Pain, Francis found, had noise and color. It had taste too, bitter and metallic on his tongue.
His ears flicked frantically as he tried to make sense of the ceiling above and the noises around him. With a groan he turned his head to where he heard the low hiss of words between the subaltern and Corporal Silversmith.
“He needs something to ebb the pain. At this point he might have a heart attack and bleed out from shock.” Adrian’s placid voice washed over him. The calm helped Francis focus in on what they were saying and turn away from the pain he was in.
“We don’t have anything like that here. Perhaps in your fancy Empire-.”
“Save it for later. You have no morphine?” There was a pause, a loud ‘thawp’ and a grunt. Francis made a noise as he felt his tail grabbed harshly and tied to the cot.
“Damn thing,” Adrian growled. “You don’t have anything?”
Silversmith shimmered into foggy view as Francis focused in on his face, his dark eyes were bright with pity and his mouth pulled into a frown. “We do. But precious little.”
“Go get it.”
Silversmith’s head jerked up. “You don’t order me about Imperial and let’s not forget that we have other men injured and in worse pain!”
“So we amputate then hmn?” Adrian’s voice was brutal and swift. A whimper of terror left Francis as he tried to find that man, the one who had promised to save his leg. The candles and lamps lit on the walls had given him a golden halo and his long hair was frizzed from its braid. But Adrian’s cold golden eyes pinned Silversmith with a sneer. “Will that justify using it for him? Just taking the whole thing? I can tell you if he’s thrashing and screaming I’m more likely to bleed him dry than save him.”
There was a long pause, silence. Francis was certain he had passed out for a moment, only to be roused by Adrian’s hard, warm grip on his arm. His blue eyes fluttered open and he looked down as a needle was pressed to his skin and sank inside. Blood bubbled around the sharp end and a few moments later the pain in his leg died. A heavy fog settled on his mind and Francis’s head dropped back with a nauseous groan.
Francis gripped Adrian’s arm as he pulled away and he fought his heavy mind for some semblance of control. He wanted his voice to be stern, but it stayed breathy and weak. “Subaltern.”
Adrian paused and leaned over him, haloed in gold and red. “What is it?”
The world had fallen back and dipped into a clouded abyss of the morphine or whatever it was Adrian had shot into his arm. “Thank you.”
Silversmith frowned to the Colonel now unconscious under their hands. “Are you sure you can help him?”
“Not if you keep asking me questions.” Adrian murmured and turned towards the tables brought in. “I need any tinctures you might have- and my medical bag. Where did your men take my medical bag?” The man picked up a knife, a pair of tongs, and a pail of water and brought them to the bedside of the Colonel.
Silversmith frowned, “I took it. I didn’t know what was inside of it but I put it all aside.”
“I need it. I have a full supply of antidotes and tinctures to kill bad bacteria.”
“There’s good bacteria?”
It was such an innocent, simple question and the ignorance behind it made Adrian turn in surprise. “You are sure you are a medic?”
Silversmith stood up taller and lifted his chin. “Yes.”
“What did you do before the war and your...rise in station?”
A long, silent pause. Silversmith shifted on his feet and cleared his throat before he spoke, “I was...I was a tanner. We made shoes.”
With a suppressed scoff, Adrian waved a hand. “Hurry and go get my bag and the other supplies. I need it or his leg will never heal.”
“Stop. Don’t ask questions. I can’t explain right now- just go.”
Silversmith hesitated and turned to the guards before he dashed out the door. “Keep an eye on him!”
Glad that the Colonel was unconscious from the morphine, Adrian deftly began to rip his pant leg off from above the wound. Using the scraps of fabric, he tied off the man’s leg in a makeshift and quick tourniquet. With a soft, quick prayer under his breath, he scooped water onto the wound and sighed in relief. It was deep, but had not hit any major arteries and the bleeding had already slowed. With delicate precision, Adrian wiped the blood and dirt away from around the wound and wished for the precious iodine from the hospitals back home.
Silversmith returned to the room then and stopped short in shock. Adrian’s hands were already covered in blood and his had leaned in close as he carefully sank the knife into the Colonel’s wound. “What are you doing?!” he cried, outraged.
“I have to widen it so I can get to the bullet.”
“You can get the bullet out?”
“I can if you be silent and hand me my supplies. Did you bring my bag?”
Determined and fascinated, Silversmith set the familiar medical bag between Francis’s legs. Another time, maybe, Adrian would take the time to feel the emotions seeing it brought. It was one of the few items that was his, that had come with him from across the sea. But for now there was work to do and he dug in the bag to pull out a long, adamas tipped set of tongs and two glowing bottles. “Thank the gods you didn’t clean this out.”
“We’re not thieves.”
“I never said you were. But it would have been a problem if this were emptied.”
Adrian moved back to the leg, dousing his hands now in some of the bright red and swirling blue liquid of an oblong shaped tincture. “This is to sterilize. It’s not as good as iodine, but we managed to replicate some of the effects of iodine using adamas and some herbs.”
