All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 39

Now there was just the varlet holding the horses–and half a dozen more men straggling out of the bush. The whip dealt with the horse-holder, and the surging panicked horses did the rest. Mindaug gave them their heads, merely trying to keep the wagon on the road while they put some distance between them and the attackers. A keening Emma tried to deal with the injured Tamas, attempting to staunch the blood. Mindaug hoped he didn’t bleed on the books. Leaving aside the mess, it would not be wise with some of those books to let them taste human blood.

A mile or so further, the horses tiring anyway, he pulled them to a halt. There were open fields on either side of them, and little chance for another ambush. “Look to see if there is anyone following,” he said to Emma. “I will deal with Tamas’ wounds as best I can.”

He was irritated with himself, and somewhat shaken, as well. To let such a little incident break his cover! Those who watched this world and others for traces of magic, might now be aware that Count Mindaug was not dead. Such a minor working would be hard to pin-point, true, but he’d preferred them to think him dead, his corpse lying among the bodies on the steppe where Emeric’s forces had failed.

It would have been wiser to just let the bandits have killed the boy. But… that would have left him short a loyal servant, which this journey had made him value. And, truth be told, Mindaug simply hadn’t thought of consequences at the time. He set about looking at the injured Tamas. He knew a good thousand ways to kill people, but had little knowledge and no experience at healing or even at dealing with the injured. He did have several books on medicine, simply because he collected books.

Tamas, it appeared, was at least not dying this instant. He was trying to sit up, and kept rubbing his eyes, which was not helping the cut on his forehead at all. He was plainly confused and ready to try and fight the count too, by the way he milled his hands around. “Lie down and keep still,” Mindaug said sternly.

The wrinkling of his eyes did not help the bleeding, and he was plainly trying to focus and failing. But the familiar voice had an effect. “Yes, Master,” said Tamas, in a slurred but plainly relieved tone. “Emma, is she…?”

“She’s fine. She’s safe. Lie still, I told you.”

Mindaug ripped aside the man’s rough shirt to expose considerable blood and a long wound–from mid-chest and onto the belly. It was bleeding… but he’d seen enough sacrifices to know that this was not the pumping out of major arteries. Emma was back at his shoulder, so he told her to fetch him water and cloths. A quick wash-down of the wound had Emma at his shoulder whispering prayers, wide-eyed because imbedded in the blood and torn flesh was a small, cheap copper icon–a head of St. Arsenius, now with a slit in it. The overhand stab had been forceful enough to go through the leather jerkin, and hit the little saint’s medal and gone partly through it–which had undoubtedly saved Tamas from being opened up like a split carp.

Personally, Count Mindaug doubted divine intervention, but nothing short of a chorus of angels would ever convince Emma that the saint had not personally put his hand out to save her man. The rest of his wounds amounted to a nasty cut on the head, basically a split from the crack he’d got from the cudgel, and two other minor cuts on his arm and shoulder. The bandaging that Mindaug and Emma managed was rough, as the patient was not co-operative. Eventually Mindaug fed the fellow a little poppy-juice, and he did subside into uneasy rest, as they made their way to Vicenza later that afternoon.

They found an inn there. Mindaug decided he’d be wise to leave Emma with Tamas and search out some help. The young woman, distraught, was not good at making sense of the local bastard Frankish. It was hard enough for the count.

He found an apothecary, but two minutes talk convinced him the man was nothing but an ignorant fraud and that what he sold was close to worthless if not dangerous.

In the process, the count found himself wondering why he was taking so much trouble over a servant. He supposed the truth was that he’d probably spent more time in the company of this pair of servants than he had of anyone, since being a small boy. A few further questions of a merchant put him on the trail of a physician, who was, by dint of coin up front, persuaded to come look at Tamas.

“He’s suffering from an impairment to his wits from the blow on the head,” said the physician.

“I needed to give you gold to tell me that?” muttered the count. “What can we do for it?”

“I would say bleed him to remove the excess phlegm,” said the physician.

“I should say he has bled enough,” said the count, irritably.

“Oh,” the physician was plainly a little alarmed by the tone. “Well, he should recover with sufficient rest, unless the demons have taken hold of him. He may suffer terrible headaches. I can provide you with a preparation of my own for that.”

The count did not kick him down the stairs, but it was tempting. Demons! Ha. He knew more about demons than ten such idiots. Instead of buying his quackery he went and dug out the books he had on medicine. It took a while, although each box had been labelled and the count had allowed a narrow passage down the center of the wagon. When he returned to the bed where they’d put Tamas, he found the man had thrown up, and was by his own account feeling better if weak, and keen to see to the horses.

“The hostler has seen to them. You will rest,” commanded Mindaug.

Emma asked permission, timidly, to go and give thanks to God and the blessed St. Arsenius, and to pray for his healing. By the looks of her, she had been weeping, and Mindaug had nothing else that needed doing. So, he sat and read while Tamas slipped into a shallow sleep, and the count moved between Galen and Rhazes.

Emma came back, with food for him. “They say there will be war soon!” she said, fearfully. She could not tell him much, as she struggled with the language. But people were buying supplies against the possibility of siege. So, although it was early evening, the count went out again. He found what he was looking for quickly enough–a gunsmith. Next time that the horses shied from a roadside bush, the count planned to be ready.

Not only could the gunsmith sell him two wheel-lock hand-cannons and tell him that, yes, the Scaligers, long-time allies of Milan, would go to war against the usurper Carlo Sforza. That hadn’t yet been officially declared, but everyone knew it.

The gunsmith was quietly packing up. “They talk of rights–but this is Sforza they fight. I’m going to my cousins in the mountains until it is over, sir. So I’d be glad to let you have these at a good price.”

He and the count disagreed about the good price part, but Mindaug had been in cities under siege before. He too had heard of the reputation of Carlo Sforza, the Wolf of the North, the condottiere who had only ever been bested by Duke Enrico Dell’este and the Venetians together. And then only with magic added into the mixture. Sforza was perhaps not the master of grand strategy that Dell’este was, but his tactical strength was legendary. And he destroyed the cities and towns that resisted him.