Village Witch Scenario D: Attack of the Black Boar

Oh.  Em.  Gee.  This one took me forever to do.  I eventually chained myself to my computer and didn’t move (except to make lunch and go to the bathroom) until it was finished.  Six hours.  What the heck?  I didn’t even notice the time go by.

You are sitting outside your cottage on a day in late fall.  Although it is a beautiful day, you’ve been feeling faintly apprehensive, as though something is about to go wrong.  You put it down to the general unease that has been bothering the whole village, ever since the first report that the Black Boar of Malmonte has been seen in this part of the country.

The Black Boar is an almost legendary beast that has been plaguing the neighboring districts for a number of years, but it has never before been seen on this side of the Willamette.  It is noted for its large size, great ferocity, and devastating destructiveness.

Your sense of foreboding sharpens and shortly thereafter, you see Abraham the Bonesetter’s daughter Abigail running up the path toward your cottage.  As she gets closer, you see that her face is streaked with tears and she is on the verge of hysteria.  She falls into your arms weeping.  She gasps out that there has been a terrible accident in the village and that you must come quickly.

You gather your herbs and tools, heading into the village with the weeping Abigail following.  On the way to the village, you manage to elicit the following information from her:

  • A short time ago the Black Boar had charged into the center of the village, maddened by a festering wound.  A group of village children had been playing on the green and it had charged them.
  • Fortunately Rob the Forester and his cousin Will had been practicing archery at the butts on the green.  Will had rushed at the boar shouting to distract it from the children.  His waving arms and the scarlet tunic he habitually wears had drawn the boar away from the children.
  • Unfortunately, the boar had then charged Will.  Rob had fired at it and had, indeed, mortally wounded the beast.  The mortal wound, however, had not prevented the enraged monster from attacking and badly goring Will.  Rob had closed in to finish the boar off with his sword and had also been seriously wounded in the process.

When you arrive in the village you are met by Abraham.  He has bound both men’s wounds and has stopped the bleeding, at least for now.  He tells you he is quite worried, however.  Boar tusk wounds are serious and can easily become inflamed.  He has washed the wounds in the third run from the still, packed them with spider webs and bound moldy bread, with the mold side down, over them, but wonders if there is anything else you can recommend, magically or otherwise, to help.  Will’s wounds are the more serious, but Abraham is particularly worried about Rob.

Rob blames himself for not stopping the boar before it could attack Will and is becoming quite despondent.  Abraham is worried Rob will fret himself into a fever.  In addition, Abigail, who was just betrothed to Will last Midsummer, is nearly hysterical with fear that he will die.  (There is an old legend that the Black Boar habitually eats only carrion and as a result wounds caused by his tusks are invariably poisoned.)  Abraham, while trying to maintain a professional calm, is clearly distraught, both over the injuries to his future son-in-law and his daughter’s grief and fear.

What do you do?

Okay, triage: Will is gored in his lower belly and is drifting in and out of consciousness. This will require more attention, unlike Rob, who took a tusk to his thigh. As Will is stable, I can quickly assess Rob and offer some immediate treatment. Thankfully, Rob’s bleeding is definitely under control, so it looks like the femoral artery and other major vessels were spared. A quick assessment of the wound site reveals that his femur was also spared (thank the Gods—a broken femur that healed poorly would cripple a man) and his nerve function intact. There may be muscle damage, but right now it’s looking like Rob was lucky enough to escape with a flesh wound, and pain and misplaced guilt are his biggest problems, much as with Abraham and Abigail. Since Abraham’s cleaned and staunched the wound, I give Rob a reassuring hug and tell him that the village children were lucky he and Will were there to save them and that Will was lucky Rob’s actions saved him from worse injury.

Just then, Eileen steps into Abraham’s cottage. She’s heard about the accident and how shaken Abigail is—the two have gotten to be very friendly since Abraham helped the Rodericks lock up their house. So I immediately put Eileen in charge of comforting her friend and seeing to everyone’s refreshment. There’s plenty of hot water boiling at Abraham’s, so I whip out some of the herbs from my bag and give the following instructions to Eileen:

Put a sachet of dried, crushed willow bark and fermented, dried wintergreen leaves into a pot of boiling water. After those boil for 10 minutes, remove the pot from heat, remove the sachet and add a new sachet of strong Assam black tea, which will be removed after steeping for no more than 5 minutes. Along with the black tea goes a sachet of valerian root and lots of peppermint, which steep for at least 5 minutes longer than the black tea. After steeping, all sachets can be removed from the brew, and the brew can be sweetened with honey to taste. [1]

