Summary: Written at the last minute for the Wraeththu Challenge
Disclaimer: All the pretty Wraeththu, as well as the world they live in, were created by, and belong to, Storm Constantine, who (bless her!) is gracious enough to allow fans like me to take them out and play with them occasionally. No disrespect or copyright infringement is intended, and I promise to wash everyone off and put them away neatly when I’m done.
Warnings: This story comes with all my usual warnings as well as apologies to Evanesence (“Bring Me To Life”), Rogers and Hammerstein (“Sound of Music”), and Garth Brooks (dunno which song, but the quote is attributed to one of his songs) – quite the musical mash-up, eh? I hope it makes sense – once I got going, it became part of the challenge (at least for me) to work in as many of the actual lyrics and direct references to the lyrics as I could. Hope you enjoy reading this – I had fun writing it.
Beta read by: bigunen
Bring Me To Life
Halny stared down at his lap. His fists were clenched so hard he could see parts of them turning white and he could feel the bite of his fingernails as they pressed into his palms. Despite his best efforts, a tear rolled down his cheek and splashed silently onto his wrist.
“How do you feel you did in this last round of testing?” The Hienama asked again gently.
“I imagine I did fairly poorly since I’ve been sent to you rather than the Provost.” Halny ventured a look at the Hienama.
Melchior, head of the Nayati school and training center at Flat River, sat behind his ornate desk leaning back in his chair; his elbows rested on its arms, his fingertips pressed together. He sat watching Halny, a look of sympathetic concern on his face. Melchior gave a half-smile and nodded slightly.
“But I can do better, I swear! I’m trying so hard but I’ll do better. Please. I can do this. I will do this…. Please!” There was desperation in the plea.
Melchior sighed heavily “We know you are trying, Halny. Of all the hara who have passed through the doors of this Nayati I think that you have been one of the hardest working and most earnest of our students.”
“But it’s not enough, is it?”
“Halny you are brilliant. You know your subjects well. You are motivated and you participate, you are a lively and talented debater, you have unique and refreshing perspectives, and you excel in many areas …”
“Except the ones I need to become a hienama…”
“There are indeed certain basic skills a hienama requires that you find challenging to say the least. We must be honest, Halny; your life force seems to be unsuited to this existence. In addition to basic skills you have yet to master, you are not as well-ordered as is necessary; you have a certain irreverence, albeit a charming irreverence; you’re flighty and unpredictable; you are always tearing off on some madcap adventure… you’re a will-of-a-wisp, a clown…”
Melchior smiled suddenly, and closing his eyes he sung softly to himself, “How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?”
Halny looked puzzled “Hienama?”
Melchior shook he head, still smiling, “A distant memory from another existence – life imitates art it would seem.” He paused. “I have met both formally and informally with all of your teachers and mentors. You have been unable to move beyond certain stages and we have been unable to help you break past these barriers…”
“Please don’t give up on me! Please don’t! I’ll try harder. I’ll do anything… please don’t turn me out.”
“We have no intention of giving up on you or turning you out… what I am saying is that it is time for all of us to face a few facts. You are on the wrong path and we must find you one that suits you better.”
Halny dropped his eyes back to his lap blinking back tears that threatened to escape. He’d been both dreading and expecting this for awhile.
“I can’t give up now. I have always dreamed of being a hienama. I’ve tried so hard. I prayed so hard…” his voice sounded miserable.
“I don’t doubt your sincerity Halny, none of us do. But…”
Halny stifled a sniffled sob.
“Halny…” Melchior’s voice was gentle. “You have a soul that is bright and vivid – the path each of us must follow is one that allows our soul to shine – you are struggling in the wrong direction, the path is clouded – your soul is becoming strained and brittle. Sometimes the greatest gift the Universe can bestow is to not answer our prayers and instead open gateways to our true path.”
“So what do I do now? How do I find a new gate? A new path?”
“This is a question we have put our souls and minds to for a time… with both prayer and meditation. The answer that came …puzzled us,” he said that carefully.
Melchior shifted his gaze from Halny to the window.
“Do you know Archon Rume?”
Halny nodded, “… of the Ulid tribe to the north?”
Melchior nodded. “Correct.”
He looked back at Halny with a serious intensity that made Halny slightly apprehensive.
“The paths we are given are not always easy, nor do they always seem clear at first.”
Melchior was silent for a moment.
“The Ulid came asking our assistance in finding a consort for the Archon. Their visit coincided with your infamous ‘Piglet Stampede’.” Melchior’s mouth twitched as Halny shifted uncomfortably, both hara remembering the event, albeit from different perspectives.
