Title: Time Heals All
Summary: Will and Christiana take Adhemar home for care after finding him injured by thieves. WARNING-- rape mentioned.
Disclaimer: 'A Knight's Tale' and the characters are the property of Columbia Pictures. I make no money off of this work of fan fiction.
Notes: Anyone who knows my writings well know that I tend to take the characters I like and make them walk through hell and back. This is not a fluffy style romance. This is a story dealing with a serious occurrence and any romantic undertones will be darker than my previous works. As for the subject matter of male rape: I'm not a slash writer and have no wish to be one, so there will be no graphic 'flashbacks' of what Adhemar suffered. The focus is not on the rape itself, but rather the trauma of it. I will, however, attempt to portray the healing process in a somewhat believable manner. It will not be rushed or dealt with lightly, so please don't expect new chapters weekly.
If anyone, and I mean anyone, feels this should have a higher rating, please contact me and I will be more than happy to change it. I know the subject is squicky.
There was a man tied to a tree, his arms lashed to a branch above his bowed head. He had been stripped to the waist, his chest and back one mass of cuts, both fresh and older, red with infection. Dark bruises of varying degrees of yellow, violet and black covered the flesh not adorned with cuts. Will urged his mount closer, wincing to see such wounds. He could imagine the agony the man was in.
The clearing was quiet and still. Makeshift tents were scattered and the fire pit was cold, no lingering wisp of smoke trailing upwards from the ashes. The scent of scorched meat, however, did linger, a pungent unpleasant scent. Will took it all in in a scant few seconds, his gaze never resting for long on any one thing, but rather seeing and registering every secret the clearing had to give up. When his perusal was completed, he returned his attention to the man. The arms were nearly at an unnatural angle and Will decided it was only a matter of time before the strain of hanging that way yanked the arms fully from the sockets.
The broad back barely moved with breath and Will had to narrow his eyes to even tell the man still breathed. The breeches he wore were torn and dirty, mud caking the lower part of the legs. He couldn't leave a man here, couldn't leave anyone to the tender mercies of these thieves that were terrorizing the countryside.
Dismounting, he approached with caution, though he knew the thieves that had set this camp up to all be elsewhere. He had watched them leave one by one, all twelve. With a glance left and right, he reached beneath the man's chin and raised it to see his face.
Shock made him let go.
This man, strung up and beaten near to death, was Adhemar. Although the face was swollen with bruises, the eyes so puffed Will doubted he could even open them, it was still recognizable as Adhemar. He didn't think he'd ever forget that face, even if fifty years passed.
What do I do, he thought, teeth biting into his lip. Do I take him away or leave him here? For all I know, this punishment is just. He would leave me were I thus, likely adding his own marks upon me.
He turned his gaze heavenward to the brilliant blue of the sky barely visible through the great tent of green leaves. Leaving him here to die would make me as bad as he. Show your honor boy and get him to help! He doesn't need to know who rescued him.
The decision made, Will slid one arm about the man to brace him, grimacing as blood slickened his palm and nearly caused him to lose his grip. With his knife, he sawed through the ropes holding the man in place until Adhemar's weight dropped onto him. A fevered groan came low from Adhemar's lips. The heat of his skin was searing, a fire brand through the layers of Will's shirt and coat.
Oh dear God, he's taken a fever. It'll be a miracle if he doesn't perish from it.
It was a trial getting him over the back of his horse, but Will managed, then headed back the way he'd come. The ride to where Christiana waited seemed to take hours instead of the short while he guessed it to be. She was still there waiting, her knife in hand until she saw it was him. Then, she re-sheathed it.
"I see you found a survivor," she said, calm gaze taking in the limp form draped over the horse.
Why she hadn't taken off screaming into the woods was a mystery to Will. The bodies of a full garrison of soldiers lay slaughtered on the ground of the clearing, the stench of death in the air, the blood in dark, stinking puddles on the earth. It was enough to make him choke and his eyes water, but Christiana seemed unaffected, taking deep breaths as though the air was sweet with the scent of wildflowers. Perhaps it was for her, he thought. He'd ceased to try and make sense of her mind in the last few months. "Aye. It's Adhemar. He'll die if he doesn't get care soon."
Riding close, the hooves of her horse stepping almost delicately over the bodies on the ground, she stretched out a hand to touch the edge of one particularly nasty cut. "This one is deep. It needs stitching." Christiana glanced at the bodies on the ground with an unconcerned air. "I recognized the colors of his house. One of the men still carries a flag with Adhemar's coat of arms."
"You didn't mention it before."
"I didn't think he was with them. By the last rumor, he'd gone to Venice." One shoulder lifted in a shrug. "I'm surprised he was caught." Her hand went to Adhemar's head, slipped through his hair, fingers searching along his scalp. "I don't feel any bumps."
