XXVII. Rooms and Shadows
The hunger more than the cold awoke Fiora, it was as if she hadn’t eaten for days, and she quite likely hadn’t. The fluid she had been resting in had gone cold, and took on a sickly goopy consistency with the smell of vaginal discharge from said unwashed organ. She gagged and quickly pulled herself from the tub, the strength in her arm having returned and Emarosa’s threat of death forgotten.
The candles had all burnt out, and Fiora was forced to fumble her way to the dark, doubled over from the pain of hunger. She bumped into the counter and swore, groping for the faucet. The cistern was still full, and the water smelled and tasted fresh enough. She proceeded to take an extended and messy bird bath to wash the goop off of her. The towel her head had been resting on fell into the tub long ago, so Fiora dried herself with a face towel and clothed herself with an oversized bathrobe hanging on the back of the door.
Fiora slowly opened the door and paused to adjust to the dim lamplight in the hallway. She swore as she stubbed her toe on a shelf and nearly toppled a vase. She wanted desperately to fling it against the wall and scream, her hunger enraged her so. The home had definitely been occupied by a wealthy family, and Fiora wracked her memory to try and recall which long dead aristocrat had called the manor home. As she crept past the darkened rooms, she heard voices coming from behind one of the ajar bedroom doors. Curious, she crouched down and put her ear to the crack.
“—And what if they speak? We can’t hide from them forever.”
It was Ransom’s voice, and he sounded panicked about something. Fiora inched closer and peeked through the crack in the door. Ransom paced under the flickering glow of an oil lamp as Emarosa sat watching him from a small desk.
“About what?” Emarosa asked dismissively. “The ox we stole?”
“You know what.” Ransom hissed. “We can’t stall here forever. How long are we supposed to wait here for? And for what?”
Emarosa sighed. “Francois, this isn’t helping…”
“And how are we supposed to keep them here whilst simultaneously dodging the carnival folk?” Ransom hissed. “This could blow up in our faces in an instant.”
Ransom, or François, continued to pace. With each creak and groan of the hardwood floor, Fiora was certain she would be discovered. She crouched deeper into the shadows and steadied her breathing, but felt her grumbling stomach would betray her at any moment.
“Fiora is still in recovery, that buys us some time.”
“Don’t François me sister! What about that spooky broad? The mage sending messages to Séverin? It’s only a matter of time before Alice or Aichlan brings the whole damn army down here to investigate!” Ransom began to pace again. “Who the hell is this guy anyway?”
“It's best that you don’t know…”
Ransom scoffed. “Who are you for that matter? Since when does The Order associate with elder folk?”
What the hell are they talking about? Fiora mouthed silently. Her stomach was in knots and she could barely focus. The conversation had conspiratorial undertones and it made her uncomfortable. They had been allies up until this point, though she never really did trust Ransom, Emarosa was a bishop in The Order. One whom both Aichlan and Clarissa had placed their trust in.
“Is she really alive?” Ransom whispered.
Emarosa was silent for several moments. Fiora distinctly heard the ticking of the clock downstairs, and found herself holding her breath in anticipation.
“He thinks she is.” Emarosa said soberly to Ransom’s irritated snort and dismissive wave. “this isn’t the first time something like this has happened.”
“That’s what’s so fucked up about it.” Ransom muttered and struck a match.
“I don’t agree with it either, but we don’t want to be on the other side of this-!”
Shh!” Ransom hissed as he dimmed the light. “Did you hear something?”
Fiora stood, and hesitantly backed away from the door. She was halfway down the hall before she stood and turned to creep down the stairs.
“What are you doing skulking around in the dark?”
Fiora jumped with a startled squeak, clamping her hand over her mouth. She was barely able to register that it was Rowena who snuck up on her before the tray of still steaming food scraps she held enthralled her. Rowena set the tray on a nearby end table and stretched, barring her lithe abdominals and subtle V of her pelvic muscles. The elf wore a short skirt woven from soft plant fiber and a crop top jerkin of leather and lace. Fiora felt herself begin to drool, but could not tell which of her appetites was the cause in that instant.
“I didn’t expect to see you up and about so soon Major.”
Fiora couldn’t focus between the smell of food and her second in command's lithe figure. Rowena smirked and placed one hand on her thrust out hip.
“Who else?” Rowena picked up the tray and pivoted on one foot, beckoning Fiora to follow. “Well, this way Major, no sense standing around naked in a dark hallway, waking everyone up.”
