It only took me a moment to make it back to the common area. I was just in time to watch Aeolus in the center of a panicked crowd snap a man's arm in a direction that gave it extra elbows. I didn't recognize him, but he locked eyes with me in that terrible moment just before his face contorted into an expression of agony. I didn't know the man, but in that moment I caught a whiff of familiarity. I may not have known the face, but I knew those expressive eyes and what was behind them. It was her. She was smiling at me.

Aeolus pulled the man's arm down and smashed it on the bar several times before another sickening, wet snap ended the struggle. A blood soaked knife fell to the floor with a clamor. He tried to strike Aeolus in the head with his undamaged arm, but he doubled over as Aeolus landed a blow to his gut, knocking the wind out of him. I rushed from the entryway, the first among many who received the unspoken "all clear" to get involved. I had to push my way through the crowd.

"What happened!" I shouted as I reached Aeolus. Several men who looked like they could have been on Hedgeball scholarships were restraining the man with man ruined arm. Someone shouted the police were on their way.

"Don't know," he said with a strained smile. His eyes drifted from mine to the man who was struggling and cursing on the floor. But mob justice had taken over and the crowd was galvanized. He wasn't going anywhere. "He just came from nowhere."

Aeolus stumbled backwards a little and half collapsed on a bar stool. It was then that I noticed he was clutching a patch of blood soaked suit on his abdomen. I'd like to say panic rushed through me, but a strange calm took root as I drew closer and put my hand over his. I could feel his pounding pulse.

"What did he do? Are you going to be okay?" I asked. I knew that it was a serious wound, but his face was growing pale and I wanted to keep him engaged.

"Me? No. My favorite suit is ruined." He laughed pathetically and winced as pain rippled through his face. "Sorry. I don't know. I don't think so."

I stayed with him and kept him talking until the police and doctor arrived. The man with a ruined arm was bound, gagged and dragged off before the pub was cleared and its occupants interviewed. After awhile several serious looking legionnaires arrived and began throwing their weight around. Aeolus almost seemed embarrassed.

The rest of the night passed in a blur. It turned out that the wound was fairly serious, but the peritoneal cavity had not been punctured. I was told that he was lucky, if the knife had been only a fraction of an inch longer, or had Aeolus not been in that precise position he might have had more serious complications.

I met his friend Wind when we both eased a grimacing but fairly well drugged Aeolus into a cot in the medical barracks back at the encampment. He was a slender man with expressive green eyes, oil black hair and a compassionate round face. He had listened calmly to the legionnaire who had been assigned to escort us on the carriage ride over and to my retelling of the story.

"It's by grace that you hadn't had more to drink," he said while he wet a washcloth and dabbed Aeolus' pale, sweaty brow. "Or else the horrible man would have had his way with you."

I thought of my earlier attempts at loosening his lips through alcohol and wrenched the bottom hem of my dress in my fists. If I had been successful I might have actually been partly responsible for his death.

Had Altima really been responsible for the stabbing? I thought of the poor man who would in all likelihood never receive a fair trial and would ultimately find himself occupying a dank cell for the next twenty years. I wondered if her influence had grown beyond Hanz and Gerald, or if the control she wielded over the stabber had been a fleeting thing.

"Yeah. Well." Aeolus mumbled, waving Wind's dotting aside. "That didn't happen. I'm going to be fine. I'll be back to work before you know it."

Wind offered a little smile and put his hand reassuringly on Aeolus' shoulder.

"I'm sure you are."

"You're damn straight. And when I piss out all these drugs I'm going to throttle that son of a.."

"Hey, Aeolus."


"I love you. Now shut up."

He bent down and kissed him on the forehead and squeezed his shoulder. That seemed to relax him. I got up and stood next to Wind, whom I had several inches on. Aeolus reached up and took my hand. He tried to squeeze it firmly, but the blood loss and drugs had sapped his strength.

"I'm lucky you were there. I'm sorry our date was ruined, I'll make it up to you. I promise." He said while his eyelids fluttered.

I offered a half smile and held his hand firmly. He slipped into a restful sleep before I could think of anything to say.

"Come on," Wind said while he drew a sheet up to Aeolus' chest. "Let's get some coffee. I'm sure it's been a long night for you."

We left the medical barracks after Wind sidled up to an army nursed and discreetly asked her to keep an eye on him and to make sure he didn't try to leave. The mess hall was closed, but he banged around for a couple of minutes and met me at a table with two cups of steaming coffee and some thick slices of banana bread.

"Best Isyr has to offer. Made from the finest dehydrated bananas, powered milk and faux butter money can by." He smiled and added several tablespoons of sugar into his coffee. "It's really not that bad. Really. Scout's honor."

The bread was so-so, but I enjoyed the smell of the instant coffee and soaked up its warmth. The mug felt good in my hands. It was warm, solid and comforting.

"I appreciate you looking after him. You did a good job." He said and genuinely seemed to mean it.

"He wouldn't have gotten involved had he not been with me in the first place." I said awkwardly. He just shrugged.

"If he was here he could have tripped and fallen on a broken bottle. If he was on a march he could have fallen into a ravine. Things happen. No use beating yourself up over something that wasn't your fault."

He was a sweet man. The kind of person everyone wishes they had for a friend. He had an air of intellectual authority, but without the arrogant baggage that all too often accompanies it. I began to feel at ease with him and relaxed. The anxiety of the night dissolved a little and lost its sharp edge.

"Where's Ilythia?" I asked after a little silence.

"Asleep. She would have just wound Aeolus up and fretted over the situation. No, I'll accept her wrath in the morning. After they've both had a good night's rest."

"You all seem very close." I said quietly, remembering my own family. We weren't close at all. Especially since I left the nest.

"It happens. As far as we know, we're the only survivors of the disaster at Capital City. They lost their whole family that night. You clutch at what you have when you've lost so much. It's a miracle they came out the situation as well as they did."

I noticed the conspicuous way he said that they lost their family without mentioning his own. I saw the emotional baggage, but I figured it was better to let sleeping dogs lie. I thought about how close Wind and Aeolus seemed to be. They were as close as brothers. The three of them even looked like one another. They all shared the same eyes and hair. As I stared at him while I sipped the warmth of the instant coffee I could swear they even had the same nose.

We talked for a long time that night. I avoided his own family life, but we discussed Aeolus and his sister and Wind's time in the military. The flow of the conversation even turned back and I found myself confessing my own history to him. We sowed the seeds of a friendship.

Well after midnight my own drowsiness got in the way of the conversation. Wind smiled and offered to walk me to the campus. I politely declined. I dealt with an ethereal and ancient monster that possessed men on a daily basis and the walk was a short one. What did I have to fear?

He seemed to read this on my face. We hugged and he invited me to visit Aeolus when class permitted. He said that he needed all the help he could get to keep him put.

With that I left for home and the madness which it contained.


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