When she'd returned to the hospital at nine-thirty, Tova had found a slim black-haired man standing over Sam's bed. A glance at his face had assured her he was Nicky's father; he had the same shy smile and solid presence as his daughter.
He'd paused briefly when Tova came in the door and then continued waving a grey feather along the length of Sam's still, sheet-covered body as he chanted softly. The strange words had risen and fallen with an elemental power.
"Dad's an amateur shaman," Nicky had whispered, standing and taking Tova's arm.
"Amateur," Tova had repeated absently, eyes glued to the feather, "means someone who does it for love rather than money."
Nicky had looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded her head once.
"That's sage oil," she'd explained as her father anointed Sam's temples and the centre of his brow from a small brown bottle. "He figured the hospital wouldn't appreciate burning sweetgrass. And he brought some Labrador tea – in that thermos. Brewed special."
After Nicky's father had put away his tools, he'd come to stand next to the two women.
"I'm Elvis Lightfoot, as you no doubt guessed by now. And he'll be fine, Tova," he'd said in a light, slow voice. "You know he's been poisoned, eh?"
"I think the doctors are working on it. I'm trying to get the police involved. Thanks so much for the healing, Mr. Lightfoot, and for lending your Nicky. He hasn't woken up yet, has he."
"I'm awake," Sam had croaked, opening his eyes. "Just enjoying the sound of your voices. Could I have some of that tea now?"
Opening the thermos had released an aroma like a summer evening in the forest. Tova had poured it into the thermos' cup and a fragrant mist encircled them, causing a collective sigh of contentment.
"I'll take Nicolette home now," her dad had said, "but we're not going far."
Alone with Sam, Tova had slipped an arm around his shoulders to help him drink. Through the thin fabric of the hospital gown she thought she could feel both his frailty and the strength Mr. Lightfoot had fed in him.
He'd swallowed, sighed and leaned back against the pillows. "I'm gonna write a book about y'all," he'd mumbled as his eyes closed again.
"It's difficult for me to speak of it," Or-Tikva was saying to Esther, as the horses jogged along, "That's why I never told you before. You must forgive me, Majesty; but you will find out soon, about Mer –"
She was interrupted by a figure rushing towards them, crashing through the trees. At first Esther took it to be a brown bear, but then it called out "Auntie Or! Auntie Or!"
When it got close enough and they had reined in their horses, Esther could see that it was a large shambling man with a thick beard and an unruly head of dark hair. Over his trousers he wore an earth-coloured tunic with many long narrow pockets sewn into it. Each pocket contained a scroll.
YOU ARE READING
Once upon a time there was a warrior queen who loved peace ... Mild-mannered writer Samuel J. Burnside is working on his latest adventure story, set in ancient Susa, where Queen Esther is teaching former harem slaves how to fight! But can Sam's new...