Freedom

Freedom
by Paula Clements

September 2001
pellsfan@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: The characters in this story all belong to Storm Constantine and her publishers. Storm is a very unique individual who actually encourages spec writers and will actually help when asked. She is a real person, who answers her email. Love you Storm. I am not making a cent, and if I were, I would send it all to you.

Spoilers: All three books of the Wraeththu.

Freedom

Pellaz walked wearily back to his chambers, his shoulders drooping slightly. Behind him walked two silent members of the palace guard who seemed to be glued to his side whenever he left his rooms. Had he ever heard either of their voices? Whenever he spoke to them, they simply bowed or saluted in acknowledgement. He tended to feel his isolation even more keenly when they were around.

The day had been long and frustrating. He had finally managed to get the heads of all the major tribes to convene in Immanion to discuss a system of laws, which would govern them all. Each tribe would retain its distinct beliefs and customs but would allow room for the beliefs of travelers in its territory. How much leeway should be allowed had proved to be a sticking point; especially with tribes like the Maudrah, whose customs were notoriously rigid and strict. Today, it had taken all his considerable abilities to prevent several of the leaders from coming to blows.

The large double doors to his rooms opened silently as he approached. His servants had been watching for him. Again without a word, he was stripped of his ceremonial robes and then left in solitude. This too, had become routine. He had expressed his desire to be alone only once and they had obeyed instantly. Now, no one breached the quiet of his sanctuary without invitation; no one but Cal, of course.

Pell winced at the thought. Lately, Cal’s visits had become less frequent, the latter preferring to spend more time with Rue and with his horses. It was not uncommon for Cal and Rue to take an impulsive ride into the countryside, leaving their guards frantically searching for them. The last time, Pell had confronted Cal about his recklessness.

“How can you be so thoughtless? Something could happen to you and we wouldn’t know about it.”

Cal had stared at him for a moment and then chuckled. “Pell, you know very well that I can take care of myself. Besides, you would know.”

Pell couldn’t refute that final statement. They had become so close, mentally, that they could usually sense each other’s presence and moods. He had glared angrily at his lover and had finally stridden from the room in defeat.

“When did I start to lose him?” Pell asked himself softly as he stripped the remaining clothes from his body and walked into the bathroom. Lying back in the hot, scented water, he let his thoughts drift.

One of the things that had always drawn him to Cal was his lover’s innate sense of recklessness and love of adventure. He had always envied Cal that freedom. Even as a mortal child, Pell had been restricted by his family and by his own shy nature. “By the gods, I must bore him to death!” Angrily, he dashed the tears from his face. He had seldom indulged in self-pity and he wouldn’t start now.

Slowly, a plan was forming in his mind. Of course! Cal was also Tigron. Why did he, Pell, have to shoulder all the responsibilities of the office? He climbed from the bath and briskly dried himself.

Grinning, he quickly penned a note, placed it in an envelope and sealed it. Turning it over, he wrote Cal’s name in large bold letters. Lifting the bell, which lay conveniently close, he summoned a servant.

“This is be delivered to the Tigron tomorrow morning at 7:00. Not one minute before or after. Is that understood?”

Attica bowed with a twinkle in his eye. “Of course, Tigron. And will you need any assistance in packing what you need?”

Pell laughed heartily. “You know me too well, my friend. Just give me your word that you will not tell anyone before it is too late to stop me.”

Attica pulled himself to his full height, indignantly. “Tigron, I am offended!”

Pell sighed. “Forgive me. You have always been loyal. I was merely trying to impress how important this is to me. I would rather not have anyone know where I am going.”

“I will tell no one your destination, my lord.”

“Thank you. Now, can you find me a traveling bag of some sort?”

Attica nodded and left the room, returning quickly with a leather satchel large enough to accommodate anything Pell might need, along with another bag full of food and a large canteen of water.

Pell quickly donned a pair of tight leather trousers, a gauzy pale blue shirt and a leather jacket. Like most of his casual clothing, he had never worn these items. Pulling back his black hair and securing it with a tie, he noticed the approval in Attica’s eyes.

“I have also arranged for your horse, Tigron.”

Pell chuckled at the size of the bag. “I am surprised you haven’t hidden a cook in here.”

The har frowned and then realized that Pell was teasing him. “Take care, my lord. May you find the answers you seek.”


***

Attica stood on the dark balcony watching his Tigron ride from the palace into the night. Beside him, a slight willowy blond stared in

the same direction.

“I wish…”

The servant smiled and turned to his companion.

“Your horse and supplies await you, Tigrina.”

***

Pell relaxed in the saddle as his horse trotted down the long road leading from Immanion. Fortunately, it was late enough that no one was traveling along the route. He wouldn’t have to deal with curious hara, wondering what their Tigron was doing riding alone with no guards in the middle of the night. Idly, he glanced at the statues, which were placed at intervals along its length. Most were old works, created by men, but there were also a growing number of harish contributions. One particularly outlandish portrayal of the Aghama brought an involuntary laugh from him. The head of a lion topped the body of a Greek god. The inscription below it read, “Behold, He who is, was and will be”. Pell leaned forward in the saddle, resting his arms on the saddle horn as he inspected the sculpture with a grin on his face. “Thiede, you never looked so good.”

He was not surprised when there was no response from the spiritual essence of the creator of their race. Pell had had less and less need for Thiede’s counsel in recent years and had not actively called him down for a long time, although he was always aware of the Aghama’s presence.

Suddenly he laughed out loud, nearly falling off his horse. Poor Cal! Thiede would be in his glory, criticizing Pell’s fellow Tigron as he tried to take over the duties of his office. And Pell fully intended to let Cal experience the full range of those duties in the same way he himself had learned, by trial and error. “It is my turn for a bit of freedom, Cal. I have been slave to the Harish race for too long.”

‘Slave to the Harish race’, Pell thought about that for a moment and realized that he had meant every word. Thiede had personally incepted him and then had brought him back from the dead for one reason only, and that was to reign in his place. Pell had had no say in the matter and had sacrificed his happiness and his freedom to his destiny. He stood in his stirrups and screamed, “I deserve this time, Thiede. Let me go!”

The night was dark and still. Even the birds were silent. Slowly Pell relaxed and settled back into the saddle. Urging his horse forward, he continued down the wide road, unaware of the still horse and rider watching him from behind.

***

Caeru squinted in the darkness, trying to see his Pell clearly. He still thought of Pell as his, even though he knew that his Tigron’s heart belonged to Cal. Perhaps that was why he had followed him from the city. As with all hara, Pell had not aged at all in the last four decades. He still looked no older than a man in his mid twenties and probably never would. He was tall, slender and had a smoldering dark beauty that had immediately drawn Rue to him. Rue himself was the antitheses of that darkness; possessing thick white blond hair and light eyes, although he was no less beautiful.

As Pell’s voice rose in a cry of defiance, he shuddered at the words. Rue had always resented being forced into his present role and had never let Pell forget that. Suddenly, he realized that Pell was as much a victim of Thiede’s manipulations as he was. Maybe he could use this time away from Immanion to heal some of that breach.

Pell started to move again and Rue waited until he was sure that he wouldn’t be detected before he followed. He couldn’t let him get too far ahead or his weak eyes would lose sight of him.

