I stomped away as the men started a fire. I heard the sound of a stream and knelt down beside it. The water was freezing but there was no way I would stay in this humiliating position! I splashed water onto my face and scrubbed with my nails until all the mud was off. Next came my feet, legs, and arms. I grumbled angrily while I did it. Frankly, I wasn't angry with Cian. Well, not completely. I knew he was on the verge of laughter.
I should have gotten off of Ashling when I had the chance. I knew she would get spooked by the bear; I had seen it happen before with other horses.
I lay out on my stomach, thankful for the moss that had grown along the stream, and put my hair in the water.
"Let me help," someone said. Clemente knelt next to me. "Get on your side; doesn't matter which."
I obeyed but the side not facing him. I was still humiliated. I felt him squeeze my hair and splash water onto it. When he got to my scalp, he apologized and scooped water, letting it run down my hair. Some ran down my face and I shivered.
"Can't you feel the cold?" I asked through chattering teeth.
"No," he said quietly. "None of us can."
"Lucky," I shivered.
He chuckled. After ten more minutes, he wrung my hair out for me and apologized again as he splashed water on the back of my neck. I squealed as the cold water washed away the mud and ran down my back. I'd need a full bath but not with men around. I sat up, shivering, and looked at the camp.
"Can you do me one more favor, Clemente?" I whispered.
"Of course, milady," he said, looking at me curiously.
"First, my name is Viveka so call me that, please. Second, I need a real bath." I bit my lower lip. "Could you bring me a dress and then...."
"Stand guard?" he asked with a wry smile.
I blushed. "I don't trust Cian."
He threw his head back and laughed, standing. "I'll be right back."
I waited and put my feet in the freezing water so they could get used to it. The rest of my body, though.... That was another story. Clemente returned with my dress and laid it out on the moss along with some soap my mother had packed.
"I've let the men know," he said. "They swear they won't look."
"Sure they won't," I said skeptically.
He chuckled and turned his back. I slipped out of the muddy dress and got into the water.
"Shit!" I squealed. "This is cold!"
"It is fall," Clemente said.
"Oh, shut up," I grumbled, making him chuckle again.
I shivered as I scrubbed my body with the soap. When I was clean, I tossed the dirty dress in the stream. By now my body had gotten used to the water enough to give me time to clean the dress. I climbed out and pulled the new dress on.
"Okay," I shivered.
"You're still soaked," he said with a frown. "You did not wish to wait until you dried?"
"I smell a fire," I said, shaking and picking up the newly washed dress. "That will dry me enough."
"Even your dress?" he asked as we walked back.
"Yes." I sniffled, wiping my nose; it was running from the cold. "You picked the right one: this one is two sizes too big so it's not as wet as it looks."
Clemente nodded. The men were gathered around the fire. It was small, much to my dismay. I sat as close to it as I could, rubbing my arms. I glared into the fire, thinking about my stupidity. How could I have let my fear take hold of me like that?
When the fire was hot enough to cook from, Brone started making meat for me.
"So," Cian said slyly and I glared at him. He was sitting to my left. "Since you volunteered to come on this venture, I assume you're willing to... supply us with nourishment?"
"Don't make me throw more mud at you," I snapped.
He smirked. "Oh, calm down, minx. We have brought it with us."
"Shut up," I spat. "I'm too cold and tired to deal with you."
He just laughed and accepted a small goblet that Abel passed him. I watched him drink it, horrified and fascinated at the same time.
"Would you like a sip?" he asked, still smirking.
"No," I said slowly. "What's it like?"
Brone passed me the meat and I thanked him. He bowed his head. Cian was staring at me.
"Are you sure you want to know the answer to that question?" he asked darkly and I nodded, eating the meat.
He put the goblet down and stared at me. With the fire throwing shadows across his face, he did look rather handsome.
"It's... invigorating," he said finally. "Each time we drink, it gives us energy and strength. It also gives us a sense of... pleasure we do not get without the company of a woman." He wasn't smirking; he had become completely serious. "Drinking it like this is necessary but it tastes so much better when it is fresh and warm."
I shuddered involuntarily. "Does all blood taste the same?" I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.
He narrowed his eyes. "Why are you asking?" I just stared and he sighed. "No, not all blood tastes the same." He nodded to the bear's dead body. "Animal blood is thicker than human blood. Sometimes it's bitter, too, depending on how long it has been dead and the age of the animal."
He shrugged. "Humans have different tastes, too. Some are bitter and some are sweeter." He leaned forward, his smirk back on his face. "I wonder what yours would taste like."
"Rein yourself in," I snapped but my voice betrayed the fear I was feeling.
He cocked a brow. "Do I frighten you?"
"I'd like to sleep now," I muttered. "Thank you again for cooking this for me, Brone."
I passed him the plate and Abel gave me one of the blankets. I looked around for a pile of leaves, aware Cian was still staring at me. I turned my back on him and closed my eyes, falling asleep from the exhaustion that the bear attack had caused.
I sat by a lake. I was completely naked. To my left, a creature was crawling towards me. My heart began to race in panic but I couldn't move. It had fangs but there were no eyes or nose. It crawled on all fours, its body grey and emaciated. When it got to me, I could smell its putrid breath. I screamed for my body to move as it leaned for my neck.
Then two arms grabbed me from behind and someone was shouting my name. Despite my fear, I was scandalized that the person was touching my breasts. They were still yelling my name, though, as I thrashed. I looked down. Whoever it was had the same grey skin and I screamed again.