Spell Caster Chapter 3
Jerryck headed straight for the kitchens to check on his family. Leanne, his wife, had come to the palace as a midwife and worked in the kitchens between caring for pregnant women. His sister Kendra directed all the scullery maids, and often had her children helping out. The two older ones would still be in class at this time of day, getting the education the king provided to all the children dwelling in the palace. They would come to the kitchens afterward to do their daily chores. He nearly ran over Leanne as she came out of the wide, main doors to the kitchen. She smiled and said, “I was just coming to find you.” He grasped her hands. “Are you all right?” People swept around them, passing in and out of the kitchens. He drew her off to the side, out of the way. Her skin had her normal pale tones, no flush. She wasn’t overly warm. Her pretty blue eyes didn’t have any dark circles under them, like they got when she wasn’t feeling well. A few wisps of her black hair had escaped where she pinned it back that morning, as usual. Nothing pointed to anything abnormal. He asked, “What’s wrong? What do you need? Why are you coming to find me?” “A couple of people in here need help.” She led him it into the heat of the kitchens. There, in the spacious main room, she raised her voice to be heard above the clatter of all the workers. “All the medics are busy.” She stopped by one of the scullery maids, sitting on a stool near an outside door where the temperature was somewhat cooler. She hugged her knees to her chest and wore a look of misery. Leanne said, “She’s got heat rash all over her body. She’s especially prone to it, so we try to keep her away from the ovens during the worst of the summer heat.” “We’re not really into summer yet,” the woman said, stating the obvious. “It’s not all that hot yet. I don’t understand why this happened.” “This is the worst I’ve ever seen her.” Leanne gently prodded the woman, turning her left and right, peeling back clothing to show the rash. “It’s under her chest, inside her elbows, the backs of her knees, around her neck, all over.” “I usually get a cream from the medics,” the woman said. “I’ll be fine when I get that.” “You should go somewhere private you can take off your clothes.” Jerryck examined what was exposed without making her indecent. “Make sure any affected area is dry. Don’t rub it. Just blot it with a clean towel or dry cloth. Do you have any powder to put on?” The woman’s eyes widened. “You sound like a medic! You’re not going to throw magic at me?” “Not if there’s a treatment that doesn’t warrant it. I could make you a cream, which I’d use magic on to promote healing, aside from the natural medicinal properties in the ingredients. But it might be faster if you wait on the medics for what you normally use. They’ve probably got some on hand, and I have other things to do first.” She stared at him, her mouth hanging open. Jerryck asked, “What?” “I thought alchemical medics and healing magicians hated each other.” “So?” “So, you just told me to go to them. After you said exactly the same thing they usually say.” Leanne look a little smug. “I told you he was just as good or better than any medic.” Jerryck looked around. “Did you say there was more than one person who needed help?” A couple of people watched him while standing at a counter chopping vegetables. Several scullery maids marched through wearing their white aprons and their arms full of clean plates. A couple of young men hauled wood and charcoal from the door to the bailey. Off in one corner, Kendra kneeled beside her crying younger daughter Marla. “What’s wrong with Marla?” he asked. “She had another bad dream,” Leanne said. She hadn’t cried over a bad dream since a couple of days before her papa died. Jerryck headed in her direction. Leanne stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Let Kendra finish calming her down.” “Did she talked to Zev yet?” Jerryck asked. Talking to her older brother usually helped calm Marla down. “Yes, right before she asked for her mama.” Leanne tugged him in a different direction. “Let Kendra handle it for now. The head chef needs you too.” Marla saw him and wiped some of her tears away. Kendra turned and made eye contact with him, despite all the busy people between them. A month had passed since the death of her husband. She pulled her hair up into a knot on her head, a custom she had taken up after that first wretched week of mourning. Her eyes had their normal hue, a brown so light they were almost golden, the same as his. They weren’t bloodshot, red, or puffy from weeping. She still had baggy, dark circles under them. The last time he’d offered her a sleep spell to help out, she nearly sliced off his ears with her words. Other than that, everything was normal. She showed no signs of undue heat. Jerryck let his wife lead him through one of the side doors, into a much smaller room where prepared dishes were normally laid out to go into either the banquet hall or the common dining hall. At the moment, there were only stacks of dirty dishes from lunch. The head chef sat leaning far back in a chair, his head tipped up to the low ceiling with a wet cloth over his forehead. He opened one glassy eye for Jerryck. He took off the cloth, opened the other eye, and sat up a little. “Oh, good. Your sister said you’d come.” “What’s this?” Jerryck took the cloth. It dripped over his hand onto the floor. “My head hurts bad,” the chef said. “Feels like there’s a fire behind my eyes. Making me want to throw up. Bad for a kitchen.” “Okay, but what’s that got to do with this?” Jerryck waggled the wet cloth. “I thought a damp cloth would cool the fire.” “This isn’t damp.” Jerryck watched it drip onto the floor. “It’s soaked.” “Damp didn’t work. So I made it damper. I think it made it worse, not better.” If something in the water had given him the headache, then he had absorbed more through his skin, and yes, that would make it worse. Not better. Marla came in, followed closely by Kendra. The little girl asked, “Jerryck, are you making all the sick people better?” “Trying to.” He dropped the wet cloth into one of the stacks of dirty plates. What exactly was causing this problem? There had to be some way past the cover Tajor had mentioned. He knew of one simple method that might work. He’d discovered it during youthful experimentations. He sent it to the Gathering of Seats for approval and checked on it every few years. The last several times, they had informed him that it was “under review.” That was a step up from “pending,” which meant they’d at least looked at it. They hadn’t rejected it. He could probably get away with using it. Probably. “I’m so sorry,” Marla said with a sniffle. “For what?” He got down on one knee beside her to put himself at her eye level. “You didn’t make people sick.” “Then what did?” “I think something is wrong with the water.” The chef sat up a little more. “You do?” “I need materials to put together a test to make sure,” Jerryck said. “Simple things. Like either sugar or salt sprinkled on parchment.” “I’ll get them!” Marla ran from the room. “Thank you for that,” Kendra said. “When she gets past the crying, the best thing for her is to feel useful.” While they waited for Marla, Jerryck worked magic on the chef for pain relief. It didn’t nullify the headache completely, but it helped enough that he went back to work. Marla returned with some sheets of parchment and two clay jars. She set them down in a clear spot on one of the tables saying, “This one’s sugar. And this one’s salt.” “I didn’t need both.” Jerryck laid one of the parchments flat. “Just one.” “Sugar and salt aren’t substitutes for each other,” Kendra said. “They are if all you need is something granular that dissolves quickly in liquid.” Jerryck unlatched the lid of the jar closest to his hand, the sugar. “You’re not using the whole thing are you?” Kendra picked up the salt. “I only need about a teaspoon.” Jerryck scooped some out and sprinkled it on the parchment. “Or less. This’ll do.” He drew energy around his hand yet again, this time forming it into something that would temporarily make auras visible to everyday sight. Marla grinned when it made his hand glow. He ran his left hand through the energy, tweaking it to make it passive and latent, unless there was an opening for the energy to release through. The glow subsided, and he tuned what he had shaped to the sugar sprinkled on the parchment. Finally, he spoke the words that severed the energy from himself. The magic did exactly as he intended, attaching itself evenly across every sugar granule. “Are you going to give that to the sick people?” Marla asked. “No.” Jerryck pinched a few granules onto the wet cloth the chef had used. When the sugar dissolved, it left an opening for the magic to release through, activating it, funneling it through what had dissolved the sugar. It lit up in a colorful glow. The bold blue of water. The silver of his own work. There was also a thin layer of navy blue, most likely some sort of manipulation magic. Under that, was an even thinner, sickly layer of red and blue bound together with black. The off-color slowly faded, still affecting the water, growing weaker and weaker. Whatever had contaminated the water wasn’t caught in the cloth, just the affects of it. Heston was right. Jerryck had to go test the vats. “Don’t let anyone drink any water,” Jerryck said. He folded the parchment around the rest of the magicked sugar. “Don’t cook with it or put it in any food.” "What do I tell people?” Kendra asked. “Tell them I’m doing more tests,” Jerryck said.