.. | angelika | chapter 5
His body wouldn't move. His belly hurt so badly that he could no longer make himself eat for throwing it up again. He was filthy, and felt his weakness from the drink, from not eating, from not moving, and wondered if this was the end. How long had he been feeling this way? Would he die now? He groaned and tried to turn over, angry at his own cowardice to not be able to do anything properly. But some part of him wanted to suffer, wanted this pain. For what he had done he deserved it, there was no other atonement for it. In loneliness he should let his body waste away, which indeed it was, until he hadn't even the strength to breathe. Then what would happen? Would he feel himself die? Would it hurt more than this? Or would it come as a sweet release of the pain, like a great iron grip suddenly letting go of his chest, his belly and head. Would he know what was happening? Did he know what was happening?
He had sunk into a sleepy delirium, he knew it because he was suddenly seeing things. He saw a light when he had been lying in the dark for what felt like days, smelled something of freshness when there had only been the stink of his body and the bedsheets. A touch, gentle and warm. His mother? Aurel? The light hurt his eyes and he tried to turn his head away with a pitiful sound but he was not allowed to. There was a voice too, in his ear, a voice of soft velvet telling him to lie still. He felt his poor body lifted up out of the foul sheets and into the crisp air. It was too bright, and again he winced, feebly grabbing at whatever it was that held him, trying to hide his face from the blinding light. Something touched his face and it was blessedly dark once more. That voice came again, told him to sleep, and he did.
"Douse the light, it bothers him."
He wasn't dead, but he didn't feel alive either. He didn't know how long he had slept, nor had he the capacity to wonder. He couldn't see much; it was dark again. His body felt different, clean, and the pain was numbed a little. The air was balmy on his flesh- had he no clothes?- and he had the feeling of being cradled like a child.
He hid his face against whatever held him. "Dead?" he croaked.
There was a chuckle, soft, almost just breath and no voice. "No, you're not dead," it said. Even through his deadened senses he felt a sharp sting and weakly tried to take his arm back. But the grip was strong, and the pain only lasted a moment. He was rocked and his hair was stroked, again like a child, until he subsided.
"It is done. Give him sacre when he drinks this, and let him rest. He very nearly did himself in."
"I don't want him alone. What if he wakes?"
"Let him stay with Rein then. In case."
Blessedly tucked away and curled up like a babe, his eyes shut to light and life, Luca's murky mind rested on one of the words he'd thought he'd heard.
Rain. Something about rain. But he was so warm, and held so gently, and already had forgotten the words spoken so softly over him. Surely he really must be dead, surely, and he really was a child again, and this was his mother carrying him. He reached out and felt for her hair, very long and thick over her shoulder and brought it to his face. It smelled pleasant and clean, but unfamiliar. Something touched his lips.
"Drink, Luca, you will feel better soon."
Aurel's body against him was quite warm. The rise and fall of his naked flesh under Luca's arm was beautifully familiar, with the sound of his deep breaths. The bed was so soft; they were buried in pillows and blankets that smelled of pine and some sort of sweet fruit. Had he put his mother's most expensive sheets into their bed? He couldn't remember.
No, she'd been buried in them, hadn't she?
Something touched his face and he wrinkled his nose and nuzzled closer, wanting Aurel to kiss him and love on him like he used to when he was just waking.
"He stays close, doesn't he?"
"Shh. He will wake soon. You had better go."
"He'll have to know me someday, Rein."
"But not upon waking, and not until he is well."
A pause in the two voices, during which Luca felt true consciousness slowly ebbing in, and with it the vague soreness of his weakened body.
"It's a delicate matter," came the last voice that had spoken, "and this particular one even more so. Go, fledgling, be patient and I will get him ready for you."
And then, a few moments later, when Luca felt himself sliding back into his comfortable, silent oblivion, there was another touch on his face. Then came the sound of his name. The mouth that spoke was close, next to his ear, but it wasn't Aurel's voice. This one was a little deeper, less husky, definitely male. It was familiar; he'd heard it speaking moments before.
