How to Catch a Cold
He sat at the desk with a thoughtful expression on his face. His shiny black hair swept his shoulders, though tucked behind his ears. His eyes, a deep, stary brown were clear and pensive. He was handsome, quite handsome, which was only brought out the more he mused. Jamie fingered the royal notice once more, wishing that it might have gotten lost on the way to his room. He read again the words he was slowly growing to detest.
Dearest Prince James,
Of course he remembered the past events and his past protests. The royalty of the Southern Kingdoms were the dullest and most boring and entirely uninteresting of all the kingdoms. Events with them consisted of hour upon hour of lifeless silence, with an occasional mention toward the weather or the state of the commoners. And Princess Maphalece was the worst of them all; she was also as homely as an old hag and he had not one bit of interest in her. Especially not when he was scheduled to go out hunting in a fortnight with Ronald and Miranda. Every year he protested to attending these so much that it sickened his parents to no end. But in the end, he was forced into attendance based on his position while his younger brother was never missed for skipping out after the initial reception. But Polluck got away with everything.
Jamie rapped his fingers on the top of the desk. Yes, a cold seemed the only way to get out of this. While his father was quite strict, he was not about to have a sniffling son escort the Princess and cough upon her all night. That was a poor impression to be made. While his mother was quite strict, she was not about to have an ailing, feverish son nodding off during dinner when he should be in bed. That was a poor circumstance to be had. Yes, a cold would work quite nicely. Now, all he had to figure out was how exactly to catch one in what was now only three days.
He puzzled through it in his head a few minutes, then collected his cloak and headed out of his room and towards the village. If there were any place that sniffles and sneezes were prominent, it was the village. Besides, it was raining outside and what better a way to catch cold than a nice walk in the winter rain?
He kept the hood of his cloak down as he walked out from the castle, letting the cold rain fall upon him. This grew to be a chore, however, as he walked through the streets for, even out of royal garb, everyone about bowed to the ground at his approach. It was tedious and there was no way to get easily close to others in this manor, so he let his hood fill with water, then plunged the whole thing over his head. He shivered as water drenched him, soaking into his robes, cooling his back and chilling him. He would have to be careful in this, he realized. For if he grew more feverish than sneezey he faced the chance of being bled and that was wholly unpleasant. He shivered just to think of the possibility. No, a simple cold, a sniffle or two in the nose, was perfect.
First stop were the statues on the close side of the village in the gardens. They stood tall and regal even as all the plants around were sleeping until the spring. People stood around each one of their ugly facades, some leaving presents to ask the healing of their friends and family. Jamie on the other hand, had a few coins for the very opposite. He waited for an audience with one of the more repulsive of the statues, Phlegm. He was a while marble concoction carves with bubbling skin and stringy, runny hair; quite dreadful if Jamie did say so himself. He remembered when his grandsire had had them commissioned for the gardens in the first place to compete with tales of similar statues in neighboring kingdoms; for a boy of three, they had scared him to death, especially the two Biles. But now they were rather humorous… for humours. Not that he really believed in their powers, but he needed all the help he could get. He left the coins in a small silken pouch round the hind side of Phlegm's representation. After all, if donations were left near the front for healing, donations left in the back might be for the opposite. As he did so, he whispered the words, “For a dreadful cold in my nose by the banquet on Veneris dies.” He cast a wary look at Blood's statue and decided to ask, “and only a light fever if any.” He nodded thank you and left with a smile and a few shivers.
While the cold rain was probably doing wonders for his catching of a cold, it did make him feel miserably drenched, with his robes sticking to his royal person in a rather uncomfortable way. He passed the pub suddenly and mused upon going in. He would need to start eating and drinking unhealthily; what better time to start than with a few pints now? He could warm himself then go back out again into the rain. No sense in freezing to death all at once. So he entered in, taking down his hood to look around at a half empty room, then tearing off his clock entirely, allowing the soaking, soggy mess to drop to the ground. He smiled as the barkeeper's apprentice sprinted over to collect his things and offer him a seat by the fire, which he promptly refused. Jamie took a seat at the bar by the door where it was bound to be the draftiest, only then realizing how nice it was to be out of the rain for a few minutes.
“Prince James!” exclaimed the barkeep, leaving his present customer to attend to Jamie. He spoke quickly, amusing Jamie further, “'Ow nice ta 'ave you 'ere! Would't ya rather a chair by'a fire? Ya look drenched. Wat shall I get your majesty?”
“When you are done with your other customers there, you may get me a warm, strong ale.”
He nodded with a half bow, an awkward movement as the man was rather portly. “O' course. But would ya nay rather a fine wine? We 'ave a few wat I'm sure will live up ta yar expectations, Sire.”
“Call me Jamie,” he said with a shiver and a secretive smile. “And I would rather ale, but thank you all the same.”
The ale arrived in moments and Jamie held onto it for warmth as the pub door swung open with a mean gust of wind. In came a figure in dark black, with a tall dark hat, and a cane. He came in, immediately shaking off, and then pulled a large handkerchief from his pocket and gave his pinkish nose a rather strong blow. Jamie observed him out of the corner of his eye, seeing the man's cheeks were as bright as his nose, perhaps too pink for the wind to have colored them as such. No, this man was surely with the sniffles. The man went straight to the fire, as any normal man would, settling into one of the chairs with a sigh.
While the apprentice attended him, Jamie leaned forward to inquire, “Who is that man, my good fellow?”
“Why, that there's Lord Thomasy o' tha outer parts. 'E journeys 'ere a few times each season fer an audience wit tha other nobles o' tha castle. I'm surprised your majesty 'as ne'er befer met 'im.”
Jamie strained his memory. Of course, that's why he looked so familiar. He remembered slouching aside his father's throne as the Lords and Ladies of the outers swore loyalty and left money which went right back into their pockets anyway. But there were so many, and it took so long, it was nearly impossible to remember them all by appearance or name or both. “Thank you,” Jamie said, choosing to forget that the barkeep had not addressed him as Jamie as he'd asked. “I meet so many that I seemed to have forgotten his name. I think I will indeed take my ale by the fire then.”
He crossed over to the warmer side of the pub and chose the chair directly beside the man. “Good day, Lord Thomasy,” he said as regally as possible.
The man, who was with handkerchief in one hand and with a warm hard cider in the other, looked up with a smile which immediately fell. He dropped from the chair to the floor, kneeling with his head bowed. “My liege, good day to you as well!”
Jamie reached out and helped the man back up. “No need for that in such a friendly place as this, my Lord.”
The man smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Sire. How art thou?”
Jamie thought it best not to answer completely truthfully. “I am quite well. And yourself?”
“Fine, fine…” he rubbed viciously at his nose.
“Fine?” Jamie asked with one raised eyebrow.
He blushed and shook his head. “To spare your majesty the details, I've got a nasty case of the sneezes. It's this cold, rainy weather and what not.”
Victory! Jamie did his best not to grin. “Oh, aye? Well, I wish you better health, my Lord.”
The man's face glowed in pleased surprise as he held his handkerchief up over the lower half of his countenance. “Why, thank you for your sentiment, Sire!” He then closed his eyes and pulled back, burying his face in the handkerchief and his head against the side of the chair. “ehhKutchh! ehhKetchoo! ehhKutchoo!” He gave his nose another hearty blow and sighed, keeping his handkerchief up.
“God bless,” Jamie uttered, kindly placing his hand upon the man's arm so that he would lower the cloth while they spoke. “No need for that, my Lord.”
“But,” the man protested, “I do not want you catching—“
“Quite all right,” Jamie interrupted. “I will be fine. Now, tell me how things are with you and your peoples.”
Lord Thomasy launched into great detail on that subject, pausing every few sentences to give his handkerchief some use from sneezes or sniffles or both. “And next week is the annual winter festi… festival… par-don… ehhKetchh! ahhhKurshh! ehhKitchho!”
“And the following week the local school house opens back up for the children before the spring work must be done for… the… fie… ehhhKETchoo! ehhhKushhh!” He looked exhausted and exasperated. “For the fields,” he finished, sniffling with a fabulously runny nose into one of the only mildly dry areas of his handkerchief that was left. He lowered it back to his lap, feeling much better. “I beg your pardon, your majesty. This rotten cold…” another distressed look passed over his face, and his thin, hawkish nose wiggled suddenly, and his chest puffed up with breath, “speaking of… whi… which…” he lifted the handkerchief back up just in time as his eyes closed and his whole body tensed up. “ehhhKufchoo! ehhhKetchoo!” He sniffed and blew his nose again, self-consciously. “Your majesty, I do beg your pardon—“
“No need, sir. I can clearly see your malady is not under your control or in accordance to your will. I only wish you a strong and full recovery.”
With a smile, “Thank you, Sire.” He sniffled and regarded the state of his empty cup. “I fear I most make my way toward the castle presently. Will you be heading there as well?”
Jamie contemplated his plan, then nodded, deciding that the more time spent with this man the better, especially if it involved a trek through the rain and the ever-drafty hallways of the castle. “Aye, I will. Here, let me help you up, my Lord.” He stood and took the man's arm to steady him.
Jamie insisted he pay for both, and Lord Thomasy insisted the same, but Jamie won when the other man went for coins and instead ended up with his handkerchief sneezing several times. After paying the establishment and assembling their garments, they headed back into the cold winter rain. They walked in almost silence for a while, save a few sneezes from Lord Thomasy.
“They say it may very well snow this night!” yelled Lord Thomasy over the whir of the wind.
Jamie's ears perked up at this. “Aye, that would be lovely. It has been a while since—“
“ehhKESHH! uhhKetchh!” Lord Thomasy sneezed freely, unable to withdraw his handkerchief in the rain as they walked briskly. He had one hand on his hat to keep it from blowing away, and the other on his cane to steady himself as he walked and sneezed at the same time.
“God bless!” Jamie said with his observation, and then continued, “It has been a while since our last snow. Though I should hope you would stay with us at the castle than travel back to your Lordship's residence in a snow storm.”
He nodded, not very noticeable as they walked briskly, their heads bobbing. “Under normal circumstances I would be pleased at that offer, thank you my liege. ehh… ehhKietchh! ehhKutchoo! Sniffle, sniffle! But presently I am feeling so poorly that I long for my own bed, whether or not it takes an extra afternoon there by carriage.”
“I am sorry you are feeling so very poorly,” Jamie said as they arrived under the castle's arching entryway. “Please understand my offer to stay as long as is needed stands, even with your ailment.”
He nodded, this time much more evidently as he leaned back against a wall and pulled out his trusty handkerchief for a few blows. “Thank you, your majesty. I do appreciate your kindness, as well as that of your great family's.”
Jamie slipped his gloves off in his cloak pockets. “As we appreciate your loyalty and support, my Lord.” He held out a bare hand for a friendly shake.
Lord Thomasy transferred his handkerchief to the other hand with cane, and shook heartily. “Good day to you, Prince James.”
“Good day and good health to you, Lord Thomasy,” Jamie returned with a benevolent smile. The man continued on toward the reception area for an audience with Jamie's advisors and his parents.
What a nice, respectable man, he was, Jamie noted to himself. He would have to ask Elsha to send a letter of thank you personally. Jamie sighed, looking at his surroundings. Back at the castle once again. What to do now? His body answered his question, making him shiver with wetness as a cold gust of air burst in to their archway and lingered against the cold stone pillars. Jamie laid a hand upon the wall, quickly retracting it to find how cold it was. Jamie grinned as he quickly headed up the three flights of marble stairs barefooted. He walked more and more quickly as he reached his room, both because he was scared to run into someone in the corridors, and because if he walked quickly, the freezing cold marble floors were less cold on the bottoms of his feet.
He ducked into his room, immediately jumping onto his bed, and rubbing the bottoms of his feet warm. He discarded his soaking wet cloak under the blankets of his bed so that it would be dry when he next wanted it, and so his sheets would be slightly wet when he went to bed that night. He was feeling slightly light-headed from the drink, but certainly not drunk. He would, however, need to be over it before meeting his parents for dinner in their chamber that night. And just the same, he slipped socks on to be a little warmer in his wet clothes. What to do until then?
The sound of knocking echoed through his chamber and he darted over to the window, tore it open, and offered a knee and a hand to help his friend climb in. “Good day, Miranda,” he said with a smile as she kissed his cheek and took a seat by the fireplace.
“You're drenched, lad! And your room is so drafty, you're going to catch cold if you don't keep your fire lit.” She piled another few sticks in the fireplace.
“Stop!” he yelled with a laugh, brining a blanket over to her. “No fire right now. Here,” he wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and rubbed her arms up and down to warm her. He pulled her hair off her back and over the blanket, and kissed her cheek, wishing he could do more. “Warmer are you?”
Confused, she nodded. “Don't you have servants to keep this fire lit?”
He nodded. “Aye,” they sat down in chairs across from each other. She was small, especially in comparison to him. But what she lacked in height she made up for in beauty. She had gorgeous green eyes, and wavy brown hair down to her waist. Her cheekbones were high and her cheeks were always as red as her luscious, full lips. It was insulting things to call it love, but denying things to call it anything else. “But I want my room cold today.” He quieted his voice. “Promise not to tell anyone but Ronald?”
Her eyes widened with excitement. Whispering and leaning forward, “is it a great secret?”
Jamie shrugged, leaning forward as well. “It's a secret.” He smiled. “I'm trying to catch a cold in my nose.”
She sat back immediately. “Trying to catch a cold? Jamie, are you mad!” she shrieked.
“Shhhhh!” he hushed her. “Not so loud! Now listen, I have to be at that banquet with the Southern royalty.”
“Oh, not again!” She sighed, going for the fire again. “Every time they come and you get stuck with Princess not-as-beautiful-as-Miranda for a few hours worth of playing dress up and eating expensive foods you try to get out of it.”
“But Miranda, you don't understand how incredibly horrible those dinners can be!”
“You're the eldest prince, Jamie, you're going to have to get used to it. Your parents obviously have.”
Jamie snorted. “I think the only reason they invite the Southern royalty here is to torture me.”
Miranda's eyebrow raised. She had never believed that one.
“All right,” he said with a sigh. “Maybe not the only reason, but it's a happy bonus for them.”
“Jamie…” she said sternly.
“Look,” he interrupted, “I want to go out with you and Ronald that night and I won't be able to if I have to go to this idiotic banquet all evening and night. I have got to catch a cold, Mire… will you help me?”
She sat, thinking for a few minutes, silently, one finger on the side of her face, her soft chin resting on the rest of her fist. Then she finally answered, “This year you might actually have a solution, Jamie. But are you sure you're willing to get sick for—“
“Believe me, I am!”
She nodded. “All right then. What are you trying…” she shivered and brought the blanket tighter around herself. “Aside from freezing in this cold room. Are you not chilly?”
He nodded back with a bright smile, “Aye, I am!”
Laughing. “You're intolerable!”
He nodded, with a charming, prince-like smile. “Aye… but you love me anyway.”
With a soft smile of her own, “Aye, I do.” Miranda looked down at the cold stone floor and his bare feet with another smile. Silence. Then, “My mother always says to never get my hair wet and go out in the cold wind if I don't want to catch cold.”
“Perfect!” he exclaimed, making his way over to the water basin and dunking his head in. “Ah!” he yelped in pain. Drinking wet, shaking with cold, he fell against the wall with his hands over his face. “C-c-o-o-l-d-d!” he shivered, teeth chattering, body shaking.
Miranda rushed over, throwing the blanket around his shoulders and face, and cupping her hands over his hears. “Silly lad!” she cooed as he leaned into her tiny form. “Don't push yourself, ok? That water has been there by the window all day, I'm surprised it isn't ice!”
“P-practically is!” he exclaimed with a laugh. “Thanks.”
She nodded, pulling his hair back away from his face and ringing it out. “With the drafts in this castle, you should have no problem at all, Jamie.”
“Good,” he grinned. “I will finally get my way for once.”
She pulled on her own ragged cloak “I'll stop in again tomorrow with news.” She went up on tip-toes and gave his cool cheek a kiss. “I want you to stay under the blankets for bed tonight; it's dangerous and I want you waking up again tomorrow. But otherwise, Jamie-cakes… don't take care.”
He kissed her back, smiling. “I look forward to your visit tomorrow. Be safe, Love.” He lifted up the window for her to crawl out through and climb down from. As nimble as a kitten and a better climber. He flopped down upon his bed with a sigh, a smile, and a shiver or two. This, he decided, was well worth it.
After breakfast in bed, Jamie dressed and headed down to the village again. The banquet was tomorrow evening, time was running out, and not one sniffle had settled in his nose yet. It had indeed snowed the night before, and not only was the castle freezing, but everything in sight was blanketed by snow. A light snow still fell upon everything, with cold winds drifting it to and from various spots.
Jamie headed out to the humours first, leaving first a small coin offering and an apple from breakfast for Phlegm. He wasn't sure what else he could do but hope against hope in this field. But since things didn't seem to be happening when he tried them, he did hope fate would step in and help.
He then strolled around a bit, enjoying the snow and watching as children ran here and there playing in it. As he passed by a field with a large number of children, one little boy was hit square in the face with a snowball. He laughed but his mother pulled him aside, wiping him off and scolding that if he stayed out much longer and got wet he could catch cold. Perfect!
Jamie quickly grabbed a handful of snow and began to join in the fun with the mixture of children and young adults. He was hit many times, and the cold began to soak through his robes and gloves, numbing his face and hands and especially his feet and legs which were buried in snow as he trudged around throwing snowballs all over. When he was severely hurting from cold, he resigned from the game, walking away with a smile on his wet face. A woman took him by the arm instantly.
