shared bond.  Duncan McLain, you have a very odd idea of ‘holidays’! A flood of affection, like a psychic caress.  Safe travels then, cariad.

   And you stay safe as well.  At least I'll be traveling with a hand-picked escort.  I wish I'd thought to send one or two of the Rhemuth squires or men-at-arms to Eddington with you rather than just sending you off with Lady Ædwige's retainers.

   That might have been a bit difficult to explain, mightn't it?  How would you have explained that to Ædwige?  "I don't trust your men to keep Sister Helena safe"?  A mental chuckle. Stop worrying like an old woman; I'll be fine!  By the time you reach Danoc, I'll already be on my way back to Rhemuth.

   He smiled.  I suppose you're right, heart.  Sleep well.

   You too.   

   The link went quiet, though at the edge of his awareness he could still feel the connection between them, silently comforting.  He closed his eyes, allowing himself to drift into slumber.  His last conscious thought before falling asleep was that at least in Danoc, he’d be closer to Eddington Manor.  Hopefully Helena would have no need for him—with any luck, she might even return to Rhemuth before he did—but if she were to encounter any threat to her safety while in Eddington, he could get to her much sooner.  Perhaps he was worrying overmuch about that possibility, but deep down, something in his gut warned him that he couldn’t be too cautious.  What had prompted that instinct, he didn’t know, but years of life experience had taught him that he should do his best to heed it.

#

   Eddington Manor
   November 4, 1136—morning


   Helena had risen and dressed early, expecting to be summoned by Ædwige to join her in inspecting Sir Gilrae’s body shortly before his mother’s funeral Mass, but to her surprise, no such summons came.  Instead, a tiring maid arrived to tell her that the family and friends gathered for Lady Catherine’s funeral were invited to break their night’s fast in the Hall downstairs in half an hour’s time.  

   “Is your mistress already in the Hall?” Helena asked, her voice casual.

   “No, m’lady,” the young maid answered.  “Lady Ædwige is still abed, or leastways she still was a few minutes ago when Mistress Nell had me put Boots th’ kitten outside ta tend ta his business, if ye mind my meanin’.  Mistress Nell says no one is ta disturb th’ Lady until ‘tis time ta dress f’r th’ funeral.”

   Interesting.
 “All right.  Thank you.”  Helena washed her face and hands and dried them on the towel the tiring maid offered her, pondering her words as she shrugged into her borrowed mourning gown.  The girl laced her into it and departed to assist other guests.  

   Why had Ædwige led her steward to think that she’d brought someone from the Schola to investigate her husband’s death, or at least his unusual state of preservation, if she didn’t mean to actually invite Helena to do so?  Was the story merely a ruse to throw him off track, and if so, why?  Helena didn’t like the answers that came to mind when she considered that question.  Ædwige was acting like a woman with something to hide, and if she were trying to hide it from her own steward, then this—coupled with the fact that she had purchased a poison earlier in the year which was the most likely explanation Helena could think of for Sir Gilrae’s current state—seemed to point strongly towards the young widow’s guilt.

#

   Saint Hilary's Basilica—Rector's study
   November 4, 1136—morning


   "Uncle Duncan?"  Briony Morgan stopped in the doorway of the rector's study, staring in surprise at the sight of her cousin the bishop dressed in a black quilted leather jerkin over equally dark tunic and trews rather than his customary cassock.  Only the ring on his finger belied his episcopal rank, although the quality and cut of his garments were those befitting a former Duke of the realm.   She found the effect a bit startling; she'd known her father's cousin all of her life, but somehow had never thought about him as…well, actually surprisingly handsome, for an older man at least.  Was that why some of the older Court ladies kept stealing covert glances at him when he visited the King's Court?  The unexpected realization was a trifle disconcerting.

   Duncan looked up from the document he was signing.  "Good morning, heart.  You just caught me in time; I was about to head over to the stables."  He put up pen and ink, setting the document aside for the ink to dry.  "Did you need to speak to me about something in particular, or were you just dropping in for a visit?"

   She blushed.  "Well…I was wondering about something, but I suppose it can wait.  Where are you off to?  Is there a hunt today?"

   He chuckled.  "Don't I wish!  No, I'm afraid I have some business that's come up in Danoc, so I'm heading down there for a few days."  A sudden thought occurred to him, and he frowned at her in consideration.  "On second thought, close the door, sweeting.  I just realized you might have some information that I need."

   Briony looked puzzled, although she quickly complied.  "What sort of information?" she asked him once the door was closed.

   "I need to know everything you can tell me about Lady Ædwige of Eddington…."

#

   Eddington Manor
   November 4, 1136—morning


   Ædwige tapped her foot impatiently on the stone floor of the chapel, looking as if she thought the Requiem Mass would never end, but at last it did, and the cross-bearer led the processional forth from the chapel towards the nearby Eddington family burial vault.  At the end of the winding path, the small mausoleum stood, doors unlocked and open in anticipation of receiving Lady Catherine’s mortal remains.  The pallbearers carried the dowager’s coffin into the tiny enclosed area, which was only barely spacious enough to contain the clergy and the deceased’s relations, although these moved to either side to allow those gathered just outside the entrance to witness the final portion of the ceremonial rites.

   Helena watched as the coffin was laid to rest upon a low dais in the center of the small chamber, the pallbearers exiting afterward to allow more room for the priest to finish the funerary service with his final prayers for the dead.   It was clear that there was only room for one Eddington family member at a time to lie in this ground-level portion of the family tomb, but as the clergy and family filed back out of the mausoleum after the final prayer, Helena caught a quick glimpse of the doorway which must surely lead downstairs to the crypt containing the remains of Sir Gilrae and his Eddington ancestors.  This entryway appeared to be without any built in lock, although as the last of the family emerged from the vault and the doors were closed on Lady Catherine's coffin, the household's steward secured the outer entrance with a thick chain and large padlock.

   It was evident that she would be unable to get a closer look at Sir Gilrae's remains under these circumstances.  Perhaps later, once the well-wishers had dispersed and the family's focus was elsewhere, Helena might find some pretext for exploring the grounds, though even if she did so, she still had no idea how a visit to the underground crypt might be managed.  Perhaps in the dead of night?  The magistra suppressed a shudder at the unappealing thought.  That might be possible, if it were to become absolutely necessary, but surely there had to be some other way of gathering the information she had come here to find!

#


   Saint Hilary's Basilica—Rector's study
   November 4, 1136—morning


   Briony stared at her priestly cousin, stunned.  "So, you believe that Ædwige did it?"  Her mind whirled at the thought, tried to scream denial, but at the same time she realized that the idea wasn't quite so far-fetched as she'd have liked.  It was no secret to her that Ædwige had not wanted to marry, nor did she grieve for the husband she'd had only briefly.  But was she actually capable of such a heartless act as cold-blooded murder?  Briony couldn't bear to think that she was, though sometimes the older girl could be a trifle self-centered.  Oh, she was good at doing and saying all the right things to hide it, but sometimes Briony had overheard Ædwige making comments that had made her wince a bit, especially to Cass.  She had no idea what the older girl had against Cass Draper; Briony only knew the draper’s daughter a little bit, but she seemed like a rather nice sort girl from what Briony could tell.

   Then again, she’d once thought Ædwige rather nice too, or at least mostly so.  Even now, she still couldn’t fathom the other girl doing anything truly wrong, at least nothing as evil as what Uncle Duncan was concerned about now.  “But are you sure?  Maybe someone else at Eddington wanted Sir Gilrae dead, and now Ædwige is just under suspicion because she never wanted to marry him in the first place.  But that doesn’t mean she did it!”

