I stroke my hand down the lapels of his robes, seeing the worry in his eyes. “I’m not afraid for my sake, though I confess it feels strange to be back here.”
He gazes at me, his eyes tender. “I remember the taste of your bravery in my mouth that night. I waited so long, hoping that a woman with my mark on her hand would come and find me and show me again how brave she could be.”
My heart leaps into my mouth. I want to break his curse. I want to banish forever this loneliness that lays heavy in his heart.
But it’s not enough just to want to do it. Wishes don’t do anyone any good, I’ve learned that by now.
He goes on speaking, looking past me. “People have feared me for what I am all my life and I never knew much fear myself. But I think I might feel afraid now, my Rhona. Why is that?”
A shiver goes through me and I look with him at the houses, the people moving through the muddy streets. Maybe he feels it too, that we’re not welcome here.
As I lead him toward the Griegals’ cottage I ask quietly, “How badly do you have to cut them?”
He puts his hand on the dagger at his hip. “A small cut, I hope. We shall see.”
Penra opens the door when I knock and I see how drawn and pale she looks, as if she’s suffered many sleepless nights of worry and anguish. Her scared eyes flicker between us. She knows why we’re here. After a moment she steps back, letting us in.
I find I can let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
Gillie is lying on a mattress in a room by himself, his body wasted and his skin yellowed. He can barely open his eyes as Meremon kneels down on the one side of the bed and me on the other. I turn the boy’s face toward me so he can’t see what Meremon is doing.
The necromancer takes his left hand and murmurs, “Infirmum revelare,” and all the veins in Gillie’s arm stand out black against his skin.
He whimpers but I smile encouragingly at him. “Gillie, there will be a tiny pinch and then I promise you will start to feel so much better. You look at me and squeeze my hand, and Meremon will do the rest.”
Meremon places a basin under the boy’s wrist and uses his knife to slice quickly through a black vein. Gillie gasps and squeezes his eyes shut. I watch black liquid splatter into the basin and then slow to a steady trickle. Several minutes go by and we watch the bowl fill. I glance at Meremon’s serious expression, wanting to ask if it’s working and whether there’s any good blood left in poor Gillie, when finally I see the boy’s veins clear of blackness and the bleeding ceases.
Gillie blink and opens his eyes. “Penra?” he says, looking over my shoulder.
His sister has been standing behind me the whole time and there are tears running down her face. Her hands have been over her mouth but she takes them away and whispers, “Can it be true?”
Meremon and I stand up quietly and move back. We watch the two of them for a moment, Penra hugging her brother and crying, and then withdraw.
Outside, the sound of running feet arrests us.
“Rhona, wait!” Penra has come out onto the street but as she stands before us her courage seems to fail her. After a moment she flushes red and says thank you, and hurries back into the house.
Meremon’s mouth curves in a faint smile, watching her go. “It is more than I usually receive. Where next, deliciae?”
We work through all the houses with sick children, leaving Ilsa for last. It hurts my heart to see my sister so near death and I worry that she might never recover, but when the black has been bled from her veins she too sits up, blinking, and croaks my name.
“Everyone, come in, Ilsa is better!” I fling my arms around her and hold her close. A moment later my father and Cerys and all my other siblings are crowding around the bed and crying. Ilsa’s going to be all right. My heart feels full up with so much happiness.
I look for Meremon to say thank you and I find that he’s watching me from the far side of the room, alone and forlorn. The smile fades from my face. What can be the matter? Look at all the good work he has done today. Together we have saved the children and shown the villagers that they needn’t be afraid of their necromancer.
Ilsa distracts me for a moment, telling me about the strange dream she had about me and a flock of ravens, and when I look up again Meremon is gone.