Monday, November 26, 2012

Chapter 23: If You Were a Bird


This is not the spirit realm, Kvornan decides, watching the windows of the tall stone huts twinkle with the flames of many candles.

But if it is not the spirit realm, then where is he? Nothing in his father's lore has prepared him for this, nor do his mother's few tales about the fair folk that share the forests with men say anything about villages of stone. Through their windows, Kvornan has seen people, mortal, like his tribe, though oddly dressed, but real flesh and blood, unlike the ghostly pair he witnessed when he first arrived. He'd like to go in to one of their tall stone huts, to see who they are and how they live, but simply walking in and asking questions seems a foolhardy thing for a stranger to do.

"If you were a bird, you could fly right up to their windows and see for yourself. They don't take any notice of our kind," a voice croaks beside him.

"Well met, Raven," Kvornan greets the black-feathered bird. Talking animals was exactly what he expected to encounter on his spirit journey; perhaps this is the spirit realm after all. His father did say it would be different for every spirit walker. "Could you show me how to be a bird?" he asks of his new found friend.

"That's what I'm here for," the Raven croaks.

And so the Raven teaches Kvornan to take his form, so that he may fly up to the windows of even the tallest hut, and see inside.

Kvornan flies up to one brightly lit window, and rests on the ledge as he peers in to the room. A girl is sitting just below him, her hands busy scribbling symbols on a scroll with a feather as white as the feathers he wears are black.

At first, she takes no notice of the large bird looking in at her, and Kvornan would have gone unseen if he had not decided to peck at the glass and draw her attention to him.

"A raven," the girl muses, rising to take a closer look, "I suppose you'd like to warm yourself by my fire?" she asks as she opens the window for him, and coaxes him in.

"You are no ordinary raven, are you?" she asks once he's securely inside and resting on her arm.

You are no ordinary girl, Kvornan thinks, but since the Raven did not teach him to speak like a man while wearing the form of a bird, he cannot give voice to his thoughts, and merely croaks at her in her response.

"Let's see what you really are," the girl says, setting the bird gently on the floor so that he might cast an unraveling spell on him.

The spell forces Kvornan back into his true form.

"Oh," the girl gasps when he stands revealed before her. "You are not what I was expecting. In the stories it's always either an ensorcelled prince looking for a lissome maid to break the enchantment, or a lecherous old sorcerer looking for something far less savory."

The girl laughs, and gathers herself, "I am Jennail, of House Tricou," she introduces herself, holding her hand out to touch his, "You are no prince, clearly. Tell me, did you take the form of a bird with your own magic, or were you put under a curse? Are you a sorcerer, or the hapless victim of one?"

"I don't know what a sorcerer is, or a prince," Kvornan admits, "My name is Kvornan. I am a spirit talker, making my first spirit journey. Raven taught me to take his form, so that I could look into your window."

"You've journeyed through the spirit realm and learned to take the form of a raven just so that you might look in on me at my studies?" Jennail says with a smile that makes his blood rush to his head.

Before he can explain that his purpose was not to look in on her, exactly, his journey ends abruptly and he finds himself back by his father's side, with only the memory of eyes as green as spring leaves haunting him.

"I still don't think it was truly the spirit realm I was in," Kvornan concludes after telling his father all the details of his journey.

"There was the Raven," Ardax says.

"Yes," Kvornan agrees, "But everything else, the ghostly murder scene, the girl in the tall stone hut..."

"No one has ever made a spirit journey quite like yours," Ardax says, "But you carry gifts from your mother that no spirit talker has ever carried. Perhaps there are realms open to you that have never opened for any other."

Late in the morning, Talfryn strolls into his mother's nest, hoping Tearhne will be too distracted with her new baby to question him too much. But of course, Seirian is in his face before he's two steps into the perimeter.

"Where have you been all night?' the older dragon asks him.

"Hunting," Talfryn answer with a sullen frown, "Can I please just get some sleep?"

