Rating: M / MA
Warnings: Eventual blood and sex; sad feelings, and my bad writing.
Summary: Alfred is only a magician in training when his best friend rides to war, never to return. When it seems he can never reach the grand potential his mentor believes he can, he runs away and miraculously finds the focus and reason to his life; but at a cost. How do you protect someone who is connected intimately to you, just as the stars are connected in a constellation?
Important Notes: Radu – Romania, Conrad - Netherlands
Chapter One: Boötes
Vagrancy changes people, Alfred thinks as he walks down a dusty road in the high summer, the air is dry and tasteless as he wanders ever onward. The towns seem to grow further and further apart as he travels north in another restless quest to share his simple skills with those that he comes across. It’s a dreary life – that of a traveling healer. It’s been over a year since the day he scaled down the side of his prison; and his scars still burn when he thinks about them during longs nights under pine trees in his sleeping roll.
His life is listlessness as he roams across the lands, following the work left behind the never-ending war. Healing was something he never saw himself relying on as a student in Radu’s tower (oh, by now he should be working for a King or maybe a Baron – devoting his life to their safety, just as Radu did before him). And yet here he is, walking down an empty road with dust clinging desperately to the leather of his boots.
The next village he runs across is a mere half mile from an active regiment of the Flamberge Army. The children do not run about his feet, shrieking about a stranger in their home roads, they do not play nor remove themselves from the dirty steps of their homes. All is quiet and morbid and Alfred is getting accustomed to the gloom that hovers sadly over each roof the further he walks. The village physician is the only one to greet him with a smile, only expressing his relief and surprise that someone who has a trade as odd as Alfred does, would happen to pass through his unlucky village. “I can’t pay you much beyond meals and a bed, but we have many sick and a great many more injured.”
“That’s alright,” Alfred says to the elderly, hunched man with a limp smile, wiping his palms on his dirty traveling robes. “I usually expect less, so thank you for your generosity.”
It’s all routine as he lays out his things on a wooden floor, rolling out his bed and pulling out a small wooden carving – a tiny totem of a fire breathing dragon – and places it under his pillow. Ever since he purchased it from a small vendor stall it reminded him of Radu. Some days he misses his old mentor and the promises he held, but then there were days when he resents it all – for the person that he is today.
“What’s done is done,” he tells himself, just as he always does. It never helps, but he supposes that someday it will. He’s given a modest meal before the spritely old doctor ushers him off to where the patients are kept. Many of them are soldiers waiting to be shuttled off to larger towns for proper treatment. He’s not unfamiliar with the gruesome aftermath of war, but it still makes him uneasy, fearing something unnamable each time he takes a moment to look at a dying soldier’ face.
For most, herbs and tight gauze bandages will do, but for others it is obvious that there is isn’t anything the elderly physician can do to ease their sufferings. That’s where Alfred begins his work. Flesh is something he understands, something he can manipulate without attempting to connect or become something that he is not. He is flesh; human, breathing, and warm. Never does he have to wonder what it is like to burn as a fire, be steadfast and heavy as earth; to ponder the wet fluidity of cool water as his self, or maintain the sharp loftiness of air.
He may have failed as a magician, but he still has a heart of gold and the power to save those who are courageous as lions.
--- Line Here ---
“Bite this,” Alfred instructs one of the bed ridden soldiers. The man has a broken femur and is told every day that he will never walk again. Alfred has been watching him for days, groveling in his bed as a young woman makes her rounds with a damp sponge and a basket for laundry. There are others in worse positions than this man and they are crying for life and its beauty while the broken soldier carries on in morbid disgust. It’s horrid to watch and see and yet, there’s something about the melancholic grievances that attract Alfred, something that he understands and grieves for as well. He presses a strong stick between the soldier’s teeth. “Bite. This will hurt.”
The soldier groans and cries as Alfred exerts his energy into properly setting the bone, painfully breaking the small, incorrect, stitching the bone has already made. He wants to help, wants to end the alluring suffering inside this man and he can see the soldier in ten years, cursing his old wound as he finds his salvation at the bottom of a frothy mug and that’s a thought that eats away at Alfred like a cantankerous poison – so he stops.
“I’m sorry,” Alfred says to the soldier, gently drying the man’s pained tears with a clean linen cloth. He doesn’t know what else to say to him; ‘You’ll walk again someday’, ‘Have faith’, or ‘There is hope’ all seem to be empty words and lies, so he says again, “I’m sorry,” and rushes out of the stagnant hut to try and clear his head.
