The baths have the same rough-hewn stone walls as the rest of the building, but are open to the sky instead of having a wooden roof. Two long, padded benches stand between the changing room and the bath itself, which is sunken further into the ground and looks as big as a swimming pool would on Rephidim. Steaming water pours from an opening high up on the far wall, and drains near the surface keep the room from flooding. Stone steps lead down into the water, and there appear to be stone platforms set at various heights below the surface.
There are a set a parallel benches before the steps down into the bath, and the other two warriors from Lucia's patrol are already seated on one of them, being attended to by coneys that share their markings possibly even their own children. Both of them nod in greeting as Lucia, Coeus and Layth come out from the changing room.
Coeus lays some towels over the unoccupied bench, so that Lucia can lie flat on her stomach, the better to get to her wounded calf.
Layth glances at the bottle Coeus handed him earlier, then heads over to the unoccupied bench and kneels down beside it. "How deep was her injury?" he asks Coeus, then looks to Lucia. "And how long ago?"
"It was a few days past," the warrior says. The back of her right calf is still visibly bruised where the fur has been cut away, and the heavy-looking stitches sealing the bite of the Zaki's beak are still in place. "It didn't bite all the way through," Coeus adds.
With a bit of help from the coney, Lucia lies down on the bench. The other two warriors watch silently, their own coneys rubbing liniment oil into their backs.
"Tell me if it gets too uncomfortable," Layth tells Lucia, then places his hand upon her leg and starts to feel around the bite entry, checking for any drainage or infection. "Were you attacked on patrol?" he then asks, apparently going to engage in small talk as a distraction.
If the woman is in pain, she hides it well. "No, an official hunt. I must kill a Zaki belonging to the Kerebos Goliath to earn the right to become one of their warriors."
"Ah, I assume alone? Were you victorious?" Layth inquires next and starts putting some of the bottle's contents on his hands, then places them on the injured spot to begin application.
Lucia's muscles tense at the contact, but it is one of the other warriors who answers; "Always alone, for the Vykarin will not approach a Goliath. Few warriors succeed on their first attempt, and many do not survive or are maimed too badly to become a warrior. Lucia was not successful on her first try."
"How large is this creature," Layth inquires as he works his fingers slowly over the tense muscles, trying to get them to relax. He uses decent pressure, but gets more careful when he gets closer to the edges of the wound.
Quietly, Coeus rubs regular liniment into Lucia's broad shoulders. Eventually, the muscles of the doe's leg relax under Layth's ministrations, but still remain harder than any he's felt before. "As big as a warrior," she finally answers.
"Do you have to face it without weapons?" Layth inquires next and simply keeps on working on that leg, working his way outward from it, as tensing and knots tend to spread outward.
"Oh no, that would be impossible," Lucia says. "I was fully armed and armored, but the creatures are very fast and vicious, and their hides are incredibly tough."
"Hmm. Pardon my suggestions, as I grew up far from here and learned many things … and please, I mean no offence, but you engage it by weapons and direct fighting. So, would it not be more … efficient to construct a trap in the terrain and lure the creature into it, instead of trying to subdue it directly?" Layth inquires quietly, a little concerned about how suggestions might be taken.
"You would have to dig a very deep hole," one of the other warriors notes. "And also drag the dead body out once it has been killed. So much effort without the aid of a Vykarin is very taxing. No, the key is to attract only a single Zaki away from the pack."
"Not necessarily a hole, but point noted. I've never seen such a creature, so I do not know their size," Layth concedes and bows his head politely. He slides his hand under her leg a bit to feel the tissue opposite the wound entry for signs of a deeper infection.
"The best tactic is entice one to impale itself on your lance," Lucia explains. "They are very stupid, though, and attack anything that moves, including each other."
"I imagine your polished armor made you more attractive than your lance?" Layth asks Lucia.
The wound shows signs of having been thoroughly cleaned, but the muscles of the front of the calf feel a bit strained from trying to compensate for the damaged ones.
The doe says, "Yes. I can use my shield to reflect a spot of light onto my target or the ground to get its attention. Unfortunately, two others followed, and I was outnumbered."
Layth hmms, then says, "Lady Lucia, I would suggest you keep off this leg for a few days. You are putting too much strain on your front calf and could increase the damage and time to heal."
"I do not like to remain idle," Lucia says. The other two does share a look with each other and shake their heads.
"I do not mean that you should be idle, only careful. I do not wish to see this wound worsen to a permanent limp, or the worst case, develop infection … which would then require amputation," Layth says flatly and shakes his head. "I've seen that done before; it is not pretty. The caravan roads can be nasty at times."
