Chapter 43: A Twist of Fate
Carina stared at her swollen ankle and held back a torrent of angry words as she covered it with her dress.
‘This isn’t happening…’
She had felt a funny pop earlier when the knight captain had stepped out of turn onto her foot. Beaumont, who had been as helpful as a circus bear during their dance, might have literally crushed Carina’s chances of making it to the end of the selection.
Now, even though they had managed to finish the dance, Sabella would score Carina as low as she could. And Beaumont, as miserably as he had behaved, probably wouldn’t grade her much better.
‘I’ll have to rely on the next test to raise my average score.’
“Lady Maura needs a place to rest comfortably until a palace physician can treat her injury,” Nicholas said as he stood.
Carina sighed and bit her lip, too busy contemplating her way past this obstacle to notice the chatter of her competition.
“Are we sure she’s not faking?”
“Do you actually think the crown prince would cover for her?”
“Maybe, but what if this is just an act to get his Majesty’s attention.”
“I’ll carry her,” Acheron offered quickly.
“No!” Beaumont growled. His sharp outburst startled them all, and the room fell silent. “I’ll carry her.” He strode closer with a determined expression.
“No, thank you!” Carina snapped with a glare that stopped Beaumont in his tracks. “If—If Acheron can lend me his arm, I’m sure I can—”
“Lady Maura,” Nicholas interjected firmly. “You shouldn’t put any weight on that foot until you’ve been properly examined.” He turned towards the knight captain and nodded. “Carry her up to her rooms, Captain.”
“No!” Carina protested.
Nicholas shot her an annoyed look.
“Captain Beaumont,” Carina said hesitantly, swallowing down her pride, fear, and anger as she attempted a neutral smile, “If you would kindly carry me to waiting room across the hall? A physician can examine me just as easily there, and I can rest my ankle before the next examination.”
“You mean to continue?” Nicholas asked with a confused look.
“I’m sure it’s just a sprain—your Majesty.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sabella interjected quickly. “I will not have today’s examinations held up any more than they already have been by you.”
“Lady Sabella,” Nicholas said as he turned towards her with an expression Carina could not see. The senior lady-in-waiting fell suddenly silent as Nicholas and Acheron stepped aside. Beaumont knelt and carefully gathered Carina in his arms.
Carina kept her face averted as she was carried like a child from the ballroom. Even her fear of being disqualified was not strong enough to quash her innate terror of the knight captain, who now held her.
The last woman Beaumont had carried in his arms had been his dying mother. He used to carry Lady Jasmine from her bed to the garden or the library, her two favorite places in the world.
“Except for the strong arms of my dear boy,” she often said to tease him.
His mother had taught him dancing before she lost the strength to stand—and then she read him poems. Beaumont didn’t have much use for poetry. His every waking moment from childhood had been spent with a sword in hand, preparing to become a knight and prove himself worthy of his father’s bloodline.
But there was nothing his large hands could do to stop the disease that consumed his mother. And when Lady Jasmine’s eyes failed her—it was Beaumont’s turn to read her poems. Though, by then, he wasn’t sure she heard the words anymore.
“Poetry is written with tears from the heart, but only those who have wept into its pool can hear the words.”
Beaumont buried his mother’s poetry with her the day after he became a knight. He had no use for pretty words anymore. Her absence left behind only darkness, his father’s unyielding disapproval, and Beaumont’s longsword. The blade Jasmine had commissioned for him before her death that never left his side.
“Here is fine,” Maura said as she pointed to the small couch beside the window.
Beaumont nodded mutely as he moved to the designated spot. As he set her down, he was startled by her scent. Rose and Jasmine. His knuckles grazed against the cushion of the armrest as he pulled away and stood up.
“I’ve sent a servant to fetch a physician,” Acheron said as he brushed past Beaumont and knelt to take Maura’s hand. “Are you sure you’re alright, Lady Maura?”
“Mmm,” she murmured with an annoyed glance at Acheron.
“You’re upset with me?” Acheron observed with a wounded tone. “I had no idea my cousin would do such a cruel thing to you. He truly is an excellent ballroom dancer—”
“It’s fine,” Maura cut him off. “I’ll just rest here a while. How much time do I have until the next examination?”
“That—” Acheron glanced through the open door towards the ballroom beyond the archways. “I’m not certain you’ll have enough time. Lady Sabella appears eager to press forward whether you’re ready or not.”
A small muffled groan slipped past Maura’s lips as she buried her head in her hands.
“Lady Maura!” Acheron cried in alarm.
“I’ll fetch a physician,” Beaumont snapped uncomfortably. “A new one was just assigned to the Knight’s Barracks this morning. He should be free, and it’s close by.”
