ashes and snow

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twenty-seven


Hot water surrounded Eira, warming her while her body was too weak to do so. She sighed and stroked her right hand through her knotted hair. It would take some time to get through this bird’s nest.

Sadly while she had been asleep, Cailin hadn’t been allowed to be in the medical room long enough to braid her hair. She had already tried to apologize for that too.

But Eira had dismissed her with a firm shake of her head. No words had needed to be uttered for her to understand.

And so she had murmured a quick ‘alright’ and had run to set up hot water for her bath. All of this had taken place right after Eira had relieved herself.

Even though she had felt as dried out as a desert from the waist up... Her bladder had still cried out as soon as she had moved an inch.

“I can help you.”

Eira’s head quipped up. Cailin stood in the doorway of the bathing chamber that was right beside the medical room, her right hand propped against the dark wood. There was a sweet smile on her lips. Her cheeks were blushed with faint crimson.

She had rolled up the sleeves of her gray dress, her brown hair now tight back in a loose bun. A few strands had already escaped, flowing around her pretty face with every move she made. She disappeared into the medical room and came back with a brush in her hand.

She stepped behind the tub Eira sat in. Unlike usually, the water was of lilac color, hiding what laid underneath the surface. Eira wouldn’t even care about that detail. But Cailin would flush crimson every time she saw her naked.

The only thing that peaked out from the surface where her knees, shoulders, and arms that she had propped up on the side of the tub.

Cailin’s hand ran over her head, carefully parting her hair. “This might take some time,” she whispered. Guilt was evident in her voice, drawing away from the sweetness of her melody.

Eira nodded and leaned back, closing her eyes as she tried to relax. Cailin fought her way through her hair as gentle as she could, but it would still cause her a slight discomfort. Eira didn’t even flinch or move.

Compared to the fire that had run through her veins not long ago, this was nothing. And even if she hadn’t experienced it as heavy as she had now, she was used to all types of it. There were so many years of pain throughout her life that she could only add it to her long list.

She started to trace patterns onto the metal of the tub. She breathed in deeply and let her mind wander. What had happened hadn’t been there for the first time, she remembered. Though, it had been years ago when something similar had happened.

She had forced the memory away back then, refusing to remember the pain, but she should have taken it as a warning. It must have had something to do with the way she used her magic.

Ever since she had come to this kingdom, had become its queen, she had forced it into a deeper part of her. Usually, it was a part of her, something she couldn’t go a day without using it. Maybe that was her mistake.

It must have gotten a mind of its own, thinking that it could finally get free from her after all these years. But, it was clearly mistaken. She was its owner for a reason, and no one would take it away from her. No one would be able to handle the pain it could bring anyway.

Her head was yanked back. She opened her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Cailin muttered. She was too focused to even noticed that her grip had tightened on her hair to the point of pain, but Eira wouldn’t say anything. She wanted her to do her work as quickly as she could and not stop her. She wouldn’t even be able to say much nevertheless.

Her throat felt clogged up.

Cailin sighed, “How quickly can hair knot?

Eira snorted and shrugged her shoulders. Three and a half days really weren’t such a long time. Maybe she had tossed and turned while she had dreamt. But she didn’t really care about that detail.

All she needed to know was when or if her magic would return.

If she concentrated enough, she could make out footsteps in the distance. Hopefully, that meant that her powers were finally coming back to her. She already felt itchy from the lack of it. It was crawling beneath her skin, waiting to be finally let out. She would need to figure out another way to use it more often.

She couldn’t break down again. Whether she could take the pain or not, there were things she needed to do.

A door opened and fell shut as someone entered the medical room.

It seemed like either Hedwig or Arkyn had returned.

“Seventy-three?” Hedwig called out. “Queen Eira? Are you in the bathing chamber?”

Her brows furrowed. Seventy-three? She turned her head, and her gaze met Cailin’s. A slight tremor ran through the girl’s body. Eira breathed in deeply. Was there something she was missing?

She swallowed, and then, the pieces finally set together. This was the number they had assigned to her when she had become a maiden. What they had called her before she had even met Eira. Before, she had a name that wasn’t just a number.

“Seventy-three?”

Eira’s shoulders tensed as he called out for Cailin yet for another time. She watched as the girl’s expression fell, her sweet smile washed away in seconds. There was no way she could hide that it hurt her. She didn’t deserve that.

She met her gaze and gestured to her throbbing throat, giving Cailin a firm nod and a small smile. Her voice had thinned out to the point that she could only whisper. There was no way Hedwig could hear her from the other room if she said anything.

“We are here!” Cailin responded, a slight crack to her voice. She looked down onto the ground then, her expression turning utterly sad. “Just give us a second. We’ll be out soon.”

A rumble of agreement sounded through the door.

Cailin avoided her gaze and walked to the dresser, laying the brush she held on top of it. Eira lowered her upper body back into the water. She was sitting on her knees now, her hands laid onto the edges of the tub.

It wouldn’t end well if she got her hands on Hedwig. Maybe it hadn’t been his intention, but he had cast away the sweet smile from Cailin’s face within seconds. She breathed in deeply and tried to keep calm. She wasn’t strong enough to do something yet. And until now, he had seemed nice.

The girl turned around with a large towel in her hands. She expanded it and walked to her, waiting for her to stand up. Eira sighed and laid her hands onto the walls of the tub, pushing herself up. The water dripped down her bare body, her long dark hair flush against her skin, hiding her breast.

She slowly got out, carefully waiting to let go before she was steady on her feet. She wasn’t trusting herself yet. She still felt weak, and her hands were shaking. She felt hot and cold at the same time, and a shiver went down her body before Cailin came to help wrap the towel around her body.

She had looked at the ground the whole time, respecting Eira’s privacy. Her cheeks were tinted in a sweet pink again. It made Eira smile.

For the first time in days, a tiny spark of joy filled her heart.


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