When I was a girl, I attended the Schools of Healing in Capitol.
I was 157 when I entered, so just barely old enough to be away from my parents, but much of the staff of the Schools of Healing is human. My girlhood was more than a lifetime for them, so they expected me to be an adult.
In many ways, behaving like a human adult was not difficult. They are the Children of Ignis, after all, and they burn as hot and fast as the god who formed them. If I was impulsive, as young people often are, it was no more so than many of the adults who surrounded me.
Yes, child, I know that we no longer allow our young people to travel among the humans. When I was a girl, things were different. The Angels told us that the gods had meant us to live and work together, and we still strove to obey.
No, I am not old enough to have met the gods myself. They left almost a century before I was born.
Are there any more questions before I continue? No? Then if I may . . .
One of the first lectures at the Schools of Healing is on suffering. The instructors are blunt. Perhaps they mean to shock us. And perhaps the question is one you all need to hear as well.
As a Healer, do you desire that your patients suffer? Or do you desire that they die?
Ah, you say you became a Healer to prevent suffering? The Legacy of Aqua has Healing magics that can bring comfort to those in pain, even wash the pain away entirely. Disorders of circulation are easily addressed with her magics, of course, and even breathing.
You thought breathing issues would be a Legacy of Aer? I asked about that too, when I was young. It is said when somebody first went to Aer for Healing, ey blew them off, telling them that Aqua and Ignis excelled at the healing arts, so why should ey meddle in them? And it was true; the ebb and flow of breathing, like the ebb and flow of the tides, is easily shaped with the Legacy of Aqua.
For injuries, though, as for illness itself, the Legacy of Aqua will only treat the symptoms. A Healer may help one to breathe more easily, or wash away all feeling of pain, but the Legacy of Aqua will not destroy disease or knit together broken flesh and bones.
Yes, I see your hand in the back. Did you want to inform me that Healing injuries and destroying illness is the Legacy of Ignis? Yes, of course you did. And that is why you must understand suffering, as a Healer.
Who here has ever broken a limb? Anybody?
Would anybody like to? Just for a demonstration of Healing, you understand.
I never do get any takers for that one. It’s very odd. One would think you weren’t fully dedicated.
Well, if I must restrict myself to lecture . . . perhaps I should tell you about the horse.
In the Schools of Healing, students studied and attended lectures, just as you are now. They also engaged in practical work.
I mentioned that most of the population of Capitol, most of the staff, is of the Children of Ignis. Hot, fast, impatient. You won’t wonder, then, that the Legacy of Ignis was the first Healing taught in those Schools. “Put the person back together first,” was the attitude. “We’ll worry about comfort once we are sure the patient will survive.”
There is merit in that focus, mind you, unless you do wish to watch your patients die in comfort. That’s a valid choice, by the way; not all lives need to be extended forever. The Hospice Schools teach entirely from the Legacy of Aqua. They are not, however, Healers.
Our bodies were cunningly crafted to be able to heal themselves from most things. Even a broken limb can heal itself, if you but find a way to hold the bones together for weeks as they knit. The Legacy of Ignis is about making it happen faster.
Healing takes time and energy, giving the body resources to reassemble itself. The Legacy of Ignis does not Heal something the body could not heal, but it accelerates the process. It pours more energy into the system, and the Healer’s task is to guide that energy to knit broken bodies back together or swarm around disease organisms to destroy them.
Yes, child, people can bleed out from wounds that are not closed properly. It’s not that their bodies could not heal the damage, but that it cannot do so fast enough. They would heal, if they weren’t busy being dead already. When we speed the healing, we prevent the onset of death and may save a life.
Now as injuries heal over time, there is discomfort associated with that. Aching, itching, a tenderness for weeks even from a minor scrape. The Legacy of Ignis accelerates the process and compresses the pain. I was taught that the amount of pain is the same, but it is concentrated into moments rather than weeks.
Do you begin to understand why the Subjecti Invicem Schools begin with the Legacy of Aqua, though I know some of you have been impatient to move on to the “true Healing” of Ignis.
The Schools of Healing offer free clinics, for the students to practice, but even the very poor will seek their own remedies rather than experience the full sensation of Healing energy being channelled into a body that was never meant to take it. Here among the Subjecti Invicem, you will not see a patient until you are skilled at managing their comfort levels. At the Schools of Healing it was different, and the novices began their training working on convicts and on animals.
