Adelasia ran screaming through the forest, her long, light hair streaking out behind her. Branches ripped through her locks, pulling painfully at her scalp, and thorns and foliage tore at her feet, but she hardly noticed for the panic and adrenaline. She heard heavy breathing close behind her and knew the beats were gaining, but she couldn’t run any faster. But all efforts to escape came to an abrupt stop as a set of massive claws dug deep into her side, tearing through her skin like wet paper. A wave of anxiety swept through her, overwhelming her thoughts so she could hardly feel her own blood spilling or her feet dragging against the ground as she was pulled backwards. Her mouth was wide open, instinctively, but the breath she needed to call out as she desperately wanted to had already rushed out of her lungs. The rancid breath of the great beast that had grabbed her fanned out against the back of her neck, and her vision blurred with tears at the thought of her horrible fate. I will die here, she thought to herself, more profoundly terrified than she had ever been. I will die here and no one will ever find me. She would be alone, and forgotten, and never return home. She managed to draw in just enough breath for a sob before being violently thrown to the ground by the monster. Barely conscious from the impact of her head slamming into the ground, it was all she could do to keep her eyes open for a few seconds longer, and the last thing she saw was the gleam of silver armor in the moonlight, and the flash of a sword against the great beast’s flesh.
The first thing she felt when she woke was warmth and comfort. Soft light flickered before her, and she opened her eyes to a fire several feet in front of her. She was in a bed, she realized, but not her own- and a soft gasp escaped her lips. How did I get here…? She tried to sit up, but a pounding headache overtook her the moment she started to move. Was this a kidnapping? Adelasia had heard of pretty maidens being stolen from their homes before, and secretly dreamed of one day being the lovely princess in such a story- but that didn’t mean she ever really wanted it to happen. She closed her eyes, wincing against the pain, and tried to recall what had actually transpired that night. Soon enough, flashes of it started to return- she had been out searching for herbs, and then… That was right. Some strange monster had attacked her. Her hand immediately shifted down to her waist, to where she had been clawed, and she noted with relief that it was already bandaged. So she had been rescued… Could she be the princess in the story, after all?
A gust of chill air swept in as the door to the little cottage opened, sending shivers through her spine. Standing in the doorway was, unmistakably, a valiant knight, head held high in shining armor, and this, she knew right away, was the same one that had saved her last night. No kind of warrior, she knew, would stand with such pride or have saved her so honorably, except one that had the blessing of the King. It still hurt to move, but at least she could speak, and was eager to make a good impression, as well as get some answers. “Thank you for rescuing me, kind Sir.”
The knight stepped through the door, closing it behind them, and silently began to remove their armor, stowing it carefully away. Then they turned to face Adelasia, and her eyes widened slightly as the knight gave a nod, their face impassive. “You’re welcome.”
“You’re a woman…”
The knight’s face remained impassive, and they answered simply. “No.”
Adelasia struggled to understand. “Then… you are a man?”
“No.” The knight turned away, and began to stoke the fire, breathing new life into it.
“But, if you aren’t- then- what are you?”
“My name is Dorian,” they answered, with just slightly more of an edge than before.
Spurred on by her headache and her increasing frustration at this person’s refusal to conform to her expectations, it hadn’t occurred to Adelasia that her line of questioning might have been insulting, and she instantly regretted having slighted her rescuer. Her voice lost its insistence. “I’m sorry… Thank you for rescuing me, Dorian.” They seemed content to just gaze into the fire, so after a few moments of silence, she continued. “Do you mind if I ask… what was that beast you saved me from?”
Dorian took a slow breath before answering. “It was a vampire. You are lucky to still be alive.”
She gasped slightly at the term. “But, I- vampires… they don’t exist?”
They turned to meet Adelasia’s eyes again, and raised an eyebrow. “After what happened last night, you still think they aren’t real?” She let that sink in, and then nodded softly in acknowledgement- it was a fair point. “What were you doing in those woods by yourself late at night?”
“I just went out in the late afternoon to find some herbs…” A faint blush crept over her cheeks. “And I just, got lost along the way.”
Dorian nodded, sparing Adelasia the disapproval she was expecting. “I understand. But if you can, please be more careful in the future. That forest is infested with vampires. I was only there to save you because I happened to be in the area hunting them.”
She gave a small nod in return. “Thank you.” She looked around at the little cottage, then, taking it in. Although it was small, the space was used efficiently, and Adelasia thought it was quite charming. There was the bed she laid on and a small couch along the wall, with a kitchen situated in the opposite corner. The fireplace, across from the bed, was set up to cook food over as well as to heat the house. Decorations were sparing, but certainly unique- a hand-dyed silk tapestry hung on one wall, the head of a strange beast was mounted over the fireplace, and there were a few other foreign or seemingly magical things neatly displayed.
Dorian’s voice softened a little more, but they maintained their stone-faced exterior. “May I ask your name?”
“Adelasia,” she answered, her gaze landing back on the fire. “This is a lovely cottage.”
“Thank you. I apologize for having brought you to a strange place; I wasn’t sure where you lived, and I had to treat your wounds. Once you have recovered enough to travel I will be glad to escort you back home.” They paused, then, looking her over carefully. “How are you feeling?”
She opened her mouth, her first instinct to say that she was fine, but then thought better of it. “My head hurts, and more so when I try to move. But I know I am lucky to be alive after last night. Thank you.”
“Last night?” Dorian paused for a moment, surprise betrayed in their expression just briefly. “Adelasia, you have been asleep for nearly a week.”
“A week!” She gasped, momentarily forgetting her injuries, and bolted upright only to immediately regret it. Black spots danced before her eyes as her head thudded, and she felt like she might have pulled something in her side. A week, she managed to think through the pain. What everyone at home must think…
She was interrupted from her thoughts by one hand on her shoulder, and another holding a leaf she had never seen in front of her face. It took a few moments before her senses came into focus again, and then she registered that Dorian was talking to her. And, she thought, they sounded concerned- the second break in that cool exterior so far.
“Can you hear me?” They spoke gently, considerate of how they knew Adelasia’s head must feel. She gave the slightest of nods, which Dorian accepted as a cue to continue. “Take this leaf, and chew on it- it will dull the pain. And please, try not to move.”
Adelasia reached out to take the leaf, her hand shaking slightly, and gently began to chew on it. Dorian waited a few moments for her to start to look more comfortable before speaking to her again. “I understand how frightening this must all seem to you. But I will bring you home as soon as you are well enough to travel. Until then, try to rest.” She nodded, and slowly moved to lay back down, Dorian sliding their hand from her shoulder to her back to help ease her through the motion. Then they stepped back again, standing a respectable distance away, and Adelasia remembered how striking it was, the way they held theirself. “Can I get you anything?”
“No, thank you,” she replied, telling herself not to be distracted.
Dorian offered her a small smile, and she was taken off guard again- she hadn’t thought about how much her rescuer’s face might have come to life when they smiled. “Then try to sleep. We can speak again when you wake.”
Adelasia did not need to be told twice; her body was still tired from healing, and she quickly drifted off again.
A/N: So, this is my first attempt at a long prose thing in a while. Dorian is actually an ancestor of Niccolò and Alastair, whose story I really wanted to explore. So I will write more of these, if all goes according to plan, and see where it goes.