She had become ill. A cough began the day of their departure and lasted throughout the journey, bringing with it chills and taking away her appetite. Still far from Piques’s capital they were commanded to stop and rest in a town, her suitor refusing to go further until her health improved. His orders were that of duc and doctor; none could argue.
He carried her to the most elegant suite in the inn as if he were already her husband, laying her down in bed and then moving to the hall while a maid helped her undress. When he entered again she was curled up under the covers shivering. Ignoring the maid he made his way to the lady, kissing her forehead and letting his lips linger to both comfort and assess a fever.
“I am unfamiliar with what ails you, my dear,” he said, pulling back and then stroking her curls. Her blue eyes were unfocused and her skin pale save for blotches on her cheeks. He felt her throat, taking note of abnormalities. “I will consult with local physicians about this. You will be better soon.” His studies had been in surgery, not illness, but he would take extraordinary measures to make her well.
“Forgive me for being so much trouble—” A kiss silenced her. The thought that he could catch her illness entered his mind, but the desire to show her no blame won over. And if he did fall ill, felt the symptoms himself, at least he might be able to recognize and hold back the spirits that plagued her.
She broke the kiss to cough. Spots of red betrayed how much worse her condition had become.
“Rest for now,” he said softly. Taking out a handkerchief he wiped away her blood and tucked her in again. The duc then remained standing by her side, not wanting to leave her, one hand still stroking blonde hair that was damp from fever sweat.
“There is drink for Lady Elizabeth by the bed, Your Grace,” the maid said. “And chimes to the servant’s rooms for when she wakes.”
“Thank you,” Pierre replied. “You may go.”
He poured his love a glass of diluted wine as the maid left, and paused after she shut the door. Lizzy’s eyes were closed.
There were no witnesses.
He set the pitcher down and took off his gloves. With a pin taken from the folds of his clothing, he pricked his finger. Blood seeped out, becoming dark first with saturation and then in hue. When it dripped down his hand even the trail left behind was black.
He let several drops of blood fall into her drink before putting on his gloves again. They were dark as well, and by sight one would not see the bloodstains. He would change them later when he had a spare moment.
“Sleep well, Lizzy. Do not forget to drink. I will have a light dinner brought to you later.” She did not reply, already asleep or too weak to answer.
He sat in one of the spare chairs. Perhaps she would wake to quench her thirst, and he would be able to use cræft to try and heal her by means outside the natural. This too kept him from seeing the rest of his entourage. There was enough on his mind without half the court attempting to gain favor.
For half an hour the duc sat and watched his dear friend. She slept peacefully, only coughing now and again, and her shivering began to cease. Pierre only moved to wipe her lips once and later again to touch her throat. It was still early spring, perhaps this was an illness she caught in winter?
The door creaked as it opened. Pierre glanced over to see a black cat entering the room, and smiled as she nudged the door closed with her paw. She then turned to him and jumped into his lap. Pierre hugged her as she began to purr.
“I have just been here with Lizzy,” he told his pet. He whispered so as not to wake the girl. The cat nudged him to continue. “She is very ill. I do not know what to do, Pluta. I don’t know how to feel. A doctor has been sent for, but what if they can offer no help either?”
Pluta pressed herself to her master and purred louder to try and offer comfort.
“What is the worst that can happen?” the cat asked. To most it would sound like mewling, but to him and those that knew necrocræft it would be Saiva’s common language.
“She could suffer,” he replied, looking up to the sleeping comte’s daughter. “And I might not be able to do anything.”
Illness was something one learned to understand and live with in Clandestina. While some of the best healers and doctors of the world resided in this realm it was by necessity. Death was not a certainty for many illnesses that would have taken lives anywhere else, but that did not mean the journey to health was smooth. The guardians who had once controlled this were all but gone. Some resided in other realms, most had just disappeared, but the magic of a realm was innate. Other places could continue to thrive without ever knowing about the keres; this land of fée and human was in turmoil.
Yet some did not accept this fate so easily.
The lord of death stepped out of the room, giving Lizzy one last glance before entering the hall and shutting the door. His familiar was still nestled in his arms.
“My lady?” Pierre asked the air. A presence appeared behind him and arms wrapped around his waist. Death rested her head between his shoulder-blades. She brought a chill with her as if she had stood out in the snow for far too long and had yet to warm, and the duc shivered in her embrace.
“The spirits are not mine,” Mora said. “They come from my plane, but only in ancestry.” She was not divine, though at times called goddess to honor her power. Neither all-knowing nor all-powerful, she was a being that came from another plane and had an affiliation with certain spirits—A daimon. The last ker. Legend and time had turned her into a being that responded to Death. And sometimes Life.
“Do what you will,” she said before he continued. “Piques is your land, and Clandestina your home. You do not need my permission, Lord.” The wrong title to call him as he was a duc, but she was referring to his other rank.
“Will you help?” he asked. Mora had been wary of Elizabeth since the girl had returned to Pierre’s life. Had been jealous even that he had chosen to come back to life after committing suicide (the final of her tests) instead of staying with her in the land of the dead.
“I will not hinder.” She placed a kiss of ice to the nape of his neck, and the weight of her against him vanished. The cold remained.