| Amrel, having spent
the last couple of months visiting all the districts and corners of Beaucastel
had acquired a fairly precise idea of the outlay of the town. She had wandered
through all quarters and hidden corners of the city in the same guise on
purpose. The locals saw her coming out of her inn every morning, either
wearing a long robe over her boots, or a more practical attire of breeches,
shirt and jerkin depending upon the places she planned to scour on the
day. She was always alone and in full sight of the inhabitants who did
not know or even suspected that she was making use of her dragon abilities.
Many a time, some local petty criminals or worse had been tempted to see
this lone and seemingly rich woman as a potential prey. But a single thought
from the Blue Dragon was enough to discourage even the hardest bitten thug
to get near her person.
Her dragon’s senses or magic were sparingly put to use, as she did not want to provoke any awareness from the enemy the young dragons had been asked to ferret out. But as she learned more about her new home, she made sure that all people living in the capital remembered her. She knew agents from the Royal Palace regularly reported on her movements, and she was biding her time until she would confront the powers that be in Beaucastel.
Jay, as people officially called her for lack of a title she kept in reserve for the right moment, had built a reputation of a rich eccentric strong-willed character. The inn she stayed at was going through a gradual change under her influence. One day she invited Daville, the innkeeper of the Seven Dragons Tavern to her room for a very long talk. She had explained at length to the poor man the necessity of proper hygiene with extremely vivid images of what could befall his customers if food was prepared with dirty hands, if wastes were not speedily and appropriately dealt with, and the dire consequences to his business. Actually, the establishment was gaining a lot from her ministrations. A better and better class of customers began to patronize the tavern downstairs as well as the bedrooms. The whole place had been scrubbed spotless and Jay never missed a detail she was prompt to remark upon in her no nonsense voice that had all the servants scurry before the innkeeper could repeat her suggestions. A newcomer could have been forgiven for assuming she was the actual owner and boss of the house. On the other hand, she paid without any discussion any bill presented to her on a weekly basis. The great mystery of her money and great riches kept tongues and imaginations busy, as nobody had been able to find out where she had hidden or stashed them. Servants were allowed the free access of her room every day as soon as she left the inn after her morning meal until she came back for her dinner or supper. She ate in the downstairs dining room in front of everybody, although nobody had ventured as far as to share her company. Most customers gave her a courteous nod or saluted her and she answered the same in a deferential manner, whoever she happened to address. She was kind and patient with the innkeeper and his servants, although they knew a single mistake would not go unnoticed. She commanded respect, but she understood she would have to show other facets of her personality soon or later to encourage a different rapport with the inhabitants of Beaucastel.
One of her pleasures was to amble at leisure through the great square on market days on the second and sixth day of the week. On such occasions, the city welcomed all kinds of people from far and near selling their goods and produce at stalls lined up in neat rows all over the space available between the four lines of houses bordering City Square.
Today happened to be the sixth day, and the market had already become truly crowded and noisy. She walked straight to her favourite stand. Every week, a local lady was selling lace of an exquisite beauty and originality as well as linen of all kinds that Jay was particularly fond of, not only for their quality, but also for their usefulness. She had already recommended her to the innkeeper who had great needs of linen and towels and the like since Amrel had moved into his establishment. Her regular visits had helped establish a special relation between her and the dear lady. Therefore she felt deeply disappointed when she discovered the stall empty amid the bustling neighbouring businesses. She found herself assailed by a premonition. Inquiring at the other stands, she was answered that nobody had seen or heard of the lace maker that day. Worry gnawing at her, she then decided to go and check the lady at her home. She knew that the house where she lived with her whole family, servants and a couple of apprentices stood in a wide street parallel to the main street leading to City Square. She reached it in a couple of minutes.
The house was a large two-story affair standing isolated surrounded by two main thoroughfares and two narrower streets on one of the higher grounds of the city. The district was more residential and inhabited by comparatively well-off citizens. The lady’s business must have been striving unless her family had inherited the building long before she had moved in.
Although the area was a lot quieter than the center of town, she was struck by the eerie silence. No sound expected from a busy household was coming out. No smoke curled out of the chimney when people should have been cooking lunch inside. All the windows and doors seemed closed as if all the dwellers had left the place for good. She had passed the house the very day before and she remembered well the activity. Nobody could have left at such a short notice.
