The Summer Palace
After Rosamond died, Aliana's recovery took little time. The best physicians at court left the dead queen's side to tend to her daughter, and with her their remedies worked. Her fever broke on the second morning after her mother's death, and by the next day she was up and walking around.
The news of Rosamond's death nearly drove Aliana back to her bed with grief, but the look on her father's face kept her from relapsing. He needed her now, more than ever.
At Ansell's order, Queen Rosamond's body was interred in the cold crypts far below the Summer Palace until they could be moved to Castle Randal for a proper funeral and burial. With no commemoration of the occasion, it seemed as if the queen has just disappeared, vanished into the balmy summer air off the sea. But court was still in upheaval, lords and ladies and servants and guards taken to their beds with fever. Once she was well, Aliana was given freedom of the palace and its grounds, her health secured by immunity from the fever that had nearly claimed her life. The freedom was hardly worth much; the palace was quiet as the grave.
When she was three days well, the physicians permitted her to see Derrick, who had thus far avoided the fever. He was reading in the solarium, long legs stretched out on a bench in front of him by an open window that overlooked the sea. He was the picture of health excepting the dark bags under his eyes. He was alone.
The prince looked up when he heard his sister enter, and his face folded into a sad smile. She had not seen him since before their mother had died.
Derrick placed his book down on the bench and rose, crossing the room quickly and gathering Aliana in his arms. For a brief moment she felt strangled in his embrace, his arms crossed tightly around her back, but she clung just as tightly to him.
When at last Derrick let her go, Aliana saw her brother's bright eyes had misted over. They reminded her, as ever, of their mother's.
"I didn't know if I could believe it, when they said you would be safe," Derrick told her, cradling her head with both his hands as if to be sure she was real. "I was sure it would take my little sister as it did my mother..." he trailed off, overcome, and pulled Aliana closer, kissing her forehead and lingering. She had never seen her brother thus moved. Emotional or open, at times, but never all at once.
"I am fortunate," the princess answered softly, touching her brother's arm. "They would not let me come sooner, until they were sure..."
Derrick interjected, "Of course, sister. Of course, I know," and pulled her into his arms again, her head tucked beneath his chin. She could feel his pulse against her brow, and the way he gulped for air when at last he said, "My brother... and my mother. Gone. If I'd lost you too..."
Aliana choked back a sob as she let herself be clung to in her brother's embrace. She thought of Garratt, the memories of whom were growing fainter and fainter every year. Would the memories of her mother grow fainter too?
After a long time, Derrick offered her his arm and they began to walk along the windows of the long solarium, looking out at the sea. It felt good to have the breeze in her hair and on her face.
The room was sweltering. A brazier smoldered in one corner, and the windows along the far wall were shuttered. In the dim light, Aliana could barely make out the figure on the bed before the physicians had pulled her away.
"Milady, leave him," the one called Farley urged her, reaching around Aliana to try and close the door again. "There is naught we can do..."
"Because you are afraid to become ill, I am aware," Aliana said, shaking the physician's hand away. Derrick stood a few paces down the corridor looking simultaneously impressed and horrified by his sister's behavior. "So you keep him shuttered in and dying," she went on, "when what he needs is someone who can care for him. I am not the only person who has survived the fever. You have your choice of proxy physicians. Why has one not been summoned?"
Farley had no answer for her. His colleague Olwen came forward and nodded his head to the princess in respect. "Forgive us, milady, but we dare not risk spreading the fever any further. You may not catch, but if it is on you when you leave then you put the palace at risk."
Aliana had had enough. "The fever does not live on the skin or in dresses. Once it is gone from our breath, it is gone," she said, remembering High Physician Waldron's words as he cared for her. Resolute, she demanded, "Bring me fresh water and cooling cloths. And bed linens." A harsh stare sent the physicians scrambling, hurrying to heed her with quick assents and formal addresses.
As the physicians disappeared, Derrick replaced them at his sister's side. "You cannot intend to stay with him until the end. I forbid it," he told her, pinning her with a serious gaze.
"He is my friend as much as yours," Aliana reminded him, seeing Olwen coming back down the corridor with a palace attendant, laden down with the items she had requested. Aliana looked up at her brother and said, "If all I can do is ease his passing, then I will have done that much, at least."
