There were many things that Rayce Barring did not like. He hated the rain for all of the warm summer days he could have spent playing with his friends on the city streets. He absolutely despised how all of his favorite toys ended up either lost or broken. So, when other people talked about things they hated, Rayce found it very easy to relate. But there were other things, too. Even worse than how tired he felt all the time when he had gotten sick, and even more horrible than when Dakin Goms had stolen one of his toys, he hated his hiccoughs.
He had known hiccoughs to come and go, especially when he had gotten really thirsty and drank water too fast. He knew other people who occasionally had brief fights with hiccoughs for other reasons, too. His hiccoughs were different, though. For a whole fortnight, Rayce had been having problems with hiccoughs constantly. They plagued him when he was eating, woke him when he was sleeping, and when they were at their worst, made it impossible for him to speak without a loud hiccough interrupting nearly every sentence.
The hiccoughs would slow at times, but never really go away, much to the alarm of his parents. The hiccoughs persisted so badly that Rayce found that he could hate things so much more than he’d thought. The summer rains were simply an annoyance, the food he didn’t like were something he could drudge through, and losing anything only meant that he would make a game out of finding it. He not only hated his hiccoughs, but despised them with such a vengeance that he wished the hiccoughs were something he could push into the river and watch them drown.
For the last few days, he had even stopped talking. He couldn’t stand to hear a hiccough work its way into a sentence. The loud “hic” would echo in his ears as he could feel himself flush with embarrassment. All of the kids his age made fun of him constantly, prodding him to talk so that they could hear his hiccough and laugh at him some more. He could hardly bear any more of his hiccoughs, but his parents didn’t have enough coin to pay healers. His parents absolutely forbade him to work, saying that maybe next year, after his tenth summer, they would help him find a way to earn his own coin. They had never said that he couldn’t ask other people for help, though. So he waited for a very fine day when he could set out and find his cure, even if he had to do it himself.
When that day finally came, Rayce set out on his journey. He had asked everybody he could find, and he knew that he could go to healers. Since he was by himself and had no coin, he would find them himself.
By the second bell of day, the city was already bustling with beggars and merchants, crowding the streets so badly that it was difficult for Rayce to even see the shops through the adults who were pushing past him. He felt like a fish trying to swim up a swift stream. Many times he called out for help, and received no more attention than the annoyed looks of passersby. Wandering around aimlessly, he finally bumped unexpectedly into a town guardsman.
The guardsman looked around with surprise, and took a moment before he finally lowered his eyes to Rayce. “Ey, what have we here?” The guard’s sword clinked against a nearby wall as he turned, and the sound gave Rayce a fright.
Rayce had prepared for this moment, but he just hadn’t anticipated the difficulty he was having navigating the city streets. Suddenly, he was looking directly back at the guard, trying to find the words he had rehearsed.
“Excuse me, sir, I need to find a healer,” was the phrase he had practiced. Those words, however, had difficulty escaping the lump that had risen in Rayce’s throat. As an alternative, he merely said, “H– (hic) … healer!”
The guard smiled warmly. “Having a problem talking? You should go to the abbey. They should fix you up nicely. Do you know where it is?”
After silently accepting directions from the guard, Rayce went on his way. He was fighting the crowds once again, with an odd feeling that he was walking in the opposite direction of everybody else on the street. After searching for several menes, Rayce found the abbey.
Dargon Abbey was a stone building nestled among the many temples, which stood tall against the shops which were squeezed in between the temples wherever they could fit. He approached the gate in front of the building cautiously, in case the monks weren’t friendly. Peering around the corner of the stone wall, Rayce was surprised to hear somebody clear his throat. Rayce turned around carefully, to see a tall man with a crooked smile leaning on a cane behind him, wearing the white gowns which marked him as a monk.
“Can we help you young sir?” the man asked.
For just a moment, Rayce forgot why he had come. After a moment, the realization hit him, and he said nervously, “I … I have (hic) … hiccoughs.”
The man looked confused for a moment. “Hiccoughs?”
Rayce nodded, still a bit shocked that he hadn’t noticed the monk approach from behind him.
“I see. My name is Lev, one of the healers here. What’s your name?”
“Rayce, let’s just try something.”
Rayce nodded. Lev selected a small pouch from his pocket, and when he removed his hand, it was coated in a green salve, which he rubbed on Rayce’s throat. It immediately began to feel warm.
“Well?” Lev looked at Rayce expectantly. “Did it work?”
“I don’t– (hic)! I guess not.” Rayce looked down and kicked at the dirt.
Lev smiled. “Not to worry, young sir. I suppose God did not mean for your journey to end with me. Pray, and you will find what you seek.”
Rayce swam back into the sea of people crowding the streets, thinking that there were more healers in the city. He’d try to find help at the next place he found. After walking for a little while, he managed to stop a woman who was hurrying down the road.
“Pardon me, miss, but I need to find a healer,” was the phrase Rayce had practiced, but what came out was “Par– (hic) … need to find a healer.”
The woman frowned for a moment, looking at Rayce questioningly. “Have you been to Dargon Abbey?”
“Oh. Then have you tried Rebecca?”
Rayce shook his head with a wide smile.
The woman smiled back at him. “She’s just around the corner. She has a yellow door; you shouldn’t miss it.”
“Thank — (hic) you,” Rayce said.
“It’s no problem dear. Take care now!”
Rayce nodded and happily made his way through the crowds to the corner. He felt like skipping, thinking that he was most certainly going to find a cure for his horrible hiccoughs.
It didn’t take long for Rayce to find Rebecca’s shop. Walking bravely to the doorway, he found not one, but two women. The younger of the two was looking through a book, and the other, older woman was dusting a cabinet full of bottles. The younger woman noticed Rayce standing in the doorway. She smiled at him and beckoned him inside.
“Hello there, young man! I’m Lilike.”
Rayce couldn’t help but smile at Lilike. “Hello, I’m Rayce,” is what he wanted to say, but with his excitement, all that would come out was “H– (hic) … Rayce.”
Lilike giggled. “Well, hello Rayce. Can I help you?”
Rayce hiccoughed again and swallowed hard. He pointed at his throat. Lilike frowned at him with a questioning look. He pointed at his throat again and hiccoughed extra loud.
“Oh, goodness. You have the hiccoughs!”
Rayce nodded violently.
“Well, we’ll just have to see about that. Um … Rebecca?” Lilike looked over at the older woman, who was just then filling a bottle with a green liquid.
Rebecca didn’t turn to look, but simply asked “Yes?”
“Do we have anything for hiccoughs?”
Rebecca furrowed her brow. “Hiccoughs,” she said, as if she hadn’t noticed the conversation Lilike had already had with Rayce. Rebecca looked at the ceiling in thought, and then turned towards Lilike. “Ah, yes, hiccoughs. Witch hazel and sage should do the trick. Let him smell the embers.”
Lilike smiled at Rayce. “See, we’ll take care of those.”
“Oh,” Rebecca said, “it only works sometimes.” Rayce felt his hopes dim.
“Well, we’ll try it anyways,” said Lilike. “Just sit right here.”
Rayce sat down as Lilike grabbed a bundle from the cabinet, removed a small handful of twigs, and then dripped some strange looking liquid over them. Lilike tied the twigs together with some string, and then lit the end of it with a candle. After letting it burn for a moment, Lilike blew it out and walked over to Rayce.
“Here, hold this and take a deep breath.”
Rayce accepted the small bunch of smoking twigs. The smell reminded him of the woods. Following instructions, Rayce inhaled the smoke deeply. Suddenly, he began to cough hard.
Lilike patted his back. “That’s all right. Just try again.”
Rayce tried again, and didn’t cough this time, but he could feel the smoke pass through his throat. He smiled as he could feel his throat open up a little bit.
Lilike smiled. “All better?”
Rayce nodded. “Yes. Yes! Oh, thank — (hic)!” He gasped at the last bit, and clamped his hands over his mouth.
“Oh goodness!” Lilike rubbed Rayce’s back. “I’m sorry it didn’t work.” Rayce handed the twigs back to Lilike. “Rebecca? Do you think Jak might have something?”
“He might, but I doubt that it would be free,” said Rebecca.
Lilike looked at Rayce. “If I give you a note, will you promise to take it right over to Jak?”
Rayce nodded. Lilike smiled at him. She scribbled on a piece of paper and handed it to Rayce. “Jak is on the north side of town. It’s a little way to walk, I guess, but he might be able to help you.” Rayce nodded again, and listened carefully as Lilike gave him directions to get to Jak’s place.
Rayce was surprised to find that the sun had worked its way high into the sky. He hadn’t thought he had been out that long. His parents would be worried. As he walked along the street, he hoped Jak would be able to help him with his horrible hiccoughs. He walked for what seemed to be a very long time, until he reached the northern part of the city, following Lilike’s instructions as best he could.
Rayce found Jak lingering in a doorway leading to a stairwell. Just like Lilike had told him, Jak’s shop was not in the best area of town. Jak himself did not look that reputable. Rayce guessed that Jak could be one of those men his parents told him to stay away from. But Lilike had told Rayce that Jak was a healer. If Rayce wanted a cure for his hiccoughs, he would have to explore the possibility that even a man that looked dangerous might be able to help him. As Rayce paused to consider all of this, Jak noticed him standing there. After waiting for a moment, Jak waved Rayce over. Rayce walked silently up to Jak with Lilike’s note held in front of him. Jak looked down at him curiously and then read the note.
“Free?” Jak held the note at an arm’s length. “I’m supposed to do this for free?
Rayce had no idea how to respond. Many of his friends had ways to make money, but his parents wanted him to wait until he was older. If Jak wanted to be paid for this, Rayce had no way to.
Jak looked Rayce over. “Boy, you mention two words of this to anybody, and I will take my payment through your skin. Do you understand?”
Too afraid to say anything, Rayce nodded.
Jak gestured up the stairwell. “Then come upstairs. Let’s be quick about this so I don’t lose a paying customer.”
As Rayce walked into the little room and found a chair to sit in, Jak walked past him and around a corner where Rayce couldn’t see what he was doing. “You just stay in there,” Jak said. Rayce heard the clink of glass bottles as Jak worked. “I’ll have you done in just a moment.”
It seemed like half a bell must have passed before Jak emerged, holding a clay cup towards Rayce. “There you go. Drink it all at once, or it won’t work.”
Rayce looked down at the dull-green looking liquid and back at Jak.
Jak laughed. “If you think it looks bad, wait until you taste it.” Rayce didn’t find Jak’s comment to be very encouraging. After taking a few breaths to prepare himself, Rayce held the cup up to his lips and turned it up.
He couldn’t have expected anything this horrible. To begin with, it was disgustingly bitter, worse than any vegetable his parents had ever tried to feed him. His throat burned more with each swallow, but the thought of being rid of the hiccoughs kept him going. When finally he had finished it to the last drop, he put the cup down, breathing heavily.
Jak looked at him expectantly. “Well?”
Rayce took a breath. “I think it might have — (hic)!”
Jak said some angry words that Rayce hadn’t ever heard before. “Well, if that didn’t work, then there’s not much hope for you, is there? Just go home, have a drink of water, and the hiccoughs will go away on their own. You can’t expect much more for nothing, you know.”
Rayce didn’t want to contradict Jak. He’d already waited far too long, had drank numerous cups of water, and the hiccoughs still remained. Dejectedly, he walked back down the stairway and turned back down the lane to go back to his house. His hiccoughs had won.
As Rayce got closer to the Street of Travellers, his defeat was starting to eat his hopes away. He was more frustrated than he had ever been before. As he walked, he kicked a stone lying on the ground as hard as he could. He looked up suddenly as he heard someone say, “Ouch!” Standing there was a man carrying a heavy sack over one arm. His other arm seemed to be missing. His eyes, though, were looking right at Rayce.
“I’m so sorry, sir, please — (hic)!” Rayce felt his face get hot as he closed his eyes, embarrassed first by the fact that he had hiccoughed, and then because he couldn’t even manage to completely apologize.
“Hiccoughs, eh?” The man had a bit more sympathy in his eye as he looked at Rayce. “Say, would you help me with this bag?”
Rayce nodded. It was the least he could do after kicking a stone at the man. He took the bag by both hands and slung it over his shoulder. The bag felt really wet and heavy, and smelled worse than both Jak’s elixir and Lilike’s smoke.
“Thank you. I’m Alsandair, by the way. What’s your name?”
“R– (hic) Rayce.” Rayce looked at the ground. Not only had he hurt Alsandair, but now he was really starting to feel like he’d never be rid of his hiccoughs.
“Well, Rayce, help carry my bag up this hill, and I’ll see what I can do about your hiccoughs.”
Rayce looked up. He had tried so hard today, and so many people had tried to help him, but it just felt like his hiccoughs were now permanent. It couldn’t hurt, though. Besides, Alsandair only had one arm, and losing an arm must be much more difficult than having the hiccoughs.
Rayce followed Alsandair up the hill to a small house. By the time he had reached the house, he felt exhausted. The bag landed heavily on the floor as Rayce let it go. Alsandair turned around and looked at Rayce.
