Held firm in Lanira's grip, Arinna pressed on, her voice becoming hoarse as she worked to extract and cleanse each and every blackened tendril. Several more long minutes passed. Idira couldn't feel her legs anymore. She clung to the bed's footboard, holding herself steady, scarcely daring to breathe.
Arinna rotated her hands over Myra's torso, searching. Only clear light reflected back. She murmured several brief words and the light faded. The room's shadows sped in to fill the void. Her fingers cramping, Idira let go of the footboard. Pain rushed into her legs. She rubbed them, trying to ease the ache of pins and needles. Arinna slumped to the floor, exhausted. Lanira yanked one of the curtains back. Sunlight streamed in.
VanCleef watched Myra, his expression taut. He stroked her face, tender, whispering words Idira couldn't make out. Her eyelids fluttered open.
He exhaled, shuddering with relief. 'You live,' he murmured. He pulled her into his arms and cradled her against him, protective. 'You live.'
She hung limp in his arms, so weak she could barely blink. His eyes darkened as he looked at her wan complexion, the shadows bruising her eyes. 'What happened to you?'
Arinna stirred, reviving a little at his question. 'She was poisoned.'
'Cowards!' He cursed. 'So they think to attack me through her?' His hold tightened on Myra, continuing in a low voice, 'Blood will be shed for this. Much blood.'
Arinna held up her hand, weary, stopping him. 'She poisoned herself, I assume unwittingly. Look there at the empty wine pitcher by the bed, and the other on the table. She's nothing but skin and bones. The wine overcame her, poisoning her until she fell into the deepest state of unconsciousness, from which there is usually no return. If Lanira had fetched me even five minutes later, Myra would not have survived.' She struggled to her feet, holding onto the back of a chair for support. 'She needs to rest, and she needs food. No more wine, at least for the next week or so.'
VanCleef glanced at the two jugs, then at Lanira, his black-dark eyes filling with accusation.
Lanira paled and shook her head, gabbling, 'She must have sent for the wine after I left. Please, I beg you, I would never have allowed her so much. Master, it is the truth, upon my soul!'
VanCleef looked back down at Myra. 'Did Lanira give you the wine?' he asked, soft.
The slightest shake of her head. VanCleef nodded and kissed her brow, satisfied. He lay her back down and covered her with the blankets.
'Rest my love. I will come to see you again this evening. Think of what you would like. Anything you want of me, you may ask it. I will not deny you. It will be my gift to you for returning to me.'
Her eyelids drifted closed. He watched her for several minutes until she fell into the quiet of sleep. He kissed her brow one last time and left the bed.
He looked at Lanira, his eyes hard. 'You will find out who brought her the wine and send them to me.'
Lanira paled and nodded.
He went through the door, his footsteps retreating down the hall, angry. Lanira stumbled to a chair, her hands trembling as she took hold of it and sank down.
'He's going to kill an innocent person,' she whispered, 'for obeying Myra's request. These people are servants. What else could they have done?'
Arinna reached over and covered Lanira's hand. She glanced over her shoulder to see if Myra was awake. She wasn't.
'If you want to live, you will do as he commands,' Arinna murmured. 'We just have to hang on a little longer. Once King Wrynn overcomes his grief for Tiffin, he will send his men to Westfall. He must. He cannot leave us here, to be tyrannised by a monster who intends harm against the city. The merchants have—'
Out in the hallway someone whistled a slow, menacing tune. Arinna's eyes snapped to the door, startled.
The hairs on the back of her neck rising, Idira pulled the door open wider and peeked out. At the top of the stairs VanCleef looked back. He winked at her before continuing on his way, his dark, horrible tune drifting back, making her flesh crawl. She closed the door and covered her ears.