Perennials

Perennials
by Wendy Darling (Wiebke)

Notes

After doing Breeding Discontent and then Contentment, I still hadn’t gotten enough of Lisia and Cobweb, so I launched into yet another sequel. While this story is much less of a saga than either of the other two two stories, instead telling only a very short story, I really enjoyed it and felt it capped off the relationship between Lisia and Cobweb quite nicely.

Alternate Universe Note
This story was written when Breeding Discontent existed as an online fan fiction novel, essentially a draft. It was also written prior to the publication of Wraiths of Will and Pleasure and any new Wraeththu novels. Because of this, it’s become an “alternate universe” fic that’s not entirely consistent, and in fact contradicts, what is now “canon.”

Characters
Cobweb, Lisia (original character from BD), harlings at Forever, Seel, Swift, and Cal.

Spoilers
Containers spoilers for Bewitchments of Love and Hate (Book 2) and Fulfilments of Fate and Desire (Book 3) in the Wraeththu trilogy.

Chapter 1

For Cobweb it was a rude awakening, startled from sleep by a sharp tug to his hair. Instinctively he jerked his head away and flailed for the offending hand. Fortunately he opened his eyes before managing to make any contact.

“Oh, sorry, Lilia,” he apologized. “I didn’t think you’d wake up. Not surprising, though — more energy than your hostling!”

Lilia, nestled in Cobweb’s lap, looked back at his hostling quizzicaly, still holding a lock of black hair in his small fist.

Clucking his tongue, Cobweb disentangled himself. “Dear silly harling, Cobweb’s hair is attached to his head, so no tugging, understand?”

When Lilia started to try getting at the hair with his other hand, Cobweb was not surprised. At only three days hatched, Lilia was unlikely to understand words. Still, because learning language was a matter of practice, Cobweb spoke to his harling almost as he would to anyone else.

“Gah!” Lilia exclaimed, frustrated as he now attempted to pull on Cobweb’s silver necklace, only to have his hand intercepted.

Cobweb took the little hand and kissed it. “No, my pearl, just to look, not to touch. You must learn to be good. Sage did it, so can you.”

“Sage!” Lisia erupted, as if one cue, from somewhere down the hall. “Oh, by the Aghama, what have you DONE?”

Immediately Cobweb caught a wave of surprise and exasperation from his bondmate. Although there was no specific message, Cobweb knew that soon a certain harling would be brought into the bedroom for a scolding. He straightened up, arranging the cushions on the loveseat, where he and Lilia had both fallen asleep in the warm afternoon sun.

Half a minute later, Lisia burst into the room hauling two-year-old Sage behind him. “Come on, Sage, show your father just what you’ve done!”

Arms quickly hugging Lilia, to keep him steady, Cobweb burst out laughing. “Oh… my!” he laughed. “Now that’s a change!”

Sage, quite apparently of his own initiative, had given himself a haircut. While a few clumps of long hair dangled down in front of his ears and over his shoulders, most of it had been lopped off, at about medium length, completely uneven. For the benefit of his hostling, the harling was looking down at the ground, but for his father, Sage was smiling secretly.

“Cobweb!” Lisia admonished. “How can you sit there giggling! Look what he’s done to his beautiful hair!”

Although he would probably never admit it, seeing his bondmate so upset gave Cobweb a certain amount of pleasure. Lisia was normally so taciturn and diplomatic; thrown off guard, his cheeks flushed and even if the matter were of little consequence, he exhibited a certain fire that was eminently attractive.

“Seems he played barber on himself,” Cobweb said finally, stifling his laughter. “See what your older brother has done, Lilia? Maybe he didn’t want little harlings grabbing it, eh?” Flipping the small body around to face away from him, Cobweb bounced Lilia on his knee.

“I did do it for Lilia, though!” Sage blurted out suddenly, scurrying forward. Lisia stayed where he was, shaking his head.

“What do you mean?” Cobweb asked, still bouncing Sage.

Even though Sage’s small face was serious, small harling that he was, his face was still the picture of sweetness as he spoke. “I thought he might be jealous of all my hair, since he only has a little bit, so I cut mine!”

Cobweb couldn’t stifle a laugh. “That’s lovely, dear, but don’t you think you ought to ask your parents before you do something like that?”

“Yes,” Lisia added, “don’t you think so? Scissors are dangerous and your hair was so pretty, Sage. I hate that you cut it.”

