The Secret Sellers

Once upon a time an old woman foretold a world where monsters ruled. And they did. The fairy tales from history seemed to foretell the mutations of the future. Forests grew large and dark and within them, creatures thrived. Avis Eldred is one of the few surviving humans; she should be grateful for that. But she's not grateful for killing in order to survive. Now she faces a choice - take a leap of faith and defy everything she ever knew, or keep being a murderer and a coward.

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6. Walls won't protect you for long

 

-5-

Walls won’t protect you for long.

Neveah didn’t like being hoisted over someone’s shoulder and taken away. It was rather demeaning.

“Avis!” Neveah called out to the woods. “I’m telling you she isn’t dead. I would know.” Lovelace pulled at her elbow. He had set her down from his shoulders some time ago because she was wiggling too much, too eager to start shouting for her sister.

 “I saw her. I’m so sorry. I thought she was on the ridge. I was trying to get you to safety and she must have doubled back.” He pulled at the younger woman, barely eighteen years of age “I saw her neck in its jaws. She’s gone.”

Neveah turned and shook the man hard. “Screw you! No! She can’t be.” The doctor pulled Neveah close as she screamed in anger and agony. He didn’t have children but he knew that the prospect of loss was a dangerous road to travel along. He had been down that road before and he didn’t want the twin to go through that too. “We have to go back. I can’t just leave her. Please.” Neveah was persistent and the doctor knew how hard it must have been.

Lovelace looked around anxiously. “There is a pack coming. I heard at least two wolves. They will challenge the bear and we can’t fight them. We need to be far from here quickly. I’m not trying to be heartless. We need to save ourselves.”

Neveah pulled herself together long enough to punch the doctor in the face.

He took the hit and righted himself again. “Can we move now?”

Neveah, lost emotionally and frustrated, let him set the pace. That meant lots of sleeping until it was too hot and walking at a pace slow enough for moss to grow in their shadows. She for dragging him away from Avis. She blamed him and herself for her sister’s death or injury. Somewhere along the way she stopped eating. Partially to save the food. Partially because she just didn’t feel like it.

The doctor made her uncomfortable. He was evasive and terse. Fine, she didn’t need conversation. She could deal with men who brushed against her or tried the “helpful” arm around the waist. It was actually odd that he never touched her but got close enough to breathe down her neck. At one point he sniffed at her like the spring rain. He was a city dweller. He should have been used to being around women. Probably women that smelled a hell of a lot better than what she did in that time. Looks didn’t really matter in the wild where you were running for your life. Next time he was getting a throat punch. Payment be damned.

Her travelling companion was also very strange in the way that he might’ve been sick. When they reached the trading post during the dead of night, a gated cave that would be opened upon the arrival of morning, he was sweating from the dying fire and he was nervous with a feverish tick even when Neveah tried to engage him in her more creative ways.

The reason why for the doctor’s strange case of health was never found out as she left before he could tell her. She was paid, she got the respect from the dwelling she was at and she got food and water. The price for succeeding though was the loss of her sister.

“You’ll go straight back to your dome right?” Lovelace asked before she could leave completely.

“Nope.” Neveah answered as the gate locked shut once more and the doctor was hauled away by another human in the dome. Neveah was going to find her sister before she went back to the dome.

What she had done though was given a letter to the complex to send back home to explain her situation, to allow her father to know that she was okay but her sister was not.

The Governor would be somewhat satisfied, if he wasn’t he could go unplug the stick that was lodged in his behind.

*

Avis’s hair was damp, sticking to her face and getting in her mouth. She sleepily pawed at it. It fell across the pillow wrapped around her neck. She combed it with her fingers, gathered it together and twisted it into submission.

Her shoulder ached. It was bandaged from the elbow to the shoulder it even wrapped around her chest. She sniffed at it. It smelled like honey and something else floral and familiar. It wasn’t unpleasant. The wound felt warm and tight when she moved.

She was in what appeared to be a bed. A real bed. It had blankets and sheets and pillows. She hadn’t seen one in years. Not since her mother had a job cleaning the fancy places in the village, she was more about getting dirty than remaining clean. She had only a bedroll and a mattress for as long as she could remember.

She was naked. Clean and naked. She looked at her own hands like they belonged to someone else. Her fingernails were scrubbed white and even that callus she had on her thumb was soft and pink. She looked down under the covers and her feet were equally clean.

“I haven’t been this clean since birth.” She mused. She waited.

