A professional comes by to check on the injured great-hauler.
Two days later, Saxo staggered along from the grain-shed to the food mixer. The sack felt as large as he was. Mistress Carys waited by the machine. She’d already put green hay into the mixing box. “Saxo! That’s Huw’s job, not yours.” She planted her fists on narrow hips. “Where’s Huw?”
“Helping Master Agri, ma’am. They are training the new lead female, and Huw told me to bring this to you.” And do all the other things that needed to be done. “All in, or just part, ma’am?”
She pursed her lips, then murmured something firm-sounding as she helped him up the short ladder. She handed him the blunt awl they used to unstitch the top of sacks. “Half. Otherwise I can’t turn the crank. You need to watch the mix. The hay is very wet.”
“Yes, ma’am.” It might clog the paddles, and someone needed to catch it before the machine locked up. He poured in the grain, working it back and forth in an even layer. Mistress Carys took the half-empty sack, and handed him the slender eich rod they used to break up clumps. “Thank you, ma’am.”
She rubbed her hands together, took a firm grip on the handle of the crank, and began to turn the paddles. She was stronger than she looked, but she gritted her teeth as the wooden paddles began to churn the grain and hay together, breaking up the hay and softening the grain. Saxo watched, poked a lump, then bumped some hay back down into the middle of the box. Mistress Carys kept working, her upper body rocking up and down as she cranked.
“Greetings in the name of the Lord of Beasts,” a cheerful voice called, but quietly. Mistress Carys kept cranking, so Saxo waved to Master Jeaspe. The beast healer wore the brown and red robes of Yoorst over thick brown trousers and very sturdy boots. The priest came closer. “Mistress Carys, why are you doing that? That’s work for a man.” He smiled, teasing a little.
She stuck her tongue out as she straightened up. “And greetings to you, too. Because my husband is trying to convince a new female to act as lead. Saxo, please show Master Jeaspe the ailing bird.”
“Yes, ma’am. This way, sir.” Saxo leaned the rod against the outside of the wooden mixing box, climbed down the ladder, and led the beast-healer to the gelding’s pen.
“What ails the bird, Saxo?”
“I think he was stung, or bitten, or got a bramble in his leg, sir. It swelled around a white-centered lump, and felt hot to the touch. He favored that leg.” Saxo started to open the gate to the pen.
Master Jeaspe held up one hand, stopping him. “Let me see from here, first.” Saxo stepped well clear of the gate and waited. The gelding strode over to study the beast healer, turning his head from one side to the other. The gelding’s eyes were bright and clear, and his long neck had no swellings or missing feathers—the warning signs of throat-apple. The gelding moved better, and the swelling on his injured leg had gone down by at least half. The bird blinked, then turned and walked over to get a drink. The healer said, “He looks almost well. I’ll check him now.”
Saxo opened the gate, then closed it once more when Master Jeaspe entered the pen. The healer made soothing noises as he approached the gelding. The healer’s head was almost as high as mid-neck on the great-hauler, even though he didn’t look that tall. Or was the gelding smaller than most? Saxo hadn’t noticed before. As the healer hummed, Saxo felt himself relaxing like the bird did.
The gelding blinked and turned, presenting his injured leg to the beast healer. Master Jeaspe called quietly, “Saxo, what did you use in the poultice?”
“Betony, clary root, lumpwort, and one leaf of stinging stem, pounded with cold water,” he recited. “Goodwife Eadburg said to rub it in line with the hair. I put it on with a cloth, not my hand, and ran down the feathers, not against.”
Saxo blinked as the man held his right hand just above the injury. He saw something, maybe a little reddish brown glow? Master Jeaspe nodded and inspected the leg, still making soothing sounds. The gelding remained calm, crest feathers relaxed, wings still. The beast healer straightened up and eased back with slow, smooth steps. He kept his eyes on the gelding until he reached the gate. Saxo opened it once more, and the healer eased out.
“It was a thorn. Here.” He held out his hand, revealing a black-thorn spike as long as the top joint on Saxo’s little finger. “Your poultice drew it out as well as keeping the healing humors in. You did very well, Saxo.”
Saxo looked down at the dirt. “Thank you, sir.”
“Well? How bad’s the injury?” Master Agri demanded, stomping up to them. Huw followed behind, holding one arm. Dirt covered Huw’s sleeve, and Saxo hid a wince. The female had kicked him, or nipped. Probably kicked, since the fabric wasn’t torn.
“It could have been very bad.” Master Jeaspe showed the others the thorn. “These have a poison in their nature. Saxo’s poultice drew out the poison with the thorn and cooled the heat. Another day, and you can use the gelding for light work. Don’t ask him to pull a full load until after the next Eight Day.”
“Huh.” The bird breeder glared at Saxo. “So the boy’s got a knack. Good to know.”
Master Jeaspe folded his arms. “Who are your gods, Saxo?”
“Born for Yoorst, born to Korvaal, although the priest wasn’t sure on that,” Master Agri said. “Priest thought he might be born to Scavenger, depending on if he was born before or after noon.”
The healer frowned and rubbed his chin. “Saxo, have you ever had temple training?”
Master Agri jumped in before Saxo inhaled to speak. “No need, Master Jeaspe. He’s a charity child, so he can read names and numbers, and count. He doesn’t need more than that.” The healer’s frown grew deeper, and the farmer added, “Does he? Did the law change?”
Master Jeaspe glanced to Saxo, then Huw, and back to Master Agri. “Not the law. He may have the gift for herb healing, and that needs to be trained. The Great Northern Emperor has reaffirmed the decree that all gifts are to be trained, even if the bearer does not use them again. If Saxo has the gift, he needs to learn how to use it properly, so he doesn’t accidentally do more ill than weal.”
Saxo risked a glance at Huw. The older boy’s face had folded into a ferocious scowl, anger burning in his dark green eyes. What was wrong? Suddenly Saxo remembered. The feed mill! Mistress Carys needed him at the feed mill. Saxo bowed and hurried back to the machine. He shouldn’t have stayed with Master Jeaspe. “I’m sorry, Mistress Carys,” he called as he slid on the dirt. Two baskets of mixed feed needed to be moved. “I won’t forget again.”
“You didn’t forget. The beasts come first, and you’d gotten all the lumps out for me. Move the full baskets to the barn, and I’ll load these two.” She nodded to the two full containers of fresh feed.
“Yes, ma’am.” Saxo wrestled one off the ground and staggered with it to the barn, then returned for the second one. A third waited by the time he finished. They were more bulky than heavy, but even so, he felt tired when he finished moving the fourth basket. “I’ll get more fresh hay.”
She stopped him with a raised hand and a small frown on her round face. “No. Rinse your hands and break your fast. I know you didn’t eat what I sent, so do it now.”
Thanks be to Gember! “Yes, ma’am.”
He rinsed his hands, then bolted the food and followed with several gulps of water. The heavy, sausage-smeared bread filled the hole inside him. He trotted to the hay pile and grabbed an armload. He’d learned how much he could carry without wasting any. He hurried back to the feed grinder and climbed up the ladder. Mistress Carey steadied it, and him, as he dropped the hay in the box. He made sure it was evenly spread, then ran back to the pile and got a second load. He’d finished, and was adding the last of the grain by the time Master Agri and Huw finished their business.
Huw’s left arm looked fatter. “That’s why you need to watch the crest feathers,” Master Agri reminded him. They start going flat, and you hear that hiss, you need to either get clear or step so close the bird can’t put force in the blow.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll never forget, sir,” Huw assured the beast-raiser. He sounded tired. Saxo looked away, picking up the eich rod and pretending he had not seen or heard.
“Go rest,” their master ordered. Huw bowed, sort of, and staggered a little as he went to the barn. Once he’d left, Master Agri growled, “Of all times to get kicked. Just a muscle bruise, but a bad one. Master Jeaspe agreed to ease it, then applied something to pull out the heat.”
Saxo bit his tongue to keep from making a sound. That meant Huw couldn’t do even the little things until he healed. It wasn’t fair. Everyone knew you stayed far away or very close to an untrained great-hauler, or one that acted agitated. Well, Radmar had turned His Wheel, and Yoorst only know what Huw had done, or not done, to irritate the young female.
(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved