A Love Like Winter

A Love Like Winter
by Morgana

Story Notes

Author’s Email: morganalebeau@yahoo.com

Web page: http://www.paranoid.nl/avalon

Pairing: Vaysh/Galdra

Rating: NC-17

Summary: Pellaz sends Vaysh to Freygard to improve the relationship between their tribes after book 5. What happens when fire finds a way to melt the ice?

Disclaimer: Not mine. No copyright infringement is intended.

Warning: AU of course and spoilers up for book 5.

Sequels: Continued in A Touch of Spring

Beta read by Patricia and DA, thanks sweeties!

All remaining mistakes are mine.

A Love Like Winter

Prologue

Vaysh was careful not to show his surprise at receiving the order Pellaz had just issued. “You want me to go to Freygard and strengthen the ties between their tribe and the Gelaming?” The assignment that Pellaz had just given him stunned him. “I thought you would rather forget about Freygard and its inhabitants?” Seated opposite Pellaz, he noticed the nervous twitch that appeared in the left corner of the Tigron’s mouth.

“I can’t pretend they don’t exist, Vaysh, even if I would rather do just that.” Pellaz rose from his chair and started pacing the room. They were in the Tigron’s office, but even there Pellaz seemed ill at ease. “I can’t deny what happened during Grissecon or before that.” He bowed his head and sighed. “I should never have fallen for Galdra.”

Vaysh got to his feet and his green cloak dragged over the ground behind him as he made his way over to his friend. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You never stood a chance. I’m convinced that Galdra and you were supposed to be together in some way.”

Pellaz’ head jerked back and he searched Vaysh’s gray eyes suspiciously. “What do you mean by that?”

“Did you ever consider how convenient it was that Cal wasn’t at your side when Galdra arrived in Immanion? I’m convinced Thiede summoned Cal for a reason.”

Pellaz swallowed hard. “What you are suggesting is monstrous.” The implications of Vaysh’s observations made Pell nervous. “But I also know that Thiede is capable of orchestrating something like that.”

“Thiede isn’t the only force out there,” Vaysh hinted, but then quickly changed the subject since he didn’t want to confuse Pellaz. Thiede’s blood ran through his veins as well, enabling him to read energy and essences, an ability he hadn’t sensed in Pellaz yet. Therefore Vaysh knew there might have been other entities at work when Pellaz and Galdra had gotten together. “What am I supposed to accomplish in Freygard?”

“We need to strengthen our relationship with Freygard. We can’t risk them drifting apart or alienating them from Immanion.” Pellaz’ dark eyes revealed pain, but the Tigron still continued. “I can’t go there for obvious reasons, but Galdra has no past with you. He barely knows you.”

Vaysh rested his right hand on Pellaz’ shoulder and squeezed gently. “You can’t run away forever.”

“It’s too dangerous for me to confront Galdra.” Although the fact that Loki was Galdra’s son was the best kept secret in Immanion, Pellaz knew better than to mislead Vaysh with such a trick. “I need to keep my distance for Loki’s sake.”

“It’s not my place to judge you for the decisions you make, Pell, but sooner or later, the truth will catch up with you and Galdra will find out he fathered Loki’s pearl.” To some degree, Vaysh felt pity for Pellaz, but at the same time, he also realized that Pellaz had shaped his own life. Pellaz had decided to name Cal Loki’s father for obvious reasons, but the truth was that Galdra was the harling’s father. “I know how much Cal loves Loki and the harling has a good father in him. What worries me is the fact that you’re so distant towards your own son.”

Pellaz’ eyes simmered with a mixture of pain and rage. “Vaysh, I never wanted to create a pearl. It happened against my will.” Pellaz moved away and Vaysh’s hand slipped from the Tigron’s shoulder. “Can’t you understand? Loki is the living proof that I betrayed Cal. Each time I look upon Loki’s face, I see Galdra staring back at me. I’ll never be able to love my son the way he deserves to be loved!”

Vaysh shook his head. “I disagree, Pell. You made the decision to have this distance between the two of you. If you choose to do so, you can also bridge that gap.”

“In that case I don’t choose to do so.” Pellaz’ dark hair tumbled in front of his face briefly as his jaw set firmly and he glared at Vaysh. “Let Cal love him for the both of us because I can’t.”

Realizing that this particular subject had been closed, Vaysh returned to their original topic. “When do you want me to leave? How long must I stay? Are there any special matters you want me to look into?”

“You will embark tomorrow. They sent a boat.” Pellaz’ expression changed and softened as he noticed the surprise on his friend’s face. “They won’t allow you to travel by sedim. That’s why they sent the boat. They want to be in charge. They have ‘Readers’ as we have Listeners and the presence of a sedu will be seen as a breach of confidence.”

Vaysh cringed. “But traveling that way will take me weeks!” Weeks spent in a small cabin below deck. He hoped he wouldn’t become seasick. He had never traveled by boat before. He wasn’t particularly eager to find out how he would fare, but it looked like the Freyhellans would insist.

“Two weeks to be exact. I made sure you’ll be comfortable.” Pellaz shrugged. “The cabin should be warm and dry.” He had done some research and had learned that the sea could be rough this time of the year. “You had also better pack warm clothes. It’s winter in Freygard.”

Vaysh closed his eyes and cursed the fact that Pellaz had chosen him for this mission. He didn’t want to go, but couldn’t deny Pellaz his request. Pellaz *was* Tigron and Vaysh his aide. “Winter…why does it have to be winter?” He already felt perpetually cold and Freygard in winter was a place he could have done without visiting. “Is there really no other har who can go?”

Pellaz shook his head. “I need you to go, Vaysh. You know what happened between Galdra and I and you’ll be discreet. I can’t send Tharmifex or, heaven forbid, Cal. You’re the best choice.”

Vaysh knew Pellaz was right, but was loathe to admit that to his friend. “I won’t stay any longer than strictly necessary.”

Pellaz nodded. “Thank you, Vaysh.” In an unexpectedly affectionate moment, Pellaz pulled Vaysh into his arms and held him tight. “You’re the right har for the job. I know that.”

Vaysh however wasn’t as convinced as Pellaz was, but he would go at any rate. He just hoped he would be able to return to Immanion quickly.

Part 1

Vaysh eyed the har standing opposite him closely. Fair-haired like all Freyhellans, the har’s chest and arms were muscular. The blue eyes radiated warmth within the features, which were strong and shone with encouragement. Dressed in leather pants with a fur coat draped across his shoulders, the har’s blond hair danced freely around the strong face. “And who might you be?” The fact that he would be surrounded by blonds for the next few weeks already annoyed him. Ashmael was a blond…

“My name is Hagal,” the har answered and smiled at Vaysh. “Galdra asked me to act as your guide and companion during the journey. He realizes that traveling by sea is a great inconvenience to you and wants to express his gratitude that you accepted the invitation at any rate.”

“Ah, you’re quite the diplomat…” Vaysh whispered beneath his breath. Had Galdra sent his personal aide? It would make sense in a way since Pellaz was also sending his.

“I still lack experience,” Hagal replied and gestured for Vaysh to come aboard. “Freygard has been my home for as long as I can remember and you’re the first foreign har I have ever met.”

“Are you a pure born then?” Vaysh’s curiosity got the better of him as he stepped upon the deck. About twenty hara had gathered there and were eyeing him unenthusiastically. After all, he was Gelaming and ever since Galdra had returned home heartbroken, most of his tribe strongly disliked all hara affiliated with the Tigron.

“Yes, I am.” Pride shone through Hagal’s words as he guided Vaysh below deck. “You’re not?” He hoped Vaysh wouldn’t consider him forward. He had little experience in these matters and had tried to convince Galdra to send some har else, but the Archon had been determined to send him.

“I was incepted many years ago. I was human once.” He had been incepted again in a way, but by Thiede.

“I have heard about humans… We no longer have any in Freygard.” Hagal opened the door to Vaysh’s cabin. “I hope this will do.”

Vaysh sighed at the dreadful prospect of being confined to this cabin for the next fortnight. “I have little choice.”

“You can go on deck whenever you want,” Hagal suggested quickly as he picked up on Vaysh’s despondency. “You might want to go below during rough weather though.”

The redhead placed his traveling bag onto the bed. He had packed light on purpose. Looking about, he realized that the cabin met most of the basic requirements. The room had a bed, a table, two chairs, and there was a separate bathroom, for which he was grateful. “I doubt I’ll spend much of my waking time here.” He would be crawling up the walls in a few days if he had to live in there.

Hagal walked over to the bed and removed a trunk from beneath it. He opened it and showed its contents to his guest. “It will grow colder the more north we travel. You’ll find extra blankets and a warm fur cloak in here.”

“Thank you.” Vaysh had packed robes that would keep him warm, but he was grateful for any additions to his wardrobe.

“I’ll leave you now so you can settle in. Maybe you’ll join me on deck in a while? We’ll set sail in an hour when the tide is high.” Hagal had had time to study Vaysh and draw some conclusions. The red-haired har seemed suited for the task the Tigron and Archon had set for him and would do. Galdra would accept Vaysh.

***

Vaysh appeared on deck when the crew was getting the ship ready for departure. He made sure he stayed clear and wasn’t hampering the hara who were doing the work. All of them reminded him of Ashmael with their fair hair. Sighing, he realized it would be best if he accepted his lot and made the best of it.

“You don’t seem seasick, but we won’t know for sure until we’re making speed.” Hagal had spotted Vaysh right away and had made his way over to his guest. “The sky’s blue and there’s a strong wind. We will benefit from the gale once we’re on the open sea.”

“Will it really take two weeks?” The mere prospect of being confined to this ship and Hagal’s company – no matter how charming and considerate the other har might be – was enough to make Vaysh want to pull out his hair.

“I’m afraid so,” Hagal replied regretfully. “I’m eager to return home as well… I wouldn’t mind arriving early.”

“This would be unnecessary if Galdra had allowed me to travel by sedu.”

“Galdra doesn’t like having any strange activity in his lands.” Hagal shrugged. “I don’t mind too much personally. Although I miss my homeland, it’s nice to broaden my horizon. I might never have seen Immanion otherwise.”

With resigned sadness in his eyes, Vaysh watched Immanion grow smaller. They had the wind in their sails and would make good time that day. “What’s your homeland like? I have never been there.”

A distant, dreamy look appeared in Hagal’s gaze. “In summer the land bursts with green, fruits, and grain, but now that winter has arrived it’s covered with a white blanket. You’ll be welcomed by snow and ice, but don’t worry. The halls are warm and a strong fire will burn in your room.”

“I don’t like the cold particularly,” Vaysh commented absentmindedly. He already felt cold to begin with and the frozen chill of Freygard would surely ice him up further.

Hagal eyed Vaysh closely and saw the redhead tremble. Was it due to the cold wind or something else? The gray eyes harbored many secrets and Hagal worried about the other har. What ghosts was Vaysh dragging along with him to Freygard? Would they grow stronger during winter? “We have furs in surplus. Once wrapped around you, they’ll keep you warm.”

Although it wasn’t like Vaysh to show his vulnerability, he wrapped his arms around his waist and shivered. The cold he felt was of a different nature, but Hagal didn’t know that. The fire that had burned him when Thiede had remade him was being restrained by a wall of ice which he had erected as a barrier. Vaysh would never be at ease, no matter what choice he made. He would either by burned by Thiede’s fire or chilled by ice of his own making.

***

That first evening, Hagal brought a tray filled with food and drinks to Vaysh’s cabin. Vaysh felt the chill less below deck and had ventured out of his cloak and was only wearing some green robes when Hagal knocked on his door. Vaysh opened the door and stepped aside to let him pass. In Immanion, most evenings were spent in his rooms alone, so to have company was a bit of a shock. It would take time for Vaysh to grow accustomed to having Hagal about.

Hagal placed the tray on the table and straddled one of the chairs. “You had better enjoy the food now that we have plenty. In a week we’ll be eating old bread.” Hagal placed some meat and fresh bread onto his plate and started to eat. “Wine or water?”

