Jeffery was enjoying his new borrowed book. One of the guards from Catali was an avid reader and he and Jeffery, who had gotten bored with all the non-fictional books in the library, decided to share their meager supply of fictional books with each other. This one was actually quite fascinating, with the philosophical innuendos and clever plot twists. He was just getting to an exciting part as he absent mindedly mashed herbs for Charlie in the morning when Alex and Michael walked into their shared bedroom.

"Why aren't you with Charlie?" Alex demanded when he saw Jeffery reading on his bed.

"The King is with her. He knows as much as I do about healing Charlie. She'll be fine," he replied, glancing up. "Did you bring me dinner?"

Michael threw him a small parcel and Jeffery gleefully unwrapped the still warm stuffed bun, meat patties, and flask of hot tea with a pastry. "Cook sends his regards and that he wants his herbs back."

"Hmm," Jeffery mumbled around his mouthful of stuffed bun. The other two laughed and sat down on their beds. Suddenly, as Jeffery was about to take his first bite of meat patty, the door slammed open. Max was there, eyes wide and frightened.

"Something happened," was all he had to say and the three lurched to their feet. Max stepped aside to let them pass and they could see Westley sitting on the bed, shaking Charlie. But the girl, usually so easy to wake, was limp, totally unresponsive. As Jeffery approached, the King turned a stricken face toward them.

"She won't wake up." His voice was full of raw emotion. Jeffery took his place on the bed and felt for a pulse on her wrist. It was there, steady but faint. Taking a peek at her eyes, he saw that the pupils dilated normally. Her breathing was fine and her vitals were all in working order. Jeffery sat down onto the chair next to the bed, thinking.

"Call in the healers," he said absently. "This is no symptom of any sickness I know of."

For the next few hours, healers came and went, testing this and that. But finally, after taking a sample of her blood, it was Jeffery who found the reason behind Charlie's stupor. His shout of euphoria brought everyone's attention.

"What is it?" Olly asked, hope riddling his voice. But it was a long moment before Jeffery answered as he understood the depth of his discovery. The change in his face as he realized what his findings meant was clear and the five Argellas brothers felt their hearts respond with fear.

"It's-" Jeffery began to say and then the door to the room opened. A guard poked his head in.

"Sire, finally!" He walked in and bowed to Westley. "We found one of the servants snooping around the food supply. He was searched and we found this." He pulled out a cloth parcel and held it out. "It's tenek. He is currently being detained in the cells below."

"Thank you, Corporal." Westley smiled tightly and the guard bowed his way out. The King quickly returned to Jeffery. "What is it?"

"Tenek." Jeffery's eyes were wide and fearful. "She's been poisoned with tenek."

"That man is going to be sorry he ever thought of the house of Argellas." Olly's growl reverberated through the air like a whip. Gary and Max answered with growls of their own.

"Since the princess has been poisoned, it would be best if we could begin the treatment right away," The Head Healer murmured respectfully.

"What are the effects of tenek?" Henry's cool scholarly voice spoke before any one made any move to do as the healer asked. The man looked away. Henry turned his icy blue gold eyes onto Jeffery. He too looked away.

"It drives the victim insane before it begins a long painful death, milord. No one has ever survived."

"We'll just have to change that then." Henry drew himself up to full height, which was rather impressive. "Begin the treatment immediately." Then he turned to his cold eyes onto his brothers. "We have a traitor to deal with."

"Let us come with you." Surprised, the Argellas turned to the three guards whose eyes were suddenly hard. But that was not the reason that shocked them. It was the fact the Michael, who hardly ever talked, was the one who spoke. "Let us come with you," he said again. "We have a right."

The royals exchanged glances before looking at Westley. He and Michael locked eyes for a long moment before Westley nodded slowly.

"They have the right."

The eight of them made their way down to the prison cells which, like the rest of the castle, were well maintained. Two guards stood before the first door, waiting for the King. When they saw Westley, along with the others, they bowed with wide eyes. The senior guard, an older man named James, was the first to speak.

"Sire, are you all here to see the prisoner?" He asked, shock barely contained in his voice.

