Chapter Ten: One Reckoning
They came for me in the night, Fortress Guards all, who entered my room and found me rolling from the bed ready to fight, my sword in hand. I recognized them barely in time, and straightened from my crouch. The last shreds of sleep fell from my mind as the familiar form of Haemerick stepped forward.
“Corpsmaster Ti, ” she said, with none of the slight hesitations of body or of speech that I had sensed in our last meeting, “I am under orders to bring you to the Council of the King.”
“I obey,” I said and picked up my scabbard from where it hung from the post of the bed. I flung on the simplest of garb over my naked skin, just the shirt, tunic and leggings of a soldier of the Wall, and belted on my sword.
“You may take a little more time, Corpsmaster,” Haemerick said, to my surprise, so I took that hint and brushed and bound my hair into a formal fighting knot with a black leather thong, washing my face in the icy water of my basin, and rinsing my mouth after a long drink from the pitcher. I noticed the blotched rat’s bright eyes watching from under my bed. I slipped on the soft boots, and flung my better cloak over my shoulders before I bowed to her again.
“I thank you for your courtesy,” I said, and it was true. I was much the better for those few extra minutes. “May I speak to my Second?”
“No,” Haemerick answered. “Your next duty period will be tomorrow midday, and all will be known and decided by then.”
How could I not wonder what she meant by that? The King and those of the Fortress did not normally note the duty roster for the Wall. I simply saluted and passed my own soldiers without a word as we exited the building. My compliance in these things might serve later to prove my good intent. I still could not predict if I was guest or prisoner; all my instincts proclaimed the latter.
They escorted me down to the waiting horses, and I watched Haemerick take a slender extra lead and clip it to my horse’s bridle before taking the end into her gloved hand and mounting her own gray. We went swiftly through the empty wet streets of the City, the fine drizzle dimming the candlelight in scattered windows and catching in the sizzling torches that our escort bore.
When we halted in Methen Square before the Fortress, Haemerick let me descend, then stepped in close. She moved with a deliberate slowness as if she meant to project to me her intent. Certainly by this she spared herself much pain, for I suffered her grasp, and placed my hands behind my back as she twisted them there. I felt the thin metal loops she tightened upon my wrists.
“I ask pardon for discourtesy,” she said in a low voice, and slipped my sword from its scabbard. “Necessity knows no other master.”
I dropped my glance so that no other could see my recognition of her coded words, and followed the tug of her gloved hand upon my chain. We went up through the black wet square into the great hallway of the Fortress.
I shook my head to scatter the raindrops from my face and blinked to clear them from my sight. Here there was light, and numbers of soldiers and warriors. I also saw citizens in surprising crowds, surging back at the gesture of my guards. My eyes had been numbed by the brightness, and I cast my gaze down to recover. Haemerick had warned me, I reflected, and it was a kindness.
I have always felt that my size was my weakest point when I was before the public; that my small stature made me look unfit for my title and position, and I realized now that the big soldiers around me,(for the Guards of the Fortress were chosen in part for height,) made it seem as if they had sent far too many to drag me from my bed. Little did the public know of the edge of swiftness that is the gift of the small warrior. Could they understand how far from helpless I was, even chained?
I lifted my head and walked quietly as the Guards led me, like a tame cat on a leash. We passed along the main halls and up to one of the Halls of Hearing where Haemerick waited to have our arrival announced. I stepped after her into the high-ceilinged room, built long and windowless towards the center of the Fortress, and saw that the long wooden tables around the perimeter were filled, mainly with citizens, merchants, traders, a very few of the Innerlandsmen who lived nearest to the City, a section of the representatives of the three Gods, with a small unit of sable-clad soldiers at one table’s end. By clothing and manner I guessed that all the citizens came of the Burgmasters. They felt their importance and their authority, and they had dressed well for this night’s work. Each had certainly taken more time to prepare than had I.
In these Halls the walls are made of a stone-like substance that is not easily marred. However, when torch or candlelight strikes them, the walls awake to a warm glow, close to the brightness of full daylight. Have no hope of hiding your expression here when you stand accused.
A Burgmaster stood in the center of the room, a big woman from her bones to her fat, her blue velvet gown trimmed with twisted gold cord. Her hair was brown, almost red where the loops of braid fell over the shoulders of her midnight cape. She looked upon me for a long moment, her eyes assessing me as shrewdly as if she were going to bid to buy. While the room stirred around her, she remained untroubled by the unrest, and I wondered if her enormous confidence could be sound. So this, I reflected with another kind of interest, was Quillson’s mother.
