She peeked around her husband to get a better look at the man they were mourning.
At first she thought he was dead. Jamie was used to seeing injuries of every sort, and for that reason she barely blanched over the horrible sight before her. There was blood everywhere, or so it appeared to her at first notice. Jamie couldn't tel how much was bluster, though, and how much was real damage. A large curved gash took up a fair portion of the warrior's chest. His lower left arm was broken, too, near the wrist, but it looked like a clean break to her.
He was a battle-scarred man with rugged features and dark brown hair. A large welt had made his brow swel up, giving him a grotesque appearance. Jamie stared at the bump a long while, wondering if that was the blow that had caused his death.
The dead man suddenly grimaced. It was an ever-so-slight movement she would have missed if she hadn't been watching him so intently.
A spark of hope was ignited in her mind. She concentrated on the way the warrior was breathing. It was a mite shal ow, she decided, yet true as a rooster's. A good sign, that, for there was usual y a rattle shivering through the air when death came stalking his prey.
The truth stil took her by surprise. Angus wasn't dying …yet.
The priest was taking forever to finish his prayers. Jamie didn't want to wait. The man they were mourning would surely catch a fever and die before morning unless she could take care of his injuries.
Jamie reached up to tap Alec's shoulder. He immediately turned around, then moved to block her view of the wounded soldier. He didn't look overly happy to see her.
"It's Angus?" she whispered.
Alec nodded. "Go back to bed, Jamie."
"He isn't dead."
"No, I don't think he is, Alec."
"Go to bed."
The harshness in his command worried her. Jamie turned around and slowly walked back to her bed.
She was already listing the items she would need to help Angus.
When she returned to her husband, her arms were fil ed with her precious medicine jars. She had tucked a long needle and sturdy thread into one pocket of her robe. Three white stockings dangled from her other pocket. Jamie was determined to do what she could to save the warrior, with or without her husband's cooperation. She only hoped Alec wouldn't make too much of a fuss before he gave in.
He was going to have to give in, though, and that was that.
The priest gave the final blessing and knelt down. Alec motioned to his men, turned, and very nearly knocked Jamie to the floor. He instinctively reached out to steady her.
He was bloody furious with her. The look on his face said as much. So did his hard grip on her shoulders. Jamie took a deep breath, then blurted out, "In England we have a rather quaint custom, Alec.
We don't mourn a man until he's dead, and we don't cal for our priest until we're sure he's dying." She'd certainly gained his full attention with that statement. "Alec, you cannot know for certain that Angus is dying. Let me see to his injuries. If God is determined to have him now, nothing I do will make any difference." She shrugged his hands away while she waited for his answer. It was a long time in coming.
Alec was looking at her as though she'd just lost her mind. Jamie tried to move to his side, but he blocked her view once again. "There's blood."
"I saw it."
"Blood makes you sick."
"Alec, where do you get your ideas?"
He didn't answer that chal enge. "It will not make me sick."
"If you get ill , I'l be very displeased with you."
And if his voice turned any harsher, it would probably cause lightning to strike, Jamie thought. "I'm going to take care of him, husband, with or without your permission. Now get out of my way."
He didn't budge, but his eyes had widened over her sharp command. Jamie thought he might be considering strangling her. She decided then that ordering him about wasn't the right approach. "Alec, did I tel you how to fight those bandits who attacked us on our way here?"
He thought that question was too ridiculous to answer. Jamie answered for him. "No, of course I didn't. I don't know anything about fighting, husband, but I do know a bloody lot about healing. I'm going to help Angus and that's that. Now please move out of my way. Your friend is in terrible pain."
It was her last remark that gained his cooperation. "How can you know he's in pain?"
"I saw him grimace."
The fierceness in her tone amazed him. Before his eyes she was turning into a tigress. "Do what you can."
Jamie let out a weary sigh as she hurried to the table. She placed her jars near one corner, then bent over Angus to study his injuries. The warriors all returned to the table. They looked outraged. Alec thought he might have a rebel ion on his hands. He folded his arms across his chest and slowly scanned his audience, for one and all had turned to look at him now. They were obviously waiting to see what he was going to do about his wife's disrespectful interference.
