When Rastan next awoke she was in unbelievable agony. Her cheek was on fire but more than that she needed to see Rook and tell him everything was alright. The nurse that came to see her later that day told her about her present situation:
"Your cut is infected. I'm on orders that you must stay in bed, lying down, until the swelling goes down lest the infection spread to the rest of your body. As for Captain Rook…still no change."
Rastan slumped deeper into her pillows, bowed down with misery.
It was two full weeks before she finally got permission to leave her bed. Her first steps, though weak and unsteady, were filled with purpose and determination as she shuffled to the intensive care hospital ward leaning heavily on the arm of one of the nurses.
When they arrived at Rook's room it was all she could do to stifle a cry. He was lying motionless, his eyes closed. Rook's face was gaunt and pale and he already looked dead.
Rastan looked at him, dry-eyed, teeth clenched. She sat in a chair near his bed and took the half-eaten bowl of broth near his bed in two hands. As a nurse, she knew that the most important thing when taking care of comatose patients was to keep them nourished and hydrated.
Taking a spoonful of the soup, she carefully lifted Rook's head and spooned it into his mouth. Most of it dribbled off to the side but some of it went down his throat. Gritting her teeth, she continued until the bowl was empty.
Satisfied that he was fed, she slumped back into the chair. The nurse, who had assisted to this spectacle with bewilderment and awe, tried to coax her out of the chair and back to her own room, but Rastan flatly refused:
"I will be here when he wakes up," she said, closing her eyes. The nurse shrugged and walked out, closing the door quietly behind her.
After she left, Rastan sat in the chair, immobile, for a long time. She stared at Rook, studying his face and body. Finally, she stood up and walked over to the bed. Bending over, she stroked his hair and kissed him. He remained motionless.
Rastan hobbled around to the other side of the bed. Slipping out of her wooden clogs, she climbed into the bed and snuggled against Rook. He was cold but slowly warmed up as she hugged him.
"I'll never, ever leave you," she whispered before sleep claimed her.
When a nurse came in several hours later to check on the patients, she was awestruck. Rook Barkwater's cheeks were almost pink for the first time in three weeks.
After that night, Rastan was permanently moved into Rook's room. She became his nurse, feeding him broth five times a day, keeping him clean, and washing the sheets and the bedpan. Every night she would snatch a few hours of sleep, curled up against Rook's familiar bulk.
Rastan had been living this way for two weeks when she woke up one morning with a terrible stomach ache. Lurching out of bed, she sprinted to the bathroom and threw up.
When the nurse came in soon after, she confirmed what Rastan wanted so desperately to believe. She was finally pregnant! All she wanted to do was share the joy with Rook, but he was still deep in his coma.
That night as she fed him his last bowl of stew before she slept, Rastan whispered the words in his ear. She knew he couldn't hear her or respond to her announcement, but telling him felt so good…she fell asleep still glowing with inner joy.
When Rastan awoke the next morning it was so early that the sun had not yet peeped in through the window. It took her a moment to realize that something had changed since the night before.
She had fallen asleep with her head on Rook's shoulder. This morning her head was resting on the pillow…the realization sunk in slowly.
Rook had moved during the night! He would survive! For the first time in nearly four weeks, he had moved. Rastan was ecstatic but she kept her head.
The first thing she did was rearrange her husband on the bed. He had not moved much at all but she felt a sense of satisfaction in plumping up the pillows and straightening the sheets.
When the nurse came in, Rastan hastily told her the good news and sent her off to fetch some stew. The nurse returned a few minutes later accompanied by a gaggle of younger women all giggling madly. They all wanted to see the handsome young captain who was so highly praised in the Freeglades.
Rastan shooed them out almost kindly; under normal circumstances she'd have sent them packing with sharp words and a glare. Today, however, nothing could spoil her mood.
She carefully spooned some of the stew into Rook's mouth and was rewarded when she saw a slight movement in his throat that showed he was swallowing. Rastan felt like she could dance.
Over the next weeks, Rook gradually came out of the deep coma. It was fourteen days before he could open his eyes and a further ten before he could speak. His first words were:
"When's the baby coming?"
