Excerpt: Axbridge

Tannis pounded on the door of the small house, hoping he’d found the right one in the snow. Axbridge was a small village full of tiny houses that all crowded together and all looked the same under the thick layer of snow that had fallen over the last few days. Tannis’s heart was beating too fast, and he couldn’t catch his breath, but maybe, just maybe, if he’d found the right house and this backwater town wasn’t a complete waste of space, Beck would live.

He pounded harder. The door finally opened just as Tannis thought his hand might fall off, revealing a young man who couldn’t be more than twenty. His dark hair was sleep rumpled, and his clothes were worn and stained and as mussed as his hair, as though he’d fallen asleep fully dressed the previous night. There were dark circles under his eyes, and Tannis was certain he’d gone to the wrong house. There was no way someone so young and unkempt could be any kind of healer.

The man’s eyes widened when he saw Tannis, and he opened the door wider. “Where is the patient?”

Relief flooded through Tannis—he was in the right place—but it was short-lived, his reservations about the man’s appearance in no way soothed. “I’ll take you.”

The man nodded, gesturing for Tannis to enter the house. He stepped back and Tannis took the invitation, even though they needed to go. It had already taken Tannis far too long to get Beck to Axbridge for help. Any further delay would only make Beck’s injuries worse.

The house, at least, looked as though it belonged to a physician. There were bundles of dried herbs everywhere, and the thick, pungent smell of medicine was on the air. Two long worktables took up most of the interior, piled with books, bottles, tiny cauldrons, and much more. The physician shuffled a few steps into the house, toward a coat rack, and snagged his cloak from it.

“Fetch that bag, please,” the physician directed. He pointed Tannis in the direction of a battered black bag. “What am I dealing with?”

“Mage attack. Lacerations mostly. A lot of them, some deep,” Tannis said, bitterness souring his words. They hadn’t been prepared to find Corric, and that was his fault for being so damn complacent. If Beck died… He snatched up the bag and returned to the door, waiting impatiently while the physician settled his cloak into place. The walk wasn’t that far, and it was snowing, but not hard enough to be an issue for the five minute walk.

“Where?” The physician asked.

“What does it matter where it happened?” Tannis snapped. “She’s going to bleed out—”

The physician’s lips compressed together, and he stuck out his leg, yanking on the trousers to reveal a wooden leg that protruded from the end of it. “How far do I need to go?”

“On the other side of the village.” How had he missed that? But then, the physician hadn’t taken more than a step or two since he’d opened the door, and Tannis had other things on his mind. “Can you do that?”

“Just carry that bag and lead the way,” the physician said shortly. He snatched up a crutch—Tannis really needed to start paying more attention—from where it leaned against the wall by the coat rack and gestured shortly for Tannis to lead the way. Tannis did as he was directed, though he privately wondered if it would be easier for him to carry the physician as well as his bag. The man was a head shorter than him and looked like a stiff wind would knock him over. Tannis could manage it. He was certain he would manage it if he had to.

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