“Water,” Vaysh replied automatically. He only drank wine when he wanted to get drunk and when he was alone. Hagal poured some water into a glass and handed it to him. Vaysh sipped and then reluctantly placed some food onto his plate as well.

“You’re thin,” Hagal commented in an effort to make conversation. “You don’t eat much, do you?”

“I eat enough.” Vaysh should have felt offended by the other har’s observation, but didn’t. Maybe it was because Hagal wasn’t Gelaming and didn’t know his history, but it was easier to talk to him than to the hara at court. “So tell me, what does Galdra hope to accomplish by inviting a Gelaming har to Freygard?”

Hagal’s gaze became thoughtful. “He has our best interest in mind. He wants the best for his tribe even if that means making arrangements with Immanion.”

“What does Galdra need?” Vaysh believed in being direct. It would save them time and energy.

Hagal sighed. “Galdra should tell you that himself.”

“Ah, so there’s something he needs after all.” Vaysh’s eyes narrowed. “You can tell me, you know.”

Hagal shrugged. “I can see no real harm in telling you.” Galdra hadn’t forbidden him to discuss the matter with Vaysh and maybe it would be useful if Vaysh knew what Freygard needed from Immanion. It might make the negotiations easier. “The last few winters were harsh and during the summer it rained constantly. Our harvest was not up to its normal standard.”

“You need food.” Vaysh considered this. “That shouldn’t be a problem. We can make arrangements.” Pellaz would give Freygard the help it needed. “Is that it?”

“I don’t know for sure,” Hagal admitted as he sipped the wine he had poured earlier. “Galdra has become very private. He wasn’t like that before he went to Immanion.”

Vaysh averted his gaze. He knew exactly why Galdra had changed. Although he had never talked to the other har, he could very well imagine what it was like to be separated from the one har you love, knowing you can never be chesna with him. “He’ll heal.”

Hagal shifted nervously on his chair. “He doesn’t talk much about what had happened in Immanion, but we’ve heard rumors. Your Tigron broke his heart.”

Vaysh nodded. “I believe it was mutual. Pellaz loved Galdra in turn.”

“Did he? Then why discard Galdra?”

“Because his chesnari, the Tigron Calanthe, returned.” Vaysh recalled being relieved at hearing that Galdra would sail home without making a scene where Pellaz and Cal were concerned. “Galdra did the right thing even though it was hard on him.”

“I’m not so sure.” Hagal pushed his still half-full plate away, having lost his appetite all of a sudden. “He sits in the main hall and stares into the fire. He seems so lost.”

Vaysh swallowed hard. “He needs time.” But time had never healed his wounds, so why would it cure Galdra’s? “Give him time, Hagal. He has only been home for a year now.”

Hagal sighed. “That’s it… I’m not sure Galdra ever came home. It’s like a part of him remained in Immanion.”

Vaysh didn’t know what to say to that and remained quiet. He already had his own ghost to battle with and didn’t need Galdra’s as well.

***

The more north they traveled, the colder it became. It wasn’t long before Vaysh had wrapped himself up in the fur coat Hagal had given him. Although it tried to warm him, he never stopped shivering completely. He stayed below decks during that time, since the cold couldn’t reach him with its chilled fingers there, but it wasn’t warm in his cabin either. He would have loved to have a fire in his room, but the ship’s Captain wouldn’t have it, afraid his inexperienced passenger would accidentally start a fire.

On the eleventh night of their journey, Vaysh lay in bed with his teeth chattering and his limbs trembling due to the cold. When he released his breath, a white fog formed in the air. “Pellaz, why send me?” Feeling deep pity for himself, he wrapped himself up in all the blankets he could find. A knock on the door interrupted his misery and he was forced to acknowledge his visitor, which was doubtlessly Hagal. “Yes?” he called out questioningly.

“It’s me.” Hagal opened the door, stepped inside, and closed it again. He carried a tray with a mug filled with steaming hot tea that had been prepared in the ship’s galley. The Captain had offered for Vaysh to go there, since it was warm there, but Vaysh had preferred his chilled rooms to the chattering cook. “I brought you something hot.”

Vaysh struggled upright and pushed the fabric down so he could reach for the mug. During the last week Hagal and he had developed a mutual respect for each other and, to Vaysh’s surprise, they were becoming friends. In Immanion he had never allowed a har to get emotionally close to him, but it was different on sea. He needed someone to connect with. “Thank you.” He curled his cold-stiff fingers around the mug and treasured its warmth.

Hagal, still wearing his leather outfit, watched with amusement. He had donned his cloak too, but he wasn’t freezing like Vaysh was. The redhead was shaking himself to pieces. “We’re making good time. We might arrive early.” Which would be a good thing since he didn’t want Vaysh to freeze to death. “Are you still cold?” he asked as he watched Vaysh devour the tea.

“Always… I am always cold,” Vaysh let the words slip out unintentionally. “Will it be warmer in Galdra’s home?”

Hagal nodded. “And should you still feel cold, he’ll increase the fires further for you.”

Recalling why Galdra wanted this meeting, Vaysh asked, “Do you have enough food to last you through this winter?”

“One or two months, yes. Then we’ll need help.” Although he didn’t really know Vaysh, Hagal felt safe confiding in him. “Will Immanion send food?”

Vaysh nodded slowly. He had already contacted Pellaz via mind touch and had let him know about the food shortage in Freygard. Pellaz in turn had let him know that he was making preparations to ship food north. Vaysh had even asked if he could return to Immanion, but Pellaz had been adamant that he continued north to talk to Galdra in person. Vaysh had responded with curses, but unfortunately for him, Pellaz hadn’t been impressed.

“I could keep you company, if you would like.”

Vaysh choked and nearly spat the last mouthful of tea back out again. Shocked, he stared at the blond har. “What did you say?”

The redhead’s shock took Hagal aback. Did Vaysh think him below his station? He hadn’t thought Vaysh would turn him down otherwise he would never have offered. “I thought…”

Vaysh saw the expression in Hagal’s eyes harden and realized he had to act quickly if he wanted to save their budding friendship. It surprised him that he wanted to maintain it, even invest in it. “It’s personal, Hagal. I appreciate your offer, but I must decline.”

Hagal blinked in surprise. “Do Gelaming think differently about aruna? Are there any rules I’m unaware of?” He really wanted to understand. He found Vaysh attractive and would be honored if the redhead would want him.

Vaysh placed the mug aside and wrapped the blankets tighter around him. “I can’t, Hagal.”

“Are you chesna with somehar? Is that why…?” But Vaysh was shaking his head and that confused Hagal further. “I’m chesna with Odil, but since we’re both often apart, we roon with other hara… He wouldn’t mind and since you don’t have a chesnari, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

“If only it were that simple.” Vaysh pulled his knees closer to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. Covered with blankets and furs, he knew he presented a pitiful sight. “I can’t take aruna with you, Hagal. I’m sorry.” He hadn’t intended to add that last bit, but for some reason, he had.

“I’ll accept that,” Hagal said after a moment’s thought. “But I still want to help. It’s not normal, the way the cold affects you.” Slowly, he sat down on the side of the bed. Vaysh moved away from him, surprising him once more. /What are you afraid of?/ he thought, but didn’t speak the words aloud.

“What do you want from me?” Vaysh started to feel trapped. He didn’t like hara invading his personal space. It made him edgy.

“I want to share my body heat with you. Will you accept that?” Hagal couldn’t help but wonder what was amiss with Vaysh. He had never met a har who seemed intimidated by the prospect of merely being held.

Vaysh cursed silently and desperately tried to find a way out without offending Hagal’s feelings, but he couldn’t find one. He tensed when Hagal inched closer and sucked in his breath the moment the blond har opened his arms to pull him close. “Don’t…” He protested Hagal’s action when the other har peeled the blankets away from him.

Hagal chose to ignore Vaysh’s request and pulled him close until he could share his body heat with the chilled har. Then he tucked the blankets back into place again. “Why do you feel the cold so much?” he asked as he held Vaysh in his arms.

Vaysh, undone by Hagal’s tone, fought his tears. He managed to fight them back and felt embarrassed for being such a burden to the other har. “You don’t want to know.”

The blond accepted the answer and rubbed Vaysh’s arms in an attempt to warm the flesh and once more wondered why exactly the redhead was trembling so hard. Was it just the cold or was it more?

TBC

A Love Like Winter

Part 2

Sometime during the night, Vaysh fell asleep, lured into relaxation by Hagal’s warmth and closeness. Hagal guided Vaysh’s head along his shoulder and settled the redhead comfortably against him. Being a pure born, he had witnessed his brothers break free from their pearls and had seen them grow up. For some reason he also felt protective of Vaysh, almost like he was his older brother.

Vaysh stirred in his sleep and mumbled something unintelligible. Hagal soothed him and frowned. Even though he had wrapped Vaysh up in a tight embrace, the redhead still felt cold to the touch and that worried him.

/Hagal? Do you hear me?/ Galdra, seated in the main hall in his home, reached out to his personal aide and confidante.

Hagal wasn’t surprised to hear the Archon’s voice in his mind. He had been expecting Galdra to contact him since he was approaching his homeland. /Yes, I hear you, my friend./

/How are matters?/ Feeling curious, Galdra stretched his mind further and was surprised to find that Hagal wasn’t alone.

/I’m bringing Vaysh to you. The Tigron sent him to negotiate./ Hagal caught himself caressing Vaysh’s hair. /He’s nothing like I thought he would be. I thought I would hate all Gelaming, but I don’t. I like Vaysh./

Galdra sighed. He vividly remembered how easily he had fallen for Pellaz not so long ago. /Watch your heart carefully, my friend./

/I will. Galdra, I already talked to him about the food shortage and he’s convinced that the Tigron will help us and send food. He said that some was already on its way./

The Archon nodded unconsciously. He had never doubted that Pellaz would help them. That was just the way the Tigron was. /When will you arrive? I need to discuss other matters with Vaysh as well./

/One day, maybe two,/ Hagal answered, trying to assess the time of their arrival. /Keep an eye out for us./ There were watchers all along the coastline and they would alert Galdra in time to prepare for their arrival.

/Bring him to the keep./ Galdra wasn’t inclined to leave his home and wanted Vaysh to come to him since he still harbored feelings of anger about the way he had been treated after Calanthe had returned. /Make sure he’s safe at all times. I don’t want anything to happen to him while he’s in Freygard./

/I understand./ The connection faded and Hagal grew aware of Vaysh’s slow soft breathing. Holding him close, he desperately tried to warm the chilled har further.

***

Vaysh wasn’t pleased when he woke up and realized that he was nestled in Hagal’s arms. They lay facing each other as his head rested on Hagal’s chest as it rose and fell. Waking up like this was a very odd and unique experience for Vaysh who had become used to sleeping alone. Hagal’s scent invaded his nostrils and Vaysh was stunned at how attractive he suddenly found the other har. His body tried to stir and awaken as if from a long sleep, but Vaysh ruthlessly fought down the arousal. He wasn’t going to give in and burn this poor unsuspecting har. There was a reason why he seldom partook in aruna, but when he did, it was with Pellaz, a har of his own level of power. He had never dared to invite another har into his bed, not even Ashmael, because he was afraid of the damage he could do during aruna. Thiede’s blood, the Aghama’s essence, could hurt a har of lesser potential.

“If we’re lucky we we’ll be able to go ashore this evening.”

Hagal’s voice took Vaysh by surprise and he quickly rolled away from the other har, who had woken up without him noticing it. Wide-eyed, he stared into Hagal’s eyes. “I told you to keep your distance,” he reproached the younger har.

Hagal regretted that the physical contact had been broken. It had taken him most of the night to finally warm Vaysh. “You didn’t seem that reluctant once I held you in my arms and shared my body heat with you.” He sat upright and finger-combed his tangled mane, reluctant to leave the warm nest on the bed.

