He was used to being approach with airs of concern, but not amusement.
Ivanthe vaguely recognized Venther as the man who had winked earlier, but wasn't accustomed to the grin on his face. And right behind him was someone Ivanthe didn’t know at all: a reed-thin wisp of a man with short gray hair and a close-trimmed gray beard, who seemed both amused and curious.
“This is Resh. He’s Kieran’s uncle, trip doctor.”
with yet another sigh, Ivanthe got ready to be defensive again.
“No need for that, lad,” Resh chuckled, holding up a placating hand. “Not here to pry. Just here to see if you want your hand looked at by an actual doctor. And also this might shut Kieran up for both of us.”
Ivanthe blinked and tilted his head questioningly. Resh held up a jar that glowed golden in the firelight.
“Disinfectant,” Ivanthe chirped automatically.
Resh’s eyes arched. “Indeed. You got some on you already?”
“I… no. I just licked it a lot.”
“Ah, well, better than nothing I suppose.” He extended a hand. “May I?”
Not show me or give it. He was asking for permission.
Uneasily, Ivanthe offered his damaged hand. He jumped when those weathered fingers touched him, almost pulling away entirely as harsher memories stirred out of the darkness.
“Shh, hey, easy,” Resh murmured. “Just me, old Resh, ain’t gonna hurt you.”
“I can’t,” the boy breathed, pulling his hand to his chest and stepping away. “I’m sorry, I…”
“It’s alright, it’s alright,” Resh crooned, making no move to take the hand back. “That there’s your hand, I ain’t gotta touch it.”
Ivanthe swallowed down the beginning of tears. “I’m fine.”
“Sure are, I know it.” He let the boy stew for a moment, then asked gently, “You know how to make a poultice, boy?”
“I…” He swallowed again. “I’ve seen them made.”
Resh smiled softly, nodded, and pulled a small bag from his belt. “I’ll show you, then.”
He had a small fist-sized mortar and pestle, several pouches of herbs and some vials of water. He named each one as he poured it into the pestle––burdock, coltsfoot, boiled water, honey––and one by one ground a fine powder into existence. Poultice first, flat piece of cloth, but not so much it’ll run; just protect things. He talked through everything, but kept up the sort of tone that made it easy to imagine he was talking to himself.
He knew when to keep things to himself, Ivanthe came to know. Perhaps he had treated jumpy boys before. He didn’t ask for his hand again when the poultice was done.
Resh walked Ivanthe through putting it on with hand motions and gentle encouragement, giving a reassuring wink when it was finally secured over the cut.
“That should do you,” the old doctor said. “Didn’t look all that bad from what I saw, anyway. Just give it some space, let your other hand take up the work. You know the way of things.
Ivanthe nodded. “Yessir. Thank you, sir.”
“S’what I’m here for,” he chuckled. “Gave me an excuse to get off my ass. This trip’s been too quiet; a good coyote pack would put a few things on my to-do list. Oh, don’t look at me like that; you’re too smart to be as superstitious as this lot. See that poultice sticks fast and you’ll forget you ever had a cut.”
Resh turned to leave, and Ivanthe turned to unroll his sleeping pad. Tonight, at least, he would be left alone.
And the ghost of a dead doctor had been driven off for the moment.
- End -