That’s where the horse comes in. Specifically, she came in through the gates to the Schools of Healing with a group of other injured animals. A sheep with one leg ripped open by a feral dog. A cat with both its eyes removed. And this horse, a grey mare with her left rear cannon snapped in half.
Yes, of course the animals were in a great deal of pain. Their owners, however, were not in a position to access proper veterinary care. The sheep was the only ewe owned by a poor family, who depended on her fleece and milk to get by. The cat had been picked up as a stray. And the horse, well . . . the horse was a special case.
I had already begun my studies of the Legacy of Aqua, though strictly from textbooks and old journals in the library. We weren’t meant to be practising yet.
I was weak, and perhaps impulsive. The pain of the animals moved me, and I offered them the Blessing of Aqua, the most basic from among her Legacy. When the noise of animals in agony subsided, I looked around to be sure none of the instructors were watching before I moved on to Aer’s Lullaby.
Yes, I did say that the Legacy of Aer does not offer Healing magics. Where ey excelled, though, was in the magic of illusion. Aer’s Lullaby is one you might remember from your childhood. Ey make you lie down in green pastures, ey lead you beside quiet waters, a soothing image. I was not sure how animal minds would respond to the images, if I could convey what green pastures would mean to a ewe or a horse, but I thought it worth the effort.
Of course the instructor who arrived shortly after I began, responding to the sudden quiet in the yard, disagreed. She didn’t make me undo my spells, but her disapproval was clear on her face. I believe her anger is what led her to assign me to the horse, a beast far too large for me to handle safely.
You’re not familiar with horses, are you? Yes, they are herbivores, and more afraid of you than you are of them. That is the problem. An aggressive animal will back off, if you convince it you’re not worth the effort. A frightened animal has nothing to lose, since if they don’t destroy you they believe they will be destroyed. This grey carthorse was over a thousand kilograms of muscle and bone, honed by hard work.
I was leading this animal aside, whispering soothing words and repeating the Blessing of Aqua, watching the rear leg as it wobbled unnaturally. I didn’t see the small figure slipping through the gate until the horse threw up her head, startled. She tried to rear, shifting the weight to her rear legs, and screamed at the pressure on the break.
Yes, horses can scream. I hope you never hear it. I hope I never have to hear it again.
I repeated the Blessing of Aqua, but it only lightened the pain. It was no longer enough to calm the beast. And the figure – a child, it turned out – darted in and threw itself against the horse’s chest, right between the lashing hooves.
And the animal calmed.
The child was a human, brown with dirt and tangled hair and smelling almost as much of horse as the horse was. Perhaps more so. Ey looked up at me, apparently unaware of the danger ey were in, and said in a heavy accent, “You’ll take care of Cyndee, won’t you mum? You won’t let them hurt her?”
“Child,” I said, as calmly as I could, “you need to step away. You could be hurt.”
“Oi, Cyndee won’t hurt me none, will you, girl?” The child could barely reach up to pet the horse’s nose, so the mare lowered her head. I shook my head.
“These are the Schools of Healing,” I tried to explain.
“I know,” the child said. “That’s why it was so awful, they wanted to put her out of her misery when I knew the Healers were right here. She was hurtin’, but she could walk still.”
“What did you think we could do, child?” I asked, watching the animal – Cyndee – carefully.
“Well, put it back together,” the child said trustingly. “Sometimes Healers doin’ the rounds, they get a bit much drink in ‘em. They’re told off to the stables, and we can get a story out of em.” The child was becoming easier to understand as ey spoke, or I was getting used to them. “One talked about the school, the animals they patched up when they was new.”
“While it’s true that the Legacy of Ignis will Heal the bones,” I said carefully, “it might be kinder to put her down. Healing people who can understand what happens . . . well, some of the Nec Dei Nec Domini claim that constitutes torture. To do it to an animal about whom you clearly care . . ..”
“But you wouldn’t really hurt her, would you?” the child asked, all wide eyes looking up at me. I wonder now if they calculated the effect that would have on adults. It worked on me.
