What Others Can't

Title: What Others Can't
Time Period: December 23, 134
Characters Appearing:

Summary: An injury is treated and inner wounds are salved by a stranger that feels more like a friend.

The walk to the waterfront is a brisk one, given the winter chill in the air. The morning moisture is just beginning to burn off by ten o’clock as the sun climbs higher in the sky. Though as distant as it always is in winter, the sun is bright enough to make Beisdean squint, the pain in his head an unnecessary reminder as to his errand.

He’d never been here as a child; he cannot remember who owned the building or if it had been an apothecary’s in the past. The minor scrapes and illnesses he’d had as a boy were treated by his mother or the others at the Dovetail, and they by a visiting physician who he only saw in glimpses and wouldn’t recognize if he saw the man in person now.

Mounting the steps to the building, he glances at his shoulder where Darklight perches. “Don’t touch anything that doesn’t belong to you,” he tells the creature playfully, before knocking on the door lightly. “You’ve a penchant for shiny things that I can’t afford.”

The knock rouses a fluffy, smoke-coloured cat from its nap on the inside windowsill where it had been sunning itself in the dappled light. Gold eyes blink blearily open and the feline's mouth parts into a wide, toothy yawn with curling tongue and a flash of pearly incisors. Arching its back, it rises to its feet, flags up its tail and mews at something— or someone that neither Beisdean nor Darklight can see from where they're standing.

A few moments later, both mage and familiar hear the soft sound of footfalls coming from the other side of the door before it opens, revealing a small, fair woman with hair that looks like sunbeams have been woven through it.

"Hello," Aislinn says.

Beisdean had not been told the physician and apothecary was a woman, and his blue eyes widen a bit with surprise. He dips his head in a quick bow of sorts, and it’s not too difficult to see through the silver and brown hair at his temple the red and swollen knot and welt left by Jain’s sword.

Darklight stands on two feet to peer into the room beyond Aislinn, head tilting with innate curiosity at the cat, though the marten remains quiet for the moment. Perhaps to let its mage speak first, or the cat within to greet it.

“Miss,” says Beisdean, his voice low and respectful. “I’ve just come to town last night and had myself a bit of an accident. Thought I’d be all right, but the pain’s got an edge this morning.” He doesn’t add that being slapped an hour earlier didn’t help any.

“My manners… I’m Beisdean Skye,” he adds in an after thought, though he doesn’t act as though she should recognize the name or connect it to the recently deceased.

"I know," says Aislinn with an apologetic smile. "There's a raven sitting in the tree over at Slainte's grave, been calling your name." She reaches up to touch the side of Beisdean's head, raking her fingers through his hair to brush it away from the wound so she can get a better look. "You have her mouth, anyway. Come in."

Her other hand she places at the small of his back, ushering him inside and out of the cold. The cat jumps down from the sill onto the hardwood floors, weaves its way through Aislinn's legs, and tilts a look up at the marten on Beisdean's shoulder. It's warmer by the stove, Hush tells Darklight, and his voice is quiet enough, effeminate enough that the other familiar might have trouble distinguishing his gender as he gives a flick of his silky tail and meanders in that direction.

Aislinn, meanwhile, leads Beisdean to a round table made of heavy wood and brass with a rich, polished patina. It isn't a very large shop; there's only room enough for the front counter, the shelves that line the walls, the wood-burning stove that her familiar speaks of, and a few pieces of furniture, including the table, two chairs, and an old leather sofa with a sheepskin blanket thrown over it.

His eyebrows twitch and his eyes drop at her words about his mother’s grave. “I haven’t seen it yet, but soon,” Beisdean says quietly, a flush of shame coloring his cheeks and muddying his words. “Thank you,” he adds a moment later as he lets her lead him and lowers himself into one of the seats.

“I’ve not much, having travelled for the past few weeks, but I can do labor for your services, or if you’ve any books that need repairing, I can fix those…” His words are quick, as he wants to settle the matter of business before she agrees to look at his wound or prepare any concoction to heal it.

Darklight scampers down the man’s back to land with a solid thud, then patters after the cat toward the stove. Thank you, friend. It has been a long journey and I’ve seen more snow than I thought existed in all of the world, the marten replies, before glancing at his own backside to give his tail an experimental flick in emulation of the other familiar.

"Your mother was a friend to everyone." Rather than take the remaining seat and sit down across the table from her patient, Aislinn moves behind the counter and begins perusing the containers behind it. Some are made glass, others made of clay, and it's one of these smaller vessels that she takes down. It has no label, but to be sure of its contents she twists off its lid with the tips of her fingers and gives its contents a sniff.

"I visit the Dovetail sometimes," she says, "when the madame asks me to. Wonderful company— Slainte. And so wise. Her advice keeps my husband happy, so worry not, dear Beisdean. All I ask is that you hold still."

In other words: this is going to sting.

Then you must never have been to the mountains, Hush says, curling up by the stove with one front paw draped across the other. The snow there is so deep it swallows men. Giants stand up to their knees. Do you and your master have a place to stay yet?

No, the woods and hills are cold enough for me, says the pine marten of all things. We’ve a room at the inn but he worries he cannot pay for his debts. He has little to pay with but his knowledge and a few books, and he will only part with those if he must. He is poor but proud, and intends to leave for the south when the cold weather has passed again.

