Authors: Lorna Benson
The Knight and The Healer
A Medieval Romance
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means, including scanning, photocopying, or otherwise without prior written permission of the author or Walla2 Publishers. Copyright © 2016
The Year 1227 AD was a relatively peaceful one along the Scottish-English border. The red-headed Scottish King Alexander II was in the middle of a reign known for the extended peace with England. The border issues appeared settled with the signing of the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215 AD.
"Oh my God, I've never seen so much blood." Elizabeth Duncan was tall for a woman. With a trim body and a generous bosom, men found her quite attractive. She wore her long blond hair twisted into a single braid hanging straight down her back. Bright blue eyes reflected her intelligence although worry was written on her fair face as she looked down at the injured body.
A bleeding knight lay on a blanket on the forest floor in a small clearing surrounded by Moorland scrub and other ferns. Tall pines provided a backdrop to the scene. His torn sky blue tunic had been cast aside. A number of people, some sobbing quietly, were crowded around the body. Chain mail had been removed from his chest and stacked neatly on his left. A thin undergarment was ripped exposing a long, diagonal gash running from his left shoulder to his navel. The gash was bleeding profusely.
Beth turned to her young assistant, "Leah, get me all the sphagnum moss we brought and please hurry! What's his name, this knight?"
"Sir Malcolm McIvor" answered one of the squires standing nearby.
"Well, Sir Malcolm is in dire condition. I'm not very optimistic about his prospects; he's barely breathing and, as you can see, he has lost a tremendous amount of blood."
Leah returned with two handfuls of the golden colored spongy moss. "There wasn't much in the saddle bags, I'm afraid this is all we have."
Beth quickly pressed the moss directly into the wound slowing the flow of blood. "Is there a swamp nearby? Could you send some of these people to fetch more moss? They aren't doing any good standing here crying."
"There is," replied the knight kneeling at Sir Malcolm's head, "It's west of here, about a mile. He looked to the group that surrounded the fallen knight, "Go. Do as these ladies have requested and be quick about it."
"Look for the golden kind. It works better and hurry. He won't last long.", Beth yelled after them as they headed for their horses. As the clopping of the horses' hooves faded, the helpful knight spoke, "You must be the new healer. I'm the Laird of Klayloch and Clan McCaul, Sir Paul McCaul. My wife, Lady Margaret, told me she had arranged for you to join us at Castle Klayloch. She's heard very good things about you. I surely hope you can save Sir Malcolm. He's very special."
"I promise to do my very best, my lord. I am Lady Elizabeth Duncan, but I would prefer you called me Beth. To be candid, Sir Paul, this knight is in serious trouble. I don't expect him to make it through the night. You can see he has lost a huge amount of blood and is very pale. This, by the way is Leah. She is my assistant, my apprentice and good friend."
The group stood in silence, staring at poor Malcolm, Beth was kneeling at his side. She carefully removed the moss and replaced it with what little she had left. The blood was beginning to clot, but she still needed to stop the crimson flow pooling at his side. In the distance, she heard the sound of a horse approaching at a gallop and skidding to a stop. Breathless, Leah rushed to Beth's side and handed her a bundle of moss "We found quite a bit, so there's more coming. I left the others while they were still gathering so I could hurry back."
Beth turned back to her patient. She very carefully removed the blood-soaked moss and applied the fresh plant material.
It was an hour or so and several moss exchanges later that Beth noticed Sir Malcolm's improvement. "Sir Paul, The bleeding has stopped. Sir Malcolm is looking better but we can't leave him here. Could you arrange to have him moved to the castle?" A litter was improvised by using two long limbs and several tunics spread between them. Sir Malcolm was carefully lifted onto the litter and, with Beth at his side, the slow walk back to the castle began.
"How much further, my lord?" Beth's skirt was very heavy, caked in mud, and soaking wet. She was tired, her back ached and her stomach was growling with hunger. She had arrived at the site of the injury on horseback but felt compelled to walk at the head of the improvised litter to be near her patient.
"We are quite close now," Sir Paul replied, you will be able to see the castle as soon as we are out of these trees. I apologize, my men are trained for this strenuous activity but you women surely are not. I know this must be hard on you."
On three occasions, Sir Paul had ordered a rest break and a change of carriers.
Within a half hour and a half dozen stumbles later, she had passed through the uneven terrain of the woods. She could see Castle Klayloch clearly. Instead of being surrounded by a moat as were most castles, The Castle sat on a peninsula with a fast flowing river surrounding three sides, a perfect defensive location.
The Castle's distance from the tree line meant any invaders would be exposed long before they could reach the outer walls. It was larger than Beth expected and even from their current distance she could see it was bustling with activity. A single column of gray smoke arose from the structure's fires. The stone Castle looked regal and tall, in contrast to the squat stone structures so popular with those built by the Normans following their successful invasion several centuries earlier.
Sir Paul had sent two squires ahead; one to have the maids prepare a bedroom for the grievously wounded Sir Malcolm and one to inform the cooks to begin preparations so a hot meal would be ready to feed the group upon their arrival.
Slowly, the procession approached the castle. They crossed the oak bridge spanning the dark moat and entered through the barbican and on to the main gate. Beth was taken back at the size of the crowd that had gathered in the castle's large central courtyard. Word had traveled about their famous patient. Clearly, Sir Malcolm was a popular figure.
