Pairing: Gwydion/Achren if you squint.
Disclaimer: Not mine, not true. Woe.
Summary: He doesn't expect to see her when he wakes. Set at the beginning of The High King after Gwydion is brought to Caer Dallben.
NOTE: This is quite old – written in June 2008! Can't believe I let it lie for this long without posting it…
She is the last person he expects to see when he wakes.
Fflewddur in the middle of panic attack would have been far more likely. So would the face of a leering Huntsman before it once more thrust its dagger into his abused body. Or even curious woodland creatures, nudging him to see if they could scavenge him yet – but certainly not her.
Pain assaults him from every direction, and he detects a flurry of movement as she kneels beside him, laying some sort of poultice across his stomach. He winces at the contact, but she does not flinch. Breathing in too deeply feels as though Arawn himself is kneeling beside him, twisting the knife in deeper with each inhalation.
"Where am I?"
"Caer Dallben," she murmurs. "Fflewddur brought you here hours ago." She turns away and picks up another poultice. This one goes on his shoulder, and he clenches his fist to try and distract himself from the sting.
She notices his distress and looks him straight in the eye. "Dallben and Eilonwy have been helping to tend to you," she continues. "Eilonwy has just gone out to get water, and Dallben is speaking to Coll."
She sounds almost as if she's trying to reassure him that she won't kill him while the other inhabitants of the quiet cottage are absent. It would make sense, considering that in the past their encounters have brought torture, threats, bribes, attempted suicides, and near-drownings. And in her jet-black robe and veil, she could appear frightening if she wanted to.
But he knows her better.
From somewhere among the multitude of bruises and wounds he has sustained from the fight with the Huntsmen – and Arawn himself – a burst of pain makes itself felt, and he inadvertently draws a sharp breath. As he struggles to regulate his breathing, she kneels beside him.
She runs her hand along his arm, and down his chest. Her fingers skim lightly over the bandages, and after a few moments he reaches up and grabs her palm tightly in his.
"What are you doing?" he asks, his voice raspy from the pain and the tingling sensation she has left behind.
She jerks her hand away and steps back, towards the herbs on the table. The black veil falls back across her face, partially covering it.
"Just checking for any other injuries," she murmurs, picking up a cloth and wringing it firmly before she lays it on his forehead. It is cool and comforting. "The boy was beside himself when that idiot of a bard brought you here."
"Taran?" He tries to lift himself off the cot, but is instantly laid low again both by the explosion of agony low in his chest and her firm fingers on his shoulders. "Taran is here?"
"He arrived just before you," she replies. He thinks it odd that for the first time, he detects no note of scorn or mocking in her tone when she speaks of the companions. Perhaps Caer Dallben has truly softened her.
But when he looks into her eyes and sees there the familiar icy glint he saw in Oeth-Anoeth and Caer Colur, he realizes he is mistaken. And he is saddened by it – a feeling not one of pure disappointment, but not pure sorrow either. Of resignation.
He settles further into the pillows around him, probably stuffed with feathers from Coll's own geese, feeling keenly the loss of the heavy weight of Dyrnwyn that should even now be at his hip. She remains hovering above him. Her fingers are dripping slightly from the remnants of water she squeezed out of the cloth.
He examines her in silence for a long while, and she bears his scrutiny by imposing her own on him. She is not nearly as thin as she was at Caer Colur, and in the dim light he can make out that she has acquired a warm tan, no doubt from working on the farm. The new veneer to her skin suits her, the contrast with her gleaming silver hair making her appear more exotic than ever.
He does not know what she sees when she looks at him. By rights it should be a broken man – a crippled warrior, a bulwark destroyed. She watches him warily, eyes his chest as it moves shallowly up and down. Then she wets her lips to speak, and he finds himself fascinated by the movement of her tongue across her sharp teeth.
"Well met, Gwydion," she murmurs, a ghost of a cool smile floating across her face.
She turns away as Eilonwy comes creeping back through the door with the promised bucket of water. The young princess gasps as she sees he is awake and quickly scurries back out again, whispering for Dallben. She, too, moves away from the warrior's bed, but not so far that her sharp ears cannot make out his reply.
"Well met, Achren."