For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
A deep intake of breath brought Merryn back to the light of day- four days after she'd been brought to her bedchamber. Memories of her time on the battlefield quickly returned to her, and she moved slightly, testing the physical waters. She was sore, sharp pains stabbing at her shoulder and upper chest, but it was not excruciating as it had been.
Eyes slowly opening, she saw the huge chamber around her, the wooden canopy above her head. The sunlight outside the open windows tried to penetrate the stone cave of a room, but fell short. Lit candles and lamps tried to make up for the dimness. Looking down at herself, she saw that a soft, cotton gown had been placed over her long frame, though buttons down the front could be opened so her wounds could be tended to. She was clean, dry, and tightly bandaged, though she could feel a stiffness on her skin, where a healing paste of some sort had been spread.
"Healer, how is she?" Angus asked, his voice hushed. This brought curious blue eyes toward the door. She saw the dark man walking toward a cloaked figure, their back to the brunette. Soft voices breezed over Merryn's ears, the words 'Donal' and 'will survive' uttered time and again. With a nod, Angus turned, headed out of the room. Blue eyes turned toward the figure, who was now turning back toward the large table that had been set up, its surface covered in raw herbs, some bundled together. A pale hand reached out from the oversized sleeve of the cloak, taking a bowl, the other grabbing a neatly folded cloth.
Merryn watched as the figure turned, the deep shadows of the hood obscuring the face. She felt her heartbeat quicken as the bowl and rag were laid on the table next to the large bed she had lain in.
"How do ye feel, Yer Highness?" asked a soft voice, the sound melodious on the morning air. Merryn couldn't breathe, nor answer. She waited with baited breath, praying the healer would remove the hood that hid her face. The deep shadows under the hood were now facing the brunette. The pale hands reached up, strong fingers pushing the hood back, revealing short, golden hair, brushing against a forehead, soft brow, dark blonde brows slightly knitted, a wrinkle of concentration bunched between them. The nose was small, finely shaped, as were pale lips.
Merryn's breath and heart caught as green eyes were opened, meeting her own. The brunette felt the sting of tears behind her eyes, which took in the expanse of the beautiful face. She gasped softly at the slight scarring she saw littering the left side, leading down her neck, disappearing into the dark material of the full circle cloak she wore.
"'Twasn't a dream," she whispered, her voice hoarse.
"We must clean yer wounds, Sire." The blonde's voice was soft, yet stern. The green eyes flickered away, back to the medicines.
"Cara?" the healer did not respond, instead turned back to her, gently pushing the blankets aside, revealing Merryn's cotton-clad torso.
"I must unbutton yer gown, Yer Highness." Nimble fingers began to work on the buttons, slowly revealing badly bruised skin, disappearing into white bandages. Though there was pain, Merryn was unable to take her eyes from the woman before her.
The healer worked with gentle efficiency, her touch warm, her ministrations knowing and healing. Even so, her manner was aloof, detached. As Merryn looked up into the green eyes, filled with a calm wisdom that instantly put her at ease. Those eyes were so familiar, yet looked at her with nothing but the kindness her profession required. Golden hair was cut short, just brushing over small ears. The flickering of the candlelight next to the bed, drew the scarring into pitted shadows.
The Healer gently unwound the bandages, revealing creamy white flesh, dotted with bruising, cuts and finally the two wounds, made by the arrows of a good shot.
The Donal winced slightly as the rag, soaked in a cleaning solution, carefully moved across and inside her wounds.
Head sinking into the pillows beneath her, she closed her eyes, no longer able to stare at the woman who hovered over her. She pushed the pain away by thinking, disappearing into her mind and thoughts.
The Healer. Was Merryn losing her mind? Was her feverish state causing her to see something, or someone, that was not really there? Was her brush with death making her wish what could never be? If that were the case, then she'd rather they had let her die. The disappointment alone would kill her.
"This may hurt," the healer said, her fingers lining Merryn's wound with a thick, grainy paste. The brunette sucked in her breath, almost unable to breath. The blonde rested a comforting hand on a strong shoulder, also helping to keep the Donal flat on the bed. "'M sorry," the healer whispered. She took her fingers away, quickly dipping more of the paste, only to return, sealing the wound with the goop. She placed a clean bandage on the wound, then turned her attention to the other wound. "We'll be turnin' ye over, as well."
Merryn said nothing, just closed her eyes and allowed the soft touch to sink in to her skin, regardless of the pain those fingers were inflicting. Her mind was so foggy, her thoughts flying out of her body, almost as though she were watching from a safe distance out of her body. She saw the healer leaning over her, a small body wrapped in a dark cloak. Golden hair in stark contrast, the short strands sticking up in various places, bangs a bit too long, brushing into beautiful green eyes. She stood, finished cleaning and packing the second wound.
"Hold on ta me," the blonde said, her hands grabbing Merryn's waist, gently turning her. The brunette cried out softly as pain shot through her midsection. She felt the gown being taken off the rest of the way, leaving her back exposed, save for the exit wounds that were still packed from earlier. "I know it hurts."
Merryn closed her eyes, trying to get her breath. The healer stepped away from the bed for a moment, then was back. Fingers were suddenly placed at the brunette's mouth.
"Yer Highness, eat this." A sweet paste was put on Merryn's tongue. She recognized it as something Cara used to make. She knew she'd be asleep within moments. She also registered the slight salty taste- the blonde's skin. As she drifted off, her pain fading into the darkness, skin sensitized as she felt soft touches, heard soft words.
Blue eyes opened, an instant smile graced Merryn's face as she saw Cara looking down at her. The brunette was lying on her soft bed, the blonde lying next to her, holding her head up on her elbow. Soft green eyes looked down into her own. Cara's fingers were tenderly caressing Merryn's uninjured shoulder.
"Merryn," she said again. When she saw she had the brunette's full attention, her smile widened, eyes twinkling. "Ye once called me Mo Shearc." Merryn smiled at the term of endearment, nodded. "Am I still yer love?"
"Aye, lass." Merryn reached up, Cara's soft cheek coming into contact with her palm. "Always," she whispered. Merryn's eyes closed as she felt soft fingers brush the skin of a bared shoulder, breezing over her cheek, the backs running back down her neck. Merryn couldn't help but move her head to the side, exposing more of her neck for the soft fingers and gentle touch. A soft voice whispered in the air, Merryn straining to hear what was said. Sensitive ears finally picked it up.
"Why did ye leave me?"
Paul stood, stretched his arms far above his head, dark eyes squeezing tightly shut as the stretch flowed through his entire body. Shaking it off, he walked over to the massive fireplace that spanned one entire wall of the sleeping chamber. Poking at it, he sent the flames reaching again, the heat nearly searing his face as he stepped away. Like the woman he'd come to see as his guidance in all things, he preferred to do things himself. The young man never felt right about having a servant called for to do what he was more than capable of doing himself. He understood that a castle the size of this one needed much help to run it.
Glancing toward the huge bed, he saw the woman in question, still deeply asleep. Needing to be close to her, his fear running high since she'd been so gravely wounded more than a week ago, Paul had brought his studies into her bedchamber. All his books and writings were set out over the huge desk that his adopted mother used to make plans, when she was home, that is.
Merryn, which nobody called her anymore, had been claimed by the heart of the young boy many, many years ago. His own mother, Tamara, had died nearly six years ago now, bearing the child of a soldier. Both mother and child had been lost, regardless of what the castle's physician had tried to do.
Distraught, Paul had turned to the fiercely protective wing of the tall, blue-eyed leader. The boy had really been raised by the entire household, but no one could soothe him like Merryn could.
Walking over to his studies, the handsome boy looked down at his books, dark bangs falling into darker eyes.
The castle had been in absolute chaos when they'd received word that The Donal had been so seriously wounded. Yes, she'd been wounded in ways the boy couldn't even fathom over the years, but she was always able to be treated either on the battlefield, or at camp with the camp physician. This time, all knew it could be a mortal wound. There was only one that might be able to heal her, and that was The Healer.
The Healer was known throughout Europe. She had the touch of the divine, her skills bringing Jesus back from the cross, as had been said. No one knew who she was, or where she came from, just that she could work magic with her herbs and potions. Her quiet, soothing demeanor was almost as legendary as her healing skills. It was even said she had studied with famed French physician to Pope Clement VI, Guy de Chauliac. He admired her bravery, considering the Church and devout Catholics everywhere, often saw healers as charlatans. Only God, in all His wisdom, could truly heal. It wasn't uncommon for healers and physicians to be found guilty of witchery.
Paul glanced over his shoulder at the table loaded with those potions and bundles of herbs. Some he recognized, from the teachings of his adoptive mother over the years. He'd not spent much time with The Healer, but when he had watched her, on first arrival, he had been amazed. Her touch was amazingly gentle and sure. Though she said little, she had a core of calm within her that seeped into her patient, putting them at ease, and corking their fears. When she had spoken to his mother, the blonde's voice had been soft, almost reminding the boy of the running water in a stream- clear and calm, and highly refreshing to the wounded soul.
He could learn much from her. The Healer had been very patient with him, softly explaining what she was doing. Paul had been allowed to stay, as he helped to calm his mother, her cold, pale hand wrapped up in his own.
The young man looked over his shoulder as one side of the double doors was pushed open. The familiar dark cloak came into view as The Healer entered the room. Her hood was slightly pushed back from her face, leaving her features partially in shadow.
"Good afternoon," she said softly to the boy, walking over to the bed. Paul hurried over to her, smiling his greeting. He figured the blonde understood his inability to speak, but she said nothing of it. If she did speak with him, she either asked no questions he'd have to answer, or simply asked him to do tasks that he could respond to with the physical deed. Such as now. She turned to the lad. "Might'nt ye fill this?" she handed him a water bladder. With a big smile, he nodded and took the container from her, hurrying from the room.
