The Diplomacy of Beauty

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She was cold. That was becoming more of an issue, an all consuming knowledge. Being sure there were not people still following her became less and less of a concern. She was cold and it was only going to get colder as the night went on.

Her boots could have kept her warm, had she been on a horse, but they'd gotten wet at some point and now her toes were becoming numb. Her cloak was well made, but under it was nothing but a light gown worn inside. She had been all but ripped from her reading by the fire onto this long escape.

The strawberry blonde woman paused and listened in the woods. All she could hear was her own panting breath. She held it for a moment. The hooting of an owl, the wind, and nothing more. She let out her breath.

Leaning against a tree she considered her options. She'd need to sun to figure out which direction to go, to be able to find the road again. Dare she go back to the road?

She couldn't think and she realized that if there was no one following her then perhaps she should stop. If only she could be warm. The young woman knew that if there was light she'd be able to see her breath. She crouched down and the felt the dirt under her. It was frosty. It was a cold night indeed. Maybe if she rested for just a moment against the tree she'd catch a second wind. Find small hill she could see from even. Something!

Princess Wren Eartha of Palisia feel asleep in the icy woods, still smelling of smoke and fear.
This night was going to be dangerously cold, he knew. What he had to keep warm was certainly not going to be enough. His pants and shirt were much too thin and this tattered cloak could only do so much. The hood hid the face of the exiled man, a pair of green eyes almost glowing in the darkness of it. One arm carried a load of wood he intended to use for a fire, while the other rose up so he could breathe some warm air into his frigid palm. The nails of his fingers were threateningly sharp, also stained with black.

Bare footprints were left in the frosty soil. This cold bit his flesh like a monster, but he didn't make any complaints. Many years of having to endure these consequences with few supplies has made him tougher, which he looked at optimistically. There were times when he was bitter, even self loathing, but he did his best to find the light in every situation. Without that, he'd be dead. After all, he promised his dear Mother he'd live and try to find happiness.

The man made a pause, a visible breath of air going from his hood to the atmosphere. There was someone else here; he could feel it! Even smell it. The faintest scent of smoke wafted into his nostrils and he could identify the presence as a girl. His senses were far more advanced than a regular human's. As people passed through this forest, he learned how to tell the difference of one from the other. Less passed through here over the years, though. He was becoming a rumour in nearby towns who were too afraid to even hunt and kill him.

As he continued on, the image of a woman laying by a tree came into view. The quietest growl rumbled in his throat as he walked closer, his pace very slow. She didn't look to be a threat of any kind... In fact, she looked to be in trouble! Looking to the firewood his arm was wrapped around, he nodded to it, then walked to her at a normal speed. He squatted in front of her and reached out with his free hand, which hesitated for quite a while before nudging at her shoulder.
Why were they trying to wake her, she was tired, and cold. They should let her sleep. Wren almost feel back into the abyss when a memory came to the surface. No one should be around. It could only mean one thing.

Before her eyes where completely open, in fact before she was able to see the person that had nudged her the princess reacted in fear, trying to move away, though she had wedged herself so neatly into a natural nook of the tree that all it did was cause her to lean against the tree more. When she got a good look of the person her eyes, already wide with terror, seemed to dilate.

They'd sent a monster after her. They didn't just want to capture her, they wanted her dead!

The cold and exhaustion made it hard to think, and the rational part of her mind was slow to realize that if she was meant to be dead that there was no reason to wake her first. Nor would some beast be carrying a bundle of wood with it. She saw these things, but they did not filter into her mind fast enough. Instead she uttered in a squeaking voice through chattering teeth. "Please don't kill me!"
It wasn't the first time he heard someone say that.

Another breath of air exhaled from within his hood, sounding much like a sigh. Even in the dark, people mistook him for some kind of killing machine. While he was capable of such a thing, he preferred not to. Gore and bloodshed was disgusting! The only times he thrashed another being is for self defense or food. Those were valid actions from his perspective.

"I won't," he assured her, his voice very deep and masculine. There was some rasp to it, though. This weather wasn't treating him in the best of ways. "Don't lay there and perish. I'm going to build a fire I'm more than willing to share."

Trevor stood up so they were no longer at eye level. His free hand was offered to her, should she want some help standing up. It would have been catastrophic if he tried to carry her right off the bat. Most women didn't react positively to that gesture, no matter how kind he was trying to be.
Wren looked at his hand for a moment, her minds still working too slowly. "A fire?" she finally asked as she put her hand in his to let him help her up. She was fairly use to people doing so for her even from a chair, but unlike most of her life going from sitting to standing was not very graceful. Her limbs didn't seem to want to work right as she wobbled her way to a standing position.

