Eoin, bleary-eyed and numb, brought the room into focus. He had never been in it before directly. The rag rug smelled of sheep. He blinked again, his eyes focusing on his left bracer, then the wall of the room. There was sparse decoration in the room save for a box bed, carved trunks, and the myriad-coloured rug.
He pushed himself into a sitting position, his head still throbbing. Rubbing his hands along his face and through his hair, he banished the pain. The physician dragged himself off the warm rug and stumbled to the door. Easing it open, he peered out into the dimly lit main room.
Seonaid and Fearchar sat at the little table, she at some mending, he whittling away at another of his tiny birds. His hired hand glanced at the creak in the door.
Sorry about that. Eoin’s shoulders slumped against the door frame. He drew in a ragged breath, willing himself to move beyond the memories nagging at the back of his brain. The trapped man walked into the room and stood near the fireplace, absorbing the warmth.
“Dinnae ye mind, Eoin. We pushed ye to tell us when ye were knackered. Can’nae be ‘elped.” Fearchar gently set the little statue on the table and picked up another small block.
What are those for? Eoin pointed to the accruing flock of birds.
“Send ’em outta the mainland where’s a couple shops like to sell little trinkets ta the sight seein’ nobility. Is nae a lot, but is somethin’ I enjoy doin’ when there’s snow and nothin’ else up here.”
Eoin nodded, accepting the answer. He recalled a different carpenter creating beautifully simple furniture and the telltale scrolls across all his works.
“You all right?” Seonaid asked.
Eoin nodded sluggishly, easing himself onto the bed frame. I was tired. Sorry about that disorientation.
“You’re doing better though, aye?” she pressed.
I can journey if that’s what you’re asking, he offered. Maybe he could keep some of his memories securely locked away with some luck.
“Do you need to eat?” Seonaid nodded to the pot near the low fire.
He shook his head. Eoin wasn’t hungry. It had been a few hours, but the sleep had helped him immensely. Shall we? he asked. Seonaid and Fearchar reached out and dove in.
In the darkness of the void, the forest of Ethiopia, Egret’s Nest, Eoin paced his firepit. “What you saw back there. I -” He shrugged, unable to put words to it. “Here’s what lead up to that.”
The room opened to them, revealing the prince sitting on a long bench with other men in court attire, deep in discussion. The black-haired man looked up, a malicious smile scampering across his face.
Eoin shifted under the hawk-like stare. The prince dismissed the men who left, shaking their heads, mumbling between themselves. The Fyskar turned palace property glanced back at the shutting door. The prince approached him, and it took everything in Eoin not to run, to try to hide. The royal appraised his acquisition, pulling at the delicate chain of the bracers. Eoin raised his hands to allow the prince a closer look. The man muttered something. Eoin was becoming more and more frustrated at his lack of understanding the hissing language.
The prince dropped the chain and reached for Eoin’s neck. “A pair of jesses for a flighty hawk, though it looks like your prior owner thought to collar you like a dog.” He fingered the torc thoughtfully. Eoin pulled away from the man. The prince reached to rest his hand across Eoin’s cheek, his thumb brushing the village doctor’s lips, intentions swamping his system.
Eoin swallowed. He grabbed the prince’s hand that fiddled with his torc. “Take anything you want of me as long as my family is safe and the torc stays.” He handed the giant his freedom.
“Whatever the little white bird wants.” The prince dragged the white-haired man to him by the chain, kissing him roughly.
Eoin threw the vision away, pulling Fearchar and Seonaid into his inky black void. He paced in the depths, rubbing at the back of his head. Fearchar stood stunned, his eyes bulging.
“E-Eoin?” Fearchar cleared his throat. The physician turned to the handyman, his face set in a pained grimace. He paced back to the redhead and waited, gritting his teeth. The walls built up, crushing them.
“He took everything?” Fearchar’s voice echoed in the quiet.
Eoin shifted, unable to meet the man’s eyes. “You could say that.”
“Um…” Seonaid searched for something, anything to change the path of this conversation. “How did you learn your sign language?” She reached for a safe question. Eoin was not ready to face them yet with some of his emotions.
Dim light woke him. He had fallen asleep at his work table once again. Eoin had been teaching himself to read the prince’s language. The script and word order were complicated. He was, however, learning a great deal of new medical methodologies for his effort. Combining his people’s customs with this material was exhilarating. Falling asleep at the work table was becoming a habit.
Since the boys had been sent off to train with tutors in Isfahan, he no longer found it worth his time to make it back to his bed-chamber. He would see them soon, though, for a break. Eoin was excited to see how far they had advanced.
A hiccuping mewl echoed through the halls. The physician closed his eyes and listened to the sound. A note sounded familiar to him. He rubbed away the sleep at the corner of his eyelids and contemplated the next task he needed to complete.
Looking at the mess spread out on his table, he chastised himself for falling asleep on a scroll. Eoin had ink and kohl smudges across his skin and his shirt. He grimaced in distaste. That would take work to get out. The whooping mewls echoed again down the hall.
He scrambled from his desk. The physician knew that sound. Eoin pulled bottles from his drawers in a hurry, checking concentrations. He stuffed them all into an oversized clutch and dashed from his room, startling a servant cleaning the floors. Eoin ducked an apology, rushed down the slick tile, and turned a corner, following the cry. A flight of stairs down and a dash across another hall delivered him in front of a pair of massive, intricately carved wooden doors.
Guards barred his way with lethal spears. Eoin drew to a halt. The hiccupping wails were strained and garbled. Women chattered loudly with worry on the other side of the door. The men, directing spears at his chest, shouted orders at him. Eoin backed away, trying to look behind them. He paced a step, the men not giving up on whatever they were shouting about.
Heavy steps echoed in the hall from the direction he had come. A voice asked him a question, Eoin knew that much, but he still didn’t know what the man said. Mirza approached him in steady strides. The guards took up yelling at both Eoin and the prince.
The prince’s physician pointed to the door frantically, holding up the bag. Mirza pushed the bag down and told him something. The guards continued their tirade, and Eoin hunched in on himself, his heart hammering in his chest. With his teeth, he angrily pulled the glove off his hand. Mirza, anticipating a sudden issue, threw his cloak up between the guards and the white-haired man.
Eoin grabbed Mirza’s hand and drove him deep into the void, frustration rippling through his core. The giant bore the brunt of the force.
“The baby is sick! He has to have medicine. If he keeps crying like that, he’ll breathe too fast. He’ll choke. He…” Eoin pushed his restlessness at the prince. He had to help. “I’ve seen this before with my people. My daughter almost -“
“This is not my place to be, and neither is it yours, White Bird. This is my father’s harem, and we should not be here,” Mirza tried to dissuade the man.
“I don’t understand? The child -” Eoin lashed out with confusion.
“We aren’t allowed in there,” Mirza replied calmly, absorbing the emotion like a sponge.
“Who is?” Eoin dragged in deep breaths. Spiders crawled across his shoulders. His chest constricted, and rushing blood in his ears provided him with tunnel vision. Eoin dropped Mirza from the void, scared he might do more than he wanted to in there.
Mirza turned to the guards and issued a command. The two quieted, looking at each other uncertainly. Mirza took up Eoin’s hand once more.
“If I can’t go in, bring the child out. He has to be treated,” Eoin begged again.
“Let me get my father. He will sort this out. Wait here, and don’t move from this spot.” Mirza pointed to a large tile. Eoin let go and stepped back against the wall, clutching his bag to his chest. Mirza snapped a demand to one of his personal guards, who ran down the hall out of sight. Mirza growled a command at the door guards before dashing away.
Eoin didn’t know where the prince went, but it felt like an eternity for him to make a return. He did not stray from the single square tile he occupied when the prince left. The guards had stopped screaming, but that didn’t prevent them from glaring death at him.
Footsteps set Eoin’s heart pounding and hands sweating. Mirza returned with his father and his father’s guards. The man stared Eoin up and down and asked him something. The physician bowed, not sure how to reply. Mirza spoke for him; he knew that was happening. He maintained his low bow where he waited. The man asked something else. Again, Mirza had to answer.
An order was issued to the guards. The doors were unlocked, and the king entered. A minute elapsed, two, before the man returned, holding a screaming child not more than three months of age. Eoin finally rose from his bow at the king’s approach.
The man appeared to be out of his element, holding the spluttering little one. Eoin glanced between the king and Mirza apprehensively before setting his clutch down and motioning for the babe. The king quickly passed the child to him, glad to be rid of the screaming in his ear. Eoin held the little one up to his shoulder, his bare hand searching out the nape of the child’s neck. He swept into a graceful cross-legged sit and pulled apart his medical clutch with one hand. The child calmed ever so slightly, but the hiccupping coughs did not abate.
It took a moment to put together the materials. The child, though, was still young enough that getting down a spoonful of the medicine was a battle of wills. Eventually, the baby swallowed the bitter liquid, wailing louder. Eoin held the child gently, using a cloth-covered ball of sweet herbs for the little one to suck on until the whimpering stopped.
Eoin put together five small bottles of the liquid as he rocked the child in his arm, soothing the sniffling. Scribbling a note as best he could on a scrap of parchment with a kohl pencil, he hoped it would get the message across as to when to use the vials.
With his five tiny glass vials filled, he returned his materials to the bag and closed it. The physician rose, still rocking the child to an easy rhythm, shifting him from upright to lying on his side. The child let go of the soothing ball as his eyes slowly closed. A gentle snore let the men in the hallway know the child had finally found sleep.
Eoin looked up at the prince and the king, relief washing through his system. A soft smile flitted across his lips, pleased with the little bundle. The king regarded him, as did the prince. They spoke together for a moment more. Mirza shook his head. The king approached Eoin and held out his hands for his child.
Eoin could not quell his disappointment upon passing the little one off but carefully transferred the sleeping bundle to the king. The man took a moment to study the child. By the set of his shoulders and the expression on his face, Eoin suspected it was foreign for the king to care of his own in such an intimate way often. The king returned the baby to the harem along with the five vials and walked back through the door.
The royal did something unexpected. He nodded with a respectful bow to Eoin. The physician sank to the floor in a return bow, as he had seen done by the other servants when the man walked through the halls, aware the situation had become too many levels of strange for him to contemplate. The man was not known for showing such gratitude to the palace workers. The guards ogled Eoin around the king’s massive frame. The ancient giant spoke a single word softly: “Niloofar”, turned, and left. Eoin did not look up until the footsteps had faded.
Mirza stepped up to his physician. Eoin eased himself off the floor and retrieved his clutch. They walked away from the doors and up the flight of steps to the younger giant’s chambers. The prince sent one of his guards off to retrieve food. Eoin stepped away from the prince to leave him to the rest of the day. Mirza motioned him inside.
Eoin stilled, not certain. He was well aware of what tended to happen when he entered those rooms. He got a grip on his facial expressions and followed the giant into the room.
There the man motioned for Eoin to sit on his raised bench. The guard and a servant returned bearing trays of finely crafted bites of food and qahva. Eoin spotted the pot. He had taken a particular liking to the stimulating drink. The guard and the servant left the two to the quiet room.
Mirza encouraged Eoin to eat his fill, aware it had not only been the medicine that had calmed the child. Sated, Eoin looked up at the man not much older than him by a handful of years. The physician wasn’t sure if he was dismissed to leave or if there would be more to do there. Mirza eased next to him, took his hand, and pushed into the void.
“You have greatly pleased my father. The boy is from his favourite wife, though he would never admit as such, and he would not have her sad. His Majesty has gifted you with a name and permission that you may continue to see to the boy’s health. He will place a servant in the harem with the sole duty to bring you his son to act as physician until the child is of age to leave the confines. Then you will continue not only as my physician in the palace but also his,” the prince explained.
Eoin looked up at him, perplexed. “But I am your physician?”
“Everything in this country belongs to my father. I might have bought you, but you have made my father incredibly happy, so he has made it pointedly clear to me that you are now worth his time. I would encourage you to learn our language quickly,” Mirza huffed.
“I am trying, but the script is so much more different from where I come from.” Eoin clasped his hands together and rubbed at the nail on his thumb to settle the vibration in his skin.
“You have minded children before it appears,” noted the prince.
“I cared for Albin and Callum since they were as small as the king’s child. I have learned.” He smiled weakly.
“I forget some days, now that they are with the other children in Isfahan for tutoring. White Bird? You never told me your name. You refuse. I have heard your children and the two others that came with you call you a name, Impundulu, your white blood bird of some kind, though it seems to be more of a title that you adhere to than your actual name. However, in the court, you were the physician, or my servant, until today. My father asked for your name. Seeing as you will not confide it, I left it up to my father to name you. He has blessed you with the name Niloofar.” Mirza walked away from Eoin in the void before returning.
“Is this a good thing?” Trepidation pattered across Eoin’s lungs.
“That he would call you by name shows his respect for you, that you have position.” Mirza ruffled his black hair in exhausted thought.
The gold chain on Eoin’s bracers clinked in the quiet that settled around them. “What does Niloofar mean?”
Mirza smiled, amused at the choice in name. “I’m not sure what he was thinking. It is a girl’s name. It means water-lily.”
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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