12.4

21 December, 2008 by katelaity

Surely she had seen blood before, Lizzie thought even as she gasped for air. But the violence of the wound before her seemed vividly garish against the young man’s bright white shirt. The shot had taken him in the shoulder and left behind a gaping hole though which blood poured even as the seconds tried to stanch the flow with an array of handkerchiefs.

His fellow combatant shouldered through the crowd, bleeding from the arm, but seemingly negligent of the injury and the pain. He looked fiercely at his foe, apparently trying to determine the extent of his injuries.

Good heavens, Lizzie thought dizzily, was he intending another go round?

“Bien?” he asked roughly, wrapping the bandage offered him around his forearm as he regarded his opponent with a cocky smile.

“Très bien,” the other croaked, as another man pushed through the crowd. This must be the physician, Lizzie deduced. The man in black threw down his bag and waved the others away from the injured man. Taking away the bundle of handkerchiefs, he tutted at the wound and turned back to his bag.

Extracting a large pair of pincers, he called to no one in particular for brandy. Several flasks were proffered and the physician grabbed one at random and put it gently to the lips of his patient, before taking a swig himself.

Handing the flask back to its owner, he motioned for the others to take hold of the young man’s limbs. Once he was securely anchored, the doctor plunged the pincers into the wound and began to hunt for the ball lodged in the man’s shoulder. The patient bellowed with pain and was rewarded with further helpful infusions of brandy.

At long last, the doctor grunted with satisfaction and extracted the ball triumphantly. The crowd cheered heartily and everyone looked relieved. The doctor bandaged the wound with alacrity and they all helped him, swaying, to his feet.

His opponent regarded him with clear triumph and not a little scorn. “Il est decide, cousin?”

Lizzie felt her eyes widen with surprise. They were family, and fighting like this?! How horrible, she thought.

The defeated man, nodded and said only, “Oui,” in a voice that plainly conveyed his defeat. He could not quite bring himself to regard his victor in the eye, which showed a want of character, Lizzie could not resist concluding.

The champion drew himself up to full height, ignoring completely the wound in his arm as he shook a warning finger at his enemy. “Vous ne souillerez pas le fromage de mon famille toujours encore!”

Lizzie could not have been more astonished. So it was not love after all. She grimaced. The scene no longer seemed like one plucked from a beloved novel, but instead appeared all too cheap and petty. Gladiators! Rather they were petulant prigs — and worse, little more than merchants.

She felt certain that somewhere Lord Mangrove was smiling at her naiveté.

Lizzie had no time to reflect upon this shift in illusions, for Tilney grabbed her sleeve and said, “Let’s make a run for it, Bennett — now while their attention is elsewhere!”

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