Chapter Eighteen: Briars (4)Mature

Fiona located Henry’s room easily enough: his door could be distinguished from the rest by the presence of a pair of armed guards stationed outside.  These aforementioned guards were rather reluctant to allow her and Raif to pass, but she convinced them it was a splendid idea in the end.  That wasn’t too difficult, either.  The handful of silver knamick coins did most of the work. 

            Leaving them in the corridor to bicker over their respective shares, she entered the room.

            Henry was sitting up in his bed, stripped to the waist, his cloak, tunic and boots scattered upon the flagstone floor.  He was studying something when she came in—a pocket watch, perhaps—but he hid the object away before she could get a good look at it.

            “Oh, hello,” he mumbled, blushing.  “I hope you’ll excuse my state of undress…I wasn’t expecting visitors.”

            “I ha’e brothers, yer lairdship,” she replied wryly.  “I’ve seen far worse.”

            A smile twitched at the corners of his mouth, but it reached no further.  “Can I help you with something?”

            “I jus’ wanted ta check in on you.  See that you were all right, y’ ken.”

            “I’m fine,” he assured her, then promptly contradicted himself by grimacing and clutching his stomach.

            “No, you are no’ fine,” she stated bluntly, striding over and sitting down on the edge of his mattress.  She laid a hand on his bare shoulder, noting the stiffness of his posture.  “Relax, man!  If you were no’ so tense, you wouldna feel so ill.”

            His face reddened again.  “I can’t relax.  Not with you here.”

            She drew back, hurt.  “I’m sorry.  I’ll leave—”

            “No…no, I…I didn’t mean it that way,” he stammered.  “I didn’t mean I don’t want you here, I just…I mean…I…I…that…” He took a deep breath.  “You don’t need to leave.  That’s what I was trying to say.”

            Fiona frowned, studying him.  Was he infatuated with her?  How peculiar.  She had been almost certain that he was gay.

            “Right,” she said eventually, and patted the mattress beside him.  Raif took the cue and hopped nimbly up onto the bed.  For the first time since she had met him, Henry actually smiled.

            “Thanks,” he whispered as the creature nuzzled in beside him.  “Hello, dog.”

            “His name’s Raif, I think.”

            “Raif!” the creature confirmed, as quietly as its bark would let it.

            “Hello, Raif,” Henry amended, scratching it behind the ears.  The creature sighed contentedly, eyes drooping, its lips pulled back in a funny sort of grin.

            “You really should try ta get some sleep, you know,” Fiona reminded him.  “You look exhausted.”

            Henry nodded, sinking down to his pillow and pulling the sheets up to his chin.  Fiona waited until his eyes drifted shut and his breathing began to slow before she pulled away from the bed and crossed the chamber to the hearth.  She built a fire there to warm the chilly room, then sat down in a nearby armchair, meaning to rest for a bit before going on her way.

The End

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