.. | short stories | 03 (he will grow into something great)
Captain Terranel stood near the barracks' stables with his arms crossed. Though healthy and stout, a man of his age was getting more and more susceptible to the cold, but he'd be damned if he'd let anyone know his teeth were silently chattering.
Presently he was watching a squad of his men stack barrels and crates of supplies that would have to sustain the village should the king order the outer gates closed to the open road.
The day was stark gray and dreary. A light rain had been spitting on them on and off since dawn, adding a bit more misery to the cold moist air. Terranel coughed the icy breath from his lungs. Damn this everlasting winter.
"Captain! Captain, they're coming!" A young watchguard came racing down from one of the stone towers, stumbling and bowling over others in his haste. He skidded to a halt before his captain and leaned down to catch his breath.
"Is he with them?"
Mute still, the watch looked up and nodded. He pointed in the direction of the main stretch of road. "And he's riding, Sir."
The bearded captain gave the man his leave and made his way to the front gate, rubbing his chin as he thought. If Kellan was astride a horse, then his wounds couldn't be too bad. At least not as bad as they'd heard. Then again, he'd never know Kellandarin to openly show any pain, the proud bastard.
He dispatched several men to meet the convoy returning from recent battle and one to alert the royal family that their proxy had returned in one piece. Kellan had been gone for months this time, taking care of the strange, secretive workings of the king and queen. It was rather strange that he'd been wounded; the Captain knew him to be the kind of man who stayed as far away from battle as possible. He wasn't a coward; he just simply didn't believe in war. There's always a way around it. If not, kill the most prominent politicians and be done with the whole matter, he had said once.
He watched as villagers wandered to line the central road, making a benevolent gauntlet for the ranks to pass through. Kellan was at the front, slightly hunched over in the saddle. The fur-lined cloak he wore hid any other indication of how badly he was hurt. His thick, near waist-length hair was blowing free in the icy winter wind, obscuring part of his face.
Terranel walked out a little ways down the cold gravel headway to meet Kellan's weary mount. He reached out to hold the horse's reins and patted the man's leg.
"Well now, Master Kellan, you're looking a bit pale," Terranel said good-naturedly.
The long-haired man look down, one hand clutching the cloak at his throat, the other hidden beneath the folds. His gray eyes looked a little more lazy than usual, but beneath the half-lowered lids, their color was far too bright.
"Just a bit cold, Captain," he said in a husky voice. He flinched a bit when he tried to sit up straighter, but the pain that crossed his face was not lost to his old friend. Kellan was not just a bit pale, he was sheet white.
Terranel reached for the man's waist to pull him down. "Let's get you warmed up," he said. "The queen will never forgive me if you catch your death."
Kellan raised his head a bit, his eyelids fluttering closed. If possible, he grew even paler still.
"I don't think the cold is quite my problem-" he whispered. Kellan swayed dangerously in the saddle and suddenly, already leaning towards the Captain, he fell and collapsed into the other's arms.
His hidden hand had slipped free from his cloak and lay covered in blood in the white snow as Terranel struggled to regain his balance and lift the body at the same time.
"Surgeon!" the man shouted, ripping the cloak open to reveal Kellan's bloody, shredded side to the winter air. "God be damned, get me a Surgeon and help me!"
Men rushed from all sides to help as Captain Terranel wrapped the cloak tighter around his friend's pale body and gently pulled back the long hair that had soaked up both blood and snow.
Damn you Kellandarin. We've already gone through this once before!
The Queen paced outside the surgeon's quarters as her husband and Terranel watched silently.
"Why wasn't I notified of his condition sooner?" she demanded, stopping her pacing to fix the Captain with a glare.
Terranel spread his hands. "We didn't know, your Majesty," he said. "No one knew-"
She resumed her pacing. "He knew, curse him," she muttered.
"Fen," the king said, taking her by the shoulders. "He's survived such a wound before, remember? He is strong, I'm sure."
Fen's expression softened a bit and she submitted to her husband's embrace.
"I know," she whispered against his shoulder. "I just don't think it's fair that God should toy with my brother's life so."
They were interrupted by a polite cough as the surgeon stepped out, wiping his hands on a cloth. He'd been in there for two hours.
"I'm surprised he made it this far," he told the queen in a gentle voice. "He's lost a lot of blood-"
Fen instantly stepped towards him, holding her wrist out. "Take mine," she said.
The surgeon smiled. "It's not necessary right now. He should rest."
Fen thanked him and gave him his leave with a promise to check up on his patient every two hours. She would stay with him the rest of the time.
When they entered the room, there was the distinct smell of blood and the sharp uncured alcohol that the surgeon had used. Kellan lay on his back like a corpse before burial. His beautiful hair had been washed and tied back.
He didn't look alive. For someone who always had a healthy, somewhat dusky complexion, he looked like a ghost amid fresh white sheets. Fen knelt beside her brother and touched his face.
"I should never have sent you," she whispered. "What in God's name compelled you to fight?"
Her husband laid a hand on her shoulder as he knelt next to her. He studied the still form that lay on the bed before them. Kellan may be a willful, headstrong rogue who had proved to be a thorn in the king's side more often than necessary, but he was the only family Fen had left.
The king knew too well that if they lost him, he could just as well say goodbye to the love of his life who had just now begun to weep quietly against his shoulder.
Darkness and cold. That's what he felt here. It was a sudden darkness too, an unnatural one.
A young boy sat up and stretched his cramped arms. He looked about himself, wondering where exactly he was, and where he had come from. He had no memories of anything at all before this time and place; only an instinct, a force that was telling him he needed to be somewhere, go there and find something.
He was outside. A soft sleet rained down on his bare skin as he looked out over the landscape, his still light-sensitive eyes picking out the vision of a large gray structure that was reaching towards the sky. But the edifice was perhaps miles away.
No matter. He had to get there somehow. Instinct drove him to force himself to get up on wobbly legs, long unused. He stumbled and felt for the nearest tree, his eyes never losing sight of his goal, that tall tower far in the distance.
It took him only a moment to master his legs again as he slipped down the hill. The cold didn't affect him as much as it should have perhaps, but it would soon. All the more reason that he find this something he was supposed to find. Only there would he be warm and safe.
Days had passed and Kellan was getting no better. Fen had finally been persuaded to leave his side and tend to her duties, entrusting her personal handmaidens to take turns keeping watch when she could not. Terranel, too, came in to visit his friend, but saw no change for the better.
The only thing Fen's handmaidens could report was that her brother had nightmares that endangered the delicate stitching that held his side together. He would wake up for a few moments dripping in sweat, his gray eyes dark and wild as he called someone's name. Whose name, they did not know. Then he would subside again, still feverish, into sleep again.
"He's getting worse, your Majesty," the surgeon said to her one day. "I'm afraid that he may not-"
Fen shook her head violently. "Then do something! You're a Healer aren't you?!"
The man backed away. "I'm not a magician, your Majesty!"
Fen stopped. "Of course you're not" she said, softly to herself. "But it has come to that. Ilos!" she called to her husband who stood a bit behind her with his aides. "Summon Etreus! He has to be able to do something."
Ilos dismissed the small assembly gathered around him. "Etreus, my love? Are you sure it is necessary already? His services can get... expensive."
She spun around to face him. "Please. Summon him."
It was two more days before the old priest could make it to the castle and by that time, Kellan had barely the strength to even wake himself up from his nightmares. Etreus seemed reluctant to enter the infirmary rooms, but did so anyway without a word of complaint. It was old news that the old priest and Kellan had had a falling out years and years ago, and they'd been at each other's throats ever since. The royal couple had taken to making sure that they were never in the same room at the same time, or else trouble surely ensued.
Etreus' distaste for the man he'd been brought to help, however, was carefully and wisely hidden as he put his palm against Kellan's moist forehead.
"How long has he had the fever?" the priest asked, pulling out a handkerchief and wiping the Kellan's face with it.
Fen stepped foreword. "A few days. When he came he was chilled like ice, but only recently he's been having nightmares and fever."
"Nightmares?" The old priest looked back at Kellan's seemingly peaceful face.
