She didn't know when, but at some point, she began to believe that the Faerie couldn't die.
Well, she knew they could, but perhaps him rubbing his near-immortality in her face for a couple hundred years made her consciousness forget about the possibility of death.
Until the world was shattered before her waking eyes.
It wasn't supposed to happen, but since when was anything so positively obliterating supposed to happen in the eyes of the one experiencing it?
Nevertheless, here he lay before her; his breathing slowed to a sleepy murmur save for the rumble of his raspy breathing in his throat. Somehow, though, him sleeping soundly did nothing to ease her aching conscience. Drippings of worry and doubt slowly seeped into the crevices of her mind like a worm slinking into a fresh wound.
She couldn't stop herself from brushing his silky golden hair from his face. He hated it when his mane wasn't perfectly coiffed. He always maintained such an air of confidence and grace, though she always seemed to view him as acting somewhat foolish, even up until he had so foolishly taken a blow that was meant for her.
At that point, her world had fallen in slow motion, his blood splattering across her face as his body had thudded to the ground. After recovering from the initial shock, she had wasted no time gathering every herbal remedy she could find. The attackers had fled without a trace after learning she was not alone, but that did not matter now, considering her only visible company was lying unconscious in a clearing while wheezing for every breath.
Now she waited helplessly, watching him for any abnormalities and mentally calling him a dragon-eaten fool with every breath she watched him take.
The thunderous evening clouds roared the declaration of their imminent assault, and she scurried around to find any sort of safe shelter, but such things were a luxury in the wilds of the Between.
She shed her warm fur cloak and spread it over him. A bitter chuckle rose in her throat as she imagined he probably would have been either pleased or disgusted; either reveling in the possibility that the cloak could have been made from the hides of his rivals, or reeling with overdramatic horror that it could have been made from the hides of his kin, imagining that his glorious orange coat would always be next on the menu. He was always amusingly particular that way.
A few wet drops fell from the clouds, landing on her nose. With a sharp intake of breath, she knelt next to the fallen minstrel and gathered him into her arms, holding his head close to her chest for a moment. He made a soft painful groan and she stroked his hair, making soft hushing sounds and rocking him gently back and forth. She laid his head carefully in her lap, and, shrugging off her undercoat and leather tunic, held the fabric over them to partially shield them from the oncoming onslaught.
The clouds made good on their promise as the rain poured down in cascades from the turbulent sky. She looked down at him and brushed a smear of mud from his face with her thumb. The heavy sound of the rain and pounding of thunder nearly drowned out the sound of a weary voice just breaths away from her.
At first, she thought she had imagined it. She glanced at his eye patches, now edged with blood. She was unsure if he was still unconscious or not, until he repeated himself.
When she realized what he said, her heart began thudding anxiously in her chest as she unconsciously stroked his cheek.
"No no no no no, Eanrin, it's Imraldera, remember? That's what you always called me..."
His mouth faltered as he tried to pronounce his pet name for her. He slowly raised an arm until he could shakily brush away the tears she didn't even know were falling down her cheeks.
"What's all this blubbering? You must look dreadful, old girl." he croaked.
His voice only caused her to burst into sobs, uncaring or oblivious to the fact that the wounded egotistical cat could hear her cry.
She tried to rub the tears from her eyes, until his hand grasped hers and squeezed it tightly. His voice was shallow.
"I-Imr--" he struggled with her name again before settling on the less flattering nickname, "All right, old girl, there's something I need to tell you. No one's around, are they?"
She squeezed the poet's hand in response, a sob and a hint of a chuckle caught in her throat, "No one out of the ordinary, Eanrin. It's okay..."
Eanrin coughed, a trickle of blood spluttering from his lips.
"G-Good. Now listen up close. I'm only going to say this once..."
She swallowed another lump that choked against her throat and raised his hand to her face, stroking it comfortingly against her cheek, "I'm listening, Eanrin."
She stared at his eye patches, part of her almost willing his eyes to return so he could look at her and say it. But he couldn't.
Instead, he fumbled as he tried to choose his words carefully and appear suave while laying wounded in a clearing in the wilderness and cradled in the lap of a crying woman, "Imraldera...well, you see, I..."
This time, his voice faded, though not from hesitation or bashfulness.
His sentence was left unfinished as he slipped back into unconsciousness. Imraldera's heart lurched as her eyes went to his chest, and to her relief, it still rose and fell with the heaving of his lungs. Each breath was labored, and she reached her hand under the fur cloak on his body to check the state of his wound.
He was a strong-willed, stubborn man who had lived for centuries, so there should be no question he would make it through something like this.
Yet, even with all the herbs, as the rain was pouring down on them, nothing seemed to stop the bleeding.
She bent low over him, nuzzling her head sorrowfully against his and burying her face in his hair. Imraldera sang softly to him, her voice unceremonious and breaking. She sang to him what seemed like hours without a single change, though she was beginning to wonder if she did it for his sake or to placate herself.
She then whipped her head out from under the small shelter of her cloak-tent and into the merciless torrent. Lifting her face to the sky, she closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, the raindrops pounding against her face.
Unless she could find a way out of the rain or retrieve aid, there was not a single guarantee that Eanrin would last the night, let alone survive the ordeal. Calling for help while deep in the Between with a severely wounded man did not exactly bode well. She would go look for help, but she dare not leave his side. All the options warred against each other in her mind, but fear and doubt led her to come to the same conclusion every time.
All at once, tears and bile rose up into her chest and she hacked and coughed and cried until she could no longer tell whether her face was drenched from the rain or from her tears. The same few things rushed through her mind.
