Healer's Apprenticeby H.M. Van Fleet / Actions & Adventure
A novella by H.M. Van Fleet
Copyright 2015 H.M. Van Fleet
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Dedicated to Rebecca F. Wells for encouraging me to write. To my parents for their support all along the way. And to my husband for putting up with me through the best and worst of times.
“Insurrection is the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensable of duties.”
–Marquis de LaFayette
Table of Contents
About the Author
Preview of the Sequel
I swung my legs out of bed, feeling slightly nauseous. Today was my fifteenth birthday; the day I chose my craft. I already knew what I wanted to do, but the thought of rejection made my stomach clench with dread.
After getting dressed, I made my way to the kitchen. I ate a rather tasteless bowl of porridge, then followed my father as he exited the house and walked to the healer’s house at the other end of the town.
I stepped up to the door, glancing back at Father. He nodded encouragingly, so I took a deep breath and knocked. After a moment, the door was opened by the town’s healer, Cameron. Cameron was a kind, widowed man in his late thirties. His light brown hair, dark blue eyes, and cheerful disposition made him quite popular with the residents of my town. I still wasn’t altogether sure about him; the only time I had talked to him was when he had straightened my broken arm. It had hurt.
Cameron smiled at me. “Hello. What can I do for you?”
I licked my lips nervously, glancing at Father again. “I would like to be your apprentice.”
“Come in, then.” Cameron waved goodbye to my father, shutting the door behind me. “What is your name?”
“Max.” I glanced around the healer’s home. “What do you want me to do?”
“I knew you were coming, so I put together some things for you to do to see if you really want to be my apprentice.” Cameron led me to his kitchen, where there were piles of different types of plant leaves.
“What are these?” I asked, fingering one of the leaves.
“Herbs that are used to make medicines and salves.” Cameron named all of the herbs, then picked up what looked like a wooden peg. Putting some leaves together, Cameron started to crush them with the wooden tool. He turned to me, holding out the tool. “You try.”
After wielding the tool awkwardly for a few seconds, I started getting faster, and turned to smile at Cameron. “This is fun.”
“Good.” Cameron walked over to another door, beckoning. “Come. The books you will study are in here.”
I groaned quietly before following. I hated studying, but knew that it was one of the only ways I could learn.
“Max!” my mother called. “Supper’s ready!”
I sighed and shouted back, “Coming!” Gently, I washed the wound on the dog’s leg with a wet cloth. When it was clean, I smeared an herbal poultice on the cut, then bandaged it. I stroked the dog and fondled its ears, then went inside our small home to wash my hands.
Father smiled at me. “How was your day?”
My mother sat next to Father after placing food on the table. She looked at me. “Do you like the healer?”
I nodded, dishing myself some food. “Yes. I love being his apprentice. I love helping people.” I had been his apprentice for a few weeks, and had helped Cameron with several of his patients.
Mother smiled. “That’s good. You will make a great healer someday.”
I ducked my head to hide my embarrassment, stuffing a forkful of food in my mouth to avoid talking. The meal progressed in silence, then Mother asked Father, “How is Ella doing?”
Father wiped his mouth with a napkin and shrugged. “Fine. She really enjoys being lady-in-waiting to the queen.”
She would, I thought, concentrating on my food. Ella was nineteen, four years older than me. She loved pink bows and dresses, flowers and make-up. Father’s voice jerked me back to the present.
“…unrest in the kingdom.” Father looked grim. “There is talk of a civil war, a revolt to throw down the monarchy.”
“Why would people do that?” I asked.
Father shrugged. “Who knows?”
“The king has done some things that the people don’t like,” Mother said, reaching over the table to take my hand.
Father glanced at her. “I don’t think we should talk about this with him. He is only fifteen.”
I glanced from one parent to the other. “I’m not a child. I think I can handle it.” My parents shared a glance, and my eyes narrowed. “You aren’t thinking of joining, are you?”
“Of course not,” Mother said with a smile. It looked forced.
She’s lying, I thought, but nodded and returned my attention to my food. What are they planning?
Several months later, pounding came from the door. Father frowned, putting away the knife he was honing. Mother looked up from her sewing, frowning as well. I put down the book the healer had loaned me and opened the door.
Four soldiers wearing the king’s colors stood on the doorstep. “Can I help you?” I asked, perplexed.
The soldiers glanced at each other, then one said, “Your family is accused of treason, and will be executed immediately.”
I frowned, but before I could do anything, the soldiers rushed into the house and grabbed Father and Mother. One of them grabbed me, and we were all dragged out onto the street. Father struggled in his captors’ arms, but it did no good. Mother was screaming.
We were dragged to the castle’s courtyard where there were more soldiers and weeping citizens. A hooded man carrying an axe was at one end of the courtyard, and posts were in the other. There was a gallows in the center.
The king himself stood on the castle walls, looking down on the courtyard. His deep voice boomed in the hush that only the women’s weeping broke. “You have been arrested for your treasonous actions, and will be executed immediately.”
I watched in horror as the soldiers divided everyone into three groups. Some went to the axman, others went to the gallows, and the group I was in went to the poles. Men, women, and children were tied to the poles, and wood was piled at their feet before being doused with coal tar. A soldier touched a flaming torch to the tar-covered wood, and it burst into flames.
I doubled over, vomiting. The king was going to kill everyone here, even the children. How does a child commit treason? Behind me, I could hear the trap doors swinging and the axe whistling down, and dared not look. Closing my eyes, I jammed my fingers into my ears to block out the terrible screams of the people being burned alive. When the screams stopped, the fires were put out and new people were tied to the poles.
I sobbed, trying to block out their screams, but it was no use. When my family’s turn came, Mother cried for mercy but was ignored. Glancing over, I saw a young woman clutching a baby. She screamed as flames licked her skin, clutching her baby closer.
I looked away, nauseated. What kind of despicable beast would murder a baby?
On either side of me, Mother and Father cried out and writhed as the wood at their feet was set ablaze. A soldier stepped in front of me, holding a torch, and I knew it was my turn.
The soldier started to lower the torch, then hesitated. He glanced at me, and I saw deep self-loathing and disgust in his gaze. He hesitated, then quickly scooped up a dollop of tar, smearing it on the ropes that bound me. Then he touched the torch to the wood.
Every muscle in my body went rigid, and I cried out, tears streaming down my face. The acrid smoke made my eyes burn, and the heat dried the tears. The tar that the soldier had smeared on the ropes caught on fire, and I struggled. The ropes, weakened by the flames, snapped, and I lurched forward. My foot caught on the wood, making it roll on top of me. Burning tar fell on my neck and face. I frantically wiped it off, screaming, not caring that it burned my hands further.
Once most of the tar was off, I struggled to my feet and started running to the gate. No soldiers followed me.
“Get up, lad,” a quiet, earnest voice said. “You mustn’t be found.”
I groaned, opening my eyes a slit as the voice pulled me from unconsciousness. The soldier who had helped me crouched by my side, concern shining in his eyes. I groaned again, then tried to sit up, but the pain from my torso and legs forced me back down. “I can’t.”
The soldier glanced at me legs, wincing. Shouting came from the courtyard, and fear filled the man’s eyes. Swiftly, he picked me up and ran to the town.
Pain flared from the burns with every jolting step. I struggled to stay conscious. When the soldier stopped running, I forced my eyes open and recognized the healer’s house. The last thing I remember was the healer’s cry of horror.