There were a couple of pieces of slate laid down in front of Alenna's door forming a rough path which Mirko avoided, treading lightly through the mud instead.  After he pushed the door open he paused and concentrated, focusing his attention on the world around him and bringing it into hyperreality.  The birdsong in the nearby trees seemed nearly deafening, he could hear the heartbeat of a fox two fields over sleeping in a hollow beneath a tree, and even the scritching of insect feet scrabbling on the underside of the wooden windowsill was like the itching in his inflamed arm.  Then he stepped out of it all, over the doorstep and into Alenna's house, leaving behind him all the mud and damp from the journey.

"That's one of the many things I like about druids," said Alenna.  She was standing in a doorway opposite Mirko, watching him enter.  Seated on chairs against the wall on his right were two people, a man and woman who were also watching him.  "They never have to be asked to wipe their feet before they come in."  Both the seated people shifted uncomfortably, muddy footprints leading to their seats embarrassing them.

"It's just a technique," said Mirko, sounding a little awkward.

"I know," said Alenna.  "It's like washing your hands before treating a wound.  But just like that, people tend to appreciate it no matter how little you think of it.  Now," she turned to other woman, "what can I do for you, Lianna?"

Mirko crossed to the chairs.  They were wooden, and reasonably well made, though the carving on the legs and backs was a little clumsy.  Two were taken, by the young woman and the younger-looking man, and two others were free; one between the pair, and one on the end by the man.  Mirko chose the end one, perching himself nervously on the edge of it.  He'd hoped that the room would be empty, but maybe if these two were before him he could still be treated without anyone else seeing him.

Lianna was discussing various muscle rubs, and Mirko could see that whatever she did, it required strength.  Her light cotton shirt was tight around her upper arms and belted at the waist, and her leather trousers were tight about her thighs and cinched tightly at her ankles.  Her boots had been removed and stood underneath her chair in a tiny puddle of dirty water.  He guessed that she worked with tools, somewhere where loose clothing was a danger.  Her hair was also short, almost a light brown stubble.

The other man was thin and didn't look athletic.  His pale face suggested that he spent much more time indoors than out, and the way he was holding his arm reminded Mirko of the itching in his own.  He was wearing a black woollen cloak pulled around him, and his blonde hair was shoulder-length.

"Do druids always stare so?" he said suddenly, his head lifting from his study of the floor to look at Mirko with bright green eyes.

"Uh, sorry," said Mirko.  "It's kind of habit, to know my surroundings."

"My name's Venne."  The young man stuck a hand out of his cloak, offering it to Mirko.  Mirko took it firmly and shook it hard, eliciting a hiss of pain from Venne.

"Ah, druid, I should have said... I have burned my arm."

Mirko blushed.  "I'm sorry!"

"You didn't know, I should have been more circumspect."  Mirko looked puzzled, so Venne continued, "I mean, I should have warned you first."

Alenna left Lianna and went to a tall dresser next to the door she'd come in by, and opened the lower cupboard.  As she checked the labels on jars in there, Lianna pulled her boots from under her chair and put them on.  When she stood up, Alenna had found a jar of white ointment and brought it over to her.  "Twice a day, and don't try eating it.  It smells good, it tastes bad."

Lianna nodded curtly and strode out of the door, and Venne started pulling back his cloak to reveal his burned arm.

The End

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