I know something is wrong before I even open my eyes. I startle awake, notice that Maia is gone, and wake the others.
‘Helia is still here, she couldn’t have gone far on foot.’
Knowing that Ander’s is right, I walk around the camp until I find her footprints leading toward the woods.
‘You think she went looking for more herbs?’
Ander’s helps Peter pack up camp while Mikael and I set off into the woods to find Maia.
We find her at the creek within moments, standing in the flowing water. We step out from the brush too late to realise that she is nude and quickly turn our backs.
‘Still worried about nudity?’
We should have known better than to think we could turn around and walk away.
‘We don’t worry about nudity, but we don’t go out of our way to ogle naked women, either,’ Mikael calls back.
We could almost hear her eyes roll. Water splashes as Maia walks out of the creek and we hear clothes rustle as Maia dresses.
‘It’s safe to turn around.’
It was barely safe to turn around. She was wearing her pants, but she only had an arm across her breasts.
‘Don’t be so shocked. I’ll put the shirt on after one of you helps me with these bandages.’
Mikael steps forward as she smears a poultice over the fresh bandages, and I take a seat on a boulder nearby.
‘Is that the poultice Alba gave you?’
‘No. Alba is a fine healer but, even before I add magic, my poultice is far more effective.’
She winces as she lifts her arm for Mikael to wind bandages around her ribs. I assumed that her magic would heal the wound in her side faster than this, but the gash is raw and weeping.
Mikael secures the bandage and bends to retrieve Maia’s shirt from the small rock by the water’s edge.
He walks back to me, so Maia has some privacy to dress.
‘I don’t envy her that wound. Alba tidied it up, but I’d wager the blade slipped between her ribs. It obviously didn’t puncture anything, but that is a rather impressive wound,’ he says.
‘It did slip between the ribs, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. Magic, or at least my magic, prioritises healing in its caster,’ Maia says as she comes through the brush, fully dressed.
‘What does that mean?’
I’ve never heard of something like that, not even among the genuine magic wielders whom I have encountered.
‘It means that the most serious wounds heal first. The internal injuries will heal first, which is why the surface wound is still open.’
‘You can’t heal yourself the way you healed Anders?’
‘It would get the same results. The nutrients from the herbs and my own magic aren’t simply applied to the surface. They are moved throughout the body to reach the areas causing the most harm. For Anders, that was the cut on his arm. For me, it would be whatever was harmed internally from the stab wounds.’
‘But why not just heal it all at once?’ asks Mikael.
‘Because there are only so many nutrients in each herb, not to mention the price that is sometimes paid by the spellcaster. I can do a lot of things, and some of those things take energy from the world around me, but healing comes from the soul. No spellcaster could heal someone if they genuinely had no desire to heal them. It is best to heal in small bursts unless necessary to a person’s survival that you heal a large injury all at once. Ander’s wound was relatively minor, which is why I was able to do it.’
‘I didn’t know any of that,’ I say, feeling slightly guilty after thinking of all the things she could do if she stayed with us in Alderon. ‘What happens to healers who try to heal something outside of their skill level?’
‘I can’t say for sure. I’ve never been formerly trained - what I just told you is relative to my experience only - I can only assume that they would die.’
‘Die!’ gasps Mikael.
I manage not to show it, but I am just as shocked as he. Maia nods with as much care as if she had commented on the weather and continues.
‘I once healed a child who had rolled down a hill and onto the rocks by the river. He was near death and I decided to whatever I could to save him, but it nearly killed me. The spell finished as my vision was fading. My body had been drained to the point that I wasn’t able to get out of bed for the three days after the healing.’
She spies a herb by the creek and goes to pluck it from the soil.
‘Let’s get moving. We still have a long way to go before we get to Quinteray.’
Anders and Peter have breakfast prepared when we arrive, a meal that Maia can eat without issue. What would usually be a gluggy oatmeal was made spectacular by the addition of honey and berries that Maia had been collecting during her walks through the forest.
‘We should make it to Lake Town by night fall, today,’ I tell our group as we ready the horses.
‘Shall we camp on the outskirts or see about an Inn?’ asks Anders, trying without success to call his horse as easily as Maia called hers.
Maia eventually takes pity on him and whistles, the stallion loping over like it were a puppy to nuzzle at Maia.
‘An Inn if we can. I have no problem with setting up camp but if we don’t have to then we won’t.’
‘What’s an Inn?’
My head turns so fast in Maia’s direction that I hear the bones crack - and I’m not the only one.
‘What?’ she says, seeming as confused as we are shocked.
‘Um, it’s a place you can go when you need somewhere to stay. They give you a room, bed and meals for as long as you can pay for them.’
‘That sounds convenient.’
She sits astride her horse and trots away.
I had not considered that there would be things that Maia had never seen or heard of, but I should have. She told us when we met that she lived in the forest with the boar and had never left the village and, from my memory, her village didn’t have an Inn.