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Short and quickly-written vignette featuring my hedge-wizard/apothecary Tervan, who first appeared here: http://www.sneezefetishforum.org/topic/66113-rivers-originals/?do=findComment&comment=861612

There's no real need to read that drabble before this, but it might give you an idea of what he's like in a normal state of health, if you want to. If you want to see what he's like while thoroughly under the weather, read on....


Spices and Steam

Tervan sighed, or tried too. His nose was too stuffed up to allow any semblance of normal breathing, and felt three times its usual size. That was nonsense, of course, but it had been a very long, hard day, and he felt he was entitled to a touch of exaggeration in the privacy of his self-pitying thoughts.

Self-pity was an uncalled for state of being as well, but as there was no longer anyone to observe, Tervan was inclined to indulge in it regardless. In all probability today’s workload would not have seemed unreasonable on any day that he was not also labouring beneath the weight of a burdensome head cold. But all he had wanted to do since mid-morning was return to his bed and drown his sorrows in sleep, if he could.

Now, exhausted and still chilled from the walk back from old Mother Comfit’s home along dark and rutted roads, he wanted nothing more than to collapse into bed and stay there. But he knew from bitter experience that he would find no true rest with his breathing so constricted, the weight of congestion doing nothing to ease the headache he had been discreetly medicating all day, to limited effect.

So, massaging the worst-affected areas as though that had ever helped anything, he shuffled blearily around the back room of his little apothecary’s shop, apparently forgetting everything he had ever known about his own shelving system in the process. Eventually, though, he had some suitable herbs and roots arranged on his work bench. It was only then that he remembered that the process he had in mind required him to boil water, and he groaned with agonising self-chastisement.

Knees obeying only reluctantly, Tervan knelt on the stone floor and clumsily stirred the slumbering fire into wakefulness. Curving his body in that way made him cough, hard and repeatedly, one hand braced against the cold stone slabs, the other pressed to his chest as he sought to ride out the attack. It looked like this cold would be taking up residence in his chest shortly- they always did, but this was moving fast. Perhaps it would pass as swiftly as it was settling in. He could only hope.

As he got up to fill a small cauldron with water from the pump, Tervan could feel his nose starting to run. He tried to sniff the problem away, but got only a stab of pain high in his sinuses for his trouble. Begrudgingly, he set the cauldron down and searched his person for a handkerchief. Why couldn’t he ever remember which pocket it was in? he wondered, hands moving with a greater urgency as he felt the flow of moisture begin to tickle.

He tugged his handkerchief from the concealed pocket in his sleeve where he had put it- doubtless to allow for faster access- and raised it to enfold his troubled nose. He was too late to pre-empt the formation of a sneeze, and hovered for a few moments in that tantalising limbo that occurs when a sneeze is certain, but still building physical momentum. Finally it overtook him in a shuddering gasp and an entirely unsatisfying release.


Tervan groaned. All that sneeze seemed to have accomplished was moving the congestion into an even more uncomfortable arrangement. He gave up, and breathed exclusively through his mouth for the time it took him to collect water and attach the cauldron to its hook above the fire, taking several attempts to do so correctly.

He collected a stack of fresh handkerchiefs from their drawer, not wanting to have to search for them later. Then he sat at his work bench and rested his head on his arms, for which his neck and shoulders were achingly grateful.

The sound of the cauldron boiling roused him from his daze, and he stared numbly at the herbs that he really ought to have prepared while waiting. Still, it could not be helped now.

He counted out a few eucalyptus leaves into his small mortar and bruised them with a pestle. He could not smell the results, but knew his trade well enough to know he had done it correctly. For good measure he added a mound of peppermint leaves, of which he had a readier supply, and gave them the same treatment.

The ginger root he shaved into a separate bowl, and added a little dried lemon rind. He was economical with the lemon, recalling how seldom the opportunity to purchase more occurred in these parts. That bowl also received a cardamom pod and a pre-made herb sachet of his own devising. He probably wouldn’t be able to taste it, he reasoned. He might as well make it as strong as his resources allowed.

The boiling cauldron was making a racket now, and he lifted it clear from the fire for a few moments to scoop approximately half its contents into a large earthenware bowl alongside the contents of the mortar. That he placed on the table, then poured the ginger and spice mixture into the cauldron and replaced it a little higher above the flames. With luck, he would be ready for a drink by the time it had boiled its way into a tea.

He sat back down heavily on the bench, head pounding from so much continuous activity. Then, pulling himself together, he sighed and turned himself to face the steaming bowl of eucalyptus and mint.

Drawing it carefully closer, he set his face above it and made an attempt to breathe the steam. His nose was too blocked to be of much use in this regard, but he breathed slowly through his mouth and hoped that the steam might do its work regardless.

