I struggled in Evander’s arms as he lifted me up. “Let me see Sleipnir!” I insisted.
Evander looked over at the massive horse, who nickered and lowered his head slightly. “He seems rather taken with you, milady,” he noted.
“He… This may sounds ridiculous, but he’s always been a friend to me in my dreams.”
“That must be why he wanted to come with us so badly,” I heard another voice say. It was older, almost gravelly.
I looked over to see that a centaur had come up to us, carrying a man on his back with a long chestnut beard, braided in interspersed with carved beads, and eyes like chocolate. He wore a metal helmet and sturdy armor that did nothing to hide his stocky build. He gazed at me, sizing me up and making me even more frustrated that Evander was now in care-taker mode.
“Don’t let me keep you out here,” the bearded man said. He climbed down from the centaur– he seemed to be used to it, because as short as he was, he was very nimble. “That wound needs to be treated before it causes an infection.”
The man didn’t wait for Evander to respond, but headed into the manor house. Jean-Marc then came up beside us, as well as Brom and Aubré.
“Was it a bite?” Jean-Marc asked when he saw that I was bleeding.
I shook my head. “Just its claws.”
“And those are bad enough!” Aubré told me. “Those beasts think nothing of filth and would sooner chew their toenails than so much as go for a swim.”
I wrinkled my nose at that mental image. Instead, I had Evander bring me closer to Sleipnir so I could put his snout and whisper to him.
“Thank you for helping me,” I told him, and he nickered and pressed against my hands.
“It’s time to get you inside,” Brom said after a short time. “You’re bleeding everywhere. Jean-Marc and I can show Sleipnir and the centaurs to the stables and make sure he gets cleaned up and well-fed. Aubré can help Evander dress your wounds.”
I wanted to protest, to follow Sleipnir and help wash him, but the gashes stung, and I doubt that Evander would have put me down. I resigned myself to being carried into the manor house and set tenderly on one of the armchairs. Within a few minutes, a bowl of warm water was brought in, as well as towels, tinctures, salve, and bandages.
“Fortunately for you,” Aubré said as he laid a towel under my arm and got to work on wiping the blood away with another, “our views on medicine are much better than what the Terrans believed a few hundred years ago.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “it’s almost hard to believe that anyone ever thought leeches and blood-letting were good ideas. By the way, I guess by the fact that you’re not freaking out more that a werewolf’s scratch can’t… umm… change me.”
“Into a werewolf?” Evander asked. “Not in the least, milady. And I must apologize that I was not more diligent in preventing this. It had no chance at all of biting you, but I feel that I could have done more to keep its claws away from you.”
“Uh… well…” I winced as Aubré moved on to cleaning the scratches with a tincture of some kind. “I guess I should admit that I got a little too close. I don’t even know why; I wanted to see what was going on without getting in the way.”
“Sometimes matters can get out of hand,” Evander said.
I think Aubré wanted to make some sort of comment, too, but he was biting his tongue.
“Now that you have seen what the others intended to keep you safe from, milady,” Evander went on, “what are your thoughts?”
“Oh, I have a lot of them,” I said. “Cerberus is real here, and so is Sleipnir. Centaurs are real– was that Nikolai, by the way, riding one of them?”
“It was indeed,” he confirmed. “I can give you a proper introduction once we are done here.”
“He– is it rude to ask if he’s a dwarf?”
“I doubt he’d mind at all,” Aubré said with a nod. “He’s rather proud of his heritage.”
“Okay…” I sighed and paused to think. “I’m tempted to think that anything from mythology and folklore can be here… but I don’t want to get carried away and think that everything is possible.”
“A wise distinction to make, milady,” Evander noted. “How is your wound feeling?”
“Umm… better, for the most part.”
“Does it sting or burn any more than deep scratches would back in your world?” Aubré asked.
“No,” I told him. “If it did, what would that mean?”
“It would mean the monsters had poisoned their claws,” he told me. “They only do that for planned battles, though, and not even all of those. They were so disorganized out there, though, it seems like this was an opportunistic fight.”
“It is entirely plausible that Nikolai did something to enrage them,” Evander added.
“Could it have had something to do with Sleipnir?” I asked as I looked up at him.
“We’ll ask him in a bit,” Aubré said. He put aside his tinctures now that the wounds were clean, then opened a jar of salve; it was the color of sage and smelled fresh and comforting. “This will help it heal and ease the pain a little.”
I nodded, and he spread the salve generously over each gash. It did feel nice, and I was glad that he’d had the salve on hand. Within a few minutes, they had my wound wrapped and bandaged, and we only needed to clean ourselves up a bit for before returning to the dining hall.
At that moment, however, my main concern was not food, but the fact that I would be seeing Stefan in less than two weeks. He would notice a bandage or healing wounds, and I wondered how I was going to explain this to him. He’d already had a dream that told him I wasn’t perfectly safe; what could I say to him that wouldn’t be an outright lie?
A little something seasonal to go with today’s reading. It has a touch of melancholy to it, but also a level of sophistication. Happy listening!