If the wounds had been made by a knife or a werewolf’s claws, they would have been serious, but not life threatening. However, these were clearly bite wounds. It had happened to other hunters, of course. Many died either from the bite itself or from the side effects of the antidote. A few turned into werewolves because they were not treated efficiently or in time, but the rest … The rest could be saved. Hector had better belong to the last category. His injuries were only a couple of days old at the most, Peter assessed. It meant that the antidote the hunter had carried with him should be enough for now. And hopefully his body could take it. He had been drinking too much lately, but his liver should be able to break down some of the poison, and his heart was strong.
“Hector?” Peter slapped the hunter’s cheek, but there was no reaction. He put his fingers on the clammy throat. There was a pulse, but it was unpleasantly weak. His breathing was erratic and superficial. “Thank you, Magda,” Peter added to his fellow doctor. She had returned with the supplies he had asked for. He cleaned the wounds and smeared a thick cream on them which smelled like the tea Peter continued to drink in the hope that it would help him in the long run.
“Come on, Hector. I need your help now,” Peter muttered. The stubborn fool had better not die now. Not here, not in Peter’s care. “Hector!”
Finally the hunter reacted. His eyes fluttered open, but they did not focus on anything. Did he even realise that he had made it back home?
“Hector?” Peter bent closer to him and touched his arm. “You need to tell me …”
“Two nights,” Hector breathed, “before Frankfurt. Two doses.”
“When did you drink them?” Peter asked. That was the most important thing. He could not risk killing the hunter by giving him the next dose too early or let him turn into a werewolf by giving it to him too late.
Hector’s hand moved and grasped at the air. Peter automatically took it although he was well aware that it was only an involuntary muscle spasm caused by the aconitum in the medicine and not a wish to hold anyone’s hand.
“Just after,” Hector gasped. His lips were uncannily white and cracked. “And this morning. Rode all night.”
“Have you been sick? Did you throw up?” Peter needed to know how much was left in the hunter’s body.
“Early. Just before the second dose.” Hector grimaced. He closed his eyes again and clutched Peter’s hand tightly.
“Good. Very good, Hector,” the doctor said. “I’m taking care of you now. You’re home now.”
Hector’s eyes opened again. “I got it.”
“Got ..? Oh, the werewolf.” Peter smiled, confused. “That’s good, Hector.” But although it was not Peter’s area, of course it was relevant to tell someone. If he hadn’t managed to kill it, other hunters needed to be informed so they could take care of it.
The hand went slack again, and Peter gently placed it on the bed and let go. He mixed two kinds of medicine, poured the concoction into an ampoule, and put the container on a syringe. He pulled the coat half off Hector’s arm and looked for a suitable vein. It wasn’t easy to find one, but after a little while, he managed to inject the medicine. It ought to relieve some of the pain and act as an antidote to the antidote. It was a laborious procedure, but hopefully it would help. He studied the hunter’s face for a moment, but nothing happened right away. “Magda,” he said, “we need to undress him and move him to a clean bed.”
Now the routine was setting in. Well, perhaps not exactly routine because Peter had not been through this procedure more than twice before, and it would be an overstatement to call both treatments successful. But he was wearing his white coat, and he was in the hospital wing. It was his home ground, and he knew what to do. And right now, all he could do was to keep an eye on the patient for a few hours and then get ready for the next dose of the antidote.
Hector breathed in deeply. Something was wrong. He was inside a strange bubble of apathy and pain and felt an uncanny lack of connection to himself. As if he were far away from his own body. No, not the body. It was his own thoughts or feelings that he was disconnected from. But although his reaction to all this was oddly calm, there was no doubt that something hurt a lot. And it was just as clear that he had a fever and that several of his vital organs were struggling not to give up and that he was lying down, almost naked, with a blanket over him.
The voice sounded familiar. Tomas? No. No, not Tomas. And, it occurred to him, hopefully not Tomas because that would mean that he was dead or dying. He forced is eyelids open. A blurry, Peter-shaped figure was bent over him. That was a relief. Something was clearly very wrong with him, so it was good that Peter was here because Peter was a doctor, and he would make sure to take care of it.
“Welcome back, Hector.”
Hector opened his mouth. His lips were dry and burned terribly, and the sensation continued down his throat.
“You need to drink. Can you swallow?” the Peter-shaped figure asked. It was starting to get a little clearer now.
Hector tried. It hurt, but yes, he could swallow.
“Good.” Peter put a hand under his head and lifted it a little. Something that reminded him of a feeding bottle was put to his lips and cool water dripped into his mouth. He swallowed again. “As much as you can,” Peter said. He sounded calm. That was good. If Peter was calm, things would work out fine.
The bottle was removed and Hector saw Peter put it somewhere behind him. Then he wiped something cool and damp across Hector’s forehead. It made him shiver, but it was not unpleasant. He was sweating and freezing at the same time.