“I don’t want to hurt her,” I tried to explain, as I have for you. “Healing takes time and energy, and when we reduce the time we increase the energy.” Ey clearly didn’t understand, and I tried again. “The Legacy of Ignis burns, child.”
“But she’s a good horse,” the child insisted. “You don’t want to burn her.”
“I don’t,” I agreed. “And it might be a gentler option to help her die, than to Heal her with the Legacy of Ignis.”
The instructor was staring at me, looking at the grubby child. I had been assigned to Heal the animal, I realised. It wasn’t actually my choice to make.
The proper technique, for the Beast Yard – or at least the technique we were taught – was to secure the animals so they could not pose a threat, do the Healing, and move away. Get it over with quickly, leave the animal in pain, accept that suffering is part of the Legacy of Ignis.
They didn’t tell us that most of the animals were destroyed after Healing. The pain, the rough treatment, the agony of the Healing itself often left the animals too fearful of or aggressive to humans and impossible to handle. We called ourselves novice Healers, but none of the Healing was for their benefit of our first ‘patients’. The animals had already been discarded when they were brought into the Beast Yard. Nobody cared about what happened to them.
Except for Cyndee.
This small, nameless child cared about Cyndee, and now so did I.
As you advance in your training as Healers, you will learn to hold multiple spells at once. It’s easier to hold multiple spells from the same Legacy, but I was not yet even that advanced.
By the time you graduate, you will be able to wash away most of the pain of Ignis’s Legacy, balancing the need for speed against the patient’s need for comfort. Your work so far has been in small things, holding the pain with the Legacy of Aqua while a senior student works with the Legacy of Ignis. Your training will take a century to complete, 128 years. For the Children of Ignis, this patience would be literally impossible. Perhaps they felt they were doing the best they could with the resources available. All I knew was that I could not let the animal suffer.
I was not at the top of my class, in the Schools of Healing, but I considered myself clever enough. It may have been the arrogance of youth, but I believed I could find some loophole, some way to fulfil what was required of me without causing increased suffering.
Healing is a function of time and energy. The body will heal itself, given time. If I could just hold the animal’s bones together for long enough, they would knit on their own. Perhaps a small dose from the Legacy of Ignis, many sessions over weeks? I had been told off to heal this horse, but had I been given a time limit?
I had not.
I placed my hand on the horse’s shoulder and repeated the Blessing of Aqua. I could feel her muscles shiver and relax.
Healers are valuable, but we are not the only ones who can assist in case of injury or illness. There are herbalists and surgeons, most unlicensed and unregulated, and most times the poor will choose their services over the untried New Healers in the free clinics.
There were always proposals to soundproof the treatment rooms, to increase uptake. When I studied at the Schools of Healing, this had not been done.
“There might be a chance,” I told the child. “If I can keep her comfortable, keep the halves of bone together long enough, she can heal the slow way, without pain.”
“Will you splint it?” the child asked. “Like my bruvver?”
“Like when my bruvver fell off the cart and broke his arm,” the child said. “Mum tied it up with sticks so it would heal straight.”
I vaguely remembered reading about something like that, once.
“Is your mother in town?” I asked.
“Nah,” the child said. “She’s dead with my last sissur. Was all turned around wrong.”
“The Healers couldn’t do anything?” I asked. The Legacy of Aqua can ease childbirth in dozens of ways.
“Weren’t no Healer,” the child said. “Just us. And now it is just us. Me da an me bruvvers an me sissur. The older one. Not the dead ‘un.”
“I see,” I said faintly.
I never did get used to that. Human lives are so short and burn so bright, but they seem not to value them. Healing is for money, not for community, unless a village pays together to hire a Healer. Few do. And people die.
Some might say they’re only humans, they die so fast anyhow, but they’re still people, the Children of Ignis, as much as we are as the Children of Aer, or the Children of Terra are, or the Children of Aqua. How they can be so careless with their brief lives is something I will never understand.
“A splint seems wise,” I said. I hoped the child recalled more than I did about the process. “Can you find the things for one.”
“I s’pose,” the child said, looking around. The Beast Yard was fairly barren. We never kept the animals long. That fact hadn’t seemed so dark before now.
And the instructor was walking over.
I bowed my head to her respectfully. “Healer,” I said.
“I thought I had instructed you to Heal this beast,” the instructor demanded. “What is the reason for this delay?” Her voice clearly indicated that there was no acceptable reason, and my mind scrambled for a good argument.