Jamie didn't pay any attention to the soldiers. She gently prodded the edges of the welt on Angus's forehead. She studied his chest wound next.
"'Tis just as I suspected," she said.
"The damage?" Alec asked.
Jamie shook her head. There was a smile in her voice when she said, "It's mostly bluster."
"Meaning it looks worse than it really is," Jamie explained.
"He isn't dying?"
The priest asked that question. The old man struggled to his feet, wheezing from the effort. He stared at Jamie with a frown as fierce as any she'd ever seen.
"He has a good chance, Father," Jamie said. She heard a woman cry out and guessed it was Elizabeth.
"I would like to help you," the priest announced.
"I would appreciate your help," she replied. She heard the soldiers grumbling under their breath behind her. She ignored them and turned back to her husband. "You were leaving with your men, I noticed, but if it wasn't an important errand, I could use your assistance."
"We were going to build a box," Alec explained.
"A burial box," the priest interjected.
Jamie looked incredulous. She felt like putting her hands over Angus's ears so he wouldn't hear this discouraging talk. "For heaven's sake, you'd put Angus in the ground before he quit breathing?"
"No, we'd wait," Alec answered. "You really think you can save him, don't you?"
"What can I do to help?" Gavin asked before Jamie could answer her husband.
"I need more light, linen strips, a goblet of warm water, bowls with more water, and two slats of wood, Gavin, about this size and length," she instructed, showing him with her hands the desired dimensions.
If they thought her requests didn't make any sense, they didn't mention it to her.
"His arm is broken, lass. Do you think to cut it off?" the priest asked.
A soldier behind Jamie's back muttered, "Angus would rather die than have his arm removed."
"We aren't going to cut his arm off," Jamie announced in exasperation. "We're going to straighten it."
"You can do this?" the priest asked.
The circle of men tightened around the table. Gavin nudged his way next to his mistress. "Here's the goblet of water you wanted. The bowls are behind you."
Jamie opened one of the medicine jars, pinched a sprinkle of brown powder between her thumb and forefinger, and mixed it with the water in the goblet. When the liquid had turned murky, she handed it to Gavin. "Please hold this for just a moment."
"What is it, mistress?" Gavin asked, sniffing the potion.
"A sleeping drink for Angus. It will also ease his pain."
"He's already sleeping."
Jamie didn't recognize the voice, knew another soldier had called out that comment. His tone had been fil ed with anger.
"Aye, he's sleeping," another muttered. "Anyone can see he is."
"He is not sleeping," Jamie countered, trying to hold her patience. She knew she'd have to gain their confidence if she was going to get their help.
"Then why ain't he talking to us or looking at us?"
"He's in too much pain," Jamie answered. "Alec, would you hold his head up so he can drink more easily?"
Alec was the only one who didn't argue with her. He moved closer to the table and lifted Angus's head.
Jamie leaned over his friend, cupped his face in her hands, and spoke to him. "Angus, open your eyes and look at me."
She had to repeat her demand three times, bel owing the last, before the warrior finally complied.
A surprised murmur rushed around the table. The doubting Thomases had just been convinced.
"Angus, you must drink this," Jamie ordered. "It will take your pain away." She didn't let up on her prodding until the warrior had swal owed a large portion.
Then she sighed with satisfaction. "It will only take a minute or two before the potion does its work."
After making that statement, Jamie glanced up.
Alec was smiling at her.
"He could stil catch fever and die," she whispered, fearing she'd given him too much hope and not enough caution.
"He wouldn't dare."
"Not after the way you screamed at him," Alec replied.
Jamie felt herself blush. "I had to raise my voice," she explained. " 'Twas the only way I could get him to respond."
"I think he's sleeping now," Gavin interjected.
"We shal see," Jamie announced. She once again leaned over Angus and cupped his face in her hands.
"Is the pain leaving you yet?" she asked.
