“Be careful, Erik, don’t jostle him. That looks awful.”
Erik let Runa’s fretting pass without comment, but Jorir snorted. “That’s because it is. That wound’s not exactly fresh anymore. He’s had to do some work to get out here.”
The climb up to the fourth floor of the tower crawled. The stairwell was barely wide enough for two men abreast, especially when one of them was as big as Erik. The big man was slowed by his burden less than any of the others would be, but even still Jorir in the lead had to wait on them every few steps.
Runa, between Jorir and his Lord, sang quietly as they walked to begin the healing process while Irding brought up the rear, doing what little he could to help support the unconscious Einarr. The door to the next floor, at least, was clear, and Jorir twitched his nose at the earthy, medicinal smell of angelica that wafted down from above.
“Well that’s convenient,” he muttered.
“What is?” Erik asked without looking away from his task.
“Smell that? There’s medicine to be had above. Only reason I can think for this tower to have an infirmary, though, means it’s another trial of some sort.”
Runa nodded, not breaking the flow of her healing song.
When he finally arrived at the landing with its open door, Jorir saw a straw mat laid out in the center of the room. Nearby were a mortar and pestle, as well as various other implements of the herbalist’s trade – including a rather large pot he thought contained honey. There was a great deal of light in the room, as well: this floor was open to the air, or nearly so, with the ceiling supported only by pillars and what was obviously a stairwell on the other side. This, Jorir was certain, was to accommodate the plants. There was no wind, either, as though any of them questioned the provenance of such a place.
Arranged in rings about the outside of the room were pot after pot filled with living medicinal herbs. Jorir could not tell if they were labeled, but if they were he felt sure it would be in runes. Well. He could work with this, at least. “Tasteless. At least we should have what we need.”
The others emerged into the room as Jorir hurried forward to examine the sickbed, such as it was, at the center. After a moment, he nodded. “All right, bring him here and lay him down.”
Einarr’s face was beginning to look waxy, and Jorir tamped down on the anxiety that tried to rise in his throat at his lord’s plight. “My lady, your song…?”
“Just barely hanging on,” Runa sang to the melody of the healing song. “His wounds we must cleanse, his wounds we must tie, or his fate shall we seal.”
“I was afraid of that. Well, men, that leaves the three of us to find what I’ll need for the poultice. I don’t suppose either of you knows herbs? Even just for rough field medicine?”
Erik and Irding both shook their heads no. Jorir had expected as much: his knowledge of herb craft made him something of an outlier on the crew. With a sigh, he moved on. “Fine. I will tell you how to find what I need, but I need the two of you to go find the plants on this floor and bring them to me while I prepare bandages and poultice.”
“Of course,” Irding answered, almost eagerly, before his father could open his mouth to say the same.
Jorir hummed. “Fine. First, I need yarrow. It will have feathery leaves and small white flowers that grow in a flat cluster at the top. See if you can find some plantago while you’re at it.”
Irding sputtered. “Plantago? Like the greens Mama used to cook?”
“The very same, as well as yellow touch-me-nots. That should at least get us started.”
Einarr groaned from his bed on the ground. Erik and Irding exchanged a look, then each went off in different directions to search the room. They, too, had found a fight it seemed: Jorir was simply thankful he had only one patient, on death’s door or otherwise, to tend to right now.
While they searched, Jorir turned his attention to the tools he had been provided. The mortar and pestle were solid stone and worn smooth, and thus would function quite well for bruising and crushing leaves. The mouth of the large pot came nearly up to Jorir’s waist, and was in fact filled with still-liquid honey. That fact alone said that this floor had been prepared specially for them. He should be grateful for that, he knew, but irritation smoldered in Jorir’s chest. This was his lord’s life that hung in the balance, after all!
Footsteps hurried up behind Jorir and he turned to see what had been found. It was Irding, carrying a fistful of stems with broad leaves. “Plantago, you said.”
Jorir nodded: it looked like the boy’s memory of the plant was good, at least. “Good. Now I can start the poultice. Whatever Erik is working on, go look for the other.”
Irding nodded and headed back out to search the potted plants. Jorir paid him no more mind once Irding’s hurried footfalls had faded to examine the plants. Instead, he painted a pair of the plantain leaves with honey and tossed those and two others into the mortar. Honey and plantain and touch-me-not to cleanse, plantain and yarrow to knit. Assuming the blade that made the cut had not been somehow tainted, of course, but such a tactic seemed underhanded even for Wotan. He just hoped they were in time.
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