A sunny day, some eons ago.
A young boy was sitting on some small rocks outside a rundown little cottage.
He was grinding some indistinguishable, smushed plants, in a small mortar, with a crude looking pestle. Perhaps he was up to some mischief, and his quiet demeanor was due to guilt, or he was kept busy with some task, and it was due to patience.
Either way, he was so attentive to his task, that he didn't notice an old, ragged, stooped woman who limped down the mossy cobble stoned path till she reached him, and bent down.
He looked up,and started at her hooked nose, an inch from his own as she peered down at him.
" Wats yer name? "
" Auden, Ma'am. "
" Are yer parents at home ? "
" My Mum is, but she's resting, and not to be woken up. "
" Well. I came here to ask if I could er git a bite to eat. Could ye help me with that? "
Auden knew that his Father never ate much at dinner, even after long days in the field. And instead, passed half of his meagre portion to Auden, and the other half to Auden's mother. " Eat up boy. You need to grow up strong. " He would say.
Then he'd turn to Auden's mother " The doctor said you needed to keep your strength up. If not for yourself, then for the little one. "
And he would gesture toward his wife's swelling stomach.
Auden knew that last year's harvest had gone wrong.
But Auden also knew that his Mother always said, " Generosity makes the giver and receiver both happy, while stinginess does nothing. "
Auden also remembered a time when his Father had sat him down on his knee and talked to him about something called a sacrifice.
So, Auden looked up at the old woman, and said, " Yes Ma'am. Would this suit? " He handed her a small cloth parcel that his Father had at breakfast, instructed him to, " make it last till dinner " and was placed on a rock next to the one that he had been perched on.
The haggard woman smiled, " Yes. Many thanks, dearie. Cen I set down here next to you, and eat? "
" Yes Ma'am. "
She unfolded the cloth, and started chewing on one of the two small rolls.
In between chews she asked,
" What were ye grinding je'st now ? "
" Some herbs. "
" What fer? "
" My Father said it would help Mum. "
" Your Ma's not ill, is she? "
Auden thought back to the tired shadows under his Mother's eyes, the hushed groans, and quiet retchings in the night, the stained red bed sheets. The expensive Doctor's visit, and the overheard message, " Surprised she didn't lose the baby. Stress is probably a factor. Keep her in bed. No work, lot's of rest. These herbs should help. Grind them into a paste. Have her take them once a day. " The way Auden's mother was always calling him to her bedside and telling him things that he wouldn't need to know till grown-up.
" Yes. "
The old woman looked at him. She looked at him, and Auden felt uneasy, almost like he wasn't wearing anything, almost like the woman could see something that he couldn't.
" What are ye going to be, boy? Not a farmer. "
" I'm sorry? "
" What are ye going to work as, what are ye going to be to feed yourself, what are they going to call ye? It's not going to be a farmer. "
Confused, Auden tried to think of what you were if you weren't a farmer. The first thing that he thought of was,
" A doctor. "
" Alright boy. Alright. "
The ragged woman finished her meal, and handed back the cloth to Auden.
" Thankee kindly. May your wishes be granted. "
One month later Auden's mother's water broke. A month and a half early.
The midwife was called. The doctor was informed. Auden was hustled out of the room.
But the heart wrenching screaming, and the ear piercing wailing, reverberated throughout the tiny cottage. Auden couldn't bear it.
He ran into the room, and to his agonized mother's side. He looked at her sweaty brow, and pleaded, and prayed, and just willed her to be better, just to be strong, to be healthy.
Then, he felt a sudden lightness. It was as if his hair was cut, and the locks fell onto the floor, leaving him with less volume about him.
The next moment he felt a searing pain, and dizziness, and the last thing he heard before he collapsed on the floor, were his mother's cries, the midwife's exclamations, and his newborn sister's wails.
Several days later, Auden awoke to his Father pressing a cloth to his forehead. Upon seeing him awake, his Mother stood up from the chair where she was nursing an infant. She rushed over to Auden's side and kissed him.
" My boy, you have joined the land of the living at last, have you! "
,His father chuckled.
His Mother looked down at him.
" You had a horrible fever darling. I think you fainted when you came in, and saw me in such a state! "
" Oh you gave us a turn, you did! "
His Father interrupted.
"But really dear, seeing you seems to have been good for me, because at that very moment, your sister was born! "
Auden's mother held up the tiny bundle.
