He was measuring out infused aloe from jar Number Seven when Rosethorn asked, “Crane, why did we create broad diagnosis powders three years ago if you aren’t going to use them?”
“What are you talking about?” demanded Crane. “Of course I used them on the day we began. I had to give them up—it is in your very first section of notes.”
“No, it’s not.”
Crane went to Rosethorn’s table and plucked the notes from her fingers. “I detailed the results thoroughly,” he muttered, leafing through the sheets. “The blue pox caused our general diagnosis additives to break up. I know very well you are to have everything … Ah.” With a glare for Peachleaf, he pulled three sheets from the stack and put them on top. The healer shrank in her chair. “They appear to have been placed behind the section on the disease’s response to neutral substances. Why, no one can know, because these notes are supposed to be in chronological order.” He thrust the papers at Rosethorn.
She took them and muttered, “Bully.”
Crane ignored her. “Even the most basic compound additives we are accustomed to using break up when brought into contact with the blue pox essence. I was forced to go to the simplest oils, chemicals, and herbs. It slowed me to a crawl.”
Rosethorn frowned as she read. “That makes no sense,” she remarked.
Crane saw that Briar was watching. His eyebrows rose, and Briar quickly got back to his work.
When the Hub clock chimed the half hour after noon, Osprey and another of the outer-room workers arrived with a tray of covered dishes. Once her companion had set up a small table at the empty center of the room, Osprey began to lay out the dishes and eating utensils she carried. Briar, who had just finished a tray, went to help.
“Take off the gloves and mask—I’ll give you a fresh set when you’re ready to start again,” Osprey murmured to Briar. “Don’t go near the worktables while you’re eating. You just cost Ibis and Nomi a copper astrel apiece. They were sure you wouldn’t last till noon. Fill yourself a plate and eat—you need it to stay fresh.”
Briar was happy to do as he was bid. He also filled a plate for Rosethorn. “You betting?” he asked, his voice audible only to Osprey.
She grinned at him. Briar liked her grin; it was wide and cheerful and sunny. “I have three copper crescents on you getting the gate between two and three. He hates interrupting to eat, even though he knows he must, so he’s testy for hours after.”
“Put me down for two copper creses around four,” Briar replied, straight-faced. “I’ll be tired of his fussing by then.”
“Can’t do it,” Osprey said. “The one that’s bet on can’t wager on himself.”
“All right.” Briar glanced at Peachleaf, who scribbled madly, trying to keep up with the murmured instructions Crane gave as he worked. “Two copper creses on Peachleaf by three. He keeps having to spell words for her when he’s giving her notes.”
“Two creses on Peachleaf at three. Right.” Osprey and her companion left.
Lunch reassured Briar a little. It gave him the crawls to think of the blue pox all around him, but the food was very good. Maybe even working for Crane was better than quarantine.
He made sure that Rosethorn ate. She had finished reading Crane’s notes and had arranged her counter the way she liked. Many of the articles—lenses, glass bottles, herbal pastes, a set of crystals—were things he’d never seen before. Briar had been so positive he’d inspected all she had, over the winter. If he’d missed these items, she was trickier than he’d ever suspected.
Briar returned to his desk, glad for the time away, and found that more trays had been added to the stack of those awaiting his attentions.
After his return, he saw that Crane was looking over his shoulder again. Several times Briar nearly told the man that if he’d wanted to be minded by a fidget, he’d have stayed at Urda’s House. Thinking about Ibis’s and Nomi’s bets, he held his tongue. He’d hate to make money for anyone who’d bet on his departure that day.
Perhaps it was relief, once Crane returned to his own labors. Perhaps it was the break for lunch. He might simply have adjusted to all the magic in his surroundings. Whatever the cause, soon after Crane’s retreat Briar saw a wink of silver in the wells on the tray in his hands.
Don’t get excited, he ordered himself, closing his eyes to rest them. It’s reflected magic or something. There’s glass enough here to blind a kid with reflections. He opened his eyes. If he’d seen magic in this tray, it was gone. Shaking his head, he added oils and powders, wrote out labels, clipped the lid to the tray, and then shelved it. When he went for the next tray, he stopped before the cabinet where they were stacked, his back to the glass walls, and took the lid from the topmost one. Gently he lowered the tray into his body’s shadow and looked down into it. A ghost of silver glided across the liquid in the third well; hints of it shone in several more. They faded. Briar whistled and carried the tray to his worktable.
Was he seeing magic in the blue pox?
“Asaia Bird-Winged, give me patience and give me strength,” announced Crane. “How often must I spell so common a term as ‘antipyretic’?”
“Couldn’t I just write ‘fever reducer’? squeaked Peachleaf.
“Whatever term will stop your inane questions,” Crane told her icily as the Hub clock chimed two. “Read back that last sentence.”