Garden of the Moon

Garden of the Moon
by Wendy Darling (Wiebke)

Story Notes

his story started out as an exploration of how becoming har might truly change the life of a deaf person and from there blossomed into something bigger than that and finally into an unlikely friendship/romance story.

Characters
Original character and one canon character as yet to be named.

Spoilers
Containers spoilers for Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, Book 1 in the Wraeththu trilogy, plus hints of the other books.

Sequels
Once this story was over, many people asked me “What happened next?” that I decided to do a sequel, catching up with Moon and his pearl many years later: Moon and Son.

Chapter 1

They found me at the bottom of a trash heap. Well, not literally but that’s the way I always tell it because it’s actually quite close to the truth, if not the actual truth. The actual truth is that they found be living on a trash heap, specifically an old city dump.

It wasn’t in the main part of the city, but on an outskirt, close enough to the dead metropolis that I could see the forlorn, abandoned towers but far enough away that the squatters and fighters of the inner city wouldn’t bother me. The dump had gone from being a place of waste to a land of plenty. It was my garden.

There is a bit of irony in this, but I was living off society’s refuse and if irony would keep me fed, so be it. I wasn’t eating leftover food, mind you, but the products of that leftover food and leftover compost dumped years before — the tomatoes that had grown into full-fledged tomato plants, the squash and strawberries and peas that had come up from the rotten produce tossed into garbage bags or mixed in with the compost. Years before I arrived, they had grown up out of the dump and gone wild.

On that fateful day, I had been in residence for probably about three years, serving as their keeper, the gardener of the dump. It was late spring and I was tending to the tomato plants, pulling out the weeds that had inevitably begun to choke up the soil. I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. All the weeds were piling up in an old plastic crate I had taken from the dump and in fact I was about to call it quits, as by then it was mid-day and the sun was high, my stomach just beginning to growl.

I didn’t know it, but I was very fortunate to be living the way I was. When I was hungry, I always had food, lots of it, fresh at hand, at least in the warmer months. Winters were harder but even so, I’d made it through, living on foods I had prepared and stored myself as well as food I’d extracted from the dump — canned vegetables, canned fruit, even a jar of honey I’d once found. For lunch I was going to eat some of the sweet green vines for which I still have no name. From experimenting the year before, I’d learned they weren’t poisonous and were eminently digestible. Eaten with the squirrel I’d trapped and killed that morning, it would be a filling meal.

With that in mind, I tossed the last weed to the top of the heap and picked up the crate to take it across to where I kept my own compost pile or, really, weed dump. The sun was bright and even with the visor I wore over my eyes, it made me squint. The sky was too clear for me and walking with the crate, I wished as usual for overcast skies. You see, my eyes have always been a problem — just like the rest of me. Pale, pale eyes I have, pinkish, and they are very sensitive to light. I’ve since read that often my condition causes poor eyesight, but luckily with me that had never been the case. Just as I could see the distant city skyline, I could see the vegetable plants and flowers around me. And I could see the strangers who had arrived. I was about to backtrack into explaining my condition, but now that I’ve mentioned the strangers, I’ve come to the point of this writing anyway, which is to explain how I went from being a lone gardener in a trash heap to being what I am today!

There I was, carrying my weeds, and there they were, a group of three… individuals… standing at the periphery of the dump watching me. I can imagine what they saw and so I’ll tell you now: A boy, about 14 years old, medium-height, wrapped from head to toe in faded old clothes and rags. I had a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, a pair of old boots, and a hat with a visor in front for my eyes. Only my hands and face were uncovered — that and my hair, by then grown clear to my waist.

I wasn’t covered up for vanity. In fact, even in the somewhat chilly temperatures of late spring I was hot. Still, covering up wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity. Without covering up, I would be burnt — badly. I wouldn’t get a burn and then tan either, I would simply burn. My mother had learned the hard way this way the case, watching me as a young child burn bright red until on several occasions I had become feverish, overheated. Finally she had learned that were there concessions that had to be made for my condition. You see, I’m an albino. My skin isn’t quite pure white, but it’s pale and pinkish, translucent in places, and my long hair was pure white, from the day I was born until today. I’m a child of the moon, not a child of the sun.

It was because of this that I was living in the garbage dump. I suppose really it was lucky, as I was never really hungry and I had found shelter and safety, but what had driven me out there wasn’t luck, it was desperation. I had no one to protect me anymore. My mother didn’t exactly reject me, but she couldn’t care for me, not with the world going the way it was. And not after they arrived in the city, whoever they were. People were dying of sicknesses, attacks, of madness. Women seemed to be particularly vulnerable. She had to hide, she told me, she had to run. She left me behind.

I was probably around ten years old at the time she left me. I want to say that being abandoned what a traumatic experience for me but really it wasn’t as bad as you might think. After all, I’d always felt it was up to me to take care of myself and I wouldn’t be able to really rely on anyone else. I couldn’t connect with anyone either, make friends. Nobody ever seemed to understand me. My mother had understood me, but others didn’t.

It wasn’t just how I looked, which was enough to make everyone stay away from me. It was something else, something I haven’t mentioned although it’s very important.

Quite simply, I was deaf — and in fact I still am. That day in my garden, in my whole life I had never spoken and had never heard a sound. To a certain extent this had made me vulnerable in the inner city, but eventually I had learned to make up for that deficit by keeping my eyes wide and exercise street sense. Finally, however, after too many close calls, people and other creeping up on me when I couldn’t hear, I decided I need to escape the city. I’d made my away out to the dump and there I lived alone, where being deaf was no disadvantage at all. In fact, living alone, I didn’t have much cause to even notice my deafness; there was no one there to try to talk to me.

So that was me, a deaf albino boy living in a dump, tending a garden while swathed in old clothes and rags. And then they came. And that changed everything.

Chapter 2

There they were, three men watching me from the edge of the field and, I suddenly realized, calling me. Of course I didn’t hear the calls but I saw their mouths moving and their arms waving. They were close enough that I could see their faces, close enough that I knew they weren’t shouting in anger, but only calling me, presumedly calling out a question or greeting. More curious than afraid, although of course way, I beckoned them closer.

For a moment they looked at one another, then headed towards me, their long strides crossing the distance of the valley between the mountains of trash and vegetation. I put down the crate and adjusted my visor, which had slipped down while I was pulling weeds. As I stood watching their approach, I tried to ready myself for anything they might throw at me — literally. My right hand fingered the large knife I always kept on my belt or elsewhere on hand. I had been attacked before, albeit years earlier, and I was always ready to defend myself. The knife also came in handy in many practical endeavors, like killing animals or cutting open boxes I’d find digging through the trash.

In a few moments the three men were upon me. They were a magnificent group, the one immensely tall with hair of flames, the other two, seemingly twins, with spiky black hair. All three wore practical, non-descript outfits, rough-lived black jeans and T-shirts. The twins’ arms were covered in tattoos and all three of them had ears studded with jewelry. When they came to a halt before me, we eyed each other as if we were two groups of animals meeting in a field, which literally we were.

The redhead spoke. From his facial expression I could tell he’d asked a question. Since I had never spoken or been trained, I didn’t have much ability to read lips, but despite that I could make out one word I’d learned to recognize — “you.” (This was something I must have learned very early on in life, since as far as I knew I’d always been able to associate those particular mouthshapes with someone talking about me.) I presumed, based on the fact that they’d called me before and I hadn’t responded for some time — they could have been calling me for a long time before I even noticed them — that he was asking me if I was deaf. “Are you deaf?” had always been a frequent question, I assume.

Of course now that the question was being asked, as usual I couldn’t answer it except by employing the universal language of gesture. Taking my hand off my knife, I pointed to my ears and shook my head.

They gave each other puzzled looks. Next the redhead took a step or two forward, so that he was almost within arm’s length. My hands were relaxed in front of me. Just from seeing his expression, I didn’t feel I would be needing my knife. He looked at me seriously and brought his hand up and pointed to one of my ears. He then shook his head and asked me another question. This time I was sure the question was “Are you deaf?” and so I nodded vigorously and covered my ears for emphasis.

As this dialogue progressed I felt myself becoming excited. I hadn’t seen any other people in so long and the ones I had seen certainly hadn’t been friendly. This man seemed open, caring. He was talking to me the way my mother always had, using gestures and lots of patience.

