I had to slow down and let research and brainstorming catch up with the story, so the delay for this chapter was vexatious but necessary. Diana Gabaldon has my utmost awe... I don't know how she does it.
I finally figured out what year it was. It had been the friday before Nones and we were all in the chapel hall. I had known the church held massive influence in the middle ages, but I hadn’t realized how little they realized the church had massive influence. It would be like telling somebody from the 21st century there would eventually be written histories about how we worshipped our iphones. In our minds we didn’t worship them at all, we barely even noticed our lives revolved around them. It was the same way here. The church wasn’t important, the church was merely life.
If I’d thought medieval women were as chaste, proper and modest as women were in the Victorian age, I was sadly mistaken. Women worked fields, ran guilds and got into such fights about theology, I wished I could record it and play for my gender studies Professor from my freshman year...
And that’s how I found myself jerking my head up in astonishment in chapel when the Priest put out his hand as a blessing for the feast of Nomes and said “In the year of our lord 1049, Eternal Father, we humbly offer Thee our poor presence, and that of the whole of humanity, from the…”
1049. Did I know anything about that century? No, not really. Well that was anticlimactic. But I did think vaguely it was definitely before the bubonic plague (that was a relief) and it was certainly before the all of the fancy Renaissance Faire type stuff that first came to mind when I thought of castles and stuff. No wonder it still felt like a biblical age...it practically was still the biblical age.
I was sitting in the valetudinaria trying to make sense of what I was supposed to do with a square dark corridor with pallets all lined up. What did the previous physicker know that I didn’t? A small boy Johanne called “Mon petit chou” but who everyone else called Guarin, came racing in, his eyes wide in excitement or fear, I wasn’t sure.
“What happened?” I asked, grabbing the puny basket of medical supplies I’d managed to gather under the tutelage of Madame Gilfre.
“...we were playing la poule” He dragged me along with him, going down a staircase I hadn’t known existed. I would have added it to my map except it was now long gone and washed (if it had survived a washing), and I couldn’t bring myself to desecrate this new kirtle with wine doodles. Oh what I wouldn’t give for paper… or even better, a computer.
As soon as I saw the prostrate figure in the middle of a group of boys, my heart sank. Forget the paper or computer...i would give my right eye for an ambulance. He held a balloon in his hand, or rather a sheep’s stomach that had been appropriated for balloon-like purposes. A patch of blood soaked his thigh. At first i thought he was unconscious, but his eyes turned their glassy stare my way and I realized he was in shock.
This was where it got tricky. Normally I would stabilize his spine, recheck his breathing and pulse, and then start cutting clothing looking for major injury. But scissors were a luxury unheard of, I didn’t have a knife, and wool was a very difficult fabric to rip. I thought all of this in the fraction of a second, before I realized my hands were already working. I applied pressure with one hand and ripped off the linen shirt since that at least was simple enough and would give me more of an idea.
“Knife...surely one of you has one.” I kept my tone congenial and calm, no reason to freak the rest of the boys out more than they already were. One of them handed me his knife as if he was solemnly making a most worthy sacrifice.
With a quick twist I got the knotted cord around the waist cut, and I yanked the pants off. I was totally in that “in-the-moment” zone where every cell in my body was focused on the patient in front of me. I was trying to talk myself into this being a minor injury, and it really wasn’t that bad now that I could see it. A wooden stave had sliced open a pretty deep gash in the boy's leg and had finished it’s violent journey by being stuck firmly in the vastus lateralis A good cleaning, stitches, tetanus shot and possible round of antibiotics and he wouldn’t even miss a day of school.
...except there were no antibiotics or tetanus shot. Germ theory had yet to be discovered, and it was astonishingly difficult to thread a needle with sheep gut because the gut was all variable thicknesses. Plus, I’d need to get my patient to the valetudinaria somehow, procure a needle from Aimee’s sewing basket in the women’s drawing room, and send someone to beg precious sheep gut from Martén in falconry. ...and of course hope it would all work.
What should have been fifteen minutes of straightforward work, was more like running a 5k...backwards...in a dress. Oh well, I was just grateful it wasn’t worse. I’d been having nightmares of holding people’s intestines in while screaming for tranexamic acid.
I saw the soldier...Nicolas out of the corner of my eye. I was busy navigating twenty small boys who were all trying very valiantly to help me carry their injured friend one hundred feet, up two flights of stairs through three rooms and down a passageway. Nicolas pushed his way through and mercifully did not ask any stupid questions. I gave him an A plus for his quick observation skills, because he swooped the correct child up in his arms and the rest fell in line behind him like ducklings. I leaned up against the column on a landing and took sucked in some air. I wasn’t as in shape as everyone else...having come from a place with these things called elevators. .
I found him in the valetudinaria with the boy on the mat, as he fumbled with the piece of shirt tied around the wound. .
