As Mangadarth residents work hard to rebuild their city and their community, Lady Marayah and Lord Eldrick learn they will soon become parents. When Harmony is born, it becomes evident that she is a blend, part pale one and part humankind. She matures to the age of eighteen within twenty-four hours. Lord Abingdon?s spy forms a plan to marry Harmony, then kill her and become ruler of Mangadarth. All the while, Lord Abingdon bides his time as his army is built to overtake Banion Castle and reclaim it for the Abingdon family.
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When they were alone, Teagwah said to Marayah, ?I have come to ask for your mercy in the part I played with the healing man. I was given an order by Lord Kasimir. I was afraid not to obey.?
?While you did aid the healing man, you also thought better of your participation and told Lord Eldrick what happened. I do not believe I can trust you now, but in time you may be able to earn my respect again.?
?I only wish for the chance, m?lady.?
?I have never asked you how you arrived at Castle Banion. Were you here before Eldrick was born??
?Yes, m?lady. I served Lord Kasimir and Lady Estelle well before Lord Eldrick was born. I came to the castle in chains, accused of selling secrets to the crone.?
?Was that true? Did you sell secrets to Sivah??
?Never. I do not go anywhere near the witch. I told them so, but they were looking for someone to lay blame upon and I was an easy target.?
?I was found along the roadway by Daniel Forrester when I was only a month old. He took me home and he and his wife, Elizabeth, raised me. No one knows who I belonged to or why I was abandoned. Many have surmised my mother and father must have been attached by animals of the wild or by the pale ones, but no one knows for certain.
Because my heritage is unknown, I could have been born of thieves and robbers for all I know. When I was eight years old, I found myself in mischief more times than not. My parents thought I might be demon possessed and called on a priest to exorcise them from my brain and body.
For seven days and nights I endured a torture like no other. Being demon possessed was more to my liking than what occurred during those dark days of lashes and forced vomiting. I was weakened to a point that I could not stand on my own legs without falling.
One day Lord Kasimir sent for me; he had a mission he needed performed. He wanted me to retrieve a hair from the crone?s head. I refused, knowing such a task was foolhardy. He insisted that if I did not return with a hair from her head, he would kill me.?
?What did you do??
?I made the journey through the Valley of Pandor to the waterfall at the base of the mountain. When I approached the crone, she seemed to know why I had come. She did the oddest thing, I shall never forget. She plucked a single hair from her head and handed it to me, never saying a word.?
?I do not know. Maybe she was feeling generous or maybe she had an accord with Kasimir. I accepted the hair no matter what the circumstance, and carried it carefully back to Kasimir. He refused to believe it was from Sivah?s head and called me a liar. He declared I would die in front of my peers by beheading.
It was Lady Estelle who stopped him from killing me. She convinced him that I was worth more alive than dead.?
?He never believed the hair was from Sivah?s head??
?Never. I still have the hair and have lived long beyond the years I should have died, with no aging transparent.?
?You are as Eldrick and I, outliving humankind thirty times their one hundred years. But now you roam the castle freely and seem to be a trusted ally. What changed??
?Kasimir sent me on mission after mission, knowing I would not survive, yet each time I managed to complete the task and return intact. Over decades he began to believe as Estelle had said, that I was worth more alive than dead.?
?And, Eldrick, how does he treat you??
?Eldrick does not take after his father in every way. He observes carefully and forms his own opinions based on fact and experience and is not easily swayed. He has taken me into his confidence and I know many things about the castle and Banion family history that others do not.?
?Do you like being in this position??
?It is not a matter of like, m?lady. My life was spared by the Banion family. I owe them my allegiance.?
?So it is obligation that binds you here??
?I would deem it loyalty, rather than obligation.?
Marayah nodded her head. ?I see. I do not know why I never asked you these questions before.?
?You say Lord Eldrick has changed, but I have noticed changes in you since your return. Might it be that you see Lord Eldrick with new eyes because it is you who have changed??
