A few hours later Zaeraiah was knocking gently on her mother’s bedchambers, wanting to bring her the wild pheasant soup in person. Her mother’s chamber lady, Dame Oshetta, let her in, with a stern warning not to tire her mother out.
Zaeraiah winced. That meant her mother was having another bad day.
“Mother?” She said gently. “I brought you some good pheasant soup.”
The woman in bed turned toward her daughter and smiled wanly. Lady Sonaly had once upon a time the same lustrous locks and bright green eyes as her daughter, but the years, illness and pain had dimmed these.
When her mother smiled, though, Zaeraiah felt as though she was looking into a mirror in the future.
Her mother motioned to the right and Zaeraiah suddenly noticed the woman sitting in the easy chair beside her mother’s bed, and made a deep curtsy. It was the Crone, Dame Hulde, keeper of the Ancient Rule.
Dame Hulde had been Zaeraiah’s teacher in her early girlhood and she held a deep reverence and affection for the older woman.
“I beg your pardon, Dame Hulde. I did not see you in the dim light. I give you my earnest greetings, and ask for your blessing.”
The older lady took her hand. “Zaeraiah, blessed child. The gifts are strong in you.” She lay her hand on Zaeraiah’s forehead.
“And I thank the heavens for them,” she murmured the standard reply.
Zaeraiah smiled at the Crone, and turned to her mother. “How are you feeling today, my Lady mother?”
“No worse than usual, child, except for this blinding headache.”
Zaeraiah could hear the pain in her mother’s voice, but Lady Sonaly smiled at her only child.
“Thank you for the soup. Give the bowl to Dame Oshetta, she will keep it warm for me while Dame Hulde visits. Would you stay with us awhile?”
Lady Sonaly gently patted the space beside her on the bed.
“Of course, mother.”
“You look flushed,” her mother told her. “Is it so warm out already?”
“It is. The summer is upon us.”
The Crone reached a hand out and plucked a twig from Zaeraiah’s hair. She gave it to the young woman. “If you spend all your time outdoors, you will feel the heat, child.”
Zaeraiah could feel herself blushing deeply. A sudden memory came unbidden, of herself and Korbin locked in a passionate kiss, laying on the grass beside the creek that morning. That was probably when the twig got into her hair.
She took the twig from the Crone. “I beg your pardon again, mother, Dame Hulde, for my appearance. This must be from when I…we…got the pheasant this morning.”
“But surely you did not kill the fowl yourself, child?” Her mother asked.
“No, madam. Korbin did.” She hesitated a bit. “But I helped him get the pheasant from under a bush.”
Lady Sonaly frowned. “I hardly think it’s appropriate for the daughter of the Lord of the realm to hunt for a pheasant, Zaeraiah.”
“It’s just so much easier when I go with him, mother. It’s faster.”
“Because of your Gift.”
“Well, yes, of course.”
“But you are a full-grown woman now,” the Crone chided her. “If you had gotten married last year like you should have, you may even have your own children by now.”
“You would not have all this time to go about with Korbin, even if he is your friend.”
“However, please thank Korbin for me when you see him,” Lady Sonaly told her, softening. She was fond of Korbin, and had been glad that he had been Zaeraiah’s friend and protector when she was a young girl.
Zaeraiah looked up gratefully, “I will give him your thanks, madam.” She turned her gaze to the Crone, who was watching her carefully, knowingly.
Dame Hulde got up. “I will not tire you further, Lady Sonaly.” She laid a hand gently on Lady Sonaly’s shoulder. “I ask for healing for your soul and body.”
“And may the heavens answer,” Lady Sonaly and Zaeraiah said in unison.
“Come and walk me out, Zaeraiah.” The Crone put one arm on Zaeraiah’s elbow, and they walked out of Lady Sonaly’s bedchamber together.
“Dame Hulde, does my lady mother get worse?” Zaeraiah asked.
The Crone sighed. “Why do you ask? And what have you noticed?”
“She seems to tire out so easily these days. In the past I could sit with her until the third watch. Now she is usually asleep by then.”
Dame Hulde sighed again.
“Why can’t I heal her, Dame? You confirmed that I have the Healing Gift.”
“And you do. But it’s in its infancy, child. Your Gift, like everyone else’s matures with time. Most of the Gifted Ones come into their own long past childhood. You are but a girl, still, in so many ways. One day you will be strong enough to help those as ill as your mother, but you are not there yet. The pheasant soup, and the things that your knowings tell you, they are of some help.”
“Not enough, though. I’m afraid my mother will die, Dame.”
The Crone’s silence, and the faraway look in her eye, told Zaeraiah that Dame Hulde had the same fear.
“Is there no hope?” Zaeraiah whispered, clutching at the older woman.
“I have never seen an illness as bad as your mother’s child. She is still a young woman but she is fading rapidly. I have been searching all the books of the Ancient Rule for a cure…”
“And?” Zaeraiah felt breathless.
“And the only thing I have found that will cure her is the extract of the dragonsblood bloom.”
“The dragonsblood bloom? I thought that flower was a myth!”
“It has deep ties to our mythology, yes. There is one recording in the Ancient Rule of a sighting of a dragonsblood tree, on the eastern part of the Stone Cliffs.”
“The Stone Cliffs? They are so far away.”
“That’s not the only problem, child. They are dangerous. No one from the Seven Realms has ever gone to the Stone Cliffs and come back.”
They had reached the gate of the castle, and Zaeraiah again made a deep curtsy before the Crone, to say goodbye.
“Dame,” she called out, as the older woman turned to go. “If I get more skilled in my Gift, will I be able to save my mother?”
The Crone shook her head. “I’m afraid that may be too late for your lady mother, child.”