Hospital staff scurried to get out of Narcissa’s path, as she made her way to the ward that currently sheltered her entire household. Mirren and Kaveri kept pace, ever vigilant.
At least now, people would know. Enodia’s enemies could no longer count on ignorance and stealth to hide their very existence. In the same sort of green-bordered white dress her staff wore, her hair loose, no jewellery except one of Lysandra’s gold serpents around her arm and her own gold necklace with the Diamantian silver wolf, she’d gone to the agora. Only Mirren and Kaveri were with her; she expected her other protectors to be upset, but it had needed doing. Hermia and Melanippe were exhausted and once their injuries had been treated, both had fallen asleep in beds at the hospital.
Stag, bird, and lion had all changed back to human, despite being unconscious, which had solved the puzzle of how to restrain them. As soon as the captives had all been bound securely, their respective moons had healed them, timing that wasn’t lost on the majority of them. Mirren had woken at the same time, annoyed with herself for failing to deflect that last strike. Tyrel and Madoc were busy setting up additional layers of safeguards to ensure that the captives didn’t mysteriously escape and making sure that the others who had been identified, by the more cooperative captives or by earlier investigation, were brought in.
Enodian marketplaces were somewhat more than places to buy and sell things. They were framed by great buildings of stone with rooms spaced along them and broad column-fronted colonnades, places for teachers to lecture and groups to gather for discussions. The courthouse faced onto the agora, as did other civic buildings, financial services, and several temples and memorials.
Atop a memorial stone, she’d demanded their attention. With no speech planned, she’d told them about the invasion of her home and about what they’d learned about those behind it. She hadn’t expected Aithre’s Oracle to appear and support her, but was grateful for it.
Kieran was on his way to Orthia, with both material objects and information that would gain him immediate access to her brother and convince him that Kieran was indeed sent by her.
Her people knew now about the threat from within.
Which meant she’d done her public duty, and could be where her heart demanded.
“No one is going to get into this ward,” she said quietly, to Mirren and Kaveri, once they passed the trio of city patrolmen standing watch at the doors at this end—there were, she knew, three more at the far end. “I don’t need shadows here.”
The two women exchanged glances, and Kaveri nodded.
“Suppose we go try to find something to eat,” Mirren said. “We’ll bring you something.”
Narcissa nodded absently, her attention already elsewhere.
Though the sun was high, her household, for the most part, slept. In some cases, pain medication had helped that along; the remainder were simply too tired to stay awake. Screens were drawn around occupied beds, creating some degree of private space, but she knew exactly who was where. Fourteen-year-old Megaira had cried herself to sleep, seeing the condition of the household that had taken the place of her lost family, with motherly widowed Pherusa holding her; both were still on an unoccupied bed.
She stepped around one screen and leaned down to kiss her sister’s forehead gently.
Lysandra was still breathing, at least. Narcissa had feared she might die while she was away, removing any last chance at saving her life. She hadn’t woken from the anaesthetic drugs she’d been given before two of the hospital’s best surgeons had together tackled the punctured lung and the internal bleeding. Air no longer hissed and bubbled, and the worst of the damaged vessels had been tied off, but the damage had been… bad.
She was proud of her people, though. Not one had paid the slightest attention to her sister’s jewellery and cosmetics and what remained of her dance costume, or Aithre’s serpent tattoo on her belly.
Her sister was naked beneath the light linen sheet over her, so the bandaged wound on her abdomen was accessible. It would be so simple to ease the bandage off, there were any number of sharp implements around she could use to draw her own blood and let it mingle with her sister’s, so that come moonrise she’d be whole and no longer hovering on the boundary between life and death. But would Lysandra want her to?
Someone thoughtful had replaced the stool she’d used earlier with a couch draped in fresh pale linen; she curled up on it and closed her eyes, too weary to cry now that she had the time to do so. There was nothing she could do that the efficient and expert hospital staff hadn’t done already, except possibly that one enormous and irrevocable action.
What kind of future didn’t have her beloved sister in it? Was it one she wanted any part of?
If only she’d wake up. How can I make a decision like this for her? A lot of pain, leading to having control of her own future, but only if she survives? Take away future choices, but spare her the pain and possibly save her life?
She knew that soft voice, currently with female timbre and inflections rather than male, but she’d dealt with Ctesios as Kallirhoe many times before. She opened her eyes and sat up quickly, combing her fingers hastily through her hair and trying to tug her dress straight.
“We don’t care how you look,” lean Kallirhoe chided, sitting beside her on the couch and closing a hand tightly around hers. “We heard you in the agora. Mirren made the patrol let us in here.”
Tall Linos, who was sometimes Demetria, sat on her other side. “Any news?”
