Chapter 01: Among the Wounded

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Moans and sharp cries of pain surrounded Ishana. She gathered the crushed herbs into her medicinal pouches and hurried to her nearest patient, a young fae with severe burns along his calf and half his thigh. They were so deep that the charred flesh exposed bone. The stench and the agony should have been enough to turn her stomach. In her early days among the field hospitals, Ishana had spent a great deal of time retching and sobbing. The misery here was unlike anything she had ever seen. At first, she had wondered how the royals and nobles could even consider returning to war after all were required to serve in some capacity and witness the devastation that the wars and skirmishes brought. But after almost twenty years, it no longer seemed as shocking.

Ishana knelt beside the fae, shushing him. "It's all right. This will make the pain stop. Just breathe for me. Alright?" 

The fae nodded, his jaw clenched. His pale orange skin was beaded with sweat, his amber eyes dull from the pain. Ishana set to work applying the poultice. This was the easy part for her. Applying the healing salve and soothing the pain. With a wound this bad, the first step for treating a fae was to stop the pain and prevent his magic from causing further damage. Fae like this one had particular skills with fire, but the mer parnimo who inflicted this wound had used some sorcery to turn the fae’s own fire powers against him, inflicting a deep and grievous wound that the fae would only worsen if he struggled.

The herbs had a soothing minty scent. Yet they were all but absorbed in the stench of death and blood. She poured it into the wound, filling it like a trench. Then, before it could slip away, she bound it with soft lavender laced cloth. The fae’s muscles trembled. He bit his lip so hard, beads of blood dripped down his mouth. “It’s almost done.” Ishana tightened the binding. She took care not to set her hand directly on the wound. Enough heat still radiated from it to give her a mild burn, and she needed her hands whole if she was to finish the rest of her tasks. She kept her thoughts focused on the immediate need rather than the strange nightmares she had been having. The precision of these tasks brought some shred of comfort.

The fae soon relaxed. He released a trembling breath. Opening his eyes again, he reached for her hand. “Thank you.”

“It is my privilege. Now drink this.” She removed a wooden mug from the plank table and added a few more herbs to that. “Drink it herbs and all. It’s bitter, but it’ll calm the fire.”

The fae obeyed, clasping the mug with both hands. As he drank, Ishana returned to the plank table that served as her station. A few knives, a chopping block, numerous bundles of fragrant herbs, a mortar and pestle, and a few other basic medical instruments clustered about with barely enough room for her to work. A large yellow chart with scribbled notations listed her patients and their needs. Her next patient was a young mer warrior who had been shot with a poison dart. They had kept her in the grotto. Likely another ambush. She picked up a small bundle of yarrow and clipped the flowers into the mortar. Next a sea arro, a grubby salt pitted tuber that smelled like garlic and halitosis. As she chopped it, she grimaced.

"These attacks are getting worse.” Melo stopped beside her, stooping close enough to whisper. She wrung her hands, her voice shaking. “War can’t be far off.

“It’s the work of bandits and rogues. Nothing more.” Ishana scraped the sea arro into the mortar and began grinding. The pulpy tuber released even more of its pungent odor.

Melo didn’t pull back. She swallowed hard and leaned a little closer. “You know that can’t be the case. Not unless they’re getting allies from somewhere. Somewhere like the banshees.”

Ishana rolled her eyes. “There was only one, Melo.” She tried to keep the frustration from her voice, but she wasn’t successful. “And she wasn’t even from this world. She came from another and wanted to go home. If she had had others of her own kind, don’t you think that they would have allied with her to return?”

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