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Sympathies

Kat Otis lives a peripatetic life with a pair of cats who enjoy riding in the car as long as there'd no country music involved. Her fiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, and Flash Fiction Online. She can be found online at katotis.com or on Twitter as @kat_otis.
Marchesa Barbara Gonzaga of Mantua minced her way across the sickroom in foot-high platform shoes. As I had already treated several broken ankles resulting from such fashionable footwear, I was duly impressed by this skilled display. However, I was not nearly as impressed by the bouquet of lavenders she held superstitiously close to her face. Flowers might help offset the foul stench of her dying husband, but they did nothing to protect against plague.
"How fares he?" Barbara lowered herself into the chair beside the blood-splattered bed and studied Ludovico's fever-stricken form. Though I detested the filth, there was no point in cleaning the bed; he would simply cough up more blood as soon as the task was complete.
"It is definitely plague." I expected Barbara to leap away from Ludovico, but my diagnosis seemingly made no impression on her. Perhaps I needed to be more blunt? "The margravio will be dead before morning."
"But I see no buboes." Barbara brushed back Ludovico's sweat-soaked hair to reveal his unblemished neck. I cringed--direct contact with the infected was extremely dangerous. "And plague takes days to kill."
"Not always. When it begins with coughing, it kills faster and without buboes."
She looked up, a frown marring her brow. "Then what have you done for him, if there are no buboes to lance?"
I suppressed my annoyance at being questioned as if I were some ignorant surgeon and not a physician who had earned my degree at the University of Padua itself. No matter the provocation, one did not speak sharply to a marchesa. "I have let blood several times, to balance his humors."
"A treatment that does not appear to be working," Barbara said, dryly. "Have you considered trying anything else?"
From her tone, I suspected she already had something particular in mind. "Such as?"
"When my husband was a condottiero, he saw many soldiers healed by the use of weapon salves."
It took great effort, but I managed to keep my voice neutral. "By which you mean the application of medicines to the weapon which created a wound, as opposed to the wound itself? I have heard of such--" I wracked my mind for the proper words; it would never do to call her a superstitious fool, desperately grasping at straws to avoid the truth before us. "--unusual treatments. I cannot see how they would be of use here."
"Can you not? If a sympathy can be created between weapon and wound, how else might sympathies be used in the practice of medicine?"
Her question displayed appalling innocence of medical theory and I finally lost control of my tongue. "What, would you have me abandon the margravio on his deathbed to instead bleed every man, woman, or child who might have infected him?"
Instead of rebuking me for my impertinence, she only sighed. "Have you heard of a Dominican named Heinrich Kramer?"
I shook my head, cautiously.
"It is his theory that our cold and wet humors make women more impressionable than men, more subject to outside influences." Barbara turned her attention to her bouquet, gently teasing free a single sprig of lavender. "Like the Umbrian mystics, whose minds are overwhelmed by holy visions." She laid the sprig on her husband's chest. "Or those poor souls who turn to the Devil and become witches." She rose and crossed the room to stand before me. "If he is correct, then I suppose it is also possible that some of us are too credulous of old soldiers' superstitions."
Her words sounded suspiciously like an apology. "Marchesa--"
"You should have these." Barbara handed me the bouquet, then swept from the room before I could respond.
"Was that my wife just now?" A voice asked from behind me.
I spun to see Ludovico rise from his bed. "No, you are ill--"
"Nonsense, I feel perfectly well."
I hurried to examine him. Ludovico's face was no longer flushed with fever, his wracking cough was silenced, and there were no signs of weakness in any of his limbs. It was impossible yet also undeniable--Ludovico was healed.
He allowed me to fuss for several minutes, then thrust me away. "Enough, Doctor. I shall see that you are fairly compensated for your services."
Only after Ludovico was gone did I notice the sprig of lavender had fallen to the floor in his wake. It was just a foolish superstition. And yet....
I lifted the bouquet to my face and inhaled its scent.
Then I coughed.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, October 31st, 2016

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