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The Killing Season Chapter 5

Started by Evie, August 24, 2010, 08:26:44 PM

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Chapter Five

   July 12, 1132

   "Seisyll!" Sophie flung her arms around her husband's neck, clinging to him desperately for a few minutes before releasing him.  He kept his own arms loosely encircling her waist, noting the dark shadows under her eyes in a face still too pale for his liking, although she looked a little better now that she had that first time he'd seen her after Kelson had relaxed the quarantine and he'd been allowed a brief visit home.

   "How is he?"  Seisyll asked, glancing in the direction of his brother's small set of rooms.

   "Worse," Sophie told him, looking distressed.  "Jashana's having trouble keeping fluids down him."  She sighed.  "And he keeps asking for the wrong sorts of fluids!"

   Seisyll gave a reluctantly amused snort at that.  "I can imagine.  He's probably hoping that if he can get drunk, the fever-flux will somehow seem less unpleasant.  Or at least he won't remember it afterwards.  Typical Sextus thinking."  He brushed a strand of hair away from her face.  "The children?"

   A brief flash of pain in her green-gold eyes, quickly obscured by downcast lashes.  "Stefania and Jamyl are still up north with Javana, and so far have remained safe.  They have the fever-flux in the Kheldish Riding as well, but there seem to be fewer cases of it up there, at least in the high mountain areas."  She didn't mention their third child—the second son they had hoped to have, miscarried as a result of her own recent illness.  But she had other news.  "Stefan contacted me last night in a dream-vision.  He said that our stepmother succumbed to the fever-flux, and that he and Lisette have taken in our father's son as their own."

   Seisyll's dark brows rose.  "Alienora's son?  How old would he be now?"

   "Five.  Almost six.  And he's terrified of Deryni."

   "Lovely."  An ironic smile.  "Has he figured out what Stefan and Lisette are yet?"

   "Stefan says they think he doesn't know for sure yet, but that he's beginning to suspect something is different about them.  They're hoping they can shift his thinking before they let him in on the secret, so he won't be in a blind panic once he finds out.  Fortunately little Ranulf and Liesel haven't started using their own powers yet—at least not consciously—so hopefully Ollie will have a different perspective in a year or two."

   Seisyll looked dubious.  "His memories might need to be altered."

   Sophie frowned.  "Yes, but hopefully not."  It was a mild bone of contention between them.  Seisyll's ethical boundaries were more elastic than Sophie's, he had discovered over the years, and there were aspects of his job that bothered her more sensitive conscience.

   "Fortunately, that's their decision to make, and not ours," he reminded her, and she relaxed again in his arms.  

   "True."  She smiled up at him.  "Are you hungry?"

   "For food, no.  For you, always, unless you're too tired."  This time it was his turn to frown.  "Actually, on second thought, you look exhausted.  Why don't you go to bed, and I'll go tend to Sextus and give Jashana a rest."  She looked startled at first, then sheepishly grateful.  He chuckled.  "Yes, that's what I thought."  He kissed her brow.  "Go get a good night's sleep, sweeting.  I'll go see if I can get some broth into Sextus."  Seisyll gave his wife a mischievous grin.  "With just a hint of mental suggestion, maybe I can convince him it's Ballymar whisky."


   July 16
   Rhemuth Castle

   "My good man, would you happen to know what hour the bells just rang?"

   The guard thought for a moment as he regarded the stranger, trying to recall if they had just finished pealing five times or six.  He glanced up at the sky briefly to gauge how far the sun had traveled, and therefore didn't notice the other man approaching stealthily from behind him.  The second man grabbed him from behind, one strong hand going over his mouth to keep him from calling out, the other hand holding his head from behind.  The unseen attacker muttered a few low words in a strange tongue, and suddenly the guard grew still, eyes focused unseeingly at the man in front of him.

   "There, that's much better," said the man in front.  "Now, what entrance is this?"

   "'Tis the supply entrance to the passage leading to the Royal Kitchens, my lord," came the man's reply, sounding oddly flat.

   "Oh?  Very good!  And how many people are within at the moment?"

   "In the Kitchens?  I...don't know."

   "Rough guess, then."

   The guard continued to stare straight ahead.  "Ten, maybe fifteen."

   The two strangers looked at one another.  The one behind shook his head.  "Too many," he mouthed.

   "And when foodstuffs are brought around to this entrance," the man in front continued, "how  many of the cooks usually come out to inspect them and bring them in?"

   A slight pause.  "One...or two.  At times three."

   "Depends on how many are needed to carry the crates in?"


   The two strangers glanced at each other again.  This time the silent one gave a satisfied nod.

