Chapter 3: Intentions
As upset as she already was, Rhoelyn thought she might shatter when the shy little boy peeked out from behind Leothir’s leg, his violet hair tangled and as dirty as his clothes and pale skin. He was only moderately clean where his small slave collar had shifted to reveal previously covered skin.
“I… I know he needs a wash, Rhoelyn, but I thought perhaps you might like to do that. Trim his hair as you like?” The sin’dorei smiled and rested a surprisingly tender hand on the back of the toddler’s head, earning himself a wide-eyed, craning little face turned up toward him as he continued. “I’ve already notified the tailor that he’ll need something to wear immediately.”
He watched her with those hopeful green eyes, certain he’d done something wonderful and waiting for her smile of gratitude as a reward. Leothir never understood, never knew when his kindnesses were cruel. Like buying her own people as slaves and companions when he wanted to save her from being lonely and outcast, making her a reason to collar more kal’dorei.
Rhoelyn looked from the boy to the two other newcomers, a man and a young woman, that Leothir had just purchased, her head swimming. She willed her weak knees to be steady and forced a warm smile for their benefit before turning her attention back to Leo and the child.
She knelt, her layered silken skirts pooling around her knees, and held out her arms to the little boy. “Dalah’dori, ish’thanah asor helathenel?” she asked softly in Darnassian, cognizant that a child so young was unlikely to know Common or Thalassian. “Min ef An’da eshathi elain’falas?”
The boy blinked at her with owlish amber eyes, clinging still to Leothir’s trouser leg. “Min’da thor effa…” he said softly. “Ffowos’talah.”
“I did inquire, my flower.” Leo reassured her when the boy’s childish understanding couldn’t tell her about his parents. “He was found alone, not long after the battle for Astranaar. It’s very likely they…”
There was no need for him to finish the thought, and no one in the room wanted to hear the words said. The priestess nodded as he continued, “He’s too young. I was afraid leave him, since there’s so little interest in a lowborn child on the market.”
“You are right, of course. Thank you for protecting him, Leothir.” Rhoelyn was able to put genuine gratitude behind the words when she thought about the fate of the unwanted boy in the hands of slavers, and the tearful smile she gave him as a result lit his world brighter.
The priestess returned her attention to the boy, beckoning him over. “Kos, dalah’dori. Hafas shal’asthi.”
Leothir gave the boy a gentle push to encourage him forward, and soon he was climbing into Rhoelyn’s arms, the both of them heedless of the way his dirty little self stained the gossamer silk of her gown.
The lovely woman propped the child on her hip as she stood and turned to Leo. She couldn’t quite be certain she didn’t imagine it, but for a fleeting moment, she thought she saw the mage’s expression flicker from desire to fear and back. It was gone as soon as it came, covered by his smiling chatter.
“There, now. Isn’t this all lovely? Three new members of the household. He’ll need a name, of course, or someone to suss it out of his babyspeak ramblings. Did you hear that ‘ffowos’ for ‘tholos’?” The mage smiled and stepped over to gingerly pat his head. “You’re quite too cute, little plum.
“Of course, he will also need to learn Thalassian quickly.” Leo met Rhoelyn’s eyes over the boy meaningfully. “Mother will have harsh words for all of us if you two have to speak Darnassian in front of her.”
The priestess nodded, feeling some of her anxiety come trickling back in at the mention of cold, haughty Lady Emeria Duskfall. She would have to keep the child away from the high lady’s attention as much as possible and for as long as possible. She hated the idea of a slave that couldn’t earn its keep almost as much as she hated Rhoelyn, the slave her eldest son dared to care about. The priestess felt gooseflesh rise on her arms to imagine Emeria’s thousand small cruelties aimed at the boy.
“I understand,” she acknowledged, bowing her head in gratitude at his warning.
The child stuck his thumb in his mouth and rested his head on her shoulder, his free hand toying with her long, silver hair. Again, Leothir watched them with an odd expression, this one more hungry than anything else. It did something unsteadying to her heart and left her mouth dry.
Rhoelyn looked away first, irritated to find herself blushing. It was only made worse when her new “companion”, the man called Faeroh, grinned at her and said, “And that explains that.”
Her blush only deepened. “W-we need to prepare a bath and perhaps you would all like some food?”
Faeroh nodded, and the scarred young woman called Ryni beside him lit up. Leothir grinned. “Of course, of course. I’ll go ask Fayrial to prepare some luncheon and reserve some time to teach you both about the manor. You will need to know your way about if you’re going to serve Rhoelyn well.”
