Pairing: liberal and highly suspect use of some canon characters, but no pairing in the “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” sense (Aleeme, Cobweb, Ulaume, Azriel, and Aleeme’s harling, also mentioned Lisia)
Rating: PG- General Audience, or for you gamers Rating – Everyone
Warning: poor grammar and appalling punctuation.
Spoilers for The Shades of Time and Memory
Summary: Aleeme’s harling – My version of events
Disclaimer: All the pretty Wraeththu, as well as the world they live in, were created by, and belong to, Storm Constantine, who (bless her!) is gracious enough to allow fans like me to take them out and play with them occasionally. No copyright infringement, or disrespect, is intended.
Beta by bigunen – all the remaining mistakes are mine!
Some images stay etched clearly in your mind even though they were only a fleeting moment in time. It was that way with the dark haired har by the fence. He was there when I looked up, our eyes connected for a split second, and when I looked up again he was gone, but his image was burnt there in my mind’s eye.
Tipene, the farm’s horse healer, and I had been helping a mare deliver a foal when I’d seen my long-haired vision. The delivery had been complicated and I’d not enough time to spare more than those two glances. My vision had been lithe and pale, with a braid of long dark hair that fell over his shoulder. His tunic was a dark forest green and pants were black and spattered with mud, as was his travel cloak. Not that being spattered with mud was unusual at this time of year. Spring brought mud and foals and I had myself been spattered with my fair share by the end of the afternoon.
Later, as I gazed out a cracked and dusty pane of the office window at the leggy foal who trotted somewhat gawkishly behind his mother, I felt Tipene’s arms slide around my waist and his chin come to rest on my shoulder.
“Still seeing visions?”
“Oh just shut up!” I said lightly.
“Nohar saw anyhar matching that description… you are losing your mind… what you had of one.”
“He was there, I saw him.”
He released me and turned me around to face him “My dear young apprentice, as your mentor, I feel it necessary to point out that it is customary to wait until you are shit-faced to start seeing things.” Tipene was grinning broadly enjoying his own joke immensely “Let’s go to the pub, join the others, and get some intoxicating liquid into us, then perhaps we’ll all be able to see your friend.”
He ran his fingers through my dark thick hair, and I pulled away. Although there are definite exceptions to the rule, I hate it when hara touch my hair. I can’t explain why I hate it, other than my hair has always been sensitive. I’m aware of it as if it existed on its own, separate from me.
I grabbed my jacket. “You are buying,” I shot out over my shoulder as I headed out the door.
It was dark, but still fairly early when I headed back to my small flat above the carriage house across from the barn. I staggered slightly, but more from fatigue than the drink; the farm’s mares don’t tend to go into labour during regular clinic hours. Although to be fair, my balance would have been somewhat better had I not had those last few shots.
Inside my flat it was dark; I fumbled around feeling for the lamp. A mumbled string of curses slipped out when I almost knocked it over. I got the lamp lit, set it on the mantle, and turned back to the room. My heart nearly leapt out of my chest, I let out a yelp, and stumbled back a step in surprise. My vision was sitting in the faded, threadbare arm chair, his mud spattered cloak folded neatly over the back, his long dark braid hanging across his chest, his arms rested regally on the arms of the chair, and his legs crossed. He stared at me without expression and I stared back in mute shock.
“You’re about 10 now.” It was a statement not a question. “What’s your name?”
“Lorin,” I answered automatically, and at that point my brain seemed to slide back into action. “Whoa! Wait a minute… this is my home and that’s my chair you’re sitting in…I get to ask the questions.”
His eyebrow arched gracefully although his expression did not change, and I found to my frustration I could not think of any coherent questions. He waited in silence watching me.
“How did you get here?”
“I let myself in. The door was not locked,” he responded smoothly.
“Okay… fair enough.” His calm reserve was making me feel flustered. “Okay, so what do you want? Why are you here? Who are you?”
He regarded me thoughtfully for a moment.
“Which of those do you want answered first?”
“Shit, I dunno… you pick.” I stabbed my fingers through my hair nervously.
He took a deep breath. “What do I want? I want your hate, I want your forgiveness.”
He rose from the chair gracefully.
“Why am I here? I am here to face my guilt and my fear.”
Three steps brought him to stand directly in front of me. He was an inch or so shorter than me, but his bearing and the power I could feel in him made him seem much bigger.
“Who am I? I am Cobweb.”
“Cobweb?” I’m sure my jaw dropped. “The Cobweb?”
He grimaced slightly, and began to pace in the small somewhat cluttered space that made up the main room to my flat.
“I have envisioned this a thousand times, I’ve rehearsed a million speeches, lofty pronouncements, and rationalizations. I’ve faced many fears and threats in my time, and yet this, facing a ten-year-old harling, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
He spoke the words out loud, but it seemed they were more his own personal musings rather than a conversation starter. He stopped pacing; he folded his arms across his chest and looked at me. He said nothing, but his eyes glinted in the dim lamplight.
I cleared my throat awkwardly after a few moments “I’m sorry, I’m a bit confused? Why would the Cobweb be here in the middle of nowhere? Why would you want my hate? Forgive you for what?”
Cobweb waved his hand dismissively. “What do you remember of your early life? Tell me.”
The hint of arrogance in his voice indicated he was used to being obeyed, but this situation was beginning to get too bizarre for me, putting me in no mood to humour him or anyhar else, no matter who they said they were.
I opened my mouth to object but he raised his hand to stop me. “It is important.”
I folded my arms across my chest and stared defiantly at him for a few moments, before shrugging “I was a war orphan. I lived for awhile at Harling Gardens. When I was two, Akamu and Dougan adopted me. That’s it.” I shrugged again.
“Nothing before that? “
“No.” I shook my head. “Although my parents did tell me that it was the Gelaming that found me and cared for me for a time, and that it was one of their healers that named me. But I have no actual memories of that.”
Cobweb blew a heavy sigh through his nose, and began to pace again.
“I assume you learned history in school?”
Cobweb shot me a tight look of annoyance similar to the one Dougan did when he thought I was being difficult.
“History bored the piss out of me.” I said somewhat more defensively than I’d intended.
“Did you learn about the last real war?” His tone was hard and cold.
I nodded. “A United Tribal Alliance and the sedim against Ponclast and the teraphim. We won.”
“Ponclast….” Cobweb continued as if he hadn’t heard me, “took my Highson, Azriel, and his chesnari, Aleeme.” He paused before saying, “He tortured them.” Cobweb paused again, closing his eyes. “He subjected Aleeme to repeated and brutal acts of pelki.”
I winced; this was as hard to listen to as it understandably seemed for him to speak of.
Cobweb sank into the chair, his face emotionless, but his sad eyes met mine.
“During their imprisonment, Aleeme hosted two of Ponclasts’ pearls; one harling died and one lived.”
Cobweb was silent again but he maintained an unwavering eye contact with me. I looked back at him, unsure of what to say or do. One harling died and one lived. Cobweb’s words kept echoing through my head. A small unpleasant idea formed and slid into my consciousness. I pushed it away quickly.
Still Cobweb said nothing; he looked weary and sad. My mind churned as more and more unpleasant ideas surfaced; the war had been about 10 years ago, I was ten, history told us that the Gelaming forces had rescued Azriel and Aleeme, I’d been ‘found’ by the Gelaming forces, Cobweb, the Cobweb, was here. One harling died and one lived.
“No,” I said it out loud hoping Cobweb would say something that would dismiss the one horrific conclusion I’d drawn from what he’d told me; instead he dropped his gaze.
“No!” I said it again, “No!” I felt sick. I closed my eyes as the world began to spin; I leaned heavily against the mantle.
I felt Cobweb’s hands on my shoulder and my arm; he guided me to the armchair, and gently sat me down. When I opened my eyes again, we’d swapped places; I sat in the chair, and he stood by the mantle.
I began to shiver uncontrollably. Cobweb bent and grabbed several logs, placing them efficiently on the grate and started the fire with virtually a wave of his hand. As I watched him, I felt vaguely surprised that the legendary Cobweb would know how to do something as mundane as build a fire. I sat silently staring at the yellow flames as they jumped and danced across the logs.
