Intrigue and deception swirl in the Kingdom of Wildevale. Queen Ravela rules, and the tales of her madness and cruelty multiply by the day. Her sister, the victim of a magically enhanced poison, lies in a coma, wasting away a little more each day; kept alive only by Ravela's magic. Ambassadors from the nearby kingdoms of Arcum and Parasia have arrived, bearing in hand treaties of peace. Or so they say.
Meanwhile, hidden in the teaming city of Marossa, a bitter young woman takes halting steps along the Healer's Path. A woman who is far more than she seems, and could become far greater than any can imagine.
*author's note. I wrote the story rotating the narrative between Kemi and Ravela as a way to get past some writer's block I was having. I've started and am in the middle of writing several stories, but each seemed to stall. One way I get past this is to write in first person. Maybe this should have been written in third person. Maybe someday I'll rewrite it in that narrative. Until then, I apologize for any confusion as the narration shifts between the two characters.
“Be vigilant, O my people! For I shall send my healer among you once more as a token of my love. Queens and Kings shall bow before her. And she shall work miracles…”
-Song of Selene, Vallan Codex, Volume 2, chapter 21
“Behold! An avatar of great power rises in Marossa, when winter’s chill surrenders to the flowers of spring.”
-message of the Seers of Tyke’s Temple to Queen Kaelee
Kēmeía, Greek: the process or act of change, especially from one thing to another, as the change from base metal to gold.
30th day of Winterwane, 1022 DDE.
City of Marossa
Muln River, South of the Palace
It filled my lungs, in between watery coughs.
"What have we here?"
Pain! Everything burned and throbbed, but freezing too. So cold!
"Why lass! Ye've got the shivers. Let me wrap my shawl about ye."
'Yes, you are.'
I blinked rapidly, trying to focus. For I heard two women speaking; one in front of me, and one in my head.
"What happened to ye?
I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out.
"What's wrong with your voice?"
The woman grabbed my face and forced my mouth open. I tried to pull away, but her grip was like iron, and I was so weak.
"Oh, you're mute. Let's see what else you got going on."
Next she poked and prodded me, finally pressing her hand to my forehead.
"Yer body is checkered in bruises and cuts. Ye may be sporting a broken rib or two. I swear! You look like you've been ground up in a grain mill. Ye've got a whale of a fever going. Need to get you out of the night air soon. But also..."
This time she pressed her ear to my chest. I didn't mind; I was shivering so bad, and her body heat felt wonderful. She pulled away from me abruptly, her eyes saucer wide.
"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you're sorgente. I feel the power in you."
I still hadn't seen a clear image of her, as it was a moonless night, and one of my eyes was swollen shut. I could just see her outline. Her accent told me she was from Glamorgan. Her words told me she was insane. I mean, me? A sorgente? If I had that power, I wouldn't be here in this broken twisted body.
"Hahaha! Ye may be mute, but you look as snarly as a river rat."
I am truly cursed by Selene. I manage to somehow escape from hell, only to fall into the arms of a crazy woman? Why did she pull me from the water? Why didn't she let me die?
"I wonder what I shall call ye?" The woman scooped me into her arms and carried me away. "Ah well, I'll fathom your name soon enough. I'm Marta, by the way."
'And I name you Kemeia. And all the kings and queens of Argentia shall kneel at your feet.'
As blackness claims me, I wonder if being in the arms of a crazy woman is exactly where I need to be. For clearly, I'm as insane as she.
One year later
24th day of Winterwane, 1023 DDE
City of Marossa
I whipped my index finger to her lips, a shushing gesture the ecstatic woman understood, thank the gods, because her sobbing calmed to soft wet hiccups.
Whew. Her boy was through the worst, but still needed sleep to recover, so I didn't want her to wake him.
Tears gushed, well, cascaded, down her cheeks and she clenched my arm in a grip so tight, I wondered if I’d need a healer myself to make the bruises she was giving me disappear.
That’s when it came over me again. The odd feeling. One so rare in my new life, it took a moment to figure out what it was. Healing him made me feel... I was going to say 'happy', but I know that can't be right. I don't think I'm ever going to be happy again. I don't think I'm capable of it. But still, I was beginning to find that relieving the suffering of others seems to relieve a little of my own.
Anyway, the little squirt chased a ball into the street and had been trampled by a fast moving grain wagon. Holy Selene, I'd never healed one so injured! Broken bones, lungs crushed, organs ruptured, the poor little fellow was in so much pain! It took a massive amount of power to mend him. Marta worried I over extended, but even now, my bright energy, my sorgente, filled me again, stronger than before.
