Apprendre a Aimer

Gaston survives the fall with the help of a healer living deep in the Enchanted Forest. After being unconscious for nearly a week, he finally gets to set eyes on his saviour, the lovely Gwenhael.
Gwenhael is a very kind and sharp witted individual, but even he has his limit in regards to Gaston's ghastly attitude. This is something the man learns quickly after a careless comment about Gwenhael's young son, Sylvain.
After being expertly put in his place, Gaston sees the healer in a new light and actually comes to care for the man and his son.
Would those feeling last if he knew what Gwenhael really was?

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1. Un | Gwenhael

I wrapped my worn brown cloak tighter around myself as the frigid wind of the Enchanted Forest blew around me. I was grateful that I pulled my golden brown hair into a knot at the base of my neck; I didn’t want to even think about the tangles the wind would give it.

A fierce howl echoed through the trees, pulling my attention from the checkerberries I was foraging. A shiver ran down my spine when I realised just how close I was to the old castle. I normally wouldn’t have came this far from my home, but this was the only place checkerberries were found since the royal family had brought them over from the across the ocean. I rushed to pick the last few berries, tossing them lightly in the basket beside me. Finished, I pulled my hood back over my head, lifted the now full basket, and started to trek back to my cottage.

The loud snapping of branches gave me pause as I looked over my shoulder to the castle’s silhouette. I debated whether is was worth the risk to find out the cause of the disturbance. In the end my curiosity won out.

I approached the castle cautiously, taking care with my steps in the case of hostile presences. In the darkness I could barely make out the inky shape in the snow. I moved closer and knelt next to the figure. Reaching out, I pushed the broken branches away. I gasped and dropped my basket when I revealed a battered man. Blood was slowly dying the pure snow pink. I could see several large gashes on his chest and arms that were filled with snow and debris from the branches. I felt for a heartbeat as I held my hand under his nose. A sigh of relief escaped me when a faint pulse showed his continuing survival.

“Just what happened to you?” I whispered to myself as I started tending to the large gashes by ripping my cloak. Satisfied that he wouldn’t lose much more blood. I hoisted his large frame as much as my small stature would allow. I staggered for a moment as his heavy body settled across my shoulders, back, and arms. I bent briefly to collect my forgotten basket and slowly dragged the man back to my home.

….

My arms had been shaking with the strain of carrying the large man for an hour before the faint plume of smoke from my cottage became visible. I quicken my pace as it came closer. When I was within hearing distance I shouted out, “Sylvain, I need your help!”

The cottage door creaked open and a small boy, barely six years of age, ran out. He rushed to my side, taking the offered berry-filled basket from my hand. Sylvain jogged ahead of me to open the door and turn down the blanket on my bed for the man I carried. As I laid the man down, Sylvain moved the man’s legs onto the bed and pulled the blankets to his waist.

Once he was done I laid a still shaking hand on his tawny coloured locks, “Thank you, Syl. Would you take the basin and boil some water for me? I need to gather my herbs and tend to his wounds.”

“Of course, Papa,” he chirped eagerly, scurrying off to do as I asked. I smiled fondly, truly thankful for such a wonderful child.

I rolled up the sleeves of my grey tunic and sorted through my herbs. I ground a mixture of honey, yarrow, and goldenrod into a paste with practiced speed, finishing just as Sylvain returned. He carried the metal basin carefully, setting it beside the bed.

“Do you want me to add the flower oil to the water, Papa?” Sylvain asked as he lifted the small vial of lavender oil I kept on the table.

I pulled a chair next to the bed, “Three drops and then bring me our clean linens.”

Soon the scent of lavender filled the air. I carefully unwrapped the makeshift bandages took one of the linens Sylvain obediently held out. I dipped it in the lavender oil infused water and gently washed out the wounds. Pieces of bark and wood chips were wiped out with only a little trouble as I tried to keep the splinters from aggravating the wounds anymore than they already were. As I prodded at the abused flesh, fresh blood flowed and was helpfully dabbed up by Sylvain’s own linen. Once the wounds were clean, I dipped my fingers into the healing paste. The thick substance smelled faintly of the flowers it was made from. I rubbed a little just inside the wounds and wiped the now bloody remainder of the paste from my hands.

I picked up a needle and thread a thin string though it. I looked down at Sylvain before beginning the next step, “I want you to close the door and wait outside.”

“But Papa, I can handle it,” he protested, scrunching his lightly freckled nose.

“Please, Sylvain. I know you can handle the sight of it. You are my son after all, but if this man wakes up he will be in immense pain. I don’t want you in here in case he lashes out. I know how to protect myself, but I don’t want you to get hurt,” I pleaded gently.

Sylvain deflated some and nodded in defeat, “I just wanted to help. You always work so hard.”

“I know, mon cheri,” I brushed his hair out of his jade eyes, “Thank you.”

He pecked my cheek and left the room, the door closing with a soft thump behind him. With Sylvain gone, I heated the needle to sterilise it and settled back in the chair. I concentrated as I pushed the edges of the skin together and began to stitch the wound closed. I repeated this on the two more before the man bolted upright with a roar. I dropped the needle and pressed my hands to his shoulders.