   "All right, here's what I want you to do.  When I count to three, you will go into the kitchen and tell those cooks that there is a cart of...of turnips waiting for them outside.  Afterwards, you will not remember this conversation or anything that has happened since I asked you the time; you will only remember speaking with the cart-driver.  You will realize, once you have done this task, that you have a pressing need to visit the garderobe, and so you will be away from your post for a few minutes."  He looked at the man holding the guard's head, who nodded agreement, adding a few embellishments of his own to the newly-created memory."

   The guard nodded blankly.

   "Good.  One...two...three."

   The guard turned on his heel, entering the kitchen door.  After several minutes, another man came out, his face flushed.

   "I didn't send for any damn turn--"  Again, this man was silenced by the stranger behind him, who spoke for the first time, though only in his companion's mind.

   Would you prefer for me to kill and dispose of him, and then assume his shape and do this myself, or would you prefer to just implant the suggestion in his mind?

   The other man mused. I think simply implanting the suggestion should work.  It will be less direct involvement for us should anything go wrong, and would eliminate the risk of his body being discovered before we're done.

   You're probably right. Give him the poison, then.

   The man in front of the cook placed a small vial of powder in his hand, closing the unresisting fingers around it.  "It's only saffron, my good man.  The finest imported saffron, freshly shipped from the East.  It will add more savor to the King's cuisine.  You must make certain it reaches the dishes meant for the King's Table.  Especially His Majesty's platter; I'm told saffron is most pleasing to his palate."

   The cook nodded, his eyes blank.

   "Good!  You will remember nothing of this conversation.  When I count to three, you will only remember...."  He stopped to consider something plausible, then remembered the pretext for luring the cook outside in the first place.  "You received a cart-load of turnips you hadn't sent for, and they were half spoiled, so you turned the carter away.  You will go inside, and begin to prepare the dishes for the High Table, or for His Majesty's private table, if he is dining in private tonight.  Do you understand?"

   "Yes, my Lord."

   The dark eyed man smiled in delight.  "Very well, then!  One...two...three...."


   "We're peeling turnips, then?" a young scullery boy asked tiredly.  His hands already ached from spending the past hour chopping and paring.

   "Nay, they were half spoiled.  And I never sent for the ruddy things anyway."  The cook bustled past him, sparing a glance at the boy's handwork.  "Dice those a bit smaller, would you?  They'll not have time to cook through, otherwise."

   The boy sighed, but did as ordered.  He risked a glance at another friend his age, who was standing by the meat spit, turning the handle to roast a brace of coneys.  Thankfully the meat was nearly done; his friend looked about ready to faint from the heat.

   The cook went over to inspect the coneys.  "Give those another five minutes, then take them off the spit and serve them on platters along with the frumenty.  Aedwige, how is the bread coming along?"

   "All done, cooling in the pantry."

   "Good.  Jemmy, are you done with that dicing yet?"

   The boy picked up the pace on his chopping.  "Almost done."

   Cook glanced at the spit again.  "Corbin, on second thought, I think the coneys are ready.  Prick that one on the near end and check the juices."

   "Yes, sir!"  The other boy gladly left off turning the spit and found a long-handled meat fork, piercing the hot flesh, which dripped clear liquid onto the fire beneath.  The drops sizzled.

   "Good.  Plate those."

   Corbin complied.  Jemmy finished the last of the vegetables and added them to the stewpot, then went to help his friend, ladling the frumenty onto the platters with the coneys and adding a bit of garnish to each one.  Behind them, Cook added a sprinkle of some powdery spice to each dish.

   "What's that, Cook?"  Jemmy asked, glancing curiously at the man.

   "Saffron," the man answered.

   Jemmy exchanged a puzzled glance with Corbin.  "But...saffron's yellow, sir!  Golden-yellow, almost orangish."

   The man simply shook his head, his eyes looking oddly glazed.  "Nay.  This be fine imported saffron, fresh shipped from the East."  He continued to sprinkle each dish with the cinnamon-colored powder.  

   "It's sort of a dark rusty orange," Corbin whispered.  "Maybe saffron looks different in the East?"

   Jemmy shook his head slowly, staring at the cook.  He touched the man's arm gingerly, ventured something he'd never risked trying before—not here, at any rate!--and then inhaled sharply.  "Corbin, I think someone's ensorcelled him!  Don't ask me how I know, but...this is the food meant for the King's Table, isn't it?"

   "Aye...."  Corbin stared at him.  "What's wrong, Jemmy?"  On the other side of the kitchen, Aedwige and the other kitchen staff were also ceasing their work, looking at the boy oddly.

   Jemmy stripped off his apron.  "I have to warn someone!  The King...or at least Prince Nigel...."  He paused briefly, looking daunted, then summoned up his courage, although his brown eyes were wide with trepidation.

   "But...."  Corbin stared uncertainly at Cook, who continued sprinkling the powder on the final platter as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening.  "We're not allowed up in the Royal Apartments!"

