A/N: A much shorter chapter than the last few have been, sorry. I still hope you enjoy it, though, and feedback is always appreciated! Also, I'm attempting to do NaNoWriMo again this year, with a completely different story and everything, so don't expect another update until December-ish. I hope this will tide you over until then. Thank you all so much for reading!
Only the constant chirp of crickets pierced the darkness of the forest now, but occasionally, a sharp breeze would bring with it the whisper of a shout or a gunshot from the military outpost on the coast. The dark, silent figure making the rounds worried not about these things, however. They were safe.
She was safe.
Again, his thoughts wandered to his prize. Christine, one of them had called her. Christine.
She was perfect.
"How is she?"
Wipu paused in his work to look for the owner of the voice that had addressed him softly. He smiled when his eyes found her, shrouded in the shadows by the entrance of the large hut. Knowing she was waiting for a signal to approach, he beckoned her closer, hands wet and sticky from the medicine he was currently applying to the unconscious woman's side.
"She is very badly bruised," said Wipu, smoothing the herb mixture over the area, ivory now colored black and blue. "A rib is broken, maybe two."
"She hasn't woken up?" Adua's voice was strained. He didn't need to look at her to know she was angry.
"Thankfully, no. I imagine this would be painful, were she conscious." He continued rubbing the mixture into the woman's skin as he spoke. "Very painful," he murmured.
"What is the poultice for?"
"To help with the swelling," he explained. "I could check for breaks right now, but I don't want to; she's been through enough already. If the swelling goes down, I'll check tomorrow."
"You might have to drug her again to do so."
Wipu looked sharply up at her from his crouch, pausing once more in his work. "What do you mean, Adua?"
"Do you really think she would trust us?" Her voice was sharp, biting. "She is being held against her will."
He clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth softly, thinking as he went back to work, grabbing a small piece of cloth and pressing it against the woman's side, covering the medicine and setting it in place.
"What about Rasghon? Has he woken up?"
Wipu stood slowly, refusing to look at her. "No," he whispered. "I treated his wounds—a large cut on the head—but he still won't wake up." He flicked his gaze towards the dark form of the man lying a few feet away from his current patient.
"What are you going to tell your mother? Your sisters?"
He sighed heavily, bowing his head. "I don't have to say anything. Yet."
"Yet? Do you mean…?" Her eyes went wide with shock.
He nodded slowly. "I don't expect him to last."
She made the customary gesture over her forehead. "I'm sorry."
"It's no matter," he said briskly, pushing her sympathies aside; he didn't want to dwell on this just yet. "Death is a necessary part of the Cycle, and it happens all the time—"
"There hasn't been a passing since Laon, and you know it. This is all Senatu's fault," she fumed.
"It is! You can't silence me on this, Wipu, I will not allow it. Think for yourself for just one moment. What has he accomplished in kidnapping this woman? Nothing. And now, she is hurt, and your father is dying. For what, Wipu? For what?"
He stared at her for a few moments before turning his back and taking a few steps away. His posture seemed off to her, almost as if he were slumped over.
Adua sighed and stepped towards him then, touching his shoulder with a few of her fingers. "I am sorry, Wipu," she began softly. "I didn't mean…"
"It's not your fault for asking legitimate questions of me," he replied, turning and sweeping her up into an embrace. "After all, your job as an apprentice is to be curious and critical of what you observe."
She kissed his cheek. "But my job as your mate is to be supportive," she pointed out.
"Then I believe we have something of a problem there."
She laughed, pushing him away in playful scorn. "Who would you have me be, then? Your apprentice, or your mate?"
He thought on this for a moment. "I honestly don't know. Though," he added conspiratorially as he pulled her close once more, resting his hands on her hips, "for the moment, I'm highly inclined to answer 'apprentice'."
Her brow furrowed in confusion. "Why?"
"So I have an excuse to order you around," he joked quietly, pressing his lips to her forehead.
"Oh, hush," she said, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks.
He chuckled, sliding his hands from her hips to the slight protrusion of her abdomen. "The child is growing." He said it with slight awe.
"Everyday," she whispered. "Sometimes, I think I can feel it moving, inside. Almost like…" She paused, considering what the small sensations felt like and what word would be adequate to describe such a wonder. "Like… the flutter of a butterfly."
