Bree groaned. She felt like she had been drunk for weeks and was only now facing the consequences. Cayden’s Curse! She had never been so hung over! Had she used her healing powers recklessly? Was her Lord mad at her? She couldn’t remember doing anything that would displease him. In fact, she couldn’t remember much of anything.
Where was she?
Her head felt like it would split apart at the seams and every muscle in her body ached. Froth and foam! Muscles she didn’t even know she had ached. Her stomach clenched uncomfortably and her hands trembled. Gods she was tired! Her eyelids felt like they were made of iron. What time was it? Ugh. It didn’t matter. She needed to get back to sleep. Maybe she would feel better in the morning. Or a week of mornings. Her consciousness drifted and the sweet oblivion of sleep beckoned her back into its embrace.
Bree was startled back to herself. She was hot and sweaty. “Hmmm?” Bree managed to mumble.
“Bree!” the voice exclaimed. “Come back… Me… Come… Home! Bree!”
“Quit yelling! Ugh, my head.” She rolled onto her side but was overcome with an intense feeling of vertigo. Bile crept up her throat. She lifted a hand to her mouth and clenched her stomach with the other. Her limbs felt far too heavy.
“Ohhhh… I’m going to be sick.”
“Sick? But you are perfectly healthy.”
“Uhh, tell that to my stomach.”
“Bree, you must tell me where you are in pain so I may take actions to – “
Bree groaned. “I’m in pain everywhere, Kelestair! What kind of party was I at last night?”
Kelestair paused. “Party?”
“And why are you in my bedroom? Trevvis is going to kill you.”
“Indeed. I am sure he will swing that brutish sword of his and send me screaming from the room with his stench.”
Bree smiled. “Did you just make a joke?”
“Perhaps.” The pitch of his gravelly voice went up a few notes. He was happy. “Though he would have to smell much worse than death to chase me from the room.”
Bree paused. Was Kelestair flirting with her? Froth and foam! What had happened last night?
“I have been waiting for this for a long time, Bree.”
Had she..? Surely she hadn’t cheated on Trevvis with Kelestair? But she loved Trevvis! And Kelestair had never shown the least amount of interest in her. They were just friends and… Bree heard Kelestair moving, and the displaced air cooled her bare back. Oh, gods! Was she naked?
“We all have been waiting for this.”
We? Wait… What? Bree jerked herself up and tore her eyes open. A wave of nausea rushed over her and she fell back down onto the bed. The lamplight in the room was so bright it caused her eyes to burn and her head to pound.
“Bree! Are you alright?”
Bree felt her shoulders and found she was wearing some kind of light dress that was open at the back. “Where are my clothes?!”
“Where am I?” she shrieked.
“Listen to me, Bree.” Kelestair replied calmly. “Have I ever let harm come to you when I could prevent it? Have I ever lied to you?”
Bree froze. “No. Never.”
“Then calm down and I will explain everything.”
Bree forced her breathing to calm and struggled past the pounding in her head and ears. She opened her eyes. The light was still blinding, but she squinted until her eyes adjusted. She was in a simple room, with white plaster walls and large open windows. It was night. Small clay lamps lit the room in a soft glow. She sat in a small bed, with crisp white linens. There were flowers and bottles of booze tied with colourful ribbons covering every available space in the room. They cluttered the windowsill and the dresser-top. The headboard and the floor. Kelestair sat down carefully on the edge of her bed and took her hand in his own. He patted it once in an awkward attempt at kindness.
“Good,” he said. He nodded his head to reassure her. “What was the last thing you remember?”
Bree frowned. What was the last thing she remembered? “I don’t know…”
“I need you to think, Bree. Acceptance will come easier to you if you can remember on your own.”
“But, I don’t know. It’s all a blank. I can’t – “
“I think you can. You are strong and smart and headstrong.”
Bree smiled softly. “Stubborn, you mean.”
“The transition between the two is only made when one thinks of steadfastness as a flaw. I do not. You are headstrong and you can do this.”
