CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

One Very Long Week Later

 

“Any better?”

Rosemary was carefully brushing Pete’s hair, after having rubbed it thoroughly with a wet rag in an attempt to wash it. For the past three hours, she had been fussing over him like a mother hen, and Pete’s nerves were seriously frayed.

Thanks to Ariana’s catmint and elderflower tea - horrid tasting stuff, that! - plus the addition of yarrow and rose hip to her previous mixture to further reduce the inflammation, Pete’s fever had been gone for days.

But now he was decidedly restless.

He had agreed to the experimental medicines, but he certainly had not agreed to lie here like an invalid whilst he had his head rubbed in this irritating manner. For all he had oft been accused of laziness, he only enjoyed being lazy when there was unpleasant work to be avoided. Lying in bed because some blue-eyed wench had told him he must not rise for at least another day had him itching to toss off the covers and run for his life, half-naked or no.

At least he had a whole shirt, now. The girls had brought him one the other day to replace that which had been cut off of him, and though it did not have that comfortable, worn-in softness of his old shirt, at least it was in one piece.

That was kind of them, he supposed, and felt a twinge of remorse for his crankiness. Really, they were taking excellent care of him.

So why am I so bloody worked up by it all?

A fleeting thought occurred that the catmint tea might have something to do with it. All one had to do was take a look at a cat that had gotten just a teeny whiff of the plant to know that it made them mad as hatters. And Ariana had been pouring the stuff down his throat by the cup-full for days now. He had no idea if humans reacted the same way as cats, but t’was always a possibility.

Then again, mayhap it was just that in the past two weeks, he had been practically kidnapped (all right, that bit was no’ the girls’ fault, but still…), threatened at knifepoint by an angry gypsy (all right, she had had reason to be angry, but still…), stabbed twice in the gut by a would-be rapist, had his clothes taken from him, and had had his favourite shirt (all right, ‘is only shirt, but still…) ruined. He had been repeatedly smeared with a painful poultice and had been force-fed the most devilsome tea on the Lord’s good earth. And now his hair had just been washed by a chirpy brunette who seemed to take great delight in smothering him with attention!

And was not that the last straw? Washed! Like a babe! What was the silly doxy thinking, to wet his head when he had only just gotten over a fever? Did she want him to die of the chill? But there she was, her green eyes lit with joy and clearly pleased with herself, waiting expectantly for his response to her question.

            “Mmmm,” he grunted non-commitally, hoping it would be taken as an affirmative. It appeared that it was, for Rosemary patted his hand and bounced off to return the brush to the dresser.

Now that Pete could sit up, he could see that his trousers were folded neatly on the floor beside the dresser. They had a bit of dried blood on them, but they were otherwise intact.

Thank heavens for small favors, he thought. He was crawling inside his own skin, as though over-active crickets had taken up residence in his posterior.

It was time to get up, get out! Now, now now!

Nearly every bone in his body screamed at him that if he had to lie there gulping catmint and elderflower tea for just one minute more he would go barking mad, just barking. But without his trousers, there was little chance of that. At least with those available, he might sweet talk Ariana into letting him take a short stroll around the inn. If she felt he was not too much of an invalid, of course!

As if summoned by his thoughts, the gypsy entered the room, in her arms a small package in burlap and a few beads of sweat on her upper lip, as though she had been walking briskly in the heat.

“Success?” Rosemary bubbled at her, and the gypsy nodded her head, too out of breath to speak. She thrust the burlap package at Rosemary, who eagerly untied the twine that held it closed and spread the package open on the dresser to reveal its contents. Though she was facing away from Pete, he could see when she shifted her weight that it was two slender stalks of some sort of plant.

“Which is which?” Rosemary asked, and Ariana flopped into the chair and wiped her face with her sleeve.

“The one with the light green leaves like a myrtle and the white buds is the coca plant. The other, with the lily-shaped leaves, is the turmeric,” Ariana said, as Rosemary bent over to sniff them. “Both stimulate the blood. Some healers advise chewing the coca leaves -” she broke off as she noticed Pete skeptically eyeing the plant, “but I think we shall start with it steeped with water and drunk. I know not what actually chewing it would do. ‘Tis supposedly quite strong. I have but one or two days’ worth of each; ‘twas most expensive. But mixed in with the catmint and elderflower, they should further speed recovery.”

