“Padre. How long do we have?” she asked with concern.
“A week if nothing is done. More likely less.” replied a dark robed gentleman.
He turned to leave the stricken mother caring for her now ailing son.
“So what can be done Father? Can anything be done?”
The priest froze at the question before answering.
“Not by me. I can prolong his life or end his agony, but I cannot cure him.” He paused before continuing, “I do not trust those who can: I pray daily for their souls.”
He left the dark wet building and entered the endlessly pouring rain. It always rained during spring; and autumn too, rained until you prayed for the warmth of summer or the bite of winter to finally take it away.
He had seen this illness before; it had struck the seminary two years before he had been assigned to this village. None of those infected survived, at least until a group of THEM arrived following the scent of death: the last ones lived on but were forced to leave within the week along with their saviours. The Abbot was concerned that matters had got that far- but it was a desperate situation, one rarely repeated.
“I wish I will never have to meet with one of them again.” He muttered to himself, as he entered his cottage. “I wish I never see a red robed healer with an ornate white surplice ever, ever again.”
Lucia Vitririus trudged onwards through the endless driving rain. She could sense ahead what she was looking for, the aura and smell of death. She felt her nose begin to itch before sneezing loudly in the ever increasing darkness.
“Why was I sent this way?” she moaned sullenly to herself. Lucia was fed up of all the travelling and the rain: she was soaked to the bone so much that not even her travelling cloak or her regular clothes could keep her warm. She had spent over a week travelling southwest from the chapterhouse towards the line of the outbreak. So far her trail had led her through two dead villages: all inhabitants expired from the Caeruleus plague, named due to what remained of the dead: a small group of blue gems each the size of a fist: and the shape of organs.
There was one cure and only one known: a cure known only to the white healers.
Lucia glanced towards a tree by the roadside, considering taking shelter under it, but a drumroll of continuous rumbling thunder made her think twice: especially with her sword.
“I hope I am as close to the village as I think I am.” She grumbled, fed up with the damp and wet.
Martha stirred her pottage in absentminded despair, a week; maybe less until her eldest would begin to turn fully to ash to be swept into the gutter along with the other household waste. She looked over to him as he woke briefly.
“Don’t worry everything is going to be fine.” She reassured him as gently as she could, trying not to give away any sign of her concern.
He blinked his eyes in reply whilst nodding. Suddenly a coughing fit overtook him. Martha raced to his side; her other children were kept away from the plague: cared for by another relative in the village.
“Here drink this.” She whispered to him as she placed the pint pot to his lips.
He drank cautiously, hoping for some miracle to end the ever increasing pain which coursed through his body.
An urgent hammering at the door made them stare towards the portal.
Lucia looked at the stone shard which glowed in her hand: the strange thing with Caeruleus shards was that they glowed the closer they got to another that was infected with the plague. She had found where she needed to be: a small water locked village with a church at its focus. She placed the rock back into her coin pouch; before hammering on the door of the small cottage before her. Lucia shivered in the rain as she waited for the doorway to be opened.
“Yes?” a woman’s voice asked in fearful curiosity at who would be hammering on her door at this time of night.
“Good evening madam. I have been sent by the healer’s chapterhouse in Gwywo to deal with any cases of plague. I believe one of your relatives is stricken with the malady?” she ventured cautiously “If I am mistaken, then could you possibly house a traveller for the night, so that I might continue my journey.”
The woman looked at Lucia in fear, but then Lucia expected that. Her eyes were as black as the deepest sea which look endlessly onwards: and from her mouth, shone teeth of purest white enamel, so pure that they pierced the night’s darkness.
The doorway was opened fully to let Lucia enter the dwelling. She strode inwards letting her presence be felt, despite her being only of average height and build. It became clear who the patient was: a young man, barely in his mid-teens, lay semi-lifeless close to the cottage’s fire-stove.
“May I?” asked Lucia, motioning to a vacant stool.
The woman nodded. Lucia moved slowly to seat herself on the stool, but was interrupted by the boy’s mother.
“You claim you are a healer?”
“That is right.”
“I have been told not to trust you: that you work with the demons.”
“Now who told you that?” Lucia asked with amusement.
