|Rikon > Stories of Rikon > A Small Healing|
A Small Healing
Sometimes when I'm really busy or rushed I misplace things.
Right now, I'm missing my knife.
It's a rather important knife. Not just some old kitchen or boot knife, but a very special knife. My favorite for this kind of job.
So here I am, in a dingy old farm house, with a little captive audience and a kid all cut up and leg crushed and bleeding his life out onto the table, and I'm wasting time rooting through my bag because I can't find my favorite knife.
I hate to give up on something like this, but sometimes you just have to lower your standards for the sake of a good show.
"Can I borrow a knife?" I ask as I turn towards the kid's mother with my hand held out.
She steps back like I threw something at her, and tangles her hands up in her apron.
"Look. Your boy's going to be ok. But I gotta have a knife for this."
She looks at me, then stares at her son's leg, pink and swollen where his britches have been torn away, and jaggy and bloody where the bone is sticking through.
"Will yah cut 'im?" the kid's father asks, sweat running down his temple.
"Only if I have to," I hadn't even thought of that possibility, "I need it for the tea." He shifts on his feet and looks at the mother, but she's still staring pale-faced at the kid's leg. I walk up to the rough table where they've laid him and take a close look at that leg, careful not to touch anything.
Cut a kid's leg? Why? To get at something inside or to put the bone back in? Yuk. And then what, sew him back up like I'm making a scabbard or something? I can't resist the shudder that passes across my shoulders and down my back. Peasant magics and peasant medicine always do that to me.
"No cutting. I don't do that. It's against the law to draw blood."
He turns and looks at me for awhile, something dark passing over his face. He finally tells his wife to fetch his "gutting" knife, and as she walks behind him to the back room, he keeps his face on me but I can tell his mind is elsewhere.
Drawing blood during a healing would land my ass in a Maesh prison for sure, and their damned temple guards would make sure I had an "accident" so they wouldn't have the mess of trying to convict a healer from a competing temple.
That's the way it's been ever since the city guilds started letting the Maesh tell them what to do and how to pray. "Magic's bad, magic's evil, but when their ass is on the line everyone's a Coedean."
Startled, I glance up to make sure the father didn't notice me talking under my breath. He did. I blush. He squints a little harder at me, like he's trying to figure something out. In the dim fire-light I can just make out the cornea of his eye go thick, the light, then thick again as he thinks about sounds, thinks about sights, thinks about thoughts and decisions.
Peasants are so easy to read, no magic necessary. He's remembering the Maesh priests telling him that anyone resorting to Coedeans would be punished, then seeing someone punished, then deciding to hire me anyway when his kid's life ended up on the line.
By the time the mother returns with the knife, the water on the fire has reached the boil. Her hair has been combed, and her apron's been changed. People do such weird stuff when they're not in control.
She hands me the knife, handle first, her face twisted in a grimace of disgust like she's handing me a death sentence.
Wimp. Afraid of a knife.
Boiling water goes in a wooden bowl, and more boiling water cleans the congealed fat off of the knife. The knife's sharp, with a good handle. A short thin blade made for cutting flesh.
I take another look at that leg. The Maesh cut the people they try to heal. The shudder hits me again.
I get everything on the narrow table where I need it, tucked alongside the kid's unconscious body.
The knife, the bowl, and the bag of leaves I introduce to their attendants; the Spirit, the Water, the Fire.
Muttering a little song my grandmother taught me, a small chant with no real power except its soothing effect on me, I pull the silverplant leaves out from the bag and start unrolling the thick oily green.
Lethal poison in the wrong doses, life saving balm if you know what to do, and if someone will watch.
Just a pinch mixed with tobacco or wine and it gives me just the right buzz for late night singing.
My hands already slick with the oil seeping out of the leaves' pores, I need to work fast. I can hear a slight hum in my ears and soon the floor will start to recede. I lay two of the smaller leaves on a slab of fresh pine and make quick work of them with the sharp knife, cutting them into small squares and leaving scores in the soft wood to catch the oil and mix it with the scent of pine.
The father's voice comes from across the room; "Steel to wood, let life flow."
He's startled by my sudden gaze. Superstitious, he makes a sign of Maesh across his face.
"Steel breaks the bonds of wood, and reveals the water which sustains life," I correct him. "You really aught to read more."
He frowns at me, his wife confused and glancing between the two of us. I turn back to my work. An illiterate farmer, he probably only knows what he's heard his priests saying in their gawd-damned parody of religion.
