amberdrake: (if you need to fall apart)
[personal profile] amberdrake
Amberdrake's backstory, preceded by angry!Drake and followed by some brief sudden!kestra'chern!Drake.

There's other (small) stuff in little bits through the three books, but this is the part that has the most stated info on Drake's past.

     I'm settling for less these days, I suppose. I just pray there isn't less out there to settle for. Right now he couldn't have said if this lack of energy was a good thing, or a bad one. It just was, and he harbored his resources for those times when they were really needed. For his clients, for Urtho, for Skan—if he spent every last bit of energy he had, he'd wind up clumsy at the wrong time, or weak when the next emergency arose. That—
     "Are you Amberdrake?"
     The harsh query snapped him out of his reverie, and he looked up, a little startled. A young man stood over him, a Healer by his green robes, and a new one, by the pristine condition of the fabric. The scowl he wore did nothing to improve his face—a most unlikely Healer, who stood awkwardly, held himself in clumsy tension, whose big, blunt-fingered hands would have been more at home wrapped around the handle of an ax or guiding a plow. His carrot-colored hair was cut to a short fuzz, and his blocky face, well-sprinkled with freckles, was clean-shaven, but sunburned. Not the sort one thought of as a Healer.
     Well, then, but neither was I....
     "Are you Amberdrake?" the youngster demanded again, those heavy hands clenched into fists. "They said you were."
     Amberdrake didn't bother to ask who "they" were; he saw no reason to deny his own identity. "I am, sir," he said instead, with careful courtesy. "What may I do for you? I must warn you my client list is fairly long, and if you had hoped to make an appointment—"
     "Make an appointment?" the boy exploded. "Not a chance! I want you to take my patient off that so-called 'client list' of yours! What in the name of all that's holy did you think you were doing, taking a man that's just out of his bed and—"
     The young Healer continued on in the same vein for some time; Amberdrake simply waited for him to run out of breath as his own anger smoldered dangerously. The fool was obviously harboring the usual misconceptions of what a kestra'chern was, and compounding that error by thinking it was Amberdrake who had solicited his patient for some exotic amorous activity.
     All without ever asking anyone about Amberdrake, his clients, or how he got them. One word in the Healers' compound would have gotten him all the right answers, Amberdrake thought, clenching his jaw so hard his teeth hurt. One word, and he'd have known clients come to me, not the other way around... and that "his" patient has been sent to me for therapeutic massage by a senior Healer. But no—no, he'd much rather nurse his own homegrown prejudices than go looking for the truth!
     When the boy finally stopped shouting, Amberdrake stood. His eyes were on a level with the Healer's, but the outrage in them made the boy take an involuntary step backward.
     Amberdrake only smiled—a smile that Gesten and Tamsin would have recognized. Then they would have gleefully begun taking bets on how few words it would take Amberdrake to verbally flay the poor fool.
     "You're new to Urtho's camp, aren't you?" he asked softly, a sentence that had come to represent a subtle insult among Urtho's troops. It implied every pejorative ever invented to describe someone who was hopelessly ignorant, impossibly inexperienced—dry-seed, greenie, wet-behind-the-ears, clod-hopper, milk-fed, dunce, country-cousin—and was generally used to begin a dressing-down of one kind or another.
     The boy had been with the troops long enough to recognize the phrase when he heard it. He flushed and opened his mouth, but Amberdrake cut him off before he could begin.
     "I'll make allowances for a new recruit," he said acidly. "But I suggest that you never address another kestra'chern in the tones you just used with me—not if you want to avoid getting yourself a lecture from your senior Healer and possibly find yourself beaten well enough your own skills wouldn't help you. Did you even bother to ask why 'your' patient was sent to me? For your information, 'your' patient was assigned to me by Senior Healer M'laud for therapeutic massage, and I had to seriously juggle my overcrowded schedule to fit him in. I am doing you a favor; the man needs treatments that you have not been trained to give. If you had tried, you probably would have injured him. If you had bothered to ask your Senior Healer why he had scheduled this patient for other treatments, instead of barging in here to insult and embarrass me, you would have been told exactly that."
