Poisonroot - Chapter 16
A new character, and a ladyfriend. Young. Rich. Potentially powerful. Also a bit wet at the moment; that might change.
Only a short update today; lots to do this weekend. Going to see Skyfall this evening!
They had been resting for a few hours in the plush confines of the guest room when a tap came at their door. Trip looked up from the book he had been reading.
"Who could that be?" he said. Victor had gone out earlier with barely a word to him; Rennin had come by their quarters out of armour and holding a bottle of wine. Their laughter had echoed back up the corridor as they had walked off.
The tapping sounded again. Trip slid off the seat and looked around for weapons. The bedchamber was long on soft plush things but short on anything with a blade. He picked up a heavy paperweight that was sat on the desk, a poorly-modeled representation of a dog's head, and hefted it in his hand. It fitted neatly, lending a bit of weight.
Then he moved quietly over to the door and leaned against it, causing it to creak slightly in its frame. He heard shuffling footsteps outside as whoever was knocking moved.
"Who… who is it?" he said, then scowled. It didn't sound at all threatening, just high-pitched and scared.
"My name is Emmeline. Please let me in," a voice said. It was a high girlish voice, softly speaking in almost a whisper.
Trip cracked open the door and, before he could do anything, the girl was inside and closing it behind her. He stood, paperweight in hand, slightly taken aback.
It was the Duke's daughter, the girl he'd seen sat on the smaller throne. She was still wearing the long green dress; now that she was closer he could see the outline of wolf silhouettes in the embroidery. The necklace cinched tightly around her throat had small green gemstones picked out by the bright lantern light.
"Is Victor here?" was the first thing out of her mouth. Trip shook his head and walked back over to the chair.
"You're out of luck, I'm afraid. He went with Rennin."
"Good. Rennin is safe enough. What about you?" She stopped looking around the room and focused on him. He suddenly found he couldn't look away from her eyes.
"I'm… here. On my own."
"But are you… has High Father Hork spoken with you yet?" She walked over to him and put a hand under his chin, turning his head this way and that. Her hands smelt of flowers and, as she came forward, he caught the scent of her hair; dust in sunshine, golden and full.
"No. I'm not sure if he's going to now."
"Oh, he will." Apparently satisfied, she came and sat next to him. "Let me introduce myself. My name is Emmeline Fennic, firstborn child of the Duke of Fennic, heir to the throne of Lyria."
"I saw you in the throne room." A sudden thought struck him. "Should I have… bowed or something?"
She giggled suddenly; the child in her leaked through and the smile she gave him was genuine. "Oh, probably; I let Father deal with all of that." She frowned. "I'm concerned about Father. You… you saw him today, yes?"
"He looked… ill, I suppose."
She got up and began to walk around the room, touching her fingers to random shelves and tabletops with no apparent focus. "Today was the healthiest I've seen him since the High Father came to Fennica. Father was always so healthy. He hunted; he performed the business of the court. He made sure justice was done. His aides, Lord Reynolds and Lord Rennin, gave him good advice and he always taught me to listen to them in equal measure, then make his own decision. Then the High Father came."
"The monastery at Rootholme was attacked by Gargorians, the report said," Trip put in. Emmeline nodded.
"They arrived one morning, dozens of them. By afternoon tea it was clear that they were here to stay. The High Father has rooms here, of course; it's part of his job to visit regularly." She slumped down on the bed and bit her lip. "He started having breakfast with Father. Then lunch, then supper. Each time, Father would perform his duties looking slightly worse. Before three days were out the High Father was stood in Reynold's spot with no word of explanation. Now, Father listens to Rennin less and less, and the people are paying the price." She kicked her feet in frustration. "Taxes have increased. Executions are on the rise. The Church has taken control of several buildings all over the city. There was a riot. Several people died."
Trip got up from the chair and crossed to the bed to sit next to her. On impulse, he took her hand. "That sounds terrible. Isn't there anything you can do?"
"No. I'm just the Duke's daughter. I know that sounds terribly immodest, but I don't actually have a real place in court. My voice wasn't really heard before the High Father's arrival, and it certainly wouldn't be now." She sighed. "I just don't know what to do."
