Alan awoke slowly, his sluggish brain attempting to piece together images from before he had blacked out. He dimly recalled lots of horses, and yelling, and the color red. Blood, everything was awash with the vivid stain. There was panic, and terror, and the feeling of wild pulsating energy coursing through him. He was starting to recall the stench of the dead. No one tells you that they all shit themselves before they go, the phantom voice of his father intoned into his ear, Nothing about death on a battlefield is glorious. Ah yes, a battle, that's where he was. He got hit, somewhere on his upper body, and had passed out from the wound. At this thought pain suddenly throbbed into being in his left shoulder, as though it was politely waiting for him to remember its existence before engulfing him.
Alan cried out, bringing his hand up to clutch at the wad of bandaging covering his upper left torso. Suddenly a familiar set of hands were reaching out to soothe him, purple fire at the finger tips.
"Shh…it's ok, it'll only sting for a moment." He recognized the soft, placid tone his mother reserved for her patients, and the cool relief of her Gift as it reached into his body and pushed back against the pain. Once the ache in his shoulder had receded into a minor twinge Alanna sat down on the edge of his bed.
"Are you feeling better now? Can I get you anything?" she asked as she reached out to smooth his hair. Her smile was reassuring, but her eyes were worried.
Alan nodded slowly. The pain in his shoulder was gone, but he wasn't certain he was feeling any better. There was a sick, queasy feeling in his stomach. He tried to place where the bad feeling was coming from, but before he could process that line of thought something else occurred to him.
"Mother? Why are you here? I thought you were supposed to be in Frasurland." Fully awake now, Alan noted the chair at the end of his bed. There was a mug set on top of one of the many piles of paperwork surrounding it, suggesting that the chair's occupant had been there for quite some time. Beyond the chair he could see he was in his own tent, which was unusual. He should have been in a cot at the infirmary along with all the other wounded.
Alanna flushed faintly pink. "I had some reports to deliver at Giantkiller, and this was on the way. I decided to stop to say hello to Raoul, and then I heard you were injured so I thought I might stay until you woke up."
Alan felt fairly certain this story was bullshit. When you were Alanna the Lioness you didn't have to waste your time traveling hither and yon to deliver reports, you had people to do such things for you. He sighed, feeling frustration growing in his belly. Before leaving for the north he had had a serious talk with Alanna about not treating him like a child.
"I just want to be a soldier like anyone else, ok? No special treatment, no favors, nothing."
"Alright Alan," Alanna had rolled her eyes as she did whenever she felt he was being over-dramatic.
"I mean it! I don't want to be the Lioness's son, with you fussing over me. You have to act like I'm just anyone else or no one will ever respect me!" Alan's voice had gotten embarrassingly shrill in his fervor.
"I said alright Alan!"
He made a face at her now. "Reports? Really? Are you sure you didn't come here just to see me?"
Alanna attempted to look indignant. "No! I was passing through on official business."
Alan scowled. "Why am I in my tent, shouldn't I be with the rest of the injured Own?"
Alanna went redder. "Oh, well, the infirmary was quite full and I just thought that as long as I was here maybe it would be best if you, you know, were kept here for the time being," Her attempt to sound nonchalant was just so obviously forced that Alan nearly felt sorry for her. Not for the first time he wondered, How could someone so awful at lying successfully pretend to be of a different gender for eight solid years?
"You're full of it. You came here to see me, not to deliver reports, and the fullness of the infirmary had naught to do with it; you pulled strings," Alan could hear his ragged voice becoming accusatory, and he felt a hot, tumultuous mix of emotions bubble up inside of him. "I asked you not to treat me special, but you did it anyway. I bet you weren't even given permission to leave Frasurland, you're probably just hoping the king won't say anything because he still feels bad about Aly."
Alanna's face had now fully transformed into the vibrant crimson that indicated she was both embarrassed and furious. "Fine, Alan! I came here because you were seriously injured, and I was worried! I was worried that my son might have to spent the rest of his life impaired by a wound, or worse, die, so I came to see to you. Obviously that was ridiculous of me." She had jumped up off his bed, fists trembling in anger.
As he stared up as her incensed face Alan felt his throat get tight. The fierce cluster of emotions burning in his chest began to separate out into identifiable pieces. Fear. Anger. Relief. Shame. His eyes prickled uncomfortably as he recalled the way men fell, their guts spilling out onto the dirt beneath him.
"Ma?" His voice cracked, surprising him. He remembered the chaos, the way the screaming nearly eclipsed any coherent thoughts. He could distinctly recall the stench of the dead. He recalled riding his horse over fallen bodies, the moaning injured indistinguishable from the corpses, the Tortallians indistinguishable from the Scanrans. He had been in brief skirmishes before, he had killed before, but nothing had even come close to the horror that flashed behind every blink of his eyelids. "Is it…is it always like that?"
Alanna's face softened instantly, and she sat back down at his bedside. Alan opened his mouth to say something else, but instead out came a strangled sob he didn't recognize.
His mother's embrace felt every bit as comforting as it did when he was a child, her strong arms encircling him and protecting him from the outside world. He buried his face in her shoulder, inhaling the familiar scent of her: woodsmoke, clean sweat, a whiff of metal polish, and underneath it all something faintly pretty, like lavender.
Just this one last time, he thought, squeezing her back as hard as his injury allowed, I'll only need my Ma this one last time. Next time I'll be brave.