Jourd’Selene, 32nd Primera
Jules was visiting with Helene when the older woman awoke from her coma.
He’d taken to sitting by the head healer’s bedside in his time off. Since Aeril, since the rebellion, the hospitalis was the only calm place in the castle, ironically enough. Even if Ghia had been more standoffish with him than usual.
The tension in the castle was nearing fever-pitch, with the Birthright Ceremony a mere nine days away. Oh, things had been tense for the Royal Twins’ previous birthday, and for several before that one — every birthday since Zameera’s death had caused the bond of tension between Yarrow and Zardria to ripple outward throughout the castle, until every denizen was suffering from the nervous shakes.
This one was different. This was the big one — the three-oh, which was a milestone by itself, and when Zardria was finally allowed to take the Sceptre. Everything would change after the second of Duema, for then Zardria would rule in truth, not just behind the puppet-empress, and after that no one could stop her.
No one save Yarrow. She was, at this point, the only one between Zardria and the destruction of Athering. For it would be destroyed. The Empreena’s policies were already eroding the values that characterised the Atherians’ way of life — as time went on, things would get worse. The days would get darker.
Yarrow is the light that will chase away the darkness, he thought, leaning back in his chair, and almost burst out laughing. Foul-mouthed, bad-tempered, most likely insane and definitely homicidal Yarrow — Athering’s only hope. Well, never let it be said the Goddesses don’t have a sense of humor.
He and Yarrow had made peace, more or less. He could see the necessity of her actions. He didn’t like what she’d done, but then he didn’t have to like everything about his bellica. He just had to remain loyal to her. Which is no problem. I took an oath. There’s no question of whether I’ll follow it or not. There never was, for Jules.
Caelum had been a help in reconciling Jules and Yarrow. More than that, he’d been the only reason Medic and Bellica were friends again. When Aro and Caelum had walked through the door of The Stuck Boar, a night at the pub with Lares had turned into a male bonding session between the Medic, the Vocan, and the two majors — ending with a heart-to-heart between Jules and Caelum, in which acts were drunkenly forgiven and tears were drunkenly shed. So maybe ale was the only reason Yarrow and I made up, he thought, quirking his lips in a smile. Ale and Caelum. An equation for forgiveness. He snorted with laughter and rubbed his eyes. He was tired, and getting silly.
Turning his thoughts back to the current events in the castle, he wondered idly what would happen to Zanny after her puppeteer dropped her strings and took power in earnest. She’d probably die in a mysterious accident, or ‘while sleeping peacefully’, or in any other of the myriad possible ways one could die when the ruler of the country wanted one dead. Jules almost felt sorry for Yarrow’s aunt. The woman wasn’t terribly bright, compared to Zardria’s terrifying intellect or Yarrow’s high level of thought. Did she even know what was to happen to her? Jules doubted it, but prayed that if she did, she had the sense to kill herself before Zardria could do the deed. However she chose to do herself in, it would be infinitely more pleasurable than what Zardria would do to her. The Empreena delighted in causing pain. If Zanny hadn’t figured that out in all these years, then she was past help.
But that was neither here nor there — definitely not his problem, at any rate. At this point, his only problem was Ghia — barring the obvious ones of the rebellion his bellica was planning and the fact that he might lose his life during said rebellion, or indeed before it even began if Zardria figured things out, and barring the fact that he wasn’t looking forward to the possibility of being executed as a traitor to the Sceptre. Ghia. As usual, he thought, rolling his eyes.
Since he’d come back from Aeril she’d been cold to him and closed off. He would have assigned that to being busy and left it at that, except that when he’d gone to spend time with her during her off-time, he’d been cold-shouldered again. It was obvious he’d done something wrong, but he was damned if he knew what that something was.
This was normal in his relationships with most of the women in his life, come to that. He liked to think he didn’t do things wrong very often, but when he did…well, Ghia or Sarai or Suki or Yarrow or even his mother, when she was alive, would be the last to tell him he’d messed up. Especially when that messing up directly affected said woman. It drove him to distraction. Just tell me! So I can fix it!
