Things slowed down for her when the restday finally arrived. Mostly she dealt with those who were sick or still recovering from other things.
“Rae, I brought food for you,” a farmer called out as he made his way to her kitchen.
“Thank you,” she responded with a smile as she mixed some medicine together.
“This is my thanks,” he reminded her. “You saved my daughter and didn’t ask for anything we couldn’t give. This is the least I can do.”
The payment method she ended up using was working out well. She rarely received money as most of the people who came to her clinic couldn’t afford to part with any. Instead, those, like the farmers, who had access to goods, like food, kept her clinic and her home well supplied. Those with a skill, carpenters and such, built something she needed or did repairs. For all others, they owed her a favor. If she asked them for something that they could provide, that would act as their payment. All this allowed her to use the little money that some payed her only on things she couldn’t get by trade or favors.
Speaking of favors, she smiled when Ada entered the clinic. “Hello, Ada.”
“I have the rest of the day off now, so you can go collect your herbs.”
“Okay. All the medicine for while I’m gone is mixed already. All you have to do is make sure it gets to the right people at the right times.” Rae pointed to each one and gave detailed instructions. Ada couldn’t read, but she had a memory for information like a hellhound for scent. She wouldn’t forget a single detail, which made her ideal for watching the clinic when Rae had to leave. “Also, Silas will be coming by to take care of a few repairs for me.”
The carpenter who’d made her beds had quickly made sure to be one of her biggest helpers. Every time something broke, he made sure to repair it for her. Not that he didn’t get something in return. Rae supplied medicine for him, his apprentice, and their families without asking anything of them. All the help Silas provided was payment enough.
“Okay,” Ada acknowledged with a wave. “You go now. I can handle the clinic until you get back.”
Humming, Rae grabbed her bag full of jars and envelopes for herb collecting. With a wave, she headed out.
On her way, she saw Silas and his apprentice heading towards the clinic. Smiling she waved. “Silas, good afternoon.”
“Good afternoon, Rae. Where are you off too?” the old man smiled warmly as he accepted the hug she gave him.
“Herb collecting.” She focused her magical senses on him to make sure he was healthy. Other than joint aches he was as healthy as ever. “Ada is minding the clinic while I’m away.”
“It’s the table that needs repairs, right?” he asked her.
She nodded. “One of my patients collapsed and the weight was too much for it.” Concern flashed across his face and she hurried to reassure him. “He’s fine now.”
“That’s good.” He glanced at his apprentice. “I think I’ll stay and help Ada with the clinic after we finish fixing the table.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Rae objected with surprise. “You have your own work to worry about.”
“My boy here can handle it.” He looked back at his apprentice again. “It’s about time I let him do so for a few hours without me anyway.”
The apprentice looked at Silas with a mixture of happiness and terror. “Are you sure?”
“You’re more than ready.” Silas looked back to Rae. “Helping at the clinic will keep me from being bored.”
“Then I’m sure Ada will welcome the help.”
They chatted for a moment before separating to get work done. Rae hummed a happy tune as she made her way out of the city and into the surrounding forest.
It wasn’t until twilight that she realized what time it was and just how long she’d been out. ‘This is bad,’ she thought a little frantically as she raced back to the city.
Something moved in the forest outside, making her heart pound and sweat break out over her skin. ’Oh no. Please don’t let it be forest trolls,’ she prayed. Ahead of her, she saw they were closing the gates.
“Wait!” she shouted, running a little faster.
The sounds around her faded suddenly. Deciding not to think about it too much, she squeaked through the gates. Only then did she pause to catch her breath.
“Are you okay?”
She nodded with a tired smile at the soldier. “I’m okay. My own fault for not paying attention to the time.”
“Good. Be more careful in the future.” He returned to his post.
Rae nodded in agreement before making her way back towards her home. She thought she saw movement near one of the alleyways. After staring into the shadows for a moment, she decided she’d just imagined it and continued down the street. She paused when she reached the edge of the docks. It was the most dangerous area in the city after dark. Thieves, cutthroats, smugglers, all the dregs of human kind within the city lived or worked here. Ada once told her that after dark, all bets were off. There were no rules like there were in The Slums. But, it was her only route home. She had to go through the docks to get anywhere from the south gate.
