*Trigger Warning: This story contains brief descriptions of gore.
When I finish telling you the story of Daija and her upcoming kezdin, I check the time. We can fit in one more story before we have to be at the arena. Let me tell you Daija’s favorite bedtime story.
* * * * *
In a bygone time, there was a young healer who worked near her town’s arena. Her hospital cared for all the injured competitors. It was mid-autumn, the start of courtship season; and she had her first patient.
He was lying on one of sick beds in a room closed off by thin wooden walls, giving him privacy. A suitor’s identity is his biggest secret. He had a thin wooden mask that was painted green with an arrow detail on his forehead. It only covered the top half of his face.
“Would you be more comfortable if you removed your mask?” the healer asked.
“No, thank you,” the man said. “I shall be known only as The Green Archer. My true name is mine to keep.”
“Of course.” She took inventory of his wounds. They didn’t look life-threatening, but some of them would need to be tended to immediately. He had a thin, shallow gash on his right side that looked the most urgent. “What event were you competing in?” she asked as she placed her hands on either side of the wound to heal it.
The cut closed, the skin knitting together without leaving a scar. “This is one of the better fencing wounds I’ve seen.”
“The other guy looks worse.”
She moved onto the next wound. “So you won?”
“Congratulations. Was it Round Five?”
“No. We have two more rounds.”
She healed the last of his wounds. “Good luck,” she said as the law enforcer who had been waiting outside escorted him back to the competitors’ lodging.
A few weeks later, the healer entered her patient’s room and found herself with The Green Archer once more. This time he had a broken arm and bruises all down his left side. “What was it this time?” she asked him.
“Equestrian event. I got thrown from my annsud.”
“I’m guessing you’ve been eliminated from the kezdin?”
“Again,” he said. “I lost the last kezdin because of a singing round. No injuries there, except to my pride.”
The healer smiled. After fixing his wounds, she sent him on his way.
A month later, The Green Archer was back again. He was unconscious when she entered the room, and she had to work quickly to save him. According to the vishee who dropped him off, he had received a nasty head injury in a hand-to-hand combat fight.
The vishee wasn’t wrong. The Green Archer’s skull was cracked and his hair was wet with blood. In order to fully assess his injuries, the healer had no choice but to remove his mask. She carefully lifted it off his face, revealing swollen purple bruises. He was currently unrecognizable.
Gently, she placed her hands on either side of his face and focused on the healing magic. It took her over an hour to repair all the damage to his brain and skull. Then she healed his face. She glanced at it briefly to make sure she hadn’t missed any injuries before replacing his mask. She scolded herself for noticing his attractiveness. He was her patient, not one of her suitors. The rest of The Green Archer’s body was bruised, and he had a few broken ribs and fingers. Placing her hand on his head, she used her magic to send him into a deep, restful sleep.
She had to sit with him while he slept to monitor his breathing. Sometimes healers’ best efforts weren’t enough when it came to head trauma. She could only hope that she had repaired the damage in time.
* * * * *
It was early morning when The Green Archer woke. The healer was barely awake herself.
“What happened?” The Green Archer asked.
“You hit your head in your last kezdin,” the healer said. “I’ve healed you as best as I can, and you’ll have to stay here while I monitor your brain function.”
“It’s that bad?”
“Yes. You should stop entering kezdins you can’t win.”
He smiled. “What’s the fun in a kezdin that isn’t a challenge?”
“You’re going to get yourself killed. You’re lucky you survived this one. Do you remember the event at all? The one that gave you the head injury?”
“No. How long was I unconscious?”
“Less than a day.”
He reached up and touched his mask. “You were able to heal me with my mask on?”
The healer shifted in her seat. “No. I had to take it off, so I could heal your face.”
“So you’ve seen me?”
“Briefly. I respected your privacy as much as I could.”
The Green Archer didn’t say anything.
“Would you like anything? I can get you some food or water.”
“I’d like to be alone for a while,” he said.
“I can’t leave you unattended so soon after having a head injury.”
“Then I request a different healer to sit with me.”
The healer stood. “I-I’m sorry I took off your mask. I thought you wouldn’t mind if it meant saving your life.”
“Please send a different healer.”
The healer left, going home to get some rest after being at the hospital all day and night. But she couldn’t sleep. All she could think about was how upset The Green Archer was. She knew she had done the right thing by removing his mask. Why was she so bothered by his reaction?
* * * * *
When she returned to the hospital, one of the other healers told her The Green Archer had requested her. What had made him change his mind? She went straight to his room.
He was playing vikenwe, a strategy game, with the healer who was monitoring him. At her arrival, the other healer left, allowing the healer to be alone with The Green Archer.
Neither one said anything for a long while.
“I’m sorry,” they both said at the same time.
“Thank you for healing me,” The Green Archer said. “I’m sorry I was upset with you. A suitor’s identity is his most prized possession.”
“I understand,” the healer said. “If I could’ve healed you without removing your mask, I would have.”
He nods and gestures to the vikenwe board. “Do you play?”
She sat down as he reset the game.
Over the next couple of days, they played vikenwe and talked. He told her about all the kezdins he had entered and which events he won and lost. She told him of her interests outside healing, which consisted of painting, hiking, and playing vikenwe with her brothers.
“I’d like to see your paintings,” The Green Archer said.
The next day, the healer brought in some of her smaller canvases. They were all landscapes.
“They’re beautiful,” The Green Archer said, “but not as beautiful as you are.”
She looked at him then, really looked at him, wishing his mask didn’t obscure his features. “I, um, have some good news. You’re doing well enough that I can discharge you today.”
“Oh. That is good, I guess.”
“Remember what I said about staying away from kezdins you can’t win.”
“I’ll remember, but I won’t promise not to enter them.” He stood and bowed to her. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”
The healer smiled, but it was short-lived. As she watched him walk away, the smile slipped from her face. She didn’t see The Green Archer again that season.
* * * * *
The following season, the healer hosted her costume ball to begin her own courtship journey. She was pleasantly surprised to see The Green Archer amongst her suitors.
When she finally got the opportunity to dance with him, she said, “I didn’t see you again last season. Did you stay away from events you couldn’t win?”
“I haven’t competed since the head injury,” he said.
“Because you weren’t hosting.”
Another suitor butted in, and she watched The Green Archer walk away.
The next day, the healer announced the events in her kezdin. Singing, equestrian events, fencing, and hand-to-hand combat were not on her list. Archery was.
The Green Archer, though he lost at singing, proved to be a well-learned musician, playing a lovely melody on a stringed instrument in Round One. Though he had trouble staying on an annsud, he was quick on his own feet and won the foot race in Round Two. Though he wasn’t the best swordsman, he was rather adept at spear-throwing and made it past Round Three. While a terrible combatant in martial arts, he demonstrated much skill atvikenwe. And, since he was The Green Archer, the final opponent could not best him at archery. The Green Archer won the healer’s kezdin.
Afterward, he removed his mask. The first thing she noticed were his green eyes—they had blended in with his mask before—which lit up his handsome face when paired with his smile. The healer and The Green Archer married, had many children—including two daughters—and lived in happiness until their deaths.