The Pupil and His Master
Ever since he was a little boy, Edward had known what he wanted. From the very beginning, this aim had made him work harder on his studies. It had made him a stubborn pupil who never heard no from his teacher.
It was the purpose of his existence. It was the sole reason that he had left his home and his country. He had travelled far and wide in search of new teachers, new diseases and new methods to cure those diseases.
All those years of hard work had been finally paid off on his appointment as the head of the royal medical team. The work was not much. Most of the task was done by the team. He was only called when the empress, the prince or someone important became sick. His salary was comfortable and occasional gifts kept coming his way.
With his aim to achieve success fulfilled, he was content for some time. But as is human nature, he soon grew dissatisfied with what he had, and started wanting more.
His prayers were answered when one day he met a man who promised to fulfil all his desires. His age was hard to guess with his weird gold coloured skin. He dressed in clothes like Edward had never seen in his life. And Edward had travelled to some faraway lands. The man was thin and bald with only slits for eyes.
Edward had befriended the stranger because he knew him to be special. He was born with a knack to know who can prove beneficial to him.
The stranger was indeed a specialist, an expert on poisons. And he agreed to become Edward’s next master. His only condition was that nobody could know about him. The master and the pupil carried out their classes in secret for months.
“If I were you, I would write it down,” the master said.
The pupil complied. He watched with mesmerised curiosity as his master carefully plucked the leaves of the flower and dropped the stem into the little cauldron already filled with what looked like plain water.
“Now we have to stir it four times and add the herb.” He kept verbally repeating his actions so as to enable his pupil to write down everything.
“The heat must not be too high or the whole thing burns,” the master said, “too low and it turns poisonous.”
After several hours of hard work the potion was complete.
“And this will cure any poison?” the student asked. His eyes gleamed as he rubbed his palms.
“Almost any,” the master corrected. “I’ll demonstrate its effects to you.”
He pulled out a red vial from his robe. “This poison can kill anyone in about an hour. Do you want to drink it or should I?”
Edward wasn’t a brave man by nature. He suggested that they try it on an animal and provided his dog for the demonstration.
“Very well,” the master said and emptied the vial into the dog’s mouth.
They waited for the dog to show symptoms of the poison intake. In half an hour the dog was vomiting all over the place. The pupil restrained his dog while the teacher dipped a spoon into the liquid he had just made and made the dog drink it. The dog began to recover.
“In an hour or two, it’ll be as good as new.” The master smiled.
The pupil poured the remaining content of the cauldron into a vial. “This one dose of liquid will make me rich.”
“I fail to see how.”
“I’ll be able to cure any poison now,” the pupil responded.
“The ingredients of this potion are not only expensive and rare, but also have an expiry date. You cannot go about town giving this to every case of poison. Nor can you wait a month praying for a case of poison. You only have one dose, make it count.”
“I’ll make it count,” the pupil resolved. “I’ll give it to the empress.”
The master explained that such an opportunity may never present itself.
“I’m sure it will,” Edward said. “If opportunity does not present itself, we just have to make one for ourselves.”
“You are going to poison the empress,” the master stated.
“Yes. Do you have a problem with that?” Edward asked.
“Not at all,” the master replied. “In this world some people die waiting for opportunities while some kill for them. You’ll be doing neither.”
“You are a strange man.”
“I just see what is good for me,” the master said. “Take this vial of poison.” He handed him the red vial and said, “If you are going to poison somebody, use the most dangerous poison. She will be more grateful this way.”
“What is in it for you?”
“One day when you are in a good position, I may come and ask you a favour and you won’t be in a position to say no.”
“And if I say no?”
“Let’s just say that collecting debts is my hobby,” the master said. “Everybody will know that you tried to kill the empress. You’ll be hanged for treason.”
Edward had known that his master was a dangerous person but he had never been afraid of him. But at that moment, he became terrified. Edward weighted his options. He could cancel all his plans and walk away or he could owe his master a debt. He chose the latter.