No understanding, no revelation for the Maesh. Only faith. Blind, trusting, and ignorant faith.
The oil from the leaves has soaked the tiny piece of wood, and the liquid is threatening to run onto the table. Delicately, like the slightest drop were death, I begin coaxing the liquid into the steaming water in the bowl. Each oily drop sets the surface to life, small rainbows gathering in the steam.
"Can you smell it?" I ask the father without looking up. "Can you hear it calling your soul?"
I aught not taunt him, but his fear galls me. His wife, I can understand. House-mother, child-rearer, bearer. She is as her kind should be.
But him, mister so damned strong in his faith that he doesn't need help with 'his' kid's leg. Mister let-the-Maesh-take-care-of-it until the priests take one look and start the last rights.
He leans back into the wall and breaths smaller, his aura smaller, his mind smaller.
Yes. His aura. The mixture of oily hands and rainbow fumes have started their work on me already. I can see him now, as his world knows him and he knows himself. Oranges of compassion, capable blues, and reds of strength. And her, yellow streaked intuition and violet sensitivity. Between them and their son run tendrils of concern, of love, of knowing and family.
Damn. A real loving family, and they're stuck with me for a savior.
Sometimes life just isn't fair.
The sap has run off now, all that remains is to begin. For this, the boy must wake up.
I reach for his body, arches of blues and white-streaked yellow where my hand closes the gap, and give him a hard shake. The leg lolls broken and loose, and his head flops uncontrolled. He moans and makes a grimace, but nothing more. Good. The earlier hypnotism and drugs are still working.
I lift his head and speak at his face; "Can you hear me?"
"What is his name?" Both mother and father stare at me like I'd asked to drink his blood. Damned Maesh. "I can't speak to his spirit if I don't know its name. Tell me or I leave now."
The mother stands stiffer, raises a hand then looks at it like she'd forgotten she had one, then looks at her man.
"Bran" he says. A simple name, easy to remember, easy to forget. I'd slept with a Bran once, or maybe a Bren. Under the leaf, it's sometimes so hard to say.
The father steps forward from the wall like he wants to talk about it. I think not. "If you speak his name, or mine, or interrupt me or even distract me for any reason, your son could die. At the least he will wake up again and feel the full pain of his accident."
They both stare at me, faces slack. Good, I've gotten their full attention. "We can do this together, but you must let me work through this undisturbed until I tell you that the worse is past."
The corona around the father's pupils changes size, ever so slightly, but its in the right direction and so he is resolved. The mother is still without boundaries, and might be a problem.
"Mother, I want you to put rosemary in a pot with water and put it on the fire. Do not let it boil and keep it stirred. The fumes will aid your son's journey." That should keep her suitably focused.
One last look around the room to make sure all is ready. Only the light from the fire and two wax candles to distract the dark. No spirits in the loft but those I invited, no spirits in the cellar but those who live there.
"It is time."
The mother is startled by my words, and clanks the pot with the wooden spoon. The spirits in the rafters think that's pretty funny. The spirits in the cellar don't like any of this, and jumped at the clank. If they get out of hand I might have to invite an arbitrator, but I think they'll keep in their place.
If only there had been time to take the boy to the temple. There, none of this would have been necessary. Invoke some of this, evoke some of that, and the kid's on his way. Here, I have to set everything up myself from scratch.
"I do this for the sake of the lad. I ask only assistance from those who watch..." Misunderstanding, the father steps forward, "I wasn't talking to you." Obediently, he steps back and the mother gives me such a look...
"Those who are friends to me, those who are friends to the boy, Bran, please attend me and guide my hands. See us through this night to the promise of the dawn." Really cheesy stuff, but I'm out of practice. If any of the priestesses had been to hear that, I'd be cleaning stables for a month.
"Coedea, Holy Mother," Damn. The father's making the sign of warding again. I can see his mind touching all of his hidden weapons in the room; under the table, behind the cupboard, behind the curtain by the door. They are all peasant's weapons, unworthy of my mind's touch.
"Holy Mother, I don't want to do this here, and I don't want to do this in this way, but this is where I am and this is what I'm doing. By my heart this is the right thing for me to do, and I want your blessing in this."
I pause for affect and effect. Neither was really expected, and neither happens.
Grandma always told me that if you don't receive a negative sign, figure it's a positive sign. Especially if you have an audience.
