Please let this not be a repetition of last night, Vixen prayed on her way to the dining room. I really don't have the resources to deal with this again, not right now.

A spirit-walk immediately after waking up had probably not been her wisest course of action, but she couldn't bear the thought of Ilsa having to face her husband again without some sort of protection set up. That had amounted to a conversation with and encouragement of the bay spirit-mare. Together, along with Red Fox, they'd tracked down Ilsa's husband so Vixen could weave a pattern around him that would give him some extremely educational dreams that night—dreams the bay spirit-mare could use as a foundation to give him second thoughts any time he raised a hand to strike Ilsa. If Ilsa grew stronger under her spirit-mare's guidance and the dream provided some level of inhibition against violence, it might be enough. It was, in any case, all Vixen could currently think of to do, and even that had cost her.

Which would be why she hadn't sent someone to fetch Dayr: he would have tried to talk her out of it. Tylla, surprisingly enough, had guarded her door without question. When Vixen finished, the maid had helped her to the table where the tray from lunch waited, then back to bed for another nap.

It had left her feeling drained and achy, with a pressure behind her eyes that threatened to become a headache. Sanovas could have done it without the side-effects, she was sure, but then, Sano had far more experience than his adopted human daughter.

Alys and Lyris were holding a low-voiced discussion near the windows; Alys' gestures were abrupt, agitated, and Lyris looked annoyed and impatient. Dayr was leaning against the wall, below an ornately-framed painting of the house itself, positioned so he could keep an eye on the door while deep in conversation with Mirain. As soon as she entered, he abandoned Mirain and came to her.

“That woman told me you were sleeping all afternoon,” he growled, low enough for only her to hear. “You look exhausted. What were you doing?”

“My job,” Vixen said shortly.

“But you won't let me do mine?”

“Not now, Dayr, please. It was something I had to do.”

He growled again, a soft wordless rumbling, but escorted her over to the table so she could sit down. She noticed only belatedly that he'd steered her towards the centre chair on one long side. He took one side himself, and Mirain the other.

“I hope you're feeling better, milady?” Mirain said.

“Somewhat. I'll be fine by tomorrow, I'm sure.”

He gave her an understanding smile. “It's a lady's privilege, to have an occasional day to rest alone.”

If he wants to believe I was in bed all afternoon thanks to menstrual problems, I'm not going to disillusion him. And if I were going to, it wouldn't be right now. I wish I'd thought of that before, maybe I could've had dinner in my room.

She simply murmured, “Thank you,” and glanced towards the door as Jared entered with the physician.

Her sigh she tried to keep to herself, but Mirain said quietly, “I think he'll be more respectful than he was last night, milady.”

Oh? I wonder what happened. I'll probably never find out. Maybe I'll just be quietly grateful.

Lyris and Alys ended their discussion, whether they'd resolved anything or not, and joined them at the table. Positions were certainly interesting, once everyone was seated: Alys at the foot, flanked by Mirain and Lyris; Jared at the head, flanked by Dayr and Balduin; herself in the middle. She'd have to reflect on what it meant. Some other time.

Luck was against her: dinner was well-spiced venison. She picked at it without appetite, and ate enough of the more vegetable-based dishes to quiet her stomach and replace some of the energy she'd used. Maybe Tylla could find her something later. Dayr wrinkled his nose once at the spices, but apparently they weren't too unpleasant to the feline palate, considering how much he ate.

The general atmosphere didn't help. Congenial company might have given her spirits and energy a boost, but she wasn't going to get it tonight. Balduin's silence might have had any number of causes, but he was clearly resentful. Alys' laughter was forced and her light tone brittle and cracked at the edges. Never one to talk while eating, Dayr left that to everyone else. Mirain and Lyris tried to find a subject for conversation, but their efforts fell flat. Jared, worn out after a day of Domain business—something to do with livestock, where to put it, and what to do with it—was scarcely more talkative than Vixen. All in all, Vixen was relieved when it ended, so she could retreat to her own room.

