Spring through Summer, 1138
Celestan seemed wrong to me. Straight, log-paved streets of framed and half-timbered buildings intersected at right angles, without a brick house, a stone circle, nor a spiraling, serpentine boulevard for milliae. Even the roofs were wrong –half were wood-shingled, the rest thatched. Thatch! I only knew of one thatched building, the hunting lodge down at Monserat. Thatch in a city is just asking for a fire, along with all this wood.
The partnership owned a small office, two blocks off the main street and three from the Celestan docks, but they’d never bought a house since the Advocate was never there long. Instead, they rented a suite in the town’s better inn, and it would be at our disposal until I leased or bought my own house… or circumstances changed. The Belleview, about a millia south of Celestan proper, stood on a high outcrop above the confluence of the Crook and the Tynel, overlooking the admittedly picturesque Crook Falls, with its back turned to the more prosaic canal that let steam boats ply the upper river.
I was still bruised and moved like an ancient of days, but the time… in travel had let me stash the events of the last several tendays in a box in my mind. I knew, at least intellectually, that I needed to chew over everything, but doing so now wasn’t helping. When I thought about… everything, my body froze and my mind seized. Ice would flood my veins and fire race through my nerves. My heart would pound and I couldn’t force air into my lungs. The feeling of impending death was far worse than thinking about what caused the feelings, so I made myself put it away. For a while, anyway.
The Belleview couldn’t have differed more from the Karsai had it been constructed as its opposite. The brick building was maybe a decade old, with a slate roof instead of Celestan’s ubiquitous thatch. Three stories tall, its long wings boasted dozens of enormous, many-paned, geometrically patterned windows of glass, alabaster and mica. It stood in the middle of lovingly tended gardens just starting the spring bloom; a faint green and lavender mist seemed to ring the place.
When we left the cool spring damp to walk through the heavy carved doors, warmth enveloped us, along with the scent of hothouse flowers and toothsome food. After three days of the steam launch’s poisonous galley, my mouth watered, though I knew I couldn’t eat the roasting beef I smelled. However, underneath that, the odor of baked garlic and some sort of frying cereal and fondal told me this place would at least be comfortable.
In my sober black traveling coat and breeches, with a veil swathed over my face, I couldn’t have felt less equipped to meet the elegant woman who stood behind the desk. It wasn’t just that I hadn’t slept well and the sixth hour of the morning felt painfully early, or that her figured amber gown had fed the seamstress’ family for a quarter year, or the easy way she spoke to the porters carrying our boxes. She radiated self-confidence, competence and security. Her dark coppery hair, piled on her head, accentuated her long neck, which in turn drew the eye to her voluptuous figure. If this wasn’t the woman whom Ethene had mentioned in our last conversation, I didn’t know who that person would be.
When I’d told her my plans, Ethene had been no more pleased than Ragin. Part of me wanted to feel insulted by their excessive solicitousness — save that one incident, Avah and I had done relatively well together — but families worry about one another. Ethene had been marginally consoled when I’d given her my direction. “At least you’ll be under Telia’s eye.” She’d looked away from me, towards the ceiling, as if weighing some decision, then returned to me. “Do you trust my assessment of whom you may trust?”
An odd question; in the past I never would have doubted Ethene’s judgement, and I didn’t now, but obviously she thought I might. “Unilaterally?” I not quite mocked.
“Not entirely,” she said, “but Rien, you may trust Telia dat Temmin with absolutely anything.”
I started to protest that I could entirely trust nobody anymore, but Ethene stopped me. “If your father didn’t enlighten you regarding why Telia is so trusted, I can’t now, but she has amply proved her formidable mind, heart, will and courage. Further, she has the oddest small ingenia I’ve every heard about — not that I could test it myself — but your father said that unless she allowed someone access to her mind, she can’t be read. Or, more precisely, what a Perceptive reads from her mind seems entirely innocuous. It’s not entirely conscious, Vohan said; her mind just seems to deflect invasion.”
Which explained nothing. I’d never heard of the woman, but given her name — dat Temmin — she was freeborn, and aside from other Advocates, clients and those before my bench, I’ve rarely met many freeborn. It wasn’t entirely Curia snobbishness, either. My social circle had been limited to the Curia’s Pronatiae and Pronemiae for the simple fact that after a century of sporadic warfare, most Curiar men, save for the Teregenis themselves, are either on the western border or their land, except those too old, too young, or too broken for war. Nor are freeborn men spared. Increasingly, the women oversee the kingdom’s routine business and we lack time for the Curia.
I kept my veil as Telia led us up the grand staircase to the third floor and into the western wing of the building. She spoke softly but clearly, without a trace of accent — not the Northern burr, the Curia Park drawl nor the East’s clipped diction. The lack was almost unsettling; I’ve almost never heard completely unaccented Galantieran, save from those who learned it abroad, but given her patronymic, she was certainly native-born.
She explained the inn’s practices — meals, laundry, our hallyer — as we walked the long, cork-floored hall, past pairs of doors at wide intervals on both sides, broken occasionally by glowing alabaster panels illuminating the corridor. The Karsai had those — glass prisms in the walls or roofs and mirrored pipes reflected light into otherwise dim places. They were only useful during the day, but vapor sconces, currently unlit, hung on the walls. A part of my heart eased a bit. This place would never be entirely dark, and my screams, if necessary, wouldn’t go unheard.
“You’re an odd number — thirty-seven — so Zabeth will tidy up each morning — “
“No,” I said. I didn’t want anyone I didn’t know in my rooms. “I’ll see to it — “
“Ma’am,” Mistress dat Temmin said, “our staff does not violate our guests’ trust. Your person and your property are secure here.” She unlocked the door and followed us in, then handed Avah and me each a pair of pierced rectangular plates. “As you may have noted, no one can enter the Belleview without passing the reception desk, and those who are not our guests are not permitted beyond the public rooms unless accompanied by a guest or staff member. The steel keys open the corridor doors and the brass ones open your rooms. We employ the locksmith who invented our locks, and we have a standing offer. Anyone who can force our locks will receive 25,000 teanders. Nobody has ever claimed that prize. I would be lying if I said the Belleview has never seen an assault, but no one has ever come to serious harm on our premises. Further, no one has ever been harmed in the guest quarters by someone not invited or already sharing a room, and in matters of… ” she paused to find a tactful word, “familial discord, we strive to remedy the situation.”
Her security measures honestly astonished me a little. Da and Simin might have been satisfied; they sounded excessive to me, until I considered the clients and furnishings. The Belleview attracted wealthy freeborn from all over the country, and resident Curiars from Cimenarum who wanted to escape the city to hike, fish, hunt and debauch themselves in relative privacy and exquisite comfort. Though the steam launch took almost three days coming upstream from Cimenarum, a private launch could travel the distance in a day. The Belleview might be neutral ground for political, social and personal rivals, but tempers flare and all it takes is one nutter with a knife in the wrong place at the right time.
Mistress dat Temmin continued to introduce us to the hotel she so obviously loved, and I could see why. Instead of oil lamps, candles and torches, most of the lighting seemed to come from vapor lights, burning marsh gas piped in from some underground digesting tank. I prefer vapor light to candles or lamps — it’s brighter and steadier, and it’s much harder to tip over a chandelier hung from the ceiling. I expected hot water and oubliettes, but instead of a fuel oil boiler between the tub and sink like most houses, I only saw taps. The mineral odor of the water told me the hotel sat atop a hot spring, which also explained the narrow boxes that ran along the bases of the walls. Like the Karsai, this place used a hypocaustae for heat, but unlike the Karsai, this system worked.
Our suite of three rooms had been painted a soft green that complemented the figured cork floor and polished maple furnishings. All of the furnishings were simple and modern — no carvings or inlay, just clean lines and apple-green linen upholstery. Despite the lack of ornamentation — or perhaps because of it — the rooms seemed welcoming and comfortable.
“One of us should accompany the carters to the office with the records,” Avah whispered as the porters brought our personal boxes into the rooms. “I’d rather you stayed and settled us, but — “
I nodded, and she took over that direction while I saw that our boxes went into our individual rooms. Mistress dat Temmin took her leave.
I was hatless, veilless and coatless, and debating between a full bath — impossible on the steam launch — or a real breakfast when the knocker sounded. After checking through the peep hole, I opened it to Mistress dat Temmin, carrying a tray.
