|Duncan handed Dochia a thick leather glove and a bowl of raw meat while his eyes remained downcast.
"Put the glove on your left hand, my lady." he advised meekly.
She did as she was bid and her eyes searched his in a quiet question. Her memories of him didn't match the humble servant mask he wore.
"Now hold your hand in front and away from you." he said, moving behind her and lifting her arm in the right position.
He was too close for her comfort, and she could smell his scent of freshly shaved man.
"Take now a piece of meat in your gloved hand and turn your head to the mews."
Perched on a wooden beam, a majestic white bird eyed eagerly the meat in her hand. It flapped its wings and, in a flash, landed on her left arm causing her to let out a surprised cry.
"You would be punished, Duncan if the Dragon ever finds out a mere knight made use of a bird only meant for the kings."
"You are not a mere knight, my lady" Duncan whispered close, in her ear. So close, his lips sent a shiver through her body as they feathered a kiss. The birds flapped its wings and brought her back to reality.
"Thread your fingers through the jesses, Dochia." he said, pointing to the long leather straps attached to the falcon's legs. What happened to "my lady"? Was the falconer becoming bold, forgetting his position?
It wouldn't be the first time. However, here, at the court of the Dragon the rank must be observed.
Who was this man, the knight of seeming humble origins earning his keep in the employ of the Dragon? He mostly kept to himself, showing utmost obedience to the boyars, old and new.
Yet she knew it was a facade, their meeting in the forest a fortnight ago a living proof. She unconsciously leaned back in the safety of his embrace as she remembered how very much alike his hold was then. Dochia felt him tense, but he didn't retreat.
"Where do you want the bird to fly, mo ghaol." he asked. She didn't know what startled her more, his low voice or the foreign sound of his last words whose meaning escaped her, telling her of something she hoped for, but she didn't dare to believe.
"What if I want the bird to stay, Duncan?" she blurted before she could stop herself.
"The falcon bird would give you its trust, but never its love. You can count on it to come back. However, she'd never come for you, only for the meat you hold in your hand."
His answer was at odds with his heavy breath and the heat that radiated from his body. It was also at odds with the Dragon tattoo on his chest, which showed for a fact he was here for more than the retainer the Dragon paid him.
A bird perched in a tree sang its song, a longing call for its mate and the falcon stirred again, putting a painful pressure on her fingers.
"The gyrfalcon hunts by sheer power, my lady. You must let him hunt now, ere he would break your fingers. When you are ready, move your arm across your body in the direction you'd want him to fly."
He was back to "my lady" she thought sadly as she listened to the wailing of the bird from the tree. He reminded her of the difference in their status and of his humble origins. However, the Dragon tattoo told a different story.
The Dragon order was exclusive and allowed only titled nobility within its ranks. Why was he denying his status, why was he denying what it could be when she could feel his hand trembling on her arm?
"Can you hear how she... ?" Dochia whispered as she moved her left arm in the direction on the bird.
The rest of her words died upon her lips when the falcon opened his wings and soared high into the sky. Her eyes followed its ascent and lost herself watching the grace of its fall.
The birdsong ended abruptly and when she turned, Duncan was gone.