"He wakes up three or four times a night, calling names."
She shrugged, looking tired. "Nothing anybody recognizes."
The priest stood up. "What names?" he repeated.
Fen exchanged a glance with Ilos. "It started with a ‘k', but I could never understand it right."
Her husband nodded. "Sounded like he was calling the Mountain."
They watched as the priest turned to look at the still figure in the bed.
"Kitheron?" he whispered. He mouthed the word again as his hand wrung on the smooth wooden staff he always carried with him. After a moment, he straightened and gestured to the door.
"Leave him be for now. Come, tell me about his wounds."
The boy was shivering, but he was almost there. Running was difficult with cold bare feet, cut and blistered now from harsh terrain. He hardly felt the pain in his singlemindedness; he had to make it. It was the only thing keeping him alive.
He was running out of time.
People bustled around without even a glance at the skinny, dirty boy who crouched behind ale barrels near the back of a tavern. He'd crawled into an old hitchcart and managed to get passed the main gates into the village that was protected by story-high walls.
Waiting for the just right moment, he bolted out from his hiding place and made his final sprint towards the castle gates. He had to make it. His very existence depended on whatever he was to find there.
He would be warm, he would be safe. If only he could just get there...
It was a touch that woke Kellan. Woke him to real consciousness instead of a fleeting, dream-induced awareness. For the first time since he'd collapsed, he could discern forms in the light of torches. He could recognize the feel of the sheets beneath his sweaty back, the heaviness of his hair and the discomfort of it clinging to his moist brow.
But the soft touch of small hands pushed the hair away from his forehead and smoothed it back. It was disorienting to see a child's face lean into his vision from above his head. He was sitting on the pillows, cradling Kellan's head in his lap and seemed to have been there for a long time by the way he had comfortably sunk into the sheets and wrapped a blanket around thin, bare shoulders. He was smudged with dirt and grime, and his hair of indiscernible color hung in unruly locks about his face as he leaned over Kellan's head.
"Who..?" the man managed past a dry, cracked throat.
The boy covered his lips with his fingers. He crawled out from the nest he'd made to sit at Kellan's elbow where the man could get a good look at him. He was naked and dirty, spindly and underfed. Since he was facing the light, his eyes glowed a deep gold color, surely just enhanced by the flames of the torches. Shadows were cast in each groove of narrow-sprung ribs and his hip bones, but he didn't look too terribly unhealthy.
When the strange creature pulled back the covers off of Kellan's wounded side, it was the rush of cooler air that made him gasp, not the pain. In fact, there was no pain. None at all but the echo of it and the agony he'd suffered left residual in his mind.
There was no wound either. Not even a scar.
Kellan stared up at the boy, speechless, confused and still disoriented from days of not eating. The boy spared him having to say a word, however, as he crawled back above Kellan's head to assume his position there. Resuming his gentle stroking, it was quite clear to the man in the bed that he'd been commanded to sleep again. The dark, now-peaceful depths called to him and he closed his eyes, somehow eased with the knowledge that his nightmares would not come back.
It was as if that boy, that unearthly, silent creature, had simply chased them away.
Considering Kellan's injuries and the madness that had overtaken him in fever, he recovered quite well. No one was about to explain what magic had been worked, as Kellan refused to reveal his healed side for examination. Etreus was especially insulted; after all, his excellent service had been summoned for this purpose alone, and even he was unable to discern the true base of magicking that had taken place. The most skilled of healers couldn't make a wound simply disappear.
It had to be the boy, that fair youth that had been hiding in Kellan's chambers the next morning when they'd come to check on him. He seemed hardly surprised at his own miraculous recovery. He couldn't explain the boy's sudden presence, or why it was that the youth was almost literally attached to his hip when he'd ventured out of bed again. He'd named the youth Kitheran, for the mountain he'd called in his fever-sleep.
Etreus had immediately wanted to examine the boy but had been vehemently refused by Kellan, who towered over the elder man, while the small youth cowered behind him, taking refuge in the folds of his master's robes. Getting to Kit became almost an obsession with the old priest; he'd become convinced that that power could be harnessed and used for a greater good. There was a purpose to the boy's being here, surely, some prophecy he was to fill. But why he'd attached himself to Kellan of all people was quite beyond anyone's reasoning.
