Campaign Logs

Twilight Dawn

By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff

Chapter 39 - Make Me a Mask

Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, early in the morning

A soft knock at the door arrests Matteo’s ramblings and his head whips around, bringing another rough moan. “Rohr?“ He gasps. “Rohr! Help! Help me!“ The door opens quickly and Rohr, despite his advanced years, moves quickly into the room looking around for trouble. Behind him Jastra let’s out an audible gasp as both she and Rohr behold the scene near the bed. Matteo and Immerine both naked under the bed, and the satin sheets and the floor smeared with blood.

“Jastra, send for the physician…“ No embarrassment affects the dutiful servant this time as he quickly surveys the area and sees what might need to be done, “… and have Samdrin come up. I can’t lift them back into bed.“ Vaguely the sounds of Jastra’s feet hurrying down the stairs penetrate Matteo’s brain. Moving across the room Rohr kneels beside the bed, ignoring the bloodstains that mar his clothes. “Saer Ashgale, what happened? I heard shouting and a scream of pain.“ When Matteo tries to move, the old man tries to restrain him. “Please remain where you are, before matters get worse. Samdrin will be up here shortly and he’ll lift you back into bed.

Sinking into the ground Matteo smiles feebly. “I… she… I mean, we… Oh hell, she never quite got that bloody dress on. I was trying to help…“ Shaking his head, his fumbling words dry up as the heat of the body next to him begins to intrude into his consciousness. He becomes acutely aware of her smooth skin pressed next to his and the soft swell of her breasts under his arm. His eyes fly open as he tries to wriggle away. “I… we didn’t…“ He stares at her naked form, unable to tear his eyes away.

“Yeah, I never figured out myself why women want clothes with the darn buttons on the backside.“ Rohr tries to sound as comforting as possible, though the expression on his face indicates the poor man is a little at loss in regards to the situation. His eyes scan the room and repeatedly return to the bloodstains. “Hold on a little longer saer. Samdrin is on his way, and he’ll be able to lift the both of you back in bed. It is more comfortable than the cold floor…“

Before long the heavier footsteps of Samdrin can be heard coming up the stairs. Just before he enters the room though Jastra arrives, her arms full with clean sheets. The plump but kind woman gives a scolding look in the direction of Rohr. “You weren’t going put them back on the bloodied sheets were you? Now if you and Samdrin move the bed a little, I’ll clean it up.“

When Samdrin enters the room, he quickly and professionally scans the scene. Moving over to the windows, he looks behind the drapes and peers out the windows. Next his long strides take him to the half-open closet. Peering in there yet finding nothing he shrugs his shoulders. Turning about he once more looks at the bed and the half hidden forms of Matteo and Immerine, shaking his head at the sight.

“Just a mere moment saer.“ Rohr gives Matteo a soft reassuring pat on the arm, and with a little difficulty gets up. “Well Samdrin, you’re the stronger, you take the heavy side.“ And Rohr moves over to one side of the bed, while Samdrin walks over to the other. Carefully the two move the bed a little further toward the wall, enabling easier access to the two prone figures on the floor. While Jastra moves like a whirlwind to clean the bed sheets, Samdrin kneels beside Matteo. “This might hurt a little, but it’s for your own good.“ He says in his dark voice. With more gentleness then one would expect he moves his hands under Matteo’s body and slowly lifts the wounded man from the floor.

Rohr quickly drapes the satin sheet over Immerine, more for a little added warmth than modesty. At the touch of the sheet, Immerine stirs a little. “Put me down Samdrin.“ Matteo whispers hoarsely, the corner of his eyes pinched against the pressure on his back, “I can stand. Put Immerine on the bed as soon as Jastra is finished. I… I don’t want to see her like that.“

“Yes saer.“ Samdrin replies, and assists Matteo in putting his feet on the floor, supporting the man to avoid putting weight on the bad leg. Rohr, who has risen from the floor, moves over to Matteo. “I’ll support him Samdrin. You better help the lady in bed.“ Grabbing Matteo’s arm, the servant drapes it over his shoulder, enabling Matteo to relief some of his weight from his good leg.

Samdrin turns around and carefully lifts Immerine of the floor, letting the bloodstained sheet fall to the floor. The woman’s nakedness seems to have no visible effect on the man, his face remains impassive as he caries the unconscious form of the raven-haired woman to the freshly cleaned bed. With assistance from Jastra, Immerine is put in bed, and Rohr helps Matteo to the edge of the bed. Once Matteo is seated, Jastra shoos the elderly servant away. “Thanks for your help. I can take it from here.“ And the woman slowly starts to remove the soiled bandages from Matteo’s’ torso.

“Thank you Rohr.“ Matteo replies quietly, trying to find a smile for the kindly old man. Lifting his arms to make Jastra’s task a little easier he asks, “How bad is it?“ Jastra looks up from her work, and looks at Matteo. Concern on her face. “I can’t tell. I will have to clean the wounds first.“ Once the bandages have been removed, Jastra picks them all up. “Now you just remain seated here for a moment. I’ll be right back to wash your wounds and apply clean bandages.

The cool temperature of the fresh sheets wakes Immerine. Her eyes open abruptly and she winces at the pain in her head. She hears Matteo ask a question and sees the other woman in the room. When Jastra says she has to clean the wounds, Immerine sits up. “I can do that. But I need a healer’s kit and some herbs…“ At the sound of Immerine’s voice behind him Matteo jumps, wincing slightly even as he begins to turn towards her. Catching himself, he continues to face forwards and a brief trembling shiver runs through his body. Smiling gently at Immerine, Jastra shakes her head softly, “I’m sure you can milady, but it would be better for you to have some rest. A physician will arrive shortly; he’ll have a look at both of you.“

“What is a physician?“ Immerine asks. Then she frowns, “I am not going to rest until he agrees to stay put and rest. And, I need a bath. I am getting the bed all dirty. Can you tell me where I can find water so I can bathe?“ The last question has an odd tone almost pleading. With her insistence regarding what he should do Matteo tenses but bites back any reply.

“Saer will stay here as I have asked him.“ Jastra says with a firm voice, “He shouldn’t be so headstrong as to want move about in his condition.“ The plump woman takes a step backward and looks Matteo in the eyes, wagging a chubby finger at his face. “Don’t you go anywhere when I lead milady to her well deserved bath.“ Not waiting for an answer, she turns her attention to Immerine. “There’s a night robe on the chair yonder. When you have put it on I’ll show you to the bath room.“

Immerine laughs lightly as the chubby lady scolds Matteo. She swings her legs over the bed and groans as spots appear before her eyes. She sits still for a few moments before getting to her feet and walking to the chair. Immerine picks up the light robe and turns it about in her hands. While she stands naked looks at the cloth she says, “He won’t listen to you. He doesn’t listen to anyone. He is stubborn.“ Immerine slips the robe on and looks over where Matteo sits on the side of the bed. “If you do not listen and obey, I will have Qwenta bite you somewhere more personal next time you are out.“ Turning to the lady she says, “I am ready.“

Matteo’s shoulders stiffen and his entire body goes rigid. A soft flush colors the fair skin on the back of his neck. His hands ball into fists, clenching the bed sheet tightly. “Aren’t you leaving?“ He asks stiffly without turning to look at her, “Or are you going to refuse that bath now that someone has offered it to you?“ Immerine stops and turns around glaring at Matteo. “I’d invite you to join me, but it seems your head won’t fit through the door.“ She waits for Jastra to lead her from the room. “Wouldn’t fit in the room with your ego, you mean.“ He snaps back, turning to glare at her. A faint blush still colors his face though it is fading.

“Shush! Both of you.“ Jastra frowns at both Matteo and Immerine, “You’re behaving like children. Both of you should know better!“ She wags her chubby finger again at Matteo and then also at Matteo while looking at them from under her creased brows. “I can treat you as a pair of spoiled children if you want to. And trust me I will.“ Taking Immerine by the arm she looks back at Matteo, “Now behave, and wait patiently for me to return.“

“He started it…“ She complains. As she goes out the door she turns her head and sticks her tongue out at Matteo. His eyes hard, Matteo glares after the retreating woman. “I started it?“ He mutters. When she pokes her tongue out he almost rises from the bed, his flush deepening. As she leaves, his shoulders relax and he makes an offhanded dismissive gesture in the most arrogant, condescending manner he can summon.

Immerine looks coldly at him then smiles. She takes her arm from Jastra, “A moment.“ She reopens the door and walks back in heading to her clothing on the floor. She purposefully lets the robe open and faces him when she bends over to pick up her ruined armor. Standing up she runs a hand down her front to her navel, then reaches across to close the robe again. On her way out she blows Matteo a kiss. Matteo’s eyes widen at the sight and a strangled gasp comes from his throat. As she runs her hand down her front he is mortified to feel himself beginning to respond and bright red suffuses his cheeks. Almost choking he flinches when she blows him a kiss, unable to tear his eyes from her.

Ill at ease after the women have departed Matteo fidgets on the bed, wrestling with almost forgotten feelings and emotions. Unable to stay still for long he stands unsteadily, wrapping the bed sheet about his waist and hobbles painfully over to the nearby window. Leaning against the pane he stares out in thought.


Jastra squeezes Immerine’s arm briefly in disapproval of her behavior. Her eyes conveying the same emotion though mixed with a little sympathy. Leading her down the stairs, Jastra guides Immerine toward the bathing room. When they encounter Rohr downstairs in the main foyer, the elderly servant nods politely to Immerine.

Continuing deeper into the building, the two women arrive at the bathing room. Jastra opens the door, and Immerine sees a most luxurious bathing room. The whole room represents a sort of cave, seashells are set into the wall and scattered in the fine sand that covers the floor. A large sunken area is filled with steaming water, and from two artfully sculpted fish water cascades into the basin. Floating on the water are some flower leaves and herbs, which send a pleasant fragrance into the air. Light comes from several sconces mounted on the walls and which resemble mermen holding conch horns from which the fire burns.

“If you need anything milady, please use the horn next to the bath.“ She points at the gilded seashell that lies next to the basin. “I will now return to Lord Ashgale.“ “Wait. My armor…“ She holds the ruined mess out to Jastra. “Is there something I can wear when I leave?“ Immerine bites her swollen lip and looks at the floor. “He doesn’t want me here. I can tell. And I have to…“ She sways for a moment and is forced to lean against the wall. She closes her eyes against the spots swirling around, “I’m no use. I never should have come.“

“Rubbish girl.“ Jastra shakes her head taking the ruined armor from Immerine, “That man likes you. He seems to have difficulty expressing his feelings. Lord Ashgale thinks he can mask his feelings and emotions, but more often then not he is like an open scroll. You just need to know how to read it.“ Laying a comforting hand on Immerine’s shoulder, Jastra supports Immerine to prevent her from falling over. “I will bring you something to wear. Something you’ll feel more comfortable in than a dress.“ Squeezing the woman’s shoulder gently, Jastra moves to close the door, “Now enjoy your hot bath my dear, before it grows cold.“

Immerine watches as the woman leaves and crosses the room dropping the robe as she goes. Immerine lowers herself into the warm waters and tenses as pain shoots through her from overworked muscles. She sinks her body lower until only her head is above the water. Leaning against the side of the pool she relaxes.

Immerine lets the sounds of the cascading water roll over her and tilts her head back. Sighing deeply she holds her breath and dips under the water completely. She stays beneath the water until her lungs burn. When she resurfaces she looks around for something to scrub her flesh, then she attacks the dirt with fury. When finished she heads to the cascading water and stands beneath it while scrubbing her scalp and removing blood, dirt, leaves and twigs from her hair.

When through she steps out of the waters and shakes her hair to removes some of the water. She wishes she hadn’t as the spots come back. After steadying herself for several moments she wraps herself in the thick towels and vigorously dries her long hair. When the majority of water is gone from her hair she tilts forward to dangle the hair in front of her and wraps it in another towel. She looks around and satisfied she has cleaned herself she walks from the bathing chamber in search of Jastra.

Re-orienting herself after opening the door, Immerine recognizes the direction where she came from and heads down the hallway. Before she gets to the main foyer, she hears Rohr’s voice behind her. “Milady, can I help you?“ “I am looking for the lady. She said she would find me something to wear. I will need to be going, I think.“ She presses a hand to her head, “Or at least once the world stops spinning and I am able to walk across Berdusk. Maybe I should find a place to sit down.“ Immerine looks around and decides to sit where she is.

Sighing deeply as relief creeps into her tired frame she says, “Thank – you for letting me take a bath. I feel better now, but I am tired. If I have to go up any stairs I don’t think I will make it and might pass out again.“ A frown creases her face and she blurts out, “Why is he so stubborn? He undid everything I did for him.“

“Frankly, I don’t know milady.“ Rohr says as he walks up to Immerine, offering her a helping hand. “Here let me support you.“ Helping Immerine to her feet, the servant supports her, wrapping an arm, around her waist, while letting her arm lean across his shoulders. “My best guess is that he doesn’t know how to deal with his feelings at the moment. And for a man who is sure of himself most of the time. That can be scary.“ Together the two climb the stairs slowly, to avoid any vertigo for Immerine.

Immerine is grateful for the supporting shoulder as they climb the stairs. By the time they reach the top her knees are shaking and she feels like jelly inside. “I don’t feel well.“ She says softly. “Could I lie down on a couch for awhile please? I will be gone in a few hours.“ She yawns but tries to hide it behind a hand. “We’re almost there milady. A bed is more comfortable than a couch.“ Supporting the weary lady some more, Rohr guides her to the room. Knocking to announce his presence, he opens the door and walks with Immerine into the bedroom. Jastra seems to have finished cleaning Matteo and is rising from the bed.


After Jastra has seen Immerine to the bathing room, she leaves the witch’s ruined armor and the soiled bandages in the cleaning room. Carrying a bowl of hot water and a sponge she heads back up the stairs. She knocks on the door before entering. Seeing the man standing before the window she shakes her head, but says nothing. She walks over to the night table putting the bowl down. “Are you ready to have your wounds cleaned Milord?“

“Hmm? What?“ He asks, dragged from his musing by her voice. “Oh, yes. I suppose.“ Turning from the window he hobbles back towards the bed, a tightening around the eyes the only sign of his discomfort. Seating himself gingerly upon the bed he lifts his injured leg up to rest on the mattress parallel to edge, a soft grunt the only accompanying sound as he repositions himself so that his back faces her. “There. How’s that?“ He asks his voice a little forced.

Gingerly cleaning the wounds on Matteo’s back and shoulders, Jastra replies in a soft voice, “Sometimes you’re too stubborn for your own good Milord. The woman likes you, but your behavior might scare her away. And where would you be then.“ She sighs deeply, cleaning the sponge in the bowl before continuing. “Riding of alone in the worst weather to rescue her, nearly getting yourself killed. Only to scare her away once both of you are safe.“

“Me? My behavior?“ He replies in a surprised voice as he flinches away from the deepest cleaning. “She’s the one who…“ Biting his lip, he winces at Jastra’s continued ministrations. “She is the most infuriating, stubborn, pig-headed woman I have ever met. Why did she keep trying to heal me? She knew what would happen.“

“Obviously she cares for you, and was willing to tax her powers to the limit.“ Jastra replies, putting the sponge in the bowl and moving to face Matteo. “Seems almost as stubborn as going out alone in a snowstorm and risking one’s life doesn’t it?“ Jastra asks. Retrieving the sponge, she starts cleaning the wounds on Matteo’s chest. “So who’s the most stubborn, or who has the most courage and is willing to ease up and accept the other?“

“Silliest thing I have ever done, going out into that snowstorm.“ He replies as he tries to glare at her. Unable to maintain his temper before the kindly older woman he sighs, lifting a hand to finger the deep fang marks in his shoulder. “It was just a dream…“ He murmurs under his breath, “… just a dream.“ Looking back up from his chest to her he asks, “What am I going to do, Jastra?“ As though expecting her to have all the answers. “It’s only been six months since Nienna died. How can I be faithful to her, to her memory, and yet feel what I do? When I close my eyes I see sparkling green eyes surrounded by black hair, but now I no longer know whom they belong too. Immerine or Nienna? And then there is Zaina. Something is growing between us as well.“ Twisting to look towards the door from the room he whispers, “The thought of her with the lieutenant made me so… so… jealous. I hated him for a moment and yet he is a noble man.“ Closing his eyes, he raises his face to the ceiling. “I told her I loved her, to stop her from leaving. But now I think I only spoke the truth. She drives me mad when she is around but when she is gone I feel… incomplete.“

Having finished cleaning the wounds, Jastra drops the sponge back in to the bowl. She dries her hands on her apron when she looks at Matteo, softness in her eyes. “The only advice I can give you is to follow your heart. You have lost one dear to your heart. And nothing short of a miracle can bring her back. Do you think she would want you to live an unhappy life, just because she can no longer be with you? Of course not. You will honor her more by going on with your life, and trying to make the best of it, try to be happy again. Don’t try to put barriers in front of your heat. She wouldn’t like you to do that.“

“I have lost my husband many years ago, he died fighting the Zhentarim. And even though I have never remarried, I have not shut others out of my life.“ Tears gather in the corners of the woman’s eyes as she remembers her late husband. “You are lucky Matteo Ashgale. You see your Nienna in your new friend, and her in Nienna. Which is a greater compliment to both women. By loving one, you honor the other. It might seem strange to you, but believe me your Nienna will agree with me.“ Wiping her eyes dry, Jastra smiles at Matteo. “Open your heart young man, and live your life to the fullest.“

A knock on the door draws their attention, and both see Rohr and Immerine enter, the elderly servant supporting the weary, towel-clad, woman. Jastra picks up the bowl and smiles once more at Matteo. “I will leave you now. Your wounds seem to have closed enough to prevent further bleeding provided you behave yourself. It seems your friend is tired and needs some sleep. Something you could use as well. I will provide clean clothing for the both of you. It will be on the table in the hall.“ With that, the woman walks to the door, and waits for Rohr to take Immerine to the bed.

Once Immerine sits on the edge of the bed, Rohr bows his head briefly and takes his leave. Both servants leave the room and Jastra closes the door behind them, leaving Matteo and Immerine together. Immerine tenses and seems about to protest about being left with Matteo, but the door shuts and her shoulders slump. Matteo watches Jastra walk towards the door, a thoughtful expression on his face, though his eyes widen perceptibly at the sight of Immerine clad only in a towel. A haunted expression flashes across his face and he buries his attention in covering his lower body with the bed sheets, jumping slightly when she sits on the edge of the bed. Lifting his head to face her, his gray eyes are serious as he softly asks, “Are you alright, Immerine? Is there anything I can do?“

“I do not feel well. I am all quaky inside and my legs are shaking.“ Immerine rocks from side to side and takes off the towel shielding her body, then leans over the side of the bed, dropping her head so she can shake her hair from the towel atop her head.

She turns around and slips under the sheet, shivering at the coolness of the satin material against her flesh. She sits facing Matteo with only her lower half shielded from view. “You can rest, that is what you can do for me.“ Immerine’s eyes are soft and full when she looks at him. She reaches a hand to touch his shoulder, “Why are you angry with me? I will leave as soon as I can. I did not want to come back in here, but he wouldn’t take me to where I could lay on a couch. You would think a big place like this would have other bedrooms, if he was going to stick me in bed.“

Watching her hand on his shoulder Matteo shivers and goose bumps break out near her fingers. Trying to avoid looking at her breasts he closes his eyes for a moment and lifts his head. When he reopens his eyes he is looking at her face. “I am not angry with you.“ He says quietly, “not really. I think I am more angry at myself.“ Lifting an arm he extends a hand towards her face, only to have it slow and stop short of its target. “It has only been six months since Nienna died and I never thought I would feel the way I did for her with another woman. And here you are, making me feel again.“ His fingers curl in on themselves and his hand drops back down to the bed. “You scare me Immerine. It does not help that you look so much like Nienna, the same eyes, the same hair; even your face is similar. When I see you I am reminded of her, but now when I dream it is not her that I see.“

“You are two entirely different women, very different from each other.“ A pink flush spreads across his cheeks and before he can stop himself his eyes flicker down to her breasts before he tears them back to her face. “She would never have walked around showing her body like you do, shouting as you do. She had steel in her, but it was a quiet determination.“ Sighing softly, he adds, “I love her memory. And now I love you too. It makes me feel like I am betraying her and that makes me… irritable. I have been blaming you for a problem that is mine.“

A fond smile turns up the corners of his mouth and his eyes soften. “But sometimes you do make me mad. I am not used to people commanding me as you try to do and…“ Swallowing his words, his smile fades. “I do not want you to leave Immerine.“

“There is nothing wrong with my body. I go naked quite a bit in the summer at home. Why do you get choked up when you look at me? I thought I looked nice.“ She frowns. Shrugging she looks at him and smiles gently. “I am going to check your wounds. I promise, no healing. I don’t believe I can handle further rejection and punishment today.“ Immerine scoots closer to Matteo and starts looking at his wounds. Her hands are light and deft in their task. Once she has checked his back she scoots even closer so she can rub his head. She sniffs and breathes in his scent laying her head on his shoulder. “You smell like you.“ She whispers into his ear. Her hands massage his scalp gently and wind up at his temples.

“I love you Matteo, but you do not have to love me back. In fact, it would be easier if you didn’t. I do not want to cause you pain and it seems I have.“ She pauses as her voice catches in her throat. Matteo exhales slowly. “I do love you, despite all the trouble it is causing me and all the trouble it might cause in the future.“ Turning his head to look at her he is silent for a moment. “You have also made me feel many things other than pain, Immerine.“ A puzzled frown crosses his forehead. “What do you mean I smell like me? What else would I smell like?“

Shuffling around on the bed to face her he rearranges the sheets to keep himself covered. He lifts a hesitant hand towards her face and lays a trembling finger gently against her lips. “There is nothing wrong with your body, Immerine.“ He whispers, “That is the problem. When I see you I want to touch you… all over. I want to take you in my arms and kiss you and…“ Blushing slightly, he glances away. “Even now, especially now. But I do not know if I am ready for that, not yet. If I started to I don’t know if I could stop…“

“Kiss? What is this kiss? Why are you blushing?“ She looks down and back to his face. Then she looks down again and tucks her head under the sheet. Almost immediately she comes back out. “Lie down, now! You are swelling!“ Immerine’s voice rings in command, but her eyes are filled with worry. She rolls over and out of the bed, stumbling to her knees because she got up too fast.

