Sian dreamed of cool water and horses. Of the sun beating down on her face and the cool hands of her mother. The fever still coursed through her body. Megan and the lads as she called them took turns watching over Sian as she slept. Mael came in to let Megan have a rest.
“How is she?”
“I’ve done all I can do for her. The wounds are clean and healing, but it’s her mind that’s hurt too. When the fever breaks, she’ll wake up.” Megan stood up and stretched. “I’ve gotten a bit of broth into her, and some of the willow bark tea. Now it is up to her.” She patted Mael’s hand and left the room.
Mael sat down next to Sian. He put the cool cloth on her forehead and stroked the dark curls away from her face. It has been two days since they’d found her. Artur and some of the lads had gone out to do as they would. He knew that they’d bring back food as well as a bit of plunder if the road was kind. It also kept them busy. Mael, Lew and Sam had stayed with Megan and Sian.
Sian stirred in her sleep. As Mael went to put the cloth back on her forehead, she opened her eyes. She stared at him, not recognizing him at first, with terror in her eyes.
“Hey lass, Sian. It’s alright. You’re safe at the farmhouse. We found you. You are going to be fine,” Mael spoke in a quiet voice.
“I… I… where did…” Her voice quivered and then fell silent.
“We found you near the stream, down by the wall. Lew and I. We brought you back to the farmhouse, and Megan’s been taking care of you.”
“Cool hands. I remember horses and cool hands,” she whispered.
“Aye, that would be Megan. I think she’s Sam’s gran, but no one knows for sure. She does know healing. Let me call for her.” Mael walked to the door and called down the stairs. “Megan! She’s awake!” Then he walked back to the bed. He held Sian’s hand while the others came up the steps.
“Bout time you came back to us.” Megan smiled to see Sian awake. “You were a right mess lass.”
“Yes. I still feel like one.” Sian tried to sit up.
“Oh no lass. You stay laying down. We don’t want you ripping those slashes on your back open again.” Megan put her hands gently on Sian’s shoulders. “Are you hungry? Thirsty?”
“Yes. Just not porridge please.” Sian looked towards Lew.
Lew went red in the face. “No Sian, I didn’t burn the broth. And, the lads don’t let me make the porridge anymore.” He handed the bowl he’d brought up to Mael.
Sian smiled weakly and let Mael spoon some of the broth into her mouth. She took four or five spoons and then Mael gave her some tea with willow bark in it. Before he could turn back with more broth, she was asleep.
“I’ll stay with her for now.”
Megan gave him a long look. “Well, don’t be pestering her yet as to who did this. Let her heal first. There is plenty of time for revenge later.”
“I didn’t say anything of revenge Megan.”
“No, you didn’t Mael. The thought of it though is there on your face, plain as your beard. Let her heal.” She walked out the door with Lew.
Sian woke up again and daylight was streaming in the small window. She remembered where she was this time and didn’t try to sit up too fast. Not that she could as there was a great mass of brown hair across her arm. She recognized Mael and wondered that he could sleep propped up against the bed while sitting on the low stool.
“Mael, wake up. You’ll hurt yourself sleeping like that.” She gently patted his head with her other arm.
Mael woke up, groggy from too little sleep and looked lost as he stared into Sian’s blue eyes and pale face.
“Please tell me I’m not dreaming.”
“No, you aren’t. Although, I’d like to get out of this bed. I feel like I haven’t moved in a year.”
“Let me get Megan. She’ll have the final say on what you can do. You’ll need some clothes too if you want to go far.”He headed towards the door. He was out and down the stairs by the time that Sian peeked under the covers to find herself wrapped in loose bandages. Her clothes gone. She pulled the blankets back up to her chin and waited.
Megan bustled into the room with a bundle in her arms. She smiled at Sian and started to help her out of bed.
“Here are some underthings for you dear. No stays for a while. You still have a lot of healing to do. However, a soft shift and a loose dress will suit you fine. I’ve washed and mended your own stuff as best I could. We had to cut them off you so soaked with blood they were.” Megan kept talking as she helped Sian dress. “Ah yes, you’re healing up well. I couldn’t imagine how you walked all that way lashed from top to bottom like you were. You’ll have scars lass, but at least you’ll never have to see them. Good thing the man who did this didn’t hit your face.”
Sian nodded silently. She thought about that night and didn’t want to remember any more than she had to.
