Chapter Seventeen: Plague



by

Josie Beaudoin







The nine Ria and three passengers made their way inshore, up towards the city. Lanterns lined the streets at regular intervals, making it easy to find their way uphill in the darkness. The simple houses were well-maintained if not fancy, and the further up the hill they went the nicer the houses got. Morgan noticed as best he could that Jasper had not exaggerated; the architecture was indeed marvelous.

“Do you know where we’re going?” he asked between coughing fits.

“To a friend’s house,” was Jasper’s answer.

“You have friends here in this city?”

“Why not? I have friends in Krisadon I could call on for help, too.”

“Oh. True. Well who is he?”

“A retired Rian. She’ll take us in.”

“But if she isn’t sick...”

“She’ll take us in, trust me.”

“You’re taking us to Yasiva’s house, Sir?” This was from Bartok.

“Can you think of anywhere better?”

“What about the inn at – ”

“All public buildings are closed in plague times, you know that.”

“What is this plague?” Morgan asked. “I mean, what’s its name?”

“As far as I know it’s just called ‘the plague.’ I guess it’s the only one around here of any significance, and it’s so fierce nothing else compares to it.”

“I’ve never heard of it before.”

“For which you should thank all Ria everywhere,” Jasper said, “for our harsh quarantines. So far as I know, it’s never spread beyond Djanara. Look, let’s just get to Yasiva’s house, then we can talk. Or, well I can talk and you can try to listen over the din of your own coughing. Damn it to the Depths, Morgan, you can’t be sick!”

“It has a short incubation period, I notice,” Galen said as they walked.

“It has a short life, too,” Ruby put in. “Well, for each individual. A plague infestation can go on for months, even years sometimes. Depends on the city, the whim of God, who knows what? The captain is right: let’s get inside and discuss it there. I’m not feeling well myself.”

Bartok took one look at his priest and picked her up in his arms, carrying her gently like a child. She began to protest, then gave up to a fit of coughing and lay back exhausted.

If Morgan had known anything of Durikan architecture, he would have noticed when Jasper led them out of the merchant’s quarter and in amongst the general middle-class citizenry. The clean, cobbled and well-lit streets continued on up the hill.

It was not long before Jasper stopped in front of a large house and knocked at the door. It was opened a few moments later by a young serving maid who was bid to tell her mistress who stood at her door. The girl went inside and almost immediately returned to usher them in to a large, elegant room scattered with low couches and pillows. The floor was covered with expensive carpets.

“Your Highness,” a woman said, standing up and bowing to Jasper. She was a Djanaran, about Ruby’s age, and she crossed the carpets to embrace Jasper. “I am so very sorry to see you of all people here at a time like this. Welcome to my home, please come in, all of you.”

“Thank you,” Jasper said, kissing her on both cheeks. “I’m afraid I’m imposing on you at a very inconvenient time, but I had nowhere else to go.”

“Nonsense,” Yasiva said. “You have a welcome door in half the city. I’m honoured you would come to me. Isn’t this rather a lot of crew to be offboard in one day?”

“It is,” Bartok agreed, gently settling Ruby on one of the sofas, “but these are somewhat special circumstances.”

Yasiva cocked an eyebrow at Jasper.

“These three,” he said, indicating Galen, Ashia and Morgan, “are Landers. We’re taking them to the FreeLands. Or at least, we’re trying to. Today seems to have come at a bad time. We took them ashore to see the sights, which, it turns out, was a bad idea.”

“Damn the pleasantries,” Morgan said, unusually rude. “Tell me about this plague I’ve contracted. Is there a cure, or have you brought me here to die somewhere besides the streets?”

“Morgan, if there were no cure I’d kill you with my own two hands to save you the suffering,” Jasper said. “Of course there’s a cure. People survive the plague all the time. They often wish they hadn’t, but they do. It’s going to be bad, brother, but you’re going to get through this.”

Just then Obrad began coughing.

“Come on, let’s get you all in beds,” Yasiva said. “You might have to double up, but we’ll find space for everyone somehow. First let’s sort out the sick... which are you?”

Ashia raised her hand along with Obrad and two other crewmembers, Ewass and Dyen. That Morgan and Ruby were badly affected was obvious. A full half of the group.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


“It’s everywhere, it’s spreading like fire,” she said. “What are you going to do about it?”

“As always, the best I can,” Telles said.

“Well how did you start it in the first place?” Aliseas demanded.

“I didn’t. I would nev– ” Telles stopped. The look on his wife’s face made it clear she did not believe him.

“It was the cold cure,” he said. “The test subject died within minutes, with these very symptoms. I don’t know why.”

“You meddle where you don’t need to,” she said. “Now people are dropping like flies, and you did this to them. No one needed a cure for the cold. It was just a cold, nothing worse. Now look at what you’ve done, Baqeas!”

“I was only– ”

“– trying to help, I know. You’re always trying to help. But look what’s happened because of your help.”

“I’ll fix it, I will,” he said coughing. “If you’ll just let me work in peace.”

“You’ve got it too, haven’t you?”

“Yes, alright? I’ve got it too. You know perfectly well that immortal doesn’t mean immune. You’ve seen me sick plenty of times.”

“Well you had better hurry, husband. Your people trust you to save them, you know. This is what you get for pretending to be a god. Find a cure for this, and make it better than the last cure.”

“They’re bringing me a body now, so I can see how it died. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a cure once I understand the problem better.”

“They’re bringing you a body? Well that shouldn’t take long, they’re everywhere.”

Aliseas was right. Even as she spoke, two men came in carrying a body by the feet and shoulders. They had cloths tied around their mouths and noses, but nothing could blot out the scent of death emanating from the corpse.

“Why didn’t you bring me a fresh one?” Telles demanded, wrinkling his nose.

“He’s still warm, Your Holiness, he agreed to come before he died. It was moments ago. The stench, it’s part of the sickness.”

Alright, put him on the table here.”

The bearers did as they were told and ran from the room. Aliseas had already left, gagging on the scent and unable to bear the dreadful sight.

Telles approached the body. The men had told the truth, it was warm, and not from putrefaction. The corpse was freshly dead. Cutting away the clothing, Telles began examining the specimen for signs of what exactly had killed it.

The torso was covered in small dark spots with circles around them. There was a large buboe in the left armpit, another behind the ear that had burst and become infected. Drying foam flecked the mouth and nose, traceries of blood mixed into the sputum. The stench coming off the body was prodigious, the smell of rotting flesh present well before it had begun to rot. Telles, seeing nothing he had not already known, reached for a knife to open the body. Perhaps the insides would have more to say than the out.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


“So what can we expect?” Morgan asked. “Is it survivable?”

“Of course it’s survivable,” Ruby said. “If it weren’t, Djanara would be depopulated millennia ago. The plague has been around forever. You’d realize that if you were thinking clearly.”

“I’m sorry, my head hurts.”

“So does mine, youngster. It’s one of the symptoms I’m told you can look forward to enduring for the next two weeks.”

“Two weeks?”

“If you’re lucky,” said Yasiva, coming into the room carrying a tray with cups and a pot. “Common knowledge holds that if you can survive the first week you’ll probably live, but there’s usually another week of sickness before you begin recovering. Here, drink this.”

“What is it?”

“Tea.”

“Oh.”

Morgan drank, braced for a foul bitterness of medicinal herbs, but there was only a sweetness. Surprised, he drank the rest down gladly.

“Expecting medicine, were you? It’s just tea. To help calm your nerves. Everyone is upset about the plague, and tea has wonderful soothing effects.”

“That’s very kind of you, thank you.”

“Not at all. You are a guest in my home.”

Yasiva poured him some more, and filled porcelain cups of tea for everyone else as well. Jasper set his aside, but Ruby could scarcely lift her cup. Galen helped her with it, occasionally sipping at his own. When they were all settled, Yasiva continued.

“The plague strikes in two ways,” she began. “Sometimes a person experiences only one form, sometimes both. They both begin the same way, though - the coughing and headaches you’ve already felt. It seems as though you have a bad cold, but it will only get worse. It may get into your lungs, making your coughing worse, and bloody, eventually leading to drowning.”

Morgan choked on his tea, setting off a coughing fit.

