Fen decided to join me in Gelassi where we threw ourselves into our labor. We wondered when or if we would ever see those we loved again, but refrained from giving shape to those fears and insecurities. Eburgistraten had been gone for years and there was little hope of his return. So after only a few days, a messenger caught me completely by surprise with a note from Tironik.
My Dear Misha,
There has been an accident. Nalev has been gravely injured and I alone have stayed behind to take care of him. I know what he means to you, to all of us, and I could not leave him in the care of strangers. I pray that you and Fen reach us in time.
We arrived at the tiny Inn of the Teapot and found Tironik reading to the non-responsive and heavily bandaged Nalev in a small room to one side of the kitchen. Tironik got up at once to greet us with a hearty embrace then poked his head outside to call to the cook for some food.
"What happened? Robbers?" I asked.
"He lost his footing on some slippery rocks and tumbled a good way down. It was just an accident. It could have happened to any of us."
"What about the rest of the party?" Fen asked.
"I've sent scouts to find their trail, to see if they made it to the next stop, but to no avail. It's like they just vanished. There was so much confusion after the accident. I'm sorry that I don't have better news."
"He's said nothing?" I sat beside Lev.
"He said, 'I cheated'. That was really all. He's been in and out since then, never much longer than to take a few drinks."
"Niko, let's go wait on the food." Fen suggested.
I wasn't hungry. Rad'en' soon arrived said his greetings and left for the bar with Niko and Fen. I suppose I wasn't much better company than Lev. My attempts at reading to him proved futile because I kept getting choked up. Why did he always get himself into such grave danger? And why did I still care? The answer to both was simple: Lev was Lev.
Hours passed as I stayed by his bed. I must have drifted off because I remember waking up to fingers passing through my hair. It felt very comfortable and peaceful so I laid still for a few moments. Then I remembered where I was. I had fallen asleep on Lev's arm while leaning out of my chair. I looked up at him and smiled.
"You look like shit," Lev proclaimed in a weak raspy voice.
I tried to quickly compose myself. "At death's door and all you could say was 'I cheated'." I handed him a cup. His shaky hands reached for it and I sat on the bed to help him. He was obviously in bad shape if he allowed my assistance.
"I knew I wasn't dying."
"You did, did you?"
"Well, perhaps there was some doubt in my mind. I wouldn't want to upset things between you and the 'good doctor' though."
"When are you going to stop trying to protect me from my own life?" I asked.
He took another drink and said, "I love you."
"Did that somehow make all the problems between us magically vanish?"
"Not at all." I leaned over, kissed his forehead and whispered, "There wouldn't be any fun in that."
He let out a small laugh that probably hurt his cracked ribs because he winced terribly, but his hand rested on my leg and I felt closer to him that I had in a very long time.
"How did you do it?" I asked. He looked confused so I elaborated, "How did you manage to cheat?"
He laughed and winced again. "I'm actually a very good card player."
"Not from what I've seen," I corrected.
"First time I you walked in with Savlii, I wanted you so badly that I couldn't see straight. I lost that game fair and square. But it got me thinking--" he began.
"You deliberately lost a fortune just to lull him into a false sense of superiority?" I asked.
"Am I not a brilliant strategist?"
"Alright?!" He huffed.
Rad'en' cleared his throat as he walked through the doorway. He quipped, "Well I too am happy you're not dead, father." He gently hugged Lev and sat on the other side of the bed.
"My son," he beamed and held onto his hand. "So where is your mother? If everyone was anticipating my demise, where is she?"
"Permanently stuck in her throne, father. A rumor has been started that her throne has been fitted with a chamber pot so she need never be far from it and she actually empties the entire court when she wants to make use of it."
"What a dreadful rumor, Rad'en'. One that could only have been perpetrated by someone that knows her very well."
"Indeed," Rad'en' chuckled.
"Misha, do you think you could find me something to eat? I nice fat steak would do nicely."
I left and returned with a bowl of warm gruel, the "good doctor" and Fen now armed with the lute she had just purchased from a shop down the street to help lift the patient's spirits. It was difficult to tell which he was least enthusiastic about seeing.
"How are we feeling, Nalev?" Tironik asked.
Lev didn't answer, turning all his concentration onto the blandness of the food. Fen began playing a happy tune, but none too well; Lev grimaced.
"At least my wife was concerned enough to visit," I chided him.
To the unaccustomed ear his response must have sounded like him clearing the nasty gruel from his throat. As Lev was never one to acquiesce even the most trivial of points, I knew he muttered Go fuck yourself.
Once he finished eating he turned to Tironik and said, "Where are the King and Paynor?"
"Not here," I informed him.
"They continued on, Nalev. I sent a tracker after them once I got you settled here. There's been no sign of them," Tironik stated.
"That can't be," Lev muttered. "There's no way they could have continued on without me. Only a trained priest can open the portal."
"Perhaps Roarke's knowledge is more extensive than you think," I suggested.
"Absolutely not. He told me he needed me. Do you think I wanted to vanish into oblivion with him? I'm no fool."
Fen stopped playing and quietly excused herself.
There were no easy fixes in life, at least not mine. Lev never was a good patient and the 'good doctor' had his work cut out for him. I stayed on with Fen and Rad'en' for a few days longer, then it was time to get back to our other obligations. It would be quite some time before Tironik deemed Lev fit to be moved so I resolved to visit as often as I could and write them both daily.
It was difficult to tell what provided more discomfort during my visits, Lev's complaining or the fact that the two of them were conspiring against my sanity. I had been under the impression that being honest with both of them was the right solution. Certainly a decision on my part would greatly help to sort the whole mess out straight away. Neither of them agreed. They saw no benefit in hasty action. In stead, each was completely confident that the short-comings of the other would prove their downfall and they would be perfectly patient, waiting for fate to run its course.