“Father Pilyn. He said it couldn’t be healed and not to trust those who can heal those infected.” The woman asked with sceptical anger.
Lucia looked at her with curious pleased surprise. “Bring him here please, I will wish to talk with him: do not worry: Although I am duty bound to preserve life, I am also bound not to interfere should one party disagree- be it myself, the patient or their carer. I will talk with him whilst you are gone.”
The woman seemed somewhat assured by her Lucia’s words. She filled a third bowl with pottage before handing it to Lucia.
Father Pilyn sat silently with his own bowl of pottage, eating slowly. Young Nicholas was the third case of the plague in the village, after that they would all be dead. The village of Gohebu was doomed. That is how it was at the seminary when it began to take hold of the trainee priests before the white-scarfed healers appeared. Including those taken by the healers, the total occupancy of the seminary fell to a third of what it should have been.
The door to the cottage opened, through which a drenched Martha stumbled panting for breath. Father Pilyn looked at her in puzzlement, had their doom finally arrived with the loss of Nicholas? Or had something else happened.
“A woman: is at my house, she asks for you father, claims that she is a healer.” She gasped.
Father Pilyn dropped his bowl of pottage in surprise.
“What colour scarf did she wear?” he asked with fearful concern.
“I could not see it well enough Father: it was caked in mud and hidden under her travelling cloak, but I think it may have been white.”
The priest rose quickly before shooting past Martha into the pouring rain towards the location of the healer.
Lucia calmly lifted her bowl of pottage up from the small table, holding it steady before steadily consuming it: not much to speak of as food, but it was something to eat considering the lack of rations she had with her.
The boy stirred before waking.
“Who are you?” he asked slightly confused.
“I am called Lucia and I am a healer. So you are?”
“Nicholas. Are you here to cure me?”
“That depends what you are Ill with, but I will try.” She replied honestly.
“If you are a healer, then why do you carry a sword?”
Lucia paused at that question. “Do you really want to know?”
“Yes.” Replied Nicholas.
She breathed deeply. “There are times, especially in more complex healing where there is a possibility that a demon might be attracted to a dying patient: it is then we are required to dispatch both demon and patient immediately: and by dispatch I mean kill.”
“Will that happen to me? I overheard the Father saying it was not possible to cure me, yet you say you can.”
Lucia smiled a kind knowing smile: “We will see.”
The door to the small cottage opened revealing a dark robed gentleman followed by Nicholas’s mother.
“You claim you are a healer?” he asked crossly.
Lucia smiled and removed her cloak: revealing her red robes, along with her mud coated white scarf.
That was all the proof that the Father needed. “A white healer; I wished that I would never see one of you again. I wished that this blasted plague would never enter my life again as well.”
“You have seen this before?” Lucia asked with concerned curiosity.
“Yes, I was at the seminary in Spes. We lost two thirds of the monastery in some way or another to it.”
Lucia bowed her head, “Arguably, we lost more then, than you did, out of the fifty healers sent there only five returned, not including the apprentices we gained then.”
The three of them looked at her confused.
“We need to take payment in some way for our skills, particularly the white healers. Our numbers fluctuate wildly over time, but always on a continuing decline. That is why, if Nicholas agrees, he will become my apprentice once I have healed him: that is the only payment that I wish for, everything else I will provide for myself.” She explained, before placing a handful of silver coins on the table. “This is my payment to you for housing me and feeding me. Now may I gain permission from you three to begin my duty?”
“On one condition:” Warned Father Pilyn, “I see you at work with this healing.”
“I agree with that: as long as you assist.” She replied.
He nodded in reply.
“Good, now Nicholas: this is your choice: either, you chance your life with me, by going through the purification: or I make it a quick and painless end for you by running you through with my blade: those are the choices.” Lucia explained with a grave expression on her face.
“If I choose to live, I definitely become your apprentice?” the boy asked.
“Then I choose, for you to heal me.” He spoke contentedly.
“But I thought you were going to take over your father’s business?” Martha shouted in annoyance.
“I do not wish to be a merchant mother; I do not have the mind for it. If I do not take this chance then I might not survive, anyway it might be more interesting.” Nicholas replied.
“It is the boy’s choice Martha; I am still wary of the white healers, but I think we should go with his decision.” Suggested the Father.
