Chapter 22: Truth
Roxi’s head turned like a whip to face me, expression equal parts worry and exasperation as her gaze bored into me.
“What did you do this time!?”
“What? This time? What do you mean this time? It’s not like I’ve done this before!” I stammered, staggering backwards into Gael who was blocking my escape.
Eyes briefly narrowing, Roxi raised an eyebrow as if she had caught something I’d missed. “Done what before?” Crap! “How about you tell me what you’ve done and let me be the judge?” Despite the faint twitch of a smile in the corners of her mouth, her tone remained firm and imperious. That was definitely not a request.
Slipping out from behind as she locked arms with me, Gael used me as an axis swinging around to face Roxi and I. “You’re in for it now…” she teased in a singsong voice.
“Gael!” I spat, wrenching my arm free to glare at her.
A titter of threatening giggles slipped out in reply. “Oh? You want me to tell her?”
Dress be damned, I leapt forward and tried to clamp a hand over her mouth before she continued. Possibly expecting my reaction, Gael’s arm snapped up and her hand latched onto my shoulder to hold me away at arm’s length.
I’d miscalculated… It wasn’t that obvious at first, but the maid was ever so slightly taller than me and her reach just that little bit longer than mine. That and she was definitely stronger than me, her grip was like that of a hydraulic press and despite all my efforts her arm hadn’t bent, nor had I managed to budge her at all from where she was standing.
Not paying any further attention to my attempts to silence her, Gael turned her head to look at Roxi. “Ok sooo, the little miss here went and did an escape. Running off the morning after you left. Before the Sun had even risen no less and in just a thin dress and slippers. No coat, cloak, scarf or anything else warm and then what did she do? She went down into the valley, out into the wind and cold for hours. You can probably guess she returned a little worse for wear.”
“What do you mean by a little worse for wear?” Roxi asked, her voice suddenly cold enough to crack glaciers.
“Well I’m quoting the chief healer here,” the maid replied before tilting her head to the side in exaggerated thought, as if trying to recall some small detail. “Hmmm… ‘That fool girl certainly has her share of fool’s luck, considering how much worse her injuries should have been after throwing herself to the mercies of the valley’s sharp rocks and ice winds. Not only that, but not everyone is lucky enough to have the guards searching for them at the Duchess’s behest or to have availed the skilled ministrations of a talented court healer such as myself.’ Was what she said.”
I was almost ready to consider gnawing my arm and shoulder off at this point, if it meant getting free.
“As for her injuries... She wasn’t in a good state, but nothing Lady Povey couldn’t set as good as new. If I recall correctly, she was all scrapes, cuts and bruises, a few sprains, a little hypothermia and a lot of exhaustion, both physical and mental, as well as very sleep deprived. Lady Povey had her wounds cleaned and then healed before she was put to bed and given a little magical sleep aid to make sure she rested and recovered.”
Every injury Gael listed off had me visibly wincing, both from the memory of getting them and the chewing out I feared was coming. As she switched from maladies to treatment, Gael’s grip on my shoulder had loosened and sensing my chance, I attempted to pull free.
Only to find myself freezing like a rabbit caught in the gaze of a predator as Roxi fixed me a quick look before turning back to Gael. When Gael finished explaining the treatment, there was silence. Cautiously, I looked up from where I was staring at the floor to where Roxi was standing.
Her fingers were twitching as she seemingly resisted the urge to clench them or grip at her pants and a complex array of microexpressions warred across her face. The worry, frustration from earlier and something else had been slowly rising to a boil this whole time, but she seemed to be fighting a battle to force them down.
A few deep breaths and a long exasperated sigh later Roxi seemed to find her calm, her shoulders relaxed and a lopsided wry smile on her pale face.
“A part of me wants to yell at you to take better care of yourself, but that would only make me feel better and at your expense too,” she sighed again. “I’ll admit our time together so far has left me thinking you are accident prone, but what Gael said seems very out of character for you. You’re not that bad, so... Please tell me why you’d run out like that?” she asked, her voice almost a whisper by the end, her eyes wide and pleading as they staring into mine.
