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Well, he wouldn't lose the leg; but with what she had to do next, Meira was certain that she would lose any tentative trust she had built with the child over the last few minutes.

"Hold him still, I need to set the bones," she instructed the mother. The woman's terror was clear as the Juri'a man next to Meira translated from the Khaantul that Meira spoke.

The Juri'a settlement on the edge of the Hegyk mountains had little in way of supplies or sanitation, but it had one person who spoke enough Khaantul to beg Meira's unit for help as they passed by. While the rest of the scouting unit rested their horses and took advantage of fear-laced hospitality, Meira had grabbed her medic bag and followed the man into the small hut where she now crouched. The boy was propped on a straw-filled mattress, leaning against his mother for comfort as four other adults crowded the small single-room structure around them.

While the mother whispered soothing words against her son's sweat-stained temple, two other Juri'a began moving their hands over the boy's body. The air whipped slowly with their ministrations, creating bindings over the boy's hips and chest.

"Hey!"

The flowing air disappeared as the women dropped their hands to their sides, immediately tensing in fear at the command from the uniformed man behind Meira.

Seeing her raised brow, Anton continued brusquely, "They aren't allowed to do that magic shit around us."

"The longer this takes, the later we get going," Meira reminded him, trying to get some semblance of peace back into the hut besieged by tension. Anton held up his hands in mock surrender as he muttered something rude that made Meira glad the Juri'a didn't understand.

She took another deep breath and motioned for the women to begin doing their movements once more. When the cords of air were flowing steadily over the patient, Meira placed her hands on the child's leg again.

"On three," Meira said, counting slowly so that the participants could understand through the communication barrier. The last number brought the sickening crack of bones sliding into place that was only muted slightly by the strangled scream wrenched from the small boy's body. The patient's mother began to yell, her voice arcing over the sobs of the child now shaking in her lap. The husband, silent and grim throughout the ordeal, advanced upon Meira until a hand shoved him roughly into the wall. He glared at Meira, past the blond mass of coiled anger holding him in place.

"You okay?" Anton asked, his grip never loosening from the throat of the man he held against the sod bricks. The medic nodded at her comrade, gesturing for him to let the man go and leave her to her work. She ignored her hot-blooded commander as he stalked out of the small room, getting back to work on the child's leg.

The sparse wood and cloth she'd been brought by the Juri'a women would be enough to splint the rapidly swelling leg, but barely. She wrapped it tightly, using some of the gauze in her pack to stabilize the thin limb. The child was as gaunt as the rest of his clan, life on the harsh plain no place for large bellies or pleasure. Meira narrated her actions to the man serving as translator for the group, hoping her warnings about infection and swelling were converted correctly for the blank-faced people before her. By the time she was done, the child's hiccupping sobs had subsided; but he refused to look at her, face burrowed in his mother's long skirt.

Meira turned to her Juri'a translator once again, "Tell him to try to wiggle his toes."

The man spoke softly to the boy and the child's face peeked out from the blue fabric of his mother's lap, looking at her with distrust and anger. The mother continued petting his soft curls, refusing to look at Meira or persuade her child to do so. The medic tried to demonstrate with her fingers, showing him what she wanted. Slowly his toes began to twitch and curl, and relief flooded the room with the simultaneous exhales of the adults. He would be able to walk again.

Hurried bows of gratitude followed Meira as she gathered her supplies and exited the small hut. She squinted in the bright light that reflected off of the exposed Cerilaig boulders the village was named after. Their metal-infused sheen dotted the hills that sloped sharply above the collection of huts, melding into the dark forest in the distance. She began picking her way down the rough path from the crowded shelter, following the translator's careful steps. He slowed at a break in the path and turned to Meira. The wind whipped tendrils of his long dark hair out of the leather cinch at the nape of his neck as he thanked her in their common language.

"We have not had a healer in many months," he explained, bare feet shifting on the rock-strewn path while his fingers fidgeted with the edge of his orange tunic.

"If he gets worse, or if anyone else gets sick, make sure you take them to the Fort or Uzhberd," Meira suggested. Even if the Khaantul garrisons were over a day's ride from the village, it was better than nothing. The translator nodded but dropped his gaze and she continued, "You're citizens of the Empire so the military should help you if you ask for it."

The man said nothing, eyes hardening imperceptibly as they lingered on the deep browns of Meira's military uniform. The wind howled for attention once again, pulling the smoke from scattered huts towards the pair. He brought his weathered hand from the tunic to offer a small piece of rough Cerilaig. The stone-encased metal didn't mean much to Meira, but for the Juri'a on the plains it was one of the few ways of making money. She tried to protest, but the man insisted, pressing it into her palm with certainty. With a final nod, he began walking back up towards the red hut they had departed.