?That is possible.?
?I am glad you returned home, m?lady and I will spend my days proving to you that I am worthy of your trust again. You will see.?
?Time will tell.?
The following morning, Eldrick awoke with what he could only describe as the remnants of the pain from a fisted punch to his gut. He ignored it and went about getting dressed and made his way down to the dining hall.
?Good morning,? Marayah said, greeting her husband with a kiss on the cheek. ?Did you rest well??
?Yes, and you??
?Yes. Visions of Mangadarth?s future filled my dreams.?
Eldrick reached for the goblet of red liquid and flinched when a stabbing pain throbbed at his side.
?Is something wrong? Are you in pain?? Marayah hurried to Eldrick?s side. ?I have never known you to have a pain of any kind, Eldrick. Explain to me what you are experiencing.?
?The only thing I can tell you is that I awoke with an odd stabbing in my gut. It almost took my breath away.?
?I would call for the healing man, yet I distrust him so.?
?I do not believe it is of any urgency.? Eldrick blinked his eyes quickly, as his vision filled with the image of four lovely women looking like Marayah in front of him, only blurred and swaying.
Eldrick tried to answer his wife, yet she seemed far away, as at the other end of a tunnel. He closed his eyes and fell into a deep sleep.
Marayah called for Teagwah and several of the guardsmen to move Eldrick?s body to his sleeping quarters.
?Shall I get the healing man from the dungeon, m?lady?? Teagwah asked.
?No. I do not trust him. Teagwah, bring Dakron to the castle entrance. I will be flying to Braline. There is a healing woman there. I will bring her back with me.?
?Begging your pardon, m?lady, but Dakron allows no one to ride him except Lord Banion.?
?He will allow me,? Marayah said.
?I will retrieve him.?
Marayah met Teagwah at the front gate, knowing not how she would even mount the great beast.
?You should not travel alone, m?lady. I will go with you,? Teagwah offered.
?I am going alone. Stay and keep watch over Eldrick. I shall be back before nightfall. Bring me a chair.?
Teagwah ran into the castle and retrieved one of the chairs in the entryway and placed it next to Dakron. Marayah used the back of the chair for support as she stepped up onto the seat. She then took Dakron?s reins and threw her leg over his body and struggled to right herself.
?Godspeed, m?lady? Teagwah said.
?Watch over him, Teagwah.?
?I will, m?lady. I will.?
Marayah nudged Dakron forward. He stood fast.
She leaned forward and whispered into Dakron?s ear, ?There is no time for stubbornness on your part, Dakron. Lord Eldrick is gravely ill and I need your help. I know you understand me. You are his only hope. We must fly to Braline and retrieve the healing woman and bring her back. I beg of you, please help me.?
She leaned back and sat straight again. She kicked her feet and leaned forward as if she expected Dakron to move, and he did.
The guardsmen opened the castle gates and Dakron walked through. When they reached a stretch of road long enough for Dakron to gallop to high speed, Marayah ordered, ?Skyward!?
Dakron bolted forward and Marayah lost her balance, struggling to stay upright as Dakron?s hooves pounded the earth with great force. She finally managed to regain her balance just as Dakron?s wings carried them skyward.
They were in the air and heading to Braline. Marayah did not realize how difficult it would be to maintain her balance on such a large beast. Especially while wings on either side flapped. It had been much easier when she could lean against Eldrick for support. Even when she and Teagwah had ridden the skies with the small horse when the altered ones chased them, it had not been difficult to maintain control of the animal.
Dakron had a mind of his own.
Marayah?s every nerve was taut by the time they reached Braline. She found a clearing just outside the city and ordered Dakron, ?Earth!? and pulled on the reins to signal that he should slow his pace.
Dakron needed no orders as he instinctively knew his rider?s needs. He made his descent. When hooves touched ground, Marayah found herself flung over Dakron?s head directly into the paths of his thundering hooves. She rolled quickly to get out of the way as Dakron jumped over her body expertly.
