Chapter Twenty Three: In Strange Places

 

They say Evandir dragged me off the battlefield as if I were some barbarian trophy to be strung up before his tent, later reappearing in the battle fighting like a fool who has no art and no skill behind his berserker instincts.

#

“Had I come earlier, would it have changed this?” A familiar voice jolted me out of the darkness in which I lay. I breathed carefully with the sudden raw memory of pain. All gone. I had become merely weak. Nameless God, I thought, I had never had a year with so many days down. No wonder I had gone out of condition. I needed to ask the Thane to take his accursed gift back, the sooner the better, too. Surely the healing had drained me in some way from my days of finest savagery.

“I just knew that the two of you would try to kill each other; I could only hope I would come in time. And that’s a joke,” Gehir added obscurely.

“She hesitated,” Prince Evandir said. “She had me, a nice sweet line right up under my jaw and into the brain and she hesitated. I came around and my blade went in as smooth and easy under her arm as if I had killed her a thousand times. I felt it check an instant on the edge of a rib before it skidded over and in.”

“You’re good at your job,” Thane Gehir said. “Fortunately, so am I.”

I wanted to speak, but I was still enjoying the feeling of breathing too much to feel that speaking could be that important after all.

“Prince Evandir,” Thane Gehir said. “Can you make some way of obtaining Prince Daniel? Some excuse during the renewal of negotiations for bringing him in your custody to review the strength of your troops for an act of good faith? A nice tour as if you hoped he would help sway his father’s opinion so that settlements for peace might go easier?”

“They say he is ill.”

“Yes. Ill unto death,” Thane Gehir said. “We have our last chance to see him mended. You see, I thought he had hemophilia, but that’s not it at all. He has a type of radiation anemia, rather uncommon. It can be mended, if only I can take him with me to the place of healing. The walls of the Fortress are full of contamination. But you have no idea what I’m blathering about, have you? I’m sorry. I will say however, that as his father wastes no love upon him, his father will only encourage such an expedition rather than protect him by keeping him in the care of his doctors. I believe, I hope, that we have nothing to lose.”

“Why,” Prince Evandir said reasonably, “should I be interested in seeing this boy survive? He’s not of my blood or loyalty.”

“Because you owe me, for saving you the consequences of your own expertise. Ti will live. And she would never pardon you if by inaction you let her Prince die.”

There was surely laughter in Thane Gehir’s voice.

“And come, man,” he said, and I heard his fist thump Evandir’s back, “you yourself have respect for this young Prince too. You have some sense of his quality.”

“I am glad you are not my father-in-law,” Evandir grumbled. “You would never have done reminding me of consequences.”

I heard Gehir rise and exit the tent. I could hear his voice outside.

“Here,” said Thane Gehir. “Harpmaster Caher, let me give you my messages for the Prince. You know what we desire, do you?”

“Yes. And I am to see him this afternoon, for he has asked me to give him news of the battle.”

“Thank you for your aid,” Gehir said, and I heard the rustle of tent flaps as Gehir returned.

Afternoon, I wondered. So I had only received my wound bare hours ago.

“How many died?” I whispered. “Mell, Cascada, Liit? How many lie on our field? Macc? Ratcatcher? Zanel and Berann? Pemm?”

“A third your force,” Prince Evandir’s voice grated reluctantly, “killed or grievously wounded. I think most of those you name came off the field wounded, not dead. I believe your Master Cascada will lose her arm, her right arm. Master Macc lies insensible from a head blow, and your folk dragged him away so he was well enough not to require mercy killing. They did well enough. The Gatekeepers violated your great law and opened the Gate to the retreat so that we did not finish our job. It was a bitter day, and you, my Ti are a freaking idiot to have so disposed your troops.”

“I object,” I said hotly, “you must know….”

“Stop,” Thane Gehir said. “We are urgent, my Lord. Let us all leave off torturing each other until we have taken care of this matter of the young Prince.”

#

In the privacy of the tent Thane Gehir and I waited out the remainder of the day, I listening to the sounds of the enemy’s camp about me. I shifted into the clean clothes that Evandir had left for my use, bundling up my very bloodied blacks in a tight roll by my mail and helmet in the corner. The mail needed mending, but that would be work for the forge of the naiman. While I examined my bruised and broken links, Thane Gehir watched me and I felt his unease as though it were my own.

“Corpsmaster Ti,” he said at last. “Ahead lies a sore trial indeed for you, but there is no other who is oathed to me and has some part of my memories in the manner that you do.”

