The Last Stand (The Eleven Years War: Book One)

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Chapter Thirteen

Elise sat down on the porch of the infirmary, her brother’s sword resting on her lap. The day was bright and cool, with a soft breeze blowing through. It felt good to be outside, after having spent much of the morning cooped up in the warm, stuffy infirmary, but it didn’t do anything to soothe the ache in her heart. Silas, the man who’d talked to Olrick earlier, had come to visit her after her headache had almost left entirely with the sword in hand.

“Olrick tells me that you’re Milo’s sister,” he said when he walked in earlier that day. “Is that right?” Elise nodded, and Silas handed her the sword. It looked like one of Olrick’s.

“Then that makes you the proper owner of this sword,” he said as she stared down at the sword. It looked brand new. “I know that this isn’t going to make the pain of losing him, but I hope that having something of his will help.”

Elise looked up from the sword. When she’d first seen him, she’d been intimidated by his size, his strength, how brutish he seemed to be; however, there was a kindness in his eyes, one she hadn’t expected to see from someone like him. He seemed to actually care about her, despite that being the first time they’d ever talked.

“Did you know my brother?” she asked.

“I did,” he said. “I was there when he graduated; gave him the gray, myself. He wasn’t the strongest, the bravest or the smartest, but he had his heart in the right place.”

Soon after that, she found herself on the infirmary porch, sword on her lap, watching as boys prepared for war on the field.

There was about forty of them, most of which looked to be around her age. Most of them had wooden practice swords and were drilling with each other, while instructors stood by and yelled things at them. “Get that point up, before I shove it up your ass!” “Did I tell you to take a break, princess?” “If you use your training sword as a back scratcher one more time, I swear on all that’s holy, you’ll be cleaning the shit house with your tongue for a month!” Those were just a few of the vulgar things Elise heard come out of the instructors mouths as the boys did drill after drill with training swords, staffs, their fists, and other things she didn’t recognize. There was even one mage, who, with their instructor, stood by a bucket and was using water to beat the straw out of a dummy.

It was with a group of boys using training swords that a loud, blood-chilling cry rang out. When Elise looked over, she saw one of the younger boys lying on the ground, writhing in pain, as a few others stood by him with confused looks on their faces. She found herself putting Milo’s sword on the patio and running towards them as the instructor called for a medic. When she approached, though, the instructor simply gave her an amused look.

“Last time I checked, Doc isn’t quite that pretty,” he said, folding his arms over his chest as a smug look came to his face. “The boy needs a doctor, not someone to hold his hand, little girl.”

“I am a doctor,” she said. The instructor raised an eyebrow, unconvinced. “I think Doc may be in with someone else right now; if I can figure out what’s wrong with him before he gets here, we’ll be able to get him the help he needs faster.” The instructor shrugged.

“Knock yourself out,” he said, stepping back. “Try not to screw him up any more than he is.” With that, Elise knelt down beside the boy and got to work.

At first glance, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with him; there were no cuts, nothing to suggest that he’d broken his arm or his hand. It seemed like he was just crying and writhing for nothing.

“I need you to calm down” Elise told him calmly. The way he was going, he was going to go into serious shock, and getting antsy would only make it worse. “Where does it hurt?”

“My chest,” he kept wheezing. “My chest.” She nodded and began to gently press on his chest.

“Tell me when it hurts,” she said. When she pressed on his stomach, right below his heart, he began wincing in pain.

“What does it feel like?” she asked. “Is it hard to breathe?” The boy nodded.

“A little, yeah.” Elise looked up to see Doc standing there, holding a simple litter in his hand. He was giving her a look, one that made him seem curious about her, while the instructor gave her a look that spoke of annoyance.

“And what’s your diagnosis?” he asked. Her mind went blank for a few seconds; one second, she knew exactly what was wrong with him and the proper herbs to give him to help the pain and to speed up his recovery, and the next, she could hardly remember her own name. After a few long moments, she remembered.

“Broken ribs,” she said, standing up. “I’m not sure how many, but he may take awhile to fully recover.” Doc nodded, seemingly impressed. The instructor coughed loudly.

“If the two of you aren’t too busy, would you mind getting him the hell off of this field?” he asked mockingly. “We’re trying to get ready to fight off an invasion, if you haven’t already noticed.”

“Hold onto your skirt, Ambrus,” Doc said. He looked back at Elise as he set the litter down next to the boy. “Would you mind helping me out?” She knelt down, gently picked the boy up and set him down on the litter, and picked up the litter by the two, wooden poles on both sides.

As the two started walking toward the infirmary, the instructor began yelling at his students, again. “What the hell are you asses looking at? Get back to work, before I send the rest of you to the infirmary!” Elise found herself looking back at them as they started up their drills, again. She began to wonder if sweet Milo had had any of these instructors during his training; she didn’t think that he would have done very well under any of their tutelage.

