Anla and Al were sitting around the campfire in the early afternoon when they heard the sound of someone approaching their site loudly. Leaves crunched and branches snapped for a solid minute before they heard someone ask, “Hello?” in a voice that was just starting to intrude on concern.
Al blinked in surprise, but stood quickly and headed towards the voice. “This way!” he said before a young woman with a basket strapped to her back stepped around a copse of trees. Her walnut brown hair was braided and tucked into a knot at the nape of her neck with a few strands having fallen loose. She had large, blue eyes and a pleasing face marred by one imperfection: at some point in her life she’d had a disease that left her skin ravaged by red, spidery blotches and mountainous scarring that gathered on her cheeks.
She stood in front of the group and spoke with a quiet assuredness that came likely from rehearsal. “My name is Alistad and I’m an apprentice priestess of Zayine in Iascond. My order couldn’t spare any priests; there’s been an outbreak of the black measles in the city and they needed everyone they could spare on that task. My order begs your indulgence on the matter and hopes that I will provide the same care that anyone else would.”
“Well, Alistad,” Al said, leading her closer to the fire, “since those are the circumstances, we’re pleased that they sent anyone at all. It’s very generous.”
She gave a short bow, hanging her arms in front of her. “I am young, but I hope I’ll be able to cure your friend.”
“How did you get here so quickly?” he asked. “We weren’t expecting someone until tomorrow at the earliest.”
“I rode through the night in order to reach you. We’re very concerned over the spread of diseases, especially with an outbreak currently on our hands.” She looked around the site for a moment. “Is that him over there?” she asked, pointing towards a figure under a large bush.
“No, that’s Raulin. He was up with Telbarisk all night and is sleeping. Though,” Al said more lowly, “if you have a moment later on, he has some injuries that you might want to look at.”
“I’m sure I can spare the time after I help your friend…Telbarisk, you said?”
“Yes, he’s this way, closer to the fire.”
Alistad moved swiftly and dropped to her knees next to Tel. She still spoke quietly and pleasantly, but her questions were clipped and at a more rapid pace. “When did he fall ill? Where has he been recently? What can you tell me about the patient? What are his symptoms? How long has he lasted in each stage?”
Al gave her all the information he had, augmented by Anladet, who joined them. Alistad gave a thorough examination, remarking on symptoms that Al hadn’t caught, like excessively dry skin along the spine and bruising along the tightly boned areas, like the ribs and the tops of the feet.
She sat back after a moment and blew out her breath. “This doesn’t make sense,” she said to herself.
Al cleared his throat. “Is there anything I can assist with? I’m a wizard and have taken some basic medical courses.”
Anla shot him a look and he moved his fingertips down to placate her.
“Actually,” Alistad said, tucking the loose strands of her hair behind her ears, “I do work well when I have someone to sound off on. You don’t need to say anything, really, I just need to speak to someone.”
“I can do that,” he said, sitting across from her on Tel’s right side.
She looked up at him and began. “The patient is exhibiting several symptoms that point very strongly towards one of the pox classified infectious diseases. Since the patient didn’t display symptoms until perhaps two days ago, it either has a slow incubation or we don’t know about the break-out yet. I’m going to assume the first and guess the infection site to be Carvek. That still doesn’t help, since there are no known outbreaks there. This might, however, point to the disease being a deviation.”
“Oh, she’s good,” Raulin said behind her.
She startled and turned back to look at him. When she turned back to face Al a few moments later, her cheeks were a vivid pink made only deeper by the blotches on her cheeks. She dropped her eyes for a moment, then looked up again. “The patient…the patient…is confusing.”
“Would it help if I pointed out that he’s a grivven?” Al asked.
Alistad rocked back on her heels for a moment, then began blinking quickly. “The patient…the patient is a grivven, who might not have the same immunities to Ghenian diseases that humans do. Therefore…the patient has potentially any disease that any Ghenian may have.” She folded her hands and looked down, taking ragged breaths for a moment. She finally looked up sharply. “He has Brigon’s Disease.”
