Vixen left off singing to Anna and rose to answer the door, expecting Tylla.
Tylla was there, but she hovered a couple of steps behind Jared.
Jared smiled. “May I come in?”
“Please.” Vixen stepped back, admitting them both. Jared gestured Tylla forward; the maid curtsied nervously, held up a large oval bronze roast-pan that had seen better days, now half-filled with clean sand.
“Will this do, milady?”
“That'll be perfect, thank you. Just set it in the bathroom.”
Tylla obeyed, and left promptly with another curtsey, taking the soiled green wool dress.
“I apologize,” Vixen said. “My behaviour was inappropriate for a guest in your house.” She hoped it didn't sound as stiff as she feared it did. Truthfully, she didn't feel particularly repentant, other than for the violation of hospitality.
Jared shook his head. “You were well within your rights to be angry. I'm sorry anything happened that could cause you such distress. Alys is speaking to the kitchen staff now. Is she badly hurt?”
Vixen shrugged. “Frightened, hungry. Her fur was a mess to begin with, and greasy water didn't help. I healed her hip, though it still needs time to strengthen properly. With time, safety, love, and good food, she'll be fine.”
“I told you. I'm a shaman. In part, that means healer.”
“Mm. I'd love to hear more about that. So she's well. I'm glad to hear it.” He hesitated for a heartbeat. “Could I possibly coax you away from her to walk with me in the garden?”
“Yes, of course. Time alone to settle in won't do Anna any harm.” She brushed the traces of cat-fur off her oak-green divided skirt—Tylla had brought back her own clothes, clean and neatly mended. Dayr gave Anna a last gentle caress, and got to his feet.
A vertical line appeared in the centre of Jared's forehead. “Alone, perhaps?”
“Humans don't know about proper respect for a shaman,” Dayr said flatly. “It's my responsibility to keep Vixen safe.”
“And I honour that. However, I think there's no danger in the garden in mid-afternoon.”
“Dayr,” Vixen said. “Would you wait for me in one part of the garden, so you'll be close enough to hear if I need you?”
Dayr considered that, and nodded.
“A good compromise,” Jared said, and offered Vixen his arm. “Shall we, milady?”
Jared showed them outside, questioning them about Anna as they walked. Or rather, questioning Vixen, with Dayr simply answering when he felt like it; Jared didn't seem to be entirely at ease with the weyre. It wasn't the kitchen garden to which they came, though it was hedge-ringed like the other.
Dayr chose a sunny spot just outside the hedge, and made himself comfortable on the grass to catnap.
This garden was larger, beautifully landscaped with trees and stone and gentle slopes and a small stream, young plants emerging in small patches defined neatly by borders of limestone. Vixen crouched to examine some of the seedlings, and identified common flowers for the most part, useful mainly for pleasing the eye.
“No healing herbs here, either,” she murmured.
“Simple ones,” Jared said. “The ones that look attractive are here, the others are in the kitchen garden. We do have a physician here.”
“A physician. Mmm.”
“You planned to be one, once.”
“I know.” She remembered the courses, the lessons that focused on treatment of disease but neglected maintenance of health, the body broken down into separate parts instead of being taught in all its complex unity, the contempt for the herbalist who knew from her grandmother that a tisane of these leaves or those roots could cure that complaint.
She said nothing, though, only wandered on.
“Have my household been treating you well?” Jared asked, after a moment.
“Very well, yes.”
“If there's anything you'd like, please, ask. Particular meals, even. Last night at dinner you looked like... like you hadn't had a proper meal in a while.”
Vixen laughed. “Not a meal quite the same as in the lowlands, no. It's certainly a pleasant treat. But I've always eaten quite well, both at Copper Springs and at Willow River. Do you think we lurk in caves, squabbling over raw meat and berries?”
“How am I to know what you eat in the hills?” he said lightly. “For all I know, it could be moonlight and thistles.”
“For the most part, all the bounty of the forest, and of small mixed gardens that don't harm the earth. No grain-fields, but we make flour from nuts and from wild grains and from several kinds of roots. Hills are always near a river or a lake with plentiful fish, which often means wild rice. Most have weyres, usually a mated pair and their young; they need a much greater amount of meat in their diet, so they hunt, and sometimes they bring some home as a change from fish. We have goats, for milk and wool, and fowl similar to lowland chickens, for eggs and occasionally meat. Not once have I gone hungry, other than deliberate fasting at times for shamanic work. As for living in caves... the inside of a hill is dark, yes, but it's warm and dry and comfortable.” With better lighting than anything the lowlands could offer, but that was best not discussed. She moved a few steps away and crouched to look at a flowerbed. “Oh, there's evening primrose over here! I can think of easily four or five uses for it. Lily-of-the-valley there, that's good for the heart, and peony... Jared, there are any number of other beautiful flowers that could also make the lives of your people better. Windflower, honeysuckle, violets, nerveroot... no, sorry, in the lowlands it's called lady's slipper. They should all be here.”
“I generally leave the garden to Alys and her head gardener, and medical matters to Balduin,” Jared said, with a shrug. “I would like to hear about it, though.”
One of a shaman's responsibilities was teaching; she began the same way she would have with a shyani or weyre child, by showing him what to look for in identifying plants: the shape of the stem, the shape and texture of the leaves, the pattern in which the latter grew from the former. It was too early in the season yet for many flowers, but she explained what each looked like.
“Knowing that honeysuckle helps congested lungs is no use if you can't recognize it when you see it,” Vixen said. “We'll have to go out looking for wild plants, if you really want to learn.”
“I'd like that. This is fascinating. And, truthfully, more scientific than I expected.”
“Science is knowledge. It's only a different set of knowledge.”
“True. Well. I think it must be coming near to dinner, and Alys will be highly displeased if everyone else has to wait on us. And surely Dayr is losing patience by now.”
Vixen laughed. “Most likely he's asleep. Listening for me all the while.” They turned back towards the gate.
“He's very protective.”
“He meant exactly what he said. Ever since a certain cat rescued a stray human, he has considered my safety to be his responsibility. And in hill terms, the lowland attitude towards osana and towards shamans is... disrespectful, to say the least.”
“Then you'll simply have to teach us all to be properly respectful.”
She smiled, but shook her head. “I'm not certain that can happen. The cultures are too different.”
His fingertips brushed her arm lightly; Vixen shivered. “You don't think they can mix?”
“To some extent, it must be possible, or I wouldn't be here. Here in Hyalin, or here alive.”
Jared fell silent when they reached the gate. Dayr was stretched on the grass still, eyes closed, but he opened them as soon as they neared.
“Nice nap?” Vixen teased.
Dayr yawned hugely. “The hedge keeps the wind away, the sun's warm, and the grass is soft. What more could I ask for?” He stretched as only a cat could, deliberately and thoroughly, and rose in a single graceful motion. “Nice walk?”
“Very. Ready for dinner?”
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