Bright red suffuses Matteo’s face as he yelps, frantically trying to cover himself and his reaction to her presence. Reaching under the clenched sheets he has to adjust himself to get comfortable. “I… that is… it…“ He stammers, going even redder. When she stumbles to her knees he lurches forward to catch her, the smooth satin sheets sliding off his body and exposing him to full view.

Immerine looks up at him angrily. “Lie down!“ She gets to her feet and looks at him. Her eyes settling on his ‘swelling’. “That wasn’t there before, what is wrong? Did you hurt yourself further? Did something bite you, like a spider?“ She reaches out and touches it, “It is warm to the touch and hard. There has to be infection.“ She starts looking around for a knife to drain it.

Matteo’s eyes goggle at her and his mouth works helplessly as he tries to think of something, anything, to say. When she touches him his breath stops and he quivers beneath her fingers. “Stop… it.“ He manages to gasp in a barely audible voice, fumbling for the sheets. “It is not infected, it’s just normal when a man is aroused, when he is sexually excited. I thought you said you’d seen people having sex before…“ His words taper off as his eyes drop to her naked body and he quivers again.

“Nonsense!“ She heads to the closet looking for something anything to drain the infection and as her hands open the doors she stops. She stands perfectly still for several moments then turns around abruptly. A look of disbelief on her face. “No. You mean that…“ She looks at his body and blushes fiercely. “I know what sex is and have seen many creatures in coitus – but, never humans.“ She turns her head to the side and smiles but keeps blushing.

She slowly comes away from the closet, her eyes focused on his body in curiosity. “So when sexually aroused it doesn’t distend, it swells. I suppose it makes sense since it would have to stand up to a great amount of pressure when inserted into the female.“ Immerine takes her eyes off his genitalia and looks him in the eyes, “How do you mount your mate?“

Clutching the bed sheets tightly about his waist Matteo gapes at Immerine, his neck and face bright red and mouth working soundlessly like a fish out of water. It is several long moments before he can muster any coherent speech and when he does his voice is strained and weak. “Well, you can do it from behind like an animal or… or… ah, the woman lies on her back and… ah… the male lies atop… or… or… ah, the woman can mount the man. Ah… another…“ Glancing down at his obvious arousal and back up at Immerine he closes his eyes tightly shut only to have them fly open almost immediately. Looking wildly about the room he swallows deeply. “There are any number of positions that you… ah…“ He stammers feebly. “Oh god, will you get in the bed or put some clothes on? Please?“ This last comes out almost as a strangled plea. “This is very hard.“

Immerine looks at Matteo matter-of-factly, “I know it is hard. I touched it. You really shouldn’t be doing things like this right now. Your body needs to heal and that looks painful. Does it hurt?“ Immerine crosses the room and goes through the dresser looking for something to wear. She smiles when she finds a frilly nightshirt. She pulls it on over her head and wriggles inside it. “Oh my. I think I am a little larger than the lady this is meant for.“ Immerine turns around and the shirt seems to be fitting like a second skin across the bosom. She twitches her shoulders and finally has to release the laces. She pulls her hair through and walks over to Matteo. “I have something on now, are you satisfied? Can I see it again? Up close I mean. Did it hurt when I touched it? How does it go away?“

“Oh gods… yes… yes… I mean no.“ A strangled, choking sound comes from his throat as his eyes follow her and the way her breasts strain against the fabric of the unlaced nightshirt. “Shevralindra is smaller… I mean… oh gods.“ Shuffling backwards on the bed he raises his hands to cover his clenched eyes, the sheet sliding down to reveal more of his body. “Its never going to go away at this rate.“ He mumbles between gasps, “I think I’m going to explode.“

Immerine walks over to the bed quietly and sits next to Matteo. “I wish you would make up your mind what you want me to do. This is not the best feeling I’ve ever had.“ She looks down at the shirt then her gaze is drawn to Matteo. She reaches a hand out to touch his chest, her eyes full of curiosity. “I saw Barim with his shirt off, but you are the first man I have ever seen fully unclothed. Even now it isn’t a complete uncovering because you are swathed in bandages.“ She scoots closer and her body brushes against Matteo. “I’m sorry I caused this, you are hurting now and it is because of me. How can I help you get rid of it? I don’t want you to explode. Would it help if I rubbed your muscles?“

Slowly lowering his hands from his face Matteo stares at her intently, his eyes swimming with emotion. After a moment he lifts one hand to softly cup her cheek. “I am afraid my body is too sore for a muscle rub.“ He replies gently. “My spine hurts whenever I move quickly or apply pressure to my back, the cuts and claw wounds are still too tender. Perhaps later, when I have healed more.“ His thumb caresses her cheekbone then slides down to lightly rub her lips. “If the shirt is uncomfortable, take it off. I just want you to be yourself Immerine.“

“But.“ He adds, “If you do take it off please cover yourself with the sheet. Your body is incredibly distracting. When I see it I want too…“ Taking a deep breath, his eyes tighten around the edges with discomfort. “Can I kiss you Immerine?“

“I do not know. What is a kiss?“ Immerine’s eyes are full of curiosity. Matteo’s eyes widen and he gapes at her for a moment in astonishment. “You’ve never even been kissed? Are the men in Rashemen blind?“ Immerine looks down feeling ashamed for some reason. “Is this a bad thing? I do not think the men are all blind. I know one is – his name is Neturuk. I have known him since I was a babe. Why do you want to know if the men are blind?“

“You are incredibly beautiful, Immerine.“ He replies softly, unable to keep continued surprise from his voice. “I can’t think why men wouldn’t want to kiss you. Surely witches are much sought after? I mean, I am a… a noble and many women sought me for my position.“

“It is different in Rashemen. Men do not approach us, we approach them when it is deemed appropriate that we mate. There are exceptions… my father approached the Sisterhood to ask for my mother. They were deemed compatible and they were allowed to mate. There are darker stories too, of those who disobeyed, or who never asked.“ Immerine shivers.

After a moment she looks back up to Matteo’s eyes, “So, a kiss is something you do? What do you do? Is it difficult? How do you do it? Is it something men do for courtship, like an animal preening for a mate?“ Immerine’s eyes shine with love and fear, “Do you still want to kiss me?“

“Yes.“ He whispers, “I still want to kiss you. Very much.“ Taking her hand in his he turns it over, lightly stroking her palm with his finger. “It is simple, natural even.“ Raising her hand to his lips he gives her palm a soft, lingering kiss. Looking up into her eyes he murmurs, “I want to kiss your lips Immerine. I… I want you to kiss my lips back at the same time.“ A look almost of fear creeps into his eyes. “Will you let me kiss you?“

The fear in his eyes is becomes reflected in hers. “I am afraid. What if I do it wrong? What if…“ She gets closer to Matteo, “Yes, we can kiss.“ Reaching forward Matteo gently cups her face in his hands. Closing his eyes against the pounding in his chest he leans forward, lightly dusting her lips with his. Pulling back fractionally he takes a shallow breath before returning to her mouth, giving her a long, tender kiss.

Immerine presses her lips to his, her eyes widen and she stops breathing. When the kiss is over and Matteo pulls away she pushes back, gasping for breath. “Was that a kiss?“ She looks at the sheet on the bed and twists it in her hands. “I feel funny again, quaky inside. Are you still going to explode?“ Her face is set in confusion. “No.“ He whispers, as he looks at her, his eyes wide, “at least not yet.“ He lifts a trembling finger to her chin. “Can I kiss you again?“

“Why? Did I do it wrong? I’m sorry, my lip hurts from trying to heal you earlier and it is getting awfully warm in here. Do you feel okay? I feel strange. You may kiss me one more time, then I think I need to lay down. I think I am getting a fever.“ Immerine looks puzzled, but move close to Matteo again.

Trailing his fingertip down her neck to the juncture of her collarbones Matteo looks at her, a troubled expression in his eyes. “No, you didn’t do it wrong. It was… very good.“ A faint grimace flashes across his face as he twists towards her, to face her more directly. Wrapping his arms around he gently pulls her against him, one hand sliding up her back to caress the back of her head and damp hair. Leaning slowly forward he kisses her softly again though with slowing increasing urgency. Pulling away a little sooner than last time, his chest heaves raggedly. Raising a shaking hand to his lips, he stares down at his fingers then back across to Immerine. “I… I think… we should lie down. I don’t think I am ready for anything more just yet.“

Immerine’s eyes are round and wondering when he pulls away. Her breathing is short and her breasts strain against the taut fabric of the nightshirt. “That was amazing.“ She whispers. “I think I like feeling you next to me.“ Immerine suddenly wraps her arms gently around him pressing herself close to him and laying her head on his shoulder. She feels his heart racing through her own chest as he does hers. “This is nice.“ She whispers in his ear. Almost as soon as the embrace began she pulls away, her warmth receding. She scurries across the bed to her own side and huddles near the foot end. She calmly orders him, “Lie down!“

Matteo’s arms are just beginning to tighten around Immerine as she pulls away and he lets them drop down into his lap as he stares after her in a mixture of wonderment and trepidation. At her casual command his back stiffens. “I am not someone for you to command, Immerine.“ He replies in a cool voice. “You need the rest as much as I do, you lie down. Then I might consider your… request.“

Immerine’s eyes flash in irritation, “You will lie down, Matteo. This is not to be considered, it is to be done.“ Matteo’s jaw tightens. “I will lie down when I am ready too and not a moment earlier. But thank you for asking.“ Immerine’s nostrils flare, and she stands up. She walks around to Matteo’s side of the bed and looms over him. “I do not wish to harm you Matteo. But if you do not lie down, I will make you lie down and I will take some of the Lady’s fancy hose and tie you to the bed.“

“Oh really?“ He replies in a chill voice, the skin around his eyes tight as he looks up at her. “And how do you propose to do that, my lady?“ He lays special emphasis on the last word. Immerine’s face closes her eyes become the impassive orbs Matteo is used to. Turning around she walks to the dresser and pulls out several pair of ladies hose.

