Oct 28, 706 CR
Sir Yacoub Egland of Yesulam, Holy Knight of the Ecclasia, stared morosely at the plain bowl of porcelain before him. In the bowl was gleaming clear water that reflected the wan torchlight of his recovery room. That water would be cold, he knew, and while he once may have paid little heed he was no longer what he once was.
Cold water, for one, clung to his new pelt of short, fine fur quite tenaciously without ever seeming to warm appreciably. Since autumn was well under way it was getting cooler and his rooms were feeling that chill. He did not look forward to another chilling bath out of that porcelain washbasin. Nor did he look forward to the ignominy of having another aide in his bathing because of his weakened state. He sighed heavily and looked down at his hands, now like the rest of him given over fully to the change.
Contemplating the two hoof-tipped thickened fingers and one thumb that had replaced his once fine hands and nimble fingers he did not hear the polite knock at his door. The sound of a polite cough did finally interrupt his fractured thoughts and bring his attention to his visitor. A short woman, age regressed by the villainy of the curse where Egland had been made a beast, stood at the threshold bearing an arm load of towels and a fresh ewer of water.
More cold water.
"I've brought you some towels, Sire, and more water for your rinsing." She explained once he looked up and bade her enter with a nod of his antlered head. Egland, a knight of many years, accepted the weight atop his head as normal, as he might a steel helm, but the balance was vastly different. How elk in nature dealt with their cumbersome antlers he could not fathom. Before becoming injured and trapped at Metamor, victim to its curse, he never would have cared. "I can call Angton to assist you with bathing if you wish."
That idea pleased Egland even less than the thought of bathing with icy water. "No." Angton, a huge burly man that he was could be gentle enough but a bull gracing in a field had more personality. "What is the hour, lass?"
"Halfmark past the eleventh hour, milord."
Almost midnight, Egland realized. The listless empty passage of time in the healer's rooms was playing havoc with his body time. The curse could not be helping that, either, he realized. "Would the baths be usable at this hour?"
"Oh, aye." The nurse nodded, "They're available all the day and night for those that keep such hours, milord."
Carefully drawing his crutches over Egland levered himself out of bed carefully. He had donned his tabard some hours before and suffered no qualms of modesty. Not that he would have had ne not been dressed for this nurse had been one of the many who had been tending him since his untimely crippling. After he had tried and failed the death of his Patriarch where so many others had perished under the attack of but one madman of incredible ability and power. Of a retinue of fifty only three survived. Himself with legs crushed beyond all but the touch of magic, and Metamor's curse, to heal. Bishop Vinsah who remained comatose even two weeks after the disaster and Kashin who had lost an arm but retained his mobility. That last had left to hunt their attackers and exact vengeance and escape the touch of the Curse.
"Point the way, if you would." Egland hobbled inelegantly on the rough wooden crutches toward the door forcing the nurse to move.
"Well, sire, that's not really a simple task, as such." She wrung her hands in consternation, "Where the baths are and we are, well, is all up to how fickle the Keep wants to be."
Egland leaned on one crutch to take one of the towels and drape it across his shoulders. Tightening the belt around his tabard he hobbled through the door with the small nurse at his tail. "Ah, for blessed Yesulam, where the forsaken walls don't move." He muttered.
"Just a moment, sire, I'll fetch someone to assist you."
"Nay, lass, nay. I am whole and hale, if weakened." Egland belayed her hasty fetching of some other sad invalid to wander the cold corridor with him at the turning hour of the night. "This pilgrimage is betwixt Eli and mine own heart, I shant bring others from their comforts just to shuffle alongside me." So said he awkwardly drew open the outer door and stepped into the corridor beyond.
Or would have, had the broad spread of his antlers not caught against the lintel and hauled him up short. "Gods all bedamned horns!" he swore, shaking his head violently free and staggering into the corridor. "When the master healer arrives have him fetch a bone saw. I wish to be rid of these fey things!"
"As you wish, milord. Have care and come back safely." The nurse called after him.
Frustrated at his infirmity and the cumbersome weight upon his head Egland made his way slowly down one corridor and then another. Not attentive to his own twistings and turnings and angrily aware that had he put more thought into remembering his path the attempt would be moot a minute later. The Keep gave him creeping horrors the likes of which he had not known since childhood. He had visions of the floor opening up at his hooves or the walls slamming together where he stood. Neither mental image, fatal as they might be, was as terrifying as the thought of being sealed away in some stone room bereft of window or door to perish alone.
