Kristoff was glad Rowen was learning to communicate better and more willing to try, but it only made him more frustrated when he couldn’t understand what Rowen wanted. He started walking, feeling the weight of Rowen’s eyes on him.
“Dr. Lorence told me he wants to…” he had said “speak with him,” but Kristoff didn’t want to use that word. “Examine you again. He wants to see how your burns are doing. And he mentioned being curious about something from your first exam.”
Rowen walked beside him, not behind him as he had the first day, and his gaze roved the surroundings as they headed down the hill through the trees toward the center of the island. The last time they had walked this path he had been confused and most likely in a lot of pain.
“You may or may not remember this, but as we go toward the middle of the island, you can find the medical center. The medical school is also there, in an enormous white marble building. If you ever see someone in a white or gold robe, they’re medical students or doctors. White for a full doctor, gold for a student, and a mix of the two for someone who’s completed their studies but haven’t passed their final exam yet.” Rowen nodded. “The other major building here is the governor’s building, also called the Storm building. That’s where we Storm Lords go to make our reports. All records are kept there.”
Rowen perked up at that. “We keep records of every heat spell we’ve ever dispelled, and how we did it.” Rowen followed his pointing finger, narrowing his eyes at the enormous, two story building. Kristoff’s stomach flipped at the severe expression.
“I’ll take you by there someday soon. Lorana—you remember her—works there. But for now, we have to see Dr. Lorence.”
Rowen looked back with a sigh.
“Well, just who I wanted to see,” the doctor said as they entered the building. “Rowen, you’re looking much better.” The redhead gave a tentative smile. “Do you feel better?” A nod.
Kristoff felt completely superfluous, but Lorence motioned for him to follow. “Rowen, now that you’re in less pain, I want to give you another examination. Is that alright?” Another nod. They walked up to Lorence’s office, the scent of something herbal wafting through the air.
“Fantastic. Kristoff, please wait out here for the examination.” Rowen turned big eyes on him.
“That’s fine. If that’s okay with you, Rowen?” He stared for a moment, then nodded again.
The door shut, and Kristoff sighed, swallowing against the tension. Dr. Lorence was kind and understanding. Rowen would be fine.
He just wished he knew more. He wondered if there were signs Lorence could find, marks or scars of a past that he could read and tell Kristoff.
Of course, Rowen may not want them read. The reason he had been tied up and left for dead, for example.
He hated thinking that way about Rowen. The man had shown no signs of hostility. But if something was wrong, something he could fix, Kristoff wanted to know. Rowen could just as easily have been a victim of something, and somehow that thought scared Kristoff more.
The door’s creaking interrupted his thoughts. “We’re ready for you.”
A spike of anxiety went through Kristoff as he entered the sun drenched exam room. Rowen stared out the window, his expression neutral. He was shirtless, and while his skin was still pink in some places, the bandages were gone.
“Look here, Kristoff.” Dr. Lorence held up a paper, covered in a detailed drawing of what looked like a seed.
“The first time Rowen came here, I asked him what may have caused his handicap. We were able to surmise that he was poisoned, right?” Rowen looked over, giving a careful nod. The sun lancing through the window and bouncing off the white bedsheets he sat on made his red hair look like fire.
“I asked him to draw me what he ate. He drew these, and surprisingly well, too. We may have an artist on our hands.” He inclined his head toward Rowen. “They look like seeds, though none I’ve seen. Probably a variety specific to that part of the world.”
Kristoff stared. The seeds were oval shaped, with two lines down the center. “Rowen, can you draw the plant that grows from these?”
Rowen shook his head, then shrugged.
“No plant grows from these?”
A pause, then another shrug. Rowen made a quick motion, a careful pinch of the fingers, and mimed throwing something in his mouth.
“Does everyone eat these seeds where you are from?” The doctor walked over to the bed. “Does it have this effect on others?”
Rowen stared, his jaw tense and his eyes lined with pain. Kristoff was about to ask to stop, to revisit the topic another time, when he nodded again.
“Is it curable where you’re from?”
Rowen shook his head, and Kristoff felt a hammer of dissapointment that he hadn’t expected.
“I have a proposition for you both,” Dr. Lorence said. Rowen’s eyes widened. “It may not be curable where you’re from. But if I get my hands on these seeds, perhaps I can figure out more about them. Kristoff, can you fly to the village where you found Rowen and bring me back a sample?”
Kristoff wanted to agree immediately, until he saw the look of terror that flashed across Rowen’s face. Green eyes met his, and Kristoff wished once again that he knew what had happened.
This was the best way. Whatever had happened, whatever Rowen was afraid of or afraid that Kristoff that would find out, it had to be done. “I’ll do it,” he said to Lorence. “Give me the paper.”
When he looked back, a sharp stab of guilt went through his core. Rowen was looking out the window again, his face a careful mask.