Tornmile: Part 20

Tornmile
Part XX: Recovery

Mishak sat in front of the fire dipping bread into hot stew and waiting for it to cool down sufficiently to eat it properly. His shoulder no longer itched, but he was not sure that the dull throbbing pain that had replaced it was preferable. It hurt worse than usual now, since Marthe had come to change the bandages before bringing him the stew, and that also involved her prodding and pressing the wound to check the stitches were holding and that it remained free from infection. She assured him on both counts that they were, and that the wound was healing nicely. He wished that it would heal faster – it limited his usefulness to the group, since he couldn’t move his arm without substantial pain, and he disliked feeling useless, even whilst he enjoyed having Marthe as his nurse. On occasion, she was forced to leave him in the care of Josse and Eloi, and whilst they were nice enough in their own way, neither of them was attentive to him as she was.

He brought a spoonful of stew to his mouth and slurped it down noisily, smiling at the taste. He hadn’t had a stew this good in a long time, certainly not since Lord Minham had been killed. His personal chef was occasionally forced to prepare extra so that Mishak could be kept around to wait on his master, and the chef had been very good at his job. Marthe’s stew tasted all the better for the freedom and company that went with it. Even Josse and Eloi were good company, even if their idea of nursing meant leaving him for the majority of the time to his own ends. Eloi talked about gossip at the market and told Mishak stories from his youth. Josse remained his taciturn sense, though the coldness that had formerly marked his talk with Mishak had mostly gone since the emergency surgery.

The stew was soon gone and the bowl wiped clean with the last crumbs of bread. Mishak, full and contented, laid his head back on the chair and thought about going to sleep. He was alone in the safe house: Eloi and Josse had gone to see a fellow employee of Ferrer’s and Marthe had gone to the markets to attempt to get more supplies. He didn’t expect any of them would be back until after night fall. He didn’t enjoy the times he was alone in the safe house. When he had been in Lord Minham’s service, the times he had to himself were usually the best – he was free to do as he pleased – but here not only was his injury restricting his activities, but he also felt like he didn’t belong here, like he was a trespasser on Marthe, Josse, and Eloi’s land.

The sensation and the pain in his shoulder didn’t stop him from sleeping, though. The warmth of the fire and the hot stew inside him worked as well as a hard day’s work and before long he felt himself drifting off. The beginnings of dreams appeared in his mind as though seen through a dense fog; glimpsed, but not seen. He could not remember his dreams since the night the arrowhead had been taken from his shoulder. He remembered dreaming about a lake and a woman standing by its edge, but nothing more of that dream, if there had been anything more. He had yet to find his way back to that place whilst he was sleeping. He pushed the thought away and sleep overtook him.

The sound of the kitchen door closing resounded in his dream, rousing him from sleep. He listened to the bustle in the kitchen for a moment, attempting to find his way back to dreaming. Marthe would be back, possibly stocking the shelves. He adjusted his posture and flicked one eye open to check the window. It was dark outside. Closing his eye again, he pushed his head against the chair and relaxed. The door clicked open, but he did not move. Marthe was unlikely to disturb him; she moved silently as a matter of course and she would leave him to his rest if she thought he needed it. It could hardly be time to change the bandages again.

The footsteps, though, did not belong to Marthe. He realised that he knew her soft footfalls as if he had been listening to them for years. These were heavier and there seemed to be two sets of them. Eloi and Josse. He tried to remain sleeping – they might wake him if they had anything worth discussing, but more likely they would wait until Marthe came back, eating cheese and bread, and playing a strange card game that they would not explain the rules for. He flicked an eye open once more to confirm that it was them and started in his chair, nearly impaling himself on the short sword that was levelled towards his face.

“Wakey wakey.”

The voice was gruff, almost gravelly. Mishak switched his focus to the face of the man holding the sword. He had a few days of growth on his chin; a sort of tawny colour, which was at odds with his dark hair. His face was lined with dirt and sweat. His clothes were the rough, also dirty. Clearly he had been travelling for some time.

“Who are you?” Mishak asked, sitting up straight in the chair and trying to sound confident.

“Who are you?” the tawny bearded man growled back at him.

“What does it matter who he is, Straton? Ask him about the girl.”

The second man was thinner than his companion and older. There were grey streaks in his dark hair and lines crossed his face. His lips were thin and it seemed as if he wore a permanent scowl. His clothes were also dirty, stained with travel, but they were of a much finer cut. It was clear who was giving the orders here.

“Is there a girl here with you?” Straton asked.

“No,” Mishak lied.

Straton’s eyes narrowed and he turned the point of the sword down towards Mishak’s chest.

“Is there a girl here with you?” he asked again, deliberating over every word to drive home the threat of the blade for the wrong answer.

“No,” Mishak said again.

“Where is the girl Marthe?”

