Chapter Two
"Aurelia," sighed Queen Aurorette as the baby suckled against her breast. "My dear, dear one…"

Brynhild was standing near the dressing table arranging the queen's combs and hair pieces. Her customary pitcher of mead waiting to be poured into the goblet she would sip from as soon as the baby fell back asleep. Brynhild waited patiently, her back to the window, but she could hear the clank and clatter of heavy voices in the courtyard below. When she heard Frederick greet one of his soldiers from several windows below, it caused her hands to falter. One of the Queen's jeweled pins fell from her trembling hand and fell against the table with a sharp thud.

The queen looked up at her, "Are you alright?"

"Yes, majesty, my apologies."

Queen Aurorette was not an unkind ruler; had she not come here to marry Frederick, Brynhild may have even grown to like her. However, she had never been able to look on the Queen with anything but civil respect, and duty. "Will you take the Princess please?" The queen handed the baby to Brynhild. At leaving her mother's arms, the baby cried slightly, but Brynhild soothed her gently back into her cradle with well practiced ease.

When the Queen sat at her dressing table she poured the mead herself, taking the cup to her mouth and drinking deeply.

"Will you go down to meal this morning, majesty?" Brynhild asked her.

"No, I don't think so."

Brynhild took the comb from the table and began to brush the Queen's long golden hair. When she was seated and it was unkempt it fell all the way to the floor, which was a custom of royalty amongst her own people.

Brynhild combed and arranged her hair as Aurorette always liked and afterward helped her dress. "Brynhild?" the Queen asked, "What happened to your cheek?"

Instinctively Brynhild brought her hand up to her face, a patch of red had spread against her face and neck from when she fell against the wall the night before.

"What happened?" the Queen asked again, "Did someone strike you?"

Brynhild swallowed a hard lump that had formed in her throat. "No Lady, I was not struck… I was playing a game of Seek and Hide with the young Prince and my skirts tripped me in one of the corridors. It was… very clumsy of me. I'm embarrassed to tell it to you."

The Queen laughed. "No need, I've often fallen with my skirts at fault, most often in the presence of my husband, or his courtiers." She laughed again, and Brynhild joined her awkwardly in the jest. "Brynhild," the Queen went on: "I wish so much that we could be friends. You have always been so distant and formal with me -" Brynhild began to object, but the Queen went on: "Oh, I do not blame you. I don't know what the former queen – my husband's mother – was like, it may have been customary for detachment to exist between she and her handmaid, but I would so much like it for things to be different between us. Everyone always speaks so highly of you. Frederick and the household are so fond of you. I know you and the King were once playfellows, as you and the Prince are now."

"Yes, Lady." Brynhild smiled wide to appease her, and finished the Queen's rope braids. Pinning the coils up against her scalp quickly. "Here is your book of poems, Lady, and I shall have one of the kitchen maids bring up more mead, would there be anything else before I see to my other duties."

"No, that will be all Brynhild, thank you."

When she was free of the Queen's chamber she gasped loudly, feeling like she hadn't taken a breath in several long, agonizing minutes. Her fingers clutched the wall behind her, and her knees shook. Should she do what needed to be done? Could she do it? She steadied her resolve. Frederick's face swimming before her eyes, the phantom touch of his hand against her breast, his voice whispering a soft I love you into her ear. She knew what needed to be done.

She didn't worry about anyone seeing her. The kitchen maids all busy with their preparations The stable boys busily occupied with the care of the mares and stallions of the soldiers who had just returned. The king's favorite horse was pacing in the stable yard, wary from so much sudden inactivity after the long war. The butchers didn't care is she shortened her walk by passing through their shop alley's. Beyond the outskirts of the marketplace the local farmers and yeomen had no idea who she was. When she passed the old soldiers barracks she stole a set of well used leather gloves that had been haphazardly placed on a post outside, careful that no one see her.

The King's forest was a few leagues from the castle, standing dark and foreboding in the foreground of Brynhild's life. Entering it, the brook slithered past her, like a vein cutting through the landscape. She didn't mind that her leather shoes soon grew wet and soggy from the moss and foliage underfoot.

Deep in the forest a certain plant grew that would cure her unhappiness. Her father had taught her where to find it, and how to avoid it. "Never!" he told her: "Touch this plant!"

"But, not even touch it, father?" she had argued, he himself hadn't gone near it at the time, instead he just pointed from afar. Showing her the unique identification of his long pointed leafs, the tiny curls at each end. It mimicked the look of a plant that had already been chewed on by small animals and insects, unassuming to the untrained eye.

"Even the slightest contact with the skin can kill," her father told her, "If ingested then a red rash will appear across the chest, like a star or a handprint and the barer of that mark will die soon afterward. The poison can't be traced, it has all outward signs of disease, but hardly anyone knows about it anymore."

Brynhild knew the old witches used it for noble suicides – if you were too afraid of the sword – in the time of her great-grandfathers. Also that it had often been sewn into blankets and sold to foreign enemies, making those who would use them dead within days. But like her father had told her, hardly anyone knew about it anymore.

When she finally found the deadly plant she unfastened her petticoats and chemise, and pulled on the old leather gloves. Stepping forward carefully, she gathered the roots and leaves up inside her skirts, grabbing and tearing as much as she could quickly, careful not to let the plant touch her skin, or keep it in her gloved hands for long. When she thought she had gathered enough she gathered still more, she would need plenty to boil her potion and carry out her plan.

Later, when she walked back to the castle and found herself alone in her chamber she crushed the leaves with a heavy marble spoon that had once been her father's. Overtime the foliage became as fine as dust.

A mysterious plague, most likely brought back by one of the soldiers fighting in the war, was about to strike the kingdom. By morning, it would begin.