“I warned you Lord Ashgale.“ Immerine stalks back to the bed her eyes intent on his extremities and then flicker back to his face. “I am well-versed in setting snares and other traps, sirrah. This is your last chance for selective freedom.“ A faint flush rises in Matteo’s cheeks and his nostrils pinch in anger. His eyes are flat as he replies coolly, “Don’t be foolish, girl. I am in no condition to wrestle with you but I will not be handled in such a manner.“

“If you lay down, you will not be handled in this manner.“ Immerine says firmly. “You first.“ Matteo replies. “Alright, I will. but I warned you.“ Immerine climbs into the bed holding the hose. She sits on Matteo’s legs about where his knees are located. Her eyes glimmer in anger and her face is set. “Last chance, lordling.“

As Immerine climbs up onto the bed to sit astride his legs Matteo tries to back away across the bed but cannot move fast enough. When her weight descends his back arches and the blood drains from his face. His eyes fly wide open and he barely chokes back a raw scream, his hands flying to cover his face as he slumps backwards into the bed. Unable to contain a ragged sob, he gasps in a voice laced with pain, “Get off!“ Immerine winces at the pain in his voice and gets off immediately. “Now that you are lying down, stay that way.“ Her voice is harsh. She turns and heads back to the dresser to put away the hose. After that she moves to stand before the window and looks outside, her back to Matteo.

Sitting up, Matteo grasps his injured leg and slowly rocks backwards and forwards on the bed. His face is rigidly blank though his eyes remained screwed up in pain. A soft whimper escapes his lips before he can choke it back. Without turning from the window Immerine says, “I am sorry, I really did not want to cause you pain.“ She looks out the tower window, “It is a long way down, isn’t it?“ Immerine presses her cheek to the sash. “So cool…“ She backs up from the window. Turning to the bed she slowly makes her way to it and climbs under the covers. “I am sorry Matteo. All I do is cause you pain physically and emotionally.“

“Not always.“ He replies softly, looking down at her in the bed. Sighing softly he says, “This is not easy for me, opening myself up again to another woman.“ Taking a deep breath he exhales slowly, a brief tightening around the eyes the only hint of his discomfort, and lies down near her. Opening his arms he whispers, “Come here Immerine. We don’t have to fight all the time.“

Immerine rolls over gently and nestles next to Matteo, “I’m sorry.“ Tears gather in the corners of her eyes. She presses her head to his chest and closes her eyes listening to his heartbeat. “Its alright.“ He replies gently, stroking the back of her head and running his fingers through her hair with one hand while holding her against him with the other. “Why don’t you tell me of Rashemen?“ He asks quietly a few moments later, “What it’s like, the people, the land.“

Matteo feels Immerine flinch at the question. She tenses and is silent for several moments. Finally she seems to come to an internal decision. “Rashemen is everything – mountains, rivers, lakes, plains and forests. It is wild and free, untamed and pure. Most settlements are small and blend into the natural surroundings. Only the trade cities are larger. They are an affront to nature, but are a tactical necessity. The land is alive – everyone knows it and respects it. The land is capable of defending itself. The Witches are a link to the ancient, arcane and natural. We speak to the spirits and they listen. We do not command them, we ask them for aid and in most cases receive it. However, there is a cost.“

“Most Outlanders never see the true Rashemen. They are kept in places where we allow them to tread. If they are discovered outside these areas it more often than not means death. Some of the forbidden places would take your breath away at the beauty they hold. Lake Ashane is one of these places as is the Urlingwood Forest.“

“The people of my home are simple folk. They live their lives, fighting everyday for survival against the harshness of nature and all the evils beset upon us by the Wizards of Thay. The Cult also strives to gain a hold in our land, but are kept at bay by the Witches and the Sorority of Silver Fire.“

“In my land – I am more than a simple noble as you barbarians call your ruling class. I am likened to what you deem royalty. My word is law and to disobey is death. The peasant folk fear us. They respect us and in some cases can even love us, but they do not trust us either. We can ask for and receive what we need from farmers, shopkeeps and other skilled folk. We do not use money, there is no need for it except in dealings with Outlanders.“

“Our country is defended by great men. A warrior always protects us, the Witches, a berserker you call them. I have refused the service but when I return it will be forced upon me. I love my home and I miss it. If I were not needed here, I would return. What more would you know of my home?“

Silence reigns as Matteo digests all that he has been told and turns it over in his mind. “Where do you live?“ He asks after a few moments. “My home…“ Immerine chokes, “I do not have a home. I sleep where I am when I am tired. I have not had a home since my parents were killed.“ Matteo’s hand, which has been stroking her head and hair, stills and his arms tighten unconsciously around her. Bending his head he presses his lips to the top of her head and murmurs, “We’ll have to change that then, won’t we. I’m sure I can hire someone to build a house.“

“What? We? House? What do you mean? Why would you hire someone to build a house? It just isn’t done anywhere except the larger cities. Are you coming to Rashemen?“ There is a note of disbelief in her voice. Matteo’s brows crease in thought. “If you don’t have people who build houses, where do you live? In caves?“ Carefully pulling her hair back behind her ear he trails a finger down her lobe and up her cheek to her temple. “Do you want me to return to Rashemen with you?“ He asks softly. “We do not live in caves unless we choose to live in caves. I have lived in caves with some very nice bears before. Very warm in the winter.“ As he rubs her face with his finger she sighs deeply and leans her face into his hand. “Very much, but I do not believe you will stay. Life is not easy. There are no servants, there are no bathrooms with running waterfalls. You work for a living. You hunt for food or plant a garden. you build your own house. You respond to danger in the land when needed.“

“If you returned with me, you would have to do what I say.“ She says timidly. “If the sisterhood did not approve of you… you would be forced to leave and then my heart would die again. I love you Matteo.“ She nestles her head under his chin and puts her arm around him. The corners of Matteo’s eyes crinkle up with a smile and his amusement trickles through into his voice. “I always do what you ask. When you ask nicely.“ He idly traces a finger down her spine and back up again. “Perhaps it would be best if we take things one day at a time. I might survive this wild land of yours, perhaps the sisterhood will approve of me, I might even manage to build a house. We’ll just have to make the best of what we have and wait and see.“

Immerine nods, her eyes half-lidded in exhaustion. She looks up and raises a hand to Matteo’s mouth. “Sshhh! You talk too much. You still need to make peace with Qwenta before we go anywhere. We shall see, as you say. One day at a time. Perhaps the sisterhood will forgive my transgressions… or maybe not. I know you will be of use but for how long and to whom I do not know.“ Her hand traces down from his mouth to his chin, neck chest and finally slips around him again and he snuggles a little closer. Sleepily she says, “Hmmmm, I do like this – much nicer when you choose to lie with someone.“

Lowering his eyes to look at Immerine as she finishes speaking Matteo closes his eyes and shifts slightly beneath her uneasily. He opens his mouth to speak but bites back his words to stare up at the ceiling, a troubled expression on his face. After a while his arms tentatively close around her, holding her close, one hand caressing her back in small circles between her shoulders. “You know.“ He murmurs softly, “I think Qwenta likes me.“ Pausing momentarily he asks, “What transgressions have you made Immerine?“

Immerine’s eyes fly open and she half sits up, “Qwenta does not… or maybe he does. I don’t know.“ She lies down again before answering Matteo’s question. “You are my transgression.“ She says softly. “Everything I have done wrong is linked back to you. It is all very complicated. It would be so simple if I did not feel about you the way I do, or if you spurned me.“ She looks him in the eye, “I have a feeling you feel the same way. Part of you drawn close and another part pushing away.“

She is pensive a few moments, “How many women have thrown themselves at you Matteo? What would they hope to gain from your position?“ Looking down at Immerine he tilts his head to press a light kiss to her forehead. “Yes.“ He replies quietly after a moment, “I think you are right. You are the first woman I have held, or even wanted to hold, in half a year and it does not come easily.“ He glances away uneasily. “Does it matter how many women I have been with?“

Immerine looks hurt and pulls away from Matteo. “You are skirting the questions. It may not matter to you, but it matters deeply to me. I have never even lain with a man until last night. I have never loved a man until now. Would you be happier if… ?“ Immerine shakes her head and wishes she hadn’t. She turns around facing away from Matteo and presses her hands to her temples. “This is an impossible situation. You are an impossible man!“ Placing his arms beneath himself, Matteo gingerly pushes himself into an upright seating position and looks down at Immerine. Sighing softly, he traces a single finger from her shoulder down to her elbow. “I did not tell you because I suspect the answer will only hurt you. But if you wish, I will do so.“

“Hurt?“ Immerine gives a sharp dry laugh, “Hardly. If I am able to ask the question, I am able to hear the answer.“ Pulling his uninjured leg up against his chest, he wraps his arms around it while staring across the room. “The truth is that I cannot honestly tell you how many women I have been with.“ He says in a quietly subdued voice. “I had my first not long after my fourteenth birthing day. She was a couple years my senior and a member of my family’s staff. Her name was Alana… or was it Hannah?“ His brow creases in a frown. “Anna?“ Shrugging, he dismisses the matter as inconsequential. “From then until I met Nienna there were an endless string of brief liaisons and short affairs, most of whom I can scarcely recall. Before her my longest relationship numbered just a few short months, most lasted just days or weeks, if even that long. Some nights included more than one woman, one after the other or even all at once. Most involved women pursuing my station, my wealth and influence. Some may have even genuinely cared about me for all I know. They just… blurred. After a while it became a game.“

As he stares across the room, Matteo’s eyes lose focus as retreats into memory. “My youngest was thirteen, I think. The oldest a married woman in her thirties. I stayed with them only until another caught my eye. I don’t know how many there were in total. My companions and I used to race each other to certain totals, see who could sleep with the most in a week or who would be the first to bed fifty, seventy five. I stopped counting after one hundred, I just couldn’t see the point any more.“ Shaking his head he adds in a soft voice, barely above a whisper. “Then there was Nienna. A year we had together and while she lived no other woman existed in the world to me. And now there is you…“

Immerine has turned to face Matteo as he tells her, her face is pale and horrified. In a low dangerous voice she says very clearly, “Do not list me with them. I am no toy to be cast aside when you are through with me. If we mate – it is for life. If I for one moment thought you would do to me what you did to those other women…“

Uncurling and releasing his leg, Matteo glances down at Immerine. “I have done many things in my life that I am none to proud of now, but it takes at least two people to have a relationship Immerine. Those women that I enjoyed were all willing partners. All they had to do was say No and I would have lost interest.“

Immerine seems to struggle with herself before speaking again. When she again gives voice to her questions she has returned to the closed mask he has seen so frequently before. “What happened to you last night? How did you get into this pitiful shape?“

“Pitiful?“ He replies under his breath and snorts softly. “Well, Zaina told me that her riders lost your tracks over rocky ground so I was looking over the knoll for any sign you had been there before pushing on. I was clambering across the rocks, blowing a horn periodically and listening for any answering sound, when a large bear rose up and took a swipe at me.“ A wry tone creeps into his voice as he adds, “I imagine that is what cut those deep gauges out of my back. Luckily, I managed to avoid the creature by the simple expedient of being knocked off the cliff-face.“

Shaking his head, Matteo exhales slowly. “The cliff face would have been about thirty yards straight down. I don’t remember too much more all that clearly. I remember waking up covered in snow and not being able to see for all the blood in my eyes. The fall had damaged my spine, knocked my head about, and injured my leg in addition to countless other cuts and bruises. Trying to stand just sent me plummeting back down to earth. Removing my boot to check my ankle was rather… I blacked out.“

