Welcome to Oz, Sgt. Coyle!
The Thinning Veil
Location: Stormholm Caer Infirmary, Harkania March, Cymeria
Timeline: October 3550
The return journey to Stormholm Caer was far less frenzied than the headlong gallop to the valley of Tegwyn Tor. Even so, Kiernan urge the driver to push the horses. He felt his patients would be better served by a short rough journey rather than a protracted rough journey. The merasha tea had done its job although it could not be administered often enough and in large enough doses to keep his three patients totally unconscious. To have done so would have run the risk of overdosing. Fortunately, the journey from the vale to the keep was not a long one.
One of Kiernan’s first tasks after being promoted to Chief Battle Surgeon which, by default, also made him the ruling family’s chief physician, was to order that all infirmaries under his command be updated so that they were easy to clean, had plenty of light and fresh air. The one at Stormholm Keep was his pride and joy. It was located on the keep’s main floor within reasonable distance of the kitchens although it also sported its own small food and drink preparation area. The walls, like almost all interior rooms of the keep, were dressed with smooth stones. Kiernan had had them washed in a light, soothing blue-gray color. Patients had small, private rooms with single beds situated so the physician and attendants could move about it easily. The mattresses rested on a framework that were cleverly set up with gears and hinges that allowed the head and foot of the bed to be adjusted. Large windows provided additional light and fresh air if needed. There were large moonglobes suspended from the ceiling for light and a smaller one affixed to a bedside table that a patient could reach in order to raise or lower the cover.
The patient rooms shared a privy which mobile patients could reach and there was also a large bathing chamber that served for bathing as well as immersing patients that needed immersed to lower a fever or to raise their body temperature. There was also a large, well stocked preparation room, two treatment rooms and access to an enclosed courtyard allowing those patients that could spend time outdoors to enjoy time out of doors. A Dwarrow friend of Kiernan’s, after hearing him lamenting how hard it was to move patients around, had devised a lightweight chair that set on a wheeled frame as well as cots on wheels. Both had made the lives of his staff much easier, not to mention making things better for his patients.
Kiernan hummed under his breath in between directing his staff. In no time, his patients were stripped of soiled clothing that was sent to the laundry, bathed and clothed in clean nightshirts, their personal effects stowed in their bedside table, and ensconced in the comfortable beds. While other members of his staff tended to Yorath and his son, Tren, Kiernan headed to the room of the stranger with another change for the hot compress and a liniment that had proven to facilitate the drawing out of poisons and reducing swelling. He rolled his cart to the side of the bed and unhooked the handle that turned the gear to raise the head of the bed. “There we go, laddie. Let’s get this dressing changed so you can have some water and another dose of merasha.”
The last few hours had been less than pleasant. Perhaps they had been days, or maybe minutes. It was hard to tell how much time had passed as Richard kept lapsing in and out of consciousness. Whatever pain killers the medics had given him were helping, but whoever was driving the humvee must be an idiot with the way it had jolted and clattered over the ground. Fortunately he had mostly been out cold except when jolted awake by a particularly violent bump.
Now as he came around again he was in a hospital bed. He had been blown up, that was what Richard decided. That bright flash he had seen out of the corner of his eye had been an IED and everything he had experienced after that had been a hallucination as a result of the concussion that he no doubt received. He was sure that when he opened his eyes he would find himself in a hospital, hopefully attended by a pretty nurse or two. Before opening his eyes he gradually moved each of his limbs checking to make sure they were there. Luckily for him all of his bits seemed to be in the right place and functioning as intended.
Feeling his bed elevate and hearing a voice, he was a little disconcerted by the accent. It must be a coincidence, Richard told himself, he had run across the only Welsh doctor in the whole Army. Slowly opening his eyes he took in the stone walls and then swiveling his eyes over to his attendant the man’s strange clothes. “Shit.” Richard swore, both from the pain that had returned and from the realization that he was still apparently hallucinating. “I must have hit my head harder than I thought.” he mumbled irritably, talking more to himself than the other man. “that and no luck on a pretty nurse.”
“Ach, laddie, yer awake then?” Kiernan stated the obvious with a bit of sly humor in his voice. “That ‘twill make it easier to change the compress and redress the wound. We put ye in an over sized sleep shirt so I can twitch the shoulder of it out of the way, just so…” The Battle Surgeon suited actions to words, deftly tweaking the shoulder of the garment out of the way. Using warm water, he dampened the old dressing so he could remove it without it sticking to the wound. “This may sting a bit, but ye’ll be happy to hear that the wee beastie didna’ pump ye full o’ his venom. Still, ‘tis bad enough, eh?”