He heard the calling of the hour through a casement and looked out at the starry darkness the view presented. No torches were lit upon the curtain wall, relying on the keen night eyes of those on watch, and the moon was waning somewhere beyond the casement's view. Along the shadowed crenellations an armored form moved on patrol. "Eli, all Father, how have I failed you that I am cast into this place of waking horrors? Why did your good, kind servant Akabaieth and so, so many others perish and we few of us survive only to live on in such a cursed half-existence?" Egland asked, again, as he had since awakening and finding the raccoon healer Coe hovering over him.
"Why were we deemed not worthy to be brought unto you as the others?" He spoke toward the cold, distant stars with a familiar crushing ache in his breast.
"It is not the destination; it is the journey that defines who one is when they arrive." A new voice, mellow and tenor, interposed gently on Egland's questions of faith bringing the elk knight about abruptly. Irritation and embarrassment burned in his ears and eyes at being caught in his weakness of faith.
Standing several paces away was the pine marten minstrel, Dream Serpent, who had entered into Egland's infirmary room the first time some six days earlier. He had since returned twice more to help Egland re-learn how to use his hands and make music with his precious viola. He was always nobly and gaily garbed in the latest court fashions, insofar as fashions could be adjusted to fit his long, sinuous form. Now was no exception save perhaps being more ostentatious than Egland had seen before.
The dark brown marten was bedecked in a turquoise silk surcoat and leggings etched with silver embroidery and gold piping. Over this was an indigo coachman's long coat while deep azure boots adorned his feet. Atop his head was a broad-brimmed hat festooned with peacock feathers. In contrast the dark brown leather dulcimer case slung across his back looked like horse dung flung across the dawning sky.
"Your poetic reach is not well taken, minstrel." Egland muttered flatly.
"Ah, ts'amut, be at peace." Dream held up a placating hand. "I was merely observing an old verse. When adversity strikes ever the faithful question their faith." The marten said as he approached languidly. "A friend once told me that without adversity we lose our faith, without conflict we soften." The minstrel's head came barely as high as Egland's chin. Smiling, Dream reached up a hand to clasp the taller elk's shoulder encouragingly. "The gods do not look upon us in the throes of our adversity, giggling at our tails like bullies, but rather wait to see what emerges upon the other side of them."
Egland looked quizzically down at the good spirited fop. "You're waxing fine philosophy for one who cleaves to no faith at all."
Dream smiled hugely and then laughed. "My friend, I am drunk!" he chirruped happily. "I always wax philosophical when I'm swimming in my cups." The hand fell from Egland's shoulder to his elbow. "Come; come, where ever it was you were going."
"To bathe." Egland did move, however, drawn from the black edge of the abyss he had wallowed in quite enough already.
"At this hour? Ah, and a good idea it is, too! The baths'll be vacant."
"Yes, and you're about at such an hour as well?" Egland followed Dream's lead along the vacant hallways, the slender fop's hand upon his elbow like a courtier escorting some courtesan, following the marten's lead along the vacant hallways.
"Beh! Duke Tomas brought in a clot of his vassal nobles and spent all of the day yammering about Metamor's response to the inevitable lying of blame for your Patriarch's untimely demise."
Egland frowned. "His murder."
"Oh, aye, no quibbling on that matter. A dark, dark day that was."
"And their conclusions?"
Dream released his arm momentarily to pirouette lazily as they crossed an open courtyard bounded by an arcade to hang from a pillar, "No idea, I came to play the banquet that followed. The last drunken sod rolled his fat rump out not long before the midnight bell." Spinning from the pillar Dream danced into the inky shadows of a narrow passage. The air in the courtyard was still and cold with the bite of coming winter, brown leaves scattering across the flagstones with a whisper like court gossips, stirred by a fitful breeze. "Ah, hah, here we are. Come along my smelly friend."
Egland followed more cautiously for the passage seemed tight but it was the darkness within giving that seeming. In truth it was both wide enough and high enough to accommodate Egland's frame and antlers. He could hear the minstrel scrounging about in the darkness. Somewhere ahead was the sound of water slowly moving and a warm draft of damp air whispered past to stir a brief mist of fog along the arcade.
"Ten paces and turn right, or you'll flatten your nose on the wall."
