SEBASTIAN - Who Bathes in My Flood Room?
WaterRose, Meadow Mountain, Grier Country (Elsabet captive for seven years)
Elsabet spent years wandering the expansive corridors and floors of WaterRose. Having long ago found the arching doorways of a main atrium emerging from below the dais where the stairs split into mirrored reflections of each other, curving up to pass all the floors. The second level was the personal chambers of the knights. The third level had more unique rooms such as a garden room, a full nursery with an adjoining chamber for a nanny or nursemaid, and several solars. And more rooms that broke onto the balconies squaring around the Northwest corner of the castle.
Much thought was put into beautiful design work and winding rooms. Many interconnected. Passageways could be found behind old bookshelves or little-used torches. The layout was meticulously arranged, overflowing with escape routes.
None of which short enough Elsabet’s tether allows for escape.
She’s tried them all. He knew. But the Flood Room, the bottom level, is her favorite.
At some point in the last few decades, the moat began seeping into the castle without notice. Until completely overtaking the lowest level. The water was still and dusky with algae. Blue flowers growing along the even surface. Somewhere deep beneath, a green marbled floor shined, tinting the water. Reflecting off stone walls, where froth trimmed. Where the water was deeper it was murkier. Still, the old staircases were visible. Branching in opposite directions. The wood fraying after so long abandoned underwater.
Bast was well-aware, though she didn’t know it, that she often bathed down here. Enjoying the more natural warmth.
Like washing in a sacred pond.
Coming up the stairs, hair damp and eyes glittering from the pleasant experience, she stared at the steps. A wrap clinging to her curves as she moved. Strands of hair moistened the satin wrap, making it nearly transparent in some places.
Making him ache.
As she rose high enough his boots were in view, her eyes travelled up to meet his stone face.
“What are you doing down here?”
Bathing of course. But I’m angry. And some bitter banter with you will alleviate some of my pain.
Pain from losing the Watchers. Pain from scowering Ardae with no trace of them.
Helplessness and frustration…And disappointment.
“Nothing.” She scowled. Clutching at the wrap.
Yes, pull it tight. That’ll hide you from me. His eyes moved to where she fisted the clothing and then back to her face.
“You worry I’ll see you?”
Her eyes narrowed on him. And lips whitened.
We both know I’ve seen you in substantially less.
“What do you want Lord Bodane?”
He laughed coldly. “Everything I see.”
“Then I suggest you stop looking. You’ll be getting nothing from me.”
Hold tight to the threat, Little Harpie. It grows weaker each time you say it.
He leaned forward to breathe into her hair. “Eventually I’ll get everything from you.” His eyes roved over her while she nearly quaked with rage.
Her eyes spitting blue fire and lip trembling in her aggravation. Before she could say anything, he reached up and trailed a thumb over that full bottom lip. Startling her enough she didn’t pull away.
“You’re incredibly beautiful when incited.”
More than beautiful.
Her chest heaved with emotion.
“You look like ice. But there’s fire in you.” He added. Watching her carefully. “I wonder if your passion runs as hot?”
“Do you enjoy tormenting my days?”
“I enjoy everything that has anything to do with you.” He murmured. So close he nearly spoke against her lips.
Thus, why I’m down here now.
“Is it even possible to get it through your thick head that a woman may not want you?”
Yes. Just not you. Your desire is written all over you.
“It’s unlikely to ever happen, but yes it’d be possible. However, if you speak of yourself. You’d have to stop flushing every time I get close to you, stop the racing of your heart-I can hear every beat. Control the sheen of goosebumps rising on your skin at the touch of my fingertips. Cease your heaving breaths.” He gestured to her rising bosom.
Making her flush deeper.
“And stop leaning toward me when I’m near.”
Her eyes flicked to the distance between them, eyes widening as she realized he was right. She leaned toward him. Only a couple inches now separating them. She was drawn like a magnet.
“You’re a wicked, devious, rogue.” Her face hardened.
“Aye.” He nodded with a lopsided grin as he caressed her chin. “That I am.”
She pushed past him.
He turned his body to let her by.
She put a hand to his chest to keep him at a distance on the narrow stair, hissing at the touch.
He smiled, reflexively pinning her hand to him with his palm. Tempted to slide her palm down his flat stomach. But he refrained. Somehow. His eyes probed her face at such close quarters.
“It’s amazing I even found my way down here.” She sputtered quickly trying to fill the silence.
