Title: Sharpened Silk
Author: youcantseeus (email@example.com)
Characters: Ponclast, Aleeme, Abrimel, Pellaz
Summary: Thirty years after the horrors that Aleeme experienced at Fulminir, he seeks out Ponclast. Ponclast POV. (Ponclast/Aleeme, Abrimel/Aleeme).
Spoilers: Books 1-6. Also, possibly Paragenesis.
Word Count: 9000
Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of Wraeththu or any of the characters in this fic.
Warnings: Not a piece of rape fiction by any means, but there is a lot of discussion of pelki/rape. Self-mutilation. Ponclast POV.
Author’s Note: I’ve been working on this piece for a little while — it won’t leave my brain. Darker than some of my other stuff, but with an introspective bent that makes me fairly satisfied with the outcome. Reviews of all types are loved.
Most days, I possess something resembling happiness.
I have so little and what I do own is granted by the grace of the Tigron. Several years ago, he deemed me fit to occupy the earthly realm. This does not mean that I was given my freedom – there are guards at my gates and watchers scouring my every thought for the slightest signs rebellion. But the Tigron gave me a cottage in the woods, far away from other hara, where I could meditate on my wrongs and spend time with my chesnari. I think that Pellaz did it more for Abrimel than for me.
This afternoon is like most and I go to my attic study to work on my memoirs. Writing memoirs preoccupies most first generation hara of importance. I am no longer important, but I was once and the ability to write about my life has not been stripped from me. On days when I feel rage, I find writing easy and my scribblings are full of angry recriminations and bitter regrets. However, my time in another realm imparted some level of calm to my being and on days when this is my dominate mood, I mostly stare out the small attic window. Our cottage sets on top of a hill and I should be able to see the surrounding forest, but the window is positioned so that I only see blue-gray sky unless I climb onto a chair.
I am still in prison.
I am staring out the window at that blue sky when there is a knock at the door. “Enter,” I say.
Abrimel comes in. This surprises me because my chesnari usually spends his afternoons in study. In many ways, the lonely, academic lifestyle suits him more than it does me. I enjoy gaining knowledge, but only as precursor to action. Abrimel loves reading, learning things about different tribes – so different from the typical Gelaming aristocrat who doesn’t want to learn about any tribe but his own.
“Somehar is here,” he says.
I give him a wan smile and he walks behind me to put his arms around my shoulders, a comfortably intimate gesture. There is a rumor going around Immanion that the Tigron comes to me for advice. For this reason, Gelaming aristocrats occasionally pay off my guards so they can get some advice of their own – normally about their inane love lives. The truly depressing fact about all this is that I am glad for the distraction.
“Did you tell him I wasn’t a seer?” I ask. Lately, they’ve gotten it into their heads that I can predict their futures. I am not a seer, though I can occasionally predict what might happen through common sense and a realistic view of harish nature.
“I told him,” Abrimel says. “He’s still there.”
I study my chesnari’s fingernails – neat, clipped, and in good order. Perfect. I kiss his hand. “Did he say what he wanted?”
“Just that he needed to speak with you. I can tell him to leave if you like.”
I look up at my chesnari’s face and then down at the angry, black scrawl of my writing. “No, I’ll see him,” I say.
I stand and smooth out an invisible wrinkle in my robe. I must not look disheveled for the coiffed and perfumed Gelaming who no doubt waits for me in the living room. I turn to Abrimel. “Will you come with me?”
Hara usually feel more comfortable having somehar other than myself in the room. I am a dangerous war criminal, after all. Some of them look at me as if I will tear out their hearts at any moment. Sometimes I want to.
Abrimel follows me downstairs to our living area. The har seated there wears a dark blue silk garment that likely costs more than the entire contents of our humble little living room. However, the style of his clothing reminds me more of a Varrish or “Parsic” soume har than of the flimsy fashions of the Gelaming elite. His legs are crossed and his face curved away from me. When I clear my throat, he turns and stands, his eyes locking dead on mine.
First, I think that hara hardly ever look me directly in the eye. Then, I recognize him and a roil of emotion hits me in the chest. I have a lot of experience in controlling my outward responses — my facial expression does not even twitch. “Aleeme Sarestes,” I say, satisfied with the emotionless tone of my voice.
His name haunts me. Not because I am particularly sorry about what I did to him, though I suppose it was regretful, but because hara won’t stop talking about him. I’ve tortured hundreds if not thousands of hara, taken pelki on almost as many, but the only name anyhar ever remembers is Aleeme Sarestes.
Beside me, I hear a gasp. Abrimel. I turn to him quickly. “You didn’t know who he was?”
Silently, Abrimel shakes his head. I look back at Aleeme. He quirks an eyebrow. His face appears nearly as immovable as my own. “You should go make us some tea,” I tell Abrimel. Aleeme being here will be hard on him. I have no doubt that he’s heard Aleeme’s name almost as much as I have – from hara telling him that he should leave me, that he shouldn’t love me. I wonder how he deals with what they tell them. Abrimel is not a violent or malicious har.
Abrimel frowns at me. “Are you sure?” he asks with a glance at Aleeme.
“I’m sure.” I watch as he leaves, then I turn back to Aleeme. “Please, sit,” I say.
Aleeme looks back at his chair and sits. I cross the room and sit down in a chair across from him. His face does not move though his eyes never leave me. It seems that he has learned about control. When I captured him many years ago, every emotion he felt flittered across his face, as clear to see as blackbirds against a blue sky. Breaking him was almost too easy.
“What do you want?” I ask, thinking it useless to waste time on pleasantries.
