~ (Continued) Trisday, 1st of Aprilis, 11831 ~
Pierre entered the inn at dawn. He intended to ask the nurse about Lizzy and then to go to bed until noon, but the moment he opened the door Death covered him.
A fool. He had been played the fool.
He ran to Elizabeth’s room. The door was unlocked, and he rushed in. The nurse was there, slumped over in her chair in such an unnatural way that he wondered for a moment if she was dead. A noise had him turning his attention to Lizzy, who lay on a bed with covers thrown aside, tremors coursing through her body as she coughed. Blood spattered her cheeks and the front of her nightclothes. Her eyes were open, but she stared at nothing.
He hesitated at her side, unsure whether to try to gain her attention, use his cræft, or call for aid. He touched her shoulder, and she jerked away from him.
“Elizabeth! Lizzy, darling!” No reaction.
“What did you do to her?” he demanded of Mora. When the ker appeared, form becoming visible though still a haze, he reached out and grabbed her wrist. Pulling her into this plane she became physical and stumbled into his arms, but he did not embrace her. He forced her chin up with no delicacy so their eyes met.
She became smoke.
Her presence filled the entire room and overwhelmed him. The queen of pain and suffering was before him in all of her glory. He could not breath, his very soul being torn out of him. Sinking to his knees before her he watched, eyes never leaving where she had stood, as she reformed into a terrible angel. Her wings were spread, and her somber attire of this era replaced with a red cloak. It seemed dirty as well as dyed, and the varying shades of red resembled blood. The stench confirmed it. Pierre would have been sick if he still felt any connection to his body.
Mora reached out to stroke his cheek, tracing where she had wounded him at his rejection of her. With the blood she spilled, with the magic she gave him, he had thought he exorcised her from the room. How foolish that notion was, to dare think he had tamed Death.
“I took you away to spare you,” she said. “The spirits are deciding her fate, I have done nothing and do not influence them. I merely stand witness.” Her breath upon his face was so cold it burned.
She looked over her shoulder to Elizabeth, who was now calming down, and smiled sadly.
“You will not be mine, I see this now… The spirits you claim to hold sway over must decide if she will be worthy to be your lady. And I will adhere to their choice.”
She turned back to him as he realized what he had done.
She was gone. There was an unnatural emptiness in the room as if all the spirits with her had decided to follow. Pierre did not move for a very long time, tears staining his face.
He finally crawled over to Lizzy’s bed. She lay still, save for the rise and fall of her chest, sleeping and alive. The sheets which had been soaked in sweat looked new and clean. There was no blood.
The spirits had judged her like they had him because he chose her. And they approved.
“My Lady Mora?” he spoke again. He wanted her to return, to beg forgiveness, to apologize. But there came no answer.
He kissed Lizzy’s forehead, tucked the covers around her, and left the room.
She felt as if no illness had befallen her. Waking up early this morning Elizabeth dreaded consciousness, fearing the terrible way her body was succumbing to an illness where she had begun to cough blood, but all seemed well. No aches or pain in her throat and her head was clear. She was even quite hungry.
She rang a serving bell and asked for breakfast, being attended to immediately. A nurse came in to check her as well, the same woman that had been helping her for the past few days, and Lizzy asked if anything odd had happened last night. The nurse replied that it had not, save her own falling asleep in a chair and waking up with a stiff neck. “You slept soundly, my lady, and it seems the illness has passed if you feel as well as you say.”
When she asked about the duc, she was told he still had not come from his room, but if she wished it, he would be woken.
“Oh no, do not disturb him for me.”
“Oui, Lady Elizabeth.”
She ate in silence, still contemplating how she had gotten better overnight—it had not been a minor illness after all. She was not ignorant of medicine, most nobles had a basic understanding of it, but she was not as learned as her brother or Pierre.
“A local doctor has said he will see you today,” the nurse continued. “He will confirm your wellbeing hopefully and then you can return to your travels. His Grace arranged it.”
“Thank you. And may you bring a note to His Grace for me for when he does wake?” She quickly penned a short letter to Pierre, asking him for a visit, and addressing her love in a way that she could not bring herself to speak aloud just yet. The nurse left to deliver it.
Finished now with breakfast and no longer tired, but without company, Elizabeth lay back in bed with a sigh. Her luggage was not here, likely thought unneeded while she had been too ill to even sit up, and so she could not get to her things. Not that there was very much in her luggage, she had initially only been going to the castle for a few days with her mother to celebrate Pierre’s birthday and his graduation. Now she was to spend the summer with him in Piques! She would need to buy clothes, perfume, and perhaps some books if she had any money to spare from her allowance.
