Chapter One: A Big Surprise
Ilosovic watched as Alannah packed her healing bag full of potions and herbs, frowning deeply. "Why do you have to go?"
Alannah sighed, speaking in a calm tone that bordered on exasperation. "Because, as I've told you the last seven times, I am Royal Physician, and as such I have to respond to calls from nobility-no matter whom they may be."
Ilosovic leaned against the chair. "I understand that, but it doesn't change the fact that you're going to see my parents. I swore none of us would ever have contact with them again."
Alannah walked over to him, hugging him from behind. "I know, love, and I'm sure it will turn out to be nothing. Your mum probably just has a case of the galloping snobs."
Ilosovic cackled in laughter, and Alannah grinned. "I should be back by tonight." She gave him a final kiss and exited the cottage, climbing into the waiting carriage. She clucked the reins, and Kaspar set off at a brisk trot.
Two hours later, she pulled up in front of Stayne Manor. A servant dressed in dark blue came up to meet her, and Alannah couldn't help but notice that he kept his head down. "Are you the physician?"
Alannah nodded. "I am."
"Lady Stayne is waiting for you. Will you please follow me?"
Alannah grabbed her kit and followed the servant into the cold, dark manse. "Lovely place. Reminds me of a tomb." She looked around at the sound of footsteps, plastering a professional smile on her face at the sight of Lady Isobel Stayne. 'She hasn't changed a bit.' Lady Stayne still had the same haughty look that Alannah remembered from their first rather disastrous meeting. She glanced at Alannah in disdain.
"I suppose you are the physician?"
"Yes, My Lady."
Lady Stayne 'hmphed'. "Well, you are not at all what I expected, but I suppose you'll do. Come along." She turned and walked down the corridor, Alannah following after. "You look familiar."
Alannah bit back the urge to say, "I should, I'm married to your son." Instead, she smiled. "Do I?"
"Yes, but I can't think of where I've seen you before. No matter, if I can't remember it's not important." She stopped in front of a door, pulling out a key from around her neck. "Your patient is in here." She unlocked the door, and they stepped into the room.
The first thing Alannah noticed was that the room was quite filthy. Dust and cobwebs were everywhere. Lady Stayne frowned, then strode forward and grabbed a small object off the dirty bed covers, shaking it and screaming. "You filthy little brat! Didn't I tell you to get this room clean! Well? !"
The young girl that was being shaken began to cry. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I tried! But I feel so bad!" As if on cue, the girl's body was wracked by harsh coughs. Lady Stayne snorted in disgust and dropped her on the bed. The girl, who had dark black hair and slightly pale skin, looked at Lady Stayne in fright. She spun on her heel and spoke to Alannah.
"Worthless wretch! You, physician, help her! I've got more important things to do!" She left the room, and Alannah walked over to the girl, hissing in shock at how thin she was, and then spoke in a soothing voice.
"Hi there, are you not feeling good?" The girl shook her head, scared, and Alannah continued to speak in the same tone. "Well, let's see what can be done about it."
The girl sniffled. "Don't like medicine."
Alannah chuckled. "Neither do I. But right now I just want to check you out, alright? Say 'aaah.'" The girl obeyed, and Alannah peered into her throat, frowning. "Can I ask you something?" A nod, and she looked into her eyes. "When was the last time you ate?"
The girl's eyes filled with tears. "I don't remember."
Alannah's face grew dark, and she rummaged in her kit, pulling out a small jar filled with candies. "Here, help yourself." She laughed softly as the girl wolfed down the candy. "Hey, not so fast. There's more than enough."
As the girl ate, Alannah conducted her examination, her frown becoming more and more pronounced at the sores both old and new she could see on the child's skeletal frame. The child's hair was knotted and tangled, and her nails were cracked. Alannah applied salve to the newer wounds, and then noticed the girl watching her. "What is it, honey?"
"What's your name?"
"Alannah, what's yours?"
"Maiya. Maiya Stayne."
Alannah nearly dropped her kit. "What?"
The girl smiled. "Maiya."
Alannah shook herself. "Did you say Stayne?" Maiya nodded, and she gave her a piercing glance. "What's your Daddy's name?"
Maiya frowned. "Ezekiel, and Mummy's is Isobel. Why?"
"How old are you, Maiya?"
Maiya grinned. "I turned ten yesterday. Why?"
Alannah sat on the bed, eyes wide. "Ten, huh? Big girl. Well, this is certainly a shock."
Alannah looked at her. "Do your parents ever talk about their family?"
Maiya shook her head. "No, but Father told me that I had an older brother that died."
Alannah snorted. "That's codswallop. You do have a brother, but I can assure you he is far from dead. In fact, I'm married to him."
Maiya's thin face lit up. "Really? Can I meet him?"
Alannah thought for a few moments, and then grinned. "Sure. But I need a good excuse to take you out of this house…Got it. Wait here, I'll be back. You can have more candy if you want."
It didn't take her too long to find Lady Stayne. The woman looked up from her writing as Alannah knocked on the open door of the study. "Yes?"
Alannah gave her the most sincere smile she could muster. "My Lady, I'm going to have to take the patient back to Marmoreal for a few weeks. It looks like she could be developing a fever, and I'd rather have her nearby where I can keep an eye on her."
Lady Stayne nodded. "That's fine. Anything that keeps that brat away from me is fine. Why I had to have another one, I'll never know."
Alannah clenched her fists in an effort to remain calm. "I'll be leaving now, My Lady." Lady Stayne waved her hand in dismissal, and Alannah growled softly in anger and went back to Maiya's room. "Ready?"
Maiya nodded, and Alannah led her out to the carriage. Kaspar's ears perked up in surprise, and Alannah shot him a look. Maiya beamed and ran over to him, stroking his nose. "Oh, he's so handsome! What's his name?"
"My name is Kaspar."
Maiya's eyes grew wide. "He can talk!"
Alannah laughed. "Yes, and once he starts it's very difficult to make him stop." Kaspar snorted at her, and she grinned, then helped Maiya climb on board.
Maiya looked everywhere at once, her eyes wide with wonder. "I never knew there was so much to see!"
Alannah looked over at her. "Didn't you go outside?"
"Mother wouldn't allow it. She said I wasn't fit to be seen."
"That's nonsense. You're a very pretty young lady."
Maiya beamed and hugged her. "Thank you. What's my brother like?"
Alannah smiled. "He's very tall, and he only has one eye. But he's also handsome, brave, and a wonderful man. You'll meet him soon."
Maiya smiled, then leaned against her and fell asleep. The next thing she knew, she was being gently shaken. "Maiya, wake up. We're home." She opened her eyes.
"Oh, what a beautiful little house!"
Alannah smiled. "Thanks, we like it. Well, are you ready?" Maiya nodded uncertainly, and Alannah smiled at her in reassurance. "Don't worry; it's going to be fine." She helped her down, and then led her into the cottage.
Ilosovic was on the couch reading. "Welcome back, love. Who's that?"
Alannah sighed. "Well, this is Maiya."
Ilosovic gave Maiya a friendly smile, and she relaxed a bit. "Hello Maiya, I'm Ilosovic. You look hungry." Maiya nodded. "Well, there are some tarts on the counter." Maiya went into the kitchen, and Ilosovic turned to his wife. "Explain."
"She was being starved, and I convinced your mother that I had to bring her back with me because I thought she might be sick, which she is."
He nodded. "That's all well and good, but who is she?"
Alannah bit her lip, and then stared straight at him. "She's your sister."