"Wait--what was your name?" Meira asked, flushing under her collar for forgetting until now. The translator paused his assent to turn towards her.

"Ti'zen," he replied, his lips lifting slightly. He gave one more nod and returned to his journey.

The stones slid and crunched under her boots as Meira continued down the path towards the rest of the scouting unit. The horses were grazing lazily while the riders copied their mood, lounging outside of a nearby hut. The owners had brought out smoked meats and other foods for the hungry men imposed upon their land. The Juri'a family hovered in the shadows of the hut, staring grimly at the stores of food being emptied with a frightening efficiency.

"D'vasia!"

Meira jumped at the shout from her right. An elderly woman, curved over a fire in front of a small structure called out the word again in her warbling voice. One worn, boney hand motioned to her while the other clutched a fading shawl around her equally angular frame. Wondering if the woman also needed some sort of medical help, Meira looked back to see if Ti'zen could be used to translate. He was gone.

"D'vasia. Mi Sventasis," the woman called again, wresting her skeletal frame from the small stool in front of the fire. She hobbled slowly towards Meira, long skirts dragging in the golden grass between them. Meira met her part way, reaching to steady the elderly woman. Her papery skin was cool and Meira felt an odd warmth bloom deep in her chest as she helped guide the woman back to the spot in front of the fire. Icy blue eyes gazed at Meira in wonder, made larger by the sharp angles and the dark skin of her wizened face.

"D'vasia, is that your name?" Meira asked as she tried to look the woman over. Her steel mane shook in dismissal, the hand in Meira's pulling out to tap near the brass buttons on the medic's chest.

"D'vasia," the woman repeated, this time smiling broadly while her shaking fingers drummed softly against the dark wool.

"Oh, I'm D'vasia," Meira confirmed, feeling the same pull of something with each beat against her chest.

The woman nodded and brought her hands to her own chest, fumbling with the layers of fabric, beads and adornments that she wore. Finally her fingers settled and she began pulling on a string, bringing a necklace of cloth and thread to the top. Her long braids shifted, the beads encased throughout clinking noisily as she lifted the strand from her neck.

The rounded woman stood again and Meira put her hands out to balance her. Though Meira was kneeling, the elderly woman’s age-worn posture made her barely tall enough to lift the strand over the medic's head. Meira looked down at the piece she now wore. An embroidered square hung from an intricately threaded strand, connecting at one corner of the pendant. The blues and purples of the dyed fabric created a bold backdrop for the light gray embroidery running across it. The shape of the crescent moon was clear, surrounded by small knots of stars.

"What is it?" Meira asked, even though she knew that the ancient one in front of her wouldn't be able to explain. The woman rambled in Juri'a and Meira felt prickles of frustration. What good was being a part of the same empire if they couldn't all understand each other?

"Faulkner," her superior's voice rang clearly over the hill from below, "stop playing with the locals and let's get a move on."

Meira patted the elderly woman's hand, trying to express her thanks for the gift without so many words. Hurrying down the rest of the trail, Meira saw her unit beginning to mount up, having finished the provisions of their wary hosts. She tied her medical pack to Shadow and pulled herself into the saddle, giving the sable horse a couple of extra scratches for his patience.

"Ride out!" Anton ordered, taking his spot in the lead while the other five fell into position behind him. The horses led them across the hills towards the forested mountains, sun racing them to their destination.

Edgar brought his horse next to Shadow, looking at the new embellishment to Meira's uniform with a scoff.

"And here I thought the uniforms couldn't look any worse," he joked, harsh laugh pulling his horse's ears back as he trotted her past them.

"It's Juri'a, of course it's ugly," Anton retorted from the front.

Meira fingered the pendant that hung against her chest, the soft cloth and embroidery having a simplicity she appreciated, if rarely found in the other Khaantul cities. Her comrades continued to joke about the necklace, the battered town behind them, and the Juri'a who lived there.

"It's going to be bad luck," Ioan said, the waves of the Western Sea rolling through his accent.

His compulsory service had taken him far from the soft sands of his homeland and to the imposing mountains he'd only heard about. The Wave Wielders of the West had always scared him, controlling the punishing tides for their own gain. His sister had told him that the Juri'a were psychic, able to reach into a person and manipulate them as easily as they did the water. He shared this with Meira, eying the dangling material warily as she rolled her eyes at his superstition.

The horses picked up their pace as the shadows of the looming mountains lengthened and the smoke from the village turned into whispers.

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AylinFortsattBooks

Bio: I'm working on my first full-length novel and am excited to hear feedback from others. When not writing, I foster cats and eat way too much Mexican food!
https://aylinfortsattbooks.com/

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