13 Sola Del Sol

The wagon from Bon Abbi passed a smaller road that led south of Lake Marablain. The trail led to where builders harvested trees for the Midland walls many seasons ago. Today, it allowed travelers to avoid passing through the city. Eva was sure Luka camped somewhere in this area.

She always marveled at the placement of Midland over the northern side of Marablain. A wall surrounded most of the city, except along the eastern edge of the lake. Smaller structures extended over into the lake, housing a pier and fishing vessels.

Lord Tao desired to improve life in Midland for his people. He engaged Ruelanders to install water wheels along the east bank. These pumped lake water into shared cisterns so everyone had access to clean water.

Yet, Midland monitored everyone requesting to enter through their gates. Guards at the gates inspected cargo and asked visitors to state their business. It wasn’t too long before the driver slowed the horses to a gradual trot, finally stopping. A line of carts and people waited to enter the city. Most people were from Bon Abbi.

Those with contraband, or without a good reason to enter, either bypassed the city or returned to Bon Abbi. Some sought work other than farming. Families brought younger children to Midland to learn new and desirable skills.

Eva felt exposed, sitting in an open wagon. Men carrying swords fanned out among the crowd. “State your business,” one of the guards barked out, making her jump.

“This is the Lady of Bon Abbi, here to visit with Sola Del Sol,” said the driver with authority.

The guard hesitated for a moment while he looked over the wagon. He saw the young woman dressed in white flax linen with a blue tunic. She seemed to be a Noble. “My apologies, my Lady, for making you wait,” he offered.

With little effort, he made the people in front of them stand aside to allow the wagon through. Eva started to say she was sorry but saw Theo shaking his hand. “This must be the ‘bad’ he spoke about,” Eva thought.

The double iron gates closed behind them. On either side of the road were wide-open areas with barns and buildings for artisans. Horses and wagons were not allowed beyond this point.

The driver led the horses towards one of the stables, then hopped down to assist his passengers. “I will secure a place for the horses to rest and feed.”

Eva knew the driver, Tomas, by name. But the Council told her not to use it in public. Drivers, as other servants in Midland, were never acknowledged, according to tradition. But she wasn’t the typical Noble.

“Tomas, be sure to find a place to rest and eat. I’ll settle the cost with Sola.”

The driver looked at her with caution before he smiled and patted the horse. “You rest as well, my Lady.”

Eva walked to the main stairs that led to tall, wooden doors, opened for visitors and residents alike. By design, the Noble’s Court and Great Hall, located at the center, had two entrances from east and west. Buildings and public spaces mirrored their placement on either side.

The poor resided outside the main doors, just inside the gates and wall but not near the passageways. Some skilled artisans lived on the first level. Another staircase led to the living areas for those with greater prestige.

There were two ways to enter the courtyard. The western entrance led into the Great Hall, which reserved space for the ruler of Midland. Most rooms on the main floor held sessions for nobles to sort out issues between commoners.

The eastern entrance opened to the massive courtyard paved with red bricks. Lush grass and fountains adorned the front of the Great Hall, as well as the Nobles Quarters.

Theotello followed Eva through the doors and into the Great Hall. Polished stone floors gleamed with columns supporting the arched ceiling. Nobles and commoners made their way through the hall, going different directions.

“Follow me, Theo,” Eva said.

She led the Chronicler down two flights of stairs. Theo felt the fresh, cold air with every step. “Sola works and lives in the lower areas of the Hall,” Eva explained as she reached the bottom floor.

The walkway was dark, with an occasional lit torch shedding its light. Every sound, no matter how slight, echoed through the hall. Eva and Theo could see a tall, muscular man standing in the middle of the corridor.

He guarded the entrance into the Healer’s room. His initial scowl at the pair promptly transitioned into a smile. “Evelyn, you have returned!”

Embracing her with care, he released his grip and returned to his post. “Seeley, it’s good to see you again. I’m here to consult with Sola.”

He grimaced. “Sola told me not to disturb him.”

“Seeley, you know he doesn’t mean me. I’ve been gone for two seasons and won’t return any time soon.”

His face revealed his angst, trying to decide what to do. “True, he always wants to see you.” Seeley looked at Theo while shaking his head. “The boy can’t enter. I don’t know him.”

Theotello tried to say he was a traveling companion but didn’t want to challenge the guard. “I’ll wait for you, Eva.”

The man looked confused. “Don’t worry. I’m still Evelyn. People at Bon Abbi call me Eva Marie now.”

He processed what she said, then laughed at the idea of having two names. Waiting for the echo to dissipate, Seeley said, “Well, why not? I’m not very fond of my name. Maybe you can find me another!”

Eva grinned. “I will find you a good name before I leave.”

Seeley nodded his approval before waving his hand to enter. One defiant look towards Theo made him nervous. “Please hurry,” was all he could say.

The door creaked as Seeley closed it behind Eva. She entered the Greeting Room, where Sola met with guests and nobles. There were occasions when he met with Lord Taoma Delay, ruler of Midland. One quick look and Eva knew by the dust no recent visitors had visited with the Healer.

Bound books, wooden crates, and unique collections filled the shelves around the room. Chairs of various designs took positions in front of the shelves.

To the right was the Apothecary Room, where Sola mixed his potions. A large wooden table was in the center, precisely as Eva remembered. Balances, weights, and vials of varying sizes dotted the surface. Mortars and pestles, surrounded by fresh herbs, took their place at the center.

Behind the table were shelves holding labeled vials with stoppers. A wooden ladder leaned against drawers that spanned from the floor to ceiling.

Beyond the two rooms was a long corridor. “Sola, where are you?” Eva called out, hoping he would hear.

With so many doors and anterooms, she had no way of knowing where to find the Healer. Then she heard a door open from one of the side rooms. The poor lighting couldn’t hide that tall, slightly bent frame walking towards her.

He wore a strip of cloth tied around his face. “I’m sorry you are not allowed here. I gave distinct orders that no one was to disturb me!”

Eva took a step closer to the torch. “Sola, it’s me, Evelyn.”

Sola wore a flowing hooded tunic in shades of green, over his linen shirt and leather pants. He seemed to prefer wearing his hood to preserve heat, but today, it was down to his shoulders.

His head and face were clean-shaven. Eva always thought Sola lost his hair due to some chemical accident or an experiment gone wrong. She knew the Healer had difficulties with his vision, especially distances.

“Evelyn? What are you doing here?” he asked, pulling the cloth down.

The Healer avoided human touch whenever he could. But his broad smile was all Eva needed to see. “I am working with mushrooms and their spores. When ingested, they make you see things that aren’t there. For a moment when I saw you, I thought I was under their spell!”

His laugh was more of a cackle, but a familiar and welcomed sound to Eva. “Come, let’s go to the front room.”

Sola led the young girl to the Greeting Room and offered her one of the chairs. The bottom wood curved to the center, then curled back to form armrests. A removable cushion provided comfort, with a cloth stretched to support the back.

“Go on. Try it. This chair is the latest design by the Ruelanders. If you pull the armrests together, it collapses. You can then transport the chair with you. Very clever, those Rues.”

Eva sat down with caution but found the chair very comfortable. Sola choose a padded bench with a footrest. “So, what brings you to Midland?”

Mustering up courage, Eva proceeded to tell Sola how she became the Lady of Bon Abbi. “Before Lord Rando passed, he urged me to save Bon Abbi.”

Sola raised his hand to his cheek. “Oh, we heard rumors Luka was challenging the Lady, but I never thought it was you.”

“Luka must never know who I am. As it is, I am sure this isn’t the last time he and I will meet.”

The Healer waved his hand, assuring Eva that her secret was safe with him. He also stated that he’d make sure Seeley remembers, as well. “He’s a gentle soul trapped inside that big body,” Sola muttered.

Eva thanked him and said, “I need a few Ruelanders to help rebuild the wall and gates. We have no defense for our people. Right now, we can’t even keep a wild boar front entering.”

The Healer punctuated his approval with his hands. “Of course. I can spare two or three. They’ll go with you when you are ready.”

He leaned forward and chuckled. “To be honest, the Ruelanders have been here so long, some have made Midland their permanent home.”

Eva exhaled her relief. “I know that doesn’t remove our problem with Luka, but it will help.”

Sola nodded his head but acknowledged that Luka wasn’t wholly wrong. “You aren’t in the Mayweather bloodline, but you are noble at heart.”

“You’re a noble, Sola. Why doesn’t anyone ever call you Lord Sola?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “It was a title I didn’t want. People got the message when they called me Lord Sola, and I ignored them.”

Eva smiled slightly at his sincere, noble heart. And yet, she couldn’t help but think of Josah. “I don’t know what to do with Luka.”

“What is there to do?” Sola adjusted his feet, then rested his elbows on his knees. “Luka already controls Southport and Neardore. Lord Tao has no bloodline family to take over Midland. So, Luka’s last challenge is Bon Abbi.”

