Autumn, Year 760
Glenmore, Edges of the Glenwood
Aarushi and Aedan
The fall had come slowly, creeping in like the shadows of sunset. Then the leaves had changed. Rut was upon the doe before she even knew what had happened, as it was every year. Hormones ran wild, and those old enough to participate suffered for it. Her own scent changed to her disgust, and to make matters worse, stags this year had already caused some trouble. An open gash across one of her cheeks and several across her shoulder nagged at her. Grumpily swishing her tail, she wondered where in the gods’ kingdoms Aedan was now. Although it pained her to admit it, the smoky cream had begun to grow accustomed to sharing her space with the pale stag- though she would never acknowledge such a thought. Too much involvement of emotions and feelings. They never turned out well for anyone. Her wounds were healing though, under her tentative care. Preferring to save her dwindling supplies for rut rather than herself, Sunny was content to keep herself busy and bustling.
The guard she had agreed to teach in spring had been a diligent student. Gods knew how many times she had to scold him, or correct him, but there had been moments that she had beamed with pride, offering a few, almost unnoticeable bits of praise. Perhaps even moments the doe let her guard down around the good natured fellow. Yet Sunny knew all good things came to an end. She wondered when he would leave, and she would slip back into complete solitude aside from her healings. Gently gathering some of the packets of herbs she had prepared for the stag, she placed them on a set of heavy old oak roots. This particular glade was surrounded by old towering pines, particularly silver ones. They were the doe’s favorite type of pine, as they had such soft needles that made for wonderful bedding. Rorak had begun to question her, being as protective as he was, he didn’t like stags hanging about his only daughter. Even though he was proud of her for helping another’s knowledge of herbs grow- the older guard doubted most others intentions, just as his daughter did.
Wishing she could tuck away her wounds, to not be vulnerable, Aarushi set about rechecking her stocks as she so often did. The plump and muscular doe didn’t care if she was in season, or what season it even was- work had to be done. Aedan ought to be arriving at any time now. It still startled her when he called her Sunny. Perhaps she ought to give him her real name. But then he would be able to connect her to Rorak and her mother, her siblings.. Sighing, the doe brooded and stewed over her thoughts as she worked.
Rut was the best.
The energy of hummed in the air and the hormone pulsed in Aedan’s veins. Every subtle glance seemed to take on new meaning, and every chance to charm a doe held that much more weight.
He’d already managed to charm one doe this year; a stunning perlino royal Lady of perfect carriage. Aedan couldn’t help but feel proud of himself. He didn’t keep score, but he loved all of his ladies in their own special way and they all held a precious place in his heart. He’d been able to help her deal with her fear and her grief, and he was pleased that he’d been able to make the doe’s life that much better by his presence.
And so it was with a significant spring in his step that he approached Sunny’s immaculate glade. Soon he would have to go back on patrol, and there was a sadness to that. He would miss his lessons with the smokey doe, but he always looked forward to the freedom and excitement of his travels. Even if it was unlikely he’d encounter any more does before rut passed, the future held nothing but excitement for him. Besides, he’d learned a lot in his time here, and not just about plants and healing. Speaking with Sunny was an education in and of itself.
“Good day, dear tutor!” he called, trusting she was somewhere nearby or, if not, that no one else was close enough overhear. He’d overcome most of the stigma over being taught herbs, which was seen as a feminine pursuit for one such as a guard. He’d come to see the universal usefulness of the skill, perceptions be damned. True, he wouldn't bring it up to his patrolmates unless they asked but he wouldn’t deny it either. They’d thank him for it one day, he was certain.
The doe’s ears perked as Aedan’s eager voice echoed to her. She’d grown accustomed to the odd charming tidbits tossed in when addressing her, though he’d never been so bold as to directly test his luck with her. Aarushi gave a little sigh, and pushed through the some of the young saplings, wiggling her broad shoulders to get through. “You’re in good spirits.” Cocking an eyebrow, the doe gave a little snort, “Common, lover boy. We have a lesson to finish.” It rubbed her raw and wrong to be in season, the scent floating after her. Trying desperately, the doe had taken care to try and cover it as best she could with strong smelling herbs such as spearmint and sage. A long, jagged set of lines were healing on one shoulder from rut already. Tender to the touch, but the doe ignored them.
