“Let’s go, the healer will be in the rooms by now,” says Helena, and she finally starts walking again.
I know I’m being rude, but it’s taking all my concentration just to keep standing.
I hate to admit it, but Grayson was right. I’m far worse off than I thought.
“This is it,” beams Helena. Where does she get so much enthusiasm? “These quarters are yours for as long as you need them. My handmaiden has gathered plenty of clothing and a bath should be ready for you. Follow me.”
The room is ridiculous. The bed, just the bed, looks bigger than my entire cottage. There is a large window off the side with an astonishing view of a lake and standing in the centre of the room is an ancient looking woman holding a leather satchel.
“Oh my!” She exclaims, rushing over to me. “Dear, you’re bleeding rather impressively. Please, sit down, let me help you.”
Grayson pushes a stool over to me and I sit down, throwing my shirt over my shoulders and inspecting my ribs. The gash looks a lot nastier than it feels. It’s at least fifteen centimetres long, gaping open, and covering most of my left side.
I don’t really care about my chest being bare, but Grayson blushes and turns his back. If it didn’t hurt so much, I might have laughed.
“So, Grayson tells me you’re a healer?”
I thought Helena had left, but I just didn’t notice her sitting on the edge of the bed.
I hear the familiar grinding of a mortar and pestle and notice the old woman grinding herbs. I don’t interfere. From what I can see, her concoction will be fine for now. Not as effective as mine, but I can mix my own when I’m on the road.
“I was,” I eventually reply.
“Well, you don’t forget how to be a healer, dear,” says the woman, coming over to clean my wound. “Oh, and my name is Alba.”
“Will you heal again when you return home to Boar Creek?” Asks Grayson, back still turned from me.
“I no longer have a home. The hunters burned it down to entertain the villagers. And I won’t be returning to Boar Creek. They killed the boar, so there is no longer anything left for me there. I just need my horses and I will move on.”
There is a long pause, Helena’s brows creasing as she glances at her son.
“Will you explore?” He finally asks, his voice strained.
I remember sharing my dream with him in my barn. Telling him of my desire to see the ocean and touch the sky at the top of the largest mountains.
“What I do will be my business, Grayson. Stop prying,” I glare at his back, noticing when his shoulders tense.
“Okay, I’ve cleaned your wound as best I can. Unfortunately, now comes the unpleasant part. I’m going to need to sew this up,” says Alba, sympathy in every syllable.
“Go ahead. The sooner you’re done to sooner I can leave,” I reply, not really caring about the pain in my immediate future.
“Um, sure,” Alba seems rattled. “Maybe you’ll want to hold onto something?”
“Pain is temporary Alba, this won’t take long.”
Alba stares at me for a moment, her hands trembling a little as she holds the needle. She doesn’t wait long, stabbing the needle through my torn flesh. The pain is excruciating, but I refuse to react.
It takes her nearly 20 minutes to pull the wound together and trim the excess sinew, but it finally ends. She smears her poultice over the wound and tells me to wait for it to dry before I bathe.
She peels it off once it starts to flake and declares me fit to wash.
I move into the bathroom, taking off the remaining tatters of my clothing and sinking into the warm bath. I could stay here for days, but I bathe quickly and get out within a few minutes.
I don’t want to get comfortable here. I wrap myself in a robe and walk back into the room. Everyone is still there and Alba shuffles over with an armful of bandages and more poultice. She smears some more on and wraps my ribs.
“You’ve got some colour back, dear. I’m glad,” says Helena, coming over to hand me a stack of clothes and leather hunting boots.
“I expected a Queen to give dresses and petticoats.”
“Only a Queen who allows herself to be treated as an ornament would do so. Women are more than dresses and rosy cheeks, I’m sure you know that much better than I.”
She’s surprised me, pleasantly, and she knows it if that smirk is anything to go by.
I dress, nearly drooling as I slip my feet into the most comfortable boots I’ve ever known. Helena must have taken the opportunity to have my knives and sheaths cleaned while I was being sewn back together and cleaning up, because they’re oiled and gleaming. I take one out, inspecting the edge, and just as I suspected, they’ve been sharpened.
“Thank your people for maintaining my weapons. They did a great job,” I say, finding a little more gratitude now that I’m not bleeding to death.
The last step is to braid my hair and get it out of my way.
I slip my last knife into the top of my boot and head toward the door.
“Thanks for the hospitality.”
I should have been suspicious when no one objected to me leaving.
Grayson’s men are waiting at the bottom of the stairs, dressed in their full gear and with their horses all ready to go.
I’d be more annoyed if I wasn’t so excited about the horses. They’re beautiful, and massive. Just as big as Bow and Arrow. Their coats are so shiny, their muscles bulging. They’re perfect.
“Heading out?” I ask, getting to the bottom of the steps and stopping to pet a horse that nudged his head toward me.
“You could say that,” says Grayson, walking toward Anders and taking the reins of a jet-black stallion speckled with bright white spots across his rump.
“Enjoy your trip.”
I start to walk when Mikael walks a horse over to me, pushes the reins into my palm and places a hand on my shoulder.
“If you think we’re going to watch an injured friend walk away, on her own, to travel across the kingdom, then I don’t think you understand the role of a knight,” he says.
“I’m not your responsibility, Mikael. And I don’t need babysitters,” I reply, trying to hand the reins back to him.
He rolls his eyes at me. I don’t move fast enough to avoid it when he grabs me around the waist and tosses me on top of the horse.
I glare down at him, protesting loudly, but he cuts me off.
“I get it. Your hurt, alone, betrayed and angry. You don’t trust anyone and you don’t want to, so I’ll just speak with fact. The longer it takes you to get to Quinteray, the more likely it is that the breeder will have sold your horses. Now, you can go on foot and hike all you want, but it will still take you a week, maybe more, to get there. Or, you could stay on that horse and let the Royal Knights and the Prince escort you to Quinteray, which will take a few days at most.”
He leaves no space for argument, walking away before I can respond and jumping onto his own horse.
What he said makes sense, and he knows, a look of triumph on his face as he rides up beside me.
I shift in the saddle, sitting properly, and take hold of the reins.
“Let’s get moving, then,” says Grayson, walking his horse in front of us and leading the group beyond the courtyard.
He must have done it while I was arguing with Mikael, but he is now wearing a scabbard and has a quiver strapped across his back.
I should have noticed that these men were knights the first day I met them. It seems so obvious to me now.
Prince, that’s something I never would have expected. But knight should have been clear.