Richard winced as the man began to prepare the bandage for removal. What was the man babbling about? Something about venom? It was hard to follow the flow of his words with the thick accent. Richard leaned back and tried to lay still so that the man could get on with his work. “So you mean to tell me dragons are poisonous?” Richard muttered shaking his head slightly. “Could be worse I guess, still have all my fingers and toes.” though Richard winced again as the man worked. Clearly he wasn’t going to be fit to go anywhere for a while. “Did they get a message through to my unit?” Richard ask, remembering that even if he was bedridden he still had a duty to his command. “I’m with Alpha company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.”
Kiernan paused in his gentle ministrations, “I dinna ken about dragons, lad, but wyverns are verra poisonous. The little ones more so than the big ones.” He stopped his work to scrub his hands with a disinfectant soap and rinsed them in the basin of hot water and alcohol that an assistant was holding for him. Drying his hand thoroughly, he turned back to the young man in the bed. “I am Second Marshal Kiernan MacCeàrda,” he said before resuming his careful work. “Chief Battle Surgeon for the Cymerian Guard. I’ve been with the Guard a good number of years there’s nae unit with that designation.”
Richard could only blink slowly as he tried to make heads or tails of what the man was saying. “Who’s Ken? Wyverns… are those like dragon puppies or something…” Though he was having a hard time concentrating, Richard tried to place the man’s regiment. It sounded British if anything, though it was not one that he had heard of. “The 75th Rangers is an American regiment. Second Marshal? That's like a Lieutenant Colonel?” Richard motioned for the man to get on with tending his wounds though he occasionally gritted his teeth at the pain. “Can I get some morphine? Pain’s getting bad again.”
“I dinna ken what morphine is, Sergeant Coyle Richard…” Kiernan paused suddenly. “...do ye no have a shorter name by any chance?”
Richard winced and grit his teeth again both from pain and general irritation at this whole exchange. “Pain medicine… now…” He managed to grunt his demand. Though as his brain processed how the man had addressed him, it sounded like he thought Sergeant was his first name and Richard his last. “Sergeant is my rank, Richard my first name and Coyle my last name.” He explained in an exasperated tone. “Richard is fine I guess, even if it is unmilitary to call me be my first name.”
The Chief Battle Surgeon’s eyebrows rose at the man’s tone but the patience of a healer prevailed, “Richard. Not a common name here,” he mused quietly before fixing the man with his deep brown eyes, “I be thanking ye to not give me orders, lad,” he said mildly but signaled an attendant to bring the mug of merasha tea over. He watched as the girl helped the injured man sip the tea. “So, which military do ye belong to then?”
Richard smirked at the man, but was placated when the nurse came over with what he could only assume was medicine. She was plain looking, but still far better looking than the dudes he had been surrounded with hereto for. He allowed her to assist him in taking the hot liquid without protest and offered a smile when she had finished. Though the effects weren’t quite immediate he soon felt somewhat better. “I’m in the United States Army.” Richard replied to the man’s question. “You said you were in the Cymerian guard or something?” Richard stumbled over the unfamiliar word. “What country is that?”
Kiernan was interrupted in his response to his patient by the arrival of the Seneschal. He did not reproach the Guard’s commanding officer for her arrival in a patient’s room. The merasha would take full effect quickly so the interview, if there was to be one, would not last long.
Seneschal Anastasiya Windwalker paused in the doorway of the Stormholm infirmary. Although there was always a member of the Battle Surgeon’s staff on duty, the level of activity was always heightened when the little healer was in residence. She wrinkled her nose as the scent of brewing merasha tea reached her. She knew of its effects on Cymry, but it had to be administered topically and absorbed through the skin or a wound or ingested to have an effect. Mikhael had told her that being in a closed area and breathing a concentrated mixture of the fumes might make a Cymry muddle headed, it would not adversely affect the use of their powers. Odd how something so pleasant smelling could have such a detrimental effect on some.
Snagging one of the attendants’ attention, Anastasiya requested the whereabouts of Kiernan or the stranger that had been brought in from the Tegwyn farm. The young woman pointed the Seneschal in the right direction and scurried off to her duties. Crossing to the patient’s room, she rapped sharply on the door and entered moving aside so that her younger sister could enter the room as well. Mikhael had tasked Laryn with aiding Stasya and Oksana in looking after their guest as well as keeping her eyes and ears open to any indication of a threat from the alleged Traveler.