Marayah stood and brushed off her clothing. Dakron had stopped several dozen feet in front of her. She joined him and took the reins in her hand.
?If I did not know better, I would say you did that deliberately. Nonetheless, I thank you for your transport. Now, we need find the healing woman quickly and return with her to Mangadarth.?
Marayah walked with Dakron by her side, seeing no way to mount him without something to stand on.
Marayah went from door to door asking the whereabouts of the healing woman. At the third door, she was given directions and the door was promptly closed in her face. She followed the directions and found herself at the edge of town, near a clearing covered in wildflowers and tall grass.
She saw a small hut with a kettle in front over a fiery blaze. She headed toward it. When she was a stone?s throw from the entrance, a woman emerged with silver hair and loose white clothing.
?Are you the healing woman?? Marayah asked.
?I am. Are you in need??
?I am. My husband lives in Mangadarth and has a pain in his gut where none has ever been. He fell into a deep sleep and has not awoken.?
?I need a moment, then we can go.?
Marayah looked around and saw herbs turned upside down, drying along the roof?s edge. She peered through a window. An entire wall was filled with jars with colored liquid and other items she could not identify. Boxes and small packages wrapped with grapevines lined the shelves.
When she saw the woman heading for the door, she stepped back.
?Pardon me for snooping. I was only curious and meant no harm.?
?You have done no harm by looking.? The healing woman eyed Dakron, noting his wings with special interest. ?I have heard of winged horses that take to the sky, but have never seen one with my own eyes. Is this to be our means of transport??
?Yes, although I am afraid this is my first endeavor with Dakron and I have less control over him than I would like.?
?We are in need of a tree stump or large stone,? the healing woman said.
?I used a chair before.?
?Ah, I have one of those.? The healing woman entered her home again and came out with a wooden chair with a high back. She placed it next to Dakron and used the back as support, as well as Marayah?s shoulder, to raise herself up and mount the steed.
Marayah did the same. Once they were ready, Marayah prayed Dakron would cooperate, and she dug her knees and feet into his sides, ordering, ?Home!?
Dakron began walking and Marayah steered him toward the dirt path by the clearing. ?Hang on tight,? she said to the healing woman, and then, ?Sky!?
Dakron barreled forth and the healing woman laid a tighter hand around Marayah?s waist. She let out a whoop of glee at the stallion?s speed.
Once they were in the sky, both women took a moment to gain their balance. It was easier with two, Marayah noted.
?How long has your husband had this pain??
?He only noticed it this morning when he awoke. I should have mentioned both he and I are pale ones. We do not have feelings and do not fall ill. For him to have this pain is not a good sign and I know not what it means or how it is even possible for him to have it.?
The healing woman had experienced the pale ones before. Many had left the city of Mangadarth and made their way to Braline and beyond. Rumors were rampant about the altered ones and even the new breed that wrought death on anyone that dared walk the Valley of Pandor.
It had been years since she had visited Mangadarth. She remembered the stories of the crone, Sivah, and how she was responsible for bringing the pale ones into being.
When they saw the Banion family flag high above the castle, Marayah said, ?We are almost there. ?Earth!? Marayah ordered, holding on tight to the reins and leaning her body low, close to Dakron?s body, in preparation for their landing. She thought this would provide more of a cushion when hooves met soil.
While she lurched forward precariously, she stayed on the steed this time and it took only moments to regain her balance and sit upright again.
?I daresay I could spend all day on this magnificent beast!? the healing woman said. ?Why have you only ridden it this day??
?Oh, I have ridden it before, but never as the solitary rider. Only Eldrick, my husband, has control of the stallion.?
?Not anymore. Did you say Eldrick, as in Lord Eldrick Banion, ruler of Mangadarth??
?Yes. He is my husband.?
?You did not mention that small fact.?
?I did not think it important. Would it have made a difference??
