61th Ymiden 719
When the storm finally had died down a profound silence had settled over the city. There hadn't been any sounds at all, or so it had felt to the people who had endured the chaos. The thunder and the sounds of falling trees and crashing houses had ceased. The shouting people and the screaming animals had fallen silent.
The floors in Sol’ange’s house had been full of injured people and Sol’ange herself had seemed even more tired than Ashling. Worried, Ashling had told her mother to go and get some sleep, because people would need here again, later. They couldn’t afford to let her work herself into a crash. Sol’ange had hesitated, but then she had nodded. She had gone to sleep and left it to Ashling and the helpers to tidy up a bit, clean the tools and organize them. They had been exhausted and even though their work had been easy compared to what they had been through it had been an ordeal. After this ... the helpers had slept. But, someone had to keep an eye on the injured. Ashling had drunk what was left of the strengthening drug that could keep people going for a longer time than what was natural. She had only been half-asleep the whole night.
Now it was the next morning. Reinforcements had arrived. Ashling had woken up feeling miserable and dizzy and Sol'ange had sent her home ...
The city was a disaster zone. Trees had fallen and roofs had flown. Buildings of weaker construction had turned into splinters and firewood. It was a sad and painful sight. Too tired to be able to react much, Ashling walked through the mess in silence. After a while, she saw her cottage at a distance. It was still standing, but a tree had fallen right in front of it. When she arrived she had to climb over it to reach the door. This done, she entered ... and found her house occupied by the ranger she had treated last night and loaned her key. She had given the Ydalir access to her house. They could use it as extra shelter for people working outdoors and for those who had lost their own homes.
“Get out,” he said in a stern voice.
He sat in the inner part of the big room. The shutters till covered the windows and the man hadn’t lit any lanterns so it was obscure in there. Ashling hadn’t seen him at once. When he spoke she took a quick step back. Her heart began to beat harder and she felt like she woke up from the exhausted state she had been in. She peered into the half-darkness and saw a shadow there, a shadow who came to his feet and walked toward her.
“I said get out!”
Ashling took one more step back and bumped into the door behind her. It opened a bit, with a low creaking sound. The daylight found its way into the room and showed Ashling what she was dealing with. It was the brave ranger of last night, but still, it was not. Not anymore. A couple of big red-orange eyes shone in his face and his skin tone had gone a bit blue. That colour in itself was nothing new to Ashling. She was half eídisi and had seen her own face in mirrors all her life. But, it was new to see it on a man who had looked like all other humans last time she saw him. Besides, she had never seen any human being with his kind of eyes before. He still wore the bandage she had put around his head before he had gone out to continue to work. The man was as tall and broad-shouldered as she remembered him. He wore the leather same leather jacket as last time she had seen him. It was the same man ... yet he wasn’t the same man at all.
“You’re in the wrong place,” he told her. “This is my cottage. I don’t want any trespassing. Get out or I’ll throw you out.”
It looked like he already was preparing to put his threat into action. His orange-red eyes were inhuman and too big and his brows were set in an expression that could only be called grim. The question that arose jammed in Ashling’s tired mind and left her speechless and unable to do anything. She stood there and stared. The red-eyed man grabbed her left upper arm. The grip was firm, the grip of a ranger who stops a person seems suspect, but without using unnecessary force. It didn’t hurt her. But she felt the strength in his hand and knew that the grip could easily become harder should she oppose him.
“Your ... wound ... under the bandage I mean ... it must be checked!” Intuition had put words in her mouth. She hadn’t known that she would say that.
The man towered over her, looking at her with his weird eyes. “You are that healer I spoke with yesterday evening,” he said at last. “So, you’re here to check up the ... wound? You must mistake me for someone else. I’m no wounded.”
“Yes, that’s me.” Ashling “The wound ... under the bandage on your head ... I put that bandage on you in the healer’s house, right?”
The conversation felt weird. In hindsight, it had been a bit weird last time she had spoken to him too. He had seemed confused and forgetful. She recalled how she’d had to remind him that he had the key and repeat the description of the cottage and the way there. It had all been so rushed. The man had been set on going out despite his injury and there had been so many people who needed help. Now, when she saw the changes he had undergone after he had left the situation she was in began to sink in for real. Her knees buckled. It wasn’t what Ashling would have wanted to happen, but her body was trembling and her knees gave.
It was a slow process, or so I felt. The red-eyed man caught her before she fell. After a moment of going neither here nor there, he eased her down to the floor and dropped her there. “Acting weak will not get you anywhere,” he informed her.
He seemed even taller now when she was sitting down. It was like looking up at a tower with red lights on the top. Ashling had to force herself to keep her voice steady when she answered. “I’m not acting anything. I’m only very tired after having given people medical aid all night long. One of them was you. You have a head injury. Don’t you recall?”
The moment she asked the question she realized what all signs pointed to. Loss of memory. It was not an unknown symptom when people were hit hard on their head.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
Silence. The man rested his weight on his right leg. Then he moved it to the left leg. He did this several times and moved his head a little bit looking to the sides before tilting it slightly.
“Well,” he said finally.
