Morning at The Sanctuary

Her first duty of the day was to tend to the three adventurers from the Battlements, except, when she entered the room, she found the middle bed empty. The Southern healer was already there, assembling bandages, water and poultices. He followed her gaze and shook his head sadly. “His soul was taken by the Moon Queen’s Hounds just before the dawn. May he find peace and the treasure he truly seeks in the next world.”

Lyra crossed her hands over her chest and bowed to the empty space. “May the sun watch over him at night and the moon protect him in the day.”

The two stood in silence for a moment, then the healer shook himself and said. “Now, we need to do what we can to keep these two from following their friend too soon.”

Lyra pulled on a protective over-tunic and set to work on her patient from the day before, unwrapping the bandages and carefully washing the poultice away. The wounds were ugly, weeping gashes, surrounded by hot, red skin and they smelled like a butcher’s refuse bin.

Lyra gagged and retreated to tie a pouch filled with pungent herbs over her nose and mouth before resuming her work. Scraps of the desert healer’s notes floated through her mind as she washed, and dried and reapplied the thick paste meant to draw out the toxin.

She paused, chasing a particular memory, then washed her hands, pulled down her mask, and fetched the book. The healer frowned until Lyra explained. “There was something in here about drawing out deep poison. Anissa said this book came from one of the links in the Emerald Chain closest to The Battlements, so this might be the type of wounds the writer was talking about.”

She found the page and read the treatment and recipe for a different type of poultice aloud. The southern man listened, then stood a moment in thought. He lifted his head and told her. “It makes sense and can’t do any worse than what we’re applying now. Take it to the still room and see what you can do about making up a batch. Have them send one of their students to me in your place.”

Lyra hugged the book as she wound through the colonnades to the rooms where the medicines were prepared. She reported her task and the request of the senior healer to the chief attendant, who grumbled but sent a protesting student off to the treatment wing, then assigned one of his more experienced helpers to Lyra’s recipe.

It took several attempts, the desert healer’s directions and measures were often ambiguous, but they managed to produce a sticky paste with a strong, astringent scent that matched the description in the book.

The pair of them returned to the treatment room to find both patients deteriorating rapidly. The junior still-room assistant left the room almost before they’d entered it, his colleague staring after him with a sneer. “That one should never have come here, he refuses to understand that healing involves patients as well as brews and potions.”

She brushed past Lyra and put the bowl she’d been carrying on the table beside the other healing tools and then asked to hear the treatment section again. The two healers followed the directions Lyra read out, removing the dressings in place and replacing them with the new mixture.

Lyra said. “It’s not meant to be in place for long, you need to change it every hour or so to remove the infection as it’s pulled out.”

The senior healer nodded as he watched the remaining male patient. “Make a copy of those pages, one we can read, we’re going to need more of this stuff.”

The still room assistant blew out a breath. “Good thing it’s all easy, common ingredients, we’re likely to be going through quite a bit of it if it works.”

Every patient room had a supply of pens, ink and paper, so Lyra did as she was asked, then found herself kindly dismissed, the older healer saying. “This is going to be long and messy work, I’d rather you were able to focus yourself on that book, see if there are other remedies and treatments to help us in there.”

Lyra felt guiltily relieved as she bowed, removed the mucky over-tunic and left for the library. Jakob found her there after the heat of midday had waned and took her to meet his grandfather.

They found him sitting on a wide, shaded terrace, beside a small pond with bright, darting fish and a waterfall.

Jakob murmured as they approached. “Grandpa Emir can’t see, he likes the sound of the water, says it’s better music than any oud could produce.”

The old man’s head turned in their direction. “I may be peering at the world through storm clouds these days, Jakob, but my hearing is just fine. Who are you trying to explain me to?”

Jakob grinned, then took his grandfather’s outstretched hand, pressing the back of it to his forehead. “Lyra is a friend in need of stories, I told her you hold some of the most fascinating tales in the Empire.”

The old man scoffed but couldn’t hide his pleased smile. He tipped his head, angling an ear towards them. “And can this Lyra speak for herself?”

Lyra smiled and replied. “I can indeed, sidi, and have been looking forward to meeting you.”

The old man said. “None of this formality if you please, I’m far too old to have girls with pretty voices reminding me of it. You may call me Emir.”

He was utterly charming, and she readily took one of the seats he waved towards, as he said. “I stubbed my toe on a couple of other chairs over there, so sit on them as hard as you can to pay them back.”

He tipped his head again, then relaxed back into his seat as they made themselves comfortable. “Now why is it you need stories? Or are you the Lyra I’ve been hearing about, the one who’s caught the eye of the Clawed Prince.”

Lyra could hide her jerk of surprise, or her sharp inhale. He nodded. “So that is you. And he wants stories from you?”

“Yes, I have two weeks before he next visits and while my brother insists the usual nursery and street corner tales will be sufficient, I believe otherwise.”

Emir stroked his neatly trimmed beard, mahogany-dark fingers moving over hair as white as the clouds on her dress. “It is always safer to be prepared, I’m told. Are you looking for any kind of tale in particular?”

Lyra looked down at her hands and replied. “I’m helping treat some patients wounded by the creatures of The Battlements. I can’t pull my mind from them.”

“Ahhh, and that’s why my grandson thought of me. Yes, I do have stories, although I’d ask you not to write them down. Old superstition you understand.”

She’d heard the same from her Grandmother and said so. Emir smiled. “Desert family was she? I’m handing these on to the right person then.”

He looked to where Jakob was sitting, his blank, white stare uncannily accurate. “Can you fetch some tea for us, my boy? You’ve heard these stories and the telling is thirsty work.”

Jakob smiled, and stood, then bowed. “It’s always an honour to visit and serve, Grandfather.”

Emir snorted, laughed, and waved him off. “Go and run my errands, irreverent grandson, I cannot think why I’m so fond of you.”

It made Lyra’s heart hurt to watch them. Why couldn’t she have family like that? Even when her parents were alive, they were distant and formal, to each other as well as their children. Her mother had been loving when Lyra had been small but then a wall had come down and she’d never known why. What would it have been like to grow up among people who took joy in each other’s company?

As Jakob disappeared through a door at the end of the terrace, Emir propped his elbows on the arms of his chair and clasped his hands across his stomach. “I will trade you a tale for a tale. What is the story you best remember from your grandmother?”

That was easy, Lyra folded her hands into her lap, checked she was sitting straight, as Grandmother had directed, and launched into the story of the magic girl in the ring. She didn’t mention Daania, although she did tell of Khalik’s frustration when he snatched the ring from her and found it empty.

Emir was chuckling when she finished. “An entertaining story, well-told. I hope one day you’ll feel able to tell me how your ring’s occupant was able to avoid your brother.”

Lyra was glad there was no one to see the flush heating her cheeks as Emir sat straighter, echoing the posture she’d settled into while telling her story.

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