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.It appeared to heras thousands of tiny demons, hungry and chewing at her—little brownbiting creatures.Rattled, Jilseponie fought hard to regain her mental balance, then wentat the creatures as she had once battled the rosy plague.For a long timeshe slapped at them with her healing powers, destroying them with hertouch.And then she felt relief, both physical and emotional.For unlike theplague, these demons did not seem to multiply faster than she coulddestroy them.It took her a long, long time, but when she came out of hertrance, she was exhausted but feeling better than she had in more than ayear.She lay back on her bed and put her hands up over her head, stretchingto her limit—and feeling no pain, no cramping in her belly.No physicalturmoil at all, though a million questions rushed through her head.Hadshe won, truly and forever? Had she defeated this disease or infection orwhatever it was? And what did that mean for her and Danube? Could she nowbear the King an heir?And more importantly, did she want to?No, Jilseponie refused to think about that so soon.The implications ofher healing her womb—though she didn’t believe that was what she hadtruly done—staggered her.She knew that no child of hers would be warmlywelcomed by Danube’s snobbish court.But, no, Jilseponie told herself.She hadn’t fixed the wounds Markwarthad imposed upon her; they were too old and too deep to be repaired bythe gemstone magic.No, she had cured herself of this newest infectionthat was probably caused, she supposed, by those previous wounds.Whatever the result, whatever the implications, the Queen of Honce-the-Bear was certainly feeling physically better now, and so she wasenthusiastic when one of her handmaidens appeared, bearing a tray offood.Jilseponie sat at a small table at the side of her bed as thehandmaiden uncovered the various plates, and for the first time inmonths, she looked at the food eagerly, intending to thoroughly enjoythis fine meal.The handmaiden left her and she took up her fork and knife and startedto cut.And stopped, stunned, blinking repeatedly, sure that her eyes must betricking her.Perhaps it was the recent intimate interaction that broughtrecognition, perhaps some trace connection remaining between her and thehematite.But whatever the reason, she saw them.The little demons scowled at her from her food.She could feel theirhunger.Shaking, Jilseponie pushed back her chair and retrieved her soul stone.She hesitated—what if she found out that the food itself was poison toher? What if the wounds the demon had inflicted upon her had somehowmorphed into a physical aversion to nutrition? How would she live?How.Jilseponie threw aside those fears and dove into the soul stone, usingit to examine her food on a different and deeper level.What she foundboth relieved her and heightened her fear.No, it was not the food itselfthat was poison to her, but rather, something that was in her food,something that had been sprinkled upon her food!She shoved the plate away, sending it crashing to the floor, thenstaggered to her bed and sat down hard, trying to sort through theinformation and digest the astounding implications.Was someone poisoningher?“A seasoning, perhaps, that simply does not mix with my humours,” theQueen said aloud, but she knew better, knew that those hungry littledemons were no seasoning but were a deliberately placed poison.She dressed quickly and started searching for the source.Thehandmaiden, obviously not the perpetrator, willingly led her to the greatcastle kitchens and the chef, who was assigned to personally prepare themeals for both King and Queen.The chef’s smile melted away when Jilseponie dismissed the rest of thekitchen staff, thus warning him that something was amiss—something, hisexpression revealed, that he understood all too well.Under her wiltinggaze and blunt questions, the man cracked easily, delivering to the Queena source that truly surprised and terrified Jilseponie.“I cannot dismiss your complicity as I have Angeline’s,” Jilseponiestated definitively, referring to the handmaiden.“I—I did not know, my Queen,” the chef stammered.“You knew,” Jilseponie countered.“It was in your eyes from the moment Iasked the rest of the staff to leave.You knew.”“Mercy, my Queen!” the man wailed, thinking himself doomed.He fell tothe floor and prostrated himself pitifully.“I could not refuse him! I ambut a poor cook, a man of no influence, a man—”“Get up,” Jilseponie commanded, and she waited for him to stand beforecontinuing, using those moments to sort through her anger.A part of herwanted to lash out at him, and she wondered if it was her duty to turnhim over to the King’s Guard for trial and punishment.But another partof Jilseponie could truly sympathize with the awkward position this manhad found himself in, obviously caught between two opposing powers thatcould easily obliterate him.And his choice, against Jilseponie andtoward the unknown perpetrator, was also understandable, givenJilseponie’s standing among the courtiers and, by association, among thestaff.“You would kill me?” she asked the chef; and the way he blanched, thelook of true horror that came over him, revealed to her his honest shock [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]