By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 37 - Knight in White Satin
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, early in the morning
A pounding headache and a dry throat, those are the first two things Matteo notices as light of the day slowly penetrates his eyelids. To the Sembian, the process of waking up has never been as painful as this time. Trying to move his muscles he feels nothing but stiffness, and his right leg feels immobilized from his hip down. As more and more nerves start to report back to his brain, Matteo knows he is lying in a bed, naked, yet under some soft material. The smell, heat and sound of a hearth blazing, assures him that he is in some building of sorts.
A soft moan rises from Matteo’s throat and his eyes flutter open. Feeling the light of day on his face he goes completely still. “Immerine…“ Struggling to sit up, he winces in pain as his split lips move and grits his teeth at the agony that roars through his body. Sweat breaks out on his brow, the salty liquid adding further pain and discomfort to his exposed flesh. Nearly collapsing at the toll even such simple tasks take, he forces himself upright and looks about the room, panting and gasping for breath.
Blinking his eyes a few times to gain focus, Matteo finds himself in an elegantly furnished room. One side of the wall curves, and the two small windows show that he is somewhere in a tower. On the opposite side of the room, a large hearth is blazing, providing almost stifling warmth. A closet and night table suggest at a feminine owner of the room. Looking at himself, Matteo sees he’s completely naked, save for the bandages that are wrapped around his torso. Lifting the satin sheets, he sees that his right leg has been set in a cast.
Groaning at the effort of sitting up, he reaches down and as gently as possible lifts his leg up and over the edge of the bed so that the heel of his foot rests upon the floor. Biting down on his lip he levers himself upright, swaying dangerously on his feet. Reaching back a stiff arm he pulls the satin sheet from the bed, tasting fresh blood in his mouth as his teeth bite into his inner lip in reflexive response to the pain in his body. Ever so slowly he wraps the sheet around his lower body and tries to hop over towards the night table, looking about for clothing as he does.
Besides a silk night robe draped over the chair, there are no other clothes at the night table. Hobbling over to the closet, Matteo opens it, only to find women’s clothes. Softly swearing he closes the closet and turns around looking out the windows. Hopping closer to them, he arrives about halfway through the room when he recognizes where he is. The Angruatil Mansion. Looking about again, it hits him. He must be in one of the Lady’s private rooms.
The soft sound of a door sliding over the carpeting draws his attention. “Well, my stubborn employee. Up and about already?“ Standing in the door opening is Lady Angruatil herself. The half-elven woman dressed in an exquisite moss-green velvet dress that accentuates the curves of her body. Draped around her slender neck a silver collier set with diamonds. The tip of her left ear holds a diamond studded silver earring to match the collier. The corners of her mouth curl in the hint of a smile. “At least it is good to see you back again. And in one piece.“
Raising a shaking, bandaged hand to his lips, Matteo’s fingers come away stained with blood and look down for a moment, chest still heaving from the effort required to do little more than hop part-way across a room. Opening his mouth to reply, all that issues forth is a hoarse rasp and he has to swallow blood to lubricate his throat. When he speaks his voice is dry and raw, though a hint of a grin tugs at the corner of his mouth. “It is good to see you too, my lady, though I hope you will forgive me if I do not offer a bow.“ Wincing momentarily as the movement causes his lip to reopen and bleed, he sways slightly. “How did I get to be here? Who found me? Has the La… the Lieutenant been found?“
Dark spots drift in front of his vision and vertigo assails his senses. Staggering a little, he begins to lurch forward but catches himself in time, forcing himself upright by sheer effort of will. Schooling his near bloodless features to impassiveness he awaits an answer.
“What you should do, is get back in your bed.“ The lady’s stern voice replies, “You’ve lost quite some blood, and that leg of yours will need rest to heal. Besides, you have visitors.“ Stepping aside, Matteo sees two familiar persons standing in the doorway: Captain Zaina and Immerine.
“I don’t need visitors.“ Matteo replies hoarsely, the speech causing more blood to well from his split lip as Lady Angruatil steps aside, “I need to find…“ The little remaining color in his body drains as he sees the two women. “Immerine…“ He whispers in a barely audible voice. His good knee begins to buckle and he staggers slightly, the brief movement causing a hiss of indrawn breath as pain and agony lance up from his injured ankle and spine. The satin sheet slips from about his waist, and he only just grabs it in time as another spell of vertigo assails his senses and he sways dangerously.
Immerine pushes into the room quickly towards Matteo as he sways dangerously. He sees her coming towards him her face bare and her pale skin highlighted by the raven-black hair framing her slender face. Her green eyes sparkle in amusement and worry. Her red lips partially open and her teeth set in a grimace as she pushes her body into the room.
As she hurriedly draws near he sees she is wearing tattered armor. Her cloak and armor part in places and Matteo sees pale skin and sometimes angry wounds and scabs. “Barbaric! Lord Ashgale. Return to your bed immediately. You are hardly in any condition to hop about one-legged.“ Her tone is harsh but her eyes are soft.
Immerine turns to the Captain, “See Captain, I was correct.“ The corners of Immerine’s lips rise in a smile. “He would have been better tended if he were left to the wolves. Lie down your lordship so I can tend you properly!“ Taken off guard, it is all Matteo can do to stammer in a dry rasp, “Wolves? What have wolves… ? That was what bit me? Dragged me… I have the…“ Raising his bandaged hand towards his shoulder a grimace of pain flashes across his face and he lets his hand drop back to his side. Truly seeing Immerine for the first time, his eyes grow large at the sight of her bared features and, strangely, his cheeks flush a faint pink. His gaze flicks towards Zaina and the color deepens. His mouth works soundlessly for a moment before he manages to give voice to word. “Hop? I wasn’t hopping. I was limping…“ His voice trails off and his eyes sweep over Immerine’s body. “You’re hurt. You should rest while we get you healed…“ He says weakly.
At his mention of wolves and being dragged she flinches and presses a hand unconsciously to her side. She physically winces in pain before quickly looking back into Matteo’s eyes. Immerine raises an eyebrow, “All things considered Matteo, you are hardly in a position to order me about – not that you ever were. If needs be I shall tend you where you sway.“ Immerine closes the distance to him. Her eyes roam his body taking in his wounds and her face turns grim.
Captain Zaina sees Immerine storm into the room, a look of pain crosses her features unnoticed by all but Matteo. When Lady Angruatil turns to look at her, Zaina’s face is impassive professionalism again. “Seems Matteo is in good hands now.“ Lady Angruatil says to the captain.
Tearing her gaze from the room Captain Zaina looks at the Lady for a moment. “Yes. Yes I think so. I’ll return to my duties.“ Glancing once more at Matteo, Zaina turns away and moves down the stairs. Lady Angruatil looks into the room again as well, before stepping out, closing the door quietly after her.
His attention momentarily distracted by the figures at the doorway, Matteo almost has to tear his eyes from the Captain’s departing back towards the oncoming Immerine. When he looks at her, his expression is slightly troubled and uneasy.
“You are in worse shape than Lieutenant Aluar when I found him on the trail.“ She extends a hand to place it against his flesh as gently as a butterfly landing atop a daisy. She steps closer to capture his eyes with hers as her other hand reverently grips the symbol about her neck.
