Despite Bat saying there was nothing I could do for him, the first thing I did once I got back inside the city gates was find my way back to Kellan. I found him laid out on a long bench under a hastily-erected tent at the far end of the main square. Oskar had found a pair of long-handled cutting pliers somewhere, and was cutting a line up the side of Kellan’s chainmail tunic; both sleeves were already split open up to the armpit.
He nodded down at Kellan’s chest. “A whole section of the front is fused, down to the belt and up onto the shoulder. We couldn’t get his arm out of the sleeve, but I figure we split the sides and widen the neck up a little bit, we can open the whole thing like an oyster.” He pointed with the pliers at a table behind me. “Think there’s another pair of cutters there.”
I retrieved them and got to work. Together, we made quick work of the armor, cutting up both sides and folding the whole top layer as a single piece up over Kellan’s head. The tunic Kellan was wearing underneath had a pattern of crescent-shaped brown scorch marks running from shoulder to hip down the left side of the chest. There were further scorch marks on the tip of his short sword’s scabbard and on the left leg of his trousers, at the knee, and there was a hole with blackened edges in the sole of his left boot.
Oskar was lifting Kellan up to let me slide the layer of chainmail from under Kellan’s back when one of the physicians came to examine him. He was a tall, thin man, wearing the chain that signified his profession over many-layered linen robes, light colored where they weren’t spattered and smeared with blood. He waited for us to finish, muttering quietly to himself. “Four. I’d seen four lightning burns, total, in my entire career before today. This one makes an even dozen, now.”
He motioned us away from Kellan, and knelt down beside him, placing his hand lightly on Kellan’s forehead. “No fever that I can feel, and the burns aren’t as severe as some others I’ve seen tonight. Not the ones I can see now, at any rate.” He bent down over Kellan, touching the end of a fluted wooden tube to Kellan’s chest and putting his ear to the other end. “Hmm…” He stood up. “Breathing seems normal, if maybe a bit slow.”
He shifted position, moving down to Kellan’s legs. He tugged the scorched boot off of Kellan’s foot, and then pulled a knife from his leather bag and began cutting along the seam of Kellan’s trousers, pulling the rough cloth away from his skin. Underneath, below the knee, Kellan’s leg was bruised black. The physician grimaced a little. “That’s not a good sign. If we weren’t in the city I’d take the leg off right now, but Beewich has an alchemic remedy he swears will ward off the blood poisoning, so I’ll leave it unless it starts getting worse.”
The physician stood again and turned to Oskar and I. “I’ll not lie to you, lads. Your friend here isn’t the worst I’ve seen today, but he seems to be resting fine for now, but I don’t know whether he’ll improve or degrade as time goes by. He could wake up in an hour, or he could waste away to nothing without ever waking.” The man frowned. “If he does wake, he’ll certainly have a lot of pain, and he could even be wounded in ways none of us can see, ways that will only be apparent once they strike.” He picked up his bag, and shrugged. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
I nodded my understanding, and the man left. For a long moment, I just tsood there, staring down at Kellan, my mind a fuzz of half-formed thoughts. Outside the tent flap, I could see the rain spattering on the flagstones start to slow, the storm apparently having expended its fury on us.
Down at the other end of the tent, Skelley was complaining to Bat as a junior physician wrapped his ankle in a heavy bandage. “It’s intolerable, that’s what it is,” he shouted. “The dawn, the literal dawn of our first triumph against an enemy beyond the very ken of man, and I’m defeated by a hare with the poor sense to dig a burrow in the middle of a battlefield! Simply intolerable. Whatever spirits were looking out for me should be ashamed.”
Oskar put his hand on the back of my shoulder. “Come on,” he said, “Sir Hagan will want to speak to those of us who are still standing.”
I barely heard him, my ears still ringing from the thunder. At that moment I cared very little about what Sir Hagan might want, but when Oskar finally gripped me by the upper arm and pulled me away, I let him.
Sir Hagan did have words for us, but they were simple ones: congratulations on your victory, and take a well-deserved rest. Out of the hundred and ten-odd men who’d taken the field, we’d had only twenty-three casualties, only eight of which had died so far, while the enemy losses had been total, one hundred and six bodies piled up outside the city walls. The king had graciously declared that our wages thus far were to be paid out now, rather than at the end of the conflict, and Sir Henney thought it’d be at least a week before the King would even want to discuss a counter-attack, so until then we were to lick what wounds we had and grab hold of whatever joy we could lay our hands on.
I left the main square with Oskar; he’d suggested that we go to the bunkhouse to remove our armor and see if Orma could find us clean clothing, and I’d assented and followed him when he’d set off. From there, we’d joined the other boys from Sir Hagan’s unit, Ran and Aler and Barder am Stomund and the others, heading to a pub to celebrate our victory.
There were many, many toasts that night and the next few nights after, toasts to Kellan and the other wounded, toasts to the fallen, toasts to our victory and our health and our good fortune. There were pints of cider and glasses of mead and thimble-sized blown-glass cups of a dark, smoky liquor I would only later learn was whisky. We compared the trophies we’d taken from the battlefield and showed them off to people who then inevitably ordered more drinks for the “heroes of Kintinvale”, the victorious protectors of the city.
That week I sent my first letter home, addressed to Master Vardon describing our victory but leaving the details of the enemy vague so as not to frighten him. After long consideration, I also added a section for him to read to my family, telling my siblings I missed them and my parents that I was all right.
That week was also the first time I slept with a woman, a girl named Kyrie who served drinks and sang at an inn called the Fox’s Folly. It was much as everyone’s first time was, short and awkward, but she had a kind smile and laughing eyes and gentle, practiced hands, and when I told her afterward that there was a girl back home who I was ‘sort of with’, she’d burst into laughter and said that in her experience lots of men ‘sort of’ had lots of girls in lots of places, and then pushed me half-dressed out of her room before I could “do something foolish, like start talking about the wedding.”
Between the nights of revelry I nursed an aching head, and tried to get a handle on, for the first time in my life, living without being closely watched over. With my wages, I ordered a few simple tunics made by a tailor in the craftsman’s district to replace the one I’d worn since leaving home, as well as some stout canvas trousers and a pair of side-laced leather boots that came up nearly to my knees. Together, it was more clothing than I’d owned in my entire life previous. I felt a little guilty about it; prices here in the capitol were twice what they were in Cantlay Town and I’d spent enough to feed Vardon and I for two months back home, but I figured I’d need these things when we campaigned back westward to drive the enemy out.
I also spent a fair amount of time at Kellan’s bedside. The day after the battle, the physicians moved him and the three others who neither died nor improved quickly into a pair of rooms in the Red Bough, an inn that bordered the main square. I told him of Skelley’s ‘war wound’, of whisky, of my war trophy and of our nightly antics, and I told him I wished he was awake to enjoy the victory with us. Through it all Kellan lay quiet and still, while the days went by and the bruises that weren’t covered by his sheets or his bandages slowly turned all number of fantastical colors.