His gaze flickers away from the wall towards her. “The rest was pretty uneventful. I snapped my rapier to use the blade as a splint, which is how I managed to cut my hand open. All the facial gashes and swellings came from continually falling over as I tried to make it back to the donkeys in order to continue my search. The last couple hundred yards I crawled. You’d be amazed at how much damage you can do to yourself when collapsing from a crawling position onto stone…“

Looking up at the ceiling he is quiet for a second. “I seem to remember leaving a great deal of blood behind me. The last thing I can recall is you looming over me then biting into my shoulder. Later there was howling, I think, and a warm body over mine, but… I am sorry, Immerine. If I had managed to make it back to the donkeys I could have continued and possibly found you. I could have spared you some of what you had to go through.“

Immerine is quiet and seems to settle as Matteo relates what happened to him the night before. “We found your donkeys this morning. Barim took them to the watch house. I am surprised Zaina would even send a patrol to find me. More than likely it was her Lieutenant she was searching for…“

“My intentions were to put as much distance between myself and Berdusk – and you, as I could. I gave Qwenta his head and let him ride free. He took me a great distance from the city before my soul began drawing me back again. I found Barim’s horse, it had broken a leg. I then found Barim. He was unconscious and his body was a twisted mess.“

“I prepared a campsite and shelter against the oncoming storm. I tended Barim and his horse. Both fared well and would live until I was able to replenish myself. I covered him with my bedroll blanket and cloak. I fell asleep but a noise woke me – an insane laughter from numerous throats. Small vicious, furry creatures of teeth and claws. I fought them as well I could, but there were too many. I prayed to Khelliara and left myself in her hands. The final blow never came. As I felt the last of my strength leaving I was saved by two wolves and a snow owl.“ Immerine smiles at the memory.

“One of the wolves was a follower of the Frostmaiden. She saved my life, but I had to undress for her to tend my wounds. Then I was put in ‘bed’ with the Lieutenant. We slept together, flesh to flesh.“ Immerine’s cheeks burn at the thought.

“Then there was the dream. I dreamt I was a wolf. I killed and fed and chased a prospective mate. Then I caught your scent and found you buried in the snow. Lucan – well, he helped me drag you towards the city. Then I drove him away to save his life against the men. I lay next to you to give you warmth and I howled to get the attention of the guards. Finally they came out, but they were angry and one of them shot me with a crossbow. It was a mortal wound. The last thing I remember was crawling back to you and licking your hand before darkness claimed me.“

“But that wasn’t all – I remember floating. I could see you and the guards. Then the Frostmaiden’s handmaid emerged from the forest in answer to Lucan’s mournful wail. She was angry and ordered the men about. They obeyed her and I think they feared her. She picked me up and carried me into the forest and – and, that is all I remember until I woke as a wolf in a clearing. I hurt all over. Lucan had brought help and then he took me to shelter where I lay down to sleep.“

“Then I woke under the blankets with Barim. He got up and my mask was gone and he had a nice back. He is very defined in form. And, he is a perfect gentleman.“ Immerine smiles and her eyes shine at the memory. “We traveled back to Berdusk… he chided me about not losing control of my horse again. Then I heard a tinkling noise and we found two mules. There were several platinum coins of Sembian make in the pack. I will give them back to you.“

“Then we made it back to the city and here we are. I am in bed with you and I do not think it is proper. Especially after what you told me. I am not going to be just another number to you Matteo. I would sooner live with a broken heart by my own choice than be trampled by your whim. You have taught me about a kiss. And about male copulation, I am grateful to you. My heart tells me one thing, my spirit another and my head still a third. I am torn because I feel pain, delicious pain, when I look on you. My heart swells, yet I know you are a temptation I should not take.“ Immerine reaches out, meaning to touch his forehead briefly, and the words on her lips die upon contact with his flesh. Her hand traces a path down his face and stops when she gets to his chin. She leans in and kisses him softly on the cheek.

Slowly turning his head to look at her, the gray in Matteo’s eyes seemingly swirls like dark storm clouds. “You trouble me so.“ He whispers in a hushed voice. “You touch me in places where only one has before and I… I yearn for more. Yet you scare me. You supplant Nienna in my mind and without even trying you make me want to be a better man.“ Bowing his head, he runs a hand through his hair. “I have done many things I grow ashamed off, but I cannot undo them.“ Closing his eyes even as his hair spills forward to cover his face he inhales deeply and slowly releases the air from his lungs, a soft catch in his voice betraying his continued discomfort. “Someone very special to me once said that what you are does not have to be what you were. I would hope that they were right.“

After a silent moment he snorts softly. “Proper?“ He murmurs, looking back up at her through his loose hair. “You think nothing of showing me your body, of teasing me with it even, not to mention parading around in front of Jastra and Rohr. Yet you think it improper to be clothed and near me?“

“What is wrong with being naked? I was born that way. On some festivals I celebrate that way. In fact it, is more proper that you see my body than my face. I do not tease you except to shut you up.“ She smiles devilishly, “I could tease you if you wanted.“ She scoots back from him and begins completely unlacing the shirt letting the front droop open against the soft-mounded flesh beneath. She sighs, “Much better, now I breathe a little better.“

She looks at Matteo, her eyes serious. “I do not want to banish your memories. They are part of you and make you unique. I certainly hope your past does not conquer you now or in the future – I would not wish to kill you.“ She moves closer to Matteo again. “I would like to hold you again, may I?“

Tearing his eyes from the smooth, pale skin of her cleavage, he looks up into her eyes. “At home, if a woman showed me even a fraction of the skin you do it would be a clear signal she wanted to attract my attentions. It is a game based on subtle hints and innuendo, a wrist or hand held just so, the delicate movements of a fan, a raised brow… even certain hair arrangements. Everyone plays, even those who are mortal enemies for the basest of insults can be given just as readily. And you just…“ Shaking his head he reaches slowly towards her face, his fingers trembling, to cup the side of her face. His thumb softly caresses her cheekbone. Moistening his lips with the tip of his tongue, he swallows past the lump in his throat. “I… I would like to hold you too.“ Letting his fingers trail along her cheek as he drops his arm, Matteo carefully lies back down in the bed.

“How did you ever know when someone was being true to you? That type of living must have been very confusing.“ She watches the sheet settle over Matteo’s body as he lies down. Immerine gently traces her fingers along his side and back up to his face. She leans over him and kisses him softly on the cheek before lying next to him and wrapping her arm around him. “I like this. It feels natural.“ She sighs contentedly.

As she leans over him Matteo stiffens momentarily, his eyes falling from her face down her exposed front before he hurriedly screws them tightly shut. The tension leeches from his body as she kisses his cheek and lies down next to him and he exhales slowly, though he does not reach for her and close an arm about her. Turning his face towards her she can see that his eyes are troubled though he holds his face expressionless. His voice has a tight edge to it as he quietly says, “This is going to be very difficult. If we were in Saerloon now, a woman would only show me as much breast as you do if she wanted and expected me to touch them. All that I used to be tells me to reach for you, to…“ Biting down on his lip he cuts himself off.

Struggling to free his mind from the lingering image of her skin he latches on to her words. “You never knew when someone was being true to you, mostly because no one ever was true to you. Growing up, one in my position has no friends, no one they can share themselves or their inner thoughts with. You have companions of similar status, each always willing to take advantage of the other at the drop of a hat should the opportunity present itself. But confusing? No, it was never confusing. You regard everyone as a potential enemy, that makes things very simple.“

“We are not so different then. I had only animals as friends. Not even the other Witches could be termed that word. They were guides and teachers, never friends. We never took advantage of one another. However, I also regard everyone as a potential enemy, it makes life easier.“ Her face turns bitter, then curious. She sits up again and takes off the nightshirt.

She tilts he head to the side and her hair falls to the pillow. “Why would you want to touch these.“ She touches her breasts. “They are serviceable and not as nice as a man’s chest from what I have seen. They are terrible nuisances. I cannot easily fit into that nightshirt because of them. They hurt once a month when I swell from estrus. You can’t run without them bouncing and sometimes stretching pulls them out of shape.“ With each item named Immerine either touches, bounces or stretches her breasts to make her point clear.

“Then there is the worst thing imaginable… babies. Do you know babies suckle from them? I imagine that must be the worst pain of all to have something latched to your breast. Can you imagine it?“ Immerine looks down at Matteo the question reflected in her eyes.

Lying on his back Matteo goes completely still, his eyes large and locked onto her chest. A low, barely audible moan escapes his lips and his breathing becomes shallow. “You really have no idea, do you?“ He whispers hoarsely. Propping himself up on his elbows he hold his breath as he gazes at her. “How did you feel when I kissed you?“

“Which time? The first time I felt silly. We were mashed together and I couldn’t breathe. The second time I got quaky inside and I thought I was getting sick because I was getting a fever. Why? What does that have to do with latching onto breasts?“ “I want you to close your eyes and remember that quaky feeling.“ Matteo replies softly, barely breathing. “Remember the heat, how your skin felt flushed.“

“You want me to remember feeling sick?“ She looks at him in disbelief. “Whatever for? I can remember it right now with my eyes wide open.“ “Why are you avoiding my question? Does it make you uncomfortable? Here.“ She takes his hand and brings it to her chest, “I don’t mind. They are just pieces of flesh.“

Matteo’s eyes almost fall from his head as she lifts his hand to her soft breast and he stares at where they make contact as though deathly afraid. Slowly, hesitantly, he gently squeezes her breast, his heart pounding in his ears. Pulling back his hand he runs a feather-light fingertip along the skin around her nipple, circling around and around, before cupping the side of her breast in his palm and lightly rubbing the ball of his thumb over her nipple, backwards and forwards. Too scared to even breathe, he lifts his eyes to her face.

“What are you… ?“ Her breath catches in her throat and her nipple hardens under his attention. At first she does nothing, too afraid to move, then she pushes herself back from his reach. Her face set in a mask of fear, “What did you do?“ She rasps through a tightened throat. She reaches up to her breasts and rubs them. “This only happens in the cold. I’m not cold…“

Staring at his hand in wonderment, Matteo begins to move closer to her but catches himself as he feels the silken sheets sliding over his obvious arousal. He swallows and then licks his dry lips. “I… you… oh gods, Immerine, stop rubbing yourself like that or I’ll do it for you.“

“But, I am not cold…“ She looks at Matteo another question obviously forming. “So am I wrong? Would it hurt to have a baby suckle? Would you try it, if you don’t mind, so I could see?“ His jaw drops open as Matteo gapes at her. “You want me to…“ His eyes fall from her face to her chest and he visibly trembles. “I do not know if I should, I mean… what if… oh yes, yes.“ Clutching the sheet about his waist he inches closer to her, lowering his face towards her upper body. His warm breath washes over her skin as he pauses just short of her breast. His voice trembles as he asks, “Oh, I want to… Are you sure?“

“You really don’t mind? You actually want to?“ She sits more comfortably. “Go ahead. I would really like to know. Especially if I am to have children one day.“ She places a hand on his chest and muses out loud, “Men have nipples…“ She runs her fingers over his nipples like he did hers to see if he gets cold too.