Not waiting for either of them to reply, Beaumont spun on his heel and raced out the door. He ignored the startled stares of the servants as he thundered past.
“Damn it,” he hissed under his breath. ‘Why do I feel guilty?’
“I am Physician Samael,” said the short, scrawny man with oiled black hair, gaunt cheeks, and green eyes. Samael shook out his physician’s robes with a reproachful look at Beaumont, who all but carried him to Carina. “I understand someone was injured?”
“Yes, Lady Maura’s ankle was injured while dancing,” Acheron explained as he gestured towards her.
“Very well, I’ll take a look.” Samael set his physician bag on the floor and knelt over Carina’s ankle now propped on a pillow.
He prodded the red and purple flesh and paused briefly with a curious glance towards the patient.
“Oww,” Carina offered with a forced cringe.
The corner of Samael’s mouth twisted before he resumed his examination. “Did she fall or twist it?” he asked as he rotated her foot slightly from side to side.
“That one—” Acheron gestured his thumb towards Beaumont, “—stepped on her.”
“Ah!” Samael eyed the giant knight. “That would do the trick, I suppose.” He placed Carina’s swollen ankle back on the pillow with another curious look towards her. “You’re handling the pain quite well.”
Carina offered him a sour smile. “I’ve had worse.”
He snorted but nodded as he opened his bag. “It’s likely more than a sprain. Did you feel a pop or anything strange when you were injured?”
“Definitely a pop,” Carina answered.
“The swelling is focused more on the left side than the right. I suspect you’ve torn a ligament.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Acheron muttered as he hovered close by and watched as Samael pulled out a bottle of brown liquid from his bag.
“Will I be able to walk on it?” Carina asked quickly.
The cousins and Samael stared at her in surprise.
“Since no bones are broken,” Samael said hesitantly. “Walking is possible—but the pain won’t go away for a week or two at least—”
“What? No! Shouldn’t she rest for a few days?” Acheron protested.
“Some walking is permissible, though I would need to bandage it securely,” Samael said as he opened the brown bottle. “This will help reduce the swelling and numb the pain.” He poured a hefty amount of the sticky brown liquid into his palm and then spread it over her ankle. “You’ll need to apply this each morning and night for at least a week.”
“I can do that,” Carina replied firmly. “Can you show me how to wrap my ankle so I can walk on it?”
“As you wish.” Samael searched his bag and pulled out a roll of silk bandages.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t push yourself too soon,” Acheron said worriedly as the physician demonstrated the proper way to wrap her injury. “I sprained my ankle once jumping out of a window. The physician put me on crutches—”
“Why were you jumping out of a window, cousin?” Beaumont growled, finally breaking his silence.
“That’s—not important to the story,” Acheron replied with a sharp glance at the knight captain. “My point being, shouldn’t Lady Maura take a day or two to rest off her feet—”
“No,” Carina snapped. “I appreciate your concern, Lord Acheron, but I really must continue with the Selection.”
“Although complete rest isn’t necessary,” Samael interjected. “I would limit the time you spend on your feet to a few hours a day at most.” He tightened the bow at the top of her ankle. “As it is, with the swelling and bandages, my Lady won’t be able to wear her shoes any time soon.”
Carina glanced down at the slipper he held up beside her injured foot for comparison.
‘Damn it, he’s right.’
“And a Lady simply can’t walk about without her shoes,” Acheron admonished with a victorious smile.
“I’ll carry her,” Beaumont cut in abruptly.
“What?” Carina and Acheron responded together.
Beaumont glanced between them, his expression a mixture of annoyance and awkward discomfort. “It’s my fault she got hurt, so I’ll carry her wherever she needs to go until she gets better.”
“But you’re the crown prince’s bodyguard,” Carina protested.
“I—” Beaumont scowled. “I’ll be right back.” He turned and stomped across the hall.
“What the Blessed Saints?” Acheron murmured as they all leaned towards the doorway to watch Beaumont kneel beside the crown prince, who sat relaxed upon a chair in the ballroom. Nicholas turned towards Beaumont with a surprised expression and then laughed before waving his hand permissively.
“I think he just got permission,” Acheron observed, dumbfounded.
Carina turned away from Beaumont’s approaching figure and shuddered. The idea of being carried around by Maura’s executioner—was going to take some getting used to.
“Then I’ll take my leave,” Samael said as he gathered his bag and stood.
“Thank you, doctor,” Carina murmured after him distractedly.
“Stitcher,” he whispered.
Carina’s gaze jerked towards him as she blinked with surprise.
“Good luck with the rest of the selection, Lady Maura,” the physician said as he slid through the door behind Beaumont.