It is after midnight in Ashling's cottage in Fensalir. 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 patient has been fighting with another storm-touched. That one is a Raelian with lynx-traits (whom Ashling had been dumb enough to send to him). Nathon, not being mister nice, prides himself, for not being the only one who got injured...
“So, he’s out there in the wilderness, wounded and with no healer to turn to? Is that what you mean?” Ashling could hear that the dislike she felt coloured her voice a bit.
“Who cares. He’s a rotten devious cat-person. From Raelia too. Acting like he finds himself obliged to step in and play Jarl of the Stormtouched. Nobody wants him around! ” If Nathon had noticed her reproachful tone he didn't seem to care about it.
Silver barked only one time and in his normal dog voice. He had stopped snarling. It seemed like he was getting accustomed to Nathon. Now when he had seen Ashling act like the stormtouched was a friend, Silver would do as his beloved owner did.
A silence followed upon the woof.
Nathon and Silver looked at each other. The hostilities seemed over. Ashling felt relieved to see that. It would make everything easier. The dog's growling had been an extra stress factor for her.
She felt like she now had double reasons to regret directing the Raelian to the Fensalir forest. Why had she imagined that the man with the lynx-traits and Nathon with his owl-traits would get along? It must have been the mead she had been drinking at the time! It had been during the hedonistic celebrations in Cylus. This was an explanation, but not an excuse. She had known how wayward Nathon was. She had seen what a sly power-schemer that lynx-treat man was. But, she hadn't thought of them as individuals. She had seen them as representatives for stormtouched as a category.
It had been dumb to make them meet.
I should have realized that it would come to this. They are two lone hunters with very different storm-touch traits. They fell upon each other instead of bonding over the fate they share. None of them is a peaceful kind. They aren’t among those who settle down at Lake Svariella to live in harmony and sing and dance. What was I thinking ...
Ashling’s insight in psychology had increased a little bit at the expense of two wounded people. They seemed to have come out as arch enemies from the meeting she had suggested. One of them had found his way to a healer as he knew the terrain and knew where to find her. The other was still out there, with nobody to patch them up. This was what benevolence could lead to when it wasn’t paired with in-depth knowledge. She understood that now. But, it was a bitter insight and it gave her no happiness.
At least she knew her ex-patient well enough to know what would make him speak. “Nathon. How wounded is he? I take I you didn’t manage to do much damage to him. You seem to be the one who got beaten up - or clawed up - and lost the brawl.”
“Lost? Me? What are you... I hacked him up a bit. I aimed for his eyes. I couldn’t see if I hit. Alas. There was so much blood. Anyway, he didn’t continue fighting. They dragged him away before I had time to finish...and then when I woke up, they told me he had left. Told me to seek out that healer I know. Yeah. That’s all. ”
For a moment, Ashling almost lost her self-control and poured all the Forest Star over Nathon. (The Forest Start was a strong Fensalir liquor.) But, in the last trill, she got hold of herself and abstained. Instead, she stayed silent and continued the work. A bad memory helped her keep up the discipline. She had given in to anger against a patient one time last arc. Afterwards, she had felt rotten. Her surgery on the face of the Ragnari soldier had been of bad quality. Her limited experience in surgery had not been the only reason for doing a bad job. Ashling's anger at the Ragnari due their abduction of stormtouched had affected her. She knew, deep down, that it had been wrong. She ought to have tried harder and put in more effort. She was not going to repeat the mistake. Especially not now. It was partly her fault that Nathon was so wounded.
And besides, I recall Nathon as he was before. I recall how he put his life at risk that night, in the odd storm, to save others. It made him a stormtouched, it made him what he is today. It would be a bad thing to abandon him now, like that sacrifice didn't mean anything...
It was also partly her fault that another wounded man was roaming around in the forest.
So ... I’m going on a hike in the wilds as soon as dawn comes... I have to find the other wounded...if they still are alive. How can people do this to each other and not regret a thing?
She said it aloud. "How could you aim for his eyes? You, who know how it is to lose the normal eyesight. How could you?"
