Chapter Twenty Six AND Chapter Twenty Seven

Chapter Twenty Six- Calm After the Storm

The water eventually receded, leaving the valley a bit marshy, but otherwise unscathed. The grass grew tall until the men had to bring out long scythes and knives and cut it down.  

I hadn’t told anyone about what happened with Jeekis, but I knew they could tell something was wrong with me. Multiple times, they tried to get me to talk, but I just told them that I had a lot on my mind. 

Part of me knew that he was wrong. That he was just trying to get under my skin, and cause a panic. But the other part of me wondered if he was right. If we really would be the downfall of France. But every night I would lie awake for hours, thinking about it. Mulling over it. When I finally fell asleep, I would be haunted with dreams of Antioch warriors attacking French and English soldiers alike. And they never got easier. Each time, I watched as Joeté stabbed and speared people that had been my friends in the village. 

Joeté hurried up to me one day. “How are you, Antepi?”

I raised my eyebrows. “If you are about to ask what is wrong, I am about to throw you over my shoulder and slam you on the ground.” 

He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender, but I knew better. Joeté never gave up. “Okay, okay. But you did just admit that something was actually wrong.” 

I sighed. “Nothing is wrong. I just have been thinking a lot lately.” I shrugged as if it were no big deal. 

“Oh no. Antepi is thinking again. Everyone take cover.” He teased. 

I slapped his arm. “Thinking about important things. Like the war.” 

He became serious. “What about it?” He asked. 

“Like maybe we are not the good guys and-” 

He interrupted me. “Antepi? What are you talking about? Of course we are the good guys. France is our country. Of course it is right.”

I rolled my eyes and held up my hand. “You didn’t let me finish. I know that France is right. But what about us? Antioch, I mean. What if we are the ones that hurt France for good? I mean, we live for the fight. We live to train and to work hard. What if because of that, we can’t live without war. And we end up starting a war, just to satisfy it?” 

He held out his arm and stopped me. “Antepi, where are you getting this? What are you talking about?” 

I sighed. “Jeekis. He thinks that is what will happen to us. He thinks that he has defeated us by getting the war closer to the end.”

His eyes widened in disbelief. “You are basing all of this off the words of the enemy? A madman who will do anything for England to win?”

I shook my head. “You didn’t hear what he said to me. The things he told me.” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “There was no madness in his words. In his eyes, yes. But his words? He believed them wholeheartedly. And if he is right, then what?” 

“There is no then what, Antepi. He is wrong. That will never happen.” He held me at an arm’s length. “Don’t let him get in your head. If you let him get to you, you are letting him do exactly what he was planning on.” He put his hand under my chin and lifted my face to look at him. “Don’t give him that satisfaction.” He bent down to look into my eyes. “Okay?”

I nodded and sighed. “Okay.” I rubbed my temples for a moment. “Okay. I- I won’t.” I took a deep breath.

“All right. Now smile, and be happy.”

I glared at him. “Why should I smile? Nothing about this entire situation is happy.”

He held his hands up again. “I was kidding! I know how stressful these things are for you. I was just making a joke.” We started walking again. “Loosen up a little. It’ll do you a world of good.” 

“A lot of things would do me a world of good. Loosening up is at the bottom of the list.” I pointed out. “Training, eating, exercising, breathing more-” he looked over at me, alarmed- “and sleeping more.” 

“That would be reassuring, except that I know that you won’t do at least half of it.” He looked at me expectantly.

I nodded admission. “No, but I can survive without doing them. Things would be better, but I don’t need them.” 

He shook his head. “One can never win against you, can they?” 

I laughed. “Not unless I want them to.” I sidestepped a puddle. “And I don’t generally.” 

He let out a loud breath. “Don’t I know it.” He looked over and smiled. “But I have learned to live with that.”  I pushed him and he tripped into a puddle. As he shook the water out, we reached Titro’s hut. 

I knocked before walking in and plopping down in a chair. 

Gracia set a wooden cup of water on the table and slid it towards me. “You know, you could just eat at your own house sometime.” 

“What is the fun in that?” 

“I don’t know, learning how to be a wife and mother?” She slid another one to Joeté who was sitting in another chair. 

