Jisarr splayed his ears slightly, thinking, but didn’t stop walking, as his guards ushered him out of the patients’ wing. “Where am I bound?” he asked. He didn’t want to be the one to cross Tavi, who had told him to expect to stay here; but if there had been a change of plans while he couldn’t hear of it, it wasn’t his place to argue, not anymore.

“You said you were done here,” the grey guard said. “So you’re going back where you came from.” Her grip on his shoulder tightened.

Rather than risk angering her further, Jisarr shut his mouth and walked on between them. To the exit of that wing, past the silken curtains, across the mosaic floor of the lobby – they had almost reached the door when a voice behind brought them up short.

“Where are you going?”

It was softly-spoken, but the question had undeniable authority behind it. Gold fur, red robes trailing – Tavi strode across the lobby in their wake, hands tucked into opposite sleeves, ears upright and alert – almost wary.

Jisarr took a breath. “I’ve done for him what I might. He’s resting, now, bathing; he was at ease.”

“If he’s doing any such thing of his own initiative, that is a marked improvement indeed,” the healer said, “but that doesn’t address my question. Where are you going? I told you – all three – that I would be arranging for quarters for you here, Jisarr.”

Jisarr opened his mouth, but thought better of speaking. She’d also said to let her, the healer, be the judge of who did and did not have need of her abilities; if he couldn’t come up with some new, specific reason that he did not, that wouldn’t help. And he had agreed to tend to Dren, even if it brought him no pleasure at all. How could he put words to the notion that his issue was that it did bring him pleasure?

The apparently-senior of his guards, the gray one, shuffled her feet, ears splaying out to the sides somewhat. “The Captain will – ”

“Don’t make me repeat myself,” Tavi snapped. “If you want to confirm for yourself that I am able to gainsay your Captain, and you’re so stubbornly insistent on keeping a pointless watch, one of you can carry word. The rooms here have only one door each. I should hope that one of you would be well able to keep a door secure against one unarmed man who hasn’t shown the least sign of disobedience or hostility.”

The venom in her tone made both the guards fidget. Even Jisarr shivered, grateful that her ire hadn’t been turned on him.

The grey one stiffened, stood up straight, and dipped her muzzle in terse acknowledgement. She started to turn to her compatriot, to give an order, but Tavi cut her off. “Make sure your Captain is also aware,” the healer declared, in a voice as frigid as a deep cavern pool, “that I do not expect this watch to continue. If your superiors do not think I am capable of keeping one man here – even if he should suddenly turn uncooperative – they can come and tell me this in person.”

“He almost walked out with us,” the grey guard retorted, ears back, visibly nettled.

Tavi’s eyes narrowed. “If you think that I would have allowed you to take one step past the threshold,” she hissed, “you are gravely mistaken. I know the workings of the body; I know how to make it fail, in small ways or great.”

Jisarr shivered. The finest healers were not just learned in medicine, although they were that as well; they were also wizards of a specific sort. Just as they could numb pain, they could induce it; as they could restore movement to a limb, they could afflict it with paralysis. Crossing her likely would not have been a pleasant experience. Their oaths forbade them from doing any lasting harm that was not to counter a greater harm, but… well, some societies had used people with those gifts as torturers. Not the Crandil – not with the willworkers – but there were still tales…

The memory of such tales was apparently strong; the grey guard winced, ears flattening further, and the green one actually took a step back, apprehensive. Finally the grey one jerked her chin up, ears flicking forward. “Very well. He’s in your charge, then,” she snapped. “The Captain will straighten out matters, I’m sure. He’d best not be loose by then.” She beckoned, and the pair of guards stomped out of the foyer.

“Disagreeable pair, that,” Tavi muttered once the door had closed behind them; then she stood up straight. “Though not for the same reason as they, I don’t want you leaving here, either; not until I know you’re fit to leave.”

“I feel well enough,” Jisarr said, not exactly in protest.

