The Bonemender's Oath - Holly Bennett - E-Book

The Bonemender's Oath E-Book

Holly Bennett

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In The Bonemender, Gabrielle took her talent for healing into battle where her father died in her arms; she fell in love with a man who turned out to be an Elf, with a lifespan many times that of a Human, and she learned that she was not whom she had believed herself to be. Now, the war is over, but the threat from across the mountains has only withdrawn for the time-being, and danger lurks closer to home. Both Gabrielle and her brother Tristan must fight for their lives and for those they love, as Gabrielle struggles to save a young man who thinks himself her enemy.

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THEBONEMENDER’S OATH

HOLLY BENNETT

Copyright © 2006 Holly BennettAll rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproducedor transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, includingphotocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval systemnow known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in PublicationBennett, Holly, 1957-The bonemender’s oath / Holly Bennett.ISBN 1-55143-443-1    I. Title.PS8603.E5595B66 2006        jC813’.6        C2006-902526-6Summary: In this sequel to The Bonemender, Gabrielle and her brother Tristanfight to keep safe those they care for and to find a place for love in their lives.First published in the United States 2006Library of Congress Control Number: 2006926564Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishingprograms provided by the following agencies: the Government ofCanada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program andthe Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbiathrough the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.Cover artwork, cover design, interior map: Cathy MacleanTypesetting: Christine TollerIn Canada:PO BOX5626, Stn. BVictoria, BC CanadaV8R 6S4In the United States:PO BOX468Custer, WA USA98240-0468www.orcabook.comPrinted and bound in Canada.09  08  07  06  •  5  4  3  2  1Printed on 100% old growth forest free paper that is 50% postconsumer waste, 100% recycled and chlorine free.

This one’s for my dad. We miss you.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

Authors do not squeeze writing into their “spare time” without their families feeling it, so I want to thank my husband John and three wonderful sons for their enthusiasm and support, even when I spend the entire weekend hunkered over the computer or am only half at the dinner table because my other half is wandering around in la-la land. Thanks also to my editor, Maggie de Vries, who makes the hard work of revision almost painless and claims to cry at the sad parts of my stories.

CHAPTER ONE

HISfather had done it better, Derkh thought. As usual. To be killed all at once, have it done with—that was Col’s style. A soldier’s death. And Derkh? He would die slowly, without honor, forgotten in a cart at the arse-end of a battlefield.

The surgeons, busy with casualties from the night raid that killed his father, had not thought to check on the wounded boy they had given up on days before. No one had even brought food or water until sunset of the following day. He had asked that man to fetch a surgeon.

“I’ll tell ‘em,” the soldier had promised, but the accompanying shrug suggested, Don’t get your hopes up.

The next morning the fever was back—a hot/cold ache in his joints and behind his eyeballs—and a hungry flame licked at his belly. Still no one came. Derkh thought about trying to change the bandaging himself. He even forced himself to sit up despite the knifing pain and dizziness—but he would never manage to strike a fire and brew up the herbs Gabrielle had left him.

By the time a surgeon appeared in his tent, Derkh’s thoughts were drifting, unconnected fragments, but he tried to pull them together and relay Gabrielle’s instructions.

“There’s no time, soldier,” the surgeon replied. “We’re heading out now.”

Derkh hoped Gabrielle had made it out alive. It was the only hope he had left.

“DERKH? ARE YOU all right? Are you in pain?”

Gabrielle’s face, rocking back and forth with the motion of the cart, was inches from his. She must have been recaptured, he realized with sorrow. Then his head cleared, and he was in the present again.

“No, I’m fine. Sorry. I was dreaming, I guess.”

But was it a dream? Dreams were nonsense; this was memory so vivid it seemed real. Derkh wasn’t even sure he had been asleep. He knew he would just as soon forget the things his mind insisted on reliving.

But now he was waking, and it was the present that loomed large. They were nearing Chênier. Gabrielle had conveyed this news cheerfully, as though he should be glad of it. She didn’t seem to realize that the end of this long journey south was not a homecoming for him.

