The matriarch of the Magi would never forgive anything she perceived to be morally wrong. That was why she would never be open to the possibility of helping the Carne, even in their hour of greatest need. They had once, long ago, kept the Magi as slaves and, even though there was no longer anyone in either race who lived through those days, she would not forget that. So when a Carne male walked into the council hall one autumn afternoon, in the same way that someone from any other race would, everyone already knew what her answer to his plea for help would be. Her daughter Marnie knew better than anyone because she had been the one to listen, unwillingly, to the many diatribes her mother had gone on.
For a long moment there was silence when he walked in. He looked tired, and worried. Marnie didn’t believe anyone in the room, even her mother, thought that the Carne would ever ask the Magi for help. She thought it was a silly belief as they were healers, so they should have known that the day would come when the Carne would need them. The Carne wouldn’t want to need them. The Carne did have their own healers, but no one with the innate skills the Magi had, which, apparently, had left them with one option.
“We need your help,” he said, his voice strong so it would reach to where the matriarch was sat at the end of the table It was impossible to ignore how exhausted he sounded. What had he been through to make the decision he should ask them for help? “There is an illness raging through my people that no one can control, and many are dying. Our healers were among the first to die. You are our only chance to survive.”
“A long time ago our people made a pact not to help yours,” she replied, no sympathy in her voice at all. “I will not go against my ancestors, who were kept as slaves for hundreds of years.”
Agreements were voiced all the way up the table, but Marnie knew the time had come for her to say something. “Isn’t it time we let go of past vendettas and began a new relationship?” she asked, looking over at the man who was standing at the end of the table before turning her attention to her mother, trying not to let the disgust she felt show. “I’m sure there are many things that the Carne can offer us, as every other race does.”
The council members all stared at her. It was the first time she’d ever really spoken in the council hall, and she had spoken against her mother, the well loved matriarch of the Magi. Her mother had the look on her face that she wore every time she was disappointed at her only daughter. Marnie was nothing like her mother, so she disappointed her often. There was no way she would back down though. She truly believed it was time to let go of the past and move on.
“Marnie, you have studied our history. You know that your great-great-great-great grandmother fought the Carne for our freedom. They made a pact never to help the Carne.”
“Actually, Mother, the pact was not to help the Carne until they’d changed their views on slavery.” Once again she looked at the man at the end of the table. “Have the Carne changed their views on slavery?”
“Yes, two generations ago. We now have a law against slavery.” He smiled at her, and she could see his pointed canines. He really was one of the Carne. “It’s much simpler to trade for the services we need by offering the things we have.”
She only just managed to keep a smile from touching her lips, knowing that she needed to be serious otherwise the other council members would never trust in her judgement. “What do you have?”
“Fruits that won’t grow in Magi territory, meat products, and a couple of herbs that only grow in Carne territory.”
“How many healers do you need?”
The smile disappeared. “I don’t know. There were hundreds of people who were ill when I left, but that number could have grown since.”
“There will be no healers going into their territory,” her mother interjected, her voice full of fury. “I will not allow it.”
“You are happy to be the reason that hundreds, maybe thousands, of people die?” Marnie asked calmly, looking over at her.
“The illness is the reason that people will die. It has nothing to do with me.”
“The illness may not have anything to do with you, but you are happy to stop healers from going to help those who are suffering. We could help people get better, and yet you are going to let them suffer because of something their ancestors did, when the people dying never did anything to hurt us.”
“It’s the right thing to do for the Magi. We may lose healers if we send them into Carne territory if this illness really is as virulent as he says it is.”
“That’s never bothered you before.”
Marnie remembered a time when her mother had sent a group of Magi healers into Garcer territory, and they’d lost every one of them to the disease. That had been a devastating time for them all, but it had been especially hard for her because her younger brother Terrence had been one of the group. It had taken her a long time to forgive her mother for sending him into such a dangerous situation. They all knew how bad the illness could be, she’d argued against Terrence going, and yet nothing she said was ever going to change her mother’s mind. It was, apparently, time for her brother to prove himself as a healer, and he’d done that by dying. Biting hard on her lip she focused on keeping her emotions from getting the better of her.
