Coulta kept a careful eye on the celebrations that day and into the night. There was dancing, feasting, and various forms of entertainment involving magic and animals, not to mention the famous dance troupe that had graced the hall before. The troupe performed with all its heart and soul, some members hoping to find royal spouses to complete their fairy tales, others hoping to end up in more well-paying performance positions in the capital.
To Coulta, nothing seemed out of sorts at the castle hall, and he was pleased with the large number of Guardsmen who had been been forced, by an angry Prince Rohan, to celebrate while on duty – and therefore required to remain sober. Rohan was just as strict with himself, as well, wandering the hall and socializing, but always alert. His men were also alert, though they were permitted to dance, eat, and socialize.
Wildas, on the other hand, was getting drunker by the hour. This concerned Coulta, but seeing how he waved aside anyone who spoke to him about it and tried to take his drink away – including Myri – Coulta decided to remain silent and vigilant.
"It's a good thing Myri is a healer," Rohan said quietly to Coulta toward the end of the night. They were both standing across the room from where Wildas was slumped in a cushioned chair with a goblet of wine and Anil, who seemed to be fighting sleep.
"He's going to need it in the morning," Coulta replied, thinking the same thing Rohan had been. "I asked the servants to water it down a few hours ago. I think what he has now is almost completely water. Though, I'm not even sure he'd notice if it really was just water."
Rohan snorted. "I also told them to water it down. And to stop giving him the spiked wine."
Coulta closed his eyes and sighed heavily. "How much of that did he drink?"
What Rohan referred to as "spiked wine" was a type of wine that was fermented with a mixture of herbal solvents that acted as an aphrodisiac. It was used heavily by the wealthy class, because it allowed a person – specifically men, though women found it useful, too – to engage in prolonged love-making with all spouses in quick succession, and often repeatedly. With Myri being so strict with Anil, it would just be the healer and Coulta to satisfy their husband. Coulta, completely sober, just wanted to put the day behind him and go to sleep with his family safe.
"I don't think it's going to matter," Rohan responded. "He'll probably be in a drunken sleep before you get him upstairs."
Coulta hated the thought of having to drag the man to bed, so he changed the subject. "Are you ever going to tell us when your wedding is going to be?" he questioned Rohan.
The prince sighed. "It isn't going to happen. She lost the baby and won't speak to me. Claims it's for the best. She left the Guard to go back to her mother."
Glancing over at the slightly older man, Coulta saw no sorrow in the prince's expression, only resignation. Coulta couldn't help feeling a bit sad for Rohan, forced to watch his brother go on with his happy marriage and growing family. "I'm very sorry," Coulta told him honestly.
Rohan didn't take his eyes from his drunken brother, but he forced a tiny smile. "Such is life."
The celebrations came to a close in the early morning hours, by which point Coulta and Myri needed to enlist Rohan's help carrying Wildas to bed. Servants had replaced his wine with sweetly-flavored water hours before, but that didn't help the fact that he was already very drunk. Anil went ahead and had a night tea already brewing by the time they go to the Grand King's bedchamber. Rohan left his brother in their capable hands, grumbling about foolishness, and Coulta and his wives did their best to make Wildas comfortable. They undressed him and settled him on his side on the edge of the bed, and no sooner had Myri stuck a chamber pot in front of him than he was leaning over it.
When he finished, Wildas pointed an accusatory – shaking – finger at the messy pot and declared, "I... been poi...soned."
Myri shook her head and wiped his face with a damp cloth. "No, I'm quite certain you've only been too deep in you wine cups. I think you drank half the stores of wine in the cellars."
Wildas snorted and fell back against the pillows. "Not... poss'ble."
Myri exchanged the used chamber pot for the clean one from her own room, taking the other to the door and asking the guard outside for a servant to take it away. Coulta helped Anil mix and cool the tea, then sat beside Wildas to help him drink.
"Don't want," Wildas grumbled to his wife. "Poison."
Anil sighed. "No, it's tea. You're going to drink it, or you're going to be feeling much worse than you need to in the morning."
Wildas looked at Coulta, the act of turning his head alone making him sway. "You... 'posed to... pro... tect me."
Coulta nodded. "I am protecting you and caring for you. Come here." He put an arm around Wildas and steadied him as Anil held the cup to his lips. Wildas drank, despite his objections, and managed to keep the concoction down afterward.
"Make me... feel... better," Wildas slurred, looking at Coulta.