Aleeme’s lips tighten, but he does not answer. No doubt, under that calm control, there is a seething pool of anger. I know how it is. We sit in silence for about a minute. Aleeme’s eyes begin to dart around the room, studying its contents intently as if the lamps and the sofa and the glass figurines of woodland creatures are of great importance.
“How’s Azriel?” I ask, finally.
Aleeme’s eyes find mine. “Fine,” he snaps.
Ridiculous. He is obviously here to scream accusations, to spit in my face, to make me see how he hurts. There is no need. I have always known how he felt, every bit of it – that’s why I did it.
“I always thought that he’d come with you,” I say. “If you ever wanted to see me again.”
I know that they are still chesna. The ones who won’t stop telling me his name mention it often. I realize that Azriel must not know he’s here. The fact that Aleeme came without protection of any kind, not even a single guard, probably means that nohar knows about it. Interesting.
Another long silence fills the air. My patience begins to wear thin. “Azriel is your protector after all,” I say. I hear the hint of cruelty in my voice.
Aleeme looks at me. His eyes are not accusing or angry or fearful or sad. He just looks. I feel something and try to identify the feeling. It isn’t anger or sadness or regret. I think it is shame.
Back then, I had known almost immediately that Aleeme was very inclined to the soume in his being and Azriel was very ouana. In couples like that, the ouana partner always feels protective of the soume partner – when he cares about him at all, that is. I used that. I would make Azriel watch as I slid a hand between Aleeme’s legs, lightly touching his soume-lam. “Is this your soume, Azriel?” I would ask, playing on his possessiveness. “Do you want to make me stop?” Then I would hurt Aleeme. It gave me great satisfaction.
Abrimel enters the room, bringing a tea tray. He puts it down on the table between us and proceeds to pour tea from the chipped teapot into the chipped tea cups. He hands us cups of steaming liquid and then pours one for himself. Aleeme looks me in the eye. He knows that I can poison or drug him if I want – nohar knows that he is here. He delicately empties a sugar packet into his tea, allowing it to dissolve before he drinks, his eyes never leaving mine. I drink from my cup as well.
“I need to ask you a question,” Aleeme says suddenly. He continues to look at me. It is as if Abrimel isn’t even in the room.
Aleeme looks down at his tea. “It isn’t easy,” he says, more to himself than to us. It’s the first show of weakness he’s made since arriving. He doesn’t speak again.
Abrimel fidgets in the seat beside me. “We don’t want any trouble,” he says. “We aren’t hurting anyhar here. We just want to live peacefully.” His voice quavers on the last word. He is terrified that Aleeme being here means some sort of change – that we’ll be separated or I’ll be harmed. For all I know, it could mean that. Pellaz har Aralis allows me to live here because I am close to his son – but Aleeme has considerable influence with the Gelaming royalty and hara are instantly sympathetic to anything he has to say about me.
Aleeme looks at Abrimel. “I never wanted any trouble either,” he says. Abrimel’s face goes pale. He shouldn’t be here. This is torture for him – every word that comes from Aleeme’s mouth is a blade that pierces his flesh.
“My chesnari and I need a moment,” I say. Aleeme doesn’t answer so I take Abrimel by the arm and lead him from the room.
We go to our bedroom and he collapses into a chair, looking as if he’d just run a marathon. “You shouldn’t worry,” I say. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of Aleeme Sarestes. At any rate, there is little that the Gelaming can do to me that hasn’t already been done.”
Abrimel looks at me with tears in his eyes. It never ceases to amaze me that he has such genuine affection for me. “He could tell Pellaz to keep you on bread and water for the rest of your life if wanted to. He could tell him to put you in another place like Gebaddon. Pell might listen. He’s always thought highly of Aleeme and his parents.”
“Yes,” I say, running my hands idly through Abrimel’s silky black hair. “That’s why I was surprised that you hadn’t met him. He’s a friend of your family.”
Abrimel snorts and rolls his eyes. “Pellaz never exactly wanted me or my hostling to associate with his personal friends, you know. Not that I wanted to associate with them either.”
I kiss him on the forehead. He is the only gift that I am granted in this world – if not for him I would as soon live in another realm. Something in him rebels against the idea of sympathy for somehar who would be friends with Pellaz. And yet, he has heard the stories, almost too horrible to mention, of what I did to Aleeme. He cannot deny his distress.
“This means nothing to us,” I whisper in his ear. “Aleeme is here to put his mind at rest. He will scream accusations at me, I will listen for a little while and then I will kick him out. He cannot hurt me and I cannot hurt him. This will not change our lives.”
We share breath, briefly, before I leave him. I stand in the hallway outside the living room where Aleeme is seated for a few moments. Now that I know what I am walking into, I take a few moments to compose myself. I imagine myself as I was many years ago – a ruthless Varrish warrior putting on my armor one piece at a time. That image contains strength, but also harshness. I need calm.
I enter to find Aleeme sitting on his chair in exactly the same position as before. The curtains on the wall seem to hold more life than him. His tea cup sets almost full.
I step forward, aggressive if not quite threatening in stance. “Say what you came to say or leave.”
Aleeme put his cup of tea on the table. “Azriel and I have been trying to have a pearl,” he says.
“Oh.” I am not sure how to respond.
“For many years,” Aleeme continues. He looks down and pain flashes through his eyes. For a moment, he is as easy to read as he was all those years ago.
“You’ve had a miscarriage,” I say.
“Two.” Aleeme takes another sip of his tea. “I need to know, I have to know if Azriel and I will be able to have a harling.”
I carefully calculate how to respond before spreading my hands in a gesture of helplessness. “Abrimel told you I wasn’t a seer.”
