29. A Strange Turn of Events
Chapter Written by Angmar and Elfhild
As the golden orb of the sun slipped into the west, Tushratta saw his last patient of the day, a little girl whose puncture wound of two nights before had become red and inflamed. First cleaning the wound, the physician then applied a poultice of moistened moldy bread crumbs and then bandaged up the lesion. All that could be done after that was watch and wait to see whether the ancient remedy would prove successful or not. He did not relish the thoughts of searing the young one's flesh with the cauterizing iron to burn away the poison. Weary with the cares of his profession, he was washing his hands when an excited Sang-mí rushed into the public room of the tent.
"Master, I have wonderful news! The lady is once again awake, and she seems greatly improved!" Sang-mí's words poured out in a breathless rush. "I entertained her with my lute playing, and then she asked me about my past. We talked for a while, and then she told me what had happened to her sons. While she is hopeful that they might have escaped, she is still devastated over their loss. The lady's memory has returned, although perhaps it brings her more sorrow than good." The slave girl sucked in a deep breath and opened her mouth to say more, but the physician halted her in mid-speech.
"Wait until I get my journal, Sang-mí," Tushratta admonished her as he placed a thick volume of bound parchment on the table. With a deep sigh, he wearily lowered himself to sit cross-legged on the carpet. Thumbing through the pages, he found the section that he wanted and then looked up at Sang-mí. "Continue, girl," he told her, jotting down a few notes.
"Master, I have something to confess. I wanted to believe that she was better, but my intuition warned me to be cautious." Sang-mí lowered her head, a deep flush coloring her cheeks, her voice barely above a whisper. "The lady begged me to let her hold Nib, but I could not let her take him, Master! I just could not! Though she seemed sensible, I was afraid she might lose her mind again and harm him!" Her lips trembling, she looked down at Tushratta fearfully. "Shall I fetch the whip so that you may punish this wicked slave?"
The physician scowled at the neat script which he had just written and drew a black line through the words. "No, a whipping would serve no purpose, Sang-mí, but you were foolish not to let the lady hold your child."
Falling to her knees before him, she took the hem of his sleeve and touched her lips to the material. "Master is merciful! May he endure forever!"
"I share your hopes, Sang-mí, but I doubt that I will live so long," he chuckled. "Now sit across the table from me. I need to ask you some questions." He watched as she gracefully rose and then walked around to sit at the other side of the table. "Would you say that the lady's condition seemed to improve, then suddenly worsened?" Dipping the brush in ink, he held it poised above the parchment.
A thoughtful look came over the girl's face. "No, Master, she seemed sensible all the time that I talked to her."
"But still you did not confident enough to let her hold your child." He gave her a piercing glance, his eyes dark under his furrowed brow. "Why did you not trust her?"
"Well, Master, it was nothing that she said or did." Sang-mí sucked in her lower lip, having difficulty finding the right words. "It was just a feeling." She shrugged.
"Sang-mí," the physician sighed, "I believe that you allowed your fears to take possession of your good sense. The lady has never been mad, merely dazed and confused. Actually, her mind is really quite strong... I do not believe that she could be driven insane, and I doubt very much that she would ever hurt your son."
Sang-mí regarded him questioningly. "Master Physician, how can you be so sure?"
"I am the master physician, Sang-mí," he winked at her, "and master physicians are never wrong. We know many things."
"Oh, Master," her dark brown eyes twinkled, "the good physician is teasing this poor slave girl!"
"Perhaps, but you will never know, will you?" He chuckled softly. "Now I think it is time to see how the patient is doing. You will attend me, Sang-mí." He collected his writing box and then led her into the inner chamber, where they found Goldwyn was sitting up in the bed. "Lady Goldwyn, you look much improved!" Tushratta exclaimed as he drew up a stool and sat beside her.
"Yes, I suppose I feel better," Goldwyn murmured softly as she pushed her tangled hair away from her face. "What has happened to me?" When she had awakened, his name had come to her mind. "Tushratta," the name did not sound harsh to her ears, although it was foreign.
"Some very unpleasant things, but they are over now," Tushratta remarked, his trained eyes taking in every nuance of her outward appearance. He was pleased that after her rest, she appeared much more relaxed. The stern set to her lips had softened, although her jaw looked every bit as stubborn as it had before. Her eyes did not look as weary as a cornered cat's, and her cheeks had a flush of color to them. When he touched her forehead, he could detect no signs of fever and her pulse was as steady as a clock. These were all good signs. "Do you think you would feel up to a bath from Sang-mí, or perhaps you would prefer some food?"
