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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Book Four, Chapter Two

“This has to be it!”

Melchior was stunned. How had all of these experiments now led to this? He must let Robert know that his own ideas were finally bearing fruit. He looked up at the large clock on the mantle, and realized that the morning had passed by so quickly.

He stood up, having been stooped over for hours, just playing with the vials, trying to achieve just the right mixture for the agar, when it had all just been staring him in the face. And now the realization that it had been working after all, though he had not recognized it, became the thorn which he plucked from his own flesh.

He found his cloak and stepped out of his alchemist’s shop, blinking in the brilliant sunshine, and then turned and went toward the newly rebuilt School of the Arcane Arts and Sciences, which was what had become of the old winery. He was certain to find Robert there, either teaching or puttering about in the library. My, how things had changed!

As he walked briskly, he recalled how, just a few short years ago, he had gotten dragged into the higher echelons of life in the castle. He had been but an apprentice to Falma, keeping to himself, in the back of the alchemist’s study, when that fateful encounter occurred with Frieda, and the innocent invitation to dinner, which became so much more. He looked back wistfully at that time. Now he was recognized by everyone, and he could no longer sneak off to the hall of records, or to Barncuddy’s for a pint. There was no more anonymity. 

But his world now was fuller, and certainly more fulfilling than he could have imagined in those days. What with Craycroft’s ascendancy, the arrival of Robert and Judy; and with Tom and Eustace now arising to positions of power, and how he was now entrusted with much of their teaching. And of his own life; now married, with a young one at home. This was no longer the world of quiet contemplation, and evenings alone with Falma. This was now a world which was ever changing, or “evolving” to use Robert’s expression.

And yet, there were still things done in private, away from the eyes of the world, including the testing that he had been working on, ever since the Earl’s illness. His was the responsibility to develop the first antibiotic. And now, after all this time, it looked like a major breakthrough might be within their hands. This was particularly thrilling because of the ready availability of its source – the common red seaweed, the nuisance of their lives, just might prove a boon to them after all.

He arrived at the entrance to the school, greeted the doorkeeper. “Hello, there, my good man, it’s a fine morning isn’t it?”

“Oh, aye, that it be, sure enough, and how’re ye doin’ this mornin’? And what brings ye about on this fine day?”

“Well, Andrew, I need to speak with Master Robert, if he be about.”

“Ah, well, he was, but I tell ye, he, along with Master Tom and Eustace, took off almost at a run just about a half hour ago.”

“Oh? Were they summoned? And where did they go?”

“Aye, they were summoned. It was by one o’ the pages what works fer Master Craycroft.”

“Well, I thank ye. Did he say were he was going, or how long he was to be gone?”

“Nay, but I could tell this were no ord’nary stroll they were on.”

“Hmm, I wonder…” Melchior pondered what to do. He, after all these years, still did not feel confident with his position. He was unsure whether to go, or to wait. He decided to go, to see if his presence might be of use.

“My good man, I should go, to find out what this is all about.”

“Aye it would seem to me to be the wise choice. Good to see you, as always, Master Melchior, and me best to your Missus.”

“Thank you, Andrew, good to see you, as well.”

“Well,” he thought, “this new thing might just have to wait, until Robert has some time. I just wonder what could be at the source of all this commotion.”

As he quickly strode toward the keep, his mind was occupied with thoughts of years ago. He could not say why, but he remembered his involvement with Tom, and papers to prove his parentage. He remembered going before the council, fearful of their reputation. But, by then, the council was nothing like what it had been, with Reordan gone, and Silvo now acting more like a lost child than a fearsome competitor, he presented Tom before the council. This was at Craycroft’s suggestion. And it was quickly determined that Tom was due his rightful inheritance, but would need someone to oversee such. And it was decided then and there that Melchior himself should become his financial overseer.

But it was not the wealth that changed Tom so much as his new relationships, the new knowledge, and the new responsibilities. Though it seemed that his adopted father, Craycroft, had wished for a son to carry on in the tradition of healing, Tom himself did not seem inclined toward the methodology of the healing arts, and seemed not to have the patience required. Rather, it seems that it was his grandfather’s influence that pulled mostly at young Tom’s heart, and he was determined to carry through with his education, mostly with the study of languages, as well as the Arcane. Now, however, with Robert’s influence he kept up his studies of the natural world. And it was said that Tom himself was writing a book, though he did not speak of it, and would change the subject if anyone asked.

But then there was Eustace, who had become so enamored of all things medical, that he became Robert’s right hand in the clinic. And what a place the clinic had become in so short a time. It was said that the clinic was where one could go to get the best and most reliable advice, and the care was second to none anywhere. And word was spreading so far that persons were now arriving by boat from as far away as Dublin and London, just to seek out the healers.

He was pondering all these thoughts, as he headed toward the keep, not aware that he had been joined by another on his journey. 

“Ah, Master Melchior, you seem to be in a rush…”

“Why, Hermes, you but startled me. I was just on my way toward the keep, to see what it was that took Master Robert, Tom and Eustace from their work at the school. It appears they were called away to Master Craycroft’s, and left with alacrity. I surmise that it is news of some import.”

“Then it would appear that I am in luck, for I was at the clinic, helping with one of the sumps, when a page burst in, asking that Jeanne and Mistress Judy come quickly. For it was Craycroft himself who called them.”

“Ah, well that is where I am going, and I should say that you are more than welcome to come along. I fear that there may be something amiss, that we shall be hearing about.”

“And that I fear as well, Master.”

The two of them hurried along, despite the weather, which made it tempting to dawdle. As they arrived at the courtyard, they were stopped by an altercation. A small crowd surrounded the activity. At first they could see nothing, and could only hear the voices of a pair of angry men, and the wailing of a woman. Then, as they got nearer Melchior could see over the top of the throng, while Hermes scooted his way between the persons surrounding the scene.

There it was, before them, a child lying on the ground, with the two men shouting at one another, and the woman, kneeling over the body of the child, wailing to the heavens.

Hermes quickly got down to the child, to touch, as he had been taught, the carotid artery in the neck. He noticed the pulsations – rapid and regular. Then he noticed the breathing – even, and without effort. Next, he looked at the child’s face, and saw the deformed jaw, and the bleeding from his mouth. Then Hermes did the unthinkable. He turned toward the two men, now silent, and he spoke with startling authority.

“Now, if you two would stop your ranting, and help me get this child to the clinic. I am certain that he does need some care.”

The mother turned toward Hermes, and said, between sobs, “But will they see him in the… clinic… for we are poor folks. And we have nothing… upon this earth… for ye see, we be people of the street.”

“I assure you, good woman, that ye shall receive care, as good as any with monies and land. Now let us get him hence.”

By now Melchior had joined the throng, and between Hermes, Melchior and one of the men, the other having fled, they picked up the youth, and transported him toward the clinic. His mother followed behind.

The throng had thinned out considerably by the time they got to the clinic, and the three who had carried the young boy, brought him quickly into the exam room, placed him on the table. Hermes quickly assessed the damage. There was the deformity of his jaw, and bleeding from inside his mouth, as he had noted earlier, but there seemed to be no other injuries, and he was now beginning to come around. Though not making sense, he seemed to recognize his mother, who had come in behind, and was standing off to the side.

Hermes again took charge, and waved his mother over to her son’s side.

“Now tell me if you are able, good woman, just what happened to this lad.”

“Well, now, young man, we was just meanderin’ in yer  marketplace, see, and I see Julius has gotten in wi’ two men, one of which just, you know, off and knocks him in the face, and then Julius is out cold on the ground. I swear, that’s all I sees of it.”

“Ah, well, is that man here now?”

“Nay, I see him not… but… that man was the other one.”

“And you, sir, can you possibly shed some light on this woman’s story?”

“Why, this lad was but tryin’ t’ steal me bag o’ coins, what I’ve got about me waist. And then this other big man grabs the young ‘un, hauls off, and just hits ‘im hard in the jaw – sends ‘im into the air, then he just hits the ground wi’ a sickenin’ thud. So I start to tell the man that it weren’t none of his business, and that my coins were safe, and then he starts yellin’ at me – calls me names and all, as if I’d done somethin’ wrong. Now is the lad goin’ to be all right?”

Melchior was watching all this, and puzzling about the circumstances. He broke into the conversation.

“Now, good sir, if I might ask you to clarify what just happened. This boy, whom you apparently caught in an act of thievery, was then taken by some man, was struck and thrown to the ground by this other man. Do you know who this man might have been? Was he a local man? And also, it seems as though you are defending this lad. Am I correct?”

“Well, sir, let me explain meself. Now I’m not wealthy by no means, but what I’ve got, I’ve earned, every ha’penny. But I’ve also been where this laddie has been, if ye know what I mean. I’ve been a street urchin growin’ up, and I’ve learned a few things along the way, and one of ‘em bein’ just what it means to be without. And let me tell ye that I prefer to handle me own affairs. And this man, who I’ve ne’er seen, nor do I know his position, just came up t’ me and he stepped into me own affairs, and he makes a mockery of me own ways by his brutish actions. And so I was tellin’ him… But can ye tell me, is he goin’ t’ be all right? I feel so bad fer him.”

“Well, Master Hermes, what think you? What do you find of the lad’s chances?”

