From the Jaws of a Butcher's Dog

Title: From the Jaws of a Butcher's Dog
Time Period: June 20, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Thorpe receives treatments for his wounds while Duncan learns of the Ross clan's treachery.

Fella looks like a haunch pulled from the jaws of a butcher’s dog.

An evocative description, delivered without the ceremony of exaggeration. Reason enough to be roused at this late hour. When a life’s in the balance, some souls don’t mind being a little put off if it means they can place a finger on the scales. One can often discern the final destination of such souls based on the side they tend to tip it towards.

Evocative - but no exaggeration. The stranger is laid back on a cot, his wounds cleaned and bandaged, but only with the most basic of treatment. His injuries, including a horrifically mangled shoulder, are grievous and appear to have been inflicted by some sort of large, vicious animal.

Hence the other reason the Aislinn is woken at this late hour. He’s near dead, dragged himself saints know how far in this condition, and thus speaking through shock and thinblood-delirium. It thus took some time to work out that when he rasped - ‘where wolf’ - he was naming his attacker, not asking about its location.

Waking Aislinn means waking Edmund, but Dornie's horse lord has obligations and responsibilities that require him to be awake and alert by the time the sky begins to turn pink in a few hours. It's not the first time, either, that his wife has been summoned from their bed in the middle of the night, and the management of his herd is more important than what sounds to be a common mauling.

The healer's sense of urgency is greater; she arrives at the apothecary in her nightgown, a heavy wool coat of darkest navy pulled on and buttoned lopsidedly in her haste, and a pair of leather riding boots because a physician should have sense enough not to go running barefoot through the street no matter how dire the emergency.

The first thing she does is remove the bandages and staunch the bleeding, soaking her clothes and saturating her skin and hair. Only when she's sure that her patient is stable does she order one of the soldiers who accompanied her to fetch a bucket of warm water and the materials required to clean out his wounds once more.

With attacks like these, rabies is always a concern, and while there isn't anything she can do for someone who's already been infected, she can take the proper steps to reduce the chance of that happening.

Little is known about this man, save that he’s not from these parts. There are only so many souls residing in Dornie who hail from the Thames region, and while his accent - a muttery one out of London - should place him among them, he’s no known member of that set. As a patient, at least, he’s relatively well behaved even without aid of liquor, whose blood-thinning properties would not be prudent to risk; judging by the scar tissue, he’s no stranger to pain and violence.

Whether he’ll be mad - then dead - in a month, a year, maybe two- that’s definitionally not his immediate concern. With energies focused on clinging to the last thread of his life, wherever the strand may lead, the stranger manages to squint past the stringy black hair that sweat has plastered over his forehead.

“Ain’t nuffing I ain’t been fru before,” he says, the first proper sentence since his arrival. An instant later, as if to scold him for his flippance, his body burns with with pain. His blue eyes get even more watery, saline mixing on sallow cheeks.

“Arright, thass a lie-” he admits, through clenched, silvered teeth, “but-” looking up at Aislinn, “never had so pretty a nurse.”

"Quiet now," is Aislinn's firm but gently spoken instruction to the stranger, who has lost enough blood that she worries these words might be his last, and she would much prefer he die with some dignity — not professing how comely she looks.

In the dark of the apothecary, with only the low, flickering lights powered by the Ross family's hydroelectric plant, and the much softer glow of a fatty candle set on top of a milk crate, the stranger catches only glimpses of Aislinn's milk-pale hands while she works. Scissors start a cut in his shirt that opens into a wide tear as she rips it the rest of the way apart and discards the extra cloth with a wet sound in a metal pail beside the cot.

"What did the animal that attacked you look like?"

At the cusp of the final unfamiliar, old habits die hard - and if he dies here, there will be no witness who’ll know how this final indignity would compare to the rest of his life. About par for the course, like as not. Dignity is something of a luxury to most. The Roman nobility invented it, after all. It is the province of Caesars and Ciceros, men with the wealth and influence to sustain it. Even the little power this man might try to claim, making banter at the pale hands attending him at the end of him, quickly evaporates:

“Bloody ‘ell-” all at once his tone has gone from complimentary to peevish, “already said! Like a wolf and a man and nuffing else I ever seen-

“It’s like I tol’ ‘em-” and whether or not he actually did tell ‘them’ is really not at issue, since he’s evidently willing to repeat himself- once a spasm of coughing passes that is, “-out wif a fella drinking, took ‘im back to my camp- ‘e turns into a wild half-beast and near kills me, like you see.

“‘E’s still out there, too, far as I know. Dunno if he can get off the island or nuffing. I took the only boat, but if enuff of what ‘e is can swim. Might bloody well be tracking me ‘cross the water or somefing…” The rolling cadence that has taken his voice at this point is one of near-ramble, out of which tangle fears have begun to rise.

