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

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New Stories: A Healer Visits Caithness (Happened)

The healer, Eormenthryth.. read airmen-thrith... is based on my good friend Lori Rael Northom. She told me to tell you not to try the healing method at home. No actually, she didn't. I am saying that, just to cover my assets.

he queen and Larisa looked up as the door to the nursery chamber came open. Lord Elerde had his hand upon the door handle and was leaning in holding it open for a striking woman carrying a huge basket covered with a cloth.

It was the healer Eormenthryth whose skill had so impressed the queen that any churchmen who sought to discredit or stop her plying her pagan arts made no headway in their plans. She bustled in with an intense look of concern, not looking to the right or left as she made her way to where Josephine sat by Caithness’s pallet.

Josephine’s face relaxed as she watched the older woman kneel and start to examine the little girl. Eormenthruth was of an indeterminate age. She might be 40 or she might be 60, Her pale hair could be white or it could be the color of sand on a beach. She did not wear it covered, as Christian women were expected to, but wore it loose and long down her back. She dressed plainly in simple woolens but was bedecked in strange and fascinating jewelry. Her face was lined but every line bespoke kindness and mirth. Most of all Josephine liked the woman’s manner. She was direct, candid and not in the least subservient to anyone, not even the king. She remembered a few of the times Eormenthruth had asked for an audience with Lawrence and the look on his face as she told him off about something or another in no uncertain terms.

“Has the lass been feverish long?” the healer asked as she felt the child’s face, smoothed back her damp curls, and gave the chamber a quick assessing look. “Why are you all cooped up in here? The weather is hot and fine.”

Josephine sighed. “We are kept in here by the duke who has taken the fortress.. and the kingdom, truth be told. And Caitie started looking tired and hot sometime during the night.”

Elerde started to bow his way out. “I will take your leave if I may…” he said quietly, but Eormenthryth put up a hand to stop him.

“Nay, soldier, you stay here. I may need to send you for something.” She went back to examining Caitie.

Josephine cast an amused look at the man, whose own eyebrows had shot up. He looked back at the queen with a questioning shrug, to which she nodded. “Sit, Elerde,” the queen said, then returned her attention to the pallet. The warrior looked about for a chair and found space on a bench. Peter quickly came over to him, while Tavish, one finger in his mouth, stood some way apart and stared at the man. Elerde’s eyes softened and he smiled at both boys as well as their baby sister Elaine.

“Caitie's sick,” Peter stated in a matter of fact tone. “We can't play with her.”

The broad chested, broad shouldered mercenary smiled and nodded to the boy, putting a gloved hand on the child's shoulder. "She will get better now, God willing."

The healer sniffed derisively at the words while meticulously going through the little girl’s fair hair, darker now with her sweat. She muttered, "Your God didn't keep her from getting sick." She frowned and held up between her thumb and forefinger a tiny flea for the queen to see. “It is well you rid this place of rushes. The cleaner you can make this room the fewer places these creatures can find to hide. Why have not these children been washed. Her hair is filthy.”

Josephine glanced at Larisa whose horrified look said everything. “We have not had much water to wash with. We have only had one change of clothing in all this time.”

The healer looked up at her with a look in her eyes that spoke of complete puzzlement. “Why?”

Josephine said firmly, “We are prisoners, Goodwoman, did you not know this.”

The woman looked thoughtful and then replied, “I suppose I must have. That would explain much of the strangeness in the town. But what of the king… well , no matter. The child needs cleaning, clean clothes, cool water and many other things.” She paused and then looked up sharply at Elerde. Is this your doing, foreigner?”

Elerde lifted his hands from his knees and gave the woman a flustered look, his face going slightly pink.

The queen glared at the man, then in a chiding tone said to him, “The foreigner is going to see to it we have what we need. Is he not?”

“Good. Then you can start by sending for a tub,, but heat the water for it outside. This chamber is hot enough. Get cool clean water.. and also some rich meat broth. Get clean linens and a clean shift for the child. And we need to move the other children to somewhere else..”

The queen said quietly but firmly, “We cannot. The children must not be separated from me..”

Eormenthryth looked as if she would argue, but the tone of the queen’s voice convinced her not to. “Well, you know best, I suppose.” She looked at Elerde. “What are you waiting for?”

