Rafe–For Want of a Toe
Rafe sat on the bench, a neckerchief stuffed in the gap where her toe once lived, waiting her turn. Other recruits drifted past, peered at her bloody rag. Some kept their distance. Other fetched up in little knots, glancing her way every so often, the sound of their chatter kept low and private. She wondered how many other recruits managed to lose some body part on their first day. She wondered if it meant she’d be booted out as too incompetent to train.
With the medic’s tent at her back she could either sit bolt upright or slouch forward with her elbows on her knees. Lying down seemed too much like defeat. To keep pressure off her wound she sat with a rigid back and glowered. The little bottle the medic had given her to dull the pain sat on the bench next to her, still full.
This city of tents was so unlike home, she had hoped to find a place for herself. Now it felt like more of the same, still strange, still unwelcome, still having to watch her back and her mouth.
“So, how did you manage it?”
Rafe started at the voice. She had been so drawn into herself that she had missed the medic sitting down on the other side of the bottle of medicine. Worse and worse. Not the makings of a soldier, for sure. “Excuse me?” she asked.
“How did you manage it?” The medic did not seem much older than she was. He was built like a beech sapling and radiated something that broke up tension, and lifted the spirits.
“We were playing mumbledy-peg and I suppose I got cocky. Lesson learned. Won’t happen again.” Rafe sighed. Even as she had spoken, she could hear the tone of voice she had used with her mother, offering up yet another insincere apology, accepting blame for something that was not her fault.
“I get that. Happens all the time. You recruits jockey back an forth, find your place in the pecking order. I deal with cuts, bruises, broken bone, the whole gamut, every time there’s a new influx. So I get how you lost your toe. Nothing odd about that at all.”
“What?” She looked him in the eyes and scrunched her face into the stupid look that sometimes worked with Ma.
“Let’s start again.” The medic held out his hand, smaller and less scarred than hers. “I’m Blue Thane. Medic. For you recruits.” He spoke clearly and waited between sentences, making sure she understood.
Rafe nodded and Blue Thane continued. “You lost a toe. The bleeding looks almost stopped and you’ll be fine. She didn’t take either of the edge toes. Your balance won’t be affected, so no worries there. It wouldn’t be enough for you to get boosted out in any case. We like scrappy kids. You make fine soldiers and generally survive to make the training worthwhile.”
Rafe got a bad feeling. The medic was talking about the other thing that happened. This was, indeed, going to be like Ma.
Blue Thane stayed casual and comforting. “I’ve just spent the last half hour digging pieces of steel and wood out of three of your pals. Legs, hands, and one serrated rib cage. That,” he paused again until he had her eyes on him, “that, young lady, is what I want to know. How did you manage it?”
“Why do you think I did something?”
“It was pieces of the same knife that took off your toe. Several someones saw it explode.”
“And you won’t help me unless I confess to it?”
“Jale’s Needle, no. That’s not it at all. I’m a medic. Live and let live. Sew ‘em up so they will live.” He spread his hands to show how empty they were. “We’ve got folks of all kind here, who come in as recruits. Some on the run, some doing walk about, some just looking for adventure, or to prove a point. There are some here who are wary of witchcraft. You know, magic.”
Rafe’s confusion changed from feigned to genuine. “A witch? Magic?”
“Surely you’ve heard of witchcraft and magic.”
“But they’re not real. Are they?”
“No, of course not. But you did have something to do with the knife exploding.”
It was no longer a question. How had she admitted to that? Rafe looked at the medic’s face. His brows did not fall into the resting scowl she saw in her own face when she looked in a mirror. In fact, he seemed to have just heard a joke and was trying to decide if it was one she would appreciate. He reminded her of Grammy Heddle, definitely not afraid, and maybe even someone who could help. “Can we talk about this inside your tent? It’s not exactly something I want everybody to know – for sure. No matter what they might suspect.”
“Sure, we can do that.” Blue Thane got up and led the way into the tent and Rafe limped in after him. “I’ll just leave the flap open, if you don’t mind, for light. No one can see in.”
Rafe wondered where to start. It was not as if she had needed to explain herself back in Riverside. The neighbors took care of that if there were ever foreigners who saw something they didn’t understand. She looked around the tent. “Do you have anything you don’t mind getting broken?”
Blue Thane fished a cracked mug out of the trash. “Will this do?”
“Put it on the stool.” Rafe opened her mouth. “Ahhhh,” she said, moving her voice up and down, trying out different notes. She found one she liked and got a little louder. Pop. The mug shattered into a pile of dust.
The medic looked from her to the dust. “Huh. I knew a girl in a tavern up north who could break wineglasses when she sang. How about this?” He picked up a wooden spoon and placed it on the stool.
Again, Rafe searched for a pitch, and found two. The handle fell off, then bowl of the spoon split in half. She watched Blue Thane to gauge his reaction.
“Why did the cup disintegrate but the spoon broke cleanly? Clay versus wood?”
“Partly. But the cup was already cracked. It had lost integrity.”
Blue Thane wiped off the stool and gestured for her to sit. “Can you do this to anything, or just certain materials?” He laid out his kit and removed the wad of cloth from between her remaining toes.
“Pretty much anything.”
“And you do it with just your voice? You don’t do any little hexy thing?”
“Just my voice.”
“I don’t imagine they ask you to sing at parties?”
Had he just made a joke? Yes, he had. Rafe giggled and shook her head.
“So what happened with the knife? Why did it explode? It was solid, not cracked. It had integrity, as you say.”
“I was surprised. I didn’t expect her to take off my toe.”
“I don’t supposed people bothered you much back home. I assume they knew about this.”
“And that’s why you ended up here?”
She nodded again.
“What would have happened if you had stayed — wherever you came from?”
“The blacksmith would have taken your tongue, or cut your throat?” He seemed shocked.
“No. Da was a blacksmith and I would have been next, until Ducky got big enough. Or longer if Ducky wanted to go sojourning in the world. I guess Jenna will have that job now.”
“Jenna is your sister?”
“Brother.” This all seemed unnecessary to Rafe. “Will I need to leave?”
“What? No. There are plenty of people with Graven’s Guard who have quirky little talents like yours. It just means you’ll have extra work, training so you don’t go exploding things accidentally. As a rule, we like to damage the other side, not our own.”
This entry was posted in Rafe
. Bookmark the permalink