Into the Night

The Lady gasped and dropped her bow and quiver in shock when she saw her husband on the ground dying, choking on his own blood. She rushed to him, heedless of the shattered glass and strewn papers and ruined jewelry and kneeled at her husband's side, her wool hunting skirt soaking in the blood that was pooling around him from the gaping wound in his chest. She quickly removed and bunched her scarf, pressing it firmly on the wound in a vain attempt to stop the bleeding even as the blood continued to flow out of the various other wounds he had sustained. She flinched as he coughed up a particularly large mouthful that splattered all over her linen coat, the blood staining the fabric beyond repair. His breathing was labored, coming in rapid shallow gasps as he tried to speak but no words were forthcoming. Frantically, the woman released her left hand from its hold on the makeshift clamp and traced a pattern in the air, channeling her will through her rune. An ethereal symbol of wind formed and then vanished and soon a gentle breeze filled the room centering on the dying man. The wound closed slightly and the bleeding slowed but did not stop. Desperately, she took a pillow that had fallen nearby and propped his head to ease his breathing.

"Achilles! What…what…" She couldn't begin to understand what had happened. All she knew was that her husband lay dying in her arms and there was no help in sight. The servants had been dismissed for the week and the nearest town was miles away. Still she could not help herself. "Somebody help!"

She continued to call for help until a weak voice croaked, "Odessa…" all attention was turned to him. He could barely speak and yet he was trying to with all the strength he had left.

She seemed to realize this as she hushed him. "Don't speak, you'll open your wound further."

But either he did not hear her or did not care as he continued to strain himself. "The…Empire…" and he stopped to cough up another mouthful of blood. But those words were all she needed to know what had happened. Their dinner conversations, political discussions, private moments, they all came rushing back to her in a flood of memory and she was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of loss and betrayal. She looked at the gold band wrapped around her finger. Their marriage had been arranged, and they did not love each other, but he had been a wonderful husband and she had tried to be a good wife in return.

She suddenly felt a pressure on her arm and realized that he had grasped her with strength he had not previously possessed. He weakly pulled her down to him and whispered in her ear. Her eyes widened in shock at what she heard and she looked at him with a combination of amazement and profound sadness. She was about to respond when he gasped in pain as, sure enough, his wound reopened and the blood came rushing faster than it had before. She cursed as she tried to compress the wound further but knew that it was too late. He seemed to realize this as well as he raised his other hand to her cheek. He stared into her eyes as he spoke.

"Odessa…" he coughed more blood before he continued, "please…destroy…the Empire…" and with those words his hands fell, his body stilled, and the bleeding finally stopped.

For what seemed forever all she could do was stare into his lifeless eyes, her long auburn hair mingling with the still-wet blood on the floor as she struggled with his last words – both his request and what came before. She released her hold on her scarf and tenderly closed his eyes. As she did so, her eyes caught the gold band on her finger, its glitter marred by the bloodstains it now held. She stared at the ring and then at him with tears stuck in her eyes. She did not love him and yet… She rose from the floor and surveyed the room.

Nothing.

There was nothing left here for her. She could continue as if nothing had happened, her name ensured her that option, but what then? The last few minutes had destroyed what she had spent years trying to rebuild. She turned and looked out the door from where she had entered and at the bow and quiver she had dropped. She remembered when she went to live with grandfather, and how on the carriage ride to his manor she had somehow known that there was nothing left for her at home and that she and her brother were never going back.

She had cried then; she did not cry now.

She slowly slipped her ring off her finger, placed it in her husband's palm and closed his hand around it. Then she walked away, picked up her bow and quiver and, without looking back, stepped out the door and into the night.

Author's Notes: This is my first time submitting on this website and I am still getting used to the formatting. Any advice in that area is, of course, greatly appreciated.

This piece, though it stands well on its own, is actually part of a much larger work-in-progress that will eventually be posted at a later date.

This story contains a vague pseudo-reference to Late, a piece by K'Arthur. Read her work; it is very good.

As always, all reviews are welcomed and encouraged.