Chapter 5: Wilting Flower
“RELARE!” Leothir’s desperate bellow preceded him through the portal, and the mage stepped through into the milling chaos of a disturbed cadre of soldiers, his arms full and his hands bloody. When his first glance didn’t catch the paladin, he turned his wild gaze on the nearest soldier. “Get your commander! Immediately!”
“Rannick!” The mage strode toward the old soldier as he stepped out of the front ranks, yanking his helmet off his head. “Find me Relare! She’s dying. For Light’s sake, hurry!”
His wide-eyed gaze glancing at the cloak-wrapped woman in the young man’s arms, her face almost as colorless as the hair that peeked out from under the bloody fabric, the soldier nodded and sprinted off toward the command tent. Leothir hurried in his wake, clutching Rhoelyn to his chest, his panic a barely-constrained beast clawing at him.
The mage and his burden were nearly at the tent flap when Relare shoved his way out, eyes wide. His brother didn’t bother with questions, merely glancing at the pallid priestess and shoving to the side to open the way into the space. Relare’s green eyes glowed something closer to golden as Leo passed him, already assessing them both.
“The command table. Wrune.” Relare didn’t even need to give the dark-haired human direction. His first-in-command stood already beside the table and swept his arms across it, sending maps and wooden troop markers skittering across the floor.
Leothir bit back a sound that was something between a sob and a growl as he laid his burden on the cleared table and deftly caught the hand that flopped free of the fabric that he’d wrapped around her. He choked at the sight of the bloody slit in her skin, almost relieved when Relare nudged him away, businesslike. “Give me space, Leo.”
“Hush.” The mage took a few steps back as his brother grabbed Rhoelyn’s hand, power, warm and golden and miraculous, flaring around his skin and hers as he concentrated. After a few seconds, he raised his head, snapping, “Aron, assess her while I work on stabilizing her.”
The human began to unwrap her from Leothir’s cloak, infinitely careful as he revealed her bloodstained dress and the nasty gashes on the insides of her wrists. He couldn’t help the worry that had him pressing his lips tightly together and shooting a glance at Leo, but he said nothing, concentrating instead on the night elf clinging to a thread of life, running his hands and eyes over the rest of her to be sure he understood her injury.
Wrune gruffly reported back to Relare, covering her once more to keep her warm. “Just the wrists. Massive blood loss. Keep her from organ failure, and I’ll focus on her energy.”
Leothir’s brother nodded curtly, deep in concentration, as his compatriot bent over her as well, his own magic flaring to life. Behind them both, her mate paced, his hands flitting uncertainly from fisting at his side to running through his bloodied hair to folding across his chest.
Nothing changed for an hour save the fears and doubts and questions careening around in Leothir’s head as he paced. A thousand times he circled back to the awful misunderstanding of the day prior, berating himself, blaming himself, questioning so much of what he thought he understood about their feelings. About their relationship. How could he have made Rhoelyn so miserable that she would try to end her life? What did he do? What should he do, next? How c-
“Leo.” His brother standing before him, barring his way, finally broke him from his mad reverie, and the mage blinked, eyes widening as he glanced from Relare’s grim face to Rhoelyn’s pale, limp body.
“Light. Please tell me she is-”
“She’s out of danger, now.” Relare pressed a hand on Leo’s shoulder, partly to reassure him and partly to steady him as he wavered, dizzy from the relief that flooded him. “Rhoelyn will live, brother, though she is very weak.”
The mage choked as he grabbed his sibling and hugged him tight, pressing his face against the paladin’s armor. “Light! Thank you, Relare,” his voice cracked dangerously, muffled as it was. “Thank you both. I didn’t know what else to do. I d-don’t… I felt so helpless.” Relare patted his brother’s back, his brow furrowed as he felt the fine tremor rippling through Leo’s body.
“Come on, now. Sit down before you fall down.” His voice gentle, he led the mage to one of the tent’s more comfortable chairs and eased him down into it. As he straightened, he glanced over at where Wrune still worked by Rhoelyn’s side, his golden magic slowly seeping energy back into her frail frame. Relare sighed softly and turned to the cupboard to pour a pair of drinks, bringing them with him as he hooked a stool with his boot and settled before his older brother.