"Hunting?" Seirian laughs, "I can smell your 'prey' all over you. If you're going to lie with fairies, you must know you can't lie about it afterwards, not to another dragon. You're as flowery as a spring meadow."

"I know," Talfryn sighs, "I bathed for hours. Otherwise I'd have been back here before dawn. It just doesn't come off."

"It would be best for you to sleep in your father's nest until it wears off," Seirian says seriously.

"Why?" Talfryn asks, "There's no law against being with a fairy now, is there? My father---"

"You've broken no laws, but your mother won't be happy with your choice, nonetheless."

"But she stood with my father to change the old laws," Talfryn protests.

"Aye, she did. We all in this nest stood on the side of change...but that doesn't mean your mother wanted to throw tradition to the wind. Her hopes for you were to mate with another of our kind and join a nest. She'll come to accept the idea of you following Aymeri's path if that's what makes you happy. But it would be better if she heard it from your lips, and didn't smell it on you before you could get the words out."

"Understood," Talfryn agrees, knowing his mother's temper well, "I'll go stay with my father for a few days.

"I'll bring Tearhne there for a visit in a few days," Seirian says, "She'll want to show Irina off, anyway, so she'll be eager to make the visit. And since Aymeri's nest smells like some overgrown flower garden all the time anyway, you can talk to your mother without worrying what scents you're putting off."

"You did the right thing," Ico assures Evenfall when the young fairy tells her about how she took her sister's memory of seeing her with Talfryn away. "Your mother's people would not fare well at all against the dragons."

"But why are they so set on not being seen?" Evenfall asks, "What could the humans possibly do to them?"

Ico laughs, "If you are going to love a dragon, be prepared for a lifetime of unanswered questions and unexplained laws. They are what they are, and you just have to find a way to live with what you can't understand. Maybe someday, when the dragons who are children now are old enough to have a voice, perhaps they will demand change as Aymeri did. But until then, it is best you never mention that your sister saw Talfryn, no matter that she didn't know he was a dragon or that you took the memory of it from her. Just the hint that one of your tribe may have seen a dragon could spark the wrath of some of the older dragons."

"I was hoping you could tell Aymeri, and that he could give Talfryn a sterner warning," Evenfall admits quietly, "Nothing I say will stop him from sneaking into the village at night to wake me."

Ico frowns, "Telling Aymeri of this might not have the outcome you are looking for," she says, "He might forbid his son from seeing you at all."

"Oh!" Evenfall gasps, and shakes her head sadly, "I don't want to lose him. But if we go on like this, he will end up exposing himself to my mother's people eventually. Maybe...maybe it would be better for me to come live with you, Ico. I can't see any other way to protect the tribe."

Ico smiles, "You are welcome here, you know that, daughter of Auberon."

In the evening, Aymeri returns from his hunting to find two new faces at his fire.

"Seirian thought it best for me to stay here awhile," Talfryn explains, "When he and my mother bring Irina to meet you, I'll tell her about Evie and me." He carefully leaves out any mention of tell tale scent of fairy arousal; apparently, the fae don't have as sensitive a nose as dragons, and were unaware of the perfume their bodies produce during moments of intimacy, and they find the topic too embarrassing to discuss.

"And you're here to be with him," Aymeri says to Evenfall.

"I...yes. Yes, I'm here to be with Talfryn," Evenfall answers nervously, unable to look Aymeri in the face as she peaks the half-truth.

"We fairies will do anything to be with our dragons," Ico laughs, using the joke as a cover for Evenfall's difficulty at maintaining the lie.

"You are welcome at my fire any time, Evie," Aymeri says, "But you'll speak the truth to me, understand? Why have you left your mother's tribe?"

Flustered, Evenfall fidgets as she stammers out a half-response, her eyes darting from Talfryn to Ico as though she could determine what she should and should not say. "I...that is..." she tries, but nothing of any sense comes out of her, until Ico finally ends her misery and tells the truth about the girl's fears for her tribe's safety after Talfryn's recent night visit.

