Chap. 343 The Reluctant Apprentice
“What happened?” Lizard asked, sitting up. His head spun. Four people swam into his view, two with fire lizards perched on their shoulders. “K’ndar,” he said, relieved to see the brown dragonrider at his feet. Two of the others he recognized, but couldn’t quite drag up the memory of where.
“Oh, shards, my head. My shoulder, my ribs, everything hurts. Is all this blood mine?”
B’rost was kneeling next to him. “Aye, sir. But we’re here to stop it,” he said, turning his head to look up at Seven. “I’m sorry we had to cut away your shirt, I wanted to see how deep the wound is.”
Lizard tried to laugh. “It’s just a shirt. Yeesh, I didn’t realize I had that much blood in me. It’s even pooling in my navel.”
“Here, Seven, would you please hold this compress against the open wound?”
Seven recoiled. “Um,” he hesitated, then gingerly put one finger on the pad.
“Come on, Seven, pressure. Whole hand pressure!”
He obeyed, dismayed to see the bandage begin to turn scarlet. It’s getting on me, he thought.
Francie stifled a moan of shock. The scars on Lizard’s chest and stomach were horrible. The blows from the bolo stones were already purpling into great bruises.
“Forgive me, but I’m going to have to press on your ribs, to see if any are broken,” B’rost said.
“Have at it, sir.” Lizard took a deep breath, and held it. He winced-but said nothing during the exam. Finally, B’rost said, “Exhale before you pass out! I don’t think any are broken or even fractured. But you’re going to be all colors of the rainbow on your rib cage, for a while. Try not to sneeze or cough for, oh a year?”
“No,” B’rost said, “I’m teasing. It’s going to hurt, even just deep breaths. But that will pass. How’s the bleeding of the wound, Seven? Slowing down?”
“I think so.” He pulled away the compress. “Yes. It’s stopped.” He dropped the bandage, his fingers bloody. He imagined them itching and absently wiped them on his pants.
“Good. Now you need to treat this wound.”
Seven shook his head, repulsed. “Um, no, please. I’ve not had wound treatment yet, uh, up til now it’s all been classroom and theory. Anatomy and physiology,” he stammered, “I don’t think I could do as good a job as you.”
B’rost raised one sardonic eyebrow.
K’ndar couldn’t resist, remembering the scorn that had dripped from Seven’s lips just a very short while ago. “It’s just Basic Aid, Seven. Haven’t you ever had an open wound? Even I could do that, and I flunked Basic Aid, twice.” Here you are, jerk, a serving of your own medicine, he thought, gleefully.
Seven scowled. “We had a healer for that sort of situation.”
B’rost met K’ndar’s eyes-and rolled his. It helped to fend off his embarrassment. I brought this lout because of the relationship we’ve had, he thought. He’s making me look like a fool. I didn’t choose him. He chose me, and now I know why. But to do anything about it, I need a real reason, not just an opinion, and now he’s providing one.
“Right. No matter, I’ll do it,” he said.
Yes, this does make things easier, he thought. I was wondering how I was going to explain to the Master Healer that you’re not cut out for this trade. Not only that, you’re a rude and egotistical jerk. Now I have witnesses to bolster my case. I’ll check with the Master on the datalink, but I’m betting she’ll tell me to drop you off at your home cothold. I’ll clean out your belongings from our quarters and have them shipped. I might even drop them off myself.
But part of his heart twisted at the thought of breaking up. I thought we were weyrmates, I thought it would be you and me for a lifetime. When you’re not being such a jerk in front of other people, you’re different. I don’t understand that.
I don’t like him. He is not honest. I don’t understand this human. He is not the right mate for you Rath said.
Oh, Rath. Of all the beings on Pern, Rath has always been my bulwark. I don’t have this feeling for Seven. I thought I loved him. Now I can’t remember why I thought I did. It was all just so exciting to finally have someone pay attention to me, someone who I believed loved me for who I am, not what.
But once again, I was wrong. Maybe I’ll never have someone love me.
Must love only be from another human? Have you forgotten me? You are hurting. Please stop. I am here. You have me, from the moment I hatched, we filled each others minds. Remember? Why do you need him? No dragon wanted him. You are useful to him, but only because you have me.
Rath’s soothing and earnest words surrounded his heart. As always, the blue dragon was right. He WAS being used.
The realization stunned him. I have to file this away at the moment, I have work to do. Yes. That suddenly makes sense. All the wooing, the gifts, the special attention-but only in private. In front of my friends, even my superiors, he treats me as if I were still a stupid kid, not a weyrmate. He forgets he’s the apprentice, not me.
You are mine and I am yours. There will be other mates. But not him Rath said.
Rath’s heart surrounded his own, subdueing the anxiety like ice melting in the warmth of a loving sun. He turned his attention to treating the trader’s wound.
