Part 2 - A Bruised Knee
Allana took a deep breath as she unloaded the last basket of bread and watched the two older boys take it inside. It had been kind of lonely, going through every morning motions without Kahor’s company, she thought as she went inside. Karl too, was nowhere to be found, she concluded looking around the big dining hall. Not that unusual. With time she had come to understand that the young cadet frequently skipped his meals, dedicating all his free time to his books and charts.
And so she ate in silence, and alone, and once more missed Kahor’s presence. By nature, Allana wasn’t the most social or talkative person in the world, and she had soon found out that none of the other girls had any intention of being her friend. As for the boys, them being the majority, most of them thought of her as just another pretty thing that would soon give up the harsh life of knighthood, and mostly didn’t pay her any attention – except for the occasional stupid remark on how they’d love to have a piece of her, and how cute she would look if she were naked.
Allana looked over one of the tables, filled with loud voiced and laughing Knights all dressed in black, the Order’s crest – the moon and sword – embroidered in silver on their left shoulders, and she couldn’t help wonder if any of them would be in Kahor’s jury, that afternoon. She had never felt so anxious or nervous about anything in her whole life, she thought, gathering her empty plate and cup, not even when she used to escape from the palace, going against Heric’s wishes.
With a sigh she stood up, taking her empty dishes with her, and dropped them in the proper container placed at the exit of the dining room. She was at the door, squinting at the bright light outside that had rendered her half blind, when a dark shadow covered her, making her blink in amazement. Raising her head she saw a pair of flaming green eyes, half hidden among the shadows cast by golden-brown bangs, and Allana couldn’t help smile as she identified the Knight before her.
“Good morning,” she greeted him, like she would have greeted any other that had crossed her path, and Denar nodded lightly, stepping out of her way so that she could exit.
Since her arrival she had never talked with the Knight again. Denar was responsible for the training of the older cadets, those who were about to challenge the Final Test, like Mihail. Besides, Elipson seemed to want to keep him as far away as possible from their grounds, which made any kind of contact between the Knight and one of her students even more improbable. Even so, Allana had sensed his silent and discreet presence more than once, his gaze watching her during practice, probably waiting for a moment of weakness, one that would help him send her packing back home. Not that he disliked her, she knew. He only wanted what was best for Elian and wished to protect him at all costs. And they all knew that her clandestine presence in Mithir would only bring Elian trouble, if it were to be discovered.
Since everyone was too busy with preparations for that afternoon’s tests, all practice sessions had been canceled. Of course there were those that would still practice on their own and, even though she considered joining them, she ended up making her way to the library instead. However, to her dismay, Karl wasn’t there either. She had hoped for a little of company and to hear some of his newest ideas on siege paraphernalia. But it would seem she was doomed to spend her morning alone, she resigned picking up the heavy tome on legends she had been reading since the beginning of the week. Since that strange night, with Elian, she had been eagerly researching the subject. First she had looked for books that talked about Magic, once the stone had been a gift from the High Tower of Magic. She had also read about the alliance between Mithir and the Temple of Solara, and now her eyes absorbed all she could find about the mythic Dragons, the true masters of Magic; those that were born with the power running through their veins.
The morning went by without effort, as she read about all the amazing things that would certainly make the world a much more interesting place, if only they were true.
The sound of running steps brought her back to reality and she raised her head just in time to see a young boy, his dark hair disheveled, his blue eyes alight with alarm, halting by the door.
“Karl! What’s wrong?” she asked, jumping to her feet as he clutched his chest trying to catch his breath.
“It’s Kahor … She needs you …”
“Kahor?! Where? What happened?”
“Where she usually … practices …” he simply told her and she didn’t wait for any other explanation, dashing out the room and down the stairs as fast as she could.
The strong hand that held her arm as soon as she stepped outside stopped her right there, almost making her stumble and fall, and the grey eyes she saw as she raised her head looked at her inquiringly.
“Darna! What happened? Where are you going in such a hurry?” Allana averted her gaze, pressing her lips together, and all she could do was shake her head, praying she would let go of her. Elipson watched her for a moment, the way her small body was tense, the urgency in her expression, and ended up releasing her with a sigh. “Go. I hate when people lie to me,” she told her, making her way towards the stairs.
“Elipson! I …”
“Just go. I trust your better judgment,” she added, looking at her over her shoulder. “I know you’ll call me if needed, right?” Allana stood there, lost for a moment before that sudden vow of trust, and just nodded. “Then go!” The older woman urged and she didn’t waste any more time, spinning around and running away.
Reaching the practicing grounds where Kahor used to train, she looked around anxiously, searching for her. She couldn’t help remembering that that place was easily seen from the tall library’s windows and wondered if Elipson was up there, watching her at a distance.
“Kahor! Where are you?” she called out, still looking around, and the sound of a small murmur made her walk hastily towards the trees that surrounded the area. She found her immediately, sitting on the ground, her back against one of the trees, her head pending as heavy breaths left her lips, and Allana approached her with a very bad feeling.
Pain … sharp, deep pain filled the air, she knew without even touching her … even though the other girl seemed to be trying very hard to control it.
“Kahor … what happened?” she asked, crouching near her, trying to understand where she had been hurt.
“My leg …”
Her worried gaze fell upon Kahor’s leg and a small tear on her pants caught immediately her eye. Trying not to hurt her, she pulled the fabric aside and couldn’t help gasp in horror.
“By the Gods! How did you do this?”
Kahor took a deep breath, her shoulders shaking slightly, and raised her head, her bronze skin glistening, covered by small pearls of sweat.
“Help me. I need you to get … two sticks … long and strong.” Allana stood up and obeyed. “Now … insert them under my pants … one on each side …”
“Won’t this hurt you? Maybe I should go and call someone.”
“No! No one can know!” Kahor urgently voiced out. “Please … just do as I say …”
Allana stood silent, looking at her. By now she was kind of guessing what Kahor was trying to do and she couldn’t help remembering Elipson’s words. That knee was in a really bad shape, obviously dislocated and as bruised as it could be. Kahor urgently held her hand, her sweaty trembling palm making her worry even more, but her dark eyes stood firm, unwavering on her decision, and so Allana sighed and went back to helping her.
Karl arrived not long after and not too late to help them. His black cloak was cut into long strips, that Allana tied around Kahor’s leg in order to keep the wood sticks in place. For more than once Kahor had to bite down the back of her own hand, and it was all she could do not to scream in pain. After securing the improvised splint in place, they both helped her to her feet and Kahor tried, to no avail, to walk on her own.
“We have to get to the dorm … There I have what’s needed to bind my leg better ...”
“Please tell me you’re not thinking about going through with the Test with your leg like this!” Allana practically demanded, although she already knew the answer, one that Kahor didn’t even bother to give her.
“Oh Kahor. That’s crazy!” Karl added and the girl raised her head, facing him almost threateningly.
“Swear! Both of you! That you will not say a word about this to anyone!”
“No! They have to know the state you’re in! You can really hurt yourself if you do this! And then what? What if you can never use that leg again?” Karl insisted, unusually assertive, which went only to show just how worried he really was, and Allana nodded in agreement.
“He’s right, Kahor. If you don’t get it treated as soon as possible you may very well become unable to walk, let alone fight.”
“No! You both swear to me that you won’t tell anyone! I beg you …” she added, her desperate gaze going from one to another. “I know this may sound … crazy … But I know! I simply know! If I don’t take the Test today, I never will! I’ll never have this chance again!”
“No one will think less of you if you don’t!” Allana insisted.
“In a war there are always wounded warriors, and they don’t abandon the field just because they’re wounded!”
“This is not a war!”
“To hell with that! This is my life, I’ll do as I please!” she countered, this time angry, even furious, and Allana sighed.
“I’m just worried about you …”
“And why is that, really?”
“Because …” Allana stopped mid sentence and Kahor smiled as she faced her golden eyes.
“If you really like me, then help me!”
Allana stood silent, trying to decide the best thing to do, and ended up taking a deep breath, choosing to do as she asked. In fact she was quite sure she’d do the same, if their roles were reversed. She knew better than anyone how Kahor had practice to the brink of exhaustion every day, in anticipation for that afternoon’s single moment.
By the time they reached the dorm, trying to avoid any suspicious looks all the way, Kahor was drenched in sweat and burning up from the effort of trying to walk as if everything was okay.