Derkh had seen the hard looks from the Verdeau men—not those who served under Gabrielle’s brother, Tristan, but others. They wondered, and rightly, why a prisoner of war was cosseted like a long-lost relative. He was a Greffaire soldier and before long would have to answer to that charge. And what then? Prison? Slavery? Execution, after Gabrielle’s long labor to save him? The rule of Verdeau and the will of the king’s officers would decide; a healer’s friendship would not be enough to protect him.

Derkh pushed himself to sitting, ignoring the protest in his belly. He would walk for a while, for as long as Gabrielle would allow, and he would savor each painful step. Whatever his fate, it seemed certain his days of walking free under the summer sun were coming to an end.

TRISTAN HAD TO rein in his horse at the sight of the familiar towers of the castle, gray stone outlined against the perfect blue of an early summer sky. Home. The banners bearing Verdeau’s green and white were playful in the breeze.

Only a season it had been since Tristan had headed out with the Verdeau army to meet the invaders from the north. One brutal spring, filled with more horror and loss than he had ever known. He had thought coming home would be the easy part.

But nothing he had faced had been harder than this: riding into his own courtyard a day ahead of the returning army, so that his mother would not have to hear from a messenger that her husband, King Jerome DesChênes of Verdeau, would not be coming home at all.

The road approaching Chênier was studded with sentries, Tristan noted with approval. No doubt his brother Dominic had undertaken the defense of the city with his usual competence.

Then it was his own gatehouse before him, and Yves coming forward to meet him. Yves knew better than to press for details, but Tristan gave him the basics: “It’s over, Yves. We won.” And then he looked ahead, to the wide oak doors that would lead him to his family.

“MATTHIEU, LOOK, THERE are lots of ripe strawberries. Come and try some.”

Matthieu DesChênes glanced over at his mother where she knelt among the low plants. He didn’t know why she liked to be in the garden so much. Matthieu’s father, Dominic, would be king one day. His mama could have servants bring her strawberries anytime she wanted, but there she was, pulling them off their stems and holding them out enticingly.

Matthieu liked strawberries, though, so he joined his mother and filled his mouth with the succulent fruits. A dribble of red juice escaped his lips, and Justine wiped it away with her thumb and smiled. “Yummy, aren’t they?” Matthieu nodded, but he wasn’t thinking about strawberries. He was thinking about the war. He leaned over and carefully disgorged the red, runny pulp onto the inside of his wrist.

“Matthieu! What in the world—?”

“If I got wounded in the war, it would look like this,” he said, admiring the effect. “But if your whole arm got cut off, that would be blood everywhere, wouldn’t it Mama?”

He had gone too far. He could tell by the way Justine’s face became closed in and hard. “That is enough, young sir! This is no kind of talk for a five-year-old boy.” She pulled a hankie from her skirt pocket and scrubbed the red stain from his arm.

“Mama.” Matthieu’s voice had gone all choky and quiet. It meant he might cry. He hated to cry, but he couldn’t help it. Justine heard, and her face softened. Her hands became gentle, smoothing open his clenched fingers.

“What’s wrong, then?”

“I want them to come home: Grandpa, and Uncle Tristan and Gabrielle.”

Matthieu still didn’t know exactly what the war was or where it was. But he knew he didn’t like how quiet and empty the castle was, how the grown-ups were always talking together in low, worried voices and then giving him pretend smiles when they saw him, like the ones painted on the faces on the dumbshow players that he saw last winter. He didn’t really like thinking about swords cutting off arms, either.

“Oh, lovey.” Justine knelt and held him close. “We all do. We just have to keep hoping they will come back soon. And safe.” Matthieu nestled against his mother’s shoulder, but his eyes, curious and alert as ever, were drawn to the gatehouse. Old Yves was talking to somebody.

Matthieu squinted as a figure came into view. Maybe it was another messenger.

TRISTAN HAD TAKEN only a few steps across the courtyard when a small shape came arrowing toward him over the broad lawn. Matthieu didn’t stop running until he barreled into Tristan’s legs and wrapped both arms tight around his uncle’s thighs.