Coulta wasn't quite sure if it was a statement or a request, but he stripped out of his fancy party clothing and slipped into the bed with his husband. Wildas smelled like wine, sickness, and the spicy tea he'd just had, but Coulta didn't mind as long as he was helping Wildas. Wildas immediately tried to roll over and kiss Coulta, but Coulta forced him to stay where he was.
"Face that way, in case you need to be sick again," Coulta instructed, and kissed Wildas' bare shoulder, one arm gently thrown over him.
"Love you," Wildas mumbled, then promptly feel asleep.
"I can't handle the smell," Anil declared, having just finished cleaning up after her tea-making. "The wine and the sick and the tea... I think I should stay in my own room for tonight."
Myri gave her a hug and a light kiss. "I'll be here if you need me."
Anil returned her kiss, then told Coulta goodnight. Coulta wished her a good night softly. She then went to the adjoining door of her room and closed the door almost completely.
Myri went to her own room for a moment and returned in a nightdress. She lay down next to Coulta and kissed his cheek. "Wake me if he's sick again," she whispered.
"I will," Coulta replied, giving her a quick kiss before turning back to Wildas. He really hoped Wildas wouldn't be sick too many times in the night.
Wildas woke once in the night, and after Myri exchanged the chamber pots again she and Coulta forced more tea into him. Though his mind seemed a bit clearer, Wildas still dropped off immediately into another heavy sleep after drinking the tea. He woke again an hour after the usual breakfast time, sick again and groaning over his sore head.
"You had better stay in bed today," Myri declared, preparing another round of tea. "You're lucky it's a holiday."
"I need to question the prisoner," Wildas argued weakly.
"I'll do it," Coulta assured him, climbing out of the huge bed. "You can question him when you're recovered. For now, I will."
Wildas sighed and closed his hazel eyes, leaning his head against the pillows. "Just don't kill him yet."
"I won't," Coulta assured him, then went to his own room to change. Dressed in a much simpler black outfit, his daggers tucked into his boots and his black hair tied back, Coulta returned to Wildas' room. Myri had just placed a wet cloth on the Grand King's forehead.
"I thought your tea was supposed to cure this wine sickness," Wildas grumbled to her.
She snorted. "Without it you would be much sicker."
"Not possible," he groaned.
Coulta chuckled and kissed them each; Myri on the lips and Wildas on his stubbled cheek. "I'll return with what I find out," he assured his husband, then left the sick man in their wife's capable hands.
They hadn't spoken much about it, but all four royal spouses feared that the attack on Wildas had come from a previously-unknown faction within their own country that didn't want Wildas to rule. Coulta doubted it was anyone acting on behalf of Dyrai – Emperor Reesh was not likely to send lone assassins when he could strike fear into an entire nation through a show of pure force.
It was therefore a relief to find that the man was quite insane and most likely not working with anyone else. The prisoner was chained up in dungeon cell, with guards stationed outside the door – who had wads of cotton stuffed into their ears. Coulta understood the cotton when he opened the door and woke the prisoner from a sleep thst could not have been comfortable, only to be called a "black-marked demon" and have his ears assaulted by a long stream of rhyming, rhythmic words that made no sense.
The man spewed nonsense to answer every question, and not even brief torture changed that. Coulta finally concluded that the man had attacked out of a sudden burst of wildness, and left the dungeon.
When he returned to Wildas' chambers, the Grand King was still abed, though he looked a bit less dreadful. Anil was sitting next to him on the bed, massaging his forehead.
"Where's Myri?" Coulta asked as he joined his spouses.
Wildas opened his eyes briefly, then relaxed into the massage again. "I told her to make her rounds, checking in with the other healers. She seemed restless, fussing over the two of us. What did you find out?"
Coulta quickly explained the man's madness, noting the grim expression that took the place of Wildas' brief relief, and Anil's deep frown. She stopped her massage and sat listening with her hands over her unborn child.
"You can't execute a sick man," the queen argued. "He didn't know what he was doing."
Wildas sighed and rubbed his unshaven face. "I have to." When Anil tried to argue again, he squeezed her hand. "I won't do it publicly. It will be done tomorrow at dawn, with only a few important witnesses. First, I will have Myri and Shelton both see him and we will make sure they agree with Coulta's assessment. Then I will speak to him, tonight. I will make sure it's not a public spectacle. Death may be a kindness for him, though."
Anil relented and nodded. "I know you have to do it, I suppose. It wouldn't look well on you if you let someone who nearly killed you in front of a few thousand people simply leave. It is kind of you not to subject him to a public execution, though."
And that was why Coulta loved him.
Thank You for Reading!
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