He awoke to find two large, sapphire blue eyes regarding him sternly. Startled, he tried to sit up.
“Don’t even try,” the woman warned just a moment too late, and he sank back onto the pallet with a groan. His head ached miserably.
“Who are you?” Joshua hated the tremor in his voice.
“Come now, that’s no way to thank someone who saved your life, is it?” Her harsh reply belied the twinkle of amusement in those remarkable eyes.
“I…” He was shaking now, curse it all! “I’m sorry. Forgive me for being rude, Lady… I just… Thank you.” It was lame, as usual. He was not a very well-spoken man.
“You’re welcome.” She rose from the floor where he lay to poke at a low-burning fire on the nearby hearth. “You may call me Ryeanna. Just what were you doing walking the back streets alone after dark, anyway? A man of your age, you should know better by now.”
His eyes followed her as she spoke, observing his newfound savior. She was a tall woman, trim and muscled. By the way she moved, he gathered she was a fighter. No, he knew that already from before—last night, was it? There were no windows in the room, so he couldn’t tell. She was Elvish, yes, with moonlight pale skin and wild charcoal hair.
Remembering himself, he cleared throat before answering. “I was coming home from a friend’s library. I thought it would be quicker to go that way. I know now how foolish it was…”
“Foolish, indeed. Do you not carry a knife about yourself? No protection for such a situation?” She turned back to look at him with a little frown marring her brow.
“I’m afraid not… I… I guess I don’t think much about personal safety.” He managed a weak smile.
“Aye. I could tell.” She set a kettle over the fire and came back to sit beside him. “I gave you my name. What is yours?”
“Joshua de Moselien, Lady, at your service. I am but a humble scholar.” He raised his right hand, fingertips hopelessly ink-stained, and gave a rueful smile.
“Under different circumstances, it might be a pleasure. You’re very lucky, you realize. Those men would not have left you alone even if you had given them your purse.” She was staring at him again, and it made him a little uncomfortable.
“Yes, I know. And… thank you again, for helping me.” Joshua blushed a bit, looking at the floor.
“And you are twice welcome. We will, of course, have to see about your self-preservation habits, though—or lack thereof. There won’t always be someone around to hear your call for help. Here.” She picked up a pillow and scooted closer. “Let’s get this pillow behind you so you can sit up a bit to drink your tea.”
Moaning softly, he pushed himself up just long enough to let her shove the pillow behind him. “I guess I got hit in the head…”
“There, and just about everywhere else. You’ll feel better once you get some tea in you.” She stood and went to the fire. “So, Joshua de Moselien. I suppose you aren’t from around here, are you?” She gingerly lifted the kettle from the fire and poured the steaming hot water into a plain ceramic teapot emitting a faint scent of herbs.
“No, Lady, I am not.”
“Just Ryeanna is fine. No need for formalities here.” She brushed her hair from her eyes and sat in a chair by the table. “How long are you going to be staying?”
He thought a moment, frowning in concentration. “A month? Maybe a little longer. I have a few connections here… I am… writing a book.” He saw her eyes glint with interest at the statement and waited.
“Oh? Are you? What about, if you don’t mind me asking?” She leaned back in the chair, indolent as a cat.
“Economics, philosophy, science. More philosophy than anything else, though.” He managed a faint smile, looking toward the ceiling.
“Sounds fascinating.” She tugged absently on the end of her long black braid. “How long have you been writing it?”
Joshua rubbed a hand over his face and sighed ruefully. “Two, three years. It’s not very good, but I tarry diligently on.” The woman grinned at him, and he felt his chest tighten. She was dangerous, this Ryeanna, he could tell already.
“Here.” Before he knew it, she was pressing a steaming cup of tea into his hands. “Drink up. I’ll be right back.”
“Wait, what time is it?” He belatedly sipped at the tea and winced. It tasted acrid.
Ryeanna paused at the door, looking back at him. “What time? Oh… well, it’s just before dawn. Or was, last time I checked.”
“What, don’t you sleep?” he couldn’t help but ask. The answering smile was enough to erase any embarrassment he’d experienced.
“Sure I sleep. I’m just an early riser.” She flicks her fingers at him, gesturing for him to drink his tea as she disappeared out the doorway. It was dark in the corridor outside, and he couldn’t imagine where she’d gone. Where was he? As he sipped, his eyes took in the whitewashed walls and cleanly swept floors of the room. The fireplace was small, and it struck him as odd there would be a fireplace in a room with no windows. The physics of the airflow and ventilation distracted him a moment before he forcefully yanked his mind back to the present.
It was an interesting situation to find oneself in, he reflected as he dutifully drank the tea. To be rescued from near-death by a beautiful woman, that was. Only he could be so foolish as to get caught in a back alley after dark. For the thousandth time since leaving home, he cursed his foolishness. And to be saved by a woman! Well, he couldn’t really be picky, and she did seem to be very self-possessed. He paused a moment, trying to remember what had happened the night before. Haziness tinged his thoughts, and he frowned, looking warily down at his cup of tea.
His blue-eyed savior appeared in the doorway then, a tray balanced between her hands. “Here we are… how are you feeling?” She set the tray on the table and looked at him appraisingly.
“Better, thanks… what’s in this tea?” It was more from curiosity than from caution that he asked, which he demonstrated with another placatory sip.
“Chamomile. And some other things, but mostly chamomile.” She grinned across the room at him, causing him to blush. “I know it tastes awful, but you need to get some more sleep. I might be up, but you still have a few hours before the rest of the world comes back to life.” He watched as she pulled a piece of toast from the tray and took a bite.
“Am I your captive then?” As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted them. Stupid, stupid words. He hoped the red in his cheeks wasn’t too visible in the firelight. But she just smiled and reached over to take his empty cup from him.
“For now, I suppose you are, Joshua de Moselien. At least until you sleep off that headache of yours.” After helping to remove the extra pillow from behind his back so he could lie down, she winked at him and patted his arm.
As he felt himself drifting to sleep, he watched her break her fast and couldn’t help but entertain a congratulatory thought. If one was ever to fall captive, one should definitely fall to someone like her.