The healing woman thought about what might happen to her if the ruler of Mangadarth were to die on her watch. She would surely be blamed. It mattered not, she would still have helped the man, as it was her wont and station in life to aid those in need. ?No, it would not have made a difference.?
Teagwah kept watch over Eldrick, glancing out the window and scanning the sky for signs of Marayah?s return to Castle Banion upon Dakron. He prayed she would find the healing woman in Braline.
When he saw them in the distance, he gathered a chair and was waiting at the castle gate to help them dismount the winged stallion.
?I am relieved to see you, m?lady,? Teagwah said.
?How is Eldrick??
?He has not awakened??
?No, m?lady.? Teagwah held out a hand to help Marayah and then the healing woman dismount the steed. ?I will see to Dakron.?
?Thank you, Teagwah.?
Marayah led the healing woman up the stairs to Eldrick?s sleeping quarters. She laid hands on his forehead and cheeks, then laid her ear close to his chest to listen to his heartbeat and the sound of air in his lungs.
?His breathing is shallow, his heartbeat weak.?
?Do you know what that means?? Marayah asked.
The healing woman said nothing as she removed the blankets and laid hands on Eldrick?s feet. Marayah thought it odd, but watched diligently.
?Tell me exactly what happened again.?
?Did Lord Banion eat anything different or drink anything different this morning or last evening??
?No. We get our nourishment from the red liquid only.?
?Yes, it is made here in the castle. We do not drink animal or humankind blood as the healing man created a red liquid that provides us with all the nourishment we need.?
?Bring me some of this red liquid.?
Marayah borrowed Eldrick?s key and made her way down to the laboratory. She unlocked the door and retrieved a sealed jar of the red liquid, then found a copy of the recipe and placed it in her pocket. She locked the door as she left and returned to where Eldrick lay. ?Here,? she said, handing the jar to the healing woman.
She took it and opened it, holding it close to her nose and closing her eyes as she inhaled deeply of its scent. She began naming ingredients, several of which Marayah knew were, indeed, used in making the red liquid.
?I have a list of the recipe ingredients.?
?I will look upon it in a moment.? The healing woman continued her inspection of the liquid and then put it to her lips and drank some. She noted the bitter undertone immediately, but took another drink to be sure.
?I know what is wrong with Lord Banion.?
?He has been poisoned.?
?That is not possible. We all drink the red liquid, yet none of us have fallen ill.?
Belinda and Jonathan were standing nearby. Belinda said, ?Jonathan and I have just begun drinking the red liquid, as have you, Marayah, since you were gone for many decades. Eldrick, Kasimir and Estelle have been using it for nourishment much longer than we have.?
?The taste of bitter root from the poisonous daagmire tree would not be detectable by any of you. It would take a healer with a sensitive palate to identify it. Show me the list of ingredients.?
Marayah handed the list to the healing woman.
?As I expected, it is not written here. Someone did not want anyone to find out the red liquid had been tainted.?
?Will he be all right? Can you heal him from this poison??
?In this small amount it was intended to build up over time in his system. It will take time to flush it out, but, yes, I believe I can be of aid.?
?What do you need??
The healing woman removed a pouch from around her neck containing herbs and items she had brought with her and then asked for parchment so she could make a list of the items she would need.
Teagwah had returned from tending to Dakron and Marayah sent him to gather the items. He did so with a heavy heart as he knew he was responsible for Lord Eldrick?s condition. He had wanted to bring Lord Kasimir to his knees and had not given thought to how the poison would affect Lord Eldrick and Lady Estelle.
As he searched for the items the healing woman needed, Teagwah vowed to do everything he could to save Lord Eldrick and to see Mangadarth flourish. He would need to tell them the truth. If they found out from the healing man or anyone else, they would banish him from the castle, and rightly so.
He had made poor choices over the years that he regretted deeply. He hoped he could convey his remorse and beg for mercy at the feet of the Banion family.
Marayah was holding a cool cloth to Eldrick?s head when Teagwah returned with the items the healing woman needed.
?Very good,? she said. ?I will set to work making a salve that will be absorbed through his skin. Lord Banion should see relief within twenty-four hours.?
?It will take that long?? Marayah asked.
?It will take much longer than that. His body will begin to respond within twenty-four hours and you will see a marked improvement in his condition, but it will take several months before he is fully healed.?
?May I see you for a moment, m?lady? In private,? Teagwah said.
?Of course, Teagwah. Excuse us. If you need anything, we will be just down the hall. I beg your pardon for not asking earlier, would you care for something to eat or drink? We have anything you could want at our disposal.?
?A bowl of soup and a bit of bread would be appreciated.?
?I will make preparations and let you know when it is ready.?
Teagwah and Marayah left Eldrick?s sleeping quarters and walked to the top of the staircase.
?Could we step into the library, m?lady??
Once inside the library, Teagwah said, ?I have come before you begging for mercy, m?lady. I am full of remorse for the part I have played in making Lord Banion ill.?
?What part did you play, Teagwah??
?The healing man told me of a powder that, when ingested over time, was poisonous. I have been placing it in the water buckets used for making the red liquid.?
?Why would you do that? What has Lord Eldrick ever done to you to deserve such a horrific death??
?It was not him, m?lady. It was Lord Kasimir Banion that I was trying to do away with. I could not find a way to only poison the red liquid that he drank, so I placed it in the water buckets.?
?And, poisoned all of us. Why are you telling me this now? Were you afraid you would be found out for yet another betrayal??
Teagwah?s eyes lowered to the floor in shame. ?Yes, m?lady. That, and I deeply regret my actions. You and Lord Eldrick have been ever so kind to me and have treated me nigh on to one of your family.?
?Yet you still would allow Lord Eldrick to die by your hand. I must think on this news. I cannot say that I will forgive you, nor that Lord Eldrick will be able to forgive you. What if I had not been able to find the healing woman and she, upon arriving at the castle, did not know of this bitter root? Lord Eldrick would have died.
No. I am afraid this will need to be a decision Lord Eldrick makes, as my inclination is to call for the guardsmen and have them escort you to the gate and be none-too-gentle about it.
You say the healing man gave you the powder. Did you ask him for it??
?No, m?lady. When he was creating the recipe for the red liquid, he had herbs, leaves, flowers and jars filled with different colored items. He ground what looked like a piece of tree root into a fine powder and I asked him what it was good for. It was then that he told me that if the powder was ingested all at once, it had the power to stop the heart instantly.
The very thought frightened me. Then he said that if someone were to ingest it slowly, over time in small amounts, it would build up in their system and they would eventually die.
I never thought to ask why he would be using it to make the red liquid. I just wanted to make sure I did not get any on me in case it might eat right through my skin.
The healing man told me it was an easy way to rid yourself of someone who was mistreating you. That made me think of Lord Kasimir and all the missions he had sent me on, fully expecting me never to return.
The healing man handed me an envelope filled with the powder and said, ?Use it wisely. Use it sparingly, over time.? I did not really have a plan in my mind at the time. It was only later that I thought about the powder and how easy it would be to slip into a drink.
I never meant for you or Lord Eldrick to die, m?lady, you must believe me. It was only Lord Kasimir that I sought to destroy.?
?I cannot absolve you of your regret. Again, I say that is for Lord Eldrick to decide. Until he is well, you will need to leave the castle. I cannot have a traitor living inside these walls. I forgave you once, Teagwah, you should have told me the truth about this matter then.
You only bring it up now because you live in fear of your transgression being brought into the light. While it is admirable that you seek absolution, it is very difficult to believe your words and motivation are true.?
?I understand, m?lady. If I were to be in your shoes, I would probably have already kicked me out of the castle, not listening to a word I had to say. I shall pack my things, such as they are, and find a place in Mangadarth to reside.?