She reached the main door and knocked. No answer came. She knocked again more insistently but it was in vain. She called, but the only reply was still more silence. She tried to open the main door but it was locked fast as if it had been shut for the night. She walked a full circle around the house to check whether she could find any entrance open. To her dismay the side door and the kitchen door had been secured and all windows were all well above her head and closed anyway. Deep in her heart she was sure something was badly amiss, so without any further ado, she went back to the main entrance and put her hand on the hard wood. Not caring about the consequences of her acts, she pushed with a force unimaginable for a woman.
The door almost bent inwards but the lock was first to give way in a wood splitting crack as hinges were torn off the lintel and the door edge.
As soon as the door had opened, the smell that assailed her told her something terrible indeed had happened. The house was not only dark inside, but also hot as if it had not been opened since the night before on that very warm day. The smell was one of putrefaction and disease.
When she saw the servant sitting on the armchair in front of the fireplace, obviously the last one to stay up before going to bed, she realized with horror that the woman’s eyes and mouth were wide open in mute suffering. It was as if the pain had been sudden and excruciating at the moment of her death. The skin on her face was a sickly grey and a horrendous stench crept out of the gaping orifice of her mouth.
Plague! The Black Death!
No wonder no one had come out of the house!
But how could it have struck so swiftly and mercilessly?
The Blue Dragon, her guts wrenching more with the imagined suffering than the smell or dangers, she knew her magic would protect her from those, hurried upstairs to the family sleeping rooms. Every door she opened let her in to the same ghastly sight: the lace maker, her husband, her children, everybody had died almost simultaneously in identical fashion. Like the servant downstairs she only saw mouths and eyes wide open in a last and horrible realization of painful death crushing its helpless victims. Rushing back downstairs she visited every room. Everyone, adults, old and young, masters and servants had succumbed.
How could plague have struck a single household in the midst of a crowded city? And how could it have been so virulent as to kill almost instantly? Questions she would have to find answers to, but she had a more urgent task to take care of first. She had to take measures to protect the town.
She went out of the entrance door and looked around her to find anybody.
Please, somebody come quickly!
She could not leave the building alone and risk someone entering it to investigate. That person would certainly not be as lucky as she, having no dragon magic to protect him or her from the horrible fate lurking inside. Even worse, he or she would spread the disease and start a ravaging epidemic, probably killing the whole population of Beaucastel!
Her prayers seemed to have been heard as the noise and clangs of mounted soldiery came from her left. Soon enough, five members of the Royal Guards appeared around the neighbouring building. A Walkyrie, an officer obviously, leading four young Blue Knights on an apparent patrol.
-“Guards!” she screamed in such a voice that the riders had to check their horses.
An angry Walkyrie unlit from her horse and leading the beast by its rein came to stop in front of Amrel. The woman warrior looked impressive. Taller by one head than the young dragon whose human form was already quite of a size as far as women went in Beaucastel, she sported a long flame-coloured hair tied in the back by a leather band. Small rings decorated her ears. A sleeveless jacket showed muscular arms that would have put a lot of men to shame although her body was comparatively trim for all the apparent strength. Nonetheless, any onlooker could not have failed to see she was a woman through and through. Large breasts were aggressively bulging out of her tightly fit jacket. All the leather she wore accentuated her shape more than it concealed it. But the hardness of her face would have swiftly discouraged any lechery aimed at her. If that was not enough, the large sword at her side and a wicked double blade axe secured to her horse saddle surely made good enough deterrents. Amrel also noticed a large tattoo on her left shoulder depicting two roses, one red and one black for all to see.
-“Milady! Do you have to scream in such a way! A lady of your rank should know better than shout around horses without due reason!”
-“Apologies, Sergeant! But I’m afraid I had no choice!”
-“Well, you had better talk very fast! And how do you know I am a Sergeant! I’ve just come back from outpost duty and we have never met, have we?”
-“Good on you to realize that, because you shall need all your wits when you understand what has happened in beyond house!”
-“Mylady, do not patronize me and come to the point!” the Walkyrie retorted in a dangerously glacial tone.
Lowering her voice for only the two of them to hear, Amrel continued:
-“Sergeant, the plague has come to town! All the people living in that house have died last night! I can tell you because I have just been inside and I am schooled somewhat in the arts of medicine By the way, you had better keep a distance from me as I did come in contact with the victims inside, although I’m safe myself!”
The Walkyrie could not help talk a step back in horror.
-“That’s better! What’s your name, Walkyrie? Mine is Jay, short for Geraldine Blanchefleur?”
-“Birghit, Sergeant of the Royal Guards, Mylady!”
-“Right. Now listen to me well, Birghit! For the next couple of hours we shall have to work as a tight team if we want the city and its citizens spared from a horrible death. I shall give you instructions that are going to shock you. Can you promise me you will follow them, however inappropriate they might seem to you?”
-Yes, Mylady! I know my job and you seem to know yours! I shall not interfere. But do not count on me to keep my temper!”
-“That’s the least of my concerns. Actually, we shall probably need your temper, Birghit! First thing, you stay with me. I need authority to be seen at all times! Now would you send one of your guards to Geoffroy D’Arcourt, your Captain, to come here at his speediest with a squad of two hundred lancers! We have to surround this place and not let anybody come near!”
The Sergeant called one of the guards who hurried to her.
-“Gantry, go immediately to Captain Geoffroy D’Arcourt and ask him to bring a squad of two hundred lancers for an urgent matter of security!”
-“But, Sergeant, two hundred…”
-“Gantry, since when have you discussed orders? Do you want to be back on outpost duty before the day finishes? Now, shut your mouth and move!”
The guard did not tarry and heeled his mount. It seemed that Birghit rarely talked out of hand.
-“Good! Birghit, next you send one more guard to the inn where I stay. It is the Seven Dragons Tavern. Have him ask Daville, the innkeeper, to provide him with a full change of clothes for me, linen and boots included. Also order Daville to bring a tub full of hot water, plenty of soap, and towels right here, right now!”
The second guard left as soon as he received his orders.
-“Now ask your last two guards to find fuel, especially burning oil in quantities and a torch to be lit later! And now the two of us wait here. You had better ride your horse. You might need it to fend off onlookers!”
The first guard had been swift, as not a quarter of the clock had turned when Geoffroy d’Arcourt appeared on horse followed by the lancers running after him. Amrel had to concede that for all her misgivings about the City of Beaucastel, at least some people knew their work in the Royal Guard. No wonder it was considered as an elite, although she harboured reservations about their grand airs and pettiness. But the guards the Captain had brought had nothing pompous about them. They demonstrated their training and efficiency when they stopped in their tracks as a solid block behind Geoffroy when he reined his horse in front of Birghit.
A disgruntled Geoffroy saluted the Sergeant.
-“Sergeant Birghit! You haven’t come back from outpost duty I sent you to for the last time you overdid your job by uselessly breaking bones that you are already finding yourself in more trouble than you can cope with! I hope you have a good reason for rousing me from my duties!”
Amrel emerged from behind Birghit.
-”Hail, Geoffroy d’Arcourt! Sergeant Birghit was only following my orders!”
-“Jay! Good day to you! Sergeant Birghit obeyed your orders? I’m surely aware you are no usual lady but I have never heard of our officer accepting any orders but from her superiors. And there are not many of them!”
“Between you and me,” he added in a lower voice, ”I consider myself lucky when she obeys mine!”
Amrel put a restraining hand on the woman warrior’s tattooed shoulder before her temper took over.
-“Geoffroy, Birghit here had good reasons to follow my orders. Would you mind dismounting and joining us? What we have to tell you concerns only the three of us, at least for the moment!”
A puzzled Captain did exactly as she asked, gave the reins to the nearest lancer and followed the two women. When sufficiently away from the lancers’ hearing, Amrel explained again the dire peril they were facing to a grim Captain.
-“Lady Jay, my heartfelt thanks! The City of Beaucastel will never understand how much they owe you! Sergeant Birghit, my apologies! You acted perfectly! Alright, shall we move?”
Appreciating Geoffroy’s fast grasp of the situation and swiftness of decision, the Blue Dragon nonetheless halted him for one last word:
-“ Geoffroy, as I mentioned to Birghit some time ago, I shall behave in a manner somewhat shocking and quite inappropriate to your eyes or ethics. But there is a purpose to my actions. Whatever happens among the citizens of Beaucastel who shall come, and they are already doing so, the two of you must promise you will not interfere with me or with the onlookers and will also refrain from any comment or action. Just make sure the crowd does not penetrate the guards cordon but have a plain unobstructed view of all is going to happen!”
