It was a testament to Arkan’s military training that while the others momentarily froze, his first instinct was to lunge forward and catch Kellan, who immediately tried to push him away.
His throat worked, but he seemed unable to speak. His skin was alarmingly hot; Arkan could feel the heat through his clothes.
“Don’t fight me,” Arkan said gently. “Calm down.”
To Zara, he said, “Water.”
She handed him a glass, and Arkan pushed it into Kellan’s hand. “Drink, Kellan.”
Asa kneeled beside him. “Let me,” she said.
Arkan sat back as she helped him drink. “This seems too bad to be the effect of the wound,” he said.
Asa sighed, placing the glass back when Kellan pushed it away. “He was poisoned,” she said quietly. Arkan waited, but no further explanation came.
“Poisoned?” he said, as Asa helped Kellan sit up against herself. “Why the hell isn’t he with the doctor, then?”
“He insisted he was fine!” Asa said defensively.“I don’t know this poison; I don’t know what it does. I didn’t think it’d be that bad.”
“Are you kidding me? His blood is turning black!”
Kellan made a choked sound, limp against Asa, his arm loosely clutched to his chest. His chest rose and fell sporadically with unsteady breaths.
“Guys,” Zara cut in sharply, ”priorities.”
Right. Arkan hissed in a breath and checked Kellan’s pulse. It was too rapid; Kellan seemed to be panicking. “Calm him down,” he said. “Call him by his name. Talk about nonsense. Keep talking It’ll ground him.”
Asa nodded, and Arkan got to his feet and turned to his mother, who still sat, watching them with a haughty air of righteous anger. For the first time, Arkan realized just how irritating it was.
“Get a doctor,” he said to her, and she raised her eyebrows. “The best in the country! I don’t how or where just go.”
“You will not talk to me like that,” she began, and Arkan snapped.
“Kellan is dying, Mother,” he said, louder than what was perhaps required. “I do not care how much you might hate him, but if you have a shred of sympathy in you, you will go and get him the best doctor in Karam.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“You are the Queen, as you so keenly reminded Kellan! I imagine that status must cone with benefits, no?”
She bristled. “I will deal with you later,” she told Arkan and strode from the room with the grace that Arkan, for once, hated.
Arkan huffed and turned back to the girls. With alarm, he saw that even in the short time he’d attended to his mother, Kellan had gone completely pale, sweat a thick coat on his face. He wasn’t moving.
“He’s not unconscious,” Asa said, voice strained with worry. “But he isn’t responding either.”
Arkan ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t what to do,” he said helplessly. “Maybe, uh...try to get through to him?”
“I’m trying,” Asa said in frustration, then noticeably gentler, turned to Kellan. “Hey,” she said, patting his cheek. Kellan gave no response. “Kellan, come on. I know you’re okay.”
Kellan’s body shuddered, and his hands clenched, fisted into Asa’s shirt. His breathing became rapid.
Warily, Arkan said, “Kellan?”
And then, Kellan started to seize.
Asa cursed colourfully and laid Kellan’s body on the ground. “Keep your hand under his head,” she told Zara. “I’ll keep his legs down. Zara, count the seconds the seizure lasts. Arkan, you run and get the doctor.”
Arkan nodded and scrambled to his feet, giving one worried glance at Kellan before running as fast as he could to the doctor’s chambers. When he burst in, out of breath and dishevelled, the doctor--who had been poring over a book--startled and got to his feet.
“Prince Arkan,” he said in astonishment. “Is everything alright?”
“You have to come with me,” Arkan panted, as urgent as he could manage with his growing panic. “Hurry, please. Kellan is dying.”
To his credit, the doctor barely hesitated before grabbing his bag and saying to Arkan, “Where is the Prince?”
“The dining chamber,” Arkan said, and they both ran back.
Thankfully, Kellan had stopped seizing, but now he was shivering almost as hard, huddled into Zara. His eyes were open--which Arkan supposed had to be an improvement--and although they were dazed and unfocused, he looked more aware than he had before.
“It’s okay, Kellan,” she was saying, rubbing his arm, “you’re alright.”
“Two minutes,” Asa said quietly to Arkan.
Kellan closed his eyes and a violent shiver ran through him, releasing a shaky breath. The doctor placed his bag on the floor and kneeled beside the girls.
“Alright, Princesses,” he said gently, “he’s going to be okay now. Why don’t you go outside for a bit while I treat him?”
Asa hesitated, the nodded. “Okay,” she said, and with Zara, left.
“Prince Arkan,” he said, checking Kellan’s pulse, “if you would tell me his symptoms?”
