It was the dull throbbing ache of her left arm that eventually woke her.
She was lying on her back on a hard surface. A headache pounded in her temples. It was dark. She started to move, but instantly was pressed back down by a hand.
“Shh,” came James’ voice, his hands brushing back her hair, “don’t try to move.”
“Unnh,” she managed, somewhat articulately. James asked her if she was alright. She made another sound and tried to sit up.
“What did I just say about moving?” he asked, but helped her sit regardless. A cup was pressed into her hand, and she drank it, completely trusting. And completely parched.
“Where are we?” she whispered, her thirst quenched.
His voice was grim. “We were captured by the invading Vocan army and placed in Lord Exsil Vis’ seraglio.” A violent shudder racked her body at the sound of that word, and the memories of Aeril it conjured up for her, but she said nothing. “I told them we were just sneaking out of the castle for some time down at the tavern. They almost put me somewhere else,” he added, “but I told them I was fifteen.”
She could hear the smile in his voice, and couldn’t help but smile herself, though it was more a grimace. “Thank the Goddesses for your boyish good looks,” she said, and he chuckled softly. “How tightly are we guarded?”
“Not terribly, but there’s a full army camped outside in the Town Square. From what I saw of Atherton, most of it has been burned or occupied. And you’re in no condition for another escape, Jes,” he added sternly.
She didn’t argue, hearing his concern. That and her arm still throbbed and stormed. She found she could move her fingers and hand without too much pain, however. She’d always been a fast healer.
“Of course I’m not,” she said, and heard him relax. “Just asking. Good information to have for the future.” Her eyes were adjusting to the dark, and she saw there were more human-like shapes within the space. Must be a tent. The walls glowed dimly in places, where she was sure there were fires burning outside in the camp.
They sat in silence for a while, Jester mentally railing at the Moirae – how is this fair? We escape the dungeon only to be thrown into a harem for the most evil man this country has ever known? You Three sure have a horrible sense of humour.
Before her thoughts wandered into blasphemy, James spoke again, his tone quiet. “You were unconscious for a long time. I was worried you wouldn’t wake up.”
She ran her hand down his arm. “Well, I did, so stop worrying,” she said with a smile, and leaned forward to kiss his cheek. She couldn’t see properly in the darkness, and his head had turned just at the wrong – or right – moment; so her lips met his instead. It was an awkward, clumsy first kiss, the sensations of it laced with the throbbing from her arm, but she wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was real.
“I’ve been wanting to do that for a while,” he said when they broke apart.
She almost giggled. “So have I. And I promise,” she added, linking her fingers with his, “that if we both get out of here alive, it’ll turn into something more.”
“I’m going to hold you to that, you know,” he whispered.
“Hm. You can hold me to anything you want,” she said, and kissed him again, stubbornly ignoring the pain she was still in. Feck off, arm, for I am trying to have a good time despite the horrible turn my life has taken.
This kiss was better than the first, and quickly turned more passionate. They broke apart then, James saying he didn’t want to hurt her arm and Jester saying she didn’t want to hurt her arm. Nor did either of them want to give the guards an excuse to separate them. They’d been separated by metal bars for too long. Now that she could finally hold him as she wanted, she didn’t want anything to pull them apart again.
It was decided they should get some rest, so they curled up on the ground together, Jester on her right side, James’ arms around her waist.
For the first time in a very long while, Jester fell asleep with a smile on her face.