“Trafferth!” muttered old white haired Peredur as he yanked tight the sash of his robe. “I’m doing ye a favor here, unless ye want to be scared clean away from the door.” He glanced in the direction of the knocking as he stooped to pick up a flame on the wick of his candle before stumping the length of the house to the door. “Dod i mewn, dod i mewn,” he said, fumbling to lift the latch with an empty sconce in one hand and a dribbling candle in the other. He threw open the door and looked the stranger up and down.
“Gabhaim pardun agat…” said Neron.
“Prince Neron!” said Peredur with a wide eyed gasp as he twisted the candle into the sconce at last. “Do come in! My word, I’m hardly dressed fit for a prince.”
“I’m so very sorry to be bothering you in the middle of the night…”
Neron gave a nod.
“I simply don’t know where he is, Your Highness. He’s like that sometimes, and I never know what to do. But I can certainly wake Mistress Dewin for you…”
“Forgive me, but please do.”
Peredur’s eyes got very wide at this. He thrust his sconce into Neron’s hands and vanished into the blackness of the house, leaving a trail of hurried footfalls. He crept past Ugleeuh’s room and knocked softly on Minuet’s door. The door came open immediately, causing him to gasp and step backward.
” Peredur!” said Minuet. “I thought you were Leeuh.”
“I suppose my tiptoeing woke you. I’m sorry. Prince Neron is down at the door. Something awful has happened and he wanted to see your father. I told him you’d speak with him.”
“Very well. Thank you. Just go on back to bed. I’ll take care of it.”
Minuet found Neron still dutifully holding the flickering candle. She curtsied and relieved him of it as she lit every candle in the room with a wave of her hand and saw that his face looked haunted. “The plague?” she thought. “You’re trying to find Father?” she said.
“Desperately, I’m afraid. My wife may be dying.”
“That’s terrible! I don’t know where he is.”
Neron’s eyes fell shut for a moment.
“Is she ill, injured?”
“I’m very sorry,” said Neron, getting hold of himself. “It would be irresponsible of me to disclose that. Please. It’s just that…”
“Oh Fates, yes!” he said, squeezing shut his eyes with a silent sob.
“Forgive me Prince Neron,” she said. “I’ve not quite told you the truth. Please excuse me. I’ll be right back.” She turned at once and vanished into the hallway. By the time he had found a chair and had taken a weary seat, she was back. “This,” she said as she handed him her vial and pipette, “is oil of oregano. Put six drops under her tongue, six times a day.”
“Yes it is. Does she have buboes?”
“My dear sweet child,” said Neron as he reached out, intending to give her a firm hug. “Thank the very Fates for you! Oh!” he said, stopping short and stepping back away from her. “I mustn’t expose you. No. She has the hepatic kind.”
“Good. Then that will give you more oil for under her tongue. Make sure she takes every last drop of it. And again, I’m sorry for my not telling you the truth. Father gave me strict orders that no one was to know his whereabouts. He’s getting a hay load of oregano plants along the south shore of the Gulf of Orrin. I’ll tell him that I told you, but please tell no one else.”
“Several have died at Castle Niarg,” she said with a nod. “The first death was a young courier from Far, so it’s there, too.”
Neron paused to shake his head grimly. “I must go,” he said as he hurriedly stepped to the door and opened it. “Thank you, thank you! You’ve saved my whole world.”
“Six drops under her tongue, six times a day…” she called after him, but he had already vanished into the night air.
“Nessa,” he said softly the moment he appeared by her side, “I have the most wonderful news.” He gently brushed aside her hair. Her forehead was cold. For a moment he couldn’t breathe. He frantically grabbed up her cold hand and held it to his cheek as a horror of icy fire flooded his chest. “Oh…! No!” he cried out, echoing through every hall in the palace as his legs buckled and gave way.
Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps