Jourd’Muerta, 21st Novena,
4019 of the Third Age
Today was an exceptionally busy day in the hospitalis. She hadn’t expected it to be so―the regiments had arrived back in town over a sevenday before, causing chaos with the sudden influx of wounded women. Head Healer Helene had done her job, ruling the hospitalis and her healers with the same steely grip she’d always had, and soon things calmed down again.
I wonder if I’ll ever have my mother’s leadership skills, Ghia wondered idly as she dealt with some minor injuries sustained by one child of a group who’d gotten into some mischief in the bowels of the castle. It was lucky they hadn’t drowned. The broken arm of their ringleader was already set, with some strict chastising to go with the fresh cast. Truth be told, she felt odd reprimanding children no more than a decade younger than she, but it seemed she was adult enough for them to take it to heart.
Straightening, she saw it wasn’t time for a rest yet―the First Regiment’s Chief Medical Officer, Jules deTania, was walking through her door looking as if Muerta Herself had laid Her hand upon his shoulder.
Ghia smoothed her peplos and walked over to the man, professional healer’s calm in her voice.
“We hadn’t expected you back so soon, Jules. What can I do for you? Your women are doing fine,” she said as an afterthought, thinking he might be here to check on the soldiers of his Regiment.
He shook his head briskly. “Bellica Yarrow’s women, actually, and I hear she’s been enough of a nuisance to you already.” He smiled down at her and Ghia chuckled softly. Bellica Yarrow had been in every day to check on the status of the soldiers wounded in the East Campaign, beginning to look more like a worried hen than a seasoned military officer. It had taken Ghia’s threat, to hold Yarrow in the hospitalis herself for exhaustion and stress overload, to get the bellica to ease up.
“A mite, yes,” she responded, looking critically at the older man. “You look half dead, Jules. Have you fallen ill?” Her hand was against his forehead checking for fever before he could protest.
Gently he removed her hand as Ghia thankfully remarked his cool skin. “No. I came in for something to help me sleep. I haven’t got a wink since Nucalif,” he said, and then fell silent, looking off into the distance.
Ghia said nothing. She had no experience with being a soldier, but she’d tended enough to know what state he was in. She led him by the arm to her cabinets at the back where she found some valerian and mugwort tea―better quality than what one could get at an apothecary’s shop, and free.
It brought a smile, albeit a tired one, to his face, and he murmured his thanks.
“Anytime,” she said softly, and placed a hand on his arm. “If you need to talk….” She let it hang in the air. He knew healers were counsellors for the mind and spirit as well as the body.
He nodded once, smiled with a bit more vigour, and left.
She watched him go, flexing her hand. It tingled, telling her there was more to Jules’ lack of sleep than what he let on. Than what I had assumed, she realised. It was beneath his surface thoughts, locked deeply within his psyche. She wouldn’t pry.
He’ll tell me of his own accord, or broadcast it loudly at some point, she thought, heading to the gardens to gather what could be gathered in the dead of winter. I can wait until then. Besides, Jules is a friend. I have too much respect for him just to reach into his mind and take what I can.
She didn’t spend long in the garden, for not many plants were winter-blooming. When she came back into the hospitalis, she saw her mother had returned from her errands in the town.
Ghia greeted Helene with a kiss on each cheek. “How’s Aunt Kasandra?” she said, leaping right to the point. She’d not seen her aunt in a while, being kept busy at the hospitalis.
Helene laughed as she set her packages down, gesturing to some acolytes to deal with them. “You won’t like this―she wants you to work tonight.”
Ghia suppressed a groan. Normally she didn’t complain about having two trades―she wanted to be a healer, after all, and was good at it. So being her mother’s heir, while stressful, was everything she wanted. But healing was not the best-paying work for the hours it sucked out of you, and Kasandra would rather pay the high rate for wenching in the tavern to Ghia than to anyone else. Even if I’m not exactly a wench.
But working in one of the most popular taverns in Atherton on Midwinter Eve?
“Does she hate me?” she asked out loud.
Helene laughed again and made her way to her office. Ghia followed, closing the door behind her after they entered the small room. “No. She wants you to make good tips,” her mother said, sitting down in the big chair behind her desk. She pulled her ledger to her and opened it up to the day’s page. Finding quill and ink, she looked expectantly up at Ghia.
