Even The Longest Day

Even The Longest Day
By Camile Sinensis (Teapot)

Story Notes

Editor\'s PickI was asked to write this by a fellow Wraeththu fan. It’s not something that I would have thought of doing, otherwise, because generally I don’t like to blatantly contradict The Author (tugs forelock respectfully), but I hope a little suspension of disbelief and/or intervention by the Dehara will account for it!

Characters: Caeru, Cal and Pellaz. Also the long-suffering Doctor Sheeva.

Spoilers: Major spoiler for “Shades”, and also for “Ghosts”

Summary: A memorable day results in serious repercussions for Caeru, and each member of the Royal Triad finds himself caught up in his own dilemma.

Author’s email: teapot@doramail.com

Website: http://red-shellac.livejournal.com, http://www.mudsharks.org/stuff/

Even The Longest Day

“Even the longest day has its ending”

Some days were so beautiful, so perfect, they could only be Almagabran days. Cal lay on his back staring up at a sky which stretched from one side of eternity to another in an arc of glorious blue. Not even the faintest wisp of cloud sullied those pristine heavens. The sun was golden and warm on his body and all around him the bearded stalks of grain whispered and rustled in the warm breeze. Poppy flowers trembled delicately, the paper-thin scarlet blooms scattered throughout the field like unexpected drops of blood.

He stuck a piece of straw in his mouth, and sucked on it rustically, because it seemed the appropriate thing to do. He could hear voices – comforting sounds of pleasantly unimportant conversations, but they were distant, and he could block them out if he wished.

His whole body felt completely relaxed, and he deliberately put from his mind all thoughts of work and responsibility. Today was Cuttingtide, and the entire Arilisan family had left Phaonica behind to indulge in the traditional outdoor festivities. An empty bottle of wine lay at his feet, together with the remains of some bread and fruit. He had nothing more strenuous to do than digest his lunch, or possibly even take a nap.

“Hello Cal.”

He tilted his head back to locate the source of the greeting, but the voice was instantly familiar, and he wasn’t displeased to have his woolgathering disturbed. He raised one hand lazily in greeting, and waggled his straw.

Rue laughed, a bright, summery sound that matched the glorious day.

“You look very relaxed down there. Mind if I join you?”

“Be my guest.”

Caeru sat down primly, pushing down some of the barley stalks with his hand, and Cal rolled over on his side to face his consort, propping himself up on one elbow.

The Tigrina was dressed all in white; a simple muslin shift which draped loosely around his body. The material was fine enough to flutter gently in the soft air currents. His hair was long and unbound, and matched the colour of the ripe grain perfectly. It too was stirred by the breeze. The sun was behind him, and the wispy material seemed to absorb the light making him look as if he was surrounded by a gauzy, glowing halo. A soft-focus vision of ethereal beauty. Cal gazed at him and felt oddly moved by the simplicity of the scene before him.

“What are you staring at?”

“You!”

“What for?” Caeru feigned innocence, with wide blue eyes, but Cal knew he enjoyed flattery

“Because you are the loveliest har in all of Immanion – possibly even the whole of Almagabra. Well, except for that cute red-haired creature who performs those exotic dances in the market square every evening….”

He was rewarded by a sharp jab from Caeru’s foot, and he laughed as he shifted his position speedily to avoid further retribution. Rue was laughing too. The sound of it seemed to sparkle in the golden air around them, and crystalise into a tangible emotion. Contentment.

In the distance, there was a sudden squeal, followed by peals of laughter. Cal rolled over and looked across. He could see the small figures of Darquiel, Loki and Geburael running through the waist-high grain. Throwing handfuls of straw at each other. Stuffing handfuls of straw down each other’s clothing. Hence the squeals. He sighed, shook his head, and turned his attention back to Caeru.

Caeru was watching the three younger hara too. Cal was amused by the look on his consort’s face – he was almost bursting with pride and love. The threesome could have been poking each other’s eyes out with pointed sticks and Caeru would still have considered them to be the most perfect angels of all creation. Perhaps they were.

“They grow up so fast,” Caeru’s tone reflected his pride, but there was also a hint of wistfulness to it.

“Yes, they do.”

“And we never even knew Darq and Geb as harlings.”

Cal did not reply. Caeru’s words brought to mind another son whose childhood he had missed. Even though he told himself he had done the right thing by giving up custody of his first son, even though Tyson assured him that he didn’t blame him, even though he knew he had not been fit to raise a child at that point in his life… He sighed again. They grow up so fast. You think you have all the time in the world to enjoy those small, strange creatures, and then one day you turn around and realize that they have turned into adults while you weren’t looking…

Rue extended his elegant ankle and stroked Cal’s bare shoulder with his toes, curling them in an almost prehensile fashion.

“Have you and Pell ever considered… you know… having another….?”

Cal pulled a face of almost comical horror.

“Good grief, no! Neither Pell nor I are natural-born hostlings. Once was quite enough! I can’t imagine why anyone in their right minds would want to go through that. Sometimes I think men never knew how lucky they were, not being able to…. Oh, Rue… I’m sorry, I…”

Extract foot from mouth, now thought Cal uncomfortably, debating whether or not to kick himself.

“It’s alright,”

Cal experienced a heavy feeling in his guts. The feeling that most people experienced when they say something cruel and wish they could take their words back instantly. The feeling that Cal never did experience. Except with Rue. He didn’t know why, but he couldn’t hurt Rue the same way that he could casually cut any other har to the core, even Pell. It didn’t matter that his faux-pas was unintentional, he still felt like shit.

“Really.” Rue reached across and took his hand. Cal was aware of the irony of this situation – Rue trying to comfort him. Rue’s tone was bright, – just a fraction too much so – and his smile was just a little too wide. Cal recognized that expression. It was the same one he had worn when Pell had broken the news to him that he was with pearl. Rue had smiled his bright smile and kissed Pell on the cheek and told him he was happy for him; happy for them both, and it had been true. He had supported Pell, stayed with him, shared his joy – even as Cal had kept his secret that this pearl was not the result of their joyful union. Pell had never wanted to give birth. Sometimes Cal thought it was all Rue had ever wanted. Sometimes he hated the random cruelness of the universe with a passion.

Rue’s hand was warm and soft. Cal squeezed it gently, and was rewarded with a more genuine smile.

“I can see them, sometimes, if I close my eyes”

Cal looked at him without comprehension…

“All the children I’ll never have. All the children that will never be born.” Rue closed his eyes, and his face became calm and beatific.

Cal found himself swallowing hard. “You and I would have made beautiful harlings” he whispered, fighting with the unaccustomed constriction in his throat.

Rue’s smile returned, although his eyes remained shut. “Yes. Yes we would. I can see him now. He has golden hair and violet-blue eyes. He is dancing in the field of ripe barley, in the sunshine. He sees me, and runs towards me. I hold out my arms and he runs into them, and I lift him up, laughing. We are both laughing…”

Cal found that he could say nothing at all. He gripped Rue’s hand even more tightly, and hoped that his hand would say what his tongue could not. Rue opened his eyes and looked directly at him. He touched the side of his face gently.

