Gwaine jumped off his horse before it had stopped and ran to the still figure on the ground. He couldn’t think straight. His hands stroked her cold cheek and as he moved it down to her mouth, he felt frail and weak breaths. They were just enough to convince him that she was alive. Merlin came beside him with a torch, and as Gwaine nodded at him he turned around and informed the knights that she was still breathing.
The light lit up a deep wound on her leg. Merlin tore off his neckerchief and tied it around her leg as Gwaine took her in his arms, both of them too shocked to speak. Percival, Leon and the other knights searched the area around them to see if there was any evidence of an attack.
''There are no signs of a struggle at all in the area,'' Leon said.
Gwaine mounted his horse with Eira in his arms and rode as fast as he could back to the castle, his mind blank. He had always know, from the moment their eyes first met, that she would never cease to have an effect on him, no matter how much he tried to detached himself.
He ran directly to Gaius' chambers and put Eira's limp body down on the table.
Gaius turned around from over by the shelves and moved to the table. He ran a quick diagnosis and went to gather the supplies by the shelves.
"Take her cape off, and remove clothing that covers her injuries. Leave her undergown on and grab a blanket in Merlin's room," Gaius ordered. Gwaine hesitated, but then undressed her. It was physician's orders and besides, she would prefer him undressing her over Gaius.
He grabbed a blanket in Merlin's room and waited for another instruction. He didn't understand how the physician could be so calm, but he obviously knew what he was doing.
Gaius cleaned the wound on her leg, and then started treating and dressing it.
"What happened?" he asked.
"She went for a ride in the woods, and we heard a scream and found her on the ground like this," Gwaine said, not quite understanding what had happened himself.
Gwaine crouched next to the table, took her cold hand, and held it against his chest.
"Is she alright except for her leg?" Gwaine asked the physician.
Gaius looked at her other leg, and then gestured towards her arm.
"It's a venomous snake bite," Gaius said and went to find something that would help among his hundreds of potions.
Merlin stormed in, followed by Percival and Leon.
"How is she?" Merlin asked, confused as to what had happened to her.
"She'll recover," Gaius replied and parted Eira's lips to administer a potion.
"There were no signs that could identify what had harmed her, only our footprints and tracks from our horses," Leon said.
"Hopefully she can tell us when she wakes up. Goodnight. And thank you," Gwaine tried to smile and sent them grateful looks as Percival and Leon left, Percival looking more uneasy than Leon for some reason. Gwaine's thoughts were interrupted as Eira groaned in pain.
Gwaine sighed, relieved, as she slowly opened her eyes.
"Eira? You're safe in Camelot now. Can you tell us what happened?" he asked softly.
Eira's thoughts whirled and she tried to say something that wasn't a complete lie.
If they found out about the bandits, they could get seriously hurt; she did not doubt her attackers.
"There was a snake,….it startled my horse. I fell off, and then it bit me."
She took a deep breath and looked down at the wound on her leg.
"I remember landing on a sharp rock. How bad is it?" she motioned to her wounds.
"You will recover, but it will take time. Fortunately, the snake bite wasn't very serious, it was a young snake, so it's venom hadn't developed to cause a lot of damage yet. It will hurt, but it won't paralyse you. You are mostly weak because of the wound on your leg.
Let us not talk more about this now, you need to rest," Gaius said, and she could hear him trying to hide the disbelief in his voice. A minute later no words had eased the tension in the room as Gwaine helped Eira to a spare bed in the corner of Gaius’ chambers, and the old physician placed a wooden screen by her bed, closing her off from the messy and slightly hectic rest of the chambers.
“We’ll leave you two for a while, call me if it is needed, I would just like to discuss a particular matter with Merlin,” Gaius said slowly, exiting the chambers.
"Hope you feel better soon," Merlin said flatly and followed Gaius with stiff steps.
Eira’s heart still raced; she knew that none of them believed her story.
Gwaine turned back to Eira, kneeling by her side.