Then an obvious answer came to him. The horses that he and Pell rode were both Faraldiennes, and were therefore much smarter than average horses. Not only had men evolved into Wraeththu, but horses had also mutated. Outwardly they bore little difference to their ordinary brothers, but inwardly they were strikingly different. Able to communicate mentally with their riders, they could also do something men had never managed. They could ride the lanes of space and time. What used to be a journey of months duration could be completed in a matter of minutes or hours.

Mentally, he contacted his mount and very politely informed the mare of the need to maintain contact with the pair they were following. Her ears perked up, and pleased at the contact with her rider, the mare silently assured him that she would not lose them in the night. Happily, Rue let her find her way with no interference from him.

***

Sometime later, Pell rode off the road and urged his horse up the gentle slope into the forest. It was very, very late and he was getting weary. It was time to find a place to set up camp. Finally, he came upon a meadow filled with lush grass and a small stream meandering through the middle of it. Dismounting, he stripped his supplies and the saddle from his mount and stroked his neck. “Eat well, my friend you deserve it.” He crooned. Gathering wood for a fire, he settled down by the blaze and pulled his bag closer to find out what choice tidbits had been secreted inside.

Suddenly a muffled sound alerted him. He froze, glancing at his horse out of the corner of his eye. The stallion was staring back the way they had come but expressed no alarm, merely interest. Whomever or whatever it was posed no danger. Pell gracefully rose to his feet. Not looking back he called out, “You are welcome to share my fire, fellow traveler.”

A soft expletive greeted his invitation, with a continuing muttering as the rider approached. Pell turned and choked back a cry of surprise as Caeru slid from his horse. “I didn’t want you to know I was here yet.” Rue grumbled.

Pell stared at the sensuous har, trying to gather his thoughts. Was he irritated that Rue had followed him? To his surprise, he discovered he was not. Clearing his throat, he said, “I was just about to eat, join me?”

Rue’s eyes grew wide in surprise. Apparently, he had expected Pell to explode and tell him to go back to Immanion. Biting back a smile, Pell turned to the bag once more, setting out a sumptuous spread as Rue collapsed in a graceful heap next to him. They began to eat in a silence that was relaxing and pleasant. When they were finished, Pell packed the utensils away and turned back to Rue. “Obviously, we need to talk, but not tonight. I am too tired.”

He turned to roll out his bedroll, sensing Rue doing the same. Lying down, Pell closed his eyes. He could sense Rue watching him and without opening his eyes, raised his arms in invitation. A scurrying sound filled the night as Rue pushed his own bedroll nearer and nestled into Pell’s embrace. With a feeling of security and contentment, they both fell asleep.

***

“Tigron! Tigron! You must wake up. I have a very important message for you!”

Cal moaned and buried his head in the pillow. “Go way” he mumbled.

“Please Tigron. You must read this letter. It is from the Tigron!”

Normally, Cal would have been amused at the servant’s usage of the title in such a manner, but he just wanted the har to leave and let him sleep. He turned over and glared blearily at the individual he now recognized as Pell’s personal servant, Attica. A mild sense of alarm filled him. Pell would never send him a letter. What had happened? He sat up, pushing his lush blond hair out of his expressive violet eyes and reached for the missive. As he opened the folded sheet of paper he could hear Attica speaking in a low urgent voice to his own attendant.

My dear Cal,

I find myself in dire need of your help. By the time you read this, I will be far away. Oh, do not fear, I will return. However, having spent most of my harish existence as a pawn to Thiede, I have reached the breaking point. If I do not get away from him, the Hegemony, the endless paperwork and the crushing responsibility for a while, I honestly do not believe that I can bear it much longer.

As I am perfectly confident that you are probably better able to handle things than I am anyway, I have no qualms at leaving things in your hands. Don’t worry. Ashmael will help you, as will Vaysh.Oh yes, since it is now past 7am you will have to hurry since the Hegemony meets at 8. Then of course, there is the continuation ofthe conference of leaders. Then a group of farmers have petitioned for time early this afternoon. You can get the rest of the schedule from Vaysh.

Goodbye my love. I hope to return to you more like the person you knew and first loved.

Forever, Pell

Cal scrunched up the letter and screamed, “Is this a horrible joke?”

“I am afraid not.” Vaysh walked into the room carrying official robes. He dropped them on the end of the bed and yanked the covers off Cal. “Get up, you will be late. There is no time for a bath.” He sniffed at the speechless Tigron and commented, “You don’t smell too bad. We can fake it.”

Cal jumped to his feet, offended at the comment, only to find the robe being slung over his head. He yanked it away from his face as Vaysh was flipping a belt around his waist and securing it efficiently. “Will you stop…mmph”

Vaysh had thrust a peach in his mouth and was now gathering various documents he had brought into the room with him. “We have 15 minutes to get to the Hegalion. You know how the Hegemony loves to start without the Tigron and gossip behind his back. And we certainly can’t have them knowing that you didn’t realize that Pell was leaving. Can’t you just imagine the talk then?”

Cal nearly choked on the peach as Vaysh shoved him towards the door. As they reached the bottom of the steps they found Ashmael waiting. Cal felt a sense of grudging respect for the most respected general in the Gelaming army but would never let him know it. He had defied Thiede is his desire to establish Pell as Tigron with no warning. And defiance of Thiede was reason enough to earn Cal’s respect.

“Good morning, Tigron. Your horse awaits.”

“What is going on? Is everybody in on this? Is this just a big joke? I get it. Pell is waiting at the Hegalion isn’t he?” Cal was beginning to feel better already.

“I am afraid not, Tigron. I was informed of the situation only minutes ago. Fortunately, with two Tigrons, there is no crisis. You will simply have to assume his duties along with your own until he returns.” Ashmael muttered an additional comment under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, “not that you have any duties”.

Cal decided to regally ignore Ashmael and mounted his horse. Turning the steed, he galloped off toward the Hegalion with Ashmael and Vaysh in his wake.

Three hours later, a rumpled and flustered Cal emerged from the Hegalion with a great deal more respect for what Pell had to deal with each day. “How on earth did those fools get such power? They behave like idiots.”

Vaysh shushed him, looking behind them nervously. “You need their support, Cal. Do not antagonize them.”

Cal sighed, not commenting on Vaysh’s use of his name instead of his title. After all, Vaysh had never called Pell, ‘Tigron’ in his hearing. The redheaded har was Pell’s personal assistant, confidant and best friend. “I suppose you are right. Now can we go home?”

“Of course not.” Vaysh looked appalled. “You must now meet with the tribal leaders. Pell was making quite good progress with them.”

Another two hours had passed before Cal stormed out of the meeting hall, a cloth pressed to his bleeding nose. He had inadvertently come between the Maudran leader and the head of the Hadassah just as they decided to confront each other. A flying fist had flattened his nose as he tried to calm things down. At least the sight of the Tigron bleeding all over the floor had silenced all the bickering. Before he left, Cal had threatened to return the favor if any more nonsense occurred.

“Now can we go home?” He asked Vaysh pleadingly.

Vaysh bit back a smile and nodded. “I believe I can reschedule the meeting with the farmers.”

When they reached the palace, Cal climbed the long steps into Phaonica and trudged to his apartments. At least Thiede had been mercifully quiet. He fell back on the bed with a moan as his servant fussed over his broken nose.

“Where is the Tigrina? I need him.”

The servant paused as though not wanting to answer. Cal opened one eye and peered at the har.

“I am afraid the Tigrina followed the Tigron, last night.”

“Pell! Where the hell are you?”