Bracing herself, she continued. Maybe it was all the stories and warnings she heard about the docks, but the streets seemed menacing beneath the shadows. She clutched her bag strap a little tighter.
Something moved behind her, making her turn to stare into the darkness. “Who’s there?”
Nothing but silence.
“Rae, you are just being paranoid,” she told herself with a shake of her head. “Just turn around and go home.”
She reached her clinic to find a worried Ada and Silas waiting for her.
“What took you so long?” Ada demanded. “Did something go wrong?”
“No,” Rae answered a bit sheepishly. “I lost track of the time.”
“It’s dangerous out there after dark,” Silas told her sternly.
“I know. I’ll be more careful in the future,” she assured them. “I wouldn’t leave you all without an herbalist.”
“That’s not what worries me, child,” Silas chided as he patted her head. “I was worried about you.”
“Yes, you aren’t just our herbalist. You are our friend,” Ada snapped out. “Get that through your head will you and be more careful.”
Rae’s eyes widened then she smiled. “I will.”
The two made their way home with a few more reminders to be careful.
Rae watched them go feeling warm and happy. She wasn’t alone anymore. Humming she stepped through her front door.
The attack was swift and came without warning. She was slammed down to the ground. Before she could scream something was put over her mouth. At the same timed her hands were tied behind her back.
“I can’t believe this place is never empty,” a man spoke behind her.
“Well, we can get the job done now,” another answered. “Let’s be quick though. Can’t risk Ramberti finding out we took the job.”
She was lifted up and shoved into a corner. Sliding to the floor she stared in horror at the two men. There wasn’t anything remarkable about either of them. She only knew they were dock workers because they smelled of the sea and walked with the rolling gait of a sailor.
One of them hefted a hammer. She decided to refer to him as Troll given the circumstances and his obvious desire to destroy things. “Let’s get to work.”
The other nodded, lifting an axe. That one she dubbed Axe because she wasn’t feeling very creative with the nicknames right now. All that mattered was what he was about to do with his sharp, heavy toy.
They both set about destroying…well everything. Troll smashed tables while Axe set about destroying her cabinet filled with prepared jars of ointments. Wood splintered and the jars fell to the floor. The sound of breaking pots and glass seemed to echo through the room.
Rae struggled against the ropes binding her and tried to cry out without any success. Tears stung her eyes as she watched hours of work and hundreds in coins get destroyed in minutes.
Troll started to bring his hammer down on one of the beds when someone grabbed the hammer, yanking him back with it.
“What in Chaos’s name are you doing,” the newcomer asked almost too calmly as he gripped the hammer with both his hands as if testing the weight.
He hadn’t come alone. A few men stood behind him, looking angry.
One of them looked very familiar. Rae realized it was Gio. He walked over and removed her gag. “Are you okay, Miss Rae?”
“Good.” He untied the ropes binding her. “We were afraid we’d be too late.”
Her attention went to the man who’d stopped the hammer. He was still watching the two men in front of him with a calm, almost relaxed appearance.
Despite that, the two men who’d been destroying her clinic were shaking with fear.
Axe dropped the axe immediately. “We weren’t going to hurt her.”
“That’s good,” the calm man responded as he handed the hammer to one of the other men behind him. “But you did make a bit of a mess here. What are we going to do about that?”
“We should break them a little, Luca,” Gio spoke up as he helped Rae to her feet.
“Please don’t,” Rae managed, speaking finally. “I’d have to tend to them and they broke most of my medicines.”
The calm man looked at her for the first time. She couldn’t make out much about him in the dim light, but that didn’t stop the impact of his attention from being clear. This was not a man to be trifled with.
“We certainly wouldn’t want to cause you more trouble,” the calm one spoke to her. “What would you like done?”
She hesitated. The answer she wanted to give was nothing. Just let them go. However, it wasn’t a very realistic answer. The two men had assaulted her and destroyed parts of her home and work.
“I…” She faltered. “I don’t know.”
“You are a soft one, aren’t you,” the calm man said, almost too quietly to be heard. “Well then, I will take care of them for you.”
The two men who’d destroyed her clinic flinched. “Luca,” finally giving the calm one a name, “there’s no need. We won’t do it again.”