“I’m not sad.” he said “Not really. I have two sons. I have been privileged to have that experience twice, which is more than most. And I’m glad for it all – even the bad bits. I would do it all the same again.”

Hearing Rue speak these words, Cal was almost shocked to realize that he agreed with them. He would do exactly the same again, if he was offered the opportunity. He would bear Tyson, despite the hurts and the long years of separation. He would give Pell to Galdra a hundred times over if it meant that Loki would be theirs. And he would live again the strange circumstances of Darquiel’s conception and the brutal aftermath…”

“Do you remember the night Darq was conceived?” asked Rue, as if he could read his thoughts.

“Of course I do.”

“Did you….. I mean, was it….” Rue stumbled uncertainly around his unfinished sentence, as if unsure himself of what he was trying to say.

Cal sat up and wrapped his arms around him, holding him tightly

“Yes, I did. And yes, it was.”

He laid Rue gently onto his back. The Tigrina reclined languidly among the flattened stalks, his golden hair fanned out around him, and the sky reflected in his eyes. Blue in blue.

Cal remembered that night more than he cared to admit. Sometimes he dreamt of it. Being inside Caeru’s body; his mind; his soul. It was something he had never experienced with any other har. Even though Pell had been there that night too, even though he had borne Terzian’s son… There was a moment in time, and in space, that had belonged only to him and to Caeru. He didn’t discuss it with Pell. Pell, he knew with certainty, had his own private relationship with Caeru, however much he sometimes seemed to deny it. Sometimes even shared experiences had their concealed and intimate corners.

Cal pulled aside the flimsy muslin shift and ran his hands over Caeru’s body, feeling him sigh and shudder slightly. The legacy of Diablo’s attack was still written in puckered lines on Caeru’s abdomen, but the scars had faded to a silvery white. In a small, hard corner of his mind, Cal felt nothing but cold satisfaction for the killing of Diablo. It was right. It was justice. It was for you, Rue. He deserved it.

“Did you ever speak to Dr Sheeva about the possibility of reconstructive surgery?” he asked, his hand gliding past the wrecked flesh and down between Caeru’s legs

Caeru bit his lower lip and shook his head.

“No. I… I didn’t want to be cut again. Anyway,” he took Cal’s hand and guided it expertly between the soft, moist folds of his soume-lam, “everything else is fine.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Cal smiled and slid his finger into Rue’s depths, feeling the small pulsations which indicated the Tigrina’s pleasure at the invasion. He undid his own trousers and released his ouana-lim from its confines. He looked down at himself admiringly. Touching Rue’s body had aroused him considerably, and he added to his growing hardness by grasping it with his right hand and giving it a long, sensuous stroke, enjoying the sensation visibly. Rue watched the performance languidly, then reached forward and placed his hand on top of Cal’s

“I should be doing that!”

“By all means…”

Rue took the engorged organ in his hand and carefully ran his thumbnail up the underside and around all the sensitive petals at the tip. He watched Cal’s face carefully, noticing every inflection on his face.

“More?”

Cal could only make a sort of gasping grunt in reply, which the Tigrina took as consent. He repeated his actions, seeming to know with unerring accuracy where to touch.

Eventually Cal removed Rue’s hand from his ouana-lim with a short hiss, and positioned himself over Rue’s prone body. Rue’s thighs parted hungrily as he pulled Cal down into his body’s embrace. Cal resisted for a second, his ouana-lim pressed insistently against the entrance to Rue’s body, but not inside him, determined to show Rue that he was not the only one with skills in the art of prolonging aruna, but Rue’s legs wrapped themselves tightly around Cal’s back, and Cal gave up the pretence and thrust deep and hard into Caeru.

He sucked and bit at the Tigrina’s lower lip, tasting his mouth and then his soul as they shared breath. Rue welcomed him in gladly and it was like returning to a familiar home, sleeping in a bed where the scent of another’s body still lingered, falling into the starless night of a place that was both unknown and yet at the same time instantly recognized…

***

Cal was not sure how long they had lain in the nest of flattened stalks. The sun was lower now than it had been earlier, and the air slightly cooler. Images still floated in his mind. Another night, nearly ten years ago.

He shook his head, clearing his thoughts. He poked Rue gently with a piece of straw.

“Come on sleepy, wake up. Everyone else is gone.”

Rue opened his eyes lazily and smiled at him. He pushed back the tangled mess of his hair with one hand, then stretched his limbs happily.

“You were wonderful”

“I know. I always am”

Rue laughed. “Now if only we could work on your modesty…”

Cal chuckled too. He held out his hand, which the other har took graciously. “Come on,” he said, pulling Rue up, “Let’s go home.”

***

“The ambassador from Maudrah isn’t going to like this one bit!”

Pellaz was striding purposefully down the long, marbled corridor in the heart of Phaonica. Cal loped along behind him, occasionally breaking into a short skip to keep up with his speeding partner.

“Just calm down, will you? A few minutes here or there is not going to make any difference.”

“Cal, you’ve been in Immanion for, what, ten years now? And you still don’t know the first thing about politics.”

“Can’t say I’ve ever really wanted to,” Cal muttered

“What did you say?”

“Nothing. Look, are you sure you told Rue the right time?”

“Positive. I’m rather more organized than you give me credit for.”

“Just asking. It’s not like him to be late.”

“He’s been sulking about something for the past week. I’ve no idea what.”

“He was alright when I spoke to him last.”

“Yes, well I’m sure he makes the effort for you…”

The two hara arrived at the entrance to the Tigrina’s apartments, and the doors opened immediately, the servants ushering them both in respectfully.

“Where is the Tigrina?” Pellaz demanded of the chief Steward. The har looked slightly uncomfortable.

“Still in his bed-chamber, Tiahaar.”

“Didn’t you wake him up?”

“He said he did not want to be disturbed.”

“He needs to be disturbed! He has an audience with an important representative from Maudrah this morning. Go and get him.”

The servant looked even more uncomfortable, torn between obeying the orders of the Tigron and the Tigrina. Pell clucked his tongue irritably.

“Oh never mind, I’ll do it!” He marched down the hallway and turned into the passageway that led to the Tigrina’s bed-chamber, with Cal following dutifully behind.

Opening the door, he walked in and found himself in semi-darkness. The curtains were
still drawn and the room was dim. He stood for a second or so, till his eyes adjusted, then walked over to the windows and pulled the heavy velvet drapes apart. Bright mid-morning sunshine flooded the room, casting a broad rectangle of light on the wall opposite. Below that was the Tigrina’s bed.

It was a huge thing – draped with hangings and folded, tented materials which matched the rich curtains at the windows, and festooned with pillows, cushions and jeweled throws. It could easily have accommodated three or more hara, but this morning there was only one body lying among its voluminous coverlets.

