One foot in front of the other, Sian was moving in a daze. The marks on her back bled and hurt with every step. She should have taken a horse, then realized that she couldn’t have ridden one if she wanted to. One foot in front of the other.
It seemed like forever before she reached the ridge. She sat down under a tree and ate a little of the food her mother had packed. The watered wine in the flask helped her ignore the pain a little, but not enough. She slept for a bit in the warmth of the sun.
Sian woke with a start, not remembering where she was. Then it all came back to her. Sian got up, knowing that she’d have to find the road before it got dark. It started to rain soon after she found the right road. It wasn’t a heavy rain, but enough to make walking harder. A barn came into sight in the gathering dark, and she crawled into a pile of hay and fell asleep.
Dawn, and the sound of cows woke her up. She was afraid to be found, so she scuttled off before anyone might come to tend the cows. Sian hoped that she was on the right road, as things didn’t look familiar in the early light. She walked and walked. Her water was soon gone as was the bit of meat and bread she’d saved from the day before. Feeling hot, she found a stream and refilled her flask. The rock wall next to the field looked shady, so she sat down and leaned against it to rest. Sian was so tired and ached more than she thought she ever could. She fell asleep.
Mael, Lew and the lads had had a grand time in the village. Good beer, sweet lasses to kiss and a nice profit from the cattle they’d sold. With light hearts and heavy pouches, they headed home. Lew caught sight of something near the wall as they crossed the stream.
“What on earth?” He pointed to a gray-green pile of cloth next to the wall.
Mael and Lew rode up to the wall and approached the pile of clothing they realized to be a person. Mael used his dagger to move the hood back off of the face. He about dropped it in shock as he looked down and saw Sian’s hot and fevered face.
“Oh lord! Sian? Sian, what are you doing here?” He he shook her. She didn’t respond.
“She’s ill.” Lew touched her face. It was hot. “I don’t know what she’s doing here though. I left her safe at home two-three days ago.”
“Well, we can’t leave her here. Help me pick her up. Get on your horse and I’ll hand her to you.” Lew headed back to his horse. Mael picked her up. The heat of her fever could be felt through her cloak. This was a puzzle not to be easily solved, and a complication he hadn’t expected. When they came back around the wall, the rest of the men saw who it was and were astounded. This was an unappreciated complication to many of them. Artur scowled.
“What on earth are we going to do with her? She’ll give us all what’s made her sick. Then what will we do?” Artur gruffed as they rode toward the farmhouse.
Mael just shook his head. “Artur, if what she has is catching, I’ll deal with it. For now, lets just get to the farm.” He thought his hand was wet with sweat. Looking down he saw blood on his hand. Her blood.
When they got to the farm, Mael took Sian from Lew and carried her into the farmhouse. Instead of the alcove she’d slept in before, he took her up to the room he claimed as his own. There he laid her down on the bed.
“Lew, go get me some water and a cloth. Then go see if Megan is about. Tell her someone is hurt. I don’t know how bad, but hurt.”
Lew nodded and went out the door. Downstairs, he told Sam to go get Megan while he got the water. Artur was growling and grousing by the fire. Lew turned to him.
“Artur, just shut yer mouth. Think. For all that girl wanted to go back to her family and precious Hall, she walked back here. Why? What made her do that, and most of all, why is she covered in blood?” Lew let his own anger flooding to the top.
“Blood?” Artur’s voice caught in his throat.
“Yes, It soaked through her clothes and on to me while I was carrying her here.” He held up his arms and it was plain to see that there were bloody streaks on his shirt. “I’m going up to help Mael till Megan gets here. The least you could do is shut up until we know what happened.”
Artur nodded and busied himself with the fire. He didn’t like women that much, but he didn’t like it that she was hurt.
Mael was trying to get her cloak off when Lew came back with the water. Lew helped him lift her up and clear the cloak from her shoulders. As they laid her down, they could see that her dress was soaked in stripes of blood.
“Someone whipped her.” Lew winced.
Yes, and if I’m right, that person is the reason she left. We’ll have to wait until she can tell us.” Mael had dark thoughts brewing in his mind. He was sure he knew who it was, but needed to hear it from her lips. Mael turned as the door opened and Megan came into the room. She was old enough to be Mael’s grannie.
“Now what’s all this?” Megan hobbled into the room. “Sam here hollering that someone was hurt bad, and all I see is a young slip of a girl asleep on your bed.”
“Look closer Megan.” Lew brought her around so that she could see what they had seen.
“Oh lordy. Get me a blanket and get that fire going boys.” Megan touched Sian’s forehead. The fever beat against her hand. “Give me that dagger Mael.” She held out her hand.
“Your dagger. I’m going to cut her dress up the back so that we don’t have to move her too much. We have to work while she’s still out.”
It made sense, and Mael gave her the dagger. Megan slit the dress. The under tunic was also blood soaked and Megan started to slit that as well. Mael saw just Sian’s back, and his hands rolled into fists. Lew looked and blanched. Sian’s back was a mess. Bloody cuts, some of which had begun to fester as well as patches of scabs and bruises.
Megan turned and looked at the men. “You two go on downstairs and leave me to clean her up. She’ll be alright I think. Lew, try and make some chicken stew. Don’t burn it though lad!” She pushed them out the door. “Mael, you hold your temper.” Megan looked at him and then closed the door.
Downstairs, the men looked to them for an answer to what was going on. Lew just fled to the kitchen and Mael walked outside and slammed the door hard enough to make dust drift down from the rafters.
Mael stood outside in the cool night air and pounded his fist into his other hand. He could think of only one person that would do this to Sian. Her father. He could even imagine what had happened, and yet, he had to wait until Sian spoke. If she lived through the fever and healed.
The others drifted into the kitchen where Lew sat plucking a chicken. They knew if they waited, he’d start to talk. Lew knew what they wanted, and when he felt he could trust his voice, he spoke. “She’s been whipped. Whipped bad. It looks like she walked all the way here, bleeding and getting sicker. What could have made her come here? Why on earth did they whip her like that? What made her run?” He rambled on under his breath.
Coel took the chicken from him and Sam handed him a flagon with a bit of ale. Lew drank it down like a balm. He sat there while the others started doing what he couldn’t do.
“She’s such a wee thing. Who could do that? Oh, it breaks me heart to see that.” Lew took another drink.
The others nodded in agreement. They’d taken lives when it was necessary, but not cruelty for the sake of punishment like that. Too many of them had been on the end of a whip to ever meter out such punishment to another. Lew stood up and started adding bits and pieces to the chicken. Leeks, carrots and a few turnips. It smelled good, and he didn’t burn it, but not a one of them would eat until Megan was able to get some of it into Sian.