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4. Strange Mornings

The first word out of Kavi’s mouth when he woke up was a very quiet, garbled, “Sorry.”
 
He wasn’t fully awake, so things weren’t clear to him yet. He couldn’t tell if there was someone else in the room, so he might’ve slept clear through to shift change in the infirmary. They usually just let him sleep until he woke up on his own, when this happened. He also wasn’t sure what exactly he was apologizing for, only that it felt necessary.
 
Kavi started to reach for the water that was usually on hand, but his groping fingers found only… pillows? Blinking blearily, he tried to sit up, hissing at the stiffness of the… pretty much all of him, actually. That sucked.
 
Also: this was definitely not the infirmary.
 
He’d only really managed to lift his head a little before his surroundings started spinning, but it was dark. Dim, would probably be better, because he could still see a little. The walls around him, that were weirdly close and might actually just be cloth now that he got a better look at them, were allowing just a bit of soft light through in uneven stripes - folds, those were folds. Okay. Cloth. But a hard ceiling, so probably not a tent. And the bed was soft.
 
So just where in the Winds was he?
 
While he waited for his body to readjust to existence, Kavi took stock of the rest of him. He wasn’t wearing his boots, but he was wearing his training garb. That was good, he wouldn’t track dirt onto the bed. He was laying over the sheets instead of under them, which was also good. He felt slightly cold, which was weird, because it was getting to be high summer. All of his aches were the usual kind.
 
When it felt like he could move again, he shuffled to one side enough he could reach out for one of the cloth walls. Like he’d suspected, it turned out to be a curtain. Like he’d hoped, it revealed a bedside stand holding, among other things, water. Another awkward shuffle let him prop himself up enough to get a hold on the jug. Forgoing attempting to find or pour a cup, he just drank straight from it, sipping to avoid potentially drenching himself.
 
Once he’d eased the roughness in his throat, Kavi took a few more moments to rest. During that time, he realized more of the complexity of his situation, and slowly set the jug back onto the stand. Standing felt like it was still probably out of the question, but he did manage to swing his legs off the side of the bed and drag the curtain further back.
 
The room - rooms, that was an archway on the opposite wall - that he had woken up into were, to a poor farmer and a recruit of the Order of Theolin, near overwhelming. The first thing that struck him was the lighting: dimmed sunlight filtered through not-quite-opaque curtains, complimented by shaded mage globes set on various surfaces or attached to walls like sconces. Not all of them had their runes engaged, so they weren’t all lit, but those that were provided a warm, soft light to the rest of the room.
 
The room that was, though dim in intensity of light, alarmingly bright in hue.
 
Kavi couldn’t have even guessed at what color the walls were, or if they were still raw stone. Almost every inch was covered in drapery or tapestries, tacked on or near the ceiling and allowed to fall, billowing, to the floor. The stretches of fabric and canvas - because that, at least, was a painting - overlapped in a cacophony of colors. He’d nearly missed the embroidered bedspread, mistaking it for one of the various rugs that completed the feeling of falling into a cloth merchant’s inventory.
 
That wasn’t to say that it was a complete mess. There was an order to it, lines that drew the eye to certain pieces, blank spots he hadn’t noticed as his eyes tried to keep up with what was patterned or colored. The wall drapes looked like they were allowed to hang freely, but they must’ve been tacked somehow to avoid covering the mage globes. And... not all the fabric was fine or delicately made. He started to recognize some pieces as more common cloth, one that even looked like it might’ve been part of a tent once - how else would it have been so sun-bleached?
 
The furniture should’ve broken up the space or given him something to focus on, but it wasn’t of much help. The canopy on the bed gave way to a head and foot board, but the dark wood had just been more lines on a first glance. The other furniture didn’t match at all. Shelves, a rather large desk, chairs that varied from simple and wooden to a padded monstrosity in one corner, all of different woods or styles. Books and the odd knickknack lined the shelves, though they weren’t full to bursting. It was as if a magpie had made a human’s room, and he felt overwhelmed by both color and the urge to touch everything.
 
Cautiously, Kavi pushed himself to his feet. His eyes kept catching on different things - a set of pegs near the door that he recognized from work polishing in the armory, jars of things he couldn’t recognize neatly labeled in symbols he couldn’t read, a cane resting in one corner. His gaze drifted to the windows again. Was that a window seat? And a second set of curtains - why would anyone need more than one set of curtains on a window?
 
It was when he started to stumble over to investigate that he caught sight of the human shaped figure against one wall. Startled, Kavi tripped on his own feet, grabbing for the edge of the bed as he fell. He managed to minimize his rough landing to one knee, at the cost of the bedspread being dragged after him. At least the floor, with its multitude of carpets, was forgiving.
 
