Sword of a Saint
Chapter 3 - Part 4
January 923 - Saint
Cecilia's Abby, Claibourne
Mother Anne smiled, though the effort seemed to exhaust her. "You are a good child, Sister Valerian, and a skilled Healer. But you cannot work miracles."
Sister Valerian patted the Abbess's hand as she tucked the blankets more securely over the old woman's shoulders. "You are getting better, Mother. You must not give up hope."
"When you get to be my age, my dear, death holds no fear. He comes as a long expected friend."
Valerian busied herself coaxing the fire into a cheery blaze. "You have years left, Mother. We need you."
"I know." Mother Anne sighed and shifted on her feather mattress. "That is what keeps me from surrendering to this growing weakness. But I cannot fight much longer. What will happen to the abbey when I am gone?"
"I am certain the bishop will name a worthy successor."
"Bah!" Mother Anne's eyes fairly snapped as she waved off Valerian's words. "That fat fool in Valoret is the one who will name my successor, and he thinks only of filling his belly and gaining more power for himself and the thieving scum around him. I pray daily that the Festil's bastard will claim his kingdom and we can all get back to despising one corrupt tyrant instead of half a score of them!"
Valerian shuddered even as she rejoiced at the renewed energy in her patient. Mother Anne did not border on treason; as her illness progressed she wallowed in it. Fortunately for her, the abbey was far removed from the traffic of powerful men and the Earl of Claibourne had little love for the current royal council.
Valerian caught the Abbess' wrist and measured her pulse. The older woman's heart was now so faint it took Deryni senses to find that thin thread of life. Still, Valerian counted the beats of the old woman's heart against the course of her shallow breaths.
Mother Anne's soft laugh barely reached Valerian's ears. "Child, you have been more than attentive. But you must have other patients and I would rest now."
Valerian nodded, relieved that at least her abbess did not seem to be in pain. "There are none in the hospital now, Mother. I went to the village this morning to check the blacksmith's arm. His bones are mending well."
"And you did not need to use your . . . abilities?"
Valerian shook her head. "A splint and bandaging was all that was necessary. I did make certain the bone would mend straight, but I don't think anyone noticed."
"I have never regretted bringing that Gabrielite brother to train you, my daughter. Your gift is a blessing you should never fear." The Abbess closed her eyes and relaxed against her pillow.
Valerian smiled at her sleeping form. She had a little time yet before prayers began, time she was eager to spend it planning for next spring's garden. She wanted more foxglove next year, for Mother Anne's illness had depleted her store dangerously.
She pushed her small box of prepared herbs into a quiet corner and had almost reached the door when Mother Anne's soft voice stopped her.
"You must leave us, Sister."
Valerian returned to the old woman's bedside. "I beg your pardon, Mother?"
Mother Anne squeezed her hand with a strength Valerian could barely believe. "You cannot stay here. When I am gone this abbey will be no refuge for such as you."
Now it was Valerian's turn to laugh. "I need no refuge, Mother. I have done no wrong. You yourself said no just man will condemn me for talents that can only relieve suffering. For the rest, I will trust my safety to God's good protection."
"I fear God has forgotten Gwynedd, child."
She might have said more, had the curtain not rattled sharply. Valerian rose as a pinch faced nun entered with several scrolls.
Valerian folded her hands and bowed respectfully to the older nun. "Has something happened, Sister Walburga?"
"There are some documents that must be signed by our Abbess." The older nun's thin lips crimped in disapproval as she approached the cot. "Must I wake her?"
"There's no need for that, Daughter." Mother Anne pushed herself up against the pillows. "Give me what needs to be done and I will see to it."
"I must discuss some of these with you, Mother." Walburga frowned at Valerian. "You are not needed here, Sister. Go."
"As you wish." Valerian caught her tongue between her teeth before she snapped at the sharp tongued nun. Sister Walburga was Prioress, and since Mother Anne's illness had assumed most of the responsibility for the welfare of their abbey.
Though she knew Sister Walburga must have the good of the abbey first in her mind, Valerian could not seem to control her dislike of the older nun. The way the Prioress looked at her reminded Valerian of a calculating crow examining freshly turned beds for luckless worms and insects that might be easy prey.
Valerian forced herself to walk slowly as she retrieved her wax tablet and stylus from her cell and made her way to the abbey garden. Sunlight sparkled on the crisp snow. The beds were shapeless lumps, marked only by the depressions of the paths that in spring would show as neatly laid stone walkways.
As she planned where she would move the dill and parsley beds to give them fresh soil, Valerian felt the tension slip from her shoulders. Life reverberated all around her, from the frozen ground, the sleeping fruit trees, and the chill breeze that carried the scent of more snow. Winter was a time of expectant waiting.
Meanwhile, in Mother Anne's chamber Sister Walburga gathered the signed scrolls and left the old woman to her nap. Standing in one corner, the angel Uriel watched their business with unending patience. After all, he had far more time than these poor mortals.
The old Abbess fought her fate, and would continue to do so for a few more weeks. He understood her reasons, though the battle was already lost. Already her heart hesitated, age weakening it by the hour.
He should not be waiting here, he knew. There were many other souls he needed to tend, but his interest was caught here. While his business with Mother Anne could wait, the solution to a developing problem presented itself immediately.
He followed Sister Walburga to the Abbess's office. The thin faced nun wasted no time collecting a clean parchment, quill and ink. The missive she wrote to her archbishop betrayed both the trust of her Abbess and the life of the young Healer Valerian.
Clearly the Prioress intended to advance herself at the expense of others. Uriel would make certain this was recorded against her in the final tally of her life's work. Still, she presented an answer to a problem he had been seeking.
The dark angel knew there was a thread of love left in Michael Cameron. It was deeply buried, shielded by armor thickened over years of bitterness, but it was there. Unfortunately, Uriel knew from long experience it would need contact with a human of strength and tenderness to coax that thin thread to the surface.
The pretty Healer nun might be just the tool he needed to rescue his good friend's protégé. For an elevated being, the archangel Michael could be a bit dense when it came to the hearts of his charges. He had, at times, all the subtlety of a ballista, and in the case of Michael Cameron, that approach had left Uriel with a backlog of work, picking up the chaff.