I remembered my bruised face as her eyes widened slightly and she lost her composure enough to inhale sharply. “Breakfast, ma’am,” she said. “Also, a Healer has been summoned.”
I started to object and take the tray, but she had years of experience on me in dealing with people. “My messenger has already set out,” she said as she kept the tray and gently but firmly pushed past me. “Archilavast’s Healers are some of the best and most discreet in the kingdom, and one is an especial friend of mine. I noted that you moved far more stiffly than your companion, more so than the cramped quarters on the launch would have caused, and retaining your veil indoors fostered my suspicions. Finally, I am acting upon my patroness’ orders. Her Grace, Pronatia Haelens, sent me a flash message asking me to see to you. Since Lady Ethene is why I have this place, I do my utmost to follow her wishes.”
Her elegance did not falter as her will came forward. I found myself seated, my face turned towards the daylight streaming through the windows, and my bruises examined. “What did Lady Ethene tell you?” I asked.
“That I was to look after you. She did not mention that someone had injured you — Lady Dark, have you even seen a Healer? — but one who has spent as long in my profession as I have learns to recognize the signs of a beating. Is my lady your Patroness, too?”
Without invading this woman’s mind — which might not do me any good anyway, and would do her considerable harm — I couldn’t know if she knew my identity, so I merely shrugged. “A friend. She’s your patron?”
She nodded. “I don’t know how much Cel will be able to do — you should have seen to this days ago.” Anger tinged her voice. “I just cannot imagine a lawyer getting into a brawl. What did he hit you with? Is he likely to follow? Should I alert my guards to ensure your safety?”
“No,” I said. “He won’t follow.” Savrin wouldn’t, and if someone else did, I wouldn’t know until too late. Alerting her guards to a vague, potential foe would be useless.
She poured fondal for me, uncovered a bowl of porridge and a plate of toast, and began — without my leave — ordering our possessions. The fondal was the perfect temperature, almost hot enough to burn, and the sweetness of the honey balanced the bitter beregan leaves, but I put it down after two sips. “Haven’t you other duties, Mistress dat Temmin?”
“Not when my lady directs,” she said. “Sit. Eat. And I am Telia to everyone.”
In that hour, I learned much about the Belleview’s, and Telia’s, surface. She shared ownership with her brother, who traveled on his own business, and Ethene. She had worked as a young woman in Cimenarum, though she didn’t say at what, and had a daughter and son, currently at Cimenarum’s Lunagan Academy. The Belleview stood where the old paele had been, when Celestan had been a langreve, but that building had fallen into ruin years back and been pulled down. This structure had been built six years ago, incorporating every modern convenience Galantier’s engineers had yet invented. In winter, the inn hosted musicians from around Galantier, but summers were given to the outdoors and the natural beauty of the region. Should I wish it, Telia could arrange hikes, mountaineering and of course, chases, though no hunting until autumn. Also, seamstresses, masseuses, hair dressers, and services of a more personal nature. About those, I didn’t inquire.
She intended to distract me while she put away our clothing, stacked my books and kept me waiting. I probably should have objected, but I was weary and when I admitted it to myself, heartsick. Intellectually, I knew leaving Cimenarum was my best decision given the circumstances, but it felt like capitulation and retreat. I even knew I must appear to capitulate, but I hated doing it.
I was just starting to realize I should feel irritated by Telia’s interference when the knocker sounded and Telia answered my door. A hallyer hurried away as a small, spare woman in the worn, unadorned linen and wool of a sister of Archilia followed Telia into the room, the former carrying a wooden box like a toolchest. Her dark hair was pulled out of her face and braided down her back, though curls escaped around her ears. She had the burnished skin of a woman who spends much time outdoors, faded now with winter’s passage. “Thanks, Telia. I see my patient now.” Some silent communication passed between them, the significant expressions that old friends understand, but baffle outsiders. Standing together, they were a study in contrasts — the lush, affluent lady of the house and the plain-dressed priestess. How did they end up acquainted, much less friends of such long standing?
Telia introduced us briefly, and the priestess, Celadane sator Archilia, took the chair beside mine as Telia closed the door behind her. “Advocate Peregath,” she said as she set her box on the floor beside her, “I didn’t expect to meet you so soon. Though Mother Amaranth is pleased; we can’t quite keep a law firm busy by ourselves, but we certainly could have consumed Advocate Dursen’s time and more. How was your journey?”