Joeté leaned forward. “Oh, have you seen her cook? It’s horrible. There is a reason she doesn’t eat her own cooking.” He watched my reaction as he took a sip of the water. 

I rolled my eyes. “It kept your sister alive for a year.” 

He nodded in admission. “True enough.” 

Gracia shook her head. “Just make sure that you don’t have too much of this chicken. I coated it in herbs that are extremely strong and will give you a stomach ache if you aren’t careful.” She warned. 

“Yes ma’am. The last thing we need is a bad stomach ache.” Joeté grinned. 

“I think you could use one.” I looked over at him loftily. “Something to keep you in your hut for awhile and out of my hair.” 

He rolled his eyes. “And you out of mine for a few days.” 

“I am almost positive, I would benefit more than you.” I raised my eyebrows as high as I could. 

Gracia shook her head, laughing. “Okay, both of you. I am still here, thank you. I do not need to hear more arguing in this house. Between Titro and Pasha arguing about whether or not Pasha is grown up enough to be on his own more often, or anything of that sort, and Pasha and I about how he should be more respectful, there is more than enough arguing.” I could tell that she wanted to talk about it, so I humored her.

“Going through a rebellious phase?” I watched as she prepared the food.

She sighed. “The worst I have ever seen. Even you were less rebellious. He is constantly challenging Titro’s authority, and I don’t know what to do. Every time Titro tells him something, he questions it. And I know that it has a lot to do with the fact that he is adopted, but still. I just don’t understand. Why now, of all times? He is so much more mature than he used to be, you would think that it would be better. But no matter what, he can’t get it into his head that Titro is his father. And with the baby coming, I just,” she threw up her hands, “I just don’t know what to do.” She rubbed her temples. I walked over and massaged her shoulders for a moment. 

“Let me talk to him. I will see what is going on.” I smiled. 

She smiled gratefully back. The worry in her eyes scared me. She was always so strong- I never thought I would see her so afraid. 

“Where is he?” 

She thought for a moment. “I think he was heading to the stables to clean some tack.” 

I nodded and ran down the stairs. 

When I got to the stables, Pasha was cleaning his saddle and polishing it. I stood in the doorway. “We need to talk.” 

He glanced up and, seeing the serious look on my face, sighed. “I don’t see anything to talk about. I haven’t done anything recently that would cause you to need to talk to me.” He tried to walk past me but I grabbed his arm and pushed him back. He thumped down onto one of the chairs. He winced, but tried to hold my gaze. “I know what this is about, and I don’t want to talk about it.” 

I laughed sarcastically. “Well I do.” I pulled one of the chairs over and sat down. “Do you know how hard this is on your parents?”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it.” He crossed his arms. 

“Pasha, you are acting like a child. Your parents need you now more than ever, with the baby- is that what this is about? The baby?” 

His eyes widened in horror. “No- no of course not. This isn’t about the baby at all.” He shook his head vigorously. 

I leaned forward. “Then what is it about? Because I see nothing that would explain your actions.” 

“Peisha and Meisha think that I should stay dependent on them, having them dictate my every move. Where I go, what I do, what I eat. And I want to be independent. I want to be free to come and go as I please, doing what I want.” 

I sighed. “Pasha, they aren’t dictating your every move- they are taking care of you. My parents did the same for me, even when I was as old as you.” 

“Yes, but you are a girl!” He exclaimed, exasperated. 

I raised my eyebrows, taken aback. “I am a girl? And that’s why I shouldn’t be as independent?” I shook my head. “I don’t know where you are getting all of this, but it isn’t right. You are worrying Gracia to death- which really isn’t good for her with the baby- and making Titro crazy. I get that they aren’t your real parents, but they have been better to you than anyone else. Why can’t you just accept that?” 

“Because Antepi. Because I barely even remember my real parents. What little I remember of them makes me want them. And even Peisha and Meisha can’t change that.”

“How? How can you be so ungrateful? I have no parents, Pasha. You have a father and a mother. Even if they aren’t your real ones, they are there. They love you more than anything in the world. I have nothing. I have no parents- the memories I have of them are about training and hard things. Maybe four of them are good ones where I felt like I could actually relate to my parents.” I shook my head. “You have something to hold on to. Remember that when you think that you have it so rough. And stop worrying your parents.” I stood and walked out. I jogged back to the hut and sat back down in a chair. I rubbed my temples. 

