Authors: Knight Storm
Erik bolted awake with a start, breathing heavily and fighting for air as if the dream had been real. Andrew shifted in his cloak and eyed his friend in the shadows of the dying fire.
“What is it? You are breathing as if someone was holding a hand about your mouth or neck. Are you alright?”
Shaking off the remnants of the dream, he said, “I was dreaming that I was drowning. Probably this blasted marriage to the hag I am being forced into caused such thoughts to fester in my dreams.”
Only, he hadn’t dreamed of a hag, but a beautiful woman with fathomless emerald eyes that still beckoned him even now that he was awake. Silently he wished he was riding to meet such a woman instead of the hag waiting for him. The woman in his dreams said their destinies were set. He did not know what it was supposed to mean but the only destiny for him was countless years with a black-magic weaving crone. Pulling his cloak tighter about him to ward off the chill of the night and the chill consuming his heart, Erik miserably brooded in silence. On the morrow, he would meet her. His destiny was no longer his own.
Towards the middle of the night, Rhianna had been awakened by one of the young serving maids in the keep. A child was very sick with lung fever in the village and the desperate and frightened father sought out the mistress of the keep to aid his poor child if she could. Rhianna seldom refused her aid to help a villager when she was called upon and never would she resist when it came to a child. She quickly slipped out of her nightrail and donned her well-worn kirtle of grey linen. She put no overdress on, but hastily tied an apron around her slender waist. She was going to have a lot of work to do and so, although, her gown was worn, it was clean and functional for the task at hand. Rhianna shook off the remaining sleepiness and she grabbed her handled basket. She would make a trip to the stores off the kitchens and fill the basket with supplies and herbs she would need to tend to the sick child. Clearing her mind of sleep, Rhianna mentally made a list of items she would need and she hoped that she would not forget some important ingredient. She also hoped that she had been diligent in replenishing the required elements to the stores, as she now needed them to be plentiful.
Rhianna made her way down the dim corridor, through to the kitchens. Most of the keep was quiet at this time of night, but there was always someone about keeping the fires going or coming off of a watch on the towered battlements. Rhianna passed a scullery maid dozing next to the fire in the kitchen. The girl immediately sat up straight and willed herself awake as Rhianna approached. “I am sorry, m’lady,” she stammered but Rhianna smiled and said, “If you would trim a lamp for me, Mary. I need to gather supplies for a child who has taken ill in the village.”
The young woman jumped to her feet and trimmed the tallow dipped wick. She filled the lamp with oil and took an ember from the fire to light it for Rhianna. Rhianna expressed her thanks and taking the lamp, she said, “Now take your rest.”
“Oh no, my lady. Let me help you.”
“I will be but a minute in the stores and then I will be off to the village. There is no need for you to assist me.”
“Perhaps you will need help with the child.”
“That is kind of you to offer, but really no. I work better on my own. Take your rest.”
Rhianna made her way down the darkened stone steps leading to her carefully stored herbs and jars of salves and tinctures. She held the lamp before her and she lit the way to see her dried herbs which hung like a fragrant curtain from the rafters. She gathered dried wild geranium and a fair amount of ginger root. She breathed in the scent of her prepared herbs, loving their essence as she picked the best from her cache. When she was done, Rhianna took some clean linens and folded them into the bottom of the basket. She would need them, she was sure, and they buffered the jars so that they would not crack on her walk to the village. She hoped to make a special poultice for the child to draw out the infection and to help her breathe easier. Taking a final look around, Rhianna decided to add a measure of Horehound and Masterwort to aid in reducing fevers.
Hurrying out to the bailey, she greeted the tired looking man who had sought her council. His brow was creased with worry and he said, “M’lady, I don’t know how to thank you. My little girl is in a bad way. She is fair to burning with fever and her breathing is labored. There are sounds like voices coming from her little chest.”
