Unguilded, page 8
“Gyda. I know that road well. It’s lucky you didn’t go over.”
“Lucky,” Kara repeated. She dropped her arm onto the bed.
“Aye.” Allon rubbed his beard. “And determined. I know that burro is, and I’ve seen your wrists. The ropes bit deep. How far from the Mason’s cabin were you when Zayeera bolted?”
“We’d been on the road for about an hour,” she replied. “Maybe less.”
“You think Mika is all right?”
“Yes,” Kara said. “Before Zayeera decided to drag me here, I was hoping they would catch up with me on this side of the bridge. The Mason who is with Mika, he said he expected a wind towards evening, one that would make crossing the bridge dangerous.”
“Good,” Allon said. “I’ve got time.”
“To get Mika. They won’t have crossed the bridge until this morning. It’s six hours from the bridge to the trail that turns down here—I have time to meet them.”
“The Masons were taking us to Villa Grana to hand me over to the guild.”
“Yes,” Allon nodded. “To hand you over. The Mason who’s left, that’s Gilson. He won’t find the cart, so he’ll assume you’ve gone over the edge. He still needs to go to Grana to report the deaths of you and his fellow Mason, but the only charge against Mika would be helping a runaway, and Gilson’s going to assume you’re dead.” Allon smiled. “Gilson doesn’t much like people, even his fellow Masons up in Grana. The less he has to explain to them, the better he’ll like it, so I think he’ll let Mika go.” He turned to leave, then looked at her. “I’ve bread and cheese in the cupboard by the pump, and I’ll bank the fire. Make tea if you want. I should be back by dusk.”
“With Mika,” Kara said.
“Gyda willing,” he agreed. Then he was gone.
WHEN KARA WOKE again, she was warm from the sun that streamed in through the window.
She stretched, enjoying the feel of the soft bed under her. After yesterday, she couldn’t even find the energy to be worried, although she knew she should be.
She was warm and safe—at least until Allon returned.
If her bladder hadn’t been painfully full, she would have gone straight back to sleep, but some things were required no matter how tired and battered a person was.
Her pack was on the floor, tucked beside the bed. Allon must have found it in the cart and realized that it belonged to her. She shook her head, grateful for his thoughtfulness even when he believed his friend to be dead. Quickly she donned her last clean skirt and blouse.
She walked through the cabin and straight outside toward a small outbuilding. A few minutes later, her immediate physical needs taken care of, she wandered the clearing.
The cabin sat in the middle of a small meadow. On the far side, a row of willows lined the river, and across from her three burros ambled around a small fenced-in area, their heads down as they cropped grass. She recognized Zayeera. The burro seemed recovered from yesterday’s ordeal, but Kara said a little prayer to Gyda anyway. She’d spoken the truth last night—the burro had saved her life.
She sat on the top step of the cabin’s porch, facing the garden and a few weathered buildings that were scattered around the meadow.
She breathed in the sweet air and closed her eyes. The warmth of the sun on her face had her yawning and craving the warm bed, but she couldn’t slip back into bed no matter how exhausted she was. She had to see to her wounds.
Rummaging through the cupboards in the cabin turned up a bulb of garlic. Now she needed water. She studied the pump and shook her head in wonder. No one in Villa Larona, not even the Villa Primus, had such a luxury. You fetched water from the pump in the square or caught rain in barrels; you didn’t have a pump in your own home.
She set the full kettle on top of the wood stove before filling a bowl with water. She eased her wrists into the bowl to let them soak for a few minutes before lifting the end of the damp dressing on her left wrist and gingerly unwrapping it.
Kara lifted her arm and inspected her bare wrist from all angles. There was a circle of raw flesh where the rope had rubbed her skin, and purple bruises covered her forearms. On the outside of the wrist the wound was deeper, but no tendons or bones were exposed, which was what she’d been most afraid of. She’d have scars, of course—carefully she flexed her wrist—but she didn’t think the way her wrist functioned was affected. When she unwrapped her right wrist, it was in much the same condition. Relieved, she set about steeping some garlic in the boiled water.