“Your majesty,” she said with a rough curtsey that was difficult to do from beneath the bundles of clothing she wore to keep warm and dry. “Tha children 'ave enjoyed this so much. Please, come join me and my family fer some hot drink while ya warm up? Else yer toes and fingers are liable to freeze and we would not want somethin' so terrible fer our prince, aye?”
He was starting to shiver with cold, and when he wiggled his toes he could not feel them. In fact, his ears were paining him quite a lot as well. Thankful for the offer, he quickly agreed and followed the woman and her children down the road to their house. Once inside and out of the cold winds and snow, he tore off his robes, heavy from the wetness. It was taken by the woman, and she curtseyed again politely now that she was out of her coat and free to do so. “Yer majesty, we are 'umbled that ya chose ta accept our offer.”
“With such reasonable arguments and overwhelming hospitality, how could I otherwise?” He was handed a warm, thick blanket, but passed it off by folding it in half and wrapping it around one of the two children. She brought out a few more, pausing to see that the Prince had not accepted the first. “My liege, that is our best blanket fer ya.” The blankets she held in his arms were ratty, full of holes and patches. “These ones will do fine fer us.”
But Jamie would not hear of it. “Nay, my good lady. I will be fine at your fire. You and your children may take the blankets, especially your best.”
“But Prince James—“
“Let it be said that you offered me your very best in the name of your household's hospitality. But this kingdom is my home, and I offer them back to you for all the hard work, love and loyalty that make me who I am.”
The woman blushed, looking down at the floor as she wrapped a blanket around her other child and a shawl around her own shoulders. “My liege, you are truly great.”
He shook his head and took a seat at the center of the table, a seat away from the fire. “Only second to your greatness in kind, my good lady.”
“Ya flatter me, Sire.” She set a mug down in front of him. “Warm wine, my liege. Do enjoy and warm yourself.”
The children settled beside him on either side, and he noticed they were twins. He also noticed they were quite enamored with him, perhaps having never seen royalty before, and certainly never up close and their dinner table. “Sweet children,” he said aloud. “And the father?”
A loud sneeze was sneezed in the adjacent room, and Jamie grinned, despite himself.
“There in yonder room lies my 'usband,” she answered. “Sick wi' the sneezes 'e is. Winter came early fer him I daresay.”
“Laurie?” came a pitiful call from the other room.
The woman blushed as she handed the children warm drinks and set out a plate of small sweet cakes. “Do excuse me,” she whispered and curtseyed again, then hurried to the next room for a few minutes.
They sat in silence a moment before Jamie spoke. “So, how old are you both?”
While he made small talk with them, Jamie attempted to figure out how to continue this train of conversation, with the hopeful result of the husband joining them. Before he got too far, the aforementioned husband actually came into the kitchen. He looked completely miserable. Sunken green eyes, bright red nose, ruffled brown hair tied back in a loose ponytail. He had a handkerchief in one hand, and a cup in the other. The moment he entered, he bowed, low to the ground.
“I ab hodered to sniff, sniff, 'ave you sniff id by 'ouse, sniff, sniff, Pridce Jabes.”
Jamie tried his best not to smile. “No need to bow to me in your own home, Sir. I am grateful you would have me. Come sit by the fire with us in warmth for I daresay you could use some.”
Sniffing constantly, he sat down on the opposite side of the table, setting his cup down thereon. Then he bent to the side and gave his nose a weak honk in his hanky. “By apologies, Pridce Jabes. I… I…” a look of pleading angst crossed his face as his nostrils twitched twice. The sides of his mouth dropped down with his jaw and a tired look of weak fear, the sort towards things beyond one's control, filled his face. As he raised his handkerchief, the two children jumped in their seats, giggling. The girl ducked under the table in play as the boy covered his ears. The husband took a sharp, strong breath in, “HUH!“ his chest puffing up and himself leaning back just a tad. But it didn't stop there. He took in another, “HEHK!” and another, “HUUHH!” each time drawing in more and more breath and the expression on his face growing more and more dire and leaning back just a little bit more until Jamie feared the man's lungs might burst. After the third, he froze for just a second, but long enough to make it truly miserable for him. Then, “ERCHHOOFFF!” he sneezed powerfully, mostly into the handkerchief, his face immediately pulling out again, then forced in again with a quick second, “HUUK-CHEOFFF!” The man, nose buried deep in his handkerchief, gave another blow, a weak, high-pitched honk that seemed terribly out of character in comparison to the mighty sneezes.
Jamie had never seen a man sneeze so violently before, as if it took up his entire being all at once. How dreadful for him. His children seemed more than used it to, however, the boy laughing afterwards and pulling his sister out from beneath the table with a whisper of “'e's all done fer now!”
The mother would have nothing of it. “Now chil'ren, 'old yer tongues. Yer poor da cannot 'elp 'is sneezes now, can 'e?” She turned to her husband, patting his head. “Go'bless.” Then without skipping a beat, “Would you care fer more wine, Prince James?”
He didn't really care for any, especially as the first cup had tasted dreadfully bitter. But the more he drank, the more he might remain in the house and in the presence of another sick man whose ailment would surely rub off on him. Surely. “Bless you, Sir, after those rather mighty sneezes.”
The man, his nose again in the handkerchief for rubbing, sniffled as his cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
Jamie realized at once his wrong footing and sought to make it right. “Growing up, I had an honorary uncle with sneezes not unlike yours,” he lied, “quite tough and noble and burly was he. Indeed, one of the greatest men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.”
For some reason, which Jamie had never completely understood, such stories likening others to dear friends or royalty seemed to make others overly pleased. It was a useful skill, especially when dealing with his subjects. And it worked well, including this time. The man's embarrassment vanished and beaming pride appeared in its place.
