Rescue Remedy by T.O. Munro (Part Four)
Rycard’s retainer was fortunately still too enchanted by Elise’s spell to object when she told him she needed to pass the night alone in his master’s house. She sat by the window, squinting through the shutter into Maia’s receiving room while the afternoon waxed and waned. Much of the last day had passed in restless worry, fragments of furious activity interspersed with anxious despair at her own impotence and incompetence. The letter finally entrusted to Sir Vahnce’s uncertain hands had been the sixth draft. Pestle had ground into mortar a dozen times before she felt sure she had a draught that would fool Maia without rendering Nimetu so totally comatose that she would be incapable of rousing in her own defence.
Having ordered a month’s supply, the lady had expressed a brief disquiet at being given only a handful of doses. However, she accepted Elise’s explanation that these were just a test batch and more could be prepared if they should prove efficacious, though the herbalist was not expecting a repeat commission. A generous payment was quickly drawn from the lady’s purse, more to speed her on her way than from any real gratitude, Elise thought. She had enjoyed only a fraction of Maia’s attention during her explanation of how the draft was to be prepared and taken.
The sound of Tybert’s voice woke Elise from the doze she had unconsciously slipped into. Night had fallen, and Maia’s lord had arrived. He was flushed with excitement as he crossed the drawing room, taking Maia’s hands in his. “Is my prize prepared, my love?”
Maia pulled him close, slipping one hand down past his waistband. “She lies ready for you on my bed – and you, it seems, stand ready for her, my lord.” She raised her lips to his and he greedily returned the kiss.
Elise shot up as quickly as stiff limbs would allow, scraping the chair across the floor as she did so. She froze, but the pair were too deep in each other’s embrace to hear the sound or guess that the darkened building opposite was occupied.
She shuffled across to the window that looked in on Maia’s bedchamber. Nimetu lay on her back, perfectly still, clad in just a simple white shift. Elise bit her lip. The girl was too still. It took careful scrutiny to be sure she was even breathing, her chest rising and falling in the shallowest of breaths. This was not right, but the time to ponder it was cut short by Tybert and Maia’s entrance.
“Oh, she is perfect. So perfect,” Tybert gasped. He sat on the edge of the bed and lifted Nimetu’s arm. It flopped back like a stringless marionette when he let go. “How did you get her into such delicious oblivion?”
“I doubled the dose the hag gave me, just to be sure.” Maia’s lips curled in smug satisfaction. “I put it in a glass of wine before dinner to mask the taste. She almost fell asleep in her soup. I had to practically carry her here.”
Elise’s fingernails bit deep into her palms, fists clenched in fury at the woman’s arrogance and ignorance. Doubling the dose! If Elise’s preparation had been to Maia’s original requirement, that recklessness would have killed Nimetu. On top of that, mixing the draught with alcohol and consuming it on an empty stomach was against every instruction Maia had been given. Under so concentrated a sedative, even a need to vomit would not have roused the girl from slumber.
Elise’s intended prescription would have left Nimetu easily woken and quickly alert to Tybert’s intentions and her sister’s malice. The watching herbalist and the hoped-for agents of the princess could have then acted to keep her safe and expose the perversion of the lord and his lady. But this girl was not going to wake up, and there was no sign of any relief.
Elise thumped her fist against her thigh. She had been so stupid. Her efforts to manipulate the situation had only contrived to put Nimetu in exactly the danger Maia had always intended. A few feet away, Tybert was disrobing in haste, urged on by Maia, whose face and chest were flushed with excitement. “Go on, my champion,” she cried. “Claim your prize.”
Malchus had been a creature just like Tybert, cruel arrogance and entitlement ruling his passions, but he at least had taught Elise something else. She raised her hands, scanning her recollection of the repertoire bequeathed to her by the wizard. A blast of fire would end the assault; she could burn the lecherous lord and his foul mistress. But it could not be done without harming or trapping the unconscious Nimetu.
The naked lord was crawling onto the bed, with nothing to hide his intentions or Maia’s admiration. Elise flung out her hands in the spell she most hated, the one Malchus had often used on her. The difficult cast was made harder by the damage time had inflicted on diseased joints. Her little finger clicked uselessly, unable to close off the spell even as she murmured, “Vos sile.”
The cast was begun, but it was not ended. With her fingers frozen in a pose of twisted pugilism, Elise could tell it had worked – the lord loured over the sleeping girl, but moved not a fraction further. Beside the bed, Maia’s smile of encouragement was fixed in an unblinking face. Elise had held them, but only while she held her hands in the instant of casting the spell her treacherous little finger had failed to finish. Like knitting improperly cast off, the effect was poised to unravel the instant she lowered her hands, and then what?