   Jemmy ran towards the Great Hall.  "If I get sacked, I get sacked," he called back over his shoulder, "but there's something wrong, and I have to try!"


   The King, Prince Nigel, and Duke Alaric stood around a small table in a withdrawing room, along with one of the Royal Physicians.  Before them stood a frightened boy in a stained work tunic.

   "It's poisonous, all right," the physician confirmed, showing the other three men the results of his testing—a dead mouse, blood bubbling at its mouth and nostrils.  The boy gulped.

   Three pairs of gray eyes swiveled to the lad.  "You did a fine job, son," Prince Nigel said approvingly.  "Keen eyes and swift thinking."  He sighed.  "Now to discover how this happened."

   The boy bit his lip, looking nervous.  "I think...that is, I took the liberty of touching Cook's mind just a little bit...I wouldn't normally, of course!...but the poison had to come from somewhere, and I think he might have been messed with.  His mind, that is...Something about it felt...wrong somehow.  And he was acting all queer and all!"

   Alaric Morgan nodded, looking grim.   As Prince Nigel turned to give a couple of guard captains their orders to secure the Castle and start searching for intruders and interviewing any unfamiliar persons found on the grounds, the King's Champion told the King, "I do believe I'd like a chat with Cook myself."

   The corners of Kelson's mouth turned up just slightly in a grim almost-smile as he studied the dead rodent.  "I believe I may be off saffron for life."  He turned to Alaric.  "Do you realize what day this is?"

   Morgan shook his head; nothing of significance was occurring to him.

   "It's the fourth anniversary of Liam-Lajos's Coronation, if I'm remembering correctly.  Not that I suspect him, of course, but as you'll recall, there's a loose thread or two left hanging...."   

   The light dawned, and the golden-haired head nodded.  "Poison would be Teymuraz's style, although...."  Something, he wasn't sure what, wasn't quite adding up.  Still, this could well have been done by an accomplice.

   "I'm even more interested in meeting Cook now."  He glanced down at Jemmy, giving the boy a reassuring smile.  "And under the circumstances, you did exactly the right thing."

   The King's full attention settled on the boy.  "Indeed."  The Haldane eyes studied the scullery lad curiously.  "Tell me—Jemmy, was it?"  The lad nodded, his brown eyes huge.  Kelson's smile, a more genuine one this time, grew.  "Are you wanting to be a cook yourself when you grow up?"

   Jemmy looked slightly confused.  "That's what I'm apprenticed for, Sire!"

   "Yes, I suppose it is."  Kelson chuckled quietly.  "But...you're Deryni, aren't you?"  It wasn't so much a question as a statement.

   The boy nodded, looking nervous again.  "Aye, m'lo...um...Your Majesty!"  He flushed crimson.

   Kelson nodded matter-of-factly.  "'My Lord' is technically correct for any man of noble rank; a safe enough bet if you're ever unsure of what title to use.  Tell me, Jemmy, have you any education? Aside from your apprenticeship, I mean?"

   Jemmy looked more baffled.  "I had a bit of dame school—learnt my letters and numbers, and a bit of reading.  A little writing too, but not much.  And sums."

   The King nodded.  "A decent enough start."  He glanced at Nigel.  "I'm very grateful to have had a Deryni in the Royal Kitchens today, but I'm thinking such valuable skills might be put to some more suitable occupation."  He looked back at the lad.  "If Jemmy is agreeable, that is.  Or is your heart set on becoming a cook, Jemmy?"

   "Is my...."  His eyes became huge as his mind finally comprehended the offer.  "Oh, no, Your Majesty!  I hate vegetables!"

   The men laughed.  

Chapter 6:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=541.0
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


Ah--a close call!

Isn't that something like the story of John Horner, who discovered something in a Christmas Pie that shouldn't be there?


Smart kid.  And good career move, it seems  :)    Don't think Cook's interrogation will be much fun for the poor man ...


Good lad, Jemmy.

Must admit the Arilan segment made me :D though.  Seisyll showing some self-restraint - never thought I'd see the day - and Sextus trying to get drunk to make the fever flux feel better made me LOL.


Yes - I liked the way Seisyll was going to try to convince Sextus that broth was Ballymar Whisky :)


Quote from: Alkari on August 24, 2010, 10:05:51 PM
Smart kid.  And good career move, it seems  :)    Don't think Cook's interrogation will be much fun for the poor man ...

Heh.  You don't know the half of it....   :D
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


Quote from: AnnieUK on August 25, 2010, 02:08:19 AM
Good lad, Jemmy.

Must admit the Arilan segment made me :D though.  Seisyll showing some self-restraint - never thought I'd see the day - and Sextus trying to get drunk to make the fever flux feel better made me LOL.

Yes, Seisyll's randy but not entirely stupid, and Sophie knows where the meat cleavers are kept.   ;)

And Sextus...is being Sextus, bless him.   :D
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!