(Chronicles of the Warlands)
by Elizabeth Vaughan
“Will he lose the leg?” Joden was standing above me.
I looked up, noticing for the first time that Joden didn’t seem to have a hurt on him. But my eyes were drawn back to the gaping wound. I worried my lip, then spoke. “I don’t know.”
The men around us murmured, but I had no time to fuss with them. “We’ll start with the cleansing.” I turned to my supplies, and dug out the bottles and cloths that I needed. “It is going to hurt. I’ve warned the guards. But I need your help to hold him down.”
Joden sank to his knees next to me but made no move to help. “I wished for something to sing of, and the elements answered.” His tone was one of sorrow. “It would have been better to have granted him mercy and be done.”
The men around me recoiled. “You failed to give him mercy?” Rafe asked, hushed, his eyes wide.
I jerked my head up. Joden’s face was haggard and looked gray in the light. There had been tales of this practice, of the Warlord’s men killing their own on the field, but I had not believed. I rose on my knees, glared at them all, then jabbed Joden in the chest with my finger, drawing his attention. “You will not. To come this far, only to have you ki—.” I could not finish that word. “No. I will not have it so.”
He considered me, and seemed to laugh behind the pain in his eyes. “You think to save him? And the leg?”
“I think to try.” I glared at him. “I think to hope.”
He huffed again, looking at my small finger in the center of his broad chest, but nodded slowly. “We will try, healer.” The unfamiliar word caught on his tongue. “We will hope.”
I sat back on my heels. He gestured to some of the others. “It will take more than me to hold him, though. He is a strong one, make no mistake.” Three other men approached. Each, with Rafe, Prest and Joden, settled down, and took a hold. I moved closer and grabbed up the bandages.
The men tensed. Joden frowned at me, then muttered something about chants under his breath.
Rafe snorted. “She uses no spells, Joden. No chants to the elements.”
“No?” He sounded slightly disappointed.
I ignored the comments, and went to work. We were fine for about three breaths. I had even convinced myself that the orchid root would let him sleep through it. But as I spread the wound to scour deeply, he started to thrash under our hands.
“No! No!” His strong voice rang out, and he bucked up, trying to throw us off. Thanks to the Goddess I had large men to aid me this time. The apprentices would have been flung off in a heartbeat.
More help here. Now.” Joden’s quiet command was obeyed and more men moved our way. Joden gave up his position to kneel by the man’s head. He placed his large hands on the broad shoulders. “Simus, you’re hurt. We’re tending it. Lie still.”
Simus did not see it that way. “Warriors! To me!”
I was glad that I had warned the guards, for the man had a voice like thunder. I worked as quickly as I could, fearing to cause more injury if I went too fast. It had to be cleaned, and better that I did it right the first time than to have to do it again.
“Joden!” Simus cried out as he writhed below us.
“I am here.” Joden put his head down by the other’s ear. “I am here. Hold on, my friend.” He glared at me. “Hurry.”
I ignored him.
Prest had both hands and his full body weight pressed on the man’s forearm. “We could burn it.”
“Shut up.” I snarled.
Simus howled and arched his back. I sat back on my heels as they wrestled him flat. Out of the comer of my eye, I could see the others watching us with looks of horror.
“Why not burn it?” Joden asked. He had moved his hands along side Simus’s head, and his thumbs were stroking his temples. The big man settled down and I doubled my efforts.
“Burning it will mean deep scarring.” I tried to think of the right words. “He may not walk. May not be able to ride.”
Joden grunted his understanding.
Finally the wound was cleansed. I bound the leg as tight as I dared, using fresh bandages, then pulled back, surveying my work. My audience looked as well.
Joden frowned. “You have not tied it.”
“No.” I glanced at him. “The wound must heal open. If I tie it, stitch it, it could…” I shook my head in frustration. “Sour. Go bad.”
“Putrefy.” Rafe had come up behind me.
Well that was extreme but I agreed with the translation.
Joden seemed to understand as he watched Simus. Now that we were finished, he had fallen into an uneasy sleep. I reached for fresh water to bathe his face, only to see my hands tremble in front of me.
“No.” Joden had risen and was standing next to me. He lowered his hand and held it out. “We can look to him now.”
I nodded, and grasped his hand, letting him pull me up. My legs were numb under me and I staggered a bit to the table where I had left my basket. The sun had fallen while we worked, and the tent was darker. The bathing had finished, and I could see that the men were feeling better as a result.
Certainly, it smelled better.
I found the jar of fever’s foe and returned to kneel again by Joden. Simus seemed to be resting easier, his breathing a little slower and deeper.
Joden rumbled at me. “My thanks.”
I smiled. “Do you need tending?”
His face seemed to close off. “No. I am not hurt.”
Which was when the horn for the change of the guard sounded. I had overstayed my time.
“Joden, take this.” I put the jar in his hand. Joden looked inside at the thick brown paste. “Cover your fingertip with the paste,” I dipped my finger in to show him. “Then put your finger in his mouth. Do this every hour.” I opened Simus’s mouth and put my finger inside, spreading the medicine on the roof of his mouth. “It will fight the fever.”
He listened and watched, absorbing the information. “Will you return?”
“Yes. Tomorrow.” I stood again, and dusted off my trous. “Prest has the orchid root. Use it if he becomes restless. But only two swallows and only once more this night. You can dose him again after sunrise if he needs it.”
Behind me, I could hear the guard changing. They were calling for the tent sides to be dropped, and I heard my name as well. It sounded like Arneath. I hoped not.
My patient sighed and seemed to relax a bit. Prest continued to bathe his face and arms. I reached down for the bloody cloak and the cloths I had used for the cleaning, and bundled them together. They could be boiled and used again. As I did so, I felt something cold and smooth under my hand. Through the fading light, I looked closer.
It was an onyx brooch, a large fierce cat poised in mid-spring, with yellow eyes that glared in defiance. It seemed to gleam with its own inner light. Especially the eyes. My own eyes widened as my poor tired brain took it in. I knew what the brooch meant. This man, my patient, was a general, a leader in the Warlord’s army. Goddess. Xymund would kill him.
My eyes darted to Joden’s. His eyes filled with consternation at my knowledge, then narrowed. His hand clenched at his side, as if looking for the handle of a dagger. If a weapon had been at hand, I am not sure I would have left the tent alive. He opened his mouth to speak as the guards approached from behind.