Sword of a Saint
Chapter 9 - Part 1
Michael led Asmodious toward the camp
by the smoothest route he could find. Valerian lay draped across the
stallion's back like a sack of grain. Given the excitement of the
afternoon and the lines of exhaustion in her face, Michael reasoned
fainting was the best thing that could have happened to her. Michael's
own emotions were in turmoil, and that was dangerous for everyone
involved. He should be able to simply remove the issues that distracted
him so badly from his mind and his life. After all, there was little he
could do to solve any of them.
His mother was long dead, and his father, if still living, had no part in his life now. That the memory of his family should still twist his emotions into a Gordian knot irked him more than he wished to admit. Unfortunately there was no easy solution to the problem, and the cleansing meditations he'd learned during his years with the Assassins would do no more than bury the issue temporarily. It was bound to surface later, and would have to be dealt with.
**That's not the main problem,** an annoying voice in the back of his mind insisted. **What's really got you tangled up is lying draped over your horse. And you have to deal with her sooner or later, my friend. Better sooner and quicker.**
**Shut your mouth!** Michael frowned and quickened his steps. Valerian's presence did not bother him. After all, she was vowed to a life of service and denied to any man. Even should she change her mind, she clearly preferred Fergus. That made perfect sense. After all, Fergus was warm, gentle and dependable. What woman would not choose him over a moody, reckless, hard hearted killer?
**It wasn't Fergus she snuggled up to beside a stream.**
Michael shoved the voice away ruthlessly and tightened his shields. That was a mistake, since the invasion he fought against came from inside his own mind.
**You want her and you won't even admit it. Why not just let yourself say what you feel?**
**I don't ---**
**You do. The look in her eyes before she fainted hurt you more than anything has in the past nine years.**
This was getting ridiculous. **Even if I felt that way, and I don't, she doesn't want me in her life. She thinks I'm a monster. And maybe she's right.**
The voice in the back of his mind was not pacified. **Then show her she's wrong about you. Talk to her.**
The ground dissolved beneath his feet. Caught by surprise he released Asmodious' halter as he fell, headlong into a pit that he could have sworn had not been there when he first walked this path. The front of his leg struck a large rock. The sickening crack of breaking bone rang louder than the thud of his body landing hard on the wet mat of dead leaves and new plants. He managed not to scream, but it took all the discipline and training he possessed.
Michael tried to rise, and fell back with a groan. One of his legs was broken, if the pain shooting through the limb was any indication. The pit he lay in was more than six feet deep. Even if he had two good legs he would have struggled to free himself.
Cloth rustled above him. He heard the soft thump of two slippered feet striking the ground. A moment later Valerian knelt at the edge of the pit, ignoring the dampness that soaked her gown. She caught her lips between her teeth and blinked rapidly as she studied his situation.
"Don't move." Her voice cracked. "You're badly injured."
"I gathered that." Still Michael fought to rise. "How far are we from camp?"
"Sweet Mother Mary! Stay still until I can summon some help!" The hem of her skirt flashed over the edge of the pit as Valerian stood. She glanced around frantically for a moment, then bent over the hole again.
"Get back!" Fear that she might fall in herself gave Michael the strength to pull himself to a sitting position. "Get away from the edge."
Valerian ignored him. "Camp isn't far away. Will you be all right until I can return with your men?"
"I'll be fine." What kind of a question was that? She was worried about his safety, after she'd just called him a bloodthirsty monster?
Valerian nodded, turned, then turned back. "I won't be long."
Did she think he needed reassurance? She was treating him like a child with a crushed fingertip. "Go!" He managed to force the word between clenched teeth. The pain was becoming blinding.
Valerian nodded again, lifted her skirts and headed for the camp. From the patter of her footsteps, Michael guessed she was running.
He lay back on the muddy ground. Splintering pain shot up his leg and through his hip. More worrisome was the thick, wet liquid trickling over his knee and thigh. Unless he was much mistaken, that was blood. He'd thought he understood torture, but this was worse than anything he'd ever endured. Pain inflicted for a purpose can be fought, he realized with a wave of despair. There was no defense for this pain, because it has no reasoning behind it. No person he could thwart by refusing to surrender.
Valerian took forever to return, though Michael realized the line of sunlight and shadow above his head had not moved a hair's breadth. He picked her light footsteps out of the crashing noise easily. A moment later she leaned over the hole, Fergus and Adrian beside her. Fergus nodded decisively, but his face was as pale as a fish's belly.
"Don't move, Ya Muntaquim," he ordered as he waved to someone behind him. "We're coming down to you."
Michael forced himself to grin. "Like I have a choice about that?"
The attempt at humor had the desired effect. Valerian lost her stricken look and rolled her eyes in exasperation.
A pair of thick ropes dropped over the edge of the hole. A moment later, Fergus and Adrian slid down the loose walls of the pit. Adrian immediately positioned his body over Michael's face. Several thick sections of branch and strips of cloth fell from above, but most bounced off Adrian's back. Fergus knelt by Michael's leg as Adrian straightened and gathered the wood and cloth.
"We're going to have to pull this straight and splint it here. It's going to hurt like hell, my friend."
Michael fixed his attention on Valerian, who stood above him wringing her hands in her skirt. The unconscious gesture and the drawn, pale skin pulled taut over her cheeks told him just how worried she was. If she fainted again Fergus would have two patients instead of one. Michael decided to beat his friend senseless for letting her see this. It would have been as easy to make her wait in camp and bring him to her once he was out of this hole?
He drew on the dregs of his fortitude and did his best to sound light. "Just don't destroy my boots. They're my best pair."
Steel whispered as Fergus drew his knife. A moment later the long blade ripped through the soft leather of Michael's boot. "My apologies, Ya Muntaquim. I'll replace them as soon as we kill a Custodes that's got feet like yours."
The trickle of blood down Michael's thigh increased to a stream as soon as Fergus pulled the boot away. At the same moment Adrian's mind touched Michael's. The boy was attempting to force him to sleep, Michael realized. No doubt it was a good idea. Unfortunately Michael could not allow himself the relief Adrian offered. Losing control of his senses was worse than the pain. He tightened his shields and managed to shake his head firmly.
"Leave him be and grab his shoulders." Fergus held Michael's foot in a grip of steel. "When I count three, pull him back as hard as you can."
"No!" Valerian's voice echoed off the sides of the pit. Dirt rained down on them as she swung her legs over the edge. "You can't do it that way. Let me show you --"
"Stay there!" Both Michael and Fergus shouted the command.
"There's no room down here," Michael added quickly. From the set of Valerian's jaw she intended to ignore them. "Unless you want to sit on me, you'll ---"