“The Carne aren’t worth the loss of life.”
She found herself fighting not to lose her temper. As Marnie looked between the man who had entered the council chamber looking for help, even though he was sure he wouldn’t get it, and the woman who she couldn’t respect any more, she knew she had a decision to make. Her belief in her mother’s judgement had been fading for a long time, so that was the last straw. Walking away from a race dealing with an illness that they couldn’t heal themselves was something she wasn’t willing to do. Her belief was that anyone who needed help should get it, no matter what. When someone needed help she gave it to them because she had the ability to. It didn’t matter what they had or hadn’t done, or if they could pay or not, as she didn’t believe that she had the right to choose who to heal and who not to.
Feeling more sure of herself than she ever had done before Marnie’s eyes met with her mother’s. Ever since the death of Terrence their relationship had been slowly falling apart. Leaving was going to destroy it completely, and she didn’t care. “Who are we to choose to let these people die? They made a mistake hundreds of years ago that we are still punishing them for without giving them a chance to make amends. You have all taken the oath. We pledged to help all those who needed it, not just those we have a good relationship with. It took this man courage to come here, knowing what our opinion was of his people, but you sit there judging him based on his ancestors. He is not his ancestors.” She shook her head. “We have no right to judge anyone.” There was muttering all around the table but no one actually said anything in reply. “Give me five minutes to get my belongings together,” she said to the man at the end of the table, who she was getting fed up of calling ‘the man at the end of the table’ in her head. “I will help your people.”
She knew what her mother was going to say to that. Marnie almost smiled at the fury in her mother’s eyes, but there were so many things she was beginning to see differently. The person she believed her mother to be and the person her mother actually was were two very different people. Before they could say anything she walked out of the council hall, and straight to the cottage she shared with both her parents. Her father would be at work, so she wouldn’t have to explain to him what was going on, and that was her one real regret. All she wanted to do was say goodbye to him. At the same time she thought it might be better for her not to, otherwise he might feel he had to choose between the two women he loved the most. She didn’t want him to have to do that.
Within a minute she had shoved some clothes into her bag, grabbed the two books she used the most, and gathered up her healing supplies. Each healer had their own healing supplies, but that didn’t stop Marnie’s mother from using Marnie’s regularly because she kept them in better condition. She took her short cut to the stores, planning on what she was going to be able to take. It was early enough in the season she didn’t worry about leaving the Magi with too little. They still had time to gather more, and, if things got really bad, she knew the other races would help. Picking up one of the prepared bags was the easiest thin g to do. She didn’t want to take too long, because the last thing she wanted was to deal with someone trying to talk her out of what she was doing. It was probably going to be her mother. Losing one of her strongest healers wasn’t something the matriarch would want. Of course that didn’t mean the matriarch wanted someone like her arguing against the choices that were being made, the way she had been for so long.
As she headed for the entrance to the town she hoped that the Carne visitor had managed to get out of the council room safely. If he hadn’t then she would still go, but it would take a lot longer to convince his people that she really was there to help them. If things really were as bad as he described that extra time could lead to more deaths. Thankfully he was stood waiting for her, still smiling.
“Your mother might disown you,” he said conversationally, as they started walking. “She was really angry that you had gone against your heritage.”
“Mother and I have been having problems, so I’m not surprised she said that. Maybe she can make my older brother the leader the way she’s been talking about.” She shrugged. “I’m Marnie.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Marnie. I’m Thomar.”
“What can you tell me about the illness?”
“I don’t know much about it unfortunately. When I left the capital city we were free of any contagion, and I was told to avoid all towns so I didn’t come down with it before I got to the Magi. To be honest I thought it was a waste of time to even try to get one healer to come, but I’m so glad I was wrong, because I do know that it was bad. Every time I heard a report it seemed to be getting worse.”
