Title: One Good Deed
Summary: Kate gives aid to Adhemar.
Disclaimer: Not mine and I do not own them.
Feedback: Any is appreciated.
Author's Notes: Merry Christmas to all! I'll be back next week with a new chapter of 'Venus Revealed'. Until then, I hope this sees you through the holiday.
"I know what you did." Count Adhemar's voice was a silken purr, the very essence of pure satisfaction. The sound flowed through the air, a honeyed caress on the ears.
"I don't know what you refer to, my lord!" Christiana's distress was difficult to miss, panic edging those words.
Kate winced at that desperate timbre and ducked down even further behind the boards of the stall where she was making her bed, not willing to be caught unintentionally eavesdropping. The two conversing in hissing whispers on the other side definitely meant for their conversation to remain private, so Kate stayed still and silent, waiting for them to finish their exchange and leave, though she was afraid the end was not in sight. Long moments had already passed, Count Adhemar making it very clear that he had discovered Christiana had helped Lady Jocelyn to meet with Will privately. He was probably skulking in the shadows watching, she thought. It was certainly his style to do so.
"Don't you?" There was a harsh, indrawn breath, Christiana's Kate presumed, and Adhemar spoke again. "Oh, I think you do, Christiana. You, my pretty, have been a naughty girl." A pause. "And you have helped Jocelyn to be naughty as well." His laugh was short and humorless. "Yes, I know your predilection for lowly squires. Quite a history you have, girl."
"What do you want?" Christiana's tone was flat and dull, panic gone and resignation settling into place.
"Admit your part to Lady Jocelyn's father or I will go to your father and inform him of your meetings with that squire."
She could almost see Adhemar's smirking expression. The satisfaction curled about his words was thick and smug. Kate scowled. He would do what he said he would, she did not doubt that, but would Christiana risk bluffing him?
"Please, my lord, don't."
"Give me a good reason not to, Christiana." There was a slow drawl to his words.
"I'll be dismissed from my post!" She gave a choking cry. "I'll have nowhere to go."
"Yes." So much was said in that one tiny little word. He wanted her dismissed. He wanted her to be set out on her own without the protection of a lord. In all likelihood, he'd go to the young woman's father anyway and she would be bereft of help in any turn. No one would hire an untrustworthy maid to companion their daughter, therefore no one would protect her. Christiana would be fair game for a man on the prowl.
Now, there was only the sound of their breath. That's not good, Kate decided, easing herself up from her crouch to peer out at the two. Count Adhemar and Christiana were face to face, his hands cradling her jaw with a touch that looked gentle. His thumbs swept along her cheekbones, up and down. As Kate watched, the man stepped even closer, bending, one hand slipping through Christiana's long hair. Kate had to strain to hear his words.
"What are you willing to do to keep your secret safe?"
Christiana jerked her head back, Adhemar hauling her to him. In a bold movement uncharacteristic of the maid, she drew back her arm and snapped a punch at his face. The surprise on Adhemar's face was priceless as he reared back, his eyes going wide and breath catching, hands flying up to his face. Kate managed, at the last second, to keep from yelling out an encouraging cheer.
"Damn, girl." There was a delicate snap, Adhemar efficiently putting his nose back into place. Blood trickled down from his nostrils. He shook his head in a dazed fashion.
Further emboldened, Christiana lifted her skirts just a little, her foot lashing out and catching him in the shins. A pained grunt left Adhemar and he stumbled backwards.
Kate's mouth dropped open as the young woman fled the stables without a final retort. As much as she admired Christiana's gumption, there was the element of stupidity in what she had just done. There would be hell to pay later. Breaking the man's nose was no solution to the problem that plagued Christiana. In fact, it probably caused more troubles for her. It would not surprise Kate if Adhemar pursued Christiana all the more heavily after this.
Her gaze turned to Adhemar, waiting for him to stride from the stable. When that didn't occur, Kate took a longer, closer look at him. He was gasping for breath, one hand on his ribs, the other gingerly feeling his nose. Suddenly, he dropped heavily onto his knees. His broad back heaved, soft moans of pain reaching her ears as he keeled over.