Matteo flinches ever so slightly as she raises a hand and all emotion drains from his face, his eyes clouding over as he goes rigid though she notices his pupils dilating in pain. Lifting his un-bandaged hand he lays it lightly over hers, his skin clammy beneath her skin. Blood oozes slowly from his split lip as he rasps, “I am not hurt Immerine.“ Blinking slowly, the tip of his tongue licks his blue-tinged lips. “Well, not serious anyway. Save your healing for yourself, you need it more than I.“
“Hmmm, yes. So I can see, barely wounded at all. Stubborn fool. My wounds have at least been tended, and only one is serious enough to still bleed. You can barely stand and I gather you cannot stop me.“ Immerine’s gaze turns fierce.
“Fool?“ He asks in a dry, hoarse voice. “It wasn’t me that ran off.“ Trying to remove her hand from his body he twists his torso away to one side only to quickly stop moving, his eyes losing focus as what little color remaining drains from his face. Standing with his jaw firmly clenched and holding his breath tautly in, his fingers slide gently down the back of her hand as he releases it to lift slowly to his mouth. A tremor shakes his body and he coughs abruptly, spraying dark, congealed blood within a lighter pink spray into his hand. Sweat beads his forehead as a low moan is torn from his throat, quickly bitten off as he struggles to impose his will upon his injuries. Visibly trembling he fights for speech. “If you are bleeding, you should heal yourself.“ His eyes begin to flick around the room as though frantically searching for something.
“I am not going to argue with you when you are coughing up blood. The least you could do is let me heal you enough so we can fight properly. I did not drag you through the snow last night to lose you now.“ Matteo thinks the last part is said in more a tone of disbelief than fact, as if she is trying to convince herself it happened. “Now then, if you are finished.“ She steps in closer to him to support his body while wrapping her arm about him to gently rest against his flesh. With her other hand she again takes her symbol in hand and murmurs softly in a strange language.
Immerine’s face relaxes in peace as she feels the familiar touch of her mistress. Suddenly her eyes widen in surprise a moment before blood runs down her forehead to the bridge of her nose. Matteo sees wounds open on her face and her lip burst open as if she bit into her own flesh. His own lip seals over, the wound on his own forehead disappears and some of his minor scratches fade.
Immerine releases Matteo quickly as the world spins before her and spots appear in front of her eyes. She gasps in surprise and almost falls to the floor in shock. She looks blankly at the Sembian an odd look in her eyes.
A soft murmur escapes Matteo’s lips and his shoulders drop a little as fatigue sets in, sapping yet more of the little strength he has. The beginnings of a smile begin to turn up the corners of his mouth as he slowly opens his eyes only to see the results of Immerine’s healing and the odd, blank look in her eyes. His mouth drops open in shock and he stares at her in disbelief. His hand rises hesitantly towards her lips but stops just short. “What have you done?“ He asks, a hint of horror creeping into his voice. “Gods, woman, I would never wish that you felt…“ Snapping his mouth shut abruptly, he reaches out to support her. “You need to lie down, get to bed…“ As soon as he tries to take any additional weight he stops, a muffled groan issuing from between his lips. His eyes harden with determination as, gritting his teeth; he forces himself to continue. Only this time he cannot quite hold back giving voice to his agony as pain fires up his spine. “Shit. Stupid woman…“ Is all he manages to gasp as his good leg buckles at the knee, and he begins to topple.
Immerine pales as Matteo starts to fall. She catches him as he topples and gently holds him against her chest. The satin sheet floats slowly to settle on the floor at their feet. Immerine slowly lowers Matteo and herself to the floor and sits holding him pressed against her gently and tries to take pressure from his spine. “Stupid?“ She whispers. “I did not go out into the middle of a snowstorm to find the Lieutenant.“
She is quiet and watches him her face contorting into a varied assortment of emotions. “I thought you were dead. I would have given my life to protect you from what happened. I could barely even get you help in the end. You call me stupid… I am sorry you feel this way. Once I am able to get you back into bed, I will leave and you will never have to worry with my stupidity again.“ Pain rises in her eyes and she shuts her eyes against the tears welling within.
“How will you get me into bed, Immerine?“ He asks hoarsely, his expression a jumbled mix of fear, determination, regret, pain, and longing. “You are barely in better shape than I am.“ Emotion swirls in his gray eyes like a storm. Glancing away he whispers, “I did not go out looking for the lieutenant last night. I was looking for you.“
“If I were not worried about damaging you further I would toss you into bed like a sheaf of wheat.“ She opens her eyes and looks down at him with full, moist eyes. She leans closer over him and grazes her fingertips across her holy symbol calling on her goddess in a silent plea to aid her in helping the man in her arms.
Tensing suddenly in her arms, Immerine sees fear flicker in his eyes as he abruptly tries to thrust himself away from her, desperately pushing away with his arms with all his strength and wrenching his body sideways to roll out onto the floor. The effort takes a terrible toll, leaving him gasping for air as harsh coughs rack his frame. Spots of bright red fleck his lips as he coughs up more dark chunks of old, congealed blood.
Even as he gives a broken whimper and sags into the floor he realizes that the bruising and pain in his back has diminished. Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth he looks at her as though betrayed. Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth he looks at her as though betrayed. “How could you?“ He gasps raggedly. “You would force your will on others whether they would have it or not?“
Again Immerine’s eyes widen in shock and surprise and her skin pales visibly. Matteo feels more of his surface hurts fade. Immerine grunts in pain, as purplish black bruises appear on her body and she slumps forward slightly gasping. The tears that gathered spill across her cheeks and she desperately reaches for Matteo. She stops cold at his words.
Her face settles into a schooled mask and her eyes grow distant. “I would seek to heal you of some small hurts, Lord Ashgale. It is painfully obvious I am neither wanted nor appreciated here.“ Her tone is completely neutral. Immerine struggles to gain her own feet hissing as her back catches as she rises. On her way up she grabs the sheet, “Your robe, milord.“ Once on her feet she tosses the satin swath to him.
His head still bowed Matteo looks at the crumpled sheet before him. “Wanted or appreciated?“ He gasps, inhaling sharply as he shifts upon the floor. “I want…“ Shaking his head he winces, raising a trembling hand to his forehead. Still bowed over the floor he struggles to get his hand beneath his body and lever himself upright. “What I have, even my pain, is mine to give. Not something to be taken. I would never wish it on…“
Lifting his head, he looks up at her through tangled, damp hair, blood staining his lips and chin. For possibly the first time since she met him his gray eyes are large, open windows into his soul. Vulnerability wars with deeper emotions as he looks at her, all mixed in with self-loathing and fear. “I…“ Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he turns his face away. “Leave if you wish Immerine.“ He whispers softly, pronouncing her name carefully and slowly as though it had some special importance. “It might be best. In truth, if you knew me more you would visit all that pain back on me and more.“ When he looks back up this time, his face is a blank, expressionless mask. “Leave; at least I can spare you that.“
Immerine looks on him drinking him in, “All I want for you is happiness. I disappoint you and fail every time I try to bring it to you. Physical pain is nothing compared to the hurt I feel inside. I have… I have never had anyone make me feel this way. I loved you, now you accuse me of dreadful wrongs I would never deliver upon you. I am sorry Matteo, so very sorry. For a brief moment I know what my mother felt as she saw my father, I know what she was willing to sacrifice and finally did before those beasts killed her and brought her back from the dead!“ Immerine forces herself to calm down.
