Another episode of Man Raised by Spiders, the coming-of-age story of Valentine Shelawn.
As they leave the juggler’s booth, Ariadne admits that she doesn’t feel well. She’s sunburned and faint from the heat. Sieia finds a place for her to sit in the shade of a tree, organizes Aramil to get water and cold compresses, and sends Valentine to find the coachman and have him pull the carriage up. When Aramil returns, Sieia applies cold compresses to her forehead and wrists, urges her to drink sips of water. She has a migraine coming on from the sun.
As they sit under the tree, Ariadne wilting but trying to smile and keep her dignity, a gypsy child approaches them with a basket of cakes. “Would the lady like to buy a cake?”
Sieia turns to Ariadne. “Have you eaten, dear? Are you hungry? It might help your headache.”
“They’re very good,” says the child. “Lemon.”
“I’m going to get you one,” says Sieia. “After you’ve had some more water and cooled off, you should eat it.”
“It’s very good. Lemon,” says the child, extending the cake. Sieia pays, but instead of leaving, the child waits, watches with dark, penetrating eyes. “It’s very good.”
“I know, dear,” says Sieia. “She feels faint right now. She’ll eat it presently. I’m sure it’s very good.”
“Try it,” says the child. Ariadne unwraps it, breaks off a piece, chews and swallows it with difficulty. Sieia can tell that she’s nauseated.
“Yes, it’s very good. Thank you. I’ll finish it later, when I’ve rested.”
“Have more,” says the child, and Sieia looks at her for a moment, puzzled. The child is older than Sieia first thought — perhaps 12 or 13, or even older. She should understand and leave now that she’s been paid.
Ariadne mechanically swallows another mouthful or two as the child watches. “It’s very good. Thank you.”
The carriage pulls up, and there’s a good deal of bustle loading Ariadne and making her comfortable. She reclines on the seat, with her head in Valentine’s lap. Sieia takes the forward seat, and Aramil joins the coachman on the box. Ariadne is silent, white. Valentine strokes her hair. “It won’t be long, honey.” Presently she sits up, puts her head on Valentine’s shoulder. She unwraps the cake, takes another bite or two.
As they’re pulling up to the townhouse, Ariadne whispers to Valentine, “I’m sorry — I feel so sick,” and she starts to whimper.
He strokes her hair. “Oh, honey. We’re here now. We’ll get you out and you can lie down, okay?”
She’s crying now, or, rather, making choking noises. Her full weight slumps against Valentine. He looks down and sees that her eyes are sightless, staring. He snaps, “Sieia, what’s happening?”
“Good God, she’s having some kind of seizure — quickly, get her out!” The coachman lets the stairs down, throws the door open. Valentine and Sieia lower her onto the flagstones. Her eyes and nose are streaming, her mouth is foaming, she seems to be choking.
“Sieia, what is it? What’s wrong with her?” Valentine is almost frantic.
Sieia barks, “Aramil, help me get her in. Valentine, take the coach and get the doctor!” When Valentine hesitates, seems afraid to let Ariadne go, she shouts fiercely, “Do as I say, Valentine! Take the coach and get the doctor immediately! I’ll see to her!”
The coachman pulls Valentine onto the box. “I know where to find him. If he’s not in his surgery, we’ll catch him on his rounds.” He whips the horses to a canter, and as the coach feather-edges a corner, Valentine sees Aramil and a footman carrying Ariadne tenderly up the stairs.
When they arrive at the surgery, Valentine has collected himself. “Hold them here. I’ll be out directly. You won’t need to walk them.”
The doctor is just sitting down to tea when Valentine bursts in. He listens to Valentine’s rushed explanation, then asks, “So she was overcome by the heat? Had a seizure?”
“Please come immediately — something’s very wrong — it wasn’t just a migraine.”
The doctor grabs his black bag, throws a few more bottles into it, and joins Valentine in the coach. As they ride back, Valentine spies half a cake, still in its wrapper, on the seat. Without thinking, he puts it in his waistcoat pocket.