The room she was in was mostly the rock surface of a cave. One wall was wooden and had one door. The structured wall had a gap at the top where light from beyond shown into the room. There was also a lamp setting on a small table with a mirror behind it, reflecting a soft glow.

It wasn’t quite a cave. Maybe she wasn’t quite a prisoner. She felt like bait or a prize. She didn’t know many men that took care to clean under the nails of their kept women. Most just kept them bruised and scared.

The man entered the room with a box in his hands. She pulled the covers up to her chin. He had already seen her. He had spent time cleaning her unconscious body. She wasn’t sure who she was hiding from.

“What did you do to my hair?”

He looked at her like she hadn’t used real words. “I washed it.” He replied.

She scoffed “With water? And soap?”

He scrunched his eyebrows and nodded.

“Wasting your whiskey with drinking, using water for washing? I thought soap was a myth.”

He frowned and huffed. “You smelled like soap was a myth.”

Avis grinned at his attempt to insult. “I come from the colony and nobody complained there. We all stink the same.”

He turned his back and emptied several books onto a shelf in the corner.

She mused “You must be alone here, fine with your own funk and offended by mine.”

He looked over his shoulder and nodded and hummed out an acknowledgement.

“Yes, alone or put off by my smell?”

“Both.” He said. “You smelled like a battlefield. You were drawing flies.”

 But something wasn’t right here.

He hadn’t made any attempt to use her. She was clean and the only bruises were from the bear. He hadn’t dressed her. That was a sure sign that she was being kept. Most likely as a toy. She knew that technique. Girls afraid of running away when they were naked. He must answer to someone more frightening. She gambled at testing him. He hadn’t hurt her yet and if she could find out more. Maybe get away, if she won. If she had to fight, it was better to face the devil you know.

“Who’s coming?” She watched him lift a bundle of cloth from the box. “They must pay well.”

He didn’t say anything. He handed her a bottle of water. She opened it and sniffed it before taking a tiny sip.

“He isn’t human, is he? Is that why I’m scrubbed pink?”

He stared past her. She pestered more.

“I’ve never known a human to be bothered by a bit of grime under the nails or dirty feet.”

He stayed quiet. He wasn’t going to even flinch.

“You didn’t do anything. He must be important.”

He turned his back.

“Unless I’m not your type.”

His shoulders hunched as if he was going to fight. She reveled in her progress.

“Am I to be eaten or…?”

He heaved out a hard breath.

She pushed again. “Or worse?”

He banged down a metal container hard on the table and glared at her.

“Your mind must be a horrible mess of monsters. Is that what you really think?”

“I think.” She looked around the room. She pulled her knees to her chin and held her good arm around them. “That I might be worth more alive. You might just clean me up and powder me sweet and offer me up to the mountain troll to pay your next month’s rent.”

He leaned in close and his voice rumbled when he spoke. “This is my mountain. I collect the rent.” He pulled the covers back. “I carried you here to save your life.” He growled. “I cleaned you for your health and safety.”

She grasped at the blankets. “Then give me my things and let me go now.”

He put his face very close to hers. He clenched his teeth to hold back the anger. “No.”

“I can run or I can fight.” She challenged him.

His heart was pounding with the game of it. He slowly raised a hand to her shoulder. “If you fight with me, I will hurt you. If you run...” He feared that the animal would show. He closed his eyes and slowly opened them again. “...you will die.”

The wolf he was, wanted to hold her down and show her he was serious. He reigned back. He breathed against her ear. “You are a guest in my home. I am not your captor.” He gripped her ankles and pulled her legs straight. He flipped the covers up to her chin and tucked them aggressively around her. “You will not be eaten...” He placed a tray of bread and broth on her lap. “...or worse.”

He left the room. The only sound, the door slamming. He had never been so mistrusted and disrespected. Accused of sick and vile plots. Assumed to be traitorous and weak. She had pushed him to anger. Possibly to use to her advantage. She was scared and trapped and he met that with intimidation and veiled threats. He hated himself for it. He shoved his feet into his boots and grabbed a bag and locked the house behind him. This girl was a crazy mess of paranoia and damage. Are people being fed to trolls in this world or are the war stories just getting more outlandish? She wasn’t stupid and yet she only saw the worst possible scenario here. Her subconscious ramblings hinted at her history. He stood outside trying to clear the smell of her panic from his throat. He would be more careful.