"Can you find a light, minstrel? I cannot see but blackness." After ten paces on his crutches Egland fumbled about to his right and found another archway.
"I am trying, but there is neither torch nor striker in the sconce." The marten's tenor growl filled the echoing chamber. "And the name is Dream, sir Knight, not minstrel." Something metal and heavy rang with a dull thud eliciting a string of pained hisses from the unseen minstrel. "Damnation! I found the brazier; gods curse the thing, in the middle of the floor just there. We're in the dressing chamber."
"I will retrieve a torch from the hall."
"Nay, ts'amut! There are none in the courtyard, and it is no little pace to find one in the hall." Egland felt a hand touch his hip, then move to his arm as Dream sought him out and forestall his retreat. "Besides, we needn't see to bathe, and I need to soak. I'll soon think misery fine company when the wine catches up to me."
"How far to the baths?"
"A dozen paces at most, if you avoid that ambushing brazier. A tun of soap is usually somewhere near the pool." Dream's hand drew him into the deeper darkness, gently guiding him around the brazier upon its pedestal in the center of the room. "There's a bench to use. Doff that tabard and I'll lead you on."
Egland did as he was bade, unfastening the shoulder of his recently altered tabard. One of Coe's nurses had seen that his antlers would interfere with his garments and had some tailor modify his entire wardrobe. Thus, once unfastened and the sash loosened the tabard fell free. He caught it with one hand and laid it upon the bench he could feel brushing against his knee. In the darkness nearby he could hear the minstrel divesting himself of his far fancier, and far more complicated, raiment.
At the moment Egland felt glad of the blanketing darkness, feeling suddenly self-conscious at his nakedness. He had always felt such, even in the bathing caverns of Yesulam among his fellow faithful. As such he had sought to bathe in the off hours when few if any were present, when he could let his thoughts wander without the ever-present fear that anyone might catch him glancing or even staring where he should not.
"Brrah!" Dream exclaimed at last, "I don't look forward to putting all of that back on in the dark, but it feels good to be free of it!" The marten's hand once again found Egland's elbow and urged him into motion. "Come, let us be cleansed." Egland felt the minstrel's other hand at his hip, "A step to the right, the edge of the brazier is not pleasant to walk into unawares. Nor do I fancy hauling you to your hooves should you trip upon it." Once safely around the unseen obstruction Dream lead only by the touch upon Egland's elbow. "How fares your recovery?"
"Swiftly, considering such injuries." Egland supplied quietly while he shuffled along on his crutches. After more than an hour upon them his shoulders and hands ached terribly. "The healers say the bones are whole, I now need only regain my lost strength and figure out a completely new sense of balance."
Dream guided him around a corner into the heavy warmth of water-laden air. "The latter, I daresay, will be more difficult than the former." Egland could hear the lazy susurrus of undisturbed water under the steady plinking of dripping condensation. "Expect many a bruise to pride and posterior before you once again master the steel dance of war." A staying hand touched Egland's chest. "Two steps down and then sit, the last step is into the depths and about waist high for you, I imagine." Egland could hear the marten splashing about, testing his footing with one paw. The guiding touch left and a louder splash followed. "Aye, that's the right of it. Have care."
Warm water lapped at Egland's hooves as he cautiously descended the two steps and slowly sat down on the rim of the pool. From the echoing of splashing water and voice he judged the pool to be large. His ears told him that the chamber was longer than wide. Setting his crutches upon the edge of the pool Egland carefully eased off the lower step and into the comfortable embrace of warm water.
"What think you, ts'amut? Better than a little basin of snowmelt?" Dream queried from somewhere to Egland's right. "The soap is here in a wooden tun as well a deeper ledge to sit upon."
"It's warm, thank Eli." Egland leaned there against the pool's edge by sinking into the water and bracing his arms along the lip of the stone pool. "How are such marvels done in such an inhospitably cold clime?"
"Hah! You fear yet more magic?" Water surged when Dream pushed toward the deeper middle of the pool. "They do the same here as elsewhere; they put the pool above a source of heat. In this case one of the kitchens, from the smells and sounds coming through the stones. At the far end of the bath is the chimney for the ovens."
Unconcerned at the moment about actually bathing Egland luxuriated with a leisurely soak in the warming water. "So simple, heh. In the heat of Yesulam the baths are below ground where the water is cooled rather than warmed."
