50 ~ Ghia

Jourd’Juno, 34th Decima

Ghia woke with a gasp, clutching her blanket to her chest. For a moment she panicked, forgetting where she was. Her eyes adjusted to the gloom and she saw she was in the healer’s quarters in the castle, where she’d been bunking for eight nights.

Normally she would have stayed at the tavern, but when she’d waked from her three-day nap, just in time to celebrate Kore’s Mass, she’d had a strong feeling that staying at the castle would be a prudent decision. A good thing, too, for another epidemic of swiftshock fever had broken out in Atherton seven days prior, and this time Helene had fallen ill with it. No surprise, for the woman was not very young anymore, and worked too hard, besides. Ghia was now acting Head Healer, while her mother was kept in quarantine. She wanted to use her healing powers to cure Helene but the woman had blistered Ghia’s ears forbidding it before she fell into a coma, saying Ghia needed to concentrate on the rest of the sick – as well as keep the hospitalis running smoothly.

She could not argue, for she could not tell her mother about her new training and Magea Rosa. It vexed her, but deep down she knew Helene was right.

And when she had attempted to do something for her mother, somehow that meddler Jules had known, and stopped Ghia dead.

“Are you crazy? Atherton needs you right now, more than your mother does, more than they need her. You may be part Magi, Ghia, but you’re not a deity,” he’d scolded her, concern and anger making his voice harsh.

It had stung, but she refused to let him upset her. Instead she just assigned him to Helene’s care on top of his other duties. She outranked him now, especially as Yarrow had relinquished command of her medicorps for the duration of the fever. Much to her chagrin he had agreed happily, not even a little upset at the extra work. Could she do nothing to vex him?

One thing, she remembered now, swinging her legs out of bed. Jules hated it when she didn’t take care of herself, and she’d only been asleep for a few hours now, after a three-day run without rest.

It wasn’t as if she could get back to sleep, now – not with a nightmare like that. She wished she could remember the details. All she could remember was west; so it must be about Anala. All the times she’d tried to touch the bellica’s mind, to assure herself of the woman’s safety, she’d hit a wall, right around Voco. She couldn’t get around it. As soon as Anala had sailed past that border she might as well have fallen off the face of the earth, for all Ghia could reach her.

She sighed. There was nothing she could do about it, but she resolved to talk to Rosa when she got a break. She’d not had a chance to see the Magea in the eleven days since Anala’s departure, let alone bring Yarrow to meet the tree-being. She should, soon. Time was running out, although time before what, she couldn’t say. In their brief mental contact, Rosa had assured Ghia it could wait out the fever’s course through the city.

Slowly, she got out of bed, bracing herself against exhaustion. Despite the little sleep she’d had, she was wide awake. She grounded and centred, replenishing her stores, and went on rounds.

All hospitalis beds were full, with some spares filled up as well. Not all patients were castle staff: Ghia had ordered people from the city taken in because she had the room and ability to do so. The empreena had not been pleased, but as far as Ghia was concerned, Zardria could sod off. The treecat might rule the country, but the hospitalis was Ghia’s territory, and her word was law. Anyone who disagreed could take it up with her. The Head-Healer-apparent doubted anyone would dare. It was dangerous to cross a healer on her own territory, be you peasant or empress.

Ghia stopped in the middle of her rounds, surprised at herself. All this power must be getting to me – I’ve never felt so…defensive of this place. She shook her head and continued checking patients. Maybe she’d like being Head Healer after all. So long as I could travel, she thought. I doubt mother’s had any sort of trip since she took the job all those decades ago.

Her rounds finished quickly, for all the patients had been under expert care for days. They were stable, and would either pull through or pass quietly, now that the worst part was over. Out of the highest-risk patients, Ghia had been forced to make the children the priority for treatment. It was a hard decision, for naturally she’d not wanted anyone to die, but the hard truth was that the birth rate had been down the past few years, and, at the rate people were dying, it was more important to save the younger people than the older. A general outcry had arisen when Ghia had assigned special care to Helene, who was almost considered elderly at this point, and not for the other older patients, some of whom had now passed. Ghia had silenced it by saying Helene’s knowledge was keeping them all alive – she still needed the Head Healer’s expertise.

This was not true. Ghia did not need any more training in healing from her mother, but she could not unassign those healers watching over Helene. Regardless of whether her training was finished, she still needed her mother.

