With Arms Wide Open
by Addie Fielding
Introduction & Disclaimer
All items contained on these pages are non-profit amateur fiction. The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire and all characters named in those books are the copyright of Storm Constantine and her publishers. No infringement on the copyrights are intended.
To contact the author, email email@example.com.
With Arms Wide Open
– 1 –
The day is warm, as I lie on the grass looking through the red and gold autumn leaves to the bright blue cloudless sky above, and the heady aroma of the ripening grapes hanging on the vines around the courtyard, fills my nostrils.
I am a little bored waiting for my meeting, and a little apprehensive as well. But I am enjoying being pampered. It doesn’t seem that long ago, if I had lazed about in the middle of the day when I should have been working, I would have felt the sting of my master’s cane.
But those days are gone… long past – that lonely depressing time when I was just a servant, tending to the needs of a busy household. Now I hear a slight clinking and a soft curse and look up to see my own servant bringing me a tray of cool lemonade and sweet breads for lunch.
He’s very handsome, this young har who has been allocated to attend to my needs. Soft brown hair, with doe-like eyes, a generous smiling mouth and a lithe body. But I have someone now… someone who loves me.
I know it’s guilt that has put me into this position… guilt from deeds done in the past that I had nothing to do with… guilt, that may never be overcome or forgotten.
Perhaps I should tell you a bit about my life before I go any further. My name is Feather… named, so I am told because I was a light as one when I hatched. I am pure born, and lived with my hostling Gala, until I reached my feybraiha. Older than most hara, as I took a little longer to mature. I was told I was premature, that is, my pearl was expelled earlier than it should have been, depriving me of the essences from my hostling that should have made me grow quicker.
Gala had received a terrible shock when he was only a couple of months into his pregnancy – the death of my father. I thought his name was Star, but Gala had never explained to me, that this was merely his nickname. He never spoke of him much, as it caused him too much pain, so the little snippets of information I had gleaned about him while I was growing up, merely made him mysterious.
Star had been the spiritual leader of a small community across the country from where we had lived and his death had been terrible and sudden. Gala did tell me he wasn’t with him when he died, and hadn’t been living with him at all. In fact, how they had joined to create me is a story I never prised out of my hostling. I did get the impression though that even though Gala adored and loved him, their relationship was very secretive – perhaps even forbidden. He wouldn’t tell me why, but I had my suspicions that my father hadn’t even been aware of my creation. I was one of the earliest newborns, you see.
Gala very nearly lost me when he received news of his death, and fell into a pit of grief and despondency, that only left him when I was lifted from the pearl, squawking and needing him desperately. I kept him alive… but only until I was ten years old.
He died two years after I became an adult. My freybaiya was reasonably successful… don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed discovering my sexual side, and my partner, a delightful and feisty young har called Flint, was certainly fun to be with. But as you can imagine my joy of discovery was short lived.
Gala had never been what you would call exuberant. He lived vicariously through me. My joys were his, he shared my pain. He taught me about life and especially about his only real pleasure besides me… his garden. By the time I was four years old, I knew the names of every herb and plant in the garden and could concoct soothing lotions and balms for any minor ailment.
Gala cosseted me from the outside world. He educated me, went with me everywhere outside our home and we even shared every meal. I believed this was normal… not knowing anything else. I was not allowed to play with the other harlings living in the town, and only occasionally was one of them allowed to visit with me.
I was happy though… I loved Gala with all my heart. He was kind and spiritual, always wearing long flowing robes of dark purple or blue, with crystals hanging from his neck and ears. He told me once, that he had been a priest in an old human cult.
He wore large hats to protect his pale skin and was slender, with long winding white hair… the colour and consistency of fluffy clouds. There was a connection between us, that went further than that of hostling and child. We always knew when the other was in need… and sometimes we could tell what the other was thinking. He protected me from the world and I saved him from his sorrow.
But it wasn’t to last… our idyllic life, behind the high wall of our home, tending the garden and healing our neighbours in exchange for food and a small stipend from the owner of the town. An act of violence tore him away from me and plunged me into 20 years of misery.
Our small town was pillaged by a brigade of rough and ruthless hara, who called themselves Varrs. Gala and I tried to fight them off, but he had never been strong and it was with despair and terror that I saw a beast run him through with his blade and drain his lifeblood onto his beloved garden. All I could do was watch his face as his tenuous life slipped away from him… and hear his agonised silent voice, screaming for me to live. That’s all he wanted in the end. For me to live… but for quite a while afterwards it was all I didn’t want to do.
As I was carried away on a wooden cart, with a few other young hara from my town, I was in despair. Gala’s pain-filled eyes were all that I could see, and his last words to me were all that I could hear. I am sure the others with me were suffering just as much… but I was unaware of them. The pain at losing Gala was eating at my very soul. The link we had had been broken so cruelly that I felt as though I had been run through with the blade as well.
In fact, as the night wore on, I became less and less aware of the pain in my own limbs, from being attacked, and the shouts and noises around me. I was sinking into a trance that I think actually saved my life.
– 2 –
I was in our garden, kneeling beside Gala, laughing at something with him, as I picked tiny mint leaves. The whole garden was infused with the smell, as I crushed them in my fingers. But it wasn’t the mint juices that dripped onto the ground, it was blood… mine and Gala’s, mingled together, and I screamed and screamed soundlessly in my sleep.
The terror could have lasted forever, or only seconds, but it was cut short by a dreadful pain in my head, and another in my side. I groaned loudly and woke up to find myself curled up in the corner of the wooden wagon, with a brute of a soldier hitting me with a wooden mallet. He was shouting at me to wake up… I almost laughed at the irony of this, because if he continued to beat me I would have slept forever.
But somehow I did come to my senses quickly enough to put up my arms and beg him to stop beating me. As I did, something warm and sticky trickled into my eyes and the world turned blood red. He stopped then and stared at me.
“Why didn’t you run like the others?”
