Authors: Susan King
Tags: #Romance, #General, #FIC027050, #Historical, #Fiction
Fear gave her these thoughts, she told herself; surely that horror could never happen to her again. But if she went with Diarmid Campbell to his castle in the western Highlands, no one else would learn what he knew. She could examine the child, using only her medical knowledge, and propose a treatment. Then she would return to Gavin’s home at Kilglassie.
Certainly she could no longer stay here at Saint Leonard’s Hospital. Her dream of using her skills to help others had been rejected and ridiculed. She was not wanted here.
Shifting on the hard bench, she thought about sending word to her brother that she was ready to be escorted home to Kilglassie Castle. Diarmid Campbell had mentioned that Gavin had told him where to find her. Several weeks ago, her brother had sent a letter by messenger; at the time he had been somewhere in the Lowlands, traveling and fighting alongside the king.
Frowning, she tried to recall Gavin’s last letter. Her brother had discussed at length the dilemma of Glas Eilean, her Highland property. Gavin had the king’s permission to take the castle under his own control, but the captain who had held it for years refused to relinquish it. Gavin also mentioned that he would continue to look for a Highland laird to suit her—and the needs of that castle, she thought bitterly.
Gavin had received several offers for Michaelmas’s hand in marriage since she had been widowed, from Highland chieftains, a Lowland knight in the king’s service, and even an English baron. She had turned them all down, although she knew that her brother favored a Highland union for her.
She had never seen Glas Eilean Castle, but she knew that its seaward position gave it great political and strategic value. She was sure that any man interested in marrying her wanted Glas Eilean above all else. But she had no interest in another marriage. As a widow and a physician, she wanted a peaceful, independent life in which to establish a practice. That path had proven more difficult than she had thought, but she did not care to give control of her life to a man she might barely know.
At least she knew that Diarmid Campbell did not intend to seek her hand—and her charter to a castle in the Isles. He must be wed, since he was here only to ensure his child’s well-being. His fatherly devotion was admirable, if his methods were unusual. She could not erase from her mind the image of him standing amid the white sheets, his stance powerful, his gray eyes like slices of shining steel. The aura of force that surrounded him was undeniable. And if the arrogance he had shown her was typical of him, she had done well to refuse him.
Still, she had glimpsed in his eyes a deep vulnerability, and real kindness. His concern for the child stirred her sympathy. She wanted to help the girl, but she could never agree to—or accomplish—what he asked of her.
Beside her, Jean shifted again, still restless. Michaelmas leaned forward and took the old woman’s arm, placing her fingertips lightly over the pulse in the wrist. She counted silently, feeling the weak, erratic pattern of beats.
Jean opened her eyes. “Lady—” she whispered.
Michaelmas smiled and set her arm dow. “How do you feel?”
Jean flexed her fingers uneasily on the blanket. “My arm hurts...and my chest....” She rubbed at her breastbone uneasily.
“Let me listen.” Michaelmas bent forward and placed her ear against Jean’s chest, listening to the sounds inside: an uncertain heartbeat and faint crackling noises in the lungs. “I’ll fetch the infusion that Master James has prescribed for you,” she said. “You’ve had a dose already this night, but another will not harm, and may help.”
Jean touched her arm. “Och, lass,” she said. “Someday soon the medicines willna help me, and I will go, and be glad.” Her dark eyes were vivid. “My husband went long ago. I miss him.”
Michaelmas watched her uncertainly. “Jeanie—”
“Give me yer hand,” the woman said, and Michaelmas held her hand out. Cool, fragile fingers covered her own. “Listen to me—ye’ve a gift for healing, lass. I’ve felt it often in yer touch. Lady Miracle. 'Tis a proper name for ye.”
“Jeanie, hush. Rest.”
“I want to say this,” Jean whispered. “I heard what they told ye today. Dinna let them frighten ye. I have a feeling about ye, lass. I think ye have a gift from heaven, and if so, it must be used.”
“The only gift I have is my education and my training,” Michaelmas replied. “I will fetch the medicines.”
Jean squeezed her hand. “Deny it, but I know ye have it.