Geoffroy shook his head dubiously.
-“You are asking me a lot, Jay. Make sure you don’t start a riot! Come on, Sergeant!”
The two officers mounted their horses again and with crisp orders had all the lancers surrounding the plagued house in an impassable barrier of hard-looking soldiers lances at the ready.
Soon enough the news had spread and quite a sizeable crowd was gathering mainly in front of the house main door where Amrel was waiting for her requests.
The first to arrive was a winded out Daville and two of his servants carrying the change of clothes, towels and soap followed by more servants pulling a carted loaded with a large bathtub full of hot water. The Blue Dragon mused that had she not been such a bully at the Tavern, she would have never got that part of her ploy right.
She kept away from the newcomers when she asked them to leave the change of clothes and the bath on the ground before asking them to leave her alone inside the ring of guards. She made a point of not touching anything. A little later, Birghit’s guards came back with large bottles of burning oil and a torch. Like Daville and his servants, they left them on the ground before going back and join the other soldiers fending off the curious crowd.
Jay took the bottles of burning oil inside the house and liberally sprayed both floors and the beds where the victims lay. She left the vessels inside and went out again. The crowd was buzzing with curiosity that changed to gasps of surprise when she started undressing in front of the bathtub. As she evidently intended to continue until she got stark naked, comments of all kinds began to be heard. Some people, obviously of the male kind, cheered some encouragement. A few dirty remarks actually came up as a few frustrated scuffles started here and there when more onlookers tried to make their way to a better view. Another kind of argument erupted when some jealous wives began arguing with husbands and children. A few matrons went as far as come to the guards to ask for a stop to the show but they were welcomed with the butts of lances that indiscriminately kept the populace at bay. Geoffroy was getting nervous as the crowd started swelling to unmanageable proportions and felt very tempted to rebuff Amrel for provoking a riot. But he kept his peace, and like Birghit, stoically refused to look at what was occurring behind their backs.
Amrel, having completely undressed, entered the bath and proceeded to wash her body and hair thoroughly, generously soaping and scrubbing her body, leaving no part of her anatomy untouched. The catcalls, remarks and scuffles slowly subsided. People were becoming more and more puzzled by so much lathing and cleansing, unused as they were to such a chore. By the time she had finished, the crowd had almost grown completely silent in an obvious wonder about the whole affair. Amrel then proceeded to dry herself, and having thrown the towels on the pile of previously discarded clothes, she put on the new set brought by Daville.
-“Captain, could you be so kind as to ask one of your soldiers to hand me his lance?” she requested.
Geoffroy, averse as he was to give away a weapon, did not feel like questioning the eccentric lady’s last wish and provoke another wave of reactions from the on looking crowd, ordered the nearest guard to pass her his lance, butt first. Firmly holding the pike, she used the metal pointed tip to stab the discarded garments and towels and carry them to the house to throw them inside. When all the clothes had been safely stashed away, she also cast the lance inside the house as well.
People were struck by the grimness of her face when she came a last time to ask the captain for the torch to be lit. When the crowd finally understood Amrel’s purpose, a ripple of concern went through the spectators again.
Geoffroy’s stern orders resonated over the din.
-“Guards! At the ready! No one comes any nearer!”
The well-drilled soldiers straightened up, lances held upright in both hands, bent on repelling anyone silly enough to tempt their retaliation. Behind them flames began to emerge from the door and some windows blown out by the heat.
Amrel overturned the bathtub and stood up on top of it. The crowd felt compelled to look at her and listen to her strong voice over the sound of crackling burning wood.
-“Citizens of Beaucastel! What you are presently witnessing could have happened to any of you! This house and the people who used to live inside have been put to fire to stop any further catastrophe to happen or spread! Know that those citizens died overnight of the most fearsome dreadful decease! The plague! The Black Death! Had it not been discovered in time, all of you might have been dead by the day after tomorrow!”
She paused to let her last words sink in her listeners’ minds.