Getting off the ground though and having to interact with the man, if he was a man, was at least getting her mind a chance to work to a degree. Her life at this very moment wasn't in danger, but he'd been right, being on the ground seemed to have been a mistake, she was colder now then when she had stopped. Wren also noticed that the hand that helped her up did not feel quite right, one more making her unsure of what, let alone who, was before her.

An owl hooted and the princess gasped in fright before she realized what it was. She'd be mortified if she had any strength to be embarrassed. Moreso when her first trembling step didn't do anything productive but cause her to trip.
Not only was she chilled to the bone, she clearly didn't have any knowledge on surviving. Sitting on the frozen ground was certainly unwise! He couldn't get frustrated with her, though. The poor girl probably ran away from her home or got lost thinking she was taking a shortcut. Trevor had seen and heard many stories from other people he found. That was, if they weren't too intimidated to allow his assistance.

Despite how cold her skin felt, he was reluctant to let her hand go. It wasn't often he got to have that sort of contact with anybody, let alone a girl. She looked uncoordinated, especially after getting spooked by the hoot of an owl. Trevor turned his back to her, putting himself back into a squatting position. "Do you have the strength to wrap your arms around my neck? That way, I don't have to put the firewood down."

A piggyback ride seemed like the best solution; he didn't want to make her walk there. They weren't too far from the cave he called his home. He was even willing to run there so she wouldn't have to endure extra seconds of this bitter weather.
"Al-alright," Wren stuttered. Surprised by the gesture. She hadn't ridden on another person's back since she was a child. In all likelihood if not the knight protector's then her father's.

As she wrapped her arms around the strange man's neck, she gulped. Now was not the time to get emotional! But despite her desire to keep her composure she felt the grief creep up. Wren closed her eyes to the tears. Trying to keep from sobbing. She did not want to start crying and have the man ask her why she was getting his cloak wet.

She could only hope that he'd mistake her shaking shoulders for her shivering. Now there was a cold comfort indeed.

Wren numbly noticed that despite her own cold that this man seemed warm. Not by his gesture, though she would take that into account at some further point, but that it was not like touching her own hands right now.

"Th-thank you sir."
Trevor smiled to himself as she secured herself on his back. This was going to be easy. When people protested or insisted on doing things themselves, even when they knew they couldn't, it frustrated him. Very slowly, he rose up from the ground, starting to walk in small steps to test just how well she was holding on. "You're welcome," he replied simply, feeling jubilant. When was the last time someone thanked him for something?

His pace hastened, his grip on the firewood getting stronger so none would escape to the frosty ground. He didn't notice the flood of emotion she was getting consumed by, but he did feel her shoulders trembling. As far as he knew, she was just cold, possibly even quaking with fear. This urged him to run faster now. There was no reason to be afraid when in his company.

The mouth of a cave came into view, which he called his home ever since he was an infant. It was no warmer than it was outside, but at least they were sheltered from the icy winds. "What's your name?" he asked curiously, kneeling onto the ground to set up the pile of wood and let her unwrap from him. Trevor wanted some reassurance that she was still conscious.
Wren carefully placed her feet on the floor, making sure she had her balance this time before, with just a touch of reluctant, letting go of her grip around the strange man's neck. Granted there would be a fire soon and she would be able to warm up better, but like a monk repeating his hymns the princess once more internally bemoaned the cold.

"M-my name?" she stammered only slightly. She looked at the man, but it was now impossible to see him, and she wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. Perhaps the filtered moonlight had just given her a wrong impression and now her imagination was taking over. Still she'd feel more confident if she could see his face.

"P-please call me Ea-eartha." The man might not have been sent by those that had taken the castle, but she was still very unsure of everything involved in that. Wren might not be an uncommon name, but people in this area knew of the Princess Wren. Eartha though was a name she was only called by her Grandmother and her Lady-in-waiting.

There was another person Wren worried about. What happened to Lady Nadia, her dearest friend and most staunch ally. Wren shook her head to stop from that line of thought. "And you? What ar-re you called?"
"Eartha?" Trevor let the name roll off his tongue while he snapped some rocks together over the pile of wood in front of him. Seconds after she introduced herself, he concentrated on just getting the fire going. The way her speech stuttered was probably from nervousness, but doubtlessly, she was cold as well. He didn't want to make her wait another minute to get warmed up.

The sight of a small flame growing in the little mountain of twigs and log chunks made him smile, despite no one could see that. For her sake, he kept his face hidden. People always assumed he had a hideous facial appearance, however it wasn't as terrible as people thought. Risking her running away or cowering further into the cave wasn't wanted, though.

"My name's Trevor," he finally answered. It was only fair to offer his birth name to the girl. Trevor had many names, most of which weren't very kind. Therefore, he had no desire to share those with her. If he did, perhaps she'd recognize the tales of a child and his Mother being banished due to the curse of his Father.

