“I forbid you to go in!” Jenye looked the man straight in the eyes. “And you’re being paid to listen to me!”
“Out of my way, bitch!” the man growled.
Jenye stood her ground. “Keep it up and I’ll have you cut off!”
He shoved her hard against the wall and walked past, not having any real reason to listen to her. She could do what she threatened, but then she would need to be alive to make good on the threat.
Jenye gasped, trying to catch her breath, her back against the doorway wall as Sharks’ Cove town guards streamed into the Abyssment. Since the battle in the bay between the Baranurian and Beinison fleets a few days before, the town guard had started to cover their tracks, destroying evidence of their deeds. It was only a matter of time before the Baranurian Army would dedicate their attention to the town and then all those who had taken the wrong side in the war would probably be put to death.
“All right, folks!” the man who pushed Jenye aside called out loudly, “we know who owns this property and what goes on here. We’re putting an end to it. If you would all get up and proceed upstairs, there will be no trouble.”
The sound of voices elevated, turning into a buzz as the patrons talked among themselves. The conversations were hesitant and concerned, some not knowing what the sergeant was talking about.
“Now, folks!” he prompted them and a few of the guardsmen drew their swords. People slowly started gathering and streamed upstairs, fearful of what could happen.
“You too, hog-face,” the sergeant yelled at Eli. “Drop the bottle and go.”
“Get a move on!” a guard across the room yelled at a young man and swung his sword at the patron’s legs. The flat of the blade connected with the man’s knees, sending him tumbling to the ground. A few of the patrons turned on the guard in annoyance, but more swords appeared, aborting the short-lived rebellion.
Eli shook his head, but refused to argue with the polished blade brandished before him. He put the wine bottle down, wiped his hands with a rag and followed his customers up the stairs as the sergeant continued to yell orders. He paused at the top one last time, throwing Jenye a concerned look.
“And don’t you worry about the doctor, pops,” the sergeant laughed. “She’ll be right up as soon as we’re finished here.”
He walked across the room, looking around as his men saw to the remaining people. The crowd of the twenty or thirty patrons quickly disappeared up the stairs.
“All right,” the sergeant announced when only the guards remained in the main room of the Abyssment, “take anything you want, spill the hard liquor on the floor and move it! We don’t have all night!”
“Caligula’s going to have you hunted down like a dog,” Jenye warned.
“No he won’t,” the sergeant grinned. “There won’t be anyone left to tell him.” He picked up a glass with a clear liquid, clearly a strong alcohol. “You see, you’ll help us out with that. You’ll get to spread the fire!” and with those words, the contents of the glass hit Jenye in the chest.
“Bring me a candle, Cadel,” the sergeant ordered.
With all her might, Jenye planted her knee in his groin and bolted out the door. The sergeant sank to the floor and his astonished men just let the doctor slip by.
“After her!” he groaned, lying on the floor and a half dozen men hurried to follow his order.
One of the remaining guardsmen cautiously approached his superior. “Are you all right, Sir?” he knelt by his side.
With clenched teeth, the sergeant got to his feet, not wanting to display weakness before his men. “I want that bitch dead. Find her and bring her to me!” He tore the lit candle from the hands of one of his men and tossed it into one of the puddles of alcohol on the floor. The room instantly burst into flames and the guardsmen hastily abandoned the building.
Jenye breathlessly ran down the dark street, not knowing where she was going, but wanting to put as much distance as possible between herself and her pursuers. Any place would do, so long as she could escape the men on her trail.
She suspected the night would go bad the instant she saw all those guards appear together, but never in her wildest dreams did she imagine it would turn so deadly. Now she did not even have a place to run to.
She glanced over her shoulder at the guards running after her. They were less than a block away and she stood little chance of losing them by running straight down the street. They would certainly not tire out before her.
At an intersecting street, Jenye took a sudden right and then a left. A lot of alleys opened into this side street and she ducked into the nearest one, hoping all the possible routes would confuse the men chasing after her.
“Split up!” someone yelled, inspiring Jenye not to take the quick rest she intended and she continued running. She ran out onto a street, across the next alley, then doubled back, skipping though a narrow corridor between two houses.
This new alley was quiet. Ever so cautiously, she snuck up to the street to look out to see where her pursuers were, when a pair of arms reached out from the darkness and, grabbing Jenye, pulled her into the shadows. She struggled, trying to bite the gloved hand over her mouth, but was unable to get very far.
“I won’t hurt you,” the man holding her whispered. “Please don’t scream.” The hand was lifted from her mouth just as quickly as it was placed there. She turned to look at who it was that had caught her and let her go so quickly. The reflection of the moon on the polished metal rendered her speechless.
“You’re …” They were less than a foot apart.
Jenye looked up and down the alley, for the first time noticing a light floating in an open window. It bobbed up and down in the room, floating as if a ghost carried it around, unsure of where to put it down. On the street the alley opened into, a town guardsman, one of the ones who had been chasing her from the tavern, ran by.
The reflection of the moon in the faceplate shifted as Ga’en turned his head. “Are they after you?” he asked in a whisper.
Jenye nervously nodded. She was not sure if she should be more afraid of him or the men who chased her, but for the time being decided to trust the blind archer. He had, after all, saved her life once already.
“What did you do?” he asked, turning back to the window with the light.
“I ran away,” she answered, her voice just as quiet as his.
“Oh, Doctor …” a yell floated into the alley, carried on a sickly sweet voice. “… we’ve got something for you …”
Ga’en nervously bit his lip, not turning away from the floating light. One of his arms encircled Jenye’s waist and pulled her deeper into the shadows. “Be quiet.”
The light reached the window, revealing itself to be a candle held by an armored man. He looked out, up and down the alley. “Come on, I heard someone yelling!”
No answer could be heard, but he was obviously listening.
“No,” he answered, “we’ve got enough.” He stepped out through the window and hopped to the ground. The uniform he wore was that of the town guard. “Come on!”
A second man appeared in the window and passed him a sack. “Don’t jingle.”
Ga’en raised his strung bow and nocked an arrow. It was all black, from the arrowhead to the fletchings.
“Don’t drop it,” the man in the window warned his companion.
The bow string snapped and the guardsman fell over backwards, the sack falling on his companion outside with a thunderous clattering of metal.
‘They’re stealing silverware!’ Jenye thought as the man knelt close to the ground.
Quiet. Ga’en readied another arrow.
Still no sound.
“Horain, are you there?” The guard stood up, letting the sack lie at his feet, and tried to look in the window.
Ga’en’s bow string snapped again, sending the arrow at the robber-guardsman. The man staggered forward and collapsed against the wall of the building, over his ill-gotten loot.
“You’re a physician?” Ga’en asked without looking away from the men he had shot.
“It must be a busy time for you, this summer.”
