He found her standing by the window overlooking the enclosed garden. Across the way was the window to the room where Querl had stayed during his brief visit. A breeze off the sea played with the diaphanous curtains and flipped the stray locks of hair which splayed across her shoulders. It might as well have teased a carved statue.
She didn’t look up when he entered the room, but turned to kneel on the settee. Forbidden to wear the Healer’s robes she’d worn since childhood, she now opted for simple gowns of slate gray or blue. She was still allowed to wear her facecrown, as was her right by birth, and something that never could be taken from her.
The daylight was harsh to her features. Her face was too pale and pinched from her near-death experience; dark circles ringed her eyes, eyes dulled and without spirit. Her body, despite the concealing folds of the gown, looked too thin. It would take another day before her great healing power sufficiently helped her to regain her strength. But the eyes... her eyes would always hold the truth, and they showed an emptiness like a black tunnel into her heart and soul.
Four days had passed since her return. Three days had vanished since Querl’s departure. It felt much longer than that.
Garabanth walked over to her. Brushing back a length of her hair just beginning to shine again, he could feel the fragility of her shoulders beneath his fingers. “You haven’t touched your tray. You need to keep up your strength.”
Her eyes never left the view from the window, but she reached up and took one of his hands, giving it a squeeze. “Always the nursemaid,” she accused softly, teasingly. “I’ll eat later.”
“Very well.” He patted her shoulder and turned to leave, but she refused to let go of his hand. “You never told me what he said. What was his reason? Why didn’t he come to see me before he left?”
“He never said... not really. His arguments were based on an individual’s right to life. The fact that you had performed your duties beyond necessity. That the blood oath was less an oath of loyalty and more of a suicide pact, and something he swore to change once he took the mantle of Dost. It was the reason he didn’t give that spoke volumes.”
She turned to look at him. “What reason was that?”
“That he loves you,” Garabanth told her softly, “more than anything. So much so that he was willing to risk everything to save you.”
“Then why didn’t he tell me goodbye?”
Garabanth paused, noticing the pain in her face, pain which hadn’t come from her wounds. “The council decided it best not to have you disturbed during your convalescence. But he tried.” Mareesa turned back to the window before he could see the tears which threatened to spill onto her cheeks. “So... useless...”
“He’s gone, and I’ll never see him again. What’s the purpose of love if all it does is hurt? What’s the use of loving someone when you can’t stay with him? When you’re forced apart and made to spend your remaining years wishing... wondering...” She drew a shaky breath, and the tears began to fall. Unable to bear her sorrow alone, she buried her face in the folds of Garabanth’s robes. The older man laid his free hand on top of her head, deeply moved by her loss. The thought that was uppermost in both their minds hung like an ominous black cloud above them, until Mareesa pressed her cheek against the hand she now held almost in desperation. “Four more days. The Festival’s in four more days.”
This time Garabanth drew her into his embrace and kissed her temple. Although he was not a Healer, he knew she found comfort within the harbor of his arms, and solace from the only person who could give it to her, who would give it to her.
It was a long time before he felt he could leave her alone. It was an hour later that a messenger left the fortress on horseback, heading for Bothe.