Fiora blushed and clutched the robe at her chest as she followed Rowena down the stairs. Each step creaked and groaned as she tried in vain to move silently through the still house. Rowena however glided gracefully and silently without effort, balancing the tray on one hand like an experienced server.
The kitchen was in somewhat of a disarray, with used pots and pans piled in the sink, and empty mugs scattered on the counter. Rowena dumped the scraps into the waste bin and placed the tray in the sink with the rest, humming a soft song under her breath. Fiora took a seat at the counter closest to the still roaring hearth. Rowena stoked the flames of the stove and placed a skillet on the range, beside her was a plate with a gargantuan slab of seasoned red meat.
“Where did you find a cow?” Fiora asked, salivating uncontrollably now.
Rowena laughed and glanced over her shoulder. “Cow?”
Fiora was afraid to ask, but also too hungry to care. “The meat, it is beef, isn’t it?”
Rowena laughed again and tossed several pads of butter into the skillet. “No, I went hunting a couple of days ago-“
“-and killed this monster of a bull.” Rowena finished, gesturing to the meat. “If I were to describe it, imagine the result of a buffalo and an armadillo crossbreed that got raped by a horse.”
“What?” while difficult to picture, the description did little to curb Fiora’s appetite.
“And you’ve been out for two days now.”
“Two? Emarosa said I’d only be out for the night!”
Rowena shrugged and put the meat in the pan with a thud. “She probably didn’t want to alarm you.”
The smell of sizzling meat was intoxicating, and too reminiscent of beef for Fiora to dwell on Rowena’s bizarre description of its source. Rowena added more butter to the pan and flipped the meat. Fiora felt her nails digging into the wood of the stool, but didn’t care, the smell was driving her insane and the hunger threatened to cause her to pass out.
“We found some people here, including Maleah and a monk.” The elf said offhandedly as she dropped a sprig of rosemary into the pan.
All Fiora could hear was the sizzling meat. “Huh?”
“Apparently the General sent some men as reinforcement, but they ran into Osric and…well…” Rowena took the slab of meat from the pan and threw in some onions, mushroom and garlic. “Then there’s Senka, she says we’ve got orders to hold here, but I’m dubious to say the least.”
Rowena added the meat back to the pan to finish cooking. Fiora hoped she wasn’t planning on overcooking it, she had a craving for something rare and bloody.
“Aside from the loss of Arkona’s men, we are still pretty strong. I had Senka relay a note directly to the General, I’m sure it will spur him to bring the army. There is now no mistake that he is holed up in Aglaë.”
Rowena flipped the meat once more, and Fiora found herself grinding her teeth in anticipation. It looked and smelled done enough to her, no need to keep flipping it as she was!
“But of course,” Rowena slid the meat onto a bed of sautéed onion. “You haven’t heard a thing I’ve said due to the rumbling in your stomach.”
As soon as the plate hit the counter, Fiora was already digging into it with a fork and knife, shoveling barely bite sized pieces into her mouth. Blood and grease ran down her chin as a steady chorus of orgasmic grunts and moans broke up the slobbering sounds of her chewing. Rowena watched in awe and horror, unsure if she should take Fiora’s gusto as a compliment or not.
“Pretty good for Dusk meat.” Fiora said through mouthfuls.
Rowena let out an astonished chuckle. “I’m glad you think so.”
Fiora paused long enough from her meal to tear the cork out of a nearby bottle of wine. Rowena clucked in displeasure and snatched the bottle from her greasy hands.
“Uh-unh. That’s no good for one in your condition.” Rowena grabbed a mug from a rack and filled it at the sink. “Here, water will be more satisfying.”
Fiora rolled her eyes, but still finished the mug in a single go, holding it out for a refill. Rowena refilled the mug and looked at the plate, now bare save a pool of drippings and a few chunks Fiora had yet to shove into her mouth.
Fiora pounded her chest and belched. “Is there anymore?”
Rowena looked from Fiora to the plate in disbelief. “Darling, that was a three-pound steak…”
Fiora wiped her face and hands off on a nearby towel. “I’ve been in that tub for Dawn knows how long, and all I’ve had was some foul concoction Emarosa claims you made.”
Rowena smiled and took the towel to dab a spot Fiora had missed on her cheek. “That just means that it worked then.”
Fiora blushed and turned away. “You were saying something about the army?”
Rowena delicately tucked a strand of Fiora’s hair behind her ear. “I was. We can discuss all of that tomorrow, we need to get you cleaned up for bed.”
