The Thinning Veil
Location: High Lord's Apartments, Stormholm Caer, Harkania March, Cymeria
Timeline: Toward the end of October 3550
Fortunately, Kiernan had been in the keep’s infirmary taking inventory of the medical supplies and dismissing the Tegwyn family from his care when Oréas arrived with the news of the High Lord’s injury. He swiftly gathered the items he would need and stowed them in his medical bag. With luck, those caring for Mikhael would remember that the first treatment would be immersion in hot water to aid in denaturing the proteins in the poison. Since the High Lord had been taken to his residence there was immediate access to a bathing chamber and, if he remembered correctly, a steam room as well. Quickly, he gathered the remainder of the items he needed and nodded to Oréas that he was ready.
The High Lord’s lair was located in an area of the keep that had formerly seen little use and was a fair trek from the infirmary. Upon reaching the interior door to the chambers, Kiernan recognized the distinctive uniform of a Morrighan standing guard on the entrance. Obviously, he already had his orders because he merely nodded to the meddyg and his Wyr escort and stepped aside allowing them passage. Here, Kiernan found himself hoping that one of the High Lord’s attendants had some medical training because all of his staff had been dismissed for the day. He would ask Hawke. There was little the Ryndar did not know.
One of said attendants led them through to the High Lord’s private chambers which lay past the areas he would use for entertaining guests. Idly, Kiernan noted a nervous looking young woman with flaxen hair and the frowning countenance of the High Lord’s Ryndar. The girl, though pretty, looked oddly out of place although the meddyg could not precisely figure out why. He glanced toward the massive state bed to see it was missing the injured High Lord. His eyebrow went up and an attendant gestured toward a heavy door on the far side of the room, “He is soaking in a hot bath.”
“Ahhh,” Kiernan’s eyes brightened. He looked over to Hawke, “He went under his own power? No assistance?”
Hawke nodded. “Under his own power, but not steady or strong. He is not doing well.” The Ryndar gestured to Sofi. “She helped him as best she could when he admitted what happened. You might ask her what she has done up to now.”
Kiernan spun around to fix the woman with his sharp gaze, “You have healer’s training?”
Sofi had been uncharacteristically quiet since Mikhael had disappeared into his bathing chamber. She had taken into a chair with her knees pulled up to her chest, her bare toes hanging off the edge of the seat. The few times she’d tried to speak up to ask once again, where she was and all of that, she’d been answered with a glare from the one called Hawke. At first, when she’d been alone with her thoughts, all she could think about was her father, and how worried he was going to be when she didn’t come home on time or call to say she was going to be late. Then her thoughts shifted to the lack of information she had about her current whereabouts, she didn’t know where she was, how she’d gotten there and how she was going to get home, and those unknown sent a cold pit forming in the center of her belly.
Her inner monologue was interrupted by the arrival of the battle surgeon, or at least Sofi assumed he was. From where she was seated, she could tell that he was rather short for a man, at least a man where she was from. He looked to be a couple of inches taller than herself though at least. When he spoke to Hawke, she was quiet, but attentive, then stood when the focus turned onto her.
“Yes, I’ve been trained in emergency medical services. I didn’t know he’d been hurt until he said something, he just kind of grabbed me, threw me on a horse and took off. When we got here, I carefully washed the wound out with clean gauze and some alcohol that was brought in, then he went to soak in a hot bath. One of those wyvern creatures bit him on the upper thigh. He must have pulled away or something because the teeth left furrows but they aren’t more than a half inch deep or so. He might still need a couple of stitches though.”
Kiernan’s kind hazel eyes narrowed as he looked the young woman over. Her accent and manner of speech was strange, much like the Traveler, Richard Coyle. She was also oddly dressed and not as young as he had first taken her for. He had initially thought her no more than in her teen years.
“You need warmer clothing,” he stated calmly. The information she had given him was good and showed a level of knowledge that would likely be useful. His staff was stretched and it was unlikely any of the attendants would have healer’s training. “When the High Lord is settled, I will show you how to make up the poultices and compresses and which medications are safe for use to help him through the pain...and get you warmer clothing.” His eyes looked down at her now slightly blue-tinged toes, “And shoes.”