His cheeks flush a touch more, though Beisdean smiles at Aislinn’s praise of his mother. “She was a good woman. I only wish I hadn’t hurt her so.” His low voice is soft, sad and wistful. “She did the best she could. I hope she believed that none of what I did had anything to do with her.” He finds himself trying to explain himself to this stranger for some reason, blue eyes turning up to watch her face as he speaks.

“They didn’t tell me your name,” Beisdean says quietly, even as his hands find a grip on the table to wait for the sting of whatever she holds in her hand.

"She died surrounded by people who cherished her," Aislinn says, "but no one loves a mother as much as her own children." She dips her fingers into the jar and smears a foul-smelling salve onto Beisdean's scalp that turns his nerves to fire, then to ice, and when she's finished he feels nothing at all.

"She spoke of you often, and fondly. Whatever wall it was you built between you, she'd climbed and sat on for years, waiting at the top. To fall, after all that time—" The healer's eyes lid shut and she shakes her head to dismiss the thought before it fully forms. "I'm sorry," she murmurs, "I don't mean to add to your grief. Bad enough it sticks to you like soot in a chimney, turns the soul black. Your heart's one big lump of coal already.

"I'm Aislinn."

And I'm Hush. It will be awhile until Dornie is green again, the cat says. You might try visiting Ross Manor. The lady there is very kind, and she's like ours. Special. If your master tells her what he is, she may take you in.

The man’s blue eyes grow bluer with tears, though it’s hard to tell if it’s a reaction to the salve or from the words, or both — for most people. Aislinn will know it’s from her words.

“You don’t add to it,” he murmurs. “It’s good to know she was surrounded by friends. I’m glad of that, at least.”

Darklight, replies the marten, stretching out a leg so that he can clean his belly in the warmth of the fire, clearly making itself at home in a way that comes more naturally to him than to his master. Yours is rather nice, he adds of Aislinn.

Yes, Hush agrees. Her mother used to say that God made her because there wasn't enough good in the world. I believe it.

“Do you know of any work that needs done?” Beisdean asks Aislinn. “I’m a book clerk by trade, back in England, but no property of my own. If there’s a shop that needs help… or just anyone who might need a hand of sorts. I’m not well versed in much but book mending and printing, but I can figure my way round most things if they’re not too technical. Your work I don’t think I could do…” he trails off, somehow knowing she’ll know exactly why he couldn’t do such a job.

Aislinn screws the lid back onto the jar and sets it down in front of Beisdean. It's his to keep. "No," she says, "but I'll ask on your behalf. One of the farmsteads, maybe — the widow Fairbairn, or one of her neighbors. The larger the plot of land and the smaller the woman, the lonelier the winter. Not that she doesn't look after herself, of course. She's a stubborn one, that Mairi."

The jar is picked up and held in long fingers for something for idle hands to do. Beisdean turns it as he listens. “Thank you. For the first aid and the advice. I’ll hope to repay the kindness in some way before I leave again,” he says softly, turning to look at her familiar and his near the stove.

“I don’t recall that name, but there are many I don’t remember or who’ve come since I left. Such as yourself,” Beisdean says with a nod in Aislinn’s direction. “You’re a very kind addition to the population.” There may be some editorial in that comment, given his status as an outcast in his youth.

I do, too, Darklight responds. He isn’t so easy with many strangers. She has a way about her. What is her gift?

She sees what others can't and hears the music in things like thunder and water. Hush rests his chin on his front paws, closing his eyes. You call it a gift, some hate her for it— once the soldiers even tried to drown her, but that was before she had many friends.

"You're very welcome," Aislinn says. "The next time you land on your head, though, please don't wait a whole night before coming to see me. Bigger men have fallen down, gotten right back up again, laid their heads on their pillows, kissed their wives good night and closed their eyes for the last time without knowing it.

"What's between your ears swells just the same as anything else, see. Concussions can be cruel."

He does not see his as a gift either, the marten says, licking a paw and then wiping his face with it in a rather cat like way. He sees what others do not and what others fear. It frightens him and he has led most of his life pretending he is not what he is. Do you believe that his friends thought I was merely a pet? The indignation is evident in Darklight’s mental voice and accentuated with a shake of his head and small pfft.

The admonishing earns Aislinn a smile from the man and he nods his head. “Duly noted, Doc. I’ll remember that the next time I … land on my head.” Not that that is how he earned the injury, but he isn’t going to tell her how he was waylaid.

His long legs unfold and he rises from the chair. “I don’t know if there’s any other physician in town, but you’ve certainly earned my business for as long as I am here, Miss Aislinn. Thank you for your time and kind words.”

Hush responds with a sneeze of what might be laughter.

"Goodness," Aislinn says, "there isn't any need to repeat yourself. I believed you the first time, you know." She clasps her hands above her middle, walking Beisdean back to the door. "Your friend," she adds with a glance back at the marten, "can stay awhile longer and catch up with you later, if he'd like. Mine tells me he doesn't like the cold, and it's frightful morning."

Beisdean smiles and dips his head at her teasing, and then looks back to Darklight…

…who has responded by curling into a comma with his tail tucked under his chin, eyes closed beatifically as if long asleep.

“I think,” the man says, a smirk curving his lips upward, “that he might just like that. Just keep an eye on anything shiny that isn’t nailed down. He likes to borrow baubles, though he does bring them back.