He watched the raven circle the clearing and then dive. They had found the bear. He could use the hike down to calm himself.

She coughed out the scream of fear that threatened to escape. Then listened as he gathered things and left the house. She had pushed him for any sort of reaction. She expected the anger. He was hiding something. Now that she knew that he didn’t answer to someone else, he became more dangerous in her mind. Her experience with the world justified her suspicion. She didn’t have the luxury of trust. She might still be hurt. Some men take their time to blind victims with kindness before showing their true selves. She wouldn’t be that fool.

He hadn’t allowed one true response to her until the anger. She hated thinking about it. She set the food aside and covered her head. She wished she was drunk again. She knew now why the kept girls were so happy to get herbs and potions. It was easier to escape into the fuzzy brained darkness that way.

Her body ached from the inside out. He said she was a guest. Could she trust that? Everyone in the world couldn’t be evil. Right? Her heart wouldn’t stop pounding and her head swam with fear. She let the pain in her shoulder overtake her and drifted off. Let her body do what it needed to heal. She slept.

Sleeping would mean that her eyes were closed that she didn’t need to worry. But things could happen when she slept, she wasn’t aware then. She did it anyway, her body needed it severely.

Meanwhile, the wolf on his hike felt marginally better than he had when he was in his cave. He reached the carcass and the raven nearby squawked a hello.

“A pleasure as always, my dear.” He greeted the bird.

The bear was long dead, he could see what the girl had did to it, slashing and dragging until the animal had no choice but to die from its wounds.

 “This bear underestimated his prey.” The tone of the man was sullen as he talked to the bird. “He was young and dumb.” He pushed at the dead bear. “But he did some damage to the girl.” The wolf went on explain further.

He nodded to himself. “He should have easily killed her. She must have magic but she didn’t. She’s human. No talismans or charms. Feisty and good with a knife despite the fact that there are signs that she hasn’t used it much.”

He paused to chuckle to the raven while it cocked its head in question.

The wolf added “He did take from her. She’s scarred. It won't hinder her much. Beautiful still.” He sighed. “She traveled with her sister and someone we may know. They were quick and silent. If I had heard them, I could have prevented this.”

The bird tried to sympathetic but without the ability to speak, the wolf went with this weight on his shoulders.

“Nevertheless I will do all that I can to protect her.”

The Raven nodded.

The watcher jerked his head toward the bear. “Does she want a trophy? She wasn’t hunting.” The wolf pondered and looked to the sky.

“But that’s not what I’m here for. She didn’t celebrate his death only her survival.”

He nodded again. “She’ll have his skin as he damaged hers.”

The wolf then bent and pulled the bear over his shoulders. It was so large, it dragged partially behind him. “That is a promise, and you know that I keep my promises.”

The raven flew off into the sky.

The wolf had never felt so alone, his new companion fueled with hatred and survival back at his home.

 Avis woke hungry and in pain. She choked on the crust of bread that was left behind for her. She was thirsty and the water she had was gone. She slid from the bed and wandered around the room. The books he brought thick and gilded. She didn’t recognise most of them. There was one that was worn and faded. But this was hardly the time to read right now.

She looked through the clothes he set on the bench. There were three linen shirts. All well-worn and soft. A wrap of some sort. For her breasts? The pants were large and had a knitted wool drawstring. She chose those and the softest of the shirts.

She pulled open the door and peered around it. It was quiet in the house. She tiptoed toward the windows. It was late afternoon and the sun was setting. The back half of the house was the arched entrance of the cave. At the back edge of the cave was the bedroom and off to the side a small bathroom with a pitcher of water and basin. The wooden home butted up to and sometimes into the rock. Windows lined the front of the house and the light bounced around the house off of mirrors and whitewashed walls. Even the dark stone floor reflected some in its smooth finish. “Hello?”

There was a small wood burning stove in the kitchen. It was stoked and burning, radiating heat through the stone floor. She looked in the cupboard and saw that there wasn’t much stored here. He must have a pantry somewhere else. Maybe he killed something to eat daily. Maybe it was going to be her. She wasn’t sure what a cannibal’s kitchen looked like but this guy was tidy. A dish of salt, leaves and such in little jars.

She tried the front door and it was locked. From the outside. So were the windows. So, she was a prisoner after all. She could venture into the cave and see if there was another exit. She couldn’t breathe at the thought.

She wandered around the house searching every book and paper. Who was this man who owned a mountain? He must be paid well. He had really nice things for a cave dweller. She found a desk in the room farthest to the east.

