Season 1, Episode 11
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
The days passed in tense boredom. Geoff recovered but would speak no further of what had happened. His impassive face would turn stony and his jaw lock shut whenever I tried to broach the topic. If I persisted, he would begin to grind his teeth with such force that they made a terrible squeaking noise, so I gave up. I stayed even closer to Kaye than before, in the hope of intercepting any further threats. I found myself looking at Kaye, studying his shoulders for any unusual twitching, and checking his fingernails for white spots. I took comfort in Kaye’s obvious fitness throughout the summer, encouraging him in his exercises as the sweat ran off his brow, down his arms, and plastered his tunic to his broad chest and shoulders.
Summer is the only time of year that the climate in Thrycae is even remotely similar to that of Maragoya, and I relished the heat. But soon, summer was over. The weather cooled and the leaves began to change color. Though I understand the process well enough, every year the turning of the leaves caught me by surprise, and made my breath catch in my throat. It is strange that such vivid color and beauty should emerge out of a process that seems so much like dying.
On one such day, Kaye was falconing on his own, Geoff having declared that he had nothing more to teach him. We were discussing the epic of R’salynda, and the elaborate court manners that are described in intricate detail therein. Kaye asked me if it was true that, in other kingdoms, they greeted men and women alike with kisses, on the cheek or hand.
“In some. Raline, for example, where a kiss on each cheek is the normal greeting between friends, and in the court of Tir Hanoch, where it is considered an insult for a lord to greet a lady without kissing her hand. Senior clergy of the Unmoved God wear rings of station, and for a clergyman of lesser rank to kiss the ring of his superior is a demonstration of loyalty, like affirming an oath of fealty, though they don’t call it that, as they only swear oaths to their God…”
“Yelen, if I were being presented at the court of Tir Hanoch, how would I greet you?”
I straightened. “By your name and title, then you wait for my response.”
Kaye stepped to face me, lifted his chin, and said, “Milady, I am Prince Karamon Lycius of Thrycae.”
I looked at him, his open expression one of graceful formality, though something—perhaps mirth—quirked his full, red lips. He bore himself well. At some point Kaye had acquired poise as well as strength. His easy smile riveted my gaze. Looking at him I saw not a crippled boy but a well-mannered and handsome young man. Kaye was wearing a stylish burgundy-and-cream doublet over matching silk hose, one leg in each color, and wore no gaudy ornament save for his all-too-brilliant hazel eyes.
I shook my head. “Sorry…ah…I greet the Lord Lycius. I am but Maiden Yelena of the Order of Sisters.” I lifted my hand and, distractedly, removed my glove. I presented my bare hand to Kaye, who clamped his crutch firmly under his right arm before reaching out to take my hand in his.
“Where do I kiss it?” he asked, his voice suddenly husky.
“The knuckle or the top of the hand,” I said, realizing my error a moment too late.
I felt as if I were watching myself from a distance as he lifted my hand to his lips and brushed his lips against each of my knuckles before kissing the back of my hand more firmly. He lifted his gaze slowly to meet mine, his face flushed. My cheekbones and ears suddenly felt hot, and a vague fuzziness settled over me.
“Yelen, I…” he paused, and I remember thinking I should say something, but when I opened my mouth all that came out was a soft sigh. His fingers were so warm, I was so warm, I’d missed his touch.
Wresting control back from my traitorously weak-kneed body, I jerked my hand out of his and pulled away. I fumbled with my glove as I walked, somehow having trouble getting it back on.
“Wait!” Kaye cried after me, his voice intense, but soft. Swinging along at a pace nearly equal to a run, he passed me, then spun around and stopped. He wobbled and I thought he was going to topple over, but he caught his balance and said something that started with “what” or “wait” and trailed off incomprehensibly.
I looked at him, and no words came to me. Something hot and prickly stirred in my gut and my heart pounded as my mouth became suddenly dry. As I watched, a teardrop arced down over his cheek. I looked down, trying to blink back tears of my own. With my gaze lowered, I couldn’t help noticing that his doublet was pushed up and away from his groin like a tent-flap. Again the heat rose in my cheeks and my face felt hot all over again.
He took one large swinging step toward me and I looked up. I had intended to apologize, but as he closed the distance, I found that all I wanted to do was stroke his face and kiss his trembling lower lip, so I turned away and ran.
I heard him croak, “Yelen,” as I passed him, and start to thump along after me, but I sprinted and outpaced him. I did not look back.
I was carried off by a great bird with wings too long to see the end of, clutched in claws thick around as my thigh. His feathers were all snow white and his underbelly was covered in soft, pale down. My terror turned into exhilaration as we climbed higher and faster, picking up speed even as we rose. Tender kisses streamed down on my head, neck, hands, and over my bare chest as I realized the bird had a familiar face with light hazel eyes and full, red lips.
Suddenly, we dove, and the sense of acceleration deepened. I was lost in a tempest of soft feathers and softer kisses, continuing down over my body. The world, my world was getting smaller, contracting to a single point. My spine tingled and my feet flexed, as lips and tongue made their way up between my thighs. I realized that I knew where the next kiss would fall, and then I realized why. This was the technique Kaye had described as “the supplicant’s approach to the gates as the sun rises.”
There was hot breath on my inner thigh, then I felt the caress of a tongue on my labia. The gates of the temple parted and I gasped and shuddered. I felt warm, open, simultaneously ecstatic and content, and I came.
I remember waking up, tangled in the sheets with a pillow pressed between my legs, but I soon fell back asleep and dreamt again.
This time, I was sitting, cross-legged, with a gilded egg the size of a sack of grain in my lap. I wrapped my arms around it to keep it warm, and I sang to it. The egg thumped in response, then rumbled and began to shake violently. The shell cracked here and there, fissures running all over the egg, which finally shattered, and I was staring at a screaming newborn who quickly grew into a young, naked child, two, then three years of age, with my skin and curly brown hair, but hazel eyes and large red lips. Strangely enough, I cannot remember if the child was a boy or a girl. The child continued to grow, passing years in a minute, until a young adult stood before me, possessed of grace and confidence. Then, spreading multicolored wings that I hadn’t noticed before, it took off and flew away, towards mountain peaks higher than my own. Only then did I realize that I was alone, in a giant bird’s nest on a crag just beneath a snow-covered summit.
I gazed about, looking for my great bird. I could not find him. Finally I looked straight down, and there, at the base of the mountain peak, smashed on the rocks, lay a carcass. Snow white feathers and dry bones, the remains of a great bird with a human skull.
A sense of vertigo struck me and my vision blurred and shifted. I saw the nest again, but this time from below. My chest ached as I watched the scene play out again, this time with my great bird sitting in the nest, hatching our child which grew into an adult and flew off. I wanted to rise and cheer, but I couldn’t, because this time I was the carcass upon the rocks.
I awoke with a start in my own bed, light streaming through my window. I heard a beautiful trilling sound come from my windowsill. There I saw my motherless baby lovebird, no longer a mere chick but grown to maturity, standing in the nest. It turned its tiny head toward me and trilled again, then it spread its wings and took flight. It did not return.
© 2012 Copyright Tof Eklund
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