The Healer

excerpt...

After the nooning meal, Warwick took Agnes’ hand in his and pulled her toward his horse. He saw she wondered why he’d volunteered to see her safely home, but bit her tongue rather than ask.

She certainly appeared different. The bath and clean clothes had done wonders. Spine rigid she sat in front of him with her hair clean, plaited in a braid and slung over her shoulder.

He wondered how it would feel to loosen the braid and run his hands through the heavy fall of her brown hair, heavily sprinkled with silver.

Warwick exhaled a sigh and rolled his eyes heavenward. Where had that bit of lunacy come from?

She was the last woman in the world he’d want to get close to.

Yet close he was. Her bottom was plastered to his manhood.

She was so different than when he’d known her years before. He’d never decided if her disheveled state and dirty clothes were how she actually lived or if she used it as an act to keep people away. She’d certainly taken long enough to answer the door when they’d fetched her. From her appearance when she finally opened it, he wondered if she’d sprinkled ash over herself apurpose. After all, he’d seen the small wooden tub in the corner of her hut. Most people didn’t keep one inside if they didn’t bathe. And although her wrinkled face appeared weathered, her eyes were as strikingly clear as he remembered them from years before.

Agnes wiggled, trying to get comfortable, bringing him back to the present. Surprising him, his manhood sprang to life. Damnation! ‘Twas the last thing he wanted. He merely wished to fetch this woman home and never see her again. Her bright blue eyes had taken his measure more than once while they’d been cloistered together in the lass’ room, and he hadn’t liked it one bit. Still, her gentleness with Tory touched him.

How could one so crotchety be so tender with the young girl? She’d not been unpleasant when he’d known her as a youth. He’d always thought her bonny. Then she’d dropped out of sight.

Despite himself, his mind wandered. Could she be as tender with me? Would she welcome me to her bosom and hold me there as she’d cared for the lass? Could she help ease the lonely nights I’ve had for so long?

Gritting his teeth and trying to ignore the throbbing in his groin, he spurred his palfrey to speed away from Castle Drummond.



Almost nine full moons later, a frustrated Grant turned and asked the women in the room, “Can you do what I ask or not?”

Clearly scared beyond reason, they all shook their heads.

Grant reflected upon the situation. He stared down at the backs of his hands. Saw them shake uncontrollably. He feared for Tory’s life. Wanted to howl at the moon in frustration.

“My hands are too large, too calloused from wielding a sword. I might kill my lady wife just trying and I’ll not take that risk.” He turned to face Tory. “Nay! I will not allow it. Do you hear me, wife? I forbid you to die.”

Unwilling to stand by helpless, he stormed from the room and down the stairs. He started to shout for his men, then realized most were already gathered near the bottom of the staircase.

“Warwick,” he ordered, “take men and our fastest mounts. Fetch that auld crone. If she will not come willingly, throw her over a horse. I care not how you do it, just get her! Ride like your life depends on it.”

Grant didn’t wait for Warwick’s assent before he turned and bolted back to his chamber. “My lady’s life does,” he murmured to himself.

Warwick arrived at the small, secluded clearing surrounding Agnes’ hut. He’d ridden here frequently these many moons past to visit, yet had never summoned the courage to approach and talk with her. Coward that he was, he’d always left before she knew he was there.

Disgusted with himself, he felt the fool. He was no longer a green youth, but a battle-hardened warrior, risking his life every time he followed Grant when called to protect his country from the English invader. He thought nothing of it. A man did what a man must.

Only he couldn’t untwist a tongue tied in knots whenever he approached this glen. Even now he sat with a line of sweat trailing down his back. Bloody hell!

This time he had an excuse to see her again. If only the reason for his coming wasn’t Lady Tory dying. They’d all heard the screams from the laird’s chambers. The women shrugged that was normal. Yet, as the screams continued, word spread through the castle the bairn was turned wrong. It did not bode well.

Standing outside of Agnes’ hut, he was on edge. Would she come willingly or would he have to drag her all the way back to Castle Drummond like they’d had to do before? Och, she’d been one cantankerous woman. It was ridiculous, he admitted, only he wanted to be near her again. Wanted to hear her fuss at him. Wanted to gaze into those clear blue eyes and see if they cared.

Wondering what it would take to have her look at him with something other than loathing, he dismounted and knocked on the wooden door.

No answer. He knocked again.

“Go away!”

Warwick rolled his eyes. It was no less than he expected.

“Open up, auld woman. Our lady has need of you.”

“Silly man. ‘Tis naught but her woman’s time. She has the midwife. Ye have no need of me.”

“Are you addled enough you think I came merely to see your lovely face?” he barked. “The Drummond wishes your help. He sent me to fetch you. ”

He heard grumbling behind the door. “Young Drummond always wants something.” Nevertheless, the door opened a crack. “What is wrong this time?”

“Our lady’s babe has not yet come. She weakens. Laird Drummond bid me fetch you—tied and gagged if need be.”

She opened the door wider, then walked back inside and began gathering herbs. “Sounds like the arrogant man.”

Ill at ease, Warwick remained in the doorway.

Agnes studied him over her shoulder. “Well, dinnae stand there like a lump of peat. Help me carry my things. Since ye are of no use in tellin’ me what is wrong, I dinnae know what I’ll have need of.”

Warwick cleared his throat. “’Tisna seemly for me to enter your house. There is no one—”

“Och, dinnae be a lackwit, auld man. Ye worry about my reputation when everyone thinks me a witch?” She narrowed her eyes and turned to face him. “Or are ye still too scared to come near me?”

Warwick stiffened. “You prattle nonsense. I am not afraid—”

She arched a brow, then turned back to gather more herbs. “Are ye not? Then why have ye stood in the copse of trees outside my home all these moons past?”

Warwick’s eyes widened. “I did not…I have not…” he blustered.

“Aye, ye have. Did ye really think I dinnae know ye were there?”

He cleared his throat. “If you knew, why did you not say something?”

She walked toward him and shoved the large bundle she’d gathered at him. “Figured when ye wanted that romp in the hay bad enough ye would come forward.” Edging past him and out the door, she swatted his backside.

“Come, auld man,” she teased as his eyebrows went up. “Dinnae be standing with yer mouth agape. We needs must go to the castle. Young Drummond told ye to fetch me.”

When he still didn’t move, Agnes taunted, “So fetch me, ye big lout. I am yers for the taking.”

Warwick nearly tripped over his feet at her wording as he joined her beside his mount. Damnation. The woman made him feel like an untried lad and he liked it not one bit. Even so, the vision those words conjured made his body tense with need. Och aye, some day he would take her all right—take her and have her moaning beneath him.

Shaking off his thoughts, he mounted and reached down to pull her up in front of him. She’d won this round, except she’d see who prevailed in the match. No one made a fool of him. Certainly not some shriveled old woman. All right, so she really wasn’t shriveled, although he guessed her to be as old as he. A smile edged the corners of his mouth as he wrapped his arm around her narrow waist and drew her back against his chest, his fingertips lightly splaying over her belly until they brushed the underside of her breasts.

He laughed when she swatted his hand away. It had been a long time since he’d bantered with a woman. Although wagtails weren’t overly fussy whom they bedded, most didn’t want an old man like him. Come hell or high water, he had every intention of matching this woman’s moves and calling her bluff. Och aye, he’d have her beneath him in his bed—and if he was lucky, on top of him, too. Riding him as hard as they now rode to reach the castle.

Warwick rather hoped it was the latter.



©2006 Leanne L. Burroughs

 

 

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