Chapter 6

In spring the living world breaths in,
bright summers turn leaves to fire,
cold fresh autumn winds exhale,
in winter all such vigors expire.

– The Breath of Seasons, 91 E.R.

The Winter Frost

Styver 37th, 647 E.R.

Snow settled on silver hair, and Katrisha stood arms outstretched in the in a courtyard of the cloister.  She was alone, as few ventured out in the evening on winter days.  Though loneliness was an ache far colder to her than the snow melting on her skin, for the moment she was unmoved.  She let the cold in, and while it was enough to make even her shiver, it made her feel alive.

She took a deep breath of frigid mountain air, and felt better.  The cold never frightened her, and though she would soon long for warm blankets, or even a fire, she relished the energy of a coming winter’s night.  She could almost lose herself in the stillness, almost find the place that her illness had let her become lost in.  She didn’t know what that place was.  Something far away.  There was a pain in that place as sure as the one in her heart that night, but the distance of it gave her perspective.

The sound of footsteps crunching behind her pulled Katrisha from the dark tranquility she had found.  For a moment she ignored the familiar presence, and that made her feel quite terrible.  It wasn’t that she wanted to be alone, it was that she wanted to forget.  Her arms went from outstretched, to clinging tightly around herself.

“Are you alright?” Celia asked gently, and set a hand on Katrisha’s shoulder.

“All things being relative?” Katrisha muttered.

“Even so,” Celia consented.

“Tomorrow’s my birthday,” Katrisha offered.  “The first I’ve ever spent without my sister.  Not that I’m sure it’s our birthday, really.  Just a day, picked because of when snow fell in the north the year before we went to Broken Hill.  It could be of course, or the next, or today – for what little it matters.”

“Happy birthday?” Celia tried, but it seemed hollow.

“Thank you,” Katrisha said with a genuine, but begrudging air.  “A nice wish, but I don’t know if I can manage to feel it.”

“I know it…I know it must be hard,” Celia said, “but you aren’t alone.  I’m…here…”  She huffed on the last word, and clutched her robe tightly to herself, and shivered.

Katrisha turned, and looked to Celia questioningly.  It was clear she didn’t want to be standing there in the snow, and yet it was all the more clear she wasn’t going anywhere.  She was there for Katrisha, her only real friend, and Katrisha almost cried to realize it, as real a friend as she had ever had.

Celia glanced up at the sound of Katrisha’s arms falling to her sides.  The two exchanged an odd series of inscrutable looks, and Celia threw her arms around Katrisha, and lay her head against her chest.  “I’m here for you,” Celia said firmly, and Katrisha wrapped her arms around her.

“Thank you.”

“Now, can we please go inside?” Celia asked between chattering teeth.

Katrisha laughed.  “Yeah.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Kiannae sat before a wavering flame.  It danced in a stone recess set between the trunks of trees that formed a central wall of the house.  She wasn’t surprised that druids would not burn wood, relying instead upon a spell to keep their homes warm in the winter.  It was a cheat of course, though the fire borrowed energy from the aether it was paid back by the stone beneath it, which slowly turned to dust.  Entropic decay, she recalled from her lessons.  Living things were generally highly resistant, but stone, or anything without a life of its own fared poorly when the gifted tried to get around the rules.

She glanced out the window at the snow, and fought back tears for an uncounted time.  She wondered if that was the twisted thing behind prophecy.  Was it cheating?  Was that why trying to avoid fate so often went poorly?

Landri entered the room, and watched Kiannae for a moment before speaking.  “You are up very late,” she said softly.  “Not that you do not make a habit of such things – sneaking off in the dead of night.”

“So, I’m not as clever as I thought,” Kiannae laughed darkly.  “Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Yet you sit here where it is warm,” Landri offered.  “Seems clever enough.”

“I never liked the snow,” Kiannae answered, “and now I sit alone by the fire, and cry from even a glimpse of it.”  She huffed in a vain effort to steady herself.  “She loved the snow,” Kiannae muttered, even as tears started to break free again.  “I always hated it, too cold, but she loved it so much.”

“Your sister?” Landri asked understandingly.  She walked to Kiannae’s side, and sat down.

