Warily, I looked sidelong at the cajoling figure, having difficulty deducing where the face was below the shadowy hood. My slender fingers reached out for the goblet, then drew back.
“How am I to know that you have not poisoned it?” I said, eyeing the visitor.
“You do not believe me?” he asked.
“I cannot be too careful. As king, I must be wary for assassination attempts.”
“Of course,” he cooed, drawing a small wooden cup from his robes. He put it on the table and poured the deep red liquid into it. The stream was entrancing in the torchlight, warm crimson light glinting within it. He filled it halfway, then corked the wineskin and drained the cup.
I watched curiously, waiting to see him give any indication of dizziness, of weakness, of any kind of ill effect. Nothing.
“Drink,” he encouraged.
I gazed at him again. “I know not your kind. There may be something you are immune to but I am not.”
He sighed. “Very thorough, aren’t you? Well, then…” He beckoned to Baridrin. “Come, prove to the King that I am trustworthy.”
Baridrin…he was a brilliant strategist, but a bit too trusting and rather overfond of wine. He may be my brother, but we are not alike. He snatched a glass from a table behind him and came.
I watched as the visitor served him a small portion, spilling like liquid ruby into the glass. He drew it to his lips, and I watched cautiously, gazing as he sipped it, savored it, and pronounced it good. He had tasted no ill within it, and with that I was finally convinced.
The visitor turned back to me, and I warily reached for the chalice, lifting it. I slowly brought it to my lips and tasted it.
I started. It was indeed good, but there was something below it, a bitterness, a darkness. I frowned into the glass, gazing into the depths, but there seemed to be naught wrong with it. I could still taste it upon my tongue, and could not sense anything about it now. I tasted it again, more warily, and again, the same thing. But now, there was…something more. A distinctly unpleasant sensation grew in my stomach, but it was faint, and so I sipped the wine a third time.
The moment I swallowed, I could feel it. Pain curled in my belly, as though something sharp writhed within me. Gasping, I clutched at my chest as the feeling grew. I drank again, foolishly, as I know now, as I should have known then.
Darkness clouded my mind. The goblet fell from nerveless fingers, its contents spreading on the earthen floor. My eyes blurred. I could sense the poison coursing through my veins—for poison it was. I knew that much. But from what? Baridrin had tasted it, had drunk it and had felt no ill. Why did it plague me?
I felt myself toppling to the earth, and none stopped my fall. I dimly sensed that I landed facedown, my cheek pressed to the cold, unfeeling ground, and somehow I became separate from my body, and I saw myself, prostrate on the earth, my flaxen hair framing my head, the gold circlet askew. My scarlet mantle was twisted and bunched on my back, and my hands were curled, clutching at nothing. I was the very image of death, made no less by the red wine staining the ground beneath me, staining my white tunic like blood; the chalice lay discarded a few inches away.
Baridrin knelt next to my lifeless form, crying my name, but though I could hear his words, and reached out to him, my body did not respond. He gently reached over to my left shoulder as he knelt by my right side, and turned me over, but I felt not his touch. My face was pale as death and my expression slack, and my grey eyes stared unseeingly.
He shook me, and my head lolled lifelessly, my mouth falling open. A trickle of unswallowed wine spilled from my lips. He held me, cradled in his arms, and I knew not what had done this to me. How had this happened? How was it that I had been poisoned when none others had been affected?
Baridrin wheeled to face the visitor. “What have you done?” he cried, still holding me, still kneeling by my lifeless form.
The visitor stood, and from my vantage point outside my body I could see the red flame of demonic eyes from within his hood. He laughed evilly, and I knew that this had been his sole purpose—to destroy me and throw my realm into chaos. He flung the wineskin to the ground. “Fools!” he cried. “Have you never heard of a poisoned chalice?”
My guards leapt for him, but he only laughed, and a swirl of hellish red light obscured him. By the time it had cleared, my guards clutched at nothing where he had been—had been, for he was there no longer. I heard dimly Baridrin’s weeping, and desired to comfort him, but it seemed to me that I turned away, and the sight of my lifeless form was veiled in darkness; and as I walked the endless shadowy paths of nothingness, I knew that I had died.
We return to the forests again. Our hobbit friend has lost all faith and finds the true meaning of apathy by the end of this chapter. He is taken captive by a band of elves and one human. This chapter suggests that some of his past will be revealed soon.