After centuries, magic has become a mere legend to the common man, just a myth to be thrown together with chimaeras, minotaurs and dragons. Magic slowly died out from the main public, belief in it became weaker and weaker, its practitioners dwindling in numbers. Unfortunately, what humans could not forget were curses, as the curses did not forget humans either. With plagues and disasters blindly taking lives, the world seems more cursed than ever, but humans continue to survive, to struggle, hoping one day they will truly get to live. Fate decided to open its eyes and look at a certain human village, cursed with a dreadful plague.
Winds were yet again carrying the foul odour of sickness, swirling around villages like Arcut. The streets were left almost empty, no trace of the children playing games in the calm afternoons, the sound of carriage wheels and sturdy hooves no longer shaking the ground. People knew that this plague did not allow for the same cheerful crowds of Sundays, elders sitting on the bench discussing on the side of their home and plentiful markets, as the death could spread from friend to friend. This did not mean that houses were quiet nor were the fields with no workers, but a part of the soul of Arcut felt certainly lost. This occurred in far too many of the human villages, silenced by the plague. However, in a city not far away, a wagon began its route towards Arcut.
Placed in the south point of Arcut was a small farm, like any other, and through the wooden fence a person would rush to the house in the middle of it all. The old boars of the steps creaked below the woman, the door handle squeakd of age. The woman left her belongings on a table and reached a door leading to a small room. She stopped, as if grabbing the door knob sent her into fright. Her whole body shivered abruptly. In the aftershock, a short breath and slow push to the door, forcing herself to look inside. Her eyes were met by a slightly startled child, resting in a bed under thin coverings. His skin was pale and dry yet blood quickly rushed to his face, as he exclaimed in a weak voice:
“Mom! Is it already morning?”.
“It was a few clocks ago, it is noon now, my darling.” The mother said, with a tone of relief. “ But don’t worry, your father and I are managing the farm well. We did it before you and your siblings got here with your little noses.” she says, gesturing as if she would poke his nose. “Did you sleep well? You …really weren’t waking up in the morning and it was … “ the mother stopped herself, her arms getting closer to her heart.
“I slept until you entered, had almost no nightmares this time. Just thinking of chickens, they must miss me. You must miss me too. But I don’t feel… I want to get up but it hurts, mom. It still hurts. I can’t stop it.”
“Morti, don’t worry. I told you to stay in bed for as long as you need. I’m still so glad”, she snorted for a second, her blinking unable to hide a couple tears, “I’m very glad you’re awake. I’m so happy to see you. I did get something!” The mother brings out a wood can from her pocket. “Cream from aunt Denisa! Can you still move your fingers? I’m sorry to ask you again but put some of it where it hurts you, Mortigus.”
The kid nodded while showing his open hands. He grabbed the can slowly, putting it near his hip. He tapped his hand on it, as he liked the sound it made. The mother was looking at him deeply in thought.
“ I wanna see my sister too, could you tell her to come?”asked him innocently, pushing through the hesitation.
The mother looked at Mortigus with a forced smile, her eyes slightly closing to hide a few small tears.
“Your sister is just too tired, ..she… let her rest, she will see you tomorrow. She cares so much for you after all, never forget that, Morti. She would come but she is too tired, you know how it is.”
Mortgus felt something was wrong, his sister was a bundle of joy with no stopping, except for when she caught the plague as well. He was feeling tired too, so he understood,but it also made his young mind crawl towards a terrifying idea, the idea that his sister might be tired …in the same way his brother was. His parents sometimes tell him he is “simply tired” too, but at this point he could tell. No one should be so tired. His parents wouldn’t have hidden so many tears, hoping their cries would not be heard by Mortigus.
The parents would come from time to time to his room, with food, with words, with water, to look, to talk. He would try to eat but could barely chew. He could speak, but only slowly and with a faint enthusiasm, a remainder of who he was. The sun came down, and with fear in his eyes, his father would come close to the bedroom’s window. Mortigus was happy to see him, even though darkness hid his sickly smile.Mortigus’ father was a gentle man, even in the moments he felt he couldn’t communicate his emotions, the son always felt safe.
