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

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Chapter Twenty

The boy who lay before Elise was younger, perhaps even a little younger than Milo was. His mother had brought him in just after Mathis, the medical core commander and the man she’d met outside, had shown Elise where she would live. According to the boy’s mother, he’d been out playing with his friends when he fell in the way of a cart, which ran his leg over. Thank the gods, there hadn’t been much in the cart so his leg wasn’t crushed, but it was almost certainly broken. They had him chewing on cocca leaves, but they needed to do something, or he’d be chewing on cocca for the rest of his life.

“What is your diagnosis?” Mathis asked as she gently pressed against the boy’s leg, looking for where the break happened. Finally, she found it; she could feel something sticking out from under the boy’s skin in his lower leg, by his ankle.

“It’s broken,” Elise said. “We’ll need to set it.” Mathis inspected the boy’s leg, himself, then nodded.

“I’ll hold him down,” he said. He gently took the arm of a young girl, who was carrying a crate of medical herbs.

“Once you get those to their proper place, I need you to get the makings for a splint.” She nodded and continued walking, a little faster, now.

With a nod from Mathis, Elise began to set the boy’s leg.

Despite the fact that he’d been chewing cocca for nearly ten minutes, the boy began to cry out in pain the second Elise began to move around his leg. Even so, she kept manipulating his leg, looking for the right spot for his bone to be; pain now was better than pain for the rest of his life from a bone set incorrectly.

After a minute or so, she found the right spot and let go. The boy began gasping, his entire body shaking like a leaf.

Elise slowly relaxed as she began to feel the boy’s leg. She could no longer feel his bone jutting out; it seemed that she’d done her job correctly.

“Why did you do that?” the boy’s mother asked. Her face had a look of betrayal on it and her eyes burned with anger. Though the words certainly stung, Elise chose to not take offence; odds were, the woman didn’t realize that, in the long run, she’d helped save her son from future pain.

“The bone in his leg wasn’t aligned right,” she said. “If I didn’t set it, he would be in pain for the rest of his life from it.” The little girl came back, holding two wooden dowels and a clean, white bandage.

As Elise gently began to put the boy’s leg in a splint, Mathis told the little girl to get a crutch and some tea root, then looked at the mother. “We’re going to send you home with a crutch and some tea root for the swelling. Don’t let him put any pressure on that leg, and before he goes to bed tonight, grind up the root and give it to him with dinner.” The boy’s mother nodded.

“How long should he stay off his leg?” she asked. Mathis looked over at Elise, prompting her to continue.

“Normally, a broken leg takes about a month at the soonest to heal,” she said. “I’d wait eight weeks, though, to be safe. After that, slowly ease him back into his usual activities, and he’ll be back to normal.” The little girl came back with the crutch and the brown, gnarled, finger-looking root that was tea root.

“Does your son know how to use a crutch?” Mathis asked as Elise finished putting the splint on the boy’s leg. His mother nodded, and Mathis and Elise stood up.

“Leave when you’re ready.” The two walked towards the stairs, leaving the mother and her son alone. Was it already time for dinner?

“You did really well with that kid,” Mathis said once they were out of earshot of the mother and her son. “Most people when they go through their tests get offended when people question the way they do things.” Elise could feel her cheeks beginning to burn red from the compliment; though she hadn’t known Mathis for very long, it still felt good to know that he thought well of her.

“Thank you,” she said. They exited the stairwell on the main floor and began walking down the long hall towards the door. “How long do you think it will take me to become a full member?” Mathis shrugged.

“With your experience, you’ll be a private in no time,” he said. “If you can read, you’ll be a private by the end of this week.” Elise could feel an uneasiness coming over her. Despite her knowledge of medicine, she didn’t know how to read; she’d memorized everything her mother taught her, just as she did with her mother. The fact that she couldn’t was a great embarrassment to her, though she didn’t know anyone who could.

“How long if I can’t read?” They walked outside, into the dimming orange sunlight, and began walking across the grounds to the mess hall. Mathis seemed surprised by her answer for a few seconds, but he soon reverted back to his normal, relaxed self.

“So, you can’t read?” Elise nodded, looking down at the ground.

“I never knew anyone who could teach me,” she said.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Mathis said. “Very few of our recruits come here already knowing how.” They walked into the mess hall.

The mess hall at the army medical core building was quiet, at least compared to the one at Fort Thias. Most people were quietly chatting about what had happened during the day, though most tried to avoid talking about patients. A few of them were reading from large, leather books, filled with pictures of human anatomy and various medical herbs. Even so, the atmosphere was bright and cheery, a nice change of scenery from the dreary road and the tense dinners of hard tack and jerky.

However, there was one conversation that Elise overheard that managed to dim her spirits.

“…The Giskens have been moving through the country like a plague,” one of the doctors was saying. “Just a few days ago, they took Lake Town, even with its garrison.” For a few seconds, Elise disregarded what the soldier had said. She’d heard stories about the Lake Town garrison, about how they could face a disadvantage as high as 10 to 1 and still win. The Giskens wouldn’t have – couldn’t have – beaten them in a matter of a day or so, if at all.

The doctor’s friend seemed to share her opinion, because he scoffed after he said it. “You’re blowing smoke. Lake Town’s garrison is one of the best in the country, second only to ours; the Giskens couldn’t have taken them!”

“It’s true!” a third said. “One of my patients today was a refugee from Lake Town. He said that what was left of them surrendered after a day and a night of fighting.”

The conversation soon drifted into a full-scale argument, but Elise had stopped listening at that point. She’d seen the refugee come in, with his clothes ragged and cuts all over him; he’d kept asking if his wife and his daughter had made it to Semata, yet. It began to dawn on her that Lake Town, one of the last strongholds before Semata in the south had fallen in a single day.

If they hadn’t been able to beat the Giskens, what chance did Semata stand against them?

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