"Get undressed." Bash exclaimed, standing near the stone fireplace, attempting to draw off his leather boots.
"What?" breathed Mary, turning to face him, her face becoming the color of roses. She smoothed out her dress, damp and cold from the rain, feeling self-conscious all of the sudden.
"You will want dry clothes, we have a long day tomorrow." he replied, nonchalantly, pulling off his other boot. Mary studied him, suspicious of his motives. However, she told herself, Bash was not that kind of man. He was honorable and brave and selfless. He was only trying to help her. She turned away from him, no longer able to hide her embarrassment. She chastised herself; it was only Bash. Then why was the thought of undressing near him sending silent shivers up her spine? She loved Francis; did she not?
"Alright than, turn around." Mary instructed, her voice soft. Bash shot her a dubious look, one hand against the mantle, the other running through his hair. Mary swallowed.
"For the entire night?" he sounded exasperated. She did not reply. He scoffed and turned around so his back was to her. She heard him fumbling around, cursing and swearing under his breath. They were both exhausted after a long days ride and if they were to make it to the English Channel in time, they would have to leave at first light. Mary reached out behind her, attempting to reach her laces.
"There is not a thing in your bag that is not silk. Let it dry." she heard his comments in the background and bit her lip. Her stupid corset, for the life of her she could not reach her laces. She muttered a thousand curses under her breath, most of them she had no clue to their meaning. She tried shrugging off the silk at her neckline, but to no avail. She managed to rid of one sleeve at least.
"Yes Mary?" his voice sounded uncharacteristically husky. She looked over her shoulder at him. He was staring at her intently and when he caught her eye, quickly darted his gaze.
"I need help with my laces." she murmured quietly. He nodded his head and slowly walked over towards her, his eyes never leaving hers. Only when he stood behind her did she look away. She could feel him, his presence, at her back. She could feel his warmth and smell the scents of clover and oak. Bash brushed her hair over her shoulder, his calloused hands brushing the soft skin at her neck. She closed her eyes and prayed she would not shiver at his touch. Mary felt his hands travel from her hair, down her back and slowly begin to undo her corset expertly. She wondered how many time he must have done this before.
Mary, unsure of what to do with her hands, clasped them together in front of her. She felt Bash tug at the last lace. His hand went up to bring her one sleeve back over her shoulder, his fingers gentle. He let her corset fall off, caught it, then throw it in amongst her other belongings. They stood like for several more seconds, Mary in front of Bash, and Bash strong and stoic at her back. She could hear his heavy breathing behind her; she was holding her breath.
He coughed, breaking the silence.
"I am going to check on the horses. I will be back." and like that he was gone. His soft warmth left as soon as he did. Only when the door closed was Mary able to breathe again. She turned and sat on the bed, placing her head in her hands.
What was she doing?
She was not supposed to feel this way about anyone, except Francis. Bash stirred feelings in her that she was unaware she had. He made her heart pound and her body warm. Francis was unrestrained in his passion towards her, whereas Bash could not be more gentle, more careful with his affections; he held all his passion in his eyes.
Mary ran a hand through her tangled and tousled hair. She could not quite her shaking hands. Her eyes darted to the bed she was sitting on. While it was not narrow, it certainly wasn't big. She had never shared a bed with any man, apart from Francis. But Francis was different, she was engaged to him; he was her betrothed. Bash was a man who had no claim on her, except for the beating of her heart. What was to be done if they were caught together? Mary would be ruined.
She crawled under the covers just as Bash returned. He shot one glance at her as he drew off his gloves and coat before quickly looking away. He stoked the fire once more before coming to bed. Her back was to him as he came around the other side. She heard him as he shrugged off his leather vest and tossed it aside. She was aware of the dip in the mattress as he climbed in under the sheets.
"Whatever happens, once I get you across the channel, I want you to know that I will not leave you until you feel it is safe," he paused. "I will make sure you reach your family."
Mary was silent. She turned her head to look at him and he was staring at her with the most sincere, most matter-of-fact expression.
"Thank you Bash. Truly." She replied and closed her eyes. For the first time since their journey began, did Mary truly feel safe.
. . .
"Mary! Mary, wake up. It's a dream Mary."
She felt cool hands touching her face, gently tugging hair out of her eyes. She was sweating terribly and her heart was racing. Mary was coherent one moment then slipping into unconsciousness the next. Francis's face was searing in the back of her eyes, his hands bloodied and eyes glazed.
"Francis!" she heard herself shout. "No do not leave me Francis."
Again, cool hands were at her face and neck.
"Mary, shhh. It is alright. Francis is alright," she felt herself being lifted up and cradled.
"Francis." she cried. Hands ran down her back, untangling her hair. She was being rocked back and forth.
All she saw was blood. Blood on the sheets, blood on clothes, blood on the floor. And the coughing, it rang in her ears over and over again. Mary screamed at herself to wake up and her eyes flew open. She was in somebody's arms. For a moment her mind was befuddled. Then she inhaled the crisp scent of clovers.
Bash was gently rocking her, whispering sweet nothings into her hair. She was curled in his lap, her face against his neck. She reached up and touched the wet fabric at his shoulder, damp from her tears.
"Bash?" she whispered.
"Mary," he murmured. "You are alright. It was only a nightmare." Mary once more broke down into tears. When she cried, she did not look like a dainty damsel. Her tears resulted in puffy eyes and a red nose. Her sobs were not controlled nor were they attractive.
"It was terrible," she choked. "There was blood everywhere. Francis was dying."
"It is all over now. You do not have to be scared, for Francis or for yourself. I will not let anything happen to either of you." he replied, his fingers caressing her cheek. She gazed up at him, raising her hand to his cheek. Bash bent forwards and kissed her forehead, his lips cool on her steaming skin.
"Hold me Bash, for the entire night; you hear?" Mary whispered into his linen shirt.
"Yes." His voice sounded hoarse. He lay down beside her and she clung to him as if he were the only one who was kept her from sinking into a never ending abyss. The thick sheets were shoved to the end of the bed and Bash lifted a thin one around them. He smoothed the hair off her shoulder to her back. She breathed deeply, attempting to calm herself and curled deeper into Bash's embrace.
"Bash?" she asked quietly.
"Hmm?" he mumbled.
"You are the most honorable man I know, I want you to know that." she whispered.
"Mary…" his voice trailed off. He traced small circles across her back, warming her as he went. And every time she shivered he would murmur something to her in Latin, soothing her. That night, Mary slept soundly, never once letting go of Bash. They spent the night clinging to one another like lovers.