     The boy's mouth hung open, and his ears reddened. His eyes were flat and expressionless, he had been taken so much by surprise.
     "Furthermore," Amberdrake continued, warming to his subject, "If you had taken the time to ask your Senior Healer why anyone would send a patient down the hill here to the kestra'chern for treatment, you would have learned that we are considered by all the Senior Healers to be Healers with skills on a par with their own—and that there are some things that you, with all your training, will never be able to supply that a kestra'chern can. Our preliminary training is identical to yours—with the exception that most kestra'chern don't have the luxury of Healing Gifts to rely on. We have to do our job with patience, words, and physical effort. Healing means more than mending the body, young man—it means mending the heart, the mind, and the spirit as well, or the body is useless. That doesn't make us better or worse than you. Just different. Just as there are times when you heal what we cannot, so there are times when we can mend what you cannot. You would do well to learn that, and quickly. Inexperience can be overcome, ignorance be enlightened, but prejudice will destroy you." He allowed his anger to show now, a little. "This war is not forgiving of fools."
     The Healer took another involuntary step back, his eyes wide and blind with confusion.
     Amberdrake nodded, stiffly. "I will see your former patient at the arranged time, and if you wish to overrule it, I will speak with Urtho personally about the matter. The word of Healer M'laud should take precedence over your objections."
     And with that, he turned and left the tent, too angry to wait and see if the boy managed to stammer out an apology, and in no mood to accept it if he did.
     He returned to his tent, knowing that it would be empty while Gesten made his own rounds up on Healer's Hill. That was good; he didn't really want anyone around at the moment. He needed to cool down; to temper his own reaction with reason.
     He shoved the tent flap aside and tied it closed; clear warning to anyone looking for him that he did not want to be disturbed. Once inside, he took several deep breaths, and considered his next action for a moment, letting the faintly-perfumed "twilight" within the tent walls soothe him.
     There were things he could do while he thought; plenty of things he normally left to Gesten. Mending, for one. Gesten would be only too pleased to discover that chore no longer waiting his attention.
     Fine. He passed into the inner chamber of the tent where no client ever came, to his own bed and the minor chaos that Gesten had not been able to clean up yet. Clothing needing mending is in the sage hamper. He gathered up a number of articles with popped seams and trim that had parted company with the main body of the garment; fetched the supply of needles and thread out from its hiding place. He settled himself on a pile of cushions where the light was good, and began replacing a sleeve with fine, precise stitches.
     The chirurgeons that had been his teachers had admired those stitches, once upon a time.
     No one knows hurt and heartache like a kestra'chern, because no one has felt it like a kestra'chern. If he had told the boy that, would the young idiot have believed it?
     What if I had told him a story—"Once on a time, there was a Kaled'a'in family, living far from the camps of their kin—"
     His family, who, with several others, had accepted the burden of living far from the Clans, in the land once named Tantara and a city called Therium. They had accepted the burden of living so far away, so that the Kaled'a'in would have agents there. His family had become accustomed to the ways of cities after living there for several generations, and had adopted many of the habits and thoughts of those dwelling within them. They became a Kaled'a'in family who had taken on so many of those characteristics that it would have been difficult to tell them from the natives except for their coloring—unmistakably Kaled'a'in, with black hair, deep amber skin, and blue, blue eyes.
     Once upon a time, this was a family who had seen the potential for great Empathic and Healing power in one of their youngest sons. And rather than sending him back to the Clans to learn the "old-fashioned" ways of the Kaled'a'in Healers, had instead sent him farther away, to the capital of the neighboring country of Predain, to learn "modern medicine."
     He took a sudden sharp breath at the renewed pain of that long-ago separation. It never went away; it simply became duller, a bit easier to endure with passing time.
     They thought they were doing the right thing. Everyone told me how important it was to learn the most modern methods.
     Everyone told me how important it was to use the Gifts that I had been born with. I was only thirteen, I had to believe them. The only problem was that the College of Chirurgeons was so "modern" it didn't believe in Empathy, Healing, or any other Gift. The chirurgeons only believed in what they could see, weigh, and measure; in what anyone with training could do, and "not just those with some so-called mystical Gifts."

