Chapter Seven

"Help me get him on the bed," I ordered Samuel. He obeyed immediately, despite the way Keagan swore and paled as we moved him. "I've got you now. Stay with me," I murmured as we lay him on the healing table.

"Esti, your arm." Rose's voice was thick with concern.

"There's no time for that right now. After Keagan."

"At least let me wrap it, you foolish woman."

Rayn's guardsmen, some of them injured began to flow into the room, but I kept my focus on Keagan. "Fine. Wrap me up while I work."

As Rose first cleaned, then tightly wrapped my arm, I placed my spare hand on Keagan's shoulder. My power surged into him, golden tendrils weaving. "Get him some sunshine tonic when you're done with my arm."

"No," Keagan hissed through his teeth as I worked to heal his torn abdomen. "I don't need–"

I stared at him. Hard. "Keagan, you've taken a sword to the gut. You know as well as I do that this wound is deadly. You need to rest, even after I heal you. You know this. If you were me, you'd say the same thing."

"I can't leave my student alone." His voice wavered with his resolve.

"We'll send a runner to the Guild. They'll send someone."

Rose nodded. "I'll grab one of the boys next door."

"Check with Rayn first. There may still be some of those men around," I warned.

Rose's eyes flashed dangerously as she helped Keagan sip some of the deceptively bright tonic. "I hope there's at least one left over for me."

She trotted away before I could respond, a tall blur of cinnamon skin and blond hair, so I turned my attention back to Keagan. He was already feeling the effects of the sunshine tonic, and his eyelids fluttered as he tried to maintain consciousness.

I replaced my hands, fingers linked, on Keagan's clammy forehead and closed my eyes. Breathing deeply, I let my power flow into his body and tried to push my fears away. Fear I may be ambushed by a lurking assassin, for that's surely what those men were. Fear Rose might run into one and find herself unequal to its skills. And the burning fear that I may not be able to save Keagan.

I shook my head violently against the thought. This wasn't my first time dealing with a sword wound to the gut. They could be deadly, often were, but not if a Healer could start work quick enough. I had plenty of time, and better yet, I had been trained well by the very man who lay below my hands.

The tightness of my shoulders relaxed as I got to work in earnest. Although painful, Keagan's wound wasn't as deep as I'd feared. He must have twisted away, avoiding a true skewer.

"Hold a cloth against him now," I ordered. "I'm going to push all the…." I trailed off with an inward curse at forgetting Rose had already left.

"Gods take it all!" I opened my eyes with a snarl, but was shocked into immediate silence by the sight of Samuel kneeling on the opposite side of the bed, a cloth held in one of his large hands.

"I ain't no trained help, Healer, but tell me what ta' do. I can blot up a bit 'o blood as you work. Can't be any worse than workin' tha' fishing district." His knuckles were bruised and raw from the pounding he'd delivered earlier to one of the assassins, but he'd washed them before grabbing the cloth to help me. Smart man. Smarter than I'd given him credit for.

"Thank you." I nodded and closed my eyes again, settling back to work. "As I knit these sections back together, I'll be pushing blood and more out. The cleaner we can get it, the less chance of infection. Hold the cloth down and make sure to get as much as you can. It will cause Keagan pain, but the tonic I've given him should keep him still."

By the time the midnight bell rang, Keagan's wound was completely healed. Only a faint silver scar was left as evidence he'd ever been stabbed.

I touched the back of my hand to his cheek and forehead in turn, relieved to find his skin was only slightly warm instead of clammy. "Thank you," I said to Samuel as I rinsed my hands in a damp cloth.

He shrugged. "What man would do otherwise?"

"Plenty of men would do nothing, though I cannot comment on their integrity." I took Samuel's hands in my own.

"How's'it you do such power with such tiny hands?" he murmured as my power flowed into him, easing the bruising of his knuckles and pulling together where the skin had split.

I chuckled and released him. "It's not the size of a person's body that counts. Only how we use what we've been given matters."

Samuel flexed his hands. "Thank you for that, but I'd of just as well preferred not ta' add the luxury of less bruises in exchange for a higher bill. I already can't pay ya', Healer Esti, as you well know."

I frowned at him in confusion. "Samuel, no! Your bill is forgiven. No debt owed."

Far from elated, Samuel's face darkened. "You may be a Healer, woman, but I don't take kind ta' bein' yanked like some common fool."

"Samuel," I began again, my hands held up in what I hoped was a calming, peaceful gesture. "Calm down, please. You fought for this House. You defended it against attack despite clear risk to yourself."

I gestured to Keagan, who slept peacefully. "You saved a Guilded Healer and aided in the healing of his injury. I swear to you. Your debt is cleared."

Samuel's face lost its tension at once and he melted before my eyes. "May the gods bless you and keep you!" he cried as he threw himself at me, and I found myself wrapped in an intense hug.

I tentatively patted his back. "Thank you, Samuel. May they… bless and keep you as well…."

Rayn coughed pointedly. "Ah, excuse me."