I tucked a blanket about him, and on impulse, kissed his forehead. What the hells? Marta cast me another look. About the energy I’d used, I hoped and not the kissing thing. I shrugged, and took the young mother's hand, leading her out of the bedroom, with Marta following fast on our heels.
"He'll be need’n lots of water and plenty of rest," the midwife told the mother, "even when the little monster tells ye he feels fine."
Marta’s bedside manner needed some serious work. I couldn't sign the snarky thought to her, because once out of the bedroom, the mother wrapped me in a bear hug, pinning my arms to my sides.
“Let me pay you, please, holy one! I beg forgiveness I can't give more!”
The lad’s mother pulled back from me, knelt to the floor beside the bed, and looking side to side to see who watched, pulled a small satchel from under it. Really? Under the bed? I shook it when she handed it to me. Coins clinked, probably all the money she and her husband had. It wasn’t heavy.
I passed it to Marta, who, after taking two silvers, gave the bag back to the woman. For a second time tears gushed from her eyes, when she understood we wouldn’t take all of it.
It dawned on me; she’d given us everything for her little boy! Everything! A year ago, would I have mocked such a homely gesture from a peasant woman? Now, tears leaked from the sides of my eyes; I turned my head so Marta wouldn’t see.
"Mistress Kemi and I thank ye for your generosity," Marta said, as she hustled me out the door of the little shanty where they lived. But not before the mother yelled out ther window: He lives! By Selene it is a miracle! The healer did it!" So much for letting the lad sleep.
“Holy one!” “Blessed, healer!” “All praise to Selene!”
We shoved past the gaggle of cheering gawkers that peered through the doorway. Where had all these people come from? And why were they saying those things to me?
"Cover yourself, lass," Marta hissed, dragging me through the crowd. "Yer develop'n quite a reputation. Remember the Queen's Guard."
The Guard! My stomach knotted and I yanked my cloak hood over my head, stuffing in my rebellious dark hair. I snapped my head side to side to see if any soldiers were about.
"Calm down, Kemi, we're safe I think…” Marta said, stopping to give me a quick hug to sooth my sudden panic. “I’m so proud of ye, lass. Ye didn’t hesitate at all! You’ve come a long way.”
I smiled at that; I’d hesitated, but only a fraction of second this time.
I suppose I have come a distance. That’s not saying much, considering where I started. Marta fished me out of the Muln river one year ago, starving, bloody, reeking of urine and excrement, and shattered in a way words can't describe. It would have been an exaggeration to call me human; I was a wounded feral animal. All I wanted was to die. Or maybe I did die. I'm still not sure.
But the stubborn midwife sensed the sorgente flickering in me, a tiny flame then. She raised me from the muck; setting bones, closing wounds and scrubbing my skin with that Glamorgan stringent soap she concocted out of secret oils, herbs and lye; a recipe that also, I suspected, contained gravel. Her soap was so strong, I think it scrubbed my soul a little too. Selene knows it needed it.
She took me under her wing. Found me a bed to call my own in the apprentices’ dorm at Selene's Hall. Browbeat the healing masters into letting me be her trainee, so I'd qualify for free meals and the oh so comfy scratchy-but-free woolen robes of a novate. And then she dragged me along as she made her midwife rounds in Marossa. Training me whether I wished it or no.
Healing is by necessity in an intimate thing; you must meld with the injured or sick to heal them, so you must approach the patient with an open heart to be able to expose yourself to their suffering. When she pulled me from the dark river, I was the opposite of open, a bitter little creature, who loathed to touch others, much less heal them. Oh Selene, the battles Marta and I had and still have, as she drags me onto Healer’s Path. Kicking and screaming.
“What you did for the lad was a wonder, Kemi. I wish, ye could receive the praise that's your due. In all my years I've never seen the like. You are surely favored by Selene above all healers,” she said, patting my head as if I was a good dog. Then her face darkened. “I fear if you keep performing miracles like that they'll drag you to the palace for sure.”
I shivered, thinking of who they were, since the palace was the place where I’d been shattered, a year ago. Destroyed so completely, nothing of me remained. I was caught off guard when the midwife yanked my hood off. What the hells?
I looked about wild-eyed, searching for signs of the Guard. We'd wandered onto a deserted ally of the Marossa garment district. Still, no sense in taking chances. But when I tried to pull my hood up again, Marta slapped my hands.
“Stop that. The Guard isn't about. An I'm tired of you hiding yer lovely face.”
I started signing to tell her exactly what I thought of that, but she grabbed my hands, silencing me.
