"Actually, yes. Many times. But I always thought those were the normal fares for a healer." In the moment he said it out loud, Lith remembered how ignorant he was in the ways of the new world.
"They are not." Nana shook her head. "Listen, little imp, in a few years you are going to get out of this village and face the world. Not everyone is kind as your parents, and most nobles are not like Count Lark.
For the average person life is hard, most of the time unfair, and hard work means nothing without luck and opportunity. I don't tell you this because I want to scare you, only because I don't want you to make my same mistakes.
You need to wise up, so let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, a mage fallen from grace decided to return to her old village, to settle in and forget about her failures. At first, people were scared of her, thinking she would abuse her power and authority to settle old feuds.
But the mage was too tired and bitter for petty revenges, she only wanted peace. So, when she became a medicine woman, doing nothing but tending to the ill and wounded for a fair price, the villagers were really happy
And when they noticed that since her arrival brigands, merchants and nobles treated the village with much more respect, they became ecstatic. But bad things kept happening from time to time, since the mage had no interest in playing hero.
So, the people in the village offered her a deal. They would pay her a certain sum in exchange for her help. Everything was perfect, and everyone was happy for a while. Then, the villagers, the only ones whom benefited from her protection, decided to make a little change to the initial deal.
Sure, peace and quiet were doing wonders for business, and the presence of the mage brought so many people from the neighbouring villages to get treatment, but that sum each year was a burden to their profits.
Not even the fact that the County's most important noble had made the village the permanent seat for the local spring festival was enough to satiate their greed.
So, they decided to convince the local farmers that it was in their best interest to help the villagers cover the sum they had agreed to pay to the mage. You may ask how did they managed to do it. Well, let's just say not appealing to the goodness of their hearts.
They simply threatened the farmers to change the exchange rate of their goods to the point of making their life a living nightmare. And what could the farmers do about it? Nothing.
They needed the blacksmith for their tools, the merchant to buy and sell cattle and crops. You can easily imagine the rest. Without the villagers, the farmers were cut off from the rest of the County.
By refusing, every single farmer would have to travel for days, each year, even to buy a new plough. Not to mention how hard and perilous would it be moving the cattle and the crops to the nearest merchant, all while leaving family and fields unattended."
Lith nodded, a ferocious expression on his face.
"Let me guess. According to the new deal, every time the farmers needed the help of the mage, they would pay a share of the agreed sum."
"Just like everyone else." When Nana had finished her story, she, could read the rage and disgust in the eyes of her disciple.
"There, there, Lith. I didn't mean to make you angry, the purpose was to show you what normal people, even good people, do to each other on daily basis.
We are good friends and all, but that is until our pockets or families get involved, then one own's priorities come first.
Life is hard for everyone, but for mages is even worst. Normal people see them as monsters, nobles as something to submit or exploit.
But the worst comes always from your own. Even in the magical academy you will find hidden ranks, hierarchy, and the competition will be tougher than you can imagine.
The pressure both families and teachers put on those poor kids quickly turns them into ferocious beasts. They get measured, judged and looked down upon for every mistake they make.
Social status, wealth, talent, the more they have the higher the expectations for them."
Lith was starting to get confused.
"So, do you want me to go easy on them? To don't judge hastily? To try making friends rather than enemies?" He was inwardly scoffing.
"Gods forbid it! The very opposite!" Nana yelled in desperation, flapping her arms like a hysterical bird.
"I already told you, you need to wise up. Don't fall for the first nice act someone performs. How do you think they will treat a dirty poor country bumpkin?
How do you think they treated me? At first you will easily make friends with the students from the lower classes, but as soon you'll reveal any talent, you'll be surrounded by only two kind of people.
Those who want to destroy you and those who want to suck up on you. Stay away from the former, and ever further from the latter, otherwise you'll end up like me.
Naively believing to have lots of important friends, until you make one single mistake, and then they pile up on you like everyone else, leaving only scorched earth around you." When she finished talking, Nana looked really tired and bitter, staring at the floor with watery eyes, she seemed to have aged about twenty years.
Lith pondered for a while on her words, before giving her his answer.
"I appreciate the thought and will treasure your words forever. But I also hope you'll understand that your story kind of pissed me off big time. So, here is my plan for the immediate future…"
When Nana finished listening to Lith's idea, she laughed heartily, going back to her old snarky self.
"That's what I am talking about. Good boy! I'm finally starting to rub some good sense on you. You have my permission, but do it only in my absence, it would be bad for my revenue otherwise. If anyone complains or tries to do something funny, I'll cover for you."
In the following months, Lith had to prove time and time again his magical skills as a healer, before Nana gave him a tier two spellbook to learn from. This allowed him to expand his official skillset and be recognized by the people of Lutia as a true healer.
Lith was finally able to enact his plan.
Nana wasn't always at her home office. Sometimes she had personal business to attend to, but most of the times it was because she had to do house calls for patients that cannot be moved.
During those times, Lith was in charge of everything. Those who could afford to, would wait for Nana to return. Lith was still six-year-old after all, he didn't seem trustworthy enough to put someone's life in his hands without Nana's supervision.
But emergencies couldn't be planned, so there was always someone desperate enough to come for his help. His first real patient ended up to be Lukah, Rizel's youngest brother (see chap 21).
He was just a toddler, so his mother, Lisa, had a terrified expression when she brought him in. Lukah was crying desperately, his left arm purple and swollen, bent in an unnatural angle.
Lith hadn't even finished pulling the curtain to give them some privacy, that Lisa laid Lukah on the bed and started to beg for Lith's help.
