She sat at the edge of the bed, hesitating. She might’ve been a doctor, but she’d never once worked on a male patient. In the past, it was because even with a patient, it could be damaging to her reputation as an unwedded woman to expose herself to a man’s unclothed body. Later, it was because that being alone in the forest extremely limited her exposure to other people. But with his blood soaked clothing, there was no way around removing his clothing if she wanted to properly treat him.
Throwing the towel that she held in her hand back into the basin, she took his wrist back into her hand. This wouldn’t do. There was no one else in the area. Civilization was still at least half a day’s walk away from her cabin. To hell with propriety. It’s not like anyone would come visit her anyway. It’s not like her reputation could get any worse. With a sigh, she picked up her knife, and started working at his clothes.
Opening his eyes, he was greeted with a new environment. Where was this? Sharp pain shot through his torso, as he tried to sit up. His hand flew to his side. Right. His injuries. A rough texture met his fingers. Bandages? He looked up to find a girl sleeping next to him.
He squinted his eyes. There shouldn’t have been anyone in the forest. As far as he knew, other local civilizations considered the place cursed. Even his home country wasn’t much of an exception. Even while dismissing the idea as a local superstition, they were also reluctant to send men to pursue him. Had they sent men after him, he would’ve fallen into their hands long ago.
But then, what was this woman doing in the forest? Did his country decide it was safer to send a woman than their less disposable soldiers? Or was this woman affiliated with some country that he wasn’t aware of? But why help him? To gain his guard? Either way, he couldn’t trust her.
He moved to stand. Even with his injuries, this wasn’t the first time that he found himself in wilderness. He was sure that he’d be able to survive on his own. Better left to his own devices in a dangerous but familiar environment, than have to deal with constant uncertainty. He’d rather die as a result of his own misstep than die without without realizing what killed him in the end. Women were dangerous. His father’s demise had taught him that much.
Ignoring the radiating pain, he forced himself out of the bed. Now, where did the woman put his sword and armor? Visually searching the room, they weren’t anywhere in sight. Using the walls as support, he navigated the cabin. It wasn’t as large as he’d imagined. The bed that he occupied was the only bed in the entire building.
He couldn’t think of a logical explanation for this. Lost in thought, he stumbled over a stash of pots and pans. A loud crash sounded beneath him. He winced at the sound of the pots and pans clattered against one another as he caught himself. There goes his silent escape plan.
As he expected, the woman immediately burst into the room.
“Are you quite alright?” She asked, kneeling in front of him and frantically insepcting his injuries.
Squinting, he inspected her without answering. Her accent was too Northern to be from his hometown, but too Southern to be from a distant kingdom. But her attire… in his travels, he’d never seen anything like it. And then, why was she so concerned for him, a stranger? Was she aware of his identity, somehow? Furthermore, what kind of decent woman would unabashedly feel up a man, injured or otherwise?
He pulled away, trying to withdraw from her reach, only to find her leaning closer. He felt his face flush, in response. Did this woman really know no shame? He gave her a slight shove and cleared his throat, hoping that she would take a hint. However, even after a brief moment, she continued to work at his bandages without looking up.
Exasperated, he opened his mouth to speak.
“Can you get away from me, woman?” He asked, hoping that his accent didn’t give too much away. He’d been educated in all sorts of languages from childhood. Her dialect was no exception, but purging an accent and sounding like a native was a different story altogether. Though, he did his best to learn from the native sounds, he was never certain whether he could mimick them exactly as he’d heard them.
“You speak Giarish?” She answered, startled.
She was the one that asked him a question first, and then felt him up to the point that he couldn’t hold back a response. Feeling played, he looked away. Despite growing up around them, he’d always hated having to deal with manipulative types. Simple-minded, as his mother would say, he’d always had a hard time picking out the lies from the truths as an child. As an adult, he’d done his best to limit his exposure to these types.
“Who are you?” She inquired, suddenly excited. “Where are you from?”
He wasn’t going to answer her. Speaking once had likely already given away more than he’d realized. She moved to stand kneel right in front of him.
“Are you from one of the neighboring states?” She asked.
He turned away, fully intending on ignoring her.
“Are you an escaping prisoner?” She questioned, re-entering his field of vision. “Or a criminal of some sort?”
He felt annoyance rise within him. Did he look like a wanted man? He let out a breath, and turned away yet again. He wasn’t letting her get to him. He wasn’t dumb enough to fall for the same trick twice.
“Can’t you share just a name?” She asked. “Or is it secret because you’re on the run?”
He clenched his jaw. He had enough of this woman. Forcing himself to stand, he grunted as the pain in his torso and shoulder intesnified under the new weight. He had to quickly find his things and get out of here. However, before he could take another step, a familiar jolt struck him and everything faded into a sheet of black.
This story was inspired by a writing prompt from the “Promptly Written” Publication
A wounded soldier is found by a widowed woman living in the forest.