The physician

1322Here’s another snippet of 1322 for you. Very much first draft, so please remember that and be kind.

He moved down the passageway a few paces and gingerly sat down, his back to the wall. His side and his hand throbbed with agony. His eyes felt raw. Perhaps if he rested them for but a moment.

Slowly his body slid down the wall until he lay prone on the hard stone floor. He began to snore fitfully, and fell into a sleep broken only by an occasional whimper.

Around him, the rats realised that he was no longer moving, and emerged from their hiding places. Creeping worms slid out of the grating, while beneath them blind colourless fish moved sluggishly to investigate the candle stub. A faint light flickered at the further reaches of the tunnel, indicating the presence of a higher life-form. Voices echoed, faint at first, then growing louder as they neared. John, deep in his coma, knew none of this.

“I am told that it is true of women,” said the high-pitched voice, “That they do possess the power to cure the King’s Evil.”

“How so, brother?” asked a deeper tone.

“As soon as the neck begins to swell, the poor victim must take women’s milk, and suck it directly from the breast.”

“A most pleasant cure, it sounds to me, assuming one might find a woman who is two things. Firstly that she be in milk, and secondly that she be willing to allow her breast to be suckled by the diseased.”

“Were I a woman, I would not allow that,” High-voice said.

“Were you a woman, you would do naught but gaze in the glass,” Low-voice mocked.

“Ha! No difference then to— what is that there?”

“By God, another corpse, think you?”

“I do wish people would dispose of their rubbish in the proper way,” High-voice sighed.

“Come, brother, let us bear this one to the Great Conduit too, that he be washed away to the river. Let the shit shovellers deal with him.”

The two figures bent over John, Low-voice lifting him by the arms. A strangled cry escaped John’s lips, but he did not wake.

“God’s teeth!” roared Low-voice, leaping back against a wall.

“Eek!” squeaked High-voice, jumping to the other and almost dropping his torch, which sputtered and gave off a gobbet of black smoke before settling back to a normal flame.

“’Eek?’ You great girl.”

“Shurrup. You were startled, too.”

“Yes, but in a manly way. As opposed to, oh I don’t know, saying ‘eek’ like a frightened maid.”

“Shurrup.”

“Come, I think we should take this poor sod to the mad physician, don’t you?”

“Much good may it do him. I must bear our light, though. Do you think you can carry him yourself?”

“Of course I can, because I’m not a girl. Just help me to lift him from the ground. There. Now lead the way, mistress of light.”

“Shurrup.”

The two men bore their burden through the dark passageways in a small puddle of smoky light cast by the burning of the resinous torch. John vaguely felt movement, and tried to drag himself out of a dream about a winged woman with the skull of an owl in place of a head. His head lolled and his throat felt tight. His hair brushed against something. Then he heard voices, the words twisting into and over his dream, dismissing it..

“Good physician, we have for you a patient.”

“Ah, The Brothers Birdlike!” exclaimed a smooth voice with a trace of accent, “What have you now uncovered? A smelly man? You do like to help those who have strayed from the light, don’t you? You want me to doctor this man, I think. Can he pay me, eh? I know that you cannot.”

“I saw no purse, but he has a dagger in his boot, see? There’s that. Oh, and the boots too, I suppose.”

“What use have I for boots, eh? You might as well tell me that he has swans, for I would get as much use out of them as from boots. At least I could eat swans, eh? Ah well, don’t just stand there Kaff, lay him down, lay him down. Dowse your light, Kit, and fetch me that bowl of water.”

John tried to drag himself out of his torpor, but still the last of the dream lingered, and held his eyes firmly shut. He was put down on his back on a hard surface. He tried to speak, but somehow could not move his mouth. He felt disoriented and distanced, as if he was simply a watcher at a play.

“Set the bowl on him while I check the planets. I have a terrible feeling that Saturn and Jupiter are in conjunction.”

A weight was placed on John’s chest, and he heard those present gather round. Slowly he began to feel a little more alert, and thought to attempt speech once more. Before he could, the doctor pronounced.

“He’s dead.”

“I’m not dead.”

“He’s not dead. That’s what I said. Trust me, I’m a physician and a barber. Can you open your eyes, boy?”

John did so, although it took Herculean effort to prise his eyelids apart. He was in a small enclosed room, dimly lit by rush lights at the walls. Three men looked down at him; a dark man, a fair man, and a bald man, somewhat older than the other two.

“Ripples!” announced the bald man, unexpectedly. “How did you do that, eh, you clever bastard?”

“I don’t… ripples?”

“You made no ripples in the water, a sure sign of a dead man. Ooh, maybe you are demon?” the bald physician said tremulously, backing away.

“Or it is so dark in here that you just could not see them, Gio?” suggested the dark man.

“Oh yes, that makes more sense. He doesn’t look at all demonic. What’s your name, eh?”

“Wait, what happened? Where am I?”

“We found you unconscious by the deep drain, obviously hurt,” the fair man told him.

“You seemed in need of physic, so we carried you hither,” added the dark.

“Now, your name, sir?” the bald man repeated.

“John.”

