Plague Merchant

(Originally written: April 3, 2020)

The work of a Healer never ends. Solya had returned from Ondor, a town two hours away by carriage, just the night before. He had barely recovered his energy. Now? He was walking down the cobblestone streets of Aro with dark rain clouds overhead. The freshly lit streetlights offered little protection against the dark. Still, it was better than nothing. It allowed the people of Aro to continue their walk home without fear of tripping over a badly paved stone or missing the opportunity to greet a friend as they passed each other. They were a friendly people and enjoyed saying hello. But they were also incredibly sensitive and prone to overthinking things. If they were passed, unseen, they would presume that their friend no longer liked them. The misunderstanding is usually easily cleared up. But it’s an anxious few hours (sometimes days) for the poor, unseen, Aroman. 

That is why Solya made sure, as he walked to a patient’s house, that he was alert to any ‘hello’s, ‘good evening’s, and ‘how are you’s that were tossed at him. It was bad for business if people thought he didn’t like them. There was one headed towards him right that second. He could tell from the way the woman was slightly angling her body towards him. “Good evening, Healer.”

“Good evening, Hannah.” Solya tipped his head and bowed, barely, at the waist.

“Are you headed to a patient?”

“Yes I am, miss.” Solya nodded. “Poor lad has caught Happy Rat.”

“Oh dear. Then you better hurry!” Hannah said. “Why not take a carriage?”

“The lad in question is not far.” Solya smiled. “Two doors down from where we stand.”

“My my. I thought his mother looked worried earlier at the market…” The woman got out of his way. “On you go then, dear Healer. With Rod’s blessing may you heal young Peter.”

“Thank you.” Solya bowed again and continued at a brisk walk. He managed to get to the house without another greeting and knocked with a gloved hand. His other, also gloved, hand fiddled with a coin in his pocket. It was a normal, five selti coin. Spare change for an adult, a fortune for a child, and an imminent life saver for little Peter. 

“Healer Solya!” The man’s voice reached Solya before the door fully opened and revealed a large, fatherly individual. “Thank you for coming.”

“Good evening, Roger. Is Peter in his room?”

“Yes.” Roger looked like a typical, worried Aroman. Face furrowed, hands clenched in front of his large stomach, and hunched back. 

“Then I will attend to him immediately. Please, stay downstairs.” Solya walked upstairs while gliding a hand on the wooden banister. It was polished from years of other hands doing the same thing, the previously noticeable wood grain now a dull smudge. Solya took care to walk on the edges of the old stairs to ensure that it didn’t creak. If Peter was sleeping, Solya didn’t want to wake him up. Happy Rat was a particularly vicious disease that was inflicted by, obviously, rat bites. Rats carrying Happy Rat were easy to spot. The virus made their tiny rodent brains go mad and made them chitter in an odd way, sounding like laughter. That, combined with the spastic way they moved, Happy Rats were easy to avoid and even easier to trap as the disease didn’t make them any less hungry. People got unlucky, though. They’d be sleeping or, like in Peter’s case, too busy paying attention to something else. Roger had taken his son on a hunting trip and the boy was determined to impress his dad. While readying his rifle to fire at a deer in the distance, a Happy Rat had joyously taken a juicy bite of Peter’s exposed ankle. 

Happy Rat didn’t kill you if you were a healthy adult. Just exhausted you from the seizures it inflicted. A child, however, would be in trouble. Solya slowly opened the bedroom door and stepped inside, locking it shut behind him. Peter was sleeping. Otherwise he’d be thrashing around and make it harder for Solya to do his job. He placed a chair by the bed and sat down, the five selti coin in his left hand. With a careful, steady hand, Solya unbuttoned Peter’s shirt. The smell from the burst pustules wafted over to Solya. He breathed as sparingly as possible. Even after years of being a Healer, the smell of a Happy Rat pustule was not something you could get used to. Imagine a dead man, out in the summer sun, rotting in his own waste.

