The Bonemender - Holly Bennett - E-Book

The Bonemender E-Book

Holly Bennett

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Beschreibung

Gabrielle is a bonemender of extraordinary talent. Between her work as a healer and her duties as one of the royal family of Verdeau, her life is busy, comfortable and predictable—until the day a stranger arrives at her gate, desperately seeking help for his injured friend. To Gabrielle's wonder, they are Elves, a people not seen in Verdeau in many years. And they bring news of a coming invasion that threatens the freedom of the entire Krylian basin, human and Elvish alike. As Verdeau arms for war, Gabrielle must mobilize the bonemenders and prepare herself for the nightmarish work of battlefield healing. But what awaits her on that bloody field is worse than anything she has imagined. And what is she to do with the love in her heart?

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TheBonemender

Holly Bennett

Copyright © 2005 Holly Bennett

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data

Bennett, Holly, 1957-The bonemender / Holly Bennett.

ISBN 1-55143-336-2

I. Title.

PS8603.E62B65 2005    jC813’.6    C2005-903300-2

Summary: In this fantasy, Gabrielle is a bonemender, a healer, who falls in love with a man whom fate seems to have forbidden her, but they must both think about war before they can think about love.

First published in the United States 2005Library of Congress Control Number: 2005927810

Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP), the Canada Council for the Arts, and the British Columbia Arts Council.

Cover artwork, cover design, interior map: Cathy Maclean Typesetting: Lynn O’Rourke

In Canada:                           In the United StatesPO Box 5626, Stn. B,                    PO Box 468 Victoria, BC Canada                  Custer, WA USAV8R 6S4                                 98240-0468www.orcabook.com                        www.orcabook.com

09  08  07  06  05  •  5  4  3  2  1

Printed and bound in CanadaPrinted on 100% post-consumer recycled paper,100% old growth forest free, processed chlorine free using vegetable, low VOC inks.

To my three sons, Riley, Jesse and Aaron,who turned me into a fantasy nerd.

                     ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

The song Gabrielle sings is inspired by “The Bergen,” by the fine British singer/songwriter Jez Lowe. Thanks for his kind permission to excerpt a snippet of the lyrics.

Special thanks are due to my son, Aaron, who patiently listened to this story as it was written and thus became my first-round editor, and to my niece, Keegan—Gabrielle’s biggest fan—who has read The Bonemender draft more often than I have. Thanks also to my agent, Lynn Bennett, and to my editor, Maggie deVries at Orca Book Publishers, for being tough on sloppy writing in the kindest possible way and for the wonderful enthusiasm she brought to our work together.

CHAPTER 1

“BONEMENDER’S here, son.”

The boy’s face was pinched with pain, pallid under his shock of black hair. He glared at Gabrielle and hunched over his left arm, which he cradled in his other hand. He was frightened of her, of what was to come.

Gabrielle knelt beside the boy. She smiled at him. “Hello, Philippe. That must hurt like fury.” He bit his lip, nodded. The blue eyes were trying to fill with tears, but he blinked them away. “Can I look?” asked Gabrielle. “I promise not to touch it.”

Philippe glanced at his mother—who nodded firmly—hesitated, then stared at Gabrielle with a look of cool appraisal that was unnerving in one so young. She returned his gaze, allowing him to take her measure. With a tiny nod, he revealed his injury.

It looked awful. An angry lump jutted forward from the boy’s chest, the arm hanging, useless. Poor Margot must have been frightened to death at the sight, thought Gabrielle. She sat back on her heels.

“Listen, Philippe. This is not as bad as it looks,” she said. “You’ve dislocated your shoulder joint, but if the bone is not broken it can be easily fixed. You will mend as well as ever.” The boy’s eyes searched her face. “I need to check if there is anything else wrong. I’m going to just run my hand lightly along your arm, all right? I’ll do my very best not to hurt you.” Another nod, this one less reluctant.

Gabrielle laid her hand lightly on Philippe’s skinny arm just below the swollen shoulder joint. She worked her way down the bones, feeling for bumps, swelling, odd angles. Besides the nasty scrapes, there was nothing obvious. She asked Philippe to move his fingers, then his wrist. He could move the elbow joint up and down. He wouldn’t try it sideways, but that was because of the pain it caused in his shoulder.