The stone floor was cold under her feet. There were windows facing the mountains and she suspected that it was well lit with the sunrise. I door, also locked, that opened to a enclosed small garden. Under the windows there was a quarry of stones circled with plants. It looked to be some sort of meditation space.

The rest of the walls were lined with books. Some dark bound ledgers stacked neatly on shelves and scrolls tucked into empty spaces. It smelled like leather and oil and slightly of smoke.

She crossed the room and sat in the chair. It was a soft leather with high arms. The drawers were locked. All of them. She felt around for a spot a key might fit under the edge and found none. She started lifting things on the surface to see if maybe a key was under one of the cups papers there. The door rattled. She dropped to her knees and crawled under the desk.

She heard him pause after closing the door. Had he expected her to greet him at the threshold like a newly acquired bride? Fat chance. She listened as he set things down. He crossed to the bedroom. She ducked out of the office and scampered to the kitchen, ducking under the table. She pulled the knife she found into her sleeve and waited. He returned to the kitchen and stood with his feet in front of her.

“I have some roots you can use that knife on.” He ducked down to look at her. “If you use it on my knee, you’ll go hungry.”

She crawled out from under the table and stood making sure the table was between them.

“Did you sleep well?” He slid a bag that looked to contain potatoes and carrots toward her.

“You locked me in.”

She took the knife from her sleeve and placed it on the table with her hand still on it. He turned his back and started filling a basin with water.

“There are things more dangerous than me on this mountain. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

She scoffed. “Remember yesterday? I might be dangerous too.”

He turned and looked her up and down. “I have no doubt.”

She paused. “Was that sarcastic? It’s hard to tell with you.”

He twitched a smile and said. “Genuine."

He appeared calm and almost friendly. The tone he took was fond. She was starting to calm herself. For some reason preparing a meal together felt natural. She wavered between trusting him and plotting escape. She admitted that the stew did sound good. She would wait.

The wolf washed herbs in the sink and moved a pot onto the stove. He pulled a bundle from the bag. It had a large chunk of dark red meat.

“Is that the bear?” She asked.

“Part of it.” he answered.

“I’m not sure how I feel about that.” She swallowed the nausea and guilt. "Was it a shifter? I don't eat people. Or people shaped animals. Or talking animals. Or most animals, really. Actually, I don't know the last time I ate meat from anything but rodents, birds or chicken. I eat loads of chicken.”

He sliced the meat. “It was an ordinary bear and he tried to eat you first.” He looked at her with concern. She was so pale. “It'll do you some good, you lost a lot of blood."

"If you say so." She took the smaller knife and picked up a carrot. “How do you want these?”

He looked at her and shrugged. “How do you?”

She cut them small to cook faster.

“I don’t even know your name,” Avis laughed as she cut the vegetables, “What is it?”

The wolf paused in his ministrations to look at her, regarding her silently before giving her the thing that was said to be powerful in this dying world – his name.

“I am Beck.”

The way he said it was clipped and unrehearsed as if he hadn’t told somebody that in a long time.

“Avis,” She replied as they both shook hands and then resumed what they were both doing.

After a period of silence she broke it with her curious questions, “I was told that most of your kind who are bad have black eyes.”

 “Most do. Some choose to live more like humans, they look more like humans. They must suppress their animal selves to a painful degree so it’s not common.” Beck carried on with the dinner ignoring the girl for a moment to phrase the next part of his sentence. “But that isn’t always the case, some bad ones have become so feral they aren’t humans at all, you’re safe from them here.”

“Have you seen a feral monster?” She asked more timidly this time, subdued with the knowledge.

“No.”

“How do you know then?”

 “I read.” He wavered before saying, “You know those instruments of knowledge that are typically rectangular.”

The pair were silent for a minute before Avis burst into laughter, the vegetables slipping off with her chuckles. The sarcasm was rare for the animal.

“What do your stories tell you?” Beck said once Avis had stopped laughing and resumed cutting.

“They tell stories to us as children of yellow eyed monsters prowling in the dark, waiting for that child falling behind or sneaking out after dark. We are told not to throw food away because the rot will attract animals.” She watched his curious eyebrows. “I think that’s just to get us to eat whatever slop they feed us.”

Soon the stew was simmering and she hugged her arms around her stomach as it growled.

“How long before we eat it?”

