Just kidding. ;) I'm actually doing great. How has your day been? :)
But now onto the next part of "The Princess & I"...at this point, the other parts SHOULD have links on them in the "Stories in Progress" page. If not, leave a comment below and I'll make sure it happens in the next couple days. Thanks! :)
21: A Risky Business
Henry came back with a thick thread, a bent needle, and a bottle of whisky. I eyed the last item distastefully.
He grinned at my obvious disgust of the intoxicating beverage. “I won’t touch a drop without your permission,” he promised, handing all the things over to me.
I looked around the darkened street. Safer or not, it was no place to conduct a surgery. I at least needed a table.
“I’m going to need to have you lay down on something higher up than the street,” I finally admitted. “Is there a table somewhere?”
Henry looked at me as if I was daft. “On the street?” he asked.
“Can I have your word that you won’t hurt me if we go into that inn?” I asked.
The wounded man eyed me for a moment. “Much harm I could do with your fingers inches from a blade you obviously know how to use,” he stated drily. “But if it means that much to you, no I won’t harm you. Especially not while you’re holding a needle to my skin.”
He had a point. I did have the upper hand at the moment. Taking a deep breath, I gave him a nod. “Lead me to this inn of yours then,” I said.
Henry took off at a brisk pace past the tavern, past a few darkened houses, past a butchery, bakery, and blacksmith shop with embers still glowing in the inky shadows. Finally he led me under a creaking sign that read “The Restless Raven: We give hot meals and warm beds!”
The man opened the door for me and I stepped through into a room filled with smoke and people. Pulling out the pillow again, I pressed it to my mouth, breathing in the sweet scent of lavender mixed with the tangy smell of pine. Keep me safe, I pleaded inwardly. That prayer would never grow old, no matter how many times I used it.
The door shut out all fresh breezes so when I tested the air for breathability once it was shut, I only gagged and speedily replaced the scented pillow. Henry led me to the front desk where a rotund, balding man leaned over and gazed at the two of us through round, owlish eyes.
“What have we here, Master Henry?” he bellowed, eying me critically.
I winced as all heads turned our way. This was not the entrance I had been hoping for. Thankfully, Henry seemed to know exactly what to do.
“This is a cousin of mine, a healer in training. I got cut in a brawl earlier and she said she would try her hand at stitching it shut. Have you a table nearby that we can use?”
How easily that lie slipped off his tongue…still, it was better to let the people think I was related than for him to say I was his wife or some other outlandish thing like that.
The innkeeper, for so the plump man turned out to be, nodded shortly and led us to the back of his inn. There, he wiped off the top of a filthy table with an equally filthy cloth that he produced from somewhere around his person.
He gave us a wide grin that showed one of his front teeth was half-rotted. “Will that do you?” he asked.
I had always been a firm hand in our home when it came to cleanliness, and the whole atmosphere of this inn was grating on my natural want to be clean as well as my nerves. But I had no choice. It was this or the street outside.
So I nodded, somewhat wearily. “May I have some water?”
“That you may, lass,” the innkeeper assured me, taking off as fast as his round figure could manage.
While we awaited the water, Henry situated himself on the table. I pulled out the remains of the cloak to act doubly as a pillow for his arm and a layer between the wound and the dirty table. When the water was brought, I set down the bowl beside me on a handy bench. I washed the cut, wincing as he shuddered. When it was clean enough to satisfy even my high standards, I pulled out the needle and threaded it.
Henry watched me silently, beads of perspiration already appearing on his face. “I’ll need some of that whisky,” he said.
I nodded, pouring some of the bottle down the man’s throat. He swallowed it almost desperately. I pulled it away from his open mouth and put it out of reach.
“That’s enough,” I said severely.
He looked yearningly at it. “Are you sure? The pain’s going to be pretty bad.”
“I know,” I answered. “But we don’t want your stomach too full. This sort of thing can make your stomach do things you might not intend it to do.” Almost immediately, I thought back to the advice William had given me off-handedly before he set Steven’s leg back into place. My own stomach heaved at the memory.
Henry’s eyes widened. “Are you saying I might be sick during or after the operation?”
I nodded grimly. “Yes.”
The man closed his eyes, a determined look plastered over his face. I held the needle over one of the nearby candles to make sure it was absolutely clean. Infection could lead to Henry needing an amputation of his arm, and I didn’t want something like that on my conscience.
