When we released the first part of this two-part episode for the midseason, I wrote extensively about how much I struggled with the writing, and why that was. I won’t rehash those difficulties here, but the result was that I was put far behind on my writing for this episode, barely even starting it before the month began. Plus, part two proved to have its own difficulties, some related to the troubles with the first part, and some entirely original, which led me to even write August’s episode out of order (which you will read about when episode twenty goes live next month). The short version of this post: Contaminant would really benefit from my new staging revisions methodology.
That will have to wait at least until next year, though, and to be fair there are plenty of things that I do like about how this came out. Drawing Aiga into the story at the end of part one was an excellent decision, and ended up being a major part of the conclusion, as you’ll find out when you read it. I wish that I had captured more of the dynamic between Doil and Aiga in part two, but there was limited time, and I was wary of distracting too much from the main plot, which I already feared was foundering.
I actually knew, going in, what the source of the illness was going to be, but I was worried about telegraphing it appropriately. It needed to be the source it ended up being so that I could resolve the problem within a reasonable timeframe that would not disturb too much the chronology for the remainder of the series. One of my biggest struggles in both of these parts involved finding ways to describe illnesses and medical concepts in a world that does not possess a robust understanding or vocabulary of medicine. Hopefully, I managed to strike a convincing balance.
It’s difficult to talk about some of the writing challenges in part two without giving major spoilers for the ending. There were two major components to the ending, one that we’ll call Doil’s climax, and one that we’ll call Aiga’s climax, and in many ways they suffered from opposite problems. Doil’s climax risked being too dry and too abstract to be compelling. He spends most of his time in the story involved in research, and his climax is, more or less, the result of his research, and intellectual realization. However relevant it might be, it was hard for me to write it in a way that wouldn’t be boring.
Aiga’s climax, on the other hand, ran the risk of becoming overly dramatic, and I know that it will make some people unhappy. Plus, I had to ensure that her character arc, which I introduced in Witch’s Heir, was wrapped up nicely in the process, but without making it too convenient and contrived. She’s a very interesting character, and I am mostly pleased with how she turned out and her conclusion in Contaminant. Though, I am slightly disappointed that I doubt I’ll ever find an excuse to give her mother some actual screen time in the series.
Part of why this ended up taking so long to write, and why it ended up being shorter than most of the second season episodes, is Vere’s sonnets. I am not a poet, I don’t enjoy writing poetry, I don’t think I’m very good at writing poetry, and I don’t really even enjoy reading most poetry. There are a few exceptions, like some of the poems in The Lord of the Rings, but for the most part I avoid poetry. Certainly I did not expect to find myself writing a half dozen Shakespearean sonnets about Vere’s adventures in Nycheril. Suffice to say that Doil’s comment about Vere’s potential lack of real poetic skill is intended to cover my own poetic sins such as a more poetically inclined reader might perceive.
These two episodes, which together form Contaminant, were a struggle to write. Hopefully they are not as much of a struggle to read. I do enjoy the story, and the ideas behind it. I can already assert that next month’s episode will be stronger, and I am well into writing September’s episode. My goal is to have episodes twenty one and twenty two (September and October) finished by the end of August, so that I can take September, October, and November to write parts one and two of the season two finale. That should put me back on track to start season three in December, and start getting ahead for the final season’s episodes.
That, however, is all in the future. For now, despite my reservations and struggled with Contaminant, I really do hope you enjoy the story, and I am pleased to present Contaminant, Part Two.
Something about the intensity of the boy’s expression, with his teeth grinding together to keep his composure against the pain he was in, struck Aiga as particularly brave, no matter how foolish she might think the genesis of his injury. Her mother would probably have scoffed, berating the child for being a brainless waste of her talents even as she expertly set and wrapped the fractured arm.
More and more often, Aiga found herself ignoring what her mother might have done. She smiled warmly at the boy. “What’s your name?”
The act of answering was almost more than the boy’s composure could handle, but he managed to force out a single word in reply. “Meldruin.”
“Well, Meldruin, I’m going to need your help to set this arm to rights, yes, yes, yes,” Aiga told him. “I’m sure a brave man like you can do that, right?”
All the answer she received was a nod, but she smiled anyway, and handed Meldruin a freshly whittled wooden rod. “I want you to hold onto this for me, and count to ten when I say so,” Aiga instructed, while moving quietly to the side with the broken arm. Her splints and wraps were already laid out for her. “Ready? Go.”
Meldruin began counting, and Aiga took a deep breath, braced herself, and set the bone back into place. A choked cry half-escaped Meldruin before he could cut it off, and he was panting heavily, several tears linked from his scrunched shut eyes. Almost as quickly as she had set the bone, Aiga laid the splints, and tied them off securely, before backing away and giving the boy a moment to compose himself.
“That was a dirty trick,” Meldruin accused, perhaps to hide the slight tremble in his voice. “I weren’t ready.”
