The way she was curled up on the carriage seat looked so uncomfortable he wondered if she was indeed asleep. Her arms were carefully splayed out from under her as to prevent any weight on them and her back was slightly arched to relieve any pain. Once, they passed over a hump of soil and he thought he heard a whimper, although it might have just been the squeak of a wheel. Her condition was unfortunate, but not unfamiliar. A look into the care of asylums a little more would be preferable, he decided.
Beside her, sat upright and more comfortably packed away in his own coat, Hugh slumbered, completely exhausted after three high strung days of trying to free Elouise from her false conviction. Bet even a donkey braying right next to him wouldn’t wake him. His hand was tucked out slightly and had a curl of her golden brown hair twirled around his finger. Her hand had a corner of his coat grasped ever so slightly.
What an odd pair.
He chuckled and turned his own collar up, snuggling into the bag-laden seat even more. The rain showered down lightly but throughout the night, giving them a cool, slow journey.
They reached a halfway inn just as the rain began to pick up a little, a few hours off till dawn. He awoke to see her sitting straight up staring out of the window, illuminated by the oil lamp lights from the door of the inn. Her eyes were dark with the absence of good sleep, but she looked much more relaxed compared to the night before. The bandages around her wrists showed red stains again; the ones on her back were probably worse. They needed to be changed before they continued the ride.
“Hello,” he croaked, stretching. She greeted him with a bright smile. “We’ve reached the inn,” her voice came soft and full of tranquil.
He leaned forward, casting a glance to Hugh who was evidently still asleep judging by the slightly agape mouth and the tiny pool of drool glistening on the lapel of his coat.
“We might need some time alone,”he whispered, pointing to her bandages. She looked down to her hands as if she had forgotten the condition they were in. A snort from Hugh made her withdraw her arms into her cloak so fast she nearly poked her wounds. She gathered the opening shut, observing Hugh should he stir awake.
The coachman knocked on the door and opened it. “A proper nights’ rest, my lords and lady? Or shall we progress till dawn?” he bowed.
He looked at Elouise. The cloak Mrs Wellens gave her was lined beautifully and kept her warm, but still he noticed the tremble of her shoulders not from chill, but from pain. “A night here, my good sir, and a sovereign for your troubles. Have a warm night yourselves,” he smiled and handed him a pouch. The coachmen bowed in appreciation and set off to inform the landlords of longer boarding.
Taking Elouise by the hand, he led her from the carriage to the inside of the inn, joking that perhaps she would be better carried. She batted his lower hand away, finally chortling since he first met her.
Hugh practically tumbled out of the carriage, dazed. “Are we there yet?” he buttoned up his vest. “Warren? Elouise?”
“Calm down, Bertie. A night in a proper bed would do the both of you better than the back seat of a coach,” he waved him away while ushering Elouise in, an arm around her waist for support.
Hugh pushed his hair back under his hat and got out of the rain. After persistently making sure Elouise was alright, he joined his brother in sorting out rooms for them. A room for the two coachmen, a room for him with his brother, and a room for Elouise. Plus stable charges.
Gingerly, Elouise made her way up the stairs, her arms and her back killing her. Thankfully her skirts and the cloak made her hobbling less noticeable.
“Alright, Montoya let’s get you to your room,” Hugh scampered up beside her, placing a hand on her back. She bit the inside of her cheek, trying not to wince and pushed herself to climb faster.
“Why don’t you go check out the rooms? I’ll get Elouise settled in,” Warren slipped in between him and her. Hugh rubbed the back of his neck, unsure. “Go on. You look like you need a bed more than I do,” Elouise egged on with a reassuring smile. “Alright then,” Hugh finally left them, cracking the fatigue out of his joints.
Elouise let out a sigh in the small area of a bedroom she had been lodged in as Warren rummaged through his medical bag for fresh bandages. Not wanting the good cloak to fall to the dusty wooden floor, she swung it from her shoulders to a chair, keeping a groan of pain in her throat.
Warren looked up to see the stains on her wrists darker than they were before. “Oh dear come here,” he held out his hands to her.