As the husband rubbed more at a runny nose, the wife spoke up to spark conversation. “We would all be very eager to 'ear 'o what excitement fills the castle these days. How fare your good parents?”
“Very well, thank you,” Jamie replied around a sweet cake. “There is very little excitement in the castle during the winter, which is why I was able to speak out for a little play this day. A few treaties are being drawn up, and negotiations overseas continue quite as usual.”
They seemed fascinated with him, hanging off his every word; it was certainly not unusual, however, which is why he many times went in disguise around the village. But twice now in two days he had been fortunate to be recognized by two men with bad colds. Sooner or later, his nose would have no choice but to give into a case of the sniffles. And then he would be much excused from the banquet.
“HEKK!” The man started once again, pulling back with a bare hand to his nose and mouth. “HEH-HEHCHISHOO! HUCK-CHESHHHH!”
The children giggled again and were told to leave the table to do their chores by the mother. Politely, Jamie extended his own handkerchief to the man who seemed perplexed by his wet sneezes and his hand which remained in its place. The man took it graciously and quickly rubbed both hand and nose with it as Jamie remarked, “God bless you again.” The man sniffled wetly, then handed the handkerchief back to Jamie before he could do any more damage to a royal handkerchief.
“Thag ye, Pridce Jabes.” He rubbed his hand against the bottom of his nose roughly. “I should thig it best for be t' returd t' bed…”
So soon? But Jamie could see the man was uncomfortable and ailing and certainly did not want to make the man feel worse for his own benefit. “Yes good Sir,” thinking quickly, he stuck his hand out for a shake. “Thank you so much for your kind hospitality. I wish you well soon.”
Hesitantly the man reached out and shook Jamie's hand. “Thag ye.” Snuffling with his hand rubbing again at his nose, he headed back to where he had come from.
Alone in the room with the wife now, he waited for her to turn her back then switched drinks with that of the husband. He took a few sips, then downed the rest of the warm, soothing liquid. If this didn't work, he wasn't sure what would. Jamie thanked the woman again for the warmth, drink and her kindness, then collected his things and was off.
He had no plans this day, and was quickly running out of ideas. Before he knew it, he had traveled through the village already and was back at the castle, upon instinct. He sighed and entered, taking off he wet cloak, covered in snow and hugged it to his chest. Then entered the sitting rooms on the first floor. This was where many of the guests of the castle spent the days in, and where many of the house servants did such tasks as sewing or cleaning or fixing items. And though there were many fires to the room, at the room's edges, the centers of the rooms were always a tad bit nippy.
He sat down in the middle of one such room, shivering with a chill as he put down the cloak which had soaked his front completely. He looked about to see some people reading, some ladies working on cross stitch patterns, and some men playing cards or dice for fun. No one seemed particularly bad off, much to Jamie's disappointment. Perhaps he would simply get a drink and head up to his room for some more brainstorming. He raised a hand and made a soft snap to alert who ever was currently on duty. Suddenly, he had a young woman hanging upon the arm of his chair, curtseying as low as she could without lying upon the ground itself.
Jamie rolled his eyes and sighed. “Hello Laurel.” For as long as Jamie could remember, Laurel had had a strong crush on him. Her mother had been a tutor of his, and she had been allowed to sit in on the lessons as well. She had developed a fondness for him within the hour of first meeting him and was reduced to sweet jelly whenever he spoke to her, but that never stopped her from flocking to him.
The young girl who must have been a good four or five years younger than him looked up at him with sparkling green eyes. “Good afternoon Jamie, er, Prince James.”
He sighed, “Jamie's fine, Laurel.” Seeing as how she was still down in a curtsey, he pulled her up right with a tug on her arm. “How are you today?”
“Oh! I'm wonderful!” she exclaimed with a teenage squeak. Then she twirled around with her back to Jamie. “atchhh! aktchhh!” She turned back around, tucking a smallish, feminine handkerchief away into her pocket. “Excuse me.”
Jamie raised an eyebrow. “Wonderful?”
She nodded. “Certainly. I'm very happy and… oh, you mean my cold? Simple a trifle that has been spreading through the servant quarters. 'Tis naught at all.” She sniffled and turned around again. This time Jamie could hear her blowing on her nose.
When she turned back around, she began with, “Now what can I get—“
But Jamie did not let her ask as he reached his arms up and took her in them, pulling her down on her back into his lap. He bent and kissed her straight on the lips much to the girl's shock. He then twirled her back upright and, taking his cloak with a smile, left for his room, leaving Laurel standing there with a wide grin and a shocked, confused look on her face.
When Jamie got to his room, he put out the fire and opened the window just a bit, enough to let the snow blow in gently, making the room cold and slightly damp. He grabbed a book he was supposed to have finished the day previous and fell upon his bed to read. There was suddenly a knock on the window and he looked up to see Miranda crawling through, followed by Ronald. “Good day,” he said to them as they came in, closing the window tightly behind with a few shivers. After shrugging out of their snow-soaked garments, Miranda plopped herself down on the bed beside him on one side, while Ronald took up the other side.
“How goes your mission?” Ronald asked with a laugh. “Any closer to hunting with us tomorrow night? With snow on the ground it should be delightful to track some of the bigger game. Very fortuitous.”
Jamie sighed. “Sounds marvelous! But I'm still not with the sneezes and I'll still be forced to go to the banquet with the southern royalty.”
“That's what we've come about,” Miranda said, giving Jamie a peck of a kiss on the cheek. “Ronald knows of a lady in the village who may be able to help you.”
Nodding, Ronald explained, “Some call her a gypsy, others a magi, others simply a wise, old medic. She grants wishes and casts spells and heals all sorts of ailments.”
“A sham woman,” Miranda added.
“No she's not! She's for real, and she has the sight. I'm sure she could make you catch cold so you won't have to go to the banquet. My mother's uncle's friend's dog was dying of the shakes and she cured him.”
Miranda snorted. “Oh, that's a good source to believe!”
“Well if you didn't like it why'd you insist we come tell Jamie?”
