Chapter 12: The Peculiar Efficiency of Ministrians
Several guards stood strong and imposing at the gate of the large fort. In contrast to these daunting figures were a couple dozen Trohls slouched with rags on their backs. Their hands were atrophied and curled in toward their chests. All younger men or mere boys. They huddled at the side of the road; malnourished, defeated, ignored.
One of the guards, a man named Hawkius, turned toward our heroes and called, "these are criminals!" The guard kicked at a nearby boy, but the child scurried away, seemingly used to the harsh treatment. "They have sinned, and so the Majoris took their hands, and set them out here to care for themselves! Now they are free to die and spare the earth of their burden!" The soldier smirked.
"What was their crime?" Toar asked.
"They asked too many questions," Hawkius laughed.
Carringten and Baet regarded the camp with a soldier's eye. To one side of the fort were the buildings of the Ministrians: offices, barracks, warehouses, mess halls – also the tents and shanties of the commoners. The other half was a prison for Trohls. A fence of wooden slats, five to six feet tall, ran around the prison. The wooden slats looked weathered and easily overcome. Carringten suspected he could break the boards with his bare hands. Still, the walls of the fort were a good fifteen feet high, with multiple towers. Carringten realized he could likely get out of the prison – but not out of the fort.
The fort was a hive of uniform activity. Patrols marched, guards lounged, various officers moved about with their entourages. In contrast, the Trohls sat about and mostly did nothing behind their fence. Most were women, children, and the infirm. Just like the caravan that passed, there was a lack of fighting age men. The few they saw were in front of the fort with fingers curled into their palms. Carringten frowned as he considered what this meant for him and his friends.
"Where are your doctors?" Carringten turned back on his guard.
"They are summoned," Hawkius replied.
Shortly, four men arrived. Carringten was not impressed. They looked disheveled and sleep-deprived. He wondered how they hoped to care for someone on the verge of death when they could not comb their own hair.
"Well, let us see what we have..." Celt said as he stepped to the litter. He lifted the blanket from Creigal, cut the duke's shirt, and lifted it. He coughed as the smell of rot escaped. Murmurs arose from the other men as they whispered is astonishment. He dropped the shirt, then turned and lifted it again so he might gape at the monstrosity yet again. "Well, I don't... I don't know that I ever..." He began. "This man is all but dead. There is nothing we can do for him." Celt looked to Hawkius as he scratched at the rat's nest on his head.
"Nothing at all?" Hawkius asked. "What if I said he was a man of great repute?"
The surgeons whispered amongst themselves for several seconds as they continued to stare at the hideous rot. They poked and prodded Creigal's side. Creigal moaned in protest and squirmed under their indelicate fingers. Carringten glared at the surgeons. His thoughts turned red with rage.
Finally, Celt came away from the other surgeons. "It is not possible," he frowned and shook his head. "He will die."
"Non, you old fraud," Toar snapped at the man. He turned to Hawkius. "There are adepts among my people that can cure this."
Celt's mouth hung open in shock. He sputtered and stammered as he stepped in front of Toar and berated him. "Look here, you mountain bumpkin! Any bigger than a man's hand, and the infected never lives! This infection is five, six hands easy! We will not throw time, effort, and good medicine after such a lost cause! Right?" He turned to his cronies. They all nodded emphatically.
"A man's hand..." Toar repeated and shook his head. He turned to Hawkius. "The village where you found us, the inhabitants, are they among this pitiful lot?" He pointed to the prison.
"Except for some of the smarter men..." Hawkius shrugged.
"Hazle lived in that village. She can heal him," Toar replied.
"What makes you think so?" Hawkius asked.
"She healed me, and my condition was quite like his."
"Nonsense!" Celt shouted. "If that were true, you would have a fantastic scar!"
"You wish to see it?"
Hawkius and Celt turned to each other and gave nod.
Toar hopped off his horse, pulled down his pants, and revealed his butt.
"How is it possible?" One of the surgeons began.
"It is a fraud!" Celt poked Toar's scar. Toar frowned and hurriedly pulled up his pants.
"If she is here, she can teach you all to heal the rot," Hawkius said to the surgeons. He turned to one of the guard. "See him into the pit and try to find this Hazle."
As Toar left, the surgeons continued to admire the spread of rot on Dandifrod's side. "How long has he suffered this mess?" One of the surgeon's asked.
"A week and a day," Carringten answered.
"It is not possible!" Another gasped. "Two, three days max! That is all they ever live!"