Next the redhead pointed to my head and then he nodded a couple of times. In that gesture I sensed several questions: Can you understand me? Does you head work? Are you OK? To all these questions and some others, unvoiced, I nodded and then smiled. In the context of what I was used to, the entire situation was very curious — strange men appearing and then simply just talking to me — but at the same time, I was feeling very comfortable. I didn’t get the feeling I would be mistreated. It seemed these men were only curious and friendly.

It was at that point that my questioner then very deliberately stepped even closer and, raising his hand very slowly, gauging my reaction, reached up and lifted off my hat and visor. Unbound, my full white hair fell loose around the sides of my face. My eyes, I’m sure, flashed pale and pink, a sight that never fails to induce a reaction.

I watched the man’s amber eyes as he stared at me in total wonder — before he went even further. Again moving slowly, he stretched out his hand and stroked the hair from my temple to my ear and then ran his fingers down my cheek, where he let them rest it for a moment, just lightly, as if he was appreciating me.

That touch was a revelation. I had been alone for a couple of years and the last touches I had received certainly had not been made in friendship, but rather in cruelty. Those were the touches of assault, robbery, and rape. This was something entirely different, a touch of understanding and affection. It reminded me of my mother. Despite eventually having to abandon me, she had always done what she could for me and she had always touched me, running her fingers through my hair, telling me I came from the moon.

Yes, this redhead… was different. He wasn’t going to attack me, I knew. I saw promises in his eyes.

He turned his head to glance back at his companions. They nodded. He looked back to me and asked, it was clear to me, if I would like to come with them. Of course I couldn’t tell what he actually said but I knew from his gestures. I just knew.

I considered matters. By my own wits I had managed to make a good life for myself in the dump. I had shelter, ample food, and safety. I even managed to have clothes, salvaged from the trash, and a store of other useful items, all stored away in my shelter.

Still, I was lonely, and until I saw these men, I hadn’t even realized it. In just a few moments I’d gone from being totally absorbed in pulling weeds to feeling excited and tingly at the prospect of making some friends. Could I leave my good life behind and follow these strangers to who-knew-where?

These considerations took but a few seconds but I think it must have been a second too long, for with no warning at all, the redhead took the last step forward, closing the gap, and planted his lips on mine. All at once I knew that wherever we were going, there’d be a lot more than beans and tomato plants to enjoy.

Chapter 3

What I tasted in kiss was something I had truly never tasted before: Acceptance.

It’s very difficult to convey the meaning this simple gesture had for me after too many years of being stared at, ignored, chased away.

His lips were smooth and soft. Even in his roughened hands, which came up on my cheeks again, I felt a gentleness, a sweetness.

Felt. Yes, that was another aspect. I literally felt that acceptance, that gentleness, that sweetness. It was a spirit that flitted between us, going directly from his mind to mine.

As he deepened the kiss, the spirit grew stronger, filling me with the idea that I would be taken care of.

All this without words.

We parted and became separate creatures — physically. In my soul, I still felt connected.

I nodded to them and with two fingers made the sign of walking, then pointed off towards my shelter. They understood me immediately and all three smiling, followed as I went to gather up my few worldly possessions from the shelter I’d constructed out of an assortment of recycled materials — corrugated metal, plastic tarps, barrels, two-by-fours, old luggage, mattresses, car seats, even an old refrigerator. I could tell immediately that my new friends were impressed with the way I’d arranged things. I actually had two whole rooms, one for cooking and storage, the other for sleeping and living.

We entered the kitchen and supplies room and I pointed out all the food and supplies I had amassed. In one corner I had a collection of bags and backpacks and, gesturing, I indicated that we should take the best of my supplies. All three of them were wearing packs, but they were only small ones, so I assumed they had come to the dump as part of a small excursion and had further supplies at another location. We packed up some of the more precious supplies, including my remaining stock of potatoes, so carefully stored over winter. For general supplies I took my remaining knives, a cup, a fork, and they picked up a few items as well.

Next we moved into my living area. Here I had created something of a nest for myself. In one corner I’d created a comfortable bed from blankets and cushions I’d collected over the years. These I left, as they would be too bulky to carry. The other end of the room was filled with makeshift storage boxes and shelves, where I’d hoarded up what supplies I had salvaged from the dump as well as other areas in the city. Some items, like my ivory-handled face mirror, I’d had for years, even when my mother and I were still together. I opened up the boxes and showed my companions what I had. Together we collected the more practical of the supplies.

I also picked up a few not-so-practical items, small things that held meaning to me. Safe and wrapped in cloth was a framed picture of my mother and me. I pulled it from the box where I had kept it safe and took a moment to unwrap it and give it a look. I’d been very young when the photo was taken, so young my mother was holding me in her arms. The picture, in its silver frame, had at one time stood on her dresser in our home, our house, the place we’d had to eventually leave. My mother was smiling and I was looking up at her with my innocent albino eyes, white hair tousled in all directions.

As I looked at the picture I momentarily had forgotten the men with me and so I was slightly startled when one of the twins tapped me on the shoulder. Turning to him, I saw his eyes on the photo. “Your mother?” he surely asked me. I glanced down and then looking back, nodded to the man.

Over his shoulder I then saw his twin pointing excitedly. I noticed the redhead crouched down examining something. I knew right away what it was: My books.

Wrapping the portrait back up and placing it into my pack, I crawled over to my improvised library. I’d collected quite a couple dozen volumes over the years. Some I could read easily, while others were too difficult for me and were taken only because of the pictures or because I hoped on day to master them. It was my mother who had taught me to read at comfortable least a basic level. Because of my deafness and the way the world had gone bad, I’d never gone to school. It was quite an effort, teaching a deaf child to understand written language — representing sounds I would never hear — but she’d managed to do it. “Reading,” she’d written to me once, “will make you stronger and keep you safer.”

The redhead was still staring at the books, fingering them with apparent wonder. Finally he looked up and gestured broadly at the collection and then pointed to me. “Yours?” he was asking. I nodded and then suddenly realized I’d forgotten something obvious — or something that would have been, had I not been so seldom in contact with people. Going back to my storage area, I fished into a box and found a notebook and more precious of all, a pen.

I returned to the redhead. Would he write me out his questions?

He accepted the pen and notebook. I watched him open to a clean page and begin to write. The twins were watching.

“Have you been deaf all your life?” he wrote. When I nodded, he continued with “You can read?” He then offering the pen to me.

“Yes, my mother taught me,” I replied in a hand shaky from disuse.

Our dialogue continued, all in ink:

“What is your name?”

“My mother called me Moon. She said I was from out of this world.”

“Where is your mother now?”

“I do not know… probably dead.”

“Was she living here with you before?”

“No, I came here alone after.”

“After what?”

“After she left me.”

I noticed that after I wrote that, my companion looked stunned, wounded even, although he quickly recovered and tried to hide that reaction. I assumed he was thinking what a horrible mother I’d had but then had wanted to cover up for his reaction, since it might offend me.

I decided to assure him to the contrary. “She was good. She took care of me but it became difficult. I was a difficult child.”

He took the pen and wrote out, “You are still almost a child. How old are you?”

“Fourteen, I think. Except for the seasons, I lose track of years. I have been alone for a long time.”

Without even pausing, the redhead wrote, “All your life?”

I took the pen and paused, considering. “Maybe.”

Finally he expressed a thought that surely required the use of pen, for no gestures could have conveyed it.

“We are Wraeththu. Do you know this word?”

I looked at the strange word, not recognizing it. “No, unless somebody said it and never wrote it for me.”

I paused, thinking I was done, but then thought of a question. “Is it like being an albino, like I am?”

The redhead considered. “Yes and no. It does mean that we are different from other people.”

“Different in what way?” I asked.

“Come with us and we’ll show you. It’s not a bad difference.”

“I will come with you. I trust you. One thing. What are your names?”

He gestured up to his companions, then himself. “These are Genron and Varan. My name is Thiede.”

Chapter 4

The journey to the settlement hurt my head. Besides the bright sun, I was forced to cope with the rigors of a horse ride, stuffed as I was on the back of Genron’s saddle. I’d never been on a horse in my life and seeing the landscape pass by so quickly, after spending so long in one place, was dizzying, if not utterly nauseating. On top of this I was hungry, as I’d never gotten around to the lunch I’d planned. My stomach was growling as we made out way of the city towards a destination as yet unknown — at least to me.