Sitting on her bed, she stopped for a moment to catch her breath, while Allana filled a basin with cold water to sooth her burning skin.
“Help me undress,” she asked, her voice nothing but a weak whisper, and Karl helped her stand up again, while Allana carefully pulled her pants down. Even more swelled than before, the skin around her dislocated knee had become completely dark.
“How in the world did you hurt yourself like this …” she asked, still in disbelief, and Kahor sat down again.
“You’ll have to put it back in place …”
“Back in … how?” Allana asked, still impressed with the terrible look of her leg, and Karl took a deep breath.
“I know how,” he said, although he sounded really unsure, his face too pale, his eyes almost feverish. “At least I’ve read about how to do it …” And it was all Kahor needed to hear.
“Then do it!” she ordered on the spot, which made him look even more uncertain.
“Kahor … I don’t know … I mean … I’ve only read about it.”
“Do it!” she insisted and Karl took a deep breath, approaching her and lightly touching her knee, which was all it took to force her stifle another painful scream.
“Darna. Can you please climb on the bed and help her lay down.” Allana did as she was told, her heart jumping at every wave of pain that emanated from the other girl, although Kahor kept her teeth clenched and remained in silence. “Now, can you please hold her from under her arms? This is really going to hurt …” he warned, his expression constrict as Kahor nodded in understanding. “Try not to scream … Ready?”
Kahor took a deep breath and nodded again. Allana held her tightly in place and Karl grabbed her leg with both hands. And, after what it seemed like a silent count, he pulled it with all his strength. Kahor ground her teeth, squeezed her eyes shut and clutched the covers of her bed. Allana, on the other hand, tried as hard as she could to hold her stiff body so she wouldn’t be dragged down when Karl pulled her leg twisting it violently to one side. And then, the creepy sound of something like broken bones echoed in the room, making her stomach turn. Karl gently put her leg down and Kahor gasped for air, tears streaming down her cheeks, her body trembling as if she were about to die of cold, and Allana took a deep breath, hugging her feverish, sweaty body.
“Kahor … Are you alright?” Silly question, she thought as the other girl nodded weakly.
“We should bind it again,” Karl suggested, his voice trembling, his face even paler than before, and Allana nodded in agreement.
“There’s clean bandages in that drawer,” Allana informed him and Karl went to fetch them without delay. Her knee was still swelling and still heavily bruised, but at least it had recovered it’s normal alignment, she thought with some measure of relief. “You still haven’t told me how you hurt yourself,” she recalled. “I thought you were supposed to stay in the chapel until the afternoon.”
“And I was …”
“Then what? Did you fall?”
“It was Larrisse and the others,” Karl supplied, returning with two rolls of clean white bandages.
“Karl!!” Kahor’s angry remark was enough confirmation of the boy’s accusation and Allana looked at her in disbelieve.
“What?! You’re kidding, right?”
“I saw them …” he added in a small voice, lowering his head as he busied himself binding Kahor’s leg, the weight of remorse and regret for not having been able to intervene heavy on his voice.
“You see now why I must take the Test!” Kahor stated, wincing as Karl tied her leg a bit too hard. “I’ll be dead before I let them win!”
“You’re wrong, Kahor! What they did … it’s against all rules possible and imaginable. We should report them! They’ll be punished for it! If you hurt yourself beyond recover, then they’ll really win!” Allana insisted, in a last attempt to convince her to give up on the idea of taking the Test, but Kahor averted her gaze, her expression unmovable.
“You’ve practically just arrived. You still don’t know how things work around here. If I don’t take the Test everyone will think I’m weak! That it’s because I’m a girl!”
“You’re hurt! You’re seriously hurt!!”
“This is nothing but a bruised knee! And I won’t be humiliated because of it! I fought too hard to get to where I am! I won’t give it up that easily!! This pain … this pain is nothing I can’t bear!”
Allana went silent again, not knowing what else to say to convince her otherwise. The truth was the strength of her gaze, of her words, it all overwhelmed her. She had never seen someone fight so hard for anything. Likewise, she had never felt that strongly about anything in her life. Normally she would simply let herself be carried by the tidal waves that came and went. Of course she had her moments of defiance and irreverence. But never like this, never to the point of betting her own life for the sake of attaining something she wanted.