An amused snicker echoed in his mind. “Shut up, Thiede” Cal snarled.

***

The woman stood in the doorway, her thin pinched face twisted with hatred. He watched, unable to move as she brought the gun to bear. Sound echoed in his brain as he watched the bullet in slow motion, grow larger and larger until it filled his vision. Pain overwhelmed him as the projectile pierced his forehead and then the back of his head exploded.

Pell shot up from his bedroll, his eyes wide as he gasped for breath. Rue sat up quickly and grabbed him in his arms, rocking him back and forth. “It is alright, Pell. I am here. It was just a nightmare.”

Pell began to shudder uncontrollably but Rue refused to let go, pulling his head down to his chest and stroking his hair in support. As he slowly began to relax, Pell’s arms snaked around Rue and he held on desperately. He couldn’t see his consort’s eyes fill with tears at the gesture of trust.

“It wasn’t exactly a nightmare, Rue. More like a horrible memory.”

Rue placed a soft kiss on top of his Tigron’s head and whispered, “Perhaps it would help to tell me about it.”

The idea of putting the scene into words terrified Pell. He hadn’t even spoken of the event with Cal. But…

Not raising his head from Rue’s chest, he began to talk in broken words. Soon it was pouring out along with his deepest fears. “I am here only because of Thiede. He intercepted my spirit and brought it back into this new body. But what am I now? Am I some sort of android or robot, or is this form an example of conjuring on Thiede’s part? How can you or Cal stand to look at me? I am not even a natural being!”

Rue pushed Pell away and forced his head up to look at him. “Now you listen to me! The most important part of you is here and here.” He tapped Pell’s forehead and chest over his heart. “Can you deny that the spirit and love you feel are real just because the shell holding them is different?” Before Pell could answer, Rue rushed on. “There is absolutely nothing unnatural or conjured about your beautiful body, it is just a reconstruction of the original. Remember, my Tigron, you produced a beautiful son with that body as I am here to attest.” Suddenly, Rue’s eyes grew wide with understanding. “Is that why you have been distancing yourself from us? Why you bury yourself in work instead of insisting that Cal do his fair share? Why you have never asked me to share any of the burden?”

Pell lowered his eyes, unable to look at Rue. “You are being much to lenient. I have treated you abominably.” Finally, he looked up. “I regret that very much.”

Rue stared at Pell in shock. Suddenly tears were pouring down his face. He reached out and stroked Pell’s cheek. “I didn’t come to Immanion for myself, you know. I simply wanted Abrimel to know his father.” Pell nodded, unable to speak.

They sat unmoving until they were finally able to control their emotions and began to converse quietly. They talked about all their petty differences and misunderstandings and then began to discuss the past. By the time the sun began to rise, they had become closer than they ever had before. Pell realized that he would never love Rue with the intensity that he felt for Cal; but that love did exist between them, he had no doubt.

Suddenly a cold nose nuzzled the back of his neck and a very wet snort announced the presence of their horses. Rue began to laugh as Pell grimaced and tried to wipe off the slobber. “Oh gods, Pell, I am sorry. It is just that I am so used to seeing you perfectly groomed and outfitted. Now look at you. Your hair is a mess, you have a smudge on your cheek and…” The smile slowly faded from Rue’s face, “I have never seen you look more beautiful.”

Pell’s heart swelled with emotion. He pulled Rue into his arms, his mouth finding the other’s lips unerringly and lowering him slowly to the ground.

The stallion looked down at the couple and snorted in disgust, turning away to find some more lush grass. The mare watched him go and then finally ambled after him.

As they both washed in the little stream much later, Pell found himself watching Rue. He had forgotten how very sensual his Tigrina was. For the first time on years, he saw Rue through the eyes of the young and impressionable har he had been when they first met. How could he have been so blind?

“Rue?”

The willowy blond turned in surprise. “Yes, Pell?”

“When we get back, I would like to ask Cal if he would agree to have you move into the Royal Suite with us. Would you like that?”

Rue leapt into his arms, knocking them both back into the water. Pell laughed as Rue showered kisses all over his face. “I take it that you are pleased with the idea? Err.. perhaps you should let me up before you drown me.”

Rue pulled him to his feet, laughing and crying at the same time. “Oh gods, Pell, I love you so much. I have grown to love Cal too, and I would be honored to share the Royal Suite with you.”

Pell grinned. “Now all I have to do is figure out how to keep Cal from killing me long enough to ask him.”

***

Cal lounged in the elaborate chair at the head of the long polished table. His forefinger idly drew meaningless designs on its surface as he presided over the daily general meeting of the Hegemony. Although he seemed to be bored and lacking in attention, he was actually listening carefully and observing each speaker. He was loathe to admit it, but Cal was actually beginning to enjoy the duties that Pell had so abruptly dumped on him when he left. One of the elected members of the people had just finished a rather pompous speech and had sat down. No one spoke for a moment and then Chrysm slowly leaned forward in his chair.

Cal straightened a little in anticipation. Over the past week he had made it a point to acquaint himself more closely with the permanent members of the Hegemony. Chrism had proven to be a rather pleasant surprise. Behind all of his complaining, the man hid a mind as sharp as any other at the table.

Chrism clasped his hands together and stared at his interlaced fingers. Then he looked up and smiled gently at the previous speaker. The man relaxed and actually had the audacity to look down his nose at the nobleman. Then Chrism began to speak. Very gently, he began to take the man’s argument apart, word by word. By the time he was finished, the representative of the people had slunk down in his chair, nearly in tears. Not once had Chrism raised his voice or used a single term that could be considered insulting.

Cal slowly leaned toward the figure sitting to his right. “Remind me never to take him on, unless I am absolutely positive of my position.” He murmured softly.

A chuckle answered his comment. Ashmael whispered back. “That is something I learned the hard way, years ago.”

As the meeting ended, Cal climbed to his feet and stretched. He was eager for Pell to return but realized that he would no longer be content allowing him to bear all the responsibilities or their dual office. In fact he now felt quite guilty about his former laziness. Not that he would ever admit to the fact. Chatting with Ashmael, he strolled from the building to where his horse waited. As he pulled himself into the saddle, he was surprised to see Vaysh cantering toward him on his white mare.

Vaysh reined to a stop before Cal, deliberately avoiding eye contact with Ashmael. Years before, Vaysh had been killed in front of his lover, Ashmael. Thiede had interfered and like with Pell, had snatched the escaping spirit. Using his awesome mental and spiritual power, the Aghama had fashioned a body for Vaysh. Unfortunately, not all had gone well and Vaysh was barren and burned internally. Now, Vaysh would not speak to Ashmael, positive that the har considered him a freak.

“Vaysh, what could pry you from your sitting room in the heat of the day?” Cal had made it a crusade to get under the skin of the beautiful red-headed har. Unfortunately, in his opinion, Vaysh brushed off the remark quite easily.

“You have a visitor, and he seems none too pleased to be here.” Vaysh smirked. “At the moment, he and Abrimel are cautiously circling each other like a couple of roosters looking for a fight.”

Cal sighed and turned his horse toward the palace. He knew better than to ask Vaysh the name of the visitor. The elegant har seemed to delight in discomforting him. Pell had informed Cal that he had been the same way with him but slowly Pell had penetrated his reserve. Now Vaysh was Pell’s most loyal friend.

