amberdrake: (the blood on our hands is the wine)
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Drake operating as an emergency Healer, and the reason he didn't do this full time.

The Black Gryphon, pages 339--346.


     A bird-scream woke Amberdrake out of a sound and dreamless sleep. He know those screams; high-pitched, and sounding exactly as if a child were shrieking. He sat straight up in bed, blinking fog out of his eyes.
     What—a messenger, at this hour? It was morning! What could—
     But if someone had sent a messenger-bird to screech at the entrance to his tent, there was grave trouble. Anything less and there would have been time to send a hertasi rather than a bird. Before Gesten could get to the door flap, he had rolled out of bed and flung open the flap to let the bird in. It whirred up from the ground and hit his shoulder, muttered in agitation for a moment, then spoke in Tamsin’s voice.
     “Drake, we need you on the Hill—now.
     That was all there was to the message, and normally the last person that Tamsin would ask for help on the Hill was Amberdrake, despite his early training. Amberdrake knew that Tamsin was only too well aware of his limitations—how his Empathic Gift tended to get right out of control even now. He was much better suited to the profession he had chosen, and they both knew it. But if Tamsin had sent a bird for him, then the situation up on the Hill was out of hand, and the Healers were dragging in every horse doctor and herb collector within running distance—and every other kesta’chern who knew anything of Healing or could hold a wound for stitching or soothe pain.
     He flung on some clothing and headed for the Healers’ tent at a dead run. There were plenty of other people boiling out of their tents wearing hastily-donned clothing; as he had surmised, he was not the only kestra’chern on the way up there. Whatever had happened, it was bad, as bad as it could possibly be.
     He found out just how bad it was when he arrived at the Healers’ tents and stopped dead in his tracks, panting with effort, struck numb by the sheer numbers of near-dead.
     The victims overflowed the tents and had been laid out in rows wherever there was space. There was blood everywhere; soaking into the ground, making spreading scarlet stains on clothing and hastily-wrapped bandages. The pain hammered at him, making him reel back for a moment with the force of it pounding against his disciplined shields.
     “Amberdrake!”
     He turned at the sound of his name; Vikteren grabbed his arm and steered him into a tent. “Tamsin said to watch for you, they need you here, with the nonhumans,” he said, speaking so quickly that he ran everything together. “I know some farrier-work, and I’m supposed to assist you if you want me.”
     “Yes, I want you,” Amberdrake answered quickly, squinting into the semidarkness of the tent. After the bright sunlight outside, it took a moment for his eyes to adjust.
     When they did, he could have wished they hadn’t. There were half a dozen kyree lying nearest to the entrance, and they seemed to be the worst off; next to them, lying on pallets, were some tervardi and hertasi—he couldn’t tell how many—and at the back of the tent, three dyheli. There was only one division of the forces that had this many nonhumans in combat positions, and his heart sank. “Oh gods—the Second—?”
     “All but gone,” Vikteren confirmed. “Ma’ar came in behind them, and no one knows how.”
     But there was no time for discussion. He and his self-appointed assistant took over their first patient, a kyree that had been slashed from throat to tail, and then there was no time for anything but the work at hand.
     Amberdrake worked with hands and Gift, stitching wounds and Healing them, blocking pain, setting bones, knitting up flesh. He worked until the world narrowed to his hands and the flesh beneath them. He worked until he lost all track of time or even who he was working on, trusting to training and instinct to see him through. And at last, he worked until he couldn’t see even his hands, until he was so exhausted and battered by the pain and fear of others that the world went gray, and then black, then went away altogether.
     And found himself being supported by Vikteren, his head under the spout of a pump, the young mage frantically pumping water over him.
     He sputtered and waved at Vikteren to stop, pushed himself up to a kneeling position, and shook the cold water out of his eyes. He was barely able to do that; he had never in all of his life felt so weak.
     “You passed out,” the mage said simply. “I figured that what works for drunks would probably work for you.”
     “Probably the best thing you could have done,” Amberdrake admitted and coughed. How many more wounded were there? His job wasn’t done yet. “I’d better get back—”
      He started to get up, but Vikteren restrained him with a hand on his shoulder. He didn’t do much but let it rest there, yet that was enough to keep Amberdrake from moving.
     “There’s nothing left to go back to. You didn’t pass out till you got the last tervardi and a couple of the humans that the others hadn’t gotten to yet. The rest no one could have helped.” Vikteren told him. Amberdrake blinked at that, and then blinked again. The mage was a mess—his clothing stiff with blood, his hands bloodstained. He had blood in his hair, his eyes were reddened and swollen, and his skin was pale.
     “We’re done?” he asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.
     Vikteren nodded. “Near as I can tell. They brought the last of the wounded in through the Jerlag Gate, evacuated the rearguard, and shut it down about a candlemark ago.”
     Evacuated? Shut the Gate down? Amberdrake blinked, and realized then that the light shining down on both of them was entirely artificial, one of the very brilliant mage-lights used by the Healers. Beyond the light, the sky was completely black, with a sprinkling of stars.
