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The Physicians of Vilnoc, written by Lois McMaster Bujold and self-published on May 8, 2020 as an e-book is a novella in the World of Five Gods set approximately a year after The Orphans of Raspay.


Orbas and environs

Publisher's Summary[]

When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance.

“The Physicians of Vilnoc” is the eighth Penric & Desdemona novella, following about a year after the events of “The Orphans of Raspay”.

Plot Summary[]

Penric and his mother-in-law were happily admiring the new baby, Florina (named for his other mother-in-law), when General Adelis Arisaydia arrived at their home and requested that Penric accompany him to the nearby fort where he was based, to help with a new and deadly illness.

There, Pen and Adelis found the fort's senior physician, Master Orides, dead of the illness with his senior apprentice, Rede Licata, weeping at his bedside. Rede and Pen began working together to solve the mystery and treat the new disease, soon named the "bruising fever."

Penric's letters asking for a sorcerer, any sorcerer at all, did not get quick answers. Meanwhile, cases showed up in the nearby village, Tyno. Pen's sorcerous treatments turned out to be very helpful, but left him exhausted every day. He visited the people in a nearby Rusylli prisoner encampment: they were not cooperative, but he did manage to learn from them that the disease was referred to as "the blue witch." Rede then experimented to learn if rat bites or fleas from rats were the source; these tests failed. So did checks based on locations of the infected. Meanwhile, the Rusylli fled the region as a result of learning about the disease's arrival; General Arisaydia and many cavalrymen left in pursuit. The first medical visitor, Master Tolga, brought not hope but news that some cases were showing up in Vilnoc as well.

Then came help: an elderly sorcerer, Learned Dubro, with a very young demon (caught from a pet dog) and no medical training. Penric quickly taught the old dog a new trick: how to do simple uphill magic treatments to aid recovery. Within a few days, the case counts dropped. Penric did not find himself less tired, however.

"Well, of course. Whenever you start to get ahead, you don't rest; you just add in an extra pass."
―Why Penric burns out doing medicine[src]

Then Adelis and his troops returned from retrieving the Rusylli. They brought a large number of sick men, including Rusylli, and soon the numbers of cases were every bit as high as they'd been before. People in Tyno found themselves without care; some died, their relatives became upset at Penric for failing to save them.

Penric ended up visiting the Tyno temple, where he prayed to the Bastard for help. As he prayed, he felt Desdemona withdrawing inside himself. So he looked around and discovered a trickle of blood on his had and a strange blue horsefly feeding on it. Suddenly much became clear to him: blood was being carried between victims by this "blue witch" of a fly.

"You could stand to be less obscure, You know!"
―Penric finds the hint frustratingly unclear[src]

He had a theory, he needed proof. That fly got away, so he hurried back to the fort in search of horses. (And in need of dumping chaos after treating so many people in Tyno.) At the abattoir, he discovered that horses were indeed becoming sick from the same disease and learned where ill horses were pastured. A visit there turned up many flies; he gathered several. His next stop was the Rusylli encampment, where he got the confirmation he needed that those flies were known as "blue witches".

Upon return to the fort, Penric ordered every sick horse killed and sent a message to his wife Nikys to make netting to cover the beds with and to tell their neighbors to do likewise. The disease cleared up soon after, and he was able to return home.

Later, he met again with Dubro and Master Licata with an offer: Dubro's demon was proving ready for training in medicine - would Master Licata be willing to receive it, and would Dubro be willing to donate it? They agreed, thus beginning the process of creating of a new medical sorcerer.

Major Characters[]

Minor/Supporting Characters[]

Behind the scenes[]

From the author in goodreads:  "There are elements of bubonic, sleeping sickness (tsetse flies are ugly critters), yellow fever (Rede is named after [Walter] Reed)". See wikipedia on Walter Reed