Friday, July 17, 2009

Berserker Part 33

A single bell rang forlornly as Millienya pushed open the door to what she hoped would be the apothecary’s shop. They had found it easily enough, with a sign of a mortar and pestle above the old and discreet structure, tucked back into a dark corner of the market district, where mundane customers and those whose comings and goings was best not known to the public would gain easy access. She led their little procession into the dark confines of the shop. Looking around she saw numerous shelves and tables, packed with dusty flasks and jars of herbs, medicines, pickled animals, and parts that are less ably recognized. Their rank odors waged war with the stuffiness and dust motes which could be seen twinkling in the air by candlelight.

With Tyrel and Aniston carefully threading the pallet upon which Seryan lay twitching through the narrow walkways between shelves, Millienya held the terrified gnoll tightly, preventing it from bolting on the spot. The strange sights and smells of the room had it worried.

As the pallet reached a likely looking table, they heard thumping footsteps and muttering from a stairway to the second floor behind the desk of the shop. Apparently the shopkeeper couldn’t secure better living quarters than this dusty old ruin.

He came into view, hastily pulling on a threadbare robe and shuffling in tattered slippers. A short, lanky old man that a kind person might call spry. He peered at them over a pair of spectacles hanging onto the tip of his nose, concientiously smoothing down a few wisps of grey hair on his balding head.

The apothecary stumbled forward, slightly disoriented by their latenight intrusion. “Um.. What can I do for you young lady?”, he asked Millienya, taking in her tired state and weapons he decided it best not to mention the hour.

“Our friend was stabbed by a poisoned blade”, she replied. “Can you help us?”.

“Let’s see the patient then”, he said approaching Seryan laid out on a table. He pulled open his eyelids, listened to his chest, felt his forehead, all the while muttering to himself. He tried to remove the wraps on his left arm, but the apothecary’s gnarled shaking hands weren’t up to the task. Finally Tyrel drew his knife and carefully slit them open. What they found beneath brought a gasp from the lips of even the addled old man. The wound had not closed but gotten larger, with glistening pustules forming all the way to his inner elbow. The skin of his entire arm had gone a sickly green, and darkened to putrid black along the cut. The stench wafting up from the wound was abhorrent, like an old slaughterhouse in the heat of a summer day.

The Apothecary took Millienya over to a corner of the room to talk in private. “He will be dead in another day by my guess”, he said, the sour smell of weirdroot washing over Millienya as he spoke. It was a common enough ingredient in painkilling medicines, but was a powerful narcotic when taken alone. Those who chew too much of the intoxicating stuff slowly lose their grasp on the real world and their sanity.

“He suffers from a high fever and the cut is diseased unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”, he continued.

“Is there nothing we can do?”, Millienya asked desperately.

“Well, I could create an antidote if I knew what poison was used”, he mused. “But I think it likely that he’ll lose the arm even then”. Millienya brightened at the fact that they might be able to save his life.

“We managed to capture one of the monsters that hurt him”, she explained. “We might be able to discover the ingredients”. At her gesture Aniston yanked the gnoll out from under Seryan’s table and casually tossed the creature squalling in front of Millienya, illiciting another surprised gasp from the old man.

“Can it even speak?”, the apothecary asked in wonder.

“Surprisingly yes”, Millienya responded, hauling the gnoll to its feet. She shot a quick glance over to Tyrel who had been waiting for her signal. Barely surpressing a grin he stomped over to them, acting as monstrous and terrible as he possibly could. He came eye to snout with the quivering Fleek.

“What poison did you use?”, he asked frowning ferociously, his overhanging brow threatening to cover his eyes.

“N...Not tell”, Fleek bravely squeeked up at the much larger man.

“We shall have to do something about that then”, Tyrel grabbed a jar from the shelf next to him. “Marjoram”, he read with terrible deliberation. “Do you know what this does to you?”, he asked waving the container at the gnoll, who was too terrified even to shake his head.

“It turns you innards into outards”, Aniston lied as Millienya clamped her hand over the apothecary’s mouth. Just in case he was a few steps behind their intentions.

“But that’s just when you eat a little bit”, Tyrel supplied with a smile. “I wonder what would happen if someone ate the whole jar’s worth?”

“I don’t know but I would hope that it would done outside and away from children... Messy”, Ansiton added with a carefully timed laugh and grim smile.

“Let’s find out”, Millienya finished brightly

Faster than a lightning strike, Tyrel’s free hand flashed out and grabbed Fleek by his furry neck. With Aniston’s help he was able to pry open the gnolls jaws.

“toh, e ell e ell!”, the gnoll choked out just as Tyrel made to pour the contents of the container down its throat. Letting its jaws free the gnoll shrank back into a corner of the room.

“Me tell, me tell!”, it repeated more eloquently.

“Then do so”, hurried the apothecary, who was fast becoming anxious to get these intrusive folks out of his shop.

“Is elder bark, manure, Bog Myrtle roots, fern seeds, and nightshade all mixed up”.
“I know that one”, the apothecary proclaimed proudly. “Me grandfather taught me that when I was little! Works a treat on snakebites too”. As he spoke the apothecary bustled around the shop, setting a kettle on and pulling down jars and flasks from the shelves without even a glance at the labels.

He whispered a strange litany as he worked them through a mortar and pestle. “L’see, hand’s glory.... cowslip.......cyanide, whoops not that.... harebell...”. Finally after much grinding, mixing, and muttering the man had finished. Scooping a fraction of the finished work into a cup of hot water he presented it to the group with a flourish, spilling a portion of the contents on the splintered wooden planks of the floor.

“One cup of this every day for a week should do the trick”.

Millienya took the proffered cup and helped Seryan drink it down, not able to help but notice the grimace of distaste on the man’s face as he swallowed the brew. They all stared intently for any sign of change in the patient. After a few moments Aniston broke the silence.

“Nothing has happened sir”, he observed.

The apothecary broke out in high tittering laughter. “Goodness no!”, he said. “It won’t take effect immediately in a case this bad! Huh, this isn’t magic”.

“We’ll just leave him here until his health improves”, Millienya told the old man, whipping away the grin on his face.

“He can’t stay here!”, he protested pointing to Seryan. “Having a body lying out tends to slow my business”.

Aniston had had about enough of this rude old codger. He puffed his chest out. “Sir”, he said imperiously. “As an apothecary it is your duty to take responsibility for your work and until this man is cured he will not be moved from that spot”.

Standing there, the opponents’ nostrils flared and stared at one another in a silence crackling with mental conflict. While the old man’s blood shot, wild eyes were considered frightening, nothing else of him was. His robe hung on his bony frame like a death shroud, an item which was currently only too worrying to the man. While Aniston’s eyes were hard unwavering chips of ice. His body was held with a proud bearing belying his years, the frame still wide and rigid with muscle.

“Very well”, the apothecary said hanging his head in defeat. “He should show signs of recovery by the day after tomorrow, I will keep him under close watch until then”.

“But you said it would take a week to cure him!”, interupted Tyrel.

“That is just to make sure the poison is completely out of his body”, the man explained. “But he should be able to walk before then”. Hearing this double talk set Tyrel on gaurd, Either there is a poison or there isn’t, he thought. So if there was you would know.

“Right then”, he said loudly. “He was entrusted into my care as well, so I will stay too”.

“Where will you sleep?”, the apothecary asked sarcastically. “The floor?”

“Would you prefer we left the gnoll then?”, Millienya suggested.

“Ah, in that case this fine young man may stay on to ... to gaurd my shop from would-be theives”, the apothecary carefully said as if he was reading from an invisible script. Tyrel smiled and patted the old man on the back, completely oblivious to the relief of having evaded disaster on the apothecary’s face.

“Well, that’s settled”, said Millienya. “We won’t trespass on anymore of your time good sir”. She and Aniston retrieved the gnoll and made their way to the door.

“This wouldn’t be a good time to discuss my fee, would it?”, The apothecary tentatively asked. Three faces set in stone turned on him. “No, thought not”.

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