Korin slept through breakfast. Would have slept even longer, but loud knocking at his door woke him in a breathless, sudden panic. Power sparked through his fingers until he remembered where he was. Remembered he was safe.

“Just a minute!” he called out, grabbing for clothes. The one outfit he owned was still damp from his attempt to scrub three weeks of travel out of it last night. Plus, it was too warm for this city and its omnipresent heat.

One of the girls from the tavern below was at his door with a tray of food, including a pitcher of orange juice that would have cost a month of his father’s wages back in the south. The girl had the tray balanced on one shoulder, rather than held in front of her, which drew Korin’s attention to the fact she was in one of those strange local dresses. Low cut at the neck, high cut at the ankles, and the soft brown skin of her stomach bared for all the world to see. After less than a day in this heat, Korin was feeling less scandalized and more jealous at how comfortable that must be in the heat.

The girl smiled at Korin and gave a little wink. “Marta sent your breakfast up, since you didn’t come eat with the rest. She says once you’ve finished to come see her.”

Korin nodded, understanding it was time to earn his keep. “Tell her I’ll be right there.”

He bolted the food, not wanting to keep Marta waiting. Plus he was still desperately hungry. The breakfast was strange—a bowl full of sweetened rice and vegetables—but delicious. And the juice: Korin savored that as much as he could. In his home town, they never had anything like this. In school, they’d had some slight better access to foods from warmer climates, but fresh fruit, or anything made from it, had still been a rare treat.

Korin took a minute at the small mirror on the wall behind his wash basin, frowning at his reflection. He wasn’t used to looking so ragged. No wizard of the Staff should. But the time on the ship had been hard, and he’d never found the trick of fixing his seasickness. Hard to figure out new magic with his stomach roiling and his head dizzier than he’d ever felt in his life.

Because Korin was what he was, he knew the difference between exhaustion and real injury. A few days of good sleep and real food would repair the damage to his body. Once he’d physically recovered, he could worry about the rest.

He carried his dishes down with him and found Marta in a small office tucked behind the kitchen. He stood in the doorway, quiet, until she looked up and saw him. “There you are.” She gave the same appraising look she had the night before. “Night’s sleep did you good.”

“Thank you.” How bad had he looked before? “Is this a good time?”

“Good as any other.”

Korin closed the door behind him. “Will we be interrupted?”

Marta shook her head, for the first time looking nervous in his presence. “You need anything? Any, I don’t know, tools or supplies?”

Korin shook his head. “Just me. And I’ll have to,” this was the part that usually made people uncomfortable. “I’ll have to touch you—where it hurts.” Korin’s hands were fisted behind his back. The wraps he usually wore had been so filthy and tattered, he’d had to throw them out. But he wasn’t ready for the moment when Marta saw—when she would flinch away and no longer meet his eyes and then hurry him on his way like his hands were catching.

Marta stood up, turned so her bad hip was facing him. Completely at ease. She put her hand on the wall for balance, said, “I tried to go to a wizard. After I fell. One of those black-robed fellows, with the animals.”

“Order of the Wing,” Korin answered automatically.

“Sure, right. Lots of their kind in the city. None a yours.”

Korin listened to her talk with one part of his mind as another focused on his breathing, slow and relaxed, slipping into the right mental space for magic.

“He wanted money. More money than I ever had.”

As Korin fell into a light trance, he once again saw the crackling red lines that ran over and through Marta’s hip. The places it had gone wrong. This was what had drawn his attention last night. He’d seen the injury, known the pain it was causing her. She’d fallen, all right. She’d been lucky enough not to break it clear through, but Korin could see where it had fractured and regrown. Left like this, it was only a matter of time before the bones just snapped with age.

As Korin focused, the crimson lines grew clearer, run through with bright flashes of Marta’s pain.

“Too much to ask those greedy bastards spare a little help for those of us who don’t live posh.”

If he stripped away the tendrils of pain, the lines of wrong, Korin could see the shape the bone had been. He could see how it was supposed to be. Clean and whole.

He lay a hand over the place that was broken. “This going to hurt?” Marta asked, her face turned away.

Korin couldn’t pull himself out of the trance to answer. She’d know soon enough.

He’d found the shape of what the bone should be, buried beneath the injury. The echo of what it had been for years, before that sharp, sudden change. A moment of sudden power, and the bone remembered.

Korin’s mind grabbed at the remembered shape, imposed it over the bad lines and snapped them together with a burst of will.

Marta gasped. Her hand locked over Korin’s wrist; her nails dug into his skin. The pain of it was a distant awareness as Korin traced soothing energy through Marta’s hip, fixing those little things that had gone astray when he’d reshaped the bone to what it should be. Torn capillaries, flesh and tendons pulled and shifted. A wave of power and he’d set everything to right.

He opened his eyes, looked up at Marta’s tight face. “Better?”

She gave a cautious nod. “Yeah, I think. Hurt like the pit, but only for a minute.” She bent her leg, flexed it, testing. “Feels fine now.”

“Good.” One night of sleep hadn’t been enough to erase the exhaustion, or to dull the edges of grief and fear Korin had been holding back for days. This small act of good, the thankful look in Marta’s face, it was almost too much. “I’ll leave you to—“

Marta caught at Korin’s hands as he pulled back. Turned them face-up, frowned. “What’s this?”

Korin pulled free of her grip, gently, and closed his fists over the scars that rippled across his palms, made his skin into a patchy ragged mess. “An old injury. I’m sorry.” The apology was automatic. So many people were horrified by the hands Korin used to heal them.

Marta shrugged, sat back at her desk. “You’ve got power, boy, no question of that. No matter to me what skin it comes through.” She crossed her arms and the appraising business-woman from last night was back before him. “So, wizard of the Staff, new to Triome. Look like you’re from the south, and you ain’t got a bit of money on you. You running from something?”

Korin didn’t try to lie. He was horrible at it, and Marta seemed the type to be good at spotting them. All he could hope was that he’d earned himself enough good will for honesty. “Yes.”

“Anyone chasing you?”

Again, he stuck to the truth. “I don’t know.”

She nodded with a satisfied look, like he’d answered more than she’d asked. “You got a plan yet?”

Korin shook his head.

Marta nodded again. “Figured as much. Well, I’m happy to make use of you, long as you want to stay here. I’d never turn away a wizard under my roof, even one of your kind. You’ve got lodging and all the food you can eat, long as you give help to any of mine that ask.”

Korin wasn’t sure what she meant by one of your kind, but, “That sounds fair.”

Marta barked a laugh. “It isn’t, not by a long shot. I’m taking horrible advantage. But there we are. Meanwhile,” she unlocked a drawer with the key on her belt, rummaged around and pulled out two silver coins. “Go get yourself some decent clothes. You’ll melt in that wool shirt, especially once Spring really sets on.”

Korin froze. The offered coins were more than Korin had asked for, completely unexpected. It was too much for his overtaxed mind to process. Marta rolled her eyes and grabbed his hand again, pressing the coins against his fingers until he took them.

Korin rubbed his thumb over the exotic pattern on the coins’ faces. “I don’t know how much money this is,” he confessed.

“Light help you, boy. If you get through the day without getting robbed or swindled, I’ll be amazed. That’s two silver marks. If you stay this side of the river, that coin will buy you a couple second hand sets of clothes with enough left over for a treat or two. Remember twelve pennies to a mark, as long as they’ve got the face of the dead King on em. Don’t take any of your southern pennies as change. They go about half as far here.”

“Thank you.” Korin closed his fist tight around the money. His throat was thick with emotion. “I don’t know—“

“None of that. Out you go. Some of us got work to do.”


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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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