There was blood everywhere. It soaked Anala’s shirt, her hands, the bed she lay on in the sick room. It soaked Mara’s shirt from yesterday, which she desperately pressed to the wound on her sister’s side. It soaked Mara’s hands, breeches, and dripped off the bed to her feet. She reached up to brush some hair out of her face and grimaced, for she knew she’d smeared blood on her forehead.
Anala was getting paler by the minute. Mara tried to staunch the flow, but the bellica had lost so much blood she was beginning to fear it was hopeless.
Anala might die.
“No,” she whimpered, pressing harder. “No….” she closed her eyes as salty tears pooled in them, and a drop squeezed past her lid to slide down her dirty cheek. It rolled down her chin and landed on the floor, and Mara could have sworn she heard the “plop” it no doubt made.
Her eyes flew open at the sound of a deep, cultured voice behind her. She turned to see the man who’d been with Dagon and Anala on the shore.
“Ye! Uncle Merry let ye go?” she asked, incredulous. How could they trust one of Exsil Vis’ men?
“Your…uncle is a very wise man.” he said tightly. “He saw the truth of my words. Now, are you going to let me save your sister’s life or are you going to threaten me again?”
She blushed, shamed by his words, for she had not believed his protestations in the boat, and she could still see a red line on his throat where her dirk had been. Anala lay dying and all she could think to do was to lay blame elsewhere!
She moved aside to let the man attend to the bellica. He nodded at her. “Thank you,” he said, no mocking in his voice, and she felt shamed again.
In a trice he was out of his coat and had his shirt sleeves rolled up past his elbows. He tied his hair more tightly in its queue, for strands had come undone, and turned to face her. “What’s your name?”
“Mara Tanner,” she answered, dazedly thinking this a strange time for introductions.
“Mara, I’m Lares. Could you do me a favour and go get a kettle of hot water – boiling, preferably – two bowls, and a load of cloth bandages and rags? Clean ones,” he added, his voice kind and sympathy in his eyes when he looked at her. She felt like a “stupid teenager”, and wondered if maybe her parents were right.
With a quick nod, she was flying down the hall to the galley, where she gave the steward a brief explanation. No questions asked, the man started boiling water and directed her to the rags and bandages. As she rummaged in the store-closet she reflected on how stupid it was to keep bandages so far from the sick room. But then agin, Uncle Merry hasnae healer aboard – so I shouldnae be surprised. Within the time it took for the water to boil, she had her bandages and rags together, and the steward had brought out two bowls for her. In another minute, she was racing back down the hall to the sick room, shouting out a quick thanks to the steward.
Maybe she’d apprentice to a healer in town, and then sign onto Uncle Merry’s ship. He could certainly use someone with healing skill on board, and as much as she hated fighting, she couldn’t deny that the dirk and lessons accompanied with it would be useful. Had been useful, really, if she counted what she’d done to Lares. On a merc ship, she’d be sure to learn more useful things. But then I may have ta serve wit’ Morgan, and her stomach clenched at the thought.
She’d have to think about it later. She was back at the sick room. Lares had cut away most of Anala’s shirt, though Mara noticed with gratitude that he had preserved the bellica’s modesty. Not that she thought Anala would care, but she did. A younger sister had to watch out for her elder sibling. The fabric still on the bellica’s torso was glued to the wound area with blood and pus; with great care he was cutting away what he could. Hastily she brought the supplies to him, careful not to burn anyone with the kettle, and he bid her pour hot water into one bowl and leave the other beside him, on the floor. He soaked a rag in the hot water and began to clean away the blood from the wound, gently easing the cloth of Anala’s ruined shirt away while he did. For all his carefulness the fabric still brought away flesh with it.
Mara forced herself to watch the process, though it made her sick enough to retch. Making conversation to keep her mind off the bloody spectacle before her, she spoke: “Are ye a healer, then?”
His eyes flickered to her briefly before he answered. “No. Not by trade, at any rate,” he added, an afterthought as he pulled away the last of the fabric, tossing it in the empty bowl. “Is there darkshade paste on board?” She shrugged helplessly. What was darkshade paste? “Well, then, whatever antiseptic there is will do.”
She opened the cupboard and found a bottle of brandy. With a grimace of distaste, she brought it to him. “This’d be all I found,” she said, thinking it must be in the sick room cupboard for some reason.
His lip curved as he tried not to smile. “That’ll do,” he said, taking the bottle from her and uncorking it with his teeth. Deftly he poured a generous dollop over the now-clean wound.
“Raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarggggghhhh!” shouted Anala in an animal scream as she sat up in the bed, hand poised to strike her attacker. Without flinching Lares grabbed her wrist right before she smacked him in the head and eased her back down.
“Shhh….it stings but it’s helping. Here,” he whispered soothingly, giving her some brandy to drink. She swallowed and choked a bit, coughing at the burning that no doubt coated her throat. Mara had tried brandy once and had had much the same reaction. Then the bellica’s eyes rolled back in her head and she was unconscious again.
“She’d be okay?” Mara asked tentatively, removing her hands from her mouth, where she’d clapped them in surprise.
A short nod. “As okay as she can be. Feeling pain is a good sign. Come and press this bandage here, will you?” When her small hands had covered the white cloth and pressed it to the wound, Lares got behind Anala and levered her up. Mara then passed him the rest of the bandages, already knowing what he planned to do.
As he wrapped the bandages around the unconscious bellica’s torso, tightly covering where Mara was pressing, she was unable to stop her next question. “Will she live, then?”
He paused for a moment in his bandaging before briskly finishing and tying the bandage off. It was tight, Mara could see, and no blood leaked through. He lowered Anala back down and sighed. “I can promise nothing,” was all he said. Then he had picked Anala up and moved her to a less bloody bed in the room.
After she had helped him clean up the blood and put away everything, Lares had gone topside. “I need fresh air,” he’d said, but Mara thought he was lying. Mara pulled up a chair and sat by her sister’s side, grasping Anala’s cold, bigger hand in her small, warm one.
Please live, she thought, sending a prayer to whatever Goddess would listen. Please.