Before there was the novel, there were the stories...

by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at

Saturday, August 22, 2009

New Stories: Calamities - Grave Condition II (Happened)

I am forced to say that the use of surgical techniques and medicines is of my own invention and should not be regarded as advice. If you get an arrow in the thigh, go to the emergency room. I did base this on research however, and it is as close to authentic to the era as possible.


Lawrence was vaguely aware of someone stroking his forehead with a cool, damp and fragrant cloth. He smiled and reached for the hand. When a female voice gasped, he opened his eyes to see a pale face surrounded by raven hair. He stared blearily. "Who? Where?"

The very slight woman sat back on a stool and gave the King an odd smile. "Who am I or who art thou?"

He thought a moment. "Thee."

"My name is Aelflynn. We are in Lord Jehan's manor in Grantham. You have been gravely ill." The look on her face was.. serious? Matter of fact? Unfriendly? The King could not decide. He noticed she did not call him "my lord". A small thing, but something that established relationships in their world.

"Aelflynn?" he responded. "Thou art Lord Jehan's lady?" Her clothing was not that of the lady of the manor, but Lawrence's wits were still befogged. His thigh throbbed and his throat was sore and raw.

The woman gave him that odd smile again. "Nay. I am but a country healer from his estate." This time she added, "My lord."

Lawrence looked around. They were in a small windowless chamber lit only by torches and a hearth. He seemed to be on a cot, and another cot lay against a perpendicular wall. There was little else in the room save for a table with various dried plants and tools on it.

The King put his palm to his forehead. "Healer. My leg… the arrow. The war?" he looked at her questioningly.

"'Tis over, my lord. But thou canst speak to Lord Jehan about that." Aelflynn stood and went to the table. She lifted a pitcher and poured an amber liquid from it into a cup. She brought it over to him. "Thou must drink this."

He tried to prop himself up and fell back to the pillow with a groan as a pain shot through his thigh. She shook her head, put her arm under his head and pulled it up so he could drink. He was shocked at the bitter taste. "What is that?" he complained.

She reached and put the cup back on the table. "'Tis what has kept thee alive these many days. Thou lost a great deal of blood thanks to continuing to fight with a grievous wound." She shook her head again.

"Days?! Lawrence cried and tried to pull himself up again. "My wife! The Queen! She must be told that I am well!"

Aelflynn pushed him back down gently but firmly. "Aye, well she hath been informed of thy wound. But not that thou art well. Thou art not well."

Lawrence cast miserable eyes around the room. "I must speak with Lord Jehan. Please, lady, bring him to me in haste." He was clearly frantic.

The pale woman nodded grimly, stood, made a slight effort at a curtsey, and left. Lawrence remained with his arm across his eyes, anguished at the thought that Josephine would be in Lincoln, suffering with fear at his injury.

Several minutes later, Lord Jehan returned with the strange woman trailing him. Jehan's face was filled with concern. He went to the King's side and knelt by him. "My lord, thou art awake! I am pleased to see thou art back in thy senses~"

Lawrence reached and took the man's hand. "Jehan, I thank thee for thy care in thy home. Tell me, what tidings of my wife? What hast thou sent to her about me? "

Jehan noticed that the King had not asked about the war or his wound or any other matter than his wife. He guessed that the woman had answered what questions she could, but he would find out later. "I have sent to Duke Lorin, my lord, and informed him of thy wound and thy dire condition."

Lawrence looked miserable. "Thou must send to him again immediately to tell him that I am in no danger."

Jehan looked at Aelflynn. She said to Lawrence, "But my lord, thou art still in danger. If we cannot strengthen thee soon, we risk the arrow causing thee serious damage. It may be in the bone."

Lawrence looked at her, incredulous. "The arrow? The arrow is still there?" He tried to lift his head to look down at his left thigh. Jehan prevented him from lifting his shoulders from the cot.

"Majesty, when thou fell from thy horse the arrow was driven in deep. We must wait until it is safe to remove it."