“Did you figure it out?” Gracia looked over at me from where she was chopping up lettuce. 

 I shook my head. “I don’t know. He misses his real parents. And he thinks that you are controlling his life. That is all I could get out of him.” 

She sighed. “I was worried about that. He moves in and out of missing his parents. I just never thought that would be the root of this problem.” 

Joeté took another sip of his water. “Maybe he thinks you can’t relate to his problems because you aren’t his real parents.” 

“He told me that he can barely remember them, and that makes him want them. He said I didn’t understand that.” 

Gracia stopped and looked at me. “He didn’t?” I nodded and sighed. “I am sorry Antepi, I am sure he didn’t mean it.” 

I shook my head and waved her away. “I understand where he was coming from. He is in pain, and that is clouding his judgement. I am not upset with it anymore. I was at first- and let him know it- but thinking about it, I understand what he was thinking.”  

“This crosses the line.” She took off her apron and wiped her hands on a small towel. “It’s too far.” She walked over to the door and yelled for Pasha. I heard footsteps come running and he appeared in the doorway. 

“Yes Meisha?” He glanced between the three of us. Joeté looked slightly amused, Gracia looked furious, and I was concerned. She grabbed his ear and pulled him inside. He winced and tried to speed up to keep up with her. 

“You think that your aunt doesn’t understand loss? You think that your real parents were better than Titro and I? Well you may think what you like, but you will not be so disrespectful in this home. Especially not to your aunt.” He opened his mouth to protest but she held up a hand. “Regardless of your relationship with her, and regardless of your age, she is your aunt, and you will respect her. You will respect everyone in this village. And I don’t care what reason you have for this recent phase of rebellion, it ends now. I don’t care what you think about it, it’s over. I have a baby to get ready for, and I will not have the added stress of you being disrespectful. Is that clear?” He nodded meekly and she released his ear. “Now go to your room and think about your actions. I will call you when dinner is ready.” He walked off, rubbing his ear. 

Gracia tied her apron back on and continued making the meal. I blew out a breath, surprised. I had never seen Gracia so upset. She usually was so calm and mature- but strong- and not given to anger. It must have had something to do with the baby.  

“Are you okay?” I asked her quietly. 

She nodded. “He needed something like that. It will knock some sense into him. He just doesn’t seem to understand that he is better off than most of the people in this valley. But maybe that will make it better.” I nodded and glanced over at Joeté. I looked away before quickly looking back and studying him. He was shaking from laughter. His face was red and he was covering his mouth with his hand. Tears of laughter streamed down his face. 

I slapped his arm. “It isn’t funny.” I hissed quietly. 

“I know.” He squeaked out before falling into another fit of silent laughter. 

I rolled my eyes. “I don’t see anything funny about this situation.” 

He continued laughing before gasping quietly. “His ear was so red. He looked so embarrassed.” 

I rolled my eyes again. “If he hears you, he will be so much more embarrassed. So stop it.” I pushed his arm a little. He smiled and moved his chair away a little, out of reach.   

He finally calmed down and took a deep breath. “Okay, okay. I will calm down now.” I could hear Gracia laughing quietly from the counter where she was working. 

“You two will always be a mystery to the rest of us. I stopped trying to figure it out ages ago. All I can do is laugh at this point.” 

I nodded in agreement. “Me too.” 

Joeté looked over at me, confused but laughing. “She is talking about you? How can you say that?” 

I shrugged. “I just have that talent of turning things back on my partner.”   

He opened his mouth to answer when Titro walked up the stairs. He looked between the three of us. He glanced at Pasha’s closed door and stared at it for a moment. “Is he in there?” He nodded towards the door. 

Gracia pursed her lips. “Yes he is, and he will stay there until he is called.” 

Titro looked over at her, concern showing in his eyes. “Did something happen?” 

“Yes. But I handled it- and the problem is solved. He will be getting over anything that was going on very very quickly. “

He nodded slowly, still confused. He looked between Joeté and I, looking for a clue, but both of us just shrugged. 

He blew out a breath. “Is dinner almost ready?” 

