Braeden had been enjoying the warmth of Princess Galena’s pleasant study, but jumped to his feet at the sounds of a great crowd of people entering the corridor. Once he saw who they were and that the princess had matters well in hand, firing off order to servants running off in all directions, Braeden started looking for Destler himself.
“What happened?” Both Braeden and Colonel Destler said it at the same time upon seeing each other. Then Braeden noticed how awful Destler looked, and hurried to help him to a chair in front of the fire.
“Teodora happened,” Braeden said, once they both sat down. “It was the empress herself attacking the rebellion’s headquarters, capturing Prince Devyn and killing the rebel leader.”
Destler turned even paler than before. “She got Prince Devyn?” He made to get out of the chair, but his legs wobbled and he fell back into the seat.
“We got him back,” Braeden said, “but it was a close call. What happened to you?”
Destler shook his head. “Those Moraltans were unstoppable, the way they came on. Once I saw the peasants wouldn’t stand and fight, I knew we wouldn’t hold them. So we fell back into the woods, thinking we’d pick them off as they moved forward. But their cavalry ran right over us. I’m ashamed to say it, but we fled. At least we headed in the direction we’d agreed; toward Lieutenant Torresia’s position at the ruined castle.”
Braeden took a deep breath. “Torresia is all right then?”
Destler frowned. “I don’t know. Teodora’s troops had found her and were attacking her position. We created a distraction so at least some of the defenders could get away, but it was such confusion, I don’t know who made it. I haven’t had time to count, but I’m guessing my numbers are severely diminished.”
“Might be,” Braeden said, wishing it weren’t true. He still felt weary, but needed to look for Trisa, if she hadn’t come with this group. First though, something had to be done for Destler, who looked more dead than alive. “We’ll get it sorted out in the next few days. There’s news from Terragand too, but before I bother you with that, I’m going to find you a doctor.”
Destler looked like he wanted to protest, but Braeden gave him a look, and he closed his mouth.
Braeden stood. “I’ll look for the doctor and you stay put. If I can find a servant, I’ll have them bring you a bite to eat.” He made for the corridor, which had cleared out a little, though Princess Galena stood at the foot of the main staircase, looking rather frazzled.
“Can you find room for all of them?” Braeden asked.
“Certainly.” The princess smoothed her dress. “There are only a few hundred.”
“That’s a shame.” Braeden shook his head, thinking of Destler’s original regiment, even as he marveled at the size of the palace. “Say, is your doctor about? The colonel is in your study, looking pretty sick. He was wounded a while back, but I doubt he ever had it treated properly.”
“I’ll send for the doctor,” the princess said. “Though I don’t know where he is right now.”
Braeden thanked her, then decided to look for himself. Once he found the doctor, he’d head toward the stable and see if Kazmir was ready for another expedition. He’d only taken a few steps back into the corridor when a side door opened, and Princess Gwynneth barged in, looking muddy and alarmed.
“Thank the gods, you’re here.” She grabbed Braeden by the hand, pulling him back toward the door. “You must come quickly.”
“What’s wrong?” he could tell from the look on her face it was bad.
“Trisa Torresia.” Gwynneth’s eyes were wide and anxious. “She’s still in the courtyard. The doctor is with her, but it doesn’t look good.”
Braeden broke into a run, dragging Gwynneth along.
The courtyard was mostly empty by now, except for a groom leading Trisa’s horse toward the stable, and a small group near the center. Braeden hurried toward it, then dropped to his knees in the mud beside Trisa.
She was pale, her eyes closed.
“Is she …?” Braeden couldn’t bring himself to say it, though he forced himself to meet the doctor’s eyes.
“She’s alive.” The doctor sat back on his heels. “But I’m worried. There’s a musketball lodged in her side, and I don’t know if it’s hit anything vital. I must get her someplace dry and clean so I can look more closely and gods willing, remove it.”
“Then let’s move her.” Braeden gave Devyn, kneeling in the mud on Trisa’s other side, what he hoped was an encouraging look.
The doctor licked his lips. “It’s risky. If we aren’t careful, the ball might shift and cause more damage.”
“Then we’ll be careful,” Braeden said. “Let’s get a stretcher.” Trisa was so light that normally he’d just throw her over his shoulder, but that clearly wasn’t the right thing now.
Behind him, Gwynneth was moving. “I’ll send for one.”
After that, things went quickly. A stretcher came, borne by the doctor’s assistant, then Braeden, Devyn and the doctor carefully slid Trisa onto it. She moaned faintly, but didn’t open her eyes.
“Hold on,” Braeden murmured. This was his fault. He should have sent her to her parents in Atlona long ago. Not that she would have gone. But she might have gotten herself into trouble somewhere else so this wouldn’t be on his head.
He and Devyn carried the stretcher carefully across the courtyard and into the palace, following the doctor to his surgery.
“She’s going to make it,” Devyn said from behind him. “She has to.”
“She will,” Braeden said, even though he didn’t really believe it. He’d seen wounds like this before, and even with a skilled doctor, the odds of survival were slim. But it was probably better for Devyn to have some hope, at least for a while.
“Best to clear the room while I perform surgery,” the doctor said, as he helped them place her on a large table. “It will be a delicate matter and I must have absolute quiet.”
“Sure,” Braeden said, then pulled Devyn from the room. He saw from the look in the doctor’s eyes he’d give them a chance to say goodbye if the surgery didn’t go well.by