Anything But Routine

Nymhriel delicately inserted her needle into the puss-filled bulge on the man's pale back, releasing its contents in a stream she caught with a cloth. He sucked breath through his clenched teeth at the prick, then relaxed. Cleaning up the site of the boil, she applied a healing ointment and a bandage.

"Keep it clean and dry," she ordered as he put his shirt back on. "If it begins to itch or rises again, come see me." Nodding, he pressed a few coins into her palm and left her small cottage.

It had been a busy week, she thought as she scrubbed her hands clean. The boil had been the least of her worries; several men were sporting hideous gashes from a recent dust-up with a troop of orcs still bent on causing mischief so long after the war's end. When the injured began arriving two days ago, she had already delivered two babies in the village and tended three victims of a fever that she was trying to keep from spreading. Routine, really, but all of it at once was trying on her nerves, and devastating to her herbal supplies. In fact, while the sun was still up, she should gather some in preparation for the following day's patients.

Basket on her arm, she walked out of her cottage and froze. Dragging a bloody leg behind him, one arm clutching his gut, an orc crawled awkwardly, painfully toward her. His head hung low; she was fairly certain he didn't even know she stood there. Perhaps he had seen her cottage, thought it empty, and was just looking for some place quiet to die in peace. Her gasp of shock made him stop and haul his head up to look at her.

The expression on his face – resignation – softened and steeled her at the same time. Setting her basket aside, she strode purposefully to him. Taking his arm, she urged him to stand, to lean on her, and allow her to help him the rest of the way. Once inside the cool interior of her cottage, she unceremoniously swept everything off her broad dinner table, heedless of shattering dishes, and stretched him out on its surface. He groaned, the first sound he had made since seeing her.

He fixed his gaze on the ceiling. As if grasping the irony of the situation, a dry, rasping chuckle escaped him, then he winced and grunted.

"Sssshhh," she said in a quiet, soothing voice, then covered his nose and mouth with a cloth. Startled, he drew in an instinctive breath. His eyelids drooped and blinked rapidly. She held the cloth to his face and counted silently to ten as his red eyes darted in panic at the unfamiliar sensations. Then his eyes rolled back and his body went limp.