Kloy sighed as he walked out into the gardens, stretching. He tended to do his morning exercise in them, as he could be too often distracted in the training grounds most used – either by attractive soldiers or those coming to him with medical questions.
He tended to use the Pond Garden for doing so – he was hardly the only castle resident to utilize the gardens for exercise, and the Rose Cage and Kitchen Gardens could get crowded at this early hour. He might see two or three others in the Pond Garden, but that was more manageable – and they were the third safest of all the gardens.
Kloy paused as the Labyrinthine Hedge blocked his way forward – turning as it blocked the route leading back to the castle as well. The physician tensed, uncertain if the gardens had decided he would make for good prey, as they occasionally did to those who wandered in them – though mainly the groundskeepers who worked closer to the actual plants.
The hedge shook, opening a new path – but it hadn’t produced any mind-fogging flowers and wasn’t closing in on him.
Kloy took a steadying breath – and with nothing else for it, used the path the hedge wanted him to follow. As it led him to the Embracing Gardens, a sense of foreboding settled at the base of the physician’s spine – if the gardens wanted to make a meal of him, the Embracing Gardens were the place to do so. He was older but still plenty fit and a hand-to-hand martial artist besides.
At his hesitation, the hedge shook again – but rather than close in to force Kloy further, the Stranglehold Vines pulled something in the gardens into his line of view.
A body? the doctor thought, abandoning his hesitance to rush forward. As he crouched, his brows shot up, A human?
Indeed, the face-down body belonged to a human – one with brown hair grown wild and ragged, roughly mended clothing. Kloy took the human’s pulse at the neck – unconscious, not dead. Frowning, wishing he could ask the plants how the person had collapsed, he carefully rolled them onto their back.
They groaned, a hand weakly clutching at their chest. Their pale face was wet and paler even than Kloy’s studies of human anatomy suggested it should be. Their singular heartbeat had been irregular and too fast – he pulled open one of the human’s eyes and saw his sclera was very slightly yellow from the usual white he knew they were meant to be.
Heavy metal poisoning at least, Kloy thought, not caring that his apparent patient was a human as he gathered them into his arms carefully, But that wouldn’t cause chest pain…
The physician was stopped by the Stranglehold Vines – they wrapped around the human, the nearby Snapblooms hissing and Snarefans snapping their great mouths closed repeatedly.
Kloy abruptly remembered where he was – but didn’t relinquish his patient as he noted how the garden reacted. He took a steadying breath as his own hearts hammered, and said, “I won’t let them come to harm – but I can’t treat them here.”
The plants seemed to hesitate – then pulled back begrudgingly, Snapblooms still hissing but leaning back in the beds.
Kloy wasted no time – the Labyrinthine Hedge gave him a clear path back to the castle. Some people called out to him as he rushed through the halls – as a rushing physician was never a good sign – but he ignored them as well.
He took the human to an empty operating room, calling out, “Vascu, I need medicine heavy metal poisoning! Hoyl, my surgical tools!”
“Yes, sir!” the doctor and nurse on duty he’d spotted as he ran through the wards replied.
Kloy had already tied his hair back for exercise but fixed it into a quick bun to ensure it stayed out of the operating space before pulling a cloth wrap from the locker in the room to keep the rest back. He pulled out an apron as well and washed his hands and arms at the sink before donning gloves.
“A human?” Vascu frowned as she entered – though she quickly pulled the human up to pour the metal poisoning medicine into his mouth. It would only mitigate the symptoms, but for now, that was what they needed it to do.
“They were in the gardens in that state,” Kloy replied, “We can ask them about it if they manage not to die.”
“Right,” Vascu said, setting the medicine bottle aside as she also came over to dress for surgery.
“Doctor Kloy,” Hoyl panted lightly, laying out the leather pouch with Kloy’s preferred surgical tools – retrieved from his office. The nurse retrieved a cart and laid the tools out after dipping each in an alcohol-based solution to purify them.
“Thank you,” Kloy said, easily ripping through the threadbare shirt to carefully feel along the human’s chest.
They lurched up with a cry when the doctor found something buried under the skin, but as Vascu had already set to tying their limbs to the table, they didn’t move very far.
“We’ll have to risk it,” Kloy sighed, “Ready?”
Vascu and Hoyl nodded, both prepped to assist him.
Kloy nodded back and set to work.
Minaz sighed as she made her way to the Medical Wards – what a mess she had on her hands in Jurao’s absence. The Demon King was still in his Reunification Campaign, and while he was approaching the last city on his circuit, that still meant months before he would return to Caslavven.
