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Dye Another Day

Mercedes Lackey

Prague was remarkably pleasant for a city that had been the subject of a Defenestration slightly less than twenty years ago. Tom Stone did not have a lot of facts retained from his old college classes at Purdue, especially not the History electives he’d taken, but that one—“The Defenestration of Prague,” had stuck with him all these years. He loved that phrase—of course, all that it meant was that three people had been thrown out of a window and had lived because they had landed in a manure pile, but it sounded as if some great catastrophe had taken place. Not so amusing was the fact that the act had been central to the start of the Thirty Years’ War that the up-timers had landed right smack in the middle of.

At any rate, Wallenstein had been a good steward of the place. He’d done a damn fine job of keeping most of the mayhem out of the city.

Morris and Judith Roth, who had moved there to expand their very profitable jewelry business, were hosting Tom and his down-time wife Magda—which meant a certain amount of up-timer comfort amidst the down-timer “ambience.” Upholstered furniture, for instance. Backless wooden benches, hard wooden chairs, these were the norm down-time. There was some upholstered furniture, but it wasn’t what he would have called “padded,” and the older he got, the more he appreciated cushioning. The heavily cushioned chair he was sitting in now was luring him into a discussion he ordinarily would have steered clear of. It was almost political. Tom didn’t like politics at all, and he especially didn’t like down-timer politics.

The subject at hand was the king of Bohemia himself, Wallenstein, who was an ally of the United States of Europe. He was very clearly sick and his nurse, a former hardscrabble Grantville native, was afraid he was dying. The problem was that Wallenstein had some very decided notions about physicians and what they could and could not do with, to, or around him, and that was making diagnosis...difficult. To say the least. Of course, when you lived in a time when you didn’t surrender as much as a hair off your head because someone might use it to curse you with, you could understand his point. A sick king would not want to disrobe in front of a crowd, because someone in that crowd would surely pass on information about his condition to his enemies—but he also would not want to disrobe in front of a physician, alone, because that would be the ideal time for an assassin, perhaps even in the person of that physician, to strike.

And as for up-time medical instruments being used on him—well, how was he to be sure they would do what the up-timers said they would do?

“On the one hand, Wallenstein should have been dead already,” Tom Stone mused to his wife and youngest son. “He should have been assassinated over a year ago. I mean, you could say, like, I dunno, karma? Or maybe the timeline trying to correct itself or...something?” He wished his son hadn’t dragged him into this. All he’d wanted to do was to get back to Grantville for a while and forget about parading around Italy as if he was some sort of genius, like Galileo, when he wasn’t. He was just an up-time dope farmer with most of a pharmacy degree and a knack for the sort of herbal-slash-pioneering style of medicine that the hippies of his commune had used instead of the real doctors none of them could afford.

Gerry Stone sighed. “You read too many science fiction books,” he replied.

Tom raised a bushy eyebrow. “We’re living in a science fiction book,” he pointed out. “Just in case you hadn’t noticed.” He pondered the situation with Wallenstein a little more. “On the other hand, I haven’t seen a lot of evidence of other people dropping dead that should have been dead already, so it’s probably not that. What’s Edith say?”

Morris snorted. “That she’s not a doctor.”

“Well neither am I!” Tom protested, feeling extremely uneasy.

“But Tomas, you are ein Doktor,” Magda corrected him. “Universitat of Padua makes you vun.”

She insisted on speaking English in the presence of notable up-timers like the Roths, instead of the Amideutsch she was more comfortable with. Her speech was comprehensible enough, though, if a bit garbled and heavily accented.

“I am Frau Doktor now,” she added proudly. “I haf married a Doktor! Papa is so pleased!”

Tom groaned. Although being granted the title of “Doctor” by the university in Padua had added considerably to his social status, by his own estimation, given the general level of knowledge among the down-timers, it was pretty much the equivalent of buying your doctorate from a diploma mill, or being ordained as a High Priest of Zen Druidism.

“All hail the tree that is not there,” he muttered. Magda looked puzzled, but Gerry jumped on what he’d said.

“See, now that is exactly why you’re what Edith needs right now!” he exclaimed. “You know all that New Age crap! Shoot, I think Lothlorien Commune probably had one of every crackpot out there, given some of the stories you’ve told me!”

“But I don’t believe that New Age crap!” Tom protested feebly.

Gerry merely fixed him with a stern gaze that looked remarkably like the one his father used to nail him with when he didn’t want to mow the lawn. “You can come up with some mystical sounding garbage that will let you do some kind of tests, and if you can do that, you can probably figure out what’s wrong with him. And then you can figure out how to wrap the treatment in more mumbo-jumbo that will ensure he actually follows what’s been prescribed.”

Gerry wasn’t backing down, but neither was Tom. “I’d have to go back to Grantville. I’d need to dig into the stuff in the commune library. All the way back to Grantville, then dig through all those boxes of books in storage.” He nailed Gerry with the same look. “I’d take months.”

“No, you don’t,” Gerry replied, just as stubbornly. “You don’t have to convince another believer that you know what you’re talking about. You just have to convince Wallenstein enough that he’ll take whatever meds he’s advised to take—or whatever it is Edith and Doc think he needs to do. You just have to give him something that sounds plausible so he’ll stop listening to the astrologers. And now he’s listening to Gribbleflotz too, since he showed up in Prague.”

“But why me?” That was what he didn’t get.

“Because you’re the only living hippy in Grantville,” said Roth. “Logic and science aren’t going to work on Wallenstein. We need something as kooky as Kirlian auras, and you’re our expert on crazy religions.”

What made him the expert? He was almost agnostic, for crying out loud! He’d seen so many flakes with religion come and go at Lothlorien that—well, he was only sure of one thing. God was probably laughing Her socks off at humankind. “Did you see what they came up with this week? Holy Me!”

“I spent the Harmonic Convergence in bed,” he reminded them, sinking a little into the chair and hoping that Magda would not ask “and with whom?” “I didn’t do Channeling. I refused to have my Chak—”

He stopped.

“You haf thought of something!” Magda exclaimed. “I am being know that face you are being make!” She clasped her hands together gleefully.

Tom groaned. “It’s quackery,” he said.

Ja, und?” Magda dismissed that with a wave of her graceful little hand.

“It’s—I don’t remember a lot of it—”

“So you make it up. Or you borrow from other stuff.” Gerry was just as dismissive. Judith and Morris leaned forward.

Tom sighed. “Chakras,” he said, reluctantly. “I’m going to go to hell for this, I just know it.”

Judith and Morris looked at each other. “I vaguely recollect something about chakras—isn’t that some acupuncture thing?” she asked, worriedly. “Wallenstein will believe in a lot of nonsense, but I am fairly sure he won’t sit there and be made into a pincushion.”

Tom shook his head. “No, I mean, some acupuncturists used the whole chakra thing as another explanation for their stuff, but, no, acupuncture is Chinese and chakra healing is Indian. There’s supposed to be seven energy vortices up your spine, each one a different color. And that’s why I’m going to hell.”

Gerry tilted his head to the side. “I don’t get it—”

“Colors. Energy colors, aura colors. It works with the Kirlian aura nonsense. Which is why I’m going to hell. I’m not going to convince him to stop listening to Gribbleflotz. Edith tells me the Kirlian stuff is actually an improvement over the crap the astrologers were feeding Wallenstein. I’m just going to convince him that Gribbleflotz is right. In fact, I am probably going to end up giving Gribbleflotz even more ideas.”

“Does it matter?” Morris demanded. “For God’s sake, Tom, even if we were only talking about extending a man’s life, here, I’d put up with Gribbleflotz! But it’s not just that, we need to keep Wallenstein alive to protect his son for as long as possible, we’re extending the stability of the region and the relationship we have with—”

“I know, I know,” Tom interrupted, rubbing his temples. “Dammit, I hate politics. I really hate down-timer politics. They can get you killed.”

“Not dis time, Tomas,” Magda said, reaching out and patting his hand comfortingly. “Dis time ve make life, not var.”

* * *

Tom might be “Doctor Thomas Stone of the University of Padua,” but if he was going to convince Wallenstein to talk to him—and get diagnosed and treated by him—he was going to have to look the part. The part being—he was going to have to look the way a seventeenth-century Bohemian thought a Tibetan guru would look.

Which was to say...colorful. As if he was his own best customer at the dye works. It started with a turban the size of a small country house, moved down through a caftan and floor-length vest with a wide sash, and ended with bright red felt boots.

“I look ridiculous,” he grumbled, adjusting his turban. It was huge, and centered with an enormous brooch. He had the feeling that he looked just like Johnny Carson playing the phony fortuneteller, Carnac the Magnificent.

Nein, nein, you look ausgezeichnet!” Magda replied, her eyes dancing. “So impressive!”

“Your mouth says ‘no’ but your face says ‘yes,’ ” he muttered.

