Teri kept busy. If she were busy enough, she would not have to think. At first she had seen a patient, not a man. She had focused only on how he let Sergeant Peters take the weight of him, on his wounded head: the bruising, the blood, and the makeshift bandage that concealed one side of the man's face. It was not until she looked into his one light blue eye that she had recognised him.
It could not be David. David was dead. He had disappeared from their hotel a week after their wedding, and his body had been washed up on the shore weeks later. If his best friend, Richard Hemsworth, had not chanced to be in the same town where David left her, who knows what would have become of her? David was dead. Richard had identified the body, and her uncle, David's mother, and Richard's father, the solicitor to whom David had been articled, all assured her it was true. Even if he wasn't dead, he had lied to her—promised that the ceremony in Scotland was a true marriage, when her uncle assured her she could not marry without her guardian's permission.
But in her heart he was her husband still, and that poor foolish organ was hammering with jubilation that he was alive, and fear he would not survive his wounds.
She maintained her outward calm as she washed the wounds. He had been creased by several bullets, and had broken open stitches in his leg from a previous injury. The head injury was the worst of it. Something had blown up close to his head, sending vicious splinters into his face and scalp. She pulled them out one by one: some lumps of steel, some wood. Several of the village women stood by, and held him still whenever he surfaced to something approaching consciousness, but each time the pain sucked him back under.
At first, she thought the eye a bloody ruin, but as she washed away the blood she found he had been unbelievably lucky. No, not lucky. Thank you, God, she whispered. Thank you, David's angel. And she kept on thanking every saint she could think of, starting with the Blessed Virgin, as she sewed shut the still seeping cuts in and under the brow that had covered him with blood.
It took a long time, and still she was uncertain she had all the splinters. For good measure, she resewed the older wound on his leg. The lesser wounds she left open to the air. The greater wound on his head she spread with a poultice made from mountain lichen and honey, and bandaged to protect the poultice and hold it in place.
"Will he live," Peters asked.
"It is in the hands of God, Sergeant Peters," Teri answered, and she fetched the rosary that had belonged to her Spanish mother and sat by David's bed to petition Heaven to bestow the gift of life.
In the small hours of the morning, she fell asleep, her head on the bed next to David's hand. She dreamt that they were lying in bed together in the Maryport inn where they spent the week after their wedding at Gretna, talking about their future, David stroking her hair. She woke bereft, as she had at many previous dawns, her heart clenching around her loss and then relaxing again as she remembered the miracle of yesterday. David was alive!
He was still unconscious, however. Teri checked his temperature and his breathing... both normal. Unconscious, or sleeping? Certainly, he'd had the look of an exhausted man, near the end of his endurance.
"Sleeping will help him to heal," she decided. And then what? She still could not comprehend how he could be here, and alive. She went to find Sergeant Peters. He, too, was an early riser, and could be set to watch David while she carried out her duties. There were goats to be milked, bread to set rising, and the children's exercises from yesterday to mark before they arrived for today's classes.
Imanol arrived partway through the second hour of lessons, when the older children were hearing one another read, and she was drilling the younger on their times tables. As usual, he materialised as if by magic, leaning against the wall beside the door.
Teri called the most reliable of the village maidens to take over the arithmetic lesson and went to find out what Imanol wanted, scolding when she found he'd pulled Sergeant Peters from watching the sleeping man. "Head injuries are tricky, Imanol. He cannot be left."
"I needed the skills of the good sergeant, hermanita. The injured man sleeps. And I have work for you, too. Fetch your medicines and bandages, Teresa, and come to the kitchen to see to my men."
She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "You go watch my patient, and I will deal with your men." Should she tell him the identity of her patient? No. Not until she had been able to talk to David. Then she could decide whether she needed to deal with Imanol's prickly sense of honour and his ideas about what was due to her.
She had three men to treat in the kitchen, one little more than a boy. An encounter with a French patrol, they told her, as she washed and stitched sabre slashes and extracted a bullet from one man's thigh while the others joked about the difficulty he would have sitting.
"And other things," the youngest one said, and collected a buffet from the oldest. "If the Wolf heard you talk like that in front of the senorita, you would never sit again," he growled.
They all called him El Lobo—the wolf. The French had begun it, but the Spanish had picked it up. Senor Juan Imanol Maria Mendina de la Vega, that elegant courtier, was gone—destroyed in the same fire storm that took his jauregi, his mansion, and the grape vines that had been his family's pride. He had brought Teri here to this mountain village, and melted into the mountains with others bent on revenge.
In each of his infrequent visits, he was wilder and more distant. Would the Imanol she loved return when the French were finally driven from these lands? Sometimes, she feared he was gone forever.
YOU ARE READING
The Lost WifeHistorical Fiction
Daughter of an English father and a Spanish mother, Teri grew up in England, and returned to Spain only after the death of her husband. Her ability to speak English, and also French, comes in handy now that Napoleon and Wellington are fighting over...