Al grinned. “That’s exactly what I came up with! My sister had it when she was a baby, though not nearly as badly as Tel has it.”
Instead of looking pleased, Alistad’s shoulders slumped and she frowned, shaking her head. “I should have known. The spots on the arms and legs, the slapped cheeks, the high fever…” She twisted behind her to drag her basket closer and began rummaging inside. She pulled out linen bags of herbs, mixed potions, tongs, and a tin. “May I borrow your fire? And water?”
“Absolutely,” Al said, grabbing her basket and following her, preparing to offer assistance should she need anything.
Raulin was eating a hunk of bread with warmed fruit slices on top when Alistad sat in front of him with her basket. She sat on her ankles, as she had when she was diagnosing Tel, and looked anywhere but his eyes. “May I help you?” he asked.
“It’s the other way around. I was told you needed care as well. May I please see your wounds?”
He’d have to thank Anla later. He unlaced his tunic and pulled it over his head. “I think I had a concussion a few days ago, but it seems to be fine now. There are no lingering issues. I have a few light scratches here,” he said, pointing to various places on his arms and torso.” My main concern is this,” he said, pointing to his shoulder. “I’ve been trying to keep it clean, but it still seems infected.”
Alistad sat with her hands frozen in front of her. She said nothing for a few moments. It was when Raulin saw her face, beneath the blemishes, that he realized she was blushing furiously. He wondered if she was scared. He sometimes forgot how frightening the mask was and what it meant to some people.
He spoke softly. “How is Telbarisk doing? What do you think is wrong with him?”
She snapped out of her trance. “Um, he has Brigon’s Disease. It’s advanced, but I think he’ll come through. I have Alpine monitoring his medicine, which should alleviate most of the symptoms.”
“That’s great to hear. Thank you so much for coming out here. We really do appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, bowing her head at the neck. “Please tell me how you came across your laceration.”
Raulin remembered a solid piece of advice he’d had use of from time to time: never lie to the man healing you. Oftentimes they were under an oath of privacy, but even still, lying only made things more difficult for the doctor, thus making things difficult for you in the long run. “I was in a fight. My opponent hit me with a sword through my clothes, like this,” he said as he chopped the other shoulder and pulled forward.
She moved to his left and began looking at his laceration, poking it and twisting the skin. He made no noise, though it was fairly painful. When she was finished, she asked, “Do you like your tea black or sweetened?”
“Black- oh, is that a metaphor?”
“Still the same, then. Is it bad?”
“Not totally. There’s some good with the bad. The wound is fairly straightforward, structurally, but I will need to debride it before I suture it.”
“Will that be painful?”
“Relatively. I need to cut out the dead tissue, so it’s a rewounding of sorts. If you have anything to numb the pain, such as liquor, then I’d suggest you’d take it before I begin.”
Raulin shook his head. “I’m forbidden from drinking strong drinks.”
“Then I’ll give you something to numb the skin around the wound, though it won’t be as effective.”
“That will be fine.”
“And I’m fairly certain you’ll scar from it. Even if you had sought immediate medical attention…”
Raulin laughed lightly. “I’ll just add it to the collection.”
Not surprisingly, he had quite a few scars. A profession like his was sure to take its price in blood and skin. He had found that some women seemed drawn in by a man who could announce a mysterious past without words. The stories that accompanied them over the years had grown more outlandish. Saving women, escaping dangerous quests, stories like that. In reality, most were either boring tales of clumsiness or memories he wish he didn’t have. Arvarikor wasn’t known as a place of kindness.
Alistad returned after a few minutes at the fire with boiled water, a heated needle, and everything else she needed. After cleaning the wound, she handed two ingredients to Raulin: a grease and a powder. “I need you to mix those two together with your fingers and apply them around the wound. It will numb the area and your fingers, so I can’t touch it.”