He's hurt, she thought, instinct taking her over. He's hurt badly. She found herself standing, moving across the floor to him. As much as she disliked the man, she couldn't ignore someone in such obvious distress. A simple wound could kill if not tended and she didn't wish this man to die. He had every right to live as anyone else.
His dark head lifted at her approach, hazel eyes, glazed from pain, raking over her, taking in her simple dress, lingering on her face. "Leave me," he bit out through clenched teeth, an imperious dismissal Kate ignored.
"You're not well."
"Smart girl." His eyes narrowed and he swallowed audibly, dragging in another breath as though the effort to do so wearied him. "You're that farris Thatcher used."
"Kate. My name's Kate."
He rolled his eyes, disdain flickering in those orbs. "Leave me."
"You need help." Kate crouched down, looking for a cause of his pain besides his newly broken nose. There was a deep, neatly stitched wound on his brow and bruises along his face and neck where his armor had slammed against his flesh when he hit the ground nearly a week earlier. She could imagine the pain those bruises caused, especially the one on his neck. "I could get someone for you." Up close, she could see a paleness to his skin that she did not recall him having, and a tense strain on those aristocratic features.
"No one should see me thus. I will not be weak." He shifted his weight as if to rise, lips twisting in a grimace, only to sink back down, pressing a shaking left hand to his ribs. He tried twice more to rise, finally gritting out a curse that made Kate's brows raise.
Cautiously, she stretched out a hand to him. She would start with his ribs, see if there was blood on the cloth of his linen shirt. If there was, she'd get him to a surgeon, or find one to bring here. Kate touched the jackets edge, intending to pull it away, her fingers just grasping the fabric, when voices carried in to the stable.
"He came this way. Scurvy bastard."
"An' he won't even hear us if he's caught that wench he was chasin'. We'll slit his throat real silent-like."
Silent was the last thing those two men were.
Alarm lit Adhemar's gaze, a soundless query there as to if she would help him. Kate tamped down her sudden humor of the situation. Adhemar, arrogance supreme, needed help from a common farris, or he'd be killed by the men outside searching for him. He knew these men and knew why they were following him. Did he deserve the fate they had in mind for him? Probably, Kate decided, but not wounded and easy prey for them. Before she could analyze her motives, Kate nodded, tilting her head to one side, indicating the stall where she had been. She slipped her shoulder under his arm and heaved upward, using all of her strength to get him into the stall, muscles protesting his weight. He made no sound, not even a gasp, helping her as best he could.
Once there, Kate hurriedly dragged straw and blankets about them in the darkest corner, leaving only a tiny space to see. Adhemar's breath was warm on the slender column of her neck, the heat from his body almost burning. Dimly, she wondered if he was feverish.
"Where is he? He was just here!"
The two men made outraged noises that their quarry had given them the slip, but thankfully didn't linger in the stable. In minutes, Kate deemed it safe to leave, tossing the blankets and straw off of them and turning to Adhemar. His eyes were closed, long, curled lashes resting on sculpted cheekbones. She touched his shoulder. "My lord?"
His eyes opened, gaze unfocused as he stared at her. Finally, he blinked. "What?"
"May I..." Kate stopped, glancing at his jacket. Why even ask? He didn't seem in any real shape to keep her from her task. She started over, assuming an authority she did not truly have. "I'm going to look at your ribs." He turned his face away, pain flitting across his features. Kate lifted the fabric, leaning down to see. His shirt was stained a brown right about where he had pressed his hand before. Alarmed, Kate tugged his shirt out of his breeches, unable to suppress a gasp at the sight revealed.
There was a wound there, unbound and weeping blood from an ugly scab. The skin around the scab was an angry red and puffed slightly. "Dear God, you need a surgeon immediately."
"Surgeons are fools. I refuse to lose any more blood to their leeches."
Kate glanced up to see him watching her. She released his shirttail. "You need care."
A shrug of his shoulders, one hand lifting, the heel of his palm blotting at his forehead. "I've survived worse than that scratch."
"Well, you won't survive if it's not tended. Is there someone among your men who can help you?" Of all the bull-headed men she knew, this was carrying it to the utmost hilt. Why does this not surprise me that he should refuse professional care? He shouldn't even be out of bed, let alone chasing a woman throughout London. Shows where his thoughts are centered.
