The Crying Blade
The Crying Blade
The warm stew brought some strength back into Geoffrey's tired body. It also made him very sleepy. He thanked the old woman, Shera, for her kindness and slipped back to his sleeping bard. She lay very still beneath a few light blankets having tossed the heavy blankets off in her sleep. The slow steady rise and fall of her chest reassured him that all was well. His hand rested upon the well-padded mattress as he bent over her to kiss her gently on the forehead. He pulled back surprised when his lips touched her forehead ... she was burning up.
"Shera! She's getting worse!" He couldn't keep the edge of worry and panic from his voice and the old woman quickly came in to check on her patient. After peeking at the younger woman's eyes, touching her forehead, and holding her wrist, Shera looked at the Prince worry etched on her old face.
"Fever has her. She feels the heat from within and throws off the warm blankets to try to cool off. She will die if we do not force her to remain covered. I tended her injuries when she reached my home, but she said she'd killed the bear two days before. The injuries were old and illness has kept into her body. My Prince, the bard may not survive the winter. I'm sorry." The old woman began pulling the heavy blankets back onto the still form of the bard. She kept her eyes to the floor not wanting to see the pain and worry in her prince's eyes. She'd been in love once ... she remembered the pain when she lost her Gorath those 18 years ago. Finally, her old eyes drifted from his black leather boots to his face. He was tense and unmoving yet his eyes flickered over Deirdre's body as if searching for a solution to her illness.
"Did you strip her and check for injuries?" Geoffrey asked through clenched teeth. There was no anger in his voice ... only forced control over his actions and words. The old woman glanced at his eyes briefly before looking away.
"No, your highness. She told me where she had been struck. Her clothing showed no signs of unmentioned injuries." She began to worry that the bard had hidden something and chased the tall prince out to better check her patient. Geoffrey stepped out and looked at the soldiers waiting there.
"Sleep. In the morning you ride for the castle to seek Vector or Bethel. They'll heal her or I'll find a way to cause them more pain and agony than Dirk has ever submitted any soul to." The guards swallowed hard and saluted him with a loud "Yes, my Prince."
After a long, careful search and several unlady-like words, Shera came out and looked at her prince. "The bard did receive other injuries, your highness. But she will recover from them. They are but bruises. The illness has crawled into her from the bear's claws and it's bite. She must be kept warm to survive the war being waged within her body." Shera walked over to the cauldron and ladled a bowl of bear stew out. She took a spoon and began mashing the meat and potatoes together into a thick paste while Geoffrey paced. His guards had left to rest so they could leave by his order on the next day's dawn. It would be a long ride back to the castle, but Geoffrey hoped they'd make it before her strength gave out. Shera lifted the bowl towards him. "Do you wish to feed her or do you wish to remain here, my prince?" The old woman's tone revealed more than Geoffrey expected. She believed he loved the bard. How foolish. She's an amusement. A hobby. Nothing more. Is she? He lifted the bowl and nodded before slipping back into the darkened room.
He failed to feed her much of it, but he tried. He was quiet proud of the fact that he stopped himself from screaming at her. It's not her fault that she was too sick to help him feed her. He put the half-empty bowl aside and sat on the edge of the bed. His fingers played with a few sweaty bangs of hers as he looked down at her troubled face. She occasionally whimpered and twitched a little in her sleep before settling down to rest again. What dreams plague you? What demons hide behind those beautiful eyes? He'd not realized how long he'd been with Deirdre until Shera had poked her head in with an unspoken apology in her eyes.
"Yes, Shera? What do you want?"
"Only to ask you, Prince, if you were going to keep watch over her all night."
"Yes. Sleep. I'm certain you need your rest too. I'll keep watch over her this evening."
"Of course, my prince. May the night be peaceful and her strength renewed." Shera whispered as she pulled the door closed behind her. Geoffrey looked down at Deirdre's face and smiled.
"Who will protect you from me?" He joked. Her eyes fluttered open for a brief second. They looked at him and he saw the worry there and then a sparkle.
"Who ... will ... protect you ... from me?" She whispered hoarsely before her eyes fluttered and sleep again dragged her into its embrace. Geoffrey smiled at her and whispered into her ear.
"I don't care to be protected."
The night crept by slowly and Geoffrey dozed on and off on a chair beside the bed. Twice he was awoken when the blankets tumbled to the floor at his feet. Near the midnight hour, Geoffrey stepped outside to take care of personal matters. When he returned, he found her covered by little more then a sheet and a thin nightshirt. The view was shocking and he stood for a moment before gently placing the blankets over her again. His back ached from the chair and he wanted to sleep. The room was cold and he longed for a few of those blankets for himself. Little good I'll be if I'm sick too. He straightened and stretched. She moaned in her sleep and a blanket fell at his feet again.
"Damn it." He sighed. I make a horrible nursemaid. He tossed the blanket over her again. As he turned to return to the chair, his mind flashed with an idea. I will destroy any reputation she has left if I do. If I don't, she may die. Even if I do, it's no guarantee that she'll survive. He started undoing the straps, knots and buckets on his outfit.
The bed was a bit damp from her sweat but he cared only a little. Deirdre had rolled over in her sleep towards him when he lifted the blankets. With a gentle nudge, he eased her back and slipped in the bed with her. The blankets rested heavily upon them and Geoffrey felt warm enough to sleep at last. Deirdre's hot body was pressed against his arm. He rolled onto his side so he could see her and slipped his arm beneath her neck. She cuddled back into his bare chest and murmured something in her sleep. Geoffrey thought for a moment that she'd whispered his name, but that would be foolish to believe. He spent the evening wrapped around his lady. It was the best night's sleep he'd had in ages.
