For what felt like hours, Tehri ran, her body growing weaker with each passing moment. She was confused and terrified. Everything that had happened since she woke up made no sense. Cruel people had surrounded her while she lay with her hands bound and mouth gagged. They wanted to kill her or sell her and they nearly did when they dragged her away. Then Rowan appeared.
Sis saved me. She killed someone.
Because of Rowan, Tehri had been able to escape. But escape from what? The last thing she remembered was falling asleep before the eclipse. Maybe this was a nightmare? She wanted to be home, back with her mother and father and with her sister. If she was in a nightmare, she would wake up eventually. However, if it wasn’t, she had no choice but to run and find her way.
Where am I? This forest all looks the same.
It was getting harder and harder to keep running. Tehri lacked the athleticism that her siblings and mother possessed. Instead, she had been cursed with a weak constitution and emotions that swung on a pendulum. To make matters worse, the undergrowth clawed at her arms and legs, sapping her of what little strength she had.
I’m going to die.
However, light breaking through the trees in the distance granted her a small degree of hope. Drawing on everything she had left, Tehri sprinted blindly towards the light, oblivious to the sound of crashing water.
Tehri let loose a silent cry as she ran off the precipice she had failed to see. For a second she lingered in the empty air before plummeting into the swirling flow of water beneath her. Almost instantly she was caught in the wild and treacherous current of the river rapids. She struggled to keep herself above the surface as she was thrashed into the rocks, span around and ragged like a doll. Bones cracked and blood gushed. Every danger of the rapids competed to be the cause of Tehri’s death. Each time she cried out in pain, the river sought out her lungs.
After a couple of agonising minutes, everything went dark.
“Byrdin! Come quick!”
Byrdin, the young newlywed blacksmith, looked over to see his wife running towards him. “Hana, what’s wrong?”
“There’s no time for questions. Hurry up!”
It was rare to see Hana this riddled with worry. He placed down the knife he was polishing so that he could go to her. “Slow down. It can’t be so bad that you can’t catch a breath.”
Instead of taking a second, she instead grabbed his hand and started pulling him towards the river bank. She was her father’s daughter all right, as stubborn as the iron he had worked and strong enough to work the anvil herself. There’d be no stopping her so Byrdin let himself get pulled along.
They soon arrived at the river. A young girl with strawberry blonde hair had been swept into the bank, her body broken. Immediately, Byrdin understood Hana’s urgency; if the girl was alive, it would be a miracle.
Byrdin rushed over, expecting the worst. Instead he detected a weak, faltering pulse. He was no doctor, but it was clear she didn’t have much time. He cursed himself for not having anything clean that he could staunch the bleeding with.
“Hana, I need one of your sleeves. Then find the healer. We might still be able to save her.”
Time was of the essence as Hana ripped off her sleeves and rushed off to find the village healer. Byrdin used the sleeve to apply pressure to the most serious of the girl’s open wounds, whilst keeping an eye on her breathing, which was slow but relatively regular. He was unsure of what else to do; bleeding was one thing, but she clearly had broken bones and water had likely made its way into her lungs.
Byrdin grew anxious with each passing moment, his heart beating like a drum as he feared that the girl wouldn’t survive. It felt like an age had passed by the time Hana returned with the healer.
Looking up, Byrdin asked him, “Is there anything you can do?”
“I’ll do what I can,” he replied. “However, the skills required to treat the more serious injuries are beyond my ken: she likely needs a surgeon.”
“So there’s no hope?” Hana asked, tears starting to well in her eyes.
“I didn’t say that. I have poultices that will help with any external bleeding and a medicine that will slow down her metabolism and induce a long sleep in her. That may allow enough time to get her to a surgeon. As for the nearest branch of the College of Surgeons, you have two options. You can get to Tærin by river or Talaran by road. With Tærin you can decrease the likelihood of causing further injury. However, you will need to wait for a boat and the journey itself will be slow. Talaran, on the other hand, is much closer, perhaps only two days in a wagon with good horses, but you’d be going towards the mountains. The risk for further injury will be much higher.”
The healer continued to explain things as he started some preliminary treatments. They then took her to the infirmary for more extensive treatment. She was given medicine to help encourage her body to replenish the blood that she had lost and poultices were applied to her various wounds. Finally the medicine to place her into a medically induced sleep was administered.
As the healer did his work, Byrdin and Hana were left with a terrible choice. If they took the girl to a surgeon, the cost of her treatment would fall on them. For a young newlywed couple, such a cost would leave them with almost nothing, if anything at all. On the other hand, if they didn’t take her, her death would be on their hands. They would also need to work out what route would be best if they did decide to take her.
“What do we do?” they asked each other.
A sterile white room; that is what Tehri saw when she woke up. Her eyes felt heavy and her head was spinning. Tehri remembered falling into a river and a few moments of chaos before blacking out. Now, she lay in this strange room, painfully aware of every facet of her body and of the fact that she wasn’t actually in any pain, instead feeling a weird discomfort.
To her side, Tehri heard some movement. She struggled to look in that direction when a young woman with light brown hair that Tehri didn’t recognise came into view carrying a bowl and a towel.
Seeing that Tehri was awake, the woman called out, “Doctor! Byrdin! She’s awake!” In response to her call, a young man with strong, muscular arms and a middle-aged woman with a pinched nose and glasses entered the room.
Looking at the three strangers, Tehri opened her mouth and went to ask “Where am I?” only for no sound to escape her small lungs.