From the moment her boots touched down in the Keep, Laryn had taken off in search of either of her older sisters, Oksana or Anastasiya to alert them to the situation. She’d found the Seneschal first, and was now mere steps behind her as they headed toward the infirmary. She was quiet as they entered the patient’s room, closing the door behind them. She couldn’t help but be wary and a bit curious as she watched Kiernan tend to the unknown man.
She glanced at Stasya at her side, her voice quiet. “Could he really be a Traveler? I thought them no more than mere myths. The High Lord tasked me with keeping an eye upon him in case he wishes harm upon us.”
Stasya’s expression held amusement as she glanced at her youngest sister, “I believe Mikhael’s exact words were that you were to aid us in looking after our guest as well as reporting back to him anything learned, especially in the nature of potential threats.” Realizing that the physician had paused in his work and was now giving her a decidedly stern look, she smiled at the man, “My pardon, Meddyg MacCeàrda, I wanted to check on the condition of our guests.”
Seeing the look that MacCeàrda had given Staysa, Laryn went quiet once again, listening intently for the answer to the Seneschal’s question.
“His condition is that he was stung by a male wyvern. A hogof, to be exact on its type, Seneschal,” Kiernan responded in not quite censorious tones. “He was envenomated, but not as seriously as it could have been had the creature managed to stay the course and inject its full venom load.” The healer gestured at the paraphernalia on his cart. “We have gotten to the wound quickly enough that the poultice will quickly draw out a good portion of the venom and the merasha tea will ease the pain. By tomorrow, he can go into the hot mineral bath or steam chamber to help sweat the rest of the toxins from his system.”
“Thank you, Healer,” Anastasiya replied, her tone and expression indicating a great deal of respect for the man. She also understood the deeper meaning in his words. He would allow some time for her to speak to the Traveler, if that was indeed what he was, but he would not allow his patient to be stressed or harmed by her presence. Stasya now turned her dark blue eyes on the man in the bed, “I am Seneschal Anastasiya Windwalker, the commander of the Cymerian Guard. I have been asked to convey the High Lord’s gratitude for saving the Tegwyn’s children.” She gestured at Laryn, “This is Lady Laryn Stormdanovich.” Anastasiya purposely chose not to use Laryn’s rank of Courier thinking that, perhaps, their guest would be less wary of someone not in the country’s military units. Of course, her assumption could be completely off or irrelevant if the man was a Traveler.
Stepping forward when she was introduced, Laryn gave the young man a brief but polite nod.
Richard was enjoying the sedative effective of the tea when two new figures approached his bedside. Forcing his eyes to focus he could see it was two women, one older than the other with a bit of a resemblance. He did not understand everything the medic said, but the talk of sweating it out sounded very unpleasant.
As the older woman introduced herself and her companion Richard smiled and nodded in acknowledgement, though he saved the longer smile for the younger one. “Commander… I hope you will forgive me if I don’t salute.” he said and held up his right hand just enough to show the bandages. “I’m Sergeant Coyle, 75th Ranger Regiment, US Army.” Richard’s mind was a bit foggy and he wasn't sure how much he should tell them. Still the enemies he had been fighting would not have bandaged his wounds, or probably even taken him alive. “Ma’am, Can you tell me where I am? This doesn’t look much like Afghanistan.”
Anastasiya did not correct the man’s downgrading of her rank. It was quite likely that he was not conversant with the military ranks in Cymeria leading her to believe more and more in Brychan’s assertion that he was, indeed, a Traveler. “You are at Stormholm Caer in the...province of Harkania...the northernmost region of the country of Cymeria. This is the seat of the rulers of Cymeria.” She continued to watch closely for his reactions although she was not concerned for anyone’s safety at this point. Guardsmen would be posted about the infirmary later...just to be safe. “Sergeant...I am unfamiliar with that word. Is it a rank of some kind?”
Richard looked back blankly as Anastasiya told him where he was. He hadn’t heard any of those place names before and couldn’t even be sure what continent he was on. He probably would be more worried about that were it not for the mellowing effects of the merasha tea “Cymeria…?” He replied, his tone confused. “I’ve never heard of it. Could you show me on a map?” After another long pause some level of concern managed to bubble through his mellow state. “Are Cymeria and the United States allies?”
At the woman’s next question Richard gave her a very confused look. While their rank structure was strange with marshals and seneschals and who knows what else, it was bizarre that she didn’t know what a sergeant was. Every NATO country had them, as did many others. Shrugging he responded. “Yes, it’s a rank of noncommissioned officer…” On seeing the look he was given Richard continued the explanation. “I’m responsible to train and lead a five man fire team.” It was then that a sense of urgency, if only slight, forced it’s way past the merasha induced contentment. “I need to get a message to my unit, I need to let them know I’m alive.”
