After the Storm, Restless Fire

Editor's PickAfter the Storm, Restless Fire
By Thevina

Story Notes

Title: After the Storm, Restless Fire
Pairings: Ithiel/Cobweb, Ithiel/Terzian
Rating: Adult
Genre: PWP, with some character exploration
Word count: 4,979

Summary: Ithiel is rather an enigmatic har in Bewitchments; one of the things obvious about him is his loyalty both to Terzian and Cobweb, though doubtless they manifested themselves differently. This is a mostly PWP exploring Ithiel’s relationship with the two adult monarchs of Forever in the immediate aftermath of Cal and Pel’s departure. I made grateful reference to an image in Elfscribe’s marvelous story, Playing With Matches, by her use of a tattoo on Terzian–though I put mine in front!

After the Storm, Restless Fire

Restless, sullen grey clouds were dragged along by the breeze as Ithiel jogged along his path on Forever’s borders. The leaden skies mirrored his spirit, troubled at Terzian’s refusal to leave his rooms since the Uigenna-devil and his lap-pup’s departure. That was why he was out running; as har, he didn’t ever get truly out of shape, but the steady beat of his feet on the ground and faint burning in his lungs gave him the focus to organize the tumultuous barrage of emotions wreaking havoc with his usual demeanor. It was as though the very house had become utterly still, holding its breath until its Master re-emerged from his rooms. Of course Ithiel had noted Cal’s lazy beauty, but the icy loathing that he felt for the Uigenna-turned-Sarock-turned-Tempter-Incarnate froze any actual attraction to him. Terzian, Ithiel’s commandant and oldest friend, had succumbed. Utterly.

Ithiel continued his swift pace, slowing here and there to avoid undergrowth creeping across the woodland trail. As he ran, he began a list of pros and cons to entering Terzian’s rooms unannounced— not that that was really possible, unless he climbed the outside of the house and entered by stealth, which was out of the question. He was second in command of the Varrish army under the Autarch; he wasn’t a house-hara trying to sneak into their leader’s bedchamber. He’d not witnessed that much of Terzian’s behavior around Calanthe, but what he had seen had worried and sickened him. He and Terzian went back further than nearly anyhar else he knew, incepted days apart, and having suffered the same abuses as human youths in the months prior to becoming Wraeththu.

Ithiel blinked and wiped at his eyes as he jogged. “Rain,” he panted in frustration. The stables weren’t too far down the path, only a quarter mile or so. He decided to sprint, relishing the physical sensation of challenge in his muscles. With each satisfying pound against the earth, he imagined he was smashing Cal’s face with the bottom of his boot.

Breathing heavily, Ithiel availed himself of some fresh water that he knew the stable-hara kept. It wasn’t storming, but a steady rain fell. The clouds seemed to have decided that their burden was too much and they poured it generously to the earth. Ithiel was too agitated to return to his small home, though his sweaty hair was matted to his head and he was in sore need of a bath. As another welcome diversion, he decided to brush down his horse, knowing that she would enjoy the attentions. After that he would go home, get cleaned up and have a meal, and then decide whether or not to keep a third night’s vigil outside of Terzian’s doors— or kick them in.

* * * * *

As he approached Forever, Ithiel knew that he was in for a battle of sorts. Not only had Terzian barricaded himself in his rooms, but Cobweb’s magical influence radiated from the walls. Shrugging off the prickliness woven into the outside ambiance, Ithiel rapped hard at the front door.

“It’s Ithiel!” he shouted, hoping that his name would carry into the house.

“Yes, it is!” Yarrow bellowed at him as he opened the door.

“Let me in then,” Ithiel demanded.

“All right, no need to yell,” Yarrow snapped, stepping aside to let Ithiel into the familiar enclave of Forever.

He appreciated how Terzian’s other house-hara snapped to attention as he strode in, making his way to the main staircase and to Terzian’s rooms. Terzian still slept, or drank, or both; his doors were shut defiantly as they had been since Cal’s departure. Ithiel decided to go to Cobweb and confer with him yet again, though Cobweb might well just spit on the ground and cast a curse at the very mention of Cal’s name. It was a risk he decided to take, although he was in a delicate situation, being so close to both Terzian and his consort. The relationships were quite different, but his loyalties to both were utterly without question or blemish.

His feet led him to Cobweb’s door, which stood partway open. Ithiel leaned against the doorframe and peered in as he tapped gently on the door so as not to startle Cobweb, were he in one of his trances. Cobweb stood near a window, dressed in robes of an uncertain dusky color— he’d lit a smattering of candles, but the room was dim, echoing the gloomy rain that continued to fall. He didn’t turn when Ithiel made his entrance, so Ithiel spoke his name aloud. When Cobweb continued to stare, unmoving, Ithiel decided to approach him with caution, as though he were a coiled snake that could strike without warning.

“Cobweb?”

Only once he was right next to him, admiring Cobweb’s exceptional beauty as he always did, did Cobweb turn his head. His focus appeared far away, gazing with fevered intent on a distant inner landscape.

“Cobweb,” Ithiel repeated, reaching his hand to stroke Cobweb’s shoulder and upper arm. “It’s Ithiel. I’d like to talk with you.” Cobweb stared through him, as though he were invisible. Ithiel was on the verge of doing something drastic, like shake him or yell, when Cobweb came back to himself, a puzzled expression glancing on his face as he noticed Ithiel for the first time.

“Did I summon you?” he asked earnestly, his brow burrowing between delicate eyebrows.

“Not really. Well, perhaps you did without intending to,” Ithiel said, moving away a pace and running a hand through his hair. “I’m here to make some decisions about Terzian.”

Cobweb’s face shuttered closed and his nostrils flared. “He’s still in his rooms, pining for that nightshade, that deceitful, heart-snatching devil spawn who shared his bed. Nothing’s changed since you left a few hours ago.”

Ithiel pursed his lips, slightly shocked at Cobweb’s vitriol. He knew there’d been what he would consider inappropriate behavior, or at least indelicate; he’d just not yet seen this level of animosity in Cobweb during the past two days, even when the two of them had discussed the matter in the kitchen. Then again, they’d primarily been discussing Terzian and his condition.

“He can’t stay there indefinitely; we need him as a leader. Terzian and I go back a long way…” His voice trailed off as flickers of memory from his human youth sprang to mind before he ruthlessly brushed them aside. “I’m willing to risk his wrath. If he still hasn’t come out by tomorrow evening, I’m going in there to retrieve him, even if I have to drag him out bodily.”

Cobweb’s anger and betrayal clung to his starkly refined features. “Don’t you think I should be the one to decide who, if anyone violates his privacy?”

“Normally I would,” Ithiel agreed, seeing a bottle of wine and gratefully helping himself to a glass. “But Terzian’s reaction has affected you more personally. Your judgment might be questionable as well. I say that as one of your oldest friends. He’s wounded you, as he has before; I’m not blind but neither will I take sides. I’m here to act as someone who doesn’t want there to be more time for rumor and innuendo to make it through army ranks. One more night, and then his brooding or whatever this is, has got to come to an end.”

Cobweb hadn’t moved during Ithiel’s impassioned speech, though he appeared to be mulling over the words. He took the glass of wine out of Ithiel’s hands, letting his fingers linger on Ithiel’s, their texture as dry and light as moth wings. With easy grace, he lifted the glass and took a healthy swallow before returning it.

“You’re right,” he said, resigned. Absentmindedly he began to plait a thin braid in his hair. “Three is an auspicious number; I doubt he’ll come to himself until tomorrow. But that will be the end of it. He has duties and obligations and the sooner he’s back in those roles, the sooner he can move on from that poisonous, forked-tongue viper. He’s deserved to suffer. The humiliation, Ithiel!” Cobweb hissed, his fingers fluttering in his dark hair as he worked the slender plait. “To be shunted aside, in my own home,” he seethed. “I hope the angelic demon meets a particularly nasty end, and soon.” He let out a huff of air, part sigh and part growl.