Goldwyn pondered his question for a moment. "A bath, yes, but I do not need anyone to help me. I am not an invalid!" She gazed at him defiantly. "What have you done with my clothes?
"My lady, do not be so quick to take offense. My only consideration was that you might be so weak that you would require assistance," Tushratta replied tactfully. "Your garments were torn and filthy, and I had ordered them burned. The shakh will see to their replacement." He turned to Sang-mí. "Tell the slave boys to heat water and bring in the tub."
"Yes, Master. The joy in doing your bidding lends speed to my steps!" Sang-mí smiled and bowed her way backward into the outer chamber. The physician did not seem disturbed at the lady's strange shift of moods, so perhaps he thought she was improving.
Tushratta turned back to Goldwyn and spread his journal across his lap, dipping the brush in a pot of ink. "While you are waiting, perhaps you would not mind answering some questions. I am attempting to understand what happened to you two nights ago."
"I do not wish to talk any more. I am thirsty," Goldwyn stated flatly.
Filling a cup with water, Tushratta placed it in her hand. "Just tell me anything you might remember. It does not have to make sense or even relate to any other part of your story." He smoothed his hand across the page and raised the pen, enjoying the feeling of the fine writing instrument in his hand.
As she drank the water, Goldwyn stared at him over the rim. This man seemed kind and considerate, a gentleman, a far cry from the brute whose near ravishment of her had precipitated her decision to take her sons and flee. "I can recall little," she replied, still unwilling to confide in him in spite of all his courtesy and manners.
"But the servant girl related to me that you had remembered everything--"
"The girl must have misunderstood," Goldwyn snapped. "I remember nothing! However, since you and the servant seem so certain that you know all that transpired, perhaps you would care to tell me about it."
Tushratta carefully studied her expression. "What is this?" he asked himself. "Why is she evading my questions? Is she playing games with me?" Sang-mí had told him that Goldwyn recollected everything that had befallen her, but now she had grown forgetful again. How strange!
"Certainly, Madame," he answered, deciding to humor her, "I would be glad to tell you everything that you might wish to know. You must remember. I was among the party that found you."
"Then surely you would know," Goldwyn smiled innocently, "where you found me."
"Aye, the tomb of a Gondorian nobleman of long ago. There was an inscription above the lintel stating who he was, when he died, his military record, his deeds, the things he had done for the City..."
All that Goldwyn could recollect was a voice that called to her in the tomb, beckoning, urging her to venture deeper. Whose voice was it? She thought of the wild flight through the ruins after she had left her sons and how she had run until she had fallen exhausted. There had been a darkness ahead of her... but she could not remember where it had led...
Why was she sitting in a tent talking to this man? And who was he? He had told her his name, but she had forgotten it once more. Why did it seem that whenever she was on the verge of remembering, some unknown yet irresistible force pulled her back? Every time she had a grip upon reality, she felt her feeble hold loosen and then she would fall back into oblivion.
"...Madame, do you remember now?" Tushratta leaned closer to her bed and took her hand between both of his. Concerned brown eyes probed deeply into hers.
"Did you say you are a healer?" Goldwyn asked after another long period of silence, her voice slurring, faltering like the halting, addled speech of a sleepwalker.
He was taken aback by the sudden change of subject, but his eyes never left hers. "Aye," he replied carefully. "That is what I would be called in some places, but I prefer to call myself a physician. The title is rather more professional than that of 'healer.'"
"And you were in the party which found me..." Her voice trailed off and then she spat out in contempt, "Then you are a soldier, following your orders to find my sons and me!"
"I am hardly a soldier, lady, though I can use a sword, at least fairly well, should I be called upon to wield it... which means if I were forced to it. Basically, though, I am a coward," he laughed politely.
"Did you see my sons?" she asked, ignoring his attempt at humor.
"You have three sons, I am told, but, no, we never encountered any lads in the place where we found you." This strange, disjointed speech was hard for Tushratta to follow, and he wondered if the woman had difficulty arranging her thoughts into any coherent order. He considered that she might have suffered a brain injury in the tomb, or even that she had been feeble minded or insane all along. Perhaps this was all some sort of game to her, and she was trying to entrap him into saying words which he never meant.
"You say it was a tomb where you found me. Perhaps I remember. Yes... yes... now I do. I was hiding there, taking sanctuary from your men." Her turquoise eyes were directed upon Tushratta, and he had the odd feeling that she was trying to draw him deep into their depths. Her voice, low and melodious, fell easily upon his ears, as though she were tantalizing him with the promise of some untold secret. He leaned closer.