“You were lucky, my boy. Falling from a roof like that, you could have broken bones all over the place. You must be like a cat, to land so well.” Gabrielle grinned, further disarming her patient. It was not only kindness that prompted her; the treatment would be easier if Philippe was relaxed enough to cooperate. Despite himself, Philippe smiled. He was proud of his little escapade, though he would undoubtedly be punished for it once he recovered.

“Philippe,” said Gabrielle, serious now. She looked him right in the eye. “I have to move your arm back into the place in your shoulder where it fits.” She showed him on her own shoulder how it would be done. “I won’t lie to you—it’s going to hurt. But it won’t take long, and when I’m done, your arm will feel a whole lot better. If I don’t do it, it will never heal on its own.”

Philippe’s eyes teared up again, but he didn’t hesitate. “Okay. You c’n do it.”

Gabrielle first gave him a tea of comfrey, willow bark and hawkweed, sweetened with honey. “This will help you heal faster. It will help you sleep too, and that’s the best thing you could do this afternoon.” Drinking the tea also gave the boy a little reprieve, a chance to relax and prepare himself. When he was done, Gabrielle had him lie on his pallet. Holding the arm above the elbow steady with one hand, she raised his hand to point at the ceiling. Then she brought his wrist, slowly and smoothly, in an arc away from his body and down to the floor. Philippe cried out, the tears unchecked now. Then, with a clunk, the bone slid back into place. Philippe stopped crying and stared at Gabrielle, astonished.

“Is it done?” It was Margot, his mother, as incredulous as her son.

“Yes,” Gabrielle replied with a smile. “I’ll stay for a while, if I may, and help the torn tissues mend. It will speed his recovery. But I expect your main trouble now will be keeping him quiet for the next few days. He’ll need to keep that arm in a sling, and avoid jostling it, until it’s well set.” Margot turned her back and busied herself with a kettle, hiding her tears of relief. She too had feared for her son.

Gabrielle tied up the sling and accepted a cup of tea from Margot. The two women chatted quietly until Philippe, exhausted, fell asleep. Then Gabrielle got back to work. She knelt by the boy once more, cupped her hand over his injured shoulder. She let her eyes close, her breathing deepen and slow. With her mind still and focused, Gabrielle sent her awareness flowing down to the swollen, torn tissues. Her hand tingled as the warm light flowed through her. The world around dimmed, until there was nothing but the small body under her hand, the light and the healing. She “saw” the muscles knit themselves, firming around the joint. The angry swelling melted away as the light infused the boy’s shoulder.

She sat thus for half an hour, until she was sure the injury would heal fast and trouble-free. Then she sighed, straightened and slowly brought herself back.

“Keep him quiet for as long as you can, Margot, and give him that tea twice a day for three or four days. You can wash the scrapes with it too,” she said. “He’s going to be fine.”

“Bless you, Lady Gabrielle.”

THE NOONDAY SUN pierced through the woodland, creating dramatic shafts of green light in the shady stillness and dappling the backs of the two travelers. Their horses walked at ease, cropping now and then at a tuft of grass but needing no urging from the riders to keep moving along the trail. Indeed, they appeared to need no direction at all—the riders used neither saddle nor rein to guide their steeds. The woods were lazy at this time of day, with few birdcalls or other sounds save the clopping of the horses’ hooves and the occasional murmur of the companions’ voices.

One rider, golden-haired, shaded his eyes and pointed left of the trail.

“Féolan, there’s a glint of water there. Maybe a stream?”

The horses stopped, and the riders sat silent, listening. The chatter of water flowing over rocks was unmistakable. Danaïs grinned modestly.

“You saw it first, Danaïs, and I owe you a dinner tonight if we’re lucky enough to find an inn,” Féolan said. “Let’s fill up our skins, and see if our little stream lends itself to a wash and a rest.”