“Lorin, hate me, not your hostling.” Cobweb’s voice called me back to the room.
I looked at him briefly and then looked away. I was numb, I felt nothing.
Cobweb took a deep breath.
“I was the one who made the decision to send you away. At the time we were all in shock, Azriel was so weak and Aleeme was so…” he paused searching for the right word “ ‘damaged’ that we weren’t sure he’d survive, and if he did, how much of him would be left, and we had no idea how he’d feel about you…” his voice trailed off.
Cobweb took a deep breath and shook back his braid, raising his head somewhat defiantly, “I made the decision to send you to Lisia because I thought it would be the best for all of us. You needed what I could not give you.”
In an instant my world had changed; I was now a footnote in the history books; my father, a sadistic psychopath and my hostling his victim. The silence remained unbroken for a long time.
“I don’t hate either of you.” My voice didn’t sound like my own, it sounded flat and grey. “You made the only decision you could have made.”
Cobweb let out a breath as if he’d been holding it. “Thank you.”
There was another long stretch of silence.
“Why tell me? Why now?”
“Aleeme has always wondered about you, but when he started actively looking for you, I did too,” Cobweb offered. “I wanted to find you before Aleeme did.”
I nodded. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I felt a lump forming in my throat and I bent forward supporting my head in my hands, my fingers thrust deeply into my hair. I stared at the floor boards and the edge of the braided rag carpet, and I felt dizzy and disoriented; random thoughts swirled through my head. Cobweb’s boots appeared in my sightline; he crouched down and pulled my hands away from my face.
“Look at me.” He said, and after a moments’ hesitation I did. “You are as you should be. The parents you had have done way more for you than we could have. You are better for it.” He reached up, placed his hand against my cheek and smiled ruefully.
Cobweb stood up, his hand moving under my chin turning my face upwards to look at him. “Aleeme is looking for you and he will find you. I don’t know when, but it will happen.”
I sighed deeply.
Cobweb stuck his hand into the pocket of his tunic and withdrew a small amber bottle.
“Drink this, it will help you sleep.”
I eyed the bottle dubiously.
“It tastes like cherries,” he said his arm still extended holding the bottle. “Drink it quickly.”
I took the bottle, twisted off the lid and chugged the bottle contents. The liquid went down and then it almost came back up. It was vile. I shuddered and doubled over.
When I had recovered enough to sit up, I glared at Cobweb.
“That did not taste like cherries,” I gasped out in a strangled voice.
He arched his eyebrow at me and spoke calmly. “You wouldn’t have taken it if I’d told you what it actually tasted like.”
Cobweb had been right; the nasty tasting stuff he’d given me had put me to sleep almost immediately. I woke up the next morning feeling alert and fine. My mind was calm and collected. I found I could look analytically at my new situation…it no longer sent my mind reeling. Were it not for the small amber bottle on the mantle, I could almost convince myself that Cobweb’s visit had been merely an unsettling dream.
Aleeme, my hostling, was looking for me and Cobweb was certain he would find me, but when this would happen was uncertain. I spent the next few weeks on edge about newcomers and visitors. But none of them turned out to be the one har I was both curious and terrified to meet, and over time the edginess faded.
It was a beautiful mid-summer’s day. The cloudless blue sky stretched on forever, the sun beat down, and the midday’s heat was at its peak. Several rainless weeks had turned the stable yard’s spring mud to dusty and cracked hard earth.
My coarse brown work shirt hung open, my work pants were dusty, and my hair was tied back up off my neck.
I tossed the tools I was carrying onto a pile of folded empty grain sacks by the big barn doors; they landed with a clang and clank that startled the lump of lounging barn cat that lay nearby. The cat deigned to raise his head and glare pointedly in my direction. I stepped out of the barn into the sun. It was just past midday and not much shade to be found. I raised my hand to my eyes to block out the sun and squinted across the fields; the endless acres of cloudless blue sky offered no promise of rain.
Behind me the crunch of a boot on the ground caused me to turn. The well-dressed har who stood there looked familiar and although I had never seen him before, I knew in a heartbeat who he was. I felt rooted to the ground. He approached me slowly and purposefully, stopping about 5 feet from me. We stared at each other for a long time.