“How long have I been here?”
Megan did up the laces on the gown. “Nigh on two weeks. In and out of fever you were. Thought we were going to loose you at one point. Such a little thing you are and barely enough meat to cover your bones let alone heal up all that skin.” Megan rambled on. “Sit down and I’ll get your stockings and shoes on. Then Mael can carry you down to the hall.” She bent down to help Sian finish dressing. Megan laced up the shoes and then walked to the door.
“Mael, come on. She’s decent and ready to get out of this room for a few minutes.”
Mael was there almost before Megan cleared the door. He looked to Sian sitting pale and thin on the edge of the bed.
“Hello Sian. Are you ready?”
“I think so,” There was hesitation in her voice.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle. If I wasn’t, Megan would have my skin for garters.”
Megan laughed as she stood by the door waiting for them. “And if I wasn’t fast enough, half those lads down there would do it for me.”
Down the stairs they went carefully. A pile of cushions in a chair, hastily piled by Lew and Artur were waiting. Mael placed Sian on the cushions and Megan tucked a rug around her legs. Then Megan motioned to two of the lads and they followed her upstairs to freshen the room.
Lew brought Sian a flagon of weak ale and then sat down with Sam, Mael, Artur and a few of the lads. Mael looked at Sian and with quiet intent began to speak.
“Sian, we found you by the side of the road nearly dead. Can you tell us what happened? Will you tell us?”
Sian took a sip of the ale. She knew from the moment she’d slipped through the gardens of the Hall that she’d have to explain why she was here. That she’d have to tell what happened. What she didn’t expect was for it to be so hard. She took another sip and began.
“Lew left me off in the fields and I made my way to the Hall. Mother and my sisters were happy to see me. I’d just finished telling them what happened when my father came in. He didn’t believe me. He blamed me for what had happened, like I had done something wrong.” She stopped and took a sip of ale.
“He dragged me to my room, and whipped me, yelling at me the whole time about what a bad person I was. A whore and a tease. That it was my fault. The next thing I remember, I hurt terribly, and my sister Cadi was in the room. She tried to clean my back up, but she didn’t have much time. The next morning, she and my mother came up to my room. They told me what my father had planned. Father was going to sell me to the Christian nunnery. Me, his oldest daughter, to that house of dried up old women when we were all raised in the old ways. Sell me to be a servant. Mother and Cadi came back to the house after leaving early that morning. They helped me escape.”
She stopped for a moment. Sian took another sip of ale and then started speaking again. “It was so hard. I hurt and was afraid I wouldn’t find this place again. I didn’t know where else to go. I…” She couldn’t finish, and the tears rolled down her face.
Three different hands offered handkerchiefs. There was a shuffling of feet she could hear while she tried to dry her eyes. She looked up wondering what else to say. Mael was staring at her with a grim look on his face. Lew with sorrow etched on his brow stood there then turned away. Sian wondered if she had said something wrong, that they were angry with her. That perhaps her father had been right.
Megan who had been listening from the top of the stairs bustled in and started scooting the men out of the room. “Here now, you’ve gone and upset the lass. She hasn’t a clue as to why all of you are so stern faced. Stop it before you scare the life out of her. And here I am just getting her all healed.” She waving her apron at them.
“It’s alright lass. They’re just upset about what happened to you. They’ve been waiting all this time fretting and trying to pretend that some of them didn’t care.” She looked towards Artur and his twin Finn. “The rest thinking the worst and now hearing it out at last realizing that they were close to right.”
Sian tried to stop sobbing, but she couldn’t. Megan wrapped an arm around her and motioned with the other for the men to leave the hall. She took one of the handkerchiefs and wiped Sian’s face.
“Ah dearie, shhhh. You’re safe here. These men won’t let any harm come to you. Their anger isn’t aimed at you. They’re frustrated that you got hurt and that they couldn’t keep you from harm. They may be thieves and rogues, but they are good men. They take a bit o’ pride in not hurting anyone except what hurts them.”
Sian clung to Megan. That tiny woman with wispy white hair had more love in her and twice the vinegar than anyone she had ever met. Sian took a deep breath and worked on relaxing. She couldn’t weep the rest of her life. She tried not to worry about her mother and sisters. She wanted to send a message to them and let them know that she was safe, but the way Lew and Mael looked, she was afraid to send them with a message. She’d wait for a bit.