The adventurers came to the village on Brianna's eighteenth birthday, when she was beginning to gain the womanly confidence that comes so naturally but had not yet lost the innocence of childhood. She had lived a relatively easy life—her mother had been a weaver, and she had learned the trade as well—so her figure was not bent by hard days of toil, nor the brightness of her eyes dimmed. She was the prettiest girl in the village, with a mass of red-gold hair and shimmering green eyes. Her mother had been pale and pretty, with blue eyes and fairy-blond hair. Brianna's mother refused to talk about her father, but what gossip she had overheard said that her father had been an outsider, and that he had seduced her mother. Whatever the case may be, Brianna's didn't think it had been unwilling on her mother's part since she kept all her father's things carefully locked up in a trunk in the cellar.
For these very reasons the village was both proud of her and jealous of her. While her mother was alive she had been protected from their jealousy, but when the dragon came her mother had been one of the first ones to go. She had been out picking herbs to dye the cloths when Brianna was nearly fifteen, and the dragon had taken her easily and quickly. Brianna had been heartbroken, but her mother had taught her to always be happy, although she was not fully recovered she hid it well.
The dragon returned about once a month since then, and for the next 14 months the village lived under its thrall. It only took one or two people each month, but the one time the villagers tried to hire a group of adventurers they were all killed. Since then, no one had dared try, until now.
The present group of adventurers was quite a varied one. There was a warrior who was the leader. His name was Galen. He was obviously with the archer of the party, a beautiful elf whose name was Cantalina.
The party also included a barbarian whose name was Gargos, and a cleric whose name was Artemis.
And then there was Gwydion. All the girls had a crush on him. He was indeed very handsome. He had gray-green eyes that were flecked with gold and long sandy blonde hair, which reached just past his shoulders. He looked to be about 25, and carried himself with an easy grace. At his belt he wore a beautifully engraved scabbard, out of which you could just see the hilt sticking out—it was made of adamantium and had intricate gold trim all throughout it. He had never drawn the sword in the presence of the villagers, so rumors abounded as to what the blade looked like.
Their coming into the village was a surprise. Willowood had never had many visitors, being the only village around for hundreds of miles, and since the dragon had come what few adventurers they used to get also found a different route. But, not only did they visit deliberately, as soon as they heard about the dragon they volunteered to go after it. When the mayor protested that the village had little money to give as a reward, Galen said he only asked for medical treatment, meals and lodging and some provisions for the road for when they left. The dragon hoard would be enough for them. The mayor nearly wept when he heard this, and he would have prostrated himself at Galen's feet if Galen hadn't stopped him.
They went out a week before Brianna's birthday, and two days before her birthday a message pigeon flew into the village. The mayor had given the adventurers several of them, and this one came bearing amazing news: the adventurers had killed the dragon, and would be heading back to the village, bringing its head. The village flew into an uproar, preparations were made that would culminate in a huge party when they came back—which worked out to be Brianna's birthday.
Their return the night before was greeted with tears, hugs and kisses, flowers showered upon them and quite a few inviting—and not so inviting—offers. Galen politely declined all of them, at least for the night, and begged for his party to be allowed to rest so they could take part in the festivities.
Brianna had knowledge of herbs and potions from her mother, so that night she was dispatched to give the adventurers what aid she could. She gathered all the herbs she had and went to the village's only inn, where they were staying. The innkeeper pointed out their rooms, and she went upstairs, ignoring the jealous looks of the tavern maids.
She walked down the hall to their rooms. The innkeeper had said that Galen and Cantalina were staying in one room, and the other three together in another room. She decided to knock on Galen's door first, and did so.
"Yes, who is it?" a man's voice called out from inside.
"Brianna...I've brought balm," she replied softly. There was a pause, and them she heard footsteps and the door opened.
Galen stood in front of her. He looked about twenty-eight, and he was also very handsome. But it was obvious he had eyes for no one but Cantalina, so the village girls sighed and left him alone. They had three others to work on.
Brianna curtsied. "I'm sorry to bother you, sir. I was wondering..." she held up the balm, and continued, "I've brought medicines for you."
He smiled kindly. "Thank you, but Cantalina can take care of me. I'm sure that Artemis and the others could use some help, though. Won't you go see to them?"