Sage twisted around to look up at his hostling, his expression suddenly actually contrite. “Oh… ut oh, you’re really upset.”

Lisia stepped forward, squatted down and tousled the youngster’s butchered hair. “No, not really, really upset, but, Sage, I don’t like that you cut it. Did you really cut it just because of Lilia?”

On his way to an answer, Sage nodded his head but then shook it uncertainly. “Well, not just because of him.”

“Why else?” Cobweb asked, turning Lilia back around and holding him to his chest.

Sage hesitated, looking each of his parents in the eyes in turn. “Well, I also did it because of Uncle Cal.”

“What!” Cobweb and Lisia both burst out. “Uncle Cal?”

“Uh huh,” Sage said, nodding. “I wanted to look more like him.”

Cobweb groaned. “And so you cut your hair.” To Lisia he added, veiled in thought, Thank goodness we don’t have any bleach or he would have dyed it blond too!

Sage smiled hesitantly. “So is my hair nice?”

At that precise moment, Sage’s hair looked like a bird had gone looking for nesting material. “Hmmm,” Cobweb considered, “not totally ruined, but I think it might need a little work, a bit of a beauty treatment. Why don’t you go along with your hostling? He’ll take care of you, I’m sure.”

“Will you?” Sage asked. “Make it all smooth? And could you dye–”

“No, no dying, little one,” Lisia cut him off, “but I can at least cut it all the same length. Come with me?”

Sage gave Lisia his hand. “OK. I thought I was in trouble.”

Lisia sighed, getting to his feet and waving goodbye with his free hand. I’ll have dinner brought up here later, he added.

No, Cobweb replied, that’s all right. We’ll come down.

Lisia shrugged and left the room, Sage tagging behind. Lilia meanwhile had fallen back to sleep.


Chapter 2

Leaning back on the loveseat once again, Cobweb smiled and chuckled softly to himself. He could easily understand how young Sage could have been so taken with his “Uncle Cal.” Now as always, Cal tended to stir up strong reactions, often favorable, despite himself. His most recent visit, nearly three months ago, had certainly produced an effect: Cobweb and Lisia had conceived Lilia.

The visit had been unexpected, falling just two weeks after Festival, when the household thought they were finally through with holiday guests. Opal and Sage were playing at being cats, prowling about the living room, when Cobweb and Seel both felt the shift in from the lanes. “Cal’s here!” they both thought, and from in the office down the hall, Swift’s reaction followed: “We’ve got a visitor!”

Cal seemed to be alone at first, his sleek Farladienne appearing in the meadow beyond the house. Dressed in fur-edged leather against the cold winter, his raised his hand in greeting. A moment later, three Gelaming guards appeared behind him. No matter what dangers Cal had courted in the past, his position as Tigron demanded certain sacrifices be made; it behooved him to accept that his safety and security would be forever guarded.

“So much for my spontaneous visit,” Cal grumbled as he came through the back door. One guard followed, while the other two went off to stable the horses. “I just wanted to get away and a little piece of Immanion had to follow me.” With his hand he brushed out the ice that had formed in his short spiky hair. “No offense, Regan.”

“None taken, Tiahaar. I do my duty.”

“Come in, you two,” Seel urged, stepping forward to embrace his old friend. Amazingly, although occasionally Seel would let the occasional snide or jealous comment slip, since the day of the Ascension, most, if not all, of Seel’s enmity towards Cal seemed to have evaporated.

Half a minute later the sound of children’s voices and adult feet let Cobweb and Seel know their mates and children had arrived. Lisia had been working in his office upstairs.

“Good afternoon, Lord Tigron,” Lisia said, curtsying politely. Sage, standing at his side, copied him earnestly.

Cal smirked and gave Cobweb a nudge. “You sure know how to pick ’em, Cobweb.” To Lisia, he added directly, “Afternoon, Lisia. No need to be so formal. This is a personal visit.”

“The best kind!” Swift exclaimed happily. His affection for Cal had never wavered.

A short time later the five hara were settling comfortably in the living room, a servant offering each of them warm drinks. Regan had just left, taking the two harlings with him, seemingly eager take them off their parents’ hands.

“Do your guards normally go off with the harlings?” Seel asked. “Seems a bit irregular.”

“Hmmm, I suppose,” Cal shrugged. “I think he’s thinking about starting a family and wants to get familiar, that’s all. He mentioned something about it to me. Don’t know much more than that — I avoided getting into it, as it’s part of the reason I’m here.”

Cobweb’s intuition immediately picked up on his meaning. “Oh? Talk of more harlings at Phaonica?”

Cal took a long drink of his heated sheh. “More than that, Cobweb. They’re damned obsessed with it.”

“Do tell!” Cobweb insisted. “I’ve heard some of that talk here, you know — news of the Triad is always in circulation.”

“What have you heard?” Cal asked stiffly.

“Just that everyone is wondering when there will be a second royal harling,” Cobweb explained, non-chalant. “I’m not surprised you’re not looking forward to that.”

Cal laughed, mirthless. “You’ve got my number, Cobweb, but actually it’s more than just that — let me tell all of you, because it’s so ridiculous. It’s not only this obsession with ‘a second royal harling.’ No, now there’s something else. Now the idea, being pushed by members of the Hegemony, is for five more harlings.”

“Five?” Swift repeated, surprised.

“Each of us is to host for each of the others,” he sighed. “Pell and Rue already started, now we’re supposed to complete it.” He fumbled in his shirt pocket, then pants. “Seel, do you have–”

“No, not here,” Seel said, “later, we can go outside.” As always, Cal had a voracious appetite for cigarettes, as did Seel. “God, Cal, I must say, that plan does sound a bit intimidating. Five!”

“Exactly!” Cal agreed. “Which is why I left. It’s quiet over there, not much doing, and I was sick of people talking about it, making insinuating comments. Then last night Pell and Rue slipped off somewhere or other and somebody said it was to make harlings — that was it for me. This morning I packed a little bag, wrote out a note, and took off.”

“That seems a strange reaction,” Lisia remarked, speaking up at last. Unlike the other hara, he was a relatively recent acquaintance of the Tigron. It was also unlikely this idea of five harlings impressed him, as he himself had delivered twenty-five. “From what I understand, you three don’t have need to be that jealous of one another. And as for the notion of the Triad having five more harlings — perhaps its my usual naiveté, but that seems quite a natural notion.”

“Not to Cal, it doesn’t! Cobweb teased. “Cal’s probably afraid that once Pell has Rue’s pearl, next it’d be him hosting — and you can’t have that, now can you, Cal?”

Cal set down his glass. “I could do it, I even have wanted to do it — and stop rolling your eyes, it’s true. Anyway, it’s just this notion of having to do it! I don’t want to do anything because someone else wishes it, especially if it’s an outside party like the Hegemony.”

“The yoke of responsibility has never rested comfortably on your shoulders, has it, Cal?” Cobweb couldn’t resist teasing.

As Cal glared back, Swift stepped in to defuse the situation. “Oh, stop it, Cobweb. Poor Cal had a terrible time delivering Tyson — even you know that and you didn’t even go see him. Naturally he’s a little wary of repeating that.”

Cobweb tossed back his hair and held out his glass for a refill. “Oh, that trump card again — Cal and his awful delivery. I think he needs to get over it. Think what a bad state he was in back in those days, Swift! That, coupled with the fact that we didn’t exactly know how to handle deliveries, made his a lot worse than it might have been.”

“Hmmmph.” Cal’s eyes drifted across the room. “Well, anyway, I came down here to escape talk of it all. I’m not totally opposed to harlings, I just…”

“It’s a lot of committment,” Cobweb commented.

Cal grabbed a pillow and tossed it at Cobweb’s head; it missed and only barely escaped landing on a mug of tea.

“Shut up!” Cal burst out in an infuriated voice, though his face smirking. “I’ve pretty well settled in with the idea of committment by now. Right now, I’m feeling committed to maybe just sitting here talking about other things.”

“I suppose it’s possible,” Cobweb agreed.

“Assuming Regan’s all right with the harlings, that is,” Lisia remarked.

Cal cocked an eyebrow just as harling feet could be heard stomping at high speed across the floor immediately above them.

“Opal!” they heard Regan calling in the distance. Everybody laughed, even Cal.

Chapter 3

Despite some initial protest from Lisia, Regan was left to cope with the harlings on his own. Meanwhile Cal dished out the latest news and gossip from Immanion. The most amusing anecdote involved Ashmael’s harling Phaniel taking a shine to none other than the Tigrina.

