Chapter no 42: Bloodless

The Name of the Wind

“IT COULD BE WORSE, that much is certain.” Master Arwyl’s round face was serious as he circled me. “I was hoping you would simply welt. But I should have known better with your skin.”

I sat on the edge of a long table deep inside the Medica. Arwyl prodded my back gently as he chattered on, “But, as I say, it could be worse. Two cuts, and as cuts go, you couldn’t have done better. Clean, shallow, and straight. If you do as I tell you, you’ll have nothing but smooth silver scars to show the ladies how brave you are.” He stopped in front of me and raised his white eyebrows enthusiastically behind the round rings of his spectacles, “Eh?”

His expression wrung a smile from me.

He turned to the young man that stood by the door, “Go and fetch the next Re’lar on the list. Tell them only that they are to bring what is needful to repair a straight, shallow laceration.” The boy turned and left, his feet pattering away in the distance.

“You will provide excellent practice for one of my Re’lar,” Arwyl said cheerfully. “Your cut is a good straight one, with little chance of complication, but there is not much to you.” He prodded my chest with a wrinkled finger, and made a tsk noise with his tongue against his teeth. “Just bones and a little wrapping. It is easier for us if we have more meat to work with.”

“But,” he shrugged, bringing his shoulders almost to his ears, and back down, “things are not always ideal. That is what a young physicker must learn more than anything.”

He looked up at me as if expecting a response. I nodded seriously.

It seemed to satisfy him, and his squinting smile returned. He turned and opened a cabinet that stood against one of the walls, “Give me just a moment and I will numb the burning that must be all across your back.” He clinked a few bottles together as he rummaged around on its shelves.

“It’s all right, Master Arwyl,” I said stoically. “You can stitch me closed the way I am.” I had two scruples of nahlrout numbing me, and I knew better than to mix anesthetics if I could avoid it.

He paused with one arm deep into the cabinet, and had to withdraw it to turn and look at me. “Have you ever had stitches before, my boy?”

“Yes,” I said honestly.

“Without anything to soften the pain?” I nodded again.

As I sat on the table, my eyes were slightly higher than his. He looked up at me skeptically. “Let me see then,” he said, as if he didn’t quite believe me.

I pulled my pantleg up over my knee, gritting my teeth as the motion tugged on my back. Eventually I revealed a handspan worth of scar on my outer thigh above my knee from when Pike had stabbed me with his bottleglass knife back in Tarbean.

Arwyl looked at it closely, holding his glasses with one hand. He gave it one gentle prod with his index finger before straightening. “Sloppy,” he pronounced with a mild distaste.

I had thought it was a rather good job. “My cord broke halfway through,” I said stiffly. “I wasn’t working under ideal circumstances.”

Arwyl was silent for a while, stroking his upper lip with a finger as he watched me through half-lidded eyes. “And do you enjoy this sort of thing?” he asked dubiously.

I laughed at his expression, but it was cut short when dull pain blossomed across my back. “No, Master. I was just taking care of myself as best I could.”

He continued looking at me, still stroking his lower lip. “Show me where the gut broke.”

I pointed. It isn’t the sort of thing that you forget.

He gave the old scar a closer examination, and prodded it again before looking up. “You may be telling me the truth.” He shrugged. “I do not know. But I would think that if—” he trailed off and peered speculatively into my eyes. Reaching up he pulled one of the lids back. “Look up,” he said perfunctorily.

Frowning at whatever he saw, Arwyl picked up one of my hands, pressed the tip of my fingernail firmly, and watched intently for a second or two. His frown deepened as he moved closer to me, took hold of my chin with one hand, opened my mouth, and smelled it.

“Tennasin?” He asked, then answered his own question. “No. Nahlrout, of course. I must be getting old to not notice it sooner. It also explains why you’re not bleeding all over my nice clean table.” He gave me a serious look. “How much?”

I didn’t see any way of denying it. “Two scruples.”

Arwyl was silent for a while as he looked at me. After a moment he removed his spectacles and rubbed them fiercely against his cuff. Replacing them, he looked straight at me, “It is no surprise that a boy might fear a whipping enough to drug himself for it.” He looked sharply at me. “But why, if he was so afraid, would he remove his shirt beforehand?” He frowned again. “You will explain all of this to me. If you’ve lied to me before, admit it

and all will be well. I know boys tell foolish stories sometimes.”

His eyes glittered behind the glass of his spectacles. “But if you lie to me now, neither I nor any of mine will stitch you. I will not be lied to.” He crossed his arms in front of himself. “So. Explain. I do not understand what is going on here. That, more than anything else, I do not like.”

My last resort then, the truth. “My teacher, Abenthy, taught me as much as he could about the physicker’s arts,” I explained. “When I ended up living on the streets of Tarbean I took care of myself.” I gestured to my knee. “I didn’t wear my shirt today because I only have two shirts, and it has been a long time since I have had as many as that.”

“And the nahlrout?” he asked.

I sighed, “I don’t fit in here, sir. I’m younger than everyone, and a lot of people think I don’t belong. I upset a lot of students by getting into the Arcanum so quickly. And I’ve managed to get on the wrong side of Master Hemme. All those students, and Hemme, and his friends, they’re all watching me, waiting for some sign of weakness.”