She cautiously reached up and touched the helmet visor, solid over the eyes. It radiated magic, but she could tell little about the source or the origin.
Ga’en took a step back, out of her reach. “You know who I am?”
Jenye nodded again.
“And you’re not afraid?”
“It was somewhere here!” Rushing feet sounded at the mouth of the alley as two men entered from the street. Jenye pressed herself against the wall, recognizing them. She was not sure what she could do or what she could expect of Ga’en.
“Are you sure?” the second man asked the first.
Ga’en drew two arrows from his quiver, holding them in one hand.
“Had to be. The bitch probably slipped on something.” Their intentions were easily recognizable, their swords drawn and postures ready for a fight.
Ga’en pulled back on the string, the arrow ready to do its calling.
“I was thinking,” the second guardsman said, “if we find her first, we don’t have to bring her back right away, do we?”
Ga’en changed his aim.
“No,” the first man smirked and the one who offered the idea started laughing. The string of the bow snapped once again and the laugh abruptly stopped.
“Marque?” his companion spun around. The second arrow hit him square in the back and he collapsed over his friend.
Ga’en lowered his bow. “Go home.”
Jenye did not move, looking at him. She did not know what to do and his words had a hard time sinking in.
“Go,” Ga’en repeated. “You know who I am, you’re not afraid and I’m sure you heard I’m the one to blame for the massacre. You’re welcome for your life. Go.” He turned and walked deeper into the darkness of the alley.
“No, wait!” Jenye called to him.
“Who are you?”
“It won’t be a secret if I tell you, will it? My life depends on this secret.”
“But you’re …” He was a killer, that’s all he was. A man who stalked the night, putting arrows in backs of crooks and soldiers alike. He was judge, jury and executioner for every person he met and he did not bother to let his victims give him their side of the story.
Another town guardsman passed the mouth of the alley and Ga’en drew an arrow. “How the hell many of them are after you? Who the hell are you anyway?”
“If I tell you, you’ll probably kill me.”
“If you don’t, I’ll let them do it for me.”
“I’m a doctor …” She was not sure why that should make her guilty, but there was a story to her life beyond that. A doctor was only what she was. It was who she was a doctor for that she had always feared.
“Yeah?” he asked impatiently.
“I work for Gaius Caligula.”
Ga’en lowered his bow. “I won’t kill you, today. Caligula is guilty of many things, but he stood by the city these past few months. He fought for the people and whether you know it or not, he did a lot of good. I expect a lot of that is in what he had his people do. I’ll help you reach the Abyssment. After that you’re on your own.”
Jenye shook her head. She could only guess at what had happened to the Abyssment by now. She feared that both it and the few people in town she could call friends were now gone.
“Is there some other place you want to go?” Ga’en asked, not giving her a chance to explain. He felt sorry for this woman, confused, on the run, scared. “I’m running out of arrows. I can’t stay here.”
“There is no more Abyssment,” Jenye said. “They were trying to burn it down when I got away!”
The moon flashed menacingly across Ga’en’s faceplate as he turned to look towards the street. “Is there any other place I can take you?”
She shook her head with despair. “Everything else has already been burned.”
Ga’en shifted uneasily. He could not just leave her in these streets — that was not why he chose to do what he did — but neither did he want to take any unneeded risks. He did not know this woman, only had her word for who she was, but at the same time knew he had little choice. If he did not get her off the streets soon, the town guard would, for good.
“Are you sure there’s no other place?” he insisted.
“All right,” he came to a decision. He did not like it, but it was the only choice available. He could take her to one of the places he occasionally used to hide during the day. It would serve for the night and then he would never use it again, since she would know about it. “I’ll take you to a place you can stay the night.”
She watched him, suspicious, not sure if he could be trusted. It seemed that killing came easy to him, that he felt no compassion towards the people his arrows felled. Should she go with him?
“I have no other alternatives to offer you,” Ga’en said, as if sensing Jenye’s concerns.
She sighed and followed him, wondering if she was doing the right thing. For all she knew, Ga’en was little more than a cutthroat himself, using the war to openly prey on criminals, seeming a hero when he was little more than they himself. Of course right now many of the survivors of Sharks’ Cove wanted to see him dead themselves for the price he made them pay such a short time ago. Almost no one was left untouched in some way by his failed attempt on Talens’ life and the massacre that followed. But in spite of all these fears, Jenye followed him anyway, down the maze of turning and twisting alleys, through neighborhoods she would not dare enter during the day, much less at night, to an old, rundown, two-story shack. It was probably all brick at one time, but now it was half rubble, with rotting wood planks for supports and yellowing, torn canvas for protection from the wind.
“It’s as deserted as it seems,” Ga’en said, brushing the canvas aside for Jenye to enter. “But it’s pretty solid and, at times, home.”
She passed by him, wondering how he viewed her. What were his thoughts, his motivations?
He followed her in, guiding her to a back room where he lit a candle. “It’s safe here. No one on the street will see the light.”
Jenye leaned against a wall and permitted herself to slide down to the floor. It had been a long, hard day, made no easier by the events of the evening.
“Are you all right? Are you hungry?”
Jenye nodded, closing her eyes. It was hard to think about everything that had happened to her today.
“All I have here is dry rations,” Ga’en said, “like the army uses.”
“I have good teeth,” Jenye smiled ironically. She opened her eyes at the sound of stone siding against stone. “Do you need a hand?”
“No, I got it,” Ga’en gave the false brick cover another shove. From there he took a quiver full of black arrows, replacing it with the nearly empty one he carried and also took out a tightly wrapped pack of salted smoked meat. “No water. Sorry.”
Lighting a second candle for more light, he sat by Jenye and they divided the meal.
“Are you really blind?” Jenye asked.
Ga’en did not answer.
She looked at him for a moment, then turned back to her meal.
“I can’t take the risk of telling people much about myself,” Ga’en suddenly said. “Doing what I do, I acquire a lot of enemies and anonymity is my only protection.”
“Can you blame them?” Jenye asked.
He turned to her, for the first time giving her a chance to see the face of the helmet so close in this much light. The metal was dark, slightly reddish, either from the flame or from some alloy combination. The face plate, a carefully molded piece that fit over his eyes and nose, was lighter and more reflective than the rest of the helm. It came down to just above the tip of his nose, covering all but his lower cheeks, mouth and jaws.
His features, what little could be seen of them, were somewhat sharp, a little weatherworn, a bruise showing from just under the plate over his right cheek bone.
“No, I can’t …”
“No, I can’t blame them,” he repeated sadly. “I tried to help, but I only caused more problems. Now both sides offer a reward for my head.”
“How could you miss …” Jenye muttered. It was not a question, but it came out as one. She was simply sad to see his good intentions turn against him, against the entire town.