"He was tied, arms over his head." He tried to think of somewhere they could take the man, any place where the services of a reputable surgeon could be found. None leapt to mind. It had been too long since he'd traversed these roads of France; too long since he'd lived in the country. He knew little of which surgeons were the best. Even Christiana had been gone too long to be able to say.
Her fingers ran along Adhemar's jaw, raising his chin slightly. Slowly, she studied him. She cleared her throat. "I can give the care he needs."
Will stared at her. He hadn't even considered asking her to be the care giver, not after the past year. "Are you certain you want to?" Would the man appreciate her care when he woke? Likely not. According to all accounts he'd been hell-bent on self destruction since Will had won that joust three years earlier.
There'd been no war too foolish for Count Adhemar's Free Companies to get involved in. Somehow, the man had managed to escape death time and again, moving on into pursuits more foolish, going where even the bravest knight feared to go. He traveled the world in search of new and more dangerous ways to possibly kill himself. According to gossip, he had gone on whore binges, inviting expensive prostitute after expensive prostitute into his chambers until his mother had, in desperation for the family fortune, convinced his youngest brother to take control of the finances. More gossip stated that Adhemar hadn't even noticed. He lived from the wages his fighting earned and from whatever he could pillage out of the conquered towns.
"Yes. We must reach shelter though. I've much to do before his fever worsens."
"Well," he sighed. "I don't suppose he'll be thankful to me, but he already considers me an enemy, so what have I to lose?" With those words, the two rode on with their patient.
With candles and a fire lit to ward off the evening chill, Christiana sought to gather the supplies she'd need to care for her patient. Her patient. Despite the severity of the task ahead, her lips twitched with a smile. It was good to be involved in helping a life again. She'd found a love of physician's things the previous year, when sickness had swept the Thatcher household, but had been barred from using the knowledge she'd gained when Will and Jocelyn thought sick people would keep her from healing herself. Neither one of them understood. After dealing with death so personally, it was a comfort to work to cheat that angel. Out of all, Kate had been the only one who'd faintly grasped Christiana's state of mind.
She found cloths and mixed up two kinds of salve for use on the various cuts, then hunted a needle and thread from her trunk. For a brief second, her hands paused against the last cloth her husband had worked on, fingers tracing the half-finished flowers before she shook her head and took the items to the small table beside the bed.
Will had brought Adhemar into the cottage and laid him on the bed. He'd brought her a bucket full of water from the well and filled a basin, all the while watching her out of the corner of his eye. Sweet Will, always so concerned for the welfare of those in his household. While she appreciated his concern, he'd be better met worrying over whether Jocelyn would suffer another late miscarriage. Christiana could take care of herself. As far as she was concerned, she'd proved that rather ably since the months of sickness.
With a sigh, she soaked a cloth in water and began to gently wash the blood and grime from the man's skin, beginning with his face and working her way down his torso. Some of the cuts weren't as bad as she'd feared, but others were worse. When she reached the waistband of his breeches, she set the cloth aside and worked them from him. It was a slow process that caused occasional moans to issue forth from him, but she managed. Continuing with her task, she noted with a clinical eye that the abuse he'd suffered had not been confined to mere beatings and whippings. Stretching a hand up, she ran the back of her fingers along his stubbled cheek.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered, though she knew he was not conscious enough to understand her words.
When all traces of dirt and ill-use were washed from him, she set about sewing the deepest cuts. The thought of passing needle through flesh didn't phase her in the slightest and soon she was done, moving on to covering cuts with salve and finally swathing him in bandages. Her gaze lingered for a moment on a bite mark. How could men do that to another man?
Gathering all the remaining pillows in the cottage, Christiana wedged them behind Adhemar so he wouldn't be able to roll onto his back. There. He was as comfortable as she could make him. When he woke, she'd try and get him to eat and drink. Until then, all she could do was wait and watch.
Watch is what she did, positioning a chair at the bedside and sitting in it. His breath had a hitch in it, almost as though he were trying, in sleep, to keep from giving in to crying. He mumbled in forceful tone, but no words she could pick apart at first. As night deepened, the fire burning low, those mumblings became more articulate, his slight movements agitated. She listened and learned and could not keep from stroking his brow, murmuring soothing words until he calmed. By the time the sun peered over the horizon, she'd slept little.
Will glanced about the tiny cottage, reluctant to enter. Anymore he didn't feel entirely at ease with Christiana. There was always the nagging feeling that he was saying all the wrong things to her. She never said as much and never treated him any differently than before, yet he couldn't shake the feeling. It hung on his back, clung to his coat and generally made for awkward silences in their conversations.
The basin of water he'd filled the night before was dark with muck and he spied Adhemar's breeches in a pile on the floor. "You took those from him yourself?"
Christiana paused in braiding her hair. "Yes."
"So was Roland, but I prepared his body and buried him myself didn't I?"