He shoved a cup at Leo. “It’s Ethermead. Drink up, Leo. You need it.”
The mage nodded jerkily and knocked the liquid back, coughing as he choked on the intense drink. Relare snagged the empty cup from him and replaced it with the second one, watching as he tipped that one down his throat as well. They fortified him enough that he sat a little straighter in the chair and faced Relare’s intense gaze.
“Talk to me,” the paladin said simply, curt but not harsh.
Leothir grimaced, brushing a frustrated hand through his hair. “I… I don’t know what to say. I found her on the floor of her dining room in a puddle of blood. I didn’t- I- … We fought, yesterday, but I thought we…” He paused, setting his second empty cup on the small side table and scrubbing his face. “Light, Relare! She’s all masks and hidden feelings. I don’t know. I thought we’d made up. Sh-she came to my bed last night, even.” Leo managed to admit it with only a slight blush. “Why would she hurt herself?”
The paladin exchanged a look with Wrune before the human turned back to his efforts to aid her healing. When he faced his brother once more, his lips were thin. “You think she did that to herself.” It wasn’t a question.
“Of course. How else does one end up in a puddle of blood and shattered glass with their wrists slit?” The effort to say it seemed to drag something from Leo, and he drooped, leaning his elbows on his knees as if they were all that kept him sitting upright. “Light… She told me she might break when we-… when she agreed to be mine. But I didn’t credit it. I thought I could protect her, Relare. I thought I could make her happy.”
The auburn-haired blood elf leaned forward and rested his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Shattered glass, hm? Take a breath, Leo. It’s not your fault, and we won’t know the truth of what happened until she wakes.”
Leothir’s brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
Relare frowned, glancing over at the still-pale woman laid out on his command table. “Besides the wounds on her wrist, she also had bruises on her head. I’m not entirely sure that she did this to herself.”
“You think someone tried to kill Rhoelyn?” The mage blinked, eyes widening. “Who’d want to hurt her?”
“I have no idea, brother. That may not even be the case.” The paladin patted his sibling’s arm with a sigh. “Listen, when Aron pronounces it safe to move her, why don’t you portal us back? Rhoelyn can rest more comfortably at the manor than out here. I’ll come with you for a few hours to make sure she settles.”
Leothir nodded and pressed the other elf’s hands between his own. His worry barred him from managing a smile, though he tried as he said, “Thank you, Relare. You really are the best brother.”
“Hmph,” the paladin teased, trying to ease the frown wrinkling his brother’s brow. “Don’t I know it?” When that didn’t work, he continued more seriously. “She’s going to be fine, now, Leo. You saved her by getting her here quickly.”
Leothir nodded with a jerky motion before his head drooped and he choked a weak little laugh. “Well. Wasn’t that exciting? I’m feeling quite ragged. When she wakes, I will have to get my flower to pamper me for a week to make up for all the years she just took off my life.”
Relare smirked at that, patting his shoulder. “The scion of House Duskfall loves a kal’dorei priestess from the wrong side of this war. Though I hope they’re less so than today, I suspect you have plenty of exciting times ahead of you both.”
The scion in question grimaced and reached for his empty glass. “Oh, joy.”
As his brother snagged it away from him, heading back to the cupboard, Leothir paused and blinked at him. “W-wait… Who said anything about love?”
Relare’s only answer was a long-suffering sigh.
Rhoelyn woke to the soft familiarity of her bed and a body that was odd and lethargic and heavy. Her eyes didn’t seem to want to open right away, so she moved her hands along the satin sheets and wallowed in the warmth of her down comforter, trying to gather up thoughts that seemed dristy and out of focus.
“Rhe-” She stopped herself from calling the first name that swirled into her thoughts, remembering just which familiar bed she felt. The sin’dorei style furniture cradling her was nothing like her tidy sleeping alcove nestled under the window in the house she and her brother shared in Nighthaven.
The priestess was spared from trying to snag another name out of her confusion by someone pressing her hand between theirs and softly saying, “Rhoelyn? Can you hear me?”