“Hush! You are the noisiest and rudest mute I've ever met. Something's happening here, lass. Something big.” Marta was running her hand through my curly as she gazed into my eyes. “An it's not just your healings, amazing as they are. I swear ye grow prettier, no, more beautiful, day by day. Radiant."
Radiant, me? Ha!
'Yes, radiant, my healer.
City of Marossa
Queen Ravela’s Palace – Throne Room
“But Majesty, the ambassadors are waiting!”
“Let them, Ciro,” I answered, with all the indifference I could muster. “I will conduct our morning business, as we normally do. Two low level ambassadors will not cause us to scurry about like excited ants.”
In truth, we hadn’t conducted ‘normal business’ for months. Still, they would wait.
“But they may wish to negotiate trade treaties and-”
Trade negotiations. That's what they would claim, but it couldn't be their real reason. Why appear now, after breaking off all diplomatic contact for months? It meant trouble, to my thinking. And all our troubles first started when these two buzzards came a year ago, craving trade treaties with us.
My chief adviser shut his mouth and lowered his head. Still, he shuffled back and in as much of a worried pace as his aged body allowed, wringing his hands as he fretted my 'slight' of making them wait. Were we this desperate? Had we fallen so low we sat and rolled over like a trained dog when someone waved a bone?
“How goes the...” I thought hard; months had passed since I'd thought of anything except what needed to be done to restore Lunete. What were those things Cormac had started before he betrayed me? He'd said something about infrastructure needed. Oh yes.
“... bridge renovation project? What progress has been made?”
“Stalled for months, Majesty. Since the two outer provinces declared their autonomy, we've had a sharp drop in tax revenues, and-”
I shushed him with a brisk hand wave; yes, yes, I recalled something of this. I'd need to attend to those rebellious provinces.
I leaned back in my throne and glanced to my left and right, at the magnificent knights standing there, Captain Rowan Sechnall and his lieutenant, Malloy was it? They were my top military commanders, well-seasoned from their years in Wildevale’s corp. Sechnall would bear the rank of General in another army, but I felt any title above Captain was a threat to my authority, and I’d eliminated those ranks after I was crowned.
I paused a moment to consider the state of my Guard -it had been long since I thought of anything except Lunete- and I wondered if they’d be ready to crush the rebellious provinces once she awakened. They were loyal enough; they had no choice, for the obedience spell I cast was strong. But it became more and more of a chore to keep active on Rowan and his top officers. Not from a power perspective, I had scads of sorgente power to spare. No, it was annoying to have to keep reinforcing it so often.
“Captain Sechnall? We will be prepared to bring the rebels to heel when Lunete wakes, yes?”
“Sooner would be better than later, Majesty,” Sechnall leaned close. When he did, I noticed the dark circles in his eyes. “Another garrison has defected. So far the defections do not present a problem, but if we cannot delay forever.”
“We will wait only as long as it takes for Lunete to awaken and-”
Sechnall lurched forward and then caught himself.
“Are you unwell, Captain?” In truth he looked ready to collapse.
“The headaches … worsen,” he whispered. “The nightmare is back as well. For the others, too. Midwife Lavina gives us as much willow bark oil as she deems safe, yet the fits always return.”
I nodded, knowing well the cause of their headaches. I'd send them to the healers I'd imprisoned in the dungeon for relief, but then my memory spells would be discovered. The ones I'd placed on them to make them forget what I'd made them do to Cormac. It wasn't their fault their leader was a traitor. Those memories would haunt them far worse than the headaches.
For I am a merciful queen.
Cormac! All our woes come from him! Traitor!
Because of him, Lunete lies cold and unconscious, fading day by day.
Lunete! That reminded me.
“Thank you Captain. After he stepped back to my right, I motioned to Ciro to come close. I didn’t want the general audience to hear my next question.
“You've found another healer to try, yes?” I whispered. “Tell me you have, Ciro; we will be displeased if the answer is 'no'.”
Captain Sechnall leaned closer to listen to his answer; Lunete and he were lovers and were nearly betrothed before my sister was struck down. Yet another who suffers from Cormac’s betrayal. If Lunete died, I would let him remember what he did to Cormac – it may give him comfort.
“We have, Majesty, a healer of some note named Kreios. He is reputed to have banished gout from Guilderman Kade's big toe. A detail is collecting him as we speak. And, we've heard an amazing tale of a mute healer girl from the Anatols who-”
I waved him silent again. This was depressing, for it sounded like we scraped the barrel dregs in our search for Lunete's cure. If Master Healer Reynard had failed, who else could succeed? Yet we had to try. I must awaken my sister from her coma, and soon! It was the only thing left that mattered in what tattered life remained after my consort’s treachery, and time was running short.
“Inform me immediately when this Kree ...um, Krie … this healer has been brought to Lunete's room. In the meantime, I'm ready for my breakfast of vipers. With a side of roasted potatoes. Send for the ambassadors.”
Soon two robbed figures shuffled before me, bowing or curtsying according to their gender. Each had several attendants, bodyguards and hangers on who lurked behind. I cleared my throat.
“We greet you, Ambassadors Kijek and Aldana. It never rains but it pours. Wildevale hears silence from its beloved neighbors Arcum nor Parasia for months, and then, presto! you appear together.”
I sat forward in my throne chair, casting a quick glance to my left and right again. Sechnall and Malloy stood statue still, armor gleaming, hands resting on sword hilts, with an ‘I will kill you in an instant if the Queen orders it’ scowl on their faces. Intimidation is mandatory in matters diplomatic.
There was a time when all the kingdoms took note of us, not just these lower lever bureaucrats. We were strong! With my sorgente and Cormac's nique skills, we were making Wildevale into a power even King Amangons would fear. We were building! Exploring!
Cormac’s duplicity destroyed all! He took all I loved! Lunete, my heart, everything.
Lover… Betrayer… Cormac!
That he traded our life together for Arcum blood gold still grates my soul.
Such a fool. Did he think I wouldn't know? That there wouldn't be a reckoning? I, who have the strongest sorgente in all the kingdoms?
He felt the fullness of that power! He didn't know it but I watched the punishment I devised play to its bittersweet end, watched as the life was beaten from his eyes, by the men he loved most.
I was horrified by his ending, but I couldn't stop myself from missing even a moment. What does that say about me?
No time for this! I took a deep breath, and focused on the snakes, er, ambassadors, both of whom were wrapped in invisible shields of magic. They were both niques, and not low level ones, either. I wonder what gods or goddesses they'd invoked to gain enough power to go before the Mad Queen of Wildevale. A friendly visit then. Let the games begin.
“Dear friends! What happy circumstance has brought you to us?”
“Greetings from the King of Arcum to Wildevale's beautiful and powerful ruler.”
Kijek, Arcum's ambassador spoke first. Hmm, whatever happened to ladies first?
“I am here as King Girtha's humble messenger, to convey this, his offer of peace. He proposes an alliance between our kingdoms to counter the Parasian aggression.”
He bowed and held a scroll up. I motioned to one of my pages to take it. And I plastered a smile on my face.
Arcum plots started all our troubles and woe! My magic glowed hot within me, my sorgente began rising. I wanted to blast this turd blossom to the dark god's seventh hell! But no, such an unprovoked action would be an act of war. And they were still mad about the eel thing, I suspected.
“Thank you, Ambassador Kijek. Wildevale shall deliberate Arcum's generous offer and speedily reply.”
Like hell we would. I nodded to Ambassador Aldana.
“Queen Kaelee, sends her love to her cousin,” Aldana said.
It was hard to tell what Aldana actually looked like, under the heavy white makeup their nobility wears to official functions. Cormac once told me they made the white paste they smeared on their faces by turning Anatol rice to powder. What a waste of rice. Between the bulky robe Aldana wore, the makeup and thick magic shield, hers true appearance remained a mystery to me, despite the many years she's attended my court.
“Please convey my deepest love back to my cousin, Ambassador.”
Kaelee was something like my 15th cousin once removed. I met her once in a greeting line at King Rhys’ wedding in Glamorgan when I was twelve. For those three seconds we were tight.
“My Queen also wishes to reestablish her Parasin ties to Wildevale. Arcum is once again threatening our borders; we must join to fight this threat.”
Kijek whispered “lies' as Aldana held a scroll up in her hands and curtsied. I guessed she curtsied; so hard to tell with that tent robe of hers. I motioned to another of my attendants, who took the scroll and stood next to the attendant bearing Arcum's scroll.
“Thank you, Ambassador Aldana. Wildevale shall also deliberate Parasian's generous offer and speedily reply.” I smiled at the woman, the required two seconds. I hoped my face wouldn't crack from the effort.
She nodded in reply, and then cocked her head. “The news from your kingdom has been all gloom and woe, these last months, Queen Ravela. How fares your sister? And we see nothing of Captain Cormac. What has become of him? We received reports that calamity had befallen him; is this so? Or is he on a secret trade mission to some fair away land?”
“Yes, Arcum too wonders what has happened to the good Captain,” Kijek said.
A murmur rippled through the court audience. It seems the ambassadors hadn’t heard of my law forbidding the saying of that name. Or perhaps they had, and wanted to bait me. They want to play games? Then games it shall be.
“We should catch up on all the gossip in a more intimate setting," I said through my teeth. “I trust you will join us for dinner tomorrow night? A feast in your honor. Wildevale wishes to show its hospitality to its honored guests.”
The Ambassadors' eyes flickered. Haha! They hadn't been expecting it. I'm certain dining with me was the last thing they wanted. I smiled again, and this time it didn't hurt at all.
A pageboy scurried in and whispered something in Crios' ear. Who in turn whispered in mine, that the healer had been brought to the infirmary and was ready to try to waken Lunete.
My hopes were low, but we had to try. I would never give up! Even if I had to kidnap all the healers in Argentia. And ending my audience with these worms so soon after it had begun would be a pleasurable insult.
“If you will excuse me, dearest friends, I have urgent matters to attend to,” I said as I rose. “I'm looking forward to dining with you tomorrow.”
From the dour expressions that played on their faces, they weren't.
City of Marossa
“Didja hear? The Mad Queen got Kreios.”
Philio’s voice was a whisper's whisper, yet it echoed in Selene’s Hall. Normally the place was so packed it was hard to move, filled with the injured and infirm, with healers, midwives, physicians, apprentices, and with spectators too. Deserted, it seems so much larger.
My eyes wander, gazing at brightly painted murals I didn’t know were there before, of the goddess Selene instructing the first healers of Argentia in the Healer’s Path.
The images grabbed me, as did the story they depicted - a mythical fable, telling of how Selene in the dawn of time, sent forth the First Healer. And, filled with the power of Selene herself, Her healer taught the people Selene’s way, the Healer’s Path.
Another mural showed the healer giving a cup to an elf maid, the first of the famed cupbearers of Ysial, I supposed. Elves, heh! Myths were fun to read and know, but I wondered who this first Healer had really been. Probably some poor schmuck who discovered if you didn’t bleed out all of a patient’s blood with leeches, the person tended to live longer.
Still, staring at the mural panels, I couldn’t shake the feeling of déjà vu. Which was silly, right?
“Didn’t you hear him, Kemi?” Myrrine grabbed my arm and shook me. I scowled, giving her my ‘screw you, I’m mute, not deaf’ look.
“Whatever. Phil and I are safe enough, since we barely can heal warts, but you? After the stunt you pulled this morning, I bet they are combing the city for you now. There is surely a reward on your head. You gotta leave; this is the first place they’ll come. Hide! Go to ground. Now! I'll help you vanish.”
She was right; I’d need to run to my room, grab my few clothes and what money I had, and disappear. I signed my answer to her with my hands, and then dropped my spoon into my bowl of black bean soup with a *plop*. Any appetite I had fled, replaced by the familiar knot of fear in my stomach. What a fool I was to imagine I might be allowed even the smallest bit of happiness.
“What did she say?” Philio asked Myrrine.
I wondered how Myrrine would translate my sullen answer to him. I’d signed, ‘who in their right mind would want a freak like me?’
The lean rust-haired novice healer shook her head at my comment. She was the closest thing I had to a friend. I wondered why she’d tried.
She couldn’t want my company; I’m a silent, scowling little rat who’d wanted nothing to do with anyone since Marta pulled me from the other garbage floating down the Muln.
Maybe she thought we were the same, unwanted outcasts. She'd been raised in a secretive family whose ancient family business was assassinations. It's funny what people will tell a mute; Myrrine spilled her entire history once when we were alone. She'd reached the testing age when the young are screened for magic ability and her tests showed she was a moderate nique with healer potential.
Sorgentes were the rarest; only one or two appeared in a generation. Niques were uncommon and strong niques were often sent to special schools to develop their skills. It's what my family -my old one- had done with me.
Myrrine's family distrusted magic, she told me, and they thought her healer potential made her flawed for their particular business. They'd paid a fee to the Hall to take her; and she's never heard from them since.
For whatever reason, I was glad she tried to befriend me, for she was one of the few who even knew sign. She'd learned it for her family trade; silent communication among assassins was a useful tool, I supposed. I appreciated her knowing it, for when there was no one around who could sign, my voice was truly silenced. Not that my voice mattered.
If I was honest, I’d admit I liked her. A lot. That I looked forward to the times in the day when I could see her.
