‘I’ll send Brand with you,’ Riva offered.
‘Brand? Who’s he?’
‘Baron Kamion. Brand’s sort of a title. He’s my chief advisor, and he carries a lot of the weight of my crown for me.’ Riva made a rueful face. ‘I probably should have listened to him this time. He said a lot of the things you’ve already said – about the Deacon, I mean.’
‘Why didn’t you listen to him? Tell him to catch up with me.’ Then I stormed out of the royal apartment and went along the grim, torchlit corridor toward the main entrance to the Citadel, muttering some of uncle Beldin’s more colorful epithets along the way.
Kamion caught up with me just as I reached the massive doors that opened out into the snowy courtyard. He was older, of course, and he seemed more sober and serious than he’d been the last time I’d seen him. His blond hair was touched at the temples with grey now, but I noted with approval that he hadn’t gone so completely Alorn as to grow a beard. He wore a grey woolen cloak and carried another over his arm. ‘It’s good to see you again, Pol,’ he said. Then he held out the extra cloak. ‘Here,’ he said. ‘Put this on. It’s cold out there.’
‘I’m feeling very warm right now, Kamion,’ I told him. ‘Couldn’t you keep that idiot priest away from Riva?’
He sighed. ‘I tried, Pol. Believe me I tried, but his Majesty likes to get along with people, and Elthek waves his religious office around like a war-banner. He’s half-convinced most of the population that he speaks for Belar, and that’s very difficult to counter. His Majesty’s the keeper of the Orb, and that makes him a holy object in the eyes of the priesthood. In a peculiar way the priests seem to think they own him. They have no real understanding of the Orb, so they seem to believe that it’ll do anything Riva tells it to do. They don’t comprehend the limitations. Would you believe that Elthek even went so far as to suggest that his Majesty try to cure his wife by touching her with the Orb?’
‘That would have killed her!’
‘Yes, I know. I managed to persuade him not to try it without some guidance from either you or your father.’
‘At least he had enough sense to listen to you.’
‘Can you cure my queen, Pol?’ he asked as we went out into the courtyard.
I looked directly at his handsome face and knew that I could tell him a truth that I’d hidden from Riva and Daran. ‘I’m not sure, Kamion,’ I admitted.
He sighed. ‘I was afraid it was more serious than we thought at first,’ he admitted. ‘What’s causing the illness?’
‘The filthy climate of the God-forsaken island!’ I burst out. ‘It’s destroying my sister’s lungs. She can’t breathe here.’
He nodded. “The queen’s been falling ill every winter for quite a number of years now. What do we need from the city?’
‘I need to talk with Arell, and then I’m going to ransack the shop of a herbalist named Argak. I think I might want to talk with a man named Balten as well.’
‘I think I know him. He’s a barber, isn’t he?’
“That’s his day-job, Kamion. At night he’s a grave-robber.’
‘Actually, he’s a surgeon, and he digs up dead bodies so that he can study them. You need to know what you’re doing when you cut into people.’
‘Surely you’re not going to cut into the queen’s body?’ he exclaimed.
‘I’ll take her apart and put her back together again if that’s what it takes to save her life, Kamion. I don’t think Balten’s going to be of much use, but he might know something about lungs that I don’t. Right now I’d strike a bargain with Torak himself if he could help me save Beldaran.’
Arell was older, of course. Her hair was grey now, but her eyes were very wise. ‘What kept you, Pol?’ she demanded when Kamion and I entered her cluttered little dress shop.
‘I only heard about Beldaran’s illness recently, Arell,’ I replied. ‘Is Argak still in business?’
She nodded. ‘He’s as crotchety as ever, though, and he hates being awakened before noon.’
‘That’s just too bad, isn’t it? I need some things from his shop, and if he doesn’t want to wake up, I’ll have Lord Brand here chop open the door with his sword.’
‘My pleasure, Pol,’ Kamion said, smiling.
‘Oh, another thing, Arell,’ I said. ‘Could you send for Balten, too?’
‘Balten’s in the dungeon under the temple of Belar right now, Pol. A couple of priests caught him in the graveyard the other night. He had a shovel, and there was a dead body in his wheel-barrow. They’re probably going to burn him at the stake for witchcraft.’
‘No. They’re not. Go get him out for me, would you, please, Kamion?’
‘Of course, Pol. Did you want me to chop down the temple?’
‘Don’t try to be funny, Kamion,’ I told him tartly.
‘Just a bit of levity to relieve the tension, my Lady.’
‘Levitate on your own time. Let’s all get busy, shall we?’
Kamion went off to the temple of Belar while Arell and I went to Argak’s chemistry shop. I wasn’t really very gentle when I woke up my former teacher. After Arell and I had pounded on his shop door for about five minutes, I unleashed a thunderclap in the bedroom upstairs. Thunderclaps are impressive enough outdoors. Sharing a room with one is almost guaranteed to wake you up. The stone building was still shuddering when Argak’s window flew open and he appeared above us. ‘What was that?’ he demanded. His eyes were wide, his sparse hair was sticking straight up, and he was trembling violently.
‘Just a little wake-up call, dear teacher,’ I told him. ‘Now get down here and open the door to your shop or I’ll blow it all to splinters.’
‘There’s no need to get violent, Pol,’ he said placatingly.
‘Not unless you try to go back to bed, my friend.’
It took me about an hour to locate all the medications I thought I might need, and Argak helpfully suggested others. Some of those herbs were fairly exotic, and some were actually dangerous, requiring carefully measured doses.
Then Kamion returned with Balten. Evidently even the arrogant priests of Belar knew enough not to argue with the Rivan Warder. ‘What’s behind all this idiotic interference from the priests?’ I demanded of my teachers. ‘This sort of thing wasn’t going on when I was studying here.’