Their Bonds of Duty

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Chapter 4

They walked out of the shop, looking much different than they went in. Conri had never worn such simple clothes. His pants and tunic were not altogether uncomfortable, but they were made of rougher material than he was used to. He adjusted his shirt under his cloak before turning to Eleri. She looked as beautiful as always in her simple dark dress and cloak. Her hair was braided and laid over her left shoulder. As they approached the inn, he offered her his arm.

“Are you sure we should go in there, Eleri,” he asked as she took his arm. “Perhaps we should have asked the older woman for a place to stay, or we could find a barn to rest in for the night.”

“I would not burden the woman who showed us such hospitality. I believe she would like me to go to the inn, so I doubt she would give us shelter anyway. I do not like sleeping in hay as it makes me sneeze, and we should not dirty our new clothes with animal waste. We will be fine in the inn. I know how to take care of myself, but if you don’t think you can handle the temptation of the ladies inside, let me know. I can see if we have enough coins to buy you some company if you wish.”

“You know there is only one lady’s company I want,” said Conri as he shook his head.

“And you have paid dearly for plenty of it,” said Eleri. “Let me buy you a soft bed, your highness. Perhaps we will both be in better moods if we can get some real sleep.”

They entered the inn, and Conri was immediately met with warmth and the smell of hot food. He audibly sighed as Eleri gave a quick laugh. “See, it is not so bad.”

Conri looked around the room to find it was bigger than he thought. There was a large fireplace on one wall with a nice fire blazing. The tables in front of him were full of men and a few women. All around, young women floated by, some with trays of ale and stew, others clothed in dresses that showed their attributes. A woman with long dark hair stopped near them and looked at them both. She was pretty with dark eyes and an ample chest on display. At first, she looked young to Conri, but the longer he examined her, the more he thought she might be almost twice his age.

“Are you looking for anything in particular,” asked the woman in a soft voice as she leaned towards Conri.

“Just a hot meal and a table at the moment. A room or two would be nice as well,” said Eleri.

“You can sit wherever you like, and one of the maids will serve you. As far as a room, you will have to speak with Mrs. Roberts. She is just behind the counter there.”

Conri turned to see an elaborately dressed older woman. She had a light blue dress that was much too tight. He wondered how she could breathe at all with her breasts so high. Her graying dark hair was pulled up into a bun, but a few pieces had escaped, falling into her heavily powdered face.

“Sit there at that table by the fireplace and see if you can order us some food,” said Eleri quietly as the woman in front of them moved on. “I will speak with Mrs.Roberts.”

“Should I not come with you?” asked Conri uncertainly.

“The tables are filling up fast, and I think I will have better luck with Mrs. Roberts alone,” Eleri smirked. “Are you scared of being alone in here? Don’t think you can resist the charms of these women? I don’t believe they will hurt you.”

“I am not worried about me, Eleri. I do not like how some of these men are already staring at you,” said Conri as he saw two men, one large with straight dark hair and the other young and slim both looking at Eleri. The large man appeared to Conri as if he wished to snatch Eleri away at any moment.

“I am very capable of taking care of myself. Now go get that table while you can,” said Eleri.

Conri walked over and sat down at the table, trying to avoid any interactions with the women who flitted around the room. He sat down, ignoring the many eyes he knew were on him. He fidgeted a little as he tried to get comfortable in the small, wooden chair.

“Would you like something?” asked a harried-looking young woman holding a tray.

Conri looked up at her to see she was probably very young. Her light hair was pulled up out of her face, and he could see she had a crooked tooth that hung down slightly over her lower lip. She looked like she had seen too much for one who couldn’t have been over sixteen. “Just a couple bowls of stew and two drinks.” He smiled at her, trying to be friendly.

“I hope mead is alright,” said the woman as she smiled back at Conri. “I wouldn’t trust the wine.”

“Mead will be fine,” said Conri. “Thank you.”

The girl hurried away, and Conri looked around the room. It was becoming fuller by the second. He didn’t think anyone of importance would be there, but he still kept slightly huddled over his table, trying not to draw notice. The last thing he or Eleri needed was for someone to recognize them and spread the word throughout the land where they were.

“Are you alone, sir?” asked a sweet voice to his left. Conri turned to see a beautiful woman with brown hair staring at him. He sat back a little as he examined her. She reminded him so much of Aella that it took his breath away for a moment.

“I hope you don’t mind if I join you,” said the woman as she sat down next to him. “I am sure you do not like being alone. I hate the feeling of being by myself.”

Conri swallowed as he continued to look at the young woman. “I am not alone,” he croaked out.

“Oh? Who are you with then? Is there some other gentleman here that has joined you that are looking for company?”

Conri shook his head. “I am here with a lady. She is over towards the entrance talking with Mrs. Roberts.”

“Talking with Mrs. Roberts? Whatever for? Is she looking for a position? I am not sure how successful she will be unless she is extraordinary to look at. We are very full here at the moment.”

“She is hoping to get us a room,” said Conri wishing he had something to drink.

“You don’t want a room with some simple village girl,” said the woman as she let her hand brush Conri’s on the table. “Someone who looks like you desires more.” She leaned towards him, her voice light and flirtatious. “I can tell you are passionate, sir. Not just any woman can handle such a man as you. Let me show you what you have been missing by bedding simple women.”

Her breath tickled his ear as her hand went off the table and landed on his upper thigh. As she slowly moved her hand, he could not help but feel a bit of desire run through him. He took a deep breath and moved his leg, so her hand fell off of him.

“I do not desire your company,” said Conri. “You should go find another who will give you coin.”

“You think I care about who can pay me the most?” asked the woman as she sat back with a laugh. “I have already made enough this week to last me through the year.” She ran a hand through her thick hair. “Perhaps, I am looking for something that will sate my own desire. I am tired of bedding boring men for some small penance. When I saw you over here, I knew I had finally found someone who could truly bring me pleasure.” She leaned towards him again.

He rolled his eyes. “You are very good at your trade, but it will not work on me. I insist you try with someone else. There are plenty of men here and more arriving every moment. I would like you to leave before my friend joins me.”

“And where is your friend? I do not see anyone in this room I do not recognize,” said the woman looking around.

Conri looked towards the front but couldn’t see Eleri. He stood up slightly and looked over the crowd.

“See, your friend has found a distraction of her own, I am sure,” said the woman.

Before Conri could say anything, the barmaid came to his table and starting sitting down two bowls of stew and two cups.

“Will there be anything else, sir?”

“Oh, Sally, move alone before you disgust this poor man so much he runs in fright. You have done your job. There is no need to linger,” said the woman sitting by him with a sneer.

Conri looked at Sally, who had tears in her eyes. “Do not mind her, my dear,” he said as nicely as he could. “Perhaps you can help me. Did you see the woman I came in with?”

Sally wiped her eyes and nodded. “The very pretty one with the dark red hair?”

“Yes, that is her exactly,” said Conri encouragingly. “Did you see where she went?”

“Mrs. Roberts took her in the back to her sitting room. They had something to discuss,” said Sally.

“Perhaps your friend is pretty enough for this place, after all, sir,” said the woman seated next to him. “If she had aroused interest in Mrs. Roberts enough to take her to her personal space, she must be something.”

Conri huffed and turned again to Sally. “Do you think she will be long?”

“I cannot say, sir. I could try to give her a message if you like, but Mrs. Roberts doesn’t like being disturbed.”

“I will wait a while longer before I send you on an errand,” said Conri. He dug a few coins out of his pocket. “Here is for the food and something for you as well.”

The girl took it and smiled. She gave an awkward curtsey before scurrying away.

“You were too kind to her,” said the woman next to him. “She is nothing but an ugly little barmaid who will die here one day, probably before she gets very old.”

“You should leave now, mam,” said Conri as he turned away and picked up his drink. “I have no desire for any of your company.”

The woman laughed. “I have offended you by speaking the truth.” Conri gave her a look, and she sighed. “Perhaps, I was a bit harsh, but the land is not kind. That girl doesn’t have much to recommend her, and she is weak. Either she will die here of overwork and disease, or some man will use her badly.”

“And you do not pity her? She is an innocent, and you do not care that this place is so cruel to her?”

The woman shrugged. “If I start caring about someone like her, it will send me down a road I cannot come back from. Elathia is a cruel place. I have seen too much not to know that.” She leaned over the table. “Do you think I wanted to end up here? I grew up very happily in my small village up the river. My father was the village leader, and I planned to grow up and marry one of the few boys I knew my whole life.