"Don’t touch that" I said, moving him out of the way before he could mess up my wound care.
It was then I realized he was injured too. Either that or my smaller patient had lost more blood than he possessed. .
“Have you been stabbed too?” I asked, pure astonishment overcoming any awkwardness or politeness.
“Don’t worry mon chérie, it’s nothing.”
I doubted very seriously this was the case, and so I ripped his shirt to reveal a long thin line of blood...awesome, I was going to need a lot more sheep’s gut.
I turned to my audience of boys. “Who can run the fastest?” asked, hoping this would result in an immediate competition.
“I am! Me...me...me!” Came a chorus of voices.
“Perfect” I made a mental list, “You and you, go to Madame Johanne and get me a bottle of cognac” The two boys scampered off and I pointed my finger at the next two.”You go to Martén and tell him Lady Matilda has need of two spools of his finest sheep’s gut. “ I turned to the last boy who I knew was the son of Matilda’s favorite maid. “You…” I crouched down in front of him “Do you know how to sneak like a cat?” He nodded, his eyes perking up thinking maybe he hadn’t been left out after all. “I need you to slip into the lady’s salon and get me a needle out of Mademoiselle Aimee’s sewing...oui?”
He hesitated, weighing the odds if it was worth the whipping if he got caught, but pride and peer pressure won in my favor. He nodded and disappeared.
“I hope you had been already on your way up here?” I said in what I hoped was my best physician’s voice. It was much easier to talk to male patients when they were wearing hospital gowns and you had the full weight of all that entailed. It was a lot different when you were alone in a castle with one who smelled like sweat, leather and wood smoke (and wore a rather sinister sword).
“Who gave you the keys?” He seemed unable to get over the fact I was here at all. “I was coming up for some lavender salve Madame Gilfre keeps in the stone crocks.”
“The Lady Matilda, if you want to take it up with her you’re more than welcome.” I felt seriously underprepared for the position myself.
“I will.” He said with such a note of authority, I thought he must not have run into Matilda very often if he thought he could talk her out of anything.
“Thoracic trauma...5mm deep, no arterial or organ involvement...fortyfive stitches I’d guess” I murmured as my fingers worked over him quickly, trying to ignore the quick intake of breath and goose bumps that formed under my touch. I looked up, he was looking at me with such a strange expression, I turned back to my other patient who appeared to be a much safer option. Poor wee lad had fainted somewhere on the last staircase...not from blood loss I thought, but from the sight of his own blood. Apparently haemophobia wasn’t just relegated to more modern folk.
“Do you know the boy’s name?” I straightened the small skinny legs out and then sat on them, getting a good grip on the wooden stave, my other hand ready with a fistful of wool for bleeding.
“Josef’s boy.” He knelt down and held the boy’s shoulder’s down for me, which he shouldn’t have done. A new stream of blood dripped down his chest and onto ‘Josef’s boy’. My first year clinical instructor would have died.
“Oh please stop, you’re hurt.” I said, knowing full well he wouldn’t.
He laughed. “This is nay the worst scratch I’ve had..None of it’s killed me yet.”
I had dubious opinions about that, but ignored him and focused on the task at hand. I yanked the wooden stave out quickly, and applied the wool dressing and pressure. He let go of the boy and brushed the blood off with his hand, smearing it around his chest, making it look worse.
Seriously, what I wouldn’t give for antiseptic swabs right now. I swallowed, feeling a bit queasy which was ridiculous considering I’d gotten over the sight of blood a long time ago.
“You go on now.’ He nodded towards the door. “I’ll dress the boy’s leg and take him back to his parents.”
“You can stitch?” I asked astonished. I didn’t know when sewing people up became a thing, but I doubted very seriously they did it in this century.
He looked more surprised I wasn’t instantly obeying him. “ Well It’s nay maiden embroidery or anything, but my skills usually stand up pretty well to abuse. Go on, I’m sure the lady needs attending or you have other things to do.”
That he was so sure I would be of little use, made my blood boil.
"Thank you, but I’m staying.”
He looked down at me and for once (at least around this place) I felt very small. He seemed astonished... not in an angry way, but as if he was slightly amused anyone dared disagree with him. He was disconcertingly self assured for a soldier. Wasn’t he used to being ordered about?
“You really have such a love for gore?” He asked. “Aren’t potions and spicy mixtures more your and Madame Gilfre’s forte?”
I had no idea where exactly Madame Gilfre’s skills began and ended, but I for one had spent an entire quarter in the ER stitching up everything my resident hadn’t wanted to do. ...I would stitch up this boy and I would stitch up his chest too, if it was the last thing I did.
At that moment, my troop of helpers arrived back on the scene. There were a few moments of pure chaos as they immediately started pouring cognac down young Josef’s throat (which wasn’t my intended usage at all). The poor kid came to, sputtering and coughing, limbs flailing about as I tried to grab his leg and calm him down before he injured himself further.