“How much medical training do you have?” Elise looked back at Doc as they began to slowly climb the stairs to the infirmary.

“My mother taught me when I was younger,” she said. “She was the town’s doctor before me. Believe me, it wasn’t nearly as formal as yours probably was.” Doc opened the door and the two walked in.

“Well, what your mom taught you was good enough,” he said. “Broken ribs aren’t the easiest thing in the world to diagnose; it’s impressive that you’re able to do it as fast as you did without any formal training.” They set the sitter down on a cot, a few beds down from where Olrick was. He began pressing against the boy’s chest, his face a mask of concentration. “What would you give him for the pain?”

“Cocca leaf,” Elise said. “If that isn’t available, then ale usually seems to do the trick.” He nodded.

“I do think that I’ve got some of that,” he said. He opened the small drawer by the bed and pulled out a few, green leaves. “I need you to chew on these; they taste like shit, but they help.” Without hesitation, he took the leaves, put them in his mouth, and began grinding them between his teeth. He gagged on them for a few seconds, but he didn’t spit them out.

“You know, with this whole invasion, the army’s going to need every doctor they can get their hands on,” Doc said as the boy chewed on the Cocca leaves. “Would you be interested in that?” Elise found herself frowning.

“I-I don’t know,” she said. “Would they really want me there?” He nodded.

“What’s the hardest procedure you’ve ever had to do?” Though an answer popped into her mind almost immediately, she tried to think back a little further; however, the answer remained the same.

“A man crushed his leg pretty badly at the quarry a few years ago,” Elise said. “I had to amputate it.”

“Did he live?” she nodded.

“Then the medical core’s going to take you,” Doc said. “Amputations are tricky little buggers; if you’ve done a successful one, already, that means they’ll just have to polish up your skills a little, maybe get you acquainted with a few herb and procedures, before you’re ready to go out. If they’re as desperate for doctors as I think they are, you’ll have no problem.”

Elise tucked a stray chunk of hair behind her ear as she thought about what Doc was proposing. Becoming part of the medical core would mean going back into the fighting, back on the front lines, with an enemy army that had yet to prove themselves capable of showing mercy; she could be killed if she went back and Blair – if he was still alive, after what she’d done to him – were to find her.

Then again, after Olrick had saved her so many times – from Bram, from Blair, even from death – how could she not do something to return the favor? After everything that happened in Thaos, she needed to return the favor, to save someone else’s life rather than constantly needing her own saved.

“How dangerous is it?” Elise asked.

“Normally, I would say that it was very safe, unless you’re unlucky enough to get hit by a stray arrow,” Doc said. “With the Giskens, though. I’m not so sure. Most countries abide by a certain set of unspoken rules when they go to war; even Kurzh avoids killing women and children on campaigns. Gishk doesn’t do that. They kill civilians, raze villages for no apparent reason, ship their prisoners of war to the Gods know where; I don’t think killing their enemy’s doctors is part of their repertoire, but you never know with them.” He seemed to be able to tell that his answer scared her, as he got horribly uncomfortable when he saw her reaction.

“I wouldn’t be too worried, though,” he said quickly. “Part of the training for the core is a course on self-defense. Even if the Giskens did kill doctors, you’d be able to defend yourself until help came.” That answer wasn’t enough to completely silence her fears.

However, for once in her life, fear wasn’t going to be enough to keep her from doing something. Especially something that, like this, could save people’s lives.

“How do I join?” she asked.

“Their base is in Semata,” Doc said. “General Polain will be heading back there in a day or two; I would suggest going with him, unless you want to risk running into highwaymen. However, your training can start right now, if you want it to. I’m a core doctor, myself, and therefore certified to teach anyone wanting to join.”

And Elise’s training did begin then. After Elise grabbed Milo’s sword from the porch, Doc began by pulling out a large, worn book, one that looked to be twice her age. The delicate pages were filled with all sorts of illustrations, including plants, muscle tissue, bones; it held, according to Doc, most, if not all, of the essential medical knowledge she would ever need to know. They started at the beginning of the book, talking about basic anatomy and pain killers, then putting her new found knowledge to work on various Watchmen and Rooks, most with simple injuries that weren’t life threatening. They worked until dinnertime, when a simple meal of bread and watery soup with a few chunks of onions and mystery meat was served.

It was while they were eating their dinner that Silas poked his head in. He had a small frown on his face.

“I don’t suppose either of you know where Eza went, do you?” he asked. Elise and Doc shook their heads.

“No, why?” he asked. Silas cursed.

“I think she may have signed up for a ranging, even though I told her not to,” he said. “I swear on all that’s holy, if she does something stupid out there, I’ll kill her before the Giskens have a chance.”

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