And here is another of the main cast of Resistance. Keen-eyed readers of Reawakening will have met him very briefly before. He’s just a simple army surgeon (or so he keeps failing to convince people)…
Summer 1021, Esra Valley, Western Tiallat (three years before Tarnamell’s rising)
The crates of medicine were sealed with red wax, the symbol of the Fist of God stamped into them. They had arrived at the army camp in the back of a wagon driven by a surly fellow with mismatched green eyes below his red headscarf. He sighed impatiently when Durul insisted on breaking the seal and checking the cargo before signing off on the delivery.
Durul said crossly, “Stop delaying, man. I have far more important things to be doing. Some of us have patients to care for and—”
“Yes, we all know you’re a very important man,” the driver said, the sarcasm audible even through his heavy Rulati accent. “The seals aren’t broken. The cargo is fine.”
“Medicines are extremely delicate,” Durul proclaimed, aware of the crowd starting to gather to watch the show. He had established quite a reputation in this little encampment in the three months he’d been assigned here. “Not that a yokel like you would understand. You can’t just heave them around like the sheep you usually herd.”
“Haven’t touched them since they were loaded,” the driver said and offered Durul his knife. “Go ahead and check them, though, if you’re so worried.”
Durul cut the strings on the first crate and snapped the circle of wax. He pried at the lid of the crate, making sure to be clumsy with an actual weapon. That got him some derisive laughter (idiots, clearly, the lot of them , because what made them think a surgeon couldn’t turn a knife to his advantage), and the driver came to aid him with exaggerated helpfulness.
Inside the crate, bottles were racked up neatly, with rolled bandages and parcels of dried herbs stuffed between them for protection. It looked like every delivery of medicines Durul had ever received. He reached out to grab at one of the bottles—seven up, six down, he reminded himself—and pulled it out to hold up to the sunlight. The light shone through it, making the glass shine green as the spring. Durul nodded to himself, wondering if it would be too much to click like a fussy hen, or the elderly, long dead professor he was borrowing these mannerisms from.
He uncorked the bottle and sniffed it carefully, before freezing and then repeating the action. The next step was to taste the stuff, and he poured a little into the palm of his hand and sipped it up.
Cold, stale tea.
He did not have to feign disgust as he flicked the last of it off his hand. “What is this?”
“Medicine,” the driver drawled, rolling his eyes. “Thought you were a mighty clever surgeon, but if you can’t recognise a simple—”
“This,” Durul said precisely, “is not medicine.” He swung on the crowd. “You! Get the commander immediately!”
The driver had gone still, all the laughter vanishing from his eyes. “It’s medicine! They told me in the capital what it was. If this is meant to be funny—”
“Be silent,” Durul snapped and thrust the bottle into his hands. He pushed past the suddenly frightened looking driver to grab one of the packs of herbs—immediately left of the bottle he had already taken—and ripped the cloth bag open to sniff it. “Dry grass! Where are my medicines, man?”
The driver started to argue, but Durul was too overwrought to listen (or, at least, he tried his best to seem so). The camp commander arrived into the midst of the argument and Durul thrust the bottle and bag of leaves into his hand as proof that his medicines had been stolen.
That provoked even more of an outcry, and the driver came within a hair’s breadth of being arrested before he managed to convince the commander that all he had done was collect the parcels—he’d never opened them, look at the seals, sir, and if any change had been made it had been in the capital, before he took charge of them.
Everyone agreed that the capital was full of thieving bastards, but the commander still eyed the driver suspiciously. “You could be one of these traitors to the Fist?”
“Them!” the driver said vehemantly. “They got my brother killed, fighting against the Fist. I wouldn’t even spit on their graves, sir. I’m a loyal servant of the true god, I am. I would never trust one of those traitors who try to overthrow the rightful—”
“Fine, fine,” the commander said, as Durul caught his breath in irritation at that needless twisting of the truth. “Oh, do shut up, now.”
“I’m an honest man. I deserve to defend myself. I never—”
“You’re a lying thief!” Durul interjected, reaching forward to seize the driver’s shirt in his fists. “I ought to—”
“Both of you, silent!”
They both shut up, turning to look at the commander. He scowled at them both. “Surgeon, you are sure there is nothing useful here?”
“Even the bandages are motheaten,” Durul said, keeping his tone acid. “There is nothing here but rubbish. You may as well burn it, but it’ll cast up a stink.” He glared at the driver again. “Which might be somebody’s idea of a joke.”
“I never touched your fucking medicines.”
“All right,” the commander snapped. “We believe you.”
Durul muttered, but didn’t argue any further. The commander drew him aside. “Have you checked all the crates?”
“Not yet, but I will. I doubt they’ve left us anything of use.”
