‘Do you mean that you can’t? The charges against you must be false then. This is a very simple spell – quite rudimentary, actually.’

‘As you can see, Doctor,’ Sparhawk said, ‘we have no qualms about magic. You can speak freely to us with no fear of being denounced to Arasham or his fanatic followers.’

Tanjin tightly clamped his lips shut, continuing to stare at the fairy seated sedately on Sephrenia’s palm with fluttering wings.

‘Don’t be tiresome, Doctor,’ Sephrenia said. ‘Just tell us how you cured the king’s brother, and we’ll be on our way.’

Tanjin began to edge away from her.

‘I think, dear brother, that we’re wasting our time here,’ she said to Sparhawk. ‘The good doctor refuses to co-operate.’ She raised her hand. ‘Fly, little sister,’ she told the fairy, and the tiny creature soared once again into the air. ‘We’ll be going now, Tanjin,’ she said.

Sparhawk started to object, but she laid one restraining hand on his arm and started towards the door.

‘What are you going to do about that?’ Tanjin cried, pointing at the circling fairy

‘Do?’ Sephrenia said, ‘why nothing, Doctor She’s quite happy here. Feed her sugar from time to time, and put out a small dish of water for her. In return, she’ll sing for you. Don’t try to catch her, though. That would make her very angry’

‘You can’t leave her here!’ he exclaimed in anguish. ‘If anyone sees her here, I’ll be burned at the stake for witchcraft.’

‘He sees directly to the central point, doesn’t he?’ Sephrenia said to Sparhawk.

The scientific mind is noted for that.’ Sparhawk grinned. ‘Shall we go, then?’

‘Wait!’ Tanjin cried.

‘Was there something you wanted to tell us, Doctor?’ Sephrenia asked mildly

‘All right. All right. But you must swear to keep it a secret that I told you this.’

‘Of course. Our lips are sealed.’

Tanjin drew in a deep breath and scurried to the curtained doorway to make certain that no one was listening outside. Then he turned and motioned them into a far corner where he spoke in a hoarse whisper. ‘Darestim is so virulent that there’s no natural remedy or antidote,’ he began.

‘That’s what Voldi told us,’ Sparhawk said.

‘You’ll note that I said no natural remedy or antidote,’ Tanjin continued. ‘Some years ago in the course of my studies, I came across a very old and curious book. It predated Eshand’s time, and it had been written before his prohibitions came into effect. It seems that the primitive healers here in Rendor routinely utilized magic in treating their patients. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t- but they effected some astonishing cures. The practice had one common element. There are a number of objects in the world which have enormous power. The physicians of antiquity used that sort of thing to cure their patients.’

‘I see,’ Sephrenia said. ‘Styric healers sometimes resort to the same desperate measure’

‘The practice is quite common in the Tamul Empire on the Daresian continent,’ Tanjin went on, ‘but it’s fallen into disfavour here in Eosia. Eosian physicians prefer scientific techniques. They’re more reliable, for one thing, and Elenes have always been suspicious of magic But Darestim is so potent that none of the customary antidotes have any effect. Magical objects are the only possible cure’

‘And what did you use to cure the king’s brother and nephews?’ Sephrenia asked.

‘It was an uncut gem of a peculiar colour I think it originally came from Daresia, though I can’t really be sure. It’s my belief that the Tamul Gods infused it with their power.’

‘And where is that gem now?’ Sparhawk asked intently.

‘Gone, I’m afraid. I had to grind it to a powder and mix it with wine to cure the king’s relatives.’

‘You idiot!’ Sephrenia exploded. That is not the way to use such an object. You need only touch it to the patient’s body and call forth its power.’

‘I’m a trained physician, madame,’ he replied stiffly. ‘I cannot turn insects into fairies, nor levitate myself nor cast spells upon my enemies. I can only follow the normal practices of my profession, and that means that the patient must ingest the medication.’

‘You destroyed a stone that might have healed thousands for the sake of just a few!’ With some effort she controlled her anger. ‘Do you know of any other such objects?’ she asked him.

‘A few.’ He shrugged. ‘There’s a great spear in the imperial palace in Tamul, several rings in Zemoch, though I doubt that they’d be much good in healing people. It’s rumoured that there’s a jewelled bracelet in Pelosia somewhere, but that might be only a myth. The sword of the King of the Island of Mithrium was reputed to have great power, but Mithrium sank into the sea aeons ago. I’ve also heard that the Styrics have quite a few magic wands.’

‘That’s also a myth,’ she told him. ‘Wood is too fragile for that kind of power. Any others?’

‘The only one I know of is the jewel on the royal crown of Thalesia, but that’s been lost since the time of the Zemoch invasion.’ He frowned. ‘I don’t think this will help very much,’ he added, ‘but Arasham has a talisman that he claims is the most holy and powerful thing in all the world. I’ve never seen it myself, so I can’t say for sure, and Arasham’s wits aren’t so firmly set in his head that he’d be any kind of an authority You’d never be able to get it away from him in any case.’

Sephrenia reattached her veil across the lower part of her face. ‘Thank you for your candour, Doctor Tanjin,’ she said. ‘Be assured that no one will learn of your secret from us.’ She thought a moment. ‘I think you should splint this,’ she said, holding out her arm. ‘That should prove to the curious that we had a legitimate reason for this visit, and it should protect you as well as us.’

‘That’s a very good idea, madame.’ Tanjin fetched a couple of slats and a long strip of white cloth.

‘Would you take a bit of friendly advice, Tanjin?’ Sparhawk asked him as he began to splint Sephrenia’s arm.

‘I’ll listen.’

‘Do that. If it were me, I’d gather up a few things and go to Zand. The king can protect you there. Get out of Dabour while you still can. Fanatics make the jump from suspicion to certainty very easily, and it won’t do you much good if you’re proved innocent after you’ve been burned at the stake.’

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