Opening her eyes once more, Anna cannot help but let an excited titter escape her lips as she finds her head cradled comfortably in the crook of Taerin’s shoulder, the fingers of her free hand lightly dancing across the smooth onyx skin of his chest. The hand of Taerin’s trapped arm caresses the small of her back in much the same manner while his other arm rests casually over his head shielding his silver eyes from the radiant glow of Anna’s wings – the only source of light in the room.
Sitting up, hand still upon his chest, adjusting so that her body eclipses the wings from his sight, “I’m sorry,” she anxiously stammers with a laugh, “It was my . . . I did not know they . . . they got so bright . . . they should have faded . . . by now. . .” more embarrassed laughter as Anna realizes she’s babbling, having repeatedly interrupted Taerin’s attempts to speak.
Pressing on his chest with her right hand, Anna pushes Taerin back down into the downy mattress, belaying his attempt to sit up. Light-hearted laughter as she interrupts him again, “Wait here. Sorry! I . . . stay right there, I’ll, I’ll be right back.” A silent hop is followed by the patter of her naked feet on the cold marble tiles. Neglectful of her nudity, skin dimpling in response to the chill air. Collecting up a porcelain pitcher, Anna turns, leans back against the bureau, and holding the pitcher in both hands, raises it to her lips. Tiny rivulets of water run from her lips to pool under her chin and between her collarbones, as she quenches her thirst.
With laboured breath she lowers the pitcher to her lap, “Sorry, my heart just won’t stop racing. I was so anxious, so awkward. . .” more laughter, “I was, so excited, and a little bit afraid. I never imagined . . . well no, yes I did.” A cat-like smile alights upon her lips as her golden-green eyes lock with his silver. A light gust blows her auburn her over her face like a silky curtain as a hint of blush of begins to appear on her cheeks. “Oh, I’m doing it again.”
Seeking a brief respite, Anna’s eyes begin to explore their surroundings: The lamps dark in their brackets, glass shields cracked and silver reflectors blackened. The potted plants burst from their confines, roots and vines now intertwined with the book shelves and finely crafted cabinetry. Books in disarray, some tumbled to the floor as if in a earthquake. Taerin on the mound of mattresses pulled off of the too-narrow cots. Absently brushing red locks from her eye, lower lip pinched between her teeth, an impish grin takes shape and she lets out a mischievous giggle, “I always believed it would be in this library. . .”
Her face flushes red and her eyes widen with surprise when she realizes everything she’s said aloud, “Oh…”
As Anna excitedly spoke, Taerin waited patiently taking in every word. He smiled as he watched her, a kind soft smile. But as he listened his mind raced and he struggled to keep away the darker thoughts, they… she would not ruin this moment.
At Anna’s blush and realization Taerin chuckled quietly, standing up and walked to her. Gently he took the pitcher from her and placed it back on the bureau, before lacing his fingers with hers and looking into her golden-green eyes. He longed to stare into them forever.
“You are amazing.” His smile faltered for a moment, something deep in his mind fighting against his own happiness, he forces it away. “I’ve never felt like this before. I don’t even know how to describe it. I just know I never want to let you go. You were so… different.” He blushed suddenly, eyes wide, as he realized what he had said. “I didn’t mean… I…” He stammered, the frown returned. “You deserve someone better.” Habitually, his eyes fell to the floor.
No, he thought looking back up to her. I want this, I want her.
His grip tightened. “I’ve never been more happy than I am right now. I could stay in this room with you forever. Your happiness, means everything to me.”
Unable to pull her eyes away from his, another fit of joyous laughter escapes her lips. “You are right you know, you are right and you are wrong.” she says as she wraps her arms around his neck. “I am amazing. I . . . and I have always been different, even before I became whatever I am, a ‘child of three halves’ they called me.” A flash of mixed emotions momentarily creases her brow, “But I do deserve this, I deserve you. I think I have earned it. As have you my, mylove. You are a hero Taerin.”
“I haven’t done anything to deserve being called a hero, other than saving you. And I would do it again, even if I die every time I would do it again.”
“Oh, is that all,” she says with mock astonishment, “I suspect this word does not mean what you think it means.” an impish smirk alighting her face.
He smiles back. “Perhaps… I’ve never deserved anything before, or at least that’s what I was always told. If someone told me even a year ago that I would have met someone like you and feel like this, I would not have believed them.”
A concerned look crosses his face. “What happens now?”