We must have traveled for a good hour. For most of the trip, beyond simply trying to cope with my discomfort, I withdrew into myself, of course silent, but really just thinking. I wanted to know why I was being rescued, where I was being taken. I wondered what was going to happen to me and if it would be better or worse than what I’d been through so far. Above all, however, I wondered about the nature of the “difference” Thiede had alluded to.

When the three “Wraeththu” had first come upon me in the dump, I’d seen them as attackers but then, observing closely, I’d realized they weren’t that at all and so I had let down my guard. My observations told me that all three were several years older than I was, although not older than twenty. For all their youth, however, I sensed they shared a level of experience and knowledge I could never hope to parallel.

Something else I couldn’t help but notice was their faces. It’s true I had been away from people for a long time, but even so, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something very different about these men, something that separated them from anyone I’d met before. After all, when was the last time I had seen a truly strong, handsome man, especially a man under twenty? These men weren’t only strong and handsome, though — they were also, to my eye, quite beautiful, finely made like women. When I looked at Thiede’s face, I saw a face that reminded me of several things all at once. His was the face of a prince and a princess combined.

The settlement turned out to be a small village, with men occupying buildings very similar to those I’d seen in the city, only quainter and in better condition. As our horses passed down the main road, I noticed men out working, running errands, and it seemed a busy place. There was no war in this place. Some of my apprehension left me; these people were simply living their lives, not living in fear. That first time I saw it, I didn’t notice it, but I’m sure that afternoon there were no women about in the village, only men. As I said, I did not notice at first glance

We rounded a bend in the road and faced a gentle slope of tousled grass and wildflowers. At the top of the rise stood a neat house of red brick, grander than all the others. Thiede led the group up the hill. When he reached the top and dismounted, we all followed suit, with Genron helping me down. I was glad to be on solid ground but the after effects of the ride were hitting me hard. I was still hungry and dizzy, plus I’d sweated through my clothes — from the heat and the anticipation of the many things that might come.

Thiede gestured broadly to the house and then pointed to himself. His house. I smiled at him as best I could, trying to appear grateful, which I was, even though I really was feeling rather poorly. Thiede being Thiede, this wasn’t lost on him, and he immediately rubbed his stomach and said something to the others, who nodded and said something as we all headed indoors, leaving our packs just inside the front door.

It had been a very long time since I’d been inside a building. Thiede’s house appeared to be completely intact, unlike the hollow shells I’d inhabited or scavenged from in the city. It’s true there was a musty scent, some peeling wallpaper, and other signs that the house had been abandoned for some time before Thiede had taken it over, but all in all, it was a pleasant place and already I was thinking that my decision was working out. Would I live in a house like this?

Thiede strode purposely down the main hall and we all followed along. >From the back another man suddenly appeared. He and Thiede exchanged words and the man disappeared. From my brief glimpse I had noticed the other man was dressed far more exotically than the three men I’d seen so far. Then, coming out of my daze, it occurred to me that I’d seen some unusually dressed people on the ride through the village. There had also been people in regular clothes, pants and shirts, but a number of them were dressed in looser clothing, like robes, and were wearing sandals. The man in the back had had long black hair held back by a molded silver headband set with pearls.

We ended up in a dining room, where another man was setting the table. We were shown to our seats. How genteel it was, how completely surreal even. Just a couple of hours earlier, I had been weeding vegetables in a dump. Now I could smell some sort of delicious lunch cooking and was going to be enjoying a meal in a dining room with chairs, a table, and full place settings with plate, knife, fork, and spoon. Just as it wasn’t the first surprise of that day, neither would it be the last.

The man setting the table happened to take note of me as I stood by Thiede, about to sit down, and all at once it occurred to me that I was dressed rather strangely. We were, after all, inside, and there was no need for me to wear my hat or visor. I reached up and took them off, once again letting down my hair. The new man came up to me and took them. Needless to say, I was completely unused to being waited on by servants. Fumbling a bit, I took out a tie from my pocket and quickly I pulled the mass of white into a pony tail. Thiede waiting for me politely, finally I took a seat at the table.

Our lunch was lovely, not only in and of itself — Thiede’s people provided us with the finest food — but because it was the first “civilized” meal I’d had in I couldn’t remember how long. I’m sure my table manners were hideous, although I recall that at the time I was trying desperately to manage something approaching sophistication.

I felt so awkward there among them, so strange, so different, and the feeling grew stronger as the meal went on. No one at the table was talking, but I had the feeling there was a silent conversation going on between them all; I saw it in their eyes. More and more I thought, I am with them but not of them.

When Thiede’s servant came in with the wine, I tried to force myself into a more positive mood. What a great change in circumstance I’d experienced in such a short time! I thought back to the bond I had felt with Thiede in the touch to my face, in our brief kiss, in my shelter as I spoke about my mother. When the glasses were filled, Thiede toasted, saying, it was impossible to miss, “To Moon!” We all raised our glasses and drank, they with sophistication, myself barely able to keep from choking, as I’d never had alcohol in my life.

Finally the meal was over and Thiede came up to me. “Come,” he said, patting my shoulder. I wondered what would come next.

Thiede led me down the hall and over to a staircase which we climbed into an upstairs hall lined with doors of dark wood. I felt the alcohol having its effect, making me tired and, yes, after only one glass, quite drunk. As we approached a door to the left, it suddenly opened and a servant came out. Thiede said something to him and quickly he return back in the room.

Now Thiede turned to me and gestured for me to enter through the open door. I did so and found myself in a large bathroom. The servant was drawing a bath. I saw the water was hot, steam rising more and more as the water shot out of the faucet. I had almost forgotten about running water and certainly I hadn’t had a proper bath in ages, although I’d tried to use local water and rain as ways of cleaning myself. I smiled at Thiede gratefully. The bath would be much appreciated.

The next thing I knew Thiede was gone and I was alone with the servant, who was now waiting beside the bath expectantly. I walked up to him and waited, thinking perhaps he had something to tell me, some instructions on operating the bath or finding supplies. All at once I remembered my notebook and pen and how I did not have it with me. How would I ever understand him? Had Thiede even told him I was deaf?

The servant gestured at me, making a circling motion from my shoulders on downward. What that was supposed to mean, I didn’t know. I studied his face, puzzled and wondering what he was trying to say to me. He repeated the gesture with more urgency and then, gauging that I still didn’t understand him, he tugged at his collar, undid the first button, and then pointed at my own shirt.

He wanted me to undress for the bath. He even stepped closer and began to undo my buttons. Steam was rising up from the tub. I wanted the bath but I didn’t want to undress. Not with him there — not with anyone there! I did not like to uncover my body and never had. When you look the way I do, you learn the art of concealment and you live it. It wasn’t only the sun I feared, but the prying eyes of strangers.

Seemingly oblivious to my discomfort, the servant worked a few more buttons before I stepped back abruptly and shook my head. I reached up and closed the top of my shirt where he had opened it. I waved him away, towards the door. I could do it myself and I would. He didn’t press the point, only seeming a little bit disappointed before he bowed to me slightly and left the room, closing the door behind him.

I went over to the low table by the bath and found a bottle of sweet-smelling oil, like roses. I poured it into the tub before finally slipping out of my clothes. I took off the shirt, the pants, the long socks, the boots, my underclothes, and everything else I’d covered myself with. I left them in a heap on the floor, sensing that I might not see them again. It didn’t matter; these Wraeththu would be taking care of me, clothes included. When I looked in the mirror, I saw the child of the moon, slender and white and ready for a bath.

I dipped my toe in the water, testing the temperature, and turned to get into the tub. There, standing in the doorway, stood Thiede, staring at me and my now completely naked body. It was like one of those nightmares where you’re naked and can’t get away, everyone is staring.

Thiede came towards me and I couldn’t even turn away, I was so mortified. He handed me a piece of paper. On it was written a note:

Enjoy your bath. Do not, however, be too modest. There is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing. You must learn this. Tonight we will talk further.

My face must have gone red. I nodded, not really even looking at him, and quickly turned and slipped down into the bath. For a moment more Thiede remained there watching me, and then at last he left. I closed my eyes. I hoped I had made the right choice in coming there.