The two men dismounted and untied the water skins draped over the horses’ backs. Féolan spoke briefly in his horse’s ear, and they headed into the woods, horses following.

The stream proved brisk and clear, though too overgrown on its banks to provide the hoped-for bask in the sun. They filled the skins, stripped off their boots and cooled their feet in the water. The horses waded in gratefully and drank. But there was little reason to linger. “Might as well push on,” said Danaïs, brushing twigs and pine needles off his feet. “The sooner we leave, the sooner we reach the next town. I intend to have a heroic appetite by nightfall.” He started making his way back, whistling merrily. He could literally whistle the birds out of the trees and often did so for his young daughter’s amusement.

Féolan took a last drink, splashed his face with water and secured the skins on the horses’ backs. As he turned to follow Danaïs, he saw, rather than heard, the underbrush rustling with the flight of some great creature and shouted out a warning even as he knocked an arrow to his bow and began tracking its path. Danaïs, quick though he was, barely had time to turn his head. A cry of dismay burst from Féolan’s throat as the boar shot from the thicket and charged at his friend. The bow sang, but in vain. No arrow on earth could stop three hundred pounds of hurtling boar. Groaning, he watched the enraged beast crash against Danaïs, lunging viciously with its tusks.

GABRIELLE HUMMED TO herself as she ambled up the dusty road back to the castle. She loved her work, but less so when it required hurting patients. She was glad Philippe had been so easily mended. She nodded to Yves, the gatekeeper, as she ducked through the arched entrance.

“G’day, Lady Gabrielle. That Delacroix boy going to be all right, is he?”

“Yes, Yves. Just a dislocation, luckily. It looked worse than it was.” Crusty old Yves had kept the gate for as long as Gabrielle could remember and seemed to know the news almost before it happened. How he had learned about Philippe’s accident was anyone’s guess.

“That lad’s a spunky one. I’ll wager you’ll be tendin’ him again afore he’s grown.”

Gabrielle laughed. “You may be right. Only eight years old, on the roof!” She started across the courtyard and was nearly at the castle doors when a clatter of hooves and a startled cry from the gatehouse made her turn around.

A man—no, two men on a single horse were cantering up to the gatehouse, a second horse trailing after. One of them shouted as he approached.

“Please help me! My friend’s been hurt; he’s bleeding badly. Please, is there someone who can help?”

Gabrielle saw then that the forward man was slumped against the other, his leggings black and dripping with blood. She was back at the gatehouse and clipping out orders before the bemused Yves had spoken a word.

“Yves, get three or four men to help move this man. We need a litter. Get one to bring my bandage case from the clinic. Make them hurry!”

“What happened to him?” she asked the stranger, hardly pausing for breath.

“Boar gash in the thigh,” he answered. If he wondered about her credentials, he held his peace. “He lost much blood, and more when I pulled him on my horse.” She saw now that he pressed a pad against the wound with one hand—a bunched-up cloak, it looked like. That was well.

“Yves, I need your stool,” ordered Gabrielle. Turning again to the horseman, she asked, “Will your horse stay quiet if I approach?”

“He will if I ask him to,” he replied, and, oddly, he placed his hand on the horse’s neck and murmured to him. Gabrielle had no time to ponder this. She dragged the stool over to the beast’s side, stood on it and steadied herself against the broad shoulder.

“I want to have a quick look at the wound, see what we’re dealing with,” she said, and the stranger nodded. Gabrielle lifted the cloth and saw a deep, ragged puncture, oozing dark blood the minute it was exposed. A vein damaged then, not an artery, or the man would likely already be dead, his heart pumping the blood right out of his body. She clamped the soggy cloth back down and pressed hard, checking the unconscious man’s pulse with her other hand.

“Your friend is alive but dangerously weak from loss of blood,” she explained. “If we move him off this horse now, it will open the wound and make him bleed more. I’m going to stabilize him right here, seal the cut blood vessel, before we move him. It will take some time, all right?” She glanced up, looking the stranger full in the face for the first time.

