Disclaimer: Codex Alera belongs to Jim Butcher.
Thanks to TheLady Unicorn and roseflorintine for their kind reviews.
Cold as Ice
The next few days passed in a blur. He didn't remember them flowing. All he had were images that he would carry for a long time, he knew – bright, blinding, and so infuriatingly disconnected. Strong arms that guided him back after he seemingly had tried – and managed – to leave his bed and reached as far as the entrance of the tent – or maybe even the outside. A young Marat woman staring at him with mild curiosity, Septimus – no, Octavian – at her side. The black vial he had fast learn to hate, for it contained the vilest potion ever, and they were so fond of pouring it into him. A young man he did and didn't know – great furies, it was Maximus – looking down at him, his expression a mix of feelings that Raucus had trouble deciphering. Dorotea, crows take her, bathing his stump with another foul smelling potion. Sandos staring at him silently from the other cot. A legion healer, frowning in concentration. Aria, leaning over his cot. And the pain. The pain was like a living creature, biting, whirling around, assaulting him in despair. He had never known such a pain.
He had never felt so helpless.
Then, one day, he opened his eyes and everything seemed so clear, the light so brilliant. He tried to sit up but he can't, not yet. The fact that he forgot and tried to use the arm that was no longer there did not help either.
He must have made a sound, for Aria immediately jumped up from her seat at Sandos' side and went to him. Her hand touched his forehead and she smiled hesitantly. "How are you feeling?" she asked.
He scowled. "As if an Iceman demolished the Wall… all over me. What happened?"
She sighed. She looked better than she did in the images he had retained. Less haunted. Anyway, she still looked far too exhausted for his liking. The dark circles around her eyes were especially telling. "You don't remember? Anything?"
He frowned and tried to get his mind to focus. "I remember my arm is no longer," he said. "And I remember Dorotea – was this part for real?" he asked with sudden hope. It had to be false. Aria had obviously assumed the charge of him, as well as Sandos. There was no way she'd leave the bitch near him when he was so bloody helpless.
"You had a fever," she said. "One that kept coming back. You've been here for five days. Don't you remember? A few times, you came back to consciousness. Your mind was clear enough to try to get up, quarrel, give orders and make a nuisance out of yourself. We were just about to rejoice that you were finally fine, and the fever came back."
He blinked. "Really? I don't remember anything of that."
Aria helped him drink. "Don't move," she said.
"Really," Sandos spoke from his cot. He, too, looked slightly better than he did in Raucus' flashes of memory. "I, for one, told you about four times what happened. You really don't remember?"
"No," Raucus sighed. "Would someone mind telling me again how we ended up here?"
So they did, and this time he knew he wouldn't forget, and he didn't. But he almost wished he could. So much would change.
Next time he woke up, Aria was no longer there. Sandos was sleeping. And Placidus Garius went at Raucus' side as soon as he realized that the High Lord was awake. "How are you feeling, my lord? Do you need something?"
Raucus shook his head faintly against the pillow. "Where is your mother?"
"I sent her to rest for a while," the young Tribune replied. "She didn't want to but she really needed it. The First Lady took her in. I told her you and my father will lack for nothing."
"Good," Raucus snorted. "Woman never knew her own limits, I say. She'd stay here watching over us until she collapsed right across Sandos."
Garius said nothing but a flicker in his eye showed that he was thinking along similar lines. Well, he should. He had taken the matter in his own hands, after all. Raucus turned at his right for the water Aria was sure to have left there. Garius watched him, ready to assist should need arise but it did not come to this. As weak as he was, Raucus felt better. He was certainly up to the task to lift a flagon of water. He looked at Garius over the edge. It felt so good to see him here – one of the legionares serving under him whom he had not failed. He had buried so many of these boys. It was nice to see that he had not been doing everything wrong.
"Do you know anything about my sons?" he asked, already sure what the answer would be. From what he had heard at the Wall, both boys had earned quite a reputation for themselves. Everyone around would have heard about whatever happened to them. Besides, Garius was Aria and Sandos' son. He tended to keep himself informed about just anything. That was one of the reasons that would someday make him an excellent commander – nothing was unimportant enough to pass beyond his notice.
Garius did not disappoint. "They did cause quite a scene just today," he said. "Along with the First Lord."
Of course the bloody First Lord would be bloody involved! It would be simply too nice not to. Gaius, the old bastard, had played his cards well. Maximus was firmly in Octavian's camp and, Raucus suspected, so was Crassus. Infuriating!
"So, what happened?" he asked, and Garius shrugged.
"Well, the First Lord obviously decided to visit Antillus Crassus in his healing tent… and he obviously did not take it well. I passed by the tent myself and heard them arguing."
Raucus grinned in delight despite the pain in his stump. "What were they arguing about?"
