Then she swallowed hard, and said in a quiet, quivering voice, "I'm trying to boil some water to make teas for the wounded, but the pump's stiff and I can't work it with one hand. Would you help me?"
A knot of tension eased inside him. Here, at least, was a landen female who knew how to deal with Blood males. Asking for help was always the easiest way to redirect one of them toward service.
As Lucivar came forward, she stepped aside, trembling. His temper started to climb again until he noticed the bandaged right arm she held over her stomach, her hand tucked between her dress and apron.
Not fear then, but fatigue and blood loss.
He placed a chair close enough for her to supervise, but far enough away so that he wouldn't keep brushing against her. "Sit down."
Once she was seated, he pumped water and set the filled pots on the wood-burning stove. He noticed the bags of herbs laid out on the wooden table next to the double sink and looked at her curiously. "Lord Randahl said the wise-woman died along with your two physicians."
Her eyes filled with tears as she nodded. "My grandmother. She said I had the gift and was teaching me."
Lucivar leaned against the table, puzzled. Landen minds were too weak to give off a psychic scent, but hers did. "Where did you learn how to handle Blood males?"
Her eyes widened with anxiety. "I wasn't trying to control you!"
"I said handle, not control. There's a difference."
"I—I just did what the Lady said to do."
The tension inside him loosened another notch. "What's your name?"
"Mari." She hesitated. "You're Prince Yaslana, aren't you?"
"Does that bother you?" Lucivar asked in a colorless voice. To his surprise, Mari smiled shyly.
"Oh, no. The Lady said we could trust you."
The words warmed him like a lover's caress. But, having caught the slight emphasis in her tone, he wondered whom the landens in the village couldn't trust. His gold eyes narrowed as he studied her. "You have some Blood in your background, don't you?"
Mari paled a little and wouldn't look at him. "My great-grandmother was half-Blood. S-some people say I'm a throwback to her."
"From my point of view, that's no bad thing." Her naked relief was too much for him, so he began inspecting the bags of herbs. She'd be too quick to think she was the cause of his anger, so he fiddled with the bags until he had his feelings leashed again.
In his experience, half-Blood children were seldom welcomed or accepted by either society. The Blood didn't want them because they didn't have enough power to expend on all the basic things the Blood used Craft for and, therefore, could never be more than base servants. The landens didn't want them because they had too much power, and that kind of ability, untrained and free of any moral code, had produced more than its share of petty tyrants who had used magic and fear to rule a village that wouldn't accept them otherwise.
The water reached a boil.
"Sit down," Lucivar snapped when Mari started to rise. "You can tell me from there what you want blended. Besides," he added with a smile to take the sting out of the snap, "I've blended simple healing brews for a harder task-mistress than you."
Looking properly sympathetic and murmuring agreement that the Lady could be a bit snarly about mixing up healing brews, Mari pointed out the herbs she intended to use and told him the blends she wanted.
"Do you see much of the Lady?" Lucivar asked as he pulled the pots off the stove and set them on stone trivets arranged at one end of the table. Despite Jaenelle's continued refusal to set up a formal court, her opinions were heeded throughout most of Kaeleer.
"She comes by for an afternoon every couple of weeks. She and Gran and I talk about healing Craft while her friends teach Khevin."
"Who's—" He, bit off the question. He'd thought the young man's psychic scent was so weak because of the seriousness of the wounds. But it was strong for a half-blood. "Which friends are teaching him?" "Lord Khardeen and Prince Aaron." Khary and Aaron were good choices if you were going to teach basic Craft to a half-Blood youth. Which didn't excuse Jaenelle from not askinghim to participate. Lucivar carefully lowered the herb-filled gauze pouches into the pots of water. "They're both strongly grounded in basic Craft." Then, feeling spiteful, he added, "Unlike the Lady, who still can't manage to call in her own shoes."
Mari's prim sniff caught him by surprise. "I don't see why you all make such a fuss about it. If I had a friend who could do all those wonderful bits of magic, / wouldn't begrudge fetching her shoes."
Annoyed, Lucivar grumbled under his breath as he rattled through the cupboards searching for the cups. Damn woman certainlywas a throwback. If nothing else, she had a witch's disposition.
He shut up when he saw how pale Mari had become. A little ashamed, he ladled out a cup of one of the healing brews and stood over her while she drank it.
"I saw Khevin when I came in," Lucivar said quietly. "I saw the wounds. Why didn't Khary and Aaron teach him how to shield?"
Mari looked up, surprised. "They did. Khevin's the one who shielded the community hall when the Jhinka started to attack."
"I think you'd better explain that," Lucivar said slowly, feeling as if she'd just punched the air out of him. A strong half-Blood might have enough power to create a personal shield for a few minutes, but he shouldn't have been able to create and hold a shield large enough to protect a building. Of course, Jaenelle had uncanny instincts when it came to recognizing strength that had been blocked in some way.
Mari, looking puzzled, confirmed that. "Khevin met the Lady one day when she came to visit Gran and me. She just looked at him for a long minute and then said he was too strong not to be properly trained in the Craft. When she came the next time, she brought Lord Khardeen and Prince Aaron. Creating a shield was the first thing they taught him."
Mari's hand started to tremble. The cup tipped.
Lucivar used Craft to steady the cup so that the hot liquid wouldn't spill on her.
"They were the first friends Khevin's ever had." Her eyes pleaded with him to understand. Then she blushed and looked down. "Male friends, I mean. They didn't laugh at him or call him names like some of the young Warlords from Agio do."
"What about the older Warlords?" Lucivar asked, careful to keep the anger out of his voice.
Mari shrugged. "They seemed embarrassed if they saw him when they came to check on the village. They didn't want to know he existed. They didn't want to see me around either," she added bitterly. "But with Lord Khardeen and Prince Aaron. . . . When the lesson was over, they would stay a little while to have a glass of ale and just talk. They told him about the Blood's code of honor and the rules Blood males are supposed to live by. Sometimes it made me wonder if the Blood in Agio had ever heard of those rules."