Of Snow and Thorns.
By Mischa Laurent
Disclaimer: All items contained on these pages are non-profit amateur fiction. The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire and all characters named in those books are the copyright of Storm Constantine and her publishers. No infringement on the copyrights are intended. These stories are for personal enjoyment only and should be reproduced, electronically or otherwise, only for this purpose and never for profit of any sort. Portions of this story are paraphrased from the Wraeththu novels, and are the work of the original author, borrowed for the purposes of this tale.
Characters: Ashmael, Arahal, Original Character.
Rating: Strong adult themes in latter sections. Disturbing content.
Of Snow and Thorns
In Ferelithia, it seemed, everything was expensive except the weather. Ashmael gave a sigh and paid the extravagant asking price for the mug of ale, then returned to his seat on the pavement outside the cafe, the better to enjoy the free weather. At least that was glorious. The red tiles of the rooftops made a startling contrast against the brilliant blue of the sky and the fluffy white clouds that scudded along, driven by the light sea breeze, were having better luck than he at escaping the confines of the town.
If only Arahal would put in an appearance, Ashmael could persuade him that it was time to be heading back to Immanion. But, of course, Arahal knew he wished to leave and that was precisely why Ash had not seen hide nor hair of him since last night.
Their business with the town guardians’ accomplished, Ash wanted to go home.
Normally Ashmael would be the first to hit the town, eager to drink and flirt, to enjoy the prospect of some rare time for himself. The business and political affairs of the Gelaming took up most of his days and nights, leaving little spare for private concerns. Immanion might be a different place since the Ascension, but still it was difficult to relax when there were so many eyes upon you, judging your actions and hoarding each tiny piece of gossip.
But of late, his capacity for joy seemed to have dried up. His dreams were haunted by visions of the past and the irrational feeling that he should have done things differently. It was irrational and he knew it. This endless revisiting past mistakes, past errors of judgement, had no solution and he awoke each morning, wrapped naked in sweat-stained sheets with only a mounting melancholy to accompany him through his waking hours.
Taking another sip of the sweet ale Ash ignored the interested glances from the hara sitting at the next table while he contemplated his next move. It would be churlish of him to deny Arahal his recreation. One more night in Ferelithia wouldn’t hurt. He could retire early, catch up on some much needed sleep and the two of them could be back in Immanion by noon, mission accomplished.
They were staying at an inn. The consul’s townhouse was without facilities for horses and, where possible, the Gelaming preferred to tend to their mounts themselves. When Ashmael returned to their room, he lay on the bed and waited patiently for Arahal to show himself.
Arahal put in an appearance right before lunch. Clutching various parcels, which he threw on the bed, he stopped in the centre of the room to look down at Ashmael challengingly.
‘Have fun?’ Ashmael asked, glancing disinterestedly at the colourful packages.
‘Yes. I did. Marvellous place, Ferelithia. I bought some silks you won’t believe. Better than anything you can get at home.’ Arahal threw himself down on the bed, forcing Ashmael to shift position lest he be crushed.
Arahal cupped his hands behind his head, and swung his long legs over the side of the bed. He stared at the ceiling. After a while, he asked, ‘Well, aren’t you going to berate me for my frivolity?’
‘Not at all,’ Ashmael countered in smooth tones. ‘In fact, I was going to suggest we spend another night here and leave tomorrow morning.’
Ash was gratified by look on Arahal’s face. He knew Arahal had been expecting a lecture on timing and responsibility and was surprised by Ashmael’s abrupt about-face.
‘I see.’ Arahal said. ‘Changed our mind about having a little fun, have we?’
‘No. But you want amusement and I can’t say I blame you. Things have been kind of hectic lately. If you want to go out and make a little merry, then I’m not going to stop you. I’ll stay here and catch up on some sleep while you go party.’
Arahal propped himself up on one elbow to look down at him, eyebrows raised in disbelief. ‘This is a change,’ he said. ‘Why the sudden role reversal? It’s usually me who’s trying to rein you in, not the other way around.’