The healer turned back to Hawke, “I am going to prepare the poultices I need. It sounds like the High Lord is in extreme pain and it is likely to get worse, but it does not sound as if he is in danger. Get him settled with his injured leg to the outside then send this young lady in to bathe and send for some clothing for her. I’ll return shortly.”
“High Lord?” Sofi repeated, glancing briefly toward the bathing chamber door. She had to be dreaming. There was no logical way in hell that she’d find herself being rescued by a handsome man who turned out to be the High Lord or King, whatever you want to call him, there just wasn’t. Still, she looked over at Kiernan and nodded. She hadn’t really thought about the temperature and her clothing until it had been mentioned, but now that she was more aware of it, she was a bit chilly, especially her feet. “Clothes and shoes would be great, I’m not exactly sure what happened to my shoes. They were gone when I woke up in that place.” She explained.
This gentleman, Kiernan, seemed to put Sofi a little more at ease, he was at least kind and spoke with warmth. “He saved my life back there, the very least I can do is help him with his injuries.”
There was a commotion at the doorway that led from the sleeping chamber to the bathing chamber just as Kiernan turned to leave. The High Lord stood in the doorway unclad except for a pair of sleeping shorts made from a heavy dark silk. The angry wounds on his leg were clearly visible, making the healer cluck worriedly. The man was pale beneath his healthy tan and the occasional shudder of pain wracked the powerful body.
“Get yourself settled, Highlord,” Kiernan said with a nod to the bed. Catching sight of a female attendant that he knew normally took care of the residence’s kitchens, he called out, “Nina, please see this young lady to the bathing chamber, find her some clothes and shoes.”
Mikhael managed a wry, tired smile as the little physician barked out his orders. He continued making his unsteady progress toward his bed, waving off any attempt at assistance. Just as he prepared to settle into the bed, the meddyg barked again, “Injured leg to the outside, if you please,” he snapped as he left the room. Mikhael grimaced and made his way to the other side of the bed, “Dictator.”
Hawke sat in a chair and watched the people hovering around Mikhael. For the past hour he had stayed in the corner of the room, idly eating from a plate that had been brought in by a servant in the midst of the work on the High Lord. Hawke had watched Kiernan until he seemed content with his efforts to clean and dress the wounds on the High Lord’s leg. Once he saw the healer begin cleaning up his tools and supplies the Ryndar took a final drink from his mug of ale and then flowed to his feet.
“Very well...everyone finish what you are doing and let’s get moving.” Heads turned from around the room as the various servants regarded Hawke. He took a few steps over to stand at the foot of the bed and his gaze roamed around the people scattered through the room, pausing on Kiernan. “You may finish whatever tasks you need to, Master Healer…” Hawke’s head then continued to gather in everyone. “...but the rest of you need to go and let the High Lord try to get some rest…” Hawke blinked once as he waited several heartbeats and no one moved. “I believe I spoke loud enough to be heard...do not make me repeat myself.” At those words the room erupted into motion as the various servants gathered up random items and almost crowded each other for the chamber door. Within a few seconds the three men were alone in the room. Hawke looked at Mikhael and Kiernan. “...what? You need your rest…”
Mikhael leaned back against the pillows, pain making his breathing ragged. Still, he managed a smile for his friend, “Thank you.”
The young servant girl, Nina, had taken Sofi out of the High Lord’s chambers and had escorted her to a large bathing room where she would be able to clean up. Sofi had been in awe of the room and of the bathing pool itself. She’d never seen anything like it that wasn’t in a movie or her imagination from reading a book. Nina had added some oils and salts to the water and soon a floral fragrance hung in the air. The pool filled quickly from a carved opening in the rock wall, and when it was full, Sofi shed her clothing and stepped in carefully. The water was warmer than she expected, and she could immediately feel the warmth sinking deep into her muscles. While she soaked, Nina brought in a few items, and kindly explained what each of them were when Sofi asked. Fresh clothing was also left for her to change into when she was finished.
When she felt she was sufficiently clean, and Sofi was one of those people that tended to get a little cranky when she felt icky, she got out of the water and dried off. The clothing that had been left for her were a soft cotton tunic with a pair of warm leggings and a pair of leather boots that reached just below her knee. She’d lost her hair tie when she’d arrived here… wherever here was, so she left her long flaxen hair loose, tumbling down her shoulders and back gently. Nina had been asked to bring the young woman back to the High Lord’s chambers under Kiernan’s instruction, which is exactly what she did. The servant girl knocked gently at the door before stepping in and allowing Sofi to enter behind her.