Kavi snapped his head up to apologize, the words already forming when he realized that the figure wasn’t a person at all. It looked like a dress form with a sheet thrown over it, covering something with rough edges. Honestly, it was fairly innocuous unless someone only glanced at it when already primed with fear.
 
Sighing in relief, Kavi got back up again. Then, resolving to completely reassure himself, he walked over to the mannequin-shape and pulled lightly at the cloth. It slid away at his touch, releasing a shimmer of light that made him squint.
 
The light proved to be the reflection of the sun in silver - no, not quite. The pattern resolved into things more familiar, plates over mail, until Kavi understood he was looking at the torso portion of a set of light armor. There was a chest next to it, the storing kind, that he would bet held the rest of it; this kind normally came as a set, and given how well the current pieces fit together, there was likely more. The sunlight he’d thought he’d seen was just the gleam of what little came in through the curtains.
 
Kavi might not have recognized the embossed symbol in the center of the breastplate, but after a year of training, he knew his pieces of armor. This was the simple scale mail, the kind without sleeves that was usually supplemental. Then the breastplate strapped over, its buckles well-worn but not worn out. There were smaller shoulder guards attached in place of pauldrons. The gorget was even fastened over the stand’s ‘neck,’ showing how the pieces all fit together.
 
Yet there was a sense of something… missing. More than the rest of the armor, which he was mentally tallying as though someone might send him to find and fetch it. Kavi frowned, skimming his fingers down the light scales. The metal felt sun warmed just enough to be pleasant - had it been in the sun when he’d been brought in? The sensation of the metal stilled some of his anxiety. Then his fingers hit the snag.
 
Mangling a curse into an incoherent half-growl noise, Kavi snatched his hand back at encountering something sharper than the rest. Leaning around, he sought the source of it with his eyes - and found a rent in the scale mail as large as his fist.
 
The tear was located just above where Kavi guessed the wearer’s left hipbone would be, if this armor was sized properly. It looked like it had been partially repaired, or had a repair in progress - the damaged scales had been removed, leaving a neat near-diamond where the chain beneath was visible. Where it wasn’t also missing, at least.
 
Absorbed by the questions that kind of damage posed - what could’ve done that? A lance maybe? Was it survivable? - Kavi continued to inspect the armor. His subconscious frown intensified when he found another hole at the back to match the front. Whomever had worn this last had been impaled. So was this a… trophy? Memorial?
 
Either way, he shouldn’t have interfered with it. So, of course, that was when the door opened.
 
Again, Kavi whirled. He kept his balance this time, thankfully, even if only barely. His frantic mind reminded him that he still had no idea where he was, except far, far from what he understood. He considered trying to hide. No, that was dumb, he was pretty much in the middle of the room, and it’d be worse to try and sneak out or explain himself later. Explanations. Did he have one? He opened his mouth to lead with an apology.
 
“Ah! You’re tougher than you look then, aren’t you?” The voice was cheery, and unsurprised to see him. Its owner had a large bag slung over one shoulder, and moved to set it down on the bed where Kavi had drawn the canopy aside. If they noticed the bed was a mess, they didn’t comment on it.
 
“I - I’m sorry?” Kavi managed. Unsure what to do with his hands, he clasped them behind his back.
 
“I thought you’d sleep another hour at least.” The newcomer explained, turning to face him. They propped a hip on the bed without pause. With the lighting here being more equal than the silhouetting of the hall, Kavi could make out a pale blue, lightweight overcoat and lighter colored hair. A dark skinned hand gestured towards the bedstand. “Have you had something to drink yet? To eat?”
 
Kavi followed the gesture and realized that there were crackers next to the water jug. He’d missed them entirely. “Er, some of the water, yes.” He ducked his head, not sure which honorific to use. Something about this person seemed familiar, but he didn’t recognize the voice. “Thank you.”
 
The newcomer waved one hand. “No thanks necessary - even if they are appreciated. I’d do the same for any patient under my care.”
 
That helped resolve a few things. Why he wound up here instead of the infirmary was still unclear, but it did give him a hint as to the person’s identity. “You’re - Lady Mari.” He said, a bit in awe.
 
She inclined her head, “That I am, Kavi Thergoode. If you know who I am, will you allow me to examine you?” She held out her hands for his, but didn’t approach him.
 
Kavi didn’t hesitate before stepping forward, letting her grasp his wrists and turn them to press two fingers to his pulse. He knew she didn’t mean a physical examination, but rather a magical one. And frankly, he was thrilled to have the chance to see one performed.
 
