I rubbed my eyes wearily and glanced at the clock. 10.58pm.The sun had long since set, finally safe to leave the confines of the flat and bookshop. Carefully, I shut the old tome I was busy translating and stretched tiredly. Pulling my cloak from the poor excuse that was my bed, I hesitated. Staring into the smiling photograph poised proudly on the far wall. My grandmother had been the only one to truly care for me. She had left me the bookshop, undoubtedly in the hope it would curb my nightly excursions.
‘For the most part it worked Avinjo’ I thought sadly as I pulled my cloak around my shoulders and walked towards the door.
She had grown sick so suddenly, no one had expected it. Within days, she was gone. Just like he had with mother, much to my surprise, he had followed the old rites. They hadn’t had the best relationship after mother had died, he had remarried and grandmother had not approved. Nor did she bite her tongue about her disapproval. I was just glad to see father smile again. Mother had died when I was very little. Only the faintest memories of her smile, her laugh and her smell remained. He had dutifully watched over her grave the first three nights of her burial, just as she had wished. I had been surprised, and in truth a little upset, when he had taken it upon himself to do the same for grandmother. But looking back, I couldn’t deny that I was grateful. I still could not bring myself to visit her, fearing I have disappointed her as much as I have father and my step mother. Sighing softly, I hesitated at the door to the bookshop. I rarely ventured out for fear of fathers’ wrath. Marian had immediately felt threatened by me, fearing I may garner more of fathers’ attentions than she would. In truth he hadn’t hugged me since mother died. I couldn’t even remember the last time he hugged me, the only evidence that he ever did even once was an old photograph my mother had taken. I had no place in his heart. Panicked shouts made me freeze with my hand outstretched towards the door.
“HELP! HELP ME! OH PLEASE SOMEONE HELP ME!” A gruff, broken cry echoed loudly around the little square outside.
“BUZZ OFF DWARF!” A drunken curse snapped
Suddenly there were panicked banging at my door. What was wrong? Should I help them? Could I help?
“Please! I know ya there, she’s so sick!” He begged, cutting off into deep heartfelt sobs as he stopped banging.
Taking a deep breath, I tentatively slid the lock back and peered out of the door. Sobbing brokenly on the floor was a well-muscled dwarf, his beard intricately plated and his shimmering auburn hair well kept. He stared shocked as he looked up and met my fearful stare.
“I’ll get my kit” I murmured softly as he stared, knowing that if I could help then I should.
I knew it wasn’t usual for someone as young as I was to be living independently. But father had relished the prospect of being rid of me. Marian had been more than happy to encourage him. I had re-directed what little mail I had, packed my few belongings and left within days of the will being read. Despite only being 14, I had not gone to school since I had first left home at 11 years old. No-one came to force me either. All I needed was right here at the shop. All that I could ever need to know was in the books I sold and collected.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you child” He sniffed defeated, as if resigning himself to a cold outcome.
“I was already awake Master. About to go for a walk actually. Now whatever has you so upset?” I asked softly as I pulled the bulging bag of medical supplies from behind the counter.
“My wife is desperately ill. She has a fever and keeps being sick, none of the healers here will see her!” He babbled, bursting into sobs once more.
“Lead the way Master, if I can help you. I shall” I smiled falteringly as he wiped embarrassed at his eyes, staring surprised as he saw the various supplies I had.
Reluctantly he began back up the path at remarkable speed. My heart was racing in fear as I hurried after him, my stomach knotting tightly as we hesitated outside of the newest butcher shop. He hesitated, eyeing me warily.
“What training have you?” He asked warily, stroking his beard anxiously.
“Same as any” I replied guardedly.
“Why help a dwarf?” He demanded suddenly as he stared at his hand clutching the door handle, his eyes devoid and cold.
“Why not? Someone is in pain, if I can help then I have an obligation as a decent human being to help as much as I can” I murmured softly, shuffling uncomfortably as he stared at me stunned.
