Part 4 (last) of the Fairy Tale Endings series. Part 3 was Changes.
Author’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web page: http://www.paranoid.nl/avalon
Main pairing: Ashmael/Silver (OMC)
Side pairings: Velaxis/Caeru, Vaysh/Phade, Pellaz/Cal and Cobweb/Snake
Summary: Ashmael tries to focus on his own recovery, but when a young and damaged har arrives, he finds it impossible not to get involved.
Disclaimer: Not mine. No copyright infringement is intended. All characters belong to Storm Constantine.
Warning: AU of course.
Spoiler warning: Set after book 6.
Beta read by DA, thanks sweetie!
All remaining mistakes are mine.
Cobweb’s nervousness showed clearly and Ashmael knew the reason why the other har was so upset. The skies had darkened with the ethereal lightning which announced the arrival of sedim. It must be Paran escorting Silver as promised.
Ashmael had decided not to get involved where the young har was concerned since he didn’t trust his reactions yet. At times, he still was in emotional turmoil and that made him the wrong har to be around Silver. Ashmael watched from the side as Cobweb and Snake walked toward the road that led to the house. Cobweb was fidgeting, but Snake seemed calm and in control of his emotions. Snake took Cobweb’s hand in his and lent his chesnari the strength he needed for the upcoming confrontation.
Cobweb tried to catch a glimpse of the har seated on the sedu in front of Paran, but he was wrapped up in a black traveling cloak to keep out the cold that attacked the travelers using the Otherlanes. This was it then. One of Terzian’s sons had found his way to Forever. Snake squeezed his fingers encouragingly and Cobweb drew in a deep, steadying breath.
Paran brushed off the ice that had formed on his clothes and sought out Cobweb’s gaze. He hadn’t been certain Cobweb would be interested in finding out that he had located one of the missing pearls, so when he had sent that message he had distantly thought that he might not get an answer. To his relief, Cobweb had replied almost instantly in offering the young har a home. Paran knew that a rocky road lay ahead of Cobweb, Snake, and Silver since the young har struggled with several issues which wouldn’t be solved in a day.
The har in his arms was motionless and fear poured from him in waves. “We have arrived,” he said. “Just one more minute and I will help you down.” He still had to inform Cobweb and Snake of the most recent discovery he had made where Silver was concerned.
Cobweb moved forward and Snake followed at once. They continued to hold hands and Cobweb felt grateful for Snake’s unconditional support in this dark hour. “Paran, we expected you a few days ago!”
“There were complications,” Paran replied and dismounted the sedu. His hands snaked around Silver’s waist and he placed the younger har on his feet. The traveling cloak which was frozen with ice moved and revealed the har’s face, causing Paran, Snake, and Cobweb to suck in their breath. Ashmael moved closer since he felt shocked as well as intrigued.
The young har was of the same height as Cobweb, but the comparison ended there. Straight, silver-blond hair descended down the back and reached past the buttocks. It was wavy, indicating that until recently some of it might have braided. His figure was willowy and Cobweb was afraid that once they got him out of the clothes, he would see bones sticking out. Hands with long and elegant fingers clutched the frozen cloak close to his chest and Cobweb’s heart went out to the younger har. Cobweb forced himself to look Silver in the eye and that was when his heart stopped for a precious moment. The features weren’t Terzian’s, which had been Cobweb’s greatest fear. It was the eyes that made him sway on his feet.
Ashmael, standing some distance away, swallowed hard at seeing the blackness that filled the har’s eye sockets. What had taken away Silver’s eyesight?
“That is the biggest complication I encountered,” Paran explained as he kept a tight hold on Silver’s right arm. “He is blind. Nothing that can’t be cured during Grissecon, but for some reason no one ever bothered doing so.”
Cobweb shivered and his chest heaved with emotion. “Thank you for bringing him here.”
Paran nodded his head. He felt pity towards the injured har as well. “Maybe we should go inside so he can lie down. The journey has drained him.”
Throughout the years, Silver had gotten used to hearing hara talk about him like he wasn’t present and it never occurred to him to inquire where he was or why he had been taken there. He was still trying to deal with the things that had happened the last few days.
“Of course,” Cobweb answered quickly. “I am a bad host not attending to your needs, Silver.” Silver’s head moved minutely as if he was trying to determine what direction the voice was coming from. Cobweb took a step closer to Silver and then said, “My name is Cobweb and I am a friend. There is another har present and his name is Snake. He is my chesnari.”
Taking in the information, Silver nodded weakly. He wondered if they were his new owners. For a while he had thought Paran was, but then the har had told him that he would be living in a place called Forever so he had surmised that he wasn’t going to stay with the officer.
Cobweb felt shaken as he watched Silver cock his head as if to figure out what was expected of him. He had known re-socializing Silver might be a challenge, but he had never thought he would be taking in a har who was blind and damaged in so many ways. “Allow me to guide you into the house.” He carefully twined his fingers around Silver’s and distinctly noticed the violent tremors that shook the other har’s body upon contact.
Silver allowed the touch – he always did. At a very young age he had learned that he didn’t really have a say in who was going to touch him and obediently walked next to Cobweb when the other har started guiding him toward the entrance of the house.
Seeing Ashmael standing near the doorway, Cobweb was touched to find sympathy in the blue eyes. Ashmael took a step inside since he had been blocking the doorway and watched them go inside. His gaze was glued to Silver’s back until the har went into one of the rooms and vanished from his sight. He then made his way over to Paran, who was talking to Snake. He decided to listen in.
“You might want to examine him before you put him to bed, Snake. His body is covered in cuts, burns, and bruises. Unfortunately we didn’t have a healer with us or we would have given him some healing. You also might want to look into the possibility of healing his eyes,” Paran informed Snake.
A displeased grunt rose from deep within Snake’s throat. “Did you find him like that or did your soldiers…?”
“My hara would never do such a thing,” Ashmael stated as he got involved in the conversation as well.
Paran inclined his head in agreement. “We found Silver like that. He was hiding in one of the rooms. He was huddled in a corner and staring at us with those black eyes.” Paran shivered in remembrance. “They had pierced his flesh and kept him chained to the bed. We managed to remove the chains, but we didn’t touch the piercings since we were afraid the wounds might get infected.”
Snake shivered in discomfort. “Cobweb and I will take care of it.”
“Do you have more information on him?” Ashmael asked.
“We made some inquiries. He must have been at that musenda for one, maybe two years. Before that he was one of Ponclast’s servants. I am not sure what was worse: being near Ponclast’s vile nature or being held a prisoner in that musenda.”
“Do you know how he lost his eyesight?” Ashmael inquired.
Paran shook his head. “I don’t. I tried to find out, but Silver isn’t very talkative. He has been conditioned to be quiet instead. It will take time to gain his trust.” Paran sighed. “He spoke a few words, mostly after I asked him questions directly, but he seemed very afraid to speak at all. If it hadn’t been for the number tattooed on his neck I would never have found out his identity. I was surprised to find him in such a condition. I thought that they would make warriors out of the pearls Terzian fathered.”
“Maybe it didn’t matter to them who the father was,” Ashmael whispered and his gaze was drawn back to the house.
The other har shuffled his feet. “I am sorry but I can’t stay. We found more hara who need attention and I am trying to link them to their fathers and hostlings in the hope they will take them in. These hara need their family.”
“We won’t keep you any longer,” Snake said. He gave Paran a thankful look. “You are always welcome to visit to check up on Silver.”
“Thank you,” Paran replied as he made his way over to his sedu. “I might just do that.” He mounted the sedu and turned it around. For a second the earth shook and then they were gone.
Ashmael turned toward Snake. “We should join Cobweb.”
Snake nodded and fixed Ashmael with a searching gaze. Was Ashmael emotionally stable enough to be near Silver? Ashmael sensed the probing of his mind and allowed it, realizing Snake must have a good reason for doing so. He didn’t know what Snake found, but in the end, the other har nodded his head and gestured for him to follow.
Silver listened closely, trying to find out where he was and what was going to happen to him. He didn’t hear voices screaming as he had in the musenda. He didn’t sense anything evil close to him and that confused him even more. He had lived with evil surrounding him most of his life.
“Please sit down. Your room will be ready in a moment.” The room was in fact already prepared, but Cobweb wanted a moment to get to know Silver. “You are among friends here.” Cobweb guided Silver to a couch and helped him sit down. The empty look in the dark sockets made him shiver and served to remind him that this har needed him. “Do you know where you are?” He was tempted to take the traveling cloak away from Silver so he could wrap the young har in something warm instead, but the way Silver was clutching the fabric showed that it wouldn’t be easy to get the cloak away from him.
Silver slowly shook his head. Paran had mentioned the name of the place to him, but he had forgotten about it. He sat painfully straight as he had been taught and wished he knew what these hara had in store for him. The fact that he didn’t sense any evil intentions from this har called Cobweb didn’t reassure him.
“My home is called Forever. It is your home now too.” Silver frowned and seemed confused, but Cobweb didn’t elaborate. His priority was to get the younger har in a comfortable bed so he could rest. “You will stay with me, Snake, and a friend of ours called Ashmael.” Cobweb didn’t bother introducing his staff to Silver yet, feeling certain that the younger har would forget the names should he be fed too many.
Silver tried to memorize the names, but he didn’t feel well in general. He was tired and hurt and desperately wanted to curl up in a corner and go to sleep. He flinched when Cobweb’s fingers touched his temple and started to move away from the touch, but then froze on the spot, remembering the assortment of punishments Cobweb could choose from in case he didn’t obey. He didn’t want to give this har a reason to use any of them on him.
A sad look spread across Cobweb’s face as he encountered that particular thought in Silver’s mind. “I am not going to hurt you,” he stated, but knew that Silver didn’t believe him yet any way. At that moment Snake and Ashmael entered the room and Cobweb looked to his chesnari for guidance.
Snake recalled Paran’s words and shared the information with Cobweb in mind touch. /We need to check on his injuries./ He hoped Silver would let them.
“We shall take you to your room so you can rest,” Cobweb announced and went to help Silver up from the couch when the younger har swayed and threatened to collapse. Ashmael was faster than Cobweb and caught Silver in his arms. Resolutely he lifted Silver and cradled him against his chest. Cobweb nodded approvingly and touched Silver’s brow with his fingertips. “He has fainted, which is most fortunate since we still have to treat his injuries.”
“Show me where to take him,” Ashmael requested. Snake led the way and Ashmael concentrated on holding Silver close. “He hardly weighs anything.”
“So I surmised,” Cobweb commented in frustration. “They might have been starving him.”
“In times of war food goes to the soldiers,” Ashmael replied emotionlessly. “And the weak often pay the price.” They reached Silver’s room which, to Ashmael’s surprise, was located next to his.
“Put him on the bed and stand back.” Snake had already fetched a bowl with water, a washcloth, and some clean clothes for Silver. “Cobweb and I might need to give him healing.”
Ashmael placed Silver on the bed and then stood close to the wall. He watched each of their moves with interest though.
Cobweb seated himself on the bed and pried away the traveling cloak. Beneath it, Silver wore blue robes made of thin transparent fabrics. “Let’s remove those.” Snake assisted him and they dropped the dirty robes onto the floor. All three hara gasped in shock when they took in the amount of damage done to Silver’s body. Snake even growled angrily and had to turn away to compose himself. Ashmael swallowed hard and was glad Paran had found Silver.
Cobweb’s jaw set firmly and he started to remove the silver piercings. The nipples had been pierced and it hadn’t been done sanitarily. Blood and dirt clung to the silver rings and the unconscious har moaned pitifully when Cobweb carefully removed them. “I want to hurt someone for the things they did to him.”
Cobweb’s words startled Snake briefly, who knew his chesnari was a forgiving and loving har. But he had to agree. He wanted to hurt someone too. “Let’s do what we can for him.”
Ashmael’s hands became fists and he wanted to smash something, but for their sake, he controlled that urge and watched.
Next was the piercing that had been forced through Silver’s nostril and once they had done away with that, they focused on the silver collar that was squeezing Silver’s throat. The young har must have worn it for a long time for an imprint had already formed on the skin. With disdain Cobweb flung the collar onto the bed. “What else did they do to him? They kept him like an animal!”
Snake, seated on Silver’s right, gently took the har’s hand in his and managed to remove the wrist restraint. Beneath the metal, the skin looked angry and infected. While Snake removed the ankle restraints, Cobweb started to heal Silver. Snake quickly lost count of the burns, cuts, and bruises that marred the young har’s body. All the while his anger kept building and, in the end, he had to step outside the room to compose himself.
Cobweb gestured for Ashmael to take the place Snake had vacated. “Try to clean him up as best as you can. We will wash his hair another time. I don’t want him to wake up at this stage.”
Ashmael wetted the washcloth and removed the dirt and blood from Silver’s body. Even in sleep, Silver remained tense. “And I thought I was a mess,” he commented dryly.
Cobweb felt relieved once they had removed all the offending metal from Silver’s body. The collar and restraints were gone and he shivered at the way the Varrs must have kept Silver chained to whatever place they desired. “Just when I think I saw the depths we descended too, I see something that shocks me even more. There must have been more hara like him in that musenda.”
“Paran will take care of them. They will find good homes with hara who care about them.” Ashmael watched how the water in the bowl took on a red tint. “He is fortunate to have you, Cobweb.”
Swallowing convulsively, Cobweb knew he had given Silver as much healing as he felt was safe. He didn’t want to jolt the younger har’s system awake at this point. He would give Silver more healing once he was awake. “We should let him sleep,” he said once Ashmael had finished cleaning Silver up. He pulled up the blanket and covered the naked har with it. “I still see his damaged eyes even when they are closed. Why did nohar heal that injury?”
Ashmael hated himself for saying it, but he still did. “It might have been their doing, Cobweb. It is easier to subdue a blind har than one who can see.”
Cobweb trembled violently. “It is a pity that I can’t hurt Ponclast for what he did to Silver.”
Ashmael placed his hand on top of Cobweb’s. “Focus on healing him, Cobweb.”
Cobweb managed a smile. “You are a quick study, Ash.”
“I have an excellent teacher.” Ashmael rose from the bed. He put the bowl of dirty water onto a tray and then stepped into the corridor where he found Snake, who had composed himself. “We should let him sleep.”
Snake nodded. “But someone should stay with him at all times.”
“I will sit with him first,” Cobweb offered before anyone else could speak. “You can relieve me in a few hours, Snake. You might need to give him more healing at that point.”
“I want to help too,” Ashmael declared in a firm tone that left little room to negotiate.
“You can relieve Snake,” Cobweb replied, wanting Ashmael to help because it might further his recovery.
Pleased, Ashmael nodded since he had been included as well.
Silver’s dreams were restless. He hadn’t always been blind and remembered the way things used to look in the world. That was why his tormentors had faces – ugly faces. He released a scream and jolted upright. He extended his arms to fight off his assailants, but once he was more aware he realized that there weren’t any. He wasn’t alone in the room exactly as he sensed somehar’s presence, but the har didn’t feel evil to him.
“You had a nightmare,” Cobweb said and reached for the glass of water which Snake had left on the nightstand. “Maybe some water will refresh you.” He didn’t want to address the nightmare since Silver was in such a state, but now he knew how Silver had lost his eyesight. Somehar had kept him down and burned the retina with a hot poker. That thought alone was enough to make Cobweb scream for his chesnari’s comforting presence. Snake would arrive shortly and in the mean time it was up to a very upset Cobweb to calm an even more upset Silver.
