Poison Study Page 42

I used the map of the castle that I had copied in my journal to find the library. It was a multilevel suite of rooms, burgeoning with books. The smell of decay and dust floated in the air along with a sense of abandonment. I was saddened by the knowledge that this tremendous source of information was going to waste because the Commander discouraged his people from educating themselves beyond what was necessary for their jobs.

Within his military structure, a person was trained specifically for their position only. Learning just for the sake of learning was frowned on, and greeted with suspicion.

Once I had ascertained that the library was truly a forgotten place, I brought the pods and beans there instead of carrying the heavy books back to my room. I found a small nook tucked away in a corner. The nook had a wooden table which faced one of the large, egg-shaped windows that randomly perforated the back wall of the library. Sunlight streamed into the nook and, after clearing the table of dust, it became my work area.

Cutting one of the yellow pods in half, I discovered it was filled with a white mucilaginous pulp. A taste of the pulp revealed it to have a sweet and citrus flavor with a taint of sour, as if it was starting to rot. The white flesh contained seeds. I cleaned the pulp from the seeds and uncovered thirty-six of them. They resembled the beans from the caravan. My excitement diminished as I compared seed against bean in the sunlight. The pod seed was purple instead of brown, and when I bit into the seed, I spit it out as a strong bitter and astringent taste filled my mouth. Nothing close to the slightly tart and earthy taste of the brown beans.

Assuming that the pods were a fruit and the beans edible, I pulled out every botany book I could find in the library and piled them on my table. Then I went through the shelves again. This time, I grabbed any volume with information about poisons. A much smaller stack; Valek had probably taken the interesting ones back to his office. My third trip through the shelves was an effort to find books on magic. Nothing.

I paused by an empty shelf, an oddity in this tightly packed library, and wondered if it had contained manuals about magic. Considering how the Commander viewed magic, it was logical to destroy any pertinent information. On a whim, I explored the lower levels of the bookcase under the empty shelf. Thinking that a book from the empty shelf could have slid back behind the other books, I took out all the texts on the lower shelves. My efforts were rewarded by the discovery of a slim volume entitled Magical Power Sources. I hugged the book to my chest as paranoia gripped me. Scanning the library, I made sure no one was there. With sweaty palms, I hid the book in my backpack. I planned to read it later, preferably in my room with the door locked.

Giddy with my illicit acquisition, I searched the various rooms of the library until I found a comfortable chair. Before dragging it back to my nook, I beat the dust from its purple velvet cushions. It was the most elegant seat I had seen in the castle, and I wondered who had used it before me. Had the dead King been a bibliophile? The considerable collection of books said as much. Either that or he had shown his librarian great favor.

I spent many hours in that chair reading through the botany books and discovering nothing. I planned to decipher the pod and bean puzzle while I researched information for myself. The tedious work was at least broken into small sessions by my tasting the Commander’s meals and by my afternoon strolls around the castle.

It had been four days since the exercise, and that afternoon my walk had a purpose. I scouted for a place with a view of the east gate, but where I wouldn’t be obvious to the flow of people passing through.

Valek still hadn’t returned from his mission, and closing ceremonies had been performed the night before at the fire festival, ending the weeklong celebration. Rand, looking hungover, had informed me this morning that Brazell and his retinue would finally leave the castle, via the east gate, to go home. My desire to see Brazell’s retreating back with my own eyes had driven me to seek the perfect position.

The barracks for the Commander’s soldiers filled both the northeast and southwest corners of the castle complex. In the northeast barracks, the L-shaped building extended from the north gate to the east gate, and a large rectangular training area had been built next to the east leg of the building. There was a wooden fence around the yard and, when training was in progress, the fence attracted the castle’s various residents to stop along it to watch the exercises. That afternoon I joined in with a group of observers, who not only had a clear view of the fighting drills, but the east gate as well.

Rand’s information proved accurate. Soon I was rewarded by a parade of green-and-black–clad soldiers. I could see Brazell on his dappled mare, riding among his most trusted advisers, at the end of the procession. Brazell’s retinue ignored the people around them.

As I watched Brazell’s back, Reyad’s ghost appeared next to me. He smiled as he waved goodbye to his father. A shudder vibrated down my spine. I glanced around. Did anyone else see him? The group of people that I had been standing with had dispersed. Had Reyad scared them off? But when I looked again, his ghost was gone.

A hand touched my arm. I flinched.

“Good riddance to that lot,” Ari said, tilting his head toward the east gate. Seeing him for the first time in the sunlight, I noticed that Ari’s eyes were such a pale blue that in the darkness his eyes had seemed to hold no color.

Ari stood with Janco on the other side of the fence. Both wore the sleeveless shirts and short pants that the soldiers liked to train in. Sweat-soaked and streaked with dirt, their faces and bodies sported new cuts and bruises.

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