Lawrence protested, "But I live. " Then he looked at the woman, whose grim face communicated that his condition was still in question. He looked to Jehan and took his hand again. "Jehan, thou must write to Lorin anyway and tell him I am recovering. My wife is with child. She hath lost two children already. She must not be allowed to fear for me. Thou must tell her I am well and shall be with her soon."

Jehan looked resigned. "I shall do that if thou commands, but then what shall I do if thou falls more ill?"

Lawrence gave him a stern look. "Do it anyway. Now." Jehan nodded and bowed and left the chamber.

Aelflynn looked at the King. "Thou art putting him in an untenable position." He ignored her comment.

"What is my condition, lady?" he demanded.

She raised an eyebrow, then sat on the stool by his cot. "The arrow went in deep and may be lodged in thy thigh bone. We have not been able to remove it for fear that thou wouldst lose more blood. We must finish building up thy strength ere we can remove it. I fear infection if that is not soon. I have been giving thee drink that shall help thee grow more blood. Thou art young and a healthy man. If we can pull the arrow and clean deeper into the wound, thou shalt live and mayhap not lose thy leg."

Lawrence gazed at her grimly. "Thou art an honest woman. I thank thee."

Her answering smile was wan.

Lord Jehan wrote to Duke Lorin and sent a messenger with his letter immediately.

Your Grace,

The King is sensible once more, although still gravely ill. He hath commanded me to write to thee immediately to say that he is recovering. I know that I am defying his wish by writing the truth but methinks thou shouldst want to know it. He is in fear off the Queen's despair if she knows he is still in danger.

The woman Aelflynn is concerned that he hath not grown strong enough yet to pull the arrow, and that left in his leg it shall cause the tissues to fester and grow gangrenous. At best that shouldst result in his losing his leg to the hip. At worst he could die from blood poisoning.

The woman is a skilled and competent healer. I shall give her all she needs to see to it the King survives and is well.

He asks after the Queen and her child. Please send tidings of her well being.

Thy servant,

Lord Jehan de Grantham

Lorin's reply, which came in five days, was read to the King. He was not told that there had been two such messages, for one was for Jehan's eyes only that told the man he had done right and to tell the King only those tidings that would not vex him. Lord Jehan red the message for the King to him in Aelflynn' s presence.

"My liege, he says this, 'My dear brother and King, We have welcomed the tidings of thy recovery with great rejoicing. My sister hath been much comforted. She and the child are well. She doth wish to come to thee, but we have advised her against traveling so far. I know thou would agree with this. I have instructed Lord Jehan that he may call for any help he needs in ensuring thy full recovery.'"

The Kin was visibly reassured. He was able now to pull himself up a bit on his pillows. The chamber however had a sour smell. The wound was becoming infected. It gave him much pain. The woman told Jehan and him that they could no longer wait and must remove the arrow immediately or the wound would become rotten. Jehan set down the Duke's letter and looked at Lawrence.

"We must do this. Make whatever preparations are necessary," Lawrence said.

The woman spoke too quietly to the Lord for the king to hear. The man nodded gravely and left to send a servant for what she needed.

She came and sat by him and her look was not without compassion. "My lord, this shall be greatly painful. Thou mayst e'en fall into a faint. Thou art I know a brave man, but it serves no purpose not to call out if thou needest to."

He returned a grim smile to her. "What shall be done?"

Aelflynn cast down her eyes and Lawrence saw how dark and long her lashes were like spiders standing on a white tablecloth. "First we shall pull the arrow. If it is imbedded we may need to use a knife to dig it out. Then we must stop the bleeding and also clean the wound. Then we shall cauterize it, pack it and bandage it. I shall have to bandage it many times a day and night."

Lawrence nodded. "And how long until we know..": He looked into her pale eyes.

"Not long," she answered softly.

The servants came in with sheets, a small earthenware bottle, some material that looked like cobwebs, and a slender steel dagger. The King tried to hide his apprehension.

