13 ~ Delphinium ~ A Favor

~ Dvoday, 7th of Aprilis, 11831 ~

“It looks a bit suspicious that you are so attached to my trunk.”

It was after dinner and camp had been set for the evening. They were three days from Spadille now, this half of the journey going well. They were now down to those that were specifically heading to Piques’ capital— Pierre’s party and the guards and servants that the castle had deemed he need travel with. Among those were several from Eichel as well, for Elizabeth’s sake. Those from Eichel would stay with Lizzy, while the castle guards and servants would return home shortly after arrival.

Wolfram, who was a guest of Pierre’s more than a servant though the boy tried to help as much as possible, sat near the wagons that held the baggage. In particular by the decorated trunk that used to sit in front of Pierre’s bed at the castle.

“I would rather seem odd than have anyone open it and look inside, Your Grace,” the boy replied.

True enough. Inside, underneath some sheets, was the body of a young girl Pierre had killed. It was on behalf of Wolfram and the girl herself, of course, but that made it no less immoral or illegal. That he intended to bring her back to life doubly so.

“Tell me about her,” Pierre asked, sitting down beside Wolfram. “I have come to know some about you, but not her. What is a girl from the swan-folk’s land doing in Father’s court?”

“Cygnati,” Wolfram corrected. “That is their word for their bestia. And she came in search of me.”

“Oh?”

The boy smiled. “They have soul-mates. Those born cygnati have always had a past life where the couple swore to love another for all their future rebirths. They sense this person, in a way, but to be certain there are rituals done. She found out through another that her love, I, was on this continent. Her parents did not wish her to leave so young, but she disobeyed and stowed away on a ship heading to Kilenc. She found me months later. We were together for half a year at most, and then she began to fall ill late last summer. I left Bellotas to find a physician to help. I ran into Lord Ophion on my travels and he took me in to teach and help me. I do not know if this is an illness from this land that her body cannot deal with, or something that only affects her people, but everything Ophion and I tried failed. So I, as you know, began to study more desperate measures with him. In the end I was not enough.”

“She will be well,” Pierre said. “I give you my word.”

“Salome. Her name is Salome.”

Pierre nodded and settled back against the trunk which held her body.

“And you and she were wed in a past life?”

“Oui. She says that in her dreams she remembers moments, and perhaps I will too after we wed in this life. We had spoken about engagement already, before her illness, her parents finally accepting her departure as she had found me. They were agreeable to a wedding, no sense in putting it off as we were already wed once upon a time. Then she fell ill. We never told her parents that, saying instead that I wished to finish my education before traveling to her home. Then she asked to die. I could not… I just wished to do as she desired. I did not want her in pain and—”

Pierre placed a hand on his shoulder when the younger boy stopped speaking, gripping the edges of the trunk and holding on until his fingertips were white.

“She will be well,” Pierre repeated. Wolfram only nodded, taking a deep breath to compose himself.

“I do have a question,” he said. At Pierre’s nod he continued. “What if the body has decayed? It may be months by the time I am ready to try and bring her back.”

“She will not decay,” Pierre said. “I have made it so that the microanimalia will not feast on her. But even if a corpse were bones there is a possibility to resurrect the life as long as it is all gathered together. A missing arm or a leg could be regrown, I suppose… I have never tried. It is more likely if one is missing a limb then they will remain without one once they have returned.”

He stood and brushed at his trousers to rid himself of the dirt. “Come, let us test this.”

He whistled sharply for Pluta as they took to the edges of the forest. She came bounding out from under the carriages and over to them.

“My dear,” Pierre said to her, kneeling down to stroke her head and scratch underneath her chin. “Find something small and decayed for us, I have a lesson to show and something to attempt.”

She chirped approval and dashed into the woods.

Pluta returned a few minutes later with a large rat, decrepit and foul, and missing its tail already. She dropped it in front of Pierre and sneezed, shaking her head in disgust.

“Thank you. You shall be rewarded for your trouble.”

The boy crouched beside him and Pierre let Wolfram see his hand as he cut it with his folding knife along the line for Life. He picked up the rat then and positioned his hand until a small stream of blood flowed into the animal’s small muzzle. Pluta moved up beside him and nudged him, then began to lick at his wound. By the time was blood was cleaned off his hand there was not even a mark where the cut had been.

He did not move his fingers much, not needing to for such a small life, and slowly the rat began to change. New muscle and skin grew over a gaping hole, the tail lengthened and thickened, fur returned with a sheen. It was still mostly dirty, but when it opened its eyes and squeaked it looked no different than any other forest rat.