The Healer turned back to the brunette, still asleep in the large bed. Her facial features were at peace, forehead free of lines of pain or worry. Dark brows, finely arched rested over pale lids, which fluttered slightly. The Donal must be dreaming.
The blankets were pulled back, revealing a new, dry gown. The wound had created fever, which in turn caused the garments to be soaked through with sweat often. When The Healer had checked her patient earlier in the morning, she had changed the gown, bundling the old to be washed by the castle clothing washers.
Nimble fingers made quick work of the many, tiny buttons of the simple cotton, deftly pulling the ends apart to reveal skin that was quickly becoming more of a natural color. The deep bruising had gone through its paces over the many days, turning every color of the bruise spectrum, now urine yellow.
Blue eyes began to roll restlessly, a dark head turning from its side. The Donal opened her eyes, seeing green, narrowed in concentration. Unobserved, Merryn was able to study the face of her healer. Slight lines spread from the corners of her eyes, as well as the wrinkle that gathered between her brows with her concern. The skin of the blonde's face was tanned, which Merryn figured was from sweeping the forests or private gardens for just the right herbs; growing them, nurturing them to healing perfection.
"Might I get up 'n about today?" the brunette asked, bringing green eyes up to meet her own. The eyes were aged a thousand years. After a moment, The Healer nodded.
"For a bit."
The brunette was eternally grateful. She was becoming restless, allowed through as the pain had subsided substantially. Now she felt sore, as though she'd been drug behind a horse for a couple days.
The door opened, and an instant smile spread across The Donal's face as Paul entered the room, a fat water bladder in his hands. The blonde quickly covered Merryn's breasts as the boy stepped over to the bed. She smiled a thank you to the lad, taking the water and creating her mixture in the apothecary bowl with the marble grinder.
The brunette held out a hand to her son, which was quickly taken. Blue eyes watched carefully as Paul told her all about his day, and what he'd been doing, and his studies of the ancient Egyptians and their marvelous structures. His hands were a blur in his excitement.
The blonde glanced over at the boy from time to time, trying to figure out what he was explaining. She was at a loss, though The Donal seemed enthralled. Soon she turned her full attention back to her patient, grateful that the young man was keeping her attention. The blonde did her best to keep her patient's dignity, but when she tended to the wound near her lung, she had no choice but to expose the Donal's right breast.
The wounds were healing nicely, both healing from the inside, the skin stitching together. The Healer knew it was painful for her patient, sharp pains shooting through the wounds as the flesh knitted back together, blood vessels healing themselves, and becoming whole once more.
Soon her job would be complete, and she could leave.
The Donal held her breath as she buckled her baldric into place. Whimpering, she quickly tore the thing from her body. Even without the weight of her blades, the leather strap was too much across her shoulder and chest.
Taking several deep breaths, she ran her hands through her hair, attempting to gain her composure once more.
"Ye do too much, Merryn."
The brunette glanced into the mirror, seeing Evela's reflection walking up behind her, dark brows drawn. Her friend and confidante was the only one in the entire kingdom who still called her by her given name. Everyone else, including her top officers and Angus, had gotten so used to Donal, that it had stuck.
The brunette grunted her response, impatient and irritated at her body's limitations. She hated limitations, and refused to allow her men or people to live by them, so why should she?
With a knowing smile, Evela helped her to finish dressing. The household had prepared a dinner in her honor, and the entire castle, and all those living at court, was buzzing with excitement and relief.
"Ye look troubled," the smaller woman said, her voice quiet. She looked into blue eyes over Merryn's left shoulder.
"'Tis nothing." The Donal walked away, grabbing a thick, leather belt that was belted over her jerkin, her dress dagger tucked inside. She felt naked without a weapon, even in her own home. Many years ago Gerik had taught her that she was never truly safe.
Merryn caught the dark, amused gaze. With a sigh, she turned her back to her friend, unable to look at her for what she needed to say. She felt she'd lost her own mind as it was, and didn't need to see the pity on Evela's face.
"What of her?"
Donal grinned ruefully. "Ye'll think I've gone mad." When she got no response, she continued. "My heart tells me 'tis Cara, yet," she sat heavily on a large, high-backed chair. "she seems ta not know me." Burying her face in her hands, her head fell. She felt even more mad for saying it aloud. It was not possible!
A soft touch was felt on her arm. Evela knelt next to the chair, gently pulling her friend's hands from her face.
"Merryn," she said, her voice a near whisper, just as the brunette's had been. They sounded so small in the huge room. "What tells ye this? Is this how Cara looked?"
"Aye. But," blue eyes narrowed in thought, "different." She shook her head, trying to figure out just what exactly she meant. "She has changed, aye," she nodded, "yet I feel it. I cannot explain it."
Evela studied the taller woman for long moments, then smiled. "Yer soul feels this, Merryn. But was she not dead?"
