Priestess Mialle had told us how to find the leper village; it’s only an hour or two, three from Three Hills, on foot. We packed Donkey, fetched Dog, asked Aine and Lyse to take care of our house and our livestock, and left early in the morning. I don’t know whether this truly is the most fabulous summer in ages, or whether it only feels that way because I’m so in love, but… I don’t think I care. We enjoyed the walk, Dog enjoyed being out, the few people we met were friendly. The only fly in the soup was that we had Ervan with us. He had shown himself to be really good at making sweet stuff, and he was very much done with letting himself get fucked for money; and I’m sure that Raisse will be able to use him in the Palace Kitchens as pastry cook.
We found the path to the leper village without any trouble; it was marked, as is usual, by the shelf. That’s the place where people leave their misshapen (or sometimes just unwanted) babies… There was also a bell, which they can ring to tell the people in the village to come and collect their new neighbour. The night before, we’d been busy sewing up a lice and flea-proof pair of pants and shirt for me, and a cap to cover all my hair. I’m not afraid, but I dislike having creepy-crawlies on my body very much! The suit can be tightly closed at the neck, wrist and ankles with laces. Having donned the suit, I kissed Arni, who was going to stay with Donkey and Dog, rang the bell and went down the path.
The first person I met was a little girl. She looked about seven or eight years old, but the way she talked was more like a four or five year-old. She was friendly enough, asked me if the Gray Woman had sent me, and showed me her lesions, without me even asking about it. We arrived in the village together, where an older man and a slightly younger woman were waiting for me. She was with the Nameless; others in the village were unaligned. Both looked suspicious at me, maybe because of my clothes, but before I could say anything, little Leva said,
“Gramps! Mother Jerna! This is Hylti! She is a doctor from Three Hills!”
I nodded, and added, “I’m not a full doctor yet, not even a journeyman, but I have been trained in Turenay, and I’ve worked with the doctor there healing the people from another leper village, just like yours.”
The woman barked, “Turenay! That’s a pest-hole full of the Nameless! And the silver sickness cannot be healed!”
Well, that’s what most people are certain of, but I know the treatment, quite well, and even though I had never done it myself, I had assisted Doctor Cora. I answered, “I know it sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. I only came here to see how bad your situation was before going to get help — but if you dare, I can try to heal Leva here!”
Me and my big mouth…
Mother Jerna answered, “Little Leva? Before I let you touch our darling, you’ll have to prove yourself on me. I’m not going to let someone from the Nameless touch Leva!”
I swallowed… A small body is easier than a large body, and in a young patient the sickness hasn’t had as long to establish its refuges. But there it was, and I knew, deep inside, that Jerna wasn’t trying to go first, and take away Leva’s chance, no, she was offering herself to see if I was worth anything… So, I asked the people in the village to clean the table — there was a big one in the middle of the village square, where obviously everyone ate, and bring water and start boiling it.
Then I gave Arni my message: “Love, I’m going to try and heal two people. The village isn’t hostile, just really scared of the outside world. If I blink out, come and fetch me, I’ll have fainted.”
The older man, Aldan, he started asking me about Three Hills, and he barked a short laugh when I old him about Lord Faran’s taxation and rent extortion. “Hah! That’s the one advantage of being lepers… Nobody dares come here to collect rent! We don’t do so badly — there’s some fish in the river, our fields are fertile, and we have plenty of vegetables and cabbages. We even have our own potter. Bread and meat, that’s missing, but the Priestess, she is a holy woman, she brings us clothes once a year, and barrels of salted fish and sacks of grain.”
When I explained how the Priestess had told me how to get here, and how I’d been born with the braid myself, though not called to Naigha, they got a little bit friendlier, and offered me wine. I declined, asking for some hot water for tea instead.
Then the table was done; the water was boiling, and I asked Jerna to strip. “Everything, mum, to the last stitch. I’m going to wash you first, and maybe shave if there are lice or other vermin. Then I will have to cut you, which will be painful, but there won’t be blood. I will then force the sickness out; the gifted will be able to see what I’m doing. If I faint, my girlfriend will come down to help me, she’s waiting with our dog and donkey near the shelf. There will be pain, I’m afraid, but not so much that most people faint.”
I called on Anshen, though I already knew he was right there, and that he had confidence in me. I was doing his work, after all, caring for the lost, the discarded, the dispossesed, the ruined, the abandoned. Jerna was clean, and she must’ve seen the amazement in my eyes, for she said, “Thought I’d tolerate vermin on my body? For sure, some of us, some are filthy, and it takes hard work, day in day out to keep clean. But I’m Mother Jerna, I’m the one who cares for people when something goes wrong,…”
And Leva interrupted, “And she teaches us reading and writing and counting, and buries our dead. She hasn’t got a braid, but she’s almost our Priestess!”.
