Chapter 5: Discomfort

No greater pleasure, no greater vice, than a warm bed on a cold night. — Tindel de Prur, Of Stars Above the Travelers

Karin hissed in pain as she leaned back on her headboard. She had both of her pillows propped up behind her but her shoulders still rested against the cool wood. As the surface warmed up, she slumped and closed her eyes.

It was almost heaven not having a horse jostling her or even moving.

“I’m never going to walk again.”

Her body still throbbed. There was no escaping the ache in her joints or the pressure in her chest. Her left breast felt swollen and hard, it would be another thirty days before the alchemical mixture broke down. Until then, everything would continue to hurt relentlessly.

She remained still for as long as she could, then rolled to her side. Propping one leg up, she dug her hip into the soft mattress and buried her face against the warm headboard.

After a few minutes, she had to adjust her position again. “I need a damn drink.”

Karin wondered if she had the strength to head downstairs to ask for the bottle. No, a glass. She wasn’t allowed to have a bottle no matter what she had done for the village. She snorted to herself and rolled back over to find a new comfortable position.

After what felt like hours, she finally decided to get the will to get dressed and find her bottle of whiskey. No, for her glass. She probably had to stay down in the public room if she wanted to finish the bottle.

Scratching her armpit, she caught some knotted hairs with her fingers. Yanking them free, she winced at the discomfort but it was nothing compared to the pain that radiated from her injuries. She wondered if the hot bath was also included in the room price; her wound couldn’t handle being immersed but at least a rag would get her feeling clean.

She sighed and levered herself up. Every movement was difficult but she managed to get her legs off the mattress and on the ground. Sweat prickled along her brow just from the effort of sitting up.

It was going to be a long night.

Someone knocked on her door.

Karin’s heart raced as she looked around sharply for her weapon. Spotting the hilt of her sword wedged between the mattress and the frame, she grabbed it and yanked it clear. The blade shone as her magic danced along the metal. In the back of her head, she felt the sharpness of the edge except for a single nick. Reflexively, she smoothed it with a little surge of power.

The door cracked open. “Hello?”

It was a woman’s voice, one that Karin vaguely remembered from her last visit.

A throb of pain reminded Karin that she was naked. She reached back and grabbed the thin blanket, pulling it across to drape it over her nakedness even as she moved her sword to keep it clear in case of danger.

Another knock “Are you in here?”

Karin finally spoke. “Yes?” She cleared her throat."Yes."

“I brought dinner and your first glass, if you want. Are you interested? If not, I can leave it outside your door.”

Her stomach rumbled with need. The tip of her sword lowered for a moment. “Y-Yeah, come on in.”

The door creaked opened and then she stepped in carrying a large platter on her shoulder. The first things Karin noticed was the steaming bowls of food, a glass bottle of the local whiskey, and an empty glass. Then her eyes trailed down to the rich blues of the woman’s dress. The white top underneath the loose bodice framed the enticing mounds of her breasts and her slender waist.

The other woman looked into the room. Her eyes widened. “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were…” Her eyes, a pale brown, scanned across Karin.

Karin looked down. Most of her body was exposed to the air, the crisscross of countless scars covering every inch. Some of them were thick bands of larger creatures but there was also patches of leech bites, rough skin, and even a rainbow of discolored flesh from needing alchemical healing too many times.

It had been a rough six years.

Karin felt naked under the other woman’s look. Normally that wasn’t a problem, but she wanted to look more appealing than she was. Tightening the blanket over her breast, she spread it out. "Sorry, I forgot… I wasn’t… dressed.

A smile brightened the room. “Old Rooster told me that you were healing from an injury and will be with us for a while.”

With a blush, Karin carefully sheathed her sword before she dragged the rest of the blanket over her legs. “Sorry.”

She felt clumsy and flushed. She clutched the blanket tighter as she inched back on the bed. At least until the back of her knee hit the edge of the bed and she realized she couldn’t easily lever herself up without exposing herself more.

“Was it another creature like you save us from? A… slither?”

“N-No,” Karin stammered. “We were here for a slather nest. This time, it was one bug, about the size of a cow with a stinger about this long.” She held up her hands about eighteen inches apart.

The other woman frowned. “That sounds painful.”

Karin’s injury throbbed and she tightened her grip on the blanket covering her breasts. “It was.”

“Well, I’m glad you decided to stay with us. I’ll take good care of you.”

Karin’s heart beat a little faster. “I-I’m Karin.”