My mother had a healing gift. She used to say that she always let heaven guide her in her healings. Remember that.” She smiled, then drew a breath. “I’m tired, lass. And thirsty.”
“I’ll fetch water.” Michaelmas rose, her thoughts whirling. How had Jean known about the healing touch? She crossed the room to a cupboard, where she took out a painted ceramic pot. Master James had prescribed an electuary for Jean, several herbs blended in syrup; to that, Michaelmas added a few drops of an infusion of foxglove. She ladled water from a bucket into a wooden cup, and returned to Jean’s side. After Jean sipped the water and took the medicine, she laid back and soon slept.
Michaelmas sat silently beside her friend, aware that death would come soon, and she knew Jean would welcome it peacefully. No method she knew, no herb would heal a failing, aging heart. Only time and heaven decided how much time remained. Ibrahim himself had told her what could be done—and what could not.
He had reminded her often that wisdom resided sometimes in doing little. A physician must be a careful judge, he had told her, and an extention of God’s mercy. Death was not always to be feared, for it was sometimes a blessing.
She wished that her husband, with his calm ways and his great knowledge, was here beside her. But he had been even older than Jean when he had succumbed to a similar disease of the heart. He had been ready—though Michaelmas had not been ready to lose her dearest friend.
Jean’s words echoed in her mind, strangely in keeping with what had occurred already today. The Highlander had wanted a miracle from her hands, and the prioress had cruelly reminded her that she had once been accused of heresy for that very act.
Michaelmas had possessed the healing gift since childhood, inherited from her Scottish mother through an ancient Celtic bloodline that went back to Saint Columba. Gavin had the same unusual ability, although none but his wife and closest family members were aware of it.
Michaelmas wished she could feel the power sweep through her again. Tempted, she lifted her hands hesitantly and held them above Jean’s chest. She closed her eyes and waited, heart pounding. Within moments, warmth began to flood into her hands. Frightened suddenly, she snatched her hands into her lap, clenching her fingers tightly as if to stop the force that gathered there. The healing touch still existed in her. But fear flooded through her with greater strength, banishing any urge to use her gift.
Tears stung her eyes. She could not do as Jean advised, and just let heaven and the gift guide her. Over the years, she had neglected the heated force in her hands until she felt only a shadow of what once had been. She had deliberately replaced it with the educated touch of a physician.
Once, long ago, Gavin had told her of his struggle to accept his own healing ability. Michaelmas had been a young girl then, and had felt no such conflict within herself. Her own trial of spirit came later. She had never told Gavin about the trial or the terror that came afterward. He did even not know that she had promised Ibrahim to abandon the gift.
Leaning her face into her hands, she began to cry, a hot stream of tears for herself, for Jean. Her friend was wrong. The Highlander was wrong too. Lady Miracle did not exist.
He watched her through the shadows, leaning a shoulder against the wall just inside the door. She had not seen him slip into the common room, for she had been occupied mixing medicines and speaking with an old woman, a patient.
Earlier, he had overheard one of the novices mention that Lady Michael would sit with the patients after midnight. He had left his pallet—a plaid thrown on the ground beside his horse, outside the hospital enclosure—and had come here hoping to talk to her again, more peaceably this time.
She sat with the old woman, who slept now. Michael’s face in candlelight was delicately planed, smooth as cream and roses. Her slight form and countenance were simple and serene; she was the image of a saint in that veil and black gown. He remembered her hair as a young girl, pale as moonglow, and longed to see it.
He frowned and admonished himself for letting his thoughts stray into fancy. He ached to talk to her, but he did not want anyone nearby to wake or listen. Perhaps he would wait until she left the room. This afternoon he had frightened her, but he meant to try again to convince her that he was no lunatic, and that he truly believed that she could do such a thing.
He had to let her know how necessary she was to him, to Brigit. And he thought of his sister Sorcha, whose pain was not physical but of the heart, a tragic suffering that was a constant part of her life: one child after another, lost at birth. He wondered, standing in the shadows, if the little widow could bring her miraculous powers to Glas Eilean too, where Sorcha awaited the birth—and the loss—of yet another babe. No one could save those lost children, but perhaps Michael would know some way to heal his sister’s grief.