Though Rob is the only one in physical pain right now, I know Abigail will have an abysmal headache after all that crying, and Abraham could do with some valerian, too. Since I know everyone will likely want to stiffen up their drinks, I also tell Eileen to make sure that Rob and Abraham don’t even look at the whisky bottle. With Rob, the willow and wintergreen will make his blood thin, and alcohol on top of it could make his wound start bleeding again, and I really want Abraham sober for emergencies However, I encourage the alcohol with Abigail. I also set Eileen to making cucumber sandwiches with the last of my cucumbers from this season to serve with the tea (cucumbers are quite healing, after all), and give her a quantity of roasted pumpkin seeds I’d just made to serve, too. I tell her that when Abigail calms down, it might help her to do some concrete, helpful work, so Eileen should ask her to help with dinner. I tell Eileen to run to my place and collect some garlic, tahini, and the chickpeas I’d boiled for my own dinner and tell her that if she can whip up a hummus and make a lamb dish for a dinner tonight, that would be ideal. [2]  Our Lady or Lady Johanna will almost certainly give Eileen some lamb if none of us can scrounge up any—we’ve all become pretty good friends, despite our class and cultural differences.

Will…well, his condition is scaring the heck out of me. While the gore is low enough that the majority of Will’s organs are not in danger, if it penetrated his abdominal fascia, his intestines would be at risk. If that is the case, I’m worried Will won’t survive; a perforated intestine will cause a severe infection of its own, and one that is almost sure to be lethal.. Even if we could successfully extend his wound, close the perforation, and clean out his abdominal cavity, Will could die from the trauma of the surgery itself.

I ask Abraham what he observed while treating the bleeding, and learn that he was not able to ascertain whether or not the gore went behind the fascia. I’m loathe to disturb the wound site—Will can’t afford to lose much more blood—so Abraham and I agree to wait, watch, and frequently re-assess. Will has not yet complained of fever or chills, he’s not experienced rectal bleeding, his abdomen isn’t rigid or distended yet, and he hasn’t complained of nausea in his waking moments or vomited…as long as we monitor those signs, listen for the continuation of bowel noises, and watch for signs of passing flatus or feces, Will may be just fine.

I wonder if it would be prudent to get Will to swallow some tea when he wakes, but decide against it until we can tell whether or not his intestines are intact. After consulting with Abraham, we agree to apply a poultice of the ingredients I used in my tea around, but not on, the wound site.

To make this poultice, I steep a lot of the valerian, willow, wintergreen, tea, and peppermint in a little water to get a strong concentration. Then I chop up some onion and garlic, then crush them to a paste with a mortar and pestle. When the concentrate cools below 140ºF, I add it to the onion and garlic, then stir in enough flour for it to form a spreadable paste. I spread this paste around Will’s wound, and cover it with a clean, heated cloth for five minutes before I remove the paste and clean his skin. However, I also add a ‘magical jolt’ to this poultice by chanting “All shall be well” as I pulverize and mix the ingredients while envisioning the poultice becoming charged with green, healing energy. As I apply it, I envision that energy seeping into Will’s skin along with the medicine. [3]

As I sit back to rest and think, Lady Johanna comes by with Eileen’s daughter, who she had been watching, and some news: the townspeople are preparing to butcher the Black Boar and want to know if Rob wants the meat or any trophies. At first, I think that this would be just the thing to help Rob start overcoming the guilt and taking some pride in his actions, but then I curse: Abigail had said the boar had been maddened by a festering wound. Lady Johanna confirms this tale, and I reluctantly tell her that we should stop the townspeople. As much as we all need the gift of a quantity of fresh meat, the boar’s illness makes its flesh unsafe for consumption. Lady Johanna leaves Eithne with me and goes to find our Lord to have him stop the butchering. (I later learn that our Lord first paid to have the boar skinned and the hide cured as a present to the heroic Rob and Will before he had the carcass burnt, then gave the village a large sow of his own to butcher and share in celebration.)

I pass Eithne off to Eileen, who takes a moment with Abigail to coo over the baby and sit to talk with Rob as Abraham goes off to watch over Will. Rob, like everyone else, is much calmer, but he is still full of worry for his friend and so much guilt for not having killed the boar before it had a chance to gore Will. I know Abraham and all the rest have been telling Rob that Will’s condition is not his fault—heck, it was pretty much the first thing I said to Rob myself—but maybe Rob needed to say and see that for himself, so I ask him: “What would you have done differently?”

Rob opens his mouth, then shuts it. So I ask, “What did you do when you saw the boar charging Will?”

“I shot it,” Rob replies. “I hit it behind its shoulder, but it didn’t drop, so the arrow must not have penetrated to the heart. It probably ripped up a lung, though.

“So with the tools you had available to you, you landed the most effective shot you can take on a boar. You know the angle has to be just right for an arrow to penetrate a boar skull. How could you have improved on your actions?”

“I guess I couldn’t have.”

“Darn straight. More importantly, you gave Will enough time to get the most important parts of his body out of the boar’s path. The gore is in one of the best places—very few organs to destroy—and so far it looks like Will escaped that. And if it turns out he hasn’t, there is still a chance the damage can be surgically repaired. You gave Will the best chance he has at surviving this, you know?”

“Yeah…I guess I did.”

“And you know what’s more important? Look over at the girls.”

Rob looks over and sees Eileen and Abigail taking great delight in Eithne’s precocious babblings, and I can see his face soften as he watches them play with the baby.

“There’s a lot of parents in this village that have children to cherish just like that, thanks to your and Will’s heroism. And some day, those children will have children of their own to love and care for, thanks to you. You made an enormous difference in so many of our lives today.”

Rob actually breaks into a bit of a smile. “Yeah, I guess we did.”

At that point, Abraham comes in: Will is awake, lucid, and calling for Rob, who immediately bolts to his friend’s bedside. Will—who certainly has a bigger taste for adventure than I’m sure Abigail is comfortable with right now—says something along the line of “that was AWESOME”, which makes Rob chuckle and agree before Abigail comes rushing in to hug and happily cry over her own hero.

Abraham and I agree that if Will’s intestines were perforated, he would be experiencing more pain right now, but we also agree to remain cautious: he’s getting nothing but healing tea and soft foods like lamb broth and hummus tonight, and we will watch him like a hawk for any signs of distress. We’ll keep the mens’ wounds clean and treated for the next day, and once it looks as though no infection is in the wounds, Abraham will suture them closed and we’ll keep up the onion poultice (there’s only so much moldy bread after all) and pain-relief tea.

Once everyone’s calmed down, I ask Will and Rob if they would like me to try a more magical healing along with all the physical and psychological work that we had all done today. The men agree, and Abraham, Eileen, and Abigail all desire to help, too.

Eileen and Abigail go off to put Eithne down for a nap and finish up the last of dinner while Abraham and I are left to get things settled up. When the women return, I take everyone through the game plan:

Ground and center: I’ll lead everyone through a guided meditation to help them connect to the earth, sky, and each other.

  • Circle Construction: As it turns out, Will is more comfortable petitioning to Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, and Rob has a penchant for a couple minor Celtic figures, so—with the agreement of both men—we will invite both of those deity sets to join our circle. I’ll take charge in that and in constructing the circle itself. Eileen and Abigail will invite the north and south elements while Abraham invites the east and west.
  • The Working: We will begin by stating that we wish to give Rob and Will energy to help their bodies heal their wounds, and we will all envision their tissues knitting together and returning the men to their peak of health.
  • Energy Raising: Now that we’ve stated our will, we can raise energy for that will…and why not use the Mill Dance? The lyrics are simple enough to learn quickly, the line “work the will for which we say” gives everyone another opportunity to focus and direct that will, and we can dance around the men as we chant. Abraham’s knee’s been acting up, so he’ll sit and sing and drum with we ladies do the dancing (and I ignore the incidental sexism). As we dance, we’ll invision “stirring up” a mess of green, healing energy.
  • Active Working:  We push the energy into the men’s bodies, take a minute to picture that green light filling them, knitting their wounds closed, and returning them to full health, return the excess to Earth and then…
  • Communion: We break for supper and set aside a portion to thank the gods.
  • Circle Breakdown: Dismiss the quarters as they were called, and I seal the circle. Easy enough. Rob and Abigail take our offerings outside and place them under a tree while the rest of us clear everything up inside and prepare for a night of sleep and vigil.

If Will seems relatively pain-free and his innards in working order tomorrow morning, I think we’ll be out of the woods and on the road to recovery, so long as we continue to manage pain, monitor for and treat any potential infection, and continue to promote a healthy diet while the men recover.

See? I do so do ‘big magic’ sometimes!

Footnotes:

[1]  Much of valerian’s pain relief properties come from its properties as a muscle relaxant.  Willow bark and wintergreen both metabolize to salicylic acid, which is the pain relieving metabolite of Aspirin.  ScienceDaily published a report in April 2011 that demonstrated peppermint oil’s efficacy in treating irritable bowel syndrome through the anti-pain channel TRPM8.  Peppermint’s pain relief properties seem mostly focused on the digestive system, but external application could help with other pains.  Interestingly, the combination of caffeine and aspirin provides more pain relief than aspirin alone, and black tea usually provides 4000 mg of caffeine when brewed correctly.  I chose Assam simply because I think it brews up as the strongest of the black teas.

[2] Squash seeds, garlic, chickpeas, sesame seeds and lamb are all foods that are high in zinc.  It is important to consume a lot of zinc while on aspirin-based products because aspirin can reduce the levels of zinc in blood.  Zinc can counter the ‘roughness’ of aspirin, but zinc is also pretty important in wound healing as it helps maintain the integrity of the skin and various membranes.

[3]  Though it is hardly a contemporary source, M. H. Waring of Stanford University reported in the July 1945 issue of California and Western Medicine that he obtained very good results by treating infected amputation sites with a raw onion/garlic paste.  The paste was arranged so that it did not come into contact with the wound, and then it was covered to hold the vapors close to the skin.  They did treatments twice a day for five minutes at a time.  After 5 or so treatments, nearly all wounds had begun showing signs of healing and almost all eventually recovered.

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