She shrugged. “It's no worse than his dunking his head in ice water and trying to catch cold in this drafty room.”
Jamie, resting on his elbows, held up his hands. “All right you two. I'll try just about anything at this point.” Actually kissing Laurel had proved that much to him. She was horribly annoying and he'd never done more than act civil to her. He still had a bad taste in his mouth about it. “Where is she and when can I go to her?”
“First thing in the morning through the middle of the day. That's when her load is the lightest.” Ronald laughed. “You really think you'll be able to get out of this banquet with a cold in your nose? Remember when you tried to get out of it because you had learning to do that you should have been doing all week? Not only did you have to go to the banquet but your tutors were quite angry with you for not doing the work you were supposed to be doing.”
Jamie shook his head. “This plan will work, I promise. You don't know my mother.”
Ronald stood up with a stretch, “Jamie, your mother is the queen of the land. Everyone knows your mother.”
He tossed a pillow at Ronald. “You know very well what I mean!”
Miranda gave him another kiss to his cheek. “She lives on twenty-third and Harding streets, right beside the baker's and across from the cobbler. Be safe, Jamie. And good luck.”
Jamie trudged through the fallen snow to the statues of the humours. The way the snow had fallen upon them made them look more funny than scary. This day it was neither raining nor snowing out, but there was a strong, crisp chill in the air that made Jamie feel that he still had a chance. He had woken up that morning with not so much as a tickle in his nose. This morning he left a larger sack of coins for Phlegm along with a good portion of his breakfast that he hadn't intended upon eating anyway.
He traveled to the very edge of town, covered in his cloak so he would not be recognized at all. It had not been bad the days before, but this was not the part of town he should have traveled without escort and for his own safety he preferred to remain anonymous. Thanks to Miranda's directions, he found the place in no time. It was a small room in a bigger building with a sign outside that read “Madam Mystery” He snorted, muttering skeptically beneath his breath. Then ducked inside before anyone could stop him to ask anything of him. The place was dim and dank, with a foul stench that overwhelmed him immediately. He shivered in his cloak, tying the neckpiece tightly so it would cover his nose and below, muffling the smell a bit. From what he could make out, there was a little old man sitting in one corner with a notepad and quill. The rest of the contents of the room were benches and broken chairs, many of which held some shady looking characters. Certainly no one who looked like they were in any way affiliated with Ronald's mother's uncle.
“Name!” yelled the old man in a crackley, wavery voice. “Name, you!” he said, pointing the tip of his quill at Jamie. His thin, crotchety form shook when he yelled; he seemed not the person to have a trifle with.
Jamie's eyebrows raised and he pointed to himself. “Mine, Sir?”
“Yes!” the old man said, rocking on the stool with cackling laughter. “You do have a name, dontcha? Give it here, man!”
Jamie cleared his throat and stepped closer to the man. “Ronald Dawling.” Ronald surely wouldn't mind, would he?
“Good, good. Wasn't so hard now was it?” he said with a laugh, then yelled out loudly, “Take a seat!”
Startled, Jamie sat right down on the nearest available seat, a bench, beside an old woman who had a patch over one eye and a hairless cat lying stiff in her arms. Jamie quickly turned his gaze to the other side, where a midget man was standing on his head, palms on the bottom of his chair, his hat hanging on one of his feet, and with a long moustache hanging down into his eyes. Jamie looked straight forward where there was a dark hallway with strings of shells and beads covering the entrance like a door. Strange sounds came from the hallway, which disturbed Jamie more than anything else he'd seen there thus far. He quickly looked down at his feet, not wanting to see any more. Unfortunately there was a very large spidery bug crawling right over one of his boots and a mouse passing his feet in front just then. The mouse pounced on the spidery bug with a squeak and ripped it in pieces, then left it there in front of Jamie. Laughter sounded from the other side of the room and Jamie looked up to see a pig-nosed, chubby boy oink-ing with laughter at the mouse. The woman beside him gripped him by the neck and whistled and he quickly shut up. Jamie closed his eyes tightly. Oh why had he listened to Ronald and Miranda? This place was perfectly dreadful.
“Scribe!” yelled a strong voice from the hallway and the old man jumped from his stool and hobbled through the beaded curtain don the hall with his little notebook.
Jamie, thinking that man the most normal of the bunch here, debated whether to leave or not before the man's return. Did he really want to catch a cold this badly?
Before Jamie could make a dash for it out the door, the old man hobbled back, chuckling to himself. “Will the one who calls himself Ronald Dawling come with me please?”
The rest of the room groaned, with complaints of “But I was here first!” and “But he doesn't even look in pain and I've got a knife in my arm!” At such calls, Jamie sprang to his feet, more than ready to remove himself from their presence… though incredibly apprehensions as to what was at the end of the hall and what all of the sounds had been. But if anyone could do for him what he needed, he was sure it would be this Madam Mystery. That is, if she were actually there at all. He was led by the old man to a small room that smelt of spices. There were dried flowers hanging from the ceiling, there were shelves of jars with labels like “rabbit fur”, “artichoke hearts” and “bat brains”. There was a great, wide window with curtains on each side, letting a beautiful, bright stream of sunlight in to fill the room in a way quite unlike the dim waiting room. At the end of the room sat a kindly-looking woman who was shriveled but had no less than a wide grin. She smiled and bade him come over with a wave of her hand. The old man chuckled menacingly and left with his hobble sounding back down the dark hallway. Jamie took a seat at the table before the woman, still leaving his cloak on, covering much of his face aside from his eyes.
The woman looked at him a moment, then nodded. “You are not who you claim to be. This is why I sent for you.”
“Because I lied?” he suddenly sounded as scared as he was.
“Nay!” she laughed. “Because you are much more than who you claim to be. You are…” she looked down into a bowl of uncooked rice. “You are royalty. Royalty!” her breath caught with excitement. “Royalty comes to visit old Madam Mystery, hmm? Well, this is a surprise… Prince James.”