“I don’t know if I should stitch this or not,” he said, more to himself.
“Will it heal right if you don’t?” Lizard asked, looking at the wound. Funny, it looks like it should be hurting, he thought, but now it’s not. It’s as if I were looking at someone else’s wound. It must be that gel he mentioned.
“Oh, it will heal, but probably not neatly. I am hesitant to stitch it up here, this isn’t the cleanest of environments. For now I’ll slather smanda gel on it, that serves better than stitches, especially as it’s right atop the bone. If it opens up, you MUST have it stitched, by a Healer or at Cove Hold, please. If you don’t, you’ll have an ugly scar, I think.”
Lizard grunted, half in pain and half in jest. “Ah, well, it may as well match the scars on my belly and chest. It will add to my excuses as to why I am still single.”
Francie and K’ndar laughed. Seven’s stomach turned.
“Don’t you worry about that, Lizard. You just haven’t met the right woman yet. We females dig scars, you know? It means you’ve lived, you’ve accomplished something,” Francie said, chuckling. “I’ve heard it said, ‘scars are just tattoos with better stories.”
Lizard laughed. Gently.
“There,” B’rost said, finally happy with the cleanliness of the wound. “You’ve stopped bleeding, at least, so your platelets are just fine. What do you think, Seven?”
“Um, oh, I agree,” Seven muttered, his stomach churning. Look at the blood, it’s everywhere. And that scar on his torso, oh shards, even though it’s healed, it’s hideous. It’s all squiggly and ropey, it even cut up his navel. Were his guts poking out? Oh, I can’t think that, I’m going to puke. He turned his eyes skyward to steady his stomach.
Francie read the dismay on Seven’s face. B’rost is calling him out, she thought, and high time. This man, whatever his problem is, has no business being a healer.
“Look at this cut! A centimeter lower and it would have severed the tendon. A centimeter higher and it would have cut an artery. As it is, it cut the skin on the collar bone, and I’m thinking it bounced off! Amazing! That’s going to take some time to heal and it’s going to hurt. But otherwise? Sir, you are lucky. What caused this? An arrow?”
“No,” Lizard shook his head, “it was a dagger. The man ambushed me. I’m so fuzzy minded right now, it all happened so fast. I wasn’t paying attention! It’s like a tunnel snake warren here, hideyholes in every outcrop, he came out of nowhere and jumped me, going for my throat with a dagger.”
K’ndar whistled. “That was foolish. I know how dangerous you are with a knife. Did he..um, is he alive?”
Lizard grinned at K’ndar. “No. At least I don’t think so. He wasn’t moving when I left him but things got very busy after that. Suddenly there were arrows everywhere. My lizards went for him, my..where are they?” he cried, in a panic.
In response, his bronze and gold launched from their position behind him. Side by side, they hovered in front of him, squeaking in their concern. B’rost waved the bronze off to keep him from landing on Lizard’s shoulder, so they landed in Lizard’s lap. The gold wheeked, upset by the blood. She pushed her head up into his right hand, wanting reassurance.
“Ah, my little Machli, you are such a sweet,” Lizard said, his heart swelling at the unabashed love of the little queen. “And Batu, my valiant Batu, you gave me time to pull my own dagger,” he said to the bronze. He stroked their finely chiseled heads. He looked up at the four in front of them.
“They attacked the one with the dagger. And my dog! Crunch, is he alive? He went after three horsemen, roaring like the lion he is. Oh, he’s covered in blood!”
Francie smiled. “Worry not, sir. He’s fine, just asleep. He had an arrow right along his spine, we thought he’d been hit.” She flourished the arrow, noticing a crafter’s mark on the shaft. Hmm.
“His fur saved him, the arrow got tangled in it. He’s got a fairly long cut on his skin, but otherwise he’s fine, if snoring. He should come out of it any minute, I didn’t give him much sleepyherb.”
She looked at Seven, daring him to correct her again. But the apprentice was studiously keeping his eyes anywhere other than on the bloody and bare chested Lizard.
“He’s smart. He knew I was going to help him. Now I think I could have pulled it out of him without the sedative. Once I made up to him, he was the gentlest of beasts. He’s a lovely dog.”
Lizard patted the dog, aghast at the blood matted fur. “Aye, he’s proven himself much more than a dog. He’s a worthy comrade, good lad.”
“He was right beside you, sir,” B’rost said, “I think he would have tackled the biggest wher on Pern in your defense. When he growled I thought my bollocks were about to be ripped out by the roots!” He laughed. “But he knows K’ndar and the minute he and Francie locked eyes, it was love at first sight with him.”
“And me,” Francie said. Oh, I’d take this dog in a heartbeat, she thought.
Lizard chuckled, wincing. “Aye, he’s daft for women, and kids, too.” He winked at Francie.
“I’m just glad he recognized me,” K’ndar said. “Even knowing him, I was, um…wary. No, not merely wary. Scared spitless.”