Caeru looked swamped by the over-abundance of soft furnishings. If anything, the oversized bed made him look even smaller than he actually was. He lay at the top, over to one side, as if he feared getting lost if he moved further into the bed’s hinterlands. He was surrounded by pillows, and had the covers pulled right up to his neck. He was awake, and his blue eyes looked out at Pell warily.

“Rue, do you know what time it is?” demanded Pell irritably.

Rue nodded, but made no move to get up.

“We have the Maudran Ambassador this morning – remember?”

“I know.”

“Well why aren’t you up then? Oh come on, Rue, this isn’t good enough. Just get dressed, will you?”

When his consort still showed no signs of rising, Pell took hold of the covers and pulled them down sharply. For a second, Caeru seemed as if he was going to hold onto them, but he allowed Pell to pull the bedclothes all the way down, leaving him exposed, wearing only a white silk nightgown.

Pell opened his mouth to deliver another reprimand, but it never came. He looked down at Rue lying in the bed. Lying on the crisp, white linen sheets, wearing a white silk nightgown. Both of which were stained red with blood.

“Rue… what…?”

Pell’s expression changed instantly to one of concern. He quickly lifted the nightgown to see if he could discover where the blood was coming from. There were no obvious injuries or cuts on Rue’s body, and the bloodstain seemed to be mostly around the top of his thighs. Pell felt vaguely sick, but not at the sight of the blood itself. A sudden, awful suspicion formed within him.

“Cal,” he turned to the other Tigron and spoke calmly, trying not to alarm either of them. “Could you fetch Dr Sheeva here? Ask him to come as quickly as he can.”

Cal looked at Rue, and then back at Pell, his eyes asking unspoken questions.

“Just go. I’ll look after Rue.”

Cal nodded curtly and left hurriedly.

Pell turned back to the bed, and pulled the covers back up over Rue’s body. He sat down on the edge of the bed, and stroked the soft, golden hair.

“I’m sorry, Pell”

“Shhh, it’s alright.”

“But the Maudran Ambassador….”

“Oh, to hell with him!”

Rue gave a ghost of a smile

“I didn’t mean to…”

“I know you didn’t. It’s alright.”

“I don’t want to see Dr Sheeva”

“It’s for your own good”

Rue stared at the ceiling, blinking his eyes rapidly, and Pell reached below the cover to take his hand. It felt cold, and he concentrated on transferring energy from himself to his consort. Presently the hand felt a little warmer, and he was pleased to see a little colour return to the Tigrina’s bleached face.

“Does it hurt?”

“I… no, I don’t think so. I think the bleeding’s stopped now anyway. Perhaps I should get up now.”

“You’ll do no such thing.”

“I didn’t mean to worry you. I feel better now, really”

“Perhaps, but you still need to be examined. This isn’t normal, Rue, and you know it.”

At that moment, the bedroom door opened, and Cal entered with Dr Sheeva in tow.

Pellaz felt immediately reassured by the physician’s presence. His skill was renowned, and Pell himself had had cause in the past to appreciate his calm, reassuring manner. He also knew that whatever transpired within the Tigrina’s bedroom would go no further, and that was a blessing. Pell hated the fact that his personal life, and that of his family, was public property. We deserve a little privacy occasionally, he thought.

Dr Sheeva approached Rue, smiling reassuringly. Caeru gave a wan smile in return, but did not let go of Pell’s hand.

“Your consort tells me you have experienced some unexplained bleeding,”

Rue turned his head to the side. “It’s nothing, really. I’m alright now.”

“Let’s just make quite sure of that, shall we?”

Pell stood up to leave, allowing the doctor to take his place at Rue’s bedside. Rue gave him a slightly pleading look, but he stepped away firmly.

“I will be just outside, with Tigron Calanthe,” he informed the doctor.

“Of course. I’m sure this won’t take very long.”

“Let us know when you’re ready.”

The doctor bowed gracefully and Pell shepherded Cal from the room. They looked at each other meaningfully, but neither said a word.

***

“That is not possible. You know it is not possible!”

Pellaz ran his fingers through his long, dark hair agitatedly. Dr Sheeva spread his hands apologetically.

“Tiahaar… I can only tell you what I know. I agree it is a hugely unlikely occurrence, but nevertheless, the Tigrina is with pearl.”

“But you of all people know that he is not capable of hosting a pearl! You know what was done to him. You were the one who told me it was impossible.”

“Obviously I was mistaken. I do not claim to be omniscient. The Tigrina’s injuries were very severe, and I gave you my opinion based on the facts as I saw them. I am as surprised as you are. I would normally be very pleased to be proved wrong in a case like this, but…” The doctor looked down at his feet, a worried expression on his usually calm features.

“But what?”

“Tiahaar, I will not sugar-coat this, I am sure you are capable of understanding. The pearl at conception is very small. There is room for it even if the chamber is damaged. However the pearl expands rapidly. Scarred tissues cannot do the same. There is a very high risk of rupture and haemorrhage. The Tigrina has already experienced some bleeding, and while this has now stopped, it is my opinion that the situation can only get worse as the pearl grows.”

Pell listened to the doctor’s words, his expression bleak.

“How great is the risk? Could he die?”

“That is a possibility, yes.”

“There must be something you can do!”

Dr Sheeva sighed. “Normally, I would never recommend this course of action, but I believe in this case it is the best thing. My advice is that the pearl be removed before it can grow any further.”

Pell nodded. “I’m sure you’re right. Please make the arrangements as soon as possible.”

“Ah… wait a minute here,” Cal interrupted “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Dr Sheeva and Pell both looked at him.

“Isn’t it Rue’s decision to make?”

“Of course it is,” Pell said, rather sharply, “I’m not suggesting otherwise. But you heard what Dr Sheeva said. We will explain the situation to Rue. I know he’ll be upset, but it’s for the best.”

“Upset?” Cal stared at him, shaking his head a little in disbelief. “Pell, it’s not like getting a tooth pulled. You know what this means. You know what you’ll be asking him to do.”

“I am very well aware of the implications of this, thank you. It’s a pity you hadn’t thought about it a bit more.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Pell hesitated; only for a fraction of a second, but Cal caught the fleeting, unspoken accusation, and his heart sank a little.

“You’re the father, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am. Who else would it be?”

“Cal… how could you?”

“You know the way harlings are made, Pell”

“Don’t you dare be flippant!”

The sharp retort was already forming in Cal’s head and in his mouth, but he bit it back. He could see that Pell was really angry, and deep within himself he knew that he had a right to be.

“You knew that Rue wasn’t capable of hosting pearl. What on earth made you do this, Cal? Is it some sort of payback for Galdra?”

Now it was Cal’s turn to be angry.

“No. No it isn’t! It’s not always about you, Pell.”

Pell looked as if he’d been slapped. Cal knew the best thing he could do at this point was to leave, but his own stubbornness would not let him.

“Really? And what is it about, then?”

Cal opened his mouth, but found he did not have the words to explain. In his head was the image of a sunny day and the ache of longing in another har’s breath, and the remembered feeling that he could make things right, make up for past hurts, make up for the times he had destroyed by creating instead…. But he knew Pell wouldn’t understand any of this, even if he could force the disorganized explanation out past his uncooperative lips, so he simply shook his head mutely and turned away.

Dr Sheeva looked acutely embarrassed. He coughed discreetly, and Pell collected himself visibly, attempting to smooth over the awkwardness hanging in the air.

“Will you tell the Tigrina, Tiahaar? Or do you think it would be better if I were to do so?”

“Tell him what?”

All three hara turned round at the sound of Caeru’s voice. The Tigrina was standing in the doorway, one hand on the wooden doorframe for support. He looked pale, but calm.

“Rue! You shouldn’t be out of bed.”

“I’m alright, I can’t stay there all day. Tell me what?”

“Come and sit down.”

Pell took Rue’s hand and led him over to a large sofa, where he solicitously installed his consort among a heap of cushions, and then sat down beside him. Cal and Dr Sheeva exchanged a meaningful look.

“I think we’ll go and see if the kitchen staff can produce some lunch for us.” Cal announced. The doctor nodded in agreement, and together they left the room. Rue watched them go, a thoughtful expression on his face. Pell took hold of his hand and squeezed it gently.

“Rue,” he said, “I need to talk to you…”

***

When Cal returned later, Pell was sitting alone on the sofa. Down the hall, the servants were clattering about preparing lunch, and enticing smells were drifting up from the kitchens, but in the Tigrina’s sitting room it was quiet and still. Cal closed the door silently behind him, and padded across the polished wood flood noiselessly. He sat down next to his consort. Pell had his chin in his hands, and he was staring at the floor as if he could see right down through the boards, through the rooms below, down through the very heart of the Palace and into the rock below upon which it stood.

Cal looked at him intently for a few seconds.

“He said no, didn’t he?”

Pell nodded.

“I knew he would.”

Pell looked up, and for a moment Cal thought another argument would ensue, but there was only puzzlement in the other har’s eyes.

“Why? Why does he want to keep it so badly? Why won’t he listen to sense?”

“You have to ask?”

Pell avoided both Cal’s earnest stare, and answering the question. He got up and walked to the other end of the room. Large full-length windows were thrown open, giving access to the wide, sunny balcony outside. In the distance, the sea was visible, glassy and azure, dotted with a few white-sailed ships approaching Immanion harbour. Between the palace and the sea lay the streets and houses of the city laid out in wide, pleasant avenues and well-tended gardens. Pell stood at the open windows and watched the servants arranging tables and chairs underneath the shade of an awning. It was a familiar scene – the Aralisians had enjoyed many convivial family meals on this very terrace.

“I’ll talk to him again when he’s had time to think it over.”

“It won’t make any difference. You know it won’t.”

“I can’t let him risk his life for this…”

“It’s his life to risk. And some things are worth risking a great deal for.”

“Do you want him to do this?” Pell turned and looked at Cal unexpectedly, his arms crossed in front of his body. “Do you want him to risk his life for this child? It’s your child too, after all.”

“Pell, that’s not fair…”

Pell shrugged. “Perhaps not, but that’s not the point. Do you want him to risk his life, or are you prepared to try and talk some sense into him?”

“It’s not that simple Pell…”

“It seems simple enough to me.”

“That’s because you’re only looking at it from your own point of view. Try looking at it from Rue’s perspective for once.”

Pell rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. It was getting warm; midday was approaching and the sun was at its high point, blazing fiercely down outside. In Rue’s sitting room, it remained cool.

Cal muttered something inaudible, rose from the sofa and went over to join his consort. He put his arms around Pell’s waist lightly.

“Rue wants this child” he said quietly. “He knows the risk – he probably always did. Don’t do him the disservice of assuming he hasn’t thought about it. He will make his own decision, and just because it is not the decision you would make, or the decision you want him to make doesn’t mean it is the wrong decision…”

“Besides,” he continued when Pell made no reply “Immanion’s finest physicians were wrong before – according to them, Rue shouldn’t even be in this condition, so I have full confidence in them being wrong yet again. I’m sure they won’t let me down!”

Pell grimaced. “I wish I shared your confidence”

“Yes, well, logic and reason and education and good sense and hard work and going to bed at a reasonable hour and paying your bills on time aren’t everything. Sometimes miracles do happen. Neither of us would be standing here if that wasn’t the case.”

In spite of himself, Pell smiled. He pressed his forehead against Cal’s shoulder.

“We don’t have bills, we’re Tigrons.”

“Is that so? What do Tigrons have then?”

“I have no idea. I never really thought about it.”

“Well there you are. This is why you need someone like me around. I know about stuff. Real life stuff.”

“Like bills?”

“Exactly. I know all about bills. Never actually paid any, but I am familiar with the concept!”

“Cal,”

“What?”

Pell stretched up and kissed the other har lightly on the lips. Outside, the serving staff put the final touches to the table settings as a distant clock in the heart of Immanion began chiming twelve.

***

Lunch was excellent, as usual. The Tigrina’s kitchen staff were acknowledged as the most creative in Phaonica, and Cal’s occasional, unsubtle attempts to persuade the head chef to defect to his own employment had met with no success whatsoever. Neither he nor Pell had much appetite today, however, and since the Tigrina himself was not present – he was resting in his bedroom at the insistence of Dr Sheeva – little of the lovingly-prepared food had been eaten.

Cal poked at a delicious-looking pastry disconsolately. “Seems a pity for all this to go to waste…”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. The staff get to help themselves to any leftovers. One of the perks of the job.” Pell gulped down the last of his coffee and stood up, pushing his chair backwards. Far below, a lazy torpor seemed to have fallen over Immanion as its citizens ceased their business activities for a couple of hours.

“I’d better go and check on Rue. Cal… do you think you could go and see about the ambassador?” Pell blinked hopefully at his consort.

“Me?”

“He likes you.”

“No he doesn’t.”

“Alright, he’s scared of you.”

“Is that your idea of flattery?” Cal rolled his eyes in mock-disgust. “Okay, I’ll go and put the fear of the Aghama into him for you!”

“Thank you.”

“I wouldn’t do it for just any Tigron you know.”

“I know. You spoil me.”

“Everyhar does. We can’t help it.” Cal stood up gracefully and stretched, pulling his arms up over his head until his joints clicked. “Right, into battle I go. You go and talk to Rue. And Pell…”

“Yes?”

“Don’t bully him.”

“Of course I won’t.”

Cal studied his consort thoughtfully for a few seconds, then smiled, blew him a brief kiss and loped purposefully off.

Pell watched him go with a mixture of affection and sadness. Sometimes he felt like he was the centre of Cal’s universe, a part of his very soul, the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle, finally found, and other times….

He shook his head. There were many pieces to Cal’s puzzle. It was arrogant of him to assume that he was the one who completed it.

He went back into the Tigrina’s apartments. It seemed dark inside, after the bright sunshine, and his eyes took a second or so to adjust. He walked down the hall to the Tigrina’s bedroom and stood at the door, wondering if he should knock. That seemed vaguely silly, so he simply turned the ornate handle and went in.

He was expecting Rue to be in bed, sleeping or resting, but that was not the case. The Tigrina was over at the far side of the room, standing in front of a large chest of drawers. Various personal items were strewn untidily on top of the chest – perfume, jewellery, hair brushes and small, ornamental knick-knacks. They looked slightly incongruous compared with the ostentatious décor of the rest of the room; small and imperfect. Out of place in the magnificence of Phaonica. A bit like Rue himself.

“Hello Pell.” Rue greeted him without turning round.

Pell resisted the urge to chide him for not being in bed. I am not a bully, Cal

“How are you feeling?”

“Okay.”

“Did they bring you some lunch?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Don’t fuss.”

Pell went up to him and put his arms around him. Rue turned his head and smiled.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, just… sorting through some things.”

“What sort of things?”

Rue didn’t say anything at first, then he disentangled himself from the other’s embrace. He pulled open one of the drawers.

“I kept them. I don’t know why. It’s not as if they would ever get used again, even if… well. But I kept them all the same.”

Rue pulled something out of the drawer, and held it gently. It looked to Pell like a scrap of cloth, once brightly coloured, now faded. He couldn’t quite work out what it was supposed to be, until Rue held it up.

It was a small garment. Not well made or expensive – the stitching was untidy and one of the sleeves seemed slightly longer than the other. It looked shoddy and ugly.

Rue held it up to his face, and pressed the ugly little shirt against his cheek. He had a strange, faraway look on his face.

“He wore this when we took him to the travelling fair. There were elephants. Can you believe it – elephants! In Ferelithia. And goats. He wasn’t scared of the elephants, but he was terrified of the goats, I don’t know why. He cried, and Kate bought him some sticky candy to cheer him up – it was bright pink and it got stuck in his hair. He thought that was funny, but I didn’t, because it took me ages to wash it out. He was only a few months old… Look, you can still see the mark.” Rue pointed to a faded pink stain on the shirt.

“I kept them all. I don’t know why.” He took another small item of clothing from the drawer, equally faded with age, and held that up to his face too, burying his nose in it and inhaling deeply.

“I can still smell him….”

Pell could think of absolutely nothing to say.

“Of course, they gave him lots of new clothes when he came here, but I kept all his old ones, I don’t know why, I…..”

Pell was standing so close to Rue that he could feel the warmth of his body, feel the slight tremor that seemed to pass through him, and then he felt something scalding and wet, like blood, on his arm and he thought for a moment that maybe the strange tearing sensation inside him was actually himself coming apart, but there was only wetness on Rue’s face, two, maybe three fat droplets running down his pale, flawless skin, and then it stopped and Rue wiped his face and smiled apologetically, but the tearing inside Pell didn’t stop. He had no idea how to make it stop.

“Rue,” his voice didn’t sound like his own, it sounded dry, like dead flowers or old leaves. “If you wanted another child so much, why didn’t you ask me…?”

“Because you would have said no. Because it’s not what you want. Because it would never have happened with us, not that way. Yes, I know it’s physically possible – aren’t we the perfect species after all – but sometimes… it doesn’t work that way, for some of us.”

Pell didn’t answer. There was no point because he knew that what Rue said was true.

“Perhaps we’re not so perfect after all,” he said bitterly.

“Oh Pell – don’t be so hard on yourself. We’re all just… who and what we are. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Again Pell could think of nothing useful to say. Rue was right. He was who he was. He couldn’t imagine experiencing the sort of longing that Rue did. He had never wanted to host a child – Loki’s conception had been a complete accident. He had not kept any of Loki’s childhood clothes…

He pulled Rue closer and hugged him comfortingly. Pressed against the other har’s abdomen, he could sense the tiny spark of life within, unaware of the fragility of its existence. He had not wanted to host a child, and if the option had been available to him, he would have had the pearl removed…

There was a sudden, bitter taste in his mouth.

“Rue,” he said firmly “If you insist on going through with this, you must do exactly what Dr Sheeva tells you.”

Rue looked up at him wonderingly, all blue eyes and dark lashes

“You will have to stay in bed and not move. You will have to let the servants do everything for you.”

“Pell,” Rue touched him gently with one finger “I do that anyway.” He smiled teasingly, and Pell found himself smiling back.

“There is no guarantee…” he said gently

“There never is Pell. Not for anything in life.”

Pell looked over Rue’s shoulder, as if he could see into the future if he stared hard enough

“I know.”

***

The Tigrina’s large bed was empty when Cal arrived early the next morning. A stab of anxiety bit his stomach, and he called out worriedly,

“Rue? Where are you? Are you there?”

“I’m through here, Cal!”

Cal’s relief was palpable, and he hurried from the bedroom through to the Morning Room next door, where Caeru’s voice had come from.

Caeru was sitting at the table, having breakfast. The room Cal had entered was bright and warm, perfectly placed to catch the morning sun. There were windows on three sides, and large potted and trailing plants were placed all around to take advantage of the light, and also to shade the room and its occupants. The large glass doors were thrown open, leading out into green leafiness beyond. It was difficult to tell where the room ended and the garden began.

Caeru had his feet up on one of the chairs. When he saw Cal, he removed them, and indicated to the other har to sit beside him.

“Morning Cal. Coffee?”

An elegant white coffee pot was steaming enticingly on the table, and Cal poured himself a cup gratefully.

“Croissant?”

Cal was going to refuse, but one look at the golden, flaky confections sitting in a basket in the middle of the table changed his mind. He helped himself greedily, and bit into the warm and buttery croissant, which tasted even better than it looked.

“Mmmphhh!” He closed his eyes in pleasure. Rue laughed.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full!”

Cal wiped away a few crumbs from his mouth with the back of his hand.

“I’m Tigron, and I can do what I like!”

“Of course you can. Now clear up the mess there.”

Cal obediently wiped away the pile of crumbs in front of him.

“It’s a lovely morning, isn’t it?” Rue sat with his own coffee cup cradled in both hands, looking out through the open doors and into the garden beyond. Large blue trumpet-shaped flowers had already opened and were turned to face the direction of the morning sun, greedily sucking up its rays. Some had invaded the room; plant tendrils wrapped themselves around both the door frame and the bronze statue sitting just inside.

“Yes, it is. Why are you out of bed?”

Rue pouted. “Oh Cal, don’t nag. Pell’s bad enough!

Cal leaned forward, his elbows resting on the table… “I’m concerned, that’s all. So is Pell”

Rue smiled gently at him. “I know. It’s all very sweet. I’m fine – really. I’ll get bed sores if I stay there any longer! Have another croissant.”

Cal realized that he wasn’t really in any position to lecture anyone else on sensible behaviour, so he took Rue’s suggestion.

“I thought I might do some gardening later” Rue informed him.

Cal almost choked on his croissant.

“You? Gardening?”

Rue attempted to look insulted, with limited success.

“I garden! Look!” He indicated a tiny, gold plated watering can sitting by the side of the table.

Cal coughed and spluttered, trying to suppress his laughter.

