Elizabeth stayed up most of the evening, much later than she should have speaking to Zevran. He had a way of making it seem like no time had passed since they were last together. All the tension and unpleasantness of their last time together so easily forgotten and cast aside. He made her laugh; some thing she could not honestly remember the last time she had done. Others might have found his overtures intrusive, bordering upon the licentious. They were, but there was a comfort to be found within his flirting. He allowed her to simply escape and forget, to be nothing but a friend enjoying time with another friend.
The next morning the carnage of their reunion littered the floor. One. Two. Three. Four bottles of wine were scattered about her room as were plates covered in crumbs and cheese rinds. His presence was a balm to a wound only just formed and she was forced to wonder as she looked at the peaceful way he slept, face sculpted from the most precious of exquisite stone, why she ever allowed him to leave her side. Of all her companions beside Alistair, Zevran had been the most loyal. Yes, he had tried to kill her. "Everyone has their flaws, even me," he once told her.
She had slept in her clothing and still was in horrible need of a bath that did not happen the night before.
Even when Zevran slept, he did not truly sleep. Elizabeth was not at all surprised when he turned upon his side, his head propped upon a hand to regard her as she left the bed. A tsk upon his tongue, he chided her, "People do not usually run so quickly from my bed."
"You know I cannot," she said. Elizabeth would have liked have wasted the day away in this room with Zevran. A world of problems existed beyond the threshold to her room; none were present within the brilliance of that smile or bemused light within his eyes.
Avoidance was a luxury she could not afford, however. Her steps carried her to the mirror rather than back to the bed. Her hands smoothed the sides of hair, attempting to tame flyaway hairs. Her efforts were in vain. Any that saw her would know she still wore the same clothing as the day before and had seen far better days.
"There will be talk." Zevran never shirked from bluntness when appropriate.
A frown claimed Elizabeth's mouth as she turned to face her friend. "There is already talk." The halls by now were full of gossip, she assumed. Talk of Nathaniel. Talk of Fergus. Talk of her. Talk of the attack. Talk of Zevran. There was no shortage of juicy morsels for those that wished to gossip.
Zev raised himself off the bed to sit, his back against the headboard. Whereas Elizabeth had slept in her clothing, he had removed his. His right leg poked out from beneath a sheet. She had always thought he had beautiful legs. Today was no different and her eyes were drawn toward the limb for the briefest of moments.
"He will not like it."
She suspected he was right, though which he Zevran spoke of… Neither Nathaniel nor Fergus would approve of her evening with the Antivan. What they wanted did not concern her not should it concern Zevran. "That is not your concern."
Chin tilted downward, he remained silent for a moment, amber eyes watching her beneath the veil of thick lashes. "No, but it is yours more than I think you wish to admit, my friend."
He was as observant as blunt. The only response she could muster was a simply spoken, "Maybe." Her thumb hooked toward the door, "Will you be okay here? I have-"
Zevran did not allow her to finish. "Send for servants to make me a bath. Pretty ones." Slow, methodical, his mouth spread into the type of grin that usually foreshadowed his flirtations. "Unless you care to join me."
No response given, Elizabeth simply smiled and left the room.
As inviting the offer, she had to decline. Esmerelle's presence had gone ignored too long. Those people loyal to Rendon Howe would never see Elizabeth as anything but his murdered much as she would never see those loyal to him as anything other than monster lovers. Esmerelle was the worst of their kind. Her affections of the man guided her action. Love was gentle and kind, but oft times, came with a sharpened edge.
Elizabeth wound her way down the stairwell the dungeon, forgoing breakfast out of a desire to not run into Fergus or Nathaniel. No one interrupted her in the middle of the night so she could only assume they had not killed each other. She'd hoped they found a way to end the friction between them or, at a minimum, lessen it. After speaking to Esmerelle, she'd seek out both men, but not before.