Gracia nodded. “Almost. I just have to finish cutting up these carrots.” She finished and put everything on the table. I pulled my chair closer and scooped some of the meat onto my plate. Gracia called for Pasha and he came out meekly. “Go sit down.” He quietly sat in a chair and moved closer. Gracia spooned some meat, carrots, and lettuce onto his plate. “Let’s pray.” 

She sat down and looked at Titro expectantly. 

He cleared his throat and bowed his head. We all followed suit. “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for this food, thank you for providing it for us. Thank you for the sunshine that we have had today. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.” We all started to put more on our plates and started eating. 

It was silent for a moment. I glanced between Gracia, Titro, and Pasha. Pasha was pushing at his food, not eating. I kicked him under the table and he looked up. I looked pointedly at his food, and then at Gracia. He pursed his lips slightly and took a bite. I nodded approvingly and took a bite of my own food. 

“This is delicious Gracia. What is it?”

She smiled. “It is the last of the pork from last year. But we have more, because we just started freezing this year’s meat. So things won’t be bad this winter.” 

I nodded. “I just got my small share for Elisiana and I. I haven’t had good pork in so long, so it is definitely welcome.”

Titro nodded philosophically. “I believe that pork is the best meat to be had. That perfect blend of juiciness and crispiness. Definitely a delicacy to be had.”

I studied him, trying to tell if he was joking or not. But he kept a straight face; until Pasha choked on his pork and tried to take a drink of water, but ended up spilling it on himself. Titro immediately started laughing and leaning back in his chair. 

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t hold it in. I was kidding. Pork is great and all, but it definitely isn’t a delicacy.” He kept laughing. Gracia shook her head mirthfully. 

“Yes, you are quite proud of your jokes, aren’t you?” She smiled.

 Joeté glanced at Pasha, who was still trying to recover from choking. He was trying to keep quiet as he coughed, but no one was really paying attention anyway. I watched him, concerned as he took another sip of his water. He hadn’t actually choked. I stared at him, studying him. His coughing was fake, and he had intentionally spilled the water on himself. I sighed and sat back. He was trying to get them to notice him, rather than ignoring him.

He looked over at me, and I raised my eyebrows disapprovingly. His face turned red and he looked down at his plate. I quickly finished my meal. 

I pushed back my chair and carried my plate over to the bucket of water. I rubbed my plate clean with a small cloth and set it on the stack of plates in the corner. I smiled and thanked Gracia for the meal. I looked pointedly at Pasha as I left the hut. I smiled to myself as the wind blew through my hair. This was the life that I loved. Having a community to care for each other. I left the worries of Pasha and my family behind as I jogged to my hut. Once there, I sat in a chair and ran my hands through my hair. The sides of my hair were cornrowed tight against my head, but the rest was thick and full down my back. The braids were starting to feel oily and nasty after having been in the braids for over a month. I ran out to the well and drew a bucket of water, carried it back, and set it on the ground. I started unbraiding my hair and running my fingers through it. Elisia stepped out of her room and looked down at me sitting on the floor.

“I thought I heard someone out here. Do you need any help?” 

I smiled. “Sure. It would make the unbraiding go a lot faster.” She sat down next to me and started unbraiding another braid. After all the braids were out, I ran my hands through my hair again. When all of it was out, it fell down to a little above my ankles. 

I dipped all my hair into the bucket of water and rubbed it. Elisiana got some soap and scrubbed at my hair. Soon all the oil was out of my hair and it was fresh and clean. I started braiding my hair yet again, this time putting all of it in cornrows and braids down my back. I taught Elisiana how to braid it so that everything was all out of her face, and braided back. 

I flipped my braids over my shoulder and grabbed an apple. I bit into it and looked around. The floor was wet from my hair and the bucket was practically empty. My hair felt so heavy from the water. I took the remains of the water in the bucket and poured them out the door. 

I looked out over the valley with the sun sinking below the horizon. Something caught my eye in the woods. A lone rider broke through the trees, riding at a gallop towards the center of the valley. His horse staggered slightly and he almost fell from his saddle. I ran down the steps towards him and sprinted until I was right next to him. I grabbed his horse’s bridle and rubbed the horse’s nose, trying to calm him down. The whites of the horse’s eyes were showing and he kept trying to rear. I pulled his face closer to mine. 

