So here’s Chapter Three of Pledges of Honor. Katerin gets to the Healing House, to find out that it is indeed as Imnari says…”Wickmasa has need” is all she has to say.
Interestingly, these chapters tend to run short while Netwalk’s Children runs long. I’ve never really paid attention to the different lengths of chapter before. Funny how that works.
And as always, if you want to read the whole thing, the books can be found at Amazon, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and etc. Or if you’re not already signed up for my newsletter, do so today and you’ll get a chance at getting a free copy? I’m giving away two copies of Pledges of Honor and Netwalk’s Children by New Year’s. What a way to start it out!
Late in the afternoon of the fourth day after Katerin and Mira had left Wickmasa, they finally splashed down the mud and snow-mixed path that dropped from the Northern Pass to the Keldara River.
Almost there, Katerin thought as they paused to catch their breath at an overlook. She checked Mira’s hooves and the leather wraps tightly fastened onto them. Katerin had saved these last magicked wraps for this section of their trip. Surefootedness and speed might save their necks, and those wraps guaranteed surefootedness.
She stepped over to the overlook’s edge. Normally one could see the smoke and lights from the great city of Dera and the smaller villages in the Keldara Valley from here. This afternoon the heavy fog obscured everything. No matter. Fog meant there would be no rain or snow today. They’d easily reach the Healing House and Winter Quarters by this evening, after dusk.
Katerin shivered and pulled her jacket closer. She checked that her bow and arrows were slung within reach and tapped the hilt of the short sword she carried as a backup to her bow. Then she examined her boots. The magic worked into them was all that kept the boots together. Barely enough magic remained to keep the boots effective and in one piece until they reached the Healing House.
Cutting it pretty tight this year. But down this stretch, through the foothills, and we’re there.
As long as the magic held. As long as bandits loosely weren’t focusing on this trail and on what little wealth a tired healer and her daranval might carry.
As long as another Shadowwalker out of place didn’t stumble across her path.
“Let’s go.” Katerin swung up on Mira.
Mira’s thoughts in return were formlessly grumpy. But grumpy was better than sudden alert. Despite her fatigue, despite the gloom of the dank fog that obscured the ridgetops, every known twist and turn of the trail that followed the Keldara River through the foothills brought relief to Katerin. Home. They were almost home. They could rest for a couple of days, replenish their medical stores, and buy supplies Katerin had been reluctant to get from Myrieke.
She mentally reviewed her list as they walked, as if she hadn’t already thought it through at least five times a day since they’d left Wickmasa. Boots and hoof wraps. Medical supplies on Wickmasa’s account, not her own. As much magicked clothing as she dared spend credit on, including a winter blanket for Mira. No luxuries, but as much in the way of magicked and healing supplies as she could load on a pack animal. She didn’t want Mira carrying a load back to Wickmasa.
The next turn brought them where the Keldara River broke free of the foothills and spilled out onto the open valley, suddenly free from fog. The sun had already set behind the high mountains to the west, but a faint glow lingered on the mountain ridges. Ahead and to her right Katerin could see the lights of the Healing House and Winter Quarters. She quickened her stride, and Mira matched it. Home.
“Who goes there?” A young, female voice, quavering slightly, challenged them.
“Healer Katerin and Daranval Mira,” she answered. Mira added a low whicker, answered by a higher-pitched daranval’s squeal.
“Healer Katerin,” a deep male voice rumbled. “Greetings, and welcome home. We’ve been worried about you.”
The two sentries moved out from their stations, hidden by screens of magicked fabric. The man, Eldoran, the Head Instructor, one of the Tauri with the Healing House, strode forward to sweep Katerin up in a big hug.
“Eldoran, you don’t know how good it is to see you,” she told him. She’d not expected him to be on sentry duty.
Unless he’s been watching for me? She gave Eldoran an extra squeeze. Whatever the reason, she was glad to see the Head Instructor.
“I imagine.” Eldoran put Katerin down and eyed Mira’s tack. “You’re down to the basics. What’s happened?”
“I have to go back out.”
“Go back out?” Eldoran frowned at her. “But your contracts are done—”
“Unfortunately, there’s need. Wickmasa’s healer is no more, and they want someone there for the winter.”
“What happened to Makri?” blurted Eldoran’s female companion, a young Inoucain dressed in the greens of a first-year apprentice healer.
Eldoran stepped back. “Katerin. This is Hinet, our newest apprentice here at the Healing House. She’s—”
“From Wickmasa, arrived a few weeks ago,” Katerin finished for him. “I know.” She looked at Hinet. “I am sorry. Makri’s daranval died, and he suicided.”
“Oh no!” Hinet’s hands flew to her mouth.
Katerin hugged Hinet. “I am sorry,” she whispered. “I know you were his assistant.”
Katerin turned back to Eldoran. “I need to meet with the Council as quickly as it can be arranged. I need to restock. Before Wickmasa, I was attacked by a Shadowwalker. They killed my mule and stole many of my healing supplies.”
“The Council has many end of season obligations.” Eldoran flashed a hand sign at Hinet. She stayed behind as Eldoran, Katerin, and their darenvelii strode toward the walls of the Healing House.
“I know. But I was told by the Eldest of Wickmasa that all I would have to say to get their approval was that ‘Wickmasa has need.’ Just what in the Goddess’s name is that all about?”
Eldoran sighed. “It’s a long story,” he said, as they passed through the outer gate.
“Wickmasa has one of the tightest remembrance spells I’ve ever run into,” Katerin continued as they walked through the gate. “I’ve got to have that lifted if I go back. The place has too many secrets.”
Eldoran halted outside the main hostel assigned to incoming healers who had not yet received housing assignments.
“If the Council agrees to your placement I’ll lift that spell myself,” he said.
Katerin slipped her bags off of Mira and handed her reins to the apprentice healers who came to take her. She caressed the mare’s poll, thinking about Mira romping with the daranval herd, racing in the meadows.
Mira as part of small band of mares came back, with added images of black and bay mares, friends, Mira, bullying geldings and getting best food and water. Katerin laughed, then stepped back and let Mira go with the apprentices, watching wistfully as the gray mare pranced in anticipation of playtime.
Eldoran tapped her on the shoulder. “You’d better check in and get some grub,” he advised. “The Council will want to talk to you tonight. It is Wickmasa and you are right, Eldest Imnari only needs to say ‘Wickmasa has need.’“
Katerin sighed. “Thanks, Eldoran.” She pulled out the sealed letter from Imnari to the Council. “This is to the Council from Wickmasa’s Eldest.” She handed it to Eldoran. “Or should I deliver it myself?”
“I’ll deliver it for you.” Eldoran carefully tucked the letter into his jacket.
“Thanks.” Katerin shouldered her bags.
“Be ready at any time,” he cautioned. “That this is Wickmasa means that the Council will move faster than you expect.”
“I’ll be ready.”
“Good.” He bowed, deeper than usual, and left. Katerin shivered and rubbed her hands on her elbows. Then she turned toward the hostel and heaved another deep sigh.
Wish I were checking in for the winter.
Unless the Goddess had changed her plans, she wasn’t going to be at the Healing House for long.
Katerin trudged up the plain wooden steps to the main entrance, considering her timing. I probably have enough time to get a bunk for the short-term, set up my bed, and eat. If I’m lucky I’ll get a drink before I go to Council.
Katerin pulled open the heavy door, and turned down the hallway to her right. She needed to check in. The procurer also needed to know that Katerin’s usual winter lodging would be available for someone else’s use this season.
One season ends. Another begins.
A distant bell tolled. Katerin hurried down the hallway. If she were lucky, she’d be finished with the procurer in time to eat at the regular evening meal. Making her bed up could wait until she’d had a good feed.