Pierre stroked its head and it calmed down.

“So this is far more than just returning the soul to flesh,” Wolfram whispered, forcing himself to keep his voice down. “We are healing—creating!” He sounded more excited than Pierre had ever heard him.

“We are.”

He set the rat back down on the ground and it ran off into the underbrush, with Pluta right on its heels.

Pierre wiped his hands on his trousers and stood.

“It is why I also began to learn medicine. Knowledge is most important in this cræft. Granted, I do not know much about how a rat’s body works, but in general how muscle and bone and blood all work together is very helpful. The spirits are far more likely to aid you if you push them in a direction that is natural and they are used to.” As natural as forcing life into death can be.

They returned to their seat by the campfire, continuing to talk about more innocent subjects.

A short while later Wolfram observed Pierre flinch harshly.

“Are you alright, Your Grace?”

The duc made sure to note that they were not being listened to before he spoke.

“Pluta caught the rat and killed it. I felt it.” He rubbed at the back of his neck, where a cat would bite to sever the spine.

“Oh.”

“Yes. This is not something I have felt often, but if you use the magic on many it will be more frequent. Should they die by anyone else’s hand beside your own, nature’s included, you shall feel their passing. It is different than when you inflict the last blow— that you control. So be careful who, and how many, you share your blood with. The power over them lasts three days and you are connected to everyone you do this with for that time being. If I were to, say, give my blood to a whole battalion of men to try and aid them in their fight, should many become gravely wounded and begin dying faster than I can heal them, I will die as well. Death pulls you to herself. Remember this.”

He wondered if, as a lord of death, this would still be true. Somehow he thought it would only entice death more.

“I will remember.”


***

They descended upon the camp of the princeling Pierre Salvador and his company, appearing only as flickers and fireflies. Those few of Triumphe that had been awake for the watch, or simply could not sleep, found their eyelids heavy and their beds inviting. Spirits and magic filled the air along with laughter from people unseen.


***
~ Trisday, 8th of Aprilis, 11831 ~

Shouting woke Lizzy. She sat up in her cot, the cold of the morning not comparing to the chill as she realized something was very wrong. Angry shouts and frightened calls to Sebelas wrang in her ears. Grabbing a robe so as not to be indecent she stepped out of her tent.

This was not where they had stopped the night before. True, forests looked different in the gloom of evening than the light of day, but they did not vanish. Instead of the wood they were in a field with a pond, a smattering of trees in the distance.

“We were moved!”

“We were taken!”

Mon Dieu!

Had they offended any fairies? Had they not liked the gifts Pierre and she had left? She did not recognize the area so it was not someplace they had already traveled. And if they had not merely been taken back several days travel then they could be anyplace. She grabbed onto the flap of the tent as her head swam.

A sharp whistle cut through the noise (or was it silence?, Elizabeth felt deaf).

“Where is His Grace? I need to speak with him!” Was Pierre missing!?

“Here I am.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath. Pierre was here. Good. One moment at a time. It was no use beginning to panic.

One of the carriage-drivers, the senior on this trip that lead the way, walked past her and over to Pierre (who had not even bothered to grab a robe and was standing in his sleepwear). She followed so that she would be able to hear, and most of those she could see did similar. Now it was quiet, enough that anything those two said would be heard all throughout the camp.

“Your Grace, as you can see, there’s been a bit of change this morning. But I recognize it, I know the routes of the land. If we continue down that road we will be in Spadille by early this afternoon.”

They had been taken.. Forward? The fée had not tricked them but had given them aid! The several days they had lost because of her illness were no longer lost and they would be in the capital on time.

Pierre nodded.

“That is a relief to know, thank you, sir. Well then let us have breakfast and continue on as usual, no need to seem ungrateful after all. I will send a pigeon to Spadille so that the steward will know that despite our earlier unplanned stop we will be there on time.”

At the notion of what could happen should they be ungrateful most held their tongues, but not all had the fortitude. Pierre paid them no heed.

“Oh, Lizzy, my dear! Come have breakfast with me.”

“Of course, Your Grace!”

Elizabeth ignored the naysayers as well and tightened her robe before going over to His Grace’s tent for breakfast.

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8 ~ Delphinium ~ Cræft

~ (Continued) Iunday, 29th of Prima, 11831 ~

Pierre made his way to the dining hall a while later. He had gone to his own rooms to try to think, but he could not focus. Pluta listened, but did not know enough about medicine to offer any aid, and even magically this was beyond her. Grabbing his cane, Pierre went to join those that had accompanied him—they had been left to have meals while Lizzy was tended to and rooms sorted. From guards, to those driving the carriages, miscellaneous staff, and other nobles who had been at the castle for his birthday party just two weeks past: Traveling as a child of the court came with great attention.

