"How long have you lived here?" He asked between mouthfuls.
"A while," she answered evasively. She was still wary of the man, and still tired from the days that she had spent nursing him.
"You cook well. You have put something into the meat," he observed.
Aura shrugged a shoulder and changed the subject. "You have removed the bandages from your arm. Why?"
"It got in the way. Besides the arm will heal quicker. Who taught you to set bones?"
"n.o.body," Aura admitted then shrugged the matter off. "Generally I believe common sense comes into it a lot."
"So the people who know how to do it properly have told me. What is your name?" He asked, but received no answer.
The man a.s.sessed the woman before him. Somehow he knew she did not fit in the lifestyle she was living. Her accent was wrong. She had the manners and bearing of a lady, and who knew what else she hid behind that mask that she wore. He had to admit, she was rather attractive, and there was something about her that his instincts told him, was familiar. Something that he should recognize, and he frowned at the thoughts going through his mind. She wasn't the only fair maiden he had ever been attracted to, and he already had too many women throwing themselves at him.
After a while of watching her he wished that she would say something, anything to dispel the air of mystery that seemed to cloak her. It was not to be. She remained quiet, choosing to shroud herself in obscurity. For the first time in his life he had the feeling that he was with a woman he could trust. He was having a hard time justifying the feeling with his mind and he was surprised he was even trying. After all, she was just another woman.
Aura was less bold about her examination of the man, as she sat across the boulder from him. He asked her name, she had no intention of telling him. Something instinctive told her it would be a mistake. She didn't want to know him. She would help him and he would go, they would never meet again, that was for the best. They would never be more than memories with no names, no labels. It would be easier to forget that they had ever met, easier to pretend that the attraction she felt to this stranger had been no more than a fanciful dream.
She snuck little glances at him from under her eyelashes. He felt huge to her and he made her feel inadequate. That was something that should have irritated her, but failed to. Instead she felt drawn to him in ways that made her feel warm all over. She was very uncomfortable with the sensation. She accepted the fact that she knew nothing about men. She knew that without her back up team, Roger and Wolf, she would have been terrified of him.
She licked her dry lips to wet them as she considered the man before her. His hair hung past his shoulders in an unruly riot of waves and curls, which she thought would look better with another wash. She noted her own odor and decided she could use a proper bath as well. Despite that thought she wrinkled her nose in distaste at the smell of him. She finished her meal, got up, wiped her fingers and mouth on a makeshift napkin, and approached the man.
"If you have finished eating I will tend to your wounds now."
He nodded as he scowled up at her, and reluctantly removed his tunic. She bit at her lip as she examined his cuts, his muscles twitched as her fingers seemed to play over the surface of his skin with a feathery touch. The role she played as doctor gave her a more secure feeling. It tended to distance her mind from her body's reactions to his presence.
The man was not so removed from his feelings. He felt his blood heat, and his hands itched to touch her. After being celibate for so long he was surprised that his more basic instincts had chosen this time to surface. But then again, why not, she seemed a likely candidate for his attentions. A smile spread across his face as an unlikely thought crossed his mind. Perhaps she even wanted his attentions. He had to know.
"You afraid to touch me, or do you wish to invite me closer?" He half growled, half taunted. He was unsure of what type of reaction he wanted from her. His mind and body were battling it out and he fought a growing sensation of l.u.s.t that burned hot through his veins and made him grow hard. No woman had ever made him feel this way before and he sought to suppress it by sheer will.
The question took Aura by surprise, and she felt a searing surge of anger at the implication. She tossed him a clipped laugh and snapped off a snarky reply. "You are not that irresistible mister. If you are looking for a good time, go find yourself a red light zone. In the meantime, you seem to be healing well. In another couple of days we will take the st.i.tches out and you can go home."
"I cannot wait that long, I should have left already." Came his reply.
"That might be so," Aura shrugged an indifferent shoulder as she answered him. "But your injuries are not ready, so make the best of it. This might also be the perfect opportunity for you to take a bath. I will even supply the soap if you do. I made it myself and it really is quite good."
"A bath?" The man asked as if he had never heard the word before.
Aura gave a groan of exasperation and rolled her eyes upwards as she snipped. "Do not tell me, you have never heard of a bath or a bar of soap before. No wonder you could be smelled from a dozen paces when I found you."
The man looked at her in disbelief as she spoke. He could not believe she was speaking to him in such a manner. Had she no respect for him? No idea who or what he was? She wanted him to bathe? Here? She could not be serious. What was he to bathe in? She had nothing large enough to hold the amount of water it would take him to have a proper bath. Or did she?
He frowned as he watched her, deep in thought. Perhaps it would not be so bad, especially if she joined him. She was rather attractive, if somewhat plainly presented. It was a thought that made him watch her even closer in his continued speculation before deciding that she probably was not his type. There was something about her that told him that she would be the kind to be very uncooperative.
Aura noted his frown and sighed in misunderstanding. Did that mean that they did not bathe here? She was not going to let that stop her from getting clean. The water in the pond outside of the cave was beginning to get very cold with the coming of winter, but it still would serve for more baths for a while. Believing in a definite order to things Aura decided to straighten up the cave first, then she brought in some wood, this time with the man's help. He was feeling stiff, sore and weak, but he was dammed if he was going to let a mere slip of a maid see to him like some mewling babe. When she was finished with the wood she bundled up the moss that had served as their mattress and, much to his surprise, she burned it. As the fire reduced the ma.s.s to cinders she spread some fresh moss, picked up a bar of soap and a large towel. She then turned to the man to give a few last minute instructions as he fed the fire.
"I am going to the pond, you are to rest. You look as if you could use it. I will return to make you some dinner." Then she left.
To say that he was bewildered would have been putting it lightly, as once more he felt that she had no respect for him. He could not see how. She gave no exceptions for his status. Had she lived alone so long that she did not recognize him for what he was? Then again, perhaps she did not even care. It was a matter that he was determined to bring up with her later. In the meantime; he admitted, she had been right about how he felt, he was very tired. Then again, maybe not as tired as he thought, he considered while his eyes followed the hypnotic sway of her hips as she walked away from him.
Perhaps she had been right before, he smiled to himself. Perhaps a bath was just what he needed. It would make him feel much more refreshed, and he had to admit he did feel dirtier than usual. His smile widened as he picked up another bar of soap, as she had done, and a towel, before following her to the outside pool.
By the time he reached the edge of the water Aura had already finished washing. She had soaped down her hair to clean it, and when she heard his approach, she dove into the depths of the pond, to swim under the surface to the deeper most center part of the basin. Her head broke the water as she floated for a few moments, and she watched as he pulled off his shirt, and tossed her a smile. She slipped back under the water, like a seal headed for safer waters.
The man gritted his teeth against the cold of the water as he entered the water. How could she seem so nonchalant about the temperature, it was freezing! He looked about for her as he reached chest deep in the pool, following the direction she had taken earlier, and frowned as he saw her wrapped in her towel. She had her clothing in her arms and was heading for the entrance of the cave.
Oh well, he sighed. He was wet anyway, so he might as well take advantage of the opportunity. He had to admit that he had felt very disappointed to see her leave. He chided himself as he accepted her decision. What had he expected anyway? She was obviously still a maiden, though she was old enough to have had a few children by now. He wondered why she had remained alone. He pushed the thought aside as he tended to his own needs. It was past time he quit daydreaming about someone who obviously wanted nothing to do with him in an intimate way.
By the time the man returned to the cave Aura was dressed and was sitting by the fire, combing her hair out as it dried. She glanced at him as she wondered how much he had seen, and blushed. He stood near the entrance then, slowly walked to the side of the fire to warm his body as he continued his perusal. She looked different with her hair loose and hanging down, and he stared at her as if he was mesmerized.
d.a.m.n but she was beautiful, he thought. Why did she hide it? Half the women he knew at court would kill to look half as well as she did. He felt a heat rising within his body as he continued to watch her, and without realizing it, he was striding swiftly around the fire.
Aura had watched him warily as he had entered the cave. He looked as if he was feeling better and completely refreshed, the bath had done him a lot of good in that respect. It had also loaned him an air of danger, giving her the impression that she was trapped, which was ridiculous as she was very well protected with Roger and Wolf as allies. She watched how he looked at her and she felt, and saw his change of mood, which was reflected in his eyes. He could rape her in his present state of mind. She was not about to let that happen. She sprinted to the other side of the fire as he stalked her and called to her wolf for help.
