An Atikan Interlude - Part V

Released July 28, 2019, this story was an interesting write for me. The horrors of the plague are a part of the Thrain landscape, but not everyone in service to the Crown is a monster.


The Pestilential

We are not victims of aging, sickness and death. These are part of scenery, not the seer, who is immune to any form of change. This seer is the spirit, the expression of eternal being.
— Deepak Chopra

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“With fire.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Always with fire,” repeated the man. He was clad in a brown robe, striped with yellow. Like some sort of sickly bee. It was appropriate, given his position within the Kingdom. The men gathered before him, five fathers with children sequestered, were all wringing their hands and trying to look past him. Into the tents. Where death had taken up residence.

“But what if there is a-”

“A what? A way to save them? There isn’t. There never is.” The man in the striped robe removed the goggles and strange muzzle-like mask that were wrapped around his head. They squeezed his forehead and temples so tight that he would inevitably suffer a headache before an hour in the tent was up. He hooked them onto his belt, careful not to slice his hands with the various nasty implements that hung from the leather. “We burn the bodies, so that there is no spread.” The man’s face softened somewhat. He knew their pain – he had felt it before. Still felt it.

“We do make sure that they are dead first,” he continued. The man noted grimly that the lie was now coming out as naturally as the truth. “You must understand that. Now, please. Back to your homes. We will let you know when the next inspection is to take place. Do not try to leave the quarantine zone – I would hate to have to burn your body along with those of your children. Not to mention the crossbow bolt in the back that you will receive for your trouble.”

With that, the Pestilential motioned to the men waiting in the shadows between the tents for his order. They emerged into the fading evening light. An inverted crimson triangle on their breastplates, the Ishan City Guard’s reputation preceded them. Even in a desperate and frozen place like Rhymore, that triangle had no trouble inspiring fear in the Thrain populace. The men tried to take one final look through Jonas to their children before slowly turning away. When they were finally out of sight, the Pestilential relaxed. He hated it when the family had to be put to the sword. Or mace. Or crossbow.

“Too bad,” said one of the Guard, spitting on the icy ground near the tent. “I was ‘opin’ for a bitta excitement.”

“Yes, well,” said Jonas, managing to hide his disgust, “I’m going to have to tend to the sick. I will not pretend to command you, gentlemen, but I suspect you will want to relieve Ulfric and Koontz on their patrols.”

“Right you are, plague man,” said the other guard, grinning. “More chance of ‘avin’ ta put a dissenter down dat way.”

It never ceased to amaze Jonas the degree to which the City Guard consisted of vile animals. It seemed only by luck that a few of them were not bloodthirsty caricatures of men. Not like Jonas, of course. He did what needed to be done. And if that meant killing a child or a man or a woman who seemed to be on the mend before they could spread their disease to the rest of the Kingdom, he would do his duty. But he would never relish it.

No, never that.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

“Ye ‘as ta do somethin’, ‘orst!”

“I can’t, Igraine. I just can’t. Ye wants me ta die, too? Dey brought da fuckin’ City Guard, Gods-damn it all.”

“‘tis our bairn out there, our Yen. She’s gonna die, an’ it will all be my fault!”

“It weren’t yer fault, Igraine,” said Horst, taking a seat at the small table in the cramped kitchen. “Ye were doin’ what any Mudder worth dat name’d do – our girl was sick and ye went to da Physiker fer ‘elp. No tellin’ dat she would have called it Cyclo- cyclo- cyclo-”

“Cyclopean Fever, ‘osrt,” Igraine too a seat next to her husband and clasped his hands in hers. “Ilya telt me dat deys ‘ad it in da capital fer months. Never t’ought it’d make it o’er dis way. Some dirty bugger musta came in da shop and touched somethin’ dat Yennefer got ‘er ‘ands on. If only I-”

“Enough, Igraine. Enough. Like Physiker Indigo said, it weren’t no one’s fault.”

“‘cept fer maybe ‘is! Fuckin’ Physikers! It was ‘im what called in dat fuckin’ monster and da City Guard! It was ‘im what got our ‘ometown quarantined so’s we can’t even go out ta me brudder’s farm, let alone get away from ‘ere.” With that, Igraine began to bawl again. Horst edged his chair closer to her and took her in his arms.

“Please don’t blame ‘im, Igraine, me love,” said Horst, drawing her close. “‘e’s a good man, just doin’ ‘is job.” How Horst wished he believed that.