“You are self-immersed in pain. Your physicality will never even begin to match the breaches in your soul until you can move beyond what has happened. So, I will leave, but I will not leave you alone. I have a feeling Captain Zaina is hovering around downstairs. I will have her come up here and help you back into bed.“ Immerine’s fights with a quivering lip and a tremor enters her confident voice, “Good – bye Matteo.“ She turns stiffly and limps towards the door slowly.
Matteo watches her move slowly towards the door, his mouth hanging open and eyes wide in stunned amazement. His jaw moves but no sound comes out, even as he feels a tearing sensation in his chest. “Stop“ Is all he can manage in a dry croak after a moment, followed by a pleading, “Please.“ Without turning around Immerine says, “Why?“
“Because…“ He replies hoarsely; breaking off for a moment with a hiss of indrawn breath as he struggles to rise to his feet, sheet in hand. Looking at her back helplessly, Matteo closes his eyes even as he sways dangerously upon his feet. “… You loved me?“ He whispers in disbelief. “I thought you hated me, despised me.“ Rushing onwards, he almost spills over his own tongue to add, “Ever since we walked back from Clearspring Tor… I said something that upset you. Since then all we have done is fight and argue.“ Licking his lips nervously, he adds, “We can barely be in each other’s company before…“
“Immerine, you have never disappointed me. I… I feel things for you I have not felt since Nienna died. Until we talked the other night I was dead inside… and now you have lit a light in the darkness of my soul.“ Blinking back tears even as his heart clenches, he whispers, “Immerine, I love you. It scares me how much I love you, terrifies me, and makes me afraid like never before. But I can’t help it.“
Immerine finishes crossing the distance to the door and even stretches her hand to open it before stopping. She turns partially around and sees Matteo erect again. “You should go to bed before you fall down. I may not be there to catch you this time.“ She turns back to the door, again stretching her hand to leave.
“You are an Outlander. This cannot happen.“ She sinks to her knees in front of the door moaning sharply as her battered (and now bruised) body hits the floor. She continues speaking half in Rashemi and half in the common trade tongue. Matteo catches a few phrases: “… impossible man…“; “Never be a wychlaran now…“; “… betrayal…“ Finally she begins rocking back and forth. Her shoulders shake quietly and a single solid sob comes from her after several moments.
As she reaches for the door Matteo watches, his eyes wide with fear and his heart in his mouth even before she sinks to the floor. Clenching his eyes tightly shut against the sounds coming from her he visibly flinches at the broken words he understands. His face bleak, he hobbles painfully towards her, hissing at the pain that lances up his leg and back with each step until he stands just behind her.
Slowly, hesitantly, as though reaching into a fire, he lifts his hand to touch her shoulder, recoiling at the lightest of first contacts as though burned. Strange emotions war with one another on his face as he stares down at his hand. As the solid sob is torn from Immerine he jerks upright, a flash of pain on his face from the sudden movement. Still clutching the satin sheet before him he reaches forward with his other hand, placing it gently on her shoulder. Licking his lips, he swallows to alleviate a suddenly dry throat. “Do the witches not take mates? I could return to Rashemen with you…“
Her shoulders shake for several more moments and the sobs finally slow. She stands up again using the wall as a support. “I could never ask you to do that. You are too used to this life. Servants and ease are a far cry from the harsh realities of life in Rashemen.“
“You need to sit down and relax. Your wounds will not heal otherwise, please – lean on me and I will take you to the bed. Once there, we can sit and talk.“ Immerine looks at him a serious glint in her eyes.
Returning her gaze, his eyes large in his pale face, he nods slightly while offering her his arm. “You do not have to ask.“ He says quietly in a subdued voice, “I offer it freely. I have lost one…“ Coughing quietly to clear his dry throat, he grimaces at the pain that spasms up his spine, and swallows. “I have lost one love before. It is not an experience I wish to repeat.“
Turning slowly, he keeps his body rigidly upright while clearly favoring his uninjured leg. He sways unsteadily as he takes a moment to rewrap the sheet about his waist before hesitantly leaning into her. With her assistance, he gradually makes his way back towards the bed though it is obvious he is not truly leaning upon her but taking the strain of his weight on himself. The effort leaves him sweating and trembling even before they get to the bed and as they near it he stumbles, a rough cry of pain ripped from his throat as he catches his injured foot upon the floor. His hand bites deeply into her arm as for a brief moment he truly gives in to his need for help and she takes his full weight before he can recover.
By the time they reach the bed his lips are tinged blue and his skin is clammy. Almost collapsing down into it he gasps in relief, shaking from the effort involved in merely crossing the room. A soft moan rises from him as he shifts his weight on the bed, sitting bolt upright. Squirming around, his eyes go wide and he pales, even as he bites down on his lip to prevent an outcry. “Do you mind if I lie down?“ He whispers hoarsely.
Immerine is frowning at Matteo. “I allowed you the dignity of walking over here with my aid because I know you need it. You cannot even allow yourself to admit you need help. Next time I will cradle you in my arms and carry you.“ She snaps at him. “Lie down and stay there. I will seek the Lady and ask for some water for you.“ She moves to the door, swaying on her own feet and pressing a hand to her head.
Closing his eyes as he sags into the bed, he whispers after her retreating back, “I didn’t want to hurt you…“ Still not comfortable, he turns to rearrange the pillows to prop himself up. “You can just ring the bell by the door…“ He gasps after Immerine, “… and someone will come up.“
“I what? Why would I do that? Do you not have a place you carry water from, a stream or a well? I need more than a pitcher. I want to clean up and get out of my blood-caked armor. It itches and is unhealthy. And I want to tend Qwenta. I left him downstairs. Can this person who ‘comes up’ do all this? I think not. Besides they have their own tasks to perform and mine are easily accomplished – by me.“ Immerine walks to the door and opens it, steps through and closes it softly behind her.
When Immerine moves down the stairs, she encounters the elderly man that opened the door halfway. He is carrying a silver tray with a pot of steaming tea and two cups. “Yes milady?“
“Where might I draw a pitcher of water for Lord Ashgale and enough water for me to clean myself?“ Immerine asks the man, “I would like to get out of this dirty armor, if the Lady of the House does not mind me being here? If she does I can clean up later.“
“That would be no problem milady.“ The man answers, “I will take this tray to the lord’s room, and then I’ll return for a pitcher of water. If you want to refresh, you will find a cord near the main entrance. If you pull the cord, Jastra, the maid, will show you to the bathing room. She will get you a clean set of clothes as well.“ Immerine looks puzzled at the man, “I can tend myself. Why do I need someone else to do this for me?“ She looks positively lost. “Is my horse still outside?“
A gentle smile forms on the old man’s face, “I did not want to offend milady, but I would not want to encumber you with the chance of getting lost in this house.“ Shifting the weight of the tray a little, he moves his other hand to help carry the tray, “Your horse has been taken to the Running Stag milady. Captain Zaina has taken your companion there and will make sure he is being well tended.“
“What? How?“ Immerine’s voice sets off-key in panic. “Qwenta…“ Immerine’s face is stricken and she looks at the elderly man. “I will return to Matteo’s room.“ She turns around blindly on the stairs and heads back to the room she left. The old man stares after her, shaking his head slightly before following Immerine up the stairs.
Suddenly the door to the room bursts open and Immerine storms into the room. The panic on her face, combined with her current ragged appearance momentarily confuses Matteo as to who is entering the room. Abruptly sitting upright as the door crashes open, Matteo’s eyes fly open and he gasps audibly before sinking back down into the pillows. “What… ?“ Immerine’s eyes are wild, “She has him.“
“What? What are you talking about?“ Matteo asks, pain mixing with rising alarm in his voice. “Who has who? What has happened?“ “She has him.“ She repeats again. “He is gone and she has taken him away. She doesn’t like me, I saw the look in her eyes and now she has him. She took him because I have you.“ Her face is stricken and pale. A look of confusion flashes across Matteo’s face as he looks across the room at her. Struggling to sit up, he grunts softly at the cost. “What are you talking about Immerine? Him? Qwenta? Who has taken him? Lady Angruatil?“
Immerine shakes her head and takes a breath. Matteo’s grunt of pain snaps her back. “Stop squirming about before you hurt something permanently.“ She says absently. “Captain Zaina has Qwenta.“ Her face remains pale and she walks to the bed to look down at Matteo. “He is my best friend, Matteo. He is all I have in this world…“
At her absentminded command Matteo flashes her a look of surprise before flinching at what comes later. “Not all…“ He whispers, ashen faced. Trying vainly to hide the pain caused by her last remark he struggles to regain some semblance of composure. “Zaina has Qwenta? Why? Where did you leave him? The estate doesn’t have a stable…“
“Did you really mean what you said?“ She asks quietly. “What do we do now? Other than rest and heal. I can try a simple casting if you want.“ She shakes her head again, “It is getting so hard to think. Qwenta was outside. I rode straight here after getting back to the city. Barim had to go somewhere and Zaina took me here. And now I hurt more from trying to heal you than battling all night against those beasties – I’m so tired.“ Her meandering speech stops. She smiles faintly and sits next to the bed on the floor. While Immerine sits next to the bed, Rohr arrives at the door, carrying the tray. He knocks politely, “Ahum, milord, milady.“
“Barim? Beasties?“ Matteo replies, becoming even more confused. “Another healing?“ His eyes refocus and his voice begins to harden, “I forbid you… I mean, I don’t want…“ Biting his lip, he is about to say more when a knock sounds at the door. Glancing up from Immerine towards the door, Matteo goes to call out but little more than a dry rasp results. Swallowing painfully, he calls, “Come in Rohr.“
Immerine smiles at the elderly man and she sends her voice over the edge of the bed to Matteo. “Barim is Lieutenant Aluar’s proper name. After we woke up together there was no need for formalities. He chased me yesterday and he and his horse had a horrific accident. I was able to heal them both – at least enough to carry them on. I don’t know why my healing you didn’t work, I really don’t.“ Immerine looks at her holy symbol in confusion. “Maybe I’ve done something to make the goddess angry.“ The elderly servant enters and moves over to the night table, putting down the tray, he turns towards Matteo. “Do you want me to pour the tea milord?“ Matteo replies softly with a faint smile, “Please do, Rohr.“
“Milady, there is clean clothing in the closet.“ Rohr looks at Immerine, inclining his head slightly, “I will have a bath prepared for you shortly.“ Immerine smiles at the elderly man again, “I can’t convince you to stop serving me, can I?“ She shakes her head and grips the side of the bed to leverage herself to her feet. She walks over to the closet and busies herself within. Several noises come from her as she digs around. Finally she withdraws her head and sighs in exasperation. She pulls out an emerald green gown of shimmering silk. “Well, this will have to do. At least I like the color.“ She hangs the dress up and starts looking at it like it is going to bite her. “How do you put the thing on?“
Putting his hand politely before his mouth, Matteo can’t fail to notice the man’s mouth twitch into a quick smile. “I can have Jastra help you milady.“ Rohr remains unperturbed by Immerine’s comments about his attempts at serving her. “Does she know where to start on this?“ Immerine is still staring at the dress. “Maybe I should start by getting undressed. Maybe it will look better when I am naked.“ She begins by taking off her cloak.
A strangled, choking sound comes from Matteo as his eyes nearly fall from his face and his jaw drops open. Pink stains his neck and cheeks as gapes like a fish out of water. Hurriedly rolling over to turn his back on Immerine he hisses in pain then moans under his breath. He does not look back. Immerine turns around when Matteo moans, her arms half out of the armor. Worry is on her face.
Rohr quickly forms his hand into a fist and coughs, a little color rising to his cheeks. “Ahum, I’ll send Jastra over milady.“ Throwing a helpless glance in Matteo’s direction, Rohr moves out of the room as quickly as dignity allows. Immerine nods and moves toward the bed. She shrugs off the armor’s top and yanks on the ragged undergarment pulling it down; the garment exposing more then it is hiding. She stretches a hand out gently and touches Matteo’s shoulder, “Are you okay? Why did you flip over? You are going to hurt yourself doing things like that.“ If he doesn’t turn over she is going to walk around the bed to check on him.
Matteo jumps beneath her fingers as she touches him and after a brief moment he begins to carefully roll back over to face her. “You were…“ His voice tapers off as he gapes at her once again, a strangled mewling coming from his throat. The pink flush deepens to a bright red as he openly stares at her. His mouth works helplessly, as his brain tries hopelessly to find words. “You… clothes… dressed… oh gods.“ Clenching his eyes tightly shut he stretches a hand out blindly towards her. “Put something on.“ He pleads in desperation. “Please?“
Immerine recoils from the bed. She looks down at herself and then back to Matteo. Her face crashes as she realizes there is a problem and she tries to figure out what. She looks at the criss-crossing of healing wounds and understanding lights in her eyes. She walks back over to her cloak and wraps it around herself and goes to sit in the corner of the room. “I’m sorry.“ She whispers and hides her face in her hands.
As he hears her move across the room certain tension eases from Matteo’s body. At the sound of her voice his eyes fly open and he lurches upright in alarm, the color draining from his face as his injured spine protests. “Oh shit.“ He grunts, slumping back into the bed, beads of sweat standing out on his forehead. Turning his head weakly towards her he blinks in confusion. “Sorry? What is wrong now?“
Upon exiting the room, Rohr quietly closes the door behind him. “I forgot. Your customs are so different, and you are probably used to seeing unmarred maidens. I cannot change my skin. It is healing, but I will always have scars. I did not mean to horrify you.“ Immerine answers quietly. “Drink your tea before you die of thirst.“
“Unmarred maidens?“ He croaks, momentarily bewildered, “Horrify me?“ His eyes clear as understanding dawns. “Oh gods, Immerine, it wasn’t that. It was… ah… oh, how to say it.“ Clouds seem to gather and swirl within his gray eyes as he regards her intently. “It was… you are an incredibly beautiful woman Immerine and I… the sight of…“ Swallowing nervously, he wets his lips. “That is… your body, so close… I mean… I find you very attractive Immerine and…“
Exhaling slowly, he raises a shaking hand to his forehead. “We have just shared certain words and feelings, and are carefully feeling our way forwards I think. There is something growing between us…“ Licking his lips, he adds, “I mean, something is there already and it is growing deeper, I think. The sight of your body… I find you incredibly desirable Immerine, but I don’t want to spoil what we might have by making you think that is all I feel for you. Does all this make sense? The scars don’t worry me. I cannot see my back, but I imagine it is not a pretty sight beneath these bandages either.“
Immerine looks at him and it is obvious she does not understand. “Are you talking about sex? You want to have sex with me? I don’t think that is wise in your condition, at least not for a few weeks. And I have never had sex with anyone yet, but I have seen it done many times. Does this mean you really want to raise a family together? Are you asking me to be your mate?“ Disbelief creeps into her voice.
