by Tessa Rae
This is a sequel to Anne Carr's original story Wine Dark Nexus
by Anne Carr
The ship sat low in the water, its hold filled to overflowing, its sail lowered. The crew were silent, looking at each other with questioning, frightened eyes, the usual well-trained bustle of activity absent in the face of tragedy.
One man stood alone on the port side, staring out over the rolling waves. Not overly tall, he was well built, with long brown curls and the clear green-eyed gaze of a pure Atlantean. His long fingers were gripped to the rail, knuckles drained of color, the only sign of the emotional upheaval going through him. His face was empty, impassive; the scar on his right cheek stood out.
Five years. Five years since he had been away from his home, beaten, then banished by his father to an unknown life for a crime he had not committed.
Five years. He had gone, angry and hurt, too proud to beg forgiveness, so terrified he could barely function. He had gone a frightened child, and had returned a man. The anger had faded to bitterness, the hurt too deep to heal. The fear had slowly turned to confidence because his stubborn pride refused to let him fail. It should have been a satisfying homecoming.
But where the island kingdom had once stood tall and proud, the white walled cities gleaming in the sunshine, there was nothing. Atlantis had vanished, reclaimed by the ocean that had surrounded it.
The return had been left too late. All his work, all the endless labor that had kept him going had been for nothing. His family had disappeared with the island and now there was nothing.
Not even hope.
And yet...there was one left alive. As sure as his heart beat, that other's beat as well. Somewhere there was a man with brown curls like his own, with green eyes that caught the sun and laughed. He would have known if those eyes had dimmed. There had been terrible danger, pain, and overriding joy...but not death. Somewhere his other half was alive and well.
Perhaps there was a purpose after all.
I remember an ancient man, wrinkled with sun and wind and time, his eyes blurred the way eyes become when they begin to see past this life and on to the next, and I recall his croaky voice saying sadly, "The worst thing about age is the growing old."
It had seemed a rather silly statement then, but now, with all my years behind me and nothing left but the passing over, now the ancient one's words ring true.
I lay in the Hall of the Jade Palace, surrounded by my women, by my children and my servants. I am cool and there is pain; my body is shrunken, my hearing no longer keen and the creeping weakness has almost taken its final toll. But my mind is clear enough and it takes me out of the present and returns me to my youth, when my step was quick and my body lean...back to the distant past, to the greatest adventure a boy could know.
My name is Tellac and I was probably about ten or twelve summers old when the Hawk sailed into the Red City harbor. The captain of the sleek trader was a huge man, with a beard the color of the city walls and a laugh like the thunder of a sudden storm. I lived on the docks then, without parents or siblings, doing whatever I had to do to stay alive. I had become very quick with my fingers and, experience being the best teacher, a good judge of who to steal from and who to leave alone.
The Hawk's captain, Andreas, was a 'leave alone'. One blow from his giant hand would end my career forever, and besides, once I had seen his passengers I was too curious to even think of such mundane things as a forever empty belly.
I was standing on the wooden landing watching the Atlantean sailors unload cargo, trying to stay out of their way and still assuage my curiosity, when the two men came into view.
I knew them for passengers at once, though they were unlike any I had ever seen before. The Red City harbor was a busy place and I had grown up watching the ships come and go wondering about the lands and beyond the ocean, what treasures dwelt in the foreign places. It was true, not many carried passengers...for in those days why would anyone not trading want to visit our little city? But occasionally fat men and their greedy-eyed women would come ashore to point at my people and laugh.
It was the way the men carried themselves, perhaps that led me to know them for what they were. There was an air of assurance about them not quite like that of the sailors; not arrogance, but more a knowledge of worth. They have been through fire, I thought and come out gold. I watched them as they moved closer, talking quietly, laughing with the sailors, and my curiosity was boundless.
One, of course, was Atlantean. Even if the aqua and red of his banded tunic hadn't told me this, his coloring would, for it was classic. Auburn brown curls and green eyes...not like the lady from his country who had come to join our King, but more like the sailors who were working around me.
The other was the most beautiful I had ever seen. His hair was short and very dark...its curls almost not noticeable in the severe cut...and his features were full without heaviness, his blue eyes as blue as the sky. I had never seen an Egyptian before and though I have since come to know several, not one has bettered the beauty of Nebrianhet. He was tall and muscular, topping the more slender grace of the Atlantean by a couple of inches, and his skin was pale, reddened by the sun and wind, but not the type to go gold like his friend's.
As I watched, the Hawk's captain came to stand beside them, smiling and jovial and they laughed with him over some joke. The Egyptian's eyes looked up to the sun then swept over the dock, over me, and returned to my graceless, gaping form as he sobered. He called something to me, but I did not know the language so could only shrug.
The Atlantean commented in a low voice to his companions then smiled at me. "Do you speak this language, little rooster?" He asked me in his native tongue and I answered slowly that yes, I could.
"My friend here," he indicated the Egyptian, "wants to know if there might be a place on dry land where his sea weary stomach could settle for our visit." He held up a small coin that gleamed in the sunlight.
There were several places...I nodded and waited while they bid goodbye to Andreas and crossed the thin plank from the ship to the dock. The Egyptian smiled at me as if he really liked me...a sensation new and warm to an orphan...and motioned me forward. We left the dock, threading between the crates of the trade goods, and entered the harbor town.
It was, and is, a dirty place, red dust everywhere, the people a motley mix of cut-throats and whores, drunkards and pickpockets. I knew them all, this was my home, and steered clear of the worst, taking my followers to one of the better lodges where the smells were not bad and the covers not crawling with tiny live-stock.