He walked out the door and left it open behind him. She followed out into the cooling evening air. Beck crossed the small clearing to the side of the house and lifted a wooden door that had a six foot drop to a darkened room. Avis stepped back.

“I can wait. I’ll be quiet.”

He rolled his eyes and dropped down to the floor and lifted his arms as if to lift her down. She tucked her injured arm and used other arm to balance on the edge and dropped down next to him. He lit a lamp and handed it to her.

It was cool in the room and as she pressed forward, it was filled with fruits, vegetables and jars of unknown foods. She picked an apple from the bin and bit into it. She made her shirt into a small pouch and filled it with walnuts and two more apples.

There was a glass dome covering a wheel of cheese. She had only seen the one at the shop in town. The rumor was that it had sat for so long waiting for someone rich enough to buy it, that it had turned to stone. This one looked like it was still edible.

“I’ve never had cheese.”

He lifted the glass. She jumped back at the smell.

“Oh, it’s gone off.”

He bit the inside of his cheek and paused. “It’s supposed to smell like that.”

She waved her hand. “Never mind. I don’t want it.”

He put the glass dome back.

She was trying hard to eat the apple and hold her shirt stuffed with various nuts and dried fruit as they walked back to the entrance.

He gripped the edge and launched himself up to the surface. His grace was unnatural. It made her nervous and warm. There was no question he was strong. His musculature was precise. Perfect. Not one bit extra. The gymnastic way he leapt was something shouldn’t find so appealing. It was the way of a predator.

She dropped her apple from her mouth.

“No, wait, I can’t reach.”

He walked away from her sight.

“I’m going to eat everything I can if you leave me here.” She waited for him to reply. “You will come back to an empty pantry and a fat captive.” She paused. “Maybe that was the plan?” She muttered under her breath.

Beck appeared at the edge again and handed her a basket. She filled it with the contents of her makeshift pouch and handed it up. He then dropped down again, blew out the lantern and turned to her.

He wrapped his arms under her bottom and lifted. Her chest was now level with is face and his arms were warm and strong on her hips.

“No,” she slapped at his shoulders.

He put her back down and she pushed his hands away. She pointed to his thigh.

“Bend. Keep your hands to yourself.” She levered herself up bracing one arm on his shoulder and then pushed onto the grass.

He heard her yelp as she came down hard on her arm. He pulled himself up and knelt beside her.

“I’m alright. No real damage.”

He watched as she lay on her side, her face scrunched in pain. He knew she was afraid and tried hard to maintain a demeanor of calm. She waved off his hand as he reached down to help her. He could hear her trying to hide her whining. Her eyes glistened with tears and yet she still pushed him away. Having her in his arms just moments ago had fractured his resolve to keep his distance. He longed to hold her again, shush her, and soothe her. He hated feeling this way.

Beck moved and closed the cold storage door and waited for her to stand. She was panting a bit.

“You have 3 seconds to get up before I help you.” He immediately regretted his tone.

Avis glared at him and rolled herself onto her knees. His heart was aching, watching her struggle.

He scooped her up. His arms under her ribs, holding her back against his chest. He breathed deep the warmth of her hair. She flinched and stiffened in his arms. He sighed and placed her on her feet.

“I only counted two.”

She kicked at his shin. She bent and picked up the basket and didn’t look back as she crossed to the house.

Once she was back in the kitchen she sat at the table and finished eating her apple.

She found a heavy skillet and set it down on the edge of the table. She rolled the nuts into a tea towel and while he was checking the stew, she lifted the skillet and brought it down hard, rattling the table, chairs and making a great crunching sound.

He did react to that. “What the hell?” His eyebrows raised and eyes huge. Avis laughed at his shock.

He took the skillet from her hand, scowling at her, and put it away. She smiled politely and sat down to pick through the pile of smashed shells. He did keep glancing back at her. He rumbled curses.

“Is growling your second language? Let me try”.

She leaned toward him and with an exaggerated snarl; she growled low and loud.

“What did I say?” She teased.

“You’re an idiot.” He replied.

She giggled. “You misunderstood me. Maybe it was my accent, I said that…” She cleared her throat. “...YOU are an idiot.”

He laughed, his whole face changed. Drastically. His angular cheekbones and hard jawline, became scrunched and dimpled. His eyes crinkled and almost closed. His teeth were white and straight. He looked young and handsome. More handsome.