“You know what I am asking.” His eyes are amazing. Dark motes of love and pain. He never used to be interesting. I plumbed his thoughts easily when he was my prisoner at Fulminir. When he wasn’t wondering what torment was in store for him next, his thoughts were always completely ridiculous, almost childlike – he’d lived a life full of sunshine, flowers and laughter. He’d never even had his heart broken. It angered me beyond measure that Swift could have such a creature living at Forever when the harlings of Gebaddon were twisted, deformed beings with little to look forward to in life.
There is no reason why Aleeme and Azriel should be unable to have a pearl if they truly want one. Azriel is of high caste. Miscarriages are uncommon among hara. Aleeme must be permanently physically damaged as a result of Fulminir.
“I heard that you found the harling,” I say, instead of telling him what he wants to hear. “The one you birthed at Fulminir.”
Aleeme sits up straight. For the first time, he shows anger. “You stay away from him.”
“How could I ever get to him?” I spread my hands around, trying to encompass the tiny cottage, the ancient woods outside, the guards posted just out of sight. “What was he like?”
“That’s none of your business!” Aleeme stands up. Now we are getting somewhere. His self-contained attitude, his seeming detachment had been unnerving me. He was trying to beat me at my own game.
I raise an eyebrow. “I think it is a little bit my business, don’t you my dear?” I used to call him ‘my dear’ before. I don’t know why I’m being cruel now. I’m not proud of what I did to him.
“You left him to die, you sick psychopath.” He slaps me across the face. I can imagine the red imprint of his hand against my pale skin. We look at one another, not saying a word for a moment. A slap is such impotent thing. It cannot truly injure. It is a gesture for feminine hara of frailest kind.
Aleeme looks away first. “I don’t want this,” he says. “I don’t want to talk it about it.”
They tell me that Aleeme and the harling nearly starved to death. I had lost interest in both of them by that point. I always meant for Aleeme to die, but it was unfortunate that none of my underlings thought to look after the harling. He could have been useful in the future, if the future had been different and my side had won.
Aleeme sits back down. “Answer my questions,” he says, regaining control of himself. “I know you performed … rituals on my body. Did you do something to prevent me from having pearls with Azriel?”
I nearly laugh. So that’s what he thinks. “The rituals were to impart power to the harlings you were to host. There was nothing about them to prevent you from having pearls with anyhar you want. Your reproductive organs were probably injured during the conceptions or the births. But I’m sure that healers have already told you that.”
He nods, once, and looks away. I don’t know if this satisfies him. “Now I will ask you a question,” I say. “Why doesn’t Azriel host the pearl?” It is purely a question of curiosity. That is what he mostly is to me … a curiosity. I know he hates it.
Aleeme’s hands fly briefly to his neck. He truly is a magnificent har. Only the best for Swift Parasiel’s son – an exotic consort taken from some exotic corner of the world. “We can’t make it work that way,” he says. He does not seem angry at the question as I thought he would be.
Of course, Aleeme was supposed to be the one to host harlings. He seems designed to be a Varrish hostling – much more so than many who take on the role. A hostling who cannot host. How sad. I wonder how Swift Parasiel feels about a son who is so attuned to his masculine aspect that he cannot host pearls. That’s what hara mean when they say “we can’t make it work that way.” Either Azriel isn’t comfortable enough in the soume role or Aleeme isn’t comfortable enough in ouana role or both.
“Azriel never would have let you come here alone,” I say.
Aleeme looks at me, smiles briefly. “No. He doesn’t know I’m here.” I realize then that Aleeme doesn’t fear me in a physical way. I have already done my worst to him. He fears me in perhaps the same way I fear him. He fears what I can make him feel.
I reach out, touch his face, run my thumb along his high cheekbones. He closes his eyes and shudders. “Tell me why you’re really here,” I say. “I don’t believe that you just wanted to ask about pearls. It’s been – what – thirty or forty years?”
He doesn’t reply. I am becoming irritated with his silences. “You must want to hurt me, to humiliate me, to separate me from my chesnari and son.”
Maybe he has the power to do this without appealing to the Tigron. I know Abrimel’s limited knowledge of what I did to Aleeme disgusts him. Perhaps hearing it from Aleeme’s own lips and looking into Aleeme’s eyes will be enough to make him turn away from me.
Aleeme’s eyes flare open. “I want you to see me. I want you to see what you did to me.”
He shares breath with me. I am surprised, though I should have known it would happen. He shows me the darkest, most painful parts of his soul. It is nothing I haven’t seen or felt before. I pull him to me and slide my hands down his waist, his hips, his legs. I can tell that he isn’t wearing any underwear under that silk robe, but there is something tied around his leg. Quickly, I grab him and yank the tie loose. A knife clatters to the floor.
I pick it up. “Is this for me, my dear?”
Aleeme laughs. It is not a happy sound. “For protection,” he says.
“It’s a steak knife.” How insulting. I was a warrior once. No soume har with a kitchen knife could overpower me. “You want my blood?” I ask. On a whim, I pick up the knife and make a long cut across my arm. “Take it.” I hold my arm near his face.
He looks at me. “Give me that.” I think it strange that his voice can sound so emotionless. He isn’t like that, not really.
I hand him the knife. He looks at it briefly, stroking the wooden handle before drawing it across his own arm with a sharp slashing motion. A wound shallower than my own. He makes a sound, but not of pain. I imagine that he makes that sound when he sinks into a warm bubble bath.
I watch the droplets of blood appear on his arm. My own blood drips onto the carpet. Abrimel will be upset. Aleeme hands me the knife.
I reach forward and grasp his arm, ignoring the blood. I can see what will happen in his eyes. I know he accepts it. I take him in my arms and slip my hands under the silk of his robe. His skin feels like silk as well. “You’re a slut,” I say, quietly.
“Go to hell,” he says in a breathy voice.