The Atlantean paused at the blanket covering the doorway, looking down at me. "My name is Damon and this is Bri'het who is Egyptian and is still learning civilized speech." His green eyes gleamed with humor. "What are you called?"
"Tellac." He said it for his companion and Brianhet repeated his own name, putting in all the sounds as Damon had not.
"Bree on et," I mouthed hesitantly, then, "Damon."
"Very good." Damon laughed. He handed me the gold coin, enough to buy food for a week without stealing even an orange, and said, "Tellac, you look like someone who knows his way around. Would you take us for a look at the city?"
"Now?" I was eager, I admit, and not just for more gold.
Damon glanced at his friend and I noticed for the first time how tired the Egyptian seemed. He looked, I thought, like he was usually very healthy and only recently ill. 'Sea weary stomach' took on a new meaning.
"No tomorrow. When we've had time to rest. Will you meet us here?"
I nodded and went past the old blanket, inside the lodge, then I scampered away to old lady's Mitrae's to spend my coin and eat my belly full for the first time in weeks.
I slept that night in my usual corner, curled up with the sounds of whores plying their trade in the alley next to my doorway putting me to sleep. And I dreamed for the first time of the golden jaguar with jade green eyes.
The next day dawned hot and clear and I arrived at the lodge early, eager to see the strangers again. The old lady Mirabeth was Mitrae's sister and she let me in with a knowing wink.
"They're in the back. Here, take these." She handed me a loaf of fresh cornbread and a couple of papayas, then laughed, her fat face crinkling good naturedly as she tossed me a third piece of fruit. "You needn't turn those big eyes on me, Tellac. Mitrae told me you ate enough for a King and three wives last night."
I made a face at her and went past, going to the back room...the big one with extra sleep padding. There was another of Mirabeth's blankets over the doorway and I pushed it silently aside, then stopped short in surprise.
They were still sleeping, curled together with their arms wrapped around each other, faces together. Their covers had fallen aside and I could see their naked bodies in the shadowed sunlight that came from the single window. Damon's back was to me and a jagged scar, still red and healing was clear. A knife wound; it was not the first I had ever seen. As I paused, the Egyptian muttered something and snuggled closer, his legs twining about his friend's. Damon's eyes opened and he blinked, turning his head just enough to catch sight of me. For a moment he was still, then he smiled, a slow sweet look that drew me like a moth to flame.
"Good morning, little rooster."
I nodded and held out my food offerings.
"Egypt." His attention had gone back to Brianhet and he touched the Egyptian's face with one long finger.
Blue eyes opened with sleepy confusion that cleared away when Damon came into focus. It was clear, I thought then, as if it didn't really matter to the Egyptian where he was as long as Damon was by his side.
Before he could speak the Atlantean whispered something and those blue eyes flew to me.
Brianhet sighed, then stretched, unwinding himself with obvious reluctance from the other man's hold. "Come in, Tellac, and bring your food. I'm hungry."
Damon sat up, looking pleased. "You said that well, Egypt. You're learning." He took the cornbread and carefully divided the loaf into three equal parts. As he handed one to me he added, "He understands this tongue better than he speaks it, but his head is amazingly thick."
Brianhet merely chuckled around his breakfast, not at all angry at the slur on his intelligence.
I took them around the city that day...past the King's lodging and through the gardens he was growing for his new lady. It was Damon who told me the woman was the sister of the Hawk's captain. He went through the gardens with delight, recognizing many of the exotic plants that the lady had brought with her from her home. Atlantis was no more, lost to the sea only last summer, and Damon's face grew pale and sad when he touched the pink blossoms of one vine. "These grew on the walls of my mother's house, " he told Brianhet, translating for me. "My sister used to dress up with garlands of them..."
Brianhet said quietly, "she's at rest now. Let her be," and Damon's mood obediently shifted as he went on.
They continued to fascinate me, these two men; so different, yet so attuned to each other. I had never seen such friendship before, the kind that unselfishly can admit a third without fear of loss or competition. They treated me as an equal almost, as a grown man, and by the end of the day I, used as I was to being kicked out of the way if I was noticed at all, would have given my life for them.
When we finally returned to Mirabeth's there was a sailor from the Hawk waiting. He had a message for Damon...the King's lady asked that he and his companion join them for the evening meal.
Damon hesitated overlong, his gaze going far away, or perhaps deep inside. The sailor added, "Andreas said to tell you she has grown and changed and that it's time to forgive."
Damon focused on him but said nothing.
"There's not so many of us left," the sailor went on, "that we can afford to be enemies."
"Yes. Of course you're right. Tell them we'll come...oh and Tellac here as well."
"Oh NO!" I grabbed his arm, suddenly afraid. "Please...it is not wise to gather the King's notice."
Brianhet questioned from the far side of the room where he had gone to fetch another piece of fruit and Damon frowned down at me.
"What's wrong, Tellac? Brianhet thinks I've hurt you. Don't you want to go?"
The sailor caught the fruit Brianhet tossed him and commented. "They have a weird religion here, Damon, and human sacrifice is a big part of it. If the kid's an orphan..."
"Ah..." Damon repeated his words to Brianhet, then smiled at me. "You are wise, no doubt. Very well. Come back tomorrow and we'll go look at the fields."
I took the gold coin he handed me and slipped away before he could change his mind. The sailor was right...orphans were very subject to being the human part of the sacrifices to our great god...but it was not dying I feared.
Dying was the easy part...
Brianhet tied the thong of his sandal and reached for its mate. "Damon?"