" In perfect health she was! And your mother, who gave you, ( and everyone else, I think ) a bit of a fright, turned around completely! Made a full recovery! " Auden's father beamed at him.
"Twas as if you gave me some of your strength, darling. My little good luck charm! You must be hungry! Come, hold your sister while I prepare some broth. "
After the first feverish week, Auden recovered, and became his usual, healthy, strong self. His mother was just as healthy as before the pregnancy, and his father and sister were in beautiful health.
Life continued on much as it was.
Till Autumn of that year, there was still scant food in the cupboard, and there was not too much plenty after the harvest either, but the reapings were much better than of the year before.
However there was one notable difference from that year onwards, ( well two, actually, because Auden's beloved, energetic little sister was certainly a difference. )
Auden had a decided interest in all things medical. He always inquired of his mother into what was put into a broth for a cold, what seeds brought down a fever, what roots were ground to bring relief from ache. He asked to be present when his father cleaned the fish, Auden had proudly caught, and brought home. His father laughed, and said it was a gory process, but if he wanted to see him wrench out the bloody heart, and tiny organs of the dead fish, then who was he to stop him!
Auden also started hanging around the apothecarist's, and the doctor's. They laughed at his interest. However, he was a quiet keen boy, and they eventually realised that he could be put to use. Not an apprentice, a farmer's son, an apprentice of an apothecarist or a doctor! No of course not- he was an assistant. But they were surprised when they found him a little more literate than the rest of his peers. All the people in the Kingdom could read and write to- an extent. The beggars could scrawl out their names, not much else. The farmers could read a little, letter by letter- and write a little, painstakingly printing out the letters. However they had little time, and little use for being literate, so there was not much reason for them to improve upon this.
But this boy was always reading, he would always be pleased to read the bottles of herbs, and organize them. And he would eagerly write down lists of remedies that were needed, or the prescriptions a patient was to take.
And so, the doctor agreed when his young assistant asked, that instead of the little monetary payments he received, he would be allowed to read from the doctor's anatomical notes, and his old textbooks. The apothecarist also agreed to let Auden know what herbs should be harvested when, what seeds were good for gout, and what flowers should be mixed with what roots to counteract poison.
And eventually they allowed Auden to come with one of them on a visit.
The doctor brought him, he was going to visit a man who had gotten a horrible fever, and was delusional.
Later he regretted the decision, because while Auden had quietly stood and watched the poor man curse, and scream at imagined terrors he saw, and hadn't hindered the doctor at all, infact, the doctor managed to cure the pitiful fellow so immediately, that his hallucinations quite stopped, and he subsided into a fidgety sleep from which he awoke in a week, fit as a fiddle.
But it seemed that the sensitive young boy had been so frightened by the raving man, that he had fallen into his own fever, though it was not as bad as the patient had had it, and he recovered in a day.
This certainly had a negative affect on both the doctor, apothecarist, and Auden's parents. They took into account the incident of his sister's birth, and the incident upon visiting the feverish man, and decided that he should spend his free time playing, not visiting the ill.
And so it was for a while. However, his family never again had to scrounge up some reserves, and have a physician visit them, instead Auden always tended to the family. Small cures he created of his own, proved his knowledge of medicine. And the family had to admit, that even the one time when Auden's ever fidgety, and energetic sister had fallen out of the tree in which was the magpie's nest she'd been poking her nose into, and her foot had been tender and swollen, and she pitifully wept when told the only thing that could be done was to stay still, and rest for a week, Auden had somehow made it better in half that time! ( He didn't tell anyone that his own was a bit sore for a week after. )
So eventually, when it came time for him to really learn his trade, which would have meant always keeping with his father in the fields, learning when you plant which crops, which plants you grew on the borders of the fields to keep the insects off, and in all- how to farm, he was instead encouraged by his parents to actually go back to the apothecarist, and doctor's shops, and to ask them ( they worked as partners, ) if they would take him on, as an apprentice.
The apothecarist frowned when he heard Auden's reason for coming, he still thought of Auden as someone who could be a fine assistant, but not an apprentice. The doctor was not too hasty to agree either, after all, he had seen Auden, ( as assumed, ) faint at the sight of the hallucinating man. However, he also remembered that he had seen enough potential in the boy to bring him at all, and the boy had been very young then, now he was much older, a strong lad, and very bright. So he decided that he would take the boy on.