“How does this effect us?”
“Nothing to treat dysentery,” Durul said. They’d already had one outbreak this summer and were all braced for another. “Nothing to reduce a fever or put a man out of his pain.”
The commander groaned. “The strategic implications, alone… Oh, never mind that, surgeon. We all know that you only care what happens in your infirmary.”
“That’s what I’m paid for,” Durul said.
“Yes, it is.” The commander swore again. “Check the other crates. Keep anything which can be used and send the rest back to Taila with that idiot. Perhaps they can make sense of it.”
Durul did as he was told, loudly and publicly declaring the entire load unusable. He could hear the murmur of voices behind him and knew the rumours would already be spreading through the Savattin camp, lowering morale.
At last he declared the whole lot useless and sent the driver off with a further exchange of insults. Then, his hands shaking, he retreated to his infirmary and sat on one of the low beds, covering his face with his hands.
Dark God help him, he was not made for lying.
Much later, after the noises of the camp had settled to a low, disconsolate murmur and the light started to fade through the long summer evening, he made his way out of the back of the camp, carrying a bottle of cheap wine as an excuse. The Savattin didn’t approve of such indulgences, but no one was going to begrudge him a drink after this loss.
He found a place to sit on the mountainside well above the camp, beside a tumble of jagged boulders. He wrenched the cork out of the wine with his dagger and took a hearty swig, making sure to spill some on his clothes. It tasted like warm vinegar, but there was a pleasant rush to it. For a moment, he was tempted, but then he shrugged and poured the rest of it out in the shadow of the rocks.
From behind the boulder, the man who had driven the cart said, voice soft with laughter, “Not saving any for me?”
“Goat piss,” Durul said. “You’d never let me forget it, and then it’ll be ‘that time Durul gave Iskandir bad wine’ from everyone for the next five years.’”
Iskandir laughed, low and soft, and then said, “The cargo is away and clear. Did any of them suspect?”
“No,” Durul said, staring out across the bone dry valley to the bright sky. “I don’t think I can do it again.”
“I won’t ask it of you. We needed to divert attention from the previous route, and the clerk who handled the order back in Taila really is a Savattin loyalist. I hope he appreciates being interrogated by them as much as he liked the advantages they gave him.”
Durul shrugged. It had been necessary. The resistance struggled desperately for supplies and medicines were tightly controlled by the Savattin. Theft was the only way to get them, and now a whole wagon full of excellent medicines, ones that he himself had just declared fake, would make their way into hands that needed them.
It still didn’t sit easy on his conscience.
“There are patients in my infirmary who will die for the lack of those medicines,” he said.
“Savattin supporters,” Iskandir said, his voice carefully devoid of judgement. That was a test of Durul, he knew. Iskandir understood compassion, although he never let it sway him from his purpose.
“Men, still. Some of them were frightened into this army.”
“You are not to blame for this. The Savattin rationed medicines first. We are just restoring some balance, making things a little less unfair.”
“Much comfort that will be to the next boy who lies screaming because I have no poppy juice.”
Iskandir sighed and said, his voice soft and comforting, “You may lay it on my conscience. It was my plan, my order, God’s test for me.”
“Tests come in many forms,” Durul said, pondering it. “My teachers said that in medicine there is nothing but the patient in front of you. You must simply preserve that one life, one life at a time.”
Iskandir shrugged. “I am a man of God, Durul. My patient is the whole nation, and without your medicines, that patient will suffer longer.”
“Priestly sophistry,” Durul said with a snort. “Me, I’m just a simple man—”
Durul accepted the mockery with a shrug, and breathed a little more freely. “I am committed to the cause,” he said quietly. “It is just that my conscience troubles me, from time to time.”
“It is not a season for conscience. We have to be free first.”
Durul shook his head. “Rather the opposite, I would think. The measure of us is the choices we make in desperate times.”
“Maybe you should be the priest.”
It was Durul’s turn to laugh. “I’m just an old army doctor. What next?”
“We leave you alone for a while. This was a risk and we’ll not compromise you again too soon. How much longer do you think you’ll be here?”
“Another month or two, at most. The commander dislikes me.”
“When he sends you back to Taila, look for the carter at the crossroads in Silran. He’ll have forget-me-nots pinned to his headscarf and will take you where you’re needed.”
“Is there a story prepared for me?”
“Bad meat at the inn. You will be bedbound for four days.”
Durul nodded. These transits from unit to unit were the only chances he got to treat any of the resistance, who needed his skill so much. “I’ll be ready.”
“God loves you, Durul,” Iskandir said and then, without further ado, he was gone, fading back into the mountains and the dry, bright light of summer.
©Amy Rae Durreson 2015