The Healer’s Rune Sample: Chapter Two

The Healer’s Rune Sample: Chapter Two

The Healer’s Rune

Chapter Two


The crowd thinned, but Sabine stood, unwilling to finalize her friend’s death by walking away. Even though she knew Mariel’s body was just an empty shell—her spirit now traveled beyond this realm to rest with Torian—leaving the flesh that remained felt like an act of betrayal.

“Sabine.” Tayte touched her elbow gently. “They will notice if we stay.” He guided her toward his shop.

Because she knew it was right, she let him.

Kenrick and her sister stood about halfway between Sabine and the potter’s shop, chatting with Danelle and her sisters. Elise was laughing.

Sabine’s stomach churned.

Elise glanced toward Sabine, over Danelle’s shoulder. A wicked smirk contorted her beautiful face. Linking her arm through her husband’s, Elise drew herself up to her full height.

Kenrick turned in the direction of his wife’s stare and startled when he saw Sabine.

I wonder if he ever regrets his choice. Sabine returned his look with what she hoped was an aloof, I’ve-put-that-behind-me expression. Never mind that her stomach still twisted in nauseating knots at the memory of his betrayal.

Pretending to speak to her husband, Elise raised her voice to ensure her words reached Sabine. “It’s too bad execution is only reserved for traitors. People who kill children deserve the same fate.”

A familiar pang of remorse stabbed through the tangle in Sabine’s stomach. At least Kenrick managed to look apologetic.

Resisting the gentle pressure Tayte applied to her elbow, Sabine stopped. Kenrick opened his mouth as if to speak, but Sabine cut him off. “You are right, Elise. People who kill innocents deserve this and more. But it was not my action that caused your son’s death.”

“You’re right,” Elise spat. “Your inaction was the reason he died. Soon you’ll regret that you did not try harder to save him.”

Sabine’s eyebrows quirked together. While her sister’s accusations were nothing new, the threat was. Still, she refused to give Elise the advantage by asking what she meant. “Where is our mother?”

“That is not your concern.” Her sister’s grip tightened on Kenrick’s arm. “The Rüddan know why she’s not here and have granted their permission. Unlike some, we’re careful not to flout the law.”

“Your mother is ill,” Kenrick interrupted, chastising Elise with a look, “and is too weak to be out of bed.”

Sabine glanced sharply at her sister. Why had she not been told?

Elise returned the look with a sneer so cold and malicious it would make a Rüddan quail, and Sabine understood. Whatever ailed their mother, Elise had hidden it from her on purpose, probably to goad her.

Too late, Sabine realized her mistake. Revealing her surprise had given Elise the response she desired. Looking away would confirm her sister’s victory, so Sabine locked her expression in a glare of her own.

“As a matter of fact,” Kenrick said, stepping between the two sisters, “we were just going to check on her.” He steered Elise out of the village square.

Why would Kenrick choose this moment to stand up to his wife? Could it be that he was sorry? Fat lot of good that does now. He still chose Elise over me.

Danelle looked Sabine over once, then, as if deciding she was something distasteful, turned with her sisters and followed after Kenrick and Elise.

“Sabine.” Tayte’s voice was tight with urgency. “We cannot remain any longer. Come, join me for a cup of tea.”

Except for a few Rüddan guards, only Sabine and Tayte remained with the headless body that hung, limp, from the gallows. The guards watched them openly, using their stares to warn the last two Humans to disperse. It was, indeed, past time to be gone.

###

A thin tendril of steam rose from the mug Tayte offered. Sabine accepted it gratefully, relishing the warmth that radiated through the glazed pottery.

She blew on the liquid and stared morosely over the rim of the mug. From her chair, through a window directly across from her, she could see enough of the gallows to view Mariel’s body. With a pang of bitterness, she wondered what the Rüddan had done with her friend’s head.

A mental image of Mariel’s head in some container on a shelf within the Tower, like the tinctures and salves Sabine stored in her home, flashed through her imagination. An unexplainable urge to laugh erupted in her chest. She tried to suppress it, but it built against her ribs, compressing her lungs. The more she fought to keep it in, the more it grew, squeezing each breath smaller, tighter.

Finally, everything—all that she had seen, all that she had been through—was too much. She had to let it out, had to be able to breathe. What escaped her lips, though, was a sob so large and violent that it cut off the air she was trying to inhale. More sobs followed, spilling out of her lungs and mouth until she was certain she would choke.

As they escaped, the pressure behind her ribs decreased. After a while, it had completely diminished. Sabine felt empty, purged of enough pain that she could breathe normally again.

That’s when she noticed the hand stroking her head. Tayte’s hand. His voice murmured gently that it was okay, she could cry as much as she needed to now that they were inside, where the Rüddan would not question, would not suspect her for reacting this way to the death of a traitor.