The thought made me flinch, and realize that yes, this last encounter had affected my sense of self in a distorting fashion. Somewhere in the back of my mind, in the manner of dreams, my thoughts had been working to order and contain images and reactions to them that I in my own existence found disturbing.

“I feel I know or recall things I should not.”

“Yes, you do. It is part of the price you pay for deep healing, particularly when the individual has some powerful resonance, usually based on personality type or a common experience of crisis. I must take us, and the Prince, into a different place for his healing since it isn’t a matter either of us can remedy. Items and elements in this alien place will appear to violate ideas and laws you know well in this world.”

A startling image of tall buildings swaying, covered with outrageous light that changed and flashed in pulses came into my mind and I shook my head.

“Yes,” he said, “what is in your imagination is real, but not here, not now. You must help me bring the Prince over for his healing, and you must take my promise that what is wrong for your here and now, is not wrong there and then.”

“You have my oath,” I said, hesitating. I swallowed hard and realized I was afraid.

“I have your oath, but will it be strong enough for this trial?”

“The only master of necessity is obedience,” I said, taking refuge in quotation. “‘If we know we are the King’s subjects, if his cause be wrong our obedience to the King wipes the crime of it out of us…”  Mell said long ago I was a soldier of divided loyalties, but at the core, I am not. You are in this matter my King.”

“‘But if the cause is not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make‘,” Thane Gehir answered. So, somehow he knew our sayings and our liturgies. He nodded. “I accept my part of the charge,” he said. “Now, I am tired to my bones and you no less. We should rest until evening.”

#

When at full dark Evandir returned, he had brought not only the Prince on my old bay, but news of my people. He rendered me a terse list of t dead and a summation of wounded, and I realized that he did this exactly as he would have wanted such news for himself if we stood in opposite circumstances. No sympathy, only a restrained report, that I might keep my feelings private. I liked this in him, as though I had need for more reasons to love my enemy. He had the news from Prince Daniel; ill though the Prince seemed, he still tracked his people.

Of my forty I had fifteen to mourn, fallen in battle. Ratcatcher and Pemm died, not on the field, but in the hospital afterwards. Cascada had not lost her arm, yet if she fought again she would fight left-handed and never again with the shield. Macc still slept, heavily unconscious. Zanel had a smashed shoulder, his left, the side he protected poorly. How often had I warned him this would happen? So far Mell, Berann and Liit had no piercing wounds, only cuts and slashes that with cleaning and stitching should heal in good time, especially if we had some days of peace. Of the rest of the soldiers it was as Evandir had warned. Nearly a third down, and more wounded.

During the stir of the evening meal we went out and joined Prince Daniel upon his mare and rode a little way out into the woodland. Upon dismounting, the Prince showed his weakness, nearly tumbling over, and Prince Evandir caught him up, then gave him an arm in support without remark. We passed the sentries and curious as they must have been, Prince Evandir had clearly given some order. Either that, or he had such relations with them that they would do nothing against his will and would rather err in compliance to his wish than by challenging it. I found myself curious to know which it was.

By slow and indirect trails I brought our quartet to the back entrance of the long underground tunnel, and contrived to open it again. I saw Thane Gehir’s eyes glitter with excitement as he looked last upon the stars above and followed Evandir into the ground. By now the Prince frankly carried the young boy. He shrugged off my help.

“He weighs a lot less than you did,” he snorted to me. “and he’s not wearing a blasted load of mail and armor plate.”

We paused in the rooms under the Arena and Prince Evandir shuddered when he looked upon the shimmering door. He had dealt well enough with the moving doorway in the earth, however, the terrible movement of this light unnerved him as it did me. Prince Daniel slumped against my leg like the tired sick child he really was, and his head tipped down. I did not know if he slept or passed from awareness.

Thane Gehir turned away from us, his head bent over something in his hands as if he were working. Finally he slipped a black object into his robe and faced us.

“We will be gone two days by your reckoning,” Thane Gehir said to the Prince. “If you could meet us here to escort the Prince home after his ‘tour’, that will ease our complications.”

“Two days? Where do you go?”

“Ask Ti later. If we return, she will tell you then.” He turned to face me, straight and alert, and lifted his hand as though blessing me.

“Ti of the Wall, know that all you do in this venture is under my command and none of your own.”

He gathered up the unconscious body of the Prince shawled in its blankets and told me to grasp his arm. We stepped together into the hideous light.

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