I blinked at him dazedly and shook my head. I had no idea what he was talking about until I glanced around. The young hara who had been in the wooden cart with me, were all lying on the ground, dead or dying. I had no idea what had happened, but guessed that I had been the only one who hadn’t tried to escape. Now he wanted to know why.
For a few seconds my mind stumbled through several possible answers…as I tried to decide which one he would prefer to hear. The one that fell from my lips was:-
“I didn’t want to.” Inane I know, but it seemed to work. He looked at me incredulously, shook his head and walked away.
I cowered in that truck for the rest of a very long journey, surrounded by dying and bleeding companions. Only three of us survived that trip to their settlement. The other two were drafted into their army, as they were strong muscular hara. But I was consigned to be a servant for one of their high ranking soldiers, as I was deemed too pretty and frail to be flung onto any battlefield.
At first I had been relieved, but after a few weeks of working for this officer, they called Cutlass the Enforcer, I wihed I had been flung into the first battle and run through with a sword. He was mean and strict with a short of temper. I was set to work doing all the most menial tasks. Chopping wood, washing dihes, cleaning the latrines and digging graves. The last one was the worst. If I set one foot wrong, or even glanced at Cutlass the wrong way, I would be punihed severely.
The punishments diminihed after a few years, as I grew wise to his ways and learnt how to avoid him. I also grew stronger, with all the hard physical work, and by the time I was in my twenties, I was fit and healthy, with wiry muscles.
During this period, I mostly kept to myself, but occasionally I shared aruna with one or two of the other hara who worked alongside me in the stables, or in the house. It was purely for physical reasons, we never became close as any contact between the slaves was frowned upon, and quite often they were only there for short periods of time. Most of them, I was told were eventually sent off to fight. I am sure the reason I was never sent away was that I managed to be invisible. Keeping to the shadows, doing my chores without complaint, not making a fuss about anything.
But eventually, one of the hara caught my eye and captured my heart.
His name was Emerald, because of his dark green eyes. He had been assigned to the household as a tutor for Cutlass’s three harlings. Three of the most precocious and ill tempered harlings who ever existed. I only came in contact with them when I was mucking out the stables where they kept their horses. But that was enough. They would look at me with disdain, and bark orders at me, whenever I was in shouting distance.
Em would follow along behind them, looking disgusted at their behaviour and seemingly unable to control them. I knew that he wouldn’t have been willing to upset them for fear of retribution from Cutlass. After the first couple of times he had accompanied them into the stables, I saw him looking at me, and felt the unmistakable touch of his mind in mine.
It had been a long time since I had allowed someone access to my thoughts, but when I looked into those emerald eyes of his, I seemed unable to resist. He wasn’t forceful, or intrusive, just curious as to how I came to be such a lowly servant.
I think by that stage I had accepted my lot in life. If I kept to myself, I was all right. Any dreams I had had of becoming a healer were squahed and buried deep within me. All the memories I had of my precious hostling kept me company as I sat in my little hovel at night. It was all I thought I needed.
As the weeks went by however, I began to look forward to Emerald’s visits, and I was sure he felt the same. He would smile tentatively at me, behind one of the terrible harling’s backs. Their names were, Herald, Harm, and Owl, but Emerald and I had begun to call them, Horrid, Harmful and Ouana-limshit. We would snicker quietly when we caught each other’s eyes and mind send our thoughts about these harshits.
Emerald would get them onto their mounts and exercising in the yard, then sneak back to talk to me. He was well educated and very interested to learn how much I knew of healing herbs and lotions. I longed to be put to work in the household garden, but it was considered too good a job for me.
He began to teach me as well, during these short intervals, and was surprised to discover my natural abilities. He considered that I could easily attain Byrnie level, in just a few lessons. For the first time since I had become captured, I felt as though I had a future.
One afternoon, the three harshits were outside practising their jumps, when Emerald (Em) came back in to the stable to talk to me. We had been getting just a little too brazen lately and he even held my hand as we hunkered down behind one of the stalls and shared breath. It was my little slice of heaven to do this with him… as he reminded me of flowers and soft brown earth and the smell of lavender and rosemary on hot summer’s days.
We were both lost in each other, when I felt a solid kick to my leg and snapped my head around to see Ouana-limshit staring at me, a shocked and angry expression on his face.
“You are in big trouble Feather.” He was also staring intently at Em, who was shivering slightly.
We stood up quickly, letting go of our hands and staring at each other. I didn’t want Em to get into trouble, so I quickly mind sent to him my intention, then told the little harshit, that I had seduced Emerald, and he had had nothing to do with it.
Em tried to protest, but with all the mind power I could muster I shouted into his head, that I was nothing… I would just get a beating and that was all. He stood to lose his job, or worse, be sent away from me. I frightened him just enough to make him go along with it, but I could tell he wasn’t happy about it.
Limshit, ruhed off, with Em rushing behind him… I presumed to try and talk him out of telling on me… but to no avail. That evening I was summonsed to Cutlass’ office. He looked grim as he turned to greet me, but when he saw me enter he smirked.
“Emerald’s gone. Couldn’t have him consorting with the likes of you.”
“Where?” I managed to mumble… .but his grin just widened.
“None of your business… now leave my sight.”
– 3 –
I wasn’t allowed to work in the stables again, but I didn’t see the three little harshits again either, for which I was very grateful. All I saw was the insides of toilets and the sky from the bottom of graves, although I had only dug one or two lately, one for a har killed in a fight in the town and another for one who had fallen down a cliff after having imbibed a little too much. The small slices of heaven from being with Em, had been removed from my life… and now there was not an ounce of joy… not a smidgen of anything other than hard work, blisters and foul smells.
When I slept I dreamt either of Emerald, with his bright eyes and loving arms, or of Gala, with his warm heart. My sleep was all that kept me from burying myself in one of the graves.
I tried to find out where Emerald had gone, but no one in the kitchens or in the graveyard knew, or they weren’t telling me. After I cleaned the toilets, chopped the wood and scrubbed the kitchen floor, I slunk away, instead of trying to scavenge for some food.
