The washroom, I decided, was heaven. I washed my hair, twice, and scrubbed every inch of my skin until it was red and sore. I’d had to drain the tub and refill it twice to get rid of all the dirt and blood that had come off of my body. I didn’t think I’d ever been so clean in my entire life.
I sighed happily as the vanilla and cinnamon scented soap filled my senses. I’d been soaking in the water for over an hour, now. My fingers and toes were like prunes, but I didn’t care.
But as the minutes of blissful comfort bled away, I began to feel the weight of guilt take its place. Back home, this very moment, people were suffering. My father was suffering. I wondered if my father had eaten today. I wondered when the last time he’d been able to enjoy a hot bath was.
If someone in my village wanted to bathe, they’d have to spend a great deal of time walking to the river and then back home with bucket-fulls of water. Then, they’d have to boil the water over a fire. Then, transfer it into a wooden or metal tub.
Even after doing that for an hour, they’d hardly have enough bathing water to submerge themselves in. Bathing was a hassle where I was from, and our homemade soap didn’t smell anything like this soap. Ours smelled of salt and lime.
A tear slid down my cheek as I pictured my father in our hut, alone and hungry. He was probably sick with worry for me. And here I was, soaking in a luxurious bath, while he had nothing. I angrily wiped the tears away. If only I could see him...
Feeling like a traitor, I pulled myself out of the bath, water sloshing over the sides and onto the floor, and drained the tub before hastily drying off with a fluffy towel. I studied the massive washroom a moment. I’d never seen a room so... white. So clean.
The floors were a pale wood, but the walls were made up of shiny, white tiles. The claw foot bathtub was also white, and made of porcelain. There was even a toilet and a wide, marble sink. All of the running water here amazed me. I didn’t really understand how it worked, but I knew it had to do with something called plumbing. I’d heard of such a thing existing in wealthier cities, but had never seen it first hand.
How did they get it to work all the way up in the trees? Magic, of course. The word clanged around in my mind noisily and I mentally cringed. And then I fully became aware that this magnificent house was much larger inside than it had looked from the outside. When we’d first approached the house it looked like a shabby little hut. But inside... it was luxury. Magic... Would I ever get used to such things? It didn’t seem likely.
I padded over to the sink and large, rectangular mirror that hung above it and swiped my hand across the clouded glass. I stared at the girl in the mirror. My lips trembled a bit at the sight of her gaunt cheeks and badly bruised face.
My lip, which had been split nearly a week ago, was almost healed. But on the left side of my face, my jaw and cheek were still brutally swollen from being punched by the soldier who’d tried to rape me in the woods. I looked horrible. The deep, purple bruises were beginning to turn green around the edges. I’d been lucky he hadn’t broken my jaw. I touched the bruises gently and winced and the tenderness.
A brief wave of anger overcame me before I remembered that Dristan had killed that soldier for harming me. I watched my reflection as I smiled at the memory.
Jut as quickly as I’d smiled, I frowned. Dristan, the stubborn mule, owed me some answers. I was finished taking no for an answer. I was done letting him boss me around and treat me like a child. I was some sort of High Lady, and despite my not knowing exactly what that meant, I knew I was important. He’d been searching for me for a long time, and he’d protected me with his life.
And the Bakru had mentioned royalty. Though, I wasn’t sure if they were taking about me, or Dristan. But if I was royalty, or at least somehow politically important, then Dristan needed to show me some damned respect. I’d earned that much. I wanted answers and he was going to give them to me!
I watched the girl in the mirror as her expression settled into one of firm determination.
The bedroom was warm and inviting, decorated with rich, dark colored furniture. There was a large, king sized bed with a fluffy, white comforter and several matching pillows. To the far left wall there was a dark colored dresser with a glowing lantern perched atop it.
Wrapped in my towel and shivering from the cool air, I padded across the smooth, wooden floor to the far right wall and flung open the double doors of the closet. I was surprised, for a fleeting moment, to find an array of women’s clothes that were somehow all my size. But then I remembered that word again.
I huffed out a breath and shook my head before pulling on a thick, cream colored sweater and a pair of black knitted leggings. I also pulled on a pair of thick, white, knee high socks and delighted in the warmth. Then, I darted back into the bathroom in search of a brush.
On the vanity, I found a beautifully carved, wooden comb, a toothbrush, real toothpaste, and an array of cosmetics. These items hadn’t been here a moment ago. I whipped my head around, startled by their sudden appearance.
Was someone here? No... It was magic. It was like the house knew what I needed and then it would simply appear. I scowled in the mirror. Would I ever grow accustomed to such things? Was this what my life would be like from now on? I hadn’t done anything to deserve such luxuries.
I supposed I should be happy. I should be grateful for all of this. But despite knowing how I should feel, I was miserable inside.
I sighed and began to pull the comb through my long, dark hair. It fell around my shoulders in soft, damp waves. I brushed my teeth, twice. I’d never used toothpaste before. Back home, we used charcoal to clean our teeth and we chewed mint leaves to keep our mouths fresh.
I quickly applied a thin layer of mascara to my eyelashes and swept my cheeks with a bit of blush. I tried to hide the bruises with some cream colored paste. It didn’t hide it completely, but it looked better. Then, I applied a nude colored lip stain. I stared at my reflection.