He gently blew out the candle and inched down next to her in the bed which she discovered was rather large. The darkness didn’t help in masking the guilt swimming inside of her as she had hoped.
The silence felt a little bit uncomfortable to Eira, but just as she was about to say something, Gwaine did.
"Eira,…if something had happened...you would tell me about it, right?" Gwaine asked quietly.
"Nothing happened, don't worry, I'm fine. Really."
"That wasn't my question. If something did happen, would you tell me?" he asked again.
"Gwaine, you know I would," she replied, feeling sick because she couldn't tell him the truth.
"I just want you to know that I'm here for you,"' Gwaine said.
"Gwaine, I...," Eira started softly, balancing on the thin, weak thread of possible next words.
“Thank you,” she said instead and stroked his cheek with the hand that hadn't been bitten. She would have to sort out what to do about the bandits later.
Gwaine moved closer to her and kissed her forehead.
He then moved his lips down and let them brush hers. She tried to lose herself in the kiss, but she couldn't completely let go of the memories of the bandits.
She put her cold hands on his warm ones and tried to ignore the pain in her leg and arm.
"Goodnight," he said and she closed her eyes. When she did, the bandit's piercing blue eyes appeared and she immediately opened them again. The disgusting memory of his lips on hers came to her, and she thought of Gwaine's lips instead. She would have felt strange laying beside him when so much had passed, but now, she didn't. He made her feel safe, and when he was around, the bandits couldn't get to her. She pressed his hand to her lips and closed her eyes again.
The next morning, Gwaine sauntered through the halls until he reached Gaius’ chambers. Servants were running in and out of the physician’s quarters, carrying things and completing tasks and errands as they whizzed past the startled knight.
Eira had been sleeping lightly when he left Gaius’ quarters last night, but he had noticed how her face was tightened and her muscles were barely relaxed, even as she slept.
Gwaine still hadn’t been able to think about the unmistakeable air of a lie that had encompassed Eira from the moment she had tried to explain the events last night.
Gaius wasn’t present in his chambers, so Gwaine ducked behind the wooden screen to see Eira after knocking on it lightly.
She pried open her eyes and looked at him with curiosity, half-asleep.
"Good morning," he said.
She scrunched up her face.
"I doubt it's a good morning," Eira responded negatively, her wounds obviously still painful.
"Well, let's try and make it a good morning then," Gwaine said.
He went nearer to her put his arms behind her back, supporting her as she sat up.
"How painful is it?" he asked.
"I barely slept," she replied grumpily.
"Would a hot bath help?" he asked her, trying to cheer her up.
A nod was her answer, accompanied by a grateful smile.
"I'll go get some female servant person," Gwaine said and walked towards the door.
As he entered a hallway, he saw Merlin and a maid coming from the opposite direction, talking busily.
Gwaine swaggered towards them, in a good mood despite his anxiety, and sort of placed himself right in their path so that the pair was forced to look up at him.
"You don't happen to be a female servant maid person, do you?" he asked the woman next to Merlin. She blushed shyly.
"My name is Lillian, sir," she said.
"Can I borrow you just for an hour or so?" Gwaine said.
"Of course, I'm glad to be at your service," she replied.
"Oh, well not for me, but for….wait a second," Gwaine said and pulled Merlin to the side.
"Do they know that Eira and I are alive?" he whispered, not quite knowing where the line between reality and fantasy-like memories was situated.
"The Queen has announced the Arthur quest publically, but I don't think anyone knows the names of the people involved. And Eira is probably long forgotten," Merlin replied with an unsure smile.
"Alright, thanks," Gwaine said and turned back to the maid, beckoning her to follow him.
They entered the physician’s packed chambers, finding the old man with Eira, examining her wounds and scribbling something in a notebook stained with age.
"Good morning Gwaine, and Lillian," Gaius said.
