“Is there a healer in your company?” a breathless youth cried.
The wagons were on a small lea outside a middling sized town. As the town’s gates would be down for the night, this young man must have a secret portal.
It was long since last light, and all were abed. Within an instant of hearing the request, she called from the props wagon (the only appropriate place for a woman travelling with a company), “I am. A moment to prepare.”
Lighting a precious candle to make sure she had all her paraphilia: dried herbs; diffused oils, rough cotton weave for wounds; sheave of paper to consult. She didn’t need the paper, but the parchment with Latin words seemed to steady some.
Gerome pounded on the yoke of the wagon, “Are you completely daft, woman? Tis the pox or the black death, they will close the gates and you will be locked in.
Swinging down with her healing pouch, she smiled that smile that seemed to melt the hardest of men. “All the more reason to observe then.” She let Gerome be her protector. But he wasn’t to pry or dictate her actions.
“It’s just using the old ways of doing things,” she said rechecking her pouch.
“Pagan ways,” Gerome muttered.
“Ah,” she said with a laugh in her voice, “attending morning mass and confession?”
Gerome sputtered, and humpfted off. The back of his neck was very red.
No sign of her for over a day. Gerome was torn between role as “knight” protector and non-interferer. Her letters, numbers, and remembering will bring the troupe trouble. Will bring her even more.
“Still about?” she poked her head through the wagon’s curtain. “Late – wanting to be first at mass,” she added teasingly.
“Thinking – what a man does – decisions, directions . . .”
“Disguise, too?,” she said, wearily climbing aboard.
“Out with it!”
“Patience,” she replied, resting her head on his chest but for a moment. Realizing the inappropriateness of this behavior, she blushed, and bowed her head.
“The tale,” he said, his voice a bit broken, “the tale, woman!”
The young man (who did, indeed, have a hidey-hole in the walls) was with the household of the wealthiest merchant in town. The undercook was unwell, and before informing his employer, which would lose her, and maybe others their jobs, another servant remembered the troupe was to begin performances soon.
“Often, they have a healer,” the servant reported, “a way of making extra.”
“It tis not much – but we can offer you,” he started, but she interrupted “Healing is a gift, for me to take any payment would be against He that gave me the gift.” Her mother had taught her that too, when, not many years before she left the village, her remembering of plants saved two children. Knowing how to heal wasn’t always a gift; it can be learned. She could heal because she could remember anything she saw.
Some of the even older ways and tales had been tried. The cook’s sick room smelled acrid. The undercook, Mary, under many blankets, pale face, fire red hair matted to her forehead, mumbling.
“Take her outside into the air, burn all her bedding, bring me cold water.” She was turning the kitchen and the servants shambolic as she barked out her orders.
She knew the worst signs to look for: pox; black death; deep fever. Mary displayed none of these. The young woman’s skin felt cold and clammy to the touch, with her forehead like a firebrand. She had kept nothing down for three days. She wondered about poison. Did she dare pry into the affairs of all the household to determine the poison, and the reason for it.?
Then, coming to the surface, a diagram from an abbey herbarium. The hagglestooth mushroom. Looked like it’s edible cousin, possessing a poison nature only deadly if large numbers consumed. But, even a small amount can make a person very sick.
The woman murmured from her outdoor bed. “Let . . . Grace.”
“Perhaps she wanted to say grace. “Indeed we shall,” going down on her knees, resting her elbows next to the undercook’s thin body.
When the next person emerged with water and towel to cool Mary’s brow, she asked what Mary had been up to prior to taking ill.
“She ad to rush out with her foraging basket – missing her bread – because m’lady changed her mind over the night’s meal.”
“Thank you. I know what is wrong with Mary, and how she can be healed.”
This explained her lateness back to troupe. She had to show folk the purging herbs, broth herbs, leave instructions as to how often to have her take those, and to make sure Mary drank water.
“So you see, Gerome, a simple case of eating the wrong thing. That reminds me we need henna.” Her voice drifted off as she descended the traveling stairs.
Gerome imagined her retreating back, hands animated, talking quietly to her self. “Her villagers were right – fey she is.”