“I should say, based upon what I’ve heard and am able to determine, this young fellow has a broken jaw, and has suffered an unknown injury to his head. I do not know how severe, but what I can tell you is that he shall get the best of care in the realm – of this you may be certain. I need only to summon Master Robert hence, and he shall render a learned opinion, and shall see to this lad’s care.”

“D’ ye mean Master Robert, the healer,” his mother couldn’t help asking, “d’ ye really mean that we shall see him ourselves? Oh, my, young man. D’ye hear that, Julius? Ye’ll get t’ see Master Robert, himself, the man what saved Shepperton.”

“Master Robert saved Shepperton?” Melchior seemed puzzled. “My dear woman, whatever do you mean?”

“Oh, sir, have ye not heard? That Master Robert has produced, from his deep magic, that which Shepperton lacked, namely a place and a reputation for greatness. And it was his magic what defeated Reordan, of that ye can be sure. And it was his magic what put Craycroft into power.”

“Ah, my good woman, I do believe that Master Robert would take exception to your view. But you shall see for yourself, for it appears that I must summon him here, to aid your injured son. Though not one to think of his skills as magical, he is nonetheless the most eminently qualified healer in the realm. Of that I can bear direct witness.”

They quickly decided that Hermes and the man, whose name was Chauncey, should stay with the injured youth, and Melchior seek out Master Robert, and so Melchior was off again, going toward the keep.

As he strode off again, his head was awhirl. What a strange day this had already been, and seemed to be getting stranger by the hour. How he had set off in one direction, with one goal, only to be sent off in different directions, with differing urgent expectations. And just what was he to find next?

He went into the keep. The hallways were silent, too silent. There was a definite air of expectation in the place. He went up the stairs, and turned toward Craycroft’s rooms. It remained so still that even breathing seemed noisy, as he found the way to Craycroft’s meeting rooms, and opened the ornate door. Inside, he found a gathering of the most powerful of this new realm, who seemed to be discussing matters of truly great significance, with voices intense, and faces serious.

“Ah, Melchior, good of you to come.” It was Craycroft, seated at the head of the large oval table. “Come, have a seat, here.” 

“Oh, m’lord. I would but love to join you at the table, but, I fear that I have some matter for Master Robert, that cannot wait.”

“Ah, my friend, as it is so often with you. Something I am certain that you cannot control, yet it finds its way through you to those for whom it does matter. Well, here is Master Robert.”

“What is it?” Asked Robert Gilsen. “It seems that I’m about to be called away again. Is that right?” This was something that, even these years away from the hospital, beepers, telephones and pages that went with his old life, he could never escape.

“Alas, it is so, my friend. For you are needed in the clinic, where they have brought a youth who has been injured, badly, and deliberately, and who remains within the capable care of Hermes, but who does request your presence.”

“Well, then, it would appear that duty again calls. Come, Eustace, we’ve got to go see this kid who’s been injured. My sincerest apologies, Craycroft, but my guess is that this won’t wait.”

“As you well know, my friend, it is but for you that I am not called to this. So, go, now, but will you, Eustace, Hermes and Melchior join me later for dinner, that we may continue this discussion?”

“All right, dinner it is.”

So, as the three of them hurried out, Bob and Eustace filled Melchior in as well as each could with the news of LeGace being seen again in Shepperton. To Melchior this news came as the most bitter news imaginable, as he remembered this man, not just from recent years, but also from years before. He brooded over the news and what this could mean. 

“Master Robert,” he said after a brief but tense silence, “I feel that his presence upon this island to be a most evil thing. And I say this with some personal experience. You see, when I was but a young man, working for a lawyer in Ireland, I did have occasion to see the effects that this one man could have upon the personal peace of good, innocent people. And now, it would appear that his own aims upon this isle be of no good, especially as he is now in the company of Master Guarneri. That be two men of incomparable villainy, if you ask me.”

“Well, as usual, my friend, it appears that you have much to teach us – perhaps this evening, at supper. Now here we are at the clinic, and what can you tell us of the circumstances here?”

“Ah, but do remind me to tell you of my discoveries this morning…”

“Discoveries? Indeed. You’re going to have to tell me about them.”

They entered the clinic and found the small group around the youth’s bed, with Hermes, the man, and the boy’s mother all closely attentive to the boy’s needs. Bob was instantly aware of the surroundings, noting what an odd mixture this seemed to be.

“Hello, I’m Robert Gilsen, and this, I assume, is your son,” he said to the woman.

“Oh, Master Robert, you are too kind. You, who have saved our island, and sit with the mighty, have come to our aid…”

“Now, please, madam, I am just a man who has been summoned to the side of your son, who, I am told, has been severely injured.” He glanced at the boy, no more than twelve or thirteen, lying on the hard bed. He noticed the respirations, quiet and unlabored. He noticed the jaw, severely deformed. And he noticed that there was no blood. “Now, Hermes, can you tell me what you have found?”