Pete groaned and scooted his rear towards the foot of the bed so he was again lying down, wincing as he did so. The honest truth was that his wound indeed still hurt, especially when he moved. But the thought of another day of that awful tasting tea made the pain in his gut seem like a mere scratch. And in his humble opinion, the last thing he needed was a stimulant! Am I not antsy enough already?

But he knew that if he protested, he would be met with a gentle pat by Rosemary and an admonishment from Ariana that “healing took time, and he should take his medicine like a good little lad and not make such a silly fuss”. All right, perhaps she had not actually said that to him quite in that fashion, but Od’s blood, that’s what it felt like.

But a good little lad he was indeed, for when the pungent, steaming tea was brewed an hour later, he took the cup from Rosemary without a word and drank it down, gagging once or twice as he tried to ignore the taste. Ariana kindly offered him a large bowl of mead to erase the taste, but the combination of the powerful tea and the sweet alcohol on his otherwise empty stomach merely made him feel like several pounds of herring were swimming around his gut. He had drunk some broth earlier in the day, but it had been light, and it was far too weak a food to counter the onslaught of elements now coursing through his bloodstream. With a nauseated groan, Pete let his head fall back on the pillow and dropped off into a woozy, fitful sleep.

 

 

The instant Pete woke, he nearly wished he had not. His sheets were soaked through with sweat, and he was simultaneously nauseated, fatigued, and feeling as though he was facing battle. His heart was racing and his blood pumped as though primed for a fight. T’was the oddest feeling, to be physically alert and highly energized, yet for his brain to feel sluggish and muzzy, as though his thoughts were percolating through a thick pad of wool. And he was desperately thirsty.

He called out for both Ariana and Rosemary, but when he received no reply, he lifted himself up with difficulty upon one elbow. The room swam, and the colors seemed hazy.

What time is it? And ‘ow long ‘ave I slept? He had no idea.

Pete shook his head in confusion, and realized he was alone. Drink, he thought. He sat for a moment longer to see if Ariana or Rosemary might return, but when they did not, he flipped the sweat-sodden quilt off of his body and made to swing his legs o’er the side of the bed. He grunted as a wave of pain radiated through his still-healing wounds, but after a moment it subsided.

Hm. I expected that to ‘urt more. That tea mus’ be ‘elping after all.

Pete lowered his feet to the ground and stood.

Too fast. He felt lightheaded and very, very angry… why’m I angry?... and stood for a moment trying to let his head clear. As it did, his anger left him, and he was again aware of his thirst. Carefully, keeping one hand on the bed to steady himself, he shuffled over to the dresser where Ariana’s wineskin lay. Letting go of the bed, he tottered momentarily until his other hand could reach the dresser. Bracing his hip against the dresser, he seized the wineskin and popped its cork. Hesitantly, he sniffed the aperture: Be it wine or that ‘orrid tea? A sweet, honeyed smell reached his nostrils, and he quickly tilted the wineskin to his lips, guzzling several large gulps of the spicy cloved mead. He gasped in a breath, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and immediately tilted the wineskin once more to his mouth for another long gulp.

Tha’s better. His vision was a bit clearer now. He re-corked the wineskin and laid it on the dresser. A half-eaten loaf of bread lay beside it, and, famished, Pete took a great bite, barely stopping to chew before tearing off another hunk with his teeth. His cheeks bulged as he took the loaf with him and began hunting for his trousers. Whither did I see them? O, aye, there they are, by th’ dresser beneath me muffin ‘at. Taking three enormous bites, Pete stuffed the remainder of the bread into his mouth and bent down to retrieve his clothes.

Now that he had had a sip to drink and a little bit of solid food, his desire to get up and about grew with a vengeance. The thought chewed at him, hounded him, and urged him to let nothing get between him and a stretch of road and a breath of fresh air.

Out.

He crammed the muffin hat lopsidedly onto his head as he swallowed the bread. Trousers.

‘Ow do these go on again?

Ah, tha’ be the way.

Boots? Where are me boots?

The anger had returned, and had brought with it an anxious, manic feeling.

I ‘ave to find me boots!

He flung the quilt off the bed, looked under the pillow.

No boots!

He yanked open a drawer of the dresser.

Not there either! Od’s ‘oly wounds, where are me bloody – ah! Under the bed!

He dragged his boots out from beneath the wooden frame and frantically pulled them on, hopping up and down and swearing as he jarred his wound.

Good! Boots, trousers, shirt, muffin ‘at… what else?

Out, I ‘ave to get out!

