WindRetriever [WindLegends Book 9]
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by Charlotte Boyett-Compo
Category: Romance/Dark Fantasy
Description: Conar MacGregor learned to rue the day he made his pact with the witch, Sybelle, for although she restored all that he'd lost in his trials, she took the one thing most intrinsic to the man he was--his freedom. Sensual/Spicy Adult situations, graphic violence
eBook Publisher: New Concepts Publishing, 2007
eBookwise Release Date: March 2009
8 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [643 KB]
Reading time: 401-562 min.
He looked older than his forty years. The lines spreading out from his sapphire blue eyes were painful to look at for they appeared to be etched into his very soul. And those lines had been earned in an agony of spirit and of physical pain that would have broken a lesser man.
His pale gold hair had lost its sheen and his six foot frame had lost weight. When he spoke, which was rare in those first few hours after the Daughterhood of the Multitude had taken Abbadon Fortress, his voice was hoarse and so soft those around him had to strain to hear what he said. Those who loved him, who looked after him, were concerned for he neither wept nor swore nor screamed at the horrible injustice of his situation. His stoic acceptance was almost eerie in its calm. There were those who believed he had lost his power to reason properly. And there were those who watched him carefully, afraid his hand would stray to a hidden dagger or his feet to the tallest point from which he might jump.
And then there were others who guarded him.
Wherever he went inside the fortress, he was accompanied by fierce women warriors with armed crossbows at the ready. Outside the bathing chamber where he had been led immediately after his enemy's death, two women stood sentinel with pikes crossed against entry. Inside the chamber, two more women stood guard at the door while the Elders went about bathing the filth from his body.
Meghan Dunne, feeling every one of her eighty-seven years, poured cinnamon oil into the steaming water of the bathing pool, glancing now and again at the man who sat so still while his leg iron bands were being removed by a trembling smithy.
"Hurt him and you will pay for it with you life," she heard Meggie Ruck, her fellow Elder, warn the smithy in a voice filled with hatred as the first band was sawed in twain. Then Meggie's tone changed to one of gentle concern. "Are you all right, lad?"
Meghan put the stopper back in the flask of oil and turned to give her Overlord her full attention. She saw him nod silently, never raising his head to look at those gathered protectively around him. His dull blue gaze was locked on the floor at his dirty bare feet.
"Hurry up and get that damned iron off'n him, you bastard!" Meggie snarled, slamming the heel of her palm against the smithy's tense shoulder. She replaced her withered hands on the naked shoulders of her Overlord, soothing the slump of those wide shoulders and glared down at the smithy until the second band fell free and landed with a heavy thump on the floor. "Now get out of here before I turn you inside out!" the old woman threatened.
The two women at the door uncrossed their pikes and stepped aside for the frightened smithy to exit. Neither opened the oak portal for him, but both turned to watch him fumble with the door handle. A smirk of laughter came from the women as the smithy swung the door open to find two sharp, steady pikes aimed at his chest.
"Let him pass!" Meggie called out.
The outside sentinels lowered their pikes and stood aside for the smithy to run past. As soon as he was streaking down the hall, one of the women closed the door behind him and both resumed their silent vigil.
"You want me to help you get them breeches off, son?" Meggie asked, bending over her Overlord's shoulder.
"I can do it," came the barest whisper of sound.
Meghan watched him push himself up from the stool. He looked so tired, so infinitely weary, and, of course, she knew why. Just looking at him as he stood there, weaving slightly as he fumbled weakly to unbutton the studs on his breeches, was almost enough to break the old woman's heart. She knew he had been pushed well past the limits of bearable pain and into the savage and brutal realm of mind-altering agony. That he could function at all seemed almost too good to be true. The look of sorrow on his scarred face was almost more than she could bear, herself, and she wondered how he could handle it. Knowing the cause of it tore at her heart like a weretiger's claws.
"Here, baby," Meggie said softly. "Let me help you."
The old woman pushed his hands away, making quick work of undoing the studs. She was about to push them down over his lean hips when he staggered, grunting with surprise and weariness. Meggie made a grab for him, catching his left arm to keep him from tumbling backward. One of the women at the door threw down her pike and rushed forward to grab his other arm. Between them, they steadied him and kept a tight hold on his arms.
