Happy New Year! I’m working away on Beyond Honor, a prequel to Pledges.
Also, starting today and running through January 7th, there’s a special New Year’s deal for both Pledges of Honor and Netwalk’s Children–I’ve dropped the price to $2.99 on the Kindle for the holiday season! Check it out.
Netwalk’s Children here
Pledges of Honor here
And with that, we’re on to Chapter Five, in which Katerin is back in Wickmasa and receives unexpected magical help and gifts.
Plus two lucky people on my newsletter list are getting FREE copies of Pledges of Honor today! What a way to start out 2016!
Katerin held her breath as she lit the first fire in her Wickmasa lodge. Slowly, the tinder and kindling caught the spark from her flint and steel. Katerin fanned it into a strong flame. Only then did she breathe normally, grinning at Eldoran, Senai, and Yevtin, seated on new, non-magicked rugs around the small iron stove used for heating and cooking. She’d removed the stove’s door so they could enjoy the flames as well as the heat.
“It appears the Goddess looks favorably on this endeavor,” Eldoran said.
“At least upon this lodging,” Katerin said wryly. She looked around the lodge, marveling at how quickly Myrieke had put together a comfortable space in nine days. She had several chests to store her personal goods. Her healing supplies and herbs were in the other room. Shelves and hooks on the walls gave her space to store the things she’d use daily on both sides. And, best of all, her mask hung over her personal shrine, located in the corner furthest from the door. It might not be Winter Quarters, but she at least had a few pieces of her winter home here.
“It’s almost as good as your winter quarters back at the Healing House,” Senai said.
“You’ll do plenty fine here,” Yevtin rumbled. “Wickmasa’s not a place where you’re going to suffer!”
Katerin stared into the fire, thinking about the bits and pieces about Wickmasa that both Yevtin and Eldoran had let drop on the three-day ride from the Healing House.
Other issues like wars between gods that happen to be carried down into human lives.
“Katerin.” Eldoran’s voice was quiet but carried easily across to her. “I’d not fret too much. The likelihood is that you will never get involved in any high politics.”
“Don’t be another Makri,” Yevtin added.
Katerin shivered. Of the seven crowned gods, she could understand Makri going over to Artel better than Staul. Artel was a warrior’s god, a god of fire and warmth and power and quick judgments. She could see where Makri, the blacksmith’s son, would have done better being consecrated to Artel instead of Dovré. If he’d been a blacksmith like his father, he’d still be alive.
It almost explained his uncle Yetklet’s attitude toward healers and healing. Almost.
But the other gods? Karnoi and Cirdel. Katerin shivered again, remembering how they’d destroyed her mother, Terani the God-Killer, even though she was vowed to them. Nitel and Terat were less fearful, though Terani had weakened Nitel in the name of Karnoi and Cirdel. Staul was a different story. The two-faced Trickster God, Staul the Balancer and the Destroyer, had his followers in the Two Nations as well as in Medvara and amongst the Saubral tribes. But Yevtin had seen Makri with followers of Staul, not the Balancer but the Destroyer. It didn’t make sense for a healer vowed to Dovré to walk the twisted paths of the Destroyer.
Makri, just what did you get yourself into? And did you drag anyone else into it with you? Who were you working for?
The more she remembered about Wickmasa as the remembrance spell faded, the more Katerin worried. Wickmasa had been a regular tribute stop on the pilgrimage that Zauril’s representatives made yearly each summer to the high mountains of Clenda to meet with Alicira and demand the surrender of his daughter. To keep the Medvaran hordes away, all Keldaran and Clendan villages on the tribute route the Medvaran ambassadors took to meet with Alicira in Clenda paid a healthy ransom both going and coming.
Or, rather, Wickmasa had been a tribute stop on the pilgrimage route. Five years ago Rekaré had reached the age of magical majority for those of Aireii blood, thirteen. The compact between Zauril and Alicira was that at age thirteen, Rekaré would choose between surrendering to Zauril until she reached legal majority at eighteen, or staying with her mother. If Rekaré went to Zauril, she would have kept her ancestral magic, but would not come to full power until sometime in her eighteenth year. That choice also gave her the chance to duel with Zauril for full control of Medvara if she survived to gain her full powers.
Staying with Alicira meant Rekaré yielded her magic to Zauril forever, and lost any claim she might have to rule Medvara.
And then the unexpected third option emerged. Rekaré and Cenarth disappeared the spring before that final summer reckoning, during Rekaré’s journey to Medvara. Zauril counted that disappearance as a forfeit and demanded the surrender of Alicira’s magic rights. Heinmyets, Alicira and Inharise denied all knowledge of their youths’ whereabouts. Alicira continued to maintain her own power instead of losing it to either Rekaré or Zauril as their agreement required. If Rekaré managed to remain free of Zauril until her eighteenth birthday, the magic freely reverted to her from Alicira with no right of challenge from Zauril. But the control of Medvara was an entirely different matter, and no one knew what would happen, or even if young Rekaré had the ability to rule since she had not been at the Medvaran court.
As a result, it was possible that Makri had been subverted by Zauril’s partisans in a last, desperate attempt to locate Rekaré.
Makri had lost.
Katerin shivered. All healers are gamblers of sorts. Some are just better at it than others.
A deep chord sounded from her mask. Katerin jumped, suddenly aware that the flames were taking on shapes.
“Katerin,” Eldoran said, his tone carrying a warning note.
“I’ve never been able to do that before,” she said. “I’ve never been a fire-watcher or fire-worker, right, Senai?”
“R-right,” Senai stammered. “Artel knows, we tried it a couple of times when we were kids. Katerin’s never even had a touch of the knack.”
“Maybe it’s all of us, maybe it’s just the power of the group,” Katerin said.
“No,” Yevtin said. “I’ve seen that before with others. Felt it. I had no power go out from me. It’s from you, Katerin. All you.”
“It’s the influence of the Powers around Wickmasa,” Eldoran told her. “You’d be wise to avoid fire-watching from now on.”
Katerin shivered. Is this what happened to Makri?
“Should I be worried that this is a Shadowwalker taint?”
“I would be watchful,” Eldoran said.
She hooked the door back onto the stove, shutting the flames safely out of sight.
“That means I probably shouldn’t be watching fires.”
Senai pulled a small hide purse out of one of her saddlebags. “Here’s one antidote. Katerin, I was going to give this to you at winter solstice.”
Katerin pulled knitting needles and assorted skeins of yarn out of the purse. “Senai! Your own tools, and—” She turned the purse over in her hands. “Your own purse. Oh. You shouldn’t.”
“My fingers are getting too beat up for me to spend much time knitting,” Senai interrupted brusquely. “You’ve wanted to work with this yarn, now’s your chance to master it.”
Katerin took a closer look at the markings on the leather that bound the skeins. “Magic-infused yarn? Oh, Senai. This is a princess’s gift.”
“Now you’ve got something to keep your hands and eyes busy during your long winters.”
“But magic yarn?”
“I’ll expect a nice pair of mittens with warming charms worked into them. Maybe that’ll help my poor smashed fingers.”
“Senai, I can’t say enough. Thank you.”
“I will,” Katerin promised.
Yevtin cleared his throat. “Since we’re gifting, it’s my turn.” He pulled his bag within reach. “Remember the braidwork we did two winters ago?”
“Yes,” Katerin said.
“I put together a kit for you, including patterns.” He handed her a larger bag. Inside, Katerin found a small leather-bound book tied shut with a strip of sinew, and thin strings of hide. As she looked up, he added, “That’s enough to get you started. You’ll have access to leather and hides this winter. One thing I remember about this place, they aren’t stingy with good leather to those who show a talent.”
“Thank you,” Katerin breathed, studying both her presents. Presents that not only offered her a means to stay busy, but provided a chance to make things for trade. She wouldn’t be dependent only on her healing skills to buy goods and services this winter. “Yevtin, this isn’t your own pattern book, is it?”
“Not the original,” he said. “A copy.”
“But your tradework.”
“I know you. You’ll make things in your style.”
“Both of you. This is too much.” She smiled at her friends, seeing the worry mixed with satisfaction in their faces.
“I’m not empty-handed either,” Eldoran said. He handed her a wooden box. She eased off the snug-fitting lid to discover inks, pens and a ream of finest Nerean parchment, with a supply of waxed envelopes, all neatly organized in separate compartments. Katerin fitted the lid back onto the box and studied the markings.
“Oh Eldoran. Scribe quality.”
He shrugged, a slow smile crossing his lips. “I’m expecting reports from you, so you need supplies.”
“I’ll keep good records.”
“I know you will. And there’s more,” he added, “This is to keep yourself safe.” He gave Katerin a heavy pouch.
Slowly, she shook out the contents. A clear stone pendant shot through with slender golden rods fell into her hand. The stone was mounted in a simple silver bezel, and swung from a silver chain. Katerin caught her breath as she thought she recognized it.
“Is this what I think it is?” she asked.
“Yes. The Council approved you to have one of the Eyes of Dovré. Put it on,” he commanded.
Katerin slipped it on and tucked the stone next to her skin. It flashed warm quickly, and a tingle fired through her body.
“Katerin, Healer, Winter Healer of Wickmasa,” Eldoran said. “By the wisdom of the Council of Healers, you have been gifted with an Eye of Dovré. You will not need your mask for this vow. Repeat after me.”
“I, Katerin, Winter Healer of Wickmasa,” she repeated after Eldoran, “do take custody of this Eye of Dovré during my contracted service in the village of Wickmasa. I vow that I will not reveal this possession to any save those now present, or a known member of the Council. I will not seek to use the powers of the Eye for myself, but to protect others and myself should it become necessary. At the end of my service, I will return the Eye to the Council of Healers, or die in the attempt. So do I swear.”
The Eye pulsed hot as she finished speaking. Then it faded.
Eldoran turned to Yevtin and Senai. “Do you vow to keep this knowledge of the custody of this Eye of Dovré secret, not to be disclosed to any save myself or a known member of the Council of Healers?”
“We do,” they chorused.
Eldoran gave Katerin a tight-lipped smile.
“I told you not to worry too much about this service, didn’t I?” he said. “This Eye will give you protection against most Shadowwalkers.”
“Does this ease your mind?”
“It does. It does very much. Thank you, Eldoran.”
“Good.” Eldoran heaved a heavy sigh. “Now. Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we’ll be leaving. But we won’t leave you without resources.”
“Thank you.” The Eye was a presence that reassured her. Whatever trace the Shadowwalker connection had left in Wickmasa, it was small. Something she could manage without the Eye.
But, by the Goddess, it spoke to the nature of what might lie ahead of her this winter that Eldoran and the Council had thought such protective means to be necessary.
Leave-taking in the morning was swift, and more gifting occurred in the form of Yevtin and Senai’s pack mules.
“I can’t take them. That’s too much!” Katerin protested.
“You can and you will,” Yevtin said firmly. “We’ve only enough goods for the one mule, and we’re traveling fast.” He snorted. “We left you the slow ones. Use them for leather this winter if things run tight!”
“I can’t do that. They’re yours.”
“They’re yours now,” said Senai.
“Oh,” Katerin sighed, shaking her head. “What am I going to do with friends like you?”
“Accept the gift and make good use of it,” Eldoran advised.
“I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
“No. You don’t. Farewell, Katerin. We’ll see you in the spring!”
The others added their farewells, and turned their darenvelii away. Katerin leaned on Mira’s shoulder, watching as her friends rode away, skirting the main part of Wickmasa village.
Then she turned back to her lodge.
I need to get everything in order before my first patient arrives.
She wondered how long a wait that would be.