“Worse than this?” he gasped when he could breathe at last. “I don’t think I could even stand up right now.”

“Worse,” she said. “But the tea is meant to cushion the blow of the bad news, not worsen it. Please drink more carefully.”

“How is it treated?” Galen asked.

“No one really knows,” Yasiva admitted. “There are some medicines people swear by, but for others they do nothing. I will get some for you all, of course. Constant vigilance, keeping the patient warm, no cold drinks, helping them sit up to breathe. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Lung Plague is very hard to predict. Bubonic is much easier, though more painful.”

“That would be the second one, I presume?” Ruby asked.

“Yes. The local word is ‘buboe,’ but you might call it a boil or a pustule. They form at the neck, the armpit, or in the groin, and are extremely painful. To survive, they must be opened and drained of the fluids inside. I won’t lie to you,” Yasiva said, looking around the room at the stunned and frightened faces. “I want to prepare you for the worst so you won’t be surprised if it happens to you. It’s safest to expect the worst and be disappointed than to be caught unprepared by horrors. Grown men have been driven mad from this pain, have killed themselves to be free of it. Sometimes patients turn in rage on those who are caring for them. If any of the ill contract Bubonic Plague, those of us unaffected must be very wary of their behaviour. Be prepared to tie your companions to their beds to keep them from hurting themselves or others. I cannot stress enough how painful the buboes are.”

“How soon before the rest of us become infected?” Galen asked.

“No way of knowing. You may already be infected, or, like some few, you may be completely immune. Some people never catch it though they’re surrounded by sufferers. I would be surprised if you have an immunity, though, Lander. You’ve never been around it before. You may contract it tomorrow, or a week from now, there’s no way of knowing, really.”

“What about you? Are you not afraid to have us in your house?”

“Once you have had the Plague, you become immune,” Yasiva said. “No one catches it a second time. Look at my neck and you can see the scar from the buboe that nearly killed me.”

Galen did, and was appalled at the size of the scar. Buboes, apparently, were not small.

“So you’ve seen Plague before then,” Morgan said.

“In my youth,” she nodded. “It has a tendency to appear every ten to twenty years, one among many reasons that I decided to leave Djanara in the first place. My whole family was killed, and I had nowhere to go. I spent so much time down at the docks, doing every job I could find to make a living, eventually a ship let me join their crew. I was sixteen. Sixteen and still a virgin, can you imagine? Landers are insane, but I grew tired of storms in my old age, and came back with a good fortune made and investments down in the bazaar. I have a good life here. I should have known the Plague would come back before I died.”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


“But where will we go without them?” Paige asked. “We can’t just go to Krisadon without Morgan.”

“We won’t, Highness, I promise you,” Emmy said. “Even if I have to personally dig him out of a plague pit, we’ll bring Morgan home.”

“A pit?” Paige shuddered. “Tell me you’re not serious.”

“I wish I weren’t, but the Landers bury their dead on the land, and in plague time there are pits... everyone is thrown in, all the dead.”

“But Morgan isn’t dead, is he?”

“Let us pray not.”

“But why can’t we just go find him? Why did we leave without him?”

“We cannot - cannot - let the plague aboard the ship. Would you risk your own life, risk your daughter’s life, to have Morgan come aboard and die here?”

“Yes.” Paige did not hesitate.

“Well I cannot do that, I’m sorry. I truly am. My captain is ashore too, as well as my other shipmates. I would rather they were here, but the law is the law, and no ship may take on Plague victims or even those exposed but not sick. It is a law as old as the Plague itself. Once Plague gets on a ship, you may as well sink it. In fact, many captains have done just that. If our quarantine were not so strict there would be Plague on every continent.”

“I don’t care about your quarantine, I want my brother,” Paige said. “Take me back, put me ashore, I’ll go alone, but I have to be with him.”

“And your daughter?”

Paige fell silent. No other woman on board was nursing at the moment, Ashia was ashore with Morgan and the others.

“I’d have to take her with me,” she said, tears in her eyes. “But you don’t understand. I have to be with Morgan. He’s everything.”

“I’m sorry, but I cannot allow it. Not for Jasper, not even for Morgan.”

“I’ll take a boat and go alone,” Paige offered.

“You’d never even find the shore,” Emmy said. “We’re too far away already.”

“But when will we come back for them?”

“A month - perhaps two or three. It depends on what reports say from the city.”

“How will we get reports?”

“We’ll come back in a month and check the city for flags. If they fly a black flag, the plague still rages. If the flag is white, it’s safe to come ashore. Paige, there’s nothing else we can do.”

“I don’t suppose you’d consider going back to Erlaya?” Brand asked.

Emmy did not even bother to answer.

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“Those spots were everywhere, it was amazing.”

“Oh amazing, were they? How about awful?”

“They were inside him, spots on all his organs. And the blood was...”

“Please, you needn’t tell me about the blood, Baqeas, I’m sure it was spewing everywhere or somesuch.”

“No, just the opposite. The man was brought to me fresh - he had scarcely breathed his last - yet the blood was congealed. I could draw it out of the veins in ropes that– ”

“Baqeas, stop! I don’t want to hear it! Just tell me: can you cure it?”

“No.”

Mjarni turned to her husband in amazement.

“What do you mean ‘no?’ You’ve barely even tried. Where’s your indomitable spirit, your refusal to give up?”

“I give up. You’ve said it yourself time and again, that every time I try to make things better they get worse. Well I’m done. People are dying in the hundreds every day, and if I interfere again I will only increase that number.”

“But you can’t leave them like this, it’s inhuman!”

“No, Aliseas, I’ve finally figured it out. It’s interfering that’s inhuman.”

“Baqeas, please!”

“Please? Are you begging for them?”

“If I have to, yes. You cannot leave these people - your people - to die like this. Find an answer to this dreadful thing that you have started. You have to undo it, you have to. This is your fault, don’t you realize that? Don’t you care?”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


Morgan awoke with a dizzying headache and a sore ribcage. He felt as though he had been beaten all over. His throat ached and he could scarcely open his gummed up eyes. The worst pain, though, was behind his right ear and between his legs. He tried to turn his head and nearly screamed. What came out was a whimper that brought one of Yasiva’s servants rushing to his bedside.

“You want tea, you want food?” she whispered. Dyen and Obrad were lying on cots in other corners of the room.

“Where are friends?” he asked in his broken Durikan.

“Everyone is asleep, it’s night,” the girl answered. “Someone is watching over every sick person, but everyone else is asleep.”

“Where Galen?”

“If you need the healer, I will bring him to you.”

“Yes, please.”

The servant girl nodded and left the room quietly so as not to wake the others. A few minutes later Galen came into the room looking haggard. It had been an extremely long and tiring week for the healer. He had learned more about this strange disease that he had never heard of before than he knew about many common illnesses, and he had learned most of it the hard way. Several of Yasiva’s household were also stricken with plague, and with Ruby so ill, he was the only healer present.

As it was they were extremely lucky to have him. Just as the Rian ships had left to quarantine the city, so individual houses were locked up to quarantine the sick from the healthy. No healer would come to Yasiva’s house. Galen was on his own. Now he sat on the side of Morgan’s bed and felt his brow.

“How bad is it?” Morgan rasped.

“Your temperature’s higher. Have you had any more delusions?”

“How should I know?”

“Hm. Point taken.” He did not ask about Morgan’s pain. He could feel it himself with no effort. He had felt worse pain, not often before now, but he had. It reminded him in a small way of the pain Morgan had felt the day his power had been stolen, the day the Emperor had captured him and his sister and cousin. Not for the first time, Galen found himself relieved that Paige and the baby had not gone ashore, a relief he shared with Morgan and Jasper.

“How are the others?”

“The same. No one’s died tonight, if that’s what you’re asking. Yasiva was right about the Lung Plague, it worked quickly and fierce, but this Bubonic Plague is lasting much longer. I think a few of the newer ones might have Lung Plague, but it’s hard to tell until the buboes fail to appear.”

“Can’t you lance mine yet? They’re killing me, Galen. Buboes are killing people all over the city, and they need to be lanced.”

“All over the countryside if what the guard says is true. It’s not just this city, or even just this province. Plague is spreading everywhere.”