“Talens?” Ga’en asked. “I didn’t. I never even saw him. They set me up. I think he left town to join the war up-river before they tried to blame the assassination on me. Trust me, if I would have gotten that chance, he’d be dead now … Not that it matters any longer. What’s done is done. There’s no turning back the clock.”
“But why did they blame you?” Jenye was not ready to believe the story, but wanted to hear all of it.
“To turn the people on me. To make someone want to sell out. I guess they hoped the people would find me and give me up in hopes of stopping the massacre. And if that didn’t work, I’m sure they held the hope that I fell victim to their swords.” He fell silent for a moment, biting into the smoked meat. “I must’ve averaged two or three kills a night back then, at times as many as five or ten and that adds up after two months. The local garrison had little choice.”
“To set you up?”
“A price for my head wouldn’t do it, so long as the people were happy with me. They needed a reason to make people hate me. The city was slipping from them and they were losing more men than they could justify. They needed me dead, or at least discredited.”
“I’m sorry …” It seemed like it could be the truth, but Jenye did not feel like much of a judge to decide. For now she would treat Ga’en with the same caution she treated the men in Caligula’s employ.
“So am I,” Ga’en responded to her reaction, his voice quieter than before.
“What will you do now? People won’t just forgive you, even if they find out you were set up. This all started with you anyway — you know they’ll need to blame someone.”
“I know,” Ga’en said thoughtfully. He fell quiet for a long time, then added, “Stay here, then move on, when I’m no longer needed.”
“Not needed? In this town?” A smile appeared on her lips, as if reminded of some old joke.
“There was a time before I came here,” Ga’en said. “This city survived. I’ll stay until the army takes charge of the town, then move on. It’ll make it without me, just like it has for the last few centuries.”
“Where will you go?” Jenye wondered. “Where are you from?”
Ga’en settled against the wall at his back. “Doesn’t my name tell you?”
“Perhaps where you’re from, not where you’ll go.”
“I’m sure there are plenty of places that can use my help,” Ga’en said. “Sharks’ Cove is one of many.”
Jenye nodded in agreement. “There are a lot of cities now that need help.”
He shifted, then stood up. “You’re welcome to spend the night here, but I must go.”
“This city needs my help now. The night is here and I do my work under the cover of darkness. Besides, I can’t stay here with you. We don’t know each other. It’s a big risk for both you and me,” Ga’en explained. “Just promise me one thing. I helped you tonight. Pass this favor on. Help someone else. If I can light this fire and the people can keep it burning, then I think we can change the city, with or without me, in spite of all the rumors that exist about me.”
Jenye smiled, remembering what she did for Barar, the little boy whose dreams were invaded by the horrors of the war. Perhaps the knowledge that someone somewhere did something good for him, without asking for anything in exchange, would set him on a better path in life.
“This is the second time you’ve helped me,” she told Ga’en.
“Then promise me you’ll help two people,” he said and after she did, turned to leave, but before exiting the room, he stopped and turned to her. “Out of curiosity, when was the other time?”
“A month ago. When the warehouses by the river were being burned.”
“I’m sorry,” Ga’en shook his head. “I don’t recall. That was right after the massacre started? I helped many people then. It was a busy time.”
“Thank you,” Jenye said again.
He nodded. “Good-bye.”
After Ga’en left, Jenye blew out one of the candles and moved to one of the far corners of the room, setting the remaining burning candle in a gap between two bricks in the wall, to reduce the amount of light being cast.
Ga’en was nothing like she imagined. He was polite, kind, thoughtful. He looked handsome, or at least his lower jaw did. In all the time he was with her, he did not remove even one glove. Just like words, hands can tell a lot about a person.
Jenye also thought he had a trace of a southern dialect, but if he did, it was so slight it could easily be overlooked.
She closed her eyes, thinking about his request. He wanted to change the world, one person at a time, if that was what it took. An interesting idea, but one she did not believe to be accomplishable. Greed and corruption would quickly see to that.
The help that she herself offered Barar was probably more out of pity for his condition than anything else. He was, after all, just a little boy, only seven summers old. She doubted she would do the same for an adult. Perhaps that just went to say that she was an equal part of the problem.
And then there was Rien. She was still unsure if he used her or if she tried to use him. Either way, she was both happy and sorry to see him go. She really liked him, but his vengeful streak scared her, while his loyalty to friends made her hesitant to let him go. She almost chased after him, naked, into the street that morning he left, but something held her back, be it modesty or recognition that they might not be compatible, or even fear of entering a lifestyle such as his. Either way, he did say there was someone else and she did not want to stand in the way of that. She thought herself to have more morals than breaking up an existing romance, even if it was in trouble, like he said.
Somehow, lost in all her thoughts and memories, Jenye drifted off to sleep.
Jenye opened her eyes to a perfectly dark room, the candle she had left burning having long since burned itself out. She recalled Ga’en’s comment that no one outside would be able to see the light of the candle. Conversely, that meant that outside light would also be unable to penetrate inside the remnants of the house. But was it day or night? How long could that candle have burned?
Jenye got up and feeling her way along the wall, made her way to where she remembered the entrance to be.
The weather outside was gloomy, with overcast skies and a moderate wind. She guessed the time to be mid-morning, but there was no good way to tell. She paused, contemplating where to go and what to do. The world she knew had ceased to exist the day before, or so she suspected. Nonetheless, it would be a good idea to check if the Abyssment was still standing and if so, how much of it had survived. She still had no idea of what to do afterwards — certainly if the Abyssment still stood, she could not take shelter there — but she had to know what had happened after she left, no matter how frightening that truth could be.
The streets of Sharks’ Cove were deserted, much as they had been since the start of the invasion. Jenye expected that she could travel the entire way without encountering anyone, but to her surprise, on one of the streets she found the remnants of a recent battle. The first sign of it were two Benosian soldiers lying in the middle of the street. The first man she saw startled her, half sitting with his back against the wall where he had apparently fallen. For a moment she did not notice his loose grip on his sword and the hollow stare in his eyes, but as she backed away from him, she saw the deep cut in his side from which blood had drained and poured down the street in a little snaking river. Judging by the size of the blood puddle, Jenye had no doubt he was long dead.
The other man lay face-down in a pile of rubble, spread over some broken planks that had no doubt impaired his movement when he tried to run. In his back was a single cut that must have been his undoing.
The second sign of battle was a blood trail starting in the middle of the street and leading into the alley. It clearly did not belong to either of the dead soldiers and indicated a third serious injury. Although the trail appeared quite fresh, there was quite a bit of blood and Jenye wondered if whoever spilled it could have survived up to now. It did not take long for her to decide to change her destination and see where the trail led.