“Yes,” Kiannae sighed.  “It’s almost midnight.  Then it will be my birthday…her birthday.  I will be fifteen, and she forever fourteen.  Just one more way that she is gone.”

“It is always hardest on such days, to not be near ones we have loved,” Landri offered kindly, and wrapped an arm around the girl.

Kiannae was silent for a tentative moment.  “She’s not the only…ghost that haunts me,” Kiannae admitted.

“Do you finally wish to return to your old life?”  Landri asked.

“I…”  Kiannae sighed.  “No.  I can’t face those I left behind.  I won’t.  Only one is even of my blood, and I was never…I was not the best sister to him.”

“So you do have one family member left then?’ Landri pressed.

“One, and a half,” Kiannae laughed darkly.

Landri considered the girl next to her.  “You’ve sometimes asked I speak more plainly, might I request the same of you?”

“My brother…his birth killed our mother,” Kiannae said, “or she gave him her life.  Small difference I often feel, but I have been encouraged to think it significant.  He was never…right.  Katrisha loved him, said he reminded her of mother because he had part of her in him.  We once nearly killed eachother fighting over him.  I tried to mend my bridges, but…it wasn’t worth much I don’t think.  And now…now, I’m like him.”

“And you still avoid your point,” Landri pressed.

“I asked you about Tethis for a reason,” Kiannae said, “about the boy from the story.”

“And that is?” Landri questioned, growing impatient with the girl’s evasion.

“Can I ask you to keep a secret?” Kiannae said, changing tact.

“If it does no harm to do so,” Landri said shrewdly.

“I fear it does harm not to keep it,” Kiannae countred.  “Yet Zale already knows.  He’s promised to keep it, but I’m sure he will make a mess of things eventually.”

“Whatever it is,” Landri offered, “if I do not feel it must be told, I will keep it.  I will promise you no more.”

“I entered the Sylvan wood through what was once the lake in that story,” Kiannae began.  “I drank of a clear pool I found in a rocky stretch.  The water was so pure, seemed so clean…I think.  I think I knew something was wrong, but ignored it.  Ever since I have been visited by…an elemental…a ghost…something in between.”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Landri said incredulously.  “Half flesh of course, ghosts, the dryad wood…but…”

“Zale told me of the figure that has been seen moving about at night,” Kiannae retorted.  “Yes, something followed me, but more than that, it…he is a part of me.”

“And you are sure?”

“I have summoned him intentionally in the east glade many times,” Kiannae answered.  “He has learned to speak, learned in part from my own thoughts.  My brother learned to talk far too quickly, Taloe – he’s answered that finally, his name – has done even more so.  Try not to panic.”

“What?” Landri asked incredulously.

“The snow is pretty,” Taloe said, and startled Landri, who snapped around and backed away from the naked boy that stood in her home, “but it’s not as challenging to dance upon water that is solid.”  He watched Landri’s expression for a moment.  “I’m sorry, if I have scared you.”

“How?” Landri demanded between gasps, her eyes wide.

“I called,” Kiannae said.  “Of course you did not believe me.”

“Why is he naked?” Landri growled.

“I just am,” Taloe answered.  “I am not yet certain how I take this form, it is like a memory, an instinct.”

“What do you want spirit?” Landri demanded.

“To be here for Kiannae,” Taloe said.  “I have been considering for some time to come, and be a friend to her in her sorrow.  Yet I knew her not to be alone, so I did not.”

“What are your intentions toward her?”  Landri narrowed her eyes, and considered the young man suspiciously.  Seeing him for the first time more as male than apparition.

“Kiannae is…my shaman…the queen of my domain,” Taloe said obviously struggling to find the right words.  “I wish to serve her, to be a good and welcome presence.”

“Me, a queen,” Kiannae laughed darkly, “funny that I’ve heard that one before.”

Landri shot Kiannae a questioning glance, but didn’t press her curiosity.  “Why do you appear naked?  This is not as ghosts are often seen.”

“I am no ghost,” Taloe said, and knelt before Landri.  He offered his hand that she might touch it.  “This form…is an echo of the flesh, not of the mind.  Perhaps I could learn to come into being otherwise.  It does seem to cause distress.”

