Authors: Anne Marie Lutz
Title Page Information
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and events in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Anne Marie Lutz
Cover Art © 2012 by Neal Seamus
Map © 2012 by Neal Seamus
Edited by Barbara Taft Verducci
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced, stored, archived or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission from the publisher.
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Published by Loconeal Publishing, LLC
Printed in the United States of America
First Loconeal Publishing edition: September, 2012
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ISBN 978-0-9850817-8-2 (Paperback)
To my mom, who always knew she'd hold a book of mine in her hands. And to Steve, for his love and support through draft after draft of this novel.
I've had a lot of help from family members (some of whom also double as first readers). Thanks to all of you! Also, thanks are due to the members of the North Columbus Fantasy/SciFi Writers group—I’ve learned a lot from all of you, and no doubt will learn more in the future. Good luck to all of you in your writing.
Table of Contents
Kirian stepped down the dusty wooden steps of the caravan and looked around. The road to SeagardVillage dropped off precipitously from the wagon road on the ridge. A medley of rocky outcroppings and scrubby bushes, leading to a distant slate-colored sea foaming against wet rocks, spilled out below.
The caravan master shouted to someone inside the baggage wagon to hurry with the Healer’s bags.
“Kirian, let me come with you!”
She turned and smiled at the young man who stood there staring at her. Everything Inmay did was intense; it made her only more anxious to leave him behind.
“You know you can’t come with me. I want to focus on learning from the old Healer, and I won’t have any time for you. Besides, Inmay, you have your own posting.” She let the smile vanish as she spoke; there was no point in encouraging him.
“I didn’t choose my posting any more than you did yours.” Inmay brushed his hair back with nervous fingers. A gleam of premature gray showed in the pale yellow strands.
“You agreed to go.”
“I had no choice! They would have exiled me.”
Kirian sighed. The man refused to understand how dangerous he was perceived to be in the homes of the powerful. “You’re lucky, Inmay. The last person who helped a slave escape was publicly beheaded. If you hadn’t been who you are—now, here come my bags! I have to go.”
The caravan master placed her bag in the dirt next to her. He bowed. Dust clung to his hair and to his sweaty face.
“Good journey, good luck,” he said with spurious goodwill.
“Thank you. Good journey to you as well,” Kirian said. She had no money for a tip, but good wishes were free.
The caravan master shook his head at her and waved to his lead driver. “Let’s move!” he said, swinging onto the wagon. The driver snapped the reins against the sweated flanks of the horses. Inmay, in the third wagon back, called good luck to her. His head vanished inside the limp hangings that protected the passengers from the dust of the road. Kirian had no such protection; the horses’ hooves kicked up the dirt of the ridge road into a gritty cloud as the caravan groaned into motion.
The dirt track of the Seagard road dribbled down to the distant village, which Kirian could barely make out. She sighed, hoisted her Healer’s bag over one shoulder and secured her heavier bag in her right hand, and set out. The way was rough, with rocks sticking out of the track here and there, but the breeze was cool and carried the taste of the nearby sea. The mountains were shadowed by an early dusk and struck a warning chill. Sea birds called and complained along the cliff edges. As dusk came, the sky was a cobalt blue, like a gem, a color Kirian had never before seen. If she were not so weary, she would have enjoyed the walk.
But she had come from Sugetre that day, coughing up the dust on the wagon road, and she was not used to the mountain terrain. Her bags grew heavier, and she discovered that her shoes were all wrong. She fell once, scraping her knees and doing further damage to her already irritable temper. When she finally reached the foot of the track and walked into Seagard, she was not at all in the correct frame of mind for a Healer newly come to her town.
A woman, bent with age or with the weight of the wooden bucket she carried, stood near a gray shed with a half-open door. Kirian knew what was in the bucket—she had been smelling fish for the last five minutes.
“Hello!” Kirian said. “I bring greetings from Sugetre, from the Healer’s College.”
“Welcome, child!” the old woman said. “Come in, come in! I know who you be, the healer Ruthan’s been waiting for this last week.”
Kirian was disarmed by the old woman’s friendliness. In Sugetre one was never welcomed with such pleasure—in fact, in Sugetre people were often glad to see the back of you, unless they were in immediate need of your skills as a Healer. This old one looked to be in reasonably good health, and Kirian was a perfect stranger to her, but she set down the stinking bucket and escorted Kirian inside.