“The first step in treating any patient,” I said, trying to quote the textbook as closely as I could, “is to evaluate the condition.”
“Are you having trouble with that?” She looked down at me, which was impressive since I think I was a few centimetres taller. “The left rear cannon is snapped.”
“Well, yes,” I said. “But the next step is to develop a treatment plan that will take into account the patient’s life circumstances.” The textbook was actually talking about how to price services, how much one could charge, and when one should just send the person off to an herbalist.
“The life circumstances are that it is in the Beast Yard for Healing,” the instructor said derisively. “What is the delay?”
“The life circumstances,” I disagreed as carefully as I could, “are that it has family in this small child, and the family has expressed treatment preferences.”
The instructor looked down at the child. She did not seem impressed with my argument. “Will the family be paying for the treatment?”
“I have a farthing,” the child said stoutly. Ey were still standing against the horse’s chest protectively.
“That’s hardly enough,” the instructor began, but I was on firmer ground here. We had just covered this three days before.
“Healers set their own rates,” I reminded her. “Guideline amounts from the Schools of Healing may be adjusted according to individual circumstances.”
“Very well, healer,” she said, her voice like ice. It was not a title I had yet earned, but it was the role I was filling. “What is your treatment plan for this patient?”
“I will be using the Blessing of Aqua for basic pain control,” I scrambled for terminology. “I will use mechanical stabilisation to allow natural healing, and may add additional items from the Legacy of Aqua for comfort and symptom management.”
“That will take a full season,” the instructor informed me. “You can’t keep a horse in the Beast Yard for that long.”
“I suppose I’ll have to stable it,” I said, and she snorted.
“You suppose you’ll have to stable it,” she repeated. “You’ll be doing that with your own coin. Or the farthing from your patient’s family, I suppose.”
This was going to be uncomfortable; I had been getting by with the stipend from my community, but this added expense was not something I could ask them to cover. I wasn’t even sure how much stabling for a horse would cost, but I was committed now.
“Of course,” I said. “Child, please see about finding a suitable stable for the patient. We will need a small stall, not shared with other animals.” I took a silver quattuor from my pocket and gave it to em. “Also collect supplies for the splint, and whatever family brought you to town, today.”
The child looked at the coin with wide eyes and bobbed eir head. “Yes, mum!” ey said, and slipped back out the gate.
“You’ll never see child or coin again,” the instructor informed me. I stroked the horse’s shoulder and renewed the Blessing of Aqua.
“I think I will,” I said.
I was still standing in the Beast Yard with the horse when the other animals had been ‘Healed’ and disposed of. The ewe, though skittish, was reunited with her family. The cat was . . . in enough pain from the Healing, and completely blind. I think the axe was a mercy for it.
The horse kept shifting on the leg; I could hear the ends of the bone grinding together. Aqua’s Blessing was meant to help, but the grinding seemed worse when the blessing was fresh. I could see fluids building up around the injury, and another spell helped encourage them to flow back through the body properly, but I had to drop the pain relief to manage that. Which make the animal more restless.
It was getting dark when the child returned, a thin man trailing behind em.
“I’m sorry, mum,” the child said. “I couldn’t find a place to do a season for a quattuor. The most I could find for a quattuor, wif a private stall an’ all, was a month. An’ then feeding’s extra.”
I had been unclear. I had hoped for a night or two, to buy some time to get things together. This child bargained well, or eir father did.
“Greetings, sir,” I said. “My name is Amalthea, and I’m a novice Healer here.” I offered my hand, and the man doffed his hat to shake it.
“Gretel here tells me you’ve taken on to Heal our Cyndee,” the man said. He looked puzzled. “And that you were going to burn her, but now you’re not.”
I sighed. “The Legacy of Ignis brings fast Healing, but it’s painful. The Legacy of Aqua relieves pain and restores the body to balance, but cannot repair a break.”
“Ah,” the man said. “And I suppose the rich folks get both at once, but such as us, welp. We should be grateful for the leavings.”
“I would do more if I could,” I said. “I am a novice Healer. I could do the physical Healing, using the Legacy of Ignis, but it might do lasting damage to her mind.”