“Which is why I couldn’t refuse this role,” Eva interjected. “I borrowed the name of Lord Rando’s deceased daughter. Most people don’t remember her, but they trusted the Council’s decision.”

“Ah, yes. Eva Marie was her name, or should I say ‘is’ her name? Quite amusing, I would say. But Luka is an unstable man. You are aware I lived and worked in Casselberry, before escaping to Midland?”

“Yes, I am,” replied Eva. “He used poison you created against prisoners merely to see its effects.”

Sola looked down at that sad memory. “Unfortunately, some procedures for mixing potent concoctions remained the day I fled Casselberry.”

Eva stared at the door, remembering Theo. “Sola, I am traveling with a Chronicler. Would you mind if we invite him to come in?”

“A Chronicler? Here? By all means!”

The Healer jumped from his bench and opened the door. He spotted Theo leaning against the wall. “Come in, come in!”

Theotello looked at Seeley, who still had a stern look. “He’s invited me in.”

“Remember, I’m still here should he change his mind.”

“Now, Seeley, he is my guest. Make sure no one else comes in, even if it’s Lord Tao.”

Sola left the guard with his puzzled look. He closed the door behind the Chronicler and offered him the bench. He reached for another folding chair and sat down. Eva introduced him as Theotello.

“The honor is mine,” Sola said. “I have never met a Chronicler, nor someone from Los Terra. They are the only people who have ink painted on their foreheads.”

Theo cocked his head, wondering why Sola didn’t say anything about the skin tone of his people. “We choose the tattoos we wear at an early age,” he explained. “They are an expression of who we are to become. While I am a Los Terran, Mercil was my birthplace.”

Sola took in every word. “So, how did you find your way to Midland with Eva?” He remembered Evelyn’s new name.

Theo glanced at Eva before answering. “I traveled to Bon Abbi from Northport when Luka Dey arrived. He challenged Eva’s position as the Lady of Bon Abbi. I confirmed she was the appropriate ruler.”

“Ah!” Sola nodded his head. “The word ‘appropriate’ would describe Eva, as she is not an actual member of the Mayweather clan. As a Chronicler, you kept Luka from laying claim to the city, while preserving the truth.”

Sola’s body shook as he laughed to himself. “No wonder Luka is livid!”

“Theo has been a source of comfort to me these few days,” Eva confessed.

“Of course, I can understand. Theo, tell me about the gifts people say Chroniclers possess. Is it true?”

Eva blurted her answer. “They are true. With a touch, Theo explored my history and told me things only I knew.”

The Chronicler was uncomfortable, not acquainted with such attention. “What Eva has said is true. But I wait for directions from the Ancient One before I do anything.”

Sola, a man of mathematics and philosophy, wasn’t easily convinced. “I rely on logic, ingenuity, and hard work. I am not a man of faith. But you can sway me if you tell me something only I know, with a single touch.”

Eva nodded her head, encouraging Theo to show him. He closed his eyes for a moment and experienced one of his visions. It lasted a few seconds, an event that went unnoticed. He glanced at Sola, knowing he would play a vital role in defending Bon Abbi.

Theotello turned his right palm up and asked Sola for his hand. The Healer stood by him, glanced at Eva, then followed directions. The Chronicler closed his eyes to concentrate. His eyes moved rapidly back and forth.

With warning, Theo pulled away. He looked at Sola without saying a word. The Healer looked at his hand, confused about what happened. “From the moment you touched me, I felt this heat all over.”

“I felt that too,” Eva confessed. “So, what did you find, Theo?”

The Los Terran stood up, straightened his tunic, and apologized. “I couldn’t discern anything. I don’t control this gift and can’t always read someone.”

Sola couldn’t hide his disappointment. “Not to worry. There will be more opportunities to try again.”

Theo signaled Eva with his eyes, before saying, “We need to go if we are to make it back to Bon Abbi tonight.”

But the young girl didn’t pick it up the hint. “What are you saying? We planned to say the evening and travel back in the morning.”

“Well, things have a way of changing. I suggest we return to Bon Abbi.” When Eva didn’t respond, he accentuated his words. “Right now!”

Sola extended his hand, attempting to block the door. “You saw something, but you’re afraid to tell me. Remember, you are a Chronicler. You cannot lie!”

Theo sat back down and placed his hand on his head. “I didn’t see your history, so I spoke the truth.”

Sola pointed at the boy. “You are parsing words now. What did you see?”

Eva looked at Theotello, not surprised by his willingness to hold back information. “Go on, Theo. You are among friends.”

Theo hesitated, then said, “I saw small, capped mushrooms and a drinking flask. The container held a distinctive mark on the label of a goat’s head.”

“It’s not a goat, just a bad depiction of a bull,” Sola corrected him.

“What does this mean, Sola?” asked Eva.

The Healer walked back to his chair. “No one could know this, Theo. The bull label was something I fashioned. I stuck it on potions of fermented rye, honey, and juniper berries. This combination, followed by a necessary process results in a strong drink.”

“And?” Eva prompted Sola to continue.

He jumped up and went to the Apothecary Room, with Theo and Eva following. Rifling through the drawers behind the table, he found what he wanted.

Clearing some space on the table, he laid down sketches of mushrooms. “Which one did you see?”

It didn’t take long for Theo to point to a mushroom with a cone-shaped top. “That’s the ‘cap’ mushroom. Some call it the ‘inkcap,'” Sola mumbled. “When consumed with strong drink, it produces a poison, mild at first.”

He turned to Eva. “Describe the ailments Lord Rando had when you left Midland to assist his recovery.”

“Well, this wasn’t a single occurrence. It seemed like Lord Rando battled his ailments some days more than others. On bad days, his face would redden, he would expel what he ate, before becoming agitated. He complained of his heart beating faster and tingling arms.”

Sola shook his head. “That was the poison working its way through him. The fermented rye was something I stored in Casselberry. Somehow, Lord Rando drank that poison concoction. The liquid is clear like water.”

“I applied a poultice of arrowroot. I made Lord Rando drink wine. I had him eat fruit and honey. His ailments would lift for some time before returning.”

The Healer pulled the sketch of the cap mushroom from the rest. “What else did you see, Theo?”

He sorted through the different sketches until he came to a mushroom with a red bulbous cap with white dots. Theo pulled out the third sketch with a flat cap. “I saw images of these two mushrooms.”

“The ‘amanita muscaria,’ and ‘amanita phallos,'” Sola mumbled to himself. “Evelyn, I mean Eva, were there other symptoms?”

Eva Marie thought for a moment. “There were occasional complaints of drowsiness and a sense of floating. He would see things that weren’t there and couldn’t remember things he did the day before. The day he died, he had severe pains, strong retching, complained of being cold.”

Sola walked around the table and placed his hand on Eva’s shoulder. “Now, I’m going to tell you something, but you must promise not to blame yourself.”

Eva pulled away, looked at Theo, then crossed her arms. “Why would I blame myself?” she asked.

The Healer cleared his throat. “Lord Rando consumed poison, but from two separate sources. The cap mushroom drunk with alcohol was a distraction. While you addressed the symptoms, you missed the second poison he consumed.”

“What?” Eva lurched forward, gripping her arms tighter.

“Someone wanted you to find the first poison but not the second. Lord Rando ingested small doses of the muscaria. The fruit and honey combatted the lower amounts. Over time, he consumed higher doses. But Lord Rando died because he ate ‘amanita phallos’ or what I call ‘death by cap.'”

“Are you saying… Lord Rando died because of me?” asked Eva as she wiped a tear rolling down her cheek.

“I didn’t say that, Eva. I blame myself. If I had been there, I could have made a difference.”

Eva started walking towards the Greeting Room with arms still folded. She turned and said, “I wasn’t there when my father died, which is why I rushed to Lord Rando’s side. And now I know he would be alive today if I knew what I was doing!”

Sola didn’t know how to respond. Theo walked to Eva and said, “I can’t explain right now, but the passing of Lord Rando happened for other reasons.”

Eva ignored Theo and turned to the Healer. “Sola, how would someone prepare the ‘amanita’ mushrooms to maximize its effects?”

“The muscaria would lose potency if boiled. So crushing the mushroom and drying it to a fine powder is the right procedure. When ready, it’s then sprinkled on food. But there is no tempering of phallos. When consumed, it kills within two days.”

“Before we touched, I had a vision of a plump, dark-haired woman preparing food in the kitchen at the Manor.”

Eva released her arms. “You saw Cara? What was she doing?”

Theotello pointed to the sketches. “She was dicing mushrooms. I sensed danger.”

“Oh, my heavens!” Eva gasped. “It was Cara. And now, she is planning to poison the rest of us.”

She ran to the door, pulled it open, shouting, “We have to get back to Bon Abbi before she kills Josah and the others!”

Written by Mike Arroyo

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