“Hello.” His voice was quiet.
“This is awkward…I should have something to say but I don’t think there are any words for what I need to say to you,” he said.
“I know.” I felt the same way.
“I’m Aleeme, but you already knew that, yes?”
I nodded. “My name is Lorin.”
Aleeme nodded “Yes I know. Your parents told me your name and where to find you. You don’t mind, do you?”
I looked at Aleeme in mild surprise. “No, of course not, but I figured it would have been Cobweb who’d told you.”
Aleeme’s brow furrowed, “Did Cobweb come here?”
I nodded. “Didn’t he tell you?”
Aleeme wrinkled his nose and rolled his eyes. “Well… yes and no. Cobweb was typically… cryptically and enigmatically Cobweb-ish.” He smiled at me softly. “You’ll understand what I mean when you get to know him better.”
Aleeme took a deep breath “Can we talk?”
“I’d like that.”
We walked slowly past a field; I led him towards the grove of trees by the brook that ran along the edge of the farm. As I’d hoped, the air was cooler and fresher under the canopy of trees. Aleeme sat on a tree stump, and I perched on a small rock close to the bank of the brook. We’d said nothing on the way here, and I was beginning to feel increasingly insecure.
“It’s okay. I understand if you …” I paused knowing how stupid this would sound and yet still feeling compelled to say it, “hate me. I’d hate me if I was in your position.”
Aleeme regarded me thoughtfully for a moment. “No, I don’t hate you. I never have. You are the only one I haven’t hated. I hate Ponclast, I hate what happened, for a time I hated my consort for not stopping it, I hated Swift, Cobweb…” He drew a deep breath and continued, “and most of all I’ve hated myself. But never you; you and your brother were the only truly innocent victims in all of this. The rest of us were already players on the game board.”
He fell silent for a moment looking at the ground, his leg bouncing nervously.
Eventually he looked up. “Do you remember being in Fuliminir?”
“No,” I shook my head.
He gave me a half-smile. “Good,” he said, “the Gelaming healers told me they’d created powerful blocks so that if you did have any memories of it you’d never be able to get to them. I just wanted to be sure.”
After a pause, “I have few memories,” he said and his voice trailed off. My insides twisted… I’m sure he did have memories.
“By the time the pearls were delivered I was pretty out of it. . . I don’t have clear memories, just snatches of things; I was delirious with fever and in and out of consciousness.” Aleeme looked at me as if he needed to know that I understood. I nodded. Aleeme looked down and began again, falteringly, his hands twisting together restlessly. “There is one clear memory I have. It’s of you. I came to once; it was after the second pearl, a rare moment of clarity.”
I sat mutely listening, not knowing what to say or do. This was obviously difficult for him, and I wished he wouldn’t go on, but I guessed that he needed to and on some level I needed to hear this. “I knew your brother was dead and all I felt was …” he faltered and spread his hands helplessly, “I wanted to die. I was aware of a movement in the room. You moved into sight. You crawled over to where I was tied. You were so tiny, so frail…” his voice trailed off again, and I wondered if he was done.
“You came to me, you huddled next me, and you put your hand on me. I could feel your warmth….” Aleeme’s voice was now a hoarse whisper, his fists tightly clenched. “You sat there with your hand on me alert and wary, like a small animal. You were scared, I could sense it. I wanted to protect you, to hold you, comfort you… I couldn’t.” Aleeme halted briefly and then continued, his voice forceful, almost a growl: “You were mine, not his… never Ponclast’s! He left you there…” He looked up at me a tear rolling down his cheek. “He just left you there…”
I don’t remember moving but I found myself on my knees in front of Aleeme. My hands hovering, I didn’t know how to comfort him. “Stop! Don’t…”
Aleeme reached out and pulled me into his chest. We embraced. We clung to each other, voicelessly exchanging emotions for which there simply are not words powerful enough.
After a time we pulled apart. “I’m sorry. This isn’t easy,” he smiled wryly as he wiped the moisture from his cheek.
