I was definitely woozy when I got back up, but I insisted that I could work, so I switched places with Hal to keep the façade going and Milly went back to the kitchens, but we needn’t have bothered. Most of the regulars had left, and those who’d seen a bleeding guy were on their way out too. The only ones that remained were those still worried about Derrick. I told them that we’d managed to knock him out and planned on taking him to the temple in the morning, but that didn’t reassure them. If anything, their faces scrunched up horribly.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Aye, I forget sometimes you’re not from around here,” said one older man with a large wart covering half his nose. “I don’t know how they handle healers where you’re from, but here the church is lucky to hold on to any they find. Usually the crown takes the best of them. They only healer they’ve left us here isn’t much good. If it’s a small fix, just something that can’t be reached—“
“—like a fishbone in your gullet,” interjected another.
“—then he’s your man, but outside that…”
“Can’t the church demand the healers back from the crown?” I asked. “I mean, it’s divine magic, isn’t it?”
The third, and last man, snorted. “Why should the king care? Not like god’s gonna come down and smite him a new one.”
Mr. Wart gave me a funny look. “Pardon me, Lil’, but that’s mighty naïve, even for you.”
I sighed. Oh, yeah. Agency of men and all. Gal, this sucked.
“Your god’s an asshole,” I said before I could think better of it.
They chuckled at that.
Gus, who had been cleaning up behind them as we talked, tucked his wet rag into the band of his apron.
“Lil’, we more coming in.”
The bell above the door tinkled and a group of three, two woman and a man, came in, dripping sweat and looking ready to pass out.
“Innkeeper,” barked the man hoarsely.
Fortunately, after taking care of the three of them with a room for the night and the coldest ale I could dredge up, no one else came in. Which was great, because once I had the three set up in their suite, I was a dead wet thing behind the counter, keeping an ear out for the tinkle of the bell by the door.
Gus lay down next to me to enjoy the cold floor.
“I feel sick still,” I said groggily.
“Did you really heal his entire arm?” he asked, very quietly.
We were quiet for a while, listening to the occasional thump of the patrons we had upstairs hiding away from the heat. The height of dinnertime was coming on, but the heat seemed to have killed everyone’s appetite. Even so, I kept an ear open for when they’d come down.
“They say the strongest of healers are sent from god,” he mumbled, as though telling a story he barely remembered.
“All magic comes from god,” I was surprised I was still conscious, to be honest. “Some are just more talented than others. And remember the book? Divine doesn’t mean it’s from god, it just means it has to do with the body, because it’s sacred.”
“Yeah. I remember…but that’s not how other people will see it.”
“Why? We’re keeping it a secret.” And hopefully Nehcor might do something other than sit and dip tea at his cozy kotasu in our favor. “Only you, Hal, Milly, Derrick, and some old lady with a hump know, and I doubt the old lady even remembers what I look like.”
“Wow, so I actually have a reason to be worried then.”
“She was, like, a million years old. And she’s the one who encouraged me to keep it a secret.”
“That doesn’t mean anything, Lil’. Even the nicest of people can go rotten in the right circumstances.”
“…Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Because you’re boring. You’re never going to try to get into any other circumstances than you can find in this inn, or next to a chicken coop.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but ended up shrugging instead.
“Yeah, you’re probably right.” I flopped a lazy arm over my eyes. “So why do you keep worrying about all these guys falling in love with me? Even if I am pretty, I’m so boring they’ll lose interest quick enough.”
Rather than answer, Gus just gave a long sigh.
“What?” I wondered if I should irked.
“Sometimes I wonder if you were really ever married. Shouldn’t you know this more than me? Your pretty, and nice, and don’t complain much. That’s enough for most guys.”
“Welp, that didn’t work for me.” I groaned into a sitting position. “Someone’s coming down.”
“That doesn’t mean I have to get up too.”
“Don’t make me jealous, up.”