The goblins had lead the Whitesands Militia patrol into a trap. Who could have guessed the disease-ridden filth could have been so clever? Jarek had guessed, but he was a just a half-breed, and the Sergeant had not listened to his warnings. For his efforts, Jarek was rewarded with watching helplessly while his best friend, the man who had been like a father to him these past few years, died slowly from a wasting disease. The burly young half-orc cursed in the harsh language of his real father’s people under his breath, looking back at the older man on the litter behind him as the breath rattled from Hartlin’s lungs and the fever raged uncontrollably within him.
What the patrol scout had thought merely a small band of bedraggled sneakthieves who had fled Whitesands justice had turned out to be a warren full of the creatures. Their crude pit traps had been quite carefully concealed, and most of the patrol’s horses had fallen victim as the Sergeant had urged his men onward. As the members of the patrol soon found to their disgust, the goblins had befouled their rusted, dingy weapons with their own filth. This filth lead to the wasting disease that others among the patrol had already succumbed to. No one knew what the disease was, or how to combat it; the patrol priest had died in the ambush.
Jarek had barely managed to pull himself and eight other members of the patrol platoon out of the ambush alive. They had left behind the bodies of good men, as well as that of the Sergeant and the scout who had made the mistake of leading them into the goblins’ midst. All save Jarek, Hartlin, and two other men had died from the wasting disease. After riding the few horses left to them for a day, the survivors had come to the Militia camp on the outskirts of Whitesands.
Their return was heralded by a pair of scouts moving into the camp to announce their arrival and call for help for the obviously wounded and tired soldiers. The lieutenant in charge of the patrol camp this week strode toward Jarek, who stopped the group short of entering the camp.
“What’s going on here? What’s happened to the patrol?” the man asked firmly, glancing at Jarek and then to the three other men with the half-orc.
“Ambush, sir,” Jarek rumbled in reply, “The goblins we were hunting weren’t alone. We barely made it out alive, and some of the men that escaped with us didn’t make it back. Hartlin, he’s got it. Whatever the other men had. He needs a healer, now.”
The lieutenant took a few steps back.
“Stay here, I want you men in quarantine,” he said, lifting the edge of his tunic to cover his face, “I don’t know who we have here now, you took Gareth out with you and I don’t see him.”
“He was killed in the ambush,” Jarek confirmed, looking around the patrol camp.
There was no priest in sight.
Jarek dismounted, and lead his horse over to the gnarled roots of a tree near the camp. He wrapped the horse’s reins around an exposed root, and began untying the litter carrying Hartlin from his saddle. He looked over his shoulder to the still-stationary lieutenant.
“Get somebody over here, now!” Jarek growled at the man.
As Jarek poured water over an edge of his cloak to wipe at Hartlin’s sweaty brow, he watched the lieutenant stumble away. Several long minutes passed, and no help was forthcoming. The other two men had joined him by the tree, and were pointing. Jarek turned his gaze to catch several Militia soldiers heading their way.
“Lieutenant Harrowe has ordered you to be confined here,” one of the men began.
“Has he called for any help? Hartlin is dying, he needs aid that I can’t give him, we need a healer here,” Jarek pronounced with a growl, his enlarged canines showing in his displeasure.
“No one’s been ordered to come near you. The Lieutenant said that your whole platoon’s been eaten up by… whatever Hartlin has!” the Militia-man replied.
Jarek pounced upon the man, gripping him by his shoulders.
“You idiot, wouldn’t we all be wasted away like Hartlin if all of us had caught this? I’m going to get a healer, get out of my way.”
The Militia-man’s hand reached for his sword hilt, and Jarek balled up a fist and drove it into the man’s nose. The Militia-man crumpled to the ground after the loud crack of impact sounded out.
“Any of you others want some, step closer,” Jarek warned.
The other Militia soldiers looked to each other, and cleared Jarek’s path.
“We’ll just… stay here and watch these men,” one said quietly.
Jarek strode into the camp, seeking someone, anyone, bearing the sign of a healer. His search took longer than he would have liked, but his repeated requests for a healer brought attention to him. A slender hand fell on his shoulder. It was all he could do not to break the hand when his own hand closed over it to remove it from his shoulder as he whirled towards the person touching him.
She was definitely a woman, he could tell that much from the garb she wore beneath the long and concealing cloak whose hood shadowed her features.
“I am a healer,” the woman said, “How can I help you?”
“Come,” Jarek said gruffly, “I’ve a man who’s been… infected with something.”
The woman slid her hand from his grasp.
“I may have something that can help. What are the symptoms of his infection?” she asked, looking up at him from beneath the cloak.
“I don’t know, all I know is he needs help. A fever. Chills. He seems to have something that’s eating him from the inside out,” the woman could sense the exasperation and worry in the half-orc’s voice, “We were ambushed. Now come on. Please.”
The last word was uttered almost as an afterthought, it seemed, like the beast inside of the half-orc urging him on right now was on the verge of breaking out even though the human side still had some semblance of control.
“Is it poison, then?” the woman asked Jarek.
He began moving, back towards the tree, his expression and gesture urging her to follow.
“No, nothing like that I don’t think. The goblins, they had smeared their shit all over their weapons, or something’s shit anyway. Now Hartlin’s sick.”
Imperceptible beneath her cloak, the woman wrinkled her nose at that.
When she finally made it to the man the half-orc called Hartlin, the healer stopped to look at the human lying on the litter.
“You’re fortunate, as I’ve seen this before. It’s the Blood Fever. If it’s early into the infection, I can stop it. If not, there’s not going to be much I can do. How long did you say he’s been like this?” she asked the half-orc.
“Less than a day,” Jarek responded, watching her closely.
The woman bore no holy symbol of a priestess that he could see, and that cloak was heavy for this time of year. His eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“Who are you, anyway? I’ve never seen you around the camp,” he said, stepping closer to Hartlin as she approached the fevered man.
“My name is Morganna, and I am an oracle of the heavens. I have not stopped in to this camp for some time, although I volunteer my services as a healer to the Whitesands Militia regularly,” she said softly.
Morganna leaned down over the injured man on the litter, watching the half-orc’s reactions out of the corner of her eye. She readied pouches of herbs to alleviate the man’s pain, and the fever raging within him. The half-orc’s hand was on the hilt of a dagger in his belt, gripping it tightly.
“Are you so suspicious of everyone you meet?” she said in an amused tone.
“Just someone who wears such a cloak as that in this summer warm,” Jarek replied, watching her every move.
After administering her concoction to the man on the litter, the woman rose to her feet.
“We all have something we want to hide, don’t we?” she said evenly to him.
Jarek’s attentions turned to Hartlin. The man seemed to be recovering very rapidly with whatever Morganna had given him.
“I suppose we do,” Jarek said softly, examining Hartlin.
His recovery was nothing short of miraculously quick, an effect only obtainable by magic of a divine nature. Jarek knew that at least the woman was who she said she was, even in her strange air of mystery.
“My name is Jarek,” the half-orc conceded to her, inclining his head.
He took her hand in his, and kissed the back of it in gratitude.
“You’ve saved my friend’s life. If ever you need a sword, mine is yours.”
There was relief, and even some kind of tenderness, seeping into his rough voice.