"Luca," he heard again, and the body against him shifted, pulled the blankets away from his face a little, and then came the light against his closed eyes. "It's time to start moving."
He opened them. They felt swollen, but he was seeing things clearly for the first time in- how long? Hazily, bits and pieces drifted back to him, like remnants of a dream that would be gone in the next few moments. He knew he had thought he was dead, and he knew that it was not true. He could feel too much to be dead. The press of flesh, his empty stomach, the soreness of his limbs, the dull throb of his head, his dry mouth. He was staring into the bedsheets, light cream in color. His head was laid upon an arm, skin a little darker than Aurel's had been. This wasn't his lover. His lover was the one who was dead.
"Can you look up?" came the voice. "How do you feel?"
He did look up with some difficulty, the light still hurt his eyes. But he saw the face of with whom he lay; lazy, deep, sapphire blue eyes he did not recognize, under thick, dark lashes. Full lips that curled into a little smile, a mass of honey-gold hair that tumbled down in loose tendrils from where it had been pinned up messily.
"Hello," the boy said upon seeing that Luca was awake and aware. "Lie still, you're not well yet. I am Rein."
"Where...?" Luca's voice was rough, his throat was swollen and cracked, unused.
Rein brushed his hair back, a mother's gesture to a sleepy child. "The question of ages," he mused. "The first one from everyone's lips. I was hoping you'd be a little different."
Luca, his consciousness still fuzzy, tried to mutter, "What?"
"Hush. You have a new life now, but you don't have to start it just yet. Rest and heal, and I promise you will understand." Something touched his lips. "Now drink this, and I will let you sleep again."
The next time he woke, consciousness didn't come back to him gradually. It hit, and when it hit, all his senses sensed at once. With such a disorienting overload, Luca simply remained quiet for a moment with his eyes closed, trying to get his head straight. He was unable to account for how long he'd slept- hours? Days? He knew he was still lying in someone's arms, but he no longer came to half-consciousness thinking it was Aurel. This was the same one who had been lying here with him since his first memory of this place, wherever it was. When he opened his eyes, still swollen but less painful now, he saw that the other boy was dozing, an arm cast protectively across Luca's belly this time.
Slowly, he tried to sit up. His weakened muscles protested but obeyed, albeit very slowly. He managed to slide out from under the other's arm without waking him, and make a move towards sitting up for the first time in... again, he had no idea. For the moment he only rubbed his temples, eyes closed, oblivious to anything around him as he concentrated on easing the pulsating pain in his head. Slowly though, he was able to look up once more and take in this strange new place.
The room he was in was bright with sunlight. Its very walls, polished to a light reflective shine, were smooth like grey marble, with hints of color twisted through in the early morning light. Intricate carvings decorated rounded pillars molded into the walls themselves, from which hung billowing curtains of white and shimmering pearl. The floor gleamed with the same mirror-glazed luster. The bed itself was a great work of thick-carved wood as skillfully engraved as the pillars, and whose canopy loomed above him almost to the ceiling, draped in willowy linen. From the bedside he could see where the room widened to accommodate a large balcony through which came all the light, covered by its own set of sheer drapes, open and blowing gently in a freshening breeze that brushed steadily in.
He looked back to make sure the other still dozed, his arm stretched where Luca had been laying. Had he told Luca his name? He abandoned his murky thoughts for a moment, when he now saw why he had thought of Aurel while laying in his arms. They were quite similar in their long, slender bodies, and their near waist-length hair. But whereas Aurel's had been straight and fine, like silk, this boy's was thick, and it spread across the pillows like a waterfall. Like Aurel, he was uncannily beautiful for a boy, yet unlike his lover, there was no questioning this one's masculinity, even if he had not been laying there naked as he was. No clothes could have hidden a lie this time, though Luca didn't know if that was because of the boy himself, or because he had learned through his life with Aurel. Either way, the similarities were still enough to disturb him, make a lump in his throat, and he had to look away again.
