Tag: purifying herbs

5.26 – Poultice

Runa’s song had become little more than a buzzing in the background of Jorir’s attention as he bruised the honeyed leaves in the mortar and prayed the other two would hurry up.

At least Lord Einarr didn’t seem to be growing any worse now. Given enough time, the song magic could probably handle it. Only, they didn’t have that much time. Einarr needed to be back on his feet before they approached their goal, or they might not make it out. At least, Jorir didn’t think any of them would be willing to leave him behind. Even Irding, though new to the crew, seemed to have taken to the Captain’s son.

“Feathery leaves and flat flower clusters, right?”

Jorir nearly jumped out of his skin at Erik’s sudden voice behind him. “Right.”

“There aren’t any white ones, but I found some that are kind of pink?”

He turned around to see the big man holding a pot with the flower he spoke of and rolled his eyes. “Yes, also yarrow. Let me clip some before you take it back. Irding should be looking for the touch-me-nots. …See if you can’t find some woundwort, while you’re at it.”

Finally. That was two of the three plants he needed. If the wound were less grievous, he might try to poultice with just these elements. Under the circumstances, though, Jorir thought it better to be safe. He pinched the yarrow stems and scraped the tiny leaves into his mortar and returned to mixing.

Minutes passed, and still no touch-me-nots. Jorir looked up from his task in irritation. He didn’t think he could wait much longer to apply the poultice – both for the potency of the herbs and the state of his Lord.

On the far side of the room, Erik and Irding appeared to be arguing at a whisper over two plants with yellow flowers – neither of which looked like a touch-me-not from this distance. With a growl, he stood up and hefted the heavy mortar.

“What is taking you so long,” he growled as he approached the two. “…Are you seriously arguing over a buttercup and a goldenrod? Neither of those are what I sent you for.”

Irding frowned down at the goldenrod he had in his hand. “Not a whole lot of yellow flowers out here.”

How does anyone not know a touch-me-not? “It looks like a drinking horn with a wide mouth. Next thing I know you’ll bring me wolfsbane for woundwort!”

“Wolfsbane I know,” Erik rumbled.

“That’s something, anyway. Hurry it up a bit: the longer this takes, the worse it gets.” Jorir turned and walked back towards his Lord on his sickbed.

“So… what does woundwort look like?” Irding’s voice carried across the floor.

Jorir could not suppress a growl. “It’s a small plant. Little cones at the top covered with purple petals. Just bring the whole pot, if you find it.”

Sounds of affirmation followed Jorir back to the center of the room, but he was not hopeful. Oh, they would try, certainly, but he rated their odds as low. He returned to pulverizing the concoction with somewhat more force than before.

“Ha!” Erik’s voice boomed across the room. Not many moments later, a pair of touch-me-not stems appeared on the floor at Jorir’s knee. “Those, yes?”

“Yes, those.” Jorir breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you. Any luck on the woundwort?”

“Still working on it.”

“Fine. This will do for the moment, but keep looking.” He plucked the flowers off the stems and tossed them into the mortar.

Runa was beginning to look tired, but the paste was finally ready. Jorir turned to his patient: Einarr still looked waxy, and his breathing was labored, but finally Jorir had something to help the body along. He met Runa’s eye. “I’m going to untie his bandage now.”

She nodded, and Jorir’s fingers moved to the sodden knot of cloth that had kept Einarr from bleeding out long before. He tugged once, then twice, and all he elicited was a groan from the patient. Shaking his head, Jorir took his eating knife from his belt and sliced the strip near the knot.

Once the cut was uncovered, and it was a long one, blood welled slowly up. Too slowly for Jorir’s liking, but at least it still flowed. He began to dab the sticky mixture across the red gash in his Lord’s side. As he went, the redness faded from the skin almost immediately, as mind and body went to work knitting the flesh with fresh resources. It was incredible healing, even considering the song at work.

Jorir had treated perhaps half the wound when Irding appeared at his side. “Is this the woundwort?”

The dwarf glanced up at the young man. “That’s a thistle.”

“Why would an herb-witch want thistle?” Irding’s confusion was audible as he wandered back into the room in search of the otherwise common herb. Jorir allowed himself a smirk: it would be a good question, in an ordinary herb-witch’s hut. Here, though, where they were obviously being tested?

Jorir neared the end of the gash and his paste at once. Soon he would have to test whether that stack of muslin was suitable for bandages: he hoped it was. The tester seemed to have given them the materials they would need, so long as they could make use of them.

Einarr groaned again and his eyelids fluttered. Jorir nodded as he dabbed on the last of the paste: remarkable vitality on that one, and a good head on his shoulders. A worthy lord, even if perhaps a little fragile. He laid one of the pieces of muslin down across the wound. As he pressed it into place, a white glow caught his eye. What might that be… a feather? He shook his head. Time enough to ask Einarr about it after he was bandaged.

With a groan, Einarr’s eyes finally opened. “Uh? Hello. Would someone mind telling me why I have straw stabbing into my back?”


