Chapter 3 – Regrets
In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take,
relationships we were afraid to have,
and the decisions we waited too long to make.
~ Lewis Carroll ~
“I should never have left him,” Danica said for the tenth time. Her dark eyes were black pits, the bruised color beneath them telling just how exhausted she was. She’d had no sleep at all the night before after performing intense, deep healings on both Niall Ashcroft and Shekhar Patel, the healer he’d tried to defend.
“No one could have foreseen what Darryn would do,” Uncle Padraig murmured in an attempt to comfort her. “Who would have thought he would turn on his closest friend?”
They had covered this ground many times already, seemingly unable to believe that Darryn Darkmane would have taken his blade to Niall so that Orion could bleed him nearly dry. No one believed that but us, of course. Neither my father nor my uncle thought that Dianthe’s son could have bested Niall in single combat, but of course people would rather think the mentally unstable youth had acted on his own. I didn’t know what was more revolting, the notion that Darryn had sat back and watched Orion slice our peace-loving earth healers to bloody meat, or the fact that people refused to believe he had been involved.
I laid the blame squarely at the feet of the ArchDruid. If not for Sebrina Silvermist, all our young warriors would possess the magic that was rightfully theirs. Darryn would not be so filled with rage at being denied the gods’ gift, and Orion would not have been driven mad by the desire for it.
As Charlie lay in Danica’s house, he was kept safe under the watchful eyes of Heracles Crawford and Adalwulf Rask when my father and uncle were not around. In addition, Arrie Stoddard kept us all well fed, bringing food and cooking and cleaning up after everyone. Her daughters Ariadne, Aoife, and Aisling brought fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Nioba Starseeker was conspicuously absent; Arrie explained that her sister Halle was one of the earth healers who had been brutalized by Orion.
As usual, the rest of the grove was happy to continue living with their heads in the sand. What had happened was a horrible atrocity that no one wanted to believe, but it was shameful how they continued to exist in denial and believe in coincidences. Orion had somehow managed to get his hands on a blade and attack several people on the very same night that Charlie was whipped and then further assaulted in what I saw clearly as an attempt to poison him. Yet somehow my fellow citizens found it easier not to make the obvious intellectual connections.
Attempt? No, it hadn’t been just an attempt. Darryn had succeeded in subjecting Charlie’s injured body to infection. I was alternately deeply concerned about my chosen’s health, and infuriated with his attacker. I overheard Uncle murmur to Father that he hated seeing Charlie in such a state, but at least it was keeping me from taking vengeance on Darryn Darkmane.
In truth, I feared to leave his side. I had claimed the cot beside his as my own, and when I did sleep it was lightly, as had we both while Traveling together on the road. This time, however, I had spirit magic on my fingertips, awaiting the moment my chosen’s life was threatened again.
I did not care whether the threat came from Darryn, a member of the Tetrarch, or the ArchDruid Sebrina herself. If they came calling with intent to cause harm, then I was prepared to meet them with deadly force. Charlie would have done no less to defend me, the consequences be damned. Too long had I allowed him to risk his neck for my ideals. Too many times, he’d suffered injury in standing up for my principles. True, he had insisted that we were partners in the old way, and my battles were his battles, and that he also believed denying the grove’s young men their magic was misguided and damaging.
The fact of the matter, however, was that he would not have set foot into White Oak Grove had I not asked it of him. There had been many harbingers warning me of the danger to my love, yet I had heeded none of them. I had been so sure of myself and my path of righteousness that I had been convinced the Shining Ones would stand as a shield between us and harm.
While I had plenty to occupy my hands, there was little to occupy my mind except recrimination and memories. Too many times I had expected the gods to protect us in our endeavors, like the time we had stayed in Searcy. It was my own fault that I’d been taken captive and nearly burned at the stake. When I had visited the vendors under the bridge there, I’d made no secret of their magical purpose. While the sheriff had warned against such things, I reasoned that it was merely ignorance and fear of the unfamiliar that would make the citizens of Searcy react badly. One might try to defend my actions by pointing out that I had no idea that one of the tenets of their faith was a deadly intolerance of those who believed differently. However, I had been warned by one with greater wisdom and experience and had ignored it, just like I had ignored the advice of others so many times because I thought I knew better.
In the beginning, I had tried to reason with them, calmly explaining that even though we had different gods, mine were no more evil than theirs was. I had intended to reassure them; instead, they were incensed that anyone would view any other gods as an equal to their own.
One woman began it by slapping my face; two others joined and shoved me until I fell to the ground. I was still speaking words of peace when two burly men grabbed my arms and dragged me away from the marketplace. I was thrown into a cellar under someone’s shop and there I sat, trembling for hours from the shock. I cried for Davis, knowing there was no way he could save me. He had no idea where I was. Had we been together long enough for the bond to develop? Would he feel my distress and be drawn by that mystical thread between chosen? I didn’t know.