Sighing softly, he took a spot in front of the fire, the opposite side of her. His hands set out in front of the crackling flames to warm up, his palms rubbing together to speed up the process.
Wren watched in fascination as the man started the fire with the rocks. She'd never observed that before. In all honestly fire was such an abundant thing in the castle she'd never given any thought of how one started one when there wasn't any fire around. It was more like magic to her then the minor miracles she'd seen performed in court, for those were almost mundane to her, but this, this was new and amazing.

As the fire started to roar to life, she noticed the man kept his hood up. It was very cold and Wren supposed it was to keep warm, but she couldn't help to feel he was trying to hide his face. Though she did catch the fire reflecting from his eyes, which she thought might be green.

"A p-pleasure to m-meet you," she got out as she rubbed her hands together then held them out at the fire. Looking up again she noticed his hands, and she looked away quickly. Those were not the hand of any normal man. Instead of normal fingernails he seemed to have claws, black as the night. Nervously she pulled her hair over her shoulder, and started running her hands repetitively down it's thick wealth, now dyed in the light to look the same color as the fire itself.

The fire was almost hypnotic, and little by little she was no longer freezing, but she was too distracted to notice.
"A pleasure indeed," he replied. That was nothing but the truth. Trevor enjoyed any sort of company he could get, even if it was just a hungry animal begging him for a bite to eat. In fact, animals seemed to be the only friends he could make. They didn't judge him by appearance; just his kindness. Odd as the idea sounded, he wished humans could be more like those critters.

Trevor did his best not to stare at her. He couldn't help but notice the nervous gestures she made, however she was warming up. This helped his own self relax, since earlier, she looked like she was close to freezing to death.

"I hope you don't mind me asking. But... What are you doing out here so late? While the weather's like this, no less," he asked her, very curious to know. Was she running from something? Looking for someone? Was she lost? Even more than that, he was curious about who she even was. There was more to a person than their name, after all.
Wren continued to look at the fire and play with her hair. "I wasn't expecting," she started then paused. What was she going to say to this man? What did she dare say? He rescued her, and his tone seemed to be kindly, but was he even human? Had she fallen into a trap worse then she imagined?

No, even if he was just an unfortunate, maybe especially if that was all he was, though how could he be, she needed to keep the story simple and she could even do it without lying! This pleased her to no end, for a lie was much harder to keep straight then the truth. She'd watch enough petty statesmen nearly strangle themselves with elaborate lies.

"I need to see my relatives. Th-they're on the other ssside of the mountains." Wren explained still looking at the fire. There were many roads that headed to the mountains, but Wren only knew of the main road that passed through them and onto the other side, into the low lands that eventually arrived to the sea. The young woman had never seen the sea, but she had heard many stories about it. Both fantastic and terrifying.

The princess figured if she just made it seem ordinary, and maybe her being just a tad foolish on how she started the journey, having missed getting to the next town, there would be no more questions. However her stomach did make a low question, wondering if she was ever going to eat!
Trevor's bright, green eyes did their best not to stare at her. Instead, they locked onto the fire. That's all he needed... To intimidate her! He was patient with her words, too. When she mentioned traveling to meet her relatives, he smiled to himself. This was comforting to know; at least she wasn't running away from something or someone. That's what he believed, anyway. All he could do was trust her.

"That's quite a walk," he commented, letting his gaze move to her for just a moment. That's all he decided to say about her response to him. Telling her it wasn't wise to travel in this weather alone would just be an annoying reminder.

A hand then disappeared into his cloak, seeming to be reaching for something. Some jerky he made was wrapped up in some paper. Not the most gourmet meal in the world, but it helped satisfy his hunger. Not to mention, it didn't perish like many other foods. The wrapped strips of meat were set down by the fire, easily within her reach.

"You must be hungry. I'm sorry I have nothing better. I had no chance to hunt today," he told her in an apologetic voice. There was no doubt she needed something to snack on. Her stomach was making some angry noises, after all.
The man, Trevor's response put Wren at ease and with the fire she started to find herself relaxing. Absently her eyes watched as he produced something and set it down close to her. With curiosity she opened it as once more he spoke.

The princess was in all honesty confused by what she saw. It looked like leather that the dogs had been tugging on. She could barely believe this way food, let alone all he had at the moment.

Politeness kept her from saying those things as she carefully tried to tear off a piece, which proved slightly more difficult then she thought. Once she tore off the piece and got it in her mouth she was still unconvinced until she chewed a bit. It was meat, just very different.

