The man called Huck was a peculiar sort in the mind of Odd. He was tall and brazen, but with a bitter emptiness inside him that sat in his stomach like a stone. He regained consciousness the following morning while Odd was changing his bandage and applying the ointment to his wound.
“Where am I?” the man called Huck said.
“You’re safe, what does it matter?” Odd replied, “You’ll be healthy by the end of spring, so get comfortable.”
“Spring?!” Huck shouted, he tried to stand but was stopped by the pain in his leg. “What did that Witch do to me?” Huck looked down at his leg. Odd saw his face shift in confusion and horror as he examined the sew incision. He and Ashe had opened his leg to reset his ankle and remove bone fragments, as well as remove damaged tissue. He wouldn’t run the same but he’d be able to jog in a way.
“What did you do to me?” Huck said in a mild panic.
“We started with a ten centimeter incision…” Odd began to speak but only saw confusion on his patient’s face. “We...we opened your ankle up and saved the foot.” He said slowly and simply. “Your...parts were...messed up.”
“And why should I believe you?” Huck growled. “I could crush you like a rotten egg, boy.”
“But you won’t,” Odd said, standing up and walking away. He held the dirty bandages in a bowl of hot water. They were cloth and would need to be sanitized, cleaned, and the proper poultice would need to be applied again.
“Relax, Huck of the J’Otha,” Odd said as he left the small building. “You’ve got a few more days before your bedrest is over.”
Odd left the building and closed the door behind him. He had helped Ashe build it as best they could, well more repair. It was a small hut they’d renovated from the remnants of a smaller Old World Building. He and Ashe stayed together in a tent made of skins and mud brick.
The air was cold, and Odd could hear the ice on the bog clattering about as the water shifted. The sun was just coming up and the morning seemed to bring a fog upon the ruins about them. Fingers of grey swirled about the rusted Fossils and the interlocking spires of steel that were green with vines and moss. But mostly the mist lay low on the water, where it would shift and sigh with each small breath of wind.
“Odd” Ashe called, she was standing outside of their hovel, holding a bow and a quiver of arrows. “Odin come here.”
Odd did as he was told, and approached his caretaker. “Yes, Ma’am?” he said in the tongue they so often spoke. It was said to be a lost language spoken in these parts.
“Go fetch us some breakfast,” Ashe said, handing Odd the bow, and helping him with the quiver about his side. She kept her arm inside her robe as usual, the one she said had been injured when she found him as a baby. Sometimes she’d ask him to help her stretch the thing, a form of Medicine from the old days to keep muscles from atrophying completely. Though in truth the arm was useless, and as Odd knew, Ashe would have rather cut the thing off if it weren’t for the high risk of infection.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Odd said, and he began to trudge off toward the hunting grounds. It was a small set of clearings amidst tall trees of dark bark. In the spring they bloomed in brilliant pink blossoms that would carry about the marshlands and stain the everything with the color of a summer sunset. Now though, they were twisted dark things that only deepened the mist about the place. Ashe had called them Cherry Blossoms, and had said their petals do well to mask the smell of infection. A blossom that has been taken by Umber is especially useful as an antibiotic, due to the quality in which the darkness has shifted the flower’s nature.
Odd crept low as he listened closely. His senses heightening with each passing second.
Snow today, he thought as he smelled the air.
Movement, 35 meters north, as he listened in the to world around him.
Blood, fresh kill, he tasted the air.
He surmised that something must have died not far from here. Fortunate for him he was downwind of it. He moved slowly, and knocked an arrow. He found a deer being eaten by some kind of wild dog. The deer looked newly dead, the blood was still a vibrant red. The dog was tearing away at the hindquarters of the dear with ferocity. It looked diseased, starved, and most likely violent. Odd could smell it on the air, a bloodlust he could see in the movements of the dog. It was rabid, more likely than not. Odd took aim and drew back the arrow.
10 Meters, downwind, Compensate, He thought. He drew harder, aimed up a bit, then let the arrow fly. It found purchase in the neck of the dog, where the shoulder blade met the base of the spine. A clean kill by all accounts, as the dog fell to its side, wheezed furtively, then expired.
The things both were contaminated now, and could not be used. The dog a rabid beast, the dear infected with the same madness in its flesh. Odd would have to burn them with the small bit of stinkwater he had. He produced the skin of it, said to be extracted from the Fossils, and poured it on both the dear and the dog. He produced his flint and steel, and a bit of tinder after stowing the skin. He lit the tinder, and tossed the smoking bit of fuel onto the corpses. The Stinkwater took flame with a sound of fluffling air, and then the creatures soon became easily burnt. Odd fed the flames with bits of dry sticks and leaves to keep it going, knowing that it would need coaxing to take the bodies.
Find rest, Odd though. A prayer in some ways, though to what or who he did not know. Ashe had taught him the world of gods and prayer was not for them. They were practitioners of an old way. Hunting, healing, and carrying on as she’d say. Find Rest.
Odd returned to the homestead with three rabbits, one for each of the residents.
“Hmph,” Ashe said at the sight of him. “Setting fires again I see?”
“Rabid dog killed a dear,” Odd said removing the quiver and placing the bow in its place. “Had to burn them both, don’t want an infection spreading.”
“Hmmm,” Ashe grunted. She was smoking on her pipe, a long thin thing of dark colored wood. She always smoked a mixture of herbs and flowers, never the weed of the old world which was called tobacco. Some people still traded in the stuff, but Ashe never took to it, claiming it was too thick for her.
“Anything else to be done today Ma’am?” Odd said simply.