"It's all my fault, I'm so stupid. I was cradling him in my arms, while preparing lunch, when he started squirming and fell. Can you please help my baby?"
Lith quickly waved his fingers into a "Vinire Rad Tu!" A small wisp of light danced around the baby before penetrating his chest. The light spreaded to all his body, becoming dimmer around his chest and left arm.
Immediately after, Lith faked a "Vinire Lakhat!" Guided by his willpower, the light magic first dulled the pain, then it made the bone fragments reattach themselves to the ribcage and the arm.
Lith used his Invigoration breathing technique on the baby, using the imaging it provided him to make sure that the bones were perfectly healed and aligned before interrupting the spell.
"He had a broken arm and cracked ribs, but now is as good as new." Lukah was still crying, but now he was moving both arms, his skin pink and with no traces of bruises.
Lisa sighed in relief, thanking Lith with a deep bow before handing him the money.
It was Nana's usual fare, four copper coins. Enough for a family of four to eat well for one day.
Lith took only two, what she would have paid without the village protection tax. Seeing that she was confused, Lith whispered:
"I know about the deal with the villagers, and I am not Nana. I protect no one. Also, us farmers need to stick together, am I right? Please, keep your lips sealed about it, otherwise the next time I will be forced to ask you for the full price."
Lisa was chocked, her eyes watery. She did not know what to say.
"Then can I ask you to check my leg too? It hurts from a while, and the pain is not getting any better over time."
"Is that how the little Lukah managed to slip away?" Lith asked.
"Yes. A few weeks ago, I took a bad fall while repairing a hole in the roof. At first it didn't hurt much, and with a baby we could not afford a visit for every small thing."
Lith used Invigoration again, using the injury detection spell as a cover.
"Holy cr*ap, her leg is badly cracked. It's a miracle she was still able to walk without a limp."
After healing her, Lith was conflicted about taking the rest of the money. He could see Elina in her, all the sacrifices his family had made just for keeping Tista alive were always vivid in his memory.
Lith couldn't avoid empathizing with the daily struggles his neighbours had to face every day, perceiving them as real persons, like him, instead of dismissing them as trash, like he always did with those he killed in the past.
Luckily Lisa took the choice for him, handing the money and opening the curtain before he could say a word.
"What a proud woman, truly deserving my respect. Next time she comes, I'll perform the healing while checking up the wound, so she won't get to pay."
Those four copper coins were the heaviest Lith's hand had ever held. Lisa's family would have to skip a meal or two to cover for that expense.
From that day onward, Lith would do the same thing for all the farmers, always prompting them to silence. Soon his reputation grew wildly outside the village's borders.
Inside those same borders, though, things were quite different.
On another occasion, when Nana had been called away, another kind of patient walked in. It was Renkin, merchant and richest man in the village, barging in while carrying his son on a makeshift stretcher, with the help of one of his assistants.
"Nana! Where in the nine hells is that wretched healer when you really need her?!"
"She is away at the moment." Lith moved forward, making way for the stretcher. The boy was around fifteen years old, his black hair stood out on his pale face. He was bleeding from his leg, despite the wound was tightly wrapped up.
"Where is she?" Renkin yelled.
"The men repairing the Colen bridge had an accident, she will be back on the afternoon at best."
"You idiot, can't you see my son is dying? I do not have that much time!"
Lith snorted in annoyance.
"If you have to yell and be rude, that's the door. If you want me to take care of him…" Lith extended his right hand, while pointing with the left at a sign on the wall that said: "Payment up front. No refunds."
"Paying you?! What are you, four?"
"Almost six and a half. Again, if you aren't going to pay, make space for real clients. If you want miracles, feel free to pray. But do it outside." Lith's tone was stone cold.
"Okay, okay!" Renkin gave up. "Here is you goddamned four copper coins."
"Eight." Lith stopped him before he could take the money out of his pouch.
"That's clearly a deep wound, requiring two tier two spells, if not even a tier three. Either way the price is set to eight copper coins." Lith pointed to another sign, stating the prices:
"Check-up: 1 copper coin. Tier one spells: +1 cc. Tier two spells: +3 cc. Tier three spells: +7 cc"
"But those are Nana's prices! You are not Nana!"
"Really?" Lith mimicked his Master's snarky tone. "What gave me away? The age? The height? The gender? You are really perceptive, worthy of a merchant."
Renkin was choking on his own anger. Such an arrogant little brat!
"I meant that you shouldn't ask so much! Didn't your Master tell you about our agreement?"
Lith just pointed to the end of the second sign, where "No discounts, ever" was written in big bright red words.
"Don't you have a heart? How can you ask so much? You are so young and inexperienced, after all!" In all his years as a merchant, Renkin was proud to have never overpaid any product. He was determined to get a discount at all costs.
"I could argue that I don't think you ever gave a discount to someone just for pointing out your age or likeability.
Also, which one of us his bargaining on his son's life? I doubt all healing magic in the world would do him any good once he bleeds out."
Finally remembering about his beloved Garth, Renkin finally paid the fee, letting Lith do his job.
"What happened?" Lith asked after using Vinire Rad Tu coupled with Invigoration, sensing a deep cut wound that missed the femoral artery by an ich.
"This blockhead and his idiotic best friend had the brilliant idea of practicing their swordsmanship with real swords, that's what happened."
"He lost a lot of blood." Lith said after completely healing the leg. "Keep him at rest and make him eat rare meat."
Later, that day, when Renkin returned to complain to Nana about her disciple, she laughed hard in his face for a whole minute, before shutting her door in his face.