"You want me to finish undressing him, Mistress?" the woman asked.
Meggie shook her head. "No. He'll feel more comfortable with me doing it, won't you, lad?"
He nodded slowly, his glazed eyes staring somewhere off into space. His breathing was so slow, so audible, it seemed to be coming from the very core of him.
Meghan walked over and gently shooed the sentinel away, positioning herself so the two women at the door could not view his nakedness as Meggie stooped down to draw the breeches from him.
"Step out of the leg, baby," Meggie ordered. "Now the other one."
"Can you make it into the bathing pool by yourself, lad, or do you want me and Meg to help you?" Meghan questioned him.
"No, I can do it," he answered. He wavered for a brief moment, then turned and walked slowly to the steps of the bathing pool. Very carefully, he stepped down into the water and lowered himself with a sigh so heart-felt, it brought tears to the women's eyes.
"There's soap and a cloth just to your left, lad," Meggie told him. "Do you feel up to bathing yourself or do you want one of us to do it for you?"
He glanced up for the first time and there was a strange look on his face for just a second before he shook his head and reached for the soap. He lathered the cloth, seeming to take forever to do so, then lifted it to his chest.
Meggie turned away, as did Meghan, but one of the women at the door, her name was Miriam, kept her watchful gaze on her Overlord. Her forehead creased with worry as she watched his slow circular motion as he scrubbed half-heartedly at his chest. She bit her lip, aching to wade into the pool and take the cloth from him, to give him the bath he needed and deserved. She turned her pleading gaze to Meggie Ruck and found that woman looking steadily at her. Meggie's chin dipped in a silent acknowledgement of Miriam's request.
"Be gentle with him," Meghan warned as Miriam handed her pike to her fellow sentinel and loosened the ties of her robes.
He looked up, startled, as the water lapped around him. His blue gaze was puzzled as Miriam, clad only in her short gown, knelt before him in the water and gently took the cloth from his tired hand.
"What are you doing?" Miriam had to strain to hear him ask.
"She is going to bathe you, lad," Meggie told him and smiled as he turned his face up to her. "Just you relax and let her do it."
Miriam felt his long, defeated sigh of surrender rather than heard it. She watched his eyelids close, saw his head go back along the rim of the pool, and then his eyebrows draw together as though he were in great pain.
"There are cuts on his arms, Mistress," Miriam said as she tenderly wiped the dirt from his flesh.
"Aye," Meggie conceded. "They'll be seen to when he's bathed." She frowned at the woman in the pool. "You just make sure you clean them cuts good. We don't want no infection to set in."
Miriam nodded, so very aware of the heat of her Overlord's body, the scent of the cinnamon oil wafting about her, the sound of his tired breathing, and the dark stain of ugly bruises beneath the grime on his flesh. Lovingly she wiped away the crusted blood, careful not to hurt him any more than she had to in order to do so. Now and again, she would hear him suck in his breath and know the tug of the cloth against his wounds had caused him pain.
Meggie grunted as she lowered herself behind him and reached out to stroke his forehead. She smiled down at him as he opened his eyes and looked up at her. "You look so tired, lad," she said, smoothing the damp hair from his forehead.
He turned his face so that his scarred left cheek was nestled in the old woman's wrinkled palm. "I'm all right, Meggie," he whispered.
"Are you really?" she inquired, caressing that ravaged flesh.
"Aye," he breathed and gasped as the cloth dragged too sharply over a nick high on his right thigh.
Miriam stilled, her hand on his leg, and looked up into the old woman's face. She saw no anger in that withered visage. "Does it look as though it needs stitching, girl?" Meggie asked her. Miriam looked down and saw tiny spirals of pink drifting up to the surface of the water. She nodded. "Yes, Mistress, it does."
"I've got the fixin's ready," Meghan said. "Soon's you got him bathed, we can see to them wounds of his."
Miriam drew in her breath as her hand moved for the last place on him that had not been cleaned. She was more than aware of the tremor in her hand as the cloth closed around his manhood and even more aware that his eyes had opened and that he was watching her. Her face flamed beneath that silent scrutiny and she dipped her head, making sure she did not turn her curious attention to the juncture of his powerful thighs.
"You finished, girl?" Meggie asked, sensing his discomfort at being touched by this strange woman and Miriam's flush of excitement at having done so.