Matteo’s eyes almost fall from his head as he stares at her in astonishment. “Have sex with you? No, I don’t want to… I mean, I do, but… oh gods. Is everything always going to be this… ?“ Biting of his rambling he reaches for his tea, desperately trying to gather his fraying thoughts and wincing at the pain that flares as he stretches out his arm. Groaning softly under his breath he adds, “Even if I could get it up, I don’t think I’m in any state to…“ If possible, his eyes flare even wider in surprise at the words to just pass his mouth. “Raise a family?“ He asks weakly, “Be my mate? I… I just discovered you don’t hate and despise me and that… and now… I mean, I hadn’t thought of it like that, that far down the future. Do witches have mates?“ Looking at her, his eyes soften with moisture. “The idea is not unattractive.“ He whispers.
“Then you are not asking me to be your mate. This may be a good thing.“ Immerine’s face closes upon itself. “Most wychlaran have their mates selected by the sisterhood. We breed to produce strong leaders and have hopes of raising daughters skilled in the intricacies of the wild to broaden our society. Only the common folk marry for love.“ There is a hint of bitterness in her voice and regret.
“This does not mean love between a Witch and her mate does not exist. It does and is usually the strongest of bonds.“ She falls silent and it is a long moment before she speaks again, “My mother and father had such a bond, and I was the result of their love. But they were chosen to be mated, and I do not know if I think this is right. So to answer you, yes… witches have mates.“
As he listens to Immerine, Matteo’s expression grows stony. “I did not say I was not asking you, Immerine.“ He says flatly. “No one is going to tell me who I can or cannot marry. No one.“ This last is almost bitten off and he cannot keep the anger from his voice. “If I want to marry you, I will.“ His nose and mouth are pinched and his eyes are dark like storm clouds. “They told me I couldn’t marry Nienna and…“ Biting of his words he breathes deeply. “I… I meant what I said earlier. I love you Immerine. If we can live together without killing each other, I want to marry you.“ Giving a sudden high-pitched yelp, he stares down at his lap where hot tea has just sloshed over the rim of his mug before trying to pat himself down with the satin sheet.
Immerine jerks her hands from her face and stands up quickly at the yelp. The cloak falls away and lands at her feet. Shrugging, she moves over to the bed and sits on the edge, trying to keep as little as possible of her dirty self from contaminating the sheets. She smiles gently, her face softening beneath the dried blood. “I do not think you are in danger from me – it seems you are set on killing yourself. You barely know me Matteo. I barely know you. And…“ A hint of iron creeps into her voice, “What makes you so sure I want to marry you?“
Immerine suddenly grins and pulls the satin sheet over her head and peeks at Matteo. “Hmmm, you are right. You are not the warrior I am used to seeing – adequate though. Barim’s chest is much larger and he is a little hairier than you.“ She drops the sheet her face more serious. “I do, however, owe loyalty to my people. Wychlaran must always serve the needs of Rashemen and her people first and herself last. I agreed to this when I underwent initiation to become an Ethran. I am tied to the land.“ Her face reflects deep sorrow and longing before she turns to face away from Matteo. “What I want in the matter is of little consequence.“
Preoccupied with the hot liquid in his lap Matteo does not notice Immerine approach until she sits on the edge of the bed, whereupon his eyes flick towards her. Turning back to the task at hand, his head snaps back around and he stares at her, his eyes drinking her in. When he realizes he is staring, Matteo flushes, tearing his gaze from her. When she suddenly lifts the sheet he gapes, then frantically tries to cover himself.
The serious tone in her voice as she drops the sheet arrests his actions and he watches her carefully. As she turns away he transfers what remains of his mug of tea to his left hand and, fumbling slightly, reaches forward to lay his hand over hers on the bed. “What you want matters to me.“ He says quietly. Sighing softly, he eases himself back into the pillows. “I don’t think you could stay here even if you wanted, Immerine. When I try to picture you I think of you under the light of the moon at Clearspring Tor. Grass under your feet, hard rocks all around.“ Closing his eyes he whispers, “That is where you looked like you belonged, like some ephemeral spirit merely clothed in flesh. Even in this room you don’t truly belong, it is too small for you, fencing your spirit in like a cage. You *are* Rashemen, I think, Immerine. You are not tied to the land; you are at one with it.“ His lip quivers slightly and he bites down on it. “It is not something I can compete with, not now, not ever.“
Opening his eyes, he stills as he realizes he has unconsciously been stroking her forearm with the tip of one finger. Swallowing past the lump in his throat he adds, “I will never have all of you Immerine, even if you will put up with me. But I will take whatever you can spare.“ Taking her dirty, blood-encrusted hand he lifts it to his mouth and brushes it lightly with his lips. “You will have to teach me that language of yours Immerine because I will follow you all the way to Rashemen, though whatever might stand in the way.“ If she looks at his eyes, she can see the stubborn determination growing stronger by the second.
“Do you know what you ask?“ She purses her lips and turns around to remove her boots and boot hose. She lifts her legs and lies on the outside of the sheet next to Matteo. Her eyes are a mixture of sadness and adoration. “I will teach you the language of Rashemen.“ She says nothing for a long time instead she watches Matteo’s face closely.
Finally she breaks the silence, “You do understand.“ She blinks her eyes several times forcing moisture down. “My heart sings to me when I watch you. I feel comfortable with you and have since the night before last. Being with you, even through the fights, has been a blessing.“ She purses her lips again and Matteo can tell she is not saying most of what is on her mind.
A ghost of a smile flickers over his features at the mention of the fights and the corners of his mouth twitch. Turning his head towards her on the pillow he watches her face through half-lidded eyes, his bandaged hand reaching down between them to link fingers with her own. Content to let her thoughts lie undisturbed he remains silent, watching her. After a while he sighs softly and says, “I think I have done a very silly thing, Immerine.“
“What have you done this time?“ Immerine murmurs softly. “I should have changed my name.“ Matteo replies quietly, staring up at the ceiling. “After Nienna was killed I refused to return to Saerloon with my uncle. The men with him beat me to within an inch of my life, leaving me for dead in a gutter.“ Shaking his head, he adds, “If not for a wandering priest of Ilmater I probably would have died, from the knives of those who lurk in Westgate’s dark alleys and trade in body parts if not from my wounds. Afterwards I did not really care whether I lived or died and so did not bother. Life did not hold much appeal anyway.“ Looking back towards her he whispers, “Now I care very much, but it may be too late. I have made a beginning here. People know me, know my name. If those who Parnien works for hear that name they will come for me. And they will try to kill me. I know too many secrets.“
Immerine looks lazily up at Matteo from between half-lidded eyes, “You fear death? Or do you fear death will come to those you are near? Either way you should give your companions the benefit of the doubt. I believe you are the type of man other men would pledge themselves to and die for.“
Her eyes flutter for a moment then she sits up. “I know secrets too. Secrets of life and death and those of undeath.“ She chokes for a moment her face contorting in anguish, “My maman was an agent of Rashemen but also had loyalties beyond our borders. She would tell me stories when I was younger.“ Immerine sweeps her legs off the bed and sits perched on the edge. She changes languages to Mulhorandi.
“Do you understand me still?“ Immerine asks without looking at Matteo. “I was very, very young and have nightmares to this day about what happened on the day my heart died. My maman was gone away on a long trip far from our borders, a very important trip. She told me she was looking for something important and that she may have found it – a book. She was to bring it home to destroy in the Witches Fire.“
“When she was gone papa was called to defend our land from the Tuigan. He took the faydwer from the village and I was left with the women and my wolf friends. One day is frozen in my memory. I felt a tearing at my soul. I did not know what it was, but the wolves ran. The morning was clear and cold… the sky a bright blue… until the shadow came. The wolves ran and someone touched me on the shoulder, it was my maman. They had never run from her before – never.“
“My maman grabbed me and took me back to the village. She held me so tightly I almost could not breathe and she was so cold. The village was in ruins – there was blood everywhere. Men in leathers were putting children and old women to the sword and laughing. There was a man, a man in purple robes leading this cruelty, he spoke an odd tongue.“ She stops and suddenly looks at Matteo sharply. “I have only heard it spoken one other time – by you the day we met.“ Her face is calm and her eyes dry as she continues her story, but facing Matteo now.
“Maman dropped me at his feet and he spoke to me sharply, but I did not understand him. He kicked me until I could not see from the pain and all went black. When I woke my body hurt and my soul was on fire. The land was crying and I could feel it. I was hanging from a wooden post and my hands were tied and… I hurt so much. I saw the man talking to an elf and my maman was standing slightly behind him her face blank and her jaw slack. I wanted to call her but I couldn’t. Then the man in purple saw me move and he walked over. My maman followed him like a servant.“
“He came and I struggled to get away, but I was stuck to the post tied too tightly. I remember his cruel words. He knew my papa was coming home. He was going to have people in his organization lay bare my brain and the secrets within, he frightened me. He told me my mother had been looking for something and he had found her first and now she was dead, yet she stood next to him. He told me he was waiting for papa and the men to return.“
“The men who butchered my village hid in the homes waiting for my papa. I saw papa coming late in the day. He and the warriors stopped at the top of the rise. My papa was smart and knew something was wrong. Maybe it was the missing smoke from homefires or the dead silence, I do not know. But I could see him and he saw me. I was still hanging on the wooden post. He led half our warriors toward the village. I tried to scream and warn him, but maman grabbed me by the throat and choked me.“
Immerine continues, lost in her memories, “Papa saw her and yelled for her to stop. She turned on him and spoke something in the language of Mysteries. Papa was close now and blades formed around him and sliced into him. He was hurt terribly and when the blades disappeared – maman leapt on him. She growled like a beast and tore him apart with her bare hands. I cried until the tears stopped flowing. Finally she turned back to me. I screamed and was suddenly free. When I landed on the ground I ran. I ran to the forest.“
“I heard the man in purple yell at maman to bring me back alive. I kept running. The forest shielded me. I ran until I fell over in exhaustion and dropped into a dreamless sleep. I woke warm and sheltered. My wolf friends had found me and the alpha male and brought his entire family to surround and protect me. I was scared but comfortable, then maman crashed into the clearing and the wolves surrounded her, their hackles on end. She said she was taking me back because the Cult had plans for me. She said I was a horrible child…“ Immerine swallows a lump in her throat.
“The tree was swaying, the wolves were growling and my maman charged. She never reached me. The tree grabbed her and pulled her apart. I ran again until I dropped from exhaustion alongside a brook. I cried and cried, both my maman and papa were dead and I was alone. Only my wolf friends survived the massacre. The brook’s voice finally called me to sleep and I slept.“
“I was a child, Matteo. I was a tiny girl and I remember. I will never forget the man. Never! Now I know what he was and I know what he was after. And, I know he did not find it. The Cult of the Dragon will never find the Book of Sammaster! – The Book of Dragons, never! Not if I can help it.“ Immerine’s fists are clenched so tightly her nails bite into flesh and a trickle of blood appears.
“I know many secrets too Matteo. Many secrets that would bring death or worse, undeath down upon me or those I am near.“ Immerine whispers as she reaches fro the cooling cup of tea on the tray and drinks it swiftly to ease her parched throat.
A shifting in the bed and an indrawn hiss of breath mark Matteo’s movement as he levers himself upright, staring at her in horror, his eyes wide and skin dreadfully pale. Immerine looks at him with concern in her eyes, “If you do not stop flipping around you are going to cause lasting damage. And, and I don’t know if I will be able to heal you. My skills seem to be fading for some reason and I do not know what I have done…“ She turns away quickly and stands up. “Now you know what you said to anger me the other night at the Tor. I thought maybe you somehow knew my mother.“
Immerine crosses the room and looks at the dress again. “You undo the buttons down the back.“ He says absently as his eyes follow her around the room, “and slip it on over your head. Get someone to redo the buttons so that it fits snugly.“ His voice is strangely hollow and devoid of feeling. Bowing his head he stares down at his hands, murmuring something to himself under his breath.
Immerine turns back around and faces Matteo, “So, I have done it again – haven’t I? If you want me to leave all you need do is ask.“ Raising his head slowly, Matteo looks over towards Immerine. “No, I don’t want you to leave.“ He says quietly. “You make me face what I am… what I was.“ Closing his eyes, he bites his lip as though debating with himself. When he reopens them there is a sense of determination clearly evident, though underlying it is something less assured. “Come here Immerine.“ He says softly, “I have something I need to tell you. If, when I am finished, you want to leave I won’t stop you.“ Plucking at the sheet that enfolds his lower body he adds, “Not that I could anyway.“ a note of frustration creeping into his voice.
Frowning slightly, Immerine moves back towards the bed and climbs into it again. “Is being forced to rest such a bad thing?“ She lies next to him and looks up at him. “No.“ He replies with a sigh. “Well yes.“ He adds immediately afterwards. “I have a lot to do and none of it is being accomplished lying here. I have to…“ Taking a deep breath, he winces and exhales slowly. “It can wait. First I need to… Do you know much of Sembia, Immerine? How the realm and its people organize themselves?“
“I know very little on the country. Most of what I have gleaned is from rumors and confirmations after speaking with you.“ She shifts next to him and finally gets comfortable on her side with an arm draped over him. Staring down at the fair-skinned arm draped across him, Matteo swallows past the sudden lump in his throat, wetting his lips with his tongue. Lifting his left hand he almost timidly touches her skin, stroking it lightly.
Immerine forces herself not to leap away at the touch. She closes her eyes and the hairs rise on her arm and goose bumps follow. The lighter the touch the more pronounced the bumps on her arm. After a few tense moments she begins to relax again and the bumps slowly recede.
Still looking down at her arm, Matteo licks his lips once again, a look almost of fear in his gray eyes. Too afraid to stop but suddenly scared to continue he clenches his eyes tightly closed, hoping to banish the image of her reaction but to no avail. Swallowing to moisten his throat he tears his eyes from her skin to a point on the far wall, trying to desperately focus his mind.
“We… we have a reputation as a land of merchants, a… a land of wealth based on the pursuit of yet more wealth.“ He manages to stammer before regaining a greater degree of composure. “Old money commands respect, both for the connections it represents as well as for the power it grants. All manner of corruption and evil practices are permitted provided one does not transgress certain written and unwritten rules. Even then the true elite live lives above and beyond the law. It is the land of the whispered dagger and velvet innuendo, all come coated in poison.“
“The cities dominate life and each city has its own character. Ordulin, for example, is a city of politics, dominated by manipulations and maneuvers designed to get one ever closer to the throne. Selgaunt is the wealthiest of the cities, pipping Saerloon, the city I am from, though not by much. The folk there spend their time outdoing each other in displays of wealth, the more ostentatious and flamboyant the better. Then there is Saerloon, a city easily more than twice the size of this one. Above all else, wealth is power there. In Saerloon all the powers behind the thrones reside, fighting against each other in a vicious, deadly game. Thieves’ guilds such as the Night Knives, slavers such as the Eyeless Mask, trading consortiums like the Iron Throne, organizations such as the Cult of the Dragon and the Red Wizards of Thay, all live, breath, and plot in Saerloon. To rise to the rarified air at the top of Saerloonian society one either allies with one of the truly rich families whose wealth dwarfs that of the self-titled First Folk of this city or with one of these organizations. The wealthiest of all turn this about to an extent and have these organizations allied to them and play an active role in their running.“
“This is the environment I am from. It is one I understood. One I thrived in. I began a life of commerce at an early age, accompanying my parents or my uncle Parnien on business almost as soon as I could walk. At the age of twelve, without telling my parents, Parnien gave me the sum of one hundred thousand florins to invest as a present. By the time I was fourteen I had increased that sum more than tenfold. It is a talent I seem to have. Or a curse as it has turned out. Gold seems to multiply in my hands. If I remain in Berdusk for another two, or three years I would wager that Lady Angruatil will number among the First Folk by dint of her wealth alone.“
“But all things have a price. That sum Parnien had given me was not his own, nor was it my parents’. It belonged to an organization my uncle is a member of and in the course of my investments I came to their eye, not a coincidence as I was later to find out. This organization is one of Faerûn’s most financially successful, rivaling even the Zhentarim. Much of their wealth was funneled through my family into other assets to cloak their point of origin. They enriched us and we, in turn, enriched them, all to such an extent that it became difficult to delineate between what was truly ours and what was solely theirs. Understand that this is just how things are done, both in Saerloon and in Sembia. It did not matter what deeds this organization perpetrated, what mattered was their success and their wealth. And in Sembia they have been very successful indeed. Unknowingly at first, but later with full knowledge, I was groomed to head this organization’s commercial enterprises. I know where their investments lie, how they operate and where, who is who. I know almost everything about them except details such as ongoing everyday operational field practices. This is not knowledge they can afford to see disseminated, for they have many enemies.“
“So you were involved deeply and of your own volition. What changed you?“ Immerine says quietly. Her eyes glitter and she licks her lips. Turning his head to look over at her, Matteo whispers, “It was not a moral decision. Someone tried to tell me who I could and could not marry.“ His hand trails down her arm and his fingers run over hers. “I did not begin to change, if indeed I have, until after they killed Nienna and left me for dead. You might say it was something of a severing of ways rather than a conscious decision.“
“They will not stop hunting you. Not even death can stop them. You did not leave their ranks. You see it as a severing. They would not. How long Matteo? How long did you serve the Cult?“ Immerine meets his eyes unflinchingly. Matteo flinches as she asks him and now she can see the fear in his eyes. “Ever since I invested ten thousand of their florins at the age of twelve and turned them into more than a hundred thousand. Knowingly? Since I was fifteen.“
“The text your mother died trying to retrieve is more properly called the Tome of the Dragon.“ He says quietly. “It sets forth the philosophies of Sammaster, the results of his necromantic researches, plus information on how to create undead creatures such as the famed Dracoliches among other things. A number of copies exist, all different from the other in minor ways. The leaders of the Cult are referred to as the Wearers of the Purple and they alone know how to decipher the code the tomes are written in.“
“The man who slew your parents was undoubtedly one such, for none would dare to wear the robes if they were not entitled to them.“ Closing his eyes momentarily he adds, “I do not know who the man was that traveled so far north into Rashemen.“ Turning his face away from hers to gaze up at the ceiling he sighs. “Zilvreen, Salvarad of Talos, and Naergoth Bladelord are all current Wearers of the Purple, as are the commander of Sembia’s border forces and certain other merchant-princes. Zannaster is the current Archmage of the Purple, though he resides in Urmlaspyr. I know Salvarad, Zilvreen, and Naergoth personally. I have dined with them, conversed with them. They plan and organize the Cult’s activities out of Sembia and I gave them the money they needed. All the atrocities you might lay at their feet you could likewise lay at mine.“ His voice drops to a whisper as he adds; “If we had a copy of the Tome of the Dragon here I could read to you from it.“
Immerine is silent. She holds his gaze for a long time before speaking. “You served them willingly.“ She says emotionlessly. “Do you yearn to serve them still?“ “Even if I did, they would never accept me now.“ He replies quietly. “But no. I can never forgive them for what they did to Nienna. And what would I return to? The endless pursuit of money? Parties and politics? Schemes, innuendo, and willing women more deadly than any poison?“ He shakes his head slightly. “To tell you the truth, I grow weary of commerce, the making of money. It is all too easy that I grow bored.“
Immerine nods once and closes her eyes releasing her breath. Matteo feels tenseness leave her body so close is she to him. When she reopens her eyes relief shines in them. “If you had answered any other way, you would have been weary of this life. And for all my heart would die a second time, I would have killed you.“ She speaks matter-of-factly with no emotion. “You are a marked man, Matteo. However there are places you can hide, if you choose that path. Here in Berdusk is a place of safety. Rashemen harbors another place you might find aid, the Dales as well and certain corners of Cormyr. There are probably more I do not know about, with my limited knowledge of the Sisterhood.“
“You have marked me now as well. You are either very trusting or very foolish. What if I were an agent of the Cult?“ She frowns at him. When she mentions killing him Matteo starts, a soft grunt the entire signal that the abrupt motion pained him. “You? An agent of the Cult?“ He replies incredulously, “We would never recruit someone like you.“ He shakes his head in dismissal. “There are very few places I can hide Immerine. Cormyr is no longer an option, nor are any of the Dales with but one exception. Believe me, I know. Berdusk is a haven of sorts, but not a long term one I fear. The Well of Dragons is too close; the Cult has a presence in this region already.“
“So, you wouldn’t… and you still count yourself among them.“ She hisses angrily. “Why wouldn’t you? You enfeebled, narcissistic, overblown noble!!“ Immerine rolls out of the bed. “To think I felt guilty about sleeping with Barim when you… when you… Damn you to the Abyss, Matteo Ashgale!“ Matteo’s eyes widen even as he recoils, a stricken look flashing across his face. “You slept with the lieutenant? But you said just before…“ Sitting up quickly, he hisses in pain and pales even further. “Gods, you mean I risked my life, almost got myself killed, while you were in bed enjoying another man! Zaina didn’t even come close, the Mad God would welcome a… a… savage barbarian like you!“
“You think I enjoyed it? He is the first outlander ever to see me without my mask. When I saw you in my dream… barbarian? Savage?!!“ She spins towards the silken green gown. “You would prefer instead a cheap whore who would sell herself to the first man to paw her while wearing frippery like that? Would you prefer me like that?“ Immerine starts taking off her under jerkin and slipping off her pants.
“If the mask bothered you so much, you could have left it on! That’s one piece of clothing you don’t need to remove to sleep with a man! If you didn’t enjoy it you could have…“ His voice drops away as she starts to remove her clothing and he goggles at her. “Gods, what are you doing now?!“
“The mask was on when I laid down and gone when I woke up. And if you can’t see what I am doing no God is going to give you the ability to figure it out.“ She says offhandedly as she tugs off the last piece of clothing. Next she unbraids her long hair, letting it fall unfettered to her knees.