Donal sighed, shoulders sagging. She looked at the brunette, shaking her head. "I know not. What I thought. Lord knows I've been grievin' fer the past ten years." With that, she stood, mentally readying herself for what she knew would be an exhausting night.
Evela walked beside the Donal as she entered the Great Hall. As soon as she was spotted, thunderous applause rocked the great room. A bit surprised, the ruler tried to take it with as much grace and aplomb as she could. She stopped, holding her arms out at her sides, looking at everyone, letting them know she was alive and well. As the cheers and applause died down, Merryn moved to speak.
"'Tis nice ta be up 'n about." She smiled, getting nods and applause of approval. "I have so many ta thank, who are not here, but fight for our kingdom. Thank ye all fer bein' patient with me. I know 'm no 't best patient in't world." This got a full out grin from her, and boisterous laughter from the court. "However," she paused, looking for the one person she wished to personally thank. As though it was understood room-wide, a path began to part, slowly revealing a lone figure, dressed in a gown of emerald, made from the finest materials the kingdom of England had to offer.
The Donal was taken off guard, so beautiful was her healer. She took a step down from the dais she'd been standing on, her boots echoing on the stone floor. All eyes followed her progress as she made her way through the parted sea of well wishers, stopping before the blonde.
Hair freshly washed and glowing in the hundreds of lit torches and fireplaces throughout the room. Jewels dangled from her lobes, and winked from a perfect throat. Gone was the heavy, dark cloak.
Looking into her eyes, the green color stunning the brunette anew. The eyes were so different, not the open, loving eyes Merryn had once known. These eyes were guarded, allowing no feeling to show. They were alive, yet dead.
It took all Merryn had to not grab her, hold her close, see if her heart could piece this mystery out for her. She felt so confused and deeply sad. Pushing all these thoughts from her mind, she lowered her head, grunting slightly as she fell to one knee.
"My deepest gratitude, great Healer."
It only took a moment before the entire room followed suit, every person bowing before the blonde, who looked on with wide eyes, at a loss of what to do. Glancing up, the brunette found herself looking into two glistening green eyes. The emotion was quickly gone, replaced by the wall that lay beyond the brilliant color.
"Please arise, Yer Highness," she whispered, looking slightly embarrassed. The Donal found her feet, reaching out to take a small, pale hand between her two larger, deeply tanned and calloused ones.
"Thank ye," she whispered back, trying so desperately to grab the blonde's full attention. The green eyes would only look into her own for a breath before they were bouncing around. The blonde nodded, but said nothing.
Dinner was served, the Great Hall filled with echoes of laughter and conversation. The music was quickly overshadowed by the gaiety. The entire night, Merryn was swarmed by people, not getting a moment to herself. Even still, her eyes tried to follow the Healer around, her heart aching. She wanted so badly to run over to the blonde and take her into her arms, never letting her go. Even if it wasn't her Cara, but fate's cruel joke, the small woman brought her love back, if even just for a moment.
"Has been quite 't day, eh?"
The Donal looked to see Angus standing next to her, hands tucked behind his back. He gave her a side glance, dark eyes sparkling. She nodded with a smile.
"Aye. Glad te be up." She rolled her eyes, making Angus chuckle.
"Aye. 'Tis bout time ye did yer job." They both laughed, mostly out of final relief. Angus soon grew sober. Thick brows drew. "We thought we'd lost ye, Donal. Ye'd lost so much blood," he shook his head at the memory. Paul, himself had ridden out at breakneck speed, despite his lack of equine grace, desperate to get to the hospice the Healer ran in Kendal. He'd nearly collapsed in her arms as he handed her the frantic message.
"What of this healer?" Merryn asked, catching a brief sight of the blonde, a gracious smile upon her lips as she spoke with a member of court.
"She's known throughout 't land. It's been said she was touched by God, Himself, His healing grace in her fingertips." The dark man glanced at his long-time friend. "So it shows."
The brunette nodded. "Aye. Indeed it does." It didn't seem Angus recognized the blonde, which set even more doubt worming through the Donal's mind. Maybe she was mistaken. Perhaps it was trick of the light, coincidence, and purity of hope and desire unfulfilled. With a sigh, she realized just how exhausted she really was. It had, indeed, been a long night.
The announcement was made, wish of a good night's rest, and soon the brunette was back in her rooms. She was sore and out of breath. It hurt like hell to bend over and remove her boots. Getting one to finally let go, she tossed it to the floor before laying back against the bed, panting, eyes squeezed shut at the pain that threaded its way through her insides. Taking several deep breaths, she was about to pull herself back up to sit at the edge of the bed, ready to tug off the other boot.
"Allow me, Yer Highness."
Blue eyes popped open, surprised to see the Healer kneeling before her, taking the heavy boot between pale hands.
