3. Counting Costs
This story tags off of "Shield Man," which Isabeau wrote for B2MEM09 prompt 2: Danger. Isabeau has provided her own aftermath story to "Shield Man," "Bitter Victory." Obsessed minds apparently think alike...
Imrahil cursed, clutching his own shoulder, which burned like the very sun had come to light upon it, as his vision blurred. Never even felt it go in, he thought, dully, and laughed a little. Well, I'm feeling it now! Some part of him knew the signs, and knew very well he was verging on shock himself. That was... bad. He couldn't afford it; a captain could never afford it, because a captain had his crew to think of, and after so terrible a battle, they needed him.
At the moment, however, he could do no more than blink dumbly and bleed on his oath-brother, as he leaned on the heel of the hand he had pressed just above the wound that had brought Andrahar down. He could not even tell whether the pressure helped – there was so much blood. Andrahar's trouser leg was soaked with it, and so was the deck. He thought briefly about trying to strip his belt off to make a tourniquet, but was afraid of his own clumsiness and sweaty palms botching the matter, taking too long, and Andrahar just bleeding out while he fumbled about. He needed a healer, and glanced round the deck once more, seeking one, even as he murmured:
"Hold with me, Andra – bide awhile, help is coming."
"My lord?" Imrahil started at the voice, and squinted into the sun to find the ship's healer, Uinendur, suddenly at his side, a worried Swan Knight hovering just behind him. But when he reached for Imrahil, frowning at the shoulder wound, Imrahil irritably shrugged him off.
"Never mind that, help me with Andra!"
Uinendur bit his lip, but nodded, quickly surveying the situation, and his frown deepened. Fortunately, despite this being but his second tour of duty on a warship, his hands were steady, which meant he could put the tourniquet in place. And as he unrolled his surgeon's kit, he said briskly, "I need a little room, my lord. And you need to have your shoulder seen to – Falanmir, if you would?"
"Aye, sir." Falanmir, whom Andrahar had insisted on including in Imrahil's escort of Swan Knights just because he had a definite talent for leechcraft, came and offered his Prince a hand, but Imrahil shook his head, instead sitting down heavily beside his friend.
"I'll do well enough here," he told him, even as he eased Andrahar's head into his lap, soothing him with his good hand, heedless of the fact that he was getting blood in the other's hair, feeling the need to do something, at least, even while knowing very well he could not possibly do much.
"As you wish, my lord," Falanmir replied, and swiftly began cutting Imrahil's shirt free so he could examine the injury. And:
"Talk to me, Falanmir. What is our situation?" the prince asked, tiredly, and braced himself, deciding it would be best, or at least efficient, to face all his pains at once.
"We've been better, I fear," the knight murmured. "Are you certain you wish to he – "
"Yes," Imrahil cut him off. "Tell me – 'twill keep my mind off other things." At that, Falanmir simply nodded sympathetically, and as he prodded and cleaned and bandaged, he gave such report as he could of Olwen's status, which was every bit as bad as Imrahil had feared, though she was still afloat. Her crew, though much diminished, was still standing, which was more than could be said for the majority of the Haradrim. Being well-trained, there was little fuss over after-action tasks: Imrahil's men knew their business, and they got on about it without needing much in the way of prompting or oversight.
Which was fortunate, because at the moment, their captain could just barely see past the haze of pain, certainly not far enough to oversee anyone. But he gritted his teeth and endured, because as unpleasant as it was to have Falanmir poking about in an open wound with tweezers to pull out bits of cloth and leather that had got jammed into the wound before cleaning and binding it, he liked less the look on Uinendur's face, as he cleaned and stitched, and stitched, and stitched... Valar, he'll put a whole flock's worth of catgut in there! Imrahil thought.
But more worrying than even Uinendur's expression was Andrahar's stillness. Imrahil had seen his oath-brother come to full wakefulness from a sound rest without warning or even any obvious reason; it was a peculiarity of his, born of hard-learned lessons that had been burned into him in Umbar's backstreets. The one lapse in that habit Imrahil could remember had been when they had both been nineteen, after that unhappy incident in the brothel, when Andrahar had been attacked by his fellow esquires in an outburst of spite. In pain, exhausted, and often under the influence of whatever concoction Kendrion had given him, he'd been slow to rouse then – or slower, anyway.
But despite the chaos of the decks, and Uinendur's painful attentions, Andrahar did not stir in the slightest. He was not asleep, he was simply unconscious: whatever will or awareness that ordinarily stayed with him, that kept him ever somehow in touch with the world around him, had fled and left no trace. His lips were pale, and his color was not good – a bloodless, dull hue beneath the sheen of sweat. And Imrahil was all too well aware it'd been his orders that had brought his friend to this bad pass.
Imrahil swallowed hard, shut his eyes, and suddenly, the last thing he wanted to hear was Falanmir's voice, talking of the need to decide about the prize, and how to hold the few remaining prisoners. He'd no desire to hear about any of it, least of all to deal with it. Fire the hull and be done with it all! impatience snarled, but he bit his tongue. For he had begun this thing, and if he could not undo that beginning, he owed it to his crew to see it carried through properly to the end.
And so he lent an ear to Falanmir's solicitous report, forcing himself to consider their collective course. But his eyes went to Andrahar and did not stray, and beneath all the flow of captainly concerns, fear ran in a riptide. And so like a midnight charm, he chanted his silent plea:
Just hold with me, Andra! Please just hold! Just hold!