"That traitor poisoned the princess. This is mild to what he's going to get." Westley very nearly growled. "Now, if you please."

At the news, James' face hardened. He had been at the palace in Latika when it was attacked and been serving the Argellas family loyally since. To hear that one of them had been caused distress was unforgivable to him. "Of course, majesty." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring of keys that he handed to Westley. "Give him a beating from me."

Westley gripped the man's shoulder in quiet thanks and turned to open the door. It swung wide to reveal a man, about middle aged with dark brown hair. His face was gaunt and slightly wrinkled with skin that was worn from too much sun set on a square jaw and broad forehead. He looked up with cold green eyes and started slightly when he saw all eight of them file into the small cell.

Imprisonment didn't seem to inconvenience him at all. He was not restrained in anyway and in fact he was seated quite comfortably on a firm wooden bench. There was a moment of silence before Gary spoke.

"What's your name?" He snapped out quickly, turning to his army training for the interrogation. When no answer was forthcoming, he took a step forward. "Answer me," he snarled, showing teeth.

The man looked away from Gary. "Vernen, milord. Vernen Handolf."

"More like traitor," Micheal said unabashed, and spit on the ground in front of Vernen. Vernen simply looked at him coolly.

"Well then, traitor," Henry spoke up, his cool scholar voice oddly chilled. "You have broken a law. Are you aware of what law that is?"

"Yes, I have poisoned a royal person." Suddenly, his otherwise blank face morphed into a sneer. "Deserves it anyways."

None of them could have stopped it, Max moved so fast. He punched Vernen twice in the ribs before Olly and Gary managed to pull him back. Max let them, shaking in their grip. Vernen, bent over onto his knees, kept going. "Gotta get rid of the weak. Can't afford to take care of them, abominations."

This time, Olly and Gary managed to hold Max back. Westley placed a hand on Max's chest. "Steady," he murmured. "He'll pay for it, don't worry."

Max visibly restrained himself and nodded to Westley with unreadable eyes as the king turned back to the prisoner.

"I may not hold him back a second time," he told Vernen warningly. "What you say now determines your fate. Were I you, I would watch what you say. You've made some pretty powerful people very angry." He jerked his head back, indicating the seven men standing behind him. Vernen glanced at them and back at Westley. Then very deliberately, he leaned forward and spit on the ground.

"I hope you're prepared to die for what you believe in, traitor," Alex said ominously. "For all your talk, you don't seem to understand exactly how stupid what you have done is. Did you know there are three countries here, to make an alliance with Gellas? That they seek to support us and our interests? They have their envoys here. You have just made yourself an enemy of three of the most powerful countries on this side of the world." Alex leaned forward, arms crossed over his chest, in such a nonchalant manner. "Think on that as you rot here, a man, once free now more chained then prisoner on his way to the gallows."

"Now," Westley joined into the conversation and sat down on the chair he pulled up from the corner. Recognizing the cue, Olly and Max began to make their way toward Vernen. His eyes began to shift from Westley to Olly to Max and then back to Westley again, not knowing who to watch. "We have to intrude on your humble abode for a little longer." Westley smiled falsely. "Hope you don't mind."

Alex reached out and closed the door but not before the first stirrings of a tortured scream made themselves known in the hallways of the castle.

There was something lurking in the depths of the blackness like an omnipotent presence just waiting for a moment of idleness. Charlie could tell it wasn't a good presence though. She didn't know how or why, but she just knew.

In the moment of thought, it lunged in with a flare of pain and as she defended herself, it retreated, only to return the moment she let her guard down.

She lost all sense of time. She could have been in this blackness for years or only a moment. All she knew was the pain and her struggle to hide from it.

Then suddenly, she was opening her eyes in her room. It was shrouded in darkness and for once, there was no one sleeping beside her or somewhere near her during a bout of sickness. She didn't remember what had happened only that she had this insane urge to throw up. But there was no pot nearby. It sat on the table of herbs and medcines, just out of reach. So she had no choice. Charlie turned over the edge on the other side of the bed and let the torrent of retch come out. Only once that was all gone, she had to cough and the blood in her lungs began to come out. Soon she was coughing so hard that blood was dribbling down the corner of her mouths. She struggled to reach for the flask of medicine that usually stopped the awful coughing but her body was shaking so hard with each that she couldn't bring herself to actually pick it up.