“I don’t care about everywhere, I care about right here. You know perfectly well that feeling someone’s pain is not the same as having it yourself, and I’m telling you that you have no idea how bad this is. I’ve endured a lot of tortures at Laric’s hands, and this is comparable to anything he’s ever done to me.”

“You bear it well - better than the others.”

“I’ve had more practice than most. That fact doesn’t lessen this.”

“The boils have not come to a head yet. As long as they continue to increase, lancing them is pointless because I’d have to do it again later. We have to wait, Morgan. I know you don’t want to hear that, but it’s the truth. You really don’t want me to do it twice, do you?”

Morgan sighed, the deep breath causing his ribs to ache.

“No, of course not. Isn’t there anything you can do to ease the pain, though?”

“I can make you sleep again, you know that’s all I can do. The herbs haven’t helped you at all. Hardly surprising, we’ve had no exposure to this before. Sir, do you think if I added some ikkhu root to the mix that it would– ”

“Galen, no magic talk right now. I can’t think straight. You’re the healer, you know better than I. Just do your best.”

“Very well, Sir.” Galen, hiding his surprise at his master’s statement, reached out again and touched Morgan’s brow. “Go to sleep,” he murmured, pushing with his Vada, and the stricken man tumbled into uneasy dreams.

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“Hmmm... this might work,” he said.

“Have you found the answer?” she asked.

“I said it might. I’ll need to test it first, of course.”

“Use me.”

“I beg your pardon? Aliseas, this is a new potient, I have no idea what it will do if it goes wrong. I’m not going to risk something happening to you if it doesn’t work.”

“Husband, I hurt! Help me!”

“But Beloved, this - no. Not until I test it.”

Telles reached for his bell to summon a servant, and as he did so Aliseas moved over to the workbench he was using and drank the potient down. Telles turned back to stare first at his wife, then the bowl, then his wife again in amazement.

“That was enough for a score of patients,” he said, wide-eyed. “An untested potient! What were you thinking? You could have...”

“Died?” she asked.

“Well, no, but it could make things much – ”

Aliseas screamed. Telles grabbed her head, forcing his finger down her throat to attempt to bring up the potient, but even as he did it, he knew it was a useless gesture. The potient was meant to absorb immediately, and it had done so. All of it. “It wasn’t ready!” he shouted, backing away from the nightmare unfolding before his eyes.

Aliseas continued screaming, her body convulsing. The buboe on her neck burst open, spraying its contents over the room. The one under her arm stained her white dress yellow and red with blood and other matter. Within moments the dark spots on her chest moved up and engulfed her neck and face, moved down her arms, covered her legs. They too began bursting, and where they did, skin sloughed away from her body showing the muscles beneath. Her screaming was broken by coughs and heaves which brought up a blood from her lungs and stomache. With horror Telles remembered the autopsy he had done and realized the spots on her organs must be bursting as well. “What have you done?” he whispered.

“You!” she managed to growl through her ragged throat. She began crawling across the floor towards him.

Telles fled.

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The guard at the door of Yasiva’s house died. He was replaced by another man. The maid who had watched over Morgan died. She was replaced by Galen. Ashia lingered, her Lung Plague gradually fading into the Bubonic form. Ewass was dead, and another Rian fell ill. Morgan did not know his name.

The silence of the city was unnerving. No one spoke who went to the market for food or supplies. The bazaar was closed. Grass grew in the roads. The only sounds to break the quiet was the screaming of those in pain or the weeping of the bereaved. At night, carts rumbled along the cobbled streets to carry away those who had died the previous day and throw them into huge pits that were dug outside the city. The Ria, deep in mourning, steadfastly refused to surrender their dead, insisting on a burial at sea. The stench of death grew thicker in the house, until none could hold down food, but choked on it instead.

Finally the day came when Galen announced he would lance Morgan’s buboes. Morgan wept with relief. Galen and Jasper, who had both remained uninfected during the entire ordeal, carried Morgan to Yasiva’s chamber which had a large bed with posts at each corner. A strong but thin rope was used to tie his hands and feet to the bed posts. Another piece of rope was run under the bed and around his middle.