Narcissa shook her head. “Clytie’s going to have scars for the rest of her life, and Iole’s probably going to limp, but both should be all right. Phaidra set her healing back at least a fortnight but they’re sure that eventually she’ll heal cleanly. Acantha has mostly bruising, some deep. Hermia and Melanippe have some superficial injuries. Thaleia’s in danger still, she tore her shoulder and arm open again, badly, but she’ll probably have, at most, a weak arm. Bad enough for a bodyguard.”
“All things considered,” Kallirhoe said, “I imagine she could have as many students as she could handle, of any sex. Lysandra?”
“I don’t know. It’s very bad. She might…” She couldn’t make herself say the words. The tears finally came instead.
Linos wrapped an arm around her, in complete defiance of propriety, so she could lean against him; Kallirhoe produced a handkerchief from somewhere and gave it to her, without ever letting go of her hand.
She didn’t have the energy for the storm to last long. She let Linos support her, while she sniffled and made use of the handkerchief.
“Whatever happens,” she said. “No matter what. Promise me you’ll make sure that my people are taken care of.”
“Of course,” Kallirhoe said.
“We’ve been wishing for years that Iole had a twin,” Linos said. “To say nothing of Pherusa’s cooking.”
“But we’d rather nothing happened that they need it,” Kallirhoe said. “To either of you. You can’t help her?”
“I’m a good herbalist with some other healing skills, but I’ve been too busy with other things to specialize the way I’d like to. I can’t do anything that hasn’t been done.”
“That isn’t what I meant. Do you think you and the Oracle can tell the entire city that Aithre’s children can see what’s really there, and tell us what to watch for, and expect that those who know you well will fail to put pieces together?”
Narcissa looked up quickly, but could see nothing save the worry of genuine friends.
She sighed. “Kaveri and the others are also the moon’s children, but a different bloodline. There was an accident when they saved us the first time.”
“We thought it must be something like that. Could it help?”
“Yes. But she might hate me for doing it. It would change some things for her forever. Between the risks and the prices, I don’t know what to do.”
“Hate you? I doubt that,” Linos said. “Be angry, maybe, but she loves you and she’d understand.”
“Maybe. But a long life in the wrong body? She’s been extremely ambivalent about that.”
“True,” Kallirhoe reflected. “That would be a difficult choice to make, with quite a lot to consider. I’m not sure I’d consider it worse than dying, but I’m not Lysandra.”
“I’m praying to all the gods I can think of that she’ll wake up soon and tell me what she wants. But she’ll be in enough pain that I’m not sure it would count in a court as being of sound mind.”
“I wish we could help,” Linos said, with a deep sigh. “Anything we can do, we will. Once your terribly dramatic sister wakes and tells us all that she wants to get back to the hospital paperwork immediately,” Narcissa couldn’t help a half-sobbing laugh in response, “we’ll whisk your whole household out of the city to the villa to recuperate, maybe.”
“Maybe.” She knotted both hands together, the handkerchief twisted between them. “It feels like it’s my fault. I knew I’d made enemies. I didn’t know until this morning how many times they’ve tried to kill me and make it look accidental. A jar of lotion Iole discarded because she noticed the scent and colour weren’t quite right and she thought it was a bad batch, but it was poisoned. Some mushrooms that look much like a safe sort slipped into a basket of them from the market, but Pherusa recognized them and thought it was someone being careless. Over and over. Because I’ve been insisting on doing things that some people didn’t like.”
“And your sister has always supported the same projects as being important,” Linos said. “You didn’t make her do anything.”
“It works both ways,” Kallirhoe added. “Without her, would you have ever come to the Dolphin in Orthia or the Peacock in Phleion, or developed such a passion for equality and acceptance? You influence her, but she influences you. You both do everything you can to make the world better and brighter. The fault isn’t yours. It’s with the filth that wants the world better only for themselves.”
Narcissa’s reason agreed—but her heart said otherwise.
There seemed little more to say, but it was still a long time before either of her friends moved.
“We do need to go,” Kallirhoe said gently. “Since your house is currently empty, with only a patrolman outside to watch over it, would you like us to send a couple of trustworthy people over to keep an eye on things? I’ll vouch for them personally as absolutely reliable in every sense.”
It was unlikely that any of the more able-bodied would be inclined to leave the more seriously injured in the immediate future. Narcissa nodded, unfastened her wolf necklace, and handed it to Kallirhoe. “It’s in your hands. I think I’m little use for anything outside this ward right now.”
Kallirhoe closed her hand firmly around the necklace. It gave her a considerable amount of authority to speak on Narcissa’s behalf; Narcissa was certain she wouldn’t take it lightly. “I’ll see to it. And to anything else you can think of that you need, just send a message and it’s done. Stay here with your sister and let the rest of us handle anything else.”
(chapter continued next post!)