“He’s only four, mind you, but he worships Rue in his little harling way,” Cal said. “Reminds me of you, Swift.”

“I never ‘worshipped’ you, Cal!” Swift protested, straightening in his seat. “You just made a rather large impression on me.”

“Evidently,” Cal replied boastfully, turning to the other hara. “Lisia, you know who Swift shared his Feybraiah with, don’t you?”

Lisia’s gaze shifted from Cal to Swift, then back. “Ah, I see,” he said slowly. “Makes my own Feybraiah seem a little less dramatic.”

Cobweb raised an eyebrow at his bondmate. “What gives you the idea aruna with Cal would be ‘dramatic,’ Lis?” It was an effort to keep a straight face.

“I– well, I–” Lisia stuttered. “I was just thinking, no ordinary har gets to be Tigron, so it probably was something rather special.”

“You flatter me,” Cal said. “I’m… well, leave it to any of these fine hara to tell you I’m not perfect. Hell, leave it to Pell and Rue.” For a moment Cal’s face was shadowed as he tilted it and looked down at his hands. “Speaking of which… though not really… I wanted to talk with you, Lis.”

Lisia started slightly. “With me?”

“Yes, with you,” Cal replied. “Can we maybe step out back to talk?”

Lisia looked to Cobweb, sitting beside him. “Well, it’s going to be cold outside.”

“That’s all right,” Cal concluded, raising himself from the sofa. “Seel will lend us some cigarettes, which’ll make it a bit better. Won’t he?”

Seel, who hadn’t spoken for a for minutes, apparently tired, nodded. “Sure. I’ve only got herbal, but they should do.” He pulled open a drawer in the side table and drew out a brass box. “Here you are. Light ’em with you mind, oh Mighty Tigron.”

“Thanks, glad somebody gives me respect,” Cal said grinning. He put his hand on Lisia’s shoulder. “Now let’s go out and talk.”

At first the three hara remaining couldn’t imagine what Cal and Lisia would be talking about.

“Harlings?” Swift asked. “I mean, he was talking about that deal with five more!”

“No, no, it can’t be that,” Seel said. “I think it must be–”

“Delivering pearls!” Cobweb interrupted. “Of course. He’s probably asking Lisia for his expertise. I wonder…”

“What?” Swift asked. “What do you think?”

Cobweb smiled. “Maybe he’ll even ask him to come to Immanion for whatever births may be coming up — his, Pell’s, Rue’s. Lisia is a wonderful birthing coach.”

“As I well know,” Swift said. “Well, I suppose it’s possible. Maybe he’ll just give him some advice, though. Immanion’s a terribly long way, especially since we know he won’t leave Sage. Besides, they have plenty of experts there.”

“Hmmm,” Cobweb puffed. “True. Ah, well, let’s let them be. I think I’d like to go upstairs for a bath. If Lis comes back here, tell him that’s where I’ll be.”

“Of course,” Seel assured, “though I’m sure he’d be able to find you on his own.”

***

Cobweb was lying underwater when Lisia entered his mind, delivering a gentle greeting, an image of a Lisianthus bloom. Smiling slowly, Cobweb kept his eyes shut, knowing the lights were going down when the red behind his eyelids turned a darker shade. As Lisia disrobed, Cobweb regulated his breathing. He could remain underwater for minutes, a sensation he had grown to enjoy.

Finally Lisia’s face came through the surface, tickling Cobweb’s nose and then at last capturing his mouth. Cobweb bobbed up just as the rest of Lisia slipped into the bath, so that the two bodies rolled toward one another, the slippery perfumed water sloshing around them.

Have a nice talk with Cal? Cobweb wondered, speaking mind to mind.

“Mmmm,” Lisia hummed, his lips buried in the curved pleasure spot just under Cobweb’s left ear.

I hope you’ve put his mind to rest, Cobweb continued, despite the lovely distraction of Lisia’s lips, now trailing down to his shoulder.

“Mmmm,” was all Lisia would say, his lips moving down to Cobweb’s left nipple.

“Put you in mind for some ‘dramatic’ aruna?” Cobweb murmured aloud before succumbing to his own moan of “Mmmm.” Irresistible.

