Augh! Still trying to get caught up and stay caught up with Ella’s Story. The editorial bidness is a classic drought and flood affair: months go by with hardly any paying work, and then a tsunami comes pouring in. I just moved the fourth full-length math paper off the desk, when an entire issue of our client journal flew in through the transom. Working seven days a week is barely enough to keep up. And so…here’s a bit of a stopgap in the Ella tale.
Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.
In the morning . . . ah, but she loved a morning on Varnis, a real morning, not artificial lights sliding from dim to bright enough to roust you out of bed. She needed no alarm to get her up to greet the day. Its strangeness never stopped fascinating: that golden sun sharply defined, most days, through the unnaturally clear air that faded from deep violet, sometimes through red or pink, and finally lit the sky to topaz. A few low clouds glowed orange in gold in this dawn’s rising light.
She lingered on the walkway outside the servants’ quarters and gazed out over the waking pastures, the fields and distant forest copses, as she always did for a few minutes before launching into another day.
“Good morning!” A bright greeting interrupted her quiet moment.
“Sigi. Good morning, dear.” The carpenter girl had a towel tossed over her shoulder, on her way to wash up for first meal.
“Wow! It’s really pretty today!”
“Mm hmmm.” Born and raised on Varnis, Sigi surely wouldn’t see the sky here, with its almost coppery blue-green clarity, as quite so exotic as Ella herself did. Pretty might not be the word she’d choose. Beautiful, maybe, though inadequate. Incandescent, if she thought that hard. But strange was the word that would first come to hand. If she were asked.
“You finished up the job in Cinorra,” Ella remarked, redundantly, by way of making conversation.
“Just about. Thank goodness.” The job had dragged on a ten-day and a half too long. “I’ll need to go back this afternoon or tomorrow to check on the clean-up. But otherwise I think we’re done.”
“Good. So, are you ready to start working on the clinic thing?”
“Yes, ma’am. That’s what I wanted to talk with you about.”
Thought so. “All right…”
“May I get a couple of strong backs to help set up the room Dorin wants to build out for this project? There’s stuff stored in there that we’ll need to find new homes for. And I’d like to get it scrubbed down before we start measuring and painting and things.”
“Darl seems to be well enough to start planning what needs to go in there.”
“Give me a day or so to shovel the place out.”
“We should get started thinking about this project, Sigi. Even if you’re not ready to begin drawing plans, you ought to take some time to talk with him.”
“Needs something to take his mind off his troubles, does he?”
“No doubt.” Sigi had a way of seeing through to the point. And Ella thought Darl should be occupied – very soon now – with as many plans, tasks, and physical jobs as he could tolerate, increasing in number and demand as he recovered strength.
As it developed, Ella didn’t have to get her way this time: Dorin was already seeing to it. After the morning wake-up, feed, and rush, he summoned Sigi and Darl to meet with the two overseers in his quarters. So Ella was sipping the obligatory morning tea, served up from Dorin’s desk steeping pot, when first one of them and then the other showed up
Darl was settled, stiffly, into a chair near Dorin’s desk. He would, she thought, not be a bad-looking man, once he recovered his bearings and his chopped-off hair grew back enough to brush smooth. Well fed yet fit, even slender, dark of hair and eye, he carried himself with understated but unmistakable grace: very upper-class. He came from a slice of Samdelan society that Ella had never seen, at least not up close, and never would have seen had she been left in the life.
“I’m not sure I understand…” he began—and then was cut short when Sigi bounded in. Bounding, Ella reflected, was Sigi’s default mode of locomotion. Did she ever slow down?
“Hello,” she said to the new guy, evincing not the slightest bit of deference. And why should she, Ella thought…they were both slaves now, no matter what this Darl had been before he landed here. On his tush. “You must be Darl. The doctor?”
He smiled tentatively. Ella thought he looked nonplussed, but he spoke up with humble enough self-possession: “I am. Yes.”
“I’m Sigi. The carpenter. I’ll be building out the space you need to work in.” She offered her left hand, palm up, and, to Ella’s mild surprise, he laid his own hand, palm down, on hers. She slipped into the chair that Dorin had set out for her.
