Trapped in a growing sense of restlessness, Oxen the hunter is lonely. Feeling like he's waiting for something -- or someone -- he's unable to focus on getting ready for winter. But when a handsome and very ill stranger collapses on his doorstep, everything changes.
Vinge is from a Pegasus family but has never been able to transform. As soon as he awakens in Oxen's care, both men feel an instant connection, which grows deeper as Oxen nurses him back to health. Something profound within each man calls out to the other, but neither knows what it is.
The questions surrounding Vinge and their deepening relationship are many. Why is Vinge so familiar to Oxen when they have clearly never met? Why are they both reluctant to take the first step to a real commitment? And what will it take for the true depth of their connection be revealed?
As I feared, the effect of the fever-reducing tea wanes even quicker this time, and soon the stranger grows restless. His legs move under the covers, his head whipping from side to side, and he mumbles something I can't make out. I hurry over to his side and kneel by the bed. Carefully, I place my hand on his shoulder and squeeze.
"Honored stranger." I keep my voice low and movements slow, so I won't scare him. His eyes move rapidly under his eyelids and he turns his head toward my voice. It's the most reaction I've gotten from him so far.
He struggles to free his arms from under the covers, and I lift the rabbit fur to help them out in the open. He calms a little when his arms are no longer restrained, so I take the opportunity to study him.
His color is much better than before; the grayish tinge and the fever roses are gone. I lay my wrist against his forehead and sigh in relief as he's no longer burning up.
I sit back on my heels.
Curious. Very curious.
Maybe my fears that the tea hurt him were unfounded. Instead, it seems as though it has helped him, but at an accelerated pace.
Never in my life have I seen someone with such a high fever recover so quickly.
I brush away a strand of hair from his face. "Who are you?" I whisper.
When he seems to be sleeping restfully again, I get to my feet, but as I turn to leave, a tug on my sleeve and his faint voice stops me. "Do not leave. Please."
The sound of his voice makes me jump, even though it's more like a whisper than anything else. I look down on him; his arm out, hand holding my sleeve, eyes still closed.
"Do not leave," he repeats.
"I will only fetch you some water, stranger. You must be parched."
He tugs on my sleeve again as if to stop me, but after a moment he releases his grip. Crossing the floor with a few hurried steps, I pour fresh cool water from the flagon into a bowl.
His eyes are still closed when I kneel next to the bed again, but I can tell he's awake by the way his head tracks my movements.
"I will lift your head and help you drink," I explain before touching him again, and he tilts his chin down, giving me permission. I slide my hand around his neck, cup the back of his head, and ease it off the bed. He drinks in deep gulps until the bowl is empty, and when I lower him back down to the pillow, he sighs.
"Thank you, Hunter."
I stiffen at his words. "Do you know me?"
Slowly, he moves his hand from his side and lays it on his chest. "I feel you," he says.
"How?" My head is spinning with all the questions this man's arrival has brought. For every passing hour, they multiply, and I can no longer keep track of them all.
The stranger doesn't answer my question -- somehow I knew he wouldn't -- so I try another approach. "I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage. I know not who you are."
His pries his eyelids open, long eyelashes fluttering like a hummingbird's wing. Even in the dim light of the cabin -- cast only by the flames in the hearth -- I can make out the color of his eyes: so dark they're almost completely black, generously sprinkled with flecks of gleaming gold, and despite the obvious tiredness, his gaze is bottomless and intense. It pulls me in and settles some of the restlessness in my chest at the same time.
And when he looks at me, I understand what he's talking about.
I can feel him, his presence. As though his heart beats next to mine in my chest. As though his breath mingles with mine when it leaves my mouth, as though I see myself through his eyes. As though I know him.
"My name ..." His voice falters.
"... is Vinge," I finish, a gasp escaping at my own words.