Chapter 5

Two hours later I was sitting in a window seat in a front bedroom, looking down the flowery hill towards the village. It was late afternoon, nearly dinnertime I supposed, and although I felt my appetite rising, I was definitely feeling greatly refreshed.

By the time I’d emerged from the tub, the skin on my fingers and toes had wrinkled up like raisins. I was, however, clean all over and the bath oil had left me smelling faintly of roses. There’d been ample towels and even a robe laid out for me and I’d dried myself off, luxuriating in the first real cleanliness I’d felt in years.

Dry and wrapped up in the robe, I’d just picked up the brush by the sink when I’d felt a tap on my shoulder. In the mirror I had seen reflected the face of the bath servant. He’d gestured for the brush and insisted on taking care of it for me. He sat me down in a chair and patiently worked through all the tangles. At first I was squirming, uncomfortable with being handled and simply with having my hair pulled, but by the time he’d worked it straight and fine like silk, I’d grown rather happy on the novelty of being so pampered.

When he’d taken up three lengths of hair and offered to braid it, I’d shrugged and let him try. Although I used to do that for my mother as a child, I’d never had my own hair braided before. Since it had grown long I’d often tied it back, simply to keep it out of my face, but braiding was not something I’d ever gone to. When the servant was done I went to the mirror and found I had a head full of writhing white serpents. I rather liked the effect; it gave me a fierceness I often felt I lacked.

At that point I’d been led out into the hall and over to a bedroom which looked to have been made up especially for me. There was a large bed covered with invitingly clean blankets. Over the back of a chair was fresh set of clothes.

The servant had signed to me that he would be going but that I could find him and ask for anything I might need. I’d let him go, and then, throwing the lock and closing the curtains, I’d changed into the new outfit. It was all black, which I suppose was by design of whoever had selected it, as the darkness contrasted strikingly with the rest of me, especially my serpents hair. I’d pulled on the black boots, which were a little too big, and stomped around a bit, feeling strong and even a bit more adult than usual.

And so it came that I was sitting by the window when the curtain had thrashed strangely, pulled by an air current, and I’d turned towards the room to find Thiede coming through the door, pen and paper in hand.

I immediately got up and went towards him. Although he’d made me feel uncomfortable in the bath but he was my host and after the treatment by the servant, the room and the clothes, I felt I owed it to him to be gracious and try to overlook his strange behavior.

I gestured at my clothes and hair, smiling to indicate my pleasure. Thiede nodded, then began to scribble on his note pad.

“Quite a change,” he wrote. “You look like black coals on snow.”

I took the pen and replied, “And you look like red coals on snow.”

He laughed then, I saw it, and he went over to sit on the bed, where he wrote some more. “You really are handsome, you know.”

Naturally I didn’t jump to answer this. Modesty, as Thiede’s earlier note had implied, was something I strongly believed in.

When I didn’t reply, Thiede scribbled further. “Now don’t be like that. Don’t be ashamed of your body. You should be proud.”

Sitting next to him, I looked down and away from him, embarrassed as most teenagers would have been.

A few moments later Thiede changed the topic. “I’m curious, Moon. Has anyone ever tried to cure your deafness?”

I nodded my head vigorously and grabbed for the pen. “Yes. My mother took me to many doctors. There were many tests and even special tests inside my brain. They tried to do surgery once, but it did not work. My mother wanted to try another test but it was too expensive and there were not enough doctors anymore. That was when I was younger.”

Thiede was patient as I wrote; my hands, not used to writing so much, were still somewhat unsteady and my memory of writing and spelling was taking some time to retrieve.

“I used to be very unhappy I could not be like other people,” I wrote, “but then when I was alone, there were no problems. It is only with people that I have problems. It is not so hard to be deaf when you are alone.”

After I had finished I looked up and saw that Thiede was studying me. He’d looked at me in the bathroom and at dinner and in the dump too and I really didn’t understand why he kept doing it. To me he was the most interesting looking person I’d ever met. He was so tall and his hair seemed to be inexplicably alive. When he looked at you, you felt he was seeing right through you.

He held out his hand for the pen and paper and I handed it back to him. Slowly, letting me read along, he wrote, “What if I told you that there was a way to cure your deafness?”

“There is no way!” I wrote back angrily, after grabbing the pen.

“There IS a way,” he replied. “There is a way that would give you something greater than hearing. Do you want me to tell you?”

I was still irritated — so many times doctors had dangled such hopes before my mother and me — but I shrugged and gestured half-heartedly for him to tell me.

“We are Wraeththu,” he wrote. “As I told you earlier, we are different. We are not men.”

Too many questions popped into my mind. I managed to write out one of them. “If you are not men, then what are you?”

Thiede laughed; I felt it in the way the bed shook. “We are Wraeththu. Hermaphrodites. Do you know this word?”

Of course I didn’t so I shook my head.

Thiede wrote on. “We are men as well as women. You could become like us; you would be changed partially into a woman.”

I froze up all over when he said that. I couldn’t imagine what he was talking about. He was fooling with me surely! There was no way I could become a woman — except in the figurative sense.

I thought about all the men I’d seen that day. Some of them, I’d observed, had been quite feminine in appearance. Many of them wore jewelry and some of them, Thiede included, were beautiful like women. At the same time, they looked like men to me. With Thiede’s comments, I suddenly thought I knew why.

Living in the city on my own, fending for myself, I had not always been safe. Not long after my mother had left me, I’d been raped by a group of older men. They’d acted like I was a woman and they’d treated me like a whore. It had happened a few more times until eventually I’d learned to know when it was going to happen, how to see it coming. It was only one of the many reasons I’d left the city to live at the dump.

“YOU WANT TO MAKE ME A WOMAN?” I wrote in thick, black letters.

Thiede shook his head as he took the pen. “No. I want to make you Wraeththu, like us. You will be changed — and part of the change is that you will become partially like a woman.”

I jumped out of the bed and stared at him. I suddenly knew just what he was talking about. He wanted me to become… to become… some kind of sex slave, like a woman, like those men who’d come after me. Sure, Thiede and his friends looked sophisticated and had enchanted me with fine food, a bath, and other luxuries, but they wanted the same thing. I was not about to give it to them.

I was so angry I couldn’t even bother with grabbing back the pen or gesturing or anything else. I simply kept on staring at the redheaded fiend and with all my heart I projected onto him just how I felt. It was something I’d often done when I was angry or frightened or trying to defend myself; I thought really hard and pretended that somehow I would be heard.

I screamed at Thiede as “loudly” as I could. I thought to him that I would never submit to him or anyone else. I thought to him about the rapes. Finally I told him I was leaving and going back to the dump.

The look on Thiede’s face was surprisingly resigned, almost as if he’d expected it. I didn’t stay and watch him, however. The door was open and I ran out and down the stairs. In the hall I spotted my pack and I grabbed it before running out the front door.

I looked down the hill and decided to avoid the village. Instead I ran straight back, away and up into the hills. The grass was high and full of insects. I kept on running until I couldn’t see the house anymore and my chest was heaving.

I threw down my pack, overcome with anger. Why had I gone with them? Why had I trusted them? And what was I going to do now?

Chapter 6

Perhaps I’d expected him to follow me. Perhaps I’d wanted him to. Certainly I hadn’t gone out of my way to truly escape him. I could have kept on running. I could have hidden. Instead, I threw myself down in the field and howled.

It might seem unexpected, that the deaf would howl and cry, but that’s just what I did and what I had always done. I shed tears like everyone else, and as for the sobs, they come instinctively. I beat at the ground as it tore through me, feelings of rage and frustration. I had been such a fool!

Still, I was not surprised when, looking up through bleary eyes, I saw Thiede ascending the hill, pen and paper in hand. Actually as he came closer, I saw he had two pads of paper and two pens. He wanted to talk — a serious one.

I don’t know if it was a sense of futility or something else that kept me from jumping up and running again, but I didn’t. I looked him straight in the eyes as I held out my hand for the tools of communication.

“I do not want to be a woman!” I wrote.

Thiede squatted down to read my words. He shook his head sadly and took out his pen. “No, you simply do not want to be raped.”

I was confused. I had thought Thiede and the others to be monsters like the others. “You are not going to rape me?”

“No, I want to make you Wraeththu.”

