The first daughter of the merchant - the last to leave the tent when Katherine began to cut the flesh off - showed Katherine to the other injured. Of course, she didn't know yet about the bet, as her father was still unconsciousness. It didn't take long to heal everyone. The other injuries were not half as serve as the leg of the second daughter. Still, there were some who wouldn't have healed seamlessly without her magic, so the people were actually quite thankful after they overcame the astonishment about her skill. That was one of the reasons she didn't dare to leave Hazel alone with the patients. Or else, who knew how big her cult would be already?
While doing her work, Katherine noticed that no-one seemed to be respectful of the merchant they claimed to be their leader. Instead, they all spoke highly of his wife with. It seemed like she was the real spiritual leader. The one who held them together. That matched what Katherine had seen so far. The wife hadn't been blinded by the gold. The merchant meanwhile acted far too careless, disregarding even the health of his daughter for money. Who would follow a person like that?
Beside the four daughters, the pair still had two sons, both of whom were dispatched to town for negotiations.
When Pete finally lead the two people to her, the merchant followed behind his wife with a timid and regretful face.
"Dear, are you sure you want to... ?", he couldn't even say it, so unbelievable was it to him. It was a matter concerning all of their lives, worse, all their wealth!
"Yes.", the wife resolutely answered without raising her voice. Then she looked at Katherine and her gaze turned warm. "Thank you for all you've done for us. My daughter wouldn't walk again if not for you. I am in your debt."
Katherine nodded, though she knew the woman hadn't ended yet. A 'thank you' surely wasn't the thing her husband didn't want her to say.
And right, Melissa continued. "I know you made a bet with my husband about the leadership of the caravan, and I want to honor that bet."
Her husband looked like he lost his soul. He never thought that he would lose, but the consequences now were dire. If not for his wife, he'd packed up instantly and left with his whole caravan, disregarding his promise. The girl before them may have helped them, but he couldn't loose all his money to her! Because that was what being a leader meant, right?
Melissa remained resolute, although her eyes were a bit swollen from the tears. She didn't want to stay in anyone's debt. "The problem arises with the specification. What does 'being a leader' mean to you? Do you really want to travel the lands with us or do you want the largest part of our income or...?"
She raised her hands in a questioning manner. This woman is really good, Katherine thought. Although it looked like she was prepared to give her everything she wanted and was still very affected by her daughter being healed, she still said 'largest part of the income', not all of it. She was already negotiating and limiting the loss her husband had caused.
Good that I set a higher prize, Katherine thought. Now I'll even look benevolent when I go down to what I really wanted. She knew, she had no means to punish them if they didn't follow up their words. So she needed to give them benefits. "Actually, I'm not asking for much for what I'm prepared to give back. As long as you are working under me, there will be no injury untreatable. Broken bones and life-threatening wounds will be healed in a few hours. Isn't that like gaining a second life? Furthermore, you are still free to manage how you travel, where to rest, where to sell your goods. I only want to set your general traveling direction. Additionally, I want you to collect information about every city, every political movement, rumors and everything else you can get while traveling and sent them to me with a messenger every few months. Hazel here, will meet them in town then.
About money: yes, I want half of your excess money. The other half of it will be yours still. However, this is under the premise, that I help you out when you're in a pit like right now. Pete", she called and the guard gave her back the bag of treasures she'd showed them in the tent.
Katherine took out two gold coins, and showed them to Melissa. "These should be enough to compensate for the loss you had while facing the bandits. They are my investment in you. Build up your caravan again to your former glory. If you meet any troubles, you can tell me through the messengers, and I will do all I can to help. However, if I need your help some time, you are obliged to help me, too."
Overwhelmed with all the information, Melissa blinked a few times. "This... doesn't seem so bad? It sounds more like a partnership than leadership, though." Although Melissa knew, Katherine gained more out of this than they did in long term, she had healed her daughter after all. It wasn't unbearable at all. Absolutely not what she expected. And in the end, the caravan really needed gold to built themselves up again badly. But there had to be some drawback! Or was the girl to naive?
Katherine smiled and tugged the gold coins into the other woman's hands. "Yes, something like a partnership. And as long as you follow these terms, there will never be a need to worry about your second daughters leg again."
As the last words sank in, Melissa looked up to her and paled. "Do you mean...?"
Katherine smiled beautifully. "I am glad you decided to honor the bet yourself. After all, I don't like to threaten people."