“I have to do it,” he said.
“I’ll help you plan it.”
The master then suggested him that a bottle of red wine was the perfect thing to hide the poison in. Edward decided that he would gift a bottle of red wine to the empress.
“You are an idiot,” the master said shaking his head. “She’ll know it’s from you. You have to poison an existing bottle.”
“She is always with her servants. Her rooms are always guarded, even when she is not in them. I don’t think I can risk poisoning something from the kitchen. It will put many people at risk.”
“What about the prince?”
“He likes to be alone.” Edward smiled. “Not many people are allowed in his paint room. If I could get an entry there…”
The master smiled. Edward never saw him again after that day. That didn’t bother him as he had already received all the knowledge he could give..
Edward couldn’t get entry into the paint room. It was locked. If he forced his way in, it would leave it’s mark and make people suspicious. He went to the next unlocked and empty room he could find. It was a big room with only two chairs and a table for furniture. The cabinet above the table contained many bottles of wines. Edward took all the bottles out and replaced them with his.
His wait ended after many days when frantic voices filled the castle. His accommodation, like other ministers, was next to the castle. He could see that something had happened in the starlite meeting room. Edward grabbed his box and ran towards the castle.
The flight of stairs felt like nothing in his excitement. Everybody made way for him. They were relieved to see him. The scene in the meeting room was different than he had imagined.
The prince was sitting on the floor, his upper torso covered in wine. A starlite lay on the floor. Edward’s eyes instinctively went to the table which exhibited the open bottle of wine and two empty glasses.
He rushed to the table and pretended to smell the glasses and the bottle. Nobody stopped him. He was the expert.
“It’s poison,” he declared.
Not rising from the floor, the prince looked at him. “Can you cure it?” he demanded.
“It’s hard to give an antidote without knowing what poison was given. I can analyse it but it may be too late by then.”
“Do what you can,” the prince said. “Her life is to be saved.”
“I have a potion that can cure any poison,” Edward said, “but I only have one dose of it. I can save you but not the starlite.”
The prince smiled. “Then it’s fortunate that I did not drink the wine.”
“There are two glasses,” Edward contested.
“I spilled mine,” the prince explained, gesturing at the his wine drenched clothes.
Edward tried to hide his disappointment. He opened his box and took out the vial. Using his special spoon, he fed the potion to Sophie.
“She should be all right in a few days,” he said to the prince who was still on the floor and intently gazing at the victim.
“I should get cleaned up.” The prince stood up. “Try to find out about the poison and make an antidote. Something else may also be poisoned,” he said as he left the room.
Two servants supported the prince as he went to his room. He was feeling dizzy. He shut himself inside the room and ordered that nobody was to disturb him, unless it was about the poison.
The vomiting began but he slept in his bed, too tired to move. Neal knew that his end was coming, but he was too tired even to think about it. He closed his eyes.
The empress had not been in the castle when these events happened. But she was informed about them immediately. She returned with haste, to find an unconscious Sophie in one of the guest rooms, most of the guards in the starlite meeting room and Neal locked up in his chambers.
Edward had told her the whole story.
“There were two empty glasses?” she asked.
“Yes, my team is analysing the contents as we speak,” he said smugly.
“Why did you only have one dose with you?” the empress asked with a frozen expression.
“It’s a rare medicine,” he answered.
“Did he tell you he wasn’t poisoned before you told him about the single dose?”
“No, after.” His eyes widened. “Surely his Majesty wouldn’t risk his life for a starlite.”
The empress did not answer him but rushed to her son’s chamber and demanded it to be opened. The guards told her that they had orders. She wouldn’t listen.
The doors were opened and she found him sleeping on the bed. He was covered in a red liquid. The empress spotted the same on the floor. Her heart accelerated. She could not lose him.
She shook him violently shouting his name again and again, in vain hope that he would open his eyes.
Then he opened his eyes.