Rolf had so rarely in his life felt such a strong desire for a bath. His hair and clothes were smeared in slick black blood from the gill-men he'd been carving his way through. Now there were four of them dragging him through the mud and oozing saliva onto him. After far too much struggling, the necronom was denied any form of leverage point as there was a beast on each limb, carrying him by his wrists and ankles. A fifth followed the group, carrying Rolf's sword. He'd been pulled into the grimy swamp waters and been thoroughly caked in scum and muck before finally being hauled toward a cave entrance.
The cavernous mouth stood eight feet high and a stream, not even as high as Rolf's boots, gushed forth from within. If the the darkness of the night and sloping canopy above wasn't enough, it appeared nearly pitch black inside the cave and Rolf soon found himself enveloped in the darkness. With no sight he became keenly aware of the hissing breaths in his ears and the slimy bodies pressed against him from all sides.
This continued for another several minutes until finally the group rounded a corner and Rolf spied a flicker of light ahead. It grew into a glowing window and an image took shape beyond. The tunnel fed out into a large chamber alight with torches along the walls. The stone floor formed a ring around a deep, dark underground pond in the middle of the cavern. Shapes moved beneath the surface, yet more Gill-men, he imagined. Around the pond stood easily two dozen more of the creature sand at the sides the floor slanted sharply upwards with uneven grooves that formed a makeshift staircase. The stairs lead up to a wide stone balcony overlooking the basin below. The lip of the tunnel's exit prevented him from seeing anything higher but he could hear the hissing of countless more creatures within. Beyond the hissing he could swear he heard laughter, a taunting and snooty laugh, the same kind that the mayor's son used to make before Rolf punched him in the face.
The source become evident shortly as Rolf found himself thrust into the room ahead. Atop the balcony was a pair of familiar figures and a single new one. Miles and Nigel had arrived ahead of him and were still pinned by gill-men, two for Miles and six for Nigel. They had been forced onto their knees before a stranger, slumped in a throne of stone built into the cave wall itself. His body was bloated and slimy, sporting a voluminous belly draped by damp, water damaged robes of once fine quality. So enourmously fat was this man that his wobbling rolls spilled out over the edges of his chair and his multitude of chins completely engulfed his neck. His laughter sent ripples through his portly face and his lips parted to reveal gleaming white vampire fangs in his mouth. His skin peeled in places and took on a nearly blue hue, starkly contrasting those tiny red eyes. His sloping brow lead into a rapidly receding hairline, stringy strands of black pulled back into a ponytail.
"Nhnhnhn-Mehahahahhh!" he laughed. His blue lips formed a cruel smile and his heavy lidded eyes nearly dissapeared behind the smushed pockets of fat all over his face. "Oh piggy, piggy, say it again. It gets funnier each and every time!" he bellowed while he sifted through the pile of the pair's belongings beside his throne. Immediately visible were Nigel's mace Bellringer and Miles's crossbow and alchemical supplies.
Nigel let out an indignant snort and narrowed his eyes at the strange vampire. "Do not presume to give me orders!"
"Allow me to ask again," said the vampire. In his right hand he held a long, pole weapon of a sort. A four foot steel rod with a hook shaped blade at its head. Soon enough, the hook was around Mile's neck and pressed tightly against the flesh. "Say it, or I'll seek out new amusement by carving off this little man's head."
"...I am General Nigel Hawethrone," he said with a sigh.
"Ohhhohohohohhh!" the vampire laughed. "Ohohoh-hold on. I believe we have another arrival." Retracting his weapon he peeked toward the entrance and gestured for the gill-men to bring Rolf closer.
On their master's order, Rolf was carried up the stairs and thrown to the floor. Almost immediately after he hit the ground he scrambled to his feet and threw his arm back, ready to plant his fist right between the cackling vampire's jowls.
He didn't even attempt to pry himself from his seat and just grinned at Rolf as the boy was immediately piled on and pinned by the surrounding gill-men. "You must be the one I heard about in the reports." Rolf's sword was promptly deposited into the pile with the rest of the group's gear.
"Rrrraaaaggghhhhh! Get off, all of you! You smug bastard, I will put you through that chair!
"Oh, young man, save all that passion for when our guest of honour arrives. It will be quite the show, I assure you."
"Good to hear from you Rolf," said Miles as he turned to smile at the necronom. "I'm assuming you're the blurry shape at the bottom of all the other blurry shapes?" he said, blinking through his cracked spectacles. "A shame really. I pegged you as the rescuer for this one."
