Fireheart: Part Four
Episode Four- A New Fabric to Die For
A few days after the chandelier fiasco, which Gwen and I called ‘the episode,’ things had returned to normal in the Palace, well as normal as things got around this place. Sir Jeran, Lisha, his little sister, and her friends were still poking around for the ‘chandelier rescuer,’ as people called me now. They were determined to find the mysterious hero, and I avoided them as much as possible.
Neither Gwen nor I had found anything to relate to ‘The Mistress.’ But the kitchen and a lady’s chambers weren’t the best place to snoop for clues. Gwen was determined that a shopkeeper would know something. Many people said things in front of shopkeepers and never thought twice about it; they were almost as invisible as a lady’s maid or kitchen servant, or so Gwen figured.
So after my morning chores were done, I had until noon to visit a shop and try to get something out of its keeper. I decided to go to the seamstress, where many ladies of the court went to get new dresses. Pippa, a Zafara, was the assistant seamstress, who had lovely blue hair, and was already a friend of mine from all the trips I made to the seamstress. Surely, she might tell me something.
I entered the shop, the little bell tinkling as I opened the door. Pippa looked up from her work, and waved me over. I noticed as I crossed the shop that there were many rolls of a fabric that had the same design with varied colors.
Pippa noticed me looking at all the fabric, “That’s new; it is a special fabric that we’ve gotten so many orders for lately. I’ve never heard of the fabric before, but as soon as one lady ordered it, all the rest of the ladies wanted it too.”
“Who ordered the first dress?” I asked curiously, inspecting some of the fabric closely. It had an odd smell to it, not the usual smell of new cloth, but an unusual smell that I was familiar with, but couldn’t quite put my finger on.
“I don’t know; I was wondering that myself, but Jen, the head seamstress, won’t tell anyone, not even me,” Pippa said, shaking her head, looking equally as curious. “But I’m working on the lady’s dress now,” she added helpfully.
Jen was a rather no nonsense old green Bori who had owned the seamstress shop as long as anyone could remember, or so I’m told.
“Pippa, does the fabric smell different to you?” I asked her after a moment’s pause, wondering if the cloth smelled any different to anyone other than me.
She bent down over her work, and took a deep whiff. “Yes, it does! A very peculiar smell, too,” she said in surprise. I nodded, walking the rest of the way to her work table.
“Were you here when the lady ordered?” I asked, hoping she could describe this mysterious lady that ordered the dress.
“No, when I left two nights ago it wasn’t here, but when I came the next morning before opening, the order was sitting on my table.”
“That’s odd,” I commented. She nodded in agreement. Just then the eleven o’clock bell rang, and I had to get to the kitchen to ‘fetch’ Aroma’s meal. “I’ve got to go, Pippa. Will you tell me if you find anything else out?”
She nodded and bade me goodbye as I exited the shop. I hadn’t learned anything about “The Mistress,” but I did uncover something fishy and it wasn’t the smell of Kedmiel’s breakfast still hanging around.
Just as I was leaving the shop, a little white Ukali flew in, looking at me sorrowfully in typical Ukali fashion. It was carrying a package in its paws, and just as I closed the door I heard Pippa squeal, “Po!”
After lunch and before dinner, I settled down on my bed to read my new book from the library, A Hundred Herbs and Their Uses, which promised to be dull, but I needed a refresher on my herbology, if that’s the right word. Suddenly, there was a loud knock from the other side of my thin maple wood door.
I sighed; never a moment’s rest around this place. Shuffling over to the door and wrenching it open found me facing Pippa with her fist raised, poised to knock again. “Oh hello,” she said lowering her hand, looking embarrassed, before slipping into the room, not waiting for my invitation. She settled on the bed, and with nowhere else to sit, I plopped down on the floor, leaning against the closed door.
“Well, what is it, Pippa?” I asked anxiously. She bit her lip and took a breath, obviously nervous about what she was about to relate to me.
“Okay, so after you left, I finished the dress and Gen took it barely a minute after I finished it. I sent my Ukali, Po, to follow her, since it seemed pretty fishy. He tailed her into the castle and into the second landing’s right hallway. She went into the first door on the right, but he couldn’t get in himself,” Pippa told me, twiddling her thumbs.
“Now we know where to look,” I said, more to myself then to Pippa.
“Something’s not right about this whole thing. It all seems a little shady,” the Zafara said looking over at me. “I want to help, if I can!”
I looked up in shock; I never expected people to actually help me. After traveling so much, I was used to doing everything on my own because Kedmiel never helped. But it was nice. “Thanks, Pippa. But for now you have to keep a close eye on the people ordering those dresses,” I told her as I stood up and dusted off my skirts.
She nodded before heading out the door, with me following close behind. I left my bedroom and locked the door behind me, before dashing off to the kitchens to find Gwen. As I was entering the grand hall from the servants’ quarters, I saw an Ukali zoom down from the second landing.
Po. He followed Pippa who was just opening the entrance door. Then I noticed another petpet coming down from the second landing. It was Kedmiel; he waved his tail at me as he lazily made his way over. “Good kid, that Po.” I looked down at him, with a scowl. What made that Seti so cocky, I had no idea. “Well, I was snooping when I met him and he told me that he found the lady who ordered the fabric. So, we teamed up, and got into her rooms. You’re right the fabric does smell funny, it smells like that one herb in the Haunted Woods.”
“What?” I nearly screamed, picking up the Seti by his scruff, and looking him in the eye with a glare.
“I don’t know. I just recognized it from there,” Kedmiel replied, shrugging as best he could while being held by his scruff.
“Kedmiel, go get Gwen. I need her help. Meet me in the library,” I told him before sprinting up the left staircase and up to the first landing where the library was. I passed row after row of bookcases, all of them marked with what topics the books held. Finally I reached the last row in the corner of the huge room.
There in fading ink, was the word, ‘Plants.’ I browsed through all the books, pulling down the ones I had read since my arrival to the Palace. There were about twenty lying on the floor by the time I was sure I got all of them, and I was also sure that if a librarian came by they’d have a heart attack. But, fortunately, none of them come all the way back here.
I opened the first page of the book on top of the heap. It was titled, The Haunted Woods’ Herbs. It was a good place to start, in my opinion. About the twelfth page in, Kedmiel appeared around the corner with Gwen following close behind.
“What is it?” she asked while trying to stuff strands of her silky green hair back under her cap.
“Grab a book, we’re looking for an herb that grows in the Haunted Woods,” I told her. She nodded, plopped down, and grabbed a book. Kedmiel opened a book himself, briskly leafing through it. When asked why he went so fast, he told me it was a ‘desert thing,’ which he frequently told me was a special talent that all desert folk have, the talent to be ‘awesome.’ (His words, not mine.)
We looked through books for the rest of the afternoon, one after another, I rejected each herb. I didn’t know exactly which one we were looking for, but I knew I would know it when I saw it.
When the evening bell chimed and it was time for us to return to our jobs, we had come up empty handed. We promised to meet back here by ten tonight after chores were done and before the end of the feast tonight, before sprinting out of the library.
As the candlelight died and the twelve o’clock bell chimed, I turned the last page of the last book; I felt like I had had a bucket of water poured on me, I was feeling miserable. I studied the last page of the book. ‘Ladies’ Bane’ it was labeled and I read the description. ‘When rubbed on cloth or skin it releases a pungent odor that makes the wearer incurably ill if they breathe in its smell for more than two hours. The only known cure of the disease is a herb called ‘Bumble Weed’ that is mixed into a paste and smeared onto the sufferer’s face.’
“That’s it!” I shouted in excitement, making Kedmiel and Gwen jump, who were dozing off, sending the books that were lying around them flying.
“What’s what?” asked Kedmiel groggily.
“This!” I showed them the page. “Of course it was in the last book and the last page,” I added in a mumble, which made Gwen and Kedmiel grin.
“Well, now what?” asked the Gelert, standing up and stretching before beginning to put away the mass of books.
“We have to find Pippa and warn her. I don’t know if it matters that she’s not wearing it, but she is breathing in the fumes,” I said, helping Gwen with the books. Just then Po came flapping around the corner followed closely behind by a red faced and sweaty Pippa.
“Enna! Gwen!” she said out of breath. “All the ladies are sick who wore the dresses to the feast tonight!” Gwen and I looked at each other with the same thought in our heads.
“We have to find that cure and I think I know where to look!” I said, and turning back to Pippa I told her, “I need you to go to my room and get the book on my bedside table. Gwen, make a list of all the ladies who are ill. I need to check on Aroma.” I handed Pippa my room key as they both nodded.
Heading out of the library together before going our own separate directions, I rushed across the landing to Lady Aroma’s room, and just as I hoped--I mean, feared--she was sick. She was pale and her forehead was on fire. I quickly took over for Lady Prudencia and sponged her head with a wet cloth as the Lady left to her own chambers. A few minutes later there was a knock from the sitting room door.
I rushed in and opened it to admit Pippa. She handed me the book and key as Po perched on her shoulder. I thumbed through the pages, finally finding Bumble Weed. It had the recipe for the paste and luckily the place to find it, but I gulped. Illusen’s Glade. That was not a friendly place if you plan to pick some of her plants and run.
Gwen soon appeared with the list in her paws, “All the ladies of the court are ill; seems that those dresses were really popular.”