I decided I would have to take a risk and try and talk to Brogan the gardener, who was the only other person who had shown me any compassion what-so-ever. I had given him some advice once while we had been sharing our meagre meal, and he had been grateful enough to treat me with a modicum of respect.
Brogan was sitting on the garden bench, swigging from his water bottle, when I poked my head over the fence. He started for a second then smiled at me.
“Feather… I’ve been meaning to ask you when to pick the St. John’s Wort… when the leaves are new or later?”
“It doesn’t matter.” I replied brusquely… “It’s your help I need, Brogan.”
“Mine… what can I do fer ya?”
“Do you know what happened to Emerald?”
“He’s gone, Feather… Cutlass told everyone he has sent him off to the front. Why did ya want to know about him fer?”
“Shit!” My hands were shaking as I clung onto the trellis. I didn’t even say thanks to Brogan, just slipped down the side of the wall, slumped onto the ground with my head on my knees and wept. It was all my fault, if I hadn’t found him so attractive… if I hadn’t started talking to him… he would be safe… still teaching those little shits. Not off being killed.
That was it… the catalyst that helped me make the decision to run away. I knew it was unwise… I knew that if I was caught I would be put to death… but I didn’t care. Death was surely better than the life I had been leading. Death was better if it meant I would be joining Em. All I wanted was to be with him, in heaven or hell, I didn’t care.
But it wasn’t going to be easy. I was told the town was surrounded by garrisons of soldiers and the gardens surrounding the house were fenced and guarded. Not so much from those inside trying to leave, but from those inside being attacked from the outside. But nevertheless, I wasn’t a free Varr, I couldn’t just come and go as I pleased. I would be stopped as soon as I reached the gate… if I got that far. A plan had to be hatched.
Brogan was my only hope, so somehow I had to get him to help me. My chance to get him on my side, happened sooner than I could have hoped for. A trench had to be dug for drainage for a new garden he had been planning, and he didn’t feel like doing the chore himself. As I had proven myself to be quite apt at such tasks, I was given the job. It wasn’t as hard as grave digging, as the earth in the garden was soft from the recent potato planting’s and the drainage trench only had to be two foot deep, not six feet deep, as I was used to.
The first day I dug alone… having been given my orders by one of Brogan’s underlings, but on the second day he arrived with some seedlings in his wheelbarrow, and a pile of questions to ask me about the healing power of some of the herbs he was planning on planting. As I dug I conveyed what I knew. But it wasn’t enough… I needed more ammunition if I was going to ask him for his help.
As I toiled I racked my brain, but the sun sizzling down on my head and shoulders made it hard for me to think. Brogan was amiable enough, but not exactly a friend. Then I heard a groan and the distinct sound of retching.
Popping my head up from the trench I saw Brogan on his knees throwing up his breakfast. When he had emptied his stomach, I went over to him and helped him to the bench. He was very pale and had broken out in a cold sweat. It could have been something he had eaten, or a germ of some sort, but I knew immediately what would make him feel better. With his permission, I gathered up the herbs I needed, and in his little hed, lit a small fire in the hearth and made an infusion for him to drink.
The whole time I was crushing the leaves and boiling the water, I was thanking the Aghama for my luck. This surely had to make him feel beholden to me. Surely!
– 4 –
Brogan looked surprised when the cool tea I had made him settled his stomach quickly. He grinned at me.
“Thanks Feather. I’m going to ask the boss if you can work in the garden with me. Would you like that?”
Now that I finally had an opportunity to work where I loved the most, I was planning on running away. For a few moments I even considered taking him up on his offer, but then I remembered the feel of Emerald’s lips on mine and his soft hands running through my hair. I had to find him, one way or another.
“That’s very kind of you Brogan, but I have a greater love than the garden.”
“Yes… I love another har, and was wondering if you might help me with something?” I could feel my heart pounding and my hands becoming sweaty. If he didn’t understand, I would be in serious trouble for what I was about to ask him. I hung my head and wrung my hands together.
“Well… what’s the favour Feather? I do owe you one.”
Thank the Heavens, at least he had acknowledged that much. Now if only I could get my voice to work I would ask him. I looked up to see him staring at me, his head cocked to one side and an eyebrow raised.
“I need to find Emerald.” I finally blurted out.
He sat down on the bench with a thud, a small smile lighting up his face, then he winked at me and brought his hand up to tousle my hair. I was so surprised that I let out a little squawk.
“Emerald told me about you, but he wasn’t sure if you felt the same way. I liked that har, he was very smart. It was cruel of Cutlass to send him off to fight. The poor lad, he doesn’t stand a chance.”
“That’s why I need to find him.” I felt like dropping to my knees, but Brogan took hold of my arm and bade me to sit next to him. With his rough gardener’s hand resting on my knee, he looked me in the eye.
“How can I help?”
– – –
The plan was simple… Brogan would hide me under the vegetables in his cart, when he went into the market in the town. Then, he would slip the harness off the horse, so I would be able to steal it quickly and ride away. He would be busy of course, setting up his market stall, so he wouldn’t be blamed for anything.
For days afterwards I smelt of onions and garlic, but it worked. The horse was very gentle, which was just as well, for I had never actually learned to ride. I must have looked a sight, riding through the town, clinging onto this fat old mare with all my might, covered in dirt and bits of greenery.
I was a little surprised that there were no soldiers about, or very many hara for that matter. The town seemed peaceful, with even the odd human female wandering about. In fact, the only soldiers I had seen were on the perimeter of Cutlass’ home, and lately they had seemed lazy.. Maybe they had all been moved away to where the fighting was.
I had never actually given much thought to what I would do once I was away from the town, so Jenny and I just meandered slowly along the dirt track, enjoying the scenery and the peace. In fact, I had no idea where the fighting was… not even the general direction. A few times, when other travellers passed by, I considered asking them, but kept changing my mind. If I drew any suspicions from anyone, I might be in trouble. Although I did think that no one would actually miss me, until the toilets backed up, or someone died and needed a grave.
