A high-pitched cry shattered the stillness of the night, rousing Anna from a fitful sleep. She sat up on the sleeping mat next to the Princess’ crib. The attic nursery room was dark except for the faint glimmer of the smaller silver moon, Argenti, through the skylight and the dim crimson glow of the charcoal brazier. Lakwi thrashed about in the crib beside her. Anna crawled out from under the covers. Feeling along a small table, she found the candle and lit it in the embers of the brazier.
The poor child was missing her mother. She had wailed for hours after the Royal party had left a few days before, only being comforted in the arms of her half-brother, Prince Rokkan. Since then she had been listless and uninterested in food.
Anna touched the little one’s forehead with her fingertips. She gasped. The skin was dry and fiery to the touch. Loosening the covers, she lifted Lakwi into her arms and went at once to get help.
Faint daylight seeped through the skylight, diming the flare of the gutted candle and tinting everything ash grey. Galen stood over the princess, his long nose tilted in the air. Prince Rokkan stood close by him, a head taller than the middle-aged man. Dressed in a crumpled sleeping tunic, his face was fraught with worry and lack of sleep.
‘She’s worse, Galen.’
‘These things take time, your Highness. It is necessary to fight fire with fire. If the fever doesn’t abate, I will apply heated cups to force the bad influences out.’
Anna pressed her lips together.
The doctor waved a pompous arm in her direction. ‘Make sure the princess takes my infusion of kaka leaf five times a day, girl, and keep as many covers on her as you can.’
Anna couldn’t keep silent any longer. ‘That’s too risky, sir. The kaka leaf has already slowed the princess breathing. If she gets any hotter she could fit.’
Galen glared at her. ‘What would you know, insolent peasant?’
Anna stuck out her chin. ‘My mother is a herbalist.’
He snorted. ‘And I am the royal physician to the Kapok. Do as you are told and desist from sprouting rank superstition.’ He inclined his head in Rokkan’s direction. ‘Your Highness, you risk your father’s ire if this child is mistreated.’ Wrapping his sumptuous cloak about his arm, he stalked out of the room.
The prince looked down at the princess lying too pale and still in the crib. Anna’s heart quickened. The little girl’s breathing was laboured. The golden hue of her skin leeched out to a pasty beige. Blue shadows like bruises bloomed under her eyes.
Rokkan swung around, his gaze as piercing as his father’s. ‘You do not agree with his approach?’ His tone was abrupt.
She swallowed against the dryness in the mouth. If she gave her opinion and the princess died, her punishment would be dire.
‘Well speak up. We’ve tried that prideful fool’s remedies for two nights and my sister only comes closer to dying. Do you agree with his methods?’
‘No, your Highness. I think…’ She gulped. ‘Master Galen’s treatments are a load of yarma droppings.’
A wan smile lit up the prince’s face for a few seconds. His eyes did not waver. ‘So what would you recommend?’
‘Dried bitterroot with meadow sweat…and maybe a tangle of white anglehair. ’ She took a deep breath. ‘And prayer.’
He nodded. ‘Then do what you can. I’ll take responsibility.’
It was several hours since Anna had stripped the covers off the princess’ bed and administered the herbal treatment at intervals. She wrung out a wet cloth and bathed Lakwi’s forehead.
The Prince leaned up against the wall, his arms folded across his chest, his head slightly bent to avoid the slope of the roof. Golden sunlight splashed through the skylight upon the rug covered floor.
He swallowed, his voice box bobbing. ‘How she, Anna?’
The child stirred at his voice. ‘Rokku, I want Mama.’
Anna’s heart jumped at the thready voice. Praise be, the child was on the mend.
The prince’s golden eyes light up like candles and a tentative smile trembled on his lips. He stepped towards the crib and bent over the child. ‘Kiki, rest now. Mama will be home soon.’
Grabbing hold of one of his fingers, she smiled up at him. Her eyelids fluttered as she drifted back to sleep.
Prince Rokkan stood with one finger firmly clasped by his sister’s small hand. A grin curved up his face.
‘You did it Anna. You’re a legend.’
She smiled back at him and blushed. ‘Thank you, your Highness. She still has some mending to do.’
‘But at least she is mending which is more than she was doing under that idiot Galen’s care.’ He shook his head. ‘I’m glad you’re here but surely you should be continuing your training as a herbalist?’
She dropped her eyes. ‘My older sister is to inherit the shop, not me.’
‘Ah, the constraints of birth and parental expectations.’
‘But you will be Kapok one day, your Highness. Surely then you will be free to…’ Her voice faded as one corner of his lips tugged upwards. ‘What else would you do?’
He hitched a shoulder. ‘I don’t know…A poet perhaps or maybe a groom.’ He laughed. ‘Impossible dreams. But you Anna, you aren’t tied to service. Maybe you could pursue your calling.’
Anna’s eyes widened. Perhaps, if she saved some metal, enough to keep some stock or…
‘Don’t let them clip your wings, Anna.’
A chuckle escaped her. ‘My Da used to call me ‘duckie’.’
He grinned. ‘Yeah, well, Papa used to call me “the royal terror.”’ I was wilder than Naetok for a time, after my mother died.’ A sadness clouded his molten eyes. He gave himself a little shake. ‘Perhaps it’s time to move past how others see us.’ He raised his dark eyebrows and grinned.
‘I reckon you’re smarter than some grown-ups, your Highness.’
Anna looked down at the sleeping child lying between them. The little girl’s eyes were cloaked by translucent lids, the long dark lashes sweeping her soft cheeks, her small chest rising and falling in a gentle rhythm. Anna stroked the soft curls with her work roughened hands. The princess had her whole life ahead of her but so did Anna. She may be in service to the palace but she was still the herbalist’s daughter. It wouldn’t happen overnight but one day she would have her own herbal shop.
Read more Tamrin Tales
And The Herbalist’s Daughter (in Tied in Pink romance anthology)
My Sister by Dinnis son of Gaia In Twelfth Year of Rokkan Kapok (Hypertext Story)