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Chapter Fifteen

Ruari had wedged himself into the corner where his narrow cot met the walls of his room, the better to keep both cot and walls from swaying wildly. His eyelids were the heaviest part of his body, but he didn't dare let them close. Without the moonlight patterns on the wall to tell him up from down, he'd be overwhelmed with the sensation of falling backward, endlessly falling backward until his gut began to heave in the other direction.

The half-elf knew this because it had already happened, not once, but twice. He'd shed his reeking clothes outside the room and crawled the last distance to his cot on his hands and knees. His mind wasn't working particularly well, but it seemed fairly certain that he'd never felt quite this sick, this stupid, this drunk before. Given a choice between death right then or holding the walls up and his gut down until dawn, Ruari would have chosen death without hesitation.

"Preserve and protect," he muttered, the conclusion of a druid blessing the first few words of which he'd forgotten.

Grinding his heels into the mattress, Ruari pushed himself backward, but his legs were weak and the walls of Pavek's red-and-yellow house were made of brick, not woven reeds, like the walls of his hut back in Quraite. Terror seized him when she reached the cot and laid a surprisingly warmfor death, anywayhand on his foot.

Terror was nothing Ruari's wine-drenched gut could handle at that moment. He made a desperate sideways lunge. Death caught him before he hit the floor.

"You shouldn't drink so much," she chided him.

Death smoothed his dank hair behind his earswhich Ruari didn't appreciate. Ears were supposed to match and his didn't. One of them was more tapering, more elven, than the other. He tried to hide the defect; she caught his hand before he caught his hair.

"Relax," she suggested, raising his hand. "You'll feel better." She pressed her lips against his knuckles.

Very warm lips.

Very warm and relaxing lips.

Ruari did feel better than he had a moment ago. His gut was calmer, and when she put her-arms around him, the room no longer threatened to spin wildly, either sideways or backward. He protested when she released him, but it was only to stand a moment while she undid the laces of her shift. It fell in a dun-colored circle about her ankles, revealing soft curves that glowed in the moonlight.

Ruari rose to his knees, balancing easily on the knotted rope mattress. No trace of his drunken unsteadiness remained in his movements when he welcomed her.

"If you're not death," he whispered in her ear, "who are?"

"Shhh-sh," she replied, surrendering to his embrace.

Entwined around each other, they sank as one onto the bed linens.

Later, Ruari thought they were flying high above the city.


Chapter Fourteen | The Rise and Fall of a Dragon King | * * *







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