Jenye cautiously stepped around the corner where the trail disappeared, to look at what was there. For a moment her heart sank as she tried to sort out the uniforms on the men both standing and lying on the ground. There must have been a half dozen men dead, wearing both Baranurian and Beinison uniforms and even more men standing. It appeared as if the Baranurian side had won.
The last person Jenye noticed was the one she should have seen first, a teenager, probably sixteen, certainly no older than eighteen, wearing a Baranurian military tabard, charging full speed for the street. They both should have seen each other, but instead he collided into her, grabbing her just in time to prevent her from falling, but almost falling on top of her.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he gasped, maneuvering around her. On her forearm, where he grabbed her to prevent her from falling, he left a bloody smear, although he seemed to be in too good a shape for it to have been his own blood. Suspecting where the blood was really from, Jenye hurried into the dead-end alley, hoping she was not too late.
Almost immediately a man ran up to her. “Are you a doctor?”
“Lieutenant! Jeser found one!” the man yelled, then grabbing Jenye’s arm, pulled her to the group of soldiers. “Come on!”
On the ground not far away lay a man, bleeding from his gut like a stuck pig.
“Right here,” the soldier guided her.
“The sergeant took a shot protecting the boy,” a man already there said, speaking with a thick Magnus dialect.
Jenye paused, looking at him. What boy? Where was their doctor? Why were the two armies still fighting in Sharks’ Cove, after the Beinison fleet had been decisively defeated?
“Are you a doctor?” he demanded, seeing her hesitation.
“Yes,” Jenye looked at the soldier on the ground. “Get me some water,” she said as she moved the loose bandages that someone had applied, in order that she could see the wound. Blood practically bubbled over the gash in his side. A waterskin was passed to her and she used it to wash out the wound, realizing how thirsty she herself was, not having had anything to drink since the day before, but she used all the water on the wound, although the blood quickly flowed over what she washed.
“Lieutenant?” one of the gathered crowd asked.
“Wait,” the accented voice answered.
Jenye, not having any of her equipment or aides, placed her hand over the wound spilling blood and started her spell. It would have been easier if she had been able to route her energies through a crystal or used something designed to slow bleeding and seal wounds, but this was the best she had and it would have to do the job or the soldier would die.
After a time she lifted her blood-stained hand off the wound, drained, but successful. She leaned back against somebody, catching her breath.
“Are you all right, ma’am?” the soldier behind her asked.
“Yes,” she gasped. “I’m fine.”
The soldier moved, letting the lieutenant sit next to her. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
She nodded. “It was a pretty deep wound.”
He passed her a waterskin and she gladly accepted it, thirsty as she was.
“Are you from the Royal Duchy?” the lieutenant asked.
“From Magnus,” she said, having relieved her thirst.
“Magnus? What part?”
“The Old City. Merchant quarter.”
“You’re a long way from the high ground …”
Jenye leaned forward again to check the sergeant’s wounds. Everything seemed fine and she once again settled down, satisfied with her work. “Where are you from?”
“Well, we have the place back home called the Fifth Quarter … You might’ve heard of it.”
Jenye smirked. The Fifth Quarter was a place almost as well known as the Royal Castle. “Your man won’t be able to travel on his own for a while, but he’s going to live.”
“Can we carry him?”
“Yaris, prepare a litter!” the Lieutenant yelled. Both he and Jenye stood up. “Thank you for your help,” he said. “I don’t know what we would’ve done without you.”
“It was my pleasure,” she answered. She had never felt bad about restoring a life.
He took her hand and brought it to his cheek in the old tradition of Magnus. “Lieutenant Donric Fagizo itas Senwynn, Third Baranurian Regulars.”
“That’s a pretty long name for someone from the Fifth Quarter,” she took her hand back. “Jenye Calyd, I’m sure you heard I’m a doctor.”
“For my men you’ll always be a doctor first,” Donric answered. “If I may,” he added, “could I ask you to join my men and me at our regiment’s camp? We could use an extra hand with the injured and I’m sure the Captain will be more than happy to compensate your efforts generously.”
Jenye still wanted to see what had happened to the Abyssment, but she was also afraid of what she might find once she would get there and after a short thoughtful pause, agreed to help the army for a few days.
At the main camp of the Baranurian force, in what at one time used to be one of Sharks’ Cove’s many prospering markets, Jenye was introduced to a grey-haired middle-aged man with mutton chops a good five shades darker than the rest of his hair. His name was Hargro Nephrendge, a career officer, son of a minor noble, whose only goal in life was to some day defeat the enemy and save his country.
“You’re kidding,” Jenye said to Donric.
“No, I’m absolutely serious,” the Lieutenant said. “Years ago, when I first joined this regiment, I thought this was funny, but over the years he won my confidence and these last few months erased those doubts for good. He really was born to do this. You’ll see …”
And she did see the forceful way in which the captain gave orders and made decisions. He seemed to be the constant center of activity, dozens of men swarming about him, some coming to him, others leaving. They rotated rather quickly, making his time limited and permitting him to only exchange a few words with Jenye.
“Doctor, we’ll have to talk more at dinner,” he promised as he tore himself away from his men for a moment. “Senwynn, be sure she’s there. And get that patrol off! I want the perimeter pushed out to the next major street before sunset!”
“Come on,” Donric told Jenye. “That’s probably all we’ll get from him now. He’s a firm believer in being in the middle of all his fights.”
“I meant to ask you,” Jenye said as they left, “where are your doctors?”
“Mostly here. We try not to spread them out in the field. We need them there more, but they’re not soldiers. We need to protect them and that takes away from our strength. Ideally, when we have a large force moving out, we keep them to the rear. That way they’re available when they’re needed and not in any serious danger when they’re not. It costs us in lives, but not as much as it would if we lost good healers in battle.”
Jenye nodded, the explanation making sense. “I guess I’m ready to get to work, then.”
“That will be at the other end of the square,” Donric said. “We’re sharing it with a militia regiment. We push the sweeps and the perimeter and they maintain it and pick up the injured. I’ll take you to where the doctors are and then I have to lead another patrol.”
For Jenye the day passed as if in a dream, or more precisely, a quickly moving nightmare. With eight other doctors present, the number of injured that passed her was not as great as what she tackled single-handedly a month before when the massacre took place. She was given a medical kit confiscated from a Benosian doctor and a pouch of magical aides scavenged off an enemy mage. She scavenged them and other things she came across for tools she could use and found some items that were extremely helpful, especially the multi-faced crystals and a small power stone that helped her control her fatigue.
To Jenye’s surprise, most of the army doctors did not seem skilled enough to deal with the injuries that came in. They could take care of bruises and cuts, mend broken bones, but injuries that dealt with muscle tissue and vital organs often went mistreated and she tried to pick up that slack, puzzled over why these doctors could not get the job done.
Shortly after sunset the fighting ended and no more injured came in. The present wounded were resting, for the most part; some were still being worked on, and the less lucky ones were being moved from to the far end of the market square and arranged in neat rows, pending identification and disposal.
Jenye did one last check of her patients, taking the time to talk with those who could, taking a closer look at those whose wounds were more serious. Satisfied that no other emergencies would arise with these men, she relaxed by a fire, drinking water from a waterskin. She was offered some watered-down ale, but turned it down. She did not like alcohol and would not drink it in the best of times, much less now. And after a day such as this, she considered the old leather bag with warm water to be a great luxury in her possession.
“Mind if I sit here?” an elderly voice disturbed Jenye’s rest.
She slowly turned to face Doctor Iun Iter Krentenyent, the regiment’s senior physician. “Of course, Doctor.” She was tired and a little overwhelmed by the day she spent here. The elderly physician had helped her set up and get started and provided some initial equipment for her. He stayed at her side early in the afternoon, watching her work, making sure that she indeed knew what she was doing, but after seeing her handle a few of the injured, asked her to watch over the less skilled physicians as she worked and left her alone.
After brushing aside the dust on the ground, Iun sat down by Jenye. He was a minor noble from an old family, also from Magnus, a physician with this regiment for many years.
“You did a good job today,” he muttered, taking out an old pipe and a pouch of tobacco.
She glanced at him as he began stuffing the pipe. “I had to, or they’d die.”
“How many’d you save?” he asked, picking up a small dry branch and holding it in the fire.
“Two … Two died.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“I didn’t count. I don’t count the living. They won’t compensate the families of the dead.”
Iun lit his pipe with the burning branch and tossed it back into the fire. “You must’ve worked on two dozen people. Two dead of that number is nothing.”
Jenye wanted to answer, but the physician did not stop.
“I know what you want to say — everyone who hasn’t been in a war says it. But how many would die if you were not here? Did you ever consider that?”
“So what did I do? Heal them so they can go and try to get killed again?”
“You’re one of those,” Iun let out a laugh. “What little comfort this may offer you, it was not Baranur that started this war.”
“How many of them did you save more than once?” Jenye asked.
“I personally? Some. I don’t deny that a single injury will not temper them against future harm, but my healing them will temper Baranur.”
Jenye sighed. She did not like this discussion. He was a stubborn old man, a career military doctor, and he seemed to be one of the two doctors available who could deal with the more serious wounds. “Why are so many of the staff unable to cope with the tougher injuries?” she cautiously inquired of him. She did not want to call his people incompetent, although one or two of them were.
Iun chewed on his pipe for a while, thinking how to best answer Jenye’s question. He was acutely aware of the problem, had complained about it many times, but had never seen a resolution satisfactory to him.
“Experience, I suppose,” he finally muttered. “Everything’s a matter of experience. Have you had much with these sorts of injuries?”
“Fourteen years …”
“Fourteen?” He took out his pipe. “How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Forgive me, you look younger.” He put the pipe back in his mouth and inhaled deeply, enjoying the aroma of the tobacco. “But as I was saying, cuts and bruises are common and we all learn to treat them early on. Later we’re even told not to bother with them because they’re so superficial. Broken bones are also rather common — show me someone who never had one and I’ll show you a scribe’s son.
“But the injuries we see on the battlefield are different. They go beyond surface tissue. They cut veins and muscles and sink into bone. These … these are the ones we need to teach the new doctors to work on, but the only place to get that sort of experience is in a place like this, in a war.”
“Hmmm … I guess that sounds reasonable enough,” Jenye said thoughtfully, “but I myself don’t recall having these sorts of problems when I was learning.”
“Perhaps you were just eased into it, unlike the people here. Gradual exposure often works much better,” Iun said.
“I did have a good master teaching me …” Jenye mused.
“Whom?” he asked out of curiosity.
“Graveakim the Great? From Magnus?”
“The same,” Jenye shrugged it off.
“My God, girl, what are you doing in Sharks’ Cove? You can work where ever you want, on your own terms! Graveakim was one of the best!”
“If he were so great, why is he dead now?”
“You’re a very stubborn woman,” Iun warned. “Don’t let that trait rule your life. Now, why Sharks’ Cove?”
Jenye shrugged. “This just seemed like the place to end up.”
“End up!” Iun took the pipe from his mouth. “After the war I want you to look my family up in Magnus, in the Old City. I’ll let them know to expect you. My brother can help you start a practice in Magnus.”
“Thank you, Doctor, but …”
“Don’t turn me down!” he snapped, “not until you know what it is to work like a real doctor, not in this rat hole! You’re wasting your skills here!”
“I’m saving lives!”
“You can save them anywhere you go.”
“But no one will save them here when I leave.”
“I can’t force you,” Iun finally said, “but I want you to think about what I said seriously. In a proper practice you can do a lot more than you think.”
“I’ll think about it,” Jenye promised.
“Good. My offer will stand until you accept it.”
“Thank you,” she forced a smile.
“Don’t thank me until you do what I ask,” Iun stressed. “You’re an excellent doctor. I would gladly let all my staff here go if I could get a physician or two as skilled as you are.”
“I’ll stay and help until the city is secured,” Jenye promised, having seen firsthand how desperate the need for more healers was.
“Thank you for your kindness,” the elderly physician said. He took the pipe out of his mouth for the last time and shaking the ash into the fire, stood up. “I have to make my rounds. Have a good evening and thank you again.”
He left Jenye by the fire with a lot to think about. His offer to help her start a practice in Magnus was more than generous, but she did not know if she could leave Sharks’ Cove behind, not that there was anything holding her here. Many of her friends were dead, her home was burned to the ground; the Abyssment was probably gone as well. And most importantly, the man she had followed out here many years ago had proven himself to be a thief and a liar. She was amazed at how she could remain in this city, so filled with bad memories, but this was not the first time she had felt this despair. Usually these bad moods passed and she could start enjoying life again, but somehow she had to admit that this city would never be the same for her again.
“Doctor?” a boyish voice called to Jenye and she turned to look, thankful for the possible distraction. A teenager, the same one she met running from the alley that morning, stood a few paces away.
“More wounded?” she started to get up, not knowing how long she had been sitting there alone.
“No, ma’am,” he approached. “I wanted to thank you.”
“I’m just doing my job,” she shrugged it off.
“No, you don’t understand,” he protested. “That man you saved, the sergeant. He’s my father …”
“Oh …” she was at a loss for words.
“So I just came here to thank you for doing it,” he went on, “and ask if I can do anything for you.”
“You’re welcome,” she answered. “That’s what I’m here for, I guess. How old are you?”
“Fourteen?” He looked older, more mature. He acted older than that.
“You shouldn’t be in a war! You should be home.”
“This is home, ma’am. My father and I had to fight to win it back.”
“And your mother?” Jenye wondered.
“She died a few years after I was born.”
