The Flamebearer Chapter Thirty-Five

“IT’S BLOODY FREEZING down here,” complained Dafydd, hunching his shoulders against the cold. “The Bruce is shivering.” Kneeling beside his friend, he bent over the Bruce’s massive figure to inspect his wounds. “I think we’ve got trouble here,” he informed the group.

Ciaran went at once to assess the situation. A thin film of sweat covered the Bruce’s broad, bearded face; his teeth chattered and blood reddened his ears and throat. “Christ!” swore Ciaran. “Why didn’t you say something?”

The Bruce grunted and looked at him through dim, half-closed eyes. “Dinnae feel a thing till an hour ago. Nou it burns like auld Scratch.”

Evaine wrestled with her hem. “The dress under this habit is naught but rags, but with my wrists bound I can’t tear a strip for a bandage.” She stooped down next to the tight-lipped Scotsman. “Let’s have a look,” she implored. Grimacing, the Bruce dropped his chin to his chest and dragged back thick coils of frizzy red hair, exposing two deep gashes across the nape of his neck and a dozen or more minor cuts to his earlobes and the back of his head. “Dear Heaven! You poor man.” Without pause, she lifted the edge of her skirt and wadded the cloth against his lacerations, soaking up the blood. “You might have bled to death before you said a word.”

She cast a glance toward Robyn. “What about you? Any injuries?”

“No, my lady. I thank you.”

Dafydd?”

“I’m sound enough. Starved and half-frozen, but not losing any blood..”

“Well, that’s a blessing, at least.” Evaine shot Ciaran a look.

Ciaran spoke directly to Dafydd. “Come here,” he beckoned.

“My lord?” The boy approached to a distance of several feet.

Ciaran summoned him closer with a nod.

Dafydd cocked his head and squinted quizzically at Robyn.

“Go ahead, lad,” Robyn assured him. “You won’t regret it.”

Stepping forward cautiously, Dafydd entered unfamiliar and somewhat threatening territory. He stood less than two feet away, embarrassed and more than a trifle confused, hesitant to meet the prince’s unswerving gaze.

Ciaran attempted to clarify the matter. “Now look here,” he admonished. “You’re cold. We’re both in shackles, for God’s sake; you must come to me on your own. Turn around if you like and lean back against me. It will all make sense in a moment.”

Dafydd did what he was told. Within the space of a single breath the muscles in his neck and arms slackened as the unearthly warmth enveloped him. “Saints!” Dafydd exclaimed. “How are you doing this?”

Ciaran lowered his head to whisper in the boy’s ear. “Sorcery,” he quipped.

Dafydd jumped.

“Soft,” Ciaran soothed. “The result is the important thing, not the means. Still cold?”

“No, Sir. My lord. Not at all.”

“Good. Anyone else? ap Gryffin?”

“No complaints at the moment. I only pray we don’t see any rats.” He shuddered. “I hate rats.”

“How’s our big man over there?” Ciaran asked.

Evaine cradled the Bruce’s huge, woolly head in her lap, her soiled skirts bunched beneath his neck. “He’s nearly asleep,” she whispered. “I think his neck stopped bleeding, but it will need stitches. Best let him rest while he can.”

Unable to relax, Ciaran began pacing. He arched his back, attempting to ease the strain in his shoulders and neck. “How much longer can they keep us down here?” he wondered aloud. “And where the Devil is de Barre?”

“I detest constraint as much as you do,” cautioned Robyn. “But be careful what you ask for, aye? Chains are torment enough. It could be worse.”

“Still,” Ciaran insisted, “I’d like to know their intentions. Nothing maddens me more than not knowing.” He paused in his pacing, rolling his neck. “Christ, my head’s exploding.”

Chapter Thirty-Six

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