She had a feeling that all too soon Atherton would need Helene, too. So she worked on keeping the woman alive while she treated Athering’s bright future – all the young people in her care. At best, the orphanages would have new additions; at worst the population would suffer a massive blow.

At a loss for something to do, but too awake to go back to sleep, Ghia checked her stores of swiftshock powder. They were running low, and while she doubted the hospitalis would need more in the near future, grinding up more would be something useful to do. Her mind set, she headed to the garden.

Whether the fever was named for the plant that cured it, or vice versa, no one was sure. Mayhap the two names came about simultaneously, for the plant was known to shock those who did not gather it properly, and the fever was characterised by a swift shock to the nervous system, rendering some patients catatonic. Those who survived.

Or mayhap the plant causes the fever, she thought as she entered the Forbidden Section of the garden. Certainly convenient, to have cure and cause in one little plant.

She shuddered a little at the thought, glad she knew how to harvest it. Granted, she was immune to the fever, as were the other healers, for since Helene had taken ill, Ghia had snapped shields around them all. Why had she not thought of it before her mother got sick? Helene had always seemed so Goddess-like to Ghia – she thought her mother was immortal and infallible.

The more fool I am, she thought savagely as she knelt in front of the copse of swiftshock. Its deep purple-and-silver flowers were open to the moonlight, with fuzzy black stamens moving in the cool breeze.

Perfect. The plant’s defenses were up, meaning the powder would be that much more potent. Gently she blew on the stamen, making sure the heat of her breath reached the inside of the flower. The stamen wiggled, and then the purple-silver petals closed up, creating a bud which then rolled down the stem until the entire plant was rolled into a purple-silver-black spiral in the dirt. Satisfied, she grabbed her copper sickle and cut the plant’s stem at the base and placed it in her basket before turning to the next, where she repeated the whole process.

It was a simple task, but tedious and long, and by the time Ghia was finished her throat was dry and she was a bit dizzy. She grounded and centred quickly, and moistened her throat with the dew in the air. Dizziness gone, she went inside and got to work drying the plants.

This proved a bit trickier. Their dehumidifier was old and finicky, needing to be coaxed through its job. She lit the coals in the bottom tray and set the swiftshock flowers in trays far above, setting it to medium speed. Then she watched the wooden trays move slowly on their tracks, far above the coals, letting the hot air suck the moisture out of the petals. Occasionally a tray would stick, and Ghia would have to reach in to get it moving again, careful not to let the sweat on her forehead drip onto the flowers. By the time her crop was through the machine and dry, Ghia’s face was red, she was soaked through and her fingers were fairly burned.

The hardest part was done, and she gratefully went to powder the flowers and put them into one-dose packets. She stood for hours, methodically measuring and chopping and grinding and packing, until finally she finished the last flower. Bemusedly she looked up and saw dawn’s light in the garden.

Suddenly she was very tired. She packed up her supplies and placed the new packets in the stores cabinet, behind the old ones. Then she crawled back into her cot in the sleeping room, waiting for sleep to take her away.

~

She’d not been out for three minutes before there was someone shaking her shoulder urgently, asking her to wake up. Ghia opened one eye and stared at the young acolyte who was so determined to ruin her sleep.

“Please, Head Healer, there’s a messenger for you,” the girl said, fear in her eyes.

Ghia snarled and got out of bed. “It better be an Althea-damned emergency, girl, or you’ll find yourself on bedpan duty indefinitely,” she growled.

The girl said nothing; only led Ghia to the hospitalis anteroom, where a young man waited, anxious and pale.

At the sight of groggy grumpy Ghia he flung himself to his knees before her and took her hand, kissing it gratefully.

“Oh, Healer Helene,” he began, but Ghia cut him off testily.

“Quit grovelling and get up. Get us some chairs, girl!” she shouted at her wake-up call. “And get me some damned tea!” she added at the girl’s retreating back. She turned to the young man. “I’m listening. And it’s Ghia, not Helene.”

The man got to his feet, looking perplexed. “I asked for the Head Healer,” he started uncertainly.

“You’ve found her. Helene is with the fever; I’m her heir.” She managed to keep her voice from betraying her worry, but it pained her. Head Healer. She was now, ready or not. “Now,” she continued, accepting tea and chairs from her walking alarm clock, “What can I help you with?” And you better hope it was worth disturbing my sleep over, her look told him.

He swallowed nervously and took his seat, looking like some small, terrified animal. Ghia managed not to roll her eyes.

“Well,” he began again, clearing his throat, “I come from the clinic, and we’re having a bit of a crisis.”

