Doktor Pinaldi swept along the close, his waxed leather cloak swishing behind him. He peered through the eye holes of his moulded mask, the scent of flowers drifting up from its beak to his nose. Other medical men believed the smell warded off the plague, but Doktor Pinaldi knew that was ridiculous. He just preferred floral scents to the smell of damp stone and rubbish that characterised the closes of the Underground City. He remembered the days before the sewers were installed and shuddered at the memory.
The plague doctor turned into another close that led away from the river. He passed doorways glimmering with his trademark green ward, shimmering curtains of magic that kept the family inside the house, and callers in the street. Preventing the spread of plague could be impossible if no one made an effort to contain it.
Doktor Pinaldi stopped halfway up the alley. A white flag hung out of a window on the third floor – another family needed his help. He pushed open the street door into the narrow vestibule. Normally children played on the stairs of the tenement buildings, and housewives chattered outside their lodgings, but the stairwell was quiet, aside from the distant sound of coughing.
He climbed the stairs, where flickering light pooled shadows across the steps. He reached the third landing, where a white smear on the front door to his left marked the afflicted rooms. He took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of lavender, and knocked on the door.
“Go away, we got plague in ‘ere!” A strong voice rang out within, and Doktor Pinaldi smiled. At least one soul inside was still burning brightly.
“I’m a Plague Doctor, good madam,” he called.
The door flew open. A housewife held a toddler on her hip. Exertion coloured her cheeks, but Doktor Pinaldi could tell this woman was healthy. He glanced at the toddler, who stared up at him and giggled.
“Neither of you have the plague,” he said.
“I’d bleedin’ well hope so! I put me ‘usband in quarantine the minute he started coughing,” said the housewife.
Doktor Pinaldi smiled behind his mask. He bowed to her.
“Well done, my good madam. I could not have prescribed better myself. Do you know where he caught the infection?”
“I’d reckon he caught it from his friend, Euan Bogglesthwaite. He lives in the building next door,” said the housewife. She gestured to the right with a jerk of her head.
“Ah, I have seen him. He will live,” said Doktor Pinaldi. He remembered the man, a hearty dockworker. The plague always sneaked into the City via the river, carried in bundles of fabric or sometimes even shipments of food. It was the precise reason why Doktor Pinaldi restricted his medical practice to the district by the docks.
“Good. I’ve sent me eldest kids to me sister, but Jude ‘ere wouldn’t go,” said the housewife. She tickled the little girl under the chin.
“Excellent. You are a model woman – if more took your precautions I should certainly have less work to do!”
The housewife smiled. The toddler giggled and clapped. Doktor Pinaldi ruffled her hair.
“You’ll want to see me ‘usband then?”
“Yes. When did he present symptoms?”
“Yesterday afternoon,” replied the housewife. “He’s got swellin’ under ‘is arms, and I put a poultice on them. I wore ‘is work gloves and everything.”
The housewife gestured to a room at the back of the lodgings, and through the grime-caked window Doktor Pinaldi saw the white flag hanging outside. She came no further, and closed the door behind him.
A burly man lay in a bed, a sheet tangled around his legs. Pale green poultices barely covered the black swellings under his arms, and a miasma of sickness hung in the air above him. Doktor Pinaldi peered at the man. His life force shone a weak yellow, black flecks wriggling within the glow.
Doktor Pinaldi removed a glass jar from beneath his cloak and sat on the edge of the bed. The sick man didn’t register his presence. Doctors would cure the man by combating the germs, but medical wizards worked more quickly. He unscrewed the lid from the jar and plunged his hands into the life force, wiggling his fingers. The black flecks continued to wriggle, but they headed towards his hands. He whispered an incantation, and they clung to the fingers of his gloves.
“Yes, you’re leaving this man now,” said Doktor Pinaldi.
He continued wiggling his fingers and whispering until all of the flecks covered his gloves. They shifted like settling dust, and once they were all attached, he lifted his hands out of the glow. He flicked all of the black flecks into the jar and screwed the lid back on. He spoke an incantation and the lid fused with the top of the jar.
Doktor Pinaldi patted the sick man on the head. He didn’t thrash as wildly, and now that the infection was removed, his body would have time to heal itself. The Doktor left the room, and found the housewife in the hallway.
“Your husband will be fine, my good madam. I will need to put up a ward to prevent anyone coming or going for a few days, but that’s just to give him the chance to get better before he sees anyone. You don’t want him catching something else while he’s weak,” he said.
“Oh, thank you sir, thank you! You’re a miracle. But…’ow much will it cost?” asked the housewife.
“Nothing. You owe me nothing.” The Doktor inclined his head in a farewell greeting, and left the lodgings. He placed one ward on the front door, and another on the door of the building.
Doktor Pinaldi walked away down the close, watching out for other white flags. He patted the jar secreted beneath his cloak, and thought of the housewife’s enquiry about the cost of his services. The black beauties he removed were all the payment he needed.
“For a short read, Icy did a TON of world-building! Just from this quick, concise novella, she’s generated a world that could be plumbed for all sorts of great stories in the future… nudge, nudge, Icy. Plus, it’s got mummies, wolf-soldiers, mayhem, and all kinds of magic! The big confrontation at the end is a hoot, and an excellent capper to a fine tale” – 5*