The first night I found an old barn to sleep in, and cooked up some of Brogan’s onions and spinach for tea. The barn with its smells of old musty hay and dust, almost made me feel at home, but I couldn’t help feeling desperately worried. Eventually I would have to ask someone for directions and make my way into a very dangerous part of the world. But Em was worth it… so long as he was still alive.
As I settled down in a dark corner to try and sleep, I heard a scuffling sound then some soft curses. As I scurried further into the corner to try and hide, I became aware of someone moving about in the loft. As far as I could tell, there was only one person there, and they seemed to be trying to find a place to lie down. Hopefully it was just another traveller.
Suddenly a little piece of hay flew up into my face and caused me to sneeze. I tried to stifle it, but it only made it worse, and when it did come out, I sounded like a pig about to give birth.
“Shit!” The stranger swore and I could see him standing still. I tried not to breath, but that only made the tickle worse and I sneezed again, this time really loudly.
“Who’s there?” The stranger asked.
“Just me!” I answered.
“And you might be?”
I heard a match strike and saw a small flicker of light being waved about, as the stranger tried to see where my frightened voice had come from.
“Just a traveller… no one to worry about.” I said softly to him. “I’m trying to get some sleep.”
“Me too.” The voice answered. “Mind if I share the loft?”
“It’s okay with me, it’s not mine.”
He whispered thanks, scrambled about for a few minutes in the opposite corner then began to snore softly. If felt comforting to have someone else there with me in the dark, even though I didn’t even know what he looked like.
The morning sun streamed through the skylight in the roof right onto my face, waking me up very early. Rubbing my eyes I looked over to the stranger. He looked as slight as me, and his multicoloured hair, was a tangled mess over his face.
I considered sneaking off quickly, without disturbing him, but that damn hay got up my nose again and I sneezed three times in quick succession.
The stranger jumped up quickly, his legs wide out in a squatting position and his arms in front, ready to protect himself. His eyes were only just open and his hair was still all over his face. I laughed at him, he looked so funny.
“Shit!” He swore, than began to laugh. “Sorry, I’m so used to having to be on alert, and when I heard those funny noises.”
I was grinning at him now, he looked so cute. His hair was red and blue and green, filled with beads and coloured ribbons. His face, once I could see it, was fine featured, he had bright eyes and straight white teeth.
“I’m quite harmless I can assure you.” I said, holding my hand out in a gesture of greeting. “My name’s Feather.”
He took hold of it and shook vigorously. “Well looks can be deceiving sometimes.” His grin faded slightly and a curious expression overtook his face.
“What… oh sorry… it’s Flick. You look very familiar… very familiar. Like someone I used to know years ago. Someone who… .” His words faded into nothing and I could see him frowning now.
“Who do I look like?”
“A friend of mine… he’s dead. You just have a strong resemblance that’s all.”
“Could I be related to your friend, do you think?” I longed to know more about my past.
“No I don’t think so.”
He changed the subject, as though it were painful for him to remember his friend. “Where are you travelling to?” He asked, as he sat down on the hay and laid back so that his head was resting against the barn wall.
“I’m trying to find a friend. He’s been sent to fight, but I don’t know where the fighting is.”
“There isn’t any fighting, not around here anyway. What tribe are you looking for?”
“He was with the Varrs. I’m not one though, I’m not sure if I actually belonged to any tribe. I just lived in a small town until we were attacked. I’ve been a slave ever since.”
“Well someone has been keeping you in the dark. The Varrs don’t exist any more… they are the Parasiel now, governed by Swift. They’re quite peaceful. Feather, where have you been?”
“No fighting… no Varrs. What’s going on? Where’s my friend then?”
“I’ve heard of small pockets of Varrs being left around the country up North… but never met anyone who has been living with them. Are there many?”
“Now that I come to think of it, I don’t think so. The town was almost deserted. I don’t know how long it’s been like that because its the first time I have been out of the compound for over 20 years.”
“Twenty years… by the Aghama, you’ve been a slave of a rogue Varr tribe for twenty years?” Flick looked incredulous.
I slumped down onto the ground next to him. “So you are telling me that if I had just walked out on that bastard Cutlass, no one would have stopped me? That I could have been free?”
“Most likely.” Flick answered, and took hold of my hand.
– 5 –
What Flick had told me was disconcerting in the least. To think that I could have escaped earlier was eating at me. The only thing keeping me from lashing out at something in rage was the fact that during my last few months there I had met Emerald.
We talked as we cooked up some eggs, that we had found in the barn, hoping they were fresh, and I told him a little about myself. Not that there was much to tell. But Flick managed to add a few more seeds of discontent.
“Feather, if Emerald didn’t go off to war, where do you think he went? I mean, wouldn’t you have thought that he would have tried to contact you somehow?”
“Perhaps he couldn’t. I assumed that Cutlass had him packed off immediately.”
“How well did you know him?” Flick put a spoonful of eggs into his mouth tentatively, then grinned. “They’re okay.”
I ate a spoonful or two before I answered. In truth, I wanted to mull over that question. Flick was worrying me. I remembered the times when Emerald and I had been talking and I would feel the touch of his mind in mine. I assumed he was simply trying to get close to me, but now…
“I thought I knew him, Flick. But maybe I didn’t. He always seemed to find plenty of time to be with me. Which at the time I thought was strange. But I didn’t want to question it, because I loved being with him. Do you think he had an ulterior motive in befriending me?”
Flick shook his head, and swigged down a few mouthfuls of water from his bottle. “You said yourself Feather, you were a lowly servant… captured when you were just 10 years old. Still the lowest caste. I can’t imagine what any motive would have been.”
“Emerald told me I had natural abilities at mind reading and healing… and he said there was latent magic in me. I was never really quite sure what he meant… I never had the chance to find out.”
“You’re pure born, aren’t you?”
“How can you tell?”
“Instinct. Who were your parents? Perhaps they hold the key.”
“My hostling was Gala.” A lump came to my throat as I still found it hard to say his name. “He was a healer – but nothing more. He was gentle and quiet and we kept to ourselves in the town. I never knew my father.”
“Did you know his name?”