"Yes, Mistress," Miriam answered, pushing herself up out of the water. The cotton of her short gown clung to her lush curves and she saw a flash of admiration flicker through his gaze before he lowered it once more to the surface of the water.
"I think the two of you can wait outside, don't you, Meg?" Meghan asked, watching the play of arousal staining Miriam's high cheeks.
"Aye, I'm thinking so. Just don't be going nowhere," Meggie ordered.
Miriam found her fellow sentinel looking at her with curiosity as the two of them left the bathing chamber. But despite the look Rebecca gave her, Miriam knew the woman would not question her.
"Do you need us to help you get up, son?" Meghan asked her Overlord.
He shook his head and, holding his breath against the pain of movement, levered himself from the water and climbed the few steps up from the pool. He walked to the low bench Meggie pointed to and sat down, letting out a tired breath as he did.
"It might be best if you lie down, lad," Meggie said. "You got more'n a few spots that need tending and one or two that need stitching closed."
Without comment, he lay down on his side, then stretched out on his back on the bench, grimacing slightly, for the wooden seat was not comfortable.
"This won't take long," Meghan pronounced as she went about applying a mild astringent to the numerous cuts and scrapes on his body. One or two caused her a moment's anxiety as he moaned with the sensation, but she hurried on, wanting to put him through as little discomfort as possible.
"Meg?" he asked, reaching out for her hand.
"Aye, lad?" the old woman answered as she gripped his hand between both of hers.
"Can you give me something to help me sleep?"
His request surprised her and she looked down at him with concern. "Don't you think you're so tired you won't need nothing as soon as we leave you alone to rest, son?"
"Please?" he asked, searching her face.
Meggie removed one of her hands and touched his forehead. "If that's what you want. When we get you up to bed, I'll make up a little potion that'll bring you sweet dreams."
"You wanna stitch up this wound or do you want me to, Meg?" Meghan asked as she finished wiping the cut on his thigh.
"I'll be doing it," Meggie affirmed. "I don't doubt your ability, but I just don't like nobody laying hands to him but me."
Meghan understood. She handed the threaded needle to her Sister.
If the stitching caused him pain, he didn't show it. Not by a flicker of his eyelids or an intake of breath. He lay perfectly still as the old woman took four stitches in his thigh, three in his upper left arm, and four more in his right side. When she was finished, he let her pull a clean robe over his nakedness, place sandals on his feet, and help him to get up. He walked with the two women to the door and waited until they had made sure no threat waited outside for him.
Miriam and Rebecca went ahead of their Overlord and the four women who flanked him: the two elderly women at his side and the four other sentinels with their loaded crossbows in front and behind. When they reached the room Meghan had ordered for his use, they found four more armed women standing guard outside.
"His lady-wife demanded to be allowed inside his room, Mistress," one of the women told Meggie. "But we turned her away."
"Good," Meggie replied. "He don't need none of that now. Get him in the bed while I fix him up a little tenerse and water to help him sleep."
They put him to bed, fussing and clucking over him as though he were a little boy. They tucked him in, pulled the covers over him and made sure he was comfortable before Meggie came back, huffing and puffing from her climb up the stairs, to administer the potion that would sedate him.
"Here you go, lad," Meggie said, helping him to sit up. She put the tumbler to his lips and smiled as he frowned at the smell. "I added a mite of bitter root as a treacle so's to help them wounds heal the better." She cupped the back of his head as he downed the somewhat pungent brew.
He lay back down, disliking the instant numbing in his mouth, but welcoming the signs that told him he would not be long bothered by the thoughts that were torturing him. He knew he needed rest, undisturbed and unburdened by the memories that had been flooding his senses all week.
"You sleep good, now, baby," Meggie said, bending over with a grunt to put a light kiss on his forehead. She tugged the covers up to his shoulders and turned to go.
Meggie June Ruck turned back around and looked at her Overlord. "Aye, lad?"
"Life isn't fair, is it, Meggie?" he asked her, his voice already slurring.
Her heart ached for him. "Nay, lad. Sometimes it surely ain't." She waited, just in case he wasn't finished, but she heard his heavy breathing and knew he had fallen asleep. Very quietly, she pulled the door open and left the room.