The Return of a Strange Ranger
It’s after midnight. Ashling’s stormtouched ex-patient Nathon has returned after several seasons in the wilderness. He is injured and weak and Ashling is about to do her duty as a healer. Her dog Silver hates the intruder with a passion. The dog growls all the time. in the corner where Ashling has tied him.
“Right ...” Ashling steeled herself. Nathon had said that he was injured on the chest and in the neck, on the arm and even on the back. She had to put in the effort to not show the worry she felt. “Can you take off your shirt? Or should I do it?”
“You can do it.” The dark glasses, the assistive she had made a glassmaker craft for the light-sensitive stormtouched, made it impossible to read his gaze. She didn’t even know if Nathon was looking at her or if he had shut his red owl eyes behind the protecting glass lenses.
Compliance. A bad sign. It told her that he might find it painful to move his arms and shoulders or even be unable to do it. By the time she had become better and better at reading those small signs of things, the patients didn’t tell her. Ashling didn’t say that. She nodded, opened the buckle on the cloak and put the garment on a hook on the wall. She had never before seen Nathon wear a cloak. He used to keep to hunter gear of leather. But, now he wore no jacket, only a shirt full of telltale rust-red blotches ... blood.
Ashling almost winced at the sight. She was an experienced healer but she knew more about herbalism than about surgery. Having to sew was always an ordeal to her. She knew that she ought to learn more about it and become better. Yes. But, she tended to keep to smaller jobs and let her mother do the more demanding surgery. This wouldn’t be an option now.
“I’m going to remove the shirt,” she said, beginning to undo the buttons. A problem appeared almost at once. Coagulated blood ad glued parts of the fabric to Nathon's. It told her that whatever had happened it must have been a while ago. She wondered how long distance he had walked and how long time it had taken. He couldn’t have been very far away from Fensalir when he had gained the injuries...but it must still have been a long walk.
“I’ll have to use water to separate the shirt from the wounds. I have bottled water, boiled and clean, but cold. But it can wait a bit. I want to have look at your neck.”
She took one of the lanterns and brought it closer to Nathon. To her relief, she saw no injuries to the veins ... there was not even a scratch on his throat. It seemed like the man had added a bit when he had described his wounds. Running her fingertips over the skin she felt that it was as whole as it looked. But, when she followed the jaw up to one ear, Nathon reacted by pulling away from her. Ashling knew why. There was blood on her fingers. The injuries he had spoken of was on the back of his neck, not near the veins.
Ashling hoped it meant that she would have time to work with this in a somewhat planned manner. It would be easier than dealing with an emergency case. Keeping calm, she went to fetch the bottled clean water. On the way there, she also put wood on the embers in the fireplace and put a tripod and a kettle of water over it. It could be good to have more water, later.
Back at the table where Nathon sat, being unnaturally docile, she opened one of the bottles. She had a premade painkiller infusion on a shelf and decided to add some of it to the cold water before using it. This done she fetched clean cloths and bandages from the cupboard she kept them in. Although she used to work at the healing house, she kept her own (smaller) store of healing essentials at home. You never knew when people would come calling at her home instead of at her workplace. It was better to be prepared than to not be able to help people.
“I added a painkiller infusion to the water. It’s what I can do, for now. You will get something stronger to drink, later, but at the moment I need you to sit upright.”
She got no answer so she began at the procedure of dissolving the dried blood and separating the shirt fabric from the body beneath it. The work was a slow and unpleasant affair. She wetted a cloth, held it to the fabric and waited for the water to soften up the blood. Then she could pull the shirt away from the places where it had been stuck. Once in a while, she took a new cloth and new water. Eventually, she managed to remove the blood-soaked garment.
She put it in a bucket and poured cold water on it, ordinary water, not boiled. This gave her a chance to look way from Nathon. She shut her eyes and let her face show how bad she felt about what she had found beneath the shirt. She allowed herself this respite only for a trill. Then she composed and kept a straight face again. When she turned back to Nathon she showed no sign of nausea. She was all the disciplined, professional healer she had to be.
