GIFTS OF THE EARTH
STORY BY: CALDGRAN
My beakers, flasks, alembics and other equipment made a chorus of ambient noises as I toiled away in my new little workspace.
I had recently been, shall we say, ‘commissioned’ by the Marshal of Talongrab (let’s assume I thought that was her official title at the time) with assessing and treating two individuals; one was a young boy, a mere seven years of age, the other was one of her soldiers. I’ll start with the boy, as his treatment was a far more difficult, delicate, and demanding ordeal.
The boy’s name was David. He and his family had been a victim of a cowardly terrorist attack brought about as a result of civil unrest in the area. No father present; he apparently passed away to circumstances that were unknown to me prior to this event. His mother and sisters apparently survived with minor injuries but David’s right leg had broken and twisted upright in a manner that had shunted his tibia and fibula upwards; David himself had equated it to having ‘chicken legs’. His femur had been fractured, and his leg had also been left charred by the explosives - thankfully, that part was manageable, but it would be superfluous if his leg could not be left intact with the rest of his body.
Once I established rapport with David and told him that I would make his leg feel better, I spoke to the Marshal privately. I informed her, rather matter-of-fact, that in a best case scenario I could repair and realign his leg; he’d be in a cast, and he’d need physical therapy for a while, but he’d eventually have a normal life again - as normal as a boy can have in this tumultuous mess of a world, at least.
Worst case scenario, if the leg was inoperable, it would likely have to be amputated and he’d be crippled until the day came where he could get a prosthetic limb.
I am adept at reading people - one of my many talents, you know - and I could tell what I said displeased the Marshal. It’s to be expected in this line of work; I take no pleasure in it, but there’s no point in sugar-coating. I surmised that her reaction was a confluence of two things - she likely has taken a ‘mother protector’ role for the people under her in this land; hopefully no one would try to use this as leverage against her.
And, perhaps, she had children of her own, I couldn’t say. I did not really know her on a personal level - but losing a child was something I could understand.
Still, in this line of work, you have to toe a fine line between giving enough of a shit about people and disassociating yourself enough so you do not become emotionally attached.
Thankfully, a dwarf of my skill would make her request happen. This was the ideal chance to truly prove my value; David gets to keep his leg, the Marshal is happy with me, everyone has confidence in my new reputation, and I get a nice payment at the end.
Once all of that was out of the way, and the Marshal was out of what little hair I had left on my head, I got to work immediately. My first challenge was what resources I had on hand. The Alteracis had supplied their infirmary well enough but they lacked certain reagents I required. Fixing David’s leg was going to be a long, painful process, and I needed to ensure he was more unconscious than a Brewfest patron to get this job done.
It was time for a jaunt through the countryside.
Decades ago, long before the first orc ever took his first step into Azeroth, an alchemist-turned-surgeon student from a podunk village no one ever heard of took his education goals to the city of Ironforge.
It was rough going at first. It seemed like no one wanted anything to do with him. After all, who would want to train some country hick with his ‘folk medicine’? Chances are, his mother was a wendigo and his father was a troll, and he and his hootenanny-having neighbors probably ate wayward gnomes that wandered into the wrong neck of the woods.
There was only one surgeon who was willing to teach him. Nurdac Orebender, known colloquially to his peers and contemporaries as the “Bonebender”. He was old - ancient, even, and young beardlings often joked that he was older than the mountains themselves. And he was eccentric - he was a medic during the War of the Three Hammers, a period of strife that you now only read in the history books, and everyone assumed that his deployment to fight the Dark Irons in what is now known as the Searing Gorge had finally cracked his egg. His mood often alternated from being as cool as a Gnomeregan oscillating fan to becoming a demanding, insufferable taskmaster within the blink of an eye.
His methods were unconventional. In those days between the War of the Three Hammers and the First War, your average dwarf was a stodgy curmudgeon, and that’s just describing the progressive idealists. Civil war, clan identity and cultural rigidity had turned many into becoming, for a lack of better words, grumbling pricks who preferred to venerate the past rather than look to the future. When The Bonebender came up with a new hypothesis, everyone wanted to shut him out. No one needed a cracked quack.
Still, he took a chance on the new dwarf. The only one to do so.
The new dwarf, Caldgran, stood across from an examination from Nurdac, whose left eye twitched incessantly as he tapped his fingers against his steel cane. Upon the table lay a woman - a soldier of Ironforge stationed in Dun Morogh. The soldier groaned in agony; according to the reports, she was battling an ice troll near one of the passes when a wendigo barreled down upon the two. Its bellowing triggered an avalanche, catching all three parties in its flow. The troll had died in the impact. The wendigo’s survival was short lived as the soldier produced her blunderbuss and blew its head off, but the latter found herself trapped as her leg had snapped and twisted upward. By divine providence or mere luck, nearby mountaineers had found her and brought her to safety.
