When Goal came to, Lex was cradling her against him. The pain in her arms and legs pulsed on in reduced fashion, closer to a manageable ache, and she felt light and warm. She tried to move, and found her broken arms restrained in light metal splints secured with surgical silk. The leg with the shattered knee also had been cradled in metal and silk. Only her broken thigh bone remained untreated.
“She’s come to,” Lex observed, “I need to wrap up.”
From somewhere behind them, the ice mentor admonished, “Stay put and don’t be such a fool. How do you plan to go on guiding her healing?”
“Isn’t Vrezh taking over when he gets here?”
“Did our last winter-storm do away with all your wits? I won’t risk a second joining. It was hard enough to get you into her head without her injuring herself more. Now that you’ve succeeded, finish what you started.”
Goal felt Lex sigh beneath her.
The ice mentor must have heard him, too. A moment later, Goal felt the old woman slide next to them. Lex sat up slowly, careful not to jostle her. Goal opened her eyes and saw the ice mentor pull back his hair and wrap a black bandanna around his head as she asked, “Can you maintain contact with gloves?”
He shook his head.
“Uncle Alexander,” Goal breathed.
A shy smile stole across his lips, “Just Lex. You must know that.”
She did. Convicted of killing a child, Alexander had been shunned and banished a decade ago, and according to Alnese custom, that meant he was never to be seen, heard from, or spoken of again.
Goal stirred against her former uncle and blurted out next, “Nerses. My baby!”
“Your grandfather sent a message,” the Ice Mentor soothed, putting a hand on Goal’s shoulder, “Your husband and son arrived at the Vinyat Arthmis Post yesterday and Nerses raised the alarm. They’re safe.”
After giving her a little squeeze, the Ice Mentor stepped back, and Goal returned her gaze to her former uncle, repeating, “Safe?”
He nodded, “Probably in Arthmis lock-down by now. Don’t you think?”
That observation helped clear her head. Of course the first thing the Alnese security corps would do was surround Nerses and Amadeos with body guards! With a sigh of relief, she relaxed against Lex.
Just Lex, the shunned man she could no longer know.
Things had not worked out quite according to custom with her former uncle. Four years ago, he’d become the cause for her father’s fall from grace, rocking the family with the biggest scandal to befall it in generations.
“Or Eden’s whore.” Through their linked minds, Lex had followed along.
“Eden’s whore?” Goal echoed.
A more recent memory threatened on the edge of Goal’s consciousness. Nerses’ Alnese whore. Let’s test her and see if she’s any good. To push it away, Goal concentrated on the family scandal.
Four years ago, when she was about to complete her Arthmis apprenticeship, she’d been called in for a short conference with her commanding officer. He offered her a few days of leave and explained that her father was about to be expelled for conduct unbecoming an officer. Pallas Eden had been carrying on with shunned Alexander the entire time he’d been in ice, and was refusing to give him up. In fact, her father had resigned his commission and declared his intention to go into ice himself. Goal had hurried home to find Pallas House in uproar and her mother ready “to kill the bastard” herself, but nothing, neither threats nor entreaties, dissuaded Pallas Eden from going through with his ice exile.
Lex chuckled quietly, “Yeah, I can imagine your mother chasing after him with a knife.”
“She didn’t go after him with a knife.”
“No knife? What was her weapon of choice?”
“No weapon. Actually, I think mom understood better than anyone else what he’d do, and how he’d do it.”
Pallas Eden was one of few people on Alnos with not one, but two titles: He was an officer of both the security forces and the warrior corps, Mythras.
Goal repeated slowly, “Eden’s whore.” She understood. With his Mythran title, her father could request any services he wanted from a shunned former warrior. And she reasoned through the rest of her father’s story, “So, dad resigned Arthmis and embraced his Mythran calling to join you. Mythras would have to agree. The Order would never go back on its peace offering to my father, would it? And then what? How did Mythras talk him into coming back? And Arthmis into taking him back?”
She felt Lex shrug, and then he informed her, “Mythras sent four clients, two men and two women. Straight to him.”
“Oh.” Goal hesitated briefly before continuing, “Dad must not have liked that.”
“Your father went ballistic. He challenged them all, cursed Mythras, ranted and raved like a lunatic. Took quite a while for me to talk some sense into him.” Lex paused, then continued, “Since then, Mythras has sent someone four times a year, like clockwork. The Order keeps us on our toes. Surely you know Eden visits every month. Sometimes someone arrives the same day he does, and sometimes someone arrives the day he plans to leave, but they always time it so he knows.”
Mythras had shown its usual evil genius in meeting out punishment, that much was clear. The warrior corps accepted Eden’s claim, but reasserted its authority by making it clear that all Mythrans had an equivalent entitlement.
Lex reprised his reporting, “After the first time, the two Orders had a meeting, and a meeting of minds. I don’t know how they worked out their differences, obviously, but I do know Arthmis did not want to give up your father. He’s too big an asset. And I’m sure my Mythran brothers and sisters wasted no time pointing out how stupid it would have been for him to go gallivanting about in ice with me without a care in the world.”