“Then it is settled. I will need time to prepare. Father, could you take her elsewhere for a while, I am just going to begin preparations.”
He nodded, shepherding Martha away, whilst Lucia made herself comfortable on the floor, unpacking her rucksack and laying it out on the dirt floor.
The man watched the young woman whilst the boy slept. She had a pot pestle and mortar wedged between her thighs, in which she ground together a mix of different herbs and vials of liquids.
“So what exactly does this healing process do?” Father Pilyn asked cautiously.
Lucia seemed to ignore him, dipping her finger into the darkening mixture and tasting it.
“Hmm? Oh yes. Effectively it temporarily places the patient in a death-like state. After that the body changes itself to deal with the Caeruleus Plague. If their will allows for the changes to occur, then they will live. Otherwise.”
“There is always a possibility that their form will become corrupted during the purification. If so then we are required to slay the patient. Demons exist, the plague could be said to be proof of that.” She explained, before commenting on the mixture before her. “It is almost ready, just need the final ingredients.”
She removed a slim knife from a side sheath on her belt.
“What final ingredients?” Father Pilyn asked cautiously.
“Blood. From the patient, the healer and two others.”
The priest nodded, “Should I fetch his mother?”
“If you think it beneficial, as for the last donation of blood.”
“I will do it, but not before we get his mother’s sample.”
Lucia nodded “It does not matter which we obtain first, so that is likely to be a good idea.”
He disappeared into the continuing rain, leaving Lucia alone with Nicholas.
“You said you were willing to help?”
“That depends what it is you require me to do: It was actually quite difficult to get Martha to donate her blood and my hand is not in the best shape at the moment.”
Lucia nodded in acknowledgement before looking at the now partially awake Nicholas.
“Nicholas, how well can you move?”
“Not very well miss.” He replied weakly propping himself up: blood seeping through his freshly bandaged hand.
Lucia acknowledged this before turning to Father Pilyn, “Padre, I will need to strip my patient in order to continue with the process: could you assist me with that?”
He nodded, assisting Nicholas out of his tunic in preparation for the healing to truly begin.
“Just place your arms by your sides.” Encouraged Lucia; gently.
Nicholas responded as well as he could, despite his evident weakness and frailty.
Lucia brought the dark liquid closer to his body, dipping her fingers in, coating them in a layer if arcane ink. She began to slowly and carefully to draw the symbol of the anchor: the symbol relating to the saviour queen who was executed by being attached to a ship’s anchor before being drowned in what is known as the sea of sorrow. The marking stretched from the hollow of his throat down to his groin: it curled around his hips and across his chest. Upon completing the first symbol Lucia began on the second: the gateway symbol or pentacle was traced with care onto the patient’s forehead.
“Are you sure that those symbols will work?” the priest asked with scepticism.
“It will Padre; or do you not trust my skill and knowledge in healing?”
“Until I see this through to the end I will not be entirely sure if I trust you.”
Lucia shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
She reached into her bag, removing a small silver statue of two people: a man and a woman, connected together by their spine and walking in opposite directions: the twins Mara and Marius. She placed it carefully in Nicholas’s hand, before gently lifting both of his arms so that his hands rested on his stomach both holding the small icon.
“Hold this as tight as you can: it will guide you through the world beyond.” She instructed with a serious expression on her face.
He nodded weakly in response.
Lucia stood and moved herself around so that she was knelt behind Nicholas’s head, within arm’s reach of the mark on the boy’s forehead.
“Padre, there are a few things that I need you to do: first administer a finger’s worth of the draft to Nicholas. After that, prepare the draft for his re awakening by adding beer to it: he will need to drink all of it to be completely cured.”
Father Pilyn nodded in acknowledgement of his orders, before feeding Nicholas the required dosage from the chalice-like mortar.
Lucia placed her blood coated hand onto the symbol inscribed on the boy’s head, chanting a short prayer-like spell to focus her energies and begin the purification process.
Father Pilyn waited until Lucia had stopped chanting before asking: “how long will it take?”
“That depends on the patient: between one phase, to three days is what is expected, I just hope nothing goes wrong now. Everything is up to Nicholas now.”