Sabran stands like a stanchion. Her eyes are raw with sleeplessness.
Sabran Berethnet the Magnificent, thirty-sixth queen of Inys and ninth of her name, has not slept a full night in weeks. Her nerves are hypersensitive, and the velvet clutched around her waist catches here and there on her skin, dusting it raw. Every stroke of Ead’s brush through her hair is harsh on her scalp. She can feel the stones’ coolness around her waist as a dim touch of chill, and locks every muscle in her body to keep from shivering.
She’s sure Ead must have felt her tense. The other woman, however, says nothing. Her eyes glitter dark and focused, flickering with the rosy glow of the torch in its sconce on the far wall; the light catches and highlights the planes of her face, the broad strong sweep of her brow knit in the centre. Ead pulls the comb through Sabran’s hair again, the teeth firm against her skin, and her gaze flicks to meet Sabran’s before darting away. This time, Sabran cannot repress her shiver.
The next stroke of Ead’s comb is significantly gentler, and Sabran notes this with a dull edge of surprise. Ead’s hand, where it passes with the fine-tooth comb, leaves a softly lingering trail of heat. It’s pleasant. Everything about Ead is warm, Sabran muses, and catches herself before her thoughts can fall any further out of line.
She settles for nudging her head faintly against Ead’s roughened palm. It’s the kind that catches on silk.
Ead’s lips part but she says nothing, as if biting back a remark - no doubt in a similarly heretical fashion to her previous outbursts, Sabran recalls, and is chilled to the bone by the alarming fondness colouring her recollections. She tries to recall a prayer to the Knight of Fellowship, and finds she cannot. Ead’s comb passes again over a sensitive area of Sabran’s scalp, and Sabran tries to avoid relaxing into the touch, but Ead’s very presence is a siren’s lullaby. She soothes Sabran’s knots and aches, tempts her to relax her mask-still expression. Despite the autumn morning’s chill, Sabran is warm.
A corner of Ead’s mouth twists, and she brings her unoccupied hand up to cup Sabran’s head with the barest touch of her fingers. The contact shouldn’t feel as intimate as it does, but every fibre of Sabran’s body is still scrubbed raw from her thorough bathing this morning, and she’s all too aware of the minute points of contact between Ead’s skin and her own. Sabran dares to dart her eyes towards Ead’s again, and even the brief motion stings. It’s a risk.
But Ead doesn’t take her eyes away from her work. So Sabran lets her gaze linger a moment longer.
Ead’s stare is hot and dagger-sharp. Her hair, bunching and curling tight as it frames her jaw and shoulders, is struck through with the amber torchlight as it flickers, sending golden highlights arcing through the black. Heat pools in Sabran’s gut, shifting against the knot of anxiety that’s taken up permanent residence.
“You look very beautiful today, Ead,” Sabran says.
It is the first time she has spoken since rising.