“And do you fill it up yourself?”

“Of course not. I’m the Tigrina!”

Cal shook his head and grinned. “We’re as bad as each other!”

“It’s a hard life, isn’t it?”

Rue took another sip of his coffee. “It was all marble out there, when I first came here” he said, indicating the small garden outside. “Marble paving, marble fountain, marble columns, marble statues…”

“Sounds nice…”

“No it wasn’t. It was ridiculous. No place for a child to play. I had them remove it all and plant grass instead. They had to bring tons of soil up. They weren’t at all pleased. But I’m the Tigrina!”

“You certainly are!” Cal looked out at the garden, with its lush, untidy foliage, abundance of flowers and small, velvet lawn and tried to imagine it as a sterile marble courtyard. Somehow, he couldn’t.

“I mean, who designed this place anyway,” continued Rue, waving his arm around expansively. “It’s full of hard edges and cold stone.”

Cal looked down at his feet, and realized, for the first time, that the floors in the Tigrina’s apartments were wood, instead of the usual marble tiles that were in place throughout the rest of Phaonica.

“You made quite a few changes….”

“Of course I did. You couldn’t bring up a child in this place….” Rue’s voice tailed off, and his bright mood seemed to evaporate like the dew on the blue flowers.”

“You’ll have to take it up with Thiede,” Cal said with a shrug. “This palace was his vision…”

Rue looked at him seriously. “Yes,” he said, “that makes sense,”

“It does?”

Rue nodded. “It’s a vision. A concept. An impossibility. No room for small children, or untidy piles of grubby toys, or scribbles on the walls…Thiede’s vision.” He sighed sadly. “Poor Thiede. I don’t think anyone loved him when he was a child…”

Cal opened his mouth to say something flippant, but realized he couldn’t.

Only you would say that, Rue he thought. Most people look at Phaonica and see something triumphant and beautiful. You see an unloved child.

That’s why they love you, the people of Immanion. They respect Pell, they’re probably scared shitless of me, and they put up with the Hegemony, but they love the Tigrina, because he brings something soft and untidy to the hard, orderliness at the heart of Immanion.

“I wasn’t a good hostling,” Rue’s voice was very small and quiet, and Cal, thoughts wandering, almost didn’t catch what he said.

“What? That’s ridiculous Rue – how can you say that?”

“I didn’t know what I was doing. I just had to… pretend. Make it up. And then I came here, and… I was too busy feeling sorry for myself and I was just… too busy, and I didn’t pay him enough attention …”

“Rue, you were a good hostling to Abrimel. Everyone knows that. Not even the Hegemony ever denied it.”

“If I had been such a good hostling, then he wouldn’t have….” Rue’s voice was angry, but there was something else underneath it; a hint of anguish.

Cal shook his head firmly. “That wasn’t your fault. Maybe Bree didn’t have a perfect childhood, but he was an adult when he made his decision to do what he did. You weren’t to blame. You did your best for him. Which is more than I can say about Tyson.” he finished sourly.

“Tyson doesn’t resent what you did” Rue said softly, almost to himself

Silence descended upon the bright room.

How is it that things happen? Cal wondered. What actions do we take, what paths, what corners do we turn? When is it too late? Why can’t we take things back and do them again properly?

For the first time since he and Rue had lain together in the barley field, Cal experienced a feeling of guilt. The Tigrina’s current condition had not been announced to the general population of Immanion, for obvious reasons. Sitting at the table, in the warm sunshine, Cal saw very clearly two possible scenarios; He saw flags and bunting, celebrations, street parties, a sense of community and the heart of the city flourishing. Then he saw Immanion in mourning. Something irreplaceable lost. The city’s heart.

Make it the first of these. he thought fiercely. If there are any dehara listening, then I call on you to make it happen that way. It’s right that it should happen that way.

If there were any dehara listening, they did not make their presence known to Cal. The silence went unbroken.

You of all hara should know the pointlessness of appealing to an uncaring universe.

“I’m sorry,” he said suddenly. “I’m sorry I did this to you Rue, I should have considered things more carefully…”

“Well I’m not. And you didn’t do anything to me, I was part of the decision-making process too.” He looked thoughtful. “You know, for years, I ranted at Pell, saying that he had gotten me with pearl without me knowing… and maybe it was true that it was without my knowledge, but it wasn’t without my consent. I wanted it to happen. The same as I wanted it to happen with you. And so did you, so don’t lie!”

“I’m not saying I didn’t want it to happen, I just… I never wanted to put your life in danger. I should have known the risk.”

“There’s always risk. Life is risky. If something is worth having, then it’s worth risking everything for. And don’t give me any platitudes, Cal, because that’s always been how you’ve lived your life. You’ve never been one to take the safe option just because it’s safe, so allow me the same privilege!”

“I don’t seem to have much choice, do I?”

“No, you don’t”

The silence returned for a few seconds. Cal could hear a lazy drone from the garden as the bees went about their tireless business of collecting pollen from the flowers. Already the sun was starting to climb high. Soon it would become uncomfortably warm in the bright room, and they would have to retire to a shadier spot, perhaps under the heavy branches of the ornamental tree out in the garden; sitting on the velvet grass, kept green and lush by the attentions of Phaonica’s gardeners, and not Caeru’s tiny watering can.

“Cal? Will you promise me something?”

“What is it?”

“If it comes to it… If it’s a choice between me or the pearl… Promise me you will make them save the pearl.”

“Rue! What are you saying? I can’t possibly promise you that!”

“Yes you can. It’s very simple. It’s what I want. It’s my choice, and it’s my decision to make.”

“Rue…”

“Promise me Cal. Look me in the eye and promise me.”

“I…” Cal ran his fingers through his hair helplessly. He felt trapped. He knew nothing he could say would change Rue’s mind.

“Very well,” he sighed. He looked straight into his consort’s gaze. “I promise you.”

Rue gave a soft smile. “Thank you” he said.

Cal took Rue’s hand and squeezed it tightly.

Still as glib a liar as ever, Cal, he thought to himself bitterly, even after all these years

***

To everyone’s surprise, the next few weeks passed uneventfully enough. The Tigrina’s public duties were cancelled, and an assortment of creative stories circulated by way of explanation. Pellaz found himself busier than ever, for which he was grateful since it stopped him brooding on things.

The ripe golden grain in the fields around Immanion was harvested. Reaptide was celebrated with fairs and markets. In the warm evenings, after darkness had fallen, dances were held in the open air, the busy public squares of the city transformed by coloured lights and decorations into magical spaces where hara could meet with friends and laugh and share breath and enjoy all the heady delights of summer, even as it prepared to slip away from them.

High above the city, Phaonica seemed to hold its breath. The palace remained cool, even in the summer heat. Ornate fountains gushed in shaded inner courtyards, and the curling tendrils of vines and creepers daily insinuated themselves into yet more nooks and crannies, as if they were reclaiming the palace on behalf of the wild; softening its edges.

