Aura. - Part 4

Part 4

The man nodded, and as she went to check on the fourth and last patient, he removed his pants then sat down to wait for her return. The fourth man had not waited for her to tend to his wounds in a stationary manner. He had grown restless and had gotten to his feet to move about, for lack of anything else to do.

"How are you feeling?"

"I am not cut open like the others were, if that is what you mean, but my shoulder feels as if it is on fire. Nor can I seem to move it."

Aura nodded as she tried to remove the man's tunic, but he would not let her as he screamed with pain at the first sign of movement. She sighed as she noted his anguish then took out a sharp knife to cut the shirt off of him, only to uncover a ma.s.s of bruising. She sucked in her breath as she looked at the discoloration then told the man to sit down while she took care of the man awaiting her attentions.

Watching her return to him, the man laid down as she approached. She gave him a little of the opiate she had given the other man earlier, but knew it would not be enough, so she warned him. "What I am about to do will hurt. I will understand if you feel you need to scream, but I must ask that you control any urge you have to hit me."

"No man would hit a Lady." The statement was said in such a manner as to give a genuine impression of his feelings on the matter, and Aura smiled at him.

"I am just warning you so you will have an idea what to expect. After I do what I must, well, you just might want to hit me."

The man nodded in understanding and Aura, determined to get it over with, cleaned and st.i.tched his leg. He let out one yell as the antiseptic touched the wound then gave several whimpers thereafter. Aura wished she had more to give these men for pain, but she did not. She had never expected to treat anything like this and was not prepared.

She suspected the fourth man was going to take more muscle than she had. He had a broken collarbone and she knew he was not going to let her set it without resistance. It was definitely going to need attention. She looked at his heavy build and bit her lip in indecision. He had the look of a warrior and the demeanor of a peasant. She thought about it for a moment, the decided to play a similar game with him as she had with the last man. She checked him out one last time then sat beside him to speak to him before trying to help him out.

"You only have the one injury and I have to tell you it is very serious."

"Serious?" The word made the man nervous, especially as he had watched her take care of the other man and she had not used that word with him.

"Yes. I need to know if you are a brave man, especially when it comes to pain."

"I am just as brave as the next man, why?" The question had definitely chaffed at the man's pride.

"I ask because I am going to need your help with this. You see I am just a woman, I can only do so much." Aura made herself sound almost helpless, something she was not.

The man nodded, this was something he knew about, as women were weaker than men. She spoke the truth about that. "Just tell me what you want me to do and I will do it."

"Alright, but it is going to hurt, even with the medicine." She then gave him the rest of the opiate as she continued to inform him. "I need to set the bone in your shoulder."

"Jems can take it, do whatever you must." The opiate had given him extra courage.

Aura chuckled to herself then warned him a second time, just before she set the bone. He was to brace himself, which he did, and a few moments later he gave a resounding bellow as the muscle was stretched enough to allow the bone to fall back into place. She then braced his arm and tied it into place, using what was left of his cut up shirt as a sling.

"You can go home, if you have one left. You are not to use that arm or shoulder for at least a couple of weeks. Do you understand?"

The man nodded, and a few moments later he was gone.

Returning to the third man she checked to see if he was all right, then with some stout pieces of branches she fashioned him a crude pair of crutches. She showed him how to use them, and sent him off with his wife and family. She reflected at how lucky the man was that he still had one. Most had not been so lucky. Most had lost someone cherished.

The second man was still unconscious when she checked on him, and the first man had mercifully died. Aura felt saddened at his pa.s.sing and sighed. To make herself feel that what she had done had not been a total loss, she examined the second man over again. She reflected on how one loss seemed to nullify the saving of the others. When she was sure she could do no more for him she settled nearby to rest, and to await his waking.

A man had been watching her from on top of his horse. He dismounted and came to sit beside her.

"You have a way with the injured."

"I try, but I have not been trained properly." Aura admitted. "I don't have the right medicines and equipment, and conditions are so very primitive that it is a minor miracle that I have had the success rate that I have. Even those who survived could succ.u.mb to infection yet and die."

"You speak strangely girl. What is it you wish to tell me?"

"I mean to tell you that st.i.tching a man up with silk thread while he is on the ground is no proper way to practice medicine." Aura snapped in her frustration.

The man frowned still confounded by some of the words she used and her accent. He decided she must have come from another land. He also noted that she appeared to be alone. According to what he could see she had to be an important person. Her clothing was strange, but well made, albeit a little worn, and she had the general appearance and manners of a lady. She must have been some n.o.ble's daughter, although whose and how she got to be here was a mystery. He could think of no one he knew with a child such as this, or even one missing a daughter.

He gave her knowledge, possible status, and usefulness some thought. He then decided to take her with him. He wanted to know more about her and would learn that as they traveled together.


For the next two days Aura reluctantly rode beside Vernon as their troop swelled to eventually become a full army, and still they continued to move onwards. They came upon the enemy almost by accident as they crested a hill. Vernon put his hand out to grab the reigns of her mare as he noticed the camp and she had not. He held up his other hand to halt the forced march. Aura followed the focus of his attention and immediately noticed the large a.s.sembly of men below them, as well as the area they had chosen to settle into.

"There lays our enemy's camp Aura. Deceptively quiet and peaceful is it not?"

"Yes it is," Aura agreed as she continued to scan the scene before her. "It has not been very well selected. They could not have thought to stay in this area long."

"Why do you say that?"

"Look at the layout of the land." Aura spoke as if she was making a report for a cla.s.s project. She remembered taking courses that studied ancient battles. "We can easily see the whereabouts of the whole force below us. If we were to encircle the hollow we could descend on them and destroy their whole army. It would not take long in terms of most battles."

"I think I understand what you are saying, but do carry on."

"Correct me if I am wrong, but the Lord Thorn's army holds the pa.s.s across from us, right?" Aura asked as she tried to make sure of her facts.

"That is right, and his force should number as much as my own, if not more." Vernon did not want to admit that Thorn's forces would probably be considerably larger. In some ways Thorn's popularity chaffed at his pride. Men trusted his warlord in battle where they would not trust him.

"In that case if you were to spread your army out to cover the other two hillsides they would be left with no choice but to stand or surrender. That is unless they want to swim the lake. Their general has been very careless to select such a resting place unless he expects to face a force much weaker than his own, or unless it was only meant as a very temporary place to stop."

"He knows little of whom he faces." Vernon replied with a smug smile. "If he does not fear me, he should fear Thorn. I have no fiercer warlord."

"If you remember, your Lord Thorn rides to his own defense. Have you thought that perhaps your adversary below had that prearranged?"

"It is a thought, but I know Thorn. He will take only the most elite of his force, a mere riding guard. The rest he will leave behind under his brother. I will be well served. We will attack as the sun rises. You will remain behind. Nor do I want to see you until after the battle has been fought and won. If we lose you are to turn and run for your life. Do not let them catch you Aura. I would hate to think of what they might do to you if they did. Your best and safest destination would be Thorn's stronghold in the Northwest if we become seriously separated. You would be safe under his protection. Just tell him I said you are under my protection. He would guard you with his life under that condition."

"I have no interest or intention of joining your battle, for as a warrior, I would be less than useless. Nor am I about to turn and run. I will tend to the wounded and for the most effective result that is best done as soon as possible to prevent ma.s.sive infections which could cause unnecessary fatalities."

Vernon caught on to what Aura meant immediately. She had no intention of doing what he told her and he clipped out his orders. "You will do as you are told Aura. Stay away from the field until it is safe."

Aura said nothing as she regained the reigns of her horse. She followed him back down the hill in a deceptively docile manner. They would camp two hills away from the enemy so they would not be detected. Vernon held his first council before the camp was even pitched.

The men had grown used to Aura's strange habit of disappearing after a day riding, so made no fuss about her leaving the containment area as they settled. When Vernon finished his conference and went to search her out he found nothing. "Wolf was with her," was the general comment he got, indicating that people had seen her, but that they had gotten used to her coming and goings and no longer paid any attention to them. He knew there would be no use trying to find her, no one yet had managed to, and the Wolf would take care of her as long as they were together.

