Lief covers a yawn with his hand as his keen eyes scan the snow-covered region for the dwarves’ haven. Were he not an elf, he would be chest deep in the snow right now. As it is, his nimble feet traverse lightly on its surface, barely leaving any tracks. The chill wind is nothing more than a nuisance as it whips his cloak around, making it snap.
They are not expecting him, but the elves and the dwarves have been on good terms since they both came to the other’s assistance in the last war. He fully expects a warm welcome, complete with some nice aged wine and maybe a bite to eat. Of course, he may just as well find himself in hot water for having disappeared off the face of the earth for another century on end. But he had more reason behind that than his need for solitude. He can’t quite picture the dwarves’ reactions when he tells them that he, Milachy’s beloved prince and a steadfast bachelor, married and now has a son in his early twenties.
Lief suppresses a sigh. An all-too-familiar pang plagues his heart. Of course, it was only a few months later when he’d lost them both. Dominic is still alive, it is true, but Lief’s only caught glimpses of him through the years in high school yearbooks and the like.
He feels dirty, having had to work for Randal to keep anything from happening to Dominic, Tiffany, or Claire, but two tiny bits of good came from it. One: They were kept safe, even though orcs ultimately ended their lives, of course. Two: Before breaking away from Mari after discovering that, he’d been able to talk to Dominic. Dominic didn’t know that it was him, and the whole point of it had been to keep Mari from destroying his mind, but at least he knows what his son’s voice sounds like now.
His eyes drift shut. He forces them open again. He would not be so tired if he hadn’t gone for six days with only the barest amount of sleep. But that’s alright. He can sleep after ensuring the dwarves’ alliance in the impending war.
The singing of the wind and the soft whisperings of the trees soothe his ears. His eyes drop shut again and his head dips.
“Aw, hell,” he mutters, rubbing the back of his hand across his eyes. I have trouble with diplomatic talking even when I’m not so tired. If I try to talk to them like this, they’ll get their way.
So, he makes his way over to a tree. Its branches are mere centimeters above the snow, thanks to how deep it is. He sits and leans against the trunk, letting the tree’s soft murmurings lull him into sleep.
That is, until deep, grumbly voices invade his dreams. They sound panicked. Rough hands grasp at him, but he swats them away, muttering dire threats in Elvish. The gravelly voices continue excitedly. Hands grab his shins and under his arms and lift him off the ground.
He struggles and tries to open his eyes to see who it is, he does, but they won’t focus. The deep voices murmur soothing sounding things at him as well as the trees, and it sends him back to sleep.
When they tug his cloak away from him, he wakes up again. ‘Stop it,’ he growls in Elvish, throwing a blind punch at one of the stout little figures.
It ducks, and hands reach to grab his shirt as the voices grow louder.
Lief kicks hard at one figure, then lunges for another. He gets it into a headlock, eyes still closed. ‘Stop, or I snap his neck.’ His voice sounds slurred to his ears, and his tongue doesn’t want to cooperate.
It’s with embarrassing ease that his arms and legs are grabbed and he’s pinned down, with the added help of one of those creatures sitting on his chest and slowly crushing it.
It’s that that finally brings him to awareness.
‘Get off!’ He lurches forward, but the dwarves’ collective weight holds him down. He glares up at Hiro, who’s the one sitting on his chest. ‘What’s the matter with you dwarves?’
The dwarves all stare at him and Lief sees that he’s underground in what they consider to be their medical bay pinned on one of the beds with all of their freaking doctors around him.
“He’s talking in his quirky lingo,” Petyr says. “Must be a head injury or a mind one. Amnesia! You owe me, Urin. I told you that it’s been too long since he came to us with one of those.”
“Injured?” Lief snarls, shifting, but the dwarves shift right with him and don’t let him move any more. “The only injury I’m in danger of right now is my chest being crushed!”
“Of course you’re injured!” Hiro says, not budging. “When are you not hurt?”
“The last time that you came to see us and we believed you when you said that was centuries ago when my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was alive,” Urin says, turning away and grabbing an ominous looking bottle. “And you had half of an arrow stuck inside you. Here. This will help with the pain.”
“What pain?” Lief growls. “I feel no pain!”
“Aah, he feels no pain. Check his pockets for painkillers.”
Lief bares his teeth at them, but can’t do anything more as they find some tablets in his cloak’s pockets. As he’d used one the other day to help with a massive mental-battle induced migraine, the dwarves cry out in triumph.
“What is your injury?” Petyr demands. “We can see no blood, so it must be internal bleeding, of the head-“
“For fuck’s sake! I have none!”
Hiro peers down at him. “Do you know your name? How many fingers am I holding up? Where are you?”
“For the love of- Lief Stanger, you’re not even holding your hand up, and I’m in your freaking medical bay! I’m fine.”
“Aha!” Urin cried triumphantly. “He said it! He said the word!”
“Prince Lief, believe me, we want to help you, but we can’t until you tell us what is ailing you. You’re not bleeding, so-“
Lief bangs his head back against the bed with a frustrated sigh. “And believe me when I say that I have no pains.”
“Of course you do,” Petyr says matter-of-factly. “You always do, and you definitely always do whenever you say, ‘I’m fine’. So, what is it?”
Lief glowers up at the ceiling. “Believe it or not, I really don’t.”
“One of these painkillers-“
“-was used several days ago to help with a migraine. Wait, you know what, actually, I am in pain.”
“Ha!” Urin cries.
“That was too easy…,” Hiro says suspiciously.
“Well, what is it?” Petyr asks.
“My head hurts from all of your blabbering!”
They all wince at how loud he was.
“But… That can’t be it….” Urin frowns.
“And my chest is starting to hurt too, so get off!”
The insulted regal tone does the trick, and Hiro scrambles off. The other dwarves don’t let go of his limbs though.
Lief manages to throw them off and sit up. He regards Petyr with an icy glare. “Satisfied?”
Hiro butts in. “Not until you admit to some life-threatening injury.”
“Fine,” he clips out. “If you don’t let me sleep, my body will shut itself down in another two weeks, thanks to zero slumber.”
“There must be something more.”
Lief’s about to scream in frustration, but is saved by the arrival of Dwarin, the dwarves’ chief.
“Prince Lief,” he says from the doorway. “Are you well?”
“Believe it or not, I am.”
“I see.” Lief thinks that he smiles, but can’t be sure due to all of that beard. “Urin, please escort our guest to his quarters. He looks like he could use some sleep.”
Lief sneers at the dwarves who back away from the bed and stands up.
“Don’t be surprised when he collapses in the hallway,” Petyr mutters.
“Not injured, my ass.”
Dwarin ignores them and bows deeply. “I apologize for the nature of your welcome, my prince, and hope that your stay is pleasant. We will talk over what you came about once you have rested.”
Lief inclines his head regally. “Thank you. Your kindness is, as always, appreciated, Dwarin.”
He regards the healers with a final icy glare before making for the door, trailed by Urin.
As Lief passes him, Dwarin whispers. “It is your heart, not your body, that pains you.”
“Perceptive as always.” Lief concedes. “But there is no cure for that here.”