I didn’t understand. “What does that mean?” I asked.

“Let me tell you a story,” he began. “It is the story of another boy — myself.” He eyed me speculatively, apparently wondering if he was going to go through with telling me. He must have trusted me very much to tell me what he did.

“I was born to normal human parents but like you, I was different.”

“How different?”

“Actually in some ways ordinary, but very different in important ways. I was both a boy and a girl.”

He had alluded to something similar before. This time, I was more willing to listen — and to ask questions. “You look like a man to me. You are not?”

“I am a man,” he wrote, “but I am also a woman. Completely. Both. Do you understand?”

Remarkably, looking at Thiede and somehow feeling a little more open, I did understand, or at least I began to. Some of what I imagined turned out to be wrong, but I was beginning to see that Thiede had not meant to frighten me earlier. He simply had not been able to explain things.

I nodded. Yes, I understood. I had more questions, however. “Can you have children?” I asked.

Thiede appeared slightly affronted but managed to reply thoughtfully. “I expect yes. I could be a mother or a father. We are still a young race and it is not known exactly how it will work.”

This was a lot for me to take in and my head was a whirlwind of thoughts and questions. I was believing him more and more. “That is extraordinary!” I wrote excitedly. “I cannot imagine you as a mother, having children! It is like if I were a mother! Impossible!”

We were sitting in the grass by then. Thiede was grinning as he scribbled out his reply. “It’s not impossible. It’s very possible. You could become like me.”

This was the moment everything else had been leading to. “How?” I asked.

That is how I got the story, the Aghama’s very own. At the time, I didn’t know it was a secret. I didn’t know he had just come back from some time alone, that he was beginning anew, hiding his roots. I didn’t know anything. Once he was through, however, I knew quite a lot.

It took him a while to write it out for me. He kept it short but there was a story to tell, a story of a boy who was born different, a family and doctors that did not understand. A story of a runaway into the city — not the city I lived in, but one very much like it. Then there was the story of how he had discovered himself, not only secret powers within himself, but the ability to create others. An act of violence had been transformed to a miracle and instead of being the only one, he had created a whole new species. It had taken him time to adjust to it and after some years he had needed to go off on his own. Now, however, he was back, and understanding more than ever before, he was ready to begin a new quest. He lead Wraeththu to the next level, ushering in a new era of the world.

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.

“Because I want you to become Wraeththu.”

That’s when he told me the rest of it. He’d explained some of it, that being Wraeththu was more than being a hermaphrodite, but now he told me something in some ways even more extraordinary. Wraeththu were able to access powers that few among mankind had been able to reach. One of them could change my life, Thiede explained. Totally deaf, I could survive, but my life would never be easy. I would never be able to properly communicate. I would probably be alone and very likely, I would be attacked or, with the wars on the rise, find myself killed. If I were Wraeththu I could live with the group and find safety in numbers — and speak mind to mind.

It was difficult to believe him. How could I possibly imagine such a miracle? Thiede, sensing this, decided to show me. As a human, he explained, it would be difficult for me to truly experience the mindtouch, but in meditation I might be able to catch a hint of what could come later.

Together we sat facing one another, holding hands, forming a circle of two. Eyes closed as the sun went down, we relaxed, slowing our breath and calming our thoughts. It was then that I felt it: Another’s thoughts, there in my mind.

It was only a faint feeling at first, a tingling in my hands and then my head. It grew into something I still can’t really describe. To me it was like I was hearing a sound, only of course I wasn’t. I want to say it was like a song but at that time didn’t know what it was. I still had much to learn. Feelings seeped into me and then other things I didn’t know how to process. Looking back on it now, I think it must have been Thiede trying to speak into my mind, only I wasn’t ready. I also didn’t have any way to make any sense of it. To me it was sensation.

What happened next is what finally convinced me. My eyes were still closed when I began to see something. It was a picture of myself, or at least an idea of myself. It was not coming from me. This was a thought. Thiede was thinking of me. He was talking without speaking.

I opened my eyes. They were edged with tears. Thiede reached out and wiped them with the cuff of his sleeve. He was smiling at me good-humoredly. Out came the pen. “So, do you want to be Wraeththu?”

I could have just nodded, but instead I wrote it out with my pen. “YES.”

Chapter 7

The story of my inception is similar to most others, but I feel I want to write it out anyway. After all, as much as it’s the same story for everyone, it’s also different for everyone.

Once I’d acquiesced, Thiede led me back to the house and took me into the kitchen, where he had the cook put together a meal for me. It was to be the last thing I ate before a day-long fast. As Thiede explained via note pad, my body would need to be purified in preparation for inception. Even with purification, it would be an ordeal, make no mistake, but experience had shown that prior purification relieved at least some of the discomfort. It also provided a time for reflection, during which the inceptee could prepare himself for the great metamorphosis about to take place.

After dinner Thiede sent me upstairs with a servant. A white shift was laid out on the bed and once the servant had left, I slipped into it and under the covers. The ceremony would take place at midnight the following day.

That was a long, nearly sleepless night for me. Over and over I kept considering what Thiede had told me, both about himself and Wraeththu and what would be happening to me. I also thought about the mindtouch. All incepted Wraeththu must marvel at the extraordinary wonder of such a sharing of minds, but for me it had been something more, something as great as the sum of my life-long wishes. I would be able to really communicate! Whatever torments lay ahead during the althaia, I would keep that in mind: I would be reaching my heart’s desire.

I was left alone for much of the following day. As the hours dragged on, I paced around the room and sat at the window watching the village, the clouds in the sky. I untied the braids in my hair and after brushing it through and through, I experimented with different ways to wear it.

All along the fevered thoughts and questions would boil over in me, punctuated with a feeling of expectancy. How many hours were left? Would I be seeing anyone at all that day? When would I see Thiede again?

It was mid-afternoon when the Aghama arrived. He was not alone. With him was a har (so I’d learned to call them) named Zuri. Considering how I felt about people staring at me, it was ironic that the moment Zuri stepped in the door, I started staring at him. He was my opposite, you see, an African with dark brown skin the color of antique mahogany, perhaps even burnt mahogany. In contrast to my head of soft white silk, his head was close-clopped, black fuzz cut with spiral designs down to his scalp. There were spirals cut into the backs of his hands as well, scarification. I was a child of the moon, but he was a child of the shadow.

Thiede had still not fully explained inception to me and so at first I didn’t know why Zuri was being brought to me. As it turned out, Thiede had brought Zuri along so that I could meet him and get to know him, at least a little. Zuri, so Thiede informed me, was to be my inspiration during the althaia. He was very experienced, Thiede assured me, and had a particular talent with virgins.

“But I’m not a virgin,” I told him, writing quickly, glad that I was getting better at it. “I was raped!”

Thiede scowled. “You are still a virgin. Do not count the rape.” When he saw me frown, he wrote, “It is not the equivalent.”

After that Thiede sent Zuri out so he could communicate with me alone. I was given about five minutes worth of instruction on aruna. No more was needed, Thiede told me, as it was all based on instinct. I needn’t worry, only look forward to it with all my heart during the althaia.

There was one more thing Thiede told me, right at the end. He wanted me to know I would be more than an ordinary har. I would someone exceptional. He and his hara had been out scouting for inceptees when they found me and they were only interested in the best. Such were most of the residents of the settlement — the best. We would be forming the heart of the new Wraeththu, exploring Wraeththu power and moving Wraeththu forward. I was going to be part of it, of that Thiede was sure.

Finally he left again and from then on, time seemed to crawl to a near standstill. There was no clock in the room and so I only had the light outside to go on. It took a long time to get dark. When it finally did I was lying weakly on the bed, hungry and restless, even a little bit cold. As I stood at the window a while later, in the moonlight I saw various hara traveling between the house and the village. I wondered what was going on, where it would happen. Thiede had told me some of it but not all of it. “It is better for you not to know in advance,” he had written out. “Fear which has time to grow becomes stronger than fear that erupts all at once.”

The appointed hour arrived and when my door opened, it was Genron and Varan, whom I had not seen since the meal the first day. They were dressed in long crimson robes as they escorted me downstairs and out of the house. There was a procession through the darkness. I was placed astride a horse led down the hill by Genron and Varan and a dozen others, all carrying torches so that their faces were crossed with eerie shadows.

