Wudan managed to find himself a Sympathetic Healer, or at least the old man sensed Wudan’s call. What we couldn’t understand in Wudan’s searching was clear enough to him, and he appeared today as if summoned. He was frail, and older than anyone I have seen within the reaches of the Nanten. His appearance might be a function of his Expression, but I think he truly was old.
With him was his granddaughter, a homely young woman who carried his affects. He entered our small camp quietly, and though he was a stranger to us, no one moved to stop him. Where he had come from, or how he had lived in the shadow of Matasten for so long remains a mystery.
Together, the old man and his granddaughter moved to Wudan’s side. The man placed his hands on Wudan’s arm.
“He is dying,” Salisir translated. “This boy is of great strength. More than I have ever felt in this place.”
Balthandar asked if he could save Wudan. The man nodded solemnly.
“This is why I am here. You have to promise me, promise to see my granddaughter home. Promise to see for yourselves the plague that has stricken the Nanten, and then cut it out.” He looked right at me as he said it, his gaze unbroken until Salisir had finished translating.
I promised him we would.
He nodded slowly, sadly, then stood and embraced his granddaughter. She began crying, though I didn’t yet understand why. And then, as he released her and turned to Wudan again, I understood. The age, his frailty, no matter how strong he was in power, his body would not survive this.
There was a part of me that wanted to reach out to him. To offer him a way out. But if Wudan was to live, there was no other way, and this man had clearly lived a long life. He knew what he was doing, though what end he saw none of us yet know.
He put his hands on Wudan’s forearms, resting his weight over the silent figure of the boy, and then began to hum. The tune was deep, slow, and pensive. The Healer began to shake as he pulled the damage from Wudan’s body and spread it into his own. He clutched Wudan harder, the tune strained but unbroken. Balthandar moved to hold him up, but his granddaughter put a hand out to stop him.
I’ve never seen a Sympathetic Healer work so quickly. Within moments he had pulled enough of Wudan’s ailment from him that the boy awoke. He remained still, eyes staring at the canopy until the tune cracked. The old man fell on Wudan, notes drifting from his dried lips in weakened fragments. Then suddenly he shuddered and breathed his last.
His granddaughter let out a long wail, then pulled her grandfather into her own lap and cradled him until the life was gone from him.
None of us said anything, even as Balthandar moved to check on Wudan. Finally the girl spoke up and Inifra translated. “This boy must live. He must grow into the man he is destined. My grandfather knew this, and for that reason he gave his life.”
Wudan didn’t speak at all, but was able to eat a little and drink. Neither Balthandar nor Inifra have left him unattended all evening. We buried the Healer under the roots of one of the trees to our south, then sat with his granddaughter as she mourned. How much sadness we encounter in the Nanten. How much of it we cause.
She recovered after a few hours, her grandfather’s death an expected thing for her now. She said she was happy he had been able to give his life for something good in the end. I only hope it proves so worthy. Her name is Nodora.
The final shock came to us as I remembered my promise. I asked her where she was from, where did we need to escort her safely?
Impossible, Hembila said. We couldn’t have gone so far north. But we had, she said. We were only three days from the city. We have covered three times as much territory underground than we would have above. Her grandfather’s hiding place was only a day north. It was from there they had come. Upon reflection, this made sense. Even our slowed pace in the darkness of the tunnel was quicker than any race through the jungle. Wudan’s call came in the middle of Nodora’s visit to supply the old man with what few things he needed in his exile.
In his exile. I am not alone in this world, though my peers seem to be dropping dead with disquieting frequency.
Now we are to take her to Matasten. The debate hasn’t stopped raging since we discovered this, but I do not want to let convenience or my own safety rule the day any longer. Dionus and I wanted to get a view of Matasten in any case – what better opportunity will we have than this? Perhaps it is brash, but I plan to leave at first light. Salisir can’t stop me in this place. His blessing offers no more protection from the Daedra here than a straw helmet.