Hawke turned in place to observe the door, seeing the servant step in and realizing it was not one of the ones from before. Seeing the stranger following her in, Hawke kept his own counsel about the interruption as he stepped to the side so he could see the High Lord in his bed as well as the newcomers.
Kiernan had been gently examining the nasty bite wounds in the High Lord’s leg when the servant returned with the girl that Hawke said had healer’s training. “Here,” the battle surgeon paused as he realized he had not gotten her name earlier nor had he introduced himself. “I am Cymeria’s Chief Battle Surgeon, physician. My name is Kiernan MacCeàrda. And you are?”
Cymeria? Where in the hell was Cymeria? Sofi had been a good student back in school, but she couldn’t ever remember learning about a country called Cymeria. She stepped forward when Kiernan introduced himself, still wanting to keep an eye on Hawke as he really didn’t seem to like her, based on the look he kept shooting in her direction, one of mistrust and wariness. “Sophia Grace, nut most people just call me Sofi, or Sofi Rose.” She explained. “How can I help?”
“Sofi,” Kiernan said quiet, setting how she pronounced the name in his memory. To his ears, he spoke it oddly, but perhaps it was because the name was not a common one in northern regions of the country. He had heard it used during his travels further south, but not often. “First, clean your hands in the alcohol again, just to be safe you know. Then, we will use this mixture which contains a plant extract along with the alcohol to clean the wounds again. The plant extract is a topical anesthetic. We have a more powerful painkiller made from the merasha plant, but that cannot be used on a Cymry.”
As he spoke his instructions, Kiernan pointed out the mixtures he had carried in with him, their names and their uses. He handed the jar to her along with several gauze pads. “I will check the High Lord’s breathing and vital signs while you start with cleaning the wounds.” Turning his gentle haze eyes on the man resting uncomfortably in the bed, he said, “This will hurt.”
Mikhael leaned back into the pillows and nodded to Kiernan and Sofiya Grace. Closing his eyes, he said firmly, “Get on with it then.”
Hawke watched the two getting ready to work on Mikhael, then he turned and took a few steps over to the door. He grabbed a chair with one hand and pulled it over so its back rested against the door and the Ryndar dropped down into the chair, making sure the door would not be opened while the two worked.
Doing as she was instructed, Sofi quickly rinsed her hands in the alcoholic liquid, waving them dry as she walked over to the bed and Kiernan’s side. She nodded while he spoke, telling her about the concoctions they would be using. “I’d like to see the plants that this came from, when or if you have time.” She said, taking the jar and pads from him.
Turning to Mikhael’s leg, Sofi began gently dabbing the poultice along the gouge wounds. She glanced a few times at Kiernan, watching how he was able to take the High Lord’s vitals without the normal equipment. His methods were quite basic but still effective, she noted before turning her focus back on the man on the bed.
“Hmmmm,” Kiernan murmured as he watched her work, “I will show you the medicinal herb gardens at some point. The Lady of the Hearth maintains one here for common use and needs, but it is not as extensive as the hospital’s.” Turning slightly, he commented in Hawke’s general direction, “The wounds are not life threatening but will likely bleed sluggishly for a bit as we cannot risk binding them tightly. Loose bandaging for a day or two only and then we can stitch them. I do not feel the High Lord received a full dose of the creature’s venom or he would not be sitting up and glaring at us.”
“So, I will live?” Mikhael muttered with a bit of aspersion in the battle surgeon’s direction.
“Aye,” Kiernan replied, a twinkle appearing in his hazel eyes, “although it is most certain that you will wish otherwise after a few more hours. I am sure that Master Hawke and the Lady of the Hearth will keep you in line.”
Mikhael’s cold blue eyes turned to the girl as Kiernan took over from her, deftly applying a compress infused with herbs that would protect and ease the pain of the wounds and help decrease the swelling. He noted that someone had gotten her clean, dry clothes and from the slight scents wafting in his direction, they had also given her a chance to bathe and clean up.