“Well if I recall, I told you to stay over there.” She says, glancing back towards the mattresses on the floor. With a sinuous shift of her hips she presses her body against Taerin’s, starting him on his way back to their nest on the floor. “It’s cold over here and I’m getting goose bumps.” Quickly gathering up the pitcher once more and the matching basin, a single elegant shimmer of her wings carries her along swiftly in Taerin’s wake. “What we do now, is bathe.”
Taking a seat on the mattresses once more, she fills the basin with water, which begins to steam with a wave of a hand. With a flick of her other hand a white, gauzy cloth appears with a snap before she sinks it into the steaming water. Each action is performed with the smoothness of a familiar ritual. “Please sit.” A warm, beckoning smile on her face as she glancing back up to him.
“Sorry, I keep bossing you around.” She look down and away as she applies the steaming cloth to his skin. “As for the you of a year ago, that was your past, before you died. When you gave your life saving mine, those chains were broken. When you were reborn those scars, and those marks, they were washed away.” Her eyes travel to the right side of his neck as cloth passes over the spot where a brand once lay. “It is just the two of us in this room, she will not join us unless we bring her in with us.”
Closing his eyes Taerin took in a deep breath. The cloth was warm on his skin and he felt himself relax again as Anna’s damp hands passed over his body. He let out a low content hum, his skin tingling delightfully at her touch. As she finishes he turns to face her. Taking the cloth he begins to return the favour, gently running the wet fabric over the curves of her body. His heart begins to pound against his chest again as he takes in her beauty. Looking up his eyes catch hers and overwhelmed with passion he leans forward and kisses her again. Running his fingers through her auburn hair he delights in every sensation her lips give him.
Despite the joy the kiss brought him he found himself suddenly pulling away, trembling slightly as the reality of the world beyond the door began to loom closer. “In this room it’s just the two of us, but out there…”
Still ecstatic with the passion of that last kiss that so very nearly carried her away once more, Anna releases a sigh, “Out there it can still be just the two of us. If it is to be Ragnarok, I would proudly charge into the fray, as long as I have you at my side. If it is anything less, then I think I could live entire lifetimes by your side.”
“I would like that.” He replied quietly, interlacing his fingers with hers. “What will we tell the others?”
Mischief alights, “We could say we’re to be married, I think the look on her. . . What? Too much?”
“Maybe a little…” He smiles nervously. “I know you and… her… don’t get along, and this will… well… I’m afraid what will happen when she finds out.”
“I am not ashamed of what we have done, and I don’t wish to hide it either, She… she will have to accept it on her own. Though I agree, we need not be crude or cruel. I will not antagonize her about it, but neither will I play the part of a lamb being led to slaughter.”
Taerin looked down, he wished he had her confidence, he could not help but feel her metaphor too closely resembled him. “For more than a hundred years I’ve been hers to command, and in the last fifty-ish we had been… intimate… Don’t get me wrong, I… I love you… I didn’t know what love was before, and it certainly was not that… but you should know… you don’t spend that much time with someone and not develop feelings…” He nervously sighs, afraid his words would be misinterpreted. “I want to spend the rest of my life, no matter how short, with you… but I also don’t want anything bad to happen to her…” He sighs again. “I don’t know how I feel, ever since I was captured I have been trained to follow her… being ‘free’ has been harder than I had thought it would be.”
Her body quivers and shifts in a torrent of undecipherable emotions as Taerin speaks, her face, once again partly obscured behind a veil of auburn hair, betraying a flood of mixed emotion; contentment, shock, fear, compassion, anger, pity, love, separation ,hope, anxiety, jealousy, consideration, sadness, and resolve all touch upon her features.
“Freedom, being free can be the hardest thing in all the world. Here in this temple and many like it throughout the land, we talk of the rewards of freedom, the victory, the glory, the accomplishments we earn with our own wills,” her chin rises in exultation, “our intellect,” her hands rise about her head as if forming a crown, “and the strength of our bodies.” she brings two fists down onto her chest sending a slight reverberation through her naked form. “It is rare for us to talk of the cost. All our mistakes, faults, and failures, and every free person has them. These shortcomings are ours to own as well.” Anna seems to deflate now, “I will help how I can, I love you and I have faith in you, but ultimately whether you are fated to live free or not, is up to you.” Her eyes once again lock with Taerin’s, a sincere smile of love takes shape even while tears begin running in earnest down her cheeks.
A pained, yet loving, expression crosses Taerins face upon seeing that he hurt her. “I’m sorry.” He whispers as he tenderly wipes away her tears. “I’m sorry.” He repeats holding her head in his hands. “I’ve spent most of my life hiding my true emotions, but I want to be honest with you, I don’t want to hide anything from you. I love you.”