The feeling of a social call jarred me as the priestess reached for a cup and poured herself fondal, until I realized I used the same tactic with a new client. One must reassure the client — or patient — else one gets no useful information. Healing, like the law, is based on trust, and trust isn’t instant.
We spoke of inconsequentials — mostly the wretched state of the steam launch’s galley and the contrast the Belleview provided — for a quarter hour while she listened and watched me. I knew I sounded terrible — I couldn’t open my mouth enough to articulate, and my broken nose made my voice stuffy and nasal — but she didn’t seem to notice until a natural pause fell in the conversation. “Would you like my assistance, Advocate?” she asked.
The fact was, I did. I should have seen a Healer sooner and this wouldn’t be made easier by delay, but now one was present, and if the chain of trust — from Ethene, to Telia, to Celadane — held, I could allow her to mend what she could. Even if she could only convince my jaw to hang properly and straighten my nose, I need not delay opening the office.
“I must say though, I specialize in bones and muscles. I’ll do what I can, but I may refer you to someone else,” she added when I nodded.
I shrugged with my good shoulder, then stood, closed the curtains and pulled the chain that opened the valve and struck the sparker until the chandelier flared. At Celadane’s direction, I removed my coat, waistcoat and shirt, then returned to the chair in my breeches and binding.
She lightly rested her hands on the cap of my shoulder. “This… isn’t all new,” she mused. “Calcified blood in the joint and muscle sheath. The tendon cuff is frayed, an old injury, but there’s new swelling and tearing. Advocate, how did this happen?” She removed her hands and took the other chair, watching me.
She seemed a few years my senior, with a priestess’ calm dignity and compassion. Part of me wanted to confide, but anyone who knew would be endangered. And I had damaged it several years back in swordwork. “I tripped, fell badly.”
“The old injury,” she said. “Not the new one. I can explain exactly how I know, but it would be nonsense to you.” She touched my shoulder lightly again. “In fact, there are two new injuries — one a twisting tear, and one from a crushing blow to a prone body. The first is common in athletes, warriors, farmers, but the other is rare — people don’t lie still and have things dropped on them. However, it’s not uncommon amongst women who have been beaten. Given the fingermark bruises on your face, you didn’t fall. You needn’t protect him. You know he can be brought to justice.”
“He can’t,” I said. “I’m protecting myself, not him.”
She gazed at me, her eyes almost black, then shook her head. “I’m an Alvard,” she said eventually. “I know what Curia men are like. He won’t follow?”
A Pronatia, but not one I recognized. Logical; Healers need years of training and she’d probably begun hers when I was still in short skirts. I shook my head.
“You’re not betrothed… no, you’re not.” She blinked twice, but her face stayed gently impassive. “Oi. Let me fix that. I’ll need several sessions to reshape the bone and repair the tendon. I’ll never get it perfect, but it’ll hurt less. You’re an Ingenia, so I can tie a pain block into yours, but it might weaken that hand.”
“Don’t,” I said. “I write with it. Willow powder works.”
“Only three times daily,” she said. “Willow’s hard on the stomach. Does solemnium put you to sleep?”
“No.” I wouldn’t take it. I couldn’t bear its additional nightmares.
My shoulder did loosen after she directed puissance into it, and as I’d guessed, she could do little for my ribs and back that my breast binding wasn’t already doing. When she came to my face, though… Her gentle hands on my jaw shouldn’t have sparked the panic. It came up fast, despite the security of a locked room behind locked doors, far from… what terrified me. It was bad, one I couldn’t force down, couldn’t control. Fire raced through my nerves, my vision sparkled and narrowed, ice filled my skin. My heart wanted to burst and my lungs burned. The world narrowed until I was a tiny, inarticulate creature, trapped in a straw cage that wouldn’t protect me from the clawed beast bearing down upon me.
Panic can’t be cured, nor Healed away. A panic is endured. When I was in my mind again, Celadane had a notebook open and was writing. Her hand remained on my shoulder, the right action. Had she embraced me, I’d have fought her as I’d done when Avah first witnessed a panic.
“How long have those been coming?” she asked.
“Regularly since… just after Midwinter,” I admitted to the floor, profoundly ashamed of myself. I couldn’t admit that I’ve had them occasionally since the second near assassination three years ago.