He looked ... different. There was nothing she could put her finger on, though he was disconcertingly handsome. Long dark hair, straight brows, luminous gray eyes, a grave manner. Nothing you couldn’t find in any local village—well, except maybe those striking eyes. Yet Gabrielle was oddly sure he was not from Verdeau.

He stared at her and his brow cleared. He smiled with a kind of wonderment. “You’re a healer.” A statement, not a question. “I never hoped to find such a one in a place like this.”

The men arrived with bandages and a stretcher, and Gabrielle applied a pressure pad to the gash. Then she braced herself as best she could on the horse’s shoulder, placed her hands against the wounded man on either side of the bandage and stilled her mind.

Here was another difference. Usually there was an effort involved in “getting in” to another person’s body—a kind of invisible barrier or resistance that had to be felt and eased through. This time, the barrier felt strange, like grasping silk when you were expecting wool. Gabrielle’s mind fluttered along its edges as she tried to attune herself to her patient. And then suddenly, effortlessly, she was there, seeing with the inner vision that she alone, of all the people she knew, possessed. She traced the path of the injury, searching for the source of that relentless bleeding. There. The great vein descending from the groin was sliced almost through, but not quite. That was lucky; it meant both ends were still in place. Gabrielle concentrated deeply, summoned the light, channeled and directed it through her hands. It was infinitely more difficult than mending Philippe’s shoulder: the boy had been full of life and health, the tissue damage minimal. This man was weakened, the wound lethal and angry, the vein gaping apart. Speed was vital, yet she couldn’t rush. The work was painstaking; cell by cell, she had to rejoin the ends of the severed blood vessel, and it had to be strong enough to hold while the injured man was jostled off a horse and onto a stretcher. He hadn’t enough blood left to withstand a mistake in judgement.

Time passed, but Gabrielle was unaware of it. She barely seemed alive herself, so motionless and quiet was her trance. The servants with the stretcher shuffled their feet and fidgeted; they knew her reputation and knew better than to disturb her, but inaction in the face of an emergency galled them.

Féolan, however, was almost as still as Gabrielle. He supported Danaïs patiently, though his back and arms began to burn with fatigue. At times his own eyes were closed, his expression one of deep concentration rather than sleep. Other times he watched Gabrielle intently, though there was little to see. His horse too could have been carved in stone. It was only later that onlookers remarked on how strangely the horse had behaved.

Nearly two hours passed before Gabrielle lifted her head and looked around, her expression glazed. The world rushed back as her senses awoke, and she nearly fell off the stool as the cramping in her calves—she had been standing half on her toes the whole time—took her by surprise. Yves had to jump forward and help her down, keeping an arm under her elbow as she stamped her feet, wincing.

“All right,” she said, looking at her waiting helpers. “Thank-you for waiting. We need to slide this man off the horse and onto the stretcher. He mustn’t be jostled or his leg pulled, or the wound will re-open. Can—” she broke off, looking up at Féolan. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name. I am Gabrielle DesChênes, and this is my father’s castle.”

“Féolan, of the Elves of Stonewater,” he replied. “My companion is Danaïs. We are deeply in your debt.”

A muttering broke out among the men, but Gabrielle merely gazed at the young man gravely. “You are most welcome here,” she said, “but I’m afraid further courtesies will have to wait. I was about to ask, Can you help support your friend off the horse? Your muscles must be even stiffer than mine.”

He smiled ruefully. “They will do anything required, I think, to move freely again.” Still, Gabrielle made sure there was a man at each of Danaïs’ shoulders to take his weight, with the others supporting his hips and feet. As Danaïs was eased from the horse, one of the servants cried out.

Gabrielle’s attention snapped to his face: “What happened?”

The man mumbled in apology, but his eyes, and those of his fellows, never left Danaïs.

“His ears, m’Lady. I couldn’t help myself.”

The Elf’s blond hair had fallen back from his brow, revealing delicate ears that ended in a subtle but distinct point.

Gabrielle’s mouth tightened in disapproval. “We have more important things to worry about right now.” A quick check showed the bleeding still under control. “Let’s go,” she said shortly. The men carrying the litter started off, but Féolan hesitated.