Vaysh continued talking as they rode side by side. “He is obviously not from Immanion. His clothing is rather rural, he needs a hair cut and he has dirt under his fingernails.”

Cal sighed, “We have all been like that at one time or another, Vaysh.”

Vaysh was watching him closely, “Perhaps, but this one is pure born. And he has weirding eyes and a mop of unruly blond hair.”

Cal pulled his horse to an abrupt stop and stared at Vaysh, his heart in his mouth. To his surprise, Vaysh had a look of sympathy on his face. “You will have to face him sooner or later, Cal.”

Cal nodded, reluctantly. Just a week ago, he would have mounted his horse and have ridden full speed from the city to avoid this encounter. Now, he was actually looking forward to it in a strange way.

Abrimel was the son of Pell and Rue, and if his guess was correct, the only other offspring produced by any member of the triad was waiting at the palace. Suddenly eager, Cal kicked his horse into a canter, anxious to see Tyson again after nearly 40 years.

Jumping from his horse as an anxious handler tried to grab the excited animal’s reins, Cal ran up the steps into the cool hallways of the palace. “Abrimel! Tyson! Where are you?”

Abrimel stepped from the doorway of one of the meeting rooms. “Here, Cal. I believe this is something you must handle on your own.” Then he walked toward the stairs.

Cal stared after him, suddenly paralyzed with fear. Over forty years ago, he had placed his newborn harling in Cobweb’s arms and walked away. From that day, he had completely ignored the young one. The child had blossomed in Cobweb’s care but had known instinctively that Cal was his real hostling. Cal had often caught the boy staring at him with longing evident on his beautiful little face. Taking a deep breath, he walked through the door.

Tyson stood by the fireplace. His back was to the door with his arm lying on the mantle. At first glance, his posture seemed nonchalant, but Cal knew better. He had assumed the same sort of stance more often than he cared to remember.

“Tyson.” He said.

The young har turned and glared at him. Cal was stunned at his appearance. It was like looking in a mirror. The only way his harling resembled his father, Terzian, was in the icy coldness of his eyes. “Cobweb insisted that I come.” He grated challengingly.

***

Cal took a long shaky breath and moved in a slow and seemingly casual manner to the plush window seat. He could feel the bristling hostility, which practically poured from his son. Determined not to spoil this meeting, he curled up on the cushions and signaled Tyson to take a seat. The younger har glared at him, but when his hostling failed to take up the challenge, Tyson finally sat stiffly on the edge of a hard-backed chair.

Cal’s mind was churning furiously. How did he talk to his son? What could he say that would not set the young one into a fury? What did they have in common? Suddenly the answer came to him.

“How is Cobweb?”

Tyson stared at his hostling, a look of confusion on his face. Obviously, he had expected a confrontation and was temporarily disarmed by Cal’s casual behavior. “Uh, Cobweb is fine. As unique as ever, but quite well.”

Cal chuckled. “Oh yes, Cobweb has always been unique. Has he taught you about the spirits in the lake, and the spells of protection that Terzian so detested?”

Tyson’s face hardened. “Don’t look down on Cobweb. He has been the only parent I have ever known. ‘He’ was there when I would hurt myself. ‘He’ was there to hold me when I awoke from nightmares. ‘He’ was there to help me through the pain of my Feybraiha. ‘He’ was there when I realized that my real hostling hated me and was never coming back!”

As his voice had risen in accusation, Tyson had risen to his feet and was pacing in front of Cal. When Cal didn’t answer, the young har turned to stare at him. His eyes slowly filled with tears. “You really don’t care, do you?”

Cal had expected the attack, but was still stunned by its ferocity. Once again, his shallow behavior had hurt someone close to him very deeply.

“Someday, you will realize just how much I do care about you, Tyson.”

Tyson snorted in disbelief. “Is that how you treat everyone you care for?”

“How much did Cobweb tell you about me?”

“Oh, don’t worry. Cobweb was actually very generous toward you. He just told me that you had done what was best for me.”

Cal stared at his harling for a long moment. “Cobweb was absolutely right.”

Tyson frowned in astonishment. “How can abandoning your own son be in my best interest?”

“Will you sit down and let me tell you exactly why I gave you to Cobweb?”

Tyson stomped back to the chair and flopped down into it. Almost immediately, he was back on his feet. “If I have to listen, I might as well be comfortable” he grumbled, moving to the large couch.

Cal carefully controlled the urge to smile as Tyson fidgeted around until he was sprawled negligently. He knew very well that his offspring was trying desperately to hide his need to know why he had been left behind. When he was finally still, Cal began.

“Do you remember the state I was in when I left?” At Tyson’s grudging nod, he continued. “I knew that I wasn’t coming back. Not because I didn’t want to, but because my fate would not allow it.” Tyson was silent, so Cal continued. “I fully expected to die; if not by the hands of the Gelaming, than by some rash action of my own. I was not even partially sane, then. But I was sane enough to realize that becoming attached to you and taking you with me would destroy you, Tyson. And I had destroyed enough lives already. I was a murderer, I had betrayed my best friend and I was reeling with grief over what I though was the death of my soul mate.”

By now, Cal had brought his knees up and had curled his arms around his legs, his eyes haunted with memories. “I was suicidal. I would have welcomed death but was too cowardly to do it myself. If I had taken you with me, you would probably have perished.”

“But my father was gone, and you were my hostling. I needed you! When you left, I was alone!”

Cal smiled sadly. “No, Tyson. You were never alone. Can you deny that Cobweb loves you with all the fervor of any natural hostling? Did you not just tell me that he was there whenever you needed him?”

At the dawning realization in Tyson’s eyes, Cal continued. “There was an old custom when men ruled the earth of which I heartily approve. It was called adoption. When a child’s parents could not give him adequate physical or emotional care, they could make the ultimate sacrifice and give him to someone who could give him those things. Oh, I don’t deny that I was selfish and thoughtless, but I did the best I could for you, Tyson.”

Tyson stared at him for a long time and then climbed to his feet. “I need to be by myself for awhile.”

“Of course, let me have someone show you to your room.” Cal rang the bell at his side and was rewarded by the immediate appearance of a servant. When he was alone again, he sighed and leaned back against the window and closed his eyes, wearily.

“You have pleasantly surprised me, Cal,” a soft and sensuous voice surprised him.

“You!”

The lithe and sensuous har pushed away from the edge of the door where he had been leaning languidly. His long black hair flowed loosely about his face and down his back as he moved slowly into the room, fingering the delicate items that lined the long side tables. Never once, did he raise his dark eyes to Cal.

Cobweb’s beauty was legendary. The fact that he had managed to hold his place with Terzian despite the Varrish leader’s fascination with Cal was proof of his allure.

The long history between Cal and Cobweb was fraught with anger, jealousy, lust and passion. But they still had one thing in common, Tyson.

“Thank you for bringing him here, Cobweb.”

Cobweb’s head shot up and his eyes bore into Cal’s fiercely. Cal had to refrain from stepping back in self-defense. “I didn’t bring him, he came on his own. He doesn’t even know I am here. He needs closure, Cal. And don’t you dare hurt him!”

Cal smiled ruefully. If there was one thing that Cobweb was destined for, it was to nurture and raise harlings. The feminine side of him was so strong it nearly blocked out the masculine traits. He would fight like a tiger to protect the cub, whether it was his or not.