"I almost lost a foot to frostbite as a child," Lucia admits. "I will not strain my leg."
"Thank you. What happened when you were a child to cause that to happen?" Layth asks next and moves to just work on Lucia's other leg for a bit to give her wounded one some relief.
"I became lost in a winter storm, and fell into a crevasse," the white woman says. "My foot was caught in ice for nearly half a day."
Layth winces. "That sounds … painful," he admits with a small shudder. "Just being exposed to the cold for that long is … unpleasant, as I know from experience."
Even though the other warriors' rubdowns are finished, they stay seated, listening. "Mountains made of ice. It is true then, that mountains around Valkyria are always frozen?" one of them asks.
"The tops are, yes," Layth answers and glances up briefly. "From what I remember, anyway. We were always on the move back then. Always a new raid, or seeking places to survive."
"Yes," Lucia says. "Even in spring, the ground is sometimes too cold or hard to farm. And when it does get warm enough, more monsters dare the climb from out of Bosch."
"I could see visiting, in the springtime," the older looking of the warriors says. "It sounds harsh and beautiful, and there are never enough monsters here on the plains."
"Survival is hard there and many choices are made out of necessity. For example, I was left behind to die by my own tribe," Layth notes with a light shrug. "They could not feed the number we had. It is a very harsh land."
"You were wise to come down then, Lucia," the senior warrior says. "Your children will not die here."
"Obtaining children there was also very difficult. Look at me. The gold is from my mother, the white from my father who was a Snowshoe. My father was a 'prize' from a raid on one of the clans. They don't often pay for breeders, they merely take them," Layth notes absently and glances toward the coney, curious as to how he (or is it she) is doing.
Coeus seems oblivious to the chatter, holding one of Lucia's hands and checking the muscles and joints.
Layth thinks of something and moves up to feel along the base of Lucia's spine and lower back, checking for uneven tightness in the muscles from compensating for her leg.
"There are a few Guardians I would not mind capturing," notes the younger of the other two warriors. "Are you fully grown now, Man from the Mountains?" she asks Layth directly.
"I am," Layth notes with a nod, then glances toward the doe. "Why do you ask?"
There is some lower-back tension, certainly, but if could be from riding as much as anything else. Lucia's left leg also shows a scar, so it isn't like she's inexperienced when it comes to having to favor one leg over another.
"Oh," the warrior says, sounding a little disappointed. "I thought you might be worth capturing, is all, but not if you will not grow larger."
Shrugging, Layth decides to just give Lucia a full body massage and starts work on her lower back, using mainly his palms at first, following up with his fingers. "I am not that small, nor am I weak," Layth notes absently, then grins at the doe. "But, A thousand thanks for the thought at least; I have not had anyone even consider that before."
"Alcyone here thinks of little else when she is not fighting," the older doe notes, with a wink. "Even now, she is carrying more of my grandchildren, though she does not show it yet."
Layth chuckles. "I have not sired any children, myself," he admits, "I haven't even lived among Lapi for a long time."
"What else is there to live among?" Alcyone says, laughing.
"Oh, Khatta, Skeeks, Skreeks, Jupani many creatures," Layth counts off and smiles towards Alcyone. "I've traveled the world."
"Ah, you are like Linnea then," the doe says, nodding. "You are married to an outsider? One of those does you arrived here with, or perhaps to the… the one with wings?"
Layth laughs at that. "Me? Married? A thousand pardons, but I am not. I am quite single. Lady Aisha is the daughter from a family I was asked to protect," he says with smile.
"Ah," the older one says, nodding her head. "You are a Guardian, and your clan does not have a suitable warrior for you to mate with."
"Ah, sort of, I suppose. A guardian is the closest thing to describe me, but may not be quite accurate. In the outside world I was a servant, then a bodyguard," Layth tries to explain.
Their immediate work done, the three coneys sit down between the two benches and groom each other.
"What is a 'bodyguard'?" Alcyone asks, leaning forward.
Layth slides his hands up Lucia's back and works along her side and shoulder muscles. "Are you feeling all right, Lady Lucia?" he asks her.
Lucia mutters something unintelligible, then says, "Oh… I may have dozed off, forgive me. You have a very skilled touch, Layth."
"A person assigned to defend and protect a specific individual to the death if need be," Layth tries to explain as he works. "I was trained in a variety of fighting styles and weapons, among other things. For the caravan I traveled with, I was one of the guards," he explains, then smiles to Lucia. "Ah, then I apologize for waking you."
