Four pairs of silver goblets materialized before the seat at the head of the table, begging investigation. The five approached, each reaching for a chair. But when Hans, who stood along one side, tried to pull out his chair, it would not move. Andy experienced the same problem at the head of the table.
“I guess I’m supposed to sit there,” Hans deduced.
The healer wrung his hands as he and Andy exchanged positions.
Once seated before the drinking vessels, Hans swallowed hard as he reached for the first pair. He drew one then the other under his nose and sniffed, repeating the process twice before looking up. He furrowed his brow and explained, “It seems I’m to identify which cup bears poison within each pair.” He held up the goblet on the right of the first pair. “This one is water.” Nodding at the other he added, “And this one is hemlock.”
“How do you know?” Hannah inquired.
“The smell. It’s rather disagreeable.”
He set the cup down and exhaled, then glanced around the table. “I’ve always feared I might accidentally hurt a patient and be unable to save them.” He shook his head slowly. “Based upon the fact that there are four pairs of goblets and four of you…”
Everyone inhaled sharply and exchanged looks, reluctant to accept what the healer postulated.
“We trust you, Hans,” Hannah interrupted the silence.
The other three looked to the healer and slowly nodded.
“Thank you. While I appreciate the sentiment, I think your confidence in me is greater than mine, at least in the field of poisons. He blew out a series of short breaths. Without warning, the goblet Hans had identified as water began to slide across the table of its own accord.
“What?” Andy stammered.
Hans began rubbing his brow, Yara drew a hand to her chest, and Alden’s mouth fell open. Hannah covered her mouth with both hands as the vessel stopped before her.
“I guess we’re going to see just how much you trust Hans,” Yara observed, receiving a scowl from Hannah.
With shaking hands, the maiden grasped the cup. She glanced around the table, then squeaked, “Okay, here goes.” Bringing the goblet to her lips, she took a sip, then closed her eyes for several seconds. She took another drink, then another, finally allowing a smile to crawl across her face. “Hans is right. It’s water.”
A collective exhale emanated around the table.
“One down, three to go,” Hans murmured, drawing everyone’s attention back.
The healer pulled the second set before him and took a whiff of the chalice on the left. After sniffing the pair several times, Hans sighed. “I believe there’s a trace of belladonna in this one,” he declared, giving a half smile.
As before, the goblet identified as non-toxic slid down the table. It stopped in front of Alden this time. The Cartesian reached for it, held it up, and looked back to Hans for reassurance.
The healer nodded. “This one was harder to tell, but I’m nearly certain I’m right.”
Alden brought the drink up, then tipped his head back and emptied it, setting it down with a sigh. “Water.”
“Halfway there,” Andy encouraged, to which Hans nodded.
Hans brought the third set close, then picked up the cup on the right and ran it under his nose. He did the same with the other. After repeating the procedure four times, with the furrow on his brow growing deeper each pass, he scratched his head and pushed back. Several cleansing snorts later he again approached his test. Andy, Yara, and Alden shifted in their seats. Hannah bit her lip.
“I think I detect the slightest semisweet musky odor in this one.” Hans held up the left chalice. “I believe it’s foxglove.”
The other slid over to Yara who scrutinized it with wide eyes. “You’re sure?”
“As sure as I’ll ever be.”
The princess exhaled, staring the vessel down. She extended a shaking hand and grasped it around the stem, then circled the table with pleading eyes.
“You’re the only one who can drink it, Princess,” Hans affirmed.
“But you weren’t sure.”
“I’m fairly certain.”
“Just drink it,” Hannah admonished.
Yara directed a scowl toward her traveling companion, then took a calming breath. She closed her eyes, brought the goblet to her lips, and took a tentative sip. Seconds later she set the vessel down and stared at it.
“Well?” Alden queried.
“If it was poisonous she’d be convulsing,” Hans informed.
“You okay, Yara?” Andy asked, a concerned tone coloring his words.
The princess gave a timid nod as she continued staring at the goblet.
“Let’s finish this diabolical trial,” Hans growled.
Andy followed the healer’s every move, a foreboding rumble ricocheting inside his stomach. Hans again sniffed both vessels numerous times, shaking his head and clenching his jaw.
It’s taking him longer this time.
“I don’t know! I can’t tell!” Hans finally exclaimed, bringing a fist down sharply on the table. The healer took several breaths and began rubbing one arm against the other.
The kids all stared. Andy wanted to say something, but what?
“I’ve failed,” Hans moaned. He shook his head. “It’s my worst fear come true. I’m supposed to be a healer, yet I have no idea which one will kill.”
Andy locked eyes with him. “You’re a good healer. Remember when Alden was poisoned by that dart? You figured out the antidote. And you’ve fixed me up plenty of times.”
The healer tilted his head, contemplating. “But what good is it if I poison you, Andy?” Hans gave a heavy sigh.
“Take your best guess.”
“That’s not good enough! I won’t risk killing you!”
“Maybe part of this test is to get beyond your worst fear and believe in yourself.”
Hans considered that.
“I trust you, Hans. I know you would never hurt me on purpose. Follow your gut. The ring can’t be fixed if you don’t choose.”
“You’re willing to sacrifice yourself?”
“If it means the ring can be fixed so the healers of Cromlech can again do their work, yes.”
Hans returned his gaze to the vessels and nodded. Sniffing both once more, he held up the one on the right and declared, “This is the one with poison.”
The left goblet slid before Andy. Without hesitating, he grabbed it, brought it to his lips, and downed the contents. Everyone held their breath. Seconds passed, then minutes.
“I feel fine.” Andy moved to stand, then crumpled to the floor, eyes wide.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish