Bolt of Lightning

Counting costs

Nadia watched the Duke and the Grand Treasurer as they stood in front of the dinning room vault. The treasurer was less obsequious to the duke than he had been to her father, but he was also a great deal more respectful. When talking to her father there had always been subtle jabs and innuendo in all his discussions. Her father always was bored and irritated when the treasurer wanted to talk to him. The Duke was interested and attentive.

A bunch of men marched into the Grand Dining room. Their captain spoke briefly to the Duke. The captain gave brief orders to the soldiers who began looking around the room while the captain left.

Nadia gathered up the laundry basket and began walking down the right hand ramp which seemed to lead to the kitchens. Halfway down the ramp she heard voices.

"The orders are we leave the women alone. He wants to get the kingdom set up right as quickly as possible and he doesn't want a lot of angry townsfolk"

"I thought when we signed up that this would be a perk or something."

"Well, if it had gone on longer, it would have. But the jerk and his family are all dead and the new King wants a happy kingdom, so that means we have to behave ourselves. On the plus side, the old guy is dead and we are alive. That is all I was looking forward to."

Nadia paused. And went back up the ramp. She heard the Lord Treasurer talking to the Duke through the shutters.

"I think it is a good idea to mint the copper as well. You should leave the pots and pans alone, but the copper serving dishes are huge. Some of them weigh as much as 30 talents. At 40 marks per talent weight that could be 1200 copper marks We could arrange with the troops to be paid in marks if we offer them a premium. Say we pay offer them 70 marks per silver talent rather than the market rate of 58. It would also be a way of giving them a bonus without making the point clear. Most of them spend their pay in the form of marks anyway." The treasurer moved away. Nadia looked around her. The left hand ramp seemed to lead to the sculleries. She moved the laundry basket on her back to try and make it less uncomfortable and headed down that ramp.

Down below, the sculleries were empty. Off to the right, through the swinging doors to the kitchen she heard the voices of the quarreling soldiers. They sounded bored and irritable, but they weren't actively searching. That might change when an officer came down to gather up the copper. She looked quickly around the room. Her brother stayed close, holding on to her skirt. The room was just several tubs along one wall, with racks for plates and cups along the center and the other wall. There were a pair of empty barrels next to a door opposite the one that led to the kitchen.

When she opened the heavy door by the barrels, she was shocked by the intense smell. The room was full of barrels full of night soil. Nadia had never considered what happened to the night soil. Whenever she had used the chamber pot or the garderobe, she was had literally washed her hands and forgot about it. Here in this great room were dozens of barrels, and they all smelled of night soil. There was a large door outside, but there were also several soldiers out in the courtyard beyond arguing. Nadia's brother began gagging at the smell, and her sister inside the basket began to fuss.

Nadia went back to the scullery where the air was cleaner. The oder of the night soil room still stuck with her. There were no soldiers in the scullery, but there seemed to be no shelter either. She moved to a corner of the room. Her Sister would be hungry and dirty by now. Her continued relative quiet was worrisome, but necessary. Nadia put down the basket and looked inside. Her sister still slept. Nadia looked through her blankets and found a small vial. It was labeled Madralgona. She knew it was a sleeping draught. But even small amounts were sometimes fatal to an adult. Had her nurse tried to poison her as a mercy? She seemed to be waking up from it though. Nadia stood there thinking. If her sister woke up, it would be the death of all three of them, especially as she would be very hungry. She was usually fed every three hours. It must have been six hours since the Duke's men first began rushing through the gate. She knew she was very hungry. But she had no idea where to find any food. She looked up from the vial and saw her brother eating an apple. "Where did you get that!" she whispered. He pointed to a door she had not noticed. She guestured to him to lead her in there.

Inside the next room was very dark, but it was full of barrels and bags. One apple barrel was open. She went back into the scullery and picked up the laundry basket and brought it into the room with her. Just as she did, she heard the doors to the kitchen open. She closed the door to her storage room and put her finger over her brother's mouth.