“I misjudged you,” Vaysh said with the intent to hurt the other har’s feelings. “I thought you knew the meaning of honor, but instead you simply-”

Vaysh didn’t get a chance to finish as Hagal cut him off. “Sharing my body heat with you *was* an honorable thing to do!” Hagal shook his head and glared at the redhead. “Why are you so intent on keeping me at a distance?”

“Don’t change the subject!” Angry with himself, Vaysh left the bed and wrapped the fur coat around his shaking frame. “Leave me alone!”

Hagal rose from the bed as well and eyed Vaysh closely. His curiosity was killing him and he desperately wanted to know why Vaysh was acting the way he was. “I’ll have food brought to your cabin. I suggest you eat some of it.” Hagal moved toward the door and glanced at Vaysh with sympathy. If only Vaysh would accept his help!

***

Vaysh avoided Hagal’s company for the rest of the day and fervently hoped that they were going ashore that evening so that Hagal would disappear from his life. The problem was that he actually liked Hagal and wanted to confide in him, but he also knew that he couldn’t. He couldn’t burden Hagal with that. There was no reason for it. Hagal had a chesnari and Vaysh knew that he would probably burn Hagal the way Thiede had burned him during aruna.

Hagal allowed Vaysh’s evasion tactics until the evening was upon them. Strong gales had sped up their journey and they would berth shortly. Vaysh needed to know that so he could pack his belongings and prepare to disembark. Hagal went below deck, knocked on the door to Vaysh’s room, and then entered. Vaysh was standing next to the bed, seeming fragile beneath the heavy fur coat. “We’ll go ashore within the hour.”

“Thank you.” Vaysh started to collect his things. When Hagal didn’t leave, Vaysh looked up and asked, “Is there anything else you want to tell me, Tiahaar?”

Hagal’s eyes showed surprise and hurt at being addressed so formally. He had thought that they had become friends. “My name’s Hagal. There’s no need for you to address me so formally.”

Vaysh had hoped that Hagal would simply accept that things between them were formal again, but it seemed Hagal wouldn’t give in easily. “I want to go on deck.” He slammed his suitcase shut and shot the other har a challenging look.

“It’s cold on deck,” Hagal warned.

“I don’t care.” The mere thought of being exposed to the cold gales made Vaysh shiver, but the thought of spending the next hour in his cabin with Hagal for company made him even more edgy. At least on deck, Hagal had to maintain his distance.

Hagal stepped aside to let Vaysh pass as the redhead headed out on deck. Shaking his head, he followed suit. He hoped the cold wind wouldn’t get to Vaysh. The har seemed too fragile as it was.

***

His worst nightmare had come true as Vaysh saw that Freygard was shrouded in ice and snow. The branches of the few trees he noted were cloaked with the white substance. The white stretched on as far as he could see and its brightness actually hurt his eyes. The worst thing was that he had to spend the next few weeks in this snow-covered hell.

“It’ll be better once you have reached Galdra’s stronghold.” Hagal wanted to wrap an arm around Vaysh’s shoulder, but the look the redhead gave him held a warning and he kept his hands to himself, not touching Vaysh at all.

“I can cope.” Vaysh however shivered violently and his teeth chattered when he spoke.

“I wish you would go below deck.” Hagal gazed at Vaysh imploringly. “It’ll be another hour before we can disembark. There’s no reason for you to be get chilled to the core.”

“I’ll stay where I am,” Vaysh retorted stubbornly. He wanted nothing more than to return to his cabin and crawl into his warm bed, but he had to get used to this icy hell for he was going to spend the next few weeks there.

***

Hagal felt a bit reassured once he had Vaysh mount the horse Galdra had sent for his guest. He hoped that the animal’s heat would rub off on the chilled har and keep him warm.

“How long will the last leg of the journey take?” Vaysh inquired and buried his fingers in the horse’s mane. The animal felt warm beneath him and he desperately wanted to soak up its heat.

“A little less than an hour.” Hagal set a relatively slow pace since he wasn’t sure on how good a rider Vaysh was, but once he realized that the redhead was accustomed to being in the saddle, he sped up. “Galdra won’t meet with you until tomorrow. He asks that you eat and rest.”

Vaysh nodded absentmindedly and wondered how he was going to survive the cold.

***

Vaysh felt relieved once they entered Galdra’s stronghold. The keep was situated against a hill and any attackers would have had a hard time taking it. Once inside, Vaysh immediately noticed the torches that hung from the walls as they oozed warmth and light. It had grown dark during their journey and with the dimness Vaysh’s mood had darkened accordingly. It was good to be inside the keep and have light and warmth around him. Hagal dismounted and Vaysh followed the other har’s example before gathering his robes and fur coat around him to follow Hagal up the stairs. “Where are you taking me?”

“The guest rooms.” Galdra was an experienced host and Vaysh’s room would be warm and comfortable. “Somehar will take you to Galdra in the morning.”

The redhead followed Hagal and, when the blond har opened a door, a sigh of contentment fled his lips at seeing the blazing fire in the fireplace and a bed covered with blankets. This was exactly what he needed after being so cold and miserable on the ship. Hagal carried in his belongings and placed the suitcase close to the bed before returning to the doorway.

“Thank you for looking after me the way you did,” Vaysh stated as the warmth made him feel more alive and approachable. “I might not have shown it before, but I do appreciate it.” The smile that appeared on Hagal’s face took Vaysh aback for it was genuinely pleased and didn’t show any of the fake pleasure the servants in Immanion would give him.

A har suddenly appeared in the doorway and coughed softly to announce his presence subtly. Hagal reacted at once and said, “This is Dorn. He’ll look after you. If you need anything, tell him.”

Although Vaysh knew that almost all Freyhellans were fair, he had hoped against all odds that this one would be dark haired. But Dorn was as blond as Hagal or Galdra and possessed bright green eyes. Unlike Hagal, he wasn’t dressed in leather and furs, but in warm pants and a thick shirt. “I hope that everything is to your liking. Maybe you would like a bath to freshen up?”

No matter how enticing the idea of a bath was, Vaysh felt that he’d rather crawl into bed and get warm that way. “Thank you for your offer, but perhaps in the morning before I visit with Galdra.”

“I’ll arrange for it.” Dorn and Hagal exchanged a look and then inclined their heads. “I’ll take you to Galdra in the morning,” Dorn said as Hagal stepped into the corridor. “May you rest peacefully tonight.” Dorn closed the door.

Vaysh felt relieved once he was finally alone. After a moment’s thought, he pulled the blankets from the bed and hauled them over to the fireplace. He placed a pillow against the wall and contentedly wrapped himself up in the blankets. Watching the flames move, he hummed softly as he finally started to feel warm again.

***

Hagal went straight to Galdra in the main hall. Galdra was sitting close to the fireplace with a thoughtful expression in the clouded eyes, which had once been bright and alert, but had dulled since his return from Immanion. “He’s here,” Hagal announced and pulled up a chair. After seating himself, he studied his Archon. Galdra’s hair was a mess and Hagal wondered when it had seen a brush last. Dark rings had appeared beneath the eyes and Galdra looked much too pale. It was obvious that he was still mourning the loss of the Tigron and Hagal felt an unexpected sting of hatred aimed at Pellaz.

Galdra raised his head and glanced at his friend sharply. “Don’t. It’s not his fault either.” It had taken Galdra some time, but eventually he had worked out that Pellaz and he had been used by some force. Hagal should be angry with that force, not with Pellaz.

“I’m sorry,” Hagal apologized. “But it’s hard seeing you like this.”

The Archon shrugged before straightening his shoulders. Some of his old vigor and drive appeared in his eyes. “So you brought Vaysh?” He vaguely remembered Pellaz’ personal aide hovering close by Pellaz. They had never talked though and Galdra wondered why Pellaz had sent Vaysh and not a military leader like General Aldebaran to take care of the negotiations. He had expected either the General or Tharmifex to turn up, but not Vaysh.

Nodding, Hagal added, “The Tigron wanted it that way.” For one moment he wished he had actually seen Pellaz for then he might have understood why Galdra had fallen so hard for the har.

“And nohar argues with the Tigron.” A bitter note crept into Galdra’s voice, which Hagal noticed, but Galdra composed himself again. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow. I trust he’s resting?”

Hagal nodded once more. “The journey was hard on him. He wasn’t seasick exactly, but the cold got to him more than it should have.”

Remembering a few rumors that he had heard during his stay in Immanion, Galdra recalled that there was something unusual about Vaysh, but had never tried to figure out why Vaysh was the way he was and had no real intention to find out anytime soon. Vaysh was just Immanion’s representative and a guest in his home…nothing more. “You did a good job, Hagal.” A smile appeared on Galdra’s face. “Odil returned to the keep two hours ago. I’m sure you would like to see him.”

At receiving such good news Hagal became impatient. It had been weeks since they had been able to roon. “If you no longer need my services…” He started to rise from the chair as Galdra gestured for him to leave before racing out of the hall in search of his chesnari, leaving Galdra alone to brood about Pellaz once more.

***

Dorn was surprised to find Vaysh huddled on the floor instead of in the bed, but the redhead looked comfortable wrapped up in all those blankets. Since he had no intention of scaring his guest, Dorn cleared his throat, hoping that it would wake Vaysh. Vaysh’s eyes instantly opened and searched the room. Alarmed, he realized that Dorn had entered his room without permission.

“I knocked, but you didn’t react, so I entered,” Dorn explained. His bright green eyes took in every inch of Vaysh’s face curiously, which showed surprise and a sense of discomfort. “I wanted to tell you that your bath is ready.”

“Bath?” Vaysh blinked and tried to rid himself of the last remnants of sleep. He had slept remarkably deep and his dreams had for once been free of horrific memories featuring Thiede. Dorn opened the curtains and one look outside showed that it was day again. He had slept through the night, which was very unusual. The fire was dying and Vaysh watched Dorn add more wood to it.

“Would you like to follow me into the bathroom?” Dorn reinvigorated the fire before heading to a door on the right. The bathroom was adjourning and he had made sure it was warm as well. Hagal had informed him of their guest’s tendency to be cold.

The last thing Vaysh wanted was to push back the blankets and rise from his warm nest, but he had little choice since the negotiations with Galdra would start that day. When he rose from his warm nest, he expected cold air to assault him, but he was pleasantly surprised that the temperature in the room had risen during the night. Clutching his green robes to his body, he followed Dorn. In the center of the room stood a large bathtub that had been filled to the rim with hot water. Suddenly the prospect of taking a bath looked much more enjoyable. Vaysh was in the process of taking off his clothes when he suddenly realized that Dorn was still present.

Reading the silent question in his guest’s eyes, Dorn stated, “I’m here to assist you.”

Vaysh was about to say that he didn’t need any assistance, but then realized that it could be considered rude and he didn’t want to give Galdra a reason to be annoyed with him even before the talks started. He had to accept the situation and so he disrobed further.

Dorn was careful not to show his concern when he saw how frail and small Vaysh was beneath his clothes. Most Freyhellans were hardy and muscular since Galdra had them work outside. Only hara like Dorn, who were at work in the Keep, could get away with working out less. But even there in the keep there were few hara who looked as fragile as Vaysh did.

Eager to cover up his nakedness, Vaysh quickly stepped into the warm water and sighed with bliss as he sat down. Letting the water cradle him, he felt warm through and through. The water lured him into relaxation and he was therefore startled as he felt Dorn’s fingers move through his hair. Surmising that Dorn intended to wash the red mane, Vaysh resigned himself to the treatment, but remained edgy at being touched by a stranger.

Dorn took his time washing the red hair, which had become dry and brittle. Dorn suspected it was due to the stress of the journey or the cold weather, but then discovered blond roots. Vaysh wasn’t a redhead by nature. “Do you dye it?” Dorn asked without thinking. His curiosity had taken over. Vaysh nodded and Dorn continued. “Nohar dyes his hair over here. We’re all blonds,” he said and laughed softly. Vaysh only needed to remove the dye to fit in there.