“It is okay. You are okay.” I kept speaking soothingly and looked up at the rider. His face was covered with dust, and there were dark circles under his eyes. “How long have you been riding?” He took a deep breath, cleared his throat, and spoke hoarsely. 

“I received a message while I was at the coast about thirty miles from here.” His voice cracked slightly from dehydration. He managed to gasp, before falling from his horse in a dead faint. “The king is dying.” 

Chapter Twenty Seven- Reeling

I let go of the bridle. Everything felt numb. I heard voices calling and watched- as if from afar- people lift the man up and give him some water. I blinked, but everything was still fuzzy. 

“Antepi? Are you okay? What did he say?” I realized that I was sitting on the ground. I looked up to see Joeté and Catania in front of me. I shook my head, clearing my thoughts. 

“We need to go. Now.” I pushed myself up off the ground and strode quickly towards my hut. Only moments before, I had felt as if everything around me was in a daze. But now, I had never felt more calm. “A message from the Capital, saying that Philippe is ill and dying. Whatever cough he had while he was here must have been much more than a cough.”

I grabbed a bag of clothing from one of my chests and tossed it to Catania. I grabbed one for myself and hurried towards the door. 

“What do we need to do?” Catania asked.

“Get Matthias and the others. We are returning to the Capital. But just the brothers. Not the girls. We don’t need them this time.” 

They both nodded and headed towards the different huts. I  ran towards the stables and saddled Chaga. We needed to move quickly. I saddled Parsh and Catania’s horse. I saddled as all three of my brother’s horses before they arrived at the entrance to the stables. They all appeared out of breath. “We need to leave, now.” I swung into my saddle and everyone else followed suit. “We move as quickly as possible. If we must split up, do so. Just get to the palace as soon as possible.” I nudged Chaga with my heels and we surged forward. 

I pushed everyone as hard as I could until we reached a tree that had fallen over the road. I jumped it without even thinking about it, but when I looked back, no one else was able to jump it. 

“Go around. Meet up with me at the village. Catania knows the way.” I looked at Matthias and he nodded. 

I nudged Chaga with my heels again and we took off. I bent low over her neck and pushed her to go faster. 

The village came into view and I reined in. I could see them on the other side of the village. Today was market day, so all the streets were crowded with people. I tugged the reins and we turned to go around the side of the village. My braids flew behind me and the wind whistled in my ears. We jumped over a barrel that was lying over the road and finally were on the other side of the village. I didn’t stop, but kept going as my siblings and the others fell in beside and behind me. 

Once we reached the palace, I jumped off my horse without waiting for anyone to help me and hurried inside. I ran up the stairs to Philippe and Wanepi’s chamber. I didn’t wait for them to announce me, but walked in. Wanepi looked up from his bedside. Relief washed over her face as she rushed towards me. I hugged her quickly before looking past her to Philippe. 

“How is he?” His face was pale, and his cheeks sunken.

“Not good. He has been sick ever since we returned from Antioch. But last week he became even worse. He can’t eat much, he can’t drink much, and he can’t keep anything in his stomach. Even without eating, he still hurls at least three times a day. We have been forcing him to drink water and eat soup, but there we don’t know what else to do.” Her eyes were bloodshot and there were dark circles under them.

“What does he have? Do we know? And how much have you been sleeping? Is the disease contagious? Could you have caught it from spending so much time with him?” I fired off question after question before she could answer. 

“No, the disease isn’t contagious, I haven’t been sleeping much at all. But we do know what he has. And it isn’t good.” She sighed and pushed some stray hairs from her face. “He has what Emma had. What Emma died of.” Her eyes were starting to fill with tears. 

I sat her down in a chair and rubbed her arms soothingly. “It is okay. You are alright. We can figure this out.” I turned to one of the nurses standing on the other side of his bed. “Get me some warm salt water. And a lot of it. If we can make him vomit enough, we might be able to get the toxins out of his stomach. We need to flood his system with anything that will purify it. What other symptoms has he had?” 

Wanepi thought for a moment. “He got stronger, then all of a sudden weaker, and that is when the vomiting started? I don’t know. He feels hot, but when he wakes up he says that he is freezing. He has a fever, he is too weak to do anything more than lie in bed. He is coughing like crazy when he is awake. They shake his whole body. And his nose is running almost constantly.” She put her head in her hands, giving up. 

I nodded. “And Emma had these same symptoms?” 

She nodded without looking up. 

“I am guessing that it is something similar to pneumonia. The stronger then weaker symptom lines up with it, and so does the fever. The coughing and mucus make sense as well.” I grabbed a few pillows and gently pushed them under the one he already had. “We need to keep him propped up in hopes that the infection and inflammation will leave his lungs. And I think there is something more than just pneumonia here if he is unable to eat or drink. Maybe just a common cold, but that could turn into something else quickly.” I pulled more blankets over him. “We need to try and flush out the fever. If we can overheat it, it may die down.” I noticed the others standing at the edge of the room for the first time. They all were staring at me like I was crazy. I looked around the room, wondering if they were staring at something else. “What?” 

Matthias just shook his head, laughing a little. “Nothing. We just didn’t know you were so good at this.” 

I shrugged. “I have been sick and injured enough times to memorize almost all the books in Emma’s home. When I would be getting stitched up or something else, I would read her books to take my mind off the pain. I learned a lot then. I have just never needed to use it. There has always been someone more experienced than me.” I turned back to Wanepi. “Now you need to go rest. We can handle this for awhile.” 

She looked up and shook her head. “No. I am not leaving the room.” 

I laughed. “Did it look like I was asking?” It sounded like a joke but everyone knew I was serious. 

“Not really, but then again, I don’t have to listen to you, do I?” She folded her arms and sat back against her chair stubbornly. 

“Actually yes, because I am your older sister, and all three of our older brothers agree with me. So you are going to go get some rest.” I raised  my eyebrows, daring her to challenge me again. 

She pursed her lips. “Fine. But I won’t like it. And I can’t guarantee that I will even be able to sleep with my husband dying.” 

“Well then Cat will go with you to make sure.” I smiled sweetly, hiding the sarcasm in my tone. I looked over my shoulder. Cat nodded and stepped forward. She put her arm around Wanepi’s shoulders and led her out of the door, speaking softly to her. 

Titro blew out a loud breath. “That was intense.”

“It was necessary.” I reminded him. 

“I know, but you could have been a little gentler. She is just worried about him.” He came over to look down at Philippe. 

“I know. But we can’t lose both of them.” I looked up at him. “I can’t lose them both. We need them both, but if both of them die because Wanepi won’t rest, what will happen to France?” 

“You will rule.” I looked down at Philippe sharply, who had been awake for who knows how long. 

“What?” 

“You will rule until you find someone else fit to rule. I don’t want anyone else to rule except you and Joeté. You two are the only people I trust enough to rule my country after I am gone.” I could tell he was trying hard to get all the words out easily. 

“You are tired and aren’t thinking straight. And you aren’t going to die. You are going to get stronger and be able to rule France.” 

He shook his head. “I have heard too many people say that I won’t make it. I know what I am up against. And with all of you as my witness, I want Antepi and Joeté to rule after my passing until everything has been sorted out. I will put it in writing later today, but I want it to be said now, so that you are prepared.” He leaned forward and grabbed my wrist. I looked down at it, surprised at how strong his grip was. “I want you to end this war. Whatever vows you have taken saying you won’t kill must be disregarded. Because you will be responsible for every death that happens during your rule. Do you understand me? End this war, whatever it takes. No more can die. You are stronger and smarter than I am, you will find a way that I could never have thought of.” 

I shook my head, drawing back. The tears welled up in my eyes. “No. No, I won’t let you do this. I am not the right person. I- I don’t know how to rule a country.” I looked over at the others desperately, then back at him. “You can not give up. You have to fight it, Philippe. Please. You can’t leave me to do this. Please don’t leave her. She needs you more than anyone else in the world.” Titro put his hand on my shoulder. I put my head down on the edge of the bed. 

I felt a hand on my head. “I won’t give up. I’m not giving up. I am just making sure that I have a backup plan in case something happens.” I looked up slowly. “And I will never truly leave her. I promise.” He drew in a raspy breath. “Just promise me one thing. Make sure that she is always taken care of. I know that she can not rule on her own. She is not strong enough for that. That is why you will rule- but please take care of her. Make sure she is never alone. And that she knows I love her and will never ever leave her.” 

