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Always remember that they come from the desert.
Back in the days before Jehane had begun her own practice, in that time when her father could still talk to her, and teach, he had offered those words to her over and again, speaking of the ruling Asharites among whom they dwelt on sufferance, and labored -- as the scattered tribes of the Kindath did everywhere -- to create a small space in the world of safety and a measure of repose.
"But we have the desert in our own history, don't we?" she could remember asking once, the question thrown back as a challenge. She had never been an easy pupil, not for him, not for anyone.
"We passed through," Ishak had replied in the beautifully modulated voice. "We sojourned for a time, on our way. We were never truly a people of the dunes. They are. Even here in Al-Rassan, amid gardens and water and trees, the Star-born are never sure of the permanence of such things. They remain in their hearts what they were when they first accepted the teachings of Ashar among the sands. When you are in doubt as to how to understand one of them, remind yourself of this and your way will likely be made clear."
In those days, despite her fractiousness, Jehane's father's words had been as text and holy guide for her. On another occasion, after she had complained for the third time during a tedious morning preparing powders and infusions, Ishak had mildly cautioned that a doctor's life might often be dull, but was not invariably so, and there would be times when she found herself longing for quiet routine.
It was a day that would be remembered all her life by Jehane bet Ishak, the physician, for reasons over and above those of her fellow citizens in that proud, notoriously rebellious town: she lost her urine flask in the afternoon, and a part of her heart forever before the moons had set.
The flask, for reasons of family history, was not a trivial matter.
The day had begun at the weekly market by the Cartada Gate. just past sunrise, Jehane was in the booth by the fountain that had been her father's before her, in time to see the last of the farmers coming in from the countryside with their produce-laden mules. In a white linen robe beneath the physician's green and white awning, she settled in, cross-legged on her cushion, for a morning of seeing patients. Velaz hovered, as ever, behind her in the booth, ready to measure and dispense remedies as she requested them, and to ward off any difficulties a young woman might encounter in a place as tumultuous as the market. Trouble was unlikely, however; Jehane was well-known by now.
A morning at the Cartada Gate involved prescribing mostly for farmers from beyond the walls but there were also city servants, artisans, women bargaining for staples at the market and, not infrequently, those among the high-born too frugal to pay for a private visit, or too proud to be treated at home by one of the Kindath. Such patients never came in person; they would send a household woman bearing a urine flask for diagnosis, and sometimes a script spelled out by a scribe outlining symptoms and complaints.
Jehane's own urine flask, which had been her father's, was prominently visible on the counter beneath the awning. It was a family signature, an announcement. A magnificent example of the glassblower's art, the flask was etched with images of the two moons the Kindath worshipped and the Higher Stars of divination.
In some ways it was an object too beautiful for everyday use, given the "unglamorous function it was meant to serve. The flask had been made by an artisan in Lonza six years ago, commissioned by King Almalik of Cartada after Ishak had guided the midwives --- from the far side of the birthing screen -- through the difficult but successful delivery of Almalik's third son.
When the time had come for the delivery of a fourth, son, an even more difficult birth, but also, ultimately, a successful one, Ishak of Fezana, the celebrated Kindath physician, had been given a different, controversial gift by Cartada's king. A more generous offering in its way, but awareness of that did nothing to touch the core of bitterness Jehane felt to this day, four years after. It was not a bitterness that would pass; she knew that with certainty.
She gave a prescription for sleeplessness and another for stomach troubles. Several people stopped to buy her father's remedy for headache. It was a simple compound, though closely guarded, as all physicians' private mixtures were: cloves, myrrh and aloes. Jehane's mother was kept busy preparing that one all week long in the treatment rooms at the front of their home.
The morning passed. Velaz quietly and steadily filled clay pots and vials at the back of the booth as Jehane issued her direction. A flask of urine clear at the bottom but thin and pate at the top told its tale of chest congestion. Jehane prescribed fennel and told the woman to return the next week with another sample.
Ser Rezzoni of Sorenica, a sardonic man, had taught that the essence of the successful physician's practice lay in inducing patients to return. The dead ones, he'd noted, seldom did. Jehane could remember laughing; she had laughed often in those days, studying in far-off Batiara, before the fourth son of Cartada's king had been born.The Lions of Al-Rassan. Copyright © by Guy Gavriel Kay. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.