Chapter 6 Part 2 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
Warin woke from a light sleep to the sound of wagons in the distance. People rarely came down the road, other than the occasional smuggler, or a trapper who didn't know this was his territory; wagons hadn't passed by in some time, and he suspected he knew who drove them.
He folded his tall, lean frame through the low threshold; an autumn breeze played with the fallen leaves and the ends of his neat, dark braid. He moved silently down the path toward the road, to the clearing the Travelers sometimes used on their way from Leute to Tremont. He slid up to peer through the foliage, expecting the bright caravans.
Instead, he found a girl, sound asleep in the cold and draped only in her long hair.
Warin abandoned stealth. Letting the leaves crackle underfoot, he stepped into the clearing and crouched beside her. It wouldn't be the first time a Traveler had left an enemy at the side of the road; was she dead? No, her breasts rose and fell, and she sighed in her sleep. Her breasts, rising and falling: it had been some time since Warin had seen any woman, and here was a perfect one. Hair shining in the moonlight, luminescent skin, lush curves. How could she be anyone's enemy? He brushed her hair away from her face, her rosy lips soft and open in sleep, and murmured, "What are you doing here?" She awoke with a small cry, louder as she stared about her; she scrambled away from him through the leaves and dead grass. "It's all right," he said, backing away with hands open before him. "I won't hurt you--I'm here to help you. My name's Warin."
She sat up and clutched her knees to her chest, pulling her hair around herself like a shawl, and said something in Leutish. He understood more than he could speak of the neighboring tongue; she was frightened, and wanted to know where she was. "Understandish, yay--speakish na Leutish," he said in what he he hoped was Leutan but knew was probably gibberish; she looked at him quizzically. "You're cold," he resumed in Tremontine. "Here--" he removed his cloak, and tossed it to her, moving back again. She eyed him warily, but burrowed into the cloak as quickly as she could. "Who are you?" he said. "How did you come to be all the way out here like this?"
She shook her head; tears filled her brilliant eyes. To see such eyes, such beauty, so close after so long--a tremor of long-dormant lust shook him. To his surprise, she closed her eyes briefly, face flushed and slack in sensual concentration. Her features were fine; she had the look of gentility about her, and so he took a chance that she had some education. "How came you here?" he repeated in Old Sairish. He hadn't spoken it aloud since he'd left his studies behind; it sounded stilted and formal.
"I know not!" she answered in kind, bursting into tears. "I remember not!"
"You understand! Very well, we speak in Old Sairish. What is your name?" She didn't know that, either. She didn't know who her people were, where she was from, not a single thing. "Name or no," he said, "you cannot stay out in the cold any longer. Come with me to my home. Yes, this way. May I take your arm? No? Mind your step."
Once inside, he dug through the cupboard until he found a soft, threadbare linen smock long enough to cover her completely. He turned to stoke the fire, leaving her some small privacy though he longed to see her faultless body again. When he turned back to her, she wore the smock and sat on the little stool beside the hearth, warming herself with the cloak still round her shoulders; her lips showed blue in the firelight. "Do you hunger?" he said. "Here is stew, saved for breakfast, but you may eat it, if you would like."
He studied her face from his shadowy corner of the hearth as she ate ravenously. A strong brow, a fine nose, a round, obstinate chin beneath ripe lips. Nothing coarse or common about her: lustrous chestnut hair that had seen a brush and comb recently, clean, white skin...soft skin...sweet-smelling skin all over her...
Best to break this train of thought. "You must be from Leute, across the river to the east," he said.
"You speak Leutish, not Tremontine."
"Ah? Tremontine--is that what you were babbling. I speak Leutish, you say."
"And you speak Old Sairish with an eastern accent."
She smiled briefly, dimples flashing in her cheeks. "I think that perhaps it is you who have the accent. No, thank you, I have eaten enough--thank you," she said. She gave him the bowl with soft, white hands--clearly unaccustomed to work. She sat straight and poised, as dignified as a queen. Not a peasant. Perhaps the daughter of a rich merchant.
She plucked at a strand of her long hair, drawing it over and over through her fingers as she thought. "What is to happen to me?" she said. "Where shall I go?"
"You have no memory of your home? You are welcome to stay here until you decide what to do. I can take you to the nearest village, if you would rather. You might find work there, until you remember or until your people find you."
"I know not how to do anything," she said, breaking into tears again. "I remember not what I did before you found me. I remember not a thing. Who will take care of me?"
"You may stay here as long as you need. I will teach you to care for yourself, do not cry. You will be all right, I promise." Warin took her hand, so soft in his callused palm. So long since he'd touched someone, anyone. The warmth of her small hand in his spread throughout him, and he wondered how she would feel in his arms. He thought of her lying naked in the clearing, her full breasts, the soft patch of dark hair below her belly. He felt a deep twinge before he could move his mind away from the image. When next he looked, her lips were wet and parted, eyes wide and dark; a flush covered her cheeks and neck, and her nipples showed hard beneath the smock, though he knew she was no longer cold. She averted her gaze, shivering, her natural dignity abandoned.
"Are you unwell?" he said.
"I know not! I know not anything, I know not what I am feeling, I understand not!" She clung to his hand and broke into Leutish. "I'm frightened! Don't let go my hand!"
The best he could do in Leutish was, "I won't," and he folded her hands in his until she calmed. It had been some time since Warin had been with a woman, but not so very long that he'd forgotten the signs of a woman's desire; her fingers softly traced against his palms, and he closed his eyes. "Amma help me," he prayed.