Igraine pushed her husband away, stood up, and glowered down at him. “Ye t’inks dat ‘e can’t do no wrong a’tall. Just because ‘e fixed yer Gods-damned leg! Well, ‘e just unfixed our fuckin’ daughter. Ye knows what dese animals – dese Pestilentials - does? Dey burns ‘ole villages to da ground.”

“Let me guess, ya ‘eard dat from Ilya. Anyt’ing yer brudder don’t know?”

“Don’t start on me wit’ dat, ‘orst. I ain’t ‘avin’ it!” The woman softened then. “Yen. Yer daughter. She’s in danger, ‘orst. Da man I married never shrunk from a battle, not wit’ da Liserians on a raid ‘ere in Rhymore, not when ye was wit’ da City Guard-”

“Careful, Igraine,” said Horst. “I telt ya dat I ain’t fightin’ no more. At least, not wit’ da King. Ya want a dead ‘usband to go wit’ yer dead daughter?” With that, Igraine began to wail again. “Naw, dat ain’t what I meant, Igraine. Look, lemme go talk ta Eckhart. See if there’s nowt ta be done – wit’out violence, like.”

Without violence. Even then, Horst knew it to be the fancy of a child. He could see with dark clarity exactly where this was headed. He had smelt it the moment the Pestilential walked through the gates of Rhymore and gathered everyone in the Town Square while the City Guard surreptitiously cordoned off the exits. He had certainly sold the lie well, the idea that he was here on behalf of the King and would do what he could for the people of the town. But Horst knew, that very first instant, that this man in his striped robe, bearing gleaming knives and a silvern tongue, would place himself between Horst Thornberry and the survival of his only child.

It is said that you cannot escape your past. With a full complement of City Guard slavering outside his doors, waiting for someone to make a mistake so that they could run the unfortunate through, Horst finally understood the full meaning of the phrase.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

“You say these things as if there is anything I can do about them, Horst. This is the City Guard we are talking about.”

Physiker Indigo was standing above his small laboratory, a mess of mortars, pestles, braziers, and phials in various levels of fullness. On the shelf behind him there were more phials, bundles of leaves and flowers, more stone and glassware. The man was nothing if not a more than competent Herbalist.

“Some a dem survives,” said Horst, crossing his arms and taking a seat at the Physiker’s desk. He put his feet, which had been covered with a mix of dirt and snow which was now melting, up on a stack of parchment. “Dat’s what ya telt me. When I first came ta ye. Was ye lyin’?”

“Thornberry, get your feet off of those!”

Horst complied, slowly, using one hand to help the foot that was attached to a contraption of wood and metal that stopped below the man’s knee.

“I thought we had come to an understanding, Horst,” said the Physiker. “There was nothing for me to do except send for the Pestilential. Cyclopean Fever is going to kill those that end up in those tents.”

“Dat’s not what ye said at first.”

“I said it as a comfort, Horst,” the Physiker replied, rubbing his forehead. “For your wife. And you.” Seeing that his guest was unsatisfied, he placed the phial into a little wooden stand that held it upright and crossed to sit at another chair near the desk. He spread his palms to face Horst and spoke softly. “Yes, some survive. With one good eye that’s half-blind, touched in the head and suffering constant tremors that see them void their bladders and colons uncontrollably. Even if your girl survived, would you want that kind of life for her?”

“Dat ain’t yer decision to make,” said Horst. “Nor is it fer dat son of a bitch in da striped robe.” Horst looked down at the backs of his hands. The crisscross of scars across his knuckles had faded, but still gleamed a bone white in the lantern-light. “I trusted ye, Eckhart. I don’t know why I did, but I did. And dat’s on me. Ever since ya telt me dat me Yen was gonna die, I feels like I’ve been in a dream.”

Physiker Indigo reached to place his hand over Horst’s. The man pulled it away and the Physiker simply shook his head sadly. “I cannot imagine what you are going through, Horst. I am truly sorry for what has happened.” He paused. “How is Igraine?”

“‘ow d’ya t’ink? She’s like da world took a big shite on ‘er, an’ she’d not be wrong. Yen is our only bairn, an’ ye’ knows we can’t ‘ave annuder one.”

Eckhart Indigo, Physiker of Rhymore, nodded at his patient, stood, and went to fetch something from his shelf.

“I am going to give you a draught. Something to help you sleep. Perhaps-”

“She wants me ta do somethin’,” said Horst, interrupting the Physiker. “Somethin’ final, wit’ da Pestilential an’ da Guard.” The man stood and crossed the room to stand next to the Physiker. He pressed in towards him, closing the space until there was none left. The Physiker barely had enough time to notice that there was a stink of garlic and ale upon the man’s breath before Horst reached out and roughly took him by the neck.

“Ye’s sure,” said Horst, squeezing the man’s throat. “Dat dere ain’t any way dat our daughter might survive dis wit’ ‘er faculties intact, eh? Any cases ye know of? After I buries ‘er, I plans ta make a trip, ta Isha. To da Citadel. Ta consult da experts on Physik. Is dere any reason ta t’ink dat ye might not be givin’ me da ‘ole trut’? Any reason why I might come back ‘ere, ready ta get revenge on me good friend Eckhart Indigo?”

Eckhart, son of a country noble from an Estate nearby Rhymore, would not have had much call to investigate the past of the local Blacksmith. Except that this particular Blacksmith had lost his leg from an infected wound years before and come to see Eckhart shortly after he arrived, fresh with modern medical knowledge from his training at the Citadel. When Eckhart fitted him with a prosthesis and, brought low by a pang of loneliness, the Physiker took his patient out for an ale at the local tavern. Horst spilled his story to him over the course of an evening that ended with both men blind-drunk. The Blacksmith had been a City Guard, cracking skulls for the King in the Purple Run. A feces-smeared stiletto blade had caused the infected wound that took his leg. After he was crippled doing his job, the Guard unceremoniously gave him the boot, without so much as a Veteran’s stipend.

Strangely, given his past, Horst was a sedate man. Or seemed to be. He certainly had fooled Eckhart into a sort of friendly nonchalance that blossomed into what was by all accounts a genuine friendship. A friendship that was being sorely tested at the moment. The rage simmering behind the eyes of the man crushing his windpipe made him reconsider keeping the secret he had been keeping.

“O-K,” Eckhart croaked, smacking Horst on the forearm a few times until he let him go. He took a moment to catch his breath before speaking again. “There have been a handful of cases where people have survived without the mental injury. The vision problems are guaranteed, though. This outcome is an extreme rarity, I assure you.” Eckhart’s face changed into one of extreme contrition. “You have to understand, Horst: I would have been killed if I had not contacted the Office of Pestilence as soon as I identified the illness. It is a capital offence and many a Physiker has swung on the gibbet for trying to conceal something like this.” He paused again. “I was between a rock and a hard place and I am sorry for how I acted.”

The look Horst was giving Eckhart compelled the Physiker to plea for his life once more. Horst listened and balled his fists. He could have started with Eckhart, and wanted to, but it had been too long a gap between the death of Physiker Meltun and Indigo’s arrival in Rhymore. If he killed him now, under these circumstances, the Citadel might assume that Rhymore was unfit for its help and refuse to send a replacement.

“Ye’s a yellow cunt, Indigo,” said the Blacksmith, after the final self-pitying word by the Physiker. “Ye t’ought I couldn’t be trusted wit’ dis information, because o’ me past. We bot’ knows it. I expects ye simply t’ought I’d do somet’ing rash. Dat ‘urts, old friend.” Horst put his hand on the Physiker’s shoulder and squeezed until the man cried out and fell to his knees.

“Da t’ing is, dough: ye were right.”

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

By the time Jonas was finished directing the City Guard in the construction of the pyre, he was tired. More tired than he had been in many years. Perhaps it was his time on the road, perhaps it was his labours with the sick, perhaps it was simply surrounding himself with so much death. It was a weariness that seemed to emerge from his bones and taint the flesh that surrounded it. Yawning, he went to the disinfection tent and doused himself with Styx, the chemical flush used by members of his guild to prevent the fatal ichors emanating from the ill spreading to the well. Satisfied that he was free of any more Cyclopean Fever, he poked his head out of the tent and surveyed Rhymore.

The tents had been set up in the Town Square, an open little bit of wagon-rutted dirt which featured an aging fountain with a pair of battered buckets and ancient ropes piled nearby. There was a fine dusting of snow on everything. Around them, the Magistrate’s Tribunal, the Mayor’s Office, a dry goods shop, and the local tavern were connected by tautly wound ropes – the quarantine lines. Lit lanterns cast a warm yellow glow upon everything in the early evening gloom. Above the door to the tavern, the silhouette of an osprey on an orange field was painted onto a sign that was creaking in the breeze. The groans from the tents had mostly ceased – the children and few adults who were suffering from Cyclopean Fever had fallen back into their torpors.