"Morning. This is Eira," Gwaine grinned and Lillian introduced herself. After Gaius had deemed it fit for Eira to move around, Gwaine assisted Eira in getting back to his chambers, hoping that the bottle of wine he had steadied his nerves with before sleeping yesterday night wasn’t explicitly visible. He opened the door, gently kicking it under the bed when he laid eyes on the empty bottle before the two women walked in. Lillian turned to Eira rapidly, awaiting orders. Eira smiled uncertainly, steadying herself against the wall. Gwaine guessed that she had never had a servant before. To give her a chance, he gave her an encouraging nod.
"I would like a hot bath, please," Eira said politely. Lillian smiled, and the knight could see that the maid’s warmth comforted Eira a great deal.
Lillian nodded, turning expectantly towards Gwaine. The confused knight stared at the maid, wondering what she wanted him to do.
“You can go now Gwaine. Lillian has got the rest covered," Eira explained with a giggle and Gwaine grinned, exiting the chambers with a wink.
Lillian closed the door after Gwaine, locking it to assure Eira she wouldn’t be disturbed.
"Do you have any clothing that needs washing?" the maid asked. Eira looked down at the thin white chemise she was wearing with surprise, forgetting that her dress and shoes had been removed last night. Lillian motioned to the small bag Gaius had given the maid.
“I’ll let you decide and go prepare the bath,” the maid said with a friendly smile, exiting the room through a side door.
Eira opened the bag, scrutinizing its contents as she put them out on Gwaine’s bed. Her shoes were there, along with an ointment Gaius had prescribed to her. She stared at the gray dress stained with her blood. She suddenly panicked, knowing that if there were any traces from the bandits on it, magical or not, they would certainly be discovered if Lillian or another maid washed it. If someone found out about them...Eira knew she was not prepared to risk any lives other than her own. She frantically tore open Gwaine’s closet, finding a shelf with spare pillows and covers and whatnot, burying the dress in its deepest corner and arranging the linen so the dress was safely hidden.
Lillian returned a few minutes later, dragging the warm bath behind her.
She moved the screen in front of the bath and Eira slowly approached it. She couldn’t deny that the sensation of being clean would lighten her own mood. Lillian undressed her with care and then helped her into the bath, talking to her casually and politely.
She gathered the rest of Eira’s clothing plus some of Gwaine’s garments which were strewn across the room in her arms and put them down on the floor next to the bath.
"Sorry, I forgot a towel and a robe, I'll go to get them," Lillian said and left.
Eira loosened her shoulders, let out her hair from the messy braid it was in and slowly sunk down further into the bath so that the warm water didn't her hurt her wound or overwhelm her skin. She carefully covered her body with soap that she massaged into her skin before sinking further into the water, letting it cover her up to her chin, relaxing her breathing and closing her eyes.
It felt horrible having to lie to everyone, but right now, she knew it was the only way.
She believed the bandit when he had said that he would hurt the people closest to her.
She had already caused enough trouble in Camelot, she didn't want more. She faintly remembered the bandit saying that they would return. She wondered when that would be, and what more they could want from her.
Just then someone entered. She thought it was Gwaine, but she couldn't quite tell because he held heaps of clothing garments and bedsheets and cushions and curtains that covered his whole upper body and his head.
"Gwaine? Is that you?" she asked.
"No, it’s a walking heap of laundry. Of course it's me. Now where's that chair, I know it's here somewhere," he said with mixed irritation and cheerfulness.
Eira sighed with relief that it was him.
"Where are you?" he asked.
"I'm in the bath. Behind the screen. To the left of your closet," Eira said and laughed as he fumbled for the chair. Only then did she realize that the chair was next to the bath.
"Gwaine? Lillian moved the chair, it's on my left."
She curled up and rested her chin on her knees, letting the bubbles in the bath water cover her as Gwaine made his way towards her, the clothes and linen still covering his face."But watch out, my other clothes are on-" she tried to warn him, but it was too late, Gwaine’s foot caught something in the pile Lillian had collected and left, tripping over the pile of garments.