He sighed, tongue darting out to lick his lips. His hand dropped heavily into his lap. "No. Only the surgeon."
"And you refuse to let him look at this." Kate was certain her opinion of his decision was plain on her face, for he gave her a startled look.
"You tend me. You people have remedies for everything."
"You people? What exactly do you mean by that, my lord?"
Another shrug. "Peasants. You tend yourselves most times. Have you knowledge that could help me?" His words were coming slower, as though he was having to force them out, and his eyes kept slipping shut, head lolling about in a drunken manner.
Slowly, Kate nodded. She'd helped her husband enough times when he'd been injured to know what needed to be done. A poultice, she thought, would do nicely to draw the poisons from the wound. She would have to work constantly to keep it fresh. "I do." It was a good thing she was caught up on her work. The only downside to tending him though, was that she needed money to live. Not working meant no pay. Later, she decided. She'd think about it later. Just get him cared for.
"The Merry Boar." He lifted a hand, waved it in the direction he and Christiana had come from.
Between the two of them, they managed to return him to his feet. Walking proved interesting, for they stumbled together like they'd both imbibed a trifle too much and it wasn't quite dark yet. Not that it concerned Kate over much. She'd get him to his room at the Merry Boar inn and return for any of her things that she needed. Who cared if anyone thought she was a bit drunk? As for her companions, they would likely notice Adhemar first if they saw them and not think Kate would be with him. She would be ignored.
No one seemed to notice or even care when they stumbled into the inn and up the stairs, Adhemar directing her to his room, the guard outside the door dismissed with a limp wave of Adhemar's hand. There was no time for Kate to notice the furnishings. Adhemar barely made it to the bed before collapsing. His skin was hotter than before, his pallor deathly. Kate had not seen skin turn so pale so fast since her husband had....
No, she decided firmly, gently stripping the man's coat and shirt from him. I won't give in to thinking about him now. It wasn't the time or the place to reminisce the past. Right now she had to think about Adhemar. The fever was taking him far faster than she'd ever seen it, making her wonder if he was sporting an older, still festering wound somewhere on his person. She set about making a mental list of the things she needed, studying him as she thought. Even in repose, his features were not soft. No, there was a hard edge to him sleeping or waking. Kate rested her hip on the edge of the wide bed, wondering if she should dare to remove his breeches. She probably should to make him comfortable, but....
A knock sounded at the door, the panel opening before Kate could say anything. "My lord Adhemar...." Kate recognized the man standing there, though she had never bothered to learn his name. He was Count Adhemar's herald, his surprise on seeing her fleeting -- and feigned, Kate thought -- the man quickly bowing, moving as though to leave. "A thousand pardons for the interruption my lord --"
"Your lord is ill." It occurred to Kate what this man thought and she hastily stood from the bed, crossing her arms over her breast. Of course the man dismissed would have reported to someone that Adhemar was back and naturally the seemingly drunken stumbling of their arrival would have been noted. So why, she speculated, would this herald burst in to a potentially delicate situation? Unless....
She glanced at the bed. Unless, this man knew Adhemar was chasing Christiana about and had burst in thinking to distract his lord from that maid. A rescue attempt? The idea made her give the man a closer look. His brows were raised, eyes traveling her form with undisguised curiosity -- like I'm not the woman he expected.
"Ill?" He queried.
"And passed out."
Now he came forward, carefully closing the door behind him, his steps light and soft on the floor. After a moments glance at Adhemar, he nodded. "I see. I'll fetch the surgeon."
"Wait." Kate placed her hand on his arm long enough to stall him. "He wants no surgeon. I can tend him if I have the proper herbs."
He stared at her, then at his lord. His indecision was clear. If he took her word and she lied, then he'd be disciplined. On the contrary, if he did not take her word and she didn't lie, then he'd be disciplined.
Oh what a delicate balance must be maintained. Kate waited, the decision taking longer than she'd thought it would. At last, the man nodded. "Very well. What do you need?"
Kate told him.