The rough voice from the time she had been in the sewing room was yelling orders to the soldiers who had been relaxing in the kitchen. He was loudly speculating on their parentage and speaking derisively at their loving relationships with goats. "You were supposed to be searching the place. The three of them are still on the loose and you spend your time trying to get under the skits of the kitchen staff?! Any one else I catch goofing off and not doing his job I will stick this partisan so far up his backside I will be able to pick his nose with it! The king is furious and if we don't produce results it will be our heads instead of those damned kids. If the king asks why the boy hasn't been found yet, it won't go well with you if I tell him it is because you had your hands up the blouse of the cook's assistants." Something banged on the door with a loud thump. It turned out to be the guard captain who was leaning up against the door as he abused his soldiers. "Is this what you think military duty is? Playing grab ass with terrified moonfaced girls? No, my lasses, it is hard work. What is inside those barrels? Did you check?" Somebody made an indistinct reply. "Well, check, and show me they are empty. What's in the next room?" Another indistinct reply. "Ok, lasses, you have to go and check out every single one of those nightsoil barrels. The king commands that nothing leaves here without being checked....... Yes, you have to look in every single one..... Too bad....Think of it from their perspective. Would you rather die or hide in one of those barrels..... I know, tough choice.....Well, be sick then. Just not in here.... In one of the barrels. "

A short time later the soldiers moved out of the scullery. The officer kept berating them as they left. Nadia cautiosly looked out of the storage locker. There was no one in the scullery, but a candle had been left burning on one of the racks. Swiftly she went back into the storage room. A quick look with the candle revealed sausages, rounds of cheese, barrels of apples and limes... She found a small carry bag and filled it half way with apples, put in a round of cheese and two sausages. Then she filled it the rest of the way up with limes. Her sister began fussing and was almost awake. Nadia looked at the Madralgonoa vial again. Her sister might survive if she had more of this. She might not. But if she woke up the guards, all three of them would definitely be dead. She raised the stopper on the vial. There was a glass tube attached to the stopper. She gave her sister the glass tube to suck on. Now her brother was feeling weepy. She couldn't have that either. She put the tube back into the vial and then gave some to her brother. Then she looked through the door to the night soil room. There were only two guards by the outer gate, and they were giving it a wide berth. Off in the distance she could see a wagon driver expostulating with a guard. It might take the guard a while to see reason, but castle routine was already returning, even though the Duke's men had only come through that gate seven hours before.

She picked up the laundry basket and put into one of the barrels in the scullery. It didn't smell as bad as the barrels that contained night soil, but it was by no means pleasant. Her brother went in next to the basket. He was already asleep from the contents of the vial. Maybe he would survive, maybe not. But Nadia was determined that she would. Nadia opened the door to the night soil room. She couldn't breathe. It was horrible. But still.. She moved the barrel the way she had seen her father's servants move them, by rolling it over. The guards weren't paying attention to her at all. They were still arguing with the wagon driver. She put the barrel close to the door. Then she rolled in the other scullery barrel, got in, and put the lid on top. It was horrible in there, but she reflected that getting caught would be worse. Her brother and sister would die quickly. For her, death would be a longer process.

After an infinite amount of time she heard the sound of hoofbeats and wagon wheels. She heard men straining as they lifted the barrels on to the cart. then she felt her barrel being lifted up and put on to the cart. A loud voice yelled. "Be very careful We don't want spills of this stuff." Several more barrels followed after. She had no idea if the barrel containing her brother and sister were on this cart or not. Soon the cart began to move on, then stopped. After all the carts were filled they moved on at a steady pace. Suddenly, a halt was called out.

Nadia heard the angry voice of the Duke. "What is going on with these barrels?"

The voice of the rough captain replied "They were inspected per your order, sire. Every single one of them"

Nadia heard the sound of one of the barrels being opened. "Ye Gods!" said the Duke. "Are they all like that? What is this?"

"This is night soil from the castle sir. According to the regular guards it is taken out four or five stada away and dumped there. If it is dumped in the river it causes illness in the town."

"You checked them all?"

"I had a punishment detail inspect every one sire"

"Carry on then. Any luck finding the kids?"

"We found a passage from the chamberlain's office to the lower town sire. We have guard searching the lower town. Countess Lyubovonochka is extremely unpopular there. If they are there, they will be found"

"Nadia stifled an angry protest at this remark about her mother. Then she settled back as the cart rolled through the town, across the larger cobbles under the main gate and over the boards of the bridge across the moat. She could not breath easy in that barrel, but now she felt confident that she was away from the Duke, and she breathed as easy as she could.

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