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Chapter Sixteen

I had slept restlessly. At points, I attempted to get out of bed but constantly had a wave of nausea knock me back when I sat up. When I finally gave up and let sleep take me fully, my dreams attacked me in full force, leaving a thin layer of cold sweat over my body when I woke up.

Only after jolting awake again, and turning onto my side, did Niven enter the room and sit with his back close to my stomach, tail slightly touching my elbow. Tiredly, I stared up at him, waiting for him to speak.

"You must have bath now," He finally mumbled, glancing at me from the corner of his eye. "Can walk?"

Nodding slowly, I attempted to sit up. The room began to spin, but not as fast as it had before. Niven moved, allowing me to push the covers away and turn my body so my feet would touch the cool floor. Taking a deep breath, I stood up and stumbled forward. Niven was at my side in an instant, arms coming around me and holding me close. The intimacy of the action relaxed my body and eased the heavy fog covering my thoughts.

"I-is this normal?" As Niven let go, I crossed my arms over my chest, my body already missing his warmth. "This feeling...this yearning for you?"

"Think so..." Niven glanced away from me, hands clenching into fists. "Bath first, ask Bronte later after meeting royals."

Nodding, I let my eyes fall to the floor as Niven escorted me out of the room and into a broad hallway. A young Lizard Folk woman waved her hand at us as she left a room three doors down from where we stood. Was I trusted enough to be in the guest chambers or was this some study converted into a bedroom? Sighing out of my nose, I tried to keep my hopes low as I stuck close to Niven while we entered another hallway. He stopped in front of a door before clearing his throat.

"I wait outside. Be quick, please." He opened the door and moved to the side, eyes not meeting mine as I slipped through. The door shut behind me before I could fully register where I was.

Glancing around, I felt like I did not belong. The bathroom was definitely of Lizard Folk making. A waterfall of clear water fell from a rectangular slot in the wall, the water disappearing into a rocky floor. A pedestal stood nearby with a glass sculpture on it while the bath, a large tub, was tucked in the corner. A nook in the wall held simple toiletries of soap, shampoo and conditioner. Hanging from a hook was a grey towel. Walking closer, I saw steam rising from the tub, hot water already having been poured in.

Gulping, I stripped quickly and climbed into the tub. Hissing as the water burned me, I searched for the soap and hurriedly scrubbed myself down when I found it. It was hard keeping the bandage on my shoulder dry, but I managed to do so in the end. When I was finished, I pulled the stopper out, watching as the dirty water swirled down the drain as I dried myself. Briefly, I wondered if I had been given new clothing as I glanced at my ruined scraps on the floor.

There was a knock on the door before it opened slightly. Niven stretched his arm through the gap, clothing tightly gripped in his hand. Stepping towards the door, I gingerly took them out of his hand before he closed the door. The clothing was similar to what he was wearing, a loose-fitting top and pants with no distinct pattern but definitely expensively woven. Once on, I could smell the faint scent of him on the fabric. There was another knock and I opened the door, keeping my eyes lowered.

"Must be hungry, let's go," Niven said, gingerly touching my arm so I would walk by his side. Chewing the inside of my lip, I felt my nerves rising with each step we took. I hated the unknown. Hated the churning of my stomach and the helplessness that joined it. I hated it all.

"Fendrick will stay where he is, will know-" The voice trailed off as I lifted my head. In the front of me sat both King and Queen, their advisors, the Lizard Folk woman from before and Niven's brother. My breath hitched.

"Follow," Niven mumbled. I hesitantly did so, feeling all eyes on me. When he sat down, I sat in the chair next to him, causing Bronte to be on my right. Niven's tail touched my barefoot as he leaned forward to get a small plate of sliced fruit and a pitcher. When he was seated properly, he placed the plate in front of me and poured water into a goblet.

"As I was saying," The male advisor began, recapturing everyone's attention as I tried to make myself small. "Fendrick will be kept in his cell until his trial. Until that time, we will work on him to find out how Naomi got him on her side. In the meantime, the new Thane of Lorcan will be arriving tomorrow."

"We have not agreed on this replacement, Blaze," Queen Harper stated, a low growl resonating from under the table as I felt her eyes land on me. "For a mercenary, you are awfully silent. You are allowed to speak freely, so speak."

Gritting my teeth, I shook my head as I fisted my hands. There was a short laugh from her and the clinking of cutlery before another plate joined the one in front of me. Niven's tail tapped my calf rhythmically as if he were trying to calm me down. My stomach growled at the scent of spices and cooked meat.

"Colt, you have played a very important part at the beginning of our reign," Queen Harper began, causing me to glance up at her fully. Unlike the day she came to my cell, her hurricane-grey eyes were alive with emotion and her face full of colour. "We have given you our trust and continue to ask for your loyalty as we begin a new, long journey together. You are no longer a slave or prisoner, but now a part of our inner circle. With that said, please relax and eat. Also, you can call me Harper and this idiot Levi, no need for those fancy titles when we are indoors."