At least he could take comfort in the fact that if he looked ludicrous, his assistant looked worse.

He’d decided early on that if he was going to be able to pull this off, he was going to need some help, and it wasn’t going to be Edith, devoted to the royal family though she might be. It had taken his assistant five days on fast horses to get here, and he hadn’t been happy about his costume, but—well, he was a reservist in the State of Thuringia-Franconia’s National Guard, and he was under orders. The orders had come from Ed Piazza himself, the SoTF’s president.

“Are you ready yet?” Tom called into the next room.

“I hate you, Stoner,” came the growled reply.

Tom sighed. “Look, I’m doing the best that I can. It could be worse.”

“I’d like to know how.” George Mundell shuffled into the room, glowering. “First off, I am never going to get this crap off my skin. It’s gonna have to wear off.”

“You look like George Hamilton.”

“I look like Al Jolson in blackface.” George bared his teeth in a grimace that did look startlingly white in his walnut-tanned face. “But I wouldn’t mind that so much if I wasn’t wearing clown shoes, I Dream of Jeanie’s vest, my grandma’s curler-turban, enough Mardi Gras beads for an entire float, and M.C. Hammer’s pants.”

It wasn’t quite that bad, but he did look...colorful. And it was a good thing that they were down-time, or he would have seriously offended any native of India that happened to spy him. When he asked for George’s help, Tom had also radioed Grantville’s theater teacher. That was Shackerly Marmion, a young Englishman who’d emigrated to Grantville the year before. Marmion had a flair for such things, and at Tom’s request he’d put together a costume for “a mysterious Hindu magician” and this was what had come with George. The pants were actually a pair of the infamous “parachute pants” from the eighties whose owner had allegedly donated them only on condition that no one reveal who he was. The vest had come right out of the Lothlorien attic. The “clown shoes” and the turban were the only actual costume pieces—they weren’t actually “clown shoes,” though they were very flamboyant with their up-curled toes.

“I guess it could be worse,” George said, after a moment of surveying Tom. “You could smuggle a Humvee in that hat. And are you wearing a dress?”

“It’s a caftan,” Tom corrected, sourly.

“It’s a granny-dress,” George snickered.

Tom considered any number of responses and rejected them all. He needed George. Mundell was the only stage-magician in Grantville. He’d done it as a hobby for years before the Ring of Fire. Thereafter, once his sons Mike and Jim started working as apprentices with Philip Massinger’s troop of actors, he’d begun doing stage magic on a semi-professional basis. He’d gotten pretty damn good at it.

“Let’s get this show on the road,” he said instead, and gestured to the two servants to pick up their bags and schlep them along.

He felt very uncomfortable, with a manservant following him with a bag he could very well carry himself, but Herr Doktor Thomas Stone, master of Akashic Magick and scholar of the Chakras would never demean himself by carrying anything. Even Gupta Rai Singh, his assistant, was too important to be burdened with a bag. And the farce absolutely had to begin at the front door of the Roth’s palatial home. People would be watching. Word had been spread that the famous Herr Doktor Stone had come straight from Padua just to cure the king.

So, they made a spectacle of themselves, trucking down to the waiting carriage, which he and George occupied alone, for even their baggage handlers were so important that they required their own carriage. They proceeded through the streets of Prague to the palace, with plenty of rubberneckers along the way. Tom remained serene, upright, and enveloped in dignity, but George fanned the flames of their reputation by producing small plastic coins out of thin air and tossing them to the crowd. Tom had been worried that people would be angry when they realized George’s coins weren’t spendable and weren’t even metal, but it seemed the opposite was the case. Once again, the exotic look of up-timer plastic fakery was valued as high as or higher than the real thing.

So by the time they got to the palace, there was a substantial buzz in the streets. Some people might have known that Tom was allegedly a physician, and some might have known that he was (in name anyway) one of the up-timer industrialists—but no one until now had known he was a magician.

George’s sleight of hand was good—very good. It had to be. He’d been the go-to guy for kid’s parties, and you had to be good to trick kids once they were old enough to suspect trickery. Big stage illusions—not so much, in no small part, he had told Tom once, because he didn’t have the skills to build them himself, and couldn’t afford the good ones. But he was good enough at close-up work that even when Tom knew exactly what he was doing, and when, and how, Tom still couldn’t catch him. This was going to prove important, because Tom was depending on him not only to convince Wallenstein that he was seeing solid evidence of that chakra nonsense Tom was about to spout, but because George was going to perform most of a physical exam that Wallenstein had no idea he was going to get. The king had flatly refused anyone permission to do the sort of examination that would actually tell them something. Even Edith wasn’t sure why, though Tom had a notion it might have less to do with either modesty or the concept of the King’s Sacred Person and a lot more to do with a very rational fear of assassination. Who would be more in a position to do a man in than his own physician?