“Good night, son. Let us see each other next morning. Someone might come to visit, I wish for you to see them. Please sleep, the moon won’t wait for you.” the father said, at the door’s threshold.
Mortigus tried to chuckle but it came out as a cough. He tried to say goodnight back but his throat was drained and his voice was low. The father replied back, but the boy could barely hear it, his ears having an acute inflammation. The moon mentioned in many of his father’s stories; he seemed to enjoy it as a symbol, as something any fairy-tale needs. Gazing at the moon, Mortigus fell slowly prey to sleep, hoping to wake up again for the sun.
The sun was finally rising, fragile beams of light making their way through the window and landing on Mortigus’ face. He shook his head, his eyes flickering. In his blurry vision, Mortigus could make out the silhouette of his father, standing a chair in the corner of the room. The father was occasionally turning his head to Mortigus, but still didn’t notice the boy was awake. The face of the man was plain, deep in thought, his fidgeting hands keeping his body occupied while the mind was left to wander. How long has he been standing like this, Mortigus did not know. Finally, as the boy started to raise his back from the mattress, the father was awakened as well from his state of fret and jumped towards the bed.
“ Thank goodness you’re awake, truly, thank goodness.”, the father said in a low tone. He attempted to hug his son but quickly retracted his arms, his expression shifting again. Mortigus could barely open his mouth to greet his father. His face has gotten weaker than even yesterday. He could see his father retaking his spot on the doorway, his eyes jumping between looking out the front windows and looking at his son.
Towards the farm two shadows were marching slowly. One was distinctly taller ,wearing a mask with a long, bird-like beak, eyes hidden behind smoky lenses embedded into the mask. The tophat of the shadow seemed to exaggeratedly add to the already imposing figure. The slim coat served to keep the appearance of a human only in shadow, assuming the shadow wasn’t part of them as well. The individual accompanying the tall figure was more vaguely human, of a regular height, having a mask with a smaller beak, glasses more clear, letting their dark eyes to show. The attire of the second figure was also slightly more revealing, letting his hands and shoes out to the onlooker’s gaze. The figures were indeed affiliates of the Plague Doctors, walking through the empty road with a sense of duty and in an almost familiar rhythm. They would finally reach the wooden fence of a small farm. From under the pitch-black cloth, an arm sprung forth, holding a cane with strange inscriptions and a rotund handle. The one gripping this cane was the tall doctor, who proceeded to raise the cane and hit the fence on its poll briefly. A second and a third hit followed shortly, a clicking sound of strange intensity. The father shivered upon hearing the sound, he’d heard of it before. A doctor must greet their patients appropriately, and so did the Plague doctors, this cane sound being their signature “warm greeting”, known by many villagers.
“Stay put, I’ll be back…with help.”. The father seemed to force a slight hopeful smile before leaving the room. Mortigus was still barely capable of keeping awake, but he felt at this moment he shouldn’t succumb to sleep. Sounds could be heard outside, of people talking, the father’s voice, accompanied by a rather foregin voice. Step sounds hit the front door of the house.
The bedroom door creaked open, pushed by an arm enveloped in black fabric. A white, pointy beak peaked by the doorstep, looking directly at the bed-ridden boy.
“Ah, here is the patient. Hello, boy, do you know who we are?” the doctor said, while his assistant also entered the room. The father stopped in the door frame.
“ H-hello, i…uh”, the boy had a hard time talking, a great feeling of anxiety was building up in his throat. The two oddly-clad people in front of him had an imposing presence, especially in that small room. Mortigus didn’t know why but he felt fear in that moment, a kind of fear he’s never experienced before.
“I’m sorry, my son must be too weakened to answer” the father said, in a rather trembling tone.
“No worries, but I still would rather assess his state of mind at the moment, before getting into... well.. the body. Health extends to the mind as well.” responded the taller doctor, while nodding to the assistant. The assistant then pulled down their luggage onto the floor, a clattering metal noise coming from it. As the assistant opened the luggage, revealing multiple tools of unknown uses, the doctor turned to the kid again.
“Hope the masks are not scaring you, this must be the first time seeing someone wear them.” the doctor said to the kid. Mortigus noticed the doctor’s voice had gotten softer, calming him a bit.