One by one she brought the requested items into the room. Farley and Olwen stood well back from the door, and Derrick made a quick exit. Finally, Aliana said, "I will summon you if I have any urgent questions or needs, and I expect you to heed me. You may not approve, but my father is your king and you will do as I command."
"Yes, milady," said a rather sheepish Farley, before both physicians took their leave.
Aliana reentered the room, her brow already having broken into a sweat from the multiple entrances into its sweltering heat. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the semidarkness as she strode across to the windows, cracking one open enough to get a slight breeze and cast a thin shaft of light into the room.
It was only then that she finally gave William her full attention. She had not noticed that his eyes were open until the light helped her to see. His eyelids were heavy, and he struggled to blink. His brow was pale and slick with sweat, distinguishable even at a distance. But his eyes followed her as she went to pick up the basin of water, and then the pile of fresh cloths, setting both at his bedside.
"You're...well..." he said, voice thick with sickness. Aliana hardly remembered that he and her brother had seen her just as she fell ill; she hoped it had not been her to strike William with fever.
"And you are not," Aliana pointed out as she sat on the edge of his bed, careful not to jostle him too much. She gathered a fresh soft cloth in her hands and dipped it in the cool water. Wringing it dry, Aliana gently dabbed it along William's brow, then down his neck, just behind his ears, where she sparingly recalled being most feverish. He sighed in what she remembered as mixed comfort and agony. As she tended his neck again, she saw that the tunic he wore stuck to his skin, practically soaked through. But she dared not insist the physicians return to change him, nor did she think she could move William herself.
The day wore on. They did not speak again until late into the night, when Aliana felt her eyes beginning to fail her with sleep. William had dozed fitfully, slipping in and out of consciousness as Aliana tended to him, cooling his brow and changing out the sweat-soaked sheet covering him for a clean one. She had his hand in her lap, gently dabbing along his wrist and arm with a cool cloth.
"They think...I...will die," William said, chest rising and falling heavily with the effort. Aliana looked up from her lap, finding his eyes in the mixed light from the brazier and the shaft of moonlight from the window. His hair stuck to his brow and his neck, and his eyes were puffy and red.
Aliana placed the cloth beside the basin of water but kept William's hand in her own. "They think everybody who is sick will die," Aliana told him bitterly, remembering her own mother with an angry lump in her throat. "We do not all die. I did not, and neither will you." The words tasted ashen on her tongue. They felt too much like lies, promises she could not keep, predictions she had no knowledge with which to make.
William squeezed her hand. Aliana could feel his palm already growing clammy with sweat. "They...they left me here," he stammered, voice hoarse. "Until...you came."
"I can no longer become ill. They can," she explained, releasing his hand to instead tuck an arm behind his back trying to prop him up on the pillows. The effort of lifting him exhausted her.
Aliana picked up the goblet she had filled with water, and held it to William's lips until he drank, one hand cradled behind his head to help him. In trying desperately to keep him cool, she had forgotten to be sure that he drank. He had to be parched, and she hated herself for the oversight.
After a few moments, William lost his breath from trying to drink, and slumped back into the pillows, raspy breaths coming heavily. Aliana put down the goblet and took up a new cloth, dipping it in water and dabbing at William's brow once again. Her eyes were heavy, her arm heavier still from constant suspension.
"You don't..." William started, swallowing and trying again. "You do not...have...to stay."
"I know," Aliana affirmed, touching the cloth to his neck, then his collarbone as she felt drops of perspiration slide along her own skin from the heat of the room. "But you are a dear friend to my brother," she said, dipping the cloth in water again and laying it across his brow, "as you are to me."
William looked away from her, staring up at the ceiling as Aliana continued to tend to his fevered skin. She thought, hoped even, that he might sleep; it would be good for him, even if it did not ease any of the pain.
"I do not want you to watch me die."
Aliana looked immediately into William's face, saw the dampness around his already swollen, reddened eyes that betrayed that he had been crying silently. He was still watching the ceiling with a kind of morose resignation that turned Aliana's blood cold.
Aliana placed the cloth down beside the water basin. She reached out to touch the far side of William's face and turn him toward her.
"You will not die," she said seriously, wishing she could believe herself. "You will not."