Ventus – Day 56 of 135

§

Armiger dressed, then blew out the candle, which itself had been an extravagance. In his time here he had heard more weeping than laughter. There was nothing unusual in it. But without knowing exactly why, he found himself walking hesitantly to the door.

It opened soundlessly onto a pitch-dark hallway. There were windows at either end of the corridor, but they didn’t illuminate, only served as contrast to the blackness within.

For a moment Armiger stood blind as any man, surprised at the helplessness of the sensation. Then he remembered to slide the frequency of his vision up and down until he found a wavelength in which he could see. A few months ago, that action would have been automatic. He scowled as he looked around for the source of the sound.

The woman was huddled on the floor halfway down the hall. She cradled something in her lap. An infant, perhaps? Armiger opened his mouth to speak, then thought better. He cleared his throat.

She started visibly and looked up. “Who’s there?” Her head bobbed back and forth as she tried to see. She was middle-aged, matronly, dressed in a peasant frock. Strange that she should be in this part of the palace… no, perhaps it was stranger that these halls hadn’t yet been turned into a barracks.

“I heard you,” he said. “Are you injured?”

It was what he would have asked a man. He didn’t know what to ask when a woman cried. But she nodded. “My arm,” she whimpered, nodding down at it. “Broken.” As if the admission cost her more than the injury, she began to cry all the harder.

“Has it been seen to?” He knelt beside her.

“No!”

“Let me see.” He gently reached to touch her elbow. She winced. Feeling his way, he found the break, a clean one, in the tibia. The bones had slid apart slightly, and would have to be set. He told her this.

“Can you do it?”

“Yes.” She had a tattered shawl draped over her shoulders. “I’ll use this to immobilize it. Just a moment.” He needed something for a splint. The furniture had been completely stripped out of here, but the walls were wood, with a good deal of ornamental panelling and stripping. Armiger found a beveled edge to one of the panels, and with several quick jerks, pulled the wood strip away from the wall. It groaned like a lost soul as it came. He broke it over his knee and returned to the woman.

He didn’t warn her before taking her forearm and pulling it straight. She yelped, but it was all over before she had time to tense or really feel the pain. Armiger aligned the stripping with her wristbones and wrapped it quickly with strips from her shawl. Then he bound the whole assembly in a sling about her neck.

“Why wasn’t it set earlier?” From the swelling, he judged she had broken it earlier in the day.

“I shouldn’t be here,” she said.

“That’s not what I asked.”

“Yes, it is you see because the soldiers, they, some of them are hurt, so bad, and there’s not enough people to tend them. I, I went there, but one man, his stomach was open, and he was dying but they wouldn’t leave him, and another his eyes were burned somehow. And I stood at the doorway and they were all hurt so badly, I, I couldn’t go in there with just my silly broken arm. I couldn’t…” She wept, clutching him with her good hand.

What Armiger said he said not to comfort her, but because he had observed this in human men: “But the soldiers would have gladly given up their beds to a woman.”

“Yes, and I hate them for it.” She pushed him away. “It’s the arrogance of men that leads them to sacrifice themselves. Not real consideration.”

Armiger sat back, confused. “How did you get in here?” he asked at last.

“I’m a friend of one of the maids. She offered to shelter me when, when the soldiers came. I… I didn’t know where to go, I couldn’t go back and tell her I didn’t go into the infirmary. I had nowhere to go.”

He knew the room next to his was vacant. “Come.” He lifted her to her feet and guided her to it. There was enough light here to make out the canopied bed and dressers, and fine gilded curtains.

“I can’t sleep here.” Her voice held shock.

“You will.”

“But in the morning–if the queen finds out–”

“If they ask, tell them Armiger authorized it. Sleep well.” Without another word, he closed the door. His last glimpse was of her standing uncertainly in the center of the room.

For a long time he stood, arms folded. He heard her climb on the bed at last. Only then did he turn and walk to the stairs.

§

A stable had been taken over to house the infirmary. Despite the lateness of the hour, it was far from quiet as Armiger walked in. Men groaned or wept openly. In a curtained alcove, someone screamed every few seconds–short gasps of unremitting agony. No one else could sleep with that going on, though a good number of men lay very still on the straw, their eyes closed, their chests rising and falling shallowly.

There were twenty men and women here tending the injured. They looked like none of them had slept in days.

These wounded were merely the casualties from the withdrawal of Galas’s hillside defenses. When Lavin stormed the walls this stable would oveflow.

Actually, it would burn, he thought as he walked along the rows of men, appraising their injuries.

“Are you looking for someone?”

He turned to find a red-eyed man in bloodstained jester’s gear watching him from a side table. The table was strewn with bottles and medical instruments. The man’s arms were brown up to the elbows with old blood.

“I can help,” said Armiger.

“Are you trained?”

“Yes.” He knew the human body well, and he could see inside it if he wished. Armiger had never tried healing before.

“It’s hard,” said the jester.

“I know.” Armiger had realized, however, that the same lack of empathy that allowed him to send a squad of young men to certain death for tactical reasons, would allow him to act and make decisions to save them, where other men’s compassion would paralyze them.

He nodded toward the curtained alcove. “What is his problem.”

The jester ran a hand through his hair. “Shattered pelvis,” he said briefly.

Armiger thought about it. “I’ll take a look.” He glanced around. “First though, let’s see the others.”

The jester led, and Armiger moved down the rows of men, and performed triage.

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