It was the darkest part of the night, still and almost sinister. The kind of night where every sound is magnified by one's imagination. It was a testament to the skill and training of the soldiers who rode purposefully towards their destination, making no sound, and even when they picked up their pace, it was no more than a rustle of the wind.
They were in a hurry. They didn't realize the gravity of their errand, but their General did. Choi Young, trusted General to the newly instated King Gong Min, had been called late in the night to the king's chambers. He arrived to find the King with his attendant, the palace doctor and Lady Choi. They wore varying looks of anxiety. The King spoke first.
"General! I need you to do something of utmost importance"
"Please command me, Your Highness."
"The doctor they speak about. The one on the outskirts of town. They say the doctor has healing abilities that are almost magical."
Choi Young couldn't help the slightly skeptical look that crossed his face. Lady Choi, his aunt, seared him with a sharp narrow gaze, probably rebuking his flippancy, but remained silent. "For the moment," he thought with amusement. His expression turned serious as he turned back to his King who looked on the verge of panic.
"She cannot die. This nation will be doomed if she does."
Not understanding, he turned towards Lady Choi and the palace doctor for an explanation. The doctor stepped in.
"The Queen is ill," he stated. Choi Young nodded. He had heard the queen was unwell. "But I was given to understand it was nothing more than a fever brought on by exhaustion due to the long journey from Yuan."
"That's what we thought as well," Lady Choi stepped closer, her voice dropping to a stage whisper, "but this. This is not natural whatever it is."
"We don't have time to go into the details, but the fever has not reduced for days. And the exhaustion is getting worse. She doesn't wake to eat or drink and soon I fear she may slip into a coma" said Doctor Jang Bin. "I have heard of a healer on the outskirt of town on the forested side, who has great training from few of our time's most talented healers. I think that's our only hope."
"She cannot die. Not now, when I have worked so hard to get here. I will not have her die and ruin my reign even before it began." If Choi Young found the King's statement to be heartless coming from a husband, he didn't show it, and apart from a slight stiffening from Lady Choi, there was no reaction from the other. The King's statement was harsh but true. If the Queen died so soon after her arrival to her new home, Yuan, her home country, would not let the insult pass.
"Tell me how to get there," the general asked the doctor. When he understood his directions he turned to the King and bowed, "I will bring him back as soon as I can." As he turned to leave, Doctor Jang Bin called out to him. "General! This doctor is female"
As Choi Young rode out with some of his most trusted men, he allowed his mind to wander. A female doctor. He shook his head wondering how he was going to get a woman to ride off in the middle of the night with the King's elite soldiers, with as little explanation as possible. He would bodily pick her up and force her to accompany them, but it wasn't something he was looking forward to. Simply put, if word got out that the King's soldiers went around abducting women it would agitate the kingdom already made nervous by years of mistreatment by previous kings.
In the distance, he could make out the faint shadows of a dwelling on the edge of the forest. As they drew near, he ordered his soldiers to dismount and tie their horses near the well. They might possibly be less threatening if they didn't approach in a clatter of hooves. Making no effort to mask their arrival, they strode up to the front door and knocked. Almost immediately, a small hatch built into the door opened. In the faint light of the moon, he could see the head almost reached the peephole. The next second, a pair of eyes was peering at him. A child, he thought, standing on tiptoes. He smiled, "I would like to speak to you mother, child."
"She's dead," a tart voice replied. He frowned. "The healer who lives here, I'm looking for her," he said impatiently.
"What do you want with her?"
"I need a healer" he state emphatically, not wanting to divulge too many details to this irreverent youngster.
"Yes, I understand that", the voice said with exaggerated patience, "but why? For whom? What seems to be the ailment? Those things might be helpful to know."
"Damnit, I don't have the time of the patience for this. Time is of essence. Bring me the healer now!"
"I need to know what the problem is, so I can take what I may need to help." Gone was the amused, irksome tone, replaced by seriousness.
Not a child but the Healer herself. Choi Young decided to give her the information. If at any point she posed a threat, he would not hesitate to run his sword through her.
"The Queen is ill. Has had a low fever for days and now doesn't wake for anything. The palace doctor fears she may slip into a coma. He believes this has something specific to women's issues, which he is not as well trained in. He said you might be her last hope."
There was a pause. "You would trust me with the Queen's health?" the healer said with some amazement. Then her tone was quick and efficient again. "Give me a few minutes to gather my things." The hatch closed and the General wondered if she was actually gathering her things or planning an escape through the back door. He was wondering if he should send his men to surround the house, when the door opened. A small figure wearing a cloak from head to toe, carrying an enormous bag. She handed it to him regally saying, "I know it's a lot of things, but I don't know what I'm dealing with so better to take everything so we don't waste time coming back for it."
"I'm sure the palace doctor with have everything you need," Choi young said shortly, handing the package to one of his men.
"I highly doubt it" was her calm assertion.
They quickly walked towards the horses. Nearing them, the healer stopped short.
"I don't suppose you have a cart. A nice one led by oxen?"
"To slow." Dae Man, the youngest of the group stated. The healer sighed and muttered, "I hate horses", but walked forward anyway.
"You can ride with Dae Man". Choi Young said mounting his own horse. The healer looked up to Dae Man, already seated and said almost apologetically, "I'm a poor rider, so I ask your forgiveness, for what may be the most uncomfortable ride for you."
In the moonlight Choi Young saw Dae Man grin and reach out to seat the Healer. She might have let out a soft squeak, but he couldn't be sure. After wobbling for a few minutes, she was seated as best as she could be and they set off.