“Then the guards of the Silver Palace came and demanded we give them whatever they wanted. They took over our village. They stole homes and used whatever women they wanted with no regard to age or married state. They ate all the food we had stored for the winter. When my father tried to stand up to them, they killed him in front of my mother with no second thought. My mother ran for them, and they grabbed her and took her away, leaving me all alone.

“Before the day was over, my whole village was burnt to the ground with little survivors. Some man brought me this far and left me with Mrs. Roberts. I was only twelve. She could tell I would grow up to be beautiful, so she took me in and taught me ways to seduce men and make money. This is all I know now.”

Conri sat back and looked at her. “I am sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” She laughed. “Are you someone from the silver palace? Did you give the orders to take over my village?”

Conri felt a bolt of guilt run through him though he didn’t know why. It was not his fault, Lord Fellen had killed his parents and taken over Elathia, but he felt some responsibility for the hopelessness in the land.

“Let us move on from this sorry conversation,” said the woman. “I need something to distract me from this night. Will you not come with me? I have a nice room at the very top. It is clean and warm. I will not demand much from you, just whatever you can give.”

“I am sorry I upset you,” said Conri, “But I will not accompany you tonight. You should look elsewhere for your distraction.”

“Very well,” said the woman as she stood. “If you change your mind, come find me in the room. Even if I am talking to some man, I will put them off for you.”

Conri watched her go for a moment before taking a bite of his stew. It was good with more meat in it than he expected. He didn’t know what kind of meat it was, and he didn’t think he wanted to ask. After a few more bites and drinking most of his mead, he started to get worried about Eleri. He was about to call Sally over to ask about her when he heard a loud commotion of laughter in the room that caught his attention.

Conri stood up slightly and looked over to the upper left corner to see a table full of men. In the very corner close to the window was Eleri. She had taken off her cloak and was sitting by a young man who had his arm around her. Eleri leaned on him, laughing with a cup of wine in her hand.

Conri stood up fully and audibly growled as he felt the wolf inside of him grow agitated. She was supposed to be his, it grumbled. Who was the man who dared touch her? Conri closed his eyes for one moment to steady himself. He pushed down his wolf to keep himself from shifting or waking over and doing something foolish.

Once he was sure he could control himself, he opened his eyes and walked over to the table Eleri sat. The man she leaned on was holding her around her waist. He rubbed his hand against her side as he placed a kiss on her neck. She laughed as Conri felt the wolf within him come to the surface. He shuddered, trying to keep it subdued.

“What do you want?” asked the man who held Eleri.

Eleri looked up at Conri and smiled widely. She put down her glass of wine and shoved the man who held her way from her. “There you are!” she happily said as she stood up quickly. “I was looking for you before I got distracted by this gentleman.” Her words were slightly slurred, and she swayed a little.

“Are you in your cups?” asked Conri.

“I don’t know,” she answered with a slight hiccup. “I’m not sure how as I have had less than three glasses.” She started to walk towards Conri when the man next to her stood up and grabbed her hand.

“You cannot go now, miss. We have had too much fun for you to leave me.”

She looked down at him and tried to shake her hand loose, “But I would rather be with him. He is who I really want.”

“You don’t know that,” said the man as he pulled Eleri closer. “Let me show you what you want.”

“Release her now,” said Conri furiously.

“Why? Are you going to make me?” asked the man as he stood up to his full height.

Conri could see he was well built. The man probably made his living working long hours, lifting heavy things, or controlling strong farm horses, but Conri was not afraid. He moved closer to the man, his eyes narrowing. He felt his wolf struggling to get out as he started breathing heavily.

“I don’t think you want to know what I could do to you, sir, if you do not let her go. I am very close to ripping your throat out right here just for touching her. If you try to harm her or force her into anything, when I am done with you, they will find nothing but a bloodstain where you once stood.”

Conri wasn’t sure if it was the words he said, the look in his eyes, or how he spoke, but the man turned ashen as the table around them grew quiet. The man released Eleri, and she stumbled towards Conri. He put his arm around her, and she leaned into him.

“We should go,” said Conri as he moved slowly with Eleri at his side.

“But I got us a room,” she said as she dug into her pocket and fished out a key. “My cloak and money are already in there.”

Conri sighed. He would rather leave the place altogether, but they needed their coins, and he wasn’t sure how far Eleri could get in her condition. “Where is this room?”

Eleri moved her hand up to Conri’s chest. “It is on the second floor at the end. I’m afraid it only has one bed, but for what I have planned, I think that will do well.” She rubbed his chest and looked up at him suggestively.