Wolf, hearing his mistress scream his name in panic, ran to her side. He could sense her fear and determined it was the man who was to blame for it. He gave a deep throaty growl of warning at him and bared his teeth at the perceived danger.
The man's attention immediately shifted from the woman to the wolf. Under the circ.u.mstances the wolf was not an adversary that the man was prepared to face at the moment. He was neither dressed, armed, or in any condition for a confrontation. At another time he might have considered it, but not in the shape his body was in, even if the woman looked as if she might be worth it. He backed off and she retreated into a different corner of the cave, where she finished combing her hair then braided it in her usual style. He frowned his disapproval, as he watched her.
When Aura felt safe again, she came out of her corner to make a stew, which they shared in silence. She, however, continued to watch him. There was no trust left between them. He had tried to force himself on her. She was afraid to have him nearby. What if he came after her again? Wolf might not be close enough to save her the next time. Her mind filtered though all the possibilities. The bottom line, however, was that she thought he wasn't strong enough to travel on his own. It was a problem she would have to do some serious thinking about. So when they finished eating she cleaned up, and spent the rest of her day divided between Wolf and Roger as she decided what she was going to do.
The man could only stare and wonder at her manner as she played with her pets. She was, he was sure, trying to ignore him and keep him at a distance. She was different than any woman he had known. He wondered what it was that made her seem so special. He knew that tonight he would sleep alone and he sighed in regret. She had been nice to wake up to, with her curled up next to him, even if he knew she had done it to keep him warm in the night, while she had sought to break his fever. She had smelled so fresh and clean, and the scent in her hair had reminded him of a field of fragrant wild flowers. He would miss her by his side, strange to think he could grow to need her so quickly. He had never felt so dependent on another human being before.
He felt his body respond to the memories of her lying close to him, and frowned at the emptiness her distance and silence made him feel. He had, along with other things, found that he rather liked her voice, it was syrupy, yet clear, and he was sure he had never heard anyone with that particular accent before. To try to fill the void within himself, he spoke, in an attempt to draw her out again.
"I should leave in the morning. I have pressing matters to attend to." It was time, although he sought more of a reaction to his announcement than a desire to leave. He knew his men would be looking for him, but as far as he was concerned at the moment, he did not care if they ever found him. Not as long as he was with this woman.
Aura was surprised by the man's sudden decision. He watched her mull over his announcement then, to his disappointment, shrugged the matter off.
Perhaps it was for the best, she decided. She was beginning to get used to the company, and that could only bring her future pain. It was also obvious that his intentions were less than honorable. He had showed her that he was not to be trusted. He had attacked her once, and in her opinion he might again. The next time she might not get away from him so lightly. Yet there was something about him that drew her in a manner she found frightening. She avoided looking at him, as with little imagination she could see herself nestled against his great muscled form. His mere presence set her body tingling and his gaze on her made her feel breathless and weak. It was not something she wanted him to see or know, for she felt he would be quick to exploit her feelings.
In a medical sense she knew he was not quite ready to leave, yet, if he insisted, she would let him go. He would need to be warned about the dangers. He could rip open his sutures and cause himself even greater problems than he already had. There was also the possibility that the three men who had attacked him were still waiting somewhere for him, though that was highly unlikely. If they had thought that he had lived they would have finished him off as he lay on the ground before them. With this in mind Aura decided to just warn him of the medical dangers. He would be familiar with the dangers of the outside world he was about to face. This was his time, his home, after all.
"Your worst wounds are not healed sufficiently to travel and could become septic if not cared for as they should be. The st.i.tches are definitely not ready to come out. If we try to remove them now the wounds could reopen and you would be in no better shape than when I found you. On your own you would not stand a chance against the same fevers you have already lived through."
He took note of her objections to his leaving and gave her a bright, hopeful smile, as he asked. "You want me to stay?" Perhaps he had misread her and she desired him as he did her. If that was the case he was ready if she was.
Afraid he might misinterpret an affirmative answer, she replied. "It might not be necessary. I can show you how to remove the st.i.tches tomorrow then you would be free to go as you please."