She rinsed out the dressings and let them soak in boiled water for a few minutes. Sanitized, the cloth then went into the brew. After a few minutes, she squeezed out most of the moisture and re-wrapped her wrists. It wasn’t as neat a job as Allon’s, but the wounds were clean and disinfected.
Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she had yet to eat. She found the bread and cheese Allon had left out and ate quickly, washing her meal down with another glass of water. Exhausted, she went to bed.
IT WAS AFTER dusk when she woke again. Kara stumbled around the dark cabin until she found and lit the lamp that sat on the kitchen table. She was picking at another piece of bread, wondering if she should do anything about the burros, when she heard a call from outside.
She took the lamp and opened the door. The light spilled out across the meadow, illuminating the two approaching figures.
“Kara,” Mika called, waving. “You are alive. And Zayeera too. I almost didn’t believe Allon. ” Mika reached her side and grinned. “We were sure you’d both gone over the edge. Gyda’s own luck, that’s what it was. She was looking out for you.”
“Maybe Gyda was looking out for the burro,” Kara said. “I just happened to benefit too.” Kara relaxed. Mika seemed genuinely glad to see her alive.
“As I’d hoped,” Allon said. “Gilson wasn’t keen on keeping Mika, seeing that you’re dead.”
“Gilson’s a good sort,” Mika added. “He would have let me go earlier, except he didn’t want to leave me without food and water.” The sidelong look Mika sent Allon was full of amusement. “He didn’t know I had a friend living close by.”
“He was plenty surprised when I came strolling up the road,” Allon agreed. “Come on, let’s get inside. I could use some food and a drink.”
“Yes,” Mika said. “I’ve missed your beer.”
“Just my beer?”
“That’s all I’m going to admit to,” Mika replied with a laugh and led the way into the cabin.
Mika lit another two lamps before stepping into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
From a shelf under the pump, Allon pulled out a large jug and poured frothy, golden liquid into three earthenware mugs. He handed one to Kara. The mug was cool in her hand.
“It’s not fancy,” Allon said. “And it’s warmer than I prefer, but short of dragging the jug from the river every time I want a drink, it’ll do.”
“What he’s saying,” Mika said as he joined them, “is that he’s too lazy to keep it cold. Even for guests.” Mika had changed into a loose, woven top in a blue that accentuated the colour of his eyes. He picked up a mug and took a long drink.
“Better,” he said. He held out his mug, and Allon refilled it. “I suppose it’s time to tell Kara.”
“Tell me what?” Kara asked. Were they going to send her on her way? The worry she’d ignored all day hit her with full force.
Allon and Mika exchanged a long look before Allon nodded.
“Kara,” Mika said. “Allon and I are married.”
“You are? But . . .” Kara was shocked. Two men, married? Was that why they were unguilded? And then she saw what she hadn’t noticed before. Mika’s face was clean shaven, had always been clean shaven, despite days on the road. “You’re a woman!”
“Yes,” Mika agreed. She leaned into Allon who wrapped an arm around her. “It’s dangerous to be a woman alone on the road.”
“So I’ve learned.” She thought about the Mason—if he’d been t
“I won’t let her go unless she’s dressed as a man,” Allon said. “And she promises to stay away from people.” He shook his head. “But she had to help you.”
“Not help,” Mika interjected. “Trade. There’s a difference. So.” Mika paused. “I’ve told you my secret.”
“And you know mine,” Kara said.
“Mage Guild runaway,” Allon said.
“Yes,” Kara agreed. She’d already told Mika someone powerful was after her. She didn’t have to say it was the Mage Guild Secundus, did she?
“You still have something I want, Kara,” Mika said. “Will you stay here with us until you’ve taught me to read and write? I’ll take you to Rillidi after.”
“You should stay off the road for a while anyway,” Allon said. “Wouldn’t want anyone from Grana to recognize you as the runaway who was reported dead.”
