ONE THIRTY FOUR
Tulamaro was carrying a not much less ominous looking brown bottle. He pulled the extremely unsavory-looking cork, sloshed some of the bottle’s contents on a piece of cloth that looked like he’d found it in a bog recently where it had been resting undisturbed for a number of dank, toxic years, knelt briskly and slapped this unlovely concoction on my leg. Very far beyond OW. All my breath left me in one great gust, as if I’d been punched in the stomach. The man with the box—who I assumed was Droko—knelt also, and flipped the lid of the box open. I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t have if I’d wanted to: my vision had gone fuzzy again.
I blinked, and saw that Tulamaro was holding the bottle up toward me as he knelt at my feet. The fumes were making my eyes water so the scene in front of me was going all late-Turner-watercolor. I liked the effect better in a museum hanging on a wall. The good news, I thought, is that the alcohol level of whatever that stuff is must be about eight hundred proof, and local bacteria should die, shouldn’t they?
A blur that might have been Murac’s hand reached down and took the thinner, darker blur that might have been the bottle. “Sip it,” he said. “A sip. Two. No more. But tha’ll want the heat while he works.” Tha’ll want the heat while he works. I found one of my hands—surprisingly it was hanging by my side, attached by an arm and a shoulder—and wrapped my fingers around the bottle. When Murac let go I almost dropped it, not because it was all that heavy but because I didn’t seem to be inhabiting my body with the usual dedication: my arm, my fingers. My aching head. My more than aching leg. Tha’ll want the heat while he works.
I tried to remind myself that anesthesia was a recent invention in relation to the human proclivity for warfare and that people tended to die of post-op infection rather than undergoing minor surgery in the first place. This was not an entirely uplifting thought. I’d like to feel I was planning to be back in the world with hospitals, antibiotics and painkillers before the infection took hold but then I didn’t want to be where I was in the first place, did I? And hadn’t wanted to be here before someone—or something—had taken a gouge out of my leg.
Flowerhair had been wounded several times but I didn’t like blood and screaming so she tended to carry a little pouch of numbleaf for emergencies. Once she’d called in a favor from a magician. I didn’t have any favors to call in, and if Borcaithna was the only magician on offer I’d rather take my chances with Droko and the ominous brown bottle of Spirits of the Black Lagoon.
I shuddered. Murac said quietly and with what sounded surprisingly like sympathy, “First time’s worst. Good wound for first, little ’un on a leg. Droko’s quick; knows his job.”
Tulamaro said, “Falcons can’t hold long alone. We’ll do here. Steady her.”
Wait—what? Shouldn’t I be lying down with my leg elevated—and wasn’t there some flimflam with a tourniquet? Not that this was ground I wanted to lie down on—war was hell on landscape too. Where was a nice operating table when you wanted one. And an anesthetist.
. . . Falcons?
Murac’s hand closed over mine on the bottle, and raised the bottle to my mouth. “Drink,” he said.
I was not having a good day. I drank.
While I was coughing my brains, lungs, liver and guts out Murac removed the bottle from my limp flapping hand and gave it back to Tulamaro who I suspected was laughing. Murac then unbent me, as I folded up around the burning fireball that had once been my insides, crossed my arms over my chest and wrapped his own arms around me. “I have tha. If tha must struggle, struggle against me. Nah kick. Listen, Defender, tha will not kick.”
“I will not kick,” I muttered. The Spirits of the Black Lagoon had blasted the dying frog out of my throat but they’d also ripped off a few layers of mucus membrane. The next time I tried to sing anything I might find that I was a baritone. My entire body now throbbed in unison with my leg which I suppose was the other approach to anesthesia: if you couldn’t lower the specific pain level then raise the general one.
Murac smelled of blood and sweat. And his arms around me were like iron.
Something heavy plonked on the foot of the uninjured leg—it might have been Tulamaro’s knee—and then there were what I guessed were gigantic hands around my calf pressing the wound closed. And then . . . Droko began.
Good wound for first, little ’un on a leg. Droko’s quick; knows his job.
. . . I turned my head and sank my teeth into Murac’s shoulder.
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