Kindrie didn't realize how tired he had become until he staggered as he took the last turn of the staircase that led down to the healers' dispensary at Mount Alban and nearly dropped the half-dozen heavy tomes he was hauling back there.
Who would have thought that just talking could be so tiring?
Although talking barely covered it. A discussion with the scholars and scrollsmen of Mount Alban involved shouting, gesturing, running back and forth to pull out more reference books and scrolls, moving pieces of furniture to spread out charts and maps on the floors, and sometimes even scrawling massive diagrams in chalk on the walls. Kindrie's shoulders, arms, and fingers ached, and his throat was a little sore. And in the end, the discussion about how exactly the Grey Witches of the Lost Isles combined healing and herb-wisdom and worship to banish rheumatism hadn't even finished. Old Bandir -- whose aches and pains had triggered the whole thing -- had decided that he needed to go back to bed. Kindrie had surprised himself by volunteering to return the herbalists' books to the dispensary library and bring back more of the old scrollsman's favorite ointment.
He could barely see over the stack of books. The arrival of the landing was nearly his undoing again as he tried to step down another step that didn't exist and banged his heel painfully against the stone flags: "God's toenails!"
The oath felt strange in his mouth, and even more so when he remembered where he had learned it.
Balancing the books precariously against his bony chest, he limped across the landing and fumbled for the door of the dispensary, behind which he could faintly hear the sound of something being ground in a stone mortar. Fortunately, the door wasn't locked. Less fortunately, it wasn't even latched, and the door swung open all too easily when he pushed at it. A gust of herb-scented air rushed out to meet him. The tower of books had its way with him at last, and he thumped painfully to his knees, clutching convulsively at the sliding stack.
There was a sudden silence. Then: "Hello?" inquired a soft baritone voice, pleasantly.
"Hello," Kindrie managed to croak, and looked up from the books, which were temporarily halted in their quest to gain the floor.
A tall man -- presumably one of the Kendar herbalists -- was looking at him with consternation from where he stood at a cluttered worktable, pestle in one hand. He had a pair of spectacles clamped to his high-bridged nose, behind which his pale blue eyes blinked nervously.
"Highborn ... ! Oh dear, that looks painful. Here -- let me take those ... ."
Dropping the pestle back into the mortar, the fellow came over and quickly relieved Kindrie of his burdens, stacking them on a reading desk that already fairly groaned with books -- apparently escapees from the crowded shelves lining the walls. Kindrie hauled himself painfully to his feet. "Um ... I'm Kindrie."
"Yes, indeed. And I'm Spar. Here, sit down -- no here, under the standing lamp."
A long arm around his shoulders propelled Kindrie into a comfortably aged chair with soft leather cushions. To his utter confusion, Spar dropped to his knees and started rolling up Kindrie's pants legs. Kindrie stared down at the top of a head of long ash blond hair, tied back neatly with a bit of twine. "What -?"
"You're going to have some bruises, at the very least. But perhaps we can prevent them from hobbling you for the next couple of weeks."
It's a good thing these trousers are loose. Kindrie had the uneasy feeling that Spar's single-minded pursuit of his calling would have made short work of removing any breeches that prevented him from seeing his patient's knees.
"Hmmm, you've even split the skin here. And of course your trousers have abraded the skin elsewhere. What a mess that is. Sit there a moment."
Spar rose easily and strode to his workbench. He pulled out a small basin from somewhere, followed by a stack of clean, neatly folded rags. Next, jars and bottles and boxes fairly flew off the shelves. It looked like the prescription was going to be some compresses.
And of course the whole thing was unnecessary. Kindrie opened his mouth to say so, then shut it again. He's enjoying himself, isn't he?
"Yarrow, agrimony ... bark of white roses, hmmm? Hazel infusion -- how does that sound? And the juice of -- well, I doubt the name would be familiar, but I assure you, it works." Spar was looking at him, clearly awaiting approval of his mixture, somewhat to Kindrie's surprise.
"It sounds fine to me."
"Right, then." Spar put some of the cloths to soak in the medicine, then fetched another basin and dipped some warm water into it from a pot on the fire. He brought it over and knelt down again to sponge off Kindrie's bruised and scraped knees. His hands were gentle, Kindrie noticed, and long-fingered. The man was fine-boned enough that he might well be half Highborn. But that wasn't something that counted for much in the Kencyrath. Kendar were Kendar.
Once the skin was clean enough to please the herbalist and the surprisingly cooling, soothing compresses were in place, Spar went back to his grinding. "Just rest there for a while. What a lot of trouble you've had, simply to return some books."
Kindrie felt like he was melting slowly into the comfortable chair. "Well ... actually, Bandir also wanted some of his ointment. He said any of you would know which one."
"Oh yes, of course. Rosemary and wintergreen oil, Sondrean pepper, beeswax -- oh, Trinity." The grinding halted again.
"There's a problem?"
"Only that we're out of it. It will take me at least half an hour to mix more, but there's no need for you to stay here for more than half that -- once the compresses have done their work, I can send you on your way with some wound-balm, and I'll take care of the old dear."
"Actually, I told him I'd rub his hands for him."
Spar raised his eyebrows, astonished. "Did you really?"
"Er ... yes. Why is that so strange?"
"Well ... ." Spar set the mortar and pestle aside again. "You're a healer. You can just ... well, with what you can do with your mind, it seems -- well! It's like asking the High Lord to clean armor, or something."
"It's not really ... I mean, he didn't ask me."
"There, then. I guess that makes all the difference. Still ... it's not the sort of thing I've ever seen a healer do, I think." Spar had cleared a space on his work bench and was scraping beeswax to soften for the ointment. "I saw you at Hurlen, you know," he added.
