By Amanda Kear
Characters: Mengk/Terzian, Cobweb
Word Count: 3127
Spoilers: The Bewitchments of Love and Hate
Summary/Author’s Note: I was intrigued as to who Mengk was and how he ended up looking after Terzian.
Disclaimer: The world of Wraeththu belongs to Storm Constantine.
Lord Terzian was dead.
Mengk sat on the bare, scorched earth where the pyre had been. The smell of charcoal was in the air, and nothing but that remained of his Lord. The fire had been encouraged to burn fiercely – hotter than any wood fire had a right to burn – and no fragments remained. No hunks of charred wood, no cremated bone, not even the metal of a ring or belt buckle. There had been ash of course; the flaking residue of flesh and bone indistinguishable from that of timber or clothing. Yet that was now gone as well. Cobweb had taken the scant handfuls left from the fire’s hunger, powdered them in his hands and had thrown them one by one into the wind. All that was Terzian erased from existence by the breeze.
His Lord’s family had ordered the huge pyre to be constructed in the farmland out beyond Galhea. Mengk had thought at first that choice of location might be to permit all the hara of the town to attend the funeral, but that was not the case. The mourners were few: Terzian’s blood relatives, his consort, a few house hara and some high-ranking soldiers who had remained with the garrison at Galhea. Of course, there was that one Gelaming there too – he might call himself Seel har Griselming, but he was of the Gelaming mould and mindset. So a Gelaming was permitted to be present, yet of the ordinary hara that Terzian had ruled, and the rank and file of the army that he had commanded, there were none.
No, the location of the pyre had not been chosen to celebrate Terzian’s life, but because the place was isolated and undistinguished. There was to be no memorial to his lord. No gravestone, no statue, no plaque. Terzian was to be quietly forgotten. The Gelaming had no doubt insisted upon it. That seemed to be their style; to edit the universe and the hara in it until they conformed to the Gelaming ideal of perfection. Terzian’s name would undoubtedly be erased from history as smoothly as those of the myriad human rulers and warriors that Wraeththu had already forgotten.
Mengk would never forget. His grief was raw and sharp and burned as hot as the flames of the pyre. Every day he would remember Terzian’s name.
The Wraeththu dragged him spitting and snarling from the battlefield and threw him on the ground in front of the sleek, golden haired creature that was their leader. The young soldier struggled to his knees, hampered by the cord that bound his wrists behind his back. Other survivors knelt or lay around him, shell-shocked by their sudden reversal of fortunes.
His unit had been sent to relieve a town that was under siege by a Wraeththu gang. The ‘gang’ had turned out to be an army, and the ‘siege’ had turned out to be a trap. The Wraeththu had need of guns, ammunition and young men to incept. His unit commander had inadvertently supplied them with all three.
“Is this the last of them?” the creature asked.
“Yes, Tiahaar Terzian. Unless Ithiel catches any of those that fled the battle.”
“I don’t want the ones that fled, I want the ones that stood and fought. We need more warriors. Slaves and consorts I can find anywhere.”
“These ones barely count as warriors, tiahaar. They’re all new conscripts, with only the most meagre training.”
“Hmm.” The golden haired creature stepped closer and jerked the young soldier to his feet to inspect him, as if he was livestock for sale.
Shame and rage filled him at the Wraeththu’s touch. “Go fuck yourself, freak!”
He spat at the creature and received a backhand that laid him out on the ground, senses reeling from the blow. Other Wraeththu stepped forward to continue the retaliation, but this Terzian waved them back, seemingly amused by his display of defiant rage.
“Oh this one will do. This one will definitely do.”
Within days he found himself with a new name and a new body. He had never looked back.
Warriors were ouana. Warriors espoused the masculine virtues of virility, strength and valour. Warriors trained in all forms of combat, from the direct confrontation of a knife fight or cavalry charge, to the guile and strength of a sniper in the hills or an assassin in the enemy’s camp. Warrior and ouana was the benchmark by which all else was measured. Those who failed to meet expectations were relegated to the lower status of soume-aspected hara: to be consorts or kanene; to labour in the fields or to work in the houses of the great and the good. To serve the warriors in every way.
Terzian’s soldiers had all been born male. It was easy for Mengk and the others to slide back into male aspects, male expectations. Female warriors had been few and far between in the cultural context of their previous lives. Now that they constructed a new culture, it took little persuasion from Terzian, Ponclast and the other leaders that warriors should be ouana in look, word and deed.
For those who didn’t want to kill – who didn’t glory in battle or accept the discipline and hardship of a soldier’s life – then the alternative was to become feminine. The protected, not the protectors; the soft, the beautiful, the pampered. Human concepts were adapted to Varrish needs: the faithful army wife who waited at home while her husband went off to war; the diligent housekeeper; the tart with a heart of gold.
Lord Terzian did not permit camp-followers on campaign. Ouana-warriors all, from the loftiest general to the lowliest supply clerk. Terzian wanted neither the tactical inconvenience of a rabble of untrained civilians over which he only had tenuous command, nor the ill-discipline of soldiers whose comradeship might be split by squabbles over some kanene.
