When he awoke, he was startled to find it dark, both inside and out. He was also on his bed furs, between Rick and Andrew, a fire flickering lowly on the hearth in front of him. His mind whirled. The last thing he remembered was Elise holding a bandage on one of his wounds in front of the cabin, a few blurred memories of Gabriella and Rick….
He raised up just a little and looked beneath his fur, wondering what the wound Elise had exposed looked like. Pain shot through him, but he had seen enough to know two things: one was that one long, thick bandage wound neatly around his sword arm, while another stretched across his hip… and the second thing was that he was in only his boxers under his fur. Derrick wasn’t sure which of the two disturbed him more, considering the person he recalled administering first aid had been Elise.
He peered around him, relieved to see Fiona asleep across from him, her arm sporting a thick bandage like his, though Elise’s bed furs were strangely vacant.
Next to him, Rick started snoring. Even Rick had a bandage around his wrist. It looked as though it was evening of the same day, judging from the fresh scrapes on Andrew’s face.
He drew in a deep breath, careful not to stir the injury. This was probably nothing to a swords-woman like Gabriella, or anyone who was brought up in this world, accustomed to combat by blade. In fact, it was nothing more than a mere scratch probably. But to him, this was the worst injury he’d ever received, and he’d sustained several nasty bruises, contusions, and sprains during his athletic career, especially from football. But the point was, none of the guys who had delivered any of those were out to kill him, at least not literally. The guy he’d (killed) fought with (killed) wasn’t interested in winning a game, he had wanted him, Derrick, to die. And he’d tried his utmost to accomplish that, too. Well, actually, Derrick amended, if the (dead) Kin’keska had really tried his utmost, then he’d still be – alive –
Derrick’s throat suddenly constricted. He was sixteen years old, and he had committed murder. Killed someone. Taken a human life. He saw in his mind the whites of the Kin’keska’s surprised brown eyes as he had slid off of Derrick’s blade. He heard again the thunkthump when the man fell to the ground. He saw the man’s ripped black shirt exposing the smooth white skin beneath and the gaping red hole where his chest had been; he saw the blood and gore – human gore – shining wetly on his sword in the sunlight....A single tear rolled down his face. In sudden disgust, he moved his right arm to dash it away – And passed out from the searing pain that surged through him from the bone-deep cut below his shoulder.
Someone was calling his name. He opened his eyes blearily, suddenly aware of his arm throbbing and the smell of the liniment he had often used to rub into his sore muscles.
Elise was kneeling next to him in the loose garment the girls wore to sleep in, concern knitting her eyebrows. Her hand lay lightly on his forearm.
“You cried out just now,” she whispered.
Derrick realized he must have cried out with pain when he passed out.
“Do you need anything?” Elise asked. Her face looked wet, as if she’d been crying.
“Water,” he croaked. Derrick watched her as she disappeared into the kitchen, wondering what kept her awake so late after such a long, exhausting day.
When she returned with a pot of tea and a ladle, she whispered, “I stirred in a few more herbs for pain.”
Derrick drank the ladle full of tea, studying Elise’s face. Her face looked slightly wet; a trace of tears tracked down the side of her face. What had made her cry? Elise was the strongest girl he’d ever met. Probably the events of the day; he decided, it wasn’t every day that you witnessed the slaughter of human beings….
As Elise took back the ladle and dipped it in the tea again, she shrugged her hair out of the way in an impatient gesture. He knew she hated having to grow her hair; she only allowed it to flow loose at night. Derrick’s eyes fell to her shoulder, where a terrible bruise was spreading beneath her sleeve. Who had manhandled her like that! He didn’t know she’d fought a Kin’keska so closely. That explained the faint odor of liniment.
“How did you get that?” Derrick gestured with his chin at the evil looking bruise.
Elise stared at him for a moment, her blue eyes seeming to consider something as the firelight flickered across her face. After a moment, she blinked and shook her head, dismissing the question as unimportant and thrust the ladle at him again.
Puzzled, Derrick pushed the ladle away with his good arm. Had a Kin’keska man tried to…. “How did you get it?” he insisted.
“Shhhh,” Elise whispered, glancing around at their sleeping comrades. “Drink this.” She made no move to shrug away the black curls that fell over her shoulder again.
He didn’t understand why she was evading him… what was she hiding? Derrick reached around the ladle she had thrust at him and pulled the strap down off her shoulder, pushing her hair back gently.
At first he thought something heavy had fallen on her, like a log. Then he realized that the blackening bruise was shaped like a large hand, darkest on the top of her shoulder where the fingertips had gripped the soft flesh below her collarbone. He raised his eyes to Elise, whose countenance bore a rueful expression in the flickering firelight.
A hazy memory of her trying to support him surfaced. With growing apprehension, he set his own shaking hand against the dark handprint on her smooth skin. It matched perfectly. He had done… that?
“I am so sorry,” he whispered with dismay. “I didn’t know –”
Elise shrugged with her good shoulder and pulled her sleeve back up self-consciously. “Small price to pay.”