   Duncan nodded.  “I know, poppet.  And no, I’m not sure of anything at this point, but there’s enough reason to at least suspect that Sir Gilrae’s death is no accident that the evidence needs to be brought to the Earl of Danoc’s consideration.  So that’s why I need to know, if there’s anything the Lady Ædwige might have said or done that might shed more light on this matter, would you please bring it to my attention?  Or if I’m away, let your father know; he’s aware of the situation.”

   “I can’t think of anything in particular, but if something comes to mind, I’ll let you know,” Briony promised.

   Duncan picked up the small bundles he’d packed for his trip, giving them a final inspection to ensure they’d fit into his saddlebags.  “You said earlier that you were wondering about something?”

   Briony had nearly forgotten what she’d come to her cousin’s study to ask, but his words brought the memory back to the forefront of her mind again.  “Oh, it’s nothing!  I was just curious….”  She shrugged.  “I haven’t seen Father Nivard around in a couple of weeks.  Did he…has he been investigated yet?”  She blushed.  “It’s probably none of my business, and if it’s not, just tell me, but I was just wondering how that turned out.”

   Duncan studied his young cousin for a long moment before answering.  “He’s been investigated and found innocent of the charges.  His answers passed three different Truth-Readers, including one from a Deryni with no prior relationship with him.”

   Briony paled.  “Really?  But…how?!  I mean….”  She thought back to her encounter with the distraught young widow who had confided Father Nivard’s despicable actions towards her.  But if he’d been questioned about the incident and had passed a Truth-Reading….  What exactly had happened between Father Nivard and Ædwige that could have caused the young woman to react the way she had when Briony had run into her that morning?  And why, if Father Nivard was innocent, hadn’t he been sent back to his regular duties?

   “So…where is he now?”

   Duncan half-sat on the edge of his desk as he regarded her steadily.  At last he decided to entrust her with the truth.  “We have reason to believe you were deliberately misled into believing the accusations against him because his accuser hoped to cause trouble for him.  Why she felt angry or upset enough with him to do so is still unclear, but during the course of the inquiry, we were able to determine with certainty that her actions had nothing to do with any improper behavior on Father Nivard’s part.  He has some idea why she might be that upset with him, but unfortunately he’s not free to disclose that information.  At any rate, since his accuser has tried to malign his character once, there was concern that she might attempt to do so again if he returns too soon, so he’s been reassigned for the time being.”

   “I….”  Briony absorbed this new shock.  “Are you saying…she used me to try to hurt Father Nivard?  And that he was completely innocent?”

   Duncan nodded.  “I’m afraid so, poppet.”

   Tears welled in the girl’s eyes.  “I know it’s behavior completely unbecoming a Duke’s daughter,” she confided, “but would it be all right, just once, if I slap the snot out of her?”

   The bishop chuckled.  “I’m afraid I can’t condone that, sweeting.  Besides, if you did so, she might realize her secret has been found out.  One of them anyway.  And I’m not sure yet if that would be to John’s advantage or not.  But if you wish to make amends for your part in Father John’s current situation, it would really help if you could tell me who made the original accusation against him.”  He straightened, drawing the girl into a comforting hug.

   She sniffled once, blinking back her tears and recovering her composure.  “It was Ædwige.”

   “Was it now?”  Yes, now that Duncan weighed this new piece of information in his mind, suddenly the accusation made more sense.  Briony also seemed to come to the same conclusion, for she drew back from him after a moment, giving him an earnest look.

   “The ‘something awful’ that Father John wanted her to do that day that she wanted to get him in trouble for…he asked her to turn herself in, didn’t he?  She confessed to…to killing her husband, or at least to knowing something about it…and he told her she had to tell her liege lord or someone, and she got angry and spiteful.  Is that it?”