Hastily Ghia related the events of the hospitalis that had occurred during Helene’s absence, and the woman wrote them down quickly in her neat handwriting. There must have been an edge to her voice as she talked about Jules’ request, for Helene’s eyes regarded her daughter steadily.
“I didn’t pry,” Ghia said, a bit petulantly. “I’m not a seven-year-old anymore.” Helene’s mouth quirked, and Ghia could hear her mother’s thought: No, but you sound like one. Ghia glared at her mother and the woman laughed.
“Ok, so you didn’t. But you sensed something.”
It wasn’t a question. Ghia nodded anyway. “There’s something more than the usual reason a soldier can’t sleep, but I don’t know what it is.”
Helene waved her hand and salted the ink on the page. “Give it time. You two are friends; he’ll tell you eventually.” Her look turned shrewd as she closed the book and pushed it away from her. “And don’t let on,” she said.
Ghia nearly stamped her foot with exasperation. “I know.”
“Right. You’re nineteen. You know everything.”
Ghia would have been mad, but her mother’s face held such barely contained mirth she found herself laughing. Her laughter set off her mother and the two women were soon in hysterics, doubled over, clutching their sides.
“But in my case it really applies,” Ghia managed to say at last, gasping for breath.
Helene sighed, expelling the rest of her laughter with a whoosh as she sat upright in her chair. “And you’re a special case,” she said, and suddenly the mood was serious again. Ghia swallowed the remaining giggles in her throat and nodded. “You know me, mija. I can’t bear the thought of losing you. I’m just a nervous hen,” she added with a self-deprecating smile.
Ghia stepped forward and embraced her mother. “Yes, you are, and I love you for it. And you know I’m always careful.” She stepped back, sensing the meeting was over, and went to open the door.
“I know,” Helene said. “Take the rest of the day off and then go to the Cauldron by 1800 hours, alright?”
Ghia stopped at the door and regarded her mother briefly. “Thank you,” she said, and then groaned when she saw who was coming through the hospitalis door. “I’ll be off as soon as I deal with the bellica,” she muttered, and stalked off to meet Yarrow.
The bellica of the First Regiment towered over Ghia, standing two metres high as she did, but the healer did not quail at facing down the older woman or her Major Caelum, both taller and older than Yarrow. She stood with her hands on her hips and glared at the bellica, sparing neither of them her ire.
“Did you not believe me when I said I’d drug you up on valerian myself last time? Care to test me?” she asked imperiously.
Yarrow glared back with as much force, but Ghia didn’t flinch. The bellica grabbed Caelum by the arm and moved him in front of her like a shield. “It’s his fault I’m here,” she said sourly.
Caelum rolled his eyes and grabbed the bellica’s other hand, bringing it closer so Ghia could see. It was wrapped loosely with a white cloth, blood seeping around the edges. “Cut herself open doing something stupid,” Caelum said, his kind eyes staring down at the healer.
Ghia smirked. “I’ll take a look at it,” she said, and reached for the bellica’s hand.
Yarrow yanked her hand away. “It’s just a fecking scratch, alright? Leave it.” She held her hand close to her chest, daring the two of them to contradict her.
Caelum did. Ghia let him: physically―and socially―he was the only person able to subdue Yarrow at all. He put his arm around Yarrow’s shoulders and started to guide her further into the hospitalis, to an empty chair and table. “Listen, Princess, I don’t care if it’s ‘just a fecking scratch’ or whatever you’ve got into your brain that it is. Your hands are important. Ghia’s taking a look at it.” He pushed her solidly down into the chair.
She kicked him the leg, her large military-grade boot making a solid thunk against him. He didn’t even flinch. “If you call me Princess one more time, Caelum, I swear to Goddess….”
Ghia tuned them out as she got the supplies ready: her mortar and pestle to grind the darkshade and some water to make the paste; some linen to wrap the wound; a bowl of fresh water to clean it. She didn’t take the sinew; the wound was small enough to not need stitches. When she was done, she grabbed Yarrow’s hand with no gentleness and no ceremony.
Yarrow made a sound of protest and continued to glare at the two of them, although now that her glare was so divided, it was losing some of its heat. Ghia unwrapped the bandage, but she already knew what had happened. As soon as her skin had touched Yarrow’s the scene had played in her head: the Shrine in the West Tower, to Queen Zameera, untouched by any save the bellica. The rusted, broken sword that had once belonged to the bellica’s mother, a bellica herself before she was queen. The ritual Yarrow did without fail each year on this day, the day of her mother’s death. The dust causing such a mighty sneeze that she had hit her head on the altar of the Shrine and fallen to her knees; using her hand to get up, she’d managed to grip the sword and cut herself open.
