An Incident at the Cottage
It took a long time before Drevin finally realized through his foggy slumber that someone was calling his name. A beautiful, pale face was leaning over him with a long, golden, slightly curly hair falling over her shoulders. Her large, blue eyes seemed a little worried while the full, red lips were moving rapidly, repeating his name over and over again.
”Drevin, it's time to wake up! Drevin?”
Yawning tiredly, Drevin rubbed his eyes to drive away the sleepy numbness that insisted on keeping his head in a blurry cloud, refusing to dissolve in a timely manner. His sleep must have been very deep, which was not a surprise considering everything he had been through lately.
”I'm awake, Merwyn, I'm awake!” he assured to make her stop. For some reason her loud, clear, quite high-pitched voice sounded extremely irritating in his ears.
Merwyn smiled warmly as she spoke, clearly unable to see her guest's increasing irritation, ”I'm so sorry to wake you up, but my dad says we have to go fast before anyone comes looking for you.”
Drevin, now fully awake, smiled back as he carefully crawled out from the soft bed. The bandages were still tight and looked clean, which he noted gratefully.
Merwyn saw him checking the bandages and nodded. ”I will change them when we make it to the cottage,” she promised. ”Now, let's go!”
It turned out it was barely dawn, and he had slept less than six hours. It was not enough, but still far better than nothing. The pulsating ache persisted in his muscles, reminding about the harsh workout he had had during the last few days.
Following Merwyn's supple figure out through the side door, Drevin pulled his own thick traveling cloak over the shoulders, covering his entire body underneath. The girl was carrying a large burlap sack of various supplies she needed to treat the injured man. There was no light on the horizon yet, which should give them enough time to leave the city before the first people would appear on the streets. A light drizzle kept the air rich and brisk. Drevin inhaled deeply, enjoying the fresh air in his lungs as they sneaked through the narrow side streets and small yards until they reached the edge of the town. Drevin noticed that their main direction was north, the same where his and Belith's cabin was, but it was still far from the familiar route. They avoided roads completely, and instead traveled through the dense woods silently like a pair of ghosts, occasionally crossing barely visible paths - shortcuts used by the local people.
The landscape was bending upward as they approached the foothills, turning ever steeper as the mountains became closer. Drevin estimated that they had passed his old home long time ago, despite the fact that they could not move very fast due to his condition. The former assassin felt himself clumsy and tired as he stumbled on behind Merwyn, who walked a few steps ahead of him, guiding him through the forest with sure steps. As they got higher, the wood cover began to turn thinner. But when Drevin began to suspect that they might climb all the way to the top of the mountain range, Merwyn made a sudden turn and began to follow a clear pathway through sparser group of trees. It crawled along the mountain side like a snake, almost losing Drevin's sense of direction, which was not an easy thing to do. But then, when he was sure he could never find his way back, he saw a small cottage at the end of the trail, almost completely covered by rowan thickets and dwarf birches. The front porch was barely visible beyond a tiny clearing in front of the house, and it was impossible to picture the shape or size of the low building.
”Now, that's a well hidden little hole,” Drevin muttered approvingly, seeing now that Gerrick knew exactly what he had been talking about.
Merwyn turned her sparkling eyes at him and smiled knowingly, glad to hear his acceptive words.
The wooden door opened to a small, but very comfortable looking room. A table made of birch stood by a narrow bed. An old, blackened stove was standing in the far corner by another door which led outside to the back of the house. There was no yard at all, but an endless line of trees standing almost right against the back wall. A large pile of dry wood was stacked right next to the doorway under a long shed that protected the logs from rain.
”Lay down,” Merwyn ordered softly, nudging the man gently toward the bed. Drevin allowed his body to move freely under the negligible force of the push, for his wounds were burning and smarting after the lengthy hike. The moose pelts felt soft and comfortable under his feet as he staggered backwards before falling into the bed, which was not as soft as it could have been, but at least it was clean. The sudden impact with the mattress, even though most of the force was absorbed, brought a painful grimace on his face as the deep cuts on his back reminded about their existence.