Gingerly, he wrapped himself in a blanket from the bed, taking care of his left wrist, which was sore but bandaged, and made himself stand. It was a trial to get up, but he had not lost so much of himself than he couldn't move slowly towards the open balcony, anything to get a view that would give him some clue as to where he was.
It was cooler outside, but pleasantly so. The balcony was wide and broad, with a beautifully carved railing made of stone, its top rail noticeably worn by use. But it was the vista beyond that made his breath catch. Outstretched before him was a great valley, nestled in-between sheer rock walls that were overgrown with rich trees and vines. The ground below the balcony on which he stood stretched away into brush and forest, so that there was no telling how far a fall would actually be. To his right and left he saw other dwellings built into the stone, made of stone, and all with balconies similar to his, all ornate and beautifully kept, like a dream from a fairy tale. There were too many to count from here, they stretched farther into the crease between the two walls until he could see where they made the curve along the opposite cliffside, far away, so that they were obscured by foliage and falling leaves. Birds flew through the valley and overhead, but they were the only sign of other life, for despite the number of balconies, for the moment he seemed to be the only one outside. Was there no one else here? Where in the world was he?
"Luca? It's too cold out there for you," a somewhat familiar voice said. He could see through the sheer balcony curtains that the boy in the bed had awoken and was stretching his arms towards the ceiling in a lazy, unconcerned way. In a moment, he had made his way out of the lush bed and pushed aside the drapery, one hand on his hip. He was still quite nude. "Get back in here before you get sick. You're not quite well yet."
There was something tugging at Luca's mind as they stared at each other. Something about the rain. Something... his name?
"Rein..." It felt strange on his lips. "Where am I?"
Rein cocked his head. "Well it's good to see that you are feeling well enough to put yourself in danger again at least. Come in, before you catch your death." He came out, put an arm around Luca's waist and guided him back into the room.
Luca allowed himself to be maneuvered, until Rein sat him down on the edge of the bed. "Danger?"
Rein had taken his face in his hands and peered into his eyes. "You're still a little drowsy, I can see the sacre in your eyes but that should clear soon enough. You must eat though. You don't know how close you came."
Luca regained control of his head. "I think I do."
"Do you?" Rein said, running his hands back through his long hair to smooth it after a night's sleep. "What were you thinking to do that to yourself?"
Though his head still hurt, and he had no energy for it, Luca's anger rose a little. The ache in his heart was still very real; this strange boy who ordered him about knew nothing of what he'd gone though. Nothing.
"Tell me where I am," he said in his hoarse voice.
Rein finished preening and gave him a sudden smile. "Let me get some food first. If you eat I will answer your questions."
He left through the only door. Luca had now realized how the whole room had been carved into the very rock of the valley walls, then polished to a smooth luster which brought out the colorful patterns that would otherwise have been hidden in the rough texture. The door, which was locked when he'd tried the ornate handle more than once, was made of wood, engraved with as much skill as the bed canopy and the balcony outside, scenes of trees and birds. But when he put his ear to it he could hear nothing beyond, so he sauntered back out onto the balcony once more to see if he could catch sight of anyone else. There was still no sign of life besides the birds. It was beautiful though, and something about looking out over the green valley gave him a calm, as much of one as he could have, considering. It was as if he was in another world.
Or, he was dreaming, and his real body was still lying in filth at home, slowly dying. With that thought the valley seemed a little less pleasant, and Luca pulled the blanket closer around himself. Despite the strangeness of this new place, he hoped it was real. Anything was better than having to return to that dark loneliness of fear and pain, now that he'd been rescued from it.