“You never get used to it.” Alfred starts at the unexpected voice, twisting around and holding his hands out in front of his chest in a weak defensive gesture. He can’t connect with the destruction of the world around him, but he knows something of spirit, the explosive spark of life that could save and ruin at once. The elderly physician simply smiles, unperturbed by Alfred’s skittishness. “War is something you never get used to, no matter how much you think you do. There is always a new atrocity, a new victim – it never ends.”
Alfred sighs to himself. This is a lesson he knows too well. Radu had taught him of consequences before ever showing him the act. He knew what evil, deceit, and war wrought before he ever saw them. Suddenly he tilts his head back to start at the drifting clouds. “Can you see the stars here?”
The physician blinks for a moment, steeping in thought. “Hm. The stars? I never thought to look.”
--- Line Here ---
The soldiers come and go from the cramped medical hut. Alfred tries not to get attached, tries not to miss the ones that smile and laugh at his horrible attempts at jokes to ease their discomfort around him. Magic is hardly seen as beneficial. They are men of war, they know the grotesque anger of magic when it is used to render flesh and eat life. He wants to prove that it can aid as well, but he knows he is not the best candidate for such a task.
At night he sits outside the hut where his bedroll is spread out on the wooden floor, picking grass and rolling it between his fingers as he traces the constellations with ease. Sometimes he deliberates creating his own constellations, but he can never think of good enough stories or meanings for the connection, can never relate to a specific pattern that sticks to his mind, the design patterning outwards until he can’t recognize it any longer.
He rolls another blade of grass between his fingers, staring at the green plant as it began to stain his fingers a yellowish color. “Is there more?” he asks himself, examining his fingers. If this here was all life offered him, he’s positive it’s not a very full life; fulfilling, yes, but it leaves him feeling empty and as scarred as the men he tries to save. But what else is there in the world for a man like him? There is hardly a place he can go to without people fearing him, not a decent place to hide without the threat of Radu finding him (is Radu even looking for him? He’s not sure if he wants to know the answer to that question.).
“Healer, healer!” a young girl shouts, running up the gravely slope only to trip and scrape her knee in her delirious haste. “Healer! They need you at the medical hut! A Captain was wounded in battle this evening and is on his way here for treatment! They need you!”
Alfred stands, striding forward to scoop up the girl into a helpful embrace, steadying her onto her feet once again. “Now, now, child,” he said softly, pushing a hand through her unruly curls, “You should calm yourself. I’m going to the medical hut right now, but you need to return to your mother and let her clean you up – that was a nasty fall.”
The girl smiles at him and nods. “I promise, but healer? Will you please save the Captain? Papa says that the Captain is the reason why the Drachman soldiers haven’t come yet. I don’t want them to come, healer!”
“I will, don’t you worry.” He gives her one last pat on the head. “Now go.” Alfred waits the few moments it takes for her to make good on her word, dashing down the hill and into the small cluster of wood and clay huts, before he himself flies to the medical hut, gasping for breath as he arrives. “I heard the news,” he tells the elderly physician who is preparing a bed for their newest patient.
He gives a solemn nod of his bald head, a hand coming up to rub at his spotted, wrinkled face. “Yes. I hear it’s a belly wound… there is likely nothing we can do – assuming he’s not dead by the time he arrives.”
“Yeah, you’re right …” Alfred cleans his hands anyway, taking off his robes and throwing them in the corner to avoid the blood that was surely to come. For the remaining minutes of agonizing wait, Alfred breathes, soothing himself with the steady count – inhale, two, thee, exhale, four, five. He breathes until his very fingertips feel lax and calm; finally reaching the state of mind that Radu had taught him was the best for performing any kind of controlled magic. The physician’s nervous fidgets are the only noises in the lulled hut. Alfred hopes that there is some hope to the man’s injuries. He can’t help but to think about his promise to the young girl and the fate of this border village if this Captain should die. Responsibility is something that Alfred was familiar with, and if somehow this village were to succumb to the war, it would be another weight upon his shoulders, another burden for him to bear as he travels his meaningless life.
The tranquil quiet is broken with a sudden slam, the door flying open to give into an onslaught of men barking orders and choking back scared cries. Alfred rushes to the bed as a man is rolled onto the once white sheets, gasping and crying as blood leaks everywhere, immediately tainting everything with the evils of war. He doesn’t think, just acts, pushing the man’s bloody hands away from the gaping wound just below his ribs to examine the extent of it. The wound is bleeding fast, but Alfred believes that nothing important was punctured – there is hope.
“They ran ‘im through!” a soldier shouts above the chaos as the physician attempts to staunch the swift bleeding. “They ran ‘im through with a spear and the blood! It was just after sundown! It was time o’ rest – there is no honor in fighting like that! No honor!”
