XXXII.

She knelt before the sheathed sword, her hands unable to support its weight combined with the weight of indecision.

It was the third one within the month: a patient of hers found dead in their home. The first one seemed natural, but two dots make a line, and the young woman’s sudden death after consuming her medicines led to outrage until witnesses supported her discovery of a break in. Still, her grounds were ice, and the third cracked it: the young man choked on air, an empty medicine box by his feet.

She knew, as she traced the path of the wooden floors up to the hilt of the sword, seeing her own hesitation in the timber’s dull reflection, who did it.

They came during the night, two days before the first death, demanding for her “nephew” and “his” companion.

“They are traitors to our Empire, Madame,” The Captain began.“You must comply.”

“‘Must’?” She looked up from her writing desk. “Where in the world have you the right to raid a ground of healing, granted to be holy by the late Emperor Lucifer?” She didn’t recall standing up, but she was looking level into the eyes of the officer. “Would you, a soldier of the Empire, defy the Emperor’s father?”

The captain looked at the flimsy paper commission in his hand, “You speak true, so I shall not disturb this ground, but protect it by snuffing out the vipers plaguing it. Two days, madame. You have two days.”

The “vipers” he spoke of were no traitors of the Empire, but the woman who dared to resist. Denthea freed the blade from its ancient sheath, smiled into her eyes reflecting back from the white blade, but found a different pair instead.

They were odd, belonging to her best apprentice, her sun.

It came to be so: she was too knowledgeable to be a desirable wife; Thalem was too kind to abandon their family trade. It worked, anyhow, her love for medicine freed her brother to his own musical pursuits, while his name on the clinic freed her from accusations of witchcraft.

Time flowed, and amongst the tide he found love: her sister-in-law was an angel, a flautist of wisdom nearly as incredible as her ears. They were gentle people, the two of them, and their daughter came to inherit all that is beautiful of her mother, while hidden beneath the fairness was the genius and potential.

She saw her merely days after the delivery, when Thalem watched his wife tenderly holding the still-wrinkly child and asked for a name.

“Athlem,” The Doctor spouted. “This one is meant for greatness.”

Thalem didn’t like the notion of forcing any expectations upon his child, but his lady assured him that expectations is not in the name, but the eyes of the parents. So that was Athlem, the child who began to fulfill her name as soon as she could talk.

She found the girl healing a sparrow that fell out of its nest in the backyard, her wide eyes saw where to mend with a basic instinct that could only be the Creator’s gifts. The parents were content, watched to not pamper the child, while the aunt trained her in her arts before the village sage took her in. The roads were so clear for this beloved, lovely child whose gentle head of genius could only imagine good, yet no one could’ve expected mere recklessness from a stranger, a carriage driver, can obscure all that.

When she rushed to the scene that day all was too late. Too late except for her to mourn for her brother, rush the mother for despaired aid and tug the trembling girl unbelieving that her hands failed, her power exhausted from her attempts and half of her vision blind to the spirits that used to guide her into her arms. She never wanted to be a healer then, until the sage schooled her with a shock of indifference. Still, that light was gone: the darkness of her mother’s room, the brutal deterioration from the damage of a drunkard drove the girl away, away from herself.

So she thought she could push her into a change of scene, when she wrote to her most influential patient, to let her leave the nightmare and head for the capital. It was the wrong decision in hindsight, overwhelming her in a sea of faces that she could easily find ghosts to match. Until…

She held the blade in tremors. Hope flickered like the light on the edge of the sharp sword that she thought had forever been lost. That light is so brilliant, yet dangerously contingent upon the wellbeing of her beloved. Who is this man, this Horatio, that seem to reach within the soul of her Athlem to draw forth jovial vitality? She thought him a manipulator at first, but his smiles too genuine for such villainy: the manipulative nature was as occupational as her constantly examining eye.

Surely that man will uphold his words, would understand what she meant when she delayed him leave days ago, forced him to swear to stay with her fragile child to the end.

“She’s not as fragile as you credit her, Doctor,” The usual smile correcting her diagnosis, not accusingly. “But it goes without saying, I will, though I suggest that you do, too.”

He stepped into the night after her niece, gave infinite thanks and blessings then adieu.

Now she heard footsteps. Her enemies trampling her garden to arrest her, she assume, and so she squeezed the hilt of the blade, brought it up, “Doctor Denthea!”

The boisterous voice of her friend and patient made her sheath the weapon and roll it under a shelf, just in time as the screen door was tore open, “You’ve got to see this! Come!”

“What…”

A meaty hand seized her, pulled her out of the shadows of contemplation and into the light of a commotion she was somehow deaf to until now.

“The Emperor’s here!”

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