”Oh, I'm so sorry!” Merwyn exclaimed, realizing her own mistake immediately as she saw the expression changing on Drevin's face.
”Don't worry about it,” he assured. ”The blade just sank real deep,” he continued, referring to Morhan's stab wound on his back.
The girl helped him to get into more comfortable position, then she began to remove the layers of clothing in order to change the bandages, including his heavy weapon belt. Her nimble fingers worked well, and before long, Drevin was laying on his stomach with his upper torso exposed. Feeling her gentle touch against his skin sparked fond, but extremely painful memories in his tormented mind. He made sure not to say anything as he did not want to insult the girl by asking her to hurry or stop completely. She was doing all this to help him to recover, so the least he could do was to save her from the embarrassment. Perhaps, in time, the ghastly memories would fade, and if the good Immortals had any mercy left for this world, they would let him forget, for otherwise he would plunge into the black depths of madness. Fortunately, the haunting memories were momentarily driven away by another kind of sensation that suddenly creeped in.
The golden hair of the girl was untied, hanging long over her face as she worked on the bandages. The tips of her hair kept touching his skin, tickling lightly. Drevin tried to hide his ever widening smile, but the entire attempt was doomed to fail.
Merwyn caught a glimpse of his face from underneath her hair and smiled shyly as well, unsure of the reason, until she finally asked. ”What's so amusing?”
”Nothing,” he answered shortly, which made the girl lift her head up.
”Seriously, I saw you smiling,” she insisted. ”Is something wrong?”
”No, it was your hair,” Drevin sighed cheerfully. ”it was tickling my skin.”
”Ah, I'm sorry. I have to get these bandages changed and it's so dark still,” she explained, looking out the only window at the front of the cottage. A dim light was slowly conquering the horizon, but it would be hours at this time of the year before the sky turned significantly brighter.
”No, it's fine, really. Actually, it felt quite nice,” Drevin said, trying to redeem the situation, but instead of balancing everything, the pendulum swayed to the opposite extreme, which was normal for a girl of her age; nevertheless, it was most confusing and strange for Drevin, who was not used to the wild emotional swings of a girl at the verge of her womanhood.
Her worried face melted into a warm smile as she moved from the deep wounds of his back to the shoulder, which required Drevin to turn from his stomach to his back. She made sure to push her head close enough to let her hair wander along the man's olive-colored skin as she began to work again, a light, cunning smile played on her lips as she was removing the old wrap.
The wounds were deep and most of them were still bleeding, but Merwyn found no signs of infection, which was important for his recovery.
After she was finished with all the bandages, she walked outside and fetched an armful of firewood to light the stove. The crackling fire drove the humid chillness away, replacing it with a soothing warmth. Merwyn returned to the table where she had dropped the burlap sack and took out some ham, a chunk of cheese and a bottle of wine. It seemed like she was well prapered for this trip, a little too well. Drevin glanced at the wine bottle and could not but wonder why a regular flagon of water was not enough.
”Now you must eat,” she said firmly, ”it will help you to regain your strength.”
Drevin had to agree, and so he struggled up with her help. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he had some ham and cheese that tasted like paradise in his mouth. So much had happened during the last couple of days that Drevin had not even realized how hungry he was before the delicious, salty flavor of ham spread over his tongue, giving him something else to think about for a while. He closed his eyes and enjoyed every bite until it was all gone, then he moved on to the cheese, and he had to admit, the wine offered by Merwyn was also very good, helping him to relax a little as well.