Laughing would have hurt, so Goal repressed most of it, “Yeah, without a care in the world.” She half-chuckled, half-sighed at the comic picture of her father and her former uncle wandering about in splendid white isolation. “Because we have no problems here, on Alnos.”
And that brought her back to the present. She closed her eyes to ward it off a little longer. As if to help her, Lex observed, “And now he’s a Justiciar again. Looks like everyone was right.”
It had taken her father two years to earn his Arthmis title back after his return. He’d taken a lot of punishment during these two years reduced to a simple foot soldier, but he’d managed to prove he was a loyal Arthmin who understood that no one was above the law.
“It would not have made sense to take him back only to keep him as someone’s lackey forever,” Lex commented, continuing to share her thoughts.
“Yeah,” Goal agreed. Still, her father was a hard act to follow.
After another pause, Lex asked, “Do you feel more ready now?”
Goal hesitated. She didn’t feel ready to revisit her assault, but in truth, she didn’t remember much of it. Nerses’ Alnese whore. Let’s test her and see if she’s any good. Just that one statement, the pain in her broken limbs flaring up, a weight pressing down. “I blacked out,” she finally said.
From the back of the cave, the old Ice Mentor broke in, “Four Heshtis. Had to let them keep you, unfortunately. But I know them well.”
Goal gathered up a little courage and garbled out a few details, “They used weapons. I told Nerses to take Amadeos and run. I stayed back to cover them. And then …” Nerses’ Alnese whore. Let’s test her and see if she’s any good. She choked trying to speak that memory and fell silent.
The Ice Mentor resumed, “When I got close enough to see what was going on, it was just you and these four Heshti fools. Later, I found some tracks, followed them for a bit to a glider landing. I was pretty sure your husband got away. Vrezh confirmed my conclusion today.”
The old ice mentor stepped closer and put two fingers on the free leg. Her eyes narrowed. Full of fire and life, they slanted up over two broad high cheekbones. And suddenly Goal realized the ice mentor must have straightened her other broken limbs and put on the three splints.
Every time one of the men had climbed on top of her, his weight had twisted one or another broken bone further. The excruciating pain had not only knocked her out repeatedly, but also wiped out most other memories, even the memories of the rapes.
The ice mentor continued her examination and aimed at Lex, “You should have become a physician. Would have been a better use of your talents. Of course, I told Vrezh the same thing when he appeared on my doorstep twenty years ago.”
She glided her fingers down Goal’s thigh, stopped just above the break, and caressed the inflamed flesh gently, instructing, “You two will have to stay joined for a while. He’ll have to take some breaks and renew contact periodically, but he’s got a good link going, and he’s so very good at following instructions.”
Goal detected a slight smile as the ice mentor explained, “Before I joined Pallas-Métis and apprenticed as an ice mentor, I practiced as a physician. But I gave up most of my tools a long time ago, just kept the ones of a country doctor. Not quite what’s needed here. Had to improvise, get him to the cellular level to help still the pain, shrink the swelling, get new bone growth accelerated.” She shook her head slightly and recited more to herself than to them, “Compound fracture all twisted on itself. Must have hurt like an ice storm against naked flesh.”
“Yeah,” Goal breathed.
“Well, d’you hear?” The ice mentor grabbed his right hand and guided it over the bump of flesh still swollen around the fracture. “Can you see it?”
“Clearly enough so I can set it?”
The ice mentor straightened out, “Goal, I can’t set this one with him busy stilling the pain. Now, we’ve got two options. We can wait for your father, who is surely on his way here and will bring help. I’ve already messaged Mythras to send a surgeon. Or I can direct Lex to stop everything else except visualize the bones and help me put the pieces together with as little cutting as I can manage. I’ve got to cut a couple of the shards out, get the bones aligned, do a bit of cleaning.”
“Kim, you can knock her out, no?” Lex interjected. “Then all I have to do is monitor her. I’d be able to focus on the break most of the time.”
The ice mentor nodded, “True.”
Lex said, “I think we should get it done.”
The ice mentor directed her gaze at her, and Goal nodded slowly.
“All right,” the ice mentor turned and left them for about ten minutes. Lex shifted and slowly lowered Goal’s torso down to the field cot they shared. When the ice mentor returned, she cradled a cup in her hands and commented, “It’s not anesthesia, but it should do the trick.”
Lex reached for the cup and placed it gently against Goal’s lips. She started to sip the bitter brew.
Watching her grimace, the ice mentor reassured, “It’s best to take it straight, child. Works faster, and you’ll clear it faster, too.”
Goal tried to swallow more of the ice mentor’s draught at a time, and grimaced again. Her lids grew heavy, and she felt light-headed.
“That’s it,” Lex whispered against her ear.
She felt the ice mentor’s fingers back on her thigh, and a slight puncture, and then she floated away.