You do all the time. But it’s cute you think I don’t know…
“This castle is endless rooms and passageways.” She added quickly. Eyes flicking to her escape route.
The doorway upstairs.
“You’ve found those, have you?”
She gave him a quick look.
“I don’t care if you explore.” He shrugged. “I can smell you anywhere in this stronghold.” He breathed in her hair. “You can’t hide from me. Go where you wish.”
“Who built this thing?” She gestured in frustration as she jerked her hand free and slid past him. Turning stormy blue eyes on him.
To protect The Fallen.
“Of course, you did.” She tossed over her shoulder.
His chuckle chased her down the hall. “Run, Harpie, Run. Get away from the big. Dangerous. Animal.”
Today, she chose a more common room. Where she spent the majority of her time.
She stared at the winding gold staircases held by chains and spirals. Dangling with rich red tassels. The steps padded with embroidered red furs. She slid one of the high ladders on its rusted metal wheels.
He winced at the sound. Perhaps I’ve not oiled them in too long.
She tentatively stepped under one of the many archways. This one completely filled with curving shelves. Laden with heavy red and brown leather volumes.
The wall before the first archway was dominated by the large fireplace which Bast usually tried to keep going as a welcome to guests. Decorated with winding vinework. The mantle reflected the same winking design with one gilded rose sparkling above it.
Across from it was the plush red and gold chair, which Bast favored. And a light blue one which was an exact reflection of the red.
For the comfort of visitors. The table between held a large bowl complete with small glass lid. Filled to brimming with exotic smoked nuts he bought in Mane. Another low square table was tucked behind his red chair and held a decanter of his favorite sherry and a few glasses.
When Forever Knights visited WaterRose they generally knew this was where to find him, were he not in either his upper or lower chambers.
He supposed it was a fantastic discovery for her. Keeping her busy for hours. It’s nice to see someone enjoying this room as much as me.
Due to Bast’s great collection, there was more selection here than even in the vast library of Grier, known for its expansive tastes and the fine teas served to its patrons.
Let her rummage. It keeps her busy and the magic here stable.
Books thumped from the shelves. The ladder squeaking as she moved from one section to the next, stirring up clouds of dust.
He’d just returned home this eve and couldn’t resist peeking in on her.
Strange how much I miss our verbal parrying when I’m away. When home, he checked in on her often.
But today he watched her from the dark near the mantle, hoping to soothe his raw nerves. Seeing her usually calms me.
Fighting with her appeases the pain.
He’d gone to tell Deragan they’d lost the Watchers. He’d seen the flash of rage and disappointment in the Captain’s eyes. Sensed the Captain’s soul-deep aggravation. I’d never dreaded so much telling him we failed. He understood why Tev couldn’t face him. Knew his guilt and self-loathing.
But he’d have never given it up willingly. Bast instantly remembered the brutal beating Tev had taken. He saw the cuts marring his torso and tearing over his face and new Tev had fought. Hard.
And Little Brother is fast. Ungodly fast. Bast had seen him operate his hatchets on countless occasions and knew Tev was a warrior.
Tev had been taking the map from Acharius’ hideout to WaterRose for safekeeping, but the cimmerii had found him just before crossing the NetherRunnel bridge. They’d attacked and fled with the map.
He couldn’t catch them. And he knew he couldn’t waste all his energy chasing them, so he’d come to me.
Bast still pictured the hollow look the Captain had given him and knew he was devastated. He’d said nothing but Bast knew he wanted to yell, to fall in grief but he held strong as he often did. His mouth whitening as he stared at Bast unblinkingly.
I know what we’ve done. He’d admitted to their leader.
Deragan had walked away.
Doing his best not to lash out on me. Bast knew. He’d been willing to take the beating. Knowing the depth of pain this news would cause the Captain.
The loss of her family. The Fallen’s sisters…
“Do you enjoy whatever you do in here?” He snapped a bit viciously. Trying to detract from his misery.
Gasping she whipped around to look at him standing in the shadow of the chimney. She teetered on the ladder.
Perhaps I should’ve waited for her to come down. He thought ruefully.
Her blue eyes were round and sparking with surprise. Her hair a silver halo around her face and over her shoulders.
Beautiful. He assessed. Full of emotion, passion, I’d nearly forgotten how to feel.
“How do you get around so quietly?” She snapped.
“Cat paws.” He lifted a boot and gestured to the bottom.
She glared at him. “Do you enjoy startling the life out of young women?”
“Are you young?” He countered coldly.