Matteo’s eyes fly open and his chest arches in towards her fingers. He inhales sharply and a soft groan issues from deep in his throat. Cupping her breast in his hand, he leans forward, flicking the tip of his tongue across her nipple before tracing it around the slightly darker skin there. His breath his hot on her chest. Lowering his mouth he covers her nipple entirely, swirling his tongue around it as he suckles upon her, pausing occasionally to lightly rasp his teeth across her skin.

Immerine hisses sharply at the sensation coursing through her body. She arches her back in reaction and her hand falls from his chest. A low moan erupts from deep in her chest and her eyes flare open. After several moments she half-heartedly pushes against Matteo, “N – n – no more. I feel funny and… this isn’t right.“

Swept along by sensations he has not felt in a long time Matteo at first does not seem to hear Immerine and continues to lavish attention to her breast with his mouth and tongue. His other hand comes up to cusp her other breast and teases her nipple as his eyes droop closed, his breathing increasing rapid and shallow. A low, murmuring sound rumbles from deep in his chest as his hand slides down her body and under the sheet to massage and caress the soft skin of her outer thigh.

Immerine jolts at the touch on her leg. She tenses for a moment and then relaxes in his arms. Her breathing turns shallow and her plea for him to stop catches in her throat. Eventually the gentle pressure on his shoulders penetrates through the fog in his mind and his mouth slides off her breast as he rests his cheek against her chest. Panting, he lifts his face to hers and kisses her deeply. The hand that was pushing Matteo away wraps around him and holds him close. She presses herself close to him and kisses him back fiercely. All thought of having him stop what he is doing flees from her mind.

His own passion rises to meet hers, his kiss deepening in intensity as all the emotion suppressed since the death of his wife bursts forth. Even as his hand continues to caress her thigh his other arm wraps itself around her back and he gently lowers her down to the bed, half covering her with his body. Once on the bed his hand steals around to cup and squeeze her breast before his fingers return to her nipple.

Immerine gives no resistance to lying down. Her heart thuds in her chest and her breathing drops substantially. Her eyes flutter closed and she continues kissing Matteo. One hand locks in his hair and rubs his scalp; the other clenches and unclenches in the sheet. Soft moans issue from her as she writhes under him.

Lost in the moment, Matteo’s breath comes ragged and fast as the blood pounds in his temples. Slipping his mouth from hers he gasps for breath, his chest heaving, before trailing his mouth along her jaw and down the soft skin of her neck, nibbling and nuzzling at her flesh before returning to her mouth and kissing her hungrily. His hand caresses her leg down to her knee and then up to the juncture between her thighs. With a low moan he cups her mound in his palm and begins to gently rub his hand against her.

Until he reaches her mound Immerine has been lost in the sensations exploding in her. She lifts her neck when he trails kisses down and arches into him. Soft noises of pleasure issue from her throat and chest. This stops almost immediately when he reaches between her legs. Immerine’s eyes flare open and she almost jumps physically off the bed. Her back tenses and she realizes what she is doing. Fear and self-loathing war within her and she gets her hands under Matteo to push him physically off her. “No! No, we cannot do this. You are not… We are not… I cannot!“ She turns her face to hide the burning in her cheeks.

As she tries to push him from her Matteo’s hands still and he lifts his head to look down at her, his eyes wide with horrified alarm as the reality of what he was doing crashes home. He abruptly rolls sideways off her body onto his back, hissing sharply at the pain lancing through his spine and leg. Fumbling frantically to get his hands beneath his body he scrambles back from her and into a seated position, averting his gaze from her by the simple expedient of covering his face with his hands. “I… we… I’m sorry Immerine. I didn’t mean to… I don’t know what came over me.“ Pulling his hands from his face he stares down at them, his expression one of mixed amazement, shame and horror.

Immerine rolls over to sit up on her own side of the bed. She grabs for the discarded nightshirt and pulls it on hastily. She laces the front up as tight as she can. Immerine whispers, “Now I know why women have so many babies. Matteo, what happened? What were those feelings? All I wanted to do was… well, was what I’ve seen animals do in the spring.“ She shudders at the memory and the remaining tension and passion in her body. She runs her hands down her side and then turns around to look at Matteo. “I’m sorry. I am terrible for that, but I cannot because we… I…“ She stops. She looks at her shaking hands. “Is that what you do with all your women? How much further does it go? Does the feeling get better or worse?“ Her terror begins changing to curiosity and wonder.

Slowly raising his eyes from his hands Matteo flinches almost imperceptibly as his gaze falls on her. “Do you mind if I lie down?“ He asks, “Sitting like this is not all that comfortable.“ Without really waiting for a reply he carefully lies down on his back, grimacing slightly. “All my women?“ He whispers as he stares absently up at the ceiling, “Very few women in my life have made me forget myself as you just did. Very few.“ Matteo falls silent for a moment, a troubled expression on his face. “I am sorry Immerine, I did not intend to touch you like that. I just… when you offered me your…“ Almost involuntarily his eyes fall to where her chest strains against the tightly laced nightshirt and a slight tremor shakes his body.

“Normally.“ He says quietly, looking up into her green eyes, “when things get that far, sex follows. Its generally only virg… I mean, most people don’t want to stop.“ His eyes darken and go cloudy as he stares at her with increasing intensity, reaching under the sheet to adjust himself. “It gets better.“ He says in a husky voice, “much, much better. We had barely got started. I want to…“ Biting down on his lip suddenly he looks at her almost in fear. “What are you doing to me Immerine?“ He rasps, “I want you so badly I ache.“

“Sex? Doing? You are not making any sense. So, you want to have sex? This means you want to take me as mate?“ She stares at him for a moment. “And I am right here if you want me so badly. It isn’t my fault you ache. You need to relax and lie down and stop hurting yourself.“ Going completely still Matteo stares across the bed at her. “You want to have sex now?“ He asks in a hoarse whisper.

Immerine’s lip quivers, “I don’t know, I thought you wanted it. If you do not want me as mate, why have sex?“ Feeling a yawning chasm opening up at his feet, Matteo licks his lips and swallows in trepidation. “Did you not enjoy being touched, being kissed, just before?“ He asks quietly. “Don’t you want to feel that again, only even more so? I…“ His hand starts to inch hesitantly across the bed towards her. “Mate? You mean life partner? Do only life partners have sex in Rashemen?“

Immerine flinches as he leaves the invitation open for more of the same sensations she just experienced. She cannot meet his gaze after his question. “No, I am sure many people have sex without being mates. In fact, most who travel on dajemma are only looking to spread their seed far and wide. But I cannot. The joining of body and spirit are the same with me. While I desire to feel as I just did, I will not…“ She falters.

“I do not wish to drive you, and I know you do not truly wish to have sex with me. Your body is responding when your heart and soul do not. This act of sex is empty and I will not enjoin in it. Perhaps we are not…“ Immerine chokes at the thoughts giving power to her voice and covers her face with her hands.

The hand that was slowly making its way across the bed towards her stops and he seems to slump further into the mattress. “I do not know what I want anymore.“ He says almost bitterly. “Matteo, you are the most confusing being I have ever met. You make me hurt and feel joy at the same time. I want to love you and be with you for my life, but I do not think you are ready.“ Her voice breaks and she gets up from the bed and crosses to her discarded belt and reaches into the pouch.

Matteo’s eyes follow her as she moves across the room. “I am the most confusing being you have ever met? I… you… oh, bloody hell, I never know what you are going to do next.“ Watching her dig into the pouch he asks, “What are you doing now?“ “Returning to my life.“ She says quietly. She pulls something from her pouch and returns to the bed and sits down. She lays out a studded leather mask with a few claw marks across it. She looks down at the mask then lifts it to her face.

At the sight of the mask Matteo’s eyes flare open and he lies on the bed in a momentary state of surprised shock. “What are you doing?“ He gasps. When she lifts the mask towards her face he blanches and lunges forward to grab at her wrists. “No, don’t. Please don’t.“ He pleads as sweat breaks out on his forehead at the pain from the sudden movement. A flash of anger flares briefly to life in her emerald eyes and dies almost immediately. “Now what? Why?“ She watches as the mask slips to the floor after the wounded Sembian roughly jostles her. “What concern is it of yours if I wear a mask?“ She snarls.

Matteo flinches in the face of her anger and almost recoils, his hands dropping limply from her forearms to the bed. “Because I can’t bear the thought of you hiding or closing yourself off from me.“ He whispers raggedly. On the bed one hand clenches the sheets into a fist. “Because I love you.“ This last is almost torn from his throat against his will and he blinks back the sudden moisture in his eyes.

Immerine glares at him, “I would choose to close myself off from you because you do the same to me. Mine is merely a physical reminder. I would give everything I am to you. All you need do is ask.“ Her eyes soften around the edges, but the flame is still buried within. “Everything Matteo. You terrify me because I fear losing myself in loving you. Is this what you fear?“ “Yes.“ He replies in a haunted audible whisper.

Immerine flinches and recoils as if she has been slapped. She draws her legs up to her chest and lowers her forehead to her knees. “What are we going to do?“ She asks timidly. “Shadows of life, shadows of death. The evensong gathers them and the dawn music distributes them. Half-lives, never whole, always searching for their true place…“ Immerine recites softly. “The story is heart-rending. I never understood it – until now.“

Deathly pale, Matteo regards Immerine with a look full of fear and longing. Carefully sliding himself closer towards her he wraps his arms around her shoulders and holds her against his bandaged chest. Tenderly stroking her hair away from the side of her face he presses his lips to her temple. Dashing away the moisture in his eyes he whispers, “Will you marry me Immerine? Will you be my life-mate?“

Immerine meets Matteo’s eyes as she lifts her head from her knees. A look of shock, surprise and confusion is in her eyes. She half turns and wraps her arms around him and kisses him softly on the lips. Closing his eyes Matteo returns her kiss, one hand sliding from her shoulder to cup the side of her face. Wet tears spill over and begin to trace their way down his face. Immerine’s own tears begin falling and mingle with Matteo’s as they cascade down their joined chins. “I – kirjain rakkaus sinä, Matteo.“ Immerine whispers in Rashemi. “Sinä aari minun elämä, nyt ja ikuisesti.“ (“I love you Matteo. I am yours now and forever.“) She kisses him on both cheeks, tasting his tears then returns to his mouth.

Kissing her softly, a broken sob bursts forth from Matteo’s throat, soon followed by another. Soon his shoulders and chest are shaking beneath her hands and he buries his face in her shoulder, weeping openly. Immerine is surprised by Matteo’s reaction. Unsure of what to do, she holds him and gently rocks back and forth. Matteo’s arms tighten around her and he continues to weep, ragged sobs racking his frame. Tears course unchecked down his cheeks. Several moments pass as he cries into her. Eventually his sobs diminish and peter out, leaving him sucking air into his starved lungs and sniffling back fresh tears. When he raises his face his skin is pale and wet, his eyes full of grief and love. Smiling wanly he presses his lips to her cheek and holds her close. “I could never cry for her before.“ He rasps, “The tears would never come no matter how much I hurt.“

Immerine says softly, “I know. Sometimes we block the worst parts of our life from our heart to keep us safe. Since meeting you I have been faced with the darkest parts of my life and they exhaust me. The tears will not come for them, yet I can cry for you.“ She kisses the tip of his nose. “You do not have to pledge yourself to me unless it is really what you want Matteo. I will not hold you to words spoken on impulse.“ As she speaks he sees a part of her recede and a pain and longing emerge deep within.