Ithiel felt a pang of pity for Cobweb. He himself was more matter of fact about things and he’d only rarely experienced troubles of the heart. In the years he’d been with Terzian and his consort, he’d had plenty of time to see their balance of power tip back and forth. Terzian and Cobweb had a challenging relationship, to put it mildly, but for Cobweb, no matter how bittersweet or unfair, there truly was none other… which kept him in a near-constant state of vulnerability. That said, Cobweb possessed his own weaponry of sorts, of superstition, vision and ritual, all barely contained in a vortex of spellbinding loveliness. Ithiel, too, was drawn to Cobweb’s passion, even though at times it could be terrifying and unpredictable. They were firstly friends and oftentimes confidants, and occasional lovers second; Ithiel knew well nothing he could say or do would possibly evoke such a maelstrom of emotion in the har at his side.

To Ithiel’s surprise and delight, Cobweb slid his arm behind Ithiel’s back and laid his head on his shoulder, saying, “I would like to be comforted. The past weeks have taken their toll, much less these most recent days.”

Ithiel nuzzled against the crown of Cobweb’s head, breathing in the scent of his hair and the skin underneath: jasmine, patchouli and musk, such rich and exotic aromas.

“Would you like to talk, or was there a more physical comfort I can provide?” Ithiel asked, easing Cobweb so that they were chest to chest in an embrace.

Cobweb’s thin frame melted against Ithiel. Unexpectedly strong hands grabbed Ithiel’s flank as Cobweb sinuously rubbed their groins together and Ithiel let out a rumble of pleasure.

“Words won’t soothe me,” Cobweb breathed hotly into Ithiel’s ear before tugging gently on it with his teeth. “But your body and breath, that doubtless can salve my wounded spirit.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Ithiel gripped the slightly rounded curves of Cobweb’s backside, feeling his own ouana-lim climbing to attention within his tight trousers. Cobweb’s tongue snuck into Ithiel’s sensitive ear, his hot breaths causing fires to spark and burn deep in Ithiel’s loins. Tingles coursed up from the back of his knees; his ears were a sensual weak spot and well Cobweb knew it. Ithiel leaned away, raising a hand to cradle the back of Cobweb’s head. He paused to admire the marble architecture of his features, sensing Cobweb’s pride at being viewed with such reverence.

“You’re an extraordinary har,” Ithiel murmured against Cobweb’s lips, narrow but cherry ripe. There was a sudden noise from another part of the house and Ithiel froze. “Where’s Swift?”

“Being tutored by Swithe. Don’t worry,” Cobweb purred, caressing his cheek along Ithiel’s jaw like a cat against a petting hand.

“Still. I think I should check—” Ithiel began but Cobweb silenced him with a fierce kiss. It softened when Cobweb gently sucked Ithiel’s bottom lip in his mouth.

“I’ll close the door, but trust me. I can feel everyone’s movements in this house.” Cobweb slid his palm down the cotton tunic Ithiel had put on after his shower, past his belted trousers to palm the ridge of his erection. Desire bloomed on Cobweb’s face. “Your movements will be especially… arousing.”

“I’ll just undress, then?” Ithiel said, his voice rusty with the passion Cobweb inspired.

“Please.”

Cobweb glided to the door, shut it, and walked over to the bed which was resplendent in apple green and orchid satins. Ithiel wasted no time in shedding his boots and clothes, keeping an eye on Cobweb as he also disrobed. As Ithiel climbed onto the bed, arranging the riot of pillows and putting himself on display, his assumption at their roles gnawed at him. Cobweb slid to his side, porcelain loveliness that clothed a spine of pure steel. He fingered the coarse curls at the base of Ithiel’s ouana-lim, its vibrant copper flickering with a golden pulse.