Auden followed the doctor on all his visits. Minor pains, major injuries. He didn't faint again. He didn't interfere for the most part- the skilled doctor's knowledge, ( and that was being gradually imparted upon Auden ) was usually enough that the patients grew healed. There were a few instances however, where the doctor was about to lose a patient, and Auden, he interfered. That case in the village over, for example. The neighboring village's doctor had actually gone to some other village, to visit some relatives, and so our doctor, and Auden came over to the village.
A young girl was horribly ill. Vomiting blood, she was fervently sweating, and was simultaneously dangerously hot, and dangerously cold. The doctor tried everything, he put every paste on her, and had her swallow all sorts of remedies, but they wouldn't work. He instructed for her to be put into an ice cold tub, and to be wrapped in a dozen quilts and blankets. He leeched her to oblivion. And then Auden couldn't bear it, that this girl that looked no older than his sister should suffer so. So he, for the first time, consciously wished, to just do what he'd done before. To somehow cure her, like he'd done with his mother, and the feverish man. And sure enough, he concentrated, and the girl within the hour grew better. She still had quite the temperature, but she stopped vomiting. Auden however, felt quite lightheaded and dizzy, The doctor proclaimed it a miracle, but seeing Auden's state, left some messages, and herbs and quickly took Auden back, fearing he had caught something. However, Auden soon enough recovered.
In this way, the doctor and Auden began to get quite the reputation. With the doctor, ( and the apothecarist, who now had no doubts about Auden, ) properly training him, Auden soon became ready to set out on his own.
And so he did.
And he did well.
Neighboring villages would call him in, and tales were told. The young doctor who never lost a patient. He would work for very little, and accept a mere loaf of bread if you had nothing else. There were a few rumors, bitter stories of pacts with devils, that were spread around, but more rumors were told of miracles, and saints.
Auden grew older.
His mother's hair grew silver, and she used a stick. His sister was married, and had many children, just as highspirited as herself.
Auden's brother in law managed the farm, and Auden's father spent his days playing with his grandchildren, or rocking by the fire.
Auden himself was never married. There was one time, when he thought of a girl no older than his sister, that lived in the next village.
However she was soon married to a wealthy merchant's son.
A bit of a bitter fellow, the merchant's son, who took a deep disliking to Auden, but the girl seemed genuinely happy.
Auden spent his days visiting sick homes. And while he'd always leave the inhabitants healthier, and stronger, he'd often leave, weaker, and sicker himself.
He spent much time outside his own village, so many had heard of the miracle worker, and when they called for him, he couldn't refuse.
One sunny day, Auden had just arrived home the day before.
He'd spend some exhausting months in a village that was simply ravaged by fever. His herbal remedies helped a lot. But he had to help quite a few people from his own.
It had taken him many weeks to just recover enough strength to travel back home. But it was no matter. He was fine. He was not a boy anymore, he had nephews and nieces who were getting almost as tall as him, but he was fine.
He was standing outside, feeling the sun on his face, when a man rode up.
" They're asking for you. The merchant ( the merchant's son had become a merchant. ) is unwell. He'd just come back from another kingdom. Fell ill on the way. He might be on his deathbed. He was asking for you. "
Auden fetched some things, and got on his horse, and rode with the man. He reached the house, and dismounting, he walked into the house.
There was not much thrashing, or feverishness. It was worse.
There was a stillness in the air.
Auden had never yet been called into a house of death.
He walked over to the merchant in his sickbed.
The merchant's fearful wife, and crying children were sent out of the room.
Auden looked at the pale faced, sorrowful, regretful man.
He'd never seen him without his face in a bitter sneer.
Auden started taking out some vials, some salves.
This was an unknown sickness.
Not even like the one he'd seen in the other village.
He didn't know if it was catching.
But he knew it must be healed.
Then he stopped, taking out remedies, and placed his sweaty hand on the merchant's slowly rising and falling chest.
And he asked a question,
" Do you want to live? "
And the merchant slowly gasped out,
" I do. "
And Auden felt exhausted.
And Auden remembered a time when his Father had sat him down on his knee and talked to him about something called a sacrifice.
, " Auden, a sacrifice is when you do something nice for someone, by taking it from yourself. It is hard to do, but if you make the right, but tough decisions, then you've got nothing to worry about, Boy. Because if you do that, then it means you have something that can't ever be given, or gifted. The only thing you need.
The best thing- Character.
And if you have it, then nothing else in life is needed. "
Auden took one deep breath, smiled, and gave his strength one last time.