“Whoa there, blacksmith.”
“Shit, you got yourself good this time.”
Most settled with low cusses at the state of him.
Derrick’s entire right arm had become a mess of blood and charred, black flesh that crawled up onto his shoulder, where what little of his burnt sleeve remained. His hair on the same side had burnt away as well, showing splotches of burnt face and a blistering ear.
Exhausted as he was, Hal still ran out the moment he heard his name. His eyebrows fell into a low, heavy bunch at Derrick.
“You lot, help me bring him to the back. Lilly,” he looked at me, saying nothing.
The question was obvious.
I trotted ahead of the two patrons who were helping Derrick stumble in, dripping blood and smelling of burnt meat as he went. I hesitated only a moment before opening the door to mine and Gus’s room and running in to make sure the thin blanket he used was flat on the ground. It would have been preferable to put him on a table, but the only table in the building big enough to hold up all of his bulk was used in the kitchen, and I couldn’t put a bleeding, injured man on a wooden table. Germs. Lots of germs, for everyone.
“Lay him here,” I said. I caught sight of Milly nodding to Hal in the hallway and running off, probably to get water and bandages.
There were a lot of groans and grunts as the men lay Derrick onto the blanket. The great man gasped as the back of his burnt shoulder touched ground, holding back a scream when he gently lowered his arm to the floor. At least he could still move it, if only just.
“What do we need, miss?” asked one man.
“Milly’s bringing what we need,” I said. “Do any of you have a knife? Can you cut off his shirt so we can get to all the burn?”
He nodded and popped out his knife from his jerkin. The second got to work moving Derrick’s beard out of the way and finding the seams for the first so they could get the clothing off as quickly as possible.
If I hadn’t been so distracted by the roasted arm, I might have been flummoxed by the thick bands of muscle across the finely sculpted chest revealed to me. It was as though a viking who really did wrestle bears had been flashed before me.
I did take a moment to allow myself to be intimidated, however. I’d never been near muscles this large before, and on such a wide chest. I felt absolutely fairy-like in comparison.
Milly came in next with a large bowl of water with a rag on it, followed by Hal with an armful of bandages and a small wooden case.
“Get out, the lot of you,” she said. “There’s hardly any room in here to work in as it is.”
“You let us know if you need some heavy lifting, yes?”
“What am I, chopped liver?” asked Hal with a raised eyebrow.
There were some attempts at a smile then, but a grim air had settled over the inn that smothered even the boisterous laborers. Or, perhaps, it was the ever smothering heat.
Milly set the bowl next to flustered me.
“Can you do it?” she asked softly, just high enough for me to hear through breaths Derrick hissed through his teeth.
But that wasn’t the question for me. Biting my lip, I reached out and pushed sweat-drenched hair out of Derrick’s soot covered face. He flinched horribly, even at that barest of touches.
But I didn’t need to ask that question. Of course Derrick could keep my secret. And even if he couldn’t, I couldn’t just leave him like this, crippled for life at best if he lived through this. His fingers were little more than bloody, burnt sausages.
“Derrick, can you hear me?”
He nodded, biting his lip which had already been bleeding.
“I’m going to touch your arm, just for a moment. Try to stay still and don’t pull me off, okay? Everything is going to be just fine, I promise.”
He nodded again. His bleary eyes found mine, seeming to convey a world’s weight worth of trust that shook my heart at the small pain I was going to cause him, even if only for a moment.
Because, for a would this severe, it was quickest if I had direct contact with it. It cost more energy to push the magic through any space that separated me and the body. I could touch some other part of his body, but I could already feel that my own energy levels were low.
So, as gently as I could, I laid both hands on his arm, one on the upper half, one on the lower.
The harsh hiss from Derrick came at the same time I set then tendrils of my magic out on mass, so thick the threads were practically a cloth. They wove to their designated positions, creating a tapestry of weaving heat layers, the strongest going to the most damage and the weakest to the deeper flesh.
Unlike with Gus, I wasn’t trying to ration my energy. I let it all out in one great rush to get the job done as quick as possible.
And I got it done. There was even a lightning like flash that followed along with it, blinding me through my closed eyelids, followed by an overwhelming dizziness.
But I managed to make out Derrick’s arm, pale and new through the leftover blood and charred remains that had been pushed out by the healed flesh. I turned my head to make sure his face had respond as well, but my body moved in the same direction, going down and down it met the floor right next to him, which spun like the wheel of fire roller coaster ride at a carnival.
I didn’t pass out. I should have. I wanted to. I yeah, I would have much rather passed out. The level of nausea that overcame me and the muscle cramps that turned into spasms could have been left behind. The part of my mind sheltered in the far back from all this discomfort theorized that the vast amounts of magic or energy (the two were interchangeable for me) that had left my body at once might have put it into a state of shock, even if it hadn’t completely drained me. If I had just used all of it at once I could have nicely blacked out, but apparently I had more in me than I thought.