"Oh ... yes?"
"I was with the Ardeth. I was born into that clan, you know. So many of our people killed -- and it would have been so much worse if it hadn't been for you healers. I saw men and women who had mortal wounds -- and you led them back from death. Right back, and made them whole. It was wonderful. I would give anything to be able to do that, instead of just stitching and patching and splinting and salving and ... hoping for the best."
Kindrie felt his face heating under Spar's earnest gaze. "Um ... ."
The herbalist's cheeks flushed as though in reply, and he dropped his eyes to his work. "I'm sorry," he said a moment later, stiffly. "I expect I'm being too familiar. One gets used to doing that, here. But I know I shouldn't. And I talk too much."
Kindrie rubbed his eyes, tired and confused and strangely saddened by the break in mood. "No, it's quite alright. I'm just very, very tired."
Spar paused in strewing the shredded beeswax into a bowl and glanced at him. "Well ... you could take a bit of a nap, then. Here -- " He came over and twitched away the compresses, then brought over a wooden crate and another cushion for Kindrie's feet. "Fresh compresses. Here. And this old cape should keep you quite warm. There. I'll wake you when the ointment's ready."
Spar smelled of beeswax and honey, of herbs, and under them, the faint prickle of sweat and musk. The slightly moth-eaten cape held the faint scent of summer flowers and evergreens. The pain in his knees was a distant, fading thing of no consequence. Kindrie closed his eyes, listening to the snap of the flames in the fireplace, the faint chinks and scrapes of Spar's preparations, and the husky murmur as the man talked or hummed to himself at his work, and felt warmed inside and out.
He drifted a moment, and found himself among familiar, pale branches and blossoms. The scent of the dispensary must have followed him there: although he never recalled smelling anything in his refuge before, now he was surrounded by the crisp, green scents of herbs and an undertone of honeyed musk. Moonflowers were open, the pale heartsease was in bloom, and tiny white lilies clustered on stalks.
Something out of place caught his eye: white, yes, but hard and gleaming in the moonlight. He turned to find his cousin Jamethiel Priest's-Bane standing behind him, rathorn ivory armor covering almost every bit of skin.
"I know, I don't belong here," she said, ruefully. "I must be having a dream." Her ivory-clad fingers came up to stroke across the faint scar on her cheek, all that was left of the horrid facial wound Kindrie had healed for her a month earlier. "Still ... things look good. You've been tending your garden, haven't you?"
Surprised, he turned to look again. She was right: the secret, night-blooming plants were lush and thick, with clusters of fat buds promising even more flowers soon. Moths with wings of palest green and silky white-furred bodies flapped and glided from blossom to blossom. "I don't remember doing anything," he said, surprised to feel a bit defensive.
"Nothing wrong with tending your garden. It looks good ... I should go."
The garden seemed a bit larger than he remembered, too. "You could stay a moment. I seem to have plenty of room."
"I can't. I told you, I don't belong here. I wish Tori would stop by, though. It would do him good."
Kindrie thought she was right. "Do you think he might ... ?"
"No ... not now, anyway." She was fading, but the armor was fading faster, revealing pale skin. He should be embarrassed, but this was his own place. Nothing would hurt him, here. "Going now. Kindrie, this place. You de ...."
She flickered out like a candleflame. A gentle wind blew through the moonlit flowers, bringing the sound of water flowing, and the scents of rosemary and honey, and a large, gentle hand was on his shoulder. "Highborn?"
"Just Kindrie," he answered, and yawned. "Just Kindrie is fine."
Spar's pale eyes blinked behind their lenses. The book-clad walls of the snug, untidy dispensary behind him glowed with lamp- and firelight. "Bandir's ointment -- it's ready. Are you sure about doing this yourself? You look all done in, still. That wasn't much of a nap."
"No, I'm fine. And I want to do it." He was surprised at his own vehemence.
"Here -- give me the cloths. And the cape -- there. Do you need a hand up -- no, I guess not. How are the knees?"
Well, of course they were fine. And would have been even if there had been no treatment at all. Somehow, sometime, he'd have to explain that. "They're fine, too. Spar, stop treating me as though I were Bandir's age!"
The Kendar's concerned face relaxed. "Well, then, you certainly sound fine. Here's the ointment. Take care on the stairs, won't you? They're a menace."
Kindrie turned to go, then stopped at the door. Spar was already back at his workbench, tipped the powder out of his mortar into a sieve set atop a small bowl, a stray tendril of pale hair drifting across his serene face. Kindrie's mouth didn't seem to be operating properly. "Would - would ... ?"
"Would you mind if I came back sometime? It's ... rather nice here. Relaxing, I mean."
Spar smiled slowly, his pale eyes crinkling at the corners. "Any time you wish. I'm not always here, mind. And sometimes I'm not the only one working here, either. But come, and be welcome."
"Thank you," Kindrie whispered, and left.
His mind was still drifting as he mounted the first flight of stairs: Moonlight, lamplight. Night-blooming lilies and sun-dried herbs. A hiding place, a quiet place ... .
And maybe more than that. Had he made a friend?
Priests don't have friends.
But they'd lied about so many other things. They'd probably lied about this too.
He felt rather strange. Everything seemed sharp and in focus, even though he was still tired. His arms and legs felt light. The feeling that he usually had -- that something terrible was going to happen, eventually if not sooner -- was gone.
Kindrie's short, odd, unpleasant life hadn't given him much of a chance to become acquainted with happiness. But he thought that maybe he knew, finally, how it felt.
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