Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.
“He needs the physicians.” Jerica bent and swept him up in her arms. It was awkward. He was much larger than she was, and she had to cradle him to keep the blade from doing any more internal damage than it already had.
“I’ll take him.”
“The troops need you.” Jerica didn’t slow her pace.
“For the love of the gods, RUN!”
“Sir!” She shifted Rek’s weight in her arms so that her right arm was hooked under his lower back, supporting the bulk of his weight. His legs were hooked over her left arm. “Put your head down.”
Rek rested his head on her shoulder, hand still pressed against the dagger in his side. Jerica burst through the entrance of the tent, sprinting as fast as she could back towards the city wall. It was sheer chaos. People were fighting all around her, the clanging of blades and anguished shouts filling her head. Her focus was singular – get to the physicians, or die trying.
Her body was electrified. She felt her heart thumping hard against her ribcage, but nothing else. Any injury she might have had was forgotten in her panic to get Rek to help. This was all her fault. Oh gods, don’t die.
She got them through the gate.
“Rek?” She started up the cobblestone path that lined the hill directly up to the palace.
He murmured, head lolling against her shoulder.
“Rek!” She sprinted up the hill as fast as she could while carrying him. “Rek, stay with me. Don’t go to sleep. Wake up.”
“It hurts, Jer.”
He might as well have stabbed the dagger into her heart for the way his words pierced through her chest. She swallowed down the knot tying itself in her throat. She’d take a thousand blades if she could un-make the choices that led to this moment. All of them. She’d un-kill Valeren and the physicians. She’d un-insult Josef. She’d throw herself in the dirt and kiss Lord Femola’s feet and beg his forgiveness. “I know. Try to stay awake.”
She burst into the palace, entire body trembling. The sole guard snapped to attention. Ordinarily they’d have multiple guards at every entrance, but most of them had been pulled to serve on the front lines. Most of the remaining Palace Guards surrounded Levin every moment of the day.
“Physicians!” She screeched. “GET THE PHYSICIANS!”
“Ma’am!” He turned on his heel and bolted up the stairs, armor clanking.
The physicians’ offices were on the third floor, on the wing furthest from her room that they could be. Rek’s room was on the second floor, just below the physicians’ wing. She stumbled up the stairs, running as fast as she could manage through the halls and into Rekard’s room. His attendants leapt to their feet at the sudden arrival.
“Water!” Jerica barked, running towards the bed. “Bandages!”
She dumped Rek on his bed. He groaned. She grabbed the dagger sitting on his bedside table and sliced through his tunic. The fabric fell away from his body. He was too pale. She and Rek were normally paler than their countrymen – some odd trick of pedigree, no doubt – but his abdomen was ghostly white. Blood still seeped from his wound.
The Physicians rushed into the room.
She backed away helplessly as they flocked around his side, yanking various supplies out of their medical bags. Jerica couldn’t tear her gaze from Rek’s face. He looked so much younger now. He was several months older than her, but in that moment, it was as if he was the same age as her squire. A child.
This is my fault. The refrain ran through her mind again and again. And again. And again. She’d steal the entirety of the riches that the treasury contained and trade it, if only someone could back up time and let the blade find her neck, like Rileng intended.
Rileng. Rage flooded into her again. That death was too good for him. He deserved something slow; intimate. Painful. She’d rip each of his fingernails off and cram them into the cavity behind his eyes. She’d make a thousand tiny cuts on his tongue before she cut it off and shoved it down his throat until he could taste his own lungs. She’d – oh gods, she was going to be the reason Rek died.
“He’s lost a lot of blood…” Jerica’s attention snapped to the head physician as he addressed her. “Ordinarily we’d ask the King… or the War Lord… but there’s a—”
“Will it help him?” Jerica interrupted.
“It’s a new procedure,” he answered. “But so far there’s been great success with it.”
“What do you need to do it?” Jerica questioned.
“Well… the procedure involves collecting another person’s blood in a bladder and then coaxing it into his body to help replenish the lost blood. We need to find a suitable donor.”
“Take mine.” Jerica stepped forward, holding her arm out.
“No.” The head physician’s voice was firm. “You have already lost too much blood today. It’d be too risky. We can find another –”
Jerica’s gaze landed on the dagger still sitting on Rek’s night stand. She grabbed the dagger and sank it in her left arm, next to the elbow, and yanked it down the length of her forearm. She yanked on the last thread of her tunic that was clinging to her wrist, snapping it so that she could pull the sleeve away from the blood dripping down her arm.
Jerica grabbed a nearby pan and held her arm over it. Large droplets of crimson splattered against the shiny metal bottom, then smeared together as more joined them. The blood slipped down the pan and pooled in the bottom corner. The floor shifted under her. The pan was small, but it was already half filled.
“That’s enough.” The physician grabbed the pan. She looked towards him. The room spun. She clenched her fist. The blood flowed from her arm faster, dripping off her fingers into the pot. “We have enough! Let me have it!”
Jerica released her grasp, allowing the physician to take the container from her. She stepped backwards, out of his way. The room spun again, the floor in front of her tilting upwards. She tried to take a step up the now-vertical floor to get back to her chair, but stumbled forward. She crumpled to the ground, lights dancing in front of her eyes.
“Take care of her!” The physician’s voice seemed distant now. “For the love of the gods, if either of them dies on our watch, we’re all going to get executed. Stitch her up now.”