3.4 Vitality

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White-shrouded people breezed in and out of openings that looked dwarfish to Alex. Jinishta glided into one of the stone-carved doorways.

Kessa sized up the ancient, worn-looking staircase where Jinishta had gone, and she sized up Alex. Then she shrugged, gave him a pitying look, and followed Jinishta.

Alex sucked in his breath, twisted sideways, and ducked under the lintel. His shoulders pressed against the sloped ceiling.

Jinishta glanced back and made a dry remark.

"She says they should have used the nussian infirmary, as a courtesy to you," Kessa translated. "This is the main infirmary."

Alex couldn't tell whether that was an insult or an awkward apology. He had to edge his way up the stairs, bent double.

They entered a rough-hewn corridor, also sized for people much smaller than Alex. A billowing layer of endless gauze formed one of the walls, broken at intervals by stout pillars.

Alex had to walk bent over. Every time someone squeezed past him, they leaned into the curtains while he moved aside, but he still felt as if he was blocking their path and towering over them.

Passersby gave him tight-lipped, curious or businesslike stares. Not everybody in the city worshipped the messiah, it seemed. Perhaps a lot of people shared Jinishta's doubts.

"Aonswa!" Orla popped out from the gauzy curtains, seeming delighted to see him.

Jinishta urged Alex and Kessa to follow the teenaged healer. Alex pushed through curtains, into a lamplit chamber that was as long as the corridor. More gauzy curtains probably concealed bedridden patients.

He'd hardly taken two steps before Orla held out her hands in the healing pose, and made a demand.

"Please sit down," Kessa translated. "Orla wants to heal you."

Alex touched the soreness where his wound itched and throbbed. Surely other patients needed healing more than he did. "I feel fine," he said.

Kessa translated, but Orla made an impatient sound and snapped back.

"Sit," Kessa said. "Orla says otherwise you will fall over."

Alex thought that was ridiculous, but Orla folded her arms across her Yeresunsa mantle, and Jinishta had a threatening look. One or both of them could force him to sit.

So he settled onto the stone floor, cross-legged. As soon as he was down, Orla stood on her tiptoes to spread her hands over his wound.

A titanic wave of health crashed throughout his body. His heartbeat strengthened. His pores felt clean. He felt vigorous enough to lift a truck.

And his wound?

Alex tugged aside his Yeresunsa mantle and opened the garment beneath. What he saw, instead of exposed muscle, was wholly smooth skin, marred only by a knot of scar tissue.

Orla swayed dizzily. Jinishta steadied her.

There was more conversation, but Alex was too busy trying to figure out how to express his gratitude. The Alashani really ought to focus their healing efforts on more deserving people, like Margo, and Thomas.

One of the gauzy curtains swung aside, pushed by a white-shrouded woman. It revealed a cushy bed—and Margo on the bed, looking like she'd barely survived a grueling ordeal. She was as pale as an Alashani. Yet she looked serene as she studied Alex.

"Orla says she was depleted when she healed you the first time," Kessa told him, translating. "She was able to do her best, this time."

Jinishta interjected a few words as Orla went on.

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