“I am Quillmaster of the City,” she said in a voice as deep as I have heard from any woman. “I am empowered by grace of our Lord King Matthew to preside over these Inquiries. Good Masters,” she said very quietly, though her words carried through the room, “good souls, this is not a judicial hearing, only a board of inquiry. What is said here will be entered into the Matters of Record, but will not be binding unless the subject of them so demands. How do you demand, Corpsmaster Ti?”
“I demand that the findings of this Board be binding,” I said. Now let us test Haemerick’s hint.
She bowed her head in assent.
“Then so it shall be. By grace of the King,” and she looked over to the corner where the King sat silent and unmoved, “These proceedings are declared open.”
I was brought to stand in the center not far from her, and the lead chain unclipped from my wrists. But my wrists were left constrained behind my back.
“Ti of the Wall,” Quillmaster said, “has been named responsible for offenses at the highest level against the body of this City, and the body of her Corps of the Wall. I do not say that she stands as a breaker of ‘the laws’ because for a violation of the law, a judicial hearing is necessary. Her offenses do not break any written law but are perhaps even more grievous because of that. There has been made the proposal that these transgressions should be documented as the first stage of her judgment, but that has been turned down. This documentation cannot ever be carried to a judicial level. Because she has agreed that these hearings be binding, she has given to this assemblage as now composed the power to punish her for what violations we find, even unto enacting orders for her death.”
I have never been deeply interested in the law, nor have I ever understood why there was any attempt to separate serious offenses into legal and non-legal affairs. I suppose there is some ancient tradition, steeped in the histories of the kingdoms of humankind that would sort out these tangles. It has not been my area of study. I am far better at explaining to the new cadets why my sword has a subtle pattern of wavy lines in its steel, called in my time a ‘d’masq’ blade, perhaps to correlate its perfection with that of the rich cloth called ‘d’masq’. History, not law, has ever taken my interest.
I did not see why there should be any distinction if both the legal proceeding and the civil one could end in the forms of punishment. Still it seemed better, as Haemerick had urged, to gamble upon this hearing’s judgment. I should at least avoid torture by doing so, since that is a process that civil hearings cannot employ. If I sufficiently offended them, they could have me hung, spitted, or flayed, but not put to the rack or vivisected. Whatever happened would at least be relatively short.
The JeKri priest stood to speak when Quillmaster indicated him. The pellucid walls shone on his white garments, and his long gray beard gave him the authority of age.
“She has committed heresy against our God,” he stated heavily, and I saw as I looked at him that he did not speak for power or any other sort of gain. Indeed his face showed regret in the lines about his mouth. “Perhaps indeed against all the Gods. She parodies the laying on of hands, and by witchery trades lives with the dark forces.”
“Not by my will have I troubled any god or any spirit but my own,” I answered him.
“Do you serve a God?” he asked.
“My God is the Simple God,” I said. “The God without a name. And while I am not a good follower, nor a templegoer, understand that all my skills have been bent on study and killing, for all my life since my choice was made, in duty to the Wall.”
“Tell me then how did you this magic? Do you believe you saved lives, or would those you touched have lived anyhow without your acts?”
“I do not believe I saved lives,” I said, and saw out of the corner of my eye that Quillmaster’s mouth narrowed in dangerous disbelief. Another stir shifted through the room, a movement of impatience.
“It’s difficult to tell you what I did, yet I believe that somehow my own body which suffered the great pox many years ago, taught or told the body of each one I touched how to counter the infection and begin the fight against it. There was something I did in each case, like a reshaping or a teaching. It seemed to go on for a long time.”
I had thought I had better control, still even as I spoke of it, I felt perspiration start on my forehead. I hoped no one noticed; the memories that brought this were too personal, too demeaning.
“So I do not believe I gave new health to those who had this disease. I have no such gift. That they did themselves, by the goodness of the Gods.”
“This cost you,” Quillmaster said as the priest sat down reluctantly. “Even as you remember, the sweat springs on your brow.”
“I would never do the act again,” I confessed, “if I could choose.”
“Why?” she pressed me.
“It was an agony unto me,” I said. “I endured it as the disease itself, though for a shorter span. I felt what the sick felt.”
I did not want to say any more, but she looked at me in silence and I realized that she underscored what I did not say by her unspoken speculation and her long gaze.
“Will you heal again?” she asked at last.
“I do not know. I cannot heal all things.”
“You, who laid hands upon a naiman,” the priest of Hua had sprung uncontrolled to his feet, brown robes swinging, “and contaminated us all! You who healed a naiman on equal level with humankind, say you cannot heal all things? He turned to the men and women around him, his white face and golden hair shining.
