Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chapter 13: Gathering Clouds


"I don't want them to come after Shayeleigh," Riain says, not at all liking Aymeri's plan.

"They won't," Aymeri assures him, "I must do this, brother, to end this talk of war."

"All right," Riain reluctant agrees, "I'll go with you."

"No," Aymeri shakes his head, "I'm breaking the law just by showing myself at council, I won't put you in that position, too. I do this alone."

Aymeri embraces Ico once more before he sets off on his mission, promising her that all will be well.

His appearance at the females' council fire is greeted with gasps of shock and outrage. His mother, Aithne is the first to speak, "How dare you?" she hisses, "Haven't you broken enough of our laws?"

"I am here to bring news you must hear," Aymeri answers, maintain his cool demeanor, "My nest brother, Riain, son of Radhari, has fathered a child on a fairy." 

The gasps are louder now, followed by whispers and murmuring. Aymeri raises his voice above the din, "The fae are not our enemies. They are like us, creatures of magic. Dragons and fairy together are the only such creatures; if we destroy them, we weaken ourselves. There are new tribes moving onto our lands, creatures that look like us, but have no magic, like the beasts we hunt. We have ever resisted change, but change comes even as we struggle against it. Whatever course you choose, it ends in change for us all, for the world itself. The fae could be our allies as we go forward, and strengthen our numbers, or we can war with each other, weakening us both, and leaving this world in the hands of the newcomers."

Aithne rises to face her son, "You say change is inevitable, but I say it is not so!" she rages, "You say fighting against the fae will weaken us, but I say it's you who has become weak, seduced by these fairies, bending to their will."

Tearhne rises to stand beside her mate. "Aymeri bends to no one's will," she declares.

Aithne turns toward the council, "Sisters, I am ashamed to claim this one, this law breaker, as my son. And Tearhne should be ashamed to stand with him. Think hard on this before you decide, is this what you want for our future?" She thrusts her arm out, pointing to Aymeri, "Is this the kind of male you want leading your nests? One that bends to no will but his own, one that speaks on conciliation and alliance with the fae?"

Tearhne smiles at the irony of Aithne's question, having forgotten that Aymeri was by far one of the most sought after males in the history of their kind. Tearhne was lucky to be able to offer him what the others could npt, the one thing he wanted, position as first, and many of the other females secretly wished they could put their mates aside to give that place Aymeri. Aithne might not appreciate her son's thoughtfulness, his even temper, his diplomatic manner and his skill at ending a fight with his words rather than his fists, but most all of the other females see him for what he is, a born leader. Making him the symbol of change and an uncertain future only makes that future seem all the attractive, and Aithne's rage makes the choice of strict adherence to tradition seem the riskier path. 

The deadlocked council saw a sudden shift as the females began lining up behind Tearhne's nest, rejecting war in favor of a new alliance and an end to an old law. Those few that remained on Aithne's side storm off with her, not ready to accept their loss in the council.

"I'm sorry I had to spring the on you without warning," Aymeri sys as he walks with Tearhne back to their nest. Her support at the time was critical to their success.

She stops suddenly and backhands him across the face. "Aithne was right about one thing, you forget your place," she growls, "I had no choice but to support you in front of the others, because I wanted this war no more than you did. But you had no right to bring this business forward with consulting me."

"I had to do it this way," Aymeri protests as Seirian comes over to join them, "There wasn't time to take you aside privately."

"So I had to hear in a public announcement that one of my mates is having a child outside the nest?" Tearhne asks, her voice hard and low. "I've been very lenient with you and Riain both. You forget that I have the power to cast you both out, strip you of your markings and leave you without a nest. You may be First, but this is my nest."

"Tearhne, I meant no disrespect," Aymeri pleads s he tries to embrace her, but she thrust her hand up to ward him off.

"I don't want you trying to soothe me now. I am not so foolish as to cast you out of the nest at this delicate time, but I'm too angry to look at you. Go, go to your fairy, and leave me be."

Tania had left Auberon sleeping, and when she came back, he was gone, she knew not where.

Just as he had left, without warning, so he reappears.

"Summerdream," he says gently, reaching  hand toward her shoulder.

"Where were you?" she demands, turning angrily toward him.

"What has upset you so?" he asks, "I've gone off on my own before without is causing you such worry."

"I know you too well, Auberon Nightshroud, you make look like my lover, but you have become someone else."

"I am bound to another," he admits, since cannot avoid it, "She has my heart."

"Who?" Tania demands.

"A mortal girl."

Tania shoves him backwards, "Take it from her!" she demands.

"I cannot do that Tania. It is part of her for as long as she lives."

"Then end her life," Tania hisses, "You are Auberon Nightshroud, the most powerful of us all. You cannot be made subject to a mortal girl."

As the powerful fae argue, the world responds, gathering clouds above, causing rain to fall.

