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Touch in the Night

Imara
[[lasthopelarp/Stanrick Longfang|Stanrick Longfang]

The night was cold and damp. As it got darker, the chill permeated flesh and seemed to go straight to the bone. It wasn’t late in the season yet, but the last few nights had been miserably cold. Imara stood at the fire pit in the courtyard. She looked up at the Keep. An hour ago, three Ulven had walked in and now only one had come out. She watched as he walked around the top of the wall toward the back gate. He talked to the green Syndar for a bit then she left him to his watch. Imara didn’t know his name, but she had fought alongside him the previous night. She thought that perhaps she had heard someone call him Stanley, but that didn’t sound like an Ulven name. She had been warned that the Ulven were savage barbarians, and that as a young woman, she should watch her back around them. From what she’d seen the previous night, however, this Ulven warrior seemed to have her back, and in fact, had possibly even saved her from injury or death with the strength of his shield arm. Besides, who could be afraid of a barbarian named Stanley? Gathering her courage, Imara decided to talk to him and see if he was hungry. Imara went up the steps and to see if he needed anything, but when she got to where she last saw him, he was gone. She strained to see in the moonless dark of night, but her eyes could not adjust to the black. It was quiet, but suddenly the hair on the back of her neck prickled and she sensed someone behind her.

She crouched and her hand instinctively went to her sword, but before she could so much as get her proper stance a strong arm forced itself under her own and across her chest, the hand covering her mouth and jaw. She started to struggle but the steel below her chin was so cold that it froze her in place. A deep voice whispered to her.
“Draw your blade and it will be your last act.”
Imara didn’t move, and kept her hand on her sword, waiting to see if he would say more, but all that she felt was his slow breath in her ear. She slowly took her hand away for her sword.
“Smart human.” he said, lowering his steel. “Now,” he said, spinning her around and pinning her against the wall, then suddenly backing away. “Why did you come up here?”
Imara’s hand searched for the hilt of her sword, but it was gone. The Ulven had somehow disarmed her when he spin her around.

“Think before you speak.” he whispered, inspecting her blade. “Today was not the first time I’ve spilled human blood.”
She tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry.
“I had noticed you have been up here on watch a long time. I came to see if you needed anything. I brought some bread.”
Stanrick took the bread and sniffed it before taking a bite. He didn’t smell anything dangerous on it. Satisfied, he approached to within inches of Imara’s face, grinned at her, and put her sword back in its sheath himself, rather than hand it to her. She stayed against the wall, afraid that her shivering knees would betray her fear if she didn’t have something to lean against. She watched him eat. She was angry and embarrassed that the Ulven had snuck up on her.
“Don’t be embarrassed.” He said.
Imara’s eyes got wide, fearing he may have somehow been able to read her mind, or perhaps that in her nervous state she had said something out loud.
“I saw you walking this way.” he said, “Ulven eyes see much in the dark, and I could smell your fear, and hear the apprehension in your step.” He took a bite of the bread. “But I should thank you.”

Imara stopped leaning against the wall, and stood straight up. She squared her shoulders, raised her chin, and arched her back, posturing to appear bigger and more confident.
The body language was lost on Stanrick, however, who only really noticed that she was sticking her chest out at him.
“You’re welcome” she said, “Do you need any water? Or… I can keep watch for a while if you’re tired.”
Her body was restless. Stanrick looked her up and down as he swallowed the last piece of bread.
“You are welcome to stay and keep me company, if you wish.” He looked out to the forest. “Or you can run away.”
Imara looked into the dark woods
“I don’t run.”
She was not quite sure what to make of this Ulven who had put a knife to her throat and now invited her to stay and share his watch. He glanced at her and grinned, his teeth glinting in the moonlight.
“You know I could kill you with my hand alone? Do you mean to tell me that you are not scared?”
Imara turned and looked him dead in the eye.
“I stopped running a long time ago. Besides, I know you’re a Longfang and you will honor the treaty as long as I also honor it.”
This response surprised him and he raised an eyebrow.
“True. I have no ill will to you.”

Imara relaxed her posture a bit. Maybe this Ulven was not as mean as she first thought. She handed him her water skin.
“Here,” she said, “It’s the last of the ginger wine they brought in with us.”
He sniffed the skin then took a drink.
“Thank you.” He said.
She tried to stand still, but she was restless, constantly chewing her lower lip, and fiddling with her hands. She began to pace after a few minutes.
“If you fidget too much then you won’t hear when Gaia warns you of an attack.” Stanrick said.
The leaves on the aspen trees rustled in the cold, damp wind. Imara pulled her cloak closer around her.
“I guess I’m still a bit worked up from our battle tonight. There were so many of them, and a lich. How can that be?”
Stanrick frowned; he wanted to say the humans brought it with them but he bit his tongue.
“Come here, human. That thin cloak will not keep you warm in this dampness.”
Imara paused, confused to the abrupt change in subject, but then realized that she was very obviously shivering.
“I’ll be ok…” she stammered, shivering even harder.
“One of the men said that the lich makes his army from the dead.” growled Stanrick, “If you freeze to death, I will see to it that your body is burned to spare you from that fate.”
Imara didn’t know what to do. She looked at him, but he didn’t return her gaze. Instead he stared off into the night and sighed. Imara couldn’t handle it anymore. She hoped she wouldn’t regret this later. As she approached him, he opened his cloak. The scent of leather and fresh tobacco emanated from within, and she could already feel the heat coming off of him.

Wrapping her inside his cloak, he put his arm around her. Before, he’d been clad in heavy leather armor, but now he just had a tunic and belt. Imara couldn’t believe the heat that radiated off him. This was so awkward, and yet she leaned into his body, grateful for the warmth, and unsure of how she was supposed to feel, or what her people would think if they knew. She had not been this close to a male, outside of hostile encounters at least, for a long time. It was comforting, but she almost felt weak for indulging in that comfort.
“It’s just for warmth.” she told herself.

They sat down on a box leaning against the wall. Stanrick watched the forest and listed to the wind. All was quiet except for an owl in a far off tree. Judging by her heart rate, Imara had either been terrified, or really excited to climb into his outer garments, but now he could feel her heart beat return to normal.
Imara gave in. She was indulging herself by taking in his body heat; Ulven must be warmer by nature. She leaned into him a bit more, relaxing, suddenly realizing how tired she was.
“No shame in sleeping.” he whispered. “If anything happens I can wake you.”

“No, I’m fine. Thank you though.” But the longer they sat listening to the wind, the heavier her eyes got, until she had drifted off to sleep cuddled up to him. He smiled to himself happy for the touch in the frozen night.

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