Excerpt: Children of Fury, Chapter 20. Old School Medicine

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(Setup: Beli O’Danu, shot with an arrow and is bleeding to death. The knowledge of the Draoithe (Irish Druid) are what stands between him and death.)

20. Old School Medicine

Donal continued to help his old friend down the path to the river. Conn with his father’s arm around his neck helped to partly carry and partly drag the elder O’Danu to where the two men directed.

“Here! Put me down, here.” Beli grunted painfully, as they came to a clearing.

Beli’s shirt was sticky with clotted blood and matted with a paste of moss and herbs he had smeared on his own chest. Putting the poultice where the arrow protruded, the herbs had slowed the bleeding.

“Conn, collect some wide-flat rocks and build a small fire.” Said Donal as he went down to the riverside and began selecting plants with a critical eye. “Clean and heat the rocks over the fire until the water cooks off.” The High-Priest directed while he searched for those plants needed to save his friend’s life.

Beli wheezed out orders to Conn on what rocks to look for. Donal returned with an armful of roots, twigs and herbs with fleshy leaves, setting them down on the ground, he began to wash his hands in the clear water of the stream, cleaning the mud off his fingers.

Conn collected several large, flat rocks, about the size of his two spread hands, he cleaned them well with clean water and placed them near the pile of twigs and leaves.

While Donal was sweating from his exertions of grinding the leaves and the moisture from the herbs had mixed with the bark that he had collected in a small mortar and pestle into a smooth dough like texture. Time was short and his friend’s life hung in the balance. The longer they took, the weaker Beli was getting.

Conn started the fire with the use of flints, gently blew on the ember that he had been able to spark. With the growing fire. Conn began to wash two stones near the stream, cleaning the stones with a soapwort rub, then washed with water until it was clear. Then, with the fire burning hotly, Conn put the two stones near the flames to dry.

Conn’s father-in-law made himself as comfortable as possible, kneeling near the fire, putting a collection of bark and herbs on one of the rocks that had a concave surface, then began to press the medicines together with a small well used silver rolling-pin.

As Donal pressed the juices from the succulent greens he had just picked, chosen with an expert eye, Conn watched closely as the elder Draoi crushed and mixed the ingredients with the experience that would let him watch for the proper texture and color of ingredients.

Placing more herbs, Donal continued to grind the organic bits together on the hot rock, the mixture sizzled and put off a strong smoke that made him blink and cough.

“It is better at an alter, the smoke does not drift into my face so I can use it for bandages and not choke or blind me.” Donal coughed again. His voice quavered slightly and he cleared his throat, getting back to his task.

Conn suspected, however, that not all the tears were from the smoke.

Conn helped Donal by slowly pouring water over the tops of the rocks with a small silver cup that the elder Draoi handed him. While Donal tore a leaf apart and began to mix it with water, heating it until it bubbled.

Donal touched a branch taken from a willow tree to the mixture, the thick, hot viscous liquor coated it cooled on the smoothed carved twig.

Beli, who had been watching this turned his eyes down the path, Gael, Conn’s mother and teacher walked towards them from the ocean where they had taken refuge from the advancing armies of Parliament.

Several of the women burst out in tears at the sight of the wounded Beli laying on his back, only to have the Gael silence them with a wave of her hand.

“Time now is not for tears! Now is the time to repair and save a life. We need the finest, clean linen that anyone has.”

Gael invoked her title as a High Priestess, the Ard-Draoi. The Baker family who were Druid Priests and Priestesses of the Scots, the name of Baker had a huge influence wherever they walked and Gael was not to trifle with when it came to her knowledge of the Draoithe.

From within a pouch she carried at all times, Gael produced smaller bags of salts and knelt by Donal who looked up and nodded. Taking several small bags laid them next to the fresh herbs that Donal had collected.

Niamh, Conn’s mother-in-law and High Priestess in her own right, directed the women to gather strips of clothing to prepare for dressings. Setting down her own bag of collected medicinal herbs that exceeded Gael’s in the form of infection control herbs.

Niamh took a handful of linen from Anne MacNamara, who had grabbed anything she could while running from the advancing troops. The clothing was the best she had, giving it up to the priestess who had the intense look and a sense of urgency not seen before. Anne was not about to cross Niamh the healer.

Walking with the armful of dresses, Niamh stopped and pulled up some roots of a nearby plant. At the stream, tearing strips out of the clothing that Anne had given her, Niamh began to wash the makeshift bandages in the clear water of the river while she ordered the other women to build a fire nearby.

Gael nodded to herself as she directed what kinds of plants to use for the fire. The three Draoi worked together with intensity to save the life of their friend and mate, for what was about to come was the hardest and most difficult part for them to do.