“Yes, it would be a bad idea for the person sewing me up to have no feeling in her fingers.”
She began to cut into the wound gently, then applied more pressure as she scraped the old tissue away. Raulin sucked in his breath through his nose and let it out through a tiny hole in his lips, his cheeks blowing out. “I suppose this is a bad time to ask, but does it bother you that I’m a trirec?”
She wiped her small knife on a cloth, removing the gore. “I am impartial.”
“But people have opinions. I’d just like to know if you’re making this worse because of my profession or it’s really supposed to hurt this much.”
Alistad cracked a smile at his joke. “I understand that you’re an agent of death while I’m an agent of life. And it seems that we would be natural enemies, if we were looking at it that way. But, I like to see everyone in the same way: as people who need help, even if you make my job harder.”
“I appreciate that,” he said.
She held up a lens to his wound, taking a little more away before picking up her needle and catgut. “This shouldn’t hurt as badly, due to the unguent.” Alistad looked up at him for a moment, then took a deep breath. Her hands were shaking.
“You’re doing a great job,” Raulin said. “Where do you practice?”
She shook her head. “I’m still an apprentice priestess.”
The match was touched to the wick in Raulin’s mind. It explained a lot. “Just an apprentice? I thought you were a doctor!”
Her eyes flicked up at his quickly. “Don’t patronize me,” she said, then added, “Please.”
“No, I wasn’t patronizing you. I’m honestly surprised. You have a great knowledge in your field, you diagnosed my friend quickly, and you’re doing some advanced techniques. You’re beyond apprenticeship, in my opinion.”
She popped the needle in the edge of the skin and began sewing. It wasn’t without pain, but it felt dulled enough for him to tolerate it. “Alistad, what do you plan on doing once you attain priesthood?”
“I don’t know,” she said, pulling the thread taught. “There are a few possibilities. I’d like to travel to places that need help, especially to study different herbs and medicines. I want to set up my own business some day, but it’s not easy, being a woman and wanting to be in charge. I suppose I’ll stay at the temple until I feel I’m ready.”
“That’s not a bad thing, learning all you can. The only problem would be telling yourself you’re never ready.”
She tied a few more stitches and snipped the ends with her scissors. “Use the rest of the unguent if it gets too painful. I will give you another unguent to promote healing; you are to use all of it, on your other wounds, but most importantly on this one. And I’d like you to surprise me by taking it easy on your shoulder.”
Raulin laughed, causing Alistad to crack a smile. “Well, I’ll do what I can.”
They both rose, Raulin putting his tunic on gently. They walked over to where Anla was near Telbarisk. “Your stitches should dissolve on their own, but you should get them removed to avoid possible infection. Call on me in Iascond when you arrive.”
“I would if we were headed that way. We’ll be headed up to Ashven next.”
She eyed him for a long moment. “There are a few temples there that can provide the same treatment.” Al walked over with the vial held in tongs. “Thank you, Alpine,” she said, testing the glass before taking the vial and stoppering it with a hunk of wax. “This is three doses. Give it to him every six to eight hours. It’s important that you don’t skip a dosage or give it to him too early, or else it won’t work.”
She held up several other vials, packets, and jars and explained in detail what they were and when to use them. “The most important medicine is the first one.” She stood, brushing off her hands and skirt.
“Thank you, Alistad. What do we owe you?” Raulin asked.
She began to gather her items. “I’m not a full-fledged priestess, so there are no set prices. I received the gold from the boy, so I consider the donation to the temple fulfilled.”
“Here,” he said, placing ten silver into her hands. “Spend what you want on yourself. Save whatever you want on your future. Whatever is leftover, make it an additional donation. If I may suggest, though, whatever you spend on your future will be considered a great donation towards the church of Zayine.”
Alistad gave a bow, her hands in front of her. “Thank you. I hope you heal well and your friend is cured.”