“I’m sorry …”
“It’s all right, ma’am,” he brushed his unkempt hair back. “It’s been a long time. My father and I, we manage.”
“How is he?” she asked, forgetting if she had checked on him during her rounds. She tried to be methodical, but there were simply too many injured soldiers.
“Better, ma’am. He told me to ask you if there’s anything I can do.”
Jenye thought for a moment, then answered. “When you’re older and have children of your own, teach them how to live without having wars.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered, a little embarrassed.
She turned back to the fire as the boy left, hoping he would live long enough to have children of his own and make good on that promise.
“That was well said,” an unexpected voice startled Jenye, making her jump.
“I’m sorry,” Donric sat down by her. “I didn’t mean to sneak up on you, but I didn’t want to interrupt your talk with Jeser.”
“He came to thank me for his father,” she said.
“I heard,” Donric said. “His father is a good man. I guess I should thank you on behalf of the Third and the militia and everyone else you’ve helped.”
“You’re spreading yourself very thin,” Jenye hid a smile.
“What choice have I got? I’m already mother and father to my men, their best friend, big brother …”
“And what are they to you?”
He gave it some thought. “People who have families and homes, who don’t belong here any more than you or me.”
“Then why are you still here? What are you fighting for? Hasn’t the war been won? The enemy fleet defeated?”
Donric laughed, catching himself. “It’s not that easy. A fleet is just some ships. A captain here, an admiral there. Some generals, if we’re lucky. They’re not the ones who fight the war. Men fight wars, common mortal men who are no different from you or I. Just because the Beinison fleet is sunk, the war doesn’t end. All it means is that the enemy force can’t go home. The men are scared and confused. They fight because they’re afraid to surrender, afraid of what will happen to them.”
Jenye shook her head. All those lives lost because of fear. How many could have been saved if they just gave up? How many would still be alive if Untar had not wanted to fight?
“You look tired,” Donric said. “Come have dinner with the Captain and then you can get some rest. Tomorrow’s a whole new day … and who knows, we may push ten more blocks …”
“Ten blocks? That’s all you took today?” It was such a small number!
Donric nodded, offering her a hand up. “We’re no longer fighting a regular war where the cavalry, charging down the hill, can sweep the entire battle field. We’re fighting house to house, door to door. Once we’re done here, we won’t have to return.”
“You’re not the only ones doing this, are you?” Jenye accepted his hand.
“No, of course not. There are four regiments in the city and reinforcements from Narragan will arrive soon.”
They walked across the square, between the campfires, surrounded by resting soldiers, to Captain Nephrendge’s tent, where a dinner fire was being started. The Captain paced back and forth before his tent, muttering something to himself as two soldiers stood by.
“Captain, I brought Doctor Calyd.”
“Good, good,” he continued to pace.
Jenye looked at Donric, expecting an explanation, but none came.
“Okay, Hobin, forget the docks. Sothos wants a place for the ships to call home, he can clear them himself. I’m not sending any men out there when there are over a thousand naval infantry doing nothing. They should be helping us, if anyone’s to be helping at all!”
“Yes, Sir,” one of the waiting soldiers said.
“Leave him the whole district,” the Captain continued. “All the way to that big street with the taverns … What is it?”
“Sailors’ Row, Sir.”
“Yes. From the docks to there is the navy’s problem. The rest is ours. And tell the militia captains to enforce it!”
“Dismissed.” The Captain’s pacing stopped right in front of Jenye as he sent the officer away. “I’m not going to be taking misguided orders from a wet-behind-the-ears commander.”
Jenye smiled nervously.
“You’re Doctor Calyd.”
She swallowed. “Jenye Calyd. Jenye’s fine.”
“Yes, of course. I wanted to thank you for your help.”
“It’s my pleasure. I just want to see the war end.”
“It’ll end,” he said confidently and walked off. “Attend me.”
Jenye looked at Donric.
“Come on. We’re breaking bread with him.”
They followed the Captain to the campfire and sat down, Jenye ending up between the two men. More people quickly gathered. Other lieutenants and aides quickly took their places around the fire and the company cook passed out shallow dishes of slop and bread.
“You weren’t kidding when you said ‘break bread’, were you,” Jenye looked at Donric.
“It’s tough, but the men like it,” the Captain said, overhearing her comment, in spite of her trying to be quiet. “They say each time they see it, it encourages them to fight harder, so they might get home sooner.”
“It’s a pity we can’t fight at dinner,” someone on the other side of the fire said. “We could club the enemy to death with it, in between grinding our teeth.” Those gathered around the fire laughed as he said it, someone else commenting that at least it encouraged them to take good care of their teeth.
“Dip it in the soup,” Donric advised. “Gives both of them a little taste that way.”
“Are you from Magnus, Doctor?” someone asked.
“From Magnus,” she answered. She could not clearly see the man on the other side of the fire.
“What are you doing in Sharks’ Cove, then?” he asked another question.
“I live here,” she said, forcing down the mouthful. The food was indescribable at best. “Have been for a few years.”
“Well, both cities will need a lot of rebuilding,” the Captain declared. “No war is over, not even when the soldiers go home.”
“I was just telling the doctor,” Donric said, “about the difference between generals and their men.”
“Ah, yes,” the Captain picked up, apparently a topic familiar to him. He brushed his mutton chops, thinking, then went on. “History will name Haralan, Sothos, Connall, Dargon as the men who won the war — have no doubts that Baranur has already won — but they are not the ones who are the heroes of battle. The men you see out here are. The common people of Baranur.
“All Sothos ever said was ‘take that hill’ or ‘siege this city’. He knew only what our reports said and assumed what the enemy were going to do. His orders never reached us in time of battle, giving orders for that battle. The real heroes of the battle are the men who fought it, my lieutenants and their sergeants, who made the snap decisions which flank to reinforce, where to drive the wedge, what barricades to storm. Those are the men that history should honor!”
“How can you go wrong with a guy like that commanding,” the man on Donric’s right elbowed him.
“It sounds to me like that would be a very unpopular opinion with your command, Sir,” Jenye noted.
“That’s why I’ll never be considered for the position of Knight Captain,” Nephrendge said, “and I wouldn’t want it if it were offered. Those positions are for wet-behind-the-ears runts like Connall and Sothos. Men of experience can do infinitely more good in the field! And who are they, after all? What have they done? The only reason they have their titles is because of who they know, not because of their actions! All of my officers were selected to their positions because of their actions in the field. Most of them are as qualified as Connall and Sothos to do the job of Knight Captain. And some are qualified even beyond that!”
The following three days passed uneventfully, the casualty load becoming lighter each day. Fresh troops supplemented the old ones, reclaiming the city and putting down little pockets of Beinison resistance.