He didn't hear Rein come in again until the boy was right behind him, herding him away from the possible view of others. It slowly made him wonder, and the thought disturbed the peace of the place even more- the locked door- was he a prisoner here? Was there perhaps someone who might want to help him if he were seen?
The food he was brought was a plate of cold fruit and honey. His stomach churned in anticipation of this first real meal in-
"How long have I been here?"
Rein paused thoughtfully before taking a bite from an apple. "At least a ten-day," he said. "You were nearly dead when Gabriel brought you here, and we've been working hard to keep you alive while your body healed itself." At Luca's look he gestured with the apple. "Can you not see how light you are? I can see all of your ribs. It's not appealing, Luca." The apple crunched when he bit into it.
Luca remembered vaguely writhing in his bed at home, but almost nothing about how he'd left it. "Who brought me here?"
"Ah," Rein sighed. "Another question of the ages. I will answer it this way." He leaned close. "You were rescued. You have been given a new life. In exchange we only ask for your beauty, and your... conformity."
Rein sat back and reached for a dark clay pitcher he'd set down next to the food. "Drink this."
Luca pushed the pitcher away, suddenly distrustful. Rein was beautiful, and had doubtlessly nursed him through his sickness, but in coming back into his senses Luca was unable to decide if he was truly trustworthy.
"It is what has kept you alive these past days," Rein said, offering the pitcher again. "Drink it all, there is only a little left now." When Luca still looked doubtful, he softened his voice and said, "It's all right, Luca."
The stuff had a strange tinny taste, and it was thick and cool. He drank it though, its flavor recalling hazy dreams of the past few days, and he knew Rein was not lying to him. He had tasted this before, whatever it was, on the first day he was brought here. He did not remember the rest.
"Now, let me see this," Rein said, reaching for his bandaged arm. That too raised some hazy memory. Rein peeked beneath it and smoothed the wrap again, nodding with satisfaction. It was then that Luca noticed he too had a cover on his left wrist, but it was not a bandage. It was a leather cuff. The same material, and laced the same way as the very one Aurel had always worn.
Something in him struck cold, even as Rein obliviously tightened the wrap, saying something about how it was healing nicely, and asking if it was still sore.
"Rein," he said, pulling his hand away. And then, even as he said the name, memories came shooting back. Memories of Aurel's voice, murmuring about the rain in his sleep. Murmuring about it as he died. It couldn't be. A cold terror had clutched his chest, and he could only choke out the words, "Please. Tell me where I am."
The other boy held his gaze for a few silent moments. "You have been brought here to be what I am."
"What are you?" he asked, his voice still soft.
Again, a silence of reluctance. "You know already. I am as Aurel was."
"I don't understand-" he started, but then stopped. The leather cuff, the same body, the same hair. The same grace, the same soothing presence. That thing which had come from him, almost human, blessedly dead in only a few moments. In an icy terror he realized the connection, but not the meaning just yet, though that alone was enough to terrify him. Aurel had been here. Here in this place, in his place. This was the place he'd shared no memories of, which had given him nightmares, and had made him afraid of the dark.
He began shaking his head. "No," he whispered.
"You understand, don't you Luca?" Rein said softly. "Aurel told you-"
"No," Luca hissed, backing away, his body straining as he tried to get up faster than he should have. He clumsily backed away, clutching the blanket closer to him, looking wildly around for an escape. There was the door Rein had come through, and there was the balcony.
"Get away from me!" he shouted when Rein moved towards him. His head was beginning to throb with dizziness, but he could still see the other boy clearly enough, how his hand reached out like one trying to calm a balked horse.
"Hush, Luca," Rein cooed, glancing at the door behind him. "It will be all right, sit again and I will explain better-"
"Don't!" He had been close enough to grab him but Luca skidded out onto the balcony. He was tripping over the blanket, trying to keep himself covered while backing against the railing, and battling a threatening blackout. "I want to go home!" His voice echoed out over the valley.