When Sir Paul reached the center of the gathering, he addressed the crowd of tradesmen, peasants, food makers and others. He made a plea. "Sir Malcolm lives, but only barely. He could surely use your prayers." Many of the women dissolved in tears. A number headed for the Chapel.
Several volunteers took over carrying the litter. The litter bearers entered the multi-storied keep with Beth following close behind. After negotiating a set of stairs, they entered a large bedroom on the third floor. Lady Margaret, a short but comely brunette, was introduced as Sir Paul's wife. She exuded confidence and authority.
She was clearly in charge of supervising the room's preparations. A fire was underway in the large firepit in the center of the room. Several pots hung over the fire, suspended by three large iron hooks.
The crackling fire had raised the temperature in the room to a comfortable level and would keep the room at that level throughout the night. Most of the smoke would rise and escape through vents in the ceiling but leaving a definite smoky scent.
A large bed was nearby. It was covered with pillows, comforters, and blankets. Carefully, the townsmen started to place Sir Malcolm onto the bed. "Please just hold him for a moment before you put him down," addressing the litter bearers. Beth surveyed the room. "Please, strip the bed completely," she requested of the two servant women tending the fire. The volunteers holding the litter paused while the servants made quick work of ridding the bed of the pillows and blankets that had generously covered it. "Thank you, you may go now." The women servants scurried from the room while the townsmen carefully lowered Sir Malcolm on to the stripped bed. Lady Elizabeth stayed to provide support.
Gingerly, Beth undressed the knight, replacing his garments with a simple white sheet she draped over him for modesty and ease of access. While doing so, she couldn't help but notice his nearly perfect body. His shoulders were broad with heavy musculature, his chest wide and, except for the wound, well-defined. Heavily-muscled, his thighs and legs clearly showed the benefit from hours of strenuous exercise. His physique would be the envy of any man and surely thrill many a maiden at the mere sight of him.
Beth struggled to remember she was a healer and as such, needed to remain impervious to the physical attraction she was developing to this man. She felt heat rising like steam within her chest. Her attempt to ignore his virile body was futile, at best. Her blush showed she wasn't fully successful. Leah and she exchanged subtle but knowing glances as she finished with the dressing.
Lady Margaret, who was still in the room during the preparation, approached Beth.
"Beth, you must be about to drop. Why don't you go to your home and have a bit of a lie down? Let Mal sleep before you start your treatments. I'll stay here and we'll fetch you if anything changes."
"Too be frank, I am exhausted. While I don't think it will be necessary, I will leave an elixir to use, should he wake. She handed Lady Margaret as small vial. Just put 6 drops of this in a glass of ale. He'll sleep 'til morning. Of course, I'll leave Leah here to monitor his condition."
As soon as Beth arrived at her cottage, she pushed through the gate and was greeted by the soothing scent of the medicinal herbs and spices growing in her garden. The adrenalin that had coursed through her veins from the excitement of the night had faded quickly and she felt the full weight of the challenge ahead of her.
Oh, how she wished her uncle, Sir Alfred de Roux, was here right now. His unending knowledge of the body and how to heal it was unsurpassed. Many years ago, Uncle Alfred graduated from the University of Montpelier as a physician and had been very successful during his career treating only royalty, a stipulation of his education. His mere presence would give her the peace of mind to accomplish the task of healing the handsome Sir Malcolm.
She would be seeing him soon. She dearly loved her mother's brother. He was her only living relative. He, also, was her confidant, her source of moral support and her teacher. They met often for her secret lessons. He was quite elderly and unable to travel distances, so she visited him nearly every weekend at his home. It was a trip she would be making again in a few days' time.
Beth wearily climbed the stairs to her bedroom and lit a fire in the pit in order to boil water. The next item on her upstairs agenda was to strip herself of her filthy garments, toss them in the corner for Leah's attention later and slip into a light shift. There were two trunks at the foot of her neatly made bed.
The larger leather trunk was from her past. It contained dresses and bodices from her days as the wife of the late Sir David Duncan. She had not opened the trunk in two years.
In the smaller trunk she kept her daily outfits, much more appropriate, she felt, for a healer to wear but, not particularly glamorous. She selected tomorrow's wardrobe from the trunk and laid it across the closed lid of the larger trunk.
She next began to prepare medicinal supplies to take to the castle. First, she poured a generous supply of vinegar, a known disinfectant, into a jug. Beth added fresh mint she had crushed with her mortar and pestle to the vinegar. Mint was widely believed to aid in healing.
She paused for a moment before adding myrrh, a powerful antiseptic. The oil was expensive and difficult to obtain since it was found only in the holy lands, but, Sir Paul had told her not to worry about the costs. So she included the spice in her formula hoping it would keep any lingering infection at bay. She included a supply of mustard, an acknowledged condiment possessing antiseptic qualities.
And lastly, she added Yarrow to the formula, the pretty yellow blossom works particularly well on battle wounds.
With that task completed, she could finally pay attention to her needs. Lady Margaret's advice was sound and she desperately needed to rest.
Her height and hair color caused her to stand out and probably resulted from her Viking forebearers. By now, the water was hot so she scrubbed her face, hands, generous breasts and private parts. Now nude but clean, Beth crawled under the covers and quickly was asleep.
Unfortunately, though, she kept tossing and turning making continuous sleep difficult. She kept worrying about Sir Malcolm's wound. Finally, she gave up, dressed in the work clothes she'd laid out, quickly watered her garden and hurriedly left for the castle.