She nodded and started to turn away, remembered herself, and quickly turned back and curtsied again. He smiled, and bowed politely. "Have a good evening, miss."
"You as well, sir. And...thank you again."
"It was my pleasure. Good night."
"Good night." And he closed the door.
She turned and continued to the next door, and knocked on this one. Silence, and then she jumped as the door flew open and a gruff male voice said, "What?"
Gargos was there, looking down at her. And down was really the operative word. He was probably about 6'5", towering over Brianna's height of 5'8". She was the tallest girl in the village, but she still looked up at most of the men.
"I'm sorry! I just thought to bring you some balm?"
He looked blankly at her. "What?" he shouted. She jumped, and thought seriously about leaving when a voice called out from inside.
"Gargos! Who are you frightening now?" It was Artemis' voice, and he sounded weak and tired.
"Little peasant girl," Gargos responded. Brianna bridled. "How rude!"
A new voice chuckled. "Sounds like the little Red-haired one. Let her come in, Gargos."
"O-kay." He stepped aside and let her inside, leering at her. She ignored him and stepped into the room. Behind her he shut the door.
Artemis was stretched out in his bed. He looked pale and exhausted beyond belief.
Gwydion was kneeling by the fire, starting it up. It was late spring, but it still got cool in their village, and she supposed Artemis needed it. Gwydion spoke up.
"Well, it is the little red-haired one. What can we do for you, girl?"
She held out the bowl. "I've brought medicines. Your...leader...said you may need some healing."
"Oh he did, did he? Well certainly I could, as well as Artemis. But you needn't worry. We won't subject you to Gargos." So saying, he finished with the fire, and walked over to Artemis' bed. "Come here, little one."
She walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed when he motioned her. He carefully pulled back the sheets to reveal a bloody bandage across Artemis' chest. "Dragon took a swipe at him. He can't wear heavy armor, you know, because he's a cleric. Can you fix him?"
She set down the bowl. "I'll have to look at him."
"Can I help?"
She smiled at him. "That would be very kind of you. Please just boil some water, maybe a kettle full." He nodded, and set about doing it. She turned back to Artemis.
"Let me see that wound." She unwrapped it and washed it with the hot water when Gwydion returned with the kettle, and then re-bandaged it with a homemade poultice. "There. That should be better. Don't overdo it, all right?" She made him some medicinal tea. "Drink all of this and you will feel better."
"Watch out, Artemis," spoke up Gwydion from the corner where he was whittling something and watching. "It's probably going to taste awful."
"Humph. Shows how little you know." Brianna turned back to Artemis. "Go on now. Try it." He warily drank a little, then his eyes brightened. "It tastes great! Thanks!" So saying, he began sipping it regularly.
She turned to Gwydion, hands on hips. "You're next, I believe." He grinned as he lazily got up and headed for one of the beds. Though he acted casual, Brianna could see him limp faintly as he walked across the room. He turned to her with a faintly wicked smile on his face. "I was burned, little one. Only problem is, it's high on my leg, almost at my hip. So I don't suppose you want to help me, hmm?"
She hesitated, but something in his manner made her want to proceed. "I have burn cream. And you need healing. So let's just get it done, shall we?" He looked impressed, and she continued, "If you'd prefer some privacy we can go to another room." His eyebrows shot up, and then he nodded. "Yes, I'd definitely prefer some privacy. Let's shall we?" She nodded, and turned to Gargos. "Can you go downstairs and tell the innkeeper we are using the...suite of rooms?" He grunted, and headed out the door.
Turning back to Gwydion, she said, "Come with me now." She picked up her medicines and took the kettle full of hot water as well. She led the way out and down the hall. She could hear Gwydion's slightly unsteady gait behind her, made so by the faint limp.
She opened the door to the only "suite" of rooms the inn had. She hadn't wanted to mention the name, but it was called the Honeymoon suite—a hopeful gesture by the innkeeper in better days. But this was the best place to take care of someone since it had a large bed and plenty of water.
She went inside and politely held the door open for him. He nodded his thanks, grimacing, and she realized the burn must be far worse than he was letting on.
"Well, little girl, what now?"
She tried, but couldn't quite meet his eyes as she said, "I need to see the injury."