Aleeme looked down at me as if he was seeing me for the first time. He reached out and tugged at the piece twine that held my hair back, and smiled to himself as he picked up a few strands and let them fall gently from his fingers.
“This would be a lot harder if you looked like… him.”
I tilted my head to look up at him “I don’t look much like you either.”
He laughed. “No you don’t, you look a lot like Ulaume, my father. He’s Colurastes.” At this my eyes widened and Aleeme laughed again. “Your hair does things on its own?”
I grimaced and rolled my eyes. “It… can be temperamental.”
“I’m having a bit of ‘a disconnect’ ” Aleeme said wistfully “I have always thought of you as that tiny, frail harling.” He wrinkled his nose. “Logically I knew you’d grown up, but in my mind I had frozen you in time. The Aralisian harlings are the same age as you, more or less. A few years ago, when they all came home…” he shook his head, “It wasn’t until I saw them that it really hit me; that time had passed and that you’d grown up. I needed to find you.”
“I’m glad you did,” I said simply.
We sat and talked for a long time. Despite the fact that we were hostling and son, we were complete strangers. Eventually, Aleeme sighed deeply. He looked drained. “I should leave now,” he said.
“Aleeme, thank you for everything” I said. The words sounded lame, but I knew that he knew what I meant.
He sat still for a time making no movement to leave.
“Lorin, it’s too late for me to be a hostling to you. You’re too old to need one, and you already have parents, but if you are willing, I’d like to come again, and get to know you better. I’d like for us to build a friendship.”
I grinned and nodded “Yes! I’d really like that.”
Aleeme was true to his word. Over the next few months he visited regularly. He never stayed too long. The first few visits had started out awkwardly, but gradually we lost that initial shyness. It wasn’t until one day in the autumn, when a laughing Aleeme tossed an apple at my head in retaliation for a truly horrible pun, that it dawned on me that we had actually managed to become friends.
On more than one visit Aleeme had said he want me to come to Galhea to meet his family. I’d always gently declined. The idea of me, being who I was, meeting those around Aleeme, those who had been there and had seen what he’d struggled through was too much. I especially did not relish the thought of facing his consort, Azriel.
The day was not especially chilly despite the dull grey almost-winter skies. I let out a loud curse directed at the large rusted-into-place screw that refused to budge. I stood up and kicked at ancient piece of equipment petulantly.
“Now! Now! That doesn’t solve anything does it?” Behind me, Aleeme’s voice sounded amused.
I snorted as I turned to greet him. Today he was not alone. A har, slightly taller than Aleeme, followed behind him. Our eyes locked. I knew who he was without being told. This was Azriel.
I continued to stare at him, and he at me.
“Az, this is Lorin. Lorin this is my consort, Azriel.”
Azriel nodded in acknowledgement
“Aleeme, could we please have some time? I’d like to speak with Lorin alone.”
Aleeme looked at Azriel for a moment and then nodded, and without saying a word Aleeme headed into the barn.
I looked after him, desperately wishing that he would stay.
“Walk with me.” Azriel said.
We walked a short distance before he stopped, turning to me he said, “I must confess this is very odd and awkward, partially because, despite how Leem described you, I was still half expecting a young harling, but…” he paused “this is obviously also awkward because of the circumstances.”
Azriel bite his lip for a moment “Aleeme wants you to come to Galhea to meet all of us, but he says that you won’t come because you are uncomfortable with the idea of …” he paused “the idea meeting me. Is that true?”
I nodded slowly. “Aleeme may accept me as his son, but to the rest of you…” I shrugged helplessly. “I am Ponclast’s son.”
“No,” he shook his head “you are Aleeme’s son. Please believe me when I say that I hold nothing against you; you were as much a victim as the rest of us were. Nohar in our family feels any ill will towards you… a bit of awkwardness and guilt maybe, but no hard feelings.”
He started walking again “I’ll be honest with you. Neither Ulaume nor I were very happy when Leem announced he was going to find you. In fact I was upset, very upset, and Ulaume was furious. Aleeme had worked hard to …” Azriel paused awkwardly.