“Can you hurry up?” Vaysh didn’t like hara finding out too many personal facts about him and was eager to get the talks started. The sooner he reached an agreement with Galdra, the quicker he could return home.

“Aren’t you enjoying your bath?” Dorn frowned. He had expected Vaysh to like being pampered after the rough journey the har had had.

“I’m eager to get the talks started. That’s why I’m here, isn’t it?” Vaysh wanted to rise from the tub, but Dorn was still rinsing his hair.

“Galdra expects you to join him in an hour,” Dorn explained as he worked oil into the brittle strands. Hopefully it would stop any snarls from forming in the hair. “You have ample time to bathe, dress, and have breakfast.”

Vaysh mumbled a curse. Who needed breakfast? He just wanted to get started so he could leave Freygard and return to Immanion!

***

Dorn was pleased with his handiwork as he looked at Vaysh. After having bathed the other har as well as taken care of the red mane, Dorn had dressed Vaysh in local attire. Vaysh had given him an odd look, but had slipped into the brown heavy shirt and wool lined pants. Vaysh had definitely looked pleased when Dorn had draped a heavy fur coat around his shoulders and had pulled the material close. The greatest improvement was the hair, Dorn considered. The strands shone silkily and the tangles were gone. Had Vaysh not been so thin, Dorn would have considered him handsome, but now a sense of bad health clung to Vaysh. “Follow me. I’ll take you to Galdra.” It was time.

Vaysh was grateful for the warm socks and leather boots which Dorn had given him as he followed the servant through the corridors. The keep was larger than he had thought and each corner was thoroughly lit and warmed with torches. The chill wasn’t so pronounced anymore, but Vaysh still clung to his precious coat.

After walking for a few minutes, Dorn opened a heavy wooden door and they stepped into a large hall which must have been carved into the side of the mountain. Tables, chairs, and huge fireplaces filled the hall. Windows cloaked with curtains let in a small amount of daylight, but the main light sources were the candles, oil lamps, and fires. In a corner close to one of the huge fireplaces sat a har that was staring into the flames. Vaysh recognized Galdra at once and it worried him that Galdra looked so pale and despondent. He had expected the har to bounce back from losing Pellaz and continue his former life.

Galdra sensed Vaysh’s presence and raised his head to look at the redhead. “Please join me,” he offered and pointed at a nearby chair. He felt surprised as he sensed Vaysh’s concern for him. The few times he had seen the redhead, Vaysh had seemed bereft of emotions.

Vaysh seated himself close to the fire and folded the fur coat closely around his frame. Although it was pleasantly warm in the hall, he still felt chilled however this time the source wasn’t the cold, but the unrest in his heart. It was probably a good thing that Pellaz didn’t know how much Galdra’s health had deteriorated during the last year. He almost remarked on it, but then realized that would make a bad opening. Instead, he said, “Pellaz asked me to convey his appreciation for the best wishes that you sent when Loki was born.” He noticed the shudder that coursed through Galdra at hearing that name.

In an unusual show of vulnerability, Galdra retorted, “I can live without having a son – an heir – but to know that Pellaz loved me back… It’s cruel.” He wanted Pellaz to be happy and understood why having a son with Cal would heal any past rifts, but at the same time it reminded Galdra of what he had lost the day Cal had returned.

Vaysh flinched when Galdra’s words hit home. He could have lived without offspring as well as long as he’d had Ashmael’s love. “Maybe you’ll find another love and have sons with this har.” Vaysh felt like he had to offer some comforting words, even though there were none for himself.

“I highly doubt it,” Galdra replied and dismissed their topic for the moment. “I didn’t ask you to come here so we could discuss my disastrous love life. I need to talk to you about Freygard’s needs.” He was Archon before he was har and he owed it to his people to try to get the best deal out of it.

“Hagal already told me about the food shortage and I contacted Pellaz. He has already assured me that help is on the way. He dispatched two ships, though transport would be easier and quicker if you had allowed the use of sedim.”

“Not at this point.” Galdra raised his hand dismissively. “Maybe later.”

“Would you like to set up some trading posts? Arrange for regular contact between the Gelaming and the Freyhellans?” Vaysh watched Galdra pour wine into two glasses and started to feel nervous. “No wine for me.”

Galdra raised an eyebrow and presented the glass to Vaysh at any rate. “It’s custom for a guest to drink with his host upon his arrival. Would you break that custom on your first day here?”

Vaysh eyed the wine suspiciously. One glass couldn’t do much harm as long as Galdra stopped feeding him more afterwards. Vaysh tended to get extremely silly or severely depressed when he was drunk. Being drunk had also enabled Pellaz to have his way with him that first time. Had he been sober, Vaysh might not have consented to aruna. “I don’t wish to offend you and I’ll drink a glass, but only one.”

Puzzled, Galdra sipped his wine and watched Vaysh sip as well. The redhead was eyeing the red contents like it was poison. “The trading posts might be a good idea. I also know that some of my people would like to travel so that way, if we set those up, they can satisfy their curiosity.”

“I can imagine that some hara would like to stay in warm Immanion during this time of the year. The winter over here seems grueling.”

“We have gotten used to it.” Galdra noticed the puzzled expression on Vaysh’s face after the redhead had swallowed his sip and he explained, “We add spices to the wine to help us warm up on the inside too.”

Vaysh gulped when he realized how potent the wine was and knew he had to empty the glass or else he would offend Galdra. “Are they any other matters you would like to discuss while I’m here?” Vaysh hoped he would be able to keep his wits about him when the wine started to travel to his head.

“I would like Freygard to be represented in the Hegemony.” Galdra emptied his glass and placed it aside. “I don’t want to be kept out of matters.”

Vaysh considered his answer carefully. Galdra had almost been announced Tigron, but then Cal had returned. “You would have to send a representative suited for that task.”

“Do you think the Tigrons and the Hegemony would accept this and allow a representative in on their meetings?” The blond hoped that Vaysh would be able to assess the situation and his chances. That was the main reason why he had asked to talk to Pellaz’ representative in person.

“Things might be awkward for a while because of your past dealings with the Tigron, but I believe the commotion would die quickly and matters would return to normal. Do you have a har in mind?” Vaysh supported Galdra’s idea and felt that Pellaz would welcome it too since the Tigron wanted to deepen the relationship between Immanion and the Freyhellans.

“I was thinking about Hagal. I know he’s young and inexperienced, but I believe he’ll do well.”

Vaysh nodded approvingly. “He’ll need to be schooled in etiquette, but I agree that he would do well. Are you sending Hagal *and* Odil?” Hagal seemed to love his chesnari and it would be best if they were introduced as a couple or else somehar might get the idea that Hagal was still available.

“That was the plan, yes. I don’t intend to separate them. I was hoping that they could sail with you when you head back to Immanion. Maybe you can introduce them and help them get accustomed to the ways of the Gelaming?”

“I’ll do that,” Vaysh responded, feeling pleased that everything was working out. “The Tigrons hoped that we would find a way to solidify the relationship between Immanion and Freygard.”

“The Tigrons…” Galdra emphasized the ‘s’ at the end. “I bet Cal hates my guts?”

Vaysh shrugged. “I believe he has come to accept what happened between Pellaz and you. He’s not a har who harbors feuds or grudges.” Cal had been surprisingly accepting of the situation and had even eagerly adopted Loki. “However, I would advise against visiting Immanion just yet.”

“Rest assured. I have no intention of ever entering that city again. I’ll stay here where I belong.” Galdra sounded bitter and he knew it. “My role in Pellaz’ life has been played out. It’s best I concentrate on the well-being of my hara.” Galdra composed himself, refilled his glass, and raised it. “A toast!”

Vaysh felt miserable as he realized that he would have to empty his own glass. “May everything work out,” he declared and sipped.

Galdra however downed his drink in one go and the gaze he cast upon Vaysh was filled with heartache. “Will you do me the honor of having dinner with me this evening?” In summer, the hall was swamped with hara, but during winter, they seemed to cuddle up with each other in their beds and Galdra often spent the nights alone. Vaysh was therefore a welcome distraction.

Vaysh knew he couldn’t deny Galdra his request. He was a guest and it was Galdra’s duty to look after him. “Of course. I’ll be there.” Vaysh started to rise from his chair when he saw Galdra trying to refill his glass as well. He had finally managed to empty it and refused to be drunk. Galdra already seemed well on his way to intoxication.

“Dorn will escort you to my rooms this evening. In the meantime, feel free to explore or rest, whichever you like.” Galdra lazily swirled the wine around in his glass before sipping again.

Vaysh moved over to the doorway and considered everything he had learned during their conversation. Something was very wrong with Galdra and he wondered if he had been sent there for a completely different reason other than to oversee any negotiations. Had Pellaz known that Galdra wasn’t faring well therefore insisting that Vaysh went to Freygard? But what other reason could Pellaz have possibly had for sending him there?

***

Galdra scanned his rooms and felt comfortable with the thought of welcoming Vaysh to them. Their first conversation had gone well and in retrospect, Galdra was grateful that the redhead had been unwilling to drink more wine for it had alerted him to the fact that he drank too much at times. Sober once more, he was actually looking forward to entertaining his guest.

Part 3

Vaysh felt edgy when he followed Dorn to Galdra’s personal rooms. He was convinced that more was going on than he could see. Some force was at work and he suspected that he had been lured to Freygard for a reason, but that reason eluded him.

Dorn knocked on the door and then excused himself. Vaysh straightened his shoulders, drew in a deep breath, and opened the door after hearing Galdra’s call to enter. Galdra’s rooms breathed a warm atmosphere, even though it was carved in the caverns. Its walls consisted of rock, but had been decorated with furs and fabric, adding a comfortable touch to the room. The room held several plush chairs, a large desk which was now being used as a dinner table and a large bed that was also covered with furs. A roaring fire reached for the ceiling and warmed the entire room. “Galdra,” Vaysh said and inclined his head in greeting.

Galdra copied the gesture and then asked Vaysh to approach. “I hope you’re hungry. We seldom have guests and the cook decided to butcher one of the pigs so we would have food in abundance tonight.” It was his duty as a host to make sure Vaysh had everything he needed, including ample food.

The redhead wanted to say that it hadn’t been necessary to kill the pig on his account, but kept quiet just in time. “Your hospitality is amazing,” he complimented instead.

“Please be seated.” Galdra sat down himself and gestured at the two carafes on the table. He’d had one filled with water on purpose, unwilling to pressure Vaysh into drinking wine. Vaysh took the water and poured some into his glass while Galdra opted for the wine, but watered it down so it wouldn’t affect him. “What do you think of my home?” he asked conversationally.

“It’s surprisingly warm, considering the lands are covered with snow.” Vaysh caught sight of the hot tea and reached for it. Galdra beat him to it however and poured some into their cups. “I understand why the harvest failed.”

Galdra’s mood darkened. “This last year was particularly bad and I’m afraid we might not survive without Immanion’s help.”

“Just be patient a little longer. I expect the first ships to arrive during the next few days.” Although he wasn’t particularly hungry, Vaysh forced some of the meat down. “Then you’ll have plenty of food. How many hara live here?”

“About two hundred. Some further south, so they’re less affected by the bad weather. They still have some provisions.” Galdra ate without relish. Silence descended onto the room and Galdra felt like he was suffocating since Vaysh wasn’t breaking the dreadful stillness. There was one subject he desperately needed to address, but Galdra was reluctant to do so.

“Pellaz still thinks of you,” Vaysh offered when the silence became oppressive. “He hasn’t forgotten about you.”

Galdra started and gasped for breath. “He’s all I can think about,” he admitted in a strangled voice. “Was birthing the pearl hard on him?” He didn’t know where the question came from. He just needed to know.