Turning back to the couch, Cal sprawled inelegantly on the soft cushions. Cobweb followed him, repeating the maneuver on the other end. Suddenly, Cal’s hand shot out, grasping a handful of Cobweb’s gauzy maroon shirt and pulled him into his arms. Cobweb hissed and pushed against Cal’s chest, trying to escape. “Share breath with me and I will release you.” Cal whispered.

Cobweb stared at him, his eyes filled with rage. Cal had always loved to push the gorgeous har as far as he could. The results had never been boring.

“Damn you, Cal!”

Not loosening his grip on Cobweb’s shirt, Cal reached up and buried his fingers in the lush hair at the back of his neck, forcing his mouth down to his. Cobweb gave a moan of frustration, which slowly turned to one of passion. Cal tasted a familiar sensation of sweet dark fruit, oak and power, always power from Cobweb. The mighty Terzian had actually admitted to being afraid of his consort.

Cal slowly pulled back and stared up into Cobweb’s passion clouded eyes. Moving swiftly, he climbed to his feet and walked to the door to lock it. He turned back to see Cobweb glaring at him. “Do you think I am that easy, Cal?” he growled.

Cal chuckled, pulling off his clothing as he advanced on Cobweb. “No, I have never thought of you as easy. Simply worth the effort.” All the time he was talking, he was pulling at Cobweb’s clothing.

Snarling and biting at each other, they rolled on the couch, each trying to gain the upper hand. Finally, Cobweb lay exhausted under Cal, still glaring at him despite the unleashed passion in his eyes. “Damn you!” he muttered as he grabbed Cal’s face and pulled his face down to his. Cal smiled and then moaned as his ouana lim slowly penetrated Cobweb’s body. They moved together in the strange sense of love-hate that had always existed between them and which had made their aruna so unique. Cobweb’s legs curled around Cal’s hips urging him on, his fingernails scoring his back as he bit him. “More! He gasped, as Cal’s movements began to increase in urgency. Suddenly the flowering that so embodied the power of aruna began. Cobweb let out a strangled scream and Cal moaned into his partner’s sweating neck.

They drifted back to reality, slowly. Cal stroked the long dark hair that was tangled around them, as they lay still entwined. “I promise you, Cobweb. The time of hurting our harling is over.”

Cobweb opened his eyes, still vulnerable from their passion. “*Our* harling?”

“He is just as much yours as he is mine.”

***

Pell sat on the edge of the creek, idly flipping stones across the surface. It had been over a week since his flight from Immanion and he was finally beginning to relax. He sighed and lay back against the trunk of a tree and closed his eyes. Pulling a blade of grass from the ground, he stuck it between his teeth and began to suck on it. Bees buzzed around the meadow in the summer heat.

“When are we going back?” came the plaintive plea.

Without opening his eyes, Pell asked, “Why? Are you tired of your freedom so soon?

“Hmph! What freedom? You have had me reading these blasted books and meditating for nearly every minute.”

Sitting up, Pell turned to his consort. “I am afraid my resentment has cost you dearly, Rue. As Tigrina, you were entitled to every advantage. It is true that you have every physical comfort that you could possibly want but that also meant the raising of your caste. Tell, me, doesn’t the idea appeal to you?”

Rue stared at him and then dropped his eyes. “I am loathe to admit that I actually agree with you,” he grumbled.

Pell laughed, grabbed the book from his hands and teased, “OK, time to see what you have learned.”

For hours Rue answered every question Pell fired at him; first with hesitation, then with growing confidence. When Pell was satisfied with Rue’s understanding of the lessons, he gave the lovely har through the real test, putting the knowledge into actual practice.

Finally, Rue grinned. “I have done it, haven’t I? I feel more complete somehow.” He shook his head. “Do you know what really surprises me? I don’t have to be told that I have raised my caste. I just know.”

Pell smiled fondly. “Of course, Rue. It doesn’t matter what others may tell you. You have to feel it in your heart and know it in your mind.” He yawned, turned away and threw another stone into the creek. “When we get back, I will arrange for a caste raising ceremony.”

“But I thought you said..”

“I did. But the populace will love to see their Tigrina so honored, don’t you think?”

At the faint look of disappointment on Rue’s face, Pell hastened to add, “And so will I.”

Over the past week, the two had talked long and hard about their past relationship. Sometimes provoking laughter, sometimes anger and occasionally, tears. They had finally achieved a rather tenuous state of real affection for each other. Although the spectre of Thiede would always remain, they were ready to admit that each member of the triad would be incomplete without both of the others.

For nearly an hour they sat together in silence, then Rue finally spoke. “Pell, may I ask you a question?”

At Pell’s nod, he continued. “Will Abrimel ever be Tigron?”

Pell stared at him in astonishment. “What on earth, made you ask a question like that?”

Rue’s face grew red with embarrassment as Pell began to understand. “Rue, I don’t know if he will be Tigron. If I manage to live out a normal life span, what ever that may be; Abrimel will be quite old himself. If anything should happen to me, I suppose it would depend on whether he fit into the Triad as my replacement. But listen carefully, the fact that he is not Cal’s son means nothing! I love him with all my heart. Do you understand?”

When Rue gave him a watery smile, Pell laughed softly and grabbed him in a big hug. “You silly twit. Haven’t we gotten past all that, this week?”

Rue sniffled, nodded furiously and buried his head in Pell’s shirt.

The rest of the day was spent in companionable silence. Pell lazed around, talked to the horses, and walked around the meadow. And Rue, now that he no longer was compelled to do so, buried his nose in Pell’s books, avidly.

As it grew late, Pell’s eyes began to droop. Yawning, he stretched and remarked. “Time for bed, don’t you think?”

Rue looked up from his book, startled. “Is it that late? I am sorry!”

Pell laughed and then froze. Rue was staring at him in alarm. He had heard it too. Another branch snapped.

***

Pell and Rue stared into the darkness. There was no other sound and a quick glance at the horses revealed no alarm in their posture. “Must have been a rabbit or something”, Pell muttered.

“Yes”, Rue quickly agreed.

Nervously, they turned back to the fire. Neither one of them would admit to fear, but they both edged their bedrolls closer to the fire. Curled around each other, spoon fashion, two sets of eyes stared into the darkness until sleep claimed them.

***

Pell’s eyes shot open to the sound of birds singing in the trees. Carefully untangling himself from Rue, he climbed to his feet. Remembering his alarm at the noise in the night, he scoffed at himself. “You behaved like a harling.” He muttered. It was amazing how different things seemed in daylight.

After starting a small fire and setting the coffee to heating, Pell sent out a mental call, summoning the horses in. Although he was enjoying his time away from his responsibilities, it was time to go back.

Quickly saddling the horses, he reached into a bag and brought out a handful of oats for each of them. When they were both contentedly munching, he turned back to the fire, coming to an abrupt halt.

Standing on the other side of the fire, very near the still slumbering Rue was a fine white goat. Her coat was well groomed and she was quite plump. Around her neck was a red ribbon, from which hung a small bell.

Pell smiled as he walked forward. “Hello, pretty one. I wager someone is missing you right now. How did you get so close without me hearing you?”

The goat cocked her head to the side at his words, and then snorted, the bell tinkling gaily at her movement.

“You don’t care if I hear you now, do you?” Pell chuckled.

Suddenly Rue muttered and flipped himself over, startling the goat. Her head went down and her small horns connected with Rue’s exposed rump.

“Yow!” The startled har was on his feet instantly, backing away from his attacker while gingerly rubbing his posterior.

