Eirane swooped down into the courtyard of the House of Healing, as invisible as a breath of wind. She drifted across the wounds of dying men, giving them solace, allowing them to pass on, offering them the touch of mercy.
Some of the men, close enough to the gates of death that they saw into the spirit realm, reached out to her, but one man cried out in fear.
A white-robed healer bustled across the gardens to calm his terror. She had iron-grey hair and the flashing eyes of one who commanded. There was no doubting her position as leader of this House. The other healers stopped in their ministrations and bobbed their heads to her as she wove her way through the clots of dying men to the one who had screamed.
‘She is here,’ the wounded man moaned. He stank of faeces, his stomach torn open and infected. ‘Death breathes upon me.’
‘Hush now,’ the healer said. ‘Hush now. Henath will guard your soul on your journey to the other side and no spirit can harm you here.’
Eirane stilled in the air, offended by the words. That this foolish man thought her a demon, a creature of the night, was to be expected. The priests of the Karisae lied to their congregations. But this was a healer and ignorance of the truth was no excuse for such nightmarish tales.
‘Cast the spell,’ the dying man begged. ‘Drive her away. Make the walls shine with light.’
‘No such spirit can enter these sacred walls. The gods guard us.’
‘She is here. I can see her. Drive her away. I beg of you. She wishes to feed upon my soul. Please. For all that I have given to my King, please.’
The healer lowered her head. ‘Very well.’ She lifted her hand and drew upon the power of the shrine, of the white-spiralled walls, of the water that bubbled from the spring — a spring fed by the waters of the sacred lake Calovinid, the lake the Karisae called Kalon, the lake at the heart of it all, the lake of Tanaz — the goddess enchained. ‘Be gone, foul spirit! I, Dame Belina desainJasi of this House of Falas, command you. Leave this place.’
But the vinraf, the shrine spring, existed long before the Karisae came to this land. The chips of haraf they wore about their necks as amulets were taken from the huge haraf monoliths that encircled each of the shrines. For haraf meant shrine stone in the language of the Anthanic. And Eirane was as much a part of the chains that bound the goddess as any mere chip of stone or flowing spring.
So, though the amulet around Dame Belina’s neck glowed with glorious light, the vinraf, the shrine spring, did not pick up that light, and the haraf of the walls surrounding the vinraf did not glow with magic.
Dame Belina paled, lifted her hand again and called out the same command.
Is this how you thank me? Eirane asked the men, though they heard her voice only as a murmur of the wind upon the shrine. Some of them, those sensitive to the spirit realm and those so close to the gates that they were already within its embrace, turned their heads away to hide their faces. I come here to help your passing and this is how you thank me, this is how it ends? So be it.
Engulfed in sadness, she turned and flowed away from the shrine. And the walls glowed with light.
‘There,’ Dame Belina said. She smiled down upon the soldier, but he had already died.
[Edit: Updated after the final copy-edit of the novel.]