Best Laid Plans
Chapter Four: Relief
As Roxton made his way towards the shaman's hut where Marguerite lay injured, Veronica emerged from Assai and Jarl's abode. She ran to catch Roxton before he could enter the hut.
"Roxton," the blonde beauty said, gently grabbing his arm. "She's sleeping, and has been since late yesterday afternoon. She lost a lot of blood. She needs rest right now," she finished as the worried hunter pulled his arm free.
"I realize that, Veronica. I just want to be there when she wakes up. There's no harm in that is there?" he asked, staring down at the young lady who had taken them in three years ago.
"I suppose not. Marguerite wanted me to tell you something," the plateau born woman said, walking with the huntsman towards the hut.
"Really, what did she say?" the roughish lord smiled.
"She asked me to tell you that it's not Finn's fault," Veronica told him, hoping he'd take it well.
The dark-haired man closed his eyes and took a deep breath before responding. "Does she think I would blame Finn for what happened?"
"Quite honestly, yes. She's right isn't she?" "What makes you say that?" the annoyed lord asked briskly. Damn it, Marguerite, you know me too well, he thought.
"Considering that you just left Challenger and Finn standing there, I'd say that's a dead give away that right now you are blaming Finn," Veronica offered, looking towards the abandoned pair. Glancing in the direction the flaxen beauty turned, Roxton looked at his traveling companions and finally rested his gaze on the youngest one.
Challenger had a protective arm around Finn's shoulders while she had a look of guilt on her face. She thought she was hiding it from the others, but Roxton knew that look well.
Veronica watched as Roxton fought with himself about whether or not he would ever forgive Finn for nearly taking away the one thing in this world that meant more to him than life itself. He slowly turned back to the young woman close to him.
"I've got to see her now. I'll talk to Finn later, I promise," he said and abruptly marched over to the hut where Marguerite was recovering.
Veronica smiled a little as she walked towards Finn and Challenger. Finn looked at her anxiously. "Is she ok? She's not going to die is she?"
"No, Finn, Marguerite isn't going to die. Although she did lose a lot of blood, she should be right as rain in a few weeks," Veronica assured the young woman who had become the younger sister she had always wanted.
Jacoba joined them and ushered the trio to his hut where the midday meal was waiting for them.
Roxton entered the cool, dark hut quietly, not wanting to frighten or awaken the sleeping woman on the makeshift bed in the middle of the room. Olteus was sitting in a chair next to the bed checking Marguerite's bandages. He had just replaced the one on her shoulder and was working on the one on her leg. When he noticed the handsome lord enter the room he motioned to Assai, who was assisting him, to show the intruder out. Roxton stood still looking to Assai to help.
"Olteus, he does not understand our language. He cares for her as Jarl cares for me," Assai spoke so Roxton could understand. Olteus finished changing the bandage on Marguerite's leg and then allowed the rugged hunter to sit in the chair next to the bed. He then handed Roxton a bowl with cool water and a rag, saying something in the Zanga tongue. Without having to have Assai explain, Roxton started wiping Marguerite's forehead and face.
"She started running a fever early this morning. Olteus has changed the bandages and added a poultice that should help fight infection. She's been asking for you," Assai translated what the shaman said. "Olteus will go look for more herbs that he'll make into a drink for her. He thinks the infection has been caught early enough that it should be easy to make her better," the Zanga princess finished.
"Assai, please tell him thank you for me," Roxton said turning his attention back to the dark-haired beauty lying next to him.
Assai translated Roxton's thanks as she and Olteus left the hut.
"You have to stop doing this. You're going to give this old man a heart attack," Roxton whispered lovingly as he continued to try to cool down Marguerite's body temperature. After several minutes of continuously wiping her skin, the bowl was empty. The worried hunter walked over to the bucket near the door that held more water and refilled the bowl. As he walked away, the sleeping woman gradually opened her eyes. A slow smile spread across her face as she recognized the form bent over the bucket.