“I’m fine, just need some laudanum,” she gritted her teeth as she sat down on the bed. She reached around to loosen the corset she kept on to hold the bandages in place, all the while sucking in breaths through her teeth. The bed creaked with added weight as Warren climbed atop and sat behind her, taking over the loosening of the laces.
She let out a moan of relief as the pressure lessened. But the pain set in, and her breathing became labored with each pang. Warren helped her to a front-down position, assisting her remove her outerwear. He pushed her undershirt up from her petticoat, studying the damp bandages on her back. Peeling one back, he was relieved to see clear liquid discharge. It was still a little early to tell, but he was confident she would suffer minimal infection.
He cut away the bandages meticulously, taking mental notes of each laceration. She winced at the sensation of the gauze removal, especially when the fluids fused it to her wound, but Warren was gentle and good at what he was doing. That didn’t stop her from yelping however.
He patted her wounds dry and helped her to a kneeling position to reapply her bandages.
“I don’t think another man has seen me as much as you have,” she chuckled in between winces.
“I am most flattered,” he laughed back. “Although, I would be more appreciative under other circumstances,” he added a little contemplatively. She nodded in agreement, shooting him a teasing look to which he grinned shyly at.
His hands traveled around her naked waist, tightly wrapping medicated gauze to her back. He paused just before her bosom, apologizing slightly and continued. She giggled. “How like your brother,” she pressed a hand to her mouth. He chuckled. “At some point you wonder if it’s our upbringing, or are we just naturally contrite.”
She fell silent at the thought of Hugh. Under no circumstance could she bear to recount what had happened in the asylum to him. He would never forgive himself.
The redressing of her back done, she spun around so Warren could work on her wrists next. Tenderly, he held her hands up, examining the circle where the shackles had cut into her arms. These ones were more superficial, and would elicit more pain than the whip lashes on her back. Noticing the worried look on her face, he squeezed her hands reassuringly. “In your own time,” he smiled in confidence.
She returned the smile, squeezing back.
The bed creaked again as they rearranged themselves for a more comfortable position. At one point, Elouise put too much weight on her wrist and cried out, taking both hands out from under her. She fell backwards to the headboard, prompting Warren to hurriedly launch forward and catch her by the shoulders.
His fingers tangled in her hair, she grimaced, waiting for the pain to subside. Her breaths came in short bursts as he leaned back to steady her. He exhaled in relief, patting her comfortingly. “Careful!” he laughed baffled.
“I’m sorry! That position was strange. My hips were starting to hurt,” she giggled.
The dressing of her wrists moved along quicker, and he helped her resume her front down position for a proper night’s rest, alleviating the pressure on the wounds on her back.
“Thank you,” she murmured, her eyes twinkling with gratitude. Warren smiled and pushed the hair out of her face tenderly. “I’ll see you in the morning, dear,” he cupped the side of her face affectionately before taking his leave.
Dimming her room lamp, Warren cast one more glance at her before shutting her door quietly. He laid a hand on the smooth planks and said a brief quiet prayer of peace to a God he hadn’t spoken to in a while.
Turning away, he froze momentarily at the sight of Hugh leaning against the banister, staring at the wall.
Hugh’s eyes were wide with apparent shock, and he couldn’t bring himself to look Warren in the eye. “Brother,” he started, but struggled to continue.
Warren frowned in confusion, but remained silent as Hugh forced himself to get his thoughts in order.
“I-I know… I know Elouise is a rather fetching woman for her caliber; and it has been made known to me (endlessly) that you are of quite charming nature yourself, but please. Montoya has been through a harrowing experience. I understand that it is in your nature to want to make her feel better, but I implore you to remain strictly professional in your practices,” Hugh blurted out, standing up to full height.
Warren’s eyes slowly widened as the deeper meaning of Hugh’s words settled onto him. His face pinched up in an effort to suppress the incredulous laughter welling up in his lungs, and he trembled with effort.
“Y-you think… that I… that she would…,” his mouth opened wide in shock. Sniffing a chuckle down, Warren snorted. “Well now, think what you may, Bertie. Elouise is a wonderful girl, and I intend to make her stay with us as pleasant as possible,” he grinned, patting his little brother on the head as he left him to his wild imagination.
Hugh spun around, bewildered. “I-I mean it! Warren!” he called after him, stomping purposefully back to their room.