"Was I wrong or did you not want to go to dinner tonight?"
"No." The Atlantean leaned over on the pallet, turning his lover's face with one finger to meet his quick kiss. "You were quite right. It's an old grudge against the lady, Andreas' sister, Brynnene."
"You carry a grudge? It's not like you."
"She destroyed someone I loved very dearly."
Brianhet's crooked eyebrow went higher.
Damon shrugged. "It's been a long time now. Andreas is right, people do change and I should let it go. Here."
The Egyptian took the gold chain handed to him and slipped it over his head.
"When we meet Brynnene, give it to her," Damon instructed. "It's a custom and however much she's changed Brynnene will expect it."
"She sounds just lovely." Brianhet commented dryly and Damon grinned at him.
The King's lodging was larger than the other buildings in the Red City, rivaled only by the Temple, and the meager furnishings were of better quality...but the dust clung everywhere and Brianhet sneezed repeatedly as they were ushered into the receiving hall.
Damon whispered, "She must hate it here."
Before the Egyptian could reply, they were surrounded by Andreas and his men and from the other side of the room a heavy door was opening. The King entered first, a tall man with heavy lids and the beginnings of fat. Though Brianhet's face was impassive, it took only one look at the man for him to feel a chill go up his spine. The King's eyes, black and piercing, swept over his guests once and then he turned, holding out his hand with an imperious gesture so much like Menanhotep that the Egyptian was startled.
If he had thought at all about Brynnene, it had only been vague curiosity. Andreas' sister would probably look like Andreas, not as burly and without the beard, but not the tiny creature the King drew forth.
Brynnene was beautiful. Blue-eyed, with hair the red gold of a Thebean sunset, she was almost boyishly slim in her loose silk robe. Beside her husband she seemed like an apparition, vague and unreal.
Beside him Damon stirred and a strange look passed between the Atlantean and the captain of the Hawk, then Andreas went forward to greet their hosts, his cheerful voice booming with pleasure.
Brianhet waited until the noise of introductions was full before whispering, "What is it?"
Damon glanced at him. "There's change and change. Something is terribly wrong with Brynnene."
"How can you tell?"
The Atlantean shrugged.
The King was called Lan and as Andreas motioned them forward his black eyes went half-closed, watching them, assessing, judging them as he would an enemy. Brianhet nodded, taking the fingers held out to him in a loose brief grasp, unaccustomed to the gesture of greeting.
"You are welcome," Lan said slowly.
"I am honored."
They spoke Atlantean, but neither was proficient in the language. After a moment of awkward silence Brianhet was passed on to the King's lady, Brynnene.
Close up she was, he thought even more beautiful than from across the room. Looking at him with remote, clouded eyes, she seem to be focusing on another world that was far removed from this one, her face a little flushed in the rising heat of the room, her hand cold in his.
Brianhet smiled at her and lifted the gold chain from around his neck. "For you."
Brynnene blinked then glanced quickly at her husband, almost as if she were afraid. But Lan was talking to Damon about Atlantis and for the moment she and Brianhet were alone.
Taking the chain, she slipped it into her robe. "I...I thank you. You must not think me rude, it's just been so long since..." her voice trailed off and once again her eyes were far away, her beautiful smile vacant.
Brianhet's gaze narrowed.
Damon came up beside him and the Egyptian took a step back to wait while the two Atlanteans exchanged greetings.
Damon was coolly polite. "Brynnene."
They did not clasp hands and the girl barely responded.
Damon went on, "It's been a long time."
She looked up quickly. "Have you seen him? Heard any word?"
Brianhet felt the sudden stiffness rising in his lover. Damon's answer was short. "Nothing."
The King turned, his large hand engulfing his wife's shoulder. "Come. We will lead the way to the dinner. You may continue renewing your acquaintance there."
Immediately Brynnene turned away.
When the royal couple had gone ahead Andreas came up beside them, his face a mass of frowns. "Did you see, Damon? Did you?"
"Ssh. We'll talk later."
Brianhet looked around the room. Laughing sailors and their banded Atlantean tunics, the red lodge's walls, even the bright colors of the hangings...all made a pretty picture. But underneath there was something dark and ugly. Dark, like Lan's eyes. Dark, like death.
Andreas paced the small cabin of his ship, his stride eating the space. "I tell you, Damon, there's something wrong!"
Sitting on the low bed, his legs curled under him, Damon agreed. "Yes."
"It's as if she's gone away in her head!" Andreas gestured, "You know her! She's so ALIVE, so...I don't..."
Brianhet spoke quietly, but his words carried assurance and his two companions turned to stare.
"Drugged?" Andreas frowned. "Is she ill then? She's thinner certainly, but..."
"No." The Egyptian shook his head. "Not like that. I've seen it before, or something similar. The temple priests in the service of Horus, and especially Isis, use a substance that leaves similar after effects."
Damon asked, "What does it do?"
"Well, this might not be the same, but our priests, and the women too, use it for the ceremonies. There's a wait between the time when it's drunk before the reaction begins, then they would get more and more excited until they were almost frenzied. Sometimes it's sexual, sometimes raging. It's very effective, you know, on the masses. Scares 'em to death."
Andreas looked horrified.
"Afterwards there's a long period of recovery and the drug leaves them like Brynnene...very docile. Even sheeplike. Frightened easily. The old priests sometimes had their hearts stop...either during sex, which is prolonged and mindless (they fuck anything that moved), or after the frenzy through sheer terror at the shadow on the wall."
Damon said softly, "That's terrible."