"We are not so different here than elsewhere in our daily lives, after all."
Egland stretched each of his legs slowly as the warmth of the bath eased into the atrophied muscles to chase away the tension. "Perhaps, except needing a good brushing down as often as my horse."
Dream laughed from somewhere in the middle of the dark pool. "Yes, well, there is that point. It adds variety to life."
"Yashua's stones, minstrel! Variety? Every man you meet was once a woman, every woman once a man? You know not if a child is ten summers or fifty?" Egland snorted derisively, "I'd not call that variety, I'd call it confusion! I don't know if the lamb is for slaughter or soliloquy!"
"You read the poetry, first. If they don't offer appreciation then they're just dumb beasts. You are new to this, ts'amut, just as we all were at one time."
Egland sighed heavily, "It is too new, too fast upon so much all at once." The elk shook his head slowly. "And why do you keep calling me that?"
"Your friend was the steppelander, Bryonoth? I thought from such acquaintance you would know something of the language. It means—"
"Brother. It means brother, I know. Other than that rat, Sir Saulius, you're the only one who has spoken a word of the language. And even the he did not call me ts'amut. Why do you?"
Dream was silent for a few moments, the water stilling as he floated motionless. "You need one." He said at length, quietly. "Bereft, bereaving, alone among so many unknown and strange to you. The word was taught to me, many years ago, by a dear… friend. My own ts'amut, if you will. Ajhes ts'amut."
"That one was close to you." Egland replied softly with some surprise. Ajhes had many layers of meaning from the mere closeness of unrelated friends, to affection, or even love either emotional or physical, or both. It was a weighty preposition not tossed about lightly. "Who was this ajhes ts'amut of yours? What became of him?"
"He joined your ecclasia; he went to this great church city of Yesulam where I could not follow." Dream intoned flatly. He drifted over to seat himself on one of the submerged stone benches. "His name was Sahan Deross."
Egland blinked in shock at the name that reached his ears. "Who?" he managed to croak at length.
"Sahan Deross, son of Earl Buran Deross of Pyralia."
"Who called himself Namir." Egland felt his heart shrink as if crushed by a mighty fist as memories flooded from the past to lay their sorrows upon those still fresh. The words escaping his throat were a whisper.
"Namir, yes." The marten replied. "Of Lequon en Nahmir, a story of Steppes folklore, of the forging of peace between the mountain peoples and the steppes."
"The Two Princes, by historical treatise, seven hundred years before our Reckoning. Both became mighty kings who ended centuries of war." Egland supplied in a stunned daze.
"For love." Returned the marten in an equally subdued whisper. "How came you to know the one called Namir?"
Egland cupped his face in both hands and stared into the darkness slack-jawed for several long moments. The memories came upon him in a flood if vivid images, moments of his past flickering across his mind's eye with arresting clarity. "He was new come to the novitiate some ten years ago. I was just past my sixteenth year, four years into the studies for my future role as a papal knight. As he was beyond his majority, in his nineteenth year, he was one of the eldest at the novitae. He seemed very lost and in the early months spoke to almost no one, secluding himself in the libraries.
"As you said, alone and bereft. Sensing that he was vulnerable and weak certain of the more unruly young brothers sought to use his inexperience to their advantage. Be that by false friendships, threats of harm, or outright threat of false witness they pushed and pulled the novices to suit their ends."
"And what of you, sir knight of Yesulam, bearer of naked steel and letter of blood?" Dream queried challengingly, knowing that the Namir of his memory loathed warfare and all who practiced its art.
"When I happened upon a half score of the worst that had cornered Namir and two other novitiates to… use in contrition of their initiate vows I, too, foreswore my oaths and vows not to raise hand to my fellows of the Church.
"Three I smote with such violence that their service thereafter was proscribed by the lasting injuries. Four others were felled but recovered in time and the last three would have had the best of me but for the arrival of other novitiates. All were tried, myself among them. Seven were discharged and bade never seek service to the Church thereafter. Those I injured most grievously remained, but were sequestered in roles of menial services. As the one who stood against them with violence I was made to serve penance for violating my vows but that moment of courage reached the Patriarch's ear. Five years ago he called me to the ranks of his personal guard.
"But before I could become a proper squire I had to become more than a petty nobleman's poorly educated cast-off whelp. While I understood sword and shield I knew little of scholarly work. I could read, but not well, enough to partake in study of the Canticles. I sought out the scholarly, eventually coming to novice Sahan.