A more courageous individual took a chance to make himself heard:
-“How could that have happened?”
-“This disease was of your own making!”
-“Explain yourself, Lady! Do you mean somebody planted it amongst us?”
The conversation was taking a dangerous turn as voices of anguish rose from the crowd. Amrel pressed on:
-“Fools! Why do you think I went through that bath demonstration? Did you think that show was designed for your good pleasure? How many baths do you take in a year? Probably none for the most of you! Have you ever realized how much that city stinks? For people so proud of their grand capital, you strike me as slightly deranged! How can you live in that filth? I’m amazed at the number of you still alive! I should know! I’m a physician, not one of your charlatans calling themselves doctors and what else! You’d do well to lock those out of reach! Right now, I shall have a word with your King, and like it or not, things are going to change! While I do that, why don’t you go back to your homes and families and start smelling yourselves and each other? Why don’t you reflect on the future of your children in a place you have been so good at making that it has started killing its own citizens!”
A dread silence welcomed her last words. Here and there, fidgety men and women began to look at each other in dismay.
Geoffroy seized the moment:
-“You’ve heard the Lady! Now, move out, all of you! We have a task to finish! Guards, do your work!”
But the last orders proved to be unneeded, as the citizens of Beaucastel were already walking away, muttering and avoiding each other.
Geoffroy turned to Amrel.
-“Jay, all that talk was fine, but what are we going to do with that fire? Too many houses are standing too close for my comfort!”
-“Do not worry Captain! I also happen to know about pyrotechnics.” A grand lie, but she had no time or will to explain why she could contain a fire of such proportions. “There is no wind today and I devised the fire to burn inwards and upwards only.”
Before Geoffroy could retort, she ambled forward.
-“Captain, Sergeant, you had better come with me! I’m going to have a word with your King and Queen as I promised. You need not leave your whole guard around the house. But could you please organize the cleaning and burial, that is, if you find any bones left by the fire! You shall have plenty of time to join me again as I’m going on foot!”
Geoffroy and Birghit looked at each other, wondering why they suddenly found themselves at the beck and call of a newcomer they did not feel like disobeying.
Birghit shrugged her shoulders.
-“Captain, I think the Royal Couple are in for the worst ear-bashing of their lives. We’d better hurry up as we might be needed later to prevent another riot or two!”
Amrel had contacted Glamrun through mind speech as she walked towards the Royal palace.
“We have a problem in Beaucastel. I have just averted a catastrophe. Moreover, I had to lie through and through to convince the citizens were directly responsible for the outbreak of the plague. That means I will have to follow my act of cleaning this city out of their filthy habits. I will need help from my brothers and sister. The plague did not happen haphazardly. It had been planted in a very carefully chosen spot! Luckily enough, the deed backfired as it was too virulent a malady. It killed all the dwellers of the house before they could come in contact with the rest of the population. I shall have to find the abomination that perpetrated that evil and erase it from the surface of the earth! It killed my first human friends!”
In the unavoidable emptiness left by all the stress and spent energy fighting a dire peril, Amrel felt a loss in her heart where once a friendship for a lace maker had been budding. Life with humans decidedly was proving more complicated and heart-wrenching than a dragon’s. She came to understand some of her father’s doubts and reservations about living among the Races of Alymndes.
Glamrun interrupted her dark thoughts:
-“My heartfelt thanks, Amrel, for your concern and quick thinking! You are right, we shall need more interaction between all of us. It does not please me to reveal ourselves so early, but evidently the initiative has been taken from us!”
The Old dragon and the Wolf had travelled as far as halfway to Dunlago. The two of them were staying on a beach, basking in the sun and enjoying the view of the ocean.
-“You are right, Ancient One!” the Wolf said, “it might be a good idea if the six of you stayed in constant contact from now on!”
-“Father, would you mind telling your dear friend that I do not intend to share my private thoughts and moments as well!” a suddenly prim Amrel retorted.
-”Wise One, humans and dragons are not like wolves. They have privacy! Daughter, do not worry! I’m sure we can think of a way to stay in constant relation without having to delve into each other’s lives!”
The Wolf snorted her disgust.
-“But Wise One here is right,” he continued, “we shall have to work as a team from now on and coordinate our efforts.”
The Blue Dragon relented, ashamed of her tantrum.