He fell back against the pillows and smiled a little before closing his eyes and falling asleep. 

“No. No Philippe. Stay with me.” I looked around. “Where is the salt water? I need it now. And a bucket. This could get messy.” I could still feel the tears rolling down my cheeks, even as I felt the cold feeling of calmness washing over me. I could hear sobs echoing down the corridor from where Wanepi was resting. The nurse came in with the salt water and I pushed Philippe up to a sitting position. I set the bucket next to the bed and poured a little clean water onto his face to wake him up. 

He looked around. “How long did I sleep?” 

I smiled a little. “Only about three minutes. We needed to wake you up to have you drink something. You are going to drink it, and then throw up, so as soon as you drink it, lean over and face the bucket on the floor.” He nodded slightly, his throat bobbing as he swallowed. I lifted the cup to his lips and stepped back as he drank all of it and leaned over. I pressed my finger into the back of his neck, just in case the salt water didn’t work. My finger would trigger his gag reflex and add to the effect of the saltwater. I looked away as he vomited into the bucket. I almost gagged just listening to it. 

Finally, he lay back against the pillow, almost as white as the sheets. I handed him a cup of clean water and he drank it all. I nodded approvingly. 

“We will leave you to rest now. Try to eat and drink something. Get better, okay? Your country needs you.” I pulled the sheets back over him and turned to the nurses. “Make sure those blankets stay on him and he stays warm.” They nodded and sat in the chairs on the other side of the bed.  All of us walked out of the room. 

“I had no idea you were so good at healing. Why have you never said anything? Mica could use someone like you.” Joeté walked next to me. 

I rolled my eyes. “I am a warrior, not a healer. We do two very different things. And besides, Mica is much more experienced than me.” 

“But still- this new talent could prove very useful.” Matthias said over my shoulder. 

I pretended to think for a moment. “Maybe.” I smiled lightly. “But so far, this is the first time I have ever needed to use it.” I smiled softly. “So many times I would be in Emma’s hut in the woods- you remember how she didn’t live in the valley, but on the edge of the woods- and she would be stitching me up. I would have been in a fight with you boys, or fallen out of a tree, or something similar, and she would hand me a book to read and stitch or set whatever was broken. I would sit there for hours after she was done, just learning what I could. She always said that I would be a good apprentice if I ever needed something else to do. That was a long time before she died though. She taught me everything about the sickness she had so that at least someone would know. She knew that Wanepi was in too much pain to really remember anything she taught her. That’s one of the reasons why I know what to do with Philippe.” I shook my head, trying to push away the rush of sad memories coming at me. “Who wants to get something to eat?” 

“Me; I am starving.”   Joeté smiled. 

Everyone else agreed, and we hurried down to the kitchen. 

“Elsie? Could you just get us something quick and filling?” I hopped onto the table in the middle of the room and smiled at the head cook. 

“Only if you get off my counter space, Antepi. Every time you come in here, you dirty up my counter space.” She shook her spoon at me disapprovingly. I hopped down and moved over to a different part of the table that wasn’t used for anything. She shook her head and turned back to the pot of stew on the stove. 

The first time I came to the palace, Elsie and I had clicked immediately. She was a motherly person, and I was someone who had a mother who wasn’t entirely the most caring. Ever since the attack, she had somewhat taken over as a mother figure to me. I made a point to visit her every time I came to the palace, even if only for a few moments. 

She scooped the stew into five bowls and handed one to each of us. I ate mine quickly and jumped off the counter. “Thank you Elsie!” I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and quickly ran out the door. She wasn’t one for affectionate gestures, so I usually did something, just to get her on edge. But if I stayed even a second too long after, she would get some kind of swift and painful revenge. I had felt the back of that wooden spoon on my arm or back too many times to not learn to run quickly. 

I slowed to a walk as soon as I was at the end of the hall and waited for the boys to catch up with me.

They all jogged up behind me, winded. “What took you so long?” I grinned. 

“After you ran out of there so quickly, she decided to take her revenge on us for you.” Renaglo shook his hand out a little. “She would make a good fighter with that spoon as her weapon.”

