Moon and Son

Moon and Son
by Wendy Darling (Wiebke)

Story Notes

This story is a sequel to Garden of the Moon, my story of the deaf albino boy rescued by Thiede, turned into a shaman, and then finaly chosen for a very special duty. In this story, we catch up with him as well as Vaysh, a character I’d wanted to explore for quite a while. I hope all the original fans of this story enjoy it. Please do let me know what you think.

Characters
Vaysh, Moon (original character from Garden of the Moon), another original character (to be named later), Pell, Cal, Rue, Thiede.

Spoilers
Containers spoilers for entire Wraeththu trilogy.

Chapter 1

It was the eyes that first caught his attention.

Vaysh later wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t seen them, if he hadn’t been wandering about Immanion that particular afternoon, standing at that particular market stall, looking up at that particular moment. Would the outcome have been the same? His logical mind told him yes — after all, he wasn’t the only individual involved, and eventually matters would probably have come together on their own. Still, his heart told him no. Such a powerful moment it had been, that first glimpse, seeing those amber eyes. Perhaps without the first domino falling, Vaysh felt, the rest of it might not have followed.

It happened in the year ai-cara 30. Months had passed since the momentous Ascension, and in those months Vaysh had gained more and more opportunity — and desire — to leave the palace Phaonica and mingle amidst the common crowds of the city. Not that the populace of Immanion could be considered remotely common in a general sense, but the lives and attitudes of such hara certainly contrasted with those living in the palace. In Phaonica, the game was never-ending, hara trading and squabbling over power, status, love, and every move mad behind the veneer of high-caste virtue. While Vaysh was an expert at the palace game, the more he went out, the more he drew pleasure from watching hara outside the palace walls, who put less effort into disguising their petty motivations and machinations. Not that Vaysh himself opened up himself, but he did enjoy watching.

In any case, going about the city was something to do now that he was no longer in such demand. In comparison to the past three decades, Pellaz had far less free time to spend chatting with his friend. He and his Calanthe, together with Caeru, were busy healing one another and managing affairs of state, and Vaysh had been pushed to the periphery. The bonds they had once shared so strongly seemed to have weakened, with Pellaz no longer suffering the pain he had felt all those years and Thiede gone to a place where he no longer tormented or controlled the lives of either of them. As for those nights of mutual pleasure they had once shared, they had gone as well.

While he was certainly busy with his role as official advisor and counselor, which he fulfilled for with both Tigrons as well as the Tigrina, after the initial rush of activity, Vaysh found that his schedule left him hours to fill her had never had. Or maybe he had just never thought to do anything with those hours beyond working extra hours, reading, lying in bed drinking. These days he was less inclined to such reclusive, melancholy activities; going to the city for shopping, or at least observing, had become a favorite pass time.

For many years Vaysh had disdained the common crowd or, more truly, any crowds at all. The Ascension had changed all that. Like many hara, in the moment when at last Cal had joined with Pell, Vaysh had felt a change within himself. Although it was not something many had noticed, he felt more alive than he had in years. He couldn’t be described as fun-loving or particularly social or convivial, but he knew that in relative terms, he had indeed become so. The ice, as Pell might have said, if he had noticed, was beginning to melt. It would take time. Time and, as Vaysh learned, the proper trigger.

Before he saw the eyes, Vaysh first heard the voice or rather a word, overheard across a market stall: “Thiede.”

Vaysh had been absorbed comparing hair products, of all things, and examining a tin of pomade, he’d felt a a prickling feeling run down his spine. So much had changed in his life, and yet that single word still had the power to curdle his blood, or so it seemed.

Vaysh was glad that for the most part the name was no longer used. No, these days “Thiede” had become “the Aghama,” his role as the first of Wraeththu common knowledge, the root of the Gelaming religion. Most hara did not speak of Thiede, even if they had known him in flesh in blood.

It was for this reason, and for what the har was saying, that Vaysh looked up. This har spoke of Thiede without the usual reverence. Speaking with the vendor in a low tone, obviously aiming at discretion, he was asking if Thiede ever granted audiences! Would it be possible to speak with him? While Vaysh was astonished at the question, the vendor laughed, for while the Aghama was worshipped in prayer and the Triad spoke to him within the walls of the Sanctum, Thiede did not act the role of overlord. The Aghama did not exist to hear petitions or solve the petty problems of everyday hara.

Vaysh saw only the har’s back, a view which gave away nothing, not even the har’s haircolor, as his entire head was covered over with pale yellow linen. It was only when the har turned to follow the vendor to the counter that Vaysh saw it was not only the head but the entire face that was covered — or nearly. The eyes were there for all to see.

The har’s headgear matched fashion among certain tribes who dwelt in the desert, and above the yellow linen the eyes twinkled with a light all too familiar to Vaysh: Thiede’s. Unusual, the color, although of course it had only been appropriate, the fiery father of the flaming hair, with two eyes that glowed like polished amber.

How strange to be thinking of that when the desert har had just brought up Thiede himself. Thiede’s name, Thiede’s eyes, and Vaysh had been Thiede’s once as well. His creation. His servant. Now he was supposed to be his worshipper, a role with which he still was not comfortable.

Vaysh, who tended to act in an extremely premeditated fashion, was surprised at the idea that came into his head then. Maybe, just for the afternoon, he could take on a new role: Thiede’s spy. The stranger was buying a tin of pomade just like the one Vaysh had in his hand. As the vendor took the money and wrapped up the container, the eyes were still there, the headgear was still there, and now, Vaysh sensed, power was there as well. Even shielded, as Vaysh habitually was, he could feel that pulse of power. More shadows of Thiede.

The strange har finally took his purchase and headed out of the stall, aparently oblivious to Vaysh’s observation. Quickly going to the counter to make his own purchase, Vaysh watched the offender moved two stalls over. He was so tall he had to stoop under the awning, and standing next to a bookseller, he appeared outsized, disproportionate to his environment. Vaysh wondered which corner the world the har had come from and whether indeed he was a member of a desert tribe.

Extending his senses, Vaysh heard the har once again asking questions about Thiede. Vaysh’s mind quickly filled with questions. Who was this tall unknown, to be calling Thiede by his name and asking about gaining an audience with him? Obviously he was new to the city, but didn’t hara almost everywhere now know the truth? Was it possible that this har had once known Thiede? The idea made Vaysh shiver, especially since it was was indeed quite possible.

Accepting his purchase from the vendor, Vaysh issued a perfunctorary thank you, his mind primarily focused on keeping the tall stranger in sight. As he headed into the market, concealing his movements was not an issue. The har was in no hurry and Vaysh could easily pretend to be lingering at the various stalls. He could also disguise himself by making himself invisible, not literally, but by wielding his powers to keep others from noticing him. In this way he followed the har through the marketplace and then half-way across the city.

After about a half an hour, the har had apparently reached his destination. They were in one of the poorer districts of the city, which was not to say that it was not a lovely area, but that it was not the quarter for diplomats or high-ranking hara. This quarter, with its less pretentious inns and guesthouses, was mainly frequented by traveling merchants, come into Immanion on business. As Vaysh watched the stranger proceed down a side alley to what was apparently a guest house, he wondered if he could be one of these merchants. Although he didn’t have the common manner or appearance of such hara, who were normally gregarious and ostentatious, one never knew.

Finally the stranger entered the front yard of the guesthouse through a metal gate. Vaysh sidled up the alley and planted himself behind the high hedges that blocked out one side of the yard. Probably there would be nothing further to see, as the har would no doubt go inside the house, but for some reason Vaysh felt the need to keep him in his sights as long as possible. Later he realized this drive had been based on more than mere impulse, but at the time, it seemed like a simple act of self-indulgence, just like the half hour of spying that had preceded it. If he’d already wasted the time of following this har, he told himself, then he might as well spend a few moments more.

It was only a moment or two later, after gaining a view of the yard through the bushes, that Vaysh found that he had been wrong. The stranger had not gone inside, but instead was pacing out in front, as if he were composing himself for a speech or presentation. Vaysh was just beginning to wonder what was going on when out the front door of the guesthouse emerged a second har, even more intriguing than the first.

This har, Vaysh recognized at once, was an albino. Whether he was an incepted har or pureborn was impossible to tell, but certainly he was an anomaly, as Vaysh in all his travels had never seen a har with the peculiarly striking white skin and hair he glimpsed now. Quite exotic he was, even by Wraeththu standards, with short hair spiked up in bunches, ears loaded with silver earrings. Within a few moments, Vaysh felt sure the albino was a shaman; even shielding, he could feel a strong vibration of power.

In the meantime it seemed the first har was delivering his report, or at least his hand gestures indicated as much. For words, there were none. These hara were both communicating solely by mindtouch and no lips were moving. This was definitely not a meeting of ordinary merchants. Probably both of them were shamen from a faraway tribe. Vaysh was sorely tempted to unshield himself and attempt to listen in on the conversation, but he didn’t want to risk the exposure.

Instead he watched the two hara go back and forth, the first har obviously delivering information, the second questioning him. The albino did not use his hands nearly as much as the taller har, appearing serene. When the albino finally did react, it was to step forward and embrace his companion, patting him on the back. The expression on both of them showed slight disappointment. What news had the har been collecting in the city? Reports on Thiede?

Vaysh didn’t have the opportunity to consider these questions for more than a moment before something occurred which changed everything. The two hara separated and then the first har, glancing casually over his shoulder, tugged on the linen head wrapping. It was the hair that came into view first, a tangle of bright red. A pale cheek and chin were revealed, then a mouth, a nose. Then it was something Vaysh never thought he would see again: The face of Thiede.

Chapter 2

In Vaysh’s rational mind, there was no question: Thiede was dead, or at least he was no longer here on this earth.

Vaysh’s irrational mind was dealing with a different reality: Thiede was living and standing only a few yards away.

There he was. Immensely tall with that same magnificent, phosphorescent white skin and flaming red hair, framing his face, the face. Thiede. Standing before the mysterious albino, he certainly appeared to be real, living — but he couldn’t be!

Maybe I’m going insane, Vaysh thought. Maybe this is what happens when you neglect yourself and leave issues unresolved. I’ve got things I’ve wanted to say to Thiede and so here he is. Ye gods, look at him, preening his hair. I bet he knows I’m watching. He always knew everything I was thinking. Always manipulating me. Vaysh stared on in disbelief, mixed in with suddenly fresh and painful memories. Oh, that’s him all right. I felt the power coming out of him, after all. I’ve been a fool not to realize it. Thiede has come back to the flesh!

Vaysh’s head leaned between the hedges as he strained for a closer look. He was pushing aside a branch when suddenly he received the second shock of that night, a pair of doves fluttering out into the open, flushed out, albeit inadvertently. Vaysh’s instincts made him gasp — before he could think — and soon he felt flushed out himself.

Over in the yard, the albino was staring, eyes wide. Thiede had turned his head. The amber of his eyes was the last thing Vaysh saw before he passed out.

A few minutes later, when he came to, Vaysh felt relieved. He was lying in a soft, comfortable bed, presumedly his own — not fallen amongst the hedges as he had feared.

Thank heavens! The entire scene with Thiede and the albino shaman had been nothing more than a vivid nightmare. The sensation of relief he felt reminded him of those fleeting feelings he’d sometimes had just before falling asleep, a sense of panic and he’d suddenly imagine he was falling down a flight of stairs, unable to save himself, skidding and tumbling, head over heads. He’d flail around in terror for a moment only to finally wake up enough to realize he was safe under the covers. He’d fall asleep almost immediately afterward.

Not so this time. No, in this instance Vaysh’s moment of relief was almost immediately invaded by the presence of a powerful mind, cutting into his consciousness: “Are you all right? Please, who are you? What–”

In a blur of motion Vaysh was sitting up in bed throttling the albino. He was in a strange bed, a strange room. He assumed he was inside the house. Had he actually fainted? Or had this stranger exerted some power over him? He’d been carried inside and apparently was being interrogated, although the albino had been thwarted for certain. Vaysh had slammed his mind shut as soon as he could. No one was allowed inside — no one!

Who was this har, with his pink eyes and white hair? Daring to seize the Tigrons’ chief counselor, dragging him into a strange bed and carrying out a mindprobe? Hands around the offender’s throat, Vaysh was determined to have answers to those questions, although his immediate course of action was simply to prove he could defend himself more than adequately, holding the squirming har in check. The albino was staring at him in shock, obviously not expecting to be fought off.