"Ye mustn't pull yer wounds open once again," she said softly, tugging at length, the boot sliding off, and hitting the floor with a thud. Merryn could not speak. She felt as weak as the kittens that ran free throughout the castle. She felt herself being gently pulled up off the bed, only to be guided back down, her head coming to rest on the soft pillows. Her nose took in the smell of fresh linens.
Blue eyes opened, taking in the sight of the blonde in her beautiful dress, her hair slightly mussed from the exertion of pulling her boots off, then cradling the brunette's precarious steps further up the massive bed. It seemed as though the healer was avoiding eye contact. As she was efficiently being disrobed, the brunette spoke, her voice soft, near a whisper, tongue thickened from the large quantity of ale she'd drank.
"Where've ye been?" Green eyes glanced up, meeting hers for but a moment.
"With yer guests, Yer Highness."
"Nay," the Donal whispered, her voice vulnerable with emotion. "I thought ye were-," she swallowed, unable to say the words. "Where've ye been."
"I've been healin'," the blonde whispered back, eyes refusing to meet blue. "I am 't Healer, after all." Her smile was sardonic.
Her fingers made quick work of the brunette's clothing, though Merryn was surprised when she heard a soft gasp. Looking into the blonde's face, she glanced down at herself, feeling the cool metal of the gold coin around her neck. She had put it back on while getting ready for the festivities. It had been removed when she'd arrived back at the castle, and she never went without it.
The healer quickly turned to the brunette's belt, removing the dagger, setting them aside, and working on tight breeches.
"I'tis fer luck," Merryn said quietly, fingers reaching up to touch the coin. This bout with death had been the only time it had left her neck since she'd put it on so many years before. The blonde said nothing, instead helping the Donal into another gown, fingers trembling as she buttoned the garment. The brunette continued. "I never take it off."
"Take this," the blonde ordered, her voice cold and harsh. Surprised, the brunette took the white, compacted powder from the blonde's fingers, swallowing with the water given her. "Ye need ta rest now." The healer turned away, though her words had cracked. Gathering her skirts, the blonde hurried from the chamber.
Merryn smiled, a soft sigh escaping through closed lips as her head tilted to the side. Soft lips brushed her throat, moving to the side of her neck, by hear ear. She could feel warm breath against her ear, then a wet tongue lapping at the lobe.
Sighing again, her hands raised to rest on the warm skin of the naked back that lay upon her. Her fingers could feel the movement of muscle and spine as her love pushed herself up further, dragging her body more fully upon that of the brunette. Merryn's head turned, blindly seeking the mouth of her lover, which she quickly found. Her lips were as soft as Merryn remembered, her taste all her own. A soft tongue brushed against her own, the warmth of the body atop of the brunette's making her own flare to life.
She heard a soft voice murmur against her mouth, a soft pleading to be loved and touched. Merryn felt her gown being slowly unbuttoned, soft, warm fingers exploring the exposed skin as they went. She gasped loudly as a palm found her breast, her nipple immediately growing into the touch.
Soft lips and tongue moved down over her neck, a burning trail being left in their wake until finally they wrapped around the nipple, sucking it into the warmth. Merryn felt her entire body erupt in flames, a pulsing beginning in her lower belly, spreading throughout her body.
Blue eyes flew open as a gasp left her mouth. The brunette's body convulsed, then continued to pulse as small aftershocks hit her repeatedly. For a moment she was baffled, but then a memory, long dead, grew new life as her body began to calm. Slowly pushing herself to a sitting position, only wincing slightly, the Donal's hand made its way to her heart, which was pounding rapidly. The pleasures of the body had been something she had thrown from her mind or option. After Cara, there was no one else- couldn't be.
Pulling herself out of the bed, she shivered again as the movement caused a tightening in her sex. Somewhat confused, and somewhat amused, she peeled her completely saturated undergarments down her long legs, picking them up and tossing them into the fire. It wouldn't do to have the household know the Donal was having nocturnal adventures. A castle was the best place for information. Of any kind.
Deciding that the chill in the stone walls, despite the roaring fire, which a servant would keep burning throughout the night, would be best to ease the ache and tension. Padding over to the window, she opened one side of the shutters, early dawn greeting her. The frigid air coming in kissed the skin of her still heated face. Eyes closing, she reveled in the feel.
Knowing that the healer would soon be with her to change her bandages, Merryn walked over to her wardrobe, opening the massive doors. Tugging on a fresh pair of undergarments, she headed over to the fire, stoking it.
She had no idea how she could face the blonde. After her reaction to seeing the coin that had been fashioned into a necklace, the Donal was positive it was Cara. Someone once said the heart doesn't lie, and hers was screaming for what was lost. The recognition had been instant and fierce. Why doesn't Cara see it? She had to make her see it, make her remember.
The brunette's heart was heavy as she walked to the table where Cara had worked, her herbs and medicines once spread across it. Doing a double take, Merryn realized the table was now empty. Gone were the apothecary bowls and grinders, bundles of herbs, fresh and dried. Gone was the flask of white wine used as a mixer. Gone was any hint of the Healer.