Elerde leapt to his feet and made a short bow and left the room.

“You,” the healer said to Larisa, “take down those draperies and we will have that foreign man put them up to make a separate place for the girl. I think she will want to rest her eyes.” She leaned to Caitie who was looking at her bleary eyed and miserable. “Do your eyes hurt, baby?”

The little girl nodded and then put her hand on her forehead. Hurts.”

“What hurts, dearest?” the healer asked.

“Here.” Caitie started to cough from the exertion of speaking. It was a dry, hacking cough. Her eyes welled up and she started to cry which made her cough the more.

“Oh dear, fever and cough. “ Eormenthryth sat back as Larisa lifted the child and the queen pulled the sheets and her nightshift off. The healer reached for the child, cradling her and inspecting her for skin eruptions. “I want you to send for me at once if she gets a rash or any other change like that.”

Josephine asked , “Would that be serious?”

The healer said, “Not for cert√ęs, but it shall help me know what to do for her.”

A servant came bustling in with linens and clothing. “Take this pallet out and bring a new one with fresh straw.” The woman jumped to follow the healer’s command, thrusting the linens into the queens arms.

“My lady, I know not how to hang these cloths…” Larisa began.

Just then Elerde returned, moving aside quickly as the servant took out the pallet. . “Oh, good,” Josephine remarked. “We need to put up hangings to make a dark warm space for Caithness.”

Elerde looked at the ceiling over the spot where the child’s pallet had been, then at the hangings on the wall. “I will fetch some tools and better hangings.” He turned and left.

Josephine put the bundle of linens down and took Caithness into her own arms. The child lay against her shoulder, her lassitude evident, and breathed rapidly. Josephine kissed her head, and she began to hum quietly and rock back and forth. Caithness closed her eyes and seemed to drift to sleep.

The healer got up on her feet stiffly, fetched her huge basket and brought it over to the floor next to a tiny table which had sat by the pallet. She began to take an assortment of items from it. Peter from his place standing partway across the room asked, “What is that stuff? It stinks.”

Eormenthryth glanced up sideways from her bent posture over the table. “It is herbs and salves and liquors and other magickal stuff”

“Oh,” replied the small fair haired boy.

Josephine smiled. “It is well that Father Llaenawc is not here. He would not care for the √¶theling being told you have magic.”

“He can say what he wants. They work, and the child’s life and comfort are more important than his notions. My gods have been around much longer than his.” The healer shook her head as she spoke. She set some bunches of fresh plants on the table along with a pottery flask and some jars covered with linen tied with cord. She reached deeper in the basket and removed a small earthenware pot. “Can you get some water boiled?” she asked Larisa, who had gone over to the side of the chamber where Tavish and Elaine huddled together on one of the pallets.

Larisa looked at the queen. “Go out and get someone to bring a brazier and coals. Mayhap you can get some word of your beloved, my brother, when you are out. We will be fine.”

Larisa wrung her hands but bustled out of the room after a promise to the children that she would return quickly. Tavish, who was sitting cross-legged on the pallet, leaned his upper torso forward until his circled arms rested on his legs, put his face into the circle and started to cry softly.

“Tavish, my darling. Larisa will come back. “ Josephine wanted to go to him but could not with Caithness asleep in her arms.

Eormenthryth had crumbled a number of dry plant pieces into the pot and poured some of the water in a pitcher over them. “This is feverfew, willow bark, lemon balm and catnip. I will leave some with you so you can give Caithness a tisane of it every time the church bells sound day and night until she is well. Pay close attention to how I prepare it. It will calm her and help her sleep, and it should ease any bellyaches she gets. And if she gets any, I want you to send to let me know.”

Just as the servants brought a brazier and a bucket with live coals in it into the chamber, Elerde came back in as well. He went straight to his task attaching some hemp rope to brackets in the walls on opposite sides of the chamber, then standing on one of the nursery stools to throw fine tapestries over to make a separate cell within the chamber.

