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The Warrior of Honor

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Rodne had lived a life full of bad moments, some downright horrible, but he would forever categorize as perhaps the very worst, the moment he watched his lover fall out of that tree. R'dek had insisted that the resins he needed could only be acquired by climbing high into the branches of a very tall sweetwood tree, and when Rodne -standing uneasily at the base, heard the slender branch beneath R'dek's feet give way, he'd thought his heart would stop.

Fortunately, R'dek was quick and agile, and clung with both arms and all his strength to the trunk of the tree so that he slid rapidly down it's length, letting the odd side branch slow his descent, rather than plummeting to his death. It was still painful to watch and Rodne winced numerous times as R'dek approached the ground. When he landed, shaking and rubbing his eyes, Rodne could see the long, jagged gash on his thigh where the treacherous branch that had failed him in the first place, had wounded him as he fell.

"R'dek!" Rodne cried, dropping to his knees besides his lover, touching him carefully, but wanting desperately to assure himself that he was still alive and largely intact. Pushing his hair out of his face -and random bits of bark and other detritus out of his hair- with shaking hands, R'dek looked up at last to meet Rodne's troubled gaze. "That," he said unsteadily, "was not at all what I intended."

Rodne stifled the urge to take his lover by the shoulders and shake him, seeing as he had likely been shaken enough, but he could not silence the panicked words that came in response. "No," he snapped. "Evidently what you intended was to get yourself killed, but don't give up yet, you may still have succeeded."

Urgently fumbling through the contents of his shoulder pouch, Rodne extracted the bit of soft hide he'd used to wrap the lunch he'd eaten earlier, and used it now to brush the splinters and bits of bark away from the gash in R'dek's thigh, which was already bleeding copiously. It was long and deep, running from just above his knee nearly to his groin, and of the sort that was as likely to turn poisonous as to heal, and Rodne felt the dread that had begun as he watched R'dek fall take hold in his heart. His lover's life was still very much in danger.

"Rodne..." R'dek's voice was gentle, and Rodne saw that R'dek understood the reason for his harsh words. "It will heal. I will be fine, I promise." He laid his hand on Rodne's, firm and warm, and Rodne knew that the promise was not made lightly.

"Well Caresn does say that having a positive attitude always helps in the healing process," Rodne muttered crossly, reaching an arm around R'dek's back. There was a good, clean running stream they'd pass on the way back to the cave, and he'd wash R'dek's wound there, as Caresn had told him to do to prevent a serious wound going bad. Even the tiniest of foreign objects in a wound could cause it to turn poisonous, he'd told Rodne, and Rodne fretted about this in particular, for there were surely countless little bits of wood in R'dek's wound.

"Caresn is a wise man," R'dek said, struggling to stand with Rodne's help and the support of the tree he'd just fallen from. "I shall take his advice to heart."

After that they'd neither of them had the strength or attention for conversation. R'dek had done his best to help Rodne clean his wound in the icy stream, but his face had been white with pain by the time Rodney had done all that he could there. He wasn't at all sure that he'd done enough, for R'dek's injury had been long and complicated, with too many places that some bit of splinter might still be hiding. He did not speak of this with R'dek, however, instead assuring him that he'd gotten everything. R'dek had gotten a good look at the wound himself, however, and Rodne wasn't at all sure that he'd been convinced.

Back in the cave, Rodney had dressed the injury with pads of soft, dry moss, securing them with strips of hide, then gone to make some broth as R'dek rested with his flask of lightning water, which he said lessened the pain slightly -or at least rendered him so that he didn't care about it quite so much.

After he'd finished making the broth he swapped it out for the flask of lightning water, which R'dek had been reluctant to relinquish until Rodne suggested that he might want it more later on. That was something that Rodne didn't much care to contemplate, but was likely true nonetheless. Even if it healed, R'dek's wound was going to get worse before it got better.

Once he had drunk the broth and some herbal tea which Caresn had described as being good for 'strengthening the blood' -whatever that meant- the trauma of the day's events and the lightning water finally had their way with R'dek and he drifted off to sleep. There would be no such solace for Rodne, however, even later, when he lay down besides his lover and took him in his arms. How could he sleep when the image of R'dek's first precipitous plunge from high in the tree remained, as though painted on the inside of his eyelids? And when it was not that, there was the image of the long, jagged tear in his lover's flesh, in the strong smooth thigh that Rodne had caressed and kissed countless times.

There would be a scar there now, forever after -that was assuming this wound did not kill him. Rodne would have liked to put that possibility out of his mind, but his mind was not so compliant. In his unhappy experience, wounds of this sort went bad more often than not, and the thought that over the next handful of days he would watch his lover succumb to fever and the agonies of a poisoned wound tormented Rodne horribly. He could not sleep, felt no appetite, and it seemed as though a dark pall had fallen over his whole world.

By morning, however, Rodne had determined one thing. He would not sit and do nothing while R'dek sickened and died. Though it was a two days walk distant, there was aid to be had, in Lakeside. He knew Caresn would come if summoned, but that would mean leaving R'dek alone for four days, and that he could not do. R'dek would have to come to Caresn then, though it was possible that the journey itself might kill him. Staying here though, Rodne had become increasingly convinced, would end up being just as deadly.

R'dek woke feverish the next morning, however, and begged not to be forced to make the journey. It would not be necessary, he insisted. He would heal on his own, right here. Rodne acquiesced that first day, letting himself be swayed by R'dek's determination, but by the next day R'dek's condition had clearly worsened and his own determination to take R'dek to Caresn rose up again.

"Please, Rodne..." R'dek had plead weakly as Rodne replaced the moss covering R'dek's injury, which was now seeping stuff that seemed decidedly unhealthy. "I cannot... It is too far..."

"I'll help you," Rodne said, wrapping R'dek in a warm hide tunic although the day was warm and pleasant, for his lover's fever came and went with bouts of terrible chills. "I'll carry you if I have to, but we need to get you to Caresn.

"I won't!" R'dek tried for obstinate, but Rodne remained undaunted.

"And you're going to stop me how?" Rodne snapped back, hating the look of helpless distress on R'dek's face that followed. "R'dek, listen to me, please," Rodne relented a bit, taking one of R'dek's fever warm hands in his. "It's bad; you know it's bad, and if we wait for it to get any worse it'll be too late, and I can't..." and Rodne had to stop and swallow because it was hard to talk about how scared he was, but R'dek needed to know.

"If I... If I lost you," he finally managed, "I don't know what I'd do... I don't know if I'd even want..." He let himself trail off there, because judging by the look on R'dek's face, he'd made his point.

"Rodne..." R'dek said softly, then he nodded solemnly. "Alright," he said. "Alright, I will go, but I... you may yet have to carry me. I do not think I will be able to walk very far."

"We'll take it easy," Rodne said earnestly, his fingers brushing strands of hair away from R'dek's sweat dampened brow. "We'll rest as often as you need to, but we'll get you there, and then Caresn will be able to help you."

R'dek nodded solemnly, leaning against Rodne as though he were exhausted already. "I know you are probably right," he said. "I am sorry I have caused this trouble."

"What, by going about your business and ignoring my paranoid whining?" Rodne replied, gathering some food and other supplies for the journey and stuffing them into his bag. "If you listened to me all the time you'd never come out of the cave, and then I'd probably fret at you about the damp or the bad air. Stuff happens, R'dek; no one can avoid it and it isn't anyone's fault."

R'dek seemed to take some consolation in this, but still, getting him to his feet and out of the cave at first took more out of him than Rodne was pleased about. He should have insisted on leaving yesterday, Rodne worried to himself, for R'dek was clearly sicker and weaker than he'd let on. The fresh air and sun did seem to revive R'dek somewhat, however, and with Rodne's help, they did make fairly good progress after a bit.

