Being damp, Tao thought dispiritedly, was really one of the most unpleasant sensations in human experience. Or perhaps it was being alone, injured, and terrified for his own life and that of his best friend that made the dampness seem so completely unbearable.
Either way, he was soaked through and he hated it.
After dragging his exhausted body from the river, Tao managed to crawl a few meters from the water before collapsing against a sun-warmed boulder. He had to move now, he knew that. He knew that Not-Dar could be nearby, knew that he'd stand no chance if he were caught in the open like this. But he was so tired, and the face of the rock so warm…
A twinge of pain from his arm jerked his thoughts away from that exhausted doze. Well. That settled it then. He shoved himself up with his good arm and coughed a couple of times, wrinkling his nose at the lingering taste of river water. If he managed to avoid being killed by his friend, dodge ever-increasing Terron patrols, and keep his arm from falling off, he might still be lucky enough to die of sickness in his chest. Things were looking up.
With a resigned sigh, Tao stumbled forward into the forest; not far enough from the river to become lost, but out of sight of its banks in case the creature in Dar's body came looking. When he came to a huge tree with roots half as tall as a man - much like the one they'd camped near the night before and likely of the same species - he sagged against it and turned reluctantly to his injured arm. This wasn't going to be pleasant.
Setting his jaw, he gently peeled the edges of his tattered sleeve from the wound. Though a couple of involuntary hisses escaped his lips, the process wasn't as painful has he'd anticipated - one advantage of being drenched was that one's clothes didn't stick to one's wounds. Small blessings, he thought, and tilted his arm carefully for a better look.
About the length of his hand from wrist to fingertip, the cut was deep but clean, and ran diagonally from left bicep to shoulder. His swim had washed it clean, but now that it was exposed, blood welled between the torn lips of flesh; already it began to drip slowly down his elbow. Not quickly enough to make him fear for his life, but certainly unhealthy if left to flow unchecked for long. And there was no telling how much blood he'd left in the river.
Deciding his left sleeve was already past saving, Tao awkwardly and painfully tore it off at the shoulder. He spared a wistful thought for campfires, cookpots, and purified bandages before roughly folding part of the rag and pressing it to the wound. If he shut his eyes and whimpered a bit, there was no one to hear it, and he didn't have the energy to be embarrassed in front of a bunch of trees and birds. The birds probably had their own problems to worry about anyway. He worked quickly despite having to manage one-handed - he'd patched Dar up often enough that he could have dressed a wound with his eyes closed. Even so, by the time he'd wrapped a long bit of cloth around the makeshift bandage to keep it in place, his fingers shook and he was breathing heavily.
The tree was cool and rough against the back of his head, and he squeezed his eyes shut against suddenly swimming vision and made an effort to slow his breaths. The wound should really be sewn closed, but the materials he'd need were out of reach at the moment. It also needed to be purified, he knew, or it could fester and kill him far more slowly and unpleasantly than a simple blade to the heart. There were herbs in this forest that would be useful, plants that were plentiful at this time of year and easy to find. He'd planned to restock his satchel after breakfast this morning, before Dar…
Tao opened his eyes and bit his lip. One thing at a time. To help Dar, he would have to keep himself alive and healthy, and to do that he needed those herbs. He could do this. He was a scholar, a healer, and had suffered through much worse than a little gash on the arm. And Dar needed him.
With a heavy sigh he pushed himself carefully from the tree, holding his arm gingerly against his body. After an initial wave of dizziness, the ground settled under him and he moved forward. His limbs felt a little shaky, but each step was steadier than the last and he felt some of his confidence returning.
Things weren't so bad, he thought. It could always be worse. Dar could've run him though on the first attempt. And had Ruh been there, the tiger would not have stood by and let the Beastmaster hurt his friends. The resulting fight would have ended tragically indeed. So Ruh was still safe. And Sharak. And Kodo and Podo…
Tao stumbled a bit at the memory of Dar's boot striking Kodo's small body. She'd tried to protect him. She'd come to the rescue even though Tao had just finished ranting at the little rat for sneaking berries from his pouch, and her sharp teeth had been distraction enough to send Dar's first strike awry. The ferrets might be conniving little thieves, but Tao had come to care for them a great deal in the time they'd travelled together. Please let her be okay, he thought. She has to be. Dar would never forgive himself. And neither would Tao forgive himself for letting her make that sacrifice.
He swallowed the lump in his throat and forced himself to pay more attention to his surroundings.
There was staunchweed here, tiny white flowers nestled just at the base of that tree - it would slow the bleeding, which would help since he couldn't stitch the wound. And only a few paces away, he was pleasantly startled to see a healthy patch of fleawort. That was enough to lift his spirits a bit; fleawort was wonderful for preventing wound-rot.
Moving with purpose now, Tao slowly picked his way through the clearing, stopping here and there to pluck a few leaves or flowers. It wasn't long before he'd found everything he needed, and he sat at the base of another tree to start work on a poultice for his arm.
And once he'd done what he could to heal himself, he would work out a way to heal Dar. Because he might not be a hero or a great warrior, but he'd throw himself on the mercy of those damned blood priests again before he'd leave his best friend to face this alone.