He chuckled, and then moved out of her field of view. She shut the door, and waited while he undressed, politely averting her eyes. "All right," came his voice, softer now.
"Please lay down on the bed." She heard the creak of the springs, and then his low voice; "You can turn around now, Red-hair."
She turned, and saw he was lying on his back in the bed. It was obvious he was naked, and had used the blanket to cover himself, leaving the injury exposed. She looked for the injury and gasped when she saw it. It was high up, right on his hip and thigh, and it looked bad. She hurried to the bed.
"My goodness! Why didn't you tell me it was this bad? This is almost as bad as your friend's."
"I didn't want to detract attention away from him. It's nice of you to be so concerned, though." She gave him a disapproving look, and fished out burn cream and poultices. "This may sting a little at first, but it should immediately feel better."
She spread the cream across her fingers, and bent over his thigh. For the first time she was aware of what she was doing. She had never been this close to a naked man before. She was conscious of the heat rising from his skin, and his breathing. She was not aware, however, of how much effort it took him to maintain that soft breathing as she bent over him and her hair fell across his other thigh.
She carefully smoothed the cream across the burn. His whole body stiffened n pain, and then relaxed. He uttered no sound, but as the cream began to take effect he sighed.
She glanced up at him, smiling, and for a moment their gaze held. She was the first to look back down, but she was still smiling.
"Thank you, little girl. That feels ten times better."
"It's a nasty burn, but the cream should heal it and you should be able to take part in the festivities tomorrow night." They were silent for another minute, as she continued coating the whole burn, and then she spoke again. "May I ask you a question?"
"Why do you call me little girl? It's not very nice, you know."
He chuckled. "Well, partly it's because you really are a little girl. And partly it's because—you never told me your name."
"Oh! I'm sorry. Please, my name is Brianna."
"Brianna. What a pretty name. It suits you."
"Thank you, sir."
He looked calculating. "However, I'll continue to call you "little girl" unless..."
She cocked her head. "Unless what?"
"Unless you consent to call me Gwydion." She smiled, and nodded her assent. "It's a very handsome name. I've never heard it before."
"Why thank you, Brianna. I would bow, but it seems you have me at a disadvantage here.' She giggled. "All right, the cream's settled now. Let me go wash my hands and then I'll bandage you up, ok?" So saying she hurried into the bathroom and washed the cream away, then came out and unrolled some bandage cloth. "If you leave this on until tomorrow morning, I'll come and check it, and you should be able to take it off tomorrow early afternoon."
"You'll come and check it? Yourself?" She nodded. "Who else?"
"Are you the village healer or something?"
Her face fell slightly. "Well...my mother used to be."
"Oh. Where's your mother? Let me guess...the dragon?"
She nodded. "What about your father?"
She averted her eyes. "Can't say. Haven't seen him my whole life."
"Ah. I seem to be touching on all the sensitive topics, eh? Who takes care of you then?"
"I do. The villagers look out for me, but mostly I just take care of myself." She smiled. "I don't mind, though. Now let me bandage you up."
She kneeled on the bed next to him, and began to bandage him up. The cream had taken away all the pain, and he was embarrassed to realize her soft fingers on his skin were having an entirely different effect, as he began to stiffen under the blanket. It was fairly obvious, and he tried to distract her by saying, "That cream is a wonderful medicine. Did you make it yourself?"
By her soft reply of, "My mother showed me," and her flushed cheeks, he guessed she had noticed anyway. He tried to think of other things, but he could smell her, innocent and sweet, and it was difficult.
On her part she had been both embarrassed and fascinated when she realized the effect she had been having on him. She had grown up in a farmer's village so she knew the mechanics, but she had only recently gotten to an age where men had begun to notice her.
It was painfully obvious to both of them that he was aroused by her presence and getting more so by the second. She didn't meet his eyes, but still bound the bandage with infinite care, and then quickly got up off the bed. His eyes followed her as she quickly cleaned everything up. Somewhat hesitantly, she picked up his clothes and brought them to the bed.
"Just rest on it now, and don't do anything too vigorous." She blushed charmingly as she realized what she'd said, but determinedly continued on. "I'll come see you in the morning, and we'll see how it looks." She raised her eyes to his, and smiled. "Will you be all right? Should I get your friends?"