“That incident brought you to their attention in a big way… a big… muddy… chaotic … and colourful way. They have chosen you.”
Melchior held up his hand. “You may present us with no end of challenges Halny, but do not doubt that you are very dear to us. This decision was not entered into lightly. After much deliberation we left it to the dehar, deciding that these last series of tests would determine your course… The dehar have set your path. The Archon and his entourage arrive tomorrow. There will be a blood bonding ceremony and then you will start a down a new path.”
– – –
The subtle signs of spring that had been evident around the Nayati at Flat River became fewer and farther between the farther north they rode towards their destination of Osprey Lees, in the eastern hills of the Ulid territory; under the overcast skies the world became a blur of lifeless browns and greys.
Their party of twenty or so hara rode mostly in silence which added to the dreariness of the atmosphere.
Halny felt numb; things had happened so quickly and with such finality. He had not had time to digest the fact that he was no longer a student, no longer pursuing his dream, let alone deal with the fact that he was now blood-bonded to a har that he’d not met until they’d been face-to-face in the Nayati during a ceremony that had bound them together for life.
How could Melchior have seen this as his path? These hara were so … Halny pondered the right word to describe them – dull? Dreary? Formal? Restrained? Lifeless?
Rume was not unpleasant, nor were his companions, nor were they unkind; in fact, they were extremely considerate– when they noticed him, but most of the time Halny felt like a harling at the adults table: listening in silence as they spoke amongst themselves of things he did not understand and could not relate to. On occasion, somehar would notice he was there and either explain something to him, or just speak with him, but most of the time he sat in silence – listening. These hara seemed to speak of nothing but business, deal with nothing but problems, and see life as a series of serious joyless tasks.
Lifeless grey hara, wrapped in soft grey cloaks riding through a monotonous landscape still asleep in the cold grip of winter; to Halny this felt more like he had been banished to a life in exile, rather than embarking through a new gateway on his true path.
Halny’s new home at Osprey Lees loomed before him, a grey stone building nestled in grey hills, surrounded by ancient lichen-covered trees whose bare branches reached starkly into the overcast grey sky; spring had yet to reach this place.
“Hove!” Rume called, “Would you please give my consort a tour of the facilities?” To Halny he made a slight bow “My apologies, I have business to attend to. I shall meet with you later, before dinner.”
Hove was a pleasant informative tour guide, but Halny could sense the omnipresent heavy grey repression in his manner. Hove seemed to be consciously pouring everything into a business-like detached façade.
Hove ushered Halny through a heavy wooden door into a sparsely furnished but airy room.
Hove smiled kindly. “This is your sitting room and this,” he threw open a door to Halny’s right, “is your private office.”
Halny stuck his nose in the room observing an empty room with two window seats and walls lined with empty bookshelves. Hove was watching Halny closely.
“Tiahar there is nothing here now, but rest assured that the Archon will provide anything you need for this space. He appreciates your presence and wants you to be comfortable.”
Hove opened another door and took Halny through an L-shaped walk-through closet lined on both sides with closet rails and a few empty hangers. “Your closet,” he announced.
“And this is your dressing area.” He continued as they entered an open area with large mirrors. Halny could see into a sleek bathroom which looked to be made entirely of black marble.
“The bedroom,” Hove announced as he went through a door on the wall adjacent to the bathroom.
The bedroom was large but minimalistic in its furnishing. The bed was large and comfortable looking. On the far side of the bed there was a windowed alcove that contained a small couch, and a small table. On the table there was a neatly folded newspaper and a small stack of files.
“Rume prefers to retire here in solitude to catch up on current events and go over his notes before dinner,” Hove informed him. Halny nodded.
“The Archon’s private office and dressing area are through there.” Hove waved to a closed door to the left of the sitting alcove.
“Right this way, Tiahar, the rest of the facilities are through here…” and so the tour continued; each room much like the next – comfortable, but plain, colourless, and completely devoid of personality.
“Dinners are formal,” Hove informed him. “You will be provided with briefing notes regarding those hara to be present and, of course, the appropriate attire.”
The tour ended up in the kitchen garden where Halny was introduced to Cedry, the har in charge of the kitchen. Cedry was tall and angular and although he looked no different from any other har, he gave Halny the impression that he was one of the older hara, not just first generation, but from the early days.
Eventually Halny had been informed that the Archon was ready to see him, and he now sat in Rume’s office in the chair across the desk from him.
