Ch 12: Nan
The healer’s house, Nan Elaine’s house, was packed with shoddy beds, stacked on top of each other supported by what looked to be twigs and twine. Moaning men, women, and children filled those beds, recovering from an array of illnesses. The most common was burns, obviously, but bruises, coughs, and gashes with green refuse were here too.
Dusty canvasses with no discernible pattern covered a wall equally as dusty. The canvasses were the only thing Nan Elaine held that could be called decorative. Every other piece of what might as well be garbage, had some sort of purpose. A small rickety table held several brown vials, not brown by design, but because cleanliness was a distant memory here. Instruments colored red and brown from blood, new and old, and rust were littered across the table among the vials. Samira really wondered if you could even call Nan Elaine a healer with practices like these. She figured the woman was more liable to create a life threatening illness than cure one.
Despite the awful visuals, the smell of burning flesh accompanied by the moans of those burned were a refreshing atmosphere. Samira had felt bored here in Tiva… until tonight. She could almost taste the char on all the humans around her. Humans were a savory red meat, close to beef in texture, and a little closer to pork in flavor.
Rich, fat humans always tasted better than the average commoner. Much better, but Samira hadn’t had the pleasure of too many of those meals. She had often settled for whatever came her way, and on those lonely roads near the forest it was rare to find a good, rich human that wasn’t surrounded by men in armor holding spears.
Nan Elaine’s house, or rather a hovel, was the sort Sam never wanted to visit again. While the smell of the burnt flesh was enjoyable, the half that weren’t ailed by the fireballs were those dying of disease, and the smell of disease was always offensive.
“Come now, you only need just a drop,” Nan Elaine said. She was tending to a man who’s entire upper torso had caught fire. His jerkin had fused to skin from the fire, no doubt ruining the rib meat. Gods was she hungry. She didn’t even know why. Her appetite had been almost insatiable since the night her mother cured her. Her body didn’t require as much food as she wanted, proven by the fact that she hadn’t lost any weight, but she dearly wanted it. She felt like she could eat the world.
Nan Elaine had been tending and mending for hours with no sign of slowing down. She did have to admire the woman’s work ethic. Sam looked back over the man with the jerkin, and she had successfully cut the stuck flesh from his old clothing and was finally looking to help Rhavin.
He was sitting on the floor of the hovel bare chested. Sam had cut pieces from his shirt into a makeshift bandage for his forearm. Looking at his pale barren chest, lacking much of any definition she wondered if she had made the right decision. Who would really miss this… lump of flesh, she wondered. Mykul was the only reason she stuck around. He wasn’t like other humans, concerned about power, money, or death. He lived for simple purposes, like telling a good story or gazing on beautiful landscapes.
“This cut runs deep, but lucky for you it’s very clean.” The old woman had a motherly, calming aura about her. When she says “it’s all going to be all right,” Sam believed her. She wore an old brown gown, and like many things in this hut Sam didn’t believe that gown started out brown. Her feet were bare, with thick soles covered in callouses that slid along the packed dirt floor. Her fingers held an intricate tattoo of what looked to be grape vines that twirled around her fingers and onto her hands. The tattoos were precise and vividly detailed for how small they were. They were the only visually interesting thing about the woman.
The woman pulled a small sewing kit from a pocket in the gown and stitched Rhavin’s wound closed, using an already blood soaked rag to clear the wound every so often. Sam wished she would hurry, sure Rhavin’s arm was cut, but Mykul had been hit in the head too many times, and with everything else that had happened to him lately she didn’t know if he would even wake up at this point.
Sam was glad to see that when Nan Elaine finished with Rhavin she immediately moved to look at Mykul. She rolled his head around in her hands, examining the bumps and bruises. She opened one of his eyelids and looked at the eyeballs muttering nonsensical “hmms” and “ahs.” Sam crossed her arms and tapped her forearm with a finger rhythmically.
“Well is he going to be alright?” Sam asked.
“He will be fine. It was a big thump the boy took. He just needs rest.”
“Do we need to give him anything? Some herbal remedy or tonic to hasten the healing?”
“No,” Nan Elaine said. “Just let him sleep for a bit.”
Sam rolled her eyes and nodded to the old healer. When she looked over to Rhavin she found him already passed out leaning against the wall and figured she would go get some fresh air. She left the hovel, stepping over several patients still moaning on the floor, and brushing by the ones able to stand to make it outside.
The Tivan slums were a true oddity to Samira. She had been to several human cities and the divide between the rich and poor was always visible and obvious. Tiva was not like other human cities. The slums existed within alleyways between the fantastic white buildings. Linking corridors that created a maze of poverty just out of eyesight. Walking through the city, you hardly notice the openings between buildings, but behind the shining white manors, churches, shops, and even in the palace district, was a maze of the disenfranchised.