Hours later, with the room lit by candles and stifling hot from the fire that had to be kept, she was regretting her offer of aid. Her back ached, even more so than it did after a long day's work, and Adhemar had grown delirious with the fever. He didn't speak clear enough for her to make out what he was seeing in his fever dreams, his words garbled and slurred. Time and again, she had to call the herald and another man in the room to hold Adhemar down so she could work. For four days, she labored in the room, the men relieving her so she could take quick naps and eat, until Adhemar's skin lost that fiery heat that had blazed over her while she worked.
A room was procured for her, Germaine -- the herald's name she'd found -- pressing her to rest, assuring her that he'd sent a man to make certain her belongings had not been stolen. Kate slept, enjoying the fine bed usually reserved for nobility. Her head rested on a soft pillow and the covers were divine wrapped about her. When morning came, she glanced in at her patient.
He was sleeping soundly on his back, soft snores issuing from his parted lips. Tiptoeing out of the room, Kate went about her day, returning in the evening to find him awake and scowling at the tray of food Germaine was holding.
"It's swill and I will not eat it regardless of how nourishing it may or may not be. Take it away and bring me a proper dinner."
"But my lord...."
Men were always bad patients in Kate's experience, whiny and demanding, and it seemed this man was going to be no different. Shrugging her cloak from her shoulders, she laid it over a chair and went to the bedside, peering in the bowl on the tray. "You don't like stew?" He was propped up in the bed, sheets pooled in his lap and watching her with the same humoring expression she knew was on her own face.
"No farris, I don't like stew. I get quite enough of it as a soldier and I don't need it now as well."
"Well I like stew." She gave Germaine a sweet smile. "I'll eat it, Germaine."
"Yes, she'll eat it. You can get me something different."
Kate took the bowl and crust of bread and sat in the chair that her cloak was on, scooping the thick stew up and forcing herself to eat slowly. With Germaine gone on his errand, she was alone in the room with Count Adhemar. He wasn't interested in conversation apparently, for the silence stretched out minute after minute. The stew was good, not great and Kate wondered if the herald would have any luck finding anything that would please Adhemar. She very much doubted it.
"You're a widow."
His voice startled her, and she swallowed the last bite of bread before answering. "Yes. My husband died --"
She blinked, ignoring the interruption. "I had no relatives in France and quite a few jobs to finish. Guild rules state --"
"You kept your husband's business. I don't want to hear your life story, farris. I was stating a fact. That you are a farris tells me your husband was one. That you work alone intimates that he has died."
His superior tone rankled. Kate decided that being argumentative would not be in her best interests. She smiled agreeably. "It could have been my father died. Or my brother."
He snorted, rearranging the sheets and blankets on his lap, plucking at the bandage on his side. "It doesn't work that way."
"Aren't we irritable when we're peckish?" She mumbled in the softest tone she could manage, setting the bowl on the table and brushing crumbs from her skirt.
"Yes, we are a little testy when hungry." At her surprised glance, he snorted again. "I'm not deaf. I can hear you perfectly well, farris."
She clasped her hands together for a moment, gathering her courage to go near him, then crossed back to the bedside. He anticipated her, leaning forward and raising his arms to give her access to the bandage. Kate sat beside him, trying to ignore his cool stare as she unwound the strips of cloth from his ribs. "I have a name."
"Yes, I know. Why on earth would I use it?"
Through the years of her life, Kate had often come across the attitude of some nobles that peasants were the lowest of beings. That this man could feel the same why was no surprise. It was his tone though, that made her pause, her arms about him and hands untangling the cloth strips. She looked quickly up, then back at her task. "Why not use it?"
"Because I have not bedded you," was his frank answer, spoken in a way that suggested she should have known it.
Luckily, the cloth slipped away from him, giving her an excuse to get up and move away. "What does that have to do with using my name?" The used linen went into the fire, feeding the flames that flickered low, Kate keeping her back to him. The thought of being with him was not completely repulsive, yet neither did it rouse any deep, passionate longing within her. She had to admit however, she was...curious about him, this man who'd pursued the Lady Jocelyn to the point of attempted murder of another suitor.
"I do not often use a peasant woman's given name unless I have bedded her. A name is an intimate thing really, implying familiarity, and I have no wish to lower myself and become overly familiar with peasants."