“I was told it was Star, but that was Gala’s name for him. I never knew his real name. It was as if Gala was purposely keeping that from me. He was an enigma. All I know was that he was a spiritual leader. Perhaps that’s where I got these natural abilities that Em was talking about.”
“A spiritual leader?” Flick finihed off his last mouthful of eggs and walked over towards the doorway to the barn. As he looked out I could hear him muttering to himself.
“Flick, is something wrong?”
“I’m not sure.” He turned to me with a smile on his face, but I could tell it was forced.
“You haven’t asked anything about me.”
I suddenly realised how remiss I was. “Sorry… I didn’t mean to ignore you. Where do you come from, Flick?”
“I don’t come from anywhere, and was going nowhere.”
“I’ve been wandering for about as long as you have been held captive. It’s a long story… maybe I’ll tell you one day. But I think I know where I’m going now. Would you come with me?”
“But what about Em… I need to find him, to make sure he’s all right?”
“Don’t worry about this Emerald. I’m sure we will discover his story soon enough. Don’t you want to know where I am going?”
– – –
I decided to tag along with Flick… I liked him and if he was right, I would eventually find out where Emerald had gone. Somehow, I had known all along that Emerald had never really loved me… that there was always another reason why he had befriended me. Perhaps in future I should believe my inner instincts.
Our journey was a slow one… the horses we had were tired, the weather was still quite warm, and we simply didn’t feel like hurrying. I was revelling in being free of chores, and enjoying Flick’s company. As we rode, and sometimes walked, we talked… and Flick taught me things about what we had become as a race.
He didn’t mention again my resemblance to his friend and I had thought he had forgotten about it. Evidently we were headed for a city called Immanion, which was where, Flick assured me, I would discover my roots.
It took two weeks of ambling, two weeks of getting to know each other and sharing our little pains and pleasures. The latter was something very surprising. On the third night, as we hunkered down to eat a meal of rabbit, caught on the way, Flick began to look at me differently. It seemed I was no longer just some strange har who had led a very heltered life, but something more than that.
When our meal was over, he reached out to touch my hand and the zap of electricity I felt, sent tingles right through my body. I shivered and let out a long drawn out sigh. Flick smiled as we began to share breath.
He was a mixture of light and dark, with swirls of colour, and flahes of golden rays. His taste was spicy, with a hint of honey, and he made me feel happier than I had ever felt. As he laid me gently back onto his blanket, and began to strip off my clothing, I looked into his eyes which were glistening slightly with unhed tears. He whispered my name as I became soume for him, and he took me to places I had never been before and never knew existed. It was as though our souls mingled and once, in the throes of ecstasy, I opened my eyes to see a vivid and sparkling blue light dancing over our bodies. I wasn’t startled, it was to me, the most natural thing in the world.
We shared aruna every night from then on, which might have been one of the reasons we took our time with the journey. By the time we reached Immanion, I felt like I had known him forever, and prayed to anything that cared to listen to me, that we could stay together.
Immanion was huge, twenty times bigger than the town I had lived in with Gala. Every street was bustling with energy – with vendors selling their wares, and hara hurrying about with their lives. No one noticed us as we ambled along the wide road trying to find somewhere to stay. I didn’t have any currency on me and really had no idea how much it would cost to stay in one of the luxurious places we were passing.
We stopped in front of a place called “The Light Inn” and Flick went inside. I felt out of place so I stayed outside with the horses. Never in my life had I seen so many hara in one place – it was overwhelming and I had to sit on the curb and rest my head in my hands. The place even smelt different to anything in my previous experience. Aromas of delicious food wafted out of a kitchen over the road, and some of the hara as they walked by, were doused in perfume. I was coughing when Flick came out to find me.
He took my hand and pulled me to my feet. “When we get settled, I am taking you shopping for some new clothes. Then I am going to arrange a meeting with some important people.”
“Are you going to tell me who they are?”
“Not yet!” Flick winked at me. “Come, lets have some wine and food, and find some clothes shops.”
After we had taken baths and filled our stomachs, Flick dragged me to half a dozen shops, buying new trousers, shoes, shirts and jackets and even a broad brimmed hat. I nearly hed a few tears as I looked at myself in the mirror. It reminded me of the hat that Gala used to wear in the garden. But I also knew something else… I looked nothing like Gala… my face was slightly more masculine and my hair was darker. Perhaps I looked like my father.
Flick left me in our room for a few hours later that afternoon, to try on all my clothes and to have a rest. He told me he was arranging our meeting. He seemed quite excited and if I hadn’t been so happy to be in this wonderful city and in a room filled with new things, I might have been a little annoyed with him with for keeping it a secret.
When he returned I was asleep and he kissed me gently on the cheek to awaken me. “It’s all arranged my love. Tomorrow we meet with the Tigrons.”
I had no idea who the Tigrons were, so he spent the evening over our meal and a few ales telling me all about them. I wasn’t sure I wanted to meet anyone so important, and couldn’t understand why Flick felt that I had to. Maybe it was just the custom for visitors to be introduced to them. I imagined that we would be just two of hundreds who would walk past and nod to these two important people, as they nodded back, with bored looks on their faces.
I was wrong.
Flick was jittery all night, and after we had shared each other’s bodies, neither of us slept a wink. In the morning I was exhausted, but Flick was almost leaping out of his skin. I kept trying to ask him why he was so excited, but he wouldn’t tell me.
He helped me to dress, brushing my hair and braiding it carefully, adding a few of his own beads to it. When I looked in the mirror I was someone else. Someone I didn’t even know. Flick stood beside me and he took my breath away. Together we made the most handsome couple and with great joy I let him lead me outside to an awaiting carriage.
I felt so important riding next to my lover and several of the hara walking by nodded and waved to us. It was quite different to the previous day when we had ridden in, covered in dust and grime from our travels.
Flick was squeezing my hand so hard by the time we reached the palace gates, that I had nearly lost all feeling in my fingers. He kissed me on the cheek, brushed a loose hair out of my eyes and smiled at me.
