He awoke with a start and stretched. He always slept well during storms. Sitting up, he heard Gabriella in the kitchen putting breakfast together. He slid his legs out from the protective cover of his furs and winced at the coldness of the room. And little wonder, the fire had died down to a few insignificant flames. Wrapping his blanket around him, he looked around at the sleeping forms of his comrades. No sense in them having to freeze when they woke up, he thought and threw some more logs on the fire.
Gabriella looked up as he padded into the warm kitchen. “How much snow?” he asked.
“Take a look out the window,” she replied as she readied a cup of warm cider for him. He padded into the main room and looked out the window, his breath fogging up the glass. The snow was almost up to the bottom of it! He shook his head in disbelief and returned to the kitchen.
Taking a seat, he put his cold hands around the warm mug of cider and said, “Looks like there won’t be any weapons practice today.”
She nodded in agreement as she sat down herself. Gabriella wasn’t real talkative in the morning. She wasn’t as bad as Andrew, whose grumpiness registered between amusing and impressive. Usually Andrew was the last of them to rise in the mornings. His kyor tutelage under Gabriella was taking a lot out of him. Watching Andrew emerge each morning exhausted and haggard-looking bothered Derrick enough that he’d consulted Gabriella about it. She told him that it was perfectly normal, that students in their first Cycle of training slept a great deal, for their bodies were growing accustomed to manipulating a new set of energies. Or something like that.
Derrick didn’t presume to understand anything kyor-related. He would exercise his strengths and they exercised theirs. His group was a pretty well-rounded one so far as talents were concerned, and that was the best he could hope for. Derrick worried about what the world would hold for them once Gabriella deemed them ready. He held a suspicion that this Spring Market she kept mentioning would be a test of some kind, though for what, he couldn’t guess. But he knew the Spring Market was months away yet, so if they wanted to survive, they had to learn as much as possible from her before then.
“Wow, is it cold!” came Rick’s good morning greeting. He shuffled in wrapped in a blanket also. Derrick liked Rick. They got along well, and he was an especially good sport when it came to weapons practice. Rick accepted some warm cider and tore off a piece of freshly baked bread kept warm by the hearth. He sniffed the fragrant air in the kitchen.
“Porridge again?” he asked.
Gabriella raised an eyebrow. “You needn’t eat it, of course.”
Rick’s face brightened. “Really?”
Derrick shook his head. Rick fell for those setups of Gabriella’s every time. You’d think he’d learn.
“Of course not. There is still the bread.”
“Nothing else?” Rick’s face fell as he realized he had once again been duped.
“What, did you think she was going to make you something special?” Derrick teased.
“I get it, I get it. Porridge or starve.” Rick shook his head ruefully.
“What’s wrong with her porridge?” Elise asked as she walked into the kitchen.
Gabriella had turned around and fixed Rick with one of those looks. Derrick had learned to get around those looks, though it had taken him some time, but Rick was a regular recipient.
“Ah, nothing. Not a thing.” Rick smiled disarmingly. The look on Gabriella’s face turned to one of satisfaction.
“Mmm, bread.” Elise sat down at the table and tore off a piece of the loaf. “Is the blizzard over?”
Really, if he had to be totally honest with himself, she was not such a bad person. Certainly she was shaping up to be a lovely girl. But she ignored him quite thoroughly, and that bugged him almost as much as her staunch refusal to just give in and be friends. They would never be close, but for the welfare of the group, they ought to be at least civil. He hated having someone who hated him, and what he hated even more than that was that he had done nothing to deserve it, nothing at all. At least not initially, he thought as his conscience reminded him of a few fights early on in which he had been less than chivalrous.
“Did you have to yawn?” yawned Rick to Elise, who had covered her mouth to hide one. Inevitably, he found himself yawning. Except for the peaceful popping of the fire in the stone hearth, it was quiet for a few minutes, during which Derrick took the opportunity to covertly study Elise while she was eating. She seemed okay after yesterday, though he wished he could say the same for Fiaz. The great zary’andu had taken the pain so stoically, even while Fiona had administered the poultice.
He had a lot of respect for Fiaz. During those rare moments when he forced himself to be objective about Elise, he decided that the two personalities complimented each other. Then there were the times when Derrick decided that she really was just a bitch. They didn’t fight anymore, for which he was grateful; she had a knack for bringing out the worst in him. But she never spoke to him unless absolutely necessary, which in cases like yesterday’s really bothered him. When something was wrong, he wanted to know now, immediately, not secondhand. If, as Rick had told him later, she had absolutely insisted on returning to the limba’s territory, Derrick would have taken Rick and maybe Andrew with him and accompanied her. He couldn’t help feeling responsible for his comrades, even Elise. And he wasn’t about to allow her to run off into a dangerous situation, her or anyone else.