"Roxton," she quietly called out, not wanting to frighten him.
"Sleeping Beauty awakes. How are you feeling?" he asked as he walked back over to the chair and sat down. He leaned closer and kissed her feverish forehead.
"I'll live, although I don't think I'll ever be able to go swimming again," she joked.
"I have no doubt that you will go swimming again, someday given the right incentive," Roxton whispered, smiling.
Marguerite feigned shock at his comment, "Why, Lord Roxton, just what kind of woman do you think I am?"
"The kind who wouldn't let a little thing like a ferocious fish keep her from swimming," he told her.
Marguerite laughed weakly then closed her eyes so the man who knew her soul wouldn't see the pain it caused.
"Don't laugh and it won't hurt," he chided tenderly.
"Well if you'd stop making jokes I wouldn't be laughing, now would I?" she opened her eyes again and glared at him, daring him to argue with her.
Roxton looked into her gray-green eyes and could tell she was in a lot of pain, but said nothing, knowing that she'd just deny it. When she could no longer stand his staring, Marguerite changed the subject.
"Would you please get me a drink? My throat is dry," she asked softly as she looked away.
"Certainly, my queen, anything to make you more comfortable," the gallant lord said as he stood up to fetch her a drink.
As he walked over to get a cup, Olteus and Assai reentered the hut. Olteus handed Roxton a small pitcher with a rather foul smelling drink in it. He looked at Marguerite as Assai explained softly that Marguerite would need to drink a cup full now, and then every two hours until it was all gone. When he heard that, Roxton faced Assai and Olteus squarely. "Then one of you two tell her that. Once she gets a whiff of this, there is no way she'll drink it," the hunter balked.
"John, what are you all muttering about?" Marguerite asked, trying to sit up.
"You need to rest," Olteus cautioned her in the Zanga language.
Marguerite rolled her eyes but laid back down. "What's in that pitcher?" she asked, as Roxton returned to the bedside. He set the cup down on the table next to the bed and poured some of the liquid in it. As he gently lifted her head up so she could drink, Marguerite could smell what was in the cup. "Ugh! I am not drinking that! It smells like that river I fell in!" she protested, pushing the cup away from her face with her good hand.
Roxton took a deep breath and set the cup down, and then he sat on the bed next to her. "Marguerite, you have an infection. Olteus said this will help you fight it. He believes he's caught it early enough that it won't get worse-unless you refuse to drink this, in which case it will get worse," he added pointedly. "Is that what you want?" His patience with her was wearing thin. How can she be so pigheaded about medicine? He wondered as he watched her reaction to his lecture.
"Fine, I'll drink the foul stuff, but if it--" she complained.
"Marguerite, it will not kill you. I might if you don't stop behaving like this," Roxton replied, exasperated.
The feisty heiress blinked as she let the handsome lord help her sit up. She drank the medicine without a word. He must really be worried. He never snaps at me like that unless he's really worried, she thought as he gently lowered her back down.
"John, I'm " she began almost inaudibly.
"Forget it. When I found out that you'd been hurt and how it happened I couldn't help but " the dark-haired man started as he picked up the cloth and began wiping her forehead again not really looking at her. He was miles way.
" remember what happened in Kenya," the injured heiress finished softly, reaching up and capturing the hand on her face. She pulled his hand closer to her lips and kissed it. Feeling her soft lips on his skin Roxton was pulled back to the present.
"I'll be fine, I promise. I won't leave you," she told him as he gently caressed her face.
"I know, it just frightened me," he told her as he lowered his head and gently kissed her.
She closed her eyes as he kissed her. She could sense how frightened her injuries made him. She didn't want him to see how his fear affected her. I don't know what I did to deserve you, she thought, willing herself to remain calm. When the injured adventuress tried to open her eyes again she found her lids felt heavier than before. She gradually got them open.
"I think whatever that drink was is starting to work. I can hardly keep my eyes open," she commented sleepily.
"It's ok, go to sleep. I'll be here when you wake up," the worried hunter said as the woman he loved drifted off to sleep. He didn't know how long he sat there, just watching her sleep-making sure she was breathing. He didn't even hear Finn come in.
"Is she going to be all right?" Finn inquired, quietly walking towards the foot of the bed.
Roxton looked up at the childlike woman then back at the sleeping Marguerite. "She'll be fine, just needs a few days to recover," he said, getting up. He moved to stand next to Finn. "We need to talk, outside," he said walking towards the door. He glanced back to make sure Marguerite was still sleeping.
Finn stood at the foot of the bed for a few seconds. "I'm sorry Marguerite. I didn't mean to hurt you. I only wanted to help," she said quietly and then joined Roxton outside the hut.
"Roxton, before you start yelling at me I didn't mean for her to get hurt, honest," Finn started before the weary lord could even open his mouth.
"Finn, I'm not mad at you. I'm mad that it happened. I should have been with the three of you. Then maybe this wouldn't have happened," he tried to explain.
"Or you might have gotten hurt or killed," the young woman countered.
Roxton looked at the flaxen-haired young woman and shook his head. He smiled ruefully, "You might be right Finn. I know you wouldn't ever do anything to harm any of us. It's just that this accident reminded me of a similar one from my past. That one didn't end on a happy note."
"So you're not going to yell at me? Make me do all your laundry for a week?" Finn blinked at the roguish hunter.
Roxton laughed. "No, Finn, I'm not. Just do me a favor if this ever happens again make sure that no one you care for is any where near the enemy when you shoot that crossbow of yours."
"Deal. I'm glad she's going to be ok," Finn said. She gave Roxton a hug, which the nobleman returned fondly.
Letting her go, he asked the youngest member of the family to let Challenger and Veronica know that Marguerite would be all right in a few days. That she was resting and he was going to stay with her. Finn took off running to tell the others this news.
Roxton silently walked back into the hut and then sat down in the chair next to the makeshift bed where Marguerite slept. He checked her forehead and under her neck to see if the fever had gone up. It hadn't, but it had not really gone down either. He reached for the cloth in the bowl of water and rung it out a bit then began wiping her exposed skin with it. When he finished he sat back in the chair and closed his eyes, intending to rest them for a few minutes. Soon he was sound asleep. He was so tired that he didn't hear when Marguerite started softly crying out in her sleep.
In her mind, she was reliving the horrible scene at the river.
"I'll never this smell out of my hair," she thought as she tried to push the native off her legs. Veronica tried to help using a large branch as a lever, but the water started swirling faster around them. "I don't think whatever this is, is friendly." When she looked down at the man who had trapped her in the water, Marguerite noticed that something was rapidly eating away his flesh. The more it ate, the more blood rushed into the water, causing whatever it was to go into a frenzy. She looked way. She could feel the fish swimming all around her. Then she made the mistake of looking down again at the man across her lap. His entire face was gone, just a bit of flesh and hair left on his skull.
Marguerite sat straight up, screaming, "NO! Veronica, help me! Get him off me!" She looked around the hut frantically, not fully asleep but not awake either.
Her screaming startled Roxton awake. He gently tried to push her back down but in her current state of mind she just hit at him, trying to get away.
"Leave me alone. I have to get out of the water," she pleaded.
"Sh, it's ok. You're not in the water anymore. You're safe. You're safe." Roxton said gently pulled her towards him and started rocking her and softly running his hand down her hair, trying to sooth her.
"Roxton?" Marguerite finally said, pulling away.
He looked down at the brunette woman, "Yes, I'm here. I told you I'd be here when you woke up," he reminded her.
"It was awful. Those fish ate the face off the native that tried to attack me," she related as she felt his hand gently stroking her hair.
"Sh, it was just a nightmare. There aren't any of those fish here. You're safe," he reassured her. "It's time to drink some more of this medicine anyway." She drank the medicine without any protest this time. After he set the cup down he expected her to have lain back down, but she was still sitting up. Marguerite looked pale, frightened, and like she wanted to ask him something, but was hesitant to do so.
