Chapter 103: The Beginning of the End { Part 2 }

“Then shall we begin today’s meeting?” Carina smiled as she met the expectant gaze of Cerberus’s members. ‘With everything that is to come in the next few weeks, I have to ensure they’re prepared to finish their assigned tasks while I’m preoccupied with palace matters.’

“Lord Walter,” Carina turned her gaze to the Lord Principal. “Mr. Frost has successfully procured the two hospitals you listed as being the largest in the capital. He also purchased an abandoned factory inside the slums, which he intends to remodel into a working hospital within the month.”

“Ah?” Lord Walter sat forward and cleared his throat. “I must applaud Mr. Frost for having thought ahead so thoroughly. However, finding physicians willing to work within the slums will be difficult.” He glanced at Lord Tobias, who snorted and nodded his head in agreement. “While it’s true, the slums are usually the worst hit during any widespread illness or plague—this is because of the squalid conditions its residents choose to live.”

“Naturally, we would not expect the noble doctors of your order to lower themselves to such unsavory conditions,” Carina replied without missing a beat. She could hardly expect any noble to enter the slums when the Capital Knights no longer patrolled nor policed the area. “Mr. Frost has already located two promising doctors to take over the slum hospital. He trusts you will offer them whatever aid you can to prepare for the crisis we face.”

“Of course,” Lord Walter murmured with a tight smile. “Though—it will be hard to alleviate the expected death rates in the slums if there is no change to the environment and lifestyle of these vagrants.”

‘In other words, you would prefer not to waste precious medicine on those you consider beneath you. Even if that medicine was purchased and acquired by Frost.’

“That matter is already well in hand,” Carina replied with a benign smile. “Lord Seymour, if you would.”

Seymore lifted a stack of small wooden boxes from the crate behind his chair and passed them out as he circled the table. “This is Mr. Frost’s latest investment, which the Royal Merchant’s Guild has already approved for sale.”

“Is this soap?” Lady Charity exclaimed as she lifted the small pink object covered in delicate rainbow flowers. “It looks almost edible.”

“You are holding one of the prototypes that will be sold to the nobles, Lady Charity,” Lord Seymore explained. “The Crown Prince himself has already put in a special purchase for his—” He stumbled, cleared his throat, and gestured across the table. “Lord Walter has the more basic, practical design that commoners can purchase at one-eighth the cost that nobles will pay.”

“One-eighth?” Lord Walter protested. “Surely Frost will suffer a loss at that price.”

“Not at all,” Lady Ursula said with a chuckle. “Rather, the loss will be compensated by the high price tag the nobles will pay for our cake soaps.”

“How can you be sure they will purchase enough to cover the difference?” Lord Tobias interjected in a dubious tone.

“Lord Walter?” Carina replied as she nodded to the Lord Principal.

Walter rose from his chair and coughed. “Ah, yes, I shall be publishing an article to commend her Highness, the Crown Princess, on becoming an Ambassador for Mr. Frost’s soap stores and promoting the importance of cleanliness.”

“Beauty stores, we’re calling them,” interrupted Lord Seymore with smug satisfaction.

“In the article,” Lord Walter continued with a note of irritation, “Physicians such as Lord Tobias will expound upon the health benefits of regular washing and its relevance to the prevention and spread of illness and disease.”

“The spread of the plague is a little more complicated than that—” Lord Tobias cut off under Walter’s sharp glare.

“The article will also cover the skin and hair benefits of more specialized soaps and conditioners that Frost intends to release in celebration of Holy Saint’s Day,” Lord Walter finished, then glanced towards Carina as he retook his seat.

“Correct, the Crown Princess and her ladies-in-waiting will provide the perfect public campaign to sell these products to the nobles and populace when they stand before the great cathedral,” Carina replied.

“And at the first sign of plague, the nobles will panic and buy it all in bulk,” Lady Charity commented with a smirk of approval.

“We will target the nobles immediately after Lord Walter’s article is published,” Carina continued as she laced her fingers together and leaned against the table. “If rumors happened to spread that even the Crown Prince’s mistress uses our soap, you can expect high sales, even from those who don’t support the Crown Princess.”

‘And the more the rumors about Lady Rosamund circulate, the more pressure placed on Nicholas to either discard his Mistress or consummate his marriage with Eleanora.’

Carina unlocked her fingers and gestured to the royal merchant. “Lord Seymore will manage the shipments to all shops that deal with independent merchants and nobles. Lady Charity will oversee the soaps distribution to the commoners. We also have a large reserve of soap set aside for Lady Ursula to distribute as part of our charity effort to reform the slums before the plague hits. We will keep our identity as the organization behind that charity anonymous. And finally, Lord Austin will handle shipments outside of Lafeara as Frost expands his trade and business to Strugna and Ventrayna.”