He raised a finger when he entered the dining hall, hushing the man that would announce his presence. He would be polite with the rest later but for now he needed just one person. His student Wolfram, a boy gifted in medicine and similar skills. Pierre found him quickly, sitting among a group of young men that helped with the animals.

“Have you heard of this illness?” the duc asked, interrupting some story about the dogs. Wolfram nodded though the others seemed unsure of what to do with the duc before them. They settled for keeping their eyes on their mostly empty plates.

“Yes, Your Grace,” he replied aloud, standing to address his master. “But I have only heard of it in passing. I do not know the treatment. I have just heard the lord physician mention it.” Before being with the duc Wolfram had been a student of the royal physician, Ophion, who was also Pierre’s uncle.

Pierre nodded, the tightening of his grip on his cane the only sign of his discomfort. “Let us go wait for the doctor and see if this has been happening in the area. Come along.” Wolfram was still a student, but he was bright to be chosen by Ophion. And brave, Pierre added to himself, thinking of how he had reacted to learning of Pierre’s dark magic. His fresh eyes might help Pierre see something that emotion was clouding over.

The remaining food was forgotten, Wolfram attending Pierre while leaving behind the others. Several more people offered to come, but the duc ignored them and walked by. He had spent the last several years as a student of medicine, becoming accustomed to his social rank not interfering too much with his life. Since returning to court the transition was still new.

“What else has Ophion said?”

“It presents with a harsh cough that can lead to blood coming up from the lungs and throat. The few cases he has seen…”

“Ended in death,” Pierre finished for the boy when Wolfram did not voice the words. Under his breath he added, “At least death I can cure.”

They stood before Elizabeth’s room now. Guards were at the stairs but none in this hall, giving the lady and the duc any privacy they desired. A chaperon would have been proper, but with the sickness Pierre was a physician before he was a lover.

“Your Grace?” Wolfram asked, as the duc had paused and the movements of his fingers showed him to be using magic. Though still a new apprentice of Mora, the boy felt the spirits of illness in the air give their attention to the duc. He could not help the shiver that ran through him.

“She drank the wine,” Pierre said, “And fell back to sleep immediately. I can feel her soul once again,” he added with a smile. “Come.” He opened the door and ushered in his medical student and magical apprentice. The door was then closed and locked, and Pluta meowed from her spot on Elizabeth’s bed before jumping down to be near them. A familiar was good to have around when performing complex magic.

Pierre put aside his cane, pulling off his gloves and stuffing them into a pocket before he shrugged off his outer jacket. As Wolfram took the outerwear, he watched and saw that at no moment did the duc stop painting with his fingers, reeling in the spirits so that their attention, will, and power was his to control.

The duc then made to snap his fingers. The movement was there, but he could not press hard enough and there was no sound. He tried again and still could not do it. Positioning his hand for a third time he could not press at all, and his fingers moved apart as if an invisible force was pulling them in opposite directions. Pierre fought until his thumb was so far back that it dislocated with an audible pop. He swore, cradling his hand and glaring at the air. Wolfram, who had been entranced with the display, suddenly found himself able to move and rushed to help.

“Move it back in carefully,” Pierre said, holding out his throbbing hand. He had not had spirits react to him so violently in years. Wolfram did not bother cautioning that it would hurt before snapping it back in place.

Pierre flinched and made a pained noise. “Thank you,” the duc said, releasing a breath as he tested his fingers. It would swell some but mobility was not much affected. He would shuffle his favorite deck of cards later to make sure of that.

“They do not want me to interfere,” he spoke, more to himself than Wolfram. He ran a hand through his black, grey-streaked hair, made so from pain and cræft. “Mora mentioned them being unlike her own.” A magic and its spirits were, in theory, the same throughout a realm. That was after all what the borders of the realms signified. But citizens were not always loyal to their liege, and borders could be crossed.

He walked back over to Elizabeth and stood closer to her than before. She was still sleeping deeply, unaffected by their talking—though that was his doing. The first spell he had put her under was unconsciousness, which had been allowed of him.

She coughed even in dream and more blood came up. He wiped her lips with a handkerchief.

He began to draw with his fingers again as if coaxing over a frightened animal. He did not ask for anything aside from information, making sure to be polite, and it was finally given.