‘Hush...shh...there, hold still” I said. I lined up my needle, gut and alcohol and thanked everyone profusely before ordering them out into the passageway.
“Are you going to order me to leave too?” He asked, standing in front of me shirtless, bloody, arms crossed and a bemused expression on his face.
“No, of course not.” I said crossly, “I still have to stitch you up too.”
He threw back his head and let out a deep laugh at that. “And what if I won’t let you?”
“Oh you hush too.” I needed to concentrate. The gut string was uneven and threading the needle in this light was going to take a fair bit of luck. It wasn’t going to feel fun, but I had to pour a fair bit of cognac on the wound to hopefully kill any hint of incoming infection. Young Josef to his credit, whimpered but didn’t flail or thrash around. Maybe the ingested cognac forced upon him by his young friends had helped.
I finished and bandaged him up, cringing at the unsanitary linen strips I’d found in the supplies. Hopefully the cognac was enough. Maybe I could have a fire made up in here somehow, then I could boil things. The castle was so smokey already, surely a little more wouldn’t kill us of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Ok, deep breaths. Now for the hard part, stitching up this drat soldier’s chest. At least he seemed to have decided to let me do it. Young Josef was watching me with tearful wide eyes. Hopefully sir soldier man wouldn’t do anything too bad with a child watching? I swallowed hard.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
“I know.” Although I really didn’t know...he sat down on a stool, looking all the world like a bloody barbarian. As I started to pull the needle in and out of his skin though, he gave a sharp hiss.
“How in the world did this happen?” I asked, hoping to distract him from my work.
“Just a small tussle with a...neighbor.”
I hurrumphed at him, but he didn’t elaborate with any further details. Thirty nine stitches. I had been close. He took out his knife helpfully at the end and cut the gut string. I poured cognac over it my handiwork.
I wasn’t sure if this meant “why are you wasting decent liquor!” or “Damn that hurts” ...or maybe both.
“Are you finished now woman?” Not waiting for an answer. He stood up and pulled his bloody linen shirt over his head and strapped on his leather breastplate. I cringed when it banged against his stitches, he didn’t.
“I’ll take the boy back to his parents.”
“No! You’ll rip open your stitches.” I felt like I’d barely survived doing them once!
Castle rooms were so dimly lit, it was hard to read expressions but I do believe he rolled his eyes at me.
“Oh are you going to carry him down then?” He asked.
“Yes.” I said stubbornly. Or I’d figure out something. He didn’t stop me, but watched as I attempted to help young Josef limp towards the door. I was triumphant with how well we were managing when the poor kid stumbled over a higher stone sticking out in the passageway. We would have pitched head first down the first set of stairs if the drat man hadn’t caught us.
“I think you’ve proved your point.” He said as he pulled me towards him by my elbow.
If Matilda could see me now, I’m sure she’d take the key back and throw up her hands in dismay. It was mortifying how difficult everything was for me to do. I’m sure it was like watching a child attempt to act like an adult. I felt so out of my element. How would Madame Gilfre have gotten the child home?
As if he read my mind, he said “I’ll send Stefan up tomorrow...he helps Madame Gilfre.”
He grinned. "If you don’t let me take yon Josef, I’ll have no choice but to take the both of thee over me shoulder.”
“I suppose that means you’re agreeable?" I wanted to protest and remind the damn man he had thirty nine stitches in his chest, but he didn’t wait for an answer. He picked up Josef like he was a sack of potatoes and steered me in front of him. His hand was still firmly grasped on my elbow.
We popped out into the sunshine and ran smack into the herald I knew only as “Hairypants Henry”.
“There you are mi’lord” He looked surprised to see me there. “You’re with the demens girl?”
“Ach, she’s not demens… just shy.” He threw a wry grin my direction… the woman who’d just nearly sat on him while sewing him up like a stuffed fowl. Shy indeed. Who said they weren’t fond of sarcasm in the Middle Ages?
“Yer needed sir, Old Galen’s about to behead Turts and Goffrey over what happened this afternoon.’
I raised my eyebrows, a minor skirmish with a neighbor hmm?
“Saddle Rouge, I’ll ride over and try to beat some reason into the whole idiot lot.”
“You can’t go anywhere!” Not caring that I wasn’t part of the conversation. “You literally split your chest wide open. You need to be in a hospital… or at least in bed… “
But neither of them paid the least bit attention to me.
“Are you too hurt to ride?”
“Oh aye,” He thrust young Josef unceremoniously into Hairypants arms “Take the lad to his mam and I’ll meet you at the stables.”
It wasn’t until I was standing all alone in the waning autumn sunshine, a bee buzzing on a clump of dandelion by the stone archway that I’d realized Hairypants Henry had called the soldier Nicolas “My Lord”?
To find our what happens next, vote in the poll! (and pray the fates let me write it)