Chapter 16: Trial by Firelight and Fever
[Becoming One with the People/Legend of the Seeker Soundtrack/Krull-Love Theme/Cut-Plumb]
At least once a week for the next three months, Sabine brought Aleeria with her to observe Sabas and Lucian continue their training. I helped the time apart to pass more quickly for both Sabas and Aleeria. Aleeria watched Sabas progress from the quarterstaff to axes and daggers, then crossbows, spears, and finally swords. Aleeria found flail practice to be the worst to watch. She was certain either of them would bash the other's head in at any moment, but it mainly became a show of evasion and skill, as well as keeping from inflicting damage on themselves, especially when they missed.
While the next three months of training were eased by getting to see each other far more than they had during the first two months, Aleeria and Sabas had not been able to actually speak except in brief sentences delivered through Lucian. While they both appreciated Lucian's willingness to help, they could say very little to each other. Any message they communicated had to be short enough that Lucian could remember it to repeat it as neither Lycan knew how to read or write. Sabine had taught both to Aleeria, but although Aleeria vowed to make sure she taught Lucian and Sabas when she had the chance, those plans didn't help them now, when it would have been particularly useful. Furthermore, Sabas and Aleeria couldn't really say anything too personal to each other through Lucian as neither wished to share such things with Lucian or anyone else even for the purposes of sharing such thoughts with each other.
Lucian and Sonja continued to meet regularly in the cave during the early daylight hours while the rest of the Vampires slept. Sabas continued to keep watch for them, even though their closeness continued to be a reminder of everything he feared and everything he longed for. Each time Sonja left the cave and Lucian's eye took on that look of a deeply wounded animal, Sabas feared the possibility not only that Aleeria might choose another, but the possibility that the Vampires would change their minds and risk turning her into one of them after all. If that happened and she survived the transformation, he and Aleeria would end up a lower profile version of Sonja and Lucian.
When Kahn felt Sabas and Lucian had reached a level of proficiency, he invited Aleeria and Sabine to watch them fight two Death Dealers to prove their skills. If they could hold their own or win against two of the younger Death Dealers, they were ready. Eventually, they would also be tested in the field in a hunt for Werewolves. Aleeria for one wasn't looking forward to it. As each Full Moon for the last five months passed, Aleeria listened keenly to the howls of the Lycans imagining she could hear Sabas howling for her. Aleeria's human hearing couldn't of course pick out the distinct pitch of Saba's howling from among the thousands of howls reverberating throughout the castle and from the hills all around. Werewolf and Lycan alike reveled in their wild form on the night of and those just before and after the Full Moon, when the rise of the glowing orb called most deeply to their wolf nature, forcing the change on the Lycans and making the Werewolves wilder. It was as elemental as the sun calling to the rooster and shunning the Vampire. However, though Aleeria might not be able to know Sabas howled at the Moon for her, he did howl for her and to her, telling all who could hear him how his wolf soul craved her already, perhaps always had.
The night Aleeria and Sabine went to observe Sabas and Lucian in their final test before going out into the field, a thick, wet mist blanketed everything, infusing all it touched with cold and damp. If it had been any colder, ice would have slicked the wet stones of the castle. Aleeria wore her blue woolen dress again and bundled herself up again. Her limbs felt wooden and her skin hummed with a sick sort of anxiety. She was filled not just with the anticipation of Sabas's first leg of training being at an end and seeing him again, but she was sick at the thought of him fighting Death Dealers. Aleeria had been accompanying Erika to watch the Death Dealers spar since she learned that Sabas would fight one of them. She flicked through their faces in her mind trying to guess who he would have to fight. Even the newer ones were lethal in their proficiency with weapons and this would be a fight with swords of all things. Deep down, Aleeria knew it had to be this way, as a hand-to-hand fight would not prove much regarding their progress. On the other hand, she knew all too well how easily and accident could happen and no immortal could survive beheading.
