Chapter 11: Utter Betrayal
Heavy rain was falling outside when I was returned to my room. A sawbone came to examine my head wound. He wore a white silk mask and white gloves and carried a heavy leather case with a strange assortment of bottles and tools. He pushed up the corner of my mask and applied some stinging salve to the cut.
"You were lucky the mask was in the way. It's not serious," he said in a voice as dry as a summer breeze. Sawbones were a privilege only the Lords had.
In Thalmina, we had a herbalist, a priestess of the goddess Tia, who grew medicinal herbs for the whole area and even sold to the nobles at times. There was also a wise-woman who would come, along with her brother, and help set broken bones, or stop a bleeding.
One time, when Jer Panaris, the dairy farmer, had fallen off the roof of his barn while fixing it, she had even enlisted the help of the mask-maker to set his legs in plaster. We often worked with plaster to create moulds of faces while making cast-iron masks for soldiers. I remember the hard work of setting Panaris right. He screamed through the pain, and died some days later, regardless.
The efforts we all made, constantly, just to stay alive. No matter our actions, death waited for us always.
The sawbone's face brightened when he saw miss Biluria. He asked her how her shoulder was setting. She replied curtly. Then, to my surprise, he ushered her out of the room and into the one adjacent.
I could see them through the door that had been left ajar, deep in conversation. I was alone, unsupervised, with the sawbone's case open before me.
One third mischief, two thirds curiosity—I decided to observe its contents. I picked through the little bottles, reading each label. They meant nothing to me. On the back of each bottle were secondary labels with hasty instructions.
One drop for each year of age, said one.
To be consumed after a meal, read another.
And a third: Must not be given in the presence of alcohol.
The fourth bottle I pulled out had a worn dripper and a slightly peeling label. For insomnia. Two drops for adult women, three for men. Must not be ingested by children or those who suffer from dizzy spells.
I turned the last bottle round, to read the word Ether on its front label.
Maybe this was going to be useful. I stuffed it into the front of my bodice, just as the sawbone concluded his conversation with Biluria.
He packed his bag without a worry, and rushed out.
A midday meal was served in my room, but I couldn't touch it. The thought of that thing, the serum, and its consequences filled my stomach with dread.
I looked out the window of my room, the rain fell in sheets. If I climbed out of it, I wouldn't get past the sentries at the gate. I couldn't steal a horse, or pass the steep wall surrounding the estate. I was jailed, and condemned to stay here until the dose of serum, which I would be forced to take, would wear off.
The muffled sound of a stifled sob came from the next room.
"Shush..." someone said. "She'll hear you."
If I tried to spy on the maids now, it would be too obvious. I knocked on their door, bringing about hurried shuffling and whispers.
Biluria opened it. My gaze flew right past her, at Jeranine who was crying on the bed with the maid whose name I forgot hugging her. The fourth maid wasn't present today.
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