-“Forgive my temper, Father. It will take some time before I get accustomed to those strange feelings that come with my human body. And tell Wise One I shall be glad and thankful for her counsel!”
-“Well, Wise One has her own character. May I remind you she is a female like you? You will probably have a better grasp of her thinking and acting than I do!”
-“Ancient One, am I right to think that you are reacting very much like a female by trying to have the last word?” retorted the Wolf.
Glamrun rolled his eyes and walked to the water in a sudden hurry to see if he could find some of those succulent shells he had recently developed a taste for.
As predicted, Geoffroy and Birghit and a small retinue of guards joined Amrel shortly before she reached the entrance to the Royal Palace. The guards there gave them a perfunctory look.
-“Security seems a bit lax here, don’t you think, Geoffroy?” Amrel asked.
-“Well, actually anybody is free to come in. At least in times of peace. If needed, the city is quite easy to seal closed and defend. The Palace is only the abode of our King and Queen and of the government after all. Privacy and security are insured at the doors of each official room and hall. To tell the truth, relations between the Royal Couple and the citizenry of Beaucastel have always been very informal. For all the pomposity of some of us, we would not allow a monarch to take himself too seriously. We have enough problems keeping the peace among our constantly feuding nobles!”
-“How is the King chosen?”
-“Purely on merit. And that is probably the only quality of our system of government. A long time ago, our dear lords, barons and all petty nobles came to an agreement that our King would be elected by representatives of all three classes, that is, the nobility, the merchants and the landfarmers. The King is chosen to reign as long as he wishes or until he is deemed incapable and subsequently forced to step down.”
-“Haven’t you ever had any king who tried his way into dictatorship?”
-“Yes, a couple of times, as far as I know, and they met with a violent demise by the hands of the Royal Guards!” Birghit somewhat fiercely interrupted.
-“How interesting! The Royal Guards seem to have a peculiar purpose, don’t they? Tell me, who then promotes your Captains, Sergeants and so on?”
-“The King does.”
-“I see. What happens when his choice is not popular?”
Both soldiers burst into laughter.
Geoffroy first recovered from his mirth and answered:
-“A lot of broken bones, I suppose!”
-“Strange notion. I’d love to know what happened when you were given your ranks.”
Both officers went into more laughter.
This time Birghit first got over her hilarity.
-“A lot of broken bones!”
Amrel could not help smiling.
-“Your doctors and physicians must have a lot of work, then!”
-“Oh no, we wouldn’t let them come near us! As you aptly stated some time ago to our dear citizens, these clowns ought to be dispatched once for all!”
They finally reached the Throne Room. The two guards saluted the newcomers. One of them inquired about their errand.
-“We came for an audience with the King regarding a matter of severity and common interest.” Geoffroy formally answered.
-“Captain, the King is not in the Throne Room. He is presently in his private chambers. We are told he has been to keep to bed!”
-“Is he sick?”
-“We were not officially informed, Captain, but if I may take the liberty, I can tell you he has been taken ill since the end of last night’s banquet!”
-“Thank you, Guard! At ease!”
A smirk appeared on Amrel’s face.
-“Isn’t that marvelous? What a coincidence! Captain, Sergeant, shall we go and see how our King is being treated? Would you care to show me the way to His Majesty’s private chambers?”
As they approached the monarch’s bedroom, the door slightly ajar let out a cacophony of voices hotly arguing.
-“What’s going on in there?” Amrel inquired.
Birghit’s eyes took on a hard look.
-“I’m afraid that bunch of poisoners have preceded us!”
-“ Sergeant, leave that to Jay, will you? I have a hunch she can take care of that scum without resorting to your kind of violence!” Geoffroy admonished.
The new arrivals did not create much of a stir among the half-dozen “doctors” assembled around the bed where a King with a pale sweating face was lying. Amrel had a good idea of what could be the reason behind the sick colour of his mien. But the sweating was obviously the result of a gnawing anxiety at what his tormentors proposed to do to heal him from his present predicament.
One of the physicians finally deigned to address Amrel. He looked like an decrepit vulture with his balding pate he had problems hiding with whatever hair he had left, his long neck with a prominent Adam’s apple bobbing under parchment-like skin and the voluminous robes inside which he was vainly trying to conceal his frail body. The few teeth he still possessed were mere yellow stumps and the breath coming through them shocked the Dragon into a sudden stop.
-“Who are these people? Can’t you see we are busy enough with our King’s condition without having to be rudely interrupted? These soldiers I know and I suppose we shall have to suffer their useless presence, but who is that woman?”
-“Soldiers, woman! You…” Birghit started to growl
-“Sergeant, shut up!” Geoffroy hissed.
Amrel stepped forward to face the irate practitioner keeping her olfactory sense shut so as to ignore the stench coming out of his mouth. She adopted a conciliatory tone.
-“Good day, Doctor! My name is Jay, short for Geraldine de Blanchefleur. I am also physician by trade, but I am just settled in Beaucastel. These two soldiers who happen to be eminent officers of the Royal Guard have taken the liberty to invite me to our King’s bed and see if I could be of any help.”
The lie brought a hard smile on her companions’ faces.
-“We never asked for any help! Don’t you think we are already enough without having to teach everything to someone who comes around pretending she is a physician!”
-“My dear Doctor, I understand your concern and I pray you to accept my humble apologies for not having contacted your Guild sooner! May I at least inquire about your diagnosis?”
-“Diagnosis! Diagnosis! What kind of instrument is that, woman?”
-“My dear Doctor, a diagnosis means the discovery and identification of what is wrong with someone who is ill! I see I shall have to start from the beginning, then!”
She ignored the nonplussed charlatan and pointed her finger to the nearest acolyte’s chest.
-“You, I do not know if you are any better than this senile imbecile, but could you be as kind as to give me a prognosis?”
-”What do you mean, prognosis? What has my nose to do with all that? Do you intimate I cannot use my judgement?”
Amrel was hard put to contain herself, caught as she was between laughter and anger. This group of petty conmen had given her chance on a tray and she meant to take it!
-“Ignorant clown! Prognosis, not proboscis! You just happen to know a difficult word and make a mess of its use! Why am I wasting my time with you all? I see I came at the right time to get this place rid of decease and maggots! Captain, Sergeant! Do me a favour: throw that vermin out of the Palace! At least the two of you have some sense and I’m sure the King will reward you for your kindness!”
The two officers were only too happy to comply. Pushing the bunch of loudly protesting disgraced physicians ahead of them, they made them go through the door where they ordered the guards to dispatch them out of the Palace with stern instructions never to let them in again.
The King had followed the altercation without interfering, suddenly very happy as he realized he was to escape from the torture promised by his now former doctors.
-“Geraldine de Blanchefleur, good day to you! If Geoffroy and Birghit have taken the liberty to bring you here as you mentioned, they must have good reasons! Would you be as kind as to explain what is wrong with me?”
The smell coming out his mouth was not much better than that of the idiots she had asked her friends to forcefully expel.
-“Phew! What kind of diet do you have, Sire? How much meat, how many pies did you ingest last night? How much beer and wine did you guzzle down?”
She put a hand on the prone King’s distended stomach and pressed. The monarch let a groan out.
-“Sire, you are suffering from indigestion coupled with constipation. You shall have to change your eating habits, that is all. For the next three days you shall have only vegetable soup. You must clean that system of yours. And by vegetable soup I mean vegetable soup only! No meat, no fat, no wine, no beer, no brandy! If you feel like it, you can eat fresh fruit, but that is how far it goes. If you use water, make sure to sieve it through a clean cloth and boil it before using it or drinking it. And for people’s sake wash yourself! You stink!”
-“Do I really?” The King brought his wrist to his nose, smelt it and shook his head. “I do not smell anything particular. In any case I washed my hands and face this morning!”
-“And am I right to think that is all you do about your personal hygiene every day, Sire? Well, if you want to shorten your life that is probably the best way! Now, may I inquire about your wife, the Queen?”
-“What has my wife to do with all that? Tell the truth, I don’t have any idea where she might be right now. For all I care!
-“I may be patronizing you, Sire, but maybe the Queen has good reasons to keep away from you? As I do not intend to coddle you for the rest of my life, I think I have found the perfect fashion to keep you in good health!”
Amrel turned to Geoffroy:
-”Captain, do you happen to know where the Queen presently resides? Could you please fetch for me?”
