Shadow Run - Epilogue
Author's note: This is our final installment of the serial. My thanks - enormous thanks - to everyone who joined me on the journey.
Davs had no sooner ridden his edlak into the stable courtyard they shared with Ess’s mother and aunts than he fell out of the saddle onto the well-swept pavers. Ess, eager to get home, had ridden ahead up the hill on their sure-footed Sidle, and had already dismounted. They just managed the dive to prevent Davs’ head from hitting the stones.
What have you been hiding and how long? Zie swallowed a sigh and undid the stirrup straps on his bad leg before he slid off carefully and retrieved his cane from behind his saddle. After the afternoon in the saddle, his leg complained about wanting a hot bath and a long rest. He told it to shut up and be patient. Davs came first.
By the time he’d made it to their portion of the family compound, Ess had already carried Davs to their bedroom and was easing him down on the bed. Of all the comforts of home, Zie always missed this bed most. Long enough for Ess to stretch out comfortably and big enough for the three of them to curl up or sprawl as the mood took them, it was a luxury one didn’t often find on the road.
“Oof.” Ess stretched their back after yanking Davs boots off and hefting his feet onto the bed. “I swear you didn’t used to be this heavy.”
“Maybe it’s age,” Davs muttered as he cracked an eye open. “What in all the mother’s depths?”
Ess smoothed the nut-brown hair back from Davs’ forehead. “You fainted dead away, love. And Zie looks rather annoyed with you.”
“Hmm.” Zie leaned his cane against the bed and gave Ess a kiss on the cheek, the ishai rings pinging against each other as his ears flicked.. “Leave him with me, sheshu. The poor edlaks are standing in the yard.”
“Oh. Yes.” Ess straightened with a sigh. “Please don’t be too harsh with him, love.”
“No promises.” Zie settled on the edge of the bed next to his heroically large ishai, and when Ess had left, asked, “Where is it and how long?”
“I’m fine. Just tired.”
“You nearly cracked your head open, sheju.” Zie scooted closer to stroke Davs’ cheek, hoping that and his use of beloved—the masculine form to the non-gendered sheshu he used for Ess—would take the sting from his words. “You’re hiding a wound. It’s become infected. You forget that my nose is better than yours and I can smell it. Tell me where, or I get out a knife and cut your clothes off.”
Davs mumbled something that may have been bossy little man, but he sighed and rolled up his right shirt sleeve. “It’s not so bad. Honestly.”
“You’d say so if your arm were half lopped off.” Zie frowned to keep from hissing in dismay. Yes, the wound wasn’t terribly deep, slicing across muscle and missing tendons. But inflamed and sporting some unnatural colors, it was well and truly infected. “Why didn’t you simply tell me? We could’ve had this mended by now.”
“The client had an arrow in her leg,” Davs offered at his driest. “You were a little busy.”
“I wasn’t busy every moment of the last three days. And we got her home safe, as promised, yesterday.”
“You get so tired doing larger healings.” Davs sighed and let Zie take the arm into his lap. “And I really didn’t think it was bad.”
Zie only nodded in answer, already focusing on the wound. Some days, like this one, he missed Ke more than others, but she had left them the year before, gone back home after declaring that there was no more she could teach him. For anything else he wanted to learn, he was on his own.
The last year of his apprenticeship with her had been spent on healing. She had shown him to use pieces of the disciplines, particularly water, growth, pneuma, and sometimes fire, to treat various ailments and injuries. In all her tutelage, this was what Zie had latched onto tooth and claw, as something missing, something he needed.
Zie removed his hat and eyepatch, this one the plain black leather one he used for traveling, and set them on the end of the bed. With practice and Ke’s patient coaxing, he’d found that while his damaged eye no longer saw the physical world, it still showed him the shapes and tracks of magic with far greater accuracy than his unharmed one.
In Davs’ poor inflamed arm, in the smallest of the small spaces, he saw what he expected—the tiny invaders he had no name for, the ones causing the gash to sicken. He’d tried to explain it to Ess once, and they’d blithely taken to calling them the itty-bitty blood bugs. Close enough.
The most important thing was to encourage the body to engineer its own healing. He began the exacting process of deconstructing the invaders and speaking to Davs’ tiny blood guardians. They understood him and began to marshal their forces, picking up intelligence for their campaign from the slain invaders. They would do the rest, if all went well.
Zie patted Davs’ stomach. “That will do for now, though I need to clean it. Don’t even consider getting up.”
Cane in hand, he turned so Davs wouldn’t see his arm shaking as he clomped out of the room. Oh yes, he was tired. Beyond bone weary. He did find if he exhausted himself that he slept better, though. That and sex tended to stop the nightmares.
Five years in and they still haunted him. Not as often and not as screamingly dreadful as they were at first. Still.
Not that it had been a bad five years. On the contrary. As soon as they had arrived back in Pellienport, Essenin had gotten on their knees to ask them, formally, to be their ishai. The family had welcomed them with open arms and had helped to build the house for them on the sea cliff side of the shared property. Three rooms and a bath of their own, hot water piped in from the central boilers, room for their edlaks in the shared stables, and a few chockas in the yard.