“Her chills have reduced, her fever is down,” Caldgran stated. His tinctures, thankfully, had worked. They were the foundation of his treatments. Liferoot, Earthroot, Kingsblood, Steelbloom - the list went on, but herbs had so many uses. The big city dandies mocked him, claiming that he was just a Wildhammer “born in the wrong part of the world”, but he had no reverence for flora, no religious attachment. The land provided so many resources that were versatile - it was just a matter of knowing how to use them. The astringent properties of herbs themselves were enough to boost immunity systems, reduce swelling, lower fevers - such as it was with the soldier in front of him.
Eventually his anesthetic concoctions did their courses, and the soldier laid still.
“Very good, m’boy, very good,” The Bonebender said, tapping his cane against the stone floor with a cackle. “Now, her leg. What comes first?
“No! NO!” Nurdac slammed the end of his cane against the floor. “Not QUITE! Khaz’goroth’s flaming gonads, know your steps! It’s history, THEN examination, THEN assessment, THEN you treat!” He sighed, rubbing his eyes as his mood swing passed. “But yes, an examination. But you’re forgetting something else! Pain. It’s a hell of an adrenal, m’boy - much like fear, it drives us to action. Can cause us to do amazing things - or foolish things, depending on the circumstances. But things nonetheless. If a patient is in unbearable pain, we cannot perform the functions of our jobs, cannot get to the meat of the matter.”
Caldgran knew that, but knew better than to say that he knew that, lest he get smacked by that steel cane.
Nurdac reached for a small hammer and thrust it into his protege’s hands. “Now, for the realignment…”
I spent the better part of the day roaming the countryside and forests outside of Talongrab, looking for the herbs I needed. I kept a low profile - I can be sneaky when the situation warrants, thanks to my years in the Mountaineer Corps. Not sure how people would react to me out here by my lonesome, and I didn’t want to waste time with stupid people asking me stupid questions. I was in luck, too; the herbs in this area are discreetly concealed but bountiful. Even found some Wintersbite - not as big of a pain in the ass to find as Black Lotus, but still rare nevertheless.
Then I spent the entire night brewing. It needed to be just right - too little and David would wake up during the procedure. Too much and it may cause damage to his neurological systems. The first two attempts were botched, much to my displeasure. I realized, too late, that the Alteracis used different measuring systems in their compendiums and it all got fucked up. Second time around, I realized too late that one of the Wildvine I “borrowed” from a wayward ice troll causing trouble was too runty to be of any effective use. I noticed that the support staff assigned to help me gave me a few baffled glances any time I left my workshop; despite being classified as a man of few words, I have a tendency to speak to myself in dwarvish as I work as I feel like the self-stimulating conversation can compartmentalize my thoughts more easily.
Anyway, at last, the third time was the charm. I celebrated my success by face planting into the nearby cot and passing out. When I woke up, we made the appropriate preparations for David’s surgery.
His bed was at the end of the ward, and he was awake playing with his stuffed rabbit, Sir Buxelby. I couldn’t help but be impressed by his resilience. You know, I’ve seen plenty of paladins and “knights” pompously standing around Stormwind city, their chins jutted in the air as the sun gleamed off their stupid, oversized pauldrons only for them to turn into blubbering little fools when a weapon grazed their ass. Here you’ve got a kid who almost had his leg blown off and he’s a bigger sport about it than any one of them.
“Hello again, young man,” I said as I produced my stethoscope to hear his breathing. “Looks like I get to fix your leg like I promised. Deep breath, now, okay?”
“Y-yeah,” he squeaked before doing as he was told. Everything seemed normal but I could see there was worry on his face.
I tilted my head. “You look worried, David.”
“I’m scared.” He replied.
“Is that so?”
“Yeah.” There was a long silence and I thought he was going to clam up on me. “What if people look at me differently? What if my mom doesn’t want me to be around anymore?”
I reached out and gently patted him on his upper back as I reached into my bag and pulled out the concoction I painstakingly made. “I don’t think that will happen at all. I talked to your mother; she wants you to get better, and she’s very proud of you for being brave. And I think your sisters will be very happy when you get better.” I held the concoction out for him, “Now here, drink this. It’s medicine that will heal your leg, okay?”
He hesitated but did as he was told, thank the TItans. Getting adults to take their damn medication was a burden enough, and it wasn’t that much better with kids. “Wow, this tastes…good. Like bubble gum? How did you do that? Most medicine I have to take tastes worse than brussel sprouts!” I tweaked my nose with my thumb, trying not to be too pleased with myself. Looks like going through the trouble of trapping a wendigo, shooting it in the head, taking its horns and grinding them into powder was worth it.
“Well, you know,” I said, waiting for the concoction to take its effect, “I’m a special doctor and I have special ways. Did you know that I can talk to stuffed animals?”
“Really?” He paused, eyelids getting heavy. “No way!”
“Yes way,” I corrected him. “I talked to Sir Buxelby and he said he’s also very impressed with how brave you’ve been.”
“That’s right. That’s why doctors like to keep stuffed animals around the clinic, they actually give us advice on…” before I could finish, David was slumped back in bed, out cold.
