The Merchant’s Legacy
Part Eight – Herbs and Poultices
Oliat and Lakach returned with the ailing Katako, bringing him into the cave. The man had slipped into unconsciousness once more, shivering and sweating profusely. It took only a glance to show that he was loosing his battle with the venom.
“What is the problem with your man?” Kythias asked upon spotting Katako.
“Poisoned,” Nhaqosa told him. “We were attacked by some spider-beasts last night and he was bitten. We had through we had gotten the venom out in time, but it appears not now.”
“Perhaps I can be of some assistance,” Kythias offered. “I have some small knowledge of herbs and of poultices that may be of some help.”
Nhaqosa grunted thoughtfully as he nodded his head. “We would be in your debt if you are able to do anything to help our friend.”
A quiet smile lit up Kythais’ face. “It was you who released me from captivity. If I can repay you in any way, I shall. Let this be a start.”
Kythias rummaged around amongst the supplies stocked in the cave, searching through crates and sacks and boxes, bringing forth various bulbs and roots, leaves and berries, both fresh and dried.
He spread his collection out before the fire on an old cloth, setting to work on the herbs. Over the fire hung a small iron pot, filled with water and left to brew. Some herbs were crushed or ground up fine before being dropped into the water to steep and bubble away. Others he ground up together into a bowl until they had been turned into a pungent paste. Taking strips of cloth, he spread the sticky paste across them.
At last satisfied with his work, he moved to Katako’s side. He removed the bandage that had been wrapped around the spider bite the day before. A foul aroma came from the wound as it was uncovered, the flesh around the cuts blackened and showing signs of decay which was spreading. Kythias frowned as he examined the wound, fingers probing lightly at it. Katako groaned in his uneasy sleep at the touch.
“This is bad,” Kythias stated in worried tones. “Much longer and it would be beyond even my skills. As it is now, there is no certainty.”
“Just do what you can,” Nhaqosa told him.
Kythias placed the fresh bandage with its poultice upon the wound and bound it around the arm tightly. A sharp cry came from Katako at the pressure.
“Easy now,” Kythias said softly, resting a hand lightly upon Katako’ sweat stained brow. Katako settled back down at the touch, some of the pain that etched his face easing. Kythias returned to work, finishing the bandaging.
“Bring the brew,” he ordered. Nhaqosa stomped across to the fire and removed the pot. A sharp smell rose from it, slightly bitter but not all together unpleasant.
Kythias leant his head over it once Nhaqosa had returned with the pot, waving steam up into his nostrils.
“Good,” he pronounced. “We will have him take some of it and then all we can do is wait until the morning and see how well it worked.”
By the following morning, an improvement could be seen in Katako’s condition. Colour had returned to his wan face and the swelling seemed to have eased from his arm, though he still remained weak and tired. Kythias nodded to himself as he checked Katako over, feeling his forehead and smelling his wound before making him drink what remained of the brew made the previous evening.
Katako sniffed dubiously at it, face screwing up in distaste. “Smells a little bitter,” he complained.
“Drink it,” Nhaqosa ordered him. “It is good for you.”
Reluctantly, Katako tossed it back before shaking his head, sticking out his tongue and squeezing his eyes shut. “That is the worst thing I have ever tasted,” he complained, “And I was feed slaves gruel so I know what I am talking about.”
Kythias smiled at the reaction. “Better. I think we can assume that the worst has passed.”
“Is he able to travel yet?” Nhaqosa asked.
“He should be able to, as long as he does not exert himself. No heavy loads, no quick pace and no fighting.”
“Good. We must move on, get to this Talhos as soon as we can.”
“Why are you so eager to find them so quickly?” Kythias enquired, fixing Nhaqosa with a thoughtful, studying look.
“They destroyed an entire village,” Nhaqosa replied, sounding both disgusted and outraged. “Some were made slaves, or worse, the rest callously murdered. Men, women, children, it made no difference to those depraved creatures. I fear the same will happen at Talhos. If there is any chance to prevent that, I will take it.”
“You seek revenge for the dead.” Kythais’ statement sounded almost accusatory to Nhaqosa’s ear, and he felt a moment of irritation at it. The man had not seen what he had, helped buried the dead so casually butchered. The images of dead children still haunted his nights.
“Justice,” Nhaqosa replied calmly. “Once, or so I am told, in the days of the Empire, such things as this would have been unthinkable. But the Legions and the Knights of the Empire are no more, and who now is left to defend the weak and poor and seek justice for them upon those who would prey upon their defencelessness?”
“So you seek to repay blood in kind?”
Nhaqosa’s ears twitched and his tail slashed through the air behind him as he tried to push down the anger that Kythias’ comment had aroused in him. After saving him from a terrible fate, the man could suggest such things? He stared sternly at Kythias. “Not in kind, no. I do not slay children or the weak. Nor do I rob and torture them for my own perverted enjoyment. If the strong will not stand up to defend the weak, then who will?”
Kythias pondered Nhaqosa’s words before responding with a soft sigh and shaking his head a touch sadly. “I wish it did not have to be so, friend Nhaqosa. In the old days, the course that you chart would not have been tolerated. As you have said, those days have passed into memory. I fear that such days will not return either, not until more think as you do. But when they do, where shall be the place in them for the likes of you?”
“I take no joy in what I do,” Nhaqosa told him. “I only wish to return home, but until such time as I make it, I shall endeavour to do what good I can in this world.”
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