When Aleeria stepped outside the castle passageways, the icy cold struck her as soundly as a slap to the face. The chilling wetness slid under her clothes as efficiently as if she had walked into water. The shock of it robbed her of breath and thought so completely that she didn't even notice Sabas until she was seated. He stood with Lucian on one side of the training ground, sparring. The moment Aleeria sat down though her eyes gravitated towards him.
What she had missed as the cold stole her attention, was the way Sabas had scented her as soon as she stepped outside and immediately blocked Lucian's sword swipe before holding up his hand to signal a break. Once Lucian withdrew himself back into his own space, Sabas focused his attention fully on Aleeria. He noted her attention was not on him as he'd expected. Instead, Sabas could see the way her brow furrowed and her features shrank back in a look that almost spoke of pain. Protective fury rose in him until he noticed the way she rubbed her arms once she was seated and the way her entire expression relaxed and glowed when she saw him watching her. She was cold, not in pain, he realized, relieved. More than that, she was clearly happy to see him though he also noticed the lines of worry and strain around her eyes. He flashed her a small, confident smile that she returned and he noted seemed to relax her a little more. Sabas wished he could tell Aleeria not to worry, that he'd learned enough to handle this test of skill, but he couldn't. So he gave her a final nod and returned his attention to warming up with Lucian.
While the sight of Sabas's smile had warmed her up considerably, Aleeria still found her skin was shivering even if it no longer felt cold to her. So, she shifted her seat closer to the nearest torch. Unfortunately, as soon as she sat down, she noticed that while she felt warmer in closer proximity into the open flame, the fire also interfered with her ability to adjust her vision to watch Sabas in the darkened training yard. So, torn between reluctance at leaving the warmth and frustration at not being able to watch her Lycan, Aleeria moved her seat back to its original location. She kept her eyes on Sabas and the accompanying warmth of the action helped her forget the returning chill.
Sabine watched Aleeria's deliberation and without saying anything, took the fur draped across her lap, which was for the luxury, not because she needed protection from the cold, and draped it over Aleeria's shoulders. Aleeria smiled at her and whispered thanks to which Sabine merely nodded. She considered mildly that it might be too cold outside for Aleeria, but she hadn't the heart to send her back inside the castle. Sabine knew how much Aleeria had invested in this fight, and how torturous it would be for her to have to wait out the result of the fight elsewhere, unable to see how Sabas fared. Sabine was unwilling to do that unless it was absolutely necessary. So she would just keep an eye on her young handmaiden and hope Aleeria could hold out in the chill and damp until the end of the fight. Sabine noted with some relief that the Death Dealers had arrived to the yard as well, so the fight could begin shortly. After all, the sooner the match began, the sooner Aleeria could return to the warmth of the castle proper.
Aleeria stiffened as she saw the Death Dealers who entered the field: Soren and Kraven. She would not have termed them as young, but then again, perhaps compared to the other Death Dealers they were newer recruits. They were also among the most cruel and sadistic of the lot and she instinctively trusted neither of them. Aleeria also knew they were friends with each other. She'd seen them spar, and they fought well together as a unit. Her eyes flew to Sabas, her heart rising in her throat to choke her with helpless fear. Aleeria was grateful, though, that while Kraven and Soren were a vile lot, they didn't hate Lycans as much as a lot of the other Vampires, which upon reflection, was probably why they were selected to test Lucian and Sabas. Kraven and Soren generally had no feelings whatsoever regarding Lycans. They simply saw them as a means to an end, as they were far more concerned with power than racial hatred.
Khan let the Death Dealers warm up a little before he called for their attention from the center of the ring. "Tonight is a final training exercise. Kraven and Soren, you will spar with Sabas and Lucian in the fighting ring. There is to be no serious damage done on either side. Pinning your opponent is the key to a win. You will fight all together as a group allowing you to work as teams if you choose to. Sabas and Lucian, if you succeed in passing this test, you will be asked to face a Death Dealer in single combat in the future as part of your training. In short, you will selectively be training just like one of them if you pass tonight. Good Luck."
