Chapter Nineteen: The Watchers of the Woods (2)Mature

Dusk fell, casting the autumnal forest in purple shadow.  Seymour’s jumpy nerves desired to press on for a few more hours, putting as much distance as possible between them and their pursuers, but he knew it was pointless.  Henry’s horses were fast—the Waelyngar guards were unlikely to catch up to them.

            And so he stopped them in a small clearing on the riverbank to set up camp.

            The first order of business was to free himself from the Rezyn-damned dress.  This he did, tugging it over his head, rolling it into a messy ball, and dropping it unceremoniously onto the damp ground.  Then, he untied Simon—who was still asleep, snoring softly—from Elêganor’s saddle, dug a blanket out of a saddlebag, and deposited him atop it.  Kneeling beside him, he unstrapped the armor of the young man’s disguise and tossed it aside, leaving Simon in his coarse woolen undergarments, wrapped in the pungent stench of sweat and damp sheep.

            He set Seoc upon the blanket beside his former cellmate, laying him down on his belly so that the festering wounds on his naked back were left open to the cold air.  Semiconscious and probably disoriented, the boy whimpered and reached for Seymour’s ankles, his feverish gaze locked upon him beseechingly.

            The Aechyed crouched down next to the human and took his grasping hand, squeezing it gently.  “Hush now, little fish.  I’ll be right back,” he assured him.  “I’m going to make us a campfire, then I’ll see what I can do about your wounds.  I’m sure the mages packed an ointment or something in the saddlebags.  Can you wait just a moment longer?”

            Seoc twitched his head in what Seymour took to be a nod.

            Although the ground was damp, it was relatively easy to find dry wood around the edges of their campsite.  It would have been more efficient to venture deeper into the forest, but Seymour did not want to leave his charges alone and unprotected, not even for a few minutes.

            When the fire was built and had sputtered into flames, Seymour turned his attention to digging through the saddlebags.  He soon realized that they were capable of containing a much larger volume than seemed possible from their apparent size.  They must have had some magic upon them, making them larger on the inside than they were on the outside.

            He had been right in his assumption that the mages would include something to combat the infection in Seoc’s injuries.  It came in the form of a potion, contained in a small brown bottle, clearly labeled.  Aside from the medicine, there were packed in the bag several changes of warm clothing for each of them, a number of packages of salted meat and other foodstuffs, soap, towels, blankets, a set of knives, a small iron kettle, several lengths of rope, and a large bottle of brandy.

            “Thanks, Henry,” he said under his breath, taking a swig before tucking the bottle back into the saddlebag.  He’d brought a hip flask, of course, but it wouldn’t have lasted him.  In retrospect, Seymour realized that he had made his plans while operating under the overly-optimistic notion that he was strong enough to survive withdrawal—and survive it in the woods with winter on the way, at that.

            The buzz of brandy steadied his hands, which had begun to shake again, and he was able to collect the bottle of potion without fear of the cold glass surface sliding through his fingers.  He took it to Seoc and sat on the ground beside him, uncorking the bottle with his thumb.  The strong aroma of camphor wafted up from its depths, tinged with the sharp, metallic smell of magic.

            “You ready?” he asked Seoc.  “It might sting.”

            He poured a few drops onto his palm, then began to spread it upon the slashed skin of Seoc’s back, starting low and working his way up.  Seoc gasped in pain at the first touch of ointment, his body going rigid and shuddery.  Within a moment, however, his muscles loosened and his breathing—though agonized—evened out.  Seymour continued to apply the medicine, emptying the little bottle as he went, slowly, making certain that it reached to the bottom even the deepest of Seoc's cuts.  Once or twice, the tips of his fingers made contact with the bare bone of Seoc’s ribs, and it took all of Seymour's self control to keep himself from retching.  Blood and whitish-yellow pus oozed out between flaps of rotting flesh, forcing him to hold his breath against its terrible stink—a smell somewhere between that of sewage and that of a decomposing corpse.

            When the deed was done, Seymour ran, gagging, for the river to wash the horrid stench from his hands, wondering yet again what had possessed him to take this job.

The End

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