More snow covered the city of Demor. At least a foot carpeted the garden, while the white piles weighted down the branches of the trees. The cold air had no scent when Liora took a deep breath as they landed at the stables.
Her cheeks burned and her lashes were frozen but Liora didn’t care. The soles of her boots slipped over the steps as she hit the bottom, scraping her hands. They stung and burned, but she clenched them tightly into fists as she hurried to the door leading to the walkway.
Four hours they had flown, and those were the longest hours. Her boots chorked down the hall, while she hopped to remove them. She was inside, and the floors were cold but at least her toes wouldn’t be pinching any longer.
The girl hurried down the hallway, up the flight of stairs and stopped before the prince’s room. There wasn’t any music. There was no laughter or loud stories being shared. None of the Sisters were wandering the halls, and even Charn wasn’t there.
Liora hesitated for a moment.
How bad would he look seeing him now? How could she tell him how much fun she had when he had been suffering?
The gnawing feeling she had in the pit of her stomach regarding the boy’s cough had been right. Liora had noted changes in his daily routines, but no one thought anything of it. She hadn’t fought for him like she had with his leg. She had let them overturn her intuitions.
As she rushed into his room she noticed the flames roaring in the fireplace. The velvet curtains were drawn to keep in the heat, while a bed-warmer sat under the covers at the end of the bed, its iron handle sticking out from the opening in the footboard.
This was similar to how she had first seen him, except Cáel wasn’t screaming. The boy had been abnormally quiet over the days she was away. So much so, they hadn’t noticed he was fading away.
Cáel resembled a mummy, a pile of bones wrapped in skin. His eyes were sunken into his sockets, while his cheeks were gaunt, and his complexion pale. A layer of glistening sweat speckled across his face. His ginger curls were plastered beside his ears and forehead. The silk quilt was tucked over his withered frame. One arm escaped to rest atop the covers. His head pressed into the feathered pillow. He struggled to breathe through his mouth.
Liora sat on the edge of the bed. Her body sinking into the feathered mattress. It was nice to feel such comfort after spending four days sleeping on the ground. That wasn’t what she should have been thinking. Not at this moment. Not when her friend was suffering.
Taking his hand, it was cold and clammy while she rubbed it between hers in hopes of warming it. Bottles of different kinds of medicines were piled on his bedside table. Some had labels, others didn’t. Some were in copper canisters, while others were in jars.
Had the Sisters used all these medicines on him?
No. Caldor wouldn’t allow the Sisters near the cabinet for a reason she hadn’t been told. The only people permitted to use the medicines were Caldor and Marcia.
Were any of them working?
Not very well - if at all- since the boy sweated from fever and was wasting away to nothing before their very eyes.
There his lute and chair sat in the corner of the room, right where they had been during his screaming fits. She shouldn’t have left. She should have pushed harder that something was wrong. Then maybe he wouldn’t have gotten this bad.
“Li…Lior…” Cáel was looking with one eye open from his pillow. He gasped for breath before giving her a goofy smirk. “Gla…glad yar… yar back.”
“Shush,” Liora muttered, moving his arm back under the blanket, “don’t talk. You need to save that energy.”
The boy chuckled, but began to cough again. This time it wasn’t the dry cough she had been use to hearing before leaving, this had turned into a moist cough. This was a cough that she recognized immediately.
“I have some questions, just nod yes or no to them, all right?” Liora didn’t want to be right. The boy nodded yes. “Are you cold?”
“Yeah. I…mean,” he nodded yes.
“Does it feel like someone is sitting on your chest?”
The boy nodded yes.
“Do you have chills, blurred vision, and cough up phlegm?” this time the boy nodded yes three times. Liora felt like someone was sitting on her chest, heavier and heavier with each nod.
No, he’s not your mother. Liora swallowed hard, hearing someone knock at the door. He’s not going to die.
“Liora,” her friend gasped, moving his hand back out from under the covers, “it…it all ri…right.”
No, it wasn’t all right. None of this was all right. Hadn’t Cáel suffered enough? Didn’t he deserve some moment of happiness that wouldn’t end with him getting worse or being in pain? She had seen it. She had believed he was going to be all right.
Caldor began looking over the boy, while Liora held tightly to his hand. She wasn’t going to let him go. He wasn’t going to end up like her mother.
Liora glanced over at Charn who was looming in the doorway. He was clenching and unclenching his fists. His jaw was tense while he stared at his son in the bed.
Enough was enough. Cáel wasn’t going to die. She would find something in the almanac or in one of Caldor’s texts that would cure him for good.