King Leone stood outside his son’s bedroom door. His hands were balled into fists so tight his knuckles turned white. When he spoke, his tone was at odds with the tension in his body. “You’re telling me that none of you can do anything?”
Before him stood the three physicians within the city. Supposedly the most skilled men in that profession. He was starting to have his doubts there.
“Sire, no one has seen anything like this before. While we can treat the surface rash, it’s the one that works its way down the mouth and throat that we can do nothing for,” one of the physicians informed him nervously. It was rare to see the King so upset. Then again, the latest victim was his only child.
“My son is showing the first symptoms of this blasted plague,” Leone managed between clenched teeth, “and you’re telling me that he is going to die in roughly two days and there is nothing you can do to stop it?!”
“Your majesty,” a man spoke calmly off to the side.
Turning, Leone saw the castle steward, Renzo. Every inch the proper servant, he bowed to his king. “Your majesty, I have the updates you asked for.”
“Thank you, Renzo.”
Leone took the paper his steward brought to him. At first glance, everything seemed to be as expected. Listed for each district of the city were the current number of sick and the dead. Pity at the number dead flickered through his eyes before it was shoved aside to allow room for clear thought.
At second glance, something didn’t seem right to him. He focused on the numbers from The Slums. “Renzo, are these really accurate?”
“Yes, your majesty,” the steward assured him. “Each lord has been keeping careful count.”
“Why are more surviving in The Slums than anywhere else?”
“That I do not know, Sire.”
Leone turned his attention back to the physicians. “Can any of you explain this?”
The three men shook their heads as they exchanged confused glanced.
“Honestly, The Slums should have the highest death toll. Between malnutrition and lack of cleanliness, the people there aren’t as healthy as the other districts,” Armo, the oldest of the three men, answered slowly.
A soldier standing guard next to the prince’s room shifted uncomfortably.
Leone’s sharp eyes snapped to the soldier. “Have something to say?”
“Well, sire. It’s just…”
“If you know something about all of this, say something now,” the King snapped out. “My son is dying.”
The soldier snapped to attention. “Sire. It’s just that you may want to ask the herbalist that works in The Slums. She’s the one that has been tending to the plague victims there.”
“Not that woman,” the physicians groaned. “She is not a real physician. Just an herbalist that doesn’t know her place.”
The soldier’s gaze turned cold as he looked at the three men. “Miss Rae is a brilliant herbalist and the kindest person I’ve ever had the honor of meeting.”
The three of them stepped back when the soldier’s grip tightened on the pommel of his sword and the shift in his weight towards them.
“Will one of you tell me who this herbalist is?” King Leone demanded with what he considered to be admirable patience.
Before any of the physicians could respond, the soldier gave them a hard glare. Each one snapped their jaw shut.
“Sire,” the soldier began, “the herbalist’s name is Rae Morandi.”
“And how do you know about her?”
The soldier shuffled uncomfortably. “Well, my father made some mistakes with the family money. As a result, we have to live in The Slums for the time being. Until we get back on our feet anyway. About a half cycle ago, I was injured in a training exercise. Miss Rae was the one to tend to my injury and made sure I was able to work again. Since she knew we couldn’t afford to pay her, all she asked was that I help her move some new beds into her clinic.”
“And she’s the one taking care of the plague victims now?”
The soldier nodded. “Yes, sire. She’s the only one the people of The Slums will go to for treatment.”
“I see.” King Leone looked at the door to his son’s room. He’d already lost so much. Rank and privilege came with sacrifice and costs. But not this. He was not going to lose his son. “Bring her here.”
“Sire,” the physicians objected.
“If she can help my son,” Leone interrupted, turning hard, determined eyes to them, “then I don’t care who or what she is.” He looked back at the soldier. “Bring her here, now.”