Ghia frowned. “The clinic is fine. I was there myself yesterday. Things have been busy but the emergency has passed.”

He was protesting before she was done speaking. “Not the main clinic. There’s another one in the slums. The main clinic has been sending its surplus patients to us, and we can’t handle it! Three of our healers have died in the past six days, and now our head healer has fallen ill. I’m his heir; I was the only one well enough to come plead for aid. We’re getting more patients all the time!” His words tumbled out, tripping over one another to land in a heap at Ghia’s stunned feet.

“There’s a clinic in the slums?” she asked slowly.

He nodded. “Between the Tracks and Perimeter Road. It’s central to that quarter of the city.”

“And the main clinic knew about it.” He nodded again. “And no one told me about it.” He nodded again, slowly. “And the main clinic has offered you no help.”

“Refused, actually,” he mumbled, and a red haze settled over Ghia’s sight.

Refused you help,” she whispered, her voice deadly as nightshade. He nodded again, eyes searching the room for an exit. “And three healers have died,” she said, and he nodded one last time, fear gluing him to the spot.

Instantly Ghia fell into action. She burst out of her chair and flew into the hospitalis, tea cup smashing on the floor. She rushed to the healers’ barracks and grabbed the alarm bell’s rope by the entrance and pulled it till it waked every healer within earshot, and some other castle denizens as well. They came stumbling out, rubbing blearily at their eyes, trying to stand at attention.

“Emergency!” shouted Ghia unnecessarily. The word did get their attention. She started pointing randomly and giving out orders. “Ajax! Get a transport ready from the stables, something for over a hundred healers plus supplies – and don’t let them question you.” The boy scampered away. “Giselle! Go and grab all the healers from the medicorps, Second and Third Regiments, plus Chief Medical Officers – I want them at the stables in five minutes, not a second later. Yeia! Grab all the bedding and supplies we can spare – there’s fresh swiftshock powder; I need all of it packed up.” They were all wide awake now. The ones she hadn’t sent off stood at attention, waiting for further instructions. She lowered her voice to a normal speaking level and continued her orders. “I’ll be taking the medicorps of the Second and Third regiments to the clinic in the slums –” She saw surprise on many faces that there was such a clinic, which eased her mind o any suspicion that her team had hidden anything from her. “Anyone who’s had enough rest. If you feel you’re rested enough to come along, please volunteer – we have a medical emergency and help will be appreciated. Otherwise, stay here – I’m leaving Chief Medical Officer Jules in charge; Jera is his second. You are to obey him without question. If I hear of any counts of insolence….” She let her healer’s glare take in everyone. “I shouldn’t have to finish that sentence. Dismissed. If you’re coming, get your stuff together and move out – chop chop, come on! Jules, I need a word,” she added, beckoning the stunned man over.

“Ghia, are you out of your mind?” he hissed at her when they were out of earshot of the rest of the healers, grabbing her elbow in his hand.

“What, to give aid to the city in time of need? Why, yes, I must be crazy,” she retorted fiercely, lacing her tone with vicious sarcasm. How dare he question her! He might be in charge while she was gone but she still outranked him, by Althea.

“Damn it, Ghia, that’s not what I meant and you know it!” He ran a hand through his hair in irritation, and it stuck up at odd angles. She suppressed a snort of laughter. “Let someone else go. I know how much rest you’ve had these past few days. You need your sleep.”

Goddess! Impossible Jules strikes again! “And whom would you suggest I send, Chief Medical Officer Jules?”

“Me,” he said, spreading his arms in a “that’s obvious” gesture.

Ghia scoffed. “With how much rest you’ve had? I don’t think so, Jules,” she said, with an air of finishing the matter.

“Regardless, I’ve slept more than you. You’ll kill yourself on this run, Ghia!” His voice was ragged and he had shadows under his eyes. Ghia looked at him, giving him a frank assessment. No. No, I won’t, but you might.

“You forget my back-ups,” was all she said, and he deflated, realising he couldn’t argue with her Magi-powers. Satisfied, Ghia nodded briskly and went on. “I need you to make more doses of swiftshock powder. Do you know how to harvest it?” He rolled his eyes at her. “Don’t get snotty. I don’t want you getting shocked, you impossible man. I need as many packets made as there are flowers, and I need more planted.” She was almost ready to leave; she’d been packing while she spoke. “Oh, and train up some more people in the harvesting and planting. Jera can help you there,” she added, closing her bag and slinging it over her shoulder. She raised her hand in farewell and turned to leave, but he held her fast.