And as Ico suspected he might do, Aymeri rises in anger and pulls his son away from the group around the fire.

"You know that going so close to the mortal camp is forbidden!" Aymeri growls at his son.

"I was careful!" Talfryn protests.

"And yet you were seen," Aymeri points out.

"Evie took care of it," Talfryn answers, "Her sister will never remember she saw me."

"That doesn't change the fact that what you did was wrong," Aymeri says.

"Well, wasn't what you did with Ico wrong?" Talfryn shoots back, "You broke more laws than I ever did."

"You dare talk to me like that?" Aymeri growls, his hand rising to strike the boy. Talfryn flinches, prepared for the blow, while Evenfall and Riain both rush over to his defense.

Evenfall's cries fall on deaf ears, but Riain's hand on his shoulder and gently spoken, "Brother, you don't want to do this," pull Aymeri back before his arm can complete the swing toward Talfryn's face. Given this reprieve, Talfryn and Evenfall scamper off together, out of Aymeri's sight.

"I didn't mean to hit him," Aymeri groans.

"You didn't," Riain reminds him, "You stopped before you struck."

"I can't let anger rule me," Aymeri goes on as if Riain hadn't spoken.

"Let me," Ico says, coming between the brothers. Riain nods, allowing Ico to lead Aymeri away to comfort him in private.

"I've become my mother," Aymeri says quietly, "I let my anger overcome my sense and I struck my child."

"You exaggerate, my love," Ico says, laying a gentle kiss on his forehead, "I saw what your mother did to Kirwyn, and even if your hand had finished the blow it was raised to give, you still would never be capable of that kind of cruelty."

"I know," Aymeri admits, "But I've fought so hard to rein in my nature, to not strike out of anger, to think before resorting to violence. And the one time I show weakness, I do it in front of my son. What kind of example am I setting?"

"Talfryn has his whole life's worth of examples of your wisdom and forbearance, my love," Ico says, "His recklessness could have brought war and death on the whole tribe of humans, if Evie hadn't taken the girl's memory away. After what we all went through to stop the war brewing between dragon and fae, you had every reason to be angry at him."

"Come," she whispers, gently pushing him to the ground as she removes her shirt, "You should not be so hard on yourself. In all the world of fae, dragons and men, there is no one that can match you, my love, none as honorable, or as strong..."

"I think you're the one who's exaggerating now," Aymeri says, rising to kiss her as she presses herself against him.

"I speak only the truth," she whispers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chapter 22: Tales of Other Journeys


"Who is he? He's not from our tribe," Kairi squeals, springing out from behind a tree to question Evenfall after she and Talfryn have parted.

"What do you mean 'he'?" Evenfall asks, "I was just out for a walk..."

"I saw you, Evie," her half-sister insist, rolling her eyes, "You were with a boy, and not one from our village. If he were, I'd recognize him. I know all the boys."

Evenfall smiles a little at that; Kairi is much sought after by the young males in their village, and she gives them all just enough encouragement to keep them dangling about her like fish on a line. But her sister's discovery of her affair with Talfryn is no laughing matter, the dragons enforce a harsh punishment on mortals who chance to see them in their true form. Or so Ico has warned her, Evenfall has never heard of an actual incident between the dragon and human kinds, not in her lifetime. And she intends to keep it that way.

"Kairi, this is serious," Evenfall says, grabbing her sister's shoulder for emphasis, "He's one of the fair folk, like me. And they prize their secrecy. So you must never tell anyone what you saw."

"You don't have to be so mean about it," Kairi pouts, pushing Evenfall's finger out of her face, "I won't tell anyone I promise." A wicked smile spreads across her face, and she bounces as they start walking back to the village, "But it's so exciting, you have a lover. I want to know everything about him."

Evenfall frowns. Kairi means no ill, but her secret is not safe with her sister. Their mother will have it out of her in no time, and even her mother is no exception to the dragons' laws. If she doesn't do something, her relationship with Talfryn will be the destruction of her mother's people.

"What are you doing?" Kairi asks the spell she's casting lifts Evenfall a few feet above the ground.