Melissa gulped. The girl obviously used magic to heal her daughters leg. Would the wound open up again if this girl decided her daughter wasn't worth the trouble anymore? Or had she tempered with the leg in another manner? Mages were dangerous people after all, and most of them were nobility to boot. Melissa decided, she would never try to breach the contract they made today. After all, the life of her daughter was at risk.
"To a good cooperation.", Katherine said and held out her hand.
"... yes.", Melissa answered slowly and took the hand. She wasn't sure anymore if this was really a good thing or a deal with a devil.
"Take a few days of rest, before setting out. I will inform you of your destination on Tuesday." In case the earl threw her out, this caravan was her save haven. In case he didn't, they were a new network to learn more about the Icelands. With a look to the husband, she reminded: "Don't try to flee, please. You all should know you can't."
Even if a mage wasn't nobility, most of them had connections to them because of the academy of magic. After all, birds of a feather flocked together. Especially if they were this different from all others feathers.
"Yes." After that reminder, Melissa decided that currying favor was all she could do for now, although she didn't like the threats. "Why don't we celebrate that with a hearty meal?"
"Why not?" Disregarding a cooperation partner was never a good idea. Besides, Katherine was hungry anyways.
With the help of the newly-healed, setting up dinner tables and cooking was done in no time. Jack and Pete lifted the heavy things, while Katherine wanted to help with the tablecloth and -ware. However, every time she reached for something, Hazel would intervene with a "Let me, respected leader!" and take her task away. In the end, she had nothing much to do than to enjoy meal and drinks later in the afternoon.
Although it was a bit early for dinner, Katherine didn't mind as they would still need to get back to the mansion before it was too dark to see the way. The two sons of the merchant-couple got back from town just in time for dinner and they had good news: some other merchants were willing to help them out with goods at a slightly lowered price because of their circ.u.mstances. The merchant, whose long name Katherine was too lazy to remember, was in ecstasy and promptly forgot all about the miserable things which happened prior.
In contrast, the sons were slummed down by the news that their caravan had become a wager and was lost to a stranger. It took a while for them to digest it, but Katherine noticed no hostility from them. Only helplessness and sadness when they looked at their unreasonable father.
"So you are able to heal people?", the second son, Kyle, asked Katherine curiously after handing her a bowl filled with soup. He was only a few years older than her and his brown hair had a red note to it. Showing her his hand, which had a bandage on it, he asked in a friendly tone: "Mind to show me after the meal?"
Katherine smiled. "If it's just a small wound, I can do it right now. It would only take a few seconds."
"Well, thank you then. Although it indeed is small, it's quite bothersome. And, you know, I've never seen a mage at work." His eyes sparkled while taking off the bandage. It really was a small wound, but strangely it wasn't a slash like a sword would make. Something much thinner had gone completely through the hand once. Katherine couldn't think of something that would cause this.
When Pete, who sat beside Katherine, saw this strange wound, his brows furrowed. Bandits they said? Since when did bandits use rapiers? Normally they would prefer rough swords, bows or normal sticks, as rapiers would cost too much. They were a sign of wealth, something nobility invented because it looked more elegant. And which land was famous for this kind of weapon? The Renat kingdom.
Pete's expression darkened. He needed to tell the earl about that later. But first, more information was needed. Leaning over, he asked the man: "How many bandits were there anyways that they dared to attack a twenty-five man strong caravan?"
"A bunch.", Kyle responded, quite unwilling to be bothered by someone else when he was about to see a mage in action.
Katherine, who knew that Pete would normally never ask questions, stilled, before deciding to help. Maybe Pete wanted to get information about the bandits so the earl could handle them more smoothly. "How many exactly? If it was just a bunch, why did you loose so much people?"
The eyes of the youth flickered with a deep pain, before he formed a wry smile. "Ten maybe. We aren't fighters. They were. Now, are you going to heal me?"
"Of course. I'm sorry.", Katherine hastily replied and touched the wound with her fingertips. A little light and a second later, it was gone.
"Fabulous!", Kyle exclaimed and examined his hand with amazement. "It's just gone! Really fast!"
After that, Kyle began questioning her about how her magic worked, where she came from and a bunch of other things. Although Katherine had to tell a few more lies, she wasn't really bothered by his curiosity. He was quite a nice guy.
His sisters, too, started some conversations with her, as well as some of the merchants she had healed. All in all, it was a fulfilling evening.