Another scream, this time muffled by her own hands, escaped Hazel's mouth. The girl was scared to death, but her lady had warned her not to make a sound, and she would rather bite her tongue off than disobey her lady.
Katherine bit her lip and peeked to the door to see an iron-studded boot hang in the opening, before being set on the floor of the carriage. The boot was big, indicating that it's owner was a big person, too. Way bigger than her. She only had one chance to hit him when he stepped in the carriage. She had to do it right, or both Hazel and her might die. Clenching her hands even harder around the hilt of the dagger, she willed them to stop trembling.
Suddenly, the boot was pulled back weirdly, followed by a 'thud' of something heavy falling on the ground. A second later, she heard the rough voice of her bandit-guard: "You okay, milady?"
Relieved, all air escaped her in one breath and her arms relaxed. Then she looked though the door frame, and grinned at the guard. "Thanks, Jack! We're okay!"
Deliberately, she ignored the corpse on the ground and the blood on Jack's chin.
Jack grinned back, showing off his black tooth. "Better stay inside. Pete and I will protect you well."
Katherine's gaze wandered to up front where they were still fighting. Looked like most of the attackers focused on the other carriage... as if they knew the patient was inside it. Some guards were already down. "I want to help. I can heal the injured and both of you would be of bigger value over there. They aren't after me."
As if he heard her, Pete came around the carriage. "They are not, but we still can't risk your life for that. You can heal the injured when it's over."
Jack nodded in agreement. "Stay inside, they will manage."
Unwillingly, Katherine pressed her lips together. "We should have ridden the same carriage, then you wouldn't need to split up.", she mumbled, but finally followed their advice and returned into the carriage, waiting for the battle to end.
Some nerve-wracking minutes later, the sound of weapons clashing stopped. When Jack opened the door, she was already on her feet, storming outside to see the damage and how many she could still save.
She rushed over to the scene, where guards were groaning while tending to their wounds or pulling the dead enemies aside. Her biggest worry was the patient. After all, they were after him mainly. Was he still alive?
Just when she was about to go inside the carriage, the door opened. She caught herself in time to not collide with Sam, who was standing in front of her.
"Milady!", he said surprised. "Is everything alright?"
"That's what I wanted to ask.", Katherine responded anxiously. "Is the patient alright? They didn't get to him, did they?"
Sam's lips curved upwards when he noticed her concern. "No, milady. They couldn't even touch a hair on his head."
"Good!", Katherine exclaimed relieved, and a second later turned to the guards. In their state, she shouldn't waste any more time.
Sam, who saw where she was heading, wanted to stop her at first. It wasn't good if too many people knew her ability. But on second thought, it occurred to him that it was better to expose her than to let even the tiniest possibility of mishap interrupt their journey. More healthy guards meant more protection. However, she shouldn't do it out in the open.
With a wave, he called Pete to his side, and instructed him to bring the injured in Katherine's carriage one after the other. Then he called Katherine back and told her of his plan.
The problem was, the attackers knew which carriage they had to attack. The first reason for that was relatively harmless: they observed them for a while, saw that Katherine and her maid were mostly in one carriage while the other had only Sam going in and out, and just guessed correctly. The other reason, however, was much more dangerous. There was a tiny possibility of one of their man being a spy. This possibility was, of course, not big as they were all hand-picked by the earl. Still it existed.
What Sam planned now, was a test. Katherine would heal the guards in the carriage. They would be told that Sam suspected there to be more enemies in the woods who watched them, so they should continue to play wounded when they got out. However, they were not hindered from telling their comrades in secret, as the spy was unlikely to be one of the heavily wounded, but more likely some other guard.
Like this, Sam would be able to tell if there was a spy in their team by the next attack. And to distinguish the good from the bad peas, he placed another trap.
If not for Sam's ploy, Katherine would have insisted to switch inside the patient's carriage so that the guards wouldn't need to split up their afford anymore. Now she just wanted Sam to promise to let her switch the carriage after the test. Sam agreed easily.
When finally the healing was over with, Katherine noticed that somewhere in between Froseti, who she had taken with her, must have hopped out of the carriage and into the woods. The loss of her rabbit made her already bad day even worse. What a depressing day.
Hazel, who noticed Katherine's mood, and tried to cheer her up, but it resulted in nothing more than a halfhearted smile from her lady.
With hours and days passing inside the carriage, it only turned worse. Katherine was turning into a secluded woman that would throw glares and harsh words on everyone that interrupted her sulking. Hazel was crying inside. When can I get back my lovely and generous lady?
Strangely, the only times her mood would turn better was when she visited the patient. Katherine was putting her everything into his treatment as it was the only thing she could do on this journey, and also the only distraction from boredom. It made her feel a bit useful.
The deeper they traveled into the north, the colder it got. The Icelands were not named for their warm summers after all. On one of these cold mornings, when puffs of white air left Katherine's mouth in a sigh, the body of the patient was finally spot-free.
Or at least that was, what Katherine saw. In reality there was still an unimaginable small point of darkness hidden in the veins, the origin of the earls power, that couldn't neither be pushed out nor killed. As small as it was, it wouldn't hurt him anymore.
Staring at the half-n.a.k.e.d body in front of her, Katherine felt regret. The patient had lost nearly all his weight now, making his stomach bent inwards, and the beautiful - though deadly - pattern was gone. She felt bad for missing it a bit.
He looked much more vulnerable now, making her protective if this unknown man that she had spend so much of her time on. However, this was all she could do for him. Her job was done.
Though she shouldn't have finished her job in the first place as it would make her useless to the earl, she just couldn't let her patient continue to suffer. He nearly died back than because she hadn't done her job properly. Also, without another return of the blackness, it was impossible to delay his recovery for too long or else Sam would get suspicious.
Now it was finished. Did that mean she was finished, too? Maybe. If the patient didn't recover on his own now, if he died without waking up, maybe the earl would throw her out. Hopefully though, he would pity her, for she'd done all she could.
Without much hope, she traced the patient's features with her eyes. She had seen them so many times now and was still every time surprised about how good-looking he was even in his condition.
"Come on", she called gently, and with one gloved hand brushed a few blonde stands out of his face. "Wake up. Stop sleeping."
If someone else was in the carriage, she most likely wouldn't have done this. To her rational mind, it was unprofessional and kind of ridiculous to speak with an unconsciousness person. However, Sam was outside seeing to a wheel damaged by the rough road, and she was all alone with the patient.
Looking at his handsome face, she pitied him. Such a young man was lying there and dying without even a reason anymore. His body was good, so he should just wake up. Or had his soul already flown away?
Katherine remembered a fairy-tail about a princess who's soul had been sealed by an evil mage and who sus slept for a hundred years, until her soul was freed by a kiss. This wouldn't be the same, right? The dark poison couldn't have sealed his soul somehow?
Well, even if it did, she thought she was the wrong person to wake the patient out of his long sleep. She was his healer after all, not his betrothed, and the one she wanted to woo was his brother. Getting feelings for the patient was out of the question.
Still, her eyes unconsciously wandered to those slim lips. Strange, even their lips looked exactly the same. Both slim, but delicate-looking with a cold splendor. Her gaze shifted to the window, even though the curtains were closed to let no-one get a glance inside. He was away for so many days already. When would he finally come back?