Sanders lowered his sword, but the muscles between his shoulders remained taut.
“If they’re smart, they’re gone,” Guardsman Aric said. His oval face gave him a kindness that smoothed over the aggressive enthusiasm he had for his job. One moment the man could strike an enemy with such force bones broke, the next he cracked a smile, his chest heaving with laughter.
“We need to make sure. Search the woods,” Sanders said to the five soldiers beside him. He bent down to the injured worker at his feet. The labourer’s eyes wider than Waen moon, his hand trembled around the shaft of the arrow. Steam rose from wound as blood met winter air. Pacome. The worker’s name was Pacome.
“Am I going to die, Lord Sanders?” The edges of Pacome’s words trilled and his eyes glistened.
Blood streamed from between Pacome’s cupped fingers. So much blood.
“Hold still.” Sanders licked his lower lip, unable to bring himself to say the truth.
Pacome needed immediate medical attention from Edda, but the camp was fifteen minutes away, thirty in the ankle-deep snow. Blood continued to bubble from Pacome’s wound and pooled under his body.
The forest air was tinged with blood and sweat. Overturned wagons were righted with grunts and loud crashes.
Sanders pulled off his cloak, bunched it up, and pressed one end of the thick oiled-wool fabric against Pacome’s wound, and then draped the rest over the man’s legs. “Stay awake and take deep breaths.”
Pacome’s bent nose hooked in pain, but he gave Sanders a curt nod.
The wife and two children Pacome mentioned with a broad smile at every opportunity were now a widow and orphans. The thought curdled Sanders’ stomach. “Hold on. Keep pressure on your wound. I’ll get you back to camp.”
“Guardsman Aric. With me,” Sanders said, pushing himself up to stand. The wind picked up and raced beneath his shirt, leaving a wake of tingling skin.
“Yessir.” Half of Aric’s face was cast in shadow by a pine tree making his nose appear longer, and his eyes darkened with a malice that wasn’t in the man’s nature.