Nature of the BeastBy: Hannah Howell
It was not until he stepped into his cave that he considered how odd his living quarters would seem to someone outside his clan. He glanced back at the boy. David was looking around with no more than a calm curiosity. Berawald noticed that the boy had still not lit the lantern. Shaking off a strong urge to demand exactly what David meant when he said he and his sister were different, Berawald continued on, going deep into the hillside he now called home.
“Ye live in a cave?” David asked when Berawald finally entered a large chamber and halted.
Still seeing nothing but curiosity on the boy’s face, Berawald nodded. “’Tis a strong home, which gets neither too cold nor too hot. Light some candles if ye can, lad.”
As David hurried to obey, Berawald laid Evie down on a table set before the fireplace. He hurriedly lit a fire in the area he had hollowed just below a natural tunnel in the rock that served as an excellent chimney. Filling a bucket with water from his storeroom, he poured most of it into a large pot hung over the fire. He then gathered a blanket from his own bed and set it down on a bench near the table. Even as David moved to stand next to him, Berawald began to strip the wet clothing off the young woman, silently praying she would remain unconscious until he was finished tending to her wounds. He also prayed that he had the strength to hide all the fierce, confusing emotion she stirred inside him.
“Evie willnae like ye taking off her clothes,” said David as he took Evie’s wet boots and set them near the fire to dry.
“Weel, I cannae tend to her wounds as needed unless I do so,” replied Berawald.
“I ken it, but she still willnae like it.”
“Then we willnae tell her.”
“I be thinking she will ken it when she wakes up naked.”
Berawald briefly grinned. “True enough. We will just leave her alone for a wee while until she accepts the need of it.”
It was difficult not to laugh when David responded with a solemn nod, indicating that he thought the plan was a very good one. Berawald’s good humor faded quickly, however, when he finished stripping Evie of her clothes and removing the rough bandage he had put on her earlier. The wound at her side was long, ragged, and ugly. It would leave an equally ugly scar no matter how well he tended to it or how neatly he sewed it up. The sight of her bruised and battered body was almost enough to still a sudden rush of desire as well.
Covering her to just below her tiny waist with the blanket and laying a strip of cloth over her full, rose-tipped breasts aided Berawald a little in fixing his concentration on her wounds. A few of the larger bruises she wore would require watching to see if they worsened, indicating some unseen injury, but at the moment, all he could tend to was the slash on her side. Occasionally ordering a pale, silent David to hand him something, Berawald carefully cleaned the wound, even washing away all the blood and dirt in a wide area around it. He stitched it closed using the smallest, neatest stitches he could. She would still have a scar, there was no way he could change that outcome, but he was determined to make it as small a one as possible. As he worked, he returned to silently and continuously praying that she would not wake up until he was done.
The moment Berawald finished bandaging Evie with a clean strip of linen he dressed her in one of his shirts. With David’s help he made her a bed near the fire. Next he scrubbed off the table, poured himself a tankard of wine, and served David one filled with cider. Setting the drinks on the table, he gathered what food he had on hand and set it on the table as well. There were not many foods he ate aside from meat, but he could see that David had no complaints about being served bread, cheese, and fruit.
“Will Evie get better now?” asked David as he sat down at the table.
Seating himself across from the boy, Berawald nodded. “Oh, aye, I believe she will. As soon as I am certain she is resting easily, I will go and gather your belongings.” Seeing the look of worry the boy tried valiantly to hide, he added, “Ye will be safe here, lad. The way into these caves and tunnels isnae easily found. We only got in here easily because I ken the way so weel.”
David nodded and returned all his attention to his food. It was evident that the boy had gone a long time since his last meal, and his last meal had undoubtedly been a meager one. He was obviously finding it a struggle to recall his table manners.
Turning his attention back to Evie, Berawald felt that surge of desire yet again and inwardly shook his head. There were many good reasons why he should have ignored young David’s plea for help. He had the sinking feeling that Evie might well be the biggest one of all.
Evie woke to pain and had to clench her teeth against a moan. Her mind hazy, she struggled to understand why she felt such a compulsion to keep silent. Her memories of the past three days slipped back into her mind in little, scattered fragments, slowly stirring a fear inside her that briefly made her forget her pain. Then she realized that David was not at her side and that fear rapidly became panic until she heard his laughter. He was close at hand and he sounded content, safe. The need to see that for herself made her ache to look for him, but she continued to hold herself still. She forced herself to relax as much as her pain would allow and began to try and judge just how badly she had been injured.