“Not particularly. He birthed it within the hour.” Vaysh curled his fingers around the cup and blew onto the surface of the hot tea. “The two of you have no future,” he stated with brutal honesty. For one second, Galdra’s eyes glowed ominously.

“Don’t you think I know that?” Galdra banged his fist onto the table and looked apologetic “I just can’t get him out of my head. It’s like he’s in my blood. I’d hoped his face would haunt me less in time, but I still feel like I can touch it if I reach out to him.”

Vaysh felt pity for Galdra and that was what loosened his lips. “I know what it’s like to long for somehar you can’t have. I wish I could say time heals all wounds, but sometimes, they remain open and don’t heal at all.”

Galdra raised his head at hearing that. “You too?”

Realizing Galdra had misunderstood, Vaysh replied, “I’m not in love with Pellaz.”

“But do you take aruna with him?” Galdra wished he could take the question back, but it was too late.

Vaysh paled. “Occasionally.”

Galdra laughed bitterly. “He roons everyhar except for me! And I love him! I bet you don’t!”

“Not the way you do, but I love Pell in my own way…as much as I’m still capable of feeling for some har.” This time, Vaysh reached for the wine and poured the red liquid into his glass before downing it. “I don’t want to discuss this matter at the moment.”

Feeling intrigued, Galdra’s eyes narrowed. “I heard some very strange rumors about you when I was staying in Immanion. I didn’t pay much attention to them at the time, but now I find myself wondering.”

“What kind of rumors?” In spite of everything, Vaysh felt curious. He was probably digging his own grave asking that question, but he had to know.

Galdra suddenly felt ill at ease discussing this with Vaysh. “They said that you were a strange har because you never participate in aruna.” They had also said that Vaysh was Thiede’s lapdog and did everything Thiede and Pellaz asked.

“I have my reasons for being that way.” Vaysh, losing his composure, refilled his glass and stared into the swirling liquid. He really shouldn’t be drinking while discussing something so personal, but then a startling thought struck him. Galdra had taken aruna with Pellaz and hadn’t been affected by the har’s powerful essence. Pellaz could have easily damaged him!

Seeing the expression change in Vaysh’s gray eyes Galdra wondered what had happened just now. Something had changed…Vaysh had realized something. “So what are your reasons?” Galdra watched Vaysh empty his second glass of wine and wondered about the discomfort that shone from the cloaked eyes.

“Sometimes they appear non-existent like at this very moment.” Vaysh was shocked to discover what direction his thoughts were running in. Was he really contemplating rooning Galdra? Pellaz hadn’t damaged the Freyhellan so maybe that meant Vaysh could also safely roon him? No, stop. The thought was absurd. Even if Galdra was a suitable partner, that didn’t mean the other har would want to take aruna with him. Galdra wanted Pellaz and not Vaysh.

Galdra’s eyes blazed with curiosity. “So what is different if you’re considering sharing aruna with me?”

Vaysh gasped when he was found out. He had been convinced that Galdra wouldn’t be able to figure it out. Before he knew it, he was admitting the truth. “Pellaz didn’t damage you during aruna.”

The blond frowned. “Why would he damage me?” Taking aruna with Pellaz had pushed Galdra to the limit, but he had handled the Tigron well.

The wine continued to loosen Vaysh’s tongue. “Because Thiede’s essence is inside us and it can damage a har.” Shocked at what he had just revealed his eyes widened. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Then the stories are true? It’s true that he made Pell?” Galdra had heard the stories but had never quite believed them. “And he made you?” That last conclusion made his head reel. “You’re like Pell in that way?”

Vaysh flinched. Discussing this matter pained him. “No, I’m a failure. Pellaz was Thiede’s ultimate triumph.”

Galdra grew quiet at that and a nauseating suspicion settled in the pit of his stomach. “Did Thiede damage you in some way?” Why else would Vaysh be so worried about hurting him?

The redhead glanced over at the doorway and considered making a run for it, but he was the guest and Galdra might be offended in his capacity of host. He had no other option than talk to the Freyhellan. “Yes, he did. I’m barren. That’s why he created Pellaz. I wasn’t suited for the role of Tigron and became Pellaz’ aide instead.”

The Archon swallowed some of the tea and considered everything he had learned. “Am I understanding you correctly? The only reason why Pellaz is Tigron and you’re not is the fact that you’re barren?”

Vaysh shrugged. “It was all the reason Thiede needed. A barren har is of little use to him, especially when he wanted that har to become Tigron and father pearls.”

“You must be angry with him!” Galdra felt anger build inside him as well. Vaysh’s calm demeanor however confused him.

“I’m sad mostly… I paid a huge price for Thiede’s desire to experiment. I lost my chesnari and the hope of ever having a son.” Vaysh closed his eyes and his fingernails dug into the wood of the armrest.

“They told me that General Aldebaran and you were chesna once.” Galdra had forgotten about that tidbit until that moment. Vaysh’s features contorted and Galdra regretted making that remark. “That was tactless.”

“No,” Vaysh said and stressed that with a firm shake of his head. “The whole of Immanion probably knows. It was foolish of me to think I could keep it a secret.”

Galdra studied Vaysh from over the rim of his cup. He could tell that Vaysh didn’t want him to know any of this and it had all slipped out by accident. “Are you afraid you would hurt him if you took aruna?” The expression in Vaysh’s eyes showed that he had hit bull’s eye. “I’m sorry,” he offered. “I won’t tell anyhar.”

Vaysh was too busy fighting tears to worry about the hara in Freygard finding out about his past. “That’s why I said that I know what it’s like, Galdra. I love a har and am unable to be close to him.”

“How long has it been since you rooned?” Vaysh’s pain moved Galdra. It reminded him that he wasn’t the only har suffering from a broken heart.

“Almost a year.” Vaysh hadn’t wanted to admit that, but his lips had been moving before his brains had had a chance to stop them. “Pell doesn’t seek me out anymore… He has Cal now.”

The shattered pain that shone from behind the gray eyes touched Galdra and he slowly rose from his chair. He made his way over to Vaysh and sat down on the armrest, immediately registering the startled look in the redhead’s eyes. Vaysh looked about ready to jump to his feet and run and Galdra didn’t want for that to happen. He placed a restraining hand on Vaysh’s wrist and whispered, “It has been a long time for me too. Maybe we can find solace in each other’s arms?”

Stunned, Vaysh stared at Galdra. “What?”

“You heard me,” Galdra gently reprimanded him and stroked a strand of red hair away from the pale face. “You’re smart… You know that I took aruna with Pellaz and he didn’t damage me, so you don’t have to be afraid that you would burn me. I’m safe for you, Vaysh. Seize this opportunity and give me a memory in turn.”

Vaysh however was only capable of staring at Galdra. He couldn’t believe the blond had made that suggestion!

***

Vaysh considered jumping to his feet and making a run for it, but the expression in Galdra’s eyes stopped him. Galdra wanted this for his own reasons, which were selfish and selfless at the same time. “I don’t believe this is a smart thing to do.”

Galdra shrugged. “Does it matter as long as we find some sort of comfort in each other’s arms?” Slowly, Galdra raised his right hand and cupped Vaysh’s cheek in his palm. The skin didn’t feel cold anymore. “I need this as much as you do.”

The redhead’s resolve started to crack. He could tell that Galdra was sincere and that pleasure would be found in the act, but was he ready to let Galdra get that close to him?

Realizing he had to act before Vaysh regained his senses, Galdra leaned in closer and pressed his lips against Vaysh’s pale ones in a tentative and old-fashioned kiss. Vaysh’s lips tasted of the spices that had drifted on the surface of the mulled wine and Galdra slid his hand into place, cupping the back of the redhead’s head. Vaysh *was* reacting to his advances as the mouth parted. Small wisps of breath floated into Galdra’s mouth and he tasted the need in Vaysh. A year was a long time to go without aruna – that was true for both of them.

Vaysh worried that he was making a dreadful mistake as he reacted to Galdra’s caresses. His body yearned for the touches, kisses, and sharing breath. Galdra was a force of his own, overwhelming him. Pellaz must have felt like that when Galdra had released his charms on him.

The blond sensed Vaysh’s surrender and the victory thrilled him. He slid his other arm beneath the redhead’s knees and lifted him from the chair. Vaysh released a startled yelp, but Galdra merely laughed as he stood up and headed for his bed where he deposited Vaysh in the center. He had been afraid that Pellaz’ face would accompany Vaysh’s whenever he looked at the redhead, but the Tigron’s memory didn’t haunt him and for that he was grateful.

Hungry for more physical contact, Galdra set about removing Vaysh’s clothes. The bare skin that greeted his fingertips was pale and he frowned when he realized how fragile Vaysh’s body was. Every har needed aruna and often – not once a year. Galdra had rooned during the last year, although he had kept the amount of bed partners to a minimum, but Vaysh… Vaysh’s needs had been severely neglected.

Vaysh’s mouth went dry as he watched Galdra move until the blond har was straddling him. With a few deft moves of his hands, the other har had taken off his pants and shirt, leaving him naked and shivering with a mixture of fear and excitement. Turning soume, Vaysh wondered about Galdra’s plans for him. Suddenly his senses screamed and he threw back his head as Galdra’s lips moved lower and lower until the tip of the tongue lapped against his soume lam. Ripples of pleasure swept through him and Vaysh’s eyes opened in astonishment that somehar would do this for him.

The redhead reacted to his every touch and Galdra realized that he loved manipulating the other har’s senses until Vaysh was screaming. Moving his large, but gentle hands down Vaysh’s body, he explored the sensitive skin and mapped it, making mental notes on what touches evoked which reaction. Vaysh was quivering and the gray eyes had become large as they fixed on him. Leaning in closer, Galdra claimed Vaysh’s lips again and shared breath with him, allowing the redhead to experience his pleasure at having such a willing partner.

Galdra’s lust shot through Vaysh like an arrow, searching for its target as he came undone. Becoming silent under Galdra’s knowing touches, Vaysh stared at the blond har in wonder. It had been so long since he had rooned and now Galdra was offering him aruna.

Sensing the deepening need in Vaysh, Galdra started to do away with his clothes. He shrugged out of the shirt and then unbuttoned his leather pants. He kicked them off until they circled his ankles and then he moved into position between Vaysh’s parted legs. Galdra pushed his hands beneath Vaysh’s buttocks and lifted the har’s lower body.

Vaysh buried his fingernails in the furs beneath him and arched beautifully. Galdra moved closer and closer until his ouana-lim glided into Vaysh’s moist soume-lam. Feeling boneless, Vaysh let Galdra set the pace and was grateful when the blond har moved slowly, drawing out their pleasure.

Caught up in the moment, Galdra stared in rapture at Vaysh’s face and found the redhead absolutely beautiful in his surrender. Lowering himself onto the quivering har’s body, his hands moved to cradle the back of the red-haired har’s head. He dragged the tip of his tongue over Vaysh’s lips and then licked the salt from the face. “Don’t cry,” he whispered as he saw Vaysh shed precious tears.

The redhead didn’t want to weep, but he couldn’t help himself. He felt happy and the tears he shed were tears of joy. “It’s been so long…” Feeling Galdra move inside him was the strangest experience ever. Rooning Galdra was different from being with Pellaz and he realized that he liked it better this way. Pellaz often only sought after his own pleasure, whereas Galdra was trying to pull him along in his lust.

Galdra cradled Vaysh in his arms as he took them higher. He placed kisses on Vaysh’s eye lashes and smiled when the tears finally dried. Deepening his thrusts, he aimed for ecstasy and dragged Vaysh with him over the edge. His ouana-lim opened completely, lashed out at Vaysh’s center which opened to him, and deposited the aren in the cauldron of creation. Had Vaysh not been barren, he would have been with pearl.

Vaysh’s hands relaxed and let go of the furs as he tumbled down from the cliff back to earth again. Stunned, he stared at Galdra and felt amazed at the sensations which the blond har had woken in him. “I don’t think I ever felt like that before,” he admitted in a tiny voice.

