(Click for links to previous chapters.)
Eight days, and no one is sick. The graves have been cleansed, the volunteers have been cleansed, and now we wait. Sister Mays is hopeful. I am worried. I have nightmares about a shadowy figure digging a new grave.
Germins stayed three nights, but had no visions. I thanked him again for trying, sincerely meaning it. Of course, an outbreak of plague would guarantee he would not be able to go home at the end of the month, so he is not completely disinterested.
Family members of our volunteers are allowed to come in groups of three and exchange messages across the quarantine boundary, yelling to each other family news that will be heard by everyone, and most not caring. One of the ‘guest’ tents is allocated to the family of the original farmer who stayed, who contained the risk. Everyone watches him, rejoicing every morning that he wakes still healthy, expecting him to be the first to die.
Alan walks about, observing, chased after by guards or soldiers when he ventures too close to the quarantine, not really understanding our fear. “You think plague lies waiting in all graves, not just graves of those plague killed?”
“The first plague killed 60% of the realm; the second killed 45% of Kaskl. No medicine or healing is successful at treating it.” This really doesn’t answer his question, but it is the answer.
Jes comes for his daily visit, bringing orders from father; I am to come to weekly court in five days’ time. Provided no one dies, father will read the descriptions of the murdered, seeking names.
I wave as Jes leaves, then go sit under the giant tree to brood, and to whisper to my Sword. “How did your old Wielder find his murderer?”
“The murderer chose the wrong person for his last victim.” She looked like a small woman with a limp and a cane. She was really a battle trained warrior forced to retirement because of her injury, and her cane was a sword-cane. She cut the murderer into pieces. They gave her another metal.”
Well that was a happy ending for them, but I couldn’t see any way to apply it to our problem.
“We can kill him when he is found, but I can’t help finding him.”
“But you could smell human sacrifice.”
“Not the same thing.”
I stop talking as Alan walks up, having once again been shooed back up the hill. Father is adamant that I can’t tell Alan anything about the sword until after we are married. I’m going along with what father wants, for now, even though life would be much easier if Alan knew. I’m going to tell Jes then too.
“Everyone is still healthy.” Alan is silent for a while. “All of the spells I know to find people require a connection, a prized possession, a relative, blood.”
I pretty much knew that if he had a way to find the murderer, he would have already tried it. And seven murders were much less dire than the kind of events Claire ‘sees’. There just isn’t any easy answer. I have a sudden feeling of hope when I realize resurgence of the plague is something Claire might ‘see’, and she hasn’t. And neither did Germins, unless he lied. But if he had seen plague, he would be heading for the border, not moping about the keep waiting for his ‘amassing’ whatever that is.
The next morning I decide to try and warn Alan what The Wedding is going to entail. We are well away from mother, so most of his ranting probably won’t be relayed back to her. Our first ‘planning’ meeting hadn’t gone well. Alan had been so pleased when mother decided the perfect time for The Wedding would be the yearly Harvest celebration. I ruined his good mood by explaining what everyone but Jes already knew.
“Mother doesn’t mean this year’s harvest, she mean’s next year.” Yeah, definitely ruined his mood, and mother didn’t help by immediately planning the ‘betrothal ball’ for this Harvest celebration.
“But…” Alan stuttered than tried again. “The betrothal has already been announced; if everyone is going to be here for a ball, why can’t it just be a wedding ball?”
Mynar looked at him with sympathy, and handed him a glass of wine. Shortly after, mother decided that since we had set the dates for The Wedding, and The Betrothal Ball, that was enough for one day. I suspect what she really decided was that Alan already had all he could take for one day.
I lure Alan to the tree, and we sit, him leaning against the tree and me leaning against him. The scene below is calm, reassuring. Everyone is still healthy. I try to explain Abalem.
“Our people expect formality and spectacle on all important occasions, and can be disappointed and vindictive if they believe they have been slighted.”
“Which means we can’t get married for a year.” There is a strange mixture of acceptance and disappointment in Alan’s tone.
“Which means that we can’t get married until after the Betrothal Announcement, the Betrothal Celebratory Ball, The Bride’s Breakfast, the Groom’s Feast, The Rehearsal, The Rehearsal Dinner, The Wedding, and The Wedding Celebratory Ball followed by the Wedding Breakfast.” I hold my breath waiting for an explosion or at least a little profanity.
“Well, I guess you will never doubt how much I want to marry you.” His tone is more applicable to some suitor being required to kill a monster before getting the bride.
“That’s remarkably reasonable of you.”
“Adava, I never really expected your father to accept me as a suitor; I expected to be chased out of the kingdom. I can wait a year, if that is what it takes to keep your mother happy. I won’t like it, but I can do it.”
I decide to ignore the faint suggestion that Alan would have preferred to fight a monster. Well, so would I.
Excitement in the camp attracts our attention. I draw my sword, and Alan has the long distance stare he gets as he readies a spell. I am pleased to see he has moved away from me, giving me room to swing my Sword, but to my side, not trying to get in front of me, fighting with me, not protecting me. He is just almost perfect.
I relax slightly as I hear Taver’s ‘what stupid thing have you done now’ tone of voice. The one he had used back at the ford on the way home from Blythe. Either Alan recognizes it too, or he acknowledges my sheathing my Sword, for his eyes come back to the present. We walk briskly toward the noise, past soldiers industriously working on anything handy: adding wood to fires which don’t need it, polishing already immaculately clean weapons, or just ducking inside tents.
Taver is yelling at two of his soldiers, both with bruised faces and bleeding knuckles. When they are sufficiently cowed, he moves on to the group who were just spectators, and berates them for not stopping the two combatants.
I catch Alan’s eye, and nod slightly toward our central tent. Taver doesn’t need, or want, my help disciplining his men.
“This is a good sign,” I tell Alan once we reach the privacy of the command tent. “At first, the men were too frightened to get into trouble.”
“Somehow, I doubt Traver will agree.”
I nod in agreement. Only twenty-two days to go.