So it was that an already strained acquaintance was put to the point of breaking on a daily basis...
"I could have that boy taken away as easily as I could snap my fingers, you heathen-"
Kellan's gray eyes flashed. "I say you can just as easily suck my-"
"You'd like that wouldn't you? I've heard that's the kind of thing you go for-"
"Enough!" Fen glared at them both. "Honestly, I've seen brothers and sisters who get along better than you two!"
The old priest made a slight bow. "Forgive him your Majesty." He fixed his hard stare back at Kellan. "Old grudges die hard."
Kellan crossed his arms stubbornly. "So do old men, evidently."
"You son of a-"
"Etreus!" Fen stepped between them. "You both should know better! I don't want to hear another word."
Etreus bowed. "I only wish to remove the boy from the care of this, this fop. You must understand how very important Kit is, your Majesty-"
Kellan's fists clenched at his sides. It was the most anger he'd shown yet. "I told you once old man, you're not taking him from me and making him your experimental pig."
"I'm very aware of how important the boy is, Etreus," Fen said, reaching out to put her hand on her brother's shoulder to calm him. "But no matter what your grudge against Kellandarin is, Kitheran won't stay with anyone else. The boy's made his choice."
The old priest shook his head and tapped his staff on the marble floor. "What kind of creature will the boy grow up to be then, under his kind of guidance? A street whore perhaps?"
Kellan threw up his hands. "Must I stand here and listen to this?" he demanded of the queen.
She gave him a sympathetic look and shook her head. "Go, Kellan," she said.
Kellan stalked out of the chamber angrily, his mind concocting up a dozen different ways that the old priest could meet his untimely death. One of these days he was going to forget that Etreus was only one of the most powerful men in his sister's kingdom and really let him have it.
He had wandered into the inner court yard, presently deserted in the afternoon hours when many people and staff had settled down for an after lunch nap. Drawn by the smell of newly bloomed flowers, he moved into the hanging gardens and leaned against the wooden lattices to sulk some more.
Until Kitheran had acquired his powers, whatever they might be, however, Kellan knew he must withstand a few blows to his pride and deal with the priest's prejudices.
He'd been having a good mope when small fingers hooked themselves in his belt and tugged. Kellan looked down into large dark eyes; he should have known that Kit would find him out here. He reached down to swing the boy up onto his hip out of habit.
"What are you doing out? I thought you were with Cyril today."
The boy reached out for the flowers and picked a handful of them, bringing them to his lips and smiling that childish grin of his. He put several behind Kellan's ear.
There was only one thing that that particularly mischievous smile could mean.
"Ah. You were with Cyril today. Did you run off and leave him?"
Kit ducked his head to rub his cheek against Kellan's shoulder like a pup that knew he'd done something wrong.
"That was naughty of you," Kellan half-admonished. Then again, he remembered when both he and his sisters used to sneak away from Cyril, who was back then already an old man. By now he must be blind and deaf as well.
"Oh well," he sighed, letting Kit down so that he could run about. "It's just one more thing for that old man to bug me about." He watched the boy dash out from under the hanging garden bowers and do a somersault in the rich green grass of the knoll. Kit landed on his back and laid there, limbs spread out and gazing up at the sky.
Kellan was slow to follow as he took in the beauty of the courtyards. The place never ceased to amaze and relax him in all its brilliant colors and design. His gaze returned to the boy who still lay in the grass, now with his arms behind his head.
What did Kit see when he looked up at the sky? What did he think? It troubled the young lord to realize that he really knew no more about that mysterious creature than he did the moment Kit woke him from his deathbed. Who knew what went on inside that head of his, what he was thinking.
Kellan finally meandered onto the grass and sat down next to his charge. Kit looked up at him.
"What are you thinking, hm?" Not that he expected an answer.
Now emotions he could read easily. Kit's face was like an open book as to when he was sad, hurt, or happy. Lately, however, there had been other emotions playing across that pretty face. Signs of things that Kellan had not related to Etreus when he'd asked about the boy.
