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A Time to Heal

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Wynn ground the dried raspberry leaves in the mortar and pulled a stoneware jar closer. She tipped the pulverized dried leaves into the jar and pulled another bunch down from the rafter, where numerous bunches of dried plants of varying types were hanging.

"Tell me why I'm making this?" she asked. Antha stopped stirring the small pot over the fire and wrinkled her brow, frowning.

"Raspberry leaf tea is good for expectant women?" she answered hesitantly.

Wynn sighed and shot the girl a look. "Yes, but why is it good?" She had drilled the girl on the benefits of the tea while they were collecting the leaves, and then again while they prepared them for drying. Antha was a sweet girl, very willing, but Wynn wondered at her.

"Wynn! Get out here; you're needed!"

She jumped up and ran to the door. Throwing it open, she called out, "Who? Brielle isn't due for two more moons!" The bright sunlight caused her to squint as she looked around. Ray stood in the dirt lane before her hut with four other men holding a litter between them. She rushed to the litter, and then took two steps back from it.

"You've brought me a corpse?"

"No, I was going to bury him, but he coughed. He's not dead, but he's not far from it," Ray answered.

Wynn scanned the body on the litter. He was filthy. Caked in dirt and dried blood, it seemed, from his stringy head of hair to the soles of his boots. What flesh she could see was brown to black, stained by the grime. The scent of rot wafted from him. Her eyes settled on his right leg, where his thighbone protruded from his skin. She felt frozen, viewing such destruction. She wasn't sure where to even start.

She rounded on the Septon. "Ray. I'm a midwife, not a maester. The Stranger already has him; I don't think even a maester could prevent it. What do you expect me to do?"

Brother Ray smiled sadly at her. "Whatever you can. Either help him towards life, or towards death. You're more than a midwife. I've seen you set bones and cure fevers. He deserves the Mother's mercy, and you're here to provide it."

She stared at him, then turned back to the body laying on the litter. "Antha!" she cried, "Clear the table. Karven, bring some planks and a sawhorse to extend it; he must have giant's blood to be so tall," she ordered one of the men, then stood aside as they carried him into her small dwelling. The table was quickly lengthened so that his feet laid on the makeshift extension.

"Joren," she said, looking at one of the young men. "Go get Mairi. Tell her to start heating as much water as she can. I don't know how many buckets I'll need before nightfall. Tell her to send as much linen as she can spare. I'll replace it later. Go." The thin young man sprinted away.

"Antha, bring me.... Gods, I don't know. Bring me hot water, a knife. On the side table, lay out..." she surveyed the body again, her hands climbing up to lace over her head in consternation. "Calendula," she said finally. "Rosemary, comfrey, and yarrow. At least five bowls. Soap, and as much linens as you can find. But the knife first."

The knife was handed to her and she made quick use of it, slicing the leather thongs to remove his armor and then through the seams of the tunic and breeches he wore beneath, which were all lifted away and discarded into the corner. The skin revealed was less heavilly soiled, but clearly hadn't seen a bath in ages. She stared at the body laid out before her and despaired. What first? she thought. This isn't - I don't -

"Wynn," the septon's voice was soft and stared at him, hopelessness filling her gaze. "Can you make it worse?" She shook her head. "Then try to make it better, and if it fails, you know you tried," he said. She took a deep breath and blew it out, staring at the man's many wounds.

"Come here. Hold his leg at the hip."

As the Septon held the man's leg, she felt along the length of the bone, along the fracture and past it to the knee. The bone was stable from the hip downward, then protruded towards the outer thigh. Her fingers dug into the muscles, trying to test their stiffness. The man groaned and one hand flung out at nothing and stilled near his shoulder.

"This is folly. He's too tight for this to set properly and I have nothing to relax him."

"You'll have to be quick, then."

"It's not a matter of being quick. His muscles and tendons are wound too tight; the bones will never align properly. I'd need milk of the poppy for that-- for even a chance of that. I could take the leg, but look at him. Does he look like a man who would be a cripple?"

"No, he doesn't. Have you nothing that would do the same?"

"No. No, I don't. Milk of the poppy might relax him enough, but I can't say that would work with any certainty. Without it? There's no-"

"What did you do for Shayla?"

She stared at him, her breath catching in her throat.

"No," she breathed.

"You made her sleep, and you did-"

"That was completely different and I won't do it again. I'll not do it here."

"You did what needed to be done. As you should here."

"There's no life here needing to be saved. This man is as good as gone and I'll not be using some Maester's experiments to prolong his suffering. I'll give him as much mercy as I can, but I won't use that."

"Yes, you will. To save his leg, or to take it. Your choice." The man stared at her.

She stared back, then looked back at the man on the her kitchen table. She looked at his legs, hanging off, held only by the makeshift supports. One leg lay normally, if overly large, covered in dirt and hair. The other was a twisted destruction.

"Here, hold his leg at the knee so I can take his boots off."

Ray held the leg still and she removed the boot from his right foot. She grasped the lower leg by his ankle, then the top of his foot. Strong pulses greeted her in both places and she drew a deep breath. He might keep his leg, might even retain some use of it, if she could set it properly.

"Antha, set the small pot over the fire, full of water, and bring me the brown bowl, the one with the the ridges," she said, pulling his left boot off as well and tossing them both into his pile of clothing. She pushed herself away from the table and pulled a certain box from one of the many shelves in her home. Her actions from there might have been that of a farmer's daughter. The root was cleaned and chopped, then dropped into the simmering water. She watched it simmer as Mairi and Antha moved back and forth in the small space. He was being washed, the bowls of water growing more and more dank as the filth was cleaned from his form. Antha made a small noise and held his hand up to show her a laceration that crossed the palm. His other hand bore a matching cut.

She left the fireplace and moved to the table to look more closely at his hands. They would need to be stitched, and she wondered if any tendons had been severed. There was a wound to his shoulder that looked older, suppurating pus from the edges. Stitches held the wound closed, barely, and she could see that some effort had been made, but it was clearly not enough. The wound was killing him faster than even his leg was, and had been there longer.

She poured water, still nearly boiling, from the bucket that Mairi had provided into one of the bowls Antha had set out, then measured out a generous amount of calendula. As it steeped, she cut the stitches away, then used the same knife to pierce the freshly knitted skin apart. Pus ran down and she washed it away as quickly as she could, then pressed the flesh to express more of the noxious fluid. She washed this away as well, then flushed the entire area with the calendula infusion, trying to get every bit of the rot out of the wound. Once it was cleaned, she stitched it again.

Mairi and Antha had managed to wash him almost entirely. He was large, much taller than anyone in the village and broad of shoulder. His hair was long, dripping water from where it overhung the table and trying to coil back up in small curls and waves. Her own hair curled the same way, when it wasn't twisted up and out of the way as it was now. Nearly half his face was taken up with scars of a burn long healed, the ravaged skin twisting over his cheekbone and into the hairline. She looked briefly at the ruined ear, the weeping area where flesh had been torn away, but there was really nothing to be done. She spread a bit of honey salve across the area and nodded at Antha to bandage it.

Wynn checked the decoction simmering in the pot over the flames. It smelled right. She didn't have a better way of telling if it was correct or not than the smell. She poured it into the brown bowl and then moved back to the man on the table, wishing the medicine would cool more quickly so this could all be done with and over.

"Mairi, tell Joren I need two lengths of rawhide, one wet for later. And two small planks, this size," she said, indicating with her hands.

Mairi ducked out of the hut to give the orders, and Wynn moved to hold the man's head up and start trying to give him the decoction that would bring deeper sleep, and more importantly, relax his muscles so that she might try to set the leg. She fed it to him in sips and prayed to the Mother to grant mercy, the Crone to grant wisdom. She prayed to to the Smith to let her tools and medicines work. I'm working on the Warrior, she thought. Stranger, keep away.