The Tigrina’s garden remained lush, but the verdant grass had grown a little more brittle – dry and brown at the edge where it grew up to the doorway into the bright morning room. The door itself was permanently open, and Pell realized as he stepped through that the invasive, blue-flowered plant had colonized it so successfully that it could no longer be shut. Come the autumn, servants would clear away the overgrown foliage and restore things to how they were supposed to be, but for now, no-one minded.

On the opposite side of the garden, Cal and Rue were sitting under the ornamental tree. Long, weeping branches of green hung down protectively. Pell stood for a moment and watched his consorts. They looked so right together. Golden, beautiful. Laughing. Pell could not remember the last time he himself had laughed. Such a simple, easy thing, and yet somehow it had escaped from him. One day he had looked away, and it had gone, and now he wasn’t at all sure how to entice it back.

I am the odd one out here, he thought wonderingly. Cal and Rue, though they were different in a lot of respects, had a similarity that drew them together, made it easy for them to be with each other. That intense, carefree love of life for its own sake.

Hardly surprising, he told himself, You chose them. Both of them. Mirror images of each other. That’s what attracted you to them. That light that burns in both of them. No wonder they fit together so well.

Where do I fit?

Cal looked up and saw him standing there. He waved a hand, inviting him over. Pell felt a warm rush of affection as he went over to join them. He knew he was fortunate to have the two of them.

Three of them. The unborn pearl was never far from Pell’s thoughts. He worried about Rue, about what would happen to him if his body could not take the strain. He worried about Cal, about how he would feel if anything happened to Rue. He wondered about the child. It didn’t seem real. He couldn’t imagine it. What would it be like? Golden and beautiful. Part of Rue and part of Cal. Not part of him. If he couldn’t love his own children, how would he deal with this one? Assuming it even survived to be born.

“Where have you been?” Cal grinned happily and squirmed over a few inches to make room for Pell to sit down beside them.

“Hegemony Committee meeting”

Cal laughed at his morose expression.

“The Good Chancellor does like to dot i’s and cross t’s”

“The Good Chancellor could talk from here till Shadetide about rules and regulations!”

“I think he’s quite sweet.” Rue said coquettishly, and Cal laughed again. Pell tried to imagine any possible set of circumstances in which the stern Chancellor Tharmifex could ever be described as “sweet”, and failed utterly. Obviously he did not possess Rue’s vivid imagination.

Rue got to his feet, a little stiffly.

“I have to… um… you know…”

Cal looked shocked. “The Tigrina of Immanion doesn’t…. you know. In fact, none of us do. We’re far too important!”

Rue slapped him affectionately on the top of his head, ruffling his short blonde hair.

“Idiot.” He padded off barefoot across the grass toward the palace.

“What?” enquired Cal innocently, in response to Pell’s look. He gave a slow grin.
“You need to lighten up a bit, Tigron. You take this ruling business too seriously”

“Perhaps – but if I didn’t, who would?”

“There’s more to life than being Tigron.”

“Such as?”

“Pell, I can’t believe you said that, but since you’re obviously in one of your moods today, I will dignify it with an answer. Me. Us. Our family. Our interesting, extended family. Our soon-to-be-even-more-extended family.”

“Are you sure about that?”

Cal looked at his consort carefully. “Pell, what is eating you?”

“Do I really have to spell it out? The happy event you allude to has a high probability of not turning out at all happily.”

“I know,” Cal’s voice was quieter than usual. “But suppose it does. What then?”

“What do you mean?”

“What do you really feel about this child?”

“I….” Pell found that he had no answer to Cal’s question. Or not one he was prepared to voice.

Cal plucked a small blade of grass from the well-trimmed lawn and played with it between his fingers. “Rue sees it as some sort of second or third chance. He thinks he failed his other children.”

“That’s not true. He was a good hostling to Abrimel, and it was hardly his fault that he couldn’t be there for Darquiel when he was growing up. If anyone failed…”

Cal’s violet eyes were full of compassion as Pell swallowed hard before continuing.

“If anyone failed it was me. That’s the truth. I ruined Abrimel’s life. I didn’t exactly go out of my way to be a doting hostling to Loki. If he hadn’t had you, he’d have probably ended up like Bree.”

“You’re doing alright with Darq.” Cal put his hand on top of Pell’s and stroked it encouragingly.

“Darquiel was an adult by the time he got here, so I didn’t have the opportunity to destroy his childhood. I’m sure I could have messed him up too if I’d tried.”

“Pell…”

“Let’s face it, Cal; I’m not good with children. I’m not a good father or a good hostling.”

“Neither was I, but I learned.”

“Well obviously I’m not as brilliant as you!”

Cal flopped back on the grass and stared up at the green, hanging branches above.

“Perhaps you have another chance now too. Perhaps we all do.” he dug his fingernails into the dry soil under the grass. “You can’t undo the past, but sometimes you can make up for it.”

“Children should be wanted for themselves, not as some sort of vehicle for their parents’ redemption.” Pell said bleakly.

“Now you’re getting it.”

Pell just shook his head and drew his knees up under his chin.

“It’s not even my child.” He spoke to the grass.

“You think that makes a difference?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything!”

There was a long pause. The garden seemed unnaturally silent. No bees buzzed – it was late in the afternoon, and the heat hung heavy and immovable in the air. Already the shadows were elongating, and in another hour or so the palace would awaken from its stupor and begin preparing for the evening meals. For the moment, neither insects nor hara showed any inclination to move.

“I wonder what’s keeping Rue,” Cal’s voice seemed somehow too loud, breaking the spell of silence.

Pell looked up at him with darkened eyes. “Perhaps we should go and check on him…”

With uncanny unity, the two stood up simultaneously. They made their way back indoors, expecting to meet Caeru on his return, but he was nowhere to be seen. They passed through the morning room, now mostly in shadow, and through into the main hall of the Tigrina’s apartments.

“Bathroom?” Cal jerked his head in the direction of the Tigrina’s private rooms.

Pell hesitated for a second, then followed Cal.

The Tigrina’s private bathroom was tiled in pale green marble. Gold fittings and ornaments gleamed in the subdued, almost aquatic light within which came from a glass dome in the high ceiling. Pell searched the room with his eyes and with his inner senses. He knew Caeru was there, he could feel him even if he couldn’t see him. Then, in the far corner of the room, he caught sight of what appeared to be a small heap of garments, and his heart contracted.

He and Cal both rushed over hurriedly. The Tigrina was lying worryingly still on the hard marble floor. Both his skin and his pale clothing looked greenish in the strange light, but the dark, growing stain oozing ominously over the tiles was obviously red. Blood. Too much blood.

Pell bent down and grasped Caeru’s wrist. He could feel the pulse, too fast, too thready. Rue’s eyes fluttered open, and he tried to speak.

“Hush. . It’s alright.”

“Pell…”

Pell picked him up bodily and carried him through to the bedroom. He could feel the blood soaking through Rue’s clothing; hot and sticky. He left a trail of it behind him across the bedroom floor as he carried Caeru. Cal had already left to fetch help as soon as he had seen what the situation was.

