Alcher made his way through the castle, getting ever closer to home. The knight and his fair lady Pechal didn’t live directly in the castle, but in a manor house located near the castle. In a medieval kingdom such as King Bernard’s, the king owned all the land. As the sole landowner, he decides how it is divided. King Bernard granted Sir Alcher a parcel of land and a house. This was not a generous gift from the king; he did not acquire his wealth by giving away his belongings. In return for the property, Alcher was expected to help protect the king and the kingdom.
Finally home, Alcher opened the door and stepped inside. He was delighted and relieved to be back. It was common for him to be away traveling to different parts of the kingdom, but this time was different. He felt like he was coming home as a brand new person. In some ways, this was true.
He walked into the great hall; placed the saddle bags on the dining table and let out a sigh of relief. The contents within provided the hope of solving Princess Cristiana’s health problems. The weight had been lifted from his arms, but Cristiana’s health still weighed heavily on his shoulders.
Alcher was tired, but he knew there was no time to rest. One by one, he removed the objects and carefully placed them on the table. Everything Roderick had packed was now in plain sight.
“I see why the bags were so heavy,” Alcher mumbled. There were ancient papyrus documents from Greece. Thankfully Roderick had translated them to English because it was all Greek to Alcher. Rolled up were many parchments written by the wizard describing his observations and thoughts on a variety of medical conditions. Also found were seemingly endless bottles of potions, powders, and herbs. Some of the items left Alcher scratching his head, questioning their purpose.
The creaking hinges of the front door interrupted Alcher’s quizzical trance. Lady Pechal was returning home from her duties in the king’s kitchen. Surprised by finding Alcher there, she ran to hug him. When they met in the kitchen earlier, they didn’t have time to talk about all that happened. Finally, they had some time to catch up with one another.
“So, how was Cristiana?” Pechal asked.
“She was hurting. Seemed restless, not able to get comfortable,” Alcher replied with a frown on his face. “She was positive I could help her.”
“I am confident as well,” Pechal added.
“After laying out all of Roderick’s things, I’m not so sure. I thought I’d be able to piece something together, but I have no idea,” Alcher said.
“Please, tell me about your adventures with the wizard!” Pechal exclaimed.
“There is so much, I don’t know where to begin,” Alcher sighed. “His house, if you could call it that, is not a building as we know it. It’s hard to describe because there is nothing to compare it to. It looks more like it was grown, instead of built by human hands. It’s a combination of grass, dirt, sand, trees, rocks, and plant life. It blended into the landscape, almost hidden. When you went inside, you swore it was alive. You could almost feel life pulsing through it. There was constant, light air movement, like the house was breathing. Not a straight or level line to be found. Everything was curved and flowing, like a winding river cutting through the earth.”
“It sounds so…otherworldly,” Pechal said.
“His knowledge and experience helped restore my health. Being in his presence was an experience of a lifetime. I am grateful to have had that opportunity,” Alcher responded.
“And I am grateful to have my husband back,” Pechal sobbed. She squeezed his hands tightly and looked into his eyes. “I had been so frightened. You were slipping away from me. There was nothing I could do to stop it. Nothing. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. I tried not to let you see me worry. You are so strong for myself, and for many others, I wanted to be strong for you.”
Pechal’s tears splashed onto the table as she lowered head. As tough as Alcher was, he could no longer hold back his emotions. His own eyes started to tear up as he listened to his wife share her feelings for the first time. At that moment, it was like a jousting lance struck him. It never occurred to him that his loved ones shared his suffering. They were all traveling the same path, each experiencing the same situation, but in a different way.
“It’s alright. I am well now. Everything will be fine,” Alcher whispered as he carefully wiped away her tears. “We know why I was sick and we know how to keep me from getting sick. You are strong. I will need your help to keep me healthy. All around us, people are dying from the awful Black Plague. I am lucky. I only need to change what I eat.”
“You’re right. Enough crying. We must keep moving forward,” Pechal said, as she wiped the remaining tears from her eyes and regained her composure.
The sound of a loud clanking doorknocker brought them back to reality. Alcher blinked repeatedly to clear his eyes as he headed toward the door. He had only seconds to switch from the emotional husband to the in-control knight before he greeted their guest. With a deep breath he opened the door and found one of the guards.
“Good day, Sir Alcher. I have some important news about Princess Cristiana, might I come in?” inquired the guard.
“Yes, please, ” Alcher said, as he motioned him in. He closed the door and turned around to speak to the guard. He was stunned at what he saw. It was not the guard that stood before him, but Roderick the Wizard with a grin from ear to ear.
“Roderick” Alcher shouted. “What a surprise. How…what…why?” After what he saw, he didn’t know what question to ask first. The knight was unable to complete a full sentence.
“Good to see you again my friend,” Roderick said with outstretched arms that invited a manly hug.
Pechal came out to investigate the commotion.
“We have surprise visitor,” Alcher said. “Pechal, this is Roderick. Roderick, this is my lovely wife, Lady Pechal.”
Almost before Alcher got the words out of his mouth, she ran to Roderick. Overcome with emotion, she threw her arms around him and kissed his cheek. Was it proper to hug and kiss a wizard? She didn’t know or care, it was important she expressed her gratitude.
“I am forever grateful that you helped Alcher. Thank you,” Pechal said.
“What a pleasure to meet you. During our time together, Alcher spoke of you often. It was an honor to be of service,” Roderick said while nodding his head. “Allow me to finish answering your questions. King Arthur’s legendary wizard Merlin the Magician and I have the ability to shape shift. I can become anything or anyone I choose, like the guard, or perhaps a favorite horse.” The wizard patiently waited for Alcher to connect the dots.
