“You don’t like Begrenzen.” Dennis picked off a leaf from an herb and dropped it into the bowl filled with oil extracts and began to stir. The curtains were closed now, to keep out the night critters and the chilly air. Candlelight cast shadows all over the room making the absence of Edward more acute.
Lady Kaelah shot a long look in his direction.
“I may be young, but I see and hear a lot.”
“Yes, I believe you do, Prince Dennis.”
“Please don’t call me that. I’m just Dennis here…or even Deet, if you want.”
At this, Lady Kaelah laughed, throwing her head backwards and sending her auburn hair free of its loose braid. “Deet. I haven’t heard anyone call you that in a while. Are you still avoiding beets at all costs?”
“Wouldn’t you? The whole village saw me fall into that vat of beet juice and it took me at least a month to not be completely red faced.”
“Tell me, was that from embarrassment, or juice stain?” She smirked as she readjusted her hair.
“Both.” He grinned, and two prominent dimples appeared on his cheeks, his blue eyes laughing with her.
“It was fun, the festival, wasn’t it? All those games, competitions, and visitors from the other kingdoms showcasing their wares. Edward won a hammered bracelet for me that day…” Her voice trailed off into memory.
“We only have one more year before it comes again. Remember how ReAnne tripped all over herself when Prince Ottelo bowed to her? She didn’t even know who he was, yet.”
“Yes…I do remember. She couldn’t have been more than thirteen…”
“She was. I remember because I had just turned eleven that winter. Father gave me Plexis that same year.”
Plexis was Dennis’ black stallion. He was very proud of how well he rode at such a young age, and the Great King giving him a steed was a sort of confirmation to his skills. Of course, Benjamin had helped him immensely, even before acquiring his gift he’d had an uncanny knack of knowing what animals were feeling. They had spent hours together, riding, grooming, and clearing out stalls, all in an effort to be better acquainted with their respective means of transportation. Benjamin hadn’t been as adept a rider until Dennis taught him a few tricks.
“It’s ready now.” Lady Kaelah took the boiling concoction away from the heat and began blowing on it to cool it down. “The letter to High R’pha Pitagoras you found said by the time they gave Aoife this concoction, they’d had to pour it on her, hoping it would seep through her hardening skin. Twenty four hours later, her eyes opened, but her mouth had hardened shut and she couldn’t tell them what had happened. His notes said her fate might have been different if she had been able to ingest it. It was only three days later her form was complete and her gestation period begun. Let’s pray we are not also too late.”
Lady Kaelah carefully poured the thickening liquid slowly into a small wooden container with a spout. Dennis held his breath and looked hopefully at ReAnne. Her form was wilting before him with no meals staining her. Her hair had started to be left on her pillow in clumps rather than strands and her face looked more like the drawing of skulls in his academic books. They had been able to funnel water down her throat, but any food caused her horrible choking and scared them immensely. Pammy had just brought in fresh bed coverings, so the room smelled faintly of lavender, masking the putrid smell of a room housing the ill. He tucked fabric up under her chin before using both his hand to grip her face and pry her mouth open.
“Sorry, sister. It’s for your own good,” he whispered as the first stream of the gravy-like remedy reached her mouth.
She only sputtered once, forcing them to push her to her side and let some of the liquid fall out. Lady Kaelah seemed unconcerned with the waste and before he had too long to think of it, Pammy was deftly cleaning it until there was no trace left.
“Now what?” He asked Kaelah. She had been holding her breath as she poured and now let out a great sigh.
“Now we wait, Deet. Not much more we can do.”
He smiled at her use of his nick-name, the sound of it providing him an odd sense of comfort.
“You should report to the king. Let him know it has been administered and that we will give him an update as soon as we have one.”
Dennis closed her door slowly, listening to the distinctive latch before making his way to the main hall. Elder Begrenzen watched him from the other side of the long hallway before turning to make his way to the Elder’s quarters.
It was while they were eating supper, later the same day, when Pammy came busting into the small dining hall located just off from the kitchen.
Chairs scraped and fell over as the intimate gathering of people scrambled to the hall. Pammy had a slight lead over Lady Kaelah, followed by Begrenzen, who had managed to get himself invited to dinner quite a bit lately in an effort to stay up to date. Dennis had managed to swoop in ahead of the king, something he never would have tried had the news not garnered so much emotion.
