The Price of Pride (Open)

Seeking East

Her "someday" has come.
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Four coppers.

You could take the ferry across Moon Lake for four coppers. You could see a show in Spire city or enjoy a few beers for four coopers.

Asilaria’s hands were covered in blood, the man on the bed before her gasping and howling. Somewhere nearby, his wife was sobbing, her body blocking the view of their two young children.

A handkerchief for a loved one or a box of freshly baked sweet rolls cost four coppers.

The village was a small place, boasting an occasional festival intended to bring in the farmers around the area and draw any travellers to its quaint but cosy streets. The flats had been freshly painted and window boxed planted with small but tenacious flowers. Two inns sat at opposite ends of the main road, the festival held but not contained between them. Outside the window, the sounds of music and the aroma of food soaked through the floorboards and curled through the room. But just now, no one was paying any attention to the festival outside.

Asilaria forced him to drink another vial, one knee pinning his shoulder while she pinched his nose and poured the mix down his throat. He coughed once, his eyes widening, then vomited the entire contents of his stomach. Asilaria cursed in a silently but deadly string. Her hands returned to press the blood-soaked wad of bandages across his stomach.

And to think, she had come to the festival hoping to by a new scarf or dance in one of the drum circles.

One of the children was screaming now, howling in fear for his father who continued to spill his life’s blood across the once clean sheets.

A child’s toy or a bag of nuts cost four coppers.

Asilaria gave up on sedating him. She would have to do this the hard way – or club him with something heavy – but she always hated resorting to that sort of brutish technique. She was frowning down at the man now, steady fingers threading a needle. There was blood and dirt and other questionable smears across her face and arms, her once blue sari was soaked with blood. Dark hair was bound haphazardly atop her head and her pack sat open and waiting on the nearby table.

A plate of fresh fruit cost four coppers.

Asilaria knew this because it was browning downstairs waiting for her to finish it. The Inn was a simple enough place, all old wood and older stone, a bar at the far end with a kitchen tucked behind it and rooms upstairs. Asilaria had paused in her scarf and drum hunt to sit and enjoy some fruit.

Three men burst through the door of the otherwise peaceful Inn, two of them bearing the third between them. Behind them crowded an already sobbing wife and two dirty and terrified children. Everyone was talking at once, the woman begging for a healer while the pair pleaded with the Inn-keeper for a bed to lay the injured man on. Asilaria forgot about her fruit, forgot about her drums and rose, already flowing towards the injured man. She hissed a bit, demanding a clean towel from behind the bar. The woman was saying something about a robbery, about men in dark clothing catching the family in an alley they had no business visiting. About the man born between two others, his clothing tattered and his face pale, who had blatantly refused to surrender his coin purse. The flash of daggers, the sounds of screaming lost at first beneath the heady festival that ranged across the town.

Laid out in the bed, still thrashing now and again, Asilaria hissed at the man whose name she did not know to lay still. She was working to sow him up from the inside. It took only moments to see the dagger had done its job well. Stitch by stitch Asilaria worked to put the still howling and cursing man back together, but she already knew the reality of the situation. He was not going to survive.

So why go on? Why keep fighting? Because Asilaria had never once given up on a patient; had never walked away when there was still breath in their body and a heart still beating. And she wouldn’t start now. Asilaria finished her stitching and cleaned up the man as best she could. He wasn’t howling anymore, having worn himself out with pain and fight, so she tried again for the vial. This time he drank it down and kept it there before lulling into an uneasy sleep. Afternoon had turned to evening which had given way to night and in the intervening hours, both wife and children and settled with their backs to the wall to wait. The children had fallen asleep, sprawled across their mother’s lap while she sat grim faced and pale. Asilaria moved away from the bed for the first time in hours and sat beside her, still filthy, still bloody, and bone-tired.

“He isn’t going to live, is he?” The woman answered. She sounded tired and beaten – resigned. Any other day, she might have been pretty, with a joyful expression across otherwise plain features. Today, however, she looked like a woman who had already given up.
Asilaria spoke softly, calmly. “I haven’t given up on him yet – but I’ll be honest with you. He is not doing well.”
The woman stroked her fingers through the tousled hair of her son, his face pressed against her knee. “I don’t know what I will do if he dies,” she whispered finally.
Asilaria shook her head softly. “You will mourn, you will cry, and you will go on. For yourself and your children, if nothing else.”

It was a difficult night, as many difficult nights had come to pass. Someone was born and someone died and the circle went on. But for Asilaria, something had changed. She scrubbed her arms clean the next morning, frowning into the bowl of once clear and now red water, listening with a hole in her heart as the wife and children sobbed over the body of their loved one. Men carried him away, wrapped up in the bloody sheets he had died on and the family was gone.

Asilaria sat heavily in the chair across from the empty bed, taking in the silent room. It was early enough that the festival hadn’t started yet. No music crept through the floorboards, no sweet aroma of exotic fare soaked through the walls.
On the nightstand beside her still open pack, the man’s coin purse laid waiting. It was impossible to know if it had been left on purpose or simply forgotten. Asilaria wasn’t sure what to do. Moving towards it, she hefted it carefully, the small brown pouch seemed very light. Her slender fingers, still tinged slightly with the tint of blood that wouldn’t wash away, pulled the drawstrings open. Four coppers.

Asilaria laughed softly; there was nothing humorous about the sound. Four coppers.

She left it on the nightstand, pouch and all, and gathered her things.

She would have been able to buy her scarf for four coppers, or tip the men who drummed while she danced. But Asilaria didn’t feel like shopping today, nor dancing, nor staying for another moment at the festival that was just starting to warm across the town’s main thoroughfare. She couldn’t think of anything anyone could buy with those four coppers that would account for their true worth.

A man lost his life today, for four coppers.
 
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