Kate returned to the bed to look at the wound. "I see. You can sit back now." He did, Kate feeling the measuring weight of his perusal as she checked the healing progress on his wound. The skin had lost its puffiness and the redness was also gone. In a couple days, she guessed, he would be up and about terrorizing the countryside in his usual manner.
"For a peasant, you're fairly attractive. Your features are fine and the years have not been unkind to you." A languid hand stretched out, fingers brushing her cheek. "I'd bed you were I feeling better. Something tells me you would be an entertaining conquest."
Kate reached for the clean strips of linen that were on the table beside the bed, trying to ignore the heat his statement brought to her cheeks. His satisfied murmur nearly made her drop the strips. He couldn't distract her more if he tried. How was she supposed to work when he was saying he'd like to bed her?
"A reaction. Mmm. How very interesting." His hands lashed out in a lightning quick movement, trapping her wrists in his grip and pulling her closer.
She should have struggled; should have thrown herself backwards. Kate didn't however. It was one thing to patch a man up from his own stupidity and another thing entirely to have to patch him up again from her stupidity. If she struggled, that healing place on his ribs would be reopened, and then where would she be? Kate prepared herself in seconds for whatever he was planning to do to her. He couldn't bed her, not with that place on his ribs still hurting, so she wasn't as alarmed as she'd be if he were well. Of course, if he were well, she wouldn't be alone with him in his chamber at the inn.
"I like dark haired women. Blondes leave me cold and redheads....too temperamental. I prefer a dark haired woman for my bed sport." Her wrists were placed in one hand, leaving his other to roam her face and figure. Roam he did, too, but not in a lustful manner. It was more like he was looking over a horse before purchasing it, a coldness to his appraisal.
"Would I have no say?" She managed to ask, sitting still. It was possible to nearly ignore his hand traveling her body, those little rubs and squeezes he was indulging himself in, but not the man himself. No, he commanded her attention. Even ill, there was a presence about him, an arrogance that made him seem confident. Where had Germaine gotten to, she wondered suddenly. Kate strained to hear if the man was coming down the hallway, but no sounds came through the closed door. Why wasn't he back yet?
Adhemar's hazel gaze bored into hers. "Not really." Tilting his head, he leaned close, lips very near to hers. She waited for the kiss she was certain would come, her heart thudding painfully hard in her chest. He leaned closer still, until Kate could almost feel his lips on hers. "And after all this," he ran his hand over her breasts. "I will still call you 'farris'." She was released, an annoyed expression creeping into his gaze. "Go see what's keeping Germaine."
Gladly, Kate fled.
For the next two days, whenever she changed his bandage, he would look at her as though she was his next meal, a feast he planned to indulge in, but couldn't quite decide where to start. One last day, she decided. That was all. After that, he was in the hands of his men. They were more than capable of changing a bandage occasionally.
The next day, she made her way to the chamber where Adhemar rested. Upon opening the door, she was surprised to see him standing at the window, partially dressed. He turned as she closed the door.
"The healer returns. Have you other talents as well?"
Kate set her satchel down on a chair, uncertain how to respond. She settled on a respectful query. "My lord?"
He tilted his head and raised his arms from his sides. "Well? Do you pronounce me fit?"
Going to him, Kate unwound the bandage that covered his wound. Once the poisons had gone from his system, he'd healed quickly. The scab was still along the wound, but the skin was healthy and pink around it. It took only a glance for her to decide he was fine. "Yes." She fingered the bandage. He really didn't need it back on.
"About that day...."
She set the bandage on the table, clasping her hands together and waiting. "Yes?"
"You heard everything." There was the slightest lilt at the end of the sentence, though it was not a question. At her tentative nod, he continued. "And what will you do with what you know?"
Her eyes widened. "Nothing. It's not my business."
He grasped her hands, raised the up and studied them, sharp gaze seeing the rough fingertips and calluses on her palms. One hand was released, his fingers sliding over the other, a tactile perusal that tickled just a little. "Good girl. Smart girl." Adhemar placed her palm on his cheek. "I've never had a farris before." The stress he put on her profession was unmistakable. He meant 'had' as in 'taken to bed'. Did the man think of anything else?
