Chapter 8: Staying Alive

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 Hans nodded, taking Rob's soiled tunic and rolling it into a ball. "We'll have this washed. As long as we're near the markets, do you need provisions for the day? Look around. These wares won't get any fresher."

Rob looked. Food merchants worked their stalls, craftsmen opened their townhouse shutters, and everyone got to work, weaving cloth, cutting leather and rolling bread dough in full view of all who passed by. 

But it was the number of people with medical issues that drew Rob's attention. A man with an oozing neck mass hawked sacks of beans; a woman hobbled on a broken leg that hadn't been set correctly; a child with greenish crusts around his eyes clung blindly to a shop window.

"Don't you dare give them any of your money," Hans said, following Rob's gaze. "They're faking it to gain your sympathy."

"Well, they've got that much. Forget shopping, Hans. I'm exhausted. I'm embarrassed. Frankly, I don't even know what I'm dong here. Can we just go home?" Rob said just as the dull, stomach-turning sound of a body striking stone brought the whole world to a stop.

"Help!" a man cried from the rooftops. "Help! My son!"

Rob jolted into action, rushing toward the accident without another thought toward his problems. He didn't have a doctor's bag or first aid kit, a stethoscope or a single square of gauze. 

All he had was his hands and a few years of medical training, which he hoped would be enough. Rob dropped to his knees by the injured body of a tiny, fair-haired boy.

"Hey there," Rob said. "It's going to be all right. Can you tell me your name?"

"My head hurts," the boy said with a whimper.

"Okay. My name's Rob. I'm going to check to make sure you're all right. Where's your mom and dad?"

"Out of my way! What are you doing to him?" A man with Popeye-class forearms muscled his way through the crowd that had grown around the fallen boy.

"Are you the father?" Rob asked.

"Of course I am! Who the hell are you?"

"I'm a doctor. I'd like to help your son, if I can." Rob's fingers twitched with nervous energy, but he didn't want to touch the boy without the father giving him the go-ahead—at least not while the boy was still breathing.

"A real doctor? I've never seen you before," the father said, eyeing him suspiciously.

"He's the new town doctor," offered Hans, who'd slipped in quietly behind Rob. "The Godmother will vouch for him."

The father glanced at Hans and then back to his son, who looked terribly small against the flagstones. "I don't have money," he said.

"I don't care," Rob said. "I'm going to examine your boy, all right?"

The father hesitated. "Perhaps I should fetch the monks."

"Fine. But I need to get started."

The father nodded. "Please. Do what you can. His name is Tom, though we call him our little Thumb because he's so small."

Of course you do, Rob thought as he brushed his hand along the back of the boy's head. His fingers came away red with blood, but no bone fragments.

"I'm going to lift your head now," Rob said to the boy. "Just relax your neck. Can you wiggle your toes for me?"

"Don't worry about his toes!" the father shouted. "What about his head?"

Rob cradled the base of the boy's head with one hand and gently probed with the other. More blood, but still no bone or cranial fluid. "Hans, did he move his toes?"

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