Rume was a handsome creature but he did nothing to enhance his looks; his chestnut hair was pulled back austerely into a ponytail, he wore no kohl, no jewellery, and his attire was entirely ‘sensible’.
Rume had greeted Halny graciously, enquired politely about the tour, and whether he found his rooms adequate, and had repeated the offer to supply any furniture, books, or clothing that Halny required. Having then offered Halny a seat Rume had then pulled out a file folder on which Halny could see his name.
“First of all, I should like to welcome you to Osprey Lees. I am honoured that you agreed to this arrangement. I will truly appreciate the increased capacity your presence will be able to offer our tribe. Your assistance will streamline many of our initiatives. Over the next few weeks I hope you will begin to feel…” Rume droned on in dry impersonal rhetoric and Halny stopped listening. Eventually Rume cleared his throat and shuffled the papers from the file.
“I did, however, promise Melchior that I would allow you to continue your studies. Our Hienama will arrange for you to study and practice with him at our Nayati. He will also provide you will information regarding our history, culture, and so on. And now unless you have any questions, I must excuse myself – I have to go inspect a bridge. Dinner will be at 8 in the dining room. I shall see you then.”
– – –
Halny was sitting in the Nayati of Osprey Lees staring out the library window listlessly; a sharp tap at the library door startled him out of his reveries.
A few moments later he was sitting in a large well-worn leather armchair by the open window, staring bemusedly across a coffee table at Melchior, as the wet earth scent of spring drifted into the tomb-like quiet of the space.
“You are wondering why I am here,” Melchior smiled.
“Yes, I am rather… Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to see you, but I’m not sure why you’d bother to make the trip all this way to Osprey Lees.”
“I am here because I am worried.”
“About you. When your hienama wrote me and told me you were dying I came straight away. And now that I see you, I’m glad I came. He was not exaggerating. You are dying, at least figuratively.”
“How are things going, Halny?”
Halny paused for a second before answering, “I don’t know. Are you here to take me back? Have I failed here too?”
“No. You have not failed. Are you happy here Halny?” Melchior tilted his head. “No, I don’t think you are.”
“I should be; I eat well, I have a roof over my head… but… I feel… nothing,” Halny shrugged. “I’m stuck though, aren’t I? On this path?”
“Ah! You’re still mourning what you feel you lost. You don’t understand this fate and you’re feeling sorry for yourself. Ask me a question – the first one that pops into your head.”
“Why was I drawn to the Nayati so strongly if only to fail once I got there?”
“Perhaps you needed to be at the Nayati so that the Ulid could find you.”
Halny leaned forward to put his face in his hands, propping his elbows on his knees.
“When you came to me you told me, with disarming honesty, that you wanted to be a hienama because you wanted power; the power to work magic and the power to help hara. So? What are you waiting for? Stop sitting here, feeling sorry for yourself, and start helping these hara.”
Anger exploded out of Halny, “I can’t! Remember? I failed! That’s why I’m here.”
“Do you understand NOTHING?” Melchior didn’t yell but Halny felt a force in his words that hit him with a physical strength. “The healer has the power to help those in need by healing, the blacksmith has the power to help by fixing the cart wheel, and a friend has the power to give another hope and comfort.”
“This is not power! This is not Magick,” Melchior growled, holding his hand out as a flickering blue flame rose out of his palm. “Magic happens when a teacher passes on the love of learning to a harling, Magic happens when friends laugh together, and Magic happens when love touches a soul.”
“You have this power, this magic, in spades! You have a ‘Gift’ of being able to brighten the room with smiles, put people at ease, and make them smile. Your absence is felt in Flat River– we still talk about some of your capers, and we laugh – even the mere memory of you can brighten our days.”
They sat silently; Halny staring intently at the arm of his chair where his fist clenched and unclenched, and Melchior watching him.
“… and how is your relationship with Rume?”
“What relationship?” Halny’s tone was defeated and bitter. “There is no relationship. The blood-bond is a business arrangement. You want to know something about it? He keeps a file on me; I’m not a consort, I’m an employee – an employee that happens to sleep in the same room as him.”
Melchior raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, just sleep! No aruna. Not once. He hasn’t touched me. Ever.” Halny sank back into the chair and shielded his eyes as if they hurt. “Please take me back with you! Don’t let me die here. There must be something more for me. Living here is like living among the dead.” He sat up abruptly. “No, that’s not true – there is probably more joy among the dead.”