“Whoa, boy! You’re going to knock me right over!”

The boy gazed up with shining eyes. “Uncle Tris! Is the war over? Did you win? I’m five now, and look!” He grasped his lower lip and pulled it down to his chin. “I lost a tooth!”

Matthieu’s chatter stopped as he took in Tristan’s plaster cast. Silent, eyes wide, he touched it with a tentative finger. “Did you get your arm chopped off?”

Tristan guffawed, a heartfelt laugh that made him feel, for a moment, that perhaps nothing had changed after all, that the banners had every reason to fly gay and carefree in the sun. He ruffled Matthieu’s brown hair. “No, Matthieu. It’s just a break, and Gabrielle fixed it. When she takes off the plaster, I’ll be right as rain.”

“Ohhh,” the boy breathed, looking, Tristan thought, just a little disappointed.

But Tristan’s attention had turned back to the doorway, opening even now. It was time. He bent down to the tousled head. “I have to go talk to your grandma now, Matthieu,” he said gently.

He watched as his family emerged onto the landing: Justine, holding her daughter Madeleine by the hand, guiding her to one side to make room for Solange; Dominic hovering protectively behind. Tristan drew a deep breath. “Help me find the words, Gabi.” The whisper was a kind of prayer. He wished his sister were beside him now—she would know how to do this right.

Tristan strode up the long walkway and folded his mother into his arms.

GABRIELLE WOULD HAVE given almost anything to be at Tristan’s side at that moment—but not a man’s life. One of the wounded soldiers had spiked a raging fever in the night and lay too ill even to swallow the bonemender’s herbals. Gabrielle’s unique skills were his last recourse, and so she put aside regret and spent the day beside her patient in a rattling cart, pushing back the infection that threatened to overwhelm him.

By the next morning, when Verdeau’s soldiers marched into Chênier at last, her patient was out of danger. All around them, people were cheering, worried loved ones straining to catch sight of the sons and husbands and brothers to whom they had bid farewell a season ago. And there was Solange, clapping and waving for the troops, never again to stand with her husband by her side. The sight of her—a small, erect figure flanked by her two grown sons—all but broke Gabrielle’s heart.

“I can’t stand this. I have to go to her,” Gabrielle said to Féolan.

“Go,” he urged. “You are no soldier. Are you bound to linger here, awaiting dismissal?”

“I guess not. You, either.” She glanced up at the tall Elf walking at her side. She had not questioned his decision to make the journey home with her, only accepted it gladly. They belonged together now.

“Yet I will stay. Your mother needs family now, not a guest.”

And she had pushed through the thick ranks of men and taken her place with the DesChênes family—her family, always, whatever her actual parentage. Gabrielle could only imagine the effort of will that allowed Solange to stand so straight and composed on the high dais set up in the mustering grounds, welcoming the returning soldiers, praising their victory and sending her own condolences to those who had lost loved ones.

Only later, in their own home, had Solange allowed an embrace and the tears that must follow. And then, ensconced with Gabrielle in her chamber, Solange had insisted on the full, painful telling of Jerome’s death.

“He suffered very little, Mama,” Gabrielle ended miserably. “That much comfort I can give you.”

“More than that, my love,” assured her mother. “He died in his daughter’s arms, not alone, and though it was appallingly foolish of you to take that risk, I will be forever grateful for it.” She took Gabrielle’s hands in her own and squeezed them. “You go on downstairs now.” Her lips were trembling, but she shooed Gabrielle away. “You have guests to see to, I think. And a story of your own to tell, by the looks of it, which I will ask for tomorrow.”

DERKH WAS ALREADY tucked into bed in Gabrielle’s little clinic, with Féolan in attendance.

“Just like old times,” Féolan remarked, as she stepped into the room. He had spent a good part of the previous summer in that same clinic, watching over his friend Danaïs’s recovery.