Even moving him had been agony.

“Can’t you do it here?” Morgan had asked when he was told he would be moved. The buboes gurgled and sloshed every time he shifted his weight, and he could not turn over. Being picked up and moved sounded unbearable.

“Morgan, I’ve lanced six of these things already, and was nearly killed the first time. Obrad flailed about so I thought he had gone mad with the pain. He still hasn’t recovered. This is going to hurt worse than it does now, Morgan. You need to be restrained, for your safety as well as everyone else’s.”

“What I need is to be unconscious,” Morgan said.

“I’ve tried that,” Galen said, shaking his head. “Everyone wakes up when I start. Don’t worry, though, they usually pass out again fairly quickly. I’ll do this as fast as I can, I promise.”

“They pass out from the pain?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

“I won’t. I’ve been trained not to.”

“Then I truly cannot imagine how awful this is going to be. Would you like something to bite down on, Sir? So you don’t bite your tongue?”

“Please don’t do this.” Tears ran down Morgan’s face. “I’ve changed my mind, don’t do it.”

“Sir, if they burst on their own you’ll die. If they don’t burst at all you’ll die. Lancing them and cleaning them is the only way.”

“Let me die.”

“I cannot. You know I cannot.”

“I’ll be right here with you,” Jasper said, his face pale and tears tracking down his cheeks. At Galen’s orders he had been swaddled head to foot before coming near any of the sick. He took hold of Morgan’s left hand in his right, their two scarred palms together through the mittens. “Hold on to me, draw from my strength, Brother.”

“I hate you. You have no idea what this is like. I hate you.”

Jasper accepted the abuse in silence. He had heard far worse from the other victims, and knew he would again soon from Morgan. Besides, it was true. He was as healthy as could be, and could only imagine his brother’s pain. He was sure his imagination must fall short of reality.

“Let’s do the one in the armpit first. It’ll be easier than the other, so best to get it taken care of right away. That way the second one won’t be as bad.”

“How do you figure that?”

“He’ll know what to expect and brace himself for it.”

“Will you stop talking about me as though I weren’t here?” Morgan asked irritably.

“In a few minutes, you effectively won’t be,” Galen answered. “Morgan, I cannot prepare you for this pain. I know you’ve endured worse, but it was of a different type. I can’t explain it any better than that. I wish I could.”

“Aren’t you afraid he might burst one while we’re lancing the other the way Obrad did?” Jasper asked.

“Morgan couldn’t break free of these ropes when he was healthy, even the madness won’t give him enough strength to thrash enough to burst one now. Still, perhaps you’re right. The one in the groin will hurt more, and he might twist his torso a little. Very well: groin first it is.”

“No! Leave it alone! Let it go down on its own!”

“Well firstly, it’s not going to. Secondly, if it did you’d die within an hour. It’s filled with a poison that would spread through your body too fast to control. They have to be opened, Morgan. They have to be opened, drained and cleaned.”

“What if it doesn’t work?”

“It has so far. Obrad is alive and recovering, as are Telar and Hashi.”

“What about the ones who died? People have died. I know they have.”

“Yes, people have died. Most of them were from Lung Plague, Morgan.”

“Only ‘most?’”

“Jasper,” said Galen, changing the subject, “will you hold his genitals out of the way? I don’t want to cut the wrong thing by mistake if he moves. Morgan, I need you to hold as still as you can. I know it won’t be easy, but it’ll be better if you can.”

“You said something about a stick? Morgan, do you want it?”

Tears fell from Morgan’s eyes and trickled into his ears as he nodded dumbly. Jasper fetched a wooden rod with teethmarks already in it. He brought it to his brother’s mouth, which opened as Morgan accepted it, frightened and already shaking. Galen held up a short, sharp knife and wrapped a cloth over his mouth and nose. Jasper reached over the bed and gently moved Morgan’s genitals aside. Morgan gave a muffled screech as Jasper’s hand accidentally brushed against the swelling.

