My great thanks to Nerys Ghemor for beta reading and her precious advices
Without her this piece of work would be even worse.
Asra Brenok entered the room in the Military Hospital in Lakat thinking that she knew what to expect. She had been told that her husband had been severely injured, that his ear had been cut off by a bat’leth and that the said bat’leth had sunk deep in his shoulder, severing his neck ridge nerves and rendering his right hand not functional. They had told her that he would be covered by bandages and still unconscious.
Those were only words.
She was completely unprepared for what she saw: a shape of a man laying on a biobed; top of his chest and half of his head were indeed wrapped in bandages. His left cheek, the visible one, was sunk in and she could almost see the bone structure under his scaled skin.
She gasped and startled by the sound she’d made covered her mouth with her hand. Just then she realised that someone, an officer, was sitting by her husband’s bed, but before she had a chance to register his face, her eyes filled with tears and she could see nothing.
Some merciful hands led her and helped her to sit. Someone gave her a tissue to dry her tears. She looked at the officer. It was a woman. “Are you Gil Jarol?” she asked. Arenn had written her about his new friend.
“That’s correct,” the woman nodded. She looked tired, Asra thought.
“Analyst Brenok?” An elder medic stood on the other side of the bed and looked at Asra. “Your husband’s condition is very serious but his life is no longer in danger.”
The young woman nodded and felt tears filling her eyes again. “Will he be able to use his hand?” she asked.
“That is something I will have to discuss with him when he wakes up.” She paused for a moment. “You can stay with him for a few minutes, but after that time I will ask you to leave. Both of you,” she added looking at the officer. “We still need to perform many tests.”
“I...understand,” Asra sobbed. But she didn’t. She didn’t want to leave the fragile, broken man, whom she loved so much, alone in this cold hospital room.
Asra couldn’t believe her own ears. She tried to convince Arenn that the risks were too great but he wasn’t listening.
Arenn had agreed to some kind of experimental surgery that would bring the mobility of his right arm and hand back. The surgery was dangerous and there was no assurance it would succeed but he was so stubborn. He would be the third person on whom the surgery would be performed and two previous cases weren’t entirely successful.
“How could you agree to this?” she asked him. Again. And she would ask many more times.
“Asra, please understand. I can’t serve with one hand. What kind of soldier would I be?”
“What do you mean ‘serve?’ You are not returning to an active duty!”
“That’s right. Without this operation I’m not!” he shouted.
“And what if something goes wrong?”
“Then I’ll die,” he said like it was nothing.
“You can’t die!” Her voice shook and she tried not to burst into tears. She did a lot of that recently.
“If you loved me, you’d support me,” he hissed and then looked away.
That hurt. She loved him. She was worried about him. She didn’t want to lose him. She didn’t care if he would have only one fit hand. She would take care of him. She would be his right hand.
“Get out,” he growled. And winced. She knew he was still in pain, so she left not to cause any more suffering.
She wanted him to be healthy, she wanted him to be fit, she wanted all the best things for him; but she couldn’t stand the thought of risks he wanted to take. She knew living with only one usable hand would be difficult, but if the operation failed—they would have to amputate that arm completely! They wanted to fix his nerves, to stitch them back together, but if they didn’t succeed, the nerves would be so damaged that the only way of not leaving him in permanent pain would be removing the whole limb.
Did it make any difference? Having unusable arm or no arm at all?
Not for him.
The look on his face when he moved his finger for the first time was priceless.
“Did you see that?” His eyes shone with excitement when he looked up at her from his biobed and then back at his open palm—and moved his middle finger again.
“I did,” she confirmed.
They had removed the bandages from his head a day before and it was the first time she could see his ear in the day light.
Ear. There was no ear. His right ear was gone. It was replaced by a raw, scale-less scar that stretched its tips toward his cheek, where his ear ridges used to be. They were gone too.
He caught her looking at his head. “Looks bad, I know,” he muttered.
“It’s the most beautiful scar I have ever seen,” she replied and she really felt that. Everything about him was beautiful and dear to her. “Does it hurt?”
“No. Sometimes it itches and I have to be careful not to scratch, but beside that it’s fine.”
“Can you hear well, as they promised?” she asked.
He smiled. “Yes. I lost the lobe but the inner ear was not damaged.”
At least some good news.
She sat next to him, looked around to make sure no nurse was in the room and then gently stroke his left neck ridge. He closed his eyes and a soft purr came out of his throat. She kissed him in the left cheek.
“Let your finger rest for a while,” she said after noticing that he kept moving his middle finger almost without a pause.
“I must practise.”
“Yes, but don’t overdo yourself. Or your finger.”
“All right,” he agreed.
Asra prepared everything and impatiently waited.
“Did you cook gofut
?” her mother-in-law asked surprised.
“I did,” she confirmed proudly.
It was Arenn’s favourite dish and it was also a dish that required a lot of time and work. Asra had spent half of a day in the kitchen cooking and she enjoyed every minute of it. Her sweet, singing husband was returning home!
“I am sure he’ll appreciate that,” Arenn’s mother smiled.
Finally, they arrived. Asra jumped at the sound of arriving lift and opened the door to their apartment before the doorbell sounded.