“No. You won’t,” Luca agreed. “I warned you not to take this job. The woman was off limits. You not only ignored my orders, you attacked someone under my protection and made her job more difficult. The first means you have to be put back in your place. The second is…” Luca paused then sighed with a shake of his head. “I would say unforgivable, but the herbalist would rather I not punish you too harshly.” He looked over at Rae then back at the two. “You will either pay for the damages or repair it yourself. We’ll deal with your deliberate disobedience of my rules later.”
Both men flinched again but nodded in agreement.
“I suggest you thank the herbalist. She is the only reason you aren’t leaving here broken.” Luca gestured for them to leave and they couldn’t move fast enough. After they bolted out the door, he turned back to Rae. “Are you hurt?”
She shook her head. “Umm, who are you and what was all that about?”
“My name is Luca Ramberti.”
Rae stared. That name. He was the man who ran The Docks. They’d just been talking about him a few days ago. Well, warning her about him was more accurate.
“As for what that was about,” he continued, “the three physicians of the city decided to try to force you to leave. They came to the docks a few days ago attempting to hire someone to encourage you to leave by destroying your home and work.”
“Oh. I see.” She wasn’t sure she did. What did those men care if she was tending to the people of The Slums? They certainly weren’t going to do it.
“You coming here is upsetting the balance of their power,” Luca told her as if reading her mind.
“You are not only helping people for next to nothing in return but are doing a good job at it. The physicians know it won’t be long before others within the city start coming to you. Ones who could afford a regular physician.”
“Are you talking about how those from The Docks are coming to me now?”
“Yes,” he agreed. “Unlike those living in The Slums, my people aren’t so poor they can’t afford medical care when needed. You saved Gio, so we come to you now. Which I’m assuming is what triggered this.” He looked around with disapproval. “Don’t worry. I won’t let it happen again.”
“Thank you, but why are you helping me?” Everything she’d heard about him told her this was not going to be out of the kindness of his heart. She was many things but naïve wasn’t one of them. Luca Ramberti did not rise to the position of power he held by being altruistic.
“Because you saved my cousin,” he answered with a gesture towards Gio, who waved at her.
Rae stared in shock for a second then smiled warmly at Luca. “Thank you.”
Luca looked surprised then nodded. “Just returning the favor. Gio’s life is worth quite a bit to me. Making sure you are protected is the least I can do in return for saving him.”
Rae shook her head. “I just did what anyone should have done.”
“Should have and would have are not the same thing at all.” Luca leaned against one of the beds. “A few others went to the other physicians with the same illness that Gio had. None of them survived.”
She hadn’t heard that. Then again, the other physicians wouldn’t have told her anything. That was a little concerning. If it was contagious with that small of a survival rate then it could be devastating.
“What are you doing out so late anyway, Miss Rae?” Gio asked, distracting her from her thoughts. “Though it worked out. You being so late is the only reason we got here on time.”
Rae felt relief wash over her that they hadn’t tried to do all of this while Ada and Silas were here. She looked over at Gio with a sheepish smile. “I went herb collecting today and lost track of the time while trying to find some that are particularly difficult to locate.”
Luca tilted his head. “Are there a lot of them you’re having trouble finding?”
“Some just don’t grow here,” she answered with a nod. “Other’s with difficulty. I haven’t found a reliable source for some of them yet.”
“I can get you what you need.”
She jerked and met his eyes. “What? How? Why?”
“Never mind how. You work on a trade system, right?”
Rae nodded slowly.
“Then that will be my trade if you agree to treat my people if they’re hurt or sick.” Luca held out a hand. “I’ll provide whatever you need, because I guarantee I can get it, in exchange. How about it?”
Thinking of all the people she could help with the magic she saved with these herbs to use in its place, she took his hand. “Deal.”
After telling Luca what she needed, he looked around at the mess. “We’ll help you straighten this mess out before leaving.”
“Oh, you don’t have to…” she began.
“No, we don’t, but we will,” he interrupted. Sighing, he added, “You are entirely too soft. One of those that would let someone run all over you, aren’t you? It’s a good thing we’ll be looking out for you now.”
She couldn’t help the smile. Maybe Luca Ramberti wasn’t so bad after all.