The bath tub was not the most spacious but he and Lisia had always fit so well together that aruna was natural and unhindered, never more so than on that early evening. As Lisia slipped into Cobweb, a wellspring of love bubbled up and like a sponge engorged with water, Cobweb felt his insides swelling with pleasure and then, for the second time in his life, opening up. They were walking through the purple fields of their imaginings as together they created something Cobweb had wanted for many years, a tiny new life to grow inside him.

“Mmmm,” Cobweb purred afterward, hand on his stomach as the pleasure continued to ripple through him.

Lisia, who’d slid over to the side, was glowing with happiness and no doubt pride. Becoming a father was something he had promised Cobweb he’d do, and now that he had apparently accomplished it, he had only one thing to say: “Mmmm.”

Chapter 4

“We ought to be heading downstairs soon, don’t you think?” Cobweb asked gently. He and Lisia had been out of the bath a full hour and these were the first words either of them had spoken aloud.

“Go downstairs? I hadn’t actually thought of that.” Lisa propped himself up on one elbow and gazed down at Cobweb with a smile that hadn’t faded since the moment of conception. “I was thinking I’d just have something brought up.”

“We do have a guest, Lis,” Cobweb pointed out. “Surely we should join everyone else for dinner or at least make an appearance. And what about the harlings?”

“The harlings?” Lisia laughed. “Right now, as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one harling we really need to focus on and it’s this very new one right here.” Lisia ran his finger across Cobweb’s mid-section. “And as for Cal… well, he’ll understand.”

“Will he? What explanation do we make for our absence, Lis?” Now it was Cobweb’s turn to slide onto his side and look his mate in the eye. “Or do we not have to offer an explanation… since Cal knows perfectly well what we’ve been up to?”

Lisia’s shoulders snapped back in surprise. “What are you talking about?”

“Lis, now you know what I mean,” Cobweb pressed, “no matter how you try to cover it with your bad acting.” He waited for further reaction but when there was none, he continued. “You go off with Cal to discuss something — Seel, Swift and I safely assumed it had something to do with pearlbearing, specifically Cal’s. Lying here thinking it over… it’s occurred to me there was probably another agenda.”

“Like what?” Lisia asked, reflecting an innocence Cobweb knew was only for show.

“Like… like Cal warming you up for — what just happened.”

“Cobweb!” Lisia hissed accusingly.

Cobweb had to laugh. “Oh, Lis, I don’t mind. In fact I think it’s funny. I do wonder though… What did he do specifically to put you up to your lovely assault in the bathtub. Not that I mind — in fact, I’ll treasure it until–”

“We just talked!” Lisia blurted.

“Ah, and talking with Cal involved only words?”

“Yes!” Lisia insisted.

Cobweb reached out and took Lisia in his arms. “It’s all right, Lis. I’m glad.” He kissed Lisia on the top of his head and stroked the long hair that ran down his back. After a few moments, Cobweb couldn’t help adding, “But he did make you all tingly, didn’t he?”

Lisia stiffened, then giggled. “OK… yes, I admit, he made me all tingly. But that’s all!”

“All? But that’s a wonderful ‘all.'” Cobweb slid up so his feet dangled from the bed. “Anyway, in that case we ought to go down — and thank him!”

Seel and Swift were in the office on Parasiel business when Cobweb and Lisia arrived downstairs. They didn’t have to ask where Cal was, as his presence shone like a star.

“Sage is with him,” Lisia remarked. “Opal too, I think.”

With a slight show of stealth, Cobweb approached the doors to the lounge, the same room where Sage’s pearl had been born. “Oh, goodness,” he whispered, “I can’t wait to see this!”

Lisia stepped forward and opened the doors on the room. Cal was lying stretched out on the couch, Sage nestled like a kitten in his lap, Opal caught standing on a chair, apparently reaching for a book on a high shelf.

“Ah, the lovers have returned, I see,” Cal observed. “Happier than before?”

Before either of them could reply, Sage was running over to Lisia for a hug while Opal stood frozen, waiting to be yelled at.

“Uncle Cal’s been telling us all about Immanion!” Sage chattered excitedly. “Telling us about how sometimes hara aren’t what they look like or how they do things that are different that what they say. That was confusing, but he told us nice things, too, like the wonderful concerts from the beautiful hara from Ferike!”

“Yes, thank you,” Cobweb managed to reply, sidling up to the couch. “Your ‘plan,’ assuming you had one, was successful.”