   Duncan gave a neutral shrug.  “Sweeting, I really can’t say.  Not only was I not privy to whatever Father John told Lady Ædwige that day, but if it happened in the context of a Confession, I really ought not even speculate.  But that does seem to be at least one possible interpretation, though there could well be some other reason she chose to do what she did.”  He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder.  “I know you want answers, Briony; we all do.  But for now, leave the matter be, and whatever you do, don’t ask her directly!  If my suspicions are correct, you’d be safest giving her a wide berth if you can, and if you can’t, at least say and do nothing that will let her know that anyone suspects anything about her.  Can you do that?”

   Briony nodded, her face set and determined.  “I shall have to, shan’t I?  Don’t worry,” she said, her voice slightly bitter.  “I won’t say or do anything to let on that we aren’t still anything except very dear friends.”  She gave him a grim smile.  “She says I’m her very best friend in the whole wide world, but if she could betray my trust as she did about Father Nivard, then I don’t think she’s very clear on the concept.”

#

   Eddington Manor
   November 4, 1136—afternoon


   Ædwige gave a relieved sigh as the last of her house guests tendered their farewells and left.  None had been particular friends of hers—they had mainly been contemporaries of her late mother-in-law or of her late husband—and she was glad to be rid of the necessity of having to make polite courtesies to people she hardly knew and hoped never to see again.

   That was, of course, excepting Sister Helena.  She turned a weary smile to her chaperone once the final guest had departed.  “I have a touch of the headache, I’m afraid.  I think I shall go up to my chamber and rest a bit.  Would you like to come join me?”  Ædwige picked up her kitten, cradling Boots against her cheek to feel him purr.  Martin had seemed rather shocked to see her bring him to the funeral Mass—judging by the sour look on his face, perhaps he thought it was inappropriate for her to carry a cat into chapel or to the tomb afterward, but she hardly cared.  After all, no one had bothered to ask her how she felt about any of this nuisance, being dragged off from her friends at Schola to attend some dreary old entombment of an old crone she’d hardly known.  She deserved some consolation for her troubles, didn’t she?

#

   Helena’s heart leaped at the offer.  Here was the perfect opportunity to gain access to Ædwige’s private chambers.  She had tried, shortly after their arrival at the Eddington the previous day, to open up her psychic senses briefly in hopes of picking up on any lingering resonances she could detect in the manor house, but although she had been bombarded with a great many flashes of various events that had occurred in the more public areas of the home that she’d been allowed into thus far, some more emotionally-charged than others, so far she’d not detected anything that appeared to have a direct bearing on Sir Gilrae and his death.  She’d learned that he had spent most of his final months of life within the confines of his private chambers, venturing from those walls only for brief forays to the Hall or the garden, preferring the comfort of his bed over a bench or chair.  Even brief walks had grown tiring for him towards the end of his life, although he had rallied enough on a few occasions to venture outside the manor into the village beyond, and earlier on had even managed to regain enough energy for an overnight visit to Concaradine with his young bride.  But whether his decline had eventually led him to a natural death or whether he’d been helped on his way to it was something she had not managed to determine as of yet.

   But might there be something, some remaining trace of psychic trauma remaining in those private chambers where Sir Gilrae had spent his final days of life, which Helena might be able to detect if only she could gain access to that inner sanctum?  She didn’t know, but this might well be her only opportunity to find out.

   “I think I shall, if I may,” Helena answered her hostess.  “I’m feeling a little tired myself.”  The statement was entirely true, if not the actual cause for her desire to follow Ædwige to her private apartment.  She was weary; her constant need for vigilance was proving to be physically as well as mentally exhausting.  Thank Jesú she and her young student would be returning to Rhemuth soon, but in the meantime, she needed to focus her flagging energies on doing what she could towards discovering what she’d come here to find.

#

   Ædwige stripped off her dark veil and wimple, tossing both to one side as she rubbed at her aching brow.  Boots, allowed free rein in his mistress's bedchamber, scampered after both, batting at the folds of fabric dangling over table's edge.

