Sareanne gasped behind me and I felt her hand on my arm, but she drew it back. I turned around and looked at the surprise on her face and then down at the circle of stones still intact.
“How did you do that?” she demanded.
I held out my arm for her to examine.
“It’s the grapes, Sareanne. The grapes are what protected your people all along.” I looked at her carefully. “You said when Antheus cursed the city that everything disappeared. Just how quickly did they disappear?”
“It took a while, a week maybe, some even longer. My father was the last one to disappear, One moment he was sitting on his throne looking sadly at my cursed form and the next he was gone.”
“Long enough for the protection of the grapes to leave their bodies or wear off,” I murmured.
“So if I douse myself with that powder…” she began.
“Or eat some grapes,” I add.
“I’ll be protected too,” she finished.
I nod my head emphatically. “I’m certain of it. Look at the protection. It hasn’t disappeared or disintegrated even though I stepped over because I’m still protected. Whatever is in the Anderosean soil that creates this phenomenon is also in the grapes. The Gods of the Earth must know this, that is why they give you the protection, but it is in you already.”
“But how was Antheus able to curse me in the first place?” Sareanne said suddenly.
I stopped short. I hadn’t considered that. How had Antheus been able to place that first curse on her? If she had been recently working in the vineyards or eaten or drunk anything that had the grapes she would have been protected. I thought back to her version of the tale.
“What happened when Mehean returned from the north country? You said he seemed different?” I ask.
“Yes, there was something in his eyes, like he wasn’t completely there anymore.”
“How long had he been away from Perdeen?”
“Months. It takes almost four weeks just to reach Elderich.”
“I wonder if Antheus got to him in Elderich,” I murmur. Theories ran through my head like a race, but not all of them seemed to fit. “I can only guess that the soil in Elderich and the mountains didn’t have the same protection that it does down here in Perdeen. If that is truly the case, then Mehean would have gradually lost his protection. If he was under Antheus’ power then he might have tampered with your food and drink to make you susceptible.”
“But I ate from the vineyard every day,” Sareanne argued.
“Not after you left with your army,” I reply carefully.
Realization dawned on her face and a look of anguish crept into her eyes.
“Poor Mehean, he didn’t deserve this fate,” she cried.
I put my arm around her shoulders. “Antheus must have used him as a pawn in his plot. He must have been planning this for some time.”
Sareanne nodded. “I wonder how long he had known about the grapes.”
“Long enough to let it kanker and tear at his soul,” I reply sadly. I direct her to the bath. “Let’s get you protected. I have another idea.”