Rhianna did not like the sound of that. It could mean the child’s lungs were filled or worse, that one lung was no longer open. She schooled her concern so as to not worry the distraught man. She smiled and said, “Your thanks is not needed, Alric. I am happy to be of help.”
Rhianna pulled the hood of her cloak up over her head and tightened the stays at her neck. There was a chill in the air that threatened more of the rain that had drenched the land in the last few days. It was the worst type of weather for a child with lung sickness. The damp could seep into a body’s bones quite quickly. She said, “We should make haste. There is nasty weather afoot and the sooner I can see to the baby, the sooner I can help her. I do not want us to be caught in the storm.”
Alric raised sad eyes to her and he said, “I am so sorry to have gotten you from your warm bed at this late hour.”
Patting his hand, Rhianna only smiled kindly. “It could not be helped. Let’s hurry, shall we?”
They set off at a brisk walk and though she was tired, Rhianna found her strength in knowing she was needed in the village.
When they arrived at the tiny cottage, Rhianna found the situation to be far worse than she first thought. Alric’s wife was late with child and looked exhausted. There was only a small fire in the hearth, which did not dispel the cold and damp in the room. Rhianna suspected that Alric did not have time to chop the wood needed to maintain the warmth of the cottage because of his duties with the upcoming harvest. Rhianna would assess the child’s condition and then she would set things right in the house. With compassion and concern, she said, “Hildie, go have a rest. You need to be off of your feet. I’ll tend to little Alys, now. And Alric, could you see about getting another log for the fire. We need to keep the baby warm. I saw a small pile of wood outside. That should suffice for the night.”
Alric sheepishly answered, “Aye, Lady Rhianna. I am sorry that I have not kept up with the wood store. With Alys and Hildie both not feeling well, and the harvest, I just did not have time.”
“It will be fine. We can chop some more in the morning. There were a few logs that will be enough for the rest of the night. Could you gather them for me now?”
Rhianna knew that the diversion would be just what was needed for the troubled father and husband. Hildie still hovered over her child, not wanting to leave her for even one moment, but Rhianna took her hand and led her to a chair.
“You will be no use to Alys if you fall ill, Hildie. I am going to take good care of her. You have my word.”
“Oh, Lady, I ne’er heard such sounds coming from the chest of a child. I am sore afraid. It sounds like demons fill her.”
It was true. The child’s breathing was labored and each breath whistled with tones that vaguely sounded like mewling kittens.
“Alys is very sick, Hildie, but I can help her get better. I have seen this thing before and I have just the remedies to make her well. Leave it to me now and get some rest. I promise Alys will be better in a few hours after I start to treat her. You have my word,” she repeated to assure the worried young mother.
Rhianna watched Alric toss the last of the logs on the fire and she then stoked it so the embers glowed hot under the wood and peat. She put a kettle up and sprinkled just the right amount of herbs to steep into a soothing tisane for the child’s cough and chest rattle. The challenge would be to get her to drink it, but Rhianna would sweeten it with honeyed wine and the little girl would eventually get it down. Rhianna set out her jars on the table. She wanted to make an ointment of mint, camphor and mustard to smear onto the child to draw the infection out. She crushed the mint with her mortar and pestle until it was finely ground. This released the oils in the leaves and she added the camphor and mustard powder to the mix. It was a strong smelling ointment, but the vapors would help clear the breathing passageway to the child’s lungs. Rhianna sat beside the delirious little child, telling her she would get better soon. She could not be sure the child heard, but Rhianna was such a natural at trying to soothe her patients. Rhianna raised the child’s thin shift and rubbed the soothing salve onto her laboring chest. All the while, she talked sweetly to the child, calming and soothing her as she ministered to her. After she had felt she had rubbed a sufficient amount of the ointment onto the little girl, Rhianna heated one of the linens close to the fire and she applied the warm cloth on top of the salve. The warmth of the plaster would comfort the child as well as aid in releasing the valuable properties of the poultice to aid in easing the constriction of her lungs. Rhianna propped the child up because she knew that lying flat only allowed the fluids to settle. Even that simple act helped the child breathe a little easier.