Vernon sat beside his fire and sighed as he leaned back to think about the girl who had integrated herself into their lives so fast. The men had labeled her their lady, as they knew she did not share their Duke's tent. Aura slept alone under the stars like the rest of the men, with her wolf at her side. n.o.body approached her out of fear of what it might do if they tried.

Vernon knew that Aura was aware of the fear Wolf caused those about her and she was more that happy to keep it that way. She had noticed the way some of the men looked at her from time to time and decided it was best to leave things as they were. The decision gave her the privacy and freedom she needed to be her own person, without having to fight for the right.

Aura had made no changes in the pace she traveled, thus giving no warning of her intentions. The move had paid off as she slipped away to find a quiet little hide away where she decided she would spend the night. No one would miss her. They would be too busy preparing for battle, and she could have some time to herself for a change. It was a refreshing thought. She had grown used to being alone over the last couple of years and missed the solitude as she had traveled with the army.

She bathed and swam in the temperate waters of the river then washed her clothes while Wolf chased down a rabbit for the two of them. After they ate she spent some time petting and playing with him before they retired for the night, sighing happily as she drifted off. It had been just like old times.

She was woken by the sounds of battle at daybreak. Aura did not even think as she got her things together, and jumped onto the back of her horse to race to the edge of the battlefield. Only the dead and the badly injured remained in the area and she moved from body to body to determine which was which. She almost went unnoticed except for the fact that she was a woman. After checking over one body three times she decided to mark the bodies of the deceased, so she would not keep checking on them over and over. There were hundreds that would number amongst the dead. It all seemed such a waste.

Lord Edwin ran into Aura in the midst of the horrors that surrounded them. She had just finished sewing up a man and as Lord Edwin, accompanied by another man, rode to her she stood to glare at the duo. Her clothes were caked in blood and mud. She had gone from man to man tending to any wound she could, most men she had been unable to help. How could you put a man together who had lost limbs? Even those she had helped stood a good chance of dying from infection. There was blood and gore everywhere, mingling and infecting everything around. Men. Animals. They lay dead and dying everywhere. The field was layered in so much blood it was hard to walk without slipping. She had happened upon a partially decapitated body early in her efforts to help, it had left her sick to her stomach. Nothing had changed, no one could get used to carnage such as this. It was no place for anyone. She listened to the laughter of the men before her, noted their smug expressions and seethed inwardly.

Strands of her hair had worked its way free of her usual meticulous braid and floated about her in disarray. Her face was stamped with fatigue, and smudged with dirt and blood. She had fought so hard to save the lives that she could. To her it did not matter if they had been friend or foe. They were lives to be saved. They were all people and their lives had meaning, no matter what anyone else thought. If she could save them, she would.

Edwin leaned over to his friend and said something that caused both of them to laugh. Aura, in reaction to their behavior, just turned from their offending presences in disgust and went to tend to another injured person. Edwin's laughter was cut short, as he noted the contempt shown in the manner of her dismissal, and he frowned. This was not quite what he had expected her to do, although he had not really known what she would say or do. His friend beside him noticed his reaction to her high-handed manner and grinned in amus.e.m.e.nt as he taunted him.

"Not quite the friendliest woman is she Edwin?"

Edwin returned his grin and confessed. "I thought her to be the perfect bride for you Alex. I merely sought to introduce the two of you."

"I might be interested in her for a night or two, but I intend to wed the Lady Felicity, if I can." Alex admitted.

"Thorn would bless you for that but with your feelings for Felicity in mind I would suggest that you forget you ever saw this particular woman Alex."

"Why? If she was willing where would be the harm?" Alex shrugged.

"Vernon would have your b.a.l.l.s if you ever took her to your bed. He somehow has the idea that the girl is of n.o.ble blood and he guards her as one would a daughter." Edwin informed his friend.

"n.o.ble blood? From which family?" Alex was interested, but more out of curiosity than anything else.

"Does it matter?" Edwin asked. "Vernon has decided to honor her as a n.o.ble lady and so must we."

