Eoin sat at a well-lit desk overlooking a sunny courtyard. A variety of apothecary materials, flasks, burners, droppers lay scattered across it’s polished surface. A mortar and pestle stood unused at the far end of the table.
Eoin faced into the sun-filled room, back resting against the table edge to push the tension from his spine. Henri sat at a smaller table occupied by food and a massive book. “This one is grape.” The portly man pointed at the fruit and made a sign after reading a page. Eoin fumbled through the motion, gritting his teeth. It didn’t feel natural to the pidgin language he had created with Egret Nest. “Better. What about this?” Henri held up a bone.
Eoin moved through the word and subsequent other anatomical terminology with more ease.
“You’re improving, Niloofar. It takes time to put together a language, but if you are skilled enough to work this pharmacy and read these manuals, you are intelligent enough to learn to speak with your hands.” Henri heaved himself from his stool and collected his belongings. “Your sons are picking up the language quickly with their teacher. Soon they will be able to help you if you need.” He smiled kindly. Eoin nodded back, exhausted. The Huguenot bustled around the room to collect his books and props.
They had taken to enjoying each other’s company in the afternoons when many of the staff left to the cool areas for rest. Eoin could write his communications with Henri and tended to work over a slate as they shared jasmine tea and small foodstuffs. Time had made them fast friends.
“You should probably head to Mirza. He will be preparing for tonight’s banquet,” Henri suggested over his shoulder as he left the room.
Eoin slumped against his workbench. How many banquets could the man possibly attend? Third in the last five days. Eoin silently groaned and pushed himself away from the table. Coming along with his words? Seriously? He had about twenty down in a language that required thousands. How would he ever be able to express himself adequately, and even at that, who of the staff and court would understand him waving his hands about?
He pulled a key from a floss thin strand of gold around his neck and unlocked the lock at his bracer. He went to the peg on his wall and grabbed his long-sleeve undershirt. The physician pulled his short-sleeved tunic off and exchanged it for the long-sleeves. Eoin sighed, the gossamer soft fabric settling against his skin. It made him warmer than he’d like, but it deterred the staff from accidentally bumping into him and dropping into the void uninvited.
Over the course of several dark evenings, he had shown Mirza the horror the Daleroch had instigated against his clan. In time, he showed the depraved depths of the slaving raid, of his own act of murder. He revealed his fear of being touched and found out for his talent. To still Eoin’s terror, Mirza issued a decree to the palace that no one was to touch him under pain of death, but the Fyskar decided to be more proactive in his actions.
Eoin pulled his short tunic back on over the long-sleeves and slipped on thin leather gloves. He fumbled his gold chain before pushing the lock closed. It reminded the people of the palace that he was the property of the prince and caretaker of one of the king’s young sons. To interfere with the physician was a reprehensible act against not only the princes but also the king.
He dropped the necklace back over his head and tucked it under his torc and shirts. Last he pushed his minor poisons and antidotes kit into a pouch at his hip. Eoin sucked in a deep breath and left the room, winding the stupidly long chain around his right bracer to keep from tripping on it.
As he eased out of his room and down the hall, he passed by a pair of people speaking in hushed whispers in an alcove. The physician tip-toed his way quickly to the prince’s chamber. A guard at the door knocked for him.
“Come in,” the prince issued the command. It had been almost a year of study for Eoin to gain a solid grasp on simple conversation in the prince’s native tongue. Henri had been a good friend and a dear help in his studies.
Eoin strode into the chamber, head held high. He glanced at the guard dismissively and bowed generously to the prince before walking to his side.
“Good evening, physician,” the giant greeted amiably.
Good evening, prince, he returned.
“Shall we?” Mirza gained his feet. Eoin bowed once more.
The physician, once the guard had fallen far enough behind for their privacy, slipped his hand up to the back of the prince’s neck. The prince had established a consistent pain in his neck that Eoin was watching, which provided him with the delicate form of communication when discretion was necessary.
“I heard a pair talking on my way here. Don’t eat the fruit. It’s been poisoned,” Eoin whispered into the prince’s mind.
“Do you know with what?” Mirza’s pace faltered a beat.