“You’re not wearing any underwear. It’s either a habit for you or you came here with the specific intent of seducing me, your rapist. Do you enjoy pelki, Aleeme? Were things with Azriel getting a little dull so you decided to come to me?”
“Is that how you sleep at night?” he gasps. “You tell yourself that your victims wanted it?”
I always enjoyed taking pelki on him. With most hara, I didn’t necessarily take sensual pleasure in it. It was a way of taking power, of breaking the other har down, even of releasing my own pain and anger. But Aleeme’s screams turned me on.
We both sit on the couch, very close together. He turns his back to me and pulls his dark hair over one shoulder. His robe is open in the back, held together by a tie near the neck. He sighs as I untie it. He has a beautiful back; every plane of his body is perfect. I put my hands around his narrow waist.
“You have to tell me you want it,” I whisper in his ear, trying to make my voice sound low and masculine.
He turns, his face very close to mine. “I want it.” I am not surprised by the passion of his response. Most hara wouldn’t understand it, but I do. He will take this time when he wanted it, when he came voluntarily and he will try to lay it over the times when I forced him. He will not be successful.
He lies back on the sofa and I admire him. His body was always attractive but also disturbing. Nohar should look that female. He is all soft angles, wide hips and he even has the suggestion of breasts. If it weren’t for his ouana-lim, now withdrawn almost completely, he could be a human female. Dried blood crusts both our arms. We don’t speak. I undress and lower myself awkwardly on top of him. He sighs as I enter him. Our coupling is slow and intense. He never stops looking in my eyes. It feels as if the air pressure has dropped and then, suddenly, explodes around us. His eyes flutter closed and all is silent. I realize that there was no visualization, no seeing inside of him.
We lie together sweaty and spent for a long time before I realize that he has fallen asleep. Awkwardly, I disentangle myself and begin to look for my clothing. I know that it was stupid to take aruna with him. I dress and sit down in a chair across the room.
Aleeme’s face creases into a grim visage as he sleeps. Perhaps he’s having a nightmare. I watch him for long minutes, the only sound a faint ticking of the clock in the next room. It is early evening and the light in the house has changed; an orange glow peeking through the curtains.
After some time, I hear a noise at the doorway. I look up and see Abrimel. His eyes go to Aleeme and then to me in alarm. We don’t often take aruna with other hara. We don’t have the opportunity. I know that this isn’t what alarms Abrimel, though. I watch his eyes take in Aleeme’s sleeping form, the disrepair of the room, the blood that dots both the floor and the sofa.
“Oh, he’s okay,” I say, a bit offended. One expects a certain level of trust from one’s chesnari.
Abrimel turns abruptly and leaves. I sigh and rise, figuring I better follow him.
I find him in his study, not reading. Abrimel’s study is full of books about obscure tribes and exotic locations. Odd for a har who seems perfectly content to live the rest of his life in our forest cabin. He shakes his head as I walk in. “What were you thinking?” he asks.
I walk around to stand behind him. His shoulders are tense. “It’s what he came here for,” I answer. I begin to massage his shoulders.
I feel Abrimel shudder. “Then it must not have been as bad as they say – what happened to him.” He looks up at me. It would be so easy to lie. Dishonesty was never one of my faults.
I turn away. “It is as bad as they say.”
Abrimel continues to look at me, his face lovely and lost. “If it were that bad, then he never would have taken aruna with you.”
I smile at this piece of Gelaming naiveté. “You don’t understand him.”
“And you do?”
I am still massaging his shoulders. “He is not the enigma that you imagine. He’s really very easy to understand if you understand pelki.” And Abrimel doesn’t. I, however, probably understand it better than anyhar.
“As if that’s all there is to him.”
“He’s made it his whole life. He picks at it, not allowing the wound to heal. That’s why he’s here now – to pick at the wound some more.”
Abrimel taps his fingers on his desk. “If he allowed it to heal then that would make your actions acceptable. Is that what he thinks?”
I look at him. Perhaps he understands better than I thought. He was always bright.
“Do you think he will stay much longer?” Abrimel asks when I don’t respond.
I laugh. “That is entirely up to him.”
Abrimel smiles, faintly. “I suspect he’ll be hungry.”
I had not considered that, but it is getting late. I often forget to feed myself – Abrimel makes sure I eat. He isn’t a bad cook for somehar raised in luxury.
I shrug. “You can cook for him or not. Whatever you like. I’m sure that he’s perfectly capable of making his way to the kitchen.”
Abrimel rolls his eyes and gives me a look. “I’ll try to find him something.”
“You do that then.” I wonder if Aleeme still sleeps. Abrimel goes to the kitchen and I go to back to the living area to find Aleeme still sprawled on the sofa. His body is still soume.
I crouch down beside him, slide my hands over his legs, find his soume-lam. His eyes open almost immediately and he gasps, drawing himself into a tight ball. I think that he will make a scene, but he just watches me, warily. “Don’t ever touch me when I’m asleep,” he says.
I raise my hands in a placating gesture. “Okay. Fine.” Trying to save a bit of dignity, I sit down in the stiff-backed chair across from the sofa. “My chesnari is making dinner, if you are interested in staying.”
He barks a laugh. “You’re inviting me to dinner.” He waves a hand in the air. “Sure. Why not?” He begins to look around the floor and at first I think he is searching for his garment, but that can’t be it because it lies in a wrinkled heap near his feet.
Then I realize. I grab the knife that lies under the table an instant before him and hold it between two fingers. He looks at me without emotion. “Give me another hit off that,” he says, as if we have been doing drugs.
I raise an eyebrow. “I think you’ve had enough.” The stains are in the carpets, the furniture. He brings his blood into my home.
