Herb-Wife (Lord Alchemist Duology) (4 page)

"And
anything of the men who attacked Kessa?" Formally, he should've
called her
Miss Kessa
, but her
yes
was the one thing he
didn't
wish un-happened.

Thioso
shook his head. "Wide area to search, I fear. Lot of space
betwixt the guild offices and the shop."

"About
a quarter-hour's walk from the offices," Kessa repeated,
monotone. "A left into an alley or narrow street. A right. A
left into a dead end. There might be a knife on the ground somewhere.
They'd a cart."

"Any
noise someone might've heard?" Thioso asked, as if he spoke of
the weather and not four men chasing down a young woman.

Iathor
was close enough to see Kessa bare her teeth, briefly feral. "Them,
after a bit."

"Hm-hm.
Any descriptions?"

"No.
It was twilight and darkening. Darker in the alley. Three of
them . . . should be marked. Two on the face. One on
his hand. Something like burns." Kessa picked up her mug, though
the dregs had likely gone cold.

"You
felt that or . . ." Thioso's eyebrows went up.
"An herb-witch thing?"

"Yes."

One
that nearly killed you,
Iathor didn't say.

"Hmmm."
Thioso looked at her, wrapped in her borrowed robe. "Have you a
place to stay, Miss Kessa? I'll have more questions later, I fear."

Firmly,
Iathor said, "Here."

Thioso's
eyebrows went up again. "Oh?"

Kessa
said, "Moving out seems . . . pointless, as I've
agreed to marry him."

"
Oh?
"
Thioso's eyebrows tried to go higher; he pulled at his beard.

Iathor
said, "She has granted me that gift."

"Uh-hm.
Congratulations." The watchman sounded more perplexed than
congratulatory, but Iathor inclined his head anyway.

There
was a bell from the kitchen, and sounds of the front door opening
shortly after. The boy, Zeth, dashed into the other doorway. "M'lord!
Herbmaster Keli's here!"

The
Herbmaster herself followed, her gray-streaked brown braids jouncing.
She wore a deep green dress more appropriate to parties than work or
travel. Her daughter, Nicia, wasn't present. "Ia–" she
started, saw he wasn't alone, and switched to, "Master Kymus,
what's going on! I return from a family gathering and find there's
been some kind of attack?"

Iathor
stood. "Yes, I . . ."
. . . need
to talk to you, ask you to ask Kessa . . .
He
looked down at the younger herb-witch.

"Go
on," Kessa said. "I'll be fine. I'm safe here."

And
perhaps that was code for
I know your dramsmen won't let harm come
to me.
"All right," he murmured, and did bend to run
the backs of his fingers against the edge of her hair before he left.

Dayn
was already leaning against the wall in the hallway. They exchanged
silent nods as Iathor and Keli went to the office. Once
there 
. . .

"Iathor,
what happened? Your letter was nearly incoherent!"

He
grimaced and leaned on his desk. "My apologies. I wrote it while
Loria had Kessa in the bath."

Grim-faced,
the Herbmaster said, "My herb-witch. Explain."

Iathor
took a breath, and did. The burned shop. The bedraggled woman,
self-poisoned, clothes ripped. The circumstances around her attack.
"I couldn't be positive it wasn't directed at herb-witches in
general, or ones of status – I
have
been paying
attention to her."

Keli's
expression hadn't lightened. "Nicia's at the guild hospice, and
I'd hope there're enough strapping journeymen there to keep my
daughter safe. Who took Kessa's hired buggy?"

Iathor
shook his head. "She didn't say, may not know. I need you to
ask . . ." He had to take a steadying breath. "I
know there've been incidents, even in the guild. Merging alchemists
and herb-witches into one guild wasn't easily done. But those . . .
were more often abuses of power. Not . . . not a
snatch off the streets. And by the time I heard . . ."

Keli
finished his awkward explanation for him. "By the time it came
to the Guild Master to enforce the rules and mayhap break someone
from the guild, someone'd already asked how far it'd gone."