“That’s me, charismatic ambassador and purveyor of wealth,” Lord Austin announced as he stood and offered the group a dramatic bow. “Ventrayna presents its own difficulties due to the desert heat and controlled trading routes, but Mr. Frost—our mysterious leader and prophet—has already provided a suitable alternative to at least mitigate any losses due to melting.” He reached into the large leather pack, slung over the back of his chair, and produced two glass bottles colored blue and green.

“Is it already time to start drinking?” joked Lord Seymour.

“Not unless your mouth needs extra cleaning,” Lady Charity replied in a satisfied tone. Lady Ursula snorted and hid a smile behind her fan.

“This is a liquid soap,” replied Austin as he extended one bottle to the royal merchant.

“Liquid?” Lord Walter exclaimed as he attempted to snatch the bottle from Seymour.

“It looks like medicine,” observed Lady Charity as Seymour passed the bottle to her. They both ignored Walter’s indignant scowl as the Lord Principal leaned back into his chair.

“Which is why our craftsmen have clearly labeled the bottle as soap,” Austin replied with a rueful grin. “And why we won’t be selling this product here in Lafeara. Wouldn’t want someone drinking it just because they can’t read.”

“It smells nice enough,” Lady Ursula commented as she passed the bottle to her husband. “What about Strugna?”

“Not much difficulty there.” Austin shrugged as he accepted the bottle from Sir Everly and returned both bottles to his bag. “Though they seem rather keen on meeting Mr. Frost in person.”

“Who isn’t,” Seymore snorted and folded his arms across his chest. “Speaking of in person, Crown Prince Nicholas has put out a royal request to meet our mysterious Patron.”

A silence fell over the small gathering as the members turned their attention to Carina.

“Mr. Frost is unreachable at present,” Carina replied slowly as she clasped her hands together. “But I will relay this information to him at the earliest opportunity. Now, Frost has already put forward the necessary funds to see these products reach wide distribution. Should any issues arise before or after its release, please bring them to Sir Everly’s attention, and he will relay that information to Frost through myself or Frost’s attorney.”

“I also helped designed the cake soap, as you called it,” Sir Everly blurted out, with an awkward smile of pride.

“That explains the flowers,” Lord Seymour joked, though he quickly withered under Ursula’s sharp gaze.

“And what about the new fellow?” Ursula turned her disapproving green eyes to the silent physician beside Lord Walter. “Why is he here?”

“We cannot combat the plague with soap alone,” Carina explained. “Lord Tobias will help our cause by working with Mr. Frost to create a medicine to alleviate the symptoms and cure those infected by the plague.”

“As Lady Aconitum said, we hope to obtain the first victims that come down with the plague—most likely from the slums—and use them to produce a radical treatment known as inoculation or vaccination.”

“You intend to infect people?” Lord Walter protested. “Saint’s Mercy, if the Church catches wind of this—”

“Every bit of Frost’s predictions and this organization’s activities is condemnable in the eyes of the church,” Tobias interrupted with a dismissive wave. “The Pope and his cardinals still preach that all plagues and sickness originate from witchcraft. Even doctors must be careful how we go about treating illnesses, or we may end up being labeled witches—like my unfortunate master.”

“Inoculation was the act of heresy that got your master burned at the stake,” Walter replied with a shake of his head. “The church has no interest in scientific experimentations of any form. Not when they can blame everything on the evils of magic and witches.”

“He’s right,” Ursula commented as the mood in the room became despondent. “I hear the church is already looking for Mr. Frost to test his clairvoyant abilities. I, for one, am not at all surprised he’s gone to ground with that sort of attention on him.”

The room fell silent as the gathered members of Cerberus exchanged nervous glances.

“I do not deny there is risk involved here,” Carina said gravely as she rose from her seat. “Which is why we have taken every precaution to remain anonymous. Should the worst happen, you will shift the blame to Mr. Frost and deny any knowledge of the coming plague.”

“If there is a plague,” Tobias muttered with a wistful sigh.

Carina clenched her jaw and took in a slow breath. She needed Tobias more than any other member in this room because only he understood how to perform the vaccination properly. Tobias had learned the treatment under his Master, who used it to treat a minor disease outbreak some years back.

‘If we can prove on such a large scale that science, not faith, can cure this illness and save lives, then we’ll be one step closer to proving witches aren’t to blame for plagues and other natural catastrophes.’

According to Maura’s memories, Tobias had successfully thwarted the plague by using inoculation—but a quarter of the population had already died, and King Nicholas himself had fallen ill before Tobias was officially granted permission. Then, as now, the Church, the Royal Family, and the Royal Medical Office had been reluctant to permit such an unorthodox method to fight the plague until they were faced with the possibility of the king dying without an heir.

‘At least this time we have the support of the Royal Medical Office, however secretive our alliance.’ Carina sighed and brushed back loose ash-brown hair.

“Mr. Frost hasn’t gotten it wrong yet,” Lord Seymore retorted, breaking the silence as he picked up his pipe and glared at Tobias. “He predicted a tropical storm weeks in advance if you remember.”

