chapter eleven;

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Their journey through the woods was a slow one. Despite progress being made, the trio had undeniably been shaken by the recent events and were therefore less efficient than they normally were. Darryl had eventually caught up to Vincent and Zak, and so they walked almost side by side, with Vincent being only a few steps ahead.

Zak hadn't said a word since they had started on their way, as though he couldn't find anything to say that would make up for what had been done. Darryl couldn't lie - he was a little worried. Zak had always seemed to be the type who could easily bounce back from almost any situation. But this must have been a step too far.

He'd killed someone. Zak - the mischievous, troublemaker prince - had killed someone. The information alone felt wrong, as though something had shifted just enough to change everything.

All they could do was press on. They had no time to deliberate the consequences of past actions.

Once they were far enough away - they had been travelling for what felt like hours - Darryl reached out, grasping Vincent by the collar and pulling him back in line.

"Stop," Darryl said quietly. "Both of you."

For once they did as requested. Zak had stopped almost immediately, head tilted towards the ground, still avoiding looking directly at either of his friends. Vincent, on the other hand, appeared a little more at ease despite everything, coming to a stop just ahead and turning back to look at Darryl.

Darryl cleared his throat. "We've been walking for a while. We're all tired. We should stop for a bit and rest up."

Not to mention he had a wound that needed looking at, something that had become more obvious every time it stung from brushing against his clothes. It would be nice to at least be able to wash it out to prevent any potential infection even if they couldn't bandage it up properly. Which reminded him, Zak's bandages probably needed changing too. Perhaps they could take a look at how that wound was faring as well.

Although Darryl wished Zak's injury would go away, he knew the poison was a persistent problem that they still needed to find a way to fix.

"You're the one suggesting we stop." Vincent remarked, a smile just barely crossing his face. "That's very unlike you."

"It's the most sensible thing to do."

It was. They couldn't keep going forever without any rest, and Darryl was certain that they had travelled far enough to be out of any kind of immediate danger. They'd be no good to anybody while they were hurt and tired. It would do well for them to take a small break.

Swinging his bag off his shoulder, Darryl reached inside to pick out three rolls of bread and some fruit, passing it to his two companions. It had been a while since they last eaten after all and, though they needed to be smart and conserve food when they had it, he was sure that they were hungry.

Despite this, Darryl watched Zak closely as the prince turned the bread over in his hands, not making one move to eat it at all.

"Zak?" Darryl questioned eventually, tone soft. "You need to eat. If they come back for us you need to be able to fight."

Zak only scowled. "I'm not hungry." Then he stood, setting the bread back in the bag and rifling around in it for a second, pulling out a piece of cloth and disappearing into the woods.

Darryl glanced back at Vincent. Neither spoke, as though speaking would stop them from getting the answers they so desperately wanted. Mostly Darryl wanted to know that Zak was going to be okay. It was easy to assume what was bothering the prince, but Darryl wasn't exactly sure how to fix it. Zak's guilt seemed to be almost eating him up alive.

Moments later the prince reappeared, the cloth damp, and walked over to Darryl, stopping in front of him and kneeling down, touch gentle as he moved the hem of Darryl's shirt aside and pressed the cloth to the wound, wiping away any dirt from the edges.

"You don't have to do that," Darryl started, surprised. Princes didn't do this kind of thing. "I can do it my-"

Zak didn't even look up. "It's fine. You need to eat. We all know you're the best in a fight, so you need to keep yourself in good condition."

Darryl only blinked back at him, as though unable to form coherent thoughts. Zak's work was steady as he cleaned out the wound before patting it dry with another piece of cloth. It wasn't deep enough to need any kind of medical care, but it could do with some kind of band-aid or bandage.

Discarding the cloth, Darryl watched as Zak picked up one of the few bandages they had (Darryl had only really picked them up in case they needed to change the one on Zak's arm) and wrapped it carefully around Darryl's waist, tying it tightly enough that it should prevent the wound from bleeding any more. Then the prince leaned back as though proud of his work, beginning to put things back into the bag.

Darryl hummed. "Where did you learn to patch up injuries like that?" He joked halfheartedly. "Doesn't seem like the kind of thing a crown prince would need to know."

At that Zak paused, and for a moment Darryl worried that he'd said the wrong thing. Then, Zak let out a small sigh, closing the bag and standing up, stretching. He didn't answer.

Deciding it was best to let it go, Darryl finished off what he was eating, passing a flask of water over to Vincent, who had been watching the exchange with a focused gaze before handing the flask over to Zak, who actually took a drink this time.

"We need to check your wound, too," Darryl pointed out quietly, motioning for Zak to sit down next to him. When the prince did so, Darryl touched the edge of the bandage lightly. "Do you mind?"

Considering Zak had just patched Darryl up, the knight was fairly sure it was okay, but it didn't hurt to ask, especially considering how withdrawn the prince had been recently.

"Sure. It's just gonna be the same as the last time you saw it," Zak complained lowly. "Really I don't see why you have to look at it again. We get it - I'm injured."

"Still, I need to check you aren't dying or something!"

The joke fell flat as Darryl was reminded - yet again - that this wound was actually deadly unless they could find a way to prevent it. Uncomfortable, he untied the bandage and let it fall to the floor.

The wound did look much the same as a couple of days ago, but Darryl could visibly see the way the poison had began to spread. Grimacing, the knight cleaned it up again, making sure to keep his touch gentle but firm, and re-bandaged it with a fresh one.

"We need sleep," Darryl murmured afterwards, allowing the tiniest yawn to pass his lips. "Let's find somewhere to camp and then stay there the night."

Zak and Vincent only let out vague mumbles of agreement. The recent events had taken a toll on all of them. Though they still walked for a little longer and Darryl physically ached to lie down, they stumbled across a small inn on the outskirts of one of the smaller villages and stepped inside, relaxing under the warmth of the fire-lit room.

"Bad news," Vincent called back to them as he sauntered over from the front desk. "We're going to have to share. They only have one room left."

Darryl frowned. "That's not so bad." A pause. "It may actually be beneficial to keep each other close at all times, especially since there are people out there looking for us."

"I agree," Zak pitched in, although Darryl suspected that the prince would sleep anywhere at this point. "Let's just sleep."

Making their way up the set of old stairs, they found the room easily, all but collapsing on the bed once they got in. It felt like it had been years since they had been able to sleep in a comfortable bed or take a hot shower, and Darryl was going to make the best of their time here.

Eventually, after everyone had showered and changed - and Zak and Vincent had started some petty argument over who got to shower first and who took up what amount of hot water - they curled up on the bed, pressed together to conserve warmth as a breeze blew in from the draft-filled windows.

It was the first night in a while that Darryl was asleep in seconds.

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