Silver had no idea where he was and turned his head toward Cobweb, zeroing in on the direction the voice had come from. The other har took hold of his hand and curled his fingers around something.
“Sip some water. It might calm you down.” What was taking Snake? Cobweb needed him!
Silver obediently sipped and then drew in a deep breath. He hated having nightmares. Listening closely, he heard the other har’s heart beating rapidly. Why was his owner upset? Was it because he had screamed?
Cobweb placed the glass back onto the nightstand, but didn’t let go of Silver’s hand yet. “I am not your new owner. I am a friend and your host, but not your owner.”
Snake appeared in the doorway and quickly covered the distance between his chesnari and himself. Cobweb had shown him in mind touch what had upset him and the terrible images still burned in Snake’s mind as well. He pulled up a chair and sat down close to Cobweb.
Silver felt confused when another har joined them. He thought he had smelled the har before when he had been delivered to this place, but had forgotten what name went with it.
“I am Snake.” Snake tried to calm Cobweb and to establish some sort of contact with Silver at the same time. “Cobweb and I are healers. You are here because you are injured. Do you remember arriving at Forever?”
Silver nodded slowly. The officer that had treated him kindly had brought him to this place – to Forever. Growing aware that something was different, his hand went to his throat and discovered that the slave collar was gone. He had worn the constricting collar for four years and for it to be gone was strange. He had forgotten what it felt like to be free.
Snake and Cobweb patiently waited while Silver touched his wrists and then his ankles. It didn’t matter that the blanket kept him from touching bare skin, Silver understood the restraints had been removed. “Why?” he asked, unable to remain silent any longer. None of this made sense.
Cobweb sighed with relief at hearing Silver’s voice for the first time. He had been afraid that Silver was a mute or had been so indoctrinated that he would never speak again. “Because you are no longer a slave. You are free.”
Silver knew the meaning of those words, but had trouble connecting them to his person. Suddenly the excitement became too much and he sank down onto the pillows again, staring blindly at the ceiling. It then registered with him that he no longer felt sore. His body, while still weak and hurting in some places, no longer vibrated with pain. It was another novel experience for Silver.
“Your life has changed,” Cobweb stated, eager to show Silver that he was among friends. “Snake and I have taken you in and we will care for you. We have already started healing your body, but you will need more healing in time.” He was tempted to bring up the fact that they could also restore Silver’s lost eyesight, but he didn’t want to overwhelm the other har. Silver remained quiet, which worried Cobweb and he exchanged a look with Snake.
Snake however understood that Silver simply felt overwhelmed and was lost in his sensations. His body wasn’t aching so badly and the metal restraints had been removed. Silver needed a moment to accept those things. He shared that information with Cobweb in mind touch and they patiently waited for Silver to compose himself.
Almost thirty minutes passed by before Silver stirred again. His stomach growled and Silver’s features contorted.
“When was the last time you ate?” Cobweb inquired and gestured for Snake to fetch something light from the kitchen.
“I don’t remember,” Silver murmured. He really didn’t. Paran had given him some food but he didn’t know how long ago that had been.
“Snake will get you something to eat.” Cobweb nodded his head and his chesnari left for the kitchen. “We removed the piercings as well since they were done badly and had become infected.”
Silver shuddered and felt grateful that they had done so. “Thank you.” He had always hated them.
Cobweb wished the other har would ask him questions, but Silver continued to stare at the ceiling. “Paran found you in a musenda. How long did they keep you a prisoner there?”
“I lost track of time.” Silver tried to remember, but his memory wasn’t cooperating. “A year…maybe two?”
“Did they keep you locked up? Chained up?”
Silver nodded. It had amused them to keep him chained to a wall or a bed, knowing he would be in pain if he tried to move.
“They hurt you badly, didn’t they?” Cobweb cursed himself for stating the obvious. “Did they also subject you to pelki?” The tremors that shook Silver’s body told him everything he needed to know. “They did.”
Silver turned away from him and rolled onto his side. He brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. He closed his eyes and wept silently.
Cobweb wanted to comfort Silver, but wasn’t sure his touch would be welcomed. He couldn’t just sit there and watch the younger har fall to pieces. He exchanged his chair for the side of the bed and raised his hand. “I am going to stroke your hair… I don’t mean you any harm. I just want to comfort you.” He thought it best to tell Silver what he was going to do since he didn’t want to startle the already distressed har.
Silver didn’t react. He was much too used to letting anyhar do as they pleased, but once Cobweb’s fingers stroked his hair he had to admit it felt nice. Nohar had ever done that before.
Cobweb focused on sending Silver more healing and reassurance and the weeping stopped after several minutes. Simultaneously, Snake appeared in the doorway carrying a tray filled with food. Cobweb wasn’t so sure any more that Silver was able to handle the food.
Snake closed his eyes, centered himself, and then entered the room, which was full of tension and fear. “I brought you something to eat.” He placed the tray on the nightstand and waited for either Cobweb or Silver to react.
“Can you sit upright? You shouldn’t be in too much pain.” The healing he had just given Silver should have taken care of the last of the aches.
Silver nodded to show that he would try. With Cobweb’s help, he managed to sit up and reclined onto the pillows. He didn’t know why they were helping him or how long their kindness would last. He would just accept what was happening to him and deal with the consequences later. He was certain his good luck couldn’t last.
Cobweb lifted the bowl filled with soup from the tray and guided Silver’s hands around it. “Be careful. The soup is still hot.” He wanted Silver to feed himself since he didn’t want the young har to become dependant on him.
Snake flinched upon seeing that the imprints from the collar and restraints were still visible around Silver’s throat, wrists, and ankles. Hopefully they would fade in time.
Silver concentrated on sipping some of the vegetable soup. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had something warm to eat. It took him almost fifteen minutes to empty the bowl, but once he had finished it, he felt better.
“Can you manage some bread as well?” Snake had buttered a thick slice and had added honey to it.
“I will try.” Silver’s fingers found the slice of bread and brought the food to his lips. He ate slowly, still getting used to the idea that food was available to him. Once he had finished the bread as well, he felt exhausted again. The weeping, eating, and talking had drained him and his eyes began to close.
Cobweb noticed it. “Sleep some more.” He tucked the blanket firmly around Silver’s form and watched the eyes close. Once Silver was asleep again, his emotions got the better of him and he sobbed quietly. Snake took him into his arms and held him close.
“He will recover, Cobweb. Just give him time.”
Cobweb nodded meekly and desperately hoped that Snake was right.
Pleased, Cal watched Vaysh snuggle closer to Phade. Pellaz had invited Phade and Vaysh to dinner, which they had accepted. Cal had wondered why Pellaz hadn’t invited Caeru and Velaxis as well, but apparently the two hara were going clubbing. It seemed that they were very fond of a night club called ‘Damnation Angels’.
Pellaz was also watching Phade and Vaysh closely while reclining in a sea of pillows which had been heaped onto the sofa. He had invited them for a reason for he wanted to see how they were doing. These last few days he had backed off and let Phade take over. It warmed his heart to see Vaysh reach out to Phade trustingly and even press a kiss onto the dark-haired har’s wrist. He would never tire of watching Vaysh and was grateful for the change Velaxis had caused. “I am still trying to get used to you being a blond, Vaysh.”
Vaysh smiled coyly at the dark-haired Tigron. “That makes two of us. Each time I look into a mirror it seems like there is a different har staring back at me. I definitely need more time to get used to being blond again.”
Cal grinned and quipped, “Blonds have more fun!” Pellaz gave him a doubtful look, but Cal waved it away with a hand. “Maybe you should go blond for a change.” The horrified look Pellaz shot him made Cal burst out into merry laughter.
“Don’t even joke about that!” Pellaz ran his fingers through his ebony mane and glared at Cal. “Don’t even try to make me into a blond! My wrath would be terrible!”
“Protest noted,” Cal retorted, still grinning.
Vaysh loved hearing them banter. He remembered a time when Pellaz had been alone, depressed, and grieving because Cal had stepped out of his life. It was good to see them happy. Phade’s fingertips brushed his lips and he directed his attention back to his… To his what? Friend? Lover? Chesnari? Vaysh didn’t know what Phade was to him exactly. He only knew that he loved Phade and would greatly miss him should the other har ever leave his life.
Vaysh had been worried the last few days that Phade would leave Immanion and return to his tower. After all, he was in charge there, but Phade had assured him that he could stay for a longer period of time. It did leave Vaysh with a question though: what would he do should Phade be needed back at home? Go with him?
“Hey, remember the deal we made?” Phade fingered a blond lock. “You are not allowed to brood.”
Vaysh, ignoring the Tigrons’ presence, crawled onto Phade’s lap and wrapped his arms around the other har. “I already stopped brooding.”
“Good.” Phade heard Cal’s amused laughter and smiled. He knew exactly why Cal was laughing. Only a few weeks ago none of them could have imagined Vaysh straddling him with somehar else present. Phade stared deeply into Vaysh’s eyes and brought him in for a kiss before he shared breath with him. Like Vaysh, he quickly forgot about the Tigrons’ presence and lost himself in the intimacy.
Rue rotated his hips and thrust wantonly against Velaxis. They had taken to the dance floor and were doing their best to ignore the attention they were attracting. They had dressed up and had applied heavier make-up than they normally did to avoid being recognized, but the Tigrina’s features were too well known.
“I love this club! The music! The atmosphere! And I love you!” Caeru still remembered every detail of the aruna they had taken in the back room and a part of him wanted to repeat that experience, but he also knew that they wouldn’t get away with it this time around.
“I like it here too, though too many eyes are fastened upon us. We should leave shortly.” Velaxis was painfully aware of the envious looks he was attracting. The Tigrina was popular and many hara would love to take aruna with Caeru. “Maybe we should move this to your rooms.” Caeru however gave him a pleading look. “Okay, we will stay a little longer, but if one of them approaches or touches you we are out of here!” He was feeling possessive of Rue.
“Don’t worry about them,” Rue murmured into Velaxis’ ear. “You are the only har for me.” Especially since Velaxis was hosting his pearl. Caeru wrapped an arm around Velaxis’ waist, pulled him close, and then rubbed the skin below Velaxis’ too short shirt with his fingertips. “I can barely wait for you to drop our pearl. I want to see our harling hatch.”
Velaxis was more aware of the fact that hara were listening in. “You shouldn’t say that aloud. If they find out it will be in the tabloids tomorrow.”
“Do you think I care?” Caeru gave Velaxis a brilliant smile. “Everyhar can know as far as I am concerned. I fathered a pearl, Vel. I am going to have another son. I am going to be a father!”
Velaxis groaned. The few hara who hadn’t caught on yet had doubtlessly heard Caeru’s ecstatic declaration. It was only a matter of minutes before the rumor would start making its way through Immanion.
Silver kept his eyes closed although he was awake. His senses told him that he wasn’t alone in the room. A har was sitting close to the bed, but he could tell that it wasn’t Cobweb or Snake. He had memorized their spiritual imprints so he could recognize them. This was a different har.
Watching his charge, Ashmael tried to decide on a course of action. He knew that Silver was awake, but was still undecided if he should address the other har. Silver looked weak and the bruises were only fading slowly in spite of all the healing Cobweb and Snake had given Silver.
Silver was forced to move because he wasn’t comfortable on his side any longer and rolled onto his back. He realized that pretending to be asleep no longer worked and opened his eyes. A few years ago, he would have been able to look at the ceiling or take in the har seated close to the bed, but now his world was shrouded in darkness.
“My name is Ashmael. Cobweb asked me to sit with you while you slept. Do you need anything?” Ashmael shifted forward on his chair, trying to label the expression that appeared on Silver’s face. He hoped that Paran would find good homes for the other hara who had been prisoners at the musenda. “Do you want some tea?” he asked when Silver remained quiet.
Silver would have loved some hot tea, but in the past he had learned that everything came with a price and he shuddered at the thought of how he had to pay for their kindness.
Sucking in his breath, Ashmael forced himself to remain calm. Silver had no mental walls whatsoever and was broadcasting his thoughts. His tormentors had probably left Silver uneducated on purpose. They had most likely savored feeling Silver’s pain. Some bastards got off on that. “I will help you sit upright.”
But Silver moved faster and pushed himself into a sitting position. He rested his back against the headboard and waited for Ashmael to make his move.
Ashmael understood why Silver avoided contact, but also knew that the other har still needed help. “Here’s your tea.” He had poured a cup of the hot brew before placing the cup into Silver’s hands.
Silver warmed his hands on the cup and blew onto the surface. What was that smell?
“It is Saint John’s Wort,” Ashmael explained. “It might not taste great, but it should help you relax.” He reached for the plate of crackers and placed it on the bed. “Here are some crackers, if you are hungry. They should be easy on your stomach.” He placed one of Silver’s hands on the crackers so the other har knew where to find them.
“Thank you.” Silver curled his fingers around the hot cup and waited.
Ashmael knew what Silver was waiting for, but loathed addressing the matter. “I am a friend,” he said instead. “I will take care of you until Cobweb and Snake return.” Silver however didn’t trust him and Ashmael couldn’t blame him. “Can I ask you something personal?”
Silver nodded his head. Hara didn’t normally ask his permission to question him.
“Are you completely blind or can you still see some things?”
“I am blind.” Silver sipped and loved the way the tea warmed him from the inside. Although it wasn’t cold in the room he felt chilly.
“When did they…? When did it happen?” Maybe he was a coward, but Ashmael was afraid to be more specific.
“A few years ago.” Silver closed his eyes and sipped again.
“How did it happen?” Ashmael hoped his questions weren’t making Silver uncomfortable.
“They didn’t like the way I looked at them.” Silver flinched for he would never forget the pain he had endured when they had blinded him.
Ashmael wished Silver would be a bit more forthcoming with information, but the other har answered each question with as few words as possible. “I will be your eyes…” He didn’t know what exactly had made him say that except that it sounded like it was the only correct thing to say.
Silver was stunned to hear the other har say something like that. “Why would you want to be my eyes?”
“Because I want to.” Ashmael smiled even though Silver couldn’t see it. “Aren’t you hungry? You should eat some crackers.”
Silver absentmindedly took hold of a cracker and then munched on it. The silence that filled the room unnerved him. He wished Ashmael would say something!
Ashmael had caught that thought, but decided against playing along since he wanted Silver to talk to him instead. Maybe the other har’s need for conversation would make him speak up. His tactic worked and Silver unexpectedly spoke.
“What does Forever look like?” The younger har surprised himself when he actually remembered the name of the place. He was genuinely curious. Forever didn’t seem to be much like Fulminir.
“It is a sanctuary,” Ashmael replied while moving his chair closer to the bed. “It is a grand, old house and its lands stretch out for miles. Woods surround the house and there is even a pond. Cobweb has lived here for many years and then Snake moved in with his son, Moon.” Since Silver was listening intently, Ashmael continued after nudging the other har to sip the rest of the tea. “You remember Cobweb, don’t you?”
Silver nodded. “He was kind toward me.” It was true. Cobweb had tried to comfort him. “He is the first to…” Cobweb had been the first har touch him in kindness. If he concentrated really hard, he could still feel the long fingers move through his hair.
Ashmael saw the image in Silver’s mind and realized just how harsh the other har’s life had been. He wanted to distract him. “Cobweb is a fascinating har.” Realizing that Silver had no idea what Cobweb looked like, he started to describe him. “Cobweb is a beauty with long, raven hair and bewitching eyes. He is tall and slender though I would never call him weak. He has a son called Swift and he adopted another harling called Tyson. Cobweb is the master of Forever.”