Inhaling deeply, Sabine wiped the tears from her cheeks.

Tayte offered Sabine her tea again. “I took it when you began to cry, so you wouldn’t scald yourself.”

“Thank you.” Accepting the tea, she sipped, allowing its warmth to soothe the hollow ache inside her.

Tayte sat back into the couch, sipping his drink in a silence Sabine found welcoming and companionable.

She mulled over the execution: heavily armed Rüddan guards hedging the crowd; sentinels upon the turrets of the Tower, their elfin faces scrutinizing the Humans below with detached but wary expressions; the sudden, quick ending of Mariel’s life when she would not be silenced. “What are they afraid of?”

Tayte glanced at her, eyebrows arched.

“It’s been three hundred years since the War of New Dawn,” Sabine continued, thinking out loud. “The Aethel are extinct, the Dryht practically so. We and the Rüddan are all that remain of the four races, and they are the ones who initiated the Alliance with us. How could we possibly be a threat to them?”

Unless Mariel was truly guilty.

The thought made Sabine’s breath catch in her throat. Danelle’s sister mentioned the discovery of scrolls. Perhaps Mariel really could wield magic. But that was not possible. She hadn’t been hiding a secret as powerful as that.

“How badly do you want to know?” Tayte studied her.

“What do you mean?”

“You are asking dangerous questions. If you plan to search for answers, you will make powerful enemies. How much are you willing to risk?”

Sabine stared at the floor as if she would find an acceptable response there.

“They will be watching you, Sabine.”

“The Rüddan?” She chuckled nervously. “They are always watching us.”

Tayte’s smile appeared condescending, one an uncle might wear as he humored a naïve niece. “Not us. You. As Mariel’s friend, they will be especially suspicious of you.”

Sabine glanced to the window showcasing Mariel’s dead body.

“You live alone, unchaperoned,” Tayte continued. “As a healer, you are more mobile than most Humans in the village. Your family …”

Tayte paused as if carefully considering what to say next. “Because of the actions of your father’s ancestors, your family has long been scrutinized by the Rüddan. Anything you do now will be monitored, analyzed, and evaluated.”

Sabine swallowed. “My family?”

“I mentioned earlier that you remind me of Lelia. Hungry for the truth, eager to help those in need. But you must be careful. Mariel’s desire for truth got her hanged.”

Outside, a raven cawed. Sabine started. A black bird the size of a large cat settled on the main supporting beam of the gallows.

Recalling her pre-dawn encounter in the Dryht ruins, Sabine shivered. I wonder what color his eyes are.

The memory of being watched by another raven joined with Elise’s mysterious threat and Tayte’s warnings. Sabine felt as if she stood on the edge of a wide chasm that separated her from the truth. A truth Mariel considered worth dying for.

Can I do the same? The obvious answer was no; she could not imagine dying a martyr’s death. But then, she was fairly certain Mariel had never envisioned it, either. Yet her friend had gone through with it, and whatever she’d died for must have been important. How could Sabine do anything less?

But where to begin? She did not even know what questions to ask. And if she would be watched, whom could she trust?

Auda. The name of her old teacher flashed into her thoughts. Auda, who had taught her everything about being a healer. She’d taught Mariel as well.

“Thank you for the tea,” Sabine said, returning Tayte’s mug. “And for the hospitality.” Sabine gathered her cloak.

“Let me walk you out,” Tayte offered.

“I remember the way.”

Tayte nodded. “Be careful. And remember what I said. Do not do anything that will draw attention.”

Clutching her cloak, she gave Tayte a small smile. “I promise.”

Even though she left the potter’s shop through the back entrance to get to Auda’s house, she had to cross the village square. She kept her head down, determined to ignore the body hanging only a short distance away, but was startled by a long, drawn out squawk from the direction of the gallows. Before she could check her reaction, she looked up.

The raven still perched there, atop the crossbeam. He sat directly above Mariel’s body, twisting his head to look at it first with one eye, then the other. Horrified that he might be determining which way to best approach his feast, Sabine longed to rush to him, to startle him. But that would draw the attention of the few Rüddan guards still scattered about.

She fumed. When had those daemon-like Fey gained so much power? The Alliance had made them allies. Equals. What had happened to siphon away her people’s authority, and why had no one stopped it? Furious at her inability to act freely, and irritated by her fury, Sabine dropped her gaze and focused on following the road out of the square to her old teacher’s house.

###

“Auda?” Sabine knocked on the door to a small hut. Ancient hinges emitted a high-pitched squeal as she pushed the door open. Blinking, she peered into the cave-like darkness. “Hello?”

A frail, wrinkled form topped by longish, wisp-thin tendrils of silver hair sat in a wooden chair next to a fire pit. The fire within, banked low due to the growing heat of the day, illuminated the single room of the old healer’s home only enough to see by.

