Cursor's Fury

Chapter 20


Isana thrust her hand down at Fade's chest, calling out to Rill to let her perceive the fallen man's body through a water-fury's senses. In the wake of her collapse, the effort was simply too much. Isana's head felt as if it would burst asunder in an explosion of pure agony, and her own heart labored in a sudden panic as she lost the strength to remain upright.

She let out a weak cry of purest frustration, then gritted her teeth and focused. Giving vent to her emotions would not help the stricken man beside her.

"Help! ' she called. It sounded pathetically quiet, and she was sure the sound would not carry past the closed wooden door. She struggled to draw a deep breath and tried again. "I need help in here! Healer!"

At the second cry, the door slammed open, and Giraldi took one look around the room and spat a vile curse, limping badly as he rushed to Isana's side. "Steadholder!"

"Not me," she told him, weak and frustrated. "Fade collapsed. Not breathing. Healer."

The old centurion nodded sharply and rose to rush from the room at a pace that was surely dangerous to his crippled leg. He called out down the hall, and footsteps came running. Guards appeared, first, and within a minute they had escorted a young woman in a simple white gown into the room.

She was a pale creature, her skin so white that it almost seemed translucent, and her hair-quite short, for such a young woman-pale and fine as cobwebs. Isana felt certain that her youth was genuine and not the result of watercrafting talent, though why she felt so Isana could not say. The healer's eyes seemed too large for her long, thin, somehow sad face, and were of a brown so dark that they looked black. The circles of weariness beneath her eyes stood out almost as vividly as violent bruises, and she carried herself with the brisk, sure manner of confidence Amara would only have expected in someone years older.

The young woman went to Fade at once and knelt to place her fingertips on his temples, her manner competent, professional, if somewhat weary. "Stead-holder," she said, as she concentrated on her own furycraft, her eyes closed, "can you tell me what happened to him?"

"He collapsed," Isana said. Giraldi returned, and she was torn between a surge of gratitude and one of embarrassment as he simply hefted her back into her bed. "His conversation began rambling. He was shaking. Then he fell down into a fit. He stopped breathing, and I couldn't find his pulse."

"How long ago?"

"Not two minutes."

The young woman nodded. "There's a chance, then." She raised her voice until it carried like a trumpet, ringing off the walls with a volume worthy of a centurion on a battlefield. "Where is my tub?!"

A trio of groaning young legionares came through the door bearing a heavy healing tub, sloshing water over its edges. They plunked it down even as the young healer divested Fade of his cloak, sword belt, and boots. At a nod from her, the guards in the room lifted his limp body into the tub.

The healer knelt behind the tub and placed her hands on Fade's head. "Step back," she said, in a tone that suggested she said it often. The guards hastily withdrew from the tub and out of the room. At a nod from Isana, Giraldi went with them.

The healer was silent for several seconds, her head bowed, and Isana had to restrain herself from shouting for the girl to hurry. Then the air in the room began to tighten, somehow, an odd sensation, like an unseen wind pressing against Isana's skin. The healer's fine hairs began to lift, one by one, away from her head, as if carried in a gentle updraft, though Isana could feel no air moving. She was still for a moment, then breathed out in a murmur, and what looked like tiny flickers of lightning played over the tub.

Fade reacted violently, body suddenly arching up, drawn as tightly as one of Bernard's hunting bows. He stayed that way for a moment, then subsided into the tub again and started coughing, a wet and fitful sound.

Isana's heart leapt up as the slave breathed again.

The healer frowned more intently, and Isana saw the water begin to stir in the tub, as it did when she worked her own healing furycraft, though only for a moment. Then the healer grimaced and lifted her hands from Fade's head. She moved around the tub and lifted his wounded hand. She unbound the kerchief wrapped around it and leaned down, sniffing. She drew her head away in a sharp little motion, turning her face away from the injury, then lowered his hand into the water.

"What is it?" Isana asked.

"Garic-oil poisoning," the young woman said.

"What's that?" Isana asked.

"Many weapon merchants in the southland preserve their weapons with an oil mixture that includes a tincture made from the oil in the hides of garim lizards."

"And it's poisonous?" Isana asked.

"Not always intentionally. But if the oil isn't mixed correctly, or if it's left out too long, the garic oil turns. Goes rotten. If it's on a weapon that inflicts a wound, the rot gets into the blood." She shook her head and rose. "I'm very sorry."

Isana blinked. "But... you healed him. He's breathing."

"For now," the healer said quietly. "Your friend is a metalcrafter, I take it?"

"Yes."

"Wounded during the attacks?"

"Defending me," Isana said quietly. "An arrow. It struck his hand."

The healer shook her head. "He must have been suppressing the discomfort. If he'd gotten to a healer within the hour, perhaps..."

Isana stared at her in disbelief. "What will happen?"

"Fever. Disorientation. Pain. Eventual loss of consciousness." The young healer grimaced. "It isn't quick. Days. But if he has family, you should send for them." She looked up at Isana, her dark eyes steady and sad. "I'm sorry," she said quietly.

Isana shook her head slowly. "Is there nothing to be done?"

"It has been healed, betimes. But it takes days, and most who try it die with the victim."

"You are not able to attempt it?" Isana asked.

The healer was still for a moment, then said, "I will not."

"Great furies," Isana breathed quietly. "Why not?"

"Legions march on my father's city, Steadholder. Battle will be joined. Men will be wounded and needed to return to the fight. If I'm attempting to heal him, it will mean the deaths of dozens or hundreds of my father's legionares. " She shook her head. "My duty is clear."

"You're Cereus's daughter?" Isana asked.

The young healer smiled a little, though there was little joy or life in it, and dipped her head into a small bow. "Aye. Cereus Felia Veradis, Steadholder."

"Veradis," Isana said. She looked at the wounded man. "Thank you for helping him."

"Don't thank me," Veradis said.

"May I ask a favor of you?" Isana said.

The young woman nodded her head once.

"I would like a healing tub brought in here, please."

Veradis's eyebrows rose. "Steadholder, I am told your healing skills are impressive, but you are in no condition to attempt such a crafting."

"I believe I am a better judge of such things than you," Isana said quietly.

"My experience suggests that you aren't," Veradis said in a practical tone. "He is important to you. You aren't thinking clearly."

"That, too, is something only I can judge." She returned Veradis's gaze steadily. "Will you do me the favor, lady?"

Veradis studied her for a long moment. Then she said, "I will."

"Thank you, " Isana said quietly.

"In the morning," Veradis said. "After you have slept. I will return and instruct you in the method. You will not worsen his chances with a few hours' delay."

Isana pressed her lips together in frustration, but then nodded. "Thank you."

Veradis nodded back and turned to leave. She paused by the door. "I'll send in a cot, and make sure there's an attendant near your door." She paused, just outside the room, and asked, "He is your protector?"

"Yes," Isana said quietly.

"Then I ask you to consider one thing before you begin. Should you die attempting to heal him, you will render his death meaningless. He will have sacrificed his life for his lady for nothing."

"I am not his lady," Isana said quietly.

"Yet you will risk your own life for him?"

"I will not stand by and watch him die."

Veradis smiled for just a second, and for an instant looked her age, young and lively. "I understand, Steadholder. Good luck."


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