It is well into the morning after the wolf happened. Berra has been riding out on the right flank, as usual, and now she is bringing her magnificent, if slightly taboo in Prax, horse alongside Maalira’s bison.1Maalira fails a Scan to see that Berra is incoming with a problem.
Maalira tilts her head quizzically at Berra.
“I’m wounded, and I forgot,” Berra says. “And I wondered if you could look at it for me.” Forgot. Wounded.
Maalira frowns. “You forgot?!”
“I’ve had a lot on my mind, and it only just started hurting?” Berra suggests.
“Hmm.” Maalira’s eyes search Berra’s face. “Whereabouts?”
Berra just looks a bit distant, nothing more. “My arm. I was a wolf when it happened.” She rolls up the long, light linen sleeve on her left arm – she never wears armour there. And …. well, at least it’s not bleeding.2Maalira passes First Aid.
That was a neat cut, a professional slice, until someone did field first aid on it3 and maybe imperfect magic – it’s held her together, but now there is a bit of clumsy suture sticking out, and a patch of red that is the very beginnings of an infection. It looks like a tendon has been spliced, clumsily. The imprint of a bandage is still on the skin – Berra must have been wearing it for a while.
Maalira looks rather wide-eyed. “Berra, what did you do?”
She is rummaging in her scrip with one hand, not taking an eye off the injury.
“Tried to steal a…. that was Jar-eel. And then I had to deal with it.” She moves around to look at it, and her horse dances. “I’d forgotten. Really.”
Maalira says several very bad words. “I’m not sure I shouldn’t be opening that up again and cleaning it out, but we can’t do that whilst we’re riding.” She finally produces what she’s been rummaging for, a tiny ceramic pot with a wooden stopper jammed into the neck. “In the meantime I can put this on which will hopefully stop it going rotten, and bandage it up properly.”
“For this one, I’ve been thinking – maybe I should get rid of it completely. I mean, I was wondering back in the temple.” Berra flexes her fingers. The suture wiggles. It looks like it is silk, at least, but it might well have been tied with the aid of teeth.
Maalira looks thoughtful. “I haven’t been able to get rid of my own wound which I got… in there. But maybe I could do better for yours?”
Berra looks at Maalira’s head, peering to see it. “You’ve been changed – that’s how Chalana Arroy is, so that’s how you are now. But I think you could deal with this one.” She sighs. “I’m just trying to work out if I should, though.”
“Why wouldn’t you?” Maalira grimaces again, looking at the wound.
“In case I need a reminder. But I have plenty. Do it, please?” She holds out the arm, twisting it so Maalira can touch where she needs to.
Maalira lays her fingers very lightly across the wound, and concentrates.
Berra watches with interest, and a soft, distant smile.
Maalira murmurs softly, perhaps a ritual chant, then withdraws her hand.
Berra looks at the faint reminder that is all that is left on her skin. “Thank you. I can handle having that.” She still looks under strain, but at least she has eased a little more.
Maalira pulls something else out of the scrip. “Here, take this,” she says. “Rub a little into the scar each morning and evening. It won’t make it go away, but it will stop the skin from getting stiff.”
Berra gives Maalira a smile. “Thanks.” She puts her hand out, takes the little pot. “I might need reminding. I’m not going to be thinking about that much.”
Maalira waggles a finger. “You’ll think about it fast enough if the scar pulls the next time you have to fight, so I will definitely remind you.”
Berra says, “Um, I mostly ignore that? I once had someone try to gut me with a potsherd and hit my thigh, in a bar, and that one hurt when I walked.” She points to her left leg. “There. I tattooed it. Which was very … um… catastrophically idiotic?”
Maalira stares for a moment, then starts to laugh, throwing her hands up in the air. “Only you, Berra,” she chokes out around the giggles.
“I mean, it was a good reminder! And it was for healing magic, anyhow. So a good basis for a sacred tattoo. And it hurt quite a lot, yeah.”
Maalira mops her eyes with one hand and recaptures her bison’s dropped reins with the other. The bison has ignored the whole fuss and continued without pause.
“Are you well, otherwise?” Maalira asks
That catches Berra, and she sighs. “Yeah? I mean, in the way most people usually mean when they ask?” So no.
Maalira raises an eyebrow. “Out with it,” she says, playfully but firmly. “What’s troubling you?”4Maalira fails Insight (Human).
Berra just closes down, quietly. “Let’s talk about something else,” she murmurs.
Maalira bites her lip. “Sorry, I overstepped,” she says quietly. “Uh… how much longer left on the road, do you think?”
“Uh, a day and a half to the edge of the glowline, then one to Alda Chur. Probably a day looking for Suuraki, but we’ll possibly get to talk to Koraki then anyhow – I don’t know. And then one to Herongreen, a short one to Dangerford, which I’ll walk, so we can push on for Jonstown and then Boldhome.” Berra is, of course, geased not to ride any animal once a week. “About a week of riding.”
“It will be nice to stop for a bit, the Lady willing,” Maalira says. “I am also rather in favour of actual beds.”
“We’ll mostly have them,” Berra tells her. “I’m just not willing to stop inside in a place like this.”
“Definitely. This place has been nothing but trouble.” Maalira with the understatement of the age.
Berra looks back sourly, and that quickly turns to anger, just as quickly suppressed. “Back home. Report. Back to the fight.”
“Who are we fighting next?” Maalira’s tone is light and slightly impudent.
“Meh. Same. The Lunars.” Berra sags a little. “As long as it takes.”
Maalira sighs. “I’ll restock the bandages.”
“It’s gonna be the rest of my life. I know that. It might not be the rest of yours.” Berra has charged straight through despondency to the other side – peaceful doomedness.
Maalira sets her jaw. “I won’t walk away,” she says mulishly.
“I know. I’m just saying you’ll probably outlive me. It’s the way it should be – but you’ve … well, you’re a healer. You see this a lot, right?”
“With… people, yes. Not so much with friends.”
“I do it so that other people won’t have to lose people,” Berra says. “Or that’s why I started, anyhow. Now, I’m doing it for the same reason, just bigger. I’m too good at what I do to stop. But … well, when you say goodbye to me, think of the people who never knew we’ve helped them.”
Maalira swallows hard and frowns. “I will, but if you keep on like this I’m going to cry.”
Berra falls silent, breaks her silence a moment later. “I’ll go back on guard,” she says.
“Berra, I didn’t mean it like that,” Maalira says urgently.
“No, I’m not saying you’re angry, or want to be rid of me,” Berra replies. “But I don’t have much in me to say that’s going to cheer you up right now. It’ll get better, but it’s… tough not to be able to say it all, and I can’t.”
Maalira nods. “We’re all trying to deal with big thoughts right now,” she says awkwardly.
Berra looks off to the right, then ahead. “I think the road’s curved. Boldhome’s pretty much straight ahead. We have to go around a few things, though.”
Maalira nods. “We go around things so that others can take the straight road.”
There is a pause. “You know, we’ve have to pay the Dwarf a LOT of money to build a road straight to Boldhome from here?”
Maalira laughs. “I didn’t mean it literally. Like you were saying before, we do a lot that makes things good for other people who know nothing about it.” She makes a shooing motion. “Go and guard, and don’t dwell too much on thoughts about saying goodbye. They’ll turn your hair grey.”
Berra lifts a hand in farewell, and uses the other hand to steer her horse away. She rolls her sleeve back down once she is in position once more.
- 1Maalira fails a Scan to see that Berra is incoming with a problem.
- 2Maalira passes First Aid.
- 3and maybe imperfect magic
- 4Maalira fails Insight (Human).