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Feastday, 3rd and final day of Santinalia in Southern Thedas
3 Firstfall 9:41 Dragon

Glacial winds wove down from the ridge lines of giants aglow in the moonlight and haloed by the frustrating distortion of my own vision; and cascaded into the valley where hundreds of miniature blocks of refugee tents blended together like a row of ants piled upon each other, and awaited their icy strike. Deep within the castle walls the air chilled, dead or drifting, but never bit. Not with the vicious intent of winter like a scorpion’s sting. The height of the ramparts should have made for another story had the heat of my insides not blossomed a blush on my chest to tingle the surface of my cheeks, fingers, and toes.

Something halted the world around me, and suddenly a heavy cloak weighed itself around my shoulders to obscure what chill should seep beneath the wool and velvet. A musk of orange blossoms and incense clung to the texture that sent me floating, adrift into a waltz on air.

I did not own such a cape, but I gladly sunk.

The clasps fastened together beneath my chin by the strife of long, silver fingers. Only to discover myself peering up at a full, cheeky grin which hid a worthy secret I had no inkling of. Kaaras’ violets squinted down with mirth and a heavy focus I could only grasp in theory under the spell of my own blurred sight. The scar along his chin obscured itself in the dark, blending with the bareness of his torso, but I could determine the gradual slope of his jaw, the speckles down his arms and face, the fullness of his lips—and wondered if they could truly be as firm and warm as they appeared.

As I had imagined.

My mouth ran dry.

“Muchas gracias, señor,” I heard my own voice slur, but could not recall undoing the words from my throat. They sounded foreign and silly from afar.

Kaaras’ made a gleeful noise through his adorable, upturned nose, and the tips of my ears burned beneath curls I had certainly tightened earlier. “But, of course, milady. I shan’t have you catch your death of cold should you tumble over the edge of the ramparts in your stupor. To spend all night in the snow without a jacket? What sort of ill-mannered escort would that make me?”

My dimples ached and I crafted a sound I often repress in polite company. “One who would still yet abandon me below the walls.”

I gestured flippantly beneath the dense material, towards the valley.

The giant frustration before me nodded in affirmation, but his steadfast grip at my front remained belied such a bluff. “Until dawn, yes. I for one, am far beyond the mental clarity it would require to climb down and discover you.”

“Would you not send a guard at least?” wondered I.

“From this height?” He tilted his gaze to inspect the edge of our walled walkway. “Probably not.”

I angered myself considering how bewitchingly amusing and irksome his jest could be. How wholly he consumed my vision. My passing desires—even those far less inebriated.

I forced a glare above my stretching grin. “Te voy a pegar una hostia que te van a salir los dientes de la boca como palomitas.”

Confusion puffed air into his cheeks and furrowed his brow. “Come again.”

“One day, the bards will compose ballads of your heroics, Inquisitor,” I lied.

Ignorantly satisfied, he teased, “Winners dictate history.”

So I continued, “And of the lady ambassador you abandoned.”

The playful lines of Kaaras’ face changed so severely to sincerity. Time warped seconds into hours. I hardly witnessed the muscles of his face transition, I became skeptical the direction of his smile had ever appeared any different. That his gaze was never so immovable, nor the warmth of his palms and honey-stained breath had never before graced the skin of my neck like sunshine.

Kaaras swallowed and whispered promises, “I will never abandon you, Josephine Cherette Montilyet.”

I closed my eyes to stop the turn of the earth, and feel his presence encompassing my own. The world carried springtime though winter’s beginning, and my heart beat so quickly against my ribs to be delivered to another, I was certain he would detect the thud in those delightfully pointed ears of his.

My cautious fingers his waist, and I hesitated before running my thumbs in circles across the warmth and silk of his flesh. “Yet, you would place a bucket of water above my door.”

The skin of his forehead pressed hotly to my own like a sudden fever. My nose bumped against his own.

“Sera’s suggestion,” he whispered.

Dizziness spun jitters down my spine.

Memories and flashes of an evening past slid around my memory. Dances with a man who taught me steps to a song I had never heard, cheers from friends and colleagues, a blonde elf with a paper-mache crown drunkenly—crudely—gesturing at me across a tavern table with a stein in her loose grasp.

“Sera suggested I . . . stop staring at you this evening.”

Kaaras leaned infinitely closer.

“Did she pose any alternatives?”

Temptation and desire swelled. Humidity rose, skin clashed, teeth clanked sloppily. Maker, how foolishly wanting. He responded to my charge, and sighed. I held on for life, and kissed him.