“Stop it!” a voice shouted. Suddenly Vaysh was being shaken by the shoulders. He growled and twisted his head to see who putting his hands on him. What was this, some sort of assault?

In the heat of anger, little did he expect to see Thiede.

Thiede! Here was that face again. Vaysh had been relieved upon waking, thinking everything he’d seen had been a nightmare, but now he saw that the nightmare was true. Thiede!

His hands let go their grip on the albino and he stared, every muscle rigid. Not for a long time had he been so completely overcome with dread or left at such an immense loss for words.

“Thank you for stopping,” Thiede began. “I assure you, he meant no harm. We saw you had fainted at the side of the yard. Moon sensed your distress and together we rushed you inside. He was only trying to find out if you were all right and who you are–”

“He doesn’t know who I am?” Vaysh broke in. Hard as it was to believe, he was having a talk with the risen Aghama.

Thiede looked over to the albino, who had by that time composed himself. “No, of course he doesn’t know you. Should he? For that matter, should I?”

Vaysh was stupefied. Thiede didn’t recognize him, didn’t know him?

So many questions rushed into his head and yet before he could even focus on one of them, let alone voice it, he was interrupted. “I swear, Moon was merely communicating to you in the only way he can. You see, my hostling is deaf–”

“Your hostling!?” Vaysh gasped. Thiede didn’t have a hostling, or at least he hadn’t in his first life. What had the trickster done this time? Had himself reborn as a harling? How could he have grown up a single year?

The answers to these questions didn’t come in the way he expected. “I know,” Thiede admitted. “I don’t look like him at all, but he’s my hostling. Funny how that works. I really look more like my father.”

At that moment, Vaysh staring blank-facedly in shock, the albino leaned forward and nudged his son’s side, meanwhile nodding meaningfully.

Thiede smiled. “Moon says that I more than ‘look more like my father,’ but that I look exactly like him. Exactly.” The har chuckled. “He says you think that’s who I am and that’s why you’re so afraid. He says to tell you that I’m not Thiede.”

Once again Vaysh was faced with a sense of horrible uncertainly. Was this real or a nightmare? Was he dreaming while awake or awake in some sort of dream? Whatever the case, his tongue was making words and he had no control over them. “You’re not Thiede.” He swallowed. “Who are you then?”

“My name is Apollo,” the har replied, “Thiede’s son.”

Chapter 3

Vaysh wasn’t normally known for his emotional outbursts. Far from it. This afternoon was proving to be quite a switch for him.

“Thiede’s son!?” he erupted. “That’s impossible!”

The red head nodded evenly. “I assure you it’s true. My hostling can certainly vouch for it.”

Vaysh shifted his eyes. Looking on this luminous albino beauty, he got a prickly, uncomfortable feeling inside.

“Your… hostling,” he pronounced slowly.

The concept of anyone having managed to carry Thiede’s seed and escaping death boggled Vaysh’s mind, although he was trying to keep this reaction from his face. He looked back to the son. “He carried your pearl?”

“Are you really asking?” Apollo half-laughed.

Vaysh crossed his arms. “Yes.”

“Do you want me to ask him for you? With your mind closed, he can’t properly understand you.”

“Fine, yes. Ask him.”

Apollo paused, apparently relaying the message and receiving an answer. “He says absolutely, he carried my pearl, which was conceived with Thiede.”

Again, that absurd concept — and another outburst. “That’s impossible!”

Apollo cocked his head. “You keep saying that. Why?”

It seemed to Vaysh that he was really having trouble getting through to these two hara. Neither of them seemed to grasp just how extraordinary the situation was or why he might be upset by it.

“Why, you ask? Where do I start with that?”

“Well, to start,” Apollo replied, “you might tell us who you are.”

Up until that point Vaysh had somehow failed to introduce himself. For a master of protocol, this was quite a breach. “Oh, pardon me. I’m Vaysh, advisor to the Tigrons. It was I who first brought the Tigron Pellaz to Phaonica, on Thiede’s orders.”

“Ah, then we’ve heard of you,” Apollo bubbled lightly. Moon, meanwhile, straightened up considerably, having presumedly received Vaysh’s words via his son’s mind.

Vaysh was not amused. “How flattering. I wish I could say I’d heard of you. The thing is, I knew Thiede for years — decades — and he never said anything about either of you. Never even a hint.

Apollo glanced down at the bed and chuckled softly to himself. “I’m not at all surprised.” Looking over to his hostling, he abruptly said, “Moon would like to speak now.”

“What are you, his interpreter?” Vaysh asked.

The har nodded. “Yes, when he meets hara who won’t open their minds to him. I told you, he’s deaf. He was born that way. He can’t speak.”

“And he speaks solely telepathically?” Vaysh questioned further. The concept of a har being so adept he had overcome deafness, especially congenital, amazed him, even after a life of meeting many highly gifted hara.

Apollo answered in the affirmative. “Occasionally he writes in a notebook. But Thiede taught him to speak with his mind, with an actual voice.”

“Thiede taught him?”

“Yes, absolutely. My father rescued Moon.”

“Surely we can’t be talking about the same person. I can’t imagine Thiede being so kind.”

“Well, he was!” Apollo replied defensively. “Now will you please let my hostling speak to you — directly? I assure you, he won’t pry into your mind. He’s very gentle.”

“Oh, I’m sure!” Vaysh sneered. “He wasn’t gentle before — he was assaulting me!”

“Perhaps it only felt that way because of the walls you normally keep around yourself.”

Vaysh flinched. The way this har spoke to him was unsettling. His manner was completely unvarnished. In a way, he reminded him of Cal.

“So will you let him in?”

Vaysh considered for a moment. He really did want to talk to this creature, this Moon. Anyone who claimed to have been with Thiede, at least once, would have quite a story to tell, at the very least.

He made his decision: “Only if he swears he will only scan my surface thoughts. I can concede that much, if he is deaf as you say.”

Apollo nodded. “He swears.”

“Well, tell him to go on then. I’ll open up — just enough.”

A moment later, the albino’s voice sounded in Vaysh’s mind. It was the clearest voice he had ever picked up in his head: “Apollo is my son. He is also Thiede’s.”

Vaysh replied both aloud and in his mind. “I can’t imagine Thiede having a son.”

“He did, Vaysh, you must believe me. He kept it a secret, but he did. We did.”

Again the concept of this har actually having lain with Thiede made Vaysh uncomfortable. How had he managed to survive?

“So you and Thiede…?” he began awkwardly. “He made you carry his child?”

Moon tossed up his shoulders, which Vaysh took as a laugh. “He didn’t ‘make’ me, Vaysh. Not at all. We decided on it together.”

The concept was not making sense. If Thiede had fathered a child, there must have been a reason. “But why?” he asked.

Moon smiled gently, reaching to take his son’s hand. “For the same reason many hara have decided to have children.”

“And that is?”

“Oh, because we knew we could. It was an experiment.”

Vaysh balked. “Oh, of course. I know all about Thiede and his ‘experiments’ and his–”

“I’m sorry, ‘experiment’ wasn’t quite the word I wanted to put across,” Moon’s mindvoice cut in. “I meant that we decided to try to create something different — a life happier than our own.”

“I don’t believe you,” Vaysh grumbled. “Thiede would never have such an unselfish motive.”

“Maybe not in your mind, but I knew him well.”

“You may think so but–”

“No,” Moon interrupted, clearly comfortable taking the upper hand. “I know so. Now tell me, you have more questions?”

At that moment, Vaysh felt like he nothing but questions, but he managed to single out one of them in his mind. “Yes, actually I do. But I think the first one is for your son.” He looked over to the spitting image of Thiede. “How old are you?”

“35.”

“No. That’s–”

“Don’t say impossible,” Apollo warned.

“But it is!” Vaysh argued. “That would mean you were born the year…” He couldn’t even say it.

Moon was not so squeamish. “The year Tigron Pellaz was killed and raised from the dead. Yes, that was the year, Vaysh.”

“Ah, now it makes sense. So I was right! Thiede wasn’t unselfish. He wanted a back-up!”

Moon and Apollo looked him blank-faced. “I don’t know what you mean,” Moon admitted.

“Probably because you’re just as twisted as Thiede! Or you’re just a fool.”

“Hey, now don’t you dare call my hostling a fool!” Apollo defended. “Do you think Thiede would have been interested in him if he were?”

“Fine. Moon’s a devil then. Better?”

Moon attempted to diffuse the situation. “Vaysh, I know you were mistreated, injured, but–”

“You know?!” Vaysh hissed.

This was all getting to be too much again.

“I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me,” he reflected aloud. “You were probably part of it, part of Thiede’s whole scheme, his partner in crime.”

“Oh, Vaysh, believe me, I wasn’t. I had nothing to do with what happened to Pellaz either. The day he was killed — and reborn — I was alone, living in the far north, hosting Apollo’s pearl. I didn’t see Thiede again for two years.”

Vaysh simply couldn’t fathom it: The power-hungry Thiede of those days fathering a secret child even as he created a perfect Tigron from scratch. It just didn’t make sense. He had so many questions — all of which would have to wait until this har was done talking.

“Let me explain,” Moon continued. “I raised Apollo almost entirely on my own. But Thiede and I created him together. It wasn’t part of any scheme or plan. We intended to raise him together. Thiede even stayed with me during the first week I hosted. Then he had to go tend to Pellaz — as you well know.”

Vaysh was beginning to wonder just what he did know. “You would appear to be very familiar with Thiede’s activities,” he noted.

“Oh, not really,” Moon replied, dismissive. “I always gave him freedom — he could do what he wanted, no questions really.”

“You ‘gave’ Thiede freedom?” Vaysh scoffed. “You must be kidding!

“No, not at all.”

It was at this point that Apollo got up off the bed. “Would you like some refreshment, Vaysh? I think you could use some wine.”

“Thank you,” he agreed, absent-mindedly. He wasn’t very interested in drinking, only in dealing with a reality which seemed far from being reality.

“Forgive me,” he said to Moon, “but I find this all rather difficult to accept. You seem so casual about all this, as if nothing about this is unusual or surprising. You’re talking about Thiede almost as if he were some normal har.”

“Am I?” Moon asked. “I’m just talking about the har I knew — very well. I agree, though, he wasn’t normal, Vaysh. Not the day I met him, not ever.”

Chapter 4

As Moon told his story, Vaysh tried to follow along by asking questions, but by the end of it, when Moon spoke of feeling Thiede’s Ascension, his head was a whirl of half-comprehended impossibilities. Moon’s life, let alone his relationship with Thiede, came across as the stuff of myth and legend.

Moon was not insensitive to this. “You’re bewildered, I can see it.” It was at that point that Apollo reappeared, bearing glasses of wine for each of them. “Have a drink. It’ll help calm you down.”

Vaysh accepted his glass and drew it close to his chest, solid in a world that suddenly seemed very unstable. “This story you’ve just told me… is rather shocking, even to me.”

“That’s what he always said,” Apollo remarked. As before, Vaysh couldn’t help marveling at how much he resembled his father.

Moon smiled wistfully. “Yes, that was something he always told me. It was one of the reasons I stayed so very far away from here. He felt that details of my existence would be disruptive.”

“I’ll say,” Vaysh said softly. “Not particularly in keeping with his image. I don’t know if you realize, Moon, but Thiede wasn’t exactly known for his understanding of relationships. In fact he seemed bent on ruining everyone else’s. It would never have done to have any har see him with you and think the mighty Thiede was in love.”

Moon appeared wounded. “I never said he was in love with me, Vaysh.”

Vaysh’s heart skipped a beat. “It was a presumption. You sound like lovers.”

“Lovers in the harish sense. We were never chesna.” Moon’s right hand idly tugged on a tuft of his wildly spiked hair. “Thiede always told me that the one meant to be his chesna had died.”

“What?!” Vaysh exclaimed. “He never told me that.”

“No, he wouldn’t have,” Moon said. “It was all part of his image. He liked to act like everything he did was based on a new conception of morality or emotions, that things like love were relics of man, better abandoned, but he always talked about that to me — especially after Orien was murdered.”

A silence passed in the room. Vaysh knew as well as anyone how much Orien’s death had affected Thiede. He had gathered it on his own, but Thiede had revealed the matter even more to Pellaz. There was a new shock, however, as Pell had said nothing about Orien being his chesna.

Moon rapidly provided an explanation. “I’m not speaking of Orien now, mind you.” Vaysh’s face registered surprise. “I see you don’t know. I was speaking of someone who came before Orien. It was the first time Thiede had ever made love. He didn’t know what would happen. His beloved was human, of course, and he died.”

