A flurry of gasps echoed around the room and one of the women fainted into the arms of her nearby companions.
"Get the Physicians in here!" Lord Penton's voice rose over the crowd, Mouse just now noticing him on the other side of Arya. "And guard the doors! If this is foul play..." His eyes flashed around the room, falling hard on Mouse. "Then no one is to leave this room." She glared hard back at his accusing stare, shocked and angered that he would ever think that she would have some sort of involvement in this.
Within minutes, the Palace Physicians were in the room, examining the man.
"He's not dead," the head Physician, Iris, announced, gently setting his wrist back down. Arya looked at the dark-haired woman with disbelief.
"But he had no pulse..." Arya stuttered.
"He has a pulse," Iris gently argued. "It's just very weak." Iris' dark blue eyes fell sympathetically on the Queen as her cheeks went red with embarrassment. "It's alright, Your Majesty. I'm trained to notice things like this, whereas someone who is not experienced in this field would not. It's not your fault that you couldn't find his pulse."
"Do you know what's wrong with him?" Lord Penton asked, his eyes still flickering back to Mouse.
"I can't be certain," Iris replied, furrowing her brows. "But I believe that he may have been poisoned."
"Poisoned!" Arya gasped. "How do you know?"
"The only other time that I've ever seen someone in his condition was after they had been poisoned," Iris answered.
"How could he have been poisoned?" Arya asked, confused. "We've all been eating and drinking the same things tonight and no one else has fallen ill."
"Hmmm..." Iris mused, her eyes darting around, taking in the scene before her. "Which cup was he drinking from? Perhaps his cup specifically was poisoned?"
"It's one of those two," Arya pointed to the two cups lying on the floor, their liquids spilled out in a puddle around them. "He was holding my cup too..." Arya gasped.
"Do you think it may have been my cup that was poisoned?" She asked with wide eyes. "Someone had asked me to dance before I got a chance to drink it and he offered to hold it for me..."
"And it's possible that he could have taken a drink from it," Iris finished.
"What did you do?" Lord Penton's harsh voice hissed in Mouse's ear.
"Me?" she exclaimed, turning sharply to face him. "How can you possibly accuse me of doing something like this?"
"You would have been the one to get Her Majesty's drink," Lord Penton remarked. "You would have had the chance to poison it."
"There's a flaw to that theory and it's the fact that I wasn't the one to get her drink," Mouse snapped. "Besides, I wasn't even in the room!"
"A likely story," Lord Penton sneered. "I know that you never let her out of your sight!"
"It's the truth!" Mouse exclaimed. "I was with... someone."
"You?" Lord Penton laughed. "Who would ever want to be with you? You are lying!"
"She's telling the truth," a familiar voice broke into their conversation. Mouse turned and smiled at Vyron as he stepped forward. "She was with me." He extended his hand to her and helped her to her feet, putting an arm protectively around her.
"With you?" Lord Penton scoffed. "You would want to be with this peasant?"
"Yes, I would," Vyron remarked defensively, his eyes flashing angrily at the older man. "And I take offense in that you call her a liar and a peasant. You should have more respect for the Queen's personal servant and the Lady of a Knight." Lord Penton's cheeks flushed red with embarrassment and anger.
"She is no Lady," he scowled. "She is nothing but a filthy, unwanted street urchin that-"
"ENOUGH!" Vyron snapped, his raised voice catching the attention of the people around them. He stepped closer to Lord Penton and lowered his voice so that no one else would hear them. "Mouse is more of a Lady than you will ever be of a Lord and don't you dare say that she is unwanted, because she is. Just because your heart is cold from not being loved or being capable of love does not give you any excuse to treat anyone else poorly or make them feel as insecure and pathetic as you do. You watch your words, my Lord, for they are as cold as your heart and are the only thing here that is unwanted."
"Look at this!" Iris' voice exclaimed, cutting off any sort of response that Lord Penton could try to make as their attentions were turned back to the Physician. She held one of the cups in her hand. "See the red smudge here? This would be from Her Majesty's lips, implying that this would be her cup. And if you look inside the cup..." She tilted it so that they could see inside of it. "You will see some sort of substance on the bottom, most likely remnants of the powdered poison that was not dissolved properly. That means that it was indeed Her Majesty's cup that was poisoned!"
"Who could do such a thing?" Arya asked, distraught. "Why would someone want to poison me?"
Mouse couldn't explain why she felt the sudden urge to search the man's pockets, but she did, trusting her gut instinct, and sure enough, she found an empty pouch inside one of the pockets, some white powder still stuck to its sides.