   "I could ease your headache, if you'd like," Sister Helena said as she, too, made herself more comfortable in the privacy of the chamber.  "Or would you prefer for me to call one of your chambermaids to fetch you some feverfew, or perhaps a lemon balm and lavender tisane?"

   The young widow waved her hand towards a small cabinet.  "Oh, no need,  I've got a tincture of the sort made up already.  If you could just fetch me the violet bottle, please, that should help."  She frowned slightly.  "At least I think it still ought to be good.  I made it fairly late in the summer, around August I think.  Or was it the end of July?"

   Helena opened the bottle, immediately spotting a small violet glass bottle in the shallow rack within.  She started to reach for it, when her attention was caught by another bottle in the small collection contained in the cabinet.  "Which bottle did you say, Ædwige?" Helena asked, stalling for time as she cautiously relaxed her shields just a small bit and allowed a fingertip to brush against the familiar-looking vial.

   "Violet.  Like lavender," Ædwige repeated.  Helena barely heard the words as she stood rooted in place for a moment, absorbing the sudden influx of resonances emanating from the green bottle she'd just touched.  She unfroze, reaching a tentative hand towards the small violet bottle.  To her relief, this contact felt benign.  She withdrew the vial, leaving the cabinet doors slightly ajar as she returned to Ædwige's bedside with the headache remedy, uncorking it as she crossed the narrow space between them and taking a cautious sniff of its contents.  "Ah, I recognize this; lavender, lemon balm, and skullcap, isn't it?  And you say you macerated it just this summer?  Yes, it should still be good, and Sister Therese will be quite pleased to know you've learned your lessons on simples so thoroughly."  The magistra smiled as she handed her pupil the headache medicine, her shields firmly in place once more.  "Why don't you lie back and have a rest?  I'll fetch a spoon for you to measure your dose in, if you'll tell me where to find one."

#

   The tincture was swift to do its work, the herbal ingredients quickly beginning to alleviate the young woman's discomfort while also lulling her into drowsiness.  Helena offered to use a sleep spell to help Ædwige fall into slumber, but even though the offer was refused, such efforts turned out to be unnecessary as Ædwige drifted off to sleep mere minutes later.  Helena waited another couple of minutes before rising quietly, using her powers on her unguarded companion to ensure her continued deep sleep before she crossed the chamber to inspect the contents of the cabinet again.

   Yes, there it was—the green bottle Helena remembered purchasing from the apothecary shop the previous winter.  Of the black bottle Helena had purchased along with it, there was no sign, but then that was hardly a surprise.  The black bottle had contained the mortweed poison meant for killing rats, and would hardly be contained in the same cabinet where the lady of the house would store her medicinals, if she had any sense about her, and Ædwige was no dullard.  The green bottle, Helena remembered, had originally contained a heart cordial.  But did it still?   

   She picked up the green bottle, closing her eyes and dropping her shields as she did so.  Fortunately she had already touched it once, and therefore had some inkling of what to expect, for otherwise she might have had difficulty in suppressing her reactions to the alien memories flooding her mind.

   Pain.  Pressure in the man's chest…oh, where was that damned cordial?  Yes, there it was, that welcome relief to be found in the green glass bottle, the color of life.  Life he knew he had very little of, yet hopefully enough life yet to sire an heir.  An heir for Eddington at last.  Not that his brother was lacking in any way as an heir, but Robert had sired only daughters, and he'd always longed for an heir from his own loins at any rate.  Selfish of him, perhaps, but what other legacy could he leave in this life for others to remember that he'd once existed?  Moira had tried, bless her, but she'd died in her first effort, and Delicia had given him five children, but none had survived to see a fifth birthday and she'd died of the feverflux while bearing yet another.  And now there was pretty little Ædwige, a willful little lass to be sure, yet his last hope and comfort in his declining days.  Her monthly flow was late—he'd made it his business to keep track of such things—and  he hoped she was already bearing the son he longed for.  A Deryni son at that.  Such a lad could keep Eddington well, would also be an asset to his liegelord and friend the Earl of Danoc in years to come.  Or to Aubrey's heir, at any rate, for while Aubrey still enjoyed good health, he was getting no younger either.  But a Deryni knight in some future Earl of Danoc's service, or possibly someday even in the King's service, in these changing times  when a man with such gifts could be recognized an asset to the Kingdom and rise far in his fortunes—now that would be a legacy a man could die proud of.

   She brought him the cordial now, carefully measuring out the dosage in the silver spoon she kept on hand for the purpose before handing him the uncorked bottle to hold.  He opened his mouth, welcoming the relief sure to come, for his cordial was swift to act.  She smiled as she gave it to him, his benevolent angel of mercy.  He knew she'd been unhappy, poor tyke, when she was first given to him to wed and bed, but now he fancied that she might at last be warming to him.  Certainly her beautiful blue eyes seemed to bear him no anger now as she gave him the comfort of his cordial.

   He swallowed, frowning slightly as he did so.  There was an odd aftertaste to his medication, an unfamiliar bitterness masked at first by the usual strong flavor of the cordial, but detectable after the liquid trickled down his throat and he inhaled again.  It was only a slight taint, though.  Perhaps the cordial was simply beginning to turn?  The bottle was nearly empty now, after all.  Yes, that must be why; it was simply old.  He ought to have Ædwige order more from Rhemuth before he ran out of his supply completely.  It wouldn't do to run out.  Nothing else brought him relief as quickly as did this fine cordial.

   The pain and pressure in his chest began to subside, but even as it did, a new sensation began to spread through him, a curious cold numbness quite unlike anything he'd experienced before.  He drew a breath and then another, then found that his ability to draw a third had become paralyzed.  He raised uncomprehending eyes to his wife as she gently withdrew the bottle from his slackening hand and recorked it, returning it to its place in the small cabinet at the other end of the chamber.  He tried to speak, but could not.  After another moment, his staring eyes ceased to see.  

   He felt her return, felt her hand push him back down onto his pillow, although by that time his mind did not fully comprehend that final sensation.  And then he felt nothing more.

   Helena placed the bottle in its usual place in the cupboard, her hands shaking.  Had Ædwige deliberately poisoned her husband, or had he simply had an adverse reaction to his cordial?  Or had someone else's hand put mortweed in his cordial, and his wife gave it to him all unknowing?  Helena kept her shields lowered a few moments longer, hoping some hint to the answers to these important questions might come to her, but she could detect nothing.  She touched the bottle once more, trying to divine what hand had adulterated its contents, if anyone had, but no obliging flash of memory came to her.  Was there any way she could bring back a sample of the bottle's contents for Sister Therese or Master Janos to test?  She briefly considered concealing the bottle in her pouch and taking it back to Rhemuth with her, but no, Ædwige was likely to notice the familiar bottle's absence the next time she had cause to look in the cabinet.  Helena couldn't take that risk.  She would have to be content with sharing Sir Gilrae's final memories with Duncan and whomever else he deemed it necessary to inform of what she had learned.  Surely that would suffice for a coroner to order a new investigation into his death?

   Helena started to close the cabinet again, but no, when Ædwige had fallen asleep, the cabinet had still been open, so if she were to awaken and find it closed, she might wonder why Helena had tampered with it.   It would be best just to leave everything as it was when Ædwige had last seen it.  She felt a sudden wave of fatigue sweep over her, compounding the tiredness she'd felt earlier.  Did she dare return to the safety of her guest chamber to sleep, or should she remain here until her hostess awoke?  Yes, Ædwige might wonder why she'd felt the need to leave and sleep elsewhere when she'd been allowed the privilege of joining her in a more comfortably appointed chamber and bed, and Helena didn't wish to do anything that might awaken Ædwige's suspicions.  On the other hand, shielded or not, would she be able to sleep on the same bed where Sir Gilrae had met such a death?

