DISCLAMER: I am NOT a doctor. Whilst I did some research for accuracy, IF YOU GET BURNED, SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE. If you're interested in using some herbal remedies IN ADDITION to conventional medicine, RESEARCH it fully beforehand, and seek medical approval before ever using anything.
Sorry for the ridiculous delay in posting whilst we moved to the other end of the country. I promised I'd never abandon this story, and I intend to honour that. It is important that you please read all authors notes in this chapter (references are optional). Thank you to everyone who has kept reading, and kept following.
Please note- this chapter deals with some pretty horrific injuries, and is designed to be hard-hitting and heart wrenching. It is NOT gory, but is likely to be disturbing to readers "of a nervous disposition".
Merlin has just been arrested after performing life-saving healing magic, and carried away right in front of Gaius. Emotionally raw, Leon has sent Gaius to his quarters with a guard escort to rest—when the physician is intercepted. A man has just appeared in the central courtyard in a massive burst of flames. Somehow he is still alive. Somehow, Gaius knows he must put his emotions to one side in order to help him.
Gaius orders the guards to carry the severely injured man to his quarters- and then banishes them as he begins his work.
Gaius sighed as the low mumble of voices sounded from just behind his door; the citadel guards no doubt deciding to stand watch behind it. He knew they wouldn't leave him be completely, but at least for the time being he was alone. Alone with another man who no doubt did not have very long to live. But alone all the same, left to collect his thoughts as he worked to make the unknown male's last moments as comfortable as possible. Able to distract his mind from some of the crushing grief now filling his soul.
He knew there was little he could do for the man, but whatever he could do would be more than enough considering the pain that he must have gone through; must still be enduring. With the proper light that his lanterns provided he could see much more clearly the extent of the damage. He tried not to think about the actual circumstances that had led to this man's injuries- any thoughts of burning a man alive only pulled Merlin's possible fate into his mind, and he just couldn't deal with the thoughts that that boy might have this man's agonising fate in his future.
Gaius leaned in to inspect his wounds closely, cringing as the acrid smell of burnt flesh overwhelmed him. He knew that the quicker one grew accustomed to a horrifying scent, the faster one no longer registered it. The knowledge did nothing to ease his discomfort, seemed to be stable for now- completely unconscious, Gaius realised thankfully, and was at least for now breathing well for himself. The boy was even the same physical stature as Merlin. Looking over him carefully, Gaius saw that most of the burns were isolated to his lower body- his legs were completely ravaged, and for the most part his upper body was just soot blackened- however there were still vast sweeps and patches of warped flesh already exposed over his chest and arms. Gaius took a blade and began cutting away the decimated clothing. Piece by piece the remaining fabric came away from the narrow torso to reveal some light burns, but mostly just surface deep, unlike those which covered his legs and hands. Gaius tried not to breathe as in front of him he saw Merlin's torso revealed under the blackened cloth. There were too many countless skinny young men out there, it was just a coincidence that one so closely resembling Merlin had been taken to him under such horrific circumstances.
Peeling the partially consumed fabric off the boy's legs and thighs, he could see that some of the skin was uneerily red, the heat pulsating from within the flesh that was ruined, whilst other, more worrying areas had gone completely ghostly white. Wraithlike, the remnants of skin that once had been. Skin that had no substance, no sensation; skin that functioned no more.
Gaius sighed and looked down at the man. He understood enough of his arrival to agree that it wasn't natural, there had to have been some sort of magical element for him to have appeared in a whirl of flames, and yet he couldn't shake the unnerving belief that the guard's exuberant announcements of torture and everything else were just that of an excitable adolescent mind.
The first thing Gaius knew he needed to do was to ease the man's suffering a little, before he could make a start on trying to tend to his wounds.
He doubled back to a darkened archway of shelves, fumbling around various vials just above head height until he extracted four or five, reviewing them under the close scrutiny of his bare eye before returning half and retrieving some more. Belladonna tincture; Henbane & Mandrake anaesthetic; Bolognese sedative (Poppy, Mandrake & Vinegar); Belladonna & Valerian; Poppy Extract (Opium); Hop vine seed oil. Small glass vials clinking and scraping against each other in his tight grip, Gaius set the sedatives down on the workbench before returning to the stacks of medicinal ingredients.
He retrieved several more bottles and containers, taking them to the large work table and mixing various dried herbs and flowers with a small amount of water, and grinding the resulting paste with the pestle and mortar. Comfrey and calendula, lavender, which seemed to calm the skin and mind. Honey, for binding and staving off infection. Also a compress of dilute vinegar, to clean the skin. Age old remedies for the treatment of burns and traumas, elixirs which the skilled physician had developed in efficiency and potency, drawing on decades of experience and centuries of well-recognised thought and medical understanding; though Gaius feared it would not be enough.
