White penitent: Kestrel harper saga Book 3

Kavan felt consciousness approaching, realizing as he woke that Madalyn must be home. It must have been her presence he sensed in the room as he had grown familiar with Gaelán’s company over the last several days and he knew it was not Gaelán with him. He felt hot, stiff, and his hands throbbed painfully. Without opening his eyes, he sighed. “You do not need to linger. There is nothing you can do for me.”

“You are sure of that, átaelás mai?”

“Kóráhm!” He jerked up; the pain of the effort made him dizzy and nauseous. Scarred hands steadied him, taking away some of that dizziness and nausea, though it did not affect the pain in his body. Their eyes met briefly but Kavan looked away, humiliated. “Were you expecting someone else?”

“Anyone else. It has been so long since you have…and after what I have done…”

“What have you done?” He shuddered and closed his eyes.

“You know.”

“Perhaps I do not.” The quite real form of Saint Kóráhm the Heretic settled into the chair at his bedside, pushing his hood from his face. “Unless you are reading my thoughts, you do not know what I know or do not know. But if you will not speak freely with me, I shall not pursue it. It is up to you to trust me or not. I do have a question to put to you, however, that you must answer before we proceed with any discussion. Why have you refused Gaelán’s offer to heal your hands?”

“He cannot do it. He is not a trained healer.”

The auburn head of hair bobbed once. “He is not…but he has healed the rest of your injuries…though not completely I admit. I see no reason he could not have tended your hands to offer you mobility. Even so, he could have summoned Ártur to aid you.”

“This,” Kavan held his twisted hands before Kóráhm, choking at the sight, “is my punishment. No healer can undo what k’Ádhá has done…”

“k’Ádhá? Did you see k’Ádhá amongst the men who beat you? Did you specifically see him crush your hands?”

Kavan grunted. “He allowed it.”

Kóráhm narrowed his gaze. “k’Ádhá has given us freedom of choice to do what we will, and then stepped away from his creation to allow it to function alone, to find its way to the path back to him. Some events may be predestined…experience tells us this, and he knows what the outcome will be of a man’s choices, but he does not dictate every moment of our existence. He allows many events, most of which he has no specific hand in. He allowed those men to attack you, but he did not make them do it; it was their choice, not his.”

“It is my punishment,” Kavan said, his conviction intact. “I want to be healed, to play my harp, but it will only come when I have atoned for my sins.”

The saint rose, shaking his head with regret. “You think you are privy to the mind of k’Ádhá, phyl haeles. That is a dangerous path to tread, and one many do not come back from. If you truly wish absolution, you must first know what your sins are before they can be forgiven. Only then, since you have chosen this path of misery and self-destruction, will your hands be restored to their former beauty and skill.”

Not understanding what the saint meant by self-destruction, not believing he had chosen any of this, Kavan cried, “But I have confessed, milord! You know I have! I became needlessly drunk. I tried to bed a whore. I have admitted this…and that I was wrong…”

“Then there must be something more damning to which you have not confessed.”

“More damn…” Tears sprung to his eyes. “I am not a man. Is that a sin?”

“Not a…Kavan…kyag…” Kóráhm knelt by the bedside and touched the bard’s face lovingly. “You are as much a man as I was at your age. You have considerably more willpower and self-control than I did; perhaps you are more of a man. If it had been me,” his hand dropped and he stood, “I would have bedded the whore. And likely the princess too.”

“You…?” Kavan was visibly shocked.

Kóráhm’s expression grew sorrowful at the betrayal he read in Kavan’s eyes. “You have much to learn about life, kyag, but you are, in many ways, a better man than I ever was. In this, there is nothing more I can do for you. I leave you with one final instruction.” He laid his hand over Kavan’s eyes, closing them as he spoke. “When it is time,” he whispered, “go where she leads you; do as she instructs. Trust her as you once trusted me.”

There was a quick discharge of static in that touch, and though the sensation of the hand over his eyes lingered, Kavan knew Kóráhm was gone. The man’s words tore Kavan apart inside. Kóráhm was a saint, after all. How could he have been anything less than the saint he had been dubbed? But Kóráhm had been mortal once, and it was possible, with much information about his life missing, that he had been the same in some ways as any other man. Kavan’s sense of betrayal had caused Kóráhm to depart. Even the Saint had abandoned him. He was certain of it. His sins had taken his hands, his music, and had driven Kóráhm away. Kavan wept again, hoping to convince himself that Kóráhm would return, that surely Kóráhm had been a much greater man in every way than Kavan would ever be.