The plot of The Apothecary’s Daughter runs parallel to that of my favorite book in the series, Myrhiadh’s War. The two titles share several prominent characters, but I found a few new ones I haven’t profiled before to showcase here, starting, of course, with Sara Keelan. She occupied a scant seven pages in Myrhiadh’s War, but she carries the story in Book Nine.
“The Paragon contains plenty of poisons. And Father taught me how to use every one of them.”
Age at the time of this story: 20
Physical Characteristics: 5’7”, 135 lbs, chestnut hair, brown eyes
Sara is the third child and only daughter of a prominent and wealthy Zandorian apothecary who provides regular service to the Crown. When Sara’s mother and two older brothers die of scarlet fever in 1588, Sara’s father resolves to leave his business to her, and takes her on as his apprentice. By the time Sara reaches adulthood, she is a knowledgeable apothecary in her own right, with extensive experience in preparing and prescribing herbs and medicines.
Besides her education as an apothecary, Sara is well-schooled in the tenets of Zandorian thought: loyalty to the Crown, abhorrence of the Failings, and observation of the Moral Laws. Sara’s father expects her to make an excellent match to better the apothecary’s fortunes, as certain of Zandor’s citizenry won’t do business with a woman. The plans for Sara’s future are logical and straightforward.
But when a war changes course, Zandor finds itself on the losing end of the battle. Sara discovers just how shaky her world’s foundations are, and learns that the Crown she has trusted is not what she believed.
With her future and her fortune at stake, Sara faces the unthinkable: a takeover of Zandor by her enemies, and the potential loss of everything she has ever treasured.
“All I wanted was to avoid conflict and trouble. I was a dutiful Zandorian: faithful to the Crown, conscientious about the Failings, exemplary in following the Moral Laws…
“Oh, never mind. I can’t even finish that statement with a straight face. A dutiful Zandorian and faithful to the Crown, perhaps, but the Moral Laws are extreme, and despite succumbing to the Failings occasionally, I’m here to tell the tale. The Failings themselves are not the danger—the Crown’s punishments are.
“Zandorian laws are strict for women, but I have to break the rules. I couldn’t do my job if I didn’t instruct men in using the medicines I prescribe, walk the streets of Grymwalde without an escort, and occasionally ride a horse. Fate decreed I should work full time in a man’s occupation, and my workload will only become greater as my father grows older and eventually hands the apothecary to me.
“My education equals or exceeds that of most men: Latin, literature, mathematics, and chemistry. I am well versed in using the hundreds of herbs and medicines on the apothecary’s shelves. I have zero patience for hiding, mouselike, behind a veil of hair around the stronger sex.
“And now I’ve added to my Failings by meeting secretly with a man of whom Father would wholeheartedly disapprove. He’s of a station far below ours, and with the turn in the war, and Caledon and Langdon on Zandor’s doorstep, what skills he possesses will soon be obsolete.
“Then, there’s Whitereach.
“Nothing is predictable or reliable anymore.
“Including the Crown.”
Age at the time of this story: 38
Physical Characteristics: 5’5”, 120 lbs, dark brown hair, brown eyes
Mawde, the Keelans’ housekeeper, has worked in their employ for 15 years, since the death of Sara’s mother. Mawde is mute and communicates through gestures and grunts, and though capable of writing, she seldom uses this medium.
Mawde’s days are long and demanding, starting well before sunrise. Most of the general household tasks fall to her, since Sara has trained in the apothecary with her father from the age of five. Mawde has mastered the adage, “Mind your place.” To be unobtrusive and useful is her primary aspiration. She retires to bed early, after ensuring everything is organized for her employer and his daughter for the evening. Little irritates Mawde more than having her routine disrupted.
Mawde has few friends, but many acquaintances. She gathers information, domestic and political, from the other housekeepers at the community well.
People make assumptions about you when you’re mute. Most folks assume that, because I don’t speak, my brain doesn’t work. I assure you, I’m perfectly capable of reasoned thought, and more intelligent than most.
I am grateful for my place with the Keelans. Sara is a sweet girl, and her father is a fair employer, who leaves me to run the house as I see fit with few restrictions. If the rooms are clean, the fires are tended, and tasty meals are served on time, Mr. Keelan doesn’t interfere with me.
I pass much of my time alone. The hired man is busy with his tasks, and Mr. Keelan and Sara spend their days in the dispensary. Some might find it lonely, but I cherish the solitude.
Mr. Keelan serves the palace a few times each month with his medicinal skills, and deals directly with the Crown and the Praeceptor. He seldom speaks of anything he sees or hears within the palace walls, but he considers his position a high honor. One of his worst fears is that the Crown will shun his daughter’s services once he can no longer work, simply because she is a woman.
Mr. Keelan is a devout servant of the Crown. He will permit no violations of the Moral Laws or weakness to the Failings in his household. Not a word against the Crown or the Praeceptor ever crosses his lips, and he demands the same level of devotion from every member of his household.
Sometimes, it’s well that I don’t speak…
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