“Four letters. Kaff, you carried him in,” Gio nodded to the dark man, “That’s another four. What day is it, Monday? That’s six. In total, fourteen letters. An even number. Sorry, boy, you are going to die quite soon now.”

“Wait, what? When?” asked John, terrified. The fair man laid a calming hand on John’s shoulder and spoke to the doctor.

“It is after midnight, Gio. Long after midnight. We are well into Tuesday now.”

“We are? Thank you, Kit, I lose track down here. Then you will live, man called John! Kit has saved you by correctly remembering the day. Now tell me what hurts.”

df210466a2The physician removed the bowl from John’s chest and the three helped him to sit up. John got his first real look at his rescuers. Kit and Kaff were similar in all but size and colouring. They had the same hawk-like nose, the same keen eyes, but where Kit was lithe, Kaff was muscular. They both had tufty hair, but where Kit was fair-haired, Kaff was dark. They wore trimmed beards both the colour of amber. John turned his eyes to Gio, the physician.

He was naked. A thin man he was, hairless from head to toe. Scrawny buttocks jiggled in the low light as the physician threw the contents of the bowl onto the floor and turned. John tried not to look, but his eyes were irresistibly drawn to the man’s genitals. An incredibly long tarse dangled from a nest of curls between Gio’s hips, his only body hair. His manhood sported a thin ribbon tied around it in a small bow.

John gaped. Kit and Kaff laughed.

“Do not ask, I beg you. Gio’s a bit odd,” said Kit.

“A lot odd,” added Kaff, “But he is physician to all the below dwellers, and does well by us. His bizarre ways are harmless.”

“I don’t have bizarre ways,” argued Gio, “I am perfectly normal. Everyone else is strange. Where do you hurt, John?”

“You are naked, sir.”

“The wise man always goes naked. Clothes have minds of their own. Should they wish, they could carry you off against your will, to who knows what hellish doom? Now, you have pain?”

John exchanged a look with the brothers, who shrugged.

“Um, yes,” he said, “My side was kicked, hard, and my hand is broke. Two fingers.”

“Were you bled recently?”

John nodded.

“Good. Then piss in this and hope tis not green.” He handed John the bowl. Gio continued speaking as John used it.

“I can diagnose that you smell of horseshit. Bathe when you can. Then bathe again. Take a handful of rose-petals and rub them in your hair.”

John handed the bowl back to Gio after urinating into it. The physician raised the urine to his nose and sniffed.

“Healthy colour, healthy smell,” he pronounced. Then he took a sip. “No jaundice, good. Do you have any puppies on you?”

“Erm, no.”

“Then we shall have to forego the boiled puppy bath and leave your side for God to heal in his own good time, eh? Your fingers I can set, although be warned, you are like never to use them efficiently again. Or at all. Still, it is God’s will.”

“The God must hate me, for I am a minstrel, and must play my gittern.”

“It is your right hand that is broke,” Kit pointed out, “Unless you are left-handed, you will still be able to finger the notes.”

“Perhaps then knock the strings with a stick in your right hand?” suggested Kaff.

“Hmmm, at a pinch, perhaps. It will seriously limit my repertoire. And I am to perform before my Lord in a few days. Damnation! And where am I, for Christ’s sake?”

“I am very sorry,” said Gio, examining John’s swollen fingers. “I will do what I can, and the bones will knit in time, but the extent of your injury tells me that you will never have fine control again.”

John sank into a depressed reverie. While the physician worked on setting his shattered bones and binding his hand to a wooden frame, the three men answered his last question and described the world into which he had descended. John only half-listened, worrying about his hand, worrying about his playing, interrupting only when he occasionally cried out as Gio heaved his fingers into line.

Beneath Northampton lay a labyrinth of interconnected passageways and crypts. This web of tunnels was ancient. It was said that two centuries ago Saint Thomas Becket had escaped the clutches of King Henry at Northampton Castle by fleeing through the tunnels to All Saints Church in Mercer’s Row.

It was possible to cross from one side of town to the other through the network without ever venturing above ground. Indeed, some people made their homes and their lives underground, it being mostly warm and dry, and rarely ventured outside. A whole community of subterranean dwellers had grown, with builders, artisans, merchants, and physicians.

One such physician was even now securing the wooden frame about John’s fingers. The skinny man hummed an air as he worked. John knew it. He joined in with final few lines, and exchanged a smile with Gio as he secured the last knot on his finger brace.

“Gramercy, but I cannot pay you, sir. I have lost my purse and have no coin.”

Neither have you the owl skull, now.

“Neither have you swans?”

“No.”

“Oh well. I like your dagger. Is it sharp?”

“Sharp enough. It is yours.”

“Thank you, and God’s mercy be with you and your broke hand. Go well in the world, Minstrel John, and for the sake of that world, clean yourself at the earliest opportunity.”

“You need rest, man,” Kaff told him, “We can take you to a safe bed. Follow us. If you feel up to it, you can tell us your tale.”

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About wombat37

A Yorkshireman in the green hills of Lancashire, UK Not a real wombat, obviously, or typing would become an issue. I do have short legs and a hairy nose, however. Oh, & a distinctive smell.

Posted on July 9, 2013, in 1322, A snippet of what I wrote today, Putting myself out there is scary, Writings. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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