“Don’t scowl at me woman. Tis not my fault you’re not as observant as you think. And for the record, you’re the only young woman I enjoy startling. Your pretty eyes are so huge and vulnerable for that moment you forget your mask. It’s the only time I see the genuine woman.”
“I miss nothing.” She retorted waspishly. Finally noticing he’d edged close enough he could see up her skirt if he glanced there, she pulled it tight around her legs and retreated down the ladder.
I’m still a gentleman! He huffed but bit his tongue.
“You miss out on...much.” He teased as she passed him in a huff of skirts.
Eyes reddening in the dark as she shot him a look from the depth of another aisle.
Pursuing her step, he waited for the next subject she’d pursue. Undoubtedly something nosy.
“Why are you in fancy clothing?” She snapped a book shut and slid it back up on its shelf.
Ah, and there it is.
“I’ve been trying to find a friend.”
Raese Merlinus. He drew a long breath. Without luck. But it was doubtful she’d even care to hear that.
“A woman?” She asked, her voice sounded strangely forced.
Jealousy? Wouldn’t that be novel!
“Nay. Not today.” He watched her reaction carefully and was intrigued to see her eyes flick to him and her hand tremble slightly as she pulled another binding out.
“I attended a ball…An undercover mission if you would.”
“Like the one you were at-”
“When you tried to steal my pendant? Aye.”
“To find my friend, Raese.”
“How many women do you go see?” She changed the subject so quickly it startled him.
His brows shot up. “There’s only one I’m currently interested in seeing.”
She huffed. “And I suppose you’re implying that’s me?”
It’s only you.
He gave a sideways nod and a shrug. “Think what you will.”
Moving the ladder forcefully she slammed it against a new shelf and eyed the row intently. “And I suppose you think I’ll swoon at your feet like some ridiculous maiden of the first shade?”
He sighed as he held the ladder for her. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“It’d be foolish.” She was concentrating hard on ignoring him. Staring at the top shelf, she was careful to go no higher than the second level lest he get an opportunity to see beneath her skirt.
“I’m not such a villain as that.” He defended. “There’s still the shreds of a gentleman in me.”
She scoffed. Doing her damnedest to keep from glancing at him in her peripheral.
He could admit her attempts to disregard his presence only piqued his interest.
They usually find me irresistible…But she is something else.
“Have you found your tether restricting?” He changed the subject.
“Have I misbehaved?”
She gave him a startled look.
“But not that I’ve figured out yet.” He finished. Noting from her surprised look she hadn’t yet formulated a renewed plan of escape. “So, I’ve not limited you, have I?”
“You’re a man of your word.” She recognized, though her tone reflected only fact, no admiration.
His smile died. “You could give me a taste of those lips in appreciation.” He noticed the appealing length of her neck and the subtle curve of her chin leading up to her lush lips. Which he now eyed hungrily.
“Why do you check on me so often?” She put another book on the shelf. Purposely ignoring his question.
Well if she can, I can.
“What do you fear I’ll see when I do?”
“Me.” Her nose wrinkled.
“And that I do.” He eyed her length with obvious appreciation.
“I feel your energy checking on me all the time.” She passed by him and he caught the scent of wildflowers.
He spun on his heel to follow. “How do you smell like that?”
She turned, pale gray skirts swirling around her as she faced him. Confusion written over her face. “Like what?” Tilting sideways she sniffed a drooping sleeve. “I do not stink.”
“No. You smell like a fresh field.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Her voice raised a notch.
“You smell fresh. Peaceful.”
“I’m not peaceful.” She dismissed. “This is simply how I smell.”
His brows lifted in further appreciation. “Well, then…”
“Do not even.” She pointed at him, reading his face.
He eyed the arrowing split in her dress down her back. Exposing delicate shoulder muscles and slim curves, flaring over a pleasingly rounded rump.
He growled in his throat.
She thought she knew the meaning of that sound.
“You threaten me?” She spun on him. Crouching as she drew a tiny dagger from under her dress.
“In a sense.” He admitted quickly. Characteristic smile dancing around his mouth. Approaching her, he captured her wrist before she could swipe him with her weapon.
Her other hand lengthened into talons as she moved to slit him with her free hand.
He twisted out of her reach and agilely evaded her claws.
“Don’t.” He shot her mutated hand a glance before focusing on her face. “I’m not going to hurt you.” He ripped the dagger from her tiny fist. “Where’d you get this?”
Chin lifting impudently, she glared at him.
“Hmm.” He strode away. “Just when I was beginning to trust you.”