“That makes for a lot of Bumble Weed,” Pippa said, looking at the list Gwen held.
“More bad news, the knights seem to have caught on that the dresses are causing the sickness. They’re ransacking the seamstresses’. Sorry, Pippa. They’re questioning all the seamstresses, too,” Gwen added, looking like she wouldn’t trade places with Pippa for all the money in the world at the moment.
“What?” Pippa squeaked in terror. She couldn’t be questioned by the knights; for one Pippa would probably tell them everything, and another thing, she’s no better at lying than I am.
“Don’t worry, Pippa, you can hide in here; they’d never think to look for you here. The closet is enormous, it could easily hide a small army. You’ll hide in there. But for now, Kedmiel and Po, can you go to Illusen’s Glade?” I asked the petpets, retrieving a basket for them to put the herbs in.
“Why can’t we go?” asked Gwen. “They’re so small.” She received a nice glare from both petpets, which she ignored.
“We would be missed if we left. People would notice. But if the petpets left, no one would notice. No one in the castle knows Kedmiel exists except you two and a frightened bunch of guards.” They nodded, before I turned to Kedmiel. “Be safe, you two.” They nodded and left after Pippa hugged Po.
The next few days were spent worrying and taking care of Lady Aroma, who thankfully wasn’t getting any worse but, unfortunately, not any better. On the fifth evening after the petpets left, there was a loud knock on my door.
Standing in the doorway were Po and Kedmiel, looking slightly scarred, but otherwise perfectly fine. They stood like they were heroes. I smiled at them as Po flew over and dropped the basket onto the bed. “Oh thanks, so much!” I said happily as I opened my book to the recipe.
I had collected all the ingredients for the paste under my bed, and brought them out and dropped them onto the coverlet. I began to pour, stir, and mix the Bumble Weeds with the rest of the ingredients.
The petpets watched with interest as I worked, finally coming up with a thick, light green paste that smelled sharp, but not particularly bad. I sent Po and Kedmiel to fetch Gwen and Pippa. I had the list of sick ladies which I divided into three equal parts before tearing it apart while dividing the paste into three stone bowls, putting a spreading stick in each bowl.
When the others arrived, I wordlessly gave each one of them a bowl, stick, and a slip of paper. They knew what to do, and we all set out at runs, avoiding sentries and running as silently as possible.
I went to Aroma first, her rooms were easy to slip into and apply the paste to her face, making a green mask for her. After that, I made it to the other six ladies’ rooms with ease. As I exited the room of my last patient, as I was beginning to think them, a knight saw me coming out of the chambers, closing the door as silently as I could.
“Halt!” he barked at me as the sun began to rise, illuminating me. I cursed it, before turning tail and running. “I said halt!” he said again, I could hear his jangling armor as he began to chase after me.
I ran down the hall to a servant’s staircase at the end of the hall, taking the stairs two at a time, bursting out of the door and racing down the hall, running past Gwen, whose arm I grabbed as I raced past, and yanked her after me.
I heard the knight come through the door leading to the stairway. I ducked into Lady Aroma’s chambers, running through her sitting room and into her closet. There was a secret passage that led to the kitchen in there; I heaved open the trap door, letting Gwen go in first. I just eased the door shut as the knight crashed into the closet.
I lead Gwen through the passage and into the kitchen, where we met Pippa, who was already there washing out her stone bowl. We handed her our bowls and threw our papers into the fire alone with Pippa’s. “What happened?” asked the Zafara, eyeing us as we panted. Po and Kedmiel came over to us from their seat by the fire, looking us over.
“We were running from a knight. He saw me coming out of the last patients’ rooms,” I explained as I leaned against the stone wall, which was a relief.
“I wondered why Sir Jeran was chasing you,” Gwen said, “but I figured as much.” I looked at her wide eyed. Sir Jeran; my heart fluttered at the knight‘s name. I shook my head, trying to clear it.
“Oh, Enna fancies him!” Kedmiel exclaimed, looking at me slyly.
“Thank you, Kedmiel, for that wonderful input. It really helped move the conversation along,” I said dryly, glaring at him.
“Yes, well, the important thing is that we’re safe and we saved all those ladies from dying because of a fabric with an herb rubbed into it,” Pippa said, changing the subject. Count on Pippa to think about prissy court ladies. She was such a kind hearted person.
We nodded. “That would be kind of a lame way to die,” Kedmiel added. That made us all laugh, from relief or because it was actually funny, I don’t know and I don’t think the rest us did either.
“But what now?” asked Gwen picking up Po and cuddling him.
“We need to find the person behind the Ladies’ Bane and ‘The Mistress.’ I have a feeling they are connected somehow,” I replied.
To be continued...