“We need to plan, and we need to plan fast.”
“We need to plan, and we need to plan fast.” Varian sat hunched in Mel’s tiny room above the stables. Despite aversion to the boy’s father, Lonn, who had been accused of treachery ten years ago, Jevran hadn’t had any problem giving Mel a job as a stableboy, or his sister Tikah a job in the kitchens. It was only when Varian decided to become their friends that he’d protested. Varian knew it was because he was of “noble” birth and they were of “lowly” birth. He glanced at Mel and smiled as the younger boy brushed his unruly hair back from his forehead. He sat crosslegged on his bed, frowning at the floor. Tikah sat beside him, her dirty blonde hair pulled into a braid that she kept playing with. “How are we going to rescue a supposed spy from the dungeon? They’ve probably got him in the lowest level with many guards by now,” she pointed out. “There’s only three of us.” “Varian and I can rescue him. We’re swordsmen. We’d be able to…” “No.” Mel glanced at him in surprise. “What do you mean, no?” “I’m not going to go in swinging. Someone would get hurt, and it would be us most likely. Two against five guards is one thing if I didn’t mind the bloodshed, but two against the entire garrison is another thing entirely. It’s suicide. Only fools would attempt something like that.” “But don’t you want to save Kerrin?” “Of course I want to save him! He’s my friend. I’d want to save him just as much as I’d want to save one of you.” Tikah twisted her braid. “If you don’t storm the dungeon, how will you save him?” “We’ll have to use our brains and outthink Jevran and his cronies,” Varian replied. Mel fell onto his back with a mock groan of disbelief. “Ohh, do we have to, Varian? It hurts to use my brain!” “Only because it’s the size of a pea and too much use exerts it,” Tikah said mildly. “Hey, that was uncalled for!” Mel complained as Varian laughed softly. “With wit like that, Tikah, there must be some kind of scheme locked in that mind of yours that we could use,” he said. “I’ll think about it.” “Well think fast. We’ve only got all night.” “Only, little brother? That’s more than we need.” Tikah let a mysterious smile curve her lips. “Especially if an innocent kitchen maid takes a basket of food down to the guards.” “What?” Varian and Mel said together. The smile parted to show Tikah’s tiny, pearly teeth. “Just you two spend the rest of the day sharpening your swords. I’m going into town.” “Can you get through the castle gates?” Mel asked. “When ordered by my valiant prince Varian, I’m sure the guards wouldn’t question it.” Varian grinned and shook his head at her scheme. “All right. I order you to go to town…” “To get some sleeping powder for you because you haven’t been resting well nights.” Mel’s face brightened in understanding. He raked his fingers through his hair. “Sis, you’re a genius!” “Go,” Varian said, trying not to smile. Tikah turned and skipped out the door and down the stairs. All right, yes, she was sixteen and shouldn’t be skipping, but at the moment she’d impressed her brother, her friend, and yes even herself with coming up with this elegantly simple plan. Or maybe not, she thought as she emerged from the stables to see Jevran in deep discussion with the guards at the castle gate, across the courtyard from the stables. She huffed under her breath. Perfect timing, Jevran, sire. The fact that she thought it in a sarcastic tone scared her for a moment. She, of all people, knew the dangers of disrespect to the king. She’d watched it tear apart their home when she was six. But she couldn’t stand waiting forever. Tikah forced her bare feet forward, whistling and pretending to be unconcerned as she neared the gate. The guards and Jevran stopped their discussion to stare at her. “What do you want?” Jevran barked. Tikah swallowed, bobbed a curtsey to him and smiled. “Prince Varian needs a sleeping powder and I was sent to go to the village apothecary. Onna doesn’t have any herbs to make it with.” Jevran looked at the guards, considering. Then he shrugged. “No.” Tikah’s jaw dropped and she hastily closed it. “Excuse me, sire?” “No. Varian has some scheme up his sleeve, I’m sure.” Jevran looked at the guards. “No one under a command by Prince Varian will be allowed outside the castle, and you will require written permission from me to allow someone to pass through.” The two guards bobbed their heads. Jevran turned away and strolled toward the castle. “Tell that to your pitiful commander and see what he thinks,” he shot toward Tikah. She stood on trembling legs, unbelieving. A guard gave her a shove. “Go on, get.” She darted back toward the stables, but pulled up before she reached the door. Come on, think. We can’t just abandon the scheme because of