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28. Orc Medicine
On the other side of the door was a huge, airy room, a lot different from the pathway with its murky rocks and damp cellar smell. Here the walls were smooth and neatly whitewashed, making the place a lot brighter. White pillars reached a vaulted ceiling several yards up, and between them stood long tables covered in linen tablecloths. An enormous chandelier hung on a chain in the center, and in the farthest end was an unlit fireplace. It rather reminded Wynne of a Rohirric lord’s great hall.
Nanna limped into a corridor on one side. In passing, Wynne noticed there were many such corridors branching out from the hall. The place seemed dark and deserted, and still the only source of light was the oil lamp the orc lady carried.
She stopped before another round door, which had an oval sign made of a thin slice of birch, and some sort of runes burnt into it.
“Black Speech. The foul language of Sauron.” Thranduil frowned at the runes.
“That’s how we talk, and no need to be rude ‘bout it,” Nanna scolded him. “We were taught none other.”
Inside the door was a small, well lit chamber. A bedside table stood between two stone bunks, with thick mattresses on top. Legolas was put down on one of them, stretcher and all.
Another elderly orc joined them, this one male, judging by the long, white beard.
“Welcome, strangers. Nugu tells me you need a healer. What happened?” His voice was accented like all orc’s, but unusually refined.
“He was pierced by a spear, through the stomach and out on the back,” said Galion.
“Can you heal him?” asked Thranduil eagerly.
“Maybe. But not for free.”
“ Dad !” exclaimed Nugu from the door. “Don’t do this.”
“Sorry lad, but this is the chance we’ve waited for. We have to take it. You brought them here. You exposed us.”
“What do you want? Treasure? I can assure you, your help shall be rewarded handsomely. If you succeed.” The king’s cold voice was full of contempt. His majestic air had come back, and Wynne felt relieved by it, calmed even. His odd confusion before had been unnerving.
“We don’t hoard shiny trinkets like bloody dwarves.” The orc narrowed his amber eyes. “What use have we for that sort of thing, shut out from the world as we are down here? No, Mister king, what we want is something far more important. Don’t look surprised,” he added. “Nugu told me who you are.”
“Spill it out. We have no time for this!”
“We want freedom. Freedom to go outside without being hunted down by the first man or elf to lay eyes on us. Freedom to grow things and not fear that the crops would give us away. We want peace.”
“It is not fair,” Thranduil almost growled. “You cannot expect me to promise this, when I have not even met the rest of you. And I cannot speak for the human kings, or presume to tell them what to do.”
“You can promise us peace with you , and you can plead our case with the humans. They listen to the Elvenking.”
“To use a father’s desperation–” Thranduil clenched his fists and his ice blue eyes had a furious glint. ”Cruel. Unscrupulously so, to demand this of someone in need.”
”Well? What’s your answer?” The orc seemed completely unaffected by the king’s intimidating stare.
A short silence followed, the air thick with tension.
“You know I cannot refuse,” Thranduil said at last. He sounded tired, the anger gone and replaced with resignation. “If my son lives, you have my word I shall not harm you or your people, neither shall any elf under my command. Furthermore, I will speak with King Elessar of Gondor and King Éomer of Rohan, bidding them to do the same.” He pulled himself up straighter, and added with a little more sharpness: “Should you, however, commit any act of unprovoked violence against elves, men, dwarves, hobbits or other creatures of the light, I shall consider the treaty broken, and there will be retribution.”
“Agreed. But I shall need this in writing afterwards.” The orc spitted in his wrinkled hand, and held it out. With a look of disgust, the king took it.
“That’s all sorted then. Time to check on this poor lad.” The healer rubbed his hands in a businesslike manner. “I take over now, you can wait outside.”
“Absolutely not. I shall stay by my son’s side.”
“Suit yourself then. But I warn you, it will probably be messy, and not very pleasant for the patient to have an audience to witness everything. And I don’t work well in a crowd, either.”
Thranduil blanched at that, but said nothing. The three other elves, however, went to leave.
“We stand guard outside,” said Galion. “Just call if you need us.”
“Me and Nugu shall be off too,” said Sidra, still in the doorway. “The little ones need to sleep, and Nugu must explain your presence to the others when they wake up. We come back later to see how you do.”
Wynne mutely pressed her back to the wall, hoping nobody would take notice of her and tell her to leave. She had to stay, she just had to. When the door closed behind the others she sighed out in relief.
“Let’s have a look at the wound, shall we?” The healer uncovered Legolas’ blood-stained bandages and pulled out a small, very sharp looking knife from a leather bag.
“Put that down!” Thranduil’s voice was intimidating, and he had one hand on his sword.
“Easy now, Mister king, easy! You want me to fix him, don’t you?” The orc bore his amber eyes into him.
“Aye.” He reluctantly removed his hand.
”No more interruptions then.” The orc returned his attention to the bandages and swiftly cut them off. When he carefully peeled them open, Legolas made a sharp intake of breath between clenched teeth. New blood welled out of the hole, and Wynne had to avert her eyes, feeling the faintness return.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” the orc answered, even though none of them had said anything.
He put the bandages back and rummaged through his bag again, fishing out two glass bottles, one very small, the other bigger.
“Seeing as you are a suspicious one, I shall explain what I do.” He had turned to Thranduil. ”This is ’seed of the poppy’. It’s a tincture to take away pain.” He measured out half a spoonful of a brownish liquid from the smaller bottle. “Open up, elf.”
