A low rumble of thunder suddenly cascaded into a loud crack and woke Jepeth up. He opened his eyes and perceived himself to be in an unfamiliar bed and decidedly less dressed than he’d prefer. Only a thin blanket was covering him, patched and frayed. As his senses returned he heard a rain storm raging outside and the slow drip of water leaking through the ceiling above. He reasoned there must be a pan down somewhere. Around him he saw another empty bed lit by candles and the occasional flash of lighting from the window. In the corner he finally perceived a figure sitting in a chair.
His wits returned and he remembered everything that had happened. The bridge, the fight, the Green Knight. Adrenaline surged inside him as he realized he was defenseless in a strange place. He snapped into action and quickly looked around for something to defend himself with.
“Ooh, calm down young man,” said the voice from the corner. “Ye shall pop a stitch.”
The voice was calm and measured. It didn’t sound particularly threatening or beastly like that of some foe. Jepeth, however, did notice a distinct air of disappointment in the tone.
“Where am I?” said Jepeth as he leaned back onto the bed.
“Ye are a guest of the Healers of Britain, Governor,” replied the voice in the corner. “Ye were dragged here after your fight on the bridge.”
Jepeth raised the thin blanket up and saw the bandages across his shoulder, thigh, and chest. The pain of it all finally manifested itself and he felt every injury delivered by his opponent fresh.
“Looks like he got me better than I realized,” said Jepeth as he lowered the blanket.
“Ye left a trail o’ blood across half the city,” said the voice in the corner chuckling. “They’re still scrubbing it off the cobblestone.”
“My, hm,” started Jepeth, “My shield arm is.. “
“Tender?” said the voice.
“Numb,” replied Jepeth with a little worry in his voice.
“Ye took quite a shock to the system,” said the voice. “It took a day or two but we got ye through it. The numbness shall pass.”
Jepeth rubbed his shield arm’s shoulder. It felt cold to the touch. The man in the corner stood and finally approached Jepeth’s bedside and sat down again upon a stool next to him.
“I was surprised to see you again,” said the man.
Jepeth looked at the man closely and noted the customary brown cloak of a healer. He saw a lined face and bent frame of one who had seen the years pass and it took a moment but recognition finally dawned on him.
“Lord Harbottle,” said Jepeth, smiling.
“Jepeth,” replied Harbotte the Healer.
Jepeth once again noticed the icy disappointment in his voice.
“My goodness, Sire, it has been ages. What, since Karnaugh Pass?” said Jepeth.
Harbottle shook his head. “Nay, Twin Oaks,” he replied. “When we were all discharged, so please no need for that title.”
“Aye, aye,” said Jepeth, continuing to smile.
Harbottle returned his smile with a grimace.
“Ye seem aggrieved?” replied Jepeth as his smile faded.
“I am,” said Harbottle.
“I’m alright, Harbottle” said Jepeth as he tried to sit up, “thanks to your ministrations.”
Harbottle shook his head. “I’m not worried about your injuries, impetuous young squire.”
That tone, Jepeth thought, was more acid than icy.
“I’ve not been an impetuous squire in many years,” replied Jepeth.
“Then stop acting like one,” said Harbottle with a mocking smile.
“Do ye treat all patients in such a way?” asked Jepeth. “Are insults part of the healing process?”
“They are if needed,” said Harbottle. “I looked forward to a nice meal and an early bed, but no, who do I see they drag into my clinic?” asked Harbottle.
Jepeth groaned and looked away. He had known Harbottle long enough from the Ilshenar Conflict to recognize a lecture coming.
“A Fishmonger?” said Harbottle.
Jepeth turned his head back in surprise.
“A supposedly devout follower of the virtues?” continued Harbottle. “A retired, emphasis on the word retired, soldier?”
“Harbottle!” began Jepeth in indignation.
“An elected Governor of our land?” said Harbottle as his voice raised. “But no, at that moment they drag in a common thug. A brigand!”
“Are ye finished, healer?” asked Jepeth.
“Running around with a sword and shield, fighting every brawl that presents itself,” said Harbottle. “Have ye not seen enough blood? It practically rained blood in Ilshenar, one would think ye’d have your fill.”
“Ye are mistaken, sire,” replied Jepeth. “I didn’t start this fight, I was.. “
“Spare me, brigand,” said Harbottle. “I’ve already gotten the story. A Green Knight blocked your path on a bridge and for that slight alone you two spray blood across half the city.”
“Well, what was I supposed to do!” shouted Jepeth.
“Go around, simpleton!” answered Harbottle in an equally loud voice. “There are four other bridges in this city.”
Jepeth was taken aback.
“That’s not,” he began, “... he threatened me. Was I to walk away from a challenge?”
Harbottle shook his head and smiled. “I’m not reaching ye at all,” he said.
“Honor demanded an answer!” said Jepeth. “I am no coward, healer!”
“Honor,” said Harbottle leaning towards Jepeth, “has killed more good, kind, brave, and stupid people than any of the vices. A pox on that dead King for forcing it on us.”
“Easy,” warned Jepeth. “Infirmed or not I have a limit to the insults I’ll hear.”
“It was quite the joke,” said Harbottle, “to leave us a system of 'virtues' but then conscript us into war again and again.”
“My Da, my peers, and now you,” said Jepeth. “Why does no one see that I have a crisis to deal with? Fellowship assassins and prophetic Gazers and undead knights and.. “
“Ye head is as thick as a plate helmet,” said Harbottle, “and just as empty.”
“There is a battle coming, Harbottle,” replied Jepeth. “In whatever form, and in whatever way, I have my duty.”
“Tell me, brigand, how will you fight this battle if you keep riding around lopping people’s hands off and brawling in the streets? Hm? Who will fight it with you? Afterward how will you heal your city when everything you have done up to this battle has been to further the violence instead of stem it?” said Harbottle. “How will you square your virtues with the bloody path you seem desperate to cut?”
“Might for right,” said Jepeth, “is all I can offer.”
Harbottle shook his head.
“Ye are wrong,” said Harbottle. “And ye are thick as a plate helmet.”