Poison Study Page 19

Women had been recruited to the Commander’s cause, and they made excellent spies. Valek assassinated the key supporters of the King. When the King tried to raise an army to fight the Commander’s army, he had no defenders. The Commander captured the castle without a fight, and little blood was shed. Most of the nobility had been killed, but a few had escaped to Sitia.

Valek and I arrived at a pair of massive wooden doors, guarded by two soldiers. Valek spoke with the guards, instructing them that I was to be allowed access as needed. We entered a short hallway with two doors on opposite sides. Valek unlocked the door on the right and explained to me that the other led to the Commander’s apartment.

Valek’s living quarters turned out to be an expansive suite of rooms. Coming in from the gloomy hallway, I was struck by the brightness of the main, L-shaped living area. Windows as thin as a tiger’s stripes allowed sunlight to pour in.

Piles of books occupied every corner and tabletop. Hand-size gray rocks, streaked with white, and multicolored crystals were scattered throughout.

Small black statues of animals and flowers glinted with silver. The statues dotted the room. Delicate and intricately detailed, they were similar to the panthers on Valek’s office desk, and were the room’s only decoration.

A considerable collection of weapons hung on the walls. Some of the weapons were old, dust-covered antiques that hadn’t been used in years, while others shined. One long, thin knife still had fresh blood on the blade. The crimson liquid gleamed in the sunlight, causing a chill to snake through my body. I wondered who had been on the wrong end of that blade.

To the left of the entrance was a stairway, and three doors lined the right wall of the living area.

Valek pointed to the first door on the right. “That room is yours until Brazell leaves the castle. I suggest you get some rest.” He picked up three books from an end table. “I’ll be back later. Don’t go out. I’ll bring you dinner.” Valek left, but then came back before the door shut. “Lock the door behind me. You should be safe here.”

Safe, I thought, turning the bolt, was the last thing I could ever feel here. Anyone who knew how to pick a lock could sneak in, grab a weapon and have at me. I examined the swords on the wall, and sighed with some relief. The weapons were anchored securely. I tugged hard on a mace, just to be sure.

The clutter surrounding my door was thicker than around the other two, and I discovered why when I entered. Clean, box-shaped areas were outlined by the thick dust that still coated the floor, bed, bureau and desk. The room had been used for storage. Instead of cleaning it, Margg must have just moved the boxes out and considered her job done.

Margg’s minimal work was a not so subtle hint of her vast dislike for me. Perhaps it would be best to avoid her for a while.

Inside the room, the bedding was filthy. A musty smell permeated. I sneezed. There was a small window, and after wrestling with the shutters, I managed to open it.

The furniture was made of expensive ebony. Intricate carvings of leaves and vines curled down chair legs and across drawers. When I wiped the dust off the headboard, I uncovered a delicate garden scene with butterflies and flowers.

After I stripped the bed of its dirty sheets and stretched out on the mattress, my impression of Margg as a harmless grump-with-a-grudge evaporated. At that moment I saw that a message had been written in the dust on the desk.

It read, “Murderer. The noose waits.”

Chapter Nine

Ivaulted from the bed. the message disappeared from view, but i didn’t feel any better. little darts of fear pulsed from my heart as my mind leaped from one horrible scenario to the next.

Was Margg warning or threatening me? Was she planning to earn the money she’d lost betting against me by turning me over to Brazell’s goons for a fee?

But why warn me? I calmed myself. Once again I had overreacted. From what I’d seen and heard about Margg, her message was probably for the satisfaction of seeing me squirm. A peevish gesture because she was angry at having to do extra work for me. I decided it would be best not to give her any indication that I’d seen or had been affected by her childish note. Thinking back on it, I would bet that she had also read my journal, leaving it wide open on the desk just to annoy me.

Valek had suggested I rest, but I was on edge. I went into Valek’s living room. Margg’s note had reminded me to stick to my instincts and not trust a soul. Then my worries would be minimized to tasting for poisons and avoiding Brazell.

If only it was that simple or I was that strong. Naivet? and blind trust may have been driven out of me by Brazell and Reyad, but deep down in the small corners of my heart I still clung to the hope that I might find a true friend.

Even a rat needs other rats. I could empathize with the rats. I, too, scurried around, looked over my shoulder and sniffed for poisoned traps.

Right now, I scrambled just to stay alive until the next day, but someday I would be searching for a way out. Knowledge was power, so I planned to sit tight, to listen and learn all I could. I started with Valek’s living area. Lifting a rock off one of the tables, I began to pick my way through the clutter in his suite, surface snooping only because I suspected Valek would booby-trap his drawers.

I found a couple of texts on poisons that interested me, but their contents dealt mostly with assassination and intrigue. Some of the books had worn leather bindings and were written in an archaic language that I couldn’t decipher. Valek was either a collector, or he had stolen the books from the dead King’s library.

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