Sam didn’t know how anyone could navigate through the alleys. Towering white brick on all sides. The only thing that changed was what was within the alley. Different sets of eyes stared back: blue, green, brown, angry, hungry, sad. The only happiness Sam could see was the occasional child chasing a rat, or tossing a ball to a friend. A sad state of affairs, even for humans.
“Please, can you spare some food?” One of the hungry set of eyes looked up at her. They were brown and faded, like the last bits of life were dangling by only a thread. She was young, maybe a teenager, it was hard to tell with all the dirt caked on her face. Her clothing, if it could be called that, was merely a black sheet with arm holes cut out.
Sam bent down and placed a hand upon the girl’s oily head and pet it several times. “I’m hungry too young one. If you continue to gaze upon me, I might be liable to make you my next meal.” Sam flashed her teeth to girl, but was disappointed when she didn’t give a reaction.
“No food then,” the girl said as she slumped back and blankly stared at one of the white walls. Disgusted, Sam walked down the alley to a spot clear of any other inhabitants. She let her head rest against the wall and let out a sigh. She really did hope that Mykul would be alright.
Sam slapped her own face at the thought. Falling for a human? Is there anything lower? You know what Mother would say. She tried thinking of things other than Mykul: The Silverwood, a good wine, she even tried recalling her old history lessons, but the young man always came back to the front of her mind. He will die before I even get my first wrinkle. It would be a hopeless relationship!
“My Lady,” a familiar voice called out. It was as if Aenya was listening. William stood before her, holding a silver platter with a small white envelope on it. “My mistress has seen it fit to invite you to dinner.”
“We will get our audience with Madira?” Asked Sam.
“The envelope will hold all the details you seek.” Sam picked up the envelope from the platter.
“Thank you, William.”
“My mistress also wishes for me to tell you that your current residence will be raided by the clerics momentarily.” Sam narrowed her eyes.
“I don’t have a current residence,” Sam said turning to look at the hovel. “We had a disagreement with…” When Sam looked back to William he was gone. “Fuck.”
Sam walked back to the Nan Elaine’s to find Rhavin and tell him about William. If the King planned on raiding this shit-hole, it would be wise to get Mykul and Rhavin out before some ambitious soldier tries to make his name fighting a “wizard.” Neither of them were in a position to fight and Sam wasn’t keen on taking a spear tip to the neck either.
“Life would be so much easier had I just eaten them,” she said to herself. Sam looked at the envelope as she walked back to the hovel. The thick eggshell paper was held shut with a purple wax seal. Sam broke it and pulled the invitation out.
Meet me for dinner tomorrow evening.
The script was beautifully written in Elvish. It was a good thing the letter was delivered to her, Sam thought. She doubted either of the other two oafs could read Elvish. All the details you seek. There could barely be considered a single detail in that letter. In the end it didn’t matter, she would get her audience and her answers.
The hovel was just as she left it, except that Rhavin was awake. He was staring at Mykul with glossy eyes wrapping his wound with the cleaner strips of shirt he had left. Mykul was still unconscious, his brown hair disheveled over his eyes, one of which was starting to bruise.
“It’s time to go,” Sam said. “We need to find somewhere safe to rest.” Rhavin looked up at her mouth half open.
“Where would we go?” he asked. Sam rolled her eyes. What a great leader she had, a truly cunning man who feared no obstacle.
“It doesn’t matter. Away from here, somewhere to sleep for the night. We have dinner plans tomorrow.”
Rhavin scratched his chin and furrowed his brow. “I don’t think we have any plans.”
“Now we do!” Samira hissed. She decided to waste no more time on Rhavin. She picked up Mykul, heaving him onto her shoulder and turned to the alley to hope the horse was still there. Cries and a flood murmurs rang out from the people by the door. Momentarily was right. “Get down! Act like you’re asleep,” she whispered to Rhavin.
“Make way for the Hand of Eyvos!” The voice scratched at Sam’s ear like a low growl made loud in a cave. A group of three clerics moved into the clinic dressed in their traditional white and gold robes. Sam didn’t know much about them. Her mother had told her to avoid them at all costs. They are the closest thing to hate incarnate, she would say. “We are here for the one named Elaine,” the one with the growl said. “Give yourself up freely and no others will be harmed. You have my word,” he said smiling.
No one spoke up. The patients not incapacitated kept their heads down refusing to make eye contact with anyone, and careful not to look towards Nan Elaine and single her out. Sam followed suit not wanting to direct their attention to her.
“We’re not here to hurt you. We come with the grace of King Farryion. Do not be misled into protecting this woman. She is a demon, and a threat to the city, to your homes.” The cleric bent down to stroke the hair of a boy covered in burns. “Look what comes of this devilry called magic. Do you see what they bring? Only pain and chaos. We come to sort that chaos.”