“No, it’s, it is better this way,” the smile and the tears both remaining, “it’s just . . . fifty years.” An embarrassed laugh and a sob, “I understand, I know, I think I always known. . . It’s just . . . I can’t help but feel. . . it’s silly. I feel so foolish. I can’t help but feel. . . ” Her body racks with her sobs.
“No, no… please don’t cry.” He holds her tight in his arms, caressing the back of her head. “In those fifty years it was never like that though… and I’ve never felt like this… This is special, you are special.”
With anxious laughter, “Th-thank you. It’s not that . . . it’s just . . . It’s, I’m being foolish, a . . . jealous, foolish child. But thank you, it good to hear, I like hearing it.
“I don’t hate her you know,” Anna says with chagrin, “I certainly don’t hold with her values, but I respect her confidence and her fearlessness, whether it’s bravery or foolishness. If circumstances were different – much different – I think we could have been fellow partners in mischief.” another tearful laugh, “It’s just, when I see how she treats others . . . how she treats you . . . it angers me.” The tears fade as her countenance grows stormy.
He chuckled, "She was actually one of the kinder matrons in Undraeth. Matriarch Nalure was the worst of them, her… her slaves, never lived very long, and if they did it was an existence of misery. But you’re right, even my best day was… unfair… when compared to the way people on the surface treat each other. "
Wiping the remaining tears from her eyes she gives one last sniffle, and a tender laugh, “And here I thought we agreed not to bring Her in here with us, and look at us, both letting her ruin this time. Our time.” Composing herself Anna pulls Taerin close, once again resting her head in the crook of his shoulder.
“Were you this Matriarch Nalure’s slave as well. Or were you always Sh . . part of House Haitir?”
He pulls her tight against his naked chest happy to hear her laugh again. “I only ever belonged to House Haitir, but I saw how other slaves were treated… and I spoke to some of Matriarch Nalure’s slaves once… I never saw them again.” Lovingly he rested his head atop hers. “What was your life like? Before the Mindflayers.”
“It was, well it feels like another lifetime despite being only a couple years ago.” She laughs, “but that is something we have in common, we’ve both passed through a crucible and been reborn, something new, something different, no? My life before was both provincial and erudite. My free time was spent on the coast at the cottage or on the water with my mother and father. I miss my mother. Those times were free and innocent” Taerin feels her smile against his skin. “My studies were here at the temple. I think I shocked my teachers with my voracious drive to learn. Few have explored the great mysteries as deeply as I, and none of those were so young.”
Glancing slyly up at him, “Why do you ask? You’re not thinking of joining the clergy are you? It may be difficult after defiling one of their most promising Priestesses in the most holy library and temple on the surface. . .“
He smiles playfully back. "I suppose I should be punished for my crime, I am at your mercy.
“But I was just curious what a normal life looked like. Maybe you can show me when all this is over… if we make it that is…”
Anna looks fondly back, “For me it was fishing out on the ocean with my father on chill and misty mornings, or listening to my mother share stories of the gods by a crackling hearth late into the evenings. My time in the temple may have shaped the path I was to walk, but it were these quiet moments with my family that I think of when I consider a normal life.”
Smile widening, “In the temple we talked about right action and doing good, but I think it was my parents who defined it for me.” Playfully tapping a beat on Taerin chest she continues, “It may be odd for you to think, but I never saw my father act in violence or anger, growing up, even when he was justified. I knew he and mother had been adventurers in their youth, but I would never have believed you if you said he kept an old battleaxe rusting in the tool shed.” Chuckling as if to a private joke, “Mother on the other hand was no stranger to a little righteous vengeance . . . when she didn’t think Father would see her . . . from time to time. I think she was more restless in our quiet little life than he was – now that I think on it.
“What of your family, your parents and their normal life?” She asks quietly, unsure if she tred forbidden ground.