Garius shrugged again. "I have no idea, my lord. But your son obviously did not enjoy the First Lord's company and told him so in no uncertain terms."
Raucus snorted out a laugh. There was still hope. It was bad enough to have one son so besotted with Octavian. It was good to know that he did not have two of them. And in truth, he liked the idea of the First Lord having his wings clipped. On principle. Great furies knew that such a thing would have done Sextus a lot of good, too. "So he was furious?" he asked curiously. "Or did he freeze poor Octavian to bits without windcrafting?"
Garius shook his head and looked at his father's cot to make sure that everything was fine on this front. "No, your first guess was closer to the mark. Antillus Crassus was so enraged that he was shouting at the First Lord in a way that was…" His voice trailed off.
Raucus blinked. Shouted? Shouted? What could have Octavian, crows take him, possibly done to elicit such a reaction from Crassus, of all people? Had it been Max, he would not have even given it a second thought. Crassus, though… Raucus had never heard the boy raise his voice when angry. He usually took the offender down with just a few icy remarks – a trait that Raucus found highly obnoxious. Had Octavian killed someone Crassus held dear, or perhaps bedded a woman Crassus had also taken a fancy to?
Bloody weakness! He'd have to wait for furies know how long before he could find out what was going on.
"What did he say?" he asked.
Garius actually smiled at that. "Well, he said something like, "Get off me, Octavian, or I'll throw you out." The smile suddenly vanished. He looked at Raucus uncertainly but finally decides to relay the rest of Crassus' words to him. "Or at least, I'll make Max do it for me," he finished softly. He hesitated whether he should say that he was sorry. He was. By now, everyone knew that Antillus Crassus was as helpless as a babe, too hurt to move, in too much pain to summon his furies, with too small a chance to ever walk again. As tough as the High Lord Antillus was, Garius knew he cared. He had seen his grief and torment over the thousands that had fallen at the Wall. Antillus Raucus was sure to care now when it was his own son who had fallen, albeit not dead.
But he was the High Lord Antillus. He didn't need anyone's sympathy, except for maybe Garius' parents. Not for the loss of his arm. Not for the torment of his son. And besides, he was already far away, staring right through Garius at something that only he could see.
This night, he had a dream and it was nothing like the nightmares that had plagued him for years – the same ones that he lived, every day at the Wall. He was in Antillus, at the lakeside, in one of the very few instances he could steal a few hours away from his duties. It was high summer, and Max was chatting animatedly to him about his latest exploits with his outrageous friends, among which he seemed to be the most outrageous one. Naturally! How old was the boy? Eight, maybe nine. Precocious, full of life, and still admiring his father. Raucus listened to him with amusement and at the same time kept a look at the lake where Crassus was swimming out. He swam as easily as a fish. Anything related to movement he did gracefully. He had showed Kalarus' elegance even as a toddler. The skyline had long fascinated him and he kept on trying to reach it by swimming and became enraged by Raucus' fits of laughter that his obsessive idea never failed to produce. And since he didn't give up, finally Raucus just let him be and kept an eye on him, commanding his waterfuries to bring the whelp ashore when Crassus was about to swim out of his view. But this time, weather was bad, the lake was coming high and Raucus took him out way too early.
"Cold, eh?" he asked, trying to sound serious at the look of longing Crassus was giving the skyline. Surely even a child this young should have understood by now that he wouldn't reach it no matter what he did.
"Not c-c-cold," Crassus said. "N-not cold at all."
He would have sounded more convincing had he not been shaking. The moment Raucus turned his back at him, he tried to go back but Max, wiser than his father, caught him just on time. Crassus looked at him with anger but then Max leaned against his ear and whispered something that made Crassus giggle, his bad mood forgotten. A moment later, Max laughed too.
Raucus woke with a start. It was dark in the tent, it was probably in the pitch of the night. A single furylamp made a brave attempt to tear the veil of black and in its light, he made out Aria's face: she was sleeping peacefully in her chair, her head on Sandos' cot, a few locks of red hair spread on the cover. Sandos was sleeping soundly, too. Raucus closed his eyes, willing the dream to come back but it didn't. Still, he felt far more relaxed than when he had fallen asleep. He had forgotten that in his past, it had not been all bad. He had forgotten that sometimes, he had been happy.
"I'll make Max do it for me." It was a good thing that Max would do something for Crassus. It was a good thing that Crassus felt sure he would. Still, Raucus would rather have Max do something else for Crassus. Something that Crassus could do himself if he chose to.
Of course, it was just temporary. It had to be. Even Dorotea was wrong about that. Raucus could feel it. Crassus would walk again. Sure, they all said the chance was slim but what of that? Finally, Crassus had realized that there was no chance he'd ever reach the skyline. But had he thrown a tantrum? Had he wept with disappointment?
No. He just had just gone and tried again.