Gabrielle stood in the doorway and let her eyes roam over the familiar shelves and cabinets, the four neat beds, the bright windows. Once, she thought, this orderly clean space had represented her image of a bonemender’s work: helping people through illness and the natural cycle of birth and death, the occasional setting of a bone or stitching of an accidental cut—not struggling in a sea of gore and filth to keep a man’s guts from spilling out of his body. It seemed a quaint little refuge now.

“This is where you live?” Derkh’s abrupt question cut short her reverie.

“Yes,” she replied, wondering at the tension in the young Greffaire’s voice.

“But this is the castle,” he said, pointing out the obvious. “Are you the Royal Surgeon?”

Féolan laughed. “Gabrielle, you’ve misled the lad. Confess, girl!”

Gabrielle caught Derkh’s anxious confusion and was instantly remorseful. “This is my family home,” she explained. “When I was your father’s prisoner, I didn’t want him to know who I was. And when we met up again later, after the battle, I never thought to tell you. King Jerome was my father.” And even that was not the whole truth, because she was someone else now, wasn’t she? But it seemed more than enough for Derkh, who was shaking his head in disbelief.

“Derkh,” she said, smiling as she pulled up a chair beside the bed. “I am not a different person because of my family.”

The young Greffaire considered this statement in baffled silence. Then he looked up at Gabrielle, dark eyes nearly black against the white pillow. “In my country you would be.”

CHAPTER TWO

TRISTAN, his face set in a solemn mask, stared out over the bowed heads of the crowd. Verdeau’s regents, high officials and noble families had traveled from every corner of the country to attend King Jerome’s funeral rites; the Great Hall was packed tight with mourners and stiflingly hot.

What is wrong with me? he wondered. He had felt restless since his return home, as if an uneasy beast were pent up inside him, pacing back and forth in its confinement. He lay awake night after night, a new and unwelcome experience for a man who had always slept soundly, even on the ground in the Krylian foothills. And now here he was, unable to concentrate on his own father’s funeral. He tried to find some meaning in the long, dismal service, or at least from standing with his family and with the people of his country, to honor Jerome’s memory. But he could not grasp onto the stream of words or close the distance that set him apart from those he loved.

Afterward, an endless line of well-wishers filed past to greet the royal family. Tristan and his family stood in formal order: first his mother, Solange, erect and gracious despite the exhaustion she must feel; then his older brother, Dominic, Regent of the Blanchette Coast, and Dominic’s wife Justine; and Gabrielle, so different from Tristan with her mysterious insights and abilities, yet so close to him too. By the time they make it to me at the end of the line, he thought, they are probably as tired of the whole business as I am.

Tristan had always connected effortlessly with people from all walks of life. Today, though, was almost more than he could endure. An hour crept by, more, and still he was grasping hands, nodding politely, mouthing platitudes. His eyes swept down the visitation line—still so many people—and came to rest on a tall, slightly stooped form and gray head just visible above the crowd. André Martineau of Blanchette. Rosalie’s father.

It was like awakening from a foggy dream. For several anxious moments his view was blocked. Then André stepped forward, and Tristan caught a glimpse of Rosalie’s dark head and pink cheek. She came, he thought, and his heart tripped into a canter, mourning or no.

Tristan had left for the war without telling Rosalie how he felt about her—without even telling himself. But all the way home she had hung in his thoughts—a small, dark-haired, high-spirited girl with laughing brown eyes and round pink cheeks. Now, from a single glimpse, he realized what had been eating at his heart.

The line inched along until at last he was shaking André’s hand, murmuring his thanks at the words of condolence. And then Rosalie stood before him, her eyes welling with tears. “Tristan, I’m so sorry.”

He didn’t hesitate. He wrapped his arms around her in a bear hug, despite the crowd of onlookers, and held on for dear life. “Rosie,” he whispered. “Rosie, I’m so glad you’re here.” Her answering squeeze made it clear she was glad too. He released her, keeping hold of one hand. Such a small, neat hand. “Will you be staying for a while?” he asked. “Promise you won’t run back to Blanchette without telling me, like last time. I need to talk to you.”