"I liked him easily, for his gentle humor and patience with my ignorance. The library was his armory, his field of battle and triumph. For me it was a besiegement that I weathered with ill grace if for nothing more than to be near him.
"And…" Egland stared down at his hands, not seeing how they had changed in the darkness, but his past hands with the vividness of memory. "And I knew why! I dared not say, but I knew why I wished to be at his side." He raised his head to look toward the oddly attentive minstrel. To what end was he telling this strange amalgam of man and beast such things? What brought him to such revelations, given to none before, even those closest to him in any regard throughout his service to the Church?
An old familiarity between the two, the link from his past and the past of the curious minstrel?
Egland sighed, his past was past, his life and existence was dashed. What, now, those secrets he had for years shepherded carefully in the vaults of his mind? Looking once more at his hands the elk knight continued. "He understood my needs, as well, dancing around their edges knowing more than I and letting me come to grips with myself, to understand what it was awakening within my heart. For a year we studied and denied the truth.
"I came across the history of Lequon en Nahmir one day and while reading asked Namir, as he had asked only me to call him, about the similarity between the name from history and the one he had chosen for himself. That was when he told me about his Prince Lequon, to whom he was Namir. He related the actual steppes version of the history, not the emptied dry treatise I had read. That was the day our denials fell apart."
Egland shrugged helplessly, staring into the darkness of the water lapping at his chest, the armor of his secrets cast aside for the first time in a decade. Not since the day Bryonoth found him grieving the loss of Namir when the young priest was assigned far from Yesulam had he spoken to another about their relationship as aught but tutor and student.
Dream's voice was startlingly close, "And that was what, eh? A fling? Any empty tryst between friends?" the marten asked silkily but with a hidden, dangerous edge. "What is this I sense, shame? Disgust? Unaccepted truths of what was?"
"No!" Egland hissed, leaning away from the unexpected proximity of that challenging voice, affronted at the intimation that his relationship with Namir was a hollow one. "Shame in silence! He was my ajhes ts'amut!" He turned toward the minstrel's challenging voice. "My ajhes and in silence I held that to my heart, even when he was wrenched from me!" The elk thumped his breast with one hand sending forth a wave of water. "He was my D'ahshan, secreted though it was, as it must have been." His hand lashed out and poked Dream in the middle of the chest with surprising accuracy. "But you, you were his Loquon! I was never that. You were the ghost that haunted his eyes when he looked at me." Egland's hand dropped to the water. "How could I ever compare? How could I be his prince when his prince was dead?"
Rubbing his assaulted chest Dream peered at Egland through the darkness, "Dead?"
"Namir was hostage to the Sutt lord for many years, his Loquon was the youngest of the Sutt line." Egland rubbed his face with both hands. "Assassins cut a bloody swath through that line some seven years agone. Namir was stricken with grief for his lost Prince." Egland lowered his hands slowly and turned to stare into the unrevealing murk toward the minstrel. "You."
"Me, aye." Dream nodded from the darkness nearby.
"You, his Loquon, escaped." Egland grunted softly, "You are the sole heir to all that your father conquered." He looked toward the minstrel, "Malger."
"Aye, you've discovered a secret, a dark past I repudiated long, long ago. Malger en Persionne du Fuane Sutt, last blood of the line and heir to a dukedom I've no desire to hold."
"Archdukedom, by the laws of Pyralia and writ of the King. He petitioned Yesulam nigh nine years ago after the Regent laid the title upon him."
"I care not. I divested myself of the name when Namir was banished to Yesulam and I to Silvassa." Dream sighed angrily, then chuffed a rueful laugh. "And here I ended up, fleeing the assassin's cold blade after so many thoughts of ending my own life."
"Namir would never countenance such an act, nor Eli."
"I am no Follower of the Way, sir, though force fed it my first twenty years. It was for Namir's memory I did not."
Egland nodded slowly, "For Namir's memory you do honor." He trailed into silence for a moment and issued a short cough of pained laughter as well. Had laughter not escaped his throat a sorrowed moan would have. "Hear us! Here these two lost, destitute souls lament love lost. A Knight of the Holy See and spurned Duke's son, decrying the memory of a love neither could ever acknowledge. Ahh, Eli, what sad brothers we make."
Hands grasped Egland's elongated elk muzzle in a gentle but strong touch, "Do not grieve that love, ts'amut, but the blindness that cannot see its truth." Dream said earnestly to the knight's captured muzzle, breath smelling of wine. "We loved and lost but we did love, and we were loved, with honest hearts." Egland felt a momentary thrill of fear when his face was touched, fear of what might come and anticipation that it might. His heart raced with the compassionate touch of this odd stranger and he sat there in stunned silence unable to move. After a moment the hands dropped to his broad shoulders.
"What are we?" Dream asked after a momentary pause, his face still close to Egland's own but lost in darkness. The knight could not find a ready answer, captured by the smaller minstrel's proximity, his unseen presence. "What are we, sir knight?" he asked again
"Ts—" Egland choked softly, bowing his head and feeling tears in his eyes, but not tears of sorrow any longer. "Ts'amutai." He finally managed to answer in a hushed voice.
"Ts'amutai, Princes to a lost King." Dream intoned, "Brothers."
Sir Yacoub Egland was comfortable. For the first time in a long time he felt an easing in his heart and no pain in his body. Of course, however, what he did feel was wet; very wet. Warm water embraced him from hoof to chest and lapped just below his shoulders.
His head rested on something soft and warm and dry. Something that moved slowly against his cheek and filled his ear with the steady rush of a heartbeat. Without moving the elk knight blinked open his eyes. One eye was greeted with cream-hued fur while the other beheld the slack-jawed countenance of the slumbering minstrel.
The pine marten, who called himself Dream Serpent or Serpent Dream without particular care which was pre- or surname, was sprawled along the rim of the bathing pool with the boneless grace given to felines and mustelids in equal measure. Egland's head lay pillowed upon the marten's furry chest looking toward his chin. He decidedly refrained from contemplating the awakening sight he would have beheld had he been facing the opposite direction upon realizing that they were both still quite naked. One of the marten's hands draped in the water in which Egland still reclined while the other was tossed akimbo across his antlers.
While he stared at the marten's indecorously slack-jawed expression Dream awoke, muzzle clicking while he roughed his tongue across his pallate. He blinked once before squinting at the light spilling in from the quartet of dew-fogged clerestory windows high above.
"Mmbwuagh!" Dream exclaimed, throwing his dry arm across his eyes. "Who put in windows?!" Egland lifted his head once his antlers were released, leaning forward to stretch. "Ugh, my head throbs like Kammoloth's damned forge." The marten rubbed his eyes and looked away from the light streaming across his face and setting the healthy sheen of his fur aglow. "Are you well, sir knight?"
Egland studiously looked everywhere but at the unclothed minstrel by the easy habit of decades practicing. "Quite. A night soaking in hot water does wonders."
Dream chuffed and sat up to stretch as well, turning to drop his footpaws in the water. "Ah yes, tenderized like stew meat, eh? Your legs?"
"Not for eating, tender or no." Egland smiled lazily and looked up toward the foggy windows. By the angle of the light it was either noon or shortly after. "Coe is going to be terribly wroth! I've been gone from the infirmary near half a day!"
"Hmmm, and the better for it too." Dream slid into the water.
"Yes, my legs are still weak, but do not ache so." Something tapped his elbow to bring his attention away from the gables. The marten was proffering a wooden basin full of some viscous looking yellow glop the consistency of lard. "That is the most vile looking soap I have ever seen."
Dream barked a laugh, "Looks revolting, but smells marvelous. It's a damn sight better than that hard pack you've been using, and easier on the fur." Egland peered at it dubiously. The minstrel was right, however, it did smell pleasantly floral. "You went looking for a bath and got some hours of anguish and memories. Let's set that to rights." Dream shoved the tun into Egland's hands, grasped his elbow with one hand and pushed him toward the edge of the pool.
"Ah, Malger," Egland grunted with trepidation, looking back over his shoulder.
"Dream, ts'amut, not Malger." Dream leaned around to dip a gob of the viscid looking slime from the tun.
"Dream, then, ah— I can bathe myself."
Slapping the soap between Egland's shoulder blades Dream splashed water up onto his back, "I do hope so, because there's a lot of you to wash so get to it." Strong hands began working firmly along his upper back and Egland grumbled at himself for finding it inordinately pleasant. "I wash your back, you wash mine." Dream's fingers were slender yet strong and skillfully nimble as they raked the frothing soap into Egland's fur, "Unless, of course, old Nasoj's little gift has made you a good bit more flexible even than myself. Sound fair?" Enjoying the scrubbing massage Egland could only grunt a begrudging affirmative.
With assistance bathing was a passably brief affair, Egland found, but rinsing all of the thick flowery fragrant soap from his pelt actually took some laps the length of the pool. Likewise drying took a considerable effort as the water wanted to cling to his now clean coat. So it was when they emerged from the baths to find their discarded garments both were more than slightly damp.
Dream scooped up the knight's discarded tabard first. While Egland leaned on his crutches the marten untangled the heavy drape of fabric and glanced over at him. "Well, now, we don't stink anymore but this thing," he shook the tabard and made a disgusted face, "needs a good laundering." Shaking his head at the soiled condition of the tabard Dream approached. Strangely Egland felt no qualms of shame at the marten's rather blatant examination as he neared. A small smile of vain pride at being thusly admired pulled at the corners of his lips.
Dream caught his small, enigmatic smile while he draped the tabard off the knight's shoulders and affixed it in place. Egland quirked a thickly lashed eyebrow with a sardonic twitch of his muzzle and was surprised to see the marten's ears back and whiskers flatted in acute embarrassment.
The minstrel coughed to clear his throat, grinning at his being caught looking. "Welladay, ts'amut, the Duke's moot should be concluding come sunset so I need to find fresh raiment for the inevitably inebriating banquet to follow." He crossed to the sapphire and azure heap of expensive fabrics he had worn the previous night. Egland watched for a few moments, not drawn to habitually casting his gaze everywhere else, while Dream sinuously shrugged into baggy blouse and leggings. "When would be a fair time to attend you?"
Egland blinked, "Attend me?" One ear backed in confusion and his antlered head tilted.
"Your viola?" Dream laughed while worrying a knotted lace out of his doublet. "You've still much to re-learn, and I've in mind another instrument for you."
"Any time sobriety befits you, ts'amut." Egland smiled, placing his right wrist upon his left breast and bowing awkwardly on his crutches.
"Ah, that being any time no banquet is in the offing." Malger set aside his uncooperative doublet and circled the brazier to stand before Egland. With one hand he laid the tips of his fingers alongside Egland's chin. "Until such time, ts'amut, rest easy and recover swiftly." Egland smiled fondly at the touch and turned away.
As he passed the archway leading out he noticed a torch, unlit and cobweb festooned, in the sconce. He said nothing of it.
"Welcome back, sir Egland." Said the master physician, a raccoon named Coe, upon Egland's crutching walk through the door, this time without fouling his antlers. "We had some worry after you when you did not return from the baths."
"I was well, Master Coe. I encountered a friend after becoming lost in the corridors. We walked and wiled away some hours in conversation."
"I see." Coe murmured disapprovingly. "Who was this talkative walker who wanders Metamor's halls at the high hour and delays a patient's timely return to his physician's care?"
Egland stopped at the raccoon's irritated burr. "The minstrel who has been assisting me with my instrument and coming to grips with… well, this." He waved one hand at his physique.
"Dream what's-his-name, the master of the Sensates?" Coe gaped in aghast shock, "Sir Egland I cannot caution you strongly enough to have care with that one, he is—"
The Elk rounded on the raccoon, looming over him with a hard stare. "A friend, Sir! He is a friend, Master Coe, and I daresay I have scarce few of them in this accursed place." He rumbled furiously, voice pitched low out of care for the other patients but rough with the elk's ire, forcing the startled raccoon back a pace. "With my master dead, the Bishop my only remaining leader comatose, and me twisted into this freakish body I've nowhere to go, and no one with which to converse beyond those who seek me out here.
"I've the count of my one hand," the knight held up one hoof-hand angrilly, thickened digits splayed, "of this place to even consider the appellation of friend, healer. I will not have you decry the minstrel in my presence." Egland continued to loom forcing Coe back another step.
"As you wish, milord." The healer said at length in a flat monotone.
"Very well. I have not broken my fast during my time away. Have food brought to my room." Egland finished as he turned away and hobbled toward his recovery room, "And send someone to recover my garments, they are in need of laundering."
Coe, affronted by the sudden and unexpected outburst from the heretofore patient and quiet knight, could only nod. "Yes, milord."