Kerris groaned as the physicker wound the thick cloth around his ribs. Three broken, two cracked, and his entire torso felt like a cavalry unit had marched over him. “Praise be that you’re among us to feel the pain. A mace can cave a man’s chest.” The physicker stood up, wiping blood from his hands with an already stained apron. Behind him the tent flap snapped and a gust of dry wind sent Kerris’ hair fluttering in front of his eyes.
“Hear that Kerris. That little sting means you’re alive.” The voice was low with suppressed laughter. Kerris didn’t bother craning to see who it was.
The physicker bowed low. “With your leave M’lord.” Neither the motion nor the words were for him so Kerris just lay back down on the cot wondering how long this was going to keep him from the field. The physicker scurried out of the tent at some unseen nod from Arahim. “You’re breathing, and it looks like you could hobble. C’mon, there’s a city split like a ripe fig, ready to be savored.”
Kerris turned his head to look at his friend with incredulity. Arahim had his arms crossed over his chest, his white robes rusty with spilt blood. Even the sheathed steel at his belt was bloody. “Damn poet you are.” Kerris said.
“Forgive me.” Arahim eyed the instruments strewn over the table of the physicker tent. “I assumed you’d want repayment for your current condition. But if you’d rather whimper like a babe while I’m sampling the survivors… ” Kerris’ look of distaste was enough for Arahim to throw up his hands. “Kerris, you have gotten boring and I think it’s that doe-eyed whore’s fault. We are miles away from the palace, a fresh city brimming with widows, and you are hung up over a single girl. What’d did she do to you in that brothel?”
“I was on the receiving end of a mace Arahim. You were there, you saw it.” Kerris pushed himself to his elbow, wincing.
Arahim nodded. “And I made sure the knight didn’t finish the job you ungrateful ass. Come with me. Enjoy yourself. You’ll find a good haul, and maybe even a pretty new thing.” Arahim was getting impatient, rolling his shoulders and looking towards the tent’s entrance. Kerris sighed before he pushed himself all the way up off the cot. Might was well get dressed, Arahim had a way of getting what he wanted and it didn’t sound entirely unpleasant. Besides Arahim was in a good mood, the battle must have gone well after Kerris had been downed; it would pay to humor him while it lasted.
“We’ve got until Mizra and Zuhere get there.” Kerris named Arahim’s older brothers. It was customary; Arahim would only get his chance at the newly sacked city once the crown prince claimed his own prizes.
Something twitched at the corner of Arahim’s mouth. It was a smile, grim and pleased. “We’re first in.”
Kerris was trying to breathe as little as possible as he shrugged on a shirt. It took a moment for Arahim’s words to hit. He looked up. “The battle?”
“Zuhere is dead, crushed by his own horse.” Arahim’s face was schooled and unfazed. “Mizra is breathing, but if the physickers are right, it’s a transitory thing. One of the crusaders gutted him thoroughly.”
Kerris didn’t know how to respond. The death of a first son would be felt, the death of two… “They’re dead…” He felt like an idiot, staring blankly at someone who’d lost two brothers in a single battle. The two had been years apart from Arahim, but they’d all trained in the same yard, kept the same lessons…
“Or close enough.” Arahim’s voice was flat and it plucked Kerris from his sudden grief.
Kerris’ brows knitted together “Arahim—“
“What? They were my brothers Kerris, my rivals. I am troubled by their passing…but this is the stuff of third son’s dreams.” Arahim gestured for Kerris to follow him. Kerris did, still feeling numb with shock, now at his friend’s reaction instead of the bloody news. Arahim paused at the tent opening, arm holding it open so that the morning sun lit his features. “Things will be changing for me after this campaign, for you too.”
Kerris moved past him into the yard. Their horses were already waiting, held by servants and pawing at the ground with impatience. “What do you mean?” He took the reins and ran a hand over the mare’s nose.
“You’re going to help me run this empire my friend.” Arahim pulled himself into his saddle gracefully. He looked down at Kerris, his expression sobering beneath the familiar grin. “Promise you’ll do it?”
Kerris hesitated a moment. Arahim never asked, he told, demanded, chided…. Kerris nodded, dropping his head into a small bow. “Of course my lord.”
“Good. Now come on, everyone is waiting on us.” With that Arahim spurred his horse and thundered from the camp in flurry of hooves, leaving Kerris to struggle into the saddle and catch up.