He nodded in reply, feeling a deep-seated disappointment he found impossible to justify. She wanted him gone. The thought of her rejection made him feel lonely. Why did her acceptance mean so much to him? Especially when he knew that if she were any other woman than whom she was she would be laying under him right now, enjoying his attentions to the fullest. He squirmed at the discomfort this thought caused him and tossed her a dark look. Why was she so different? Why did he find it impossible to take her out of pure l.u.s.t? Had his self enforced celibacy done this to him? He had to admit he had been without a woman for a long time. Then again he had never believed that rape was acceptable. Seduction was another matter, but first he needed to know if the woman was even in the least interested. She was sending no messages to him to make him believe his desires were returned. That made him feel guilty about the way he was thinking about her.
He turned from her in self-disgust and threw himself onto his bed, wincing as he hit the hard ground. He would think about these feelings another day.
Early the next morning he woke to the sound of something moving in the cave and he reached for his sword. He had learned in the past to never sleep without a weapon close at hand in case he needed one. The grating sound the steel made against the stone of the cave floor woke Aura and she jumped in reaction. Sitting up she looked to see what was the matter. She was just in time to see Roger rear over the man. She watched how the man swung his sword at the snake in a reflex action, cutting the head from the body.
A split second later Roger coiled and thrashed about in his death throws. The man moved to escape the path of the flailing body of the snake while Aura threw all regards to safety to the wind and ran towards her dying pet. As she brushed past the man she felt an arm wind itself about her waist and she was slammed backwards against his solid body.
"Do you want to die?" He growled out at her, to shock her back into using her sense.
She just turned on him and hit at his chest with clenched fists. He stood stationary and let her pommel him. She was not as strong as he had thought. In fact, she was not very strong at all. She quit, her body shaking with the effort she seemed to be making to control her grief, and he felt sorry for her. He raised his free hand to stroke the hair on the back of her head until she calmed and seemed to regain her composure.
When she was crying quietly in his arms he looked down into her face, to view the pain and devastation that was stamped across her features. She felt him watching her and she raised her head to look up at him. He was, she noted, very tall, as she reached no higher than the top of his collarbone. His eyes met hers and she felt as if she was suddenly caught in a web.
He had almost choked on the depth of despair he saw in her eyes and was amazed. Why? Could she have actually loved that huge snake? He found that impossible to imagine. What kind of life had she led that would make her cling to something like that? Didn't she have anyone in her life to love her?
As he held her close, another thought came unbidden to him, one that threatened to take over both his mind and body. He felt his muscles bunch in reaction and felt himself harden against the soft curves of her body. She was, his instincts told him, a woman, and she not only felt good, but so very, very right in his arms. He almost groaned as his shaft swelled and stiffened painfully, and before he could control the demands of his body, his soldier's mind went with it. After all, this was life was all about, was it not?
Aura's eyes widened as his arms tightened around her and he lifted her off of her feet until her face met his. She squirmed, kicked, and pushed at him to get away. His lips lowered to claim hers, demanding her response, and she gave a m.u.f.fled exclamation of objection. She clamped her lips together tight to refuse him entry, and his lips ground against hers, bruising her lips with his kiss. He was paying no heed to her weak attempts at freedom as he laid her with care onto the moss that had served as his bed. His body covered hers as he moved his lips from hers to nuzzle her neck in an attempt to coerce her into a more cooperative mood. He moved his hands from the small of her back to cup her b.r.e.a.s.t.s and fondle them as he stroked her mindlessly.
Aura felt the unfamiliar effects on her body from his touch. She felt her b.r.e.a.s.t.s swell against his hands, her heart pounding in her ears, and a small part of her sought to reach out to him. Something told her that if she gave him even the slightest indication that his attentions might be welcome, that his movements would gentle, and his touch would become seductive. It was this that she feared the most. She doubted whether she could resist the lure of his essence if his touch became softer. She felt his hands on her b.r.e.a.s.t.s as they kneaded them through the material of her nightgown, and a response shot through her that set her trembling.
Thorn felt her begin to wake to his touch and he groaned as he trailed fiery kisses down her neck to her b.r.e.a.s.t.s, which he nuzzled and nipped at until his mouth settled with unerring accuracy over a nipple, puckered and sensitive to his touch. She gasped an objection she really did not mean, yet knew she must. A pulsing sensation gripped her, as he bit the tip lightly setting off a throbbing between her legs, and she screamed in panic.
"No! Please no. You cannot do this! Wolf. Oh, please, no." What scared her even more was the small inner voice that belied her words and screamed YES!