But I’m not honest. Honesty gets you nothing, there is no justice and life is fulled with never ending pain. Until you die.
‘Let go of bitterness, Kemi. Live again. You are needed.’
I blinked; I’d been hearing that voice, her voice, in my head more and more, and it worried me I was going insane. Well, more insane.
“She said she has nowhere else to go.” Myrrine said to Philio, and took my hand in hers.
I felt her worry pouring from her. Worry based on the rumors of the atrocities committed in the last year by Wildevale’s mad ruler. Her worry wasn’t misplaced, for Ravela’s atrocities had been the talk of Marossa for months.
There were plenty to choose from, and I tried to remember the more interesting ones: she transformed an Arcum spy into an eel and had him tossed into the Southern Sea for trying to blackmail her into paying a ‘safe passage’ tariff to use the Anatol Straits.
Or that since her sister Lunete’s sleeping sickness, she feeds her human blood during the witching hour to keep her alive.
Sadly, there were many many more of these tales.
Had she done these things? At the heart of any rumor is a grain of truth, they say. I knew two truths about Ravela; she is one of the strongest sorgente in generations in all the kingdoms, and she hadn’t hesitated to use the full extent of that power on me one year ago.
“No family? Aunts or Uncles? Or friends?” Philio said. “No one you can stay with until this blows over?
My head dropped. No, no family. None. My old life was gone. Obliterated. The queen killed the 'me' that was, twisting my body inside out and…
Stop! Can’t think about it!
I crammed those dark memories back in the hole I’d buried them in. But the damned things were evil and pesky, always crawling back out…
…anyway, Ravela went further, thorough creature that she is; she decreed I never existed and had my name removed from the birth rolls. It was illegal to even speak my old name. My own parents couldn’t claim me. Not that they would. They wouldn’t even know me now.
And friends? Holy Mother Goddess! That warped bitch cast a sick compulsion spell on my closest friends that made them hunger for my body, taking me over and over, pinning me down and…
“Honey? What’s wrong?” Myrrine said giving my hand another gentle squeeze. “You’re all cold and clammy, and look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I gave a shrug. My ‘go to’ gesture, I guess. There are far worse things than ghosts.
“Could you stay with Marta,” Philio asked.
The lad was trying, gods love him. But he was as naive as a Glamorgan farmboy. I’ve grown to love Marta -there, I said it, happy, little voice in head?- she rescued me when the Palace crapped me out. With all the healers being rounded up and imprisoned, there was no way I was going to stay with the widow at night and endanger either her or her kids. Just being with me in the daylight hours was way more risk than I wanted her taking.
Speaking of the devil… a rapid slap of sandal leather on stone floor announced Marta's hurried arrival.
“Kemi! Quick, lass!”
She was breathing fast; she must have been running a long distance.
“There’s been a horrible fire at the dock! Men are burned badly! Come! Come!”
I jumped to my feet and started to run when Myrrine grabbed the sleeve of my robe.
“No! Send another, Marta. It’s too dangerous for Kemi to-”
“-there are no others!” Marta growled. “Even if there were, Kemi is the one to go. These men will die unless she comes.”
“No!” Philio jumped to his feet. "You can't take her! I won’t risk her getting captured and-”
“-But it’s not your decision, is it, Philio Sheehy?” Whenever Marta used your full name, you knew you were in trouble. “It’s Kemi’s. What would you, lass? Stay or go?”
I froze, agonizing over what to do. I was so scared! I, who used to be privileged and powerful. In the Queen’s inner circle. I, who was respected and feared. Now? I fear everything. I couldn’t do anything that might risk bringing me back to her.
Buried memories, my own special demons, crawled from my mind’s pit again. Reminding me of the endless pain that burned me when Ravela’s magic hit. And after... after, when my comrades took me, climbing on me, pushing in me and…
No! I wouldn’t go to the docks. I’d hide and then flee Marossa!
Marta had trained me well. I recognized the symptoms in myself, when my vision blurred and peoples’ voices started echoing, I knew I was in a full panic attack. These came often in the last year, and I remembered the technique the midwife taught me: breath slower. Deeper. Count the breaths, in, out, in, out.
One by one I crammed the memory phantasms back into their pit.
‘Think not of who you were, Kemi. Instead think, who are you?’
I blinked, again wondering who spoke those words.
But then, newer memories filled my mind. My Kemi ones.
I’ve helped Marta deliver dozens of babies; messy screaming amazing new lives. I’ve seen people peacefully cross to the next world, caught the glow of their souls as they raced to the sea of souls.