"Fire and water and spirit are the boundaries of this world, the stone footings of our lives. Your son, Bran, has suffered severely and you come to me asking for his release from pain. Do you accept that the boundaries which hold his pain also hold his life? Do you accept that release from pain may mean release from life? Do you, without hesitation or remorse, place his life in my hands to deal with as I can and as I please?"
Mother puts down the spoon and stands up, hands creeping to their hiding places in her apron. She looks at her son and then her man, confusion written all over her face. Could she have possibly not understood that what I'm about to do could kill as well as heal?
Father leans over and whispers in her ear, his hands joining hers in the tangle of apron. Then, in a voice choked by emotion; "I accept these things and place his hands in your life without remorse."
Interesting twist on the ritual, that. I'd never thought of it quite that way before.
I look hard at the mother; "You must both speak it. Do you agree that your man's oath is your own?"
She mumbles some prayer and the confusion and fear leave her face. Disturbing, this ability of the Maesh, to mutter a platitude and suddenly everything's all right.
"Before Maesh Himself I swear that the oath of my husband is my own oath, and I call Maesh Himself to our side to guide your hands to save Bran, to see us through."
Shit! The rafters definitely did not like that. Motionless, I wait for three breaths, four breaths, five breaths, and nothing resembling Maesh has appeared. Didn't think that he would, mind you, but you never know. His kind and my kind don't particularly get along, and inviting more than one date to a dance like this can be very, very embarrassing.
"The forms have been observed, the commitment is made." I raise my arms over my head in a long ceremonial sweep for effect, "We have begun."
I lean back over the boy's face; "Bran, can you hear me?" I hold the bowl of tea near his face so the heavy fumes fill his lungs. "I need to ask you a question, Bran, and for that you must wake a little. You will feel only a little pain, only a little fear. These things are good, for they say that you are still alive. Can you hear me?"
"Bran, I have to do something wonderful to your leg, but it will not take care of everything that you need. I would like to give you some tea which will help you feel better and help you with the things that I can not do. Do you understand?"
"Bran, do you know what silverplant is?"
"Witchleaf," gasps the father. Bran frowns and shakes his head; "No."
"Silverplant," I correct the father, "helps people who are sick or hurt, but only if the person who drinks it wants help and understands where the help comes from. It doesn't have to kill you. Do you understand?"
Only a frown. Only a scared feeling in his stomach that echoes out through his skin like a yellow candle.
"Bran, you are very weak and might die. If you drink the silverplant, you will have the strength to fight your injuries, but you might still die. I can not promise you that you will live, or that you will keep your leg, or that you will ever wake up again. All I can promise you is that if you drink the silverplant, I will drink it with you, and will stay with you, and will help you as you fight for your life.
"Do you want the silverplant?"
I wait for ten breaths, the room silent but for the small clinks of the pot being stirred, the raspy breathing of the child, the rustling of unseen things above and below.
The father steps forward with a hand out, gently.
"Bran," he kneels beside his son, takes his son's hand, "silverplant is only forbidden by the priests, not by Holy Word. There is nothing in the writings which forbids its use by those ..." a tear drops from his nose and strikes the floor, "for those who are near to death."
Bran squeezes his father's hand and nods.
I wish I were doing this in the temple. In the temple you've got everything all set up already and you get the family out of the room and work with just the injured. No mess, no tears. No pain.
Father returns to his place by the fire, "Do it." he says, then sits heavily on the hearth, face turned from me.
I manage to get most of the tea past Bran's lips, and finish the rest myself.
It is, as always, bitter and pungent. Like drinking tea made of tobacco leaves. The humming in my ears intensifies, and as I set the cup down I watch my body, now detached from my mind, carefully, slowly, with great precision place the cup perfectly on the perfect place on the table. Infinitely precise, the bottom of the cup finally settles on the table, and I can feel the grain of the wood through the skin of the cup. My hand, understanding this ritual better than my mind, returns to my side of its own volition in an indescribably graceful sweep.
"Now, Bran, we are going to take a little trip together." He nods and inhales deeply, his lungs filling with the odor of the tea, of his home, of his parents, holds it for a minute, then exhales all of the way. A slight spasm in his gut, and he is still. Laying without any movement at all.
"This is normal" I hear myself say to the parents. As the room begins to spin around my mind, I hope to Goddess that it really is.
[... to be continued ...]
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