* * *
The bath was warm and relaxing, and Fiora no longer felt sticky from the last tub she had been in. The manse they had occupied was expansive, and largely vacant, save for officers and several clergy. Everyone else had taken refuge in the neighboring homes with a roving guard patrolling the surrounding blocks. Fiora exited the bathroom, and was greeted by Rowena’s rear end as she stoked the fire. She still wore the garb of the forest, a long belted tunic and stockings, despite how cold it had gotten.
Fiora cleared her throat, alerting Rowena of her presence. “Thank you, I can take over from here.”
Rowena gave one last poke to the logs, and the fire roared anew. She stretched grandly, like a cat in the window, as she crossed to room on her toes. With an exaggerated sigh, she plopped herself on the bed.
“Oh…I’m sorry, I thought I was staying in this room….”
Rowena giggled and patted the space on the bed beside her. “You are silly; you aren’t sleeping in that damp robe are you?”
Fiora felt her cheeks flush. “I can sleep in another room if you prefer this one.”
Rowena rolled over onto her stomach and kicked her feet in the air. “If you’re going to play that game, then you could at least order me out. You do outrank me after all.”
Fiora looked away, finding herself increasingly self-conscious under Rowena’s gaze. “I just don’t think it’s appropriate…”
“Oh…” Rowena said with a dejected frown. “Well, if that’s the case, I could go wake Emarosa.”
“Well, with you being on the mend and all, we thought it best someone slept with you to keep an eye on you. I only figured since we’ve become such good friends and all you would be comfortable with me” Rowena sat up on her knees. “Buuut, if you would rather Emma come over then I won’t take it too personally.”
“No! No, I just, it's fine.” Fiora stammered. “I thought…Nothing, never mind.”
Rowena tilted her head and laughed. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Fiora said uncertainly, clutching the robe at her chest.
“Alright…” Rowena eyed Fiora with a curious gline to her eyes and pulled back the duvet. “Are you going to take that damp thing off or what?”
Fiora blushed and took a hesitant step back. “I…I sleep, bare.”
Rowena smirked. “Is that all?”
Before Fiora could respond, Rowena unfastened her belt, pulled the tunic up over her head, and tossed it into the corner. She was as naked as the gods had made her save for the spider silk stockings. Her breasts were every bit the globes of perky perfection she had imagined, as the firelight cast shadows to dance upon her milky skin, accenting each curve and inviting crevice.
“I prefer to sleep in the nude as well.” Rowena said with a mischievous grin.
Fiora dropped her robe and used every ounce of her will to crawl into the bed as opposed to pouncing on the elf’s taut body. As soon as she was comfortable, Rowena snuggled up against her, draping her arm across her chest to cup one of Fiora’s breasts in her slender fingers.
“You’re so tense.”
Fiora barely heard her over her pulsing heart drumming in her ears. “Am I?”
Rowena crossed her leg with Fiora’s. She felt the nimble elves pubis upon her thigh, felt the warmth emanating from her woman hood, the protruding nipples against her own goose pimpled flesh. Rowena had the scent of the summer forest at dawn, and her skin was as smooth as silk on brushed marble. Fiora felt her heart race and her breaths quicken. She felt a heat emanating from her thighs and a throbbing itch in urgent need of scratching.
“Do you want a massage?” Rowena whispered, her breaths tickling the fine hairs on Fiora’s neck.
Fiora knew she shouldn’t be having these thoughts about her subordinate, she shouldn’t have even gotten into such a compromising situation. Yet even now she found her arm wrapped around Rowena, her hand cupping her breast as she pulled her in close. Rowena inhaled sharply, in pleasure? In surprise?
“Or I could sing you a lullaby…”
Fiora smelled her, ripe and musky like fresh tilled soil and wild flowers. She wanted to explore her with eager mouth and plying fingers, to taste her. She wondered what her sweet, lyrical voice sounded like in ecstasy. Fiora knew she should not be having such thoughts about any woman except Alice, but Alice isn’t here.
Fiora rolled her over, pinning Rowena beneath as she straddled the elf. Rowena laughed with brazen wickedness, a seductively sly grin curled upon her lips. Fiora had long suspected the naïve innocent act was purely that, an act, but never got a sense of how naughty she truly was.
“Major!” Rowena breathed, her breaths shallow and rapid as she squirmed in anticipation beneath. “What are you doing?”
“Shut up.” Fiora breathed, and locked her lips around the others.