The River Cure by Katherine Worley

That summer started as a very not-quite-there season for me, and needless to say I didn’t yet know where “there” would be. For the first time in my sixteen years I thought that I might leave the life I had here in Artume. For my mother, the seer of Fort Tanveh, it was predicted to be more weary months of trying to work for the fort and her children both (perhaps just my brother besides the rest of the fort). The thought of my leaving with our uncle was hardest on my brother Tenvun. The thought of leaving him was hard on me as well. I might have moped about the house in indecision were I not busy with aiding in the work of the fort, and I held myself too aloof for such a show of uselessness. My dear brother, of course, knew that part of me dreaded my going. He was the only one.

I kept myself busy that first week of summer, riding out with the men whenever I could arrange it, to keep my mind off things. I was the second-best healer at Tanveh-there being only two healers. I could always use that reason to convince the men, and our leader Otoniel, to let me go with them when they foresaw any fighting. I could defend myself with my hunting knife at need and had before. By the time I knew I might be leaving with my uncle, however, I had other ways of fighting off the hippogriffs and poachers we sometimes encountered: ways that were themselves responsible for my coming journey.

I, Tavi of Fort Tanveh, eldest daughter of the wise-woman Elirza and Jon, am a sorceress. Because of that not-so-simple fact, I am writing this entry in my new journal at the request of Derzin. I would not have the story, journal, or Derzin were it not for my newfound magic. All that comes later; now I shall tell what I first did with my magic.

The day my uncle Derzin arrived (the second day of the second week of summer), I could not greet him nor leave with him as planned. For Tenvun had tragically and abruptly fallen ill the very hour Derzin had ridden into the lands bordering Tanveh; I was told the hour much later by Otoniel Marks (it was early morning). The fort’s commander had happened to encounter Derzin on patrol and escort him and his companions to the fort. We both agree that it was more than coincidence, in light of the following events.

The illness that held my dear brother in thrall was no natural disease either myself or my mother had come across in all our shared experience. Even using my little-understood powers, until I had exhuasted them and they no longer glimmered half-forgotten at the back of my mind, I could not identify the illness. Only, that I suspected a curse. That frightened me more than the illness (or curse) itself. Holding my brother’s slender hand, kneeling beside his bed, I had no answer for the unspoken question in his fevered eyes. Anger was the only answer I had for myself.

It was into this sullen atmosphere that Derzin entered. I didn’t look up for a few long moments, but when I did, I recognized him instantly. He had the aqualine features that my brother had and I lacked utterly, made more lordly by his expression of faint disgust. My mother eyed him warily. She never trusted anyone. I would have been impressed by his composure and that his spellbooks bespoke a wizard. If I had not been too busy resenting him and everything else.

“Well, girl, or you ready to leave?” he asked without even looking at me. “My brother is ill,” I answered dully. “Maybe you’ll wait until he’s better?” Derzin looked at me as if I had suggested he petition Waike, our heavy-handed Lord, for a cure. “Why should I?”

“Because,” I said, obviously without much good sense, “I’m not leaving until he’s fine, and you’re not making it happen any faster.”

Derzin looked scanadalized. My mother said something about thinking it over while my brother just stared at me with this strangely knowing look in his eyes, and before I knew it I was out of the small house and walking determinedly away.

I regained my head once I stood beside the river, shocked to find my feet had carried me all the way to the border. It was evening. Berating myself for a fool, I looked around to see if anyone was nearby to accompany me back and hoping no one was there to see me. As it happened, there was a wather-beaten old fisherman nearby but not a horse or patroler in sight. Sitting down heavily, footsore and knowing it was impossible that I’d make it back before midnight, I finally acknowledged the old fisherman. He’d been just standing there, though my presence was probably strange enough to merit that. I had my knife in hand in case of trouble.

“Sir, do you know where I might find a horse to borrow, to take me back to Tanveh?” I asked politely.

The old man was untying a raft from a nearby withered tree, for some reason. I guessed that he was a cleric of Hanspur. Seeing an equally waterlogged rat running back and forth beside the tree, I knew he was a cleric of Hanspur. Not someone I’d necessarily trust.

“That wouldn’t fix much, would it?” he remarked. “It’d be awful disloyal for you to just leave your brother like that.”