But he had no time to explain all of this to her in ways she could understand, and he knew he lacked the talent to cajole and charm. Blunt, honest, direct—he was little more than that, he knew. No wonder he had frightened her. Sorcha, if she had known his plans, would have advised him how to phrase every statement tactfully and graciously. Not that he could carry any of it out. He sighed, determined to try his best to make Michael see his sincerity and his total belief in her power to heal. Once he had been a healer, too, but with other means—surgery, bonesetting, wound repair. All that had been eliminated from his life with one vicious swipe of an Irish broadsword.
Michael dropped her face into her hands as if she sobbed. Startled, disturbed, he moved out of the shadows on an impulse to comfort her. Then he stepped back, realizing the foolishness of that desire. He would likely only frighten her more deeply.
A creaking noise brought his attention to the far end of the room. The two young novices entered and came toward Michael, who hastily wiped her teary eyes and rose to meet them. Diarmid drew back and stayed still. After speaking to the two girls quietly, Michael walked the length of the room and lifted her cloak from a wall peg. She passed by his blackened corner without a glance—he could have touched her sleeve, and smelled the faint scent of roses and mint as she went by. She opened the door and stepped outside into the moonlight.
He slipped out after her, hoping for an opportunity to meet her as if by chance. But the courtyard was not empty, despite the late hour. A group of monks were on their way to the chapel, and one of them stopped to talk with Michael.
Diarmid watched from the shadowed overhang of an arcaded walkway. Michael walked quickly past him again and went into the wide doorway of a low building, probably the women’s sleeping quarters. He waited, saw no light, and ran around behind the building, where he saw a candle flame flare in a ground story window.
He did not like skulking about in shadows. He preferred honesty and a straightforward approach, but he did not wish to cause a scene with her in the middle of the moonlit courtyard.
The woman had him doing things he never would have dreamed of— begging for miracles and hiding in corners like a lovesick boy, desperate for a chance to speak with her.
He had spoken his mind to her already, approaching the matter as he generally did, stating his request logically and expecting agreement. Knowing that trait for a fault at times, he was not certain how to summon the tact he needed for this delicate, important task.
He would just have to blunder ahead and hope for the best.
Michaelmas felt as if someone watched her, and she spun quickly. The monks had gone on to the chapel, and she saw only vague night shadows beneath a bright moon. As she reached the dormitory which housed the nuns, servants and noblewomen who stayed here, she slipped inside and shut the door, making her way down the dark corridor to her own small cell.
Sighing loudly, she lit a candle from a glowing coal in the hot brazier and set it on the small table beside her bed. She thought about resting, longed to, but felt too agitated for sleep just now. Too much had happened today. She began to pace the small, square chamber, passing her narrow bed and the carved wooden chest that held her belongings.
Her skirts swung softly as she went to the window and unlatched the leather loop that held the shutters closed. Blue moonlight and cold air spilled into the room as she looked out over the hospital gardens and the low enclosing wall that surrounded the complex. A chilly breeze ruffled her linen wimple, but the cold felt good, fresh and stirring.
She sank down upon her flat bed, feeling weary but anxious, wondering if she would be able to sleep at all tonight. She had decided to leave Saint Leonard’s, a decision she should have made long ago, if she had not been so determined to gain her license.
Now she wondered how soon she could get a message to Gavin. But she would have to know where he was to do that. Kneeling, she opened the lid of her wooden chest and reached inside to find the casket that held her correspondence.
After Ibrahim’s death, she had sold the house with all of its books and furnishings, and had left Bologna with only this large, carved chest. The smell of cedar reminded her of her home in Italy. She bit her lip against the memories and ran her hands through stacks of folded clothing layered with dried roses, over the casket of her few pieces of jewelry, and over bundles of steel and iron instruments wrapped in silk and wool as she searched for the small silver casket that held her letters and papers.
Several books filled the bottom of the chest, their leather covers protected by silk cloths. She had read and studied each volume countless times. Touching the largest book, she blinked back tears, missing Ibrahim and his wise counsel.