Conri closed his eyes for a moment as he took her hand off his chest. He led her to the stairs spotting Sally close by. He nodded to her, and she walked over.

“When you get a chance, can you bring a bowl of stew and some water to the room on the second floor at the end? I think my companion needs some food.”

“And wine,” said Eleri as she leaned heavily on Conri.

“No wine,” said Conri with conviction.

Sally nodded. “I will bring what you ask as soon as I can.”

“Thank you,” said Conri as he pulled Eleri towards the stairs.

“Why can’t I have any wine?” asked Eleri as Conri helped her climb up to the second floor.

“You have had too much, and I think it might be tainted in some way. Who gave it to you?”

“Mrs. Roberts,” said Eleri as they reached the second floor. “She insisted I drink with her if I wished for a room. I did like it. It makes me feel rather good.”

Conri couldn’t help a small smile. “Be that as it may, I dread to think how you will feel tomorrow. Let’s get inside and see if some food and water will help.”

They came to the room at the end, and Conri took the key from Eleri. He opened the door and grabbed her, bringing her into the room. It was a small room with a bed just big enough for two and a small fireplace with two chairs.

Eleri closed the door behind them as Conri looked around. She came up to him and put her arms around him. “Finally, we are alone.” She leaned up and kissed his neck as he looked down at her.

He felt the longing he always held for Eleri grow inside of him. His wolf groaned in satisfaction as she pressed against him and her lips brushed his neck again. He leaned into her for a moment, enjoying the feeling of her body against his before he pushed her away gently.

“What is it?” she asked as she moved towards him again. “Do you not want me?”

“You know I do, Eleri, but not like this,” said Conri as she stood in front of him, her hand moving up his chest.

Before he could push her away, she leaned up and kissed him. He knew he should resist her. She most likely had no idea what she was doing, but the moment her lips met his, he was lost. His arms went around her as he crushed her against him. She parted her lips, allowing him to deepen their kiss. She moaned as his hand moved up her side. She tasted like sweet wine, and Conri began to wonder if the drink on her tongue was strong enough to affect him. He certainly felt as though he were drunk, but he knew it wasn’t on any spirits. He was fully submerged in the taste, feel, and smell of the woman he wanted more than anything else in the land.

He almost didn’t hear the loud knocks at the door, or perhaps he did, and he wished to ignore them. The noises were continuous, and he could not ignore them. With great effort, he pulled away from Eleri as she growled in protest. His inner wolf echoed her displeasure. She reached for him again, but Conri caught her hand. He led her over to one of the chairs by the fire and had her sit down.

“I must answer the door as that is your food and water. Stay here, and I will be right back.”

“Perhaps, we can take up where we left off,” she said with a sly smile.

Conri took a deep breath as he walked away from her. He answered the door to find Sally with a tray of two bowls of stew and a pitcher of water. He took it from her.

“I saw that you didn’t get to eat much of yours, sir, so I thought you might still be hungry.”

He smiled at her. “I am. Thank you.”

He walked over and put the tray down in front of Eleri. She had her arm propped up on the table with her head resting in her palm. She ran her hand over his arm as he passed. Fishing out a few coins from his pocket, he handed them to Sally.

“Thank you, sir.” She turned to go out the open door but stalled. “If I were you, I would be gone early. Mrs. Roberts is spitting angry that you dragged the lady up to this room. I think Mrs. Roberts drugged her so she would fall into the same life as many of the women here. I believe she has done this before.”

“Thank you for your warning,” said Conri. “Aren’t you afraid for yourself? Would it not be better if you run from here?”

“No, sir,” said Sally with a grin. “I am too ugly to be an attraction to Mrs. Roberts or the men. When I was young, my mother told me that it is a curse to be beautiful, and I should be thankful for my odd looks.”

“I don’t think you look odd,” said Conri. “I believe you are lovely. I hope you will stay safe or try to find something better than this.”

She shook her head with a grin. “There isn’t much better than this for me, but do not pity me, sir. I have a warm bed and enough to eat. That is more than many who live in this land.”

Conri felt the same guilt as earlier wash over him. He bowed as he held onto the door. “Good night. Thank you for your help.”

“Good night, sir. Make sure the young woman drinks plenty of water. Her head will ache something awful tomorrow no matter what, but the water will help her from getting sick.”