Peter touched his wrist and then the side of his neck. Probably checking the pulse. The past slowly began to take shape like clay on a potter’s wheel. It started out as a formless mass and was slowly molded into thoughts. He had been bitten. He had returned to Frankfurt. He remembered getting off his horse and had a feeling that Peter had been there, but after that there was nothing. How long had he been home? Since he was lying in a bed with very little clothes on and it felt like someone had put a proper bandage on his shoulder, some time must have passed. Several hours perhaps.
“Hector? Can you move your hands for me?”
He clenched both fists and opened them again. It wasn’t easy, but he could do it.
“Very good. And your feet?”
It was harder to make them work, but it worked when he concentrated. He felt strangely triumphant. Then his hand made a strange convulsion. Peter grabbed it. Not to hold him back. It felt like a friendly gesture. He wrapped his fingers around Peter’s hand. Now they felt like clay too.
“You’re getting better, Hector. That is good,” Peter said and smiled at him. He looked exhausted. Did he get enough sleep these days?
Peter held his hand a littler more firmly. “Yes, Hector?”
“Are you tired?”
The doctor looked surprised. Then he laughed. Quietly, but it was definitely laughter. “A little. But you are better now, so we can all get some rest.”
Hector frowned. “How long ..?”
“Since last time you were awake? Only a few hours.” Peter studied his face. “But that’s not what you meant, was it? You have been in Frankfurt for four days.”
Hector’s mouth opened of its own volition. That could not be true. But Peter explained everything to him calmly. More calmly that it had probably happened. He had been taken to the hospital wing and been given antidotes against the werewolf bite twice a day since then. He had been awake a few times, but he had been feverish, and Peter did not expect him to remember very much of it. The medicine had almost killed him, but he was past the critical point now. He would have to continue getting the antidote for a week, but the doses were so low now that his body should be able to take it without any problems.
Hector did not know what to say. Being bitten by a werewolf was serious. He had always known that, and it was common knowledge that the antidote easily could kill a patient. No child or anyone with a weak heart had ever survived those amounts of aconitum. Hector stifled a yawn and looked up at the doctor. “Peter?”
The next time he woke up, Hector felt a bit better. A bit more like himself. This time Peter was not there, but another man was standing by the window. He had drawn the white curtain back a little and was looking out. It was not a doctor or a nurse, but a tall man in riding boots who had a revolver belt slung around his slender hips.
Hector sighed. He really must feel better because it irked him a little bit to see Louis here when he was in this humiliating, horizontal position without the ability to get up. He could only imagine how he looked.
Louis turned around. His face was grave at first, but he smiled when he saw that Hector was watching him. “Hector!”
Hector smiled back at him to the best of his abilities. “Louis …”
“How are you?”
“Have you ever been thrown off a horse and dragged along?”
“Yes,” Louis said.
“And had a bad flu?”
“Yes,” Louis said again.
Hector smiled weakly. “Those two things together. But Peter says I’m getting better.”
Louis shook his head and stepped closer. “You are. You had us all worried. The last time I saw you, you really didn’t look good.”
“Oh … Yes, Peter did say you don’t remember anything.” Louis shrugged. “I was here shortly after you arrived. And then again later. And once more. You were awake once, but you … weren’t really there.”
Hector closed his eyes again. “I’m sorry about that.”
“Not your fault. Dammit, Hector …”
There it was. The blame. He would almost have preferred being laughed at. Been told that he was stupid. He really did not want to hear what Louis was going to say in that reproaching tone of voice.
“First Tomas and now you …”
Hector opened his eyes again. His mouth made a snarling grimace. If only he had the strength, he would get out of bed and grab Louis by the collar. That was not fair. That was simply too low, even for Louis. “You … Don’t you dare,” he stuttered. “It has nothing to do with Tomas …”
Louis just regarded him. It was not fair.
Hector gritted his teeth. He couldn’t go, but perhaps he could ask Louis to get out of here.
“Hector …” Louis sounded so earnest that it was hard not to look at him again. “I am not blaming you. Do you think I’m trying to say that you went on a suicide mission? In that case, you would not have come back. And you would not have gone through hell with the antidote.”
“No,” Hector hissed, “I wouldn’t.”
Louis heaved a long and audible sigh. “Now you are getting the break from the job that you probably should have had after Tomas.”
Hector didn’t reply.
But Louis was right about one thing. Peter administered antidote over the next week, and although it was true that he wasn’t as ill from it as he had been to begin with, he constantly felt under the weather. He almost missed just sleeping most of the day. Still, he gradually did grow stronger. He went from sitting up to finally getting to his feet with a little help and managed to go to the bathroom and wash on his own. And that was when he began to get really impatient.
Hector Rothenberg didn’t just sit around all day. He had been injured before, but he could not remember ever feeling this weak. Even the slightest effort left him breathless. But he was constantly improving, and he had not turned into a werewolf. Probably.