Years ago Vaysh had seen men who’d been killed by intercourse with Wraeththu. War victims, they had been a horror to behold. If that was the wound Thiede had inflicted, even unknowingly, it seemed understandable that he’d have been traumatized by love.

Moon offered further explanation. “He went mad afterward — for a while. He told me that was what had convinced him that love was not for him and not for Wraeththu. Love is madness, it is weakness, it is division within our hearts, which must be strong and whole.”

“So you were never in love.”

Moon rolled his eyes. His face, Vaysh noted, was remarkably expressive. “He was never in love with me.”

“You were in love with him, though,” Apollo cut in, addressing his hostling. Moon looked over to his son sharply, his face actually coloring a light pink. “Be honest, you know it’s true.”

Moon shrugged. “Perhaps. I owed him quite a lot. He spoiled me. I’ve never been very close to any other hara except him and my son. We were never chesna, I was never his consort, not even when I bore his son. He treated me very well.”

“You’re lucky,” Vaysh remarked darkly. “Some of us got hurt.”

Chapter 5

Vaysh winced inwardly at his quickly spoken words. Why had he spoken? Despite years of experience concealing his feelings, faced with so many revelations all at once, Vaysh found he was having to exert quite an effort to mask his reactions. Making matters worse, Moon required access to his mind in order to communicate directly. Even though Moon’s mindtouch was highly refined, conveying only words, Vaysh felt very much on the defensive.

He opted to cover himself. “Of course, none of us had to bear a pearl for him either.” This wasn’t a subject he particularly wanted to dwell on, but diverting attention from himself was an impulse he couldn’t resist. “Did the delivery hurt you greatly?”

Moon shook his head mildly. “No, not much. And once the pearl hatched, it was hard to be angry. Apollo was such a dear child.”

Vaysh felt his emotions rising once again. This har had shared aruna with Thiede unscathed and more that than, carried aruna to its furthest possible point. Vaysh had experienced something completely the opposite, enduring an encounter with Thiede that was far from gentle. Afterward he found he couldn’t have harlings — Thiede’s or anyone other har’s. Thiede had done better with Pellaz, bringing him through perfectly, the perfect candidate for the exalted role of Tigron. He and Pellaz had already sealed up any lingering bitterness long ago, but with this new har, his jealousy was inflamed even further.

“You take an awful lot for granted,” Vaysh admonished, as carefully and icily as he could. “Thiede has become the Aghama, but your blind love of him–”

“Keeps him from realizing the pain he may have put others through while he was still in the flesh.” This was Apollo, leaning back in his chair and tipping his wind glass towards his hostling. “You have to realize, Vaysh, that Moon here has held a rather unique perspective his whole life. I’m the one who was just out scouting the city trying to find out what hara are thinking, what’s going on. Moon was just going to stay here brooding until we tried to visit the palace.”

“Ah, then you are planning a visit then?” Vaysh asked, already having launched his own speculations.

“Yes,” Moon affirmed, “we’d been planning to introduce ourselves to the Tigrons, the Hegemony, you, and–”

“Me?” Vaysh interrupted. “What, was I in your actual plan? I thought you didn’t know who I was?”

“Correction: I didn’t know what you looked like — not now anyway.”

Vaysh stared at Moon hard. “Not ‘now’? Just what is that supposed to mean? Did you have a previous description of me?”

For the first time that night, Moon looked uncomfortable, squirming away a bit.

When he didn’t supply an answer, Apollo decided to do it for him. “I personally don’t know, but I bet Thiede told him about you… yes, I’m right, aren’t I?” His hostling rolled his eyes and nodded. “Yes, that’s it, Thiede told him about you.”

“When did he do that?” he asked.

“Years ago, mostly,” Moon replied, eyes averted. “you understand, in the years just before Apollo was born, I didn’t see much of Thiede, as he was simply too busy.

“And I know all too well with what. If I’m calculating the timing correctly and Apollo was born at around the same time as Pell’s rebirth, then while you were missing Thiede, he was with me… having… well, I think you know.” He stared at the side of Moon’s pale face. He would not spell it all out. He couldn’t.

Finally Moon turned his head. “You are correct. I was not party to that while it was happening, although eventually I did learn of it — afterward.”

“He told you all of it then? Or his side at least?” No way did Vaysh expect Moon to be unbiased. Too much in love with Thiede, he probably went along with anything he said, Vaysh reasoned.

“He did tell me. He was very upset over what happened with you and told me more than once.”

“How ironic,” Vaysh sneered. “I can just imagine Thiede slinking off to you, his priest confessor. So, did you absolve him? Or did you just bask in the smug satisfaction of knowing that you’d escaped that sort of treatment, that you were so very special that–”

“No, Vaysh!” Moon cut in. “No, that’s not how I saw it at all. Not smug. Guilty.”

“I thought you said you weren’t ‘party to’ what happened.”

“That’s true, but I felt guilty all the same, after Thiede told me.” Moon rose off the bed and paced over to the window next to Apollo. “He came and told me how he’d failed. I wasn’t happy with what he’d done, especially since I felt it was partially my fault — making him so cocky.”

“What do you mean?” Apollo asked.

“Yes, what do you mean?” Vaysh echoed.

“I mean that with me, Thiede had taken a ‘nothing’ and raised him up to greatness.” He left his station at the window and paced to the door, where he leaned against the frame. “I was deaf, albino, living on my own, undereducated, and he managed to transform me into a shaman. I was powerful, successful, and adjusted to everything wonderfully. I wonder — and I wondered then — if maybe this made Thiede a little too overconfident, thinking every har would welcome his assistance and that he could work miracles.”

Vaysh studied the small white har before him. He appeared completely sincere in his regret. “Don’t blame yourself.”

“Blame my father,” Apollo popped in. When Vaysh and Moon both looked to him sternly, he laughed. “Well, that’s what you’re saying, and it’s funny because everybody I talked to seems to do that. But things aren’t up to him anymore, they’re up to the Triad. And I for one am ready to get out of this house and march to the palace right now.” He stood up abruptly. “Anyone care to join me?”

Chapter 6

Vaysh fixed his eyes on the upstart. “You really want to go there?”

Apollo stood with his hands on his hips. “Yes, of course I do. So does Moon. It’s what we’re here for. What, don’t you think it’s a good idea?”

Moon rose to stand beside his son. “We want to go to Phaonica, Vaysh. We want to meet the Triad. We want to go to the Sanctum.”

The Sanctum. In all the thoughts that had ricocheted through Vaysh’s brain in the time since he’d come to, the notion of Moon and Apollo making a pilgrimage to the Sanctum had never occurred to him. Presented with it now, Vaysh could only stare blankly.

“What is it?” Moon asked. “Something surprise you?”

Vaysh slowly stood up from his place on the bed. “Going to the Sanctum. Do you think that’s really wise?” He caught Apollo’s eyes and held them. “Do you think it’s even possible?”

Moon didn’t waver. “Of course it is. He promised me.”

Apollo stepped in. “He told us — told Moon — before the end, he told us he might never really be gone, that we could talk to him, his spirit, even after death. Going around the city, asking questions, I’d heard the Triad do in fact have contact with him, that they talk to him in the Sanctum.”

Vaysh crossed his arms and nodded. “They commune together. I’ve seen it.”

“Have you ever taken part?” Moon asked.

“No.”

Seeing Moon’s all-too-knowing eyes, Vaysh turned and headed vaguely for the door.

“He will talk to me — and my son also. If you like, I could–”

“No.”

Apollo cleared his throat. “Well, perhaps we can work this out later.” Vaysh didn’t turn, although he knew Apollo had come up beside him as he spoke. “For now… can we just go? Or get ready to?”

“Yes,” Moon replied silently. “Although you simply must have a bath before we go. Change your clothes, too! You can’t go to the palace looking like a vagabond.” Moon gestured to Apollo’s linen robes. “This is fine for blending in, but now you must be splendid. You will wear the yellow silk?” Apollo assented. “Good. Wash your hair?” His son agreed. “We may need to cover your head up, though. What do you think, Vaysh? Do you think we’ll attract too much attention if he appears just as he is?”

Vaysh didn’t have to think about the question for long. “Yes, he’ll attract too much attention. It might cause a panic. I’d advise covering his face at least. You must be careful.”

“It’s very good you found us,” Moon observed.

Suddenly Apollo’s mouth dropped open.

“What is it, son?”

It seemed he’d finally had a realization. “You followed me here!”

Moon smiled and shook his head. “You just realized that?”

Apollo was sheepish. “I just only now thought about it. He was so busy telling us who he was and finding out who we are, I never thought of why he was even here, except that he passed out.”

“For the official record, I did not pass out,” Vaysh asserted, his voice flat. “If anyone asks… you approached me.”

“Ah, I see, Vaysh — so dignified,” teased Apollo, winking.

Vaysh felt his stomach flutter, thinking of Thiede and how much he had been teased by him. “Yes.” He looked to Moon. “Now he ought to bathe and…?”

Apollo sighed. “Yes. I ought to.” He moved towards the far door, not glancing back. “You two talk. You probably need to. Don’t worry, I won’t listen in.” The door closed behind him.

Thus Vaysh was left alone with of all people, someone who had been, for all intents and purposes, Thiede’s lover.

For a few moments, neither of them moved or communicated a single thought. Finally: “I’m glad I’ve got to meet you, Vaysh.”

“I’m still rather shocked, I will admit.”

“I know, Vaysh. Of course I know — even skimming, I can feel it.”

“I wish we didn’t have to communicate like this,” Vaysh said.

“This is my way. It is what I have.”

To Vaysh, Moon’s face appeared serene. He didn’t move his lips at all, his words were pure thought.

“Come and sit,” Moon offered. “Finish the drink.”

Vaysh followed him over and sat in the chair formerly occupied by Apollo, while Moon sat on the bed.

“Ask me a question, Vaysh,” Moon said suddenly.

“What sort of question?”

“How about one of the thousand bobbing about in your head?”

Cagey, this one. More and more, Vaysh could see how he had managed with Thiede. They were not unequally matched.

Vaysh considered all the things he might ask. It occurred to him to ask something related to Apollo, since he was out of the room, but then his mind came up with something similar, only more intriguing. “What was Thiede like as a father?”

Moon sucked in air through his nose. “He was a good father, better than I suppose you might imagine. He wasn’t around very often…”

Was it possible for a mindvoice to sound wistful? “No, I suppose not,” Vaysh said.

The albino nodded. “He wasn’t around often, but when he did come, he was good. He was very sweet with Apollo.”

Vaysh waited, a vague pain flickering inside him. “Sweet? I can’t imagine.”

“He played with him, Vaysh. He’d… he’d make dancing balls of light. One time he made some dolls dance. During Apollo Feybraiah, he made him feel better — wasn’t even there, just sent him dreams.”

All these images were bewildering to Vaysh. It spoke of a side to Thiede that had not been all that evident. He said this to Apollo.

“This is why we’re here, Vaysh. We want to show all sides.”

Chapter 7

A minute or two passed in silence. The water pipes thrummed as Apollo showered in the bathroom at the back of the house. Moon at last stood up from his place on the bed and moving to the table, began to gather various items into a valise, apparently preparing himself for the visit to Phaonica.

Vaysh meanwhile examined his gleaming violet nails, his mind churning. After all the upheaval the city had undergone in the past year with the arrival of Cal and the transpiring Ascension, he did not particularly welcome the notion of Moon coming to the palace and presenting his particular surprise, a red-headed son. Still, with hostling and son determined to go, and with the reason for their going being clear, the journey and meeting seemed inevitable. The best he could do, Vaysh reasoned, was to mediate the inevitable explosion.

“So tell me,” he said finally, projecting the words with his mind for Moon’s benefit, “how much do you know about the situation in Phaonica?”

Moon turned, closing the valise, which he now set on the table. “Not as much as I used to,” he returned. “Years ago Thiede would give me news, whenever we would be in touch. I knew I’d never be able to visit, but at least that let know some of what was going on in the world.”

“What sort of detail did he offer?” Vaysh wondered.

Moon shrugged. “Enough. He came to me for advice.”

This surprised Vaysh. “Advice? On what?”

“Various matters — the Hegemony, relations at court, policies.”

“Policy advice? Who knew Thiede had a secret advisor!” The more Vaysh talked to this strangely sage albino, the more his mind tossed with thoughts of the disruption his arrival would bring, not only to individuals but to concepts of who Thiede was and how he had functioned in life while still in the flesh. Vaysh’s mind had other speculations as well. “I wonder that he didn’t bring you here to be part of the government right out in the open.”

“Oh, no — do I look like a politician?” Moon asked, obviously with rhetorical intent. “I’m not exactly suited to it — especially the part with making speeches.” When Vaysh didn’t so much as smile at the joke, the albino stepped forward. “I can joke about it.”

Vaysh once more glanced down at his perfect nails. “I see that.” He looked up and studied Moon’s face. Silently he considered what the har would look like if he had normal coloring but somehow he couldn’t, it seemed so much a part of him. Finally he returned to the issue at hand. “But that aside, couldn’t he have brought you here to be some sort of advisor? His private advisor? I think he could have. He could have done anything he wanted. Why didn’t he?”

The look Moon gave him was peculiar. He seemed about to offer a response but then the door opened. Apollo had returned, all in silk, a long pale orange scarf dangling from his shoulders. “That is the reason,” Moon replied silently. “On this, Thiede and I agreed. Our son could never come to Immanion.”

Ten minutes later, Moon’s son was walking bolding through the streets of Immanion, leading them towards the towers of Phaonica, albeit in disguise. Although his bright yellow robes and striking height attracted marked interest from passerby, the scarves about his head and face provided adequate anonymity to prevent any panic or particular suspicion.

“Not quite Thiede’s style, going incognito,” Vaysh thought.

“No,” Moon replied, making Vaysh realize he’d left his mind unguarded. “Thiede never strove to conceal his person — only his personal history.”

To this Vaysh did not reply. Sealing his mind, he thought to himself, “And just when we thought we had deciphered most of his mysteries, here you come along.”

A few minutes later, Apollo still walking ahead, parting crowds, Vaysh decided to pick up the conversation once more, this time consciously. “So, tell me, Moon, Apollo looking as he does, so much like his father… Does it unnerve you?”

Moon kept on walking but shook his head. “No, not really. He’s always taken after his father, right from the pearl.” Two merchants cross their path carrying a large, elaborate carpet and they paused, keeping their eyes on Apollo, who had continued on. “It was fascinating to watch him grow — and for Thiede to see him.” The carpet passed and they continued on. “The first time he saw Apollo after his Feybraiah, when he was finally har — Thiede was so amazed.”

“I find myself amazed that he didn’t rush him immediately to Phaonica!”

“What do you mean?”

“So he could declare his heir, obviously.”

Moon stopped in his tracks and stared at Vaysh hard. “No, Vaysh. He and I agreed that Apollo was not meant for temporal power or responsibility. After Thiede saw him that first time, he and I actually agreed that I would head out far afield, where no Gelaming would ever find us.”

Half-way through this explanation, Moon shifted and headed back into the crowd. “Back to your original question, however, over the years I have found my son’s appearance very comforting. Whenever he is with me, I can always know that part of Thiede is with me. It doesn’t ‘unnerve’ me in the least — especially as I can see the differences. He doesn’t look exactly like his father, after all.”

“Doesn’t he?” Apollo was picking up the pace even as the crowds thickened. This was the main market of the city and the area was full of late afternoon dealmaking. Vaysh kept his eye on the orange headscarf. “He looks like a twin to me, although I supposed maybe you mean the way he carries himself. He’s not like Thiede in that at all. He doesn’t overpower you the way Thiede did. You can look at Apollo.”

“Ah, at least now you can,” Moon remarked. “Remember you have not seen all of my son. When he wants to, he is quite powerful.”

“I don’t doubt it,” said Vaysh. “That’s what the hara up there are going to be afraid of.” He gestured to the bulk of Phaonica, now looming up just ahead.

“Afraid?” Moon asked, moving his valise to the other hand and after catching his son’s eye, gesturing for him to drop back. “Do you really think they’ll be afraid?”

Apollo joined them. “What are you two worrying about?”

Vaysh sighed dramatically. “I’m trying to warn your hostling of the greeting you’ll be receiving inside — fear, fury, shock.”

“We’ll try not to scare them too badly,” Apollo joked.

Moon’s scowled. “That’s not funny. Truly, I don’t want this to get out of hand. I am hoping you will assist us with introductions and make it possible for us to present ourselves appropriately.”

Vaysh nodded his head in acknowledgement. “That is what had planned, Tiahaara. You will be visiting the palace as my guests and as such will be taken to my quarters. As soon as I can arrange it, I will bring three high-ranking hara to speak with you.”

“I hope their names are Pellaz, Caeru and Calanthe.” Apollo’s eyes were upon the towers looming ahead.

“They are,” Vaysh agreed, moving forward once again, Apollo following.

Moon remained still. “Afterward, we will go to the Sanctum?”

“It depends on what the Triad says,” Vaysh replied, stopping.

“No, it depends on what Thiede says.” Moon still had not moved.

“We shall see.” Vaysh turned his back and kept walking.

Chapter 8

Vaysh’s hand hovered over the carved wooden door, knuckles poised to rap loudly any moment. They’d been waiting on the Tigrina ten minutes and he was running out of patience. Meanwhile, the Tigrons seemed determined to use the delay to try and pry out the identity of the mysterious palace visitors.

“Come now, Vaysh, it could be an hour before Rue finally come out — just tell us!” Pell was saying, one elegant, painted hand poised on his hip, the other draped over Cal’s shoulder.

“You know the more you hide it from us, the most we’ll tease you,” Cal added with a remarkable straight face. “Be practical.”

Vaysh drew in his breath, exasperated, and pulled back his hand to deliver a knock.

Naturally, Pell had to interrupt. “No, Vaysh, just wait and–”

Too late. Vaysh was knocking on the door. “Caeru, please hurry! Our guests our waiting.”

From the other side of the door came the sound of something, possibly shoes, hitting the floor with considerable force. “Well, they’ll have to wait! I can’t get this damned–”

Quickly and gracefully, Pell inserted himself between Vaysh and the door. “One moment, Vaysh. I’ll go in and help him.”

“You had better not d-”

“I won’t delay him. I’ll hurry him up.” Pell gave Vaysh a beseeching look before turning the handle and squeezing through. For all of them to burst in would have caused a scene, but presumedly Pell could get away with it.

Once the door had closed, Cal leaned against the frame and studied Vaysh. “This is very unlike you, Vaysh. You tend to follow protocol. In the normal course of events, wouldn’t a visitor simply be placed on our regular schedule? Why this after hours meeting? And why the secrecy?”

Vaysh was not about to relent with an answer. “I can’t tell you that. I’m only asking you to trust me on this. When you meet the guests, you’ll see.”

Cal crossed his arms loosely across his chest. “I don’t like surprises, as I think you’ll understand.”

Vaysh only had to maintain his silence for a few seconds before the door suddenly was flung open.

“Well, Pell says I’m ready, although I sincerely disagree!” Rue erupted. He’d just gotten out of daytime clothes when Vaysh had come along to summon him and although he could have simply slipped back into them, he’d chosen to put together a whole new outfit.

“He had trouble with the buttons in back,” Pell muttered to Cal as they all began to follow Vaysh’s lead.

“You didn’t have to put on an entirely new outfit,” Vaysh sighed. “I told you that but you wouldn’t–”

“Oh, shut up, Vaysh, just take us to your surprise,” Rue sulked. “I was just ready to relax. I was up all day fixing arrangements for the tribal talks. This had better be good!”

When neither Vaysh nor the Tigrons responded to this fit of pique, Rue dropped back from the group and began to trudge along slowly. As long as he kept moving forward, Vaysh didn’t much care.

“I meant to tell you,” Cal remarked casually, “I like what you’ve done to your hair, Vaysh, especially today with the spikes. Quite a change.”

“Yes,” Pell agreed, “no more looking like Thiede.”

Vaysh reached up and self-consciously fingered his recent hair job, which he’d tousled up with his recently purchased pomade. Gone were the red-dyed locks of old, in their place a short, spiky medium blond. “Yes, no more looking like Thiede,” he agreed, thinking that soon they would meet someone who looked to be his twin.

Just before they reached the door to his quarters, Vaysh turned and held up his hands. “Now, I know, you’re eager to go in — yes, Rue, I see you puffing impatiently — but first I have something to say to you all. And quite rolling your eyes, Cal, this is serious.”

“Apparently,” Cal muttered. “It is you doing the speaking — and you’ve never been much of a comedian!”

Vaysh would not dignify this comment and clasped his hands together before him. “The hara you’re about to meet, a hostling and his son, have come a long way to meet you and have waited a long time. They came to me today and introduced themselves and I promised them an immediate audience. I think you’ll see why when you meet them. But first– and no, absolutely no questions,” he said hurriedly, as Pell’s mouth hung open, about to speak, “because I really must give you a warning. Pell in particular, I must warn you. This may be a shock.”

“What kind of shock?” Pell blurted out, heedless of Vaysh’s words.

“Remember the day Rue first arrived in the city, Pell?” Vaysh asked carefully, purposely stepping in front of the door, blocking it. “Remember in particular the way you stormed into his rooms and–”

“Of course I remember that, you idiot!” Pell exploded. “That is not one of my fondest memories!”

“I’m sure not,” Vaysh agreed. “Nor Rue’s. You agree?”

“Yes,” the Tigrina replied curtly, taking a step forward. “That was a black day. Still, I don’t understand. Who are we meeting?”

“This sounds ominous,” Cal said. “I don’t like surprises, Vaysh.” Purposely he took two steps forward, forcing Vaysh to step back against the door.

“Especially not when you compare it to that day,” Pell seethed before suddenly turning and muscling Vaysh aside to get hold of the door handle.

“All I’m asking is that you not repeat your actions that day, Pell!” Vaysh shouted as Pell twisted the handle and burst through the entrance. Vaysh, Cal and Rue fell in behind.

Pell, surprised to have made it through so easily, spun around to look over at the seating area. When he saw who was sitting on the sofa, he screamed.

Chapter 9

Pell stood silent for several long seconds before speaking, eyes never moving from sofa. “Vaysh, please tell me that isn’t who I think it is.” His voice was low and remarkably controlled.

Vaysh carefully stepped forward. “That depends on who you think it is.”

“Shit, it’s Thiede!” Rue exclaimed, effectively putting an end to the hushed atmosphere.

Across the room, still wordless on the sofa, Apollo flinched.

Cal delivered an impolite jab in Rue’s side. “No, Rue! Shit, your eyesight is terrible and you know it. It’s NOT Thiede — it can’t be!”

Rue, apparently not convinced and his nearsightedness preventing him from seeing, stepped forward, breaking away from the group. “I know but, it really does look like–”

“Rue, let me assure you, that is not Thiede,” Vaysh cut in, “although honestly I thought so myself, at first glance.” Stepping forward, he stood beside Rue, who stood staring, his eyes having finally gotten enough detail to see his initial identification had been incorrect. “With apologies, allow me to introduce Tiahaar Apollo and Tiahaar Moon. Tiahaara, this is the Tigrina Caeru and, as you must know, Tigrons Pellaz and Calanthe.”

Moon was the first to rise to his feet. Unlike many hara brought before the Triad, he did not bow, although he did lower his eyes briefly.

“Allow me to speak for both of us,” Apollo said, coming up beside his hostling. “We have waited a long time to meet you.”

“I can’t say we’ve been waiting for you likewise,” Pell responded, still managing to control his voice. Vaysh wondered how much he had already guessed. “You have us at quite a disadvantage.”

Unsurprisingly, it was Cal who put a halt to the polite, if strained introductions. “OK, cut the crap!” He walked over to the sitting area and threw himself in an armchair. “I want you sit down — everyone actually — and tell us who you are and why you’re here.” Everyone found a seat that instant, his words were so commanding. Eying Apollo, seated in the next chair, Cal continued. “It’s fairly obvious our dear friend and Aghama Thiede is involved in this but–”

“I can ‘cut the crap,'” Apollo interrupted. Just as at the house, it struck Vaysh how very much Apollo reminded him of Cal — completely unvarnished. “In fact I’d be happy to, so let me be more direct about this than I was with Vaysh: Moon, though he might not look it, is my hostling. As for my father, I think you can all guess that.”

“Thiede,” Pell moaned, while Rue and Cal spit out another reaction: “Shit!”

