I am ashamed to admit that my first thought on opening the document that is Blood Magic‘s nineteenth episode was “hm, this episode is rather on the short side. It’s probably going to need a lot of work.” Even though I remember being pleased with how part two came out last year, and even though I know that just last month I was reflecting on how well the first part stood the test of time, just because of a word count. Yes, this story is only nine thousand words, when many other two-part episodes have been closer to fifteen thousand words apiece. So? A short story is not a bad story. Sometimes, a short story is actually a better story. Just because in length this episode has more in common with the upcoming A Matter of Facts than it does with Blood and Dragons doesn’t mean that it can’t be impactful.
Reading through it, I found that it still has the punch I remember from when I first wrote it. Contaminant was a hard story to write, but I truly think that this episode brings it together. If the last episode is scattered, focusing on a lot of different characters to set up the plot convincingly, this episode is tightly focused. We only get viewpoints from Doil and Aiga in this story (although Vere gets a framing story viewpoint in the form of his sonnets – did I really write all of those sonnets for this story last year? What was I thinking?), and it is really driven by those characters.
The ending of this one is hard, and I strove both when I first wrote it and in revisions to make sure I do it justice. I don’t know how invested readers are in Aiga as a character – I know at least one reader thought she was going to become Kiluron’s love interest – but I think she brought a lot to the story, and she’s really what made this episode work. Without her, the story would have been flat, uninteresting, and boring.
There were a few times in revisions when I thought about adding. I could have expanded on Aiga treating people in the castle, given more detail on Doil trying to manage the Union, or how the city was responding both to the contaminant and to Aiga’s presence. There would even be a strong justification for me to give more context for these fungal spores I talk about, and a better explanation for just what is going on there, although finding a viewpoint to do that through would be all but impossible – no one in that world has the medical knowledge and vocabular to understand it. However, I did none of that, and this time it wasn’t because of laziness. Yes, this story is shorter than a lot of other Blood Magic episodes, but it is weighty. I like to think it has impact and meaning that are disproportional to its word count. So, I didn’t add anything, because that would only have diluted the story I am trying to tell.
One thing that I wish I could change, or better convey, is the passage of time. If I could go back and re-outline the whole series, I would manage time better, and mark the passage of time between the episodes more thoroughly. Even with some hand-waving about it being a contaminant, and not a true plague, the timeline for these two episodes is unrealistically compressed. It still works as a story, but it’s a flaw that I wish I could find some way of correcting without revising all of Blood Magic.
In the end, though, I think this is a good story. Both episodes, working together, but especially this second part. It sticks with me more than most of the other episodes do, and that is a strong mark in its favor. I hope you enjoy the conclusion to Contaminant.
Something about the intensity of the boy’s expression, with his teeth grinding together to maintain his composure through the pain he was in, struck Aiga as especially 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 terse 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. 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 panted heavily, several tears leaking from his scrunched-shut eyes. Almost as quickly as she set the bone, Aiga laid the splints and tied them off securely, before she backed 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 allotted for her, far from the village proper. At least Meldruin’s fracture was clean, with no magic required to see it properly healed. The villagers were suspicious enough of her as it was. When she last visited this village with her mother they seemed welcoming enough, but perhaps that was simply what her mother 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 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 that 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 suit 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 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 Contaminant, Part Two
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