Sonja opened the door and looked up. “Colm, Marion,” She said. Mama smiled. “It's been too long Sonja,” she said and stepped forward to hug the wizard. Sonja embraced her back warmly and invited them in.
Colm patted Sonja shoulder in a kind fashion as they walked inside and said “we brought tea,” pulling a small rosewood box out of his satchel and handing it to Sonja.
“I should hope so. that's the only thing you healers are good for.”
“As long as you can figure out how to boil water without making it explode,” Colm responded. They walked down the hall and into Sonja's kitchen. Like her workshop, Sonja's kitchen was spotlessly clean, although this room was much older. the flagstones were worn in grooves where generations had walked from counter to oven to table. the walls were newly plastered and whitewashed, though, and the broad beams supporting the roof had been recently scrubbed and stained. Sonja's kitchen was twice the size of Mama's, even though Sonja cooked little and almost never baked. Marion went to the stove, checked the fire marble, and put a teapot on, then retrieved cups from Sonja's cupboard with easy familiarity. Sonja fetched honey from her pantry and cream from her cold room. Colm filled the kettle with water he brought in from the well and put the rest in a pitcher in the cold room, then they all sat down. the kettle rattled comfortably on its way to boiling.
For a few minutes nobody spoke. Silence was not uncomfortable simple acknowledgment of ea other's presence was already established and in some ways it was nice to just see eye to eye without introducing outside topics. The kettle whistled and Colm rose, retrieved it, and poured hot water onto the leaves in each of the three cups at the table, then set the kettle on a trivet.
Sonja watched the colors steep and flow through the water in her cup, then let a generous dollop of honey fall into the fragrant brew. At length she asked, “why local honey?” And Marion laughed.
Colm smiled and helped himself to some honey as well. “tell me, how often do you come in contact with honey that isn't from a local hive? Where would anyone around here even get foreign honey?” Sonja considered and then nodded curtly.
“It was Marion's idea, really. Honey is good, and it's possible it's mildly good for you in some ways. But really it makes the medicine taste better and helps people feel like they're following the healer's orders exactly, which also seems to help them heal.”
“So it's a trick?” Sonja half-asked, half-stated.
“Not entirely,” Colm said. “It's a way to engage the patient's mind in their own cure. And it really does make them more likely to take their entire dose of medicine.”
“Yes, it's a trick,” Said Marion and smiled fondly at her husband. Sonja made a noise that sounded like exactly one-eight of a laugh and raised her honey-infused tea to her lips. “To your good health,” She said and took a gentle sip.
After they had all taken a few sips Colm said, “So, it's happening again.” Sonja and Marion nodded.
“That Kaelyn. Sharp, eager, her eyes are bright.” Sonja said.
“We are very proud of her,” Marion said. “And what about Mason?” Colm asked. “I really did mean to get to know your latest apprentice, but the days get shorter.”
Sonja took another sip before answering. “He is quite eager to prove his worth.” She said.
“To you, to Kaelyn, or to the town?” Colm asked.
“Yes.” Sonja responded, and continued after a moment. “Did you know the blond one would be the one?”
“We knew Daisy was special, but no, I don't think either the Master or I suspected,” Marion responded.
“I worry about her; If I had known this was going to happen I would have prepared her more. I fear my teaching was focused more on Kaelyn. Daisy has always been less of a healer and more...well, I should have seen the signs. her skill with herbs and cures has always been too lyrical, too ethereal” Marion patted his hand.
“You've had other apprentices like this, it's easy to see it as a part of their personality. She could have just been on the same road as Kaelyn.”
“Thank you, Mama.” Colm said and smiled at his wife.
Sonja watched them for a moment and asked. “Do they need our help?”
“We'll let them ask, I think,” Colm said. “Neither my master nor your magister interfered when it was our turn, nor Marion's Elder, and he knew what was going better than any of us.”
“I suppose. It's hard to watch, though.” Sonja said.
there was a noise in the workshop; two voices, Mason's and Kaelyn's. The conversation bordered on an argument.
”...sure you're right, I just don't entirely like the way he talks to me...people,” Mason said.
“He's not perfect, and I'll be honest, he gets on my nerves a little as well, but he's got direct knowledge about this sort of thing—”
“How? he never leaves that church.”
“Mason, is there something else wrong?”
“No, no, look, I'm sorry, Kay. I shouldn't have said anything, I'm just...I guess I'm still jumpy from the cave earlier.”
Kaelyn's heart jumped when Mason used the more familiar version of her name but she tried to hide it. Fortunately it was in that moment that the older generation entered the room.
“Master? Mama? What are you doing here?” Kaelyn asked.
“Visiting,” Marion said as she approached the Sojourner and gave her a hug. “And what have you two been doing?”
“Magister, my calculations were correct. the echoes were from the same source, we found the cave...” Mason began, and with several changes of narration they told the story of their discovery and brief attempt to enter the cave.
“So then we went to talk to Ellis, the priest. He told us more about how Chaos and Order interact...mostly,” Kaelyn finished Colm nodded slowly. Marion smiled quietly. Colm was almost entirely believable in his “old sage” act; even to her. It was funny to watch him fall back into it after being more himself with just Sonja and herself.
“May I see this book of his?” Colm asked, and Kaelyn led him to the workbench where it sat centered between the sigils.
After a few moments he said “Sojourner? Come and tell me if you see what I see here.” Kaelyn came to his side, looking at the book.
“How much of this did you read?” he asked and Kaelyn thought. “A few pages is all, really. I have been meaning to read more, but once we found the cave we felt that perhaps we had learned as much as we needed from this text...” She trailed off.
“From the text? Perhaps. The mind that wrote this isn't well. But I wonder if you observed the writing as closely as you might have done.”
Kaelyn leaned closer, “Well...it's written with an uneven hand, using an old nib,”
“And the ink?” Colm asked, stepping back.
“Um, I assumed it was a poorly made iron gall ink, too much iron,”
“It is definitely higher in iron than a regular ink,” Colm said.
“Oh, you're right. Oh. Oh no.” Kaelyn said and sat down.
“What?” Mason asked.
“He used...he made blood ink. You can't just use blood, it wouldn't work right. He made an ink out of blood. It would have taken forever, you can only make small batches.” Kaelyn said and looked away.
“But what can we learn from this, Sojourner?” Colm asked, looking at her with patient eyes, leading her slowly to the answer as he had always done.
“If...oh, okay, yes. If the blood he used...was his own, we have his name and his blood. Master Colm, this is all the worse given what he wrote with this...ink. His ideas about blood are...unpleasant.” But Kaelyn was already opening her satchel. She turned to the end of the index, the last written page, and carefully tore the page out of the book. Moving the book to the side, but still within the bounds on the table, she scattered a fine dusting of ground herbs across the sheet and held her hands just above the paper. The words glowed a dim white under her hands and she uttered a short rhyme, used to help those who were injured and couldn't speak.
You who have passed through heart and mind And into sunlight your way did find, Speak ye now your heart's complaint Free as you are from mortal restraint.
The paper started to smoke, but they could hear, quietly, as from a great distance, Brant's voice. In a terrified whisper it said, “Who are you? Who is there? Whoever it is, you must free me, help me, he's taking me over, he's stealing my entire life, help me!”
And the glow of the words flared from white to red, the paper suddenly consumed in a short blast of flame.