He had considered more than once her suggestion to find employment at a big house. Then he was reminded of his impediment at every turn. It would never work.
Miles passed underfoot as he left the highlands and the lowlands. It took him four weeks to walk and catch carts from the Hebrides to Bath with his two boys. His grandmother had provided him with enough to see him to the wall, but it became more difficult to afford substantial meals for the babes.
He exchanged his medical talents here and there for milk and mash. Some took pity on him, seeing a mute ward in a poor homespun dress who needed the help.
In the outskirts of Bath, exhausted and famished, Eoin found himself on the outside of a lopsided fence and open gate for a wheelwright’s shop. The tinking thump of mallet against metal and the call of master to apprentice soothed his soul and promised a place to soothe his aching feet.
Eoin eased into the courtyard and found an out-of-the-way stack of crates to spread his skirts. He had to admit, stays were uncomfortable, but the skirts were much warmer than his kilt, if restrictive. He breathed a sigh of relief.
Albin and Callum were waking in the sling. This gave him a moment to pull out a canister of milk a farmer gave him that morning in exchange for a poultice for the poor cow’s lame hoof. He poured the heavy cream off into a pair of small, long earthenware pots with fine spouts and cloth nipples.
The boys, over the past couple of months, had gained weight steadily. They were beginning to eat mashed foods when he could find some to provide them with. He knew they would be better off with a wet nurse, but he could neither afford the cost to place the children with one nor afford the time. His pressing goal was to escape the island and find a new home for himself and the boys. They were old enough to hold the pots for themselves, as long as they had a prop to rest against.
With a quick twist, he had their slings undone and had them set up amongst the crates. Rolling his shoulders, he enjoyed the sense of freedom from their weight for a moment. He got them settled in for their feeding when a sharp twang and a guttural scream caught his attention.
One of the apprentices was on the ground, bent over his hand. The wooden wheel had lost its metal band. The shine of silver snapped out at an odd angle. The wood smouldered, threatening to light.
The master bellowed for other assistants to help him douse the wheel before it was ruined. Meanwhile, the apprentice murmured in a wretched, crumpled heap. Eoin checked that Callum and Albin, quickly pulled from his basket his small bag of medical materials, and rushed to the assistant.
The man looked up at him, tears swamping deep brown eyes. The assistant tried his best to still his agony, facing what he perceived to be a woman. “Who are you? Where’d you come from?”
Eoin motioned for his hand. The assistant allowed him to see it. The young apothecary hated doing it, but he had to touch the man. “It’s all right; it’ll be all right. Let’s get the blood to stop first,” Eoin soothed the man’s tension.
The apprentice stared in awe at Eoin. “You’re a-!”
Eoin pinched at the gash in the man’s hand, stalling the seeping red.
“Damn.” The man crumpled over his inflamed extremity.
Eoin clamped down on the artery at the wrist to still the flow of blood and pushed the apprentice into a better position to continue work on the wound. “Keep it quiet if you want to keep your hand.” Eoin spread a thick, cold balm with a coagulant across the pad of the young man’s hand to staunch the flow. He placed a plaster and wrap around it in quick succession. “This needs to be sewn when it can be cleaned properly and the swelling has gone down.”
“Yes, sir,” the man hissed, breathing through the pain.
“What are you doing to our apprentice!” The master, having sorted the ruined wheel, returned to his man.
“Eh-” the man glanced at Eoin, “H-she was helping me with the cut, sir. I need to get it sewn when it stops feeling like I put my hand in the forge.”
“Damn it, man, I told you that poorman’s steel was going to snap. Too many impurities. Just discard the batch!” the master cursed at a man in the overhang of the building before turning back to Eoin and his assistant. The man in the overhang yelled back something unintelligible. The master waved back a rude reply before turning again to Eoin and the apprentice. “Can’t thank you enough to see to him. What were you doing in here anyway?” The man glanced to the gate. He spotted the babies. “You’re not some runaway harlot, are you?”
Eoin pursed his lips, shaking his head defensively.
“She – she’s mute, sir,” the assistant explained quickly.
The portly man looked down on Eoin pityingly. “I’m sorry, hon. Thank you for helping when you’ve got other littles to look after. May I?” He pointed to the children. Eoin glanced between the man and the twins, uneasy.
The master shambled his bear-like stature over to the children, picking them both up, one in each arm. The children stared up at the big man, fixated with his beard. “Aren’t you two the most adorable things? Yes, you are. You’d get along with my little Rose. Perfect little playmates for her. Yes, sirs. She’s about your age, though Hannah would murder me, yes she would if you stayed on,” he cooed. The children grinned at his baby talk, their first teeth showing.
The assistant dug into Eoin’s rib. “Robin’s a bit soft on kids, got ten of his own at home. Bless Saint Nicholas; they’ve all survived. His wife’s threatened to beat him if she has any more.”
“I heard that, Mr Townsend!” The wheelwright master walked back to Eoin and Mr Townsend.
“You were meant to, Mr Arden.” The assistant pulled his hand into his chest, mewling at the pain. Eoin dug out a packet of white powder and looked around for a water bucket. He found one at the edge of the building. Filling up the ladle, he brought it back, poured the powder into the water, and offered it to the man.
“What’s that?” the master demanded.
Eoin opened his mouth to respond and realised once again that he could not speak. He grimaced, annoyed at his useless situation. It was a simple powder from white willow, meadowsweet, and black elder. It would help bring down the swelling from the wound and keep a fever at bay.
“Give it here, woman.” The assistant motioned, ignoring the master’s question. “I’d take a mallet to the head right now to not feel my hand.” He gulped the liquid down, wincing at the bitter aftertaste. “Willow, sir. Just a simple cottage remedy.”
“All right, William, let’s get you inside. I’ll send Peter out for a proper doc to help patch that up.” The master handed Eoin back the twins. The boys cried, reaching out for the big man, wanting him to pick them up again.
The man chuckled as he took William’s weight. “Yes, I’ll be back for you in a minute.”
The babes turned into Eoin’s shoulders and wailed their protest. Eoin eased them, his hands finding the napes of their necks. “It’ll be okay. He’ll come back; he said that didn’t he?” Rubbing their small backs, he tried to reassure them. The twins eased their wailing to a demanding, hiccupping sniffle.
Robin walked William up a set of rickety steps at the far end of the forge and disappeared into a doorway. The other assistants watched Eoin, unsure what to make of the burned wheel and the woman sitting with a pair of crying babes in their workspace.
Robin returned to them shortly. “Talked to Hannah. She’s seeing to Mr Townsend at the moment. She told me to bring you in. Supper’s about ready.” He offered Eoin his hand. Callum snatched it, wanting up. “Up up?” the man grinned down at the little boy, hefting him up, making the babe squeal jubilantly. Albin followed suit, making demands of the big man. “You’ve got yourself a pair of trouble here, don’t you, miss?” The man smiled.
Eoin waved the man’s hand away, getting up on his own and brushed off his skirts and apron. He went back to the gate, picked up his basket, and stuffed his medicine bag back into it.
William Townsend proved to be the miracle that Eoin needed. His father, John Davis, was a ship’s captain. Having been born a bastard, William treated his father with a difference for his station, but Captain Davis was hard-pressed not to dote on the boy when he saw him again. William told his father about Eoin’s help and let the man in on Eoin’s disguise. Captain Davis offered Eoin and his boys’ safe passage on his ship. Eoin, eager to be away from the Isles, took Davis’s offer without hesitation and shipped out with him the following fortnight.
A month later, having watched the sea tack by at a steady pace, Eoin found himself in a foreign country, in a foreign climate. They had landed in their destination port of Casablanca, Morocco. Captain Davis put him and his children in the care of a guide named Emir, who helped him navigate his way through the Trans-Sahara trade route.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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