“I’ll be right beside you, Feather. You’ll meet both the Tigrons at once… it was a stipulation of mine. But don’t be intimidated by them… they are really just normal hara. In fact, Feather… I knew them once, a long time ago before they became important.”
“What… why didn’t you tell me that before?”
Flick smiled at me nervously. “I just didn’t… .” then he coughed and puhed me gently out of the carriage.
I straightened my clothes as I looked up in awe at the gleaming palace, then noticed two hara coming towards us. They were wearing gold uniforms and politely asked us to accompany them. Now I was nervous. Up until now I had only been curious, but I was receiving confused and worried thoughts from Flick, which were having a serious affect upon my state of mind. What the hell was I doing here in this place?
I clung to his hand as we were led along several corridors and past heavy gold inlaid doors – eventually stopping outside one that was even bigger than the rest.
“Are you ready?” Flicked kissed me quickly on the cheek as the two guards open the door for us.
I expected to see two very pompous hara sitting upon thrones waiting haughtily for us to enter, but I was quite surprised to see two normal looking hara, sitting on a couch talking to each other. They looked up when we entered and beckoned us over.
I was standing slightly behind Flick, when the the blonde one stood up quickly, pulled Flick to him and gave him a bear hug. The dark-haired Tigron, stood also and waited his turn to hug my friend. They were genuinely happy to see him, and I think Flick was quite overwhelmed. After a few minutes of back-slapping and stern words of “why didn’t you visit before this?” and “where the hell have you been?”, they both looked towards me.
Pellaz was the first to show surprise, and I could tell he was trying to work out if he knew me or not. Then Calanthe stepped back from Flick, brought his hand up to his face and frowned.
Suddenly the expression on his face changed, his eyes widened, his mouth opened then he slumped back down onto the couch.
“Holy shit… now I know why Ashmael said this meeting was important.”
– 6 –
I watched the Tigrons as they stood by the window just staring into each other’s eyes. They were talking mind to mind, but I knew that I couldn’t listen in. To begin with it would be impolite, even if they had allowed it. They were in a panic. Tigron Calanthe was agitated and glanced back at me every now and then.
The tension in the air was palpable, and I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard the clatter of a tray being placed on the table in front of us. Flick hadn’t said a word since Calanthe’s outburst, but now he looked at me.
“Have a glass of wine Feather, it might help calm you down.”
“It’s not me who’s agitated, Flick.” I waved in the direction of the Tigrons.
“No! Well judging by your trembling, the red flush to your face and the sweat running down your neck, I would say you were.”
I glared at him. “What the hell is going on, Flick? Why is Calanthe angry with me… what have I done? What have you been keeping from me?”
I was furious as well as nervous now… and I grabbed one of the goblets and gulped down its contents a little too fast, causing me to cough and splutter all over the front of my new jacket. Now I was embarrassed as well and I furiously took up a napkin and tried to wipe away most of the wine, which had left a dark red stain.
Flick grinned a little, which only made me more angry. “Have a sip this time, Feather… it’s easier to drink it rather than suck it up through your clothes.”
“Very funny!” I snapped
“Sorry.” He replied, finally looking contrite. “I’m sorry I didn’t let on to who I thought you might be, Feather. But I wasn’t quite sure… I needed confirmation.”
“And Calanthe and Pellaz are confirmation, is that what you are saying? Who the hell am I Flick to cause such a ruckus?”
I took a sip of the wine, slowly this time, but even then it caused me to cough. Flick reached forward and put a napkin under my chin, like you would when feeding a harling. I puhed it away then slammed the goblet down on the table. The glare I gave him was enough to make him blush this time, and he picked up his own goblet and drank all the contents in one go, without spilling a drop.
“Clever limshit, aren’t you?” He tried grinning again, but my look of utter disgust stopped him short. He looked away from me, then we both looked up as Cal and Pell returned to the couch opposite.
They sat down together and stared at me for another few agonising moments.
“I apologise, Feather.” Tigron Pellaz began. “That was very rude of us. It’s just that you look very much like an old friend of ours.”
“So I gather.”
“Where did you find this young har, Flick?” Tigron Calanthe asked, trying desperately to avoid catching my eye.
As I listened to Flick telling them the story of our meeting, I felt like sinking into the couch. I looked past the patio doors to the balcony and the tree tops beyond and wihed that I could sprout wings and fly away. I didn’t want to go back to where I had come from, I just wanted to be away from where I was.
“Tell us about yourself, Feather.” I heard Tigron Pellaz saying now, and as I glanced back I saw them all watching me.
“Um… where do you want me to start?” My voice came out high pitched and squeaky, and if I had seen Flick’s face I would have punched him, as I guessed he was smirking at me. Well he was probably smirking in his mind anyway.
Tigron Pellaz was very polite and patient with me but Tigron Calanthe hadn’t said a word, he seemed to be in shock and was trembling.
“Just tell us what you know about your parents Feather… whatever you can remember.”
With great difficulty, and in between sips of water, I no longer trusted myself to drink any more wine, I conveyed what I thought they needed to hear about my precious hostling, and what I did know about my father Star.
“You say he was a spiritual leader, Feather? Do you know where this was, or perhaps the name of the place?” Tigron Pellaz continued to stay calm, but from the looks of Tigron Calanthe, he was going to burst at any second.
“Gala never told me much about him… he loved him very much.” Tigron Pellaz nodded, urging me to try and remember. “He was very important, and I think he was one of the earliest wraeththu. Gala did tell me where he lived, but I was only very young then. Gala had only been there a few times. I think he used to work for him. It was a harsh sounding place… in the desert I think. Gala hated it there, he couldn’t grow all his herbs you see.”
“You say it was in the desert… could it have been a place called Saltrock?” Tigron Pellaz was sitting on the edge of the couch now, resting his hand on Tigron Calanthe’s knee, as though he were trying to keep him from jumping up.
I closed my eyes to try and remember… it had been so long ago… so many painful memories in between. As I opened them I saw that Tigron Calanthe had stood up and was pacing up and down behind the couch… he was alternately wringing his hands together then running them through his golden hair.
