Rescue Remedy by T.O. Munro (Part Three)
Elise’s frustration grew with the lateness of the hour, while the jumped-up steward just would not understand. The thinning patience of the other petitioners was drawing pointed coughs from the queue behind her. In desperation, she glanced around the vaulted hall for another way to deliver her message.
“I’ve told you, mistress,” the steward insisted. “The princess’s secretary will look at your letter and decide when, or if, Her Highness needs to see it.”
“That’s not good enough,” Elise snapped. “It has to be read today, by her, in person.”
The fat man behind her tut-tutted his disapproval. “The princess is not well, you know. That she should hear any of our requests is a cause for gratitude, not a show of petulance.”
Elise swung round, hood flung back, rebuking his intrusion with the sight of her scarred face and brittle, colourless hair. Though he flinched, the man had the resolve not to retract. “However sad your situation, mistress, it is no excuse for impertinence.”
“Thrensday,” the steward said firmly. “The princess deals with her correspondence on Thrensday.”
“That will be too late,” Elise hissed. She curled her hands, murmuring words of power to channel the void’s energy and reshape the steward’s perceptions in a more helpful vein. It was a stupid risk. To offset the fatigue and stiffness of a sleepness night she had fixed a laudnis-soaked teasel leaf to her shoulder, the only palliative that came close to the relief of a priest’s cure. The medication’s side effects of nausea and a certain numbness in the extremities condemned her to a miscast. She knew it in her fingers before she saw it the steward’s eyes.
His face clouded with an indignation so vehement she might as well have suggested he should bugger his beloved princess. Fury creased his features, fist clenching as he thrust her away hard enough to make her stumble and fall to the marble floor. At first she thought the steward’s outstretched arm an offer of help in rising, but he swatted her hand aside. “Give me the letter and I’ll make sure it gets delivered just where it deserves – the latrine.”
She shook her head, taking in the unsympathetic glances of the onlookers. The steward was a liveried servant of the crown; however he behaved, they must think it only what she deserved. She scrabbled backwards, aware that she could hardly explain he was the victim of a spell as incompetently cast as it was illegal.
“Greebo, what new policy is this?” a man hailed the steward. “I mean, I know these peasants are all lined up like skittles, but that’s not supposed to be an invitation to try and bowl them all over.”
Elise twisted her head round as the newcomer broke into a thigh-slapping guffaw which – after a few seconds’ pause – triggered echoes of laughter from the young men around him. There were a half-dozen of them, clad in eveningwear though it was scarcely noon. She guessed they were late returners to the palace following a night of revelry. She recognised the speaker as Lord Leniot, Tybert’s elder brother. A man with no greater reputation than his sibling for statesmanship or fitness to accede to his father’s throne.
The steward stood respectfully straight. “It’s nothing, my lord. Just a lady overstepping the mark.”
A man in black trews and a silk shirt stepped away from Leniot’s coterie and reached down to help Elise up. “That’s still not a reason for knocking her over, Greebo.”
“She made me do it, Sir Vahnce,” Greebo stammered before breaking into a frown at the absurdity of his own words. “She was rude, really rude, about the princess and all.”
Vahnce cocked a disbelieving eyebrow. “I am sure it must be a simple misunderstanding.” He turned to Elise. “Isn’t that it?”
“Come on, Vahnce,” Leniot called. “There is a card table awaits us.”
“Go on, my lord. Deal me a hand. I’ll be a moment, no more.”
“I have a letter for the princess, for her eyes only. It must be read today, this afternoon.” Elise drew out the folded parchment sealed with wax. She had expended an agony of thought on finding a form of words that might move Tybert’s mother to act. Your son’s very soul is in danger had seemed a succinct starting point.
“I was going to rip it up,” Greebo said, reaching for the letter. As Elise pulled it away from the steward, it came within Sir Vahnce’s reach and the knight plucked it from her hand with a smile.
She watched warily as he tapped it against his arm, testing the weight and thickness of the parchment.
“Will you deliver it for me, sir?”
“I have an afternoon engagement with Lord Leniot, a deck of cards and some fat purses that need thinning. I cannot put that off.”
“The letter must be delivered today.”
“Then you must hope that fate grants me swift success, or perhaps swift failure – anything but leaving my fortunes hanging in the balance all afternoon.” Vahnce must have seen her disappointment, for his smile softened from amused to sympathetic. “It is the best I can promise, mistress, and a better offer than Greebo is making.”
“Indeed, Sir Vahnce,” she said stiffly, dropping an awkward curtsey of appreciation before walking away.
END OF PART THREE