Which left dealing with the random human Kloy had apparently stumbled across that morning to her as his Right Hand.
She nodded to the guards standing outside the wards as she passed. There had already been several angry attempts to reach the human, and while Kloy himself had easily stopped the attackers, then set the bones he’d broken doing so, castle guards were an easier way to discourage further attempts.
Minaz knocked on the Royal Physician’s office door, though she knew which room the human was in based on the guards outside the door.
“Unless you are Minaz, my door is closed,” came Kloy’s voice through the door.
Minaz snorted, calling back, “Guess I’m in luck then.”
It only took a moment for Kloy to unlock the door for her, waving her inside.
“So?” she asked, taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of his desk.
Kloy sighed, sitting heavily behind the clay and stone desk, “They haven’t regained consciousness yet – not in a useful way.”
“Alright,” Minaz said, “Tell me what you do know.”
“The gardens led me to them,” Kloy sighed again, “They had a clear concern for the human’s well being – I had to promise they would not come to harm for the plants to allow me to take them. Their clothes were heavily damaged, and I would guess they were living in the gardens for some time based on that and the rest of their general state.”
Minaz hummed, then sighed, “That doesn’t tell me much…”
“I know,” Kloy took off his glasses, rubbing at his temples, “I wish I had more for you.”
There was another knock, followed by someone saying, “Sir, the human is awake.”
Minaz and Kloy shared a look before they both rose, the physician leading the way to the nearby recovery room.
“Good afternoon,” Kloy greeted cautiously, though it was nearly evening, “I’m the Royal Physician, Kloy. This is the King’s Right Hand, Minaz.”
Minaz nodded, taking in the mystery human – they were a heavyset person with pale, lightly freckled skin and a long beard wearing only a plain tunic provided by the medical staff.
“I’m,” the human coughed – and accepted a cup of water offered by a nurse before continuing, “Braelin.”
“Do you know where you are?” Minaz asked.
Kloy took over from the nurse, waving them out of the room as he checked the human’s pulse.
“The… Demon King’s castle?” they ventured, voice very soft.
“That’s right,” Minaz nodded, “Specifically, the medical wards – Kloy found you unconscious in the gardens.”
The human nodded, “Happens.”
“I’m not surprised,” Kloy arched a brow, “How long have you been living in the gardens, Braelin?”
The human considered, then offered a shrug as his eyes slid closed.
Kloy sighed, “I’m afraid it would do no good to press him – he’s still recovering from surgery near his heart.”
Minaz sighed, crossing all four arms and considering. If Jurao were here, he’d definitely want to hear the human out before making a decision – and Kloy had already gone to the trouble of saving the person’s life. So she said, “Alright. See what you can discover when you can, and tell me when you have most of this shit figured out.”
Kloy chuckled, “Of course. Not very fun, playing King, is it?”
“No,” Minaz snorted, then held up a hand, “You can keep the guards until we decide what to do with them, though it seems unfair if we kill them after all this.”
“Him,” the human offered softly.
“Him, then,” Minaz said, waving as she left to work things out with Gnori.
At the evening meal, the human was naturally the topic of the day. Kloy himself was absent – in case he was needed.
“The gardens have been acting odd all day,” Jouvi sighed, “Do they have a connection to the human or something? That’s where Kloy found them, right?”
“Him, and yes,” Minaz also sighed, “Kloy says he had to promise the gardens the man wouldn’t come to harm before they would let the good doctor take him. What do you mean by odd?”
“They’ve been… drooping,” Jouvi frowned, “And not like they usually do when they’re going dormant – and they have been pretty healthy lately.”
“Really?” Minaz asked, “There haven’t been any major attacks, though…”
“No,” Hujur agreed, making notes, “With the King on his Union Campaign, no one sees any point in attacking the castle – the last attack was… fifteen years ago.”
She smiled at her partner’s usual focus on castle knowledge, then sighed, “So maybe… he was taking care of them…?”
“Impossible!” Gnori replied, slamming a fist on the table for emphasis, “How could a human even get close to the gardens!?”
“Well, he was definitely living in them,” Minaz rolled her eyes, “But the rest we’ll have to get from him after he’s had time to recover from his recent surgery.”
Gnori grumbled but kept his peace.
This is a headache, Minaz sighed again, massaging the bridge of her nose – mostly glad Vajur was out on a mission. She loved the spymaster, but he would certainly make one stray human an even bigger headache than it already was.