Sisters of String and Glass, Part 118

Chapter Twenty-Eight – continued

His mouth pressed into a thin line, he whirled away and stalked down the hall towards his office. He dearly wished his sister was still in the city, but she and their parents had been safely ensconced back at Murant Holdings for weeks now. At least Abigail was easily reachable and Kyanan was always around.

“Kyanan,” he said loudly as he strode into his office, “we have work to do, preparations to make.”

“Yes, I agree.”

Surprise brought him up short. That was not Kyanan’s efficient voice. And that was not a poised Kyanan with paper and pen in hand standing before his desk. Nor was it his sweet Abigail with a thick slice of bread slathered with butter smiling at him even as she knew he was unlikely to actually touch the bread. And it certainly wasn’t his deeply longed for sister or the gentle, loving aunt the rest of the kingdom called Queen. It also wasn’t Clarice, who was busy crafting fabrics for bindings in the makeshift infirmary, who sometimes sought out his office as a place of quiet sanctuary.

“Lady Olidan,” he said formally, bending in a stiff bow. “How may I help you?”

Madeline giggled, raising a delicately gloved hand to her mouth as her eyes sparkled. “Oh come now, Adrian,” she said, “you know my name. Please, come and sit with me.”

“I’m afraid I’m a very busy man, Lady Olidan,” he said, not moving from the doorway, his mind screaming for Kyanan to approach and his heart desperately calling for Abigail to come to his rescue. He gestured toward the windows. “In case you were unaware, there’s a war out there and I have much work to do.”

Madeline moved and slid into one of the chairs in front of his desk, her silk gown swishing against the furniture as she turned to face him.

“But surely a man as powerful as you could use a little rest from matters of war and kingdom.”

“I’m afraid I cannot,” Adrian said stiffly. “What brings you here, Lady Olidan?”

“Oh, stop with the Lady Olidan!” Madeline screamed. “My name is Madeline and I insist you call me thus.”

“It would be improper, Lady Olidan.”

Madeline growled, her pretty face twisting. “And what do you call my sister, Abigail?”

“Abigail,” he said simply. “One day I will also call her my wife.”

Madeline angrily threw herself out of the chair and stalked towards him. “Abigail is too frightened to speak to be a Queen.”

“And you lack all propriety. A Queen would never give herself over to anger,” Adrian snapped.

That brought Madeline up short, just a foot from where Adrian stood.

“How did you get in here?” Adrian demanded.

Madeline pressed her lips together and turned her face slightly away.

Adrian stood, waiting silently. While his face was carved from stone, inwardly he was seething. How had this woman gotten past the guards?

But Madeline didn’t say anything as the color in her cheeks rose. Instead, her attention, and Adrian’s, was drawn to a young woman striding towards them, her arms full of books and parchment.

Kyanan drew up to them, her eyes flickering with just a hint of curiosity at Adrian standing almost in the hallway and the woman standing in his office. Instead of saying anything, she merely bobbed a curtsy and handed a piece of parchment to Adrian, who took it and looked it over as though it were the most important thing in the world.

“Your Highness, the infirmary is ready to receive you,” Kyanan said, her voice and words formal.

“Yes, thank you.” A thought turned over in his head and he turned to Madeline with a charming smile. “Lady Olidan, would you like to accompany me to the infirmary? I’m due to say a few encouraging words and speak with some of our wounded brave.”

He tried very hard not to crack a smile when Madeline’s face blanched. He watched with interest as she quickly recovered, drew her cloak tighter around herself, and pulled herself up straight.

“An infirmary is not a proper place for a lady,” she said primly. “I must decline, Your Highness, with a great deal of regret. It would not do if I were to catch my death.”

Adrian had to bite his tongue. If only the woman could catch a severed limb or pierced gut.

He forced himself to bow to her. “Then Kyanan will show you out of the castle. Good day, Lady Olidan.”

Adrian caught Kyanan’s eye as he hastily turned away. She did no more than quirk a corner of her mouth, but it was all he needed to know she would deal with Madeline.

He made his way down to the infirmary, a frown creasing his face as he puzzled how Madeline had gotten in. Lawrence had told him his wife and two remaining daughters had orders to remain at home. To help his distant cousin with his wilful oldest daughter, he’d spoken with the guards to ensure none of the Olidan ladies, save Abigail, were permitted inside the castle. He didn’t have time to speak with the head of the guards at the moment, but he would do so as soon as he was finished in the infirmary.