“A quarter-year? You consulted nobody?”
I shook my head. She handed me a handkerchief. I blotted the tears I hadn’t realized I’d shed.
She remained silent, the quiet room filling with the scratch of her pen. “You may call yourself Jack Giantkiller or Cat o’ the Mountain for all I care. You’re my patient, and you’ve come with the signs of a bad beating and panic. As far as I’m concerned, you are Rien Peregath, a Cimenaran Advocate. I’ll never ask if that’s the name you were given in infancy.”
I caught the shift in pronunciation of my first name. Telia had pronounced it Wren. Now, Celadane pronounced it as only a very few people with intimate access to us had. Rye-en. Her father knew my pet-name. She suspected, to the point of certainty. I stiffened.
“I don’t know who you are, besides Archilavast’s Advocate. I don’t know what happened, but you’re my patient. You’re injured and if I don’t Heal you, you’ll only worsen. You needn’t answer my questions, but the more I know, the better I can help you. Were there other injuries?”
She’d never ask. To an Archilian, without confirmation or evidence, one can’t know something. One can believe, have faith, suspect, but not know. Intellectual hair-splitting, but welcome nonetheless. She’d conceal her suspicions for me, and the Alvards are staunch Royalists. “No.”
“Nothing?” she asked. “Normally, I only see injuries like yours in someone held down. Usually for rape. If that’s the case — “
“No,” I said. She’d want to ensure I hadn’t been infected with pox. That wasn’t possible. “No.”
“Was your head struck?” she asked.
“A goose-egg. My head ached for a couple days. No lasting effects.”
“Did you lose consciousness?”
“Let me check. In future, if you’re struck on the head, see one of us. We can’t mend brains, but we can sometimes keep them from damaging themselves.” She checked my head, her hand barely touching my hair. “You’re lucky,” she said. “No damage. If it happens again — “
She sighed. “All right. I’ll refer you to a Mind Healer about the panics.”
“I can’t.” I knew too many secrets a Mind Healer would see.
She frowned, then nodded. “I’ll do my best, then. I’ll consult one without mentioning specifics. You’ll be here for a while, after all.” She delicately placed her hands on either side of my jaw. “This will hurt like all seventy-seven hells for one second, then it won’t. Eat soft foods for another tenday — no tough meat, though if Telia heard me say that, she’d be offended, and even her carrots and winter apples are getting soft.” She smiled briefly, then began to hum softly to herself, the same tune she had used on my shoulder. At first, I felt nothing but the sense of wellbeing that comes from most Healers’ puissance.
Her hands firmed against my face, then she shoved — hard — and I heard the pop as the joint fully reseated. Excruciating pain flared, then vanished, and for a very long moment, my face didn’t hurt. The throb returned, but compared to the ache, I hardly hurt at all.
“Now, the nose.”
When Avah returned, just before Celadane left, she first eyed me and nodded — by then, Celadane had calmed most of the bruises to yellowish — then flung her arms around the priest. “I didn’t know you were up here — since when? Last Meri said, you were still teaching at the Healers’ Institute.”
“Meri still can’t recall that most people can’t read minds, I take it,” Celadane laughed. “I came up two years ago,” she said. “Meri’s well, then?”
Avah nodded. “In Cimenarum for the winter. I see you’ve met my Advocate — oi, Rien, I couldn’t have picked a better Healer for you.”
“You know each other then,” I said. “I need not make introductions.”
“Ayuh,” Avah said. “Meri and Cel were at school together.”
“And so was Telia,” Cel said, “for several years, anyway. Just one giant village, this country.”
I was starting to wonder if everyone in Galantier knew everyone else, save me, but I knew that wasn’t true. It’s the nature of our aristocracy and the wealthy freeborn. We only had about five thousand nobles of all ages and sexes and perhaps another five thousand freeborn with equivalent wealth; certainly young women of the same generation would be acquainted. Avah looked around the room and nodded approvingly at Telia’s work. “The office is settled,” she said, “save for your books, but I will never understand your system, so I left them for you.”
As expected; nobody understands my system because it’s mostly in my head. Some librarians organize by size, or color, or title; I group my books by subject, then time period. Without an intimate — some have called it obsessive — understanding of Galantieran law, history and precedent, the system looks random.