(chapter continued from previous post)
The shop’s owner was nowhere to be seen—possibly part of the crowd outside that had fled from the bear, so potentially was upstairs, but since he or she wasn’t actually present, that was a low priority to work out.
“You’re hurt!” Narcissa said, though Kaveri wasn’t sure which of the injured she was speaking to. She began to fumble for something at her waist, and her breath caught hard in pain, much of the colour draining from her face. It looked to Kaveri like the arrowhead had broken skin, a little lower than Madoc’s wound since she was nearly Madoc’s height and the arrow had been coming downwards. With any luck, it wasn’t deep.
More of a problem was the greengold blood staining the deep blue and green of her mantle. But if it was all external and hadn’t actually gotten into Narcissa’s wound, it could still be all right.
“Sit down,” her companion urged, pulling a chair into reach and gently pushing her down into it. “You can’t look after others unless you look after yourself.” He gathered up a dry handful of the rich fabric of Narcissa’s wrap and pressed it over the puncture with one hand, closing the other around Narcissa’s reassuringly.
“But I need…” Narcissa argued, then she bit her lower lip. “I don’t know whether I’m supposed to heal anyone anymore,” she said, more softly.
Whatever that was about needed to wait. Narcissa was obviously in good hands, and any other damage was already done, so Kaveri checked the rest.
One of the guards supported her injured companion to a stool and gently peeled her hand back so she could see how bad the damage was.
“Look later,” Kaveri said in the local language. The bit of linen currently in use wasn’t going to be enough, it was already saturated. She used her belt-knife to slice off a generous piece of Mirren’s mantle, her own being lost outside with an eagle wrapped in it. “For over her wounds. Madoc…” She cut off two more pieces of cloth, twisted one into a thick rope, and coiled it around Madoc’s arrow at the front. “Hold that. Let me see your back.” He obediently held it in place with his good hand. She gently urged him forward and stepped to the side so she could look at his back, already twisting the remaining fabric into another rope.
As she’d feared, the arrow had gone through and protruded out the other side by the width of at least two fingers. The wound there was messier, the skin torn as much as punctured, and there was much more thin, freely-running greengold blood than at the front.
And the point was wet with thicker red blood for most of its visible extent.
She sliced a strip off the bottom of her own dress and used it to tie the twist of fabric into place surrounding the arrow’s point, but kept pressure on it with both hands. “It’s right through,” she told Madoc, in their own language. “Don’t lean back. I’ll try to figure something more out when the bleeding stops.”
“Through? Oh hell, the princess…?”
“Try not to move. We’ll get to that.”
The guard with the red in her uniform hesitated briefly, looking at her injured partner and her princess, then headed decisively for the stairs in the corner that led upwards. Presumably she meant to take stock of the situation from above. The best scenario right now would be for the danger to pass so they could get help from the hospital for the injured guards, at least, and make certain that no one tried investigating any odd blood lingering on the street.
Madoc and Mirren were best not treated by human physicians.
Quite possibly, that now applied to the princess they’d been trying to save, and whose life they might have just changed forever.
“Please stay calm,” Kaveri said gently in the local language. “A friend seeks the archer. The eagle is dead, and I think the bear soon will be.”
“The bear,” Narcissa whispered. “The great bear is the messenger of Neaira, the Healer I swore to serve. If she wants me dead…”
“The eagle was probably after me,” Narcissa’s companion said quietly.
“Your gods don’t want you dead,” Kaveri said firmly. “That bear is a spirit-creature, but it doesn’t belong to your Healer, it belongs to the moons. So does the eagle, it isn’t from any of your local gods either. And the moons don’t want either of you dead. I don’t know whose idea this all was, but it doesn’t come from the gods.”
“Sounds like someone wants it to look that way, though,” Madoc said, though Kaveri saw him gritting his teeth between statements, and he sounded short of breath. “Assassination by two with forms that would look like the gods are upset… good way to make sure no one carries on. Or asks questions.”
Narcissa looked at him, then at Kaveri, then at her own companion. “Someone wants to prevent the hospitals?”
“If the bear and the eagle are who I think they are, they might,” Kaveri said slowly. “The moons have children, spirit-creatures of a sort, who have two forms, human and animal. The bear’s blood shows it to be Meyar’s and the eagle’s shows it to be Sahen’s.”
“And you’re Sanur’s?” Narcissa’s companion said, with a gesture to Madoc and Mirren.
Observant, this one.
“What about the blood?” The intact guard looked up from her friend, puzzled. “It just looked like regular blood to me.”
“To most humans, especially in sunlight, it does,” Kaveri said. “It’s more visible in dim light, to most. A few special people can see it more clearly in any light. There are two branches of the moons’ children. And yes, we’re the other branch. They want… actually, I have no idea what they want, but they are not nice people. There are more of them than of us, we think. We try to do what the moons originally asked, which is to help where we can.” She sighed. “Unfortunately, I think the one friend with any direct experience at all is about to get himself killed fighting that bear.”
Narcissa’s eyes widened. “I hope not!”
“Oh, not for good. He’ll be back.”
“We’re hard to kill permanently,” Madoc said, with a ghost of a smile.
“Does that mean the bear and the eagle will be back?” Narcissa’s companion asked alertly.
“No,” Kaveri said. “Only our branch of the family does that. It’s the gift of a god who’s very fond of our founder, with the agreement of the moons.”
“A very unusual kind of spirit-creature.”