Where before I was nique, a gifted magic user, now I’m sorgente – one in whom magic grows. One of the few in Argentia. Which lets me do miracles, as I did with the young boy this morning. And when I healed? I felt a presence with me, embracing and wrapping me in love, something vast, and…
‘I love you dearly.’
Who am I?
‘Yes, Kemi, who?’
Not who I was. That person was dead.
But then, who have I become?
In truth, I didn’t know anything about my new body, though I’d inhabited it for a year. Marta taught me how to deal with the basic biology of it, but otherwise I'd ignored it. I hadn’t lived in it. I'd survived.
It's funny; I've been healing for months, but I've never thought about what it meant. I mean really thought about it, you know? I'd ignored that too. Pretended it was a weird side effect of what Ravela did to me.
I could ignore it no longer.
In the deepest part of my damaged soul, I knew the answer to ‘who am I’ was the pivot point. I sensed futures far beyond imagining hung in the balance. What I said next would change everything.
I looked at my hands.
I couldn't lie about this, couldn't deny it: I loved easing others pain, relieving their suffering. Lightening their weary burden. With every fiber of my being I did.
The answer was simple.
And, though I wanted to be a thousand miles away, hiding at the bottom of the deepest cave in Argentia, instead, with steady hands, I signed:
"I -am -a -healer."
“Praise Selene,” the midwife said, and gave me ‘the look’, the one that told me she knew how hard a thing I had just done. “Come then, healer, we’ve wasted precious time! We must fly!”
Palace Infirmary - Lunete’s room
“Is the first directive of a healer,” I asked, and felt the perpetual rage in me grow icy cold, “still to do no harm to any under the healer's care?”
“Y-yes Queen Ravela. But please! There is something unnatural about her affliction. Show mercy!”
The man’s skin paled and hands quivered; he dared not look at me, choosing instead to stare at the figure of my comatose sister. Pretending he cared for her. Moron! Her breathing was shallower after this ‘healer’ failed to awaken her with his pathetic efforts.
“The only mercy I shall show,” I motioned to my guards, “is I will allow you to live so long as she does. Take him to the dungeon with the others!”
“Please great queen! I have a wife! Children to feed! Mercy!”
I breathed a relieved sigh after my guards led him away far enough that I no longer suffered his grating pleas. I motioned to Ciro, who stood close by, fretting as usual.
“Go to the Treasury, and have a small stipend created for the family of this man… Kreios? They shouldn’t suffer for his incompetence.”
“My queen is compassionate!”
Compassion? Me? The ‘Mad Queen of Wildevale’? I ran my hand over Lunete’s cheek. So cold to the touch. Soon it would be the year’s anniversary of her attack, and she had not once stirred from her coma. Day by day she grew paler. Her breaths shallower. But I knew she would fret if children starved. It was the only reason I granted this ‘mercy’. For her.
After I raised my stasis spell again to cover her, Crios softly cleared his throat.
“A thousand pardons, your highness, but your prison now houses over a dozen healers, and so there is now a scarcity of them in the city. Also, the remaining healers have gone into hiding for fear of being made to try to heal the princess. We may soon have a serious problem on our-”
“-Silence! They were not true healers, not a one! Else they could have cured her!”
“but Majesty, our people need them! The midwives and physicians can only help so much and-”
“-then find me a true healer. And for the gods' sake, find one more competent than this fool. And soon, too. If Lunete dies, I will kill them all.”
“Excellent news on that subject, Majesty! as I mentioned earlier, we have heard rumors of a fabulous healer in the city's south quadrant who performs such miraculous healings, I believe she is not nique, she's sorgente…”
Ciro began pacing back and forth, his eyebrows furrowed in thought. He limped as he paced. Gods, I drove him too hard and treated him poorly. I'd make amends to him ...later. After Lunete awakens I would give him a good long holiday. But first I must awaken her. I'd try to be kinder then ...later.
“…even today, she is said to have healed a child so badly injured, his soul must surely have begun its journey to the Selene’s bosom when she called him back.”
A sorgente healer? I never heard of one! I gripped Ciro’s arms.
“Assign all the Guard to this. Use my spies. Enlist our entire army, but find her and bring her to me.”
“Even with all looking it will be challenging to find the woman in Marossa if she doesn’t wish to be. Better to let her come to us, ma’am.”
I frowned, not seeing how this was practical or even possible. But Ciro is a clever enough fellow -it’s why he is still here and not rotting in a cell- so I withheld my ready insult.