     The Predain College of Chirurgeons did provide a good, solid grounding in the kinds of Healing that were performed without any arcane Gifts at all. Amberdrake was taught surgical techniques, the compounding of medicines from herbs and minerals, bone-setting, diagnoses, and more. And if he had been living at home, he might even have come to enjoy it.
     But he was not at home. Surrounded by the sick and injured, sent far away from anyone who understood him—in his first year he was the butt of unkind jokes and tricks from his fellow classmates, who called him "barbarian," and he was constantly falling ill. The Gift of Empathy was no Gift at all when there were too many sick and dying people to shut out. And the chirurgeons that were his teachers only made him sicker, misdiagnosing him and dosing him for illnesses he didn't even have.
     And on top of it all, he was lonely, with no more than a handful of people his own age willing even to be decent to him. Sick at heart and sick in spirit, little wonder he was sick in body as well.
     He had been so sick that he didn't even realize how things had changed outside the College—had no inkling of how a mage named Ma'ar had raised an army of followers and supporters in his quest for mundane, rather than arcane, power. He heard of Ma'ar only in the context of "Ma'ar says" when one of his less-friendly classmates found some way to persecute him and felt the need to justify that persecution.
     From those chance-fallen quotes, he knew only that Ma'ar was a would-be warrior and philosopher who had united dozens of warring tribes under his fist, making them part of his "Superior Breed." Proponents of superior-breed theories had come and gone before, attracted a few fanatics, then faded away after breaking a few windows. All the teachers said so when he asked them.
     I saw no reason to disbelieve them. Amberdrake took his tiny, careful stitches, concentrating his will on them, as if by mending up his sleeve he could mend up his past.
     He had paid no real attention to things happening outside the College. He didn't realize that Ma'ar had been made Prime Minister to the King of Predain. He was too sunk in depression to pay much attention when the King died without an heir, leaving Ma'ar the titular ruler of Predain. King Ma'ar, the warrior-king.
     But he certainly noticed the changes that followed.
     Kaled'a'in and other "foreigners" throughout Predain were suddenly subject to more and more restrictions: where they could go, what they could do, even what they were permitted to wear. Inside the College or out of it, wherever he went he was the subject of taunts, and once or twice, even physical attacks.
     By then, the teachers at the College were apologetic, even fearful of what was going on in the greater world; they protected him in their own way, but the best they could do was to confine him to the College and its grounds. And they were bewildered; they had paid no attention to "Ma'ar and his ruffians" and now it was too late to do anything about them. Intellectual problems they understood, but a problem requiring direct action left them baffled and helpless.
     And in that, how unlike Urtho they were!
     The restrictions from outside continued, turning him into a prisoner within the walls of the College. He stopped getting letters from his family. He was no longer allowed to send letters to them.
     I was only fifteen! How could I know what to do?
     Then he heard the rumors from the town, overheard from other students frightened for themselves. Ma'ar's men were "deporting" the "foreigners" and taking them away, and no one knew where. Ill, terrified, and in a panic, he had done the only thing he could think of when the rumors said Ma'ar's men were coming to the College to sift through the ranks of students and teachers alike for more "decadent foreigners."
     He ran away that very night with only the clothes on his back, the little money he had with him, and the food he could steal from the College kitchen. In the dead of winter, he fled across country, hiding by day, traveling by night, stealing to eat, all the way back to Therium. He spent almost a week in a fevered delirium, acting more like a crazed animal than the moody but bright young Healer-student he was. He was captured by town police twice, and escaped from them the first time by violence, the second time by trickery.
     Before he was halfway home, his shoes, made for town streets, had split apart, leaving his feet frozen and numb while he slogged across the barren countryside. He had stolen new shoes from farmhouse steps, hearing more of the rumors himself as he eavesdropped on conversations in taverns and kitchens. Then, from many of his hiding places, he saw the reality.
     Ma'ar was eliminating anyone who opposed his rule—and anyone who might oppose war with the neighboring lands. He had mastered the army, and augmented it with officers chosen from the ranks of his followers. Ma'ar intended to strike before his neighbors had any warning of his intentions.