“Cobweb,” Ithiel said in a low voice, “I don’t know that I’ve ever asked this, but after all that’s transpired… You have so much strength. Do you want to be ouana?”

The delicate fingers stroked up and down Ithiel’s thick stem as he pondered the question. Ithiel had no doubt in his mind that Terzian had never, ever posited such a coupling, and the thought of being partner to Cobweb in such a role seemed memorable, while unlikely. Ithiel rarely explored that side of himself; the irony that it had nearly always been Terzian when he did so wasn’t lost on him. For his consort, Ithiel’s friend, also to plumb his depths, especially now in this aftermath of Terzian’s disloyalty, would be justice for Cobweb on a poetic scale.

“Another time, perhaps,” Cobweb said, his voice rich but light, like poured cream. His hooded eyes tracked slowly to the bronze hardness in his hand before gazing again at Ithiel. “This is far too enticing. Edible, really,” he went on, sharing breath with Ithiel before planting a row of nips and kisses down Ithiel’s torso.

Ithiel groaned his adulations and praise as Cobweb suckled and licked his flowering ouana-lim. The aruna he’d taken recently had been satisfying, but uninspired— Cobweb, with his sense of the wyrd and his fiery passion, was always memorable. Ithiel’s body and arunic energies were stoked to near combustion when Cobweb sat up, gave Ithiel a feral, smoldering look, and sank down on his straining ouana-lim. Ithiel’s jagged cries punctuated the air as he thrust into Cobweb’s body again and again. Cobweb tumbled over, feasting on Ithiel’s mouth, sweeping him up into a realm of liquid jade and fevered breath that roared through Ithiel’s blood like the beating of dragon wings.

All at once Cobweb slowed; he pulled Ithiel on top of him and hooked his ankles above Ithiel’s backside. Cobweb’s fingers rasped against Ithiel’s scalp as he tenderly raked his fingers through the equerry’s short hair, arching his groin so the sheltered nub of his ouana-lim teased the soft skin of Ithiel’s sacs.

“Let’s make this last,” Cobweb sighed, the strong muscles of his soume-lam clenching around Ithiel’s shaft so that Ithiel groaned at the friction. He struggled to keep a semblance of control, to focus on serving pleasure to Cobweb with each cant of hips and wave of affection he exhaled on his own breath. The mechanics of aruna were powerful indeed, but Ithiel wanted to scatter golden seeds on Cobweb’s current harsh, embittered soil of spirit.

“Now, now!” Cobweb gasped, one hand clawing at Ithiel’s back and the other holding white-knuckled to the ornate ironwork of his headboard.

“What happened to your patience?” Ithiel panted.

“Forget patience. Do it, release me!”

Ithiel was only too happy to comply. He visualized the blazing garnet deep with his lover’s body, of the tongue in his ouana-lim leaping to strike at Cobweb’s core, and it was done. Cerulean flame licked around them; vermilion shudders of pleasure thundered through them both until they lay, exhausted, in the shambles of sheets and twisted bed coverings. Cobweb stretched out on his side, his raven hair tousled and wild. He turned his lambent gaze onto Ithiel, who felt vindicated, somehow. Ithiel had wanted to destroy Cal, but through the shifting kaleidoscope of harish energy and Varrish revenge, just now he and Cobweb had celebrated a sort of Grissecon. It was nearly as potent as having shot a bullet into the troublebringer’s back.

“He will appear tomorrow,” Cobweb said softly about Terzian before licking away a tear of sweat that traipsed across Ithiel’s eyebrow.

Ithiel nodded, certain that Cobweb would be proven correct. “I’m famished. You’ve roused my hunger as well as my libido.”

Cobweb rolled his eyes, but kissed Ithiel’s cheek and made some commentary about checking up on Yarrow and the possibility of being served some olives and dark bread. Once they’d dressed and tidied up, Ithiel and Cobweb ventured down to the kitchen. Ithiel found a bottle of sheh and helped himself; he gestured the bottle toward Cobweb, who demurred. Over a platter of cold chicken and sharp cheese, Ithiel shared his current, candid thoughts.

