This is the second in the trilogy published by DiskUs Publishing and was a finalist in the Dream Realm awards.
The Brotherhood of Mages
(Book 2 of the Jewels of Earda)
© 2005 By
Janet Lane Walters
The Way of the Healers
Much is demanded of a Healer and inner peace is her only reward. She must seek neither power nor wealth. To walk in the Way is difficult and not all succeed.
When a Healer names a man as Chosen, she must leave the House for she must think only of her craft and those who need her care. If she elects to depart, her knowledge of the healing arts will be stripped from her mind. She will be left with only those skills known to commoners who do not follow the Way.
Jindera left the herb storage hut and strode toward the cottage. Clouds dimmed the morning sun, then slid away. The leaves of the oka trees rustled in the summer breeze and the mingled scents of herbals and seasonings swirled around her. The coming of clouds meant a storm approached, but she felt certain no rain would fall this day.
Would the medicinals she would brew from the herbals she'd selected be of any help? She could only hope. All night, she'd fought the fever raging through her mother's body and had seen no change.
Mama, why did you leave the Healers' House? Her mother could have remained and raised her children with the sons and daughters of the other Healers. On his tenth birthday, Jindera's twin would have been sent to his father. But Jindera's mother had chosen to leave. Love for a man had been her reason.
Tears blurred Jindera's sight. She had loved her father dearly. His death seven lunars before had brought sadness to a home where love had ruled.
Rays of sunlight glinted on the golden stones of the cottage and brightened the dull yellow of the thatch. Jindera hurried along the garden paths that meandered among the beds of herbals and seasonings.
The plants flourished. Lajin's touch, she thought. Her brother had only to tend any ailing plant and it thrived. She paused at the cottage door and peered along the road from the village. Her twin should return soon with the staples he'd gone to fetch.
The stench of illness pervaded the room where her mother lay on a narrow cot. Jindera's breath caught. For a moment, she thought her mother had left this plane without the blessing to release her.
Holding back a sob, Jindera fled to the kitchen to blend a fever potion. She carried the mug of steaming liquid to the sick room and spooned the medicinal into her mother's mouth. A drop or two fell on the linen sheet and spread like the tears Jindera held inside. She inhaled deeply. She had to hold grief and fear at bay. When the mug was empty, she rested her head on the edge of the mattress and prayed the remedy would work.
She jerked awake. How long had she slept? The light in the room told her 'twas near midday.
The rasp of labored breathing filled her ears. She felt her own breaths fall into the same pattern. She raised her head and turned toward the door. Where was Lajin? She tried to reach him on the inner path where they could speak in secret. Flight. Fear. What had happened to him? Her hands and body shook. His fear or hers?
Jindera rose and looked outside. The fragrant scents of the garden brought a welcome calmness to her troubled spirit. 'Twas a false hope. If Mama dies, what will Lajin and I do? Having but sixteen years, they weren't old enough to hold the land.
She heard a rasping cough and turned back to the cot. Her mother's eyes were open. A wave of hope spread through Jindera. "Mama."
"Leave. You. Lajin. Soon. Danger comes."
"We can't leave you without saying the blessing."
"Must." Racking spasms shook her mother's body.
"Mama, don't talk."
"Must. Once. Three sisters."
Jindera listened to her mother's halting words. A grandsire who was a Master Mage. Mama born on the desert and leaving with her older sister for a Healers' House. How her two sisters wanted power and schemed to obtain control of others. One who had talent. One who had none. Mama who had talent and wanted love.
"Ralor. Comes. Hurt. You. Lajin. No Healers' House. Not good."
"Mama, be still." Jindera pressed her hands against her mother's shoulders.
"Starflowers. For Ralor. Make tea. He sleep. Then flee. Remember, danger from Healers."
Jindera chewed on her lower lip to keep from crying. The door opened and for an instant, she feared her father's brother had arrived. The garden, the guardianship, the cottage would pass to him and to the one the Healers sent to tend the garden. The door opened. She turned.
Lajin stood in the doorway. His flushed face and panting breaths told her he'd been running. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"Black robes in the village. Taking boys. What will I do if they come here?"
Jindera shivered. The mages would learn about Lajin's talent for nurturing plants. They would take him. "You must flee to the forest and hide. Go now."
He knelt on the other side of the cot. "Not until we say the blessing."
"Son. Daughter. Go."
Jindera grasped her mother's hand. Lajin took the other. "Mama."
The heavy breathing slowed, then stopped. Had she willed her death?
Jindera's voice joined Lajin's. "Fare well, Mother. May the sun shine on your days and the moons light your nights. Let your shade depart and do not hover between this plane and the next."
Jindera met her brother's gaze. "You must go. I'll follow."
"The grave must be dug."
"Lajin, why must you linger? You heard Mama. You must go."
The door of the cottage slammed against the wall. Jindera saw the man in the doorway and shivered.
Her uncle grasped the frame. "So she's passed. The land and you are mine." His slurred speech spoke of drunkenness. He pointed to Lajin. "Boy, dig the grave. I would see her in the earth before sunset. Should have time before they come."
"Who comes?" Jindera asked.
"Mages," Ralor said.
"Why?" Lajin asked.
Ralor laughed. "For you. Do you think I want to live with one who in time will challenge me for the land? The Healers usually send their elderly to spend their last years in a garden. Such a one would be no threat. Girl, to the kitchen. I would eat."
Jindera sought her twin on the inner path. Go to the forest. I'll fetch the packs. When he's at his meal, I'll follow.
Lajin shook his head. I'll see Mama in the earth before I leave.
Why must you be so stubborn? Your pack will be at the kitchen door. Take it and flee before 'tis too late.