The infirmary was quietly buzzing in anticipation of Adrian’s arrival. The wing had once housed much of the court, but, after they abandoned the castle and city, it had been quickly requisitioned for the infirmary. It made sense to Adrian; there were doors that opened to the grounds so soldiers didn’t need to be paraded through the castle halls and there were plenty of smaller rooms to help keep patients separated.

One woman dressed in a gray gown and blood spattered white apron approached him. She dipped him a curtsy, which he returned with a somber bow.

“Healer,” he said, recognizing the woman who had set up the infirmary in the first place, but not recalling her name.

“Your Highness, we are grateful for your visit.”

His face serious, he said, “It is my honor, Healer.” He gestured. “Will you guide me?”

She bobbed another curtsy. “Of course, Your Highness.”

He followed as she led him into a repurposed office. Here, the soldiers were awake and alert, having sustained little more than minor wounds. They were speaking merrily with each other and moving around the beds and chairs set up around the walls.

But what drew his attention was the sight of Camille. Abigail, he expected, but he’d given explicit orders that her sisters be turned away from the castle.

Adrian made a motion to the woman guiding him, asking her to pause a moment. Keeping his face composed, he approached Camille as Abigail offered him a small smile before going back to offering water to one of the soldiers.

“How did you get in here?” he asked in a low voice.

Camille arched a brow. “What do you mean?”

“Your father was explicit, Camille. You, Muriel, and Madeline were not to leave Olidan Manor. I gave orders to the guards to not allow any of you in. How did you get in here?”

Camille offered him a sly smile. “Not all doors are guarded, Adrian,” she said quietly.

A bolt went through him and his spine stiffened. “Did Madeline get in the same way you did?”

“Madeline?” Abigail asked, turning her attention to them, her eyes wide. “Madeline is in the castle?”

“Not anymore,” Adrian quickly reassured her. “Kyanan saw her out. But I have no idea how she got in in the first place.”

Camille’s face paled nearly to the same shade of white as her apron. “You think she followed me.”

“If you could get in, why couldn’t she?”

“Camille?” Abigail asked, her head whipping to her sister. “You said Father was allowing you to help in the infirmary.”

Camille closed her eyes and shook her head. “I’m so sorry, Abigail, Adrian. I just wanted to help. I had no idea Madeline was spying on me. Violet was so sure my comings and goings weren’t going to be noticed.” She opened her eyes. “I’ll show you the door.”

Adrian gave a curt nod. “I know you want to do your part, Camille, but I think you don’t belong here.”

“No,” Camille agreed. She glanced over at her wide eyed sister. “No, I have responsibilities at home.”

“When I’m finished, I’ll come back and you can show me the door.”

Camille gave a quick nod. “Of course.”

Before leaving them, Adrian reached out and gently brushed Abigail’s cheek.

The healer was waiting for him at a discreet distance, her face lowered to offer as much privacy as she could. He joined her and gestured for her to continue. After offering another curtsy, she led him to a corner where three men and a woman were playing a card game. Three of them had an arm in a sling and the third had a bandaged knee stretched out. Otherwise they were gleefully clearing each other out.

“Your Highness,” one of the men said, catching sight of him. He awkwardly pushed himself up, but Adrian waved him back. “Would you join us?”

Adrian smiled and approached them. “Would that I could, but the lady I am courting frowns on gambling.”

The woman nodded and glanced behind him to Abigail. “Aye, she does. I can tell. A lady through and through. But a nice one at that.”

Adrian’s grin widened. “I take it you approve?”

The man with the bandaged knee slapped the table a couple of times. “Course we do! Who wouldn’t love Lady Olidan? She’s been so kind to all of us.” He grinned at his fellow patients. “I daresay we wouldn’t be as well cared for if it weren’t for her.”

One of the men eagerly nodded. “She’s always quick to see if our injured limbs need to be repositioned. Not that I’m complaining about the healers, but they’re a busy lot.” He jerked his head to the side. “Over that way are the ones who weren’t so lucky as us. I heard one screaming this morning when he had to have a leg cut off.” He shuddered. “Unlucky business.”

Adrian forced a smile, a flick of anger surging through him before he was able to wrangle it. If it hadn’t been for his cousin absconding, they wouldn’t be in this mess. Then again, if James had married the sea witch, the land would have been ravaged, possibly returned to the sea, or the new Glass Princess setting her sights on the neighboring kingdoms. Either way, it was always going to be a blood bath.