Imprisonment had a way of making people appear so much smaller. Esmerelle had been an intimidating presence before her incarceration. Everything about the woman bled noble privilege. Even behind bars, the woman cast a proud image. Armor had been removed; the tall thin body of an aging woman was all that remained. Looking at her from a distance, no one would have gathered Esmerelle's pedigree or that she had been Rendon Howe's secret lover.
Up close, however... The eyes, challenging and full of self-confidence, they had not submitted. This was a woman not willing to admit her defeat even though it stared her flatly in the face. Unflinchingly, she regarded Elizabeth. Her hand swept to motion to her small cell, "I would offer you tea but I seem to running short on such luxuries."
Elizabeth asked a question she did not particularly care to hear the answer to. Nothing Esmerelle said could save her at this point. "Is there anything you wish to say in your defense?"
Esmerelle did not answer and instead noted, "I see Nathaniel has not joined me down here. I can only assume this is because you have forgiven him."
"That is hardly your concern." Elizabeth's jaw tightened, teeth biting down upon one another. The arrogance called back to another time, another captive.
"No, but it is yours." Fingers coiled about the bars, resignation mixing with indignation. "Rendon and I... I knew him better than anyone. Believe me when I tell you, there is more of him in his son than you know."
"I do not believe you." And if only that had been the entirety of the truth. Nathaniel was not his father; he was a far better man than any Rendon Elizabeth remembered or knew. But the fear was there, fraying the edges of her thoughts. What if… Her doubts she kept to herself, expression molded in defiance and disbelief. This woman deserved no pity and had proven herself untrustworthy. Nothing she said could be valued or believed.
"Oh…" Too pleased, a broad smile bloomed upon Esmerelle's lips. "...It is too late then."
The question caused Elizabeth's brow to arch. "What do you mean?"
"Oh I think you know." And Esmerelle left the subject be shifting to the matter of her sentence. "When will I die?"
"After my brother speaks to you."
Laughter rippled in the air. Esmerelle released her hold upon the bars of her cell and walked toward a small, threadbare blanket upon the ground and had a seat. "Still letting men make decisions for you, girl?"
"No." A snappish response Elizabeth regretted immediately. Against her better judgement or desire, this woman was beginning to get beneath her skin. Calming herself, she added, "He has questions for you."
"Mmmmmm, I suppose he does. His wife cried, you know? Begged for the life of her son before Rendon's men had their way with her. He told me about it one night at dinner over dessert."
A veil of red descended within her vision. Rendon had thrown words as well before his death, comments about her parents, comments about her. Even in defeat, he lashed out; a rabid animal caught with its leg within a trap.
And like Rendon, Esmerelle wished to draw out Elizabeth's rage, to make her act impulsively, to make a mistake. She would not no matter how much the woman's words sparked her anger.
"If you think telling me that now will save you from a public execution, you are wrong. I will see you hanged for the traitor that you are as will all of Amaranthine." Rendon's guilt had been decided in an instant. The memory of that man, lying upon the floor, so full of arrogance even as the tip of her sword pressed against his skin. Reason had no place within those dungeons. Revenge guided her hand and necessitated the arc of her blade as she ended Rendon's life. But there was no satisfaction. The emptiness felt before that moment remained still. She had done unto him as he had to her. She did not regret his death, but she did regret the manner of it. He deserved more, indeed.
Esmerelle would not suffer a similar fate. She would have her execution in public for all to witness and to serve as a warning to all what would happen to any that attempted to cross a Cousland again. Elizabeth's family had suffered at the hands of tyrants and schemers. No longer.
She turned away from the cell. There was nothing more to say to Esmerelle.
The whiskey bottles upon the floor were the first thing Nathaniel saw when he opened his eyes to an all too bright morning. How many had Fergus and he emptied over the course of the night? He rolled over onto his back, the stone floor beneath him cool and uninviting. A groan escaped his lips and his hand rose to press palm against forehead as if the pressure might stop the pounding within his head.
It did not.
As uncomfortable the stone floor beneath him was, the prospect of standing was even more so. He met things half way, propping himself up on his elbows, half sitting-half lying down. Fergus lay upon the bed in front of Nathaniel. They had made it to him a room when? Bits and pieces of his memory from the night before were gone, or at least not accessible just yet. Fergus had attempted to undress before falling upon the bed, it appeared - one foot booted, the other bare.
