Jakob stared at the leech as it sucked at his forearm with open amazement. It didn’t hurt nearly at all, not like he thought it would, and even if it was uncomfortable it wasn’t nearly as bad as his burning lungs. Besides, he was five now and he had to make sure the priest knew he was tough.
“Does he-.” A sudden bout of wracking coughs doubled him over, his free hand clinging to his gut as the arm with the leech stayed strapped down in the small chair. Father Tycho gave him a pitying look as he groaned and helped him back into his chair after the coughing subsided. He wiped Jakob’s eyes of tears with the handkerchief he always kept in his breast pocket with that ever-present powdery old person smell before stowing it away. Jakob, his senses regained, took a deep breath and tried again.
“Does he live there now?”
Father Tycho gave him a curious look before his eyes were drawn once again to the leech upon his arm, now swollen with his imbalanced humors, and chuckled kindly with a shake of his head.
“Oh, no child. He comes off just as soon as he’s had his fill. See?” He gestured with his withered hand and in moments the leech tumbled off into the Lurihim’s palm, completely engorged. The handkerchief was once again in hand, this time dabbing at the young boy’s ring shaped wound that bled freely in the leeches absence.
“But I think you’ll be seeing him quite a bit from here on out. Him and his little friends. You gave your mother quite a scare the other day, didn’t you?”
Jakob didn’t have to pretend at embarrassment, looking down into his lap in shame. His throat was still raw, and he tasted metal every time he swallowed.
“It wasn’t my fault,” he whispered so quietly the old priest had to lean in to hear. These past few weeks he’d learned many strategies to keep the coughs at bay, so painful were they that he’d do most anything to avoid them. He’d stopped running anywhere at all, took stairs slowly, spoke little and, when he thought he could get away with it without being rude, whispered.
“I didn’t do anything. The coughing just started, and I couldn’t stop. I fell down…and then there was blood on the carpet.”
Jakob folded in on himself, reliving the moment again in his mind.
Lord Sauber, his distant cousin he’d been told, had rode out with his retinue to the country manse a days ride from Laatzen. Jakob’s parents had moved him out there on the advice of one of the Prosecutors stationed within the Order of Enlightenment, who told them that the foul spirits of rumor and deceit might have infected him given how plentiful they were in the city, and that some time in the country might give him a chance to be away from them and not under their constant assault.
After a month his condition hadn’t improved. Lord Sauber had come to speak with his father on matters of state, but also to see young Jakob to see if he couldn’t lift his spirits. Before dinner could even be served Jakob had been weaving between the servants in the main hall when he felt a small cough coming. One cough turned to two, then three and four, and before he knew it he’d crumpled to his knees coughing blood out next to the Graf’s dinner chair. He couldn’t breathe, his chest seizing, the coughs refusing to stop until everything went black.
Needless to say, dinner had been canceled, and despite his protestations to the contrary Jakob knew it was his fault. If he’d just been…better? Stronger? Maybe then he wouldn’t have embarrassed his parents so much, caused such a fuss. And now they’d gone and called up some village Lurihim while they waited for one of the Sisters of Sorrow to arrive as his new personal doctor.
Father Tycho’s hand fell on his shoulder and gave it a soft squeeze.
“It’s alright my boy,” he said in that way elders did when they were trying to protect your feelings.
“You’ve got a demon latched onto your lungs something fierce. Too much of the phlegmatic humors, not enough of the sanguine. It’s alright, my boy, we’ll get you sorted out just right. If I can’t cast out the demon, the next one will, else Lurien will call you back to God, and you won’t have to worry about pain any more.”
There was some comfort in that, at least. Worse than the embarrassment was the pain, but he was a big boy now and had to grit his teeth against the tears whenever the coughing finally stopped. He hated the demon inside him, torturing him, ripping him up from the inside. He’d do anything to be rid of it, even read one of those big books his tutor had that had all the words in it that made his eyes hurt. He’d read it all the way through and not complain if it meant the demon would go away.
If only it were that easy.