“I’ve just made up a new batch of your heart remedies, Amitzas.” Akminchaer leaned back from where he’d been examining his patient, and one of the apprentices set them down on the desk in the old Mahid’s office. Amitzas himself sat in the leather reading chair, head tipped back, eyes closed. “Now I shall repeat that you not stint yourself, out of some kind of Mahid idea that you don’t deserve looking after.” He turned to the two younger healers, Ninumaen and Fionaer, who had just arrived to assist his Imperial practice. “You will find that Mahid have a similar tendency to self sacrifice and self harm, to a similar degree as most warriors.”
“I shall have to temper your instruction, Akminchaer.” Amitzas said, without opening his eyes. “Now that the need for torturous self control has been removed, most Mahid are rather easier patients.”
Akminchaer sniffed. “We are finished for today. Ninumaen, have you unpacked the model?”
“Not yet, beloved teacher. It is still in its crate.”
“Model?” Amitzas inquired, opening his eyes. “Is it something that I would find instructive?”
“You might, indeed.” Akminchaer said proudly. “It is a life-sized, knitted, model of a uterus at full term. I ordered it from the University because I would rather have Kyriala learning from something normal rather than the textbooks on the possible problems in childbearing. She seems determined to instruct herself thoroughly.”
“Oh.” Amitzas looked a trifle chagrined. “You didn’t need to do that. I have such models. Over a hundred of different stages of pregnancy. I reviewed them when my granddaughter by marriage announced. My apologies.”
“You have models? Over a hundred? Of women? Of pregnancies?”
“I suppose I should have shown them to you before.”
“Why on the Earthsphere didn't you?”
“If I might beg assistance?”, Amitzas asked and Fionaer helped him to his feet. He composed himself and lifted a red key from its hook next to the door. “This way.” He plucked a single flower from a vase along the way before leading them deeper into the Mahid wing and unlocked a plain grey door. The room beyond was dark and he brought the alcohol lamp in with him, barely illuminating what looked like banks and banks of narrow cabinets twice as tall as a man and a bit wider. He set the lamp down on a table obviously placed for it, and began turning a crank right by the door.
The enormous mirrored chandelier swung down to just in front of him and he lit the wick in front. The flame ran all the way around the loop, lighting the wicks in turn until, squinting against the sudden glare, Amitzas cranked it up to its place against the polished grey stone ceiling where the actinic light made the hall clearly visible but somehow funereal. A faint whiff of formaldehyde swirled out of the room.
The cabinets revealed were wood and each one had a carving upon it. A hand. A foot. A head. Further away the carvings became harder to see. To the right, a bronze statue of a naked man held a scalpel. To the left, a naked woman holding a sryinge. In the middle of the room a large cabinet stood alone, uncarved, ungilded.
The three Haians looked around as Amitzas went down the left hand side of the hall. “Ah, here. I did close them up. Female, breeding.” He grasped the handle and the cabinet opened slowly, obviously very heavy, sliding straight out on two tracks.
Fionaer made a distressed noise and clamped both hands over his mouth. “It is like an anatomy class,” Amitzas said. “Human dissection 101.”
The three racks inside held large jars with their preserved contents floating in a milky greenish fluid. The top rack was only big enough for each uterus it displayed while the ones lower down were bigger, to display more open dissections. The lids of each had a neatly written tag and a swath of hair and leather attached.
“These are Arkan pregnancies.” Amitzas said, looking fondly at the one before him, that included the hip bones and portion of spine and legs to show how the uterus sat. The swatches of hair were all blond; the leather patches, all pale. The organ itself was opened showing the child floating within in isolated splendor. “There are a goodly number of them preserved and re-constructed without the use of the fluid. And showing the growth of the fetus at every part of the process. Fascinating."
He turned and indicated all along the line. “Enchian, in that cabinet, Lakan in the next. Srian in the one beyond... all in their places. Female dissections on this side. Male genitalia at this point on the other.” He looked at his friend. “The Imperial Pharmacists have had centuries to collect and preserve these, as a kind of ‘hobby’ one might say."
Tears stood in Akminchaer's eyes. Amitzas's voice softened. "It was an extension of their function. There are many Mahid here. The bodies were often donated, after death. They are long past any pain.”
Akminchaer went from looking ill to looking relieved. “This is... astonishing!" He turned in place, taking in row after row of neatly labelled racks. “The medical knowledge here... The University should know about this!”
“I suppose so.” Amitzas went to the cabinet in the centre of the room and with the same key that opened the door, opened the cabinet. The doors folded open to show a gilded interior, glittering in the lights, around a woman’s body, standing, one skinless hand apparently holding the flap of her chest open at the top, the other holding the bottom of the other side. Her organs were there, carefully preserved in their places inside her torso, except for one. There was an cradle set before the body, holding her empty, spread-open uterus. Her silvery golden hair not only reached her feet but was coiled around the bottom of the cabinet, stark against her dry, preserved flesh.
Amitzas gently placed the flower he’d brought into a vase at the base of the display. “This Sera should have gone into the Wall of the Lost, as commanded by the Imperator at the time. The Pharmacist judged that she would be just as nameless here, as there. She was as much a victim of the Boy Plague as her poor, dead, Heir, who is buried with all honour in the Imperator’s Tombs. The Imperial Pharmacist before me always brought a flower for her when he opened her resting place, for all that he told me I should dispense with the ridiculous practice. I believe she was related to the Mahid.”
A sniffle. “Akminchaer...” he turned and pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve. “Don’t weep. It’s all right. These are now merely models, to instruct, to help the living...”
“Oh, be quiet, you deluded old Mahid!” Akminchaer almost snatched the handkerchief. The two apprentices were fled out of the room. “This isn't just anatomy! This is built on a complete lack of ethics as well as your donated volunteers. I might be a Haian but I've been a healer long enough to know the nightmare this was and I understand why you didn't remember to show me this... museum to pain.
"It's a museum to service as well. We need to get some priests in here and some prayers said for these people, to respect their sacrifice. Just as you keep putting a flower there... for her.”