Claude opened his eyes and saw a grey ceiling. Dry straw spanned the distance between the pillars. It was a small hut with four single beds, each covered in a dirty-yellow linen sheet. The tables in the corners of the room were buried under bottles and jars of herbs and concoctions. Some bottles were empty while others full, the rest occupied the space in between. He should be in the healer tent's infirmary within the camp.
He felt pain all over his body and difficulty breathing. The slightest movement sent searing pain boring through his bones. He struggled and stretched his hand out to pull on the rope dangling above his bed. A bell rang outside the hut.
A pair of feet slopped into earshot, the door clicked and swung open, and a middle-aged man in a white robe appeared in the hole in the wall. The apothecary nodded at Claude expressionlessly.
"You're awake. Good. How do feel?"
"Pain all over..."
"Normal. Your innards were shaken. It affects your whole body. I'm not surprised you're in pain. I checked you carefully. Your bones are mostly intact, just a couple fractures here and there, and a couple cracks elsewhere. I applied some healing concoction and healing paste and you should be able to get out of bed after five or six days." The apothecary didn't mind Claude's injuries in the least. "Compared to yours, the injuries of those you beat up are far worse. If they're not treated properly, they might end up crippled and have to be discharged."
Claude cracked a smile heavily.
"I don't think I was that good. I was hit non-stop. I can't have crippled them that badly."
"That's none of my business," the man said, his face still a mask, "My duty is to heal you. Whether you crippled them or killed them has nothing to do with me. That's up to the enforcers to handle.
"Still... your fight was impressive--" The apothecary picked up a couple bottles and mixed their contents. "--You sent six experienced soldiers to me in shambles. You should be proud, even if you ended up here yourself."
It didn't sound like the apothecary was being sarcastic. He struggled to think back at how the fight went down and shook his head. "I'm not as glorious as you say I am. I already forgot most of it. I only remember being beaten up, and they were completely fine."
The apothecary stopped all movement.
"Fine? Sigh... Both Corporal Enk's wrists were dislocated. He needs someone to do everything for him. If the treatment doesn't work well, his hands will be crippled and he'll be forced to retire. Sergeant Jem's innards were disturbed and three of his ribs broken. You only have to lie here for five to six days but it'll take him at least a fortnight to recover. Sergeant Ludon is the worst off. When the four were beating you up, you only focused on pummelling him. He got a concussion, a skull fracture, and a broken right arm. He hasn't woken up yet..."
The apothecary's descriptions were highly detailed. "Naturally, the worst one is Corporal Winbry. He wasn't that badly hurt initially, but somehow you got hold of him near the end and bit off a huge chunk of meat from his neck. Fortunately, you didn't bite into his carotid artery. Otherwise, he wouldn't even need to be sent here. He can be cremated and sent home immediately. I still don't know how well his treatment went. Perhaps his head will have to be bobbed on one side for life. I think he'll be discharged for this injury as well.
"The other two were only lightly injured. Sergeant Basak was head-butted by you on the nose and had it broken. Corporal Fide's lower leg was harshly kicked by you and now he's limping badly. I really don't know what kind of grudge you hold against them even though it's the first time you met. It's like you were trying to kill your sworn nemesis or something and resorted to such violent means. You just entered camp, and this isn't the battlefield. You're not even fighting your enemy."
Claude smiled bitterly. "Apologies. I didn't want it to happen like this either. I was only lining up for food and they provoked me first. I was only defending myself. You can't have me take their beatings without fighting back, right? As for what happened in the end, I was already dazzled and I can't remember anything at all."
The apothecary looked at Claude.
"You don't have to explain anything to me. Save it for the inquisitor. I can only say that those other six were unlucky. They are experienced soldiers who have been in the force for four to five years. They know how to hold back in brawls. But a rookie like you lashes out without control and only knows how to go for the vitals. Heck, you even used your teeth after being dazed a little. The whole camp now think that they were unlucky to run into a little savage like you. Do you know they also have a nickname for you now? They call you the Bloodluster."
The apothecary's reasoning was tight. The soldiers only hit him on non-vital spots during the brawl which wouldn't easily cripple him. Though it hurt, it was more hazing than anything.
Yet, perhaps because of his habit of fighting to the death with the Blacksnake thugs in Whitestag, he mostly went for the spots that hurt the most. Fortunately, the other soldiers knew better than to kill him from their experience, but that allowed him to use his teeth without thinking about the consequences.
Claude didn't really care about the nickname Bloodluster. One needed a reputation among the military to be taken seriously, anyway. Soldiers hated cowardice the most. Perhaps his life in the force would be easier after this fight. Most people probably would think twice before messing with him unless they could take the consequences of his backlash.