I looked good aside from the faint bruises. I was cleaner and more well dressed than I’d ever been in my life. As miserable as I felt, I still couldn’t help but feel a bit smug as I eyed the pretty girl in the mirror. Maybe it was vain, but I couldn’t help it. With one last fake smile at myself, I left the bathroom.
When I emerged into the living room I found Dristan right where I’d left him nearly two hours earlier. He was sprawled on his back across the plush, over sized couch. He was almost too big for it.
His feet hung off of one end and one of his arms was draped over his face. His other arm hung awkwardly over the side of the couch, his fingers still clutched firmly around the hilt of his sword, which was lying on the floor beside him. He snored softly, dead to the world.
I felt guilty for wanting to wake him. He looked so vulnerable and innocent whenever he slept. It tugged at a soft spot in my heart. But I wanted answers, so I shoved the guilt away. I snuck into the kitchen and gently opened one of the cabinet doors. I listened to him snore for a few more moments before I slammed the cabinet door shut with exaggerated force.
Dristan immediately shot to his feet, his sword raised and his face set into a ferocious snarl. He whipped his head around frantically, his eyes transforming from aggression to confusion as he realized where he was. When his gaze landed on me, his face fell and his stance relaxed a fraction.
His eyes swiftly raked up and down my figure before settling back on my face. He looked a bit shocked at my appearance and I couldn’t really blame him. I was almost unrecognizable. His gaze fell on my hand, still attached to the cabinet door, and his eyes narrowed. “What the hell are you-”
“Oh, good! You’re awake.” I chimed, cutting him off. I swiftly walked across the open room and took a seat on one of the plush chairs beside the couch.
“I’m glad, because if memory serves, I believe you owe me some answers.” I said, crossing one leg over the other.
He sank slowly back onto the couch. “I owe you? I think you have that backwards.” He said, setting his sword down gently.
“Excuse me?” I seethed, crossing my arms.
“I saved your life. Therefore, you are the one who is in debt to me.” He said calmly, stretching his arms above his head.
I ground my teeth together, fighting the urge to throw the nearest object at his face. “You promised me an explanation for all of this madness.” I said as evenly as I could manage.
“Yes.” He pulled off one of his boots. “I promised to explain after we’d each had a bath, a hot meal, and a decent amount of sleep.” He pulled off his other boot. “And it looks like you’ve already bathed, thank the gods.”
“Why does everything always have to be on your terms?” I huffed.
“Because I’m the one with the sword.” He said, his cobalt eyes shimmering at me. “Not that I would need it.” He added with a shrug. He began to loosen the armor on his shoulders.
I gaped at him. “You wouldn’t dare raise a hand to me!”
“What makes you so certain?” He asked flatly, pulling pieces of armor off and dropping them on the floor. Each one make a loud plunking sound. He pulled the long sleeved, white undershirt over his head, leaving his torso bare. It billowed to the floor and rested atop the armor.
His skin was perfectly tanned and littered with dozens of silvery scars. I’d seen his chest bare before, but never in such good lighting. The muscles in his chest, arms and abdomen were expertly toned and lean. I was sure that any women, who did not find him as frustrating and impossible as I did, would be drooling on the carpet right now at the sight of him.
I didn’t find him alluring, of course. He was stubborn, and bossy, and rude, and violent and maddening! No, I didn’t want him at all...
Just because he was tall and perfectly built, impossibly handsome, with eyes that seemed to see straight into my soul, didn’t mean that I fantasized about his sculpted lips on my skin...
My cheeks grew hot as I struggled to rip my eyes away from his body. I shifted my eyes from him, to the wall, and back again. He seemed to notice, because a small, arrogant grin played around his lips.
“B-because... Because I am a High Lady! A royal... er, something or other... and you have to do as I say! And I’m telling you to explain!” I sputtered, embarrassed that he’d caught me staring at him.
He chucked darkly. “You are a High Lady, that’s true. But I am a Lord. I am your equal. I am under no obligation to ‘do as you say’ until I decide that I want to.” He stood in a fluid motion. My eyes followed, silently in awe of his towering height. His dark, leather trousers hung loosely from his waist. I tore my eyes away and scowled at my fingernails.
“Brute.” I said under my breath. I was sure he heard me when his jaw flexed. He glared down at me, any trace of a smile gone, his eyes as hard as granite. I glared back defiantly, a mask of indifference pulled snugly over my face. Inside, I was trembling with fear.
“I am not answering anymore of your incessant questions until I have bathed, eaten, and slept a full eight hours. Do not push me again.” His tone held enough of a bite that I flinched. “Dinner will be on the table soon. I am going to use the washroom.”
He strode away, taking his sword with him. I slumped back into the cushion of the chair, feeling defeated. All of the determination that I had conjured up mere minutes ago had melted into a pathetic puddle at my feet.
I hated the way he undermined me and made me feel like a child being scolded for misbehaving. I hated the way the sternness in his voice made my insides quiver with fear.
“Oh, and just in case you were getting any ideas, there is a guard posted just outside the door. He is fully aware that you are not to leave this house without my approval. So you may as well get comfortable.” With that, he disappeared into the bedroom and slammed the door.
I flipped my middle finger at the door before burying my face in the nearest pillow and screaming at the top of my lungs.