I stared at him a moment, then buried my nose in my tea. It was Haian tea. Same as if Zinchaer’d set it in my hands. What kind of help?
I… he… well, Surya had said… um. Any thought of what I truly needed went clean out of my head.
“I will read your healer’s notes –“ an okas speaking about reading something, so casually. I had to blink and smile a little. How quickly Arko was changing. “—but mostly people know right well enough what te need and what te’ll take.” He smiled and stroked a dog’s head with one hand, sipped his tea with the other, then set the cup down and folded both hands in his lap.
I still hesitated, not sure what to say. It seemed rude to just sit, trying to think. “Sorry, Tanifas… I just… I don’t… I’m… well…”
He reached over and grabbed up a towel… his towels for the dogs weren’t rags but good pieces. It was the Marble Palace. “Come on over here, lad, your hair is still dripping. Let me get you dry so you don’ catch cold.”
He had the towel spread over his lap and almost without considering that I shouldn’t, I moved over and laid my head on his knees. He took up the edges of the towel and gently, thoroughly, began working the water out of my hair and the extensions. I closed my eyes and almost purred as he worked the tips of his fingers down to the nape of my neck, driving cold and damp away in front of it.
Tanifas’s hands were almost hot on my scalp and I found myself relaxing as I sat, almost as much as if he’d laid me flat on his table.
“I grew up in the murderous, bloody, gilded turd that the Marble Palace was then,” I found myself telling him. “My sire did not see me as separate from himself and was a child in the body of a man. A child with no restraints. No constraints. Like a babe with razor knives and scalpels.”
“It sounds dangerous an’ ugly.”
I made a vague nodding motion that worked my temple against the towel. It felt so good, so safe. “It was. And you would have seen… you were with one of the Pasen households? The Governor of Haiu Menshir?”
“Tis so. Terrible place for any Arkan te be.” That was an understatement. My hair was dry as it could get from toweling and I felt no inclination to move. His hands lay on my head, not covering my ears at all but still holding me steady. Steadier than I had been since Gan and Fara left.
“So you know from that end…” I paused, swallowed. Great waves of emotion I couldn’t name shuddered through me and Tanifas didn’t interrupt, but held me steady. “I… have sexual problems and a tendency to punish myself for any sign that I’m heading toward my sire’s tastes. For the longest time I considered myself forzak because of something my father did to me… did to Chevenga and me both at the same time.”
I could feel his careful attention, it seemed, through those miraculous hands. The fingertips moved in small circles, his gloves fine enough that it was like he wore a second skin. An Arkan healer whose speciality is touch? How odd is that?
His fingers shifted slightly and it sent a shock through me, like the startlement that a sudden breaking wave sends through you as it slams into a stone pier at your feet. “So ye’re trying not to bounce back and forth ‘tween your father’s servin’ nobody -- makin’ a gross slob of himself, and not getting’ te be a dried up harsh old stick. Lookin’ for the middle way.”
It wasn’t a question. “Well, yes.”
“’S good. First step is seein’ it. Te Haians taught me it… an’ it’s really not much different then followin’ a version… a part of the holy teachin’ we were taught as pups. All te Gods seem te want is fer people te be calm ‘n happy, not grievin’ an miserable. I’d say it’s like healin’ an if a priest tries te tell yeh that yeh should punish more… either yerself or others, then that priest in’t a good one.”
“I…” I paused. “It sounds like you’re saying a good priest… is someone not out to use or control you…” I still needed to find a priest to talk to. Someone who, I realized, could work with Tanifas.
“I could be sayin’ it. M’ own priest here… he’s good. An’ he and I talk. But nobody should be alone… we’re too much part o’ te pack, ye see.”
I had to laugh. Here I was, like the two puppies, in his lap, being dried off and cleaned up after rolling in the mud. I didn’t have to look at anyone… I didn’t have to sit up straight and be respectable and presentable and ‘good enough’. I was good enough, just half lying here with my eyes closed, being petted into calmness. That must be part of his gift, to get people to trust him enough to put hands on. I just had to say that out loud.
His laugh was good and shook me all at the same time. “Ye’d be surprised. M’ teachers on Haiu Menshir taught thet most people like being tended to some… Most healers specializin’ in healin’ like this are heavy hands on…”
“Is that why you wear such thin gloves?” I didn’t have to open my eyes. I knew he was smiling.
“Yeh caught me. An' enough of you tryin’ te divert me from yerself, Minis. How much is it hurtin’ ye direct? Te gross shen yer sire did?”