AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was written for Sunday Scribblings. It's also part of the Will and Diana series, which you can find out more about in the sidebar or by following the tags. This particular story takes place around the time Will and Diana first started with Unitas, when they were in their early teens.
The journey had taken longer than they expected. Although the map was good and they were familiar with the terrain from last spring's campaigns, Will and Diana found the roads washed out and a bridge collapsed from recent storms. Their horses were hardy and patient, but that patience didn't extend to the teenage messengers. When they came within sight of town, Diana urged her mare to a trot with Will close behind.
Since it was evening, they bypassed the clinic and went straight to the doctor's house where Will banged an urgent staccato on the door.
A white-haired gentleman opened the door and frowned. "Can I help you?"
"Are you Dr. Eldridge?" At his nod, Will handed him an envelope. "Message from Commander Harley Mayes with Unitas."
"You have to come with us right away," Diana blurted.
The doctor looked at her over the tops of his glasses before turning his attention to the letter. "I'm afraid what you're asking is impossible."
Will and Diana glanced at each other. They were new to running messages for a military unit and had no idea if this sort of response was unusual or should even be allowed.
The old man appeared to read their minds. "For one thing, I'm not part of your military operation, although I support you. Second, I'm the only doctor this town's got." He waved a hand for emphasis. "I have a typhoid case on the other side of Main, and a young woman up the street is due to have her first child any day now."
"But this is appendicitis," Diana said. "Francisco has to have a doctor."
"He has to have a surgeon," Dr. Eldridge corrected her. He folded the letter and put it back in its envelope. "I haven't done an appendectomy in years and even if I did that kind of operation every day, I wouldn't want to do it under field conditions."
Will reached a stealthy hand toward his gun, but the doctor had sharp eyes.
"That won't do you any good, son." He sighed and handed back the letter. "Even if I went with you, it's not likely your man would make it. The danger of complication and infection is too great."
"Isn't there anything we can do?" Diana asked in exasperation. "Is there another doctor we can ask?"
"No one close, I'm afraid." Dr. Eldridge gazed at her and his features softened. "How about you bring your patient here and I'll see what I can do."
"He's in pain, he has a fever, and he's throwing up," Will said. "He can't get here. That's why we came to get you."
"And I can't go with you. I'm sorry."
Before they could question the man further, he shut the door, leaving Will and Diana staring at each other on the front porch.
"We can't go back without any help at all," Diana said.
"I have a good mind to kidnap him."
"Think that would help?"
"No telling." Will shoved the letter in a pocket. "Let's think about this."
Diana followed him to where their horses were tethered to a wind-blown apple tree. "We'll have to think fast," she said. "Francisco was pretty bad off when we left. No telling how he's doing now."
"Might even be dead," Will pointed out.
"That's no reason not to try."
While they pondered, the wind picked up and their horses shook their heads with impatience.
"We'll go to the next town," Will finally said.
"Think it'll do any good?"
He shrugged and swung himself into the saddle. "I don't want anyone saying we didn't do everything we could."
Diana agreed and mounted her horse. As they rode into the growing darkness, the wind blew dust across the road and low clouds scudded across the deepening blue of the sky. It wasn't likely they would reach the next town and convince a doctor to come with them in time to save their comrade, but at least they were making every effort. One could do no more than that.