"A Guardian for a single person?" Alcyone says, sounding amazed. "What else are you trained to do?"
"Mundane things, really. Music and personal care, such as this," Layth notes and nods down toward Lucia. He grins and flips his ears back, saying, "I'm decent at making people feel relaxed and good."
"Hmm, that seems a useful calling," the older doe says, then stands up and gestures to her daughter. "Enough sitting, we must wash." Alcyone gets up as well, smiles to Layth, and walks into the bath.
Layth remembers something and adds, "I also speak several languages." He then nods to the does and says, "If you need or want any assistance, just ask." His attention returns to Lucia then, and he asks her, "If I may ask, why did you leave your home?"
"To lose a child is not uncommon, but to lose two is an omen," Lucia says. "No one would have me there anymore, so there was no reason to stay."
"Ah … I am sorry for your loss," Layth says quietly. "It must not have been easy for you."
"I would not even be allowed to wet-nurse the children of others, it was… it was very depressing," Lucia admits. "So I left, and came down to the warm lands to test fate. Either I would be killed as an invader, or earn my way into a Clan."
"Well, I believe you will likely become a member of this clan," Lath notes and runs his fingers lightly along the back of Lucia's neck, then along her ears to smooth down the fur "You seem a survivor to me; and obviously not someone who will give up."
"Thank you," Lucia says, then starts to sit up. "I have a duty to Coeus to succeed, so that he can play with my future children."
Layth helps Lucia to sit up, then goes to check her leg again. "Is Coeus the child of a friend of yours?" he inquires.
"He is the grandchild of Nemo, the healer, who has high status within the clan," Lucia says. "His father is a skilled vintner, and his mother was an acolyte of Morpheus before joining the clan. You and she might have things in common."
Layth tilts his head and looks up at Lucia. "Why do you say that, Lady Lucia?" the buck inquires curiously.
"You are both skilled in the arts of 'relaxation' and renewal of the spirit," the white doe says, and carefully stands up, letting Layth take some of her weight.
Layth remains motionless until Lucia is fully back on her feet, then stands up beside her. He smiles, then bows his head, "Well, thank you. Life taught me to follow the flow and go where life takes you. And honestly, I prefer to help people, not fight them."
Once in the water, Lucia is able to get around without stressing her leg. The coneys come along, splashing and playing while the warriors go about the serious business of washing away the smells of the road and of the liniment. Alcyone even offers to wash Layth.
Layth looks torn for a moment when Alcyone offers to wash him. But, he then smiles and says, "I would be honored, Lady Alcyone." The buck then removes his clothing before joining them in the bath. "Was there anything of concern on patrol today?" he inquires.
"No, it was dull as usual," Alcyone says as she rubs soap into Layth's thickly furred back. "The weather is too nice, and people are busy with the fields and harvests. It would be rude to interrupt important work with a raid."
Layth rolls his back under the rubbing, a rather new experience for the buck. "Sounds like a lot has been dull for you," Layth notes over his shoulder. "I do not know if you would be interested, but seeing as you are all warriors, I would be willing to show you some of the fighting styles and skills I learned in the outside world? I imagine they are quire different from your training," he offers.
"You would need to speak to Epimethius the Trainer," the older doe says. "He can judge the value of your techniques, and which apply best to Guardians and which to Warriors."
"Ah, as you like, then," Layth notes with a smile. He can't help but glance towards Lucia to make sure she's doing fine.
Lucia is busily working on the older doe's fur, and seems to have fallen into that happy-content state that Lapis get when grooming each other.
"If you have not soaped yet, Lady Alcyone, I am most willing to help you," the buck tells her. He then considers something and asks her, "How many attempts did it take for you to pass the warrior test, if I may ask such a thing?"
"Five," the woman says, and passes Layth the lump of soap. "And I nearly died bringing back the Zaki, it seemed to weigh as much as a Vykarin."
"All the more impressive to capture one, then," Layth notes and moves behind the doe. After dipping the soap in the water, he starts working on her back and neck. "And if I may ask, how many children have you bore? She mentioned you carry another?"
"I have two now, twins… a boy and a girl," Alcyone says proudly. "That is my girl Eidothea over there playing with Coeus now. I hope to bear twins again this time."
"I wish you the best of luck with that. Who sired them?" Layth asks with a smile. He sets the soap aside and takes some care to wash the soap from her back. "If you lift your leg up and rest it on the edge, I will clean your legs too," he tells her.
Alcyone sits on the edge of the bath so she can raise up her legs. "Both times it has been Dino the Guardian. I will probably marry him, if my mother and his approve. I like him quite a bit, and we have even been mating after I was confirmed pregnant."
