Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chapter XXV

Wren

I reluctantly released my hold on oblivion as pain laced through the haze. Gradually my surroundings filled my senses, hearing first. The awareness of someone caressing my hand followed on its heels.

“What do you mean ‘it is probably the pain’?” Kat’s whispered harshly. “You mean you actually let her fight in a battle?”

The hand holding mine tightened and the stroking stopped. “I didn’t have much choice, Kat. We arrived separately. I was surprised as anyone else when she turned up between the battle lines unprepared for a skirmish.”

“Still, you should have done something.”

“I did. As soon as I could, I sought her out.”

“Hardly soon enough.”

A racking cough close by filled the awkward silence.

“How is Arthus? Is his cough improved?” Tourth’s voice was softer than normal as though he didn’t want someone nearby to hear.

“He will recover.” Kat shifted with a rustle of fabric. “The healer gave him this mixture to drink twice every day. It smells awful, but it seems to be helping.”

Another silence.

Tourth cleared his throat. “He loves you, you know.”

“What?”

“Arthus…he loves you.”

“Says who?” Kat demanded.

“Wren. She shared her observations right before you left for Philon’s.”

Kat laughed softly. “Figures she would see it first.”

“You know?”

“Of course, I might be slow, but I am not an idiot. He asked for me when we met up with him and Isacrus on the road. Burning up with fever and half out of his mind and the fool asks for me instead of a healer.”

“And you knew then?”

“Well, that and the kiss.”

His fingers tightened around my hand. “Kat.” His voice took on the tension of a drawn bowstring. “You are baiting me.”

“I will tell you how it works out.”

“No, you will tell me now. He kissed you?”

“I am a grown woman.”

“I am your older brother.” Tourth’s grip on my hand turned painful. “Kat, if you don’t…”

“Tourth,” I protested. “You are hurting my hand. Leave off pestering Kat.”

“I will get the healer,” Kat said, rising to her feet so quickly I heard her joins pop.

Tourth dropped my hand like it had turned into a live scorpion. “Wren, I can’t just let…”

I opened my eyes to find him frowning fiercely at me. Not the best of first sights, but I was simply thankful he was alive. “Think for a minute. You know Arthus. You know Kat. Leave them be.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but the healer arrived without Kat. It was the same young man from the battlefield.

“Mistress Romany, we meet again. I was hoping you would follow my instructions.”

I closed my eyes too weary to keep them open. “I did.”

“Standing for a tribunal is not resting.” He removed the dressing and began prodding. I was soon too busy enduring the resulting pain to point out that he had said nothing about resting.

“How does it look?” Tourth sounded really worried. I opened my eyes to find him watching the healer work. Worry lines that hadn’t been there a moment ago bracketed his mouth and pulled at his brows. Before thought, I reached up to touch his cheek. He looked down at me, surprise widening his dark eyes. I let my hand fall, too exhausted to keep it raised.

“I will be fine, Tourth. None of the stitches are pulled.”

“She is right.” The healer began reapplying the bandage. “A few days of complete rest and she will be back on her feet.”

Tourth claimed my hand again. “She will rest.”

The healer retied the last knot with a grunt that clearly indicated his skepticism. “Let me know if she develops a fever and let her rest.” He rose to his feet. “That means no talking. Now close your eyes.” I obeyed. “Sleep. I don’t want to see them open for at least eight hours. And you, Lord Mynth, I suggest the same for you. Lord Portan ordered your allotted cot and bedroll sent over. I had them set up in the corner over there. Now shoo.”

I missed the gratifying sight of the young healer herding Tourth off. I didn’t miss the soft brush of Tourth’s fingertips on my cheek before he moved away. Thank you for sparing us all, Redeemer. Your grace amazes me. Sleep claimed me a few breaths later.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tourth

Wren slept. I did not. I wish I could have blamed it on Arthus’ ragged breathing, but I have slept through worse in the past. My worried thoughts kept me alert and staring at the taut canvas roof of the invalid tent only a foot or so above my head.

Low lantern light threw grotesque shadows. It burned for the sake of the healer passing between cots to check on patients. For such a young man, the healer was a vigilant caretaker. He made rounds frequently on silent feet with a glare for me because my eyes were still open.

Rolling on my side, I watched Wren sleep across the tent and struggled with my heart. I loved her. An admission easy enough to make, it would be torturous to carry through to completion. She was a wanderer. True, her stories of her family, the few I could remember, indicated she had not always been one. The fact remained that come spring she intended to move on. Did she endlessly seek something or was she running from something? I never asked. Suddenly wishing I had pushed for more answers, I rolled over to face the canvas wall.

Arthus coughed in his sleep and shifted. One of the other patients moaned. The healer moved to him with a whisper of reassurance and soothing noises.