Her words combined with the emotions she wore on her face, hit like a suckerpunch to the gut and I found myself suddenly out of breath, staring at the floor. I wasn’t sure what had winded me more, the fact that she actually cared enough to worry about me or guilt over the fact that I’d given her reason to worry about me. Looking up to answer her, my gaze made it as far as her ankles before I realised I didn’t know what to say. Or more correctly, I didn’t know where to begin.
It was… a lot.
A fucking lot.
In a few seconds flat I went from winded to softly panting sharp intakes of breath, as anxiety over the what and how of what I was going to say churned itself up into a whirlpool inside me. It was too much. I wanted to bolt, but I was rooted to the spot in fear.
“Gael was it?” Roxi’s soft voice cut through the panic. What was she asking Gael for? What—
“Uh yes?” I heard the maid reply, as if slightly surprised at being addressed.
“Do you mind if Aisling and I could have some time alone and undisturbed?”
Huh, why did she want to be alone? Was I making a scene?
“Of course, Priestess. I’ll see that you’re not disturbed. Just open your door and ring the bell on the mantle when you’re done.” I would not have known she left with how quiet her footfalls were and looking down at the floor as I was, if it wasn’t for her tail sweeping across my peripheral vision as she spun away.
A hand gently adhered itself to the middle of my back between my shoulders blades and I felt a gentle pressure guiding me inside the suite. “Let's get you inside before we start, one of the maids left a pot of hot tea just before you got back. It’s wearing a little cosy, y’know like a knitted sweater for teapots. So I’m sure it will still be fairly warm.”
Letting her guide me inside, leant back little into the hand to feel the pressure of its presence as it steadied my breathing and drained the tension from me.
Too soon we were inside and the hand slipped away as she turned to close the door behind us, and its absence on top of the rapidly approaching explanation I would have to give sent me spiralling again. The path to escape was now barred, the closed door and blocked by the intimidating yet comforting barrier of Roxi’s powerful form.
Wrapping my arms around myself to keep myself from running and hiding in “my” room, I tried to take deep calming breaths and work out where to start.
My battle must not have gone unseen as suddenly she was in front of me with her hands on my shoulders, leaning in towards me. “Ok, so let’s do it this way,” she murmured quietly, her brow creased as she thought about how to handle the living Three Mile Island meltdown that I was.
“Ok…” she repeated, straightening slightly as she moved me backwards towards the sitting room’s lounge. “Ok, we are going to get you nice and comfortable first and then we can go as fast or slow as you need.”
As the lounge hit the back of my knees, I was guided down into its cushioned seat and back into it as far as the dress’s skirt would let me. Sinking into the couch, I snatched up a pillow, pulling it into my chest to squeeze just before a tremor coursed through my body. I was still trembling from the aftershocks when Roxi removed her coat and laid it over my smaller frame like a blanket.
Before I could murmur thanks, she was already stepping away from me. Turning away from me, Roxi grabbed a chair from the table in the center of the room, before spinning back round and placing the chair between us with the back to me and straddling it.
Hand stretching out to rest comfortingly on my knee, Roxi lazily leant over the chair’s back. I’m not sure what it was about her pose, maybe it was the openness, or the way she looked at ease, relaxed despite the turmoil I was feeling, but I felt a warmth looking at her. Safe. Protected.
“What happened?” Like a cloud briefly blocking the sun, the worried look from earlier flickered past her reassuring smile. “Why didn’t you log out after me and what on Earth caused you to do something so dangerous as running away out into the valley in nothing but an indoors dress and slippers?”
Illegal Alien is a canon story in QuietValerie's Troubleverse setting. Make sure you read Quietvalerie's Trouble with Horns, her second Troubleverse story Witch of Chains and ChiriChiriChiri's Troubleverse story Snowbound.
The Troubleverse & Kammiverse have their own discord where you can talk to other readers and the various authors including myself and QuietValerie.
So normally I would recommend a bunch of stories here, but I this release is different. Right now Scribblehub is receiving an influx of transgender stories as authors leave TGST, I highly recommend visiting the Transgender tag and look at the both the new stuff being posted there, but also giving the tag a good browse. Maybe even find a bunch of authors who's works you've liked and chuck them a follow and check to see if they have other works.