Kit roused himself and crawled to where Kellan had sat down cross-legged in the grass. He climbed up onto his lap and straddled his waist. Kellan blinked at him, seeing again the hints of that new something reflect through the boy's shiny dark eyes. Kit placed his hands on his master's shoulders and gently pushed him to lie back on the grass. The lord allowed him to, though not without some reservation as to the boy's motives. Despite what Kitheran had done for him and his ever-growing affection towards the boy, he was still wary of the powers that everyone swore Kit possessed. They made it sound as if this boy could incinerate him on the spot if he chose.
But there was nothing of the kind in Kit's eyes as he laid his head down on Kellan's chest, his hands twining in the long locks of his master's hair, nose buried in the soft linen of his shirt.
Kellan sighed and put his hands behind his head, letting the boy lay in the nest he'd made on top of him. His weight was actually quite warm and comfortable. If this is what having a son was like, he could probably deal with it, he thought. However, his sexual proclivities barred the way to children somewhat. Kellan smiled to himself as he stared up at the cloudless sky. Who needed children anyway.
He awoke with a start to the ringing of the chapel bells, signaling that the evening invocation was over. Kit still lay deep asleep on his chest and his body rose and fell with each of Kellan's breaths. The sky above them had darkened considerably, and clouded up.
"Dammit," he swore under his breath, lifting the sleeping boy up and holding him against his chest as he sat up to look around. He hadn't even realized that he had dozed off, and now they'd missed invocation. Kellan rolled his eyes resignedly. He was going to hear about it over dinner tonight.
The boy against his chest heaved a great sleepy sigh as he shifted to press his face against Kellan's throat and wrapped his arms around his neck. He subsided into sleep again.
There was nothing the young lord wanted to do but make his way to their room and sleep some more but he had duties, especially tonight with so many emissaries wandering about.
Kellan forced himself up, careful not to disturb the sleeping boy he held in his arms. He carried him back through the now torch-lit gardens into the palace, ignoring the wondrous stares he always received when he carried the boy around.
Equal to the number who believed in the youth, there were many who doubted the same. Kellan himself wasn't sure of what he thought about that. But what else would explain Kit's sudden appearance out of nowhere? And his own miraculous recovery soon after?
Most of those thought that Kitheran was merely a street urchin picked up by the Monarchy, which was conveniently devoid of heirs presently. And Etreus wasn't the only one to protest about the boy, as special as he was supposed to be, being put into the care of the queen's foppish, somewhat disreputable brother.
Kellan smirked. He loved his reputation. It saved him from having to deal with a lot of people he would have had to as a standard part of palace life. They simply avoided him, passing him off as intelligent, yes, but important, not really. That particular aspect of his character had allowed him to work himself into the deepest gossip circles so that he may conduct his job more easily than he should have been able to.
He didn't care if they thought Kit a catamite of his. He never denied or confirmed their suspicions, preferring instead to keep them guessing and uphold the air of mystery that had always naturally surrounded him.
Kit gave a piteous little moan and shifted, his hands clenching around and pulling the locks of hair that fell over Kellan's shoulders.
"Wake up, Kitkit," Kellan whispered. "You have appearances to make."
The boy opened his eyes but quite clearly did not intend to do much more than that. Instead, he snuggled closer and gave a soft, content sigh and closed his eyes again.
Kellan's brows furrowed a little as he climbed the steps to their room to dress for dinner. "What's made you so tired all of a sudden? Aren't you hungry?"
No answer came of course, but Kellan found himself seriously considering putting Kit to bed and then following him right back into sleep. He had no desire to make appearances and small talk over dinner tonight, especially if Etreus was to sit across from him as he had last night. Their bickering had stopped just short of a food fight, much to his sister's embarrassment. Kit, however, had loved every minute of it.
As he leaned over and laid the boy on his bed, Kit's hands tugged him down and refused to let go. Gently, he pried the little fingers from their clench on his shirt.
"You may be able to get out of this, but I can't. You stay and sleep, I'll be up later."
