The table was empty.
Far away from the rest of the suitors, I was stealing a glance at Cecille while eating alone.
Cecille Ruff Galaner.
His father is a rich merchant who gathered a huge amount of money in a very short time. His mother is the only daughter of a noble family. Cecille is their spoiled daughter, and is said that she bought her nobler title with money. She is called “the Walking Ears” for the vast amount of gossip she knows. Perhaps, thanks to her father’s influence, she doesn’t miss a single rumor around. She also follows a lot the current fashion.
She’s irreprensibile: blond curly hairs and beautiful lit blue eyes. Her white dress makes the noble lady look like an angel fallen on this land by mistake.
After having noticed that I was looking at her she threw me a menacing gaze and, after having whispered something at Lady Miranda and Yuliana, they started walking away together.
…. They avoided me to the point of choosing another path instead of just seeing my face.
“Don’t worry………” I thought, sighing in front of the bread which was now tasting like nothing.
It’s so gloomy to be hated by someone… that’s why I was really surprised to see Lady Cecille is coming to visit me the same day almost at dinner time.
I thought she just wanted to avoid me, so I felt quite astonished when she said “Let’s go together!”. It was not convenient to refuse: I was acting roughly waiting in my room to the last moment just not to stay too much at the dinner while the other ladies would have been at the dining hall already..!
I walked along the corridor with Lady Cecille and the other two.
It seems that she’s the one who’s spreading rumors about me, but being unable to prove it, I just walked along her silently.
The ladies have met His Highness only in two occasions, always not alone and always in the tea chamber. They have never been witnesses of what I’ve seen… they have never heard him boasting about his sister in law or acting like a precocious kid with those childish expressions.
It’s impossible to be angry with that honest boy who always cares about his family: I suddenly realized that I was growing fond to him.
“I want to see him more… Or, maybe, I would prefer no one else apart from me could see him. Do you think I’m stupid thinking that way?”
“……Every single infatuated lady would think the same way…”
“Even you, Lady Theresa?”
“No, not me….”
The air froze around us, and I got goose bumps.
“You are such a nice girl, so calm…” said Cecille with a cold voice while moving closer till our dresses got in touch.
“… And this perfume… You see… My father deals with perfumes also, but I never smelled something like that. Where did you buy it?”
“I-It’s not for sale, it’s… it’s just a small vial of perfume which I did for myself….. I did it with Lirott flowers. If you like it I can make another one for you…”
“I must decline, thank you.”, at my generous offer, she answered with a clear aversion.
“….. I HATE this perfume.”
She meant that she hates me of course. I’m enough smart to understand it.
As she sped up her pace, I was soon left behind. Once arrived to the halls I then found a seat in the most remote corner, far away from His Highness. Just by coincidence, I shyly sat near Lady Cecille who was looking at the other way, as if she was telling me to find another place.
I think that she was so bitter because she would have arrived before if she wouldn’t have wasted time talking with me, and she would have taken a much closer seat to him.
Suddenly, the door at the end of the hall opened, and His Highness made his appearance, with an escort of knights and valets.
Every single Lady was tempted to shout at the Prince but, at the very end, the hall got dominated by an ominous silence. Everyone knew that it’s was not convenient to be rowdy if they wanted to look elegant to him.
After the waiters set the table, the dinner proceeded smoothly.
Lady Cecille was admiring His Highness, eating almost nothing. As the other ladies. Even my hands found difficult to reach the food since I was trying to steal a glance at him, even if it was just few days since we last met.
What is he saying? The ladies next to him were chuckling at his joke.
I understood why my father always did everything in his capability to please him. I wasn’t sure going to be noticed nor I could greet his High Highness by sitting so far away. The feeling that this dinner would have been over without anything interesting pervaded me, until I heard that His Highness would have chatted with everyone of us later.
He started to walk next to the long table sumptuously decked with sweets and appetizers: it is an unspoken rule that the Ladies closer to him get the right to greet him before others.
I was stalling, taking a look at some paintings while nibbling some fruits, when Lady Cecille nudged me “Let’s go.”
Our turn was arrived.
Illuminated from a festive chandelier and with his combed hairs, His Highness seemed more mature than I had ever seen before. His cheekbones were emphasizing his virility while the solemn splendor of his necklace wrapped him up even with more dignity. Me and Lady Cecile surrounded him, and bowed respectfully.
“I’m Cecille Ruff Galaner. I can’t believe that I’m speaking to His Highness so close!”
“I too, like her, am pleased to meet you. I’m Theresa Ruff Dalton.” I hardly had time to finish the sentence that Lady Cecille took the opportunity to talk again:“If this is a dream, I would like to never wake up. I would trade every single morning of my life to keep dreaming this encounter. If I could use sorcery, I would steal the voice of every single bird of the Reign, to keep sleeping.”
“No” I thought, “The sun needs to rise, otherwise plants would not grow…..”
Having noticed my confused face, His Highness made a mischievous smile and took both of our hands.
As soon as His Highness came closer, a familiar fragrance enveloped me.
“Sooner or later you must wake up from a dream. It’s better seeing you in real life. I can’t reach you in your mind.”
Since when he behaves so licentiously? He brushed his finger against my and Lady Cecille’s lips. I felt the gaze of the jealous ladies behind us piercing me….
Taking a look at Lady Cecille I was expecting her to be so delighted…. But she was stiff like a mannequin!
She immediately said to His Highness: “I’m so flattered, Your Highness, but this could be considered some kind of flirtation…”, while she gave him an extremely sweet smile she stole a hate filled gaze to me.
His Highness then chose his words very carefully to not stimulate the ladies too much, and started to conversate more lightly.
Lady Cecille is really skilled: she couldn’t be defeated in her way with words. Both me and His Highness were entertained by the funny and amusing episodes she were telling us while using a set of expressions worthy of an actress.
She then moved his hand like she had to swipe some sweat from her head and called the closest waitress to get something to moisten her throat.
Immediately, one of them brought three glasses of wine at the table.
“This wine is produced in Rionia, in the region of Regurea. Since most of it is brought in honor to our Palace, it’s really hard to find it on the market. My father deals with it also, but it’s extremely rare. This wine has no rivals.”
I smelled it, but I didn’t feel anything special.
My family is not powerful enough to obtain such a rarity, but I wouldn’t be interested in any case, since I do not drink. So, even if someone would offer me some good wine the best result he would get would be a simple “Ah, this is wine…” I know….. my father would get mad at me.
At the very moment in which I put the cup back on the table, Lady Cecille and His Highness stared at me.
“Aren’t you going to drink it?”
“I-I’m sorry….. my father adores it, but it makes me feel sick… By taking even a little sip I would get drunk and lose my memory. I don’t want for sure to make a fool of myself in front of His Highness. I-I think I’ll take that fruit juice over there.”
“Oh, what a pity. I guess nothing can be done about it! There’s no need to talk about it to His Highness anymore, right?”, Lady Cecille took a chalice with a mocking smile, and offered it to the Prince.
….. Wait, isn’t that the cup I just refused?
He didn’t even bring it near his lips when I suddenly stopped him.
“Your Highness, I think that this is my chalice!”
“O-oh, I’m sooo sorry Your Highness! I-I must have confused it for yours!”
“Do not worry. I’ll drink it anyway. I’m glad to say in front of Lady Dalton that me neither have ever got drunk.”
I smelled again that familiar perfume on him…..
I like this fragrance, it seems like some kind of extract of Lirott flowers and herbs… Wait, it smells exactly as the little vial I did!
I didn’t get it immediately, even if unconsciously I kept asking myself about an unusual scent I smelt from my wine.
I’m feeling so strange, something I never felt before… There is a strange tension scattering in the air, and some kind of dust floating inside that goblet….
This fragrance… I keep smelling it… what could it be?
Is it due to the wine??? No….. It isn’t the wine….. .. Or maybe the perfume I made…..? No… it doesn’t smell like that…..
“This…. This is Rudy flower’s perfume!!!!!! YOUR HIGHNESS!!! DO NOT DRINK IT!!!!!”
I striked his hand and the chalice fled like an arrow to the floor, and shattered with a high pitch.
“What are you doing?!!”, Cecille shouted.
“He MUST NOT drink it!!!! The wine is poisoned!!!”
“Poisoned??? What are you blabbing?!!!!”
Many knights and valets reached us immediately: “Lady Theresa, what do you mean by “poisoned”???
“I could identify a particular scent, it’s from a flower called “Rudy” and it came from the chalice which His Highness was holding in his hand… Typically it’s used as a remedy, but if you ingest it, it can become detrimental! You can even die by consuming a high quantity of it!”
While I was explaining the flower’s properties to Cecille and His Highness I almost fainted and my face turned white by fear, thinking that I or him could have drunk it….
Every single herb can be used as a remedy or as a poison. If you do not know how to handle them the consequences can be dire. Rudy is a plant mainly used to make a balsam to stimulate blood flow. It must be used only on the skin because, if ingested, it can harm your stomach and provoke internal bleedings, and the consequences can range from a simple fainting to a terrible death. Moreover it becomes even more effective mixed with some alchool. When it dries up it loses its perfume and it becomes easy to confuse it for another remedy. This is not a plant to toyed with: it must be handled very carefully.
The amount of powder floating on the wine was probably not enough to kill someone, but that’s not the problem: this is an attempted murder of a member of the Royal Family!
There was a turmoil in the hall: after having heard my explanation, all the guests were shocked. His Highness immediately ordered his escort to clean the wine and the shattered glass with great care and to keep some evidences of what just happened. In order to grant other commensals safety, the remaining goblets on the table have been removed too.
“Lady Theresa, your knowledge saved my life.”
“Oh, I did nothing special, I’m glad I could act before you could have sipped it….”
“There’s something strange about that…..!” In the hustle we suddenly heard the loud voice of Lady Cecille. She was looking down directly at me.
“How did Lady Theresa knew that there was poison inside? Did no one asked himself how it has been put there? Noone could predict which waitress I would have stopped to get the wine, nor which chalice I would have chosen. Even if someone else would have taken it before His Highness did, he would have noticed the poison.”
Everyone started staring at me.
The chalice which His Highness hold was the one I refused after having smelled it.
I just put it back on the table because I was not going to drink the wine, and somehow it ended in the Prince’s hands. May it be that it has been compromised after being brought by the waitress…..?
“How could you have noticed the poison inside? You’ve even guessed the exact type of it….!”
“Lady Cecille, it’s too early to prove that there was really some poison inside”
“Of course Your Highness. But even if it wasn’t poison, why Lady Theresa acted like that? Maybe she felt guilty after having done the deed? You did it with the intention of harming His Highness right?!”
I was covered in cold sweat.
Her eyes were shining like those of a cat playing with a defenseless mouse.
Her firm voice stirred up the agitation of the guests, and everyone was silently blaming me.
“I smelled the poison’s scent in the wine. I also saw some black dust floating on it. Rudy’s powder becomes black when it dries up and it’s put into a vial to be preserved.”
“The perfume. The dust. Didn’t you just say that it loses all his perfume when it dries up? You even know how to preserve it, you seem really expert about it. Where did you take all this knowledge?”
The conversation was taking a turn for the worse, but I couldn’t do anything about it. She’s just used my own words against me. The guest were hearing us without breathing.
“What makes me suspicious is that it sounds clear that you have already handled that herb.”
“I-I know it! Lady Theresa avoids to hang out at the hall, but she secretly goes everyday to the medical herbs garden!” A tremendous din blew up after Lady Yuliana’s charge.
I was cornered… I couldn’t do anything apart from biting my lips to this bitter situation… but If I didn’t reply I was going to be judged guilty.
“You are wrong, Lady Yuliana! You won’t find any Rudy plant in the Royal Palace Garden. Bruno the gardener can confirm it. That plant grows only in the most cold regions. It would be almost impossible to make it grow here….
“.. But you come from the far Northern Region, don’t you? Didn’t you say that your hobby was growing plants? Have you heard it too Lady Miranda…? ….. Lady Yuliana?”
They confirmed with one voice.
I answered to everything they threw at me.
Embroidery, painting, listening to music…. I told them I wasn’t often visiting the Palace just because we didn’t have any interesting argument to share, preferring to tend the plants, even if it’s not considered a decent pastime for a noblewoman. I told them everything frankly, forgetting to behave like my sister. My own words felt strange also to me.
“So, Rudy, that poisonous plant, does it grows in your garden?”
I couldn’t deny it. They would have found it immediately.
Being really pale, I had to lower my head.
“O-Of course it does… but I am not the culprit! You cannot accuse me just because I cultivate it!”
“Of course! Noone could… unless you decide to use it as a spice for His Highness wine!!!”
“As you put it, and you found it! You did everything by yourself! Maybe just to become an “heroine”, to save His Highness and gain his favor…. But I’m sorry my dear, your plan went up in smoke!”
“I said I didn’t do it!!!! Stop accusing me unjustly!”
“You do not scare me! You have just unmasked yourself! His Highness, please, arrest this woman right now!!!”
His blue eyes turned to me.
“It was not me… I wouldn’t do anything which could harm you….”
The knight who was going to hold me stopped for a second to look at the Prince’s reaction, but as he didn’t tell him anything he continued in his duty.
He firmly holded my arms and started to frisk me. His Highness just told him: “Do not be too rude”.
The knight’s hand reached the back pocket of my dress. Here he found two handkerchiefs….
… Two handkerchiefs??? I’m sure I had only one with me! But they were both mine. One of them was rolled up with care, and when the knight examined his content his face turned white.
“Captain! There’s some dried herb powder more here!”
The burly captain ran to us and, verified that it was true, showed the content to me.
“Woman, is this the powder of which you were talking about before?”
I was so confused that I didn’t know if to laugh or to cry.
It had the same perfume that I smelt the wine earlier. I answered sincerely: “Yes, this is Rudy.”
“Is this handkerchief yours?”
“…. It is.”
At that point everything seemed clear. That was the handkerchief they stole me.
Even if I brought only one handkerchief from my room, someone must have put it in my pocket without making me notice it. The handkerchief must have surely been prepared before.
While we were in the corridor Lady Cecille came so close to me that our dresses got in touch. I thought she did it just to smell my perfume, but it seems I was wrong. Cecille knows everything about fashion. She surely knew I had a back pocket.
But when could she have put Rudy in the wine?
I didn’t smell anything particular the first time. It surely must have been put just right after.
The knight took hold of my wrist.
In this situation, no one was more to be suspected than me.
The guests were staring at me with hate. His Highness was looking to the floor thinking, and I couldn’t make him look at me.
“Farewell, Lady Theresa”, Lady Cecille told me with a satisfied voice. Pushed by the knight I left the hall staggering.
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