And for anyone who's fallen behind due to holidays or NaNoWriMo or life or whatever, the Table of Contents is here. (The last time I checked the links they all worked; if that ever changes, just let me know.)
After nearly everyone had left the meeting, Mayor Eel walked over to Mist, offering her some fruit.
“Are there possibilities you haven’t mentioned yet, Healer?”
“There’s one that I wanted to mention to you privately.” She spoke very quietly.
Lotus had not appeared to be listening, but nodded at her, then handed a basket of fruit to several children. “Here, take these, and make sure the other kids get some too.” She quietly followed them out of the sunshade, leaving them alone.
“It’s always possible that someone wants to get rid of a rival, or get revenge for something. Many lakeborns know the plants woodborns use for fishing, for instance, and hanging crystals in the sun causes colored light to play on the water. Anyone who knows your feelings about fireborns could have decided that framing someone as a fireborn would be a good way to get you to banish them from the town.”
His toes dug deep furrows in the sand, though he kept his voice low. “You think one of my people is using me like that?”
“I think, human nature being what it is, that it’s possible. Certainly, I don’t know your people well enough to eliminate that possibility.”
“So, what you’re saying is this is something I should investigate.”
“Law enforcement isn’t exactly my area of expertise.”
“And our Sheriff is back in town, taking care of his parents.” He stood still, considering. “If I appoint a deputy right now, I’d have to explain why. I’ll have to consider the best way to handle this.” He bowed formally, “Thank you, Healer.”
Before he could finish the formula, Mist touched the back of her hand to his. “This might not be the problem, you know. And we are still investigating some things that, if they are true, are healer’s work. So I must continue to consult with you on behalf of your town.”
“Oh, of course, of course. But still, I thank you. You’re so matter of fact about all this, you have actually met fireborns, adults who help people with their skills. I think it’s helping my people. I think—“ he paused, looking around. No one was in sight, but he lowered his voice even more. “I think it’s helping me, helping me to see that what happened in my birth village was a tragic accident. If, if we do have, I mean, if one of our children is fireborn, I don’t want it to end that way.”
Mist looked at him, standing awkwardly, like a gangly teenager, and wondered if the awkwardness was honest emotion or an attempt to play her for some other purpose.
“It doesn’t have to end that way,” she said, quietly.
He continued, as if he hadn’t heard her, though Mist had observed that he missed very little. “I want to think there’s a way to send them off safely, so they can learn to help people, to be a healer, or to call the rain in a drought, or any of those other stories you have been telling my people.” He stood straighter.
“If we do find a fireborn,” Mist said, “I am willing to take him with me, and see that he is fostered with someone who can train him, keep him out of trouble until he is wise enough to stay out of trouble on his own.
“You know where to take them?”
“I know fireborn healers, Mayor. I’ve worked with them. And I’ve even met Nautilus, and know someone who can get word to him.”
“Really? He’s a legend—I thought he was just a legend.” His curiosity was obviously real, now, reinforcing Mist’s concerns about what his real intentions toward any fireborn among his people might be.
Mist decided to play up on her familiarity with the famous (and dangerous) fireborn, and smiled. “Nautilus says many of the stories about him are not exactly true, that they were decorated by the storytellers. Well, actually he uses a stronger word. But he is real, and he does take in fosterlings, either as his own apprentices or until they can find someone who suits them better.”
The mayor nodded. “Good.”
And he walked off, leaving Mist to wonder exactly what the Mayor’s plans were, and how this whole fireborn scare—right when his Sheriff was not available—played into them. For the first time, she considered that he might have started the rumors himself, though she couldn’t imagine why he would do so.
Lotus came back in, quickly enough that she must have been watching for Eel to leave, and perhaps listening in. She set to work getting things in order, and Mist walked over to help her.
“I appreciate what you’re doing, trying to calm everyone down. Tempers have been pretty crazy lately.”
“You’re welcome.” Mist picked up a partially-eaten plum and added it to the plate of other partially-eaten food. “Fear does that to people, causes them to hurt people they would never hurt normally. I’d rather teach before I get called in to heal the aftermath.” She stood, shifting from foot to foot awkwardly. “Lotus, have you seen Orchid lately? Did she come to get some dinner from you privately?”
“No, I haven’t seen her since early afternoon. You didn’t send her back to the aerie with a message?”
“Um, no. We had a bit of a disagreement. It’s normal for her to fly off her anger, but not to miss a meal. If—if you see her, will you tell me?”
“I’ll tell her she better go find you right away!”
“No, that’s not needed. The argument was because I didn’t tell her, before, that I have fireborn friends. She thinks I don’t trust her. You scolding her would—“
Lotus laughed. “Sounds like a typical teenager!”
“Well, she’s not yet, but yeah, pretty much.”
“I’ll watch out for her. I’ll—I’ll tell her you want her help for something, if I get a chance. If you can have an important errand to give her.”
Mist smiled. “I can. And thank you.
“You must be worried about her.” Lotus gripped her arm gently.
“I—Orchid is very resourceful, and very independent. But yes, I’m worried.”
“The kids all come to me when they’re hungry. I’m sure she’ll turn up soon. And I’ll get word to you, so if she doesn’t come to do your errand, you’ll still know she’s ok.”
Lotus shook her head. “You said that already.”
“Yeah.” Mist smiled. “But it’s still true.” She lowered her voice almost to a whisper. “Look—you said the kids all come to you. If, if one of them tells you they’re fireborn, and they want to get out of town without everyone knowing—”
Lotus just nodded. Looking pointedly at the cloth walls of the sun-shelter, she said. “Now, don’t you worry about your girl. I’ll get word to you, as soon as she shows up begging for a late dinner.”
Mist nodded back. “I’ll try not to worry. But she’s my kid.”
“I understand. I worry about all the kids here, not just my own.”
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