He shook his head. "I'll be fine, and thank you very much. I'll see you in the morning, Brianna."
She curtsied, and hurried out the door.
Downstairs she was immediately accosted by some of the village girls. "Well? What was he like? Is he nice? Did he ask about any of us?"
Brianna replied, "Why girls, I don't know who you're talking about."
Some of the girls pouted, but one of them looked mad. "You know who we're talking about. Gwydion, of course! Tell us."
Brianna sighed. "Ok, ok. He's a nice person. He's badly hurt. And no, he didn't ask about anyone else. Now can I go put my herbs away?" They grumbled but let her through.
Upstairs, Gwydion smiled and stepped away from the top of the stairs where he had been listening, and headed back to his room.
That night, Brianna lay restless in her lonely house, tossing and turning. She couldn't sleep, and her mind kept returning to a pair of gray-green eyes, capturing her gaze. She remembered bandaging him, and giggled as she realized he must have been very well-endowed for her to notice so quickly. She squirmed as she realized how close her hands had been to him, and was surprised to feel dampness between her thighs.
"What is happening to me?" she mused. She tried to force herself to go to sleep but it was a long time before she fell into slumber, only to dream of gray-green eyes and a mischievous smile.
The next day dawned bright and early. The whole village was up and decorating everything in sight when Brianna hurried from her home down the street to the inn again. She went upstairs, to find Gwydion in the hallway chatting with Artemis and Gargos. They turned and smiled when they saw her. Artemis was up, and he strode forward with his hand extended.
"Thank you ever so much, miss, I feel ten times better."
She smiled back at him. "It's not a problem at all. I'm glad I could help." Turning to Gwydion, she said, "And you? How do you feel?"
He took her hand and clasped it in his own. With a dramatic flair, he said "One hundred times better." They all chuckled, and she continued, "Let me take the bandage off, shall I?"
He nodded, and replied, "Artemis and Gargos were just going out, so we can go into our room." Gargos seemed about to say something, but Artemis grabbed his arm. "Come on, Gargos. Good day, miss. We'll see you at the festivities."
"See you then!"
She turned back to Gwydion, who offered her his arm gentlemanly style. She took it, feeling oddly comfortable. They went back inside his room, and she shut the door.
"Please get undressed," she said, feeling shy again. He looked wickedly into her face. "Never thought you'd be saying that to me, eh?"
She blushed crimson, and shook her head. Determined not to succumb to it, she raised her chin and looked him defiantly in the face.
"I hope you don't think I'm forward," she said...and then smiled. He blinked. "You're teasing me?"
He laughed. " I never would have expected that from you. Hold on one second." She nodded, and looked away while he undressed and got back in the bed. "Come on over," he said when he was done.
She turned and went over to him, and sat down next to him. "Let me take a look at that." She unwrapped the bandage and blinked. "My goodness, you heal quickly...let me see..." she gently examined the wound, touching his leg lightly with her soft fingers.
All of a sudden she was aware of his silence. She looked up at him, only to find he had propped himself up on his elbows and was watching her intently from only a few inches away. She started to say something, and then their eyes met and her voice faltered.
She seemed to be getting lost in a world of gray eyes. His face moved even closer, and she wasn't sure what would have happened if someone hadn't banged on the door. They both started.
"Gwydion! Sorry to bother you, it's me Galen. The mayor wants us down in the village square in half an hour, can you make it?"
Galen called back, "Yes, I'll be there."
They heard footsteps receding, and Brianna took a deep breath before she looked up at him again. "I-I'd better go," she said. "Your leg is healing marvelously; you don't even need it bandaged."
He nodded gravely. "Thank you, Brianna. See you later."
She escaped out the door with her things and stood in the hallway to cool her flaming cheeks. When she was a little more composed, she went downstairs and to the door, quickly.
The festivities were due to start right after lunchtime. Brianna had a few dresses she had woven for herself, but her favorite was a pretty peach blouse with a patterned skirt that was trimmed with silver thread (not real silver, of course). She pulled it over her head and put her hair in a ponytail. She put on the tiny pair of gold earrings her mother had given her, as well as the gold bracelet and the silver anklets also from her mother. The anklets had tiny bells that jingled when she walked. As she dressed, she refused to ask herself whom she was dressing up for.