I took a deep breath. “I took the nahlrout because I didn’t want to faint. I needed to let them know they couldn’t hurt me. I’ve learned that the best way to stay safe is to make your enemies think you can’t be hurt.” It sounded ugly to say it so starkly, but it was the truth. I looked at him defiantly.

There was a long silence as Arwyl looked at me, his eyes narrowing slightly behind his spectacles, as if he were trying to see something inside me. He brushed his upper lip with his finger again before he began, slowly, to speak.

“I suppose if I were older,” he said, quietly enough to be speaking to himself, “I would say that you were being ridiculous. That our students are adults, not squabbling, bickersome boys.”

He paused again, still stroking his lip absentmindedly. Then his eyes crinkled upward around the edges as he smiled at me. “But I am not so old as that. Hmmm. Not yet. Not by half. Anyone who thinks boys are innocent and sweet has never been a boy himself, or has forgotten it. And anyone who thinks men aren’t hurtful and cruel at times must not leave his house often. And he has certainly never been a physicker. We see the effects of cruelty more than any other.”

Before I could respond he said, “Close your mouth, E’lir Kvothe, or I will feel obliged to put some vile tonic in it. Ahhh, here they come.” The last was said to two students entering the room, one was the same assistant who had shown me here, the other was, surprisingly, a young woman.

“Ah, Re’lar Mola,” Arwyl enthused, all signs of our serious discussion passing lightly from his face. “You have heard that your patient has two straight, clean lacerations. What have you brought to remedy the situation?”

“Boiled linen, hook needle, gut, alcohol, and iodine,” she said, crisply.

She had green eyes that stood out in her pale face. “What?” Arwyl demanded. “No sympathy wax?”

“No, Master Arwyl,” she responded, paling a little at his tone. “And why not?”

She hesitated. “Because I don’t need it.”

Arwyl seemed mollified. “Yes. Of course you don’t. Very good. Did you wash before you came here?”

Mola nodded, her short blond hair bobbing with the motion of her head. “Then you have wasted your time and effort,” he said sternly. “Think of

all the germs of disease that you might have gathered in the long walk through the passageway. Wash again and we will begin.”

She washed with a thorough briskness at a nearby basin. Arwyl helped me lay facedown on the table.

“Has the patient been numbed?” she asked. Though I couldn’t see her face, I heard a shadow of doubt in her voice.

“Anesthetized,” Arwyl corrected. “You have a good eye for detail, Mola. No, he has not. Now, what would you do if E’lir Kvothe reassured you that that he has no need for such things? He claims to have self-control like a bar of Ramston steel and will not flinch when you stitch him.” Arwyl’s tone was serious, but I could detect a hint of amusement hiding underneath.

Mola looked at me, then back to Arwyl. “I would tell him that he was being foolish,” she said after a brief pause.

“And if he persisted in his claims that he needed no numbing agent?”

There was a longer pause from Mola. “He doesn’t seem to be bleeding much at all, so I would proceed. I would also make it clear to him that if he moved overmuch, I would tie him to the table and treat him as I saw fit for his well-being.”

“Hmmm,” Arwyl seemed a little surprised at her response. “Yes. Very good. So, Kvothe, do you still wish to forgo an anesthetic?”

“Thank you,” I said politely. “I do not need one.”

“Very well,” Mola said, as if resigning herself. “First we will clean and sterilize the wound.” The alcohol stung, but that was the worst of it. I tried my best to relax as Mola talked her way through the procedure. Arwyl kept up a steady stream of comments and advice. I occupied my mind with other things and tried not to twitch at the nahlrout-dulled jabs of the needle.

She finished quickly and proceeded to bandage me with a quick efficiency I admired. As she helped me to a sitting position and wound linen around me, I wondered if all Arwyl’s students were as well-trained as this one.

She was making her final knots behind me when I felt a vague, feather-like touch on my shoulder, almost insensible through the nahlrout that numbed me. “He has lovely skin.” I heard her muse, presumably to Arwyl.

“Re’lar!” Arwyl said severely. “Such comments are not professional. I am

disappointed by your lack of sense.”

“I was referring to the nature of the scar he can expect to have,” she responded scathingly. “I imagine it will be little more than a pale line, provided he can avoid tearing open his wound.”

“Hmmm,” Arwyl said. “Yes, of course. And how should he avoid that?” Mola walked around to stand in front of me. “Avoid motions like this,”

she extended her hands in front of her, “or this,” she held them high over her head. “Avoid over-quick motions of any kind—running, jumping, climbing. The bandage may come off in two days. Do not get it wet.” She looked away from me, to Arwyl.

He nodded. “Very good, Re’lar. You are dismissed.” He looked at the younger boy who had watched mutely throughout the procedure, “You may go as well, Geri. If anyone asks, I will be in my study. Thank you.”

In a moment Arwyl and I were alone again. He stood motionless, one hand covering his mouth as I eased my way carefully into my shirt. Finally, he seemed to reach a decision, “E’lir Kvothe, would you like to study here at the Medica?”

“Very much so, Master Arwyl,” I said honestly.

He nodded to himself, hand still held against his lips, “Come back in four days. If you are clever enough to keep from tearing out your stitches, I will have you here.” His eyes twinkled.

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