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The Cure

Recently trained healer Marilou Larkswallow has done the impossible and created a cure for blue fever. Lukas the Next, the newest generation of Aasguard warrior, has been tasked with preventing evil sorcerers from harming Marilou before she perfects this miraculous cure.

 

Marilou is not convinced she needs a bodyguard, especially not the one she’s had a girlhood crush on. Despite her new adult attraction to Lukas, she is well aware that healers do not marry. She and Lukas are also so young…

 

Meanwhile, Lukas is struggling with reconciling the hoyden of their youth with this confident, skilled young healer. Besides, they are far too young to commit to each other. Even if she as a healer can marry. Then there are the constant sorcerer attacks on Marilou. Can he stay focused on keeping her alive and healthy or will he fail his first task?

Excerpt:

Chapter One

 

Anticipation coiled through Marilou Larkswallow as she stepped into the school intended to train new Aasguard warriors. Rumor was that ground had been broken to build a new healer school wing here as well. She had heard additional whispers that the Mage Prime Ulric was contemplating building a school wing for mages off a different part of the school.

She refrained from doing a little dance of joy and excitement. This was her first job after completing her training. Marilou had spent her fair share of time in various mage schools. Poorly planned, if planned at all, and stressful. Especially when your bedchamber was only accessible via a privy.

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No running water, just a toilet of sorts, the rustic kind, and her bedchamber had been accessible through the privy chamber. Fortunately, she had found an unused sleeping pallet and had dragged that into a mostly empty storage closet off the lab. Her healer mentor had discovered her one day and asked questions. After Marilou showed her the room assignment the woman had shuddered and gone to speak to the school administration.

Marilou had not been given a different space that year, but her mentor had allowed her to sleep in the storage room and made certain she had a cupboard for her few belongings. The following year her old bedchamber had been converted into a storage cupboard while the tiny room used for storage became a student bedchamber. The new room assignment, while small, had proved more functional than her space through the privy chamber.

Now, viewing this beautifully appointed school, eagerness and joy combined in a heady elixir. Aasguard warrior Emma the Petite walked through the spacious hallways lined with art that inspired learning as though she didn’t notice the beauty of the wooden trim and the gleaming stone floors. From the glimpses Marilou snatched from the open doorways, the rooms were well sized and not cell like.

Then Emma showed her where she would sleep. Marilou’s eyes rounded. “This is my room?”

“Yes.” Emma smiled.

Marilou took in the desk, a double-sized bed with linens as nice as those from her parents’ home in Montequirst, and an actual closet. She noticed another door. What could that be? She crossed the expanse of the room—it took more than two steps—and opened the door. A gasp escaped.

A simple but lovely bathroom greeted her. A sink with a cabinet, a mirror, a small storage nook, a toilet, and a shower graced the room. In a previous school she had been obliged to walk to a different wing of the school to find a toilet, and to another wing to bathe.

“If you wish for a bath, there are several bathing chambers down the hall and around the corner.” Emma pointed behind her.

“I cannot believe how gorgeous this school is. Or do the students and staff have different chambers?”

“No, the student rooms are nearly this size. They also require a desk. Aasguards rarely require a desk, so our rooms tend to be smaller.” Emma shrugged.

Marilou set her bag on the bed and followed Emma into the hall again.

“I am certain you will enjoy meeting Eliza and Myrtle.”

More anticipation bubbled. “It is thrilling to work with two such revered healers.”

“They are equally excited about you. To find an actual cure for blue fever.” Emma shook her head.

“It would aid so many people if we can save lives with a curative. I do not know if it will cure or merely preserve life.” Marilou worried her bottom lip with her upper teeth. That still caused a measure of concern.

“So many people have lost their lives to blue fever. To preserve any life would be welcome.” Emma rounded yet another corner. Marilou mapped the route in her mind. She would need to know this and really, the school had been brilliantly planned. It would not be challenging to learn her way around this facility.

This made it much nicer for her work. Then she could devote her energy to her research and not worry about learning how to find her way from her bedchamber to the dining hall to the healer area.

The muted sound of men’s voices around the corner made her head turn to better hear them but Emma did not falter. As though hearing voices in this place was commonplace.

It is a school. That meant she had better get used to voices and people and activity. Marilou’s preference was to bury herself in the lab and remain there for longer stretches than she should.