She wished she hadn't been so cynical to him at the beginning of their trip. She wished she could've written down that song that had been rolling around in his head before they left. She wished she had paid attention the moment that he stopped talking about Lady Gleamdren instead of being too put out to listen anymore. She wished she hadn't brushed him away one time when he lapsed into a moment of tenderness on a late summer night when her record-keeping had taken precedence over an exceedingly rare serious conversation with her bored musical companion.
For a split second, she even wished he had kissed her when she was awake.
Imraldera truly had no idea if he was really going to die this time or not. She opened her eyes and stared at the sky, her face contorted with sorrow and fear.
Again she waited.
She sat there in silence as the rain crashed against the ground. Through the sound of the rain she could hear nothing.
She heard no twitter of the wood thrush; no baying of the Hound in the distance.
Just the rain.
She found herself sputtering words into the sky.
"M'Lord? Where are you? Where are you?"
Her tears began again before she had even finished, and the rest of her words came broken and nearly incomprehensible.
"M'Lord please! Can't you see us now? I know...I know you've never failed us before...But I don't know that we've ever needed you more than we do right now."
Imraldera's hands cradled Eanrin's head like a babe against her, careful to hold her undercloak over him to keep him from getting wet.
Imraldera shivered against the storm, and she glanced around, but there was no sign that her Master was there, let alone that he had heard her. After so many years in his service, she knew by now that he would never leave them abandoned, but she also knew that if nothing happened soon and their Master remained silent, it could mean death for one of her dearest friends.
"Master! Please, if you're there, don't be silent anymore!"
No one answered.
She continued to sit, dejected and feeling immensely alone with nothing but the storm and the silent Wood as company. Waiting held no comfort for her.
Her fears buried deeper into her, and her mind settled on the possibilities of what would happen if Eanrin was lost to her. How would she go back to her daily life without him? He was arrogant, flamboyant, seldom truthful, and frequently upset her work more than he helped, but she owed her life to him, at the very least.
Truth be told, he was just about all she had left. Her sister Fairbird and dog Frostbite back in the Near World had passed on long ago. So, oftentimes, her only companionship other than her Master throughout the years had been him.
She felt herself getting choked up again when her mind glanced over the slim possibilities of a life that she often hid in the deepest recesses of her thoughts. A life of peace, early mornings watching the sun make its first blazing appearances in the sky, a strong arm wrapped around her shoulders and that warm chuckle in her ears. A life that wasn't fret with sorrow or unspoken words, where there was no need for secrets. Evenings alight with his rich voice in a glorious song not bent to the whims of some fickle young woman, but in the beautiful sound of praise.
Just the thought of his voice was enough now to send a new stream of salty liquid in rivulets from her eyes.
Her mind knew so well that their Master was close, but in that moment, how was it that, with no proof of his presence, she could feel so utterly alone?
She buried her head under the cloak, throwing her hair behind her so the cold water wouldn't drip on his face. She pressed her face against his, leaning her forehead against his as her lips brushed his cheek.
"Come on, you fussy old cat." she whispered.
She stayed like that for a long while, basking in the feeling of his shallow breath tickling her cheek, small comfort though it was.
Throughout the many years in service to her Master, waiting was one of the things she liked the least.
Yet, so frequently, it was the only thing she could do.
She had realized many times with a twinge of bitterness that all this waiting was probably the greatest test of her faith. She wondered though, when the testing might give way to tragedy.
She had also realized that part of her begged to hold it against her Master if he left Eanrin to die, but she couldn't bring herself to do so, nor did she want to. Yet, somehow, part of that made it hurt all the more.
As she stared at the poet's face, she knew that watching him slip away was the hardest thing she'd ever done.
She dry-heaved once as she stroked his face, her voice cracking even at a whisper, "Oh, Eanrin, when you wake up from this, I'll plunge you head first into a bath by your tail for putting me through such grief."
Suddenly, his breathing slowed tremendously. She tensed, struggling against the clot of emotion in her chest.
Imraldera's words came out as a sputtering croak, "Don't you dare leave me, Eanrin! I won't plunge you into a bath by your tail, I promise! I'll write down your songs until my hands fall off and I'll listen to them until my ears go deaf! I won't complain about your attitude and I'll tolerate all your Gleamdren rants! I don't care!"
Her warm tears fell on his face and made tearstains on his eyepatches. She pressed her lips to his brow as she sobbed.
"I'll brush your fur three times a day and scratch you behind the ears any time you ask. I'll fix you fish dinner every night if you like. Please Eanrin...I'll do anything..."
There was no answer and she lifted her face out of the cloak and back into the steady rain.
"Master, please...you hold my highest allegiance, and I could never repay you for what you've done...I hate to ask such a selfish thing after all this, but, he's all I have left other than you...please don't take him from me..."
Her sobs turned to wails as she felt her body emptying every ounce of moisture it possessed through her eyes. The sounds of her cries tore through the Wood until they drowned out even the rain.
The rain gradually stopped as the woman bent double over her fallen friend, her tears utterly spent. She was a dry shriveled husk with neither tears left to cry nor the strength left to fight anymore.
"Very well, my Lord, if it be your will, I will relinquish him to you. Though I do not want to."
She ran her hand down his chest and felt his pained inhale and exhale.
She was sopping wet and weary, and her mind could barely register what was real and what was in her head.
She looked up to the heavens in the defeat of her will, and she couldn't tell if she imagined the sliver of light piercing the clouds and a chirp of a bird somewhere or not.
But Eanrin's chest rose in a deep, fresh inhale against her hand.