Wolf, hearing the screams from out in the field where he had been chasing down yet another hare, stopped then ran to protect his mistress. Again.
The sound of the woman's voice penetrated the red haze that had taken over his mind and he moved to silence her objections. The last thing he wanted was for her to be rescued at this moment, not when he was this close to breaking through her defenses, not when he was this close to making her his. He repossessed her lips as he tried to hold her thrashing body still. His senses were so completely under the control of the l.u.s.t pounding through his veins that he was not even aware of her lip splitting under his as he attempted, unsuccessfully, to force them open.
So oblivious to anything about them was he that he was totally taken by surprise when the wolf attacked, digging his teeth deep into his sore arm.
All thoughts of the woman left his mind as he fought to keep the wild animal from his throat and his mind focused on the danger before him. He knew instinctively that he could not depend on the woman for help, not when he had just been stopped short of taking her as he had. In fact he was surprised that she was not helping the wolf.
Aura watched the two adversaries as they wrestled about on the floor of the cave, and collected her scattered wits about herself. When she felt she was in control once more she called Wolf to her side. The wolf left the man and came to stand beside her. He was still growling to warn the man off and his teeth were barred to show he meant business.
"You are obviously recovered enough to travel." Aura snarled. She was angered by the man's audacity and her own reactions to his manhandling. "I suggest that when you get back to wherever you are going that you get someone to cut the little st.i.tches that I have put into your arm and pull them out. Now, I would appreciate it if you would gather whatever is yours and get out. You have overstayed your welcome and abused my hospitality."
He glared at the wolf and the woman as he rubbed at the bites on his arms, then nodded. "You are right. I owe you an apology. I will leave, but not until you agree to come with me. You cannot live in this cave forever, I will not let you."
"I can live wherever I choose. Nor do I need you or your permission to do so. You do not own me, I can do as I please."
"You are a woman in a man's world. You will soon learn that there are many things that you will never be able to do. That wolf will not be able to protect you from everyone. In fact you could have been mourning a wolf as well as a snake if I would have had my sword nearby. Then you would have been more than just a little at my mercy." He spoke through his pain and frustration. If it were not for the wolf at her side he would have attacked her again. It was not a thought that he was proud of.
"Haven't you done enough?" Aura shot back. "I am overwhelmed by the extent of the grat.i.tude you have shown me for having saved your life. Next time I find you beaten and left for dead in some forest I will just leave you laying wherever you have fallen."
She stormed out of the cave and refused to return until he had gathered whatever was his, mounted his horse and galloped off. Once gone she returned to the cave, where she sat beside Roger. Placing her hand against the snake's cold, still form, she cried. She would bury him then move on. She did not trust the man not to return. If he did, she wanted to make sure she was not going to be here.
The winter following the confrontation between Aura and the man she had saved had been the hardest time she had ever lived through. She was afraid to go back to the cave, where she had food and shelter, for she could not trust him to stay away. Then again, she feared she might encounter him as she traveled, as she had no idea where he lived. It was a meeting she feared above all else, for memories of him still continued to haunt her. She was not so sure she cared for some of the feelings he had invoked in her.
In dreams she could hear his voice calling for her, though she knew he did not know her name. There were times she could have sworn that he had been with her, for when she woke his scent seemed to fill her nose, and a lingering sensation of having been held by him haunted her. The memories sometimes made her feel hollow, her breathing shallow, and her skin heated. Sleeping made her feel insecure and so lonely she could have cried.
As Aura traveled she learned how to earn her keep by practicing what she considered a crude form of medicine. The people she met accepted her as a true physician, however, it was something she never professed to be. Whenever she met a real doctor she spent as much time as possible exchanging knowledge and experiences. It was a practice that often benefited both sides, though she was unaware of that. In some ways she felt she had reason to feel grateful that she had gone back far enough in time to be of service.
Beyond an easy acceptance, Aura's medicine also earned her the potential to become quite wealthy, for she tended to stash the coins given to her. This was not necessarily through a natural frugality so much, as the pure lack of understanding of the monetary value of the currency of the time period. Another benefit of her travels and versatility was that she was developing a clearer insight into what was happening in the country.