     Ma'ar was making himself an emperor.
     And at home, indeed, as the students had said—all the "foreigners" were being rounded up and taken away. Sick with fear and guilt, Amberdrake hid in the daylight hours in an abandoned house with a broken-down door. Ma'ar's troopers had been there first, and when night came, he took whatever food he found there and continued his flight.
     Looting the bones of the lost. May they forgive me.
     It would have been a difficult journey for an adult with money and some resources, with experience. It was a nightmare for Amberdrake. The bulk of his journey lay across farmlands, forests, grazing lands. Most of the time, he went hungry and slept in ditches and under piles of brush. Small wonder that when he stumbled at last into Therium, he burned with fever again and was weak and nauseous with starvation.
     I came home. And I found an empty house, in a city that was in a panic. Ma'ar's troops were a day behind me.
     No one knew what had become of his family. No one cared what became of him.
     He found the neighbors preparing to evacuate, piling their wagon high with their possessions. They had no time for him, these folk who had called themselves "friends," and who had known him all his life.
     I begged them to tell me where my family was. I went to my knees and begged with tears pouring down my face. I knelt there in the mud and horse dung and falling snow and pleaded with them. They called me vile names—and when I got to my feet—
     Old sorrow, bitter sorrow, choked him again, blinded his eyes until he had to stop taking his tiny stitches and wait for the tears to clear.
     I never knew till then what "alone" truly meant. Father, Mother, Firemare, Starsinger, little Zephyr—gone, all gone—Uncle Silverhorn, Star gem, Windsteed, Brightbird—
     He had flung himself at the false neighbors, and they had shoved him away, and then raised the horse whip to him. One blow was all it took, and the world and sky disappeared for Amberdrake. He awoke bleeding, at least a candlemark later, with a welt across his chest as thick as his hand. Half-mad with terror and grief, he staggered on into the snow.
     He fell against the side of another wagon full of escapees.
     The wagon belonging to the kestra'chern Silver Veil, and her household and apprentices.
     He forced his hands to remain steady. This is the past. I cannot change it. I did what I could, I tried my best, and how was I to know what Ma'ar would do when older and wiser folk than I did not?
     Silver Veil did not send her servants to drive him away; although by now he hardly knew what was happening to him. In pain, freezing and burning by turns, he barely recalled being taken up into the moving wagon, falling into soft darkness.
     In that darkness he had remained for a very long time....
     His hands shook, and he put the mending down, closed his eyes, and performed a breathing exercise to calm himself—one that Silver Veil herself had taught him, in fact.
     He had heard of her, in rude whispers, before he had been sent away. As little boys on the verge of puberty always did, his gang of friends spoke about her and boasted how they would seek her out when they were older and had money. She was as beautiful as a statue carved by a master sculptor, slim as a boy, graceful as a gazelle. She took her name from her hair, a platinum fall of silk that she had never cut, that trailed on the ground behind her when she let it fall loose. He had always thought she was simply a courtesan, more exotic and expensive than most, but only that.
     It took living within her household to learn differently.
     She tended him through his illness, she and her household. He posed as one of her apprentices as they made their way to some place safer—and then, after a time, it was no longer a pose.
     Silver Veil did her best to shelter her own from the horrors of that flight, but there was no way to shelter them from all of it. She had no Gifts, but she had an uncanny sense for finding safe routes. Unfortunately, many of those lay through places Ma'ar's troops had lately passed.
     Ma'ar's forces were not kind to the defeated; they were even less kind to those who had resisted them. Amberdrake still woke in the night, sometimes, shaking and drenched with sweat, from terrible dreams of seeing whole families impaled on stakes to die. Nearly as terrible was the one time they had been forced to hide while Ma'ar's picked men—and his makaar—force marched a seemingly endless column of captives past them. Amberdrake had watched in shock from fear and dread, searching each haggard face for signs of his own kin.
     Was it a blessing he had not seen anyone he knew, or a curse?