“I think so. I want to say he called the plant Bladvna in your language. I am familiar with it as Atropa Belladonna. I have a distillation in my pack that will counteract it, though it is about as poisonous. I will pass out. Do not let them bury me until I have started to decompose. With luck, I may revive in a few days’ time,” Eoin answered the prince.
“Is it fast-acting?” Mirza quickened his pace.
“Depends on the concentration and dosage. It will cause heart problems, sweating, light sensitivity, impaired memory, vertigo, potential death.” Eoin matched Mirza’s stride with ease.
“And you are sure you have an antidote?” the prince asked once again.
“I do. I’ve been taking small dosages of the poison for a year now for a situation like this. I won’t die, most likely. I’d really rather you didn’t eat it.” He put his foot down. The giant might have the size to deal with the dosage, reason he was more likely to be used to test the foods, but lethal was still lethal.
“Would you eat an unknown dose of it, little White Bird?” The men drew close to the dining area, stepping behind a massive support pillar outside of the ornate doors for a private conversation.
“I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I eat it, you make sure I get the blue bottle in my pouch and down it all or else you may have a dead physician. Have a servant on hand to clean up. The physical reaction will be distasteful. I might die from the distillation, but I’d rather not die from belladonna,” he commanded.
“As you instruct, physician.” The prince straightened himself and approached the series of doors that would lead them into the banquet. Eoin pulled his glove back and returned to a diminutive step behind the man.
They made their way through the halls to one of the rooms that led to the throne room. Tables had been lavishly spread with a variety of dishes, large platters of meat, and desserts. The room was practically filled to bursting with people. All were waiting on the royal family to greet them.
The prince motioned for a guard to come over and take a message. He whispered a command to the man who dashed out of the hall quickly. Mirza turned to the expectant hall of diplomats and merchants who were growing ravenous under the smells that flooded the area.
“My father and brothers will be a moment late. They have sent me in their stead as they prepare their entrance. They have been looking forward to this evening. His Highness is thrilled to have you join him with this banquet. Thank you for your contributions. The lamb looks delicious as always, Dilshad.” He smiled to a small man who returned a deep, pleased bow.
“May I especially thank those of you who have brought in the fruit from the coast?” he asked. “I was not here for the delivery. I am sorry. If you would?” he asked the chamber. A pair of men emerged, thrilled to be singled out. They stared eagerly as Mirza fingered a grape. He plucked one with a light wash of white yeast atop it. He turned to Eoin and offered the grape to him. Eoin received it with a theatrical show of gratitude, trying to make it appear that the prince was extending a great honour to him. He hated this part.
Every time someone of economic importance decided that poison was a fantastic way to kill off the royal family, it was turned over to Eoin or his prince to be the testers. These were the circumstances when it would be otherwise rude to have the poison testers in the room – diplomats with too high of a rank or merchants with too much money who would feel distrusted.
Eoin took in a deep breath. No going back now. He steadied his nerves and downed the atrociously sweet grape. The room quieted. His throat ran dry. He swallowed against it. The lingering insipid sweetness of belladonna coated his palette. The smell of sugar-coated every laboured breath. The world went kaleidoscopically coloured. Mirza warbled disproportionately. The two men twitched nervously.
“Is everything all right?” the prince turned to them with a toothy smile. They knew they were out. “Whatever is the matter?” Mirza pressed again as the floor shifted under Eoin.
The physician-turned-poison-tester took one subtle step away from the table. He was not keen to pull the cloth down over himself and several fully laden silver platters on his head. He had done that once and learned from the bruises after. Eoin sank to the ground, the chill of the tile pleasant against the obnoxious bursts of bright colour and dancing guards surrounding him. Closing his eyes against the dazzling confusion, he drifted to the sound of his prince issuing commands.
“You’ve killed Niloofar, the physician!” Incredulous, Mirza turned to regard his physician with theatrical horror and sorrow. “Guards!” Men in uniform rushed in to protect the prince and pounce on the two men responsible for the fruit.
The prince turned back to Eoin, crouching down as the guards stood around him. He pulled apart Eoin’s pack and found the blue vial his physician had spoken of. “It would be a shame here to lose my best physician, wouldn’t you say, Niloofar?” Mirza forced the man to consume the bottle as Eoin’s ears lost all sound and the chamber’s light dimmed.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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