Jonas looked back at the tavern and licked his lips. The Fading Sun, it was called. No doubt they had their own local fare, some sort of cloudy and sour mess that passed for ale. Nothing like the Cistern. How he longed to be at home for a tankard of that nectar at the Green Dragon.

He would not go in, of course. The last time that he made the mistake of venturing into a tavern in a town which he was cleansing, he barely made it out with his life. The men of Rhymore did not seem to be as disgruntled as the ones of the little hamlet near the Liserian border who had pressed a rapier to his ballsack and told him in no uncertain terms to leave - both the tavern and the town – but he would not chance it. How the City Guard had made those men pay for their error. Thirsty or not, Jonas could not be so foolish as to bring down the wrath of the Ishan City Guard upon another town.

Instead, Jonas retreated back to his tent. He still had a few swallows of aquavit that he had purchased from the Peddler on the road. It was not enough to get him as soused as he preferred, but it would take the tremor out of his limbs and let him sleep. A dreamless sleep, with luck. Without luck, he would be revisiting the night his parents were taken from him. Jonas was not a betting man, but if he were, he would have wagered his life’s savings that it would be the latter.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

Horst coughed as the dust from beneath the floorboard filled his lungs. When he recovered, he reached in and pulled out the leather wrapping along with the items that had been placed within. Straining, he walked over to his workbench, plopped the bundle down, and unrolled the works.

Chainmail. A flanged mace. A straight short sword. A crossbow and a dozen bolts. Leather pants. And, of course, the leather breastplate with the red inverted triangle. He had managed to steal away from Isha before his standard issue was recalled by his superiors.

Humming to himself some sea ditty he had picked up from the Sailors that frequented the Fading Sun, Horst picked up the phial that was hidden beneath the breastplate. Inside, a grey powder nearly filled the small vessel to the top. He hoped that the stuff did not become ruined with age. He could not risk being absent every advantage.

Horst had considered and decided against asking some of the other men – Walter and Rand, for two – for their help. A Farmer and Miller. They were too ill-suited to the task, and Horst was not prepared to get them killed on his account, even if they themselves had children in the tents.

Horst pulled on his work gloves, opened the phial, and poured the contents onto the blade of the sword and the sharpened edges of the mace. Then he rubbed the poison in, in a circular fashion and with even pressure, the way the Thief had described it to him. What was his named again? Thule? Whoever he was, he promised Horst that he was out of the game and offered up the poison as a way of buying his freedom from what he called his ‘only and last’ arrest. Horst was feeling magnanimous at the time and let the fat oaf go. He was low on the totem pole – Thule’s bumbling manner convinced him of that. He was going to use him as bait to get at the higher ups in the Thieves’ Guild. And then he was awoken in the night with a blade in his calf, jabbed in by an urchin who looked like he had not seen more than nine summers.

Horst lost his leg. And his ability to have children. The urchin was never caught and Thule was never charged. The plans that Horst and Igraine had for a big family were quietly cut away in the night, by a fucking murderous brat from the Run. Horst grimaced and nearly crushed the phial in his hand when the full emotional price of the memory demanded its payment, then opened his hand wide and considered the powder once more.

Trusting a Thief’s word – Horst was most certainly desperate. But he had the advantage of surprise.

Yes, he did have that.

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“Da Wendigo is more man den beast, a creature who ‘as traded he’s ‘umanity in fer a few licks of a femur bone. An’ when da moon is full in a Februum Month cold snap, dat is when ‘e strikes.” The Bard made a show of pointing through the grime of the Tavern window. “An’ look! Yellow and menacin’. Watch yerselves on yer ways ‘ome danight!”

The two City Guard seated at the table nearest the small dais that served as the performance stage at the Fading Sun let out raucous laughs and jeers.

“Me own Auntie could tell a better story’n dat, ya rotten dong ya,” said the one named Ulfric. “Why not somethin’ wit’ a bitta character, like da one about Cap’n Taupe an’ ‘e’s fifty wenches?”

“Yeah,” added Koontz. “Ye’s shite. Unlike me associate ‘ere, I ain’t got no fix fer ya. Shite’s shite, wedder ya put a Sun’s Day dress on da loaf or not – dat’s what me Auntie used ta say.”