"Raise your head a little and drink this." The apothecary approached the bed with a bottle of synthesised concoction. "I had to siphon the medicine into you last night and wasted a good amount of it. Now that you're awake, you can drink it yourself. I believe your injuries will relax by nighttime and you won't hurt that badly anymore. You might be able to sit up and have some porridge."
The room was rather bright. The sun was probably shining bright outside. Claude struggled to raise his head. Both his hands were powerless, so he could only count on the apothecary to bring the bottle near to his mouth and gurgle down the bitter medicine.
"How long have I been out?"
"About a day. It's three after midday. You were sent here last night at six twenty. We were all shocked at your state when you arrived. It was as if you were roughed up by eight large brutes. But after a check, we found nothing but some external injuries. The only more serious affliction was the shock to your innards."
The apothecary ignored Claude's eye-roll and continued, "Then, the six unlucky fellows were sent here. Even though they appeared fine, a simple check caused them to be rushed to the emergency room at once. We worried that some of them might die if we were the slightest bit slower in their treatment. We might even be punished for not treating them appropriately..."
Claude shut his eyes and pretended not to hear anything. The graver the apothecary made the injuries of the other six sound, the more worried he was. No matter how justified his actions were, such serious repercussions were not what he expected. He didn't know how the upper brass would punish him and the other six.
"That's all for now. Rest for a bit and have a good sleep. I'll come again in the evening to change your medicines and feed you a bowl of porridge. If you feel unwell, pull the bell rope over here." The apothecary left after that.
The medicine he just consumed might have a sleep-inducing effect. He only had to lay down for a bit and sleep soon found him.
The lamps were lit when he woke. He noticed three additional people. The first was the apothecary, the second appeared his assistant. The man wore a white robe over his uniform. He appeared in his twenties -- another healer. The third was a first lieutenant. He carried a black briefcase and stood in the corner silently. He looked so cold and quiet and emanated an aura that discouraged anyone from approaching.
"I knew you were going to awaken around this time," the apothecary said gleefully. The medicine had worked as he intended. "How are you feeling now?"
Claude took two deep breaths. "Much better. My chest isn't that heavy anymore. My bones still hurt throughout, but it's better than how it felt during the afternoon. I can still take this amount of pain."
The apothecary nodded like he expected it.
"Bell, help him relieve himself and bring him his meal from the kitchen."
The young healer appeared to be there to nurse him. He took out a long wooden container from under the bed and removed the woollen blanket on Claude before pulling his pants and underwear down without hesitation. He then whistled before the cold lieutenant and the apothecary and commented, "Now that's a big one..."
Under Claude's hateful glare, the young healer Bell stuffed his member into the container and smiled to him. "Don't be ashamed, friend. I've seen countless brothers naked. After spending a couple of years in the force, you'd be able to strip completely naked in front of everyone without the slightest bit of shame and bathe openly in the sun. Your member also has quite some heft to him and is worth bragging about. The others with their little worms can only watch with envy."
Since Claude couldn't move, he could only endure it. He couldn't let out anything due to the shame and anxiety. To aid him, the healer whistled, and it actually worked. Not long after, the apothecary cursed.
"Damn, I just went to the lavatory and now I feel like going again."
The cold lieutenant seemed to be no longer able to bear that sight and followed the apothecary outside. Claude unleashed a torrent of water upon the container under the gleeful whistling of the healer and finally finished when it was about half full.
After pulling Claude's underwear back up, he covered the blanket down. "Lie down properly, friend. I'll get you your porridge right away."
He then left with the long container.
Claude's mind was a little blank. Seeing Bell leave, he quickly said, "Wash your hands before you get the porridge!"
Bell staggered from the shout and clutched his hands tight, managing to prevent the urine from spilling onto the ground.
"Got it. I'll wash my hands after pouring this away before getting your porridge."
A few moments after Bell left, the apothecary and the first lieutenant returned. The two didn't seem to have anything to say to one another and entered the hut with a straight face.
The apothecary went to Claude's side and checked on his mouth, tongue and teeth before asking a few questions. He seemed to feel that Claude was recovering well, given how awake he already was. He turned and nodded to the lieutenant, apparently suggesting that it was alright to talk to Claude, before retreating to the square desk in the corner and starting to work with the bottles of medicine.
The cold lieutenant made his way to the bedside and asked the obvious.
"You are Claude Ferd, correct?"
"Yes," Claude answered.
"I am the inquisitor, First Lieutenant Bilklan Her Sidori. I've been put in charge of investigating your little scuffle," the man said coldly.