Will's breath caught in his throat. The loss of Roland to sickness months earlier still pained him. That only Christiana had been well enough to perform a burial grieved him. He could barely imagine the pain she'd felt having to wrap up her husband, dig his grave and place him in it. A woman shouldn't have to physically bury her husband that way. And to carry on tending the sick? As soon as he'd recovered, he'd stopped that so she could grieve for Roland. She hadn't needed to be wrapped in sickness day in and day out with loss fresh in her mind. Even now, he wondered if he should send for a physician. "I'm sorry Christiana."
She shook her head. "All of you keep saying that, like you could have saved him. God takes us all when it's our time and it was his time to go. He loved me and I loved him, but I know I'll see him in heaven someday."
He didn't know what to say to that, entering the cottage instead and stepping towards the bed.
"You didn't come to talk of Roland though. You came to see about Adhemar. His fever is down, but there's infection settled on the deepest of those cuts. I've put salve on it. If it doesn't look better tomorrow, I'll have to use a poultice to try and draw the poisons out." She joined him by the bed. "He's far from the healthy man he was and his mumblings are alarming at times."
"Mumblings?" Will crossed his arms. The man's color was better, no deathly pallor present. That was good.
"He remembers what happened to him in his dreams. He thrashed about all last night and I was able to piece together a bit. The thieves surprised him, killed his men and took him back to their camp. They beat him, whipped him and..." Her eyes lifted to Will's. "He was used, Will."
Will stared at her, then at the silent man on the bed, and back at Christiana. "No." That Adhemar, arrogant and strong, could be degraded in such a manner took the breath from him like a punch to the gut. It didn't seem real. She had to be making that up. No, he knew she wasn't. Christiana wouldn't lie about such a thing.
"If he doesn't break from it, his vengeance upon them will be bloody." She sat on the bedside, adjusting the covers, hands touching the broad chest, skirting the cuts, yet lingering on the bare flesh. A strange gleam sparked in her eyes.
"Christiana?" Will frowned.
"Hmm?" A tiny gentle smile curved her lips and she smoothed the man's hair off his brow.
"You tend your patient nothing more." A hard edge he couldn't help crept into his voice. He'd not have her becoming fond of Adhemar or thinking in a strange fashion that she was saving Roland by saving this man from death. She'd act as physician and that was all. Technically, she answered to him. "Only tend."
Her hands lifted, clasped in her lap. "Of course. I care for my patient."
"Care, not love. Remember that. Don't begin to equate saving his life with loving him. Don't confuse the two." Leaning down, Will placed a hand on her cheek, turning her face so he could see it. "I don't want you hurt. Please, Christiana, don't become attached to this man."
Slender fingers grasped his, removed his hand from her face. "I'm a grown woman, Will. I know the difference. Now go. You've other things more pressing than staying here. I can handle this by myself."
Will nodded. It was truth. "Very well. I'll be back later."
At the door, he glanced back and, seeing nothing odd about her actions, left. However, a sense of foreboding stayed with him the entire day.
Cool hands stroked along his fevered flesh, a gentle female voice calling for him to be still. It could not be an angel, for heaven was surely not his destination, yet neither would the devil be so kind. Had he landed in purgatory? The soft voice continued to entreat him to be still. No, he did not think he'd end up in purgatory, but would rather slide straight down into the hottest part of hell's licking flames for his numerous sins. By that reasoning, he concluded that he, somehow, still lived. How could he live when he recalled feeling the heat of high fever take him, the chills from it and finally the numbness? After all that had been done to him, from the beatings and the whippings to the other, it was nearly unfathomable that he might not die and be free of his pains.
He turned his head, willing the thoughts of the last, and most degrading, abuse to go away. Never, in his years as Master of the Free Companies, had he realized the turmoil he had put those people in the conquered villages into. The women he'd hurt in the same way he had been hurt by the thieves....
"Sshhh." The voice comforted, the hand now touching his hair in a gesture he remembered his mother doing to soothe him as a young child. "You are safe. Don't thrash about. You'll open the stitches."
The word 'stitches' brought the pain in his body to full light. Each inch of flesh, it seemed, screamed its agony and he could not escape from it. Pain seared into him. His shoulders throbbed and his back felt so raw and tender that he wondered if he'd been skinned. Perhaps he truly was in hell after all. "I can't see," he croaked through a throat hoarse and aching.
"Your eyes are swollen shut. It will be awhile before the swelling goes down. Please don't fear. No one will hurt you here. You're among friends."
"I have no friends." That voice. He wished he could see the woman's face, for she sounded so very familiar. Her lilting accent was a mix of English and French.
A warm laugh, those cool fingers trailing along his forehead and cheeks. "Relax. I'll take care of you." He smelled lavender, felt a wetness drop onto his cheek. The drops slid down, catching on the curve of his lip and he tasted the salt of tears upon his tongue. Whoever she was, she wept. Somehow, that comforted him and he let the darkness of slumber once more encase him.