Sally left, and Conri shut the door. He walked over to the small table where Eleri was clumsily eating some stew.

“I think this might taste better than anything I have ever eaten,” she said with a laugh.

“Do not eat too fast, Eleri, and drink some water,” said Conri as he poured two glasses. “You will feel better in the morning if you drink plenty.”

She took the glass and drank most of it in one gulp. “I am very thirsty.” She went back to eating her stew, and Conri pulled his bowl closer to him.

He watched Eleri as he ate. She had a broad smile, and her face looked more relaxed than he had ever seen it when she was awake. He hated that she had been drugged, but he had to admit the simple joy she showed only added to her beauty. He wished she always looked so happy and carefree.

Eleri finished her bowl and stood up. She stretched and yawned as she looked over at the bed.

“Go on and rest if you are tired, Eleri. I can push something in front of the door and watch over it if you are worried,” said Conri as he stood up.

Eleri walked closer to him. “I would rather you come to bed with me. I don’t wish to lie alone in a strange bed in some inn I don’t know.”

“I’m not sure that is a good idea,” said Conri as he caught her hands before they could go to his chest.

“We aren’t going to go through this again, are we?” asked Eleri as she gave him a pout. “I know you want me.”

“As I said before, of course, I want you, but you do not know what you are saying or doing right now.”

Eleri stopped trying to put her hands on him and turned around. She walked to the bed and flopped down, looking angry. “I bet you have bedded other women who had a little wine.”

“I have never spent time with any woman who did not know what she was doing,” said Conri feeling a little hurt.

“And I know what I am doing, but you refuse to hear it,” she snarled. She lay down with a humph and almost rolled off the bed. She caught herself, and Conri rolled his eyes.

He finished his soup while she lay still. He could hear her sigh every now and then.

“I saw you were sitting with a woman earlier tonight,” said Eleri quietly. “Do you wish you were with her instead of me?” She sounded pathetic as she put her arm across her eyes.

Conri took a long drink of water and walked over to sit on the bed next to Eleri. “You know there is nowhere I would rather be than here with you.”

“She was very pretty, though. I dare say she was beautiful. You must have been tempted.”

“She affected me as much as any pretty woman would, but she is nothing to you,” said Conri honestly. “I hadn’t given her much thought since I saw that man put his hands on you and kiss your neck. I wanted to kill him instantly. It was hard to subdue my wolf.”

Eleri moved her arm and looked up at him. “My wolf talked to me louder tonight than she has in a long time. She feels far away from me much of the time, but she did not like the attention that woman was showing you.”

Conri grinned a bit. “And what about you?”

“I think you know the answer to that. My wolf is a part of me; therefore, I feel as she does. She only feels more strongly.”

He couldn’t help himself from reaching up and pushing a bit of her hair out of her face. She moved her arm completely and sat up slightly. “I don’t wish to kill anyone, but if that man did try to do something to you when you are like this, I think I might have seen my threats through. I can’t bear to think of another putting his hands on you. I don’t even want to imagine you being hurt.”

Before he could stop himself, he leaned down and kissed her. One of her arms went around him, pulling him down on top of her. Even though he knew it wasn’t how he wanted it to be and that he would have to stop soon, holding her and kissing her felt right. It was as if he had gone through his life with a part of him missing, and now he had found it in the woman he held.

He finally pulled back and looked down at her. Her eyes looked like they could close at any moment as she smiled up at him. He kissed her gently before rolling off of her and pulling her into his arms. She sighed and rested her head against his chest. They were both quiet in the dim room lit only by the fire a few dying candles.

He thought she had drifted off until he felt her shift slightly. She said very sleepily, “I wish I didn’t have to give you up, Conri. I think I could easily love you.”

He kissed her forehead. “You do not have to give me up, Eleri. We can take as much time as you need, but you cannot totally dismiss the idea of us being together.”

She shook her head. “I know I am not good for you.”

“Let me decide what is good for me,” said Conri. “You only have to decide for yourself. I know there is another who divides your attention.”

She yawned. “I do care about him. I have for a long time. I believe I love him.” She moved her whole body closer to Conri. She yawned again before speaking as one who was on the very verge of sleep, “But he does not make me feel like you do.”

Conri looked quickly down at her to see her eyes closed. He put his arm firmly around her as he closed his eyes, knowing there was no doubt left in him that he loved her, and somehow he would convince her that she should choose him.

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