The professor was not in the classroom as the students walked in to Anatomy. There were instructions written on the board in large letters (each student was to pair up with two others, choose one of the corpses laid out, and disassemble as much as possible, labeling each organ and its function. For extra credit they could find out the cause of death) but that was all. They had done this, or similar, exercises several times before under the watchful eye of their teacher, but today it seemed to be a test of how well they could work on their own.
Pierre Salvador stood by himself while most of the group paired with friends. Piers had finished his studies already, leaving for home a few weeks before, not needing the extra time in surgical schooling. The princeling therefor found himself alone more often than not now that his only true friend here was gone. It did not bother him much, he preferred working alone, but it was not pleasant. Possibly his status was scaring others away, or perhaps something about him radiated with Mora’s cræft? He had never looked into the problem.
At the end there weren’t enough students for an even number of triads and Pierre stayed alone. He noted that one group had four students, and he should have at least been paired with one of them, but it let it go. There were also not enough bodies either so another group would be useless. He could make a fuss, or join one of the groups to observe, but he had better things to do. This was something he knew well already, and Mora has asked he kill a man for her.
He made to leave, minding to tell the professor later that he was feeling ill and to either get the assignment dropped or allowed time to remake it, but the door opened as he was walking towards it.
Two men in guard uniforms entered, a covered tray between them. They saw Pierre, apart from the others and the eldest, and addressed him.
“Monsieur! We are here to bring a body for the students. He was just hanged and sent here immediately for their observation.”
“Merci,” Pierre said, taking the wheeled slab and flipping over the white sheet. Beside the angry blue bruises around his throat he seemed asleep. His skin was still warm.
The prison guards said something and left a moment later after receiving no reply, the princeling having stopped paying attention to them. The corpse took his whole attention. The man was still in tattered rags.
He did not feel like a corpse, not in the same way the others had, but he had not spent extensive time with very many bodies. Perhaps they felt different based on their type of death?
Most of the others had abandoned their chosen body to come observe him now. A fresh corpse was rare, and never this fresh. Those unlucky enough to get the last body often had to deal with the stench of decay.
Pierre held out a hand and someone obliged him by handing a scalpel over. He cut into the torso only for blood to spurt onto his hands and clothes.
“He’s still alive!”
If the bright lively blood had not confirmed it, a moan from the man and his eyes opening did. One of the youngest boys fainted. A few turned to help him, even more turned away entirely, but Pierre continued to watch in silence. He had seen men die before but every experience was new. Had he been dead and come back through a miracle, or had the doctor on staff at the prison merely not done his job?
Someone finally yelled out that they would run and get a professor and the door slammed on his way out. Pierre bent over the body and touched his pulse. The neck was bruised and swollen, presumably by the hanging that hadn’t managed to snap the spine, but it throbbed a slow heartbeat. He wrapped a the rest of his hand around the windpipe. No one was looking at him, no one dared looked up to see the eyes of a man who had been pronounced dead. He squeezed, and there was a gargling noise before the heartbeat stopped.
The door burst open and their professor had returned.
“Away, away,” the surgeon called, shooing his way near the body opposite Pierre.
“Your Graceful Highness,” he addressed Pierre respectfully. “What seems to have happened?”
“Monsieur, he still seemed alive when I started to cut. His blood flowed and his eyes snapped open. He made a noise as well.”
The professor was nodding, placing a stereoscope to the man’s chest, then neck. After a minute though he shook his head.
“Well he is not alive now. Do not worry, it is nothing you did, merely a dead man hanging on to life as tightly as he could until no more. See, he is malnourished, dehydrated, and was through a trauma. Let us merely call it a delayed hanging and leave it at that.”
Done with the analysis he nodded to himself again, wrapped the stethoscope around his neck and looked to the student.
“Well?” the professor prompted. “Back to your stations, there is still an hour and a half left in the course.”
Students shuffled back to their chosen bodies, one group’s left alone as the two boys who were paired with the one who fainted helped him to the side.
“I will go check on Raoul,” the professor said to Pierre. “You may continue with this body but I understand if you wish to skip this class.”
“Non, merci professor, I will be fine.”
He lined the slab up in the back of the room with the others, on the leftmost side with his back to everyone else. He finished taking off the man’s clothes.
“He would have lived.”
The voice in his ear was female, and Mora suddenly stood by him wearing what only could be called a women’s uniform in the style of his own, though the students were all male at this University. Her hair was tied back in a deep crimson ribbon, and his wings were furled close to her back, but still there.
“With medical attention,” Pierre agreed. Attention a class full of students could have begun to provide until someone with more knowledge arrived. But the man was a prisoner sent to death. He would have only been executed once more. This was in a way kinder.
Mora looked to him and made to say something, but stopped instead. She smiled and then disappeared, off to greet the dead man’s soul in her plane.
Pierre had the feeling she had been about to inform him of the man’s innocence, a mistake in the roi’s judgement (for the roi was the duc in this land as well). But even if that were true it would no change the sentence. The roi had spoken. Pierre merely complied.