Melchior was silent for a time staring thoughtfully out the window into the distant horse paddock.
“You are an intelligent, warm, caring har. Just because you are not destined to be hienama doesn’t lessen the effectiveness of the gifts you have been given. The dehar gave you the gift to charm. While you were with us you won us all over by gently and persistently wooing our hearts and minds. Your soul is alight – colourful and filled with infectious fun and warmth – you drew us in. You opened our eyes to fun. These hara’s souls are sleeping somewhere cold and you are in danger of lying down beside them. It is time you wake up Halny, and then wake them up – bring them to life.
– – –
The knees of his trousers were a little muddy and the front of his shirt was stained with berry juice; perhaps using the bottom of his shirt as a makeshift basket had not been the best of ideas, but bringing in the season’s first wild strawberries had been worth it.
It had been a month since Melchior’s visit and as Halny sat at the kitchen table of his new “home” watching his new friend Cedry, humming cheerfully, as he worked at the stove, Halny reflected on the power of a smile.
It had been hard at first; it had felt as though he was trying to run in water. Halny had to force himself to smile, and had to stretch to find a few positive comments and compliments, but after a week of consciously trying to channel his old ‘cheery’ self, showing genuine interest in other hara’s work and complimenting those he had interactions with, not only did he felt better but he had also begun noticing a slight shift in the attitude and behaviour of the hara. Now fresh cut flowers graced the dining room and he heard laughter more often. Most of all, however, Halny felt he was winning a battle with himself; not only making the best of things but making things better; he was breathing easier, feeling lighter, and more alive – his sense of mischief was returning.
Of all the hara in Osprey Lees, Cedry, chef extraordinaire, had been the most easy to ‘defrost’. He’d almost seemed relieved by Halny’s change in demeanour and had become an active co-conspirator.
Cedry plunked a small dish of melted chocolate on the table next to the bowl of freshly washed strawberries Halny had gathered.
“Like this… one strawberry…. dip in chocolate … and enjoy!” Cedry popped the dipped berry in his mouth closed his eyes and moaned appreciatively. “Go on try…”
Halny obeyed – the combination was divine; the sweet firm berry and the rich silkiness of the chocolate were perfect.
“I can’t believe you’ve never had this before…”
“I’ve had strawberries and I’ve had chocolate, just never together.”
Cedry chuckled, “Shameful!”
“You’re in an awfully good mood today,” observed Halny.
“Indeed!” Cedry grinned a wide self-satisfied grin. “After all this time Hove finally noticed me!”
“Oh yes!” Cedry’s eyes twinkled wickedly, “He noticed me … All. Night. Long.”
Halny laughed and then sighed somewhat wistfully. “I wish Rume would notice me.” He popped another strawberry in his mouth. “Why did he choose me if he wasn’t ‘interested’?”
Cedry grimaced slightly at the strawberry he was holding before he spoke. “To be honest Tiahaar, he did not choose you. I chose you. The hienama and I were the ones who went to Flat River to meet with Melchior. I chose you because you were the light. You will find our souls and lead them back home.”
Halny digested that for a moment. “You’ve known Rume a long time, haven’t you?”
Cedry nodded, “From the beginning.”
“Has he always been like he is?”
“No. Once upon a time Rume was…different,” Cedry sighed and shook his head. “Sometimes when life disappoints a dreamer he becomes frozen inside and he forgets how to dream. I know you understand that… now,”
Cedry’s eyebrow shot up suddenly, he stood up and returned to the stove where he was busy for a few minutes. When he returned he had a fresh batch of melted chocolate in a small ceramic dish. He put the dish on a plate and added a few strawberries.
“Rume likes strawberries. Rume likes chocolate.” Cedry gave Halny an encouraging nod and wink “… Rume went up for a bath awhile ago… Go! Scram!”
Halny put the dish of strawberries on the edge of his dresser. He stripped off his clothes, dropping them into the hamper, he grabbed a brightly coloured silk sarong and tied it carelessly around his waist as he headed to the rows of brightly coloured outfits that now hung in his closet. Halny picked out a lavender-coloured shift which had soft panels of ‘floaty’ fabric; he hung it carefully on the door hook. As he turned toward the mirror, he pulled the clip out of his hair and shook it loose; he could still smell the scent of the outdoors and the sunshine. Catching sight of himself in the mirror made Halny pause; the reds and oranges in the silk of the sarong contrasted with the pale cream of his skin and his dark brown hair hung wild and loose of his shoulders. He looked like a hedonistic sprite: unpredictable and wild. With an impish grin he picked up the dish of berries and headed into the bedroom.