Beating the strips furiously with a stick over one of the rocks that Conn had gathered, the plants and cloth formed a thick lather that Niamh instructed the helping women, including her friend Gael to rinse out in the flowing clear water for some minutes until all the water flowed clear of the strips. One after another Gael and Niamh inspected the linen strips carefully. Those that passed inspection were hung to dry in the smoke of the slow fire that they built using bundles of incense gathered by the remaining women and children. The smoke of the herbs, they explained, prevented infection later.

These treated linens Gael handed Conn, instructing her son to hold them by the corners and not to interrupt her while she was explaining how to do what he needed to do.

Detached from the activities that would save his life, Beli laughed silently, no matter how old her son was, he was still Gael’s child and would follow her directions.

Conn, used to giving orders and being in charge  bowed to his mothers sharp tongue and the father-in-law’s orders of what to do and how to do it.

As Beli lay on the ground, weakly moving his hands as if to guide the operation. A dozen of the villagers that had found refuge among the bluffs of the shore worked furiously to gather herbs under the directions of Donal and the Priestesses. Few had time to stand and watch, praying for the injured elder while they foraged for the needed herbs. So many had died that day, no one wanted to watch another one of their own also pass at the hands of the Parliament’s Agents.

“By the stones!” Beli wheezed out, his agitation growing with the pain. “This is beginning to seriously hurt!”

“It is going to hurt more before it gets better old friend, “Donal knelt next to Beli, “this might have been easier if I had the Spoon of Diokles with me, but that all burned with the village.”

Beli tried to interrupt but Donal shushed him.

“Yes, I have the Saultis Ominus nearly ready. Yes, our wives have the dressings nearly dry over the fire and clear of bad airs. Yes, we have the proper herbs.” Donal pressed a finger to the wounded man’s lips. “Shut up and rest.” There was no appeal to Donal’s command.

Then Donal’s tone softened as he touched his friend on the shoulder.

“Beli, to take this spike out of your chest will be difficult and the wound is deep.”

“I have made it this far,” Beli looked slowly around at the mountains and then the sky. “I’m ready to do this. This is hurting more with each breath. But I am not coughing up blood, my fingers are not white at the nails, if it has caused a hole where the blood flows, it is plugging it up now. When you pull it out, it will unplug the hole like a bung from a barrel. Then I would be dead before you could stop the bleeding.” Beli wheezed painfully.

“Beli,” Donal said softly.

“I know…” Grimacing against the pain he interrupted as he grabbed at his old friend’s chest, “I cannot live with this in and every moment it is in me, the more damage and the more pain it causes. It must come out, one way or another. It is good that it is you, you have the best knowledge to do this. You have pulled these out of men before during battles.”

Donal nodded, mixing the dried and powdered herbal potion with the smallest amount of water to mix a paste on the cleaned linens. Conn brought some powdered leaf over on the warm rock with the willow branch, now cut by Gael who carefully heated the twig over the fire until it turned color, she was careful as not to burn the wood as it would be ruined, and Gael did not have time to prepare a new branch.

Taking the remaining uncooked paste, Donal smeared the pungent mixture over his hands. Donal who wrinkled his nose at the smell.

“It tingles my hands and burns my nose — Aye, it is a strong mix. This will either cure you or kill you old friend!”

“Where is my bite rag?” Beli groaned. “Be good and sure it has the medicine in it.”

Conn brought the linen pouches that they made up for the procedure. One, moist but light in weight and green, the other that was heavier but dry and colored tan. Careful to kneel next to his mother as he held them out to Gael on a cleaned rock, who took the light one and handed the larger, heavier tan wrap to Donal who set it along on the edge of the heated rock.

Donal nodded at Gael and Beli, everything was ready.

“Put it in your mouth. Beli, bite down a few times.”. Gael gave no room for debate as she looked down at her husband, holding the thumb sized green rag to his lips.

“I know what to do!” Said Beli, with his voice muffled by the green linen bag.

“Shush and chew, husband.” She kissed his forehead. “Before I thump you.” The threat was without weight of malice. The only emotion she let be obvious, sharp she might be, he was the love of her life.

Donal looked at Conn, “I will need you to pack the wound with the flat of the willow-branch there. Scoop up the powder and dump it in and around the hole after I remove the spike until the bleeding stops or there is a pile over it. If he bleeds too much, your father will not stand a chance. But I venture an opinion that it has missed his vitals.”

One last breath Donal braced himself, wrapping his hand around the iron neck of the arrow-bolt, he held it for a moment, looking into the eyes of his friend and son-in-law’s father. Beli had become quiet. He had a familiar, dreamy look on his face and an odd glazed look in his eye that showed that he was already in an induced sleep.

“No pulsations from the shaft, this is a promising sign. Okay, straight out and easy.” Donal said quietly.

“Niamh, Conn hold on to his arms. Gael, keep him calm.” Drawing a deep breath, he looked at his old friend. “Beli, see you on the other side my brother.”

A gentle pull and Beli became wide-eyed with a grunt as the pain exploded through him. Gripping the green grass underneath him tightly.

