Gelasa Bark

Meristo enters the office and closes the door behind him. “Miyara, I’ll take on handling the front on my own if you need to finish the accounting today,” he says without preamble. “But please tell Taseino to go home.”

His expression is uncharacteristically serious, and I frown, already rising. “He looked fine earlier.”

“I thought so too. He’s not.”

I don’t need to hear any more. Meristo is the most experienced tea boy here, and I trust him to look out for the younger boys, even if he usually pretends a disinterested air.

Frankly, he also isn’t one to volunteer to take on work if he doesn’t need to.

Meristo nods toward where Taseino is with a customer and then goes back to his own rounds as if nothing has happened.

Ah, so he’s already spoken to Taseino and been ignored. Thus why he’s called me into it.

As I watch, it’s clear Meristo is right. Taseino is always careful, which perhaps explains how I didn’t notice immediately. But looking at him now, he makes no unnecessary movements, holding as still as possible as long as he can before slowly and deliberately extending his limbs or turning his head. As he returns to the tea counter, he squints away ever-so-slightly from the light, and I notice his pupils are too wide, and too dark.

“Miyara,” Taseino says in his grave voice. He sounds strangely far away. “Is something amiss with the accounts?”

“Are you ill?” I ask.

“I’m fine,” he says, eyes narrowing slightly. But his expression is very nearly wooden.

I cross my arms. “That was a yes or no question. Please answer it as such.”

“I’m fit to work,” Taseino insists. “Lorwyn’s word.”

My heart jumps.

“Office,” I say. “Now.”

I usher him inside without appearing to hurry him, opening the door and stepping wide around him so it is not obvious to anyone else how slowly he is in fact moving.

“Please sit,” I say.

“I’d prefer to stand,” Taseino says.

Possibly because he won’t be able to rise again. Spirits. “All right. What did Lorwyn give you?”

“Gelasa bark.”

I suck in a breath. It’s an ingredient she’s still experimenting with—she can brew it safely to order, but so far hasn’t managed to standardize its usage for tea specialists who aren’t witches. She’s highlighted multiple interesting properties, but two are particularly noteworthy as they go hand in hand:

It temporarily suppresses the transmission of germs, so she is correct in the sense that Taseino has not been infecting customers.

It also detaches a person’s mind from controlling their body the longer they’re under its influence, which is why she has not yet revolutionized medicine with this discovery. Without her personal touch, the potential for injury far outweighs the benefit, and even with it it’s a very near thing.

No wonder Taseino is moving so slowly. It’s incredible he’s able to make himself move at all.

“Can you tell me why you let Lorwyn dose you with gelasa bark tea rather than staying home to sleep?” I ask evenly.

“I asked her to,” Taseino says. “She knows what happens when people miss work. Not risking it.”

That does make me frown. That is no doubt unfortunately true for Lorwyn and the Gaellani in Sayorsen, so I can see why she would have agreed without the interrogation I’m now subjecting him to. But Taseino’s family is well-off Istals. “You must know you wouldn’t lose your job here if you had to miss a day.”

He starts to shake his head; stops. “My family,” he explains. “If they thought my days were negotiable, they would always interfere. When I’m really needed. Can’t risk it.”

Oh, spirits. I kneel before him. “Taseino. If your family ever gives you trouble you can’t handle, then I will handle them. Do you understand me? The world will always ask more of you. Don’t you dare volunteer sacrificing your health on the altar of service. That is not what we are here for.”

He blinks at me owlishly. “What are we here for, then?”

A question for a shrine. But I say, “I believe we are here to do our best for each other. This is not yours. And it is not ours by you.”

Though I am at least heartened that all of us today have tried our utmost to do what we thought best for each other.

I gently move him into the chair, and his limbs collapse awkwardly. “I can’t go home like this,” he whispers. “I might as well—”

“Lorwyn will make you something to start countering the effects, and Meristo will get you home,” I say firmly. “For now, rest in here, and let us take care of everything until you’re well. That is our service.”

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