Teagwah left the library with his head hanging low and his shoulders slumped. When word reached the people of Mangadarth, he would find no shelter. He considered living in the cave where Belinda had been sequestered as she had been safe there for many years.
For now, he would rely on the hospitality of the people of Mangadarth. Maybe he would find one who would allow him to rest on a dirt floor for the night.
Marayah knew she had done the right thing in sending Teagwah away, but she also believed the healing man had more to do with Eldrick?s poisoning than Teagwah, even though it was Teagwah?s hand that placed the poison in the water.
The healing man appeared to be able to manipulate people with ease, a trait Marayah had a great distaste for.
As she made her way down the stairs to ask the cook to prepare soup and bread for the healing woman, Marayah wondered what the healing man would say if she confronted him about the poison.
The cook heated soup and placed a freshly baked loaf of bread on a board with a knife and sweet cream butter. ?The soup will be ready in a few moments, m?lady.?
?I will tell the healing woman. Please serve it in the dining room. We shall be down shortly.?
Marayah made her way back up the stairs to Eldrick?s sleeping quarters. ?Your meal is almost prepared. I shall sit with Eldrick while you enjoy your nourishment.?
The healing woman nodded, then washed her hands in the nearby basin.
?When is the baby due??
?I did not tell you I was pregnant.?
?You did not need to.?
?Do you have special insight? Could you tell me if my child will be humankind or pale one??
?I have no skill in that area. I use herbs and natural ingredients of the earth to heal.? The healing woman left to go to the dining hall.
Marayah sat on the bed next to Eldrick, keeping watch until the healing woman returned.
?Did you enjoy your meal??
?Immensely. Thank you. I could get used to living this kind of life.?
?We are so very thankful to have you with us. You are welcome at Banion Castle any time. Will you excuse me? I have some business to tend to.?
The healing woman nodded.
With Eldrick?s illness and Kasimir?s banishment, there was no one to answer questions and give direction to the people of Mangadarth. Marayah assumed this responsibility, putting ink to parchment as she made notations of improvements needed in the city. The list was long, but the task occupied her mind and kept her thoughts of Eldrick at bay.
Marayah found a ledger in Eldrick?s top desk drawer. Vendors were listed, as well as how much coin they had been paid for their wares. Several notices of payment due were placed inside the front cover of the ledger.
She realized she did not know where coin was kept in the castle. Eldrick never shared such information with her. Marayah surveyed the room, thinking he must keep coin nearby. The library walls were lined with shelves containing books of every size. Some of the shelves contained only a few books, while others were weighted down heavily.
Marayah opened all the desk drawers in an attempt to find a map, key or any clue as to where she might find coin. Her efforts were unfruitful.
She stood and went to the window, her fingers moving the crimson velvet curtain aside to look out over the city. As she watched the guardsmen ogle two female servants as they made their way through the back castle gate, she felt a rush of cool air on her skin.
At first she thought it was a breeze coming through the window, but when she felt it again, she realized the air was being forced up from below the window and to the left. She moved the curtain aside another four feet, revealing a passageway.
Marayah retrieved the oil lamp sitting on Eldrick?s desk and ventured into the darkness. The air was stagnant and bitterly cold. Within a few feet, she happened upon a stair that led downward about ten steps.
Once at the bottom, she appeared to be at a dead-end. The only way to leave the area would be to return the way she came, yet why would someone go to the trouble to make a secret passageway that led nowhere?
The walls were made of gray stones, stacked one on top the other, held together with a binder. Marayah ran her fingers along the rocks. As she did so, she found small pieces of mortar fell away. She began looking for cracks and unevenness between the stones.
Her hands moved quickly now as she was certain there must be hiding places behind the rocks. She pressed and slid the stones, searching for ones that were loose.
To her right, half-way up the wall, she found a stone that moved when her hands pushed on it. She pulled at the edges and dug her fingers into the small crevice below the stone.