And there he was. Tall. Thin. With his long nose. Black hair slicked back. Uncovering his scar. A smile on his face. His right arm supported by a sling. She had never seen a more beautiful thing in her life.
Gil Jarol smiled to Asra. “Please accept this soldier in your home and take care of his needs,” she joked. “The medics at the hospital have enough of his ‘success, I can move my finger!’”
“Come in,” the young woman grabbed her husband’s healthy hand and pulled him in. Jarol turned to leave but Asra stopped her. “Please, join us, Gil Jarol.”
“This is Atira
,” Arenn said, emphasising his friend’s given name.
Asra glanced at the female officer. Would it be appropriate to call her by her given name? They met only a few times and weren’t close enough; not forgetting that Gil Jarol was at least a decade older!
The officer stopped, unsure what to do.
“Please, I have cooked Arenn’s favourite dish and—” Before she had a chance to continue, her husband wrenched himself free from her grasp and quickly went into the apartment shouting ‘Gofut!
’ Asra shook her head and finished, “And it would be a great honour if you would join us...” Her voice hung in the air, as she wasn’t sure how to address the woman.
“I’m not very fond of gofut
...Asra,” Jarol said, giving the younger woman a clear sign of their current relation.
“All the better. More for him. Come in.”
A moment later both women entered the dining room to see Arenn getting ready to eat and singing a happy song about a zabu
that successfully hunted down a zobar
“I missed his singing,” Asra said. It had been the first thing that drew her attention to him: his voice. He had still been at the Academy and had worn an eresh’s armour. She had been on her way home and he had stood just next to her in the crowded public transport vehicle. At first she hadn’t realised that the singing had been coming from that officer-to-be next to her, but then she had started to listen. And she had spoken to him. And when he had looked at her, into her eyes—she had fallen in love with him.
By now she knew that he always sang; happy or sad, worried or excited—a song accompanied him, a need of humming and expressing himself through sound and melody. She loved those sounds and even when he had been posted on that freighter, the Groumall
, and she couldn’t listen to his singing, she knew that somewhere there, between the stars in the dark sky, he sang. She couldn’t hear but she could feel it.
“So did I,” Atira replied.
Arenn was reading when Asra entered the room carrying the most precious thing in their lives. It was just after breakfast and Asra could still smell the food from Arenn’s mouth when she leaned to kiss him. Then, she gently nestled their daughter on his lap, making sure he could safely support the girl with only one arm.
Tasara grabbed daddy’s nose and giggled. She pulled it, turning his head and shrieked. Asra’s heart stopped beating for a moment as her first thought was that Arenn had dropped the girl.
But no, she was still on his lap, crying and trying to run away. Did she forget him? But a moment ago it was fine. What happened?
“Take her,” he moaned, turning his face away. “Take her now!” he repeated in a stronger voice. Asra ran to him and picked Tasara. He leaned forward and she had an impression he would vomit but he seemed to overcome that. He only covered his eyes with his functioning hand.
She took the girl back to a baby room and left under care of her teenage cousin, then she returned to her husband.
Arenn still sat in the chair, tears pooling in his eye ridges.
“What happened?” Asra sat on the floor by his legs and leaned on his knees.
“She...she turned my head and saw my scar,” he whispered. “It scared her. She was so terrified. I’m a monster to my little girl!” He jumped to his feet, pushing Asra away and ran out of the room.
She followed him.
She found him on a balcony. She stood behind him a little to the right, so she had a good view on his right ear. The scar was terrible. It’s unnatural red colour didn’t fade and the contrast between healthy grey skin covered by scales and the naked, deformed skin only drew more attention to it.
She turned and went back to the room. She retrieved his comb and returned to him. She turned him around to make him face her and then raised her hands to reach the top of his head. She divided his hair on the top, in the middle, and combed it down to the sides, not to the back, covering his ears. His hair was long enough to cover almost the whole scar. Then, she pulled him into the room and dragged to a big mirror in the corner.
“It’s not a regulation haircut,” he muttered.
“I don’t care. You look adorable.”
“I’d have to grow the hair longer to cover this thing completely.”
“Uhm,” she muttered her confirmation. “Want to try again?”
“Now?” He turned to her, panic in his eyes.
“There’s no time like the present. Sit on the balcony, some fresh air would do you both good.”
The trick seemed to work; Tasara enjoyed her time with daddy. Asra enjoyed their happiness.
“I can’t believe how fast your hair grows.” Asra really enjoyed their morning ritual of combing his hair and tying it into a queue at the nape of his neck. Every morning she made sure she covered both his ears and that the parting running along the middle of his head was even. “You know...I think it’s long enough for...” She started to braid it.
“For what?” he asked when she didn’t finish her sentence.
“For this.” She turned his head a little to present him the effect of her work: a braid.
“I look like having a tail.”
She kissed the top of his head and stroke his right neck ridge, the one with the healed scar.
“Don’t mess with my neck ridges if you’re not serious about it.” The smile on his face belonged to the ‘naughty group.’
“Who said I wasn’t serious about it?” she asked innocently.
A purr sounded deep in his chest and he used his right hand to grab her left, then pulled her back toward the bed.
It didn’t escape her attention that the less he thought about his injury, the more he used the healed hand. And then, her thoughts were nowhere near medical subjects.