   Helena chose the window seat instead, leaning her head on a cushion against the wall, half seated and half reclining.  It mattered not, in the end, for even in such a position she fell asleep in a matter of minutes.

#

   They both woke to the sound of glass shattering on the hard floor.  Helena’s eyes flew open, and she tried to get her bearings as Ædwige sat up in her bed.  

   “Boots, no!” the younger woman cried out, leaping from the bed and dashing across the room.  Helena sat up straighter, peering from the window embrasure to see what had happened.  Several small bottles lay on the table where the medicinal cabinet rested, knocked from their shelves, and two bottles had rolled off the edge of the table, falling to the floor.  It was one of these that had shattered, its dark, syrupy contents slowly spreading over the floor.

   Ædwige’s kitten happily licked at the tasty liquid, to his mistress’s horror.

   “Oh, Bootsy!  Naughty kitty!”  The young woman was at the creature’s side now, scooping him up from the dark puddle.  “That’s nasty, Bootsy; here, drink some water to wash it out!”  She brought him to her ewer and basin, hastily scooping up a handful of water, trying to coax him into swallowing it.  When that failed, she rammed a finger down his throat, but he convulsed once and then lay limp in her hand.

   Helena watched, knowing that any number of potions could have that sort of effect on a poor, hapless kitten who chanced to imbibe them.  The mixtures and dosages were designed for human use, after all, not for cats.  But she cast a quick glance back at the shattered glass littering the floor.

   It was green.  And when she looked back up at the bottles remaining in and under the open cabinet, the one that had contained Sir Gilrae’s heart cordial was nowhere to be found.
   


Chapter Nineteen:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=846.0
« Last Edit: March 16, 2012, 09:37:19 am by Evie »
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Offline Jerusha

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2012, 12:15:52 pm »
It didn't take Briony very long to put two and two together; though "would it be all right, just once, if I slap the snot out of her?” was not quite the lady-like response I was expecting!  I wonder if that came from her father's or her mother's side of the family.   ;D

Poor Bootsy - I had a feeling that was coming.  *Sniff*
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Offline Evie

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2012, 12:52:06 pm »
It didn't take Briony very long to put two and two together; though "would it be all right, just once, if I slap the snot out of her?” was not quite the lady-like response I was expecting!  I wonder if that came from her father's or her mother's side of the family.   ;D

LOL! The answer to that question is probably "Yes, both"!   :D  Duchess Richenda "if you don't pay proper attention to me, husband, I'll yank the exchequer tablecloth out from under all your hard work" de Morgan is hardly a role model for meek, mild-mannered, demure maidenhood, after all.  ;D  And as for Alaric, he's a man of action.  If Briony grows up emulating him, she'd be more likely to slap first and then ask any permission for it as pure afterthought, I would imagine.  Or worse, "Uncle Duncan, forgive me--or not, as you choose--for I'm about to smack that manipulative little snitch halfway across Christendom!  Feel free to watch, though, and I'd welcome any critiques on my batting technique...."  ;) 

No, seriously, Briony might be a gently raised Duke's daughter brought up to act with proper decorum at all times, or in the public eye at the very least, but she is a normal thirteen-year-old as well, and ticked-off teenaged girls are a feral lot....   ;D

Quote
Poor Bootsy - I had a feeling that was coming.  *Sniff*

Yes, even the innocent must suffer sometimes, especially with people like Ædwige tending to leave a lot of collateral damage in their wake.  Though at least it happened very quickly in Bootsy's case. 
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Offline Alkari

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2012, 03:49:43 pm »
Hmmm - looking a little darker.  But still, even though Aedwige had the classic "motive, means and opportunity", you'd have to say the actual "evidence" at present against her is still fairly circumstantial - some impressions of Helena's that are inconclusive, a smashed green bottle, a missing heart medicine bottle, and a dead kitten. Plus of course her accusations against Father Nivard and the questions now being asked about those, but again, it's still intelligent supposition, even though Briony has now admitted that Aedwige misled her.   I hope Helena gets to see Gilrae's body, because unless they can tie Aedwige down and truth-read her (now there's an enticing thought!!), they'll need a few more bits of the puzzle to make a proper case.   