Nodding, I waited until everyone started eating before slowly picking at my own food. Occasionally, there would be the talk of preparations of war if Queen Naomi was truly behind our attack on the royalty mixed in with strategy on defending the castles and controlling the Dark Army. Honorifics were dropped when talking, just like Harper had asked of me.

"Maybe, Colt and Niven can test our defences?" Blaze mused. "The guards only know Niven's face, but with dark clothing and the moons to guide you in the dark, you will have the advantage. We can then test the guards and their responses."

"Not interested. Use new Lorcan Thane as bad guy," Niven muttered as he bit into a fish head. "Not Colt either."

"I was kidding. You as the evil attacker? No, it would be too difficult for you," Blaze mocked, causing Niven to bite down hard on the fish head. A faint ache made itself known where my wisdom teeth had been.

"I kick your ass as well as guards. Fight now?" Niven growled, picking up his knife. Blaze's smile dropped immediately. Swallowing the remnants of fruit in my mouth, I bumped my knee against his.

"W-when was your last drill?" I asked, trying to keep my breathing steady as I made eye contact with Blaze.

"Two days before Harper and Levi were brought to the castle."
"Successful or not?"
"Would you say the same outcome will come again?"
"Your point, mercenary?"

Taking a breath, I let my thoughts be heard blatantly. "From an outsider's perspective, your answer means your men would fail, miserably. You, therefore, lack faith in their abilities. S-sorry if that was rude to say."

"No, not at all. You have just reinforced the reason why you and Niven should test out the castle's defences," Levi stated, lifting a hand to quieten Blaze's rebuke. "Harper and I leave tomorrow morning. That gives you a full day of planning. We will not say anything or do anything that may give you away."

"A-are you sure you want to do that so soon after..." Gritting my teeth, I let my eyes drop as guilt filled me. I was still a stranger and a threat to their lives.

"The only way to find out if something is broken is to test it again, again and again," Harper stated with a small smile. "We are royals, our lives are always going to be in danger and we need to create the most solid defence we can. So, I give you two full permission to test the current state of our guards."

"Fine, we do it this week," Niven stated, his voice letting on his annoyance. "Finish lunch then we go rest, will see later when interrogating Fendrick."

I was sat on a couch as Niven redid my bandages. The chill in the air made me shiver even though a roaring fire was in front of us. I glanced around the room as he worked, fascinated by the furnishings and trinkets held on the walls, shelves and mantel. This lounge was obviously special and private from everyone else if the-

"Ow." Hissing, I flinched away from Niven, holding my shoulder. He sighed as he leaned back.

"Keep forgetting not Lizard Folk, sorry," He admitted as he puffed out his cheeks. "Let finish?"

Gulping, I sat up straight and let him resume even though it hurt with every move he made. I had done my own bandages in the past, he did not have to do this for me. When he finished, I pulled on my borrowed shirt and stood up to crouch close to the fire.

"Thank you..."
"Wound is looking good, fast recovery. Pain?"

We both were quiet. It made me fidgety as I heard him move on the couch, old memories resurfacing. Glancing back to calm my heart, I saw that Niven had moved in order to lay down on his back, head resting on a propped up cushion and eyes closed. Looking at him made me realize how tired I actually was. With that thought, I wanted to curl up by the fire and sleep.

"Colt, here," Niven said, watching me as he shuffled and moved onto his side. "For Lizard Folk men, is normal to sleep together like this. When wake up, will not feel sore and stiff."

"O-okay." Biting down on my inner cheek, I stood up slowly before going to sit on the couch before nervously laying down on my side. We were close, my back flush against his chest, head under his chin. His arm came around my waist, causing me to flinch while his tail brushed my calves. Even though it was scary being this close, I felt comfortable.

"W-will you help interrogate Fendrick?" I asked, watching the flames dance as Niven shifted.

"Yes, Bronte and I. Why?"
"Curious. Are we going to train together?"
"Hopefully tomorrow. Excited?"
"Yes and no. Last time I touched a blade someone in this house almost died."
"Mhm, will be okay. Will use wooden swords."
"Child's play."

Niven chuckled, shifting again so he could hold me closer. He moved his head, breathing becoming heavy as I felt his breath against my neck. The sensation was ticklish, causing me to chuckle and wriggle. Niven stopped, chuckled and settled down again.

"Sleep now. Wake you for dinner."

Closing my eyes, I shifted my head on top of my arm. My thoughts calmed slightly as exhaustion wrapped its blanket around me. Vaguely, I heard Niven's faint snoring, felt his arm tighten around me and smiled. I felt somewhat safe, knew he would not hurt me while I rested and trusted him not to do so. I would have a dreamless sleep and feel less drained when I woke up again

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