They made their living as Davitts and Essenin always had, taking contract work as caravan guards and escorts. Ke would go with them to make sure the teaching was never interrupted, so there was usually little trouble with two sylvas mages in the company.
At first, the clients weren’t certain what to make of a crippled, one-eyed sylvas wearing braided gold ishai rings, but the first time Zie had called the wind to knock bandits out of the trees changed their outlook. Word had spread quickly and they’d been much in demand.
And there had been plenty to occupy him in those times in between jobs. A busy life, but a satisfying one.
Essenin caught up to him in the kitchen where he was heating water. “Is he all right?”
“He will be, no thanks to his stubborn nonsense,” Zie muttered as he poured the heated water into a pitcher. “He didn’t tell you either, did he? That he was in pain and fevered.”
“Of course not.” Ess snorted and gathered the supplies to carry them for Zie. “He knows I’d run right to you telling tales. Couldn't have that.”
Something was definitely bubbling in Essenin’s mind. They had that half smile that wasn’t quite a smile in place all through getting Davs cleaned up and tucked in, and still as they joined Zie in the bath to help each other wash off the travel dust. They kept silent until all three of them were in bed and Zie was beginning to drift toward sleep.
“I was thinking.”
“Dangerous,” Zie mumbled into Davs’ shoulder.
“Hush, you.” Ess reached across to swat his hip. “But I have been. Thinking. And Davs getting sick from a sword gash just made me think it harder.”
Davs cracked an eye open and sighed. “Are you going to tell what you’ve been thinking or just keep talking about thinking?”
“We’re not getting any younger—”
“We’re hardly in our dotage.” Zie lifted up on one elbow to peer across the expanse of Davs’ chest.
“Do you want to hear this or not?” Ess gave him a wounded look.
“I’m sorry, sheshu. Do go on.”
“Maybe…” Ess set both forearms on Davs’ chest as if he were a table, meeting Zie’s gaze directly. “Maybe it’s time to stop risking ourselves for money and reputation, before something really awful happens. Maybe it’s time to settle down. Stay put.”
“We’re too young to retire, sweets,” Davs rumbled. “Besides, what would you do with yourself? You’d make a nuisance of yourself with no honest occupation.”
“That hurts. Even if it’s true.” Ess patted the blanket, eyes shining with something barely held in check. “But see here. We’re very good at what we do. And there’s been no weapons’ school in town since old Faita retired. We should do that.”
“Retire?” Davs asked with a frown.
“No, start our own school. You’re very patient. And I’m very good.” Ess ignored the dual snorts. “And Zie could teach knife fighting if he wanted to. That’s something we didn’t learn much of.”
Davs picked up his head with a grunt. “You're serious about this. Yes, I see you are. We have some savings, but…”
“I did tell you I’ve been thinking. The family sets aside funds for new ventures. We’ll have to put the proposal in front of the aunties, make certain we’ve thought of all the questions they’ll ask, but I’m sure we can be persuasive enough for a loan. Just to get us started. The old school stands empty. No one’s been willing to take it on. Zie, love?”
Zie let the question hang between them a moment. “You have been thinking. But it’s hardly a conversation for when we’re all half dead from the road and Davs is poorly. Go to sleep. No decisions until morning.”
Thwarted, Ess plunked onto their back with a huff, but they behaved and the idea kept quite well until morning. Zie added his voice to the idea that it was time for his loves to stop flinging themselves into peril and Davs began the serious business of calculating who and how many they would need on staff, what equipment would have to be found, and how much the school’s building might be to purchase or perhaps to rent.
He left them to it. This was more their world than his, and while he would assist where he could, he also had his own concerns. Quietly, he packed up his satchel, gave them each a kiss, and headed down the hill to town.
In the poorest part of the city, he had his own establishment. No more than a poorly patched shack, but it had a door and there was a well nearby for water and a brazier inside for boiling. The residents knew that he came and went—something that was soon to change, apparently—but they always knew when he returned. Word spread quickly in the crowded tenements, called from room to room.
The healer’s back.
He opened the door and set a cobble against it to hold it open, lit the coals and set his cane against the wall. There were two low stools and a pallet stuffed with hay that someone had replaced in his absence. The residents knew by now that he took no fee for his services. They understood it as something he felt he must do, but were kind enough not to ask.
With his bag unpacked, Zie bowed his head and closed his eyes. “Zaia of the snows, I offer my labor this day as recompense for all the lives I took, willing or no. To those spirits still restless and wandering, I offer my skills as reparation, in the hope that you may be soothed and move on.”
He took his seat on one of the stools and only had to wait a few moments before his first patient arrived, a mother with a fevered toddler. Healing was the greatest gift Ke had given him in their four years together. Most likely his own soul would never be entirely at peace, but there was solace in this, these simple things he could do to ease another’s pain.
And with his loves giving up their lives of adventure and danger? Life would be full of wonderful things. Love and laughter and a safe domestic haven, and his work here, to give back what he could. He was content and could want no more. No one could ask for more peace than that.
Zie smiled as he sent the mother off with instructions to come back if the fever worsened again. He had a place to stop, to make a different sort of stand. He was home.
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Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.