By the time we arrived at the nayati I was feeling somewhat delirious. Was this really happening to me? I felt like I’d stepped into someone else’s life. They helped me down from the horse and wearing my white shift, I was led up the steps and into the hall of the nayati. It was candles all around, hara waiting there for me, swaying and, so I gathered, chanting, singing and shouting.

At the front of the hall, at the altar, was a cauldron of wild white flames and a table draped with white cloth. Genron and Varan led me up to it and indicated for me to lie down. They took up stations at my heat and foot. I stared up into the darkness of the rafters, alone in total silence while outside my head, in the world of the hearing, the hall was, I had no doubt, filled with enthusiastic screams.

At last a face appeared above me: Thiede’s. He did not speak to me, although it’s possible he could have spoken to the audience before coming over to me. I had no way of knowing.

This was the moment. Thiede leaned over me and gave me a look which said “Strength.” Then he pulled up my sleeve and the process began.

Searing pain, it was, but there was also searing hope. I thought about the promise of unspoken words and then of the promise of Zuri. It was going to be worth it. I clenched my teeth and bore the pain.

Somewhere along the line I fainted — or was knocked out. I don’t know. All I know is that I woke up in a strange room, not the bedroom from before. I later learned this was the basement of Thiede’s house. At the time I was terrified of the change. I thought it was a tomb of some kind. It smelled strange to me. Focusing my eyes with difficulty, I spotted two hara in the corner, sitting with their oil lamp turned down low. What were they waiting for? For me to wake up?

My questions were answered all at once by a agonizing pain in my gut. It had begun. After that, I don’t remember much.

Chapter 8

Here’s what I do remember: Screaming in silence as a dagger twisted in my flesh, as my skin buckled and peeled, as the fever flared at me worse than any sunstroke I’d ever had, as I felt body sticky with blood and bile and foul fluids.

Occasionally attendants would take me to a bathtub and scrub me, washing away the filth, forcing bitter herbs down my throat.

My mind gone away to a far-away place of nightmare images and obsessive thoughts: Zuri, the mindtouch, aruna.

Pain.

Yes, I do remember it. Some of it. But not all.

After three days it was thankfully over. I awoke in a clean bed, not knowing if it was night or day. The room was darkened; I suppose they had turned the light off to let me sleep. Peering into the shadows I didn’t seen ether of the attendants, which filled me with a sudden sense of relief. I would have time to myself — time to discover what had happened to me.

The fever had completely gone and I could tell that my body was through with whatever tortuous process it had just been through. It felt solid, no longer burning or melting or breaking apart.

Tentatively ran my hands over my arms and chest. My skin was smooth and whole, sealed after seeming to had shed like a second skin. I drew up my legs and felt that they were tired but completely well.

Finally I reached down and felt for the one thing I knew would have changed. I was pleasantly surprised; it felt something like what I’d had before only… no, it was indeed different. Strange sensations stirred in me as I touched myself, and in that moment I thought that perhaps Thiede was right and I was a virgin. That old body was in the past; this one was all new.

It was just after I was done exploring that my attendants appeared, turning up the lights and smiling at me for the first time I could remember. I was grateful they had brought me through it all. In the moment they gestured for me to get up and follow them to the bath, I realized how much I had changed already, for I followed them wearing nothing but my hair. They had already seen me naked and worse than that, so what was the point of vanity or modesty?

Not until I entered the bathroom did I become the least self-conscious. One of the two attendants had gone ahead to draw the bath while the another had led me down the hall, steadying me as I swayed slightly, my body still settled into itself. We had just come through the door when the har at the tub looked over to me and did a double-take, bursting out some exclamation and pointing.

It was obvious what he was looking at. My ouana-lim. I looked down myself and did a double-take myself. There was the instrument of which Thiede had spoken, the exotic new treasure. That wasn’t what the attendant had gaped at, however. It was the color. Of course, it was bright white as my hair. Albino.

At that point I jumped into the bath, which seemed ready enough, and hid under the soap bubbles. I closed my eyes and let the two hara chatter as they gave me the last bath before… what came next.

Thiede’s confidence in Zuri had not been misplaced. From the moment he sauntered up to the bed to the moment, hours later, when I had him exhausted beneath me, he handled me beautifully, patiently. He showed me that what I had experienced in the rape had been nothing but violence, while what we were giving one another was pure pleasure.

Best of all, it wasn’t only our bodies, white and burnt mahogany, that were tangling together, it was our very beings. We felt one another. Holding him close in my arms or writing beneath him, I felt his essence, that sense of Zuri, and my heart swelled with joy, sensing strongly this was just the beginning. I was yet untrained and but already I had the power of a fifth sense, not a sixth sense, for of one sense I was still and forever lacking.

We didn’t talk at all, of course, for there was nothing to say and anyway, pens and paper would have been most unbefitting of the evening. Thus it wasn’t until afterward that he delivered to me the true revelation.

We had both taken a bath in the downstairs bathroom, brushed our hair, and gotten into robes. Zuri led me up the basement stairs and down the hall to the back, where we slipped out into the yard. It was nighttime as we climbed the hill a little further until we found a cluster of rocks and sat down on it together. Overhead the sky was half-filled with murky silver clouds. At the end of the sky, rising with the night, hung the moon.

“Moon,” Zuri said to me.

At first I didn’t know what had happened. I’d registered a sensation of some kind and I’d felt it came from somewhere nearby but…

“Moon.” I turned to ask Zuri about it and found him staring at me quite intently.

I watched his lips as he spoke. “Moon.” Then he said it again.

Even as I recognized the shape of the word, I felt the sensation pulsing in my head. Was it…? Was it…?

Zuri waved up at the sky and then there it was again, only stronger: “MOON.”

He was saying my name and I was hearing it — inside my head!

It wasn’t his voice, it was his mind, but it was enough.

As I said, that was just the beginning.

Chapter 9

The next morning I awoke eager to go out, more eager than I’d even been in my life.

As soon as I’d “heard” Zuri’s voice I’d immediately made him speak to me more — and more and more! Late as it was, I’d wanted to go into town and find groups of people to “listen” to. I wasn’t able to make sense of more than his surface emotions or, as we experimented, his projections, but I could sense something that I thought must be words and I wanted to go to town to get some more experience. Countering my strong urgings, Zuri told me to wait until morning and took me back down to the bedroom, which as it turned out wasn’t such a bad alternative, aruna being another wonderful benefit of being har.

The morning breakfast was quick mainly because I wanted it quick. I wanted to go down and be around other hara and find out what I could do with my new gifts. Zuri was more than merely tolerant of this desire but actively encouraged me, just as he had all along. In the bedroom, in between bouts of aruna, he’d used pens and paper to experiment with me, writing out words and saying them into my head as he spoke them. I’d been able to sense the connection! With training, Zuri told me, I’d be able to recognize and understand the word forms in my head and then I’d really understand. Maybe someday I’d be able to speak right back!

It amazed me, it truly did, and what’s more, I could tell it amazed Zuri as well. He explained to me on paper that it was virtually unheard of for the newly incepted to tap into such telepathic abilities as I was describing to him. True, in aruna they often were able to share in the exchange of essences and in general practice, they could pick up on emotions and moods, but the sort of signals I was receiving were the sort that a normal har would require caste training to reach. I might reach the higher castes very quickly, he speculated.

In any case that morning we rushed into town, which was called Nova, Zuri told me. After my long years in isolation and days being cooped up in Thiede’s house — for three days completely insensible — I was eager to be around others and be a part of life. Zuri introduced me to various hara on the street and in buildings throughout the town. Most everyone appeared to be working, putting together some semblance of a true town along with a farm to grown food for sustenance and sale. This was all in great contrast to the city, which for many years had been a place lacking in any economy or trace of ambition, of building, of the need to move forward. Hope was in the air.

Adjacent to the nayati there huddled a cluster of buildings dedicated exclusively to Wraeththu caste training. According to Zuri, who was still using his pen and paper, all the hara were there because they’d been drawn together my Thiede to create a strong new wave of Wraeththu, and caste training was very much a part of that. Thiede had been har for a long time (only I seemed to know just how long, although I kept that knowledge to myself) and it seemed he knew much of what Wraeththu were capable, but that knowledge had been gained haphazardly. Now Thiede wanted to approach it more systematically. Sometime that week I would be brought to the complex to begin my formal training. In the meantime, I was free to explore.