Brianhet made a face. "Like I said, CONTROLLED it's very effective. Brynnene looked like she was coming out of it. Sometimes she knew what was going on, sometimes she'd just...go away."
"I knew she didn't want to marry Lan," Andreas murmured. "But she insisted...said she had to make up for past sins..." he looked unhappily at Damon, "but I never thought she'd do this."
"I doubt if she had any say in the matter, " Brianhet told him. "Probably Lan found her reluctant or maybe he just wanted a little excitement. He looks like a cruel man...I thought of my father."
This brought Damon's head up sharply, but Brianhet smiled at him easily and he relaxed.
"What do we do?" Andreas questioned sharply. "I can hardly take her home. There's no home to take her to any more. She married him to help form a solid trade alliance with Lan's people but that's pointless now. Great God! I can't let her stay...what do we do?"
"Can you talk to her, " Brianhet suggested, "alone? Or with us? I could tell better about the drug if I had a chance to question her."
"I'll find a way." The Hawk's captain was grim. "Somehow I'll find a way."
by Tessa Rae
The muscular Atlantean Captain paced anxiously along the deck of The Hawk, the late afternoon sun turning his hair and full beard to molten gold. He stood alone on his now heavily laden vessel, the crew having vanished to occupy themselves elsewhere.
"Andreas?" The soft, strained voice from behind momentarily startled the Atlantean before he let out a relieved breath.
"Thank the Gods, Damon I thought you would never get here." The Captain clasped the other man in greeting. "Where's that mate of yours?"
"Tellac has taken him to the markets." Without taking his eyes from the Captain, Damon carefully studied him, noticing the tension, wondering if it were due to Andreas' sister. "Did you see Brynnene?"
"Yes and no."
Damon frowned. Andreas looked down a moment before leading his friend to sit on a large, wooden crate.
"I saw Brynnene this morning in her garden but was unable to speak with her. Returning here, I found Lan's messenger waiting for me."
"What could he want?" Damon looked around suddenly, seeing The Hawk prepared for departure.
"He has a proposition for me--to make a delivery to a harbor west of here. It is an important shipment and none of his traders will be free for another half moon. I could not refuse," he ended quietly.
"So when do we leave?" Damon stared numbly at his friend for a moment, then rose hastily, wondering how quickly he could find Brianhet. "I must find Brin't."
"No." Andreas restrained him with a firm hand, seeing the shocked, wild eyes. "No," he continued more gently, "I ask that you and Brianhet remain here."
Damon sat completely still as every instinct shouted 'NO' at him. The idea of remaining in this little kingdom with no escape terrified him.
"It will not be for long, two moons at most. I fear for Brynnene and want you and Brianhet to talk with her." When Damon did not answer him, Andreas fiercely gripped the smaller man's shoulder.
"Damon, please. She is my only remaining family."
Nodding slowly, Damon tried to ignore his screaming senses. "I will do as you ask." Looking back towards the Red City, he suppressed a shiver.
Andreas smiled in relief, not noticing the younger man's unease. "Thank you. That's all I ask. Just talk with her, make sure she is happy." He hesitated, clasping and unclasping his large, tanned hands together. "I fear for her life."
Suddenly needing to see Brianhet, Damon stood. "Do not worry, Andreas. I wish you a safe and fast voyage."
"I promise to return. We sail with the tide. Just one word of caution," Andreas lowered his voice, "do not trust Lan." He refused to say more.
They embraced before Damon withdrew, feverishly praying for The Hawk's speedy return. He hurried away to find his lover.
Andreas saw the slim figure disappear from view, his mind refusing to rest, wondering if he had made the right choice.
Without realizing it, Damon found himself back at their lodging. Parting the heavy blanket to their room, he settled on the soft, feather mattress, his mind and thoughts dwelling on Andreas' request. He was a dear friend and he had helped both Brianhet and himself more than once already. So why was he so hesitant now in returning that help?
The city made him uneasy, and it was the same feeling of dread and impending doom which had urged him to flee with Brianhet all those months ago from Egypt. Yet this time he was caught in a web of loyalties and friendship, and those ties were not easily cut.
He would have to wait and try to talk with Brynnene; although he couldn't see what they could find to talk about. With luck, Andreas would return before two moons.
Besides, even if what Brianhet had said was true, he didn't know what either of them could do about it. Lan was the King, was the ultimate power and Damon had the nasty suspicion that Lan's power could be deadly and poisonous. Lying back on the pillows, his mind still unsure, he realized his problem might be simple reluctance to meet with Brynnene again, as his last memories of her weren't exactly pleasant.
Last time he has seen her was on Atlantis--years ago. She had been dressed in white silk, accusing and vicious, it was a scene he would never forget. An older woman, Alexia, in fine but casual clothing had sat beside him, tears marring her soft beauty as Brynnene--his half-sister--had told him the cold, hard facts of his heritage. Alexia, his foster mother, had taken a risk in coming to him. His real mother and uncles had been furious with Alexia for threatening to expose their deception and angerous family secret. But then he, too, had still been a child and hadn't fully understood their motives. It was only years later, after listening to Brianhet talking of his family and the politics involved, that Damon started to understand the corrupt ways of his true family's heritage.
Many childhood dreams and ideals had been shattered the day his birth mother had arrived in secret to reclaim him and take him from all he had known. To this day, he still found it hard to believe that he was the son of a wealthy Atlantean trading family, not that it mattered now with Atlantis gone. At the time, the discovery had destroyed his very foundations. He had only survived on a cushion of shock, thrown into a world of back-room politics and bickering which were completely alien to him. He had been forced to pretend to be his twin brother--stunned to know he had a twin--and nothing had made sense.
