~ Hexday, 4th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
“How did you get up there?”
Pluta meowed her reply, which sounded just like a cat’s voice to him for once. Perhaps she was too embarrassed to say the truth. With a smile he held out his arms, anyway. “Come down now.”
She sat up, adjusted herself, and sprang into the open air. He caught her and hugged her before letting the cat climb up to her favorite perch around his shoulders.
Pierre winced at the claws that were dug into his back. “Ow! Pluta, I caught you already, be careful!”
Beside him Elizabeth stifled her laughter.
They had stopped for lunch and to rest in a small village. Pluta had gone hunting in the woods and not returned after a time so Pierre and Lizzy had gone off in search for her (not truly worried, but it was a nice excuse to be alone). She had gotten herself stuck in a tall tree and, Familiar or not, was wary of the way down.
“There, there, Pluta, you’re safe with us again.” Lizzy said, reaching out to stroke her. Pluta meowed and nudged her hand in agreement, Pierre understanding her telling Lizzy that she was fine. Elizabeth, of course, did not understand the familiar’s language.
“She does seem better now,” he agreed. “Come on, let’s have a stroll around before we go back.” They had not been allowed much time alone together after that first half of the day in the carriage.
“So what did you do this last year or so?” Elizabeth asked. Pierre wrapped his arm around her and they began to walk down a natural path. “Piers mentioned you working like mad. And you never sent a letter.”
“I apologized for this already, my lady,” he replied in a light tone. “It is not becoming to hold grudges.” Having said that, he looked towards her to make sure it was not still a sore subject. She was smiling.
“And it was surgery work mainly, assisting in hospitals when possible,” he replied. “I had decided around then that I wished to finish early, though I was already ahead of many in my classes as I rarely took the summertime off.”
They heard water and made towards the stream. Pluta decided against this plan and jumped off from Pierre’s shoulders.
“Go back to the village then,” Pierre told her. “If you get stuck again we shall not help you.”
“Oh, don’t say such things! Of course we will help you, Pluta. But look for a mouse and not a bird this time.”
The cat was already turning around and heading back, tail high in the air, deciding to ignore the two of them for now.
“How does one learn surgery work?” she asked.
“We had corpses to practice on,” Pierre admitted. It was not nicest thing to say aloud. Most of the students were uncomfortable with it at first, even. “We need to be able to know what goes where, and why, and how. In the hospitals we mainly watched the surgeons and passed them instruments.”
“How did you receive corpses?” It seemed Lizzy was undeterred with the gruesome topic.
“Several people and families generously allowed us to use their loved one’s bodies after death. They saw it as a good cause, to foster learning and help advance medicine.”
“I cannot imagine that is very popular, though. Did you share each…Body?”
Pierre grimaced. He had not wished to inform Lizzy of this specifically. “Truthfully most were criminals whose deaths were not deemed important enough to give full funerals. At least this way they would be… of use.”
She took this in stride, nodding her head slowly if looking a little paler.
“A grim year, then.”
“Quite. Though it was not all gloom and horror.”
“Well, we were students after all. Pranks were pulled, curfew ignored, alcohol drunk in excess. I was among the oldest so I mainly watched over the younger men.”
“And when you were younger?” Lizzy probed, reading into what Pierre had not said. He did not meet her eyes, staring up at the trees quite pointedly.
“Your brother and I had our fun at times.”
She laughed. They had gotten into enough trouble as children to guess the level of possible mischief Pierre and Piers could do when alone and bored.
I killed a man, he thought. Several in fact, but one stood out to him in that moment. A prisoner taken straight from his hanging to a slab, so the students could see what was as close to a living body as possible. He had been not quite as dead as they had thought. After seeing the blood flowing and hearing the man let out a moan, even opening his eyes, many of the students turned away and one ran to alert a professor. Pierre had made it seem that he checked for a pulse, but he squeezed the very damaged windpipe. By the time someone with more authority was in the room the man was well and truly dead. It was deemed a delayed hanging. Pierre remained to finish the lesson even though he had been offered a pass at seeing a man die right before his eyes.
“No,” he told her.
“A pity. I hear from Piers that the best moments are those that might get you a night in jail for your troubles.”
“Oh, did he? What tales did he tell his dear little sister?”
“I believe there was a time when the boys in your dorm snuck in strong wine, or went out on the town. Perhaps those were both done in the same night, it would explain much.”
“I never did such things.”
“Of course not. Though I now shall have to find myself another companion,” she said with a smile and sly glance to him. “I would like a partner with experience in such things so I have some guidance when I deem to try.”
She pulled away from him then, they were finally by the bank of the river they had heard. It was wide, with stones dotting the surface and fish darting in between fallen branches and underwater plants. It seemed like mostly calm water. Before he could reply or ask what she was planned she dashed ahead. He gave chase. At the edge of the river she did not stop, pulling up her skirts and jumping to a rock, and then another, and finally a third almost in the center. She made it, arms waving to keep her balance and getting one shoe wet, but staying on top of the rock. With a laugh she turned and curtsied to him.
“And you think yourself safe there, Lizzy dear?” he called.
Pierre took little care of his attire, jumping straight into the water and mud without even rolling up his pants. Lizzy gasped, looking around for another place to go, but the far side of the bank was, as named, too far, and there were no more stones close by.
He reached her then, grabbing her and swinging her in his arms as she shrieked.
“Hush or I shall drop you!”
“You would not!”
He pretended to, getting another shriek from her that had him laughing as he carried her back to shore. The water was shallow and calm, if cold, waist deep for Pierre and would have been even higher for Lizzy.
“No, my dear, I would not,” he agreed, finally, sitting her down in the grass. Not after she had just been ill. Another day, perhaps.
They were the same height at the moment and he kissed her before getting out himself and looking down at his ruined clothes. His shoes were wet and the feeling was quite uncomfortable out of the water. He knelt down and began to untie the laces.
Lizzy bit her tongue to keep from asking naughtily if he would also take off his trousers.
When barefoot Pierre hopped back into the stream with the shoes in his hands.
“What are you doing?”
“Leaving my shoes,” he called over his shoulder, going back to the rock. He made sure they would not fall into the water before again returning. “They are quite nice shoes, but hardly my only pair. I am sure there are fée around, perhaps the gift would be appreciated. We cannot spare much food or drink.”
Her one shoe was hardly as wet as his had been but she sat and began to undo her laces as well. Without a word he bent down to help her.
“I shall buy you an even lovelier pair when we reach Piques,” he promised as he turned back to place her shoes next to his.
“Oh, you do not—”
She kissed the top of his head.
“How do you know there are fée here in these woods?”
“It is a good assumption to have that most large wood will have fée or at least entries to Faery. But in this case I.. Feel them.”
“Mm. Their magia in the air. I think some are following the carriages to catch glimpses. We may meet a few in town. Perhaps they are interested in me?”
“Then it is good to leave a gift,” she said. “They may have caused us or the villagers trouble if we did not acknowledge them.”
He only nodded, deferring to her knowledge of the fée. He had not been sure if leaving his shoes was a good idea actually, but her confirmation made him smile.