Landri reached out hesitantly, and touched the hand that was stretched out to her.  She pulled back in surprise at the sensation.  “So are you made entirely of water then?” she asked rubbing her fingers together, and finding them counterintuitively dry.

“You are mostly,” Taloe laughed, “this is why my people thought it apt to be one with the waters.  We are of the same stuff.”

“I suppose there is truth in that,” Landri said curiously, examining the structure that held the boy together.  She tried to figure out where his aura began, and Kiannae’s ended to very little success.  He appeared to be a living thing, in almost every respect she was used to seeing, just more fragile, ready to come apart on a whim.

“It would help to announce yourself,” Landri said softening her tone, “or at least to not appear behind people.”

“I do apologize, but the space before you was filled, and I suspect any other sound would have startled you as much,” Taloe said defensively.  “I also mistook that Kiannae had announced me.”

“Barely, and not half a second before,” Landri said.

“Ah.  Time is…fluid in the dream.” Taloe shrugged.

“I shall have to take your word on this,” Landri said, “but you are here now.  So I ask again to be more clear, what are your intentions towards Kiannae?”

“You ask because I am a boy, and she a girl.”  Taloe nodded his understanding.  “She mourns a sister, and I a lover.  Though mine died long ago, time…for me is not so simple.  My wounds are still quite fresh.  Though I will not deny she is lovely, I seek nothing more than to comfort a friend to whom I am literally bound.”

Landri considered him, and struggled to read his face.  That his eyes lacked whites, and were the same strange tone as his skin did not help her.

“The moon is at its hight,” Taloe said glancing up, “the night begins to pass, and the day begins to come.”

“How do you know?” Landri asked curiously.

“Because I can feel it, as sure as the tide,” Taloe laughed knowingly.

“Happy birthday to me,” Kiannae mused darkly, and glanced at Taloe, who moved, and sat beside her were Landri had been, and hugged her, as he had seen her do.

Landri watched the interaction suspiciously, shook her head, and got up.  “I will have to think if I will keep this secret.”

“I hope that you will,” Kiannae said, and glanced up at the older woman that stood beside the fire.

“Do you truly trust the others so little?” Landri pressed.

“It is not just a matter of trust,” Kiannae said firmly.  “I am already an outsider, an oddity.  I wish to protect Taloe, but also to not give the others another reason to distrust me.”

“I will leave you two,” Landri nodded, “and I will consider what you have said.”  She started to walk way, glanced back, and again considered the propriety of the situation.  “Please sleep before dawn, Kiannae.  And yes, happy birthday, dear girl.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Hivern 2nd, 647 E.R.

The snow was deep, and soft.  While Katrisha bounded effortlessly through it, Celia found herself trudging rather tediously, even along the path where it was more shallow.  Katrisha leapt, spun, and landed in a snowdrift half as tall as her, which easily cushioned her fall.

“You are crazy,” Celia chided.

“And you are silly,” Katrisha called back.

“One to talk,” Celia countered. “Isn’t that cold?”

“Not really,” Katrisha laughed as Celia trudge up beside her, and stared down into the divot she had made sweeping her arms, and legs.  “Even if it gets a little cold, I just make myself warm.  Can’t you?”

Celia frowned, and tried.  She willed her gift to the surface, and her skin did feel slightly less chilled.  “Yeah, I guess I can.”

“See?” Katrisha laughed.  “Now, have fun with me.”

Celia rolled her eyes, and flopped back into the snowbank beside Katrisha, but did not sink in nearly as much.  “You have a weird idea of fun,” she chided.

Katrisha got up, and stared down at her.  “It’s prettier when you wave your arms, and legs, like I did.  Make snow birds.”

Celia stuck out her tongue, but did as she was bid, then got up to admire her handywork.  “Wherever did you get the idea?”

“Something Princess Maraline did once, and got yelled at by her mother for,” Katrisha said.  “So, I’ve done it ever since.”

Celia laughed.  “You are terrible.”

