Whew! Hopefully this version of the paperback cover will fly through the QC and I can announce the hard copy of Pledges of Honor is available. I like it best of all…think I’m finally getting the hang of Gimp.
I’m also plugging away on Beyond Honor. It’s going slowly, which is frustrating, but things are starting to fall together. I’ll put up another post sometime this coming week to talk about it.
Meanwhile, living in a land of snow and fog. And now it’s time for the belated post of Pledges of Honor Chapter Six. Katerin acquires some new mules, meets Kwellet, Horsemaster of Wickmasa, and finds out there’s no end to Wickmasa’s secrets.
Katerin studied the area around her lodge once the others had faded out of sight. Mira had a small shed nearby with a small, fenced-off haystack inside. An old but serviceable corral held her mules.
I’ll need more feed this winter, she thought. Two of the mules could go out with the common herd on winter graze. She didn’t need to keep all three mules close, and she’d only planned for one. Gods. What else do I need to think about for village life? Katerin wracked her brain, trying to remember what was usually covered at the Healing House that she might need to worry about here. Feed. Water. Fuel. Well, perhaps the assistants Myrieke promised could take care of that.
Meanwhile, she had mules to water. Katerin scratched Mira’s forehead, thinking about herding mules to creek. A quick flash of mules covered in buffalo dung came from Mira. Katerin kept thinking about herding mules. Mira finally mirrored back the image of herding mules to creek in line, then, mules drinking, then mules back in corral.
“Let’s get going,” Katerin muttered. She cut a long switch from the willows that lined the creek and returned to the corral. Mira waited just outside the gate while Katerin slowly swung it open.
The mules exploded from the corral. Katerin scrambled to get out of the way. Mira halted their bolt for freedom, her ears pinned and teeth bared as she turned them back toward Katerin. Katerin drove the mules toward Mira. The mules learned quickly after the first mad flurry, though the black one stayed high-headed, snorting and looking around to escape. He tried to bolt on their return, but Mira drove him back into the corral.
Katerin leaned on the corral fence and studied the three mules.
“I didn’t come here to train mules,” she muttered as the black mule trotted around the corral with his nose high. “And it looks like I need to hobble you before you jump that fence, you beast.”
A chuckle came from behind her. “Looks like our new healer is a mule trainer!”
Katerin spun around. Wickmasa’s Horsemaster, a big, burly man with a gray-striped dark beard, grinned at her.
“I have standards for my beasts,” she told him. “Even my pack animals.”
The Horsemaster’s grin widened. “That is a good thing to see.” He bowed. “Our introduction the other day was hasty, and I fear you might not remember my name. I am Kwellet, the Horsemaster of Wickmasa. Although you may not need much in the way of my services.”
“I remember you, Kwellet, and I may yet need your services,” Katerin said. She returned his bow. “That black mule could be more than I can handle on my own. May I ask what illness brings you here?”
“Not an illness.” Kwellet’s smile faded into a slight frown. “I hope that you might be able to help me with joint pains. Makri tried but was not able to ease them. Perhaps you might give it a try?”
“Come into my lodge,” Katerin invited. “I have not yet started today’s work fire, but we can talk while I do so.”
“I would be honored.”
They walked toward the lodge. Katerin stopped Kwellet before he entered.
“Let my daranval take your scent.”
“Ah. She can smell my aches?”
“Then please have her do so with my blessing.
Katerin brushed her hand against Mira’s neck. Sniff, look, tell, she directed.
Mira lowered her head and relaxed her ears as Katerin stepped back. She took small steps toward Kwellet, until she could reach him easily with her nose while standing clear. As she sniffed Kwellet over, she sidestepped carefully around him, stepping, then pausing, then stepping again. She hesitated at his left shoulder, and blew more intently at his left elbow. She nuzzled Kwellet’s right knee and ankle. Joints aching. Muscles. But, fortunately, not even the slightest whisper of Shadowwalker essence.
“Thank you, Mira,” Katerin said out loud. “Come on in, Kwellet.” Kwellet limped in behind her and sat on a stool by the fire pit.
“So,” Katerin said, studying how he balanced on the stool. “What have you done to your left arm and right leg to cause these aches and pains?”
“Left arm and right leg?” Kwellet said. “Not every daranval can be that precise.”
“Even though Mira started as a war mare, she’s a superb healer’s mare. So. Your past injuries?”
“I’m a Horsemaster,” Kwellet shrugged. “Elbow—got thrown several times. I usually land on that side. Knee and ankle? Wild mare, kicked me last winter.”
Katerin nodded. “I want to look at your shoulder and arm. Stand up and take your tunic off, please.”
Kwellet grimaced but stood and worked the tunic off over his head. He struggled to move his left arm freely enough to easily remove the tunic. His chest and shoulders were thick, muscular, and scarred.
“Turn around,” she told Kwellet, examining his shoulder muscles, which appeared to be level and evenly muscled. No withering of his upper arm muscles, at least none that she could detect without a Sight.
“Sit down,” she told him. She stepped behind Kwellet and raised her Sight, half-closing her eyes as she ran her hands and fingers over his shoulder and upper arm. “Let me work this.” She placed one hand on his shoulder joint and took his elbow in her hand, moving the upper arm slowly. She detected tightness and shortened muscles, with no major restriction of motion.
No broken bones. She moved down to his elbow, kneeling at his side as she checked the elbow and wrist, finding much the same there.
“Put your tunic back on,” she ordered, watching how stiffly he moved. Yes. Some clothing modifications, a salve, perhaps some massage, and a pain potion would give him relief.
“Let me look at your legs. Back on the stool.” Katerin sat on the mat by Kwellet’s right foot and slid the pant leg up. She pulled off his boot, easing it over the ankle, noting the stiffness. The knee had little wrong with it, other than a slight inflammation that she could treat with the right potion, but the ankle was something different.
“That sigh doesn’t sound good,” Kwellet said.
“Your ankle’s a mess,” she said as she continued to probe with her fingers, feeling where the ligaments and tendons had tightened and pulled the bone out of place, twisting it. “It didn’t heal right.” She sighed again, looking at how the foot had been pulled at an angle from where it should be. Then she picked up the boots, comparing the right to the left. There was a telltale outside sag on the right boot.
Kwellet scowled. “So can you fix it?”
“Yes. Not like you were young again, but I can give you relief. I need to make a brace, something that can fit inside a boot. Some massage, and a pain potion. Let me start with manipulation.”
She waited for his nod before taking his heel in one hand and the toes in the other. She gingerly rotated his foot, listening and watching for cues that she’d gone too far.
Kwellet took her ministrations stoically, closing his eyes tight and tensing his face. She monitored the tightness of his body, testing, testing, testing.
“Aaah!” he finally cried out. “That’s enough!”
Katerin took note of the position.
“Anything I’m going to do will hurt,” she said. “But I think I might be able to ease your pain.”
“It’s worth it if it makes my ankle better.”
“You might end up regretting giving me that much freedom. You’ll have to see me for several days.”
“The Gods could impose worse fates than seeing a pretty woman regularly.”
Katerin shot him a sharp glance. Was he flirting with her?
“It’ll hurt,” she warned.
“It hurts now. So. What are we doing?”
She outlined her plan for manipulation and splinting. Kwellet nodded at her description.
“I’ve done that a time or two for a foal that’s lain wrong in the womb and come out crooked-legged,” he said. “I’m surprised Makri didn’t think of it.”
“It’s not a technique everyone knows.” Katerin looked for the right length in her collection of bone braces. “I learned it one year traveling with the Tauri.”
Kwellet’s indrawn breath caught her attention. “You’ve worked with the Tauri? But you’re Inoucain.”
“My friend Senai is Tauri. She came into the healers the same year I did, and I ended up spending time with her and her kin during my second apprentice year. A special training. We rode with a horse-trading band.”
“Not Heinmyets’s family?” There was a note of worry and caution in Kwellet’s voice that Katerin didn’t quite understand.
“No. Not Heinmyets. Or Inharise’s, either, for that matter. Cousin-kin to Inharise, but not close.” Katerin smiled fondly at the memory as she measured her strips of bone against Kwellet’s leg. “I learned a lot about daranval and horse care and training that year, as well as healing humans. The old Horsemaster of that band knew a few tricks like this that he’d apply to human and horse alike.”
She picked out sinew strips and magicked cloth and began to weave them together, inserting the bone strips at set intervals.
“Katerin.” The note of warning hung strongly in Kwellet’s voice.
“What’s wrong?” She looked up from her work, startled.
Kwellet looked around, then lowered his voice. “What you just told me.”
“Whatever you do, don’t tell that to anyone else here in Wickmasa.”
“Because the secrets of Wickmasa will devour you otherwise.”
“What secrets?” What’s left that I don’t know?
His hand tightened on hers. “You will learn. They’re things I can’t speak of.”
Katerin went back to work, looking at her hands even though she knew this weave innately.
“Secrets. That’s all this damned place seems to be about, secrets! Bad enough that it’s under a remembrance spell.”
“Yes. Exactly. Look at me!”
Katerin looked back up.
“The secrets aren’t mine to share, or I would tell you. But listen to me, Katerin Healer. We are wrapped in secrets that too many outside of here would kill to obtain. And we will kill to protect them. As will you, in time.” He sat back up.
“I am just a healer. A simple healer.” She tested the fit of the brace. Katerin slid Kwellet’s boot on over the brace. “Stand up. Walk around.”
Kwellet limped around the room. At first, his limp seemed more pronounced. Then, as he adjusted to the brace, his limp diminished slightly.
“That’s good! So how long will I wear this?”
“Daily for the next seven days. And I want to see you every day for the next two or three. I’ll be manipulating your ankle, then adjusting the brace.”
“I’ll come see you first thing.” He winked, and the jolly mood he’d been in returned. “Besides, you might need a hand with that black mule of yours.”
“I’m sure I will.”
“What about the shoulder?”
“I’ll prepare a salve and a potion for you to use daily. The injury is too old to fix, but we can ease some of the pain, and if we modify your tunics it’ll be easier for you to get them on and off.”
“Thank you. And now, with that, Healer Katerin, I must go about my day. Thank you for your very useful assistance. And,” he paused. “Remember my words.”
“I will,” she promised.
After Kwellet left, Katerin put away her scraps.
Dear Goddess, what have I gotten myself into?