This is likely my last excerpt from The Healer as I'll be switching gears to promote Proof Of Their Sin in May. If you haven't printed the Map of Kerfdom and Character Guide, please check them out now. (Warning: the Character Guide contains spoilers!) Book clubs, I haven't forgotten you; there's a Reading Guide too.
Setup: Previous excerpts have taken us from the opening, to Vaun and Athadia waking on the trail while traveling back to Vaun's village. He then reports to his brother King Elden, who allows Vaun to keep Athadia as his captive. Below, she has come into his home, meets his sons and we begin to see how this arrangement will progress.
She glanced at Vaun. She had forgotten her position when she had extended her hand to Lanick. The fact Vaun insisted on completing a formal greeting puzzled her, but he offered no insight, keeping his gaze hard and firm on Lanick.
A power struggle, she realized, and tentatively rested her fingertips on Lanick’s because she wanted to know his potential, but no Alvian energy leapt at her. As the other boys offered their bows she learned neither Fedor nor Yavin possessed healing ability either, but the youngest...
Mekel straightened abruptly. His smile brightened as his fingers closed around the tips of her own. His talent, whimsical and light as a winged nectar-sip, tugged gently at hers.
Athadia disciplined hers, not wanting to flood and startle him with the strength of her power, but a willowy and brief exploration told her he enjoyed good health and only peripheral awareness of the sliver of talent he owned. She left it at that and released him.
He said something and Vaun answered, then translated.
“He says your hand is very warm. I told him it’s because you were at the fire.”
The fire was not yet lit, and he ought to question why Mekel was the only one who noted the heat of her energy. Athadia smiled at the boy again, near tears with joy that he was another Latent, evidence of Vaun’s ability to pass along his traits.
“I imagine over time...” Vaun frowned. “Your healing ways will upset the village. Avoid demonstrations of it.”
Once again she struggled with the dilemma of enlightening Vaun to his heritage. She would have to tell him at some point, but judging by the way he wished to downplay her talent, he wouldn’t welcome the news.
As he turned his attention to his sons, a new yet familiar dilemma struck her. How could she ask Vaun to The Circle when it meant abandoning his Null children?
~ * ~
Vaun spent the afternoon catching up with his boys, distracting them with questions of their own antics while he’d been away so they wouldn’t ask too many about Athadia. He did his best to keep her out of sight as well, leaving her alone in his curtained bedroom with a bucket of water and the clean, if worn brown dress one of the castle servants had supplied her. The arrangement would work in the long run. She would accept her new circumstances in time.
Meanwhile, he listened with only half an ear to Mekel’s account of a fishing expedition onto the ice. The rest of him focused on the sound of water wringing from a cloth. He no longer had men’s lives to worry about or hostile territory to cross. Or a knowing audience for his lust. He allowed his hunger for Athadia to amplify with each whispered movement of soft rag against flesh.
Eventually she emerged washed and combed, her skin smooth and holding the warm glow of sunset on autumn leaves. She carried the bucket of dirty water, her small stature struggling with the awkward, heavy load. Reyda had been more robust and had had servants to do for her.
He took the bucket and set it on the floor near the sink. “My queen has sent a meal,” he said, showing her the basket on the table, not mentioning that Fallon had likely supplied it because she worried Athadia would poison them at the first opportunity.
“Shall I serve it?” she asked in a pensive voice.
“Thank you.” He watched her, his desire waning under concern. He kept searching his mind for another option to the way things had turned out, but couldn’t find one so he shouldn’t feel such gnawing guilt, but he did.
Perhaps the guilt rose from not entirely regretting this result.
“You’ll eat with us,” he said.
She scanned the modest dishes then shook her head. “I don’t eat animals.”
“You need to eat something.”
“Yes, but not now.” She bent to attend the fire.
The boys glanced up from their sparsely filled plates. Manners learned at the castle kept them waiting for Vaun’s permission to begin. He pulled out the single chair at the head of the table and sat, signaling them to eat but still bothered. He didn’t want to treat her as slave or servant or chattel, but if not those things, what was she?
“Where will she sleep?” Lanick asked between bites, his expression forbidding.
She was not his wife, that was certain.
Vaun pushed his meal around on his plate, not as hungry as he ought to be for the first decent meal he’d had in weeks. Brooding thoughts clouded in. He had worked hard to earn the respect that looked past his bastard birth. He had applied himself in schooling, had trained limitlessly as a warrior, had accepted the marriage arranged for him. He was a fool to risk losing the high opinion of his fellow Kerfs to keep an Alvian woman alive. Let her refuse to eat with him and starve herself to death. The favor would save him from his own soft-headedness. He should treat her as the slave she was and chain her to the fire overnight so she couldn’t run away.
She glanced over, perhaps having heard the lift of Lanick’s tone and wondering why no one answered his question. Dressed in Kerf clothing, she looked as any Kerf woman might. As any pretty one in a deeply contemplative mood. The firelight reflected on her cheek the way it had that first night, weeks ago, when bleak resignation had darkened her eyes. Then she had feared she would suffer the same abuse at the hands of Kerfs as she had endured under the Shotes. Now something else worried her and Vaun didn’t know how to reassure her or even if he could. Her presence here was a tentative trial at best. What he did know was that if he did not value her, no one would.
“In my bed,” he said, ignoring Lanick’s choke. “She sleeps with me.”
Want to know how that turns out? There's one more teaser on The Healer's page here.