Private Tales Cold Stone Hearts

Nymeasha

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You could use them, more like, she thought immediately with a slight narrowing of her eyes, but they instantly widened again as he presented another option. She stared in mute confusion for a brief moment before looking down at her side when the pressure eased, and she pressed at the tender spot over her ribs, pulling in a deep breath now that she could. She let it out in a long sigh and her eyes rose to meet his again.

She thought of returning to Salitra and her jaw clenched tightly. As much as she’d kicked and screamed about being dragged from her home, the place now seemed to leave a bitter taste in her mouth. It had been home to her family, but not to her. Once again it was home to her mother and brothers who were being allowed to live there under protection.. They wouldn’t notice if she was there or not. There was a brief betrayal of sadness on her face at the thought and she’d felt it, but she quickly found her enmity again and scowled.

“I have no interest in returning to Salitra... I don’t want it, nor anything to do with it..” she admitted bitterly. “I already chose to stay in Ragash and work for Medja.” she arched a brow. It’d been the first real choice she’d ever been faced with, but in Ragash she’d found more moments of peace than she ever had in Salitra, and some small semblance of belonging.

“I..” she frowned at him. “I don’t know how to do anything else..I don’t enjoy it..”.. she fell silent for a moment, chewing on the inside of her lip in thought.

“I never had a choice...” she conceded finally, the words strained as she pushed them past her lips.
 
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Gerra

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“Now you do.”

He stood up and looked down at her.

“I feel like ale. Can you walk or must I carry you?”
 

Nymeasha

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"Do I?.. And where was my choice when I was dragged from the palace and brought all this way here to spar with you?.." she huffed quietly.

Her gaze remained on his face as he stood, a brief frown in annoyance creasing at her brow at the mere suggestion that he carry her. "I can walk.." she answered quickly and brushed the stray wisps of hair from her face.

She kept an arm firmly against her ribs for fear they might break again, and allowed him to lead her.
 
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Gerra

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“It did not exist,” he said with a leonine smile, then led the way out of the caverns. It did not take them long to emerge into daylight and Gerra headed for the only ale house in the noble’s district: The Golden Hippo.

They entered and none commented. Unlike rural taverns, nobility knew to be surreptitious in their stares and wise in their whispers.

Gerra moved past one of the marble columns holding up the roof and sat himself at a table in the corner.

“The house draft,” he rumbled to the waiter.
 
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Nymeasha

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The Empire
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"And nor should I assume does it exist right now.." she muttered. The last thing she wanted to be doing was sitting having a friendly drink with Gerra, but she'd been abandoned here with him and didn't know the city well enough to go wandering off on her own. "One drink. And I'd like to return home."

Her white clothes were begrimed by the gravel she'd fallen to, her skin was sticky and gritty with sand and her hair was half stuck to her face but she didn't honestly care less about the people looking at her and she carried herself in the prideful way she always did.

She slunk into a seat and sighed with apprehension, making a mental note to try and hold her temper back so long as he didn't try to rile her as he so often did. She would try to conduct herself as Lani did, she'd always respected her friend's knack for diplomacy, though Nym's bitterness often got in her way.
 
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Gerra

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The half-giant rubbed at his aching temple. His hand came away sticky. He scowled at the red smear sticking and rubbed his fingers together until it faded into the skin.

“One drink and then back up the river with you. Not even a bath?”

He clucked his tongue then looked up as the waiter returned with their ales. Gerra accepted the clay mug and drank deeply of the cellar-cooled ale within. The cold, hoppy ambrosia warmed his belly and brought the crease of a smile to his lips. He set the clay mug down on the wooden table then arched a brow at Nym.
 
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Nymeasha

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"So this was your ploy? Drag me here to spar, wound me and heal me, ply me with ale and get me naked?" she laughed under her breath and shook her head with genuine amusement on her face, her gaze narrowed softly as she watched him for a moment. He'd already seen her naked, she wasn't ashamed of her body in the slightest. What she was afraid of was their conversation once again going sour, her invoking his wrath and his hand finding purchase on her throat again. The longer they spent with one another, the more likely that became.

Nym didn't care much for being ladylike right now. She was a mess, and she drank half of the mug down and wiped at her lips with the back of her wrist as she stopped to breathe..
 

Gerra

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“Not at all,” he rumbled, “I did not know you and Uvogin were as... serious as you are, else I would not have attempted.”

He picked up his clay mug, drained half the contents in a single, satisfying gulp, then set it back down.

“I love him like a brother, you know. Besides... I’ve already seen you undressed.”

An eyebrow quirked.

“How poor a host would I be if I sent you back up river without cleaning you up first, hmm?”
 
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Nymeasha

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Nym narrowed her eyes slightly as Gerra raised the subject of Uvogin and she felt her skin warm slightly.."I don't believe the Captain to be a 'one woman' sort of man.." she dropped her gaze into her mug and her fingers tightened their grip ever-so-slightly. "We enjoy one another, but I'd be naive to think more of it than I should.." her lips pressed into a thin line and she lifted her eyes back to him.. "He seems to hold faith in you..." she nodded with a brief frown.

She finished the rest of her ale and set the mug down with a huff at him. "Don't be mistaken in thinking that I'm ashamed to be seen in a state of undress, Gerra. My problem is simply that I don't trust you not to drown me if I rise to your bait." .. again.
 
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Gerra

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Fascinating, thought Gerra, she seems to be in love with the man, yet fears where his true loyalty lies. How fragile.

“I don’t,” he snorted. “Shouldn’t I be the one worried about being drowned?”
 
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Nymeasha

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Nym's eyes rolled and she gave him a light shrug.. "Perhaps you should.." she mused and lifted her hand to the knot of hair atop her head as though searching for spikes.. "Then again perhaps not.."

Nym huffed and stood from her chair, pressing her hands down on the table and staring at him. "Right, let's get it over with. I'd like to return home. But I swear to the Gods, Gerra. If you try anything I won't fail next time." she drew her eyes from him and pushed back from the table, her arms folding across her chest as she waited for him.
 

Gerra

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The emperor led her to the bathhouse with a smug expression upon his feature. On arrival, a bald and austere looking servant met them before the entrance.

“Emperor,” the man bowed low. His face was a series of severe lines that made it clear he frowned far more throughout life than he smiled. If he ever smiled at all.

“Nicodemus, how are you today?”

“I exist to serve, your majesty.”

Gerra snorted then glanced sidelong at Nym to see her reaction.

“Is the bath prepared?”

“It is, sire. Is this the girl?” He eyed Nym with the sort of look reserved for leeches, snakes, worms, and anything else that wiggles along the earth upon its belly.

“She is.”

“Very well, sire.” Something in the man’s tone sounded beleaguered, as if what came next would test his fortitude for patience. “Follow me, Nymeasha.”
 
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Nymeasha

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The Empire
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Nym wore an expression of fatigued irritation as she followed along a step behind Gerra until she paused and looked over the daunting man who addressed him. Her brow furrowed at their exchange, and she narrowed her eyes at the way the man looked at her and demanded that she follow. If she'd been used to being called by her title she'd have scolded him for it, whoever he was, but she looked to Gerra instead and shot him a begrudged glare and rolled her eyes as she followed after the man.

"Gerra I swear to the gods if this man dares touch me I'll send you his head in a box." she growled bitterly.
 

Gerra

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Nicodemus looked appalled and, quite frankly, disgusted at the idea of touching such a grimy, sweat-stained girl. Especially given the rumors of her about the palace. If they were to be believed she spent more time in the Captain of the Guard's bedroom than anywhere else. Lecherous whore.

The servant looked up at his master. Properly married to nine wives. Nine? Yes. Nicodemus believed that was the current count. Indulgent, perhaps, but the previous Shah had had more than thirty concubines. Still, they ruled by the grace of the gods. Blessed with divine rights. Who were the mortals to understand their ways?

Unlike this girl.

Nicodemus' lip curled up in a sneer. "This way."

For his part, Gerra merely raised an eyebrow and watched them depart. He thought it unlikely that Nym would decapitate the man, but... well... he supposed it would remain to be seen.

Nicodemus led Nymeasha into the bathhouse, where four slave girls awaited her. One to assist her in disrobing and to feed her wine and cheese as she bathed. Two to bathe her and scrape away dead skin and dirt, strigils at the ready. One to lather her in perfumed oils and dry her off. Four. It seemed ideal.

Hearing loud footsteps, Nicodemus turned and saw the holy emperor shed his tunic and pants before plunging into a bath on the other side of this one. A cloud of steam immediately erupted, occluding the bath house. A thin privacy veil separated the two baths.

"Please, help the girl disrobe," said Nicodemus.
 

Nymeasha

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If it were at all possible, Nym considered that she might hate this man more than she did Gerra, and within only minutes of meeting him. The audacity he had and the way he looked at her made her want to gut the bastard here and now.. If she could get her hands on a weapon she was sure at that moment as he sneered at her that she would do it. Her temper couldn't abide it. Alas, Gerra's men had ensured she was brought here without a weapon, for obvious reasons.

Nym huffed quietly as her pale greens wandered over the girls that clearly awaited her arrival at the bathhouse and her brow knit at the man's words, a hand held up to stop the girls from approaching her. "I can disrobe myself. Nor do I need help to bathe." she turned to scowl at Nicodemus and her jaw clenched irritably as her expression dared him to argue.

"I'll take the wine, though." she snapped her fingers toward the girl responsible for her nourishment. "And then you can all leave me." she huffed, taking a mental note of the cheese knife.
 
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Gerra

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The girl with the wine jug set it down quickly and backed away, eyes shimmering with unshed tears. She turned away from Nymeasha and her shoulders heaved as she started sobbing. The other girls crowded around her, consoling her, as they quickly exited the bathhouse.

Nicodemus looked at the girls, then threw Nym a disgusted glance before making his own exit.

Leaving Nym alone in the bath house.

A soft chuckle sounded opposite the cloth curtain barrier erected between her bath and the other.

Well, almost alone.

The sound of water splashing, the hiss of steam, and a long, relaxed sigh followed.
 
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Nymeasha

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Nym simply blinked with a look of incredulity at the woman who stood sobbing. Did women really act like this? Her head shook, utterly dumfounded and her gaze narrowed as she caught the look Nicodemus shot her and her jaw clenched.

"Yes, yes. Fuck off." her eyes rolled and she lifted her hand to shoo the man toward his exit.. She would kill that man, she promised herself as she snatched up the wine and poured herself a large glass, draining it down in one before pouring another.

She expelled a sharp huff as she heard the chuckling from the adjacent bath and she rubbed at her brow before turning to glare through the screen.. "Are all of your servants entirely incompetent?.." she asked irritably and set the wine and jug down at the side of the bath before undressing gingerly. Her ribs had been mended but her bruising and muscles ached, and she sighed in instant abatement as she sunk into the hot bath..
 
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Gerra

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"None of them are incompetent," Gerra replied liberally lathering himself in oil, "otherwise they would not be my servants."

He picked up a metal stick and began to scrape the oil from his skin, and the dirt and sweat along with it.

"You judge them before you know them. They simply do their duties. Just as you did yours for your father. What will your new duty be, Nymeasha?"

Scraping with one hand, the other reached out and picked up a goblet full of white wine. He sipped it, admiring its dryness.

"Will you find a cause greater than yourself?"
 
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Nymeasha

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Nym blurted out a laugh over the rim of her cup.. "And they have not judged me? His face practically dripped with disdain and he's never met me. The servants in Ragash do their duties without sneering at me like I've just slapped their mothers." she muttered, and took a long drink to mollify her mind as once again Gerra thought it necessary to bring her father into the conversation.

She was quiet for a moment, keeping her initial thoughts locked behind her teeth. She knew she was quick to rile, she bit the bait and her temper and impulsiveness had caused her issues from time to time. She was trying to work on it, but He seemed to make it difficult for her.

She stood to move toward the edge of the bath, set her cup down and rested her arms on the edge to prop her chin atop them.. "I have never been my own cause.." she corrected him firstly.. "And I don't know... My new duty will be whatever Medja asks of me.." she answered honestly. Nym would never be the princess she was supposed to have been, she had nothing to rule anymore even if she could have. Her people didn't know her, which was probably for the best.

"I'd still like to find out who betrayed me... It's the only duty I wish to see out, for me."
 

Gerra

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"If that is what you seek," he said neutrally, scraping away another layer of dead skin and grime from his body.

"I am sorry, princess, for the way I have treated you. I am a man of many flaws. I hope one day we will understand each other.

A low, short chuckle.

"Though I do hope you always retain your inner fire and speak your mind. Too many bless with their lips and curse with their hearts."

Gerra sighed, put down his tool, and submerged himself fully in the bath, letting his legs float out, until the water reached his neck. There was a large hiss as this caused the temperature of the bath to rise alarmingly high and great billows of steam roiled out.
 
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Nymeasha

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The Empire
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Her lips pursed and twisted thoughtfully as she let her mind drift, the thought of anyone she’d trusted stabbing her in the back was a troubling one that had cost her many hours of sleep. Names and faces flashed through her mind as they had been for the past months, but it all suddenly came to a halt at the Emperor's words...At his apology.

Her brows rose and she blinked in sheer disbelief, and despite her mouth falling open for a brief moment she could not form a single word and it closed again. Not even her own father had ever apologised for the way he treated her, and he at least cared for her in some way. She'd tried to murder Gerra on their first meeting, and he'd given her many reasons to hate him before and since that time, but his apology was unexpected and disarming, and despite her lack of trust it had seemed genuine. Then he seemed to compliment her for on of the very things that had riled him about her. Still, she could only stare mutely at the thin veil that separated them, and she did so for a long moment as she considered whether any part of her could truly accept an apology for the man who'd ruined her life.. but had he?

She sighed deeply, a brief frown creasing at her brow as she turned and sunk beneath the steaming hot water for a moment before surfacing and wiping her face and letting her head fall back against the edge..

"I'm not sorry for trying to kill you." she told him quietly.. "I admit it was wrong, admit I should have given you perhaps, more of a chance. But at that time I had been plucked from my home, my father had been killed, you wouldn't allow me to see my family and I believed you were holding on to me against my will either to kill me or sell me. I believed I was fighting for my life and I won't ever apologise for that.."

"I have heard stories about you, some good, most terrible...But I simply find you infuriating. You rile me, stoking that fire that you speak of, and I can't help but wonder if it's on purpose.." she huffed. "I doubt I'll ever like you, Gerra. But I can respect you, not for what you are, but for what you've accomplished. I can respect you for forging your own path, for giving certain people better lives even though you ruin others. But is it too much to ask that I have at least a shred of respect in return?.." her brow quirked..

"And... I will apologise for saying what I said, about your father. I don't wish to be compared to mine either." she added and clenched her jaw.
 

Gerra

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"If I did not respect you, you would not be here," Gerra rumbled, "Respect can take many forms and is different to each culture. But yes, in the future I will refrain from having you dragged off in the middle of the night for a sparring session."

He closed his eyes as he lay there, wondering if she would slit his throat and the image of the steam filled room would be the last he ever saw.

But that seemed unlikely.

"You may leave whenever you wish."
 
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Nymeasha

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Nym finished her wine as she listened to him speak, jade hues narrowed in consternation as it seemed they were at least starting to come to some semblance of civility for the other. They didn't have to like each other, but some version of coexistence was necessary. He was the Emperor. Her Emperor. If he wanted to eradicate her, he could, and she'd rather it not be something she have to fear from him, or his Captain.

She scrubbed her skin with salt and oils, her fingers tracing over the coiled snake tattoo on her thigh and her brow furrowed thoughtfully for a moment at the permission to go..

"Thank you for not having me executed.. It was merciful of you.." she muttered, trying to keep her voice void of any grudge.. She'd intended on saying so the night he barged into her room but she'd never got the chance. She fell silent for a moment before she finished washing, and stepped out of the bath with a rush of water, steam rising from her skin as she walked to pour herself another wine and wrap herself in fresh linen.

"I think I might stay in Annuakat tonight and return to Ragash in the morning. I haven't seen the gardens since I was a child.." she muttered into her cup as she drank. "If you can provide me with private quarters I'd be grateful."
 

Gerra

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"Of course," Gerra rumbled, hearing her rise from the bath, water dripping across the marble floor. "I'll give you a suite facing the river. It's a wonderful view. And the gardens are to die for."

Or at least they had been for the nobles who were massacred there back when Gerra first took over the city. What a bloody affair that had been.

He snorted, "I would not have you executed, Nym. We are too much alike."

Gerra rose from the bath in a hiss of steam and wrapped a towel around his waist. He passed the partition and stood before her. Beads of water trickling down the dark landscape of his chest.

"Now, if you have not had the hashish grown in the gardens, I'll have some brought to you."
 
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Nymeasha

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The Empire
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Nym was very close to choking on her wine as Gerra compared them to one another, but she managed to swallow back wine and retort both and simply shook her head with incredulity, and a hint of a bemused smirk tugged at the corner of her mouth. "Right.." She managed not to sound sarcastic at least, but she'd have likened the man more to her father before herself, and she doubted that the Emperor would take that as a compliment.

She turned to see him approach her. He was all the more potent without the usual garb and her gaze followed a few of those rivulets that ran down his torso for a brief moment before quirking a brow at his offer.. "Wine is fine.." she answered quietly and took a sip from the cup she swirled in her hands.

"I appreciate the hospitality.." she forced a smile as she set the empty cup down before wringing out her hair and knotting it atop her head. It was the least he could do after having her dragged here and beating her with a fucking club.
 
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