He
nodded, still not able to look at the woman. "And . . .
It makes no difference to me, whether she's still a maiden or not!
She said
yes
, Keli. I'd not rebuff her for being attacked. But
I'd like to know if I dare . . . even touch her."

"Well."
Keli sat in one of the chairs before his desk. "She got away.
That's a hopeful thing. From what I know of such things, it marks
each woman differently. If you're both willing to be careful . . ."

"I
irked her enough before, for reasons I don't understand." It was
like walking over a floor made of glass, never knowing when a step
would break through, slashing an unwary leg.

"And
you'd like to know what's the truest danger." Keli sighed. "I'll
see what I can find. Blight, if only I'd waited a few moments longer.
We
waved
as our buggy left."

Iathor
vowed, "I'm going to send that watchman, Thioso, to find the
driver who should've waited for her. And when I do . . ."
He put his hand over his chest, where the Tryth elixir nestled in its
little pocket beside his other vials. "I will find out why he
left."

Perhaps
she thought he meant a more permanent draught. "Don't put
yourself in front of a judge, Iathor. Not when others deserve that
attention far more."

He
let his hand drop. "As you say, Herbmaster." Perhaps she
was right to remind him. He'd have investigated the matter anyway, to
ensure the Alchemists' Guild's members were sacrosanct, and been
angry enough at the outrage. But that Kessa'd been the target . . .
A part of him still composed a not-yet-written letter to the
city-prince, asking permission to brew the dramsman's draught by the
barrel rather than the vial. That might be sufficient to dose his way
through the city, and take everyone who might've been involved.

 

 

Chapter
III

 

K
essa
watched through her hair as the Herbmaster and Guild Master walked
off, and wondered vaguely which dramsman was lurking to watch over
her, and who'd lurked off to watch over Iathor Kymus instead.

Probably
Dayn for her, and Brague for him; the tall, older man'd drunk an
earlier formula of the dramsman's draught.
"I think the older
draught filled up the heart more,"
Tania'd once said.

Thioso,
the watchman, crouched on his toes beside Kessa, elbow on the low
table in front of her knees. She tilted her face to hide her
blight-colored eyes.

"Marrying
him," he said.

Anything
she said would get back to Iathor, she was sure. "It was
becoming inevitable."

Very
low, Thioso asked, "You think he did for your shop?"

She'd
asked Iathor, with poison in her blood and mouth, shop burning behind
her. He'd said . . . "No." She went on,
"Even if he might've, to drive me to him? The family upstairs,
the people to the sides . . . he'd not've put them at
risk."

"Why
would he
want
to drive you?" That was equally low.

She
hesitated. But it wasn't even a threadbare secret so much as tattered
lace, to be torn beyond mending once her agreement to wed the Lord
Alchemist was public. "I've an alchemist's immunity, as he does.
He doesn't want a dramswife." More, she knew, he dreaded the
thought of dramschildren. His heir would take the draught to prove
the guild wouldn't be given into hands that might be secretly
controlled by someone else. Or lost to poisoning.

"So . . .
that's rare, is it?"

She
nearly chuckled. She'd asked that herself, disbelieving a half-breed
like herself might have something that
wasn't
merely uncommon.
"There are three that anyone's told me about. Him. His brother.
Me." And she'd theories about the lifespan of a child-bearing
woman, immune to brews that eased difficult, painful labors –
or rendered a woman unconscious to the knives that could rescue a
child too large, or turned too badly, to be born at all.

She'd
a better chance surviving that, though, than trying to put a crossbow
bolt in Iasen's back. The man had his own dramsmen protecting him.
She'd likely be caught, and become Iathor's captive brood mare
anyway.

"Huh."
Thioso's grunt reminded her to relax her jaw. The watchman asked, "So
tell me how they came after you?"

"I
was walking back home, as someone'd taken my buggy," she
started.

"Wait,
buggy?"