Fear changed to dread when the cellar door opened and they dragged me out. I bit, kicked, and fought, reaching desperately for the spirit magic that had been blocked away from me. I could feel it, just beyond my reach, could hear the thunder as it tried to respond.
As they drove me up a hill, I had no idea what they intended for me until I saw the wooden pillar surrounded by a pile of wood. Our books had mentioned ancient witch burnings, as well as the persecutions and executions during the Rebirth, but it had never crossed my mind that some people might still engage in such evil activities.
Terror gripped me as I was shoved into a circle of screaming women; they pulled my hair and slapped my face. My shirt buttons popped as they tore my clothes from my body. Never before had I considered nakedness to be a bad thing; I tried to cover myself but again the men gripped my arms, dragging me backward to the stake while I begged for mercy. Rough ropes bound my feet to a pillar of wood, my arms tied behind me and my body laid bare for the hate in their eyes. My flesh was revealed for all to see, vulnerable to whatever despicable acts they intended, and I knew I was lost.
Until he came and saved me.
A fiery explosion burst forth in the darkness, blurred by my tearful gaze, followed by a BOOM. The myriad angry faces changed to fearful ones and they reached for their guns. More and more explosions came, gradually coming closer until my ears rang with the sound of it. The people that still could were running and screaming; the rest were lying dead, scattered in pieces upon the slopes of the hill.
And then only two remained, the man in black who told the man with the gun to kill me and be done with it. The rifleman cocked his gun – or at least I thought he had, because I heard a loud crack – but instead of shooting me, he died instead.
It was Charlie. He quickly dispatched the man in black and scanned for further threats. I would have collapsed with relief, had I not been held upright by scratchy ropes binding my body to the stake. Even had he not been brought by the bond between us, the rage in his golden eyes convinced me that the magic connecting us truly existed. I wept in gratitude and relief as he gently released me from my bonds and held me close, surrounding me with his strength and covering my nakedness.
He had stood between me and danger so many times, and I had taken it all for granted.
“You did nothing to deserve this,” I whispered, once again sponging his face with a cool, damp cloth. “And so long as I live, I will never put you in such a situation. Your life is too precious to me.”
We would no longer fight this battle. As soon as Charlie was well enough to Travel again, we were leaving this place forever. I would, of course, invite my family to come with us, as well as any like-minded members of the grove. Together we would settle and grow another grove, one truly dedicated to serving the gods, and our first mission would be to restore magic back to those who had been denied it. We would leave Sebrina and her sycophants to wither and die alone, enduring their elder years without children or a future.
First, however, I would see my love through this dreadful illness. I had every confidence that he would recover fully. Charlie Davis was young and strong; above all else, he was a fighter. He would not go quietly into the dark shadows to join the ancestors. He would fight this battle as he had fought all the others, with pride and vigor and a lust for life.
It was somewhat concerning that his temperature continued to climb in spite of the willow bark tea that we spooned between his lips. His mighty heart thundered in his chest, its powerful beats thrumming throughout his body. I wiped his face, neck, and muscular shoulders with damp cloths to help cool his skin. Danica had added some extract of mint to the water for its cooling properties, and I applied it liberally from Charlie’s head to his feet.
The already swollen skin surrounding the cruel lash marks on Charlie’s back had turned an angry color. Red streaks had begun to appear as the inevitable infection set in. As soon as she’d finished cleaning his wounds, the earth druid had begun preparing poultices. Every seven or eight hours, the earth druid mixed a variety of herbs, crushing them in her mortar and pestle before adding boiling water to the mix. I paid attention, memorizing which dried plants were being used. Danica would need to sleep eventually so that her magic would replenish, and Charlie would need me to make poultices then.
While the herbs cooled, she scooped damp clay from a large blue crock onto a couple of marble slabs, where we thinned it with water into a spreadable paste. Once the herbs were cool enough to touch, we worked them into the clay and then let it sit while we laid out several squares of clean linen. Together Danica and I dropped dollops of the herbed clay mixture onto the center of each square, then pressed it out until nearly flat and wrapping them up into useable poultices. I insisted on applying the poultices myself, so that she could sit and rest at least a little.
Still weary and unable to channel much magic, the earth druid continued to lay healing hands on him every few hours. Uncle Padraig tried to get her to rest for longer periods, but she refused. While I greatly desired her to care for my chosen, I also knew that she would not regain her full power until she rested completely for a day or two. Even napping would help, but she seemed reluctant.
The thought crept through my mind that perhaps Danica was afraid to leave him without the benefit of even a little magic for long. Perhaps he would not live long enough without it to allow her a full recovery. I brushed it away, thinking it inspired by baseless fear. I trusted Danica and her healing ability. She would do the best she could.