After eating every single bite given to him, Drevin lay back down, this time very carefully to make sure it would not hurt so much. Merwyn sat down on the edge of the bed and rubbed his intense shoulders lightly. The comfortable feeling of her soft fingers dancing gently across his skin felt so good that he lapsed into some kind of a dreamlike state, remembering how Belith used to rub him almost in the same way after the long hunting expeditions. Letting out a deep, content sigh, Drevin sank deeper into his dream, seeing the gentle, loving, dark eyes opening in front of him, feeling her warm hands upon the exhausted muscles. Breathing calmly he enjoyed as the love of his life skillfully massaged his tired body, enjoying every second of feeling her little hands moving from the shoulders to his chest, and then further down. He knew what it meant. This little play always ended in the most delightful way, but the anticipation was a large part of it, and that is why he did nothing to make her rush. Her hand sneaked down to rub his inner thigh, which gave him a strange quiver. Belith had never done it like that; too fast, she was too fast with her moves, and then he opened his eyes and saw Merwyn with wild lust burning in her eyes. She was staring at his groin intently with deep blush on her cheeks, her lips slightly parted. Her rapid breathing forced the breasts into most seductive movement as she continuously licked her lips in order to keep them wet; a sign of nervousness, but also eagerness. For Drevin, however, the dream was broken, vanished among the forgotten memories that were locked inside the cage of his heart, never to be released again.
”Merwyn, what are you doing?” He growled, and slapping the girl on the hand like a child that was caught stealing sugar, he pushed her away harder than he really meant.
”I thought you— wanted—” she stuttered confusedly, mortified by the sudden actions of her secret love who now rejected her in the most gruesome manner, and the lustful blush on her cheeks turned to shame. She tried to find something on the walls she could stare at with her misty eyes, for she was not able to look at Drevin at all. But as her desperate attempt turned out empty, she saw better to escape. Before Drevin was able to do anything to stop her, she ran out the door, through the tiny yard and vanished behind the rowan thickets. By the time he finally managed to stand up, Merwyn was long gone.
Swearing roughly, he sat back down and emptied the remains of the wine bottle with one long gulp. There was no way he could catch the girl in his current condition. Besides, showing his face in town would have been plain stupid, for those two murderers were still after him. Merwyn would be fine, he assured himself. Girls tend to get their little hearts broken so easily at that particular age, but their ability to recover from it was also something beyond comprehension. But still, he felt bad for her - and for himself. He should have handled it more discreetly, but the situation came to him as an utter surprise, and he reacted being dazed and deeply embarrassed by the fact that he had allowed things to slide off of his hands so easily.
The wine rushed in his veins, drowning the pain partially under a drunken fog. Not sure how much time he had, he closed his eyes and dreamed himself away the best he could, but the events of the morning kept coming back to him until he was so frustrated that he had to get up or let madness take over. Knowing how useless any rampage would be, he grabbed the burlap sack from the table and began to investigate the contents, hoping to find more wine. After a while, as he found himself being out of luck, he threw the sack on the floor and lay down. This was not going to be a good day, which should not have been a surprise anymore after so many utterly terrible ones.
* * *
Cold rowan and birch branches were beating all over her body as she stormed across the forest, nearly blinded by the salty tears in her eyes. She had been so sure that the man she had adored for over a year would finally answer to her feelings, but what had happened? A complete embarrassment and humiliation! There was nothing she wanted more at that moment than an ability to turn back time and repair everything that had been broken that day. All those playful smiles and winks at the inn, who could have told her that they were nothing else but just that - innocent play. But it had been so much more for her, so much deeper and meaningful. Without Belith she would have approached Drevin a lot earlier, expressed her feelings a lot clearer, but as it turned out, there were no true feelings stored for her in the man's heart.
Merwyn ran the whole way back to Lokhan through the misty rain. She did not stop before she was inside the high, wooden fence that surrounded the entire inner city. The gatekeeper glanced at her saddened face, but said nothing. It was not his task to question people about their feelings, and this girl surely did not fulfill the criterion of a threat.
Walking rather jerkily, Merwyn headed straight for the Burning Candle, where she hoped for some privacy to gather her thoughts. After all, she could not leave Drevin by himself, she loved him too much for that. She needed to calm down and deal with her inner turmoil, but she was sure she would be ready to go back in the next morning and work things out.