“It’s not your body I’m concerned for; no healer could mistake you for anything but vigorously healthy in that regard.” Her gaze held his. “But for now, let us not worry of such things. The duty I asked of you was, I know, harsher than might have been thought. Come; I will show you to what will be your home for a time.”

Following in her wake, he put words to one thing that stood out about her manner. “You don’t seem much concerned for who I was. Neither any particular respect nor any automatic dislike.”

“Such as Rima has. No. The moment you crossed this threshold under my authority you were a man, a patient. Perhaps one who can also be an aide, but a patient nevertheless.” She produced a ring of keys, selected one, and fitted it to a brass lock. “I know, perhaps better than you, the manner of stress a position such as yours puts on a mind. It is my task to ensure that any harm it has done you – and I am quite sure, already, that it has – is mended before you leave my care; I don’t expect this to happen swiftly, and while it is doing so, you will have comfortable quarters.”

Unless he missed his count – which was possible; he hadn’t been paying terribly close attention – the door she opened for him was to the suite adjacent to Dren’s, and the suite was as richly appointed; the sort of rooms that anybody could feel comfortable in, at least physically. More than enough for his needs; he wouldn’t have said a word of complaint about the cell he’d been in – it was sparse but not actively uncomfortable – and something as grand as his old rooms would have just felt silly and awkward.

He turned, meeting Tavi’s gaze across the threshold. “I still don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with me,” he repeated.

“You wouldn’t,” the healer replied. “So it is with the troubles of the mind – to the one who suffers them, their thoughts are sound. But a proper analysis can wait for another day. Is there anything you might wish, to settle in better?”

He started to demur, but one thing occurred to him. “Some clothing, perhaps. What I have wears well, but I ought not to wear it for days at a time.” On its second day, with his days demanding little, what he wore could still be called rather clean; but best not to wear it through another day still.

“That should be easy enough to manage,” she replied with a flick of her ears. “I’ll have something simple delivered by morning; a closer fit can wait for another time.”

“Simple is quite adequate,” he agreed. Come to think of it, it was more than a little pretentious to dress for court when he no longer had station there.

“For much of the day it is,” said Tavi; then, as though she’d discerned his thoughts, “But don’t put your regalia too far away. There may yet be a time when you’ll find it useful.”

And before he could marshal his thoughts enough to ask what she meant, she was gone, the door closed behind her.

It didn’t lock – several seconds later, he actually was curious enough to try the door, and found that it easily opened a finger’s width, and presumably further. He could have dashed out and tried to catch her, to question her.

But he didn’t. He let the door shut fully again; he drew himself a bath; he stripped out of the wraps of cloth that suddenly felt all too confining, wadding them up and hurling them across the room. The ball of cloth unravelled and drifted to a halt before it had got very far; muttering a curse, he lowered himself into the steaming water.

What possible use could he get from his erstwhile office? It had come near to getting him killed. It had brought ill to who-knew-how-many lives – some in minor ways, some as profound as Dren’s – and had likely ended several that hadn’t deserved it. Why in the Deeps would he want to hang onto its trappings?

And yet… what else could he do with his life? It wasn’t as though he’d been left with worthwhile skills. Maybe as a prostitute – his muzzle quirked at the thought. He might even be able to make some decent money at that, at least for a short time, before the novelty wore off. But even there, he doubted he had enough experience to match the better class of courtesan.

So what could he do with his life?

What did he want to do? Even if it took some work to get there…

What he wanted to do – what he despaired of ever being able to do – was to make some positive difference in his life. Something that helped, instead of making lives difficult and miserable.

Was this… this lack of direction the harm Tavi had been referring to? It seemed a small thing, a subtle thing. And yet, with no ambitions, a person could stagnate, could collapse in on himself.

Perhaps that was what he should be seeking, while he was here – some purpose for his life.

He pulled himself out of the water, squeezing as much out of his pelt as he could manage, then fetching a towel to rub himself down. Once his fur was dry enough to stand on end, he hauled himself over to the bed and threw himself on it.

It really was more comfortable than a cot in a cell. He’d expected his thoughts to keep him up for some while, but instead the matress seemed to pull him right down.