I closed my eyes.

Offering one’s heart always came with risk. Simple rejection seemed small compared to the myriad other possibilities my suddenly pessimistic mind brought forth. The worst being she felt early, ripping the remaining days away from me. She entwined my life and I didn’t want her to rip away.

Father, help me.

I offered so little, a valley on the brink of destitution and a people worn to the bone facing a long winter with little in the stores. King Orac would most likely claim most of Hawthorne’s stores as spoils. Her skills would mean survival for more than just our household. Perhaps for the valley’s sake I would wait to offer her my heart. Time would offer a chance to probe her heart and see where she stood, how I could entice her to accept.

My personal failings marched through my thoughts as I jammed my flat pillow into a better position and closed my eyes again.

I needed sleep. Even more, I needed know what to say to make Wren stay.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wren

I woke to a throbbing ache in my thigh. My hand moved instinctively to the source only to brush the linen bandage. Memories of the battle marched into place.

“Ready for food?” Dardon sat on the ground next to my cot cleaning his boots. Sunlight backlit the canvas around us.

“How long have you been there?”

He shrugged. “I came to check on you and Arthus. Tourth demanded I sit watch on you until he got back. Apparently you aren’t allowed out of bed yet.”

I attempted to move my leg. Pain subdued the impulse before my toes had risen an inch.

“I wouldn’t try that if I were you. Your healer threatened to tie you to the bed if you tried anything. I think he means it.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.” Shifting my upper body instead, I adjusted my pillow. “How is Arthus?”

“See for yourself.” Dardon jutted his chin at the bed halfway across the tent. Arthus and Kat sat shoulders meeting, heads bent in conversation. “I would say he is doing fine. Does Tourth know?”

I nodded. “He is still struggling with his role.”

Dardon’s eyebrows rose. “What role?”

“Exactly.”

He considered that for a moment, devoting intense attention to the instep of his left boot. “Nope. That wasn’t the bee in his britches this morning. It was something else.”

“What?” I tried to prop my head up, but it wasn’t comfortable.

“He was mighty agitated. Muttered something I didn’t catch before he headed off to speak with King Orac.”

“Hmm…” My stomach rumbled loudly. “You mentioned food?”

He smiled. “Aye. Coming right up.” Leaping up, he strode off toward the far end of the tent. I watched his movements with envy. It would be quite a while before I would be able to move like that without a twinge of discomfort.

While he was busy, I attempted to prop myself up again and look around. Besides Arthus, three other cots filled the room. I guessed one of the two empty cots was Tourth’s. The last was occupied by a stranger, unconscious, his middle bound from sternum to hip with a dark red blossom spread along his left side.

“It looks like pottage for you.” Dardon sat back down on the ground. Steam rose in wisps from the large wooden bowl in his hands. He promptly filled the spoon. “Healer allowed milk, but not berries. Apparently he is concerned you will lose your stomach.”

“Where is Hiller?” He planted the hot pottage in my mouth with so little ceremony I almost coughed it out in his face.

“Recovering in a different tent. Not a broken bone in him. Amazing considering the way he was worked over.”

I swallowed. Warmth coated my throat, soothing the dryness. “And his eye?” I gulped again as the memory of his face made my stomach turn. Dardon shoveled in another bite before I caught my breath. I choked on it before swallowing.

“They thought he might have lost it, but as the swelling receded, they changed their mind.”

“Good.” Another ill-timed bite. I coughed my way clear and protested. “Are you trying to kill me? Slower.”

“Fine.” He scooped the next bit with exaggerated care.

“Stop torturing the invalid, Dardon.” Iscarus stood over us, frowning at Dardon.

“Are you trying to finish her off with that spoon?” Warrick asked as he appeared behind his brother.

“Fine, complain about it. I never claimed to be a nurse and I doubt you could do much better.”

“In fact, I am certain I can.” Warrick held out a hand for the bowl. Dardon gave it over with a smirk. “Now get out of the way while I show you how it is done.” He scooped out a reasonably sized spoonful and dropped it in my mouth.

“Now how did you learn that?” Dardon demanded. “Spend much time nursing?”

“No, just in the nursery with my daughter. This is about the consistency of her mash.” He gave me another before I could do more than smile at the incongruous picture his words brought to mind.

“You should spend more time practicing. With the way things are going, Arthus and Tourth will both be setting up nurseries soon.” Iscarus nodded his head toward the couple leaving the tent.

I choked on my pottage, barely containing it.

Dardon thumped me on the back so hard it hurt.

“Tourth is going to what?” I asked the moment I could.

“He is going to ask you to marry him,” Iscarus replied.

Warrick smacked his shin.