Rein glanced out quickly, as if afraid of the racket Luca was making. "You can't," he said, almost pleading and taking a step closer, "Not now."
Luca reached for the balcony railing, fighting his disorientation, trying with all his might to make his arms lift him against it. Perhaps there was ground below he could escape to from here that just wasn't visible.
But before he could do it, if indeed he would have been able to at all, something flashed before them both, and landed on the heavy railing with such force that they felt the vibration. Luca was cast away from the rail by a great gust of something warm and airy, as if he'd been brushed aside by a giant hand. He sprawled back away from the dangerous rail and gazed up, his aching body forgotten. Rein was instantly at his side, but he too went unnoticed.
Perched on the rail with the balance and grace of a great bird, crouched a beast. He was in all form a man, a very tall, broad man, with a lion's mane of brilliant golden hair that hung about his face and over his powerful naked shoulders. His loins were wrapped in a material similar to those of the bedsheets and drapery, leaving long, sturdy legs bare as well, unmoving for his perfect balance as he crouched there. His face was drawn to all stern seriousness, with eyes that shone a striking, even brighter aquamarine than Rein's. But in those few instants as he glared down at them, as magnificent as this man was, as unlike any Luca had ever seen- what made him a beast and what stunned Luca too much to even cower, were the colossal great wings that stretched out behind him, curled around, half drawn like a hunting harpy, all white feathers, shining with blinding brilliance in the sun. Unheard of, unbelievable, unreal.
"Gabriel," Rein said in a low voice, pulling Luca to stay where he was for the moment, lest he injure himself more. "It's all right, I wasn't going to let him jump."
The beast's stern expression faded a little, making him look less animalian and more like a man but for the inhuman monstrosities behind him. He continued to perch there so motionlessly but for the heaving of those great wings. Luca's eyes were locked to his, out of apprehension, out of fascination and out of just plain terror. But even if he had not felt all those things... he was still drawn. An intimate, private feeling that had no place amongst the fear causing his body to shake so.
"Go," Rein said gently to the beast with a meaningful look. The creature spread his great wings then, and vaulted off of the rail again with one push of his powerful legs, whirling out of sight once more, and they were left alone, as if it had all been a dream.
Rein helped Luca to stand. "Inside," he said, and led his overcome charge back into the room once more.
In a moment the numbness faded. Luca was surprised to find his eyes welling in fear. "Please," he whispered, "I want to go home." Rein had sat him on the bed again and watched him collapse, exhausted, his head spinning, to bury is face in the blanket and choke out the first real sobs he'd shed since the night Aurel had died.
"There is no home to go back to," Rein said softly. "There is nothing there for you. You know this." He sat beside Luca, touched his back, ran his hand up the back of his neck under his hair. "You are safe here, I promise." Rein let him be for a few more moments until his sobs had subsided and he lay sniffing quietly. Then he whispered, "Did you feel it?" His voice was hushed, private.
Luca raised his head a little. "Feel what?"
"Him," he answered.
"I didn't touch him-"
Rein shook his head. "You don't have to."
Luca raised his head a bit more and met his eyes.
"It's a good thing if you feel it," Rein whispered, reaching up and brushing Luca's hair back behind his ear. "It means it is a good match. Not everyone is so lucky." Rein searched his eyes. "Gabriel feels it, it's how he knew you were there."
"Rein-" Luca struggled with confused speechlessness. "What is he? What's to happen to me?"
Rein's pretty eyes narrowed, though his voice remained gentle. "He is a flyer." When he saw there was no recognition in Luca's face, he said, "Surely you heard stories when you were young?"
Luca shook his head. His mother had never told him stories other children heard- she had liked to make up her own.
"It's just as well. Those stories are meant to frighten children into being good, telling such nonsense that they are great beasts who wreak havoc and steal goods in the night, and children. It's of course nothing so wicked as that. They are not beasts." His voice had turned stern, but it lightened again. "This is their settlement. They are artisans, builders. You've seen how they carve their own villas out of the mountain itself, and keep them beautiful. This valley is only accessible by their flight, so we are safe here too-"
"No escape," Luca added softly.
