Chapter Thirty-Four – continued
Note: Last part for now as I’ll be on my blogging break next week. The next part will post on April 11th.
“Poison,” Coryn whispered, her voice breaking on the single word.
Adrian shot to his feet. “What kind? I’ll send for the fae.”
He turned to go, but his aunt’s cool hand on his arm pulled him to a stop. Confused, he turned to her, questions on the tip of his tongue that withered at the wrecked expression on her face, fresh tears sliding down her cheeks. Her lips pressed tightly together, she shook her head.
“There’s no cure?” he rasped, feeling as though a stone had just been dropped into his stomach.
Coryn shook her head, her fingers tightening around his wrist. The heartbreak was written all over her face, the fact that her husband still lived the only thing keeping her upright.
Adrian tried to take a breath, but his chest felt far too tight to get any air into his lungs. His heart was hammering, but he wasn’t quite sure why. His mind had blanked, his eyes wandering back to his uncle’s face.
“Who?” he whispered, his voice harsh sounding to his ears.
“I don’t know,” Coryn whispered, the end of the last word devolving into a soft cry as she crumbled back down to the side of the bed.
First the Count Olidan and now the King. Well, first the mermaid princess, then the Count, then the King. What was going on out on the seas?
For the moment, the King still lived, his uncle still breathed. So Adrian spun on his heel and marched out into the antechamber where servants still scuttled around.
He stopped one young man, who bowed deeply as he spoke. “I want the person who brought the King back.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” the man murmured.
While he waited, Adrian folded his arms across his chest and stood sentinel between the bedchamber and the antechamber. He watched as his uncle breathed, though each exhalation seemed to be accompanied by a moan of pain. His heart ached as he watched his aunt sob inconsolably by her husband’s side.
“You asked for me, Your Highness?”
Adrian turned at the sound of the voice. It was a middle-aged woman, her skin deeply tanned and her graying hair cut short under a close fitting hat. She was dressed in her uniform, all dark blue and gray with a golden button on one shoulder. Her boots were scuffed, but the tips shone as she stood with her feet slightly apart and her hands clasped behind her back.
“You’re the one who brought the King back?”
“Aye, sir,” she answered.
“Do you know what the poison is?”
“A nasty one, sir. We call it coral bane. It kills coral slowly, but man much quicker.”
“How much quicker?” He didn’t mean to sound sharp, but the woman took his tone in stride, doing little more than blink. “Apologies. It’s a difficult time.”
The woman dipped her head, allowing her own sadness to shine through for a brief moment before the soldier in her took over again. “Aye, sir. A matter of days, sir. We believe His Majesty was poisoned two days ago, and we brought him home as fast as we could.”
“Do you know who poisoned him?”
“No, sir. The crew is trustworthy. It was a blow when the Count Olidan was killed in battle. We took pains to protect the King. Alas, someone got to him and slipped coral’s bane into his food or drink.”
“There were no new crew?”
“No, sir.” She hesitated, a thought seemingly coming to her. “Well, sir, the general you sent to inform His Majesty of the mermaid princess’s death had only boarded the day before His Majesty was poisoned.”
Adrian frowned. “There’s no reason for the general to poison the king. The general was a trusted advisor.”
The woman dipped her head. “Of course, sir. He’s the only new person on deck, though.”
Adrian narrowed his eyes a little as the woman only blinked back at him. “Have you served under the general before?”
“Not I, sir, but my mother did many years ago.”
“I see,” Adrian murmured. “And where is the general now?”
“Still onboard Maiden’s Dawn.”
“And how did you know the King was poisoned with coral’s bane?”
The woman straightened a little and tilted her head up, a glean of pride in her eyes. “Maiden’s Dawn is responsible for protecting the coral reefs between the Glass Kingdom and the Pearl Kingdom, Sir, when not in the middle of a maritime war. We routinely test the coral, and the crew, for coral’s bane. In my seven years serving on Maiden’s Dawn, we’ve only lost one crewmember to coral’s bane. You can be certain, sir, I know what it looks like.”
Adrian nodded. “Thank you. And what is your position onboard?”
“First mate, sir.”
“And the captain?”
“Captain Lydian Tate, sir. She’s been captain of Maiden’s Dawn for nearly twelve years and has proudly served the Glass Kingdom. We were all delighted when His Majesty and His Lordship chose to sail with us.”
Adrian smiled. “Last question, I promise.”
“Of course, sir.” She dipped her head. “The captain ordered me to remain onshore until you have no further need of my services.”
Adrian nodded. “I believe you should be able to return to your ship soon.” He cleared his throat. “Does Maiden’s Dawn carry coral’s bane onboard?”
“No, sir,” she said, vehemence laced through her words. “Tis an awful poison. We cannot and will not risk poisoning the coral or the crew.”
He felt his brow crease, but he dismissed the woman as he had promised. The door closed behind her with a soft click, leaving him standing in shadows, silently contemplating the information she had given even as the Queen sobbed in the next room.
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