“No, continue your studies,” Ashe said, her one eye closed in thought. “I’ll check on the Othen in a bit, make sure your bandages are up to snuff.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Odd began to walk off. “Any books I should look at in particular?”
Ashe thought for a moment. “Look at Behavioral Psychology,” Ashe said, taking a last puff of her pipe before knocking out the ashes onto the ground. “You do well with the functional school, think on the meaning and intention of emotion.”
“Yes Ma’am,” Odd said, and he walked toward the store shed where they kept the books. It was under lock and key, and it had to be cleaned regularly. They manage to keep it temperature controlled for the more difficult parts of the year with an old generator and the Stinkwater. He grabbed the old book on psychology, a study of the human mind, behavior, and it’s function. He decided to not stray far from the Homestead, knowing it would snow around mid-day.
True to his instinct, the clouds rolled in close to mid-day and the air grew bitter cold. Large flakes began to fall as he read on.
Behavioralism - the theory that human and animal behavior can be explained in terms of conditioning, without appeal to thoughts or feelings, and that psychological disorders are best treated by altering behavior patterns. Noted Psychologists of this school include B.F. Skinner, John B. Watson, and Ivan Pavlov.
Odd continued on, learning of Pavlovian conditioning, and the concept of a skinner box. He craved to test these things, learn them for himself. Though these tests were done in controlled environments with technology that he had no access to. Though he could apply some of Pavlov’s methods to the new patient, or something close. Odd closed the book when he felt he’d read enough, and began to walk back to the shed where the books were held. The cold and snow would mean Ashe had turned on the generator, and when he walked into the small library the room was temperate and comfortable. He placed the book in its proper place, and then went to go check on the patient.
Ashe was there talking with the man in the Othen tongue. Odd sat in the corner and listened in.
“No, I will not return to your lands with you Othen,” Ashe said.
“You would rather stay out here in this swamp with the boy?” Huck said. He shifted in his cot out of seeming frustration. “You are a healer? Are you not? Why not go where you are needed?”
“No doubt you see I am missing an arm and an eye?” Ashe snapped. She had a kind of mirth in her voice Odd heard little. It returned whenever she had patients who would stay longer than a few weeks. No doubt the Othen would be here two months, maybe three if he was stupid which he would like to be. No, it’d be three, he was not a bright man, Odd thought.
“I have no need of your world, nor any other,” Ashe laughed. “Besides, the boy and I are fine out here, right boy?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Odd replied in the Othen Tongue. “I still have much to learn.”
“A hermit and a sickly boy you two are,” Huck laughed. “What have I gotten myself into. Bear give me strength.”
“Boy, you did well on his bandages, though soak them in the medicine longer,” Ashe said in their shared tongue. She turned back to Huck. “Are you in any pain, Huck D’Kas’Ath? It has been sometime since our paths crossed.”
“We have met before?” Huck asked, he looked confused and then realization struck him. “You can’t be...You are! Ashe Two-Packs!”
“The very same, or at least that’s what they called me west of your lands,” Ashe chuckled. “That was long ago, maybe ten winters before I found the boy.” She gestured to Odd.
Odd felt strange, he’d never heard of Ashe’s past, nor had he inclined to ask about it. “What is that land like?” Odd asked them both.
“Rolling plains,” Huck smiled. “Fields of grain that go on for leagues, barren tracks of dust scared by the Umber, Men who ride on the backs of beasts who wield bows about my height.”
“The Gi’Va-Tel, I’ve heard of them,” Odd said.
“Well riding a horse is a strange thing in this day and age,” Ashe laughed. “And not easy, it took me about a year to get it right.”
“And what business did you have with the Gi’Va-Tel?” Huck laughed. “Eating roots? Fletching Arrows? Slaying herds of Bison?”
“Something close to that,” Ashe beamed. She caught herself. “They had something I needed, and they needed me. They were at war with your people around that time.”
“Yes, I know,” Huck grumbled. “The J’Otha lost many a good warrior to hoof and arrow. My memory serves you were not far from the fight?”
“Healing the sick,” Ashe snapped. “Both sides to me were in need of care, if my memory serves.”
Huck closed his eyes and sighed. “I see you now carrying two loads of supplies when the others would only carry one,” Huck smiled. “You were a sight.”
Ashe laughed. “Oh I’m not now?” she seemed different to Odd, jovial and humorous. Younger? “I thought you soldiers liked scars?”
“Eh when you’ve seen as much death as me it hurts to see something beautiful tarnished,” Huck sighed. He fell silent for a time. “Too much death for one lifetime.”
Ashe looked him over. A careful analytical eye that seemed to peer beyond his physical self. Odd had seen her do it before, and she’d told him it was called empathy. He had something of the idea of it, though was not sure how to apply the practice.
“Nightmares then?” Ashe asked.
“How did you-” Huck stammered.
“Common among soldiers in the Old World,” Ashe said, producing her pipe. “Do not take my words to mean you are weak, Huck. They mean you are more human than most these days. Death, war, terror, they take their toll on you, and those of us with big hearts tend to bear it for those who cannot.”
This was not the definition Odd had seen. Traumatic Stress damages and haunts a mind, molds it to survive, a behavior than must be programmed by the core response of mankind: Fear. Odd began to think on Pavlov, methods of reinstating security. He could not hear what Ashe and Huck said, only that Huck was crying and shouting by the end of their conversation. Ashe was stoic, calm as always. As soon as the tensions rose they broke leaving Huck breathing calmly. Ashe turned to Odd.
“Boy I need something of you,” Ashe said. Odd snapped out of his thought and looked at her expectedly. “This is a test of application of knowledge, can you do that?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” is all Odd said, knowing what came next for both him, and his patient.ns220.127.116.11da2