When the sweet fruit bursts between my lips, my heart twinges. I cannot eat apricots without thinking of my bright-eyed Nan and her jams.
Elias opens his mouth as if to say something. But he changes his mind and turns to fill the canteens from the creek. Still, I sense he’s working himself up to a question. I wonder if I’ll be able to answer it. What was that creature you saw in my mother’s office? Why do you think the Augurs saved you?
“In the shed, with Keenan,” he finally says. “Did you kiss him? Or did he kiss you?”
I spit out my apricot, coughing, and Elias rises from the creek to pat me on the back. I had wondered if I should tell him about the kiss. In the end, I decided that with my life dependent on him, it was best to hold nothing back.
“I tell you my life story and that’s your first question? Why—”
“Why do you think?” His tilts his head, lifts his brows, and my stomach flips. “In any case,” he says, “you—you—”
He pales again, a strange expression crossing his face. Sweat beads on his forehead. “L-Laia, I don’t feel—”
His words slur, and he staggers. I grip his shoulder, trying to keep him upright. My hand comes away soaked—and not from the rain.
“Skies, Elias, you’re sweating—quite a lot.”
I grab his hand. It’s cold, clammy. “Look at me, Elias.” He stares down into my eyes, his pupils dilating wildly before a violent tremor shakes his body. He lurches toward the horse, but when he tries to take hold of the saddle, he misses and falls. I get under his arm before he cracks his head on the rocks of the creekside and lower him as gently as I’m able. His hands twitch.
This can’t be from the blow to the head.
“Elias,” I say. “Did you get cut anywhere? Did the Commandant use a blade on you?”
He grabs his bicep. “Just a scratch. Nothing seriou—”
Understanding dawns in his eyes, and he turns to me, trying to form words. Before he can, he seizes once. Then he drops like a stone, unconscious. It doesn’t matter—I already know what he’s going to say.
The Commandant poisoned him.
His body is frighteningly still, and I grab his wrist, panicked at the erratic stutter of his pulse. Despite the sweat pouring off him, his body is cold, not fevered. Skies, is this why the Commandant let us go? Of course it is, Laia, you fool. She didn’t have to chase you or set an ambush. All she needed was to cut him—and the poison took care of the rest.
But it didn’t—at least not right away. My grandfather dealt with Scholars maimed by poisoned blades. Most died within an hour of being wounded. But it took several hours for Elias to even react to this poison.
She didn’t use enough. Or the cut wasn’t deep enough. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that he still lives.
“Sorry,” he moans. I think at first that he is speaking to me, but his eyes remain shut. He puts up his hands, as if warding something off. “Didn’t want to. My order—should have—”
I tear off a piece of my cloak and stuff it in Elias’s mouth, lest he bite off his own tongue. The wound on his arm is shallow and hot. The moment I touch it, he thrashes, spooking the horse.
I dig through my pack with its vials of medicines and herbs, finally finding something with which to cleanse the wound. As soon as the cut is clean, Elias’s body grows slack and his face, rigid with pain, relaxes.
His breathing is still shallow, but at least he is not convulsing. His lashes are dark crescents against the gold skin of his face. He looks younger in sleep. Like the boy I danced with on the night of the Moon Festival.
I reach out a hand and place it against his jaw, rough with stubble, warm with life. It pours from him, this vitality—when he fights, when he rides. Even now, with his body battling poison, he throbs with it.
“Come on, Elias.” I lean over him, speaking into his ear. “Fight back. Wake up. Wake up.”
His eyes fly open, he spits out the gag, and I snatch my hand back from his face. Relief sweeps through me. Awake and injured is always better than unconscious and injured. Immediately, he lurches to his feet. Then he doubles over and dry-heaves.
“Lay down.” I push him to his knees and rub his broad back, the way Pop did with ill patients. Touch can heal more than herbs and poultices. “We have to figure out the poison so we can find an antidote.”
“Too late.” Elias relaxes into my hands for a moment before reaching for his canteen and drinking the contents down. When he finishes, his eyes are clearer, and he tries to stand. “Antidotes for most poisons need to be given within an hour. But if the poison were going to kill me, it would have already. Let’s get moving.”
“To where, exactly?” I demand. “The foothills? Where there are no cities or apothecaries? You’re poisoned, Elias. If an antidote won’t help, then you at least need medicine to treat the seizures, or you’ll be blacking out from here to Kauf,” I say. “Only you’ll die before we get there, because no one can survive such convulsions for long. So sit down and let me think.”
He stares at me in surprise and sits.
I pore over the year I spent with Pop as an apprentice healer. The memory of a little girl pops into my head. She had convulsions and fainting spells.
“Tellis extract,” I say. Pop gave the girl a drachm of it. Within a day, the symptoms eased. In two days, they stopped. “It will give your body a chance to fight the poison.”