After finishing he finished the preparations for dinner, Tharol returned the poisoned bottle of wine, seal firmly reattached, back to the cellar. Then he carried the pots and pans out of the kitchen and to the scullery to help Golu finish with the cleaning.
The hardest thing to do now was keep a calm demeanor. He had to act as if today was just like any other. He couldn’t start acting jittery, that would make Inol and Beesk suspcious, and Reis, and Master Palthio. He had to pretend that he was totally duped, completely unaware of all the other threads being pulled around him.
Fortunately, cleaning the pots was a good way for him to get his anxieties out in a not-so-obvious way. He scrubbed at them as vigorously as he could, letting the jitters work out through his fingers as he went. In no time at all he and Golu had the task done and made their way up to the main hall to ring the bell for dinner.
A few minutes later and all of the boys were gathered together at the table. As before, Tharol avoided making eye contact with anyone, too afraid of what he might betray if his gaze was held for too long.
“Golu, I hope you don’t mind my saying, but this dinner is beneath your usual standard,” Master Palthio said as he took a bite with his fork and a little sip of wine. Tharol tried to hide his anxiety deep down. “I’m not sure what it is,” Master Palthio continued, “just everything is a little off-taste.”
“Oh…” Golu said blankly. “Sorry.”
Tharol breathed an inward sigh of relief. He didn’t want Reis to hear that he had swapped chores. That would be unusual for Tharol, and the last thing he wanted was for Reis to know he had been behaving unusually.
Master Palthio shrugged. “Just an observation, Golu. Don’t worry too much about it.”
He then turned to address the boys as a whole. “Well, I suppose we had better get things ready for the evening, don’t you? Golu, Bovik, you’re on evening watch, go relieve Janeao and Avro so that they may have their meal. Then we’ll–“
A strange expression fluttered over Master Palthio’s face and he leaned back again. He looked up to the ceiling, as if waiting for something to pass. Then small spasms started to pass over his face, symptoms of an irritating, recurring pain.
“Master?” Bovik asked, concern in his voice. “Is everything alright?”
“I–well–I’m not so sure.” Master Palthio brought his head downwards and kneaded his brow with his hands. “I have these strange spasms coming over me. I thought they would pass after a moment, but–” he winced sharply as the pain spiked.
“Master!” several of the boys cried as they leaped to their feet.
Palthio’s quivering hands clutched at his stomach and his face contorted into a painful grimace.
“Golu, you’ve given him food poisoning!” Bovik cried.
“But I didn’t even–“
“Don’t be stupid, Bovik!” Tharol sharply interjected. “We’ve all been having the same meal. This looks worse than food poisoning to me. We need to get a doctor!”
“No, I–” Master Palthio began, then suddenly lurched his head back away from the table and retched violently onto the floor.
“Get him a bucket!” Reis cried.
A few more heaves and Master Palthio had deposited his entire meal on the floor. He slumped back in his chair, exhausted, but he looked like he finally had some reprieve from the pain.
“I’m alright, boys,” he said faintly. “I’m alright. I’m just going to–going to need some rest. If a couple of you could support me back to my chambers I think I’ll turn in.”
All the boys moved forward to help, but Bovik and Golu reached him first. Each of them took an arm around their shoulders and the three of them ambled towards the Southern Wing where Master Palthio’s chambers waited.
Tharol turned to the remaining boys: Beesk, Inol, and Reis. The very last people he wanted to be alone in a room with right now. Inol and Beesk were nearest to him, and the two of them turned to face him, each bearing the same stupefied stare. Behind them Reis also made eye contact with Tharol, silently gesturing to the other boys with a cocked eyebrow.
Tharol would have liked nothing more than to lunge at him. Now he knew exactly what Reis had done with the wine he stole!
“Reis, did you want to clean up the mess,” he said, his voice came out strangely high-pitched from the anger he was trying to suppress. “Why don’t the rest of us circle round? Do a sweep of the area and make sure everything is secure? We can’t afford to have any vulnerabilities while our Master is unwell.”
It was a thin excuse, but everyone present saw it as a cover-up for different reasons. Reis would assume that Tharol was suspicious of Beesk and Inol and wanted a moment alone with them to get to the bottom of things. Beesk and Inol would assume Tharol wanted to check whether anyone had accidentally brought their poisoned wine to the table. As such, everyone nodded in agreement and Tharol, Beesk, and Inol made their way out to the courtyard.
“To the cellar,” Inol hissed as soon as they were out of earshot of Reis.
The three of them took the long way around the barracks, and soon they were crouched down among the bottles, swinging lamps overhead.
“Look at this!” Beesk exclaimed. “One of the bottles is broken. The other’s still here though.”
“Have the seals been tampered with?” Inol asked.
“Let me see…no…they’re both still secure.”
Each of them looked quizzically back to Tharol to see what he thought.
He paused for a fraction of a second, debating whether he should play this off as if he were relieved. He could just say that whatever had happened to Master Palthio…it didn’t look like it could be related to their poisoned wine. But no, he decided. That was not what they would expect from him.
“So what if the seals aren’t broken?” he demanded. “All that proves is that no one else used the wine. So it had to be one of us! And why’s that one bottle broken? Someone poured out a glass and then shattered it to hide the fact it was running low?!”
“Now you hang on just a second!” Inol fired back. “Are you trying to suggest one of us poisoned Master Palthio?!”
