Posting fragments of my writing reminded me that I did finish a piece once. Several years ago I wrote a whole novel, a fantasy story which I was rather proud of. Some people read it, liked it and after a few polishes I sent it off to agents. Cue the tumbleweed. Naturally, I was disappointed and I moved away from it, convinced that it wasn’t what I supposed to write. But I’m not sure it doesn’t deserve a life away from the laptop.
So here is the opening chapter. I may go back and try to breathe some new life into it. I think Madge deserves to meet her public!
Madge woke with a start. Someone was pounding on her door. Shaking the sleep from her tired body, she peered through the window, being careful not to be seen and saw two men standing outside. They were wearing soldier’s uniforms and one of them was beating his hands against her door as if he intended to knock it down. Madge cursed under her breath and went to open it. The soldier who had been pounding looked down at her, relief flooding his face.
‘Thank heavens you’re here, missus. You must come at once, it’s an emergency. Bring all your supplies and stuff. Please hurry!’
He started to run down the street, turned to make sure she was behind him and swore when he saw that she wasn’t.
‘Calm down, young man and tell me what you want.’
The second soldier, less frenzied than his friend, placed a hand on her arm. She pulled it away as he started to speak.
‘We urgently need your help. There has been some trouble at the barracks and one of our company has been injured. You are one of the best healers in this part of Lunecaster so we came straight to you. Can you help us?’
Madge bristled slightly at being referred to as one of the best but she could see the desperation in the young man’s eyes so she nodded and grabbed her bag from the hook by the door, where she always kept an emergency kit. Closing her door behind her she followed the soldiers down the streets, breaking into a trot to keep up as they strode ahead.
They set off at a brisk pace, turning corners and crossing streets as they headed towards the barracks. This was a part of town that Madge rarely visited. The soldiers had their own healers, some of whom were her friends. She had heard tales of the dreadful accidents and scrapes they managed to get into when training. Many a young person had left the army with less limbs than they joined with and decided a career as a merchant or in a tavern was less exciting but allowed for a longer, more intact life.
The city was closing up for the night and lanterns were being hung outside taverns and inns, stalls being packed away carefully ready for trading the next day and weary bodies trudged home, hoping that someone had started the evening meal and lit the lamps outside their homes. As they got closer to the barracks Madge cursed the young legs running ahead of her. If only another healer lived nearer she could be enjoying her nap even now. Instead she was hurrying towards the barracks, slipping through the gate and trying to catch her breath where she could.
Madge hurried through the barracks noticing the noise and chaos of a community in shock. She passed soldiers with worried looks on their faces and other members of staff who were pale and shaken. She struggled to keep up with the soldiers as they ran confidently through doors and passageways. Suddenly she lost sight of them and had no idea where she was or where to go.
‘Help me!’ she yelled. ‘Those soldiers are too fast and I can’t keep up. You’ll have to show me where to go.’
A man in a white baker’s apron pointed towards a door in the corner of a courtyard and she dived through it away from the crowds. The door was closed behind her and the noise of the barracks was muffled behind thick wooden panelling.
She took in the room, partly to get her bearings and partly to get her breath back. Her attention was grabbed by a young man on the bed beneath the window. He was pale and sweating, tangled in a sheet and writhing in pain. Madge walked towards him and put her hand on his brow to feel the depth of his fever. His skin was hot and clammy, slick with sweat and his hair was plastered against his scalp. His eyes flickered open and he moaned.
‘Please help me.’
He was so young, too young to be thrashing about on a bed in the barracks while his worried friends looked on from the other side of the room. The taller soldier was chewing his thumb nail and Madge barked an order at him.
‘Fetch water, both cool and warm, as many strips of linen as you can and hurry.’
He jumped into action and left the room. She turned her attention to the calmer of the two soldiers.
‘You will have to help me lift him. I need to change this bedding and make him more comfortable.’
The soldier hesitated, staring at his feverish comrade.
‘Is it safe? Can I get sick too?’ he murmured in a low voice.
Madge sighed. They were all so young and knew little of the world. Plenty about fighting she guessed but that was no use to them or her now.
‘I believe it to be safe, there is no immediate sign of infection but we need to get him into a clean, dry bed. The fever is high and there will be more sweating before it breaks. He needs to be cooler and dryer. Then I can treat him. So, if I am to save him you need to lift him.’
The soldier nodded and he moved the ailing man from the bed to a bench and Madge put fresh linen on the bed. Once he was more comfortable Madge was able to assess his condition. She felt his brow again, listened to his breathing and looked deep into his eyes. This was serious, more serious than she had seen in many years. The other soldier returned with the linen and Madge started to bathe the patient to make him more comfortable.
Madge worked slowly and methodically until the young man’s breathing became slower and easier. She rummaged through her bag for the things she needed. She arranged bottles and boxes across the table, muttered to herself as she decided which potions she would need. She poured weak wine into a glass and tore spearmint leaves into it. This she dripped between the young man’s parched lips to help bring down his fever. He drifted into a quieter sleep and Madge began to mix and measure herbs for the next part of the treatment. The two young soldiers leaned against the door frame, watching with interest.
‘You can leave now if you have more pressing business. He will sleep for a few hours and I have much to do. Your friend will be safe in my care, I promise you.’
They exchanged glances, at each other and at the sleeping patient, nodded and withdrew. Madge sighed. There was indeed much to do and the worst may be to come.