“Suras. In fact, if you need anything, just yell for Sur and I’ll come running.” She smiled broadly while she used her foot the drag a small stool out from the corner and used it to prop her platter on it. She looked around and then held up a finger. “Why don’t you get back on the bed and I’ll get a bed tray from the newlywed room.”

“I can eat at the table.”

“Not on my watch. I want you comfortable and the bed is the best place, right?”

Karin nodded with agreement.

“Then move your rear back into place and I’ll be right back.”

Karin smiled as Suras hurried out the room. She started to push herself back on the bed but then realized she was naked. Groaning, she crawled out of bed and limped over to her pack. Opening it, she was blasted by the smell of musty fabric, swamp water, and rotting food. Frowning, she dug in for a cleaner shirt.

It took her a moment to find the cleanest shirt. It had a few stains on the sleeves, but it was fairly well protected against the elements by multiple layers of wrapping. She shook it out then winced as her injury throbbed.

Glancing at the door, she slipped it on and started to button it up.

Her fingers were on the second button when Suras spoke up from the door. “Have you really been in the field so long you don’t remember how to enjoy a bed?”

Karin turned with a blush. “S-Sorry.”

Then she realized her breasts were still sticking out of her shirt. She tugged the fabric together and fumbled with her buttons. “I didn’t… I wasn’t wearing anything.”

Suras set down a bed tray and walked over. “Here, let me.”

Karin’s heart pounded in her chest.’

With sure fingers, Suras brushed along Karin’s fingers to capture the second button. She worked it through the hole and then slid her fingertips up to the third to fasten it.

Karin stared at her closing her buttons. The discomfort of having her breasts jostled had somehow faded underneath the rush of having Suras so close.

Suras froze on the third button. “Oh, the Couple,” she gasped.

Trembling, Karin glanced down. Her breasts were framed by the shirt, held up by the edge of fabric. The wound on her side was an angry green color with the scabbed edges almost black. In a straight line that ran underneath her nipple, there was a thick dark line that ended in a black and yellow bruise across her cleavage.

A hundred things rushed through Karin’s head. Her mouth opened and closed.

Suras tugged the next button slightly. “Does this hurt?”

Karin nodded.

Shaking her head, Suras released the button and worked her way down, freeing each one until the two tails of fabric dangled from Karin’s curves.

“W-What are you doing?” Karin’s body burned with anticipation as sweat prickled her brow. No one had ever undressed her like that, at least no one who wasn’t a lover.

“I’m taking off your shirt.”

A heat blossomed inside Karin. She breathed deeply as her nipples grew harder and she felt an ache in her chest.

Suras slipped the fabric off Karin’s shoulder. “Back to bed.”

“W-What about… I’m naked.”

Suras smiled, the same brilliant expression that Karin remembered from a year ago. “It won’t be the first time I’ve seen a lovely… a warrior naked. You need to recover and I can’t have you in pain just to eat. If you are more comfortable without clothes, then I’ll just have to serve you that way.”

Karin wasn’t sure how to respond.

Suras lead her to the bed. “Please? Just relax and I’ll take care of you.”

Before Karin realized it, she was nestled back in her bed with pillows propped up behind her back, a cloth covering her thighs, and the tray set up over her legs.

Suras held up a second large cloth above her chest. “Will this hurt if I put it here to catch food?”

Karin felt foolish but shook her head.

Gently lying it down over Karin’s breasts, Suras brought the plates of food and set them up. There was a rich stew, a thick cut of steak, and freshly baked bread. In the little holes along the side of the tray, she put bowls of oil, butter, and spices. “I don’t know how you like your meat or how how to spice it.”

“Rare, dripping blood. And I like things tangy.”

Suras smiled. “I have no trouble with dripping and tangy.”

Somehow, the way she said it brought an even hotter flush to Karin’s cheeks.

Suras pulled out a short, wide glass and set it on the top of the tray. She followed with a bottle with a blue label that matched her dress. “Here is your measure of whiskey. This is a twelve year Barnsveld. My grandfather set it in an oak cask when he was younger so it’s not quite as rich as a fresh cask but it still has a nice mellow taste with a satisfying finish.” She spoke as she poured three fingers into the glass.

Karin breathed in the smells. It brought a smile to her lips.

“You know I can’t give you the bottle, but I’ll be up frequently to check on you and take your dishes. Are you going to want dessert? We have a few apple pies and some rice pudding.”

Overwhelmed, Karin just nodded.

Suras picked up her tray and pushed the stool to the side. “I’ll be up on the next bell. If you need me earlier, just yell for me. I’ll get you a bell or something for emergencies. Anything else?”

“Um… no, thank you.”

“Then I’ll be up soon.”