Blood. So much blood. All over the ground, soaked into the hay, caked on shoes, seeping into the earth. Red everywhere. Hesitantly, reluctantly, I raised my gaze to the source of all that blood and felt my stomach rebel.
For a moment, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, that what I was looking at couldn’t possibly be real.
But it was very real.
Lying on the floor of the stable, almost buried beneath all the wayward hay, was Stone. He was gagged with his own bandana, blood leaking out of the corner of his mouth, and his limbs crossed over each other like he was a doll that had been carelessly tossed to the ground.
But none of that was the reason for my nausea.
His right arm, which draped unnaturally across his chest, ended in a mangled, bloody stump. From my vantage point, I could just barely see a bit of white beneath the buckets and buckets of crimson that spilled out of him which I assumed was his bone.
His face was entirely too pale and his lips were completely white; the only sign of color was the many slashes he had littered all over his cheeks, forehead, and nose. His chest rose and fell so shallowly it was almost invisible.
“Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” Lydia screeched over and over, her body shaking so badly that her legs gave out.
I caught her and sank to my knees beside her. “Don’t look,” I whispered to her. “Don’t look.”
She turned her face into my neck, sobbing, her tears seeping into the shoulder of my dress.
I met Carter’s gaze over her head. “Send for a physician.”
He shook his head, his eyes dropping to the back of Lydia’s head sadly. “There is nothing they could do for him.”
Lydia cried harder, her nails biting into my back.
“There has to be something—“
“There’s not.” He clenched his jaw, his eyes tearing as he stared down at his friend. He blew out a deep breath, swallowing his emotions and looking at the mourning faces of his crew. “I promise all of you that his death will not be in vain—"
I blinked and we all turned to see my mom standing on the threshold. She looked slightly hesitant but something inside her refused to be quiet.
“We have to stop the bleeding,” she said. “If we act right now, this boy will not die tonight.”
Carter started, “I don’t—“
“I’m a doctor,” Mom said, moving toward one of the hay bales off to the side, struggling under the weight of it. She looked up expectantly at the crew. “Do you wanna save your friend or not?”
Carter stood stunned for only a second more before he barked, “You heard the woman.”
Immediately, they helped Mom with the hay bale, a makeshift medical table. Carter and William carried Stone, laying him gently on top of it.
“You,” Mom said, pointing at a crewman. “Raise his legs, and keep them raised. And you,” she said, pointing to another, “keep his arm up. Lydia, get me a sewing kit.”
“I-I do not know where the sewing—“
“Then figure it out. Now.”
Lydia nodded, wiping her nose, and took off for the house.
“Was the hand found near the patient?” she asked, looking at Carter.
He shook his head.
“Okay, we’ll have to close the wound. Elizabeth—" she turned to me, “—get me a clean cloth.”
“Here,” Nathaniel said, scrambling to shed his coat, tearing off the entire bottom and handing it to my mother.
“Perfect. You, Captain,” she said, looking at Carter, “get me alcohol.”
He gave her a funny look but didn’t dare argue, running off to do as she said.
At that moment, Lydia returned with Mrs. Brooke, sewing kit in hand. Mrs. Brooke took one look at Stone on the hay and froze. Mom snatched the kit from her, immediately getting to work.
“I need to sterilize the needle,” she said to William. When it was obvious he didn’t know what she meant, she said, “Fire. Now.”
At once, he started gathering hay and two stones, slamming the rocks together, creating spark after spark until he got a flame going.
“Elizabeth, he needs CPR. While I prepa—“
“Got it.” All the lectures and lessons on first-aid Mom had made me listen to you were not forgotten. I started chest compressions, timing it in my mind. I did it several times, until Mom finally said she was ready.
She took the alcohol from Carter and poured it over the opening. Then she got to work.
Carter directed everyone to the other side of the stable, giving her space to stitch up Stone's wrist.
I stayed by my mother’s side, staring in amazement as she worked. Her hands, covered in blood, didn’t waver even the slightest and her gaze was locked onto the wound with more focus than I had ever seen. I had almost forgotten this was what she had been doing when she disappeared every day in the last four years.
“He’s shivering,” Lydia said from where she stood by his head. “And he’s sweating. Is he supposed to be doing that?”
“Touch his forehead,” Mom murmured as she neared the end of her sewing. “Is it hot?”
Lydia placed her hand where she was told and nodded. “Yes.”
Mom snipped the thread, grabbing the alcohol again. “He’s going into shock. Get as many blankets as you can carry.” She poured the alcohol over the closed wound again.
“Blankets? But he is wa—"
“Don’t argue,” I cut her off.
Lydia snapped her mouth shut, nodded once, and took off, Mrs. Brooke in tow.
Mom glanced up at me and gave me a small smile before directing her next question at Nathaniel, slowly beginning to wrap the cloth around the wound. “Is there a fireplace in here by any chance?”
“Yes, through there.” He gestured in the direction of the stables and Mom nodded.
“We have to move him closer to the fire but we have to be very careful. Don't jostle him.” She secured the cloth and stepped back, allowing about five members of the crew to step in and pick him up.
It felt like an eternity of cautious side stepping before they had laid him out gently in front of the fireplace. Lydia and Mrs. Brooke returned, their arms filled with sheets and blankets. Mom instructed them to cover Stone as completely as they possibly could and then she stepped away.
“Wait,” Lydia said, staring at Mom, “what do we do now?”
“I’ve done all I can,” she replied. “The only thing we can do now is wait for him to wake up.”
“No, no, there has to be something else,” Lydia begged.
Mom met her gaze with sad eyes. “He’s lost a lot of blood.”
“But you said you could save him,” Carter accused.
She nodded. “I think we got to him just in time. But without the proper equipment or medication, we’re just gonna have to hope it was enough.”
Lydia looked back down at Stone, the extremely large man who had inspired such fear in me when I had first met him but had become a friend, now laid helplessly on the dirty ground beside the fire. Lydia bit her lip as she sat down beside him, her totally filthy wedding dress puffing out around her. She reached out hesitantly to grab his good hand, but paused just before touching him, her hand shaking slightly, before pulling back.
The stable had gone silent and I could practically hear the echo of my heart break as I gazed at Lydia. She wanted so much to do something—anything—to help him, but she was just as helpless as he was.
I looked up and saw my own sadness reflected in Carter’s hazel eyes. He raised his eyes from Stone’s still form to me and immediately his gaze hardened, the Carter I knew disappearing behind the mask of Captain Caspian Rogers.
He cleared his throat and looked at Mom. “You performed well tonight.”
Mom met my eyes with surprise and I gave her my own nod of thanks. She smiled slightly at him in answer, her fear returning, before she swallowed and looked at Mrs. Brooke. “Is there a place I could, um…” She held up her bloodied hands.
Mrs. Brooke’s eyes widened and hurriedly gestured toward the stable’s exit. “Yes, of course, this way, madam.”
Carter turned to his crew. “We sleep here tonight.”
There was a simultaneous “Aye, Captain,” and then the pirates dispersed, some going back to the house for supper while others began claiming their spot for sleeping.
I placed my hand on Lydia’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s—“
“I am not leaving him.” She didn’t even glance at me.
Not that I really expected she would. “Right. I’ll ask Jenkins to bring you something to eat.”
“I am not hungry.”
I paused for a moment, staring at Stone, his chest rising and falling sporadically, the sweat dripping down his face, the shivers racking his body, the blood already seeping through his bandage. I knew how this was most likely going to end, and I did not want Lydia to be there for it. “Lydia…”
“I am not leaving him, Beth.” This time she met my eyes, the steel there barring me from even attempting to persuade her to go with me.
I gave her a tiny smile. “Okay. I’ll be right back.”
She nodded and went back to watching Stone.
I rose to my feet and started heading back for the house. She might insist she wasn’t hungry, but if the food was close she wouldn’t have reason to deprive herself.
As I exited the stable, Carter entered, and I paused, confused. “Wait,” I said, grabbing his arm, “what were you doing out here?”
His entire body froze, looking straight ahead, not so much as blinking in my direction. “I was making sure your mother knew the extent of my gratitude.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “What did you do?”
That muscle in his jaw ticked but he didn’t say anything.
“Carter, I swear, if you touched my mom, I will—“
“You think I would harm her?”
“I don’t know what to think anymore.” I took a deep breath and tried again, speaking slowly, enunciating each word. “What did you do?”
Now he did look at me, his hazel eyes brewing with a storm that was directed entirely onto himself, his jaw muscle twitching. “I said ‘thank you’, Elizabeth. That is all.”
I studied his face. Though there was a secret in his gaze, there was no malice, there was no threat. He may not be telling me everything, but he hadn’t hurt her.
“Ah, Captain,” greeted Jenkins as he scurried across the large expanse of the backyard toward the stables, a tray of food in his hands, “the madam said to bring the supper out here for the night. I do hope that poor chap pulls through.”
