The next day, Sophie had an unexpected visitor. Sia had got the news, and had sent King Philip with her regards and lots of gifts.
“The apothecary wouldn’t allow her to travel in her condition,” he said putting all the things on a table near her bed.
Sophie rolled her eyes. “One would think I’m dying.” She could but was not allowed to leave her bed.
“Sia won’t rely on letters. She needed first-hand information,” the devoted husband explained.
Sophie and Philip had not much to talk about but the usual courtesies. He asked about her health and she asked about Sia’s. What she or even King Philip did not know was that Sia was urged to send Philip by her father and Neal. The queen was not in a habit to question Neal’s judgement and decisions, no matter how irrational they looked.
King Philip had a lot more to talk about with King Suffle apart from the usual pleasantries.
“We need your help to catch the culprit,” Suffle said to Philip once they were in the white starlite castle. The room was at the lowest part of the castle and Philip could see nothing of the sky outside.
“We have identified the poison that was mixed in the wine.” King Suffle bit his lips. “It is not a poison. It’s faklin. Faklin is—”
Philip sighed. “I’m perfectly aware what it is and where it can be found.” Faklin was a substance designed to induce symptoms of poison. It was only prepared in a specific human tribe of Philip’s homeland. The ingredients didn’t grow anywhere else and the recipe was not shared with strangers. “I know how this looks.”
“Do you have any idea of any after-effects of Faklin?” Suffle asked rubbing his eyes.
“It is perfectly safe. We use it to scare people who won’t talk. Or to get out of situations.”
“Why would somebody use it on the prince?”
“There can be a couple of reasons for it,” Philip said. “Somebody wants to scare us, show us how weak we are. Or,” he paused, “a poison from our land to your prince can shake the roots of our peace treaty.”
“You have someone on your mind.” Suffle peered into his grey eyes. They were flipping through the pages of the past.
“Yes.” He nodded. “There is a human minister who had always openly objected to the peace treaty. He was banished from the court after he became unstable. His son had died in the battle of Xeo.”
Suffle fidgeted. “We need to get a hold of him if we are to know his true intentions. What is his name?”
“Do you have any idea where we can find him?” Suffle asked.
“No, he has no family left and his whereabouts have been unknown since he was banished from the court.” Philip shrugged. “But then we have not tried to locate him before.”
“I’ll send one of my shadows with you. If you can, get him inside your country and help him hunt for Gaea. Also we’ll need to inform the emperor about my shadow.”
“Shadow!” King Philip exclaimed. “I thought it was just a rumour.” He had heard rumours that Suffle possessed an army of highly skilled and efficient starlites. It was believed that they were trained to go into enemy lines, kill their mark and return unnoticed.
Suffle knew what Philip was thinking. “A shadow is not an assassination machine. It’s a tracking device.”
Philip did not comment on it. “I’ll try to do what is required.”
It had escaped Philip’s attention that they had not been alone in the room. A figure had been lurking in the shadows since their arrival. He had never tried to imagine what a shadow would look like, but even if he had, he would have been wrong. The shadow could’ve been either he or she. It wore a black skin-hugging uniform that covered every bit of its skin, including the eyes.
‘I wonder if it can see, breathe or hear in this attire,’ Philip thought.
“A shadow has to be free and silent. It won’t talk, write or report to anybody. I advise you to use utmost secrecy. Even a hint of this could scare the culprit into hiding,” Suffle said.
The shadow nodded.
Philip decided that his travel companions had no need to see the shadow and hid it in the cargo among the gifts that they had received from the king.
As they flew away to another land, Philip wondered how many shadows Suffle actually had and what secret missions they might have performed under the very nose of his father and the generations before.
Once home, Philip gathered all the information he could to help the shadow. The emperor was not happy to have a foreign assassin work in secret in his empire. But he understood the gravity of the situation. The shadow was left to do its work.
Sia was surprised to know all that had transpired. “I had no idea this would happen, when Neal asked for you to visit him.”
Philip had assured Sia of Sophie’s good health and narrated to her, the events that had taken place in the white castle.
He also told her all he knew about faklin. She too wondered what anyone could achieve by such a trick.
“And it is a very rare thing,” Philip said, “Not everyone knows how to make it.”
“I’m sure the shadow will use it to our advantage.” Sia touched his shoulder.
It was a hobby of King Philip to research different types of poisons. The ones that were a speciality to his homeland were obviously on the top of his list. He possessed all the knowledge on where to find the tribe that made faklin and he had shared the same with the shadow.
Another thing that had excited him was the existence of a potion that could cure any poison in the world. The king had never heard about such a thing. He wanted to meet the person who had made it but politeness and etiquette stopped him. Fortunately that did not stop him from researching on his own about it. He was disappointed when he could not find any clue about it after days of research.
Days went by and the invalid was not allowed to go home. Her pleas fell on deaf ears. The people who came by to visit her included- Charles, Alex, Suffle, Natalie and Sophie’s colleagues from the guardians. Then there were the medics who came by regularly to check on her recovery. Sophie felt extremely uncomfortable with all the servants going on and about in her room.
She was not used to having servants care for her. The starlite wished to get rid of the human castle and sleep in her own bed. Edward knew that the poison she had taken was faklin, but he had his reasons for these extreme measures.
When he had first administered the dose to Sophie, he was disappointed. The precious liquid was wasted on a commoner. All his disappointment had vanished the next morning when the prince came to him. The prince had expressed gratitude that bordered on obscurity. That was just hours before they knew that the poison was fake.
Neal had explained to him that the death of a starlite in the human castle would have had far more disastrous effects than his own death. Especially since the said person was not only a high ranking official but also the personal favourite of the king.
“It could have put our nation in jeopardy and probably on the path of a civil war. We humans cannot survive without the help of starlites. You should know what a great favour you have done. You shall be rewarded splendidly,” the prince had promised.
Little did they know that an unexpected death would prevent the promise from being fulfilled. The events that unfolded in the next couple of months were such that Edward found it hard to remain at the castle, let alone collect his reward.