"Thank you," she gave him a smile and tore off another small piece before sliding the rest over. She could eat more, but if that was all he had she wouldn't dream of depriving him of his dinner. He'd already given her a fire, which was more then she had expected on this horrible night.

Thoughtfully she chewed.
Trevor found it curious that she eyed the food like she's never seen it before. There had to be a reason for it; she wasn't used to that sort of delicacy. That was something he envied of her, and many other people. There was a bigger variety of food for them, not to mention roofs over their heads, the love of your families, town celebrations...

Suddenly, he was growing somber. Realizing this, he instantly adjusted his posture and made an apologetic smile, even though it wasn't noticeable. That smile faded when he saw how little of the jerky she ate. His assumption was that she wasn't fond of it. Still, Eartha was eating it thoughtfully after a kind thank you. "You're welcome," he replied.

The night was getting later and the exhaustion his body experienced nightly was creeping up on him. A fist rubbed at one of his eyes, trying to keep the lid from drooping over. "You must be tired. I can lend you my cloak, if you're cold or want a pillow for your head," he offered, relieved that he didn't hesitate in saying that. The cloak hid the features that made him a monstrosity, but he was more concerned for her health than he opinion of him. She wouldn't be able to see him for real until morning, anyway when the sun was out.

At least then, she could abandon him and his cloak once she caught sight of him.
It was as though his words released all the exhaustion she had been ignoring or forgotten. Wren even found herself yawning. For a moment she thought to try to fight it, but why? She was warm and dry, and come what may tomorrow, she was sure she was safe here in the cave with Trevor.

"Y-you don't mind?" she asked, trying to stay focused a little bit longer. Sleep sounded absolutely divine right now. If asked if she thought she could sleep on the bare ground before tonight, she would have admitted to being spoiled with too nice of a bed to sleep anywhere else. She either gave herself too little credit, or she was just too exhausted for her preferences to override.

In either case she already had her head cradled in one arm, looking at the fire. It all came back to fire. Fires that frightened her, and fire that was keeping her alive. She could not find the energy to even recognize the irony let alone appreciate it.
Trevor couldn't help but smile at the sight of her slowly drifting off. Much to his amusing, she was even fighting it. He assured her safety, so he hoped she would sleep peacefully tonight. Should anything threatened his territory, he would jump forward to fight it off. Letting this girl fall into harm's way would be unforgivable.

"Of course," he said quietly, untying the cloak so it fell from his shoulders. It would be fairly warm, too since he wore it all day long and was sitting at a fire. Doubtless, it smelled a lot like him, too.

The cloak was then slid across the floor in her direction, in a comfy looking pile so he could tempt her into using it for a pillow. If not that, he knew how satisfying it was to unfold a blanket before using it. Not having the hood on his head made him feel insecure, but he was much too tired to care anymore. "Don't hesitate to wake me for anything," Trevor said gently.

With that, he laid himself down on the ground with his back turned to the flames and his arms beneath his head. While he may seemed to be asleep, he forced himself to remain awake until he knew for certain that Eartha slept first.
Flicker, pop.

Wren barely noticed Trevor's movements until he was once more moving away, his cloak bundled happily near her. She sat up a bit to retrieve it as he spoke once more.

"Al-al-al," Wren paused with a frown, looking down at her hands in frustration. Taking a deep breath she tried again more simply. "Thank you." It seemed inadequate, but what more could she say?

Looking up, she noticed that Trevor himself was now lying down. She tilted her head, looking at him, without any reason for her observation. Spacing out, she chided herself, was what she was doing. He'd given her something to rest her head upon and she should use it!

The princess finally laid down herself and her last thought before sleep quickly stole her away was that the cloak did not smell unpleasant at all.
Trevor was a light sleeper, but nothing disturbed him into awakening. The weather was harsh; it was unlikely that anyone would be roaming about to threaten them. At some point, the fire had died down, forcing him to curl up his body to help contain warmth. He made no complaints about it, though. There were often nights when he had no choice but to suffer the frigid temperatures.

By morning, things were more normal outside. The weather was still frosty, with layers of white along the ground. Even the sky was shady with clouds that would soon snow on everything below them. Trevor woke up with the sun and fell asleep with it, so he was awake fairly early. When he sat up, his back was still to Eartha, however there were still some noticeable traits of his beastliness. A pair of horns protruded from his skull, the tips dangerously sharp, though the horns themselves were fairly short. The hood of his cloak was patched many times because of those, until he finally modified the material to be much bigger around his head. His hair was a solid black, making his skin all the more fair.

As he sat there, he pondered what to do. She'd probably run away from him if she saw him... Maybe she wouldn't? Trevor wanted to help her find the right direction to where she needed to go, at the very least! The cave was still dark inside; very little daylight reached the mouth. 'Maybe she won't notice.'
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