Pell laid Rue carefully down on the bed. His arms and hands were stained red, and he wiped them on his own clothing to try to clean himself, but all he achieved was to make himself even more blood-covered.

He put his hands on Rue’s chest and directed energy into him. If he concentrated, he could visualize the inside of Rue’s body. The half-grown pearl, too large now for its confined space, and the damaged, scarred tissue which had given way, ripping open blood vessels and arteries. Pell tried to focus on sealing these, but it seemed that when he did so, the blood simply found another escape route. He managed to slow the loss, but not stop it completely.

Rue was still conscious – Pell’s efforts had stabilised his blood pressure enough for that. His large blue eyes were full of fear, and some other emotion that Pell couldn’t read. Pell spoke to him gently, knowing that it was vital for him to stay calm and focused.

“It’s okay Rue, just relax, everything will be fine. Dr Sheeva will be here in a minute.”

Rue shook his head, with difficulty.

“Pell,” he whispered urgently “I want you to promise me something. If I die…”

“You’re not going to die!” Pell heard the alarm in his own voice, and strove to contain it.

Rue ignored his protest. “If I die, I want you to promise that you will look after the child. Be his hostling. Love him. He needs someone who will love him… you and Cal. Promise me, Pell.”

“I promise,” he said, much too quickly,

Does a promise count if you know you can’t keep it, even as you make it?

Rue didn’t seem to notice, he only heard the words, and gave a weak smile as he slipped into unconsciousness.

A commotion at the door announced the arrival of Cal and Dr Sheeva. The Doctor looked grave, but resigned, as if he had been expecting this.

“We have to make a decision – now.” he announced.

“What do you mean?” Pell looked up from the bloodstained bed.

“We must remove the pearl from the Tigrina’s body if he is to survive.”

“Can the pearl survive?”

Doctor Sheeva did not answer at first. He sighed deeply.

“I do not know” he said eventually. “It may just be old enough to survive outside the Tigrina’s body. If it had spent just a few days more maturing, then it would have had a much better chance. I think it would take a miracle for it to survive at this stage.”

“What if we put off removing the pearl for another few days? Can Rue hold out that long? We have enormous medical and healing skills available to us in Immanion. Can we keep him alive? “

The Doctor closed his eyes, as if in pain. “Tiahaar… I simply do not know. Life is uncertain. All I know is that we need to make a decision now. Has the Tigrina himself expressed any wishes as to what he would want in this situation?”

“No. At least, not to me.”

“In that case, the decision as to the fate of the pearl must rest with the father”

Both of them looked at Cal.

Cal stared down at the unmoving, bloodstained body on the bed. The Tigrina’s face was pale, his breathing shallow. He did not look as if he would survive another two hours, let alone another two days.

“Tiahaar…” The doctor implored him. “There is little time. Please think about this carefully.”

Cal said nothing. He walked over to the window and stared out. A cloud had temporarily occluded the sun, casting shadow over the streets of Immanion. Out at sea, however, the light still reflected as brightly as ever off the iridescent blue. On the horizon, Cal could just make out a dark, ominous shape. A storm was coming, blown in on unseasonable winds. Perhaps a summer squall, perhaps the first harbinger of an early autumn.

Cal was so deeply engrossed in his own thoughts that he was surprised when Pell’s hand fell on his shoulder. He looked at it with surprise, as if wondering why it was stained with blood.

“I asked the Dehara for help,” he said, matter-of-factly, “but they don’t seem to be in a cooperative mood lately. Where are you Gods now, Pellaz? Hmm?”

“Cal…”

“Don’t. It won’t help.”

Together they stood in silence, communicating only by thoughts. After a while, they turned and approached the Doctor together.

“You have decided?” he asked

“Yes, we have.”

“I see. Then that is what we will do. So be it.”

***

The fields of barley around Immanion are already showing gold. In three days time it will be Cuttingtide. The longest day. The sun will be at its strongest, and yet this is the very moment when its long decline begins, as it starts it’s circular, never-ending journey to winter, and back to summer again.

The rhythm of the seasons is a constant in all our lives. There are summers when we are children, summers when we are grown, summers when we are old, and just as assuredly there will be summers when we are gone. And there will be winters too.

To Cal, it did not seem like a year since he had last trodden these fields.

Years pass more quickly, the older one gets, he thought, philosophically. And yet this year past had been so achingly slow at times, and so urgently hurried at others that it barely seemed real when he tried to recall it.

He turned and called to his companion, who was lagging behind him.

“Come on slowcoach. Hurry it up a bit!”

“It’s all very well for you!” Pell called back. “You try carrying him for a bit!”

Pell hitched the harling up on his hip and readjusted the child’s position.

Cal spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “You know he prefers it if you carry him. He loves his Pelly!”

Pell just laughed. As if to prove Cal’s point, the golden-haired harling put his arms around Pell’s neck and kissed him delightedly three times. Pell kissed him back, and then hugged him tightly.

Cal waited until the two of them caught up with him, Pell slightly out of breath. The small child smiled angelically at him, but refused to let go his grip on Pell’s neck.

“We’re going to have a party in three days time” Pell informed the child, wiping away a smutty mark from his cheek with his thumb.”

“Party!” the harling giggled. “What for?”

“Cuttingtide. It’s when we thank the Dehara for giving us summer.”

“What’s a Dehara?”

“A Dehar,” Pell corrected him “is a God. A Wraeththu God.”

“Are they nice?”

“Of course they are! Well – mostly. They do lots of things for Wraeththu.” Pell looked Cal directly in the eye. “They can even work miracles, if you ask them nicely. Can’t they, Cal?”

Cal made a face. “Yes dear. Whatever you say. Speaking of which – look who’s here. Go and say hello to your hostling, Rolly…”

The harling squealed and jumped down from Pell’s arms. He did a little dance, twirling to some music he could hear in his own head, then he ran laughing through the ripe barley towards the har with long golden hair who held out his arms, caught him, and lifted him up, laughing as the sun shone down upon them all.

Illustration by Forest Dream
Even the Longest Day
by Forest Dream

The End

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3 Comments

  1. Kimera said,

    April 16, 2008 at 4:08 am

    I was so moved by it, I was brought to tears. Don’t know why, I guess because I expected Rue to die. It was just a beautiful story and well…reading the books I sort of thought about it if Rue would have another child to sort of put a balm against his hurts.

    This was beautifully written.

    The ending was brilliant. Thank you so much for writing it.

    It makes me think about sacrifices.

    I normally do not reply to fanfics when I read them occasionally but I had to for this one.

  2. Twyla said,

    May 4, 2008 at 8:45 am

    Thank you for witing such a beautiful story.
    I adore ir. Thanks for keeping Rue alive and happy having a healthy baby/ 🙂
    Hugs

  3. Nivell said,

    November 16, 2009 at 4:17 am

    Beautiful. Everything about this was beautiful and heartfelt. I think I cried most at the scene where Caeru was holding up Abrimel’s baby clothes. So touching. I had to read this twice.


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