Khan bowed to the warriors and left the ring. Sabas took a last long look at Aleeria, noticing the confident smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. He knew other men might have been upset by the apparent lack of confidence, but Sabas told himself that it wasn't Aleeria's lack of faith in him; her fear for him was simply too overwhelming to be so easily assuaged. He sent her another small smile that she returned and then turned his full attention to the ring. Sabas and Lucian entered the circle from one side and Kraven and Soren from the other side.
"You will not begin until I give the word," Khan ordered. "You will first bow to the Lady Sabine and then to each other." All four to the males did as Khan asked and then took their stances. "Begin." Khan's voice was soft, but it acted on the four of them like a whip crack.
Swords flashed so fast, Aleeria had difficulty tracking the fight. At first it was only the clash of steel against steel, but then Soren drew blood from Lucian's arm in a sweeping blow that Lucian managed to block mainly with his blade, but the tip of Soren's sword slit a gash along his bicep. As the scent of blood filled the air, the fight took on a deadlier feel. All four of them, spurred on by bloodlust, began to attack more fiercely. Kraven and Sabas struck out at each other. Sabas succeeded in slicing open Kraven's sleeve and Kraven returned the favor to Sabas's bare arm and his thigh.
Aleeria gasped and gripped the edge of the stone balcony where they observed. Her Lycan was bleeding. She had a sudden and irrational desire to sever Kraven's head from his body. Never before had she so thoroughly condemned Erika's taste in males. Aleeria was relieved to see that Kraven was bleeding too, but the slash along Sabas's leg, slit his leather pants open and exposed a long line of thigh, slick with his blood. Her fingers curled into claws that would have been useless against any of the immortals, but still the fierce desire to attack raged through her, warring with the sick swirl of fear. Aleeria was so consumed with the fight that she scarcely noticed that she was shivering from the chill and damp.
Aleeria was, in fact, shaking so hard with a potent cocktail of fear, rage, and cold that Sabine was planning to send her inside if the fight didn't end soon. For better or worse, it did end soon. In a blur of motion, two figures stood with their opponents pinned to the ground: Lucian, with a blade to Soren's throat and Kraven, disarmed, with a boot over Sabas's throat. Anger sparked in all four sets of eyes. Khan called a halt as soon as the two bodies were pinned to the floor of the stone circle.
Sabine stood up, clapping. Her eyes swept in swift, hawk-like assessment, over the four warriors. "It seems to me that according to your rules Khan, there is only one winner today."
Lucian and Kraven both stepped back letting Sabas and Soren jump up and move away from each other. The four glared at each other warily.
"Indeed, My Lady," Khan agreed. "Soren and Sabas have both been pinned and Kraven has been disarmed. All three of you have therefore lost. Lucian, therefore, is the winner." Khan clapped Lucian on the shoulder in congratulations and approval.
Kraven glared daggers at Lucian, but Lucian just bowed respectfully to Sabine. The rest of the fighters followed suit.
Sabine resumed addressing the fighters. "Thank you Death Dealers. You did well. I appreciate your help with this pet project of mine. You may go back to your patrols for this evening." Kraven and Soren bowed once more and left the training ground. Once they were gone, Sabine continued. "Khan, your students have succeeded in passing their first test. It is good timing, good timing indeed. I have a task for both of them to commence in two days time. You will be unable to train either of them further during that time. I will let you know when they may return to you for further instruction."
Once the Death Dealers left, Sabas's body relaxed and he let himself look back to Aleeria. He tried to tell her with his eyes that he was fine, to reassure the worry he still saw in her features. Aleeria's eyes had never left Sabas. Her body sang with relief that the fight was over. As soon as Sabine suggested that she had a special project that would involve Sabas, electricity sailed between them, a hot, demanding awareness of need and possibility. Aleeria delightedly hoped that Sabine's task involved some sort of work inside the House of Markus, something she'd need to bathe Sabas for. Sabas seemed to be thinking along the same lines because a smile slid across his lips, slow and entangling, with a dangerous glitter in his eyes that suddenly had Aleeria feeling flushed. She hoped, Sabine hadn't caught it.