He was, of course, quite right. Arahal was not famous for his excesses. Ashmael was. If anything, Arahal was usually the quiet spiritual type, content to leave all the hell-raising fame to his more gregarious partner. But even the quiet, spiritual types needed to let their hair down every now and then.
Ashmael shrugged, pretending to a casualness he didn’t feel. ‘I haven’t been sleeping well, lately. I could use the rest.’
‘I noticed,’ Arahal’s face was serious. ‘Anything in particular? I’ve heard you cry out in your sleep, but I didn’t want to say anything.’
Ashmael ran his fingers down Arahal’s bare arm, caressing the soft flesh on the inside of his elbow. ‘Thanks,’ he said quietly. ‘But, no. It’s just… I don’t know. Dissatisfaction, I guess. Something I must work through on my own, at any rate.’
Arahal smiled at him and, in an uncharacteristic gesture, leaned forward and planted a quick kiss on his temple.
Ashmael was grateful for both his reticence and the brief contact.
‘Well then,’ Arahal said in a brighter tone, leaping from the bed and hustling the parcels onto the chair out of the way, ‘I’ll leave you to it. I’ve met some very nice folk and they’ve offered to show me around after lunch. Meet me for dinner?’
Arahal nodded and began to bustle about, getting ready for his expedition.
Ashmael watched him from his comfortable place on the bed, eyes slowly closing. By the time Arahal sneaked out the door to meet his new friends for lunch, Ashmael was fast asleep.
*Fine, white silk, curled in the gutter, with gold at ears and throat, branded and striped with weals. Rotting corpses with blind, ruined eyes that stare into mine with the agony of eternity on their dead minds. Oil-smoke demons writhe and dance over the bodies of the frozen and the dead. And everywhere that cry, ‘There is no way. No right or wrong; not here.*
Ashmael found himself awake and sitting upright on the bed as if about to leap from it. His entire frame shook with reaction. The scenes he relived each night in dreams of late, while disturbing, had never troubled him before. He’d seen much horror. Why had Fulminir chosen to haunt him after all this time?
What could I have done? he thought, in agonized reflection. We were not ready. Could not have saved them all.
But logic seemed to give no ease to these nightmares.
It took an effort to lever himself off the bed. He felt ancient, as if his bones were creaking with the weight of his flesh. The cool water from the ewer on the nightstand went some way toward refreshing him and he used a cloth to wash the sweat from his chest and arms.
He was pulling on a clean shirt when Arahal returned.
‘Sleep well?’ Arahal asked, his back turned, oblivious to Ashmael’s brittle state.
Ashmael took the time this afforded him to sweep away the last of the nightmare and compose his face into an amiable mask. ‘Not too badly, why?’
‘Because you’re late coming downstairs. We’ve been waiting for you, and I decided to come up and fetch you out in case you’d decided to renege on me. But I see now that I misjudged you.’ Arahal turned and grinned at him.
‘As always,’ Ashmael retorted. ‘Is it so late already?’ He glanced out of the window. The sun was indeed setting over the harbour and its dying rays shone through the window directly onto his face. Ash winced and looked away.
‘Yes, My Captain.’ Arahal came over and helped him with his jacket. ‘You have been abed too long. Still, that should leave you nice and fresh for the night’s activities.’
Ashmael glanced suspiciously at him. “What activities?” Arahal locked the door of their room and guided Ash toward the stairs.
‘We’re going to a club.’ Arahal replied, smiling. ‘You should enjoy it. It’s quite famous.’
Ashmael stopped halfway down the stairs, his hands on his hips. ‘I never said I’d come on the prowl with you, Arahal. The idea was that you get to go out and I get to rest, remember?’
‘Oh, come on, Ash,’ Arahal, turned back and joined Ashmael on the middle step. ‘You’ll never sleep again now. Come out and have some fun. It’ll do you good.’
Sighing, Ashmael relented. There was nothing he felt less like doing than spending his evening in some smoky, noisy club, but if it would get Arahal off his back, he’d do it. He could always sneak away after a couple of drinks.
Read the rest of this entry »