Legolas obeyed, swallowing the stuff with a grimace.
“Good, good. You will feel dizzy and probably a bit strange, but the pain will go as well.” He took the other flask. “Now, this here is only used for its smell. I need to know if the bowels are intact.” When he uncorked it, a foul odor spread through the small room. He helped Legolas drink several mouthfuls, which made the elf almost gag from the taste, and then allowed him to wash it down with water.
Wynne hoped the orc would not say what was in it. Judging by the stench, it must be something very nasty indeed.
“Now we wait for the poppy effect to kick in, and the smelly stuff to go down.” The orc nodded at Wynne. “You should sit, miss. You look pale.”
Thranduil turned to her in surprise, only now noticing she was still there. He seemed on the verge to turn her out, and she half prepared to beg him not to, when Legolas talked for the first time.
“Please stay... Wynne.” His voice was faint, but there was a stubborn set to his jaw, and he was looking at his father, not her. She could have kissed him right there.
“I’m not going anywhere.” She sat on the other bunk, sinking down in the fluffy mattress. It felt springy, stuffed with some dried plant. Heather?
A few minutes went by in silence. The healer busied himself with arranging needles, thread, hot water and bandages on the table.
Thranduil sat by his son’s head, stroking the blond hair. Legolas’ eyes were glossy again, with dilated pupils that made them look almost black, and his pallid skin was moist with sweat. It looked like he was getting worse. Why would the healer not do anything, sew him up at least? What if he lost all blood he had? Wynne fiddled with the mattress, rolling the fabric between her fingers, and wished she could help. To just idly sit there was torture.
“You must not leave me, promise you shall not.” Thranduil took his son’s hand in his. ”My heart would not survive the loss of another loved one.”
“You can… control many things, Ada… but not death.” He smiled weakly.
Wynne bit her lip to stop herself from sobbing, but the tears pouring from her eyes were harder to check.
“There, now,” soothed the healer. “You still live, and I shall do my best to keep it that way.” He sat next to Legolas and uncovered the wound again, gingerly feeling around the edges. Then he bent over and sniffed the injury thoroughly with his large, burly nose. With a pleased grin, showing off a sparse amount of canines, he sat up. “Good news, I can’t smell the stink potion. Lucky bugger, you.”
“What does that mean?” asked Thranduil.
“It means his bowels are whole. With a broken gut, his chances to survive would be slight at best. Stuff would leak out and his belly would fill with pus and nastiness.”
“And now?” The king’s voice was hoarse, as if he dared not hope.
“Now the outlook is a lot better.”
Wynne let out a long, ragged breath. She had not even noticed she was holding it in. Could the orc really be right? But Legolas looked so bad. His eyes were glazed and saliva trickled from the corner of his mouth.
The healer went to work with the needle, pushing Legolas to lie on his side. The elf hardly even flinched when the back wound was sewn together in a row of neat knots.
“The poppy seems to work well,” the orc noted.
“I feel great,” slurred Legolas.
“I’m sure you do.” The orc made a wheezing sound, possibly a laugh. He cleaned the area around the stitches, and reached after the bandages when Wynne interrupted.
“We have a potion to stop infection. And the elves have a herb salve. Perhaps we should put it on?”
“Oh? Let me see.”
“I’ll get Galion, he brought the healing bag with him when we left the packs.” Wynne jumped to the door, glad to finally be of use. Galion followed her back with the requested items.
The old healer smelled the fire water and tasted a drop.
“Brandy?” He spat it out. “We brewed that back in Isengard, nasty stuff. Makes people stupid. Stupid and violent.”
“You can use it on the wound. So it heals easier.”
“Interesting. I had no idea. And this salve?”
“That is made with Athelas . Some call it kingsfoil. It is a flower,” explained Galion.
“Another time, I would like to discuss these things with you. And I shall show you how we prepare our seed of the poppy.”
“Poppy seeds?” Galion peered closer at Legolas’ eyes. “Is that what you have given him? He looks like he ate a hobbit mushroom.”
“Oh, hello Gale. My fingers look funny. See?” Legolas held out his hand and regarded it with great interest.
“Hobbit mushrooms, never heard of those,” said the orc. “We really must have that talk. But not now. Time to dress the wounds.”
Galion gave the orc a spirit soaked cloth, which he dabbed on the stitches before smearing herb paste on the area and covering it up with clean linen. Then he did the same with the stomach wound.
”There, Mister prince. All patched up for today.”
“Not sewing the front?” asked Galion.
“No, it will keep bleeding inside for a few days at least, and that blood must have a way out. It’s best to leave it open for now, and change bandages often.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I was Saruman’s chief healer. I can’t count the number of times I have treated patients with spear wounds or deep sword cuts.”
“He is in good hands then. Thank you.” Galion pressed the old orc’s hand.
“No need to thank me.” He looked at Thranduil. “All I ask is that you are true to your word.”
Oh dear, looks like poor Legolas is in for the trip of his life... Seed of the poppy is also called Laudanum, or opium. Powerful painkiller, strong drug... Don't try that at home, kids! You will see in next chapter it's not all fun and flower power.
As for the mention of hobbit mushrooms, I made those up, but with hobbit's love of mushrooms I'm sure they must have discovered the "magic" variety. ;)
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