"Which means he has some sort of plans for her that comes with the t.i.tle. I wonder what he has in mind?" Alex wondered aloud.

"You mean; of course, who he has in mind for her. Vernon likes to match make, it is his favorite pastime at court. And, if you have ever noticed, he usually gets his way."

"Like with Elizabeth and you?" Alex teased with a grin.

"Elizabeth and I were betrothed for a long time, even before Vernon began playing his games with peoples lives." Edwin informed him, though he knew his friend was aware of the fact.

"You may be right, but you could never persuade him that he had nothing to do with it." Alex teased. "Who do you think he fancies for her?"

"I would not even hazard a guess, nor do I think that he has settled on any one man himself yet, but he will. Nor will it take him too long, you can be sure of that."

The two men had been so lost in their conversation and speculations that they did not even notice as Aura moved away, marking the dead as she did. Even Vernon's presence, as he rode up behind them, came as a surprise to them.

"Either of you see Aura?"

"Sire!" Edwin startled, wondering just how much of their conversation he had heard. He quickly decided it could not have been much then answered: "She was here caring for the wounded but a moment ago. She was not in a very friendly mood either I might add."

"So where did she go?" Vernon asked with a frown.

"Off amongst the wounded and dead I guess. She seemed annoyed with us for some reason." Alex answered.

"From what I have seen she had probable cause. From what I have heard about her she saved more lives than either of you took in this battle. Well, I notice that she seems to have left a trail for us to follow that neither of you have been interested enough to notice or point out. We have found that any body marked with a red smudge across the cheek, is certain to be dead. Now, as you both seem to think so little of her efforts, you can help clean the dead off of the field, and no, I do not care if you are the Lord Thorn's brother. I doubt if he would care either, he is a fair man." Vernon ordered.

"What do you want from the girl anyway Vernon? She is not the usual sort that you befriend or champion." Edwin wanted to know, and he didn't want to hear it said as hearsay.

"I want to find out what she knows, as well as how much. She is an enigma Edwin, and I mean to find out what I can about her." Vernon then set his horse off at a walk, to pick his way through the bodies as he searched for her.

The battlefield had encompa.s.sed four miles, and Aura had traveled through a little over half of it, doing what she could where she could. She had no doubts that troops would be put to work clearing the dead from the fields. She had to admit, there were many more dead than alive. She had not cared for all the warriors who had survived their wounds it would have been beyond her capability. There were other doctors, who flitted from man to man, just as she did.

Vernon found her seated beside a young blond warrior. The man had just died, and she was in tears. She, he decided, had seen too much death and destruction for one day and he decided it was time for her to call it a day. She had also probably not eaten or drank anything as she had weaved through the mayhem left behind by the battling forces. He doubted if she realized the number of lives she had helped to save. The doctors who had worked with her, and the other ones who were now beginning to take over, were astounded by her work and wondered how she had known whether the men were dead or alive. Most of the men had been incapable of showing any signs of life. Vernon, at hearing all they had to say, was determined to find out what her secret was. Some had, in the beginning, questioned whether she might even be a witch, but as she had shown herself only too human, this potentially dangerous suspicion was set aside by one and all.

"Aura," Vernon called her name as he rode up to her side, his voice echoing his gentle concern at her obvious distress. She raised an exhausted, tear streaked face up to look at him, and he frowned. "You have done more than your share. It is time you had something to eat and get some sleep."

She turned to the dead man beside her and marked him for pickup, as well as his companion. She then got up, and Vernon lifted her onto his horse, to sit her before him.

"I will have to send a messenger to the Lord Thorn telling him of the battle results." Vernon spoke his thoughts aloud, fishing for a reaction from her. "I will call my scribe to write this for me when we return to camp."

"I can do it for you if you wish." Aura offered though her heart was not into the project. She was tired, she realized, and she knew she was not quite up to it at the moment.

"You can write?" Vernon asked in surprise.

"Of course, that is a silly question, that is the first thing they teach in school." Her eyes widened, as she perceived the error in what she had said. She corrected herself by asking a leading question. "They do have schools to teach the people here, do they not?"