“You don’t trust me!” She called after him.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because-because-I’m a woman!”
“I love women! I don’t have the same gender hate you possess. I’d surround myself with women if I could.”
“I just bet!” Her eyes narrowed as she changed the direction of her attack.
“Don’t pout.” He left the room as quickly as he’d come.
“I hate you!”
“You don’t.” His voice carried in.
“I do.” She spat through clenched teeth.
“You don’t…” The walls sighed with his voice.
Stomping a small foot, she charged up to her room. Smashing vases and raging in her chamber.
“She seems content.” Acharius sighed. Entering the library. “Do you garner pleasure from tormenting her?” Acharius strode over to take a seat. His massive size encompassing the chair. And long legs drawn up awkwardly.
“Immensely.” Bast flashed even teeth. “I can’t express how much.”
“Because she reacts so heatedly, no doubt?” Acharius thumbed his nose. “You never could resist a challenge.”
“Most likely.” Bast dropped into his favorite red and gold chair. Opposite Acharius. Both seats faced the fire to savor the view, if not the warmth. “What are you doing here, Friend? You come so rarely.”
“I needed a break from the Hideout.”
“From watching over the treasury?”
“Yes.” Acharius sighed, taking a tiny shelled nut from the dish on the table and rolling it between his thumb and finger thoughtfully before carefully cracking it in his huge fist and tossing the fragments into the fire.
“I’m honored to do the work, but it does grow tedious.”
“So, you come to me for entertainment?”
“Merely to mock you.” Acharius gestured to the floor above them. His tone flat.
“You’re a cold man, Friend.”
“My Norse blood.” Acharius acknowledged. “Any word of Chavias?”
Somber twist. Bast noted of the sudden change in conversation. Typical Acharius fashion.
“Are you missing him?”
“Of course. He trained me in swordplay. I knew him well.” He paused to eye a walnut. “As well as someone can know Chavias, I suppose.”
“You likely did know him. He was not easy to get close to, but fiercely loyal to those he favored. None dare say he didn’t speak his mind.”
“I miss that.” Acharius said. “Save you, we all fear upsetting the others with harsh words. Afraid we’ll lose the only pseudo family we have...”
So deep for such a lumbering giant. Bast assessed. There’s always more to Acharius then what meets the eye.
Bast grunted as he leaned back in his chair. Gripping his armrests as his strange eyes reflected the fire.
“Why do you not fear losing them?”
Bast’s head shot up. “Everyone needs me now and then.”
“To save their ass.” Acharius laughed coldly. “The great Protector.” Acharius grunted. “I hope to never need you.”
“You could best most men in swordplay and all in archery.”
“Except Chavias.” Acharius said solemnly. “He’s killing our own now, you know?”
“I’ve heard.” Bast’s voice dropped and he shifted uncomfortably. Wishing to discuss anything but this topic.
Acharius’ sharp eye caught the movement. “I can see your dissension, Brother. Let’s speak of lighter things.”
“Then please do not ask me of Raese. That is certainly no lighter. Everyone asks if I’ve found him. As if I wouldn’t scream it to the rafters of WaterRose, if I did.”
Acharius’ brows lifted at the slight agitation in his friend’s voice. “Fair. I will not…The Captain’s mate then?”
“No word yet.” Bast glanced around the library. “But I will find her.”
“You always do.” Acharius bit into another nut. Rising he plucked a bit of shell from his white tunic, bidding Bast good night. He discarded the remaining shells in the fire, making it spit and crackle before turning to return to his lair.
Bast’s voice made him pause in the doorway. “Have you seen Tev? I know he’s hiding in the Netherlands.”
“No. Not since…” Acharius reared back slightly, surprised at the nearness of his hideout. “How long do you think he’ll stay away?”
“It’s hard to tell. His guilt is a powerful thing.”
“He’s struggled ever since the cabin…”
The cabin where Deragan’s mate had died in the Black Mountains.
“Don’t mention that.” Bast snapped. “That wasn’t his fault.”
“No…” Acharius turned it over. “He did the right thing…I’ll keep an eye open for him.” He sighed.
“You know how careless our Little Brother can be. I worry for him in isolation.” Bast murmured. A note of concern entering his voice as he sat watching the fire licking the log in the grate.
Acharius nodded thoughtfully. The Netherlands very closely bordered the Dread Hideout, where Acharius was returning.
Back to his lonely caves. Bast could see the forlorn tilt of Acharius’ shoulders. Feel the dread overtaking him as he left.