Chapter 6 Part 5 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
The next day, Emmae kept her distance. When Warin served out fried salt pork and ash cakes, she wouldn't take the bowl from his hand; she made him set it on the hearthstones beside her little stool. He flushed and turned away. "Do you wish to leave now?" he said to the wall.
"Do you wish me to leave now?" she said.
He glanced down at her from where he sat in the room's only chair, her face so downturned he could only see the tip of her nose. If only she spoke Tremontine--how could he tell her all his regret, all his real remorse, if he had to say it in a language better suited for Eddinite philosophers and Sisters than lovers? Lovers--he had been alone far too long, if he already thought of her as his lover.
He faced the fire's warmth. "No, I wish you not to leave. But I swear on whatever God you choose, or all of them, that I will touch you not again."
She raised her head, eyes cautious. "And how shall I repay you, if not in that way?"
"A whore you are not," he said, his own vehemence surprising him. "Never. Never will I let that happen! You will help me in my work. I will teach you to speak Tremontine, and to earn your keep with honor." She nodded her agreement and gave him a tentative smile, and the chill around his heart began to lift.
They soon found she could do nothing. She didn't even know how to sweep, raising enough dust to make them both cough. He discovered her short temper and pride when she threw the broom against the wall in frustration. "This one is too tall for you," he said, easing her humiliation. "I will make you your own." Two nights later, he gave her a broom, its top carved into a little rabbit. She accepted it with dignity, said, "Now that I have a proper broom, I am sure I shall sweep properly."
When they turned to cooking, he discovered her stubbornness. She refused to listen to him, and burned herself on the crane holding the pot over the fire. He dragged her sobbing down the path to thrust her arm into the icy stream. He examined it and hissed. "It will not scar, but it will hurt for a while. You will listen to me now, headstrong girl, will you not?"
They hurried through the cold to the warm cottage; Warin dressed her arm with honey and wrapped it in scraps of linen. Emmae's tears redoubled. "You are so kind to me! Why? What kind of woman must I be, to be found naked in a forest?" she cried, still in Old Sairish.
"There's no need for me to be unkind," he answered in Tremontine. "And as for not knowing your past--take it as a gift. Whatever you were, it doesn't matter now."
"I understand your words now, but I can answer not."
"You will, soon." For she was not only proud, stubborn and hot-tempered, she was smart; she made rapid progress in Tremontine, and he began to pick out more words in Leutish himself.
Emmae had one talent: she could sew. Warin took a length of linen and one of wool from his cupboard, and clothes for them both soon filled her workbasket. She no longer sat by the hearth in the old smock, but in a gray wool dress, little sparrows embroidered in plain red thread round its neck, and was as pleased as any princess clothed in silk.
The spoke turned, and the snow fell. Warin set out his traplines; pelts made up most of his trade with the outside world, and often he ate what he caught. One afternoon, he led Emmae to a freshly killed brace of rabbits, hanging headless by their hind legs from a low branch. "Must I?" she said, her Tremontine now good enough to speak as well as understand.
"Do you want to eat?" he answered. "Watch." She winced but didn't turn away. He began on the nearest rabbit, deftly flaying the skin from its body.
She watched him work. "You're so quiet," she said.
He finished skinning, turned the pelt flesh-side out, and threw it into a nearby bucket of water. "This will make you a pair of mittens. Do a good job on the next one, and you'll have trim for a hood." He cut into the body. "Here. The liver. If you ever see spots, throw the whole carcass away. The meat's bad. No spots on this one," he said, holding it out. "It's good. Good eating, too." He worked in silence, then said, "This always reminds me of soldiering."
"You were a soldier?"
"Of sorts, when I was young. See here?" He aimed his knife between the rabbit's ribs. "Thrust here at a man--instant kill. Were we on the ground--" he drew along the inside of the rabbit's thigh-- "I'd cut here. The blood just falls out. A quick, merciful death." He pulled the rabbit's innards out, and threw them onto the frozen ground. "I hated being a soldier."
She studied his bitter face, then said, "Is that why you came to the woods?"
"No." He wiped his knife in the snow and handed her the knife, hilt-first. Emmae fought down her nausea, and set about flaying the second rabbit.
The snow deepened, and still Warin kept his promise: he didn't touch her. He slept on the floor in his bedroll, and she slept in the narrow bed, alone. Even so, he could not help wanting her. Many nights, she'd wake from an erotic dream to realize it belonged to him, confused to sense his desire so acutely.
As the days passed, Warin's ache became hers, and she wavered in her determination to stay away from him. Her eyes lingered over his angular form, skin still tanned from the summer sun, his brown eyes softening whenever they met hers. She remembered his strong, work-hardened hands sliding over her body, coaxing, then demanding. She would wonder how those hands would feel around her waist, lifting her skirts, holding her down on the bed--how those long, rough fingers would feel against the soft skin of her breasts, or the inside of her thighs. A strand of his dark hair would fall across his face, and she would stop herself from tucking it behind his ear. His kindness, his patience, and his forbearance loosened the fear that had seized her the first night; she looked upon him, not with worry, but with tenderness, and more than tenderness.
For his part, Warin rejoiced to have Emmae near, though it caused him pain; he had been alone far too long, and she was far too beautiful. More than that, he admired her bravery. Once she realized that stubbornness and pride would teach her nothing, she faced her situation with intelligence, and without self-pity. She worked as hard at learning to clean pelts as she did at learning Tremontine, with a tenacity he would never have expected from the presumed daughter of a wealthy merchant. He loved watching her mend stockings or hem a shirt before the fire in the evenings, concentrating until the pink tip of her tongue peeked out. When she caught him gazing down at her, she'd smile up from the low stool, and his heart would swell with a love he knew he had no right to feel.