Samuel stepped back sharply. "Guardsman! Forgive me, I was just thanking tha' good Healer."

"Of course." Rayn failed to suppress a smile, and turned his attention to me. "How's Keagan?"

"Resting now, but he'll be fine. Would you help me move him to a clean bed?"

Samuel and Rayn moved Keagan to the closest bed and I tucked him beneath the fresh sheets.

"Some of my men were wounded in the skirmish," Rayn said after Keagan was settled. "Now, don't give me that look; none were injured to Keagan's extent or I would have sent for Chosen Jak. They preferred to stay and guard."

He laughed and I allowed myself a smile. "Have them join me in the Healing Room if you would. Where is Rose?"

"The neighbor wouldn't send their boy tonight; too frightened by the attack. She decided to go to your Guild on her own."

"Oh…" I trailed off, lost in concern.

Rayn patted my shoulder. "Yesera went with her as an additional guard. Wipe the concern off your face. I assure you they will be fine."

I spent the next hour or so tending to the various wounds Rayn's men had suffered before it occurred to me that he hadn't asked me to heal any of our attackers. I found him still in the recovery room speaking with Samuel and one of his guards I hadn't met before tonight. "Rayn," I began, "what about the men who attacked us? Are there none alive?"

He patted my shoulder. "Don't worry, Esti. We've secured the area. If there are any left, they've gone back to wherever they came from. Three squads have got the dogs on them."

"If they get through tha' Guards, I'll fight them down again," Samuel added.

"No," I said, shaking my head. "I mean did none survive to be questioned? Is there anyone you need me to see to? I'm sorry for not asking earlier."

Rayn's face fell. "We captured two alive, but…either they had some sort of poison, or were killed alternatively."

"Alternatively?" I asked, frowning.

Rayn patted the bed next to him. "Sit down, Esti. You're bleeding through the bandages on your arm again, and it worries me. We've worked you too hard as is."

I risked a look at my arm and grimaced, finding myself suddenly light headed. "Thank you." I sat heavily next to him and began unwrapping the bandage. "Samuel, do you mind redoing the wrap until the Healers from the Guild arrive with Rose?"

"'Course not," he said, reaching for the linen wrap left near where Keagan slept. "But if ya' don't mind my asking, Healer, and I mean no disrespect, but why not just fix it yerself? Too tired? Ya' should've left my bloody fists be."

"I can't heal myself," I explained, shaking my head. "The magic only works outwards. I might heal a little faster than others naturally, but any further than that? Well, I'm afraid I have to wait for help just the same as you."

"Well then. Talk me through it, same as ya' did for Healer Keagan there and we'll get this gritty thing patched up pretty 'til your Guildmates get here. They sure don't like to rush, do they?"

"They're probably being cautious," I said, trying to hide my own irritation at how long they were taking to get here. Samuel cleaned out my wound and wrapped it again with surprising ability, following my instructions as if it weren't the first time he'd worked in a Healing House.

It was a distracting thought, that he might be more gifted for this line of work than he appeared, but now wasn't the time. "Rayn, what did you mean by the men dying alternatively?"

"I hoped you'd let that go until morning," he growled.

"They might come back. If it's a curse, I'd like to know. Maybe I can stop it this time around."

Rayn nodded slowly. "True. There is truth to that." He pulled a piece of parchment from his belt and reviewed his notes. "None of my men report seeing the attackers having access to a poison of any kind, but that doesn't mean we missed it."

"Did you search their mouths?"

Rayn's dark eyes shot away from his parchment to frown at me. "No… no we didn't." He turned to the guard I didn't recognize. "Athab, take Bronan and search the men for any remnants of possible poison. Be careful about it though."

Athab left with a quick salute.

"In truth, I don't suspect poison," Rayn said after Athab was gone.

I frowned. "Why?"

"The men's throats were bruised. Both of them, both the survivors we caught."

"Bruised how?"

"I did slam 'em a few times, Guardsman," Samuel added. "In defense of the Healers, I swear it. Not after yer men caught them. Mayhap I…." He trailed off as Rayn shook his head.

"I appreciate your honesty, Samuel, but no. The bruising was not from the fight. It wasn't from being struck. Like they'd been strangled."

"You're sure?" I asked.

Rayn nodded solemnly. "I've seen these bruises in my work before. In certain…family disputes."

"Bring the bodies in, please." I rose to my feet and swayed slightly. Samuel and Rayn both stood to help me, but I held up a hand. "I'm fine, thank you. Get the bodies Rayn. Have them brought to the Healing room."

"Esti, they're dead, I assure you."

"I believe you," I said, already moving away. "But if it's a curse that did this, I'll want to find out as much as I can. There may be a trace left yet. Bring the bodies in, and then join me in the Healing Room. Bring your parchment. You can take notes as I work."

Rayn stared at me a moment. "And if it's just poison and I've misread the evidence?"

"Then maybe I can tell you what they used and we can have an antidote ready for next time." I pulled myself up to my full height and tried to look as commanding as Keagan did when he was in control of his Healing House. "Bring me the bodies, Rayn."