“Tiahaara,” Vaysh chided, “I think we have to rise above these ridiculous snipes and profanities at once. We need to discuss this rationally, clearly. Moon and Apollo appeared before me this afternoon and told me their story. It’s quite worth hearing, if you’ll just lis–”

“You’re Thiede’s son,” Pell suddenly said, apparently breaking out a brief reverie, having missed all of Vaysh’s words. “And you…” He stared at Moon with an expression half amazement, half horror. “You were the hostling, which means you were Thiede’s lover!”

“At least for one night!” Rue burst out, before erupting in cruel laughter. “How very, very ironic! Pell, seems like you weren’t the only–” Rue was suddenly cut off, his hands went to his head, as if warding off an invisible assault. “What are you doing to my head?” he squeaked, obviously directing his words at Moon.

“He’s trying to talk to you,” Apollo explained, motioning for his hostling to stop whatever he was doing. “In case you haven’t noticed, and maybe you haven’t had the chance, Moon can’t talk.”

“Thiede’s cut out his tongue? I’m not surprised to hear that, you know. After all, he certainly wouldn’t have wanted word of this to– Aaaaaaaah!” Again Rue grabbed his head.

Pell took Rue in his arms. “Whatever it is you’re doing to him, please stop.”

Apollo motioned at Moon once again and Rue relaxed.

Vaysh cleared his throat. “He doesn’t mean any harm, Rue. You see, unless you let him into your mind or let Apollo speak for him, Moon can’t talk.”

“‘And Thiede didn’t take my tongue,’ Moon says,” Apollo announced. “He says to let you all know that he’s deaf. And no, that is not Thiede’s doing either. He was born deaf.”

“He was incepted deaf?” Rue asked wonderingly. “Who would have even thought of such a thing?”

“Thiede,” Vaysh said. “Moon was incepted by Thiede himself.”

“Like me!” Pell exclaimed, astonished. “Just like me.”

All at once Cal flopped back in his chair and bellowed with dark laughter. “Oh, God, Pell, of course just like you! This is all another one of Thiede’s great dark plans, don’t you see? Thiede wasn’t perfect — we all agree on this, correct? Well, sometime or other, imperfect, almighty Thiede came up with a plan to create himself a son, maybe back before he had the power to take hara and–”

“Stop it!” Apollo spat. “That’s not what happened at all. You’re going to say Moon was part of some plot, Thiede’s way of creating an heir? That’s exactly what it wasn’t. Thiede didn’t incept my hostling as part of any plan — not beyond saving his life. He and my hostlings were friends, actual friends. Moon knew the truth about Thiede and got to hear his secrets. All along, he was in love with him — so much so that when Thiede one night came to him and asked him to create a son with him, he said yes — with his mind and his body.”

“And there was no ulterior motive in that?” Pell sneered. “Moon knew what Thiede was, what power he had. He couldn’t have borne the Aghama’s pearl and not expected some great reward.”

Rue, sitting across from Cal, next to Moon, shook his head. “I disagree, Pell. He might have done it without even knowing or even if he did know, he might have done it for love. I do have some experience with such affairs.”

Pell regarded his consort; a silent thought was exchanged and they both nodded.

“My hosting says, ‘I wanted a son. And I did love Thiede. That was the only thought. No ‘great reward.'” Apollo looked to Pell meaningfully. “Moon has a lot to say. Let me simply put it to you: ‘Thiede didn’t even stay with me,’ he says. ‘Long before the pearl was even born, Thiede left me — for you, Pellaz. He had other plans and destinies in mind. Apollo and I did not fit in that grand scheme. We were sent away, far away. Every year, Thiede’s increasing fame, we were forced to roam further. We were not allowed to go near Immanion. We didn’t often get to see him. Slivers of his time is all we had — not a part in any “great dark plan.” Before he died, he told us to come here, to come and talk with him. Not to take power, not to share it, only to talk. As for talking with you, my only hope is that you will see that Thiede was more har than most know.'”

Chapter 10

Cal let out a long whistle. “Oh, yes, Thiede certainly was har, even if he is a god now.”

“But that’s just the point, Cal,” Pell said, having had the time to take in Moon’s words. “Thiede is the Aghama and… Moon, you conceived the Aghama’s child!”

“All things considered, no mean trick,” Vaysh remarked drily.

Pell raised an eyebrow and nodded. “That’s quite true.” Suddenly his expression shifted to one of burning curiosity. “How did you ever manage it, Moon? Were you given any sort of preparation? How did you go from being his friend to–”

“Perhaps it would be best if you let Moon begin at the beginning,” interrupted Apollo. His commanding voice sent shivers down Vaysh’s spine; he sounded so much like his father. “He’s brought with him a manuscript that explains most of his story — for the palace archives,” Apollo continued. “However, if you’d do him the favor of opening your minds just a little bit, so he can speak with his mindvoice, he will lay out the story himself in words and pictures.”

“Let him into our minds, you say? Just like that?” Cal cracked.

“I let him into my mind,” Vaysh offered.

“And he came out alive?” Cal teased. “Must be talented!”

Pell gave Cal a poisonous look. “Cal…”

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry, that must prove Moon is ‘sensitive’ — so if he must, he must,” Cal conceded.

“You all agree then?” Apollo asked.

They did. Apollo explained how his hostling’s usual technique for such group communications, which he’d used to meet with tribal leaders, instruct shamen, and even to conduct caste training among young harlings or the incepted. Seats were adjusted to form a close circle and together they linked hands. Through a simple series of instructions, in character very much like a caste training exercise, Moon used Apollo’s spoken voice to gradually tune each har into his mindvoice, so that first one heard, then another, another, and another. It was then that Apollo fell silent and Moon began to tell his story.

As it had with Vaysh, the telling took some time and in fact took even more time, as Moon was adding in details for the benefit of the group, in particular details of Thiede’s take on the leadership of Wraeththu. When he reached the time of Apollo’s conception, the Tigrons clasped their hands together especially tightly, Vaysh managed to notice. There was so much Moon had to say and so many questions each of them wanted answers for. It wasn’t only Moon speaking, but Pell and Rue and Cal, and not only did they ask Moon, they asked one another and asked the Aghama’s son.

Moon had created a network of mindvoices, a powerful thing. By the time they were through with it formally, they had all grown closer in their knowledge of one another.

At Moon’s signal, they finally dropped their hands and separated into self-contained beings. Pell put his hand to his chin and closed his eyes, thoughtful. No one spoke. After half a minute, Cal gently stroked on his arm. Rue copied the gesture.

Pell’s eyes opened and he smiled. “I screamed when I first saw you, Apollo,” he said, speaking aloud but obviously still speaking to Moon through a mindlink. “I’m sorry. I was just so shocked. Then I was really afraid — suspicious of course. Now that I’ve heard your story, I feel so much better.”

“Yes,” Rue agreed, “You don’t seem to want anything — not for anything here to change. I thought maybe Apollo was here to– well, I told you already what I thought.”

Cal adjusted his position, shifting slightly away from his companions. “But they do want something — I sense it.”

“What?” Vaysh asked, only realizing the answer when the word came out of his mouth. They had already told him.

“I don’t know,” Cal said. “What do you want?”

Moon’s response was unequivocal: “I would like to speak to Thiede.”

The thought jolted the Triad in their seats. “Speak to Thiede?” Pell burst out.

“It’s not like we can simply arrange and appointment for you,” Rue put in. “He has to be summoned.”

“Well, summon him then!” Apollo urged. “That’s what we were thinking. We only want you to communicate with Thiede that we’ve come here as he asked us to. If there’s a way he can speak to us, he’ll tell us.”

“It won’t work,” Cal remarked. “He comes down for us, he is with us, but I don’t know that he’ll do it for you.”

“How can you say that?” Moon wondered, obviously hurt.

“Because Thiede, no matter how enlightened and ethereal he is now, still strikes me as too self-involved to care about you.”

“Cal!” Pell gasped aloud. “Have some sensitivity — and quit your grudge.”

“No, I won’t. Thiede’s too self-involved. Moon here has had his heart set on him for years, it’s quite obvious, and now he’s stuck on a spirit. He’s the ultimate Aghamist.”

“What about me?” Apollo broke in suddenly. “I’m his son. He cared enough for me before he’d reach out across the miles and talk with me. The Sanctum is so close. At least try? I never really got to say goodbye. Neither did Moon.”

“Neither did I,” thought Vaysh to himself alone.

Chapter 11

After making arrangements for the following day, the Triad excused themselves for the evening. The visit to the Sanctum would take place the next morning and in the meantime, Moon and Apollo were invited to spend the night at the palace. Vaysh offered use of his own quarters which, as it happened, included an extra bedroom.

A few minutes later Moon also excused himself, communicating that he would like to lie down in the bedroom and rest. While it was not uncommon for him to conduct such mind meetings the mental work involved was taxing as always, he told Vaysh, who had led him through the doors to the guest room.

Returning to the sitting area, Vaysh found Apollo hunched over in his armchair, one hand pressed over his eyes, obviously in the midst of collecting himself. Vaysh let him be for a few minutes, working around him as he fastidiously moved the chairs and sofa to their original positions, re-aligning the cushions. Except for Apollo’s chair, which was pulled to near the center of the group, everything was once more in order. Finally Apollo exhaled loudly and flopped back, flinging away his hand, revealing his amber eyes, which appeared dull in contrast to earlier than day.

“I dare say you’re just as exhausted as your hostling,” Vaysh remarked.

Apollo rubbed his temples. “Yes, exactly. Today’s been very tiring.”

Vaysh turned away and moved to the drink cabinet, where he fetched out a bottle of his favorite liqueur and two glasses. “Perhaps you would share a drink with me? After that you could go to the guest room yourself.”

“Thank you, a drink would be welcome, but as for sleeping, not now.” Apollo rose out of his seat and pushed it back into its proper position. “I’m too glad of the chance to be myself again.”

Vaysh came around with the glasses, handing one to his guest and indicating for him to sit down again. “Be yourself again? I don’t understand. What else have you been being?”

“Not myself, that’s for sure. I’ve been serving my hostling for hours — as your saw, translating and watching out for him. I try to inject myself into the conversation, to speak up, but instead I become a conduit.” Apollo paused to sample the bitter, deep red liqueur that was Vaysh’s favorite. “This is excellent. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Vaysh was pleased to meet someone who shared his taste. He found that after the group meeting he was somewhat more comfortable talking to Apollo, despite his striking resemblance to Thiede. “So what are you really like, as ‘yourself,’ when you’re not being a ‘conduit,’ as you call it?” Oddly, Vaysh felt he was asking questions of himself. He too had learned to live in the shadow of others.

“Different,” Apollo replied, a hint of a smile on his face. “A bit rebellious, bossy, a bit dominating I suppose. I don’t have a bad temper, but out on my own, I’m not nearly as deferential.”

“So normally, do you spend all your time with your hostling, in his service?” Vaysh asked.

“Normally? What’s ‘normally’? When I was a harling, I learned to be his helper and so of course I was always with him, but after my Feybraiah, I was able to be more independent — Moon can take care of himself, after all.” Apollo looked down at his glass as he swirled around the dark liquid. “After my father… Well, after that, and especially since coming to Immanion, things changed back again. Now I seem to be required almost every moment.”

Vaysh detected a distinct feeling of frustration in the younger har’s tone. However much loyalty he had for Moon, he was not entirely free of resentment.

Vaysh decided to step into even more personal territory. “Your parents have placed on you a heavy burden.”

“Heavy?” Apollo responded. “You think so? That’s funny, but I’ve been told many times, in no uncertain terms, that I’ve actually been given a very ‘light’ burden, all things considered. My parents decided even before I was born that I would not be given the responsibilities of a Tigron, tribal leader, or even a government advisor. I’ve never really been given any burden at all except for being my parents’ son.”

Vaysh found himself surprised at Apollo’s words, although the sentiments made sense to him immediately. He was about to respond when Apollo continued. “In fact, I’ve often wondered if that was the way things were supposed to be or if perhaps it’s only how it turned out.”

“What do you mean?” Vaysh asked. He wondered if somehow some of the suspicions he and the Triad had harbored towards the newcomers’ motives had been on the mark.

“I mean I wonder whether my parents said I didn’t have to ‘be’ anything but actually secretly expected me to — somehow, someday. I wonder if they somehow tested me and found me wanting, then didn’t bother with their plans.” Apollo’s voice was dejected. “I don’t know why I’m even telling you that except that I’m tired and haven’t been able to really speak as myself for hours.”