The elder man pushed Straton roughly aside and grabbed Mishak by the shoulders as he asked his question. Mishak yelped as the man’s thumb dug into his wounded shoulder. The man’s face twisted into a smile. There was no warmth in it at all. He took a horse whip from his belt and turned it in his hand, pushing the hard end of it against Mishak’s shoulder. Pain swept through him, radiating out from the stitched wound.

“Where is the girl?”

“What girl?” Mishak asked through gritted teeth, breathing heavily and curling his hands into fists to try to resist the pain. It didn’t work.

The man grabbed hold of the light tunic Mishak wore and ripped it apart, exposing the bandages. Blood was beginning to seep through them; the stitches had broken, re-opening the wound. Seeing that made the pain seem much worse and it took every effort of Mishak’s will to keep him from shaking. The silver haired man smiled and pushed the whip into the wound again. Mishak twisted away, trying to shrug the whip off. The man seemed to freeze and then relented. The smile grew wider as he looked at Mishak’s chest. Mishak looked down and knew what he was looking at – the ‘M’ brand stood out clearly in the firelight.

“Straton, if you would be so good as to fetch the guard. We’ve a murderer for the rope here.”

“Yes, Lord Abelard,” Straton said, rising from the floor and striding confidently towards the door.

Mishak looked from Abelard to Straton and back again. He did not want to bring Marthe to harm, but it had been sheer luck that had allowed him to escape the rope the first time around. He might not get lucky again.

“Wait!” he shouted.

Abelard held his hand up and Straton’s hand froze on the door handle. Mishak took a deep breath, trying to work out if he would be able to stand and make it through the kitchen door before they could catch him. They would not be expecting it, but there was little chance that he could outrun two of them, particularly with a severe wound in the shoulder.

“Well?” Abelard prompted.

“She’s at the market. She should be back soon.”

“Are that gardener and apple picker with her as well?” Abelard asked, “What were their names, Straton?”

“Josse and Eloi, your lordship,” Straton growled from the door.

“They’re not with her,” Mishak answered.

It was not a lie, as far as he knew, which gave Marthe the small chance there would be extra protection when she arrived home, or at least the possibility of rescue if she returned home before them. Abelard nodded, but Straton came over and took Mishak by the hair, pulling backwards so that Mishak was forced to look up at him.

“You said not with her,” he said, “but you didn’t say they weren’t staying here too.”

“A good point, Straton. Thank you. Are they staying here, those two?”

Mishak hesitated in answering, causing Straton to jerk his hand backwards. Mishak was sure that his hair would all come out in one clump if the man did not relent – his grasp was like iron.

“Yes,” Mishak admitted, “they’re staying here. They’ll be back soon too.”

He tried to make the last part of that a threat, but it seemed to have little effect on either of the men. Straton released Mishak’s hair, and then knelt behind the chair, taking Mishak’s arms and binding them behind the chair’s back. The strain on the wound caused another lance of pain; blood had begun to trickle down Mishak’s chest and over his stomach. It tickled; an odd sensation when compared with the lightning pain in his shoulder.

“What do you want with them anyway?”

“The girl is my property; her father pledged her to me. But she wouldn’t do as she was told and those two bastards helped her defy me. Just because that fool, Lord Voclan, was swayed by their deceit, doesn’t mean that everyone was. Straton told me of their flight, and tracked them here. I have come to take back my property and to teach all of them a lesson for their defiance.”

“She told me about you,” Mishak spat, “told me all about the sort of service you expected of her. You’re a monster.”

“This from a convicted murderer!”

Lord Abelard laughed a mirthless laugh, turning around with his arms outstretched as if his remark was being delivered to a large audience. Straton laughed along, though Mishak thought it was forced. Hatred boiled in Mishak’s veins; he pushed the pain in his chest aside and struggled against the knots holding his wrists.

“If you lay one hand on her again, I’ll – ”

“You’ll what?” Abelard interrupted, “kill me, like you killed before? I don’t think so, Stamm. But the gesture is noted; you think she is beautiful, don’t you? Think she is a fine woman? I thought so too, once. She will deny you, just as she denied me.”

Mishak tried to yell a response, but no sooner had he begun Straton pulled a cloth between his teeth so that he could not make any noise. Mishak’s head was pulled back once more, the cloth biting into the side of his mouth and threatening to be sucked into his throat. He coughed and spluttered under it as Abelard knelt down and took him by the shoulders once more.

“Your love for her is very touching, so I make you this promise: if she is still alive when I am finished with her, you can take her to your heart’s content.”

Mishak narrowed his eyes and tried to pull himself free of Straton’s restraints, which only caused Abelard to laugh at him. Straton pulled the cloth tighter and then tied it at the back of Mishak’s neck. With a nod from Abelard, the bearded man took up his sword and went through into the kitchen. Mishak heard his boots receding and the sound of the door into the yard closing behind him.

“Now, Straton will take care of the brothers,” Abelard said, “and we’re going to sit here and wait for that bitch to come back. Then the show is really going to begin.”

Mishak struggled against the knots on his wrists. I have to get free! I have to save Marthe!

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