“I was just going to show him a picture from this book,” Opal said to Lisia, pulling out a volume and stepping down from the chair rather guiltily. Lisia took the book and pretended to look interested while listening in on Cal and Cobweb.

“Oh? Well, congratulations,” Cal replied. “So can we hope for another mysterious dark beauty to grace this house?”

“Perhaps. One never knows.”

“Well, little Sage certainly has a lot of Lisia, don’t you think?”

“Oh, yes, of course.” Cobweb watched Lisia sit down in the chair, both harlings catching him up on the fun they’d had with Uncle Cal. Even though Cal had never been much for harlings, these two appeared fascinated with him. “I can’t believe Lisia is a father! I was disbelieving of myself but–”

“You know, maybe I should call a tabloid or something,” Cal interrupted. “I mean, much as I frequently loathe the twaddle they toss up about Phaonica, could be a nice juicy story.”

“What!” Cobweb gasped. “You can’t be serious. About Lisia?”

“Uh huh. You know he’s a name now…” Cal continued. “I can just see it, headline in the lifestyle section: ’26 Times A Parent: Famous Hostling Lisia Finally a Father.'”

Cobweb was glad Lisia was by too busy with the harlings to be listening in. “Cal, dear, just remember, they could well be writing a headline about you: ‘Tigron Calanthe To Sire 2, Host 2.’ How would you feel about that?”

“OK, OK, forget I said it. I apologize. Getting silly — you know harlings half the time put me on edge.” He looked over to Lisia and Sage, catching his eye, ran over.

“Uncle Cal, are you staying for dinner?” he asked excitedly.

Cal nodded. “Sure thing, just don’t eat me up, OK?”

“Cal, dear, stop tempting us,” Cobweb teased, and with that, it was over to the kitchen to see about dinner.

Chapter 5

When Cobweb delivered the news at dinner, the reaction was ecstatic, particularly on the part of his two sons.

“You don’t know how happy I am for you!” Swift declared, embracing his hostling.

“But I do, my pearl, I do,” Cobweb murmured, straining his neck so he could glimpse little Sage tugging on his pants leg.

“I’m going to have another brother?” he asked excitedly.

“We think so,” Cobweb told him, then lowering his voice to tell Swift, “We’re almost sure, but I suppose we’ll still want it tested in a few days.”

“I’m sure you were successful,” Swift declared confidently. “You and Lis probably have it in you to make a hundred more harlings!”

Lisia couldn’t help but be offended. “Don’t say that Swift, that’s, that’s–”

“Oh, by Aghama, Lis, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, I swear, I–”

“You let your tongue get ahead of you,” Cobweb cut in, taking Lisia’s hand. “He’s sorry. He didn’t mean to imply that you and I are starting any sort of breeding program. I think two will round things off nicely, however.”

Cal, still at the table, looked uncomfortable. Seel asked what was the matter.

“Same business I was moaning about before,” he grumbled. “Just before dinner Cobweb said something that meade it all seem even worse. I just realized that four of these five harlings are going to my responsibility. Four! What am I, the god of fertility?”

“Funny, Cal,” Cobweb drawled, “that’s the last thing one ever would have thought of you — well, besides that you’d be Tigron one day!”

“I know!” Cal agreed. “So you see why I’m so anxious?”

“Don’t be,” said Lisia, stepping over and patting Cal on the shoulders. “Remember, you’re in control of your life — and the creation of life — even if you are a Tigron. You and Pellaz and Caeru should be making these decisions on your own, not because of what the Hegemony or anyone else says. If you want the harlings, it’s one thing, but in general, harlings shouldn’t be made to order.”

“Well said,” Swift concluded, after an awkward silence. “We created Abrimel under pressure and although I don’t regret it, natural might have been nicer.”

“Hmmm, well, thanks all. Maybe I should discuss it with Thiede.” When the other hara were startled, he shrugged. “I know, doesn’t seem like Thiede would be the type to ‘discuss’ things, but actually he’s mellowed out since losing his body. Still wants some measure of control, of course, but in matters of the heart, he’s a little more sympathetic now.”

Just then Morrow, the night servant, entered the room, obviously with news. “Tigron Calanthe, there’s an urgent call for you on the transference unit. It’s Immanion.”