“I understand, Apollo,” Vaysh offered. “You know I was quite…” he paused, seeking the words and to overcome his discomfort, “close to your father. I can’t claim that I can entirely reconcile the har I knew with the one you and your hostling have described, so I don’t know what could have been in his mind. However, I can tell you that I felt your hostling was being utterly sincere when he spoke of his motivations for having you. I don’t think they found you ‘wanting.'” To himself, Vaysh thought, “Now me, he obviously found wanting.”

“That’s kind of you.” Apollo, finished with the drink, aimlessly turned the glass in his hands. “I suppose I only think it because I’ve never done much on my own. I’ve helped out my hostling with his work, traveling and educating, but I haven’t ever had my own profession or, I suppose, my own place.” Apollo glanced about the apartment and a look of satisfaction passed over his face. “Like this home you have. I’d love to have something like this, especially here in Immanion, even outside the palace.”

“It was assigned to me when I first came to Immanion to serve Pell, as a benefit of my position,” Vaysh remarked. It had been quite some time since he had felt conscious of the privileges he enjoyed. To Apollo, denied visit to the city throughout his life, his existence must have seemed ideal. “You could probably do as well for yourself somewhere in the world,” Vaysh found himself saying, to his surprise. “You seem quite able and, of course, powerful.”

“Powerful?” This particular word seemed to amuse Apollo, despite his evident agitation. “Only like everyone who was in the room a few minutes ago. My hostling, the Tigrons, the Tigrina, and you.”

“How generous you are, including me in that,” Vaysh remarked.

“Generous? Nonsense, you’re very obviously quite powerful in your own right.”

Vaysh rose up to put his glass on the top of the drink cabinet. He was careful not to rush, although the urge to flee was strong, just as it was any time someone asked him personal questions. “How about we not talk about me?” he asked, hoping he sounded more pleasant than defensive. “I’m happy talking to you, but I’m not apt to discuss myself.”

Apollo appeared to think on this. “That’s unfortunate, but as you wish. Another time perhaps.”

Vaysh only shook his head noncommittally.

“Another time?” he thought to himself. “I’d prefer never — not when you look at me with those amber eyes and you’re asking me questions. Not when you seem honest and healthy, like nothing bad has ever touched you. He was good to you, no matter the burden. No, I’d prefer… not to discuss myself.”

Chapter 12

Vaysh poured himself a second drink. “Another?” he asked, looking over to Apollo, who apparently had been staring at his back. When his guest nodded affably, Vaysh sighed inwardly and went over to take his glass for a refill.

“Thanks for everything,” Apollo said, as Vaysh poured out more liqueur. “Meeting you made getting into the palace a lot easier.”

Silently Vaysh handed Apollo his drink and lowered himself into the chair opposite. “What would you have done otherwise?” he asked.

“Probably managed some other, more conventional way,” Apollo admitted ruefully. “Our work in the past has won us some allies and through them we hoped to gain contacts into the palace and with that, an introduction at court, where hopefully we would have been believed and gained the audience we desired. Barring that, I considered possibly taking off my scarf and marching towards the palace bellowing ‘Out of my way, I’m back!'”

Apollo grinned and smiled into his drink. “Sorry, bad joke. Let’s just say that despite precautions, you’re not the first one to mistake me for my father.”

“I’m sure not,” Vaysh replied. Inside, he felt another swell of sympathy for this obviously burdened younger har.

“So,” Apollo began, switching gears suddenly, “what do you for fun around here? I mean, just in general, here in Immanion,”

Vaysh shrugged. “Do for fun? It’s a city — I suppose most cities are the same. Personally I don’t…” he hesitated, again not wanting to talk too much about himself, “well, I don’t have the leisure of some other hara. If there’s anything I particularly do for fun, it’s shopping in the marketplace. I enjoy watching the crowds.”

Apollo smiled. “Ah, of course — how you must have spotted me.”

Vaysh was startled when a nervous laugh escaped his own lips. “Exactly. I heard you talk to the vendor at the pomade stand, of all places.”

Apollo set down his drink. “And that made you follow me?”

“I heard you mentioning Thiede, yes,” Vaysh admitted. “It piqued my interest. Then I–” he stopped. Apollo was sitting across from him, listening intently. It wasn’t only the undivided attention that suddenly threw him off. It was the eyes.

“Then?” Apollo prompted softly.

“Then you turned and I saw your eyes.” As he paused, a strange feeling was coming over Vaysh, one he hadn’t felt in a long time. Was he actually flirting with someone? He certainly hadn’t meant to. “They were quite striking and drew me in,” Vaysh added quickly. Maybe if he spoke quickly enough he wouldn’t be heard.

“Moon’s always said my eyes are my best feature,” Apollo mused. “Guess he was right. It’s strange, Vaysh, what you say about being drawn in, because I’ve felt the same way, ever since we found you collapsed in the yard.”

“You probably were drawn to run over and laugh at me.” Vaysh was growing ever more nervous, but it seemed out of his power to put an end to the dialogue. “Startled by a couple of doves flapping out of the bushes!”

Apollo laughed, but only softly, not in ridicule. “No, I understand — I think. You really did think I was Thiede, didn’t you?”

Vaysh froze. That name, repeated just once, suddenly slammed down before him, like a great iron first. “Yes,” he admitted weakly.

“Well, I’m not. Remember that.” Before Vaysh could recover himself, Apollo was on his feet. “Thanks for the drinks. Now I’m off to join my hosting. Goodnight.” With a formal wave, a slight bow and a lingering gaze, he disappeared out the door.

As the door closed, Vaysh was faced with two options: Remain seated on the sofa in shock or distract himself. Glancing down to the glass in his hand, he chose the latter option. The bottle, still standing on the drinking cabinet, was just about empty — or would be soon. Three or four glasses would take care of it, which was quite convenient, for that was exactly what Vaysh felt he needed.

Measuring out the first dose, Vaysh thought, “Was it the alcohol?” Logically he knew it couldn’t have been for he’d barely drunk two glasses. The harish constitution, coupled with his own acquired tolerance for alcohol, would never allow such an impairment after so little. Still, he wanted to believe that somehow his system had been thrown off.

Surely some explanation was in order. He’d been feeling good that afternoon in the marketplace, alive, like he was thawing out. Every day it seemed he was getting just a little bit more relaxed, breathing just a little bit easier. It had taken months for the change to take place, as if he’d crawled out into the open after years of hiding beneath the great shadow that was Thiede. He had been made to be wary, defensive, and harsh. Over the months, he’d learned that these were tools which might not be so necessary.

He had lowered his weapons, so to speak, and then just at that moment, his eyes spotted something that brought the terror back. It had gotten better once he had learned Apollo’s true identity, that he was not Thiede, but all the same, Vaysh’s instincts had risen to the fore. He’d been remarkably composed all things considered. He’d handled it well — indeed so well that it seemed Thiede’s son was “drawn” to him. Attracted. Interested enough to even say so.

Vaysh’s world had turned upside down, despite the third glass, the fourth glass, the fifth glass. The scenery had changed. So had the characters. Had he really allowed himself to think about another har in that way? He had entertained another har’s interest without swatting him away, without the cold wall of ice. He had panicked, true, but he’d let it happen. It was the other who had run away and when that had happened, Vaysh hadn’t even felt the usual relief. He felt disappointed.

Part of him wanted to quash the entire situation, but another part of him was insisting in the opposite direction. It was the part of Vaysh that had not exercised such desires in years.

He’d watched the crowds go by in the marketplace, but he’d never become fascinated with any one har. Perhaps no har had really struck him or maybe he’d never allowed himself to be struck.

This was different. “Fascination” didn’t begin to describe what he’d felt in those last few moments with Apollo in the room. It was a feeling that had been building all along, but he hadn’t been paying it attention until it danced wildly onto the stage, conspicuous and unavoidable. What he’d felt was exhilaration, the romantic zing of attraction when one finally realizes that yes, that’s it!

Nevertheless, there was still the matter of Thiede. It was madness! Thiede’s son? A completely different har, Apollo was, but he was his father’s son and the likeness was incredible. Had he been attracted to Thiede? The alcohol beginning to have some actual effect, Vaysh was able to admit that indeed he had been. Of course, everybody had been — despite the fear, the incredulity, the confusion (what was he, who was he, where did he come from?), and everything else that had made Thiede a figure almost of myth. Beauty, yes, he’d had it.

Thiede hadn’t been someone to actually like, however, and certainly not love. Vaysh surely didn’t and for reasons that were as obvious as they were varied, plus a few that were not so obvious. He’d never told anyone the true whole story, not even Pell. Suffice it to say, Thiede’s beauty had never been able to overcome his lack of empathy or the wrongs he had perpetrated against Vaysh and others.

Apollo was different. He was, as he’d put it himself, not Thiede.

He was so close. Only a room or two away.

The bottle was empty. Perhaps he could go knock? No, too late. It was time for bed.

Vaysh sighed and put the bottles and glasses on the table in the center of the room so that a servant would take it away in the morning.

Walking down the hall to his own bedroom, Vaysh didn’t know which emotion held more sway: fear or longing. He suspected the two would do battle in his sleep. Leave it for the next day to determine the victor.

Chapter 13

Finishing up breakfast the following morning, Vaysh and Moon were almost equally silent. Apollo was the one showing the most enthusiasm for the day he and his hostling had anticipated for so many months.

Vaysh, upon waking, had decided he would do his best to come across as unabashed when dealing with Apollo, acting as if he was utterly confident in pursuing whatever had begun during their late-night drinking session. To reveal his true feelings so openly would be unthinkable, perhaps even a turn-off, and strangely, although he still felt fear, Vaysh was not ready for things to end before they began. The longing inside him was still there, leaping up in his chest the moment Apollo emerged in the dining room for breakfast.

Unfortunately, as the meal proceeded, Vaysh’s ability to carry a conversation rapidly diminished. The more he spoke, the more he felt his voice sounded strangely awkward. Inside a voice kept telling him he ought to be showing more poise and focus. Twice he’d had to ask Apollo to repeat himself, his mind wandering back to his dreams, which had confounded him — alternating images of Thiede and Apollo, interchanging, alternately, both sadistic and gentle but finally, in the end, gentle and, Vaysh knew in his heart, close to Apollo than Thiede. Finally, cursing what he had to admit was nothing more than the utter foolishness of nerves, he simply concentrated on eating and let Apollo expound on his own.

Moon meanwhile, did not have much to communicate. That day his words were meant for Thiede, he explained, and he was saving as much of his energy as he could towards their meeting later that day. Vaysh was far too preoccupied to point out that there was a chance the meeting might never materialize, as the Triad had made no promises. Thiede might not be able to grant an audience or even if he could, he might not be so inclined.

Finally, as Vaysh’s servant cleared the table, all three of them prepared themselves for their trip to the Sanctum. First thing that morning, Vaysh had found a note slipped under the door. Signed by Pell, it contained a meeting time but again, no promises. After some minutes, Moon and Apollo emerged from the bedroom looking resplendent, all disguises discarded. Recognizing the excitement in Moon’s pale eyes, Vaysh once again wanted to issue a warning towards too much hope. Instead, he opened the door and invited them to follow him along to the Sanctum.

The Triad met them on the white steps leading down into the temple. None of them had enjoyed a restful night’s sleep, Vaysh quickly judged. Still, after a few minutes of small talk, Pell announced that they were prepared to make the attempt. Apollo asked if he and Moon would be able to accompany them.

“You can watch,” Rue replied. “It can be beautiful.”

“Only watch, however,” Pell warned. “I think you must be aware of this, but we can’t have you making any entreaties of your own while we are attempting our own summons. Let us do our own work and voice our own request on your behalf. Honestly, I would almost ask you to remain here on the steps, to alleviate any problems, but I know you couldn’t bear it.”

“No, we couldn’t,” Apollo agreed, hugging Moon about the shoulders. “We would very much like to watch, however. We promise to be patient. I know the request is unusual.”

“Unprecedented,” Cal remarked. “But that’s no reason to back off. It’s good to know just how Thiede will behave himself in any given situation.”

Pell approached the arched entrance and beckoned them forward. Apollo and Moon followed behind Cal and Rue.

Vaysh, meanwhile, remained on the steps.

Apollo turned and with a look of surprise, headed back while the other four proceeded inside. “Aren’t you coming?”

Vaysh shook his head. “No, I think I’ll wait here outside. There’s no place for me in there.”

“Nonsense, Vaysh.” Apollo’s eyes were lit with excitement. “You’ve been in there before, haven’t you?”

“Yes, of course,” Vaysh replied quickly. Not wanting to delay the summoning, he wished Apollo would simply head in on his own. “Just right now, I don’t see the point of it. This is a private matter. Just go on in.”

