Ooops, running late. Craft show today…blog post on that tomorrow or Sunday.
Meanwhile, here we are at Chapter Two. Katerin has an interesting meeting with Wickmasa’s Council, where she learns something she doesn’t like…..
And by the way, Pledges of Honor is now available in the usual places. Kindle here, or Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and others at Draft2Digital here.
Katerin stopped ten paces short of the line of elders in front of the Council longhouse and pulled herself up to her full height, remaining tense and tight until Mira’s muzzle brushed against her elbow.
“Healer Katerin.” The Eldest, a strong-boned woman with long, unbound, silver hair streaming across her shoulders, stepped forward. She wore the headdress of her office, an elaborate crown of eagle feathers whose quill tips were interwoven with fine beadwork and exquisitely braided leather.
“Eldest Imnari.” Katerin bowed formally, wishing she wore the formal healer robes that had been packed in one of the saddlebags she’d lost to the Shadowwalker. She looked for clues to tell her more about this Eldest and her attitude toward the Healing House. Imnari’s skin bore no clan marks or sign. Golden seed heads were worked into the trimmings of the headdress, but whether that was a clan marker for the Eldest or an honorary sigil for Wickmasa, Katerin didn’t know.
“I am Imnari of Harvest Moon Rising,” the Eldest said.
“Thank you,” Katerin said. “I am Katerin of Blue Starry Robe, originally from Chiyan Village.”
Imnari raised her brows, frowning slightly. “Surprising to find one from Chiyan in Keldara and not based in the Healing House of Waykemin City.”
“I have my reasons for working out of Dera City,” Katerin said.
“Does Terani the God-Killer still sleep in Waykemin?”
Katerin’s throat tightened and she coughed to cover her reaction before answering. “The last I heard, Eldest Imnari, is that she still sleeps.”
Imnari nodded. “We know of Chiyan.” She gestured to a younger, frowning man standing next to her. He bore a slight resemblance to Makri in the shape of his face and brows. “This is Yetklet,” Imnari continued. “Our patrol chief.”
“Makri was my sister’s son,” Yetklet growled.
Katerin’s gut clenched. He could claim blooddebt on her.
“My deepest regrets,” she breathed. “I wish I could have convinced Makri to make another choice.”
Yetklet waved dismissively. “Makri was a romantic fool,” he said. “He should never have trained for a healer. He would have been much more useful as a blacksmith, like his father.”
“Dovré’s call comes to whom it will, when it will,” Katerin said.
“And now my sister’s son is gone.” Yetklet scowled at her. He shook his head. “It’s not been that long since Zauril’s riders stopped here every summer—”
“Yetklet,” Imnari intervened. “We are not here to talk about that.”
“At some point we will need to talk about them!”
Katerin caught her breath. She’d forgotten that Wickmasa had once been a stop on Zauril’s annual summer demand for tribute. Maybe Nere isn’t where Soisan’s exposure happened after all. She tightened the fingers of one hand. What if Soisan had been exposed here in Wickmasa? A memory stirred, then hid itself, to her frustration.
With a jolt, Katerin’s attention returned to the Council as Yetklet started to storm off, then turned back when Imnari growled at him.
“As you wish, Eldest,” he muttered, rejoining the other Council members.
Imnari nodded, a faint smile on her lips as he bowed to her. “Thank you, Yetklet. Healer Katerin. This is my Council, except for Twana and Metkyi. Where’s Metkyi?”
“With Twana,” Yetklet said.
“Ah. Yes. Family honor. Healer Katerin, let me introduce the rest of my Council.” Imnari introduced the remaining four members of the Council, three men and one woman. Katerin nodded to them, their faces and names and clans blurring together. Her usual memory for names had deserted her—the starberry? Something else?—but at least she could remember their roles. The woman, she noted, was the Gather Chief. One of the men was the Horsemaster, another the leader of the hunters, and the other was the trade chief.
Imnari’s the peace chief, then, their negotiator.
Katerin bowed to each as they were introduced.
“And now,” Imnari concluded, “to the point, Healer Katerin. Wickmasa needs a healer. We have always felt it best to maintain a healer within the village rather than contract on a circuit.”
“That is your choice,” Katerin said, keeping her tone neutral. How can Wickmasa afford to keep a year-round healer? It looked no more prosperous than any of her client villages.
But Makri had been of Wickmasa. He would have had housing and clan-rights of his own to draw food and supplies and services. Faint memories from her history studies years ago stirred, reminding her that Wickmasa had earned its right to have a healer of its own. But the details kept slipping from her memory, try as she could to recall them.
Has someone cast a remembrance spell here? If so, why? Normally, she’d remember the details of village politics and interconnections, crucial out here on the borders where the Three Kindreds of Aireii, Inoucain and Tauri blended. But in these days with all but open war with Zauril the Tyrant, some powerful villages might want to be obscure, and so, the remembrance spells were cast, to keep all but a handful of outsiders confused about the role of that particular village in the politics of Keldara and Clenda.