Jenye found out that the Abyssment still stood, although no longer as clean and perfect as it had been a few days before, the fire having done a lot of damage before it was brought under control. A lot of rebuilding would have to be done before the tavern could become what it once was, but then the city itself needed a lot of rebuilding as well. Some conservative guesses put the local death toll at five thousand lives, about half the city’s population.
Pausing at the burned entrance to the Abyssment, Jenye cast one last glance into the damaged main room. She had experienced so many good and bad times in there, it was hard to let go of that large part of her life.
“Are you ready to go, Doctor?” one of the soldiers from the patrol she was with asked.
She nodded, not saying anything. The soldiers had simply assumed it was a place she had frequented and did not give it a second thought, but she knew the truth and those memories were enough to bring tears to her eyes.
The small squad gathered and started on its way west, towards the camp.
“Are you all right?” the soldier who had called her came over to Jenye.
“Yes, Dasin,” she answered sadly.
“You just look like you need to talk.”
Jenye sighed. “Have you ever gone back to a place where you had lived for many years, years after you left?”
“Sorry, ma’am. My family’s always lived in Erygin. Seven generations, now, with my children.”
“There are certain feelings you develop for a place where you live — I’m sure you know what I mean — and when you see that place after being gone for a long time, you have a deep sense of familiarity, almost intimacy to that place you used to call home … But this place no longer feels the same. Something has been lost, as if a part of me died. I look at the fire marks, the traces of swordplay and it all strikes me as foreign, like I’ve never been here before. Everything feels dead.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Dasin offered.
“So am I,” she said. “I feel like a part of me died here.”
“Perhaps you should speak with Father Modu,” the young soldier offered.
They turned the corner, heading towards the docks, Jenye wondering about the past summer and all the friends that she lost. Nothing would ever be the same again, no matter how much rebuilding would be done, even if it were all made to look just like it had before the war. Nothing could ever bring lost friends back or erase memories of what had happened to them.
“Do you mind if we make another stop here?” Jenye asked after a couple of blocks.
“No, I guess not.”
She walked up to an old building, which was falling apart from damage, while the men spread out to explore on their own. It was the place where Ga’en had hid her a few nights before. It looked different in the light — appearing to be barely able to stand on its own, torn canopy hanging over the boarded-up windows, crumbling mud-colored brick threatening to give way any moment. It had looked far safer in the dark of the night.
Jenye carefully entered through the doorless entry, careful of where she put her feet. Everything was dirty and falling apart, not even the old furniture was intact. She found the right corridor and the covered doorway and entered the room where she had spent the night. Everything was pitch black.
With some effort, Jenye found and lit the unused candle she had left behind, and looked around the room. Everything was much as she had remembered it: the overturned broken table, the loose bricks on the floor. Finding the block that Ga’en used as his hiding place, Jenye tried to push it aside to see what else was behind it, but the stone refused to budge.
After a few more unsuccessful attempts and a careful candle-light investigation, Jenye found it to be cemented into place. But it was the right rock, there was no doubt about that. The marks it left when it opened were still there, slight scratches on the surface of the adjacent stone.
Giving up, Jenye left the room, still wondering about the hiding place and the man who called himself Ga’en the Blind. She wanted to see him again, to ask about him and why he did what he did. These last few days with the Baranurian army gave her a view of life she never expected to see, something the sheltering walls of the Abyssment hid from her sight for all these years she had been living in the city.
“Are you ready to go, Doctor?” Dasin approached her.
She nodded, not turning away from the structure.
“Was this your home?” the soldier asked, remembering what she had said earlier.
“No … It was a friend’s.”
Ga’lannath’en stood on the roof of an abandoned building, watching the setting sun. The night would soon come and he would once again take to the streets. They were no longer endangered by the Beinison army, but in Sharks’ Cove things rarely changed. Problems came and went, the city changing disasters as one would change clothes, rather than fighting back. The threat now came from street gangs and petty criminals who saw a fast profit to be made in the city. The army did not police these individuals, often unable to distinguish between them and their victims.
He glanced down to the alley below; then, slinging his freshly filled quiver over his shoulder and picking up his unstrung bow, he climbed on to the roof of the next building over, heading south towards the docks, where most of the night activity took place. He paused to cross the next street, spotting some soldiers on the ground. They were Baranurian troops, nothing to fear, but it was always a good idea to stay out of sight, even though the few times he had run into Baranurian soldiers before, they exhibited respect for what he was doing and let him go about his business. But in spite of his good fortune, he always remained cautious about these meetings and did his best to avoid them whenever he could. No need to take unnecessary chances. Instead, he remained hidden while they looked around.
A part of the respect they gave him, he suspected, came from their belief that he was one of them. The only name he ever used was Ga’en the Blind, but the Beinison troops often referred to him as the Black Death, for his dress and activities against them. This name soon became confused with the Baranurian elite archer regiments, the Red and Grey Deaths, units renown in the northern portions of Cherisk as the best archers to ever fight.
Ga’en himself had never been a member of their ranks or, for that matter, of any military at all. He learned the bow as a child from his father and spent the better part of his three decades using it. He never missed a stationary target and the only moving ones that managed to get away from him were those that had a lot of luck; and even then, never twice.
Much damage had come to his reputation during the war, when he was accused of an attack on Admiral Talens, the Beinison Fleet Commander in Sharks’ Cove. He would not have missed if the rumors of confrontation were true. He would have given his life to make that shot, but the lie was taken for truth by the people and the massacre that followed was blamed on him. Now, if he were to decide to stay in the city, it would take a lot of work to restore his name. He was not sure he wanted to take that time, or even remain who he was. The blind archer was someone who fought against the Beinison force. He was no longer needed for that purpose.
“Are you ready to go, Doctor?” a deep voice with an eastern accent said somewhere below.
Ga’en shifted impatiently, not wanting to look down. The fewer people saw him, the better he felt.
“Was this your home?” the same voice asked.
Ga’en neared the ledge. He used a couple of buildings on this street to hide in occasionally and was curious who their owners might be.
“No. It was a friend’s,” a familiar voice said as he looked down. It was the woman doctor, the one he helped a few days before, because of whom he had to abandon one of his hiding places. She had come looking for him, but why?
He watched them go down the street, then ever so careful not to be spotted, followed along.
“It’s been very good having you here,” Iun Krentenyent said, watching the dying fire before him. “Your help was invaluable.”
“Thank you,” Jenye said. “These last few days have been an eye-opening experience for me. I spent all this time living in the war and never really understood what was happening …”
“I doubt this is a lesson you’ll want to remember,” the elderly physician said.
“Oh, I’ll remember,” she answered. “These are the things I may never forget. I just hope I made a difference for some of these men …”
“Never doubt that you did, even though you lost some.”