Of course – soldiers being soldiers and hara being hara – aruna was not far from anyhar’s mind. On the campaign trail, hara did what came naturally and took aruna with each other. It was acknowledged, even expected.
Yet warriors must be ouana. Warriors should resist submitting to the soume aspect of their nature, lest they be relegated to the status of consort or kanene. Unspoken rules emerged. Lesser ranks were supposed to submit to those greater in rank – become soume to their ouana – but not too swiftly. Shifting too readily into a soume role would be undignified for a warrior. You had to bare your teeth and snarl – a lioness submitting to a lion – not succumb with kittenish softness.
Where two warriors were equal in rank or status, aruna could become a battle, each striving to force the other to become soume. Mengk had revelled in aruna where both remained ouana; he and a partner poised on a knife-edge of willpower that prevented one or the other slipping into soume.
In Gebbaddon there was no respite from the need to be ouana. No home coming. No consorts awaiting them, no kanene to soothe their needs away, no conquered hara to submit to their new overlords.
The first time Terzian had taken him, Mengk had been selected almost at random. He was one of a dozen scouts, sent out to try and make sense of the twisting, haunted forest that the Varr army had stumbled into. The forest laughed at their attempts. Scouts walked south and found themselves emerging from the trees to the east or north of the army. They battled for days through impenetrable vegetation, yet returned to find that only minutes or hours had passed for their companions. Some were found near catatonic with fear, or raving about the horrors that they had seen. Most never returned at all.
Mengk had gasped out his report to Terzian and the generals, telling of how he had fallen asleep in a frosty pine forest and awoken in a humid jungle. Of using the stars to navigate when his compass crumbled to dust in his hands, but somehow passing the same clearing filled with bones again and again and again. He did not speak of how the skulls turned to watch him as he passed by, nor of the carrion birds that called out the names of all the hara that he had killed in his time as a warrior.
The other scouts gave similar reports, and they were all dismissed. Mengk was filing out of the tent with the others when Terzian seized him by the shoulder and curtly ordered him to remain. He stood patiently while his Lord debated what he had heard with his generals. When they too had left, Lord Terzian all but threw Mengk to the floor, his steely eyes filled with rage and lust.
Mengk fought back, as a Varr warrior was supposed to, but nevertheless ready to submit to his leader after a token effort. However, Terzian’s growl of frustration as Mengk’s ouana-lim began to withdraw made him pause. He hurriedly summoned the willpower required to shift back to ouana, thinking that Terzian wished them both to hover together on that precipice of masculine desire.
It soon became clear that Terzian wanted not an ouana partner, but a prolonged battle; a battle that Terzian could win. The enemy was denied him, all his tactics and strategy in war useless in this cursed forest. What his Lord needed from Mengk was a victory – a hard won, bitterly fought engagement in which he could be triumphant in defiance of all that the Gelaming forest threw at them.
It was not exactly pleasure, this aruna-as-warfare. Nevertheless it was what his Lord required, and Mengk saw it as his duty to provide. Every day – if time could be measured in days in that accursed place – Terzian demanded his presence. He would dutifully obey the summons, and then transform into the fierce opponent that his Lord needed to conquer.
The forest knew what they were doing, and threw it back at them. Mengk would find himself in a waking dream, reliving that moment when Terzian had first grasped his shoulder and ordered him to stay. Only it would not be Terzian, but a demonic parody of him, with claws and fangs. Or he would turn to find his shoulder seized not by fingers, but by the razor-sharp thorns of some shrub, or by shards of broken glass from a ruined building. If Terzian wondered at the scars that now marred Mengk’s flesh, he never mentioned them.
The army dwindled around them. With every passing hour hara would become separated from the main force and vanish. Sometimes you could hear their screams, yet when warriors ran to the place from where the sounds emanated, there was never anyhar there.
“Curse you Gelaming cowards! Fight us!” Mengk slashed at a curtain of hanging moss that clutched and tangled in their hair, as he and Terzian tried to push through it.
“Save your breath,” his Lord snapped. “Do not give them the satisfaction of—“
Mengk turned to see what had caused Terzian to halt his words.
His Lord was nowhere in sight. He was alone, no sign that Terzian or any other had ever been there.
“Lord Terzian?” The words were soft, disbelieving. Mengk whipped his head from side to side, turning on the spot, frantically searching for his leader.
“Lord Terzian!” He screamed out the name, running in panic through the trees, searching, searching.
He found himself once more in the clearing of bones. The skulls looked at him with pity in their empty sockets. Mengk sank to his knees and wailed his grief and despair.
Thiede plucked them out of the forest as easily as he had lured them into it. Mengk awoke to find himself on the other side of the world, in a place filled with bright sunshine and the scent of the sea. At first he could not recall who he was or how to communicate beyond wordless cries of distress. He was surrounded by Gelaming warriors who looked at him with pity and disdain. There were many other Varrs there, gaunt and hollow-eyed creatures who stared vacantly at nothing or flinched from shadows. He was given a hunk of bread, but for a long while could not comprehend what it was – that something as mundane and harmless as this bread actually existed. It did not occur to him to eat it until one of the Gelaming reminded him that was bread’s purpose.