His smile pulled the floor out from under her and she was actually more afraid than she had been for hours. A chill went down her spine. She could be swayed. The angry threatening man wouldn’t convince her of anything. This face, she would do a lot for. She excused herself to the bathroom to have a small panic attack. She had been kind to a monster before and it only resulted in death and danger, the odds could easily happen again in this case.

He couldn’t win. He scared her when he laughed? That’s what it looked like. He could hear her in the bathroom wheezing. Her heart was pounding. He left her there. He ached. She was so perfectly prickly and interesting one minute and a skittish badger the next.

He could be undone by someone like this. He felt it already. She had been with him less than two days. He was already afflicted. Fascinated with her friendly banter; feeling the affection that is inherent in caring for someone; a general concern for her mental well-being and he was suffering from a low lying emotion, that he had tightly under control, that was steadily building as time slipped on.

He set the table and waited.

It turned out that she didn’t have a problem eating the bear that tried to eat her. She had two bowls of stew and washed it down with some sweet tea that was supposed to help with her healing. It had so much honey in it she almost couldn’t taste the bitter herbs. Almost.

She was so full and sleepy that she stretched and flopped back on the chair forgetting her stitches again. She gasped in pain. Beck swiveled her chair around and pulled up the back of her shirt. There was blood soaking through the bandages.

“I needed to change this anyway.” He gathered the things. “Go get sit by the bed.”

Avis held her shirt close and tiptoed back to the bedroom. The lamp had burned low and she could barely see. She stripped off the shirt and turned to the mirror. She could see much. She climbed into the bed and pulled the covers around the front of her. Beck came in with a tray and a basin of water.

He started by gently cutting away the bandages. He then soaked a cloth in the hot water and washed away the salve that was there. The spot with the pulled stitch had stopped bleeding but he applied a clean compress anyway.

“Why are you doing this?” She whispered.

“You need it.” He whispered back.

She sat quietly as he gently washed her back and neck with the clean water. He dipped his fingers into the salve and rubbed it along the claw marks. He was so gentle. She had goosebumps from the light touch.

“How far does it go?” Avis twisted herself as if she could see.

He helped her from the bed and stood her in front of the mirror. He went to the bookshelf and brought another small mirror to her. He turned her around and held the mirror so that she could see. The wounds extended from the edge of her spine across her shoulder and across the upper part of her arm. Three deep red marks.

“Wow, that’s ugly.” She paused. “Well, that should be evidence enough. Nobody would've believed me otherwise.” She laughed through several tears. “They still might not.”

There was yet another moment of silence where Avis tried to blink back the tears in her eyes. “Woe to the conquered ones, for we are driven by defeat.” She muttered.

“What do you mean?” Beck asked her,

“My mother was attacked by a monster and although she healed somewhat physically she never quite healed mentally. She had a therapist for a while and that is something that she said to my mother along with ‘This is a battle scar, a sign of survival.’ I’m beginning to see what she meant by those words.”

No words were exchanged between them for some time.

“You could have left me.” She poked at the hurt.

“No.” He grumbled.

“You don’t know me. Why bother?” She looked over her shoulder at him.

He growled again. “It’s the right thing to do.”

“Since when does that mean anything?” She rolled her eyes.

He turned her around. “Forever.”

He helped her put a shirt back on.

“You have several puncture wounds on the back of your head. Can I comb your hair and check them?”

Avis looked at him with wonder. He actually looked afraid for a second.

“I don’t usually comb my hair. It fights back.”

He smiled a tiny bit. “I think I can manage.”

She sat cross legged in the bed and he sat at the edge. She winced and sighed as he worked a comb through the long tangles until he could comb through scalp to ends. She pulled her knees up and laid her head on them with her eyes half closed. She was shivering with the sensations.

He carded his fingers through at her scalp until he found the break in her skin. He treated each spot with the salve and then braided a long loose braid down her back.

“Are you a magic?” She sighed. She could be convinced this was a spell. He patted her bed and she rolled down into the warmth of it.

“Nothing magical about a comb. You should try it yourself.”

She smiled. “It’s too much work on the mornings.”

He was cleaning up the bandages and sundries as she watched out of sleepy eyes.

“Is this your room? Where did you sleep last night?"

"In my office."

"On the floor?"

She watched him bending over and straightening the books.

He picked up the box. “I was comfortable.”

She sighed.

He huffed out a silent laugh.

He held a hand on the door knob. “You should stay in this room all night.”

She lifted herself onto an elbow. “What if I have to go to the bathroom?”

"Wait till dawn.”

 

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