Most of this is true to the Burning Wheel game I was in. Some details have been forgotten, but this scene stuck in my head most because it was one of the most defining moments of Brunhilda. I may do more. I dunno. It depends on if the original group is willing to re-tell the bear story to me.
Brunhilda should not have been with these adventurers. They were warriors, men; she should be at home, bringing new life into the world rather than join these brutes in ending it. But after she had saved Erik from the ravages of the Great Bear, her chief had insisted she join them. One of the few who knew herbs and medicines, she had saved a few of the company from illness— and from their own ignorance of gathering nature’s bounty. Hunters though they were, they knew too little about foraging to be trusted; as one fatal encounter with a mistaken berry had already cost them one warrior.
There was one other woman with her. She was a Crow Woman; a witch. Knowledgeable though she was, she was yet another warrior, in her own way. Although she could use her second sight to prevent tragedies, she knew nothing of the healing arts, and fought her battles with poisons. Although the men kept them together in the marching order, the two women barely talked. They had tried at first, talking of herbs, but the Crow Woman knew nothing of children or healing, and Brunhilda knew nothing of poisons or magic. Interesting, though, the two women did use some of the same herbs, but for different reasons. A poison to the Crow Woman was an antidote for Brunhilda, for certain herbs. But she didn’t want to discuss this with the Crow Woman; the thought of letting some poisoner know a healer’s secrets made her nervous.
After many days of marching they reached Ringsted, where the warriors hoped to gain enough men to go into the Unknown to fight the coming threat of the Cin-men from the east. The men at the front argued to be let in, using their “brotherhood” as vikings as a reason to be let in. Brunhilda couldn’t blame the village. Other viking villages were known to pillage other vikings when the waters were too choppy or icy to pillage other nations. Just when it seemed they were about to give up one of the villagers saw her.
“Wait, are you Brunhilda?” he asked.
The men stepped aside to let Brunhilda come closer.
“Yes, I am she,” she said, hesitantly.
“Brunhilda, we have heard how great of a healer you are! You must come! One of our tribe leaders has fallen ill. Our healers say he is possessed, but I’ve heard you can work miracles. Please come!”
“Of course I will. But my friends must be allowed in also. They have business here as well.”
He looked at the men. He looked desperate. Ringsted was large enough that it needed several leaders, not just one, each leader of a different tribe that worshipped one specific god of their pantheon and followed the role of that god. While it was good for the responsibilities of such a large city to be broken among several, many tribe leaders didn’t feel the same way and they often fought amongst each other for greater power. This man wasn’t afraid for his own leader; he was afraid of the power vacuum left behind. Was this fear enough to let her friends in?
“I’m sorry,” he said. “We will give them hospitality— outside of our walls. We will bring them food and tents, but they cannot enter.”
“Take their horses, if you must,” Brunhilda said. “Keep them safe in a separate paddock, so that you won’t fear that we’ll pillage your town then run off. But we must be allowed to enter.”
He shook his head. But another man stepped forward.
“Brunhilda, if they want to enter, then they must surrender you to us. You’ll be kept safe; provided their best behaviour.”
The Crow Woman and [Ferris’s character] stepped forward.
“No,” Ferris said. “Do you really expect us to let you take a hostage? And a woman no less! What about the rules of hospitality? Won’t the gods punish us if we attack you after feasting at your table? We do not come to war with you! There is an invasion coming! We must join together and go to war!”
Brunhilda moved Ferris’s arm aside and stepped forward.
“I am sure they will behave themselves. There is no need to take me hostage. I will help as best I can.”
Even so, the Ringsted men surrounded her, breaking her from the group as they led her to the tent.
“Wait,” the Crow Woman said. “I’m coming with you.”
Brunhilda hesitated. The Crow Woman had never been on this side of the sick bed before; usually, she was the one bringing people to it. Then again, if this were a trap, and they were merely taking her hostage, the Crow Woman would be able to get her out, and she was perhaps the only one they wouldn’t find suspicious of following her to her patient.