Rhianna alternated giving sips of the wild geranium tea and the honey wine boiled with Masterwort and Horehound for fever to Alys. Rhianna suspected that the child’s throat was sore as well so the sips were slow, but she was satisfied that enough of the healing herbs and roots were getting into the sick little girl. Rhianna worked tirelessly through the night, making sure the little girl was warm because the fever brought both chills and sweating to her frail little body.
Rhianna checked on Hildie from time to time. The mother had succumbed to exhaustion soon after Rhianna had arrived and lay sleeping. She wanted to be certain that Hildie had not developed the lung fever as well, but it seemed that Hildie was still cool and breathing normally.
Rhianna sat down for a few moments to rest a little. It had been a long night. Morning was approaching and there was still much to be done. Alys had had a crisis, as Rhianna knew she would, but was now sleeping normally. Sometimes things had to get worse before the true healing could happen. Her fever had seemed to spike and Rhianna had to take measures to cool the heat inside of her. It had been an arduous task of putting strips of water soaked linens onto the child’s arms and legs, only to ply her with blankets when the chills came upon her. At one point, the coughs were so close, it almost sounded like the child was laughing. The poor little thing would gasp and start the rattling cough again. Rhianna forced more of the wild geranium tisane into the baby, which caused her to sick up on herself, but when she did, much of the poisonous fluids were rendered and released. Rhianna knew that was actually a good thing. After that, the hideous demonic sounds battling through the little girl stopped. Alric helped to clean Alys up and as Rhianna sat to catch her breath, the little child finally slept peacefully. Rhianna was confident that Alys would get better now. The poor little thing had a rough night.
When the first rays of dawn streaked through the shutters, Rhianna stood up to check on the girl. Her fever seemed to be broken and she coughed much less. It had rained heavily during the night, as Rhianna suspected it would, but morning brought fresh sweet air cleansed by the storm. Rhianna opened the shutters to let some of the refreshing breeze dispel the ill humors of the cottage. She stood at the open window and breathed deeply of the cool, no longer fetid, air. She let it settle through her and she stretched her neck and spine. She was tired, but she was glad she had been able to help. With a heavy sigh, Rhianna tried to shake off her weariness. There was still work to be done. Grabbing a shawl that Hildie had knitted and tucking it around her shoulders, Rhianna let herself out of the cottage. She went to the well to draw two pails full of water. Once filled, they were heavy. Rhianna had to walk slowly and carefully to avoid spilling the precious water. She side stepped some deep puddles that had formed in the ruts of the lane, mindful of not sloshing the water over the sides of the pails.
As Rhianna avoided a wide slick of mud, the unmistakable sound of approaching horses made her start. She had been lost in thought and the hoof beats grew louder as the riders neared at an alarming pace. As the men on horseback dashed closer, Rhianna stumbled and landed solidly in a swale of mud. She spilled her buckets of water after she had painstakingly drawn them and carried them toward the cottage. Mud spattered her gown and clods of wet dirt from the flying hooves of the horses hit her in the face and neck. She could feel one clump sliding through her hair. She managed to stand up as the last of the riders filed quickly by. Her mouth hung open as the shock of her fall wore off and she realized just who those riders were.
She thought in horror and suddenly she felt the eyes of one of the men upon her. She raised her chin defiantly, despite her soiled clothes and hair. It was then that she thought she saw the fabled Norse god, Thor, hastening past her. Their eyes met only for the briefest of moments, but she knew he had seen her. She also saw his look of disgust as he noted her filthy appearance. He turned away in abhorrence and headed further down the lane.
Further down the lane! No! They were on their way to the keep. Bloody Hell!
Rhianna dropped her now empty pails and ran back to the cottage. Alric rose from his chair and said, “My lady, what in the world happened?”
“I had a little stumble and landed in a puddle. Never mind about that, though. I must get back to the keep. There is danger afoot. I am afraid I dropped the pails of water…”