“You poor, suffering soul,” he joked. Then more seriously, “I only notice because I was there to see it. Complain all you want, you’re no less lovely because of it.” It was true, of course. Alduial’s formerly perfectly straight nose now boasted the smallest crook. So small he wagered that only those who had known about her injury noticed.
“Well that is very kind of you,” she replied, not insincerely and with a faint hint of flattery. “But all I wanted was to leave behind a perfectly beautiful corpse and I fear now it shall be unpleasantly flawed. It stings of course, having it taken away from you, control over your own destiny I mean.”
She pulled his hand from the water, running her fingers over it one more time before drying it off. “How are things with you? Now that we have thoroughly analyzed my predicament. You look… tired.”
His shoulders relaxed some as he let her work. “I haven’t been sleeping well. It is nothing unusual, though.”
“Well that will not do. How can you expect to defend me on the walls if you are tired?” Alduial asked, joking, gently setting his fingers on fresh splints. “I can give you a draught for it, but I take it this is some usual thing. Do you know the cause?”
Peldirion frowned and nodded. “I think so. It has been going off and on for several years. This last summer I hardly slept for three months.”
“So what is the cause? Speaking to me as both a healer and a friend of course,” she clarified.
The man’s usual stern expression slowly slid back into place as his eyes darted away. “It is all in my head, I think. You can say it was brought on by a number of things, loss being the chief among them.”
“You know I have been reading up on soldier’s heart recently,” she mused over his hand. “It is a fascinating condition whereby men, afflicted with great fear of battle develop physical symptoms as of the sick. Heart palpitations, insomnia, waking nightmares…” She trailed off thoughtfully.
“My Master, Master Nestin, believes the affliction is caused by a defect of spirit, simple cowardice. But I have been thinking… some men seem to be overwhelmed by similar symptoms even when they have never seen battle. So what if it is a blood disease, carried on families, spurred on by some unhappiness. Any unhappiness really.”
Defect of spirit, simple cowardice, unhappiness… Peldirion tensed, and grunted. “It is possible, I suppose.”
“I mean, we can certainly not discuss it if you prefer,” she said, idly, winding gauze over his fingers. “But I think you would prefer to sleep, would you not? I mean, is it only the insomnia or is there anything else?”
“How much longer till the hand is fully mended?” he asked, his tone quiet and careful as he ignored her question.
“A week until we can be sure there is no damage, you cannot rush these things. Do you have waking nightmares? Any trembling?” she inquired smoothly, keeping hold of his hand while she worked to prevent flight.
The muscles in his left forearm flexed for a moment as he resisted the sudden urge to wrench it away, and Peldirion gave his steady, bandaged hand a calculating look. “I can manage a week longer. When would be a good day for me to come back?”
“Peldirion,” she said in a soft, serious voice, making eye-contact with him. “Are you trying to run away from me without talking about your concerns?”
“No,” he said seriously as he looked back at her. “I’m going to walk away without talking about them.”
“You have acknowledged them already. That is the first step to getting help. And you do need help, whether you want it or not,” Alduial continued, holding fast to his wrist. “If you go into battle tired you will fall needlessly and what if the rest of us survive? Who will go back and save Pelargir?”
Her grip made his chest tighten, and suddenly it was not her eyes looking at him. He pulled back his arm as much as she would allow without tearing it from her grip. “If you all survive then Halethon will go back and do a good enough job of it.”
She kept hold of his wrist, an unusually intense look in her eyes. “And if you cannot hold the wall below what then? If fatigue gets the better of you and you falter what will become of Halethon and the rest?” She asked seriously, leaning over the table to keep hold of his arm. “What are you afraid of?”
Peldirion’s upper lip curled as he glared at her. At the faces that had replaced hers. Leave me! Not now. Not while I’m awake…. “I have managed before, I will again. Now if you will release me I will leave and let you go back to helping those who need it more.”
“I am just going to back to the lower ward and do you not think I would rather stay here where the air is warm a little longer,” she countered, still looking at him intently. “You must accept my aid now or I will haunt your steps like a ghost until you do.”
He looked back at her, showing no signs of relenting. “Then you will be in good company with the rest. I thank you for the offer,” he said carefully, attempting to reign himself in, “but I want… need no aid.”
She released his arm. “You are lying to me, clearly. And I do not care for it. Your hand will heal on its own but is your pride really worth this hovering unpleasantness?”
A brief look of relief escaped him as she let him go, and he pulled the hand back and out of her reach. The knot in his chest remained, however, even as the faces faded away. “The only unpleasantness, madam, is that you are pressuring me to speak about things I do not wish to.”
“I only want to help you, consider it repayment for the fighting lessons,” she replied, standing from her seat and examining him. “Return next week and I will see to the bandaging. You should think on it though…”
Rising to his feet, Peldirion nodded. “I will, though you have already helped me,” he said, lifting his bandaged left hand as he forced himself to take a calming breath. “I will be back in a week. I hope you find some time to rest as well.”
“The hand is my job, your head is more of a hobby,” she said, still eyeing him seriously. “There is no shame in being sick, no matter where it comes from, you know.”
Peldirion struggled to find the right words as a headache slowly came upon him.”I am not much of a hobbyist. Enjoy your day, Healer.” He gave her a curt bow and turned to leave… or maybe to flee, though he would never admit it. Her parting words fell on nearly deaf ears. He was tired… exhausted. The world was growing too warm, but if it was not her badgering here, it was Halethon’s concerned looks at the Guest House. No, he needed somewhere quiet, and cool where he could rest for an hour or two away from questions and faces.
(( Thank you to Raenarcam for Alduial! Conversation taken from RP and edited for tense and composition.))