Taking her face between his hands he kisses her softly, lingering at the feel of her breath on his damp skin before leaning his forehead against hers. “I want you.“ He whispers. “Not just your body but all of you. I give you my pledge.“ His eyes crinkle at the edges in a smile as he adds, “Even those bits that make my back stiffen and fight with you.“

Immerine closes her eyes and just breathes him in. When she reopens her eyes they are suffused with love. “You are greedy, Sembian… you will take what I offer.“ She teases. She smiles and kisses him on his neck. After kissing him she looks at him more seriously and takes the symbol of Khelliara in hand, “I pledge myself to you Matteo Ashgale. I take you as life-mate and partner, now and for all time.“ Once she says these words she hugs him gently and runs her hands across his chest then down to his abdomen. She looks at him from beneath half-lidded eyes and kisses him impulsively on the lips again.

Leaning into her Matteo returns her kiss, murmuring softly. Pulling back fractionally he kisses her chin and then the tip of her nose. “That is it? That is how you Rashemi marry? I must say, it is probably the smallest Ashgale wedding of all time.“ Smiling at her he kisses her nose once again. “Do you exchange gifts? Rings?“ Immerine looks troubled, “I do not know how Rashemi marry. I only know what I must do to pledge my life to yours. Is this not enough? I have nothing to offer you in the way of gifts except myself and my love. Have I done wrong?“ Worry crosses her face and her lip trembles.

Feeling his heart lurch, Matteo presses his fingertips to her lips. “No. No, you have done nothing wrong. I just wanted to know if you did things differently in Rashemen, nothing more.“ He slides his hand from her mouth to lightly stroke her cheek. “Ashgale weddings are typically massive events with literally hundreds of people in attendance.“ Leaning in to kiss her softly he smiles a little sadly. “Nienna and I were married with only a single priest in attendance.“ Lifting a stray strand of hair from her face he presses his lips to her forehead. “But I suppose you are a priest so that takes care of that.“

“Do you want a big gathering? I do not have any family to invite and I am sure the Sisterhood would be upset.“ She looks at him longingly, “So, what do we do now? Do you want to fight about something?“ “Nooo…“ He replies slowly, “I don’t think a big gathering is a good idea. My family hopefully thinks I am dead and I am most definitely not inviting the Cult.“ Blinking, he asks, “Why would we fight? You haven’t said or done anything stupid recently…“

Immerine pushes away from him and rolls off the bed, “Hmmm, something like this perhaps?“ Immerine grins wickedly and runs her hands up her body to the laces of the nightshirt. She slowly unlaces them an eyelet at a time and runs a single finger down her cleavage to her abdomen and finally to her thighs. She leans over the bed and climbs back in one leg at a time. “How stupid is this?“ She purrs.

A gargled choking sound comes from Matteo as he stares at her, his mouth gaping open. His chest flutters with shallow breaths and his pulse races. “Oh gods.“ He groans, “oh gods.“ Immerine sits on her knees next to Matteo. Her eyes run up his body and finally settle on his chest. She wrinkles her nose in thought and leans in slowly and kisses his nipples, first his right then his left. She sits back and laughs softly, a devilish grin on her face. Shrugging she flips her legs out from under her and lifts the sheet and settles next to Matteo like she never got out of the bed to unlace her top.

Matteo hisses sharply as she kisses his chest, his eyes wide open as he follows her every move. When she lies against him he is trembling. Rolling onto his side with a faint grimace he props himself up on one elbow and reaches a shaking hand to trail down her temple to her cheek and then cup her face. Swallowing to moisten his suddenly dry throat he leans forward to kiss her tentatively. His hand slides from her face, under the sheet, and down the length of her body before returning.

Immerine’s breath gives a short hop and goose bumps appear on her arms and her nipples harden at the soft running touch. She shivers and looks up into his eyes. “I love you Matteo. I am slowly learning what it includes.“ She tilts up and kisses him softly. “I think I like this thing called kiss.“ She says almost imperceptibly. Closing his eyes, Matteo bows his face into her hair and silently weeps. After a while he begins to nuzzle at the lobe of her ear while his hand comes up to her face, his trembling finger outlining her lips. “I like it too.“ He murmurs in a low whisper into her ear. Lifting his head he smiles down at her through his tears before lowering his mouth to hers, repeatedly dusting her lips with feather-light kisses. His hand moves around to caress her scalp while his mouth trails light kisses down her neck to her chest. Moving the sheet down to expose her breast he takes her nipple in his mouth, suckling on it as his tongue flicks at her repeatedly. A soft moan rises from deep in his throat and returns to her mouth to kiss her more deeply this time.

Immerine’s eyebrows crease when he begins crying again, “Do not cry…“ Her voice breaks off when he begins kissing her. A soft moan begins deep in her chest when he turns his attention to her nipple. She jolts upwards and wriggles gently against his body. When he returns to her mouth she meets him in a deep kiss. Her arms wraps around him and she moves her fingers in small circles massaging him from his scalp trailing down to his ears and neck.

Shifting his weight on his hip as he leans over Immerine to kiss her, Matteo’s eyes flare open and he goes completely still even as a tortured groan rises up from his chest. Gently disentangling himself from her arms he gingerly lies back down on the bed. “I can’t do it.“ He gasps painfully, “Not lie like that. It hurts too much.“ Immerine lies next to him, her breathing irregular and her eyes wide. She turns slightly and slowly drapes and arm over him. “I am sorry. I did not mean to hurt you again.“ She places her head on his chest and listens to his heartbeat. “I would spare you anymore pain, perhaps I should leave.“ She says unhappily.

“Don’t you dare.“ He replies sternly, looking down at her though his eyes remain soft. “I’d only have to come get you again and my donkeys deserve a rest.“ Running a finger along her forehead he lightly taps her nose. “And no healing either. It does no good if I feel better but you cannot do anything.“ She grimaces, “You did not get me in the first place. I got you. Do not confuse the issue. And if I want to heal you I will. No one will stop me, especially you. Now, lie there and let me kiss you!“ She draws herself up and leans down to kiss him softly.

Reaching up for her, Matteo wraps his arms around Immerine and draws her down onto his chest, holding her against him as he returns her kiss. Lifting his mouth from her lips he kisses her chin, her cheeks, her forehead, and then the tip of her nose. “If you heal me, I’ll spank you.“ He murmurs softly, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. “And don’t argue with me, woman, you know you’ll only lose.“ He keeps his arms wrapped firmly about her.

“Lose? Against you?“ She smiles and runs her hands down his chest and across his abdomen. Smiling even broader her eyes light up with curiosity again and she moves her hands lower to explore new areas. Matteo inhales sharply as her hand moves lower and she can feel his stomach muscles tense as his heart begins to pound in his chest. “If you touch me down there.“ He gasps shallowly, “I get to touch you.“

“But you are touching me… I want to know all about your body Matteo. Now stop being so childish. I want to know why it is so warm and why your heart beats so heavy. I want to look at it and I want to see if it really is as hard to the touch as it looks.“ She wriggles out of his arms and scoots down lower so she can see what she is doing. She pulls the sheet over her head and looks at his body. “Oh my… are you sure it isn’t infected?“ She touches him lightly encircling him with her hand and apply gentle pressure. Then she takes a finger and touches his scrotum and giggles, “This is just like a male wolf, except they distend when preparing to mate. Are you sure everything is working correctly?“

“Oh gods, yes, it is working.“ He groans as he quivers in her hand. A muscle in his upper thigh spasms. Lifting his hands he covers his face. A little drop of fluid emerges from his tip. Panic in her voice, Immerine almost shouts, “Matteo, you are leaking!“ She grabs him firmer and uses her second hand to touch the tip. Matteo’s head and shoulders lurch upright, his mouth dropping open into a soundless ‘O’ as she touches his tip. His hands drop from his face to clench the bed sheets even as he lumps back down and spasms within her hand. “That’s… not… unusual…“ He pants hoarsely.

“It is not unusual? But you are quivering and spasming, aren’t you in pain?“ She runs her fingers gently up and down the shaft with one hand and traces circles around the hole with the other. Leaning down she kisses his abdomen. “I am happy I did not break you.“ the sound of panic beginning to fade from her voice. Faint moans come from Matteo as Immerine continues to touch him. Sweat beads his forehead and he bites down on his lip to stop groaning aloud. His breathing becomes shallow and fast. “Lick… it… Suckle on it… like I did… your breast.“

Immerine looks at the thing, “Are you sure?“ She readjusts herself to get closer to him. “If that is what you want, I will try it.“ She lowers her head to touch him with her mouth. She takes him in and swirls her tongue around his tip and uses her lips to suckle on him. She uses one hand to trace his inner thighs and her second to massage his lower abdomen. A dry groan is torn from Matteo’s throat and he bucks within her mouth. His whole body twitches as he writhes upon the bed, his knuckles white where they grip the sheets. “Oh… oh gods.“

Immerine pulls back lightly scraping him with her teeth and giving a last swirl to his tip. When he bucks against her and calls out to the gods she gets worried and stops suckling on him. She pulls her head out from under the sheet to look at him. “Matteo, are you sure you are okay?“ Her eyes are worried and she crawls level with his head again. She places a hand on his forehead and whispers, “You are burning up. I will go get help.“

Matteo’s chest heaves as he turns slightly unfocused eyes towards Immerine. Wrapping his arms around her he holds her close and kisses her hard. “Its alright.“ He pants, “Nothing is wrong.“ Down below he continues to twitch. His heart still races. Immerine is caught off guard by his kiss, and responds before thinking. When he pulls back to speak her eyes are round and worried, “Matteo if you are having problems it is okay to ask for help. We need to get your fever down.“

“I don’t think I’ll be going down for a long time.“ He moans as his breathing starts to slow and he turns to stare at her in stunned amazement. “You really do not have a clue, do you?“ He whispers quietly. “A clue about what?“ She asks not satisfied by his answer. “Let me go so I can get help. Please Matteo, you could die and then where would I be?“ “The only thing that is going to kill me at the moment is frustration.“ He groans softly. Gazing into her face her tilts his head up to kiss her softly. “I am fine, Immerine.“ He whispers gently between shallow breaths. “I have no more of a fever than I do an infection down below. Its just a natural reaction to what I felt when you touched me.“

Fear and sorrow are in her voice as she answers, “Then I should not touch you anymore. I may kill you.“ She begins trembling and puts her arms around Matteo, “I am sorry, Matteo. I just wanted to feel you and touch you and now I hurt you and made you sick.“ She holds onto him as she shakes. “Sshhh“ Matteo murmurs in reply, smoothing her hair away from her face and kissing her softly. “If you don’t touch me I think I’m more likely to die.“ He kisses her lightly once again. “You did not hurt me and I am not sick, Immerine.“ Caressing her back between her shoulders he plants a kiss on the tip of her nose. “You really are such an innocent.“ He whispers, a catch in his voice. “Lie down on your back Immerine. I’ll show you what happened.“

Immerine looks at him suspiciously, “How are you going to show me? I don’t want to catch what you have.“ “Do you trust me Immerine?“ He asks quietly. “You are not going to catch anything, I promise.“ Immerine looks at him steadily for a moment, adjusts the nightshirt and lies back. “Do not hurt yourself. If I even suspect you are doing anything to hurt yourself I will tie you to the bed, understood?“

“Do you promise?“ He asks with a playful wink. “There’s all sorts of games you can play that involve tying people to beds you know.“ Giving her a quick kiss he says, “Can you shuffle up the bed a bit to give me some more room? Even if you half-sit yourself in the pillows. Not being able to bend this leg is going to make things awkward otherwise.“ Immerine stares at Matteo. “You want to be tied to the bed? What sort of games could you possibly enjoy when tied to a bed? What are you going to do? I’m not sure about this Matteo. Maybe you should just lie down.“ Immerine’s eyes crinkle and fear begins to enter them. “If you lay down I can just hold you. I like that, holding you is nice. And I can kiss your neck, that is good too.“ Her breath shortens and she looks like she might roll off the bed just to get away.

