A crack resounded through the yard, a gurgling shriek followed, and moans of agony welcomed Bryeison and Draeden to the infirmary. Saunders was laid out on one of the beds, writhing and twitching, and Cneighsea was looming over him, holding him down with one hand while trying to tame the odd flailing limb with the other.
“Stop moving, stop moving, will you!” the cleric shouted, pressing a hand against his patient’s chest, forcing him down against the bed. “I’m trying to heal you, boy, not break your other wrist! Stay still if you want me to mend the bone! Commander Bryeison,” addressing him as he approached, “whatever this child did to have his knees broken, I am sure he deserved it, and I implore you to break them again if he will not behave himself. I have never seen a young man behave so ill—even children with broken arms deport themselves better. He is the most unmanageable patient I have ever treated! Even worse than His Highness.”
Draeden seemed offended. “I’m not a bad patient,” he murmured, pouting and folding his arms. “I only don’t like when you put your hands in untoward places and ask me to cough.”
“ No, I said do not move! How many times must I tell you? A hundred apparently. I do have abilities beyond healing, Mr Saunders, and if you do not hold still this instant, I shall use them to break your other nine fingers.” He clamped down on the cern’s hand and pressed his knuckle into his palm. “There, now. If you want the use of your forefinger again, you will be quiet and stay very still. I am finishing the healing on your finger, because that is what my profession dictates I must do, and then I am throwing you out of here, and I never want to see you in here again. What an impudent little-- you can die in the training yard for all I care once I am done with you. Duty dictates I must heal those who are ill, not those who are foolhardy, but unlike you, I suspect, I honour the vow I took when I began my profession, despite my better judgement.”
His hand began to glow, and the cern composed himself once the warming sensation of Cneighsea’s powers rippled over him. He heaved a heavy sigh, shook his head and adjusted his spectacles, and Draeden and Bryeison, enjoying the performance, sat in the opposing corner, waiting for Cneighsea to finish the preface before reaching the main part of the lecture they knew must follow.
“At first, when the cern parade wafted in here with solemn faces and shaking knees, I thought to blame you for putting more work on my plate when I have better things to do,” said Cneighsea, speaking primarily to Bryeison, “but after spending two minutes with the patient who would rather flap about like a dying fish than be healed—don’t pull back when I am in the middle of a treatment!” waving his long sleeve at Saunders. “I am more angry that you sent him here than I am that you hurt him. You should have crushed him into a fine paste and buried his remains in the far field.”
“Good Cleric--!” Saunders pleaded.
“Oh, be quiet!” Cneighsea hissed, swatting his patient with his sleeve. “Do not good cleric me. You’re getting healed whether you like it or not, and then you are getting out of here and never coming back, and I do not ever want to see you in here again, even if you are on the verge of death.” He exhaled and reached for a fresh bandage from his desk. “I really must speak to His Majesty about screening applicants for the forces,” he sighed. “I know we are supposed to welcome anyone who vows to protect the kingdom, but really, anyone will do anything for a copper these days, and where pride and promises are saleable, expendable men come very cheap indeed.”
Bryeison simpered into his hand, and Draeden went to help the cleric subdue his patient while his finger and wrist were being tied.
“Laugh as you will, Commander,” said the cleric, glaring at him over the rim of his spectacles. “Do not think for a second I have forgotten about your examination.”
Bryeison stopped laughing and looked suspicious. “What examination?”
“Do not play coy with me, Commander. You know very well which one I mean—there,” tying off the last bandage. “You are all healed, Mr Saunders. Do you hear me? Now, stop fidgeting and stand up. Let me look at you. Yes, you look very well. Your knees are bent a bit in the wrong direction, but I’m sure they were like that before. You can walk, and that is all I care about, because that means you can walk out of here. Leave now, please, and I do not care where you go, whether to the barracks or home or to the residence, but you are not permitted to stay here. Understand?”
“Yes, cleric!” Saunders cried, and with a wobbling step, he shuffled out of the infirmary, moving toward the barracks with all the celerity in his power, making sure to avoid Commander Bryeison by the way.
“Now,” said Cneighsea, turning toward Bryeison, “for you.”
He tied his long sleeves and advanced, with arms extended and gaze constant, and Bryeison, refusing to sit for anything like a physical examination, instantly got up and shifted toward the door.
“I don’t think so, Commander,” the cleric demanded, wagging a finger at him. “You must submit to examination, and that is all, or I will tell His Majesty you are unfit for active service.”
“You can tell him,” said Bryeison, laughing. “I don’t think he would believe you.”
“His Majesty always takes my recommendations to heart, unlike the rest of the world. There is certainly something wrong with you, if you can be afraid of an examination, Commander. His Highness has come for his regular examination every month, and you have not been examined since before the summer.”
Bryeison raised a brow at Draeden.
“He threatened me!” Draeden cried. “He knows I have a condition, and he told me that if I did not submit to an exam every month, I would die in a gutter!”
“And so you will, Your Highness, if you do not have the proper management of your plight,” said Cneighsea. “I know you would forget, Commander, “ glaring at Bryeison, “but you too have a condition.”
“Being bigger than everyone else is not a condition,” Bryeison asserted.
“It is when your organs cannot keep up with the rest of you.”
Bryeison could hardly argue with him, but he felt very well, and silently refusing Cneighsea’s offer, he stepped out of the infirmary and moved toward the training yard.
“You are a man of regulations, Commander,” said Cneighsea, walking after him, “and you well know that regulations in the solider’s mandate state all members of the Frewyn Armed Forces—all members, Commander—must have a regular physical examination every month.”
“I’m fine,” Bryeison insisted, marching away from him.
“Fine.” The cleric huffed and turned back toward the infirmary. “Yes, you’re fine, I suppose. You are all fine, every single one of you, until you are dead.”
Draeden felt an invective coming on, and as Cneighsea stood on the threshold and called out to Bryeison, Draeden skulked silently away, returning to the far field by way of the mess, while the cleric launched himself into his full strain of scolding.
“Everyone in this keep is always fine—I’m fine, I feel just fine— everybody in the world is fine until someone comes into my infirmary crawling along the ground by his teeth, begging to be healed, moaning about not knowing what is the matter with them, though they have a fever enough to boil a cat and are morbulent to the point of mummification. Flies could be circling over their heads before they come to me for help-- and then they want me to cure them, as though I can revive anybody in a moment without a thought to the disease plaguing them. I can only do so much once they have let themselves practically rot away. The best cure is always prevention, but everybody and their mother would rather do as they like than take care of themselves-- and when you are crawling about on the ground, Commander,” calling after Bryeison, “and gasping for breath, because your heart has decided to make house in your lungs, I will be standing over you, watching you flounder about like a string skipjack, asking you whether you feel sorry for never having come for your examination!”
Bryeison, though half way to the training yard, could not but hear, but endeavoured to disregard the cleric’s admonitions with a dismissive wave and sauntered away, and Cneighsea, realizing it was useless to harangue one who would rather die than spend two minutes on an examination table, turned back to his infirmary and continued his lecture to himself.