After a couple of hours, much of which was taken up by long chats between Zuri and various residents, we visited the house of his friends Anaka and Keome. We enjoyed our lunch and as ever, I was fascinated by my ability to follow along in conversations. I didn’t necessarily hear the words in my head, since that required speakers to be focusing on forming the words, but I could sense the drift of things.

It was actually during that visit that I was first faced with the dilemma I’ve faced over and over since then. I was, in short, told by Anaka to “get out” of his head, since he sensed me there and felt I was intruding. Zuri had of course told him I was deaf but to Anaka that didn’t matter. Many hara have no problem with it but some are like Anaka and are bothered, feeling a lack of privacy even though it my means of communication. That first protest was a bit of discouragement but eventually the general good mood of the group buoyed me up to a state of contentment that lasted for the rest of the afternoon.

In fact it wasn’t until we’d returned to Thiede’s house for dinner that I started to feel any additional disappointment. We went to the dining room and found Genron and Varan and a servant. There was no sign of Thiede. I hadn’t seen him since before my inception, I suddenly realized. I had to thank him! I had to show him what I could do! I took out my paper and asked where he was. I was told that he had been busy, out of sight, for a couple of days, as was his way. Thiede was often busy exploring the higher realms, Genron explained; he had reached the highest caste level and no one was exactly sure what he did there.

After dinner I was shown up to the bedroom I’d had the first night of my stay. I told Zuri I wanted to be left alone for the evening. Given the fact that I’d slept very little the night before and had spent the day exercising my brain trying to read minds, it had been a long day and overall quite a strain on me. I went to the bed and tossed off my shoes before lying down to reflect on all that had happened. Within a few minutes I fell asleep.

My nap must have lasted two or three hours. When I opened my eyes the sun had set and the room had fallen into shadow. I blinked and then noticed something out of the corner of my eye: Thiede. He immediately turned up the lamp and came to sit at the edge of the bed.

I’d found him magnificent from the very first but at that moment, having been around other hara all day, I realized he was quite above and beyond all of them — which only made sense since he was, by his own admission, the first of us all. I had become Wraeththu but he was Wraeththu.

“So, did you learn much?” he asked slowly.

He was not writing it out.

Neither was he simply speaking the words into my head — a futile gesture given that my brain had no idea how to process such messages.

No, instead of this Thiede was engaging in an entirely new form of communication: He was speaking the words into my head and projecting images of the letters! He was writing straight into my mind!

I later learned that it normally requires a great deal of caste training and concentration to send such messages. Of course receiving them is just as difficult, or at least it’s supposed to be. It took me a long time to realize how blessed I was — I got it on the first try, and I even managed to reply. “Yes, much. It is as you promised.”

Slowly, using a combination of words, picture images, gestures and, still, the pen and paper (telepathic writing is rather taxing!) I told him of what I’d learned and of my day in town. At the end of the day, I told him, I’d missed him.

“And what of Zuri?” he asked. “Did you miss him?”

“I saw him enough last night and today. Now I want you.” Filled with sudden unspent longing, I projected an image of exactly how wanted him — naked on my bed.

Thiede eyed me speculatively and then, abruptly, laughed, not harshly, I guessed, but amusedly. “You certainly know what you want,” he wrote out in my head, very slowly.

My reply was to spread my legs and smile.

Chapter 10

Looking back on this moment now, I realize what a fool I was. Not because I dared to say what I did and not because there were negative consequences. There weren’t. Still, I was so very young and newly incepted, I didn’t know what a risk I was taking. I didn’t realize that Thiede didn’t normally take aruna with just anyone, let alone newly incepted hara with zero caste training. If I had been more informed I would have been more intimidated or even frightened.

At the time, I didn’t feel the need for caution, only the need for aruna. Thiede didn’t deny me. In fact, he gave me more than I’d expected, more than just about any aruna I’ve ever had except perhaps one, which I’ll get to later.

First let me think back to that first time. I’m not sure if he was flattered or just utterly surprised, but his face flushed as he crawled onto the bed and straddled me. Sharing breath with him was liking sharing breath with the universe. Such power! At the time, so inexperienced, I felt he was engulfing me, but at the same time, I was not afraid, for I felt his concern; he was going to be gentle, protect me, and I wouldn’t get lost at all.

The journey he took me on was amazing. It was a journey into something I’d never experienced: Sound. It began in the sharing of breath, filled with its shared emotions, flitting thought-forms, mind pictures, but also now filled with a wonderful something, not what I thought were words, but something else.

Thiede was singing into my mind.

As we went along, I realized it wasn’t only a song of his own voice, although it was that, too. No, it was also the sound of the world. There were choruses of joy, flutes of sorrow, babbling streams and cracking thunder. It took me many, many years to even know these things, to learn what was what. That first time, it was wild sensation but beautiful, oh, so beautiful, and I never thought I’d get enough of that sound, that sound, that sound!

He took me up to the higher planes. Again, it was years before I went that high again. I could see him in my mind, his ethereal form, and he could see me too and together we walked on a plain of purple sand. My hair was flying past me in the wind and his was flying as well, red flames, and then we were running, soaring with the immense sound, and finally our bodies shuddered and peaked as our souls rocketed into the turquoise sky with its blood red sun.

Afterward I swear there were flames in his eyes. Fortunately I didn’t feel scorched myself, only replete, full of joy and wonder and intense thankfulness.

I was so spent that I could barely form thoughtforms. “That was… That was…” It was too much effort.

“The best?” Thiede asked, again writing it out in my mind. I nodded, not too tired to receive his messages. He, meanwhile, didn’t appear tired at all.

It was then that I learned my destiny. He intimated that I had immense potential, something he’d sensed from the start, and he wanted me to reach that potential, for my own benefit as well as Wraeththu’s. Being the first, he had worked to reach the highest levels of power and at least explore what he found there. Now that he had done so, he realized there were many varieties of power to be explored — telekinesis, the transformation of matter, aruna energy for industrial uses, telepathy and more.

Naturally I would become a master of telepathy. I would push it to its farthest limits. Other hara were limited by their paradigms, used to the speaking and hearing they’d grown up with. I would have no such difficulties and my experience in the past day was proof of that. I was very far along on the path already. Did I want to go farther?

I became a shaman.

It didn’t take Thiede to bring me there. In fact we didn’t share aruna again for years. I remained in Nova, pursuing my caste training, while Thiede remained, as he always has been, out in the world working on his plans for the elevation of our race. He did come back to Nova from time to time, as for some years it was the base for his explorations of caste training, but we never knew when he would be around. He allowed me to live in his house and I remember those days when I’d go downstairs for breakfast and find him at the table or wake in the night to find him in the chair by the bed, wanting to talk to me.

I had a lot to tell him. As everyone had expected, I rose very quickly in the ranks. At the end of five years I was Algomalid. In addition to mastery all manner of telepathy and communication, I managed to learn the other arts as well. I had very good teachers, as other hara in Nova were focusing on their own specialities — rearranging matter, creating three-dimensional visions, healing the body, and on and on so that it was an academy of learning for the individual and the group as well, all of us learning from one another and then passing on our learnings and finding to Thiede, whenever he’d come by.

Thiede came to each of us for reports I’m sure, but I always felt special. Unlike the others, I knew Thiede’s secret.

I also was Thiede’s secret.

Chapter 11

“Thiede’s secret” may be overstating the matter, since everyone knows about me — the deaf albino shaman — but nevertheless I like to use the phrase since in many ways, that’s how I’ve always felt.

As he has grown in powers and pushed along his plans for Wraeththu, he became and more distant from the rank and file and even from the elite forces of Nahir Nuri he coaxed together beginning in Nova. He has held over them not only the secret of his identity, but, it is obvious to me, some of his kindness, his sympathy, his compassion. In an effort to push forth his agenda, he has set aside parts of himself that would make him more personable, instead opting to come off as a wildly powerful eccentric, an elemental force outside of all rules, and a har with a strong will that will not be bent.

Many hara have seen their lives changed irrevocably by his decisions and many have been angered or made resentful. I am not one of them. Over the years, Thiede has always been good to me. Part of it is that I know who and what he is, part is that he has simply always held me in special esteem. We have been friends, really and truly.