“Oh, wonderful! Either I’m being called back or I’m going to be told I’m now an ‘uncle’ or step-father or… whatever I’d be if Pell has a harling.” Cal stood up and went to the door. “I’ll be back shortly, I hope.”

During the ten minutes Cal was gone, the family went over some of the household changes that might occur due to Cobweb’s hosting. Sage was among the most talkative, offering a wide variety of ideas for games he could play with the harling. Cobweb told him he might have to wait a few months.

Suddenly Cal was back, his face registering what was either shock or wonder, the others couldn’t tell.

“What is it, Cal?” Swift asked worriedly. “What’s happened?”

Cal put his hands to his face and rubbed, as if warming up to reality. “That was Pell.”

“And?” Swift prodded. “He’s hosting?”

Cal nodded abruptly but a moment later, raised his hand — there was more. “Yes, but not by Rue. It seems… well, it seems that a few days ago, Pell thought he might have conceived, but he wasn’t sure because…” Here Cal made sure everybody was listening, although of course everyone was. “He wasn’t sure because aruna is always so good between us! He just wasn’t sure if it was ‘more.’ Anyway, since he wasn’t sure, he hid it from me! Last night he was talking with Rue about it and then today he went to Rayhala, the palace doctor, who confirmed it. Pell’s hosting and I’m going to be a father! Here I’ve been all anxious about it and all along I’d done it and not even known! Hope the next four are as easy!”

“Yes, hope that.” Cobweb came up and kissed Cal on the cheek. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks. It’s going to be a busy and fruitful spring!”

Chapter 6

To no one’s surprise, Cal and his bodyguards left within the hour. He offered effusive thanks to Lisia, whose advice on hosting he would hold on to, even if it would be some time before — or if — he used it. Sage was sad to see his “uncle” go, as his stories of Immanion had fascinated him.

“Someday we’ll go visit, my little one, don’t you worry,” Cobweb promised. To the adults he added, “But not for at least two months.”

A few days later the hosting was confirmed. Just as he and Lisia had come out of the bedroom where Cobweb had been examined, Opal came bounding up the stairs. “My father says to come down — they’ve just got a message from the Tigrina!”

“The Tigrina?” Cobweb questioned, taking Lisia’s hand as he headed over to the stairs. “Why the urgency?”

“Well, we’ll see soon enough,” Lisia offered.

Seel and Swift were just coming out of the office. “You won’t believe it, either of you, ” Seel announced.

“What did Caeru have to say?” Cobweb asked. “Pitching a fit Cal got to Pell first?”

Seel laughed. “No, actually not at all. Swift, tell them.”

By now they had walked back to the lounge. As he waited on everyone to sit, Swift looked as if he was going to explode with whatever knowledge he was keeping. “Well?” Cobweb prompted.

“Well, to borrow some of Cal’s bluntness, seems he wasn’t back in Immanion four days when not even planning to, just… spontaneously, Rue got him hosting.”

“I don’t believe it,” Cobweb said immediately.

“They’re sure,” Swift emphasized. “Cal says he was totally conscious of what was happening and simply didn’t fight it. He says seeing our families is inspiring to him.”

“That does not sound like Cal!”

“True,” Swift agreed, “it doesn’t, but then again hostlings do tend to go a little sentimental.”

“They do indeed,” Lisia said softly, smiling. “I’m glad.”

***

Several weeks later, Cobweb awoke in his bed after what had been only a light sleep. He hadn’t been able to get comfortable and now, squinting out the window at the moon, full and high, he had a stomachache. It wasn’t a terrible one, but he presumed it was what had woken him.

Closing his eyes, Cobweb attempted to will the ache away only to discover that in fact it wasn’t his stomach bothering. Not at all.

This, he realized with surprise, was the pearl wanting to get out. The pain was only slight, a very light ache, so different than what he had expected, he hadn’t recognized it.

For a few seconds, he felt the muscles within him tighten, then slowly, through no will of his own, relax.

Lisia was still sleeping and would remain so for some time, Cobweb decided. The pain came again but it was bearable, quite bearable. This wasn’t the wrenching pain some hara experienced. This was something far gentler. It came and went, like waves crashing upon the shore, but it was nothing to be frightened of.