“I lost parts of some,” Jenye said bitterly, remembering the amputations and crippling injuries she was helpless to heal. She was hardly willing to believe that she had removed people’s limbs so that they could get better. Even in the darkest of nights, when Beinison troops slaughtered the populace of the city for Ga’en’s raids, she had not faced wounds such as these.
“But you did save their lives,” Iun insisted.
“Was it enough? I wake up at night, wondering if I should’ve bothered saving parts of people …”
“Most will get over their losses and live to be grateful to you for saving their lives,” Iun said, understanding Jenye’s internal conflict. He twisted his pipe in his hands, shaking out the tobacco ash. “I hear their cries, too, and the curses they throw at me, but as a healer, it is my duty to do all that I can. Grisly as it may sound, I would even try to save a single head, if I thought I could.”
Jenye had to tell herself she did not hear the last thing he said. It was too horrible to think about. She had plenty of difficulties thinking about the injured she had saved, the ones she did not think stood a chance in life, even though they survived their injuries from combat.
“Are you all right?” Iun asked.
She nodded to him, no more convincing than she felt.
“I know they’re hard to deal with,” he said. “The faces are there when you close your eyes and their voices haunt you in your sleep, but you are a doctor. You have to help them.”
“Take my advice,” he repeated what he had been saying for days, “go to Magnus. A doctor such as you would be a great asset for the Crown City.”
Jenye nodded again.
“Yes, yes. You’re still thinking about it.” He got up. “I guess I can try to convince you again before you leave tomorrow morning,” he sighed.
Jenye also stood up. “You’ve been telling me these last few days how much you appreciate my help,” she said. “I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I appreciate your support. I doubt I could have done half of what I did if you weren’t here to help me deal with this war.”
“It was you who helped these men deal with it,” Iun stressed. “Don’t ever forget it.” And chewing on his empty pipe, he returned to the remaining patients.
Jenye sat back down, facing the remains of the fire. She wondered if she should throw some more wood on the hot embers, but could not get herself to move. She was glad that she would be leaving in the morning, but unsure of where she would go. Everything she knew in Sharks’ Cove was gone. All buildings, most people. The only friends she was able to locate in the last few days were the ones who were dead. The rest were missing. There was no news of Gaius Caligula since the day of the battle at sea. Eli was nowhere to be found since after the fire at the Abyssment. The regular tavern guards and servants were also missing, some having turned up dead here or there. Was it worth it to stay?
Soft footsteps sounded behind her, but Jenye did not turn.
She came to the city over a decade ago with a man she thought she could spend the rest of her life with. It had been soon after her medical apprenticeship in Magnus ended. She had wanted to stay in the city, to continue working with Graveakim the Great, who had almost became a father to her, but one day he was killed in a robbery; the only thing taken, a worthless stone glyph, that he would probably would have given away gladly. Her illusions of a perfect life shattered, she agreed to let her partner take her to Sharks’ Cove, a place where she could start anew, but she soon found the stone glyph in his possession and decided to turn him in. It was a hard thing to do, to testify to the constable against the man she loved, to force a judgment of death, but it had been done in the name of her master, as her last duty to him. She knew she could not live with a murderer, particularly one who had killed a person so close to her.
“You were looking for me?”
Jenye jumped, overflowing with emotion of her thoughts.
“You’re crying,” Ga’en noted the obvious, removing a lengthy bandage he wore around his neck, like many knights, and offered it to her.
Jenye accepted, but did not use it. These tears could not be done away with as easily as that. They were a part of her soul, to live with forever. Perhaps it was time to face them again, to return to Magnus and reclaim what she always expected to be hers. A good healer was always in demand and she recognized her own value. Perhaps it was also time to take an apprentice, to pass on the secrets of Graveakim, as he himself had few apprentices and many of his one-of-a-kind spells died with him.
She caught herself looking straight into the helmet of Ga’en, right where the eyes should have been, covered by the reflective metal plate. “Why are you here?”
He seemed to be caught off guard. “You … came looking for me earlier today.”
“I …” She was just as confused. “I was just looking around …”
He hurriedly stood up. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”
“No, wait.” Jenye started getting up and he stopped. “Please, sit with me. I won’t give you away.” They were on the edge of the camp, which had obviously made it easy for him to sneak in, especially now that the last of the Beinison troops had been rounded up and the perimeter guard was reduced.
Ga’en sat down by her. “The army are the only ones who don’t care about what I do. To them I’m still a hero.”
“You’re a hero to me,” she smiled.
Jenye fell silent for a moment, evaluating the decision she had to make. Could she break ties with what she called home twice in her life? Go on and do something different, somewhere else? But then what could hold her here, in a city practically burned to the ground?
“Are you still thinking about leaving town?”
“I …” Ga’en seemed surprised that he had told her of his plans when they met before. “I …” Another pause. Was he going to leave? He touched his hand to a cut on his jaw, where an upset resident of the city had struck him with a stick as a reward for having caused the massacre. Ga’en may have been good with a bow, but in a melee he was an amateur at best and these fights had become a regular occurrence in the last few days. “Yeah, I think I’ll be leaving soon.”
Jenye reached out to him, touching her hand to his face. This time he did not pull away. “Where will you go?”
“I don’t know yet …”
A chant she knew by heart ran inaudibly through her mind and a light blue glow surrounded her fingertips, making the cut on Ga’en’s jaw heal. “I’d like to hire you to escort me to Magnus.”
“You can travel with a returning regiment,” he protested, “or take a ship up-river.”
“I asked you.”
He took her hand into his and brought it to his cheek for gratitude. “You don’t know me.”
“No, but I did as you asked. I spent five days here, giving life to those who would’ve lost it without me.”
Ga’en remained thoughtful. “How soon?”
“I won’t get you there tonight,” he smiled.
“No, but you’ll get me there sooner than if we leave tomorrow.”
“Have you been there?”
“Many times.” He stood up. “How long do you need to get ready?”
“I’m ready now.” She did not have many personal possessions any more. What little survived the burning of her home, had been burned a fortnight later in the Abyssment. All that she had, she carried with her — her clothes, a change she scavenged while working in the camp, a dagger a soldier thanked her with and the medical kit with all the tricks of the trade that Captain Nephrendge had graciously given her as payment. It contained crystals and herbs and a few magical aides, including a small powerstone. Expensive things that she knew the army could use. She fiddled with the pouch on her belt and took it off, carefully placing it by the remains of the fire. An expensive gift to part with, but one she could live without. She was good and with skill came opportunity. She would earn her instruments as she had done the first time.
“I’m ready,” she repeated.
“What is that?” Ga’en asked.
“Just some things I was borrowing.”
“You’re not taking anything else with you?”
“Just one bag — some clothes.” All of her other possessions had already been lost to her.
He nodded, not sure why he was agreeing to do something like this. “I guess we’d best get started.”