Ukatoa’s assassin was barely breathing as it sputtered out an incantation, either ire or weakness causing the tremble in his voice. It hit Fjord with a swirling, deep green energy that knocked him off his feet. Caduceus, standing only a few feet away from him, could hear the murmuring words that circled around Fjord’s head before they dissipated away and Fjord’s jaw went slack, a blank expression morphing his face. The battle was soon after ended, the killing blow dealt by a furious Beauregard.
Caduceus immediately knelt next to the still-conscious but unresponsive Fjord, healing his wounds with the Wildmother’s blessing. Yet, his lifeless eyes didn’t change. They looked at Caduceus with barely a glimmer of recognition, not a single word passing his lips. It was… strange. He didn’t recognise the magic affecting him.
Caleb gave a name to it a few minutes later once it became clear it wasn’t due to any physical wounds. ‘Feeble-minded’. It would require a different magic to heal, a more expensive restorative magic. They needed diamond dust, of which they unfortunately had none at the moment.
They pulled Fjord to his feet and he could stand, he could walk, he could follow. It seemed like, despite his lacking intelligence, that he still knew them, knew to stay with them, but he didn’t respond to their words and didn’t speak any of his own. It worried Caduceus more than he’d express, despite Jester’s cheery assurances that they’d fix it just as soon as they got back into the city.
Caduceus didn’t need to hold him as they walked, but he didn’t dare let go of his hand. Fjord stumbled along with them slower and clumsier, but followed nonetheless. They were far enough behind the group that he could speak lowly and not be heard, so Caduceus whispered to him.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Fjord. We’ll get you better just as soon as we can.”
It was more of a promise to himself. He’d been told that Fjord couldn’t comprehend the words or the meaning behind them. Still, he was a strong believer of speaking his desires into existence.
Caduceus took the first watch that night, laying Fjord's head gently on his lap. He fell asleep immediately, the firbolg’s fingers gently untangling his hair. Caduceus listened closely to the melody of the night air. Chirping insects, whispering winds, rustling leaves. They were three days away from Nicodranis. The knowledge of that left an uncomfortable lump in his throat.
He kept a close eye on Fjord as he made the group breakfast in the morning. He was propped up against a tree, staring listlessly at the sky. It was clear every one of the Nein were worried. Beau kept him in her line of sight as she completed her morning workout. Jester fiddled with one of her trinkets, mumbling to herself as she considered their options. Yasha plucked at her harp, looking up every few seconds to glance at Fjord sitting there. Caleb scratched at his chin, one of his many nervous habits. Nott Veth served up a bowl of stew as soon as it was ready and took it upon herself to feed Fjord.
Normally, Caduceus would be the most observant of the group, listening to the world move around them as they traveled. At that moment, he was distracted, uneasy. He held Fjord’s hand and guided him cautiously, feeling his slow pulse in his palms. He listened closely to Fjord’s steady breaths, as if he were still asleep. His eyes were glazed over and unfocused, like an infant whose attention could be stolen by any bright color or glimmering light.
At some point, holding his hand just wasn’t enough. Caduceus curled an arm around Fjord’s shoulder protectively, unwilling to let him lag behind. He watched his expressionless face closely, only looking away to follow Fjord’s eyes whenever they flicked towards something new. A bird. A falling leaf. The sun. (Don’t stare at that, Mr. Fjord.) Caduceus himself, or rather, his pastel-colored hair.
When they stopped to rest and eat, some few hours after mid-day, Caduceus relinquished his hold on the half-orc, reluctantly allowing Veth to mother him. He worried endlessly about Fjord’s state. If another of Ukatoa’s followers found them, Fjord wouldn’t be able to fight or even have the wherewithal to keep himself from being hurt.
Of course they’d all protect him. He knew that. He worried anyways.
By the next morning Caduceus had taken to all but dragging the shambling paladin behind him, wanting to waste no more time. They were almost to the city, so close, only hours away. Why did they have to stop to eat, to rest? Couldn’t they just go?
His jitters didn’t cease until he could see buildings in the distance. He would have sprinted there if he could, but he took a deep breath. Patience .
Jester purchased the diamond dust they needed and he cast Greater Restoration in the safety of the Lavish Chateau. Fjord blinked and the hazy feeling muddling his brain lifted. He recognized the subtle look of concern Caduceus was giving him and offered a shy smile.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“I’m glad you’re back, Mr. Fjord.”