Bree nodded. She grappled with her mind, pulling her disjointed thoughts into focus. “There… There was a party. A large party. I was happy. It was fun. I was with the Claisant’s and Tiller and Norn, but then Tiller left, for some reason. He didn’t say why. But, one minute he was there and the next he was – ” Bree paused. She paled. “No…”
Kelestair patted her hand. “Go on.”
“Oh, gods, no. No.” Tears filled Bree’s eyes. “No! They’re dead! They’re all dead! Kaywen and Omig and Tiller and – ” The tears pooled over, and rolled down Bree’s cheeks.
Bree raised her watering eyes to Kelestair’s. “But, how? I – “
“I believe Omig used the last of his strength to bring him back from the dead. But I promise you, Bree, you repaid that gnoll bitch back tenfold. Her tribe is no more. The peryton is dead. You killed it. You saved us all.”
“He is gone. He will never harm another living being again.”
“I… I fell. I died. Didn’t I?”
“You should have, but you didn’t. You lived despite the fall, and your wounds.”
“My Lord didn’t let me die?”
“I cannot speak for Him. But, I know I did not. I worked with healers and clerics for weeks to knit you back together again. It has been weeks more since then. Months, even. You were in a coma and now you are back.”
“Months? But… I don’t… What?”
“The fall sent your mind elsewhere. To your party, perhaps? Or a series of dreams. I do not know. We have been waiting for you to wake up for some time.”
The corners of Kelestair’s mouth tilted up slightly. He gestured at the flowers and bottles around the room. “Your friends, and your fans have been here to visit. Santon, and I have barely left your side. Tiller has been here daily. And the rest of the Claisants. Jank brings the the Junior Protectors in weekly to tell you stories and pray for your return. Even your dear friend Brotis has made an appearance.”
Bree rolled her eyes at Kelestair’s attempt at sarcasm. He continued with a slight colouring of his cheeks.
“She brought you a broken arrow, though I am not sure what she killed with it. It’s…” Kelestair’s nose crinkled up for a moment in disgust. “…aroma is pungent.”
Bree smiled, and then frowned. The red feathered arrow. A reminder of the life debt she now owed Brotis. The pompous bitch! Bree looked back to Kelestair and noticed he was still talking.
“And Trevvis?” she asked.
Kelestair squeezed her hand gently. “I am sorry, Bree. But no one admits to have seen Trevvis since you left for the Brazen Peaks.”
Bree’s stomach clenched. “What?”
“He hasn’t been sighted in Kelmarane in months. No one knows were he is.”
Bree yanked her hand from Kelestair’s. “So find him!”
Kelestair stiffened, but did not raise his voice. “We have been trying, Bree. I have ordered search parties and scoured the town, but he has not turned up. We checked his home, his friends’ homes, the bars, the inns, the brothels, the gambling dens. I even sent the militia to scour every gutter in town. He hasn’t been found.”
“But he could be hurt! He could be dying or in pain! I have to find him!” Bree swung her legs out of bed.
“I wouldn’t try to – “
Bree glared at Kelestair but ignored his protests. She hopped off the bed but her legs collapsed beneath her. Sharp pain shot through her thighs and calves.
Kelestair crouched down to her side. “You haven’t stood up in months. It will take some time before you find your feet again.”
“If you let me help you through therapy? Not long. You should be able to stand shakily in a few hours, but I could have you in fighting shape in a week. You’re headstrong.”
“But what if Trevvis needs me?”
“I will tell Santon you wish to have the city scoured again. He will send volunteers out come evening.”
“Evening? Isn’t it easier to find him during daylight?”
Kelestair paused. “I… I know that he had made a promise to you regarding his sobriety but… If I am being honest with you, I must say it is likely he has been drinking himself delusional these past few months. If we are to find him it will be when the…” Kelestair paused, searching for the right word. “..Night life in town is at its most… lustrous.”
Bree frowned. “He has too much to lose if he’s drunk again. He wouldn’t dare.”
“I know what he means to you but I do not think that you mean the – “
Bree glared at Kelestair.
“Er… What I mean to say is I do not believe you realize the extent to which your paramour has relied on his libations. He is addicted to it and with you out of sight, no matter the consequences, I believe he would fall back into old habits.”
