Orla gets to work.
THE FOLLOWING HALF-MONTH was a blur for Orla. She was so busy helping Healer Morri tend to patients up in the forest, then transporting them back to Aquila, where she helped out even more in the infirmary, that she barely even noticed her own bruises, break and scrapes healing. All she knew was work. Fewer students than first feared had actually died in the lake disaster, but eight was still eight too many, and many more were laid up in the infirmary, unlikely to do any flying or training anytime soon.
At least by working in the infirmary she was there when Taryn woke. It took eleven days, during which time healer Morri managed to fix her broken nose and piece her shattered kneecap together. While Orla was glad the head healer had enough magical skill to repair such things, she fervently hoped she would never have to witness that type of thing again. The memory of shards of bone wriggling and shifting beneath Taryn’s skin was enough to turn Orla’s stomach and the sound of everything shifting back into place haunted her sleep.
However, those injuries were just the worst of Taryn’s wounds and despite all of Morri’s magical treatments, she was clearly in a lot of pain when she finally woke. She still managed a smile, when Orla rushed over to her, dropping the fresh bandages she’d been sent to deliver to the room.
“You look at home,” the Imercish princess croaked. “Though I don’t think those are supposed to be on the floor.”
Embarrassed, Orla tidied up the mess and bustled about the room, putting the bandages by each of the four beds. “I am best when I am busy,” she muttered, and hurried off again, having plenty more tasks and chores to complete.
She also had a chance to see Vhen and Zett when they came in each day to have their burns assessed and redressed. Such was the severity of the worst of the wounded that those who were capable of walking had been discharged back to their dormitories almost as soon as everyone returned to Aquila. There was too much work to be done in the infirmary to look after every last person who had been injured at the lake, so those who could mostly take care of themselves were expected to. Which included the boys, although they both made a point to seek her out each day when they came in.
It was the most Orla got to see of friendly faces, since she was too busy to return to their room herself. Instead she was given a pallet in the healer’s quarters beneath the infirmary, on which she crashed into sleep each night, before rising each morning and continuing her endless round of chores.
“You’d best not be thinking of stealing this one,” Thera startled Orla one morning by growling at Healer Haelle, as the woman checked the lieutenant’s broken leg and the burns that spiralled up her waist and back. “She’s a Rider.”
“Aren’t we all, lieutenant?” Healer Haelle replied with unrelenting cheerfulness.
“I mean it, healer,” Thera grumbled.
Haelle winked at Orla. “You’ll have to take it up with Morri. I just work here, as you’d do best to remember. Now roll over, please, I want to check your back.”
“Check away, if you must,” the lieutenant muttered into her pillow. “But stop stealing our students. We’ve few enough good ones as it is.”
Putting down the bowl of hot water that she’d been asked to bring, Orla felt heat rise to her face. That sounded suspiciously like approval from a woman not known for approving of anyone. Healer Haelle winked at Orla again, making her blush worse.
“Yes, we’re very fond of Orla too, but her path is her own to choose. Hold still now, I need to soak these bandages off.”
Orla escaped before the inevitable swearing could begin, and paused outside the treatment room to hold her hands to her hot face, willing herself to cool down.
“Ah, Orla, just the student we were looking for!”
Startled, she dropped her hands and spun, surprised to see three familiar instructors rushing towards her, all of whom had swapped Aquila for Nimbys over the summer. Evidently they had now returned. Orla missed the days when she and her friends would have seen any skyship approaching the citadel over the wide, white Cloud Sea. Now all she saw were white walls and sickly faces.
“Captain!” she greeted the tallest and highest ranked of the three. “Tutors.” She nodded at the other two. “How may I help?”
The normally cheerful Captain Stirla looked uncommonly grim as he glanced up and down the corridor, while Tutors Lyrai and Mhysra were holding hands. “We heard Taryn was in here somewhere,” the captain spoke for them all. “Can you take us to her?”
“Of course.” Orla turned around at once. “Please, follow me.”
“Is she badly hurt?” Tutor Mhysra asked, gripping her husband’s hand tightly. Tutor Lyrai didn’t speak, he just watched Orla with his pale blue eyes, waiting for her answer.
It was no surprise that he was worried since Taryn was his sister. Stirla and Mhysra might have been part of Taryn’s extended family, but Lyrai was the one closest to her by blood. He looked so much like her in that moment that Orla almost tripped over her own feet.
Realising all three were staring at her now, Orla cleared her throat and headed for the correct room. “She is much improved. The healers are very pleased with her progress. Head Healer Morri has been taking extra special care of her.”
Mhysra murmured something thankful, while Tutor Lyrai closed his eyes, still looking worried. Not wanting to prolong their anxiety, Orla bustled into the room where the worst injured had been collected together. Three of the four beds were still occupied, the fourth student, Fenla, having been moved to a more lightly-monitored room the day before.
Taryn was sitting propped up against her pillows, staring out of the window with a listless expression. Her right arm and leg were tightly bandaged and propped on more pillows, and her face was badly bruised from her broken nose.
The three people behind Orla drew in sharp breaths, then Tutor Lyrai strode across the room, Captain Stirla and Tutor Mhysra following more slowly. Orla paused long enough to see Taryn turn towards them and frown. Then Lyrai leant across the bed to kiss her cheek and she smiled.
Seeing that smile, Orla let out a breath she hadn’t realised she was holding and hurried back to work. There was always something that needed doing in the infirmary and Orla felt best when she was busy and needed.
~ Next ~
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