One woman, however, never did that with him. Helene would always be the first to tell him when he’d fecked up — quickly, too. Granted, in the years Jules had known Helene, their relationship had stayed rooted to their careers for the most part, but the woman had never put aside unflinching honesty in all their social interactions. Tactful, unflinching honesty at that. She’d gently remind him he was an idiot and he’d apologise and they’d laugh about it and all would be well.
Jules sighed and regarded the unconscious woman. “I could really use your advice now, Helene,” he said softly. She didn’t stir. He hadn’t really expected her to, but there had been a brief flicker of hope that was now snuffed out. Well, not completely. They’d tried everything except prayer at this point. While it has not been proven to be any use in medical situations — or any other for that matter — it can not hurt. With that in mind, Jules bowed his head and turned to the civic religion of Athering to see him through, though he widely ignored it most of the time.
Juno, Goddess of gates and time, Queen and Mother of all the Goddesses — You who guard the way to the Underworld, You who decide what time is given, hear my prayer. Helene deCressida Donacella-Voto wanders between the worlds. Please let her come back safely. Please allow her more time upon the earth.
Opening one eye, he looked at Helene. No change. Not that he really expected one, but in the interest of science he was going to see exactly Who would make a change happen, if any One.
Closing his eyes again, he moved on to another Goddess whose jurisdiction would be relevant. Muerta, Lady Death, hear my plea — Helene deCressida Donacella-Voto hovers on the brink of Your realm. Please send her back. Do not take her from us, for we need her.
He opened his eyes again to look at Helene, and could have sworn he saw her finger twitch. Hardly able to believe his eyes, he kept them open for his next prayer. If this works, I want to see it work.
Althea, Earth Mother, tending to Your children with such love, You who guard healers and our line of work, I beg You — the head healer of Athering lies unconscious and we need her. Please, Lady Goddess, please send her back to us. Please allow her more time in Your domain.
Jules watched Helene attentively, searching for any sign of waking, for a good long time before it sank in that it hadn’t worked. She was still in a coma, and Jules was out of things to try. Feeling his heart sink, he rested his head on his hand and closed his eyes in defeat. It was the Goddess’ decision whether Helene would return to them or not, and Jules knew that no matter how much he prayed he would not sway Their verdict.
A soft groan caught his attention and he looked up in astonishment. Helene was awake, eyes open and blinking in the light. Groggily she focused on the stunned Jules and smiled.
“You look rather surprised to see me, CMO,” she rasped before coughing viciously. Hastily Jules grabbed her a cup of water from the bedside pitcher, which she drank gratefully as he held it for her. When her thirst was quenched, she spoke again. “What was my prognosis?”
Jules quirked his mouth at her. “Bad. You’ve been out for nearly a month now. We’ve been out of options besides prayer for a while.”
Helene grunted as she changed position on the bed, and Jules propped a few pillows behind her so she could sit comfortably. “And is that what you did? Prayed to the Goddesses for my safe return to consciousness?” she asked in a carefully neutral tone.
Jules sat down beside the bed again and regarded her steadily. “Yes. I did.”
She snorted. “You’ve never been particularly religious, Jules. Why the change?”
“Because Athering needs you.” It was the partial truth.
“Athering does…or Ghia?” Helene said, staring at him until he looked away. “That’s what I thought. How is she doing?”
“Professionally, she’s fantastic. The job was made for her — or vice versa, but either way she’s wonderful at it.”
There was a pause. “And privately?”
Jules sighed as he thought of how to reply. “Privately…she’s been brave, for all that she was facing the possible death of her mother at a rather young age.”
“You weren’t much older when you lost your mother, Jules,” Helene said gently.
“Aye, and I still miss her. Every day. Ghia loves you as much as I did my mother — is it so hard to imagine that she’d be incredibly upset and worried about you?”
Helene sighed and leaned back against the bedframe. “No. Of course not. Tyvian, I was pretty worried about myself for a while there.” She looked as if she was going to say more, but she stayed silent.
Jules sat for a moment and absorbed what she’d said. “You were unconscious, Helene.” How did she worry about herself?
“Officially. I was awake somewhere else.”
“Juno,” he swore softly.
Helene shook her head and opened her eyes. “Didn’t meet Her. Spent time with Althea and the elementals. I saw Muerta once, which was the cause of most of my worry, but She was just passing through.”
