Chapter 22

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Tristan made a careful note of where they were going, so he could find the Uriel encampment on his own if he needed to and approximate a location for the High Commander’s benefit. The encampment sat on a hanging valley at the far side of the pass, high above the main dale and river far below. A stream cut diagonally across the flat land, flowing past the encampment and into a waterfall at the valley’s mouth.

The fort was crudely formed, surrounded by a deep outer ditch and a turf rampart topped by a palisade of heavy timber stakes, with gated entrances at the midpoint of each of its four walls. The fort itself was open to the sky, with roofed sheds and buildings of varying size strategically arranged throughout.

Adelard led Tristan, Sam and Braeden to one of the largest buildings on the right side of the fort. “This is the infirmary,” the Uriel said. “Do you mind if I check on my men?” Donnelly and the others had forged on ahead to deliver the injured Uriel into the camp surgeon’s care.

“Of course not,” Tristan said. He would have wanted to do the same if any of his men were injured. Braeden and Sam nodded their accordance.

Once inside, Tristan was shocked not only by the modernity and size of the infirmary, but the number of people inside of it. Two-thirds of the sickbeds were filled, and not just by the Uriel. The patients included the elderly, several women and children, as well as a few men who looked as though they had never so much as touched a weapon.

Tristan plucked what he assumed to be a surgical tool from a nearby table, examining the ironwork. It looked more like a torture device than an instrument of medicine.

A surly man in a white linen hat and bloodstained clothes grabbed the tool from Tristan’s hands. “Don’t touch that!” he snapped. He stomped off down the aisle.

“Don’t mind the good surgeon,” Adelard said. “He’s no doubt had a busy night.”

“What is this place?” asked Sam, a bit green in the face.

“An improvised hospital for victims of demon attacks. It’s only been up and running for a month now, and we’re short on medical supplies. But we try to help as many as we can, regardless.”

“What’s wrong with the local doctors?” Tristan asked.

“Dead or gone, I’m afraid,” said Adelard. “There’s one doctor who stayed in East Pirama, but his prices are unaffordable for most.”

“And what do you charge for medical treatment?”

“We encourage our patients to pay what they can. Usually, they wind up paying close to nothing, if anything at all,” Adelard said ruefully. “But at least if they come to us, they’re safe from a second attack while they’re at their most vulnerable.”

It was a good idea, Tristan hated to admit. He wondered why the Paladins hadn’t thought to set up something similar, in Pirama or elsewhere. Although, in all fairness, most of the cities east of Pirama had their own hospitals and doctors, and would balk at the undercutting competition. Besides, resources only extended so far, and the Paladins were warriors, not healers. Surely the Uriel knew that offering any service for free was not sustainable. He questioned their motives—no one did anything anymore out of pure altruism. “What’s in it for the Uriel?” he asked, not expecting an honest answer.

“We saw a need and we filled it. It’s what we do.”

A man’s scream erupted from the back of the infirmary. “Quiet!” the surgeon barked. He inserted a wooden, screw-shaped gag into the man’s mouth. “Bite!” With his lips still wrapped around the mouth gag, the man squealed and grunted in terror, his breath coming out in wheezes.

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