“So, brother. Are you ready to get started?”
“I…well, don’t know. There are some things I don’t understand altogether.”
“Like what?” Dorin responded. “Ask away.”
“So…you want me to operate a clinic here for…the slaves on this estate, do I have that right?”
“Yeah. For us and the people around here.”
“Even though I’m not allowed to practice medicine now.”
“The kaïna has already canceled that out of your terms. The way it reads now,…” Dorin pressed a few links and brought up the official record that described Darl, his crime or crimes, what he was cleared to do, and what he was prohibited from doing. He ran his eye down a long stream of text written in an avalanche of Varn symbols. “You are allowed to dispense and direct healthcare services to people in service, to the landless in the care of the state, and to local residents, as long as you’re doing it in the employ of your owner. Rysha Delamona, Kaïna leh Varnisiel ch’Molendi Hededalla.”
“Because she said so. Circular, hm?”
“All right. Then…how many people are we talking about?”
“Well, I don’t know.” Oddly, Dorin seemed not to have considered that question. “We have about sixty adults here at Skyhill, plus another fifteen children. Various contract workers come and go, who I suppose could get hurt or sick while they’re on the grounds.
“She has in mind you’re going to be available for staff on the estates around here – north of E’o Cinnora. There’s over a dozen of those. And Skyhill isn’t the largest. Not by a long shot.”
“The kaïna doesn’t own the largest estate on Varnis?”
“Hardly. The House of Delamona was never given to unnecessary…showiness. Historically, it was not the biggest hereditary property when the first of the line took power. And it still isn’t.”
“So twelve or fifteen times about sixty people?”
“More like about seventy or eighty, on average. Maybe 850 to 950 all told. Give or take. Plus the people who live in the villages.”
“There are several of them in the north district, mostly attached to the estates. And the only medical carers they have are lay healers. And midwives. The midwives are mostly trained in Cinorra.
“The one that’s closest to us – that’s Skyhill Village – has…uhm…about a six or eight hundred people living there. I guess. Wouldn’t you say?” He cocked an eye in Ella’s direction.
“That’s probably about right.”
“Most of the great ones’ manors have a village associated with them, little places that have grown up around the estates.”
“And they’re all about the same size as this Skyhill town.”
“More or less.”
“Twelve or fifteen times eight hundred people…ninety-six hundred to twelve thousand villagers? Plus another nine hundred retainers in service?”
“I’d guess that’s about right.”
Darl looked at him in disbelief. “That’s ten to thirteen thousand potential patients. I’ve never had a population of more than about two thousand. That’s about as many as any one doctor can handle. And then some.”
“Well. They don’t all get sick at once.”
“Sure. Never rains but it pours, you know.”
Dorin laughed softly. “You won’t be the only one providing care. If that were so, we’d all have been dead before you got here. Besides, there’s not fifteen villages. It’s more like eight or ten.”
A doubtful smile ghosted over Darl’s face, briefly.
“Look. Most people in a place like this are pretty healthy. We get plenty to eat and we get a pan-immunization that keeps us from getting sick. So what we’re talking about here is an occasional accident. And…well, we have a pregnant mother just now – it would be nice not to have to drag her to a midwife or call one in every few weeks.”
“And most people will go to a village healer before they travel to town for a doctor,” Ella added. “Unless they’re really sick, they get over it first. About nine-tenths of the midwives live in the villages, and they take care of the women there. And sometimes our women.”
“So…then what would I be needed for?”
“This is the kaïna’s idea,” Dorin replied. “I don’t second-guess her. I just do what she says.”
“No, c’mon Dor’,” Ella interrupted. “It’s reasonable, brother. We don’t have a real medically trained doctor, one who does science, anywhere on this side of Cinorra. To find someone who isn’t just practicing folk medicine, you have to travel into the city. Like Dorin says, most people don’t get very sick. But when they do – and when they get hurt – it would be a lot better to have someone like you here.”
“Well. I guess we’ll see, then.”
“Let’s go see the space Dorin wants to turn into an office for you,” Sigi proposed.
“It’ll have to be quite a place to accommodate 13,000 patients.”