DERKH SAT IN the little garden outside Gabrielle’s clinic, legs extended, head tipped back to the warm spring sun. He appeared relaxed, but his belly was tight with anxiety. As Derkh’s wound healed and his strength returned, worries for the future had begun to trouble him. What was he doing here? He was a Greffaire soldier. That Gabrielle had first healed and then befriended him did not change that fact. By rights, he should be a prisoner, not a guest.

A creak of hinges interrupted his brooding thoughts; craning his neck, he saw Gabrielle step through the clinic door behind him.

“Hi,” he said, the word feeling strange in his mouth. There was no real equivalent in Greffaire: either the greeting was more formal, addressed to a superior, or omitted altogether. “Come to check me again?”

Even in her plain mourning dress she looked radiant, and her quick smile washed over him like sunshine.

“I’ll take a look, yes, if I may. But unless you’ve had an unexpected setback, I’m thinking it’s time for you to stop being a patient. I’m having a room prepared for you upstairs, and you can take your meals with us from now on.”

Derkh’s face flushed dark. Here was something he had not expected. It had been shock enough to discover that Gabrielle was, in fact, of Verdeau’s royal family and to find himself in their very castle. Yet the DesChênes family, including the queen herself, had shown him nothing but kindness. Derkh’s family was of high enough rank in his own country, but even his father Col, who as high commander of the armed forces certainly attended tactical meetings with the emperor, would never have lodged in the palace nor spoken with the emperor’s family. Derkh was well aware that his fate would have been different indeed had the situation been reversed and he a Verdeau soldier captured in Greffier. At first he had been too full of dazed gratitude to feel anything else.

But this. To eat with them, and while they mourned for the king his own people had killed—it was unthinkable.

He didn’t know how to respond. He didn’t understand Verdeau protocol, the manners and conventions that lay behind his hosts’ easy manners. He only knew he must refuse.

“I think I should eat in the kitchen, with the servants,” he mumbled. That would be bad enough: all of them knowing where he came from, reminded of it every time he opened his mouth to speak, tolerating him only because of Gabrielle’s protection.

For a moment Gabrielle looked as though she had been slapped. Derkh hated himself for causing that look. Then she covered it with a warm concern he wished he could deflect. “If that’s what you want, Derkh, of course,” she said. Not happy, though hiding it. “But you are our guest, and more than welcome at our table. I wish you would join us.”

“I can’t,” he said. “Gabrielle, I can’t. Your mother. She should not have to...” Make polite talk with her dead husband’s enemy over breakfast, he thought, and could not find less vicious words to say.

Gabrielle’s calm voice rescued him. “It’s all right. I’ll tell the cook to make a place for you and to let you know when mealtimes are.” And then changing the subject: “Why don’t you take that bandage off and let the air at your skin? I’ll come back in an hour or so to redo it.”

She hesitated at the door to the clinic, turned back to face him.

“Derkh...I know it must be awkward for you here. But give it time. Things will work out.”

Will they? he wondered. How?

IN TRUTH, QUEEN Solange no more thought of Derkh as the enemy responsible for Jerome’s death than she would a Greffaire warhorse. She saw only an abandoned, sick boy, and her immediate instinct had been to gather him into the fold. She asked about him at dinner that night.

“I thought Derkh might join us tonight.”

“I offered,” Gabrielle said, still puzzled. “He seemed alarmed at the prospect. He asked to eat in the kitchen.”

“Maybe because we are in mourning,” Solange suggested. Jerome’s funeral rites were only a few days past, and his absence at the table still loomed large over their meals.

“Yeah, he’s what, maybe fifteen years old?” offered Tristan, his words emerging—barely—through a large mouthful of pheasant. Gabrielle didn’t necessarily want this view of his half-chewed dinner, but she was glad to see that her brother’s legendary appetite had returned. She’d been a bit worried about him. “When I was his age, I wouldn’t have wanted to sit with a bunch of strangers who just had a funeral. I’d have been afraid they’d be weeping all the time, and me not knowing what to do.”

