Authors: Ann Somerville
Tags: #Fantasy, #Glbt
This story is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 by Ann Somerville
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
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Smashwords Edition 1, January 2011
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Published by Ann Somerville
Boiling the rind of tido palm fruit produces a gum which is inert and non-poisonous. If a way of strengthening it could be found which would let it be drawn into threads, I believe it would make....
“Kei! Kei! Hurry, we need you!”
Kei hurriedly dropped the book he’d been reading, and oophed as he caught the wildly running child in his arms, forcing him to stand still. Risa’s face was red from exertion, and stained with tears, which wasn’t at all like the stoic seven-year-old. Terror and anxiety rolled off him in powerful waves.
“Calm down, Risa. What’s happened?”
“Accident. Kiln exploded.” The words were gasped out in between harsh sobbing breaths, as fresh tears fell down Risa’s dirty cheeks.
He’d heard a loud bang, but had been too absorbed in his papers to think too much of it. “Risa, how many hurt? How bad?”
“My father...Misek, and uncle... I think...Pa’s dead, Kei.”
He had to hurry, but there was always time to calm the distressed.
First thing in a crisis—keep people calm.
“Risa.” The little boy wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and looked at him. “I need you to help me. Will you do that?”
Kei deliberately kept his voice low and gentle, putting his hand out to hold the boy’s. Risa nodded, and sniffled.
“Good. I need you to find Myka. She’s selecting herbs in the garden. I want you to tell her to come to your family’s workshop, and not to stop to collect anything. Tell her I have the kit.” Risa nodded again. “Repeat, please.”
“Fetch Myka, tell her to come to our place, not to stop, you have the kit.” Another tear trickled down.
“Good lad. Are you hurt?” The child’s clothing was torn, possibly from the explosion. He ran his hands quickly over the child’s body but could see no blood, and the boy was moving easily.
“No, not yet, Risa. Myka, then find me. Go.”
Risa ran out of the hut. Kei stood and quickly checked his kit, the cleansing liquid, the soap, sutures, and pain drugs, making sure nothing was missing from the neat pack always kept on the workbench. It only took a minute, then he grabbed it and the box of bandages and headed out the door, knowing he had to expect the very worst.
As he ran towards the site of the explosion at the outskirts of the village, his clansmen rushed in the same direction, several people shouting at him to hurry, though he was already moving as fast as he could. He ignored them in favour of mentally preparing himself for what would need to be done and who he wanted to help him. Myka, certainly. Reji—no, wait, Reji had gone north again yesterday.
. He would probably need to carry out field surgery, and was already assessing the people running to the accident, noting who was there, and whom he could ask to clear the area.
He grabbed the arm of a tall brawny man as he dashed past. “Wait! Peit, I need you!”
His grim-faced cousin stopped. “What do you need?”
“Keep everyone back when we get there. Stick with me, and help me control things.”
“Of course.” They were already almost at the workshop and Peit bellowed. “Everybody
! Let the healer through!”
Not content with using his powerful voice, he pushed people out of his way. Kei followed in his wake, hoping no one would be offended at the rough handling, but he needed to get to his patients if there was to be any hope of saving them.
There were more people inside, but these, Kei didn’t ask Peit to move. Three men lay on the floor inside the blasted workshop, attended by Risa’s mother, sister and his cousin. The damaged kiln stood in the corner, metal and bricks strewn all over the floor. Rin’s workmen were dowsing the last of the fires that had sprung up. It was serious enough, though the explosion didn’t seem to be as extensive as the one Kei had seen as a child. The carnage looked just as bad.
“Meis? What happened?” he asked Risa’s mother as he knelt by her husband. He placed his fingers on the artery in Rin’s neck, and was relieved to prove Risa had been mistaken, as least for now. He didn’t wait for an answer as he scanned Rin’s body, noting someone had already tied bandages over wounds in the chest and shoulder. Bad enough—he would need Myka’s help, but for now, he would have to ask Meis to help her husband.