A soft embarrassed chuckle awoke Geoffrey. He slipped out of the bed and grabbed for his sword only to stub his toe on the chair, overbalance and crash to the floor in front of Shera. She smiled down at the nearly nude prince with amusement dancing in her old eyes.
"Good morning, Prince Blackpool. Your men left at dawn's first light after I fed them a few big bowls of stew. I see that you found a way to make her stay covered." Her unnaturally blue eyes sparkled mischievously. Geoffrey picked himself up off the floor and dusted a bit of dirt from his underclothes.
"Thank you, Shera. The men will appreciate your stew during the ride, as do I. Deirdre threw off the blankets more often than a young stallion throws off its first rider." He began to reach for his clothes to find them gone. "What?"
"I am cleaning them, my prince. I have brought your pack in for you." She pointed to it casually resting against the leg of the bed. "I have stew waiting for you in the pot. I'll rub down the bard with some water so she'll feel better."
Geoffrey nodded and stepped out the rest of the house to dress while Shera cleaned Deirdre up a bit. The stew was as good as he remembered and he took a small portion and began mashing it like Shera had the night before. When he stepped back into the room, Shera smiled at him and left him to feed their patient.
Geoffrey was surprised how easy it was to settle into a pattern over the next few days. Shera was used to being alone, but seemed to enjoy the company. Deirdre survived and was slowly growing stronger but her fever remained dangerously high. Five nights after the soldiers left, the cottage shook slightly and Vector appeared before them. Shera and Geoffrey were eating and talking about the valley when he materialized before them.
"Prince." Vector's tone told Geoffrey he came at Dirk's insistence. Geoffrey nodded at him and led him back to Deirdre. The wizard looked her over a bit before nodding. "I'm not very good at healing spells."
"She dies, you die."
"Right." Vector began casting a spell. The bard floated off the bed a few feet and glowed as the wizard spoke in a language that Geoffrey was certain he'd heard before. He sat down heavily in the chair when it came to him. The first night he'd stumbled onto her campsite and heard her singing ... It was this language she had been singing in ... or one so close as to be it's twin. The revelation left him in a stunned silence as the wizard worked to reverse the damage done by the sickness. Who are you, Deirdre? And how have you ensnared my mind and heart? Magic? Or merely your beauty?
Geoffrey left to speak to Shera when Vector stopped to stop and stated she had nothing to fear now and would recover within a few days. Shera was packing Geoffrey's possessions for him when he found her. The old woman was crowing softly and her melody, although it was badly mangled by her, was his "Sorrow."
"Where did you hear that?" He asked softly as he took over packing his things. Shera blinked at him in surprise before answering.
"Why ... the bard was crooning it in her sleep the first few night's until she became too weak. You know the song?"
"Yes... I taught it to her." He glanced away. His emotions where in a turmoil. His song had filled her sick mind. Was it a comfort for her? He didn't want to think about it. When his things were packed and the bards few things packed as well, Geoffrey bid the old woman a safe winter and thanked her for her generosity.
"Well, I had company ... someone to care for ... a lot of food given to me ... and the winter won't be so worrisome for me this season. Thank you, Prince. I'd never met a royal before in all my years. Hehe ... you can come visit anytime."
With a look, Vector caused himself, Geoffrey and the unconscious Deirdre to vanish. The old woman sighed and went about cleaning her old cottage. As she went into Deirdre's abandoned room, she found one of Geoffrey's pouches. Within it were many shiny Kolnas and a hastily scribbled note.
"With my thanks, Geoffrey..."
Shera laughed and tucked the pouch away and started humming a happy song she'd learned from her husband so long ago. The winter didn't seem so cold now.
Dirk was bellowing at the top of his lungs but Geoffrey really wasn't listening. His mind was on the limp form of Deirdre, who was tucked safely in a warm bed with serving wenches scurrying about her tending to her. Geoffrey forced himself to focus on Dirk so he didn't wind up hanging from the North Tower again.
"And how daft can you be to be running off in the worst storm of the winter to look for a missing bard?" Dirk was red and Geoffrey knew very well that his anger was because he was worried. Geoffrey had grabbed his personal guards and rode off into the light snowfall. Then his guards return much later without him with instructions that Vector or Bethel was needed for a healing. The guards were so tired from the ride that they mangled their message so badly that Dirk was certain Geoffrey needed healing. When he appeared before Dirk with Vector at his side and the limp form of the bard in his arms, Dirk had exploded. All of the worry within Dirk rushed out and it was all Geoffrey could do to get Deirdre sent off to be taken care of with Dirk bellowing like a dragon seeking a mate or a good fight.
"I am fine, Dirk. Thanks for caring." Dirk's eyes narrowed into two slits as he looked at his little brother. He moved suddenly and the wall sconce near Geoffrey was swatted off the wall falling to the hard stone floor with a noisy clatter. Dirk stormed passed him and off into his private library. When he could breath again, Geoffrey grabbed a passing servant and sent her to the kitchen to fetch him a drink. He needed it after that.
Vector's "a few days" turned into several weeks. Vector was beside himself with embarrassment and that made he short-tempered. Geoffrey's mood was rather dark, as he wasn't able to check on her as much as he'd like to and do to his concerns about Vector's healing spell. Dirk was in his usual mood ... bad. Bethel was noticeably absent from the castle during this time. Finally, Vector had an answer and it wasn't one he wanted to give them. He finally learned why the woman seemed to reject the healing spell ... she was magical. He had approached the Council about her in private and they told him her talents weren't worth rating but seemed eager for him to drop the subject. He hadn't but he had been wise enough to continue in private. Vector didn't know how to tell Geoffrey what he'd learned without losing his head, so he remained silent. Winter buried Blackpool as it did every year, even as the southern territories still enjoyed brisk days and cool nights. Winter would spare them for several more weeks before they felt their first snows and by then Blackpool would be a frozen wasteland...
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