Charlie knew that if she wanted to live, she was going to have to get help though. If she didn't, the blood would clog her airway. A metal bowl was sitting nearby and she thought that if she could manage to throw it against the gong like drum hanging on the wall as a precaution for emergency, someone would hear it and find her. But her fingers refused to cooperate and the blood dribbling between them from her coughs made them slippery and difficult to hold on to anything. With a herculean effort, she managed a hold on the bowl and without waiting to aim, Charlie sent it flying toward the gong. It hit the edge but still made a satisfyingly loud noise.

She waited for Jeffery to jerk his head in but to her surprise, it was Derail of the Keymark envoy and Neil who opened the door. Opening her mouth to ask where Jeffery was, she was caught by a torrent of coughs that left her shaking again. Hurriedly, Neil rushed forward but she gestured toward the flask fervently. He glanced at it, seemed to make a decision and snatched it up. But when he handed it to her, the glass bottle slipped through her fingers. Both of them lunged for it at the same time and smashed heads. The flask shattered on the ground before Derail who was standing close by could catch it.

"Get…Jeff…or…West," she said between coughs. "Quickly!"

Neil nodded and before she could say anything more, he was gone and she was left with the Keymark envoy.

Suddenly, a blooming pain exploded in her chest and her arms collapsed, sending her into the bed. The startled Derail jumped and tried to help her up but her stomach churned and she motioned him out of the way before throwing up the meager contents of her stomach. It seemed like she just kept going, like she was coughing up her intestines. There were black flecks in all the vomit and blood was intermingled with it. Even when the dry heaves came, she still could feel the blood and other things climbing up her esophagus.

Finally, the door flew open and Jeff was there, out of breath as he strode toward her. He saw the shattered flask on the floor and her vomiting over the side of the bed with Derail gently supporting her and holding her hair out of the way. Jeff pulled a ribbon out of a pocket and quickly tied her hair up before taking out an extra flask of the cough stopping medicine that he always kept with him. He helped her drink it through the urge to vomit it back up.

"Gently now," he murmured as he made her lie down. "Easy does it."

"Jeff," she whispered, feeling very weak. He raised an eyebrow, accepting a wet cloth from Derail and using it to wipe the sweat of her face. "Can I ask you a serious question?"

"Of course." He smiled tightly.

"You promise to answer honestly?" She pressed. He was silent for a moment. "Jeff?" She asked and he nodded reluctantly.

"I promise," he said softly.

"I'm going to die, aren't I?" She looked at his face sharply but he turned it away before she could see anything. Getting up, he walked over to where Alex had been mashing herbs the day before. Taking a pinch of this and a touch of that, he mixed them all up in with some water. He brought it back and handed it to Charlie.

"Drink that," he ordered her and she did. They sat in silence for a while before she realized they were alone. Finally, Jeff spoke. "Charlie," he began and stopped before he continued. "You are a very sick person with some pretty powerful people whose interests lie in wanting you alive. But everything they try means nothing if you don't have the will to live." He looked at her now and gripped her hand. "I know it's hard and that sometimes it seems like things aren't going to get better, like now. They will though, and that's what matters."

"So I am." She whispered, her hold on his hand tightening. "How long do you think I have?"

He swallowed hard. "Honestly," he whispered back. "I'd say half a year most, a month at the least."

"Right then." She lay back down. "Can you get me some paper and pens?"

"Charlie," he began, concern written all over his face.

"Jeff," she imitated him and he shut his mouth with an audible snap. Without a word, he turned his back on her and spoke to Neil.

"If you could, I would be much obliged if you would bring the Head Healer here. He can be found in the kitchens at this time." Then he turned to Derail. "It is getting late and I would ask you to bring the head of the servants here, if it's not too much trouble?"

"Not at all," Derail murmured. Jeff followed the two of them out and the door shut resolutely behind them. Only when she could no longer hear anything but silence did Charlie turn her face into her pillows and let loose the sobs she had held in so tightly.