I nodded and laughed. “Don’t I know it. I have felt that spoon more than once.”  

Joeté grinned. “Somehow that brings me immense pleasure.” 

I rolled my eyes. “Thank you Joeté. It also brings me immense pleasure to think of Elsie hitting you with a spoon. And something tells me that you were hit much harder than I have ever been hit.” I smiled sweetly, sugar coating my words. 

“Very funny.” He started to say something more, but Matthias interrupted him. 

“And as great as this is to listen to, we need to check on Wanepi.” He scrunched his nose. I rolled my eyes. 

“Alright. Let us go.” I led the way down the corridors towards the room that Wanepi was in. 

I opened the door, but the room was empty. I sighed and grit my teeth. 

I hurried down the hall and towards the room Philippe was in. Wanepi sat by his side, Catania standing at the edge of the room. She stepped forward. 

“I am sorry. I couldn’t keep her in.” I waved her away.

“It is alright. I know how stubborn she can be.” I glanced at them. I sighed and hurried over. All the sheets were pulled off of him and he was back on one pillow. 

“He needs to stay elevated and warm.” I pushed the pillows back under his own and pulled the sheets over him again. Wanepi reached out a hand to stop me but I pushed it away. 

She stood. “You don’t know what you are doing. You are only a warrior.” 

I took a deep breath, trying to calm the storm brewing inside of me. “I know more than you think. And it has worked so far.”

“I know everything that Emma knew. She knew nothing about this disease. She would have healed herself if she knew.” She glared at me and I was surprised by the anger and hatred in her eyes. 

“But I know what she did not tell you. I know how to help him.” I pleaded with her. “Please, Wanepi. Just let me help him. At least let me try. Please.” She drew back slightly but the anger in her eyes remained. “Let me do it, Wanepi.” She nodded hesitantly. 

I poured a little more cold water on Philippe’s face and he woke up slowly. I put a cool cloth to his head. “You ready to have another go at it?” 

He sighed and nodded slowly. I handed him the cup and motioned to where the bucket sat on the floor. He took a deep breath and drank all of it quickly. I pressed the back of his neck again and looked away. I took a few deep breaths and took my hand away. 

He sat up and motioned for the water. I handed the clean water to him and he drank all of it, then motioned for more. He sighed. “That is some good, pure water after drinking two cups of salt water.” He smiled a little. “Thank you. I already feel much better.” 

I smiled and bowed my head a little. “Only trying to save my king. I can’t rule this country and we both know it.” 

He looked around. “Can I have something to eat? I am starving.” I sighed in relief and grabbed the bowl of soup from the table next to him. I handed it to him and he slowly ate all of it. 

Wanepi looked between us. “What do you mean, you can’t rule this country?” 

I coughed a little and raised my eyebrows at Philippe. “What do I mean, Philippe?”

He sighed and looked down, not meeting her eyes. “If I didn’t survive, I intended for Antepi and Joeté to take the throne temporarily. They would then find someone else suitab;e to be king. As king, I have the power to overrule whoever is next in line for the throne and appoint my own successor. So I chose them.” He looked up slowly, hopefully. 

She choked on her own spit. “What? You weren’t going to let me rule?”

“I just thought that you wouldn’t be able to handle it on your own. You have never been particularly into ruling France, and I knew that it wasn’t your ideal thing. So I just wanted to make sure that France was in good hands if something were to happen.” He quickly rushed to explain. “But that doesn’t matter anymore, because I am getting better and there is no need for it.” 

“As much as I love listening to this, I think that Philippe needs some rest.” I nodded and smiled, trying to deescalate the situation. 

Wanepi sighed loudly. “Alright. Fine. But this conversation is not over.” She looked pointedly at him. He nodded slowly and leaned back against the pillows, trying to sleep. We both left the bedside and all of us exited the room. 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” She turned on me. 

I held up my hands. “I didn’t know. He only told me last time I was in there and I haven’t seen you since.” 

She sighed and ran her hands through her hair, which was coming out of its tie. “I am just worried.” I motioned for the others to leave us as we walked back into the room. I watched them walk down the hall before going into the room.  I sighed. This was going to be a hard conversation to have.