The priestess cringed and pasted a polite smile on her face. “I think I had best get this one bathed and fed before he falls asleep on me. You both should feel free to make yourselves at home in the suite.”
She looked at Leothir. “Will you come with me?”
The mage blinked at the question, lifting his gaze from her lips with a cough. “To bathe the boy?” That task clearly hadn’t been the first possibility to occur to him.
Rhoelyn fixed him with an amused look. “Yes. What else?”
“Ah, I…” He smiled at them both for a moment before he heard the whisper of his mother’s voice reminding him that some tasks were beneath the highborn bloodlines. Leothir sobered to something more polite, and the priestess’ expression fell. “I… no, that’s quite alright. I have pressing matters to attend to. I’ll leave them in your capable hands, my flower.”
The night elf sighed and managed a graceful curtsey despite the toddler in her arms. With her eyes on the floor at his feet, Rhoelyn muttered. “Of course. El-… Be well, Leothir.”
Smiling softly, he stepped forward instead of away, reaching up to brush Rhoe’s silken hair back and tuck it behind her long ear. “Certainly.” The sin’dorei leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss against her cheek, and she blushed, frustrated at herself for being disappointed that it wasn’t on her lips. “I hope they make you happy, Rhoelyn.”
The priestess sighed softly, her brow furrowing as she watched him turn and leave the suite. It wasn’t until the door clicked shut behind him that she managed to swallow past the sudden lump in her throat and whisper after him, “You do not understand at all…”
… have been trying so very hard, but she has wounds of cruelty all over her. It is so difficult to touch her, and so awful to imagine all she has endured. I fear that she will never let me in, but I am driven to try. I will do my best to help her heal.
Rhoelyn sighed as she finished scribing that line of her letter, her thoughts on the child-woman that she now had in her care. Ryni was so young. So angry. Her mind and heart were as scarred as her body, and she dealt poorly with nearly everyone else in the household. Only little Alensyr could coax smiles and tenderness from her. Alensyr and sometimes Faeroh and sometimes, only sometimes, Rhoelyn herself.
That much, at least, I can thank Leothir for. Ryni is finally safe from her crueler masters, and I can only hope that Faeroh and I can protect her from Emeria and the others.
At a sound from outside, the little priestess set down her quill and hurried over to the window. She couldn’t help the quiet smile that lifted her lips to see Leothir just dismounting from his hawkstrider in the cobbled courtyard below any more than she could stop the small giggle at the beast that danced nervously beside him. She heard her brother’s wry tone, grouching, “Ridiculous spindly chicken.”
Knowing her time to be short, Rhoelyn went back to her page and finished the letter with a quick flourish.
As ever, dear brother, I miss you. Take care of yourself. You carry my love and Elune’s blessings with you wherever you go.
The night elf sanded and dried the letter before she reread it from start to finish. Rhese would like this one. He would laugh at the story of Alensyr in the garden and have some wise, thought-provoking thing to say to give her an idea about how to better help dear Ryni.
Rhoelyn kissed the topmost page and clutched the sheaf to her chest, closing her eyes to whisper a prayer. Then, she stood and walked to the fire, consigning her words and her wishes to the flames. It was part of her ritual to watch until the last scrap of the last page was ash.
The ring of voices from outside brought her back to the moment, and she turned away from the fireplace to go prepare. Leothir always visited her suite soon after he returned. Perhaps to welcome him home, she would wear his favorite gown…
Wincing, the priestess paused in the doorway and leaned against the frame, resting her forehead on the cool wood as she berated herself behind closed eyes. How foolish she was. How ridiculous to fancy herself in love with the man who kept her, to want to please him in these little ways. She clenched one hand on the door frame as the other played across the collar around her neck. She needed to remember the truth of what she was to him.
Despite the feelings that poisoned her, she needed to protect her misguided heart.
“Rhoelyn?” The deep voice belonged to Faeroh, and she looked up to find him in the sitting room, his hand resting on the back of the settee. “Feeling ill, are we?”
She shook her head and forced a smile. “I am fine, dori’delar. I was only thinking.”
“Thinking, hm?” The ancient druid strode toward her, his gait a rolling lumber like that of a bear. “I must say, I have spent an hour or two embracing an especially good tree in my day, but I don’t think the dead door frame will work with you on this.”
Rhoelyn pushed herself free to stand tall, brushing at her skirts and giving him the amused grin he expected. “Sometimes, we simply must make do with what we have.”