“I could still go after them,” he said, a new fire of intent having been lit in his spirit. “Pellaz I could simply maim, not kill outright. He’s a pup. But Ca—”

“Don’t say his name,” Cobweb snarled, and Ithiel slowly closed his mouth.

“I’m sure I could take Leef and one other of higher rank; I saw their direction and doubtless I’d find them.”

Cobweb gave Ithiel a commiserative, wan smile. “You could. But just as Terzian is needed, so are you. No, let them be. Justice will seek them out and take her due, never you fear,” he said, his eyes luminous with vindictive fervor. “Terzian will rise and suffer, as he must, but we three will remain the columns of strength. He is ours, yours and mine.”

Ithiel gave Cobweb a wary glance. “Mine? I think not,” he said in a hushed voice, hoping that the cook wasn’t skulking about.

“Oh, but he is, in some ways. You talk strategy with him, you’ve been on campaign with him. That doesn’t interest me. He has you to talk with about all of the military goings-on. I have our son to raise.”

A thought occurred to Ithiel, about how this resilient har across the table from him still lived at all. Ithiel did have Cal and Pellaz to thank for that. “You went with us, when we ended up fighting the Irraka. You were interested then,” Ithiel hedged, uncertain why he was bringing up the past, parrying with ghosts.

“I didn’t want to leave Terzian’s side.” Cobweb’s eyes glittered in defiance.

Ithiel sagged against his chair. He loved both Terzian and Cobweb, though the relationships were as different as apples and lemons. “I want him back,” he muttered crossly, stretching out his legs below the table and crossing them at the ankle. “He should worship you.” The tone was terse, but Ithiel knew Cobweb would hear the deep undercurrent of desirous respect implied in his words. Ithiel saw a crumpled pack of cigarettes near the sink; he pushed away from the table and walked over to it, pulling one out. He lit it, took a deep inhale and then let out a stream of smoke with a frustrated exhale.

“He does, in a way,” Cobweb said, though the words didn’t ring with confidence.

They spoke for a while longer; Ithiel kept his voice low as he really didn’t want Yarrow or even the tutor, Swithe, to know the full extent of how troubled he and Cobweb were about Terzian’s actions. After a while, Ithiel felt the weight of a curious gaze and he turned to see Swift peeking out from the doorway leading to the entrance hall. He’d been sitting cross-legged on the floor, his head tilted just enough to eavesdrop, but when Swift saw he’d been noticed, he blanched and scuttled backward.

“Swift?” Cobweb asked of Ithiel as he glanced over his shoulder, his black hair rippling in a luxurious silk cascade.

“Yes. Swift, you can come in,” Ithiel said, though he realized that was really up to his hostling to decide, not himself.

“Swift, dear,” Cobweb cooed, extending his arms until the harling grudgingly walked from his shelter at the doorframe.

It was obvious to Ithiel that Swift was angry at himself for having been found out, and was perhaps awaiting a reprimand. He seemed on the cusp of asking dozens of burning questions, but didn’t dare. Discussing Terzian was a tricky business for anyone at the best of times; Swift, even at such a young age seemed already to know that to be an inherent truth.

“You need to go to bed, not lurk around, spying on your poor hosting and the equerry,” Cobweb said placatingly, combing his fingers through Swift’s tangled brown waves. “I almost dare not ask, but what studious insights or other inappropriate material has Swithe been putting into your head? Tell me while I get up and draw you a bath. Your hair’s not been washed in days,” he said, affronted, and perhaps mildly upset with himself for not having noticed until now.

“I’ll just go home,” Ithiel said, stubbing out a third cigarette. While he was an honorary member of the household, some experiences he felt would only intrude on, especially those of domestic quarreling or bliss. “Will you be okay through the night?” he asked Cobweb, who offered a demure smile.

“Yes, thank you,” he said graciously, rising to his feet. Swift had gone over to the cat and was petting her, having tuned out the two adults. “You’re of course welcome to stay in the guest room down the hall from me if you’d rather not venture out into the rain.”

“Would you prefer that I stay?”

Ithiel gauged Cobweb’s expression, but he appeared to be much more at peace than he had when Ithiel had first arrived this evening.

“No. I’m both resolved and well-pleasured. You’ll be back tomorrow?” he asked, though it came out as a statement.

“Of course. I’ll join you at breakfast.”

Ithiel had a hunch that the morning would be the breaking of the dam, that Terzian would reappear of his own volition. If he did, Ithiel wanted to be present, a source of familiar support and grounding to both of them. And if Terzian didn’t emerge, well, he and Cobweb would go and force him back out into the post-Cal dawn of a household and people who needed him.

Cobweb nodded, his gratitude an understated pulse Ithiel could feel beating in the air between them. “Until tomorrow, then. Sleep well. Swift, upstairs we go. Don’t drag your feet, and no need to sulk, either. Your hair really is a travesty.”

Ithiel smiled after them, waiting until they’d gone up the stairs to put his platter and cutlery in the sink. He tossed back the last of the sheh he’d been drinking, warmed in spirit and body by the potent liquor. After a last glance around the cozy kitchen, he retrieved his jacket, and went back to his modest home in the rain, morbidly curious as to what the next day would bring.

* * * * *

Terzian offered Ithiel the pack of cigarettes with a steady hand, nodding his thanks. Ithiel took one and lit it from the Autarch’s match before sitting back in his chair. It was ground on which Ithiel knew he needed to tread carefully.

“You look well,” Ithiel said, grateful to be able to say such simple words. “Will we be heading south again?”

Terzian took a deep drag off of his own cigarette and blew a thin line of smoke. His eyes glittered brightly, sparking hope in Ithiel’s chest.

“Yes, we will. I’ve heard news of more Gelaming activity and we must answer.”

Ithiel nodded again, a deep thrum of respect beating a tattoo in his chest. “Of course. I’ll speak with Leef— he’ll rally our troops.” He eased back in his chair, taking note of Terzian’s office. It was spartan in many ways, but Ithiel felt at home in this ambiance. Terzian oozed confidence as he used to, all leather and power, the elements Ithiel had been drawn to for years, since they’d been human. He uncrossed his legs, gratified when Terzian’s glance flickered down to his groin.

Good, he thought, sprawling further back in the chair. You’re back with us.

“Thank you for looking after Cobweb,” Terzian said gravely. He steepled his fingers, the cigarette perched on an ashtray. “I don’t know what I’d do without him. Well, I do know, but I’d rather not experience that again,” he went on, sitting back in his chair so that it sighed, luxuriantly.

“I would do anything for you,” Ithiel swore, not for the first time. “Cobweb is dear to me, as you are. You’ve known that, since our age began.”

He sat up in his chair, right arm stretched in welcome. Terzian put the cigarette to his lips and let out a deep exhale, lips quirked to the side so the smoke hissed away from Ithiel’s face. Flinty blue eyes regarded Ithiel with quiet understanding.

“Thank you for your honesty,” Terzian said, his voice still hoarse as though from disuse; he squeezed Ithiel’s hand. “I would have none other at my side in time of battle. But I’m also grateful to have you here in my home. Sheh?” he asked, gesturing at a nearby bottle.

Ithiel shook his head, feeling brazen. “I’d rather… well, if I could comfort you,” he said awkwardly, until he saw the glint of intrigue in Terzian’s eye.

“I’ve been well taken care of, but not yet by you,” he said, predatory intent flexing behind his smooth gestures. Ithiel knew well those unspoken movements, recognised the heat radiating from Terzian’s tawny face.

“Would you have me?”

Ithiel let his legs sprawl open, rubbing at his short hair. He knew the answer, but it stroked his ego to hear the words from Terzian’s mouth.

“With great pleasure.”

Aruna with Terzian was often aggressive, driven by very non-feminine aspects in both of them, though it was only with the Autarch— the one with whom Ithiel had been incepted, the one who had suffered the same vile indignities when still human— that Ithiel was soume.

“I’ll ride you,” Ithiel promised, standing up and slowly pulling down the zip of his leathers.

Terzian leered appreciatively, licking his lips and palming the bulge at his groin. “That you will,” he murmured before standing and moving to close and lock the door.

They were on each other, ravenous in a way Ithiel hadn’t expected. He’d wanted to own him, to take him back from that wretched har who’d ravaged his soul. Terzian belonged to Cobweb, or so Ithiel had believed, but they were Wraeththu, and sharing each other was a part of the business. Ithiel was a non-progenitor Varr, but unique in his relationship with their leader: demanding and compliant all at once. Terzian wrenched down his leathers, pushing fingers into his soume-lam as he bucked against him.

“Do it!” Ithiel gasped.

“Never fear.”

The games were on.

Ithiel sat on the desk, legs spread, as Terzian’s wide ouana-lim pounded into him. They shared breath; Ithiel drowned in it, in Terzian’s fiery presence, shucking off his shirt to see the tiger tattoo that decorated his chest. Ithiel grabbed at him, at the muscles dancing underneath his coloring, while their arunic energies thundered to their completion. Ithiel’s body took control; his inner muscles milked Terzian of his climax until he growled Ithiel’s name, again and again into his ear.

Ithiel kissed the side of his neck, hard, but not enough to leave a mark. Terzian didn’t mind having an occasional love bruise on display, but this coupling wasn’t one that needed to declare itself to the household. They were on occasion more tender with each other, but that was most often while they were out on campaign.

“You can be so wild,” Ithiel said, his voice husky with the raw pleasure of their coupling. He eased his legs down as Terzian made a pleased, rumbling sound.

“You liked it, though.”

A warm smile rose to Ithiel’s lips. “You know I did.” He cupped Terzian’s jaw, the gesture oddly intimate compared to their hard and fast joining. They cleaned and dressed in a companionable silence, Ithiel reaching out to draw his fingers along the vibrant tattoo before the last few buttons were closed on Terzian’s shirt. “It’s good to see you again,” he said, standing to attention. “You’ve suffered, and made it through. I won’t mention what I’d like to do to that miserable har—”

“No, don’t.”

The words were terse; a hint of warning flashed in Terzian’s eyes. “I let him wound me, but I won’t stand to hear anyhar’s personal thoughts or vendettas about him. I could have had him killed — them killed — but I let him go. There will be no revenge on them, wherever they went, not by any Varrs who answer to me.”

Ithiel slowly nodded, thinking of Cobweb, who doubtless would seek his own revenge, though not of a physical kind. There was nothing Terzian could do to stop that.

“You and I go back a very long time,” Terzian said more kindly, stepping behind his desk and retrieving the bottle of sheh now balanced precariously near the edge. As he poured two glasses, he went on, “I appreciate that you’re being protective, but if I couldn’t return to my household and army, I’d no longer be worthy to be called a Varr.” He took a mouthful, swallowed, and gazed at Ithiel. “And above all else, I’m a proud Varr. Here I am. This has been an unexpected and welcome diversion, but now we need to get down to business. Please pull up a chair; we need to talk strategy and map out or next venture south.”

Ithiel nodded, certain that his relief at Terzian having returning to his more normal state was emblazoned on his face. As they talked, Ithiel couldn’t help but think of Cal, and hoped that he never had the audacity to return to Galhea. Terzian’s word would have to be a roar to silence the cries for Cal’s head on a platter. Things now had been set to rights, and Ithiel sat comfortably in the chair, gratified that Forever no longer felt off-kilter. They had triumphed.

The End

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