Rein tilted his head. "It is our home," he said softly.
"But they do steal things in the night. Aurel was terrified because of it- he was taken like that, wasn't he? And me?" Luca said suddenly. "Why? If they have their own settlement here, why bring us?"
"You, I, Aurel and countless others were brought here for a specific purpose- to be their companions. Consorts and lovers." He paused. "To bear their fledglings."
Again, the image of Aurel by the fire, and a mound of quivering flesh. Luca's anger and fear flared anew and he shoved Rein away and stood up to flee, but recoiled at the impulse to run for the balcony again. Rein remained where he was, sitting there calmly on the side of the bed, wrapping himself in a blanket against the chill of the morning.
With nowhere to run, Luca faced him, hugging himself and shouting, "It doesn't make sense! It's not possible for a man to... Women bear children, not men. Women-"
Rein was shaking his head. "It is poison to women, it is deadly. And Flyers cannot reproduce with each other, they aren't made for it-" And as Luca began to protest again, he held up a hand and said, "and they cannot be changed. But a human boy's body can be changed to hold and birth a child. It's been done for ages."
The factual way in which Rein had laid it all out, as if it were a simple truth everyone knew, left Luca speechless again. Finally he said, very softly, "Changed?"
Rein sighed and pulled his legs under him to sit more comfortably, as if preparing for a long wait, though there was reluctance pulling at his eyes. Nonetheless he began. "To be able to bear the child- we call them fledglings- your body must go through three changes," he said. After a small pause, he said, "Will you sit?"
With a resigned look, Rein went on. "These changes are both physical and spiritual. First is to make the bond. When I spoke of being able to feel him, that is what I meant. Your blood was mixed into each other's bodies, which was done while you slept to ease the pain, and it has also helped you to heal. This bond will grow stronger the more you are near to him, until you are unable to tell him apart from you." He paused and gave a wry smile. "I'm sorry I can't explain it better with words. Think of it like love, if you will. But this bond is important for the next rite, which is to change your body. You drink a mixture of both essences and a special brew- his blood again with yours, which you did this morning. He does not drink it; you are the one who will change, not him." He paused, gauging Luca's pale expression. "It takes several days to do; you finished the last of it this morning, and have slept through most of it. That's not a luxury we all had," he added.
Luca caught his eyes angrily. "You lied to me about it."
Rein was unfazed. "It was necessary. Once you begin you cannot stop in the middle, and you were much easier to coerce to drink when you were in a fever. Besides, we have also been giving you a mixture of sacre with it. It helped you to sleep, so you could heal."
Sacre. Aurel had said the word once, in his delirium. Rein went on to say that it was a special mixture ground from the roots of plants that grew out of anyone's reach but the Flyers themselves, and it had to power to help heal wounds, both in the mind and the body, in that it helped one sleep, and feel less pain.
He reached out, and touched Luca's bandaged wrist. "This you have seen before, I know. It is how we took your blood, and will leave a scar in proof of your bond." Then, Rein raised his own left wrist. "I have one too. We all do." He drew a breath, looked uncertain, and that was when Luca knew the worst was to come.
"The changes that happen are for some reason very specific. Your body alters to him only, because it is his blood. This means that to establish the true change in your body, he can sire a fledgling in you. This must be done within five days after you've finished the rites." Another breath. "Meaning five days from now, he must take you into his bed."
"No," Luca breathed. "I won't do it."
Rein calmly brushed his hair back behind his shoulder. He looked Luca in the eye and said, very softly, "At this point, there is no choice."
