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England, November 13, 1876
As soon as I took a sip, I realized it was poison, but the joke was on Henry for the glass in his hand was poisoned as well.
I said nothing as he raised his glass in my direction, watching over the rim as he downed his wine in one swift gulp. The pale muscles in his throat worked, muscles that would soon spasm before doing nothing at all. That thought set my blood on fire in a way the wine hadn’t. Henry set his glass down with a bang.
“So,” his voice echoed in the drafty hall. “What was it this time?”
I kept my face carefully neutral as I took a sip of my own drink. “Strychnine. And mine?”
Henry poured more wine into his cup. I hadn’t poisoned the bottle, just the glass, and he relished the clean burn of the wine. Strychnine tasted like ****, yet that had not stopped Henry from downing it all. “Arsenic,” he said, the word thickening his tongue. Or perhaps that was the poison; who knew?
My mind spun as I tried to put a title to a toxin. “Arsenic,” I repeated. “A chemical compound akin to sugar or flour in appearance.”
“Top marks,” Henry said, grinning. He wasn’t very handsome with his cat-like smile, red hair, and sickly appearance. I heard rumors about in the city that he had taken ill of some vile disease, but that was not the case. He looked near-death most times because every half year we played our little game. It was open season now. Imagine that we had picked the same time to poison each other!
“Perhaps we are meant to be,” I declared. My voice echoed it’s way down to Henry who sat at the other end of the banquet table. The only thing that obstructed my view of him was a vase of dog roses and asphodels. “We chose the exact same time to play, after all.” I was starting to sweat. My skin was tingling, and though I checked for marks, there were none.
Henry, **** him, looked perfectly fine if not for the strange look in his eyes. Those eyes had scared away every maiden in the country before he had met me. No, I didn’t care for looks. I only cared for his eyes which burned the same way mine did. My mother had looked askance when I declared my intentions.
“The lord Henry,” she had hissed. “He’s barely come into his estate! And the rumors-”
“Age did not matter when you tried to send me off with young Sir Laika,” I interjected. That had shut her up, but her soured face and pursed lips had lasted long after the engagement.
“She’s always been a strange child,” my mother had confided to some of her friends. “Too headstrong. Wild. Not at all what a woman should be.” Her friends had nodded along but their eyes were invested in the cheap crystal chalices they were drinking from and the worn weary carpet on the floor.
Only Henry had seen my brilliance. He had introduced me to an entire world of science and alchemy. He taught me so much in such a short time, but I proved an adept student. We spent hours in the manor’s library, pouring over books and papers. Henry even had a small laboratory! The servants were instructed to avoid it, but still they heard the noises and smelled the bitter scents. They reported back to the village, who spun even wilder tales. They said I was a witch working magic on their dear lord. However, in the bars when the candlelight fell low, some claimed that Henry was a demon infecting their land with blight and disrepair. How preposterous!
I took another gulp of my wine. If I remembered correctly, arsenic acted quickly, but not as quickly as strychnine, which took fifteen minutes to affect the ingestor. As if sharing my thoughts (more proof we were meant to be), Henry pulled out his pocket watch. He eyes met mine. “It’s been ten minutes.”
“Already feeling the effects?” I teased. I took another dainty sip of the wine.
“Ah, ah,” Henry tsked. “You must drink it all.”
“You used a small dose?” I asked, but I tilted my head back. Some wine spilled over my face and into the cream material of my dress, and still I drank. I set my empty glass down on the table, and smiled ghastly at Henry.
He smiled back, but his back arched suddenly. His face twisted into a look of pain. With a gasp he fell out of his chair, knocking over the vase. It cracked when it hit the floor, water seeping out. I was as his side in an instant. “Clarissa,” I called. “Come quickly!” Henry convulsed again. I knelt down to kiss him sweetly. He smelled like the dog roses, the flowers he was so fond of, and tasted like the wine. “You lose,” I whispered.
Henry’s hoarse voice didn’t match his smirk. “Not yet.”
With a clatter of heels and an “oh my,” Clarissa entered the room, white maid’s cap askew. “Oh my, has master Henry fallen again? I shall fetch the doctor – ”
“Clarissa,” I interrupted before vomiting all over her neat little pumps. Her hands flew to her face. “Miss Josephine! I will be right back!” She flew from the room like a bird, and I let myself fall next to Henry. His eyes were closed and he was sweating.
“You lose,” he laughed, drool leaking from the corner of his mouth.
“Not yet.” I let my eyes drift shut. “Let fate decide. Goodnight my love.”
“Goodnight, if we never wake again.”