A Sunlit Day
"When we collected the needlethorns . . . what a glorious day that was!"
Desdra to Nerilka, "Nerilka's Story"
"Can you remember exactly where you saw those astringent plants, Desdra? I know we're here for needlethorn, but the Hall's supplies are dreadfully short."
She took the hand Masterhealer Capiam offered to help her rise, though she was tempted to pull him back to the mat of ging fronds they'd been reclining on during the midday meal. He was, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, still frail enough she would probably succeed. Then again . . . a sideways look at the Fort Weyrwoman and the Lord of Ruatha told her they might not appreciate their lingering. "We'll look at the plants but, my dear Master Capiam, you are also going to rest through the heat of the day."
They made their way back up the ravine towards the groves where they'd been picking needlethorn. There were plants Desdra had noted, hazelwood, fellis vines, things the Hall did need badly, but the thick, cloying heat of the Istan afternoon made concentrating on anything difficult. That, and the fact that Capiam had not released her hand as they walked. His fingers, always long and slender, felt almost bony, but they were still strong hands, Healer's hands. With his neverending energy for the vaccination project and that stubborn will to keep at his Healer's duty, it had been easy to forget at times over the last two days that he had only recently recovered from the viral influence himself. At least, if she only listened to the familiar baritone. A glance at the features that were more lined than before, at the prominent bones of rib and shoulder, and she still felt a cold and thoroughly unscientific clenching about her heart. The same terror she'd felt when she'd looked in on the Masterhealer that morning–only a few days ago, though it seemed a lifetime–and had seen him fevered and coughing.
"Here we are, my dear journeywoman," and the familiar voice brought her back to the present–to the future, really. Capiam was pushing aside the stripped stalks of needlethorn where they had been picking that morning, and laying down another mat of ging fronds. "The sap does seem to have a certain astringent quality," he observed, shaking his fingers in an attempt to dislodge fragments of the leaf, "but its other properties might make it more useful as an adhesive for bandages-if one doesn't care whether they ever come off!"
"Right now the property I'm most concerned with is provision of shade," Desdra said. "Master Capiam, you said yourself, it's the custom of this island to rest in the heat of midday, and you are going to rest!" The cushion of foliage was shadowed by the heavy leaves and the heat of the midday sun was steaming a rich perfume out of the ging trees' creamy blossoms. It was a wonder, really, Desdra thought as she settled herself, that anyone on Ista Island got anything done except perhaps in the dead of winter.
Capiam eased himself down in the shade, close enough beside her that they touched, barely, a faint brushing of clothes at arm, leg, hip. A murmur of voices, Oklina's high and feminine, B'lerion's merry tenor, carried on a sluggish stir of wind. "I wonder," Capiam said, "just how much rest our companions are getting!"
"Moreta seemed in especially good humor," Desdra observed. Capiam nodded, understanding as always what she left unsaid about the Weyrwoman and Ruatha's young Lord. "Do you suppose being apart from her queen, not only in distance, but months, seems strange to her? Or that she can speak to the Orlith of this time?"
"Our craft may have bred dragons, but the mysteries of Impression are outside our understanding, my dear Desdra." Capiam was leaning back on his elbows, eyes closed, more relaxed than she'd seen him since the first urgent drum message telling of illness at the Sea Hold had arrived. "Still . . . it is an interesting question, is it not? We're in our future. Somewhere else on this Pern, this very moment, there is another Moreta, another Alessan, Oklina, B'lerion, even Nabeth!"
"Even another Masterhealer, and another Journeywoman Desdra," she said, and as he opened his eyes she realized that was probably not quite correct.
His eyes crinkled a bit more at the corners than they used to when he smiled. "Journeywoman? Surely not. Surely by now it's Master Desdra."
Desdra looked away. There was something serious beneath the gentle teasing that had not been there a moment ago. "With everything, I have hardly been thinking about my Mastery. There have been so many more important things to deal with–"
"In which you've acquitted yourself as ably as any Master, and as ably as any Masterhealer would wish his journeyman could be." Now it was Capiam's turn to avert his gaze, and she saw a sadness in his countenance that was older than their recent trials. With the plague, she had indeed not been thinking about her Mastery, and how close it was, but before this great calamity there had been an undercurrent of sadness, dread even, as she and Capiam had both realized something was ending. When she took on a Masterhealer's rank, she would no longer be his student, his aide, as she had been for turns now. None of the ease, the comfort, had gone from their daily dealings with each other, but increasingly there was a sense that something must be addressed once the day came. Then, of course, the plague had come instead.
"No," Capiam continued, "after all you've done, the aid you've rendered in this crisis, there isn't a Master in the Hall who'd protest your elevation. No question but by this day, you are a Masterhealer yourself, and not my dear journeywoman any longer." He still was not looking at her, and there was a tautness to his voice. "No doubt by now you are established safely back at your home Hall, with apprentices of your own to terrorize."
The clenching was back around her heart, and it took a long, deep breath to force it away. A cleansing breath, that brought with it not just the rich scent of the ging blossoms but a clearness of mind she hadn't realized til now she was lacking. "I don't know about that," she said, surprised herself how normal her voice sounded. "There are a great many more apprentices to terrorize at the Healer Hall, and in any case, if I were to leave, Master or no, who is going to keep you from running some poor new journeyman to rags? Or driving Master Fortine to distraction? At least once I've a Master's rank I'll be able to delegate some, because keeping you from wearing yourself down to bone is a full-time task as it is!"
"Desdra!" Capiam was looking at her now, an expression she had never seen before in his eyes, some combination of surprise, hope, and an emotion that had been far too foreign to them all of late: joy. "I had been dreading . . . what I mean to say is, I had tried not to hope . . . ."
There was really only one way to stop such ineffectual rambling, but she was still Journeywoman Desdra, and he still the Masterhealer, so she allowed him the privilege of reaching for her. But she was the one who raised her mouth to his first. To her moderate surprise, there was no revelation in the kiss. It was as if this were simply the most logical moment of their lives, that had always been meant to happen and had only required exactly the right circumstances.
As they paused for a much-needed breath Desdra realized he was easing her back onto their bed of ging fronds, with far more strength and purpose than she'd thought him capable of in his recently-recovered state. "Capiam!" It took far more effort than usual to keep her tone firm. "You're supposed to be resting! You're barely a sevenday out of your sickbed. This kind of exertion–"
"Dearest Desdra," and she noticed the change of possessive, "if there is one lesson I have learned from this viral influence and what it's wreaked on Pern, it's that we must live every day we have. Dragonrider or holder, Master or apprentice, we none of us know what tomorrow will bring." Capiam brushed a finger along her cheek with a tenderness that should have surprised her in the Masterhealer, but didn't. "For us, tomorrow's brought an extra tomorrow. And I intend we should take full advantage of it!"
There was little she could say to argue with that. Well, she thought, there were things she could say in argument, but with the heat of the Istan sun, the coolness of their bower, the intoxicating scent of the ging blossoms, and most of all with the warmth and strength of Capiam's arms around her, there was nothing that Desdra wanted to say. Not, at least, until much, much later.