He grabbed the wineskin - he would surely need that - and scanned the room.

‘Ave I left anything?

His eyes fell on Ariana’s guitar, and without giving himself time to think, he grabbed it by the neck.

I need it because… well, ‘tis  enough that I do. I need it! They ‘ave no right to…

To what?

He could not remember, he only knew that someone had done him a terrible injustice and he had no recourse but to flee whilst he had the chance.Pete took one last look around the room, and sped out the door.

 

 

“He shall be well enough in a bit,” Rosemary assured Ariana as they re-entered the inn. “I know not how he got loose, but the ostler caught him before he got too far. Alas, we have not spent much time with him since… well, and he was probably just lonely and bored inside that old yard. The ostler feeds him, but other than that, the poor thing has had little activity or friendship in the past two weeks. Dear old Morley. I shall endeavor to visit him each morning whilst you tend to Pete’s breakfast, and mayhap we can reverse the arrangement for supper. What say you?”

They had reached the end of the hall, and Ariana nodded as she opened the door to their room. She gasped, and Rosemary stood on tiptoe to see over her shoulder into the room.

“Where is Pete?” Ariana shrieked, and rushed into the room, stooping to pick up the quilt which lay strewn at the foot of the bed. Rosemary walked into the room as well, and looked about.

Nothing. No Pete, no note, just an empty bed and a pillow hanging half off the mattress.

Rosemary opened her mouth to speak some words of wisdom which would make perfect sense of it all, but nothing came to mind. It was simply inexplicable.

Pete was gone.

Without a word, Pete was simply… gone.

There was naught for her to do but stand in bewilderment as Ariana turned about in a circle, half expecting to see Pete standing innocently in a corner. She moved to the window and opened it, but there was no sign of him.

How could he have simply vanished? They had only been gone ten minutes; fifteen at most!

Ariana leaned farther out the window, as if perhaps she had merely missed him the first time.

Rosemary looked about for some clue. Her trunk was still there, undisturbed, so it was unlikely that someone had attempted to rob them and that Pete had played the hero again.

Nay, except for the bed, all seemed as they had left it, save…

“The wineskin is gone,” she observed in a confused, hollow voice. She glanced at the floor near the door. “And his clothes.”

Ariana closed the window and ran to the door, stepping out into the hallway and looking both right and left. Finally, convinced that he was no where to be found, Ariana slowly made her way back to the bed and sat on the edge of the straw mattress.

“Whither would he go? And why would he leave without saying Godspeed?”

Rosemary merely stared about the room in quiet bewilderment.

“At least he ate before he left,” Ariana said after a moment, indicating the crumbs on the floor.

Rosemary nodded and blinked her eyes.

Two minutes ticked by.

Three.

“Thinkest thou he is coming back?” Ariana asked.

Rosemary thought for a moment, and then lifted a shoulder imperceptibly, shaking her head. Who knew?

For several more minutes, the two women simply stared at the floor in silence, each trying to sort out her thoughts.

“Well, naught for it, I suppose,” Rosemary said after the long silence, and shook herself as if awakening from a dream. “These sheets need washing if we wish to sleep on them tonight. I had best strip the bed. And… I suppose this means we can leave upon the morrow. Nothing to hold us back now, aye?”

Slowly, Ariana rose to let Rosemary pull off the sheets. For lack of anything better to do, she folded the quilt into a tidy square whilst Rosemary carefully pulled the sheets from the bed. When she had folded it as small as it would go, she turned to lay it on the chair, and shrieked as she saw the blank space by the corner.

“What?” Rosemary gasped, and looked quizzically at her friend as Ariana waved a frantic finger at the blank wall.

Ariana sputtered incoherently for a second before she managed to spit out, “My guitar! ‘Tis gone!”

Ariana wheeled around to face Rosemary, her blue eyes wide and panic-stricken. Rosemary could do nothing but stand there and clutch the soiled sheets to her chest as two horrified tears welled in the gypsy’s eyes.

“He took my guitar! He took my guitar! That… that…” Ariana searched for a word that would suffice.

Bastard,” Rosemary whispered, her lips tightened into a thin angry line, and Ariana gave an “Eeeep!” of surprise as her hand flew to her mouth.

Rosemary dropped the sheets to the ground and folded her arms across her breasts with a look of infinite disgust.

“Oh….” Ariana moaned softly and sank into the chair beside the dresser.

Bastard. Yes, that did seem to be an appropriate word to describe Wicked Pete just at that moment.