~ Qvattorday, 23th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
Pierre once more read over the missive he had received from the prison that morning. It confirmed there had been enough evidence that the incarceration at His Grace’s pleasure would have held for the chief if he had been alive. For a year and a day Augustin Raoul would have been held there and his deeds published so that it may be known what he did. If Pierre wished for a longer sentence or death then a trial would be arranged and a judge would decide the appropriate sentencing. Similarly, if the accused claimed his innocence he could demand a trial after the year and day. If the accused won he would then be compensated for his time, and the stain on the duc’s reputation would be great.
There would still be a pamphlet written up about what Augustin had done: evidence against him, interviews with his staff, and the information that he had hanged himself shortly after his arrest. It would hopefully quell those that thought similar things and send a message throughout Piques.
Now Pierre needed to know if Feuilles or his sons had been involved in the attempt on his life and if there was any connection with Augustin, the hospital, and the poison he recognized.
Unlike with the chief he had no evidence or witnesses, only a feeling and a possible motive in rumors that Comte Frederick wanted to be duc. Pierre could try and have the comte and his sons imprisoned at his pleasure, but doing so to fellow nobles was a far more difficult issue than with a subject of the kingdom. The noble could appeal right away, their imprisonment being such that they were confined to their homes and not a cell or dungeon. It would give them time to destroy evidence, come up with alibis, find allies. Without solid proof it was not done. And that he did not have.
It was possible Comte Feuilles was involved and lords Jourdain and Renaud were not, of course, but that seemed unlikely. If both were intelligent men, and Aimé would not have had them as advisors otherwise, then they would have realized what it meant when their father sent them both to be advisors and had even now not sent for either to return.
“Pluta, my dear,” Pierre said, folding the note and putting it into his drawer. His familiar meowed back that she was there and listening. Pierre tried not to roll his eyes. “I have a request of you. A meeting with the advisors will take place tonight after dinner. Can you find a way into Lords Jourdain and Renaud’s rooms? Try to find anything suspicious or questionable.”
Pluta poked her head out from under the desk, blinking up at Pierre before jumping up into his lap and agreeing to help.
“I have been somewhat preoccupied in the past several days,” Pierre began. His advisors, save Elwin, were all sitting in the same chairs they had had in the first meeting only two weeks past. Without the margrave and the large gap between Elwin and the rest of the advisors they all seemed more of a team to be working on a common goal. That they only seemed to work together well without Elwin was a worry to add to all the current commotion. “I apologize for my distance.”
“How is the girl, Your Grace?” Tibault asked. “She is healthy now, I hope.”
“Yes, Lord Tibault. The surgery went well, as has her recovery. Alise is getting ready to leave tomorrow with her parents.”
“Good. Father wrote me and wishes for you to know that he supports your decision with the hospital. He will in fact also be inspecting those around Bladeren. He is not a doctor himself, but my uncle is, and Father says he has picked up a few things over the years.”
“That is an excellent idea. Do tell him to contact me if he so desires, I welcome his input.”
“And I have been keeping up with the goings on of our hospital,” Vivien said. It was a task that His Grace had given him after their talk a few days past. “Adam Roland has been instated as the chief doctor of the hospital in the stead of Augustin Raoul, who died last Iunday night. He was found having committed suicide. Several members of staff have also been fired, or outright quit. Others have on the other hand been promoted and a number of new doctors and nurses are being interviewed for positions. Is there anything you would like to oversee personally, Your Grace?”
“Not yet. Keep me updated, and perhaps a list of all those that no longer work there. And set up a meeting with Doctor Adam.”
“Of course. On your desk is already a list from a secretary, I believe Adam’s wife, that was brought for you. There are two columns, and those on the left correspond to many that have quit or were fired. Many on the right were promoted to fill those spots.”
“And who has decided this firing and promoting?” Renaud asked. “Was it Adam Roland?”
“Yes, I believe he himself did it, seeing as he is the new chief of the hospital,” Vivien said.
“But he is a surgeon, no? He does not know every department and person in that hospital, not in the same way Augustin did. Nor would he be impartial like a third party. He goes on the notes of his wife, a secretary, and not a doctor or even a nurse, yes?”
“I do not—”
“You did say those who quit or were fired were all on one side of her list. Those promoted on the other. I imagine the rest will follow suit soon.”
“I have to agree,” Charlot said. “That seems to be the case.”
“Would it be impossible, Your Grace, that she decided to list people who she disagreed with, regardless of their prowess as physicians? Or those that, while disagreed with the chief, said nothing because they felt it not their place and could not risk their jobs?”
Knowing what he knew of the fay… Pierre picked up the lists and looked over them. He had asked only for those with very strong feelings towards the fée and fay. But he had trouble believing that everyone in the left column would allow Alise to die. He had intended to use this to look into the staff himself, not have them all fired without inquiry. He did not hold it against Adam that he believed his wife, but checking things over again would be prudent.
“It would not be impossible,” Pierre agreed. “Very well, you raise a good point, Lord Renaud. I will double check those that have been fired and those that have been promoted. Those that have quit will, of course, stay gone.”
“That is all I ask.”
Ladies Cordelia and Perdita decided that since the men would have meetings every fortnight, the women would as well. A less often used sitting room was chosen; a table set up to be laden with tea, sweets, and fruits; and invitations hand-written and sent. They discussed this in person with the other women at dinner, even extending the offer to Lady Rhianu through her daughter for when the margravine was at the château. Lady Sabine was the only one who outright declined, though not unkindly, stating that she was not one for gossip.
They would meet an hour after dinner, the other ladies having a prior engagement already for the evening, and Maiolaine’s children then needing to be put to bed as well. It was a bit of a disappointment that the two meetings would not begin at the same time, but that could be arranged another time.
Síofra and Elizabeth were first to arrive right as the last of the servants setting up the after-dinner foods was leaving. Both wore different clothes than they had at dinner, less constricting and formal, to be worn in the evening amid family.
“Oh this looks wonderful! Cordelia, Perdita, you have outdone yourselves.”
Lady Maiolaine came into the room soon after, also wearing different clothes, though these no less formal for her. “Bastien decided he was too old to go to bed at the same time as his sisters. Of course he could not mention this to me earlier and wished to argue while refusing to put on his nightclothes. I finally told him he had in fact stayed up half an hour longer than his sisters during the argument and that was enough that he relented.”
“You may regret that tomorrow when he tries to stay up again and this time knows well enough not to argue.”
“Ah, but he is not wrong. Perhaps some time awake after his sisters would be good for him. Vivien wishes to begin his lessons in politics soon as well. At least he still allows me to hug him whenever I wish.”
She sat, accepting a dessert from Cordelia. “Blancmange for the wife of a blancmage?”
“Oui!” the future comtesse said with a laugh. “I thought it amusing.”
“And clever,” Perdita added. “Though I told her it was hardly clever.”
“I even wanted some before you arrived,” Lizzy said. “But she said I was a blancwitch and therefore had to had something else!” Her own dessert was iced-cream sat between two thin wafers.
“You clearly already had too much time on your hands to prepare this.” Cordelia stuck her nose up as if it bothered her, but took her own ladyfinger-raspberry tort with a smile.
“I thought it was very clever,” Síofra said. Her dessert was fairy bread, something she had never had before, and quite liked.
“See! Merci, thank you for appreciating my hard work. In fact, lady Síofra, feel free to call me Delia if you so wish.”
“Oh, thank you! I do not have another name, but if you come up with something I will gladly listen.”
“And what was this prior engagement that had all of you making our carefully laid plans fall apart?” Perdita asked. “It is only luck that we had enough ice that these are still chilled.”
“You sent notes in the late afternoon for a gathering after dinner, it was hardly carefully laid, Cousin,” Maiolaine replied with a smile. “Though next time things shall be moved about and we will be here on time.”
“And they were dancing lessons,” Síofra said.
“Oh, come now,” Cordelia replied. “At this hour? We know it is far more than dancing… Tell me, is it thrilling to hold a blade?”
Elizabeth took a bite of the wafer before confessing. “It can be.”
Cordelia grinned, shaking her head and her curls bouncing with the movement. “I cannot imagine! I do love to hear of it, but do not ask me to come watch.” She shivered at the very thought.
“I carry a knife,” Perdita said softly. When her lady looked at her with wide, scandalized, and excited eyes, she ducked her head. “I thought you knew, Delia!”
“Non! Oh, show me.”
“I do not have it with me.”
“Then what use it is if you do not carry it on your person?” Síofra asked.
“Swords and knives and blades,” Cordelia said, exasperated. “Has your mother turned all of the women into warriors, Lady Síofra?”
“Knives are not actually the traditional weapons of the fée,” the red-haired girl replied. “Though many of us carry them for practical purposes, and I confess I love elegant designs, we began doing so because it was the people who came to Clandestina who kept them. We merely let women use them.”
“What is the traditional fée weapon?” Perdita asked.
“Magic, among all of the Fae. Illusions, trickery, transformations. That sort of thing. Most have something they specialize in.”
“And how can you use trickery as a weapon?”
“Well if I reveal that I cannot use the trick, now can I?”
“Transformation then! Oh, please show us.”
“I suppose I can… Mother has shown me something recently and I have become quite good at it.”
Síofra took her napkin from the table. She examined it, found it to her satisfaction, and twisted it in her hands for a moment before whispering a word at it. She then laid it out again as it had been before. She did not feel the spirits as she usually did, but thought it was only because she did the spell here and not in Faery.
“Pick it up,” she encouraged. Perdita leaned over and plucked it up with two fingers. “Shall it harm me?” she asked, not wanting to let go, but realizing a little late what she had done.
“No…” Síofra furrowed her brows. The napkin, made of cloth, should have become stone, heavy and stiff. She had not failed in doing the particular magia for a few weeks now.
The others noticed her change in mood, for all by now knew her to be very often cheery.
“No matter,” Cordelia said. “You are right, a trick is not much of a trick if one is told about it beforehand. It would not do to spread about secrets.”
“No, it would not,” Síofra agreed, pushing aside her disappointment. Perdita returned the cloth to its place and gently smiled at her.
“Speaking of secrets,” Cordelia said, “My dear husband has told me that his younger brother is quite taken with a new lady of the house.” A flurry of gossip began. Síofra soon forgot that her magic had not done as she wanted.
Pluta was on his bed when Pierre entered his room, laying on top of something and hiding it. She got up and stretched when he closed the door, revealing several letters.
“Where did you find these?” he said, picking them up and looking through them. He knew the handwriting on several— both his brother, and his father’s steward.
“In Jourdain’s room,” she replied. “Among the usual stacks of letters from home.”
The topmost letter was from Prince Aimé to Vivien, detailing that Pierre was ill but seemingly getting better, though still confined to bed. It must have been sent shortly after Aimé had visited him at the castle. To inform the steward that the future duc had taken ill was not unusual, but that Vivien’s open mail was in Jourdain’s possession was.
Pierre sat at his desk and grabbed a piece of paper to write down the dates. The poisoning had been on Springfinding, and Aimé had returned to the castle almost a week before that. A bird could, at a rush, get to Spadille from the castle in half a day. Six gave someone in Spadille plenty of time to plot an assassination and send instructions to poison his wine.
It was still not enough proof for a legal case. Even if he asked Jourdain to be confined to jail at his pleasure there would be backlash. And was Frederick involved as well, or Renaud?
He looked through the other letters. Two more were from either Aimé or the king’s own steward, one from Bladeren to Tibault. None of them to Jourdain, and yet all were found in the future comte’s rooms.
The last letter was in fact to Renaud from his father.
“Why this one?” he asked Pluta, opening it.
“It smelt of death,” his familiar replied. “The same way as something at the prison did that night. It is from Renaud’s room, though, not Jourdain’s.”
It was a usual letter at first. Information from home, asking about how things were… but the last sentences seeming wrong and random. They were written too quickly, in a different ink, as if added on later before being sent.
And the cook has invented a potent drink with extract of rhubarb. We will try it on Springfinding.
When Pierre had chosen poison as his method of dying for Mora’s last test he had studied several plants before choosing larkspur. Rhubarb had been among them, but the sheer amount that he would need to consume made it almost impossible. He had tried smaller amounts and gotten ill, but nowhere near dying. Yet if it were refined somehow…
So he had recognized the burning in his throat that night. His death had been orchestrated by these men, even if not managed.
He would return the favor and not fail.
~ Vijfday, 24th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
The next day Pierre called Jourdain and Renaud to the advisor’s meeting room. He had rid it of the large desk and given himself a similar chair to all the rest. It might seem as if to make the men more equal, but in reality he preferred to be free to move. A large desk made it difficult to get out of the way.
“I have a request,” he said after they had sat. He poured them all drinks and handed the brothers their glasses. Jourdain thanked him and took a sip while Renaud declined. He had drunk at the last meeting, where Vivien had poured. But perhaps it was only too early in the day for him to imbibe.
“I would like the two of you to go to Quercus,” Pierre said. “I am sending an important message and would prefer not to have it done by pigeon. Go together, but otherwise alone. It will be faster with just the two of you.” Having it sent by his advisors would also be telling of how deeply important this was. For all this was a trap for the men the mission was no less true, and the task was important enough to throw suspicion off his involvement in their disappearance.
He handed a letter to Jourdain, sealed with his personal seal as princeling. “Do not open it, present it to Lord Eichel directly, please.”
They accepted the request and carefully pocketed the letter. Pierre did not wish to drag out this meeting with pleasantries, there was nothing pleasant with speaking to them now and so he dismissed them.
Pierre closed his eyes and sat back in his chair, draining the rest of his glass. He was a hypocrite. Had he not just spoken with Elwin and Rhianu about how the people of Piques see the fée? How something must change? The fée needed to adhere more to the humans’ laws…Or perhaps it was the humans of Clandestina who needed to be reminded that this was not originally their land.
Either way plans were already set in motion. He would improve relations after this deed was done.
He had been in contact with Lord Spadé and hopefully the margrave would be able to capture one of the men, if not both, though only after the message was delivered. Pierre could prove nothing, not yet, so he would take his revenge in secret.