“Ghia. Take care of yourself, okay?” he said, with all the concern of a friend.

She gave him a lighthearted smile she didn’t feel. “Don’t I always?”

He snorted. “No. And take Suki – she’ll take care of you,” he added.

“Fine, Jules,” she said, hoping to shut him up so she could go. “And you take care of my hospitalis, you hear?”

He smiled. “I will.” She nodded and moved to go, but Jules still had her hand. Slowly she raised her hand to his lips and pressed them against her skin, gently. Their eyes met and they stood, staring at each other intensely, neither able to break the contact. Ghia’s throat was dry and her heart flipflopped in her chest; shivers ran up her arm and down her spine.

Oh, no. Have my shields failed me?

Hastily she broke the eye contact and did a quick scan of her body. No, all in working order. Just some fatigue, but that was to be expected.

Jules released her hand and it fell to her side. They stood, silent and a little awkward.

She cleared her throat. “Jules? Get some sleep while I’m gone. That’s an order,” she added sternly, turning to leave.

He curtsied low, but the movement didn’t hide his smile. “Yes, Ma’am.”

She rolled her eyes and headed to the doors of the hospitalis. “Healers, move out!” she shouted, last call for volunteers.

The healer from the slums still stood in the anteroom, shock on his pale face.

“You,” she said, pointing at him, “Come on. We’re leaving; you’re leading. I don’t know where your clinic is,” she said, and maneuvered him to the door and out, heading to the stables.

~

She saw with pleasure that her orders had been carried out. Healers were getting into transports–large carriages reserved for emergencies, with huge dray horses to pull them–in an orderly fashion, and full carriages waited patiently for directions.

She ordered a castle horse for the healer from the slums – Gaston, his name was – and Suki for her to be saddled up and made ready. The groom gave her a look that said “You’re not Jules,” and Ghia snarled at him: “Would you like to find Jules to ask his permission and delay us in time of crisis?” He shook his head fearfully and hurried to do her bidding. She knew he would ask Jules later, anyway – let him feel stupid then.

Taking another look at the healers assembled, she saw there were fewer than there should be. Frowning, she grabbed Giselle’s arm. “There’s a Regiment missing. Where’s Fanchone and his medics?”

“I gave him your orders, but he said he could not go without the leave of his superior officer.” The woman looked at her steadily, no fear in her eyes, and Ghia was once again grateful for Giselle’s steady-mindedness.

She frowned. “Why would Major Aro not give them leave?” It made no sense.

Giselle shrugged. “I know not. All Chief Medical Officer Fanchone said was that his Major was indisposed, and unable to give leave. He sends his apologies, but he dare not go without permission.” The expression on her face showed exactly how she felt about Fanchone’s stance on obedience versus civic duty. Ghia agreed whole-heartedly, but she had no time to bemoan Fanchone’s spinelessness.

“Gah. I need those medics – I’ll go talk to Major Aro myself!” She glanced at the assembled group, waiting to leave. The horses danced impatiently. “Head to the clinic – Gaston will lead you,” she told her friend. “I’ll get the Second Regiment medicorps and catch you up.” Giselle nodded briskly and headed to do her job; Ghia tossed her bag onto a carriage top and then sped off through the castle.

Damn Fanchone anyway – he and Aro were useless without Anala!

~

Ghia stared at the scene before her eyes in disbelief. “Crisis” was the understatement of the year. What she saw before her in the clinic was better described as the end of the world.

Chaos. Wreckage. Disorder. Debris. There was little telling who was a healer and who was a patient, save the small blue karykai on the healers’ lapels. Every bed was occupied, some by more than one person. The rest of the sick crowded in corners or lay on the floor. The floor itself was less than clean, being covered in human excretions. Where was the janitorial staff? The few healers who remained to make the rounds were deathly pale, coughing and sneezing into their sleeves and puking into the corners.

Still people crowded the entrance. Still more patients moved in. Half of Atherton had to be here and there were still more coming.

An overwhelming hopelessness descended on Ghia. She felt like crying. How on Althea’s green earth was she to do anything here? The situation was past critical. It was past catastrophic. It was past the point of no return.

She wanted to run back to the castle and climb into her mother’s bed and bury herself under the blankets, hiding from the world. But I can’t do that.

She looked at Gaston, who registered no surprise at the scene before him, only resignation and a brief trace of hope.