Her herbs were running low from rut, but she had taken care to prepare for this lesson well in advance. Turning and trudging back through the saplings to the glade, tail swishing, ears back as usual. Healers were thought to be gentle natured souls, but typically Aarushi destroyed that stigma as easily as she might break a baby bird by sitting on it. Or a squirrel preferably. Being as it was rut, she had taken time to collect Red Bellewort. Although she wouldn’t admit it was a parting gift of sorts for the stag, in a way it was. Though she’d worry about such later, a few of the rare plants lay out across one of the great root systems of one of the many silver pines. Hoping that the pale golden guard would leave her be about her wounds, and knowing it would be unlikely that he did, she trudged towards the herbs she had prepared for the day, hooves cushioned by the soft pine needles.
Aarushi had never been one to think about rut, to want to partake in it. Come to think of it, she’d never touched a stag outside of healing, nor did any make any foolish attempts to do so to her. Well, they tried, but failed. And usually came away with a few injuries of their own. Glancing over a muscular shoulder, pushing away thoughts of what pains rut usually brought to her, the conflicting emotions and term oil of thoughts and wants, double checking that Aedan was close behind.
Part of the lesson, she had decided, would be to let the stag practice his abilities on a living, breathing wounded fawnling- her. This far into his training, she had allowed him to view her healings, and help here and there, but never trusted him on his own entirely. And now he would have to prove not only his ability to heal, but also his knowledge of wounds. Then they would finish the lesson with more herb lore, and she’d let the charmer go back to his romancing. The Red Bellewort had roots for his fawns, and the flowers could be used for charms for his does, or as a rumored aphrodisiac. He’d never been cruel to her, and it was a season the herb was in high demand. The least she could do, in her mind.
Aedan noticed as she approached that his tutor was more florally scented than she had been in the past- trying to cover up the scent of rut, he imagined. He couldn't blame her. The scent would draw attention (wanted or unwanted) from any stag she got near. It had taken him some time to learn to ignore it himself, but he knew better than to press his luck where it came to disinterested does. Particularly this one, whose respect and almost-friendship he didn’t want to lose.
The stag nearly barked when he saw the state of Sunny’s shoulders. “What happened!? Did some stag get rough with you? Just tell me who he is, I’ll get rough with him!”
Aedan knew full well that Sunny could take care of herself, and probably wouldn’t appreciate him prying into what she considered her personal matters. There was just a special part of his heart devoted to revealing stags who hurt does for any reason, regardless of the doe’s ability to defend herself.
When he’d had a second to calm himself he said, “Is there anything I can do to help? Gather some herbs for you? Pummel whoever left those scrapes?”
Giving a rough bark of laughter, the doe smirked at him ironically. “I turned away a stag who didn’t need treatment. He grew angry, a guard chased him off. Stag came back, and caught me with his tines. It’s handled though.” She shrugged. “Part of your lesson will be tending to the injured- particularly today, me. You need to gather what you think would be the best herbs in a limited area, and then treat my wounds.” The smoky doe replied, blue eyes cool. “We will see how things go from there.”
The hefty doe gave him a rare, small, genuine smile, “Don’t worry about me too much, Aedan. It’s not your responsibility to pummel disgruntled pursuers of mine.” Her voice was almost gentle for a moment, and then it disappeared as the heavy silvery female ambled over to a massive tree trunk, where a nest of the soft, silvery needles had been made, and plopped down contently. Ears on a swivel, as the ever watchful blue eyes followed his movements. She would either lecture him about his ability to use and gather herbs, or give consent for him to treat patrolmates if in need. It would be a tedious task for him to have to start training all over again. Giving a small sigh, she set about beginning to braid lone, thin strands of willow bark together patiently, intertwining dried sage, chamomile, and a bit of spearmint within the growing strand of bark.