Auberon grabs Tania's wrist, and speaks in a low, even tone that belies his anger, "I will let that go, this time," he growls, "But you will never speak of this again. She is under my protection. Do you understand?"

Tania swallows her arguments and simply nods.

The skies clear again as he walks away from her.

Tania gave up the argument, for now, but she won't lose Auberon without a fight.

Aven is buried in the custom of her people.

"You've taken your spirit marks," Tor observes, looking at Uvie's face, "Are you ready to take your mother's place as Spirit Talker?"

Uvie gathers herself; it will not do to appear weak or uncertain. "I am the Spirit Talker now, Tor," she says with more confidence than she feels. Her mother kept their chief in line using simple illusions to instill awe of her power, but Uvie wants to try her own path, to earn the chief's respect without resorting to trickery. "The spirits here are different from the ones we hand in the lands of winter. My mother made a mistake in holding one captive, a mistake she paid for. We would have all paid for it if I hadn't helped them."

"Maybe we should go back to the place we know," Tor muses. It was harder to eke out existence, the land so much less plentiful than here, but the spirits were kinder to them. Or at least, less present and threatening, and Tor knew what dangers his people had to face.

"No!" Uvie says vehemently, "No," she repeats more calmly, "This is a good place, we will prosper here."

The sky darkens suddenly and rain pours down upon them.

"Your mother used to predict the rain," Tor says pointedly.

Uvie feels Auberon's hand in this sudden downpour, feels the anger the caused it. And she feels that anger ebb away. "It won't last," she says confidently, "It will end  in a moment."

"You were right," Tor admits as the rain stops as quickly as it started, "You are worthy of your mother's place."

Friday, August 17, 2012

Chapter 12: The Heart of the Dreamer


"Mother is communing with the spirits, you cannot enter," Uvie says, barring the hut's door with her small body. It's not easy to stand up to their chief, but her mother always did it. As the Spirit Talker, she was the only one who could. Someday Uvie will have to take her mother's place, she fears that time might be coming sooner than ether mother or daughter ever imagined.

"The people grow restless, with that spirit in your hut," Tor insists, "They, I, need to know what the Spirit Talker plans."

"It is a spirit matter, and none of the people's concern," Uvie says, learning to lie without quavering, "And it is gone now, back to the spirit realm. You need worry no further."

"Truly?" Tor asks, shifting to try to peer into the hut, but not getting much of a view. "Tell the Spirit Talker I must speak with her, as soon as she's finished her spirit business," he concludes, finally leaving Uvie alone.

The lies are hard to maintain, and will only grow harder as the days pass, but they have to be told. If Tor, if the people knew what their Spirit Talker had become, if they saw her like this, her eyes vacant as she rocks gently, muttering to herself all day, unseeing, not responding to anything said to her, done to would all be over. 

"The spirit is gone," Aven mutters, "The voice is gone." That's all she says anymore, even in her sleep.

Her mother taught her many things as she was growing, about gathering and using various herbs, bringing her along to witness as she assisted those giving birth, those who were injured, to learn to tend to them as her mother had. But none of that knowledge makes Uvie a true Spirit Talker. For that, you must take the journey into the spirit realm itself, and find your guide.

Aven had promised her the time for her journey would come at the next moon, but Uvie can wait no longer. By the next moon, Tor would lose patience with waiting, push past her into the hut to see this, what had become of Aven and if Uvie was not prepared to impress him with her power as her mother had, it would be too late. She must make her journey now or never, so Uvie gathers the ingredients necessary for the spirit meal that opens the way into their realm, grateful that her mother had at least taught her that. She grinds the mushroom caps into the grain, sprinkling the special herbs into the concoction, dribbling in a bit of water, until it turns into a fine paste. Taking a deep breath, Uvie eats.

Auberon dreams. Floating between the waters and the sky, he dreams.

He dreams of worlds being born and dying, of time unfolding through the vastness of space. The formless takes form in his imagination, and dissolves again when his attention turns.

A memory intrudes on his reverie, bringing his mind back to that other wold, the one where his physical forms lies sleeping. He gave his heart to a mortal girl, he remembers, and he forgot to get it back.

The spirit realm is harsh and barren, It feeds no one, nurtures no one, and only a true spirit talker dares tread its treacherous ground. Uvie is determined to follow her mother's path, so walks over the rocky paths, careful not to fall into the fiery pools, until she comes upon a tree, charred and dead as the land itself. On its branches sits a crow.

"Your spirit guide will appear in the form of an animal," Aven had told her, just weeks before, "Speak to it, and it will know your name."

"Crow," Uvie calls up to the bird.

"Uvie," the crow responds, "You carry the heart of the dreamer."

Her mother had been prone to such cryptic statements, seemingly meaningless, yet at the same time, suggesting greater meaning. It must be something learned from the spirits.