     Silver Veil plied her trade as they fled—sometimes for a fee but just as often for nothing, for the sake of those who needed her. And sometimes, as a bribe, to get her household through one of Ma'ar's checkpoints. The apprentices, Amberdrake among them, tried to spare her that as much as possible, offering themselves in her place. Often as not, the offer was accepted, for there was something about Silver Veil that intimidated many of Ma'ar's officers. She was too serene, too intelligent, too sophisticated for them. It was by no means unusual to find that the man they needed to bribe preferred something less—refined—than anything Silver Veil offered.
     And finally, as spring crept cautiously out of hiding, they came out into lands that were in friendly hands. But when Silver Veil reviewed her options, she learned that they were fewer than she had hoped. Soon she knew that she must seek a road that would take her away from the likeliest direction his family had taken—back to Ka'venusho, the land of the Kaled'a'in.
     And once again, she provided for young Amberdrake, she found another kestra'chern to take him as an apprentice and be his protector, one who would be willing to go with him to Ka'venusho. This time, the kestra'chern was old, mostly retired—and unlike Silver Veil, Lorshallen shared with Amberdrake the Gifts of Healing and Empathy. Silver Veil took a tear-filled leave of him and his new mentor, and she and her household fled on into the south. One of the apprentices claimed that she had a place waiting for her in the train of one of the Shaman-Kings there, in a land where winter never came. Amberdrake hoped so; he had never heard anything more of her.
     The war encroached, as Silver Veil had known it would, and Amberdrake and his new mentor Lorshallen fled before it.
     Lorshallen taught him everything he knew about his ancient art; Amberdrake learned it all with a fierce desire to master each and every discipline. All the things that the chirurgeons had not believed in, he mastered under Lorshallen's hands. And he, in his turn, taught Lorshallen the things that they had known. Silver Veil had completed his erotic education and had done her best to heal his body; Lorshallen completed his education as a Healer and had done his best to heal Amberdrake's mind and heart.
     Eventually, they came to the Clans, and Amberdrake briefly took his place among his own people, an honored place, for the Kaled'a'in knew the value of a kestra'chern, particularly one as highly trained as Amberdrake, and they respected the pain he had gone through. The Kaled'a'in had a deep belief that no pain was meaningless; something always came of it. He knew that tales of what he had gone through were whispered around cook-fires, although such a thing was never even hinted at to him. Those in pain could look for strength to someone who had suffered more than they.
     Always, he searched for word of his family. His people understood, for to a Kaled'a'in, the Clan is all. The Clan he settled among, k'Leshya, did their best, sending out messages to all the rest, looking into every rumor of refugees, searching always for word of Kestra'chern Amberdrake's lost family.
     And they never found it. In a nation of close-knit families, I remain alone, always alone.... There will be no brother to share man-talk with, no sister to comfort for her first broken heart. No father to nod with pride at my accomplishment, no mother to come to for advice. No cousins to ask me to stand as kin-next at a naming ceremony for a child. And when I die, it will be to go alone into that last great darkness—
     I have lost so much that sometimes I think I am nothing inside but one hollow husk, an emptiness that nothing will ever fill. Still, I try to bail in more and more hope, in hope that the sorrow will seep out.

     When the call came for volunteers from the Mage of Silence, Amberdrake answered at once. At least he would no longer be surrounded by Clans and families to which he would never belong, but by others torn from their homes and roots. And he would fight Ma'ar, in his own way, with his own skills.
     Eventually, all of the Clans came to settle at the base of Urtho's Tower, but by then, he had already carved his place among the kestra'chern.
     He shook his head and bit his lip. Gesten might think he was blind to the workings of his own mind, but he knew why he felt the way he did about Skan. The Black Gryphon and Gesten had become the closest thing he had to a family, now.
     And the closest thing I am ever likely to have.
     When—best say, if—a kestra'chern ever found a mate, it was nearly always someone from within the ranks of the kestra'chern. No one else would understand; no one else would ever be able to tolerate sharing a mate with others. But for such a pairing to work, it had to be between equals. The altercation between Jaseen and Lily had only shown how easily quarrels could spring up over a client. And if one kestra'chern in a pairing was of a higher rank than another, such quarrels and, even deadlier, jealousy were more than likely, they were inevitable. Beneath the surface of every kestra'chern Amberdrake had ever met was a lurking fear of inadequacy. So unless both in a pairing were equal—
     The lesser would eventually come to envy and fear the greater. And fear that his or her own skills would not be enough to hold the partner.