“No psychic surgery,” George had said, flatly, when he’d heard what Tom wanted of him. “Absolutely, positively, no psychic surgery.”

“What?” Tom had replied, shocked. “No. I just want a blood pressure check, get his temp and heart-rate, stuff like that.”

“Good. Nobody is pulling that particular scam here down-time yet, and I’d rather they didn’t get ideas,” George had said, his grim tone conveying, even over the radio, the depth of his loathing for the sleight-of-hand charlatans that “removed tumors psychically” from the bodies of gullible victims up-time.

They descended the carriage and mounted the steps, followed by their entourage, and paused at the door for just a moment.

He and George exchanged a look. To his relief, he saw George smiling ever so slightly.

“It’s showtime,” George muttered out of the corner of his mouth, and as if that had been a cue, the doors swung open, and they stepped inside.

* * *

The king received them in a private audience chamber, and seemed quite impressed with by their flamboyant outfits. Until Tom knew whether or not Wallenstein had high blood pressure or a dingy heart, he didn’t want to put any stress on the man; that limited him quite a bit in what he could do. Not so George. Tom was the distracter so George could do his work. He’d commissioned seven hand-blown glass bowls in graduated sizes, and ordered seven framed panes of stained glass in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and white, after getting the dimensions he needed from Edith. He positioned the king in a comfortable chair under the window that the sun was coming through, then mounted the red glass inside the window frame so that the king was bathed in red light.

“I fear, your Majesty,” Tom said, as Wallenstein peered at him through the ruddy light, “That the good Dr. Gribbleflotz is only partially correct in his interpretation of the aura. You see, he has not studied the secrets of the aura among the ancient sages of the Tibetan mountains as I have. They teach us that the aura is merely the outward reflection of the inward emanations of the seven chakras.”

He then launched into a sermon on the chakras which owed as much to snake-oil medicine as it did to the little he remembered from the commune days. It really didn’t matter anyway, his son was right about that. All that mattered was that he was consistent, that what he said didn’t contradict Gribbleflotz so much as make Gribbleflotz look like the kid who had brought a baking-soda volcano to a science fair where other kids were showing off their dancing robots and osmotic sea-water purifiers. In this, he was helped immensely by George, who demonstrated a robust set of chakras by producing a “chakric resonator” in the form of a crystal wand that glowed the appropriate color when held over the appropriate spot on himself—and flickered and dimmed when held over the same spots on the king.

All except for the blue one—which corresponded to a spot right at the throat (and was the “auric color” that Gribbleflotz had told the king was his own. George made that one glow strongly. The king stared at the wand in fascination.

“Ah, now you see, all of your chakras are unbalanced,” Tom told him. “The only strong one is the Muskogee chakra, the chakra of communication and intellect. You are a man of your mind, Your Majesty. Your mind is the most powerful part of you. But by strengthening that part of your energy exclusively, you weaken the rest of your etheric body, exactly as if you concentrated on strengthening only your hand, until you could crush a walnut with your fist, but your legs would not take you across a room unaided.”

Since he couldn’t remember the Indian names for the chakras, he had finally just used the names of the home towns of some of his old friends. The chakra at the top of the head he called “Sheboygan,” followed by Mishawaka, Muskogee, Oskaloosa, Chillicothe, Oolagah and Austin.

The king nodded. “That is how I feel ever since Doktor Gribbleflotz was reading my aura and telling me it was blue!” he exclaimed. “I thought I was to be—” He broke off, looking perplexed.

“Now I will be examining your chakras with my colleague and assistant, Gupta, Tom carried on blithely. “Then we will know what is to be done to re-balance you.”

So the king sat in the red light while Tom dipped his fingers in a little water and made the biggest bowl “sing” by running his wet finger around the top of it, chanting nonsense syllables the entire time. The king’s eyes widened at that; evidently no one had invented the glass harmonica yet. Tibetan “singing bowls” were made of brass and made to sing in much the same fashion but using a wooden mallet—Tom had never quite mastered that, but he was pretty good at making wineglasses sing. George made mystical passes, made red silk handkerchiefs appear and vanish, did the same with glowing balls that he rolled around on his hands. Then they repeated the whole routine with orange light from an orange pane of glass, a higher pitched bowl, and so on right up to the white light. George meanwhile was getting a wealth of information.