"I am here to find my spirit guide," Uvie says, speaking plainly, as she knows no other kind of speech, "Is it you?"

"The heart," the crow says, "Give it to me."

Does it want her heart? Uvie wonders. No, she realizes, feeling the warmth that radiates from the pouch at her hip. It's the jewel Auberon gave her, pulsing with magic.

Uvie takes the jewel from her pouch, rubbing it's smooth, glittering surface with her fingers. She's only had it for a day, but it is her most prized possession, the only thing she has that she would never trade. And it is what the spirit crow wants from her. Is this a test, she wonders. Her mother said the spirits often test you, even after you've been accepted. "The tests never end," her mother had said.

As much as she likes to think of this jewel as hers, she knows its true owner, and she whispers his name as her fingers glide over its surface, "Auberon."

"I am here," he responds, surprising her by appearing at her side. Why should she be surprised, she wonders, he is a spirit, after all, and this is his realm.

"Uvie, I---" he says, then gasps as he collapses. Uvie catches him as he falls. "I cannot be here," he manages to say in ragged breaths. Auberon has dreamed of many worlds, all of them created and sustained by his magic, but never one like this, a realm where his kind do not exist, sustained by a magic he cannot feel or understand, a place where he is powerless, where his magic drains from him like water from from an overturned bowl. "I will die here," he pleads to the girl, his only chance of survival, if she would only have mercy on him and take him home, to any realm but this one.

"The heart!" Aven shrieks, her voice as harsh as the crow's, "Give me the heart!"

In her panic, Uvie drops Auberon to the ground. Black smoke wreathes around her mother's form, a red glow emanates from her torso. It's not truly her mother, Uvie thinks, it cannot be. Her mother, her real mother, had warned her about evil spirits, who would take your body if you let them.

Uvie clutches the jewel in her hand refusing to let it go, though the evil one lunges at her, trying to wrest it from her grasp.

The spirit is strong, like her mother, stronger than her, and will take the jewel from her by force if she doesn't do something. So Uvie does the only thing she can think of to protect her precious treasure, shoving it into her mouth and swallowing. Inside her, the jewel will be protected.

"Stupid girl!" the mother spirit shrieks, just like her real mother would, rising to pull her hair.

Auberon rouses himself enough to lightly caress Uvie's leg. "You have my heart, my magic," he gasps, "Use it, or she will have it from you."

It's true, Uvie realizes, feeling the burn in her gut. The jewel she swallowed was pure magic, and its hers now. With a simple gesture, she pushes her attacker backwards.

"Control it, Uvie," Auberon advises, "Use only what you need."

Inexperienced and untrained in the use of such power, Uvie cannot gauge what she needs. She pushes forward, and the mother spirit hurtles backwards through the air.

She screams as she falls into the chasm. The long wail is the last thing Uvie hears before she wakes again in her mother's hut.

Returned from her spirit journey, Uvie finds her mother's body, quiet and lifeless.

"I killed her," she sobs, climbing into Auberon's arms when he appears at her side, not questioning why or how he came here, just glad she's not alone.

"She forced your hand," he says, "She would have killed you to take my heart."

"I didn't think it was her," Uvie says, her lips trembling as her tears gush hot against his neck, "I thought it was an evil spirit. I thought it was a dream."

"Dreams are as real as any reality, little one," he says gently, "And everything is connected."

Everything is connected. Her mother used to say that, and Uvie had thought she understood. But what she thought those words meant has changed now that she's walked in the spirit realm, and changed this world from within it.

"You mourn her, though she was cruel to you," Auberon says, rocking her against his chest as her tears begin to ebb.

"She was my mother," Uvie says, "She was cruel, but she was my mother."

 "What am I to do?" she asks of herself when her crying is done.  She took her spirit journey, but found no guide. "With my mother gone, the people will expect me to take her place. I can tend their injuries and help with childbirth, but I don't have her magic."

"Do you not remember what you did?" Auberon asks, laying his hand gently across her cheek, "You have the most powerful magic in this world inside you. You have my heart."

"Your heart?" Uvie whispers breathlessly. The spirit crow and her mother both referred to the jewel she carried as a heart. And she had swallowed that jewel, felt its magic burn inside her, the magic she used to push her mother away, the magic that took her life.

Auberon drops to his knees before her, his face pressed against her stomach, "It's part of you now, Uvie. I am part of you, for as long as you live." As his hand touches her belly, she feels it, the warmth of his magic sparking inside her.

"How do I use it?" she asks, "How do I control it?" She killed her mother with this power, and fears making that mistake again.

Auberon rises and presses his lips to her forehead. "You've taken a great burden on yourself, little one," he says, "You protected me where I was powerless, you have strength you don't yet realize and courage that has only begun to be tested. You will need them both, now, and you will need my help."

Special thanks to cmo, the master of time and weather, and to Becky, for the nudge in the right direction.