When she finally was able to remove the rock and pull it from the wall, she was rewarded with twenty stacks of gold coin. Marayah took one stack of coins and replaced the stone carefully.
Before leaving, she counted the number of rocks from the edge of the right stair that led to the hiding place, twenty-two. And, the number of stones up from the floor, twelve.
Back in the library, she entered amounts in the ledger and set the appropriate amount of coin aside for each one.
Marayah called for a servant to deliver the coin to vendors in the city for the supplies they needed, then headed to the kitchen to speak with the cook.
When she was finished, Marayah joined the healing woman and Eldrick in his sleeping quarters. ?How is he now??
?He has become restless. That is a good sign. His body is waking up. It is fighting for him, even as he still sleeps.?
?It is good to see movement.?
?It is very good.?
?We have a room prepared for you. I will keep watch through the night.?
?Thank you. I am not as young as I used to be and the rest will do me good. Remove the salve every hour and place new salve in the same location. That will make for constant absorption of the most potent ingredients.?
Marayah nodded. ?Let me show you to your room.?
When Marayah returned, she removed the salve as the healing woman had told her and replaced it with new salve. She also rinsed the cloth on Eldrick?s forehead in cool water and replaced it.
Through the night, he alternately moaned and squirmed as if wrestling with an invisible assailant. Marayah hoped these were good signs, as the healing woman had said.
Marayah had not intended to fall asleep, but in the early hours of the morning she found her eyelids drooping. When she awoke, Eldrick?s eyes were open and he was gazing at her.
?Eldrick, you have awakened.?
?I did not mean to wake you.?
?You can wake me any time. Any time at all.? She leaned forward and put her hands on either side of Eldrick?s face. ?Are you in pain??
?It is still there, but is waning. What is this sticky paste placed upon my skin??
?It is a salve from the healing woman. It is to draw out the poison.?
?Yes. I have much information to share with you, but please, rest now. The healing woman has said you will be all right, but it will take time. So, rest.?
?I would rest easier if you were lying next to me.?
?That I can do easily.? Marayah walked around the bed and curled up next to her husband.
Eldrick placed his arm about her shoulders and kissed her on the cheek. I believe I have come back so I can see your face again.?
?I do not care why you came back, just that you are back. Please rest. I do not want you to relapse.?
?I shall not relapse. I do not want to close my eyes, though.?
?Do you not feel your hand in mine? That is assurance that I am still here. Close your eyes. We will talk more later.?
Eldrick did as Marayah asked and closed his eyes.
The healing woman entered the sleeping quarters moments later. ?I assume the night went well??
?Yes. He awoke and spoke to me and I believe he is on the mend. We have you to thank.?
?Healing is my calling in life, I need no thanks.?
?We will thank you many times over anyway, as your aid means so very much to us. I will go tell cook to prepare a meal for you. Is there anything special you would like??
?Eggs and bacon would be good.?
?Have you ever had a cake that is flat and served with warm, sweet syrup??
?No, I daresay I have not.?
?We will prepare all of these things for you. We will feed you so well, you will never want to leave Castle Banion.?
?I have felt most welcome here.?
?May I impose on you a bit longer to stay with us??
?Lord Eldrick is healing, you do not need me here anymore.?
?We can no longer rely on the healing man and it would be helpful to have you here in case something happens with the baby. Would you stay with us until the child is born??
?I will need to think on this:
?I understand. We would offer you coin, of course, and provide you with anything you might need.?
?Sweetening the pot??
?You could say that. It is a comfort to know you are nearby. I trust few people, but I trust you.?
?What measurement of time would I need to remain at the castle??
?I am not sure. It depends on whether the child is humankind or pale one, or a blend of the two. At most five months. At least, a week.?
?I do not need to think on this. I will stay. I should like to be here when you birth your child. It will be a joyous experience whether the child is humankind or pale one. Birth is a reason to celebrate.?