Pell was choking on his laughter as he howled at Rue’s indignation.

“It isn’t funny!” Rue protested, keeping a wary eye on the goat, which was now grazing contentedly.

“I – I’m s-sorry Rue. But you should have seen your face!”

“That animal is a danger to society. It should be destroyed.”

“Oh come now, don’t you think you are being a bit hard on her? Besides, she is obviously someone’s pet. There is probably some small harling who is hunting worriedly for her right now.”

Rue had been edging carefully toward the small animal while Pell was speaking, and now put out a tentative hand to pat her. She raised her head, still chewing a mouthful of grass and regarded him calmly. Gingerly, he reached for the bell and peered at the engraving on it. “Steffi. Strange name for a goat.”

Steffi snorted, and pulled free of Rue’s restraining hand to return to grazing.

Chuckling, Pell began to gather the bedding in preparation for their departure. Rue sighed, but remained silent. Pell knew that his consort was in no hurry to return to Immanion either.

Finally everything had been packed except for a pan lying by the now dead fire. Pell reached to pick it up, only to realize at the last moment that Steffi’s hind foot was standing firmly in it. Giving her a smart crack on the rump to move her, he retrieved the cooking utensil and walked to the horse to place it in his pack.

The horses had wandered down to the creek to drink and Pell picked his way carefully through the mud to his mount’s side. “Pell, look out!” Rue’s warning reached him just a second before he felt a pair of small horns connect with his backside. Over balanced, he felt himself fall backward over the small, wooly creature, landing squarely on his back in six inches of mud.

Turning over, he struggled to his hands and knees, cursing at the goat. Suddenly she charged again and this time he found himself face down in the muck.

Pell sat up, spitting mud out of his mouth and clawing it from his eyes. When he could see again, he spotted Rue, doubled up in laughter. “I am going to have goat for dinner.” He growled.

“Oh come now, remember the poor little harling who is looking for his sweet innocent little pet.” Rue gasped out between peels of glee.

Steffi stared haughtily them both, before turning to prance regally from the meadow, her bell tinkling all the way.

Furiously, Pell turned to retrieve some clean dry clothes, only to find that he had pulled the bag loose in his fall. It now lay in the mud; all the clothing caked in muck. He picked it up and flung it back on his horse. Climbing on the stallion, he turned to snarl at Rue, who was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down his face.

“Are you coming, or do you want to make Miss Steffi’s acquaintance again? He urged the stallion into a trot; not looking back as Rue scrambled into the mare’s saddle, still chuckling.

***

Cobweb stared at Cal, his eyes filled with tears and his head held high in defiance. “No, Cal. Tyson doesn’t know I am here. I have come only to bring him some grim news. Surely, you remember Bryony, our human housekeeper?”

At Cal’s nod, he continued. “She has been ill for some time but we have always been able to help her. Shortly after Tyson left, she took a turn for the worse. This time we were unable to stop the ravages of time. She is dead.”

Cal was surprised at the stab of grief he felt. He had never been close to the woman but she had been an important part of life in Galhea. Images of the woman holding the infant Tyson in her arms flashed through his brain.

“So Tyson doesn’t know?”

“Not yet. Might I ask for someone to direct me to his room?”

“Of course. Forgive my insensitivity.”

Cobweb shook his head, a grimace on his face. “Oh Cal, be honest with yourself. Sensitivity is not part of your makeup. You never asked me why I was here. You simply grabbed me with no thought in your mind but your own pleasure.”

Before Cal could answer, Cobweb continued. “I am sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I am not absolving myself of blame. I will admit that I enjoyed every minute of our aruna, but now I must see Tyson.”

Cal nodded and strode past Cobweb into the hallway. He called for the servant and inquired as to which room the young har had been taken.

“His rooms are on the second floor, Tigron.”

Cal closed his eyes tightly, trying to control his anger. “Who told you to place the tiahaar on that floor?”

The har stammered, only now beginning to realize that perhaps he had made a colossal blunder by placing the visitor on a floor reserved for guests of lesser importance. “Tigron, I will have him moved immediately to… erm, the fourth floor?”

Cal’s smile was filled with venom. “Where else would the son of the Tigron reside but on the royal floor?”

“Yes Tigron!” The servant turned and stumbled up the stairs nervously. Like everyone else, he was aware of Cal’s reputation and was in no rush to be on his bad side.

Cobweb watched the servant scurry off and smirked. “Cal, I do believe you may just surpass me at terrifying the help.”

Lifting an eyebrow, Cal responded, “Oh no, my dear Cobweb. You are legendary, not only for your beauty, but also for your razor-sharp tongue. If I wished to compete with you, I would be right behind that poor har, berating him all the way. Not standing here, trading little barbs with you, and allowing him time to rectify his mistake.”

Cobweb threw back his head and laughed. Cal was startled at the sound. Always, in the past, Cobweb was careful to show restrained quiet mirth. He had changed since Terzian’s death. Gone was the vulnerable feminine behavior. In its place was a confidence Cal had not seen before. This was a har for whom he could develop a genuine affection.

“Do you think he has had time to show Tyson to his new quarters yet?”

Cal started at Cobweb’s words. He realized that he had been staring at him for some time. And judging by the smug look on his face, Cobweb was well aware of the fact.

Frowning, Cal began to move slowly up the stairs. Suddenly, he realized that Cobweb had not followed. He turned and barked, “Well, are you coming?”

Cobweb grinned and purred, “I thought you’d never ask.”

By the time they reached the royal floor, the intimidated servant had not only shown Tyson to his suite, but had also arranged for accommodations for Cobweb. He gestured to the closed set of double doors on the left and said, “These are the rooms of the Tigron’s son, Tiahaar. Yours are right across the hallway.”

Cobweb nodded haughtily and swept regally into his own suite; Cal following at a more sedate pace, shaking his head ruefully. “See what I mean? You haven’t uttered a word and he is terrified.”

“Nonsense, he simply knows his place.” Cobweb strode into the bathroom and inspected the steaming tub the servant had prepared. “Very efficient too.”

Cal smiled. “I will leave you to your bath. Dinner is in the royal dining room in approximately two hours. Simply ring the bell and a servant will escort you there. Or you may dine in your rooms if that is what you wish.”

A somber look came over Cobweb’s face. “I think that will depend on Tyson. He cared a great deal for Bryony. She helped raise him.”

“Of course. If you will excuse me, I have business to attend to before dinner.” With a slight bow, Cal turned to leave.

“Cal!”

He stopped and looked at Cobweb. The har shook his head sadly. “Never mind.”

Cal stared at him, for the first time seeing the loneliness in the lovely har’s eyes. Impulsively, he strode back and pulled him into his arms, hugging him tightly. Cobweb buried his head against Cal’s neck and trembled. They stood locked in each other’s arms for several moments, then Cobweb pulled away, his face a mask. “Go. Tend to your business.” Then he turned and walked back into the bathroom.

Cal sighed and left the room, closing the big doors behind him. As he began to walk away, he heard the doors across the hallway quietly close.

Cal leaned against the balcony railing and stared out into the calm night. It was absolutely still. A feeling of peace stole over him. “Have you forgiven me, Thiede? Is this why you have brought Tyson and Cobweb here? The events of the past few weeks certainly seem to have your meddling stamped on them.”

“Why do you always accuse me of meddling? It seems to me that you have made quite a mess of your life without any help from me.”