“Iodine?” Silversmith breathed, “I’ve heard of it, but we’ve never seen any of it brought over here.”
“You wouldn’t, even I couldn’t get my hands on it unless I was at court in Pracis. It’s too hard to make and the laboratories are too unstable.” Adrian leaned in close to douse the wound with precise drops from the tincture. He watched it foam and bubble on the wound pulled a flat metal instrument from his bag. Carefully, he doused that too in the tincture and spread it and the blood around the wound.
Silversmith sucked in a breath and made a small, fascinated noise and stretched up a bit to get a better look. Adrian sighed in relief to see the reaction and hoped it was a good sign for everyone that the wound had a reaction to the medicine. Now came the difficult part. He lifted his head to look at Silversmith, both of them were sweaty and dirty and Adrian was suddenly nervous. “Hold his head, put a cloth over it just in case he wakes up. He doesn’t need to be seeing this."
Silversmith narrowed his eyes in focus and nodded. “Do you think he’s going to wake up?”
Adrian puffed a laugh through his nose. “Let’s hope not. For his sake.” Taking the tongs, he dunked them into a thick ointment and squinted past his fogged glasses at the wound. Gently he pulled the skin open and ignored the hiss of surprise from Silversmith as more blood poured out onto his fingers. “Oh thank the gods,” he breathed when he saw the glimmer of an adamas bullet.
“What is it? What’s happened?”
“Nothing. It’s just not as deep as I thought. It didn’t hit the bone.”
“What happens if it hits the bone?”
Adrian glanced warily to Silversmith and frowned. “He loses the whole leg. The bone shatters into thousands of pieces inside of him and there’s nothing to save him from that. But it was a graze…hit more of the fat of his thigh.” He looked back down with an annoyed wave of the hand to keep Silversmith from asking him more questions.
Careful as he could, he sank the tongs down into the wound. More blood poured out and a horrible noise filled the room that only came from someone’s hands being inside a human body. Silversmith looked a little sick, but Adrian just looked delighted, like he was more alive and focused than he had been since his capture.
Silversmith looked to Francis and frowned at the little convulsion of his body. A groan left the Colonel and under the cloth he could feel the Colonel’s face contort in pain.
“Should we give him more morphine?”
“No,” Adrian snapped, “Not if we want him to wake up after this is done.”
The room was quiet, save for the groans of patients that ghosted in from beyond the doors in the infirmary ward. Adrian’s face was set with focus and Silversmith had finally stopped asking questions and began to hand Adrian whatever tools and items he asked for. They were intent on the task at hand and Adrian held his breath as he finally felt the tongs grab hold of the bullet. Careful not to tear anymore muscle he pulled it free and held it up with a look of satisfaction.
“You got it.” Silversmith beamed in triumph.
Adrian gave a nod and let the bullet just drop to the floor unceremoniously. “Indeed I did. It looks like it was whole too, so we don’t have to fear of shards or fragments being left behind.” He leaned back a bit to see the sliver of Francis’s face under the cloth. “You are a lucky man Colonel Emberfell.”
“He is isn’t he? He always has been. The Wiskusset 17th always called him our lucky charm.”
“No, I meant he’s lucky to have me as his surgeon,” Adrian laughed.
He didn’t catch the blush and annoyed look that came from Silversmith as he ducked back over the wound with a clean cloth doused in the adamas mixtures and more tools to stitch the wound shut. He was careful not to touch anything with his bare hands and gently swiped the wound clean with the cloth when the blood became too slick to stitch. Finally, he lifted a shard of refined adamas into his hand from a secret pocket inside his bag. It was long with the end flattened and smooth. Adrian murmured under his breath and brushed his thumb down the spine of the stone. The energy that crackled from him made him take his first deep breath in what felt like days and the familiarity of the thrill of power made his pale face gain some color. The magic of the adamas crackled in his hand and he turned to Francis to press the flat end of the stone to the stitches and slowly dragged it down.
There was the faint smell of burning flesh, but underneath it, there was the smell of something clean and fresh. Silversmith’s eyes widened in shock as Adrian worked. Wherever the refined stone touched the stitches glowed the bright and beautiful blue of adamas and the inflamed and reddened skin began to turn to a healthy color.
Silversmith’s head jerked to Adrian in sudden understanding and Adrian just glanced at him. “You’re one of the Emperor’s Alchemists.”
Adrian didn’t respond, he just dropped his eyes back down and focused. It was a slow and careful process and he had to direct the cleansing magic from the adamas properly or it wouldn’t work.
“I just thought you were a normal…a normal surgeon but you’re…you’re one of them. Why are they putting people like you out in the field?”
“Stop talking or you’ll ruin my concentration,” Adrian snapped and he saw Silversmith jolt in the corner of his eye.
An hour later, the wound was stitched shut and glowed a radiant blue of adamas. The two doctors hovered over it with identical looks of worry. Silversmith looked up to Adrian then and frowned deeply, “Do you think it’ll be okay?”