"I'm truly sorry, sister," Evenfall answers sadly.

The glamour Evenfall weaves wraps around Kairi, takes hold of her mind, makes her forget.

"Why are we in the woods, at night?" Kairi asks after Evenfall lands back on her feet, her glamour completed.

"We went out to watch the stars," Evenfall tells her, "But you fell asleep."

"Of course," Kairi answers, confused. Then she laughs, "I should have just stayed in bed. Why do I let you talk me into these things?"

"Let's get back before anyone knows we were gone," Evenfall says, taking her sister's hand. Making Kairi forget the events of the evening was a simple enough glamour, but it takes its toll on Evenfall's conscience. It isn't right, she thinks, to take someone's memory, to play with their mind. Her father would disagree she's sure, and Ico would point out that she probably saved a lot of lives with this spell. That's why she did it, but it doesn't make her feel any better about it.

Time has changed Uvie and Ardax both, adding gray to their hair, wrinkles to their skin. They had two children together, raised them to near adulkthood.

"Kvornan is ready," Ardax says of their son, "I've worked with him, prepared him, and he's eaager to take his place as a spirit talker."

Uvie nods, knowing this was coming soon. Kvornan is much like his father, drawn to serve the tribe, a kind healer and a deep thinker.

"But he has your magic," Ardax says, almot as though he heard Uvie's thoughts. Sometimes she thinks he does, the way he responds to her moods and unspoken desires. "The first journey into the spirit realm is always dangerous, but your gift..."

He doesn't have to finish the thought, Uvie knows what he fears. She's told him about her own journey to the spirit realm, the only one she's ever made, how she acquired Auberon's heart, and the magic that became hers when she swallowed it. And she told him how the spirit realm endangered Auberon's life, how it choked him, made him weak, and how she's feared ever going back there herself, with Auberon's essence inside her. "Our children have the fae magic, from me," she says, "And that may endanger them in the spirit realm as well. Let me speak to Auberon; perhaps he can tell us of the danger they face."

Much time has passed since she last sought out her fairy lover. As her love for Ardax blossomed and deepened, her love for Auberon faded. Yet seeing him always rekindled that flame, and she ever felt the guilt of the betrayer when she'd visit him, even in this unreal realm of the dream.

Uvie laughs as she sees her smooth skin and dark hair, untouched by age. This truly is a dream, she thinks, and wonders if her youthful appearance is by Auberon's preference or her own.

"You are ever as I remember you, here," Auberon answers her unasked question, "You have come to see me. What do you need?"

Flowers fall from the skies like a gentle rain here in the realm of Auberon's dreaming. Uvie sits before the ancient fairy, once her lover and always beloved, though they have parted ways, the bond they share can never truly be broken. He is part of her, his heart is inside her. And that is why she's here.

"I've come to speak of the day I swallowed your heart," she says. He winces slightly, remembering the pain, "Because I have a piece of you inside me, I have not entered the spirit realm since that day. As you had told me, my children also carry your magic. My son is coming of age, and is preparing to make his first spirit journey..."

"You fear that that part of me which lives inside you, and in your children, will not be able to withstand the journey," Auberon says. "You fear that these spirits of yours will sense my magic inside your son, and try to take it from him as your mother tried to take it from you."

Uvie nods, crying as she remembers her mother and how she died.

Auberon pulls her close, resting his head on her shoulder, "My little love," he sighs, "Your kind and mine, we look much alike, and yet we are so different. The fae are magic, it is our essence, our being, and we cannot exist without it. Mortal beings like your people are life, that is your essence. And this world we share is made of both life and magic, and sustains us both. Your spirit realm is devoid of that magic, and it is no place for fae. But you, and your children, are mortal, despite having a bit of my magic within you, and have life's energy which will allow you to exist in your spirit realm, where I cannot."

"You think the spirits covet your magic, then?" Uvie wonders. When she'd captured Ico, Aven had said it was the spirits that told her to take her heart and eat it, to take her power.

"Your mother was wrong," Auberon says, "We fae are all different. My heart jewel was my own creation. Ico's power lies in her waters. I would not tell even you how to draw it from her, but your mother would have gained nothing by killing her and taking her heart. As for what these spirits want from us, or from you, I cannot say. I have never seen them, never heard of them before your kind came into these lands. But fear not, little love, you have taught your son and prepared him for the dangers he will face, have you not? The powr you have passed to him might attract peril, but it will also serve to protect him."

"The journey is different for each of us," Ardax says as he lays the bowl of haoma paste before his son, "The spirit realm has many sides and many forms. As you grow more practiced, more familiar with the realm, you can choose your point of entry. But where you enter on your first journey is up to chance, and the spirits."

"And I will meet my spirit guide there?" Kvornan asks.

"That is what usually happens. But you are different, you carry the magic of the fair folk, like your mother. It may be that there will be no spirit to guide you, and it may be that some sprits will be hostile, and try to take that magic from you. So, you must be alert, above all, wary of tricks."

"I am ready," Kvornan says, and takes the spirit paste from the bowl, and eats.

His father told him of barren wastes, snowy tundras, fertile meadows and dense woods, the corners of the spirit realm he had visited. He had told him of the spirits he'd met, ravens, horses, wolves, falcons. Never had he spoken of huts or humans, and yet this is what Kvornan finds when he first enters the spirit realm. He's inside what must be a very large hut, made of stone, watching a man drag a woman by the hair across the floor.

Both the man and the woman seem to look right at him but, but do not see him. The woman struggles to free herself, the man continues to drag her forward. The journey may be different for every spirit talker, but Kvornan is quite sure his journey falls far out of the realm of what anyone has ever experienced. None of his father's tales of his own journeys and the tales of other journeys passed down from spirit talker to spirit talker have ever involved anything in human form, no structures built of human hands. 

"You will bow to the Watcher, witch," the man snarls, throwing the woman to her knees in front of a decorated, carved stone. His voice, like his appearance, is other worldly. They don't appear to be made of flesh, but if they are spirits, they are not the kind Kvornan was taught about.

Kvornan noticed the small movements she made while huddled on her knees, watched her preparation, but the man is taken by surprise when she rises up to attack him.

The advantage surprise gave her does not last, however, and the man quickly regains the upper hand, holding a knife to her throat.

One swift slice, and it's over. The woman falls lifeless to the floor, and the man walks away, barely looking back at the death he delivered. Kvornan's healer's instinct sends him rushing to her aid, but there is no body here for him to heal, even if he could mend such a wound. Almost invisible, it's hard to see her features, but kneeling so close to her lifeless form, Kvornan looks ate her face, and thinks she resembles his mother, resembles himself. What is his place, and who are these people? he wonders.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Chapter 21: Pleasures of the Moment


"I'm strong enough now, I could alter Tania's curse" Evenfall says, "Instead of sleeping until mother dies, you could be awakened by true love's kiss."

"True love's kiss," Auberon laughs, "Where do you get such ideas?"

Evenfall pouts,  "I thought it would be sweet, for you and mother to be reunited that way..."

"It is a lovely thought, my daughter," Auberon says, "But have you considered the confusion it was cause your mother if I were to return to her now? She has a mate, and two children with him. She loves him, does he not?"

"Yes," Evenfall says, "Ardax is a good man, and he's been like a father to me. But it isn't fair that you have to stay trapped in the dream realm..."

"I am not trapped here, not truly," Auberon says, "Dreams are what I am made of, and this realm is more home to me than the world you were born in."

"The world I was born in..."  Evenfall sighs, "Mother's people are not unkind, exactly, but they know I'm not one of them, that I don't belong..."

Tegan's reasons for leaving his mate had nothing to do with the kin they'd left behind, but being here to see his daughter's first child born is the best reason to be happy about his decision.

"You aren't staying the night?" Aeaea asks when he gets up to leave them after they've shared dinner.