Rolf's growls died down to a grumble and he settled onto his knees. "Who the hell are you?" he asked the vampire.
"And how have you tamed these gill-men?" added Miles.
"And what do you want from us?" finished Nigel.
"So many questions, none of which I am obliged to answer. Suffice to say that I am without equal in generosity and I have allowed you to live for the duration of the evening. I'm sure Count Orlov will want to question all of you so until then you should be content to watch."
"You serve the Count?" asked Miles.
"Of course, I am a baron of Dravinia."
"Then why haven't I heard of you? Mind my saying but you bear a distinctive image and I, an educated man, bear no knowledge of any barons who match your description and neither have I heard of any that live in a cave and governs sub-human fish monsters."
The vampire sneered at Miles, his grip tightening around his weapon. "Your voice has begun to grate on me and if I am forced to listen to it any further I'll stop the outflow directly from the source!"
Miles looked to his companions and shrugged.
"Now," continued the vampire. "I know whom you purport to be," he said with a finger pointed toward Nigel. "And you are of no consequence and have lost the right to speak in my presence," he said, his finger aimed in Miles' direction. Finally his digit landed on Rolf. "But you... I've no idea who you are. Speak up boy. And I mean speak like a person, no growls or cursing if at all possible."
"My name is Hrodwulf Von Ziegel of Ulfenmoor."
Suddenly Rolf found the vampire's hook poised over his throat. "Tell me, Hrodwulf Von Ziegel of Ulfenmoor. What business do you have traveling with Princess Laurelei? Do it quickly, I am not known for my enduring patience."
Rolf grinned back at the threat and laughed under his breath. "I'm guessing you're known for you fat ass then?"
The vampire drew his head back, mouth agape and eyes wide. "You little wretch," he said in disbelief. "I will carve you into so many pieces that each of my gill-men will get a bite! Now answer my question!!!"
"Go to hell. I've killed two werewolves, died and lived to tell about it, crossed swords with a Justiciar, the assassin Gutterwink and the seven foot pig man over there." Rolf's smile broadened even further and his laughter grew louder. "And you want to know what's really scary? I've been told that I met face to face with a demon, let it possess me and forced that bastard back out of this world! So you don't scare me! You don't even come close."
The vampire didn't say another word, he merely sneered and reeled his weapon arm back, ready to carve Rolf's head from his body, at least to start with.
Then a burst of light stole his attention. Out of the tunnel, a massive gout of flame exploded into the main chamber, charring the two gill-men standing guard and depositing their blackened bodies in the pond.
"She's arrived!" the vampire cried in elation. Using no small effort he pushed himself out of his throne with a wet, sucking noise and finally a pop as he freed his rounded body from his seat. His gill-men surged toward the tunnel in teeming mass but he quickly heeled them. "Hold! Do not touch her!"
From within the smoking maw, Karina appeared with her sword in one hand and Laurelei's trunk in the other. Without an instant's pause she furiously impaled the nearest gill-man and the others frantically retreated.
"Darling!" cried Miles. "Oh my beautiful wife, It's been hours since I beheld your loveliness. Hours!"
"Hush handsome, I'm rescuing you."
On the justiciar's heels, Laurelei followed with her spell book hovering effortlessly at her side. "Well, that's enough of that. Onto the more pressing matter, precisely who are you?" she asked, with a gloved finger pointed straight toward the mysterious vampire across the room.
"Baron Drotz Yezhev."
Laurelei's brow furrowed and a little frown appeared on her face. "Do not lie to me. I am aware of the nobility in this kingdom and we do not count anyone quite so bedraggled as yourself among our number."
"I tend to handle my duties from here and avoid normal political annoyances, though I assure you my title is quite real." Yezhev unleashed a high pitched cackle and spread his arms out in a theatrical fashion. As if on command, the water rippled. Gently at first but then the whole pond began to move. It whirled violently in a torrential eddy and suddenly each and every gill-men turned toward the pool. They dropped to their knees and lowered their heads, hissing one sharp note in unison. "But why only be a baron out there when here I am a god!" cried Yezhev.
"I see," Laurelei said slowly.
"Now, my lovely princess," he said, slowly licking his lips. "Give yourself over and come along quietly to Castle Golodomor. Otherwise I'll begin throwing your companions here into the pool with all my hungry little devotees. I’ll be starting with the necronom. I'm sure with enough bites, they'll get to his heart eventually."