“Let’s get you better.” Solya placed the cold coin on Peter’s chest. He held it down with his left pointer finger but not so hard that he’d break any more pustules. He then slid it down Peter’s sternum to his belly button while concentrating his magic onto the coin. The pustules began fading away and Peter’s ragged breathing turned normal. Tired. But normal. “May Rod continue to light your way, child.” Solya stood after pushing Peter’s bangs out of his eyes. He left his shirt open so that the night air could cool Peter’s still warm skin.

“Is it done?” Roger asked as soon as Solya came out. “Already?”

“It is done.” Solya kept a firm grip on the coin as he leaned, exhausted, against the wall. “He is sleeping and will be tired for the next few days. Happy Rat is hard on a child’s disposition. But Peter will live.”

“Oh bless you, Solya.” Roger’s wife, Dina, squeezed Solya’s free hand before going into her son’s room. 

“You remember the conditions, Roger?” Solya asked.

“Yes. One week for you to give someone else the ailment or it comes back stronger.” Roger gulped. “It would likely kill him. But Happy Rat is in demand among adults, is it not? Someone will take it?”

“That is the risk we take.”

“Are you sure you cannot…”

“I cannot bear it myself nor can I give it to you or Dina.” Solya shook his head. “You must be, at the least, second cousins to someone for you to take their illness from a coin. I told you this, Roger. As his parents, you are too closely related to him to be a Carrier of his Happy Rat.”

“You did. You did.” Roger nodded. “It’s just…”

“Peter is a blessing you received after fifteen years of marriage.” Solya said. “I will inform you if the coin is consumed.”

“Okay. Thank you.” 

“For the offering you put up, Roger, I would worry a little less.” Solya began heading out. “You went above the market rate for Happy Rat. Especially considering the recent outbreak of it.”

“May Rod light your way, Healer Solya.

“Welcome back, Solya.” Vita stepped out from behind the kitchen counter to hug him. 

“Mmm.”  He breathed in deeply, her nutmeg scent filling him, before kissing her cheek. “Peter’s coin. Was it sold?”

“Rulo came in just before I closed the shop.” Vita said, rocking from side to side with both her hands rubbing his back. “I gave him part of our commission.”

“Good. The poor man needs it.” Solya pulled away and sat down at their dining table. He took his top hat off and raked his fingers through his black hair. “Took four days. Roger and Dina were getting anxious.”

“I was too. Peter is a darling little boy. Would have been a shame to lose him.” Vita ladled the stew that was still boiling over the fire into a bowl, being sure to get chunks of meat. She placed that along with a generous chunk of bread onto a large plate before placing the meal in front of Solya. “Just a simple beef stew tonight, Solya.”

“Busy day?”

“Not especially.” Vita shook her head, ladling a portion for herself. “I was caught up on my research and did not notice the time passing. I almost missed Rulo ringing the bell. Fortunately, he is a persistent man.”

“Any breakthroughs?”

“No. But I believe I am close.” Vita chewed. “I need more rats.”

“I thought we would be moving away from that. For now.”

“For experimentation.”

“Ah.” Solya nodded and smiled. “Go ahead and order them. How many?”

“Ten. That should be enough. Unless we use them up like last time.” Vita said. “A woman from Sothren came. Her daughter, 10 years old, has the pox.”

“How long?”

“Three days.”

“Mmm. I’ll leave tomorrow morning.” Solya nodded and loudly clapped his hands together. “Beau!”

A man entered from a side door and bowed. “Yes, Master?”

“We will be leaving for Sothren at 6 A.M. tomorrow. Have my carriage ready and waiting by the front door.”

“It will be done, Master.” Beau bowed, holding both his hands to his sides. “Have a good day, sir?”

“It was neither good nor bad.” Solya said. “Your wife. Has she recovered from the Happy Rat?”

“Yes, sir. She has.” Beau smiled. “Paid off the last of our debt with that money. Thank you.”

“You two have been working hard to pay off your debt.Thank yourselves.” Solya smiled. “You may return to her for the night, Beau. Whatever remains to be done for the day can wait.”