It was doing something; he could feel the warmth in his nose, of a different kind to the prickly heat born of irritation and over-use. Mostly, though, the warm steam against his face and his own slowed breathing were just making him feel heavier-headed than before. He longed for sleep.

Then, all of a sudden, heat spread up the length of his right nostril, as though the steam had found an opening and broken through. Perhaps it had. Tervan’s nose twitched, its state of truce-like equilibrium forcefully disturbed.

Tervan reached hesitantly for a handkerchief, not quite certain if he ought to wait a little longer before attempting to make use of it. Before he could make up his mind on the issue it was decided for him, as the urge to sneeze descended on him powerfully and without warning. He gasped, almost choking on the steam, and sneezed uncovered, having had no time at all to react.

hahh! ‘tsshhhEW!”

With his nose still so congested, the sneeze was more vocal than his would usually be, being forced to divert its energies out of his mouth as well.

The force of his sneeze had created ripples in the hot water strong enough to cause some to spill, Tervan noticed distractedly, having other things on his mind. His nose was running dreadfully now, as though that sneeze had been the pre-arranged signal for an all-out assault on his senses. With the running of his nose had come an itch that was forcibly dominating Tervan’s attention, consuming the whole span of his swollen, sensitive nose without any intimation of relief.

He snatched up his handkerchief now and pressed it hard against his suffering nostrils. This having limited effect, he did his best to soothe it through blowing, but was stymied again by his difficulty in passing any air through his nose at all. Knowing that there was only one sure remedy, he steeled himself to take it. Anticipating imminent need of it this time, he took up a fresh handkerchief, held it ready, and returned himself to the steam.

He could feel his body reacting as soon as he did so, the vapours sending shivers of sensation through his nose, making his nostrils twitch and flare and the abominable itch begin to gestate into a sneeze.

It was much slower in coming to fruition this time, as though in inverse proportion to how desperately he wanted it to come. Tervan huffed and gasped over the bowl, eyes watering as the prickly itch forced a sympathetic reaction. His mouth contorted into unfamiliar, pleading shapes as his whole system was overtaken by the unfulfilled need.

ah…hah…hellfire, come oh-on…”

Tervan’s head tilted back, his nostrils dilated, mouth hanging foolishly open, a single tear tracking from the corner of his eye into the chestnut hairs of his beard. He breathed in, in, chest shuddering with it, hung on the precipice for a moment that seemed interminable and finally, blessedly, sneezed.

ehSCHOOH! Oh- ah’sschhew! Good g-”

It was as though he had opened a lock-gate, sneeze after sneeze thundering through after the first, and rendering Tervan stunned and helpless in their path.

ah’sschoo! ahh’shiew! heh-eh’tsschiew!”

Every breath Tervan took now was snatched in the too-brief lull between one sneeze and the next. He swivelled to one side, away from the water-bowl, and curled in on himself, handkerchief continuing its futile stand against the endless barrage of sneezes.

His eyes were streaming now, his face hot and reddened with exertion. His abdomen was aching with the constant clench-and-release each sneeze demanded of it.

Yet he continued, trapped in a reflexive loop until, just as he thought he might expire from lack of air, a mighty “ahh’tssSCHUUH!!” set him free.

Tervan slumped loose-shouldered on the bench, mind blank, breathing heavily as a man does when control of his own body is finally returned.

“Enough of that, I think,” he remarked wryly to himself as the mental fog began to clear. He pushed the bowl of water away from himself, and turned his back on it for good measure, resting his elbows on his knees. Now that he had his breath back he spent it again, blowing his nose until his chest ached and his head span.

Despite this, his ordeal had had the desired effect. His breath was still inclined to whistle through the upper reaches of his nose, but it was getting through, which was as much as he dared to hope for tonight.

Tervan got shakily to his feet and wobbled over to inspect his tea, which had boiled into a darker liquid than he would usually consider drinking, but which looked ideal for his current purposes. He strained out the herbs and assorted other ingredients and took a tentative sip.

It was hot and left the imprint of its heat all the way down his throat. He could feel the edge of the spices he had added a little too keenly on the back of his tongue, however. On these grounds, and pretending to himself that he hadn’t been intending to do so all along, Tervan opened a fresh jar of honey from his too-rapidly dwindling supply (the love of honey wasn’t such a terrible vice, but he wouldn’t have more for months yet), and added a generous spoonful to his liquid comforter. Then he scraped ash over the fire and headed down the stairs to the cellar he had converted into a little bedroom, mug clasped in both hands. He was more than ready to close the chapter on today, and the tea wasn’t even half finished before he was fast asleep and snoring, his head a small mound of reddish brown poking out from the treasured warmth of three blankets at once.


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