Laurelei's hand tensed up, readying to reach for her book at any moment. "No," she replied sternly. "I order you to release them immediately. If and when I go to Castle Golodomor it will be on my terms, when I choose to and decidedly absent of your company."
"Very well." Yezhev merely snapped his sausage fingers and the quartet of gill-men on Rolf hauled him up to his feet and collectively hurled him over the edge.
The moment the creatures began to move, Laurelei's hand snapped up, ripped a page from her book and hurled it toward the surface of the water. It touched down with an azure shimmer that spread across the pond in a ring, stretching out in all directions. In its wake it left the water crystallized in a misty sheet of ice. The once praying gill-men all recoiled in unison and looked toward their master with expecting glances.
Rolf gasped as he made contact, smacking face first into the frozen pane and landing in a heap. "Arrrgghh! Dammit!" he roared and ground his fist into the ice. When he lifted his head he spotted Laurelei and Karina dashing across the slippery surface toward him. Both women slid to a stop at his side and he climbed up to his knees with a grumpy expression. "That was your plan!?"
"It worked," said Laurelei.
"Well at least you're alive!"
"That is debatable!"
"Ahem!" said Yezhev from above. He stared down at the trio with a disapproving glare. "Is that all you people do? Bicker with each other, make your little jests and act all precious? Because if you're quite finished I have two more hostages!" With a simple gesture toward Miles, the gill-men who held him gave him a mighty shove toward Yezhev. He immediately forced the mostly blind alchemist to his knees, wrapped his hooked blade around his neck and braced a heavy foot between his shoulder blades. "Now come along, or I handle this a touch more directly!"
The vampire princess grew quiet, staring up at the scene before her with a discerning glare.
"Laurelei," said Miles in a surprisingly calm voice. "I know this may be asking a lot but please don't let him cut off my head."
"Mr.Haydn I..." said Laurelei, trailing off.
"Laurelei please. Trust me," he replied.
She stared back at him with that blade against his throat. She watched him smile at her when he had no reason to. “I do," she replied.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked to see Rolf at her side. "Are you sure about this Laurel?"
She nodded. "What choice do I have?"
She started toward the edge of the lake and Rolf and Karina made to follow her.
"No!" Yezhev barked. "She comes alone."
"Like hell she does," Rolf shot back.
Laurelei shook her head motioned for Rolf to stay back. "No, it's fine. I'll go alone."
Rolf looked away and reflexively cracked his knuckles. "Dammit," he said with resignation.
In solitude she walked along the frozen surface of the pond and came to its edge. Gill-men parted to allow her passage and gave her wide berth as she mounted the stairs. Climbing one by one, she came to stand just a few metres from Yezhev. "Now release Mr.Haydn," she said curtly.
"Not yet," the baron replied. "Place your tome on the ground. No clever little spells out of you today."
Begrudgingly, Laurelei removed the strap from her shoulder and dropped the heavy book to the floor with a loud 'thump'. "Are you happy?"
The baron smile tauntingly and removed his hook from around Miles' neck. "Of course. Now come along, we have a-!" Yezhev stopped in mid-sentence as he heard a strange sizzle at his feet. Eyes drifting down he spotted Miles under his boot as expected but with a little smirk and a strange, mechanical looking sphere in his hand, emitting bright sparks and plumes of smoke. "What!?" he cried as the device exploded into a grey cloud.
Both men were almost immediately enveloped in a swirl of smoke and frantic cries. Miles abruptly rolled out of the chaos and matched gazes with Laurelei.
"How?" she asked.
"Smoke bomb, sleight of hand, hidden pockets and a distraction," he replied in rapid fashion while disposing of his battered spectacles. He promptly replaced them with a fresh pair and shot to his feet, dashing toward his piled belongings.
Laurelei followed suit and snatched up her spellbook.
With all his companions in relative safety, Nigel struggled with renewed vigour. His head jerked from left to right in violent fashion and before any of the gill-men knew what had happened, the beast on Nigel's right shoulder had a long, curved tusk jammed into its face. The gill-men shrieked and recoiled, leaving only six of the things to pin down the pig man. He swung his right arm and lifted two of the monsters off their feet with enough force to hurl them across cavern. Three others still attempted to hold on but were promptly persuaded to release their grip with a series of hard jabs from Nigel's now free hand.
