Death Becomes Us All
“Yes, we’ve established that. Watch your feet.”
Aramis snorted as Fraynar all but carried him up the steps. The night was cold. Bitterly so. Ice clung to window frames frozen shut in the hour since the sun slipped behind stone grey clouds. Snow fell like a summer shower, clinging to their cloaks and boots and hands. A torrid stream of slush washed between cracked pavement and cobblestone, splashing over the edges of Fraynar’s boots.
Stamping his feet would do nothing. The carriage was only a few dozen steps away, around one more corner. “Almost there.” The warmth of the carriage gave him heart. “I still don’t understand why you didn’t join us inside. Had I not left through the kitchens I’d never have found you. Surely your mother wouldn’t have been that embarrassed by your state.”
Heavy, staggered breathing was the only response.
“Will you at least tell me what happened? Though by the smell of you, if your answer is anything but a tavern brawl, I may be sceptical.”
“Nothing,” Aramis said through gritted teeth, shifting slightly, pushing away from Fraynar and treading carefully towards the storefront closest to them. “Minor disagreement with a colleague.”
“Col- Ari you don’t have a job.”
Aramis leant back against the wall. He pawed at his cloak, pulling it tight. As if the cold was eating at him. Fraynar tried to move towards him, but Aramis shifted away like a startled cat. Stumbled. Slumped to one knee.
“Ari... show me what happened.”
“You are not." Fraynar crouched beside his friend. "Crows, Aramis, don’t make me order you."
Several beats passed.
"Ar- Mother of Tiar," Fraynar gasped, lunging across the space between them; a ragged breath was all Aramis had left as he slumped to the ground, his cloak falling open to reveal blood flowing from a half-dozen wounds at least. Careful hands caught his head before he hit the stone.
“I’ll get help. C-“
As if on instinct, Aramis' hand caught Fraynar with a soft blow that cut the call for help short.
He shook his head as if to wake himself, and tried to pull himself to his feet, eyes almost frantically alert. Fraynar stared at his friend in shock.
“Death becomes us all, my prince.”
Fraynar's mouth fell open. "Yo... how could you possibly..."
Aramis' fingers dragged against the store front, trying to pull himself up. "Help?"
“You’re an assassin??”
“Not the most welcome at my mother’s table, I imagine.” Aramis grunted. Every word was a strain. He reached for Fraynar. “Help me up. Then you can ask the question.”
“Question?” Fraynar replied almost reflexively. “How did y-“
“No, Fray,” Aramis said, grimacing. “Not that one.”
Fraynar stared at his oldest friend for what seemed like an age before it came to him. “Aramis... where are my guards?”
A ghost of a smile.
“I always slip out through the kitchens so I can walk alone a few moments before returning to the carriage."
"And they know that, and so create a cordon that you never see. And yet...“
“And yet you were waiting for me. As if no one watched.” Fraynar’s eyes were wide and panicked. “A disagreement with a colleague. Oh crows I’m to die.”
Aramis snorted again. “Got to her first. Came to warn you, but traffic was awful. Sorry.”
“Traff- Ari you-“
“Need to ru-“ Aramis choked back a cough. Spat more blood into the snow. “Run. They’ll come for the body soon. Go. I’ll give you a start. Just help me to my feet.”
Aramis tried to rise, but Fraynar pushed him back. “You’re not going anywhere. And neither am I.”
He pulled a small orb from his pockets, rubbing it till silver light spread across his hand. “Rayn, I need you. Now.” The light flickered and died.
He tucked the orb into the crook of Aramis’ arm and cupped his face with his hands, wiping the blood away and forcing Aramis to look at him; but his friend was barely there.
“She’ll be here soon, Ari. Just hold o-“
Snow crunched under heavy boots. Shadows moved in the darkness. Fraynar tried to swallow away his fear as he untangled Aramis’ sheath and drew his sword.
Or what was left of it. He stared in horror at the broken blade, now no more than a foot in length and speckled in blood. He cringed. He hated the things. But now he wished he had one of his own.
Fraynar rose, and turned to face the shadows. Broken sword in hand.
"Just hold on."