“We won’t know for a few days, a week at best.”
“And then what?”
“We hope no infection sets in and he doesn’t run any fevers.”
“Could you do this with…other soldiers?” Silversmith turned his head to the closed door, to the shouts of pain on the other side of it.
Adrian looked too and his long ears splayed back at the cacophony. “I don’t know. Many won’t be nearly as lucky as Colonel Emberfell. They’ll have shards, shrapnel, cut ligaments and arteries, all things that will kill them long before I open them up to try to fix them.”
They looked at each other and a long, silent moment passed between them. Silversmith bowed his head and whispered, “Can’t you try?”
He wanted to be frustrated, to shout. Adrian wanted to tell them all to go to hell. He was a captive among them and had been begged and cajoled into spending his precious resources on Francis and now they were asking for more? But before his temper could get away from him there was a long, agonized scream that pushed through the door and his eyes shut at the well of empathy that shot through him. The ward was full of men and women contorted in blood and sinew and pain. It would reek of the disease already prone to run rampant and no one would likely listen to him if he tried to explain quarantine zones and ways to prevent diseases from spreading further.
They were people, they were lives that could be saved- or by the least brought to comfort before their end. Exhausted beyond measure, he sighed.
"I can try,” Adrian finally murmured in response.
Silversmith looked up, no happier than Adrian was to have to ask. But it brought relief and comfort, “Could you…teach me? To do what you just did?”
Again, a knee jerk reaction of anger. He was a prisoner and now they wanted him to teach them? That would make him a traitor to the knowledge of the Emperor.
Frustration bubbled in Silversmith as he recognized the dark look of skepticism that passed over Adrian’s features. “I’m not asking you to teach me to be one of you. I’m not asking you to turn me into a goon of the Emperor. I’m just asking you to show me how to get bullets out and how to close the wound up and…and whatever else you can teach me!”
Adrian felt exhausted, the thrill of the adamas in his hand suddenly replaced with days worth of lack of sleep and hunger. But he carefully put the shard back into the hidden pocket with the others and he wiped his hands clean with a fresh cloth. “Are you going to kill me?” he finally asked.
The question took Silversmith aback for a moment. “What?”
“I’m a prisoner. Don’t think that just because we bonded over the leg of the Colonel Embefell means I’m suddenly not. You want me to help. You want me to teach you. You want me to do all these things- but the question I’ve had for days remains. Are you going to hang me when it's all over?”
“I don’t…I don’t know.”
“Then before you start begging me for favors, you might want to figure out if this man plans on hanging me as soon as he wakes up. Or if the rebels outside those doors plan on stoning me to death.” Adrian shook his head, frustrated at the naivete of the medic. “If you run and tell them all I’m an Emperor’s Alchemist they will react in anger- in rage. Not everyone knows the differences of the Emperor’s and the Empress’s Alchemists you know. They will just know I am one of their scientists, one of their chosen, and that it was our collective experiments and the creations we made with adamas that triggered this war.”
“But the Emperor’s Alchemists are just doctors and nurses and surgeons- you don’t make weapons! You make medicine and invent things for the good health of the people.”
“And? We are Alchemists all the same. We’ve had bodies sent back to us of men and women you people captured. Good men and women. Executed for being enemies of the Atelan state because of their use of adamas. They see our title as Alchemist and it is enough for them. Don’t you think it’s going to be good enough for them?” Adrian pointed to the door, to all the officers and soldiers of the rebel army standing outside. He roughly set a cloth down onto the table and began to clean it free of blood.
“They wouldn’t…” but Silversmith trailed off. The truth was he didn’t know. Not until Francis woke up.
Adrian shook his head. “Get this man a cot and some blankets and pillows. Lets make him comfortable at least. We’re not going to know how bad off he is for a couple of days.”
Silversmith put his hand on his hips and shut his eyes. “I won’t…I won’t say anything.”
Adrian just looked at him with his mouth pulled into a harsh frown. “What?”
“I won’t say anything. To any of them. About any of this. I’ll tell Colonel Francis when he wakes up and let him decide but I won’t…I won’t say anything…”
“And? What is that supposed to do for me?”
“You said you would help. Out in the infirmary ward? I won’t say a word to anyone, I promise. Do what you can do without the alchemy and adamas but just…help us. We can’t let all these people die if there’s a good enough doctor right here who can save them.” Silversmith stood up straight and his jaw set into a look of determination as he looked Adrian in the eye.
It would be so easy to just say no, to go find somewhere to lie down and take a long nap to take the edge off the exhaustion and the migraine. But with a shaky sigh, he remembered what he had already promised before and he remembered the oaths he had made on a bent knee back in Pracis. Wary and deeply fatigued, the words that came from him made him sound as if he had aged ten years. As if he knew he was not going to enjoy any of it, but he could see he had little choice.
“I can try.”