“She has trafficked with Evil things. She claims to worship the Simple God, but what God would allow her such a power over not only humankind but naiman? There is no God who accepts the worship of the blue creatures. She has mixed the blood of kinds in her veins. What curse has she laid in each child she has touched since she placed her impious hands upon the naiman? Or before?
“I would see her flayed in Methen Square. These proceedings should never have been of a civil nature; they should have been fully legal, that we could put her to the Question and learn the true nature of her evil and purge it before the God.”
“It is too late for that, Kinspater, by your grace,” Quillson said.
“It is too late for that. I have been outvoted, and you shall regret it.” He chewed at his bearded lips, shaking his head so that his long yellow hair swung over his shoulders.
“There shall be a better day for justice, and in bitterness shall you bow your heads. But for now, you who sit here have an obligation before the God to contain Ti of the Wall’s Darkness. At least stop this agent of evil, before she can deceive more.
“Take off her hands at the wrists and we will be assured she can be no more an offense to us. She can have her life, she can turn to the Nameless God and serve Him in the temple to prove her oaths. We are merciful as a people. Perhaps she had little power over what she did, perhaps she was deceived or possessed into the pretensions of Godhood. If so, let her redeem herself to the Simple God, let Him forgive her if He will, and leave us alone.
“Healer of naiman,” he said half to himself, and I believe that if he had not been in a Hall of Hearing he might have spat.
I don’t know why I had hoped no one had noticed my effort to treat the naiman. It must have been as blatantly obscene as a male whore prancing naked for customers on the street. But at least I had thought ahead on this matter.
“I do not know. I was sick with healing, I believe I passed out after or during that attempt,” I said. “I had never known a naiman could suffer a human sickness like this. Most of all, I do not know if I did heal that naiman child or if I did not. Does anyone here have knowledge of its survival?”
No one spoke, but two of the soldiers did not look at me, and I knew that they had an answer.
“I was sick with healing,” I said again. “I know I tried to heal it, but I cannot tell you if I succeeded. If one had led me a horse I might have tried to heal it too.
“Indeed I do not know how many died of humankind on whom I laid my hands and with whom I suffered. I could not count, I have the most imperfect of memories of these occurrences, as if fevered myself.
“I know only that if I were placed again with the need before me I could not help myself but would try to heal the sick again.
“I have been told that my healing gift is limited, that it is possible the ability is already gone or that it works only for the great pox which I myself have had. In this I am nearly as unknowing as you are.”
“Heal me this wound, show the assemblage what you can do,” said one of the warriors, a soldier of the Wall known as Adarte. She sprang to her feet and came around into the open center peeling her black sleeve from her ebony forearm.
“You have suffered wounds of like kind before, maybe for that reason you can heal me.”
Adarte had a wrapping over the arm, and I made a wordless entreaty to the Simple God that She would help me keep my hands, as I detached the bandages. I had never believed as did the priest of Hua that the Simple God could be male. Men were never simple and they never seemed to say what they meant. Maybe that was because they never knew.
The wound was both old and new. The initial cut had laid Adarte open to the bone, and much of the flesh had healed, in a messy scar. She must have been far afield when the wound had been inflicted, or our doctors would have done better by her. One end still lay open and suppurating, the skin had an ugly hue with swelling, and I feared she had an infection in the bone. This sort of wound sometimes healed, but it could grow until it took the soldier’s life, or crippled and twisted the bone with a growth inside.
“Show the people,” Quillmaster said, and watched as Adarte made her round of the tables, her injury bared to those with sufficient stomach to stare into it. I noticed then a man watching me more than he did Adarte, his black face impassive and watchful. He was dressed in velvet, so deep a red as to verge upon black. No suggestion of what he thought showed in his face Then as he stared down into Adarte’s scar, a flicker of pain seemed to fleet across his features. He did an unexpected thing, he put out his hand and put his finger on the torn flesh, running it down until she flinched as he touched the trickle of pus. He put his finger down upon the piece of paper before him and cleaned it of the matter that clung.
A soldier came and unclasped the metal rings upon my wrists and I rubbed them automatically for a moment. There was no point in delay. I put my hands upon her burning arm and I swear I could not help myself; “Ah shyd,” I said.
When I came back to myself seconds later, Adarte was still standing before me. I put my hand back, grabbing at a chair in weakness, fighting to control my nausea.
Chapter Eleven: The Night’s First Outcome
“Show us,” I heard Quillmaster say.