Kirian looked around the cramped space. There was a wooden bench and an overstuffed chair that had seen better days. A long table filled the center of the room. The remains of a meal for three littered the table—dirty plates, frayed cloth napkins, fish bones and a half-empty dish of turnips.
“Sit, sit!” demanded the old woman. “I be Marka, Ruthan’s friend. I’ll send my daughter Missa for her as soon as can be.” She set down the bucket and bustled around the little house, speaking to someone in the back room. A younger woman brought a mug of bitter ale, and Kirian sipped it gratefully. In a few more minutes, Kirian heard a door close in the kitchen. The young woman ushered in a very tiny, bent woman cloaked against the night sea mist.
Kirian stood. “Hon Ruthan, I am Kirian. I am sent to help you and learn from you by Master Raiko at the Healer’s College. I am very glad to meet you.”
The old woman looked up with eyes as blank as boiled eggs. Kirian stopped, taken aback. There were no pupils to the old woman’s eyes, only endless whites. She hesitated with her hand out, feeling stupid for her instinctive reaction. How could a blind Healer work?
“She can see you just fine,” Missa said gently.
Ruthan took Kirian’s hand with perfect ease. Her blank eyes stared into Kirian’s. Kirian looked away.
“My eyes are all colors instead of just one,” the old woman said. “I can see perfectly well your lovely face and your bright eyes, young Kirian. That hair will be the talk of Seagard by tomorrow morning. Is that a new style in Sugetre?”
Kirian relaxed a little. “No, Hon Ruthan, it’s my own choice.” Her hair was cut very short, like that of a boy who studied arms and wanted to keep his locks out of his face. Sometimes, when it was humid, it spiked.
Ruthan grinned. “I like it. Elder Hame won’t, and Lord Alkiran won’t, so be prepared. But don’t change it.”
By this time they were all seated again. Ruthan looked small and frail in the place of honor in the overstuffed chair, but Kirian recalled the grip of the old Healer’s hand. She was stronger than she looked.
“Forgive me,” Kirian said. “But how—?”
“Healer Ruthan was gifted with her Sight by them up at the Castle,” old Marka said.
“Now I can truly see, young woman,” Ruthan said. “With the Sight I can see if sickness lies still in the blood after I think I have purged it out. I can see if the bones in a broken leg lie together just right, before I bind them up. I can see how the babe lies when a woman is ready to give birth. Ah, they are a blessing, these eyes of all colors. I’ll never regret the day I asked Lord Alkiran for them.”
The old Healer must have done some significant service to the old lord to receive such a blessing. Far from being blind, Ruthan could see better than anyone Healer Kirian had ever known. Kirian sipped her ale to gain a moment to gather her thoughts; in one short hour she had lost her arrogance. What could Kirian, a twenty-six year old with a few years’ book-learning, bring to this village that an experienced woman with Ruthan’s gift could not?
Ruthan stood, leaning on Missa’s arm. “Ah, I am glad to see you, young woman. I look forward to long talks about what you have learned from old Raiko. You will be a freshening sea breeze around here, I can tell, especially with that assertive hair. Will you come? I have a room set up for you, and a place for you to put your things.”
“Gladly,” Kirian said sincerely. “I am honored to be here.” Nodding to Marka, she hauled the baggage to her shoulder and followed the old Healer as she led the way out of Marka’s house and down a stony lane to the Healer’s house.
“Missa and Marka are the roots of this village,” Ruthan told her. “They’re the ones you’ll see at all the festivals, setting up games for the little ones, and at all the houses when someone’s ill, bringing fish soup and bread. You’ll see them often.”
Kirian nodded. Missa and Marka were the mothers of this village. She did hope, however, that she would not have to eat fish soup anytime soon.
Ruthan’s house was a wooden structure from which any traces of paint had been stripped by the salt breeze. Its siding blended with the dusk in a monochromatic gray. Inside, two cramped outer rooms were clearly dedicated to Ruthan’s work, containing simple cots, shelves of labeled jars, blankets, earthenware bowls, and a tray of bandages at the ready. She had sacrificed a parlor for her healer’s rooms; farther in were her kitchen, crammed with a table still spread with her interrupted dinner, a small pantry, and two bedrooms. Ruthan directed Kirian to one of these with a tired gesture.