     We’ve been working all day?
     “Sunset was about the same time they shut the Gate down,” Vikteren told him, answering his unspoken question. “Urtho’s up at the terminus now, and—”
     A ripple in the mage-energies, and an unsettled and unsettling sensation, as if the world had just dropped suddenly out from underneath them, made them look instinctively to the north. The Jerlag Gate was in the north, beyond those mountains in the far distance.
     Far, far off on the horizon, behind the mountains, there was a brilliant flash of light. It covered the entire northern horizon, so bright that Vikteren cursed and Amberdrake blinked away tears of pain and had false-lights dancing before his eyes for several moments.
     It took much longer than that before either of them could speak.
     Vikteren said carefully, “So much for the Jerlag Gate.”
     “Did he—” Amberdrake could hardly believe it, but Vikteren was a mage, and he would recognize what Urtho had done better than any kestra’chern.
     Vikteren nodded. “Fed it back in on itself. Ma’ar may have taken Jerlag, but it’s cost him a hell of a lot more than he thought it would. That’s the first time Urtho’s ever imploded one of his permanent Gates.”
     The thought hung between them, ominous and unspoken. And it probably won’t be the last.
     Amberdrake swallowed; he could not begin to imagine the forces let loose in the implosion of a fixed Gate. Vikteren could, though, and the young mage squinted off at the horizon.
     “Probably a hole as big as this camp, and as deep as the Tower there now,” he said absently.
     And then it was Amberdrake’s turn to grab for his arm and steady him, as he trembled, lost his balance, and started to fall. He was heavier than Amberdrake could support in his own weakened condition; he lowered the mage down to the muddy ground in a kind of controlled fall, and leaned against him. Vikteren blinked at him with glazed eyes.
     “You collapsed,” Amberdrake told him gently. “You aren’t in much better shape than I am.”
     “You can say that again, Drake.” Gesten padded up into the circle of light cast by the mage-light overhead, with Aubri and two of Lady Cinnabar’s hertasi with him. “The Lady told me where you were. She and Tamsin and Skan are worried sick. I’m supposed to have Dierne and Lysle help Vikteren back to his tent and get some food in him, while Aubri helps me get you back to yours.” The hertasi patted the young mage on the shoulder. “Good work, boy. Tamsin says you two basically took care of every badly injured nonhuman that came in. Real good work. If I had a steak, I’d cook it up for you myself.”
     “Right now a couple of boiled eggs and some cheese sounds fine,” Vikteren croaked, his face gone ashen. “I’d rather not look at meat just now—could look like someone I knew....”
     Gesten gestured to the other two hertasi who levered Vikteren back up to a standing position and supported him on his feet. “Get some food, get some rest. And drink what these two give you. It’ll keep you from having dreams.”
     “Nightmares, you mean,” Amberdrake murmured, as the hertasi helped the mage down the hill, step by wavering step. “I remember my first war-wounded.”
     “As do we all,” Aubri rumbled. “Gesten, if you can get him standing—Amberdrake, you lean on my back—”
     As he got to his feet, he began to black out again, and Gesten tsked at him as he sat abruptly back down. “I thought as much,” the hertasi said. “You’ve drained yourself. You’re going to be a right mess in the morning.”
     “I’m a right mess now.” Amberdrake put his head down between his knees until the world stopped spinning around him. “I hope you have a solution for this. I’d hate to spend the rest of the night sleeping in the mud.”
     “That’s why I brought Aubri. Just give us a moment.” The hertasi hustled into one of the supply tents, and came back out again with a number of restraining straps and a two-man litter. While Aubri muttered instructions, Gesten rigged a harness of Aurbri’s hindquarters, and stuck one set of the litter handles through loops in the harness. “Get yourself on that, Drake,” the hertasi ordered. “I’ve got this thing inclined so Aubri takes most of your weight.”
     Amberdrake did manage to crawl onto the litter, but he was so dizzy that it took much longer than he thought it would, and his head pounded in time with his pulse until he wanted nothing more than to have someone knock him out. He knew what it was; he’d overextended himself, drained himself down to nothing. He was paying the price of over-extending, and he wouldn’t be the only Healer who’d done that today.
     He closed his eyes for the journey back to the tent; when he opened his eyes again, he was being lifted into his bed. But the moment he tried to move, his head exploded with pain, so he closed his eyes again and passively let them do whatever Gesten told them to. He wound up in a half-sitting position, propped in place by pillows.
     When he opened his eyes again, the tent was silent, lit by a single, heavily-shaded lantern, and Gesten was still there, although Aubri and the rest of the hertasi’s recruits were long gone. Gesten turned with a cup in his foreclaw, and pushed it at him.
     “Here,” he said brusquely. “Drink this, you know what it is.”
     Indeed he did; a compound of herbs for his head and to make him sleep, so thick with honey he was surprised the spoon didn’t stand in it. At this point, he was too spent to protest, and too dizzy to care. Obediently, he let the too-sweet, sticky liquid ooze down his throat.
     Then he closed his eyes, waiting for the moment when the herbs would take effect. And when they did, he slid into the dark waters of sleep without a single ripple—for a while.

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