"You're carrying low. You know what that means." He grinned at her.
"Wipualo, just because you want a son so badly does not mean you should let that cloud your judgment," she said. "It's far too early to tell. Just wait a few Moons and see what the midwives say."
"So impatient," she sighed as he kissed her forehead once more before retreating to the injured woman, watching as he checked for a pulse against her pure, white neck.
"Adua? The night is growing old. You should rest."
"So should you," she countered, but not unkindly.
"I have a few more things to do here. Then I'll join you."
She nodded once, though she suddenly realized he couldn't see her where she stood. "All right. Oh, Wipu? Make sure you cover her up." She knew her mate and teacher had sense, but he seemed distracted, and she didn't want the poor woman's condition to worsen as she lay there, barely clothed.
"Of course. Thank you. Dream well."
"I'll wait for you," she murmured, turning around and leaving, pausing to look back once as she pushed aside the thick hide that covered the opening of the large dwelling before passing into the night outside.
Wipu breathed a sigh of relief as she left; as well meaning as she was, he found her to be terribly distracting. And distractions would not serve him well when he was Healing.
He pressed against the poultice with his hand. The swelling of the area had already gone down, but only a little. He smiled, reassured that he had made the correct diagnosis.
Taking a small hand-held drum lying next to him with all the rest of his supplies, he began to chant, swaying back and forth slowly, tapping the drum to keep time. He asked the gods to be with the woman in her healing—it irked him that he didn't know her name, as that knowledge would ensure a more speedy recovery—and in her future dealings with his Master. Senatu was an impetuous man, he knew; this woman had already been through so much, he just hoped his Master would understand and be patient with her.
After the proper supplications and thanks had been offered, Wipu moved on to his next patient, Rasghon, his father. Taking up the drum again, he asked the gods for strength, and to assist him in saving this man, his father. Regret filled him as he said these words aloud, nearly breaking his concentration; he was never fond of his father, even as a boy. Laon, former high priest of the village and his mentor, had been more of a father to him than anyone. Now, however, with Laon gone, and his birth father fading quickly, he longed to have the past back, to get to know the man on the ground before him better before he passed into the Realm of Spirits.
He invoked some choice Spirits, too, before ending the ritual—powerful ancestors, and particularly Laon. He knew he would need their guidance in the days ahead.
He heard the footsteps long before their owner emerged into the clearing from behind the curtain of growth, stepping softly. He knew who had come to speak with him, but for the moment he chose to ignore him, continuing his meditation on the star-speckled sky above. The nighttime calmed him and completed him in ways he could not fully explain, and he knew that he would have to be calm if his plans were to come to fruition.
The man standing behind him shifted his weight. "How is your father doing?" he asked finally, still not looking away from the stars.
"Rasghon is fading," was the abrupt reply.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Wipu."
He finally turned to look at the much smaller man, quirking a thin eyebrow. "I am. Unless you would have me not be, for whatever reason."
"I…" Wipu sighed heavily. "I apologize, Senatu. It's been a long day. Too long."
"Then you should rest, if you are to properly care for your patients," he pointed out.
"Yes. Adua said the same thing."
"She is a marvelous young woman. Very intelligent. You're a lucky man, my friend."
Silence stretched out between them again, before Wipu said, slowly, "Adua… also believes that you made a bad decision today. If… when Rasghon dies… she will blame his death on you."
"I'm very much aware of that."
"You don't sound concerned, Senatu."
"Because I am not," he said.
"You would be willing to live with such an accusation? To have the blood of a man on your hands—my father's blood?" His voice cracked as he spoke, fighting against outrage and tears, fighting to understand.
He sighed. "Wipu, you didn't know me, before..."
"I don't understand."
The man with the face of a skeleton turned once more to look the high priest straight in the eyes, palms outstretched. "I have much blood on my hands already."
Wipu flinched away from the older man's frank gaze, away from this sudden revelation. He shook his head. "No. I don't believe it."
"One day, Wipualo, you will come to understand that not all men are good, as you insist," he said, the regret tangible in his glowing golden eyes. "One day, you will pause, and stare at the world and wonder why. And, fool that I am… I hope that day never comes for you."
"Get some rest," he said, and turned to wander deeper into the forest, leaving the stunned young man in the clearing to stare in silence after him.