Rows of parallel gushes crossed the man’s body, on his chest and arms and on his back. And on the sides and back of his neck there were marks that looked like...teeth marks. The injuries didn’t look like anything she had seen before. The exception was when angry cats had used their claws on people's hands. Those wounds had been much smaller.
“I will wash the wounds, for a start, so I can see what needs to be sewn ...” Oh Myrkvior, there seemed to be so much sewing to do that she felt like her knees would buckle. They didn’t though. Ashling would cope with this, somehow.
She fetched more cold but clean water, tending to the now lively fire in passing by. In addition to the lighter painkiller infusion, she opened a bottle of herbal tincture based on alcohol. The latter was good for avoiding infections in wounds as well as for dampening pain. Her mother had made it so Ashling trusted it.
There was more. She lined up surgery tools and bandages on the table. Compresses. Herbal salve. And, don’t forget, a flask of the strong liquor named Forest Star they distilled up in Juniper Hills.
Her dog Silver had exhausted himself. He had been barking and growling and fighting against the leash until he had to lie down on the floor and just glare. As the intruder hadn’t done anything to attack Ashling the dog began to calm down a bit.
“While I work you can tell me what happened,” she suggested. “It will give you something else to focus on than the pain. You can have a glass of Forest Star too, only a small glass for a start. It can dampen your ability to feel pain.” She poured the drink without waiting for an answer. As she was from Fensalir (and so was Nathon) she took it for granted that he would want it. She wasn’t mistaken. The stormtouched downed the liquor in one fast swallow. It didn’t bother Ashling as it was the usual way to drink it.
And Tristan? Her betrothed was so elegant and so refined. She couldn’t imagine him drinking the Fensalir way. But, he was in Raelia. She was here, now, dealing with unexpected work after midnight. She couldn’t care about elegance at the moment.
And so, she cleaned the wounds while she listened to what Nathon told her. There had been a “small conflict” with other stormtouched. An arrogant hunter with lynx traits had turned up in Ashan. He was one of those Raelia dwellers gone stormtouched, not a good old Fensalir boy. The leadership had been contested. Not that the stormtouched living in the wilds had one single leader. They were too different for that. But, a kind of power balance had eventually been established. Nobody was interested in changing it. Nobody wanted a “chief” to come and unite them under the leadership of one bloody Raelian cat! The negotiations hadn’t gone “Kitty’s” way. The wolf-trait folks had bawled it out.
“They needed no cat-person to come and play games with them.”
So, the Raelian chief aspirant had turned their persuasion efforts on those with bird-traits. “Owl” (Nathon) wasn’t the kind who would have it. He operated alone thank you very much. He was his own man, a lone ranger of the night minding his own business. That newcomer, the lynx-trait man, had been a very difficult person in Nathon’s opinion.
“Lynxie” wasn’t straightforward, like other people were. Instead, he had pretended to feel unaffected when the others turned his ideas down. He had spent a lot of time grooming himself (obsessed with cleanliness, he was). But, the calm style had only been deception. The man was the vengeful kind who bides their time until they can do a surprise attack. He had waited for an opportunity. Then he had pounced- from behind, like a sly coward, what else could you expect of a Raelian who had traits of a cat.
“I HATE cats. We should kill them all before they spread like rabbits all over Melrath!” Nathon groaned that out when Ashling poured some of the Forest Star over his back and the alcohol stung in the wounds. At this, the dog Silver raised his head and stared silently at the stormtouched with renewed interest.
Nathon continued, annoyed now. “What the ... was that necessary? Wasting good liquor that way?”
“I’m the healer. I know what I do. You have injuries all over your body. The wounds aren’t deep but they are many. The risk for infection in at least one of them is high. The alcohol is a must.”
Ashling felt that it might be best to not say anything about the man with the lynx traits she had directed to the forest around Fensalir. She regretted it now. It would have been enough to treat that one and leave him to his own devices. It had been a tricky situation though. Done was done.
“So, he left?” she asked.
“I wasn’t the only one who got wounded.” Nathon’s smug tone spoke volumes.