Maybe Pierre would buy her some of those things as gifts? They had gone from distant old friends to dear companions quite quickly these last few weeks. He had already gotten her a lovely necklace, and her mother would chide her if she knew how long they sometimes kissed. But Pierre had hinted at marriage already… That thought made her heart beat harder and a blush rise to her cheeks. Her father had had suitors come visit her this past year, but none of them had made her feel as Pierre had. But then again none of them had been her friend from childhood that she had not-very-secretly loved even then. It seemed that even if such a bond faded, time and distance would do such a thing, it could be rekindled. And being with him at times felt like a flame.
She now understood why chaperons were needed.
Lizzy’s hand moved up to her throat to caress the necklace she had received. She was already used to the soft weight. A few days ago Pierre had had to take it off after a fit of coughing; it had felt like the chain was choking her. After the incident passed, she insisted he return it to its rightful place. She liked having something from him always close, and the fan with his flower had fewer moments in her hand than jewelry she could wear at all times.
She must have been more tired than she thought, because while thinking of Pierre she dozed off, waking when there was a soft knocking on the door.
She expected a maid with lunch, but it was Pierre who entered.
“How are you feeling?” he asked. “I received your note but was told you were sleeping again. I waited a while and hope I did not wake you.”
“Extremely well, and you did wake me, but it is a pleasure to be woken by you.” When he leaned over to touch her forehead, she kissed him. His arms wrapped around her and checking her was put off as they were reacquainted.
It was with a reluctance that he pulled away several moments later, and Elizabeth realized he had begun to kiss her cheeks and was making his way to her neck. He coughed and straightened his collar while she tried not to think of what could have taken place.
“A doctor from town is waiting in the hall, that is why I came in now. I wanted him to check up on your before we decide whether we leave just yet. Is that acceptable?”
“Oui, it is, thank you.”
He stood up and went into the hall to call in the doctor. A middle-aged man walked in a few moments later with Pierre, introducing himself as the head physician of the small, but growing, local hospital.
“A pleasure, Doctor Hervé,” Lizzy said.
“All mine, Lady Elizabeth.”
Pierre stayed in the room, off to the side, as she was examined. He seemed nervous, fiddling with his hands the entire time.
“Well, I cannot say how it has happened,” the doctor said, having looked her over in a modest and quick inspection, “But it seems you are all well, my lady. You are a little underweight, but nothing a few days of good food will not fix. Has anything unusual happened? Did you take a medicine or herbal brew?”
“No, doctor. I mostly slept the last two days and ate nothing unusual. Broth, bread, some fruits, and not in any great quantity. Perhaps it merely passed on its own?”
“Perhaps. Early season fruits might be filled with enough warm humors to balance out some of the winter illness. I will still give you a few doses of the medicines I have found helped just in case. But I see no reason for you to remain in bed and delay your journey.”
“Thank you, Doctor Hervé.”
Pierre thanked him as well, and the doctor left. Almost as soon as the door closed it was opened again by a maid carrying a tray.
“Oh! Pardon, Your Grace, I assumed with the doctor leaving I could bring lunch—”
“No, no, it is fine. She needs her strength. Here, let me, mademoiselle.” Pierre took the tray from the now bemused maid. He sat on the bed with it in his lap so that it would be easier for Lizzy to reach. She might be well but he could not refrain from setting up the scenario.
“Thank you,” he then dismissed with maid. At least this dismissal was given with a smile, unlike two days past when he had been curt, though understandably, from worry.
“It is your turn to play nurse, then?” Lizzy asked, scooting over so that she was nestled up against him. When he picked up a piece of fruit, she opened her mouth obligingly.
“I, my dear, am a doctor, and do not need to play.”
A few weeks ago he had been the one ill and in bed, Lizzy had helped him eat and kept him company. Returning the favor now amused him. That she was healthy made this even better. Hopefully them both being ill so early in their relationship was not a bad omen as to how it would progress.
Pierre put down the second strawberry and rubbed at his temples. A headache from monitoring Lizzy with his cræft had begun. Even becoming a lord of death was not enough to keep the side-effects of the spirits from affecting his body.
“Pierre, are you alright?”
“Just a small headache, it’s fine. It will pass.” She nodded, but bit her lip and he saw she was worrying about him. She of course did not know of his magic and he intended for it to stay that way. While she had showed an interesting in learning more about it, that was just the curiosity of what was forbidden. Watching a hanging was also popular in some of the larger cities, it did not mean any of the on-lookers wanted to pull the lever or would be enamored with the executioner. He wore a hood for a reason.