*** 2 ***
Dawn birds were singing and she woke with a start. The fire had burned to ashes and her patient still slept. Standing, she stretched to relieve cramped muscles and went to check on him finding that his pulse was stronger. Taking a stick, she stirred the fire and was rewarded with live coals. She added more small branches and watched them come alight. The rest of the previous days kill was well-cooked and she sliced some from it to eat as she worked. With daylight, she was able to search the cart and found some men’s clothing, a kettle, cups, a bit of food and some pots under rough sacking. The post with his blood on it she wrenched off and threw in the fire. Then she filled the deep kettle and set it to boil adding the rest of the meat. Still ravenous from the night’s work, she dug a warm tuber from the ashes and ate it, following it with gulps of spring water. She put water, herbs, and cwel meat into the kettle and set it to heat. Near the spring pool, she refreshed herself then washed and returned to the fire.
“Good morning,” she greeted her patient when she saw his eyes open on her return. “Turn down that blanket and let’s see what needs be done.”
When he complied, her eyes widened, evoking a chuckle from the man. “You named me ‘mage’ and you’re still surprised?” His voice was weak and tired.
Brillar knelt and examined his chest. His bruises were fading and minor cuts had healed but the wounds from the dimlock were still ugly and there was something odd about them. He pulled up the blanket as if chilled.
“Yes,” he said hoarsely, “they’ll heal slowly and will need your help.” Wounds from a dimlock, she remembered, took time to heal and were impervious to even the strongest healing spells.
“I’m only amazed that you had the strength to draw in enough mana to perform any self-healing.” She dipped a cup into the kettle and added more herbs. “Drink. It will warm you. I have to tend to the horses.”
She fetched more water and, finding a rope in the cart, encircled a section of the clearing as a grazing area making sure the stream from the spring ran through it. In daylight, she inspected the trio she would have to lead to fresh grass. The largest, a chestnut stallion, pulled on his lead, nickering and showing her the whites of his eyes. The others, a fine grey mare and a roan cart horse, responded to his distrust with their own.
Breathing a sigh, Brillar closed her eyes and relaxed her body. She reached out to the animals with friendship, soothing their fears. When she opened her eyes, all three had approached, ears pricked and attentive. She let the stallion nuzzle her hand, then brushed his forelock finding a charm tied there. Feeling its darkness, she removed the charm throwing it on a rock and breaking it with her heel. The stallion’s head went up at once and he whinnied his distress but responded to her waves of soothing. When they were all calm, she untied the leads and took them to the new pasture. Satisfied, she returned to the fire to find her patient shuddering.
“That drink was to warm you, not freeze you,” she said. She put her hand on his forehead. “Fever. I’m sorry, I should have guessed with the wounds from the dimlock. And then your exertion to heal scratches!”
“Don’t scold,” he shivered in response.
“Don’t speak!” she scolded. Pulling down the blanket, she inspected the wounds and smelled them. The odor nauseated her. “Infection. Be as still as you can.”
She added her cloak to his blanket. “I’ll need more herbs. A few moments only.” Opening the fold box, she took out healing herbs and a small orb. Closing it, she went back to her patient.
She crushed the herbs into a cup of water. Holding the orb above it, she chanted the arcane words then breathed over the cup. As she did so, the water and leaves blended and thickened becoming a light green salve; its glow spoke of its power. Taking a clean cloth, she dipped it into the salve and began to press it lightly into the infected wounds, still chanting.
His body stiffened and he clenched his teeth. His breath came in quick gasps. Still she tended the raw flesh, first on his chest then his shoulders and back. As she reached the last of the wounds, his breathing eased but she continued until all the salve was gone. A few words with the orb and she dispelled the fever. His body relaxed and he slept.
Sitting back on her heels, she inspected him again shaking her head at his thinness. His shrunken flesh was a reminder of her own hunger and a glance at the sky told her it was already past midday. Trail rations and slices of meat had to suffice as they could be eaten as she worked.
“Sleep is healing in itself,” she murmured, “but the waking must be working.” There was fuel to gather for the fire, more water to carry, the cart to tend to. Then there was the matter of more food. The tubers in the cart she cleaned and cut and put into the kettle to cook with the meat. She searched the area around the camp for herbs. When she returned to add them to the pot, he was snoring.
Gently, to keep from waking him, she touched his forehead. “Fever broken already? The Sisters would be proud,” she said quietly and chuckled to herself. “More time,” Sister Rodenis had insisted. “You need more time with us.” But Brillar had been impatient and left her sister Alliana to her studies with the Sisters. She shook her head at the memory. Now, the sky was darkening as she took a cup of stew for herself, adding more fuel to the fire and water to the kettle.