-“I think Sergeant Birghit is better suited to find Her Majesty and bring her here!”
Birghit nodded her assent.
-”Jay, what shall I tell my Queen to convince her to come?”
-“Why don’t you simply put it like this to her: if she wants to enjoy her life as a Queen for a long time to come, she had better bring her own participation into some highly-needed changes!”
The King started to protest:
-”Doctor, this an invasion of my privacy! Moreover, I would call that an intrusion of state affairs!” He suddenly regarded Geoffroy with suspicion. “Captain, there is something very fishy going on here! How come my two most feared officers are acting like lambs with Lady Geraldine here?”
-“Sire, I am afraid that Jay here is a real physician who knows her job. I would not dare discuss her capacities, especially when she has just saved Beaucastel from a horrendous catastrophe!”
-“What catastrophe? Come to the point, Captain!”
-“Jay, for our good fortune, discovered an outbreak of the plague right in the middle of our city this morning. She managed to eradicate it with some radical measures. If you do not believe me, ask your people to check for themselves. In any case your agents should soon come to report!”
-“Captain, the last comments you proffered in the presence of a lay person is tantamount to treason!”
-“Sire, with all due respect, Geraldine de Blanchefleur is anything but a lay person. And like it or not, I have the strong impression she will become a more and more apparent feature in the running of Beaucastel!”
Well, well, thought Amrel, it seems that I shall benefit from strong backing in the right places!
At that moment, a guard entered the bedroom:
-“Her Majesty, Queen Marghrete de Pontaven!”
It seemed that Birghit had known all the time where to find the King’s wife.
Amrel turned to the door to have a look at the new arrival
The Queen evidently belonged to Walkyrie stock. Her beauty was certainly striking. Tall as most women of her kind, she sported long jet-black hair freely falling over her shoulders. Her face showed strong aristocratic features and her walk alone hinted enough character to reveal an indomitable predisposition. A lot of people must have been cowed into obeying her by her sole presence. She also seemed to be aware of the fact. Better make a friend of her some day, Amrel idly thought.
-“Hail, Lady and Gentlemen! Sergeant Birghit here had the grace to brief me on some recent events on our way. It seems that we have a true physician among us at long last! Lady Geraldine, please accept my humble personal thanks for saving us from this dreadful peril! I shall be personally honoured if you came to join me in my apartments later!”
-“Your Majetsy is too kind. I was doing only what my mentors taught me to do in such an occurrence!” One more lie will not cost us much, she reflected. “Sergeant Birghit may have told you about a certain demonstration. I sincerely hope I did not shock you with my breaking the ethics of the City!”
Marghrete surprised the dragon with a burst of laughter.
-“Lady Geraldine, this city has no ethics to talk of! A good lesson is a good lesson! I just wish I had your courage and your inventiveness! Now, may I ask why I was requested to come to my husband’s bedroom? Is it just to tell me that Gerhart is suffering the consequences of his last binge?”
As if we did not have enough problems, Amrel thought. I shall have to act faster than I had wished to. But if I do not solve this broken marriage, we shall go nowhere!
-“Captain, Sergeant,” she started in the no-nonsense tone of a teacher about to deliver a sentence to a couple of unruly pupils. I’m afraid this has become a personal matter between the King, the Queen and myself. Could do me the favour to leave this room?”
It was not a request and the two officers came to realize that for once in their soldier’s lives they had come to face an authority they would care very little to cross.
“Close the doors, shut your ears and guard the entrance! Nobody comes in until you are instructed to do so!”
The two soldiers saluted, turned heels and did as ordered. Having closed the doors, they stood in front, legs slightly apart, hand behind their backs, challenging anybody to get near them. Servants, courtiers and visitors alike were seen passing them and looking back wondering what all the fuss was about. By now, many people had learned that physicians had been thrown out of the Palace, that somebody was talking in private to the King and the Queen alone, quite an event in itself, and that the cream of the Royal Guards was guarding their apartment.
A rare smile appeared on Bighit’s hard face.
-“I told you they were for an ear-bashing!”
-“Shut up, Sergeant!” But Geoffroy was smiling,too.
Gerhart, King of all
Beaulieu, in spite of his evident incomfort, sat up sat up on his bed and
( Chapter 11: Judgements )