The touch of the cloth on his brow was gentle. It swept lightly over his skin, bringing with it the clean fragrance of various healing herbs. Goldenfoot. Larsen. Angel’s Breath. He knew them all, had used them all. Fever, infection, poison….
He had been in the forest, on a proud gray stallion that cut through the trees like a zephyr. He remembered one arrow, then another. And then vaguely a third. The chill of poison creeping through his body, numbing the fire of injury and bringing a slow darkness that had finally overtaken him.
And then voices. Low whispers in the shadows of his mind, familiar and yet so strange that he could not see their faces in his thoughts. One had climbed upon the horse with him, strong arms holding him steady as the beast again began to fly, carrying him from the one darkness into another, until finally he had once again dropped into unconsciousness.
Kivan tried to open his eyes, but could not. They felt as heavy as the rest of his body, which was lying motionless on cool linen sheets. He felt their smooth touch against the bare skin of his back, his chest, his shoulders, the tips of his fingers. His legs….
He would have smiled, had he the power. At least they had left him his undergarments.
He felt the sheets being pulled from his chest, and the cool breeze of morning… evening? dancing over his skin. The cloth brushed his temple, his cheek, then over his neck. It sent a gentle shiver of pleasure through his thoughts, though his body refused yet to move.
A door. Opening, and then closing with a scratch and a click. Then whispers. Familiar voices.
"You should get some sleep."
There was a pause in the motion of the cloth over his skin, and then silence. After what seemed an eternity, the cloth lifted from his body, and he could fear the faint sound of water in a basin. The gentle music of water dropping into a pool. Then the scented and newly-moistened cloth was laid again on his chest, and a gentle pressure again stroked the healing herbs over his skin, over his uninjured shoulder and moving up his neck again to his face.
"Ari, please. You haven’t slept since Khalid brought him back. Please, you’re going to fall over…."
Time stopped. Breathing. Blood. Everything.
"I’m fine, Im."
Kivan’s stomach tightened, loosed, tightened again as realization dawned.
"No, you’re not. Don’t try to lie to me. You were always lousy at it, and…."
"I’m not leaving him, Imoen. I can’t. Not now. Not yet."
The whispers fell into silence. Kivan could feel his heart racing in his chest, singing its impatient rhythm under the feathery touch of her hand. Arien’s hand. He tried again to force his eyes open, to open his lips and cry out her name. Still, he remained motionless and silent, cursing his useless limbs and the ever-present fatigue that dulled his thoughts.
"All right, Arien. Fine. Can I at least bring you something to eat?"
There was a long pause. "Maybe something to eat."
"Okay. Arien, I…." Another sigh. "Okay."
There was a pause, then the sound of light footsteps crossing the floor and the gentle click of the door latch. After a long moment, Arien sighed softly and again began to move the damp cloth over his skin. She touched it to his forehead, then took it away. Kivan heard her wring the cloth once more in the herb-infused water. He waited hungrily for the cloth to be laid once more on his brow, but the touch did not come.
After what seemed an eternity, Kivan felt the gentle pressure of her lips on his, the soft movement of her breath on his skin. He felt his heart tremble at her touch, the sharp sting of tears behind his closed eyelids. He ached to pull her into his arms, but still they lay useless on the bed. He cursed them again, then sighed deeply within his mind.
Arien…. Amin hiraetha…. (5)
He could hear the tears in her whisper.
"I’m sorry, Kivan. I’m so sorry…."
N’uma, a’maelamin. (6)
The somnolent darkness began to tug at the corners of his mind, filling his thoughts with mist that muffled Arien’s whispered sobs and the touch of her forehead on his. He pushed against it, fought it, but he could feel his weakened body already beginning to surrender to its embrace.
There was a gentle knock at the door. Arien took a deep, trembling breath and lifted her head from where it lay against his, brushing with the tips of her fingers the tears that had fallen from her eyes onto his skin. The beautiful, soft green eyes that he could not see. That he wished to see more than anything….
The door opened with a soft scraping movement.
Imoen had returned.
Arien cleared her throat softly and pulled away her hand. Then Kivan felt the sheets being pulled once more over his chest, sticking slightly on the blood-stiffened bandages he could now vaguely feel wrapped around his bare torso. Arien’s fingers carefully separated the sheets from the bandages as Imoen walked slowly toward the bed.
"I… I brought you some food. There wasn’t much left after Minsc was through with it. Just some cold beef and a couple of vegetables. I did manage to find some bread, though, and…." Imoen’s voice trailed off helplessly. Arien said nothing.
There was a soft thunk as Imoen set down the plate of food, then another heavy pause and the sound of hesitant footsteps as the little thief moved toward the door. It opened and closed with the faintest whisper of sound.
Arien had finished separating the bandages from the sheets and had pulled the coverings to his shoulders. Then a thick, warm blanket. She let her hands linger for a moment over his chest. Then he felt her fingertips tenderly brushing a damp lock of hair from his forehead.
"Lle tena amin, mellonamin?" (7)
Kivan wanted to cry out, to let her know that he had heard, but no sound would leave his throat and his hands still lay useless at his sides.
"Quel kaima, Kivan. Ilyamenie mellonamin… manka lle merna…. Manka…." (8 )
Her voice trembled and faltered, and she remained silent. Kivan’s heart burned and his chest ached, far from the wounds of the arrows and sharper that their hurt. He tried again to move his heavy lips, but could force no words through them.
His sensitive ears strained in the darkness to hear her voice again, but she spoke no more. After a long moment, he felt the burning touch of her lips on his brow, and he slipped helplessly at last into sleep’s embrace.
(4) And darkness
(5) I'm sorry
(6) No, beloved
(7) Do you hear me, my friend?
(8 ) Sleep well, Kivan. Always my friend... if you wish... if....
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