Prevot didn’t share my bed again during our journey to Galli’s estate. We hadn’t spoken or engaged in any way, but held each other until dawn when she snuck away again. I understood and only missed her presence for the comfortable closeness I’d needed so much. Tiago’s arm had made some improvement from the ointment, but I gathered it was not as much as expected, and I could tell Prevot was preoccupied with it, despite the façade she presented otherwise.
Two of our wagons broke wheels, which would have been exciting if not for our recent terrors. The fixes were relatively easy and we lost little time. When we were a day away, I sent Vana and another scout to herald our arrival. I wondered how we would be received, if at all – I expected the news of my identity would have traveled by now, too many people had been made aware and someone cunning could match my age and description.
Inside my tent, Tiago, Prevot, and I sat at my little table. Tiago was practicing his letters and mathematics under Prevot’s tutelage and I was stitching cross-weaves as Viscontessa Greco had urged me. I wasn’t sure what my image would be, but I aimed at a boat. No one had yet guessed this and I wasn’t keen to give away the surprise in case I learned it to resemble something more charming and erudite than I’d intended.
I looked up when the quiet turned sour. Prevot and Tiago were staring at Tiago’s arm, which rested on the table. He prodded it with his quill pen, leaving a dot of ink beside a couple of others. The bandage across his injury was large, but clean, only I now noticed that the rest of his skin was dry and patchy with slight red and brown coloring. His fingers were swollen. It was subtle enough to go unnoticed. But I should have noticed.
Prevot looked across at me and her eyes were stern and fearful. I slowly put down my craft and said, “Can you not feel that, Tiago?”
The boy looked at me with wide eyes. “No, Don. I only realized. It’s been hurting bad since the swamp, bog, excuse me Miss Emeline.”
“Has the poultice and medicine dulled the pain in any way? Made it worse?”
He hesitated. “No, Don. I have not noticed a difference.”
“Captain,” I said to Collo. I heard her slight shift beside the tent opening. “Do we have anyone medically inclined available?”
“We do, Don; I’ll fetch her.”
I smiled reassuringly at Tiago and said, “Why don’t you leave off your letters for now; I’ll pack away your things. Tuck your hand in your pocket and fetch yourself a sip of water before you get poked and prodded again.”
Tiago stood and bowed. He looked sheepish as he left and when I was sure he’d gone, I turned to speak, but Prevot won the race, “He’s going to lose that arm.”
“Something went wrong. Either the herbs weren’t right, weren’t fresh, I don’t know but it should have worked and it hasn’t and he’s going to lose it.”
“I swore I would keep him safe.”
“A lost arm is better than a lost life, Pietro.”
“Neither. It will ruin his grandmother, the Contessa De Santis. He’s her favorite grandson and if he loses his arm she will never forgive me.”
Prevot’s face was unreadable, but I sensed the fury bubbling behind her eyes. “He’s in pain. You should worry the now about my forgiveness.”
“That doctor was from a small town. Galli will have a better one on his estate. We’ll be there tomorrow.”
“And if he does, that doctor will perform an amputation,” Prevot warned.
The flap opened and Captain Collo ushered in a woman I recognized vaguely; I’d thought she was a hostler.
“Welcome,” I said politely. “In what manner did you receive your medical training?” I asked.
Prevot gave me a side-look and then turned away. The woman watched the exchange and said, “I’ve birthed a fair number of horses, my lord. And other livestock. Cared for them all m’life and learned herbs at my mother’s apron strings.”
I fought down my urge to send her away. “Have you ever encountered the untu’ik trees?”
She nodded slowly. “Their injuries, yes.”
“How many times?” Prevot asked from the wall of the tent.
“They both died,” I guessed.
“Yes. Does the boy know the seriousness of his injury?”
“No,” Prevot answered, rejoining me. Her arms were crossed tightly.
“Only when necessary,” I answered.
Tiago returned and greeted the hostler politely. “It’s Alessia, isn’t it?” he asked. “Forgive me if I’ve forgotten your surname.”
Alessia smiled. “It’s no matter, little lord. Let’s have a look about this, shall we?”
Tiago was resigned as he sat and unwound the linen, then laid his arm on the table. I had to stop myself from recoiling. What started as an insect bite had turned to a pustulent, miasmic horror of gray and yellow. The skin was necrotic and I imagined it would soon slough away and reveal diseased and decaying muscles and tendons at any moment. I waited for a smell to reach me, but I was lucky. The adults were working hard to maintain their calm, myself included. I looked hard at Prevot and she stared back as if to say You never asked.
Alessia used a cloth to cover her finger as she poked and prodded as promised. Tiago answered her few questions easily, as undisturbed as we were disturbed; I wondered what he thought of it. There’d been no war in his years, and I couldn’t imagine he’d seen anyone wounded and dying. What would a child know of the severity of injury? Especially if he was assured it was fine?
It’s only pain, after all.
Tiago was excused to prepare for sleep. Alessia looked up at me. “The infection has spread.”
“Near his shoulder, but not yet into the bone. Probably.”
I sat heavily even as Prevot stood and stalked back to her place near the tent wall.
“What’s to be done?” I asked.
Alessia stood and put the cloth she’d used against the wound up to the candle flame. We watched it sputter and burn and I found my irritation rise; I didn’t want it to go out. I looked at her as the thought formed and she was already waiting for my gaze.
“Nothing at all?” I asked softly.
“He’s got days, maybe,” she said. “I can’t do it, but I expect the estate tomorrow can. They’re used to noble amputations. And at least it isn’t his sword arm.” She bowed and left.
Prevot joined me at the table. I had my fingers laced to hide the macabre dancing of my right hand; it rarely seemed to stop unless I concentrated.
“Will you tell him, or shall I do that?” she asked.
I didn’t answer.
“Good night, Pietro.”
August 30, 2021