“I can see what you’re doing.“ He gasps as his body twists in the bed to follow her movements. “Obviously Barim was so good that you’ve lost your mind… if you ever had one to begin with! Put some clothes on woman!“ Immerine swirls around to face Matteo. Her hair fluttering around like a sheer black veil. Fresh bruises cover her lithe form. One particularly nasty freshly closed wound on her side threatens to break open. Claw and scratch marks trace across her body and a bite mark adorns her left breast. Her holy symbol glistens in its place at the hollow of her slender neck.
Her face is set in anger and her green eyes blaze. “Good? Barim is the most honorable man I have ever met, present company included. What is wrong Matteo, does nudity bother you?“ She pulls her hair back and tosses it behind her. “Or is it the scars you can’t bear to see? Maybe it is the scars you do see?“ She points at the vicious wound on her hip. “If what I had was a dream, why do I have this? Do you know when I got this Matteo?“ She steps closer to him on the bed and leans forward bringing her face a foot from his. “I was shot by a crossbow carrying guard when I saved your life. I dragged your carcass to the gates of this damned city and howled to get the attention of the people inside. But then again, it was a dream.“ She pulls back and looks around shouting at the top of her voice, “I WANT A BATH!“
As she advances towards him across the room Matteo frantically tries to back away from her across the bed, but a rough groan torn from his throat quickly ends any movement and he stills, visibly trembling. “No…“ He moans under his breath, desperately clutching the sheet to his chest, “I can’t… to soon…“ Unable to tear his eyes from her figure he gasps, struggling to gather his fraying mind. “A dream?“ He whispers as she shouts for a bath, “I had a dream. Nienna appeared to me out of the mist… so sad, she was so sad. Then you came… dressed as you are now. You and Zaina. Fangs… fangs and bared teeth… skin falling off you. Blood, my blood all around… feeding off me… licking the blood. Teeth biting into me, taking me into darkness…“
Sweat beads his forehead. His pupils have dilated down to pinpoints and his skin is clammy. “Immerine… Nienna… Immerine… Blood everywhere…“ Raising a hand to his head he almost unconsciously grimaces in pain.
Alarmed, Immerine’s anger melts away in concern. Panic seizes her as Matteo’s eyes fixate. She leans in and brushes her hand across Matteo’s forehead. When she feels how clammy he is she touches her holy symbol again. Almost immediately she grimaces and a look of deep concentration falls over her face. She falls to her knees at the side of the bed and presses both hands to the sides of her head in agony. She lies on the floor whimpering softly. Wincing with every movement she drags herself under the bed and curls into a ball.
The sight of Immerine dropping to the floor seems to help clear Matteo’s head and he leans back, lumping into the soft pillows with a low drawn out moan. Holding his head in his hands he sucks in a shuddering breath before her whimpering penetrates through the mental fog. Rolling over in the bed towards the edge he hisses as pain flares through his spine. Lying across the bed, panting from the pain and exertion, he moans softly in realization that the edge of the bed till lies beyond his sight. Reaching out he grasps the side of the bed and with a muffled groan pulls himself forward, feeling a stretching and tearing sensation in his back followed by a spreading liquid heat.
Trembling from the effort and the agony he leans over the bed only to see her lower leg retreat under the frame. Gritting his teeth at the cost he pulls his legs towards the edge of the bed and lifts them over to dangle down towards the floor. Sliding off the bed awkwardly he slips off the satin sheets. Grasping frantically at the bed for some support he bites off a raw scream as he lands first on his injured leg, twisting the ankle about within its binding before thumping heavily into the ground, the satin sheet floating down to partially cover his form. Blood from his reopened back and shoulder wounds seeps through his thick bandaging to stain the floor as he lies groaning in a slowly growing puddle of blood, smeared about as he writhes in pain. Clawing feebly at the ground he tries to drag himself towards her, his eyes locked on her form.
Immerine lies curled around herself in the center under the bed. Her knees are pulled close to her chest and her hands are pressed tightly to the sides of her head. Her long black hair trails out behind her, streaks of gray dust color it oddly. Mournful whimpers issue from her newly dust cloaked form and she remains immobile.
Unable to gain any purchase on the smooth floor Matteo rolls over onto his back, grunting in pain. The flesh in his back stretches as he extends his arms above his head to grasp the underside bed slats and he hisses sharply. Clamping his mouth firmly shut he is unable to choke back an inarticulate cry of pure agony as he pulls his body along the floor, leaving a wide smear of darkening blood behind him. His whole body is damp with sweat and he shakes from the pain and exertion. Refusing to give in he pulls at the bed slats again, whimpering as the weight of his body on the floor rips his flesh apart once again. Collapsing beside her he drapes an arm across his chest and over her waist. A ragged cough tears through his body and he groans through the pain. “Immerine… are you alright?“
Her body shakes beneath his arm and her breathing catches in her throat as she lies on the floor. “No.“ She says weakly. “I just want to help you and I cannot even do that right. Now we are both going to die under the bed.“ She falls silent, her body still quivering in waves of pain.
“I might have hoped.“ He gasps as another cough rips through his chest and he tastes blood in his mouth, “that you would have stopped after the first or second attempt.“ Whimpering as a muscle spasm hoots up his pine and flares out across his back, he swallows back the blood in his mouth. “You are the most stubborn person I have ever met Immerine, but I forbid you to heal me again.“
Immerine gently touches his arm and weakly says, “Forbid? Never tell me what to do…“ Matteo feels a cooling rush pass through his body and his bleeding stops. The wounds on his back close, and the pain in his head clears slightly. There is no movement from Immerine. Her body has gone completely still and her breathing turns shallow.
As the pain from his wounds gives way before the cooling rush of energy Matteo’s eyes widen and he stills momentarily. “Oh no!“ He gasps, “what have you done now, you foolish woman?“ Wriggling about under the bed he grunts as his spine twists and pain lances through his back, eventually flopping back down on his side. Clamping his jaw tight he drags himself forward and around her prone form. Taking her face in both hands he runs his fingers over her cheeks, down her nose and over her lips. “Immerine… Immerine… if you die I’ll kill you, you silly woman. Immerine, can you hear me?“ There is no response to Matteo’s call. Immerine’s face is smooth and peaceful. Her muscles are slack and offer no resistance to Matteo’s touch.
Seeing her limp and unresponsive the little color that remains drains from Matteo’s face, fear and a rising sense of panic growing in his chest. “You stupid woman, you knew what would happen.“ Pushing himself up behind her he slips his arm under hers and across her chest. His eyes narrow and a soft gasp escapes his lips as he reaches for the bed slats with his other arm. Bracing himself and pushing off with his good food he heaves with his arms, trying to drag the both of them out from under the bed. A cry of pain is torn from his throat as his spine takes their combined weight and his newly closed over back wounds reopen, blood flowing once again into his soaked bandages.
Collapsing into a heap, his chest heaves as he gasps for air, low whimpers coming with each breath. Closing his eyes he reaches for a new slat and pulls once again, and again, and again. Inching his way out from under the bed with Immerine clasped against his chest he feels himself growing increasingly light headed. “Stupid woman… never listen… impossible… never work… silly, pig-headed…“
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