Alchemical Marriage, part 2

Thursday, November 13, 2008 - 2:55 PM

The concept and design of the crebath is expounded upon and used here by permission of the creator, Nigel Sade.

“Whew,” announced Athelstan with disgust.

“It's the acid cannon,” replied Godfrey, wrapping the new bandages around the ruin of an arm.
“This man got caught in the fog it kicks up.”

Godfrey was an old man, and he'd been a battlefield surgeon for much of his life. Before that, he was a soldier, and like most old soldiers, he'd seen quite a lot that he didn't mind mentioning if other people could bear it. He was a hard man, brisk and unflappable on the field.

The fact was, the Cyragrim acid cannon terrified him. It wasn't an efficient weapon, but it made a ruin of morale, and it did tend to kill anyone caught in its acrid greenish fog.


He finished another round of medicine-soaked bandages, and silently thanked whatever deity would listen that his patient had long since fainted from the pain. He also thanked them that his new assistant, Athelstan, had stomach enough not to vomit or faint.

“Come on, boy. That's all we can do for him.”

Athelstan's wide and skeptical gray eyes peered at Godfrey. “But...”

“No,” replied Godfrey, half-sighing. “He'll probably die in his sleep, lucky fellow, but we do what
we can. If he's very lucky, he didn't breathe in any of the fog.”

This was the second battle between the Dana Fal merchant houses and the Cyragrim that Godfrey had witnessed. The first had taken place ages ago, before he was shaving, and he'd been like Athelstan but a lot less wise. Old grudges and ample greed were the fuses for these little wars, and it seemed that both would pile up enough to occasion more than mere skirmishing. The House magnates would start buying mercenary contracts, would start calling in debts and militia as well as their House soldiers, and then promises of money would draw other interests from north and east.

Walking through the groaning ranks of the wounded, Godfrey had long since dismissed the appeal of war for money. His old, strong hands went about their work as if they had a memory of their own, allowing his brain to whet itself on other memories and thoughts, occasionally sparing a word or direction to his over-tired assistant.

After a few more rounds of bandaging, stitching, washing and setting, he became aware that Athelstan had stopped asking irritable questions.

“Pay attention, lad,” he said, and then noted that Athelstan was looking at their patient in astonishment.

Godfrey saw a man on the dawn edge of middle age, stronger and faster than the young men would expect, wiser and wittier than the young men generally were. They would see the touches of gray in his hair as a weakness, but these hairs were just scars, and little different than the scars the man had on his lean body. His hair was otherwise dark, brushing against his shoulders and shading a withdrawn, sharp-edged face. There was a threat implicit there, but a quiet and polite one. The man also showed no sign of noticing the stitches that Godfrey was putting into his shoulder.

Godfrey knew who the man was, of course, but so did Athelstan.


“Hush, lad, pay attention. You haven't gotten the knots correct yet. See how I tie this off.”

Naturally, the boy didn't learn a damned thing, and as soon as Godfrey had finished the stitches, Athelstan aimed at the man.

“It's an honor to meet you, sir, I heard so much about you, it's amazing to meet you at last, sir...”

Godfrey, noting the hollow look in the man's eyes, cut Athelstan off. “Stop your rambling, and go check the water. We'll need more boiling before the hour's out. Go!”

The boy hesitated out of sheer adolescent defiance, but the hard push of Godfrey's eyes broke him, and off he went. The older man sighed, and gave the soldier a quick look.

“Anything else?”

“No,” murmured the man. “The rest are just scratches.”

“Mind you keep them clean, then.” Godfrey paused, and then continued quietly. “I didn't think you were still fighting, Erich.”

Erich nodded. “I'm surprised you aren't dead. You keep pitching your hospital too close to the field.”

Godfrey snorted. “War is all about calculated risks. Been all right?”

There was a moment of consideration that surfaced briefly in Erich's eyes, and then he smiled. “Not really.”

“You'll get past it,” assured Godfrey quietly. “Just mind yourself, eh?”

“I do, but it's back to the front tomorrow.”

“Reinforcements came early, there'll be a push. They hired some crebath to help with medicine and whatnot, too. I've never cared for the crebath, but at least they have something to help deal with the damned Cyragrim alchemy.”

Erich just nodded again, but Godfrey could tell from the slight easing of the eyebrows that this was welcome enough news. There was another moment of silence, and then Godfrey gave Erich a squeeze on the unhurt shoulder.

“You're fit to go, lad.”

Returning in a hurried tangle of new bandages and jars of salve, Athelstan came back in to the hospital in time to see Erich's departure. Godfrey gave the boy credit; it was a few minutes before the questions started.

“Did he ask about me? What...”

“All right, all right. Shut your mouth, lad, and put your hands to work. I need more bandages boiled and salved up for tomorrow. And while you're working, I'll tell you a few things.”

Godfrey's wise and conspiratorial tone did what it was supposed to. Athelstan suddenly became the hardest working apprentice in ten provinces, and when he was hard at work, Godfrey began to talk to him quietly.

“Yes, Erich is one of the best fighters in the South, and yes, he really is something of a magician. And yes, it is true that his wife was as good as he was, but she was taken down about a year ago at the battle of Siris Field. That's where he got the one scar on his brow, from the explosion there. It put him out, but he was mostly under cover so he lived. She lost both her legs, died.”

Athelstan was all attention, but continued working. Predicting the questions, Godfrey continued.

“I know, because I was there. Anvil House took the field, drove off the troops they didn't slaughter, and later got crushed when they tried to cheat the Cyragrim warmongers who sold them artillery. Ugly rout, Erich's side was outnumbered three to one. But he got dragged off the field, and he recovered. He's still grieving, though. And you'd best give him space. He's still just a man, you know.”

Again, Athelstan's youth bubbled up a reply, and this time it won out. But before he could speak Godfrey stared him down.

“You don't get it yet? I'd figured you would, working with me. Heroes are men too, Athelstan, and that means they die just the same. Erich's just a man... just a remarkable one. Of course, I've got the right to be so praise-filled for him. More than you do, anyway.”

This prompted some blinking from the confused apprentice. “I don't understand?”

“He's my son, you idiot. Enough of this, back to work with you.”

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At November 13, 2008 3:25 PM, Blogger Mark said...

I continue to be fascinated. Please keep it up.

I'm looking forward to seeing how all these folks come together into a single story - assuming they do at all.


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