“Fuck you,” he says. I get the impression that he doesn’t normally swear. He takes the knife from my hands. “Where’s your bathroom?”
Silently, I point in the direction of our hallway. He nods and walks from the room, still stark naked. I shake my head and decide to check on Abrimel.
He steaming vegetables and breading chicken in the kitchen. He looks up when I come in. “Is he going to eat?”
I sit down, watching him hover over the pan. The Tigrina has tried to get him to take servants, despite the fact that I am supposedly being punished. Abrimel seems happier without servants and I certainly don’t want some preening Gelaming spy in the house. “I think so. At the moment he’s in the bathroom cutting himself.”
“Ponclast!” Abrimel looks at me in horror.
I shrug. “I didn’t tell him to do it.”
Abrimel’s lips draw into a thin line. We have arguments, of course. All couples do. I used to think I could never put up with somehar well enough for the hassle of a chesna bond. I was wrong. Abrimel continues making dinner and I continue to watch. He doesn’t talk to me.
We don’t have a dining room, just a small kitchen table with four chairs. This works fine since we never have more than one or two visitors at a time. When dinner is almost ready, Aleeme slinks into the room and settles at the table. He is wearing one of my old robes which means that he went into our bedroom. The robe is black, with billowing sleeves and as I am several inches taller than him, it drags the ground. Aleeme wears a fresh coat of dark red lipstick that matches his fingernails. Since neither Abrimel nor I bother much with cosmetics, he must have brought it with him.
I go to sit down across from him. Abrimel clears his throat. “I hope you like chicken,” he says to Aleeme.
What a dull comment. “It’s fine,” Aleeme says.
Abrimel brings plates of food over the table and places them in front of us. He sits down beside me, clearly uncomfortable.
Aleeme begins to eat his food as if there is nothing strange about the situation. Abrimel watches him, barely touching his own food. “We’ve never really met,” he says to Aleeme at last.
Aleeme looks up from his food. He eats slowly, only taking in a tiny bit of food at a time, probably in an effort to appear refined. “I know who you are,” he says.
“Yes, well,” Abrimel seems unsure of how to respond to this. “I’ve met Azriel, of course. I used to sort of like him, actually. He was interesting to talk to. He wasn’t obsessed with parties and gossip like most of Immanion’s second-generation hara.” He looks wistful. He has never mentioned any prior interaction with Azriel to me.
Aleeme looks unimpressed. I get the impression that he is obsessed with parties and gossip. He’s a typical wealthy soume har with a lot of spare time on his hands. Hara like that live for such things. Even I know that Azriel was different, though. There was always something about Azriel that reminded me of Terzian. Not his looks – he looked like Swift with a hint of exoticism that no doubt came from the Gelaming whore that birthed him. Maybe it was just that air of genuine masculinity.
I think I always put off directly torturing him because of Terzian. Not because I would have felt guilty — Azriel was firmly in the enemy camp and he was Swift’s son – but because I dreaded ripping open his soul and finding Terzian somewhere inside.
“Azriel never mentioned knowing you before,” Aleeme says to Abrimel, narrowing his eyes.
Abrimel shrugs. “I spent a summer at Forever once. Pell wanted me out of his hair for a few months. I found the culture in Galhea to be …unique despite the Gelaming influence. It got me interested in other tribes. Azriel was – by the Aghama, I think he was less than a year past feybraiha. I wasn’t much older.” Abrimel looks down at his chicken which he has barely touched. Aleeme, by contrast, seems to have eaten most of his food slowly but steadily.
Aleeme frowns. I can understand why. Abrimel made it sound like he used to be somewhat close to Azriel. Then Aleeme gives a humorless smile. “Azriel despises you now, you know.”
Abrimel does not seem unnerved by this, but he does sigh. “Yes, I expect so.” I look at him, raise my eyebrows ever so slightly. He gives me one of his wry little smiles. “I don’t regret my decisions,” he says. I can’t help but smile back.
Aleeme stabs his last bit of chicken. “I’ve met your son,” he says. “Geburael, isn’t it? If I’m not mistaken, he’s almost exactly the same age as my son.”
Abrimel goes pale. Aleeme only has one son – the one he birthed at Fulminir. Of course the effect of the statement is to remind Abrimel that while he was falling in love with me, making a son with me, I was regularly taking brutal pelki on Aleeme. “Yes, well,” Abrimel says, going cold very suddenly. “I’ve got studying to do. Help yourself to anything you like.” He stands, and puts a hand on my shoulder before leaving.
Aleeme and I are left staring at one another. “That was cruel,” I say.
He rolls his eyes. “Don’t you lecture me on cruelty. You don’t know how I feel, seeing somehar love you like he does.”
He obviously means to make an impact with this statement. Aleeme always believed in love. He doesn’t think I deserve it. I know I don’t, but I am no different from many hara. My lips curl into a sneer. “I know exactly how you felt just now. You couldn’t hurt me so you hurt my chesnari in hopes of getting at me.”
This seems to surprise him. He looks at me for long moments as if contemplating what he should say. “How can you understand me so well?” he whispers at last.
I don’t answer. I feel that I know him inside and out. When I look at him, I see exactly the type of har I feared becoming when I used to repress my feminine side. There is power in the soume aspect – a sort of magical, untamable force – but Aleeme embraces everything weak about being female.
But then, it is like I told Abrimel earlier — Aleeme is no great puzzle.
“I must warn you,” I say, examining my fingernails, “to leave my son out of your revenge schemes. Involving Geburael is unwise.” I have a certain way of looking at hara that tends to intimidate them even when I have absolutely no way of carrying out my threat.
Aleeme isn’t afraid though. He looks down at his empty plate. “Normal hara don’t have revenge schemes, Ponclast.”