“Of course,” Brunhilda said. “I wouldn’t want it otherwise.”
They entered the tent together, and Brunhilda studied her patient without emotion.
“What is wrong?” she asked. She barely needed to ask. She saw the bandages around his chest and assumed the worst: an infection.
“About a week ago he took an arrow to the chest,” one of the healers said. “Then, a day ago, he was riding when he suddenly became ill! He must be possessed by a demon, some sort of fire demon, judging by how hot he is! We have been trying to get the spirit out, but nothing is working, so we’ve just been keeping him comfortable and asleep.”
She didn’t roll her eyes. This backwards thinking was still all too common. She sat down and started to remove the bandages when one of the healers stopped her.
“What are you doing! It’s not healed yet!”
“I have to look at it,” she said. “Before I say this is evil, I have to rule out nature.”
“Nature?” he said, blinking. “What else brings illness but evil?”
“Much,” she said, removing the last layer of bandages. “Dirt in a wound, for example, brings illness. Out of a wound, dirt brings food that we eat. So it is not evil. And a woman may die bringing a child into the world, but the child isn’t evil.”
“It is evil that kills her!” the healer said.
“No,” Brunhilda said. “It is having children before or beyond her age. It is starving herself so her other children may grow strong. It is being too weak to bear children, but embracing this possibility to bring forth stronger life. There is far less evil than we may think.”
Brunhilda was expecting to see much worse. But the wound was healing well; no sign of infection around the wound. But his cough threatened to open the wound once more. She carefully cleaned the wound and replaced the bandages. She felt his head. It was indeed burning.
“Has he moved since he fell ill?”
“Very little,” the healer said. “He complains that everything hurts, and his head is throbbing. It is the demon hurting him, I fear.”
“It is no demon,” Brunhilda said. “He has nothing more than what I see in so many children once it starts to get cold.”
“So he’ll be ok!” the healer said.
“No,” Brunhilda said. “This is still very deadly, even more so that he was wounded before. We must act quickly. I need water, enough for him to lie in. I need clean water, for him to drink. I need elderberries, angelica, rosemary, or yarrow.”
“Rosemary?” the healer said. “We pillaged some from a frenchman’s castle; from his kitchen, no less! Why would you use that?”
“To make him sweat,” Brunhilda said. “Elderberries are best, if you have those. Quickly now!”
He ran off to grab the berries and other herbs. The Crow Woman shook her head.
“He is destined to die. Even you know this,” she said.
“No,” Brunhilda said. “He can still be saved.”
The Crow Woman tsked and shook her head.
“Are you trying to cheat fate? Cheat the gods? If you save him, his life will be on your head.”
“If the gods meant for him to die, they would not have sent me to him,” Brunhilda said. “So, are you saying you are so important the gods work their miracles through you?” “No miracles,” Brunhilda said. “Just the quiet battle of the sickbed.”
“So you fight death?”
“If you must look at it that way, then do so. But I will not let a man die needlessly to please the gods.”
“Let him die,” the Crow Woman demanded. “Do not displease the gods!”
She supposed the Crow Woman was right. She knew the gods far better than Brunhilda could ever hope to, but she decided not to listen. She took water from the bucket next to him and wiped the sweat from his brow, then used some sweet smelling herbs from her pack to wake him up. She would have made the elderberry tea herself, but she was running low on the herb.
The Crow Woman watched her; waiting. Brunhilda knew the Crow Woman was waiting for a response, but she was the stubborn fish who never fell for the obvious bait.
“Do you not care if you displease the gods?” the Crow Woman said, her anger getting the best of her. “Do you want to change their plans that much!”
“How can I change fate!” Brunhilda said. “I am only a woman! If the gods are so powerful, how could they let a mere girl get in their way! If they want him so bad, let them strike him down himself!”
Brunhilda barely saw the arrow fly. But before she could do anything, the arrow lied there, in his chest, just inches from the original wound. She looked at her patient just in time to see his last breath.