Tristan had, in fact, done his share of weeping over Jerome’s death, including at mealtime. But his sense of loss was changing now into something less sharp, something held more quietly in the heart.

“Mama, Uncle Tristan is talking with his mouth full,” Madeleine pointed out. Tristan crossed his eyes at her and opened his mouth as wide as it would go, giving her such a cavernous view that Madeleine’s prim smirk dissolved into helpless giggling.

“Yes, Madeleine, and it’s equally rude to point out other people’s mistakes,” replied Justine, doing her best to ignore Tristan’s antics.

“You might try that little trick with Rosalie, Tris,” suggested Dominic. “It’s sure to impress her.”

Gabrielle joined in the laughter, but her mind circled back to Derkh. She wished she could talk to Féolan about the boy’s growing unhappiness. Oddly enough, he seemed to have a closer rapport with Derkh than any of them.

But Féolan was riding north, to his home in the Elvish settlement of Stonewater. “There will be a lament for our own fallen,” he had explained to Gabrielle. “I may already have missed it, but I must try. I do not even know who has been lost and who lives.”

CHAPTER THREE

TRISTAN’S eyes followed the watercourse of the Avine River as far south as he could see. Somewhere beyond the limits of his vision lay Blanchette and the ocean.

“It’s long since I’ve been to the coast,” he mused. “In my memory, the wind is always blowing. I remember feeling it would catch my clothes and lift me into the air like a kite.”

Rosalie and Tristan had ridden south to a lookout terrace that jutted out over the river some miles from Chênier. They had picnicked and chatted and teased each other, and if Tristan did not speak soon he would find himself back in the castle and this carefully engineered opportunity wasted.

Rosalie smiled. “You were smaller then, I expect. Though I still feel I might be carried off when the gale blows hard. But on calm days, the sun sparkles on the sea like a thousand diamonds. That makes up for the wind.”

“That’s how I feel when I look at you,” said Tristan, “like I might be carried off.”

He turned to her then, his blue eyes serious and searching. “Rosie, perhaps I should not speak of this in a time of mourning. But I know my father would take no offense, and I cannot wait longer. It has been in my heart for so long.”

Tristan paused, disconcerted at how difficult he was finding this. It was like leaping over a cliff, not knowing whether deep water or jutting rock lay at the bottom. Just say it, man. He steeled himself and tried again. “All the way home from the war I thought of you, of how badly I wanted to be with you,” he said, “needed to be with you. I was desperate with it. And at my father’s funeral, when I saw you there...it saved me. I love you, Rosie. I know your father is not... He thinks I’m irresponsible, not serious enough. But I’m not. I mean I am. I know what it means to be a family. And I—”

A small hand covered his mouth, cutting off his words. Brown eyes that sparkled like the sun on the sea held his.

“Yes. If what you’re trying to do is ask me to marry you, then yes—though I could grow gray as my father waiting for you to spit it out!”

STOPPING BY THE kitchen to speak to the cook, Gabrielle was surprised to see Derkh in the scullery, scrubbing out cook pots. She raised her eyebrows questioningly at the cook.

“Oh, him. I thought he was terrible snooty at first, you know. He never spoke a word to the one of us. But after a few days, he come to me private and asked if I had work he could do. I reckon he’s just shy to speak with that horrid thick tongue of his. Not much wonder, either.”

“No,” said Gabrielle. “Not much wonder.” Poor Derkh, she thought. I’ve been a neglectful host. There had been little time for entertaining anyone, and in fairness Derkh had made himself scarce since his discharge from the little infirmary. Still she felt a stab of remorse to find him up to the elbows in dishwater. Yet...she was proud of him too. Honest work was healthier than idleness.

“Can you tell Derkh?” she asked the cook. “Not now—after I’ve gone.” She didn’t know if it would shame him to be seen playing the pot-boy, and she wasn’t about to find out. “Just say I was looking for him and would like to speak with him. Tell him I’ll be in the clinic for the next while.”

DERKH EDGED INTO