“Our horses ... “

“Yves will have someone take them to the stables,” she replied, slightly irked to see him lingering by the animals instead of staying with his friend. She started after the litter.

Elves, she mused, as she crossed the courtyard for the second time that afternoon. No wonder they seemed different. There were plenty in Verdeau who didn’t believe the Elves still lived, at least not in these lands. Even some who argued they were nothing but a fanciful legend, like dragons and unicorns.

Can you call an Elf a “man”? she wondered idly as she headed into the castle.

CHAPTER 2

FÉOLAN watched Gabrielle settle Danaïs into bed, helping where he could. His friend was not yet out of danger, he knew. Danaïs had not regained consciousness, and his face had the yellowish cast of old parchment. And the wound still gaped; it would have to be cleaned and tightly bound.

Gabrielle went about these tasks with a quiet confidence. It was clear that she was trained as well as gifted—well versed in herb-lore too, judging from the rows of neatly labeled jars on her shelves. Féolan held bandages, passed scissors and carried wash-bowls as Gabrielle went to work. For the moment, his confused questions about this mysterious woman would have to wait. He longed to ask how she had come by her ability. No Human he had ever met, and Féolan had walked more among men than most of his kin, had the gift of hand-healing. He had thought it a uniquely Elvish skill. Féolan’s thoughts were broken by the clatter of hurried footsteps. The door burst open.

“Hey, Gabi! What’s this I hear about—?” The young man stopped abruptly as he took in the guest at his sister’s elbow and the gravity of the wounded man’s condition.

“I’m sorry,” he said, lowering his voice. “I didn’t mean to disturb ... “

“It’s all right, Tris,” Gabrielle said with a smile. “Our patient can’t hear your booming voice at the moment, and I’m glad you’ve come. Féolan, this is my brother, Tristan.” The two men shook hands. Tristan was not long over the threshold of adulthood, Féolan guessed, though Human age was still hard for him to judge, and with his unruly thick blond hair, boyish energy and friendly grin Tristan might have looked younger than he was.

“Féolan came to us for help when his friend here was attacked by a boar,” Gabrielle said. “They’ll have to stay for a while. When you have a chance, can you have a room made up? And I haven’t had time to be a proper host. Could you introduce him to Father and Mother and make sure an extra place will be set for dinner ... “

“Please, I don’t wish to be any trouble,” Féolan said.

“Nonsense,” said Tristan. “No guest of Castle DesChênes ever went short of comfort. Right, Gabi?”

But Gabrielle’s attention had turned back to her patient. “Why don’t you two go now,” she suggested, overriding Féolan’s protests. “Your friend—Danaïs, is it?—will be fine without you for a little while. I’m sure you’d like a wash and some clean clothes, at least. I need to sit with him now, and work.”

Féolan could feel Gabrielle’s intense concentration as she bent over Danaïs. She was shutting out the world, and his presence would only be a distraction. Besides—he grimaced as his hand brushed a crust of half-dried blood on his tunic—he was, in truth, filthy. He allowed himself to be ushered out the door.

“You picked the right place for an accident, anyway,” Tristan was saying. “Gabi’s the best. If anyone can fix up your friend, it’s her.” In the hallway, Tristan turned to him. “The servants are all abuzz over the mysterious strangers,” he said, laughing. “They say you two are Elvish. Is it true?”

Despite his worry about Danaïs, Féolan found himself smiling and talking easily to the engaging young man as he was led through the castle.

GABRIELLE STRETCHED, THEN winced as her neck protested. The room was dim. Outside the summer sky was the deepening purple-blue of late evening. She had pushed herself hard this day, testing the limits of her power and endurance. Only now that she had surfaced did she feel her own exhaustion. Danaïs, she could tell, was stronger, the wound in his leg mending cleanly and well. But her neck! Long hours bent motionless over her patient had left it with a horrible crick.

Gabrielle rubbed the aching muscles gingerly. It was the price she paid for her gift; that, and the fatigue. She was reminded of a favorite saying of her teacher, Marcus: “See to thy own wounds.” Well, and so she would, if she could stay awake long enough.