Katrisha scrunched her nose playfully.  “Laurel doesn’t care, Mercu rolls his eyes, and it made Marline laugh every time.” She bit her lip thoughtfully, and rubbed her chin.  “I have an idea,” she said, and offered her hand to Celia.

“Alright,” Celia said uncertainty, took the hand, and stepped over the lip of snow between them.

Katrisha turned to the path, gathered herself, considered how strong the spell needed to be, and then blasted a patch almost clear of snow sending most of it away in a near perfect arc.  Little compressed beads along force lines left random spokes, little roils of force rippled the edges, and a thick dusting swirled all around them in the backlash.

“Ok, stand here,” she said to Celia, grabbed her by the shoulders, and turned her around.

“What are you doing?” Celia pressed curiously, her eyes still darting to the after effects of the biggest spell she had ever seen.  Cast seemingly on a whim like it was nothing, just something you do.  She was at once impressed, and miffed at the sheer audacity of it, jealous really, and she knew it was that.

“Just stay still,” Katrisha said.

Celia scrunched up her face as Katrisha had done a moment before.

“Keep doing that, and it will stick,” she chided.

“Will not.” Celia stuck out her tongue.

“Keep making silly faces,” Katrisha laughed, “and I will not be held accountable for the consequences.”

Celia could make out parts the spell Katrisha was weaving.  It was complex, unfamiliar, and seemed to be something new Katrisha was devising for how long it was taking.  Katrisha was soon chewing on her lip in thought, trying to work out details.  She then suddenly ran behind Celia, who turned to face her.

“No peeking,” Katrisha snapped playfully.

Celia turned back around in a huff, and crossed her arms.  “Alright, but this better be good.”

“It will be,” Katrisha said, and then audibly took a deep breath.  “I hope.”  There was a pause.  “Are you ready?”

“I guess?”

There was a rush of wind, and more blown snow, and Celia tried not to turn around.

“Ok,” Katrisha said, and Celia spun to see something that was at first perplexing.  It was almost like a mirror in white, a detailed image of herself made of snow.  Some of the finer edges fell away lightly, but the resemblance was uncanny.

Celia laughed, and clapped.  “That’s incredible, do you next.”

Katrisha nodded, and set the spell up on the ground first.  She then wove the other end more confidently than the first time.  Took a breath, and with another whirl of snow falling all around them she turned, and considered the result.  For a moment she seemed rather satisfied, and then a little sad.

Celia was distracted with having seen the spell in action, and took a moment to glance at Katrisha.  “What’s wrong?” she asked, and then instantly realized.  “Oh fates, I’m sorry, I didn’t think.”

“It’s ok,” Katrisha said.  “I’m ok.  I didn’t think either.”

“I have an idea,” Celia said.  “I’m gonna knock these over, and you do it one more time, with both of us.”  Katrisha looked confused, but didn’t protest.  Celia gave both sculptures a shove, and they collapsed almost like they were nothing.  “Ok, now set the spell up again.”

Katrisha set up the part on the ground again, and the third time was by far the easiest as things went with magic.  She then started to form the spell in front of them.

“Just a little closer,” Celia said, and Katrisha stepped sideways, and finished her spell.  Celia grabbed her hand as she saw the spell was almost done, and Katrisha turned to glance at her just as she finished, and absently set it off.  They turned around to find the shape of the moment captured.  The image of the two of them holding hands, and Katrisha’s befuddled expression.  She laughed, and Celia hugged her tightly, and buried her face in Katrisha’s shoulder.  “See, much better.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Laeur 1st, 648 E.R.

Kiannae trod through the deep snow towards the east glade.  The snow was still lightly falling, but a part of her defiantly wanted to be out in the cold, for once.  She didn’t want the sorrow to own her, she wanted to love something that her sister had treasured.  The snow was pretty after all, she thought as she looked out over the unbroken expanse of white, and trees heavily laden under the weight of a thick winter blanket.  She huffed, and watched her breath swirl out before her.

She heard the footsteps following her.  Not for the first time, but she had ignored it.

Zale it seemed had finally decided to make himself known.  “I thought you hated the snow?”