Faeroh Moonreign, an ancient and venerable keeper of nature who did not fit the assigned role of “slave” in the slightest, didn’t waste time pretending that her false expression fooled him in the least. He approached and paused before her, resting both hands on his sash belt. “Ah, this is that thing you do where you tear yourself up for loving who you love. Will it help if I say something witty and wise about fate and Elune’s plan? I’ve come up with a few new gems for you, true oaks of advice with deep, reaching roots.”
The smile she gave him was slightly more genuinely amused. “Of course, Faeroh. Your sage words are always a comfort to this ridiculous little girl,” she said, only half teasing.
Rhoelyn leaned against the door frame as he tilted his head, stroking his grey beard in exaggerated ponderance. When he finally spoke, she straightened and clasped her hands in front of her, a model of dutiful attentiveness.
“Some things,” his suddenly-grave tone and expression surprised her, “are not as they should be, Rhoelyn. Others are trying so hard to be right that it hurts. Y-”
A rap on the door to the suite interrupted him, and the druid’s gravity evaporated like so much smoke. Wide-eyed, the priestess was left to wonder if she’d imagined the entire episode as he turned to glance back at the portal.
“Ah, speaking of… That would be for you, ‘ridiculous little girl’.” Faeroh smiled and winked. “I’d suggest a traipse through the garden. It’s a beautiful day, and your tiger lillies are blooming.”
He was gone before she could say anything, disappeared into the next room and leaving her to stare after him, puzzled and unsettled, until the knock at the door was repeated with more volume and insistence.
Rhoelyn smoothed her skirts with nervous hands and dared the vanity of pinching a bit more color into her cheeks before she crossed the room and opened the door to precisely the sight she expected.
“Welcome home, Leothir,” she said with a shy, gentle smile.
While Rhoelyn strode beside him along the quiet, fragrant garden path, Leothir drank in the sight of her, beautiful and ephemeral in a layered gown of gossamer silks in shades of teal and violet and blue with her silver hair braided down one side of her neck. She took his breath away with her grace and the warmth in her timid smile as she spoke, asking about his travels and listening with genuine interest as he answered.
Leothir held her hand and told her about distant Arathor and the crumbled ruins of Stromgarde, glossing over the skirmishes there with the floundering troll kingdom. He described the hidden temples and half-buried statues, the sunsets over the grey waters of the bay, the weapons left discarded and rusting in the battlefields of the first war.
He did it because she asked, but for once, he found he didn’t want to talk. Walking beside her through the verdant gardens with the colors of her flowers gilding her silver hair with rainbow shades, Leothir wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms and kiss those soft lips until she melted. He wanted to let her locks drip through his fingers as he-
“Leothir?” The mage dragged his eyes and his thoughts away from where they were heading and back to her blushing face, feeling his own cheeks warm. “You… You stopped. W-why are you looking at me like you might decide to eat me for your lunch?”
Their amble had paused by a small fish pool, the burble of the fountain massaging the air around them gently as the shadows dappled them both. The beautiful priestess – his beautiful priestess, caught and collared and caged – tilted her head up to look at him, wide, egg-shell blue eyes luminous and almost trusting, lit with curiosity and something else, something that seemed to tug at him.
The blood elf pulled the hand he held to his lips, pressing a kiss against her knuckles. “Because, my flower, you are quite stunning, as always. I’m struck by how much I missed you while I was away.”
Leo stepped closer to her, brushing a hand along her cheek. He was warmed by the way she closed her eyes and leaned in to his touch. Warmed and emboldened enough to lean down and catch her lips with his own. As he remembered from a brief, sweet moment in Pandaria, she tasted like sunlight and blue skies, all warmth and light.
When he pulled away just far enough to examine her reaction, the blood elf quipped, “You aren’t planning to bite me, this time?”
Rhoelyn blushed and lowered her gaze, shaking her head ‘no’ with a small smile. It took her a few breaths before she gathered enough courage to look back up at him, lifting a shaky hand to fidget with the collar of his tunic and brush some imaginary dirt away along his shoulder. That she didn’t pull away from the arms he wrapped around her waist was as telling as the way her gaze landed back on his lips.
The mage smiled and leaned close once more, whispering, his breath against her skin. “Would you like me to kiss you again, beautiful?” he teased, splaying his hands across the small of her back.
Though her lavender skin darkened to the tips of her ears, she lowered her eyes and whispered back a simple, “Yes…”
Ever obedient, Leothir reclaimed her lips, and Rhoelyn lifted her arms to wrap them around his neck, burying her long fingers in his golden hair. The kiss caught fire. It became a conversation all its own, and they spoke hungry, tender sentiments to each other without saying a word for a long, long time, all hands and mouths and tongues until they finally parted, gasping and hot beneath the beautiful afternoon sun.
“Rhoelyn,” the sin’dorei spoke softly, nudging her head back so that he could nibble the tender corner of her jaw, tugging her closer against him. “My flower. My treasure.” He found a delicious spot on her graceful neck just above her collar that earned him a pleased gasp as he kissed it. “I’m tired of the polite distance between us. I’m tired of pretending to care less than I do. Come back with me to my quarters. I want to be yours. I want you to be mine.”
Afraid to hear her answer, he returned his attention to her lips before she could speak, and it was only a while later that they parted long enough for him to rest his forehead against hers. “Please.”
The priestess hesitated long enough to make him nervous, her fists clenched in his tunic, her chest heaving as she fought to catch her breath. But she didn’t pull away. She just waited, wide-eyed as she swept her gaze over his flushed face, weighing and whispering her goddess’ name.
“Yes.” When finally she answered, her voice was so quiet he could barely make it out. “Elune,” she moaned, pulling away far enough to search his eyes, to let him see the fear and tenderness and hunger in hers, “but I want this. I want us. Even if it might break at the slightest tap. Even if it might break me.”
Rhoelyn groaned and closed her eyes, and the next kiss was hers to claim, her lips opening against his to silence whatever he might have said in return. She made it clear that what she offered was no capitulation, but an equal stake, a choice made as freely as his. She told him with her fingers digging into the muscles of his arm and pressing across his ribs that they could be mates, partners, that she wanted to leave no room for master and slave.
The priestess paused just long enough to whisper against his pale ear, “Promise me, Leothir.”
He nodded and pecked a kiss against the corner of her mouth, knowing already what she meant. Knowing that she would never giver herself to him as his slave. But she wasn’t really that, anyway.
“I promise, Rhoelyn. My flower. I already adore you. This changes nothing.”
The little night elf smiled, then, a playful, sunny expression as she claimed his hand and tugged him toward the manor. “Then let us go inside, shall we?”
Leothir most definitely was not inclined to say no. He grinned at her back and followed dutifully… all the way to his bed.
Hours later, Leothir held his lover while she slept curled along him, her leg thrown across his thigh, her shoulders resting across his chest so the top of her head settled by his chin, the length of her ear warm against his neck. Her long hair draped them both like a glistening sash, mingling with the ends of his own golden locks by his shoulder. Moon and sun. One hand toyed idly with some of the strands as he listened to her breathe and the other soothed up and down her smooth back, memorizing the angles of her shoulder blades and the knots of tension in her muscles. Night and day, like the dusky violet of her skin against the pale peach of his.
It felt more right than anything he could remember, holding Rhoelyn like this, seeing the vulnerable, trusting face she seldom let slip through her many masks.
Her lashes, silver like her hair, stroked highlights on her flushed cheeks. Her expressive hands were limp and warm against his ribs. He smiled at the way her lips, still swollen from his kisses, parted ever-so-slightly in her sleep. One of her long canines peeked out from behind them, pearly and white, and Leothir chuckled, reminded of the sting of the bite marks that he could still feel along his shoulder. For all his flower’s quiet refinement, she was still a kal’dorei, and he found that he quite loved that he had learned more about her wilder side, been able to draw it out. Even if a little bit of pain was the price for his education.
“My savage flower,” he whispered in amusement, pressing a kiss to the top of her head.
Rhoelyn stirred at his voice, turning her face up to nuzzle the corner of his jaw, her eyes still closed. She didn’t even make a sound, just left her head up, neck arced back, and stilled back to sleep. Leothir tried to stifle his chuckle so as not to disturb her, but he couldn’t resist lifting his hand to brush it down the soft column of her throat, long and slender and marked with a calloused line of irritated skin.
His glance went to where the leather and fur collar lay half-fallen from the edge of his table, and he frowned. She had never complained, but clearly the accessory hurt her.
Leothir resolved to have a new one commissioned immediately, and, as the evening sunset dimmed the room and he found himself yawning, the blood elf amused himself imagining how pleased she would be by a better design for her slave collar. Perhaps silks and faerie dragon hide would be softer, and a lighter ring for the chain… The mage smiled as he worked out the details in his tiring mind, cozy and warm where her skin touched his, imagining her pleasure at the gift.
Unfortunately, for all that he mused before he drifted off to sleep, the sin’dorei never even considering how much more pleased she would be to never see another collar again.