Herb-Wife (Lord Alchemist Duology)

Herb-Wife

(Book
II of the Lord Alchemist Duology)

by
Elizabeth McCoy

 

For
all my initial readers, who told me it didn't suck.

 

Amazon
Edition

Copyright
2012 Elizabeth McCoy

Cover
art by Sarah Cloutier

 

This
ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. If you're reading
this book and it wasn't purchased for your use only, then please
consider purchasing your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard
work of this author!

 

 

Table
of Contents

Chapter
One
(Kessa Herbsman woke in a bed not her
own . . .)

Chapter
Two
(Iathor restrained the impulse to reach
out . . .)

Chapter
Three
(Kessa watched through her hair . . .)

Chapter
Four
("And who do
you
think did for her shop . . . ?")

Chapter
Five
(When Kessa woke again . . .)

Chapter
Six
(And Kessa . . . went to
research.)

Chapter
Seven
(It was dawn by the time Iathor got
home . . .)

Chapter
Eight
(The alley was cold, even through Kessa's
cloak . . .)

Chapter
Nine
(The next fiveday was a whirl of
activity . . .)

Chapter
Ten
(Two days later, Iathor pondered . . .)

Chapter
Eleven
(Iathor took a light-work day for night
patrol . . .)

Chapter
Twelve
("You want the wedding as soon as
possible?")

Chapter
Thirteen
(. . . half-breeds
don't get happy endings . . .)

Chapter
Fourteen
(None of it was more than a minor
irritation . . .)

Chapter
Fifteen
(Kessa was warm when she woke.)

Chapter
Sixteen
(Iathor walked into the watch
station . . .)

Chapter
Seventeen
(". . . none may
enter the lady's bedroom without invitation.")

Chapter
Eighteen
("As promised, my research's
fruits.")

Chapter
Nineteen
(Waking late had benefits . . .)

Chapter
Twenty
("Sir Kymus, your brother left his
house.")

Chapter
Twenty-one
(". . . I'll
need to leave for Cym quickly.")

Chapter
Twenty-two
(". . . the
politics are more vicious there, after all.")

Chapter
Twenty-three
(The benefit to nigh-hysterical
weeping . . .)

Chapter
Twenty-four
("Planning to smother me
every
morning, Kymus?")

Chapter
Twenty-five
(The coach ride from Aeston to
Cym . . .)

Chapter
Twenty-six
("Earth and Rain, Iathor, is
that
you
?")

Chapter
Twenty-seven
(There was only one bed.)

Chapter
Twenty-eight
(. . . they sat for
little time indeed.)

Chapter
Twenty-nine
(Bynae had no cloak.)

Chapter
Thirty
("Rise, Baron Kymus, and meet my
eyes.")

Chapter
Thirty-one
(Somehow both frustrated and
sated . . .)

Chapter
Thirty-two
("Have you disinherited him?")

Chapter
Thirty-three
("M'lady, is this wise?")

Chapter
Thirty-four
(". . . on
behalf of the cadet line.")

Chapter
Thirty-five
(". . . and
your wife's having a lie-down too.")

Chapter
Thirty-six
(Brague loomed well.)

Epilogue
A
(High summer was hot, as usual . . .)

Epilogue
B
("Gave me the shock too.")

Cast
and Glossary
(Here Abide Spoilers!)

About
the Author and Artist

 

 

Chapter
I

 

K
essa
Herbsman woke in a bed not her own, to an unfamiliar ceiling. Light
seeped past thick curtains. There were no calls of nightsoil
collectors outside, nor sounds of carts and people going to the
market square.

The
only familiar things were the painful cramping in her belly and the
discomfort of a wet moon-flow pad between her legs. The first . . .
She rolled towards the table beside the bed. It held a spoon and a
small pot of paste made from hornflower and other alchemical
ingredients.

It
tasted like dry leaves and something bitter, overlaid with the
bittersweet notes that few other herb-witches could taste, revealing
the preparation was alchemy and not just herbs mixed together. Not
many painkilling potions worked on Kessa: the other side of her
alchemist's immunity to poisons and the brews that controlled the
mind. She'd suffered through moon-flows for years, before . . .

Her
mind shied from
before
. She slipped out of bed to use the
cotton-filled cloth bags, basin, and chamberpot provided. Then she
stood, with someone's undershirt falling past her hips, and looked at
the bed.

Soft,
it was, with blankets of warm felt, multi-colored quilting, and
cream-colored sheets; an alchemist-gray robe lay across its foot. A
lightly stained towel that'd been under her hips showed some red, but
the sheets beneath were clean. She folded over the bloody part and
took up the too-large robe. She didn't know if it were a worn
cast-off or a comfortable nightrobe, pressed into service.