Cal whirled at the voice and stared at the apparition at the other end of the balcony. Only a true Nahir Nuri would have been able to detect that this was more than a normal har. The father of their race lounged against the rail, his startlingly red hair picking up glints or moon and starlight. His beauty so stark that it was hurtful to look at him.

Thiede reached out and picked up a stray leaf which had drifted onto the balcony, his eyes never leaving Cal’s. “You have a fine harling.” He murmured.

Cal’s eyes narrowed, “No, Thiede. Leave Tyson alone.”

The har pushed away from the railing with a laugh. “You are so suspicious, Cal.”

Before Cal could answer, Thiede continued. “But then I suppose you believe you have a right to be.”

“Leave him alone!”

Thiede stared at him, a small smile twitching the corners of his mouth and then sighed. “Of course, you are right. Things seem to be progressing nicely. It would be unwise to interfere at this time.”

Cal felt a surge of relief at Thiede’s words. Finally he asked, “Why are you here?”

Thiede stared at the leaf in his hand. “I don’t know. Perhaps to irritate you, perhaps to….” He threw down the leaf and laughed. “Can’t have my hara forgetting their Aghama.” He winked and then was gone.

A sound from his room alerted Cal to the presence of another. “Vaysh?”

“Yes. Was that really Thiede?” The beautiful har asked.

Cal nodded.

Vaysh sighed, his eyes clouded in memory. Cal knew that there had been a time when he and Thiede had been quite close. Then the red head looked up at him. “Cobweb is looking for you.”

“Where is he?”

“In his apartments. I believe he is preparing to leave.”

A sudden pang of alarm shot through Cal. Tyson! Would he leave with Cobweb? They had spoken frankly with each other several times over the past few weeks, and although they still had a long way to go, things were much better between them.

“Thank you, Vaysh.” As he strode past the har, a strong hand reached out and gripped his arm.

“Cal, I get the impression that there may be someone waiting for Cobweb.”

Cal stared at him in astonishment. “Waiting for Cobweb?” He shook his head and laughed. “Finally! I thought the foolish creature just might be stubborn enough to grieve for Terzian forever.”

With a foolish grin on his face, Cal trotted down the hall and pushed open Cobweb’s door. Sitting on the bed were Tyson and Cobweb. Cobweb’s hand was cupping Tyson cheek gently, his eyes full of tears. Tyson’s eyes were closed as he nuzzled the palm of the only hostling he had ever known. “I, I am sorry..” Cal stammered.

Cobweb sighed and stood, his hand running gently over the top of Tyson’s head. “Come in, Cal. I assume you have been informed of my departure?”

Cal moved forward slowly, watching Tyson out of the corner of his eye. “Yes. Do you have to leave so soon? I am sure that Pell will be back shortly.”

“It is time for me to go. But don’t worry, I will return some day, just to pester you.” Cobweb laughed, a sob threatening to break through.

Cal turned to his son. “Tyson?”, the question hanging in the air.

A sound behind him caused Cal to turn. Standing in the doorway was Abrimel. Tyson stood and walked into his waiting arms before turning to face Cal.

“I am staying for a while if you don’t mind,” his eyes shining in defiance.

Cal closed his eyes tightly and nodded. ::Thank you, you meddling old coot:: Cal could have sworn he heard an answering chuckle.

***

Pell urged his horse down the highway at a brisk trot, Rue close behind him. He could still hear his Tigrina’s poorly muffled chuckles as they approached the capital. The mud had dried quickly as they rode, much to Rue’s delight. Pell’s fervently hoped that the muck that covered his clothes, his hair and most of his exposed skin would be enough to prevent his recognition as he rode into the city. It was late afternoon, and the streets would be full of hara going about their business.

A fresh giggle had Pell swinging his stallion around to confront Rue. “Don’t you dare laugh when we enter the gates. It will be hard enough getting back to the palace without anyone noticing.”

Rue bent over the saddle horn, unable to restrain his mirth. Gasping, he said, “I’m sorry, Pell. It is just that you look so, so…” Another peal of laughter escaped.

Pell growled and whirled his horse, urging him into a gallop. Perhaps if he could put a little distance between them, he might make it to Phaonica undetected. Unfortunately, in his opinion, Rue had been expecting such a move and quickly caught up. Defeated, Pell pulled the horse to a dignified trot as they entered the city.

Pell was painfully aware of the casual glances he received as he passed. After all, he was a mess. However, as hara began to recognize his traveling companion who was making no effort to hide his identity, he could hear the whispers as they realized who he was. He knew that word was beginning to spread when hara began to gather on the curb as they rode past.

Rue had begun to chuckle again. Irate, Pell turned to rebuke him and was appalled when he flinched. Pulling his horse to a stop, he stared at his Tigrina. “Are you afraid of me?”

With false bravado Rue retorted. “Of course not.” But Pell wasn’t fooled. Rue believed that now that they were home, things would return to the way they had always been.

Reaching out, Pell grabbed him behind the neck, pulled him close and proceeded to kiss the stuffing out of Rue, in full view of the hara on the street. A lone cheer quickly built into a roar of approval. The populace loved its Tigrina, and was delighted at the open show of affection. As Pell pulled back, Rue stared at him in shock, his eyes filled with tears. “Was that just to shut me up?” he stammered.

Pell was as surprised at his behavior as Rue but couldn’t regret a moment of it. “No. I did it because I wanted to. Are you angry?”

Rue beamed as he shook his head. Pell turned his horse back toward the palace and this time, Rue rode at his side, happiness practically oozing from every pore.

As they entered the courtyard, servants ran forward to take the horses when they dismounted. Giving his steed a pat, Pell turned toward the long steps leading up to the veranda. Feeling Rue hesitate, he looked up and saw Cal standing there, his arms crossed and a scowl on his face.

Pell slung an arm around Rue’s neck and sauntered up the stairway coming to a halt in front of his lover. “Did you miss us?” he drawled and winked.

Cal’s mouth dropped open as he stared back, apparently unable to speak.

“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” Pell leaned in and took advantage of the opportunity, kissing him deeply, never letting go of Rue, whose head was up against both of theirs. Pulling away from Cal, Pell turned and kissed Rue once more, still holding the three of them tightly together. Finally, he pulled back and urged Cal and Rue to repeat the kiss. Never one to refuse a bit of intimacy, Cal quickly took the initiative and ravaged Rue’s mouth. Finally, they simply stood together in each other’s arms.

Cal grinned mischievously and asked, “I assume we will have to make room for Rue’s things in our closet?”

Pell barked with laughter. “I never could keep anything from you, could I?”

Cal chuckled, “All I can say, is it is about damned time!”

A smoky, sensuous voice suddenly brought Pell’s attention away from his lovers. “Hmm, maybe I will delay my return to Forever for a few days. This promises to be very interesting.”

“Cobweb!” Pell cried, grabbing the beautiful har and swinging him around in a circle.

***

Cal grinned as Cobweb sputtered and tried to straighten his clothing. Pell’s uncharacteristic behavior had caught them all by surprise and poor Cobweb had been the unsuspecting recipient of his enthusiasm.

Pell’s eyes had grown dark with memory. “I haven’t seen you for many, many years, my friend.”

“Indeed. And at the time of your departure, we were not what you could call, good friends.”

Pell and Cobweb stared at each other, both lost in memories of Terzian and what he had meant in both their lives.