“It would allow time for Mage Guild to get word,” Kara said. “Yes, I’ll stay. A few weeks, maybe a month.” She tried to keep the relief out of her voice, but the look on Mika’s face showed that he . . . no, she understood.
She took a sip of her almost forgotten beer. It was cool and slightly sweet. She felt a little knot of tension in her shoulders dissolve. Mage Guild would believe she was dead! And if they were no longer looking for her, she didn’t have to leave Tregella. She could even make her new life in Rillidi. Kara smiled, her first full smile since she’d left her mother in her room in Larona.
“I think she likes the idea of being dead,” Mika observed.
“Yes.” Kara gulped her beer and held her mug out for more. “If I’m dead to the right people.”
“YOU DID WELL,” Valerio said as he handed her a glass.
“Thank you,” Arabella replied. She sipped her drink and smiled. It was very fine—and expensive—Seyoyan mead from the southern islands. Proof that Valerio truly was pleased with her performance.
“Yes, very persuasive,” Mage Guild Primus Rorik said. He lifted his glass and saluted her. “You even garnered a vote not paid for.”
“Castio would vote for anyone wearing a skirt,” Valerio said. “I was expecting him to vote our way.” He sat on the settee beside Arabella.
“But not depending on it,” she said.
“Only a fool depends on a fool,” Valerio said. “Castio has been on council long enough to realize he won’t advance further, and he’s bored. That’s what drives him.”
“Then I’ll have to . . . excite him,” Arabella whispered to Valerio.
“I’m sure you already have,” Valerio replied softly.
“Castio is a fool,” Rorik said. “But he’s not stupid. You need to handle him carefully.”
“Of course, Primus,” Arabella said. Her opinion of the Primus matched his of Castio—a fool, but not stupid. She would have to handle him carefully as well.
“I must be off,” Rorik stated. He stood up, drained his glass, and set it down on a table. “I can’t spend too much time with the newest council member—she has plenty of time to make her own enemies, she doesn’t need mine.” The Mage Guild Primus nodded and left the room.
Once the door was closed, Arabella reached a hand out and stroked Valerio’s arm.
“I am glad that you are pleased with how I handled the nomination,” she said. She sipped her mead, meeting his eyes over the rim of the glass.
“You exceeded my expectations,” Valerio said.
He set his glass down and leaned over her. Arabella licked her lips. His pupils dilated, and his breath warmed her face. She moved her hand from his arm to his lap, and he sucked in a ragged breath.
“I have news,” he said as his hands found their way under her skirt, shifting the cloth out of the way. He dragged her on top of him, and they both fumbled with his trousers. Then he was free and in her.
“What news,” Arabella gasped. She rocked on top of him, pulling him in.
“The girl,” Valerio panted. “The runaway. My spell was successful.”
Arabella cried out in pleasure, and Valerio tensed, then relaxed, spent.
Arabella leaned her head against his chest and closed her eyes and smiled in contentment. She would bear his child—and it would be an only child.
“WHAT ABOUT THESE ones?” Kara asked, pointing at a clump of small, brown mushrooms that were growing on the side of a fallen tree.
“No,” Allon said. “Stay away from anything small and brown. They’re almost all poisonous. You want the bigger white ones.”
Kara and Allon were just a few steps into the woods beyond the clearing.
Kara sighed and straightened. “Will these kill right away?” She knew of more than one herb that would induce vomiting—if ridding the body of the poison was what was needed.
“Within minutes,” Allon said. “So I’ve heard.”
Kara nodded and stepped past another tree.
The three of them had quickly fallen into a routine. Mornings were spent on chores: tending the garden, caring for the burros, washing the laundry in a big tub of water pumped from the kitchen—all of the menial tasks required to run a household.
Afternoons, when the sun beat down and the wind blew hot and dry from the top of the mountain, they headed down to the shaded banks of the river for lessons. Kara taught Allon and Mika to read and write. In return, Allon showed her where and when to gather the plants and herbs she needed to make her potions and poultices, as well as what was safe to eat.
