Bonds of Blood – chapter two

2

A little while after Wort left, there was a knock at the door. When Brook called out who was it, “It is the herbalist Tatus. I have your medicine,” was the reply he received.

“Enter.”

Thus prompted, a fat man of about forty entered the room. There was no feeling of slackness about him; indeed he gave the impression that his flesh and bones were packed in solidly.

Tatus had became a pupil of the proceeding court herbalist as a child, and had always served in the court of Skard. As for his position, he wasn’t a knight, but Brook’s trust in him was far deeper than even a high-ranking knight.

As for herbalists, he was likely the best in Lodoss. The fact that Skard did not have any more than fledgling priests at court was down to the herbs Tatus prepared being so effective.

It wasn’t magic, but like Dwarven workmanship, it was effective in the same way.

In Tatus’s right hand, he gripped a silver goblet. A pale white steam rose from it.

Brook stretched out his hand and received the medicated water from Tatus. He held his breath and drank the bitter, paste-like liquid.

“Can’t you make it easier to drink?”

Placing the now empty silver cup on the arm of the couch, Brook walked over to the desk that had been posted by the window. He picked up the pitcher that had been placed there, and poured the water directly into his mouth and down his throat, not bothering with a glass.

The medicines this man prepared were terribly unappetizing. You couldn’t help but think that he did it on purpose.

Tatus waited for him to finish drinking the water, and came over beside him. “Would you open your mouth please?”

Brook nodded and, setting himself down in a nearby chair, turned to the window and opened his mouth wide. The inside of his throat glistened in the light that flooded through the window.

The feeling that he had some foreign object in his throat had started about half a year ago. He thought off-handedly that he’d probably just injured himself, but the feeling gradually grew larger.

When he went to consult Tatus, he’d gone with a casual sense, like it wasn’t any big thing, but something unusual had happened. The imperturbable herbalist’s face had paled.

“This mass is a matter of life or death,” Tatus had said, sweating profusely.

Brook asked only one question. “Is it curable?”

Tatus slowly shook his head. “If we use strong medicine, we can prevent the mass from getting too large, but curing it isn’t possible. The only thing you can do is throw yourself upon the mercy of the gods for a miracle,” he said, implying that Brook should call a priest.

If they called a priest of eminent virtue, he could beg for a miracle from the gods, calling on them with holy magic, to heal this illness.

Brook hadn’t replied. The only thing he had asked was this: “How long do I have?”

“If you continue with the medicine, you have maybe five or six years. It’s strong medicine, your internal organs won’t handle more that.”

“……Prepare the medicine,” Brook had ordered Tatus.

He was not of a mind to call a priest. In cases of illness caught naturally, many of the holy magic cures didn’t work. That was just the end of that person’s life. And also, if his illness wasn’t cured, it was his own business, but what if information about it leaked to the outside world?

This alone, he wanted to avoid.

Inevitably, their neighbor to the north, The Dragon’s Scale, Vennon would take advantage of Nashere’s youth and intervene. Vennon was Skard’s sole neighbor, and so Skard would be forced into a subordinate alliance to that large country.

If they married one of their own to Reena and then assassinated Nashere, they could take over Skard without doing any hard work.

But, in five years, Nashere would be a magnificent young man. He wouldn’t allow any intervention by the likes of Vennon. As far as Brook was concerned, if his life lasted until then, it would be enough.

It was too bad that he wouldn’t see his son walk the royal road with his own eyes. But that was his sole regret.

Half a year had now passed since he had discovered this illness.

“How’s my condition?”

“The medicine seems to be effective. The mass hasn’t gotten any bigger. But your throat is getting quite bad. I’m asking you again Sir not to have any strong drinks.”

Brook made a sudden noise with his nose.

With drink, his thought was that the stronger the better. Ale and its kin were as water to him. Only the taste of a craftsman would do.

He loved the spirits that the northern Dwarfs purified from grape wine. When you poured that drink in your throat, it felt like your throat right down to your stomach was on fire. And then you could dip right into a comfortable intoxication.

But, these spirits might have been too strong for humans. Probably this mass developing in his throat was from drinking too much of them in the first place.

It was a catastrophe he’d brought on himself. He was more than prepared to meet his fate.

Except, it was a shame he had such little time remaining for the things he wanted to do for Nashere. And it was too bad that he was leaving Nashere’s future to Wort and Beld.

He envied them all. He had wanted his own name to appear in a military epic of heroic kings.

“What a shame……” The words spilled from Brook.

Tatus selected his words carefully. “There are limits to life. When a life ends in old age, if it has been lived without regrets……” He seemed to have misunderstood Brook’s mumble.

“Let’s try that,” Brook said, as if he were passing an order down to Tatus, and smiled.

“An envoy came from Vennon a little while ago, requesting a meeting with Your Highness. If you’re up to it, I would like you to go to that meeting……”

Brook’s expression instantly clouded over. “A Vennon envoy?” This was the first he’d heard of any envoy from Vennon.

“What are they here to demand this time?” Brook complained, moving towards a closet in the corner of the room. He’d need to put on full dress to meet an envoy from Vennon. “Put them in the audience chamber.”

“That’s……” Tatus hesitated, unusual for this always direct man.

Brook pressed the point, and at last the herbalist continued. “It seems to be secret business. He wanted a meeting alone with Your Highness. That’s what he told me.”

“Secret business?”

Clouds spread through Brook’s heart, like on a hot summer evening. Alarms rang out like thunderclaps.

“It was inevitable……” he answered himself, his shoulders dropping.

Skard’s powerlessness squeezed his chest. They were here to make some impertinent request, and he couldn’t do anything but agree to it.

“Have them wait in the drawing room. Leave me,” Brook said.

He usually appeared healthy, despite the illness, but in that instant, his face clouded over darkly. He looked like a corpse.

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