Every now and again he'd glance over at his patient, training his eye on the slow rise and fall of his chest before continuing with his work. He retrieved another pot of dried flower-heads before swapping it with a tinctured version. With the pastes finally mixed to his satisfaction in various beakers and containers, he retrieved a basket of clean fabric strips and began lowering them one by one into a pungent bowl of medicine. He continued until there were at least two score left soaking, and moved them over the hearth. Taking a deep breath, he gathered himself before he himself gathered the remaining preparations and returned to his patient's side. Lining up the various balms and ointments on the little table that stood next to the small cot, Gaius stared into the face of the young man.
He looked so much like Merlin.
Because he was Merlin.
He was- Merlin.
Gaius knew he wasn't seeing fantasy; he knew no longer was he imagining his young charge's identity over that of a stranger who had somehow succumbed to this terrible fate.
With a jerky, slightly shuddering motion, he cradled the back of the boys head, and gently lifted it with a haltering breath. His other hand reached out and grasped the small vile standing on the edge of the small treatment table; uncorking it one-handed, he raised the tiny bottle to the blackened lips and tipped the contents into his mouth. The thin, slightly acrid liquid seemed to sit languidly over his mouth an gums, coating them lazily, slowly draining to the back of the throat. A moment later, the neck of a water bladder was pressed against the lips, and a small dribble of the contents was tipped in. Gaius plied two fingers against the base of his throat and forced him to swallow. With a dull clink the small vile was discarded upon the table, its label in tiny cursive showing briefly before it tipped and gently rolled to a dull stop against one of the large bowls.
Belladonna & Valerian (Sedative). High potency.
The boy was Merlin. And no matter how logic or reason screamed at him that his Merlin had only just been arrested an hour ago, that at this moment he could only be sitting in the dungeons right now, this boy lying in front of him was Merlin. He had known the boy he had housed and looked after like a father for over three years. Had cared for him when he was ill or injured; had nurtured him and schooled him. Had helped him develop his magic and solaced him when he had been overcome by it. The boy lying before him was Merlin. No matter what logic or possibility dictated, Gaius knew his boy's face, whether it be drenched in sweat, water, horse manure, pain, glee, or desperation. Gaius knew, the young man before him was Merlin- but he also knew that this boy was not his Merlin.
His Merlin was still sitting in a cell right now, awaiting whatever fate was apparently pre-ordained for him. And yet, Merlin was here.
And through the impossibility of this precise predicament, beyond the doubt of logic and reason, Gaius knew unequivocally that he was right. Because there was only one overwhelming explanation. Magic was involved. And if magic was involved, then so, inevitably, was Merlin.
It was Merlin.
It was Merlin. Dear gods…
Gaius needed to let his mind shut down. There was a dying man in front of him; it was Merlin, dear gods- He needed to help him, ease his pain, ease his injuries; Merlin's injuries. He needed to be able to concentrate and do his job to ease his suffering. He needed to help, he couldn't think about his identity, he needed to do his job and help him. He needed shut down.
Gaius needed to be the physician.
The physician needed to help his patient.
He cautiously took hold of one of the limp black wrists, careful to avoid touching too much of the wrecked flesh as possible as he raised it off of the cot. He slid a large, empty bowl under where it had been laying and reached out to pull another closer to him on the small table, its contents slopping slightly as it drew to a halt. He dipped a clean rag into the bowl, and carefully let the dilute contents dribble and run over the arm and hand and trickle down into container below. He brought the cloth up again and carefully as he could, gently brushed the dirt and debris off of the skin. Working quickly and efficiently, he cleaned the arm and hand, rotating the wrist round in his deft grip to access the underside, gingerly brushing the rag against the surface of each lithe finger. Then, sliding the collecting bowl to the ground, Gaius began to coat the most severely affected areas with one of the thick pastes. He coated the entire back surface of the hand and forearm. Gently lowering the finished limb back down to the cot, Gaius let out a cold sigh before reaching out towards the other arm, and lifted the large collecting bowl below it. He began again.
The young grounds guard had been right- there had been magic involved with his arrival, and yes, to a certain degree his injuries, but Gaius knew they were not magically inflicted. No, the burns were the result of prolonged exposure to fire. The burns were malicious, certainly, but they weren't the result of magic. No, these were the burns of those condemned for magic.
Still, suspicions were only suspicions, despite how likely they may be. Gaius was a man of science, a man of fact, and the fact was he still needed to clean and treat Merlin's legs, and that was before he could even consider whether or not the removal of the most damaged areas would give him a more likely chance at survival. Gaius felt his throat constrict against a heavy swell of emotion. Amputations* were just as viable to kill as the burns; it was simply a matter of weighing up the options of what would keep him alive the longest. It was a matter giving Merlin the time he needed to complete what he was sent here to do.
Running the vinegar solution over his ravaged legs, Gaius tried to hold on to the hope that whatever reason Merlin had found himself here; whatever reason he had inadvertently subjected Gaius to the vision of this nightmare, he would somehow be able to avert this fate. He couldn't live to see this happen. He couldn't live to stand there in the central courtyard as Uther proclaimed him a sorcerer. As Uther condemned him and set him alight. Gaius couldn't stand to watch as the boy he had raised for three years died in agony. He couldn't live to stand witness and watch it happen.
