Chapter 15 - A Stormy performance

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Lifting a Gaul's spirits required finding him first, and so Marcus wandered Mesmer's halls, the orchard and the empty class rooms, but he never spotted Philip. Only when the sun started to drop and tables were being set, did the apprentice druid reappear, his mousy brown hair sticking up in weird angles. Even from the distance Marcus kept from both him and Phyllis, he could see the little leaves before she plucked them out of Philip's hair with pinched fingers. Philip wore a short white tunic and darker trousers today, and he looked like he had been on some sort of field trip. Marcus wondered where. Philip might as well have been in the forest during the hunt. The secrecy of druid studies was all well to him, but it seemed like a terrible waste to let twenty years' worth of knowledge get shot over poor communication. He needed to address Bonny on that.

Sometimes, when Marcus made it to Mesmer early enough, he joined them at their table. But Phyllis and Pimpernella flanked Masha, and he still remembered Masha's fear of him. She would be introduced to the other students tonight. There would be a small ceremony, where the healers connected in a wide circle, hands intertwined until the glow of their combined energy lit up the dark square. Marcus found it one of the single most beautiful moments one could ever witness, and he didn't want to risk any chance of ruining it for Masha.

Fear could weaken any source of magic. For Phyllis, anger was also on that list. But she had once confided in him that growing up with a healer mom had made her far too dependent on the power for her liking, and her fear of losing it had become a force to be reckoned with the day she first realised she was undeniably different from Mesmer's other inhabitants.*

Masha was smiling now, both at her newfound friends and at Ryann and Connor who sat across from her, and as they got joined by Cornelis and Phelan, a rather animated talk started up. Marcus was dying to know how Phyllis's hunting trip had gone, but he knew she would tell him later.

They told each other everything 'later', or so it seemed. It would have been so much easier had she been a soldier, or if he had been a healer. Their time together was spent in invented projects they had to stash onto the duties of their education and profession. Sometimes it was just plain exhausting.**

Marcus wandered over to the orchard. The evening was bright and soft, casting a spray of rosy light over heavily blooming branches. He had no desire to confine himself to the darkness of his office, not tonight, when spring promised joyful days and his heart was light. He could wait for the ceremony to end right here. Even if Philip did not come out, Phyllis never went to bed without telling Goliath good night.

He had almost dozed off when Philip's wary voice disrupted his hazy observation of falling petals.

"You wanted to see me?"

Marcus sat up at once.

"Did the ceremony end?" he asked.

"Yes. Phyllis is going to attempt and break her neck again. Maybe you should have a look."

Marcus shook his head. "It's useless. She'll try anyway. Be happy Cornelis is probably strong enough to control her when she gets familiar with the laws of gravity."

Philip sat down next to him, and Marcus handed him the papyrus he had received, now almost three months ago. He wondered if Philip would pick up on the date on this particular piece of paper as well, but as Philip's eyes widened and his breath hitched, that seemed rather unlikely.

"Are those numbers correct?" Philip asked, his voice a bit shaky.

Marcus made a show of ignoring his reaction: "They sure are. They are based on the selling prices we had for the sample food your greenhouses produced last year. I am not the only one who gets excited about fresh vegetables and herbs in the middle of winter. It's a luxury product. People with money are willing to pay for it. And there is a rapidly increasing amount of people with money in Lugdunum." He waited for Philip to chime in with the obvious conclusion:

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