Khan nodded in response to Sabine's announcement, "As you wish my Lady."
Sabine nodded back at Khan by way of concluding their conversation and then began to leave the balcony for the castle proper. She noticed Aleeria taking a long backwards look at Sabas before leaving the terrace and resisted the urge to shepherd her inside. It was difficult because Sabine could see that Aleeria was nearly soaked to the skin and had still stopped shivering. It was not a good sign. Sabine made a mental note to get Aleeria into a warm fur and drinking some hot tea as soon as they returned. On the other hand, a few more moments wouldn't make much difference and rushing Aleeria away from watching Sabas seemed cruel.
Once back within her central rooms, Sabine sat down in a large chair by the fire and gestured for Aleeria to do the same. She sent another servant for tea and tucked a fur that had been warming by the fire around Aleeria. "You need to change your clothes shortly Aleeria." Sabine commanded. "But first, let me outline your duties now that Sabas has completed the first phase of his training. I would like you to clean Sabas up again. He and Lucian will be serving as guards in our House for the next few weeks while the Death Dealers are out on several longer-range patrols. The result being that there are less men to guard within as they are serving along the castle walls. Sabas and Lucian will fill that gap. Although, at first it will be mainly just Sabas because Lucian is required, as castle blacksmith, to make sure the Death Dealers are well-armed first."
Aleeria nodded, not daring to speak as she was certain any words she attempted would come out as an unintelligible series of squeaks. She would bathe Sabas and then he would be here, in the House for weeks.
"If Sabas performs his duties well," Sabine continued, "he will guard you with Lucian during the Dark Moon phase in three weeks time and then take over that duty in the months afterwards."
In a feat Aleeria could only attribute to long years of practice, she buried her reactions and feelings down, letting only a small amount that she felt was appropriate show. "As you wish Mistress. I would be most happy to prepare Sabas for re-entry into our home."
"I will not expect you to need to bathe him regularly. In fact, I expect him to pay attention to what you do and then next time he will bath himself, you will only make sure he has done so properly. From then on, I will expect him to keep himself clean to that standard. If he is as intelligent as he seems, this should be no great obstacle. For now, though, you should focus your energies on warming up. If you would like to observe Sabas and Lucian cleaning themselves from the tunnels I mentioned, you may do so to gage how much you will need to instruct him. Lucian already has mastered the art of keeping himself clean when it's appropriate, so I'm not concerned about him. Lucian has spent more of his life among the Vampires though, rather than toiling in the yard."
Aleeria again nodded, barley restraining her enthusiasm. "That sounds like a wise plan Mistress. I will head down to the tunnels at dawn to gage how difficult my task will be tomorrow evening."
Sabine smiled. "Excellent, the matter is settled then."
Aleeria returned to her room, changed her clothes, and huddled under her furs until she was warm again. It seemed to take hours. All through this phase of warming up, the events of the first part of the evening seemed to swim through her thoughts in a hazy and unfocused sort of way. Aleeria saw glimpses of the fight, of Sabas watching her, of her conversation with Sabine regarding Sabas's care. The hypothermia spun her thoughts around in her head like candy, adding images of every interaction she and Sabas had ever had or that she had imagined until she had no sense of what was real and what wasn't, only a growing, desperate, all-consuming need to see him.
Aleeria somehow managed to walk down to the kitchens and eat some dinner. No one seemed to notice her, which helped because she was not in any condition to communicate with others. Her mind was in a strange, childlike state of disorientation. When the night began to give way to dawn, Aleeria gathered her cape and the furs and following Sabine's instructions, she went to the tunnel, her need to see Sabas enhanced by time, distance, and the extreme cold that still hadn't fully left her, to near mythic proportions. Excitement built in her blood until it was all-consuming and her entire focus funneled down to seeing her Lycan again.
Mist filled the tunnel as she drew near to the opening on the other side. Aleeria edged close to it carefully and then laid out the furs and settled herself belly down to observe. Sabas and Lucian were in high spirits as they entered the cave with the waterfall. That much Aleeria could tell from her perch, which lay perpendicular to the waterfall. She saw both Lucian and Sabas strip off their tunics and lay them aside. The dirt and blood on their chests was more evident with their tunics off as it lay all over their skin except for the sharp outlines of the clean skin where their clothes had protected them. Aleeria noted that Lucian had a well-sculpted form. He was after all, the alpha of the pack and she's expected little else, still he didn't make her skin feel like it was glowing with awareness. Sabas on the other hand, seeing him again, even half-revealed to her eager, hungry eyes was enough to make a flush sweep through her. She saw the streaks of blood where there were cuts healing and she couldn't wait to fuss over him the following night as she told him how well he'd done. Aleeria could see their mouths moving, but between the roar of the waterfall and the distance between them, she couldn't hear anything distinctive, only the rise and fall of the tone of their voices.
Lucian grinned at Sabas. "I still can't believe that went as well as it did. I can't believe we fought two Death Dealers on their orders and essentially beat them both."
"I was pinned if you recall," Sabas argued.
"Yes, but you disarmed him first, thus preventing him from winning anything. Technically, you won and he cheated by continuing the fight after you disarmed him."
"I notice no one mentioned that though." Sabas grumbled.
"Well, they couldn't have the Death Dealers both lose so thoroughly to a pair of Lycans. It would be bad for morale." Lucian explained companionably. "Still, Sabine noticed and now, you will get to see your lady friend tomorrow while I toil in the smithy."
Sabas grinned. "True enough. Should we be expecting company this morning?" He asked curiously, referring to Sonja's frequent visits.
"No," Lucian replied. "We're meeting elsewhere tonight so she's not seen disappearing in the same part of the castle too often. I'm just going to rinse off and go." He explained, striping off his pants and tossing them in a pile with his tunic.
Aleeria, unseen by either of them, averted her eyes. Mostly. Still, while she could certainly appreciate Lucian's body, she hoped she'd never be in a position to bathe him as well. It would be most awkward as they knew each other so well and both knew the other had someone else they desired even if Aleeria was blissfully ignorant of the identity of Lucian's lover.
Lucian moved under the waterfall, scrubbing fiercely at himself in a hurry to be clean and off to see his beloved Sonja. Sabas sat on the large flat rock and took his time removing his pants in an attempt to not ruin them and being mindful of the gash that was still bleeding. He unbuckled the right side of his pants to his waist, exposing his entire leg. The gash went from just above his knee to his hip and was deep, nearly to the bone, which is why it still bled. If he could get his collar off, he could have shape shifted to speed the healing along. Instead, he needed to eat, rest, and wait it out. Still, if he'd been human, he wouldn't have survived it. One thing Sabas could say for the future of his pants was that at least it was a clean cut. Still, he didn't have a spare pair of pants. He hoped Aleeria could fix them while she cleaned him up.
Aleeria forgot Lucian was there entirely as she saw Sabas begin to remove his pants, first because she recalled vividly when she'd removed them herself months ago, but then with concern when she saw the blood. There seemed to be an awful lot of it. Sabas finished removing his pants and moved to the water to clean off the blood that had dried. Once it was clean, Aleeria could see with great relief that the gash seemed to be closing and the bleeding was just slowing to just a trickle.
"How's your leg?" Lucian asked as he cleaned the healing cuts littering his arms.
Sabas grimaced. "It's in far better shape than my pants. I have an indecent amount of leg showing and no spares obviously. I hope Aleeria can mend it tomorrow."
Lucian looked at him, confused. "Mend your leg?"
Sabas chuckled. "No, I hope she can mend this pair of pants. Get your head out of the water."
"Good idea. I'm all done." Lucian decided. Outside of the water, he shook away the excess water and then started tugging his clothes back on.
"My leg would be a lot better if it were a Full Moon."
Lucian nodded in understanding. "Well, I'm off. I'll see you in a few days at the Full Moon. I think we'll be the ones chained by the gates."