On the fourth day he went in search of his Lord, wandering to and fro amongst the shattered remains of the Varr army, pausing to stare at anyhar with bright blond hair in the hope that it might be Terzian. On the seventh day he found his voice and began to ask anyhar who would listen where their leader might be.
“Thiede has him.” It came as a whisper, passed from har to har, as if uttering the words might draw Thiede’s attention to those who spoke them.
It took several days of shivering through nightmares for Mengk to gather his wits enough to speak to one of the Gelaming guards. “My Lord Terzian… I serve him… he will want… will need…” He could not explain what Terzian might need him for, since giving support and succour to his Lord was likely forbidden, and could only repeat “I serve him” over and over again.
Each time he asked, the Gelaming gave him pitying smiles and gently pushed him back to where the other Varrs sat, listless in the sun. One must have reported his words, however, since eventually a Gelaming officer came to look him over. From the questions that har asked, he realised that they had mistaken him for an aide-de-camp, rather than an aruna partner. Mengk did not correct them.
His mumbled replies to the questions must have been the correct ones, for the officer came back some days later and escorted him to Terzian’s side. He wept when he saw what they had done to his Lord: skeletally thin, the steely eyes dull, his vitality and purpose leached from him. He knew without being told that his beloved Lord was dying.
Mengk’s own function in life became to care for Terzian. The Gelaming treated his leader like an invalid, like a helpless harling. Mengk threw himself into the role of servant rather than nursemaid. If Terzian uttered a word, he sprang to obey. He performed no task without his Lord’s permission; giving Terzian back command, even if it was of just one har. A tiny defiance in the face of what Thiede and the Gelaming had done.
They crossed the ocean in the blink of an eye, travelling on magical rafts – another way for the Gelaming to flaunt their power and the Varrs’ helplessness. Galhea emerged from the mists and they drifted towards Terzian’s house.
Towards Terzian’s family.
Terzian’s firstborn and the house hara did not want Mengk there; denied his right to be at his Lord’s side. They viewed him as an interloper or a distasteful reminder of Terzian’s defeat. Though he struggled and threatened and cursed, Mengk was too weak to fight any of them except the human woman who ran the kitchens. He was a warrior with no strength.
“What’s going on?” The har who interrupted his struggle was a dark beauty that caused Mengk to freeze like a deer at the scent of a predator. Cobweb the Sulh. Cobweb the witch. His Lord’s consort. Elegance and splendour that only served to highlight Mengk’s own weakness and wretched state.
“What is it you want exactly?” Cobweb asked. Words froze in Mengk’s throat. This beauty could banish him from his Lord’s side with a mere gesture.
“Well?” Cobweb looked at Terzian’s firstborn, but that har was silent too. Mengk dared to hope that meant that they knew that he was in the right – that his Lord needed him.
The human woman spoke up. She still gripped his arm, trying to pull him back into the servants’ areas of the house. “This har travelled back to Galhea with Terzian. Now he is concerned for Terzian’s welfare. Swift was trying to explain that Terzian is comfortable… and…”
Mengk freed himself from the human’s grasp, self-consciously straightening his posture under Cobweb gaze. “I must see my Lord,” he said, fighting to keep the desperation out of his tone. “I have cared for him a long time. Only I know what he needs at this time.” He held back from explaining more than that, not wanting to shame his Lord in front of a servant or his Heir.
Cobweb raised his eyebrows at his statement. Mengk dared to meet his gaze, hoping that all he had heard of Sulh perceptiveness was true.
“You are probably right.” Relief flashed through him at Cobweb’s words, and he missed the instructions that were passed to Terzian’s firstborn.
Mengk was under no illusion that Cobweb truly wanted him there, but there had been in that instant of shared gazes an unspoken pact: Terzian’s needs took precedence over their own. They both knew with icy certainty that Cobweb would not have to tolerate Mengk’s presence for long.
Mengk had been neither invited to nor excluded from the funeral. He drifted out to the fields in the wake of the house-hara and stood on his own, separate and distant from the servants and family alike. He watched numbly as Cobweb scattered the ashes and realised that Terzian was to be erased from memory.
When the party headed back towards Forever he began to follow, then fell further and further behind. The death of his Lord had left him without purpose or function – what point returning to Terzian’s house when his leader was no longer there to command him? Mengk drifted back to the site of the pyre.
There was a portion of the blackened earth where the heat had fused the soil into glass. Mengk clawed at it, prising up a fragment. It sliced his fingers, red beads welling up and spilling onto the charred ground. He touched his lips to the smoky glass, tasting ash and soil and blood.
He had been Mengk har Varr. He would not – could not – be Mengk har Parasiel.
He turned his back on the scorched and blackened ground and began to walk. Blood continued to drip from his hand where he clutched the small piece of glass that was all that remained of Lord Terzian.