“Sofiya Grace, you are not from here,” Mikhael stated, one hand waving to generally indicate not only the room they were in but the world beyond the keep’s walls. “I suspect that you are not from this world at all, are you?”
“Thank you.” Sofi spoke quietly to Kiernan, appreciative of the man’s gentle and warm manner. Leaving the wounds open for another day or so felt a little odd to her, with the rate of possible infection from the dragon things. She wanted to question it but clearly Kiernan was quite familiar with this sort of injury. She went quiet while the men spoke, focusing her attention on her own task until she was directly spoken to.
“No.” She replied with a shake of light blond hair. “I woke up there, in that place with the wyverns.” She turned pale blue eyes up to the High Lord. “I don’t know how I got there, or really where there is in fact. I thought, at first, that I was dreaming or having a toxic reaction to something but the longer this goes….that’s not true, is it?”
The girl’s voice...no, the woman’s voice...had an elusive haunted quality to it. The accent was not one of Aereth, of that Mikhael was certain. For a moment, he clenched his teeth as Kiernan hit a particularly sensitive spot. The healer murmured a soft apology and Mika’s eyes returned to Sofiya. “I am Mikhael Stormdanovich, High Lord of the land known as Cymeria,” he formally introduced himself. “And no, Lady Grace, this land is not the one you have always known. Sometimes the cylchs, the stone circle where you awakened, takes people from their homeland and deposits them here through a portal. A gateway between worlds? We call such people Travelers.” He made the last a question as he was trying to hit on an explanation that made sense to the woman and still keep his mind off the pain that was now seriously wracking his powerful frame.
Sofi paused in her work tending to Mikhael’s leg as he began to finally explain who he was and where they were, and more importantly, how she’d gotten there. Everything he was saying made sense if you looked at it from a fairytale point of view, something Sofi had loved doing as a younger child. “So if the portals bring people here, you can take me back to it so I can go home, right? Not that being attacked by wyverns wasn’t fun or that you and your people haven’t been really great in helping me, but I’m all my father has. I have to go back.” The thought of never seeing her father again was not one she ever wanted to have, it’d be devastating. “Why does that happen? The...cylchs,” she paused, needing to find the word Mikhael had used. “Bringing people here?”
Mikhael shook his head, “I have never heard tell of Travelers being able to return from whence they came.” His voice was not unkind as he spoke. “The chronicles say that the portals are left over from arcane experiments performed by the ancients of my people that no longer work properly. No one known has been able to activate one from this side.”
A troubled frown flickered across Sofi’s features. She could hear Mikhael’s sincerity in his voice as he spoke, he did really seem sorry that he didn’t have better news for her. “Just because something hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it can never happen.” She replied. There was always a way out of somewhere, and she refused to accept otherwise until she’d done the research herself.
The High Lord regarded the young woman steadily for a few moments. He could understand how hard it must be to have been ripped from one’s home, worse from one’s world, and deposited in a foreign land. Mikhael, however, was too tired to take up the discussion for the moment. Instead, he sighed softly and settled back against the pillows. He had forgotten how wearing pain could be.
Kiernan nodded and stepped back, rinsing his hands in a washbasin of alcohol, witch hazel and water. A drop or two of syrup of poppy added to hot spiced tea had done the trick. The High Lord’s breathing was steadying as he drifted off to sleep. In a few hours, he would need to have a go in the steam room, maybe another soak in a steaming hot bath, but then they should be able to stitch the wounds. Meantime, they would keep compresses applied that contained compounds that would stave off infection as well as draw more of the poison from the surrounding tissue.
The battle surgeon dried his hands and nodded to the girl, “The High Lord needs to rest and the Ryndar will keep watch.” As if, he thought, anyone would pry Hawke from the High Lord’s side for now. “We need to get you sorted into the House, fed and wardrobed, then find you a place to sleep nearby - perhaps a cot can be moved in, I will find out. I will remain in the keep’s Infirmary.” Kiernan gathered the young Traveler up with a glance, “Come, let us find the Lady of the Hearth. Her bark and bite are equally painful, but do not be alarmed, she rarely chews on guests.”
Sounds faded as the Battle Surgeon ushered the Traveler from the room and Mikhael fell into a restless sleep.