“As in so many things, the cost of victory or the price of defeat may be very large or very small, and it may be impossible to know which until the battle is well behind you.”
-General Perion Byrne, Lord Commander of the Concord Army
I drifted back into consciousness slowly, pulled back into the waking world by a combination of sunlight on my face and the throbbing ache of my leg. There was a pressure on my chest, and my arms felt like they’d been bound to my side, but with a grunt I managed to pull a hand free and brought it to my face to shield my eyes from the light.
I lay in a narrow bed, stripped of my armor and wrapped up tightly in blankets, at one end of a room with a timber floor and ceiling and walls of dressed stone. Thin window slits, no wider than a handspan, lined all four walls, and while the room had no doors I could see wooden stairs along one wall of the room, leading down into another space below and up to a trapdoor in the ceiling.
A few other beds like the one I occupied and a number of bedrolls and straw pallets lay along the other walls of the room; the center of the room held a small table, its surface covered with small open-topped boxes, tied-up parcels and bottles of unidentifiable liquid. In one corner of the room was a hearth with a low fire; a medium-sized kettle hung off to one side, identical to the one Sir Hagan kept in his tent. Or maybe it was the same kettle.
I blinked a few times, and then pushed the blanket off of me and pushed myself up into a sitting position with my free hand. Or, I tried to push myself up, anyway, but thought better of it as a wave of dizziness rolled over me, and settled for propping myself up on both elbows, bringing my eyes out of the narrow band of sun shining through the slit window.
I heard the sound of heavy footsteps clomping up the stairs, and then Bat’s head came into view above the edge of the floorboards. He looked up at me, and his eyes widened. “Well, spirits be gentle!” He ducked his head back down under the floor. “Mason’s awake,” he said, and then came the rest of the way up the stairs and into the room, approaching my bed as I tried to sit up again. “Easy, lad, let me help you.”
I nodded, and he looped an arm under my back, helping to pull me up so that I could lean against the wall behind the bed. I tried to thank him but ended up coughing instead; my mouth and throat were dry and rough. Bat stepped away from me, picking up a clay cup from the table and going to fill it from the kettle before bringing it to me. “Just small sips for the moment, lad. Don’t want you throwing it back up.”
I took the cup from him in both hands, bringing it gingerly to my lips. The liquid inside was only a little warmer than the air in the room, but it was wet and salty and pungently meaty, and I could almost feel the strength flowing back into me as I swallowed. I cleared my throat. “Thanks, Bat.”
“No worries, lad. Glad to see you’re back with us.” He gestured to the cup. “Let me know when you need more, or when you need something more substantial. We’ve managed to get you to swallow spoonfuls of that now and then, but I imagine you’re going to be hungry for real food before long if you aren’t now.”
I nodded again, and swallowed another mouthful of the broth before speaking again. “How long have I… how long has it been? Since the battle, I mean.”
“Heh, ‘battle’. If you could call it that.” Bat shook his head. “You’ve been out for eleven days, I think. Plus a few hours, I suppose, since it’s mid-afternoon now and the fighting was pretty throughly wrapped up before noon.”
“What…” I adjusted my position on the bed, wincing as the movement caused a jolt of pain from my leg. “What happened? I remember… the griffon attacked me, and Sir Bliss tried to…” I shook my head. My memories of the battle seemed jumbled, out of order. “No, Sir Bliss was already dead, because I was trying to help him when it got me. But it… it grabbed me, and then I hit it, and… did it… disappear?”
“Damn right, it did.” Bat chuckled. “I was pushing forward with what was left of the column, to try to kill it before it could kill you, or at least while it was distracted, and then you went and punched the spirit-forsaken thing in the head until it exploded. Not a sight I think I’ll forget.”
“But then… was it a spell? If it was a spell, how did it get into the aura?”
“Well beyond my understanding, lad.” He shrugged. “You’d have to ask a fox-face.”
I took another sip of broth, and I looked around the room. “So, we won, I take it?”
“Aye.” Bat nodded. “Sir Hagan’s men had already got inside the tower when the griffon-thing showed up, and it penned them here for a while, but when it left to attack us they took the rest of the tower from the fox-faces. And when you killed the griffon and the rider, all the rest left in the keep opened the big gate and ran west.”
“And did we… Did Sir Hagan find what he hoped to?”
“Not in here,” Bat said, “the fox-faces were keeping it in the stables, of all places. No clue why. But we have it, our very own summoning plate, golden and shiny and useless to anyone without pointy ears. And that rod the griffon rider had, as well. The Hen’s sent messengers back to Etrenium and off to Agront in Floratova, sent them the day after the battle.”
“Good,” I said, closing my eyes, “though I’m afraid to ask how many we…” I let the sentence trail off.
“More than we wanted to,” Bat said, frowning, “but fewer than I thought at first. More got away into the woods than it seemed like, and the griffon wounded and maimed more than it killed. Less than two dozen dead, all together, and twice that many wounded. Including yourself.”
“And…” I laid one hand on the blanket, pulling back the edge to look at my injured leg. It was wrapped in bandages that looked recently-changed, clean and free of blood. “How bad am I?”
“There should be a physician coming up from Etrenium, so we’ll know for certain when they get here, but my gut feeling is that you’ll keep the leg.” He patted me on the shoulder. “A lot of little holes in you, but none that bled too badly, and you don’t smell like rot.” He smiled mischievously. “Well, not more than usual, anyway.”
I managed a chuckle, and stuck my tongue out at Bat before taking another sip of my broth.
Bat stood up. “Like I said, I think you’ll be fine. Get some more rest, and I’ll try to keep you undisturbed for another couple of hours. Sir Hagan will want to talk to you when you’re ready, though, and I imagine there are others who’ll want to see you, as well.”
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