     Amberdrake was the equal of no kestra'chern here; that was an established fact. And it meant even temporary liaisons must be approached with great caution.
     Which left him even more alone.
     Even more alone—no. This is ridiculous. If I were a client, I'd be told to stop feeling sorry for myself and concentrate on something that would make me feel good. Or at least stop me from being engulfed by the past.
     The sleeve was done; he picked up a second garment and began sewing a fringe of tiny beads back in place. Thousands of tiny beads had been strung into a heavy, glittering fall of color, in luxurious imitation of a Kaled'a'in dancing costume where the fringe would be made of dyed leather. It was a task exacting enough to require quite a bit of concentration, and with gratitude, he lost himself in it.
     Until someone scratched at the tied flap of the tent door, and he looked up in startlement. The silhouetted shadow on the beige of the canvas was human, not that of a hertasi.
     Now what? he wondered, but put his mending down and rose to answer it.
     He was a little disconcerted to find yet another young Healer—another stranger, and another newcomer—waiting uneasily for him to answer the summons. "Are you—ah—Amberdrake?" the youngster asked, blushing furiously. "The—ah—kes-kes-kes—"
     "Yes, I am Kestra'chern Amberdrake," he replied, with a sigh. "How may I help you?"
     The youngster—barely out of a scrawny, gawky adolescence, and not yet grown into the slender and graceful adult Amberdrake saw signs he would become—stared down at his shoes. "I—ah—have a patient, and my Senior Healer said my patient needs to see you and if I wanted to know why—I, ah, should ask you myself."
     "And who is your Senior Healer?" Amberdrake asked, a little more sharply than he had intended.
     "M'laud," came the barely audible reply.
     At that, Amberdrake came very near to destroying the poor lad with a bray of laughter. After having sent one of M'laud's juniors up the hill with his tail on fire, the Senior Healer had evidently decided to teach his juniors about kestra'chern directly.
     But he kept control of himself, and when the lad looked up, it was to see a very serene countenance, a mask that would have done Silver Veil herself proud.
     "Come in, please," Amberdrake said, calmly. "I think you are probably laboring under a great many misconceptions, and I would be most happy to dispel those for you."
     When he held the tent flap wide and gestured, the boy had no choice but to come inside. Amberdrake noted with amusement how the youngster stared around him, while trying not to look as if he was doing so.
     What does he expect to see? Never mind, I think I can guess.
     "Take a seat, please," he said, gesturing to a hassock at a comfortable distance from the cushion he took for himself. "I take it that you are afraid that I am going to hurt your patient, is that true?" At the boy's stiff nod, he smiled. "I take it also that you have never had the services of a kestra'chern yourself?"
     "Of course not!" the young Healer blurted with indignation, then realized how rude that was and winced. But Amberdrake only chuckled.
     "Young man—what is your name, anyway?"
     "Lanz," came the gurgled reply.
     "Well, Lanz—by now, I should think that M'laud has made you aware that the preliminary training for Healers and kestra'chern is practically identical. And I know. I began my training as a Healer." Amberdrake raised his eyebrow at the boy, who gaped at him.
     "But why didn't you—I mean—why a kestra'chern?" Lanz blurted again.
     "You sound as if you were saying, 'why a chunk of dung?' Do you realize that?" Amberdrake countered. "When you consider that the Kaled'a'in rank the kestra'chern with shaman, that's not only rude, that's likely to get you attacked, at least by anyone in the Clans!"
     Lanz hung his head and said something too smothered to hear, but his ears and neck turned as scarlet as Amberdrake's favorite robe.
     I seem to be making a great many people blush today. Another Gift? "Lanz, most of the reasons I became a kestra'chern are too complicated to go into for the most part, but I can tell you the only simple one. I am also Empathic, too strong an Empath to be of any use as a conventional Healer." Amberdrake nodded as Lanz looked up cautiously from beneath a fringe of dark hair. "That doesn't mean I became this because I am afflicted by some horrible mental curse—but as a kestra'chern—well, I never see those who are so badly injured that their physical pain overwhelms everything else. But I can use my Gifts and my training to Heal the deeper, and more subtle pains, injuries of mind, body, and heart they may not even be aware they have."