Trip watched as she delicately withdrew her hand from his and went to lean on the back of the chair. At that moment he wasn't sure he could pin down what he was feeling, only that he knew he would do anything to help her. He jumped off the bed.
"Well you came here, right? Do you want me to do something?"
"What would you do?" she asked, turning hopeless eyes to him. His mind began to race.
"We could… I could talk to your father," he said, coming to stand next to her. "Tell him what's going on; I think he still has the pieces of tree from Deep Round… or I could talk with High Father Hork. I mean, I know what you said, but he's the High Father of the Church. I can't believe he'd-"
"You don't believe me?" she said, her wide eyes sparkling with sudden tears.
"No, that's not what I-" he began, but she was already running to the door.
She turned, her hand on the doorknob, tears streaming down her face. "I thought you were different, but you're just like the others. You… you BOY!" With a wrench of her hand the door fell open and she fled down the corridor.
Trip stood there for a moment, watching the door slowly come back on its hinges. Savagely he slammed it shut, then stomped over to the bed. "Stupid, stupid, how could I be so stupid?" he screamed, feeling his own eyes grow hot with embarrassment and he buried his face in the pillow.
When the guards finally came to get Trip, it was with a sense of finality that he donned his sandals to follow them. They weren't treating him like a prisoner any more, but when he got to the throne room the atmosphere that greeted him was one of disinterest. The guard escorted him to the bottom of the steps where the sack of evidence was sat.
The Duke was back on his throne. Rennin was absent; perhaps, reasoned Trip, he was still enjoying the good old times with Victor. There was no-one on the smaller throne, and Trip didn't know whether to feel glad or upset that he couldn't see Emmeline again.
The High Father stepped forward. "Boy, what is your name?"
"Trip, am I to understand that you were present at the Library of Leaves the night of the attack?"
"For the court, if it pleases your grace," Father Hork said with a glance in the Duke's direction, "Please describe your experiences."
Trip allowed himself to fall back into the memory again. He felt again the dread of being stalked in the night, the horror of seeing spindly green limbs thrusting through doors and windows. The crackle of bones being broken. He opened his mouth and allowed the story to roll out emotionlessly, while inside his head the wooden fangs bit again into Father Tommics, rending and tearing.
By the time he had finished, the court had fallen silent. The nobles who, when he started, had been chattering and laughing behind him were silent, their attention solely on him. The High Father's face had changed not one whit as he sternly watched.
Trip picked up the sack and pulled out the tree-demon arm. It looked disconcertingly normal in the well-lit throne room, almost like a branch which coincidentally looked like an arm.
"Then at Deep Round there was something going on," he said. "Father Liam, the local minister, was gone; we fought some sort of tree-demon. The Mayor asked us to bring this evidence to you." The entire court suddenly erupted into whispers and the High Father walked down the steps to take the arm. Trip, only to glad to see it go, wiped his hand on his habit.
Father Hork walked back up to stand next to the throne, tapping the twig-hand the whole way. Then he gave it to the Duke, who sat up slightly straighter.
"You are the memory-boy, yes?" the High Father asked.
“Is it true that you have perfect recall? That your memories are of crystal clarity? My office received regular reports from the Library, you know.”
Trip nodded again, unsure of what to say. The High Father nodded and leaned forward slightly.
"You know that, with the destruction of both the Library and Rootholme, the greater part of the Church's books have also been destroyed?"
Trip felt as though the world had dropped out from under him. All his life he had been surrounded by books; their musty smell had filled his nostrils from morning until night and he had read hundreds, if not thousands, of tomes both weighty and light.
Father Hork was staring at him. "Tell me, boy," he said, his voice suddenly insistent, "Do you hold the Tree's Word in your head?"
Trip nodded. The Church's holy book, only two copies of which were in existence, was one of the treasures of the Library. Had been, he amended, until the attack. The other copy was at Rootholme, so-
"Yes," Father Hork said, nodding. Trip's eyes widened with realisation.
"You hold the last copy of our Church's most sacred text in your head, Trip."