“It could have been… I just remember it sounded like such a harsh place… dry and barren.”
“You say your father’s name was Star…was that his real name, Feather?”
“No… didn’t I mention that? Star was Gala’s pet name for him… I only ever heard him say his real name once or twice. I think it started with an ‘O'”
“FUCK!” Tigron Calanthe burst out, then picking up the tray from the table, flung it across the room. I jumped up, frightened out of my wits and clung onto Flick, who seemed just as terrified. Tigron Pellaz looked at us both, then suggested it might be timely if we left.
We were escorted to a suite of rooms across the other side of the palace, for which I was extremely grateful. Far enough away so that I could no longer hear Calanthe and Pellaz shouting at each other. When we were finally left alone, I confronted Flick.
“All right! Now are you going to tell me what the hell is going on and why Calanthe is so mightily angry at me?”
“I’m sorry Feather… I should have realised this would happen. But that’s why I insisted Pell should be there… he can always calm Cal down.”
“He didn’t seem to be doing a very good job.”
Flick shook his head. “Sit down Feather… I think it’s time you learnt about your father, and why Cal is so upset.”
It was a sordid little story, one that both surprised and disgusted me. After I had been told about my father, Orien, and what had happened to him, I wandered out onto the balcony, where the air was fresh and clean and I leant against the railing. My knuckles were white and I was sobbing, the tears flowing freely down my face.
“I wish I could have met him.” I said softly to Flick as he followed me outside and stood quietly next to me. He rested his hand on mine.
“You can remember him through me, Feather,” and he leant forward to share breath, but this time, instead of waves of pleasure he led me into his memory.
As we clung to each other in love, I saw for the first time, my father’s face, and heard his voice, strong and clear. I saw how he had moved with grace and looked into his eyes that were wise and kind. I wanted to reach out and touch him, but it was only Flick’s lithe body I could feel beneath my fingers.
When we parted I smiled at him. “Come, share your body with me, I need to feel happy again.”
– 7 –
I spent two days in agony, being waited on hand and foot, and having every little whim seen to. I felt like royalty and I knew why… Calanthe was racked with guilt.
I wanted to leave, but Flick wouldn’t let me. He knew that Calanthe and I needed to confront each other.
One of their servants came to the door on the evening of the second day and requested that I accompany him alone. I looked at Flick who simply nodded… he knew I had to do this by myself. But I was terrified and I had been the one who had been wronged. Flick kissed me on the cheek, squeezed my hand, then patted my backside sending me on my way.
It was the longest and loneliest walk I had ever made… even longer than the walk from Cutlass’s office back to my hovel after he had told me Em had been sent away… even longer than the walk from Gala’s side to the wagon, after he had been killed. As we passed ornate rooms and elegantly dressed hara, I shivered. The Tigrons lived in opulence and comfort – whereas I had lived in a hovel, with barely enough food to keep me alive.
These angry thoughts were swirling in my head when the servant showed me into a small room. It was almost cosy compared to other rooms in the palace and only one har was standing in the shadow.
“Sit down Feather.”
“I would rather stand if you don’t mind.”
“It was a long time ago.” Calanthe continued, his voice was shaking.
“Why did you do it?” I thought I might as well come right out with it… I was in enough agony as it was without prolonging it.
“I was angry.”
“Did you hate him?”
“Do you hate me?”
“No… of course I don’t. Why would you think that?”
“Because I remind you of him… of what you thought he did to you.”
That little word surprised me so much that I stumbled and sat down on the nearest chair. It was too overwhelming, I couldn’t accuse him, I didn’t know what had made him do it, maybe he didn’t even know himself. I tried to hold it in, but it was stubborn and burst to the surface as a loud hiccup, then the sob took over and I began to weep loudly.
I felt his hands pulling mine from my face, then he held them firmly, as he looked into my eyes.
“You are so like him, Feather. You seem gentle and wise… when I look into your eyes I see his. Orien always had a way of seeing right through you. I never hated him. I hated what I thought he had done… I have never forgiven myself.”
“What do you know Feather?”
“I know you never hated him.”
“How?” Calanthe stood up and backed slightly away from me.
“How do you know that?” He was staring intensely at me, then began to shake his head. “You were born after he died, weren’t you?”
“Yes… Gala was carrying my pearl when he found out he had been… .when he had died.”
“Was it soon after, Feather?”
“I think so. Gala expelled the pearl early, a few days after he heard of my father’s death. He was in so much grief… that it just popped out. I nearly didn’t survive.”
“Did Gala ever tell you how much like your father you were? Not just in looks, Feather, but in the way you talked and acted?”
“He said I had his eyes and that when I was very young I seemed wise for my age, like I was an old soul. There was an incredible connection between us. Sometimes I think I was almost too important to Gala… more than just his harling.”
“How did you feel yourself, Feather? Did you feel any sort of connection to Orien?”
“When I was very little Gala told me I kept talking about people he didn’t know and I would sometimes go into trances. I knew things that Gala had never taught me… like how humans were incepted into Wraeththu. Then just before my Feybraiha, I began to have strange dreams of a place in the desert, surrounded by red earth and rocks. It was desolate and dry, and when I awoke I would be burning up with a fever. It was very real, I could feel the sun burning my skin and taste the dust in the air. Where I lived it was cold and wet, I’d never even seen a place like this desert. When I asked Gala about the dreams he said it was just my imagination.”
“You could have been describing Saltrock to me, Feather. I always remembered the taste of the place… and how the sand always got into my eyes and down my throat.”
“It used to make me cough.” I said. “I had to put seals on all the doors and windows just so I could sleep at night.”
“You had to?” Cal looked at me incredulously, then turned away suddenly. It was so obvious then, that it took my breath away.
“I’m him aren’t I? His soul went into me when I was born.”
Cal couldn’t answer me, because he was sobbing so desperately, his whole body was shaking. He bent over double then sunk to his knees on the floor. I walked slowly over to him, knelt down in front of him, and took his hands in mine, just like he had done with me a few moments earlier.