It
smelled of herbs, more than of any person.

Not
that she'd have flung it off; it was incredibly warm in the room,
after the recent bitterness of autumn shading into winter, but still
too cool for nothing but an undershirt. Taking the folded,
blood-stained towel, Kessa looked around.

It
wasn't a huge room, she supposed. It couldn't quite've swallowed her
shop-front and the storeroom where she'd slept. And really, the walls
were just plaster, like her store's front room, though cleaner.

The
rest was like some paradise. The small, carved table and chair . . .
The embroidered green hangings . . . The basin-stand
with its pitcher of water and mirror . . .

She
didn't look at the last. She knew her skin was too coppery-dark for a
place like this, her hair too black to wash in a quality basin. And
most importantly, her eyes were ugly even to her own sight: no
innocuous blue or green, nor even a lower-class brown, but a mottled
dung and vomit pattern that couldn't be changed. Because of her
alchemist's immunity.

Someone
tapped on the door. Kessa jumped. "Y-yes?" Her voice was
still rough, healing from last night. The last time she'd taken the
green death, her voice'd stayed deep and rough, for a girl. Perhaps
she'd croak like a crow now.

Someone
female said, "May I come in?"

"Yes."
Kessa dropped her eyes and shook her head a little. Her hair slid
down, a screen between her and the world.

The
floor was polished wood, with rugs made from multicolored rolls of
fabric scraps, all stitched together.

The
woman who entered was taller than Kessa, and much plumper; a
steward's ring with a half dozen keys jingled at her hip. She wore a
pale yellow undershirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a gray
over-dress. Kessa presumed, from the pale hairs on her light-skinned
forearms, she'd be the usual civilized blonde – though her
hair was bundled up or cut short, hidden from Kessa's lowered eyes.
The woman said, "Oh, dear heart, are you looking for a place for
that? Here, give me the towel."

Kessa
surrendered it, and tried to place the woman's voice. "Loria?"

"That's
right, and a good memory you have." Loria folded the towel under
her arm, the stains inside so they couldn't smear her clothing. "How
are you doing this . . . well, this midday?"

She
wasn't surprised she's slept so long. Hand over her belly, Kessa
said, "A bit ill, but the paste should dull that, shortly.
I . . . hope I've not been trouble."

"Not
at all, dear heart. Ah . . . How much do you remember
of last night?"

Too
much.
Kessa put a hand on the basin-stand, barely noticing the
wood and her skin were nearly the same color. She remembered walking
home from alchemy lessons, her hired buggy usurped. The men who'd
chased her, caught her, nearly raped her.
Hands, cold and wet from
some uncertain ointment they'd had, moving up her thigh.
The
green death, turning her spit to poison. Escaping. Finding her way
back to a home in flames. She remembered being rescued, given a
Purgatorie to purge the brew from her body, by the Lord Alchemist,
her Guild Master, Iathor Kymus.

He'd
brought her to his home. But she'd woken to shouting: Iathor arguing
with his younger brother, Iasen, about her dirty half-blooded
heritage. For Iathor'd marry none but another immune, and in all of
Cymelia . . . There was one immune woman: Kessa.

Ordered
out, Iasen'd shouted,
"She's no maiden! You'll always
wonder!"

Kessa'd
kept herself pure; her moon-blood was used in dry tea. Master Iasen'd
once been in her blood-reeking shop when she was collecting it. He
couldn't be so sure . . . unless he'd hired those men,
giving them that jar of
something
alchemical. He'd taken her
buggy. He was an alchemist. He was Iathor's heir, till Iathor got a
son.

She
could grasp no other revenge, save to strip Iasen of all chance of
becoming Lord Alchemist.

"I
told him yes. I'd marry him."

Kessa
wasn't entirely surprised when Loria dropped the towel and swept her
into a soft, swamping hug. "Thank you. Thank you so much."

Don't
thank me,
Kessa didn't say. She didn't need rescuing. She'd
decided that in the chill darkness of her tiny shop, and emptied out
the last dregs of old fantasies, from the days when Iathor Kymus
could've swept in to save her. No one'd saved Kessa and her family –
save herself and her family. If she'd not needed Iathor for silent,
cold
revenge
against his own brother . . .

She
couldn't say that. Loria was Iathor's dramsman, potion-bound to
loyalty for the rest of his life. Awkwardly, Kessa patted the woman's
arm. "You can tell him, if he thinks I was sleep-walking."

The
steward let her go. "Oh, well, he was hoping you'd take lunch
with him. We're getting some of his mother's clothes out of
storage . . ."

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