The warm light had barely kindled under her hands when Danaïs stirred on his pillow. She went to the bedside, ready to quiet him if he awoke in a panic. His eyes opened, eyes as remarkable as Féolan’s, she noticed. What was it that gave their eyes such depth and brilliance?

Gabrielle smiled at Danaïs. “Hello,” she said softly. “It’s good to meet you at last, Danaïs. I am Gabrielle.

“You must lie still,” she cautioned, as Danaïs struggled to push himself up from the pillow. “You’ve been badly injured. You will recover, but you should not move that leg.”

Danaïs began to speak in a fluid, musical language that was strange to her. Elvish, she supposed. How lovely it sounded.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Elvish. I hope you can understand me.”

He stared at her and shook his head. “But—how can that be?” he said in her language. His words, Gabrielle noticed, bore a stronger accent than Féolan’s, but it was the querulous tone that caught her attention. It was the voice of a sick man whose energy is overtaxed.

Disorientation was not a good sign in a patient, but Danaïs did not seem delirious or even fevered. Perhaps the shock of the accident had left him confused.

“This is a Human city,” Gabrielle explained. “You are at Castle DesChênes, the royal castle of the kingdom of Verdeau. Your friend brought you to our gates seeking help when you were wounded.”

“But you are ... ,” he whispered.

“A pretty good bonemender, lucky for you,” she assured him. “And you are still weak and must stop talking for now. Can you drink a little?” Gabrielle poured a careful measure from a beaker on the bedstand into a small glass. “This will ease the pain in your leg and help you rest.” She sat with him until his limbs relaxed and he drifted into sleep, then she stretched out on one of the clinic beds. She was desperately tired.

A HAND ON her shoulder awakened her. Féolan. She sat up groggily, aware suddenly of how disheveled she must be. She had been in the same clothes—bloodstained clothes, now—since dawn.

“I’m sorry to wake you,” he said. “I brought your dinner.” He gestured to a covered tray set on the low table against the wall. “Your family seemed to think you might not have eaten all day.”

“Thank-you, I guess I haven’t.” Gods of the air, she felt half-starved. Her quick breakfast, eaten at daybreak before an early ride along the river, seemed years ago. “Have they looked after you properly?”

“More than properly,” he assured her. “I have not eaten so well in many long weeks, nor enjoyed such pleasant company. I had not realized that the King of Verdeau himself was our host. How is Danaïs? Has he awakened at all?”

She saw his concern. “He fares well,” she said quickly, reaching for the tray. Even covered, it smelled wonderful. “The wound is mending cleanly, and he did awaken earlier and speak to me. The medicine I gave him will make him sleepy, though, and the rest can only do him good.” She tucked in, forcing herself not to gobble: venison in a rich gravy with oatmeal biscuit, the first potatoes of the summer crop, new carrots and a goblet of wine, heavily watered. That would be Tristan’s doing, she thought; he knew she steered clear of strong drink when she was working.

“I will sit with him, then,” said Féolan, “so you can have a proper night’s sleep.” She began to protest, but a quick gesture of his hand forestalled her.

“Please,” said Féolan. “Let me help in this small way. If Danaïs takes a turn for the worse and needs your skill, I will know it. Surely a servant can fetch you, if need be?”

“Actually, if you pull the cord hanging in the corner there, it will ring in my room and wake me.”

“Perfect. You can sleep in peace, then.”

Gabrielle nodded in agreement. The room took on a comfortable silence, while Gabrielle ate and Féolan watched his friend. An afterthought nagged at her. “How will you know?”

“How will ... I’m sorry, what?”

“You said you would know if Danaïs needed me.”

“Oh. The same way I know that you are tired out.” He smiled. “I will feel it.”

She stared at him. He shrugged. “We can feel other people’s emotions,” he said. “If Danaïs is in pain or ill or frightened, I will catch an echo of those feelings.”

Blessed Mother, thought Gabrielle, with a thrill of recognition. She had experienced this herself but only in moments of deepest concentration, in her healing trance. Then the link between her mind and the patient’s body was seamless, intimate, and shadows of his feelings would sometimes gust through her as she worked. But here was a man—no, a whole people—who apparently sensed others’ feelings as casually as she herself might note the approach of rain.