With smiles and wishes for speedy recoveries, Adrian bowed and left the soldiers to their game, hoping the war would be finished before they were healed enough to return to the seas.

With a small nod to the healer, he jerked his head to the room the man had gestured towards. Her brows rose in surprise, but she took him out into the hall and into a room two doors down.

“The room between is our operating room,” she said quietly. “It’s a bit crude, but the healers there do remarkable work. This is where they recover until we can move them to other rooms for long-term care.”

Adrian nodded as he stepped into the room. It was bright with the curtains having been removed and the window opened a couple of inches to allow a gentle breeze tinged with the sea. It was an awful reminder of where these men and women had sustained their injuries, but it was the only way to give them fresh air. Plants, growing green spirals and indigo flowers, were settled on shelves with jars and clean linens and rolled bandages glowing with Clarice’s enchantments tucked between them.

There were only two men in here. One was either unconscious or asleep; Adrian couldn’t tell. His face was pale and drawn, a single lump under the thin sheet hinting at him being the man the soldiers in the other room had heard. The other was awake, quietly watching him. His green eyes shone with bitterness, his body telling the tale of a double amputee, both his legs sawn off, one shorter than the other.

“What kind of life can I expect after this?” he whispered to Adrian, gesturing at his legs. “Before this blasted war, people like me were no better than beggars. I’m a merchant’s son. A wealthy merchant’s son. My father was a soldier and he thought it a good idea when I decided to join to protect my home. But now? I’ll never be useful to him.”

Adrian’s heart dropped a little. He’d spent very little time in the city over the past decade. Outside of the markets with Abigail, he didn’t know what the city was like, whether it was true that people like this man were treated so poorly.

He walked, slowly but steadily, over to the man and knelt by his bed. “Sir, we are grateful for your service, for doing your best to protect the city and the kingdom. As you probably know, I’ve spent the last several years at Murant Holdings, far from the city. It pains me that I don’t know the city anymore, but it sounds like you do.”

The man’s head turned, his eyes closed, silently dismissing Adrian.

“Our King goes into battle tomorrow.”

That brought the man’s head back around, his eyes wide and his mouth gaping. “The King?”

Adrian gave a quick nod. “Yes. He goes in the hopes of ensuring our victory, but you know as well as anyone else here, he might not survive. I am his heir, and I will need help to repair and rebuild our city. I would not go into it blindly. If you have spoken the truth, there is a lot more than just rebuilding to do.”

The man’s eyes became pained. “The Queen. She always tried.”

Adrian smiled and touched the man’s hand. “She always does. But my lady and I will do better. For all that you and your fellow soldiers have done and will do to protect us from the Pearl Kingdom, turning you out into the streets to beg is not a kind way to thank you. I am at a loss of what to do at the moment, but I know my lady will have ideas.” He looked regretfully at the man’s stumps. “As you will be here for quite a while, would you mind if I come and visit periodically?”

The man’s face brightened. “Your Highness, it would be an honor.” He offered a mirthless smile. “You’ll forgive me for not bowing.”

Adrian smiled. “What is your name?”

“Thomas Marksworth. My parents are perfumers. My father fought in a skirmish with the Sun Kingdom when he was a lad. He discovered aromatic plants during that time and brought some back to my mother, whom he started courting as soon as he returned. She crushed them and wore the fragrances. The other women clamored for them, so they married and started making perfumes.”

“Does your mother, by any chance, knit?”

The man looked surprised. “Yes. All the time. How do you know?”

Adrian grinned, but it quickly turned into a grimace. “When I first arrived back in the city, my lady was kind enough to help me find a gift for the mermaid princess. My lady took me to your parents. It was lovely, but I’m sorry I purchased it for the woman who brought this on us.”

Thomas’s face turned serious. “I won’t hold it against you.”

A short laugh escaped Adrian as the healer leading him around fluttered by his shoulder. Turning slightly, he nodded in acknowledgement before gently clapping Thomas on the shoulder.

“I’m sorry to dash off, but duty calls,” Adrian said regretfully.

Thomas nodded understandingly. “I’ll look forward to our next meeting, Your Highness.”

Adrian rose and offered the injured man a bow. Then the healer led him out for another room full of injured soldiers who never should have been harmed.

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