He was less surprised as he might have been as he unclipped the scarf part and lowered his hood. “Very good. But do you know why I have come?”
She laughed and nodded. “I will soon enough, young prince. First… you must pay as any other man beneath you.”
He reached into his purse and pulled out a few coins. “There is no man beneath me who is an honorable man.”
She took the first and bit into it with a nod. “Yes, yes… very good. Now…” she took out an over-sized deck of cards. “Do cut the deck.”
With a raised eyebrow, “We are to play cards now?” Just the same, he cut the deck as requested.
“Nay, young prince,” she laughed. “These are a tool. Has your majesty ne'er seen a deck of tarot cards afore?” He shook his head with curiosity as she laid the top card down and made a bit of a “Hrmm,” thinking sound. She put down the next with a nod, and proceeded to the third quickly. Then the forth and fifth and sixth. Then she let out a tremendous laugh, quickly covering her mouth. “Do forgive me, but this is quite absurd. I'm sure it cannot be correct.”
Jamie coughed and ran his hand through his hair. “What do they say?”
“Well, it starts off normal enough. The cards talk about a good event and a bad event and that you are aware of both. Then it speaks of a beautiful girl and a homely one. And then it tells me your main concern is one of health. All of this is normal enough, though I am unsure as to how the three tie together.” She pointed to a the top card of the circle she had laid out, then the rightmost card. “But these two speak of such foolishness instead of making your intentions clear to me. The concern of health is one of bad health and instead of wishing for good health or wishing the bad away, this second card says that before you is the desire to become unhealthy!” she laughed again.
He turned his eyes to the cards. They were colorful beasts with numbers and odd writing on each. How had they managed to capture him so very accurately? They were only cards…”
She gasped, a smile on her face. “So the cards do not lie! I can tell it by your face, Sweet Prince. The cards tell the truth. You wish to be ill?”
Jamie nodded. “Just a small cold. I wish to use that to avoid both unpleasant parts you observed and partake in the two favorable ones. I know 'tis silly…”
“It is not my place to ask why; your affairs are certainly not mine. A fair number in the winter come to rid themselves of coughs and sneezes. 'Tis indeed silly to wish for a cold in your nose, but it is a far easier thing to put one there than remove one.” She flipped out four cards face down, all at once in a line from bottom to up. Then she turned them over one at a time, examining them. “Yes… by this eve you will indeed have a cold. If that is indeed your wish. Are you certain this is what you wish?”
He nodded. “Very certain.”
She sighed, shaking her head. “All right. Then worry not, lad.” She stood, taking up a small pot and crumbling a piece of dried flower into it. Then some powders and spices. She stirred it with a strong grinding spoon, then took a few pinches in the palm of her hand, whispering a few words with a smile. “Close your eyes, Prince James.”
He obeyed, hearing her take a deep breath. Then he felt a face-full of the powder come at him.
“Breathe in just a little.”
He did so, feeling a strong tickle in his nose and throat. He coughed and made a face, opening is eyes to see she had already sat down and was whirring the rice grains together in the bowl. “Yes… very good. It seems you were already on your way, but that should make the cold come before the prescribed time. All looks well. Do be on your way,” she said, pointing to a door that James had not seen there before. He coughed again and sniffled. Then his sinuses seemed to clear completely.
“Thank you, Madam.”
She nodded. “Repeat nothing of what you saw here, and I shall do you the same courtesy.”
“I will. Thank you.” He made his way out, finding himself facing the edge of town and a wide field of snow-covered crops, the sun shining off them and bouncing brightly back to his eyes as if in hope. Quickly, he made his way back to the castle.
“ehhh-tefshhhh!” he sneezed a second time, getting up from his desk to retrieve a good handkerchief from the bureau. He was almost scared that to blow his nose might remove the gorgeous tickle. But he felt a deep pressure at the bridge of his nose that stuffed his nose and made it run at the same time. “ehh-techuhhhh! ehhhKetchuhh!” he sneezed again, his nose in the handkerchief now as his nose was certainly too wet to leave out in the open for its messy dripping. He took a deep breath and blew timidly, just enough. Remarkably, his nose still tickled. “ehh-Katchoo! Chushoo!”
“God bless,” came a sweet voice from behind him and he saw Miranda shutting the window behind her. She, in frills and curls and flows, came to him, her eyes fixed upon his face, her hands behind her back. “Well, I wouldn't have thought it possible, but indeed, you have caught a cold.”
He nodded, giving his nose another soft blow. “By the time of the banquet, I should be at the worst of it. And they will practically beg me not to attend.” He grinned, rubbing a finger beneath a tickling nose. “And then I will be free for the hunt!”
She smiled and kissed two fingers, then pressed them to his cheek. “I wish you luck, Jamie. We will be by this eve for you. Dress warmly for the hunt.”
He nodded. “Thank you Mir… Miranda…” he pulled back, raising the handkerchief as his head tilted back and his mouth opened and his eyes closed. “ehh-Humchoo! EhhHetchooo!” He sniffled strongly and gave a grin.
“God bless you again. I will see you this evening.”
“I shall be here.” Jamie helped her out like the gentleman he was, then went to his closet, rooting through to find a good suit of formal wear. He planned to make every pathetic effort to attend that he could, making it look as if he were unhappy to miss the banquet. By the time he'd washed, brushed hair and teeth, and changed into full dress including his finest pair of boots, he was feeling terrible. He was stuffy and he'd barely been able to get so much as a stocking on without going for his hanky to catch a sneeze. When finally done, he decided it wouldn't hurt at all to take a short nap before getting someone to call his parents to him.
~ * ~
He woke to see the door to his room opening and seeing a maid hold the door for his mother and father to enter. Jamie felt absolutely dreadful, his nose completely stuffed, his nose head cloudy. What time was it? How long had he been asleep? “ehhAhshhhh! Ketchoo!” He sniffled into his handkerchief which he found to be still a little damp. He rubbed his nose on his sleeve in want of something dry and sat up straight to bow to his parents but his head was light and he did not feel strong enough to stand. He bowed, sitting up and coughed into his shoulder. “Mother sniff, sniff, Father.”