Silver absorbed this information greedily and was curious enough to ask a question. “And what about Snake?”
“Snake is Cobweb’s chesnari. They met by chance some years ago. Snake was injured back then, but Cobweb found a way to heal him. They have been inseparable ever since. They are good for each other and they mean you well. They will never willingly hurt you. You are in the best of hands.”
Silver had forgotten about his tea and the crackers. His curiosity needed to be fed instead. “And what do you look like, Ashmael?”
Ashmael chuckled. “Why don’t you see for yourself?” He wasn’t pureborn and remembered how blind people in the past used to read a face.
Silver frowned, not understanding what Ashmael was hinting at. A moment later, Ashmael sat down on the bed and Silver stopped himself from crawling away from the other har at the last moment.
“Don’t be afraid. I just want to help you see.” Ashmael placed the tea cup which Silver had been holding on the nightstand and then guided the trembling hands towards his face. “I have blond hair,” he said and ran Silver’s fingers through his mane. “Some call me handsome, though I am not sure I would agree.” He placed Silver’s fingertips against his face and waited for the other har to catch on.
It was a strange occurrence for Silver to touch another har out of his own accord so it took him a moment to understand what Ashmael wanted him to do. Slowly, he felt his way around Ashmael’s face. “Do you live in Forever too?”
Ashmael shook his head and smiled when Silver’s fingertips brushed against his lips. “I hail from Immanion. Did you ever hear that name before?”
“I don’t think so…” Silver felt mesmerized by the texture of Ashmael’s soft lips beneath his sensitive fingertips. “I seldom listened when they talked.”
Taking one of Silver’s probing hands in his, Ashmael rubbed the fingers. “You should eat some more.”
Ashmael’s suggestion took Silver by surprise. It was a sudden change of subject. “The crackers?”
Ashmael placed another cracker in Silver’s hand and ordered, “Eat. I will pour more tea.”
Silver ate the cracker and then sipped more of the tea. He liked Cobweb and Snake and now he liked Ashmael too.
Loki shuffled his feet as he stood in the doorway. Pellaz was seated behind a large desk and had just dismissed the members of the Hegemony. Loki had learned early in life that he had to carefully time his visits.
Pellaz frowned upon sensing his son’s reluctance to make himself known and looked up from the report he had been reading. It was on the progress his forces were making in dismantling Ponclast’s stronghold. He had never thought that ridding himself of Ponclast’s legacy would take so long. “Don’t just stand there,” he said. “Come here.”
Drawing a deep breath, Loki felt like a harling again as he approached the desk. When he had still been little, he hadn’t seen his hostling seated behind the mahogany monster. “I hope I am not disturbing you?”
Pellaz shook his head and gestured for his son to sit down. Loki seated himself on a chair opposite his hostling and felt insignificant compared to Pellaz. Loki’s defenses were normally tightly in place, but for some reason, they were down and Pellaz was able to sense some of his son’s turmoil. Something had upset Loki.
“Can I ask you a question?” Loki shifted uncomfortably on the chair. He would have preferred to stand, but he seldom went against Pellaz’ wishes.
Nodding, Pellaz had a feeling he wouldn’t like the question Loki had for him.
“Do you hate me?” Seeing the deep frown on Pellaz’ face, Loki explained. “I am not the heir you always wanted. I was wondering if you hated hosting my pearl? Having me?”
Pellaz couldn’t believe he was hearing this. “Why would you think that?”
Loki moistened his lips and wrung his hands nervously. “Rue and Velaxis are thrilled to be having a harling, but for some reason I think you hated having me.”
“What makes you think that?” Pellaz wanted to get to the bottom of the matter.
Loki couldn’t believe he was actually telling his hostling his innermost thoughts. “You were always so distant when I was a harling. At times, I was afraid to approach you because…because you always seemed so angry with me.”
Drawing in a deep breath, Pellaz prayed for patience and calm. “Loki, you are my son. I love you.”
“Maybe now, but I don’t believe you loved me when I was young. I always went to Cal or Rue for hugs and kisses. I never got them from you. You always kept me at a distance, as if you despised me.”
Pellaz could no longer sit there and listen to Loki say such things. He rose from his chair and rounded his desk, stopping in front of Loki. He pulled his son to his feet and hugged him. “I am sorry that I was a bad hostling. I had personal problems. It was hard for me to look at you because you always reminded me of the fact that I had betrayed Cal by loving Galdra.”
Loki’s pulse quickened and he gasped at his hostling’s admission. “I only wanted you to hold me and do the silly things Cal did. But you would glare at me whenever I approached.”
Pellaz’ heart felt heavy as his mistakes came back to haunt him. “I know I wronged you, Loki, but I wasn’t angry with you. I hated myself at the time. I couldn’t forgive myself for falling for Galdra and that he had made me with pearl. Please, Loki… I do love you.” He hugged his son tighter, regretting all the times that he had turned Loki away or had sent him to Cal or Rue to be hugged. “I know I can never make amends, but maybe you will find it in your heart to forgive me one day.”
Loki pulled back so he could look his hostling in the eye. “Did you ever forgive yourself?”
The Tigron bowed his head and closed his eyes. “I did, thanks to Cal, but it took me years to understand that I’d had no choice in the matter. It was destiny that Galdra and I fell in love. Cal helped me accept that. I have much to thank him for.”
Loki hugged his hostling back. “I wanted to have this when I was a harling. Rue and Cal showered me with love, but you are my hostling. I wanted you to hug me or rock me when I was scared in the dark. I wanted you to cover my face with kisses. Rue did that, but… I wanted it to be you instead. I still want it to be you.”
Pellaz had to fight back his tears. Until that day, he hadn’t fully realized how much he had wronged Loki in the past. “I always tried to love you. It wasn’t your fault that I couldn’t reach out to you. I am sorry that I vented my anger at you.” Pellaz placed his hands on either side of Loki’s hand and looked his son in the eye. The words and actions might be years late, but he was determined to do this.
“I love you, Loki,” he said and pressed a kiss onto his son’s brow. “I always thought that the dehara had punished me by making me with pearl, but I didn’t realize the truth until I talked to Galdra one day.” Pellaz kissed first Loki’s right temple and then his left. His son’s eyes were filling with tears and he had to continue before they were both sobbing. “Galdra told me that you are our reward for defeating Ponclast. It took me a while to understand that. Galdra and I… We finally sorted things out and I am happy you sprang forth from our aruna.” Pellaz kissed the crown of his son’s head and then pulled him close.
Loki had never thought this would happen when he had sought out his hostling and the experience overwhelmed him. “I love you too, Pellaz. I always did. You are my hostling.”
Pellaz was determined to show Loki how precious his son was to him as long as he lived.
“How is he? Did he wake up while I was gone?” Cobweb advanced on the bed and looked questioningly at Ashmael, who was still keeping a vigil at the bed.
“We talked for a while. I told him who you are and what Forever is and I coaxed him into touching me. He did well.” Ashmael looked fondly at the sleeping har.
Cobweb studied Ashmael closely. He wondered about the affectionate expression on the other har’s face. “Snake and I discussed repairing Silver’s eye sight.”
“I was hoping you would. He suffers because he is blind. He told me that he only lost it a few years ago so he knows what our world looks like. It is harsh to keep him blind and in the dark like that.”
“Snake and I will hold our private Grissecon when the moon is full.” Taking aruna with Silver in order to heal him was out of the question. Silver was still too emotionally messed up for that. “Did he eat anything?”
“Some crackers.” Ashmael vacated his chair so Cobweb could take his place. “I am going for a walk and then I will get some sleep, but feel free to wake me if you need me to sit with him.” Ashmael didn’t want to leave, but knew he had to rest.
“I will remember your offer,” Cobweb promised and placed his hands on Silver’s chest above the blanket. It was time to give the younger har more healing.
“You seem troubled.” Cal’s fingers wandered down Pellaz’ shoulder and the Tigron frowned. Pellaz had been remarkably quiet during dinner and had remained silent even after they had taken off their clothes and climbed between the covers. “Are you going to tell me voluntarily or am I going to have to make you?”
Pellaz sighed, turned his face toward Cal, and raised a hand to touch the blond har’s face. “I had a run in with my past today and I didn’t particularly like it.”
Cal’s lips inched closer to Pellaz. “Share breath with me?” In that way Pellaz wouldn’t have to say the words aloud.
“I am not sure I want to. I feel ashamed.” Pellaz caressed Cal’s face and tried to avert his gaze. “I really messed up.”
“No, you didn’t. I am responsible for any messes you make. Let me see…” Cal leaned in closer and shared breath with a somewhat reluctant Pellaz. The lines on his brow deepened when he witnessed the conversation Pellaz had had with Loki. He released Pellaz’ lips and gave his chesnari a thoughtful look. “We all make mistakes, Pell.”
“Yes, but Loki got hurt because I couldn’t get my priorities straight.” Pellaz turned onto his side away from Cal.
Cal ran his fingertips along Pellaz’ upper arm. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. You were played too.” They hadn’t realized that until recently. “Certain forces wanted Galdra and you together and you… You always remained a bit too human, Pell. You cling to your so-called guilt when you don’t have to feel guilty at all.” He moved closer and wrapped his arms around Pellaz. “I know you love Loki. It is a pity that you weren’t able to show it at the time, but it wasn’t easy for you, having Galdra’s pearl. Once Loki is old enough to understand that, he will get it.”
“He is old enough, Cal. He gets it.” Pellaz lay his head down on Cal’s arm and pressed back against his chesnari. “He is right, Cal. I hated hosting.”
Cal laughed. “You hate hosting period. I don’t think it would have made a difference if you had been hosting my pearl instead. You turned into a real bitch.” Cal’s tactic worked as Pellaz smiled gingerly. “Want to find out? I can make you with pearl if you want?” He hoped Pellaz wouldn’t call his bluff, but he was fairly sure his chesnari would refuse. Pellaz wasn’t breeding stock material. He had really hated hosting.
“No!” Startled, Pellaz turned around in the embrace. “Never again!”
Cal giggled. “So if we are ever to have a son I will have to play hostling?” Pellaz settled in the embrace again and gave him a loving look. “Oh no,” he whispered as he saw the diabolical gleam in the dark eyes. “I am not hosting…yet.”
“Didn’t you offer just now?” Pellaz enjoyed playing along, but then took pity on Cal. “Don’t worry. I have no desire to father another pearl.” He didn’t want another unfortunate har being forced into their family.
Cal buried his fingers in Pellaz’ hair and then clawed the strands. “Pell, in the future, I might want another harling.”
“You are joking, right?” Pellaz was stunned. “But our sons… I don’t believe we are fit parents. Look at what happened to our sons!”
“Calm down.” Cal used the hold he had on Pellaz’ hair to pull his chesnari’s face closer. “What happened to Darq was most unfortunate and with Abrimel and Loki we made mistakes, but we learned from them and I am convinced we would do everything right if we had another harling.”
Pellaz looked horrified. “Cal, I am in no way ready for another harling.” He was just trying to recover from all the mistakes he had made where Loki was concerned!
“I said in the future, Pell. Not now.” Cal hadn’t thought discussing this would upset Pellaz so much, but it had probably everything to do with his timing. He shouldn’t have brought it up after Pellaz had had that conversation with Loki. “Don’t worry about it.” Cal had been in the mood for aruna before their conversation had started, but settled for holding Pellaz close and kissing his temple. He held his chesnari close throughout the night and guarded Pellaz’ sleep.
The next morning, Pellaz tried to eat breakfast while still suffering from a headache brought on by Cal telling him about wanting to host at some point. His stomach however didn’t exactly comply. He had never thought he would have heard Cal say that he wanted to host again someday!
“Here, you will love reading this.” Vaysh entered the breakfast room and dropped a tabloid onto Pellaz’ lap. “Guess who was overheard on their night out?” He sat down next to Pellaz and helped himself to a large breakfast. It had taken him some time to get used to the idea that Phade actually wanted him to put on some weight. So he had studied himself in front of the mirror and had agreed to add a few pounds, but only a few. To his surprise, Phade was a har who liked to hold onto something during aruna and that shouldn’t just be skin and bones.
An apprehensive feeling swept over Pellaz as he studied the cover of the tabloid.
‘Secret is out – Velaxis is hosting the Tigrina’s pearl!’ The subtitle was, ‘Can’t our Tigrons father their own pearls anymore? Read it all here!’
Pellaz groaned. This meant he had to make an official statement…or rather he would let Tharmifex make one. “It was only a matter of time before they would find out.” Pellaz grinned at seeing the accompanying picture. At least Rue and Velaxis had had a good time at the club. He dropped the tabloid onto the floor and then looked at Vaysh, who was eating his toast and eggs with relish. The formerly gaunt features were filling out nicely, adding round touches to Vaysh’s appearance. Pellaz liked it. “Please tell me that Phade and you aren’t thinking about hosting. One harling is enough.” Velaxis’ son would keep them busy if the harling took after his father and hostling.
Vaysh almost choked on his tea. “No, we are not.” He wiped his mouth, placed the knife onto the plate, and peeked at Pellaz. “Are you?”
Pellaz shook his head. “But apparently Cal is. His admission last night took me by surprise. Vaysh, he wants to host some day in the future.”
Vaysh smiled lovingly at Pellaz. “Why is that a bad idea?”
“I am not any good at raising harlings.” Pell’s dark mood reappeared. “I made too many mistakes.”
“Maybe the next time around you won’t make them.” Vaysh resumed eating breakfast. “Don’t worry all the time!”
Pellaz stared in Vaysh in disbelief. It was hard to believe that this was the same Vaysh who had been gloomy and distant for so many years.
Silver felt frustrated. So far all he had done was eat, sleep, and talk to these strange hara. Normally he would have long been set to work – whatever work they had for him. But these hara just wanted him to lie in bed and talk.
Snake sensed his charge’s unrest, but couldn’t do much about it. Although Silver’s body had started to heal, he didn’t want the blind har going about the house and hurting himself because he couldn’t see where he was going. Also, he reasoned that some rest would do Silver good after having been abused for years. But he could try to distract the young har. “Would you like to live here after you’ve made a full recovery? Cobweb and I would like for you to stay and I believe Ashmael as well would like for you to become a permanent resident here.” To his surprise, Snake noted that Silver had frozen during his little speech.
“And what must I do in return?” Beneath the blanket the young har ran his fingertips over his abused wrists. Although the restraints were gone, the flesh remembered the presence and the skin remained marred.
Snake carefully choose his words as he replied, “You can help the kitchen staff if you like. Or Cobweb with doing his bookkeeping. Or, if you desire so, I can help you become a healer.”
None of the things Snake mentioned were chores his former owners had wanted him to do. “What about other…methods of payment?”
Snake smiled saddened. He could tell from probing Silver’s mind that the other har still felt lost and intimidated, but Silver was starting to ask him questions. The other har no longer waited to be addressed and his replies and questions were more elaborate now. They were making progress. “No other payment will do.”
Silver felt confused and it showed on his face when he raised his head and tried to look at Snake. “May I speak freely?”
“Always!” Snake moved closer to the bed and claimed Silver’s hand. Silver no longer tried to pull the limb away and patiently endured the touch.
“When I was staying at the musenda the hara there made me take aruna with them.” He shivered in remembrance. “They didn’t care that I said no and you… Are you now telling me that nohar is going to force me in that way ever again? Or keep me chained and locked up? I find that hard to believe.”
Standing in the doorway, Cobweb inclined his head and listened to their conversation. He understood why Silver had a hard time believing that. During Silver’s sleep, Snake and he had ventured into the younger har’s mind and had seen brutal scenes. Ponclast himself had shown an interest in the harling when Silver hadn’t even reached feybraiha and being subjected to pelki at that young an age had scarred Silver.
“It is true,” Snake answered eventually. “We will never force you, except maybe to eat.” Silver’s black gaze made him uncomfortable and he looked questioningly at Cobweb.
Once Snake’s attention was no longer focused on him, Silver followed its direction and sensed Cobweb close by. During the time he had been there he had tried to find their hidden agenda, but he was beginning to understand that they didn’t have any. Accepting that fact was a different matter however.
Cobweb approached the bed and sat down on the edge while studying Silver. The blanket had dropped, revealing their charge’s chest. The skin there had finally recovered from the piercings and even the nipples had healed. Pleased, Cobweb smiled, but the smile faded again. The skin which had suffered due to the collar and restraints refused to bounce back. “In seven days the moon will be full.”
Silver blinked at that statement. What was he supposed to say to that?
“When the moon is full, aruna magic is at its strongest,” Cobweb explained. “Snake and I will hold a little private Grissecon.” Silver had never heard that word before and didn’t know what to make of it. Snake noticed this and added, “Grissecon is a way to work magic, Silver. We will use it to restore your eyesight.”
Silver gasped at that. “My eyesight? But they said…” They had told him that his eyesight was gone forever and that nohar could restore it!
“They lied,” Cobweb replied. “They lied to keep you down.” Seeing the shock on Silver’s face, Cobweb realized that the young har needed a moment to deal with the revelation. “Snake and I are convinced that we can restore your eyesight. You will be able to see again.”
Unexpectedly, the dam that had been keeping Silver’s emotions in check broke and tears left the burned eyes. “But…” He couldn’t believe them – couldn’t believe that they were actually giving him hope. He would love to be able to see again! His world had become so dark, so gloomy and unreliable after he had lost his eyesight!
Cobweb gathered Silver in a loose embrace and held the younger har while he wept. “I am sorry that we have to wait another week, but it is safest this way. Our magic will be strong then.”
“I will endure another week of darkness,” Silver muttered under his breath. He was still trying to accept that his life was about to change again. Not only had he found a home with these good hara, they were also going to give him his eyesight back!
“Loki?” Pellaz remained standing near the doorway until he was certain he wasn’t intruding. He had waited for Geb to leave so he could talk to his son in private. The conversation he’d had with Loki continued to distract him and he needed to speak to his son again.
Loki was surprised, but pleased that Pellaz was visiting him and hurried over to his hostling’s side. “Please come inside,” he said and pulled Pellaz toward the comfortable couch on which he and Geb had already spent many pleasurable hours. “I didn’t expect you to drop by.” They sat down and Loki looked at Pellaz in excitement.
Pellaz smiled and patted his son’s hair. “I want to talk to you, Loki, about what happened recently.”
Loki’s smile faded. “Did you reconsider your words?”
“Of course not!” Pellaz ruffled his son’s hair and then uncovered an item from deep within the folds of his robes. “I want you to have something.”
Loki felt somewhat reassured and looked at the item resting in the palm of his hostling’s hand. He recognized it. In the past, Pellaz had always worn the necklace. Only recently had his hostling taken to keeping it in a box instead. He knew it was precious to Pellaz. “That’s the eye that Orien gave you.” Suddenly he blinked. Did Pellaz really say that he wanted Loki to have it?
Pellaz lifted his son’s fair hair and then slid the necklace into place around his son’s neck. “I know I can’t go back and right my wrongs, but I can be a better hostling in the future. I want you to have this, Loki. I hope it tells you how much I love you.” He had never intended to give Orien’s eye to anyhar, but now it seemed only fitting that Loki should have it. “It was my companion during many dark years… May it bring you love and happiness someday.”
Loki’s fingers trembled as they reached up to stroke the pendant. “You don’t have to do this. I know how much this pendant means to you.”
“You mean more to me, Loki. I regret that I was so bad at showing you that in the past.” Pell’s arms went around Loki’s shoulders and he hugged his son close. “I won’t make that mistake again.”
The first thing Ashmael noticed upon entering Silver’s room was the other har’s restlessness. Since his body had healed, being confined to bed must have gotten to Silver, who hadn’t left the bed in over a week. “Getting restless?” Ashmael stood next to the bed and considered his options.
“Ashmael…” Silver recognized the voice and the other har’s mind and smiled at him. “I am not used to being in bed all day.”
“Well,” Ashmael drew out the word. “Maybe we can go for a short walk if you feel up to it?” Cobweb would probably get angry with him for doing that since the dark-haired har wanted to keep Silver confined to bed until his eyesight had been restored. Ashmael however wasn’t sure that was the best thing for Silver.
“Can I?” Excited, Silver shifted in bed. “I will behave,” he promised. “I will do anything you say.”
Ashmael reached for the clothes which Snake had brought along the other day. “You should dress first. We don’t want you running around naked.” The frown that appeared on Silver’s brow made Ashmael blink in surprise. “Don’t tell me they made you do that?”
Silver shrugged and relished being able to do so without a collar or restraints biting into his skin due with the movement. “They had easier access that way.” He grew silent after that and bowed his head, once more very much aware of how different his situation was in Forever.
Ashmael’s hands relaxed from the claws that they had become a moment before. Calmly, he selected a blue shirt and some jeans for Silver and helped the other har dress himself. “Let me see what I can do about all that hair.” Silver’s hair was even longer than his and might get in the way. Silver patiently waited for him to proceed. In the end, Ashmael found a leather band which he used to tie Silver’s hair loosely in a pony tail. They had actually managed to wash the silver-blond hair the other day and it had been quite a struggle. He didn’t think Silver had ever had his hair cut. “Better,” he announced, pleased.
Silver wanted to rise from the bed, but Ashmael stopped him. “Wait…you need shoes…” He rummaged about in the closet and found comfortable house shoes that belonged to Cobweb. “You won’t win any beauty pageant, but this should do.” Once Silver had put the house shoes on his feet, Ashmael took a step back to examine his handy work. “Let’s get you to your feet.” He took hold of Silver’s arm in case the young har couldn’t stand unaided yet.
Silver swayed briefly but then gained his footing. Keeping his head bowed, he concentrated on Ashmael’s presence.
“I will guide you.” Ashmael curled an arm around Silver’s waist. “I won’t let you run into anything.” Silver actually smiled and Ashmael gasped. “That is the first time I have seen you smile.” It saddened him that Silver had had no reason to smile in his life yet.
“You are very kind to me and concerned. It is not something I am used to.”
“You had better get used to it. We will spoil you rotten.” Ashmael guided Silver into the corridor and with each step they took, he told Silver which items surrounded him or how the corridor looked. They walked slowly since he didn’t want to exhaust Silver and went into the sun room. “This is one of Cobweb’s favorites,” he said and helped Silver sit down amidst a sea of pillows. “You rest for a moment and I will fetch tea.”
Silver didn’t want Ashmael to leave since he felt safer with the other har close, but he nodded at any rate. It wasn’t his place to tell Ashmael what to do. He listened to the fading foot falls and then grew aware of the sun which was traveling up his face. Closing his eyes, he enjoyed feeling the warm rays on his skin.
Ashmael returned a few minutes later carrying a tray which held the tea pot, their cups, and some cake. He hoped Cobweb wouldn’t have a fit once the other har found Silver’s bed empty. It might have been wise to tell Cobweb that he was taking Silver for a walk. He could still do that using mind touch, but would Cobweb want him to touch his mind uninvited? In the end, Ashmael reached out to Cobweb. /Silver and I are in the sun room. He felt strong enough to go for a walk./
Cobweb’s reply was instant. /Are you mad? He needs rest!/
/He was crawling up the walls, Cobweb! I will take good care of him. Please have a little faith in me!/ Although he still felt Cobweb’s displeasure at having his advice ignored, Ashmael got permission. /I will be careful,/ he added. /I will return him to his room in an hour./
/I will be there. You had better not be late, Ash!/
Once he had taken care of that, Ashmael placed the tray on the floor and poured tea. He let it cool before he handed Silver his cup. Studying the younger har, Ashmael realized that Silver was excited, although he was trying hard not to let it show. “You will like living here,” he commented. “Forever is a lovely place.”
Silver sipped his tea and then wondered if he would be allowed to ask Ashmael a question.
Sensing the curiosity in Silver’s mind, Ashmael leaned in closer and inquired, “What do you want to know?”
“Why did they take me in? Cobweb and Snake? I can’t find any reason why they would want me here.” He had racked his brain and had come up with nothing.
On his guard, Ashmael felt that Cobweb should answer that question. “I am afraid only Cobweb knows the answer to that. He agreed to take in you in. Ask him.”
Silver had hoped for an answer, but at the same time hadn’t really counted on Ashmael to give him one. “Do you think it is safe for me to do that? To question him since he is the master of Forever?” What if being asked that displeased Cobweb?
Ashmael curled his fingers around Silver’s when the hand holding the tea cup started to shake. “Cobweb is your friend and protector. You need not fear him.”
“I never had a friend or somehar who wanted to protect me.” Silver trembled as Ashmael’s hand steadied his. This touch was so different from the ones which had been forced upon him in the past and, to his shock, he realized that he liked Ashmael touching him like that.
It was only normal for Silver to react that way, Ashmael reasoned. The har had only known pain and abuse and since he was being cared for it was only normal that he wanted to experience more of those warm feelings. Ashmael didn’t worry about it.
On their way back to his room, Silver suddenly came to a standstill. His mind was picking up on something, but he wasn’t sure what it was. “What is in that room over there?”
Ashmael didn’t like that question. “That’s Terzian’s study.” Cobweb had kept it the way it had been the last time Terzian had been in there. To Ashmael’s knowledge, Cobweb seldom went in there, respecting Terzian’s ghost, which Cobweb was convinced haunted the study.
“Who is Terzian?” Had he heard that name before? Silver wasn’t sure.
“Terzian was the first master of Galhea and Cobweb was his consort. Terzian died some time ago.”
“I’ve heard that name before…”
Ashmael’s heart missed a beat and he grew worried.
“Ponclast mentioned his name a few times… Maybe he even visited Ponclast.” The years he had served Ponclast had been the worst of his life and he had effectively locked out his memories regarding that time.
For once, Ashmael felt lost and didn’t know how to handle the situation, fearing more revelations.
Silver however was lost in his own thoughts and didn’t sense Ashmael’s discomfort. “I hate Ponclast,” he said eventually. “That har hurt me. I was only a harling at the time.”
Ashmael didn’t want to ask his next question, but he had to. At the edge of his mind he sensed that Cobweb was listening in on their conversation. “Did you ever meet Terzian?” The thought that Terzian might have abused his own son filled Ashmael – and Cobweb – with horror and both hara hoped that Silver would answer negatively.
“I don’t think I did. I might have…” Silver shrugged. “I didn’t feel well at that time. I was always being given something bitter to drink when Ponclast was entertaining visitors. My memories are shady at best.”
Both Ashmael and Cobweb cringed. It sounded like Silver had been drugged and only Ponclast knew what had happened afterwards. Maybe if Cobweb went into Silver’s mind he would discover what had happened to the harling, but if Silver’s memories were too sketchy Cobweb would fail.
Ashmael quickly led Silver away from Terzian’s study. /Keep that room locked up,/ he told Cobweb in mind touch.
Cobweb would do just that. He didn’t want Silver to venture into Terzian’s study either. He let go of Ashmael’s mind and became aware of his surroundings again. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor of their bedroom and Snake was kneeling at his side. His chesnari kept repeating his name. “Sorry if I worried you,” Cobweb murmured and reached up to touch Snake’s face.
“I saw what happened,” Snake commented calmly. “What are you going to do when Silver asks you why you took him in? Are you going to tell him the truth? I am not sure that is wise.”
“I agree.” Cobweb sighed. He felt distressed. “I wanted to tell him why I had taken him in, but now I wonder if I shouldn’t just make something up. If he knows Terzian…remembers his foul deeds and then finds out he is his son… Oh, Snake, what if Ponclast gave Silver to Terzian? You know the depths they descended to.”
“We shouldn’t think like that.” Snake stroked Cobweb’s back in an effort to calm his chesnari. “Not until we are certain.”
“What *do* we tell him then? Silver is bound to ask me shortly since he tried to get the information from Ashmael. He is growing stronger and feels more comfortable around us.” Which pleased Cobweb, but it might also cause problems.
Snake suddenly grabbed hold of Cobweb’s arms and shook him. “I have an idea!”
Silver reclined into the pillows and closed his eyes. Except for the odd moment when they had passed by Terzian’s study, he had enjoyed their walk. And he had enjoyed Ashmael’s presence.
“You can rest for one hour until it is time for dinner. Maybe I can convince Cobweb to have it in the dining room.” Ashmael wanted to encourage Silver to leave the bed and move about. It would empower the younger har.
“I would like that…” Silver mumbled as he drifted off into sleep.
Ashmael merely smiled. Like Silver, he had enjoyed their walk too.
“Paran? Can I have a word with you?” Vaysh hoped no one had seen him enter Paran’s office. Phade didn’t know he was visiting Paran and Vaysh wanted to keep it that way.
Surprised at the identity of his visitor, Paran nodded his head once. “How can I be of service, tiahaar Vaysh?” Like most hara at Pellaz’ court, it had taken him time to get used to this new Vaysh.
“Is it true that you talked to Ashmael recently when you visited Forever?”
Paran arched an eyebrow. How did Vaysh know about his visit? But then again, Vaysh had always had his network of spies. “I did.”
“Did he appear…well?” Vaysh fought the urge to wring his hands. He didn’t want to appear desperate in front of Paran.
“He looked quite well.” Paran wondered what this was about.
“Do you plan on visiting Forever again soon?” Vaysh had long debated with himself over his current plan. In the end, his concern for Ashmael had won.
Paran nodded. He was planning to visit Forever to check on Silver’s well-being.
“Would you give Ashmael this?” From the folds of his robes Vaysh produced a letter, sealed with old-fashioned wax. He had written it without Phade’s knowledge and it made him feel guilty, but he didn’t want to share this with Phade. Not yet at any rate.
Paran accepted the letter. “I will deliver it to him. Any other messages you want me to deliver, tiahaar?”
Vaysh shook his head. “No, the letter will do. Thank you, Paran.” Quickly, he turned around and fled the room, scared and hopeful at the same time of the reply he would get.
Silver gripped Ashmael’s arm in acceptance of the aid and together they made their way into the dining room. He was happy that Cobweb and Snake had agreed to have dinner there. He hated lying idly in bed. With Ashmael’s help, Silver sat down and placed his hands on the table.
Cobweb sat down to Silver’s right while Ashmael took a seat to the blind har’s left. That way, they could help him should the need arise. “Let me show you where you can find everything.” Cobweb took hold of Silver’s hand and helped him locate his plates, the glass with water, and the plates that held food.
“I think I have it,” Silver said, feeling grateful that Cobweb had shown him. It was nice to know he could help himself. The speed with which he was accepting his new life frightened him in a way. He was trying hard to forget all the horrible things that the Varrs had done to him in the past, but in the back of his mind he was still afraid Cobweb might reconsider and throw him out. He doubted he would be able to take care of himself as long as he was blind.
Unable to enjoy the food as long as Silver didn’t ask him why the mystic had taken him in, Cobweb brought the matter up himself in the end. “You must be wondering why I gave you a home.”
Silver looked up and inclined his head. “I do. I asked Ashmael, but he told me to ask you instead.” His insides fluttered since his question was about to be answered. His hand twitched and suddenly warm fingers surrounded his fingers. It was Ashmael reaching out to him. “Why did you take me in? I mean no disrespect, but I don’t understand why you care about me.”
Cobweb gave Ashmael a thoughtful look. /Just play along./
Ashmael nodded, surprised to receive that message.
“Did you know that the Varrs had breeding facilities?” Cobweb took hold of Silver’s free hand and tried to reach out to Silver mentally.
Silver was surprised that Cobweb was brushing against his mind, but he allowed it like he always did. “Ponclast mentioned something like that once.”
Cobweb swallowed hard. This was the hard part. “You were born in one. The har that hosted your pearl lived in a breeding facility. Did you ever notice the number tattooed on your neck?”
Silver shrugged. “Most hara I know have one.”
“It is not natural. They tattooed you so that they could link you to your father and hostling.” Cobweb twisted the truth a little in an effort to make it easier on Silver, but he spoke the truth when he added, “Your hostling’s name was Calla.”
“Calla,” Silver repeated the name and made it his own. “I didn’t know that.” But it still didn’t explain why Cobweb had taken him in.
Cobweb tightened his shields and tried to sound as convincing as he could at the same time when he said, “I am your father, Silver. I fathered your pearl.”
Ashmael’s eyes widened, but apart from that, no other reaction showed. At first, he felt confused, but then understood why Cobweb had done that. Cobweb didn’t want Silver to be burdened by the fact that one of Ponclast’s vile companions was his father.
Silver blinked in confusion. “You are my father?” He hadn’t expected that!
Snake reached for Cobweb’s hand and squeezed it. Cobweb had to continue now.
“Yes. I was young and didn’t really know what the Varrs were up to. If I had known I would not have taken part in their project. I would have fathered a pearl with a har I loved.”
“You didn’t love Calla?”
“I barely knew him. We only visited the breeding facility for a short time.” Once Cobweb had started his tale, he found it easy to continue and make things up as he went along. “He was a kind har as far as I know – the perfect hostling.”
Silver looked away and tried to deal with all the different emotions coursing through him. “You are my father? That’s the reason you took me in?”
“After the fighting had ended and Ponclast was defeated I asked Paran to search for the pearls. I wanted to know what had happened to them. So far, you are the only har he managed to locate. Four of your brothers are dead and one remains elusive. I am afraid you are the only one who survived.” Cobweb frightened himself with the ease he was weaving lies and truth together. “That’s why I want to take you in. You are my son.” He had adopted Tyson so why not adopt Silver as well? He had always wanted more sons.
“And your chesnari… Snake…he doesn’t mind?” Silver looked in the direction he suspected Snake was in.
Snake’s heart went out to the younger har. “If Cobweb hadn’t wanted to take you in, I would have.”
Silver accepted Snake’s declaration. What else could he do? He was much too happy to have found his father and to have gained a family at that.
They had settled down in the sun room, which was quickly becoming Silver’s favorite place to be and Cobweb was trying to explain the structure of Silver’s new family to him. “Swift’s chesnari’s name is Seel. They took Moon and Tyson to visit some friends of ours. They should return in a month.” That would give Silver enough time to get to know the house and grow closer to Cobweb. Cobweb didn’t bring up Azriel. His high har was still troubled and staying with healers in Immanion. Azriel was another of Ponclast’s victims. How he hated that har!
Ashmael had excused himself when Paran had arrived and asked to talk to him in private before the officer would join them for coffee.
“I can’t believe I have a family now.” Silver wished he could see Cobweb. Ashmael had described the har to him, but he wanted to see Cobweb with his own eyes. “You are my father.”
Cobweb still regretted that he hadn’t been able to twist the story in such a way that he had ended up being Silver’s hostling. He had much more experience in that department. He raised his arms and pulled Silver close. The younger har rested his upper body against him and Cobweb rubbed Silver’s back. “You have a home here. You can stay here forever.”
Snake chuckled and Cobweb realized the word play. “Yes, you can stay forever in Forever.”
Relishing the feeling of his father’s arms around him, Silver closed his eyes and failed to hold back his tears. For the first time in his life he was weeping tears of happiness.
Ashmael didn’t know what to make of the letter he was holding in his hands. Paran had told him that Vaysh had asked him to deliver it. Ashmael actually felt apprehensive about breaking the seal and reading it. He went into the garden so he had some privacy and settled down on the porch of the cabin. Breaking the seal, he started to unfold the paper. He instantly recognized Vaysh’s elegant handwriting.
Ash, I had to write. I have to tell you something important. In my head I have been going over this letter a hundred times and not even Phade knows I am writing it.
You scared me that evening. I was convinced you still wanted me and when you denied me, I couldn’t believe it.
Ashmael briefly stopped reading, painfully aware of the fact that this letter had been in Vaysh’s hands only hours ago. It even still carried his former chesnari’ scent.
After you left, something unexpected happened. Phade decided to take care of me and took me in. At first, I fought the attraction which I felt for him. I thought I should stay faithful to you, but lately I have realized that my mind played games on me. The truth is that I changed during these last few years and you changed too. I will always love you, don’t doubt that. If you look into your heart I am convinced you will see that too, although I am not sure you will also accept it.
Ash, I am in love with Phade. The feelings I have for him are strong. I guess they have been there for years. You didn’t know this, but I have known Phade for a while. When I was caring for Pellaz after he had been remade, we stayed at Phade’s tower. Back then, Phade infuriated me. He wouldn’t stop harassing me and I didn’t know how to act toward him. Only since I have been healed did I realize I liked him even back then.
I have been talking to Pellaz and both he and Phade have made me see that my destiny lies with Phade. We haven’t become chesna yet, although I know Phade wants that. *You* are holding me back. My guilt is holding me back.
Maybe I shouldn’t have asked Paran to give you this letter, but it is too late now. For some reason I need to give you one last chance. If you really want me and think that being together is right for us, let me know. I will give you another chance. But if you think that our destiny lies with other hara, then let me know too.
I am fighting tears here, Ash. I feel torn. A part of me loves you so deeply that it hurts, but another part is telling me that I need to move on and that my destiny lies with Phade. I am a coward, Ash, and I need you to make this decision for me, maybe absolve me of my guilt. Please don’t hate me…
Ashmael’s fingertips brushed along the paper. Vaysh had pressed deeper into the paper there and some of Vaysh’s distress still stuck to the paper.
Either set me free or come and claim me, Ash. Please end this.
Ashmael inhaled the evening’s cool air and read the letter again, but this time he read between the lines and realized what Vaysh really needed from him. Vaysh needed him to set him free and give his blessing so he could become chesna with Phade. Ashmael folded the paper and then stared at the sky. Stars sparkled and a silver moon had made its appearance in the heavens. He had no right to keep Vaysh back. Ever since Cobweb had helped him clean out his anger, he knew that their destinies no longer lay with each other. They had set foot on paths that would guide them to different hara.
Ashmael rose from the bench and went into his room so he could write a reply.
My dearest Vaysh,
I opened your letter with some trepidation, but once I had read it, I realized that you were right to send it. I concur with the things you said. We need to move on. Cobweb made me see that.
Like you, I doubt I can ever stop loving you, but I also realize that we aren’t right for each other any more. These last few years pose a barrier we will never be able to break down. However, I do hope that once we meet again we can start building a friendship. I would like that. You are and always have been a very important part of my life.
Vaysh, I set you free. I want you to become chesna with Phade. He sounds like he is a good har and I like the fact that he is taking care of you. Don’t let him slip away.
I’m growing emotional writing this letter, but I am glad you contacted me. I have been doing a lot of thinking and realized that if we are to move on, we need to find new common ground. We will try that once I return to Immanion.
Sweet Vaysh, please don’t worry about me. We should focus on our own needs for a while. Let Phade pamper you and be assured that Cobweb and Snake are the friends I need to pull me through this.
Please be happy with Phade!
He checked the letter again and liked the way it sounded. Hopefully Vaysh would understand that this wasn’t an end, but a new beginning…if they both wanted it.
Paran was pleased to see the progress Silver had made. He avoided talking about Silver’s life in Fulminir and asked him questions about his new life in Forever. He felt startled though when Silver told him his father’s identity and went to correct the young har, but Cobweb raised an arm just in time to draw his attention.
/It is better this way./ Cobweb looked Paran in the eye. /I don’t want him to know it is Terzian who fathered him. Terzian and Ponclast were allies and we know the vile things they did. Let Silver think I am his father. He is happy with that./
Paran nodded in acknowledgement. He should have thought of it himself.
“Will you take this letter with you and give it to Vaysh?” Ashmael had offered to see Paran off since Silver was still too weak to accompany his savior outside. It also gave Ashmael the chance he needed to hand Paran the letter.
Paran tucked the letter into a pocket and searched the General’s face. “Will you stay here for much longer?” The officers missed having their General around.
“Yes, I will stay for at least a few weeks. Maybe even a few months. I don’t know yet.” Ashmael had decided to stay as long as Silver was recovering and needed a friend. “You will do fine without me. Ask Cal to take my place.”
Paran shook his head. “I am not sure that would be wise.” He mounted his sedu and waved goodbye at Ashmael. A moment later, Paran was gone and Ashmael started back to the house.
Vaysh’s hands trembled but he still managed to unfold Ashmael’s letter. He was holding his future in his hands…at least that was the way it felt. Reading the content, his heart thumped heavily in his chest and a fine layer of sweat formed on his brow. His heart grew lighter as he realized that Ashmael had decided to set him free. It was the answer he had hoped for.
“Thank you, Ash,” he whispered and kissed the sheet of paper. A candle stood on the desk next to him and he put the letter close to the flame. The fire ate away at the paper and only black ashes remained a moment later. Vaysh walked over to the doorway and closed the door of Pellaz’ office behind him. It was the perfect place for him to be undisturbed and Pellaz didn’t mind.
Soundlessly he moved down the corridor and slipped into the apartment he shared with Phade. Since it had become obvious that they would be staying together for a longer period of time, Pellaz had given them more spacious rooms.
Phade was seated on the bed and reading through some letters he had received from home that day. Everything was all right and they were managing quite nicely without him. Sensing Vaysh’s presence, he raised his gaze. Vaysh looked lovelier each day. His form was filling out and he wore warmer colors these days. His long still blond hair rested on his shoulders and flowed down his back. Overcome with desire, Phade raised an arm in invitation.
Vaysh knelt on the bed and placed his hands on either side of Phade’s head. “My answer is yes, Phade.”
Phade blinked. The answer to what question?
“I want to become chesna with you.”
Phade stared at Vaysh for another minute and then crushed him to his chest. “You make me very happy,” he whispered into Vaysh’s ear. “You just made my dearest wish come true.”
Vaysh nestled himself in the embrace and closed his eyes in bliss. In his heart, he knew he had made the right decision.
Velaxis had amazed himself concerning the speed with which he had accepted the fact that hara knew he was hosting the Tigrina’s pearl. He had expected sneers and angry looks, but most hara had congratulated him and he had even formally moved into Caeru’s private rooms. The official statement which Pellaz had issued through Tharmifex had helped. The hara knew that Pellaz approved of the pearl.
Velaxis moved down the corridor and did his best to escape everyhar’s attention. Some hara were very nosey and tried to coax information from him. After Pellaz had shown him that tabloid, Velaxis had understood the need to be more discrete.
That day he was on his way to check with Vaysh. He was under the impression that everything had worked out quite well for Vaysh, but he still wanted to make sure.
Vaysh was already expecting Velaxis and showed him inside. Phade had gone out and Vaysh was grateful he could talk to Velaxis in private.
“You look well,” Velaxis started their conversation. “Radiant, if I may say so.”
Vaysh blushed. “Phade and I take aruna frequently. That helps.”
Velaxis grinned. “The two of you look well together. There are no problems between you?”
“None whatsoever. He is very accommodating.” Vaysh’s blush deepened. “He likes it when I am ouana too.” He still loved being soume most times, but Phade and he had found a balance in their relationship that he was comfortable with. “May I ask you a question?” He thought he knew the answer, but he needed to hear Velaxis confirm it. He had only started to think about it after Ashmael’s letter had arrived.
“What do you wish to know?” Velaxis protectively placed a hand on his abdomen. In one month’s time he would drop the pearl and Rue was driving him mad with insisting that they should prepare by thinking of a name and buying clothes for the harling. Velaxis preferred to take things easy and often had to slow down Caeru.
“You said that I was no longer barren. Can I really host or father a pearl?” Vaysh’s fingernails scratched the wood of the armrest.
Velaxis nodded, surprised that Vaysh had felt it necessary to ask him that. “You are no longer barren. You can have as many sons as you want. You can host or father pearls.” He suspected the only reason why Vaysh was asking him this was because the other har needed to hear it. “Do you need more information, Vaysh? You know how a pearl is conceived or fathered?”
Vaysh coughed, clearly feeling nervous. “I do.”
“Did you tell Phade yet about your desire to have sons?” Phade struck Velaxis as the type of har who would welcome harlings. He had done a good job raising the troubled harling Darq.
“Not yet. I just recently let myself think about it.” Vaysh felt uncomfortable. “For so long I thought I would never have sons. The idea of making a pearl… It is a fantasy. I am not sure I would make a good hostling though or a father for that matter. I had best not bring it up with Phade.”
Velaxis shifted forward on his chair and claimed Vaysh’s hands. “Making a pearl is magic, Vaysh. You tasted Aruhani’s magic once before and he looks kindly upon you. I am sure that any pearl you and Phade would create would add to your life. Don’t be so afraid, Vaysh. I never hosted before and now… Now I am going to drop Rue’s pearl in one month and I am happy about that.”
Vaysh peeked at Velaxis’ face. “What does hosting feel like?”
Velaxis smiled warmly. “I love it. I might not like delivering it, but I am definitely happy at the moment. Rue talks to the pearl and he even sings softly when he thinks I am asleep. You don’t need to make a pearl tonight, Vaysh, but discussing the matter with Phade is a first step.”
Velaxis offered sound council and Vaysh knew it. He just wasn’t sure he could raise a harling and love it the way his son deserved to be loved.
Silver couldn’t sleep. Too much information spun in his head even though already two days had passed by since he had learned that Cobweb was his father. Snake, Ashmael, and his father had been at his side almost constantly and even now during the night, Ashmael slept in the same room he was in. The har was stretched out on the couch and snored softly.
There was another reason why he was nervous. Cobweb and Snake were going to perform aruna that night, what they called Grissecon, and would come for him once they were done. Silver couldn’t believe that he would see the sun rise in a few hours. It seemed impossible.
The snoring stopped and Ashmael sat upright. Silver’s thoughts had woken him and he made his way over to the bed. “Hey, don’t worry. Everything will work out just fine.”
Silver raised a hand and Ashmael curled his fingers around it. “Can I ask you for a favor?” Silver had finally realized that he could trust these hara. “Will you hold me? I am scared.”
Ashmael sat down on the bed and pulled Silver into his arms. “Why are you scared?”
“What if it doesn’t work and I can’t see? I don’t want to be blind for the rest of my life. They gave me hope and I am afraid they will fail.” Silver turned his head and rested it against Ashmael’s chest. “Did you ever work magic in that way?”
“No, I didn’t. You need the right har to work such magic.”
Silver, sensing a way to distract himself, asked, “You don’t have a chesnari then?”
Ashmael was afraid that Silver’s question might make him emotional, but he felt surprisingly calm when he answered, “I had one, a long time ago. We are no longer chesna.”
“May I ask what happened?”
“We grew apart. He is happy now with somehar else and he deserves that.”
“Will you tell me his name?”
“His name is Vaysh. Maybe you will even meet him one day.” Ashmael stroked the silver-blond hair. “Did you ever…?” Silver shook his head and Ashmael whispered, “I am sorry.”
“I never thought about hara that way,” Silver explained softly. “I associate them with pain and not with pleasure. That only changed after I got here. I sense the love Cobweb and Snake share.” Maybe he even felt envious of them. “It is something I will never have.”
Frowning, Ashmael asked, “Why can’t you have that?”
Silver turned his head toward Ashmael and lines of worry appeared on his brow. “After what Ponclast did to me nohar will want me. I am intelligent enough to understand that.”
Ashmael blinked. “That wasn’t your fault!”
“But it still happened. I will probably live out my life here, far away from our kind.” That was a soothing thought.
“I can’t believe you said that!” Ashmael was growing angry. “You are har! You need aruna too!”
“Ashmael…” Silver spoke the name slowly, tenderly. “Aruna equals pain for me. Why would I want to take it ever again?”
“Because that isn’t the way it is supposed to be.” Ashmael desperately wanted Silver to understand that. “Maybe…”
“Maybe what?” Silver raised his head slightly as if he could hear Ashmael’s words before the other har would speak them.
“Maybe I can show you what aruna should be like.” Ashmael surprised himself by saying that, but in a way he had seen it coming. He was smitten with Silver and had just lacked the courage to acknowledge it up to that point. “When you are ready of course. Not now.”
Silver needed a moment to digest that offer. “You want to take aruna with me? Knowing all the things they did to me?”
Ashmael leaned in closer and rested his brow against Silver’s. “I would be honored if you would have me.” He opened his mind and shared his feelings and intentions with Silver.
Silver felt too astounded to react. He was still trying to come up with a suitable reply when Snake and Cobweb unexpectedly joined them.
“Look at you,” Ashmael commented. “You’re glowing.” A coating of moonlight cocooned Silver’s form in the dark of night. The Grissecon Snake and Cobweb had performed was showing its effect.
Cobweb had mixed Snake’s essence with his and had added milk, honey, and some spices to it in the hope that Silver would be able to drink it more easily. He had remembered the recipe from his time when he had still lived with his tribe, the Sulh. “Drink this,” he instructed and knelt beside the bed. Holding his breath, he placed the cup at Silver’s lips.
The drink tasted odd, but more vile liquids had been forced down his throat and Silver swallowed. Warmth traveled down his throat and then seemed to spread throughout his body. It was a pleasant, tingling sensation and it caused him to repeatedly blink his eyes.
“Close them,” Snake advised as he observed Silver closely.
Silver closed his eyes and pressed closer to Ashmael, hoping the magic would work.
Ashmael lifted his head and looked questioningly at Cobweb and Snake. Would it work?
The glow surrounding Silver intensified and then started to fade. Cobweb, hoping Silver had been healed, moved his head closer to Silver. “How do you feel?”
“Warm… My body tingles all over.” Silver didn’t want the sensation to stop, but in the end, it faded. “Can I open my eyes now?”
Ashmael sucked in his breath and Cobweb nodded once. “Yes, open them,” Cobweb ordered.
Silver’s eye lids fluttered and then opened. For one terrible moment the darkness remained, but then he started to see shapes. There was something in front of him…somehar. He blinked and tried to focus. Then the veil lifted and he was staring into Cobweb’s eyes. “I see you,” he whispered, dazed. Ashmael hadn’t exaggerated when he had called Cobweb a beauty and his eyes bewitching. To Silver, his father’s face was the most beautiful har he had ever seen. “Cobweb?”
A tear slid down Cobweb’s face and he quickly brushed it away. He didn’t want to cry during a moment like this, not even when he was crying out of happiness. “It worked.” Pale blue irises had formed and swam in a sea of white. The pupils briefly dilated before they took on their normal shape and Cobweb cupped Silver’s face in his hand.
Silver had been afraid he might burst into tears, but he didn’t. He just stared at Cobweb’s face and imprinted the way it looked in his memory.
“You should meet Snake too.” Cobweb pulled Snake down next to him and felt excited at seeing Silver’s gaze shift.
Silver had a hard time taking everything in. “You are Snake… I had no idea how you looked.”
“And then there is Ashmael,” Snake replied. “Look up.”
Nothing could have prepared Ashmael for the expression that lay in Silver’s eyes. In the end, he smiled and brushed Silver’s brow with his fingertips. “Now you can put the faces with the names.” It was a stupid thing to say, but it was safe since it wouldn’t cause anyhar to grow even more emotional than they already were.
Silver raised his right hand and ran his fingers along Ashmael’s brow. Then he touched the cheekbones and let his fingers trail lower to brush Ashmael’s bottom lip. Ashmael was beautiful too, but in a different way. Where Cobweb and Snake were dark, Ashmael was light.
“We will let you rest now. Ashmael can keep you company.” Snake and Cobweb got to their feet. The rituals involving Grissecon had left them unfulfilled and they were looking forward to taking aruna properly. “I will see you in the morning,” Cobweb said and placed a kiss onto Silver’s brow.
Silver watched them leave the room and then returned to staring at Ashmael. “I see… I see you…”
Ashmael tightened his hold on Silver and rocked him, seeing him safely through this emotional storm as well.
Silver was already awake when the sun started to rise the next morning. Somehow, Ashmael had ended up on the bed spooned up behind him and still holding him. Years ago when he had still been Ponclast’s slave, he had never dreamt he would ever experience a day like this. He pressed closer to Ashmael and inhaled the other har’s scent. He couldn’t remember a day when he had been as perfectly happy as that day.
Seeing the sun rise was a marvelous sight that brought more tears to his eyes. The red, gold, and orange rays colored his life anew and he wanted nothing more than to watch the sun rise every day of his life. Silver took in his surroundings and realized that the room Cobweb had put him in was old-fashioned, but very comfortable. So, this was Forever.
“Do you want to talk? Or do you want me to remain quiet?” Ashmael would understand if Silver didn’t want him to speak at that time. A new world was opening up to the younger har.
“You can talk. I don’t mind.” Silver kept his gaze trained on the window and realized he could actually see the trees, pond, and a few birds settling in the treetops. “I think I like Forever.” Although he wanted to look out of the window longer, he turned around to face Ashmael. Once he laid eyes on the blond har again, his heart started to flutter madly. “You don’t look the way I thought you would. You look even better.”
Ashmael graciously accepted the compliment and smiled. “I am glad Cobweb’s plan worked. I love seeing your eyes come alive again. I will take you on a tour of the house and the grounds later, if Cobweb will let me.”
“Maybe Cobweb can join us? I would love to spend more time with him. I never thought I would find my father let alone be loved by him.”
At that moment, Ashmael felt grateful that Cobweb had told Silver that white lie. Having Cobweb as his father made Silver happy. “Sure, we will invite him along.” He would share Silver with Cobweb for now.
“Can we leave the bed? I want to see more of Forever.” Since he could look Ashmael in the eye, he felt much more comfortable making requests.
“If you feel up to it.” Ashmael regretted letting go, but he sat up and then pushed himself to his feet. Silver, dressed in a white shirt and comfortable black trousers, followed his example. The long silver-blond hair cascaded down his back since Silver had removed the leather thong Ashmael had used to restrain it. Looking about, he followed Ashmael into the corridor, but not before he claimed the other har’s hand. “Stay close please.”
Ashmael gave Silver a reassuring smile. “I will.”
Silver fell from one surprise into the next as he realized just how large and old Forever was. He fell in love with the house and felt happy knowing he could live there for the rest of his life. This was his home now.
Cobweb joined Ashmael and Silver and the three of them went outside. Big-eyed, Silver took everything in and more than once tears shimmered in his eyes. Each time he began to feel overwhelmed either Cobweb or Ashmael reached out to him. Slowly, he grew used to being able to see again. “It is amazing,” he whispered, touching his eyelids. “You really healed my eyes.” Silver had to sit down on the grass and buried his fingers in the earth. “I feel like I have come home,” he said and looked at Cobweb. “Is this really my home now? I can stay?”
Cobweb lowered himself onto his heels and placed his right hand on Silver’s shoulder. “You are my son…part of the family… Forever is your home now.” The look Silver gave him showed that the young har was still afraid to believe that was the truth. “You can believe it,” Cobweb said. “You have come home, Silver. Forever is your home too.”
Silver took Cobweb’s face in his hands and searched the eyes. Finding only truth there, he flung himself at the older har and wept silently.
“You have come home, my son,” Cobweb murmured while stroking Silver’s hair. “You are family now.”
A few weeks later…
Rue couldn’t stop pacing. Velaxis was about to drop the pearl and Caeru was beside himself. He had actually allowed Vaysh to be present at Velaxis’ insistence for two reasons. One because Vaysh was considering hosting and it was also Velaxis’ way to ensure Caeru wouldn’t drive himself crazy. Although Vaysh was nervous, he had a calming influence on the Tigrina.
“Vel, I am so nervous… How long is it going to take? Oh, don’t squeeze that hard!” Rue tried to free his hand of Velaxis’ claw-like hold. Birthing pearls was painful, Rue knew that from firsthand experience, but that didn’t mean Vel had to crush his hand!
“Then shut up, Rue! You are making me nervous in turn!” Velaxis had declined Rue’s suggestion to lie down on the bed. He preferred to walk about and let gravity do its job. “Everything will be over in an hour or so!” He looked at Vaysh pleadingly to distract Rue.
Vaysh came to Velaxis’ aid. “I am sure Vel knows best. After all, he knows his body. Is there anything we can do?” he asked the hosting har.
“Busy yourself finding a name for the harling… Just leave me alone!” Velaxis would have preferred to birth the pearl without anyone present. Rue could be quite the drama queen if he wanted.
“I am sorry. I will behave.” Caeru supported Vel and helped him walk about the room. “This is just a very awkward situation for me. Normally I am the one hosting the pearl.”
Vaysh busied himself making tea and then sat down at a distance. He had wanted to be present because he didn’t really know what to expect and hoped that watching Vel drop the pearl would enlighten him. So far, the things he had seen didn’t encourage him to host.
Vel twined his fingers with Rue’s and continued to walk. It wouldn’t be much longer. The pearl was moving. “Rue, you need to be ready to catch it.”
Caeru paled at hearing that. “Do you mean it is going to happen now?” He looked about frantically and wondered what to do.
Velaxis managed a grin. “Just let nature take its course.” He looked down at his body and found that his ouana-lim had retracted into his body. His soume aspect prevailed and it was about time he lay down. “Rue…bed…now.”
Unfortunately for Velaxis, Rue was frozen to the spot and it was only thanks to Vaysh’s quick thinking that he made it to the bed before the pain made him collapse.
Vaysh eased Velaxis onto his back and then nudged Caeru into action. “Take care of him!”
Shame-faced, Caeru sat down on the bed and offered Velaxis his hand again. “Crush it if you want.”
Velaxis squeezed Rue’s fingers gently. “I won’t.” Closing his eyes, he focused on the messages his body was sending him and relaxed as well as he could. “It is going to happen now.”
Caeru bit his bottom lip as it was now him almost crushing Velaxis’ hand when the pearl finally dropped. Rue stared at it in wonder and then rested a hand on it. “Our pearl, Vel.”
Fascinated, Vaysh watched intently, but stayed at a distance since he didn’t want to infringe during such a personal moment.
Feeling tired, Velaxis reclined against the headboard. “Rue, give me our pearl.”
Caeru carefully picked up the pearl and placed it in Velaxis’ arms. Then, he snuggled up to Vel and rubbed the pearl’s exterior. “Our son, Vel. In a few days, we will get to meet our harling.” Feeling blessed, Caeru kissed Velaxis on the lips and then shared breath with him, lending his chesnari the strength he needed to stay awake and start his recovery. “I still remember the day you came to my rooms and took me to that club. I had no idea what was going to happen.” Rue rubbed his cheek against Velaxis’ shoulder. “Does this mean we are chesna now?”
“Do you want us to be?” Velaxis cradled the pearl against his chest and from the corner of his eye, he saw Vaysh sneaking out of the room. He hoped Vaysh wasn’t reconsidering the idea of hosting Phade’s pearl. Velaxis was convinced Vaysh would make a caring and dedicated hostling.
“I don’t think Pellaz will mind.” Rue laughed. “It is not like anyone can stop me from having these feelings for you.”
“Does that mean I get to stay in your luxurious apartments?”
“It means you won’t leave these apartments until our harling has hatched and after that… I will make sure you sleep in my bed each night.”
“Sounds lovely,” Velaxis murmured. Fatigue was getting the better of him and his eyes began to close. He drifted off into sleep, trusting Caeru to watch over him and their pearl.
Pellaz gracefully brushed his fingers against the shell and congratulated them on their pearl. “You had better be glad it was over quickly.” With Loki it had taken him four hours to drop the pearl. It was one reason why he wasn’t keen on hosting again.
“Did you already decide on a name for him?” Cal asked and gave Caeru a wink. “What did you think of? It is probably an impossible name!”
“I like Karma,” Caeru replied as he gave Velaxis an adoring look. They hadn’t discussed any names yet, but Vel had assured him he would accept whatever name Rue wanted to give their harling.
“Karma… I like it. It is a good name.” Velaxis eyed Cal closely when the blond Tigron stroked the pearl’s exterior.
“Karma Har Aralis,” Cal said, naming the pearl properly. “Another addition to our ever expanding family. Which reminds me…Pell?” Cal cocked his head and batted his eye lashes.
“Oh no…” Pellaz backed away from Cal. “I said no!”
Velaxis and Caeru exchanged a puzzled gaze. Why was Pellaz looking so shocked?
“We are not creating a pearl!” Pellaz put his foot down. “Having one harling around is enough! He will keep us busy!”
“But Karma will need a companion…another harling he can play with.” Cal wiggled an eyebrow. “Don’t worry, you don’t have to host. I will.”
Amused, Rue watched them fight. “Knowing Cal,” he whispered into Vel’s ear. “He will get his way sooner or later.”
“Then it will be later!” Pellaz gave Cal a warning look. “Not yet, Cal,” he pleaded. “Not yet.”
Cal regretted hurting Pellaz’ feelings. He hadn’t been thinking. He had just wanted to play Pellaz a bit. “I’m sorry,” he said. “We will wait.” First, Pellaz needed to work through the mistakes he had made where Loki and Abrimel were concerned and he respected that.
“Maybe you can talk Vaysh into hosting,” Velaxis suggested as he rocked the pearl in his arms. “He seemed interested.”
Cal grinned diabolically. Maybe he would.
“So, did you reconsider?” Phade eyed Vaysh, who seemed lost in thought. His chesnari had only just arrived in their rooms and was looking dazed. “About the pearl?”
Vaysh shook his head to clear it and then shrugged his shoulders. “I haven’t made my mind up yet. Velaxis didn’t appear to be in agony. It was just straining.” He sighed and looked Phade in the eye. “I don’t think I will make a good hostling. I had better not think about it.”
Phade moved over to the couch Vaysh was sitting on. “Why would you think that?”
“Because no matter how much I love you, I still feel…like there is something missing, Phade. And it might stop me from loving our harling.”
Phade shook his head. “Vaysh, you feel like that *because* you want a harling. That is what is missing from your life.”
Vaysh blinked. “Do you really think so?”
“I am fairly sure.” Phade hugged Vaysh and smiled into the blond hair. “We have time. We don’t have to decide anything now. Let’s just enjoy being chesna and, when you feel the time is right, we will create that pearl. You will be a great hostling.”
Vaysh hoped Phade was right because he had realized one thing: he did want to have a harling at some point.
Silver had recently discovered a talent he had never known he owned: he was an artist and excelled at drawing. He had already made portraits of Cobweb and Snake and was now working on one of Ashmael. In order to work undisturbed he had retreated into the garden and enjoyed seeing the sun sparkle in different colors in the droplets the fountain.
When he had still been able to see, he had never realized what a gift eyesight was, but since he’d had to go without it, he valued it a lot more. Looking at Ashmael gave him pleasure especially. The other har’s presence also made his body react in the strangest ways. Silver didn’t really know how to handle the sensations. He had been at Forever for three months and the house had become his home and Ashmael seemed to belong there too, just like Cobweb and Snake did.
His thoughts started to drift off and he smiled when he remembered being introduced to the rest of his family. About a month ago, Swift, Seel, Moon, and Tyson had returned to Forever and Cobweb had introduced him to his family. He still vividly remembered the expression on Swift’s face and at the time, he had wondered if something was wrong. Cobweb and Swift had exchanged looks and Silver thought he had felt them communicate in mind as well, but he hadn’t been able to ‘hear’ what had been said. Swift seemed surprised about the fact that Cobweb was Silver’s *father*, but had then readily accepted him into the family.
Moon had been a bit shyer and Tyson had accepted him straight away. The har didn’t seem surprised that he had gained a brother upon his return home. It was only later that Cobweb had explained to him that Tyson wasn’t his harling exactly and why he had adopted him at the time. Hearing the explanation had made Cobweb rise even higher in his regard. It was nice to have a har like Cobweb for a father.
Swift had started to befriend him and Silver did his best to get along with everyone. He didn’t know if Swift and Seel knew where he came from or what had happened to him, but he had seen Tyson stare at the marks around his wrists. They had never faded and the scar around his neck still showed as well. He would probably never be rid of them.
“You are a good artist,” Cobweb said as he sat down next to Silver. “That drawing bears a striking resemblance to Ashmael.” He had come out there for a reason and was determined to address the matter. “You like Ash, don’t you?”
Silver averted his gaze and stared at the drawing. “Yes, I do. Is that a bad thing?”
Cobweb sighed. Well, he should consider himself lucky that Silver wasn’t attracted to a har like Cal, who broke hearts wherever he went. “No, it isn’t. I should have seen it coming and in a way I did. So did you talk to him about your attraction?” Silver blushed and Cobweb wondered if the two of them had done more than just talk.
“We did, but I am not comfortable talking about this to Ashmael.”
“Because… He thinks aruna is all about pleasure and feeling great. I don’t. Each time I was forced into aruna it hurt.” Silver shrugged. “He says I need aruna to stay healthy, but I don’t believe him.”
Cobweb cringed. This was more complicated than he had thought. “Ash is right. Aruna is about pleasure. What you experienced was a travesty of the act. Pelki equals rape and that is what you lived through.”
Shaking his head, Silver met Cobweb’s gaze. “I can’t believe a har can find pleasure in that act.”
It had been Cobweb’s intention to warn Silver to not have aruna with Ashmael yet since only three months had passed by since they had met, but now he reconsidered. Maybe he should encourage Silver instead. In one aspect Ashmael was right. Silver was har and needed aruna. He had to understand that he had never taken aruna in the correct way. That in itself would heal a lot of the younger har’s emotional hurt. Cobweb *had* noticed that Silver either avoided being in the same room with the rest of the family or acted so friendly that he couldn’t possibly offend anyhar. “Maybe you should find out yourself.”
Cobweb’s suggestion made Silver cringe and he looked away. “I am sorry… I don’t think I ever want to feel such pain again.” He swallowed convulsively and asked, “Are you going to make me take aruna with Ashmael?”
Shocked, Cobweb’s eyes widened. “Of course not!” At least not in the way Silver envisioned aruna. “Silver, I want to ask you something personal, but you don’t need to answer me if it makes you uncomfortable.”
Silver shrugged. It wouldn’t do to keep secrets from Cobweb. He wouldn’t bite the hand that fed him.
Reading that thought in Silver’s mind upset Cobweb. He had thought Silver was getting better, but now he wasn’t sure anymore. “You don’t owe me anything, Silver. Don’t ever think you need to please me in order to live in Forever. That’s not the case.”
“I am sorry… It is hard for me to change my way of thinking in such short time.” Some mornings he woke up and thought he was still in Fulminir.
Cobweb sighed. “I don’t want to pressure you. I know this is hard on you. I just want what is best for you and I forget that you need time.”
“I am getting better, don’t you think?” Involuntarily, Silver touched the mark on his throat. “These refuse to go away though.”
“As I said…it takes time.” Cobweb touched the scar gently. “In time, the scars will fade.”
“I wish I could believe that too.”
Cobweb realized his work wasn’t done yet and adjusted his plans. “Silver, I wanted to ask you something, remember?” After Silver nodded, Cobweb asked, “Were you always soume during aruna?” Silver looked at him in surprise.
“Of course. What else should I have been? It is not appropriate for someone like me to be ouana!”
Cobweb moistened his lips and then pressed on. “They told your hostling the same thing exactly, which is a lie, Silver. We are hara. We are both soume and ouana. You were forced to renounce half of your soul and I believe it is time you experienced being ouana as well.”
“No,” Silver responded in determination, surprising himself at how firm he sounded. “I refuse to hurt another har.”
Cobweb smiled. Silver had seemed meek and obedient a few moments ago, but that had changed. “It doesn’t have to hurt. Silver, I really believe you should take aruna with Ashmael. Assume whatever role you are comfortable with, but do it.”
Silver paled. “Why do you want me to do that? Do you want Ashmael to hurt me?”
“My dear Silver,” Cobweb said as he tugged at a lock of the long hair. “I understand why you are afraid and why you expect pain, but trust me when I say that there will be none.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“And that’s exactly why you need to do it.”
Darq grinned like mad when Rue allowed him to hold the pearl. As far as Darq was concerned the pearl in his arms was nothing short of a miracle. He couldn’t believe that he himself was capable of hosting and birthing one, even though he was holding the proof that Wraeththu reproduced that way. Well, before he could even start thinking of making pearls, he needed a chesnari at any rate. “It is wonderful,” he declared and reluctantly handed the pearl to Loki, who was already eyeing him impatiently. Grinning at his brother, he asked, “When are you going to drop a pearl?”
Geb, who was standing near the doorway, shot Darq a startled look. No way! Loki and he weren’t making any pearls yet!
“Not for a very long time,” Loki replied and giggled. “I am enjoying it just being the two of us.” He heard Geb’s relieved sigh and his smile broadened. “But I will care for this little one whenever you need a minder.”
“I will remember that offer,” Caeru replied and offered Velaxis some food. Velaxis hadn’t felt up to eating during the first few days and Rue had respected that. However, five days later, he was eager to get as much food as possible inside his chesnari. With relief, he watched Velaxis eat happily. Caeru sat down and studied his family. He was happy that everything had worked out in the end.
Ashmael drew in a deep breath to steady himself and then knocked on the door to Silver’s room. Although they were practically sharing it, he still felt it was proper to introduce himself and not to storm inside.
“I know it’s you, Ashmael. You can come inside.” Silver had been expecting the blond har ever since Cobweb and he’d had that discussion. He looked at Ashmael when the other har entered the room. Feeling nervous, he shifted restlessly on the bed he was sitting on. “Did Cobweb talk to you?”
Ashmael nodded his head and sat down on the edge of the bed. “He is right, Silver. You need to experience aruna in a different way – a loving one. I offered before…” He fingered a lock of Silver’s hair. “You can be ouana, Silver. If that’s what you are afraid of. You don’t need to be soume.” Being soume would be a novel experience for Ashmael. With his past lovers, he had always been ouana, but for Silver he was willing to change and was also curious as to how it felt to be soume during aruna. “What do you think? Please talk to me.”
Silver shrugged and refused to make eye contact at that point. “I already told Cobweb that I am not interested.”
“But you should be.” Ashmael took a risk and leaned in closer. First, he brushed Silver’s lips with his own and then pressed onto them. Silver reacted with surprise, but didn’t pull away so Ashmael deepened the old-fashioned kiss. “That’s how humans used to express their feelings for each other.”
Silver blinked in surprise. Humans were figures that belonged in tales of old. He had never encountered one and didn’t know what they were like, but he did like being touched that way. “They kissed.”
“Yes, they kissed.” Ashmael traced the outline of Silver’s bottom lip with his thumb. “We however do things a little bit differently.” Not giving Silver a choice in the matter, he claimed the other har’s lips again and this time, he carefully shared breath with Silver. He was very cautious about what he shared with the younger har. No images of dark wild passion, but rather pictures of them touching innocently. Drawing back, he found that Silver was panting and staring at him. “That’s the first step to aruna.”
Silver had shared breath before, but back then, it hadn’t been like this. Hara had forced brutal images into his mind and had loved to see him cower in fear. With Ashmael things were different. “I liked that,” he said, voicing his surprise.
“I thought you might. Let’s do it again, shall we?” Ashmael took Silver’s smile as a yes and shared breath with him again.
Silver was beyond nervous. He felt terrified. Ashmael had closed the door behind him and he felt trapped in the room. The prospect of taking aruna with Ashmael was enough to make Silver into a nervous wreck. In spite of what they had told him, he couldn’t believe that aruna would be pleasurable. He watched as Ashmael took off his clothes and it dawned on him that he was supposed to get naked too. Reluctantly, he removed his shirt and jeans and then waited for Ashmael to make his next move. It frustrated him that he didn’t know what to expect. Ashmael had told him that he wanted Silver to be ouana, but that was something Silver couldn’t imagine doing.
“You are much too tense,” Ashmael declared and advanced on Silver. “Don’t worry, Silver. If you start to panic, just say stop. But I promise you, we will take aruna today.” Like Cobweb, Ashmael thought it was important that Silver was instructed the right way in aruna.
Silver was as tense as a bow when Ashmael pressed his lips against his. Sharing breath was something Silver liked and it didn’t intimidate him so he started to relax under Ashmael’s experienced mental caresses. The emotions and thoughts which Ashmael poured into his mind helped relax him further, but he remained on guard. Once Ashmael let go of his lips, Silver asked, “I don’t want to draw this out. Can we do this quickly?”
Ashmael arched an eyebrow in surprise. “Usually I prefer to take my time with my partners.” He had hoped for a few hours of rooning, but one look at Silver’s stressed expression showed that the young har might bolt from the room if he got the chance. “All right then.” Ashmael led Silver over to the bed. “Kneel on the bed.”
Silver swallowed hard but did as he was told. Instead of merely kneeling on it, he bent forward and placed his hands on the bed so he was on all fours. This was familiar. He knew what to expect and could prepare for the pain.
“Not like that.” Ashmael knelt in front of Silver and pushed him upright again. “Just remain like that.”
Silver didn’t know what to make of this development, but complied. He sat back until his buttocks rested his heels. Ashmael seemed pleased by that, which confused Silver further.
Ashmael ran his fingers down Silver’s chest and noted that the young har was turning soume. That was not according to plan and he reacted by caressing the ouana-lim which was trying to retreat. “I want you to be ouana for me, Silver. Don’t turn soume now.” His lips brushed the sensitive skin of Silver’s neck and he sucked slightly. Silver tensed further, but Ashmael knew that they had to get past this stage before they could actually take aruna. Sharing breath with Silver again, he sent the young har images of them taking aruna with Silver being ouana. He hoped the trick would work. The young har was way too tense.
Silver swayed when the strange images penetrated his mind. He had never pictured himself in that role before, but his body seemed to like the idea and his ouana-lim opened to display gray and green petals. /Yes, that is it./ Ashmael’s voice was in his head and Silver watched the other har with big eyes. Ashmael’s fingers teased his ouana-lim and Silver couldn’t deny that he liked the sensations they drew forth from him. He peeked below Ashmael’s waist and saw that the other har had turned soume. It felt wrong, but in another way, also incredibly right.
Ashmael inched closer to Silver. He never broke eye contact or stopped sharing breath with the younger har. Although he had been soume before – albeit very rarely – he felt inexperienced. He had taken on the male aspect of his race so often that he had lost touch with his female side. Oh, Vaysh would have loved this! Seeing him turn soume and feeling as bashful as a har on the first night of his feybraiha!
“Are you ready, Silver?” Ashmael squatted on the bed and positioned himself so he could sink down onto Silver’s ouana-lim.
“Please, I don’t want to hurt you,” Silver whispered. “Don’t do this.”
“There won’t be any pain for either of us,” Ashmael replied. “Now let me prove that to you.” Slowly, because he wanted Silver to have a chance to feel the difference between pelki and aruna, he started to lower himself, taking in the stem that now blossomed inside him. “See, there is no pain.” Silver’s face was impossible to read and Ashmael had to resort to mind touch to make sure the younger har wasn’t having a panic attack. Ashmael kept his mind open so Silver could experience his feelings too.
“But there always was pain in the past.” Silver raised his arms and enfolded Ashmael in a hug. Ashmael rested his head against Silver’s shoulder and they remained like that, locked in aruna for what seemed an eternity.
In the end, Ashmael couldn’t take the sweet ache any longer and thrust against Silver. “Let me guide us toward completion.”
Silver felt too entranced to do anything but nod. Ashmael started to move in earnest and Silver clung to the more experienced har. He had never taken aruna like this before and the sensation overwhelmed him. Crying out softly against Ashmael’s shoulder, his body searched and found the release it so badly craved.
Ashmael felt like a fool for forgetting what pleasure could be found in being soume. When Silver’s ouana-lim delivered the bite to his center, he flung back his head and screamed his pleasure. Afterwards, they clung to each other and, to Ashmael’s surprise, it was Silver who steadied *him* instead of the other way around.
“I didn’t believe you,” Silver whispered into Ashmael’s ear. “I am glad you showed me.” If Cobweb and Ashmael hadn’t urged him to take aruna, he would have always believed that aruna was about pain and humiliation. But now he knew better and he loved Ashmael for showing him the truth.
“Rue? Something is happening.” Velaxis poked the pearl’s brittle exterior and the first crack appeared. Caeru, who was spooned up behind him, moved and together they stared at the pearl in wonder. “In a few moments, we will see our harling for the very first time.” Velaxis whispered, unwilling to disturb the moment.
Caeru wrapped his arms around Velaxis from behind and bit his lower lip. He remembered how Wolf had freed himself of the shell when his son had hatched and now he was going to witness that miracle all over again. “We will hold Karma in our arms in a minute…” That fact made him feel nervous and excited.
A finger poked through the opening before the rest of the hand followed. With a firm push, the harling broke away more of the shell and his arm appeared as well.
“Vel, it’s really happening.” Rue wanted nothing more than to share breath with Velaxis, but he didn’t dare look away for he might miss the moment the harling emerged from the pearl.
Velaxis squeezed Caeru’s fingers and his tongue popped out to lick at his bottom lip. That gesture betrayed his nervousness. Velaxis gasped the moment blond hair spilled from the exterior and their harling appeared. “Oh…” He groaned softly and reached for the harling, who had Rue’s eye color, but Velaxis’ hair. “Karma, welcome to our lives.”
The harling looked at the two hara, decided he liked them, and started to crawl toward them. Velaxis caught Karma in his arms and cradled his harling against his chest. “I am your hostling,” he said. “My name is Velaxis – well, Vel. And this is Rue, your father.”
Caeru’s heart missed a beat at seeing the intelligent look in the harling’s eyes. It never ceased to amaze him that their harlings already possessed such an awareness of the world when they were born. “You are my son, Karma. We will always love and care for you.”
Karma, pleased that he had finally been able to leave the confines of his pearl, managed to wrap strands of Velaxis’ hair around his little fists and smiled at them. He had all the time in the world to get to know his father and hostling.
“Come on, you must be hungry too!” Ashmael tried to lure Silver out of the room so that they could have dinner. “Nohar will see that you took aruna! Stop worrying about that.” It amused and frustrated him at the same time that Silver had turned bashful all of a sudden. “Nohar is going to comment.” Well, that might not be true. Cobweb might and it *did* show that they had taken aruna. Ashmael dismissed the thoughts since he was hungry and desperate for food. “Silver, stop stalling!”
Silver sighed and stepped into the corridor. His long hair was a mess and he had failed to detangle it. He needed to wash and then comb it when it was still wet.
Ashmael grinned and pulled Silver down the corridor. Silver’s cheeks possessed a lovely pink hue, which spoke of past arousal and the pupils were still a bit dilated. He prayed Cobweb would keep any comments to himself, for Silver might run for cover if Cobweb said anything.
Silver was relieved when he realized that not everyhar was attending dinner that evening. Only Cobweb and Swift were present and he started to calm down a bit. He seated himself opposite Cobweb and felt nervous when Ashmael sat down next to him and placed his hand on his arm. The gesture revealed how intimate they had become during the last hour.
Cobweb grinned. “You must be hungry.” One look and mind touch had been enough to realize what had happened and he was happy for them.
Silver forced himself to eat some of the meat and potatoes, trying to look everywhere except at Ashmael or Cobweb. To his surprise, it was Swift who spoke up.
“Ashmael is quite the catch,” Swift commented. “The two of you seem well-suited and I am happy for you.” The alert har had also reached the correct conclusion that Ashmael and Silver had taken more than *just* aruna. These two were on their way to becoming chesna.
Silver resorted to smiling thankfully. What else could he do but accept the compliment?
“You will like Immanion,” Swift added, unsuspecting he was about to upset Silver.
“Immanion? Why?” Silver knew that the Tigrons’ court was located there. Ashmael had told him about the Gelamig and Cobweb had explained their history to him. “Why would I want to go there?”
“Because Ashmael lives there of course.” Swift realized his mistake too late. “You didn’t know that?”
“I didn’t tell Silver yet.” Ashmael wondered how the younger har was going to react to hearing who he had just taken aruna with. “Did Cobweb already tell you about the Tigrons and the Hegemony?”
Silver didn’t like the direction their conversation was taking, but he had no choice but to nod. “He did.”
“There are several Hegemony members and I am one of them. I am in charge of all military affairs.” Ashmael hoped he had managed to explain his place in the Hegemony to Silver. He didn’t want any misunderstandings. “I don’t usually live in Forever, but in Immanion. I am here on… vacation,” he explained after a moment’s thought.
Silver felt like he was losing his emotional footing. “Does that mean you are leaving me?”
Swift wished he hadn’t brought Immanion up. He should have been more careful, but the damage was done.
/Don’t feel bad,/ Cobweb told his son. /Silver had to find out one day./ It was only too bad that Silver had to find out right after taking aruna with Ashmael.
“I am not leaving you, Silver.” Ashmael rubbed Silver’s fingers. “I am under no obligation to return to Immanion, except if a war broke out.” He frowned. “And even if I did have to go back, you would come with me. I won’t be separated from you.”
Silver blinked in surprise. “You want me to accompany you? But they surely know…They know…who I am and where I hail from?”
Ashmael shook his head. “Nohar except for Cobweb, Snake, Swift, and me knows about your past. Should you accompany me to Immanion you will be treated with due respect. They don’t know what occurred in Fulminir.”
“But you do,” Silver said, addressing Swift.
“Cobweb told me. He felt I had to know, but he didn’t tell Tyson or Moon.”
“I want you to decide whether you want them to know or not,” Cobweb added. “Look at it as a challenge, Silver. You know that you can always return to Forever. Should Ashmael be called back to Immanion you can either stay here or accompany him. You can always come back here.”
Silver considered everything they had said and couldn’t deny that he felt curious where Immanion was concerned because Ashmael lived there and had his life there.
“Ash? There was a message for you in the ethers today.” Cobweb joined Ashmael and Silver in the sun room. Silver was drawing and seemed at peace. Cobweb smiled at seeing the healthy blush on Silver’s face. Ever since Ashmael had ‘cured’ Silver of his fear of aruna, they were rooning quite frequently.
“What kind of message?” Ashmael asked suspiciously.
“There has been an addition to the Aralis dynasty. Apparently Rue fathered a pearl.”
Silver listened closely. He knew those names and was eager to learn more.
Ashmael was surprised to hear that. “Who is the hostling?”
Ashmael’s jaw dropped. He remembered the fair har in detail. He also remembered the way Velaxis had told him off when he had tried to call in on his services. “And Pellaz allowed that?”
“Apparently he instigated the whole affair.” Cobweb peeked at Silver’s drawing and found that the younger har was drawing Ashmael again. Such sweet young love! “The harling has hatched and Pellaz ‘invites’ you to return to the palace so you can meet Karma.”
Ashmael grunted. “I had no intention of returning to Immanion yet, but I can’t ignore his summons. I don’t want to offend Pell or, even worse, Rue.” The Tigrina would get back at him in his own way. “What do you say, Silver? Are you ready to face this challenge and head for Immanion? I promise I won’t leave your side and we will come back to Forever the first moment we can.”
Silver lay down the coal he used to sketch with and shrugged. “I don’t think I will ever be ready to face the hara in Immanion, but I don’t want to be separated from you either. I will join you on this trip.” He shivered though, feeling apprehensive about the welcome he would get in Immanion.
“I heard that Ashmael is scheduled to arrive in Immanion tomorrow.” Tremors shook Vaysh’s frame as he strode into the room. He immediately headed for Phade. “I will need you at my side these next few days.”
Phade kissed Vaysh’s hair. “I will be there.”
Ashmael, Cobweb, Snake, and Silver stood outside the house and waited for Paran to appear from the Otherlanes. Paran would be bringing an extra sedu which Ashmael and Silver would share since the young har had no experience handling them. Cobweb had considered accompanying Silver to Immanion, but Snake had pointed out that it was Ashmael’s task as Silver’s chesnari to do so. He had been delighted to hear Ashmael declare Silver and him chesna. Cobweb had hoped that would happen, but he had needed to hear it in order to believe it.
“Take good care of my son,” Cobweb told Ashmael as he pressed a kiss onto Silver’s brow. “And return him to me quickly.”
“I will. Traveling by sedu, Immanion and Forever are only minutes apart.” Ashmael’s gaze shifted away from Cobweb and toward the lightning that announced Paran’s arrival. Paran however didn’t appear alone. He brought the extra sedu, but there was also another rider at his side. For one crazy moment, Ashmael thought Vaysh was accompanying Paran, but then he realized his mistake. It wasn’t Vaysh…it was Pellaz!
Pellaz slid off of Peridot’s back and took in Ashmael’s appearance. He had sent the invitation on purpose to force Ashmael to contact him. “I hope you don’t mind that I use this as an excuse to visit with Cobweb and Snake, even though I can only spend a few moments with them.” Pellaz first greeted his brother and then hugged Cobweb. “My heart urges me to return here shortly. Maybe in a few days?”
Cobweb cocked his head questioningly. “Will you be staying alone? Or…?” Cobweb could have sworn that a blush appeared briefly on Pellaz’ features, but it was gone too quickly to be sure.
“I might bring Cal with me.” Pell had been giving Cal’s request to make another pearl some thought and was considering giving in to Cal, but only as long as Cal hosted the pearl. He wasn’t going through the birthing process every again! “If that is okay with you…” In the distant past, Cobweb and Cal had been rivals for Terzian’s affection, but they had managed to sort out their differences and had even been lovers for a while.
“Bring Cal. I will enjoy having him here.” Cobweb turned to Ashmael and said, “Remember your promise.”
Puzzled, Pellaz fixed Ashmael with a gaze. “What promise?”
“I promised Cobweb to keep my chesnari safe.” Ashmael drew in a deep breath and then plunged on. “Pell, this is Silver, Cobweb’s son and my chesnari.”
Pellaz thought he had misheard. “I didn’t quite catch that,” he admitted.
Silver didn’t think the Tigron that intimidating and risked smiling at Pellaz. “I am Silver, tiahaar.”
“And I am Pellaz, but you already knew that,” Pellaz replied, feeling lost. “Cobweb?” He raised his gaze and searched Cobweb’s eyes. Cobweb started to tell him the same story he had told Silver, but in mind touch he shared the truth with him. Pellaz nodded. It was comprehensible why Cobweb had taken Silver in and had lied. “Are you coming to Immanion then, Silver?” How would Vaysh react to the fact that Ashmael was bringing home a chesnari? /He will be pleased, maybe even enthusiastic about it,/ he realized.
“Ashmael wants me to accompany him. I must admit though that the thought intimidates me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Pellaz responded. “I will introduce you to everyhar.”
Ashmael groaned. “That is exactly what I am afraid of.”
Vaysh nervously tugged at Phade’s hand. At Pellaz’ request, they had joined the small party in the Tigrina’s rooms. Pellaz was throwing Karma his first party and Rue had been delighted that his consort had organized the feast. Normally Caeru was the one trying to convince Pellaz to hold more feasts.
“Try to calm down,” Phade murmured and smiled at Karma when the harling caught sight of him. It was a good thing that their party was small. Caeru, Velaxis, Pellaz, Cal, Darq, Loki, and Geb made up the rest of the group. “I understand why you are nervous, but you are only making it worse.”
Drawing in a deep breath, Vaysh hoped nohar would notice the additional reason for his nervousness. They had decided not to tell anyhar yet that they had created a pearl. Vaysh wanted to keep it a secret for a few more days so he could get used to the idea that he was hosting. The previous night, Phade and he had taken aruna under the silvery rays of the full moon and Vaysh had opened his cauldron of creation. Throughout aruna he had constantly worried that Velaxis had been wrong and that he couldn’t conceive. Phade however had convinced him differently and he had finally believed it when they had created their pearl.
“Pell told me that Ashmael has a chesnari,” Vaysh said, needing to talk about the matter again. He had already talked to Pellaz about it in depth, but he needed to discuss it again.
And lovely Phade, although they had already covered the subject, obliged Vaysh again. “His name is Silver, isn’t it?”
Vaysh nodded firmly. “And he appears to be Cobweb’s son, which surprises me. You know how dark-haired Cobweb is and Pell told me that Silver is very fair.”
Although he had told Vaysh this before, Phade answered again. “Don’t worry about Ashmael. He is old enough to make his own decisions. Maybe you will even like Silver!”
Vaysh didn’t know how he felt about Ashmael bringing back a chesnari. In a way, he was happy for Ashmael because he wanted his ex to have a chesnari, but a different part of him wondered if things would be awkward when they met.
“They are here,” Phade murmured, thinking it wise to warn his chesnari.
Turning around slowly, Vaysh steeled himself for the upcoming conversation, but once he looked at Ashmael and Silver and saw them holding hands, he realized he’d had no reason to feel nervous. Silver already did and Ashmael was doing his best to comfort the other har. “He is very fair… Pell was right about that.”
Phade pulled his chesnari along with his arm curled around Vaysh’s waist. “Vaysh, you are blond too.”
Vaysh smiled nervously. “I keep forgetting that.” He allowed Phade to pull him along and was still smiling when he met Ashmael’s gaze. But then something strange happened. Their minds pulled toward each other and they were communicating in mind touch without wanting to do so. /Ash, what’s happening?/
/You wanted to find new common ground… That’s what’s happening. We are still friends, Vaysh. Seems like things worked out for the both of us. It is quite a shock to see you blond again, but I like it./
Vaysh blushed and even though he realized that Phade and Silver were getting suspicious, he couldn’t stop himself and said, /Nohar knows yet…so please don’t tell anyhar… Well, maybe Silver once you are alone, but I am with pearl./
Ashmael couldn’t quite hide his surprise and Silver gave him a worried look. “I am sorry, Vaysh, but…”
Vaysh slowly nodded. “But make sure *they* don’t hear it.” He inclined his head in the direction of the Aralis dynasty.
Ashmael leaned in and whispered into his chesnari’s ear, “Vaysh is with pearl.” Silver’s eyes widened and his gaze dropped to look at Vaysh’s waist. “It doesn’t show like it now,” Ashmael added and chuckled. “I am happy for you and Phade, Vaysh.” It was final then. Vaysh had chosen Phade to be chesna with and was hosting his pearl. “You made the right decision.”
Vaysh hoped he wasn’t offending Silver, who looked fairly lost, and replied, “And you made the right decision too when you let me go – or rather chased me off.”
Ashmael was stunned that Vaysh had figured it out. “How…?”
“I talked to Pell and Phade of course. They helped me accept my new life.” Since he had closed this chapter of his life, he addressed Silver. “I am sorry that I monopolized Ashmael… We had to sort out certain matters. Silver, I hope that we can become friends. I would like that very much.” Phade rubbed the small of his back and Vaysh leaned back against his chesnari so Phade could embrace him from behind. “Are you ready to meet the harling?”
Silver nodded. Ashmael had told him bits and pieces of his relationship with Vaysh and he didn’t feel offended at all. He figured they needed closure. “I am.”
“Then follow me.” Vaysh led the way with Phade and Ashmael and Silver followed.
Rue, who had more experience in handling harlings, was acting like a pro while Velaxis was still trying to figure out why Karma delighted in tugging at his hair. “Don’t do that please,” Vel pleaded and groaned when Karma laughed and tugged again.
Phade whispered into Vaysh’s ear, “We will have our own harling in two months. Do you think you are up to raising one?”
Vaysh nodded and looked at Phade from over his shoulder. “You will make a good father. I know that.”
Kissing Vaysh’s cheek, Phade let his gaze drift off to Silver, who stood timidly at Ashmael’s side. “Do you feel it too?”
Vaysh rested the back of his head against Phade’s shoulder and whispered, “Yes, they are chesna. I am happy for them.”
Vaysh took in the scene in front of him. Ashmael and Silver were giving each other loving looks, Karma loved playing with Velaxis’ hair, and Pellaz had officially declared the harling as a potential heir to the Aralis throne even though it was highly improbable that Karma would ever become Tigron. That title would probably go to Darq or Loki.
Feeling happy, Vaysh pressed back and snuggled deeper into Phade’s embrace. In two months’ time another harling would enter this world and then Vaysh’s life would be complete. Then, he would have everything he had ever wanted.