Chapter no 39

House of Earth and Blood

Despite its entrance facing the bustle of the Old Square, Ruhn found the medwitch clinic blissfully quiet. The white-painted walls of the waiting room glowed with the sunshine leaking through the windows that looked onto the semipermanent traffic, and the trickle of a small quartz fountain atop the white marble counter blended pleasantly with the symphony playing through the ceiling’s speakers.

He’d been waiting for five minutes now, while the witch he’d come to see finished up with a patient, and had been perfectly content to bask in the tendrils of lavender-scented steam from the diffuser on the small table beside his chair. Even his shadows slumbered inside him.

Magazines and pamphlets had been spread across the white oak coffee table before him, the latter advertising everything from fertility treatments to scar therapy to arthritis relief.

A door down the narrow hallway beyond the counter opened, and a dark head of softly curling hair emerged, a musical voice saying, “Please do call if you have any further symptoms.” The door clicked shut, presumably to give the patient privacy.

Ruhn stood, feeling out of place in his head-to-toe black clothes in the midst of the soft whites and creams of the clinic, and kept himself perfectly still as the medwitch approached the counter.

At the crime scene last night, he’d gone over to inquire as to whether she’d noted anything interesting about the corpse. He’d been impressed enough by her clear-eyed intelligence that he’d asked to stop by this morning.

The medwitch smiled slightly as she reached the other side of the counter, her dark eyes lighting with welcome.

Then there was that. Her arresting face. Not the cultivated beauty of a movie star or model—no, this was beauty in its rawest form, from her large brown eyes to her full mouth to her high cheekbones, all in near-perfect symmetry. All radiating a cool serenity and awareness. He’d been unable to stop looking at her, even with a splattered corpse behind them.

“Good morning, Prince.” And there was that, too. Her fair, beautiful voice. Fae were sensitive about sounds, thanks to their heightened hearing. They could hear notes within notes, chords within chords. Ruhn had once nearly run from a date with a young nymph when her high-pitched giggling had sounded more like a porpoise’s squeal. And in bed

… fuck, how many partners had he never called again not because the sex had been bad, but because the sounds they’d made had been unbearable? Too many to count.

Ruhn offered the medwitch a smile. “Hi.” He nodded toward the hall. “I know you’re busy, but I was hoping you could spare a few minutes to chat about this case I’m working on.”

Clad in loose navy pants and a white cotton shirt with quarter-length sleeves that brought out her glowing brown skin, the medwitch stood with an impressive level of stillness.

They were a strange, unique group, the witches. Though they looked like humans, their considerable magic and long lives marked them as Vanir, their power mostly passed through the female line. All of them deemed civitas. The power was inherited, from some ancient source that the witches claimed was a three-faced goddess, but witches did pop up in non-magical families every now and then. Their gifts were varied, from seers to warriors to potion-makers, but healers were the most visible in Crescent City. Their schooling was thorough and long enough that the young witch before him was unusual. She had to be skilled to be already working in a clinic when she couldn’t have been a day over thirty.

“I have another patient coming soon,” she said, glancing over his shoulder to the busy street beyond. “But I have lunch after that. Do you mind waiting half an hour?” She gestured to the hall behind her, where sunlight leaked in through a glass door at its other end. “We have a courtyard garden. The day is fine enough that you could wait out there.”

Ruhn agreed, glancing to the nameplate on the counter. “Thank you, Miss Solomon.”

She blinked, those thick, velvety lashes bobbing in surprise. “Oh—I am not … This is my sister’s clinic. She went on holiday, and asked me to cover for her while she’s gone.” She gestured again to the hallway, graceful as a queen.

Ruhn followed her down the hall, trying not to breathe in her eucalyptus-and-lavender scent too deeply.

Don’t be a fucking creep.

The sunlight tangled in her thick night-dark hair as she reached the courtyard door and shouldered it open, revealing a slate-covered patio surrounded by terraced herb gardens. The day was indeed lovely, the river breeze making the plants rustle and sway, spreading their soothing fragrances.

She pointed to a wrought-iron table and chairs set by a bed of mint. “I’ll be out shortly.”

“Okay,” he said, and she didn’t wait for him to take a seat before disappearing inside.

The thirty minutes passed quickly, mostly thanks to a flurry of calls he got from Dec and Flynn, along with a few of his Aux captains. By the time the glass door opened again, he had just set down his phone, intending on enjoying a few minutes of sweet-smelling silence.

He shot to his feet at the sight of the heavy tray the witch bore, laden with a steaming teapot, cups, and a plate of cheese, honey, and bread. “I thought that if I’m stopping for lunch, we might as well eat together,” she said as Ruhn took the tray.

“You didn’t need to bring me anything,” he said, careful not to upset the teapot as he set the tray on the table.