“Ah, Sabine.” Auda smiled, but it was a thin, obligatory expression that barely twitched her lips. “Come in.”

Sabine hung her cloak on a peg beside the door, careful not to startle the finches that sat, oddly silent, in a cage on a nearby shelf. Skirting a small table beneath the shelves, she pulled a bench out and sat. Silence filled the room, permeated by the tragedy of Mariel’s death. She longed to fill it but didn’t know how.

“You’ve come earlier than I expected,” Auda said after a few moments. “I imagined the execution would take longer.”

“So did I. But she fought them, and—”

“Fought them?” Auda stared sharply at Sabine. “How?”

Startled by the sharpness of Auda’s reaction, she pursed her lips as she decided how best to explain. “Defiance, mostly. She spat in the captain’s face when he accused her.”

“Did she say anything?” Auda looked simultaneously exhausted and intent.

“No. At least, not until she saw me.”

“And then?”

“Then,” Sabine paused, trying to remember. “Then she yelled that everything we know is a lie. She said to question it all and search for the truth. That was when …”

Taking a deep breath, Sabine steadied her voice. “That’s when the captain chopped off her head.”

Slumping a little in her chair, Auda closed her eyes and sighed.

If Sabine did not know better, she would have thought her ancient friend’s reaction was one of relief.

“All day,” the old healer said, “I have cursed this old body, with its arthritic joints and frail bones. All day I believed they were the reason the Rüddan exempted me from attending that horrendous display of theirs, and I resented the pain that kept me here even while being grateful the Rüddan permitted it.”

Auda opened her eyes once more, fixing Sabine with an intent stare. “Now, however, I realize that it was not me they were accommodating, but themselves.”

Sabine peered into her silvery-blue eyes. A chill settled into the base of her spine. “What makes you say that?”

“If I had been there,” Auda replied, “Mariel may have said too much, and those words might have incited a riot.”

What was she missing? Then, suddenly, she understood. “Auda, what do you know about those scrolls the Rüddan claim to have found?”

Auda studied her for a long time before she replied. “I know what the scrolls said. I know that I am the one who gave them to her. I know that they contain the truth she told you to search for. But what I do not know, Sabine, is what you intend to do about it.”

Once more, Sabine stood on the ledge of that great chasm. She was close to the edge… so close that the slightest breath of wind would push her over, plummeting into the deep abyss.

“What do you do with the truth,” Sabine whispered, echoing Tayte’s question from earlier, “once you find it?”

Auda nodded curtly as if that statement were enough to answer her challenge. She motioned to Sabine to help her up, then hobbled to the table and reached over it to the lowest of three shelves.

“There is much you do not know,” Auda said as, wary of the birds caged on the top shelf, she began to shift vials and pots from the bottom wooden ledge to the two above it. “Much that most Humans do not know, but that the other races are fully aware of. Help me with this, dear, if you please.”

Sabine hurried to the other end of the now empty shelf and followed Auda’s lead to grasp the corner in both hands. The two of them eased the board off the brackets that supported it and out from a bracing crevice cut into the wall.

Grabbing a wooden spoon from the cluttered shelf above, Auda used the handle to probe the long, shadowy slit in the wall. “There is much for you to learn.”

Auda pried five slender cylinders from the dark crevice, each about an inch in diameter and a foot long. She handed them to Sabine.

“The history you know, the history the Rüddan teach, is not the one that really occurred.”

Sabine shook her head, unsure that she understood. Tentatively, she accepted the scrolls. “What are these?”

“Records of what really happened.” Auda gazed at the tubes. “A portion of it. From these scrolls, you will learn the truth about our past and our relationships with the Rüddan, the Dryht, and the Aethel.”

“How long have you had these?”

“For years. You don’t think I taught you to read for nothing, do you?”

Sabine gasped. They never spoke aloud of her ability to read. “Is this what the Rüddan found at her father’s house?”

“Not exactly. They confiscated the scrolls she had, but there are many more circulating, each containing a different portion of the truth.”

“Why write it down? Why not have me memorize it?”

“It is too important.” Auda stared at Sabine. “What if Mariel never had a chance to teach the truth to someone else? What if it died with her? This way, even in spite of her death, there is a chance the truth may be found.”

Sabine shifted the weight of the scrolls between trembling hands. Each tube was sealed with a disk of wax embedded with three runes: “Knowledge,” “truth,” and “freedom.” From the knowledge of truth, freedom.

“Memorize these, Sabine. Then, as you are going from patient to patient, from home to home, talk to the people. Be careful whom you trust, but when the time is right, teach those who are willing. The truth must be remembered if we are ever to break free of Rüddan control.”

 

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