So much traffic, local and foreign, went through the inns along the main roads into Krateros, the Enodian city nearest the northern border, that no one really paid any attention to three foreign men, two clearly local women and a foreign one, and their pet tabby cat. Their clothes, well-made but showing some wear, well-dyed but in much less inexpensive colours than indigo and crimson, with stylized animal designs rather than basic repetitive geometrics, suggested middle-class, more likely here on business than pleasure. They’d quietly rented a trio of rooms, two side-by-side and one across the corridor, and had been out during the day for the past three days that they’d been here, much of it spent in the agora purchasing things that were added to the various baskets and bags in their rooms.
Not today, however. All gathered in one room, while most people were resting from lunch, but none of these had eaten. One bed and a couple of stools didn’t offer quite enough seating, but Kieran chose the floor. Mirren invited her small striped self onto Lysandra’s lap, angled so that Narcissa right beside her could also reach to pet her.
“So, is there anything else we need to do?” Tyrel asked. “Anything?”
“I hope not,” Lysandra said. “The Oracle’s prophecy said we should be across Enodia’s border tonight.”
“Good advice,” Kaveri said. “It’s been interesting, not hiding. Well, hiding less, since no one needs to know how we’re different from them. I don’t know if we’ve ever been anywhere that considers divine intervention something to debate the ramifications of rather than something causing fear or awe. But enough is enough.” Less than a month before, Mirren had spotted someone sneaking up on Kaveri with a small knife in hand—not an assassination attempt, but one at drawing blood so he could get it into a self-inflicted cut. Less than two weeks ago, there’d been a highly unpleasant scene with a hysterical mother demanding to know why they wouldn’t change her fifteen-year-old son to save his life.
“Well, what was on the list?” Tyrel asked. “Hospital program is going to continue without its founders personally behind it?”
“Yes,” Narcissa said. “With several people officially working on it, including Clytie as official apprentice and page and Thaleia in charge of security, and Ctesios and others less officially but very strongly supporting it, I’m quite sure that it will succeed.”
The third hospital, in Ctesios/Kallirhoe’s hometown Helike, was already well into planning stages. Farewells exchanged with the rest of what had been Narcissa and Lysandra’s household had involved even more tears than those with friends, and Tyrel and the others had left them to do so in privacy; they’d since gone ahead to make certain their new employers had a comfortable residence while they were keeping an eye on developments. The locations of the next two hospitals were currently under active discussion. Tyrel had to agree: that particular infant had made it past the dangerous days just after birth and looked likely to thrive and grow.
“Find and bring to justice the people responsible for trying to assassinate you? And incidentally, unearth a conspiracy undermining your family?”
“Definitely yes on that one,” Madoc said. “Rather convenient, all the Oracles in Enodia finding they knew the identities of people within the cabal in their immediate areas. That odd set of conditions, that they not be sentenced to death or any unreasonable punishment and that extenuating circumstances be taken into account, rather suggests who offered the information, if not why they suddenly chose to act more decidedly to force the others to face consequences.”
Narcissa smiled faintly at that one.
“And when they try to slink back into Enodia,” Kieran said, “which I’m certain they will do, there is a system in place for them to be identified and dealt with. Possibly that will make Enodia a difficult place for us in the future.”
“It’s worth it,” Narcissa said.
“Better that Enodia is safe,” Lysandra said, “than that we leave an unlocked door behind for enemies to use.”
“Household all taken care of, no one left abandoned?” Tyrel asked, continuing the mental list.
Narcissa nodded. “They’re in a good place, with good people. I’m going to miss them badly, but I don’t see a need to worry about their futures. And the house itself is empty. Everything important has gone to friends or family, everything useful has been donated, and the rest has been sold with the money donated to the Helike hospital. Ctesios has the house keys and once it sells, the money from it goes to Helike as well. Everything left fits on the donkey cart.”
Lysandra had her dance props, like her veils and fans, and being unsure where or when she could properly replace any of them, she had perhaps more than she strictly needed; jewellery, both hers and Narcissa’s, was well-wrapped and hidden among it. Favourite dancer costumes, elaborate as they were, had found their way in as well. A pair of drums of slightly different sizes, which as it turned out Kieran knew the basics of playing.