Rastan only laughed and hugged Rook who did his best to return the hug. The months spent motionless on the bed had severely atrophied all of his muscles and he could barely move. It would take months before he was back to his old fit shape again.
Meanwhile, Rastan's stomach was swelling. The changes were imperceptible at first but it did not dampen the young couple's spirits.
Then finally, one beautiful morning, Rook was well enough to return to the Freeglades. It had taken two months for his muscles to support his own weight. In that time, the small cottage he lived in with Rastan had become a home away from home. There were fresh herbs and flowers on the table every day and people came from all over the settlement to taste Rastan's cooking when the scent filled the clearing.
Rook and Rastan set out one May morning by prowlgrin back. They were in no rush to return to the Freeglades and it took them much longer than necessary to get there. They stopped early in the evening to set up camp and didn't leave until late the next morning.
The sun was just beginning to set when they reached the Freeglades. Unusually for the party-loving inhabitants of the Freeglades, there was no extravagant parade or feasts waiting for them.
"They must have given up when we weren't back three days ago," laughed Rook. He leaned heavily on his cane and hobbled slowly towards the Dining Hall. When he entered on Rastan's elbow, there was a moment of silence. All heads turned their way and suddenly the entire room began clapping as one.
Rastan blushed and ducked her head.
"See, Rastan, you get a hero's welcome!" whispered Rook, smiling hugely. "Go on, wave!"
Rastan gave a small, half-hearted wave and the hall erupted into fresh cheers. And then, slowly at first but then faster and faster, the librarians and Lancers began chanting her name and Rook's. Rastan ducked her head to hide her red cheeks and took a step forward, pulling Rook gently along with her.
Unlike his wife, Rook was completely at home with such greetings. He walked through the crowd greeting those he knew and asking after their health and family. As a result, the journey from the door of the hall to the table where he sat was very slow.
When they finally reached the table, Rastan breathed a sigh of relief. The clapping had subsided somewhat, but the occasional shout could still be heard.
Rook greeted Xanth, Magda, and Felix as though he hadn't seen them in years, although in reality it had only been a few days; they were frequent visitors to Rook and Rastan's home-away-from-home. Rastan greeted them with equal enthusiasm, and for a while, their food was forgotten in the flurry of greetings.
When the meal really did begin, it was constantly interrupted by random Lancers who came to their table, often to thank Rastan for her help in the prison camp or to congratulate Rook on his recovery, or to wish them both luck in their marriage and luck with their child.
"Wasn't that fun?" asked Rook later in their bedroom when he and Rastan were getting ready to get some well-deserved rest.
"I don't see how you got used to it!" cried Rastan. "That was so…extravagant! All the clapping and the cheering and the people coming in the middle of dinner…I thought I was going to lose my mind."
Rook laughed. "You think that was extravagant? You should've seen 'em after the Shryke incident seven years ago. They were groveling! Oh, that reminds me, I heard from a trustworthy source that the Council is planning a banquet for the returning heroes – me, you, and the rest of the Lancers and Librarian Knights – in just a few nights. If you think that was lavish, wait till you see a true Council banquet. You'll never want to eat again!"
Rastan laughed and snuggled in closer to Rook, who wrapped a strong arm around her shoulders. "I guess I should get used to honors now, seeing as I'm married to the most valiant Captain in all of the Freeglades."
Rook lifted her chin until she was looking straight into her eyes. "No, Rastan," he said seriously, "you should get used to honors because you deserve them. What you did in that prison camp, no one else could have done. I can't imagine doing it. I can't imagine anyone doing it. You, Rastan were the true hero that day. Once a hero always a hero; you better get used to honors, love!"
Rastan laughed drowsily and buried her head in his chest. The beat of his heart was steady and reassuring. Hearing it now, Rastan couldn't help but think of all those days and weeks when it hadn't been.
"Rook?" she murmured, half asleep, "Promise you'll never leave me again?"
"I promise," replied Rook softly, stroking the jagged scar on her cheek, "I'll stay with you forever."