Malcolm

Malcolm

The woman returned, her hands full, and stood across the table from
him. Biting her lip, she considered the wounds as well, blindly setting all
her implements down next to Malcolm’s head, the only space yet available
on the table. She lifted her blue-eyed gaze to Alec, but briefly, though did
not manage to suppress her negative opinion quick enough that Alec’s heart
dropped to his stomach.
“I can clean them and sew what needs repair,” she said, “but I…I can
promise nothing else.”
The first words she’d spoken to him only minutes earlier had been
harsh and without any emotion save perhaps her anger at Alec’s threat.
These words were given with some sympathy, a healer’s tone, which
offered no hope.
Nevertheless, he maintained his fierceness with her. “I dinna think you
want to die, woman.”
Nae, she did not, as told by the seething in her gaze, and something
deeper, as yet unknown to Alec. He watched her work then, addressing the
largest and bloodiest puncture first, not wincing at all when she opened it
further to gauge the damage within.
“Cracked his rib but doesn’t appear to have punctured his lung. Will
you fetch the pliers?” she asked, peering inside the wound. “On that
cupboard?”
He hesitated, not entirely trusting her.
“Or we can sew up the tip of the blade that broke off in his rib and
only hope it doesn’t become infected.”
With that, and the brutal look she leveled upon him, Alec did as
requested and returned with the tool, expecting to hand it to her.
She shook her head. “I’ll hold everything out of the way. You pluck it
out.”
Bluidy hell. He did grimace now but bent over Malcolm’s chest and
peered inside the wound, blood and tissue and torn muscle staring back at
him.
“See it? That glint of metal?”
“Aye.”
“Do not yank too hard,” she instructed, “or you’re likely to cause more
damage to the muscle and skin. Clutch at the metal and wiggle it back and
forth, gently, to cause no other harm.”
Alec nodded and used one hand upon the tool, his head touching hers
as they both bent so close over the hole. He managed quite easily to clamp
the pliers around the piece of metal, but it was embedded fairly deep, and
he was afraid to cause more harm as she’d said, that it took several minutes
to wrest it free.
“Very good,” she said when he did. “Now, behind me, fetch the two
spoons I dropped into the boiling water.”
He did this and returned to the table, opposite her, holding the hot
metal gingerly.
“You’re going to hold open the skin flaps with the spoons while I stitch
up the inside.” Without waiting a response, which was yet another twisting
of his features, this time indeed for the gore, she retrieved a needle made of
bone and threaded it with two strands of string that looked like silk.
She set this down on Malcolm’s chest and took the spoons from him,
both their hands and fingers bloodied now. She pressed the spoons inside,
taking her time to wedge them against the skin and not the muscle. When
they were set to her liking, she inclined her head to Alec that he should take
them. He set his hands over hers, and she pulled hers out underneath when
his fingers had control of the spoons.
Straightening that she might be able to lean in further, he stared at the
top of her head while she sewed, saw not much more of her face than the
thick fringe of lashes and her nose, slim and straight. He hadn’t met many
healers in his life, and while all the ones he had were women, he didn’t
think he’d ever met one like this. The ones he’d known were ancient and
bent crooked with age, their manner abrupt and often surly.
This one was…she was beautiful. Her manner was indeed abrupt, but
that might have been wrought by their barging in, and his threatening her
life. Might have been, he wouldn’t know. She was certainly not ancient and
not at all crooked with age but was young and lean and crowned with a
wealth of dark blonde hair that might actually be very blonde outside this
dim cottage. Her eyes, when she’d faced him earlier so breathlessly, were
true blue, light and dark and brimming with more a show than a reality of
fearlessness, he’d understood at the time.
While she worked, he held his hands and the spoons still, even as her
fingers so often brushed against or rested upon his. He passed his gaze
around the cottage, making judgments about her based on the evidence
around him. The meal he’d spied inside the second kettle had been sparse,
more broth than anything else; the bed in the corner next to the cupboard
was covered in a blanket of coarse wool, the color as drab as the ground
beneath his feet; linen curtains, such as they were, hung over the two
windows but seemed to serve no purpose but to keep out the light and
mayhap the summer flies; a vase of wilted wild flowers sat on the cupboard
near the hearth, next to a crude ewer and basin. Alec’s brow lifted and then
lowered darkly as his gaze landed on two pairs of boots to the left of the
door. He frowned, considering the different sizes of the footwear. The
woman was tiny, relatively speaking, but that smallest pair of boots there by
the door would likely not fit her. Above that, hung on pegs hammered into
the wooden walls, was what Alec assumed to be a cloak of wool, which
matched the drab bed covering and next to that, a wee jacket of earthen
brown.