"What is it? Are you in pain?" he asked, quickly checking her bandages. Both were still white and dry.
"No, I don't think I can go back to sleep though. Every time I close my eyes I see it happening again," Marguerite whispered as she reached for his hand that rested on her thigh. She held it tightly and looked at the man who was always there for her.
As if reading her mind, Roxton moved from the chair to sit on the bed. Marguerite shifted over a bit so there was room for him. He gathered her up in his arms and gently leaned against the headboard.
"Thank you," she said sleepily as she leaned up and kissed his cheek.
"You're welcome, my queen," he replied softly as he kissed the top of her head.
Soon they were both asleep. When Olteus came in to check on his patient, he found her sleeping on the strong hunter. Roxton woke up when he heard footsteps coming closer. Assai entered just as Olteus began to speak.
"He wants to know if she's had more of the medicine? It is also time to change the bandages on her wounds," Assai translated.
"She's had two cups full," the hunter answered softly. "Don't let me stop you from doing your job, but I'm not moving. If I do, she'll wake up and she just fell back to sleep." Roxton looked at Olteus as Assai translated.
Olteus didn't say anything more as he went about changing the bandages on the sleeping woman. He and Assai left as quickly as they had come in. Veronica, Finn, and Challenger entered next. Veronica carried a plate with some food on it.
"I thought you might be hungry. You've been with her all day," the jungle beauty said quietly as she set the plate on the chair next to the bed.
"I intend to stay here all night as well. Thank you for the food, I'll eat later," the rugged huntsman whispered.
Marguerite stirred but did not wake up. Roxton motioned for the others to leave so their talking wouldn't wake her. After the others left, he nibbled on a bit of the food they had brought but soon gave up. He was too exhausted to eat. He was asleep before his eyes closed. Neither the heiress nor hunter moved all night. They slept soundly, comforted by the other's presence.
The next morning Marguerite woke up alone. Sometime in the early hours of the morning Roxton had managed to lay her down without waking her up. He had left a note beside a full cup of the remedy telling her that the cup had better be empty when he returned. She sighed as she picked up the cup and brought it to her lips, "If this doesn't kill whatever infection is inside me " she mumbled as she started drinking.
As the fiery brunette set the cup down on the table, Assai came in the hut to check on her.
"Did Roxton send you in here to spy on me?" she asked with a smile.
"No. Olteus asked if I would come change your bandages and make sure you were drinking the cure he made for you," Assai replied as she sat down.
She quickly changed the bandages and was about to leave when Marguerite asked, "Assai, do you know where Veronica put my pack? I have something in it that I need."
"I believe she left it over here," Assai said, going to a corner of the hut. She picked up the pack and brought it over to the injured woman, gently placing it on the right side of the bed.
Marguerite reached in and pulled out the tattered red and white striped shirt. She then looked at Assai. "I was wondering if you'd be willing to help me with something," she began.
Assai looked at the tattered and torn shirt in Marguerite's hand. "What may I do to help you?"
"Roxton's birthday is coming up and I want to make him a new shirt so he'll throw this one away," Marguerite replied.
"I see and how can I help?" Assai wondered, moving the pack to the floor.
"Well, I had planned on taking this shirt apart to use as a pattern for the new one, but it might take me much longer now that my left arm is injured. I would really appreciate it if you'd help me make the shirt," Marguerite commented, hoping that Assai would agree to help her; otherwise it might be Christmas before she finished the shirt herself.
"I would be happy to help, but there is one problem "
"Roxton I know. He won't leave me alone. He's so worried, not that I mind him fussing, but it will make it rather hard for me to sew if he's around," Marguerite interjected.
"Maybe I could ask Jarl to take him hunting during the day. We can tell Roxton that I'll stay with you while he's gone. Then we can both work on the shirt," Assai offered.
Marguerite smiled, "Perfect."
Concluded in Chapter 5