“Not everyone has the same beliefs as Mother. When I took my oath I meant it. We heal everyone without judging them for their past crimes. That is up to a law man, not a healer.”
“We did commit heinous crimes against your people.”
“It’s in the past. I believe that what you do now is important and not what your ancestors did then. We also committed crimes against your people in our effort to free ourselves, so we’re not exactly free of blame.” She shrugged. “How long did it take you to get here?”
“Do you think you’re capable of walking all night, because we need to get back faster than you got here?”
“If I have to then I will do it.”
As Marnie walked she thought. Until she got to the border that meant she was entering Carne land she’d know her way even if her eyes were closed. Some herbs needed to be harvested during the dark of the moon, so all the healers were trained to know their way around in the dark. They passed several places she would have liked to stop if they’d had the time, because she knew there was no chance of her ever going back home. Leaving would change things. Truly walking away from the Magi, and entering Carne territory, would mean she’d truly betrayed the matriarch. It would be then her mother would make the decision it was better for everyone involved if Marnie stayed gone. There was a chance she might even be right. She didn’t feel like she could stay at home any longer.
She pushed thoughts of her choice away, and turned her thoughts to what she needed to do. More information on the illness that the Carne was suffering from would be helpful. The last time anyone from the Magi had gone into a situation without enough information was when Terrence had been sent into Garcer territory and hadn’t returned. No one from the group he was with returned either. All they’d been able to do was wait for information. On the day that Jackson had returned from a trip to deliver medicines they found out that the Garcer were gone which meant that it was likely that the Magi who had been sent were also dead. Marnie hadn’t been able to cry. She’d wanted to, she’d felt she should grieve for her younger brother, but it had been impossible. Instead, she had thrown herself into the work they had both believed in. During the grieving ritual she’d promised him that she would help anyone who needed it.
It hadn’t been until Thomar had walked into the council hall that she’d had any chance to keep that promise. Every other race of people in the country was helped by the Magi, by the matriarch who made all the rules, even though some kept slaves. Only the Carne were left to deal with their illnesses alone, but it had always seemed like they would be able to cope as they had their own healers. Healers whose ancestors had taught her people how to heal when they were still slaves. Marnie couldn’t help wishing she knew more about the time they had been kept as slaves, why her ancestors had decided to fight against the Carne, and why it had become a rule that the Magi wouldn’t help them.
With every step Marnie took towards the border, she realised exactly how her present and future intertwined with the choices that the Magi had made when they’d walked away from the Carne. She thought about what sort of person it made her to be walking through the land her ancestors had taken as theirs, with someone they had believed was an enemy, if they had ever really believed that their former owners really were the enemy. Glancing at Thomar again, she wondered what his race was really like, as she only knew what they were like from history books written by the Magi, and those books were unlikely to be fully trustworthy.
“How are you doing?” she asked. It seemed likely he was going to lie, because he wasn’t going to want to be honest with her. He knew how important it was for them to get to the people who needed them as quickly as possible. “We an stop if you need to.”
“I’m fine,” he replied, yawning. That told her all she needed to know. “I don’t want to stop.”
“Once we get over the border it might be better if you just give me directions. You need to sleep.”
“I’d rather just keep going. I have family I need to get back to.”
“Tiredness can make your immune system weaker. If you get ill it could have a more damaging effect on you than it would on anyone else.”
“They need me home, Marnie. I should never have left without permission.”
Marnie looked at him. That was new. “Who are you, Thomar?”
He looked back at her, their eyes locking for a moment before he had to focus on where he was going so he didn’t trip over anything. “I’m related to the King.” He sighed. “He’s my father, and I know he’s going to be upset with me when I get home, but I had to do something.”
“I understand. If I was in your position I can imagine myself doing the same thing.” She smiled. What she wasn’t going to do was think too much about who he was. All that truly mattered was the choice he made. “You did a good thing.”
“He told me that the Magi wouldn’t help us.”
“The Magi are stuck in their ways. It’s a problem that I was planning on dealing with when I became matriarch, but sometimes things that are more important change plans.”
“Do you really believe that everyone deserves help?”
“Yes, Thomar, I do. I was brought up to believe that as healers we should do anything we can to help people who need us. Unfortunately some people are still overly affected by what happened in the past, and that means that they forget their training.” She looked at him. He was still looking where he was going. Considering how easy it would be for him to trip over something and hurt himself she was glad. “I am a healer first, and then a member of my race. Others may be a member of the race first, and then be a healer, like my mother.”
“She’s only doing what she thinks is best.”
“Maybe she is, but that doesn’t mean I agree with what she thinks is best.” Marnie shrugged. “We’ve had differences of opinion for a long time.”
“Isn’t it hard leaving your family behind because of your beliefs?”
“Of course it is. I’ll miss them every day. At the same time I know that this is what is right for me. I don’t think I could ever have become the matriarch, even though that’s what was expected of me.”
“There are decisions I would never have been able to make. My mother sent my younger brother Terrence out to Garcer territory, and he never came back. If I was in her position I would never have been able to do something like that, which wouldn’t have been what he wanted, because he was a healer. I would have needed to treat him like one rather than as a family member. It would have been the same with any children that I may have.”
“So what you’re saying is that being a healer and allowing the people you care about to do the same job are very different things.”
Marnie nodded. “My mother doesn’t seem to have the same problem. Sometimes I can’t help thinking that she only had children because she felt she had to. She prefers my brother, but she doesn’t actually seem to like him. I was only there to take over as matriarch of the Magi when she decided to retire.”
“I’m the third son, which makes me pretty pointless really, but my parents have never treated me any different to my two brothers. Sometimes I feel like I’m a burden because I will never have a role in the same way that my brothers will have so they’ve been putting a lot of time into working out what I should do with the rest of my life.” Thomar sighed. “They thought that I could become a healer, but I don’t know if I’m capable of doing something like that. There’s so much death.”
“We do save people.”
“I know you do. I just…” He was silent for a short time. “You can’t save everyone, and I feel like the people that I couldn’t save would always haunt me.”
“That’s something that is hard to learn how to deal with. I don’t know what your belief of fate is, but we believe that sometimes it’s simply someone’s time to die, because they’re needed for something else. It doesn’t hurt any less when you lose someone, but it does help after a while.”
“What explanation do you have for my race being decimated by a disease we can’t deal with?” His voice was full of anger. “I can’t see any reason for it.”
“Thomar, I don’t know that there is always a reason for these things. There may be a reason for this, but at the same time it could be utterly pointless.” Marnie sighed. “I hope that there is one in the same way that I hope there was a reason for what happened to the Garcer. Sometimes though it is just a disease doing what a disease does.”
“Natural selection,” he muttered.
“That’s one explanation.”
“I always thought that we would be able to deal with anything.”
She reached out, wanting to squeeze his arm, but then decided she didn’t know him well enough and stopped. “I think we always believe that.”
“What can I do to help you?”
“I won’t know for sure until I find out exactly what it is that I’m dealing with, but the most likely thing that I’m going to need help with is making medicines and maybe harvesting things. It depends on how many people I have to deal with.”
“Just let me know. I will do everything I possible can. I know you’ve walked away from everything to help, and I can’t quite believe you’re really beside me. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and find this was all a dream.”
That was when Marnie did squeeze his arm. “Feel me, Thomar. I am here. I’m going to your home with you, because I know it’s the right thing to do. We’re going to be there soon, and when we are I will find a way to heal your people. I promise you that.”
“Don’t make promises you might not be able to keep.”
“I’m Magi. It’s not a promise I can’t keep.”
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