October 3, 2022

An Except from Cacomus, Book 1 of The Unima Chronicles

 

Chapter 10                                           Sacrifice

Proc clasped his hands around the healer’s bony neck and squeezed. Her eyes popped opened. Even after he knew she was dead, he felt sick and weak from her stare. He looked around at the shelves and grabbed a sack. He stuffed it with dried herbs and bottled liquids and slipped out of the back door.

***

Fonadi recognized the pain in her chest and sat down on the edge of her bed. A sister was in trouble again. She lit a candle but felt no relief. Please not Natara or Zara. Tears welled up and one or two slipped down the corners of her eyes. No. The Mater doesn’t cry. She stood and wiped her face with the back of one hand and hurried to the kitchen.

“Grand Master wants giant wego mushrooms roasted with his meat.” Fonadi said to them.

“But we don’t have any,” the head cook said.

“Have the groundings brought in a fresh gresto yet?”

“No, Mater. Not a one.”

“Send out three more groundlings; tell him their lives depend on it. I’ll stall Grand Master.”

Helmuck walked to a barred window and looked out into the woods. When he though he saw movements, chills ran throughout his body. He wondered if someone was spying on him in his once peaceful domain? Behind him, Fonadi cleared her throat. He jerked around. “What…? Oh, it’s you. Where’s my meal?”

“Coming soon. Come let me hear your great thoughts. It will help you digest your food better.” Helmuck’s frown lines softened, and he followed her to his throne.

Fonadi poured him and herself a goblet of good wine and sat beside him. “Pleased with the women?”

“Yes. I must have the council come soon before word gets out wrong.”

“Good idea. When?”

“Tomorrow evening for dinner.”

“Oh.” Fonadi winced at the idea of organizing a big event so soon. “We may not have time for a big one, but we’ll start preparing.” She refilled his goblet and added. “I told the healer you’d get Proc out of her way today. He’s hard to handle. What’ll you do with him?”

Helmuck stuck out his chin and rubbed it. “Put him in a cell for prisoners next to the dump, and have those two servants guard him until tomorrow night. He’ll be our entertainment.” He rubbed his palms together.

“Excellent. How wise you are. I’ll go with the servants to be sure and then take supplies to the baker for the banquet.”

The young blonde came with a tray of food and served Helmuck. His eyes rolled over her shapely body. “Go get the mater some.”

Fonadi stood. “Thank you, but I should go to the healer’s place before dark. You can’t send anyone else, you know.”

“Right. We’ll save you some.” He took a bite. “Delicious. And to think all those years I never ate so good.”

Fonadi smiled. “You’ll be more surprised how good changes can be. Just wait.”

***

When the healer didn’t answer the knocking on her door, Fonadi and her two servants went around to the back. The door was wide open. As soon as they stepped inside, Fonadi knew something terrible had happened. At the sight of the healer lying face up on her cot, her eyes open and arms hanging limply over the sides. Fonadi’s hand flew to her own chest. She touched the healer’s bruised neck and cold face. The servants gasped and backed away from the stare in the dead woman’s eyes. Fonadi closed them. She knew what had happened and let out a howl. If only she hadn’t left Proc there. Blood rushed from her heart to her head as she turned to the men.        “Proc. Find him!”

Closing the back door, Fonadi moved as though carried by a gust of wind. Her mind was firing ideas faster than she could have spoken them. When she reached the bakery, she banged on the back door. The moment Zara opened it, Fonadi said, “Lock up now.”

“What’s wrong?” Here, sit down.”

Fonadi collapsed into a chair. “The healer’s dead.”

“No! How?”

Fonadi looked up with tears in her eyes. “Murdered by that damned animal Proc. I shouldn’t have left him there. It’s my fault.”

Zara placed her hand on Fonadi’s arm. “No. It’s his fault, not yours. You always act for our best.”

Fonadi’s eyes glared. “I want to kill him. Do you understand?”

Zara nodded. “I’ll be right back” She returned with a cup and handed it to Fonadi.” Drink this. It’ll settle you.”

“I don’t want to be calm. I want revenge.”

“It’s for clear thinking, my friend. You’re too emotional. Trust me.”

Fonadi turned up the cup and drank pursing her lips. “Ugh. Should have put some sweet in it”

“No. It would cut the effect. Now take a deep breath.” She watched until her face muscles relaxed. “Now, what do think we should do? Only the mater knows.”

Fonadi sighed as her eyes rolled around the ceiling until they stopped and squinted as though a speck of wisdom was coming into clear view. Her body relaxed.

“Oh, Zara. I didn’t see it coming. The good healer chose to sacrifice her life to help the sisters. I’m not surprised, but I wish …”

“Shh,” Zara said. “No going back; look ahead.”

“Yes. Proc will die a horrible death in return.” Something I look forward to, but it won’t be by my hands—not directly.”

“What would you have me do to help the cause?”

Fonadi put her fingers to her own lips. “Not so fast. She’s still in between waiting to make sure I saw her. I need to concentrate.  Do you have a clear crystal by any chance?”

“As a matter fact…” Zara went to a shelf and returned with a crystal rock shaped like a tiny castle. “I’d forgotten about this. The healer gave it to me when I turned of age–said I’d need it someday. I guess this is the time.”

Fonadi took the rock in both hands and held it in front of her. She could feel it warming, and the crystals turned pink. Fonadi closed her eyes and felt energy surge from her hands throughout her body. Zara watched wide-eyed as her friend’s body glowed then left her alone in the room.

The healer’s image morphed in front of Fonadi. Smiling, she stuck out one foot. “I still want my shoes. They’ll never wear out walking on clouds.”

Fonadi nodded. “I’ll see to it. We miss you.”

“Don’t worry. I’m better off. It needed be done. You’ll see.”

Fonadi cocked her head to one side. “Is there anything I should know?”

“You’re doing fine. Don’t let up. Here’s a little something extra for you.” The healer tossed Fonadi a white wafer. “Eat it. It will strengthen you.”

Fonadi chewed and savored a sweet flavor she couldn’t name. “Thank you.”

The healer began to float up backwards. “I have to be going.”

As she vanished, the crystal rock cooled. When Fonadi handed it back, Zara said, “What happened to you—the light I mean?”

“I talked with the healer. She’s fine. Tell the women to prepare her body. We won’t bury her until day after tomorrow. I’m going to see that the shoemaker has shoes ready for her.”

“Anything else?”

“Oh. I almost forgot. Helmuck is having the council for dinner tomorrow night. We’ll need more breads and pastries. I’ll send supplies by a servant. Can you manage?’

“Somehow since I don’t have a choice. I’ll keep my help overnight.”

“I’ll send for food late afternoon. Hide that crystal rock, Zara.”

Zara unlocked the door and hugged her friend. “Be careful, Fonadi.”

“You always say that, and I keep coming back, don’t I?”

“Yes, but Proc’s out there this time.”

“Don’t forget he’s wounded.”

“I know, but don’t forget he’s young and could have help by now.”