Aelflynn removed the blankets that were settled on his legs and hips. She drew up a short nightshirt exposing the wound to t he air. Lawrence saw the wound. It was red and swollen. There was a rank and disturbing odor. Then he saw the broken shaft of the arrow. His heart skipped a beat at the shock of it.

The woman took the sheets and had one of the servants raise the King's leg so she could place it under him. Lawrence gritted his teeth and suppressed a groan. The woman shot a disapproving look at him. "Cry out if you must," she commanded. The servants exchanged glances.

Aelflynn took a kettle from the hearth and poured boiling water over something in a bowl. She used a pestle to squeeze the water into the bowl's contents. Then she brought the bowl and a cloth over and wetted it to clean around his wound. She looked at one of the servants. "Put thy hands in that hot water and dry them. Then I want thee to grasp the shaft of the arrow and pull with all thy strength."

The man cleaned his hands in the stingingly hot water, then took the cloth she gave him and dried them. He came to the side of the cot and looked at Lawrence, "Begging thy pardon, sire?" He looked anxiously at the King who gritted his teeth and nodded.

"Wait," the woman said. She went to her table and looked for and found something. It was no more than a stick of wood. She brought it to the King and bade him put it between his teeth and bite down. "It will prevent thee from biting thy tongue or lips," she explained. He did as she instructed.

The servant then took hold of the stump of the arrow shaft. The King winced. The servant started to pull and Lawrence squeezed his eyes tight shut. The man had to put his foot against the side of the cot to get leverage. Pull as mightily as he could he could not budge the arrow.

Aelflynn looked at Jehan and sighed. We shall have to cut it out." Lawrence was already pale from the pain. The slim knife had been placed in the hearth fire and was now almost red with heat. Aelflynn retrieved it and came back to the King. She looked into his eyes. He nodded, put the stick in his mouth again, and shut his eyes again. Deftly the slender woman guided the knife into the wound and felt for the bone. The smell of burning flesh was pungent. The King's ability to bear the pain weakened and he began to moan. She felt the tip of the arrow where it was imbedded in the bone and with a neat twist she loosed it. She pulled on the shaft hard and with an awful squelching noise it came out. The King screamed. "That's it, Lawrence, that's it," she breathed.

As soon as she had tossed the bloody arrow to the side, she took the cloths she had at hand and pushed them into the wound to staunch the blood. She called to Jehan. "Come here and press on the wound with all your might."

When he took her place she went to prepare the next treatment. Jehan looked into the King's eyes, which were full of tears of pain. The stick had come out from between his teeth. Jehan started to reach for it and the woman shouted, "Both hands, I said press with all thy might!" The King looked at the man weakly.

Aelflynn came back and peeled up the side of the cloths and said, "Good, it is bleeding but the blood is clean. Move out of the way." She pushed her master to one side and knelt by the King again. She lifted the cloths and examined the wound. She made tut-tut sounds, then started to dab at the gaping hole with cloths soaked in her solution. The wound stung but it was so much less than the pain had been the King made no sound.

The woman took the stick and put it in Lawrence's mouth again. "This will be worse than before." He blanched but took the stick between his teeth and waited. She lifted a bowl that was at her side and poured an oily liquid onto the wound. It was boiling hot oil and Lawrence screamed aloud and nearly doubled from the pain. The woman quickly stuffed the wound with the cottony fiber and then dressed it with more clean cloths. She sat back on her heels and sighed.

Lawrence opened his eyes, which were dazed, and looked at her. She put her hand on his forehead, "It is well, my lord. The oil has cauterized the wound. It shall not bleed more and it shall not become more infected. Thou will live and I think keep the leg."

His eyes spoke deep gratitude. Then they closed and he fell into a stupor us sleep.

"Cover him warmly she commanded the servants. Sweat was on her pale brow.

Jehan asked her, "What was that spider web material you packed the wound with?"

She looked up at him with a smile. "Just that. Cobweb."

Next: Calamities - Grave Condition III

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About the author

Nan Hawthorne now writes under the name Christopher Hawthorne Moss. You can contact Christopher at .