Healing magic was incredibly, painfully rare. There were plenty of theories on why that was - that healers were too busy to ever stop and pass on their gifts, that the Stone Man had stolen that gift away so no mortal could evade him, that human nature was simply not kind enough to divert part of one’s soul to the easing of another’s pain. Kavi had never thought about it overmuch, he just knew the stories of how one of the Theoli revolution’s backers had been an Orelli noblewoman with a healer’s gift, and that she had stayed in Theolin when the new monarchs were crowned.
 
Mari herself looked like she was kind enough to be one of those rare souls. Her skin was as dark as anyone Kavi had ever seen, at home or in the capital, paling slightly at the palms of her hands. Her hair was neatly braided against her scalp until it reached the back of her head, where it was allowed to puff out again. The light color wasn’t overly bright, but its honey gold strands stood out against the brown, and certainly from her skin.
 
Looking for anything to stare at that wasn’t her face, Kavi instead focused on the overcoat she wore. It had a high neckline, but no collar, and covered up to her wrists. The hem must have matched the length of the skirts of her dress - at least he assumed, he couldn’t see all that well from this angle, and he certainly wasn’t going to lean over and check - and looked like it had been designed to fit over the wider skirts that had been in fashion just before the rebellion began in earnest. A wide band cinch cloth kept it in place.
 
Kavi blinked again, and realized she had probably spoken to him while he was staring. “S-“ he started, then stopped. “Could you please repeat that, my lady?” He asked instead.
 
Mari was frowning, and she tapped lightly at his wrists. “Nothing, merely speaking to myself.” She looked up and smiled, “It helps with keeping track of things, especially when I don’t have an assistant.”
 
She released him, and Kavi blinked. “Is that all?” He couldn’t help but ask. He’d been expecting… a feeling of some kind, surely, or a bit of light. Instead, he’d felt nothing except the slight coolness of her hands.
 
Lady Mari seemed bemused. “For now, at least. Unless there’s another ailment you’d like to report?”
 
“Oh - no, ma’am.” Kavi said respectfully. Realizing he was still standing there with his arms out, he clasped them behind his back again, and glanced around the room. “Thank you for bringing me… here?” The words trailed up into a question, as he glanced back at her.
 
Mari picked up on at least some of his discomfort. “Oh, don’t worry, these aren’t my rooms.” She assured him. “And I didn’t bring you here. Only came to check on you, and one of my other patients.”
 
Kavi’s mind returned to a blank fuzz of confusion. The dizziness of waking returned, and he swayed before moving to sit next to her. She obligingly shifted to give him more room. When it seemed she was waiting for him to speak again, he eventually ventured, “My Lady? Where… am I?”
 
Mari pursed her lips, drumming her fingers on her knees. “Nowhere you will come to harm.” She said, after a moment, which did not reassure Kavi at all. She must’ve seen his eyes widen, because she clarified, “Technically you’re in a friend of mine’s rooms, which they volunteered. You are in the castle proper, on the lower floor. And you are not in trouble or otherwise facing censure.”
 
Something about the way she gave him everything but a straight answer set Kavi on edge. “Ma’am.” He said, still polite, “Have I been kidnapped?”
 
Mari laughed at that, rising again. “After a fashion.” She admitted, grinning at Kavi. “But not by me. And you’ll be free to leave, I’m sure. Do you remember what happened before you fell unconscious?”
 
Kavi sorted through what he remembered. The track, running, some muddled internal monologue. While he was still piecing together what to say and what to leave out, Mari pushed a cup into his hands.
 
“Drink while you think.” She advised.
 
Kavi raised the cup to his lips, then paused, glancing at it.
 
“For whatever my word is worth, it is not poisoned. Or medicated. I know some cannot tell the difference.” Mari didn’t sound offended, only faintly bemused.
 
Acknowledging that he really didn’t have much of a hope of figuring it out himself, Kavi gave up on that particular puzzle and drank. It tasted like water, at least.
 
That left the other puzzle. Puzzles. He was in the castle, which he’d never been inside of before. In someone’s private rooms. Being tended to by one of the most revered healers in Theolin. And all Kavi remembered was having to run the track.
 
“Was I... injured in training?” He asked, frowning again. “Instructor Davins had set me to running, but that’s....” he trailed off, in part because he remembered the other man’s words. And in part because he remembered what day it was.
 
“Today is inspection day.” Kavi said grimly, “to mark the end of our first year of training. The commanders were going to review our progress. Am I to be sent home?”
 
