The Mistress paced the room as the King moaned and stirred in his bed. 'Where is that damn
wizard?' she thought irritably, her patience thoroughly tried. She gave the King a worried glance
from the corner of her eye, noting how pale his skin was. The King had been bedridden for five
whole days, his condition not worsening nor improving.

On the second day of his illness the Mistress had sent for the only local healer she knew,
who had been kept imprisoned in the castle's dungeon for fraud. To her dismay, the guards had
reported that the healer appeared to have died several weeks ago from starvation. The Mistress had
then decided to send a messenger over the Hattese Mountains to tell Krandell, a widely known
magician, of the King's sickness. The messenger had come back not a day ago and said that the
wizard was well on his way. The Mistress, knowing better than her naive messenger, suspected
that the wizard would stall as much as possible since an opportunity such as this could be quite
fickle. If he did successfully heal the King he would be rich and famous; if he failed, though, and
the King died, he would probably be tried and executed. 'I'd make sure of that' the Mistress
thought, scowling.

'I'll just have to wait' the Mistress sighed. She took a soft washcloth from a shallow clay
bowl of steaming hot water and starred at it, thinking. She slowly wringed it unconsciously out of
nervousness as she turned to Gravador, her most trusted servant, "Here," she said, placing the now
lukewarm rag in his hands, "I'll be in the southern spire. If Krandell shows up or you need me for
some reason just knock on the door," she called hurriedly, starting off down the hall.

The Mistress made her way through the castle's maze of halls and stopped finally at a
small, narrow door, taking a skeleton key out of her skirt pocket. Carefully, she stuck it in the
keyhole and turned it to the right, making an awful, grating noise. She pulled it out and scratched
off the flakes of rust on it. Slowly she pushed the door open, which creaked like an old man's
back, and walked in quietly, shutting the door behind her. She pinched her skirt and lifted it a
couple inches off the ground to keep her from tripping over it. Sweeping gracefully up the
spiraling stairs of stone and mortar she glanced out a window that had been carved out of the
tower's wall. She could see the afternoon sun dipping low on the horizon. 'That idiot wizard. He
should've been here by now' shaking her head in disgust she continued up the steps. She came to a
door at the head of the stairs just like the one downstairs except this door had quite a few locks on
it. Using the skeleton key for all of the locks she went through and shut the door softly behind her.
This time she made sure the door was locked behind her. With a sigh of relief she turned towards a
table against the wall that had a beautiful green-tinted mirror above it. On the table there were
several ceramic bowls. She took one with a light blue powder in it and pinched some of it into a
much smaller bowl. Then, picking up a second bowl, she carefully poured a small amount of palm
oil into the small bowl too. Taking a seat on a beautiful blue velvet cushion next to the only
window in the room that on looked part of a rather small village, she found a pestle and began
mixing and mashing the powder and oil together until it was completely smooth with no grainy
texture. Satisfied, the Mistress returned to the table and began to rub the mixture onto her lips,
giving them a glossy blue look.

"If Krandell's going to be late then I might as well freshen up," She muttered to herself out
loud as she washed the rest of the mixture off her fingers in another bowl that had some water in
it.

She then took some powder out of the large bowl and rubbed it on her eyelids and next to
her eyes like eye shadow, giving her a very cat-like look. She smiled, feeling satisfied, and walked
over to the mirror, posing in front of it, making sure her face looked just right. She then undid her
hair, which had been in a bun all day, and let it fall to her shoulders. Opening a drawer with
various hygienic tools in it, she pulled out an ivory comb with abstract patterns carved into it.
Carefully, she worked out all the knots in her raven black hair until it shined from the fading light
hitting it. Noticing that the sun was almost below the horizon she took a scented taper out of
another, larger drawer and set it in a bronze candleholder. She leaned over and concentrated on
the image of a dancing flame in her mind. Suddenly, the candle's wick simply went up in fire,
burning wildly at first and then settling down, its light reflecting in the Mistress's dark, fierce green
eyes. Inhaling deeply she sat on her cushion, gazing out the window. The last few rays of the sun
were casting themselves upon the bellies of the clouds above, turning the sky a pinkish-orange.
Breathing in the perfume of the candle, she returned to her troubled thoughts.

'Oh, everything's just happening too fast. It's all just crashing in around me! And to think
the entire court had been celebrating my twentieth birthday only a week ago! The King had looked
so happy, practically drinking wine like it was water. How could he get sick? And so quickly? Oh,
its just too much...' the Mistress played with her hair nervously, her face stricken. She was the
youngest mistress in the castle's history, having sworn her life and loyalty to the King when she
was only eighteen. Her job was to take care of the King and to defend him at all costs. She had
even worked as an assassin to dispose of the King's political enemies. She had always known that
the King had chosen her as the Mistress because of her ruthlessness, fierceness, and her ability to
make quick decisions. But now she was not sure what to do, the only thing she *did* know was
that she had to cure the King at all costs. 'Yes, I must uphold my honor and my oath, no matter
what' she thought, so focused that her staring eyes practically burnt holes in the wall in front of
her.

A sudden bout of incessant knocks at the door snapped her out of her thoughts. She pulled
the skeleton key out of her pocket as quickly as she could and unlocked the door. Standing in front
of her was Gravador, looking slightly flustered. He arched his eyebrows, a look of concern mixed
with apprehension on his face.

"Just following orders, Mistress, I did not mean to disturb you."

The Mistress blinked, confused at first, then realized she must have been scowling again,
"Report!" she demanded.

"Yes, Mistress. Krandell just arrived several minutes ago and he would like to talk with
you. He also had a large amount of luggage; do you know what should be done with it?"

"Mmmmm... Prepare a room for him and throw the rubbish in there."

"Uh...also, should I have the chef prepare him a meal? He *would* be quite hungry from
such a long journey like his."

"Certainly not! If he's hungry that's just too bad, the King needs to be inspected right away
and I can't have that pig drooling everywhere and stuffing his mouth while the King lies dying in
his bed!" the Mistress spit on the floor and rubbed it in with the toe of her shoe.

Gravador stared at the Mistress, who looked like she was ready to strangle someone,
'Perhaps I should give that wizard a word of warning before he meets with the Mistress; I fear if
his tongue slips she might rip it out,' Gravador gulped. The Mistress was not someone to annoy.

"Well? Get to it!" The Mistress's eyes flashed with anger as she exhaled through her nose
and shook her head in exasperation.

"Very well, Mistress," Gravador shivered in fear and bowed, then scampered off down the
stairs as quickly as he could run, the Mistress close behind him.