Kiannae turned to glance at him, somewhat cross with his following her as he so often did.  “I don’t like the cold, but I can fight that,” she said.  “Besides Katrisha loved the snow, and I felt I should honor her memory.”

“So what are you planning on?”

“Not really planning anything,” Kiannae said.  “How are you doing at being interesting?”

“Shoddy, it would seem,” Zale offered.

Kiannae laughed, and shook her head.  She closed her eyes, and let her gift wash over her.  She felt for the wind and the snow, she sought a will in the winter air and laden ground.  She became that will.  With a deep breath a gust whipped up over the pair, and without even thinking she lept backwards almost as if the wind had carried her.  She twisted as she came down, and the wind whorled with her.

To Zale it was hard to tell whether the wind drove her, or she the wind.  He watched, and tried to understand.  As she moved the wind picked up, and as it escalated it swirled more, and she spun more.  It was a dance between the woman, and the elements, and hard to look away from.  Yet Zale decided that the sight of it was distracting, and closed his eyes.  His own elemental studies were spotty, but he knew the principle.  He felt for the will of the things around him, and caught a thin thread of something.

Everything seemed to be humming to a single tune, a rhythm that as he opened his eyes he saw matched Kiannae’s movements.  He took a deep breath, more nerves than intention, but he found that the air responded.  He let it out, and almost felt as though he could follow her into the field.  With the next breath he did, and was in her footsteps for several strides, and then he lost himself in the power, and tumbled just slightly off balance into a snowbank.

He sat up slightly, and brushed the snow from his face, and hair.  He shivered, but as his eyes refocused a whirlwind of snow broke before him, and a smiling face of a pretty young girl amidst the falling flakes could ease even the fact that she was clearly amused at his expense.  She held out a hand, and he took it.

“Do you feel it?” Kiannae asked.

“Yes,” he said, though there were several things he felt, the pull of the elements, the cold, a sudden breathlessness that had been building in him for some time.  All of it centered around her.  She was a force of nature in more ways than he could be sure.

As the last of the snow had almost settled she let go, and sprung back into her wild dance.  “Try again!”  She hollered over the whipping wind, and with a deep breath in, and out again he did.

Half the snow from the glade seemed to return to the sky as they danced, and for some time Zale kept his balance, even losing himself to the storm.  He was but an eddy, a single swirling zephyr amidst her power, and though he felt a part of it for a moment, he knew that almost none of it was his own.  When at last the heady euphoria won, he tumbled again into another snowbank, and just lay looking up at what he had been some small part of.

It was unnerving, and beautiful.  It was more than any druid should be capable of, and that worried him.  The things he had seen Kiannae do, the ease with which she did them.  He struggled between an urge to speak with Landri and the others about it, or to keep the confidence of the lovely and powerful young woman in his life.  A part of him wanted to believe it was just magic.  That it was because she was a mage.  Yet he had seen mages, so many in his days on the road.  It wasn’t magic, but it wasn’t druidic.  It was perhaps shamanistic, old shamanic practice at its very height, reborn before his eyes.  He struggled between believing the idea, and refusing it.

Kiannae herself finally let go, and was carried at the very edge of a graceful twirl just off balance, and fell with her eyes closed into what she expected to be soft snow.  Instead she found herself caught in strong arms.  She did not think for a moment as to who had caught her, in part she had expected it somehow to have been Zale, but as her eyes fluttered open she saw instead Taloe gazing down at her.

“Is this you?” she asked dreamily, still half lost in the elements around them.  Feeling the form of them in the breeze as he held her up.

“I do not believe so,” he said doubtfully.  “I had great power over the waters once, but the air was never my domain.”

“I don’t understand.” Kiannae signed. “If it is this easy, then why do mages not practice this?”

“I do not believe it is…easy,” Taloe said, “except for you.  It is very cold,” he said with a shiver.

“Then let me fall into the snow,” Kiannae said, and as soon as the words left her lips he was gone, and a soft pile of snow caught her instead.  For a moment the cold did not bother her, for a moment she felt almost as her sister always had, but that moment did not last.

