Stories and Healing

Lyra took a deep breath. “A glorious tale, Emir, and masterfully told, I worry though, that recounting it to Prince Altair will pull his attention to people and places who would rather stay unnoticed.”

The old man shrugged. “It’s old news now, and never was a secret, I daresay you could find varying reports of the encounters from traders and travellers all across the Western Chain, but it’s the older ones who know. Much is forgotten in twenty years.”

Lyra nodded thoughtfully, then remembered he couldn’t see her movements. “True indeed, I will speak to others, spread my net, and blur the tale with time.”

She stood and bowed, even though Emir couldn’t see the gesture, Jakob would. “Thank you, Emir, your story is a treasure I will save and spend most carefully.”

She straightened. “And now I must check on my most worrying patients. See whether a desert remedy is succeeding where our Carran treatments have struggled.”

Emir waved her off. “I visit The Sanctuary most days, if you need more tales of the desert, you know where to find me.”

Lyra turned to Jakob with heartfelt thanks, he stood and bowed. “A pleasure, and Timon and I wish you luck with your challenge.”

She pinched out a tight smile in response and, once out of sight, paused for an internal debate on whether to return to the library, or to the gryphon-gouged patients. She couldn’t provide the level of skill and care the healers could manage, but the woman would not leave her mind.

“Well now, that was an interesting little tale, wasn’t it, but did you have to tell him my story in trade?” Lyra swallowed a screech as Daania materialised out of a darkened doorway. Dressed in the dull, shapeless tunic of a scrubber, she’d changed her colouring to blend in with the quiet workers, scurrying through the halls and paths of The Sanctuary like so many ants.

Lyra replied. “He’s an elder, and a well-travelled trader. Can you think of any story, other than yours, that he wouldn’t have already heard ten times over?”

Daania tossed her head and disappeared.

Lyra headed for the treatment wing. She turned into the corridor where her patient’s room was located and saw Chief Healer Anissa leaving the room.

She ran to catch her. “Are they worse?”

Anissa turned at Lyra’s call. “Quite the contrary, that poultice you concocted seems to have been exactly the treatment required. They’re not out of danger yet but both are stable and sleeping calmly.”

Anissa added. “I’m hoping one or both will be lucid enough in the next few days to make a decision on that phoenix feather. Word of it is spreading like the Everflow in flood and I want it out of our care before someone does something stupid.”

She steered Lyra away from the room. “Let them rest and tell me what else you’ve found in that book.”

Lyra replied. “Nothing I can connect to other treatments we may find useful, but I still have more than half the book to read, it’s hard to understand in places, so takes time.”

Anissa looked thoughtful. “I’d like you to take the time. There may be nothing else of use in there, but we need to know. I’ll have the still room manager set up a work area for you.”

“I’ll need to use the library as well, and possibly visit the markets.”

The chief healer raised a brow. “For cures, or tales?”

Lyra said. “Both. If you want me available and able to decipher the book, I have to avoid the prince’s wrath. And this time, that means stories.”

Anissa didn’t look pleased, but she didn’t disagree. “Start in the still room tomorrow, I’ll leave the rest to your judgement.”

Lyra bowed and, since Anissa had led them almost to the Sanctuary’s main entrance, she went home.

She wasn’t a qualified healer; she was a bored merchant’s sister playing at the role. She was lucky the staff of The Sanctuary found her presence useful, and allowed her to learn as she helped, but the removal of her patients stung. How would she know if they were alright? If they were getting better or worse? She’d simply have to drop by the rooms and check how the poultice and the soothing balm she’d made were being administered as part of her research.

She spent the early part of the evening wandering the dockside markets, listening to news and gossip from sailors and traders recently arrived from ports across the Shifting Seas. As dusk gave way to full night, and the language became more lurid, she joined Kore and a group of other merchant women at the city’s finest bath house. The bathing was an excuse for food, conversation, and entertainment, and the women there were full of advice on the best storytellers among the desert traders. Some had stories of their own to tell, so Lyra listened and learned.

The following ten days fell into a deceptively soothing pattern. The still room in the morning, the cool recesses of the library in the heat of the day, then back to the still room by way of the treatment wing, and finally stories and gossip in the markets and shops across the eastern half of Carra.

If she wasn’t chasing stories to avoid the same fate as the whipped stable boy, she would have enjoyed the time. As it was, she felt the sand trickling through the pinch in the time-glass and fretted and scribbled well into the night, trying to piece together stories unusual enough to catch the Prince’s interest, but not so detailed he’d chase down the source.

Emir’s story was still the best, the most intriguing, and she scrambled for other tales capable of blurring its lines and softening the focus into something less traveller’s tale and more legend.

She continued to study the book but failed to find any recipes as useful as the first two. There was a cleansing cream the healers had shrugged their shoulders over, an obscure and confusing treatment for sight loss, and a series of herbal tonics  that sounded promising but Lyra felt the book had yielded its greatest treasures in its first few pages.

The two gryphon-scored patients were on their way to recovery, although they avoided even looking south, to the desert. Their plan was to take the money they’d made on selling the phoenix feather, leave Carra, and travel north. The further north, the better.

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