((Follows from 'How to Break a Rider' by Waelden ))
It has been three weeks since it happened. Not the thing I had first feared from Isa’s warning, for no enemy had crept up behind him to bring him low. An accident, it had been. A simple misplacement of his foot that cost him, and us, so dear. No great wound, no gash to the head, no limb hacked off; just a couple of small broken bones. And those small bones had a profound effect. Healing a wound or disease is one thing. Healing a man, and this one a Rider with all that entails, is another.
Waelden is showing much improvement in body now. He can move about unaided on crutches, and even tolerate a small amount of weight on his foot. But his need to be ‘himself’ again can hinder healing in spirit, and it is that I keep watch for. For one such as he to not have control of himself is like a jail sentence he is compelled to break out of. He is not the best of patients! Yet his stubbornness can be directed to aid him. That is my main task. I will not fail him, nor permit him to fail himself. His dreams are still intact.
The greatest healer, I was long ago told by Trewgifu, is a person’s will. Waelden is strong of will. But I see in this particular incident his frustration. No battle wound. No struggle against an enemy that would make sense of things. No reason at all, save himself. And so to the second greatest healer, which I was told was love, or at the least great compassion. If love alone could have healed him, Ethel and I would have had Waelden back on his feet that same night. But this is the love that listens, supports, encourages, builds up the whole man, or woman. It is sadly slow. But it can be very thorough.
He will walk and ride again. As good as before.
It seems strange to me. I have had the infirmary set up in Northgyth’s barn since our return from Wildermore. I had always wanted my own place to treat the ailing or wounded. A place where I could make and store some basic potions for more common ills. It had been unused for a few months, and then I had three patients in close succession. The first was the boy, Brinin, with scratches, bruises and a broken leg. Like my love, he had also been concerned that he may never walk or ride well again. But youth was very much on his side, and the fact that his break was a clean one, with no splintered bones. He had been attacked by others, but not saving any of his travelling companions had weighed heavily on him. And Ethel and Brona and Herne had all shown compassion, and spent time with him. And laughed and hobbled, so that he was now almost as agile as he would have been. His dreams of one day being a Rider himself could maybe be realised.
But Waelden is no eager lad, rather a tried and seasoned Rider. His foot was broken in three places and not cleanly. There were small slivers of broken bone that I had to remove when the swelling had subsided, or they may have ever pained him. Distract him when he needs to focus. So his foot was swollen again after I cut into it. He bore the procedure well, but wielding the knife pained me as well as him.
Then there had been Duncadda! He was in my care shortly before Brinin was able to move out. Ah, Duncadda… had I not said jokingly the infirmary would be mostly for him? I had not actually meant it at the time, but our adventurous friend and scout had got himself into many scrapes that it almost seemed trouble followed him. This recent time it had been a close call.
He had all but rolled off a wagon, bringing him home from his latest pursuit. All the usual bruises and a black eye, and several small lacerations I almost associated with our woodsman were as naught compared to the three deep knife wounds in his back. He had lost a lot of blood. Worse still he had lost his horse, Fastred.
Now Duncadda was truly made of strong stuff. He was resilient, could bounce back from most damage he did to himself, or was done to him. But he was coughing up blood when first I saw him that I feared his lungs had been pierced. We all sat with him in turn, those first few nights, even as Ethel, Ymma and I had sat with Brinin. I cleaned and sewed up the deep cuts, and later made an onion and wild garlic broth, both to nourish him, and to use a tried and tested method for locating other internal injuries. His wounds healed well. His mood has healed less so.
I knew the cost to any man or woman of the loss of their horse, particularly if they had been together for some time. I knew how I would feel if I lost Wynn, how Waelden would feel if he lost Ealfin….
And Duncadda was away and back to his wanderings within ten days. He remained in Bancross for now. I watched him from a distance, when I could. I know some others did the same. But he needed to be alone with his thoughts and his pain. Cwenwynn would keep an eye on him from the market, and was the closest at hand if he would accept aid.
Then, three weeks ago it was Waelden, lying in the same bed Duncadda had recently left.
I had treated my Greybeard before of course. Scratches and bruises that he would have ignored, and that would likely have come to nothing anyway. And there was that terrible time in the farm, where that damnable Dunlending had cut him with a poison blade. I could have lost him then. But that was different. He had been poisoned defending Ethel and I.
In comparison his damaged foot was a small matter… physically. I could heal it. But I needed the Rider to fight with me, not against himself.
After his initial shock had worn off, he retreated to his own thoughts for a few days, aided by the foul tasting soporific I administered. The pain must have been bad, for he called out a few times even with the drug. The sharp bone edges were at high risk of rubbing against each other, and piercing the flesh further. That would be excruciating.
I remained at his side. Trusting the herbs to numb the worst, and the small quantities of wine I encouraged him to drink, to keep him in a happier and brighter place of dream and memories. I whispered of good days out riding in his ear when he slept. “We love you, we need you,” I would say.
Within two days we had moved Waelden back to our house, to easier care for him.
The bed was brought downstairs with the aid of some neighbours from a southern farm, and a screen placed to give him some privacy. He had a table with books, and a map hung upon the wall, to remind him he would roam many of those places depicted again.
Northgyth and Ymma visited, expressing concerns and providing tasty meals for a further two weeks. We saw nothing of Hild or Brona though. I had expected the Tavern Keep’s curiosity to get the better of her, beside which she was a friend of sorts. Had I not been occupied I would have gone to see her. Ethel would certainly have gone to see Brona. But she was busy with the animals, and general chores, having sent a message to the Forge that she would be absent for a short time.
I slept downstairs each night, on the bear rug by the fire, should Waelden need aught. What he did need was the cat, Rags, removed from trying to sleep on his leg rather often. A sign of affection, we both knew, but not needed just then. We talked a little. Though initially downcast, he trusted me. And that helped. I listened to his concerns, and spoke hope back into them as much as I could. He would not be lame. He would regain his full strength and mobility. We would live our dreams.
For several nights Ethel also sat up, wrapped in a warm blanket and with Herne on the floor beside her, so she could be near. By then, had the wound not been to a foot or leg, Waelden would have started moving about. I could not allow it until the bones mended though. So to his chagrin he had to watch we women doing all the work around him, and tending him.
“Soon dearest, soon.” I oft said to him in his frustration.
Ethel would tend her papa daily. Bringing him the food Ymma had prepared and telling him of the horses and goats, and of what else she had seen. One day she even brought the black goat, Phillip, to the door. “I think he may have been chasing someone again, papa,” she had announced. The goat did have an exceptionally mischievous look in his eyes that day. Ealfin was brought to the door a few times of course, but he was a wise horse, and only called to his Rider and friend to ‘get well fast’, in his own way.
Of an evening Ethel and I would both tell Waelden of tales we had heard that we thought were maybe new to him. It was almost like winter nights. It was almost cosy.
“We will give him the will to fight this, mama,” she said “He will be his old grumpy self before we know it.”
I kissed her forehead and nodded.
Indeed, that evening marked a turn, as, now propped up in the bed, he sang one of his rare songs for us.
Then came the day he tried the crutches. An effort at first, he swiftly got the hang of moving, and clomped around the room a little. He so much wanted to be active again.
“Worry not,” he said to us both. I shall soon rebuild my strength, and with the new weapons of crutches will sweep all before me.”
He swung out the crutches like two large staves, and leant back against the table.
We laughed, Ethel and I. His will and our love for him had kept the dreams alive. All would be well.