Gaius brushed angrily at his face as he suddenly felt it dampen. He wouldn't tolerate tears; they were not his to fall, not after what had happened to the man below him. Plunging the cleaning rag back into the basin again, he dragged it over the last bit of flesh remaining and dumped it back into the basin, it's task finally finished.
He turned his back to the patient, closing his eyes and breathing deeply as the seconds washed over him. Not turning far enough to let the young man enter his vision, Gaius picked up the two bowls of now considerably dirtied vinegar water and carried them over to the far end of the room. He set them down a few feet from the door; waste water to throw away. And then, dutifully, returned to cover Merlin's other arm and hand in the sweet-smelling paste. He did not register how long it took to complete.
When he was finally finished, Gaius returned to the table of tinctures and preparations, collecting some more and depositing them again onto the tiny patient-side table. The bowl of infused bandages which had been set to strengthen over the fire was now sitting on the great flagstones, cooling. Gaius had no recollection of moving it, however the infusion was strong in colour and quite cool to the touch. Cold; it had had hours to infuse and more to lose the heat of the hearth. Numbly, Gaius moved it across to the centre of the tiny bedside table.
Lifting one of the bandages out of the medicinal bowel, he gently draped it lengthways over the calf and ankle. The ointment was rich and pungent; it would serve to ward off infection and dull some of the screaming sensations the fire had left intact, whilst the fabric also made a poor, somewhat rudimentary substitute for the flesh which had lost its integrity. Gaius knew it would never be enough, but it was the best he could offer. There was just too much dead tissue which would never recover. Too much dead tissue to poison the rest of the body.
He retrieved another fabric strip, and laid it down beside the first, slightly overlapping it, spreading out the edges so it adhered to the skin. And then he continued with a third, fourth, fifth, lifting the crippled limb up in the air to access the underside. The last strip was longer; starting where the others had begun, Gaius carefully wound the material round the calf,the fabric quickly travelling down over the bandaged flesh and wrapping over the ankle, trapping the other strips within.
By the time he had finished, Gaius realised that the patch of sky outside his window had begun to lighten, a dim light already filtering across into his room. He returned the bowl to the main work table and allowed himself a few moments to breathe. And to think. He had finished the major treatments he needed to do, any succeeding ones could wait—or needed to. But there was something else he needed to do. Something he needed to know.
Gaius replaced a few clean bandages to soak in the remaining liquid then cautiously made his way back to his patient. He found himself lowering himself into his seat, staring at the man in front of him. What he had thought; had suspected…? He carefully placed his hands on Merlin's shoulder and hip. With the deft skill of his years, the physician rolled him slightly to expose his back. And what he saw confirmed his darkest suspicions.
There was barely any damage to Merlin's back. In fact, running down the centre of the ugly, stained tunic hanging off his shoulders was a wide strip lighter than the rest of the fabric, exposing the vaguely sickening mixture of browns and greys of the material. A void. From the fire damage, from the soot. It was the strip from where the great pole had rested against the boy's back; the pole which he had been tied to as he had been burnt at the stake.
It was an execution. A formal execution by fire.
DISCLAMER: I am NOT a doctor. IF YOU GET BURNED, SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE. Don't use the material in this story as a guide for self-treatment.
RESEARCH FULLY if interested in herbal remedies, and only use IN ADDITION to conventional medicine. Seek medical approval before use.
* Amputation: Please note- I had to say it, as amputation was a viable option at those times, being that these types of severe injuries would so often have led to death, however I just want to reassure readers that there will be no horrific removal of limbs or anything else. This chapter is by far the most horrific and graphically real that the entire story will contain. There will be a reduced continuation of Merlin's treatments in upcoming chapters, but there will be no obscene medical acts coming up in the future.
I also did a hell of a lot of research into medieval medicine and the types of remedies and herbs which they would have used. I have taken a few liberties, as I do not have Gaius' extensive knowledge of what treatments and ingredients would be more suited to different/specific severities of wounds, but for the most part, it is realistic. And incredibly, many of these herbal treatments are still used today. (Please note- in modern medicine it is generally advised never to cover large burns in any creams, pastes or oils. Wrap in cling-film (to prevent air & germs reaching it) and SEEK MEDICAL HELP. With minor burns, cool immediately under running water for 20 min. (Know you probably know this, but I have to state it.)
References (optional to read):
I did quite a bit of research into various medieval and herbal medicines and plants, below are some of those which I found most useful and have most strongly used.
General information/ compendiums:
WWW dot quantal dot demon /saga/ooc/herbs dot html - absolutely brilliant compendium of medieval herbs and their uses (including quick key- painkillers/poisons, burns treatment, fractures, cure-all, etc). Also includes background information as to how concoctions were mixed, and popular types of concoctions and their uses. Extremely useful for any medical-based Merlin/medieval fics.
WWW dot tbyil dot com /burns dot html - Home and Herbal Remedies- Burns. Exceptionally interesting, very informative. Modern information on the basis of age-old knowledge.
herbs dot lovetoknow dot com slash Calendula_Recipes
herbs dot lovetoknow dot com slash Benefits_of_St._John's_Wort
herbs dot lovetoknow dot com slash comfrey-remedies