|“Lass, can I help you?” His voice was softer than the others, his stance relaxed, composed, despite the dirt and blood splattered over his massive arms and clothing. He seemed to be a quiet, gentle man, though physically as imposing as the others.
“You could bring me my bag.”
He moved his hand from behind him and cautiously extended her mother’s old carpetbag. “Do I need to check it for weapons?” A slight crinkle lifted the corner of his mouth. A piece of leather cord tied wavy, light-brown hair at the nape of his neck and tight braids spilled alongside sharp, scruffy cheeks. His eyes were dark and shadowed.
“Thank you…it’s Rabbie, correct?”
“Aye,” he nodded.
Andra granted him a guarded smile. “I’ll pull no further weapons if you promise to be kind.” The slight attempt at humor from both of them eased the tension coiled in her gut.
He swept an arm gracefully in front of him and bowed, “Always, m’lady, as I learned at me mother’s knee.” Then he left her to tend the horses.
She searched her bag for the washcloth, hand towel, and first aid kit she always carried when traveling. The washcloth came to hand first. She dipped it into the cold water and wiped the dried and clotted blood from her face and hair. Then she dunked her head in the pool several more times.
“I seem to be awake,” she whispered, just for the comfort on her own voice. “My surroundings feel solid enough,” she pounded her fist on the dirt, “so it must be real. Accept it, Andra, and decide what to do next.”
She could hear the men speaking Gaelic, hushed yet clearly distraught about the condition of their clansman. They gathered near another pool of water several yards from where she knelt. She watched them over her shoulder for a few minutes struggling to fit the scene into her new reality. A million questions rose in her throat.
“Not now. Patience and observation are what’s required. All will be revealed in time.” What a stupid cliché.
Should she offer her help with their friend; would they accept it? She could not sit here and do nothing when one of them was seriously injured. Besides, anxiety always spurred her to take action. Her father had always said, “Move, keep busy, and don’t let dust gather under your feet.” With her father’s words ringing in her ears, she approached the men cautiously, keeping her eye on the mean one, Struan.
“May I be of assistance?” She stood with her feet firmly planted on the hard-packed, dirt floor, her head held high, one hand pressed flat against her side, the other rested on the cross dangling on her chest. It took an extreme effort to control her trembling body. Her palms moistened with sweat. She steadied her focus on Kendrick. His strong hands moved carefully over his brother’s body. The mean one harrumphed and growled.
A growl? Really?
Kendrick looked up, concern etched on his face. His dark, probing eyes bore through her. “Are you a healer, then?” he asked.
“Not a healer exactly, but I have cared for ill and injured persons and have some training in first aid. I wish to help if you’ll permit me.”
“I dinnae ken your meaning. What’s the first aid of which you speak? As you can see, we give him aid, but if you can do anything to help save my brother’s life, I will gladly accept your offer.”
The mean one growled again. “Don’t trust her, she’s the enemy and will just as soon slit his throat.”
Ignoring the slur, she continued, “Have you determined the extent of his injuries?”
“Aye, his shoulder is dislocated, several fingers broken, which we have straightened and bound as best we’re able. We need to stitch multiple, deep wounds, and he’s lost a lot of blood, though blood no longer flows freely.”
The injured man lay on a plaid, stripped completely naked, his kilt torn away from his battered body. Mud, blood, and all manner of vile debris caked the hard planes of his bronzed chest. Andra couldn’t identify the severity or location of all his injuries. He moaned but appeared unconscious, or so she assumed, since he hadn’t opened his eyes. Clumps of dried blood crusted over wounds on one leg and foot. Dark, matted refuse covered the entire other leg.
His manhood lay flaccid against his thigh, and none of the men seemed concerned about his state of undress in front of a strange female. She stood quietly, waiting for several breaths.