Narcissa’s was worse: baskets of bottles, tightly packed with moonspun padding to keep them from breaking, held liquids and powders, dried herbs and ointments, purified beeswax and olive oil, some of it medicines and some of it ingredients to make medicines. There was equipment, as well, from tiny measuring spoons through stone mortar and pestle to her nested set of mixing pots, and glassware and tubing even more heavily cushioned. Since no one could guarantee that she’d be able to find basic ingredients in a given location, she’d made time in the past two years to investigate and learn how to produce as much as possible herself. While she was reluctant to venture surgery without much more specific training, she did have scalpels and clamps and more mysterious objects that would allow her to remove a foreign object from a wound or drain and clean an abscess or similar small procedures. A box that sealed tightly held reference scrolls.
If a few keepsakes or non-essentials had crept in as well, no one asked.
None of the older moonblood could really argue against it. Each needed the equipment of her calling to fulfil it. It would be impossible to carry, though, which had left them in a serious quandary.
Narcissa’s household had solved it with a collective gift: a pair of sturdy friendly donkeys and a strong lightweight two-wheeled cart.
Tyrel had been dubious about the strength of such small animals, hardly more than waist-height at the shoulders, until Phaidra, who had grown up on a farm, had demonstrated. He now believed her assertion that even during Talir’s dark, they wouldn’t need to stop, since Kieran in the cart would be a tolerable additional weight, and any of the others in animal form would be negligible as an extra load. Donkeys were, she’d assured them, be more easily cared for than a horse, and had greater endurance. It did mean they needed to add hay and grain as supplemental feed, and it would restrict them to the pace of the donkeys, but it seemed a reasonable compromise. Phaidra had taught them all at least the basics of how to harness, groom, and generally care for the two donkeys, and encouraged them to make friends with them. Donkeys, she said, weren’t stubborn, just independent and careful, and would do far more for someone who had earned their trust. She’d helped, as well, with getting the donkeys accustomed to them in their other forms—there were limits, but as long as they didn’t run under the feet of the donkeys or anything similarly excessive, the pair were now willing to tolerate poximity,
“All farewells have been said,” Lysandra said quietly. “And those with family were more painful than expected. They may never have really understood either of us, but they did their best to love us anyway. It’s a shame that was never clear before it became too late.”
“I think,” Narcissa said, “we have at this point cut and tied off as many loose threads as we reasonably can.”
“If we leave now,” Madoc said, “we should be at that shrine by the time the moons start to rise, easily.”
Tonight,” Kaveri said, “we play in the moonlight. All our moons plus Meyar full in one night, this will be wonderful. And we can leave after moonset.”
That extra moonbright energy had gone a long way towards helping with the final tasks; in theory, they could have left a week ago, but there was always something else to do before the deadline.
“But I will get tired,” Lysandra said, her tone all innocence. “Very likely well before moonset.”
Mirren looked up at her, tail flicking, and yawned.
“You’re absolutely sure?” Tyrel asked.
“I rather hope, ” Lysandra said dryly, “that I can be certain of a decision after nearly two years of thinking about it. Are you expecting me to turn tail and run for Aithre’s nearest temple?”
“Well, Aithre and at least a few Oracles would likely be pleased,” Kaveri reflected, “but no, not really.”
Lysandra looked sideways at Narcissa. “I will not, however,” she said more quietly, “promise that I will want to be around longer than a human lifespan.”
Narcissa smiled, though Tyrel thought her eyes looked sad, as she closed her hand over Lysandra’s. “At no point in our lives have you ever promised how long you could tolerate life. Why would I expect it now?”
Tyrel reached for one of his knives, but Mirren’s paw moved faster. So close together the sounds overlapped, first Narcissa, then Lysandra, each yelped and instinctively clapped a hand over her lower arm.
Mirren drew herself back into a compact bundle of purrs and fur, rubbing her cheek affectionately against Lysandra’s hand.
“It, um, can be hard to injure yourself deliberately,” Tyrel said. “And knowing something is coming gives you time to tense up. I think that was meant to make it quick and easy.”
“As long as it’s enough,” Narcissa said. “Let me look.”
Lysandra, with a dark look at the cat on her lap, obediently moved her hand.
“I would say that’s sufficiently deep and messy,” Kieran said. “Though only if you don’t take long.”
Kaveri got up to rummage in one of the packs.
Mirren purred louder, front paws kneading gently with no sign of the sharp claws that had just ripped a single freely-bleeding line diagonally across Lysandra’s arm, and had probably gifted Narcissa with a matching one.
Narcissa hesitated after she moved her hand. Lysandra caught her sister’s wrist and moved it so the welling violet blood ran off the side and dripped directly onto the cut in her own arm.
(chapter continued next post!)