Was this what Nehcor had given me with that ‘greater magical capacity?’
The bowl of water and rag ended up being used for me, ironically, as I ended up throwing up the moment the strange seizure or whatever it was started to calm down. Derrick had sat up and pulled me into his arms to turn me over so the vomit wouldn’t choke me or spill over my face. My hearing was nothing but a buzz, so if they said anything, I didn’t catch it. My vision spun too much to make out much else either.
At least Gus wasn’t there when everything stopped spinning. My hearing came back to my own ragged breathing. Still had his newly healed arm around my chest to hold me up and forward. Milly had already cleaned up my face and the vomit with the quick efficiency of a girl raised by an OCD clean freak.
“Sa, sorry…bout that,” I managed to get out. I swallowed several times, cringing at the taste of bile mixing with sweat. Ugh, I felt disgusting. I tapped Derrick’s arm around me. “I think I’m okay.”
Gently, as though I might upchuck again if he moved to quickly, he sat me back, and this girl found herself in the lap and with her back up against the chiseled Viking chest of a century. For some reason, the most shocking thing to me was simply finding out that boobs on any human being could be so firm. Man boobs. Pecs. Man chi-chies. New revelation just in, I, Lillian Strobelt, have never been so ashamed to be jello.
“You saved me,” said Derrick in the quiet filled with my pants. “You…you saved my life.”
“That can happen to the best of us,” I said, rather senselessly. Kind of hard to think through my man boob revelation.
“Lilly…Lillian…how much more are you going to bless me?”
The reverent tone brought me back down to earth, as well as to Milly’s boggled eyes.
“Whoa, hold on there, what kind of monster with healing magic wouldn’t save you? Especially since you’ve been such a good friend to me? Don’t get all weird now.”
“Your magic was as bright as the sun,” said Milly, her voice also scarily awed.
“Yeah, that’s because there was a buttload of it. I was trying to get the job done quick, to my regret, ugh. I didn’t get puke on either of you, did I? If I did, just kill me now, I’ve had enough shame with this heat wave as it is.”
Derrick laughed, and even it sounded bemused. “You work a miracle of god and all you can worry about is—Lilly, you don’t get it.”
“Only the great prophets have worked healing magic of this magnitude.”
I turned and cranked my neck to see if he was serious. And he was, as well as funny looking, as half the hair was burnt off his face. His missing eyebrow distracted me, as I began thinking of how to grow that back. Hair wasn’t exactly necessary for the function of the body so I hadn’t looked into its regrowth yet.
“Lil’, you’re a Saintess,” said Milly. She still sounded too awed for comfort.
I whipped back to her, “Whoa whoa, hold on, I did a lot more in healing Gus. He had an infection that had spread all throughout his body and—“
“He did?” said Milly.
“Yes! Weren’t you there?”
“All I saw was a broken leg before you put him in the tub. I assumed he had a broken ankle too since his other foot seemed off…and you kept passing out. And he was so tiny. No offense, Der’, but you’re massive.”
I still couldn’t compute in my head how what I had just done for Derrick was somehow more impressive than what I’d done for my poor broken Gus, but I’m sure if I sat and really thought about it, probably when I wasn’t still tingling and reeling from…whatever that was, it’d make sense.
“Sure…whatever…Don’t tell anyone.”
Milly’s expression turned solemn and she nodded.
“What?” said Derrick.
“You heard her,” said Milly, slapping his arm to scold him for being so dumb. “This girl’s only interest is a simple life, raising babies and gawking at chickens, no need to ruin the program with attention from the king and church.”
I inwardly winced. She could have kept the chicken part out.
“Of course, of course, I’m sorry…”
“Hopefully no one outside caught the light,” said Milly, mostly to herself. “Damn it, we’re going to have to come up with a way to explain this. I’ll bandage you up anyway. Stay here for the night, maybe two.”
Now that I was in the right mind to notice. “Where’s Hal?”
“He went out to man the Inn with Gus after dropping off the bandages.” She pulled over the little leather case and frowned in thought as she tapped it. “Guess we won’t be using this.”
“I can make a show of visiting the temple,” said Derrick. “Take a few weeks off.”
“Sounds great,” I drummed my fingers on his arm, which was still firmly wrapped across my middle. “Could you let me go now?”
His arm flew out, nearly slapping Milly.
“No biggy,” I gave him a big smile, which was probably half drunk from my ‘use-too-much-magic-at-once’ high. “I got to feel muscley, chiseled man-chest for the first time in my life. Not unpleasant.”
When whatever bit of Derrick’s face wasn’t still covered in soot went red as though burnt again and Milly guffawed as loud as a drunk, sanity gave me a smack and I tipped over, then and there, to smash my face into the floor.
“Kill me,” I told it. “Just kill me now.”