From within the cloud, Yezhev stepped out with a whirl of his hook and a foul sneer. “You little bitch!” he bellowed. He moved far faster than one would ever expect given his size, arm extended and hand reaching.
Spell book flipped open, she reached for a page only to have the book struck from her hand. His hook left a long slash along the leather bound face of her grimoire and tossed it into the air. Her weapon, her only form of defence, hit the ground with a smack, nearly ten metres away.
He was within arm’s reach, bearing down on her and ready to snatch her by the throat when a huge fist swung over her head and smacked Yezhev across the face with such force that his bloated body was swept aside and over the balcony, hurtling to the icy pond below. There was a distinctive slapping sound as his corpulent frame landed back first on the ice and sent a web of narrow cracks stretching out from the point of impact.
He lie on the surface of the lake and stared up at the stalagmites with wide, unblinking eyes before exhaling a long, breathless groan. “Ohhhh…”
There were gill-men surrounding Laurelei and encroaching quickly but she was pulled from their range when Nigel’s hand scooped her up and deposited her on his shoulder.
“Hold on!” he cried as he stomped the nearest gill-man into an inky smear.
Laurelei nodded but she could find little purchase atop Nigel’s shoulder. Instead she made herself keenly aware of her balance at all times.
Miles darted around Nigel’s legs, crossbow strapped to his back and Laurelei’s tome in his hands. “Catch,” he said as he tossed the book toward its master.
With just a tap of her finger as the book was sailing toward her, it flickered in azure light and took to floating at her side as usual.
Meanwhile, Nigel made his way toward Yezhev’s throne, trampling over any gill-men in his way. With three of the creatures pummeled under hoof, the general retrieved his massive mace, lifting it as if it weighed no more than a child’s toy. It rested in his hand for no more than a few seconds before he whirled to face the incoming flood of gill-men and slammed his weapon through Yezhev’s throne.
The stone chair crumbled on impact and little chunks of stone and clouds of dust were sprayed everywhere.
Miles appeared at Nigel’s side with his crossbow at the ready, panning it over the multitude of monsters ahead. “Well, we appear to be surrounded.”
The pig man looked longingly at the head of his weapon and a big smile spread over of his snout. “Not for long.”
Back on the frozen pond, Yezhev was starting to move again. He rolled over with numerous grumbles and no small amount of effort.
Rolf watched the baron get to his feet, more than a little surprised that he’d actually managed such a feat. “Damn, he’s actually getting up after that. I assumed he was at least unconscious, if not dead.”
“You don’t get to be a baron in the vampire court if you don’t have at least some measure of power,” replied Karina, her sword drawn from its sheath.
Yezhev let out a low growl and stared back at the two fighters in his path. “I have had quite enough of you!” he spat. Suddenly he screamed and threw his hands into the air, “Die!” A tremor traveled through the pond and huge cracks appeared in the surface. Freezing water exploded from below and ripped the once solid sheet of ice into several dozen floes.
With the already slippery footing rocking back and forth, threatening to dump Rolf and Karina into the freezing water below, their situation had abruptly become perilous. Karina seemed adept at maintaining her balance but Rolf found himself stumbling and slipping everywhere before finally landing solidly on his back.
He managed to claw his way back up and gain a semblance of composure, though he was hardly in any position to mount any offence. “You go left and I’ll go right. We can attack from either side and-”
“Shut up,” said Karina. “You’ll be useless here and I’m not going to let you die in a battle against this buffoon. Go up and help the others, I’ll kill Yezhev myself.”
“Are you sure you can handle him?”
“Don’t ask questions, just go!”
Rolf nodded and thought to himself that this Justiciar was starting to remind him of a certain other red-haired woman back in Ulfenmoor. Without another word he ran to the edge of the ice sheet and grabbed hold of the cave wall. It didn't take long for him to find handholds and begin climbing to the upper level where his friends were battling the ever growing horde of gill-men.
Karina stood at the ready, her posture and stance mimicking a dancer more than a fencer. “How are you doing this?”
Yezhev sneered at her and chuckled to himself. “Are you so dense? This is my vampiric gift! My Arqueus Ranimus, the soul of the drowned!” With that he threw his hands in the air and a sudden wave arose from the water in front of Karina. It crashed down over her floe but she was gone before it could make contact. She sprang from her position, across the gap and landed in a graceful slide on the next chunk of ice.
“No! You will drown!” he screamed and stretched his arms wide, splitting her newest raft in two with a mighty stream of high pressure water from below.
Karina pirouetted from the path of the attack and found herself on the left half of the split. With the agility of a cat she bounced from one icy landing to another and each one was sunk, split or flipped by the baron, never quite quick enough to catch her. Finally she landed across from him on the largest of the ice floes he’d cut out for himself. Only half a dozen metres separated them now.
With a lunge and thrust she struck at him but he swatted her sword aside with his hook. He returned with a swing of his own and missed wildly as she ducked under the sweep and unleashed a flurry of slashes. Her blade created a net of steel around her opponent. He parried as best he could and found himself pushed back further and further until his heels touched the edges of his platform. While he managed to deflect a decent amount of her attacks, several got through and scored deep, thin cuts up and down his body. Each cut elicited a high pitched whine or yelp as it scored through one layer of fat after another but his combat performance was mostly unaffected.
“You are excellent madam justiciar. Yes, a fine swordsmaiden indeed,” said Yezhev as he locked his blade against hers.
“Don’t flatter me. The less I have to hear from your disgusting mouth, the better.”
“Not another word then,” he said before breathing in deeply. Suddenly his throat bulged out like a sort of frog and his head made a bizarre jerking motion.
Karina tried to disengage and draw back but it was too late. Yezhev heaved forward and spewed a stream of warm, slimy liquid. It landed square in Karina’s face and splattered across her hair, hat and the collar and shoulders of her coat. It smelled foul and the viscous goop clouded her vision. Staggering and stumbling away kept her sword up and tried to rub the vile slime away with her free hand, all the while gagging hard and trying not to vomit.
Yezhev howled and screamed as he charged his opponent and swung his hook in a horizontal arc. Just barely she managed to weave and let the blade pass over her but he was already recovering and striking at her ankles. In one smooth motion she arched her back and transitioned her dodge into an effortless, one handed cartwheel. Flipping into a crouch she slid back along the ice to give herself some breathing room, but Yezhev was already conjuring a follow-up. He swept his arm into the air and at his command a mighty wave roiled up from beneath the pond and crashed down across Karina’s half of the ice floe.
She couldn't even right herself out of her slide fast enough, let alone get out of the way. In an instant she was hit by the freezing wave and thrown to the floor. The water was chillingly cold and soaked her from top to bottom. Once the wave had passed she found herself lying on her side and shivering a the very of the ice floe, her sword hand empty and the weapon spotted below the surface and slowly sinking deeper and deeper.
Yezhev’s cruel taunting laughter filled her ears and with hair matted all over her face and skin drained of colour, she got back up to feet.
“Nyahahah! Where’s your sword, woman?”
Karina remained silent, simply wiping her hair from her eyes and smiling too herself.
“Mhmhmm. Give up now and I’ll let you live in my service. You’re a little older than I’d like but I could use a pretty little concubine in these lonely caves. Maybe I’ll even let you have the gift of vampirism if you behave yourself.”
Her head turned gradually toward him, eyes narrowed and mouth smirking confidently. “You think I carry a sword because I need one?”
Yezhev tilted his head back and set his once gawking, laughing mouth into a hard frown. “What are you blathering about now?”
“I carry a sword, as an act of mercy. My sword is to give my opponents a chance.” Hand raised, Karina revealed a series of flickering white orbs around her hand, her lips parting and uttering strange, unintelligible whispers.
“Karina!” Miles shouted above the hissing and fighting and that filled the cavern. “Stop Karina, you can’t!”
Karina appeared indifferent to her husband’s cries and continued on, muttering a chant under her breath.
“Stop that right now!” Yezhev screamed to no affect. “No!” He rushed toward with his hook held overhead and ready to swing down as if using an ax to split wood.
“Myetch Zhatz!” cried Karina and in a blinding flash she suddenly held in her hands a blade of white, heatless flame. With a single stroke she parried the baron’s attack and sliced clean through his weapon in the process.
With the entire upper half of his pole-hook clattering on the ground, he stumbled back and squealed in terror. Karina watched him with cold eyes and a little smirk. Only then did he notice the dark black veins creeping up the right side of her face. They pulsed under her skin and greyed the nearby flesh.
“Die,” she said calmly. Suddenly her hand was a flurry and the weightless blade darted across Yezhev’s body. As fast as her attacks had once been, it all paled in comparison to this, her hand moving so quick it was like a blur and her weapon becoming an array of intermingling white streaks in the air. Every blow forced him back further and further and in but a few seconds he stood at the far edge of the platform with multiple gashes on every foot of flesh. Each wound emitted white flames and there were so many that he resembled a lantern aglow in the night. With one final thrust she jammed the blade into his throat and released, letting it dissipate into residual little luminescent spheres.
Yezhev’s body briefly stood in place until Karina lifted a hand and ever so slightly pressed her finger to his forehead and pushed him back. He toppled over and crashed into the water, sinking below until he became a dark silhouette and eventually vanished altogether.
With only a mere wave of her hand, her sword rose up from the water and floated gently into her grasp. Her blade sheathe, she skipped across the ice floes and to the pond’s edge, finally touching down on solid ground. She stood in place, stock still for a few moments and then all once she collapsed into a heap on the stone floor.
“Karina!” Miles cried as he clambered over a pile of gill-men corpses to reach the path down to his wife. He was at her side in seconds and dropped his knees, pulling her cold, shivering body into his lap. “You’re alright,” he whispered to her, his arms cradling her to his chest and his hands brushing limp, wet hair from her face. The black veins had darkened and intensified, covering the right side of her face from neckline to hairline.
The others were at his soon after, sheathing their weapons and appearing tired but largely uninjured.
“What happened to her?” asked Rolf.
“It’s complicated, I’ll explain as I work. Right now I need something warm for her to wear because she needs out of these wet, freezing clothes immediately.”
Nigel took that as a cue and shrugged off his large fur cloak. It was thick, warm and easily big enough to encompass Karina’s entire body twice over. He laid it out on the cavern floor, just next to Miles.
“Thank you. Now, gentleman, I’d appreciate it if you’d look away.”
“Yeah, we understand. We’ll go scout around for any more gill-men that might still be alive,” said Rolf as he and Nigel made their way to the far side of the cave.
Miles continued. “Laurelei, I need to put together some medicine for Karina. I would ask that you undress her.”
“M-Me!?” Laurelei stammered. “I-I couldn't… Of course, it needs to be done.”
Miles laid Karina out on the cloak and then began assembling his alchemy kit. Meanwhile, Laurelei got to work and removing Karina’s bulky Justiciar coat. It wasn't easy for Laurelei to move Karina’s body around, considering the size difference. Not only that but Karina felt like she was covered from head to toe in lean, wiry muscle. Once she’d wrangled the coat off, Laurelei set about removing the neck scarves of the Justiciar uniform and then she spotted something strange. The skin on her neck and collar was a strange hue, blackened and streaked with dark purple. It stood mostly to the right but it hardly cut an even line. It receded and extended up and down the length of her neck and entire torso as Laurelei soon discovered. The marks covered the whole right side of her body, arms, hands, legs, chest, feet and everything in between. The woman had always dressed in such a manner that her whole body was concealed but now Laurelei witnessed her flesh, covered in scabs and sores, and things started to become clear to her.
“The miasma,” she muttered as she turned to Miles. “Karina was infected by it and that’s why she…” she trailed off into silence and averted her eyes from Miles’ face. His sad eyes and void expression as he tried to concentrate on his work were too much for her to look at.
“Yes Laurelei. That is why my wife hates vampires. Part of it at least.” He’d just finished up his concoction and filled a syringe with if before edging over to Karina’s shivering form. Calmly and precisely, he inserted the needle into her neck, slowly injecting the clear fluid into her. “When it first happened, I managed to treat the effects quickly enough to keep it from spreading to her whole body but the damage had already been done. Unfortunately, the miasma isn't a normal poison, it’s magical in nature and there’s only so much I can do with science and medicine. She’d get by well enough if not for the fact that her own magic appears to aggravate the poison.”
With the medicine injected, the flesh on her face started to return to normal, slowly but surely. Miles then wrapped her up in the cloak and lifted her into his arms, her head braced against his shoulder.
“I think I understand. This is why you’re always telling her you think she’s beautiful and how much you love her. You don’t want her to feel ashamed of her infections,” said Laurelei.
“No,” Miles replied flatly. “I tell her she’s beautiful because she’s my wife, I love her and she is. What kind of miserable husband doesn't tell his wife how beautiful she is at every possible moment?”