Baerister was back on his feet again within a few days. It took just as long for Acacia to get Hirain to follow her commands. When she wasn’t keeping the dragon on his toes, she was helping Yunoiya with her herbs. Acacia wasn’t an expert but she knew the difference between Holy Lace and En’kul Runners. She knew which plants needed gloves to handle and which parts of the plants were useless.
Yunoiya started trusting her enough that in the morning, she left Acacia with the recipe before heading out to work in the garden.
Acacia used the bronze scale in the corner of the kitchen to measure precisely how much she needed. First, she measured Blood of the Guide, an herb that would help with Baerister’s inflammation. When she searched the shelves for Birch Water, she found it was tucked away on the top shelf behind a group of other glass canisters.
She attempted to climb up onto the table to reach it but before she could, Baerister’s hand fell onto her shoulder. His warmth enveloped her backside as he reached over her to the top shelf. He easily grabbed the glass canister and lowered it down for her.
Acacia turned slightly, finding Baerister’s chest centimeters away from her. “Thanks,” she muttered, taking the heavy container from him. She took a quick peek up at his bandaged wings, seeing them for the first time since arriving at the healer’s cottage.
“They will take time but I will recover.”
“That’s good news,” she sighed. “And I’m glad to see you’re wearing actual clothes now. The curtain was nice but you know.” She tossed a shoulder up in a half-hearted shrug.
He ran his palm down over the loose fitting robes and intricately wrapped silk around his waist. The gesture drew her gaze to the softness of his neck and the exposed skin of his chest. There was some visible bruising although most of it was turning from pale blue to yellow.
“These clothes suit you,” she muttered. She hugged the glass container, pressing its cold surface into her warming skin. She was suddenly aware of how close he was standing, how warm his own body was.
“It’s thanks to you that I am alive.” His voice was growing softer, almost a secretive whisper. “Thanks to you and Yunoiya, of course. If you had not rescued me...”
Acacia laughed, a nervous sound that fell out of her. “It’s nothing. Really.”
“I thought I was going to die. I truly thought that cage would be my grave.”
“But you didn’t. You made it out okay.”
“Because of you. You saved my life, Acacia. Because of that I owe you my life.” He lowered his head, perhaps an attempt not to tower over her but it only pressed them closer together. “From now on, all that I own is yours. I will repay you for your kindness and your honor.”
She shook her head and shuffled sideways until she could set the canister onto the table. “That’s not necessary. I was just doing the right thing.” She looked over Yunoiya’s scribbled handwriting, focusing on the recipe instead of Baerister’s strange words and the fire burning in her cheeks.
“Acacia.” He waited and when she didn’t look at him, he curled a hand under her chin and turned her head until their eyes met.
Her eyes widened for just a moment. She forced composure over her expression but there was no way for her to hide the heat in her face or the loudness of her heart beating in her ears.
“It is my honor to name you itellu, a lord of my family’s house. In time, I hope that someday we could marry and you could become issi ekalli, a matriarch.”
Her brain was scattered. He said so much and used such strange words that she was whirling with confusion. Lordship? Marriage? Matriarch?
“Baerister, wait.” She grabbed his hand and pulled it away from her chin. His hand was so cold in her warm grasp and she found herself delighting in his touch. “I’m honored, really.” She took a quick glance at his eyes but she felt too embarrassed to hold his gaze. “You’re very kind to offer all these things but really, I don’t need them.”
His gaze shifted across the kitchen as he mulled over her reaction.
“Just buy me a meal and we’ll call it even.” She patted his arm and turned back to the Birch Water. But she couldn’t focus, especially not while her hands were shaking.
His words were quiet, “I feel insulted that you think my life is equal to a single meal.”
She grinned and looked him in the eyes and then the way his lips curled just a smidge in humor. “Fine, make it a dozen meals then.”
His laugh was quiet and breathy. “Very well, itellu. A dozen meals and more.”
“But Baerister there’s something we should talk about.” Acacia cleared her throat. The air felt dry and her tongue fattened in her mouth. “Since you’re safe now and you’re healing...” She couldn’t look him in the eye and the heat of his attention was unbearable. “I should probably start preparing for my trip home.”
“Home?” the words ghosted from his mouth.
“I have to go back to Ta’nes.” She raised a meek shoulder.
His tone softened as he whispered, “They’ll kill you. Think about how your ‘friend’ reacted to the truth.”
The cottage door swung open as Yunoiya hobbled in with a basket full of carrots. “Blasted horses are gonna make a mess of my garden.” She eyed them both before tossing the basket onto the table. “Feeling better already, I see.”
“Thank you, Yunoiya.” Baerister straightened. He held his head high as he tucked his hands behind his back. “My family is indebted to you as always.”
The old woman nodded her head and wiped the dirt from her hands with a nearby cloth. “Well, you can start by getting some supplies from town for me.” She put her hands on her hips and looked about the cottage in search of something. When she saw it, she jolted and rushed over to snap up the bag of coins. “Take this. And a list.” She snatched it up and put both of the items into Acacia’s hands.
Acacia jolted a little in surprise. The coins were heavy and she wasn’t prepared to be responsible for them. She handed the coins over to Baerister then stuffed the list into her belt’s pouch.
“And take Hirain with you when you go.” She shouted over her shoulder towards the hearth where he laid out in front of the fire. “For a dragon, he spends far too much time cooped up inside.”
Hirain opened his jaws in warning before rolling over onto his back. His soft, smooth white underbelly glistened like a pearl in front of the fire’s light.
Acacia chuckled under her breath. She went over to the hearth and kneeled down. “Come on.” She gathered the dragon into her arms but he went limp, head rolling back and legs pushing her arms away like a rebellious child. “We could get food somewhere.”
He grumbled and hissed but seemed to perk up a bit at the prospect of eating. He wasn’t fighting her anymore, so she took it as a good sign.
Yunoiya went to the cottage door and opened it wide. “There’s a cart behind the house you can take. It’s rusty, though. Haven’t used it in ages.”
“Do we need it,” retorted Baerister as his lips pursed. “How many things are we getting from town?”
“Still don’t like crowds, I see.” Yunoiya grinned teasingly. “It’ll be good practice for when you get back home. Ah!” Yunoiya snapped her fingers at the remembrance. She hurried across the room, opened a drawer, and brought out a medallion as large as her palm.
Baerister took the medallion from her then slid his fingers along the worn leather strap tied to it.
“You’ll be needing it, won’t you?”
His bows flattened. It almost looked like he was about to give it back to her but he decided to stuff it into the folds of his robes. Baerister turned sharply and headed outside without another word.
Acacia peered down at Hirain who tilted his head as if he too didn’t understand what that meant. Perhaps Arpaeian cities were densely packed, she wondered before striding out the door.
She thanked Yunoiya then headed over to place Hirain into the cart. She grabbed the tack for Ir’vaqur then surveyed the rust on the cart’s wheels. It wasn’t so bad but the wood needed to be replaced soon. Perhaps she could even find someone in town who might do the work for a good price.
“It’ll do for now,” she mumbled and faced Baerister. “We can leave the mare here. Cart’s too small for two horses.”
He nodded and held out his hand.
Acacia eyed it for a moment, feeling her cheeks flush at the idea that he might want to hold hands as they walked into town.
“The list,” he clarified. “I’d like to know what we’re looking for.”
Acacia scurried to pull the parchment from her pouch. “Of course. I didn’t even look at it.” She almost threw the paper at him in her nervousness.
Baerister didn’t seem to notice although he did flinch a little.
She grabbed Ir’vaqur’s reins and led him down the road. All that talk of marriage, she cursed, wishing she could talk to Ir’vaqur about it alone. Or even Hirain.
She looked back to find the dragon who was surprisingly alert. His head was held high, nostrils flaring as he took in the unfamiliar scents in the air. Either that or he was searching for food. She couldn’t be certain which but she guessed it was the latter.