“But those are fine, my lord,” Josephine remarked. “Where did you take them from;? I do not recognize them.” He did not reply, and in wonder she went on, “They are your own.” The man just turned and helped the two menservants who were bringing in a clean freshly filled linen pallet and arranged it on the platform where Caithness slept. Eormenthryth leaned to sniff it, nodded her approval, and Josephine gently laid the sick child down on it. Elerde himself brought over the sheets and blankets, showed them to the healer, then gently laid them on the child when she had nodded assent.

Elerde stood and brushed down his tunic and looked at the queen. “My lady, I must take my leave for the nonce. I am called.” He made a stiff bow and went to the door. Father Llaenawc, the queen’s confessor, stood in the door as Elerde opened it. Josephine came quickly to Elerde and stood at his shoulder. “My lord.. Elerde.. I cannot thank you..”

He shot her a smile and said, “That is good, my lady, for I need no thanks.” He took her hand and kissed it, lingering too long by the look on the priest’s face. Josephine maintained her dignity and greeted the priest warmly. She allowed herself one glance at the warrior’s retreating back.

Eormenthryth observed, “I think that man is enjoying himself.”

Josephine smiled wanly.

“Come over here, lady,” the healer called to her. “I must show you how to do this.”

The queen nodded, then glanced up at Larisa as she came back into the room behind the priest, a downcast look on her face. The queen mouthed “Nothing?” and the woman nodded sadly. Larisa went to the children and sat down with them on the pallet drawing Peter to sit with them. Father Llaenawc came to watch Eormenthryth stir the pot with the herbs. He greeted her with one eyebrow lifted, an expression she mirrored.

While he and the queen looked on the healer explained how long to boil the herbs for the tisane. Then she took the flask and unstoppered it, took a small silver spoon and poured a honey coloured but opaque liquor into it. “Lift the child so I can give this to her,” she ordered the priest. “You will need to give this to Caithness at the same time as the tisane. You will find it easiest to sneak it up on her, for it may be made of honey but it also has crushed garlic and a tincture of Old man’s Beard. She will not like the taste.”

“What is it for?” the girl’s mother asked.

“Her cough.. it will ease it so she can rest.” Eormenthryth deftly put the spoon to the child’s lips and tipped it so the liquor ran into her mouth. The child woke and made a face, gagging and making smacking noises. But the liquor was in, and she had to swallow.

“I know not whether she will develop a rash but if she does, send to me and let me know what color it is and where it appears. You will need to check her all over frequently. use this salve to ease the rash if it appears.. it is lard with calendula and comfrey. It may ease it so she does not scratch at it and cause it to fester..”

She put her hand on the queen’s shoulder. “Can you not get some help?” but saw the look of uncertainty on her face. “I will visit as often as I may. You should bathe her face and body with cool water to ease the fever. When that tub is ready, bathe all the children including her. It would be better if you could bathe her in separate water.” To the priest she said, “Father, please go to the kitchen and tell the cooks to make a rich meat broth. I will add burdock root, dried nettles, mushrooms and dried elderberries to it to feed Caithness so she does not become too weak.”

The man hesitated, but the queen’s glance sent him on his errand.

“I sent him so I might give you this and not incur his disapproval.” The healer took from within her own tunic a sprig of betony on a hemp string. “Put this amulet on her. And burn rosemary and fan the smoke towards her every morn, and together these shall dispel any evil humors from the chamber and ward off whatever devils have made the child ill.”

“I am afraid one of those devils will not be banished by either,” Josephine said wearily.

Eormenthryth put her hands on her ample hips. “I may just have to take care of that one myself,” she said sternly.

The queen put her hand on the healer’s arm. “Nay, do not. Lest he forbid you to come to us. I know not what I should have done if I did not have your help.”

“Or the foreigner’s.” Eormenthryth looked into the queen’s exhausted face. “You need to get clean and rest too, my lady.”

Josephine nodded and then, in a hesitant voice, asked, “Will she be well again?”

The healer’s face eased into an expression of sympathy. “We shall do all we can, dearest. “ She took Josephine in her arms and held her as if the younger woman was a little child. “She may be ill for some time. Prepare yourself for that." She released the queen, whose eyes were shining with held back tears. “Just make sure Father Llaenawc doesn’t spot the amulet.”

Josephine looked into the healer’s face and laughed gratefully. "I promise."

Next: Advancing on Grantham

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About the author

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