“Perhaps I am!”
“Why would we do that?” Beesk protested. “That doesn’t help us at all.”
“Makes him that much less likely to get involved in things tonight, doesn’t it?”
Inol sighed. “Alright…I see your point Tharol. But I don’t know what to tell you. I didn’t poison it, I trust that you two didn’t, so what else is there to say?”
“Yeah,” Beesk chimed in. “I thought you were more trusting than this Tharol.”
Tharol sighed and made as if he were taking their arguments in. That was good enough. “Alright,” he finally said. “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. What’s done is done…I’m just going saying there better not be any more surprises tonight!”
“We’re all on the same page there,” Inol reassured.
“We should get back before Reis starts getting suspicious,” Beesk said. The other two agreed and they quickly returned to the main hall. Reis wasn’t there, though, and Tharol didn’t like that. He hadn’t considered when he left with Beesk and Inol that he was leaving Reis alone to do whatever he pleased yet again.
“Well…you two make sure everything’s ready for tonight,” Tharol said. “I’m going to check on Master Palthio.”
As soon as he was apart from the other two Tharol started sweeping the grounds, glancing through each window and round ever corner for any sign of Reis. He scolded himself for having not realized that Reis would have had some nefarious intent for the poisoned wine he stole. He wondered if there were any other poisonings likely to occur. At first he thought no, because no one else at the table had become sick, but maybe Reis had figured that would look too suspicious. Maybe Reis had other traps meant for all the rest of the order. One thing was for sure, Tharol wouldn’t be taking a drink of anything for the rest of the night, nor indeed leaving himself alone in a corner.
With that thought Tharol took in his current surroundings and realized he had already done exactly that! During his search he had ambled into the corner where the barracks met the storage. He turned himself around, just as the barracks door flung open in front of him and Avro, Bovik, and Janeao came storming out.
“There he is!” Bovik cried and the other two boys spread out so that the three of them could move at him in a pincer movement.
“Hey, what is this?!” Tharol exclaimed.
“Come with us,” Avro ordered. As he spoke each of the boys drew knives out of their cloaks. “Just come with us and you won’t come to any harm.”
Tharol backed up until he hit the wall. “Are you guys crazy! Put those knives away!”
“It’s alright, Tharol,” Bovik soothed. “We don’t want to use them. We will if we have to, but we don’t want to.” He turned to Janeao. “Throw him the rope.”
The three boys halted their advance, but remained in an alert, defensive stance. Janeao stowed his blade, reached into his tunic, pulled out a length of rope, and flung it through the air to Tharol’s feet.
“Tie your hands,” Bovik instructed. “We won’t come any closer while you do. After that we’ll put away the knives and all go to Master Palthio. Nice and simple, see?”
Tharol picked up the rope. It was coarse and rough.
“What is this, Bovik?” he asked quietly. “What’s going on?”
“We know what you did, Tharol,” Bovik sad softly, even sadly. “The game’s over, alright? We know all about the poison.”
For the first time Tharol noticed the jug of wine fastened to Avro’s belt. He wasn’t near enough to see the broken wax seal, but he was sure it was the one Reis had taken, the one that had been used to poison Master Palthio. No doubt it had been planted somewhere that would incriminate Tharol.
Reis was taking care of two birds with one stone.
“Alright,” he said, then twisted his hand around the end of the rope and swung it out like whip! The other boys ducked to the ground just in time to dodge the flail, and while they were down Tharol surged forward, leaped over Bovik’s crouched form, and sprinted for the courtyard.
Just as he passed the edge of the barracks a dark blur rushed at him. Golu slammed in from the side and threw Tharol to the ground! For a moment Tharol lost consciousness, then awareness came back slowly. He remained dazed for a few minutes, only vaguely aware of the other boys binding his wrists with the rope and carrying him off to Master Palthio. He was in for it now!
On Monday I spoke about the use of suspense in a story, and how it is brought about by letting the audience anticipate a dramatic fallout that the characters, themselves, are oblivious to.
Thus at the end of my last chapter I had Tharol increase the toxicity of the wine to a point that it might be lethal for Reis. I realize that today’s chapter might feel like it then distracts from that element of suspense by focusing more on Reis’s schemes, and how he is removing Master Palthio and Tharol out of the picture, but I have a specific reason for having spent some time here.
In the next section Tharol will remain incapacitated. He is the only one that can prevent Reis from drinking that poisoned wine and now he will be physically incapable of doing so. The wheel has been set in motion and the only one that can call out a warning has been removed. I believe that this will accentuate the tension in the moment where Reis finally does take that wine, but setting up for it required me to briefly shift the focus elsewhere.
In the next section I will ramp the tension back up around the poisoned cup, by pausing around his moment of actually drinking it, making the audience wonder if he will go through with it or not.
I promise that we’ll get to this moment of catharsis soon. This story has extended much longer than I had originally anticipated, but now I am down to the last three chapters. At this point I would say I am close enough to the end to compare it to the original version of The Favored Son, the version that strayed into a different path than I had originally intended. I want to share how well this current attempt has done at meeting my original vision, and how I feel about the two stories compared against one another. I also want to identify why I feel the first one went off into such different waters to begin with.
Come back on Monday as we dig into all of that, and then again of Thursday to finally see the fuse reach the bomb in The Favored Son!