“Mm.” She managed a sound that had the vague tone of a ‘yes’, turning her head and trying once more to convince her eyes to open. The result was a glimpse of light and a blurry figure bent over her before they fluttered closed, again.
“H… halath,” she whispered in Darnassian.
“I know you’re tired,” the voice said, a no-nonsense and familiar alto. “You are still weak, but you should wake up. I have some broth here that will help you.”
Broth. Her stomach echoed hollowly with the word, and the hunger sharpened her focus. Yes. Broth sounded good.
Rhoelyn fisted the bed sheets in her hand, struggling to drag her eyes open one more time, summoning energy from who-knew-where. She blinked up at the unfocused figure who held her hand until its features started to resolve: luminous silver eyes, teal hair, lips a dusky violet like something out of a late-sunset sky. The priestess’ gaze followed the long braid cascading over the other woman’s shoulder before she finally licked dry lips and managed, “Fayrial?”
The other night elf smiled gently. “Yes, priestess. I am glad to see you awake. Master Leothir has been beside himself all evening, and even Relare was starting to look worried at how long you slept. They’ve both just stepped outside for some air.”
Fighting back the urge to let her eyes drift shut once more, the little priestess shifted listlessly in the bed. Speaking in Thalassian seemed like an unnecessary effort, so she spoke in their native tongue as she muttered, “I… do not… Why am I here? Wasn’t it… day? I settled Alen for his nap, then-” She stopped, her brow furrowing. “Alen? Faye, where is Alensyr?”
Fayrial blinked, putting her hands on the woman’s shoulders when she struggled to rise. Weak as a kitten, Rhoelyn had no choice but to settle with a groan, and Faye hurried to soothe her. “Calm down, priestess. There’s nothing wrong with the boy. Last I saw, he was in the nursery with Faeroh and Ryni. He’s probably sleeping, now. Relare said the young one was very distraught when they brought you back. He and Ryni both.”
“Back?” the priestess whispered, confused and tiring quickly from the effort of just being awake, let alone understanding what was going on.
“Yes. Back from the war camp. I understand that Leothir took you to Relare when he found you.”
“F-found me?” She raised a shaky hand to her forehead, brow furrowing. “I don’t und-”
“Ah!” Leo’s happy exclamation interrupted her as the two brothers stepped in from the wide glass doors to the night-dark little veranda outside her room, his smile blooming across his handsome face as he rushed to the side of the bed. “My flower, you’re awake!”
“Finally.” Relare added with a smile, following at a more sedate pace to stand beside his sibling as the mage claimed her hand away from Faye. The slave sat back in the seat she’d pulled by the bedside, her disapproving and sad gaze going between the priestess and Leothir.
Rhoelyn summoned forth a tired, weak smile, her attention drawn like a magnet to Leo. She reached up and smoothed her unsteady fingers across the furrows in his brow. “I am… not entirely certain what has happened, my dawn. Why do you all look so worried? I feel worn to a thread; have I been ill?”
“You were injured, Rhoelyn,” Leothir said it gently, brushing her hair back from her temple with a tender look. “Very badly. Relare and Wrune – you remember Aron? – saved you from the very jaws of death.”
His brother flicked his ear, muttering through clenched teeth with a pointed glower for him, “Now, Leo… there’s no need to exaggerate and frighten her.”
The mage winced, oblivious as he glanced up at Relare. “Hey! Will you stop that? It’s no exaggerat-”
Another harder flick cut him off, and he scowled sullenly and rubbed his ear. Relare shot a meaningful look at the priestess, raising his brows, and Leo suddenly understood. He nodded and turned back to her with a reassuring smile. “Well, I was very worried. But you are well, now. All healed up, my flower.”
Rhoelyn didn’t have the energy for a laugh, but she smiled softly, murmuring, “Even tired and confused, I can see through you two like glass.” The priestess paused as her eyes drifted shut. “… sleepy.”
She didn’t see Faye and Relare both shake their heads, sharing a glance. The paladin spoke as Leothir rubbed his knuckles on her cheek, nudging her back awake. “First drink some of Faye’s broth, Rhoelyn. Then you can sleep.”
“Mm.” The little night elf complained, squirming away from Leo’s touch.