When they reach the townhouse, Ariadne is stretched out on a chaise lounge in the library. She’s shockingly white, clearly in pain, gripping Sieia’s hand. There’s a basin full of vomit, a trail across the floor, stains down the front of her lavender gown. Valentine and Sieia exchange places. He talks to her softly, but she seems unaware of her surroundings.
The doctor begins to examine her. “Pulse rapid, thready,” he murmurs to himself. “Clammy skin. Pallor. Vomiting. Pupils dilated.”
Ariadne is panting like a wounded animal. Sweat beads on her brow, and she starts whimpering again, doubles over in pain. She retches but her stomach is empty. Foam collects at the corners of her mouth. She clutches Valentine’s hand desperately — her hand is terrifyingly cold. Her grip eases, she lies back down. He strokes her hair, which is soaked, stringy. As the pain subsides, she seems to come back to herself. Her eyes don’t quite focus, but she squeezes Valentine’s hand, turns her face towards his fingers. He whispers, “I’m here, honey. I love you. I’m sorry it hurts so much. I love you, honey.”
As he studies her wide, unfocused eyes, he notices a tinge of blue creeping across her eyelids, nostrils. He raps out, “Doctor — look!” As the doctor drops her wrist and shifts his gaze, Ariadne doubles over again, starts whimpering at a higher pitch — a frantic keening sound.
The doctor barks out, “It’s poison! Don’t touch her!” Valentine couldn’t break her grip on his hand if he wished. “Sir! Take care! Vomit — mucus— tears — it’s transmitted easily.” The spasm eases, and Ariadne falls limp. Her eyelids, nostrils and lips are clearly tinged with blue now. “Sir! I must ask that you step away!”
Sieia tries to draw his attention. “Valentine, please!” In that moment, Ariadne releases Valentine’s hand. Sieia pulls him to his feet, propels his towards the door. “The doctor will care for her!”
The doctor says, “All of you — strip completely and wash thoroughly. Your clothing must be burned.”
Aramil and the footman are hovering outside the door. Sieia says, “Come. We’ll follow the doctor’s orders.” Valentine continues to stand as if stunned. “Valentine, you must! Aramil, take him to his chambers, see that his does as he’s told.”
“Come on, Valentine,” says Aramil, and leads him to the indigo room, where they strip and wash themselves. “Rinse your hair, too,” says Aramil. He rummages through the wardrobe. “Here, put this on when you’re done.” He tosses Valentine a clean shirt and breeches, and takes a set for himself.
Once they’re dressed, they sit silently on the bed. Aramil considers going to Sieia, but he doesn’t want to leave Valentine alone. They wait for some indefinite period, both of them straining to hear any sound. Neither makes any attempt at conversation. Aramil is tempted to hug Valentine, but he’s rigid, white. His anguish is forbidding.
After a time, Sieia enters without knocking. She approaches Valentine. When he doesn’t look up, she kneels at his feet, takes his hands. She whispers, “She’s gone, darling. I’m sorry.”
Aramil clamps a hand over his mouth, bites down on his fingers. He’s trying not to cry.
“What happened, Sieia? How could that happen?” Valentine asks. He looks bewildered, plaintive. She’s reminded of his extreme youth. And now Valentine is crying. For a second or two Sieia sees what she feared: raw, naked, completely unguarded and childlike grief.
“It was poison, darling. We don’t know how or why. There will have to be an inquest.”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” He struggles to swallow down his grief and calm himself.
He shakes his hands free from Sieia’s grip as if he can’t bear to be touched, then jumps to his feet, starts to pace.
He remembers, stops, turns. “In my waistcoat pocket — she ate a cake…” He fumbles through the pile of clothes on the floor, retrieves the half-eaten cake wrapped in white paper. He unwraps it. The cake drops to the floor. The inside of the wrapper is printed with the image of a lidless eye. A line of Drow script is handwritten underneath.
He reads it aloud in a soft, almost wondering tone. He’s facing away, so Aramil and Sieia have to strain to catch the words: “We see you, Charon.”