The servant nearly dropped her tray when the double doors slammed open, the space filled with a frantic ruler.
"Donal!" she gasped, heart jumping to her throat. Wild blue eyes focused on her.
"Thea!" Merryn breathed, taking the young girl by the shoulders. "Where's 't Healer?"
"Shh, she left, Donal."
"What?! Where? When?"
The girl tried to draw back from the intense gaze and harsh touch. She was held fast. "I know naught, Donal. Lady Evela asked me ta bring ye this, and tell ye she'd be up ta tend ta ye." The girl's almost dropped the tray of breakfast, the quickly hands of the wild brunette catching it first, shoving it back into the girl's arms.
Without another word, Merryn ran past the trembling girl, calling out Evela's name.
The Donal ignored everyone she passed, save for a quick glance to see if they were her friend. Her heavy boots thudded against the stone, her fingers reaching down to tie the laces of her breeches as she ran, her tunic flapping against the backs of her upper thighs in the commotion of movement.
Nearly skidding to a stop, the brunette caught a glimpse of white hair, and pushed through the door that led to the kitchens. There she found Evela, turning to look at her, stunned dark eyes wide. Merryn was nearly out of breath, her lungs screaming at her, not fully healed. Holding up a finger, she caught her breath, then spoke.
"Where is she?"
"The healer!" Eyes wide in emphasis, the Donal was about to continue when she saw green eyes studying her. Turning, she spotted Grace, mid-pour, the heavy jug of cream held steadily in her hand. Still taking deep breaths to get herself under control, she walked over to the young woman, so beautiful. Her long, golden hair was piled up atop her head to keep it out of her eyes. With a kind and tender smile, she caressed the girl's cheek. Grace smiled with utter trust.
"'Tis so good ye are alright," she said, her voice so soft, much like her sister's.
"Aye. 'N how is 't little one?" Merryn asked, placing her hand over the hard ball beneath the girl's dress. Smiling wide, the kitchen girl covered the larger hand with her own
"Aye. I will make sure David is home in time."
"Thank ye, Donal."
Turning back to Evela, completely calm now, she asked again. "Where is the healer, Evela? I must know."
"She's gone, Merryn," the smaller woman said, her voice soft, filled with sorrow.
"But why?" Donal was surprised to feel a lump forming in her throat as she asked the question. Her heart was shattering all over again. Evela shook her head.
"I know naught, Merryn."
The brunette's head fell. Glancing over at a very concerned looking Grace, the girl's hand instinctively resting upon her protruding belly in protection, blue eyes fell on Evela again. Resolve firm, she shook her head.
"Nay. I cannot let her go again." Storming from the kitchen, she headed toward the Keep. "Saddle my horse!" she called out. Heading back inside, she hurried to her bedchambers to grab her cloak and weapons.
"Donal!" George ran up behind her, trying to catch her before she disappeared inside. The ruler turned, boring fierce blue eyes into her long-time friend.
"Not the now, George," she hissed, about to turn away again. He caught her arm.
"What are ye doin', Donal? Ye can't be off riding' in yer condition."
"I have to, George. I cannot let her get away again."
"What?" Confused, the man shook his head. "I thought-"
"Cara is the healer! She's alive!" she exclaimed, taking the man by the arms, eyes wide for emphasis. "I have ta find her."
The girl had left on foot, so there was no way she'd gotten terribly far. Certainly not far enough that a small army on horseback couldn't find her.
It had been a fight, including half her army, but there was no way Donal was going to sit back and wait for Cara to be found.
She did promise to take it easy, and searched the closer villages and towns while the rest of the men traveled further. Each small group carried a horn, and were to alert the others when something had been found. One such horn was sounded, its deep resonating sound rocking the day.
Donal pulled the reigns of her mount, clicking her tongue against her teeth as she got the beast turned toward it. Towns people were coming out of their homes, unaccustomed to seeing their ruler in their town, certainly looking less than regal as she searched frantically for the blonde healer.
Her body was screaming every time the horse's hooves pounded the ground beneath her, but the brunette shut it out of her mind. It didn't matter as she raced toward the small hamlet where the horn had been sounded.
As she got closer, she heard loud commotion and yelling. Perfect chaos. Riding through the main street in the town, she saw the men of her search party were in the fray, pushing and shoving, trying to get to the core of the trouble. Seeing the glint of golden hair, without thought, Donal pulled her mount to a stop and jumped down, jarring her entire frame, still weak from recovery. Shoving through the crowds, which were parting like Moses' sea, as realization dawned on the villagers. Soft murmurs died down to deathly silence. At the center of the violent chaos was a huddle figure, dressed in a black cloak.
"Cara," she breathed, running over to her. Using the most gentle touch she could, she knelt down next to the trembling woman. Cara's face was buried in her arms, where she'd been trying to protect herself from the incensed townspeople. A few of the stones that had been thrown at her still littered the ground around their feet. Using two fingers, she lifted the blonde's face. Merryn nearly cried out when she saw the blood seeping from a gash on the side of her face, bruises already appearing. She had no idea what shape the rest of her body was in.