Harmful micro-animalia ran rampant in her body, clustering around her throat and lungs. Her whole body was weakened and in time it would simply stop working. Unfortunately, that was all that he could tell. Necrocræft was not a miracle, one had to understand what one was looking for and this was new to him.

He tried anyway, banishing some of the illness with a general command, and the spirits thankfully thinned.

“Perhaps if you try,” he said over his shoulder to Wolfram. He broke the active connection and moved out of the way to let the boy come closer. A dull ache in the back of his head confirmed his actions would have consequences.

“I am not sure…”

“You have not started your practical training, I know. But the first step is knowledge. I am here,” Pierre assured him. “Should you overstep I can save you and her.”

Wolfram looked worriedly to the duc but took off his gloves. He had practiced cutting into his hands with Ophion, to know how deeply to cut, how to hide the pain, but that was as far as he had gone. The lord handed him a small folding knife and began to explain.

“The greater the wound, the greater the magic. But eventually you will be skilled enough that small incisions will do the trick. There are too areas where the magic is more concentrated. If a wound is deep, or closer to your heart there will be a stronger connection. But lines of power are easiest found on the hand. While painful to use the hand later unless a familiar helps to heal you, it is fastest and easiest in the moment.” He took Wolfram’s hand and opened his own palm to compare the two. “Instead of reading the lines to know things about a person, a suitor of death cuts their flesh along them. This one for healing,” he said, tracing a scar on his own hand and then the same line on Wolfram’s. “And this for illness. Another for death. This is not better or worse than other parts of the body that have similar threads, but it is easiest to do quickly, and what you likely will most often use. Eventually you may not need the lines.”

“And for bringing back the dead?” Wolfram asked. Pierre had done it in front of him with just a cut along his palm, something small and thin that would heal over in a few days’ time even without Pluta’s help. It had not even been on any specific line of power.

“For the first year or two you will cut your wrist for that,” Pierre said. Pushing up his sleeve there was a long scar running from his wrist to halfway up his elbow, with smaller ones surrounding it.

Wolfram slowly pushed up his own sleeve and swallowed to keep down his anxiety. “Even with a familiar you will scar at times, though far fainter than it would be otherwise. This wound is meant to be deep, Wolfram. I say it happened when I fell from a horse, should I need my sleeves rolled up in company. It helps that I am not the best rider.” The attempt at levity was lost on the boy still looking at the scars.

“You do this because to bring back a life, at first, you must risk your own?”

“Correct,” Pierre confirmed. And then in one motion he took the open knife from Wolfram and cut down his student’s arm. To his credit the boy held back his yelp of surprise and pain. It was a shallow wound though, not threatening to his life just yet.

Pierre ran a finger along the cut gathering blood. He then wiped his hand on the handkerchief he still had in his hand.

“Pluta? Heal him and clean the floor.” Pierre smiled to Wolfram and said a quick apology while the familiar jumped on top of a chair to reach the arm. Several scratchy licks later the wound was closed and only tinged pink. The blood from his arm, and the floor, were too then taken care of.

“Wolfram, are you alright?”

“Yes, Your Grace. Just a little shocked. Thank you, I am not sure if I could have done that myself. But surely Lady Elizabeth—”

“Is still with us. But perhaps the risk I forced upon you will entice the spirits to tell you more than they told me.”

The duc wiped Lizzy’s lips with Wolfram’s blood and stepped aside. “Feel with your soul. The motions of your fingers do not need to be anything specific, just get their attention.”

Wolfram did so, closing his eyes and using a hand to play an invisible piano in the air. Another sense opened to him as if he was for the first time in his life seeing detail or color. He felt, somewhat with his mind and yet too with his whole body, a connection with Lady Elizabeth. He felt her heart, her breath, her life, and how to aid or end those things. It felt too intimate, and he almost broke the connection, but a hand on his shoulder steadied him. Concentrating Wolfram narrowed the feeling to the parts of her body that were ill.

“It feels like death,” he said. “Like Lady Mora, but not the same. This illness wants to kill her. But would that not leave it without a host and therefore be its own death?”

“There are many illnesses that kill. It does not have a reasoning.”

***

After trying to understand the spirits of the illness and failing, Pierre and Wolfram retired to the duc’s large suite to wait until the local physician came. The boy held a whispered conversation with his lord’s familiar, and Pierre sat shuffling a deck of cards.

“Will my hair turn grey, like His Grace’s?” Wolfram asked. He tried to pull down a lock of his own black hair to see if any of the color had changed.