Kit sat up and genuinely pouted at him, his large eyes becoming moist. He was used to spending every waking moment with the lord when they were out on their travels, but here at the palace, different duties called and Kit clearly detested the attention Kellan had to spend on anything else than him.
Kellan was lacing up a fresh shirt he'd just put on and smiled at the pout he was getting.
"You like to come home, remember? Why are you giving me that look?"
The boy crawled off of the bed and latched his arms around Kellan's hips, pressing his cheek against the lord's hip.
Kellan's smile faded as he stared into the full-length mirror they were standing in front of. Kit was so small compared to him, the top of his head just reaching his navel, and yet the boy's grip around his waist was vice-like. How could someone so small be so strong?
Kellan stroked the head that rested against his hipbone and gazed at their reflection as he mused. Not for the first time, he began to wonder if Etreus wasn't right about the boy being in his care. Who was he to have this little life, all the more precious because of his supposed ‘potential' placed in his hands? Kit had almost overnight become more dear to him than anything else he'd ever treasured, and that attachment, ever-growing, was enough to frighten him out of his wits.
He'd long ago noticed that this uneasiness was coming back to him more and more.
Kit roused his head and looked up at his master with sleep-darkened eyes that said Come sleep.
Kellan shook his head to clear it. He lifted the boy up into his arms to carry him back to bed.
"You sleep. I'll be back later."
As he'd thought, Etreus was intent on making it known to everyone who didn't already know how the queen's own brother had missed the evening invocation, further proving his irresponsibility in handling the child.
Kellan ate his meal in silence, letting the old man rave and convince the others of what a bad person he was. Who cared?
"Etreus, no more! I'm sure Kellan had a pressing engagement."
Well, his sister cared. Kellan looked up at her with a small smile, which she returned.
"Like routing some lad in the hay lofts, I suppose," Etreus mumbled so only Kellan, who sat next to him, could hear.
Kellan slammed his silver down and shoved himself back from the table. He stood up so that he towered over the priest.
"I've had it with you, you old bastard," Kellan growled. The entire hall had fallen into silence as they stared at him.
"You've spewed nothing but filth from that mouth of yours since you got here and I'm sick of it!" He slammed the flat palm of his hand down in front of the priest and leaned down close. "If you think for one second that you can take him from me, you have crossed the line into some dangerous territory, old man. I will kill you."
Kellan stood up straight again and glared into the faces of all present. His sister looked almost white, but not angry or surprised at his outburst. Everyone else looked as if they were hovering between shock and fear.
Only the priest looked defiant from under heavy white eyebrows. Kellan fixed him with a scowl.
"I've lost my appetite," Kellan muttered, throwing down his napkin and taking his leave from the table.
By the time he made it back to his room, he was silently seething. Kit met him at the door as if he'd sensed his master's mood. The boy looked worried as he reached for Kellan's hands. His master looked down with a sigh, idly stroking the youth's hair away from his face. Kit, though his expression was still one of apprehension, tugged on Kellan's hands to pull him towards the bed. He pushed his master to sit on the edge.
"It's all right Kitkit," he mumbled, rubbing his face with both hands.
The boy set to untying the laces of Kellan's shirt like any servant would undress his master. Kellan patiently obeyed the which ways that Kit moved his arms to divest him of his clothing, silent still in his brooding over what had just occurred. He knew he was going to regret his outburst, God damn him for it, but the old priest had deserved much more.
Kit knelt down to remove his boots.
"You don't have to do this. You know that," Kellan sighed, rubbing his temples. He would be glad when this day was officially over.
Kit's hands found the fastening of his breeches and stopped. The boy looked up at him, questioningly. Kellan held his gaze for several moments before he heaved himself up and finished undressing himself, the night's argument quickly fading from his mind and being replaced by uneasiness. He silenced his misgivings and crossed the room to extinguish the small torch flames so that the room fell into darkness. The cold set in too, as if the soft light in the room had been enough to heat it as well.
With haste he made his way to the bed and slid between the sheets. Kit crawled under as well and curled up against his back, hands tangled in his long hair, breath warming the nape of his neck.
Kellan sighed and closed his eyes. No one would take this creature from him.
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