Taking several deep breaths, she pulled the blonde into her arms. Cara went willingly, her forehead resting against the brunette's shoulder.
"Can ye stand?" Donal asked softly. At the nod she got, she got them both to their feet. It was wild, fierce eyes that looked out at the crowd. "What 'tis 't matter with you?" she growled, daring anyone to look her in the eye.
"She's a witch!" someone yelled out, too cowardly to show his face.
"A witch, ye say?" she bellowed, holding the healer close. "She saved my life!" She looked around, satisfied as heads bowed in shame, eyes looking anywhere but at her. Donal began to lead the healer toward her horse, her men standing sentinel to make sure no one did anything stupid. More of her troops were arriving. "Up ye go." With gentle hands, the brunette got the blonde settled on the horse. Before mounting behind, Merryn turned back to her people. "Ye should be ashamed. Each one 'o ye!" Once sitting behind the blonde, a protective arm wrapped around her, she parted with one last exclamation. "Since when does God tell ye ta hate?"
Donal got the party turned around, holding the blonde close to her, headed home. She could feel the slight body against her own, and she couldn't help but inhale the scent of short, blonde hair, so close to her face. The way the sun glinted off the golden strands, the wind of movement blowing them away from Cara's head.
A wave crashed over the brunette so strong that it nearly physically knocked her backward. She felt a click, all the broken pieces of who she had become fell into place, the parts of her soul sliding together, bonding and knitting. There would forever be a scar at the joining of the halves, but by God, she was home!
She felt Cara relax against her, even the softest touch of a hand over one of hers, resting against the blonde's stomach. The touch was brief, then it was gone.
"Ye shouldn't be ridin'," she said, her voice quiet, but still able to rise above the pounding below them.
"I had ta find ye," the brunette said in her ear, closing her eyes as her cheek brushed briefly against soft hair. Cara said nothing, just rested her head back against a sturdy shoulder.
Donal breathed out in relief as she laid her bundle carefully down upon the soft bed, careful not to jar her too much. Green eyes looked up at her, but said nothing.
Straightening, Merryn moved out of the way as Evela leaned in, adjusting the pillows behind the blonde head. The smaller brunette gave the healer the softest, most genuine smile she had. Cara returned it, though looked away a bit overwhelmed by the intense kindness. That was one quality that had always drawn Merryn to the smaller woman.
"We must check ye," Evela said, her voice as soft as her smile. The blonde nodded.
"I do not think anythin's broken," Cara assured, but allowed her cloak to be removed. Beneath it she wore a very simple dress, light blue, the material thin, worn."
"Evela," Merryn stopped her movements with a hand resting atop hers. The smaller woman was about to remove the dress. Dark eyes looked into her own. "Please let me do this." After a moment, Evela smiled sweetly, and backed away.
"I'll just get some things to wash her."
"Get her a gown, Evela!" the brunette called to the retreating figure. Turning back to the blonde, she brushed a couple blonde strands out of her eyes. Cara looked into her eyes, then looked away. "Sit up, lass," Donal whispered, the blonde complied. She gathered up the material of the light blue dress, tugged it over her head. Pale skin became visible, flawless and smooth. Blue eyes gave Cara her dignity, concentrating fully on what she was doing, trying to help the small healer.
Donal removed the girl's turnshoes, laying them gently on the floor near the bed. Turning back toward the bed, she saw the healer's back, the blonde slightly bent over her drawn knees, hugging herself. Blue eyes took in the creamy skin, but then dark brows drew at the bruises that were littered up and down the woman's back. About to ask if they hurt, her question froze in her throat.
Donal sat on the edge of the bed, slowly, as though in a daze. Her eyes were riveted to the skin of Cara's upper back, to the left of her shoulder blade…
Her eyes opened wide, hands freezing as she lifted the blanket. Tossing the covering aside, she gently turned Cara to her side. "No," she breathed. White pustules and lesions littered Cara's upper back, near her left shoulder.
Merryn sat back on her haunches, stunned and unable to look away. She felt her heart seize in her chest. What was she to do about this? She knew nothing to cure it.
Swallowing, she felt her eyes sting as her fingers reached out, touching the scarred skin with the barest touch. At the first touch, Cara stiffened, then quickly moved away, turning angry green eyes on her. Shocked by the sudden move, Donal looked into her eyes, fingers closing as she dropped her hand. About to speak, she turned when she heard Evela enter the room, a gown slung over her arm and supplies in her hands.
The smaller brunette looked from one to the other, saying nothing as she set everything down on a small table that she drug over to the bed. Soon after, two young men entered with extra kindling and wood, making short work of creating a roaring fire in the fireplace, then quickly leaving, only to be replaced by three more young men carrying in a large, wooden tub. Setting it down, they scurried out only to return with bucket upon bucket of steaming water.
