There was a moment, entirely too brief, when Seymour awoke upon the following morning, that he felt no pain, just the warmth of sunlight on his eyelids, and the comfortable pressure of Seoc’s sleeping form against his side. The mattress was soft, and the blankets stood guard between his skin and the cold air. In that moment, the events of the previous night may have been no more than a bad dream.
Then the agony returned, ripping across his shoulder and torso powerfully enough to make him yelp.
With a start, Seoc awoke beside him, sat up, and looked down at him, alarm in his bleary eyes. “Sey? Are you alright?”
“No,” Seymour replied truthfully, writhing and gasping for air. “No, no, no!”
“I’m going ta get help,” Seoc told him, rolled out of bed and ran out of the room, pulling on his tunic as he went.
Left alone now, Seymour felt the pain intensify. Cold fear washed through him. What if he was dying? He tried to sit up, but he couldn’t. He could barely breathe without choking.
Think, Sey, he instructed himself. You must concentrate.
Where was the pain coming from?
General chest area.
Why was it so difficult to breathe?
Lungs. Something was wrong with his lungs.
With great effort, he managed to roll over onto his front and prop himself up on his forearms. The action triggered a violent bout of uncontrollable coughing. Red liquid splattered onto the sheets.
Internal bleeding. Not good.
He was drowning in his own blood.
He drew in a rattling breath. Sounded awful. He’d heard someone make that noise before, someone who’d just been stabbed in the back. That individual had died within seconds.
Don’t you dare faint, Seymour de Winter.
He was stricken by another attack of coughing. A spray of fresh blood dappled the pillow, and his arms gave out, dropping him onto his side.
He recognized the voice and the hands that accompanied it as they reached him and tried to lift him. Seoc.
“Seoc, ye’re i’ the way! Get away frae him, ye’re no’ helpin’!”
Seymour observed, somewhat detachedly, that MacQuarrie’s voice had reverted to its original Stepplands brogue. He felt a strong hand thrust against his sternum, driving the remaining air from his lungs. A fresh wave of panic ran through him in response to this sensation, but then a pleasant tingling began to spread from the mage’s fingers into his chest. The pain began to diminish.
“There you go,” said the Alt-Mage in a soothing tone, back to sounding like a Southlander. “There’s still some blood left in your lungs, but once you cough it up, you should be fine.”
“What was wrong?” Seoc asked. Seymour could barely hear him over the sound of his own hacking.
“There was a rip in his right lung. It probably was damaged last night by your father’s curse and left prone to tearing. He’s lucky you found him when you did.”
Seoc was silent.
“I see. You were sharing his bed, weren’t you?”
Seoc said nothing.
“Seoc…” his uncle sighed. “I’d hoped you would learn. You know it’s wrong.”
“It’s my life, Uncle Alasdair, no’ yers. Why’s it o’ any consequence to you?”
“I’m just trying to protect you, Seocan. I fear for you.”
“I’m no’ a child anymore, Uncle,” Seoc hissed through clenched teeth. “I dinna want yer protection—an’ really, there’s nothin’ you can do ta protect me, anyway, short of locking me away.”
“I know. But I wish you would consider taking my guidance.”
“And that is…?”
“Take a wife. It will do you well.”
Seoc snorted. “What use would I have for one of those?”
“What use…? Seoc—!”
“You dinna understand, Uncle. I’m no’ anythin’ like you. I dinna want what you want. I love Seymour, an’ when this nightmare is over, I’m goin’ ta live with him in Brysail. Nothin’ you can say will stop me. It’s what I want, you ken?”
MacQuarrie sighed again. “You’re making a mistake, Seoc.”
Seymour’s coughing subsided, and he found that he was able to breathe once more. He opened his eyes and found Seoc kneeling on the bed beside him. He smiled at him weakly.
“No,” Seoc countered, returning Seymour’s smile and running his hand gently along the side of the Aechyed’s ashen face. “I’m no’ makin’ a mistake. I’ve never been so certain in my entire life.”