1615, House Saiciae, Nochet
11-year-old Varanis is lying in her bed in her own room. Her arm is on top of her blanket, all wrapped up. There are cuts and scrapes on her face, none of them particularly bad.
There’s a knock at the door. When Varanis replies, the door opens. Mellia comes in, bearing a tray with two mugs on it, one blue, one green. She shuts the door behind her with her foot. “Varanis? I brought you some herbal tea. Are you awake?”
“Yeah,” comes the mumbled reply from the bed. “Hi Mellia. Are you going to lecture me too?”
“No,” Mellia says. “Drink this blue mug first. It’s for the pain. I mixed up the herbs myself.”
“Thank you,” her cousin replies, pulling herself into a sitting position.
Mellia smiles and helps Varanis hold the blue mug. The green one is nearby where it won’t be knocked over. “You look awful, were you wrestling Cousin Xenofos again?” At eleven, Mellia’s bedside manner needs work.
“No.” She looks sullen.
“Then what happened? Drink more of that,” adds Mellia.
She holds the mug and sips slowly. “I was climbing and I fell,” she admits finally.
“Ow,” says Mellia. “All I bothered to listen to of the House gossip was that you’d broken a bone.”
“Yeah. I botched the landing.” She flushes with embarrassment.
“I’m sorry to hear that. As soon as you finish that mug, you can have your tea that speeds healing.”
“But Grandmother said…” She looks at Mellia, then stares into her cup.
“What did Grandmother say?”
“I am supposed to heal the long way. So, I’ll remember that bad choices have consequences.” She takes a sip from the tea without looking up.
“It’s only herbs,” Mellia says, then turns defiant. “And anyway, I don’t care.”
“I just wanted to see how high I could go,” Varanis says. “And I went really high! The fall happened when I was climbing down.”
Mellia smiles. “That sounds like fun.”
“I think part of the problem might have been my choice of locations….” She tries to look innocent, but fails miserably.
“What were you climbing?” Mellia’s question carries a certain amount of concern.
Varanis’ face lights up with enthusiasm when she answers. “The Sky Temple…”
“Even I stay out of the palace unless invited, including the royal gardens,” says Mellia, startled. “Do you think the Queen is angry?”
“It has amazing views. I could see the Queen’s gardens.” In her enthusiasm, she has forgotten her tea. “And I wasn’t in the Palace. I was just kind on some of it. I don’t know if the Queen knows,” she admits looking vaguely worried but then shrugging it off. “I fell outside the palace grounds.”
“Finish the tea,” Mellia says firmly. “They might be used to people climbing the Sky Temple by now, but then that might be sacred ground. I suppose I could go ask.”
“Or not,” Varanis suggests hopefully.
“Or not go ask. Finish the tea; I think it works better when it’s hot.”
“No one offish’ly knows where I was climbing.” She sips more tea, making a face. “I think Grandmother would prefer to keep it that way.”
“What? I put plenty of honey in it,” says Mellia.
“There’s something funny tasting in there.” She sniffs at it. “You made it yourself? How’d you learn? Are you sure it’s ok?”
“I learned from talking to the gardeners and the aunts. I also have a class in herb lore. Mother is beginning to relent, but she still wants me to at least consider Ernalda.” Mellia reaches for the mug.
Varanis relinquishes it without argument. She tries to shift herself more upright, but jars her left arm in the process. She winces.
“Hmm… this should be fine,” Mellia says after swishing the tea around her mouth and swallowing. “Maybe you’d better try the other mug now.”
“I’m bored. And Grandma Mirava isn’t going to let me do anything!” The sulk is back, but she accepts the second cup. “She even took my servant away. She said I could have her back when I quit arguing. I wasn’t arguing, Mellia. I was being right.”
Mellia offers, “I can come visit? And how are you supposed to heal that arm if you keep trying to use it?”
“Yes, please visit!” She ignores the second question.
Mellia beams. “I’ll come by every day.”
When Varanis finally gets around to taking a sip of the tea and from the look on her face, she is trying not to spit it out.
“Swallow,” Mellia commands. “I took a sip of that already. That’s why I gave you the pain-killing cup first, so you wouldn’t taste the second tea.”
The other girl swallows the tea and then stares at her cousin. “Are you trying to poison me?!”
Mellia looks horrified. “No!”
“That tastes gross! Are you sure it will help?” Blue-grey eyes stare dubiously at the cup.
“It has every bone-healing herb I know of that’s safe to drink in it.” Mellia may have overdone it…
Varanis tries to lift her left hand and yelps. Tears start in her eyes.
“It doesn’t work instantly,” Mellia says, “it just helps you heal.” Mellia’s eyes are getting shiny.
“I just… can you pinch my nose? I’m going to drink it fast.” There is as much determination as an 11-year-old child can muster, which is a pretty impressive amount of determination, if you’ve ever tried to argue with one.
Mellia nods and pinches Varanis’ nose.
Varanis takes several big swallows from the cup. Then stops and gasps. “Oh, Mellia! That’s horrible!”
“I would have brought honey,” Mellia protests, “but the cooks watch that closely. I honestly couldn’t get a whole jar out of the kitchen.”
“Pinch my nose again. I’m gonna finish it this time.” Wisps of red hair have escaped her plaits and frame a face set with stubborn pride. “I’m not giving up.”
Mellia nods and pinches Varanis’ nose shut again. Varanis takes a deep breath before bringing the cup to her lips and draining the lukewarm bitter liquid. She comes up gasping but the cup is empty.
Mellia takes the cup and applauds.
When she finally catches her breath, she looks at Mellia through eyes glassy with tears. “Maybe it would be better if I hadn’t let it cool so much,” she offers.
“Maybe,” agrees Mellia, looking worried.
“Can I have another sip of the one with honey? Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.”
Mellia nods and gives the blue mug back to Varanis.
Sipping from the other cup, her cousin looks more relaxed than when Mellia first arrived. “When you come visit me, will you bring a…” Her words start to slow down towards the end of the sentence and she stops, searching for the one she wants. “Game?” She looks triumphant and tired. The cup wobbles a little as Varanis takes another sip.
“What kind of game?” asks Mellia. Just then there’s a voice from the hallway: “Mellia, I know I heard you. If you’re skipping lessons again, Mother’s going to be furious.”
“Oh no,” Mellia groans quietly, “It’s my big sister Breda.”
“Go ‘way, Breda. She’s m’healer,” Varanis murmurs sleepily. Her grip on the cup looks precarious, but she has yet to spill. She takes another mouthful, smiling happily at the cup.
Mellia takes the blue cup just as Breda sticks her head in. Breda looks a lot like Mellia, but her braids are fashionable, she’s taller, her eyes aren’t as kind and she wears the green robes of a novice of Ernalda.
“I like this tea, M’llia. Mine. Give it back.” Sleepy possessiveness in her voice.
Mellia reaches for the mug she just set down, but says, “I think you need to sleep now, Varanis.” Breda, on the other hand, stares at Mellia for a moment. “Mellia, Mother’s going to explode if you’ve been trying to heal people before you go to the Great Hospital! We’d better get you out of here.”
Varanis has fallen asleep, sitting up, before Mellia tries to return the cup.
Mellia points at Varanis, holding a finger over her lips for silence. The two sisters tiptoe away with the tray and the mugs.