A Rise of the Runelords campaign journal that became two books

28. Something hard to forget, and painful to remember

Months ago

Nirmanthas

The day had come. The inevitable had occurred. We had been caught.

I stood there next to my chamber window, holding her close and her hands in mine, firmly, but not hurting her. Midnight wind blew in gently, making the colorless curtains sway. The window was already open, patiently waiting for me to make my departure like a servant holding open a door. She was not pleading me to stay, as she knew better. She was a smart one. But it didn’t make things any easier, the opposite actually. Deep down we had both been waiting for this but the reality was nothing we could have expected. The few candles’ light reflected from the tears she was shedding. Mine were closed. I was trying to take it all in for the last time – her scent, how her skin felt like, her breath on my chest.

Keeping my eyes shut, I tried to picture how she looked, so that I would remember. I let go of one of my hands and let my fingertips travel to and across her face. With them, I sculpted a copy of her features to my mind.

The long, delicate neck. The small, pointed tip of the jaw. The round cheeks and high cheekbones. The straight, well-defined royal nose. Skin the color of olive.

The small, a bit juggish ears she always embarrassedly hid behind her long, deep brown dark hair but which I always sought when we made love. She might have disliked them, but when I pushed the curls aside, kissed her ears and the neck beneath them, the skin on her hips and thighs raised into goose bumps. She told me she wanted me and when her body trembled slightly in pleasure and anticipation, I believed her.

The mouth designed for only beautiful, wide smiles and full lips made for kissing that hid her slightly large, outward turning upper front teeth, an imperfection she loathed but I loved, for she hated laughing and revealing them publicly. But when we were together I made her laugh and she couldn’t help herself. She said she loved me and when she laughed, I believed her.

I opened my eyes and met hers. Dark brown like mine, but anything like mine. I had looked only once, for too long, and fallen deep into those two glittering wells. Large beyond belief. Those two dark oceans that drowned men’s souls and made them sing, fight, kill, die, and ramble. Many had fallen to them, I had heard, but apparently only I had made them smile and laugh.

The two reasons I had stayed behind. The two reasons and the bright, brave soul behind them, and the beauty, all them had made me pause – made me almost forget why I was running in the first place. I had been so stupid. I had not been me. But I had been so happy.

Before me her face was a combination of joy she had felt for the past months and the sorrow of losing everything but the memories. Drawing breath she pushed back the tears, laughed a bit even. She knew better. She was of nobility, a daughter of a backwater count, but a count nevertheless. I was nothing. A bounty hunter turned hunting instructor to her little brothers. An orphan and former slave, with no other family than one lost brother. Her type shouldn’t spare a long glance at mine. But thank the gods she wasn’t of her type.

Exactly six months ago her father had purchased my services for an indefinite span of time. A day later our eyes had crossed first during a feast for his father’s honor. Gracelessly eavesdropping in a grove I had heard her speak and sing absentmindedly two days later. Three more days later I had ran into her alone within the castle corridors. The rest is, well, history.

She had such lust for life. She desired to be more than a noble’s daughter, ‘cattle to be sold’ as she put it. She enraged her father by openly defying his will and turning away eager suitors from nearby lands in Nirmanthas. She felt she deserved more and wanted to choose her own path. I admired her so for it, for I felt the same way and could so easily relate. I felt a knot tightening in my stomach when I thought she wanted me of all things. I still do, though I don’t want to remember for the pain it causes me.

She had a gentle, good heart. In that she was like her mother – it was said there were no hungry children in the Count’s lands thanks to her mother the Countess. Her mother was brave and farseeing, and understanding of her first-born daughter. I was sure her mother knew of me and her, but she never told her husband – she knew who I was, a restless man riddled by his history who would eventually leave – but in her heart she gave us, or her daughter, the chance to love.

She was driven, like her father. But not aloof to his family, or quick to anger as her father would often do. Passionate rather, and confident. Another characteristic of hers I absolutely revered. Her father was not a bad man – far from it. But he was the Count, and he wanted the best for her daughter. A former slave would have never done.

“How long do you think before my father’s guards get here?” Her voice was mellow and slightly nasal, making her sound younger than her nineteen years. A sound I would pay anything to hear again.

My answer was a whisper. “A few minutes. Depending on how fast Typhion runs across the keep to report what he had seen.”

She lowered her gaze in regret and shook her head. “What business could father’s own man-servant have had to you at this time of the night anyway?”

