Healers apprentice, p.1
Healer's Apprentice, p.1
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.
I woke as someone pressed a cup to my lips, dribbling water down my dry throat. Opening my eyes, I saw Cameron, who removed the cup and smiled. “It’s good to see you awake, Max.”
I frowned and struggled into a sitting position. Bright, sparkling lights filled my vision, and I raised a hand to my head. “What happened?”
Cameron sighed, putting down the cup. “The king tried to burn you at the stake, but you escaped, remember?”
Suddenly, I did remember, and glanced down at my legs, which were covered with a blanket. I glanced at my burned hands and arms, but found only angry red scars. Frowning, I touched my face. The skin was tender, but I could feel the burn scars there.
The healer put a hand on my shoulder. “You have been here for several months. I have kept you drugged so you were unaware of the pain.”
I frowned, lifting up the loose shirt I wore. More burn scars were on my stomach and chest. Swallowing hard, I started to lift up the blanket that covered my legs.
Cameron put a hand on the blanket, stopping me. He looked me in the eye and warned, “It isn’t a pretty sight, Max.”
I took a deep breath. “I must see.” Cameron hesitated, then nodded and removed his hand. I pulled the blanket off.
My legs were by far the most scarred. In addition to the angry red welts, several of my toes were missing, and part of my left leg was still wrapped in bandages.
Cameron gently pulled the blanket back up. “The scars will fade, in time.” He hesitated, then said, “Your parents are dead.”
“Of course they are,” I said, turning my head to the side to hide my tears. “I watched them burn, remember?” My voice broke, and I shoved my grief down to where I couldn’t feel it anymore.
Cameron was silent for a moment, before saying, “There were more executions of suspected traitors.” He continued in a softer tone, “Most of them were children.”
My jaw clenched as hatred began to stir in my heart. “How does a child commit treason?” I snarled. “I had never heard of the rebellion until my parents mentioned it a few months before being arrested. The king’s reaction to this is extreme.”
The healer nodded. “I agree with you.” There was silence for a minute, then he asked, “How do you feel about your parents’ deaths?”
I clenched my hand. “Hate,” I said finally. “Hate for the king.”
“And what are you going to do about it?”
I met Cameron’s serious blue eyes. “Revenge. He is going to pay for what he did to me. For what he did to my parents. And especially for those children he killed.” Cameron nodded approvingly, and I continued, “I will bring down the monarchy, strip the king of his post. He will never be able to hurt anyone ever again.”
The healer smiled. “I will help you. There is a position open in the castle, I have heard. They are looking for a new healer.”
“I am still your apprentice then?” The healer nodded, and I settled back into the bed sheets. Outwardly, I was calm, and only someone who knew me well would be able to see the burning hatred in my eyes.
Cameron studied me, then held out a cup. “It will take some time to get you into the healer’s position. You should spend that time regaining your strength after you have healed. Months lying in a bed have weakened you.”
Gritting my teeth, I sat up, then collapsed with a gasp as the half-healed burns on my chest were stretched with the movement. I took deep breaths, patiently waiting for the pain to recede. When it reached a bearable level, I slowly eased myself back up. The pain made tears come to my eyes, and my breath caught in my throat.
Once again, I waited for the pain to fade, then carefully eased my right leg off the bed. Taking a deep breath to brace myself, I eased my left leg over the edge and set it on the ground.
Surprisingly, this hurt less than my chest. Not surprising, I corrected myself. My nerves must be fried. I had seen the ugly burn on my leg when the healer had changed the bandages, and had nearly thrown up. Seeing it on other people didn’t make me sick, but seeing it on me did. That doesn’t make any sense, I thought, then took a deep breath.
“Here goes nothing,” I muttered, slowly rising to my feet. My knees trembled from the strain of holding the rest of me up, and a dull burning started in my legs. With a defiant growl, I took a few steps forward but collapsed as my strength failed me. An involuntary half-scream was torn from me when I landed, and I took deep breaths as I waited for the pain to fade.
It didn’t go away; at least, not completely. With gritted teeth, I heaved myself into a standing position. After taking a few steps, I reeled drunkenly into a wall, fighting the burning pain in my legs. Using the wall for support, I lurched from the room and into the hall.
Halfway down the hall there was a mirror. I hesitated. “Well, no use putting it off,” I muttered. “You’re going to see it sooner or later.” After taking a deep breath, I stepped in front of the mirror.
My face was badly scarred, and one side of my mouth was pulled down in a frown. Surprisingly, I still had eyebrows, although one was partially burnt at the end. I chuckled quietly, my lips twisting into a ghastly smile. “Worried about your eyebrows, are you?” I asked my reflection. “Those are the least of your worries.” In addition to the scars on my face, there was a ring of scars around my neck, and I touched them lightly. “Well, Max,” I whispered. “You certainly cheated death.”
There was an exclamation of surprise behind me, and I turned slowly to see the healer. “What are you doing?” he demanded, striding up to me.
I gestured at the mirror. “Checking my appearance.” I smiled, the scars twisting the expression hideously. “It is pretty ghastly, don’t you think?”
Cameron nodded, raising a hand to touch the scars around my neck, then he sighed. “You are only fifteen; you shouldn’t have to deal with this.” He helped me back to the bed.
I shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. We need to play the cards we are dealt, after all.” With a smile, I said, “I can frighten little kids now! Scare the hiccups right out of them!” Cameron eyed me doubtfully, and my smile turned into a grin. “Don’t you know that hiccups are one of the worst things you can have as a kid? A nightmare, really.”
Shaking his head, Cameron said, “Glad to see that you have found a sense of humor. Now lay down.”
“Yes, master,” I said as I complied. He handed a cup to me, which I drained before handing it back. A strange floating sensation filled me, and I frowned. “Did you drug me?” I asked, my words slurring. The healer nodded, and darkness slammed down.
Ever since the mirror incident, Cameron had kept me semi-conscious to make sure I stayed down until he judged that the burns were healed. For the first time in weeks, I could move without pain, and I swung my legs off the bed. As I looked at the scrawny limbs, I frowned and asked Cameron, “Will these even hold me up?”
Cameron studied my legs. “Probably not.” He turned to go, then glanced at me as I started to rise. “Stay right where you are,” he said, pointing at me.
I smiled and sat back down. “Yes, master.”
Cameron rolled his eyes, then vanished through the door. He returned a moment later with two bags. Putting them on the bed next to me, he said, “Those are filled with rocks. I want you to lift them thirty times with each hand, three times a day. When it becomes easy for you, I will add more weight.”
I picked up one of the bags, frowning as my arm trembled. “These are heavy.”
With a chuckle, Cameron said, “No, they are not. You only think that because your muscles have atrophied. You need to build them back up, or you will remain a cripple for the rest of your life.”
“Fun,” I muttered, hefting a bag again. “Just what I wanted to do.”
“Cut the sarcasm.”
I glared at Cameron. “I don’t think you would enjoy this any more than I do.”
Cameron nodded in agreement. “Probably not. I am also going to teach you a game.”
“Whoopee,” I muttered. “Just what I wanted.” The healer frowned and opened his mouth, but I sighed and said, “I know, I know. Cut the sarcasm. What’s the game?”
“Chess.” Cameron went over to a dresser in the corner and opened a drawer.
I frowned. “The game that that senile old man plays against himself?”
Cameron nodded as he walked back to me. There was a leather bag in one hand, a piece of wood with a checkerboard pattern in the other. “Yes, and that senile old man just happens to be one of the most brilliant men in history. And he is my close friend.”
Healer's Apprentice by H.M. Van Fleet / Actions & Adventure have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on20 votes