Rut was a tedious time, indeed. Shivering slightly, Aarushi knew far too well how the tides of life changed with the will of the gods. She couldn’t run forever. One day she would have to give in to what was only natural.
Aedan briefly wondered what Sunny meant by the stag being “handled” but decided if she was satisfied with the matter’s conclusion then he should be satisfied with that. As much as he wished he could protect every female acquaintance of his all the time, he had to accept that some of them were actually completely capable of tending to their own protection.
He accepted her challenge with a nod. Finally the chance to prove himself! He’d felt ready before, but Sunny wasn’t the most optimistic fawning he’d ever met and he dared not push her, not on her own turf. She’d let him work on his own when she was ready. And now evidently she was ready.
He wondered if she was actually ready, or if it was the impending deadline of his imminent departure that prompted her to change her mind.
So he settled into the task at hand, and leaned in to further examine the injuries. Not too deep, good. Recently acquired, as he’d suspected. They were clean, not that he would expect anything less from the fastidious doe.
“You’ve cleaned them already,” he told her, pretty confident that that was correct. “It looks like you’ve done a very thorough job and there’s no dried blood in there, so we can skip past that step.”
He’d decided to narrate his thought process, both so she could see what he was thinking and because he occasionally found the silence to be slightly daunting when she was scrutinizing him so hard. This was a recipe she’d taught him the very first time they’d met, and thought there was a nice bit of symmetry to that even if this wouldn’t be the last time they ever saw each other.
“Ideally we’d make up a poultice of willow, willowreed and asterberry leaves to stop the pain and encourage healing but…” he glanced around, “We aren’t near a creek, so no willowreed is close at hand.”
Aedan stopped to take a closer look at his surroundings. Many of the flowering plants wouldn’t be in bloom at this time of year, so that was just one more thing he needed to remember.
“There’s a willow tree, I can see it on the hill there. I’ll strip the bark and grind it as well as I can. It acts as an anesthetic of sorts. We’ll mix it into asterberry leaves to make a past that’ll stick on the wounds. As a replacement for the willowreed we might try…”
Again he glanced around. Sunny always kept plants with medicinal properties near at hand, so he had no doubt he would find something suitable nearly.
“Aloe vera! Also encourages healing and good for keeping the skin supple and preventing scars.” He went and stood by the spiny plant proudly, and realized just how much he cared about her opinion of him and his newfound skills. “Am I right? I don’t to harvest this plant and waste it if we’re not going to use it.”
Watching the stag closely, listening as he narrated each step he decided to take. Aye, it appeared he was using the sure she had used on him their very first meeting. Listening as he spoke, she decided to limit how much she would offer him help. If he were out on a patrol, he would needed to be able to do so by himself. Aarushi listened as he thought of a substitute, before giving the smallest of nods. It would work, although not ideal as willowreed. For now it would do.
“Aye, be confident in your choices and wise in how much you gather. Remember how much liquid such a plant holds.” The smoky healer intoned easily, giving the little hint to help him along the way. It didn’t hurt to remind him of such a small thing as consistency and the works when he had figured out a piece of the puzzle to the correct solution. Sitting patiently, Sunny watched him set to work, going to gather the ingredients and then begin to prepare them. Seeing the hope in his eyes that she might offer a bit more, a little nod, the grumpy healer added gruffly, “You’re doing well.”
As the pale guard worked so diligently, Sunny thought of the good the stag would do for the herd. He was kind, with a silver tongue- though he dared not use such a wicked thing in her presence, Aedan had a true sense of honor and a kind soul. He was a good stag, with good intentions. It would be a pity he didn’t continue to pursue herbs. And as much as the doe was loathe to admit it- she would genuinely miss his company. Always happy to see her, no matter how grumpy, always eager to learn, no matter how long a lesson, the guard was a good sort, and had reminded her there were still some left. Though Aarushi firmly believed most were of the Royal Guard.