Bree clenched her fists.
“And it is not his…” Kelestair paused and his lips turned down slightly. “Love for you that I question with that statement, but his determination.”
Bree scoffed. “You are a horrible liar, Kelestair.”
“Which is why I strive not to coat my words in honey or speak false.”
“But you’re trying to now!”
“You are in a delicate state!” Kelestair shouted. He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. His voice was calm once more. “You have spent months in a coma and your beloved has not so much as shown himself. Of course I doubt his love for you, but more than that I doubt his will. I doubt his devotion. He is a drunk and you are the only reason he ever tries to get sober. The moment you are out of sight he gives up. He would have to have his head buried in the sand to not know you were staying at Our Lady of Light, and if he does know – which is almost assured – he would have to be too ashamed or too inebriated to show up. I firmly believe that your boyfriend is passed out drunk somewhere and has been wasting his life away in a stupor.”
Bree sunk in on herself. Kelestair was being honest with her, but was he right? Did she not matter enough to Trevvis for him to even try? “You have never believed Trevvis was good enough for me.”
“He is not.”
“You don’t know him! You haven’t given him a chance.”
“He has never shown me reason to believe he deserved one. That does not mean I am wrong.”
“It doesn’t mean you’re right, either.”
“We will see.”
“Still,” sighed Kelestair. “I will do as you ask. I will have Santon send out search parties again. He will be thrilled to hear you are awake. Now may I help you off the ground?”
“I’m fine here.”
Kelestair raised an eyebrow. “Are you?”
“As your doctor I recommend you let me assist you off the floor.”
“You going to sweep me off my feet?”
“As always, your wit astounds. How could I resist?”
Bree smiled. “You’re seriously going to lift me? I’m heavier than I look.”
“You have spent three months in a hospital bed. You are a waif.”
Bree gasped in shock. “I am not! I am a strapping young woman!”
“You are as weak as a newborn baby.”
“I could take a flind on with my bare hands!”
“Could. Yes. Past tense.”
“And you are stubborn.”
“I thought I was headstrong.”
“So did I.” Kelestair smirked then turned and left the room.
Bree scowled. “Get back here and pick me up you sober preacher!”
Kelestair did not return.
“Hey!” Bree shouted. “HEY!”
Kelestair walked back into the room with a chair on wheels.
“It’s about time,” Bree growled. “What’s that?”
“I wouldn’t want to strain myself under the burden of your prodigious weight.”
Bree’s jaw dropped. “Prodigious!? I am not fat!”
Kelestair’s lips formed a stern line. “No. You are not. But, we have a long way to go.”
Bree looked up the few feet to her bed. “Seriously?”
Kelestair bent low and placed his arms beneath her legs and behind her back. Bree let him lift her up off of the floor and onto the wheeled chair. He picked a light blanket up off of her bed and placed it over her shoulders. Then he turned the chair and pushed it out of the room.
Bree looked up and behind her to Kelestair. “Where are we going?”
The corners of his mouth tilted up slightly. “I want to show you something that will make you feel better.”
“Me? Don’t you have a whole town that’s waiting for me to wake up? Shouldn’t you be running through the streets, screaming in exultant joy?”
“Have you ever seen me exultant?”
Bree smiled. “No, but I think I deserve to be an exception. I did save your life, after all.”
“And I have spent months repaying the favour.”
“I would have been fine. Cayden Cailean clearly didn’t want me to die.”
Kelestair raised an eyebrow. “Let’s worry about you, before we worry about Kelmarane or your god, just this once.”
Bree smiled and looked ahead. They had travelled through the hospital, but were approaching a stairwell. “You’re out of road.”
“You lack imagination.” Kelestair parked the wheeled chair at the bottom of the stairs then walked to the front and placed his hands behind her back. “This will be easier if you hang on.”
Bree scowled. “You expect me to let you carry me up the stairs? What if you drop me? Can you even make it to the top?”
“You doubt me?”
“Well… No, but you’re a doctor, and those are a lot of stairs. You don’t exactly look… Well… You’re… You’re slender.”