They were sitting around the fire watching Andrew practice Illusions when finally Fiona emerged from the bedroom. Derrick raised an eyebrow. She must have slept poorly, for she rarely ever slept so late. Behind her, Fiaz paced carefully, so as not to dislodge his poultice. Frowning, she cast a dark look over her shoulder at him. That was strange. Fiona rarely had a harsh word or evil glare for anyone. She stopped and glanced around at their haphazard little circle, sprawled on floor cushions and furs.
Nervously, she cleared her throat and looked at Gabriella, who gazed back at her calmly.
“Fiaz says.... I - I have the Healing Gift.” Tears formed in her eyes and spilled down her face.
Derrick sat up. The Healing Gift? That was great! She was upset about that? Andrew had mentioned that a long time ago in a list of Gifts a person could have. What was wrong? She looked... scared. He looked at Gabriella.
Gabriella stood up and placed a reassuring hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Come,” she said as she put an arm around Fiona’s shoulders and disappeared into the bedroom, with Fiaz trailing behind slowly.
The rest of them exchanged glances. “Did you know about this?” Derrick asked Andrew.
Andrew looked just as surprised as the rest of them. “No. Not a thing.”
Derrick hesitated. Looking at Elise, he asked, “What about Fiaz? Can he tell us anything?” It wasn’t that he was trying to be nosy, but he wanted to know why Fiona was so upset.
Elise looked at him levelly. “Hold on,” she said. After a few seconds, she frowned and told them, “He told us to mind our own business.”
Rick’s eyebrows shot up. “Us or you?”
“Us.” She paused, her brilliant blue eyes thoughtful. “Whatever it is will take some time. “I wonder what’s got her so scared?” Elise wondered aloud with concern.
No one said anything, all of them wondering themselves.
Finally Rick said, “Well, it’s done and over with. We’ll just have to find out later.”
Elise looked at him and said, “You keep saying that. Don’t you mean ‘over and done with’?”
Rick shrugged. “Means the same thing, doesn’t it?”
Derrick smiled a little. She was right, he did say that a lot. “Well, Andrew, why don’t you start over.”
A few marks later found Rick and Andrew playing chess on a chessboard made of Illusion, meant not only to satisfy boredom, but to increase Andrew’s control. Elise had cleared a space and was practicing some lesser moves in Fiona’s tai-kwon-do/avril-shusta blend, while Derrick was half-heartedly reading a book of Gabriella’s on history and watching the chess game. Gabriella had appeared briefly to take some food from the kitchen to bring in to Fiona, though that had been some time ago. Impatiently, Derrick wondered what they were doing in there that was taking so long. From time to time, he thought he heard muffled crying. However, he trusted Gabriella’s judgment, so he continued to wait.
Rick studied the board for the danger to his king. “How did that get there?”
Andrew shrugged and smiled. Just then a low wail came from the bedroom. They all looked apprehensively toward the bedroom.
“What’s going on in there, anyway, surgery of some kind?” muttered Rick.
Derrick couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up and faced his comrades. “I’m going to find out what’s wrong.” Hoping he looked braver than he felt – if Gabriella had needed their help, she would have asked. He approached the bedroom door and ran a nervous hand through his hair. Should he really be disturbing them? He looked back doubtfully at the rest of the group. Just then, the door opened. Derrick turned back around to look into Gabriella’s tired green eyes. She closed the door behind her quietly.
“What’s wrong with her?” Derrick demanded.
“She will be fine.” Yet even as she replied, racking, choking sobs came from behind the door. Alarmed, Derrick tried to open the door but Gabriella caught his hand. “Come with me,” she said.
Reluctantly, Derrick followed her into the kitchen. “What’s going on?”
Gabriella placed her small hands on his shoulders. “I know you are worried. She will be fine now. She – had something personal that she needed to deal with.”
“But she sounds heartbroken in there! Listen to her –” Derrick stopped at her raised hand.
“It is okay now. We helped her to confront her – past. You must trust me on this.”
Derrick looked into Gabriella’s green eyes. She had never given him a reason not to trust her. Finally, he sighed and nodded his assent. Her shoulders sagged with relief, and he thought, weariness as she turned away and began mixing a packet into a cup of cider.
“You must understand that it is terribly hard for her to do this, and very brave of her.” Gabriella continued to stir the mixture in the mug and did not look up. “But you must not,” now she turned to him, “ask her or pressure about this in any way until she ventures to speak of it herself. Which she may never do. She has suffered a terrible hurt, and she has borne the pain alone for a long time. It was not easy for her to give it up, and she is quite distraught. But most importantly, she will heal properly now. I am mixing a sleeping potion for her, so that she will rest. This has been very hard on her.” Gabriella paused. “I must have your promise that neither you nor any of the others will ask or pressure her in any way to speak of it.”
Solemnly, Derrick nodded. He knew he could speak for the others.
“Very good.” With that, Gabriella slipped again into the bedroom he and the guys had built.
He sighed heavily and raked a hand through his hair. He hated not knowing what was going on.