Kate gasped, snatching her hand back, only to have it caught again, this time pressed full to the healing pink skin. When she tugged, he held on, keeping her there. His grip was iron, yet gentle at the same while. She looked up, her raising face meeting his lowering one, free hand going to his chest in a futile effort to put distance between them.
The kiss was everything she knew the man to be, both certain and arrogant with no hesitancy at all. He kissed her because he chose to do so, and kissed how he wanted to have her. Kate stood as passively as she could. Beneath her hands, she could feel that stretch of muscles moving beneath his warm skin. She found her back suddenly against the wall, his hand resting in a familiar fashion on her rear.
His tongue prised her lips apart, darting quick and hot, not attempting to truly draw hers into play, but rather satisfying himself. The pressure of his mouth on hers was even, demanding she stay still.
A tiny thrill worked its way along Kate's flesh, the barest softening of her thoughts towards him. It had been so long since she had allowed a man to get near her. Even persistent Wat had not gotten so much as a gentle touch from her hand. She was brought flush against Adhemar, full breasts crushed to his bare, lightly furred chest. Her hands slid on his skin. Sometime during the kiss he had released his grip on her wrist....She could feel the tips of her breasts tingling, tightening into hard points, feel that stirring of arousal within her. She started to give in to her curiosity...and was released, Adhemar stepping back, raising her limp and trembling hand to his lips. One brow quirked, the smallest hint of amusement on his handsome features as he pressed a kiss to her fingertips.
"I thank you for the treatment, farris, and for your care. Your acquaintance has been...enlightening." He dropped her hand, picking up his shirt and dragging it on, lean fingers working the closures for it.
Kate stood still and staring, somewhat aghast. What had just happened? She'd thought....Well, never mind what she'd thought, since she'd obviously been very wrong. Wrong indeed. She licked her lips and began to gather her satchel and cloak, not speaking for fear her voice would quiver. It occurred to her that he was now in full health. He didn't have to be courteous or even nice to her. He didn't have to let her go.
"Farris." His voice took on the hard edge she remembered from the tournaments. "Why did you help me? You could have let those men kill me."
Back to him, she shrugged. "I'd have helped anyone hurt like you were."
Warm strong hands touched her shoulders, thumbs kneading in little circles. "Really? Anyone?" She could feel the heat of his body behind her.
"Aye." Goosebumps pricked her flesh. There had been a shift between them, the manner of their discourse changed. He was once more fully in charge, the lord and not the patient, and she was only a peasant woman, inconsequential and normally beneath notice. Kate didn't like the change, or the tension it brought. She hated that feeling of inferiority. "What...What're you doing, my lord?" Her question was a tentative one, her manner falling back into the respectful attitude she had learned as a little girl. Old habits die hard.
Her hair was draped over her shoulder, the hand that had done so skimming her back while the other kept kneading. "You're not really afraid of me, are you?"
What should she answer? In truth, she was afraid of what he was capable of doing, but not the man himself. Potentially stupid, yet true.
"Most peasants fear me. They hate me even."
I do fear you," she stated, hands twisting in the fabric of her satchel. Would he repay kindness with hurt? Would she come to regret her moments of concern over the hurts of another human being?
He turned her. "I've not had any woman show such concern, despite wariness of me. You set aside your feelings. You could have left me there to die, or even watched me die at the hands of those two men, but you didn't." Puzzlement flickered in his gaze. A purse was dangled from his hand. "Take this for your lost time, little farris. Perhaps we'll meet again at Tournament."
Again, she was released, her bewilderment rising. She couldn't fathom the last bit of his speech. Did he want something or not? She had felt in her bones that he had intended to do something to her, yet he hadn't. Once more, the quality of the tension surrounding them changed. No longer was it charged with expectancy, only a normal bit of caution.
"You are free to go, Kate."
Her gaze fastened on the purse. Perhaps it would be best not to question her dismissal, or his use of her name. She felt rather like a mouse released by a cat bored with the game of chase. A one-time reprieve. Snatching the purse from him, Kate lifted her bag and left the chamber, refusing to give in to the impulse to glance back.
If she had turned, she might have noticed the tiny sad smile that lifted the corners of Adhemar's mouth before the door slammed shut behind her.