Chapter 1 - The Healer
There was something about the written word that enchanted Karliah. The feel of the rough parchment, the faint scent of ink, its heavy leather cover – all of it brought happy chills to her spine. It drew her into another world, one full of adventure and excitement so different from her own life. Her favorite place was on a stool in front of the hearth, where she could read in cozy warm.
She was there now, running a finger down the page, eyes scanning each sentence with intent focus.
That is, until a sharp pounding on the door jolted her from this wonderland.
“There's someone at the door!” Gregory Tuk called from his study. The house wasn't particularly big, stuffed full of old tomes and spellbooks. Magical odds and ends sat on pedestals or lay forgotten in corners. Karliah's place was in the loft high above, where there were creaky floorboards and a coating of dust.
“Markus, there's someone knocking,” Karliah mumbled, turning a page.
Markus, who had been leaning eagerly over the stew pot a moment before, sighed and headed for the door, muttering curses. “Always the doorman...” was all Karliah caught. He was a muscular young man with stern features and straw-colored hair that was pulled back away from his face.
A faint smile twisted Karliah's lips, but her eyes didn't leave the page. She tossed her braid of thick black hair over her shoulder.
The door opened, and she heard a sharp intake of breath from Markus.
“Please,” panted a male voice. “My son. He was playing in the field, and his leg was caught beneath the plow.”
Karliah closed her book, looking over her shoulder. A sweaty man filled the doorway, the quivering frame of a small boy in his arms. He was likely one of the village farmers. The boy was crying, little face puckered and wet, clutching his father's jacket. Droplets of blood fell to the floor.
“Bring him in,” Markus said, standing aside.
Karliah stood, hurrying over and clearing the small table in the center of the room. “Mr. Tuk! Someone's here for you!” Glancing at the farmer, she said, “Set him here.”
The man nodded, his brow furrowed with concern. He eased the boy onto the table.
The door opened, and Gregory Tuk entered the room. Firelight shone on his face, painting his wrinkles in shadow. He was a short, shapeless man, clothed in brown robes. A long beard was splayed down his chest, riddled with gray streaks.
“Fell under a plow,” Karliah informed, bringing out the bandages and healing herbs. “Looks like a break and a nasty gash.”
He nodded slowly, eyes calm and soft. “Markus, go fetch some water.”
“Yes sir.” He headed out the door.
Karliah and Markus were orphans, both taken in by Mr. Tuk when they were little. As the village's healer and magician, he had a merciful heart. Markus' father was a war hero who had disappeared soon after he was born; the plague took his mother a few years later. As for Karliah, no one knew where she had come from. When she was a child, she had wandered to his door, half-starved and freezing. The two had grown up together under his tutelage. However, while Karliah decided to follow in his footsteps and learn the old art of magic, Markus was apprenticed to the village smithy, who had no son of his own.
“This one's yours, Karliah,” Mr. Tuk said.
She looked at him, then glanced at the whimpering boy. “Me? Are you sure?”
“Yes. Just think it through one step at a time.”
“Oh...Okay.” She placed the supplies on the table and took a breath. The type of magic used to treat a patient was so delicate. She would rather have learned the less precise magics that the battle mages used.
The boy let out another choked sob, and his father crouched down by the table, feeling the boy's head and holding his hand. He looked over at Gregory Tuk and growled, “Whatever you're going to do, healer, do it quick.”
Mr. Tuk nodded and looked at Karliah.
She gathered her thoughts. The first thing she had to do was calm him and numb his mind to the coming pain. He would be too young to keep still. And a squirmy patient was always difficult to deal with. She moved over to his side. “What's your name, sweetheart?”
“Ai,” he croaked out, face streaked with sweat and tears, gripping his father's hands.
“Ai? That's a nice name.” She took a closer look at the wound beneath his knee, pulling back the edges of his trousers slightly. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“A little sister.”
Markus walked in, lugging a bucket of water, and set it down next to the table.
Gregory Tuk spoke softly, “Markus, why don't you take Mr. Greenwin to check the plow? Make sure there isn't any rust or anything else.” When the boy's father looked hesitant, he said, “Don't worry. We'll take good care of your son.”
He looked contemplative a moment longer, then followed Markus outside with a glance over his shoulder.
“Thank you,” Karliah said once it was quiet. “I thought he was going to stare holes through me.”
He just nodded. “Keep your mind on your patient.”
She turned back to the boy. “I'm going to make it so it doesn't hurt anymore. Okay, Ai?”
The boy's lips trembled, but he said, “Okay.”
Karliah put her hands on either side of her head and bent over him, closing into her eyes. Stray hairs tickled her face, but she forced herself to concentrate. She pulled the magic from her inner depths, channeling it through her body. A warm sensation filled her, centering around her hands. Murmuring comforts between incantations, she opened her eyes again. The boy looked up at her, gasping with relief and wonder. Warm yellow light swirled around her hands.
“Is it magic?” he asked. “Is it magic?”
His eyes went round as saucers. At first, she thought he was afraid, but then she realized that he looked excited. “My papa told me about magic.”
“I bet he did.” She smiled at him, then moved down to his leg. “Now does it hurt?”
He shook his head.
She glanced at Mr. Tuk, but he was watching in approval, so she turned back to the boy. There was quite a lot of blood soaked in his trousers, but it seemed to have clotted quite a bit now. There was a gooey mess on the table. She swallowed hard, telling herself that if she ever wanted to be a battle mage she would have to get used to the blood. With steadied hands and a composed face, she cut off the leg of his trousers above the knee, then took another look at the leg. It was indeed broken.
“What do you need to do?” Mr. Tuk asked, looking through those careful eyes.
“Set the bone, make sure there can't be any infection, then close it.”
“Bone? Can you see it?” The boy sat up. Now that the pain was gone, he seemed quite at ease with his situation.
Karliah pushed him back, afraid that the sight might send him into hysterics. “Let me know if it starts hurting again. It shouldn't, but I'm still trying to master that spell.”
“Okay,” Ai said.
Karliah began the process of setting the bone and cleaning out the wound. After adding a poultice, stitching the wound, and binding a splint to his leg, she said, “Do you want to see more magic?” She felt a little nauseous now, but the boy's leg was straight and a lot less vile-looking.
“Yeah!” He looked down, eyes wide.
She covered the wound delicately with her hands, glancing over at Mr. Tuk. “I'm using a purification spell.”
He nodded his assent.
Her hands took on an unnatural warmth. There was a sudden bright white flash, and Ai jumped, mouth open. Karliah smiled at him, leaning back. “There.” She began wrapping his leg with soft white cloth, covering the splint. “Now it will heal, but I don't want you putting any weight on it. Okay?”
He looked at her, and a slow smile spread across his face.
“Go fetch Markus and the boy's father now,” said Gregory Tuk, wrinkles forming next to his eyes. “I'm sure that they will want to know he's okay.”
Karliah finished bandaging his leg and whisked out the door. “Yes, sir.”