Something stupid, indeed.
“What’s this?” the healer said, still letting that imperious tone sink into her voice. “A run-in with a rusty sword?” She raised her eyebrows at Yarrow.
Yarrow’s eyes narrowed. “How did you―”
“I’m a healer,” Ghia said, cleaning the bloody cut on the bellica’s hand. “I know everything.” Yarrow snarled, and Ghia would have laughed if it wouldn’t have spoiled the effect. “You know you should be more careful with your hands, as Caelum says. This isn’t the first time you’ve come in here with injuries to them.”
Yarrow gritted her teeth at the sting of the darkshade paste. “I daresay the first time was a bit more serious.”
“Quite,” Ghia said, and left it alone.
The first time, Yarrow had been seventeen years old and just back from her lieutenant’s survival course. She’d run into a treecat whose claws had ripped the muscles and tendons from her hand and back, exposing bone to the world. She’d been near death.
Would have died, had anyone else been on shift that night, Ghia thought without pride. Ghia had been only seven―just an acolyte healer to everyone save her mother. Ghia could read thoughts and could heal with touch in situations most healers would write off as unsalvageable. These abilities were what had caused Helene and Kasandra to guard so carefully the girl they’d found on their doorstep eighteen years before, lest she be branded a witch by the superstitious folk of Athering, and these same abilities granted Ghia an advantage over every other healer in being chosen as a successor to her mother’s post.
Those abilities had saved Yarrow’s life and countless others.
Helene had been furious, of course. Ghia had nearly killed herself in the healing of Yarrow’s back. She’d had to regrow muscle and tendon and bone, not just heal it. It was like nothing she’d ever attempted before and she didn’t even think she could do it. She’d waked up near a tredicem later with a pounding headache, but it hadn’t compared to the happiness she’d felt at knowing she’d saved Yarrow’s life―and career.
Worthy thing I did, she thought, allowing herself a small smile. Yarrow’s now the Empress’ best bellica.
“What are you so happy about?” Yarrow asked, as surly as before. Ghia stopped herself from jumping at the intrusion to her thoughts.
“Nothing,” she said, glad she could lie so easily. “I was just thinking that if you send your captains in, I’ll have seen each officer of your Regiment today.”
“Oh?” Something flickered across Yarrow’s face, but Ghia didn’t catch it.
“Mmm,” she murmured as she finished the bandaging of Yarrow’s hand. “CMO Jules was in earlier. Hadn’t been sleeping, he said, so I gave him some tea.” Ghia was watching Yarrow’s face carefully, but the bellica kept it a blank as she nodded and looked away, and no insight came through Ghia’s hand, still touching the older woman.
She was tempted to pry. Cursed with curiosity, I am. She held the feeling back and let go of Yarrow’s hand a bit regretfully.
Yarrow gave her new bandage a cursory examination and then stood. “Thanks,” she said, a bit awkwardly, and glared at Caelum anew, who’d watched the entire spectacle with the same unperturbed look on his face. “Can we go spar now? As I wanted to before?”
“I wouldn’t,” Ghia chimed in before the major could answer, and was given a fresh glare from Yarrow, hot out of the oven of her ire. “Your hand needs to heal,” she said practically. She took her healer’s smock off and hung it on a peg on the wall. “But if you two need some time to unwind, drinks are half off down at Circe’s Cauldron tonight. Not so good as sparring, but….” She let her invitation hang in the air, though she knew Yarrow would never accept. The woman hadn’t celebrated Midwinter in seventeen years; that was common fact.
Caelum smiled at the healer. “We’ll be there,” he said, and got smacked by Yarrow. He raised his eyebrows at his superior. “It would be rude to refuse Healer Ghia’s offer, Yarrow,” he said quietly, but loud enough for Ghia to hear. Yarrow looked up at him and Ghia was almost sure he’d drop dead from the heat in her eyes. Then the bellica’s face cleared and she turned to face the healer, all politeness now.
“As the major says, Healer,” she said, but it sounded strained. “We’ll be there. Thanks again,” she added, and then she grabbed Caelum by the arm and dragged him out of the hospitalis with her.
Ghia shook her head with a small smile and wondered if Caelum would be alive to see the tavern tonight.