“Sorry,” Jasper said, and at that moment Galen’s knife began its awful work. Galen was right. Morgan had felt worse pain, but that had been pain of the heart, pain of the soul, pain of the mind. This physical pain had no equal in Laric’s donjons, for the Emperor would not risk killing his favourite prisoner. Today Morgan’s life was precariously balanced on the edge of Galen’s blade. It opened a gash at the bottom of the buboe, releasing the pressure with a blinding pain. A sickly greenish-yellow liquid spattered on Galen’s mask as he turned his face away, and when most of it had drained off, Galen reached out his hand and pressed the rest out as gently as he could.

Morgan was screaming through the bit and shaking uncontrollably, pulling at the ropes with all his strength, but they did not budge. Next came the near-scalding hot water to wash away all traces of the infectious matter. After that, the wound was smeared with an herbal concoction of Galen’s devising and wrapped in clean bandages. Even the pressure of the bandage on the drained wound was agony. Morgan attempted to spit out the stick, so hard was it to breathe with it in his mouth. Jasper took it away and set it aside to be used again in a few minutes.

“You rest for just a little bit,” Galen said. “Regain your breath, the next one will not be quite as bad.”

Morgan could not even whimper as he gulped air, coughing and choking on saliva and blood. Jasper turned Morgan’s head, wiping his mouth and comforting him as best he could. When he was able to breathe again without choking or crying, Galen spoke up.

“Time for the second one,” he said softly. “I’m sorry, Morgan, but this has to be done. It will be comparable, but it won’t be as bad as the first one. That’s the only comfort I can really offer you right now. Would you like the stick again?”

Morgan nodded weakly. He had no more tears.

The second buboe, in Morgan’s opinion, was only better than the first in that he knew what was coming. It seemed like an aeternity before Galen was finished, the wound was dressed, and Morgan was carried back to his own bed. Were he in the donjon, Laric would be applying a healing potient right about that time, but here there was nothing but a few herbs and a bandage. Morgan finally passed out, not from the pain, but from sheer exhaustion.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


I pushed him too hard, Mjarni thought. He didn’t want to do this, but I pushed it. She shuddered at the thought of admitting it to him, but in her heart she knew it was true. She should have let him leave bad enough alone. The potient he had concocted was obviously not the cure for the sickness he had brought to his people, in fact it had made her worse. Silently she thanked her gods it had never been tried on anyone else. At least she was immortal and would not die from it.

She lay on the cold, stone floor of her husband’s workshop. The destruction seemed to have halted, or at least slowed, and her agony floated around her like a cloud, not localized in any one place, but she did not care. Her skin hung from her body in ragged tatters, her dress stained with still-drying blood, but she did not care. That it would dry crusted to her flesh, that removing it would be another, fresh agony, she knew, but did not care. That it was her own fault for her impulsive move she knew, but did not care.

What she cared about was the look in his eyes as he had backed away from her rage, the look of terror, not of what he had done to her, but of her anger. She had truly frightened her husband. Despite their near-constant bickering and fighting over the millennia, they had never been afraid of each other until today. The man who had given her everything he had for two thousand years was now afraid of her. Would he come back to the workroom? Would he even stay in the city? Would she ever see him again? Where had Baqeas gone?

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


Morgan woke with a jolt. The buboes had grown back! He tried to sit up with the sudden shock of the pain, but he did not get very far before Galen gently pushed him back down.

“Shhh,” he said. “I’m only changing the bandages. I’m sorry, I know it hurts.”

Morgan lay back, shuddering. The pain of the lancing had followed him into his dreams, followed him all the way back to Laric’s torture chamber. This was no dream, no illusion. It was reality, he was awake, and he was recovering. In the last two weeks he had become completely convinced of the reality of the world around him, of the pain Laric would not have introduced into an illusion. Unless it’s a new twist, he thought. But first attempts at anything are usually clumsy.

“Help me sit up for awhile, please?”

“If you think you can, I think it would be a good idea,” Galen said. He moved Morgan into a sitting position and propped him up on a pile of pillows. He finished changing the bandages on Morgan’s thigh and armpit, and moved on to his next patient. The occupants of the other beds in the room had changed again. Morgan wondered if they had recovered or died.

“How many of us are left?” he asked.

“Five of Yasiva’s people have gone,” Galen said in his soft voice. “Three Ria are dead, another two may not survive. Ashia is recovering slowly, like you.”