“Move on?” I supplied
Azriel grimaced and then sighed “Yes. He finally seemed to be content and then, out of the blue… wham! … He wanted to dig up the past. We were upset but not because of you personally. You were an unknown. We were worried about Aleeme. We didn’t want him to get hurt. But now, honestly…” he stopped and smiled at me “I’m glad that Aleeme found you. Getting to know you has helped him a lot. Having the answers to the questions of what happened to you has given him peace and, in some sense, closure.”
Azriel looked back up towards the barn and I followed his gaze, I could see Aleeme leaning against the barn watching us.
Azriel grinned. “Poor Leem, he’s hovering… despite my reassurances, he’s a bit worried about us meeting.”
Azriel must have sent a message by mind touch to Aleeme as Aleeme started walking towards us, and I could see he was smiling.
When Aleeme reached us he linked his arm through Azriels, looking back and forth between us questioningly. “Is everything okay?”
Azriel and I both nodded.
“Good!” He beamed, to Azriel he said “I trust you’ll use your powers of persuasion to convince this young har to come to Galhea.”
Azriel grinned. “I will do my best, and should I fail, plan B is to threaten him with a visit by an impatient Cobweb.”
We exited the otherlanes a short distance from a large house.
Aleeme grinned “Home! Affectionately known as ‘Dwell in Forever’.”
I looked at it with a certain amount of trepidation. Azriel must have sensed this as he put his arm across my shoulders and gently, but purposefully, propelled me forward.
With Aleeme leading the way, we followed a path around the side of the house to a set of glass double doors. Aleeme bounded up the two steps ahead of us and went in through the doors. I heard a chorus of voices rise in greeting. I panicked and froze; Azriel had to literally shove me up the steps.
Through the open door I saw a har envelope Aleeme in a giant bear hug. Azriel placed his hand between my shoulder blades and propelled me forward into the room. A hush fell over the room as all conversations stopped and I felt the weight of a room full of eyes settle on me. The har holding Aleeme disentangled himself from my hostling to stared at me. When he began to advance towards me, it seemed like the whole room held its collective breath.
Looking at Ulaume was not like looking into a mirror exactly, but it was close. He advanced towards me as if in a trance. When he reached me he stopped and scrutinized me from head to toe, his look hard. Nohar was sure of what Ulaume’s reaction to me was going to be, least of all Ulaume himself. When he reached up and ran his fingers through my hair, my hair reacted; I felt it flex slightly as a surge of awareness coursed through it. I shivered. Ulaume’s look softened and he pulled me into a bone-crushing embrace.
“He is beautiful, Leem.” I heard him say over my shoulder.
“Oh sweet mountains of never-ending trouble, is the world truly ready for two of you?”
A voice, affectionate and teasing, called out from somewhere in the room, and there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief breathed as the gathered hara joined in the laughter.
Ulaume put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me away from him, he smiled a strange secretive smile as he pressed his forehead to mine
“I will teach you to make your hair dance,” he whispered.
The rest of the day was a blur. I’d been hugged, fed, and poured endless drinks; I’d listened to hundreds of stories, and told an equal number. The day had not been without its awkward moments, or tears, but we’d all survived it. In the guestroom Cobweb had assigned me I fell into the bed, exhausted; sleep came instantly.
I awoke the next morning to a room filled with sunshine and the distinct feeling that I was being watched. I rolled over and sat up. Cobweb was standing near the doorway. He was standing still, his arms folded and hidden in the sleeves of his long dark green brocade robes. He was staring at me, but not seeing me, it was as if he was seeing beyond me and this room. At my movement, I saw him pull his consciousness back from wherever it had been. His eyes focused on me.
We stared at each other for some moments. Cobweb seemed to glide across the floor as he came to the side of the bed. He reached his hand out to caress my cheek, and smiled a soft smile. I could feel the sense of peace in his touch. I smiled back. Cobweb bent forward to gently place a kiss on my brow, and then he glided back towards to door and out into the hall gently pulling the door closed behind him.
With a contented sigh I lay back onto the pillows and watched the particles of dusts floating and dancing in the sunbeams. I’m sure there will be some drawbacks to being this particular historical footnote, but there are definite benefits as well.