The servant bowed and left. Solya and Vita ate in silence until they heard their back door shut. “George informed me today that he will be in Enthea for a week. Leaves in two days.”

“Butcher George or Cobbler George?” Vita asked.

“Butcher.” Solya said. “Wouldn’t have mentioned it if it was the cobbler. Doesn’t have the money or the health.”

“Hmm.” Vita nodded. “Diptheria is making a resurgence in Enthea I believe.”

“Would be a shame if he caught it.”

“Yes. A shame.”

“Ah. Healer.” The woman who opened the door was tall, skinny and had sunken eyes. With her nose being long, the sunken appearance of her eyes was exaggerated. “I did not expect you so soon.”

“Did not want your daughter to suffer for any longer.” Solya smiled, stepping into the house as the woman got out of the way. “Your name?”

“Winifred.” She said. “My daughter Emily is upstairs.”

“Before we take care of her, I must go over the conditions with you.”

“Your wife already did.”

“Humor me.” Solya said. “After taking the illness from her, I cannot take the illness myself nor can I pass it on to a close family member of the patient. Second cousins, at the very minimum.”

“I understand.”

“If the illness is taken from her and it is not passed on to another within a week, it will return stronger. Pox is easy to overcome, especially for a child. You could just have her heal normally with little risk.”

“I understand.” Winifred nodded. “But that is not a concern. I have someone already on hand.”

“Ah! Is that so? Who?”

“A servant.”

“Are they willing?”

“Is that a requirement?”

“For the magic to work, no.” Solya kept his eyes from narrowing. “For me to provide the service, yes.”

Winifred tensed and breathed hard through her nose. “He is.”

“I take twenty percent of the market rate as commission.” Solya said. “600 selti is your total. I will distribute the 500 selti to the Carrier myself.”

Winifred took a key from a hidden pocket in her sleeve and unlocked a drawer. She handed Solya a small stack of paper money. “Here.” Her hand gripped the money tightly, forcing Solya to pull it from her hands. He did not comment on it.

“Take me to Emily, please.” Solya followed her upstairs, running a hand on the railing. He could feel the grain on it. “You may be in the room. Your daughter may prefer it.”

“I will observe.”

Solya assented, shutting the door behind himself. “You must be Emily.”

The young girl nodded, her eyes as sunken as her mother’s. “I have the pox.”

“So I can see.” Solya sat on the chair that was already by the girl’s bed. He put the back of his hand against her forehead. “Dreadfully hot and itchy, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We’ll get you feeling better in no time.” Solya smiled. “I understand that it will be embarrassing, child, but you will need to unbutton the shirt of your pajamas.”

Emily blushed and pulled away from him. “Why?”

Solya took out a five selti coin. “You see this coin right here? I use it to take your sickness away and store it. Have you heard of batteries? The special new invention that just came out?”


“A little like that.” Solya said. “It takes a specific mix of metals to absorb illnesses. By pure chance, five selti coins are made with those metals. Makes it much easier for Healers like me.” He flipped his hand so the palm was facing up and put the coin on the tip of his middle finger. “Pretend my finger is your chest, right above your heart. I’ll take the coin,” He began running it down his finger and through the palm, stopping at the wrist. “And run it down while using my magic. The metal will take your pox.”

“Can’t you do it on my hand?”

“Unfortunately no.” Solya shook his head. “Your heart sends blood throughout your body. Because of that, it is the best place to absorb an illness from.”


“Your mother is here, child.” Solya said. “Will it help if you hold her hand?”

Emily nodded and held her hand out. Winifred took it and sat on the bed with her.

“I will unbutton your shirt now. I will be as fast as possible. Okay?”


“Brave girl.” Solya smiled. That seemed to stop the girl from shutting her eyes. He unbuttoned her shirt as she lay rigidly. “The coin will feel cold once the magic starts. It should feel soothing on your warm skin.” He pressed the coin against the sternum. “And we begin.” He dragged the coin down towards her bellybutton. The rash slowly disappeared and Solya could feel her skin becoming less hot. “There we are! All done. May Rod light your way, child.” He kept a tight grip on the coin as he moved it to his pocket. As he stood, careful to not let the exhaustion show, he kept his hand in his pocket. “You will still need to rest, Emily. But you are fine now!” He turned to Winifred. “I will wait for you in the hallway.”