Taerin thought for a long moment, his fingers drawing tender little figure eights in Anna’s skin. Finally he answers, speaking softly. “I don’t remember much of my family, I was very young when the Haitir’s destroyed everything, only in my 30’s or 40’s… I was the second youngest child and the only male, I had four sisters, but we didn’t spend a lot of time together. I remember I had to train to fight everyday, so that I could one day lead House Zehir’s armies. I spent a lot of time practising with my father, I remember thinking I would never be as fast as him. I didn’t see much of my mother, but I remember that she was frightening when she was mad.” He smiles. “I remember being free to roam around our estate… I liked sneaking around and watching people, they do funny things when they think nobody’s watching. My eldest sister, Vierva, would sing… she had a beautiful voice.” His eyebrows then narrowed sadly. “I think my mother and sisters knew the attack was coming, everything was silent and tense in the weeks before. I never found out why but I remember the night that the soldiers made it past the gates… All our soldiers, servants, and slaves were either killed or taken as slaves. My family was executed, I had to watch them die… I would have died too but… She was only a few decades older than me, but she saved me… She demanded that I be spared and kept as her personal slave… I never was able to get a truthful answer from her as to why.”
“It’s Drow custom that when a house has been destroyed they are forgotten, a failure to be struck from history. And being a slave a had no rights, so I was never able to learn more about who my family was.”
Holding him tight, “Well, I’m sorry for your loss. On the surface, it is believed that to die bravely in battle means to be welcomed into the great halls of Valhalla or Sessrúmnir, to feast with the Gods, perhaps this is the same for the drow -sounds like something Lolth may have neglected to mention to her followers. Perhaps one day you may hear your sister sing again . . . I just hope that such a day will not be anytime soon.
“Sorry, I should not say such things; this talk of a normal life is making me maudlin. These are the little fictions we tell ourselves on the surface to make our selves and others feel better.” Taerin can feel her shrug against his body. “If we have time, I’d like you to join me at my home. . . where Father and I lived, he said he was going to put up a headstone for Mother. He is no stoneworker, and his spelling . . . well, it would mean something if you came. Father would be pleased too. . .?”
“I would like that.” He squeezes her reassuringly, and then stiffens as a new worry enters his mind. “Do I need to worry about Zul’Grum’s reaction too? He is very protective of you…”
Anna lets out a burst of chittery laughter as her body shudders with mirth atop of Taerin, her arched feet jerking through the air above the back of her thighs, “Sorry, I caught a glimpse of your face,” she giggles again, “I have a hard time believing my father could inspire such . . . apprehension in anyone, even now that I’ve finally seen him . . . lose his temper. You needn’t worry, he’s mostly harmless.” Folding her arms atop Taerin’s chest she peeks over them, her eyes glowing with a kind-hearted mischief.
He laughs in spite of himself. “Only mostly harmless. I would never want to be on the receiving end of one of his rampages. When he was searching for you he would have been a match for entire armies. He has been an amazing ally and a dear friend.” He smiles.
“He feels the same way about you. He confessed that he would have been lost without the four of you, Brie, Peizo, Barakus, and yourself. After I went missing and Mother . . You helped to bring him back to himself, and he treasures you all for coming to his aid when he needed it. He felt great shame when his quest to save me brought you and Peizo low, and great relief when we managed to retrieve the two of you.” Her eyes slide a little farther behind her arms.
“I mentioned something of how I felt about you to him. . .”
He chuckles, and raises an eyebrow inquisitively. “Have you? What exactly did you tell him?”
Rolling over onto her back Anna slides in the space between Taerin’s left arm and torso, “Oh, you know. How we got to know each other in those months I carried your soul in that ring of yours, and how we’ve become friends in the time since your resurrection. How seeing you makes me smile and makes me feel warm inside. How the idea of sharing these feelings with you made my stomach flutter. . .” she grumbles a little, and in a low voice, “he laughed at me when I mentioned that part, said something about listening to my own advice.”
Smiling wide enough to be seen past the fringe of auburn hair, “He said you are a promising young fellow, that you are a good friend and if you make me happy he is happy for me.” Knitting her brow slightly, he did express some concern for you if I recall.”
He laughs, “I have already died for you, I’m sure I can handle whatever else fate can send my way.” His brow knits for a moment, so quickly Anna barely catches it before the smile returns.
Wrapping her arms around him once more, “What ever fate has in store for us, we can handle it. Together.”
“Together.” He reiterates holding her naked body tightly against his chest. “I never want to leave this room.” He confessed kissing the top of her head.
Unable to grant Taerin his desire, Anna wonders if she cannot give them each a little more time together before they must return to the others. Reaching out her hand she places it quietly on the marble floor. Good, she thinks, no one has used it since the last new moon, if not since the last time Anna had used it herself. WIth a thought she enacts the charm unique to this study room, then curls all the tighter to Taerin’s body, thanking Frigga, not for the first time, for whomever thought to enchant the room with a charm that would allow the occupants to live a full day in the space of an hour.