“Kara,” Allon called.
Kara looked over and met his steady gaze.
“Mika didn’t ask, but I will. Why did you run away from your guild?”
Kara moved to face him, leaning against a tree. Allon didn’t look angry, or upset, but that didn’t mean her answer couldn’t change things. Over the past week she’d learned that there wasn’t much Allon wouldn’t do to keep Mika safe.
“I have no magic,” Kara said.
“There are many in Mage Guild without magic—especially out here.” Allon crossed his arms, a frown on his face.
“My mother has magic, enough that Mage Guild is . . .” She paused. “Curious to find out if it skipped a generation.”
“So they want to see if your children have talent,” Allon said. “That’s the case for every child born into every guild.”
“Yes, but Mage Guild didn’t plan on leaving it to chance,” Kara said. “They were going to choose which Mages fathered my children.”
“Mages,” Allon said. “You think there would have been multiple fathers?”
“Yes,” Kara said. “And none of my choosing.”
“So you ran from having children forced on you,” Allon said. “I understand.”
“No,” Kara said. “You don’t. I ran from knowing that if my children did not have magic, they would have even fewer choices than I.”
After their talk, Allon seemed to relax, and the next few weeks were some of the most contented of her life. She felt safe and if not loved, at least trusted and respected by her hosts.
The wounds on her wrists healed, leaving thick scars that faded to a soft pink. If she’d been vain, she might have tried to fashion bracelets to cover and distract from the scars, but she didn’t worry much about how they looked. She was dead, after all.
The thought of that, the idea that she may have outwitted Mage Guild, left her feeling both relieved and nervous. Had Mage Secundus Valendi heard of her death? Is that why she hadn’t seen any more of his mage mist spells? Her mother, no doubt, was pleased. After all, Arabella Fonti’s problem was now permanently solved. But still, Kara knew she couldn’t stay much longer. She had her own life to make—and she could be repaying her hosts’ kindness by putting them in danger.
Finally it was time to leave. The days were getting shorter, and the sun was weak, even in the middle of the afternoon. Kara had picked and dried enough herbs to make potions and poultices to stock both the cabin and the leather pack Mika had give
And Mika needed to get to Rillidi and back before the fall rains made traveling the Mountain Road too dangerous.
“Are you sure you won’t stay?” Allon asked. He was struggling to harness a reluctant Zayeera to the cart. “At least over the winter?”
“Thank you, no. I need to find my own place in the world,” she said, repeating what her mother had told her, what felt like a lifetime ago. And it was true. Her mother may have had her own motives for setting her daughter on this path, but Kara had embraced it as her own. “I wish it could be here, but it’s not.”
“I understand,” Mika replied. “We all must find our own place, or person.” She glanced over at Allon, and the two shared a smile. “I’ll help you settle in Rillidi. Some unguilded on Old Rillidi Island owe me a favour.”
AFTER THE SERENE days in the meadow, traveling was almost unbearably tedious. Mika kept them to a steady pace, and both women and burro settled into it, although none of them were in good spirits.
In the mornings, they rose with the sun. Mika would tend to the burro while Kara cleaned up the camp. The morning meal was water and a piece of hard, salty cheese. An unguilded man made the cheese from the milk of half-tamed mountain goats, Mika said. There was a partial round of it in the wagon, and Kara’s task was to slice off a chunk for each of them.
Lunch was a piece of journey bread that Kara had helped Allon bake before they’d left the cabin. And whenever Kara spied mountain berries lining the road, they paused while she stripped the fruit off the bushes, although there was never more than a handful for each of them.
Each evening Mika led them off the road to a campsite she knew. With access to a spring or stream, the camps weren’t evenly spaced, so they didn’t stop at the same time every day. On days when they set up camp early, Kara would continue with Mika’s lessons.
On the fourth day after leaving the clearing, they passed the road to Villa Grana. From here the Mountain Road was wider and more heavily rutted. Wagons loaded with ores from the Grana mines used this road, Mika told her.
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