Stepping to the doorway, Anastasiya summoned one of her aides, “Bring me two travel maps. One of Cymeria and one of Aereth.” She did not have a small enough world map or even a globe that could be carried into a patient’s room. That would have to wait. But, seeing the landmasses and countries depicted on the travel maps should show the man that he was no longer where he thought he should be. The Seneschal sighed quietly to herself. Lying to him would serve no purpose. Besides, she asked herself, would someone truly try to fake being a Traveler? Would a spy or assassin save an enemy land’s children at risk to themselves simply to carry out their task?
Of course they would! Stasya could almost hear her husband’s and Gero’s answer to that question. She was not naive enough to believe that everyone was good or that altruism dictated all actions.
As those thoughts percolated through her mind, the Guardsman returned with two neatly rolled maps along with several others in a travel case. This time, she smiled. Nothing like anticipating the demands of one’s ranking officer! Taking the two maps she had requested, Anastasiya returned to the injured man’s beside. She unrolled the one of Cymeria first and pointed to the towering peaks of the mountain range depicted in its far northern region, “This is Stormholm Caer, where you are now.” She lay the map aside and unrolled the one showing the continent of Aereth, “And this is the continent you are on.”
Anastasiya paused, “Sergeant,” she said, according him the respect of his homeland’s rank, “it is my belief that you are no longer in the world that you knew.”
Laryn trusted her sister, she had for a very long time, and if her sister believed that this young man was indeed a Traveler, then Laryn herself would put her own belief to the notion. She admired the patience that Stasya displayed while trying to explain things to the injured man. On a personal note, she couldn’t help the curiosity that washed over her at seeing a real, living, breathing Traveler. “Seneschal..” She spoke gently, stepping forward toward Anastasiya more. “Perhaps we should wait until he has rested to try explaining things further? The merasha tea has no doubt taken effect and he will not be able to think clearly for a little while, yes?”
The maps Richard were presented with were far from what he expected. They certainly weren’t the four color military maps he was used to, rather they looked like something out of a history book. They were more like works of art than maps and for a moment at least Richard was lost in admiring the craftsmanship. Richard’s brow knitted as he studied the maps intently. He almost suspected that he was the victim of an elaborate practical joke and was tempted to ask them where the Hobbits live. Looking up though at the two women he saw the deadly seriousness of their expressions. Either they were in earnest, or he should never play poker with them. Returning his attention to the maps he studied them intently for several minutes, trying desperately to find familiar shapes. Shaking his head slowly he handed the maps back, muttering to himself “I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more, Toto.”
Richard was trying to put everything together to a logical explanation, and the only one he could come to was that he was on another planet. It would explain the strange fauna and the bizarre geography, but still it didn’t quite make sense, unless this was Star Trek where the aliens were hot babes and they all spoke English. Plus these people looked like they hadn’t invented the flush toilet, let alone space travel. “Seneschal…” He began, stumbling slightly over the unfamiliar word. “... how did I get here?”
The Seneschal was not being purposely rude by ignoring Laryn’s suggestion that they wait, but she could not let her tender hearted sister delay her in establishing whether or not this stranger presented a threat. She was not as good as her brother, but she did not sense an arcane aura from him so that limited his ability to harm anyone to physical means which was no little danger by itself. None were immune to the thrust of sword or dagger. A glance at Kiernan, though, told her the Battle Surgeon was firmly in Laryn’s camp and warrior though she was, getting between Kiernan and a patient was never wise.
“I do not understand the mechanism that brought you here,” Anastasiya admitted. No harm in that, few did. “In a past so ancient much of it has been lost, incredibly powerful sorcerers, archadepts, opened gates - portals to other places. It is believed that some of these remain but are damaged and occasionally the unwary Traveler is caught and brought here. My brother will see you when he returns from clearing the wyvern from the Tegwyn farm…” The sound of Kiernan clearing his throat interrupted whatever else she would have said. “For now, you should sleep. Laryn will remain here.” She did not state that there would also be guards posted but her sharp glance at Laryn made the fact clear. Bowing her head respectfully, Anastasiya exited the room.
Richard could only blink slowly in confusion at what the Seneschal offered as an explanation. Magic doesn’t exist, but then again neither do dragons and one had literally bitten him. As much as he wanted to know more, the merasha was making him sleepy and his mind compliant. He did manage a smile when told that Laryn would stay. “Yeah, sleep sounds good.” he muttered and closed his eyes.