“You can hold me and kiss me in a moment.“ He replies gently. Leaning over he kisses her softly on the lips. “Everything will be fine. I am not going to hurt you or make you feel sick.“ Reaching down her body he touches her very lightly between the legs through the sheet. “I am just going to kiss you here.“

“I do not want you to kiss me there. I want you to lay down.“ says Immerine. Her eyes tighten even more and she licks her lips. Matteo looks at her steadily for a moment then slowly closes his eyes. “As you wish.“ He murmurs. Carefully repositioning himself, he lowers himself back down onto the bed and opens his arms to her. “Come here Immerine.“ Immerine nods slowly and moves to lie in Matteo’s arms. “This I like.“ She closes her eyes and nestles her head below his chin and kisses his chest.

Pulling the sheets up over her shoulders Matteo presses his lips to the top of her head and murmurs into her hair, “I am sorry if I made you uncomfortable.“ his breath warm on her scalp. Wrapping his arm around her, he slowly rubs the back of her shoulder and down her back in gentle circular movements. Immerine murmurs softly in appreciation as he rubs her. Her breathing levels and the tenseness in her spine eases. She sighs in contentment. “Kiss me Matteo. I want to feel your lips on mine.“ She tilts her head up to his.

Matteo closes his eyes as his heart clenches in a familiar fashion, a sensation he has not felt in a long time. His hand slides up her back to cup her face. He bend and kisses her softly, then again. The third time his kiss is deeper but long and tender. Immerine leans into him her muscles totally relaxed. Her eyes close and she focuses on the kiss. One hand steals forward and lightly dances up and down his side as they embrace. The second wraps around him and keeps him close to her.

Twitching beneath her as her fingers dance up and down his side, Matteo moans softly. His hand runs from her cheek down her body, his fingernail lightly rasping her neck and the side of her breast before his hand settles in the small of her back and begin to massage and caress the top of her buttocks and tail bone. He continues to kiss her deeply. Soft appreciative noise come from Immerine. She arches into Matteo as he massages her lower back and upper buttocks. The hand she was tracing up and down his side shifts position and gently kneads his chest and nipples.

Breaking away from her mouth Matteo kisses his way down her neck to nuzzle and nibble on the soft flesh just below her ear. His hand slides down across her buttock to caress and knead her thigh before slipping behind her knee and lifting her leg up over his thighs. He nibbles on her ear lobe then moves back to kiss her mouth. Immerine hisses as she breathes in sharply as his hand moves down her thigh. Her back tightens, but relaxes as he drapes her leg over his own. Immerine returns his kisses and hugs him close. She gently moves her leg against his body and thrills at the new feelings it evokes. A deeper rumbling issues from her in addition to the soft sounds of appreciation. Murmuring softly, Matteo continues to stroke and caress her thigh as it rubs against him. As he continues kissing her he gently probes at her mouth with his tongue. Immerine’s eyebrows contract into a ‘v’ as she gets ‘tasted’ by Matteo. She pulls back and looks at him quizzically. “Why are you licking me? Do I taste funny?“

A discreet knock sounds from the door, interrupting Matteo’s answer. “Milord.“ Rohr’s voice enters through the wood, “There is someone to see you. Are you available to receive company?“ His mouth open to reply to her, Matteo is startled by the sound of Rohr’s voice. His hand stills on Immerine’s thigh and his head whips around towards the door. “Give me a moment to get back into bed.“ He calls aloud, soon followed by, “Who is it?“

“Quick.“ He murmurs quietly to Immerine, not even waiting for Rohr’s answer, “Get your clothes on and sit on the edge of the bed.“ Lifting his hands to her face he kisses her briefly. “And bring that green dress over to the bed.“ Kissing her once again he adds, “And hurry.“

Immerine remains where she is. First shock at Matteo’s change, then surprise over the interruption and now anger at Matteo’s attitude infuse the witch. “I am not doing anything to be ashamed of Lord Ashgale. I have no clothes in which to GET dressed.“ Her voice begins to rise and she looks at the door and yells out to Rohr, “His stuffiness will be glad to greet any company that is waiting downstairs. Even if his body is out of sorts.“ Immerine’s gaze settles directly on Matteo’s crotch.

“You will NOT order me about. I am no servant to you.“ outrage and boiling anger seethe in Immerine’s eyes. “It’s never stopped you from trying to order me.“ Matteo snaps back. “Your position, no matter how lofty you may think it is, is all in your head.“ Immerine stands up quickly and crosses to where the green gown hangs. She takes it down and throws it at Matteo. “There is your dress, I hope it fits.“ Quickly sitting upright Matteo blanches and hisses in pain. “And yours isn’t?“ Matteo retorts through gritted teeth.

A discreet cough comes from behind the door as if to mask a chuckle. “A lady Dariel to see you saer.“ Rohr replies. “Do you want to see her, or shall I tell her to wait?“

Immerine’s eyebrow shoots up, “My you certainly are popular these days.“ Immerine walks back the bed, crouches and retrieves her mask. Turning she gathers the rest of her belongings, “I won’t occupy any more of your time, oh mighty Ashgale of Sembia.“ Immerine heads for the door. “Where the hell are you going now?“ Matteo calls after her as she moves towards the door. “I have no idea who this Lady Dariel is, or even if she is a lady. You agreed to be my advisor, why don’t you stay and do your job. Does duty mean nothing to you, or does everything always have to be on your terms?“

Immerine stops cold in her tracks. She pivots around on one foot and faces Matteo. “If you were not an invalid at the moment, you soon would be.“ She says coldly. She sets her things down on the dresser and walks stiffly over to where Matteo lies. She turns around, faces the door and crosses her arms under her chest and waits silently. Glancing up at Immerine, an expression of regret and pain flickers across Matteo’s face. “I am sorry.“ He whispers. Turning back to the door he calls, “Send her in Rohr.“

Immerine puts her hands to her temples suddenly and her knees almost buckle. Before she knows it she is sitting on the side of the bed. Turning around in alarm, Matteo rests a hand on her knee and another on her shoulder, looking up into her face. “Are you alright Immerine?“ Matteo asks, fear and concern edging his voice. “No.“ She snarls, “I feel worse than I did before I ever got in bed with you. My energy is gone and when I stand up I see spots.“ Her face is paler than it was, even her lips are a shade lighter.

Shifting over a little in the bed to give her more room, Matteo hastily rearranges some of the pillows. “Here, lie down just for a moment.“ Immerine stiffens and says, “No.“ Again she raises her hands to her head, a soft painful groan breaks through her throat. “Please Immerine?“ He asks softly. “If you don’t I might have to try and lie you down myself and I’d really rather not risk opening up the wounds in my back and bleeding all over the place again. Just this once can you do something that I ask? Please?“

“It would be futile on your part, why try at all? I’m stronger than you.“ She sticks her tongue out at him. “And if you reopened your wounds, I would just have to heal you again.“ A shudder passes through her slender frame and she almost slumps back into Matteo as a wave of dizziness assaults her. She lays against him and looks up into his face, “Damnation!“

Matteo bristles at her words and a retort is on the tip of his tongue when she slumps into him and then curses. “You are the most frustrating, stubborn person I have ever met.“ He whispers quietly and kisses her forehead softly. Bending down he gives her a quick peck on the lips and an exaggerated wink. “Now Lady Dariel, whoever she is, will be here soon. Try not to hit me too hard while she is, it doesn’t look good.“ “I wouldn’t be in this position if you had the good sense to lay down in the first place. If I had the strength to raise my arm, I’d punch you.“ She shuffles herself around slowly and gets back under the covers and leans her head back on the pillows. “But since I don’t, I will just have to make you look bad in front of your company.“

“And if I thought I had time, I’d kiss you.“ Matteo replies with a faint grin. “You do look beautiful.“ He murmurs as his eyes soften and he touches his hand to her cheek, “Even with all my cuts and bruises over your face.“ Immerine’s anger melts away at his mention of kissing and love shines in her eyes. “I love you Matteo, please – please don’t forget it.“ There is a hint of desperation in her voice, and one of her hands reaches to him touching him gently. “I won’t.“ He whispers, brushing her cheek with his fingers. “I promise.“


Leaving the Angruatil mansion by herself, Kayla quickly mounts Spirit and rides down the street toward the Running Stag. The cobblestones are slick with the drizzle and the muddy sludge from yesterday’s snow. Passersby huddle within their cloaks, both to try and keep dry as well as trying to stay warm. The temperatures have dropped and there is a chilly tang to the air. This early wintry weather certainly does not improve ones mood.

Handing her horse over to one of the Stag’s stable boys, Kayla walks across the Inn’s courtyard to the entrance. Shaking the excess water from her hair and her cloak, she opens the door and steps inside. The Inn’s interior currently resembles an autumn forest at the break of dawn. A soft yellowish light illuminating the place, which is comfortably warm. A few merchants, some woodsfolk and a handful of locals have chosen to spend the morning in the Stag’s comforts.

A large table, slightly off the center of the room attracts Kayla’s eye. Only a couple of folk are sitting around the table, which can easily accommodate double their number. Currently the occupants of the table are a reasonably well dressed man in his early forties, a small halfling woman, a handsome young man with an air of confidence, another young lad, a bit better of than a street waif. The last person at the table is someone Kayla thinks she recognizes. He is a half-elf, that’s obvious to her, but she can’t place him just yet.

The content of Twilight Dawn are the property and copyright of J P Hazelhoff, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.

Previous Chapter

Return to the Twilight Dawn main page

Return to Campaign Logs