When Pell spun around to look at him pleadingly, Cal was not surprised. Terzian had been Pell’s only rival in Cal’s affections and even after all these years, he seemed to need reassurance. Stepping forward, Cal wound his arm around his lover’s slim waste and pulled him close. “It is time to let old grudges and memories go and form new friendships.”

Pell turned back to face Cobweb without leaving Cal’s arms. “I would like that very much. Perhaps we can talk more at supper?”

Cobweb nodded and then grinned slyly. “You might want to take a bath and change. You are beginning to offend my senses.” He wrinkled his nose disdainfully.

Pell blurted out, “Steffi didn’t smell!” Then he gulped and closed his mouth.

Cal, sensing an interesting story, muttered “Steffi?”

Stepping quickly from Cal’s arms, Pell grabbed the grinning Rue and hurried through the palace entrance. “Please excuse us, we must get ready for supper.” He called.

“Hmm, I think I can definitely spend a few more days here. This looks very promising” Cobweb’s sly sensual tones cut through Cal’s delighted musing.

“Of course. I will instruct the staff to prepare supper in the private dining room upstairs. Will you inform Tyson and Abrimel that Pell and Rue have returned and we would appreciate their presence?”

“Of course. Now if you will excuse me?” Cobweb gave him a mocking bow, turned on his heel and bounded up the stairs.

***

Cal strode into the Royal suite just as Pell emerged from the bathroom toweling his knee-length ebony hair. Moving behind him, he took over the job to Pell’s delight. Kissing the exposed neck, Cal whispered, “Where is Rue?”

“He insisted on bathing in his rooms since his clothing is still there,” Pell shivered at the sensation of his lover’s lips.

Whipping him up into his arms, Cal strode toward the huge bed. “Then why don’t we take advantage of the last time there will be just two occupants of this suite?” Pell laughed, wound his arms around Cal’s neck and kissed him deeply.

Following Pell down onto the bed, Cal’s head swam with the love and happiness emanating from his lover. He could taste something new and was not sure what it was.

Pell was pulling at his clothing and soon both of them were writhing on the bed. Pell was seldom soume in their lovemaking but seemed quite content with the position this time. Delicate touches, soft words, smiles and kisses ruled them as they wallowed in a gentle aruna. Slowly, their combined consciousness seemed to rise from their bodies to a place in the heavens. The pressure began to build and the inevitable flowering began. But something different was happening this time. Cal raised his head to stare at Pell. The dark-haired har smiled, his eyes filled with love. “Yes, Cal”. Then Cal felt Pell’s inner muscles relax as they completed the ultimate coupling.

Afterwards, Cal lay atop Pell, his face buried in the curve of his neck, while Pell stroked his back lovingly. “Did we…?”

Pell chuckled and answered. “We did. It was time.”

Cal hugged his lover tightly. “I always thought I would be the one.”

“So did I. But I have learned a lot about myself the last few weeks. It just felt right.”

They smiled lovingly at each other, content just to lie in each other’s embrace. Suddenly there was a sharp knock at the door. Vaysh’s voice rang out. “You know, you set up supper to be served in the dining room. It is only fair that you should show up. Now get out of bed!”

Cal growled. “How do you put up with him?”

Pell laughed, “He keeps me sane and human. And he is right. Get dressed!”

Pell jumped out of bed, glowing with happiness and ran for the closet.

***

While they were dressing, Cal had taken the opportunity to tell Pell about Tyson’s arrival. “I am happy for you, my love. Will he stay?”

“I hope so. Of course, if Abrimel has anything to say about it, he definitely will.”

At Pell’s raised eyebrow of inquiry, Cal continued. “Our harlings seem to find each other quite fascinating. And after all, what better match could there be? ‘Yours’ and ‘mine’ together. We certainly wouldn’t have to be concerned about our offspring being the target of greedy status seekers. “

Pell gently straightened his lover’s jacket and caressed his chest. “You don’t have to convince me, Cal. As long as they have half the love for each other that we have, then I am satisfied.”

Cal released the breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. His lover had definitely changed.

“What have you done with the real Pell?” he joked.

Laughing, Pell turned away and picked up his jacket. “I think I am finally free of Thiede. He was an overpowering presence in my life, even after his ascendance. I needed this time to work through my problems. Rue’s presence helped.”

Realizing that his words might hurt his lover, Pell turned to smile at Cal. “You are such a vital part of my life that I really needed the time away from ‘us’. I would never have been able to keep my mind focused if you had been there.”

Slightly mollified, Cal nodded grudgingly. Then he grinned impishly. “Although I do wish I had been witness to the contretemps you found yourself in. How DID you get so covered in mud, and who is Steffi?”

Pell laughed and grabbed Cal’s arm, dragging him towards the door. “Later, MUCH later.”

***

When Pell and Cal finally managed to get to the dining room, they found Rue in his customary place at the far end of the table. Flanking him were Abrimel and Tyson. Pell stopped at Rue’s chair and ran his hand over his Tigrina’s hair. “Why are you sitting all the way down here? Did you think I would change my mind as soon as we returned?”

Rue’s face flushed with pleasure as he stood to follow his lovers to the head of the table. Motioning for Tyson and Abrimel to follow, he stood beside his new seat until Pell and Cal were seated. “Have you met Tyson?” he asked.

Pell smiled and gestured to the chairs next to Rue. “Please be seated. No, I haven’t had the pleasure, although I have long known of the Tigron’s son and have observed his progress with interest. Welcome, Tyson. I assume Abrimel has acquainted you with the palace?”

The two young hara stammered at the Tigron’s words, then Abrimel’s head lifted and he stared defiantly into his father’s eyes. Pell smiled, “Relax, Abrimel. I have always trusted your judgement. Tyson, having been raised by Cobweb, I know that you can only be good for my son. And of course, being the son of Cal, makes you part of our family already. Once again, I bid you a long overdue welcome.”

Cal settled back in his chair. Pell had handled the situation quite nicely. The two younger hara had relaxed and were talking eagerly with Pell and Rue. But someone was missing. Cal frowned and asked, “Where is Cobweb?”

“Oh, I am sorry. He begged to be excused this evening. He said he would join us tomorrow evening. He wanted to visit some acquaintances who have moved to Immanion.” Tyson informed him.

Relieved that the beautiful har had not yet left, Cal nodded and then turned to Pell. “Cobweb looks much better than the last time you saw him, doesn’t he?”

“Indeed. He was still weak and scrawny when we left, and none too fond of you if I remember correctly.” Pell swirled the wine in his glass, seeming fascinated in its texture.

::Terzian has been gone from my memories for years, my love::

Pell looked up at Cal’s mind touch and smiled in return. ::If he weren’t, I would push him out::

Cal laughed out loud, quickly controlling his mirth at Rue’s scolding, “That is impolite table behavior”

Smirking, both Cal and Pell answered, “Yes dear”

Tyson and Abrimel began to snicker, then Pell and Cal joined in. Finally Rue’s lips twitched and he began to chuckle. Turning, he called loudly. “Where is the food? We are starving!”

As the servants hurried in with the steaming platters and bowls, Pell sat back in his chair and looked at the assemblage. Gathered around him were the hara he loved most in the world. With these creatures around him, he could fulfill Thiede’s wishes and guide his race. ::We are yours, Aghama; and we will make you proud::

Pell could have sworn he felt Thiede’s arms embrace him.

The End

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