Jules let out a gusty sigh as he stood up. “I don’t think I can believe you on this one, Helene, so I’m not sure whether to assume you’re not fully recovered yet or just crazy. Regardless, I’m going to get your daughter now,” he said, leaning over to kiss Helene on the forehead before leaving.
“Jules,” she called after him. He stopped, well aware of the command in her voice. “When are you going to ask her?”
He turned slowly and stared at her. His hand, no longer under his control, drifted to his pocket, where the ring sat in its box, waiting to be slipped onto a certain redhead’s finger. “How did you know?” he managed to ask Helene, still awash in astonishment.
“I’m her mother. I know everything.” She pinned him with an intense stare.
He chuckled softly, though it was not with mirth. “I don’t know. She’s mad at me right now.” Helene nodded, as if she’d already known what he was going to say. He frowned, irritated at the game, and walked back over to the bed. “Any suggestions as to how to make her not mad at me?”
“Ghia has different ideas on love and sex from those of the rest of our society. She’s always been strange that way — fairly old-fashioned about it, to be frank. She doesn’t understand that your tryst with Lares is not indicative of commitment to him, or even your feelings towards either of them.”
Jules placed his fists on his hips with some difficulty, fairly mad now. “Helene. There is no. way. you. could. have. known. about myself and Lares.” Unless she has powers like Ghia’s, but I really doubt it. “Explain, please.”
Helene glared at him again. “Indulge me, Medic, and entertain the idea that I may have just been serious about spending time with Them. Do you honestly think I would have been content to lounge about, paying no heed to the goings-on in the lives of my loved ones? Of course I kept tabs on you.”
Jules ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “Ok. You’re serious. Fine. How is it even possible, Helene? You go to Their worlds when you’re dead. Maybe not even then.” He stopped, unable to think of any more argument.
“I don’t know, Jules. Ask your sister.” He closed his eyes and groaned. He hadn’t visited Sarai since Midwinter Day. They were almost a month into the new year.
I’m a bad brother, but that is something I will remedy today. No later. Resolved, he opened his eyes and regarded Helene fondly. “So. I guess I shouldn’t tell Ghia about us, then.”
“Tyvian, no! For all that it was nearly fifteen years ago — she would not take it well.”
Jules chuckled, with mirth this time, and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. “Thank Goddess I have you, Helene,” he said.
She returned his kiss warmly. “Aye. Otherwise you’d perish under Ghia’s death glare. Now get me my daughter.”
Jules leapt to attention and saluted with a smile. “Yes, Ma’am!” he said, and then marched from the room before Helene could swat him.
He didn’t have to go far. He bumped into Ghia as she was carrying fresh linens back into the hospitalis.
“Chief Medic Jules,” she said formally, and moved to go on.
He caught her arm gently but firmly, sighing inwardly at the cold shoulder. Well, at least I know what to do now. But it has to wait.
“Your mother’s awake,” he said quietly.
Instantly the stony mask she’d adopted melted away, and her face formed an expression of such hope and gratitude it made his breath catch in his throat. She moved to go, but stopped, looking at the linens. Without a word he took the sheets from her with one hand, shooing her away with the other.
“Thank you, Jules,” was all she said before rushing away to Helene’s room.
He smiled as he went to put the linens away. Her tone had been warm for the first time since his return. It was enough to make him feel better.
Deciding to change into something a bit nicer and less smelly than his current outfit to visit his sister, Jules headed to the barracks.
He was pulling a fresh shirt on over his head when he was hit in the chest with something hard and papery.
“Mail!” a voice called out. Jules pulled his shirt all the way down and saw a square of paper on the floor.
Eagerly he picked it up and saw his suspicions confirmed by Nathaniel’s neat handwriting addressing it to him. He flipped the letter around and cracked the wax seal, eager to see what his brother had written. Opening it quickly, he started to read the letter.
And stopped at the end of the first paragraph. Then started again.
The third time he read the paragraph his heart skipped a few beats.
The fourth time he felt tears prick his eyes.
He didn’t read it again. He didn’t finish the letter. He folded it back up and began to pack a bag for an extended stay at the temple. Sarai would want the company, he told himself, though he knew it was because he needed to be with his sister right now.
Bag packed and letter safely inside the front flap, he swung the strap over his shoulder and went to find his bellica. He needed some time off.