Braiding the different herbs together, creating a neat bundle, she set it aside. Moving onto the next one methodically, ever so patient, she intended to leave such a bundle for the gods soon, a reminder. Aarushi pined and longed to make tea. Once, long ago she’d met a healer from a far away land who could use fire magic, and he had happily made her tea. It was a curse that she couldn’t. Looking at the grass beneath her hooves thoughtfully, speaking of magic, the doe added a bit to the grass beneath her large rump, bringing new life into it as it greened and grew plush once more. There, much comfier.
The compliment was a small one, but coming from Sunny it was practically a glowing recommendation. Aedan nearly beamed as he went about preparing the rest of the poultice. He carefully plucked a leaf from the aloe, taking a small one that wouldn’t damage the health or structure of the plant. If he needed more, he could collect more but from what Sunny said about the consistency he imagined one would be sufficient.
He gathered his ingredients on a smooth clean stone for crushing. Mashing the aloe together with the willow and the asterberry leaf he could immediately tell that the consistency was thinner and stickier than what he would have expected with the willowreed. He tossed in a bit more of the asterberry leaves which thickened it nicely and, while not completely fixing the texture, at least made it into a paste rather than a gloppy mess.
When he looked up from his work, Sunny had turned from organizing her herbs to greening the grass underfoot. Some day he would find the time to practice his own magic, but for now healing herbs had the more immediate practical application. If he lived in a land where food was not immediately available at all times he imagined he would find much more immediate use for his earth magic than just growing flowers for pretty ladies.
“If I may?” he asked, and waited for her slight nod before using a leaf to spread the poultice over her wounds. He understood why some fawnlings had an aversion to being touched (particularly those who were covered in scars and scabs) but it still made him sad at times that such would be the case. Particularly with individuals he was starting to consider his friends.
He’d done a sufficient job of grinding and the paste was smooth and consistent. Sunny’s concoctions were never less than completely uniform, and he aimed to do the same. He wasn’t sure if her hyper-thoroughness was really a requisite for the thing to work, but he’d seen it work this way so there was no reason to cut corners. Besides, he wanted her to be impressed. He’d known from their first meeting that she wouldn't be one of those does he could win over with his charm and dashing good looks, but still he wanted her to be proud of his progress. If he could do this well enough to impress her, he could impress anyone.
Her body automatically tensed beneath his touch, and after a few uncomfortable, uncertain moments, the doe’s muscle began to relax as he applied the balm. The consistency wasn’t her preferred type, but that was alright. He had at least made it smooth and thicker by combining more aster berry leaves within it. A bit of pride welled in her at his knowledge and understanding of the consistency and ability to add and subtract ingredients. Giving a little nod to herself, she watched the application through calm, blue eyes. Aedan had worked hard to learn such things, and for that much, the doe couldn’t deny him any credit. As he finished applying the balm, the doe examined how thoroughly it had been applied, the amount applied to the overall wound, how thick, was it consistent, and where the balm ended, and if it tapered down smoothly along the edges of the wound. He had done quite a good job, though she could sense his uncertainty in touching her, and it had resulted in a few rough spots in the application- uneven distribution, but it was still enough, though some places had more than others.
Aarushi couldn’t discredit him though for that. At least it had been thick enough everywhere. And she wasn’t exactly the nicest little doe to touch- he had taken it into consideration what she had been through, and that much, the doe thoroughly appreciated. Stags always made her uncomfortable, particularly in touching. It made her uncertain. As he moved to gather the rest, the doe continued to lay comfortably, wrapped up in her own thoughts, and curiosities.
Easily lounging, ignoring the odd sensation that always came when having herbs applied and the need to guide, to make sure everything was perfect that nagged in the back of her mind, the heavy silver cream laid her head down as she waited, watching still, but trying her best to “relax” or come as close to it as she could.
Sunny said nothing as he worked, which Aedan took to be a sign that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. She wasn’t one to curtail criticisms to spare feelings. To some it might seem rude but he saw it for what it was- efficient and correct. A fawnling couldn’t learn from his mistakes if he couldn’t recognize them, after all, and he was here to learn.