Carringten shook his head. "There are ways to retard its progress."
"How? How have you done this?" Celt asked.
Carringten shrugged. "You will have to ask the Trohl when he returns."
Toar wandered about the prison and asked after Hazle. "She is an apothecary and a midwife. She is a healer of exceptional skill," he explained to yet another prisoner.
The woman shrugged and wandered away with a bothered expression.
"I know Hazle," a passing man volunteered. "I am from her village. My name is Brankellus."
Toar was ecstatic. "Where can I find her?"
Brankellus shook his head. He leaned in close and whispered so the guards might not hear. "She went east, two days before the Ministrians came for us. She is surely alive and far from this sadness!" Brankellus smiled. He turned to several others. "They can tell you. She is not here."
"Don't be sad," Brankellus told him. "She lives and she is free. It that not the best of it?"
"I am in want of a healer and I need one of such high skill," Toar revealed.
"She had many apprentices. Some are here. You will see. I will send for them," Brankellus said.
Shortly, a bright-eyed girl appeared. She was quite young, perhaps fourteen or fifteen years. "I hear there is need of a healer. If I am given medicines, I can help," she said, as she glanced nervously at Toar's guards.
"A man suffers the bugger rot," Toar stated. "He has suffered eight days. He is quite on the verge."
"The bugger rot..." The girl repeated and blanched. "If there is no other, I shall try, but I have little hope," she shrugged. "I have never attended a case of the rot before. I'm not sure how it is cured."
"You said there are more apprentices?" Toar asked Brankellus.
Brankellus shook his head. "If Lilyanah can't cure it, the others will be no help. She is the best among them."
"There are three of us," Lilyanah shrugged. "We have only apprenticed for a couple years. We can all do stitches – but to cut a man, to syphon the rot..."
"Give it up," a guard admonished. "The gods come for your master. Your time is better spent praying for his immortal soul!"
With a heavy heart, Toar gave the villagers a weak nod. "Thank you for your time." Toar walked out the gate and returned to his friends. Now there were several more men gathered around Creigal's litter, including a Saot. They counseled among themselves a short distance from their prisoners.
"Who are these men?" Toar whispered to Carringten.
"They did not announce themselves – though the men sure stood up crisp when that one approached," Carringten frowned.
"Can they heal rot root?" Toar asked.
"Non, but they whisper of some traveling witchdoctor with a bag of herbs and couple knives," Carringten shook his head. "They say he set a guard's broken arm and stitched a couple others."
"The rot is a long way from setting a bone or stitching a cut," Toar frowned. "Besides, knives and herbs do not make a healer. For all we know, he is a cook, and perhaps he is a bad one at that."
"They seem convinced," Carringten shrugged. "Did you find your Hazle?"
Toar shook his head.
"What other option is there?" Carringten shrugged.
"Not that we have much say in the matter..." Baet noted.
"The surgeons lost interest. They only want to study his corpse," Carringten spit. "It might be best if this witchdoctor has a look at him after all."
"This stranger might kill him," Toar said.
"Without treatment, he is already dead," Carringten shrugged. "At least he shall have a chance."
Celt huffed and snorted, then finally stomped away. The other man turned to the nearest guard and gave a nod. Several men lifted the litter with Creigal on it and started away. The officer turned in a different direction and walked away without any further ado, followed by a rather large entourage.
"That settles it," Carringten said. He turned to Hawkius. "Sir, if they take him to the witchdoctor, send this man with them. He is a healer and can gauge this witchdoctor's capacity."
"Please," Carringten beseeched the officer.
"He is not needed," Hawkius claimed. "Do not fear! If there is something that can be done for your master, it will be done: Gliedian takes a personal interest." He whistled to his men. "Take these three to the pit and see they each get a cot!" He ordered.
"Then we are common prisoners?" Carringten asked.
"You are nothing without your lord," Hawkius told him. "If you value your life, pray for his."
One of the other guards cuffed Baet across the back of his head. "Get moving, you!" The other guards formed up around the three and herded them into the prison. Once inside, the guards turned away and promptly ignored them.
"What now?" Toar asked.
"This wall will not keep us in," Baet said in a low voice.
"But the other one will," Carringten noted.
"What about the guards?" Toar frowned.
Carringten gave Baet a knowing look.
"We need to know where they took Dandifrod," Carringten noted. "When it gets dark, I'll do some reconnoitering."
"And us?" Toar asked.
"Let's bother the natives – see what they'll tell us about this place," Baet suggested.