How the man is even alive after having lost so much blood, Alfred can’t fathom, but the Captain is hanging onto the final shreds of life with an iron grip, his purpling lips moving around wheezing gasps. He presses his hands over the wound and thinks of healing, remembers the processes of flesh and regeneration, the flow of blood that he shares within his own veins.
“Too slow!” the physician shouts at him. “He’s slipping away.”
Alfred pushes himself harder, opening his conscience to the flow of magic and focusing it into his patient. The elderly man grasps the Captain’s face and angles it towards Alfred to try and ease his labored breathing, but Alfred makes the mistake of looking into that face, as he always does, hoping and dreading at the same time that it would be something so entirely fearful.
Green eyes, that fae shaded green that so many years ago seemed utterly impossible to even exist, stare up at him, the life slowly fading from the vivid color. There’s that crooked smile on blue lips and an utterance of a single name, “Alfred…” And the eyes slip closed.
He can’t think, he can’t breathe – he can’t do anything but stop and break down. There is something inside of him that snaps as he looks at his dying friend, the one he has feared to see or hear or touch upon one of these beds, bleeding and dying and never, ever saying goodbye. It’s something frail and warm, and Alfred loses himself in the feeling as he bends over his friend, desperately pressing his scarred palms against the closing wound.
Magic is a tangible thing, Radu would tell him as he sat in his tower, hunched over books, murmuring notions and theories and logistics to himself. It comes in one form and channels into several focuses – it is that focus that makes magic possible and it is the same magic that Alfred feels within himself explode under his panic, surging through his dim focus like two massive hands, clawing, gripping, and grasping for the spirit that he knew to be of his only friend.
The hands seize Arthur (and he feels Arthur’s very presence now, in those hands, within himself and himself within Arthur and he never wants it to leave if that means he can say a proper goodbye – to know he’s safe and not dying on a barren bed), they pull the Captain into life, yanking and struggling against every odd. And just as he feels everything beginning to slide into place, his vision goes white and he hardly remembers falling to the dirty, bloody floor.
--- Line Here ---
Alfred knows when he is in a dream. Sometimes it takes him a moment or several as he asses the feeling of his own weightlessness in the slowly coloring void around him, but as soon as he recognizes his state of mind, he allows himself to succumb to the images and events that his consciousness creates for him. Radu had told him once that dreams made for unreliable divinations and Alfred was inclined to agree if some of them had not been so vivid.
He stands in the courtyard in spring, the peach trees shedding their pink petals in the soft breeze. Arthur stands across from him, his Captain’s uniform covered in mud and blood, as well as Alfred’s own jerkin and trousers. He doesn’t know what to say now that he sees Arthur standing and alive. A simple greeting is inappropriate for the near decade that they hadn’t spoken, and yet they are too distant for a familiar welcome. Arthur seems content in maintaining the silence as well, so Alfred watches, the pink blossoms he loved to chase a naïve child catching in his hair as he waits.
For a moment he thinks he sees something golden, something like a strand of thread between them before it snaps with a crisp hiss and Alfred falls backwards. The ground surges up to meet him and then disappears completely, allowing him to fall forever into a blank space, filled with darkness and nausea.
When Alfred wakes up next, every pore in his body screams at him from magical backlash. It takes hours for the pain to subside, slowly ebbing into a dull empty feeling. It’s a dismal emotion and he’s not sure what it’s from, he just knows that he doesn’t want to feel this way. He finally realizes that he’s on one of the medical beds, a man with a mild head wound sleeping peacefully next to him.
The physician comes in to tend to him, massaging Alfred’s temples and helping him sit to sip slowly at a bowl of cool water. “What happened?” he asks hoarsely, grasping the empty bowl in his cramped hands. “I only remember the hands…”
“Hands? Hm. Ah, well, I don’t know about the hands, but…” he trails off, his own gnarled hands pushing Alfred’s hair from his face, “the Captain didn’t make it. You did everything you could, my boy, you did. The wound healed and his color pinked, but his spirit never returned. We waited for two days, but he never woke. You did wonderfully, but sometimes the Gods don’t agree with magic.”
Alfred stares blankly at the wall, unblinking and unresponsive. He only wanted to say goodbye, and now he is denied even that. Even the constellations hold more heartwarming stories than this. He looks up at the physician, a man he’s come to care for and adore and solemnly asks, “Where is he buried?”
--- End Chapter One ---
Unimportant Notes: I really don’t have much to say about any of this except thank you guys for the wonder reception of this fic. :U I hope it’s still alright and stuff… ahhhh I dunno what to say. uwu