The Archon’s world spun as well as he rested his head on Vaysh’s chest in the hope that would make his world stop spinning. When he had offered Vaysh to roon him, he hadn’t thought it would be this intense! With Pell, things had been that way too, but not even that intense. Somehow Vaysh had triggered a deep response in Galdra’s body. “I didn’t believe that I could feel like that again.” Galdra slid off of Vaysh, but didn’t release him yet. Turning Vaysh’s head his way, he searched the gray eyes with their dilated pupils. Galdra reached for the furs and covered them, though he planned on using his body to warm Vaysh should the redhead turn cold again that night.

They looked at each other for a long time before Vaysh’s eyes started to close. Galdra had worn him down. His body, no longer used to such intense aruna, needed to sort itself out and recuperate. Galdra pulled Vaysh closed and held him tight through the night.

***

Galdra studied Vaysh’s features during the night. He had learned many private facts about the redhead when they had taken aruna and some of the images that he had seen had baffled him. When he had met Pellaz, the Tigron had already been established as head of the Hegemony and had been in control of his life. In Vaysh’s memories he had seen memories of a different kind. He had expected himself to focus on anything he could learn about Pellaz, but instead, he had dived into Vaysh’s memories, eager to soothe the other har. Even now that Vaysh was sound asleep Galdra sensed the unrest in the other har’s mind.

“Galdra?” Hagal had knocked and had pushed the door ajar when Galdra hadn’t responded.

Galdra was displeased on being caught in bed with Vaysh and glared at his aide, but then saw the serious look on the har’s face. “What’s wrong?”

Hagal stepped inside and grinned when he saw Vaysh nestled in Galdra’s arms. It seemed that Vaysh had found a har to his liking after all. “There is some bad news,” he started and paused when Vaysh opened his eyes and stared at him.

Vaysh swallowed hard when he realized that Galdra and he were no longer alone. He pulled the furs close and glared at Hagal, recalling the way the other har had offered himself during their journey over sea.

“What kind of bad news?” Galdra reached for a morning robe and slipped into it. He glanced at Vaysh in apology as he left the bed.

“We found two hara frozen to death. They had a harling with them. The child is still alive, but barely. Our healers are worried that the harling will die at any rate since they can’t reach the child’s inner flame.” Hagal looked at Galdra worriedly.

“Take me to the harling.” Galdra turned around and considered his next move where Vaysh was concerned. His first reaction had been to tell Vaysh that he would be back shortly, but then he said, “Are you coming along?”

Vaysh cursed privately since he was naked beneath the furs. He had no desire to reveal his nakedness to Hagal, but then realized he had little choice. Hissing his discomfort, he grabbed hold of his brown shirt and slipped into it before grabbing his pants and pulling them on. He made his way over to Galdra and Hagal and treated them to a glare.

Galdra acted on impulse and took Vaysh’s hand in his. The skin felt warm to the touch. “Let’s find out if we can help the harling.” Galdra hoped that they would find a way to keep the child alive. It was bad enough that his hostling and father had perished in the snow.

***

Galdra kept a hold of Vaysh’s hand as he pulled the redhead along as they entered that section of the keep that was the healers’ domain. A number of hara had gathered around the harling, who lay still in a small bed. One of the healers, a har called Rit, gazed into Galdra’s eyes and shook his head. “I’m afraid he’s beyond healing.”

The Archon gazed upon the tiny form and his heart clenched with sorrow. It was cruel that such a young life was crushed and destined to fade. “Is there nothing we can do?”

Rit shook his head again. “We tried to rekindle the flame of life, but it has dwindled and can’t be reached any more. We lack the power to relight his fire.” The healer’s sadness was plain for all hara to see.

Galdra moved closer and placed his other hand on the harling’s chest. “I’m sorry, little one,” he whispered. “We failed you.” Another life lost… The snow, ice, and cold demanded too many lives. “I wish I could have saved you.” But maybe it was for the best that the harling was dying since his parents had perished already as well.

Vaysh sensed Galdra’s sorrow and inched closer. He rested his hand on top of Galdra’s and whispered, “Sometimes, death takes its course.” Galdra’s sorrow moved Vaysh and he wanted to comfort the other har, but then something unexpected happened. The harling’s chest moved…minutely, but it moved.

Galdra gasped and eyed Vaysh closely. The harling hadn’t moved when he had touched him, but had the moment Vaysh had placed his hand there as well. Acting quickly, Galdra moved his hand away and pressed Vaysh’s onto the harling’s tiny chest. “Vaysh…” The moment his hand stopped being a barrier, an electric charge left Vaysh’s fingertips and slid into the harling’s body.

It was impossible to tell who was the most stunned as Rit, Galdra, Hagal, and Vaysh stared at each other in shock. The harling’s brown eyes opened and looked at them in surprise. Light brown curls framed the pale face which was quickly regaining a healthy color. Turning his head, his gaze focused on Vaysh for a moment and he smiled at the redhead before closing his eyes and drifting off into a healing sleep.

“You rekindled his inner flame!” Rit looked at Vaysh with profound respect. “Are you a healer as well?”

“Not that I know of.” Vaysh snatched his hand away and tried to figure out what had happened just then. “I didn’t do that.” But there was no denying that Thiede’s blood flowed in his veins and Vaysh had never tried to find out the range of his powers. He had ignored and rejected them after his rebirth.

“You did that,” Galdra retorted and gathered Vaysh’s hand in his once more. “We need to talk,” he told Vaysh before turning to address Rit. “Take good care of the harling. I’ll check on him later.” The healer nodded and Galdra pulled Vaysh along.

Vaysh followed, although his gaze drifted off and settled back on the harling, who was peacefully asleep. A pink hue had returned to the child’s face, making him look much healthier. “I didn’t do that,” Vaysh repeated once they had moved out of hearing range.

Galdra pulled the redhead into his arms and waited for Vaysh to focus his attention on him. “You gave him life. Vaysh, you can’t deny what happened in there.” Studying the redhead more closely, Galdra blinked in surprise as he found that the other har looked somehow different from the other day. Something had changed after they had taken aruna.

“I’m not capable of doing something like that!”

The blond shook his head. “I’m beginning to suspect that there’s a lot you don’t know about yourself. You haven’t been looking into your gifts, have you? You did your utmost to deny the fact that you inherited Thiede’s powers.”

Vaysh averted his gaze. “You don’t know what I went through.”

Shaking Vaysh, Galdra made the redhead look at him. “I witnessed your rebirth in your mind when we took aruna. Vaysh, you have these powers and you never used them. Imagine the good you could do! You just saved a harling from death!” Galdra stopped shaking Vaysh as he saw an unreadable look in the gray eyes. “Stop being so afraid of yourself!”

“You think you know me so well!” Vaysh freed himself of Galdra’s hold and pushed the blond har away from him. “You don’t know me at all! Just because you rooned me, you…” Lost for words, Vaysh glared at him angrily.

Galdra drew in a deep breath and kept his distance. “You just saved a life, Vaysh. Take some pride and pleasure in that!”

Vaysh turned around and marched away, unable to argue with Galdra any more. Arguing was difficult especially when knowing that Galdra was right.

***

“Vaysh has returned to his rooms,” Hagal reported to the Archon. “Do you want me to take action?” Hagal felt strangely pleased at seeing the alert light in Galdra’s eyes. Ever since the redhead and Galdra had met, the Archon had been brought back to life.

“Where did he go?” Galdra had worried about Vaysh.

“He roamed the keep. I had him followed, making sure nothing happened.” Some parts of the keep were unstable and rocks tended to tumble down at times. Luckily, Vaysh had stayed clear of those sections.

“How does the harling fare?” Galdra was considering the child’s fate. His parents had perished and somehar had to take the harling under their wing.

“He has been asleep since Vaysh brought him back. Rit is very pleased with the progress the child is making, but he also worries about the harling’s future. The harling has no parents.”

“I’m aware of that.” Galdra’s mood darkened. “How did I get into this mess?”

Hagal cleared his throat. “May I suggest you talk to Vaysh again?”

“Honing your diplomatic skills, Hagal?” Galdra smiled impishly at the younger har whom he was grooming to be his successor one day. There was little chance that he would father pearls himself one day.

“I’m doing my best,” Hagal replied and smiled. He bowed slightly and then left the room, pleased that Galdra had listened to him.

Part 4

Galdra frowned as he continued to knock on the door to Vaysh’s rooms when he didn’t get a response. “Vaysh, answer me!”

“Vaysh left a few minutes ago. I believe he was headed in the direction of the wing in which the healers reside,” Dorn said as he stepped into the corridor. “Can it be that he’s checking on the harling?”

The Archon considered the question and then nodded. “That’s likely.” After all, he had also made inquiries about the harling. “I’ll look for him there.”

***

Vaysh stared at the sleeping harling in awe. He still couldn’t believe that he had helped sustain a life. The child had curled up and was holding onto the fur that covered and kept him warm.

“He’s doing much better,” Rit stated in pleasure. “He’ll make a full recovery.”

The redhead nodded and the healer left, giving him some privacy. Vaysh raised a hand and stroked the light brown hair. What had he done? He had never meddled before…used his powers that way before. It scared him that he was capable of transforming death into life because that was what he had done.

“We’ll have to think up a name for him,” Galdra commented once he stood next to Vaysh. The redhead jumped as his eyes widened, which meant that Vaysh hadn’t heard him approach. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I was looking for you and Dorn told me that he had seen you head here.”

Vaysh’s gaze shifted from Galdra back to the harling. “Will you adopt him?” Since the parents were dead, Vaysh wanted the little one to have a good home.

Galdra blinked. That idea hadn’t crossed his mind, but he liked it. “Do you think I would make a good father?”

Feeling sad all of a sudden, Vaysh knew that Galdra was already a father. The blond har just didn’t know that. Vaysh had shielded that information when they had taken aruna. “You’ll do just fine.” His hand moved to caress the harling’s face as a dreamy look appeared on Vaysh’s face, which Galdra noticed.

“Why don’t you adopt him?” Galdra asked.

Vaysh shook his head. “He would have a poor life with me.” The harling would be locked up in his rooms and would lose out on a normal childhood. “It’s best if he stays here.”

“If you think it’s for the best then I’ll adopt him, but I want you to name him since you saved his life.” Galdra smiled as he watched Vaysh stroke the harling’s face. A loving expression lay in the gray eyes and Galdra loved seeing it there.

The redhead frowned. “You want me to name him?” He didn’t know a suitable name for the harling. “You should do that since he’ll be living here. I want him to fit in and not stand out because his name doesn’t sound Freyhellan.”

Galdra considered the request which was logical. “I would like to name him Balder. It’s a good name.” An idea came to him then and Galdra wasn’t sure if he had come up with it himself or if some higher power had planted it inside his mind. He might be able to make this work to his advantage. He couldn’t have Pellaz, but maybe he could become chesna with Vaysh. The fact that they had matched so perfectly during aruna convinced him to try. He carefully gathered the harling in his arms and lifted him. “How old do you think he is?”

“I have little experience in dealing with harlings,” Vaysh answered, praying that the child wouldn’t wake up since Galdra was moving him about. “But I would say about one, maybe two years. He’s still fairly small.” Loki was six months old now and even smaller. “Balder…I like that name.” Vaysh’s heart momentarily stopped beating as Galdra shifted the harling over into his arms. “I’ll drop him!”

“No, you won’t.” In order to reassure Vaysh, Galdra supported the redhead’s arm. “See?” The smile on Vaysh’s face made Galdra grin in turn and he grew hopeful that his plans to keep Vaysh in Freygard might work out.

***

Vaysh felt restless and it showed as he paced the room. Galdra had escorted him back after they had visited with the harling, who had remained asleep during their visit. Vaysh’s emotions were running amok. He had managed to lock them out for years and now they were crashing in on him. He had made his peace with the fact that he would never have a family, but now it seemed that exactly that was being offered to him.

