18 ~ Ghia

Since arriving at the hospitalis earlier that afternoon, she’d not had a moment’s rest, nor any break to investigate the situation with the spy. Miranda had not shown up in the hospitalis again. After talking with Helene, Ghia had determined that Miranda had, in fact, been spying on her and Jules at first. Otherwise why would she follow us to the Cauldron?

The thought was unnerving, but now she was more worried about the bellica and major of the First Regiment. Not that she thought they’d be so dumb as to openly discuss anything that could be construed as treason, but these days the difference between what one said and what was heard by those in charge was great. During dinner at the tavern she’d heard from some townsfolk who’d come in that there’d been another raid the night before, only two doors down. A small family that did charity to the poor of Atherton had simply disappeared. Ghia couldn’t imagine what they could have done―she’d known them most of her life, the sweetest people one could know. The wife had been a priestess and had settled down with his husband in order to bring the goodness of the Goddesses to the townspeople.

Now they were gone. Never to be seen again, like as not. More victims of Zanny’s Secret Police. Or mayhap the Police now belong to Zardria. Either way, Athering had lost too many good people to the darkness that sat in state at the castle.

She almost cried with relief when Yarrow walked into the hospitalis again at just half an hour to the appointed time of the banquet, though it was unlikely that anyone would be on time. She hid her gratefulness quite well, however, and kept up her prickly healer’s demeanour.

“Bellica Yarrow, if you insist on continually disobeying my direct order, I shall have to write you up,” she said, arms akimbo, a stern look on her face that didn’t match the message in her eyes.

Yarrow looked half mad, her hair unbound and frizzy where it had dried, shadows under her eyes, her cheeks hollow and her frame more gaunt than usual. Something was wrong, Ghia realised belatedly. The bellica looked as if she might attack Ghia right then, but apparently thought better of it. “I need hangover tea,” she said. Her voice sounded like a tree branches scratching against a window in a winter gale.

Ghia seized her opportunity. “Of course. Come into my office.”

The healer felt a frisson of fear run down her spine as she turned her back on the feral-looking Yarrow, but she didn’t let it show. She led the way to Helene’s office and bid the bellica close the door behind them.

“I thought you kept tea in the cabinets out there,” Yarrow said with a curt movement of her head meant to encompass the whole hospitalis.

“I do. A spy followed you and Caelum from the tavern last night,” Ghia replied, deciding to throw caution to the wind.

Yarrow’s eyes narrowed as she regarded Ghia anew. “I know. How do you?”

“Not hard to figure out when said spy used to be assigned to this very hospitalis and is naught more than ten years old,” Ghia said equably, looking through the cabinets in Helene’s office that held stronger cures. Finding the one she sought, she turned and gave it to Yarrow. “Here’s some stronger tea than the usual fare; I think you may need it. I hope, Bellica, that no great damage was done,” she added, hand lingering on the box of tea.

Yarrow looked from the tea between their hands to Ghia’s face, the expression on her face saying she did not know whether to trust Ghia or not. Though the healer’s fingertips were on Yarrow’s skin she could not see exactly what had happened; the bellica was very good at burying her thoughts deeply.

The hollow-eyed face frowned. “Thank you, Healer.” Ghia removed her hand, knowing the conversation was over.

“I’ll see you at the banquet, Bellica.”

Yarrow paused, her hand on the still closed door. “Will you?” she asked, barely a whisper, and then she was gone.

Ghia swallowed the sudden lump of fear in her throat. What had been exchanged last night? And why did she sense such a terrible, murderous anger in the bellica?


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