He kept his eyes closed and concentrated on his breathing, on the sensations within himself. The harling was aware of what was happening. Cobweb told the harling it was safe, even as his body slowly worked against the pearl. He wasn’t even tempted to wake Lisia. Let him sleep, he thought. As time went on pain was getting worse but somehow, rather than frightening him, it was comforting, a sign of progress, that the time was drawing near.

He opened his eyes and out the window, the moon had gone. The sky was just beginning to glow with dawn. Doves were beginning to coo in the trees. What had happened to the night? Did the trance speed up time or had he been sleeping? The pain was worse, truly fierce now. Instinctively, he slowly scooted back on the bed and leaned back against the headboard.

Since bonding with Lisia, he’d seen quite a few births up at Harling Gardens and now he felt the sign that had signalled final act of birth in every one of those instances. His male organs began to retract into the body and his legs, completely outside his will, spread wide.

His right leg bumped into Lisia’s thigh. If that hadn’t woken him, Cobweb was about to shake him. As soon as his chesnari saw him, his eyes went wide.

Taking a deep breath, Cobweb took Lisia’s left hand under the covers. “Feel,” he thought silently, placing Lisia’s hand between his legs.

“Our pearl,” Lisia thought back as he pulled away the blankets.

Cobweb closed his eyes. At that moment it all seemed so laughably easy. Lisia was talking to him now, out loud, but it didn’t matter anymore, the power he felt inside made everything inevitable. One push. Two pushes. Three pushes. Finally the last. He could have birthed the world, it hurt so much, but in the end he birthed something small and round.

He reached down to touch it, still not opening his eyes. It was hot and sticky. It was wondrous.

“Cobweb, are you all right?” Lisia’s voice asked. “How long were you like that? I’m so sorry, I must have been out like a log, that I didn’t wake up when you tried to–”

“I didn’t try,” Cobweb interrupted in a husky whisper, looking up his chesnari at last. “I wanted to surprise you.”

“You have.” Lisia looked down and then put his own hand on the pearl. “That can’t have been easy.”

Cobweb smiled. “Oh, but it was, Lis, it was. Give it to me.”

Lisia pulled the pearl up top and rearranged the blankets. Examining Cobweb, he saw there had been no tearing, the entire process having been so slow and gentle, the pearl had drifted into the world like a falling slowflake.

“It’s a miracle,” Lisia said. “I thought it might be another trial for you, like Swift’s was, but–”

“It is a miracle, Lis,” Cobweb agreed, curling around his charge. “When I incepted, I had no idea this could happen. Nobody did, I don’t think, not at first. If someone would have told me, I wouldn’t have believed it. It was hard for me to even believe when I had Swift. The notion of families like this, with harlings — it’s taken a lot of years for me to be lucky enough to get it really right, but I think we have.”

***

So it was that ten days later Cobweb sat in the bedroom with a sleeping harling named Lilia. His chesnari had been gone for some time, although exactly how long he couldn’t be sure, as he’d slept a bit himself, drowsy from the afternoon sun. The shadows had grown longer, however.

He heard the sound of scampering feet and a moment later Sage ran in, hair now cut ear-length all the way around. “Lookit what Lis did!”

Lisia came in through the door. “It’s the best I could do,” he said. “Speaking of which… got some news just now.”

“Hmmm?” Cobweb prompted, distracted as he stayed Sage’s hand from waking up his younger brother.

“Caeru on transference again.”

Cobweb’s attention switched back. “Oh? What’s the word?”

“Well, as Rue put it, ‘Pell’s came late, Cal’s came early, but nobody’s really ready for two Tigron harlings!’ Oh, and they’re both blond.”

“Not surprising.”

“No, I suppose not. Cal and Pell went through it almost at the same time. Seems Cal made out a lot better this time. Now everything’s fine, they just hatched.”

“Marvelous. Should we start planning the trip now?”

Sage, who’d busied himself by making the bed, one of his odd passions, spun around. “A trip?”

“Yes, Sage, remember Immanion? Like I said? In a few months, we can all go, what do you say?”

“Yes!”

“Sounds good,” Lisia agreed. “After the summer session at Harling Gardens?”

It was just was Cobweb was thinking. Life hadn’t gone anything like he’d planned or imagined and probably it never would, but if things stayed on the same happy course they’d been running in, he didn’t anticipate minding any of life’s little surprises. Lilia, still sleeping, tossed in Cobweb’s lap and grabbed another fistful of hair. Cobweb didn’t pry the hand away.

The End

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