Arcanum 1780: A New World
Kaneonuskatew, the doctor
MUSCOWEQUAN ~ some years ago
Muscowequan dragged the bloody, barely moving stranger across the forest floor, gaining distance between them and whoever had left the man out there for dead. He didn’t stop for a long while, spurred on every time he thought to pause by a glance at the wounds of his charge. The long walk gave him time to wonder about who this man was and what had happened, but instead he spent it thinking about whether he could really do anything to save him, or if he was only bringing him somewhere calmer to pass peacefully. He dashed those thoughts where he could, though, reminding himself of the grievous gashes he’d seen warriors recover from. He didn’t know if this man was a warrior, but he had hope for him.
When it finally seemed they were far enough, he stopped and took stock of the injuries. It quickly became clear that not a one of them was a trophy of a battle, as he’d thought, or perhaps hoped. Instead, each bloody wound had been deliberately carved into a sinew in ragged shapes that the swing or thrust of a weapon could not have produced. Muscowequan shook his head and marvelled at the barbaric things these people did to each other, staggering by themselves but made worse without any war to drive their cruelty. He threw his blanket over the man and spread leaves over him, whispering that he would return before sprinting away to find someone to help carry him.
With time and great care, they managed to bring the suffering man to shelter, putting him on some bedding. Muscowequan again quietly promised to return, this time seeking out the medicine man for his assistance. Though they both agreed that they likely could do little for this unfortunate stranger, the healer promised to come by shortly, gathering what he could to help in the next world if not this one.
Making his way back to the abode where the infirm man lay, Muscowequan was astonished to find him tending his own wounds, sewing them together like he was mending a blanket. It was a meticulous, delicate process that left his caretaker staring for a long while, nearly as fascinated by the closing of the wounds as he’d been mortified by the opening of them. He’d seen healers mend wounds in that same manner with basswood, but certainly not operating on themselves. Without thinking, he asked the man if he was doing the same, immediately realizing his mistake in assuming he’d be understood. Nonetheless, the man pondered his question for a moment, and with a few shaky tries, managed to explain that the suture in this case was instead composed of deer sinew. After that, Muscowequan let him work in quiet.
The medicine man made good on his promise and in a while arrived with his medicine bag and his goodwill. He, too, was impressed by the mending the man had done on himself, and set down to inspect his work and discuss it with him as he dressed the wounds with medicines. The conversation was disjointed and hindered by the man’s imperfect grasp of their language, but it smoothed out gradually as both Muscowequan and the medicine man interpreted and clarified more and more words to him. Some things still remained unclear; the man was unwilling to speak of what had been done to him and why, and he was not unwilling but largely unable to explain what some of the medicines he had with him were.
With time, he grew stronger rather than weaker, allaying Muscowequan’s fears that they had been helpless to help him. His grasp of the language grew stronger as well, and it turned out that the unhappy circumstance in which Muscowequan had found him was the beginning of a happy friendship. He taught Muscowequan of nature, of far-off lands with birds as tall as men and dogs as small as rabbits and plants with all manner of strange properties, and Muscowequan taught him of nature, of how one must watch the sky and listen to the woods and never leave fish out where a bear might smell it. Muscowequan spoke to him of music, of flutes and drums and melody, and he spoke to Muscowequan of music, of strings and woodwinds and harmony. They afforded each other a great deal of fascination, neither ever short of something to teach the other.
With more time, however, he also grew more agitated. One day, as they stood watch by the river, he finally spoke of what had been done to him, and why, and why that meant that he could not stay. Muscowequan listened, and understood. He was sad to see his friend go, but they reminded each other that this did not have to be the last they spoke. In parting, Muscowequan gave him a name to be remembered by.
KANEONUSKATEW ~ some years later
Arkwright stepped into the doctor’s office, a plain, unmarked envelope in his hand, taking in sights he hadn’t seen in a long while. His last visit had been years ago, though the place hadn’t changed a great deal in appearance, besides a bit of dust. The shelves and tables were covered in a variety of books on subjects both medical and not, some bottles and vials of tinctures, and a few preserved specimens of small animals and insects. What best caught his eye was a fluffy black collie laying by the desk. His uncertainty warmed into a smile, as he had fond memories of the playfulness of the doctor’s dogs.
“Ah, Sinachkoo,” said Arkwright, reaching out, “sweet girl—”
As he held his hand out to the dog, she snapped at it, and then backed away, teeth bared.
“She is shyer than she used to be,” said the doctor, sitting at the desk, not looking up from his writing. “Approach her a bit more slowly.”
“That’s all right,” said Arkwright, opting to instead step away from the dog. “What happened to the other one? Didn’t you have two?”
“I did,” said the doctor. “Do you remember Sategat? Shining, golden coat, smile like a coyote, and a love for everything that lived.” He set down the pen and stood. “He found a little dolly one day, with the scent of a little girl on it; the owner wasn’t far. Only, as he was running to bring it to her, the girl’s father shot him. Out of fear, or out of spite, I don’t know. She’s never been the same since.” He bent down to scratch the dog’s ears; she looked up at him, keening a quiet whistle of a whine.
“Oh,” Arkwright said simply, looking at the dog that lay there, chained up to the wall — something that was never before necessary in his memory of the animal. “Why did you give them such strange names?” he asked.
“I didn’t,” said the doctor, straightening and facing him. “Did you need something?”
“Oh, yes,” said Arkwright, remembering himself and handing over the envelope he was holding. “This is for you.”
“Thank you,” said the doctor, taking it. “Will that be all?”
Standing before him, it was clear now that the man was as tense as the dog, but masked it rather than lashing out. For a moment, Arkwright entertained the thought of what that would entail, noticing a set of surgical instruments that sat upon the desk, laid out for cleaning. They were not the doctor’s standard tools, he recalled, but a separate spare that he kept to dissect rodents, birds, and other beings that piqued his curiosity — recently used, by the look of them.
“Yes, sir. That was all,” said Arkwright, hurrying out the door.