“I think you will find I am full of surprises.”
Bree shrugged and placed her arms around Kelestair’s neck. Her hooked his other arm under her legs and swung her up into his arms. He walked up the stairs swiftly, and didn’t seem to mind her weight. Tipped tankard, he was right! The blasted coma had turned her into a waif! Would she even be able to lift the Dawn of Freedom?
Kelestair continued their ascent up past two more floors. Bree closed her eyes. She was getting dizzy. Kelestair kicked a door open, and then Bree felt a blast of cool night air. She opened her eyes to find they were on the hospital’s roof. Other than the tower at Kelestair’s manor they were at the highest point in Kelmarane.
Kelestair walked over to a series of small stone walls which held soil and plants between them. She placed her down on the edge of one and sat beside her.
“I didn’t know you had a garden up here.”
“We grow most of the herbs we use in the hospital.”
“It is not what I came here to share with you.”
“No. Now close your eyes.”
Bree hesitated for a moment. She glimpsed an old memory of the drunken boys at Norn’s bar tricking her outside for a kiss when her eyes were closed. She paused, but then closed her eyes. Kelestair was no boisterous child. She could trust him.
“Listen,” he whispered.
She heard the sound of his breathing. Her own heartbeat banging loudly in her chest. A pounding in her head. She pushed those sounds away. She heard the wind whistling past her ears. The tangled sounds of distant conversation. Haggling, bartering. A party below the cliffs. “Kelmarane?” Bree breathed.
“No. Listen beyond the town.”
The wilds, then. Bree tuned out the hum of Kelmarane. She heard the wind, the sand and then nothing. A howl broke the silence. Her breath quickened.
The Howl of the Carrion King.
She scowled. How many tribes were left? How many had risen up in her time at rest? Two? Five? Ten?
She forced her thoughts aside and listened. A minute passed. Then another.
No howls replied to the Carrion King’s call.
Bree smiled. Her eyes welled with tears for the second time tonight. Kelestair saw her tears but pretended not to notice. Her smile broadened until it could stretch no further. He was a good friend.
“You have succeeded where few thought you could, Bree,” Kelestair said. “You have freed the Brazen Peaks from the gnolls who had conquered it. Only the Carrion King remains.” He paused, then placed his hand upon her shoulder. “Norn would be proud of you. We all are proud of you. You are the best of us.”
Bree threw her arms around Kelestair as her tears spilled over. “Thank you,” she rasped. “Thank you.”
Kelestair froze, but then patted her back once. “Of course, I – ” He paused and Bree smiled through her tears. Contact made Kelestair nervous and he was never good at expressing his feelings. “I simply wanted to… I – “
Bree sniffed deeply and let Kelestair go. “You’re a wonderful friend,” she said. She wiped her nose with her blanket and then looked out across the wilds. “You always have been.”
“Yes,” Kelestair replied. “Of course. I… I am only repaying the favour. You showed me kindness when others would not. You and Santon both. You are my… That is, I consider you my… You both, my family. I would do anything to… To express my…” He paused.
Bree looked into Kelestair’s deep red eyes and smiled.
“Thank you,” he breathed. “For everything.”
“You never need to thank me, Kelestair. For anything. That’s what family is for.”
“Yes… Yes, I had heard that. Shall I take you back to your room?”
Bree looked out at the town below them and then back at Kelestair. She shook her head. “I’d like to stay up here a little longer.”
“Very well, I will leave you to your thoughts and return shortly.
Kelestair stood up, but Bree pulled him back down. “What good is a nice view if you don’t have a best friend to share it with?”
The corners of Kelestair’s lips twitched once, and then pulled up the corners. “A best friend?” His lips raised up higher into a full smile, though he tried to hide it. “I suppose I could put off work for a little longer, if it were for a best friend. Where might I find one of those?”
Bree smirked and swatted him on the arm. “Quit being coy and sit with me.”
“I would be hard pressed to find a greater joy.”
Bree smiled. “You’re free to be exultant now.”
“Perhaps another time.”