That knowledge did not prevent her from continuing the practice. It hurt no one. And her inclination to work too many hours had allowed her to potentially save people from the scourge of blue fever. A nasty virus that essentially drowned the sufferer by filling their lungs with fluid.

Emma opened a door that resembled all of the sturdy doors along this hallway. Marilou noted the room was at the end of the hallway nearest to the lake. At the end of the furthest training field. She knew this because Lukas had drawn her a map.

A quick series of taps on the doorframe to announce their presence before Emma strode into an examination room. Marilou followed, her heart beating in happy skips.

“Eliza, this is Marilou Larkswallow. Come from Montequirst.”

The woman who turned with a wide smile looked exactly like a healer mage. Except she wore trousers and a tunic in the manner of Aasguard warriors. Her long hair was pulled back in a bun that made her look like she had short hair. The color so light it looked gray but was actually a paler shade of blonde. Her eyes were a silvery blue and her expression was gentle and kind.

“Marilou, we have anticipated your visit.” The healer rushed forward to take her hands. Everything inside her reached toward this kind woman. She could not wait to get started. “Come and meet Myrtle.”

Eliza pulled her to the massive crystal on the wall. There a greeny-gray lake serpent gazed back. “Marilou, it is lovely to meet you.” Myrtle’s voice was different than that of a human, mage, healer, or Aasguard, but so similar that Marilou felt instantly comfortable.

“I have been so excited to join you both. This has been a dream come true.” Marilou could no more have resisted the boiling excitement than she could the near euphoria that threatened to overwhelm her.

I am exactly where I should be. She refused to think anything else.

#

Lukas the Next watched Emma latch onto Marilou. He had wanted to show her around. To witness her reaction to the school and the people here. When he stepped forward to say something to that effect, Fergus the First intercepted him.

“Lukas, I should like to hear of your journey from here to Montequirst. You rode?”

Lukas gave up on the notion of showing Marilou her new home, at least her new home for now. He had heard the healers fluttering on about how Marilou would be in high demand. How other healers clamored for her to work with them.

From what he had gathered at the Montequirst castle, Eliza and Myrtle had some clout in the healer community, so they managed to ensure Marilou came here. He had heard rumblings that other well-known healers intended to arrive at the school to witness Marilou at work.

How had the hoyden he’d known become the confident, professional young healer he greeted at Montequirst last evening upon his arrival at the queendom of his youth? If he had been urged to select Marilou Larkswallow from a grouping of young women her age, he would have passed over the actual woman. Her masses of waist-length curling blonde hair and unusual eyes were the same, yet different from their younger years. Her eyes were an entrancing mixture of blue and green with a slender ring of amber around the pupil. Not that he paid attention to maidens.

One with skills to rival his own. He barely suppressed a sigh.

Fergus and Mozark, a renowned wizard, no, mage, they weren’t using wizard any longer, although Mozark did look like a wizard of old with that silver streak in his dark hair, would inquire as to why he was sighing. It would not do to mention any of these… odd… thoughts about Marilou Larkswallow.

I should not be thinking about her either. I am now an Aasguard warrior. His shoulders straightened.

Aasguard warriors did not pine over a woman. No matter how worthy she was of said pining.

Fergus and Mozark turned into the lounge where they invited him to sit. He did so, his shoulders straight. He had earned the title of Aasguard warrior and had no intention of letting himself, or his new community, down.

“What did you encounter on your journey?” Fergus the First was impressive. Taller than most Aasguards, which said much, with broad shoulders and muscle stacked upon muscle, other than his legs. He was the only survivor of a vaspiris attack to date. Vaspiris, a terrible creature usually trapped in a realm only accessible through a portal, used poison to paralyze its intended victim. Fergus’s legs had been paralyzed and he might have perished in the ocean if not for Punzel, the sea serpent who witnessed the attack and intervened. Fergus’s dragon companion had killed the vaspiris but also perished.

Punzel and Fergus endured over a century in the sunken city of Atlas. They had taken refuge in the Aasguard area of the castle of the flooded city legions under the sea. Lajos the Swift and Fricassa his dragon companion had once resided there before the city sank into the depths of the sea.

In a twist of irony, Lajos was married to Lukas’s twin sister Stefana. Fergus had been on his way to say goodbye to Lajos before passing into the next life. Only the vaspiris attack prevented him from dying. Punzel had kept him sane until a pair of Aasguards and their dragons discovered Fergus and Punzel and rescued them. [Seeking: Fellow Warrior - Book 4 - The Seeking Series]

Fergus found his mate in Lucy the Lucky and the two were now the Warrior Primes of their nation. [Seeking:  Warrior Bride - Book 5 - The Seeking Series]

Lukas reminded himself what he was supposed to be doing. Namely to express his thoughts on the journey from the school to Montequirst.

“I encountered several places that alerted my senses.”

Mozark sat up straighter. “What places?”

Fergus listened just as intently. It took little time to explain before the two men prepared to leave to investigate those places. They were soon joined by Lucy and Emma. Both women were just as eager for battle as the men.

He smothered a grin. This is why he had wished to be an Aasguard. Always training, always prepared, always ready for battle. And, he had no intention of being left behind.

Not to worry—they needed him to show them the unsettling places.

Mozark opened a portal and before Lukas had processed all of this, he stepped through the portal and back to the first place that had bothered him. He had not stopped here for long as he suspected his horse, also unsettled by the odd energy in the place, would startle and leave him behind.

Lukas could have walked across the desert and been fine, but it would have taken far longer, and he had no intention of wasting time. Walking was a vast waste of time.

Now he surveyed the area, and the exact same spot troubled him. He pointed it out to Mozark, but the gesture was unnecessary. The mage, a contemporary of the three Aasguard warriors, had already homed in on the danger.

An even older mage, Ulric, joined them by stepping through a portal. This man’s hair was gray, as was his long beard. He even more resembled a wizard of old. While Mozark had that streak of silver, he did not have a beard.

It took the mages little time to point their staffs at the threat and issue power such that Lukas had never encountered. In the presence of powerful magic, all the hair on his body stood. Awed at the energy and control of the thousand plus year old mages, Lukas barely prevented himself from gawking like a child.

I have much to learn.

Ulric might be two thousand years old. Or more. Lukas had never heard the man’s age and it seemed rude to ask. At twenty and seven, he felt like that gaping youngster. To live so long and be this in control of yourself—he longed for that.

To keep his head in battle and live a long and prosperous life.

From the looks Mozark and Emma kept darting at each other, it appeared that the two of them might be embarking on an all-new path together.

Lukas refrained from thinking about romance or potential romance.

Brand new Aasguard warriors did not marry at seven and twenty. It was not done.

 

Chapter Two

 

The sensation of belonging crept over her. Marilou had not experienced this since her youth. She belonged with these people. With these who worked as healers.

A thought occurred to her, so she expressed it. “I should mention that I am terrible at diagnosing the ill.” She held up a hand. “Unless the illness is obvious, I shall not be much use in determining the cause of a malady.”

Eliza laughed. “No concerns on that front. Myrtle here is excellent at diagnostics, as is her daughter, Serene.”

Myrtle turned and made a whistling noise. This brought another lake serpent. One who looked like a younger version of her. “Marilou, this is my daughter, Serene. Serene, this is Marilou who has come with a possible cure for blue fever.”

Marilou thought she would enjoy working with the two lake dragons. This is precisely why she had accepted this position, as the thought of working with healers from all over the land appealed in ways she had yet to consider.

“Serene knows every single plant and medical aid that grows in the lake.” Eliza pointed out the window toward said lake.

“She does. And she can acquire it in moments. Unlike anyone else in our village, including me.” Myrtle’s love for her daughter made Marilou miss her own mother.

But she had enjoyed a few days with her parents and grandfather before Lukas came for her. Why her heart pounded harder all of a sudden was suspicious.

The odd beating had… She refused to give it further credence. I am a professional. I shall act accordingly.

Did my inner self just stick her tongue out at me?

Fortunately, her fellow healers distracted her. “We understand that your skills lay in research.” Eliza reassured her.

“As well as in the making of potions. Eliza and I are capable, but Serene is by far better than us, and we hear you are superior in the making of and design of curatives, elixirs, tonics, and the like.” Myrtle’s scales glowed in the light emitting from the large square crystal.

“I do enjoy the research aspect and I experiment to make our known recipes better. I feel, depending on the region we are in, that local ingredients can be swapped with those in a recipe to produce a more powerful curative.”