Checking her patient, she began to think that sleeping looked like a fine idea. She stretched her far-sight to the limit and sensed no danger. The stallion responded from the pasture with a whiney and she smiled a bit. ‘As I thought, the stallion is his. Let him keep watch then.’ She stretched out by the fire and slept. A light rain fell overnight waking her and she put a lid on the kettle and added wood to the fire. Twitching rain off her cloak and checking her patient, she went back to sleep.
‘Sleep is indeed a healer,’ Brillar thought as she woke. A glance at the sky said she had slept well into the morning. Her patient was still asleep and she could see he had a strong pulse. The blanket over him was damp and she removed it, covering him to the waist with her cloak so she could tend to the wounds left by the dimlock. She made more of the healing salve and he slept through its application although he twitched a bit and moaned when she touched the place where the pendent had lain. It had cut him near to the bone and the flesh around it was red and raw despite her salve. The blanket she hung to dry. One edge of the cloak he lay on had been near the fire and was dry, the other was damp, but it was too soon to shift him from his resting place.
Brillar checked the soup which had bubbled own to the consistency of stew while she slept. She scooped some out and enjoyed its rich flavor. ‘Not the usual way to break a fast, but good enough,’ she thought. Her patient, however, would need broth. She added more water to the kettle then checked the horses which came to her without caution. ‘Time,’ she thought, ‘to see if he’ll take some soup.’
This proved harder than it sounded. She had to raise him up a bit, more than half asleep and give him short sips. Still, she was able to get soup into him before he lapsed into a deeper sleep. She spent the rest of the day tending to the fire, the food, the horses. The blanket dried quickly in the spring sun and she retrieved her cloak, recovering him with the blanket and applying more of the salve. Deciding he wouldn’t wake, she also tended the other cuts and scrapes that he had partly healed with a spell. Her healing spells were stronger but even spells sapped some of the patient’s strength as his body responded to them so she used the salve liberally. He did not wake.
“A healing sleep is long and deep,” she recited from her lessons quietly. “ Perhaps he’ll be ready to speak in the morning.”
A farmer passed by in the afternoon on foot heading toward Denwis. He looked at her curiously as he passed, but she turned her back, wanting no company. Trail rations and some soup were the evening meal. Brillar added more water to the soup and wood to the fire and settled in for the night.
This time she woke early, stretching stiffly. She washed and refreshed herself then put more wood on the fire and water in the soup. Her patient came awake as she finished some trail rations and water. Time for some answers, if he was able.
“Can you sit to eat?” He nodded and she helped him sit, astonished as he tried to stand, shakily!
He looked at her ruefully. “Necessaries,” he croaked. She made him sit long enough to find a stout stick he could use as a cane. He nodded then took himself behind a tree. His ragged clothes barely covered him. Coming back, he nearly fell and she had to assist him. Settling him near the fire, she handed him a cup of soup.
He sipped it, savoring its rich flavor, chewing bits of meat and vegetables. He took several strong pulls on the broth and stretched it out for more. She refilled cup, watching him drink, feeling him gather his strength. She stretched out on her cloak taking an attitude of ease.
“Now,” he said finally, “it is time for answers.” Brown eyes stared at her, probing. He took a long pull on the cup. Sick as he was, she could feel his power and sat up slowly, smiling.
“Indeed,” she returned, resisting him, “answers.” Green eyes stared back at him. “You first.”
Her reply caught him in mid-swallow and he sputtered, coughing, then chuckled.
“A strong answer. But first might I have more of that wonderful soup?” his voice was querulous.
She filled his cup and waited as he sipped and ate.
“I am Garnelden, called Elden, Mage of the Four Powers, with First Standing in three.” That raised her eyebrows. Even her mother held only two Firsts and she was an Elder.
“Not many reach such heights, and yet there you were, strapped to a cart wearing a dimlock,” she responded quietly.
He hung his head sheepishly, lank brown hair falling over his face. “I was taken unawares.”
“A Mage of the Four Powers? Unawares?” She stirred the fire and added a branch casually.
He cleared his throat. “Drink was involved.”
Brillar gave him a slight smile. “And a woman I’d wager.”
“Two in fact,” he admitted grudgingly. “But your name?”
“Brillar of Laurenfell; student of Life only. Daughter of Lady Darwallen of the Life Sisterhood and Sir Prendar.”
“Well met then, Brillar of Laurenfell.” Brown eyes stayed on her steadily.
“And to you,” she responded politely. “And so, Mage of the Four Powers, how did a woman or two manage to get their hands on a dimlock collar and why. The one I killed was no woman.”
He looked at her sharply. “I thought I felt death, even in my state. Was it Pilik?” When she nodded he continued, “Bounty hunter. He paid the women.”
“So, a bounty? If it’s great enough, I may stop feeding you,” she said, jokingly.
“Is 20,000 in gold enough?” He seemed almost wary now as she sat back in reaction. That much in gold was enough for a long and rich life of leisure for more than one family. Then she laughed.