Alcher thought for a second or two and then snapped his fingers. “That explains it. It wasn’t Chaser, it was you!” Alcher said. “You started bucking to make me drop that piece of bread in the market place. Also, when I left your house, you walked me out and waved goodbye. And where is my Chaser?”
Roderick threw back his head and let out a hearty laugh.
“Alcher, my friend, allow me to explain,” Roderick replied with a relaxed tone. “Yes, I had to stop you from eating that bread and making a big mistake. By the way, thank you for feeding me the carrots; they are an excellent source of Vitamin A. At my house, you saw one of my apprentices. He has the ability to shape shift as well, I am helping him perfect his gift. He’s doing quite well, don’t you agree? That same apprentice returned the real Chaser safely to his stable. Fear not, he was always in good hands. Why am I here? I am here to help you, your king and his daughter, and all the people of this kingdom. It has taken me centuries to learn all that I know; you are an exceptional student, but I can’t expect you to learn it in a few short months. I have consulted thousands of kings during my time in this human form. Kings are a suspicious lot and I must be cautious. If King Bernard knew I was here, he’d feel threatened because I have not proven myself to him. Kingdom building is for kings. My concern is the well-being of the people. This is where my heart lies. The choice is yours. You can turn me over to the king, or we work together as a team. Of course, I need to remain hidden until we restore Princess Cristiana’s health.”
“Never a dull moment with you Roderick,” Alcher said, shaking his head in disbelief. “How can I turn you over to the king after what you’ve done for me? I choose to build an alliance with you in order to help as many people as we can. It will be safe for you to stay here while we work through this. I think Pechal will agree.”
“Yes!” Pechal chimed in.
“Excellent,” Roderick said as he clapped his hands together. “We will make a great team. Together, will make a difference.” Roderick looked confidently at Alcher and Pechal, they both nodded in agreement.
“We will work on King Bernard,” Alcher said. “I do feel he is skeptical based on our recent conversation, but I believe we can win the king and queen’s trust.”
“Perfect,” Roderick said. He walked the length of the table, surveying the items Alcher had placed there. He was searching for something specific. “Ahhh, here it is.” He picked up a black velvet bag with gold tasseled drawstrings. Ever so carefully he opened the bag and removed three bottles and a magnifying glass. One bottle contained a liquid, the remaining two bottles contained powders. “The ingredients are applied to the skin, the largest organ of the body. First the liquid, then the light colored powder, then the dark colored powder. After about thirty minutes, we use the magnifying glass. If we see glowing specks, we know that gluten is causing a problem.”
“If we don’t see glowing specks?” Alcher asked.
“We look for something else,” Roderick replied. “I don’t like to wait and see, I’d rather test and do”.
“The hour is getting late,” Pechal said. “Should we wait until morning to test Cristiana?”
“Can we at least give her something for her tummy?” Alcher asked as he looked up from the parchments he was studying. “She looked uncomfortable when I saw her earlier.”
“Yes indeed. We can test her in the morning after a good night’s rest,” Roderick said. He walked back to the table to pick out another container. As soon as he opened it, the room was filled with the smell of different herbs, roots, and plants. He selected a few items and closed the container. “Lady Pechal, would you be so kind to make a tea with this? It will calm her tummy and help her sleep. Make sure the water comes to a full boil, then soak these items for seventeen minutes in the water.” Pechal smiled and nodded as she took the items from the wizard and headed off to her kitchen.
Pechal sampled the tea before she poured a cup for Cristiana, it was horribly bitter. A touch of honey would make it taste better, so she added a small bowl of honey to the tray. Returning to the great hall, she asked if it was all right to add honey to the tea. Roderick gave his blessing to the honey. Pechal volunteered to run the tea up to Cristiana.
Balancing the tray on one hand, Pechal knocked on Cristiana’s door. There was no immediate answer, so she gently opened the door to peek inside. A couple of torches bathed the room in a soft flickering light. She could see that King Bernard and Queen Lorelle were not there. Cristiana tossed and turned as she tried to get comfortable. Pechal whispered Cristiana’s name several times before Cristiana asked who was there. Coming closer to the bed, Cristiana saw Pechal appear out of the shadows.
“It’s Lady Pechal, I am sorry it’s so late, but I have some tea. It will make you feel better and help you sleep,” Pechal said.
“Thank you,” Cristiana said. Pechal carefully set the tray on the nightstand, making sure not to spill a drop. Cristiana sat up while Pechal fluffed up couple of pillows and put them behind her back. Pechal sat down on the edge of the bed next to Cristiana.
“I know you have a sweet tooth, so I added some – a lot of – honey,” Pechal said. She picked up the cup and handed it to the giggling princess.
“Will this make me all better?” Cristiana asked with a glimmer of hope in her eyes. She took a sip and scrunched up her face and coughed. “Needs more honey.” Pechal smiled and drizzled more honey into the cup.
“It will for a little while,” Pechal said. “We have some things the wizard sent with Sir Alcher. Tomorrow we will try to figure out why you are sick, but first you need to drink all of the tea.” Cristiana frowned and took a bigger sip of tea.
To help pass the time, Pechal shared stories of her own childhood while the princess drank. Before long, Cristiana had trouble staying awake. Pechal wondered if it was from the tea or her stories as she gently removed the empty cup from Cristiana’s hand. It didn’t matter; she was asleep.
“Goodnight my dear princess, sweet dreams,” Pechal whispered as she kissed Cristiana’s forehead. Pechal got up slowly from the bed, gathered her belongings and silently left the room.
Pechal returned home to find Roderick and Alcher discussing the plans for the morning. Everyone needed to be on the same page since Roderick wouldn’t be able to do the testing himself. After all three were comfortable with the plan, they decided to call an end to a long and emotional day.