“Probably a little,” Pluta said, licking her paw and cleaning her fur. There was still some blood between her digits. “And you’ll have a headache tomorrow too. But it should not be too bad yet.”

“I can withstand a headache.” If it meant being able to bring back the girl he loved he would gladly deal with pain.

It did not take long for a servant to announce the doctor’s arrival.

“Have him brought here,” Pierre said, pocketing his toy. A few moments later there was another knock, and the door opened.

“Your Grace?” a doctor greeted them upon entering the room.

The duc stood and crossed the room to shake his hand, a gesture of equality from physician to physician.

“My beloved is ill,” Pierre began without further introduction. “A harsh cough that leads to bleeding, though whether from the lungs or throat I am not certain. She runs a fever and is weak and pale. She is asleep at the moment though if you need to examine her she may be woken.”

The doctor nodded, looking grave. “There is no need, Your Grace. I have seen the illness. It is rarer here than in the south of Piques, but it is slowly spreading north. I know of no name for it, but I can describe what is happening. It is an illness that can lay dormant in a human person for many months if not years. I speculate there are many infected among us, we are merely not ill. When it becomes active there is bleeding, as you have seen, weakness and degeneration until death if it is not stopped.”

“And what causes it to become active?”

“The presence of death,” the doctor replied. Pierre remained composed, but Wolfram coughed to hide his intake of breath. The doctor did not pay him any attention.

“How is this treated?” the duc continued.

“I have medicines to treat the cough, the tearing, and to keep down the fever—but these only treat the symptoms and not the illness. The afflicted must be surrounded by life. It is early spring—if she has just become ill then perhaps it will not be for long. By autumn I hope to have a better cure in mind. I can come by soon again to see her when she is awake.”

“Thank you. If you could show me the medicines that will help and provide me with enough doses until we reach Spadille I would be most grateful. How much will it be? And if you need any aid to find this cure, financial or otherwise, then I will provide it.”

“For you and your beloved, My Grace, there is no charge. I may take you up on the offer for research patronage though.”

They shook hands once more, and the doctor left.

***

Pierre sat by her bed again that evening, reading through letters that she had sent him. They had held a correspondence for a time while he had gone to University, but he was ashamed to admit that she wrote him far more often than he replied. There were a few letters in the box that he had not even opened though he had certainly planned to read them upon getting them.

He slid a finger under the wax seal and opened one of the forgotten letters. It was short, just a note to ask how he was doing now that her brother had returned home and he still stayed. He did not even remember getting it.

“I was well,” he replied to her now. “Glad that Piers had passed his exams and could return early to his family. I helped him with those, I’m sure he told you. He begged me to study with him so he could learn quicker and get home to Eglė. Then I needed to continue my own studies. So as you guessed, I was busy.” They had taken many of the same courses, but Pierre had not been content with just being a doctor. He had decided to become a surgeon, learn more invasive techniques, and to know more about the human body. He also needed to finish Mora’s lessons.

He went to his own room once night set, asking Pluta to wake him every other hour so he could check on Lizzy. A nurse was staying by her side at all times that he was away, but he needed to see for himself how she was doing. He checked her temperature throughout the night and woke her up once so that she could drink a tea to bring down her fever. Her coughing increased, as did the amount of blood that was left after it, but the last couple of hours before dawn she seemed to improve and then become stable.

***
~ Dvoday, 30th of Prima, 11831 ~

In the morning Elizabeth said that she was feeling better and he need not hover. Pierre was torn between staying with her, and possibly making her worse because of his magic, and staying away when there were things only he would know about her. Not due to any recent long term intimacy, but the cræft that he suspected made her ill might be the only thing that could help her.

In the end there was business to attend to, and the decision was made for him. Though they had not planned for a stay in this town along their way, the foster son of the roi, and future duc of Piques, was there and that came with expectations. He ordered several to attend to her and made certain that the bells that chimed for maids and nurses were in order. Wolfram was given a specific set of orders to check the microanimalia after meals if she slept and to monitor her humors.

“I love you,” he whispered into her ear before he left. She was again asleep, and he could not tell if she heard, but he wanted to say the words. It was the first time he said them aloud to her.

The day was long. He met the maior and thanked him for the extended welcome. As a new medical graduate he also went to oversee the small local hospital and staff. There he met again with the doctor that had promised to see Elizabeth later, making proper introductions this time (his name was Hervé Yannick), and scheduling another visit for the next day.

By the time he returned to the inn it was late, and the nurse assured him Elizabeth was better than this morning. Wishing to see her, but almost certain now that his presence was not helping her, he only paused by her door to whisper good night on the way to his room.

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