Warprize (Chronicles of the Warlands) by Elizabeth Vaughan

  “It looks well enough. But only a few steps.”

  “Hah!” Simus brought his hand down into his fist. “You watch, little healer. I will dance out of this tent.”

  I rolled my eyes. “I am sure. But just in case, let Prest and Rafe support you for the first few steps.” Simus grimaced, but was willing to put up with anything just to get a chance to walk, calling in my guards impatiently. Rafe and Prest supported him on each side as he rose from his bed and managed a few steps. Very quickly, he was gray and shaky from the effort. We got him back onto his pallet and Joden helped him get comfortable. Once that was taken care of I knelt and began to strip the bark off the stumps in his tent.

  Simus coughed. “Warprize, what are you—”

  I interrupted him. “It’s a medicine.” I kept peeling. “I’ll use it to brew fever’s foe.”

  He rolled his eyes. “Oh, great joy. I must confess, little one, that muck tastes terrible.”

  Prest and Rafe left the tent, hands filled with bark. I moved to follow, with both hands full.

  “I will see you at senel, little healer,” Simus called after me.

  I turned, and brandished my bundle as if to admonish him. He raised his arms to ward off a blow. “I know, I know. They will carry me to the tent.” I smiled at him. I turned to find Keir in front of me.

  He stepped in close, lifted my chin. “Be on time for senel.” Then he kissed me, hard and fast. I just looked up at him when he pulled back. With a smug look, he nudged me on my way.

  AS WE MOVED AWAY FROM THE TENT I LOOKED over at Rafe. “What is a ‘senel’?”

  He puzzled for a bit. “A gathering, a taking of advice from others, a . . .” He looked to Prest for help, but Prest just shrugged. Rafe rolled his eyes.

  “Who will be there?”

  “The leaders, Keir’s . . .” He screwed his face up. “Secondaries? We call them warleaders.” The morning sun caught the glint of metal off to the side. I turned my head to see a group of warriors in a large practice field. A tall woman was standing in the field, as a large horse raced toward her.

  I stopped in my tracks. “What?”

  Rafe chuckled. “Watch, Warprize.”

  Prest was giving her a sharp eye, and grunted. I turned back to watch as the horse charged the woman. At the last moment, the horse brushed past her, and suddenly she seemed to leap into the saddle. There were shouts from the group watching as she swung the horse back toward them. She seemed pleased with her performance.

  “How did she do that?” I asked.

  “Practice,” said Prest.

  Rafe nodded his agreement. I gave him a doubtful look as we continued walking. “No, it’s true, Warprize. We all practice our riding skills in the same fashion. Each is required to be able to mount a galloping horse.”

  I sighed. “Rafe, you used my name in the city.”

  Rafe nodded. “True. But you are now the warprize.”

  Prest nodded in agreement.

  At the healing tent all was well. It took almost no time to check the wounded, and take care of their needs. The worst was the one who’d been whipped, but he was still asleep, so I waited to check him. Instead, I started a pot of water boiling on one of the braziers and corralled one of the wounded into watching it. I was careful to explain that he had to add water as it boiled away. As I moved among the cots, the only problem was that I kept bumping into Prest and Rafe as they hovered over me. Finally, I turned to Prest.

  “This is foolish. Go sit in a corner of the tent and watch me.” Rafe frowned and opened his mouth to protest. I snarled, “Take your big feet, and go over there out of my way.”

  Prest laughed and pulled Rafe with him. They settled down off to the side. Soon, Rafe was working his sword with a whetstone. Prest appeared to be carving something from some wood. Some of the mobile wounded joined them, and they were laughing and talking quietly as I worked. But I noticed that one of them always had an eye on me.

  I gathered up the boiled skunk cabbage and some clean cloths, and went to where the warrior lay sleeping on the cot. His back looked good under the bandage; the lash marks hadn’t been as deep as I feared, and there was very little redness or swelling. The warrior stirred as I started to work more of the ointment into his wounds. “I know it hurts, but it will aid with healing. Lie as still as you can.”