I sigh. Maybe he has a point. Sometimes I feel like a completely different person from the har I was back then. And sometimes those old hatreds rise up in me like bile. “Maybe not a revenge scheme, but I know what you want to do to me. What I did to you was the most important event in your life. It changed you, it defined you. You want it to be that important to me, but it never will be. You want to do something to me that will be that important, but you never can.”
He tilts his head to the side as he watches me. “You can read my mind then?”
I laugh. “No. That’s the way it was for me when I was young. Even inception didn’t change me so much. Strange, when I think of it. It was such a short amount of time in my long life.”
Aleeme looks at me intently. I curse myself. I don’t know what caused me to hint at my time among the Uigenna. It isn’t something that I normally speak of and Aleeme Sarestes is the last har in the world that I want to have this conversation with.
“Pelki never happened to you,” he says.
I grace him with my most mocking laugh. “Why? Because that sort of thing only happens to Gelaming lickspittles? Or because it only matters when it happens to Gelaming lickspittles?”
“You never could have done that to somehar else if it had happened to you.”
I shrug. “Think what you want, my dear.” To hear the Gelaming talk, you’d think I was the only har in the world who’d ever committed pelki on anyhar. I’m not deceived. Such things were commonplace in the early days of Wraeththu. I’m no different from thousands of other hara, many of whom now hold positions of power.
“You really aren’t at all remorseful, are you?” Aleeme asks me. He doesn’t sound accusing or sad, just curious.
I decide to answer him honestly. “I don’t know that I would say that. What I did to you – it’s certainly not something I would do today. But it happened and I can do nothing about it. There’s nothing you can do about it either.”
I don’t know why I tell him these things. It makes me sound weak, as if I am catering to his feelings. “I want to see your bedroom,” Aleeme says.
He stands up and crosses his arms. I immediately stand up as well, not allowing him to loom over me. “I want to see the place where you hold your chesnari and tell him that you love him. I want to see place where you lie awake at night and justify everything you’ve done to yourself. I want to see the pillow where you put your head and dream your sweet dreams.”
I never have dreams. I reach out to take his hand in my own and he doesn’t recoil. I know he doesn’t care much about his own safety. I turn his arm and look at the fresh cuts across it.
He gives me a wry half-smile. “Azriel will wonder when he sees it,” he says.
“You’ve done this before.”
He shrugs. “Not for years. I used to do it.”
I trace the red lines with my index finger. This is how he can be around me without attacking me. He uses all his negative energy on himself. Pathetic, really. It’s something I’ve always tried to avoid. I let his hand slide away from mine and I walk toward the stairs that lead to our bedroom. Silently, Aleeme follows me.
There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the bedroom I share with Abrimel. It is decorated in the same quaint, slightly shabby fashion as the rest of the cottage. The floors are rough wood, a handmade quilt covers the bed, and a window seat looks out on a small waterfall. Neither Abrimel or myself would have chosen the décor, but we didn’t exactly get a choice.
Aleeme walks over to the bed and touches my pillow. I wonder how he guessed side of the bed I sleep on. I come over and put an arm around his waist. He shudders. Then, suddenly, he grabs my hair and pulls my lips down to meet his and we are sharing breath. We fall onto the bed.
The images he shows me are … sweet. Almost too perfect childhood memories of baking cookies with his hostling or picking flowers on warm summer days in the mountains. Making love to his chesnari on lazy, rainy afternoons. This bothers me more than all the pain he showed me earlier – I believe he knows this. I believe that’s why he does it. I don’t like to think of him as a real har. I pull away.
He slips out of his robe with ease and I see that he is soume once again. I cannot help but smile derisively. If he really wanted power over me, he would be ouana. I devour his mouth. He pulls away.
“What do you see in my breath?” I ask.
He laughs. “See? So many things and nothing at the same time. You taste like iron and salt and dark, bitter chocolate. What do I taste like?”
“You want to taste like a sugary confection at the moment. But you really taste like blood.”
He smiles. I want to eat him alive. He is soft, soume, pliant. I think that even if I tried to fight with him, he would lie back weak and helpless. With my every touch, he sighs, not even trying to hide his pleasure. He is a naturally sensual creature.
When we are spent, stretched out beside one another, he turns his back on me. “You think I’m weak,” he says, his voice muffled in the pillow. “You’re right. It’s who I am, who I’ve always been. I’m not ashamed of it. I know I’m very soume – I believe I was born that way.”
I shake my head. Some second-generation hara talk that way – as if they were born more soume or more ouana. First-generation tended to think they could mold themselves into whatever role they chose – or somehar else chose for them. “So you’re soume,” I say. “Doesn’t mean you have to be fragile.”
Even from behind, I know he is smiling, his red lipstick smeared across his face like a gash. “I don’t believe that Wraeththu as a race stopped being cruel men so we could become crueler women.”
I never took him as a philosopher, expounding on the purpose or destiny of Wraeththu. Aleeme is cruel, whatever he may think. But I made him that way. I bring a hand to his narrow waist. He looks at me with those soulful eyes, but at that moment, I hear a knock at the door.
I am annoyed because it must be Abrimel and he must know why Aleeme and I are locked in the bedroom. I throw a blanket over Aleeme and he smirks at me. I rearrange my clothes. “Enter,” I say.
Abrimel opens the door. He looks at us blandly. “Pellaz is here,” he says.
“What?” I snap.
He raises his dark eyebrows. “You heard me. He’s sitting in the living room.”
Aleeme looks at me and shrugs his shoulders. I reassure myself that Pellaz being here has nothing to do with him. Pellaz visits sometimes to talk to Abrimel or myself. I sit up straight. “I’ll see him,” I say. Then I turn to Aleeme. “If that’s all right with you, that is.”