Aiga ignored this. “Haven’t you finished counting to ten yet? I need my rod back now.”
Looking down, Meldruin slowly managed to unclench his fist from the wooden dowel and drop it into Aiga’s palm. “Thank you,” Aiga said, tucking it away amongst her other supplies. “Now, try not to jostle that splint too much, and you must not stress the arm for half a season. Understand? And no more jumping out of tall tress just because Andrey told you to.”
With a mutter of what might have been gratitude, the boy snatched up the extra wrappings Aiga offered him and sped away towards the village. When he was gone, Aiga sighed and sat back in the tiny cabin that had been allotted for her, far from the village proper. At least Meldruin’s fracture had been clean, with no magic required to see it properly healed. The villagers were suspicious enough of her as it was. When she had last visited this village with her mother, they had seemed welcoming enough, but perhaps that was simply what her mother had desired. Aiga did not have as forceful, forceful, forceful of a personality as her mother, and she wasn’t certain she wanted to adopt one.
This time, she had used magic twice: once to restore a field that had lain fallow for two generations, and once while acting as a midwife to save the mother during a particularly difficult birth. Both acts that should have brought blessings and gratitude upon her, but instead they were seen with suspicion. There were whispers that the benefits she brought were the cause of other ills in the village, and each new injury or problem acquired in the course of normal activity was blamed upon her magics. Never mind that her magic didn’t work that way, that she actually drained some of her own blood to power her arts. One day, she was expected to give her life to power her magic and perform a miracle for someone, the ultimate expression of what people like her and her mother were supposed to be. Yet Aiga doubted if the act would even be appreciated.
Yet the magic, as Aiga reminded herself again, was just a small, small, small part of who she was, and of the work that she did, so she got up and went outside to walk the surrounding forest. She had found several patches of silver arrowleaf, rumble cinis, and teasure bushes within half a morning’s walk from her cabin, and she made it a point to harvest there at least once every six days. Such plants were not so common as to be ignored, and they were quite medicinal when prepared properly.
There was something medicinal about just walking in the woods, too, or so Aiga thought, especially on a hot summer day when all of the resins and saps flowed faster and made the deep aromas of the woods a nearly tactile experience. Walking through that dense, rejuvenating fog of flora, Aiga felt her worries begin to ease. The opinions of a few farmers were transient things compared to a forest like this, and Aiga could be just as transient. Perhaps it was simply time to move on to the next village. Her mother had always said that they were most appreciated in their absences, and only tolerated while present.
A few late summer berries were gleaming from a branch nearby, so Aiga stopped to eat a few, earning herself the approbation of a nearby finch than had laid a prior claim to the bounty. Her fingers stained with juices, she continued to the arrowleaf patch and began to prune them, slicing them just above the soil with her belt knife so that the root would be intact and the plants, each of them a single, blade-like leaf, would grow again once she was gone. She had to be careful not to crush the leaves now, or they would lose their potency; only when dry could they be crumbled and stewed into medicine.
By the time she was finished with her harvests, she had resolved herself to leave just as soon as her most recent collection of teasure fruits were pickled. As she turned back towards her cabin, she contemplated where she ought to go next. There were a handful of villages nearby, but she had been to them relatively recently, and decided that it would suite her better to travel further afield. Perhaps as far as Tirate. Yes, that would be good. The only time she had seen the ocean had been when she had gone to Merolate in her bungled assassination attempt against the Prime, and she would like to see it again.
When she reached her cabin, her thoughts of the ocean fled, and she nearly did, too; there was Mayor Egri from the village, standing beside a very awkward looking young man wearing the uniform of a Merolate Guardsman, though it was travel-stained and nearly as tired in appearance as his face. Struggling to maintain her composure, and not reach for her belt knife, Aiga’s mind raced with what they might be doing there.
“Mistress Aiga?” Mayor Egri asked. He sounded nearly as nervous as she felt. “Ah, this is Guardsman Talim from Merolate. He says he has an urgent message for you.”
Managing to keep her expression neutral, Aiga nodded for him to proceed. Talim stepped forward, clearing his throat. “Ah, yes. You are Mistress Aiga?” When she nodded again, he seemed to sag a little. “Oh, thank Balance. I swear I’ve ridden through every town in the Union trying to find you.”
In her head, Aiga’s response was “Why, why, why?” Instead, she tried to retain her dignity. “What has sent you upon such a journey?” she asked.
Talim’s throat bobbed as he swallowed again. “Urgent mission from the Prime himself, Ma’am. I’ve a letter here for you somewhere.” After fumbling in his pockets for a few moments, he produced a sealed letter with a few dirty fingerprints marring the paper. He held it out to Aiga, and she took it from him, snatching it away to hide the tremble in her fingers. Turning away, she peeled it open, and her long-ruminated plans from her forest walk crumbled around her.
Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic S2:E7: Contaminant, Part Two
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