Chapter Four: The Plague



by

Josie Beaudoin







Vonya did not, in fact, get to enjoy the twins for the rest of her life. Though it can fairly be said that the queen mother died before her time, little Shai and Eachann were frail and sickly, and did not survive their first year. Over the next thirteen years, Quinn and Rysca had another four children, bringing the living total to eight: Bronaugh, young Quinn, Cabhan, Aoife, Aislyn, Nothous, Tierney, and Phan. But of those eight, only two would survive the plague year of fifty-seven.

#

"Your prodigious brood has left us with a dilemma, brother," Ciara said. "What shall I do about Tierney? He's old enough to train now, but Cabhan is already training. Do you want two Shields after me, or only one?"

"Didn't we decide that when Tierney was born?" Quinn asked. The adults of the family were sitting at the breakfast table discussing family business. Today was Tierney's seventh birthday.

"If you'll recall," Ciara said, "we left the question until he was older. Which is now. We need to make a decision soon, or the matter will be taken out of our hands. If he's not going to be trained..."

"I think he should be trained," Queen Rysca spoke up. "Even if he doesn't become a Shield, another magician in the family is still a good thing, is it not?"

"I worry about the possibility of jealousy," Ciara said. "If one is given the title Shield and the other is not, it could cause friction within the family. This is my only hesitation. Yet, if we siphon off Tierney's power to give his brother, he need never feel it or even know of it. The power itself would remain in the family, the Shield line would be strengthened, and there would be no cause for strife among the brothers."

"But if he were to ever learn of the incident..." Quinn said, "would he not be even more upset, to learn of his loss in favour of his brother?"

"We could debate these questions for the rest of his life," Arden said with a cough. "Will he feel this, would he think that? Why do we not question the boy directly and ask him? He is a clever child, I believe he will understand. Let us consult with Tierney and learn his wishes."

#

Tierney was sent for while the adults finished off their meal. When the youngster stood before them, Arden took the lead in questioning him.

"I wanted to congratulate you on your birthday," Arden cleared his throat. "Seven is an important year. Have you given any thought to what you wish to study? What sort of things interest you, what do you want to learn?"

Tierney was a sturdy little boy, but he was also myopic and somewhat shy. He looked around at his elders assembled before him somewhat hesitantly.

"I wanna be like Cabhan," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "I wanna do magic like he does."

"And so you shall," Arden said. "It's an excellent choice for a young lad like yourself."

Tierney's trepidation vanished like a mist, to be replaced with an eager smile.

"Really?" he asked.

"I will train you myself," the Shield said solemnly. "Training begins when you're ten, of course, just like Cabhan, so in the meantime, enjoy yourself and study your lessons well. You're a bright young man, I'm certain you'll do just fine."

Tierney looked to his parents who confirmed Arden's words with smiling nods. With a squeal, the little boy ran to the old magician and tackled him with a hug. Then he went around the room and collected a hug from each adult there before racing out the door shouting, "Wait till I tell Nothous! Nothous, guess what I get to do?"

"Well, I guess that settles that debate," Arden said, and he coughed slightly. "He wants to be a magician, and so he shall. I only wish all problems were this easily solved."

#

"Master, please wake up." Ciara shook Arden reluctantly, reaching out to him with her Vada. He rolled over and looked at her.

"What's wrong?" the old man asked groggily.

"Bronagh's sick as well."

"Oh, Quphic," he muttered. "When will you ever learn?"

As he got to his feet, the Shield coughed and wheezed. He pulled on a robe over his bedclothes and followed his apprentice to the princess' room. He was feeling none too well himself.

The fireplace in the girls' room was roaring despite the summer heat when the master and apprentice came in. Aoife and Aislyn's beds were pulled up near the fireplace, but in a dark corner, Bronagh lay listless in her bed, her eyes glassy and features waxy.

"Water!" Arden ordered, and a maid poured a cup and handed it to him. "Come on, princess, drink," he said, and held the cup to her lips. The girl turned her head away. Ciara held Bronagh's head in her hands and raised it up to the cup. Between the two magicians they got a few sips down the young woman's throat before she was wracked with a spasm of coughing.

"The other two are freezing, she's burning up," Ciara said. "Master, what can we do? These little girls are so weak right now."

"I'm..." Bronagh gasped for breath, but insisted on speaking, "...not a little girl."

"Hush, child," Arden said, stroking her hair. "You've only seen fifteen summers. Talk to me again when you've seen thirty."

"Will I?" she asked.

"Of course you will," Arden said. "You're going to be queen after your father's reign, and what a queen! Men from all over the North will kneel at your feet, begging for your hand in marriage. You just need to rest now and recover. Everything is going to be fine."

"Keep her forehead cool with a wet cloth," he said, turning to the maid, "And try to make her drink as much as she can. Let me know if anything changes."