“Here, put this dressing over the one on his chest—no, don’t take it off!” He guided Meis’s hand to hold the thick bandage in position.
“Rin, Ban and Misek were working near the kiln when it blew—there must have been some kisu in that ore,” Meis said quietly. Kei nodded—it was always a risk with pujum, that it would be contaminated with the rare but explosive impurity. “Kei...will he survive?”
“I don’t know, but I need to find out who is actually hurt worst.”
He lifted his head to see his sister run though the door and over to his side, kneeling down. “Oh, no, Rin....”
He felt as she did, seeing their father’s best friend in this condition, but there was no time for emotion. “Myka, you and Meis try to control the bleeding. I’m going to assess Ban and Misek.”
His sister nodded, drawing bandages out of the box and handing them to Meis to add to the ones already applied. Kei hadn’t dared turn Rin over, only lifting him a little to see if he was bleeding at the back, but it looked as if all three men had been facing the explosion, their front sides catching the impact of the shrapnel from the kiln. He moved to kneel next to Misek and suppressed his shock at the sight of his friend. Misek’s face was a bloody mess, and there was a gaping hole in his side against which his younger sister, Pijli, pressed an inadequate dressing. He quickly assessed Misek was still alive—just, though he was in worse condition than his father. Incredibly, he was still conscious. “Myka! I’ll need to operate on Misek. Set up while I check Ban.”
Silently his sister obeyed, and Kei thanked the memory of his mother that he had someone so reliable to work with him.
The worst was the last. Ban was dead—probably killed outright. His son, Banji, knelt at his side, and lifted horrified eyes to Kei as he crouched beside him. “How?” he whispered. “It was so fast.”
“I know,” Kei said gently, looking past him to Peit and signalling his cousin to come over. “Banji, I need you to go with Peit. I have to help Rin and Misek. We will pay honour to Ban when I’ve finished.”
“Kei...Pa is dead.”
“I know, Banji-ki.” Kei wanted to keep his clothes clean for the surgery, so he didn’t hug his friend as he would have liked to, but he put all the sympathy he could into his voice. “Please help me, Banji. I need room and to be able to concentrate so I can save the other two. Can you do that?”
Banji’s eyes were full of tears, but he nodded slowly and let Peit help him to his feet. Kei only waited a moment to confirm Peit was leading Banji out of the workshop, before he turned back to Misek. He’d passed out in the brief interval Kei’s attention was elsewhere. Probably just as well. Myka had laid Kei’s instruments out on a clean sheet and found him a bucket of clean water. He washed his hands with soap and then cut Misek’s clothes away from his body. It immediately became obvious how serious his injuries were. Pijli screamed quietly at the sight of torn gaping flesh and the edge of bone where the ribs were broken.
Myka put her arm around the girl’s shoulders. “Pij, go to Rin. Help your mother.”
She almost shoved Pijli towards where her father lay. Kinder than asking her to watch him delve into her brother’s guts. Kei’s own stomach rebelled a little at the thought, but he knew how to deal with that now. He drew on his training—not only that of his masters in Darshek, but also of his mother, so patient and clever—to centre himself and calm his nerves, focusing his energies.
He forced himself to ignore everything around him except his hands on Misek’s body, and the body itself. He closed his eyes. Blood was his great enemy in this situation, obscuring the real damage, blinding his path, and stealing the patient’s life away. His mind’s energies narrowed down to the hole in Misek’s side, and as they descended, he stopped the blood pouring out of the larger veins and arteries, clamping them down so Misek would stabilise enough to allow Kei search for the shards of brick and metal buried in his gut.
And there they were—several large, sharp pieces of iron which had both cut and smashed their way into Misek’s insides, doing great harm in their passing. Each would need to be removed with care, and the bleeding behind them staunched. Kei opened his eyes, and found Myka waiting with needle and gum stitches.