A blizzard still fell all around, and Kiannae started to struggle to her feet as it was quickly piling up over her.  A hand appeared before her, and she looked up at Zale whose whimsical half smile reminded her just a bit of Mercu.  She closed her eyes for a moment, warmth and melancholy washing over her, and took the hand which lifted her to her feet.

“Am I doing better at interesting?”

“Better,” she laughed, and opened her eyes.  For the first time she found herself truly liking Zale’s presence.  He did remind her of Meruc, his essence felt like a thing of the wind, and at that moment the wind was very close to her own nature.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

“There you two are,” Landri growled at the two teenagers walking into the village.  “What were you thinking, being out there in a blizzard like this?”

“I don’t think it’s a blizzard,” Zale offered.

“What are you talking about?” Landri balked, and gestured at the falling snow.

“We were dancing in the east field,” Kiannae offered.  “I think most of this was whipped up from the wind we called.”

“That’s absurd,” Landri shook her head.

“It is, but it’s also true,” Zale said, almost giddy.  “I’ve kept quiet about some of what I have seen before, but I didn’t just see it, I felt it…I joined with the elements she commanded.”

“Magic,” Landri grumbled.

“It wasn’t,” Zale protested even before Kiannae could.  Which left her both annoyed, but not inclined to call him on speaking for her.

Landri glared at the two incredulously.  “We need to talk,” she finally said, “about the boy, about this gift of yours, about a lot of things.”  She took a breath.  “In the house, both of you.  I want out of this snow fall.”

Kiannae huffed, and stormed off over the tone Landri was taking.  She hadn’t done anything wrong.  She threw the door open, and the other two followed, one irritable, the other sheepish.

“Just what have you seen?” Landri demanded of Zale after she closed the door.

Zale glanced at Kiannae who stood, staring out the window.  He shook his head, and sighed.  “After you started teaching her elemental channeling, she showed me how she danced with the wind.  It was…impressive, but not unbelievable.”

“She has shown me this as well,” Landri agreed.  “She stopped pestering me to teach her, and I thought the matter closed.  I agree it was impressive, but nothing that could cause…this.”  She gestured out the window.

“Later in summer, I found Kiannae when she went missing from a bathing excursion,” he continued.  “She had wandered farther upstream than we normally consider safe.”

“I recall,” Landri said shrewdly, crossing her arms, and waiting for a point to emerge.

“What I never told anyone,” Zale countered, “is when I found her she was five feet above the river in a column of swirling water.”

“Spirit!  I will have words with you!” Landri snapped loudly.

“I don’t know if anyone can just call him like that,” Zale said tentitively.

“Then you call him girl,” Landri growled in Kiannae’s direction.  She barely gave an annoyed sidelong glance.  “Or do you want me to stop keeping this secret?”

Kiannae looked back out the window, and said nothing.  After a long silence Taloe formed from swirling mist, and Zale looked away.  “Gah, it’s worse when there is actually light to see.  Seriously, can’t you manage clothing, please?”

“I will endeavor to do so,” Taloe said, “in future.”

“Did she call you, or did you come on your own?” Landri pressed.

“I try to abide her wishes,” Taloe answered, “but I appear at my own will, and I hear what she does…eventually.”

“Are these powers your doing?” Landri demanded.

“If the gift comes from me, it is beyond my control,” Taloe answered.  “I feel the song of it, the elements at her command, but I suspect not all of it is conscious on her part.”

“The river wasn’t,” Zale agreed.  “From what she said.”

“Alright, fine,” Kiannae snapped.  “I’m tired of being talked about.”

“Then tell me how you do this, if you claim to have really lifted half the snow from the east glade back into the sky,” Landri growled.

“I just do,” Kiannae shrugged, “and I did, or the wind did.  It’s not just me, like you say.  There is a will in the wind, in the snow, in everything all around me.  Once I found it, once I felt it, it was all as you say.  Gods, or whatever they are, the forces of nature, the picture they paint is in strokes so broad that…I think if I lifted the field whole, and dropped it five miles to the north it would make no difference to them.”

“That is absurd,” Landri rubbed her head.  “Power like that, it is the stuff of legends.  No one has seen a druid, nor shaman that powerful since before the founding of the Empire.”

