Surakian wrote this untitled fanfiction for The Last Kingdom, in which King Alfred gets very sick (when hiding in the Athelney marshes) and Modwenna cures him. She finds out that he has a wyrm in his spinal cord, and her herbal medicine does not seem to work, but when he is as good as dead, she summons the wyrm (that is called Gifer) to go away. Republished with permission of the author.
The night seemed to stretch on endlessly for Alfred as his pain worsened, greater than any pain he had ever suffered in his lifetime thus far. Pain had always been his companion, his curse—the one challenge the Lord felt he was prepared to undertake.
This pain, though? This was a test greater than any he has faced before.
Athelney’s air at night felt far too moist—too heavy—in his lungs as he wheezed in and out with labored breaths. Alfred’s brown hair clung to his sweat-covered brow, feeling too cold and too hot all at once. The fire in his hut still burned, although it would not be long now before more kindling needed to be added, but it did not matter as it hardly brought any comfort to him in his current state.
Alfred laid alone, having long since sent his wife and children away to another hut along the marsh, hoping to spare them from catching the illness wrecking his body. He refused to put them at risk.
As he curled up on himself, it felt like his spine would snap into pieces and his body with it but he refused to let his hinder him. Alfred was a pious man even while laying in agony, and did his best to mummer his prayers under his breath.
He did not pray for his health. He merely prayed his thanks to the Lord for giving him the fortitude to be able to withstand this torture until he could be healed. This inner strength has always been what has pushed him to become a great, knowledgeable man. It would be this inner strength that would allow him to fight against this.
As pain rolled through his body, greater than it was even a minute ago, he could hear footsteps and a soft knock on the side of the hut’s entrance.
“Lord, I heard you were sick,” That was when Modwenna stepped into the hut, carrying a tray of various bowls. “I have prepared a number of tonics in hopes that I may spare you from death.”
Alfred opened his mouth to allow the woman entrance, but he could only manage a groan of agony as the pain continued to shoot through his body.
Clearly, Modwenna took it as the approval she needed because she quickly stepped into the room and over to his bedside. She put a bowl to his mouth—a tonic to manage the pain—and then started examining him. “You surprise me, Lord. To be in such pain and yet you still have a strong look in your eyes.”
Alfred stayed quiet, merely observing the woman who was in turn observing him. She was renowned for her healing abilities, and it was said that she had achieved many miracles healing those who were on the brink of death.
He allowed her to pull his bed tunic over his head and felt Modwenna’s hands touch his spine, resting over an inflamed spot that has been the source of the pain rolling through his body. “How are you able to withstand this suffering, Lord?”
Finding his voice, he said “I did not dare, against the Lord’s word, bow or break. My own suffering will not keep me from accomplishing my goals. There is still much to be done.”
And there was. His vision of a united kingdom, one under his rule, one where a true peace could be obtained, could not come to fruition if he were to die here in the cold marsh of Athelney, hiding from the threat of the Danes who wish to take all that he has fought hard to gain.
Modwenna gave the king a shrewd look as she arranged her herbs around the ground near his bedding. “And you trust me to heal you? No matter what may be done to do so?”
Alfred looked up at the woman kneeling beside him. He could see the honest desire to help in her eyes, so he nodded. “Yes, whatever it may take.”
“Then I must be honest about your ailment. It is not sickness that makes you sick, but a beast. Wyrms burrow in the bodies of men while young, and then slowly grow, causing the host great pain until they grow enough to consume them and break free from the host body.” Modwenna shook her head, and her shoulder’s slumped in remorse. “I must do something that might not reflect well upon myself and may be seen as…a sin. I must let you know this before I can help you. Will this be a problem?”
Alfred gasped as he felt the wyrm shift in his spine, nearly causing him to curl up on himself again and cry out in agony. “Let me ask of you,” he said with a shaky breath. “Should not a wise man order a thousand men to run a race in a stadium?”
“If it were to find the most worthy, yes. Only one man will win in such a race, no matter how many run.” Modwenna replied, placing a steadying hand on Alfred’s back as she inspected the growth causing him pain. “Are you the wise man or one of the men running the race?”
“I do not believe I am so superior to any other man. It is the Lord who order’s the race. I am merely one of many who tries to win—and I am determined to win.”
“Then I shall do my best to ensure your victory, Lord Alfred.” Modwenna smiled softly. “I am going to summon the wyrm and as I do so, I will pour this tonic on your back where it emerges so the wound will not boil, not burst, nor hasten, nor cleave, nor throb.” She held the bowl of the mix in her right hand as she rest her left over the mass on his spine.
As she pressed on his back, the pain became unbearable. White, hot pain burned through him, and a white noise filled his ears making him briefly deaf. In that time he could hear Modwenna speaking—chanting—perhaps calling out to the wyrm to try and banish it from his body.
Alfred blacked out, the pain becoming too much for his conscious mind and body to handle.
When Alfred came back to himself, he could see Modwenna putting all of her bowls onto the tray again and spotted a small, snake-like creature wrapped around her arm. She looked over at him, her eyes guarded and tired. He tried to express his thanks, his words muffled and weak. He might have even asked her to return to Wessex with him so he may receive compensation for saving his life.
“You, Lord Alfred, sit near the fire that looks beautiful up close, but is not to be touched. I must touch the fire and face how its beauty can harm and disfigure.”
Alfred could hardly comprehend her words, exhaustion pulling at him and drawing him into sleep. Modwenna and the wyrm were gone by time he rose in the morning.