"What did you serve the men last night?" Lord Alan asked.
"The pie?" said cook. "I swear, I was never away from it while it was cooking."
Lady Maitea when over to cook's spice mix and tipped some out onto the counter, rifling through its contents like a soothsayer. "Perhaps this is the culprit," she said. "This herb if picked too soon can have a powerful soporific effect. You must have replenished it recently, cook?"
"I did," said the poor woman. "I had no idea about what you say."
"There's no reason you would." Lady Maitea shook her head. "If this is so, Shayn-get got awfully lucky."
Clara bit her lip. Her mother sounded uncertain about her own story. Would father believe it?
Lord Alan narrowed his eyes. "Perhaps it is as you say," he said. "Or perhaps the Shayn-get made them go to sleep. I've heard that they sometimes make pacts with the Mo'oki to give them witch-powers."
Maitea took Lord Alan's arm. "Could it be so?" she said.
Lord Alan hesitated, then patted her hand. Clara's parents rarely touched each other. "Calm yourself, Maitea," he said. "Lord Enrico and I will find him, and when we catch him, I'll have a full accounting of the tale."
Clara watched her father stride out, then gave her mother a worried look.
"Clear the clouds from your brow, Clarita," said Lady Maitea, her assured manner returning. "All will be as it is." When they were in the privacy of the stillroom she continued, "Now, tell me about the Shayn's injuries."
Later, when the men were all gone from the holding, Clara crept out the gate and into the forest. She didn't meet any searchers on her way; they must have ridden in a different direction. She was careful to mask her path, taking her shoes off and walking down the middle of the stream bed for some distance.
As she got closer, she hesitated. She didn't want to go to the rock grotto. Why was she going in this direction? She needed to go towards the grassland. The Shayn must have gone towards the grassland.
Clara stopped, a frown creasing her brow. She knew where the Shayn was. He was behind the waterfall. She had helped him get there. She walked on, but the feeling intensified that she was going the wrong way. This was the wrong way. She didn't want to go any further.
Stopping again, she shook her head. What was she thinking? She focused on the rock pool, and set one foot in front of the other. She was sure she wanted to go that way. The Shayn was there. If he wasn't, then she would check the grassland.
She reached the rock pool, exhausted and uncertain. Every bone in her body was telling her she was in the wrong place. She ducked through the waterfall, and her fears were confirmed. The cave was empty. The Shayn must have fled.
But he had been so badly injured he could barely stand. She had had to almost carry him from the holding.
As she thought that, she realised the Shayn was indeed in the cave, curled on his side with his legs tucked up to his knees. The dappled light through the waterfall must have hidden him.
Or... they sometimes make pacts with the Mo'oki to give them witch-powers.
She studied the shivering, filthy young man. Difficult to imagine him in league with the force of darkness and chaos.
* * *
He woke up to the dark-haired girl kneeling over him. "How are you feeling?" she said.
His mouth was dry. He hurt.
"You're filthy," she said. "Mother says I need to try and get you clean, and then get the arrowhead out."
He coughed. He wanted to say something. She pushed to her feet and vanished from his field of vision. Then she returned, holding a bucket and a dripping cloth. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to take your clothes off."
Take off his clothes? He studied her through his sand-crusted, bleary eyes. She was not his usual sort of tormenter. But she was People. People were the enemy.
He curled in on himself, whimpering as the movement jolted his inflamed shoulder. "I'm terribly sorry," she said, "but you'll die if I don't."
Then he would die.
But no amount of will could put the strength to resist in his limbs. With a hand on his knee, she uncurled him. Then she sat him up and pulled his shirt over his shoulders.
He fell against her shoulder and cringed, waiting for the fingers wound in his hair, or the twisting of his shoulder.
Instead he felt cool and wet pressed gently against his back. Soothing circling motions. The sensation withdrawn as she dipped the cloth in the bucket, then returned. Down his back, then up again, then the back of his neck, his ears.
She lifted his uninjured arm and wrapped the cloth around it to clean it, then let it fall, and carefully did the same for the other. Hesitated.
"I don't know how I am going to clean your hair," she said. "I think I should get the arrow out first. Lie down, please."
He had no choice. His body was not his own. She lowered him face-down onto the blanket and crouched by his side, probing the arrow-head that had been in his flesh for two days.
He hissed in pain.
"I know," she said. "I'm so sorry. Mother says I need to remove the arrowhead, then clean it and cut away any infected skin. I don't want to cause you--any more--pain, but I think I have to."
He felt the girl probe into the wound with her slender fingers, and wrap around the splinters of wood. Then she inhaled sharply, and pain cascaded through him like a waterfall, sharp and dull and roaring.
YOU ARE READING
The Forest's HeartFantasy
Vallebrion is one of the old places -- a forest where the old and new worlds lie side by side. Clara has grown up walking its shadowed paths and green glens, and one day the man she takes as husband will be Master of Vallebrion and the mysteries tha...