  The warrior turned his head and looked at me with bleary eyes. “You a warrior-priest?”

  Prest had moved up behind me with Rafe, who shook his head in disgust. “Sleeping on watch, Tant? When will you learn?” He crossed his arms over his chest. “When are you due back on?”

  Tant blinked. “Nooning.” He glanced at me again. “Where’d the warrior-priest come from?”

  “She’s the warprize,” Prest responded.

  Tant jerked, his eyes wide.

  “Fool.” Rafe turned. “Finish your work, Warprize. I’ll get kavage so we can get him on his feet. If he doesn’t report, it’s another lashing.”

  “The warprize?” Tant’s voice was a squeak.

  FINALLY, I HAD TIME TO SIT DOWN AND LOOK at the supplies that were available to me. I sorted through the tables and baskets. It was pitiful. There were few herbs and none of the traditional remedies that I knew. One bottle smelled so vile that I asked one of the wounded what it was for. Turned out it was a well-known remedy for coughs that was rubbed on the chest. It was made from goose grease and horse dung.

  He offered to help me gather the makings. I declined, emptied the bottle, and set it to soak.

  A scream in the distance caught all of us by surprise. Rafe and Prest stood and moved to the tent entrance. I followed, emerging to find them gazing out at the practice field. I could just make out a crowd around a downed figure. There was all kinds of general ruckus, but no further screams.

  Prest was sucking on his lower lip. Rafe looked gray. “I’ll wager it’s broken.”

  Prest nodded his head. Both men looked grim. I looked, but could see no one moving to render aid. “Will they bring them here?”

  Rafe turned in surprise, his eyebrows raised. “Why? Most like they’ll just grant mercy where they lay.” I looked at him, offended, and started off immediately toward the crowd. Prest and Rafe scrambled after me. “Warprize, where are you going?”

  I ignored Rafe, and kept moving onto the practice ground and right up to the milling group. They were certainly upset, so much so that I had to push my way forward to get through.

  I dropped down next to the wailing figure. It was a woman, the blonde who had leaped to her horse. She lay on the ground, her hands over her face, moaning. I cast a quick look at the leg, but could tell nothing through the leather trous. “Rafe, lend me your knife.”

  Silence cut through the crowd. The blonde gasped in horror and moved her hands. Even though her face was red and swollen, I recognized her. It was the woman who had grabbed my arm. Her eyes filled with fear, she covered her face again and started to wail.

  Rafe slowly handed me his knife. “You’ll take the leg, Warprize?”

  At the question, the blonde threw her hands forward, as if to ward me off. Her face was filled with horror. “No, Skies, NO!” she shrieked. “I am cursed!” she keened in an ear-piercing tone.

  I winced at the sound as I cut away her trous. It was clear that it was broken, but the skin was whole. It looked to be a clean break. The woman shrieked again as I touched her knee.

  “Stop that! Are you such a coward?” The blonde looked at me, frozen but thankfully silent.

  I gestured to Rafe. “We need a blanket to carry her to the tent.”

  “No, no, no.” The blonde sobbed. “I cry mercy, rather than lose my leg. Mercy!”

  I looked at her. “Silence!”

  That got everyone’s attention.

  “Have I said that you will lose it? Love of the Goddess!” I cursed in my own language. “You’d rather die than let me heal this?”

  Prest was standing behind me. “Heal?” The blonde’s brown eyes stared at me from her t
ear-stained face.

  I turned my head and looked up at him. “Yes, of course.” From the expressions of those around us, I realized that there was no “of course” about this for them. “A blanket. Now.”

  Prest nodded and one of the men ran off.

  I placed a hand on her shoulder. “Lie back. Try to relax. I know it hurts, but I need you to stay still.”

  She grabbed at my arm, her sweaty palms trembling. “I won’t lose it?”

  “Not if you do what I say.” I looked up again and focused on the closest man. “I need rawhide. One large piece and then strips. Can you get that?”

  He nodded and ran off. I raised my voice to be heard. “I need rocks as well. Good sized, about the size of two fists.” Two other men ran toward the river. “At least four,” I called after them.