Suddenly Ghia felt the anger flood back. The main clinic knew about this. They knew and they had said nothing, done nothing except help escalate the situation. What in Tyvian was wrong with them?

She’d deal with them later. Now she had to fix things here. She held onto that anger and let it fill her with energy. There’d be no sleep for her for a while.

She whirled to face her team and began barking out orders and snapping up shields around them all. She would fix things here. She had to.

She was the only one who could.

 

Jourd’Muerta, 38th Decima

Ghia sighed and sank down into a chair gratefully.

Five days. She’d been at the clinic for nearly five days. Only now were things starting to calm down.

The floors were clean and clear of bodies. Those in non-critical condition had been sent home with a few doses of medication each; the highly critical ones she could save were here at the clinic. The ones who wouldn’t live–again, that impossible choice forced on her–she’d sent to her aunt’s tavern, where they could die in peace. The tavern had been closed down for the duration, devoting itself to hospice work. Any others had been sent to the castle for Jules to deal with.

They’d lost another two healers. The clinic was down to Gaston, two lower- ranking ones, and the head healer, still bedridden with the fever. None of Ghia’s team had come down sick, but many had collapsed from exhaustion. She’d started sending tired healers to sleep, taking on more shifts herself, until she was on every shift for five days straight. It was a good thing there was a tea supplier just down the road, only too happy to provide caffeine for the clinic – she supposed it had to do with the fact that she’d saved his six-year-old daughter’s life. An unlimited supply of tea was much appreciated.

So, caffeine-driven and sleep-deprived, Ghia had not stopped since she’d arrived. She’d not even sat down until now. The other healers and medics had looked at her with an awe they’d not shown even Helene. Fanchone himself, whose entire corps was on janitorial duty, could not begrudge her a certain admiration.

Ghia snorted in disgust. Fanchone – he could have asked Major Aro for leave and gotten it, or just come along of his own accord, but instead he’d left the dirty work to Ghia.

She’d stormed down to the barracks to talk some sense into him, but he’d not been persuaded.

“It’s as I told Giselle – I follow orders from Aro and Anala, and without their leave, my hands are tied,” he’d said, though Ghia didn’t believe his contrite tone for a second.

“Well,” she spat at him, grabbing his arm and maneuvering him into the hallway, “let’s see what we can do about untying those hands of yours, shall we?”

She stormed down the hall, dragging the protesting Fanchone to Aro’s door. She pounded on the wood fiercely. “Aro! I need to speak to you!”

Silence. Then, a soft mumble, unintelligible.

She pounded again, harder. “Aro! Open up this door immediately!”

Silence, again. Then, slowly, the sound of something dragging, then a click of a latch being released. The door swung slowly inward, revealing….

Nothing. It was totally dark inside. Ghia let her eyes adjust and could make out fuzzy lumps – bed lump, clothing lump, and Major lump, on the floor and reeking of brandy.

“Oh, Goddess,” Ghia muttered, moving into the room to get some lights on. No go. She couldn’t find a flint and tinder anywhere and using her powers in front of Fanchone seemed a bad idea. Besides, she wasn’t even sure she could generate flame.

In exasperation she reached down and grabbed what she hoped was Aro’s hair and pulled up. He cried in pain and the smell of brandy intensified, wafting over Ghia’s nose.

“What…why…” he started, but she cut him off.

“Sweet Juno, Aro, knock it off! I need your leave for Fanchone. There’s a crisis in the city.”

He stared at her blankly. “Crisis? Wha?”

She growled in frustration and gave him a shake. “Aro! Wake. Up. I need you to give Fanchone leave. Now. Not later.”

He tried to shake his head, but Ghia still gripped his hair. He settled for belching instead. “Why should I listen to you?” he slurred, trying to focus his eyes on her face.

Oh, that did it. She used her other hand and grabbed his collar, pulling him close until he couldn’t avoid her gaze. She glared into his eyes with the anger of a thousand mothers. “Because if you don’t,” she said, in a cold, angry whisper, “I will tell Anala exactly how you have behaved in her absence. And she won’t like what I have to say…one. Little. Bit. Do I make myself clear?” She shook him, once, and his eyes cleared of the boozy haze they possessed for a moment.

“Fanchone, you have leave indefinitely,” he said, still slurring.

Satisfied, Ghia dropped him to the floor. “I really hope you’re sober by the time I return, Aro,” she said, grabbing Fanchone and heading out. “For your sake,” she added, closing the door behind her.