What role does Wickmasa play in Keldara’s defenses? As close as it was to the borders with Larij, Clenda and the Saubral desert territories, that could be a factor. And that closeness to Saubral would mean that a representative of the god Staul would be here to guard the village against ravages by followers of his dark side.
Staul the Balancer, she reminded herself, stifling a shudder. The priest here will follow the Balancer aspect of Staul. Not the Staul the Destroyer that the Shadowwalkers sacrifice to.
Wickmasa most likely was crucial to Keldara’s defense in a manner she wouldn’t be privy to know. And, as such, it’d not only have a priest of Staul, it’d have its own healer.
“Wickmasa has always had one of our own in training to become a Healer,” Imnari said. “One of ours is at the Healing House right now.”
Katerin relaxed. Then she’d just have to make sure that any Shadowwalker taint was banished. Once she finished, she could be off to the Healing House, her obligations filled, and the Wickmasa student could come home.
“I will certainly make sure that your healer is well prepared when I return to the Healing House for the winter and inform him or her of the need,” she told Imnari.
Imnari frowned. “There is a problem. Our healer-to-be left for training a fortnight ago.”
“Perhaps you could carry a circuit healer’s contract until he or she is ready to serve?”
“A circuit healer’s contract will not meet our needs,” Imnari said firmly.
“I can’t guarantee that the Council can find someone to work here for the next year.”
“You are here.”
“And I have contracts I must finish before the Winter Gathering. I have training to do this winter. I have contracts I must meet for the spring.”
“Could you not stay here over the winter?” Imnari asked. “By spring, perhaps our Hinet could come back and work, with the support of a circuit healer. We need to have someone here through the winter, until Hinet returns.”
“The Council will need more information than vague assertions, Eldest.”
“I think,” Imnari paused, clearly considering her next words, “that you will find that the Council will not need any more knowledge than the simple statement that Wickmasa has need. It is a matter of the Gods.”
Katerin took a step back and rubbed Mira’s poll. What do I do? she wondered. What could be so important about Wickmasa? Why would working here for the winter be a matter of the Gods? A remembrance spell. This place definitely had a remembrance spell operating.
Mira rubbed her left ear against Katerin’s hand. Cave opening blocked by a big locked door came from her, a warning of her perception of mixed motives. The clarity of the image emphasized Mira’s warning.
Katerin sighed. Healing House, she thought back. If Mira wouldn’t want to return to Wickmasa, then they wouldn’t, and they’d be well within their rights to say no.
Mira and Katerin in Wickmasa, in shades of red and blue. Another warning, but clearly a vote to return. That, plus what little Katerin could pull out of her memory without the remembrance spell hindering it, clinched her decision.
“Eldest Imnari,” she said slowly. “My daranval and I are at Wickmasa’s service, at least for the winter.”
Imnari smiled. “I do not think you will regret your choice.”
I already do. “I need to finish my business with my other contracted villages and make my report to the Chief Healer. Then I will be free of my other obligations and can return to Wickmasa.”
“We understand this need.”
“Before I leave, I’ll check to make sure that there’s no other Shadowwalker taint in Wickmasa.”
“There is no need for you to seek out any further Shadowwalker problems until you return. Twana and Metkyi can deal with it until then. I’d prefer you get the matter of stores and your lodging settled today, then deal with your other obligations and return as quickly as you can. Winter storms are coming. It won’t be long until winter travel is by caravan only. Shadowwalker taint can wait.”
“True,” Katerin conceded. But how many others did Soisan affect? And why is she suddenly so insistent about my leaving quickly?
Between the secrets and Imnari’s maneuvering, this definitely looked to be a long winter.
Imnari turned Katerin over to Myrieke, the Gather Chief, to settle Katerin in for the winter. After Katerin washed, they retreated to Myrieke’s lodge to make the list of the supplies and stores Katerin would need.
“We can have a lodge ready by the time you return. What design do you want?” Myrieke asked.
“Something big enough for patients but easy for me to keep it warm by myself.” Cold. Gods, how cold did these mountain valleys get during the winter? Colder than she was used to, for certain. “I need two rooms, one for my private use, the other for patients.”
Myrieke nodded as Katerin spoke, chewing her lower lip. “Yes. Yes. That makes sense. I’ll send you two assistants to help you.”
“Thank you,” Katerin said. Assistants would be good.
“What about your daranval’s lodging? Makri didn’t request anything special for Soisan, but I know not all healers feel like he did.”
“A shelter next to my lodge with Mira going free, unless the Horsemaster feels more comfortable with her being corralled. I need a corral for my pack animals.”
“We can build a shelter.” Myrieke smiled. “And Horsemaster Kwellet will want to talk to you. Wickmasa’s healers have always helped with daranval training, though Makri was an exception. Kwellet shouldn’t mind Mira going free.”
“I can train darenvelii,” Katerin said. “After all, it’s what I do for the winter at the Healing House.”
“Then it is fortuitous that you are here,” Myrieke said.
That’s what you think, Katerin grumbled to herself. But she said nothing. She’d need Myrieke’s good will for the winter ahead of her.