And it would be nice to see Briony get the opportunity to kick Aedwige halfway across the kingdom, but alas, I fear that the Queen's sweet young lady in waiting is not going to be permitted that opportunity.  Such a shame ...  :D

Offline Evie

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2012, 03:56:27 pm »
Actually it's a missing rat poison bottle.  The green bottle is the heart medicine bottle, only it's had an extra ingredient slipped in at some point by some as yet unspecified person after the apothecary first mixed it.   :D

And as for Briony kicking Ædwige halfway across the kingdom, maybe that's how Gwynedd acquires the game of football?   ;)
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Offline derynifanatic64

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2012, 06:51:56 pm »
I just sent a message to the Gwynedd branch of PETA to investigate poor, innocent Bootsy's death.  They'll make sure to get justice for Bootsy.
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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2012, 09:51:14 pm »
No, seriously, Briony might be a gently raised Duke's daughter brought up to act with proper decorum at all times, or in the public eye at the very least, but she is a normal thirteen-year-old as well, and ticked-off teenaged girls are a feral lot....   ;D
Quote

As a former Middle School teacher, I can give that a hearty second. 

Offline Evie

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2012, 10:30:48 pm »
Yeah, I figured you might be able to relate.  ;D
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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2012, 12:59:13 am »
Hmmm - looking a little darker.  But still, even though Aedwige had the classic "motive, means and opportunity", you'd have to say the actual "evidence" at present against her is still fairly circumstantial - some impressions of Helena's that are inconclusive, a smashed green bottle, a missing heart medicine bottle, and a dead kitten. Plus of course her accusations against Father Nivard and the questions now being asked about those, but again, it's still intelligent supposition, even though Briony has now admitted that Aedwige misled her.   I hope Helena gets to see Gilrae's body, because unless they can tie Aedwige down and truth-read her (now there's an enticing thought!!), they'll need a few more bits of the puzzle to make a proper case.   

And it would be nice to see Briony get the opportunity to kick Aedwige halfway across the kingdom, but alas, I fear that the Queen's sweet young lady in waiting is not going to be permitted that opportunity.  Such a shame ...  :D

Poor Bootsy! Unlike poor Sir Gilrae, though, Aedwige will actually MOURN for the cat. Perhaps Helena should overhear the servants saying as much. After reading the impressions from the cordial bottle, Helena  will probably be all the more wary of Aedwige. I can't help but think Gilrae's servants are less than fond of Aedwige....

As for Briony, I'll bet she's her Father's daughter when it comes to butt-kicking, even if she does it in a more Lady-like manner.  ;D But you can't deceive the daughter of two high-octane Deryni lime Alaric and Richenda and expect to get away with it. Aedwige should be grateful not to have to deal with THEM, too!

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Offline Elkhound

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #9 on: March 10, 2012, 10:41:00 am »
Yeah, I figured you might be able to relate.  ;D

I can think of several of my thankfully-ex-pupils who would have pounded A. to a jelly for less.

Offline Elkhound

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2012, 07:53:35 pm »
I'm beginning to think that Boots was doomed anyway, even if he hadn't lapped up the poison.  As soon as he stopped being a cute little kitten and become a big old CAT, the first time he bit or scratched her or tore one of her gowns or had an accident on her carpet, she'd have gotten rid of him.

Offline AnnieUK

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #11 on: March 17, 2012, 05:17:18 pm »
Another echo of the "poor Bootsy" and agree that Helena needs something altogether more damning to incriminate your charming young character.

 

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