Dymon, his twin had vanished. But for appearances sake his family had yanked him from seclusion and forced him into Dymon's identity. They had dictated his every word, his every thoguht, threatening to kill his foster mother if he did not play their game. He had been trapped. He was told that twins were a curse from the Gods, therefore as the younger twin he had been banished at birth. Given to a peasant family. And for seventeen summers he had been happy - until his twin had been expelled for a crime that no one would talk about.
For three moons he had endured the confusion and lies, then his father, the Lord Merchant, had died and that had been Damon's ticket out of the political nightmare. Or so he had hoped. He wanted to go back to his faster family - but found he was suddenly ordered to marry for the sake of the family. And his bride to be was none other than the beautiful Brynnene. He tried to run, but again they threatened to kill his foster family.
So he covered his fear and tried to be what the family wanted. He even tried to get to know Brynnene, to court her, to understand her. They had even shared a bed--once. But the whole experience had left him cold, the prospect of marriage and a future with her looming like a heavy, suffocating blanket.
Barred from social engagements until he learned proper behavior, Damon spent most of his free time trying to learn about his family and, in particular, his twin. All his real mother, the Lady of the House, would do was cry in private. Frustrated and feeling trapped, he longed for escape. On risk of punishment, he had slipped away once to return to his first home: that had been his biggest mistake.
Brynnene had somehow found out and seen him with Symon, whom was his childhood sweetheart. Jealous and spiteful, Brynnene had played a childish prank on Symon which had resulted in Symon's death. That was the final straw for Damon, he'd had enough and his his normally non-existent temper had flared as he confronted his Mother and renounced his ties to the family. He could never be Dymon and refused to be party to any more lies. The scene which had followed had decided his future, his uncle sending him on the yearly voyage to the caves with a tutor, and the instructions that he should return better mannered and educated. Fate had decided otherwise and Atlantis was now lost to the sea forever.
Fate had also brought him face to face with Brynnene and his past again. He had beleived her dead, had not given her a second thought--until now. His past was not something he wanted Brianhet mixed up in.
Breathing deeply, Damon pushed himself up to lean on his elbows, his eyes narrowed in the brilliant evening sun as it sank low over the sea. It was approaching evening and Andreas would sail on the next tide. Resigning himself to their longer stay, Damon straightened his short tunic and ran fingers through his heavy curls as he prepared to go and find his partner. No doubt both Brianhet and Tellac would still be at the markets, enjoying the bonfires. But what should he tell Brianhet? Having never mentioned any other family to the other man, Damon did not know how to bring the subject up now. Maybe it would be best if he didn't say a word? Or if he told Brianhet only what Andreas' request?
Taking a small sip of water, Damon left the cooling room and went out into the evening warmth.
The markets were almost on the opposite side of the city, starting at one end of the docks and stretching back inland: many things could be bought, sold or traded there. Damon passed through the red stone streets quickly, exchanging smiles and greetings with a few people but not really concentrating as he eyed the huge palace on his left. Behind it, not far away, he could see the temples. They looked magnificent in the fiery glow of the descending sun, casting long, outreaching shadows like tentacles over part of the city. The eeriness of it sent a shudder down his spine and he looked away quickly.
Slowing his progress, he admired the beautiful gardens again, recognizing the loving care which had gone into their creation. Some of the smaller plants were starting to come into bloom. Frowning over the oddity of that, he dismissed the phenomenon as the result of a different climate on the vegetation. Closing his eyes, he dropped his head back to absorb the restfulness of the place. Smelling its exotic essence, he wished again that he could have shown Brianhet his beloved homeland. His relaxed thoughts were interrupted abruptly when he sensed a presence behind him.
Turning, he was confronted by a clear, blue-eyed glare, even now it chilled him. "Brynnene," he said through stiff lips, finding it difficult to think of her as a cherished Queen of this city.
She walked steadily forward, never taking her eyes off him. She was as striking as ever to look at, if not slimmer, and the two young men who accompanied her towered over both of them. Damon was aware of the cold contempt in her eyes; Brynnene, too, it seemed was incapable of forgetting the past.
"What do you think of my garden?"
"It is beautiful," he said simply, meeting her look. He was aware of the difference in her from the previous night. She was alert and he watched the play of emotions on her face as she studied him in turn.
"Yes, it is all I have left of home," she said it aloud, yet Damon had the impression she was not speaking to him. Just as abruptly, she pinned him with her gaze again. "Do you ever think of home, Damon?"
"Yes." He nodded warily while watching her closely.
"We had all thought you dead when the Apollo never returned. It destroyed your mother." She waited until she had his full attention. "Your real mother," she stressed pointedly.
He straightened as his muscles tensed. "And what of you, Brynnene, did it touch you?"
"No, but then you were never capable of doing that," she ended flatly.
"Is anything?" The bitterness in him was almost overflowing, he realized he was a fool to believe either of them could forgive.
"Once," she admitted quietly. Moving around him, she carefully touched a small bloom, her beauty as fragile and delicate as the flower itself. Damon tried to gather his defenses. "I had thought you were leaving today," she continued in the same tone, throwing Damon off balance for a moment.
"On The Hawk," she emphasized, as if to a child. "With my brother."
"No, I decided to stay for a while." Why, Damon couldn't now understand, in his eyes Brynnene was normal. If she had been on drugs, she was over it now, and she didn't seem in the least enslaved or frightened. Glancing over his shoulder towards the sun, he realized with a sinking heart that he and Brianhet had probably missed Andreas now; they would have to wait for his return. Maybe he could convince his lover to leave the city and explore the surrounding country until Andreas' return.
"Is the Egyptian staying as well?"
The question was innocent but the accompanying gleam in her eyes scared Damon. "Yes, why?" he demanded defensively.
She gave a spreading smile. "Then I must see that he enjoys his stay. You, no doubt, will please yourself--as always."
The remark stung and Damon just stopped himself from flinching physically. Her voice was thick with venom and Damon was shocked to discover the depth of her hatred. Illogically, she blamed him for everything that had happened but at least it had saved her life. If it hadn't been for him leaving on the voyage to the caves they would have both died on Atlantis and she would never have married Lan. The thought suddenly hit him, maybe Andreas was right and he owed it to his friend to find out the truth.
"Are you happy here, Brynnene?" The gentleness in his voice surprised him as much as her and Brynnene looked at him wide-eyed before the moment was lost.
"Happy?" she half laughed. "What is happy? Tell me, Damon, I've had no chance to find out, not like you. My own chance at happiness was snatched away from me," she ended bitterly.
"Don't pity me," she snapped. "I have everything I ever wanted here: all the wealth, property and position I dreamed about. If it lacks a little something, other things make up for that." She straightened, pulling her self respect around her again like a cloak as the hard expression returned to her face.
"So you are content here with Lan," Damon concluded, needing to clarify the point, wanting to end the exchange and find Brianhet. He felt exhausted and just wanted to leave.
"Content?" She straightened her shoulders and frowned at him.
"Do you have children?" Not seeing or caring to watch her response Damon continued to clear the questions in his own mind for Andreas' sake.
"No." Lifting his head, Damon met her gaze. "Not any more," she ended without heat.
Damon looked puzzled for a moment before dismissing her answer. Brynnene seemed to shake herself from the mood, her manner brisk now. With a small hand gesture she motioned the two young and magnificently built men forward. Damon had forgotten their presence until now.
"It's almost sunset," Brynnene's voice took on a note of wonder and warmth. Damon glanced at her sharply in time to see her face turn into the glow. Her features melted into a soft radiance as she raised her hands in silent worship. Damon found himself touched by the simple, sensual gesture. It was a Brynnene he had never seen before but the moment vanished as she smoothed her hands over her dress. "I must go, Lan will be waiting for me at the temple. I will tell him of your wish to stay." Without further speech she turned away as if he no longer existed, leaving him with a vague disquiet he couldn't explain.
He left in turn, hurrying to find Brianhet.
The markets were a jumbled maze as people packed up their wares for the day. Wandering between the stalls, Damon searched for the familiar features but it was Brianhet who found him first, placing a large hand on his shoulder and turning him. The Atlantean relaxed for the first time under Brianhet's welcoming smile.
The smile diminished a little as Brianhet studied his companion closely. "You alright?"
Damon just smiled and nodded as he released a breath, so very relieved to see him.
"Damon?" Unconvinced, Brianhet squeezed his shoulder.
"Just glad to see you. We'll talk later. Where's Tellac?"
Picking up the odd note in the voice, Brianhet gestured over his shoulder at the tall, skinny lad exchanging a coin for a piece of clothing. He seemed to be winning the argument and came out grinning, holding up his new possession.
Brianhet dropped his arm casually around the Atlantean's shoulders and gave him a quick hug.
"Come on, I'm starving and Tellac says he knows a good place to eat."
They followed the younger man through the weaving back streets. Brianhet took to holding a cloth over his nose as his constant sneezing was turning into an irritating cough. The red dust seemed to get everywhere and the Egyptian was resigned to never removing it from their clothing. Damon walked silently along beside him, deep in thought and therefore missing the questioning glances.
The place was indeed interesting and the food smelled wonderful but Brianhet didn't want to look too closely at the makeshift cooking place. His stomach rumbled so loudly that even Tellac laughed. Having purchased enough food, Brianhet suggested they eat at their lodgings and invited Tellac back with them.
Mirabeth gave them a toothless grin as they passed through into the back room, letting the heavy blanket swing into place. Sitting comfortably, they quickly divided the food and ate while it was still hot.
Brianhet sat close, not saying anything while wondering if Damon would eventually confide in him. Maybe after Tellac had gone? He was a patient man, where his Atlantean lover was concerned. Someone, probably the old lady, had lit a candle in the room and after the meal Damon went around and lit a few more. The flames flickered in the slight breeze which was cooling the warm atmosphere. Conversation was stilted as Brianhet tried out his Atlantean on Tellac, which drew occasional smiles from the man beside him.
"Have you lived all your life in Red City?"
Tellac's almost black eyes looked up into the pale face of the Egyptian and he nodded.
"Do you know what happened to your family?" Brianhet asked the question with care, knowing how sensitive the boy was to the subject.
"No." Tellac shook his dark head, one heavy, black ringlet falling across his eyes. "As far as I remember I was always alone." He broke off some more bread.
"And you grew up around the docks," Brianhet concluded. He had learnt from the crew of Andreas' vessel that many Atlantean ships used to come into the harbor for trade and that was probably how the young African had learnt the language.
"I learnt many things around the docks, especially how not to be seen. Very important not to draw the King's attention."
Brianhet lifted an eyebrow, remembering Tellac's panic at going with them to the palace that first day. Looking at his lover he found himself presented with the top of a curly head as Damon played with a honey apple. Brianhet had heard about orphans being sacrificed before but had never thought that it still happened in this new, civilized world.