“Enough for some, but blood money doesn’t interest me.” She refilled his cup again. “And the collar?”
“They had it from the man who set the bounty.” He stared into his cup, sad, withdrawn.
She considered more questions, but put them aside and stood up.
“Enough tales for now. Do you feel strong enough to wash?”
His lips twitched upward. “Am I a bit rank, then?”
“A bit, and still too weak for more casting, don’t argue with me on that. There were some clothes in the cart so I’ll bring water there. The spring is further and there’s no need for you to walk that far.” She had to help him, supporting one arm while he leaned on his stick. He sank down on the end of the cart with a sigh of relief already weary with the exertion as she took the jug for water and poured it slowly over his arms and down his legs. He rubbed them with sacking as she went for more water.
On her second trip from the spring, the stallion was with Garnelden.
“It seems I was so rank that even Jez would have no part of me,” he smiled as she poured water on his back below the dimlock wounds. Then he asked for one last jug and she turned her back politely so he could finish washing. With a final rinse, Garnelden declared himself clean enough for clothing and dressed in the things from the cart; rough ill-fitting clothes but no boots. He stroked the stallion’s long cheek. “Go back to graze and keep good watch for us.” The stallion eyed her but returned to the pasture.
“My thanks for finding the charm that bound him.” She tilted her head, questioning. “There must have been one; without it he would have tried to kill to free me and been killed in return. We’ve been together a long time, Jez and I.”
Ignoring his thanks, Brillar nodded at him approvingly. “You clean up well,” she told him, although the clothes hung on him.
“I’ve lost some weight, it seems.” He pushed himself up holding the cart and she helped him back to the fire.
She had him sit a moment while she removed the bloody cloak, set it aside and spread a blanket on the ground. Once he was settled with a second blanket over him, she sat back and waited. A man will talk or not. Waiting was best. Garnelden was able to help himself to more soup. Tension and relief came from him in alternate waves.
“They took me at West Riversgate. That was on the sixth day of Tebil, during the festival.” He looked at her, inquiringly.
“Seventeen days.” To herself she thought, ‘How is he even alive?’
He shuddered. His words came out haltingly. “Once the dimlock was fastened, I lost track of day and night; both were one and the Light was gone.” He seemed to shrink into himself. “I ate and drank I think, when they thought or cared to feed me. Everywhere was the same. There was only the pain; the separation. The separation was worse than the pain.” He stopped and put a hand to his face.
It was Brillar’s turn to shudder. Not fully trained in any of the Powers, she could feel mana always. Not to feel it, to be separated from it, seemed to her like a small death. She rubbed her legs, feeling a chill.
“I’m sorry,” he said looking up. Brown eyes were full of concern.
She shook her head. “No. No, I am just glad I took the way of the bow and not the Powers. Well, not to the point of someone gifting me with a dimlock.”
“Ah yes, the dimlock. How did you know that it wasn’t warranted? I might have killed you as soon as you removed it.”
She pursed her lips, amused. “You couldn’t have killed a butterfly when I removed it but my knife was ready.” He nodded sadly. She smiled at him in encouragement. “As for the dimlock, it’s wrapped in a hide and well stored. I don’t have the power to destroy it.”
“Few if any know how,” he said, then waited for the rest of her answer.
“Two things then. The dimlock held you but its power was focused inward. Still, even before I was attacked, something was wrong here. I felt something, a darkness; I thought it was some sort of strange animal. But it was gone as soon as Pilik died. Even Trog carried none of it. Then, when I searched you, the only thing that seemed wrong was the dimlock. From you, there was a faint light.” She reached out, searching. “It’s grown stronger now that the collar is gone.”
Garnelden nodded approvingly. “In my state, I was the ‘animal’ you felt. Good that you weren’t slack in all your lessons.”
She chuckled. “Not all or you could be dead now.”
His face turned dark and troubled. “Between a dimlock and death…..”
Garnelden sighed, leaned back and rested his head on a log. The day was getting late but blue sky could still be seen through green clad branches and the breeze was gentle.
“If I had any thoughts in the last days,” he said, half to himself, “they were that I would never see the sky again.” He closed his eyes and soon drifted into sleep.
Brillar watched him, a bit amused. Between eating and sleeping he seemed to have healed sufficiently during the day but she still had things to do. She added more water and trail rations to the pot and put more wood on the fire. Better to keep it burning although she now thought that Jez would indeed wake them if anything came near. She went to check on the animals. Her bow and knife, as always, she kept close by her.
Night came slowly and she enjoyed its advance. She gathered her cloak around her. ‘Strange,’ she thought, ‘to feel so content in the wild. Well, half-wild, just off the world’s track.’ The last of the day birds flew through the darkening sky to their nests and a night bird hooted in the distance. She laid back, warm in her cloak, watched the stars appear and slept.