"Your Majesty..." she turned to Arya, delicately holding the pouch by its drawstrings, careful not to spill any of the powder or get it on her skin.
"It was him!" Arya exclaimed. "But if he knew that the cup was poisoned, then why did he drink from it?"
"I think that that is something that we will have to ask him," Iris commented, as she looked at the man. "That's if he regains consciousness. But for now, the best thing to do would be to get him back to the Healing Room where I can keep an eye on him." She signaled to her apprentices who were waiting with a litter to transport the man to the Healing Room where they could care for him further.
"And I will have guards placed there as well, in case he wakes up and tries anything funny," Lord Penton announced as the apprentices gently lifted the man onto the litter and carried him away. Lord Penton quickly followed them as they exited them room, most likely wanting to put as much distance between Vyron and himself as he possibly could.
"Are you alright, Arya?" Mouse asked concerned as she turned back to her friend, placing a gentle, comforting hand on her shoulder.
"I think I need to lie down," she replied uneasily. "I just want to be alone."
"I'll take you back to your room," Mouse said, taking her hand and helping her to her feet.
"I'll help you," Vyron offered, taking her other hand, helping steady the unbalanced Queen.
"Her Majesty would like to thank you all for coming tonight, but feels that it is best to call it a night after the recent turn of events," Mouse spoke on behalf of the Queen. "I'm sure that accommodations have been made for all of you, but if not, I'm sure that a room can be made up for you. Sorry for any inconveniences, and again, thank you all for attending." With that, Mouse led Arya out of the room. She could feel Arya's body relax and become stronger and more balanced the further they got from the Ball Room. By the time they reached Arya's Chambers, Arya was standing upright on her own and the colour had come back to her pale cheeks. Vyron was the only one shocked by this transformation.
"It's an act she puts on," Mouse remarked, seeing Vyron's confused expression. "People expect her to be delicate and sensitive, so an almost death and poisoning should make her very faint and squeamish, and thus we have our distressed Queen."
"It's only half an act," Arya commented, sitting down on her sofa. "This poisoning matter is very distressful, but I'm tougher than people think I am. I'm very capable of handling things like death. After all, I watched my parents die right before my eyes. Really, what is it with people thinking that women are so delicate and can't handle anything?"
"If you feel that way then why conform to what others think you should be like?" Vyron asked. "You control how people see you. Why not let them see you as you truly are and not what they expect you to be?"
"You're right!" Arya exclaimed, perking up. "That's it! No more weak, I-can't-handle-the-sight-of-blood Queen! From now on, Arya is the tough, I-can-handle-what-ever-life-throws-at-me Queen!" She smiled. "Thank you, Vyron."
"You're welcome, Your Majesty," Vyron bowed to her with a smile. "I think..."
"Oh please, none of that!" Arya exclaimed with a wave of her hand. "You've joined our inner circle. You don't need to worry about formalities here."
"So I see," he grinned as he watched Mouse flop onto the sofa beside Arya. "So what will you do about the young Duke?"
"Duke?" Mouse looked quizzically at Arya.
"That man was Lord Gerald the fourth, the Duke's son that I told you about," Arya explained. "He hadn't left yet, so he came to the Ball again, unfortunately. Actually he wasn't as irritable tonight as he was the other night... He was actually kind of quiet, unusually so..."
"So you believe that it's true that he may have tried to poison you," Vyron commented, taking a seat in a chair across from the women.
"I don't know," she sighed. "It just doesn't make sense! Why would he want to kill me?"
"Maybe he didn't want to," Mouse remarked. "Maybe he was hired or forced to poison you."
"Well he didn't do a very good job of it," Arya scoffed. "He must not be very bright to drink from a cup that he had poisoned."
"Your Majesty!" a voice called out from the other side of the door that was now being knocked on rapidly. Mouse leapt to her feet and crossed the room to open the door, revealing one of Iris' apprentices.
"Your Majesty," the strawberry blonde haired girl said with a curtsy. "Iris said that you should be the first to know. He is awake."
"Awake!" Arya exclaimed, leaping to her feet. "We will go to him at once!" She moved towards the door, motioning to the girl that she should lead them there. They quickly followed her out into the hallway, Mouse falling back into step with Vyron as they made there way down the hall.
"What do you make of all of this?" she asked him.
"Hmmm?" he replied, lost in thought. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I said what do you make of all of this?" she repeated.
"I agree that it's odd that he would try to poison Her Majesty," he replied. "He doesn't seem like the kind of guy to try something like this."
"You know him?" she asked.
"Not personally," he answered. "But I've seen him in passing and he seemed like a decent enough guy, though he can be arrogant when his father is not around."
