At last, the long-awaited companion story to “Rendezvous.” (One of perhaps many, actually. I’m having fun exploring this world, and I hope you are, too!) Enjoy.
Ada gazed into the bowl at the image that shimmered in the water, just out of focus.
Something was coming. Something dire.
She spoke all the enchantments she knew, yet the bowl would not reveal the future with any clarity.
At length, she stood, bones creaking and joints popping and covered the bowl with a cloth. Her duties called.
She blew out the single candle, bathing the room in thick darkness.
The thick oak door squeaked when she pulled it open, and dim light from the torches that lined the hallway lit her way. The slap of her sandals on the stone echoed down the long corridor as she made her way to the narrow stairs that led to the main level of the palace.
“Hurry, Ada, the queen is stirring,” one of the maids urged, taking her arm to help her up the last few stairs.
Ada shuffled to the queen’s chamber and sat by the bed.
She sprinkled a variety of herbs into the cup of water on the bedside table, then put the concoction to the queen’s lips.
The queen sputtered, coughing up half of what Ada poured down her throat, but Ada persisted.
“How is she?”
Ada turned toward the voice. “No worse today, I think, Your Majesty.”
The king nodded, the concern on his face softening. “And the baby?”
She pressed her hands to the queen’s abdomen. “He still lives, but he is weak.”
The king turned and swept from the room.
Ada finished feeding the queen the herbs, then prepared another batch for the queen’s attendant to administer later. When she finished, she sang a prayer over the queen, lulling her into a peaceful sleep.
She crept from the room and made her way to the stable. “Good morning, James. Have Rosebud saddled for me, please,” she said to the stable master.
James snapped his fingers at the stable boy who hovered nearby, then turned back to Ada. “You’re going out today? Are you sure that’s wise? A storm is coming.”
“I’m almost out of herbs, and the queen’s health depends on them.”
“You need a new apprentice.”
Ada chuckled. “That I do. Let me know if you find one that won’t turn out the same as the last one.”
The stable boy appeared then, leading Ada’s docile mare, and Ada bid James farewell.
The sun was high in the sky by the time she reached the glade at the edge of the forest where the highest concentration of herbs could be found.
She left Rosebud next to a tree and made her way down the bank to the edge of the stream and began selecting herbs and placing them in her basket.
A breeze whistled by her, ruffling her hair. She stood and sniffed the air. Something in the wind reminded her of the half-formed vision she’d seen in the bowl that morning, hinting at some impending menace approaching.
A shiver ran up her spine, but she pushed the sensation away. The queen’s health was a more immediate concern.
She wandered further, closer to the edge of the forest, searching out the most potent herbs.
A noise caught her attention and she paused, listening for the source of the sound.
She saw the flap of a cloak waving in the breeze, just inside the tree line, and crept closer. Two men stood in the shadows, one wearing the cloak she’d seen, the other wearing all black, his face concealed by a low hat.
“You understand the terms of the deal?” a low, sinister voice asked.
The man in the cloak nodded.
“Good,” the man in black said. “Seal it.” He extended a knife with a jeweled hilt, then held out his gloved hand. Something he held caught the sun, and a beam of amethyst light blinded Ada for a moment.
The cloaked man took the knife and sliced the palm of his hand with it, letting the blood drip onto thing in the other man’s hand.
The black-clad man’s hand clenched around whatever it was he held, and he laughed, a low, haunting laugh that carried on the wind that chilled Ada to her bones.
The man in the cloak returned the knife, then whirled around.
Ada stifled a gasp.
What was he doing here? And what sort of deal had he just made?
The king hurried away without ever noticing Ada.
Not so with the man in black.
He emerged from the shadows and pushed the hat back from his face.
The strength left Ada’s limbs, and she collapsed to the ground. “You.”
He smiled. “Hello, Ada. It has been a long time.”
“What have you done?” she demanded.
The man just smiled. “I only took back what is rightfully mine.”
He turned and disappeared into the forest.
A gust of wind whipped around Ada, and dark clouds covered the sun. A storm was indeed coming.