“He’s coming!” cried the cup.
I heard the front door slamming into the walls beside it. I heard the voices, all screaming so loudly that certain words rang in my ears.
“Blood falling arrows posse,” they chanted.
I flew to the entryway where my beast had collapsed into a heap on the floor. A pool of blood was slowly spreading beneath him, rivulets running between the flagstones.
“My beast!” Before I knew it, I was kneeling beside his massive form. My fingers danced between the arrows that stuck out of his back, leaving smears of blood on his cloak.
“Coming... after...” he mumbled. “So many. So many voices.”
I shut the doors, stopping the spring’s chilly night wind before returning to the Assassin.
“Can you walk?” I asked. “At least into a room with a rug, I can’t leave you on this stone floor.”
“Where I left you?” The words were a mumble, laced with pain and barely heard from beneath his cloak.
“Just stand up,” I said, hooking one of my arms beneath his.
I never could have lifted him myself, but the Assassin had some measure of strength left. Together, we managed to move him into one of his sitting rooms, where he collapsed once more on the carpet.
The voices were raging. The whole time I held him I could hear them screaming every detail of the world around us. No questions had to be asked. They were all answered before I could.
“A hunting party,” I gasped. “A rescue party... oh, beast...”
He was silent.
“I need to undress you,” I said. So loud. “Your wounds...”
“No!” cried the Assassin, fear and pain taking over. “I can’t see you! It will tear you to shreds...”
I grasped his shoulders, my fingers barely spanning the width, and whispered, “Then close your eyes.”
I removed his cloak, no longer starting at his abnormal face. I unbuttoned his vest and shirt.
“This wasn’t how I imagined undressing a man for the first time,” I said jestingly, unable to make out my own voice among the frantic others. But my beast could hear me, his mind was clear, and that was what mattered. “But it isn’t the first wound I’ve taken care of,” I added. “Nor arrow removed. My father wanted me to be lady-like, but Peter wanted me to be useful, so I became skilled in a lady-like way.”
I didn’t flinch as I removed the arrows, and my hands didn’t shake. But the Assassin did not react either, although it should have been agonizing, and his stillness frightened me. How close to death was he?
How could the thought of his death terrify me so completely?
And when I had done my best, I couldn’t bring myself to take my hand off of him. If he was living his final moments, they should be peaceful.
Exhausted from the noise and sudden lack of adrenaline, I leaned forward, my body curving along his massive back as I rested my head down.
I was frightened. I was being assaulted. But my beast was at peace, and I found my soul was too. In the warm firelight, I fell asleep to frenzied dreams. Beneath me, the beast slipped into silent ones.
I prayed they would not be his last.