The hospitalis had calmed after Ghia had left, as if the girl had taken the busy energy of the day with her.
Helene wouldn’t have been surprised if that were the case. Her adopted daughter had always been…different. And I’m not just referring to her supernatural abilities, she thought, sweeping the herbcraft room.
Helene and her twin sister Kasandra had found Ghia on their doorstep on New Year’s Day, 4001, wrapped in swaddling cloths and no more than a year old. They’d taken her in, for the covenant of their family line required an heir each generation to the secrets they held, and it was beginning to look as if neither would mother a child. Soon it became apparent that the good-natured, bubbly, fiery-haired baby was no ordinary child. At first, Ghia’s fledgling powers had frightened her adoptive family, for she could make things float on the air without thinking and frequently read others’ thoughts. It was a danger, the sisters knew; so, as soon as Ghia was old enough, they taught her how to harness some of her magek powers, and made her subconsciously block the others through hypnosis.
That was their family’s covenant: they kept safe the secrets of magek from the Second Age. Most of the information in the books they kept no longer made any sense; without context, reading of most ancient mageks was like reading Nighttide hieroglyphics―nearly impossible. But they found enough information to keep their daughter safe. Someday, Ghia would be entrusted with the same books Helene’s mother had entrusted to her daughters.
That is, if she ever calms down a bit. Helene smiled as she thought of her always energetic, always moving daughter. The girl never slowed down, even on her few days off. She nearly bounced with restlessness. Ghia had professed, once or twice, her deep wish to travel the countryside―for adventure!
Helene smiled ruefully as she put away the broom and went to her next task. She had been much the same, at Ghia’s age. Kasandra more so, but I daresay our taste for adventure and travel has been dulled. There was such a thing as too much adventure.
She found an acolyte healer and grabbed the boy’s arm. “Son, have you seen Miranda? I said I’d show her the drying of herbs today.”
The boy was young―couldn’t have been more than seven, eight years old―and he looked at Helene fearfully, as if he expected her to yell at him. She smiled kindly down at the child, and he relaxed a minute amount. He pointed a skinny arm at the dormitories.
“She wasn’t feeling well, ma’am, so she said she went to go lie down.”
Helene’s eyebrows creased. “Unfortunate. Do you know what her symptoms were?”
The boy shook his head, looking more scared now Helene’s smile was gone. “No, ma’am. I didn’t think to ask,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Helene forced a smile back on her face and patted his shoulder. “We all make mistakes. Go on to your duties; I’ll look in on Miranda.”
The boy scampered off, relief on his face, and Helene made her way into the common room that joined the dormitories to the hospitalis proper. A few healers who were not on shift, or were on break, sat at the table playing cards and talking softly, immersed in the same camaraderie that one might find in a regiment. Helene nodded with a smile to Jera, a woman close to her age, who sat with a girl around Ghia’s age named Giselle. The two women had been in Helene’s hospitalis for many years. Jera had served under the last head healer, Lucina, with her. Giselle had been there as long as Ghia, and the girls were like sisters.
Giselle and Jera returned the nod with respect and turned back to their card games. Helene grabbed a candle from a shelf and lit it from one of the torches before heading through the considerably thicker door that led to the dormitories.
The large rooms were silent and dark, filled with bunk beds that held sleeping healers. Quickly Helene made her way through the rooms, looking for the distinctive Miranda. The girl looked quite a bit like Bellica Anala of the Second Regiment, though she was almost twenty years younger. Helene doubted they were related, for Miranda did not have Anala’s distinctive accent, the Harbourtown accent. Besides, one would surely have mentioned the other, had the two been relatives. Family in Athering was large, extensive and acknowledged. Always.
When she got to the final room she was sure she would find the girl, but she did not see that dark black hair atop that dark golden, almost olive skin tone–quite rare in Athering, where cold climates and little sun bred pale people. Helene’s eyebrows knit together in a deeper frown. She was a careful observer. She hadn’t seen Miranda in any of the rooms, yet the boy had said the girl hadn’t been feeling well.
What if the girl had fever, delirium, and was wandering the castle halls in a daze? Quickly Helene made her way back to the common room so she could ask Jera and Giselle, both of whom she trusted more than any other healer save Ghia.
“Miranda?” Jera’s deep voice was scratchy, and her frown matched Helene’s. “No, she wasn’t sick. Told us her shift was over and she was headed to the kitchens to grab a bite to eat.” Her eyes flickered to Giselle for confirmation, and the young brunette nodded.
“Didn’t look sick to me, either,” Giselle said, her sweet soprano voice a contrast to Jera’s.
Helene sighed in frustration as she set the candle down and extinguished the flame. “Can either of you tell me what time that was?” Miranda’s shift most certainly had not been over; Helene had a full chart worked out in her office. The girl had been on all afternoon until 1900 hours.
Jera and Giselle conferred with each other before the younger one answered. “That must have been around, oh, 1745, I should think?”
Helene glanced at the clock. It was just past 1800 now. The girl had been gone for over half an hour. The kitchens were no more than a few minutes away―even if one took the scenic route through the castle hallways.
“Jera, I hate to cut your break short, but I need to go find the girl. You have the hospitalis.”
Jera gave a small healer’s salute and stood, not complaining about being called back to work so soon. She never did. Giselle followed her with the same good work ethic that made the two women indispensable to the running of the hospitalis and the Healers’ Guild overall.
Helene left her domain in the hands of women she trusted and headed to the castle kitchens to see what she could find out.
Tenea, the head cook, could offer Helene no information. No one in the kitchens had seen the girl, not that evening, nor in the past sevenday. Helene thanked the Harbourtowner―an actual relative of Anala, though they looked nothing alike―who shrugged helplessly.
“If’n I’d be able ta help ye at all, I would, ye ken,” the cook said earnestly.
“I realise. Thank you, Tenea,” Helene said with a warm smile.
Tenea nodded and walked back into her domain, Helene thought, a bit more stiffly than usual, but she could not spare a moment’s notice to it. She had to find Miranda. A sinking feeling told her there was more to Miranda’s disappearance than just a young girl’s feeling the need to rebel and shirk her duties. Helene knew, through some preternatural sense, that Miranda was up to no good.
Her feet led her to the stables, where she found herself asking the manager, a man trained as a priestess―she could see that by his earrings, and guessed he must be dedicated to Cayusee―if he’d seen a ten-year-old girl who could have been Bellica Anala’s sister go by that way.
The man had a habit of nodding a lot, which he did while she explained, as he thought, and even more so as he answered.
“Dark hair, yes? About yea high?” he held his hand at a height that reached Helene’s elbow. She made a noise in the affirmative. “Oh, yes. girl came by about, oh, half an hour ago. Asked if she could borrow a castle pony. I seem to remember wishing to tell her no, for it’s getting to be late and it’s a rambunctious night. Don’t want her getting hurt, but….” He frowned, bushy eyebrows joining above his nose, his mouth twisting and making his gray beard and moustache dance. “Don’t recall why I said yes, exactly. But she took off into town about quarter to 1800, if I recollect aright.”
“I see.” Helene said, managing to keep her voice level. Something was not right here, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She thanked the man, who looked somewhat guilty at letting a young child go out on Midwinter Eve, and told him there was no need to worry, for the girl was resourceful and could take care of herself.
Helene hoped it was true, for she wished to give the child a stern talking-to when next she saw her. Unfortunately, that would not be tonight, as she had more work to do in the hospitalis and could not shirk her duties.
Whatever Miranda is up to, I hope it does no great damage.