They took a long break at mid day, though R'dek didn't eat as much as Rodne wished he would have, and his strength seemed somewhat restored as they continued on their way once again. By late afternoon, however, R'dek's energy was flagging badly, and Rodne knew that they'd have to make camp far short of the usual spot. He'd told himself to expect that -even had a good camping spot planned out in his mind- but as he settled R'dek with calm words that he did not entirely feel, Rodne knew that he'd hoped for more. If they kept this pace he knew they might make it to Lakeside in three days, but Rodne also knew that R'dek would almost certainly not be able to keep this pace, and that he would get sicker and weaker as they went on.

It would more likely be four days or more before they reached the village and Caresn's aid and that, Rodne worried increasingly, would be too late. There was a quiet desperation growing in Rodne's heart as he curled up behind his feverish lover in the tent that first night, and all night long he wracked his brain for a better solution.

None had come by morning, of course and, of course, R'dek was sicker still, hard to wake and uncertain of where he was at first. When he did finally wake he would take nothing more than honey sweetened tea for breakfast and had real trouble standing upright for the first time. Rodne got him going mainly by unremitting browbeating and that proved effective enough for the first part of the day. More browbeating was required to get R'dek to take any solid food at mid day and when Rodne deemed it time to move on it was as if R'dek had not rested at all.

It took everything they had to make it to the usual camping spot, and when they reached it R'dek simply collapsed. Rodne wanted desperately to do the same, but he couldn't. Instead he ended up carrying R'dek over to the shelter he'd built there and making some broth which he had to coax a half awake R'dek into drinking. It was all Rodne could do to make himself drink more of the same and curl up at R'dek's side, miserable and afraid and sleepless.

R'dek woke in the hours just before sunrise, thrashing restlessly in his sleeping furs and speaking in a tongue Rodne did not know. Rodne had heard R'dek speak this language only in snippets before and hearing him ramble on as though he had forgotten how to speak words Rodne could understand put Rodne's heart in his throat. R'dek's fever seemed to have reached new heights as well, and Rodne determined at that moment that they must get to Caresn without further delay, no matter what it took.

Without even trying to get food into either of them, Rodne hastily bundled up their belongings and, as the first rays of sun came over the horizon, levered an incoherently protesting R'dek to his feet and set off down the mountain. R'dek did remarkably well at first, likely because he was delirious, Rodne reflected, but his strength began to give out long before mid day. At first he was only leaning heavily against Rodne, but as the day went on Rodne was taking more and more of R'dek's weight until shortly after mid day when R'dek simply slumped to the ground and would not move.

"I am afraid we have come to the point where you will have to carry me," R'dek said, suddenly troublingly lucid.

"I said I would," Rodne answered him, carefully not thinking how he would manage it, nor how long his strength would have to hold out. Instead he stooped to lift his lover in his arms, cradling him as if he were a child. R'dek weighed far too little, Rodne reflected with concern, for all that he was a small man he was also strong and sturdy, or rather, he had been three days ago. Held so close, Rodne could all but feel R'dek's strength and vitality seeping away by the minute, and he knew that he would find the strength within him, somehow, to get R'dek to Lakeside today.

It was a nightmarish journey. R'dek did not speak again, neither in a tongue Rodne understood nor the other, which he presumed was from R'dek's childhood. Instead he lay supine in Rodne's arms, his over-warm breath falling too rapidly onto Rodne's shoulder. Rodne did not dare stop, for fear that he would not be able to start again, and so he neither ate nor drank for the whole rest of the day. It was fortunate that he knew the path so well that he could have walked it blindfolded, his feet finding their way by instinct, for with R'dek in his arms he could not see the path before him, and to stumble and fall would be disastrous.

Rodne could never say what kept him going at the end, save that he knew he was close and that the path was mainly level here and very well trodden at the end. He could never remember much of that time either, until the moment, some time around dusk, when he came stumbling in to the village's central green, meaning to lay R'dek gently on the ground and instead simply collapsing. He'd wanted to call for help but he couldn't seem to find the strength. Fortunately, it was not needed.