Disclaimer: The Codex Alera belongs to the one and only Jim Butcher.
The Whirlwind of Time
" – and he says that passengers are finally allowed to pass through Aric's land, can you believe it? It will turn out that Aric is really better than that wretched father of his – Fade, are you listening?"
The scarred slave's head jerked up, as if he was startled. "What?"
"Are you listening?"
"Well, of course I am. Go on."
He felt Tavi's look on him, but the boy knew better than press the matter further. While Tavi kept on chattering about the people they had left behind, Fade's thoughts drifted away.
He had seen him again.
Last month, he had recognized him in the yard of the First Lord' palace without anyone showing him or something. He had barely refrained from calling out his name.
He hadn't expected that he'd feel such a sharp pain.
For him, Miles had died the moment life had separated them.
Everything had been clear.
Now, he had seen him examining the guard. He had seen him nodding at something Gaius told him. He had spoken words that Fade had not heard, and for a moment the slave had felt bereft of everything that Miles had not shared with him. It had turned out that the wound he had thought healed over was still raw. After twenty years. After a whole life had passed.
Yet, he was still sure of his decision. And he had adjusted to his new life. What he hadn't expected was how old habits had started coming back. He laboured, and played his part, and yet every morning he had the feeling that he should turn out for inspection with the other members of the Royal Guard. Looking at the training sessions of the men to whom he had once belonged always disturbed him and he could not help but feel the burning desire to throw the spade aside, grab a sword and join them. At the same time, he did not want his old life back. Not exactly.
Of course, even if he did, he could never have it back. Not if Miles had some say in the matter. Having once revealed his survival, he probably wouldn't live long enough to tell the rest of the tale – from the talks of the other slaves, it was clear that Miles' temper had not softened with time and Fade wouldn't – couldn't – hurt him, no matter what.
No matter what? I've thought the same thing before and yet I did hurt him. Twice.
His eyes shone with the sharp clarity of his memories.
Miles would be furious – he knew it. Yet, there was no way of preventing it and if he kept avoiding his brother like he had been doing for hours, since the end of the duel, things could only become worse, not better. With a sigh, Araris Valerian turned round and headed for the First Lord's palace, preparing to meet his brother's anger. Like storms and lightenings, Miles belonged to the natural occurrences that there was no rescue from.
On his way through the palace, he was followed by speculative glances and whispers – the news about the duel had already spread. He paid them no attention and kept hurrying through the halls, impatient to let Miles rage and be done with it.
The first man he saw in the rooms that he and Miles shared in the quarters of the Royal Guard was Septimus who was looking through the window and shook his head impatiently when Araris started to bow. "Drop it, Rari. Where have you been all this time? I was told that the duel ended hours ago."
"I needed to clear my head off," Araris answered. When Septimus continued to stare at him, he shook his head. "All right, all right, I wanted to avoid Miles for a while. I reckoned he'd be furious."
"Does he have any reason to be?" Septimus asked calmly.
Araris shook his head. "No," he answered firmly and then asked reluctantly, "Is he?"
Septimus sighed. "Actually no, he isn't. He didn't have the chance to be so. He's still unconscious, Rari."
The young guard stared at his lord and friend, his face paling slightly. "Why?" he asked. "He should have been healed and resting by now."
"Yes," Septimus agreed. "He should have."
Without a further word, Araris went to the door that led to the room he shared with his brother and flung it open.
Miles was still in the healing tub and an old healer glowered at the newcomer and scowled. "You're coming into a sickroom, boy, not on the battlefield to fight the Marat," he growled, his hands never ceasing their motions in the water.
Araris took almost no notice of him – his attention was all on Miles, who was lying motionless, in all probability unconscious in the steaming tub.
"What's wrong?" he asked. "Why hasn't he awoken yet?"
"He won't wake for a really long time," the old man muttered. "Not if I can help it."
"But why?" Araris insisted, confused.
"Because it's I who's keeping him this way, boy. His leg is shattered so badly that it'll be more merciful to keep him unconscious, instead of making him endure the pain. I intend on prolonging this state as long as I can, given the fact that he'll need to feed and drink. I hope that by then, he'd have made some progress."
Araris stood near the tub, staring at Miles, as if he could heal him by the strength of his will alone. "He's a very strong metalcrafter," he said. "He should be – "
The old man's wizened face showed clear disapproval. "I am the healer here," he said, "and I am the one who makes judgment, Araris Valerian. If I can say that in his current state, crafting will do him more bad than good, then it is so."
Araris slowly nodded. "I meant no disrespect, healer," he said. "When is he going to be all right?"
"He won't," the old man answered tartly. "I can't say how far his recovery will go, but I'll be highly surprised if he is 'all right'."
Araris' head jerked up. For a moment, he felt a fear that was like nothing he had ever experienced. He looked at the healer and then again at Miles' motionless form. A wave of horror struck him. Fear. Guilt. Helplessness. It was all for the best, he wanted to scream, but he couldn't, and shouldn't.
"I didn't mean to scare you," the healer said, his voice gentler.
"You didn't," the young man denied.
"I think you took it the wrong way. He can make a good recovery. He still has chances of using this leg. But the bones are so shattered and the nerves and muscles are so ripped apart that it'll take much time and efforts – both watercrafters' and his own – to make them work again."
"But is there a chance that one day he'll be completely healthy?" Araris insisted. "That he'll be as he was?"
The healer stared at him with something very similar to compassion – as far as a tough old thing like him could feel such emotion at all. Then, he said softly, "No."
Araris bowed his head. "I understand," he said and looked at his brother again. It was for you, he thought. It was for the best. Even a crippled Miles – oh great furies, don't let it happen – was better than a dead Miles.
"Now, go away and give me room to work, boy," the healer growled. "There is no point in hovering here. You'd better go and have a rest. I heard you fought a marvelous duel today and dueling is a tiring business. Go and find a bed to sleep in, since this room is a forbidden territory for every other occupant but him."
At every other time, Araris would have laughed. Now he only shook his head. "I'm staying," he said.
"Bloody crows! Did you not hear me? It will take days and weeks, boy! You can do nothing to help and you won't feel comfortably in a sickroom – do not maintain any illusions that I'll let you do anything that might disturb his rest. It isn't for you."
"Let me be the judge of that." Araris was still staring at Miles, as if trying to see the size of the damage from beneath his garments.
"I told you – "
"You're not here to talk!" Araris spat, his patience finally gone. "You're here to heal, so crows take you, heal him!"
The sudden touch of a hand upon his shoulder made him jerk away. He hadn't even noticed Septimus entering the room. His friend kept his hand, steady, comforting and restraining, on Araris' shoulder. "Let him be," he addressed the healer lightly. "I'm afraid Araris Valerian won't be as easy to get rid of as I was."
The old man glared at them, but kept his mouth shut and just kept working.
"For how long have you been here?" Araris asked.
"I came as soon as I was told about the accident."
Of course Septimus would come and spend all that time here. That was what would make him a great First Lord – he cared. He cared for his friends, for his people. His guards were his to protect just as their duty was to protect them.
"Tell me more about – " Septimus paused. " – about the accident."
Araris looked him in the eye, never averting his gaze. "What can I say? It was just a very unfortunate – accident."
The Princeps nodded, his expression unchanged. "Of course," he said softly. "I never thought otherwise."