|The Plague Tales Excerpt Page 3|
|Delacorte Press, 474 pages|
Princess Isabella managed to stay away until the following morning.
awakened on his cot in the nearby gatehouse, sighed heavily when a soldier advised him
of the Princess' presence outside.
"Good morning, Doctor Hernandez," she chirped gaily. "I would like to ask you some questions about the terms of Master Reed's confinement."
As tired as he was, Alejandro knew that he could not put her off; she would continue to pester him until she had the information she wanted. "Yes, Princess, how can I advise you?" he asked, more politely than he felt.
"I would like to know how closely I may approach the chapel windows, or if I might pass through sketches of my ideas for new dresses for Master Reed's perusal. Surely it will shorten his visit here if he can do some preliminary work while remaining in his temporary 'suite'. I am not of a mind to bring him too much inconvenience."
As if a fortnight of confinement were not inconvenient, he thought. "Your sketches may be given to Master Reed," the physician stated rather coolly, "but not by your own hand. We will pass them through the serviette. I will be happy to arrange for their delivery if you will give them to me."
Elated, the Princess advised him in a happy tone that she would send a folio of parchments of her own creation, which she said should be treated with the utmost care and given directly to her tailor as soon as possible. Does she even remember our bitter disagreement? he wondered as he watched her walk away. She behaves as if this entire undertaking has been a pleasant and cooperative effort towards a mutually agreeable end. She finds it completely normal for this much fuss to be made in reaction to her demands.
Not long after Isabella left, Adele arrived with the rolled drawings. Alejandro was delighted to see her, for she afforded him a momentary escape from him vigil. As he took the scrolls from her, he said, "Lady Throxwood, your presence warms my heart."
"It is my heart which is warmed, Monsieur; I readily offered my services when the Princess sought a messenger for her drawings. She was at first hesitant to send me on what she deemed to be a menial errand, but I convinced her that such important works should be carried by someone who understands their value."
"Adele," he said, boldly using her first name, "I can think of no one better suited. I regret that we have so few opportunities to meet, for your company is most pleasing and welcome."
They conversed briefly about recent events, cherishing the rare stolen moment. Then Adele excused herself reluctantly, saying that Isabella awaited her, and would soon send another lady to find her if she did not return.
"I regret that our paths cross so infrequently," Alejandro said sadly.
"Then we shall have to find reasons to change those paths so that they are more to our liking," she answered. "I bid you good afternoon, Doctor, and I look forward to our next meeting with much anticipation."
His heart pounded as he watched her walk away; he had to force himself to return to the business at hand. After checking on the condition of Matthews and Reed, Alejandro found Sir John and told him, "All seems to be well and calm here; please pass these scrolls through the serviette to Master Reed. I am in great need of cleansing and refreshment, so I shall leave you now for my own quarters."
After thanking the knight for his diligent efforts, the physician walked back toward the south wing of the castle, where he could bathe in the privacy of his own apartment. He dismissed the manservant who had prepared his hot bath, then removed all his clothing and lowered himself into the tub of steaming water. He scrubbed every inch of his body vigorously as if to wash away his distaste for the ludicrous exercise in which he had just participated.
Months after his branding, the circular scar was still an angry red; soon it would begin to fade. Although the scar would never completely disappear, he might someday, if I live, he thought, wear the collar of his shirt open again.
* * *
Just after dawn on the fourth day of the rider's confinement, in the middle of yet another dream of pursuit by agitated ghouls, Alejandro was roughly shaken awake by his manservant, who poked and shook his arm like an anxious child requiring its mother's attention.
"Monsieur! Monsieur! You are summoned to the gate! Arise, for Sir John requires your attendance!"
Still groggy, Alejandro rubbed his eyes and peered through his mental haze at the toothless elderly man whose hearty breath betrayed his proximity. He arose quickly and dressed, then followed the guard through the labyrinthine corridors to the main courtyard. The quickness of the soldier's pace indicated the importance of the mission; evidently something of great significance had occurred during the night.
He returned the knight's brisk salute with a quick bow, and asked with trepidation if the cause for his summons was Matthews or Reed.
"Neither," replied the distressed man, "it is the horse."
* * *
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