“Two thousand splints, ten thousand feet of bandages and...” He sighed, “two hundred gallons of rubbing alcohol.”
Coe grunted as he scribbled something down, “Close the door afterwards.”
“You know I don’t usually handle jobs of this size, just parcels.” Stealth chided, “In animal form at that.”
“And I thank you for delivering all the supplies so quickly. I’m tending to a score of freed slaves and I'll put them all to good use.”
“Freed slaves?” The cheetah’s ears perked and he looked back out the door.
“I don’t know the details” The healer pointed out in haste, “I just look after my patents, why, are you offering to assist me?”
The feline pondered for a moment and rubbed his chin. Unsurprising to Coe, he didn’t say yes. Then again, he didn’t refuse. Stealth departed from the healer’s office looking thoughtful. The raccoon paid him no further heed, his thoughts on the fact he’d soon need to expend all those fresh supplies.
“Ed!” Stealth yelped as he ran into the knight.
“Stealth!” Edmund gasped at the entrance to the infirmary, “I was just heading in.”
“Hold up.” The feline said in a hushed tone and closed the door behind him.
“What’s wrong?” The paladin asked with creeping worry. Why was he being detained? Why didn’t his friend want him to enter the room? Had someone close to them died?
“Have you seen to those people in the infirmary yet?”
“No, I was just about to.” The paladin answered in slight confusion.
The courier grinned slightly and folded his ears, “I have an idea... it will sound dumb.”
“Oh?” The paladin asked, “I’m sure it won’t, tell me.”
Stealth whispered into the knight’s ear. Edmund’s ears perked and he raised an eye ridge.
“A superb idea!” the paladin said.
“Really?” Stealth asked in relief, “I just hope we don’t scare anyone!”
“This will work fine,” Edmund countered. “I’m sure of it.” Edmund gave his friend a pat on the back.
“Hmmm...” Stealth mumbled, “How do you know?”
“You’re asking me?” Edmund said. “This is your idea.”
Stealth’s ears drooped slightly, “It’s a bad idea.”
“No, this is a good idea and it will work!”
They had the sense to consult Coe and ask his advice. The raccoon had been taken by surprise and was still a little confused but any help was welcome so he prepared for their visit. He still sighed under his breath when the two cheetahs in full animal form entered the infirmary and slowly padded up to the raccoon.
He motioned them close with a clawed finger, “These are the new arrivals over here...”
Edmund sat on his haunches and nodded. They were shrouded in blankets yet their frail forms were still obvious through the sheets. Besides the physical signs of being battered and malnourished he could tell from their eyes and how they carried themselves that they’d endured much, for years, many years.
One form was sprawled out, prostrate but trembling. Edmund padded over cautiously and sniffed at the figure’s hand. It was a female human, young adult perhaps but her flesh looked as though it belonged to someone of more advanced age.
The paladin nuzzled the hand though he didn’t stray above the height of the bed, into view. He didn’t want to cause unnecessary panic. Had the patent been an animal keeper more akin to a small rodent he’d have been far more reserved from approaching.
The feline sighed, was this such a good idea; Two large carnivorous animals hovering over the vulnerable? His thoughts were interrupted at the sounds of laughter. Edmund turned his head and saw a group of children, or ARs, perhaps. Several of them were in a tight circle around his friend. Without doing anything at all, Stealth seemed to have them eating out of his hand, or rather he was eating out of theirs; the cheetah sat on his haunches in the midst of the cheerful youths accepting their discarded hospital food from their hands while they petted and climbed on him.
Edmund had enough familiarity to know Stealth was ill at ease, however he made the most of the attention. His attention was brought back to the woman; she was awake and... petting him. She couldn’t see him but she stroked his nose. The paladin still waited for healer Coe to explain to her that a large hunting cat sat at the side of her bed...
She understood well enough it seemed, Edmund still found the curse somewhat confusing and he probably underestimated how desensitised many people had become.
Coe promptly left to tend to other patents, or perhaps to scold the children for giving their food away to Stealth. Edmund paid the raccoon no more heed and reared up against the bed. The female patent, Patricia Coe said her name was, looked up at him almost in awe. She ran her skeletal hand over his tears.
Edmund moved back slightly; he’d seen this before, he’d seen a frail form like this one in that evil place, Nasoj’s citadel.
The woman pulled her hand back, she looked suspiciously at Edmund.
Ed tilted his head; had he come across as distant? The cheetah pulled his hind legs onto the bed to sit down closer and nuzzled her hand again, almost encouraging her to resume petting. The feline sat patently for a few minutes as she gently stroked his fur. Edmund was almost surprised but relived when she began to speak.
At first only a few reserved words but slowly she began to open up. She spoke of her past, his past before the curse. Patrick, a young lad with dreams. He trained to become a great warrior, well, more like a militia volunteer, but to him he was becoming a great warrior. The curses soon struck and Patricia the lass felt her life and dreams shatter. She went into a downward spiral of despair. Felt convinced by what ‘they’ said and spiralled down further.
It took many years but she finally overcame her own prejudices and slowly became comfortable with her new body. She even started training again and found she was good at it, just as good as before! Patricia impressed her trainers, she quickly caught up on all the training she’d missed from all that time waisted and was assigned a lengthy patrol.
Patricia faltered in her retelling. She looked vacantly somewhere distant until Ed placed a paw on her shoulder and resumed nuzzling. She began to speak again, she spoke of the patrol; of the ambush. She went on in detail, everything that happened after that, for years. Patricia eventually said all she could say but it was more then enough.
Edmund bought her back to the fore, he reached over and despite his form he managed an approximate and much appreciated hug. She rubbed his back and let out a deep sigh, suddenly Patricia felt as if she’d woken up from a nightmare. She wasn’t ‘cured’ by a long shot but she felt much better then she had in far too long.
Edmund licked her nose. He could not speak. He could offer no profound or reassuring words, no prayers, he couldn’t even trace the sign of the Yule. And he didn’t need to. With nothing more then his presence he helped someone. Often the best healing you can give someone is to simply listen.
Okay, the nuzzling helped. Even so he only needed to be there.
The feline turned to look about the room. Patricia still held him tight, finding comfort in the animal’s breathing and heart beat and Edmund would stay as long as needed but there were many more freed slaves and he needed to help all of them...
Ed could see Stealth still sitting on the floor, he’d slumped on his side looking tired. He somehow got exhausted doing nothing. The children were still there, gathered around him. They looked about ready for a nap; no doubt the cheetah would take the opportunity to sneak away.
It took over two hours to tend to those they could and then politely pry themselves free. They padded back to Edmund’s room where they shifted to get dressed once more.
“You see? It did work! I have often seen this have amazing results when done with cats and dogs.”
“Ed, we’re a lot larger then a house cat,” Stealth countered and buttoned his shirt.
“So? That means we could give them all the more comfort!” The paladin answered.
Stealth looked unsure of what he wanted to say. “Will you go back there and do that again?”
Edmund didn’t hesitate, “Yes! There are many more we can help.”
“You want me to go with you?” He asked shyly.
Edmund nodded his head and wrapped an arm around his friend’s shoulder. “Stealth, my good friend, you did very well today. You helped a lot of people. A fine deed.” He answered earnestly, “I’ll inform Healer Coe, I know he was glad to see patients helped by something as simple as cuddling with a cute animal.”
Stealth suddenly laughed out loud, “I didn’t think I could get you to admit you’re a cute animal, my work is done!”