“She sounds charming,” replied Errol the Bard. He immediately regretted his words, but he had had a few too many tankards of Stout Peter that night and his tongue had loosened to slipping. He had not been gone from Isha for so long that he had forgotten the cost of crossing the City Guard.

“What’d ye say, ya fuckin’ whoreson?” Koontz was on his feet, as was Ulfric. They swayed some as they rose, given their own enjoyment of the tavern’s tipple.

“Me apologies, gentlemen,” said Errol, inclining his head. “I didn’t mean ta offend. Might I buy ye’s anudder tankard?” Errol looked up to see that the men had not reacted to his words. “A whole cask, den. ‘twould be me pleasure.” At this, the men mocked him once more before nodding and sitting down.

A whole cask. The entirety of his night’s earnings, and then some, used to pay off these brigands in service to the King. And he thought he had escaped the madness of the capital by coming to Rhymore. Sighing, the Bard nodded to the Tavernkeeper. Lupin returned the gesture and fetched up a cask from beneath the bar.

“As I telt ye at da beginnin’ o’ da night,” Errol said, picking up his lyre and plucking a few notes, “I takes requests. And so allow me ta set da scene. It was yet annuder sunny day in the strange port o’ Tunuska. Captain Taupe ‘ad wandered from ‘is grand ship wit’ sails as black as da night’s sky, into da great sprawlin’ Market. From potions ta blades ta spiced meats ta fine clothes ta whate’er ye could possibly dream up, it was ta be found in da Market. Ol’ Captain Taupe did not stop fer food nor drink, dough, fer as da lustiest Corsair ta e’er sail da seas o’ Clovir, ‘e was on a pilgrimage to da famed Black Mamba…”

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The sound of a man retching cut through the cold night air. It was followed up by a series of slurs and cajolements, which rang out above the groans coming from the tents. Horst, who had been standing in an alleyway near the Mayor’s Office, peered towards the area where he knew the two City Guard on duty would be standing. They did not move. Steeling himself, Horst crouched and stole towards the sound of the vomiting.

“‘Oy! Leggo of me, ya sausage Nigel, ya,” breathed a man from somewhere beyond the tents before Horst. “What? Ye’s gon’ take advantage o’ yer brudder in arms, while ‘e’s seeck? Alright, but make it quick.”

“Christ-man, Koontz, I knew ye was a bugger,” replied another voice, a man evidently as intoxicated as the one called Koontz. “Not dat I t’inks much o’ dem laws. Da King’s should ‘ave naught ta do wit’ what men does wit’ dey’s cocks. ‘cept if dey’s rapin’ or pervertin’ little lads ‘n lassies.”

Horst smiled as he approached. The drunkards would be easy to dispatch, even with one leg. He stepped up against the wall and unhooked the crossbow from his back. With his other hand, he pulled the poisoned sword from his hip. Readying the bow, he quietly slipped into the light.

The men were facing away from him. A tapped cask was resting on a barrel. Two tankards were lying on their sides in the street. One Guard was doubled over and the other was patting him on the back.

Horst took aim at the standing man, pulled the trigger, and… the shot went wild. It passed so close to his head that Koontz felt it, turning to stare glassy-eyed at Horst.

“Christ-man in da garden, would ya looka dis, Ulfric? We’s got ourselves a bitta fun. Oy, old man, where’d ye get one o’ our uniforms? Ye’s just signed yer death warrant, ya dozy cunt.”

Ulfric tried to stand and turn. Instead, he fell forward into his sick and nearly pulled Koontz with him. Koontz, for his part, was struggling with the hilt of his sword, trying to free it from his scabbard.

“Da fros’,” said Horst, grinning and already upon the man. “Sometimes she makes da blade stick.”

With that, Horst buried his own sword to the hilt in Koontz’ neck. He let go and the City Guard toppled. Not missing a beat, he pulled the mace from his hip and started bashing the figure of Ulfric on the curve of his spine. He did not let up until well after he had stopped flopping.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

“Plague man,” boomed a voice from outside. “Come on out.”

Jonas stirred from his dreamless sleep, trying to reorient himself in spite of the cloudiness of his head, brought on by the aquavit. It had been stronger than he remembered.

“Come on out, or I’m comin’ in dere fer ye. And ye’ll not like dat, I’ll warrant.”

The fact that he was being threatened drew Jonas back into himself. He stood, swayed, untangled him from all the skins and blankets he had buried himself under, and started to pull on his striped robe. Christ-man, was it ever cold in this shitehole.

