By Andra Marquardt
Harthan thumbed through the herbal encyclopedia and rubbed his fingers together. A familiar soft tingle crawled up his arm. It reminded him of his sister, Lyse, who had taught him to use his abilities, at least until their parents sold her—
“We’ve a job,” Braean said. “Let’s go.”
Harthan snarled at the old alchemist’s back and grabbed his coat. Hesitation would only earn him more chores, and he was tapped already.
He hunched his shoulders against the soaking rain and followed Braean along the slippery cobblestone road to Governor Alifare’s manor. The streetlights glowed a murky yellow in the pre-dawn morning as if they, too, were weary of the unrelenting downpour.
The moment they stepped onto the porch, a butler opened the door and ushered them in.
An older woman stood in the foyer rubbing her hands together. “Thank you for coming. My husband is in the library.”
Harthan smoothed his saturated hair away from his face and followed Braean into a room walled in books, where a nearly bald, rotund man slouched on a plush velvet chair. The portly gentleman grasped at his chest and struggled with each breath.
Braean nodded at Harthan.
Taking a deep breath, Harthan went to Alifare’s side and placed a hand on his shuddering chest. The room disappeared as his power shot into the governor’s body and discovered the dark mass throbbing in his lung.
Harthan clenched his jaw. Cancer—the toughest to heal, and the malady which left him the weakest. Yet if he didn’t heal him, Braean would either beat him or toss him out. Or both.
If only Braean would pay me with coin instead of food and shelter. Then someday I could buy my freedom and search for Lyse. Except now was not the time to pity himself.
Steeling himself against the inevitable drain, he focused on the tumor. Slowly, he destroyed the malignancy turning it to ash, and his own body took care of the rest.
The governor took a deep, smooth breath.
Harthan expected his gift to retreat, but it instead shot up Alifare’s neck and into his brain. Something like a window opened…
A scantily clad young woman trembled on Alifare’s lap, and he tossed a hefty coin purse at man standing in the shadow by the door.
“Make sure there’s nothing to implicate me when I’m done.”
“That’s what you pay me for.”
Alifare waved the man off and turned his attention to the woman…
Harthan jerked his hand away so hard, he slammed into the bookshelf behind him. A few books fell, and one hit the top of his head. A second later he joined the books on the floor.
A strange blue luminance filled the room.
Harthan forced his eyes open and squinted at the bright light hovering inches above his face. A head full of glowing hair surrounded a familiar pale face and deep brown eyes.
“Lyse?” He reached up, and she took his hand in hers.
His power—what little remained—slithered from his hand through hers, and another window opened in his mind. He wanted to recoil, yet his gift refused to obey…
Lyse on display like a sculpture, seen as a curiosity and little else, forced onto tables or chairs for viewing, gawkers pointing and poking, tearing or cutting her hair…
“I’m sorry,” Harthan whispered. Governor Alifare was renowned for his eclectic collections—including humans with unusual gifts, but Harthan had no idea she was a part of that collection.
“Hush,” she said. “Time to rest now.”
Harthan awoke in a bedroom—not his own.
He sat up and winced. His entire body ached much worse than normal after a healing. He also remembered the governor cheating on his wife, conspiring… something, and his sister, a living exhibition to show off to guests.
The door swished open and Lyse walked in. Her hair no longer glowed, but the gold tresses still shined bright in the meager gray light from the small room’s single window.
She sat next to him on the bed. “Feeling better?”
“Tired. Why didn’t you tell me you were here?”
Her smile fell, and she stared at her clasped hands. “I couldn’t. I’m not allowed.”
His chest tightened. “Lyse. What am I doing here?” He should have awoken in his own bed.
“I’m sorry, Harthan. Governor Alifare… he bought you.”
The door opened again, and Alifare strolled in. Lyse shut her mouth and retreated to a corner by the window.
“You’re up,” Alifare said. “Good. Did Lyse tell you you’re mine now?”
“I’m not for sale.” But he knew better. Anyone with abilities like his and Lyse’s were considered commodities unless they could afford to buy their freedom, which was rare. The law didn’t stipulate they had to be paid with money, or even compensated fairly for the use of their gifts.
“What do you want?”
“To the point, I see. You not only healed my lungs, boy, but no more arthritis, and my eyes are clear. Your healing abilities will keep me young and healthy for as long as you live. I expect that to be a very long time. But don’t worry. As long as your gift keeps me young and hale, both you and your sister will be treated well.”
Harthan made the governor… younger? He studied Alifare. He had more hair and seemed less round than before. That meant he could never earn his—or Lyse’s—freedom.
If his gift now included stolen memories—memories Alifare may not wish others to know. Perhaps he could buy their freedom with a little bribery. What would Alifare’s wife do if she found out her beloved husband had cheated on her? And why did the governor hire the shadowed man?
Harthan held out his hand. “In that case, do you have any other ailments that need healing, Governor?”