Aislinn smooths the hair from the stranger's face with her hands and lays a calming palm on his brow. "Donagh Rowntree's men are just on the other side of the door," she tells him. "If the water doesn't stop him, their guns surely will."

It is around this time that one of said men returns with the basin and cloth she requested, which she wrings the excess water from and uses to separate the excess gore from his skin. If what he's saying is true, then rabies is less of a concern than it was when all she had to operate under was the assumption that the fellow's injuries were making him delirious.

"I need you to relax," she says. "Let me see to your wounds, then you can rest. I'll mix a poultice to help ease the pain and stave off infection until morning, and if you have enough strength, we'll have you moved to a room at the Albatross - one with a proper bed.

"Did the man tell you his name?"

But the news that he is being guarded by Dornie’s… illustrious civil defense corp doesn’t seem to have much of a calming effect on the man. Rather his watery blue eyes snap towards some indeterminate ‘out there’, trying to spot the door that they might be on the other side of. Seems as if someone’s already had dealings with the settlement’s peacekeepers.

“Didn’t say nuffing,” he says, and now his voice is lowered, as if he is concerned that one of those outside might overhear - Aislinn is made, not for the first nor the last time assuredly, a bedside confessor, “wasn’t s’pposed to. Already ‘anded over ‘alf th’ bleeding scrap. Wasn’t after no stir or anyfing, just a quick in ‘n’ out, just like they asked-”

Now things sound closer to delirium, or at least simple confusion. And rather than sitting still, rather than relaxing, he tries to reach towards the bloody, discarded mass of his clothes. Fingertips curl, longing to grasp something.

“Their scrap-” he says, trying to explain, before giving up, eyes sliding shut as he makes a temporary concession to his pain. His next words are spoken through tight breath. “Didn’t ‘ave ‘is name. ‘ad to ask.

“Said it was Deckard,“ he answers at last, then - in the whinging cadence of plaintive excuse - “just doing like for wot I was paid. Man’s gotta make an ‘onest, don’t ‘e?”

Now Aislinn is turning a glance over her shoulder to see if she can spy any of Duncan's recruits within earshot. Seeing no one, and knowing that means nothing, she plucks up a sterilized needle from the tray set on the cot's bedside and threads it in two swift motions, her small hands quick and practiced as birds in flight.

She will check his clothes once his wounds are closed.

"Who paid you?" she wants to know, some slight twinge of guilt at asking him so many questions when she could be rationing her breath and interspersing them with further reassurances. She pinches the worst of his cuts closed between the tips of her fingers and sets to stitching, knowing that she can rationalize the inquiry's immediacy.

Duncan will want answers. Her method of extracting them is kinder.

“Only paid me ‘alf,” the man says, answering but not quite answering, “and I left that with ‘im.” The bite of the needle and the tugging at his skin makes him wince just once - afterwards he masters himself, or else the little pain disappears into the larger one.

He resumes speaking - it may be that answering questions keeps him from dwelling on the procedure, on his woeful condition. “Wus a brace o’ mages in Dover, a Mohammedian or sumfing like,” he explains, though not elaborating on what he considers ‘something like’ a Muslim, “and a woman. Said they come from Marsailles,” mar-say is how he says it, emphasis equal, and then adds, for Aislinn’s benefit, “thass in France-” in case she didn’t know. “They wus looking for someone, someone trouble. Someone needed some doing to get ahold of. I wuz paid t’ do that doing.

“Didn’t say word fucking one about ‘is being no fucking werewolf.” This is hissed through clenched teeth.

The behaviour of the Ross clan's present houseguest is beginning to make a little more sense to Aislinn, who had dismissed it as a reaction to the obvious physical trauma and abuse suffered at the hands of his previous captors. She wishes, now, that she'd asked Edmund to come with her; when it comes to making decisions about who to warn and how, her husband is much better equipped than she to handle Dornie's politics.

She is too cautious, too trusting. If she had told Duncan or Marcus about Deckard's presence, she very much doubts that this man would be in danger of losing his life.

Abruptly, she is concerned for the safety of the settlement's other residents: those who chance walking alone at night.

Can wolves swim?

"Pádraig!" she calls to the soldier, Patrick, who brought her the basin of water and has spent enough time around the Rowntrees understand when Aislinn uses the Gaelic equivalent of someone's name. "Please go and wake Donagh. Tell him we must speak."

* * * *

It's a still lonelier bed that Duncan's roused from - his companionship is farther away than Edmund is, gone longer. But he's no more complaining for it. Any grim temper upon waking is suppressed into silence; Duncan knows better than to give credence to fatigue furies, not when he has to do his job - unless, of course, the job calls for it.

Does it? Aislinn's presence calls for further suppression, at least. And while it takes him a moment to recognize the man, so changed is he in aspect, Duncan does recognize him.