“Yes, I am coming,” said Jonas. “Just give me a moment to get dressed.” Jonas gathered up his tools, the knives and hooks, then put them back. He was not such an idiot to think that he would fight anyone. That was what the City Guard was for. But where were they? Why had they let some interloper through the perimeter to his tent?

This could be it, Jonas realized with some finality. He knew the work he did was a dangerous kind. He would not be the first Pestilential killed by the locals for attending to his duties. People never seemed to like it when their loved ones were about to die, and the harbinger of that death… well, Jonas simply hoped that the men of Rhymore would do it quickly.

Jonas grasped the crucifix around his neck, said a quick prayer before stepping out into the early dawn light. He was greeted by a man dressed in the breastplate of the City Guard. He was covered in blood and gore and had an unhinged look in his eyes. Jonas squinted in spite of his fear.

“Are you – are you the Blacksmith? The one whose daughter was the first patient? Yennefer?”

“Ye remembered,” said Horst. “I figured a degenerate like ye’d be killin’ so many dat ye’d ‘ave fergotten all dere names.”

“I am very sorry for your daughter,” said Jonas, meaning the words that he spoke. “I know what it is like, to lose someone.”

“Ye ain’t knows shite, ye fuckin’ bastard,” spat Horst. “All ye knows is deat’. Our Physiker telt me – sometimes dey survives. But a place dat a Pestilential ‘as gone… dere’s a reason why we uses stories o’ men like ye ta scare da wee ones inta eatin’ dere veg at da supper table.”

Jonas glanced down as the man was speaking. Blood from the bodies of three City Guard, crumpled up into impossible angles between the sway of the canvas walls of the tents, was pooling around Horst’s feet.

“I lost my own family,” attempted Jonas, praying that he might reach the man before he cut him down. “The Pink Rot. Mother and father went to market every day, in Hightown. They were traders – Father exchanged Ishan coin for pelts at the docks, then Mother would stitch them together and sell them to the nobles. We never got rich. But we lived comfortably. I was learning the trade from my father when he came home, a sore as pink as that sun on his wrist.” Jonas gestured at the reddening sky. “When we went to our Physiker, he called in the Pestilentials and they cordoned off our home in the Merchant’s Quarter. The docks were shut down for a week. I never came down with the illness, but I watched my mother and father scream death into their pillows.” Jonas shuddered. How he would have loved another drop of aquavit. “One the Pestilentials took pity on me and took me in. He taught me about the way disease works, how it must be contained if we are to survive.”

“A loverly story,” said Horst. “Now, ye’ll be freein’ me daughter, if ye please. An’ da rest o’ da children if ye wants ta leave Rhymore alive.”

Jonas inclined his head towards the man. In spite of his years watching death reap souls, he could not look at the arrival of his own end.

“Your daughter is dead, Horst. She died the night I arrived.”

A clatter of something metal striking the cobbles was followed by another thud. Jonas looked up to see that Horst had fallen to his knees.

“Dead… but dat couldn’t be… she was alive, and ye kilt er! Didn’t ya?”

“I won’t lie to you, Horst,” said Jonas, crouching down next to the stricken Blacksmith. “I have killed people, ones that seemed to be on the mend. We can never chance that those who do not die from these plagues do not remain carriers for the pestilence. But in my fifteen years of serving the King in this way, I’ve only done it twice. I’ve not done it in the past five year, and never for Cyclopean Fever. Every single person in those tents is going to die without my aid.”

Horst ceased speaking and looked down at his hands. At the blood. And then the bodies.

“I just… killt… all dem men… fer nowt.”

“I cannot say they will much be missed, at least by me, and I would help you if I could. But six City Guard will be wondered about back in Isha. And I will be required to give an explanation.” Jonas stood and offered Horst his hand. “Please. Take your wife and go. Now. I will delay as much as I can but I will need to tell my superiors that someone from this village killed those men and made his escape.” Jonas paused. “You will be hunted. But I gather,” the Pestilential said, pointing to the bodies, “that you are not without your own abilities.”

“Why are ye ‘elpin’ me? I’m nowt ta ye. An’ I killt dem City Guards!”

“They sealed their fates the moment they put on those breastplates and started abusing people. They mean less than nothing to me. And besides, I told you, Blacksmith,” said Jonas, sighing and looking towards the rising sun, “I know what it is to lose someone.”

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.
— Deepak Chopra