a rustle of wind through the trees

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Duncan woke as the girl slipped through the waterfall. "I think mother is right," she said. "The forest is protecting you. I swear there were not so many thorns and nettles on this path a day ago."

He looked at her through his hair without moving.

She swung a large pack from her shoulders and set it down. "I brought you some more bedding, and fresh clothes. I want you to be as comfortable as possible." She hesitated. "I also--I want you to know that you are not a prisoner. You are free to leave whenever you wish. But I hope you will stay until you are recovered."

While he watched, she pulled a shirt and hose from the back and brought them over to him, then went about laying out the quilts and blankets and furs she had brought with her. After a moment, he summoned enough strength to get himself upright and get the shirt over his head. After assuring himself that the girl wasn't looking, he struggled into the hose, then leaned back against the cave wall, listening to his breathing loud in his ears.

"Oh," said the girl. "You clean up nicely."

He cringed back as she came close.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean anything by it. I was only going to help you get over to the bedding."

She waited. He curled in on himself.

"You let me help you out of the stable."

This was true. But what did she want in return? Even sitting down, his head swam and he could feel tremors racing up and down his arms.

He was cold. The girl wanted him to move to the blankets. They could agree on that much.

He uncurled, and she ducked down to help him upright. His legs wobbled, unwilling to hold his weight. His various wounds screamed at him. His shoulder drew lines of fire down his back, along his arm, and into his skull.

He collapsed face-down onto the bundled blankets. A moment later, he felt the light press of fingers against his bandaged shoulder. He tensed. As she changed the dressing with methodical, even movements, he relaxed a little, and by the time she was looking at his leg, he was almost asleep.

The girl drew a quilt over him. "I can't stay," she said. "Even though you look as if you need someone to sit with you. My father and Master Enrico are furious that you disappeared. They think you used witch-work to beguile the guards into falling asleep. They'll get suspicious if I'm gone too long."

Duncan thought about raising his head to look at her, but even the thought made him tired. He felt his eyelids sink shut. Who was this girl? She was probably around the same age as him. Her mother had told her to remove the arrow; her father was furious at Duncan's disappearance. He held the problem in his mind for a moment, then it trickled away.

"I'll leave you some food and water within reach," she said. "Try and drink it, if you can."

* * *

As she slipped through the waterfall to the side of the rock pool, Clara hesitated and looked back towards the cave. She had an image of the Shayn lying against the wall earlier, the blanket wrapped around him. Two sharp shoulders poked out from above it, one swathed in bandages. Above that, a fine-boned face with a round chin and straight nose. Almond-shaped brown eyes glimpsed through a curtain of hair. His hair, now that it was clean, trimmed and dry, showed itself to be dark brown and wildly curly. The white strands that grew from the hair line, which gave rise to the epithet of spider because they resembled cobwebs, wove in and out of the dark strands, framing his face.

Such a striking image.

As she walked back to the holding, she addressed the forest: mother says he is one of your folk. If he is, he is in dire need of your help. She thought of the inflamed skin reaching out from his shoulder and leg wounds. He needs protection, and healing.

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