My conversation with Minfilia still buzzed in my head as I materialized at the aetheryte just outside The Winsome Dragon. I hadn't thought about Hydaelyn's silence until the antecedent brought it up. Even her litany of hear, feel, think had been missing.
I stood still for a few minutes, thinking, and as I did, all of the events of the past two months caught up with me. Yes I'd slept, now and then, caught a few meals here and there, but work with the Scions kept me busy. So busy...I'd not even noticed my Lady's voice was no longer with me. The Echo was still there, and gave me those wonderful headaches...but little else.
The lance at my back felt as if it had gained ponzes and my feet throbbed in my boots. I smiled as a few patrons came out of the Inn and Bar and in turn, they smiled at me. The odd looks I received wasn't be cause I was now The Defender of Eorzea, as Alphinaud and the others so dubbed me. No, I was being looked at because I am a male Viera, and still somewhat of an oddity.
I moved through the gates of the establishment in the Lavendar Beds just as a tiny, white haired Lalafell came running at an impossible speed to meet me. She grabbed my leg and I nearly fell. That miss step made her release me and step back. "You look like shite."
"Nice to see you too, Oruru," I gave her the best smile I could, but knowing I had some down time that was my own was catching up with me. And my body was demanding a rest.
She crossed her arms over her chest, looking up at me, her head all the way back. "Your accent's not changed."
"Neither has yours." I looked at the front door, so close, and yet so far. "Is Lorelei here?"
"I'm afraid not. She's with Raff in Limsa. But she'll be back this evening. Did she know you were coming?"
"No. I wanted to surprise her." I looked back down at the Lalafell. "Is my room available?"
"No. You'll be in her Lady's suite. There's no way we're risking her ire putting you in with the masses. It's been what--three months since you've seen each other?"
Had it really been so long? There were moments when she was all I could think about. The flash of her golden eyes, the softness of her hair, the twitch of her ears, and the melodic sound of her voice. Lorelei had saved my life, in more ways than one. As had Oruru, and Raff, and the entire staff and patronage of the Dragon.
Perhaps I lived for those moments in her embrace, and again, for those moments when battle and adventure made my heart race.
"Asche, come on. Come around the back way. I'll have a bath drawn and the sheets turned down. I think you should get some sleep before the Mistress gets back."
I followed the little chirurgeon down the side path, past the gardens, the heated baths, to a back door hidden behind a fence rose. I climbed the spiral staircase up to the private rooms I'd spent a month in, recovering from a corrupted crystal that had nearly ended my life. It was in that recovery that I fell in love with the owner of this Inn and Tavern. And yet, this was something I had not yet told her.
Once in Lorelei's apartments, I inhaled of her scent, that of Jasmine and Rose. I removed my lance and propped it against a wall, then I sat on a bench near the bath and slowly, achingly, removed my heavy boots.
"Asche, you do look bad. You've got circles under your eyes, and you're rail thin."
"It's not that bad," I said as one of the Tavern maids stepped in. She had two buckets of hot water and I stood and helped her pour them into the tub.
"Thanks, Gerys," I said.
She put her hand to my cheek. "That's wot makes you special, Asche," she gave me a kiss on that cheek. "You remember me, you remember everyone, and you're always polite." She laughed. "And we all love your accent."
I smiled at her and suggested she get Thom or Berendt to bring the water up. She shouldn't be lifting such heavy things.
"Get your clothes off...LOR!" Oruru was up on the bench and yanking my top off of my arms. "Asche...your back...and your shoulders...the bruises!"
"I had a few Primal fights," I said and finished pulling my arms from the sleeves. I looked at my arms and yes, I'd seen the marks, and I'd noticed the increasing number of scars. Many of them had faded, but there were more now, reflecting my most recent fights with Leviathan and Ramuh.
Thom and Berendt came in with two buckets each. They filled the tub and said their helloes before Oruru shooed them out. "He needs a bath, a soak, and sleep. Oh, and bring up a bowl of that stew Raff made, cold water, and some of Lorelei's green tea."
"Hush, now get those small clothes off and get in that tub. I gots some stuff to put in there with you to ease some of that pain. And don't tell me you're not hurting. I can see it in the way you're moving."
I did as she said, and I will admit, the bath felt wonderful, and whatever it was that little Lala sprinkled in the water actually put me to sleep. Oruru woke me and I got out, still stiff but feeling a bit better, sleepier than ever. I pulled on a pair of comfy white slops, ate the bowl of soup, drank the tea and the water and fell into bed.
Oruru pulled the blankets up as I tried to keep my eyes open. "Rest Asche. Here, you're safe. And when you wake up, Lorelei should be home."
"Thanks, Oruru. You know..you're really a nice person."
"Och...stow it." She punched my arm.
I said, "ow," and she left the room.
I stared at the ceiling, at the plants that clung to the wooden slats and inhaled the smell of Lorelei in the sheets. "Where are you, Hydaelyn?"
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