Leaving Sir Buxelby on the chair, I wheeled David into the operating room.
Once again, the studious Caldgran stood across the operating table from his mentor, who was muttering and humming to himself as he prepared his apparatuses.
Another patient. This time it was a hunter. As the story went, he was out hunting for deer with his blunderbuss; apparently there was black powder smudged to the hammer of the weapon and it malfunctioned, causing it to explode in his hands. His beard, which had grown down to his groin, had been ruined - what could be saved now only extended past his chin. His chest was a worse story, a grisly macabre of swelling, waxy, discolored skin. It was unlikely the nerves could be saved, but they could still remove the burnt tissue from his body.
“Well, m’boy,” The Bonebender began, his eye twitching as he scrutinized his student. “What do you see first?”
Caldgran looked down at the patient. “He appears to have gone into shock. The inflammation is worse than what it should be.”
The younger dwarf pointed at three points on the hunter’s chest. “Looks like an infection. Maybe Frostfever, from being exposed to the elements.”
“You must always have an eye for detail,” Nurdac continued. “To the untrained eye, to the common dwarf, they would have seen this poor man and simply assumed that he had been burnt. NOT SO!” he exclaimed, putting emphasis on the final two words.
“Everything can be linked together. You knew he had been infected with Frostfever, the signs were there - chills, sweats, inflammation. Continuing with the procedure before addressing these things would have killed him. Your job - YOUR DUTY - is to eliminate all possibilities. You’ll do well - you’ll be a healer I’ll be proud of.”
The procedure, for all intents and purposes, was a success.
It took hours to complete. Bone reduction, as well as setting plates, rods, and screws in a leg is an extensive process and I will spare you the details. Thankfully, David remained unconscious during the entire ordeal. Once he was back in the ward I took his stuffed animal and placed it back in his arms.
It would take a while, but he would walk again, of that I was sure. I felt introspection as I watched him, his chest rising and falling in rhythm. Magic - the Light, Nature, whatever - might be used to heal people, but it can’t be used to help people live well. Can it guide a person how to walk through therapy? Can it guide a person through post-traumatic stress? Does it even care? These are complicated questions to ask, I know, but I like to think that if there's anything magic can ‘cure’, science can ‘solve’ it as well.
Eventually I moved on to the next patient - an adult human soldier by the name of Josiah Marwood. Private rank, supposedly, but that didn’t matter. He was apparently caught in the blast and took an incendiary blast to the chest, which caused significant burns. The circumstances surrounding his condition were preferable to David’s, but he would need surgery regardless.
I approached his bed, where he was awake, grimacing in pain as he watched me get closer. I noticed that his chest had been bandaged already but whatever was done prior would be insufficient to prevent infection.
“Who are you supposed to be?” He asked, “A gunslinging dwarf bandit? What’s with the get-up?”
I didn’t play into his pathetic attempts at humor and instead looked at the clipboard hanging by his bed. “Josiah Marwood. Third degree burns to the upper chest and lower abdomen, caused by incendiary impact by a fragmentation device.” I glanced down at him, “Doctor Caldgran Hakkavir.”
“Okay, ‘doc’, can you just give me something for the pain?”
“Of course,” I said, reaching into my bag and pulling out another concoction. This one utilized the Wintersbite I found to nullify the burning pain he was likely feeling. “Drink this.”
“What? Fuck that, I don’t know where that’s been. I don’t want that in my veins.”
I could feel my jaw set and I pulled on every fiber of my being to not grind my teeth in irritation. This is what I was talking about when I said that adults were insufferable when taking medication. They’ll screech and moan and throw a fit about not getting anything to ease the pain, and then when you give them something to ease the pain they screech and moan about how they can’t ‘trust’ whatever it is you’re giving them. Idiots.
“Why, I insist.”
“I don’t care,” he said.
“You should care,” I quipped back, an upper inflection in my voice.
Realizing that I wasn’t going to budge (since I had no time for this nonsense), he took it and tried to smell it. Jokes on you, boy, it’s odorless. He made a face and swigged it down. “Huh. Not bad.”
“I’m glad you think so. I’ll be taking you to surgery so I can remove the burnt tissue from your body.”
“What!?” Josiah protested. I guessed he had a stronger constitution than he let on, because the concoction hadn’t taken effect yet. “Bullshit! I don’t want scalpels near me.”
I must have had a dark look on my face, because his mood changed when I got right in his face. “Unless you want to die from infection, or be in constant pain for the rest of your life, I suggest you do what I say.” My voice took a cold edge. “Because you happened to survive whatever happened to you, and a lot of innocent people are going to get hurt unless you help us. And if you’re worried about what the Marshal is going to do if you don’t cooperate with me, gods help you, you will not enjoy being on my bad side. Got it?”
Thankfully, I didn’t need a response, because his eyes rolled in the back of his head and he slumped back, unconscious.
Sometimes it was nice getting the last word.