The people, Aura found, were expecting a war. Word of an impending army planning to invade the country appeared to be common knowledge. The people were frightened which she thought understandable under the circ.u.mstances, and she was wary. War in general never made any sense to her, and even less so in this time and age. It was illogical to think that the people could be confident of winning the war while not having any faith in their King to lead his men into battle. It they could not believe in their monarch, she wondered, who did they turn to?
When she found the time to reflect on her own life, and how it had changed, she had to admit that losing Roger had not been the traumatic experience she had thought it might have been. She missed him but traveling had become easier, and although people noticed her because of Wolf, they never stared at her in horror, as some had done when they had caught her with her snake. Also, towards the end, she had had to admit the snake had become almost unbelievably heavy.
With the first signs of spring came word of a new invasion and, so the people said, their local Lord and his troops had rallied to their Duke's side. Together, along with some of the other Warlords, they were leading their armies to battle the enemy, who had already begun their raiding and pillaging as they crossed the land. She heard and listened to the fearful horrors of the atrocities being committed. She was thankful to be so far removed from the action. In fact she found it hard to be very involved in much of anything. It was still a revelation to her to wake up every morning stuck in the time she was in. She often wondered if one day she would wake to find herself back in her little hole in the ground during her own time period and all of this would have been just a dream.
She returned to her cave, believing that it would be safe to do so as the man was sure to have forgotten about her over the winter season. He was probably at war by now as he had been a warrior. Her main reason for returning was less simple, she was homesick. It was something she hated to admit and the cave was the closest thing she had to a home.
When she arrived at the site of the cave she went to the mound that marked the grave of her snake. She then made her way into the cave to see how much it would take to make it habitable again. She hoped that it had not dilapidated too badly, as she felt weary and unable to extend the energy she felt it would take to bring it back into shape.
She looked about the cavern with a great sigh. The animals and rodents looked as if they had found the cave a good place to make a winter home, and although it was empty at this time the moss and grains she had gathered the season before held traces of former occupants. She cleared the cave to the bare walls, even going as far as to sweep the dirt floor, before moving anything fresh into her home. She was not about to take the chance that there was more than just traces of the rodents left. She hated rats and mice with a pa.s.sion. She had always believed them to be dirty animals.
Wolf had done his part, killing a couple of rats before he had spotted a hare, which he had chased down to bring to her. She, in turn, patted him, scratching him behind the ears and gave him words of praise. She did not have the heart to tell him how sick of rabbit she was when he looked so pleased with himself. When she thought about it she decided she would have done almost anything for a very large serving of fish and chips. Her craving gave her an idea.
There was nowhere in England that she remembered that seemed far from the sea. So why should she deny herself such a little treat? It was well past time she took a trip to the coast to do a little fishing. It would be a welcome change. The invasion was given little or no thought, after all, it was a long way away and she was headed in the opposite direction. Or at least that was what she believed.
Together Aura and Wolf managed to spend almost two months by the sea and did no actual fishing. She had started off her trip at a lazy pace, reaching her destination two weeks after she had started. She stopped, from time to time, to care for someone ill, or to lend a helping hand to someone in need. As soon as people began to hear that a traveling doctor was in the vicinity they swarmed to her side. By the time she reached the sh.o.r.e she had acc.u.mulated more gold and silver than what she had started with. She found the innkeeper was more than happy to have her set up a small practice outside of his inn. His only disappointment was that she refused to take up residency in one of his rooms.
Today, Aura had promised herself, she was going to head for home. Much as she had enjoyed her trip it was well past time that she returned to the cave. She had supplies to gather and a winter to prepare for. She did not want to repeat the mistakes she had made over the last six months for they had been personally costly.
She was watching a small group of little boys playing with a cart she had made as they took turns riding the vehicle down an embankment when she heard a scream, warning of danger.
"Ships! Ships!" A woman shrieked as she streaked past Aura to warn others. Aura moved to a better vantage point, then, shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun with a hand, she looked out to sea.
The ships were about a half an hour away, which did not give a particularly long time for her to find a good hiding place, but she managed to anyway. Wolf always seemed to find a way to disappear when he was supposed to, as she had taught him to do in the past. If she climbed up a tree he was to go to hide in the bushes. He always seemed to be close at hand and happy to see her when she came down and called for him.
