I make a quick assessment of their clothing. Late medieval, fourteenth or fifteenth century. The fabrics are expensive, ornate and finely stitched. There is money in this room, and power along with it.
“Everybody out,” I say, in spite of my observations. My manly voice is laced with authority. “And open the curtains, for the love of God.”
Men shuffle past me out through the door, and a servant pulls the curtains aside to let weak sunlight replace the dingy gloom. I gesture at the windows, and the same servant opens the catch and lets clean, fresh air spill in.
One man remains behind, leaning against the stone wall. His bearded face is filled with grief. “My thanks for coming, John,” he says. “Please... can you help him?” He gestures to the figure on the bed, and I move closer.
It is a young man, maybe sixteen or seventeen years of age. He is still, his arms above the embroidered coverlet, his head on a pillow. His skin looks waxen and is covered with a sheen of sweat. But the most remarkable thing about him is the wound on the right side of his face. I bend and peer closely at it. In amongst the swollen flesh, buried deep in the bone, is a piece of metal. An arrowhead, probably.
The real me swallows hard. I don’t have a strong stomach for this kind of thing, but clearly that’s irrelevant because the man I inhabit appears to be a doctor, and I am about to treat the patient.
I straighten and turn to the two servants waiting nervously to one side. “I need a table by the bed. Two bowls of hot water. Clean cloths. And bring me my bag.”
The servants scurry to do as bid, and before long I am ready to begin. I take off my coat and tie back my long hair, then wash my hands free of the dirt of travel.
In spite of my squeamishness, I am fascinated by this. Who am I treating? A young soldier, presumably, someone wounded in battle. But who is the man leaning against the wall who watches me so intently?
I have no time to ponder, however, as John—whoever he is—begins to work, occasionally explaining his actions to the man by the bed.
From his bag, he retrieves various small pieces of wood—elder, he explains—and he takes time to fashion these into different widths. Then he wraps them tightly in a piece of linen and stitches them securely. After this, he leaves them for a while in a bowl of “rose honey” to infuse. I know that honey is a natural antiseptic, and I am still impressed by his thorough ministrations.
When he is satisfied, he takes the smallest probe and settles himself beside the lad on the bed. The young man doesn’t appear to be conscious, but John feeds him anyway with a concoction he lets trickle between the lad’s lips, designed to numb the pain.
He inserts the probe into the wound. My stomach flips, but John is clearly past feeling nausea at the sight of blood, and he bends close to the lad’s face, peering at the hole in his cheekbone as he pushes the probe in deeper. He works carefully and diligently, attempting to widen the wound so he can gain access to the barbed arrowhead that has embedded itself about six inches into the bone.
Soon, he switches to a slightly wider, longer probe, and resumes his prodding, and he continues this way for a long time, until the wound is wide enough and deep enough that he has reached the bottom of the arrowhead. Hours go by, but John stops only briefly to drink and have a quick bite to eat before he continues his work.
When he is satisfied, he pauses to stand and stretch, takes a few paces around the room, arches his back, and then returns to the bed.
He turns to his bag and retrieves a small pair of tongs. He shows the man by the bed as he cleans with the honey solution. They are about the width of the arrowhead, with rounded tips. In the centre of the tongs is a small screw.
Readying the tongs in his hand, he begins to work.
It takes a long time, but he is infinitely patient, and eventually he is able to manoeuvre the tongs to either side of the arrowhead. At that point, he fits the screw into the hole of the arrowhead that originally contained the wooden shaft, and he turns the screw until it is firmly set into the metal.
He murmurs beneath his breath, and I recognise the words of the Paternoster – the Lord’s Prayer. Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur Nomen Tuum…
He begins to move the arrowhead from side to side. Miniscule movements at first, left and right, left and right, careful not to pull the tongs from the wound. For a while, the arrowhead refuses to budge. But he continues, left and right, left and right. Minutes go by, or is it hours? He pauses to wipe sweat from his brow, then continues. Left and right. Left and right.
Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie…
Gradually, the arrowhead moves more freely. “It is coming,” he announces, and I hear an inhalation from the man to the side of the bed. Left and right. Left and right.
And then suddenly, the metal becomes loose, and in one smooth movement, he pulls the arrowhead out of the wound.
Blood flows, and he quickly presses a pad of cloth to the lad’s face.
“It is amazing,” gasps the man at my side, lifting up the tongs to examine the arrowhead that had caused the lad such pain.
“Your Grace, our next step is to ensure the wound does not become infected.” John replaces the bloody cloth with another, pressing down to stop the flow. “I will remain by the prince’s side and wash the wound with white wine, then clean the inside of the wound with honey, barley, flour and flax. If God wishes it, the prince will live.”
Wait—your Grace? The prince? My brain works furiously. Which member of royalty received an arrow to the face? King Harold II, of course, at the Battle of Hastings, but he was older than this young man, and the clothes suggests it is a few hundred years later than that.
There was a prince wounded at the Battle of Shrewsbury, in 1403, if my memory serves me correctly.
He would live to become the future Henry V.
My heart jumps into my mouth. Is this he? If so, that would make me the London surgeon, John Bradmore. I remember reading about his innovative treatment of the prince. He saved Henry’s life, and although the future king presumably bore a scar, as his only surviving portrait shows his profile on the left side, he went on to live until his mid-thirties, winning the famous Battle of Agincourt along the way. The king beside me is, therefore, his father, Henry IV.
I have so much I want to ask him, but the room is already fading, and I am preparing for the next jump. I want to wail—no! Let me stay! But I watch John stroke the forehead of the young prince, tears in my eyes, and then the room goes dark.