The royal healer straightened her back and wiped the sweat from her brow. She knew the king was watching her from the balcony and she hated to be under such pressure, but it went with the job. Today, it was the prince beneath her hands.
The king turned on the intercom and asked, “What do you think, Healer?”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s strong.” But in reality she thought it likely that he would be dead by this time tomorrow. She felt it would be her fate too, but one could never tell when it came to King Uther.
“I need him to live, Elizabeth. You do what ever you need to, to make that happen.”
“As you say, my lord.” But he didn’t want to live, and his injuries were bad enough where that attitude made a difference.”
The king left the viewing deck, and a few minutes later, he came right into the sterile room with them. “You don’t sound too sure. Wake him up and let me speak to him.”
“That isn’t a good idea, my lord; with him awake he could fight this.”
“I said wake him.”
The healer shook her head and did as she was commanded. When the prince opened his eyes and looked around, she could see the heartbreak deep in them.
“Jake,” called Uther. He leaned closer into the range of vision of the man on the table. “Jake, I need you to live. I need you to tell me what went wrong out there.”
“No,” said Jake “No,” he whispered again and closed his eyes. “No,” he breathed again and turned away. He would have rolled onto his side, showing them his back if he’d been stronger, but he lacked the strength to lift his hand and so had to be satisfied with merely turning his head away.
“What are you saying? I need to know, and you are the only one who can tell me.” When he got no other response from Jake, Uther turned to the healer for an answer.
“Perhaps he doesn’t want to be the only one to have survived,” she supplied.
“I don’t care about that. As my son, he doesn’t have the luxury to just die because he wants to. You make him live; do you hear me? Do whatever you have to, but you make him live. That is a command of the highest order.”
“What you ask could destroy him,” she warned.
“Do as I say, Healer,” said the king and left abruptly.
That left her with no choice, so she took Jake’s head in her hands and began a hypnotic mantra. “Jake, hear me. Sleep and heal – sleep and heal. Jake, hear my words – sleep and heal…” She kept repeating the command until his no’s turned into a repetition of her words. Only then did she allow him to drift into the sleep she ordered.
After a week, it was obvious that the healing was indeed taking its toll on the prince. Even with enriched feeding tubes, he was wasting away at an alarming rate. She didn’t dare to continue the therapy any longer so she disconnected him from the life support and began the routine to slowly wake him from his coma. Then she sent a notice to the king, informing him of her actions.
When the king came in to see, he was appalled at the apparition before him on the bed. “What’s the matter with him? What did you do to him?”
Jake’s face was pasty and skeletal, his body, under the blanket, was no better. “I told you that forcing him to live could destroy him. Everything in him went to healing the damage, and he had no will, so other resources were sacrificed.”
“He will survive on his own now, won’t he? Wake him up. I’ll be back here in the morning to speak with him.”
“Yes, your grace,” said the healer to the king’s back as he left the room. She would have protested again about waking Jake, but she knew it would have been just as useless as the last time. Besides, he was already out of hearing.
She watched the king’s retreating back until he was completely out of sight then she turned her attention to Jake. What the king asked was not the best action for her patient, but he was her king; she had no choice. With a sigh, she touched the side of his head and called to him. “Wake up, Jake. Wake up.”
Slowly he opened his eyes and looked around with a bemused expression on his face. By the time he finally found and recognized her, she could tell that he knew things were far from right. “What have you done to me?” he asked in a pain-filled, accusatory whisper and rolled away from her. The move was painful and he curled tighter into a ball with a moan.
Late that night Jake rolled painfully out of the bed, he wrapped the blankets around him and made his way down the hall. He had no destination in mind. He had nothing in mind at all, really. He made it out of the royal hospital without encountering anyone, and then, taking a route known in his bones, he made it past the guard at the gate of the royal compound without being noticed, and due to the late hour, out of the high city unnoticed as well. As he staggered through the empty streets of the lower city on his way to the outer walls, his mind roamed through the haunting memories that plagued his dreams.
An order came down from the king; select a unit to go out and test the numbers and strengths of the rebels outside of the city again. The next unit on the roster happened to be the unit led by the king’s son, Jake. When the battle was engaged, they discovered the rebels had put far more troops into the field than expected, their equipage was in excellent repair and their strategy showed the workings of a new mind. When Uther did not authorize reinforcements, Jake’s unit found itself cut off and abandoned. When it was all over Jake was the only one left standing, though not for long. By the time the cleanup crew came out to reclaim the bodies, Jake was in very bad shape and fervently wishing for an end.
The memories drained at his weakened state as much as walking in the chill streets did. By the time his energy and determination ran out, Jake found himself at the end of a blind alley without the strength to turn around and retrace his steps to continue his journey. He collapsed on a heap of trash bags. Just before he resigned to the beckoning darkness, one last thought rang clear. What better place to die than among the trash like the rest of his unit.