Sabas nodded. "Say hello to your lady for me."
Lucian grinned roguishly. "You do the same."
Once Lucian left, Sabas resumed cleaning himself. There was a sort of quiet peace at being alone with the waterfall throbbing around him. With no one to worry about and no one around, Sabas just let his mind drift. He thought about Aleeria, looking so concerned on the balcony as she watched the fight. He loved the deep blue dress she'd worn. He hoped he'd see her in it again soon, but up close. Even better, he hoped he'd take it off of her.
Sabas closed his eyes and imagined she was there with him now to tend to his wounds. He could see her taking off her cape and slowly removing her blue dress. Then he saw her bending in her chemise, to examine his leg and how her face flushed as his furless tail came to life. He could see how the chemise clung to her soaking wet body and he had to pull her against him because the water was so cold and Lycans tended to be warmer than humans, especially when they were well-fed. Even cold as he was now from the expenditure of energy needed to heal and for the fight itself, he would still be warmer than Aleeria. He could imagine quite well how she would slip and slide against him under the pounding water.
Aleeria was lost in a very similar fantasy herself, enhanced by watching him run his hands over his wet, naked body. She could see Sabas bound for her to clean him, but they were in the cave and alone. There was no chance of interruption. He was bound just under the mist of the waterfall and it swallowed them both in the sound and wetness. The cold water pulsed so fiercely around them that it erased all sensation except the heat pooling in the places their bodies touched. Then there weren't any chains and his arms were all around her, pulling her closer until she couldn't tell where he ended and she began, she was just lost in a world of sensation. Soon her day dream dissolved into blissful unconsciousness.
Aleeria slept there in a place of such emotional bliss that she didn't notice that she was cold, wet, and starting to get feverish. When she finally woke up, she felt terrible. She dragged herself and the furs back to her room and made herself some tea. Then she built a fire in her room and oozed into bed. Her throat felt like it was on fire and so did her body, but her bones felt like ice under her skin. Aleeria shook and moaned and fell into a fitful sleep. She didn't wake until nightfall and Sabine entered her room, concern etched over her face. It wasn't like Aleeria to over-sleep, so Sabine had come to check on her. A quick glance was enough to tell her that Aleeria was quite ill. Sabine called for one of the other servants to bring fresh bedding and furs and to stoke the fire. Sabine then had them bring broth, and more tea with honey. Aleeria accepted everything with barely conscious passivity. When she was conscious, Sabine explained that Aleeria could not wash Sabas in her condition and that she would have Erika bathe him and Aleeria could see him while he guarded the House when she was well.
Aleeria pleaded deliriously for no other to bathe Sabas in her stead, the fever having stolen any semblance of decorum. Sabine glanced at the waxing Moon out her window and decided that another day or so to wait wouldn't hurt. She told Khan to take Sabas to the smithy to assist Lucian until Aleeria was well enough to bathe him in a few days. Sabas was concerned when he heard the news, but there was little he could do.
Two days later in spite of Aleeria's best efforts, she was still sick, though much better. Sabine explained firmly that Erika would bathe Sabas the following night and Aleeria could go down and inspect Erika's work later the following evening if she was well enough, but she could not allow herself to get wet and risk getting sicker again. Still utterly exhausted from her illness, Aleeria could only acquiesce to Sabine's decision, but a terrible sense of dread crept into her belly at the thought of vile Erika bathing her Lycan. However, there was nothing she could do, but focus on getting well and hope that Erika didn't do any irreparable damage. Whatever the outcome, she knew it would be a very long wait while Erika assumed her duties. Aleeria hoped she'd at least be well enough to inspect Sabas so they had a little private time together to talk and fix whatever Erika might have done or said, because Aleeria wasn't sure how easy privacy would be to come by once Sabas served inside the House of Markus. Bearing all that in mind, Aleeria rolled over into a fitful sleep, hoping she'd feel far healthier when she awoke again.
A/N: Chapter 17 is underway. Please Read & Review.