When Galdra and he had rooned, he had sensed the possibilities their union presented. Galdra had reacted to him in mind and body and the blond har’s interest had definitely deepened after that night. There also was the harling, Balder.

“This is madness,” Vaysh muttered to himself. “I can’t have all that. I can’t.” He was doing his best to convince himself that he would never be happy in life again, but Galdra’s face would slip into his thoughts and smile at him. “Damn it!” He grabbed one of the pillows and slammed it against the wall repeatedly. “I can’t be thinking this! I’ll leave for Immanion in a few days and I’ll leave all this behind!”

Strictly speaking, there was no reason for him to stay in Freygard any longer. Vaysh had agreed to introduce Hagal and his chesnari to the Hegemony as Freygard’s representatives and the first ships filled with provision for the winter had arrived at the Freyhellan ports. The truth however was that Vaysh didn’t want to leave. In the short time he had been in Freygard he had found a home there. Galdra was a book full of promises and Vaysh felt drawn to the harling as well. He knew he should stop himself, but he couldn’t stop fantasizing about a future with Galdra in which they raised Balder together.

A knock on his door pulled Vaysh from his musings and he went to answer it. To his surprise it was Galdra, wearing nothing but a fur coat. The Freyhellan had removed any braids from his hair and the wild mane reminded Vaysh of a lion’s. His mouth went dry as he took in Galdra’s form beneath the coat. What was Galdra doing walking about in the keep like that? He was about to voice that when the blond har suddenly pounced on him. Like a mountain lion, Galdra moved in and caught him in a tight embrace. A growl left Galdra’s lips and Vaysh wondered what had come over the Archon.

“What did you do to me?” Galdra urged Vaysh toward the bed and pushed the redhead onto the mattress. “I had thought that I had gone mad when Pellaz was all I could think about, but ever since we rooned, you’re the one on my mind.” Galdra’s hands slipped beneath Vaysh’s shirt and caressed the skin beneath it. “You’re in my blood. I didn’t believe this could happen again, but it did.” Galdra had paced his room for most of the evening as he was assaulted by memories of them taking aruna. “I want to see you quiver with ecstasy again.”

Overwhelmed by Galdra’s assault, Vaysh could only stare at the blond har. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Conquering you.” Galdra’s tongue dragged along Vaysh’s face and he suckled the skin when he ended near the redhead’s collarbone. “Will you yield?”

Vaysh couldn’t believe this was happening. “Galdra, this is madness! I’ll be leaving soon!”

“Not if I can help it.” Galdra’s fingers had already undone the lacing of Vaysh’s shirt and pants and pushed the fabric aside. “You feel so good beneath me.” Latching onto Vaysh’s lips, he shared breath with the stunned redhead. Opening his mind completely, he allowed Vaysh to explore his every thought and hid nothing from the other har. /I need you…/ he said in mind touch.

Receiving that mind touch shocked Vaysh. Galdra was quickly doing away with all of the barriers between them and wasn’t giving him a chance to reject him. /Galdra…/ It had been Vaysh’s intent to change the blond har’s mind, but the moment he reacted in mind touch, a bright flame exploded in their minds. Vaysh immediately recognized it for what it was: Thiede’s fire.

Galdra blanketed Vaysh’s body with his own and sank home into the redhead’s soume-lam. Fire surrounded him all of sudden and Galdra almost pulled out, not having expected the assault. “Why are you fighting me?”

Vaysh’s eyes had widened when Galdra had connected their bodies that way. “It’s not me. It’s Thiede… He burned me…made me barren. It’s his legacy you’re experiencing. You should stop.” Vaysh tried to push Galdra off of him, but the blond har refused to let go and buried himself deeper in Vaysh’s body.

“I’m not letting go. I’m not letting him win,” Galdra whispered in determination.

The redhead closed his eyes and surrendered to Galdra once more. What else could he do? He had let his fears rule him for years and now there was a har who was willing to fight alongside him. Raising his arms, he wrapped them around Galdra’s waist and pulled the other har closer. For a few moments, Galdra stopped thrusting and simply looked him in the eye. Vaysh was startled as he saw an expression in Galdra’s eyes that he thought he would never see in a har’s eyes again. “I’m not Pellaz,” he whispered eventually as he was tormented by self-doubt. Galdra couldn’t love him for who he was. “I can’t play that role in your life. I can’t give you harlings.”

Galdra drew in a deep breath and stroked Vaysh’s hair. “I know you’re not Pell and that’s the thing that amazes me too. I thought I could never forget him and now I find my mind filled with lust for you.”

“Lust or love?” Vaysh realized belatedly that it wasn’t the best moment to discuss this, but he had to know. Galdra surprised him by starting to move again.

“It might be both, Vaysh.” Galdra rested his brow against Vaysh’s, eager to take in the changing expressions in the gray eyes. “This has shocked me too, but in a good way.” Ever since Vaysh had arrived, Pellaz was no longer on his mind. Gone were his depression, his miserable mood, and his apathy. “I sense fire in you,” he whispered against Vaysh’s lips. “Why are you keeping back?”

“I might burn you.” Vaysh’s mouth went dry. Galdra was steadily pushing them toward their climax and Vaysh had to do his best to hold back. “Don’t ask me to let go.”

“I’m not afraid, Vaysh. I can take it. Let go.” Galdra saw the fear in Vaysh’s eyes, but he also sensed the hope in them. “I survived aruna with Pellaz without him holding back. Trust me, you won’t do any damage either.”

Vaysh desperately wanted to believe him and, to his terror, he realized that he was doing exactly what Galdra wanted him to: he let go. The fire that slammed into Galdra’s mind made him reel and he clung to Vaysh. The redhead reacted and took charge. He had to bring them to orgasm so the fire had a way out. Carefully, he rolled Galdra onto his back and then straddled his hips. Moving insistently, he brought them to orgasm and he cried out when the fire caused an explosion inside him.

Galdra held on for dear life as he clung to Vaysh’s essence and let the fire wash through him. It was amazing that a har who always felt cold could harbor such fire in its core. The climax he experienced was beyond words, feeling, and realization. Vaysh’s fire surrounded him and they burned together.

The intensity of their rooning startled Vaysh, but it was too late to pull away. He cradled Galdra close to him and together they bested the storm. The flames lost their height and intensity and slowly died down. “Are you all right?” Vaysh immediately sought out Galdra’s eyes and was relieved when he found them lucid and focused on him.

“That was something else,” Galdra whispered lazily as his body still quivered with the pleasure coursing through him. “It was never like that before.”

“I shouldn’t have let go,” Vaysh whispered guiltily.

“No,” Galdra murmured soothingly. “You did the right thing.” He grinned. “I survived, didn’t I?”

“I would never have forgiven myself had you been injured. It’s too dangerous for me to let go.”

“You can let go every time we roon,” Galdra retorted and kissed Vaysh on the lips. “Just don’t ask me to move for now. I don’t think I can even lift my little finger.”

“Don’t worry. I feel the same way.” Vaysh made himself comfortable in Galdra’s arms and sighed contentedly. He had faced his worst nightmare and both of them had survived the challenge.

***

/Vaysh? Why haven’t you contacted me in a while? I told you to remain in touch./ Pellaz, having grown impatient with Vaysh’s silence, had decided to reach out. His unique connection to Vaysh made it possible for them to converse over such a gap. At times like these, the fact that they shared the same blood came in handy. Seated in his office in Immanion, the void between them melted to nothing and he sensed Vaysh clearly in his mind. He also felt his friend’s unrest. Something was obviously wrong. /What has happened?/

Having Pellaz’ thoughts in his mind took Vaysh aback and he was grateful that he was alone. He wouldn’t want to explain it to Galdra. /I’ve been busy. I wanted to contact you, but I was distracted./

/What distracted you?/ Pellaz didn’t know Vaysh that way. Vaysh was the one har that he could count on to perform his duties under all kind of circumstances.

/All sort of things./ Vaysh didn’t plan on revealing any personal things yet and changed the subject to one he knew Pellaz wanted to know about. /I talked to Galdra. It turns out that he wants to place a Freyhellan representative in the Hegemony. I told him that it shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll take Hagal and his chesnari with me when I return to Immanion./

/Good./ Pellaz did his best not to linger on any thoughts concerning Galdra. /Have the ships with provisions arrived yet?/

/Yes, they did. Galdra told me that they’re already being offloaded. They’ll then be returned to Immanion. Galdra is also in favor of setting up trading posts along the Freyhellan coast line. That way, we can strengthen the trading relationships between our tribes./

Pleased, Pellaz hummed softly. /Excellent work. You’ll leave Freygard shortly then? When can I expect you home?/

Vaysh cringed and closed his eyes. He didn’t want to tell Pellaz what had happened between Galdra and him, but it seemed he had to inform his friend after all. He was afraid of Pellaz’ reaction though. How angry would the Tigron be with him? Vaysh *knew* that Pellaz still had feelings for Galdra and his friend might lash out at him in anger. /I don’t know how to tell you this./ Pellaz and he had been through a lot together, but that wasn’t a guarantee that Pell would accept this.

Back in Immanion, Pellaz tensed as apprehension flowed through him. /What happened?/

Vaysh cringed. /Galdra and I shared in aruna./ The fact that Pellaz didn’t react at once worried Vaysh. He would rather have Pellaz scream at him! The silence that answered him worried him. /Pell?/

Pellaz’ brown eyes glowed with fire and his anger showed when he lashed out at Vaysh in mind touch as he sent his wrath down the link, knocking Vaysh off his feet. /I thought you were my friend! I trusted you, Vaysh and then you betray me!/

Swaying, Vaysh went down on his knees. Pellaz was a force to reckon with in his rage and the redhead had the greatest problem in keeping his mental shields intact. /I didn’t plan it!/ he screamed back at Pellaz. /I was lonely and so was he!/

Pellaz however continued to feel enraged and betrayed. When he had sent Vaysh to Freygard, he had never suspected anything like that could happen! He had thought that Galdra still burned with love for him, but to be replaced by Vaysh hurt. It also made Pellaz jealous. /That’s why you’re stalling! That’s why you made no plans to return to Immanion!/ Overcome with hurt and rage, Pellaz reached into Vaysh’s mind and catapulted his hatred into the redhead’s mind. /Why don’t you stay there? Don’t bother to return to Immanion! Just send the representatives! I don’t want to see you ever again, traitor!/

Pellaz’ accusations caused Vaysh emotional pain as he rocked hard on the floor. Suddenly Pellaz’ presence was gone, but the hurtful words still rung in his mind. He should have expected for something like that to happen. Pellaz was possessive of his lovers and, while Galdra and Pell could never be chesna, the Tigron didn’t want another har to become close to the Archon. He wrapped his arms around his waist, hugging himself as he continued to rock. He had always thought of Pellaz as his son having ‘raised’ the Tigron after his rebirth and to be dumped like this hurt immensely.

***

Galdra’s eyes widened with worry upon seeing Vaysh’s red eyes after searching for an hour with the intention of having dinner with him. Galdra advanced on Vaysh and frowned as the redhead move away from him. “What’s wrong?” The last time he had seen Vaysh, everything had been well.

“Pellaz contacted me.” Vaysh saw no reason to lie to Galdra. “I told him we had rooned.” Vaysh shivered as he suddenly realized that he didn’t know how Galdra would react either. “At first, he urged me to return to Immanion and I had to give him a reason why I wanted to stay.”

Galdra blinked in surprise. Learning that Pellaz knew they had shared in aruna worried him, but at the same time, he smiled when he understood that Vaysh had just admitted to wanting to stay. “He didn’t take the news well?”

Vaysh swallowed nervously. “He told me he never wanted to see me again and called me a traitor. I knew he wouldn’t understand.” Vaysh turned away from Galdra, wrapped his arms around his frame, and bowed his head. “I should never have given into you. It was folly.”