Lizard reached with his good right arm to stroke the dogs back, unconsciously breaking up the clots of drying blood. “You’ll need a good bath, mate,” he said. He looked at the group, pride swelling in his chest. “He went through a hailstorm of arrows, to protect me.”
He met K’ndar’s eyes, beginning to sort things out. “How is it you’re here? I’m so groggy, one minute I’m fighting for life and now this?”
“Your bronze, Lizard, you sent him! He appeared right in front of Raventh, yelling at the top of his mind for help. He kept sending images of you on the ground.”
“Send him? I didn’t send him,” Lizard said, astounded, “The raiders were stealing my horses, I was running behind them, then I got tripped up by a bolo and at the same time a horseman clonked me in the head.”
“Whoa,” Francie said, amazed. “You mean he came on his own?”
“That’s the only thing I can think to explain it! It was so crazy, three of them, well, four, counting the one I gutted, he wasn’t horseback, the rest were. I honestly didn’t have time to think of sending Batu for help.”
“I didn’t know they’d do that!” she said, “But I’m not surprised. My three are constantly coming up with new things.” Her three fire lizards chittered in agreement.
“The longer I have them, the more they amaze me,” Lizard said. “What aren’t they capable of?”
“Probably reading and writing,” K’ndar snickered.
“And, Lizard? Your queen? She stayed with you to protect you from the scavenger wherries. One little queen against five or six wherries three times her size. She held them all off until we got here, and then my three, and Siskin, and even Putzu came in, from clear across the continent, all on her own!” Francie said.
“Siskin called her for help,” K’ndar said. “They were all over the wherries like stink on a smashed tumblebug. Heheheheeeee! The wherries had no idea what hit them! Oh, it was glorious to witness, if too fast over.”
B’rost felt the old sentiment arise his mind-but Rath beat him to it.
I know what you’re going to think, Rath chided B’rost, I have been waiting for a fire lizard. It is time we had one. Raventh and Motanith both have them. When is it my turn?
Yes. You have been very patient. This man is called Fire Lizard Man for a reason. I will ask him for an egg.
“And how is it you all are here? I’m sorry, but I’m confused. You, ma’am, you’re, um, Francie? That’s your green dragon behind you, yes? And your husband, you’re both at Landing. I sold you a very fine horse, didn’t I.”
“You did,” Francie said, “And Donal is still the best horse I’ve ever been lucky enough to own. I beg your pardon, but how is your eye?”
“My eye?” His hand unconsciously went to his face. Oh shaff, is there something wrong with my eye? I can see out of them, even with this headache, he thought.
“Yes, when we met you at the Gather, you were wearing an eye patch. And a well made pair of riding boots.”
Lizard grinned. “Ah, yes, I remember that Gather, and the auction. Well, Francie, you see,” he started, trying to decide if he should reveal one of his strategies.
K’ndar interrupted. “He was in costume, Francie. Like you, when your fire lizards are doing shows at the Gathers.”
I guess that makes sense, she thought, nodding.
Lizard, grateful for the save, nodded. “Aye. I wanted to keep the scroungers from trying to get the horse for a bargain. Had I shown up wearing my regular duds they wouldn’t have thought he was worth that much money. I asked a high enough price to keep some yob from harnessing that noble beast to a muck cart.”
“I can promise you that will never happen as long as he’s with me,” Francie said.
“There you go, sir,” B’rost said, admiring the bandage job. “If you don’t have numbweed, I’ll leave a jar with you, along with a handful of bandages. I want you to keep the wound clean and bandaged until it closes. Keep this smanda gel on it for a few days, it will prevent an infection as well as keep the pain under control.”
“And you, now you’re a Healer? You’re, um, you were the dragonrider at the trial, the one where the three raiders-two of whom tried to cut me in half-were tried and convicted by Lord Dorn.”
“Yes, sir. B’rost, rider of blue Rath, formerly of Kahrain Weyr, now Healer out of Healer Hall when I’m not skyhooting all over Pern. Like right now.”
Lizard looked at Seven, expectantly. “And you?” he said.
Seven didn’t see it. Tried to cut you in half? he thought, his eyes firmly on the horizon, they almost succeeded! Oh shards, what have I gotten myself into? This isn’t what I expected when I applied.
I thought it would be like the Healer at the cothold, handing out medications for women with morning sickness, dabbing a little numbweed on a child’s scraped knee, and telling people they shouldn’t drink so much. No one told me I’d have to deal with people who’ve been cut up like this.
B’rost cleared his throat, then elbowed him in the knee. “The polite thing to do is introduce yourself, Apprentice.”
“Oh, sorry,” Seven said. Keep your eyes past his chest, he thought, “I’m Seven, originally of my father’s minor cothold near Telgar, now a healer’s apprentice at Healer Hall.”