It was he who set me out in the world. I was Algomalid when Thiede arrived one night and announced that it was time for me, like many others in town, to begin my mission. I was to roam the world reaching out to all the different bands of Wraeththu and teaching them what I knew, exercising my fine-honed powers to perform the services of inception, healing and of course communication, which was my speciality. Before I left, Thiede made me Nahir Nuri. “You are all I had hoped for,” he told me as he approached his horse to leave. “May the future find you reaching even higher hopes.”

I became a missionary. From a life in the dump where my only concern had been my own survival and I’d had no grand designs on the world, I arrived at a life of supreme importance, becoming something of a legend, a Nahir Nuri sent to move Wraeththu forward by sharing my gifts with hara around the world. I am known by several affectionate nicknames, including “White Ghost” and “Whitehar,” and I always attract a crowd when I arrive, swathed head to toe in protective clothing. I alight off my horse and remove my hat, revealing my snow white hair. Because of the way I communicate, I’m always greeted by the highest caste hara, who speak with me mind to mind, letting me know the situation and soliciting my assistance as needed.

Besides sharing my talents, I have of course collected information. Much of this I passed on to Thiede, who all along would visit me, popping up in the most unexpected corners of the world. I was once camped alone in a forest in Ferike, on my way across Jaddayoth, when Thiede suddenly appeared leaning against a tree. He was the busiest of hara, but somehow he would find me. Another time I was living with the Sahale beneath the mountain ranges of Elhmen when Thiede arrived, seemingly for the exclusive purpose of taking aruna with me. It was not an unwelcome surprise at all; traveling had kept me from bonding with any one particular har and though I shared with many others, no har ever satisfied as well as he has.

As the years went on, finally, Thiede appeared to me with decreasing frequency. Sometimes I would go without seeing him for months at a time. When he did appear he would appear to be agitated, closed off, as more and more he became insistent on the need for order among Wraeththu, the need to eliminate the elements of chaos and impurity that threatened to break our new race apart. He did not want for us to sink down to the level of humans. He wanted something better for us. More than ever, he was making it his mission to put Wraeththudom on the “right path.” He was still working on the plan, but he would have a solution, he assured me, even if it meant he would see me less.

I didn’t see him for most of last year. Although I was busy with my work as always and at first took it in stride, after almost a year had passed, I grew worried. He was my friend and even though there were distances between us, we had always stayed in contact.

Finally four months ago he appeared out of nowhere asking me to go with him to a palace he’d built in a far northern place. I was greatly surprised; often he appeared all of a sudden, but normally he came without any requests except that we talk or share aruna or go for a walk. Still, I was not opposed to the idea of settling down somewhere at least for a time. I had been traveling a long time and just completed a mission. Besides, I was missing him and it seemed as though we would be traveling together and then spending some time in the new palace. So I said I’d go and then, with an abruptness I’d heretofore only seen him wield with others, whisked me away half-way across the world!

True to his word, it was a lovely palace, a comfortable place to stay — for me to stay anyway. Almost immediately after we arrived, Thiede left for parts unknown. The other hara there were not at all surprised. I was a bit let down. Thiede was my friend and didn’t he owe me some explanation? Eventually I talked myself out of my upset and tried to relax into things. It was a change of pace, relaxing, being pampered, having access to books, not having to worry about caste trainings or tribal politics. However, after two months, I became restless. Why had Thiede brought me here? Surely he must have had a reason!

He arrived in secret and came to me. I was lying in bed, tossing and turning, my body uneasy and uncomfortable, feeling a lack of aruna like I’d never had before. I’d been to preoccupied with waiting for him to even consider such basic matters. Aruna. As soon as I felt his presence in the room I felt the warmth spreading outward from my loins.

Thiede sat on the bed and when I looked up to see him, he was smiling at me wistfully.

“Miss me?” he asked, mind to mind, soul to soul. By that point we understood on another perfectly.

He knew the answer as soon as I felt it: Yes.

“Are you lonely, my friend?”

“Not really, I have enough. It’s only that I like to see you now and then.”

“Are you happy with the life that you’ve had?”

“Yes, very. You gave me the universe — and your friendship.”

“I also put you to work.”

“I enjoyed it.”

“What do you think of children?”

The last question threw me. Hara are reproducing now. I’ve seen it myself on my travels. An amazing miracle truly. The harlings I’ve seen are enchanting, not least because their minds are so open to me they often fail to notice that I never speak except in their heads.

But why should Thiede be asking me such a question? I was too surprised to give him any answer besides an outpouring of my feelings — confusion but also amazement.

Thiede looked away from me then, his brow furrowed in consideration.

“What is it?” I asked.

I couldn’t help knowing what thoughts formed in his mind then. He wanted a to create a child with me.

I reached out and pulled him down on the bed with me.

“When did you realize this?” I asked him, stroking his hair.

“You have traveled, Moon,” he told me. “You have seen the harlings. I know you love them.”

It’s true, I do love them, and so he knew from me it was true.

“I want to make a child for both of us, Moon.”

Why? I knew I wanted it but I had to hear it from him. Why had he treated me as he had? Thiede had spoken against love so I doubted it was that, but what he was telling me…

“When I found you, you reminded me of myself,” Thiede explained. “Not exactly the same, but I felt something then, a connection. And then when you became har and I was able to give you… a real life… I felt almost as if you were my child, moreso even than all hara are my children. You have always been a true friend to me, one of the few I’ve ever had. For years you have worn the responsibility I placed on you, knowing how valuable you could me to all our kind. Now I would like something different from you. An experiment of sorts, a change of pace. I have wanted this for years but I needed a someone I could trust. I know it must be you. Understand, this is not about becoming chesna with you. It is not about love, not the love of mankind. It is… something I want us to try. To make life, to make joy, to make a son.”

“I will host the pearl?” I asked.

“If you would be willing. You know I could not do it, not with my traveling, not with what I have to manage. My life is still not my own and it never will be. I must live for all Wraeththudom…”

“Yes,” I assured, “I understand. I have always understood. I know about you. I know this is what you want. I want it, too.”

He turned to me then and took me in his arms. His breath was the breath of the universe. He filled with me his sound, his song, and finally, his seed.

Afterward I lay back feeling the energy wash through me, dwelling on the peculiar yet wonderful sensations deep within me. Thiede and I had become one and now our flesh would become one in a child.

He would be free, we decided, free from responsibilities to our people, a child to be cared for and nurtured. Thiede was building a great unified kingdom, he told me, and he had almost found the king. Our son would not be part of that. Our son would only be someone we would care for.

Suddenly a worry flared in me. What if our son was like me? Another deaf albino? Thiede laughed at my concern. I was beautiful and heard more clearly than other hara — far more clearly. He gave me other assurances as well. I might not be able to remain in the palace but our small family would always be provided for in some fashion. I suggested it might be best if I went to another part of the world, far away where we would not be drawn into any of Thiede’s politics or kingdoms. “After the pearl is born,” Thiede told me. “Until then, you must not travel.”

He stayed with me for a full week afterward, which surprised me. We were both very curious about the pearl. It was an experiment for both of us, an experiment in the name of friendship and hope.

It is seven weeks since that day. Soon it will be time. With every day I can feel the pearl more and more, not only its hardness inside of me, but its very essence. Of course I know what it is feeling and because I can, I let our son know how I am feeling. Lately it is not too well.

Two days ago I received a mind message, long, long distance, from Thiede. It came to me at lunchtime and my servant stared at me as I froze at the table, concentrating on the words. My servant thought I would be birthing the pearl, but I was only so startled, so disappointed.

Thiede, it seems, is facing a crisis, one that may take him away from me for a long time. Something to do with the future king of Wraeththu. He has not confided in me his whole plan and neither have I asked him to. I don’t know what it is, only that Thiede will not be able to return. I will bear this pearl alone and then afterward, I will be taken to a place far away where I will begin a new life. I am sure I can do it, but still, I do wish he was here.

Perhaps this is a practice for the future. Thiede will not be here for my son and me. I don’t mind it, as I grew up with only my mother and have overcome many difficulties in my life, but I do hope he is able to return someday, find me wherever I am. He can always find me and come, or if not, at least he can call. I will always be able to hear him.

The End

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