"Oh?" Mouse tilted her head questioningly. "How so?"
"I don't know," Vyron shrugged. "He's just more full of himself, more cocky, whereas when his father is around, he's more timid and self-conscious. That's what it looks like anyways. It's probably not easy being the Duke of Raye's youngest son."
"Duke of Raye?" Mouse echoed. "Raye as in Keiento's border town to Decura?"
"That's the one," Vyron replied.
"I've heard about him," Mouse commented. "I've heard that he can be a bit tyrannical. Poor Gerald. Almost makes you feel bad for the guy, though that still doesn't explain why he would want to kill the Queen." Mouse looked at Vyron and realized that he wasn't paying attention to her.
"You seem distracted," Mouse commented as she stopped him and forced him to look at her. "What's wrong?"
"It's nothing," he shrugged her hand off, turning away to continue walking.
"Don't give me that bull!" she snapped, grabbing his arm and turning him back to her. "What's going on? Tell me."
Vyron shifted uncomfortably, avoiding eye contact with her. Mouse could tell that he didn't want to tell her, but finally, with a sigh, he looked her straight in the eye.
"It's Lord Penton," he revealed, anger edging in his voice. "I just can't get over how rude he was to you! Accusing you of being involved in that!"
"I'm used to it," Mouse shrugged.
"He's always like that?" Vyron exclaimed, upset. "How do you stand it? I wanted to punch his arrogant face in!" Vyron's hand curled into a fist that he shook in the air.
"Violence isn't the answer," Mouse sighed, taking his fist and gently uncurling his fingers. "It's flattering that you would want to defend my honour like that, but punching the Royal Advisor wouldn't solve anything. It would just give him one more thing to flip on me for. I've been dealing with his crap for seven years. I can handle it."
"Mouse!" Arya's voice called. Mouse looked up and realized how far behind they had fallen.
"Seriously, don't worry about it," Mouse insisted as she slipped her arm through his. "Now come along. We've fallen behind." She pulled him along for a couple of steps until his long strides caught up with her and they quickly hurried on their way.
Soon they caught up with Arya who was stopped outside the Healing Room, waiting for them.
"Slowpoke," Arya whispered when Mouse came to stand beside her. Mouse crinkled her nose at Arya. She wanted to stick her tongue out at her as well, but refrained from doing so as they were not alone. Lord Penton stood further down the hallway, deep in conversation with one of the guards. His eyes quickly flashed over to Mouse, then to Vyron, then away. Mouse nudged Vyron's arm, getting his attention, and he leaned down a little to hear her.
"Looks like you've gained a new enemy," Mouse whispered to him, motioning over towards Lord Penton. Vyron looked over at him, then rolled his eyes.
"Do you think I really care?" he laughed. "He's not the kind of guy I'd even want as a frienemy. And if he's your enemy, then it makes sense that he would be my enemy too. We're in this together now. You don't have to deal with his crap alone anymore." He looked deep into her eyes. "I will always be there for you. I'd choose to be on your team over anyone else's any day, no matter how powerful or influential the other teams may be. I don't care about that. I don't care about them. All I care about is you." Mouse felt her cheeks flush with heat and she realized that she was blushing. She had always dreamed of having someone say things like this to her, but had never thought that it would actually happen.
I love you, she wanted to say, but instead she held her tongue and just smiled at him. Telling someone that you loved them was a serious thing, a special thing, something that should be said only when you were absolutely certain that you did love them, and Mouse wanted the first time to be special, to actually mean something. So instead of saying those three special words, Mouse just said, "I would choose you too. You and only you."
"Mouse, I lo-" Vyron began to say but was cut off as the door opened and Iris came out.
"You can see him now," she announced, ushering them inside. "He is stable enough to talk."
The Healing Room was probably the cleanest and whitest room in the Palace. Its sterile, white walls were void of colour. The whole room was practically void of colour. Small white beds with white sheets and white pillows lined the walls, and there, in the middle bed, laid the Duke's youngest son, Gerald.
"Good evening, Lord Gerald," Arya's voice was cold. The man looked up, startled, and his face paled.
"Your Majesty," he bowed his head to her, shaking.
"I think that you know why I am here," Arya said as she came to stand before his bed. "So start talking."
"I'm so sorry," he blubbered, breaking down in tears. "I didn't want to, I didn't, honest! But he said that he would kill me if he didn't!" He buried his face in his hands.
"Who said he would kill you?" Arya asked, her eyebrows furrowing with puzzlement.
His mumbled response barely sputtered through his fingers.