“I don’t know”, I sighed. “Maybe he woke up and felt like going to hunt at dawn, and wanted me to be prepared accordingly.” I furrowed. “Maybe Typhion was here on his own business, spying on me. Us.”

She said nothing but I could see tears stream down her cheeks again and her shoulders hunch in resignation. They were bare, as she had only covered herself with a white sheet, rolled it around her body. The linen was sheer, and did nothing to hide the form of her small breasts, slim waist and wide hips. She was not tall, only five feet and four inches or so, so when we stood she had to stand on her toes and reach out to kiss me. I always thought it was funny.

I was not laughing then. “You’re so beautiful.” I said simply, unable to let my eyes off her. Unable to run, while knowing perfectly well his father’s guards would be soon storming in, with orders either to capture me or kill me on the spot.

I was awarded with a faint chuckle. “You sound just like the suitors”, she murmured and laid her head to my chest. “But I know what I’m talking about – I’ve seen the inside”, I replied, and brushed her hair gently.

My keen hearing picked up the steps of the house guards approaching my chamber. Typhion had been quick. The man-servant had caught us in the act, in my bed. The thrice-damned fool had just entered without my leave. Anger at the nosy man-servant mixed with desire to stab his eyes flared, momentarily overcoming my sorrow. I would have done anything to have one more day with her but I knew our time together was definite. A small part of me was amazed our secret had lasted as long as it had. Secrets had not been kept from my former master Horryn within his estates. Perhaps he had been ten times more paranoid and suspicious than the Count. At least he had had ten times the enemies.

After Typhion had peered across the room into my bed, found me there with her and vanished without a word, I had locked the door and barred it with a heavy wooden chest. We had both lapsed into a shock. Eventually I had got clothed, and packed whatever personal belongings I had in haste. My master-wraught longbow was down at the armory and beyond my reach, so I had only the two kukris I had carried all the way from Molthune.

Of course, I couldn’t have cared less for any of my equipment. Above all I was not willing to let myself be taken prisoner – I had made a solemn promise to myself never to be caught again. For a fleeting moment of stupid regret I had entertained the thought of fighting the guards, her father even, and stealing her away, but that was something from a fairy tale. Death at her father’s command would have been a valiant but ultimately empty, futile gesture. After recovering from the initial shock she had told me she didn’t want my blood on her hands but she could live knowing I was somewhere out there, alive. In the end I was lost to her, as she was lost to me, now that our secret had been uncovered, so running into the night was my only option.

The guards arrived behind the door and ordered me to open it in the name of the Count. I took hold of her shoulders, and kissed her like I had never kissed her before. There was a kick at the door, then another. It would hold for a moment longer, I knew. “Are you not afraid of your father?” I asked as our lips parted. She just smiled like I was a lovable idiot. “He won’t hurt her beloved princess. I’ll just get a scolding. It’s you we should be worried about.” Something heavy slammed into the door. I could hear voices in the courtyard below my chamber as well – a few guards were smartly making sure I would not escape through the windows. I was in a hurry if I wanted to get out. Still, I lingered.

“I have done nothing to have earned your love”, I uttered the admission like I had done several times before. I was a man-hunter and a killer who cared little of others. I had made that clear to her at the beginning. My story was sad and violent. I remembered her fingers examining and caressing the scars on my back, chest and face. Her astonishment and compassion when I had opened up and told her everything about my past – something I had not done to anyone. How she had wept when I had told her about the death of my family. I trembled as I realized how precious, how forgiving, how good she was.

“You have to go”, she whispered, barely making a sound. I let go off her and climbed over the stone-tiled window edge. Taking a firm grip of the edge, I placed the tips of my feet into nooks on the rocky wall. She followed me and standing there at the window above me she looked so small. Moonlight shone into her deep, brown eyes and I resisted climbing back up and stealing one last passionate kiss. Clutching the pure white sheet around her figure with one hand, she lowered her other on mine. Another loud slam into the door made her flinch, and I heard the lock and hinges wail and give in.

“Will you find him?” She asked finally, still holding her hand on the back of mine. “I’ll try”, I replied, trying to flash a smile to overcome the tears. She opened her mouth to speak but didn’t find the words. I could not linger. I heard the doors crash in and the frantic shouts of the house guards. “I love you Aurora”, I told her for the last time and let go of the edge of the window.

aurora 001bw

As I fell I heard her mellow voice call out to me. “Tell him he’s an uncle”.

I hit and slid down a wooden canopy and wet, thick grass beneath it softened the second drop, allowing me a graceful landing.

Then I ran and did not look back.

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