"Tell us about your religion, Tellac." The quiet request startled the two listeners as it was the first thing Damon had uttered all evening. He leaned casually against Brianhet, who accepted his weight and drew him a little closer while resting back on the wall behind him; it was cold and hard and Brianhet pushed a pillow behind him.
Tellac remained cross-legged in front of them with a sober expression on his face. Licking his dry lips, he spoke in a hushed tone. "It is a dance to the Gods which is celebrated. The High Priest thanks the Gods each day before sundown. In turn, they bless our land and crops."
"Then why the sacrifice of orphans?" Brianhet frowned as he quietly asked the question.
"It is taught that the Gods take the parents to show which children are the chosen ones. Orphans are known as God blessed, if the Gods demand sacrifice, the King has all the orphans brought before him in a ceremony of cleansing to prepare their way." Tellac's round eyes grew bigger as he looked towards the candle's flame.
"But surely people must object?" Damon sounded horrified at the idea.
Tellac didn't even look at him, seeming mesmerized by the bright shaft of light. "It is a time of joy and great sharing, and all the people of the city benefit. No one is forced into the flames, they all go willingly." He stopped, drawing his knees up to his chest and hugging them. "The flames draw them, they dance to a beautiful melody and sing as the fire burns, the sweet fragrance filling everyone with the Gods' goodwill. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen." His awe was obvious.
"You've been there? But how?" Damon asked.
"I remember hiding away among the bins of grain to watch. I couldn't look away. A sense of dread and death filled me, yet it was so beautiful. For a time I felt the joy of it but I had no desire to enter the flames like the other orphans. I suppose the Gods rejected me." Tellac's soft voice held the tiniest hint of regret as he lowered his eyes, ashamed.
"Do the Gods answer the people?" Damon found it hard to believe in a God of sacrifice, yet he respected all forms of worship.
Brianhet flicked him a look of surprise, hearing the note of faint belief.
"After the fire the King scatters the ashes over the land and the holy men all pray for growth and fertility. They pray for days, or at least until the Gods answer with water from the heavens."
"And the Gods always answer them?" Brianhet half asked, recognizing the too familiar pattern he had heard of before. He could even guess the time of year the sacrifice would take place--just before the monsoons.
"Of course." Even in the strange language Tellac's voice sounded indignant.
Damon reached over and placed a hand on the young man's arm. "It's alright Tellac, Egypt did not mean any disrespect."
Tellac nodded, remembering that these two were strangers to the land. He found it hard to believe that he had only known them for a few days; they already seemed like old friends, the family he had never had. Damon smiled at him and again the young native was taken by his simple beauty.
"How often do these," Damon paused, looking for the word, "celebrations take place?"
"Whenever the Gods are unhappy."
"Which is?" Brianhet prompted with a smile of his own, interested to see if his speculations would be proved correct. Unlike Damon, he didn't hold with the romantic vision of the Gods which his companion was all too willing to believe in.
"Usually only after the Gods' anger strikes us in displeasure but sometimes it can be more often. The holy men decide," Tellac answered, slightly uneasy.
"At least they always answer you," Damon reassured him. "But you're no longer a child but a young man, the King can no longer call you an orphan."
"An orphan is one uninitiated in the temple by his parents before the age of five." Tellac's voice held regret and some bitter memories. "It's hard to survive when you're not accepted by the Gods."
Damon reached forward and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, understanding Tellac's sorrow, remembering his own childhood. "Tellac, forgive us for making you remember, we do not wish to hurt you." The light Atlantean voice calmed the tension which had suddenly arisen, and banished some of the pain.
Brianhet's frown deepened as he puzzled over what Tellac had said. In this society they too would be classified as orphans if the young boy was to be believed. It seemed to be a man-chosen rule rather than God chosen, for it didn't matter if you were parentless, only that you were uninitiated.
"Are all children initiated?" he asked.
"Of course. Usually in their first two years when the family can contribute to the temple."
"Contribute, as in gold?"
"Why, of course."
Brianhet raised a solitary eyebrow, giving Damon a pointed look. The facts seemed clear to him. But the Atlantean looked right through him, his eyes on far away images. Brianhet had the momentary urge to shake them both out of it.
"I think there will be a burning before the next new moon. There has been talk in the village." Tellac's voice lowered again and he almost whispered the words in a conspiratorial tone.
Damon closed his eyes, trying to imagine the scene but it was impossible, something totally outside his experience. Brianhet was right when he accused him of being naive, yet he still felt a tantalizing fascination and awe which frightened and terrified him at the same time. Straightening his shoulders and taking a deep breath, he tried to relieve the nagging ache in his still healing back. The angry knife wound could still produce a blinding pain.
His mind undecided, he tried to work out what was best to do. He needed to talk with Brianhet and explain the Hawk's leaving and perhaps try to persuade Brianhet that they should leave Red City as well. They could purchase passage out, or buy some horses, do anything but stay. The dread of the city was so strong in him that he was certain Brianhet must feel it too.
"Damon!" An insistent shake drew him abruptly out of his thoughts, and Damon looked up to find worried eyes peering at him.
"I had imagined you asleep," the Egyptian's words were light but his eyes demanded something more.
"Sorry." Damon tried to shake off the feeling as he sat up.
"Quite." The Egyptian's tone was affectionate as he drew him closer, fingers almost bruising his shoulders. Turning to Tellac, he smiled warmly.
"It has been a most wonderful day, Tellac, and I thank you for your company. But I think now my companion is in need of sleep, so we'll bid you goodnight until tomorrow." From the small leather pouch by his waist he produced a single gold coin for the boy.
