IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE

by

Dolores J. Nurss


Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!


Chapter 37

Matters of Trust

Wednesday, April 8, 2708

I woke in the mid-afternoon from a nap that I hadn't meant to take.  At first I just lay there, my throat vile with thirst, very glad to find myself safely distant from my body, because it didn't feel too good and didn't smell too good, either.  I started to try and remember when I had bathed last; only then did it dawn on me just how much I'd let slip lately.  I vowed to get more of a handle on that; dignity is not, after all, something that a man can shed overnight.

Then I sat up bolt upright and looked quickly around me, but could find no sign of Cici anywhere.  Feeling at my pockets, I could find no sign of my wallet, either--of course not.  I cursed her roundly, and then began to laugh.  She wasn't such a bad sort, after all, for my mule still chewed placidly on the roadside grasses nearby, saddlebags still abulge with all of my possessions--she could've had the lot from me.  And, whether she knew it or not, I have many other wallets, cunningly stowed away in the unlikeliest places; it takes more than a pickpocket to ruin me.

Then I saw the dark glass lying next to me in the dirt--the prematurely emptied flask, the explanation for my untimely nap.  Diary, I looked on it with so much loathing I cannot tell you, this enemy more bitter than Cyran and all his ranks, crueler than any torturer, that drives the knife into my guts again and again, night after night.  I picked it up and dashed it against the nearest rock, a shiver of dark-bright shards and the prettiest tinkling sound.  But Diary, I also checked to make damn sure that I had emptied it.

* * *

They brought me here for my expertise, but mostly Rashid uses me for my strength.  (I brought it on myself.  I know that.  It's really all my fault.)  We don't have enough narcotics to go around on this, debridement day; our charges writhe and wriggle something fierce when Rashid cleans away the rotted tissue, insensible itself but firmly attached to that which feels all too keenly.  It's my job to hold them in place so that his knife won't slip.  (I knew what Young Master meant well enough when he said he could make life a whole lot easier for my brother.)

Our patients cry out, now piteously like the babes they are, now they shrill inhumanly like maddened cats.  (He didn't ask much of anything of me, really, just that I be nice.)  They scratch and they bite like cats, too.  They'll do anything they can to escape the treatments that we give them.  (He said there, there, I didn't have to cry, just trust him, just give him that pretty little smile of mine and lie there sweetly, and he'd do all the rest.)  They've left my hands raw; I'll have pseudomonas all over them by nightfall if I don't take care of them the minute we finish.  (He tried to be reasonable, but then he said that if I didn't stop crying he'd give me something to cry about.)  But nothing like what the rest of these have got, poor kids.

We've made some progress, but this one's wounds still smell.  (So it's really all my fault.  I don't even know why my brother risked his life to rescue me, why he bothered to bring me here.  I don't deserve to be here.)  Wonder how long she's been festering?  Any longer, I think, and those internal lacerations would've killed her.  Even now I worry, I worry a great deal.  I can't treat the deepest injuries except by antiseptic douches that may not reach far enough, that probably don't do any good anyway.  I have no idea what to do.  (It's all my fault.  If I'd cut up my lips like Maire'd advised me to, I wouldn't have had such a pretty smile.)

* * *

Diary, I wrote too soon--Cici has come back!  She and an extra mule loaded up with provisions, no less.  I heard the gear clattering and clanking up the road as I finished bathing in a nearby stream.  When I dressed and came out to see her, I couldn't believe my eyes. 

"You're looking great," she said with a grin, "How do you feel?"

"Almost human again," I said as I dried my hair and grinned back (sheepishly, I think.)  "But what's this--you're doing my shopping for me, now?"

She looked up at the range we'd have to cross, tangled with the thorns and other things that live on rainshadow and spite.  "Hard road ahead," she said, "Miles without villages.  We won't have anything that we don't take with us."

Then my heart sank before I even knew what had dismayed me.  And then it rose again when I noted that one of the saddlebags didn't clatter but sloshed.  And when I went over and confirmed my hope my heart sank again, all the way to Hell.  I looked from the bottles of chaummin to Cici, but her face betrayed no emotion whatever, the grin quite gone.

"I couldn't have you convulsing on the way," she said.  "It's a hard, hard road."

Good God.  Has it come to that?





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