“There’s no one here by that name.” It was a middle aged man who had spoke, his blackened arm in a sling. “We only gather here to stay out of the way. We have nowhere else to go.” The cleric, stepped over several of the sick to kneel by the man in the sling. In an instant the cleric produced a knife from his robe and thrust it into the man’s belly, and twisted.
“The King is not patient and I will not be delayed further!” The cleric’s face twisted into a snarl. Shocked screams rang out among the injured, those near the clerics began to crawl towards the wall, rolling over one another like roaches avoiding the light.
Finally, Nan Elaine spoke. “It is I you seek,” she said. “I am Elaine… But I cannot go with you at this time. As you can see there are many who still need my help tonight,” she said gesturing to the bodies that littered the small hovel. The cleric quickly moved to Nan Elaine and gripped her wrist.
“You will come immediately to face the King’s justice,” he said. “You are done here.” Nan Elaine pushed forward and gripped the man’s neck in her hands.
“You cannot make me,” she said with a smile. Nan Elaine’s finger tattoos briefly flashed and the cleric exploded into a fine mist that coated all those in the hovel. Sam’s mouth was open in shock and caught some of the spray in it. Not much texture, she thought, but he did hold a sweet flavor. Well fed, that one.
“She can use magic,” Rhavin whispered to her through the clattering of other voices. He’s a real whip that one, she thought.
“Get the Ordinator!” One of the remaining clerics shouted. “Hurry!” Ordinator? Didn’t Golun say something about that when he attacked Rhavin? Sam wondered. The other cleric ran out of the hovel while the one that was shouting ran up on Nan Elaine with a gilded dagger. The old woman closed her eyes, looking completely at peace with the man charging at her with deathly intent. When the tip of the dagger touched Nan Elaine, she vanished, only to reappear a foot further away than she had been standing. Neat trick.
The cleric was confused just long enough for Nan Elaine to retaliate. She held her hands in front of her mouth, as if she were drinking from a pond and blew into them. What looked to be yellow pollen wafted into the clerics face. He began to scream, and scratch at his face, and scratch, and scratch. The man scratched so quickly and so furiously his face began to bleed. His fingers tore at his eyes, covering them in blood. They tore into his cheeks, creating holes in them. The man scratched and pulled at his nose until he ripped it right off leaving only a single hole in what was once the face of decent looking man.
“The old one with the rags, that’s her!” The voice was that of the cleric who ran away, but he wasn’t what came through the entrance. The largest man Samira had ever seen, a man clad in black robes with an obsidian mask entered. Each of his steps were slow and methodical. Sam could see he wore platemail sabatons on his feet, almost as dark as his robe like some kind of black steel she hadn’t seen before. His hands were covered by gauntlets of the same. He did not hold a weapon, but his plated hands, bear paws maybe, looked deadly enough. His presence was accentuated by the stillness that came over the hovel. All the injured who were only a moment ago crying in fear, were held in silence by the man’s presence. Sam understood. Something about the man had her pressing up against Rhavin subconsciously. If death ever took physical form, she figured it would look something like this man’s shadow.
“I won’t go down without a fight, demon,” Nan Elaine said. “Too many depend upon me.” The man’s slow advance did not stop.
“Yes, you will,” he responded.
Nan Elaine, surprisingly spry, jumped back and cast her arm forward forward “Hyah!” Nan Elaine’s snarl turned to confusion as she looked down at her arm. “Hyah!” She thrust her arm back out, only for the same lack of effect to occur. “What have you done… You demon! You have cut me off from the Mother! How is this possible?”
Without dignifying her with a response the Ordinator gripped Nan Elaine’s neck and forced her to the ground. His free hand punched at her face. Thump, thump. The punches distorted her face, dislodging her nose covering it all with a blanket of red. The thumps turned to crunches as the fists continued their assault, splitting the old womans skull. The crunches became sloshes and anything that once resembled a human face had been lost. All that remained was a torso a puddle of mush riddled with hair and chunks of fractured skull.
The Ordinator stood and shook his gauntleted hand, sending drops of blood and chunks of brain matter haphazardly around the room. He walked to the last remaining cleric and wiped the remaining blood off his hand with the previously pristine white and gold robe before leaving the hovel. The cleric, looking just as shaken up as the other onlookers waited until the Ordinator was gone to speak.
“Everyone… uh, clear out of here!” He said with a shaky voice. “I don’t want anyone here when we come back.” The cleric backpedaled out of the hovel muttering under his breath. Sam couldn’t take her eyes off of what used to be Nan Elaine. She had seen murder before, but nothing like that. Nan Elaine might have been right, could a man truly be under that mask, or was it a demon? She was no longer hungry.
“We should take the cleric’s advice and leave,” Rhavin said. Sam completely agreed. If that man came back, she didn’t want to be around. She nodded to Rhavin and they picked up the still unconscious Mykul together and moved with the crowd of others following the same idea.
Sam looked back at the goop that was Nan Elaine, “thank you,” she said under her breath.