Rume reclined on the couch in the windowed alcove wrapped only in a towel. His hair, still damp from his bath, hung over his shoulder. He was engrossed in his files, both hands clutching paperwork.
“I’ve brought you something.”
Rume looked up but did not move.
Halny perched on the edge of the couch at Rume’s hip ignoring the peculiar look that Rume gave him.
“I picked these.”
Halny dipped a strawberry in chocolate and held it out in front of Rume’s lips. For a moment Rume looked confused, and somewhat alarmed, but after a slight hesitation his lips parted and he allowed Halny to place the treat in his mouth. Halny dipped a second berry, and then another, and was buoyed by a sense of satisfaction when he slid the last of the delicacies into Rume’s mouth – Rume had humoured him, not putting him off with a work related appointment or some other happening.
This counted as progress to Halny. However, his focus had been on the treats – he’d not really planned any further. Now with the plate empty, his brain was scrambling to think of the next step. Halny put the dish on the coffee table and daintily licked the chocolate off his fingers. As he did so Rume sat up. Halny gave Rume a tentative smile, but Rume was not looking at him. Rume was focused on the dish that held the remnants of the chocolate sauce.
Rume reached out, plunging his index finger into the dish and swirling it in the remaining chocolate sauce. He withdrew his finger and contemplated it for a moment, and then with a curious expression on his face, he held out the finger towards Halny.
Keeping his gaze riveted on Rume, Halny leaned forward slightly and ran his tongue along the lower edge of Rume’s finger, catching the drip of chocolate slowly beginning to form. With Rume watching him carefully, Halny reached up and gently grasped Rume’s wrist, guiding the hand closer, taking his consort’s finger fully into his mouth. Slowly and sensually he ran his tongue around the finger, sucking gently to remove every trace of chocolate.
Rume pulled his finger from Halny’s mouth and reached for the dish of chocolate. This time he only dipped the tip of his finger. The look he fixed on Halny was so intense that it sent butterflies of anticipation fluttering through Halny’s insides.
Rume slowly traced the fingertip along Halny’s lower lip, pausing momentarily before plunging his hand into Halny’s hair catching the back of his neck and pulling him closer. As they shared breath Halny pushed himself closer to Rume sliding his arms around him pressing their bodies together. Passion, driven by need, built quickly.
A small whimper of anticipation escaped Halny as he felt Rume unfasten the knot that held the sarong together and he tugged urgently at the towel kilted about Rume’s waist. Their union was slightly awkward and fumbling, but it had happened – bringing them not only physical relief, but a crucial sense connection.
– – –
The late summer air was muggy and held the scent of promised rain. Halny laboured up the hill and began the trek along the drive towards ‘The Facility’, a place he now thought of as home. He was beginning to think he should have taken the farmer’s offer of a small wagon – the gigantic watermelon he was carrying seemed to become increasingly heavier with each passing minute.
Rume and his companions must have just arrived back from their day’s business, as the front yard was filled with bustle, hara, and horses.
Halny’s relationship with Rume had not miraculously ‘turned around’ since the afternoon with strawberries and chocolate; there had been no opening flood gates, no earth shattering epiphanies. Rume was more like a frozen lake: the ice gradually softening and slowly beginning to melt away. Aruna now occurred regularly, and in public Rume now did more than merely acknowledge Halny, he would smile and look genuinely happy to see him. Halny was content with these small victories, the latest of which was having made Rume laugh out loud during one of their dinner parties.
Cedry was the first to notice Halny lumbering up the drive with the watermelon and hurried to relieve him of the burden.
Rume was smiling, but this evening, unlike other evenings, he made a beeline for Halny, pulling him close and sharing breath deeply with him.
When Rume pulled away, Halny was a little breathless and very elated – another step forward, a step that had elicited a loud “Whoop” as well as broad grins from the hara around them.
“Cedry, would it be possible to put back dinner a bit? It’s a gorgeous evening and I’d like to take a walk with Halny…”
Cedry smiled knowingly, “Dinner will wait”.
Rume and Halny followed the path that wound to the top of the hill and overlooked wooded hills and green meadows.
Rume closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“I’d forgotten how beautiful this place is,” he said opening his eyes again and looking around.
“All of this time I can’t believe I couldn’t see how blessed my life has been. I feel like I’ve been sleeping a thousand years, but I’m ready now. I’m ready to open my eyes, to wake up, to live again.”