  The first man returned with a large blanket in his arms. We managed to get it under her and hefted her up without jostling the leg too much. I urged them to go slow and careful as we carried her to the healing tent. Once there, I directed them to put her on an empty cot and started to strip her trous off. Looking up, I realized that the entire group was in the tent, all of them, watching me work. “Out.”

  “But . . .” Rafe objected.

  “Rafe, you and Prest stay. The others leave.”

  “They want to watch, Warprize. Please.”

  I frowned. “Then roll up the sides of the tent, but have them stay out of the way.” I continued to remove the trous. The blonde bit at her lip as I worked.

  “What is your name?” I asked, trying to get her to focus on something else.

  “Atira. Warprize, I am cursed, I know it. I am cursed. The elements . . .” She sobbed. “Because I hurt you.”

  “Hush, Atira. It’s a broken leg, not a curse. An accident.”

  The other men entered, with about twenty more rocks than I really needed and lengths of rawhide. Gils popped up out of nowhere, and I had him cutting strips and wrapping the rocks so that I could use them as weights. I put Rafe and Prest at Atira’s head and went to the end of the cot. I called over a tall, husky type and had him stand next to me. Atira was big, and I would need help setting the leg. I explained what we were going to do. The silence in the tent was absolute. I ignored the looks and the whispers, but it was unnerving. Everyone was fascinated by what I was doing. For a moment doubt crept in. What if I couldn’t heal it? It was a clean break, but there were no promises with legs, and if the patient didn’t obey me, it could end up healing crooked or . . .

  Eln would have boiled me over a hot fire. I pulled myself back and focused on my work. The future belongs only to the Goddess, I’d have to leave it in her hands.

  Once I was sure that everyone understood, we got ready. The two men braced Atira’s shoulders, and she grabbed them, wrapping her arms around their hips. The other man took her foot gently in his hand and waited. I reached over and handed her a piece of willow bark to put between her teeth. “All right, Atira. Ten deep breaths, then we begin.”

  She nodded, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. Then another. On her third breath, I grabbed her ankle with my helper and we pulled hard on her leg.

  She exploded off the cot, her cries muffled by the bark. The men held her in place. My helper maintained the pull as I ran my hands over her leg. They kept the tension steady, increasing the pull until I felt the bone go together under my fingertips, and heard the familiar grating noise. Once it was in position, I secured the splints, and tied it off. I tried to move swiftly.

  When the splints were in place I nodded, and they eased off the pressure. I concentrated on feeling the bone under the muscle. It felt right. They kept the foot elevated, as I wrapped the limb with a layer of soft bandages and then placed the wet rawhide over it. That was well secured with straps of leather, and we finally laid the leg back down on the cot. Atira was pale by now, and I deeply wished for a sleeping draught to give her. I tied the rocks and strips of rawhide to her ankle, hanging them over the edge of the cot. The pull would aid in keeping the leg straight.

  I finally sat back on my haunches and wiped the sweat off my forehead. Atira looked at me, wide-eyed. “You lied!”

  I looked at her in surprise. “I did?”

  “You said ‘ten breaths.’ ” She glared at me.

  I maintained my expression for as long as I could, then grinned at her. She was starting to relax and was fighting sleep. “My leg, Warprize?”

  “Atira, it is a simple break. We will be careful, and go slow, but all should be well.” I smiled at her doubting face.

  “How long, Warprize?”

  “It will take forty days to heal completely, Atira.”

  “Forty days?” Gils looked at me with horror in his eyes.

  “Forty days in this cot?”

  “No, not forty days in the cot. Forty days to heal completely. She’ll be able to use a crutch but that will be at least half of that. You can’t risk putting weight on it before then.”

  “I will keep it.” Atira’s voice held awe. The men standing around remained silent, exchanging glances.

  “You must lie still, as still as possible. It will mend. It will take time, bone is slow to grow. You must be patient.”

  One of the men let out a nervous laugh. “That will be hard for her. She is not the most patient of women!”

