Bleed for Me

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Chapter 28 - Raines

“Calix Mandalia, you stand accused of the following charges: treason against Volcin, Caerini, and the Eraviscian Isles; abandoning your contract of civic duty as a member of the Caerinian Warrior Dance Team without reasonable need; engaging in a romantic and sexual domestic partnership while serving a warrior dance team with full knowledge that such is expressly forbidden according to the international requirements and conditions of ceremonial and warrior dancers; corrupting said partner and influencing them so as to abandon their own civic duty as a drafted member of Caerini’s military and naval defense; provoking civilians in the town of Rushes with the intent of harm; and deliberately and repeatedly deceiving - via both words and actions - the Caerinian and Volcin governments.

“What have you to say for yourself?”

Bile rolls in my stomach. They really have pulled out all the stops. He is not guilty of half of these things, and I am guilty of the other half. Why have I not been arrested? Why have thousands of elves across Azurheim not been arrested on these grounds?

I grip the bench, white-knuckled. My eyes snap down to Cal as his voice rasps forth. How can he overcome these fabrications?

“Your honor…. I can only claim credit for two of these accusations.”

The judges face seethes.

My gods, help him. Someone fucking help him! No one glances at my howling brain. Not a single friendly face presents itself to this courtroom; two hundred visages of stone glaring down at the man I know to be good and kind.

And innocent.

No one speaks for him, advises him, supports him.

He is not golden in this moment. He is small. And weak. And broken.

“And which crimes might those be?” the probing judge beckons his confession from him. She must be stupid. He will not hang himself.

I cannot hear anything but for the roar in my ears.

“I did leave my team unannounced. But it was not without reasonable wont. I was badly hurt in a conflict in rushes, in which several commoners attacked me in the street. I was attempting to make my way back to the team’s ship. In recovery, I disembarked to visit a local apothecary, who helped me get back on my feet. While I was there, our ship departed.”

I frown. That is not what happened. This story rings no truth of our escape, our slipping past the guards in a cargo box bound for shore, our sweaty hands twined up together in the moonlight.

“I chose not to follow. How could I? Half of my bones were broken. Besides, I thought it best the team did without my distraction and consumption of resources as they continued to compete.”

“Your team lost the next six competitions. This is unheard of, even with blind, rotten luck on their side.”

“I cannot speak to this, your honor. I do not know why this coincided with my departure.”

“Perhaps it is because you cheated.” The voice sails from the mouth of an onlooker, whom the judge shoots down with her stare. But I can already hear the whispers spreading like mites throughout the room.

A muscle beneath her left eye starts to twitch. She has the look of a woman who must once have been kind, but whom authority and necessity has bittered and broken. “And what of this second charge you admit to? Which is it?”

“I was engaged in a domestic partnership, your honor.”

“The name of this person?”

Lie. Lie, Calix, please lie. In all the time I have spent with him, he has not lied, not once. Admittance to this crime is enough. Do not soil it further. Every detail he might recount proves our intimacy.

“Raines Yvin.”

“So the papers were correct, then.” I wish the judge’s words sounded more like a question.

“Yes. But there is - ”

“Where is this man?”

“He is dead, your honor.”

I blink. She looks up from the parchment her hand has been tracing across with a quill.

“Dead?”

He looks down. I watch Cal’s broad chest rise and fall. “Yes.”

“The papers have said nothing of it. Surely someone involved tightly with your scandal would be mentioned if they had died?”

“It was…. Quite recent, your honor.”

Someone coughs. I look back and forth beneath my lashes at those on either side of me. I once traveled with these men for weeks not long ago. Is it possible they may not know my name? The generals do not address us by name, and I kept to myself during my time on the ship…. I cannot pin a name to any elf’s face I see here.

“What were the circumstances of this man’s death?”

“Infection, your honor.”

“Infection?”

“He has been nursing a foot injury for some weeks. This is why he was discharged from his ship. The wound was deep. It reopened several days ago and quickly became overrun with the blood disease. He…” Cal’s eyes flick around the room. I look down to my shaking fingers. My face is hot. “He died last night.”

The judge scribbles onto her parchment in the next heavy moment.

“You deny the rest of your accusations? Treason, corrupting Raines Yvin, provoking Rushes civilians to the point of attack in retaliation, and deceiving the Caerinian and Volcin governments?”

“I do.”

“Very well.” She clears her throat, sweeping her gaze around the rapt listeners. “We will return with a final decision and sentence in one hour.” Clack. “Dismissed.

Rising with the rest, I am shuffled along benches, down ring after ring of stone bleachers and out the very same archway Cal was ushered through, though when we emerge into the massive atrium, he is nowhere to be seen. There are tables of food, rich stews and roasts spread out elaborately, steaming, as if this is a celebration. A part for the abolishment of a long-outdated law at last, not the trial of an innocent man in the claws of a desperate government.

I am offered a drink and my fingers twitch to take it, but instead I knock the glass from the elf’s hand. I hope it smashes over the heads of everyone who would condemn Cal. It sails through the air on a quick, direct trajectory, shattering across the floor. It’s contents splatter over marble, creating shiny puddles that reflect shocked faces. “Sorry,” I mumble. Gradually, everyone turns away. I make my way to the scene of my tiny crime, shuffling my boots through the shards of glass, attempting to scoot them into a pile. They screech across the stone. I kneel, beginning to collect the pieces in my palm. A narrow sliver slices open the length of my index finger. Blood pools immediately, dripping everywhere.

A figure kneels beside me. I feel her presence more than truly see her on the frays of my vision.

“Let’s get you cleaned up,” she murmurs, grasping my wrist and standing us both up.

“But my mess,” I tumble over my tongue. “I have to….” I glance back at the glass, decorating the floor.