With a nod, he motioned to Ciara and the two of them left the room. Once out of earshot, with the door closed behind them, Arden collapsed into a coughing fit of his own, leaning against his apprentice to stay on his feet.

"I need to get to the Tower. We're not all going to survive this," he said to her. "You've got to be ready to lead them through this when I die."

"Uncle, don't talk like that," Ciara said. The two magicians made their way through the dark night towards the entrance to the Tower. Behind most doors they passed, they heard coughing or moaning.

"Not in front of them I won't," he told her. "They need hope, but you need to be realistic. A lot of people have already died of this sickness, and it's not over yet. We're going to lose more before we come out the other side. You have to be ready."

"I'll never be ready to lose you," she said. "I'm not strong enough to be the Shield."

"But that's the wonderful part of it," her uncle chuckled softly, setting off another coughing fit. "You don't have to be strong enough. You'll have all my strength plus all of Cearul's strength added to your own. Believe me, when the time comes, you will have the strength and courage and ability. I have every confidence that you'll make the best Shield yet."

#

Arden lived another three weeks after this conversation. During that time he saw Vonya the Queen Mother, Bronagh the Crown Princess, Princess Aislyn, and Princes Nothus and Phan pass away. No potient he assembled, no spell, no craft at his disposal was sufficient to save their lives. After a very difficult illness, Princess Aoife was doing better, and was expected to live, but still others fell sick who had been well. The Shield and his apprentice were powerless to stop, stay or alter the course of the infection.

It was not only the royal family that suffered. All through Lyridon the fever raged, in city and country. In some smaller towns there were not enough living to bury the dead. The healthy fled from their homes or locked the afflicted out of doors to die in the streets, such was the fear. Individual funerals were a thing of the past, and vast pits were dug to accommodate the number of dead.

On the night of Arden's death, Ciara sat watch over him, desperately counting each rasping breath and praying for the next one. The last time he woke, he gave her strict orders to leave his side and go at once to the Tower and lock herself in.

"Don't be absurd," she whispered. "I'm not leaving you here alone."

"It's nothing to do with me, child," he gasped. "The Shield must survive. If you die, there is no one ready take your place. Lyridon is dependent upon its Shield for our very existence. You must survive, or this great experiment is doomed to fail in less than threescore years. Promise me you'll go now, and do not worry about me. I'm not alone, Clancy is sitting with the princes. He'll watch after me, but you must be kept safe. Lyridon will fall without you."

"Please don't order me to leave, Uncle," Ciara said, tears filling her eyes and blurring her vision.

"I must," he answered, "and I do. Go, child. Live and be safe. I will see you again sooner than you think."

Ciara's tears fell, her sight jumping back into sharp focus, and she stood up, snuffling. As she turned towards the door, it opened, and Clancy came in in response to Arden's silent summons. He spoke no word to his husband's apprentice, but patted her shoulder as he passed.

"Rest now, beloved," Clancy said. "She's going. Everything is going to be fine, you'll see..."

The door shut behind her and Ciara moved slowly away, one numb footstep at a time. She was halfway to the portal that led to the Tower, when a sense of urgency gripped her, and she pelted as fast as she could the rest of the way. Once safely in the Tower, she gasped for air and realized what had happened. The urgency was Arden's. It had come to her along with his power and his memories at the moment of his death. Ciara was now the new Shield.

#

The fever is tertian, and usually returns three or four times before the illness has run its course entire and the patient recovers. If the patient recover not, the fever is usually fatal upon its third return, or the ninth day of the illness. What name this sicknesse shall bear in history I know not, but in the streets the people call it "Island fever" after our beloved city. It strikes as its preferred victims the very young and the very old, though whether rich or poore makes little difference. My own family is dying around me every day, and the people of the city beg me for surcease, but I have little to offer them in their travails. Quphic have mercy upon your people!

Ciara put her pen down. It was hardly the beginning she would have chosen for her first journal as the Shield, but the facts were unavoidable. Since Arden's death she understood what he meant, that her power was undeniably greater than it ever had been, but still she felt unqualified for the job he had done all her life. He had not been able to save himself, and Ciara felt lost without him to turn to. To make matters worse Cabhan, who was meant to be Ciara's own apprentice, was also sick, and he was hit particularly hard. Ciara wondered if Lyridon itself would fall to ruin with this fever that bated only to redouble its attack as it struck its victims over and over until they recovered or died.

In the weeks that followed, several more members of the royal family died. Rysca was with child when she succumbed, and neither mother nor child could be saved. Little Tierney, who had begged to be allowed to study magic, was now the only apprentice Ciara had. By the time it had run its course, the fever had taken in total, six of the king's eight children, who were laid to rest beside their mother, grandmother, and Arden.














This web page and all it's contents were written by J.C. Beaudoin, who is solely responsible for it, for better or for worse. Copyright 2005 and 2021. Hands off. Lookie, no touchie! :-)