"They are not my men, lady. I am a hired servant, same as they are."
Her eyes flashed in triumph. "Then you are even worse - you are a slaver!"
"No, my lady, I am a physician." The sudden harshness of her accusation broke the spell that she had begun to weave over him.
"Who is in the employ of a slaver. What a detestable occupation, if occupation it can be called!"
Though he did not like to admit it to himself, her words stung, but he hid his feelings well. "Then I am, by association, a detestable man." A hint of wry amusement appeared in his voice. "Now that we have settled that matter, perhaps we can go back to my questions."
"Your questions tire me, Physician. This time I will ask the questions." She laughed, an unpleasant, brittle laugh.
"Certainly," Tushratta replied. "Anything that might help in gaining understanding of what has happened to you." By the Gods! he thought to himself. Her moods were more changeable than the weather! He gripped her hand tighter, as though he would anchor her to reality. "Although you cannot seem to accept this, I am trying to help you."
"Oh, I am sure you are, Physician. You are a very helpful man... very solicitous and kind." Her words were dripping with sarcasm. "Do you recall any name I might have told you when you found me in the tomb?"
"Fasthelm," Tushratta replied, cautiously.
"That was the name of my husband, a brave and honorable Rider of the Mark. When I first heard your voice that night, I was confused and thought you were he, but how could I ever mistake someone so detestable as you for my husband!" she cried out in anger, pointing at him accusingly.
The physician regarded her calmly, one eyebrow raised. "Why are you saying all these things, lady? Do you feel you have put me in my place well enough, consigning another one of the worthless barbarian scum into the cesspool of the East?" He must not let her insults have an effect upon him. Indeed, she was playing some game of her own making, parrying with him. His brain quickly cataloged all the cases of madness that he could remember from the days when he had studied under the Master Physician in Bablon. There had been nothing that would compare with this case.
"Oh, do be quiet, you hateful man!" Goldwyn shouted. "There is no place miserable enough to send you and all your kind!" Suddenly she gasped as though a noose had tightened around her neck. Her eyes rolled back in their sockets and her body arched up in a shuddering spasm. Her face was contorted into a grotesque mask of agony, and her pearl-white teeth gnashed her lips until the blood oozed from her mouth. Tushratta watched in helpless terror as she writhed beneath the sheets, her fingers clawing the material like talons.
"Goldwyn!" Tushratta cried as he rose to his feet, his eyes wide with horror. Her body rose up in another shuddering seizure, and then she moaned piteously like a kitten crying for its mother. She fell back trembling upon the pillows, the fit having passed as quickly as it had come. Her eyelashes fluttered open, and she looked up at him from blue eyes as innocent as a child's. The corners of her bloody lips drew up in a soft, beguiling smile. Her body wiggling provocatively under the sheet, she brought her right forefinger up to her lips and slowly licked the tip with a moist, pink tongue.
Tushratta stared down at her in disbelief, a feeling of revulsion spreading over him. "What are you doing, lady?"
"You could save yourself from retribution, you know. You really could." Her pale hand inched up to the hem of the sheet draped across her bosom. Her fingers coiling about the material, she slowly began to slide the covering down. Tushratta watched as it skimmed over her ivory skin like the tide receding from a beach, revealing her pink tipped breasts like seashells in the sand. Moaning softly, she arched her back as she clasped a full breast and teased the nipple into hardness. The artless expression of shy demureness still upon her face, she sucked her finger deeper into her mouth and offered her breast up to him. Looking every bit the succubus, she tempted him with unspeakable perils.
"Every man wants to save himself from an unpleasant fate. What must I do?" he hedged, trying to draw her out into revealing her intentions.
"Lie with me!"
"And how would that save me from punishment?" Tushratta asked calmly, trying to ignore her offered breast. She exhibited the symptoms of madness - the increased agitation, the rolling eyes, the rapid breathing, the sudden glow of perspiration that now covered her flesh, the irrational speech. Was she truly mad, or only pretending dementia?
Suddenly Goldwyn shrieked. "I do not know! I do not know!" she cried, looking around wildly. "Please help me!" With those words, she slumped back upon the bed in a swoon.
Tushratta was trembling, dazed at the bizarre turn of events. "I am only a physician, unqualified to treat such a case! By the Gods, I need advice! I will send a letter right away to the Master Physician in Bablon, describing this case in its full detail. Although he is the greatest physician in all of Khand, I doubt that even he will have the answer." He let his breath out in a long sigh and stroked his beard. "The moon has been turned upside down and there are dark days ahead... for all of us!"