The warrior slowly opened his eyes. Jamie could see the medicine was beginning to work, for his brown eyes were glazed.
His face had taken on a tranquil expression, too. "Have I gone to heaven?" Angus asked, his voice a scratchy whisper. "Are you my angel?"
Jamie smiled. "No, Angus. You're stil in the Highlands."
A look of horror crossed the warrior's face. "Good God Almighty, I ain't in heaven. I'm in hel . It be a cruel trick the devil plays. You look like an angel, but you sound… English."
He'd roared the last of his statement and immediately started struggling. Jamie leaned so close to his right ear she was almost kissing him, then whispered in Gaelic, "Rest easy, friend. You're safe in Scots' hands, you are," she lied. "Picture your next battle with the English if it will make you feel any better, but hush your talk now. Let the potion woo you to sleep."
The soft burr she'd deliberately put in her voice sounded awful to her. Angus was too drowsy to notice, though. He quit his struggles and closed his eyes again.
He fel asleep with a smile on his face.
Jamie thought he might be counting the number of English soldiers he was going to kil .
"What did you say to him, milady?" a soldier asked over her shoulder.
"I told him he was too stubborn to die just yet," Jamie replied with a dainty shrug.
Gavin was disconcerted. "But how would you be knowing if Angus was stubborn or not?"
"He's a Scotsman, isn't he?"
Gavin looked over at Alec to see if they were supposed to be amused or insulted by Lady Kincaid's comment. Alec was smiling. Gavin decided his mistress must have meant to jest with him. A frown marred his brow, and he began to wonder how long it was going to take him to understand this unusual Englishwoman. Her sweet voice was as deceptive as her appearance. She was such a delicate-looking little thing. Why, the top of her head barely reached her husband's shoulder. That husky voice of hers could coax him into complying with each and every request she gave if he didn't stay on his guard.
"I would also like to help you."
The tearful voice belonged to Elizabeth. She stood across the table, facing Jamie. The fair-haired woman stil looked frightened, but determined, too, and when Jamie smiled at her, she gave a hesitant smile back.
"Angus is my husband. I'l do whatever you tel me to do."
"I'm thankful for your help," Jamie told her. "Dampen this cloth and press it to your husband's brow," she directed.
Jamie pul ed three stockings out of her pocket and slipped one of them over the wood slat Gavin had provided. Before she was finished, one of the soldiers had covered the second slat for her.
Her hands were shaking now, for the task she most dreaded couldn't be delayed any longer. It was time to straighten Angus's arm.
"In England, it has become fashionable to use a sleeping sponge to put a man to sleep, but I don't hold with that form of treatment," she rambled. "I pray Angus will sleep through this."
"Would he sleep better if you'd used the sponge?" a soldier asked.
"Oh, yes," Jamie answered. "But he might not wake up. Most don't. The disadvantage does outweigh the merit, don't you think?"
The soldiers immediately blurted out their agreement.
"Alec? You're going to have to do this for me. I don't have the strength," she said. "Gavin, I'l need long strips of linen ready to bind the slats together."
Jamie worked the third stocking over Angus's swol en hand, paused to cut five holes in the toe of the sock, then eased his fingers and thumb through the openings. Each time she touched his arm, she gave Angus a quick, worried glance to see if he'd awakened.
"Alec, take hold of his hand. Gavin, you hold his upper arm," she directed. "Pul , but ever so slowly please, until I can straighten the bone. Elizabeth, you must turn your back now. I don't want you watching this."
Jamie took a deep, settling breath, then murmured, "God, I do hate this part of my duties. Do it now."
It took three attempts before she was satisfied that the broken ends of the bone were in the correct position. She slid the first slat under the arm, then put the second on top. Her hands shook. Alec held the slats in place while Jamie wound the strips of linen around and around the wood. When she was finished, Angus's arm was firmly locked in place.
"There, the worst is finished," she said with a deep sigh of relief.
"But his chest, milady," the priest reminded her. He let out a loud, painful-sounding cough, then added, "It's got a gaping hole in it."