“As I said, there are few healers left in the city, and those are in hiding. To, er, catch them, I have today set up teams of agents who will race to the scenes of any accidents which befall our city. I believe we will find her rather quickly, my queen, when she responds.”
I laughed, a rarer event these days, than my smiles. But gods! I loved the simplicity of the thought.
“Well said, Ciro. Make it happen. NOW!”
“Yes my queen,” he answered, and ran from the infirmary like a bug scuttling from a rock that has been lifted. I looked down on my sister and whispered:
“I have a good feeling this time, Lunete. Don’t you dare die on me. I forbid it.”
City of Marossa
“Shhhh. Be at peace. The healer is here.”
Marta stood back from the burned… well, man, I supposed; his body was so scorched it was hard to tell.
Eeeeeeeeeeee his melted face! Blackened skin! I recoiled in revulsion; I couldn’t touch that! Couldn't open myself to that!
Wait, what? I blinked, trying to figure out what just happened.
My cheek was stinging and throbbing as I realized Marta had slapped me.
“Snap out of it, Kemi! Ye cannot freeze on me. Do ye not feel your power building?”
I closed my eyes. Yes… the horror before me distracted me, but now I felt the power blazing up and down my spine.
That’s the thing, what makes those who are sorgente so prized. Nique magic users can do wondrous things, of course, but they must first call the power to them. So in an emergency like this, a nique healer might not have enough ready power to heal with.
Every morning, a nique healer’s first act is to try to gather power, through rituals, or in the temples of which ever god or goddess worked best for them. And once they use the power, it’s gone, and they must gather more.
But my power, my new power, which is sorgente, is different. Sorgentes are rare; only women are so blessed, or cursed, depending on your view of it, but the power is in them, always. Waiting to be tapped, like an underground well of water. I’ve never heard of a healer with the power.
My sorgente has been growing ever since Marta pulled me from the river. And right now? I was filled with more than I’d ever felt. If I didn’t release it soon, I’d burn up myself!
Still, I shook my head ‘no!’ to the midwife. My eyes begging her not to make me.
Couldn't open myself to that pain. Then, the voice rang in my head:
‘HEAL THIS MAN!’
I hesitated no more. I placed my hands on the man’s charred chest, and lightning struck; incandescence. My thoughts followed the energy as it raced over his body as a wave, renewing, no! regrowing his skin, his eyes, ears and lips. Cascading inward, the energy sought organs destroyed by the heat, his lungs, liver, kidneys, spleen, on and on. When the energy finally ebbed, I lifted my hands and opened my eyes, not daring to look at the man, staring instead at Marta’s face.
“Kemi! Oh! Wondrous Lady” she whispered, in awe, and Marta is not awed by anything. “I’ve never seen such a thing. It’s as if Selene herself possessed ye! Look! Look!”
I did and gasped. Or I would have gasped if I could make a sound. A silent gasp then. For what I saw…
His skin was a new healthy pink, no signs of the burns, save for the lack of hair and eyebrows. That would grow back, though, in time. His breathing was regular and deep; he slept and even wore a smile upon his face.
I held my hands before my eyes in disbelief – had I really done that?
‘Yes, you did. And can do so much more.’
“I know, lass, it’s a marvel," Marta said. "But we’ve no time for it; there are three others burned nearly as bad. Come! Come!”
My elation faded at her words. I was suddenly so exhausted! I put up no fight now, I let Marta lead me to the next victim. But I didn’t see how I could heal them all.
‘You can. You have the power.’
By the time I laid my hands on the last, Marta held me upright with her strong arms. The seaman’s pain called to me, so my healing energy surged, but black specks filled my vision; I couldn’t last much longer.
I sensed people crowding me, heard them saying, "blessed Selene!" "Holy One!"
“You there! Healer! Don’t move! In the name of the Queen I would have words with you.”
His voice sounded so far away. I wondered who he was talking to. Someone shouted, "leave her alone, she's our healer!" And another, "the Mad Queen can't have her!"
“The Guard has found you!" Marta hissed in my ear. “Run, Lass! Run"
I gave a feeble head shake. I was locked on now, I couldn’t stop. If I did, he'd die.
She understood, and said. “I brought ye here and so here I’ll not desert ye.”
She can’t let them take me! They must not take me to the palace! I'd rather die than go back there!
I couldn’t raise my hands from the sailor’s chest to sign my fear. In truth I doubt I could have raised them at all, for the black specs were swarming like flies now, filling my vision. I felt myself slumping forward. My lips mouthing a silent prayer as darkness took me-
Blessed Selene, don’t let them take me back there. Kill me kill me kill me…
End Part 1
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