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5.25 – Infirmary

“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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5.3 – Medicinal Bath

Three paces outside the door of the hall his tune trailed off and he stopped, now seeing what was in store for them.

Set up in the Hall yard were two large wooden tubs on a platform over a bonfire. Steam rose up into the midsummer morning, and the air smelled strongly of peppermint and lavender. It was true that Einarr had wanted a bath for weeks now. For all that these were washing tubs, however, this looked more like a scalding pot.

The plump Matron looked up from her nalbinding and hailed him with a smile. “Good morning!”

“I think that my companions and I should make a poor meal, honored Amma.”

To her credit, and Einarr’s relief, she laughed. “You’ll not be cooked unless you stay in too long. ‘Tis a bath, but for the herbs to work it must be hot.”

“More purification?”

“As much as we can do. The corruption has had long to work on your men: we must drive it back as hard and as fast as we can if you are to succeed in your quest.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow. This was the first any such quest had been mentioned to him, although that there would be one did not surprise him.

“Well, up you go. There are baskets above for your things.”

When he stepped over the side of the tub, it was as though someone had brewed medicinal tea in a hot spring. The fragrance filled his nose and threatened to make him cough, it was so strong. Still, he thought he would prefer not to grow tentacles, and so he breathed shallowly until he could grow used to the odor. His feet turned pink almost immediately, but too hot or not he intended to take full advantage.

Barri and Sivid emerged from the hall as he was scrubbing his arms. By the thunderstruck look on both their faces, he knew exactly what they were thinking. “Good morrow! Come on in, the water’s fine.”

“Are you sure we’re not being softened up for a pudding?” Sivid asked as he climbed the platform.

Einarr belly laughed. “Would you eat something that smelled like this?”

Barri coughed. As eloquent a response as Einarr could hope for, he laughed again.

***

All nine of their party had been steeped and scrubbed before the sun had crested the forest canopy, and with Runa returned to them they fell to the morning’s porridge with berries and cream. That was when the oaken crone took her seat at the head of the table – although Einarr noted that she was not eating. For a time, she merely sat in silence.

Impatient, Einarr broke her reverie between bites. “I understand there’s some sort of quest you require of us?”

She pressed her lips into a thin line and looked flatly at Einarr. “Yes. I suppose Saetild said something this morning?”

“Is that her name? The cheerful, plump one? We haven’t actually been introduced to any of you.”

The oaken crone sighed, the sound like rustling leaves. “Quite.”

“So? What sort of horrific danger do I have to face in order to save us all from the corrupted blood of the cult that kidnapped Runa?”

Now it was the crone’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Rather cynical for one so young.”

“Honored Amma. My year began with the issuance of a purportedly impossible quest by Jarl Hroaldr after our ill-conceived attempt to elope, during which I had to not only avoid the giant’s notice, but also fight his dog and his dwarf. We both know I’m going to have to take the quest, so let’s not mince words about what I’m getting myself into.”

She lowered her head and pinched the bridge of her nose. “There is an order to these things, but since it has already been breached…”

She took a deep breath before continuing. “Some ways to the east of here, a tower sits upon a solitary rock jutting up out of the sea. From the water, you cannot see the top of this tower, but birds constantly flock about it, for it is the Tower of Ravens. It is said that Huginn and Muninn make their homes there when their master does not have need of them.”

Einarr looked at her as he continued to eat. So far, this didn’t sound too terrible.

“At the top of the tower, under the protection of Huginn, Muninn, and their guards, is a distaff made of hazel wood and inlaid with ivory: the Őrlögnir.”

Einarr nearly choked on his porridge while the other Vidofnings failed to suppress a laugh. “I need a magical what now?”

“A distaff – you know, like your Mamma used to keep fibre untangled while she spun?”

“Yes, I know what a distaff is. How is that supposed to help us here, with the cult or the corruption or anything?”

The oaken crone had the pained look of someone forced to explain matters to a particularly dull child. “What did I say it was made of?”

“Hazel and ivory.”

“Very good. And what are the properties of hazel and ivory?”

“I’m supposed to know that, how?”

“Gah!” She threw a hand up above her head. “Do they teach our warriors nothing? Hazel for wisdom and purification, ivory for purity. Applied correctly, the Őrlögnir can break any curse or purify any corruption. Now do you see?”

“…I think I’m beginning to.”

“Good. I recommend you prepare yourself. The sooner you leave to seek the Tower, the more of your crewmen you can save.”

More questions rushed to Einarr’s lips, but the oaken crone was already striding stiffly out of the room. He turned to Reki, his eyebrows raised questioningly.

“Ask me this afternoon. I must go before the Conclave with Sivid now, to haggle.”

Einarr suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. “Of course. Good luck.”

Reki nodded, her mind already on what she might say to persuade the crones, as Einarr tried to get an answer out of Runa – only to discover that she, too, had left the room at some point over breakfast. Einarr sighed in exasperation and shoved another spoonful of porridge in his mouth.


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If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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