As if by acknowledging who I was, all the memories came flooding back. I could see Cal’s face when he had returned to Saltrock, broken and suffering so much pain from the loss of his beloved Pell.
“Cal… I knew why you did it… and I expected you to do what you did. I could have run, I could have stopped you, but I didn’t want you to. I was just as much to blame for what happened as you were. I’ve let you suffer all these years. We are both just as guilty.”
“You wanted me to kill you?”
“I wasn’t sure at the time that I wanted to die… but I needed to suffer, just as much as you were. I couldn’t stop him, Cal, I couldn’t have stopped Thiede, but I could have let you know. Will you forgive me?”
Cal wiped away his tears, then kissed both of my cheeks. “Only if you will forgive me?”
“I do… I think I forgave you even before you killed me. But you see you didn’t really kill me at all did you?” I smiled at him, then held him to me tightly. For several minutes we hugged, then I puhed him away, to look into his face.
“I’m glad you ended up with Pell.”
“So am I.”
– – –
Calanthe and Pellaz insisted that Flick and I stay on at the Palace for as long as we wanted. I must admit, I enjoyed living there, but it wasn’t the right place for me. I wanted to be somewhere where I could work in a garden and come to terms with my quiet but powerful revelation.
I also wanted to be able to pursue my relationship with Flick. It seemed right that I should fall in love with someone from my past life. Flick seemed unperturbed by what had happened, it seemed natural to him who I really was, as natural as what he had become all those years ago.
There was only one thing that was continually bothering me and that was what had happened to Emerald. I no longer needed to find him, but I did want to know, after all, he had been the reason I made the decision to escape from slavery.
After a few sessions talking with Calanthe, Pellaz and the Hegemony, about Cutlass’s small band of Varrs, a group of Gelaming were sent to seek out their settlement. They had been very surprised to discover that Cutlass was still there, but what they had thought was going to be a Varr stronghold, turned out to be just a slightly demented Har, living in the past, holding onto his home, and wishing that he was still in charge of his army. A few old soldiers, loyal to their old master still guarded his home, from invaders who finally came. But not to kill – merely to re-educate.
The Gelaming freed any slaves that were left and brought Cutlass in for questioning.
This was something I wasn’t looking forward to, but I knew it was necessary for me to face him in order to move on. Knowing who I was now wasn’t going to make it any easier but he was the only one who had the answers I was seeking.
He was a cowed har when a soldier brought him out into the garden one afternoon to talk to me. I almost felt sorry for him. But one look into those cruel, beady eyes of his, changed any of those feelings. I hated him for the way I had been treated all those years… and unlike Cal, I wasn’t sure that I could ever forgive him.
He glared at me when he saw me sitting in contemplative silence, beside one of the many small har-made rock pools, as if he thought I was still his lowly servant, who should have been scrubbing his toilet.
His expression changed after a few moments, and his eyes went blank. “Who are you?”
“Not who you thought I was.” I answered, not purposely confusing him, but I did wonder if he understood fully what had happened.
He then gave me a sullen look, that made him look pathetic. I felt like spitting in his face, but I was above that now… he would suffer in ways that only the Gelaming could manage, without force – without physical pain.
“Who was Emerald, Cutlass? Where did you send him?”
I hoped he would know who I was talking about.
“Why should I tell you anything?” He snapped, and a glimmer of evil spread across his face.
I wondered if he was just being obtuse, or whether his memory had been messed with.
“You don’t really need to, Cutlass. I can find out for myself.” He looked at me quizzically, then grimaced as I delved into his mind, hoping I could find what I was looking for.
At first his mind was hazy, full of swirling mists and frightening faces. It was in complete turmoil and I was beginning to despair ever discovering the truth. I went in further, knowing that I was probably causing him pain, but I didn’t care.
After searching into every little pocket of his thoughts, I finally saw Emerald. He was talking to someone animatedly, and I felt myself sigh when I saw his bright green eyes, and his soft mouth, that once tenderly kissed mine. But as I listened to this disjointed conversation, I discovered something that shook me to the core. Emerald had been a spy… sent by Cutlass to discover if I was someone special.
It seemed that Emerald had been told to befriend me, so he could infiltrate my mind and Cutlass had hoped that I would put my guard down if I thought I was in love with someone. I hadn’t realised I had a guard up all those years, but maybe Cutlass mistook my aloofness for something else.
But why would he have wondered if I was someone special in the first place? I searched a few more dark recesses in his befuddled mind and came upon the face of a har I remembered only too well – Thiede.
I could hear a deep throaty sound, which after a few moments I realised was coming from me, this was beginning to cause me a great deal of distress. Thiede was talking to someone else, it was a conversation that Cutlass had just overheard. Thiede was trying to find me to keep me safe from Calanthe. He knew I was Orien reincarnated.
Cutlass had heard Thiede saying that Gala was a har belonging to no tribe, and that he was a healer. He was also giving the person he had been talking to a description of Orien, right down to the colour of his eyes.
So it seemed that Cutlass had a suspicion about me as I was growing up, from the description he had overhead, and my general background. He had probably thought that if I was this ellusive harling, Thiede had been searching for, I might be worth money or power to him. It was just as well that I didn’t know myself at the time. Poor Emerald didn’t have a chance of finding out for him.
Cutlass had sent him packing when he couldn’t discover my true identity.
I dismissed Cutlass with a sneer and a languid wave of my hand. He wasn’t even worth looking at – as he was taken away I turned my attention back onto the sound of the water and the sight of the afternoon sun glistening through the trees.
Poor Gala. All those years trying to keep me safe from the har who had murdered my father, when we could have been protected by the most powerful one of all.
Over dinner, the last night Flick and I were in the palace, I told Calanthe and Pellaz what I had discovered from Cutlass’s mind. But I left out the bit about Thiede.
We said our farewells the next day and Flick and I went off to find a small garden for me to tend and a haven where we could grow old together. I had made my peace, discovered the truth and learnt to be happy again.