“There,” he said when the last of the paste was in place. “You should leave that on until it dries. It should crumble off by itself after that, and you can wash it off at that point. Keep an eye on the wound for swelling or smelly pus or redness, and come back at once if that happens.”
He shot her a smile. “Or, you know, take care of it yourself since I won’t be here and you’re a far better herbalist than I am anyway.”
The smile faded from his face as he remembered he really was going away. He always missed his does when he left, but this was something else. This was more like the way he missed his sister when he had to patrol far from the Glenwood. The routine of the lessons, Sunny’s no-nonsense attitude; it had been good for him. And he would miss it.
Uncomfortable with the emotions stirring inside, he slipped back into a comfortable smile. “What do you think? Have I earned the right to know your name, or shall I go around telling everyone that my esteemed tutor thought so little of me that she wouldn’t even tell me who she was?” he teased, not really expecting her to part with that well-guarded piece of information.
Glancing up, Aarushi’s ears twitched as she listened to him speaking, sharp blue eyes focused on him. Tilting her head, giving a little snort the healer looked away as she replied casually, as though she had just told him flowers had petals, “Aarushi.” Examining the wound on her shoulder that he had attended to, giving a little nod. “You did well, Aedan.” It was a rare compliment. The smoky doe didn’t expect the stag to go telling any who asked her name. Giving a little sigh, the grouchy doe hauled herself to her hooves, glancing towards him before ambling over to the Red Bellewort, with it’s heavy drooping red flowers and the soft roots still attached, picking it up tenderly in her mouth the doe brought it back to the guard and set it before his hooves carefully.
“Red Bellewort. For your fawns this spring, the roots help to teach them to eat food, and the flowers are for your does.” The doe explained fleetingly, tail swishing. “Try not to get into too much trouble.” Aarushi snorted, though she wouldn’t admit it, she already would miss the stag’s cheerfulness. Perhaps he would return, perhaps he would not. But he had been a good pupil and help. Even though the healer was loath to admit it, he’d become a friend of sorts. Even earned the right to her name. Time would tell what the stag’s future would hold, and what her own would as well.
Aarushi! Aarushi was her name. And she’s given it away as if it were nothing. Still, he would treasure the secret. Sunny… Aarushi really was an odd doe. An intriguingly odd doe.
He swelled up with pride at the compliment. She was almost as stingy with those as she was with her name.
And that followed immediately with a gift. She’d mentioned red bellwort before, and its rarity. She was really giving this to him? It seemed so.
“I don’t know what to say, Sunny… Thank you.” He was surprised to find he was nearly blinking back tears. He would miss the grumpy lady and their lessons together. “I’ll make wise use of it I promise. And I think by now I understand that it’s much easier to prevent a wound than to heal it,” he chuckled.
“I’ll miss you,” he said finally. “And I’ll be back when I can. I know I’ve only just scratched the surface of what I can learn, here. You take care of yourself too, you hear? Don’t let those stags get their racks on you if you can help it.”
Giving a nod of approval at his words, the doe offered an amused grin. “Aye, I’ll do my best. I’d be more worried for the stags who try to lay their racks on me than anything else.” Offering a sad smile, the doe knew she would miss him as well. “Try not to come back with wounds when you do bother to visit, eh? I’ll look forward to whenever you come back.” It was as close to saying “I’ll miss you too” as the doe was going to get.
The plump female watched Aedan fondly as he turned to leave, darker tipped ears flicking down almost sadly. Aedan had provided a good source of amusement, guards seemed to be the best sort to be around if you had to. Either way, he had been good company. Perhaps a charmer and flirt, at least he was respectful and had always shown her kindness. Tail swishing dismissively, the doe nodded to him, “Now go get on with your duties.” Aarushi called over her shoulder, turning and beginning to amble back to her numerous plants
It was easier to know that the stag would visit, but it didn’t make goodbyes any better- even for the grouchy healer. Ambling along, she wondered when they might again, but hoped that the stag found good fortune and that the gods would smile on his path wherever it may take him.