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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 48: Kondor 16
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 47: Hastings 17
The hospital was now fully operational, or as full as a one-room hospital with two beds and an examination table can be in the middle of a forest two days' walk from the nearest town. But Kondor was making his own penicillin, and had taught Friar Tuck how to make it and how and when to use it. He also was brewing and distilling alcohol, which he used primarily as a disinfectant. Once or twice he bathed patients in it to bring down raging fevers, although he thought afterward that water would have been as effective with less drain on his resources. With a bit of the friar's knowledge of herbs he was able to identify a root which was rich in salicylates, a naturally occurring variant of aspirin, which he used to reduce fevers and relieve pain (but not, he kept telling his patients, when you've been wounded, because it could make it worse). He convinced Friar Tuck to use the root and the penicillin instead of leeches to bring down fevers. It wasn't the medicine he'd practiced on board the Mary Piper; it wasn't even what he'd have called modern. But it was well beyond anything they'd have gotten from the local physicians.
"When I'm gone, Tuck," he would say, "this will all be yours."
"Oh, like as not you will outlive me," the friar would answer.
"Like as not. I might outlive everybody and then some. But if I don't, I want to leave this behind for you."
"Well, you cannot take it with you, I suppose; but that is awfully kind of you."
"You'd be surprised what you can take with you, Tuck. At least, I was." And there the conversation would end.
But the work continued. There were always sick people, and news that there was a doctor with "powerful new foreign medicines" spread through the smaller villages, and villagers made short pilgrimages to bring their sick to him. Most brought gifts, something to pay for the help; others used their abilities to improve the hospital and make Kondor's life a bit easier. Before long it was becoming difficult to produce enough penicillin and alcohol, and work began that fall on a second building to house more equipment to produce more medicine. With the winter although the number of patients didn't change much, the severity of their illnesses increased. Probably, he thought, there are more sick people in the winter, but they won't try to get to the hospital unless they're much worse. He planted the salicylates in patches close to the house that spring so he wouldn't have to spend time tracking it down in the forest, and there was an influx of cases most of whom had been sick for at least several months but waited for the thaw to seek treatment. Some of the local women who had helped tend the sick in the past started working with him, and he set up beds in the new building so they could be close at hand, and paid them from what he received. Then a third building was constructed just for beds for patients, and Kondor found himself the head of what could only be described a medical conglomerate.
His next development was antibacterial soap. He had already been insisting that his helpers wash with the lard-based soap commonly used (it was the one commodity available locally which was always in short supply at the hospital), but he knew he could improve it. Working with one of the women who taught him how lard-based soap was made, he added large quantities of salt to the mix to kill most germs. This, he knew, was the primary ingredient of the antibacterial soaps they used back home, although they had a better grade of soap and a better grade of salt, and it should work as well, even if it was a bit harsh.
He realized that there were a lot of cases of parasitic infection; he could easily run out of his small supply of anti-parasitics if he treated them all, so he tended to let them go. He began researching natural poisons which could be taken in doses large enough to kill internal parasites without killing the patient. But it was going to take months at least, possibly years, to determine what could be used and in what dosages. He hoped he had years, but couldn't be certain. So he got paper and learned to use a quill, so he could leave notes of his efforts for Brother Tuck. Even this proved difficult, as his printing was very different from the common orthography of the age, and he often had to explain to the friar what each letter was and why he spelled things the way he did. His efforts began with small doses of plant toxins, but with care he was able to extend them into snake venoms; efforts were tedious. Any patient sick enough to warrant such experimental treatment was usually too weak to survive the necessary dose of poison.
And then, late in the summer, there was a forceful knock on the door. Surprised that anyone would knock, for a moment Kondor stopped and looked at his assistants. Then, as no one else seemed to know what to do either, he strode over to the door and opened it.
Standing in the warm summer shade dressed in leather and steel was a soldier, clearly one of those of the livery of the shire reeve. Kondor knew, somewhere in the back of his mind, that what he was doing might be considered treason or espionage; the charge would be something like aiding and abetting the enemies of the crown. They had built the hospital off the road specifically so that it would be harder to find. But this soldier had found it. He asked, "Are you the foreign doctor who they say has worked miraculous cures?"
Kondor stood a moment, blinking in the green-filtered sunlight. The man wore sword and dagger at his waist, and carried a crossbow. Kondor's weapons were up in the loft, too far to reach from here. Whatever was to happen, there was little he could do to stop it.
"I am," he said.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #35: Quiet on the Novel Front. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: