One particularly cold day, Robbie emerged from the barn about midmorning intending to head for Brazen’s stable. As he was about to mount Wild Thing, a horse galloped into the farmyard. “Good morning,” the horse’s rider called out.
“Good morning.” Robbie nodded to a man he didn’t know.
“I’m looking for an amihealer by the name of Robbie Angusstamm. I was told he lived here.”
“You’ve found him. What can I do for you?” Robbie wasn’t terribly surprised to find a complete stranger looking for him. As his skill increased under Myst’s tutelage, so had his reputation; more and more farmers trudged to him through the winter snow when an animal of theirs fell ill. He was, however, surprised to hear the man refer to him as an amihealer. Only Myst and Milady had ever called him that.
The farmer got off his horse. He was quite young, no older than Boyden. His face was spotted with more freckles than Robbie had ever seen on human being, and when he smiled his eyes twinkled with amusement, as if he knew a secret that no one else would ever learn. “My name is Perth Quinstamm,” the man said, extending his hand.
Surprised, Robbie put out his own. Even when people came seeking his skill, they always avoided touching him.
As he shook his hand, the man seemed somewhat nervous and extremely upset. “I’ve been riding since before daybreak to get here. I have a new farm on the far side of the Valley. Just bought the place last spring with my wife. She’s expecting our first child. I bought ten milk cows, but something evil has gotten into them. Most of them have stopped giving any milk to speak of. They’re burning up with fever, and they have frightful sores on their mouths, udders, and feet. One of them died last night. I don’t have much in the way of money, but I’m prepared to pay whatever it takes. Will you come with me?”
“Let me get my things.” Robbie went back into the barn and gathered together the materials he would likely need to treat the animals. He didn’t take much; from the farmer’s description, he thought he knew what was wrong, and no herbs he had could cure the problem. It’d take direct healing energy. He gave instructions to Allyn and Darien in case he couldn’t make it back by nightfall.
* * *
The wind had been blowing fiercely, and Robbie was shivering with cold by the time they arrived at Perth Quinstamm’s farm. The closer he got to the farm the more and more the distress of the cattle pressed in about him. He’d been right in what he suspected. When they dismounted in front of the barn, Perth hesitated. “I’m not sure what to do with your horse. Applecreek here seems okay, but the disease is rather bad.”
Robbie shook his head. “It’s okay. Horses can’t sicken in this way.”
“How can you know? You haven’t even looked at the cows yet.”
“An amihealer doesn’t need to see the animal to know what is wrong with it. I can feel their illness. Your cows’ sickness is one only those with cloven hooves can get—cows, pigs, sheep, but not horses.”
A very young woman, no older than Robbie, stuck her head out of the house’s door. She smiled with relief when she saw him. “He came, did he, Perth? I told you he would. When you two get the horses taken care of, come on inside. I have some hot bhat and warm stew waiting for you.” Robbie blinked in surprise. He’d never been invited inside another farmer’s house before.
The man’s expression mingled fear and respect. “If you’re sure your horse is in no danger, she’s welcome to the stable.” He led Robbie inside a warm, comfortable barn. It was solidly built and had been kept scrupulously clean. The sickness of the cows wasn’t caused by any neglect on the farmer’s part. However, the diseased beasts were salivating heavily and had difficulty staying on their painful feet. They called to Robbie for relief. He unsaddled Wild Thing, and the man brought grain and water for both horses. Robbie rubbed his mare down and made her comfortable.
Perth came up to him. “Can you get rid of this evil thing?” Robbie nodded. The man looked both relieved and fearful. “Just what will it cost me? I mean, I’m prepared to pay whatever it’ll take myself. Brietta depends on me, and she’s carrying my child. I’ll lose the cattle before letting anything harm my family, but if it’s just me, whatever it takes.”
Robbie put his hand on one of the cows to better gauge the extent of the illness. “If you can’t afford to pay me now, you can pay when your cattle start producing again. No one need go hungry.”
“I wasn’t taking about money, but about the other thing.” Perth refused to meet his eyes.
“What other thing?” Robbie removed his hand from the animal.
The man leaned forward and whispered. “I heard blood or flesh or possibly a piece of the soul was involved. You know, for the demon inside.”
Robbie thought he might vomit. “You asked me here thinking I meant to drink your blood or worse?”
Quinn's eyes widened. “Are you saying it isn’t true?”
“I’ve had coin, grain, eggs, freshly made bread, a chicken or two, a particularly delicious apple pie, some strawberry preserves and this belt in payment for my services this winter. What I haven’t had is any blood, human flesh, or souls of any kind. I'm not a demon. What is wrong with you people?”
Perth looked at him for a few seconds, then dropped his head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have believed the rumors.”
* * *
Robbie spent most of the next three days either in a trance, ridding the cows’ bodies of the vile disease, or sleeping to recover his strength. At the end of it, Perth Quinstamm’s barn was free of disease, and a few of the cows had started giving milk again.
On the morning of the fourth day, both Perth and Brietta stood in the farmyard to see him off. Brietta handed him a large basket. “I don’t know how to thank you, Healer Robbie. This should keep you for the day.”
Perth shook his hand. “You’ve saved my family.” He gestured toward the basket. “Brietta makes a particularly good apple pie, I think you’ll find. I promise when things start looking up in the spring, I’ll bring along a proper payment.”