“What? It isn’t like he asked me to keep my mouth shut.”

“How do you know?” My thoughts disseminated like scattered chaff, isolated and fruitless.

“He asked me how I got my wife to marry me.” Warrick met my gaze. “He set his mind on convincing you to stay. He is stuck on this idea that you want to go.”

“Do you?” Dardon frowned at me.

“No.”

“Then put the idiot out of his misery,” Warrick advised.

All three dropped into uncomfortable silence. Warrick continued spooning food into my mouth without meeting my eyes. Dardon broke away first.

“If you are going to handle this, I am going to go talk to Tourth about moving everyone back home. This camping stuff reminds me too much of the war.” He gathered his boots. “Glad to see you are better.” He tramped out without waiting for my reply.

Iscarus muttered. “Got to go check…”

“Get out of here, wuss.” Warrick waved at him.

“I am glad you are going to stay, Wren. They need you here.” He left.

“Big mouthed…” He focused intently on scraping the last bite from the bowl. Upon putting it in my mouth, he rose to his feet.

I eased back onto my side, seeking a comfortable position for my now aching arm. I was surprised to find him still standing there when I finally settled.

“Tourth needs you more than the valley does.” Then he walked away.

I lay in silence, stunned at what had just transpired. Fitful sleep came like a haze.

When I woke, the sun had set. My stomach bit hungrily at my gut and my mouth tasted of old cloth. The healer moved like one of the shadows among the cots. I looked for Tourth. The familiar outline of his shoulders against the pale canvas of the tent was all I could see of him. He slept with his back to the room.

“Are you in pain?” The healer touched my shoulder.

“Reasonable. The ache in my bones from not moving is almost worse at the moment.”

He nodded. “A common complaint under the circumstances. I will let you up, with assistance and no walking, tomorrow morning.”

“May I have something to eat and drink?”

“Certainly. I will wake your nurse and have him bring you something. Now no sitting up, understand?”

“Yes.”

He went directly to Tourth’s cot and shook him awake. He rolled over, alert and ready for combat. He followed the healer out and returned bearing a cup of mulled ale and bread and cheese wrapped in cloth.

“Which do you want first?” he asked, showing me the food.

“Drink.”

He set the bundle on the ground and knelt next to my cot. Propping me up with an arm around my shoulders, he offered me the cup. I relished the warmth of his presence as I sipped the warm liquid and breathed deeply of the spices.

Memories of home and gathering around the central fire on long winter nights blossom from the scents. Taerith devours a tome. Aiden and Arnan argue in low tones about something trivial, reveling in the competition more than the topic. Should the heat of the conversation grow overwhelming, they would cool it with a wrestle in the snow. Zoe watches them, eager for a chance to contribute. Her handiwork lays forgotten in her lap. I listen to them, but only to the rise and fall of the voices. My attention is on teaching Aquila to handle a knife. Ilara and Daelia bend over mending on the opposite sides of a lantern, hands and heads almost meeting in the glow. Sam sits at my knee, head heavy with coming sleep and the dreams constantly lingering in his eyes.

Memory pressed against my breastbone, aching and raw. Despite the longing, I knew the image was lost to time. We would never be so again.

Tourth shifted behind me. I took a deep draught of the ale.

Hope welled in the warmth of the liquid’s path. True, I would never be a part of siblings’ circle like I once had, but I cherished the possibility of new family circle. Arthus, Kat, Dardon, and Svhen were almost like brothers. Philon, Hiller, Warrick, and Iscarus acted like cousins, a new relationship for me. Tourth…

I swallowed all but the dregs.

No, Tourth was different.

Without a word, Tourth claimed the cup and eased me back to the cot. I watched him sleepily. He bent over the bundle of food, rumpled hair a black mass in the dimness. He offered me a bite-sized crust.

“My hands work fine.”

“Just take it, Wren. It is the least I can do.”

I took the bread. “Wallowing in guilt again?”

His head snapped up and dark eyes glinted in the light. “I am not wallowing.”

“Hmm…”

He handed me another minute piece and avoided my gaze. Three more bits of bread passed between us before he finally groaned. “Fine, I will stop.”

“Wise move.”

“But it is my fault you are injured. I should have never let you leave King Orac’s camp.”

“What would you have done to stop me?”

“Tied you up or…” His voice dropped off. We both knew I would have found a way to leave. With them I would have been a fatal liability.

“Dardon said I should ask you to stay.”

“I told him I would.”

“No…” His fingers crumbled the cheese.

“I would like to eat that,” I commented.