“ …Yes, but I've heard of them. You must be the doctors.” Mortigus forced himself to say.
“Ah, indeed! Very glad to hear you have an idea of who we are. Your father said you have been sick for over a month, and yet here you are, capable of conversation, that is so peculiar, so…impressive, boy. I have to say though, we are more used to the full title: Plague doctors! The medical field is wide and full of particular …listen to me ramble, sorry, boy. My assistant took this rambling as an opportunity to prepare my tools, that is good at least.”
The assistant was indeed ready with two metal tools in their hands, as well as a ceramic container.
“Tools? So you use tools too?” asked the boy innocently.
“These are not really the same as your parents’ farming tools but yes, we use tools to help people. It is dangerous to touch you directly when the plague spreads so quickly. I would advise your parents to be more careful too, but it might be useless anyway.”
The boy was confused by the last words of the doctor, but before he could reply, the assistant grabbed his left wrist. Mortigus’ body trembled a bit, lacking the energy needed for a bigger reaction. He could barely move despite the assistant clearly putting little strength in their grip. The assistant then started pulling the bed sheet from over Mortigus’ left arm and proceeded to press slowly onto the crook, while holding the arm steady from the elbow. Mortigus could see the lines in his arm get more visible.
“ You got good veins, boy, that makes our job easier.” chuckled the doctor. “I apologise for the following sting but it is necessary that you do not struggle.”
While focusing on the assistant, the boy didn’t even notice the doctor holding a sort of needle and hitting it with their finger, making a droplet fall onto the floor. In a quick motion, the doctor grabbed the boy’s arm as well, injecting the needle into the crook. The boy attempted to struggle from fear but his body was already too limp. His eyes started to close, his last sight being the white mask of the doctor turning away from him.
A painful pressure threw the boy into consciousness. His head felt heavy, his brain compressed by the air itself. As the boy tried to rise, a couple of arms picked him up from the bed. By the weird feel on his back, the boy could tell it wasn’t any of his parents’ arms.
“Then I’m afraid we will have to depart right away, but I assure you that the treatment Mortigus will receive at the laboratory far exceeds the one we could give out here. The boy has a strong heart, good veins, he will make it, I promise you.”
“We’re truly grateful, sir. It means a lot to hear something hopeful. I’m afraid we can only pay you with some of our chickens, or maybe a pig? They didn’t have the time to fully grow -”
“Payment is not necessary,“ the doctor interrupted the mother, “I know how these times have left your family deeply wounded, my duty as a doctor pushes me to help to the best of my abilities. I cannot ask you three to give me anything more than your trust and hope.”
The doctor turned to the half-asleep boy, who was being carried by the assistant. “Mortigus, I think you should give your goodbyes for the moment. As sleepy as you are, you would regret not doing it.”
The assistant brought the boy closer to his parents, who jumped to hug their son. Mortigus could barely feel their arms around him, but he felt their warmth. Tears started drooling on his hair. His sleepy eyes could barely make out the shape of his parents’ mouths moving, their words barely audible through their cry. However, he could feel the cry was different from the ones he had heard when he was in bed, at night, while his parents would discuss at the table. Indeed, there was hope in their cries, slowly overpowering the desperation that has been built over so many days. He attempted to say goodbye as the doctor told him, muttering the words and forcing his arms to hug them back. Overcoming the pain still present in his left arm, he reached out for their necks, but the assistant pulled him back. The kid, not fully aware of the situation, still attempted to hug the air.
“Sorry, but prolonged contact may be dangerous. As much as it hurts, you will have to say your last words now. It is better for his health the sooner we leave.” the assistant calmly said. Mortigus, almost fully awake, could now make out the faces of his parents, tearful as they were, and tried to smile, to cheer them up.
“Am I …leaving too?”, asked Mortigus.
“ Yes, my dear, they will take you far from here to make you feel good again. And after a bit of time, you’ll be here again, I promise, they promise too!” said the mom, glancing between her child and the doctors.
“ We’ll see you soon, Morti, now be brave and keep your heart strong. We’ll miss you.”, added the father.