“Aye,” the man said. “Animals can’t understand why we’s hurtin’ them, so it’s better to kill them clean than hurt them to help. I tried to tell the girl that.”
Girl? Had a child that young already chosen a gender? Humans are a strange lot.
“A break will heal in time,” I said. “My plan is to keep the animal comfortable while that can happen.”
The man looked around the Beast Yard shrewdly, noted the blood on the ground from where the cat was relieved of its pain. “That doesn’t seem to be what you’re meant to do, here,” he commented.
“It’s what I am doing,” I said firmly. Maybe it was stubbornly; I was very young.
“Aye,” he said. “And what cost.”
“She said she’d take a farthing,” Gretel said. The man looked down at her.
“And she’ll be spending sixteen times that every month, for a season if all goes well.”
“When I say I’ll do something,” I said, “I stand by my word.”
“Rico, are you?” he asked. “One of them rashers?” He meant a member of Rationalis Recognosco. I shook my head.
“Subjecti Invicem,” I said. He grunted.
“I hear the Teeveechee take care of their own,” he said.
“My community is supporting me to study here,” I said. He nodded.
“So, you’ll take care of our Cyndee, too? And Gretel, if I gave her to you?
“Gretel?” I asked.
“Welp,” the man said, “if you canna pay in coin, need ta pay with sumthin. And Gretel’s taken a shine to you; I think she’d learn to serve.”
“I agreed to do the work for a farthing,” I said. What would I do with a human child – a human girl? “I’ll stand by that.”
“Don’t hardly seem fair,” he said. “Tell youse what. You Heal the horse, then we’ll give you the girl. If it don’t work out with the horse, well, I’ll explain it to her myself.”
Gretel was watching again, with wide eyes. “You will take care of Cyndee, won’t you, mum?”
“I will,” I promised her.
“Good,” Gretel nodded. “Then when you send her home, I’ll come stay with you.”
“We’ll talk about it when Cyndee’s better,” I said.
Another student explained, later, why the girl’s father was so eager to give her away. There’s a human tradition of placing children in the homes of people better off than they are. It’s one less mouth to feed for the parents, and maybe more opportunity for the child to advance. He pointed out that the Schools of Healing did allow students to keep one servant.
I pointed out that all my discretionary income was being spent on stabling the horse, and he pointed out the timing of the deal the man had offered. I still didn’t like it, but it was at least making more sense.
Healing Cyndee – or at least allowing the mare space to heal – was not as easy as I had hoped, either. Aqua’s Grace could keep her comfortable for eight hours at a time. This should have been a great blessing.
The third time I visited to renew the spell, the mare was perfectly comfortable . . . and reacting as any healthy animal would to being confined in a small space. She had stamped and kicked the door of the stall. Not only was the splint knocked off entirely, sharp shards of bone were protruding through the skin.
Still, Aqua’s Grace had held, and the horse was perfectly comfortable. My help so far had taken the mare from a simple to a compound fracture. She required a surgeon, somebody to help put the pieces back together. Maybe a better way to hold them there.
What Cyndee really needed was a competent veterinary Healer, but it had been made clear to me that if another Healer worked on this horse, I would no longer we welcome at the Schools of Healing. Letting her die would have been fine; it would have reminded me of my place.
I mentioned that I was young, didn’t I? I might have been stubborn and impulsive and a little bit stupid, too.
I had no idea how to find a surgeon, and no time to do so. I still needed to attend classes, complete assignments, and learn more of what I needed to actually help the horse rather than make everything worse.
This is a story about a horse, a story about suffering, but also a story about hubris.
The library did not have a surgeon, and even I wasn’t fool enough to think I could learn surgery from the books it did have.
The tavern did not have a surgeon, either, but it did have a dwarf with more scars than unblemished skin. The dwarf knew where to find a surgeon.
The surgeon did not want to deal with a horse.
This wasn’t actually an unreasonable stance for him to take. He was a big man, but the horse was over a thousand kilograms. I tried to tell him it would be okay, that the horse would be calm and comfortable.
He asked me to prove it.
It was midnight when we arrived at the tenement house near the docks. The man who opened the door was huge, and tattooed, and not wearing any pants.
I couldn’t help but look down.
The man had the largest scrotal tumour I have ever seen. It was the size of a melon.
This was the proof the unlicensed surgeon wanted, he said. If I could get this man through the required surgery in complete comfort, he would look at ‘my’ horse.
The patient complained that he had not had complete comfort in over a year. I took a deep breath.
That was a mistake. The docks stank of fish. I took a shallower breath.
“May I touch it?” I asked. The man made a lewd gesture, but I kept my touch professional. As Aqua’s Blessing washed over him, the man’s face lightened.
“That’s amazing,” he said, looking at the surgeon rather than me. “What is that?”
“Aqua’s blessing,” I said. “It’s Healing magic.”
“No,” the man said. “I saw a Healer once. It felt like somebody was pouring molten iron through all my veins.”
“That is the Legacy of Ignis,” I tried to explain. “The Legacy of Aqua is comfort. But it can’t fix things.”
“Then what the hell good does it do?”
“It will keep you comfortable while the surgeon works,” I said. “I presume that’s why I’m here.” The surgeon nodded.
“The crazy elf wants me to work on a horse,” he said. “Says the horse won’t make a peep, with the magic. I told her to prove it.”
“So if I can just lie still as you please, this time, while you go at me with your butcher’s kit, she gets her pony fixed?”
“Pretty much,” the surgeon said. “Probably the only chance you’ll get for something better’n alcohol.” The man grunted again.
The surgery was . . . eye-opening. They don’t teach surgery at the Schools of Healing.
The surgery was a bloody mess. I held Aqua’s Benediction, but blood cascaded over the surgeon’s hands with the first cut.
I knew what was needed. The Blessing of Tides. But I couldn’t let go of the Benediction. Carefully, I tried to balance the two spells.
The Benediction held. The Blessing of Tides eased the flow of blood.
The surgery seemed to take forever, though the tallow candles that had been half burned when they started were still burning at the end.
The surgeon was eager to show off his work, a huge solid mass, extra skin cut away, the careful stitches and the way he had doused everything with alcohol. My stomach nearly turned inside out.
“Okay,” the surgeon said, “Guess you can do what you say. I’ll take a look at this horse of yours.”
“A client’s,” I corrected.
“Whatever,” he said. “How are you paying?”
“Paying?” I said. “I’m a bit short on coin, right now.”
“Trade’s better,” the surgeon said. “That surgery tonight? You do that for a month, I’ll fix up your horsie.”
The surgeon took one look at Cyndee and balked. “That ain’t no pony,” he said.
“I never said she was,” I replied. “But she’ll be sweet, while you fix her up.”
“Same as Ol’ Jack?” I supposed that had been the patient’s name.
“Cyndee has never made lewd gestures at me,” I said primly. The surgeon guffawed.
“You’re okay,” he said. “But that break, there. It’s no good just putting it back in. We’re going to need to spike it back together, keep it from shifting.”
The spike he recommended was bone, so it was off to a butcher shop. Still late at night. And I had classes in the morning. But Cyndee needed help I had promised to give.
It was dawn before the surgery on the horse was done. I carefully anchored comfort on her, but not too much comfort this time. Let her feel the tenderness of her leg, and be careful.
Cyndee was still restless, and I had to spend hours each day, walking her in slow circles for exercise while making sure she kept as much weight as possible off the broken leg. Gretel visited on market day, giving the horse pep talks and wonky-shaped carrots she deemed unsellable.
The month I spent managing procedural pain for the man I continued to know only as the surgeon turned into two, then three. He paid me, after the first month, a portion of what the patients gave him. Some of it I passed on to Gretel and her father; what was I going to do with a laying hen, at the Schools of Healing? Or a bag of alfalfa seed?
I didn’t begrudge those patients their Healing, though. In a lot of ways, my work with the surgeon was an important counterpoint to what I was learning at the Schools. They focused on how to serve those who could serve us; the surgeon focused on doing good in the community and making enough to get by.
Cyndee healed and, yes, I did end up taking Gretel as a serving girl. She cleaned up nicely, and was eager to learn everything I had to teach her. Sadly, the Children of Ignis live fast, intense lives. Within a century she aged and was gone. Gretel is ancestor to half the humans in the enclave now, though. I think she was happy with me. I hope she was.
It wasn’t until years after I could have used it with Cyndee that I discovered the Healing Legacy of Terra. That, however, is a story for another day.