By the time they were done, poor Wallenstein was exhausted and more than willing to go back to his bed while Tom and George “consulted” and “made their calculations and charts” to present to him the following day.

In reality they went back to the Roth’s, and Tom holed up with the radio and the closely-written pages of notes, consulting not with the stars, but with Dr. Nichols back in Magdeburg. Some things were obvious—Wallenstein had gout, for instance, a common complaint among nobles whose diets were worse than any American teenager who lived on fast food. His heart was definitely dodgy. By process of elimination, they figured he had a chronic infection somewhere.

“The heart’s going to kill him eventually,” Nichols said, “I’d say three, four years.” Tom clearly heard the frustration in Nichols’ voice, and he sympathized. Things that could have been treated with a couple generic prescriptions up-time were deadly now, and sometimes he could tell it grated on the Doc that Tom often knew more about what worked in the here and now than he did, with all of his experience and medical knowledge. “But you’ve got foxglove to keep him going, and the point is mostly to get the baby past the danger zone of infancy, according to Mike and Ed.”

“We can improve his diet some, if I put enough mystical spin on it. Garlic and kelp might clear up that infection, especially if it’s his tonsils; heck, I know I can make a Lister’s Fluid he can gargle with. Or if it’s in an infected tooth, maybe Edith can get him to get the tooth pulled.” Tom rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand. “I’ll see what I can figure out. He’s a tough old bastard, and he might surprise us. Look how long Henry the Eighth lasted, and he not only had a lot of the same problems, he had an abscessed leg too.”

“I hate this,” Nichols said, after a long pause. “I hate knowing that I know what to do, if only I had a modern operating theater, if only I had the right drugs, if only—”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Doc,” Tom interrupted. “Look at it this way. You and me, we’re still managing to save people no one down-time could before.” He said that, and he knew as he said it that it wouldn’t help much. Nichols was a real doctor; he had never been in medicine for the money, but because medicine was his calling. “And have patience. We’re getting antibiotics. We’ve got chloramphenicol and even some small amounts of penicillin. We’ll get there.”

“Providing quacks like Gribbleflotz don’t kill them first,” Doc said sourly. “All right, I’ve used up my allotted time. Good luck.”

Tom didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye; the voice of someone else, calling another station, immediately filled the speakers. He turned off the set, gathered up his notes, and headed for bed. Enough for now; tomorrow they’d start treatments and see if their guesses were going to work.

* * *

The treatments had begun to work. Tom really had not expected such a quick result, but already Wallenstein’s color was better, his breathing had eased thanks to the rosemary-infused steam he was inhaling, and Tom thought his BP might be going down. That might have been partly the placebo effect, partly the effect of just getting some of the king’s other conditions under control.

Whatever, there was progress, and it was beginning to look as if he and George would be able to go back to Grantville and leave things in Edith’s hands.

Which was, of course, the moment when everything went pear-shaped.

* * *

“I’m going to kill him,” George said for the fifty-sixth time. “I am going to mug Gribbleflotz in a dark alley, tear out his liver, and feed it to him.”

Dr. Gribbleflotz had been closeted with the king all morning, and the longer he was in there, the more convinced Tom became that things were not looking good for Chakras versus Kirlian.

Still. They had an ace in the hole, and that was Edith. Wallenstein trusted her as he trusted no one else.

But George was pacing up and down the antechamber they had been sent to wait in, muttering. Tom had never seen him this agitated before. Something more was going on here than Tom was aware of, obviously, but if George wasn’t going to say anything—

That was when Edith entered the room, and she didn’t even have to say anything; the expression on her homely face told both of them everything they needed to know.

George was already angry—but it was Tom who suddenly felt himself overcome with fury.

“Come on,” he growled, “Follow my lead.” And before Edith could say or do anything at all, he charged towards the king’s private chambers. Fortunately, Edith managed to sprint ahead of them, or they might have gotten skewered on the halberds of Wallenstein’s guards.

As it was, when they burst through the doors together, both Gribbleflotz and the king nearly jumped out of their skins.

“Thanks be to the Lord Jesus!” Tom bellowed. “I am here in time! Gupta! The violet ray! This is an emergency!”

And he leapt, not for the king, but for Gribbleflotz.

