|“Don't take this the wrong way” he entreated in gruff, humourless tones, as he handed the baccy pouch, filled with carefully ground ingredients, across the wooden table we occupied at the back of the inn. “You've only got one chance to get this right.” I held his gaze, taking a long drink of my ale and replacing the cup slowly, before reaching for the proffered pouch. We'd been over the preparation a hundred times, I knew it by heart and he knew this well enough. I plucked out a small wad of real tobacco, cleverly stashed beside the more sinister contents and rolled us both a smoke. He accepted his with a curt nod, I rose and left. Assuring I was unobserved, I soon turned off the road into a dense spinney, where my cooking pot lay hidden and waiting.
As my finger split and I counted off six red drops, I knew that, prepared correctly, these herbs would allow my spirit to rise from my sleeping body, moving silently and unseen, to issue death to the king, currently snoozing, drunkenly, in an upstairs room of the inn. The most minute deviation and this leafy hollow would become my grave. I shrugged and tipped back my head, the hot, bitter mixture slid down my throat. I lay back and closed my eyes, wondering vaguely if they'd ever open again.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The raucous din made by the Inn's inhabitants meandered slowly through the thick fog behind my eyes, approaching my consciousness with the casual viscosity of lava. Yet, as the first tendrils probed my cortex, the effect was instantaneous. I bolted upright, blinking and smiling. It was done, I knew. There was a new king to be crowned today and, my loyalty proven, a magnificent reward to be collected.