He makes a vague gesture with one hand that I take as acquiescence. Abrimel leaves. I have the impression that I have annoyed him. I look at Aleeme, still stark naked on the bed. “You can come see the Tigron as well, you know.”
He blinks. “I could go out there right now and tell Pell that you just took pelki on me.”
An awkward silence forms between us. I wet my lips with my tongue. “You really think he would believe that?” I don’t think he would. Pellaz can usually spot a lie – an essential quality in a ruler – but then, I have taken pelki on Aleeme before.
He stretches out on the bed and I realize, with irritation, that he has no intention of speaking to Pellaz at all. This is some sort of power play for him. He wants me to know that he can tell the Tigron anything he pleases.
I make a low noise in the back of my throat and then turn away from him. I look in the full length mirror on the wall, smooth down my robes and hair and draw myself up to my full height.
Pellaz sits on the sofa where I took aruna with Aleeme earlier, his legs crossed. He smiles amicably and looks as comfortable as he can around Abrimel. Abrimel by contrast looks distinctly uncomfortable. I clear my throat and Pellaz turns to look at me. As always, I get the feeling that I am staring at an individual who is not quite har. Pellaz is an angel or a demon.
“Ponclast,” he says. He doesn’t smile, but then, he seldom does. “Please sit down.”
“It’s my house, Tigron,” I remind him, sitting beside my chesnari. Pellaz proceeds to grill Abrimel with a series of blisteringly polite questions about his life. The two of them rarely argue these days, but they can never be close either. I watch Abrimel squirm in his chair and attempt to answer his father’s questions, no doubt conscious of Aleeme’s presence a few rooms away.
After watching a few minutes of this, I speak up. “What brings you here today?” I ask Pellaz. He never visits without a purpose and it is usually me he really comes to see, not Abrimel.
Pellaz crosses his ankles and clears his throat. “Well,” he says, “Loki is going to spend the summer at Forever.”
I turn to Abrimel, whose face flushes only slightly. “Remarkable. Weren’t you just saying something about Pellaz sending you to Forever when he wanted to get rid of you?”
Abrimel gives me an alarmed look, but Pellaz doesn’t get angry; he merely looks slyly from me to Abrimel. “And why would you be talking about that?”
Abrimel is better at keeping his composure around Pellaz than he was around Aleeme. He’s had long practice at it. “And why would Ponclast and I be interested in Loki’s living arrangements?” he asks. But of course we both already know the answer.
“Geb wants to go with him, of course,” Pellaz said with an exaggerated sigh. “Honestly, there is no way of separating those two.”
Of course, I know about Geburael’s strange obsession with the Tigron’s son. In my opinion, Loki leads him on and teases him, but as I’ve never met Loki I can’t tell if this theory is correct. As Abrimel takes carefully supervised visits to Phaonica, he has met Loki and I know that he wasn’t impressed. But perhaps he was just jealous of a more favored son.
“Anyway,” Pellaz says, shrugging. “I thought you might want to know.”
I cross my arms and quickly reign in my anger, so that only mild disapproval shows on my face. “You mean you thought I might have an objection to sending my son to live with Swift the Betrayer? By all means, do what you like. I know you will anyway.”
As if Pellaz needs to ask permission from me and Abrimel before he sends Geburael anywhere. The idea is absurd.
Pellaz pulls a face. “He’ll be gone for most of the summer and I thought it would be courteous to tell you.”
I snort. “Well as long as we’re all being courteous.” I am sick of courtesy. I don’t want to play nice with Aleeme or Pellaz or Swift or anyhar else for that matter. Yet, for some reason, I keep doing it.
Abrimel clears his throat. “Do they all know about this at Forever?” he asks. “I wouldn’t want Geb to be treated badly by – some hara – because of past events.”
Pellaz regards his son, coolly. “We’ve discussed it with everyhar that matters. Nohar has any problem with Geburael.” Pellaz often tells us that he “doesn’t have any problem” with Geburael as if it is some sort of compliment.
“You’ve talked to everyhar?” Abrimel asks, his eyes straying towards the door, towards Aleeme. I notice that Pellaz follows his line of vision.
I realize that the Tigron knows – he knows Aleeme is here. I consider the possibility that Aleeme is not as idiotic as I imagined him and he told Pellaz he was coming here. I quickly discard this idea. Listeners scan my thoughts constantly. One of them probably picked it up.
“Everyhar,” Pellaz repeats, his eyes focusing on his son. He pauses, draws a deep breath. “We do care about Geburael’s safety. We watch out for the safety of various hara.” His eyes once more stray toward the door. A warning, then — he’s saying knows Aleeme is here and if anything happens to him, then the remainder of my life won’t be so pleasant. And he’s reminding me that he has my son.
“There’s no need,” I say. All this dancing around the issue is ridiculous and so typically Gelaming. I want to just blurt out what we all know – yes Aleeme is here, yes I took pelki on him, raped him thirty odd years ago. For some reason, I remain silent.
“Yes …” Pell lets his voice trail off, twisting a turquoise ring on his finger. “Well, Geb wants to visit you next week. Is that acceptable?”
“It’s always acceptable for our son to visit us,” Abrimel says.
We talk in this strained, uncomfortable vein for several minutes, Pellaz’s attention clearly focused elsewhere. I begin to think that he will ask to see Aleeme, but he doesn’t. The warning was given and he has dismissed us from his attention. He soon tells us he has to leave.
After he leaves, Abrimel goes off to some corner of the house without saying a word to me. I sigh and head back to the bedroom. Aleeme sits on the edge of the bed, very straight-backed, wearing Abrimel’s bathrobe.
“You heard?” I ask.
He nods. “I was standing on the landing.”