Duncan's smile should not be interpreted as a sign of cheer.

"Thorpe, wasn't it?"

The wounded man's reaction suggests Duncan is not mistaken, though he doesn't reply in words. He doesn't have the chance. Duncan turns bloodshot eyes Aislinn and it's not likely he'll brook interruption.

"Two outlanders," he says, "and the pale dawn demands a stimulating explanation."

She has the courage to stand between her patient and her brother-in-law, at least. Dornie might belong to the Rowntrees, but she is one of them if only in name, and the wooden floors she and Duncan stand on were given to her by his elder.

"A man-wolf attacked him," she says. "It is by the grace of God that he still lives, and so will he for as long as he remains under my roof." It is often that Aislinn makes demands, but when she does she has the courtesy to make them quietly and with gentle eyes, her gaze cautious but steady as a doe's.

She offers Duncan a rumpled scrap of paper. "He carried this in his clothes. You'll want to show your mother - she speaks French."

"I'm not going to fall upon him," Duncan says, dry edging into irritation, as Aislinn heroically makes her stand for justice and equality and whatever else- only his gaze moves up to Thorpe, something Thorpe doesn't meet, "I'm hardly interested in carrion."

Duncan folds his arms across his chest, hands clasping upper arms, emphasizing both his intransigence and his disinterest in conflict. She brought him here. He could be sleeping right now.

He ought to be. This matter should have already been settled. The scrap of paper tells him so. His thumb runs against the bottom edge, torn. “Thought there was more,” he says, putting something together in his mind with his usual deliberation.

Two fingers flick into a point, indicating Thorpe with the top half of the scrap. "He was looking for the Ross's unlikely cousin, the Flotsam Man," Duncan says, "I'd bite my tongue before speaking ill of the other foremost family, but this is on the Rosses. I gave them heed-“ his mouth tugs down at little at one corner, “-and that one said nothing about beast-men. My guess- Flotsam Man and Wolf Man are one and the same?”

"Aye, brother," says Aislinn, "and he is no cousin of either Dina or Adler. Leonard Hightower came upon him on the shore and took him back to his clinic for lack of a better place to shelter him. I found his wrists bloodied and raw, bound by a slaver's shackles.

"Pity bought my silence, but I would rather you know the truth than see one of our people killed by this animal, even if he does not mean to." It's a reluctant admission of guilt, remorseful in its soft cadence and volume, but there it is.

She knew.

"I was there when the lady offered him her family's protection."

"Idiot woman-" comes from Duncan in a harsh breath, "these are not your decisions to make. Not alone.

"This," he gestures at her, at Thorpe, at the clinic around them, "persists because I do. Your pity depends on my being pitiless. The longer you fail to realize this, the more you will find we are indeed at odds, and no one - not your, not I, and no other sorry soul in Dornie - will profit from it.

"How long will it take for you to realize I am not your enemy? The bandage that binds doesn't disdain the fire that cleaned the wound, however regrettable the pain it must cause. This does not make the the bandage good, the fire evil. In arrogance, you let this fester- why? What catastrophe was averted through my ignorance?"

So its being kept in the dark- this, it seems, is what upsets Duncan most of all. He rounds, half upon the man in the bed, who seems to have decided - wisely - to keep his peace throughout this family struggle.

"The both of you ought to lie mangled. And if one honest-born Dornian suffers for this-" but this threat does not have an ending-

"I'm tired of ever-playing your villain. Surely you are sick of being so self-righteous."

In her silence, something happens behind Aislinn's eyes; for all that he accuses her of being arrogant and self-righteous, her ego does not shield her from the hurt inflicted by his words. Sometimes, she thinks, if she did not love Edmund, her marriage to him might be easier — and maybe she could stomach being related to the man who ordered her daughter's execution if she did not care for his children almost as much as she does her own.

For the first time since she was brought to Dornie, she realizes that those who sit in judgement on her actions are right to; for years, she has simultaneously hated Duncan and sought his approval, his acceptance.

These words of his should not cause her pain, and yet they do. There is a moment, then, when the scales tip and Aislinn transfers all her loathing to where she thinks it belongs.

All of a sudden she's feeling very heavy.

"I do grow weary," she confesses, but that is all.

“As do I,” Duncan says, “more’s the shame- we’ve both work yet to do.”

“If he survives,” he gestures at Thorpe, who is - unfortunately for him - still conscious, his breathing steady but clearly pained, “he’ll need close watching. Moon hangs heavy-“ he trusts the inference is clear, “pray don’t let pity keep you from mercy, if it comes to it.”

This he trusts is clear as well.

“I must deal with the Rosses’ cousin,” Duncan says, already moving to leave, with the air of one who thinks it’s best to stay busy. A philosophy fitting for a man missing a daughter.

Aislinn does not stop him.