I managed to steady myself on my feet again. The soldier walked around the great oval, and I could not tell from their faces what they saw. All reacted, I heard the mutter and rustle, but I could not say to what.
“Please,” I said to Adarte, and she turned nervously to me. “Show me.”
The scar was there, as ugly and twisted in its crooked course as it had been before, but the open corrupt part was gone, the pus track dried upon her arm and flaking off in little fragments. Her big eyes met mine and they had that startled look which comes with the relief of pain.
“See,” a merchant said from the crowd to his neighbors, “it is simply that she can only fix the great pox, or the gift is gone, perhaps. The scar is still there, ugly as ever, and Ti of the Wall has no magic power. Let us finish this business, and be to bed.”
Many nodded, but I saw the clear glance the man who had touched Adarte’s wound gave her and gave me, and I saw him look down at the smear upon the paper before him. He did not speak.
“We will hear more,” Quillmaster said, looking around the room.
“I would ask a thing,” I said, steadying my voice.
“For all the ages of humankind,” I said, “there have been men and women come who had some gift of aiding the bodies of others to heal. We have accepted them among us. We have wished indeed that they would dwell always with us in our City or upon our Wall. No one has called such persons impious in what they did, for long centuries. Thera of the Wall, two generations past, had this gift herself.
“Why would there be offense, in Thane Gehir sharing his known power to mend with me? I am sworn to him. He holds my First Oath.”
“You are not of the blood of the magicians,” said the black man in the dark red robes, rising. “You are not of his kind, and this disturbs us more than any other concern in this matter. The events of this time challenge what we know, upset our ideas of what our powers may be. We are less sure what is allowed. We have always welcomed the wise, those called the magicians, and wished for their closer presence. Many things about them we do not understand, such as their peculiar gift of long life. We have never believed them purely of our race. Too many differences show in their gifts of prescience, healing, and other abilities we only imagine we can name. If it is possible to turn a normal human like yourself into one of the wise, that is fearsome to us all.”
He looked down again and I saw how he studied the paper before him.
“But if your gift is temporary, perhaps, then…”
“I cannot promise,” I said helplessly, and then he smiled at me, a fully enchanting but wry smile, and sat down.
“Caher, honored Harpmaster,” Quillmaster said, and the Harpmaster stood from his place in the corner by the King.
“Quillmaster,” he said, bowing.
“Tell us now of Thane Gehir.”
“The Thane comes of an ancient race, known on the edges of our histories and tales through all time. They are long-lived, though their outward semblance is much like ours. Some of the Great Records call them members of our race, and it is indeed true that they are mortal, and their blood is red. In some ages they have been taken by humankind as enemies, and slaughtered when chance allowed. Magicians or the wise, as we have called them, have advised the kingdoms of humankind through the centuries, they have made peace frequently between governments and royal houses, and very seldom have they warred in any kind. They have no known homeland, nor any ambition to rule, and if they meddle in our affairs, the meddling has been gentle and mainly indirect. They roam, even more than any apprentice Harper does.
“As for Thane Gehir, he has been living for over one hundred years. There is rumor that he is older yet. For one of his kind he is neither old nor young. The wise seem to have a loose arrangement of territories, and we fall within his care, whatever that may mean. Some say he is the man who was Ash Jiminez of Tarberrn’s friend, the very Thane Gehir who is mentioned throughout the Tarberrn papers in our library. He has never answered when asked that question. Many say the name has been passed on through generations, and that Thane Gehir is not remarkable, merely deceiving us in the matter of his age.
“Sometimes when we could use his aid, he is beyond all reach. Sometimes he comes to us on the very edge of our need.
“I have never heard before of any of Thane Gehir’s breed accepting a soldier of our common blood in First Oath. I believe we have all chosen to take this oath of Ti of the Wall to Thane Gehir as a gift to our kind. A gift to our kind.”
He bowed again and sat.
“Is the Corpsmaster Ti truly human?”
“There is no mystery in her birth or her origins that I have been able to find,” Caher answered. “I have searched the Records since I heard of her Firsting because the taking of her First Oath seemed so strange to me. However, she is of merchant and soldier blood of this City. There is no anomaly in her history. Nothing more marked than her grandmother who also led the Wall in her time.”
“Is this person calling herself Corpsmaster Ti of the Wall, truly the person who owns that name and identity?” an old woman asked without bothering to rise. “There is no chance of a mistake in her identity?”