Both healers nodded while Serene glowed even brighter than her mother. “I shall very much enjoy working with you, Marilou. I feel the same.”

Her sweet words cemented Marilou’s feeling of belonging. “I am delighted to be here.” Her exuberant response caused a ripple of joy through all of them.

Eliza showed her around the space and gave an in-depth tour of the cupboards and storage room off the examination room. A desk that lay in the shadows behind the door looked as though it was heavily used.

“Keep in mind that while Eliza and I have been working as healers, we are also planning our wing of this school.” Myrtle’s voice from the crystal made Marilou turn from her perusal of the supplies.

“When is the school to be completed?”

“The people who built this Aasguard school have already agreed to start the work on our wing. We are certain that Ulric intends to also open a mage wing as well.” Eliza nodded in agreement to Myrtle’s statement.

Eliza’s verification that those were not rumors offered spurts of excitement at what this school, this united school, meant for all who had become more. From what she had gathered through the years, Aasguards were born human but trained extensively to the point that their physiology changed. Mages were also born human, then became more after they reached ten years of age.

Many mages knew they were different from an early age, but the true ability did not present until they reached double digits. On her tenth birthday Marilou vividly remembered waking up with the realization she was different inside. That had been evident when she came upon their elderly cat who clearly was in pain.

Marilou had settled him in her lap and shut her eyes. Then she laid her hands on her pet and ran them over his flanks. Pain had reached her from certain spots.

She remembered concentrating on those. Now that she was older, she realized she had used her healing magic to alleviate her cat’s pain. A cat who sought her out whenever the pain became unbearable. She had healed Lukas’s horse too when she was around fifteen and on a short break from her healer training. He had been distraught over his beloved mount’s tragic injury. That horse had trained with him, and they shared an amazing bond. She could not bear for him to be so devastated.

That night she snuck down to the stables and located his horse. Then she slipped into the stall and did exactly what she had done with her cat. The power rose inside her, coiled through her, and released through her hands. She focused the energy through them to heal his warhorse. One leg in particular showed signs of dire distress. She had concentrated much of her healing there.

Then found a few more spots and finished her work. The horse had been grateful, aware of her intention from the moment she entered his stall. Normally warhorses were suspicious of strange people, but he had trusted her.

She had received a nuzzle from him in thanks before she left. Marilou remembered patting him then leaving the stall to return to her bed. Word had arisen the next morning of the miraculous recovery of Lukas’s warhorse. She had glimpsed him riding triumphantly to early morning training, both he and his horse in good spirits.

His dark hair rustled by the wind and his dark eyes gleaming with pleasure at his horse’s recovery. His handsome face creased in a relieved smile. The color in his cheeks and the happiness radiating from him had more than made up for her lost sleep.

A memory she would forever take with her. But she did not bear feelings for the man. Or his horse. That horse had been retired and Lukas had trained a new one, but she well remembered the fondness for her that original horse bore until his death.

Lukas had ridden a regular horse from the school to meet her in Montequirst. She wondered if someday he might join with a dragon.

I have never healed a dragon. A shiver skittered down her spine. She had no notion why.

Irritated with herself, she shoved out thoughts of a man who barely knew her name.

#

Beam after beam of light burst from the mages’ staffs.

Lukas gripped his sword, holding it ready at his side as the energy crackled and sparked. He did not lose his grip or his nerve. Battle calm reigned inside as he immersed himself in the battle, watching, waiting, ever alert. He did not allow thoughts to intrude.

Right now, they faced an enemy. One he had never encountered before. Fortunately, Ulric and Mozark seemed familiar and far more capable.

Lukas appreciated that.

Jolt after jolt of lightning strikes snapped through the small space until what looked like a slime trail escaped from between the two largest boulders. Like prey fleeing a large predator.

With the flick of his wrist, Mozark shot the lightning at the slime and it lit. A horrifying shriek later and the slime exploded in a series of bursts.

Calm settled once again over the dry landscape and the small sounds of life reemerged.

“Well done.” Ulric congratulated them when in actuality he and Mozark had done all of the work. Although Emma’s sword had also lit. Lukas had no explanation for that, so he kept quiet. Maybe later he might ask her as she had been one of his instructors.

“There are more of these?” Ulric inquired of him. Lukas sheathed his sword hastily as the others had already done so.

“Yes.” He gave the eldest mage the coordinates. Lukas caught traces of enjoyment from Ulric. He could relate.

Mozark opened a portal and ushered everyone through. Not that Ulric needed much prompting. Or the warriors with him. It was nice to be among those who understood him. Ulric and Mozark might be mages, but their battle readiness matched the Aasguard’s, as did their excitement to be here.

They eradicated three additional slime trails, sentries Ulric called them, before stepping in front of the stone arch that acted as an entrance into the desert from civilization. The stone arch had clanged his instincts the most and made his horse skittish to the point that they did not stop at all. Lukas had intended to break here but decided against it after his and his horse’s reactions.

No sooner had all of them set foot upon the land than all three senior Aasguards drew their swords. Emma spun to face the threat, Lucy dropped low, and Fergus growled and slashed his sword through the air above his head.

Emma hissed and energy sparked from her, lighter shades of whites and blues to be joined by Mozark’s onyx energy, and finally Ulric’s greens and yellows. Their magic intertwined into a spiraling band of power. Ulric started chanting and Mozark joined him.

The energy snapped and blazed, and the chanting must have been to aim the spell because as soon as it leapt, Lukas could see what his colleagues must have sensed. They hunted shadowy figures who were like smoke. Coiling and there, yet not. Emma’s sword flashed and flared as she showcased impressive sword skills. Fergus and Lucy were seconds behind her. The pair equally as adept.

As he had no intention of avoiding this fun, Lukas leapt forward and while he was certain his sword skills were in no way as polished and impressive as the senior Aasguards, he held his own. Ulric and Mozark’s prowess on the battlefield proved every bit as effective as magic blazed from their staffs and connected with their targets.

This enemy proved harder than any he had ever faced. The smokey shadows were flickering wisps. Yet a sword through their shadowy bodies evaporated them. However, their numbers proved never ending. Where one fell, more surged forward.

Lukas stopped relying on his eyesight and instead allowed his warrior instincts to prevail. His sword slashed and flashed in harmony with the three other warriors. He was humbled to be a part of this defense.

The light revealed additional slime trails, but Ulric, Mozark, and perhaps also Emma, kept exploding them. Finally, their small group annihilated the nebulous smoke figures. He waited, watching, before he cleaned his sword and sheathed it. In conjunction with his peers.

He snorted. As if these well-seasoned Aasguards were his colleagues. Yet they were. As a full Aasguard, he had been trained. He was unseasoned, yet he had faced battles. He had also learned much since he had gained full Aasguard status. The goal was for that to continue until he was Fergus’s age. And beyond, provided he did not meet his maker before then.

“What were those things?” Emma asked the same question on his mind.

Ulric did not immediately respond. A musing expression settled on his aged face. “Experiments, shall we say?” Although he provided an answer, he did not sound confident in his own assessment.

Lukas was man enough to admit that sent a flash of what might be fear through him. He was too young for his emotions to have faded. Therefore, he felt all of them. Without fail and as easily as he once did as a human.

He swallowed. His fellow Aasguards asked a rendition of the same question, all at the same time. Ulric did not—or could not—reassure them. Mostly he stated what Lukas had feared. That whatever those things were, they had been created by sorcerers to defeat them.

His mind shot to Marilou.

She was a young but already powerful healer. She had left the merely promising stage of her career when she determined there was a cure for blue fever. She, in her youth, had discovered a way to cure the horrific disease. One that killed every single person who contracted it. So far that remained humans, but the longer a virus gained hold, it could jump to mages, healers, and Aasguards as well.

Thus far no Aasguard had fallen ill by the virus, but that did not mean it could not happen. Now Marilou offered the means to prevent death. That had to have come to the attention of these sorcerers. He had not met any sorcerers but had heard of their evil for years.

If the sorcerers exposed an enemy to this deadly disease and said enemy died, that feat furthered their cause. It sickened him.

Lukas made a note to speak to someone about his concerns. His job had been to protect Marilou. Now that he saw the extent the sorcerers were willing to take, he discovered his job was far from over.

The problem being, who was he supposed to speak to about this?

His gaze settled on Ulric. Who better than the oldest mage? And perhaps he should include Fergus and Lucy in that discussion.

If Marilou was at risk… his hand tightened on his sword hilt.

 

 

 

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