"Not tonight, daughter," Tegan says, not giving her an explanation, knowing she won't pry. His frequent visits to her nest are unusual enough for an old dragon like himself. There was a time when an adult male would not enter another's nest for anything but the most dire of circumstances. Visiting one's adult offspring was simply unheard of; once they left the nest to start their own, they were no longer your concern. But all that has changed in the years since Aithne and her followers left; because of Aymeri's influence, males have a voice in the council and the tight structure of their society has loosened considerably. 

Tegan lifts his young grandson to snuggle him before he takes his leave. The younger dragons, like Aeaea and her mates, have adjusted well to the change, like they were just waiting for someone like Aymeri to make it possible. Change has been harder for the elders dragons, but Tegan has taken to it, and even turned down several offers to join other nests as a mate, choosing to live mateless in in Aymeri's highly non-traditional nest, enjoying his new freedoms, being able to come and go as he pleases, to stay in his daughter's nest for days or weeks at  time, answering to no one but himself.

Between his daughter's nest and Aymeri's, Tegan meets with Tania, as they'd planned. It was a spell that brought them together, he knows that, and many times he's wished he could shake them both free of its grasp, this need that rises between them once in every moon's turning that drives them to met like this, in secret. He sees it in her eyes as well, the desire and the revulsion, and something she wants from him, something she cannot take.

He always means to resist, while knowing he won't be able to; once the need arises, it drives him, and nothing will stop him until he's had her.

Tania gives herself over to hr desire more readily, as it is the nature of the fae to live in the moment and take whatever pleasures the moment brings. But it's more than pleasure she wants from the dragon that Auberon's spell has bound to her, she wants what Auberon has been unable to give her, what Shayeleigh's dragon has given her, a child.

And once again, when the heat of their passion is cooled, Tania weeps in disappointment. No new life has sparked in her womb.

"Why can you not give me a child?" she sobs, clutching his knee.

Tegan strokes her hair gently, not seeing the need to respond.

"It's not fair," Tania continues her tearful complaint, "Shayeleigh got pregnant the first time she lay with her dragon."

"Yes, she did," Tegan agrees, leaning over her to soother her with a kiss, "And if you've seen Riain and Shayeleigh together, then you've seen the bond that formed between them. They are mated forever, while you and I...we've kept our affair secret for more than a dozen years, now. Perhaps it is for the best no child has come of it."

In her heart, Tania cannot deny the truth of his words, but she cannot bring herself to accept it, either, so she just continues her sobbing, while he tries to comfort her.

"Evie," Talfryn whispers, "Wake up."

"Talfryn?" Evenfall murmurs sleepily, opening her eyes, "Talfryn!" she whispers his name to keep her parents and siblings from waking, but shows her disapproval through her tone while keeping her voice low, "You can't be here! Your father..."

"Neither my father nor any dragon laws can keep me from you, Evie," Talfryn answers, crouching over her. The dragons have relaxed their laws about being seen by the fae kind, and now they are allies, but they are still forbidden to be seen by mortal eyes, and if Aymeri knew where his son was at this moment...Talfryn puts that thought out of his mind, as he has more pleasurable things to think about.

"Not here," Evenfall insists, "My sister is right there, and my brother is just behind you."

"Then come with me, we'll go somewhere else."

"Honestly, Talfryn, you're just looking to make trouble," Evnfall grumbles affectionately, cuddling against him once they've gotten far away enough from her mother's village to satisfy her.

"I was just looking for you," Talfryn laughs, "Why do you live with the mortals, anyway? You're fae, you should be with your people."

"My mother is my people," Evenfall says, "My sister and brother are mortal, too, and I will only have a handful of decades to be with them. You and I will live forever, I think you can wait that long."

"You know I'm not good at waiting," Talfryn laughs as they slip out of their clothes to make love beneath the stars. "I want to nest with you, as soon as we come of age."

"Maybe," she sighs, and gasps,"It will be hard to live with you and not be able to tell my mother or my sister about my dragon lover."