“My stubborn beauty.” Her mate leaned over and kissed her forehead before tugging at her shoulders. “I’m afraid we must insist. Sit up a bit, now.” Relare and Faye both tucked pillows behind her as Leo supported her until she was seated up enough and forced to open her eyes.
“Mean…” she grouched, catching Leo’s hand and biting his finger gently as a sign of her sleepy displeasure.
The mage dared to chuckle, reclaiming the digit and replacing it with Faye’s spoonful of broth. “Yes, my flower. I am a terrible man to feed you so. Now eat up. The sooner you do, the sooner we release you to rest.”
In this way, Leothir and Faye worked together to keep her awake and convince her to eat while an amused Relare settled into the chair by the wall. Between spoonfuls, he asked softly, “Do you know what happened to you, Rhoelyn?”
The priestess shook her head, mumbling simply, “Tell me.”
Leothir watched her carefully as he told her the tale of finding her and rushing her to Relare for healing, relief only part of the reaction he had when she just furrowed her brow and turned her head toward him.
“My wrists were slit?” She pulled her hand to her face, peering at her skin until she could just barely make out the faint lines of recent healing. “You believe that I…?”
Her mate watched her, his green eyes a storm of worries and insecurities as he cupped her still-pale cheek. “I’m quite unsure what to believe, Rhoelyn. Please tell us what you know.”
Though the effort wore on her, she waved away the next spoonful of broth Faye offered and paused to close her eyes and try to sift out her last memories. A morning in the garden. A fussy, tired little boy. A nap and a conversation with Ryni. That wounded, pained expression on the young woman’s face, and then… The priestess jerked slightly at the memory of pain shoving her down into the dark, her eyes popping open.
Leothir clutched her hand tighter, steadying the tremor that jolted through her.
Rhoelyn looked from him to Fayrial to Relare, biting her lip as she considered the implications of what had happened, of how she felt. Of what they might do to Ryni if they knew…
She felt keenly the weight of her exhaustion despite the bit of broth warming her when the tears gathered in her eyes. Ryni. The scarred young woman had tried to kill her, nearly succeeded in doing so. How she must hate me…
The thought set those tears free, and Leothir slid his hips onto the edge of the bed, gathering her into his arms as she burst into quiet sobs.
“Rhoelyn?!” he exclaimed as the other two looked on, worried.
“F- forgive me, Leothir,” she whispered, clutching his tunic as her tears wet it.
They were lonely words, left to dangle, tragic and misleading, in place of the truth. Instead of a lie. But she couldn’t tell him. If her mate knew that Ryni had knocked her out and left her to bleed to death, that poor, abused child would be thrown back into the awful system of the slave markets, sent off to who-knew-where to be degraded and defiled once more. It couldn’t happen. Whether Ryni hated her or not, the priestess loved the young woman and would protect her from the horrors that had nearly broken her. Even if it meant letting them think she had tried to take her own life.
Leothir’s brow furrowed as he held her tight, patting her back and soothing his hand along her arm. “Don’t cry,” he whispered against her ear as she clutched at him through a torrent of emotion. “I’m here. I’ll protect you, my dear one.”
“… my dawn.” As the energy to cry ran out, the priestess forced the endearment past her lips and sagged, leaning heavily against Leo.
He looked up at his brother over her shoulder as she rested her head in the crook of his neck, whispering, “Halath, ilais’surfal. Halur… eth’il… f-fadun…”
Rhoelyn was vaguely aware of Relare coming over to press his hand to her head, of he and Leothir speaking about something, of Faye’s smooth tones, and then of the bereft feeling left behind as her mate laid her back on her pillows, withdrawing the comforting warmth of his embrace. Her eyes didn’t want to open, any more, so she let go of the effort of trying to make them.
Later, when she could focus properly, she would have to decide what to do. What to think and say to process the day’s violence. How to make Ryni understand that she was safe. How to make Leothir know that he had not driven her to self-destruction. How to thank the brothers for saving her life.
Later. For now, she could only settle into her bed, grasping at Leothir’s cuff and whispering his name as she felt him nestle the covers around her and letting exhaustion tug her back into a restful slumber.