It took a few minutes but Winifred came out. “She says thank you.”

“My pleasure.” Solya said. “The servant that is taking the pox. Where are they?”

“Caldwell!” Winifred shouted, clapping her hands. A middle aged man came hurrying up the stairs.

“Mistress?” Caldwell bowed his head. “Has the healer done his job?”

“Yes. Emily is healed.” Winifred said. “Healer Solya. This man has volunteered to be the Carrier.”

“Very kind of you, Caldwell.” Solya said. “You will receive 500 selti as payment. That is the current rate for pox.”

Caldwell’s eyes widened. “That much, sir? Thank you!”

“Hold on.” Solya held up his free hand. “Are you aware that the pox is more dangerous for adults?”

“Ah…” Caldwell glanced at Winifred. “Yes, sir. I am aware.”

“Are you now?” Solya also glanced at Winifred. “When you were a child, did you have the pox?”

“Yes, sir. I did.”

Solya sighed. “Then by becoming a Carrier for Emily’s pox, you will get shingles. Do you know what that is?”

“Yes, sir.” Caldwell said. “Brother had it just recently. I didn’t know it came from pox.”

“It’s a reactivation of the disease. Not many know.” Solya said. “How old are you?”


“You look healthy. Are you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” Solya said. “The mortality rate for shingles is low but it isn’t zero. Are you willing to take that risk?”

Once again Caldwell looked at Winifred. “I am, sir.”

Solya shut his eyes and breathed deeply. “Very well. Hold out your hand.” Once the servant did, Solya put all of the money he had received from Winifred into the servant’s hands. “600 selti. I’m giving you my commission as well for the risk you are taking.”

“Sir I can’t…”

“You will.” Solya said firmly, glaring at Winifred. The woman shrank away. Once Caldwell had put the money into the pocket of his jacket, Solya took out the coin. “Once you touch the coin, Emily’s pox will pass on to you. A Carried disease cannot be healed in the same manner. You will have to use conventional methods or wait it out. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You will not fall ill immediately but you are to go home immediately. You are to rest and to not work for the duration of the illness. Until you are cleared by a standard doctor, you are to follow my orders.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then here. It will hurt for just a moment.” Solya held the coin out. “May Rod light your way, Caldwell.”

Caldwell touched the coin. The servant felt intense heat in the finger and a tiny prick of pain as if he had pressed it against a needle, then nothing. “Thank you, sir. May Rod light your way as well.”

“Is there a pub or inn nearby I can rest at for an hour. Perhaps get something to eat?”

“You may rest here, Healer Solya.” Winifred finally spoke.

“I’m sure I could.” Solya said. “Caldwell?”

“Robber’s Glory.” Caldwell said. “Pub right down the road, sir. Delicious mutton.”

“Sounds marvelous.” Solya nodded to Caldwell, looked at Winifred, and left.

When he arrived home later that afternoon, Solya was tired. Still, he went straight to the shop portion of their house where Vita would likely be. “I am home.”

“So I see.” Vita opened the glass case where the coins were displayed before hugging him. “Welcome home, Solya.”

“No need for that.” Solya gestured towards the case. “The woman had a Carrier waiting.”

“Ah! Convenient.” Vita smiled and locked the case. 

“It was her servant.”

Her smile faded. “I see.”

“I asked around at the Robber’s Glory. A pub near the woman’s house.” Solya said. “Happy Rat is making its way through Sothren as well.”

“Not much of a problem for adults though.”

“She seemed full of regret.”

“Very well.” Vita pursed her lips and shrugged. “I’ll order eleven rats then.”

Solya retired for the day to be sure he’d have the energy for tomorrow, no matter what came his way. The work of a Healer never ends.