Normal. What is normal in terms of how one lives life?
Luca rowsed slightly in the night to feel a peculiar sensation. For the first time since he could remember (well since he woke up after arriving here with no memories at all, that is), he didn’t feel chilled to the bone. For once, he actually felt.. warm. He felt so blissfully warm. He felt the warm arms of someone else around him. He didn’t know why, but this stuck him as odd and wonderful. To be held close and cared for, it was as if even his body didn’t remember feeling such a thing. It was enough to make him want to forget whoever he had been. To turn his back on that old life and never go back. That person was dead and buried in the past. Whatever future he had, he never wanted to forget this feeling. He didn’t want to leave it. It was something precious to be protected. Savagely, if need be. He felt that down to his very soul. That finally he had something worth living for, worth dying to protect with all his might. Unused to such a feeling of peace, he let himself fall back to sleep enjoying this sensation–safe and warm in someone’s caring arms. This was Heaven.
“Okay rise and shine, sleepy head! There’s work to do around here, and it’ll be good for you to help.”
Luca grunted at the sound of Ember’s voice etching through his sound sleep to reach him. He didn’t quite catch all she was saying, but she sounded happy about something. Happy and insistent upon getting him to wake up for whatever it was. The bed was growing cold without her in it, which somehow started to bug him enough to wake up more than her voice did.
With a groan, he sat up in bed. He found his limbs seemed to move better today, though there was still some lingering stiffness. Oh, and it was dawn. Normally he would be losing functional ability about now. Wait, hadn’t that already happened? Yet it was dawn. Earlier than when she had fetched him from the study.
Ember broke into his thoughts with a casually cheerful voice as though this was an ordinary day, “While you shower, I’ll get started on some breakfast. It should be done about the time you get to the dining room anyway, slow poke.” She laughed as she left him behind to start on the cooking.
After a shower, where his mind would tell him nothing except that everything was oddly fine, Luca followed a most wonderful smell to the kitchen/dining room. There, a colorful morning feast awaited him.
Breakfast was a masterfully cooked dish of Eggs Machiavellian. After complimenting her culinary skills again, Luca sat in silence savoring every bite while Ember filled him in on the task schedule for the day. He expected it to be long but.. suddenly he was glad he was here to lend a hand. He had no idea how she did it by herself!
After breakfast, while ember mixed the feed for the horses, Luca started with the simple task of feeding the zoo of indoor pets that graced the family room. He noted that many walls still lacked decorations. He filed that bit of information away for when he would be able to start buying her things. This girl clearly wasn’t into wearing fancy jewelry. Instead, she tucked gems away in lock boxes or let them set as decor among items from her travels. No, she was into classic and antique cultural art to fill her home. He would remember that.
After they fed the grown horses together, Ember passed the bottles to Luca to feed the foals while she gathered the mail and paid the bills. Sundune showed her fearlessness as she eagerly accepts a bottle from this strange new fellow. If he was willing to feed her, she liked him well enough.
Then, while Ember directed the daytime staff and fetched Turtle for the training session she had planned, Luca took a moment to check out the meteorite chunks that graced her front yard. He’d heard the story of how a meteor struck and destroyed her old cabin just as she was moving into this castle, but to see them up close made him fully appreciate just how lucky she and her horses had been to escape with their lives. No wonder she was always getting calls from science folks and visits from aliens. Though it had happened long before his old life had come to an end and his memory went blank, he was sure that news of the event would have been all over the TV and papers, even wherever he had lived. Did the old him see her on the TV? What had he thought of her then? had he felt the instant attraction he felt now when he looked at her, even in pictures? It was an interesting concept to ponder. For all he knew, he could have been coming here to meet her when he got attacked by whatever had turned him into what he was now. Could it really have been Destiny that lead him here regardless of who or what he was?
Such deep and complex thoughts were soon forgotten as Luca pulled up a hay bale to sit and watch while Ember and Turtle worked through a complex series of movements. Luca was sure he would never be able to remember all of the different fancy names for the maneuvers she was patiently working to perfect with Turtle.
Yet, it was amazing to watch her work with such a large animal and get Turtle to act like a ballet dancer. The only tools she used were a simple riding crop used with a light touch, a clicker device that people used to train dogs, and occasional simple vocal commands during corrections. The strength of the bond between them, the love and trust they had for each other was clearly evident as Turtle did his best to do as she asked. When working with her, the ordinarily lazy Turtle became fully obedient and willing to please. Then again, the little horse granola bites given along with a click of the clicker each time he did something right helped too, he supposed.
At the end of the session, Ember got Turtle to bow then turned to bow herself to her audience of one.
Afterward, it was time to get ready for the evening shows.
Luca came to watch from the audience stands and cheer on Ember and Turtle who were dressed in a new set of joust gear they were trying out. By the end of the shows, they took home 3rd and 4th place ribbons. Ember decided she wasn’t happy with how long the arms coat sheet was and would find a quarter sheet to replace it in the future. All that cloth just seemed to get in the way.
Back at home, Luca took a picture of them by the fountain to save for the scrapbook. Then, it was time to brush, stall, and feed the horses and stow the tack up in the loft-level tack room. Luca thought the little item-elevator things that Ember called “dumb-waiters” were pretty cool.
Ember made one of her favorite dishes from Egypt, Shawarma, for dinner. While Ember animatedly told a few anecdotes from her travels there, Luca sat in silence, yet again savoring every blissful bite. Basically, the Arab World’s version of a burrito, who could go wrong with steak strips and crunchy veggies in tangy sauce in a pita wrap?
By the time he was done cleaning up from dinner, Luca was surprised by how tired he was given that it was only midnight. Usually, he was waking up at this time, but tonight everything was different. Then again, when a woman as attractive as Ember invited him to share her bed at night, he would be stupid to object. Oh yeah, he already did that when he slept on the couch. She tore into him for that one. Though she was really cute when she worried and fussed over him, Luca preferred making her happy by simply doing as she asked. On top of that, sharing a bed meant sharing body heat. He was always so cold before.
Oh, yes. Agreeing to share the bed was definitely the smart move, Luca thought to himself as he lay in bed. Warm food in his stomach and a warm body next to him in the bed, Luca could feel the heat spreading through him. Tonight he would close his eyes to the night tucked cozy and warm in a bed rather than falling over cold like a metal robot with a dead battery. He smiled. The zombie virus may have changed his body, but it no longer ruled his mind. It would not ever rule his mind in the slightest fashion ever again, he pledged to himself and the woman who’d taken him in. Today was the start to a new life and a new normal. Ember should not have to do so much around here by herself. Sure she had day staff to help with some stuff, but she needed more help than that. Wherever she needed help, he would find a way to be there. He would find a way to fill that role.
After that last thought drifted through his groggy mind, Luca was out like a light. That night was the first night he would dream as a normal person since he first arrived here. Dreams about a red-haired goddess and Her horses at an enchanted castle where he was a new lowly stablehand at Her beck and call. Yet, he dare not slip up, else there would be true Hell to pay.