unguided, unguarded and pathless

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Sometime when Clara had been pulling out the arrow, the Shayn had lost consciousness. As Clara worked on him, she thought that was probably a blessing.

She had seen men wounded before. She had bound cuts made by practice swords, and administered poultices and tonics, and held the basin while children from the holding retched up their dinner. This was just like that, except the Shayn was relying on her alone to tend to him.

She had tried to do what mother said and cleaned the wound, cutting away as much of the red, inflamed flesh as she dared, packing the wound with herbs, and binding it with clean cloth.

What haunted her was not the injuries themselves, but the thought that they had been inflicted intentionally. That these were the marks of the kinds of violence and humiliation that men laid into each other's flesh to prove dominance. Ownership.

She took the Shayn's hand again, holding it in her own and studying the unmarked skin.

There was no naming mark there. She had heard stories of such men, of course, whose names had never been entered in the Prophets' Book, and who were doomed to struggle through the world, unguided, unguarded and pathless.

The thought made the space underneath her lungs ache.

She set his hand on the ground and focused on his lower section. He had only been wearing a long shirt--no hose or breeches. His left leg had been mangled by a hound's jaws. She gave it the same treatment as she had with his shoulder, wincing as fresh blood began to flow onto the stone.

This done, she realised that she hadn't cleaned his front at all. Were there other wounds there that needed caring for?

She rolled him onto his side, hesitated, then draped the blanket across his hips and began to clean his torso. Even under the grime she could tell he was painfully thin. Each rib stood out under her fingers. In cleaning, she revealed a patchwork of old scars across his chest. When she reached his neck, she saw that his eyes were open, and froze.

After a moment's harelike stillness, she found her voice. "I'm Clara," she said, "pleased to meet you."

His fingers scrabbled at the blanket, drawing it close around his private parts.

"Don't worry about that," she said.

His fingers spasmed on the blanket.

Biting her lip again, Clara went to wet the cloth and discovered the water was filthy. She got up to empty and re-fill the bucket from the waterfall. When she came back, the Shayn had curled himself into a beetle-like ball, face tucked behind his knees and shielded by the matted tangle of hair.

For a moment, she stood beside, uncertain, knowing only that she should not touch him if he didn't wish it.

Then she crouched down. "Can I clean your face?"

No response.

"I was hoping to clean your face and hair. Not completely--that will have to wait until you are well enough to bathe in the rock pool. But wouldn't you like to be clean?"

No movement.

Sighing, Clara left the bucket on the ground near his head, cloth hung over the side, and went to unpack the bundle of food she had brought with her. When she turned back, she saw one wobbling hand reaching towards the bucket.

The Shayn abstracted the cloth and brought it back to his face, still tucked behind his knees. Then, while Clara kept her distance, he dragged himself slowly, painfully, upright and shuffled backwards so his good shoulder was leaning against the wall. The blanket remained in place over his privates.

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