Eric Westerlind
Poison Tasting

She turned away and went to the mirror. Then portable firejugs could dry and fumigate with billow flame so that the sheets, room, space, were like being folded into batter.

She just changed from one set to another. This was easier, but lacked the hospitable glaze that prompted other woms to charge more.

“These are luxury,” she said, eying the gems dangling from her ears.

The king was staring at a stained glass, swerved by his own question. Outside the city was amorph blazon of color-warp. A young fellow watched his ratchet sticks go back and forth. 

His whole life the guards at the entrance in black and burgundy; everyone! The people of the castle, the castle, the hoodlums prodded by the guards stood for him; the ministers at his congress stood for him; the horses always stood and made oaths in his name. 

Or was he matter, alone.

He stood finding his clothes in various spots.  

“I gain plenty.”

“Well then you can keep them.”

The earrings went into an open drawer with her wonderful old cigar box, among others.

Hours later, in the same room.

They’d pawed in the black bins for crude beans which’d gone with Jenkins to his family, and the fish’d been in surplus so they’d scravved it from the brine barrels; and then grains wouldn’t be noticed so they’d used thin-mouthed urns and cupped it a hand at a time: they’d lugged everything out through the service door, each loaded and cramping, wet and frozen. 

“Why I’s at the doctor-line just hier soir and had my small change ripped. Pef! and now I find it’s probably you or one of your friends who did it!?”

She was frenzied up and her face was so small; it furred up at her neck.

She took what he offered.

The cracker crumbs and splashes of oil made mess of the sheets and though they finished the bread and half a rind of cheese, she never met his eyes, even’s he stood up and went.

The next morning, in the castle, the head of guards and two interior ministers and the scullery chef unraveled the theft to the service door. The interior minister with twin mustaches exposed it to the minister of labor who buoyed it to the minister of house; the high vault ceiling of the church attached to the western flank of the castle.

A priest in robes bustled over after wiping down a pew.

“So this is the joy of house husbandry.”


“We’ve had men on the roof this morning, milord.”

“It is crucial that we seal the space.”

“Is that a command,” he stated.

The minister of house intervened.

“The problem milord is the clay slates. They interlock in a rudimentary fashion and it seems when the work, stone, was laid, the grid patterning got broke up by the steeple.”

High above them, out above where two gruff-types stood looking out over the city in gold-mannered light, was the steeple, a wicked-angled cannon pointing a fiery gesture up towards an overcast sky.

“It’s a bit of a puzzle, really.”

The interior of house couldn’t disagree.

The churchman said, “Milord.”

The king pressed his foot down on the boots he’d removed. Water oozed from them. He’d been among the lower crawlspaces where the minister of interior had shown him the worst of the flooding.

Nude, he stared at the guard’s turning-away, and went to the bathing room.

The tub was half-wet from a morning scrub he’d taken and he ran a hand along it.

The king rang a bell and the rush of it sent its chill down the sheaf of stairs and walls on a hidden line, down towards a bulb-nosed older woman in book-blacks on the similarly wet cobble outside the castle.

A few hours later, the king’s Mercurial, incredibly dry, suite.

The bath’s lavish heat was long gone and the whole of the room’s echo and space had abated into only charcoals, dim blue-grays and the spin of the king’s reds: sheets, pants, and the broad drapes through which only some gauze of the gloomy sky drifted.

“Alright, up with you,” the king said, daily chores long past and the girl in a weird state of staring, mostly at his chin. She’d had a name and the set of aprons unblurred, folded on the far side of the room. 

Rolling, he stood and was neatly dressed in a few flicks. 

The confidence that formed like a floss about her as she disrobed at the head of his bath remained even now.

She grinned at him and waited.

He unlocked the door and moved the guard in. She stayed in purr amid the sheets watching them talk.

“Have you lived under thatch, milord?”

“I haven’t.”

She rolled. She turned into the blood silk and stretched, with genuine intentlessness. 

The occasional perfumed burst of air flowered just over the door of the dining room; the fellow like a specter in the cowl-black behind their large chairs. Fish over radish and watercress, a small flame beneath a pool of broth; the tang, the adult flavor of it all.

The maitre of house appeared.

“No, she’ll eat her fish, thank you, Reed.”

“I’d love some pasta, Reed.”

The maitre patted her scalp. He strode through the kitchen doors, fish in hand. The king decanted some wine.

She grinned more and nodded more than enough.

“Well, little one, let me ask you a question,” he said, and leaned towards her.

Her expression could be pushed sour, but she was flat with him and tilted her head.

Once he had her settled, he tried again.

Outside the castle, anything not beneath a hood lamp was the same. Those swung in the rain.

Blank black hands to his devices, a bandful of folk attended the idle pedant in his seat. He’d have his portion of that later, thanks.

Emeralds out to a meal mostly in spite. To think she were street-wise.

Same, the head-of-guard’s handy time-piece and from his rucksack, some wood blocks and bits of the roofwork, that puzzle he was bringing home for his boy. Mistaken as valuable, and summarily thieved.

This was night outside the castle.

Another lashing of rain against the roofs, the steeple. The documents dried in the great room and the king pushed his daughter gently into her room.

The older man drew towards his last chores staring across the rows of vellum to a carpet tapestry of his forebears, before the castle's construction. Before the city even.

Why not just continue to sleep? materialized. He was into the hallway adjacent.