He arrived, as most did, by boat. The doctor always took his cane with him – a short rod with a blue glass bead at the top - even though he had no need of it to walk in ordinary conditions. Still, with the wind howling over the harbor, he was not sorry to have it as he made his way down the gangplank. Even a young man might lose his footing on a day like this. He was not from the NEC originally, hailing instead from Vastanos, that last living remnant of the once-great nation of Vansa, whose mainland was now referred to only as “The Wastes.” He had long ago learned to tolerate the cold of northern Elderland, but it was merely toleration, and not a preference of climate. As a young man, he had bounced between Narcia, Hosos, Arkos Province, and back west to Arizradna before he took the plunge and went as east as one could go to settle in the North East Colony. Meldi had never married, but he valued his solitude, even if he did not consider himself an introvert. To an extent, his practice required some degree of isolation, but it was not inconceivable to him that that isolation had been what had drawn him to the field in the first place.
As he left the boat – a coast hugging ferry, really – and walked into the harbor of Port O’James, Dr. Meldi took a deep breath. He had not been back here in a long time.
Security had been tightened in light of the recent events, but Meldi was confident that anything that he carried that did not adhere to the strict contraband lists would appear to be nothing unusual to the harbor security agents. Meldi had packed light – four shirts, two pairs of pants, a week’s worth of underwear and socks. His equipment would seem to be just a laptop computer, a somewhat fancy fountain pen, and a few medical books.
The risks of what he intended to do were great, but he did not walk into the town with any sense of guilt. He had examined his own ethics and found them to be sufficient, though he doubted others would see them this way. He was nervous, but he had promised himself that he would not turn back, and that his actions were a necessity. These were trying times, and even though he felt he was in the right, his conscience had been prodded and tested. Indeed, he had already crossed one of his own lines by contacting Ana. It was justified, certainly. He had no qualms about tracking the draugr that pursued her, but he had made a promise to the Sweeneys all those years ago that he would only maintain the kind of contact with their daughter that a family doctor would.
Perhaps Ana’s totality was a breach of ethics. Meldi’s field of research was, to put it lightly, taboo, but once again, there was justification. Why let parents suffer the loss of two children? Why allow a young girl to be taken away in the spring of her life? Often it was said that such tragedies were part of the ineffable plans of the gods, but Meldi had always rejected that logic. Ashtor had never cared about the North East Colony, and the one god that did pay the small, remote country any mind was only interested in killing everyone in it. The devout gave the gods far too much credit.
Besides, any traditional medical doctor would do whatever they could to revive a patient. Meldi had merely moved the threshold a little farther, refusing to give up at brain death.
They never recovered the boy. He sank too deep. But he had gotten to Ana less than twelve hours after it happened. Sometimes he wondered, had the boy had been found, if he would have attempted to revive both siblings. Being responsible for two separate subjects might have been overwhelming. What if one had been as successful as Ana, and the other brought back as a shambling mockery? The resultant guilt and recriminations… fate had made things simpler for him.
Ana had been an experiment, and one that had filled him with trepidation, but seeing the results assured him that it had been the right thing to do. He restored life from death. Was the symbol of medicine not a chthonic serpent raised up around a staff, a symbol of death giving way to life?
Were the world aligned in such a way to receive his accomplishments, Meldi would be renowned for pioneering a form of necromancy that rejected the cruelty of the Airbright method. But figures like Paul Airbright and Mogra Thesh had irrevocably painted the practice as the work of madmen.
This thought of Thesh, known now as the Bone King, crossed his mind just as he passed by the ruined dock. He had read about the explosion of the ship from the Wastes, but he had not realized just how much damage it had caused. Construction crews appeared to be entirely rebuilding one of the piers, and farther out from that one, there were still signs of damage.
Meldi followed the other passengers into the customs house, a fine old stone building, though he was relieved to discover that inside, it had the appearance, and most importantly, the central heating system, of a modern building.
“Anything to declare?” asked the customs official, a middle-aged woman who looked like she had been bored too long to show it anymore.
“No.” A lie was a breach of ethics there, but it served his greater purpose.
“What is your reason for visiting Port O’James?” Not long ago, this sort of rigmarole was for foreign visitors only, and the NEC had thankfully developed a liberal culture that was willing to accept a naturalized citizen like himself as a local. But the Governor General had instituted emergency measures in response to the undead.
“I am here to meet with Mayor Harlaw.”
The woman looked up. Meldi took some satisfaction in rousing her from her usual tedium.
“Do you have an appointment? Hold on,” she said. This was clearly not something for which there was protocol. In immediate retrospect, he should have just said “business” and then walked to the Mayoral Hall, but his statement (was it a brag?) has started wheels turning that he could not stop.
Regardless of this slight miscalculation, four hours later, Meldi found himself sitting in the waiting room for the mayor’s office. The Mayoral Hall, situated next to the far less attractive Town Hall, was a pleasant old building – tasteful, perhaps a little larger than a city of its size warranted – and it was relatively quiet. It was a far cry from Port Sang, where one could hardly imagine a stranger could ask to see the mayor and speak to him the same day.
Mayor Harlaw’s secretary invited him into the office. The Mayor was at his desk, eyes down on some sort of paperwork. He finished signing it and then looked up. “Doctor… Medley?”
“Meldi. Hello, Mayor Harlaw.” Meldi extended his hand. They shook.
“What brings you to me, Doctor Meldi?”
“I wish to speak to you about Ana Sweeney,” said Meldi, and noted the immediate tension that became apparent in the Mayor’s face.
“Ana Sweeney. Yes, well, there’s an ongoing investigation, but you’ll have to talk to the militia about that…”
“No, I’m sorry, Mayor, I am not looking for information. I wish to provide some.”
The mayor sat back, now looking Meldi over more intently. “Go on.”
“Ana Sweeney is, technically speaking, undead. But she is not a draugr. She is not a thrall to anybody. Physically, she is brain dead, but her spirit was reconnected to her in such a way that her own personality, intelligence, and self-control were restored, and aside from her brain, her body continues to function normally. She is, for all intents and purposes, a living woman, and no threat to you or your town.”
Harlaw listened quietly to this, and then waited several seconds before responding.
“Doctor Meldi,” he replied. “How could you possibly know all of this?”
Meldi sat back in his chair and crossed his legs. “Because I am the one who raised her from the dead.”
(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2014)