Apollo reached out and took his arm. “No, I won’t. You’re coming with me.”

“But why?” Vaysh protested, attempting to drag his heels on the pure white stone without much success.

Apollo managed to take Vaysh’s other arm. “Because I’d like you to be there. I’ve heard it’s beautiful. Meeting my father like this… if we can do it… it will be beautiful. And we’ll have you to thank for it.”

“Coincidence,” Vaysh said firmly. “If I hadn’t seen you in the market, you’d still have made it here.”

Apollo slipped his hands down to Vaysh’s and squeezed. “I don’t care. You’re coming with me.”

Thus the matter was concluded and the two of them descended the slope to the archway and into the blue light of the Sanctum, full of its swirling magic energies. It barely had substance, seeming to be composed more of imagination than stone, the light having no source, the floor shining and perfect white, like a sea of milk. At the far end, next to the Dais, stood the Triad, obviously waiting, while off to the side, Moon stared around him in wonder. Vaysh and Apollo joined him without comment.

The summoning was not instantaneous, but required a ritual, all three hara sliding into synchronization, becoming one with each other in thought, in spirit, and finally in intention. Vaysh had seen this before, on that first day, before the Hegalion, and on occasions since then, but there was no diminishing the wonder and beauty of it. Soft lights flickered about the ceiling and walls, Thiede’s body, Thiede’s nerves. At last light fell down about the dais, where the Triad sat on the floor, hands locked, eyes clothed. Bodies bathed in light, they put forth Moon’s request, or so Vaysh assumed.

Moon was wringing his hands as the lights gradually diminished. Apollo took his hostling’s hand and squeezed it, trying to look encouraging, although his tightly pressed lips revealed that he was worried himself. Vaysh simply waited, aware the Triad liked to take their time stepping away from the communion.

Pell was the first to open his eyes. Turning around, he slid to stand on the floor before the dais. Cal and Rue eyed him from behind, apparently having willed him to speak on their behalf.

“Thiede agrees to… commune with you,” Pell announced.

When Moon immediately stepped forward, Pell raised his hand. “No, wait, I’m not finished.”

Moon halted abruptly. “He agrees to do this, Moon and Apollo, but only on one condition.”

“What is it?” Apollo demanded, stepping up beside his hostling. “Whatever it is, we’ll do it.”

“You shouldn’t make such promises blindly. No, let me tell you the condition.” Pell glanced back to Cal and Rue, likely still communicating with them in thought. “If the two of you are to meet with him, you must be joined by a third, completing the group.”

Vaysh caught Moon’s response through his mindvoice, which was functioning like a very loud open channel. “A third? Who? You? Cal? The Tigrina?”

“No,” Pell replied before walking towards them, brushing past Moon and looking down at his long-time aide. “If you want to talk to Thiede, you have to do it with Vaysh.”

Chapter 14

Vaysh looked into his friend’s eyes. Surely he had misheard, yet Pell had directly his words quite purposely and was now stood expecting a response or at very least, Vaysh’s reaction.

“Excuse me, but could you repeat that?” The voice did not belong not Vaysh but instead Apollo, who’d stepped up beside the Tigron. Moon stood on Pell’s other side.

“I can. Thiede said that he will meet with you two, but only if Vaysh joins you.” Pell shrugged. “What can I say? He’s unpredictable. We asked him why, but he wouldn’t share that with us.”

“Hmmm, well, if that’s the condition, that’s fine,” Apollo announced, looking to his hostling. “Isn’t it? We don’t have to have Thiede all to ourselves, do we?”

Vaysh felt a wave of irritation rising up from inside. Once again, he was being made to feel like an afterthought. “What about me?” he demanded, stepping past all three off them, into the open spaces of the Sanctum. “Whoever said I’d go speak to Thiede? I didn’t even want to come in here and now you automatically think I’ll want to join you in a little trip join Nostalgia Lane — with Thiede?”

Even as the spoke these words, Vaysh was aware that he was no being truthful. In fact he did want to speak with Thiede. For many years, decades even, he’d had things to say to him that he had never expressed. Questions he wanted Thiede to answer. Curses he wanted to hurl. In the mind communion, he might do all of those things, but now that he was being offered the opportunity, he was running away from it.

“But, Vaysh, you’ve got to,” Apollo urged. “It’s the condition.”

“It’s also Thiede’s will,” Pell said.

“Which is also the Aghama’s will,” Apollo continued.

Vaysh was torn. On the one hand he was desperate to join in, not only for his own reasons but to see what Thiede would say to his lost family. On the other hand, by that point he’d made such a strong stance against it that to back off would seem foolish.

“I know all about the Aghama’s will,” Vaysh replied quietly. “Believe me. He’s inflicted his power on me numerous times.”

Pell, who had braved Vaysh’s anger to walk up beside him, softly set his hand upon his friend’s shoulder. “We all know that, Vaysh. Perhaps that is something you and Thiede could discuss.”

Vaysh stared down at his hands, fists clenched tight against his thighs. The situation was impossible.

It was then that he felt another hand touch him, on the other shoulder. Glancing to his right, Vaysh saw the bottom of Apollo’s robe.

“My hostling has something to say,” Apollo whispered. “Open you mind and listen to him.”

Vaysh looked up at where Moon stood, a few feet away, small and glowing blue in the still pulsating lights. “Please, Vaysh, do not fight this” his mind sang out. “It would mean so much to me and to my son. It also means a lot to you and you know that it does. And there is another reason.”

“What other reason?” Vaysh asked silently.

Moon approached him. “I think I know why Thiede wants you there. If I’m right, you won’t regret your decision to accompany us.”

Apollo’s hand squeezed his shoulder. “Please.”

Vaysh’s entire frame tingled with Apollo’s touch. How easily he was being manipulated — and how little will he seemed to have to fight back!

“All right,” he agreed quietly. “I’ll join you.”

Cal and Rue sauntered off the dais, approaching Pell expectantly. “So,” Cal said, “is it our turn to stand and watch?”

“I’m not sure,” Pell murmured, looking to Moon. “Is it?”

Moon made an open-handed gesture as if to say, “Fine by me, go ahead.”

“Sure,” Apollo added. “It would be good to know you were here, in case anything should go awry.”

“I should hope nothing does!” Vaysh exclaimed.

“Don’t worry, Vaysh” Pell soothed, “the Aghama seemed to be referring to your very warmly.”

Vaysh looked at him askance. “Now that does worry me.”

Pell smiled. “All right, but go up there and do it anyway.” He motioned to the dais. “It’s all yours. I assume you know what to do?”

Moon, already stepping up to the platform eagerly, pointed to his chest and raised his eyebrows. In the mindvoice he said, “Me? I should hope so, Pell — I’m Nahir Nuri, after all. Apollo is Algomalid. Vaysh must be at least that. We can manage.”

The Triad stood back while as the other three arranged themselves on the dais, each one of them serious now, dedicated to enacting the ritual just as formally as the Triad.

The wild blue light was pulsing faster now, Thiede no doubt anticipating the coming communion.

Forming a triangle, knees and hands touching, they allowed their bodies to grow limp and soon, began the process of becoming one. Given the way the three of them had communicated through Moon, and that such communion was a component of basic caste training, it was not long, only a few minutes, before they were thinking and breathing as one. Each of them generated energy of their own, whether in images or feelings or thoughts, but as they did so, it was shared with all.

Vaysh found this joining to be easier than he had anticipated. He felt comfortable with his companions, almost unimaginable given his initial reaction to them only the day before. Moon had a gentle, soothing soul, however, and Vaysh sensed he was welcomed, not resented. Perhaps this had to do with some knowledge of what Thiede had in mind? The question was asked and through the bond Vaysh learned that yes, that was part of the reason. Answers would come soon. Apollo echoed his hostling’s confidence and squeezed Vaysh’s hand ever so slightly, sending a tingling feeling through his body and presumedly, the other two bodies as well.

Eyes closed, they at last arrived at the moment of expressing their intention: “Thiede, we are here, come to us!”

Lights flashed in their eyes and minds. Vaysh shuddered as suddenly he felt the familiar spirit roaring into their presence: Thiede.

“Open your eyes,” Thiede entreated, and they obeyed. In the center of the circle, they actually saw Thiede. To Vaysh, it appeared as if Thiede was looking directly at him, but he knew that Moon and Apollo were be seeing the same thing. The body was ephemeral, not solid, but a pale mist, nearly colorless except for Thiede’s hair, a flaming crown of red, and the intense amber eyes. Through their shared spirit, Thiede sent out wave of welcome and love, so personal and yet coming from the limitless depth of his immortal soul.

Vaysh’s heart beat wildly in his chest and tears came to his eyes. He now knew some of what the Triad knew. This Thiede was different than the one who had lived on earth. He was now sublime and, without his mortal ego, capable of an understanding and perceptions that had eluded him, or not been important, when he was flesh and blood. No more manipulations, jealousy, hidden agendas. Vaysh knew all this in an instant and the knowledge rocked him like a small earthquake.

The other two were obviously similarly affected. Through the mist of Thiede’s body, Vaysh saw tears streaming down Moon’s face, while through the bond he heard the thoughts of Moon’s heart, telling Thiede how very much he loved him and how blessed he was to be able to see him again. Apollo’s eyes were dry but his heart also sang out with love and thanks. Thiede expressed a fatherly satisfaction Vaysh could scarcely imagine coming from the mortal har.

Even as the others continued to share their minds with Thiede the lover and Thiede the father, Vaysh was able to pursue a conversation of his own. This was possible, Vaysh knew with certainly, because Thiede was communicating with all three of them separately, using the reality of his dimension to bend the rules. Each of them could speak to him separately, but each of them could hear the others.

“You did not want to meet with me,” Thiede intimated. “You were afraid. I hope you see now, you have no cause.”

“I see,” Vaysh let him to know. “You are different. You understand many things which you did not before. Your eyes have been opened.”

“My heart also, Vaysh.” In the ghost image Vaysh could see Thiede actually smiling. “Understand, it is not only the present that I see differently, but also the past. I look back and I see that I was wrong. Cruel and insensitive. Some of it was necessary, but some of it was not. You know all of it.”

“I do. It is why I was afraid. I was angry about it still — all that you had done to me, to Pell, to Cal, to others. You committed all that cruelty but in the end, found peace beyond your body and became the Aghama. It made me angry.”

“You see now that my ascension was not simply a grand prize, Vaysh, don’t you? It was a transformation. I was a flawed creature then, unbalanced and gripped by the passions of the mortal flesh — the greed, the jealousy, the need to control. That is gone now. And I say now to you that I am sorry. Do you accept my apology?”

Vaysh thought it over for only a moment. There was no decision; he knew was he felt and Thiede of course knew as well. “Yes, I accept.”

“Good, because then we can take the next step,” Thiede declared.

“Next step?” Vaysh asked. “What next step?”

“The step in which, now that we have an understanding — the start of forgiveness — I actually do something to back up my words with actions.”

“Actions? What actions can you take in your present form? I thought we were simply here to communicate.”

“We are, but not just about you and me. I would like to discus my son.”

Even as he said this, Thiede intimated something similar to Apollo, mentioning Vaysh, so that the two of them would be roughly focused on the same communication.

“You two have met and have, as I saw from the moment you entered the Sanctum, an affection for one another. I can feel it within you. Last night both of you recognized it. It must have frightened you, Vaysh, but I assure you, you need not be frightened. My son is meant for you.”

Vaysh was startled. “Meant for me?” To have Thiede obviously so interested and possibly involved in his intimate personal life was a shock. His immediate reaction was to be angry.

“Vaysh, no, please!” Thiede gently pleaded. “However much you might guess it, I am not interfering, I am stating the truth. That is what I can see from here, in this existence. You two fit together. You are meant to be.”

“Like the Triad?” Apollo asked.

“Nothing so dramatic and portentous, but a partnership, a chesna state… yes, I can see that happening. I see the future, you two together.”

Again the tingling erupted in Vaysh’s body, energy shooting down his arm, where it met up with what must have been a similar wave coming from Apollo, for their hands grew hot.

Vaysh was overwhelmed, his spirit swelling with the knowledge just unleashed. Of all the things that had flashed into his mind when he’d been told he would be meeting with Thiede, this had never been one of them.

“Is this what Moon meant when he said he knew why you might have requested me here?” Vasyh asked, a glance at Moon having reminded him of the har’s earlier remark. “How did he know? Apollo, did you say something to him? Or is he just that perceptive?”

