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The Audaxi Chronicles: Chapter 4
All the air escapes his body at those words, and Raff’s bones seem to want to crumble to the ground, becoming hundreds of pounds heavier. The prince cannot be dead. It’s unthinkable.
But the Enchantress doesn’t even stop walking. She’s the only movement in the world, the only sound in the silence, the one spark to light the fire, the only energy.
“How long?” She asks, rushing past Galen into the bedchamber. Something about her movement strikes the rest, flint against the wood as the first sparks of the fire start up again.
“N-not minutes.” Galen stutters, leading the rest as they follow her into the room.
On the great maroon canopy bed, the prince lies pale, exposed, small, broken. The wound in his chest is roughly patched, bloody and oozing some pusy yellow substance, opposite his heart. He is uncovered to the waist, eyes closed and still, his chiseled features that every Highland woman and some Highland men dream of looking flax and drab.
The Enchantress wastes no time in walking right up to him, speedily and methodologically scanning the prince. Setting her bag on the bed, she inspects next with her hands, pressing two fingers against his neck and then inspecting the wound.
“Alright,” she says, not looking up from her patient, “everyone step back. No one touch the bed.”
Raff glances around the crowded room to shocked faces; his four Audaxi brothers, the king, the captain, and the physician all too stunned to move, too confused for words. Althea takes a breath and begins whispering, and as he watches, her eyes change, the blue flashing into an unnatural bright yellow. Then, holding her hands in front of her as if praying, with the tips of her fingers touching, she slowly pulls them apart. Bright blue-white sparks crack between her fingers, as though she had reached up in the sky and stole lightning from the gods.
She shakes her head slightly and then her eyes scan the room one last time. She whispers a word to herself. Then, in a swift motion, she turns her fingertips down and onto the prince’s chest, right above his heart.
The room launches into action, as the men erupt into shouts and yells, outraged. But Raff watches as Althea doesn’t change her focus, watching intently as the prince’s body arcs upward.
When she removes her hands, the men had already leaped into action, the Audaxi and the Captain brandishing their weapons. Raff’s ears are attacked with the mingled shouts of the men, and he can’t even hear what anyone is saying.
“Stop!” She yells above the clamor, and everyone quiets, but they don’t relax. Galen, at her left and in between her and the men, gives her a slight nod. But she is already rubbing her hands together, creating sparks in a more hasty manner.
Althea presses her palms against the prince’s chest again, and his body arcs once more. But now, immediately after she presses her hands down, the prince’s eyes fly open, and a loud gasp fills the room.
As if someone pulled the right string, life floods back into the world as everyone except Galen and Althea relax, and a pool of relief pours over Raff. That same instant, Althea jumps into action.
“Okay,” she says, as the prince’s eyes flutter back closed, “I need a bucket of water and some clothes, plus honey and root of rafe.”
Raff cannot help but simply stare at her, words reduced to nothing but sounds.
When no one moves, Althea gives the slightest roll of her eyes. “Now!”
The force in her voice restarts the world yet again as one of his Audaxi brothers run out to get what she asked and Galen calls in his servants. When they rush in with his tools, the crowd seems to press in even in the large bedchamber.
“Anyone who isn’t doing anything please get out.” Althea says, as she pulls a vial out of her bag. “That includes you too, Your Highness. Sorry, by the way; I’m not big on bowing.”
With that last sentence, she adds a small flick of two fingers and nod of her head, as if giving a tiny bow to her king. Then, she turns to Galen and begins to ask what he has already treated the prince with. Raff doesn’t catch his response as he hurries out with his brothers and his king, back into the prince’s chamber.
Suddenly, his body sags, aching with the stress of the past few days and with the relief that the prince is alive. He realizes that he actually hasn’t slept since he left Rinnreal on a fool’s errand to find the Vaga three days ago. Nearly passing out on the spot, Raff stumbles to grip a soft, plush chair in front of the fireplace. Black spots creep in at the edges of his vision.
The voice of his king ripples through him, striking him up to the closest to attention as he could muster in that moment.
“Your Highness.” He attempts a bow, a kneel, anything, but his body screams its disagreement.
The king’s bright green eyes burn into his, but in the firelight, Raff can see the bags under the king’s eyes and the mats in his auburn hair.
“Raff.” King Ri says softer, laying a hand on Raff’s shoulder. “Go rest. You have my gratitude.”
Looking up at his king, Raff sighs. “I can’t…leave him. Not like this.”
The lines on the king’s face tell the stories of his years, and this close, Raff can see the thin scar running down from his forehead to his chin on the left side of his face. He gives Raff a small smile and nod, and he gestures to the chair next to them before striding out of the room with the Captain behind him.
Lowering himself into the chair, Raff hears the aches and groans of his body, and he almost falls asleep on the spot. But his three Audaxi brothers come up to him instantly, pulling up chairs and firelight flickering on their faces.
“Raff.” Vukan peers at him intently, leveling his face to Raff’s. “How the hell did you manage it?”
He sighs and would really prefer to just sleep, but the three of them look at him so intently that he knows they won’t go away until he gives them something. Vukan sits directly in front of him, and the fire behind him seems to light up his red hair and bright eyes. Cathal stands next to him, clapping him on the shoulder as if for congratulations, his clothes groaning at the size of him. Jerah sits a little further back, shaggy brown hair nearly covering his eyes as he looks nearly on the edge of his seat to hear Raff’s story.
“It really was not hard.” He says. “I was afraid I wouldn’t find them, but I did, and then I asked, and she said yes.”
From the other room, he hears a drawn-out groan from the other room, answered with rustling and quick, low undertones from Althea and Galen that he couldn’t make out. The three others paused too, but they look back at Raff, seemingly disappointed by his answer.
“That’s it?” Vukan laughs. “You just…asked?”
Turning his gaze past Vukan, the blaze of the fire dims out the rest of his vision, and he can feel his body slipping from him. He hears Vukan say something in front of him, but he can’t focus on the words because his limbs seem to be falling off, dropping into a pit of nothingness. Sounds muffled, he thinks he can hear the three of them laugh. But that’s the last he hears before he drifts off into the dark.
Hope you enjoyed this installment! Check back on Thursday for the next part in our series!