“Yes, we are. I’m Kaveri. That’s Madoc, that’s Mirren, and Madoc’s brother Tyrel is after the archer. We got your name, milady…”
“Sorry for the lack of proper formality,” Mirren added.
Narcissa made a dismissive gesture, then greyed under her olive skin and took several slow deep breaths.
“Stay still,” her companion scolded. “I’m Evander Diamantos. Narcissa’s cousin and general assistant. Hermia’s gone upstairs, she’s in charge of Narcissa’s personal bodyguard. Thaleia’s hurt, Melanippe’s helping her, and Phaidra, gods protect her, is still outside.”
“She isn’t a target,” Madoc said. “Bear’s too busy to bother. Archer has no reason.”
Hermia came back down the stairs.
“The bear is dead, I think,” she said, her voice extremely calm but her hands trembling just a little. “It collapsed and then vanished. The wolf fighting it did the same. Did I see you catch the eagle in your mantle?”
“Wait a little,” Madoc said. “We don’t know where the archer is.” He shifted position and grimaced. “I wish it were closer to moonrise.”
“Agreed,” Mirren sighed.
“Don’t leave Tyrel and I alone, please,” Kaveri said.
“I won’t,” Mirren said. “This won’t kill me.”
“I’ll try,” Madoc said. “If the bleeding stops I’ll make it.”
“I owe you my life,” Narcissa said quietly. “That arrow was meant for me. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. But I’ll be fine, one way or another.”
“Make it to…?” Evander asked.
“Moonrise,” Kaveri said. “Moonlight will heal this completely. And it would be wiser for your physicians to avoid contact with their blood.”
Narcissa looked down thoughtfully at her own injury. In the dimmer light of the shop, the greengold shimmer of Madoc’s blood on her clothing was fairly visible, and Kaveri thought it would be to human eyes… which she wasn’t at all sure Narcissa now had. “Why?”
“We all started human. Mingling blood with someone already changed is what made us what we are.”
Narcissa seized Evander’s wrist and pushed his hand back, far enough that she could inspect the puncture wound more closely. When she let go, Evander immediately went back to keeping pressure on it, but Narcissa gave Kaveri a narrow look.
“It’s possible we complicated things while trying to help,” Kaveri admitted, wondering what colour the blood Narcissa had seen was turning to.
“Yes, well, I’m alive,” Narcissa said briskly. “Despite having frozen too long to get inside, which could have meant not only my death but Evander’s and all four bodyguards. And while it’s your choice to refuse help, and I believe my own injury is quite minor, I would like to have Thaleia and Phaidra seen by a physician for proper treatment as quickly as possible.”
Something solid thumped on the door in a particular rhythm of beats and pauses.
“That’s Tyrel,” Madoc said, unnecessarily.
Kaveri shoved the shelves out of the way and pried Mirren’s push-knife out of the lock, but eased the door open only far enough to verify that it was in fact Tyrel before opening it altogether.
“Archer got away,” he said in disgust. “Left the bow behind. Or whatever you call that thing, with the bow sideways and some sort of mechanism and a curved bit at the other end.”
“And a kick like a pissed-off mule,” Madoc said, wincing.
“A gastraphete,” Hermia said. “Much more powerful than a regular bow, takes heavy bolts rather than arrows, and easier for the untrained to use. It could easily kill from some distance.”
“He certainly tried. The bear is dead. Unfortunately, so is Kieran. All that’s left out there right now is blood in a lot of colours all over the street, so we should probably try to keep people from messing with it until it disappears.” He looked at Narcissa speculatively, then at Kaveri, who nodded and sighed.
“Hermia,” Narcissa said. “Could you try to get into the hospital, through one of the back doors maybe, and find some help?”
“And kick a few people around,” Hermia growled, on her way to the door. “They locked you outside with the danger they were hiding from!”
“I doubt anyone did a head-count to check, and I’m certain some were panicking and that anyone who did notice would have been unable to get the door open past that. If I hadn’t frozen I think it wouldn’t have happened. I believe they’ll punish themselves worse than anything I could do. Thaleia and Phaidra are more important, currently.”
“Can’t let them near me,” Madoc said. “Better to tell them I’m dead.”
“Miraculous cures draw too much attention,” Kaveri explained. “And attention is usually a very bad thing. If anyone actually noticed Madoc getting hurt, it’s going to be safer to tell them he died. No questions about what the strangers did with the body, which will disappear like the wolf’s if he does die, otherwise no questions about why he’s completely uninjured after Sanur rises. If anyone connects us to the whole fight, they can assume he’s a different person. No one ever notices strangers enough to know how many of us there were.”
“I’ll stay with Madoc,” Tyrel said. “We’ll find somewhere to hide until moonrise. ‘Veri, they can probably get that arrow out of Mirren without too much fuss, stay with her.”
“You can’t hide in someone’s shop for several hours yet,” Evander objected. “The owner is sure to come back before long, and bleeding all over his wares is certainly going to be noticed.”
“Our house,” Narcissa said. “Once Thaleia and Phaidra are in physician hands, either Hermia or Melanippe can come back, leave the shop owner a few coins to cover any damage we’ve done, and show you to the back door. My household staff are all discreet. We can join you there soon after. I would prefer that you not disappear, please. I have… several questions, and I’d like a chance to show you how much I appreciate the assistance. I doubt Evander or I would be alive right now without it.”
“We won’t,” Kaveri assured her. Nothing under the moons was going to get them out of Phleion in the immediate future.