“He is of course perceptive,” Thiede replied, “as he is in all matters, but Moon also referred to another matter, one we discussed long ago. It may come as a shock, but I will tell you. Vaysh, at the time Moon and I created Apollo, you were already my servant. I had already wronged you, damaged you, bringing you to the north with me. Although I never showed it, a part of me was very sorry for what I had done. Moon knew of this. During the first week of hosting, we imagined that one day perhaps our child could do you some good. We put our intention into the pearl, Vaysh. It seems the universe took our intention.”

Vaysh turned to Apollo and knew without a doubt that what Thiede said was true.

“Share breath,” Thiede whispered, and leaning towards one another, they did. A column of blue light surrounded them like the funnel of a tornado. The feeling that ran through them felt just as strong.

Thiede embraced them all so tightly, Moon as well, and with a final exchange of thank you’s and goodbyes, they were left on the dais, not alone, but together sharing the spirit of joy.

Chapter 15

Moon was the first to break the circle, kneeling, then rising to his feet. He gazed down at Apollo and Vaysh, still locked in a passionate embrace, mouth to mouth.

Vaysh was so enmeshed in Apollo’s essence, it took him half a minute to register that the communion was over; he’d let go of Moon’s hand and everyone was staring at them.

He pulled back from Apollo’s face just enough to look into his eyes. “Is this magic?” he wondered, knowing one other would receive his thoughts. “Thiede worked magic like this on Seel and Swift…”

“It is magic,” Apollo whispered into his mind, “but not that kind. This is real.”

Once more Vaysh found his lips pressed up against the succulence of Apollo, the flavor of tart plumbs.

Elsewhere in the Sanctum he heard voices.

“What’s going on?” Pell was asking.

“Um, think it’s rather obvious,” Rue replied drolly, to Cal’s amused, low laughter.

“I think that was just the sound of ice cracking,” Cal said.

It was that remark which prompted Vaysh to realize something: the ice had cracked. Melted even. Disappeared. Apollo in his arms, he felt entirely warm. A part of himself was suddenly gone. It was not a part he would be mourning. Apollo was right; it was magic.

“Time to face them?” Apollo wondered silently.

Vaysh nodded and arms still wrapped about one another, they rose from the floor.

Moon had stepped down to stand next to Pell, who was staring at the new couple with an expression of unbridled shock.

For some reason, rather than concerning Vaysh, it made him laugh. “What?!” he burst out, breaking the silence of the room. “Not what you expected?”

Pell relaxed a fraction. “Not exactly, Vaysh. I still don’t even know what I’m seeing. It appears that somehow, in the communion, you and Apollo… well, you and Apollo…”

“Realized something important. We had already begun to last night, but Thiede made us see.”

Cal stepped up beside his mate. “Thiede? Playing matchmaker… again?”

Vaysh suddenly didn’t feel like answering any more questions. “Um, no, not that way,” he responded quickly, stepping down from the dais with Apollo. “Moon, could you please explain it to them. Apollo and I would like to… go now.”

Moon nodded. “Of course I will explain. I share your joy.”

Dumbfounded, the Triad watched the couple leave.

Walking through the halls of the palace, Vaysh noticed heads turning. Everyone was getting an excellent view, as the couple was walking quite slowly. Vaysh’s arm was still draped over Apollo’s back. He felt like a new being, so much so that some worried part of himself went looking for the old Vaysh, who had sought to freeze others out. It couldn’t be found and didn’t want to be found.

“I’ve changed,” he said to Apollo.

“I know. You’re beautiful. More than before.”

Vaysh felt himself blushing. “I feel like I’ve got my youth back.”

“Good, you can keep up with me then.” Apollo friskily pecked Vaysh’s cheek. “Blushing!”

“Told you, I’ve changed,” Vaysh giggled. They were passing through an area of conference rooms between the kitchens and the main residential block. “It’s like all this pent up… silliness, I guess — I don’t know what to call it — is suddenly just determined to come out and it doesn’t care who sees it.”

As if on cue, a crowd of high officials emerged from one of the conference rooms. Among them, Vaysh knew at once, was Ashmael. Inevitably, the golden head turned in their direction. Vaysh stopped in his tracks.

“Excuse me, Apollo, but there will be an interruption,” he whispered. He did not remove his arm from Apollo’s back.

Ashmael wasn’t the only one staring at the couple, but he was the only one who broke away from the crowd to approach them.

“Vaysh…?” he asked, bewildered.

In the years Vaysh had been in Immanion, he and Ashmael had been forced to interact, although they had never been able to discuss their past openly. This was the first time Vaysh felt prepared to truly speak, even indirectly.

“Ash… I want you to meet a friend of mine,” he said. “Apollo.”

Apollo, whether purely obliviously or in daring, extended his hand. It was a moment before Ashmael accepted. “I’m, I’m… I’m sorry I hesitated, you just look exactly like–”

“Thiede,” Vaysh finished for him. “That’s because he’s Thiede’s son.” He raised his hand, staying Ashmael from an explosion of surprise. “The Triad will explain it all to you. Don’t worry about it. There’s no problem, everything is the same as it was — Triad, Hegalion, Immanion–”

“But not you!” Ashmael broke in. Stepping closer, his hand moved out to touch Vaysh’s shoulder. “You’ve changed.”

Vaysh felt the tears coming and blinked to keep them back. “Yes, I have. For the better. I’m alive, Ash!”

“Something I’ve been trying to accept for the past thirty years,” Ashmael replied. “You… look happy.”

“I think I am. Apollo and I will have to see. I promise the Triad will explain it. They’re probably still in the Sanctum with Moon, Apollo’s hostling.”

“Hostling,” Ashmael mouthed. “I had better head over there. My head is spinning. But will you– will you talk to me later?”

Vaysh nodded. “I think maybe we can… later. For now, I’m off.”

Leaving Ashmael off-balance in the hall, they kept on moving towards the residential section. As they walked, Vaysh quickly explained about Ashmael. Apollo listened without comment, then said he understood and hoped it wouldn’t cause him any problems. Vaysh told him he could deal with it — and by that he meant more than treating it with denial.

By the time they reached Vaysh’s chambers, it seemed just about everyone on the floor had seem them, including Pell’s servant Cleis and Attica, who eyed Apollo with awe but clearly had been informed by the Tigron of his identity.

The doors closed and they were alone. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Apollo asked.

“Possibly,” Vaysh replied. “I think I do have another bottle of– whmmpp!” His words had been interrupted by a kiss.

“That wasn’t what I was thinking,” Apollo murmurred, pulling away gently, speaking into Vaysh’s ear. “I think you can tell what I’m thinking, if you just open up.”

Their lips joined and Vaysh tuned in to that now familar channel. He knew what Apollo was thinking. He was thinking the same thing. They headed for the bedroom.

Chapter 16

Standing with his back to the window, Vaysh was unsure who would be making the first move — or what exactly that move would be. He was about to apologize for being awkward when Apollo broke the short silence.

“I want you to know, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want.”

Vaysh laughed softly. “That’s kind of you to say, Apollo, but actually I think I’m all right — I seem to want to do everything at the moment. I can’t decide what first though.” Succumbing to a sudden urge, he threw himself onto the bed, where he looked up at Apollo from amidst the soft cushions. “I feel like after my Inception, so hungry, although less fearful.”

Apollo sat down on the opposite side of the bed. “Oh, so I get to initiate you?”

“If you like…” Vaysh responded pleasantly.

“No, it’s whatever you like,” Apollo corrected.

“I like you,” Vaysh said, continuing their word play. With slow precise movements Apollo was unbuttoning his silk top. “I still don’t know you very well, but I definitely like you.”

Apollo slipped out of the top and let it fall the floor. “Now I’m blushing, Vaysh.” Turning away, he bent to take off his shoes.

Vaysh let his eyes rest on Apollo’s back, lean and muscled, with its luminous white skin, utterly flawless. It was as if he were completely untouched.

“Tell me,” Vaysh began softly, “have you ever had a partner in your life? A chesna?” For a moment, he thought of Ashmael, but he quickly ushered the thought to a waiting room in his mind.

“No, not really. You know, my father discouraged such things… well, you know that too well perhaps.” Apollo, sans shoes, stood up and began to undo his pants. “Anyway, I didnt’ necessarily agree, but my beliefs were never tested. My hostling and I simply moved around too much. Always another village, another city, another tribe…”

Naked, he flopped onto the bed, hands clasped behind his head. Like Vaysh he was gazing up at the ceiling.

“All those places, all those hara, and you never found anyone?”

There was a silence then and Vaysh felt it stretch, growing like the longing inside him. Finally he felt Apollo’s hand rest gently upon his own, then hold it tight.

“No, I never did. I think I was just waiting for you.”

“You’re romantic,” Vaysh murmurred.

“I’m also soume.”

Their lovemaking was slow and langourous, for despite the passion on both sides, it seemed each of them had a need to stretch out the moments as long as possible, savoring every touch, every shuddering breath, every wave of tingling, ecstatic pleasure. Achingly conscious of the gift he had been given, Vaysh straddled Apollo with confidence, full of a vigor he hadn’t felt in a painfully long time. Over the years he’d undergone much healing, chiefly through aruna with Pell, but only now did he feel he had truly recovered from the scouring he’d received from Thiede. Now there was nothing he could not do. His essence was healthy and strong.

When the moment approached, he and Apollo had melted together into the bed. Then all at once their bodies gathered together into solidity, muscles spasming.

Apollo cried out, hands flexing and unflexing on Vaysh’s back. “That was perfect,” he announced quietly, some moments later. “Can we do it again?”

Vaysh didn’t reply, instead covering Apollo’s mouth with a kiss.

Hours afterward a loud knocking was heard, far off, all the way at the main entrance door.

“Stay there, I’ll get it,” Vaysh sighed. Pulling on a robe, he regretfully left the room and went to the entrance hall.

Out in the hall stood Moon, wide-eyed and surprised. No wonder they’d been able to hear the knock — Moon couldn’t have known how loud he was knocking. He made a gesture, indicating he wanted to come inside and Vaysh stepped back, waving him in.

Moon eyed his robe and smiled. “You enjoyed your afternoon?” he inquired.

Open to the mindtouch, Vaysh nodded. “Yes. Today… it changed my life.”

“I’m glad.” Moon glanced over to the door leading towards the bedrooms. “And my son?”

“Apollo, too.” Thinking of him, Vaysh wished he were there beside him. Already he had the feeling the wish would become constant. “Tell me, Moon, do you think Apollo will be able to stay here in Immanion?”

“It’s funny you should ask,” Moon replied, moving to the couch. “The Triad and I have discussed that.”

“Oh? What exactly do you mean, you ‘discussed it’?” Vaysh asked. Silently he called out to Apollo to come out from the bedroom and join in the conversation.

“They asked me what I would be doing now. I told them I’d like to stay and talk with Thiede some more, see what this city is like, visit some old, old friends who live here now. After that, though, I’d probably go back out into the world to do as I’ve always done.”

Moon looked over to Apollo, who’d just sauntered into the room, wearing a flaming red robe he’d borrowed from Vaysh’s closet. “Then they asked me about my son, if I thought he’d like to stay here.”

“And what did you say?” Apollo asked urgently. “I hope you said–”

“I told them yes, don’t worry. They were fine with that and in fact, they said it wouldn’t be any trouble, they could get you a position right here in Phaonica… assuming you’re amenable.”

“Amenable?! Of course I’ll stay, of course I’ll work here!” Apollo was so excited he rushed forward and took his petite hostling in his arms, squeezing him tight and he spun him round. “Vaysh, did you hear that–”

“Well, in a matter of speaking — your hostling’s mindvoice is quite clear. It’s safe to say I’m looking forward to having you here. One afternoon was nice but…”

“A lot longer would be nicer.” Apollo grinned, releasing his hostling, who promply went to the drinking cabinet and opened it.

“Care to drink on that?” Moon asked, pulling out a long, green bottle of wine.

Vaysh nodded approvingly; it was an exceptionally fine vintage he’d been saving for a special occasion. Stepping beside Moon, he pulled out three glasses and pulling the cord, readied the glasses for the inevitable toasting.

Each of them took a glass.

“To the the future,” Moon toasted first.

“To a lot longer in Immanion,” Apollo rang in second.

“To Thiede,” Vaysh pronounced.

Chinking their glasses together, they all agreed. “To Thiede.”

The End

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