“And then what happened?” Flame poured gin over the wound on Geoffrey’s shoulder. He flinched away. He’d had antiseptic poured on his wounds before, back on World of Battle, but it hadn’t hurt as much. The level of pain allowed by Krim’s basic bio avatar simulation was excessive. If this was supposed to teach him some humanity, he couldn’t see it. But it did make him even more motivated to get back to World of Battle.
“Don’t be a baby,” she said. “It’s barely a scratch.”
“Don’t waste my gin,” said Bartram. “I brought it with me all the way from Krim City.”
“I don’t want the wound to get infected,” she said. “So, anyway, you met a mysterious monk, gained his confidence, left the temple…”
“And we were attacked,” said Bartram, who was holding a wet, folded-up towel over his right eye.
“What did they want?” Flame put the gin back down on the dining table in the great hall and reached for a roll of bandages.
“The usual,” said Geoffrey. “All our possession. And our lives.”
“Oh, no,” said Flame.
“And our horses.”
“Oh, my god.”
“They were probably planning to eat them,” added Bartram. “It gets cold and hungry up there in the mountains. At least, that’s what Brother Wallace told us.”
“I’m very interested in meeting Brother Wallace,” said Abigail. She, like the other castle residents who were standing around watching, had come for the blood and gore. She seemed to be disappointed that there hadn’t been more. Maybe the true lesson of Krim is that people liked to watch other people suffer. In which case, it was a waste of time, because Geoffrey already knew this.
“I’m interested in learning more about the Qualdir theology,” Abigail continued. “Are the human sacrifices about the importance of giving up what is most important to you in order to serve a higher purpose?”
“Maybe it’s because they get hungry,” said Geoffrey. “Or tired of porridge and bean soup. Ouch.”
“I’m almost done,” said Flame. “So what did the bandits do?”
Geoffrey shrugged, then winced in pain. “They attacked. We fought them off. That’s how Bartram got his black eye.”
“And how I broke my ankle,” Bartram added.
“It’s not broken,” said Flame. “It’s not even sprained. It’s just a minor bruise.”
“Well, it felt broken at the time. I thought I was going to die.”
“But it wasn’t just our lives we were fighting for,” Geoffrey said. “We had to protect Luna and Bessie.”
“The horses,” said Bartram.
“I’m sure Quarta Pappas will be grateful you saved them,” said Flame. “That’s a good bit of relationship building there.” She patted Geoffrey on his uninjured shoulder with her free hand.
“We weren’t thinking about that,” said Geoffrey. “I was just worried about the horses.” He glanced over at Bartram.
“Right,” said the financier. “Really, no need to mention it to her at all. We don’t want her to worry.”
“Well, she must have seen your injuries,” said Flame.
“Well, it was dark,” said Geoffrey.
“And we were in a hurry to get back before it got too late,” said Bartram.
“Or the bandits caught up to us,” added Geoffrey.
Flame pursed her lips but didn’t press the issue further. Instead, she finished wrapping the rest of the bandage around his shoulder, except for about nine inches on the end, then ripped that end of the bandage lengthwise, wrapped the two ends around Geoffrey’s upper arm, and tied them off.
Geoffrey glanced down at his shirt, but didn’t put it back on. It was torn, muddy, and bloody.
Flame stepped back and admired her work. Or, perhaps, she was admiring Geoffrey’s bare chest. He’d paid extra for his good looks and people tended to find attractive people more sympathetic.
“And you.” Flame turned to Bartram. “I’d normally tell you to put a steak on that eye, or a bag of frozen peas, but we don’t have either of those things here.” She moved the towel away from his black eye and peered at it. “I still don’t see any real damage, but I’ll check on it again tomorrow. If gets worse, or Geoffrey’s wound gets infected, there’s a doctor down on on Castle Street. He’s got leeches.”
“You’re good at this, too,” said Geoffrey. “Have you thought about becoming a doctor yourself?”
“I’m more interested in psychology.” She pulled over a chair and sat down next to him. “Now that you’re permanently disfigured,” she nodded at the bandage covering his shoulder and upper bicep, “you’ve lost all sexual appeal. How are you ever going to cope? Will you be able to survive the wound to your self-image?”
“He’s going to have to work on his personality,” said Bartram.
She snorted. “Well, that’s a lost cause.”
As she put away the bandages and the rest of her first aid kit, most of the onlookers wandered off, back to their beds for the night.
“Do you two need any help getting up to your rooms?” asked Abigail.
“No, we’ll manage,” said Geoffrey.
“Well, then, good night,” said Abigail, but she and Flame watched carefully as Bartram and Geoffrey got up and walked out of the room.
Bartram went up the stairs first, holding onto the railing for support with one hand, still keeping the wet towel over his eye with the other. On the second floor landing, well out of earshot of anyone, he stopped and turned.
“Thank you for not saying anything back there,” he told Geoffrey. “You know. About the accident.”
“You mean about how you made Jim stop the coach so you could get out and relieve yourself and fell down the bank?”
“Yes. And thank you for coming down after me instead of just standing up there and laughing like Jim did.”
“No problem. As long as Jim doesn’t say anything.”
“I paid him enough.”
Bartram’s room was on the third floor, right next to the stairs.
When Bartram opened the door, Geoffrey could see that it was easily twice as big as his room.
Bartram paused in the doorway. “You know, you were excellent with the bandits,” he said. “Now that I’ve seen you at work, I have to say, the money we spent on you is totally worth it.”
It had been nice to practice his skills again, Geoffrey thought. It hadn’t taken much to turn the bandits against one another. The kind of people who became highwaymen and cattle rustlers in the middle of nowhere tended to have certain antisocial characteristics in common.
Bartram stepped inside and turned around to close the door. “I’m glad you’re on side and not theirs.”