The thought curled a knot in his stomach. He had no idea what kind of welcome he’d receive if he tried to return home, and as he’d realized during his run, he had nowhere else to go. Training in the Order of Theolin had always been borrowed time, but he’d thought perhaps they could use a servant. An armor scrubber? He’d clean saddles and tack for the rest of his life if he needed to, he liked horses well enough -
 
“Not unless you wish to be.” Mari interrupted his spiral. She’d laced her fingers together in her lap. “Commanders Catalin and Fio have both come and gone, however. In fact, it was Fio who carried you to the castle.”
 
Kavi’s face flushed with embarrassment. He wasn’t one of the mage students, so he hadn’t spoken to the Mage Commander all that often, but he’d thought of him as a likable fellow. The idea of him, despite being an inch or two shorter than Kavi, having to carry him to the castle for healing was mortifying.
 
“With magic.” Mari clarified, apparently partially misinterpreting his flush. “He has a technique with his barrier magic and kinetics, where he can create a sort of stretcher for the wounded-“ she seemed to realize that Kavi was staring at her blankly, and she sighed, “- I rather admire it.” She finished.
 
“So.” Kavi croaked, “the Mage Commander saw me faint. And felt badly enough he levitated me to the castle for treatment?” He wanted to shrivel up and go back to sleep. Waking again was optional.
 
“The first part is true, but the second misconstrues the situation. Fio recognized your affliction.”
 
At this, Kavi blinked yet again. He drew his legs underneath him, suddenly and fiercely glad he was still in his trainee garb. At least he was spared that fraction of embarrassment. “I... my affliction.”
 
“Yes. We’ve some experience with it, you see. I’m not entirely certain of how to treat it, not yet, but I am making progress. Drink, please.”
 
Wordlessly, Kavi raised his cup again, processing. When he lowered it again, he said hollowly, “I wasn’t aware there was a medicinal cure for laziness, my Lady.”
 
He was purposefully not looking at her by this point, instead counting the number of tapestries he could see. As such, he missed the way Mari’s hands gripped each other tight enough to turn her knuckles pale. He did, however, hear her voice.
 
“Kavi Thergoode.” The first time she’d said his name, it had been polite and friendly. This time, it was firm and commanding. Despite himself, he turned to look at her again. She reached for his hand, turning it over to show the calluses and marks on his palm. “You are not lazy.” Her expression was determined.
 
Kavi started to protest. She had never met him before today, and everyone had those calluses. Well, he realized, staring at his hand in hers, she didn’t.
 
Mari either didn’t notice or didn’t intend to be stopped by Kavi’s denial. “You are ill. You are not at fault. Repeat it back to me.”
 
Distantly, Kavi wondered if there had been something in the water after all. “But I’m not.” He said honestly. “I passed the health check to, to train for the Order, and I’ve been in and out of the infirmary since I got here. Surely someone would’ve noticed by now if I was sick. I would’ve noticed.”
 
Mari shook her head, “I can’t explain everything to you right now, there’s someone else who will. But I am serious, Kavi. Repeat it back to me. ‘I am ill. I am not at fault.’”
 
Tired, confused, and overwhelmed, Kavi did. His voice felt wooden, “I am ill. I am.” He swallowed, “I am not at fault.”
 
The words felt like a child’s excuse. Like a lie he couldn’t even believe in himself. But apparently it was enough for Mari, who sat back with another sigh, releasing his hand.
 
“You don't have to believe them now. So long as you don’t forget them.”
 
“I won’t.” Kavi promised truthfully. “So long as this isn’t all just some fever dream.”
 
Mari wrinkled her nose at him, “I’ll take humor for now. How are you doing with that water? Ready to try the crackers?”
 
Kavi hesitated. “Truth be told, ma’am, I’d rather have answers.” He was still slightly hunched, but what was the worst she could say? No?
 
Instead, Lady Mari tilted her head and considered him. “When you first stood, you fell, didn’t you?” Her gaze wasn’t sharp in the method of predators or hunters, but it had an intensity to it all the same. One that told him she already knew the answer, and it was only whether or not he was willing to - or brave enough to - acknowledge it himself.
 
“I did.” Kavi admitted, glancing at the armor.
 
Mari followed his gaze, and clucked under her breath. “I thought I’d told them to cover that.” She muttered. It gave Kavi long enough to take another sip of his water, while she retrieved the sheet from the ground and tossed it back over the stand. It didn’t look any more secure than the first time he’d seen it. Kavi didn’t say anything.
 
“Right.” Lady Mari nodded. “Finish that cup, and eat a few crackers before we take you walking anywhere. Then I’ll take you to the person who can answer your questions. Do we have a deal?”
 
Unable to really think of an alternative, Kavi nodded in turn. “Yes ma’am.” He replied dutifully.

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