I spoke quickly and softly to try and calm the man as he struggled against my grip, succeeding in landing a few hits to my ribs. He was surprisingly strong for someone injured so badly . I was panting and holding my aching ribs by the time he finally fell back into unconsciousness. I searched the floor for the needle, finding it just under the edge of the bed. Sighing, I sterilised it once more and began stitching again.

I cut the last stitch and called Sylvain back inside. He checked me over worriedly, “The man didn’t hurt you right?”

I shook my head, “I’ll be fine. Help me wrap his wounds and then I’ll tend to that hit to his head.”

I had just noticed the head injury when he was struggling. It didn’t look too bad and considering that he hadn’t broken a bone during the fall he got off extremely lightly. Still, he wouldn’t have survived with the amount of bloods he was losing when I found him.

Sylvain handed me linens as I wrapped the wounds. He held them tight as I tied them off. I ran my hand over his black hair, feeling for the bump, once the wounds were wrapped. It didn’t seem like a life threatening injury; although, he might have a rather nasty headache and some memory loss when he wakes up.

“Syl, I need you to replace the water in the basin. Adding peppermint and lavender oil will reduce his headache,” I said, digging through the collection of vials to find the pale yellow peppermint oil. I could hear Sylvain leaving the room as I muttered to myself. Pulling the elusive vial out, I frowned at the low amount. I hoped there was enough to last until the man woke; I wouldn’t be able to collect more peppermint until then.

As I waited for my son to return I glanced out the window, a little surprised that the sun had nearly set. I settled back in the chair as exhaustion caught up with me. I mentally listed the things I still had to do before I could rest for the night: tend to the checkerberries, check on the steeping fennel, cook what’s left of the venison for supper, preserve the tarragon leaves, and wash the soiled linens. It was too much to do.

I opened my eyes when Sylvain entered; I hadn’t realised that I’d closed them. I stood once he place the basin back on the table. I easily measured the perfect amount of peppermint and lavender and poured it in the water. As the soothing aroma spread throughout the room, I set a hand on Sylvain’s shoulder and led him to the larger basin that we used to clean the dishes.

“Will you wash the checkerberries for me? I need to start on the venison,” I asked, feeling horrible for having him take on one of my chores.

“Yes, Papa,” Sylvain hugged my waist before attacking the checkerberries. I smiled, amused by his antics, and began cutting the preserved venison. I added small pinches of thyme to the meat for flavour. A kind of peace settled over me as I worked at the simple task. My right hand reached for the perfect herbs and seasonings on its own as my left sliced the venison expertly. It seemed like only a few minutes had passed as I sat the cooked venison on the table when in actuality it was almost an hour.

Sylvain had finished several minutes earlier and was rinsing his hands before sitting down in front of his plate. I sat across from him. We talked aimlessly as he told me about his day while I was out gathering herbs and berries. Sylvain spoke animatedly about the pair of squirrels he had seen racing in the trees while he completed his chores. I smiled at him as he waved his arms around in his enthusiasm.

After the food was eaten, some set aside for the man if he woke, I led Sylvain to his room. I turned down the down blanket. He crawled in once I was done.

“Papa?” I sat on the bed next to him when he called to me, “Will you tell me a story?”

I obliged his request and leaned back against the pillow next to him. I racked my brain for a moment before settling on the the tale about the castle so near to our home. It was one of Sylvain’s favourite stories; he loved hearing about magic and since the castle is so close, he can see the setting for the story.

When I finished the tale, I kissed my sleeping son’s head and left to finish the remainder of my chores. Starting with the fennel, I sipped the flavoured water. It was still too weak. I set the unsatisfying pot back over the dying embers to keep it warm for the night. I moved on to the next item on my mental list: preserving tarragon leaves.

Preserving herbs was a very easy task if a long one. I rinsed the leaves to rid them of any bugs and dirt; it wouldn’t be good to have contaminated herbs among my collection. Many of the herbs were used on the injuries that Sylvain and I sustain. I wasn’t risking infecting one of my son’s wounds, so scrubbing the herbs clean was a necessity.

I patted the soggy leaves dry with a clean linen, set them on the table and sliced them into thin slivers with only slight difficulty due to some of the slivers sticking to my knife. Brushing the tarragon into a bowl, I placed it next to the window where tomorrow’s sun would begin the drying process.

As I did so, I took a second to appreciate the beauty of the stars above. I took a deep breath and moved away from the window back to my room where the man was still sleeping peacefully. I gathered the soiled linens quietly , leaving the door cracked behind me. I could feel the minutes ticking away at a snail’s pace as I endeavoured in the mind-numbing work of cleaning the bloody cloths. After almost an hour of scrubbing, I was finally finished. My back ached fiercely in protest of sitting hunched over for so long. The pain combined with my exhaustion induced headache was making me dizzy.

I sighed as I made my way to my room to check on my patient before retiring. When I entered, the first thing I noticed was that the man had shifted in his sleep, loosening one of the bandages on his arm. I retied the cloth after making sure that he hadn’t ripped any of the stitches.

With my job done for the day, I retired to the small guest room. I changed into a nightshirt, released my thick hair from its prison, and fell into a peaceful sleep.

 
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