Leafsong bowed her head, ducking as she entered the shelter beneath the stairs. Her eyes were focused on the slumbering man in the narrow bed, who had his eyes closed in some semblance of sleep. Bandages swathed his upper body, muscle built from decades of training with the bow, and his arm was encased in a cast. His cheek was marred with a cut that ran from his cheekbone down into his faded beard, and the wrinkles framing his eyes seemed to have deepened in the past few days. She crept across the confined space, stepping over stuffed animals, wooden figures and items of clothing belonging to various members of the family, a precariously stacked tray in her hands.

“I’m not asleep, there’s no need to to skulk,” said Ashamal quietly, his eyes giving off a muted amber glow in the darkness. She started, then smiled tentatively at him, her one good eye shining.

“Hullo. How you feelin’ this morning?”

He paused for a moment, appraisingly, before replying.

“Like saber shit. How are you feeling?” He looked her over, taking in the trailing bandages on her arms and the swollen face.

“The same” she echoed, the corner of her mouth curling upwards wryly. Perching on the edge of the bed, she lowered the tray to her knees and swivelled to face him. Carefully, her brow furrowed, she began to peel the bandages from his upper torso. He smiled at her, broken tooth flashing for a moment, reaching out a hand to touch her bruised knee.

“You don’t know how glad I was to wake up here.”

She gazed back at him solemnly, her hand moving to cover his fleetingly before reaching for one of the small jars on her tray. With fumbling fingers, she undid the lid and scooped up some of the pungent mint-green salve. Biting her lip, she began to smear the ointment over the raw pink wound that curved over his chest, lurid and vicious. He hissed through his teeth as the cut stung; she grimaced in sympathy, but continued to daub the thick paste over the broken skin.

“Hurts to help, ‘usband,” she reminded him sternly, shooting him a look from her good eye. He nodded, exhaling as she withdrew her fingers and wiped them on the grubby fabric of her trousers. She began to uncoil a fresh white roll of bandages, strands of hair falling over her face. As she wound them carefully around his torso, he let out a muffled snarl of pain. She winced, but continued to apply them determinedly. Once she had finished, she sat back and he looked down, surveying her work. As usual, her first aid skills were inferior, but the care and gentleness with which she had tended his wounds had soothed him more than any trained healer. He smiled at her once more, attempting to penetrate her gloominess. He knew that she was worried about his wounds and angry on his behalf for his treatment at the hands of the Sindorei; but her dejection unsettled him. It reminded him of the sullen, surly child she had been when he first knew her, embittered by the drudgery of her life.

“Come up here,” he said quietly, leaning back against the headboard. She hesitated for a moment, then lowered the tray to the untidy floor and crawled up to lie beside him on the narrow bed, her arms wrapping around his neck. He reached up to cup the back of her head and closed his eyes.


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