     "But not all kestra'chern are Healers," Lanz said doubtfully. "Or Empaths."
     Amberdrake smiled. "That is true. Most of them are not. And those who have no Gifts must work the harder to learn how to read the languages of body and tone; to see the subtle signals of things that the Gifted can read directly." As Lanz's blushes faded, he allowed himself a chuckle. "My friend, there is one thing that the kestra'chern have learned over the centuries; people who believe they are coming to someone only for an hour or two of pleasure are far more likely to unburden themselves than people who are confronted with a Healer or other figure of authority. If we honey-coat the Healing with a bit of enjoyment, of physical pleasure, where's the harm? Now—is your patient the last one on my roster tonight?"
     "I think so." Lanz sat up a little straighter now, and he had lost some of the tension in his body that had told Amberdrake that the boy was afraid of him.
     "M'laud sent me a briefing on her. The reason she is coming to me is that she is under some kind of great inner tension that M'laud has been unable to release, as well as some severe battlefield trauma, and that is making it impossible for her damaged body to heal." Lanz's face lit up, and Amberdrake decided that he must have thought her failure to heal was his fault. "M'laud suspects that she suffered some kind of abuse in her childhood, which is the real root of her problems. Essentially, she is unconsciously punishing herself for being such a bad person that she deserved abuse." He sighed and shook his head. "I know that this makes no sense, but this is something that kestra'chern in particular see and hear all the time. And it is not something you have any chance of dealing with, for I greatly doubt you would ever get her to trust you enough. Not because you are not trustworthy, but simply because of her own problems. You have other responsibilities to take your time, and you are less experienced with this kind of problem than I. I am a stranger, and it is often easier to say terrible things to a stranger than it is to someone who has known you, for the stranger will not prejudge. I will not be anywhere near the front lines, ever, and thus she will know that I have no chance of being cut down by the enemy. I become safe to think of as a friend because she knows she will not lose me."
     Lanz shifted a little in his seat, looking rather doubtful, and Amberdrake decided to overwhelm him, just a little. "Here—I'll prove it to you," he said, in an authoritative voice.
     And he recited the litany of all the formal training he'd had, first with the chirurgeons, then Silver Veil, and finally Lorshallen. It took rather a long time, and before he was finished, Lanz's eyes had glazed over and it looked to Amberdrake as if the poor boy's head was in quite a spin.
     "You see?" he finished. "If you've had half that training, I'd call you a good Healer."
     "I never knew," the youngster said in a daze, "and when Karly came up the Hill from talking to you—"
     "Karly? The redhead?" Amberdrake threw back his head and laughed.
     Shyly, Lanz joined in the laughter. "I heard that one of the other Senior Healers said, 'I hope he has a regular bedmate, because after talking to Amberdrake the way he did, there isn't a kestra'chern in all of the camp who'll take him for any price!' I suppose he was awfully rude to you."
     "Rude?" Amberdrake replied. "That doesn't begin to describe him! Still, Karly needn't worry. We're obligated to take those in need, and I can't imagine anyone more in need of—our services—than he is!"
     Lanz smiled shyly. "And Karly's rather thick," he offered. "After talking to you—you being so kind and all—well, if you take any of my patients, I think I'm going to be awfully grateful, and kind of flattered."
     This time Amberdrake's smile was as much full of surprise as pleasure. "Thank you, Lanz. I will take that as a very high compliment. Can I offer you anything?"
     The boy blinked shyly. "I don't suppose a cup of bitteralm would delay me much—and could you tell me a little more about some of the others down here?"
     Amberdrake rose, and Lanz rose with him. "Why not come with me to the mess tent and see for yourself?" he asked.
     "I think—I will!" Lanz replied, as if he was surprised by his own response.
     By such little victories are wars and hearts won, Amberdrake thought with a wry pleasure, as he led the way.


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Amberdrake k'Leshya

December 2016

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