“Thank you, Jenkins,” Carter said gruffly, turning his face away from me, and walking into the stables.
Jenkins looked at me curiously. “Are you all right, Your Ladyship?”
“I am fine,” I said with my most convincing smile. “Thank you for the dinner.”
“There should be more footmen following closely behind me.” He started to head inside but paused and asked, “The madam also said I ought to bring blankets out here because you will be spending the night in the stables? She can’t possibly be—“
“That would be marvelous, thank you,” I cut him off. “I am told it can get quite chilly out here at night.”
He blinked at me. I could practically see his mind rebelling against the idea, but he didn’t let on. He forced his lips to stretch in a smile and nodded. “Yes, Your Ladyship, quite.”
I followed him inside the stable and stared at all the men making themselves comfortable among the hay. They had bottles of alcohol in their hands and they were already laughing drunkly. I supposed a normal girl would be nervous to be surrounded by that many pirates under the influence, but somehow the only man that caused even a sliver of fear to rush through me was the sober one sitting alone off to the side.
I took a deep breath and went over to Lydia, struggling against all my skirts and corset to sit down, taking a bite from the plate that sat untouched beside her. “I suppose here is as good place to sleep as any.”
She glanced at me. “You need not stay here because of me.”
“I’m not,” I said. “I care about Stone, too. I’d like to be here if he wakes up.”
“When.” Lydia’s gaze dropped to her hand about an inch from his. “When he wakes up.”
“Right,” I whispered, biting my lip. “Right, of course.”
“You will not sleep here,” came Carter’s voice from where he sat, his forearms resting on his knees, his head hanging forward.
I frowned at him. “I’m sorry, was that directed at me?”
“Yes.” He looked up, the fire beside Stone reaching across the distance and lighting up his hazel eyes. “You will not be sleeping in here.”
“I will sleep wherever I like,” I stated.
“No. You will sleep in the house with your mother and not in the stables with pirates. That is an order.”
“No, I will—“
“Elizabeth,” Lydia murmured beside me, “do as he says.”
I gawked at her. “You’re taking his side?”
“He is simply trying to keep you safe for the lot of soon to be very drunk and dangerous pirates. Do as he says.”
“What about you?”
The corner of her mouth twitched with a smile. “He knows it would be useless trying to pry me away from Stone until I am certain he will be all right.”
I glanced back at Carter and he shot me a look that meant he would sling me over his shoulder and take me back to the house if I argued again.
I glared at him. “You want me to be safe? Fine.” Doing my best to appear dignified despite the fact that I tripped on my dress, I tilted my chin up at him. “But I will not leave the stables.”
He cocked a brow at me in question.
“I will simply stay in one of the stalls. Those doors lock.”
He couldn’t help the short laugh that burst out of him. “You’d rather sleep with an animal than do as I say?”
I gathered my skirts and made my way toward the stalls. “Damn straight.”
“You are absolutely insufferable,” he said as I passed him.
“And you are a pain in the ass.” I turned the corner into the area where all the horses were kept and immediately regretted my decision. Each and every stall had a horse in it. I guess I’d hoped there’d been at least one that I could’ve claimed but that obviously was not an option anymore. I figured that if I chose to just sleep on the ground, Carter would come in here and gloat. The very thought was enough to encourage me to walk down the length of ground between the two sides of stalls.
Each horse immediately became overly excited as I walked by, stomping the ground, neighing in a chorus. This was going to be the worst night of sleep I’d ever had.
At the very end, a stall remained silent. I headed for it and was surprised to see the horse inside was completely calm, gazing at me with tranquil brown eyes.
I smiled and reached out my hand. “Hi, there.”
The horse sniffed my hand and then pushed its nose into my palm. My smile stretched and I ran my hand down its neck. It batted my hand away, choosing to instead rest its head on my shoulder, like it was giving me a hug. I laughed. “Wow, you’re a friendly one, aren’t you?”
I opened the gate and stepped inside, making sure to lock it behind me.
The horse snuffled, sniffing at my hair, tickling me.
I giggled, patting its back. “You won’t mind sharing your room with me tonight, will you?”
The horse flicked its mane, giving me permission.
“Thank you very much. Don’t worry, I’ll stay right here.” I curled into a tight ball at the far end of the stall, giving the horse plenty of space.
The horse snorted a good night and then moved to the other side.
The ground wasn’t particularly comfortable. Add that to the awful smell of manure, the incessant sound of all the other horses, and the worry inside me for Stone, and I didn’t think I’d sleep at all.
But in the next blink, I was out.