Galdra covered the distance between them and curled his arms around the redhead’s trembling frame. “I’m glad you did. You cured me of this unhealthy craving where Pellaz is concerned. Craving you is much healthier,” he murmured and chuckled. “At least, you I can roon and keep with me. Stay here, Vaysh.”

The redhead didn’t think he had a choice after what had happened between Pellaz and him. There was a chance that Pellaz wouldn’t allow him to enter Immanion. “And what about Hagal?”

“He’ll face more challenges once he’s in Immanion. With Odil at his side, I’m confident he’ll manage. Maybe you can teach him about the Hegemony and what not to do when he’s in Immanion.”

Vaysh felt lost though. “I promised to introduce him… I don’t want to go back on my word.”

“Pellaz doesn’t want you in Immanion and you shouldn’t seek out danger by going there. Give Pell some time to calm down. Once he thinks everything over I’m sure he’ll understand that this is for the best.” Galdra understood the shock Pellaz must have felt at learning they had rooned. “His anger will fade.” Vaysh finally leaned into the embrace and rested back against his chest. Galdra automatically tightened his hold. “Stay with me.”

“I don’t have a choice it seems.” Vaysh turned in the embrace until he was face to face with Galdra. “Is this a mistake?” he asked in a tiny voice.

“No,” Galdra said firmly. “This is no mistake. This is a blessing.” He pulled Vaysh closer until the har rested his head against his shoulder and Galdra pressed a kiss onto the red strands. “You’ll stay with me. I’m not letting you go.” Galdra’s words acted like a soothing balm and Vaysh closed his eyes and soaked up the affection Galdra was offering.

“Let’s visit the harling,” Galdra suggested once Vaysh had calmed. Pellaz’ reaction didn’t really surprise him and he felt guilty for being the reason that Vaysh got hurt, but he also knew that this was the best thing that could have happened to them. “Maybe the child has woken up by now.”

“Galdra…” Vaysh placed a hand against Galdra’s chest. “If I’m doomed to stay here, then maybe…”

Galdra grinned for he had a pretty good idea of what Vaysh wanted to suggest. “The harling also needs a hostling.” Tears shimmered in Vaysh’s eyes and Galdra caressed the other har’s face. “You’re not the only one who’s surprised by this. I didn’t think either that I would have to parent.” A single tear left Vaysh’s eyes and Galdra wiped it away. “We’ll do well.”

Vaysh wasn’t so sure about that.

***

The harling was awake and sitting up in bed, wrapped up in a warm blanket as he curiously looked about. The last thing he remembered was his hostling growing cold against him. He had lost his father the day before when he had frozen to death. His hostling had carried him, trying to warm him, but in the end, his hostling had stumbled over his own two feet and had fallen, freezing to death where he lay. It had been his luck that a party of four hara had arrived within the hour. He understood that his parents were dead, but what he didn’t understand was why he was still alive. He had hovered on the rim and then he had been pulled back, wrapped in warmth.

The door opened and he turned his head. He had gotten used to seeing Rit, the healer who looked after him, and, in spite of the ordeal that he had been through, he was still curious. Two hara entered the room instead and he had the feeling that he had seen them before, especially the red-haired har.

Galdra placed a hand at the small of Vaysh’s back and gently pushed him toward the bed. “Hello,” he said and smiled at the harling before realizing his mistake. They had named a harling who probably already had a name! Looking up, he exchanged a look as well as a thought with Vaysh.

Vaysh nodded. “You’re right. We should ask him.”

“Hello, little one. What’s your name?” Vaysh surprised himself with how caring his voice sounded. The harling smiled at him and Vaysh swallowed nervously. It was so easy to lose his heart to the harling.

“I’m Agi,” he said and smiled again. “I know you.” He eyed Vaysh curiously. “You were here before.”

Vaysh shivered for he hadn’t thought that the harling would remember what had happened before. “Yes, Galdra and I visited earlier.”

“What’s your name?” Agi asked and filed away the information that the blond har was called Galdra.

“I’m Vaysh.” Vaysh wanted to shy away when Agi raised a hand to touch his face, but forced himself to stay in place.

“You feel warm.” Agi rested his right hand against Vaysh’s face as the redhead leaned in. “My hostling and father aren’t coming back, are they?” Rit had already told him that his parents had been beyond saving and the harling understood that they were gone – that the snow and ice had taken them.

Vaysh fought for composure as Agi gazed at him knowingly while he tried to answer. Luckily, Galdra intervened and sat on his heels next to the harling’s bed, catching Agi’s attention. “You’re right,” Galdra responded. “They aren’t coming back. It was too cold for them.”

“Rit said so.” An immense sadness washed over the harling. “I want my hostling.”

“I’m sorry, Agi,” Galdra replied as he gathered the harling in his arms. “But he’s gone. He did his best to keep you alive and he succeeded. He wanted you to live.”

“I want Leif too,” Agi said and looked at Galdra pleadingly. “Why take away my hostling *and* my father?” Weeping, he hid his face in the furs of Galdra’s fur coat. “I want them!”

Galdra rocked Agi in his arms and sought out Vaysh’s eyes. He had no experience in handling an upset harling. With how the redhead was looking back at him, he knew that Vaysh didn’t know what to do either. Some great substitute parents they were! “Vaysh and I will look after you since your parents are gone. We can’t bring them back, but we can care for you.” He knew it would take Agi time to deal with the loss of his parents, but he also hoped that they could make the mourning easier on the harling by giving him lots of attention and affection. Part of him was scared with the realization that he was embarking on a new journey since he had never raised a harling before. Thankfully he wasn’t alone and had Vaysh to back him up.

At least, he hoped that Vaysh was ready to back him up. One look at the redhead showed that Vaysh was on the brink of tears as well. A weeping harling *and* a teary-eyed Vaysh was too much for Galdra to contend with and he whispered, “I need you, Vaysh.”

Vaysh composed himself and nodded once. Galdra was right: he couldn’t feel sorry for himself when he had just been given a chance out of a million to help raise a harling! He smiled at Galdra and embraced them both, pressing the harling in-between them so he felt safe. Agi rested his head against Vaysh’s chest and Vaysh felt an emotion he had never felt before: protectiveness. /Pell, you would never believe this…/ In a way, he should be grateful that Pellaz had banished him from Immanion for now he could stay with Galdra and Agi.

***

Vaysh swallowed hard, still feeling nervous in spite of the fact that he and Galdra had taken aruna twice during the last three days. It still felt odd being in Galdra’s rooms and urged into the blond’s bed…especially when said blond har was wearing nothing but his skin. The look Galdra was giving him spoke of passion and Vaysh started to blush. He was still clinging to the evening robe that he had slung around his shoulders after exiting the bathroom.

Galdra reached for Vaysh and placed his hands on the redhead’s hips before pulling the har onto the bed with him. Vaysh knelt and bowed his head, letting his red hair tumble in front of his face. Galdra raised a hand and let it glide through the mane, which was still damp from the bath Vaysh had taken. “Move into my rooms,” he suggested as he pulled Vaysh on top of him. Vaysh straddled him and a rush of lust moved through Galdra.

Vaysh sensed the hunger in Galdra, but didn’t trust himself to react. It had been easy when Galdra had taken the lead, but now it seemed that the blond har wanted to reverse their roles. “You’re moving fast,” he remarked as he peeked at Galdra’s face. The blond har’s features hid nothing and showed how much Galdra wanted him to move in. “I find it hard to believe that you’re already over Pell. I’ve only been here for a week!”

“Don’t ask me for an explanation,” Galdra answered and stroked Vaysh’s face. “I don’t know the answers myself. But I know what I feel, Vaysh.” And if necessary he was going to prove his feelings to the redhead again. Reaching out, he curled the fingers of his right hand around Vaysh’s ouana-lim, which had been retracting into his body. But Galdra stopped the process with a few strokes. The red and gold petals opened and Galdra smirked wickedly. “Tell me that you’re moving in.”

The redhead’s breathing sped up at the touch which had been lost to him for decades. Pellaz had never wished for him to be ouana and he was surprised that somehar like Galdra desired for him to take this role. “You’re not used to taking no for an answer, are you?”

Galdra shook his head and gazed at Vaysh in amusement. The ouana-lim in his hand was reacting to his touches and he knew how special that was. When they had taken aruna in the past, he had realized that Vaysh had always been limited to the soume part of the relationship. He wanted to try something new. “Come here you.” He moved his left hand into place at the base of Vaysh’s neck and pulled him close so that they could share breath.

Vaysh leaned in closer and welcomed Galdra’s thoughts within him. Upon meeting Galdra, Vaysh had thought that the Archon was full of fire, but in retrospect, he had to admit that Galdra’s calm and understanding demeanor mirrored the white cold covering of the lands. Galdra’s ice wasn’t cold though…it was steady and balanced.

Galdra smiled at that thought. /And you consist of fire, Vaysh. I never knew you were hiding such a treasure inside./ Vaysh was impulsive, his behavior at times hard to predict, and a temper showed beneath the mask that the redhead used to wear. “Come to me, Vaysh,” he repeated and pulled Vaysh closer. Parting his legs, he guided the redhead inside and arched in delight when their bodies were joined once more. He buried his fingers in Vaysh’s hair and made sure the redhead couldn’t pull away during their rooning. “In my arms is where you are and in my arms is where you will stay. You’re not going anywhere. Not to Immanion…not anywhere else.”

Vaysh couldn’t stop himself and burst into tears. “Galdra, I can’t believe… It can’t be like that… Never… Nohar…” Galdra’s lips gently moved over his cheek until they could kiss away the tears flowing from his eyes. “What about Pell?”

“Cal can have him. I want you.” The realization had shocked Galdra as well. At one time he had been convinced that he could never forget about Pellaz and that nohar ever could take his place. He had been wrong though. He called out Vaysh’s name when he tumbled over the edge and thrust his ecstasy into the redhead’s mind.

The redhead collapsed on top of Galdra and panted hard as he joined the blond har in experiencing bliss. He had never before met a har whom he was so compatible with. Although Ashmael and he had been chesna, their arunic highs had never been like this. Turning his head, he gazed at Galdra and raised a shaky hand so he could touch the blond har’s face. “I don’t want to go to Immanion, even if I hadn’t been banished. I want to stay with you. What I’ve found here is…” He lacked the right words to express himself.

A brilliant smile shone from Galdra’s face. “Does that mean I have a new chesnari now?”

Vaysh blushed. “I think so.” Acutely aware of the fact that they were still skin-on-skin, damp with sweat, and hot to the touch, he gazed shyly at Galdra. “I would like to see Freygard in spring…”

Vaysh’s words made Galdra’s heart thump louder. “And I want to show it to you!” Burying his chesnari in a bear hug, Galdra enjoyed holding the redhead close.

The End

TBC in A Touch of Spring

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2 Comments

  1. April 5, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    […] Sequel to A Love Like Winter. While Vaysh deepens his relationship with Galdra, Pellaz regrets banishing his friend from […]

  2. Thevina said,

    April 5, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for writing this! I’ve been entrenched (gladly!) in a long Ashmael/Vaysh gap-filler, and being in Vaysh’s mindset can be very rough terrain as a writer. I also found myself drawn to Galdra when I read the books for the first time back in December, so to see your sympathetic, thoughtful and ::very:: plausible story for the two of them is such a marvelous treat! The imagery of Vaysh carrying part of Thiede’s flame was powerful; the fire beneath the ice became an intriguing dynamic to pit against Galdra, who, in turn, has a more snowy landscape underneath what had been a more fiery exterior. Your juxtaposition of their personalities, and the theme of two broken souls finding healing in each other, was compelling, a daring choice, and well-written. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading this story, most especially your obvious sympathy for two characters who can be challenging due to their more complex personalities and some ambiguity in canon, Vaysh especially. Hagal also came across as a believable, three-dimensional original character, and I can’t fault him for trying to care for Vaysh. This story comes across as a salve of love for Vaysh as a character, and I commend you for it. I’m now dashing off to read the sequel!


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