“Doctor, God save us,” he shouted, pulling the first thing he could lay his hands on out of his sleeve—it was an atomizer full of Lister solution—and spraying Gribbleflotz liberally. “Your chakras are fluctuating so dangerously that we felt the effects in the antechambers!”

George meanwhile had fished out the little flashlight they’d put a tiny scrap of blue theatrical gel on and was playing it into Gribbleflotz’s startled eyes.

“I beg your pardon, Majesty,” Tom continued, waving a quartz crystal point all over Gribbleflotz’s upper torso. “We dared not wait any longer. Your devoted doctor has put his own life in jeopardy by treating so many sufferers. His Mishawaka is utterly drained, his Sheboygan enlarged, and the rest of his chakras so muddled it is a wonder he has not collapsed before now!”

“They are?” Gribbleflotz managed, face stricken with doubt. “It is?”

Now George took over. “When you drink wine at dinner, do you sometimes feel dizzy when you rise, sahib?” he asked, earnestly, carefully mangling his German. “Do you find yourself waking in the night with a terrible need to relieve yourself? Do you find yourself stumbling over nothing? Do you sometimes forget a word or a name that you know as well as your own?”

Gribbleflotz paled. The doubt on his face was erased by slowly growing fear.

George had managed to palm one of his little lights, and he suddenly thrust it at Gribbleflotz’s belly, where it began to flash most alarmingly. “Sahib! Dr. Thomas!” George screamed in panic. “The Mishawaka! There is no time! I must operate!”

Before anyone in the room could react, Tom shoved Gribbleflotz down into a chair, and ruthlessly yanked up or tore open his clothing, exposing a very pale belly. In an instant, George had plunged his fingers into that belly, as both the king and Gribbleflotz’s eyes bulged and the king’s guards backed away, making furtive signs against evil.

One of them fainted dead away as George pulled his hand back out, bloody and sticky, and opened them to reveal a mass of what looked like bloody hair and things best left unidentified. “You see!” George shouted. “You see! It was almost too late!”

Gribbleflotz fainted dead away.

* * *

Back in Grantville at last, Tom and George gave the president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia their reports in person. Ed Piazza had come up from the new provincial capital at Bamberg to hear their report, on his way to Magdeburg. He’d pass the information along to Mike Stearns and Rebecca Abrabanel later, when the current political ruckus settled down. The dynastic situation in Bohemia was important but not exactly an urgent matter.

“Although I thought you said no psychic surgery,” Tom said. “I thought—”

“Look,” George growled. “I’m not proud of myself, all right? I hate those bastards. But we needed something dramatic, something that couldn’t be explained away as up-timer science, and we needed it right then. I had the feeling we might, so I helped myself to some stuff from the kitchen and a hairball one of the cats coughed up that morning. When I saw he wasn’t falling for your crystal waving, I played my ace. Do not ask me to do it again.”

“I won’t,” Tom replied. He didn’t add that he was making no promises about Ed Piazza or Mike Stearns.

“So, the treatments are going well, then?” Ed prodded.

Tom nodded. “Wallenstein’s actually making some improvement—he’s not going on any long hikes, but he’s able to do pretty much everything that a king needs to do on most days. Edith’s pleased. She asked me about the dyes I used in his medicines. I just told her they’re safe enough. I didn’t have the guts to tell her that Doc Nichols said congestive heart failure is going to kill him long before the dye will.”

Ed nodded with sympathy, then one corner of his mouth quirked up in a half smile. “And just what is this “special treatment” she keeps objecting to in her letters?

“Oh...” Tom blushed. “That...”

“Go on—” Piazza ordered.

“ know that the ‘root chakra’ is supposed to be located in the...ah...”

“Goolies,” George supplied helpfully.

Ed nodded. “Right, I follow you. And since you’re balancing all the chakras you can’t leave that one out.”

“Right.” Tom blushed further. “And the, ah...goolies...can’t drink. So we can’t exactly give them medicine. Except topically. But all the medicines are colored.”


“So the salve is colored. Blue, because the root energy is supposed to get boosted.” By now Tom felt like his face was on fire. “Because a lot of impotence is psychological and I figured—well—”

“Right. And?”

“Well, besides coloring the salve, I really needed something that was going to, you know, remind the king that the stuff is working. So the...ah...the dye is kind of permanent.”

Tom watched as Ed mentally went over everything he had just said, then stared at them both incredulously.

“You don’t mean—”

“He does mean,” George said, with a grin on his face. “Old Tom gave the king a case of blue balls.”

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