The royal parents exchanged looks and his mother went to him, sitting on the bed beside him. “Are you quite all right, son?”
He shook his head and sniffled. “Caught a cold, I believe,” he said, trying to sound as devastated as possible for someone who was overjoyed at the prospect.
She felt his forehead a moment, pulling her hand away as he tilted his head back, breath heaving, mouth opening, eyes closing, handkerchief raising. “ehhKeshhhoo! Chooo! Ahhtcheshhh!” He blew his nose nosily in the handkerchief, noticing that he did not even need to exaggerate how badly it sounded.
“G'bless you,” she said, pulling the comforter off his bed and wrapping it around his shoulders. “Seems you have caught a bit of a cold.”
His father nodded. “Well, you needn't worry about the banquet this eve.”
He looked up. “Because I'm sick? Sniff, sniff! I can still go…” he started to protest.
But his father shook his head. “Nay, because the southern royalty are not coming. They sent a messenger who arrived an hour ago to tell that the king is ill with a cold and work has backed up. I've sent our best wishes of course and suggested they return in a fortnight for another banquet. So it seems you are quite lucky that you get sick now and not later.”
Trying not to look both shocked and devastated, Jamie's sneezes quickly covered up any one of his reactions, “ekkTeshhh! EhhhAhchoo! Ketchhho!” he sniffled and rubbed his nose on his sleeve. The maid retrieved a clean handkerchief for him from his drawers and delivered it with a small curtsey when he choked out a weak, “thag you,” before coughing.
“We should let you rest. Do change out of your good clothes, son,” said the Queen, giving him a kiss on his forehead. “We will come to see you tomorrow morning to see how you are faring. Feel better.” The King returned the sentiments with a strong, affirmative nod.
And with that, his parents were gone. Jamie fell back on his bed, sniffling like crazy into the new handkerchief. “ehhhKetchooo! ehhhahshhhh! ehhTechooo!”
“Come now,” said the maid, easing off his boots for him. “Get thee changed and under the warm covers. I'll bring you tea and have a fire built for you and heat a brick for your feet.”
Jamie wasn't in the mood to change but the determined look the main was giving him made him think otherwise. He started to unbutton.
“You don't want this cold to get worse do you?”
He shook his head; stripping down with the shivers and pulling on warm sleep clothing. Jamie lay down in bed, his head sinking into the great feather pillows as the maid pulled the covers up over his body. He sniffled and buried his nose in the handkerchief again. “ehhKetchooo! EhhhChishhooo! ahtchuhhh!” He leaned over and spat into the chamber pot.
The maid brought a small stack of handkerchiefs over, resting them beside Jamie in bed. “There you are. Rest up, now.”
She didn't have to tell him twice as his heavy eyelids fell closed.
~ * ~
It was so late at night that it was already very early the next morning. Jamie lay in a bad dream-lain sleep as the two stumbled through his window with dark cloaks about them. The noise woke Jamie up and he sat up, sniffling and looking around as his eyes adjusted to the dark. “Rodald? Birada?”
There was laughing. “Nope, Ronald and Miranda. Are you ready to go?”
He reached over and lit the candle by his bed and light filled the chamber. Then he reached over to get a handkerchief for “ehhKetchoo! Ahsheshhhh!”
“Well, God Bless You!” Miranda exclaimed, walking closer to him. “You look perfectly dreadful, Jamie!”
He nodded, falling back in bed. “I feel berfectly dreadful. Sniff, sniff!”
Ronald spoke up, “But you got out of the banquet!”
He shook his head wearily. “It was cadcelled and rescheduled. So I'll have to cub ub with adother blan for… for… fuh…uhhhEHChhooo! uhhhChishhh!” he snuffled into the handkerchief.
“But…” Ronald continued. “You're coming tonight aren'tcha?”
“Ronald!” Miranda punched his arm. “Can't you see he's miserably sick? He can't come hunting! He'd catch his death in this cold. And he'd frighten off everything in the forest with one of those sneezes.”
“ehhhHeshhh! Ihhhchishhh!” he sneezed miserably, turning his face into his pillow, a bit embarrassed at his state.
“Ronald,” she hissed, “Go down and guard the equipment. I'll see him to sleep and be down right directly.”
He nodded, waving to Jamie. “Feel better, then.”
Jamie, face still in his pillow, groaned.
Miranda sat down on the bed, running her hand through his hair. “I thought something like this might happen. You poor baby. Will you be all right?” She eased his face back to look at her.
He nodded, sniffling. “I… ehhhHESHooo! IhhhTechshooo!” He blew his nose. “I did't wadt to biss the hudt.”
“Shhhh, I know,” she said, softly running her fingers up and down the sides of his face. “But you cannot go. You've caught a bad cold in your nose and it's not right for you to leave your sick bed until you're well again.”
“I… I cad go…” he struggled, but she shook her head.
“Nay, I do not wish you to get any worse. We'll go hunting again before this season is ended I daresay. The full moon will be back before you know it and you will bring home a magical white stag, hmmm?”
His eyes were slowly closing.
Miranda took a clean handkerchief and wiped his nose for him, then rested her hand on his stomach. “You will have the respect of the whole kingdom for its catch and they will mount the head in the great hall over the thrones to protect your parents. And when you become king, it will protect you and your queen.”
He gave a weak smile. “You will be by queed.”
She nodded. “Aye, and then there will be feasts at every full moon for royals and villagers alike where the poor will be fed and warm and all will rejoice in your kindness and skill, my liege.” She kissed her two fingers and touched them gently to his lips. “Feel better, my Love.”
Jamie was fast sleep with tiny snorts of snores as he took in each breath. Miranda blew out the candle and found her way through the room in the dark, then climbed out the window to join Ronald.