“If the present trend continues, these meals are going to have me too unbalanced to be any use,” she grumbled to Dayr, on their way upstairs.

“So why don't we stop going?” Dayr asked logically.

“I believe I'm going to mention something of the sort to Jared. My tolerance for this nonsense is dropping rapidly. The doctor thinks I'm a fraud, Alys is terrified, scandalized, or both by you and me... I'd be happier avoiding the pair of them altogether.”

“They're both scared. I can smell it. Can't tell what they're scared of, though.”

“I don't suppose you have something more to do with the doctor being afraid than simply what happened last night?”

“I haven't been near him, except at dinner.”

She didn't think he'd lie to her; weyres were typically too straightforward to bother, and they'd been friends too long. She wasn't convinced that he'd really had nothing at all to do with it, but she let it go.

“You aren't going to do any more shaman work tonight, are you?” he asked. “You're in no condition to.”

“I'm going to have a hot bath and get some sleep, no more work,” she promised. “I can't help Jared if I kill myself.”

“Irisan and Fero will turn me into a fur rug if anything happens to you. And I don't even want to think about your family.”

“Nothing is going to happen to me. You had fun with Mirain?”

“I couldn't stay in the stable very long, the horses all got nervous. Not used to my scent. We went for a ride, twice, so I could take both jennies out. They're happy, the kids like them. They've been sneaking treats to them. Could smell it. Mirain's not bad, for a human.”

“Good. Since I got distracted from fittings today, I'll probably be cornered into it tomorrow. I'd love to get out for a while, though, maybe we can go for a ride tomorrow afternoon.”

“As long as you don't tire yourself out again. Mirain showed me a trail that goes through the woods where they hunt.” He grinned. “At least, they call it hunting. I wouldn't.”

“I have no intentions of tiring myself out again.”

“You never do.” He sighed. “At least make sure I'm with you. Please?”

“All right,” she conceded. “Nothing else unless you're there, as long as you don't try to keep me from doing what I have to do.”

He considered that. “I'll try.”

“Near enough. I'll see you tomorrow.”

Tylla turned up before too much longer.

“Do you suppose you could find me a couple of those rolls from breakfast?” Vixen asked wistfully. “And maybe a little fruit? I just didn't have the stomach for venison tonight.”

“Easy enough,” Tylla assured her. “There are apples in the cellar still, or more of the berry preserves.”

“Just an apple would be wonderful. Thank you, I appreciate it.”

It took Tylla only minutes to return with the requested food, along with a ceramic pitcher that turned out to hold cool sweet mint-flavoured water.

Vixen took a bite of one of the rolls, and sighed in contentment. “That's much better. I'm not used to all this rich food anymore. Is Ilsa doing all right?”

“I'll let you know in the morning, milady, her husband hasn't come in from the stables yet.” She hesitated. “I've never seen anything like that. She says the bruises are all gone. I know you told me you're a healer, but I didn't know that was even possible.”

“I've lived with the shyani a long time,” Vixen reminded her. “I was taught by a shaman who chose not to leave a lost human to die. I'm purely average.”

Tylla shivered a little, but her expression held only fascination. “I thought it was all children's tales, just people being afraid.”

“Shyani power is very real. A few are born with a gift that lets them talk to animals, encourage plants to grow, influence the weather, call water from the ground, things of that sort. They're called witches, but that means something very different to a shyani than to a human. Shamans deal with the spirit world, and we're healers of bodies and minds. None of it is aggressive. It's all turned towards care of their people and their animals and the world around them. Shyani are at least as frightened of humans as humans are of them.”

“I hadn't thought of that.” She shook herself. “I'm sorry, milady, I shouldn't be asking you such impertinent questions, and least of all when you're so tired. Is there anything else I can do?”

“I don't mind questions, I promise. You're welcome to ask and I'll answer whatever I can. No, this is wonderful, I'm going to eat and go back to sleep, and by tomorrow I'll be fine. And being tired is well worth it for a good cause.”

“Yes, milady. Sleep well.”

“You, too.”

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