“He was poisoned,” Arkan said with a deep breath. “It turned his blood black-ish and caused extreme weakness. He couldn’t seem to be able to talk or move, and it sounded as if he was severe pain. He wasn’t unconscious but couldn’t respond either. Then--then he started to seize, and it lasted two minutes.”
The doctor nodded, leaning down to hear Kellan’s heartbeat. “Help me get his shirt off.”
But as he started to unbutton Kella’s collar, Kellan flinched away, making a scared sound. His breathing sped up, his face contorting with effort.
“It’s okay, Kellan,” Arkan said, his hand a steady weight on his head. He hoped it would help. “It’s okay. He’s here to help you.”
Kellan stilled, and the doctor murmured, “So he can still hear you and understand you?”
“I suppose so, yes,” Arkan said. “That’s good, right?”
“Indeed,” the doctor said. “He has a fever, which is a sign that his body is trying to fight the poison. That’s good as well. But his wound might complicate things.”
“But he’ll be okay, right?” Arkan asked, ashamed at how small his voice sounded.
The doctor sighed. “His state right now might seem improved,” he said, “but I fear the poison is at its peak. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“It’s magic,” Arkan said, his heart sinking. “Asa said it was magic.”
“Well, that’s certainly not good,” he said. “I hate to break it to you, my Prince, but unless I identify this poison--which, if it’s magic, will be near impossible--I won’t be able to make the antidote.”
Arkan’s heart pounded in his ears. “What chance has he to pull through anyway?”
The doctor clicked his tongue. “His body is strong,” he said, “but I fear that won’t be enough.”
“Is there nothing you can do?”
Quietly, the doctor shook his head.
Arkan’s heart sank to his boots. Taking a tight breath, he looked at Kellan, who lay with his eyes closed, looking impossibly exhausted. Without the smile that was always brightening his face, he looked older and worn-out. Seeing him so still and vulnerable and in pain, Arkan felt a rush of protectiveness that surprised even him.
He found none of the hate that had been there before. He figured it had been jealousy--Kellan had shown up after ten years and taken everyone’s attention. Arkan had been the Prince of Karam when he’d been gone, but with Kellan--charming, intelligent, beloved Kellan--back, what was he? The Prince of Nothing.
But he had no right to blame it on Kellan. Kellan wasn’t his enemy. He was his brother.
“I’m very sorry, Prince Arkan,” the doctor said, jerking Arkan out of his thoughts. “Should I break it to the Princesses, or will you?”
“I will,” Arkan said quietly. “Thank you.”
“Always, my Prince,” the doctor said, and gathered up his things.
If we don’t find the one who did this, Arkan thought, Kellan’s done for.
He took a deep breath, bracing himself to tell the girls. He knew that their chances of finding the bastard were near zero. He’d be long gone by now, and they didn’t even know who had done this. We’ll try, but it’s best not to get out hopes high.
Taking a deep breath, he said to the doctor, “Send the Princesses in, please.”
He nodded and left. A moment later, the girls rushed in.
“What’d he say?” Asa asked.
Arkan took another breath, his chest aching. “He can’t do anything,” he said. “If we don’t catch the one who did this, Kellan has no chance of surviving.”
He closed his eyes, not able to see the way he knew their expression would splinter, the hope on their faces vanishing. There was silence for a long while, then Zara slid to the floor and whispered, “Oh, Kellan.”
Arkan heard Asa take a deep breath.
“Araysh did this,” she said, her voice angry. “I mean, it all figures, right? He’s the one who kidnapped Kellan, and he had magic. Who else could it be?”
“I think that too,” Arkan said, envying her for the way she could turn her pain into anger so easily. “Finding him will be hard, but I’ll do it, even if it’s the last thing I do.”
“We should at least get him to his bed,” Zara said over sobs, her trembling hands stroking Kellan’s hair. “At least he’ll go a little more comfortably.”
“Zara,” Asa said gently, “he won’t die. You know that. He’s Kellan. He can’t die.”
They lapsed into silence again, listening to Kellan’s ragged breaths, which were evened out enough for Arkan to think he was unconscious or at least asleep. Good. At least it was better than him having to endure all that pain.
“Let’s get him to his room,” Arkan said then, then called for the guards.
“Sir,” one said, head ducked.
“Get Prince Kellan to his chambers,” Arkan said. “Be extremely careful.”
They gently picked him up and slowly left the room. The three trailed after them. Halfways through, a voice behind him suddenly said, no emotion in it, “I have the antidote here.”
All three of them whirled around.