“Now who is making claims?” Kiannae cut back.  “Mages have done more, so much more, why does it need to be something so grandiose?”

Landri shook her head.  “Perhaps you are right,” she huffed, “and perhaps it is time I consented to another of your wishes.”

Kiannae looked confused.  “So we are finally on the same page that I have done nothing wrong?”

“Wrong, no,” Landri consented, “but reckless…almost certainly.  Try not to create any more blizzards?  Show some restraint, and when the spring comes, I will see about granting you audience with the dryads.”

“No more blizzards,” Kiannae agreed with a hesitant nod.  Something in her suddenly longed for what was being offered.  The memory of Mr. Tree almost clear enough to hear, but it slipped away.

Landri turned to Zale.

“What?” he demanded.  “What ever part I played in that, was like a leaf on the wind.”

“Well don’t be,” Landri snapped tersely.  “Not until we have more answers.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Vhalun 38th, 648 E.R.

Celia knocked gently at Katrisha’s door for a second time.  She was relatively sure she could sense Katrisha within, and announced herself for good measure, “Kat, it’s me.”  She was a bit perplexed that Katrisha had not showed up all day in the courtyard.  In the months she had known Katrisha, Celia had known her to be spontaneous in the moment, often late, but still a creature of overarching habit.

Shuffling footsteps finally could be heard, and the door creaked open slightly.  Celia frowned at the miserable disheveled state of her friend when she appeared through a crack in the door.  

“Are you alright?” Celia asked with genuine concern.

Katrisha turned a shade of burgundy, and looked to the floor.

“What’s wrong?” Celia pressed gently.

“I…” Katrisha started, and grimaced a moment.  “I’m bleeding,” she said with a false indifference, becoming a bit more stony in expression.

Celia looked plainly confused for a moment, and then seemed to partly understand.  “Oh,” she said, and seemed to mull it over as though something had not yet made any sense.  “Haven’t you before, didn’t anyone teach you?”

“I knew it would happen,” Katrisha said defensively.  “Just…I don’t know, maybe I convinced myself it wasn’t going to.”

“But didn’t anyone teach you?” Celia pressed again rather intently, but shy of actually explaining what she was asking, and forgetting that Katrisha seemed a bit old for it to be starting then.

“Teach me what?” Katrisha demanded, completely flustered, and bordering on angry.

“They’ve been having Theron teach you,” Celia said suddenly covering her face with her palm, “and he’s a man, and you are so much older…you’ve been ill, and a new user of living magic…and that mentor of yours, the court mage…also a man.  All of them men.  Oh you poor dear…”

“What?” Katrisha asked again, she had started out of patience, and Celia talking around her point was not helping.

“I…” Celia said, gathered herself adopted a calm demeanor.  “Do you trust me?” she  asked.

“Trust you…to what?” Katrisha asked falling back from annoyed into confused.

“To help you,” Celia said with a kind, awkward smile.

“I…guess,” Katrisha said hesitantly, and stepped back, opening the door.

“I’ve never done this before,” Celia said quickly, “not for anyone but myself.  But I can teach you the way I was taught.”  Katrisha looked as though she was about to protest again, but simply let it go.  She did trust Celia, even if she was being infuriatingly obtuse, and not to the point.  Celia caught the expression, winced, and finally explained.  “I’m sorry, I say ‘you poor dear,’ because you have the gift, and if anyone had the foresight to teach you…you don’t need to be in this condition.”

“I don’t?” Katrisha asked cautiously optimistic.  It made sense, but she wasn’t feeling that moment like pleasant sensible things had much of a place in her world.  She had been operating almost entirely on one conversation with Maraline years prior.  She had been working from a premise that when it came around, she was stuck with it.  A princess had been stuck with it, why wouldn’t she.

“Come here,” Celia said softly, opened her arms, and hugged Katrisha close.  After a moment she stepped back, held her at arm’s length, and looked her in the eyes.  “Trust me,” she commanded ernestly, and urged Katrisha to turn around.  Celia stepped up close behind her, took hold of her hand, and placed their hands together on Katrisha’s lower abdomen.  “Pay close attention to what I do,” she said in a metered tone, “just like when they were teaching you before.  Feel what I do, and then when I tell you to, continue.”