“Not to mention his insight into my husband’s family embezzlement that even I had missed,” Lady Charity added with a painful smile. “And Frost has practically funded this entire operation out of pocket. If anyone has taken the larger risk, it is our Patron.”

“I can’t deny the power of his predictions—even if I still find them hard to believe,” Lord Walter admitted reluctantly. “You would have to be mad to throw that kind of capital into preparing for a disease that might not come at all.” He shrugged and stroked his beard thoughtfully. “In either case, what harm could come from spreading the practices of frequent washing and opening a few more hospitals. The slums could certainly benefit from a cleaner environment.”

“The plague will come,” Carina interjected forcefully. “And the death toll will be catastrophic if we do not prepare adequately. All of Mr. Frost’s investments and planning have been directed towards this approaching calamity. If saving thousands of innocents from a faceless enemy is not enough to convince you, then remember the profits you have all gained and still stand to gain from your partnership with Mr. Frost.” She swiveled her gaze from one member to the next as she continued. “You are all well aware of the impact such a plague would wreck upon every Lafearian citizen, our economy, and the security of Lafeara’s borders.”

“Let’s not forget what the last witch plague did to Strugna,” added Lord Austin grimly. “The entire royal family died within a week. If Lafeara were to suffer the same fate, forget paying taxes to the Emperor—Tharyn would invade us the moment the plague loosens its grip.”

The gathered members of Cerberus turned their resolved faces towards Lord Tobias, who chuckled and raised his hands submissively. “No need to worry. Any opportunity to study a disease and practice inoculation is a yes from me, regardless of the circumstances.”

“Then that will conclude today’s meeting,” Carina announced firmly. The members each rose from their seats as she left her chair. “As always, thank you for attending and for your cooperation. If another meeting should become necessary, the time, date, and password will be sent to each of you.” She briefly placed her hand on Sir Everly’s shoulder before she curtsied to the Lords and Ladies before her.

The designer rose and followed as Carina returned to the hallway. Everly unlocked and opened the first door, then shut it behind them as Carina turned to face him.

“This is the finalized design for Holy Saints day,” Carina explained as she held out a sealed envelope. “Also, Lord Austin will be bringing an exotic package to the boutique a few days before the festivities. The contents must be kept alive and secret until after the holiday has passed.”

“Ahh—I’m not good with living things, Lady Aconitum,” Sir Everly said uneasily as he fussed with his laced cuff. “And Ursula can’t even keep a plant alive.”

“Not to worry, a special caretaker will arrive with them. Keep the package and caretaker out of sight until the King and Queen’s coronation.”

“Oh, if it’s hiding and disguising people—” Everly winked as he opened the door that led to the stairwell and a pacing Stitcher “—then I’m your man.”

Back in the carriage, Stitcher pulled off his mask and studied her silently.

“You won’t get any answers staring at me like that,” Carina commented as she closed her eyes, folded her arms, and attempted to find a comfortable spot in the corner of her seat. It was already nearing 2 am, and she had to be up in four hours to attend to the crown princess.

“I’m just curious.”

“You’ve mentioned that already,” she muttered dismissively.

“How do you know Mr. Frost?”

Carina opened her eyes, glanced over at him, and sighed. “One of the guards?”

“Yes, the one that smells of tobacco and fish. A sailor, I presume from his horrible accent.”

‘Austin’s man? I’ll have to bring that up with him next time.’

“So?” Stitcher pressed as he nudged her foot with his boot.

“What would you do if someone told you that your future would end with a horrible death; and then offered you a way to change that future?”

“I’d ignore their words as the ravings of a mad person,” Stitcher replied without hesitation. “It’s more likely they’re trying to manipulate you than anything else.”

“So, you would ignore the warning rather than take the chance to prepare for the worst and change that future?”

Stitcher regarded her with an intrigued frown for a moment. “If you’re referring to Mr. Frost—I suppose if they were someone who was able to predict the future with notable success—then I would at least take some precautions.”

His expression darkened as he leaned back and crossed his arms.

“What are you thinking about?” Carina asked with a bemused smile.

“Just how strange—that Mr. Frost should have such an ability when it belongs to the bloodline of Saints.”

Carina snorted and tapped on the window as they drew up beside the bell tower. “Would you let me know when Ghost returns to Lafeara?”

“Sure—though it might be a while,” Stitcher admitted hesitantly. “In the meantime, get a sheath for that dagger. It has torn a hole in your bag.”

Carina glanced down and muttered as she located the Witch Steel that protruded from the corner of her leather satchel. “Remind your Master to provide an appropriate scabbard when handing out daggers next time.”

“I don’t think he’s in the habit of handing out weapons or gifts of any kind,” Stitcher replied with a faint smile. “Safe journey back, Lady Aconitum.”

“Good night, Lord Hell.”


Feed the Author your comments here!

%d bloggers like this: