At first Fors could see nothing, only darkness. Then, he began to hear muffled voices which gradually became clearer. With a great effort, he forced his eyes open. He tried to voice a question, but could only produce a shallow croak. At that sound, a blurry shape detached itself from the background and came close. “Lie still.” Fors obeyed the voice. A hand hovered over his face and he felt cool drops in his eyes. Blinking rapidly, he vision became much clearer. He felt an arm beneath his shoulders, which lifted him gently to receive a cup at his lips. He sipped the cool water, then took a larger swallow. “That’s enough for now. Let’s see how your stomach takes it.”
Fors could see clearly enough to identify one of the healers, a woman named Wenna standing beside his bed. He turned his head experimentally and his eyes caught sight of the bandages swathing his body. He was feeling pain from his shoulders, back and legs, but at the moment anyway, it was manageable. He tried to ask a question, but the healer shushed him and said, “You were attacked by a mountain lion. Between you and your cat, your attacker was killed. You were severely wounded by the lion’s claws, but we managed to stop the bleeding and infection. You have been asleep for almost 4 days, but it appears that you will survive.”
The healer turned away momentarily. “Please tell the Star Captain that Fors is awake.” Out of the shadows, Fors saw another Star Man rise from a chair and leave the room with alacrity.
Fors indicated the bandages and croaked, “How bad?”
Wenna smiled slightly, “Not as bad as it could have been. You have long arms and that kept the lion from getting a firm grip on you. Some of the cuts were pretty deep, but we were able to sew them shut. Also, you were very weak from blood loss. But the Old One’s knowledge of blood transfusion that you brought back some years ago enabled us to replace most of your losses. So, in a way, you saved your own life.”
Fors vaguely remembered finding the remains of a medical college, from which he had discovered almost intact a treasure trove of books that had been preserved in an airtight container in an underground storage room. Beset almost immediately by Beast Things, he had been forced to fight his way out of the building, but not without removing some well-chosen volumes which survived the trip back to the Eyrie. There had been great excitement among the Healers when Fors returned. And for the first time, that community began to regard him with affection and respect instead of a science experiment gone wrong.
Fors nodded and tried to relax. He was still very tired and weak. Wenna brought another cup to his mouth. “Drink,” she ordered. Whatever it was had a slightly bitter aftertaste, but in the next few moments, Fors felt his pain ebb and fade. With that distraction eliminated, he fell back to sleep almost immediately.
The next two days were marked by a few fog-bound times of wakefulness interspaced by many hours of sleep. On the third day, with the assistance of Wenna and one of her novices, Fors sat upright dangling his long legs off the side of the bed. He was swept by a wave of dizziness, but was kept upright in their firm grasp. Two days after that, he was helped to his feet and managed to shuffle the length of the treatment chamber without falling over. He could feel his strength returning, walking further and firmer with every effort.
Since he was currently the only patient of the Healers, he was able to spend a great deal of time talking to Wenna. Always shy with women, he found in talking to her a sense of comfort and acceptance that truly touched his heart.
She was of the Badger Clan and had been noticed early as a child with exceptional intelligence. In her youth, she had gravitated to the study of healing and in her 15th year had been selected as a Healer Novice. A few years later, she wed another Star Man, Stephen of the Hawk Clan. They had a child, a boy, and were living happily until Stephen met the tragic fate of too many Star Men, a fatal encounter with the Beast Things. That had been 10 years ago. She had thrown herself into her profession, doing research and experiments, working hard to expand the knowledge of disease and treatments. She had never wed again, choosing to raise her young son by herself.
Wenna possessed an inner strength and independence that Fors admired and also the will to go her own way despite the views of others, an attitude Fors intimately understood. He began to look forward to the times when her duties permitted her to spend time with him. Over time, Fors noted that her clipped official tone of voice had softened. Her eyes became less clinical, more interested. She encouraged Fors to speak of his past. When the old, bad memories resurfaced and his tone turned harsh and angry, she patiently listened. At one point, he spoke of his father’s death and the devastation and loneliness that had overwhelmed him. To his surprise, tears came to his eyes and in her gentle presence he wept, truly mourning the loss for the first time in his life.
Finally after 8 long days and nights, Wenna released her patient, with the caution that he rest at least two more days. Fors still wore bandages over the deeper gashes, but his skin was healing rapidly without infection. He would wear the scars of his encounter for the rest of his life. Wenna walked him to the door, her hand softly and gently grasping his arm. They paused at the doorway, Fors blinking away the bright sunlight. He turned to Wenna and said, “I thank you for your care. The Eyrie is fortunate to have someone as skilled as you.
Wenna smiled, somewhat sardonically at his formal tone. “It is always an honor to treat a Star Man.”
Fors looked down at his feet, trying to marshal his thoughts. The strength of his emotions and the scrambling effect they seem to be having on his mind surprised him. He looked up shyly. “I have never enjoyed recovering from injury. But I have enjoyed the many talks we had.” He paused. He was nervous. And sweating. “I, uh, hope we can have them again some time.”
She cocked her head and there was a glint of interest in her eyes, almost if she was seeing Fors for the first time. “I enjoyed them as well. And you don’t have to be injured or sick to visit this House.”
Fors hesitated, then nodded and smiled, then turned and walked out into the sunlight. His pace was slow, but steady. At one point he glanced back, seeing Wenna still standing in the doorway, her arms crossed. He raised his hand in a farewell gesture, which she returned with a brief smile.
While the House of Healers was in the Main Circle, the hospital was actually further down the main path, located centrally to the Clan Circles. Fors walked back to his house, but upon arriving felt restless. Knowing that he would find no rest there, he changed his clothes, then left and began to work his way up the Main Path to the Star House. After 8 days of lying in a bed, he was weak. But he was feeling better than he had since the attack. He walked carefully, measuring his fatigue and wind. As he made his way up, he was greeted by many members of the tribe as they went about their business. At one point, he passed the schoolhouse as the children were lining up to return to class after morning recreation. Seeing the battered Star Man, the children went silent, regarding Fors with wide eyes. Embarrassed, he raised his eyes toward them and smiled slightly. Their teacher, sensing his discomfort speedily herded them back inside, favoring Fors with an apologetic look.
It was a long hike, but eventually the Star House beckoned and with a tired sigh, Fors entered and sank gratefully onto one of the chairs at the big table. He sat there for several moments, fighting the dizziness from his exertion. He had certainly walked too far, but here he had tasks to occupy his mind, and if he didn’t want to make the long walk back, he could avail himself of one of the duty bunks.
He gestured at one of the Novices, asking for a stylus and ink and a blank logbook. Within moments, the requested items were laid before him. He had intended for some time to write down his thoughts on the methods of diplomacy, thinking that this was a subject that wasn’t touched on among the volumes that made up the Star House library. After thinking for a few moments, he picked up the stylus, dipped it in the inkwell and started to write. He was thus engaged several hours later when the Star Men gathered for the mid-day meal. Fors was mildly surprised; he had been unaware of the passage of time, so absorbed was he in his task. After the meal, he returned to the logbooks, continuing to work until the afternoon sun began to dip behind the mountain peaks to the southwest. He sat back with a sigh. Looking at the table, he saw four full logbooks and noted that he was substantially through the fifth one. The Novice returned, took the completed books to the library, and returned the writing materials to the proper cabinet.
Fors slowly rose from his chair, feeling a sudden wave of nausea wash through him. He looked up to see Torin regarding him. “How do you feel?”
Fors shook his head. “Still weak.”
Torin summoned one of the novices. “Prepare a duty bunk for Fors.” The novice left the room. At that moment, there was a knock at the door. One of the other novices opened it and there in the doorway stood the healer, Wenna.
“The Healer Wenna asks entry to the Star House.” The novice glanced back at Torin who replied, “Your entry is granted. Welcome to the Star House.”
Wenna strode confidently through the doorway. She walked right up to Fors and with a set jaw and flashing eyes that brooked no argument, said, “You were supposed to be resting today.”
Fors, discomfited, glanced at Torin, who raised his hands, almost in self-defense. Wenna continued. “You cannot heal if you will not rest. No man is invincible, even a Star Man, although it seems I must continually remind the members of this house of that fact. Go to bed. Stay there for at least two more days. Then we can start making you stronger.”
Fors hesitated. Wenna’s eyebrows went up. “Fors, do not force me to impose my authority upon you.”
Slightly shocked, Fors nodded numbly and turned towards the bunkroom. Healers, alone possessed the authority to order anyone off duty, even the imposing office of Guardian. Suddenly, the room spun. Wenna leapt forward, catching the Star Man with a surprisingly strong grip. An instant later, she was joined by Torin and two other Star Men. Together, they helped him to the bunkroom. His boots and vest were removed and he was carefully laid down. She knelt down and as she adjusted the blanket, her face softened and for a brief moment, the coldly clinical look in her eyes was replaced by something warmer, more personal. Her voice softened, “I will return to check on you.” She hesitated. Fors could see that she was fighting against an unidentifiable impulse. She rose quickly and left. Torin’s eyes followed her exit, and then turned back to Fors, his face wearing a puzzled expression. One of the other Star Men, Meniston of the Bear Clan, leaned forward. “Fors, do you require anything from your home?”
Fors fought his fading consciousness for an answer. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement and turned to see Nira glide in. The big cat surveyed the situation and promptly curled up on the mat in front of the bunk. Fors reached out and stroked his fur. Looking up, he replied, “I have all I need for now.”
With that, Torin shooed everyone out of the bunk room. Fors closed his eyes and slept.