Tybert and Maia would both realise, within the nightmarish panic of paralysis, that they had been constrained by magic. Elise had known that horror herself, the fear and anger jostling for supremacy in a numbed body. When she released them, as she would have to, they would cover their own crime. The sleeping girl lay still oblivious to the fate they had planned. A woman of Maia’s cunning would soon work out from whence the cast had come, ask questions of Rycard’s retainer, send the priests in Elise’s direction. A hint was all it would take to set the clerics searching her home, using their faith to test the truth of her answers, and ultimately exiling her for forbidden magic. Even if she told them what she had seen, it would do nothing to save the girl or punish the pair who had plotted such ruin. What credence would her word carry, as a disgraced user of the magic arts? Still less when she was sent beyond the barrier.
She was as trapped as those she held, stuck in a frozen moment holding a sword of utter ruin above her own head.
And then that sword of ruin swung abruptly across to the other house.
Sir Vahnce, still in black silks, burst through the bedroom door followed by two men-at-arms. Elise’s tortured hands dropped, and with them, her spell. Tybert sprawled across the sleeping Nimetu while Maia staggered at the sudden restoration of mobility.
A new paralysis seized the bedchamber as each of the occupants absorbed the transformed tableau, but it was Vahnce who moved first. Even as Tybert struggled to rise, turning with an exclamation, “I can explain…” the knight seized his shoulder and hauled him upright. Elise heard the crack of fist hitting jaw and Tybert went down like a stone.
“Sir Vahnce.” Maia found her voice. “You have struck the son of a prince.”
“His mother would have expected me to do no less,” Vahnce growled.
“Tybert is not at fault here. My sister, she admired him, she wanted this.”
Vahnce leant his ear to Nimetu’s mouth, touched two fingers to her neck, then turned to Maia. “Your sister is a child, and a deeply sleeping one at that.” He shook his head, voice thickening with rage. “When Her Highness hears of this, Lady Maia, you should prepare yourself for exile beyond the barrier with only orcs for company. That, or a nunnery.”
Maia’s gasp of horror was audible even in the darkened rooms of Rycard’s house, though Elise was not sure which prospect scared the pale courtesan more. She stood and watched the drama play out over the next hour and a half. Stone-faced guardsmen led Maia and a hastily dressed Tybert away. A deaconess was summoned to invoke the grace of the Goddess, driving out the effects of the sleeping draught until Nimetu stirred woozily awake. She vomited and apologised and then cried when Vahnce explained the scene he had come across. But the deaconess stroked Nimetu’s hair, soothing her fears and promising safe refuge in the Goddess’s house until she could be returned to her mother.
Sir Vahnce left Maia’s house last. He stood at the window staring long and hard at the shutters opposite, behind which Elise held breath and body motionless. Then he shook his head and pulled the windows closed.
Elise waited another half-hour before she dared to take her cramped and painful limbs on the stuttering walk back to her home.
There were good days after that: when a confidence in having done something right held the ever-circling black clouds at bay; when she heard that Tybert was to enter holy orders in a remote monastery; when Maia was banished, if not beyond the barrier then at least from Oostport. Of course the princess would not want too great a scandal attending on her son, but Elise still felt she had achieved some small tribute to Rancine’s memory. The retribution may not have been quite proportionate to the couple’s wickedness, but it was success. Nimetu was safe from pain and sorrow, apart from the grief caused by her sister’s betrayal.
But then there were the bad days: the princess claimed at last by her illness; the grieving sons reunited; Tybert swiftly exchanging his cassock for the effete trappings of his former lifestyle. Those were dark times.
And then there was Maia’s return, discreet at first but ever more public as she hung on Tybert’s arm, unshamed by the looks of loathing from Sir Vahnce. And for all that Elise tried to convince herself that she had at least saved Nimetu, the darkness descended, wrapping her in a blanket of despair from which she struggled to escape.
Rescue Remedy is a prequel story featuring minor characters from T.O.Munro’s Bloodline trilogy. Five years after the events of Rescue Remedy, catastrophe engulfs the Salved Kingdom, as described in Lady of the Helm. Leniot, Tybert, Maia, Sir Vahnce and Elise all return in books two and three (Wrath of the Medusa and Master of the Planes) to make small but vital contributions in a people’s struggle for survival.