“You know my name. You know where I live. Don’t act dumb, because ...” He left the sentence hanging and seemed to peer more intensely at her with his huge and unnerving red eyes. He lifted both his arms in a gesture that would have seemed like a shrug and “no idea” if his palms had been turned upwards. But, they weren’t. Instead, the movement made him resemble a disturbed bird flapping its wings a bit. It was over in a trill. He crossed his arms over his chest, looking fierce and unreachable.
“You have forgotten, haven’t you?”
“I had a tough night with that storm and everything. I’m a bit tired, that’s all. I haven’t forgotten anything. I’ve only been a bit dizzy. Seems I got a bit too much booze. Just need to ... sober up. Like.”
Ashling doubted that. There was no smell of alcohol around him and he moved with excellent coordination. “A head injury can make people lose their memory, but it use to be a temporary thing,” she told him. “It’s also common to feel dizzy. You should let me have a look at your head. It's especially important as if you have felt groggy and find it hard to recall things. I’m a healer, you should do as I say. It’s for your own best.”
The man watched her. Trill after trill ticked past. Finally, he made up his mind. “All right. You can have a look at it then. “
“Good.” Ashling began to rise. Her legs were still a bit wobbly. She didn’t feel too well herself. But, now when he had agreed to let her inspect the injury she felt that she must do it immediately. “Please sit down on a chair.” She pointed to the table near the front windows where several chairs stood in their places.
The man shook his head. “I’m going to sit in my chair.” He turned around and walked over to the inner part of the room. It became clear that “his” chair was the comfortable upholstered wing chair in the innermost corner, a few steps from the bed. He sat down in it and waited. The light the half-open door let in didn’t reach that corner and Ashling sighed inwardly.
“I need light. I can’t see anything of you sit in there. Come here and sit at the table. I’m going to open the shutters so I can work.”
Silence. Trills ticked past again. Then he rose from the wing chair and went over to the table and sat on one of the wooden chairs. He closed his eyes when she opened the shutters and the daylight poured in. “Be quick.”
Ashling was careful and took off the bandage at a slow pace. She worked with light hands so she wouldn’t happen to touch the wound and cause him unnecessary pain. The wound beneath was like she remembered it. It was swollen and it had bled a bit, but it seemed clean and uncomplicated. She fetched a bottle of boiled water, a clean cloth and a new clean bandage in the medicine cabinet. “I’m going to wash it a bit and give you a new bandage. It’s important to keep the wound clean so you don’t get an infection in it.”
The man moved a bit on the chair, leaning slightly to one side and then to the other. Ashling told him to sit still. He didn’t, so she put her left palm against the unharmed side of his head so she could wash the wound without accidents. His hair was as soft as on a baby. It was soft and slick like silk or like the feathers of a bird ... which is also was. He had feathers instead of hair. Ashling almost jerked her hand away as she had burnt herself. But, she mustered the discipline she needed. A healer couldn’t shy away from anything physical, no matter if it was revolting or abnormal. She continued to clean the wound and then she dressed it with a new bandage.
The man kept his eyes closed all the time. She was grateful for that. Being stared at with huge red eyes wouldn’t have made her work easier. Besides, it gave her an opportunity to have a closer look at his hair and at his beard. It was as she feared. Like his hair, the beard consisted of downy feathers, like a bird’s plumage growing from a man’s face. In short, he had undergone sudden physical changes like nothing else she had ever seen. This was something more than a head injury and a temporary loss of memory. It was definitely not the “hangover” the man tried to explain it as. He was taking on the traits of a bird ... his eyes, she realized, looked like the eyes of an Eagle-owl.
Ashling was so tired after the stormy night and all the hard work she had done. To get this ordeal on top of it was hard for her to deal with. A monster had moved into her cottage and was trying to drive her out. Well, the man had been a ranger. He was not exactly a monster, but he was very unusual and weird. But, he was trying to take over her cottage. The thought made her feel on the verge of beginning to cry. She wanted to sleep and it was becoming acute.
“Are you done soon?” The monster asked in a not too friendly tone. It didn’t sound grateful for the medical care it had received.
She should put all things back in their right places, but she was about to faint. Nobody could continue to work one more day as she had done since last day and all night. The infusion had kept her up, but at this point, she had squeezed out her last energy. She knew it. Instinct made her stumble away in search of a soft place to faint on. Habit guided her steps. Then, unwittingly, she fell down on the bed in a sleep so deep that it was almost unconsciousness.
She didn’t hear the nameless “monster” curse and rant and threaten to pick her up and throw her out if she didn’t stop acting. She didn’t feel it take action. It lifted her up only to find itself carrying the limp body of a healer who had passed out for real. She didn’t feel when it dumped her on the bed again and didn’t hear it mutter upset about intruders.
It went to the windows and closed the shutters again. An enigmatic sense of duty forbade it to dump an unconscious woman on the ground outdoors. She was from Fensalir. If she had been a foreigner he would have done it. For sure! But, she wasn’t, so he couldn’t. It felt like it would be a failure to fulfil his mission.
It was dark in the cottage. Ashling slept like a dead. The red-eyed one settled in “his” wing chair again. That was where he had been sitting when the unwanted intruder had come and disturbed him. That was where he would sit until after dark. With a deep sigh, he leaned back against the backrest and slept.