Which was all to the good. I noticed Leva scratching herself, though… But I made the shallow cut in the armpit I had seen Doctor Cora make, and I immediately put the right kind of semi-permeable seal on it. Not a drop of blood fell on the table or the ground, though the edge of my knife was red. That made people sit up and take notice!
Mother Jerna must’ve had the sickness for a decade or longer. The lesions on her skin were bad enough, but the sickness had taken up all the little hiding places where it thinks we cannot find it. I worked for an hour, two, maybe even three on her. Once I had set up the sifting seal and started forcing the blood to circulate, I could use my conscious mind to start healing the skin, the lesions, the wounds, the scratches, even. She had always been careful, and wasn’t missing any appendages, but there was plenty to work on. She retained consciousness, even bent over to see the silver sand falling on the ground, and getting absorbed by the soil.
“Does that pose a danger? Can that infect people?” she asked.
Good question! I didn’t know — but best be safe. “Not if you, after I’m done with you and Leva, you make a good big fire here on the spot.”
“Very well,” she said, drowsily. “I can see you’re doing well! Even the place where I cut my finger this morning, peeling onions, is healed! I didn’t know that was even possible!”
I smiled, and answered, “I’m probably going to be very good, once I’m a real doctor!”
“I can see that…”
The healing really took a toll on her, and I wonder whether Doctor Cora gives of her own strength to her patients to keep them from fainting, but on the other hand, the body expends as much power in healing as the doctor gives, and she must’ve been tired already. That, and suddenly being without pain, without wounds, without much more wrong with her than rheumatics.
In any case, she was done, and I asked some people to carry her to her bed. Then I asked Aldan, Leva’s grandfather, apparently, whether I had his permission to heal Leva. He nodded, but said, “Take a bit of rest first, girlie. How old are you? Twelve, thirteen? You must be tired.”
“Sixteen!” I answered, “and yes, I’m tired. I’d like some clean, boiling water to make some more tea for myself. But do I have your permission?”
“That you do. I saw Jerna’s wounds vanish under your hands! What are you — doing miracles in the names of the Gods?”
“In the Name of One of Them, yes…” I answered, sipping my tea. “One moment, sir, I need to tell my girlfriend what’s up.” And I told Arni that I had saved one patient, and was going to attempt another… Not because of pride, but because it’s a small girl, and the first one in the village to trust me.
This was much harder. I had to shave off all little Leva’s hair, and I had to heal her wounds first, and give her strength. Because she was such a frail little thing. I’m sure she has been starving before ending up here. Then I sat down, took her in my arms, and made the cuts. She squalled a little bit, but then looked at my face and said, “There’s not going to be any blood, is there?” I’d already healed her outer wounds, but in her the sickness was, contrary to my expectation, much stronger than in Jerna. It was like Jerna’s sickness was an old, tired mutt, and hers a young, vicious, rabid dog.
But, I was NOT going to give in! I did feel alone, though, as if I were trying to do all of this work by my lonesome… Where are the Gods when you need them? I’d always been so sure of Anshen being with me…
“Anshen!” I called out, “Anshen! Where the heck are you! I need you now!”
And he answered, telling me he’d been with me all the time, and I felt his strength. Now I fought with all our strength, and I finally managed to chase the filth out of her body completely! She had fallen asleep, and I was swaying myself, but I just had the strength to give her in the hands of her granddad, and telling him, “She’s clean, she’s well, she’s healed. Thank Anshen, for he has given me the strength to do this.”
“If you say so, but we’ll also say, ‘thank you Hylti!’,” he answered. “And you’re going to get help, you said?”
“Yes. I’m going to Valdis, and I’m going to ask my best friend in Valdis, Raisse, to send some of her doctors and their journeymen and nurses with me, and we’re going to come back, before the Feast of Mizran, and, Anshen willing, we will make all of you healthy again.”
He nodded, seriously, and at that moment, Leva woke up, a little, and stretched her hand out to me. I kissed it, and struggled to the path, which was quite steep, too!
When I met Arni again, it was already evening! We made camp then and there, and she made fire with her flint, and looked at me, and smiled softly.
“What is it,” I asked her, “is there something wrong?”
“No, not wrong…” she answered, and touched my cheek, “But you’ll never ever be able to exclaim that you’re not even a journeyman, not anymore!”