“Someone else will get it,” she says, waving over an assistant. “This way.”

Her voice washes through me, eroding away the grit and shrapnel embedded in my heart and lungs. It becomes easier to breathe.

We ease down a corridor and come to a nook with a stone basin carved into the wall. A trickle of clear water dribbles from the wall and flows down a chute before disappearing back into the stone.

Blood has dripped down my wrist and is covering the elf’s fingers, but she doesn’t seem to care. I lift my hand over the lip of the basin and watch as the water stains pink.

“Thank you. For helping me,” I say.

She nods quietly, rubbing the blood from my skin. “I am Ziizaya. I have been outside the courtroom, though no one realizes I can hear everything.”

My eyes widen and I look at her waif-like frame for the first time. She feels colorless; hair a light, average brown; skin somewhere between the pale tones of the northern tribes and darker hues from the south like mine; eyes, a grayish green.

“It is alright,” she assures me. “I do not mind that you are partners.” Ziizaya’s face creases. “That is, if you are… I mean, I don’t - ”

“We are,” I affirm.

“I wish you well. Both of you.”

“Thank you.”

“I hope he is cleared today.” Ziizaya holds my gaze earnestly. Somehow I breathe easier with her. She has a soft energy, like my mother.

“Sir Yvin.”

I jump. An official marches towards us down the hall. I pull my hand from the water, which has mostly cleared of its pink taint. Ziizaya straightens.

“Sir Yvin. The trial recommences. Are you ready?”

Perhaps I’ve reached the moment when I believe in the gods. If they clear Cal…. I will worship them until my dying day.

I nod, treading back to the entrance hall and then ducking the arched doorway unnecessarily into the courtroom.

A blanket of silence curls around us all, muffling the tension lurking in every corner. Straying to Cal, my eyes sting with his pain.

Golden hair muted dishwater bland, a gray tinge holds up the pallor of his face. HIs arms are strung up over splintered boards resting across the supports of the chair. He is chained to the wood. Twitching, my boy grits teeth, causing chainlinks to clink and kiss.

The judge smacks the gavel to her table and my ears shrink in on themselves at the sudden harsh noise.

“After a one hour recess in which all members of court gathered to discuss the outcome of Calix Mandalia’s crimes, we reconvene to present the findings of our decision. Calix Mandalia’s accusations include….”

Sounds are bubbly and distorted, blurring into my brain. I know why our ancestors chose to establish a pacifistic world.

“....and Volcin governments. Our unbias jury - ”

I choke on this bite of words. I gag fear into my damp palms. Someone grabs my arm and I assure them I’m alright. I have never told a bigger lie.

“ - carefully deliberating to reach our conclusion which comes in the best interest of those conflicting nations of Caerini and Volcin, their allies, undeclared parties, ceremonial and competition dancers, and civilians alike.

“Calix Mandalia is an undisputed treasonous threat, and has perpetuated an otherwise brief and easily-resolved conflict. Our jurors have met with representatives of every major nation, and have come to a decision that will both inflict our verdict upon this young miscreant and establish temporary peace among all of Azurheim until a more permanent solution can be agreed upon.”

Mom. Maybe she’s…. It’s too much to hope that she’s safe,. That she’s lived with relative comfort and consistency since my departure.

And Niamh. Is she home? Did Azizi send her back to Caerini once war was declared? Please, let them be alright.

The judge is talking more about how this sentence comes on the heels of the first war in centuries and, when carried out, will serve as a temporary negotiation of peace, as it is in the best interest of all nations. Has she already said what’s to happen to him? No, I don’t think so. There’s been no reaction from the crowd.

I shift my weight. Has a more uncomfortable bench ever been crafted? Moss is always best for a weary body. I long for my green bed, springy and dew-covered as it always was when I returned from mapping out the stars. When the breath of the earth was quiet and calm, a Caerinian salt-sea wind rolling in dollops over the ground to my nose.

I can hear the wood nymphs’ mingled tones entwining with the water sprites’ and druids.’ Mar loved their song most of all. Perhaps he was right about Mars and Neptune. About the frothing ire of the gods.

“ - will be executed.”

The world snaps into sharp focus. What? What?

I try to speak, numb lips trembling before my closed-off throat. I have sucked in all the air from this court chamber.

Executed.

I’m vomiting, elves in front of me whirling in disgust, then pity.

Executed.

Someone grabs my face, forcing my head up.

Executed. Executed. Executed.

They’re screaming in my ear, louder, this claxon of a fucking word. I’m going to kill them, the judge, whoever’s made this horrible, wrong, decision, this -

“Raines!”

I heave my eyes to focus on her. She’s still clutching my face and I feel every square inch of skin-on-skin as her hands hold my cheeks. Ziizaya.

“Ziizaya,” I drag my voice over coals.

“Raines. Stand up. We’re getting you out of here.”

She’s echoing. Out of here, out of here….

A press of bodies cements my hand to hers and my air to my lungs and my eyes to the door. Everyone else is breathing but me. We’re crossing out of the room, into the atrium and among these thousands of millions of faces, one floats to the surface. A pale face with jade eyes. A stricken face, cracked clear through with terror and want.

“Calix!” I roar, scrabbling at anyone who’s got a hold of me, beating them out of the way. “CALIX!!”

Our fingertips brush together over the miles of bureaucracy and war and untruths between us. Pale against olive, smooth against trough, treasonous against me.

We are the eye of a storm, our hands meeting. Everything is silence and I see our every moment together. Panpipes. A dawn field. The beach. A boat infirmary. A cozy bed of safety.

And now.

There is also now.

A now where time is whipped back to work and noise returns violently, immediate, and that beloved elf - panicking and fighting and screaming my name - is torn away.

We are ripped from each other and the world goes gray.

It was the last time I would ever touch him.

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