“Sorry.” He offered the chunk to me. I reached for it. Instead of letting me have it, he claimed my hand. “Wren, would you stay? I mean beyond the winter, for always. I can promise that you will always have a roof over your head and a fire in the hearth. I can’t offer much else at the moment. In a year or so, Lord willing, I will have more. The valley is full of rich soil and the people willing to work. Given time, we will reclaim the old security, but it is going to take work.”

“I like to work.”

“I know, but…”

“Stop trying to talk me out of it and give me the real reason you want me to stay.”

He met my gaze and truly looked at me for the first time in a long time. His eyes searched mine for the answer before he asked the question. I met his study with one of my own.

Dark blue eyes, black in the shadows of his face, hid so much. I could read his history on his face now that I knew where to look and how to interpret the lines and shadows. I wondered if he could do the same for me. Despite this knowledge, I saw more to learn.

When did it happen, Lord? When did he become so precious to my heart and necessary for my happiness? The thought of leaving had disappeared the first night. They needed me; he needed me; that was clear from the beginning. However, the roots of my own needs intertwining among his stole upon me until it was too late. All he had to do was ask the question.

He touched my face. Fingertips grazed the line of my jaw. “Wren, marry me.”

I smiled slowly. “Why?”

“Because God brought us together and I love you.”

“I cannot argue with that.”

His fingers laced through my hair near my ear, callused palm spanning my cheek. “So, is that a yes?”

“Yes, Tourth. I love you.”

He laughed and then kissed me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

© 2011 Rachel Rossano

Feedback Questions:

1) Did I miss anything crucial? If so, what?
2) Was it satisfying? If not, why?
3) Did their exchange come across as realistic? If not, what bugged you?
4) Any other comments you would like to make considering this was the last chapter.

5 Comments:

Blogger Katherine Sophia said...

Too short! *sniff* Okay... um, besides that... lol

I loved the entire part where Dardon was trying to feed Wren... and then when the other two came over it was absolutely hilarious.:D

Also, the paragraph where she is thinking about home was so cool - I loved how it summarized their personalities so well. :)

I wouldn't really know how realistic they were together :) but I liked it.

Otherwise... I guess I do hope the epilogue is long, considering that she's the one who tells everyone to come home. Here it almost seems likes she's letting go of her siblings, and not planning on ever seeing them again, which just makes me wonder what on earth would make her decide to go back.

But good job... I really like Wren and her story was a lot of fun to read. :D

12:22 AM  
Anonymous Literaturelady said...

I loved this chapter! Everything and everybody was believable and moving and satisfying. The humor offered a nice break from the seriousness of the battles. I smiled when I read Wren's memory of her family; I love flashbacks like that! :-)
I don't think you left anything out, although I would like to know if Wren ever goes back to Braedoch (spell?)even just for a visit.
I have no negative comments! This was an awesome chapter, possibly my favorite!
Blessings and congratulations at nearly finishing your book!
~Literaturelady

12:19 PM  
Blogger Rachel Rossano said...

Thank you both for responding so promptly. This is the third time I have set out to respond to your comments and this time I don't think I will get interrupted. :)

I am elated that you both enjoyed the chapter.

You have no idea how relieved I am that the humor balanced the serious stuff well. I worried about that a bit.

I can understand your concern, Katherine Sophia, about Wren letting go of her siblings. She is just comming to terms with the fact she can never recapture that past time, preparing herself for her new future.

So, to answer you both, she does return to Braedoch for a visit. I, like you, am curious how her new family will fit in with the old. :) We shall see.

Thank you again for your support and feedback. You have been a great encouragement. :)

- Rachel Rossano

4:19 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

*sigh* *sniff* It's over.

The last chapter is perfect.

I loved it all! The feelings, set up, the laughter and the bittersweet memories. It really was a perfect ending.

I don't want it to end...but it was really perfect, no loose ends just sweet satisfaction.

Thank you so much for writing thisstory. It has been so much fun to read and so worth the wait for every chapter.

Jessica

12:32 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

I enjoyed this chapter. Everything wrapped up nicely and all the dialogue was great: the exchange with the healer, Kat & Tourth, the brothers chiming in and spilling the beans, and my favorite:

I took the bread. “Wallowing in guilt again?”

His head snapped up and dark eyes glinted in the light. “I am not wallowing.”

“Hmm…”

He handed me another minute piece and avoided my gaze. Three more bits of bread passed between us before he finally groaned. “Fine, I will stop.”


I noticed that many of the things we discussed before were more clear here: Wren experiences the consequences of being on her feet after her injury, and there's the line about her being unprepared for the battle. I like how these came up in the dialogue

One typo that's easily fixed in Tourth as he tries to sleep: The worst being she felt early, ripping the remaining days away from me. (felt should should be left?)

Overall quite satisfied. Thanks for a wonderful story

7:20 PM  

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