“It was no trouble. I don’t like to eat alone anyway.” She took the seat across from him, and began distributing the silverware.

“Where’s your accent from?” She didn’t speak with the fast-paced diction of someone in this city, but rather like someone who selected each word carefully.

She spread some cheese onto a slice of bread. “My tutors were from an old part of Pelium—by the Rhagan Sea. It rubbed off on me, I suppose.”

Ruhn poured himself some of the tea, then filled her cup. “All of that area is old.”

Her brown eyes gleamed. “Indeed.”

He waited until she’d taken a sip of tea before saying, “I’ve spoken about this to a few other medwitches around town, but no one’s been able to give me an answer. I’m fully aware that I might be grasping at straws here. But before I say anything, I’d like to ask for your … discretion.”

She pulled a few grapes and dates onto her plate. “You may ask what you wish. I will not speak a word of it.”

He inhaled the scent of his tea—peppermint and licorice and something else, a whisper of vanilla and something … woodsy. He leaned back in his chair. “All right. I know your time is limited, so I’ll be direct: can you think of any way a magical object that was broken might be repaired when no one—not witches, not the Fae, not the Asteri themselves—has been able to fix it? A way it might be … healed?”

She drizzled honey atop her cheese. “Was the object made from magic, or was it an ordinary item that was imbued with power afterward?”

“Legend says it was made with magic—and could only be used with the Starborn gifts.”

“Ah.” Her clear eyes scanned him, noting his coloring. “So it is a Fae artifact.”

“Yes. From the First Wars.”

“You speak of Luna’s Horn?” None of the other witches had gotten to it so quickly.

“Maybe,” he hedged, letting her see the truth in his eyes.

“Magic and the power of the seven holy stars could not repair it,” she said. “And far wiser witches than I have looked at it and found it an impossible task.”

Disappointment dropped in his stomach. “I just figured that the medwitches might have some idea how to heal it, considering your field of expertise.”

“I see why you might think that. This clinic is full of marvels that I did not know existed—that my tutors did not know existed. Lasers and cameras and machines that can peer inside your body in the same way my magic can.” Her eyes brightened with each word, and for the life of him, Ruhn couldn’t look away. “And maybe …” She angled her head, staring into a swaying bed of lavender.

Ruhn kept his mouth shut, letting her think. His phone buzzed with an incoming message, and he quickly silenced it.

The witch went still. Her slender fingers contracted on the table. Just one movement, one ripple of reaction, to suggest something had clicked in that pretty head of hers. But she said nothing.

When she met his stare again, her eyes were dark. Full of warning. “It is possible that with all the medical advancements today, someone might have found a way to repair a broken object of power. To treat the artifact not as something inert, but as a living thing.”

“So, what—they’d use some sort of laser to repair it?”

“A laser, a drug, a skin graft, a transplant … current research has opened many doors.”

Shit. “Would it ring any bells if I said the ancient Fae claimed the Horn could only be repaired by light that was not light, magic that was not magic? Does it sound like any modern tech?”

“In that, I will admit I am not as well-versed as my sisters. My knowledge of healing is rooted in our oldest ways.”

“It’s all right,” he said, and rose from his chair. “Thanks for your time.”

She met his eyes with a surprising frankness. Utterly unafraid of or impressed by him. “I am certain you will do so already, but I’d advise you to proceed with caution, Prince.”

“I know. Thanks.” He rubbed the back of his neck, bracing himself. “Do you think your queen might have an answer?”

The medwitch’s head angled again, all that glorious hair spilling over her shoulder. “My … Oh.” He could have sworn sorrow clouded her eyes. “You mean the new queen.”

“Hypaxia.” Her name shimmered on his tongue. “I’m sorry about the loss of your old queen.”

“So am I,” the witch said. For a moment, her shoulders seemed to curve inward, her head bowing under a phantom weight. Hecuba had been beloved by her people—her loss would linger. The witch blew out a breath through her nose and straightened again, as if shaking off the mantle of sorrow. “Hypaxia has been in mourning for her mother. She will not receive visitors until she makes her appearance at the Summit.” She smiled slightly. “Perhaps you can ask her yourself then.”

Ruhn winced. On the one hand, at least he didn’t have to go see the woman his father wanted him to marry. “Unfortunately, this case is pressing enough that it can’t wait until the Summit.”

“I will pray to Cthona that you find your answers elsewhere, then.” “Hopefully she’ll listen.” He took a few steps toward the door.

“I hope to see you again, Prince,” the medwitch said, returning to her lunch.

The words weren’t a come-on, some not-so-subtle invitation. But even later, as he sat in the Fae Archives researching medical breakthroughs, he still pondered the tone and promise of her farewell.

And realized he’d never gotten her name.

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