PART THREE: MANIPULATING MAGIC
Despite her own wound, Eya insisted on tending the injured. She hobbled from house to house using a cane, her left leg sheathed in bandages. Besides her, there were four wounded survivors: Ebb, Wil, Rem the mason, and Dek. The only one whose life hung in the balance was Dek, so it was with him that Eya spent much of her time.
Falnora did not have a true healer, nor was there a wise woman knowledgeable in the uses of herbs and potions. Eya and Lora, although both untrained, were the closest the village had to anyone with understanding in that subject, and they had learned what little they knew from books and through trial-and-error.
Eya refrained from attempting to use her magical abilities for healing, even on herself. It was tempting to try, especially knowing that she might be able to close a wound in a matter of seconds, but Wil's warning about the dangers of venturing untutored into new areas of magic held her back. As the days passed, she became increasingly certain that sometime, possibly soon, she would have to leave the little hamlet of Falnora and venture to one of the cities. As much as she hated to admit it, remaining in the settlement was holding her back from reaching her potential.
Two weeks after the aborted attack by Tsab's army, all of the injured were well on the way to recovery except Dek. He lay in his bed day and night, shivering in the grip of a delirium. The wound - a puncture in his lower abdomen - appeared clean and uninfected, but it was not closing and continually wept blood. There was someone with him at all times, but no one could explain why, after fourteen days, there was no sign of improvement.
Dek had three nurses: Eya, Lora, and, surprisingly, Bre. For some inexplicable reason, Ebb's daughter had begun accompanying Eya on her "rounds," learning to sterilize wounds and change dressings. She rarely spoke, never explaining why she was doing these things, but Eya was glad enough of the company not to ask.
After the attack, nothing further was seen of or heard from the soldiers of Tsab, even though Wil began sending out short-range patrols. If the force came back, he wanted more time to prepare a defense. One villager had died, and that was one too many. With the resources of two Apaths, no one from Falnora should have suffered a wound, let alone perished.
The burden of the nineteen Tsabian deaths weighed heavily on Eya's conscience. Although she had not physically struck down those men, they had died as a result of her magic. Wil, who had killed in the past, was not so foolish as to tell her that it wasn't her fault. But he had made it clear that the Tsabians, as soldiers, had been trained to kill and die. By marching on Falnora, they had marched into war. Eya had not killed innocent, defenseless men, but had reacted to the advance of a hostile force. She was not the first person - or even the first Apath - to lose control in the midst of a battle. It was difficult to maintain concentration with an arrow embedded in one's knee. Yet, no matter what extenuating circumstances had existed, those deaths were still Eya's responsibility. She could not run away from the truth, especially not when it asserted itself so powerfully within her.
She had wanted to burn all nineteen bodies herself, touching the torch to each one personally, perhaps as a penance, but, by the time she managed to limp back to where they had fallen, all that remained was the ashes of a pyre. While no one admitted to performing the task to which Eya had laid claim, she suspected Reg of the deed, and didn't know whether to thank him or curse him for it. Although she had wanted to do that one final thing for those men, maybe it was better that she hadn't been forced to look into nineteen pairs of vacant eyes to wonder what kind of people they had been before her shadow creatures had butchered them.
The weather had deteriorated over the past two weeks, almost as if the struggle with the Tsabians had set off a period of soggy days and cloudy nights. The sun and moon became rare sights and, as was so often the case with extended bouts of rain, people's spirits were at a low ebb. The recognition that there could be a reprisal from Tsab kept everyone on edge. Falnora, normally as open and friendly a place as there was anywhere on Devforth, had become secretive and untrusting.
For her part, Eya had not found much to laugh about recently. Her studies had ground to a halt while she spent most of her waking hours caring for the injured, Dek in particular. It would have helped if she could be certain that she was doing some good, but the less seriously wounded men were recovering well on their own, and Dek wasn't making any progress. There were times when she felt useless.
Then there were the images of the dead Tsabians to haunt her dreams. When she closed her eyes, the soldiers wore the faces of people she knew, and their eyes accused her. Several times Eya had awakened screaming or sobbing. Fortunately, Reg had been there to comfort her. She sometimes wondered what she would do without her brother's strength to rely upon.
On the fifteenth morning following the confrontation, she arrived, as usual, at Dek's small hut two hours after dawn. Bre, who spent the bulk of each night with the injured man, answered her knock, her face a mask of concern.
"What is it?" asked Eya.
"He's running a fever, and he's begun to cough up blood. The wound doesn't seem worse, but something must be wrong."
Eya hurried over to examine the unconscious man. She removed the dressing from his abdomen to look at the wound. Bre's observations were correct. The injury appeared clean, and there was no sign of infection, but Dek was running a high fever, which had not been the case twenty-four hours ago, and his bed-linens were stained with blood.
She recognized that this was something they could no longer handle alone. As loathe as the people of Falnora were to go for outside help, if Eya didn't do so in this case, Dek would die.
"Prepare a letter requesting the aid of a healer. Don't address it to anyone in particular; it may have to be circulated among several people before we find someone willing to travel here. In it, describe Dek's symptoms and state that we are willing to pay any reasonable price - in gold or grain - for services rendered. Then find Wil or my brother and give it to them. They'll know who's on courier duty this week and make sure that the message reaches Fels. With luck, we should have someone here within a day or two."
"If I could make a recommendation..." began Bre.
"By all means." Eya replaced the dressing on Dek's wound.
"Fels is not the ideal place from which to request a healer. In that city, the healers are all nobles. Few would consent to read such a missive and even fewer would agree to come. Any who did make the journey would charge a sum so outrageous that the wealth of the entire village might not be enough to pay it. I would recommend sending to either Llam or Vorti. Vorti might be the best. They have a guild of healers there, and there is no nobility to be concerned with."
It was perhaps the longest speech Eya had heard Bre make. She told the other woman how grateful she was for the advice, and, to her surprise, received a tentative smile in return.
"Shall I come back when I'm done writing?" asked Bre.
"No. Get some sleep and take your regular turn tonight. If something happens - good or bad - before then, I'll make sure you're notified."
With a nod of thanks, Bre left the cottage and headed for Wil's house. Left on her own with Dek, Eya began to apply cool, wet rags to the unconscious man's forehead, trying to keep down the fever. She was not hopeful, however. By the time a healer in Vorti could be found, then make the trek to Falnora, Dek would probably be dead. And it would be her fault. Another death on her conscience.
Ten days ago, Wil had asked if she needed help. More than that, he had advised her to consult a healer from one of the cities. But she had assured him that as long as the injury didn't fester, it was within her ability to care for Dek. Now, it appeared that her arrogance was about to kill an innocent man. A twentieth body laid at her feet.
With his senses dead to the world, Dek didn't see the silent tear that trickled down Eya's cheek as she dabbed at his face to wipe away the sweat.
Back To Main Contents
Back to Chapter Fifteen
On to Chapter Seventeen