Eye of the Storm, book 5 in the Guardians of the Pattern series, is in the hands of my trusty beta team. This one will be out later this year, maybe around the end of the summer, and is about the adventures of Vaya Rhivana and Nick Romani. Here's a taste to keep you going until then...
Nick woke with a clear head and no fever. The first thing he was aware of was that he was no longer bound. The native man must have decided he wasn’t much of a threat, and as he stretched and tried to roll over, Nick decided that was probably a fair assessment. He felt weak and shaky, and wasn’t sure his legs would hold him.
He had dim memories of alternately burning and freezing, a horrible, pounding headache, and odd fever dreams. More clearly, he remembered the native man holding him down and forcing him to swallow vile-tasting potions.
Nick glanced about the cave. His bladder was urging him to get up, but he wasn’t certain he could manage by himself. He caught sight of the native man tending the fire. Beyond him, light filled the cavern entrance, though Nick couldn’t tell if it was morning or afternoon light.
“Can you help me?” he called across the cave. He thought he remembered the man speaking to him in Federation Standard, though that seemed unlikely. Perhaps it had just been a fever dream. “I need to get outside.”
The man got to his feet and moved to Nick’s side. He helped him stand, then slung one of Nick’s arms over his shoulders and waited patiently while Nick found his feet.
When they started moving slowly toward the mouth of the cave, Nick was surprised at how heavily he had to lean on his companion. By the time they made it outside, he was panting and sweating.
“Can we stop? Just for a second?”
The man stopped, and Nick let out a sigh of relief. He hadn’t hallucinated it—the man did understand him.
“You can talk to me, you know,” Nick said as he leaned against the rock wall outside the cave. “I understood you just fine before.”
Jet black eyes flicked over him and then darted away. “There is nothing to talk about,” the man muttered.
“You might not have anything to talk about, but I have some questions. Like what’s your name? I told you mine… at least I think I did. I’m Nick, in case I didn’t. But I don’t know what to call you. Unless you’re partial to hey, you?”
“I don’t share my name with my enemies.”
“I’m not your enemy,” Nick said softly.
The feral, angry look in the eyes that reluctantly met his said otherwise.
“You shared a bed with me,” Nick pointed out. “Every time I woke up, you were right there next to me. Would an enemy do that?”
“He might if he had reason to keep you alive,” was the flat reply.
Nick frowned, not sure what to say to that, so he settled for, “Thank you. For saving me.”
The man’s eyes met his again—still wary, still hostile—and then he gave Nick a brief nod. “You may call me Vaya.”
“See, that wasn’t so hard.” Nick gave him a grin, turning on the Romani charm full blast. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Vaya.”
Vaya pulled Nick’s arm across his shoulders again. “Enough talk. Enough rest, too.” He led Nick to the tree, and to his embarrassment, Nick needed his support just to stand there relieving himself.
When he’d finished, he rubbed his hand over the stubble on his face. He felt sweaty and dirty, and he desperately needed a shave. “I suppose a bath is out of the question,” he said as Vaya helped him back to the cave.
“Bath? As in wallow in a tub of hot water? A waste of time and wood to heat so much water. You can wash in the river when you feel stronger.”
Nick shuddered. “The river is cold.”
Vaya rolled his eyes and shook his head, and Nick figured he’d just scored negative points in whatever man-contest was going on here.
Inside, Vaya tucked Nick back up in the furs and said grudgingly, “I can heat some water for you. Not a big tub full, but enough for you to wash.”
Nick gave him a grateful smile. A wash down would have to do, though he’d have killed to be back in his own suite at Winford, sinking up to his neck in hot water and scrubbing away all traces of the sickness that clung to his body.
Vaya was as good as his word. He heated some water in a cooking pot, and when it was ready, helped Nick to the fire and steadied him while he washed himself.
When Nick got to his back, he was too stiff to reach behind him, so Vaya took the scrap of cloth and did it for him with surprisingly gentle hands. He helped Nick dry off as well, and then helped him back to the furs. After the trip outside and the wash, Nick was exhausted, but before he drifted off to sleep again, Vaya brought him a cup of water and helped him sit to drink it.
“When you wake, I’ll have some food ready,” he said as Nick lay back in the soft bedding.
“Thank you,” Nick murmured.
“Do not thank me,” Vaya said in a hard voice. “I am not doing this for you.”