She
nodded. "I'd lessons, once a fiveday, at the guild offices.
Myself and Herbmaster Keli's daughter had tutoring by Master
Kymus . . . Oh, blight. The book we were given, it was
in my shop."

"Tell
me about the buggy."

"Yes.
Kymus – Iathor." It was easy, now, to use his first name.
There were two Kymus brothers, after all, and she could tolerate only
one of them. "He'd arranged a hired buggy to fetch me and take
me back in the evening, since it was so far. Yesterday, the driver
took someone else's fare instead, and the others wouldn't risk being
elsewhere when
their
fares wanted them."

"But
yours did."

She
put out a hand, dark and nail-torn from trying to scale the brick
wall to escape. "I'm just a half-breed journeyman herb-witch,
not some guild officer, nor even a master alchemist." Nor even
pretty.

"They
say who took your buggy?"

Iasen
Kymus took the buggy reserved in the name of Kymus, for his own
carriage had some problem. He left his driver and groom, who fixed it
and took the carriage just before I got into the coach-house.
The
other drivers had been easy enough telling her; they'd tell Thioso
easy enough, too. A lie would backfire.

As
might the truth, from her lips, if it got back to Iathor from his
dramsmen. "Ask them yourself," she whispered.

"You
think it was planned," the watchman murmured.

"A
coincidence. I was walking. Someone was watching my shop, off and on,
before this. Left a rat skull on my door that morning. Left a mouse
skull last fiveday. I wager that was Wolf. The attack . . .
was just bad luck."

"You've
been having lessons a while now?"

"A
few fivedays. The people around my shop knew about it."

Thioso
leaned against the couch, shifting from crouch to sitting on one
knee. "Who do
you
count as enemies?"

Kessa
shrugged. "Wolf, probably. I was there when he was taken."
Standing in the clouds of sleeping smoke he'd bolted away from.

"Not
Darul Reus' sister?"

Kessa
didn't twitch at the name. The moneylender she'd dosed, to make him
sleepy and suggestible. To make him forget her foster-sister, Laita,
existed, or at least that he'd wanted to force her into bed. Had
Kessa known the man had lust-potions . . . She
might've killed him instead. "I'd forgotten he had bloodkin,"
she said, distantly.

"And
your . . . brother by marriage?"

Iasen
Kymus had come to her shop, and gone away when she'd said she'd no
interest in Iathor. He'd been incensed to find her in the guild
offices' basement, the Guild Master as her teacher; only Nicia's
return from the water-closet had kept him from turning violent. "I
should speak no ill of my betrothed's brother," she managed to
say.

"You've
some theory, Miss Kessa," Thioso started to murmur, when there
were voices in the hall.

Kessa
sipped cold, honey-sweet tea dregs. The watchman didn't go on, but
stood unhurriedly. The ends of his tabard swung with the motion. "Sir
Kymus," he said. "Herbmaster. I'm Thioso. I've been
assisting with certain matters of the Alchemists' Guild's recently,
so I get this one, too."

"Lucky
you," Herbmaster Keli said wryly, as she sat beside Kessa. "How
are you doing, dear?"

"I'm . . .
fine." Strangely exhausted, after sleeping so long. Perhaps it
was the after-effects of the healing draught, after the stress of the
poison.

"Child,
you sound tired. Have you a place to lie down? Or shall I chase off
the men?"

Lying
down sounded unexpectedly
relieving.
"I've a room. I
think I can find it again."

Iathor
said, "Dayn can walk you there." He lifted his voice.
"Dayn?"

The
dramsman called back, from the front hallway's arch, "Aye,
m'lord. M'la– Miss Herbsman?"

Miss
Herbsman
was more status than she deserved.
Miss
at all
was painfully over-polite. But Dayn'd been repressing
m'lady
for fivedays, already thinking of her as his master's wife. Kessa
stood, holding her empty mug, and bent for the towel as well. No
spotting on it, but from the lumpy, wet feel of the cotton padding,
it was a near thing.

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