She’d then had to deal with Fanchone’s protestations of how she’d mistreated his commanding officer and how leave granted while under the influence wasn’t leave, not really, until she’d stopped him with a well-placed threat.

“Fine, Fanchone, if you’re such a cowardly lout that you won’t help the city in time of need, then stay here!” He’d stopped gesticulating, pleased she was seeing things his way. She glared then and he shrank away. “But don’t think you won’t get a formal write-up from me, because you will – and not only Anala will see it, but Empress and Empreena too. And we both know what that can lead to,” she said menacingly, letting the words court martial go unspoken. To judge by the look on his face, he heard them loud and clear. “So stay, if you want. But don’t expect to escape the consequences,” she finished, and strode off, absolutely done with weak men.

He sputtered and chased after her. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, Ghia. Head Healer Helene would never threaten a Chief Medical Officer like that!”

“I’m not Helene,” was all she said as she continued her steady walk to the stables.

In the end Fanchone had come. He was too much of a coward to bear Anala’s displeasure, and a possible end to his career. Ghia had banked on it.

She’d still given him the worst job. It was more than the spineless coward deserved. She felt a twinge of remorse for those medics who served under him, but suppressed it angrily. The job needed to be done, and none of them had demonstrated a willingness to help when Fanchone had balked at leaving his comfy barracks. Let them suffer for their cowardice, and maybe next time they wouldn’t be so quick to cross her.

A sudden cramp grabbed her stomach and she doubled over in pain, clutching her arms around her midsection. Dizziness made her vision blurry, and she felt like retching. She closed her eyes and willed the feeling away, letting the spell pass.

It was the latest of several such spells she’d had over the past few days. She had no idea what was causing it. Her shield still held, and she had no other sicknesses. She’d chalked it up to fatigue, for she could see no other cause. Whatever it was, it was irritating. And painful.

Dammit, girl, you need sleep, she told herself, finally willing to listen to reason. The crisis had passed. Her healers would handle the rest.

She waited for the cramping to ease up, and then slowly got to her feet and headed over to the healers’ quarters. She signalled Giselle to tell the woman she was heading for a nap.

“It’s about time,” the healer replied with a wry smile. Ghia waved and stumbled into the room, finding an empty bed with the preternatural sense the truly exhausted had for a place to sleep.

She fell onto the cot gratefully, and drifted into a deep, lovely slumber.

~

She woke to darkness. For a while, she let herself drift on pleasant nothingness, feeling nothing, thinking nothing, just a waiting, loving darkness where thought should be. She sighed happily and turned onto her stomach, nestling her face into her pillow and letting herself drift back into peaceful, dreamless sleep.

A second later her eyes shot open. Dreamless. No. Not dreamless. Full of nightmares, except this time Ghia remembered them. She sat up in bed, heart racing.

Anala. Anala was in trouble. That was the source of Ghia’s dizzy spells, she knew now – she couldn’t explain it, but her dreams did.

“Dammit,” she whispered, realising she had to forego sleep again. She got out of bed and shuffled her feet into her soft leather shoes, groggily moving out to the sick room. It was night time. Giselle and a skeleton crew were on duty.

Ghia moved to the hooks by the door and grabbed her jacket; moving her arms into the sleeves she addressed the confused Giselle. “You’re in charge here, indefinitely. I have an emergency to attend to and I know not when I’ll return.” She turned out into the cold and went to saddle up Suki.

Suki looked down her long nose at the healer and snorted, clearly saying “Jules said you were crazy.” She ignored the horse and worked on getting the saddle and bridle on the beast.

After a few minutes, Ghia admitted she knew nothing about saddling horses. She threw her arms up and made a noise of frustration. Suki gave her a “hah hah” look and the healer returned it with a murderous glare.

“I don’t suppose you can saddle yourself, Wonder Horse?” she asked the animal, and Suki tossed her head as if to shrug and looked away. “Didn’t think so,” Ghia muttered and folded her arms across her chest. Her fingers were numb and it had started snowing outside. Reluctantly she went to wake the stable boy. She didn’t want to disturb his sleep, but she needed to get back to the castle. A fierce sense of urgency gripped her.

She shook the boy awake and he groggily got to work saddling Suki up. His tiredness made him go slow, and by the time he finished Ghia was frozen stiff. She thanked him and mounted with difficulty; then, settled, she drove her heels into Suki’s sides and clicked her tongue. Needing no other urging the horse sped off towards the castle, no doubt excited about seeing Jules again.

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