a block…I’ll see if Onna really does have anything. She turned to the castle and ran around the side to the scullery door. As soon as she opened it, a blast of talk hit her ears. “Tikah!” the head cook Brent yelled. “Where have you been? I’ve been short two hands all day and I’m about to go insane! The king’s havin’ guests for dinner, and he only lets me know just a moment ago! Ridiculous and completely inadequate time to prepare a good meal for that many people. Absolutely ridiculous. I dunno what you’re thinkin’ gallivantin’ about when I need you.” “I need to talk to Onna.” Tikah pushed past a couple of girls at the counter and headed for the tiny door set in an alcove. “I’m on an errand for Prince Varian.” “Are you deaf, Tikah?” Brent’s voice followed. “I need your help! Since when are you the prince’s errand runner? He’s got servants for that. I’ve only got a limited amount of staff in this kitchen, young lady, and I’m…” Tikah shut the door on him. “Onna?” She looked around the tiny room. Onna usually could be found next to her fireplace, knitting. But the rocking chair was empty, though the fire crackled away. “Onna?” “In here, dearie!” chirped a thin, reedy voice. Onna poked her head out of the strings of dried herbs and vegetables hanging from the wall to one side of the fireplace. “It’s my secret little hideaway, but I don’t mind showing it to you. Come on in.” Tikah walked forward and pushed the herbs aside. Onna was perched on a chair in the middle of the room, pounding herbs together in a bowl. She grinned. "Like it?" “I never knew you had this back here!” “The point, honey child. Now, what do you want?” Tikah had to smile. The quick, fidgety ways, and brown, wrinkled skin made some fear that Onna was a witch. But she knew that Onna was only an eccentric old woman who had a penchant for mixing up herbs to cure any ailment. “Prince Varian sent me to get some herbs to aid in sleeping. I was going to go to the village apothecary, but the guards wouldn’t let me out without written permission from the king.” “And we all know Jevran would never do that for his brother.” Onna shrugged. Her little bun of silver hair flopped to one side and she flicked it back in place. “Maybe so, maybe not. I don’t think Jevran hates his brother as much as it seems. Trouble sleeping, hmm?” She got up, set the bowl and pestle on her chair, and crossed to a cupboard on the other side of the tiny room. She opened it and perused the contents. “Hmm…have him try this.” Her thin fingers plucked a small bottle off the shelves. “It’s a mixture of chamomile and lavender juices. Tell him to make a tea with it, two drops to a full mug of hot water, right before he sleeps for the night. It will help him relax.” Tikah hesitantly took the bottle. “Thank you. This may help…” Onna smiled, a sly light winking out of her bright blue eyes. “Oh, something stronger. What’s the prince planning to do? Break his friend out of prison?” Tikh started and almost dropped the bottle. “What?” Onna giggled. “I thought so.” She turned and pulled a small box off the shelves. She switched the bottle in Tikah’s hands for the box. “Pills. Dissolve them in the guards’ tea. All of them. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt them, but they’ll wake up in the morning with a headache.” “What’s in them?” “That’s a secret. Now shoo before anyone finds you here and starts to suspect. And burn the box when you’re done, that way no one will connect me with it.” “Yes ma’am. Thank you.” Tikah darted for the door. “Any time, dearie. Come back and visit when you’re not in such a hurry.” Tikah pocketed the box and forced herself to walk calmly through the kitchen. Brent, thankfully, was at the other end complaining to someone about a sauce they had made, so she was able to slip through without being seen by him. Once out of the kitchen she sprinted across the courtyard to the stables. Mel’s head appeared through the trapdoor at the top of the stairs when he heard her fling the door open. “What took you so long? I’ve been through all of my fingernails and had started over on them again—until Varian pinned me and told me to stop.” “Out of my way, please.” Tikah scrambled up the ladder and held out the box to Varian when she was only halfway through the trapdoor. Varian grabbed it. “A sleeping potion?” “From Onna. Jevran issued orders not to let anyone through the gate without his express permission—in writing.” Varian sighed. “He’s not making this easy. I guess we’ll have to go over the walls.” Tikah smiled and rattled the box. “Sounds good. Some guards are going to sleep well tonight.”
Half Blood is back by popular request! :0)
And I'm counting on you guys to keep hounding me about it so I don't just let it go, like I did last time. Enjoy!