“Oh, aye, Master Robert, this youth was in the square, out yonder, and was apparently trying to obtain money from this man, named Chauncey, when another man took it upon himself to assault the youth. He struck him very hard upon the jaw, and he threw him down upon the ground. Now the youth’s behavior has been as one whose injuries have left him with some signs of brain trauma.”

“Very well, Hermes. Any evidence of any other significant injury?”

“Nay, Master, none of which I am aware.”

“Hmm, and Master Chauncey, does this fit with what you know, as well?”

“Oh, aye, m’lord, it does.”

“And you, madam, is there anything else that you would like to add to this description?”

“Nay, m’lord. Only, are ye able to help him?”

“We shall see, we shall see, my good woman. Now, I would ask for a couple of things. First, if you could get the otoscope set up, Hermes. And next, if you, Eustace, would obtain some of Falma’s analgesic drops, and then, if you would summon Judy, and have her come here.”

The woman spoke up, saying, “d’ye mean the Mistress Judy, the one whose touch comes from the angels?”

“Oh, aye, good woman, none other,” said Eustace, and then he was off to the other side of the room, where he found a small vial of Falma’s analgesic drops, and brought them over to Bob, who by now was intently examining the boy.

Hermes, meanwhile, was setting up his odd apparatus, which only bore the slightest resemblance to an ‘otoscope’.

“All right, then, Hermes, get your candle lit, and bring that over here.”

When all was ready, Hermes held the candle, and adjusted the mirrors, so that Robert could look into the eyes and ears of the youth, who whimpered a little, as he had his head turned. Then, after another ten minutes, giving the drops some time to be absorbed, Bob carefully felt about the boy’s deformed jaw.

“Now, come over here,” he said to Hermes, “and look here at this jaw, and tell me what you think. Is it broken, or just dislocated?”

Hermes then carefully felt the youth’s jaw, and noticed the bulge in front of the ear, but then felt further down, where there was a step-off. Next, he felt the other side of the jaw, and noted that it was smooth, with no step-off, and without the lump in front of the ear.

“I would say that he has both a fracture and a dislocation, Master.”

“And I would say that you’re right, my observant young apprentice. And what about his neurological state? How would you describe that?”

“I would say that he is confused, though he does not appear to have any kind of focal neurological defects. And you noted no bleeding from the ears, nor any abnormalities of the eyes, nor any defect of hearing.”

“Which would suggest what?”

“That his head injury is most likely not to result in permanent impairment.”

Bob was quite thoroughly impressed with this young apprentice. What he had done was to describe accurately what had happened to this young man, using the tools that he had at his disposal, mainly his eyes, ears and hands. And with nothing more sophisticated than knowledge, had defied medical teaching that went back countless centuries.

“I am most proud of you, son,” was all he could say at the moment.

Melchior was watching all this, and, as usual kept his admiration to himself.

Then Robert turned to the woman, and explained to her what had happened to her son, telling her with simplicity and compassion what would likely happen to him. And when he told her that there seemed to be no permanent damage, and that he was expected to make an excellent recovery, she broke down sobbing.

“Oh, what they say is true, m’lord. It is true that ye hold in yer hands the power to heal, and that ye did save Shepperton.”

“Now, my good woman, I’m sure that what you have heard is merely exaggeration. For you see before you an ordinary man, who does have some knowledge that is beyond any that we have around these parts, but as to any special powers, I think not.”

“Oh, but sire, you have touched my son, and he shall be better, of that I am certain…”

“Ah, but we are not there yet, not by a long shot, and it would appear that your son will need at the very least a special diet, and care here at our clinic for a month or more.”

“But sire, we have nothing with which to pay for this stay…”

Chauncey then added, unexpectedly, “I shall take care of the expenses, it would only be right. Now I know nothing of the other man, but this child was injured on my account.”

Melchior thought again of just how unexpected this whole thing was turning out to be. He could not help but feel that there was more to this tale, and that it would involve more persons, and would lead to even more strange circumstances in the future.

It was then that Judy was let in to the clinic. She appeared as she ever did, but Melchior noted that, with her swelling abdomen, and healthy glow, that she was even more radiant than ever. She smiled as she came in, came over to Melchior, and gave him a warm hug, and asked about Jeanne, and their young child.

“Ah, m’lady, they are well. And I extend her good wishes to you, as well.”

Judy smiled again, and she took Melchior’s hand, laid it on her abdomen. “Here, feel, it is in greeting that she kicks. Now I can’t really say for sure, but I believe it is a girl, and she’ll look to her uncle Melchior for education.”

Melchior smiled in answer, and over across the clinic room, Robert was beaming.

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