She hurried to the kitchen and pulled the soup kettle from the warming shelf. She hung it over the fire. In the pantry, she grabbed the packs she and Lajin had prepared and tossed them into the yard. On a cutting board, she put roast antel, cheese, bread and the last of the appa pie.
"Uncle, the food is ready." She dished the soup and filled a mug with kaf. After she finished serving Ralor, she slipped out the back door and lugged the packs to where Lajin dug the grave. "Go now."
He lifted a shovel of dirt. "Not 'til Mama lies beside Papa. We'll go tonight when Uncle's sleeping."
"How can you be so sure he won't hear us creep from the loft? What if the mages come? Mama is beyond our care. She bade us leave." Jindera's hands clenched. Why didn't he feel afraid?
"If they come, I'll hide." Lajin continued to dig. "Mayhap Uncle lies and 'tis tragon speaking."
Jindera frowned. Ralor had been drunk. "Then I must go into the forest."
"To gather starflowers to make sure he sleeps." She grabbed her brother's shoulders. "I wish you'd leave now. I have the feeling trouble comes." She groaned. He had that stubborn look she hated.
"We go together." He jammed the shovel into the earth.
She saw the tear-tracks on his face. He grieved, too, but his eyes showed a determination to have his way. "Come with me."
He shook his head. "When I'm finished and Uncle sleeps."
She wanted to thump him on the head, though what good would a blow do? When he had these stubborn notions, there was no way to move him. "Take care. I won't be long. Mama told me things you should know.'
She ran toward the line of dark trees. Something puzzled her. Where had Ralor gotten the coins to buy tragon? Since her father's death, her uncle had lived at the cottage and earned enough from the sale of milk and eggs to buy brew. Had he some scheme involving the garden? Once he was named land holder, one third of the herbals and seasonings would be his. She and Lajin would be little more than servants. But her uncle had said the mages were coming. Didn't Ralor know her twin was the one with Mama's touch with plants?
Jindera sighed. She wished she'd been blessed with the talent. Her abilities lay in the blending of herbals into medicinals and knowing what an ailing person needed. Mama had called her a Healer born. Yet she knew without training, she couldn't practice except in the village. Her parents had refused to send her to a Healers' House and her mother's learning had been blocked when she'd left the Way.
As the dim light of the forest surrounded her, Jindera set aside her grief and scented the air for the dulcet yet spicy aroma of starflowers. She needed enough blossoms to brew a sleeping tea so she and Lajin could escape.
In a small clearing where sunlight dappled the surface of a pond, she found clusters of the pale flowers. With care not to pull the roots from the ground, she collected a bunch. The aroma soothed her grief.
For a moment, she leaned against an oka and breathed the scent. Where would she and Lajin find a refuge? Though Mama had cautioned against the Healers was there another choice? Any Healers' House would take her, but her twin was too old. Since the Houses were located in towns, she wondered if he could find work nearby. His ability to coax plants to provide rich harvests should excite any farmer.
Jindera straightened and started back to the garden. As she neared the forest's edge, she heard shouts.
Jindera, help me. They want to take me. Lajin's plea on the inner path startled her. She stumbled and nearly fell.
In order to see what occurred, she dropped the starflowers and climbed an oka. She saw Lajin struggling with several black-robed men. Don't fight. I'll follow and help you escape.
Now. Help me before they make me one of them.
Stay calm. I'm coming.
No. Flee. 'Tis you --"
Lajin's voice ceased abruptly. With a suddenness that made her gasp, pain shot through her head. Feeling dizzy, Jindera clung to the rough bole of the tree. Where was her twin? She couldn't see or hear him. He couldn't be dead.
The mages mounted their horned horses. As they rode away, she climbed to the ground. Not caring that she trampled the plants, she ran across the herb beds. She stumbled over her uncle's body and nearly toppled into the grave. Tendrils of smoke rose from the house. She grabbed the packs.
"Girl, help me. They lied."
"Who, Uncle?" She dropped the packs and knelt beside him.
"Black robes. Bought me tragon. Asked about you and your brother. Took him. Wanted you. Told them no. One stabbed me." He groaned.
She examined the gaping abdominal wound and noted the pool of blood around him. She had neither the knowledge nor the skill to mend the torn flesh. "I can't do anything. I'll run to the village for help." She swallowed several times to keep from losing her morning meal.
"Too late." His moan rose to a scream, then died in a whimper.
With a whoosh, the thatch of the cottage blossomed with flames. Long fingers of fire thrust into the air. Showers of sparks took flight.
Jindera tried to drag her uncle away. She fell into the grave. When she crawled out, he was dead. Bits of burning thatch fell on the paving stones. Would the garden take fire?
She grabbed the packs and ran. At the edge of the garden, she turned. The flames had died. A pillar of black smoke stained the sky. Jindera collapsed on the ground. Everyone and everything that had been hers was gone. She rested her head against her bent knees. Exhaustion swamped her.
A voice on the inner path. Lajin?
Not her twin. The voice repeated the command. Where? The order was the only answer. Who wanted her? She couldn't abandon her twin. She rose, wavered and nearly fell. She had to find a place to sleep. Then she would decide where to go.
She looked around. The clouds seemed heavier. Would the storm begin this night?
The fire hadn't spread beyond the stones separating the herb and seasoning beds from the cottage. The herb hut on the far side of the garden had been spared. So had the meadow where the antels grazed. With leaden steps, she made her way to the one room building.
Jindera burrowed beneath a pile of sacks. Lajin! Still no response. He lived. She would know if he'd left this plane. When she woke, she would search out the mages and steal her brother from them. Soft tears began and continued until she slept.