“You’ve known about Geburael all along,” I say. “Is that why you came here?”
He smiles, slightly. “It did get me thinking. You shouldn’t worry. I wouldn’t say anything to your son – it’s not his fault that you’re his hostling. Besides, I’m not going to be there most of the summer.”
“Oh.” He didn’t have to tell me that. I sit down beside him on the bed. “Where are you going to be?”
He looks at me from under lowered lashes. “I don’t think you need to know that, do you?”
I laugh. “You really think I wouldn’t lay a finger on you while I have you here in my clutches and then track you down as soon as you leave to harm you?”
He shrugs. “I’d just rather not tell you.”
I smile, wryly. “And of course you and the Tigron and everyhar else expect me to be eternally grateful that Swift the Betrayer has allowed my son to spend a few weeks in his home.”
Aleeme tilts his head to the side. “You still hate Swift.” It isn’t a question.
“Yes.” I have no reason to hide it.
“But not Pell?”
“I most certainly do hate Pellaz.” He raises his eyebrows at me. Even I know it’s a lie. “Well … you wouldn’t understand, you being so soume. For a warrior, it’s possible to respect a clever enemy … but never a traitor.” The truth is that I have few things to cling to, the Gelaming having taken everything away from me. They can’t take away my hatred.
“Uh-huh.” He doesn’t say anything else as if the conversation has bored him. After several moments of looking down at the quilted duvet, he says my name with such urgency that I am forced to look directly into his eyes – something I rarely do.
“I want to take aruna with your chesnari,” he says, when he has my attention.
I laugh again. “What? Why?”
His hair is wild, but it always seems to fall conveniently in front of his face at opportune moments. “I have my reasons.”
He wants to be mysterious then. “He’ll never agree,” I say.
Aleeme brushes his curls from his face, absently. “He will. He will because you’ll ask it of him. And because he wants to know about me.”
Aleeme is very manipulative in his own way. I am almost persuaded to take his hand and lead him to Abrimel. Instead, I draw away from him. “You want him, you go tell him.”
I expect him to refuse – he wouldn’t have the nerve. But he stands up. “Okay. I will,” he says. He floats from the room like ghost and I am left alone on the bed. I fall back among my pillows and breathe in Aleeme’s scent. It is almost dark outside, the last remnants of sunset peeking through the nearly bare trees. Aleeme will stay the night. He will seduce Abrimel because what he said was true. Abrimel does want to know about Aleeme, though it will hurt him.
I turn around and look up at the ceiling, focusing my attention on a discoloration of the wood. I like to focus on little things like that from time to time – it helps calm me, like a form of meditation. It is the opposite of true thought.
When I wake up, it is completely dark. I was not aware of falling asleep. I hear heavy breathing beside me and for a moment, I tense up, as if about to be attacked, before I remember where I am. Aleeme lies beside me. I put my hand into the tangle of his hair, but he draws away, sharply. “Don’t touch me!” he says.
I realize that he is crying. Earlier in the day, Aleeme called me a psychopath. I am surprised that a second-generation har knows the term. A psychopath doesn’t feel emotion or empathy. I want to be that way, but I can’t do it.
Because I am not a psychopath, I reach out and take him in my arms. He does not resist. He does not seem ashamed to show weakness. He leans against me and sobs into my chest. “Did you –” I began, thinking of Abrimel and of what Aleeme might have done with him.
“Shut up,” Aleeme says. I do. The low sound of his sobs is hypnotic music. My eyes flutter closed and I fall asleep. I don’t know whether Aleeme sleeps or cries all night.
When I wake up again, he sits on the edge of the bed, dressed in the wrinkled silk robe he wore when he first came here. His back is to me, but he moves his head when I stir, aware that I am awake. “I’m leaving,” he says.
“Oh,” my voice sounds quiet and small – not at all like my usual self. “Did you find what you were looking for in coming here?”
He shakes his head, once, briefly. “I think this was good for me,” he said. “When I was young, I used to believe that everyhar was good. I needed to believe that again. I needed to know that there’s good in everyhar – even you.”
I would never encourage anyhar to think this. “That’s so naïve.”
“Maybe,” he says, “but it makes me happy.” And I know that to Aleeme, that is all that matters. He doesn’t want to seek deep truths or to change the world. He only wants to have fun and be happy. Hara like that have always irritated me.
I sit up and put a hand on his shoulder. He stiffens. “Don’t ever try to contact me, Ponclast.”
I look at his form, for once rigid and unyielding. “I won’t,” I say.
We go into the living room where Abrimel sits. He looks at me with eyes full of emotion and then comes over to embrace me, briefly. I wonder what happened between him and Aleeme, but I know that I will never ask him.
Aleeme looks at the two of us for a moment. For many hara, it would be an awkward moment, but Aleeme isn’t the sort who has awkward moments. “I won’t say thank you,” he says, at last.
“Of course not,” Abrimel says. To my surprise, he leans forward and briefly kisses Aleeme on the lips. When he draws back, Aleeme gives him half a smile.
“Goodbye,” he says, addressing this comment to the both of us. It has the ring of finality about it. We will not see him again. He got at least a little peace or satisfaction by his visit here and he won’t give me the chance to ruin it by contacting me again.
“Goodbye,” Abrimel says. I say nothing.
Aleeme nods and then heads for the door. Abrimel follows him and stands in the doorway. I stand slightly behind Abrimel and watch Aleeme walk down the cobblestone path in our front yard and fiddle with the gate. I watch his slim form retreat into the forest, the trees closing around him. He doesn’t look back once.
Abrimel turns to me. “I think he’ll be okay,” he says.
“Do you?” I ask.
He bites his lip. I see the uncertainty in his eyes. “I do,” he says.