“Well, I suppose you can rest for a moment, but I really need for you to put that bag in my cellar where the fish will stay cool. Once you come back up, I can see about helping with your hiccoughs.” Alsandair pointed at a door to Rayce’s right. Rayce nodded and picked the bag up again, opened the door, and carried the heavy bag down the stairwell into Alsandair’s cellar, which was quite cool. By the time he had made it back up, Rayce was struggling to catch his breath.
Alsandair looked at Rayce. “I suppose that was exhausting. Here, I poured you a cup of water.” Rayce nodded his thanks at Alsandair as he took the water and drank it. He realized he was very thirsty after carrying the fish up the hill to Alsandair’s house, down into his cellar, and walking back up again. Before he knew it, he had finished every drop of water.
Alsandair handed him another cup. “There’s plenty here. By all means, drink up. I need your help with one other thing, and then I’ll take care of your hiccoughs, straight?”
Rayce nodded. He had a feeling that Alsandair didn’t really have a cure for his hiccoughs, but just needed the help since he only had one arm. After finishing the water, he waited for Alsandair to tell him what his last task was to be. He stared at the opposite wall, where a locket was hanging by a nail.
Alsandair walked back into the room and looked at Rayce, and then at the locket. “You like that? It belonged to a friend of mine, a long time ago.” Rayce nodded his appreciation. “Now, if you could, bring in one of the logs from outside. I’ll need it to cook some meat tomorrow.”
Rayce nodded, and went back out the front door. He hefted one of the heavy logs that were lying beside the house, and carried it back inside. Rayce felt his cheeks get hot from the strain. He carefully put the log on the hearth, panting heavily. He sat there, catching his breath again, until Alsandair finally sat down.
“Thank you, Rayce. Now, let’s see about those hiccoughs. I used to be a healer. Did I tell you that?”
Rayce shook his head. Alsandair hadn’t mentioned it, but it gave Rayce some hope. This man might be able to do what all the others hadn’t.
“Oh, I was, but I don’t do it often any more. I’ve helped many people, but it’s getting harder every day living with just the one arm. A little hard work, though, is sometimes the best healing.” Alsandair seemed lost in his own memory. “Oh, I was going to help you with your hiccoughs, wasn’t I?”
Rayce nodded, looking up at Alsandair expectantly.
“Straight. I just need you to hiccough for me, so I can hear it.”
Rayce breathed with his mouth open. He couldn’t force the hiccoughs to come, but they usually did when he gave them enough time. But almost a mene passed, and still Rayce hadn’t hiccoughed.
“Try again. Just hiccough for me.”
Rayce remembered that the worst time he had was when he tried to speak. “I’m trying.” Rayce sat there, breathing with his mouth open. Once again, he found himself looking at the pretty locket hanging from the wall. “Whose locket was that?”
Alsandair followed Rayce’s eyes to the locket. “A friend of mine named Liosliath. He served in the war with me.”
Rayce looked at Alsandair. “You were in the war?”
“It was how I lost my arm.”
“And Liosliath, did he die in the war?”
“No, he died about a year ago. He helped me become closer to my father, though.” Rayce noticed that a tear rolled down Alsandair’s cheek. “I’ll always remember him. It’s why I keep his locket here.”
Rayce regarded Alsandair. He had been in a war and had lost his arm. He was most certainly the bravest man Rayce had ever met. Rayce had always thought that bravery meant not having to cry, but here Alsandair was, crying.
Alsandair patted Rayce on his knee. “It’s getting late, Rayce. You should run on home now, before it gets dark.”
“But what about my hiccoughs?”
Alsandair looked at Rayce questioningly. “What about them? I haven’t heard you hiccough since we got here.”
With all of the work he had been doing, Rayce hadn’t noticed that he hadn’t hiccoughed once while he was carrying the sack of fish or putting another log on the fire. Alsandair hadn’t tried using a salve, made him breathe in acrid smoke, or made him drink vile medicine, but his hiccoughs were gone.
Alsandair smiled. “I told you, I used to be a healer. Sometimes a little work can go a long way.”
“Oh, thank you, sir!”
Alsandair shook his head as he escorted Rayce to the door. “You can call me Alsandair, but you’ll have to call me that next time you come by. Off with you now!”
Rayce waved his thanks once again as he ran down the street towards his house. His legs didn’t feel tired any more, and he was smiling and laughing cheerily all the way home, making sure to say hello to as many people as he could, just happy to hear his voice without a trace of hiccoughs.