Katrisha felt the warmth reach into her, felt the cramps she had been struggling to ignore subside.  “Can you feel your womb,” Celia asked softly.

“I…think so,” Katrisha said hesitantly, and uncomfortably.  It was such a frank word, seemed almost to border on impolite, yet Celia said it almost absently, she was trained to heal, to know anatomy.  It was just a factual word to her.

Celia focused the magic in the area precisely.  “Do you feel that?” she asked again.

“Yes,” Katrisha said with obvious embarrassment.  She was really frustrated that she was bothered.  At any inkling that something was improper in the situation, or her fault, or what she didn’t even know.  She was actually rather angry about how she was feeling, but she couldn’t even think who had taught her that the natural course of events was something untoward, or for that matter a healer, and a friend doing her duty.  Maybe it was just that it was never talked about.  She was quite irate that she didn’t already know what she needed to.  If it had not been for one day that Maraline was utterly miserable, and forward about her condition, Katrisha would have likely panicked, and run to a healer, and been terribly embarrassed…and perhaps on some level she was happier that it would be Celia teaching her.  That was odd solace.

“That is what should be there, should always be there.  That is living tissue,” Celia said taking a deep breath.  “Can you feel the dyeing part, the part your body wants to be rid of?”

“Yes,” Katrisha said uncertainty, and shivered slightly at the sudden sense of foreignness that the dying tissue gave her, she wanted it gone.

“Feel it be reabsorbed,” Celia said as her hand moved slightly, and she worked her gift deep within Katrisha’s body, “feel it break down, and return to you.”  Slowly Katrisha could feel the foreignness, the strange cold dark sensation fade, it became part of her again, the tiniest bit at a time.

Celia worked for a good ten minutes, and then suddenly stopped.  “Do you think you can take over?” she asked giving Katrisha a gentle squeeze.

“Yes,” Katrisha said with false calm.

“I’ll make sure you don’t get it wrong,” Celia said comfortingly, and with confidence.  “I’ve been doing this for over a year.  Twice a month.”

“Ok,” Katrisha said as she started again where Celia had left off.  She could feel Celia’s gift guide hers, until finally it was simple second nature to continue.

“It’s strange,” Celia mused after a moment.  “Something my mother told me.  A piece of trivia, but it’s strange now that I think about it.  This is one of very few natural conditions that can be remedied with simple healing.  I wonder why.”

“You can’t heal things that are…” Katrisha began as she thought back.  “Wait yes, I think I did know that.  Moriel, he wears these funny little things on his nose because his eyes are just that way, or something.”

“Yes, simple healing is restorative, it can only do what the body was naturally inclined to do.  It takes magic, usually shaper magic, to fully correct congenital flaws.”

“Now you are the one using words I don’t know,” Katrisha protested.

“Seems fair for once,” Celia laughed, and it eased Katrisha’s worries greatly.

“Maybe it’s just like skipping over the winter,” Katrisha offered.  “Just moving along around the seasons.”

“You like the winter though,” Celia chided.

“Fall then,” Katrisha cut back playfully.  It hung a moment in silence between them, until they both broke down laughing.

“Enough of that,”  Celia said sternly when they had both recovered.  “Let’s finish this.”

For another ten minutes they stood like that, until at last Katrisha felt nothing within her that her body wanted to reject.

“Thank you,” Katrisha said and, let herself melt into the continued embrace.  She turned and looked Celia in the eye, and then hugged her tightly, leaning her head against her friends.  “Thank you so very much,” she said with palpable relief.

Celia leaned back, and smiled with a bit of a strained expression, and seemed to search Katrisha’s gaze for something.  “You are welcome,” she laughed reservedly, “after all the teaching you’ve done for me, it was the least I could do.”  She hesitated a moment more, bit her lip, and let go of Katrisha.  “I should go,” she said measuredly, “mother was expecting me this evening..and…yeah I should go.”

“Are you sure?” Katrisha asked a bit confused by the sudden shift.

“Yeah,” Celia said awkwardly.  “I’ll see you…” she added, and then left rather promptly.

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