Layth starts to work on her legs, cleaning between each toe before he moves up along each. "Do you think they will approve?" he inquires next. "And please, if I ask too personal a question, do tell me to be quiet."
"I'm sure they will," Alcyone says, sounding pleased. "I think his mother had been hoping for one of my older sisters, who has had children by Roland already, but Dino only has me in his heart it seems."
Layth smiles to the doe. "I can understand why, he has a good eye," he tells her, then proceeds to rinse the soap from her legs. "I am most certain you are a benefit to any family."
Alcyone leans forward and gives Layth a kiss on his forehead. "You are a very sweet man. If you stay around, you will have to come and teach Dino some of your skills. He is a good man, but hardly a priapus. But he loves me, and that is important for a Guardian."
Layth grins sheepishly and glances away for a moment. "I do not know what the future holds for me, really. Lady Aisha is headstrong, and I am concerned she may get into situations that will … but, such is not worth worrying about. I apologize, Lady Alcyone," he says.
"You are her Guardian, so you must love her," Alcyone states. "You may be willing to die for her, but you must be willing to live for her too. A Guardian in love cannot be defeated."
"Ah, a bodyguard doesn't work quite that way, but I defend her on the honor of the one who saved my life. It is a debt I must repay," Layth states and shrugs slightly. "I don't know if I've ever known 'love'."
"I have heard it is like a flame in your belly," Alcyone says, looking thoughtful. "Or was it a knife? Perhaps a flaming knife… but one that doesn't hurt you… something like that."
Layth considers the analogy. "I am also certain she doesn't love me. I believe she finds me a … nuisance," he admits. "A pain. And probably a burden because her family wants me to look after her, and she doesn't want to be looked after."
"I don't see that that matters," the warrior says, waving a hand. "I don't love Dino, after all. Not yet. Love is mainly for men, I think, unless they're trained to avoid it."
Layth chuckles at that. "The outside world is considerably different, Lady Alcyone," he says and helps her back into the bath to finish cleaning her. "I would say … many things are the opposite there. The women are those who usually love."
"Well, normal women maybe," Alcyone concedes. "Warriors and Guardians are different though."
"Women also aren't usually the warriors in the outside world," Layth explains as he makes sure the remaining soap has been removed. "But, all of that really isn't important here. I apologize for even mentioning it."
"Really?" Alcyone asks, sounding surprised. "Your Aisha may not look like a Warrior, but I suspect in her heart she really is. Otherwise she would not have come here."
Layth shakes his head. "She is … no warrior," he admits, "She is … timid in many ways."
"And, I am certain her family does not wish her to become a warrior," Layth adds as an afterthought.
"Strange indeed, this outside world of yours," the Amazonian says, shaking her head. "Alien people, timid women… truly a nightmarish place."
"It is not so bad. Just different," Layth notes. He then ducks under the water briefly to make sure he's clean. "Shall I get your towel?" he asks when he comes back up.
"No, my daughter will fetch it," Alcyone says. "Assuming she stops grabbing Coeus for a moment… Eidothea! Stop that, this is a bath! Do that out in the garden."
Layth bows his head. "As you like," he tells her with a smile. With a glance to the other two does, he asks, "May I be of any aide to you two?"
The coneys scramble out of the bath, and shake themselves into puffballs of fluff before getting the towels. One of the regular bath attendants has already removed Layth's clothing to the drying room. "You can help me keep up," Lucia says, as she starts making her way out of the water.
Layth heads to the edge of the bath and meets up with Lucia. Sliding one arm around her, he helps her out of the bath carefully. "Do you have anyone to assist you for the remainder of the day?" he asks the doe. "I can see if Lady Aisha is all right with me helping you while we visit. It is the least I can do for someone from the same homeland as I."
"I am not an invalid," Lucia reminds the buck, but not harshly. "Coeus can help me as he always does. And Roland also helps when he is not attending to other duties."
Layth nods his head. "I never said you were, a thousand apologies," he says as he leads her over to where Coeus is.
"But you can help me back to my room," Lucia relents. "It is good to see someone from my old home, who does not think me cursed."
"I would never think that of you, Lady Lucia," the buck tells her as they reach Coeus. He smiles to the coney and nods, stepping away so her attendant can see to her.
As Layth watches the coney dry Lucia, he can't help but inwardly sigh. "It looks like there is still a part of you very much Amazonian," he thinks ands pushes his ears back. "Here you are immediately deferring to a warrior and tending to her nearly instinctually. Careful, Layth, or they may keep you."