She longed to ask Féolan more about it, but he was right, what she needed now was a bath and bed. She finished her dinner, and after leaving dosage instructions for Danaïs’ medicine, headed for her chamber.

FÉOLAN SAT LONG by his friend’s side, holding one hand between his own two. His expression was distant, as if listening to music far away. He was no healer like Gabrielle, but like most of his people he had some ability to lend strength or encouragement to another in need, especially to one he knew and loved. He did so now, letting his friend know even in sleep that a companion walked beside him still. He sat into the night, until the whole castle was quiet with slumber, until he was sure Danaïs rested easily.

Then he prepared to rest himself. He hesitated, looking at the bed Gabrielle had slept in. Would it be considered improper among these people to use it himself? There were no other linens or blankets to be seen in the room. It seemed pointless, even laughable, to simply move the covers and pillow to a different bed—there were four in the little clinic altogether—and after days of sleeping in the bush he was ill-inclined to slump in a chair all night. In the end, he pulled off his boots and slept on the bed, but under the blanket only, leaving both sheets pulled up. He smiled wryly at this awkward attempt at etiquette—an attempt that was probably all wrong and that, in any case, no one would even witness unless he overslept.

As he lay in the dark clinic, his mind idled over the day. He had been sure Danaïs would die. Though he hated to think of it, the memory of the boar charging replayed over and over in his mind, along with the nightmare struggle to staunch the wound and get Danaïs on the horse, for what? To ride aimless over the trails in search of a road, hoping against hope it led to a nearby settlement and a bonemender who could against all expectation ... And the trails had, against all hope, led him straight to Gabrielle. A Human healer.

“Be honest,” he corrected himself, summoning to memory the lustrous copper and gold highlights in her dark hair, the warmth of her smile. “A very beautiful Human healer.” He fell asleep thinking of the intriguing young woman who had saved his closest friend.

CHAPTER 3

THE next morning Gabrielle found them both awake and talking quietly together in their own language. This time Danaïs smiled when he saw her.

“Lady Gabrielle,” he said. “Féolan has told me what you did yesterday. You have saved my life, and if I can ever serve you it will be my honor.” Gabrielle thought he delivered this rather formal speech as if he had planned it out ahead of time. Probably he had, she realized. If you have to say something important in a language not your own, you probably do figure it out ahead of time.

She smiled warmly. “You owe me nothing. To be able to do this—it’s all the reward I need. But I thank you for your courtesy.” She checked for fever, took his pulse and finally looked at the wound itself. Féolan, watching, gasped as the bandage came away.

Danaïs tensed. “Is it bad?”

“Nay, Danaïs,” whispered Féolan, looking from the leg to Gabrielle with frank astonishment. “Nay. ‘Tis healing wondrously fast.”

Gabrielle’s long vigil by the bedside had been rewarded. The wound was clean, uninflamed and visibly shallower than yesterday. It was a long, long way from the life-threatening gash Danaïs had arrived with.

“Could you eat some broth, or a little bread, do you think?” asked Gabrielle.

Danaïs grinned. “I think I could eat almost anything!” he replied.

“That’s what I like to hear from a patient. I’ll have breakfast sent down,” said Gabrielle.

“Could you have them send a tray for me too, Gabrielle?” asked Féolan. “You go have breakfast with your family.”

KING JEROME WAS lifting a rather large piece of ham to his mouth as Gabrielle entered the room. “So you decided to favor us with your presence at last,” he growled, fork suspended in midair. “Your family not worthy of your company anymore, is it?” Blue eyes glared at her from under wiry brows, and Jerome’s freckled complexion darkened to angry brick red. This performance had fooled many people, but not Gabrielle.

“Good morning, Father,” she replied. “It’s good to see you too.”

Tristan cackled. “Why don’t you give it up, Father? It never works.”

Solange, Gabrielle’s mother, patted her husband’s shoulder. “There, dear. You do look very fierce, you know. Just not to us.”