“Keegan! Keegan! Tá brón orm! Fill ar ais go dom mo garmhac! Tar ar ais chugam!*” Beli screamed.

(*Keegan! Keegan! I am sorry! Return to me my grandson! Come back to me!)

Gael, kneeling at Beli’s head squeezed red juice from a cloth with bark and berries into her husband’s mouth, the extra plant extract calming him further. Taking care that Beli would not stop breathing under the narcotic effects of the herbal medicines, the effects were rapid and predictable.

Donal kept pulling, not letting up and not letting go for worry that it would do more damage as it returned to its resting place. But, if he pulled too hard it would cause a suction that could kill his patient.

Moments passed and the shaft did not move. Then slowly as Donal applied a little more pull on the arrow, it began to back out. Imperceptibly at first as sweat beaded on Donal’s forehead, then the arrow shaft started to move steadily backwards out of the chest of his best friend and family member.

It was out the length of a fingernail. Dried blood on the shaft was the marker how deep it had been.

“Pour some powder around the base of the shaft.” Donal told Conn.

“Keep him from moving his head as much, he flexes his muscles here and in his back when he moves. It is making it difficult and more painful.” Donal admonished Gael as he kept the tension on the shaft.

Width of a finger out.

The dart began to slide out of the wound more easily, the tapered shaft, Donal thanked the Gods it was not a broad head. Built with socket-fitted tip on the wooden arrow.  They forged the tip to penetrate armor and then wedge in the metal skin with the wood fibers, made for piercing armor and disabling but it was not efficient at killing.

Wisdom held that it took more men of the enemy to remove the wounded from the field of battle than to tend the dead. Those that were left then would have the archers come down and the killing would be done with knife, sword or ax on the battlefield.

Two fingers width of arrow withdrawn.

“More powder, get the cloth ready to staunch the bleeding.” A small trickle of blood was visible. Donal had one hand on the patients chest, pushing while the other hand pulled on the iron neck of the arrowhead.

With a wet sucking sound, the needle sharp arrowhead came out of Beli’s chest.

“Now, pour some powder in the hole and cover it up with the cloth and press firmly, until I tell you to stop.” Donal told Conn, “Not TO hard! Don’t break your father’s ribs. He won’t like that.”

His hand firmly over the hole and watching the blood soak into the cloth as he pressed directly on the wound, Conn was now sure that the old man was going to live. Donal carefully put down the blood-slicked spike. It was well made, fortune was with them, no barbs or splinters anywhere on the edges and no bleeding salts had been on the shaft. Donal did not cause more damage with the removal. The arrow did all the insult to the body at the moment when it entered his chest.

Turning back, “You can take your hand away,” Donal covered Conn’s hands and smiled. “apprentice, you have done well! You teach us how to build ships, we will teach you, yet, about herbs, medicines and how to heal.” Donal said as he dressed the wound with the bandages prepared by the women.

Conn chuckled, it had been a long time since anyone dared call him an apprentice, but here? Here he was well outside of his normal circles. Looking at his mother, she smiled at him, making him feel young again.

“You did well, Conn.” Croaked Beli, “Don’t you agree, Gael?”

“Shush, you old shoe.” Gael looked down at him. “You made me a near widow, when you are fit I will make you fear me more than death, enough to step away from any arrow. I will not do this again with you! I’ll find me a handsome young man and toss you out!”

Tears were in her eyes as she spoke, there was no conviction in the words. He might be an old shoe, but he was hers and she took care of all her belongings. She was the queen of collecting in the family and her family was her prize collection, Conn her only child and Beli her only mate. They taught and treated together many children and people, every day it was another family that needed to help a child born into the world or a negotiation between clans. Gael’s family was her soul.

Donal opened a pouch withdrew a couple of stones, setting one aside, then another.

“No, wrong effect. This one is wrong, too. There! This one.” Then with a skilled touch, Donal began to grind a small chip into a powder.

Conn looked and recognized a few of the stones in the pouch, many he did not.

“Bloodstone, feldspar, rubháid bairestone. What is this?”

“That, my son, is ‘Sruthfola’, it can cause severe bleeding. Only used in scant amounts to keep blood thin to promote healing on some injuries.” Beli whispered, “Or stuck into someone to cause them bleed for a long, long time without stopping.”

Conn looked at his father, he was still glassy-eyed from the herbal cloth that Gael pushed into his mouth, but he was still awake and able to talk.

“Dittany, is a plant that stops bleeding and promotes healing. I’ll be well enough in a day.” Moaned Beli, his voice a bit stronger now.

“NO! Beli! I will thump you!” Growled Gael, pulling her husband of so many seasons down to his back by an ear. “You will heal and rest.”

“She’s right. No herb or magic can take the place of healing. Magic can fix the problem, but the body must go back in balance.” Donal said to Beli, he would not dare oppose Gael now in any case.

“Then catch up with my son. He is walking with that look in his eye again. He is thinking of something.”

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Sail into the harbor of my soul; tell me your heart

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