A cold terror ran down Luca's back as he stood there. This place, this beautiful room, this exotic boy before him, all suddenly seemed to drip with everything he feared in life that he could never have put a name to. What was being asked of him- no, taken- was impossible. Whether Rein had meant it as a threat, or if it was simply the terrible truth of it ringing the same, he did not care. He would rather hurl himself off of that balcony first than allow himself to be made into a part of this illusory nightmare.
For those few moments after his last words Rein was shrewdly watching Luca's face, reading, calculating. He knew too well the thoughts that were running through his new charge's mind, and it was his job, had been for many years, to get new carriers past this point. He stood up and walked to a series of shelves etched into the wall itself and pulled out some shimmery, willowy pieces of cloth. They were long and lovely, one a pearly blue in color, the other darker, more purple. He brought them to Luca.
"Here," he said, gently pulling at the blanket Luca had wrapped around himself. "It is what we wear. You will feel better to be dressed." He succeeded in getting the blanket away, and draped the cool blue fabric over Luca's right shoulder, and passed it under his left, wrapped the material loosely around his body, closing it with a darker wrap tied about his waist. It was light, as if he weren't wearing anything at all. Luca stood, remarkably quiet, his head silently spinning.
Rein dressed himself in the other drape and despite himself Luca saw that it instantly suited him. As the boy stood there gently running his fingers through his hair to comb it again- about this he seemed to be very vain- Luca thought he might well be the most beautiful person he had ever seen, woman or man.
When Rein turned to him to tighten the sash about his waist once more, Luca softly said, "Why only five days?"
The other straightened. "The change is not complete without that first child. When the five days have gone without a fledgling conceived, something happens within the body, almost as if it rejects the change. One can still conceive, but after that time period, we say that the child will not be maiore, not blessed. A carrier is useless after that."
"Maiore?" Aurel had said that word too.
"It means the child will not be healthy and beautiful." He looked at Luca for a moment with his head a little tilted. "We do not have to talk about it much for now, I don't mean to frighten you. But if it is not maiore it is cruel to let it be born that way. And then what is to become of a carrier who cannot give beautiful fledglings?" Here he gave a gentle smile, while Luca's mind again seared with the image of the lump of moving flesh he had pulled from Aurel's belly. Is that what he meant? Rein appeared unaware of his silent rumination. "We live for beauty here, Luca," he continued. "You must learn that. Aesthetics are something you will come to know like second nature. It is everything to them, to us. Look at their villas, and their valley. They themselves are always exquisite, and choose for themselves exquisite carriers, so that their fledglings, too, will be fine."
"But I am not exquisite," Luca murmured. At this Rein lifted his eyebrows, but said nothing. "I am not like you," Luca insisted. Instead of answering, Rein took his hand and led him, with a little coercing, out onto the balcony again where they both gazed out upon the brightening valley.
"It all has a purpose here. Though we are carriers to them, in essence brought here solely to bear their fledglings, we are much more important than that. They must choose very carefully who is to be their consort. There is a faith very much tied into what surrounds them, and it is every bearing creature's wish to produce offspring that are healthy and fine, so that they too, may do the same." He suddenly smiled as he looked out upon the beautiful vista. His hand slapped the top rail as he said, "Ah, but there is so much to learn about them! For me to think back on when I still lived home with my family- how unaware people are of them. In a way it's sad. I believe their way of life here is lovely. It is a shame they are relegated to hiding in distant valleys and hillsides, beautiful homes as they may be."
Luca, too was looking out as he listened. The true situation aside, it did not seem a terrible place to live. It was far removed from the dusty, noisy streets of his own town. For a few precious moments its peace reminded him of his mother's woods and their quiet little keep.
"You are very lucky," Rein said suddenly, after a few moments of quiet. "Gabriel is what we call al-Oberdrigan; very high in his caste. Colors like his, and the sheer size of his wings... he is what we would call gentry back home." He paused and looked west, towards the opening of the valley. "But he is young too, and like you is having to learn. He has never had a consort before, and has no father to teach him."
