The Chubb-Baggins Leper Sanatorium and Heritage Medicine Hospital was fully equipped and it didn’t take long for a Doctor Buryngton to extricate Wynefrede from her thigh holster while Margarett and Benedicta watched, their wide skirts filling up most of the space in the tiny examination room.
“I was worried I was going to lose my leg,” Wynefrede said, rubbing her thigh. “Is this going to leave a mark?”
“Just some slight bruising,” said the doctor. “It’ll get better in a day or two. However, if you’d like to speed up the process…” He turned around and rummaged through the jars on the shelf holding medical supplies. “Found it.” He held up a jar that was half full of water and had a small square of cloth tied to the top instead of a lid.
Wynefrede peered at the jar. “Are those leeches?”
“Highly recommended,” said the doctor. “Did you know that leeches can live for a year without eating? And they shed their skins once a week?” He shook the jar and Wynefrede leaned in for a closer look.
“Fascinating,” she said. “I don’t have time right now, but I’ll be back.” She hopped down from the examination bed.
“Looking at them makes my head hurt,” said Margarett Pennebrygg.
“I’ve got something for that, as well.” He picked up an instrument from the instrument tray. “With this, I can cut a small circular hole in your skull to relieve pressure and also release the demons.”
Margarett backed away.
“It’s perfectly safe and painless,” he said.
“I don’t believe you,” said Margarett.
“Good decision. It’s neither safe nor painless. But think of it this way — you’d be directly experiencing history.”
“Isn’t that why you came to Krim?” the doctor asked. “To find out what life was like in the old days?”
“No,” said Margarett.
“I’m here for the fancy dress balls,” said Benedicta. “And the hot medieval warrior studs.”
“And to find true love,” added Wynefrede. “We’re in the Royal Season this year.”
“Is that some kind of dancing competition?” the doctor said, putting away his tools.
“It’s a dating program,” said Wynefrede. “They use a bunch of AIs to find a group of the most singles who are most likely to be compatible and bring them together in a dangerous and exotic location. This year, it’s here on Krim.”
“We might find our true loves,” said Margarett in a soft voice.
“Hah!” said Benedicta. “You know it’s all a scam, right?”
“But they use AI to find the optimal matches…”
“Optimal matches among the very small group of people who are Royal Society customers,” said Benedicta.
“Well, I wish you ladies all the luck,” said the doctor. “You can go and join the tour now.” He shooed them out of the examination room. Their skirts barely fit through the doorway as they left.
“You should try to get more into the spirit of the thing,” said Margarett.
“Says the woman who refused to have a hole drilled in her skull,” said Benedicta.
“I would like to see a trepanation,” said Wynefrede. “I think it’s fascinating. Oh, and a word of warning. Don’t criticize the Royal Season around Pleasance. You know, the coordinator? I think she’s looking for opportunities to kick people out of the program.”
They rejoined the tour in the hospital lobby. In addition to Pleasance, there were two other Royal Season participants already there. Pleasance was about to say something cutting, judging by the expression on her face, but then two other participants arrived and diverted her attention.
“We’re all here now, you can begin,” she told a young woman with a clipboard standing by the big glass display case in the center of the lobby.
“I’m Sarah,” the woman said. “I normally work at the Grid Historical Archive, but today I’m here to show you all around the Chubb-Baggins Leper Sanatorium and Heritage Medicine Hospital and answer any questions you might have about medieval medicine. And if I don’t know the answers, I’m sure Doctor Buryngton can explain anything you might want to know.”
Margarett raised her hand. “How many lepers are here now?”
“And are they contagious?” asked Benedicta.
Sarah glanced over at the doctor, who had just existed the examination room and was locking it behind him.
“There is one leprosy patient here today, I believe,” she said. “And yes, leprosy is contagious.”
“Why would anyone stick around if they catch leprosy?” asked Benedicta. “Why not leave the grid?”
“We can ask the patient himself,” said Sarah.
But first, they got a tour of ancient medical instruments and saw the hospital’s collection of skulls, most showing significant evidence of head trauma.
Finally, they got to the leper room, where a single patient was occupying one of six beds. The others were empty. The patient was writing in a notebook, but put it down when they walked in and swung his legs down.
“Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, first presents as a skin condition,” said Sarah, inviting them to come further into the room. Except for Wynefrede, they all stayed clustered by the door.
“Oh, come on, it’s not that contagious,” she said. “And it can take years to show the first signs. We’ll be long gone by then.”
“She’s right,” said Sarah. “There’s nothing to be worried about.”
The patient stood up and walked over to them.
“It took me years to catch this,” he said. He held up his arm and pointed to the inside of his elbow. “You see that spot?” He pointed to a tiny rough patch of skin. “That’s leprosy.”
“It looks like psoriasis,” said Benedicta.
“And it might well be,” said the doctor, who’d approached the group from the back. “Without modern diagnostic equipment, it’s hard to tell. Back in the day, they lumped several completely different diseases together and called it leprosy.”
“So it could just be a rash?” asked Wynefrede, disappointed. “I was really looking forward to seeing leprosy. Maybe seeing some fingers fall off.”
“Oh, it’s definitely leprosy,” said the patient. “I’ve been looking hard for it.”
“Why?” asked Benedicta.
“Well, so far, I’ve died of dysentery, malaria, diphtheria, flu, typhod, and smallpox. Leprosy was next on my list. After I die of leprosy, I’m going to try to get the bubonic plague.”
“So you’re a collector,” said Wynefrede.
“Exactly. I’m going after all the big ones. And I know my diseases. This is definitely not just a rash. Come back in a few months and you’ll see. I bet most of me will have fallen off by then.”
Wynefrede came closer to look at the spot on his arm. She was the only one. The others had stayed at the entrance. Pleasance hadn’t even come in, just peered through the doorway.
“Let’s start heading back,” said Pleasance. “You all have a long day ahead of you, preparing for the ball.”
“Even if it is leprosy, you won’t die right away,” Doctor Buryngton told his patient. “It can take years. Sometimes up to twenty years.”
“Well, that’s just terrible news,” said the patient. “So, you’re saying it could just be a rash?”