"Only the ones who can afford tutors learn to read and write, unless they are of a religious order. In that case they learn how to read and write in the monasteries."

Aura shook her head, then said: "I am afraid I have been very sheltered. I have never considered what life as an illiterate might be like. This Lord Thorn, which you seem to think so well of, can he read?"

"Yes. He is well respected and honored. He is a great warrior and leader of men. I am proud to say I consider him a close friend." Vernon rambled on. Then, as he rode in silence for a while, aware of her weight against him, he looked down, to find that she had fallen asleep. He did not know when, but she must have been about ready to collapse when he had found her. It took a lot to fall asleep on a horse, or, at least, it always had for him. He rode into the camp and called to his aide.

"Get the Lady Aura's bedding from her horse, set it out then come and get her. Place her where she would ordinarily sleep then call her wolf to her side. That animal must be wondering what has happened to her to keep her from him so long. I a.s.sume you know how to call him as she does."

"Yes Sire," the aide replied. He did as he was told and after putting her into her bed he called the wolf. When Aura and the wolf settled he grabbed her knapsack to take it to Vernon, to show him the contents.

"Sire, I think you would be interested to see what she has in here."

"Indeed and why would I be interested in female clothing?"

"Just look sire, you will understand. She has many interesting things. Some familiar, some not." The aide gave him the bag, then left.

Vernon was not pleased that the aide had gone through Aura's things, but he could hardly fault the man's curiosity. He had wondered about her often enough himself. During his search through her possessions Vernon came across undergarments and slacks. He had seen her wear slacks before so they were nothing to be concerned with.

He brought out a flat box that he eventually managed to open to reveal a necklace of diamonds and amethysts. He did a detailed study of the craftsmanship that must have been used to make the jewels and his brows puckered in thought. They were of a higher quality than any he had ever seen before. That made him believe even more that she had to have come from a very wealthy and powerful family. Why had they not come looking for her? The question caused him a moment of concern, but not for long. There were many families that had disappeared through war at one time or another, perhaps that is what happened to hers. Maybe that was why she seemed so lost.

Vernon picked out another item from the bottom of the bag. A dress. The gown was pure white, which would have been startling before he had seen the jewels, or before he had gotten to meet her. Knowing her, however, he no longer found anything surprising about her possessions, even when it came to a piece of clothing so white that it almost hurt the eyes to look at it. The material, he noted, as he fingered it, was strange. Pliant and soft to the touch, yet resisting wrinkling and crushing, it was unlike anything he had even seen before. Could she be a princess from another land? No, he decided, she had none of the airs of a Princess, but he resolved to keep her at court anyway. Somehow. He understood that his plans would not be well received by her. That would cause problems, but nothing he couldn't handle.

He gave her position more thought then decided that he would have to do some careful planning on whom he would choose for her to wed, especially if he was to keep her close. Nor would just any man do. First, he would have to get her to court, to see whom; amongst his peers, she would suit. He refused to think of giving her to just anybody. She deserved better than that.


Vernon was frustrated. He had wanted to leave for home a few days after the battle had ended. He also wanted Aura to go with him, which she had refused to do. He had taken her refusal to do as he said as a challenge to his authority. That made her an even greater problem than the advancing forces had been. He was not impressed with how she had stubbornly decided that as she had st.i.tched up so many men she would like to remain to see the sutures removed at the very least. It took him almost two weeks to talk her into leaving. By then even the enemy had come to love and respect the girl who had saved their lives, and to fear the wolf that walked by her side as her protector.

Despite Vernon's own distrust of the wolf he silently blessed the beast every time he noticed a man watch Aura with a gleam in his eye that could have meant trouble. He understood very well what was going through the minds of the men, for he could identify with it very well. He was not immune to her charms himself. The ride from the battlefield with her cradled against his body had proved that only too well and he had decided it was just as well that she had fallen asleep when she had.

Aura had proved stubborn beyond Vernon's every belief, as he had tried to break her resolve to see the last man on his way. He felt she was forgetting who was in charge. He put his foot down as he noted her exhausted return to the camp after a hard day and another of her famous disappearing acts, from which she always returned damp.