“This is Corpsmaster Ti, of the Wall,” Adarte spoke. “Those are the hands that wrestled me to submission when I challenged her as a newcomer to her Corps, six years gone. I know the scars she bears, and the crooked bone of her smallest finger on the left hand. I have spent hours in study with the rest of her forty who work together all the year that they might pass the exams in honor.”
“This is she,” said another of the soldiers, an older man thick-set and grizzled. “I remember when she broke that finger when we were on a wide foray and she was herself on her fifth trip into the Outside.”
“What are the other charges to be heard?” Quillmaster asked, her remarkable voice as full and certain as ever.
“I do not charge, but I ask,” said an old woman, her silver braids looped in an intricate cage over her head. “I ask if Ti of the Wall is fit to continue as Corpsmaster of the Wall. If her First Oath is taken by Thane Gehir, should she not be banished to follow him? I do not doubt her ability to make war,” she added, “but is her loyalty not divided?”
“You may ask,” came the King’s light voice from the corner. “That is the decision of the King. I do not ask Master Ti to burn her sword. I am the head of all military might in this kingdom, and such choices are my purview, Clestermaster.”
There was a quiet after the King’s words.
“I hear no more,” said Quillmaster Then she turned to me herself, her heavy face stern. “Still I have a charge of my own. Corpsmaster Ti, why was it that when the children were dying you and the Thane did not go to them, but first took your healing arts into the barracks to your soldiers?”
“I am not sure,” I said, “I surmise. I stopped only to write over authority to my Second before I followed Thane Gehir, and I did not know what was to happen, nor the manner of it. I hoped he brought healing and he had said to me that I could help. He holds my Oath.
“Once we had begun our work in the barracks, we were compelled to continue where we were; it seemed impossible to stop, and when we came out, we found the citizens had heard of our doings and come for healing too. I suppose that the Thane, knowing where our pox originated, expected the people of the nightscaws to come in force against us as soon as they could expect us to be incapacitated by the illness. We would need every soldier to hold the Wall.”
“Indeed,” came a new voice, cool and precise. “Some of the citizens may not be aware that the foot soldiers of the enemy came and were engaged by us seven days ago. Our apparent numbers discouraged them quickly, more quickly than we would have anticipated. But then, they were expecting to find us gutted of young soldiers. Maybe they expected more deaths– they may not know when we last felt the pox in this City and believed we would be slaughtered by it in enormous numbers.”
Mell stood forth from the congregation by the northern wall and bowed.
“So what is the deliberation of this Inquiry,” she asked them. “Shall you take Master Ti and cut her hands from her wrists for the presumption she enacted in curing your sick? Or better yet, shall you flay her and cut her head off for the dogs to gnaw that you may discourage any other soldier of the Wall from delegating his duty for other than a personal illness? Or will you gift her with exile if you believe her intentions were good but misled by evil?”
“The King is for her,” a low voice said somewhere in the room. It carried. “I would not go against him, in truth.”
“You have put it crudely, Master Mell,” Quillmaster said, ignoring the other comment. “Does this Board require debate to determine its choices? Shall I have the accused removed for your free discussion and deliberation?”
This they wanted, so I was taken out and placed under guard in the next room. I spoke to no one. My heart still raced; I was as full of adrenaline as a neophyte on her first battlefield. I kept recalling faces, reactions. It seemed to me that this trial had gone on forever and the sun must have risen hours ago. My heart leapt at the remembrance of the King’s words, and at Mell’s dry anger. I understood well that what I feared was not death or even the taking of my hands but expulsion and exclusion from the life I had made. I was ashamed to my very quick, yet I would have denied my own acts if I could. I wanted to go back into battle with my soldiers. I wanted to return to what I knew and understood, being the ever more perfect killer and defender. If I could have erased all the days of the pox and cures and my prominence in them, I would have sacrificed to the Simple God days and nights of prayers in my gratitude.
The soldiers escorted me back into the crowded room.
“Corpsmaster Ti, ” Quillmaster addressed me. “Have you any words of your own before we close?”
“I am a warrior, ” I said. “I serve the Wall. I am a killer for the people and I want only to return to the life for which I am so fitted.”
“Then go,” she said. “It is the determination of this body that while your offenses have been real offenses, they were all acts of defense against the common enemy of our people. For this enemy there could have been no other counter. As the vessel of Thane Gehir’s will you stand excused.”
She bowed to me and beckoned Haemerick to unlock my wrists again. I raised my released hand to my breast in salute to her, and for the first time I saw Quillmaster smile and her deep green eyes sparkled at me. Then friends of hers from the Burgmasters and those who would have liked to be her friends, closed in around her, making enthusiastic comments.