Major Colquhoun Grant pulled the door of the old farmhouse closed behind him and leant against it, breathing heavily. He could still hear the roar of the artillery over the rumbling of the thunder and the incessant beat of the rain on the tiled roof but at least he should be safe here for a while.
He shrugged off his soaking greatcoat and winced as a jolt of pain shot through his arm. The bullet had struck him just above his elbow and his sleeve was soaked with blood. He didn’t think it was particularly serious but he needed to get the jacket off and assess the damage and unfastening the buttons with one hand proved a lot harder than he expected.
“Need some help with that, major?”
Startled, Grant looked up to see William De Lancey leaning against a doorpost, fiddling with the lock on his pistol.
“Colonel De Lancey! What on earth are you doing here?”
“Damn thing keeps misfiring.” De Lancey waved the offending weapon in Grant’s general direction, causing him to duck instinctively before he realised it wasn’t loaded. “I swear I was better off with the old Elliot. Thought I might stand a better chance of drying it out if I could take cover from that bloody rain for a few minutes. I certainly didn’t expect to find anyone else in here. Good to see you alive, Grant, although that looks like a nasty scratch.”
“This?” Grant attempted to raise his arm nonchalantly and immediately wished he hadn’t as another wave of pain hit and the room began to spin. “It’s nothing. I just need to stop the bleeding so I can get back out there.”
De Lancey smiled. “Nonsense. It would be best to make sure there’s no material in the wound, would it not? You wouldn’t want it to get infected and I certainly wouldn’t want to be responsible for allowing Lord Wellington’s favourite exploring officer to expire because I neglected to provide assistance.”
“Favourite?” Grant snorted. “Hardly. The man barely acknowledges my existence.”
“You’d be surprised.” De Lancey put the pistol down and took Grant by his uninjured arm, guiding him to a threadbare sofa in the corner. “He talks about you all the time. Or at least he listens and nods a lot when everyone else talks about you.”
“Everyone talks about me?”
“Of course. Your exploits are legendary. You have quite a following among the young officers on Lord Wellington’s staff.” De Lancey winked. “Now let’s get that arm sorted out.”
He removed Grant’s belt and sash and started undoing his jacket.
“Good lord,” he exclaimed as he worked his way up one side and down the other, “you’ve got a lot of buttons on this thing.”
Once the last one was unfastened, he carefully helped Grant to slide his arm out of the damaged jacket then grabbed the edges of the hole that the bullet had made in his shirt and ripped the whole sleeve apart.
“Was that really necessary?” Grant protested, thinking of his dwindling supply of serviceable clothing and the cost of having to replace a shirt that could easily have been mended.
De Lancey laughed. “I think it was already beyond saving, major,” he said, “but if it’s that important to you, you can have one of mine to make up for it.“ He peered at the wound, leaning in towards Grant so he could inspect it more closely.
“Hmmm. It looks clean enough but it’s hard to tell in this light. Wait here.”
As he disappeared into the next room, Grant shook his head and muttered to himself, “Where else am I going to go?“
De Lancey re-emerged a couple of minutes later with a jug of water in one hand, a candle in the other and a bottle tucked under his chin. He sat down next to Grant and let the bottle fall onto his lap then held the candle up so he could see what he was doing and poured water over the injury until he could make out the deep gash left by the shot. Retrieving the bottle, he pulled out the cork and emptied the contents into the wound with a rather belated warning.
“This might sting.”
“Christ!” Grant gasped, “What the Hell is that?” He didn’t know what was worse, the burning sensation ravaging the nerves in his arm or the smell of the liquid that was causing it.
“Cheap brandy, as far as I can tell,” De Lancey said with a grimace. “Tastes revolting but it should help to clean out any muck that could give you problems.” He looked around for something to use as a bandage and as he did so a thought occurred to him and he dashed back out of the room, only to return a few seconds later with a small earthenware pot.
Grant watched with a puzzled frown as De Lancey removed the lid from the pot and dipped his hand into it, but his bemusement turned to understanding when he saw the golden honey dripping from the colonel’s slender fingers.
“I didn’t realise you had an interest in medicine, sir,” he said with a touch of admiration in his voice.
“Well, one does tend to pick up some useful skills in a war.” De Lancey shrugged modestly as he smeared the honey over the damaged flesh and the surrounding skin, creating a sticky barrier that would help to heal the wound and prevent infection.
Grant sighed and closed his eyes until the pain subsided under De Lancey’s gentle ministrations and when he opened them again he was greeted with the sight of the colonel licking the remaining honey from his fingers.
De Lancey caught his gaze and held it as he closed his lips around his index finger and drew it slowly out of his mouth.
“Mmmmm,” he murmured, “that is good. Want to try some?”
Grant swallowed and made a strangled sound that De Lancey seemed to interpret as an affirmative, given the way he dipped his hand back into the pot and held up a glistening finger.
“Go on, major, it really is quite delicious.” There was an expectant glint in his eyes as he licked the traces of honey from his own lips and pressed the tip of his finger to Grant’s.
Grant couldn’t resist. He parted his lips and took De Lancey’s finger into his mouth, sucking the sweet confection from it and rolling his tongue around it in a way that drew a low moan from the colonel’s throat.
“That,” he said as he released the trembling digit and gave it one final lick, “is the sweetest thing I have ever tasted.”
He looked down at the growing bulge in De Lancey’s breeches with a wicked grin and took the earthenware pot from his hand.
“Although I have a feeling it would taste sweeter still if one were to eat it off something a bit larger.”