Aura watched as the town was looted and parts of the buildings were burned. She felt angry and helpless. There was nothing she could do to help, at least not yet. Anyone who tried to oppose the barbarians were butchered and left for dead. Any woman caught was dragged off and not all of them returned with their captors. When the raid was over a man with a scar on his face growled out an order and the warriors left. He supervised their withdrawal then spoke to another man who joined them. They stood right under the tree where Aura had hidden as they discussed their future plans, then left.
Aura watched the aggressors sail off then got down from her perch to survey the damage. She felt guilty as she viewed the devastation. She cursed the barbarity of the acts, and her own uselessness. She could help now, but it was not quite the same. These people had needed protection. The knowledge of a doctor was of little help during the rampage. Her knowledge would suit the purpose now and she realized just how ridiculous her twinge of conscience. She could not have helped in battle. She knew nothing of weapons, nor would her death have served any purpose, and she knew she would have died under those circ.u.mstances. She would have challenged anyone who would have tried to touch her and her fate would have been sealed. She picked through the rubble, as she worked her way about, and checked on the people she had come to know.
The village had been destroyed. The inn had been looted and the liquor stolen. Most of the buildings still stood, but some had been torched, and still smoldered despite efforts to kill the fires. After going through some of the bodies lying about, Aura had to tell people that there was no hope for a loved one. It was a painful experience. To have to look into eyes glistening with desperate hope then watch that light die in them as she pa.s.sed on the news hurt worse than anything she had ever known.
The invaders had been thorough, for few people remained alive of those who had been caught. Aura counted the dead, five men, seven women, four children and one adolescent girl, who had suffered what Aura felt, an extremely horrid death. No woman, young or old, deserved to die at the hands of men who were no better than animals, but for some reason, it seemed worse when something like that happened to a child. Those who had gone to sea to fish were lucky, for otherwise they would have also lain on the ground before her. Three men lay to the side with serious injuries. She turned her attention to care for them. She prayed as she worked, that she would have the stomach to give them the attention they needed. She had noted the gaping wounds on some of the dead and, listening now to the cries of pain coming from her patients, she feared the worst. She took a deep breath to steel herself to the job ahead of her, prayed for courage then went to work.
Aura saw to the worst casualty first and found she could do nothing to help him. He had sustained a deep chest wound and he had bled too much for any of her ministrations to be effective. What the man needed was a blood transfusion and who knew what else due to internal injuries. There was no way any of this was possible under the conditions she was working in. She also had to admit, it might have even been a struggle even in a proper facility.
As Aura turned to the second man a fourth man stumbled towards her. She put an arm about his body to stabilize him then led him to a resting spot, before turning to the man she had been about to attend. The second man had also sustained a chest wound, as had the first, although his was not nearly as serious. Aura checked the gash, mixed some herbs to make a poultice then had the man drink some medicine she had made up to ease his pain while she prepared to treat the wound on his chest. What she was about to do was going to hurt a lot; although, he would not feel most of it. She cleansed the wound and surrounding area then, with quick deft fingers, sewed up the gash.
The man watched her with curious detachment, amazed by the swiftness of her work and the lack of pain. That, when he asked about it, she a.s.sured him would come later when the opiate she had given him earlier would dissipate. By the time she had finished with the wound he slept and she proceeded to check him over for other injuries. Finding nothing but relatively minor bruising, she moved on to the third man.
About this time, a troop of men rode into the village and she became the center of attention in a different way. Where people had watched her before with nervous concern, she now came under a cold calculated scrutiny. She shrugged off the discomfort of their manners, thinking of them as a minor irritation, and turned her full attention onto her patient. He had a deep gash in his thigh and was lucky it had ceased bleeding earlier. He also had a bruise over his left eye, which she determined would bear closer examination, in case of a concussion. He watched her, whimpering at her every touch and Aura wished he could have been unconscious, for he looked as if he could cause her trouble.
"Are you capable of moving?" She asked as she checked out his eyes to ascertain the extent of damage his head had received. She decided the problem, if any, was minor.
"Yes, M'Lady." He whined. "You are not going to cut off my leg are you?" The question was very telling, giving Aura the reason for his fear, as well as a way to deal with it.
"Not if you cooperate." She decided to give him something else to think about, as well as a reason to control his basic instincts. She did, however, wonder where he had ever seen a leg amputation in this day and age.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Remove your trousers and lay back. I need free access to the wound."