The teryn shifted upon the bed, awakening a moment later with a groan to match Nathaniel's earlier one. "Are we dead," he asked.
"No." A mixed blessing at that. Nathaniel eased himself off the floor, rolling first upon his hands and knees before pushing himself up slowly.
Fergus made no motions to leave the comforts of his bed. "You should go."
With a gruff snort, Nathaniel asked, "Is that an order?"
The harshness that had overcome Fergus' features upon seeing Nathaniel in the main hall the day before had dampened. "A request unless you want to watch me vomit."
There were things Nathaniel needed to see and things he did not. Watching Fergus throw up was not on the list of his life's goals. "I will go," he agreed, hooking his chin in gesture to the door. But before he could leave, he had one last question for the teyrn. "We are good?"
A smile, devoid of malice but rich with dry humor, hooked Fergus' mouth, "No, not by a long shot."
Nathaniel met Fergus' grin with one of this own, equally as sardonic in tilt. "Good." An uneasy truce existed between the two men for the time being. There were other demons within the Keep wage battle with rather than each other. One such individual was within the dungeons and Nathaniel planned to go speak with her.
He needed a meal and a bath first, though.
As he walked down the hallway outside of Fergus' rooms, he paused just outside of the Elizabeth's door. There was a conversation they started that they needed to finish. There were things he wanted and needed to say much as he was sure the same followed for her. Before he could knock at the door, a servant rounded the corner of the hallway, a tray within her hands. Food for Elizabeth, he presumed, and he took the tray from the servant to bring into Elizabeth's room himself.
With a gentle knock, he announced himself outside the door before opening it. Tray in hand, he entered, but it was not Elizabeth that he saw sprawled naked atop the bed, but rather the lean muscled body of a naked and blond male elf.
Jealousy flared hot and brief within grey eyes at the sight of the man. That had not taken long, he thought to himself. But the tattoo upon the elf's face and the cavalier manner in which he lounged did little to ease Nathaniel's worry. Oghren had described this man to Nathaniel once before. He was the Antivan Crow, Zevran. "I suppose this is for you," Nathaniel said, chin dipping to motion to the tray in his grasp. No effort made to close the door behind him, he walked toward a table to set down the tray. "I did not know you were visiting, Zevran."
An entirely too broad and smug grin lined the elf's mouth. "There are many things you do not know, Nathaniel Howe."
There was truth in the statement, but none that Nathaniel cared to acknowledge in this elf's presence. Nathaniel was growing to dislike him a great deal. His tone bland, he commented, "I do not suppose you care to enlighten me."
Zevran sat up, turning to fluff a pillow behind his head before easing back against the headboard. Still, he made no effort to cover himself. His smirking persisted. "What fun would there be for me in that?"
Nathaniel should have expected that response. He shook his head. This conversation was done. He had come here to speak to Elizabeth, not be poked and prodded by a man he only knew by reputation. Without a word, he turned away from Zevran and began to leave.
Zevran was not done with Nathaniel, though. "You look a great deal like your father."
Just shy of the doorframe, Nathaniel stalled his departure. The words had been meant to ensnare him. Knuckles whitened as he gripped at the frame to calm a temper that wished to flare. This trap he would not fall prey to. Back turned to the elf, he retorted calmly, "I am nothing like him."
"That is what Elizabeth says."
So they had talked about him. Not completely a surprise, but one that still caused Nathaniel's jaw to clench.
Servants bearing water walked along the corridor just outside of Elizabeth's room, pausing in front of Nathaniel. The elf had ordered a bath, he presumed and stepped aside to grant the servants entrance into the room. The water and rumbling of his stomach were reminders that he had other places to be.
As he left Zevran alone to his bath, he heard the elf state, his tone rich with teasing. "Care to join me?"
He let his footsteps echoing along the hallway outside the room serve as his response.