The three women watched in amazed silence, the boys so thorough and efficient. Soon, however, Evela turned back to the blonde, gently pushing Merryn away. The smaller brunette had the feeling that perhaps the Donal's touch wasn't quite appreciated at the moment. Checking the healer over, she was relieved to see all the wounds were superficial, and would leave the blonde very sore and slow moving for the next week, but no permanent damage had been done. She noticed the scarring on the girl's back immediately, and felt her stomach fall. She knew that kind of scarring- just maybe Merryn was right. Could this be Cara?
"Let me help ye, child," she said, her voice soft as she helped the healer to her feet, and over to the steaming tub. Donal stood aside, her hands trembling as she tried to wrap her mind around all of this. She truly had no idea how to handle all the emotions streaming through her- from intense and profound to grief, to intense and profound relief. Back to grief. Her confusion intense and profound.
"Merryn," she heard the soft voice, watery eyes look up into understand brown. "Come." Nodding toward the blonde, who had sank into the waters, Evela led the Donal from the room.
Once the doors were closed tightly behind them, Evela turned to the taller brunette, taking her in a soft, soothing embrace. Dark eyes closed as she felt the pain of her friend coming off her in waves, seeping into Evela's own soul. She said nothing, no words necessary. She knew Merryn wasn't crying, but was trying to silently give her permission to. The leader had been through so much over the weeks.
With soft circles drawn upon her back, Donal allows herself to be held and comforted. The soft warmth of her friend helped her to relax, her head resting against Evela's shoulder, arms hanging limply at her side.
"Come, Merryn. Let us get ye warm ale and pastries ye love so much."
The taller brunette raised her head, a soft smile across her lips. She felt like a big kid as she was led toward the kitchens by a warm hand in her own.
Blue eyes flew open, a cry echoing in the stone block cavern. Sitting up, Donal sighed, running shaky hands through her hair, the strands sticking to her fingers with sweat as the glue. The nightmare had been horribly realistic, her heart still pounding in her throat. Looking around the huge bedchamber, she saw the fire had burnt to nearly embers, as she 'd asked to not be disturbed throughout the night. Gaining shaky legs, she slid her feet into her boots, the cold stone of the floor sending a shock throughout her whole body.
She glanced over at the chair that sat before the large window, where she'd sat for long hours before finally giving in the sleep that burned her eyelids and made her eyes water. Contemplating sitting once again, overlooking the grounds of her beloved Saoirse. Deciding against it, she pulled on a cloak, leaving her rooms.
The castle was quite, the moon still high in the sky. The occasional patrol was passed, Donal stopping to speak with each man for a few moments before moving on.
It was bitter cold in the castle, despite the coming summer months. In some, less inhabited parts of the castle, she saw her breath puffing before her steps. She felt like a ghost, walking through the shadows, many soldiers walking right by her, no thought of her presence.
Slowly she made her way back through to the residential apartments and rooms. Before climbing the steps to her own suites, she glanced to her left, seeing the double doors that would lead to Cara's rooms. As if on cue, she heard steps behind her. Turning, she saw Raymond with an armload of wood. Bringing a finger to her lips, she stopped the young man, taking his load from him.
"Go rest, lad. I'll take this," she whispered. Confused, but bowing, the boy scurried off.
Pushing one side of the massive doors open, the brunette glanced around the large room. The fire was beginning to burn down, the figure huddled on one side of the large bed.
Walking over to the massive fireplace, she placed her wood in the holder next to it, squatting as she poked at the burning log with an iron poker, loading more wood in, her face glowing orange as the flames rose and danced.
Glancing over to the bed, she saw Cara's face, shadows dancing across her sleep-softened features. Rising, she walked over to the bed, noting how the blonde shivered in her sleep. Grabbing an extra quilt from the wardrobe, she spread it across the large bed, gently tucking it around the small body. Making sure the blonde would remain asleep, she sat upon the side of the bed, her face immediately softening at the sight before her.
Long fingers reached out, touching the softest hair they'd ever known, the strands tickling between her thumb and forefinger. She longed to run her fingers through the locks, feeling them swim over her skin. Blue eyes traveled across the face, the relaxed brow, though that slight wrinkle of constant concentration still lingered between dark blonde brows, as though even in slumber, the Healer tried to help. The lines around the blonde's eyes were relaxed in sleep as well. Soft, full lips were slightly parted, warm breath easing out between, the slightest glistening of saliva leaking out one corner. Donal smiled at this, wanting to brush it away, but worried she'd awaken Cara.
Blue eyes closed at the sound of the name, so long banned to her lips. Never had she believed in the blonde's god, but now, she raised her face to the Heavens, heart opening in eternal gratitude. Peace washing over her, she opened her eyes, looking back into the peaceful face. Leaning down, she placed the softest of kisses to the blonde's forehead, then raised herself from the bed.
Green eyes watched her leave the room.
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