My stomach squeezed as the needle slid into Henry’s skin. I saw black spots sprinkle around the edges of my vision and forced myself to breathe slowly. In…out…in…out…in…out. Slowly. Focus. Do not faint. Slowly. God, give me the strength. I shut out the smoky atmosphere, the dirty state of the room and table, the flickering light of the candles.
I was back in our cottage on the farm, sewing a new patch in Malcolm’s favorite breeches that he wore around the farm. So many places were patched that they were practically a completely different pair, but still Malcolm insisted they had years of wear left in them. He wouldn’t let me burn them. So many different shades of brown and blue were mixed together to make one pair of breeches. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if there wasn’t a speck of original material on them.
A moan from my patient jerked me back to reality. I was almost done. Only two more stitches. Blood leaked from the wound, but my sewing would hold. Carefully I pulled the thread tight and the skin closed together. I tied the thread and gave the gray-faced Henry another couple swallows of whisky, wrinkling my nose at the smell.
After a few minutes, his shallow breathing returned to normal as I re-wrapped his arm with the last strip of cloak. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the table and stood on his feet shakily.
Gingerly, his fingers probed the wrapped cut and he gave me a lopsided grin. “My thanks.”
I smiled. “I hope it holds. I’ve never sewn…” I shuddered, “skin back together. Just cloth.”
“The textures are different, aren’t they?” my patient asked mercilessly.
My stomach squeezed, and I felt a sudden urge to go outside and loose whatever was inside it. “Please don’t,” I whispered, swallowing several times to keep my meal.
Henry looked amused at my queasiness, but refrained from saying anything else that would trigger my stomach’s current weakness into action. “Can I do anything in return for your kindness and healing skills?”
I blushed. “I didn’t do it for pay,” was my quick answer.
He looked at me thoughtfully. “Whether you did or not is none of my concern, however, I do feel obligated to do something for you now. I might have gotten an infection and lost my arm if you hadn’t helped me.”
A thought crossed my mind, but I dismissed it almost immediately with a slight shake of my head, shutting my mouth that had opened slightly to frame the question I thought better of. It would be asking too much.
Henry seemed to read something in my eyes and saw the movement. “What were you about to ask?” he pressed.
I sighed, sitting on the bench and propping my head up on my hand. “When you and your friends…” I worded the phrase carefully, “found me, I had just realized that I had lost track of my brother and his friend. I was wondering how well you knew this village and if you could help me find them again.”
Henry sat on a stool facing me and considered my request. “You’re a stranger to our village.”
It was more of a statement than a question, but I nodded anyways.
“How did you loose sight of your brother and his friend?”
I dropped my gaze. Now I was treading on dangerous ground. But I knew I could never lie with a straight face, so it would be better to tell the truth and face the consequences.
“I was trying to avoid some soldiers.”
A light of understanding sparked in Henry’s eyes, and he grinned. “I’d ask you why you were trying to avoid them, but I’ve had to hide from them myself a few times. I understand why you won’t want to answer that.”
If it was possible, my face turned an even darker shade of red, and I lowered my gaze guiltily.
He chuckled. “Where was the last time you saw them?”
I threw my memory back a few hours. Before I realized I was lost, before the soldiers’ appearance, before the fight.
“Where the livestock were being sold at the market.”
“Ah.” Henry scratched the stubble that sprinkled his chin thoughtfully. “Well, I think the search should start there.”
I leaped from the bench with fresh energy. “You’ll help me find them!” I exclaimed in disbelief.
He nodded. “Yes. They shouldn’t be too hard to find…at least not for someone who knows where to look.”
I leapt to where he was now standing, and, forgetting myself, wrapped him in a joyful hug. Suddenly coming to myself, I stumbled backwards, my face flaming yet again and my hand over my mouth in shock.
Henry looked almost as shocked as me, and his face matched mine in a fiery red that reached to his ears. His mouth hung open, and he stuttered out, “Y-you’re w-welcome?”
“I’m so sorry, I forgot myself,” I said.
His face slowly returned to its normal color and he allowed himself a nervous chuckle. “I suppose one can hardly blame you,” he answered. “For what it’s worth, I forgive you. Shall we go?”
I nodded, following him out the inn’s door while ignoring the looks we received from some of the people we passed. I hardly noticed…after all, I was safely on my way to finding Malcolm and William. Or so I thought.