  The resulting laugh released some of the tension in the tent. But everyone, the men, the wounded, Prest and Rafe, all had the oddest look on their faces. Her friends handed Atira her weapons, and to my horror, she placed them on and under the bedding well within reach.

  “You’ll get hurt!” I didn’t like the idea of sharp blades so near her skin.

  Atira shook her head. “Couldn’t sleep without them.” She arranged things to her satisfaction, then settled back. I knew she’d sleep. I gestured to everyone to clear out, and they moved quietly, talking amongst themselves.

  Gils lingered by the table with my meager supplies. “Warprize?”

  I smiled, trying to encourage him. He sat on one of the other stumps, his knees almost up to his chin. “It’s forty days?”

  “Yes, for the bone to heal. Then she will need to exercise the leg to regain its strength.”

  He leaned forward, intent on my answers. “You won’t cast spells to make the healing go faster?”

  “No.” I smiled. “I can’t force the body to heal any faster. I merely make sure that the leg stays straight as it grows back together. There are some salves that I can make to heal the bruising, keep the skin supple, and ease some of the pain, but that is all I can do. Time takes care of the rest.”

  Gils looked at me. “You can heal everything?”

  I shook my head, ruefully, remembering the blood that had welled up through my fingers just days ago. “No, Gils. There are some things I can’t heal.”

  Gils watched me closely. “How did you learn this, Warprize?”

  “My name is Lara.”

  He looked at me as if I was out of my mind.

  I sighed. “I was apprenticed to a healer who agreed to teach me for my services.” I smiled as I remembered the fuss that had caused. Eln had been nonplused by a Daughter of the Blood wanting to be a healer. Father had been incensed. I looked away for a moment, blinking hard. Three years, and I still missed him.

  “What’s ‘apprentice’?”

  I gave Gils a stern look. “Won’t you be missed in the kitchens?”

  He grinned. “I’s say you needed help. And I’s did help.” He looked at me defensively.

  “True.” I chuckled. “Well then—” I spoke softly as I explained how the process worked. Gils was filled with all kinds of questions that spilled out of him like beans from ajar. He was older than the healing apprentices that I had worked with, but his curiosity was just as strong. We were deep in conversation when Rafe clapped his hand to his forehead. “The senel!”

  With that, I was hustled back to the tent. Marcus was waiting, and rushed me past Keir and into the privy area. There was warm water waiting
. Marcus fussed about my tunic and trous, but satisfied himself with brushing me off. I ignored him and washed quickly. I could hear Rafe talking to Keir as I piled my hair up in a knot on my head.

  Keir was waiting when I re-entered the sleeping area. I could hear the main area of the tent filling with people. He gestured me to his side. “I understand that you have a new patient in your tent.”

  I nodded. “One of the warriors broke her leg. It was a clean break.”

  He had a very slight smile on his face. “You healed it?”

  I shook my head. “I set the bone. Bone healing takes time.”

  “It will heal? She will use the leg again?”


  Marcus had moved to stand by the tent flap. Keir looked at him. “This should prove to be an interesting senel.”

  Marcus’s lips twisted. “Aye to that. Ready?”

  Keir nodded.

  Marcus stepped to the table and picked up something that was decorated with feathers and beads and a small string of copper bells. He moved through the tent flap first and called everyone to attention. “Rise and hail Keir, Warlord of the Tribes, and the warprize.” Keir went first, and I followed.

  The meeting area was filled with men and women, all standing about the room. There was a path down the middle to the raised platform, where two stumps sat slightly off center. Keir moved forward to stand before the stump closest to the center and faced the room. He gestured for me to be seated to his right.

  Marcus had followed us and moved to place the thing in his hands on an empty stump in the center of the room. I got the impression that the stump had been placed there for that purpose.

  “Where is Simus?” Keir asked.

  As if at his command, the flaps of the main entrance opened, and there was a commotion as Simus was borne aloft on a cot by four men, like the roast pig at the mid-winter festival. I had to smile, and saw that others in the crowd were not immune to the humor of the image.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]