I gaped at him. Not that I was unused to uncanny divinations and the like, with a hedge witch for a mother, but why would this old cleric take any interest in my troubles? Come to think of it, I thought my mother was the only spellcaster of any power in this region. Even she wouldn’t be able to make such an accurate and perceptive divination, let alone so quickly and subtly.

“I’m not a cleric,” he added. “And I can get rid of the curse. For a favor.”

My jaw dropped even lower. I was scared, true, but this might be an answer to my unspoken prayers. The reason for my fear was who had answered them. I believed it was Hanspur. Who else could it be?

After a few moments, I just nodded. I wasn’t thinking who am I to deny a god? or this is the answer, a divine answer. I wasn’t thinking much of anything.

My decision made, I put on an air of dignity (or tried to) and walked over when he beckoned. His appearance hadn’t changed. He still looked like a soggy old fisherman, but the light, the air, the very atmosphere seemed to be drawn towards him so that everything else seemed slightly out of focus. Apparently, he was trying to intimidate me. He didn’t need to, and he knew it. Who can guess the ways of the gods? I tried really hard not to think anything disparaging about him. I was sure, after all, that he could read my mind and a lot of the people at the fort worshipped him. Plus, he’s a god, which I still find hard to wrap my mind around.

“The favor?” I asked quietly, staring at the large rat who was now circling my feet.

Hanspur pressed a sort of mace into my hand. “All you need to do, Tavi, is ride the raft. Then ride back in the golden raft you’ll find. You won’t even need to steer.”

I was wise enough to know that it wouldn’t be nearly that easy, especially since he’d just handed me a weapon. I was also vain enough to think that this whole thing was about me somehow. Hanspur could get the raft himself if he wanted. No, that wasn’t right. It had to be about the curse. I was suddenly suspicious, again, of the illness’s origins. I looked up abruptly. Hanspur stood there looking impatient and giving no indication of answering my unspoken question.

My feeling of powerlessness grew stronger as I whirled about and climbed tentatively onto the raft. I stared into the river’s strangely hypnotic depths as it tugged strongly at the rickety raft and the river’s master let go the rope.

I recovered consciousness again, abruptly, when it was night. I was starting to get really tired of this and Hanspur’s treatment of me in general. Couldn’t he have just whooshed me to wherever “here” was, instantly? On that thought, I sat up from where I sprawled on the raft and looked around.

The raft was half-grounded on the sandy bank of a reed-strewn islet, the other half riding low in the water and causing my skirt and leather shoes to become soaked. It was still close enough to twilight that I could see somewhat while my vision adjusted for the night. In the center of the islet, maybe about ten feet from where I knelt, was what looked like a small pyramid. Leaning on it was the shape of the raft I had been sent here for. I was sure that was it, because I saw it glint gold briefly in the marshlight.

It couldn’t be this easy. Nervous, I grabbed the mace or morningstar or whatever weapon that my unpredicatable patron had given me. Getting off the raft and onto solid ground proved more difficult than I had expected. I got more horribly cold water on me. Growing more nervous by the minute and in a foul mood, I stalked throught the scratchy reeds towards the ominous looking pyramid. Was this the obstacle I had to overcome? The reason I was here at all, and possibly (though the thought still bothers me) the reason Tenvun was bedridden and getting worse?

I stopped dead in my tracks, the fine hair on the back of my neck lifting as I stared into the darker darkness that was the pyramid, or pyre, or something. I walked forward sneakily, though there was nothing nearby that I needed to hide from, or so I thought. I was curious. It made sense that whatever this thing was, it had to do with my quest. Hanspur’s quest, I reminded myself angrily. A green glint from the top of the small pyramid regarded me, illuminated by the moonlight off the water, as if approving of my rebellious thoughts. As I stood there inspecting the thing with my gaze, that glint snapped me out of my sullen and oblivious mood.

I stumbled backwards from the cat’s eye gem that glared at me. First Hanspur, now Gyronna, and I doubted either of them had my best interests in mind. Why, why were the gods taking such an interest in me now? And right when I had the most to lose. My breathing came shallower and more rapid, and I felt pressure gather behind my eyes and at the back of my throat. Great. I was so near my goal, facing (I hoped fiercely) the only obstacle between me and it. I was farther from home than I had ever been and doing something that had to be more important than anything I had ever done before, and I was going to break down and cry. Wonderful, just peachy. I was sure there was some sort of irony in all this, but to this day I still can’t quite pin it down.

The River Cure concludes in Part 2