Luca could only shake his head. The peace of the valley faded at the mention of this flyer who had laid claim to him. There was nothing he could say short of begging Rein, who probably did not have it in his power to let him go home, nor did he seem to want to. No, instead Rein was trying to convince him that this life was something he would want, that he would get used to it, and as well he might- he had no choice of an alternative. Luca's shoulders shook; he was suddenly very cold. He longed for his little farmhouse, not as he'd left it but as it had been in the past. Full of the scent of his mother's flowers or her expensive linen, freshly washed, and the smell of his father's pipe. Or lit up warmly in the night, and Aurel coming to meet him at the front gate. Why could it not have stayed that way? Why did tragedy have to befall his father? And why sickness to have taken the others, neither of which he had seen coming until almost the end, and neither of which he could really understand. That was perhaps the hardest of all; that his mind could not grasp a true reason behind why both the people he had loved in the world were no longer with him. And now he could not understand why he was here, seemingly in an entirely new world, full of frightening beings who wanted frightening things from him, all in the face of this beautiful boy who stood beside him, watching his face, reading everything.
Rein reached out, led him back in out of the cool valley air. He sat Luca on the bed again and pulled a blanket over his shoulders for his shivering. He leaned close, put his arm over Luca's shoulder and leaned with him back over the generous pillows. In a moment he had tucked Luca as easily and comfortably against him as a mother would a child, or a lover their beloved. In a moment, Luca's involuntary shivering had subsided.
"I would have let you get used to this place first," Rein said softly, "before telling you all this. That's how it usually works. But you were so far gone, we had to-" Here, he paused, and gave a gentle smile. "It was what we had to do to save your life at all. You would have died alone there."
"It was what I wanted," Luca murmured. He felt his throat swell but contained the rising emotion into a blank stare at the coverlet. Rein was touching his hair, pushing it back from his eyes.
"You don't know anything about it," Luca whispered, the lump rising, threatening what composure he had left.
"You were scared of being alone," Rein said softly. Then, as if to himself, "I get scared of that as well." He didn't continue, and the silence that followed was heavy with his private reflection. Whatever it was that he did not share freely, Luca didn't ask. He had managed to control his sadness and was now clear-headed enough to wonder how much Rein actually knew of that night. He had known Aurel, that was certain, but did he know the nature of his death? Did he know Luca had been responsible for it?
"I was brought here by a Flyer called Ameron." Rein said finally. "He was so tall, had this way of just towering over me. But he was kind as well, and I learned to love him."
"But the five days?" Luca's voice was hushed, almost shy. "You loved him in five days?"
Rein gave a chuckle. "Not at all. Ameron had a very cynical sense of humor and he laughed too loudly." He tilted his head back, musing with a smile. "But I thought him beautiful, and he spoke very gently to me."
Luca looked at his flat belly. "You..."
"Bore his fledglings, yes," he said. "Two of them."
"Where are they?"
"Oh, grown and living their own lives," Rein said off-handedly enough to make Luca a little dubious. He had not missed the words Rein had used, how he sounded as if speaking about the past. But he didn't want to ask- had something happened to this Flyer? Where was he now?
Rein sidled down with him into the lush bedding. "You're still tired, aren't you? Come, we'll nap for a bit, and I will bring some more food later. There is nothing else that needs to be done today but for you to rest, and I have told you enough for one day."
His embrace was reminiscent of Aurel's, so alike were they in body and even the vaguest of scents. He was warm now as well, and his still-recovering body was beginning to pull for much needed sleep again, or was it the sacre? His exhaustion on him like a weight, Luca allowed his head to tilt against Rein's neck, and felt the other's hand come up to smooth his hair again. It was then that he recognized this feeling- that over all his misgivings, there was something about this boy that put him at ease, against all rational thought.
"I love your black hair," he heard Rein muse into his ear right as he drifted off into a dreamless sleep. "You'll be such a rarity."
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