“Who? Who died?”

“It doesn’t matter right now, Morgan. You need to rest and recover.”

“Jasper? Is he...”

“Jasper, apart from mourning his crew, has never been healthier. Bartok and Tural are also healthy, as am I. The rest are sick.”

“No, some are dead. Tell me who, Apprentice.”

Galen recognized the difference between pleading and an order.

“Tamar has died, and... Morgan, I tried so hard, but I just lost her.”

“Her. Paige. Paige’s dead?”

“Paige is on the ship. She should be safe there. No, Ruby is dead. She was very old, Morgan, and she was weak because of it. The gods know I tried, I gave her everything I had, but it just wasn’t enough.”

“No, not Ruby. Not Ruby.”

“I didn’t want to tell you, I knew how upset you’d be. Grief will slow your recovery. It’s probably no consolation, but she died fast, from the Lung Plague, she didn’t have the buboes to contend with. She was spared that pain, at least.”

“She’s still dead.”

“I know. But her end was quick, unlike Tamar’s. He lingered for nearly two weeks before the Plague took him. By the time I’d lanced the boils he was already marked. Yasiva says that once the spots appear on a body, nothing can save them. I didn’t know that at the time. Ruby died some time during the third night in her sleep.”

“And everyone else is alive?”

“For now. Obrad is not responding well, nor is Ewass. Dyen and Telar are sick as well, but it’s too early to know. Master, you really should get some rest.”

“Not Ruby...” Morgan whispered. Tears were running down his unshaven cheeks.

“I know,” Galen said. “Imagine how Jasper is feeling.”

“Can I see him?”

“I’ve been trying to keep the sick and the healthy as far apart as possible,” Galen said, “but I suppose since you’re recovering I will permit a brief visit.”

“You’ll permit? Who’s the Apprentice here?”

“There is no apprentice here,” Galen answered. “I’ve seen this disease working, you have been sick. There’s a difference. Jasper’s been desperate to see you too, but I haven’t permitted him back here. He’s perfectly healthy, and I intend to keep him that way. I’ll let him visit, but only briefly, then you need more rest and he needs to get safely out of the way.”

“You’re not suggesting that I might hurt him.”

“That, my friend, is exactly what I am suggesting.” With that, Galen left the room, latching the door quietly behind him.

A few minutes later a figure stepped into the room. It was swathed head to toe in loose baggy clothes, his hands and face were covered, leaving only his eyes and a peek of blond hair showing. Jasper looked around at the three beds and immediately came towards Morgan. Galen came in behind him.

“A quick visit only,” he said again, “and don’t touch him.”

“Galen, I’ve already been exposed to this, and haven’t caught it. I was there when you lanced the boils. Besides, you said Morgan is getting better. You are getting better, aren’t you, Brother?”

“So Galen says. The pain is... less, but it’s still rather intense.”

“Did he tell you...?”

“About Ruby? Yes, he did. Jasper, I’m so sorry.”

“I can’t believe she’s gone,” Jasper said, tears trembling in his voice. “I’ve known her all my life. She was there when I was born, she was there when... well, she was my first. She’s always been there wherever I’ve been - except whenever I was ashore, of course. I can’t imagine living without her.”

“She was a good woman,” Morgan said, “and a good healer. She delivered Reina, took care of Brand even when she didn’t want or have to. I had nothing but respect for her. But tell me, what have you been doing all these weeks besides watching us die off one by one?”

“Oh we’ve been busy,” Jasper said. “Carpentry. The Durikanni are throwing their dead into pits, huge trenches full of corpses, and they cover them over with dirt and start on another. I don't know if you remember the pits in Erlaya..." Jasper shuddered, then went on. "I won’t have that happen to my people. The very least I can do is make sure they’re buried at sea. So Bartok and I have been building coffins to hold them until we can carry them down to the docks. The servants all object, and I admit the smell is atrocious, but at least Yasiva understands. She’s been helping as much as she can bear to.”

“Is that what I smell?”

“No, I think you smell yourself and your companions. All of you are putting off the same smell of death. Also, you haven’t been bathed in nearly three weeks.”














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