The five of them circled around the bed as best they could among the tables and books. Darkness had overtaken the light outside and now the room was lit only by candlelight. Lady Kaelah knelt by her head, checking her eyes and throat as ReAnne watched in horror, eyes skirting from her to the rest of her worried visitors. The terror on her face proved she was not aware of exactly what was happening. Somewhere near the window drapes, Pammy sniffled and blew into a handkerchief.
“Blink if you can hear me.”
“That’s good.” The room let out a collective sigh. “Blink for yes. No blink for no. Understand?”
“Do you think you can talk?”
“Can you remember what happened to you?”
“Can you move your hand?”
ReAnne tried to glance down to where her hands rested on the down-filled blanket, then looked apologetically at Kaelah. No blink.
“That’s ok, love. Tell me, were you hurt when you were captured?”
“Did you hear a name, or remember where they took you?”
The Great King had sent out search parties looking for farm houses along the same path Edward said they had taken. The only farm house within the vicinity they had found was old and abandoned, full of cobwebs and unused for years. Blink.
“What good is that going to do us if she can’t talk?” Dennis asked.
“Oh, I just don’t know what I’d do if she…” Pammy let her words trail off.
“I could guess the name…or something…”
“I’m afraid that could take much longer than what we have. Again, you are to be commended for this, Lady Kaelah, but your work is not yet over.” The Great King walked to ReAnne’s bedside and stroked her hair, careful to not tug on it and cause more hair loss. “We will help you, my sweet girl. This, I promise.”
“If she can’t write, and can’t talk, any efforts at finding the name will prove futile,” Elder Begrenzen offered.
The Great King ignored his obvious statement. “Lady Kaelah, is there anything stopping you from giving her more of the concoction? What was in it that made the difference? Perhaps it will give her back some of her faculties?”
“I can certainly try, Your Grace, but I would prefer to keep the ingredients between Prince Dennis and myself. If you don’t mind.” She kept her eyes squarely on the Great King, so as not to glance in Begrenzen’s direction.
The Great King nodded, turning his attention back to his daughter. “Leave us. All of you.”
Lady Kaelah got up and ushered everyone out. When the familiar sound of the door latch was triggered, the king spoke in a whisper.
“There is much to tell you, daughter. I fear the time has come for stories I felt better kept as fireside, fantastical tales. Perhaps for too long, we kept them to ourselves of early kingdom days and mistakes of our ancestors. But your brothers know, and so shall you. Great will be your future, if we can do what those before us could not. I know you will see it as a reason to be strong, and not give up. Can I trust you with that, no matter what is said?”
Then, with great sympathy, the king began to speak of the fate he wished desperately in his heart would never be for her.
ReAnne stared, wide eyed at the Great King, small tears falling as his large, but gentle hands wiped them from her sunken cheeks. “I will do whatever I need to see you be well again. Do you believe that, my daughter?”
“My love for you is greater than the light of the sun. Do you believe that?”
Unable to contain his grief any longer, the Great King held both her hands in his and bent over his ailing daughter, crying for the first time since the loss of his beloved wife.
“Maaaaahhhhhh…..” the sound came out more like an injured animal than of the sweet cadence of ReAnne’s voice.
“Are you…can you speak?” Her father righted himself, surprised at the sound.
ReAnne didn’t blink, but opened her chapped, cracked lips in a second attempt.
“Maaaaaahhhhh….” Her tongue curled up to form another syllable, but no sound came out.
“’Mom’…are you saying ‘Mom’?” He bent his head to rest his ear closer to her lips.
“Maaaaaahhhh…” Again, her tongue curled towards a second syllable, but was met with silence and hopelessness on ReAnne’s face.
Suddenly, the door to the room burst open and a harried Dennis stood in the door way.
“There is someone at the gate to the Citadel,” he said through his breathlessness. “A young woman…said she has news about ReAnne…said she saw her…that…night…”
The Great King stood, carefully placing ReAnne’s hands back on the blanket as he addressed his son, wiping tears from his own face and trying not to be impatient. “Take a deep breath, but for all that is good…speak, son.”
Dennis puffed his chest out, filling his lungs with air. As he exhaled, his words all ran together.