Lizard caught the inattention. His fire lizards sent a distinct impression of disliking the apprentice. There’s something devious about you, boyo, something you’re not saying. My gut says you’re not to be trusted.
“I’m known as Fire Lizard Man, a trader who’s been all over Pern, and thank you for helping me.” Despite being of no help at all, he thought. Why are you here, if not as an apprentice learning to be a healer?
“Um, you’re welcome,” Seven said.
“Okay,” B’rost said, standing up. “Can you stand? Do you think you can ride a dragon? I want to transport you to Cove Hold, but Rath can’t take more than two riders. I’m sure either Francie or K’ndar can transport you.”
“Cove Hold? Why?”
“I want the dolphins to scan your head. I’m worried your skull may be fractured.”
Lizard shook it, willing the pain to lessen. “No. I have to find my horses. I don’t know if the raiders have found my caravan. I can’t leave Crunch here, either. He’s never been on a dragon.”
As if on cue, Crunch’s eyes opened and he began to pant.
“Can you stand up, woofer? There’s someone who wants to see you,” Francie said. She helped the dog to its feet. His tail began to wag, hitting Lizard in the face.
“Hey, you goof, turn around and breathe at me,” he said. Whimpering, the dog turned and pushed his head against the man’s chest. Lizard ran his hand over the channel Francie had cut through the thick fur to treat the wound.
“You’re a mess, dog. Where did all this blood come from?”
The dog whined and shoved his head under Lizard’s right arm. He scritched behind the dog’s ears with his left hand despite the slight tug of the bandage over his left collar bone. You are such a companion, he thought. Thank the stars you’re unharmed.
“Can you stand up?” B’rost repeated.
“Not can. Will.” Lizard said. B’rost stood up and grasped Lizard’s right arm. The trader shook it off. He stood up, shakily, but steadily. Crunch pressed against his legs, not helping, but that was okay. I’d rather feel him against me than flat on the ground, dead.
“How’s that feel?”
“Better. And my head is feeling better, too, being on my feet.” He was lying, and B’rost knew it. But he let the man be a man.
B’rost sucked his teeth. “Excellent. But now, this is the hard part of being a healer, Lizard. I think someone more experienced than me should attend to you. I would like to hear what the dolphins say. I would like to hope your head is all in one piece, because we don’t have the knowledge, anymore, of how to treat a possible fracture. All I can offer is pain killers and ask you to give your injuries TOT: Tincture of Time. But I can’t force you to go anywhere.”
Lizard nodded. “I’ll be okay, B’rost. I want to stay. Thank you.”
“It was my pleasure. At least, promise me you’ll ask Francie or K’ndar for transport to Cove Hold if you change your mind? The Hall will pay for it. I’ll contact the Healers there to let them know you might need their help.”
“Of course I’ll take him,” Francie and K’ndar both said at the same time, “and no way on Pern will either of us take a coin for it.” They met each other’s eyes and laughed.
“You have my word, Healer B’rost.”
B’rost’s datalink, almost forgotten, buzzed.
Healer B’rost. RE: your preliminary data on the casualty Lizard Man. Have you determined what the casualty needs in terms of further aid?
“Pardon me, but I need to answer this message,” he said, drawing away from the group. Seven made to join him. He held up his hand to stay him. No.
I have. I have treated the superficial wounds with numbweed and smanda gel. I think it inadvisable to stitch the wound in field conditions. Smanda gel and pressure bandaging is, at this time, preventing further blood loss. Casualty has been offered transport to Cove Hold for a dolphin scan and stitching but refuses to go. Other than pain, casualty is stable, ambulatory and of sound mind. There are two other dragon riders here who are willing to transport him should he change his mind.
He sent it and chewed a knuckle, feeling Seven’s gaze. He knew what would be said when he and Seven faced Pern’s Master Healer. The duty staffer had been monitoring while we worked and kicked it upstairs to her attention. She might have issues with my work, but I’m betting my boots she will be hard on Seven for his obvious dereliction of duty, no matter how small the task was. Thank the stars I don’t have to make a case for him.
If you have concluded your aid to the casualty, please report to me at Healer Hall as soon as possible. Please bring Apprentice Seven with you.
It was unsigned, one being unnecessary. You didn’t need an advanced degree to know who gave that sort of ‘request.’ Despite being politely worded, ‘as soon as possible’ meant ‘right now’.
He looked at the trader. “I’m sorry, Lizard, but we’ve been recalled to Healer Hall. I have to leave you here. Remember, replace the bandages every twelve hours, sooner if it starts to bleed again. If the wound re-opens, I demand you get it stitched. And take it easy, please? I’m going to want a fire lizard egg from you, soon.”
Lizard smiled and reached out his right hand.
“Thank you sir. Now that they know you, when she lays, I’ll send Batu to let you know his queen has a new clutch.”