I followed him through the dimly lit butcher’s shop, the meat carefully packed and stored in the cold cabinets humming loudly. I hesitated at the bottom of the stairs as he hurried up them, taking them two at a time. A woman’s pained cries snapped me out of my frozen fear. I hesitated as I heard another voice arguing angrily with the man who had been banging desperately on the door. Suddenly another dwarf with black wavy hair stormed to the door to the bedroom, yanking the door open to stare at me angrily.
“A CHILD DARROW?” The woman sneered disgusted as she raked a distasteful look over me, as if I were something she had stepped in.
“She has a medical bag and the only one to even consider helpin’” The dwarf snarled threateningly, dragging the woman back into the room as I hesitated.
They continued to argue obliviously as I hesitantly shuffled in. A woman with damp, greasy raven black hair was lying listlessly in the bed. Her breathing was ragged and shallow, her face pale and beaded with sweat. Her dull amber eyes lit up with fear as she met my wary emerald green gaze as I knelt beside the bed.
“Let me help you” I murmured softly, smiling wanly as her fear turned to shock.
Shakily, I stretched my hand out towards her and laid it against her forehead. Flinching back, I gasped in pain as she burnt me. Her fever was past the normal worrying levels. This was deadly. I rifled in my bag, absently going through the list of what could cause such a fever.
“What symptoms?” I asked simply, stopping them mid-argument
“Why the hell you need to know outsider? You ain’t layin a finger on ma sister you understand me?” The woman snarled furious, quickly pushing me away and standing in the way.
“She’s her only hope Lynia! Taro and Otho are too far out, they won’t get here in time” The man snarled as he scooped a lethargic young boy into his arms.
“Let me look him over” I frowned concerned, wincing as I stood making them frown.
My hand absently drifted to the old scar curling up from my back. Once again it had cracked and bled, becoming infected. Despite my best efforts, it had healed very badly and would often crack open no matter what I would try. He hesitated as I waited in the middle of the floor, waiting for his permission. Sighing defeated he nodded and closed the gap. I was busy checking his pupil reactions when I noticed the partially eaten bread on the table.
“Did you eat the bread?” I asked absently as I stared at the poorly baked bread, bits of discolored seed strewn throughout it.
“I haven’t, been working all day. But my missus and son have.” The man replied confused.
“Her more than the child?” I queried nodding absently.
“What’s bread got to do with my sister dying!?” Lynia screeched incredulous.
“Corn cockle seeds. The baker should have known better than to even consider using the flour let alone sell the bread” I sniffed indifferently as I picked it up and examined it slightly closer.
“Is it toxic?” She gasped frightened
“Yes” I replied simply, frowning confused as she suddenly broke into sobs and clutched tightly at the woman’s hand.
“Will...will they...” The man choked on his words as the tears streamed down his cheeks.
“No.” I smiled reassuringly as I dropped the bread onto the table and strode back to my bag.
“Please help us” Lynia begged brokenly, her facade crumbling to pieces
“Is she pregnant?” I asked as I drew a misty serum into a syringe, pulling out a small bottle of ethanol and some gauze
“No. We decided it best to wait till Axel was a little older” Darrow replied as I walked over.
“Alright Axel, this’ll make you feel a lot better but it’ll pinch for just a moment” I smiled warmly as the young boy shrunk away from me, his eyes glued to the needle.
“He hates them” Darrow smiled sadly as he held him firm.
I cleaned the area before carefully injecting it into his arm. Smiling amused as he grinned bashfully.
“Didn’t hurt daddy, she’s magic” He giggled blushing shyly
I smiled softly as I turned and walked back to the woman’s bedside. Drawing a bigger dose, I carefully injected her as well.
“I’d say that I would be back tomorrow but I assume your healers would be here by then, so tell them the diagnosis and everything will be fine” I smiled softly as I lingered in the doorway of the butcher’s shop, the boy still clinging to his father.
“Thank you. I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you” He began
“No need. Just to know they aren’t in pain and laughing, loving life. It’s enough” I smiled reassuringly before turning and rushing down the path.
My heart was pounding as I unlocked the door to my bookshop and stepped inside, quickly locking the door behind me. Despite the nagging fear that father might find out, I couldn’t regret my decision to help. And yet, I couldn’t help wonder what effect my decision would have on my future.