"It felt like the natural thing to do. It's not like I planned on doing it. It happened like of itself."
Ashling felt very upset and was about to retort but her inner spiritual familiar spoke first. As usual the familiar kept to few words, but the voice in Ashling's mind felt a bit stronger these days. It had been so since she had meditated with the old Siri. Somehow the mediation seemed to have made the contact stronger.
Go for the eyes. A bird's tactics. Instinct. No planning. Oh, Myrkvior ...
Forcing herself to focus on the job she was doing, she took a needle and put the surgery thread in its eye. “I have to sew some of the wounds Nathon. Not the minor scratches, but the deepest cuts. It’s worst on the chest and arms. I will work at your back first. I’m going to apply a painkiller tincture, but you may want to drink more Forest Star too.”
"Why don't start at the worst side first?"
"You will get time to become dead drunk before I get to it. It may be less painful that way. "
She filled his glass with the strong liquor. Nathon gulped it down without a word. Ashling hoped it would get him dazed enough to endure what would come. She fetched the painkiller tincture and poured a generous amount of it over the wounds on Nathon’s back. Then she waited a bit for it to affect him. Meanwhile, she filled the stormtouched’s glass with Forest Star for the second time. Again, he gulped it down in one swallow.
She decided to proceed.
It was an ordeal for healer and patient alike when she carried out the "embroidery" in living flesh she had to do. Every stitch made her cringe as Nathon cringed. She couldn’t feel his pain, but her compassion made her imagine it. Still, she continued the work as this was what she could do, and must do. It was the only way to help the patient.
The awareness of her quite low experience in surgery plagued her. All the time, she felt worried about doing mistakes. She worked at a slow pace and was very careful, as she had done the last time surgery had been in demand. That had been in Cylus, for the same lynx-stormtouched who had now made the wounds she was sewing this time. Oh, the irony. What goes around comes around. What a backlash her good intentions had created. Regret and guilt ate at her and made her do her utmost to at least do the best she could of this mess.
Myrkvior forgive me! I must find the other wounded. Somehow.
One moment of losing focus was enough to make her put the needle wrong. She had to pull the thread out again, causing unnecessary pain. Nathon made a muffled sound. Ashling scolded herself for letting her thoughts stray and making her hand unsteady. After this, she concentrated on the surgery so hard that she avoided more major mistakes. That was no to say that all her stitches were perfect. She wished that it would have been so, but she wasn’t that skilled. She could only do her best.
A bit later, the surgery on the back was complete. By now, the Forest Star had done its job and Nathon was quite drunk. The surgery on his chest and arms wasn’t uncomplicated, but she worked on.
In the end, she had sewn what she considered important to sew. Breathing out, Ashling put the needle and the surgery tread on the table. She opened the jar with a herbal salve that would serve several purposes. It would prevent infection, dampen pain and in the best case make the healing a little bit faster. She put the salve on the wounds and covered them with compresses. Then she dressed the stormtouched’s whole torso with bandages. After this, she bandaged his arms.
The result looked insane. Nathon’s hairdo of sleek brown owl feathers was as immaculate as ever. The feathers made it be so. It was the same with his short beard. Together with the custom made dark glasses he wore due to his light sensitivity and the bandages that covered him, it made him look like an extraordinary well-groomed huge insect.
“You will rest now. I’m going to make a special tea for you, with herbs that will help you sleep and not feel any pain.” She got no answer but didn’t care. The water she had put over the fire was hot now and the sedative herb mix she kept in a glass jar was always ready to use. It didn’t take her long time to make the tea. Nathon drank it without comments. She made him walk to the bed and lay down on his back, as there were fewer wounds on that side. Within short, he slept a drugged sleep.
Ashling cleaned the equipment she had used and put everything she needed in her backpack. At sunrise, she would wake her mother Sol’ange (also a healer) and hand over the Nathon case to her. That done, Ashling would go into the wilderness and search for Nathon’s wounded enemy, as duty told her to do. That was her plan.