Tellac accepted it with delight, although he didn't expect any payment. The day had been a pleasure for him but if the beautiful Egyptian kept insisting on giving him gold he wouldn't refuse. Walking out into the warm shadows, Tellac returned to the docks.
Preparing for bed, Damon was more than aware of the clear gaze following his every move. Throwing back the heavy bed covers, he sat back and tried to smile reassuringly at his lover. Brianhet watched him for a moment longer before moving to sit beside him.
"Something is troubling you, can you not tell me?" Watching the worried expression on the Atlantean's face, he tried to imagine the worst.
Fidgeting with his crumpled tunic, which never seemed to sit right, Damon tried to think of a way to best tell the waiting man. He knew whatever he said Brianhet would still be angry with him and he wanted to disappear into a dark corner very much.
"Oh, Brin't, I think I have made the biggest mistake." He looked up, eyes appealing, biting his bottom lip, waiting for judgement. So sure Brianhet would be angry with him.
"Tell me." It was a gentle and wholly loving request and it broke the Atlantean's fragile composure. He opened his mouth, intending to explain everything but nothing would come out. Pulling himself together, he tried again, tumbling the words out in case Brianhet should turn away before he could finish.
"Andreas has left--he was so worried--and I didn't ask you--for Brynnene was fine--and I had to stay for Andreas' sake--he's done so much for me--oh Egypt," he ended hopelessly in a strained tone.
The Egyptian forestalled any further disjointed speech, placing warm fingers over the open mouth. Struggling to understand what he had been told he shelved his anxious thoughts of immediate disaster and tried to calm the other man.
"Slowly my love. Take a breath, then start again. From the beginning." Removing his restraining fingers he caressed the trembling lips fleetingly before tangling his fingers in the abundant curls, annoyed to discover the hair to be clogged and weighted with red dust.
Swallowing was suddenly impossible for Damon and he half choked on his indrawn breath. The amount of patience and tender understanding which emanated from the other man made threatening tears well in his eyes. Falling in love all over again with this beautiful man, he briefly wondered why the Gods had blessed him so.
"Now, start again," encouraged Brianhet.
"I...oh, Egypt," Damon trailed off as his shoulders started to shake, lowering his head, unsuccessfully denying the tears. He felt physically and emotionally drained.
Brianhet gathered him close, offering comfort while his mind spun as he tried to prepare himself for the worst. He had never seen the other man in such a state before and the reasons worried him. Mentally calculating their escape routes and money, imagining tragic news, he braced himself. Then the thought suddenly hit him: Andreas. Damon had mentioned the other Atlantean. He stilled his soothing rocking of the smaller man and pushed him away slightly.
"Has something happened to Andreas or The Hawk?"
Damon shook his head.
"Then what? Pray tell me, Damon, before I perish from worry."
Collecting his scattered wits, Damon said shakily, "Andreas has left on Lan's commission. But he asked before he sailed if you and I would stay behind and talk with Brynnene. I agreed," he ended lamely, still weighed down by guilt and not meeting the angry, blue eyes he knew he would see. When Brianhet remained motionless beside him for a prolonged period, he reluctantly looked up through his heavy chestnut curls.
"You little fool, of course I agree we should stay." Relieved, Brianhet's voice was laced with affection.
"But it is so unnecessary," Damon countered, not willing to believe Brianhet's easy acceptance.
"Unnecessary?" Bewildered, he raised an eyebrow.
"Yes. I talked with Brynnene not long after I spoke with Andreas. We were in her garden and she was fine. Happy in fact, and drug free."
"Her normal self as you remember her?" Brianhet persisted, unconvinced.
Remembering the conversation, Damon's mouth twisted a little. "Oh yes, she was perfectly normal. A little underweight, but mentally fine." If Brianhet sensed the bitterness he chose to ignore it in view of other pressing matters.
"Well at least you can reassure Andreas. How long will it be before he returns?"
"One or two full moons." Again a note of despair crept into Damon's normally light tones.
Relaxing and settling back on the soft mattress, Brianhet digested what he had been told. He drew Damon down with him, settling him half across his chest.
Life was looking good to Brianhet. They were both free for the first time in their lives and now they could start to live for themselves. Apart from the awful red dust, he found the city amusing and friendly. They had enough gold to enjoy themselves until Andreas returned. He could visualize the warm, easy days and lazy, playful evenings and smiled in anticipation as he kissed the head under his chin. Now that Damon had got what was worrying him off his chest, things would work out. Touched by his lover's concern for his welfare, he tightened his arms subconsciously, lifting the Atlantean's chin to kiss his forehead.
The closed face presented to him destroyed his sense of wellbeing instantly and with a sinking heart he realized Damon still wasn't with him. Releasing the rigid body, he pushed up on his elbows.
Receiving no answer, Brianhet turned to the other man. Damon didn't try to resist him, his expression was no longer one of guilt and foreboding but that of plain worry. "You remember that night we left Knossos?" At Brianhet's nod, Damon continued. "I told you then I sensed danger. Don't ask me how, I still don't know. But that same sense of danger is with me now."
"What sort?" Brianhet's expression suddenly dropped. "Not another earthquake?"
"I don't know, all I know is that I want us to leave."
Brianhet traced a light finger down the unhappy features, memorizing them. "Alright, we'll leave," he said without hesitation.
Damon closed his eyes in relief, feeling a heavy weight lift from him.
"But in the morning. We must leave a message for Andreas."
Drawing Brianhet down, the Atlantean kissed him soundly, putting all the love and relief he felt into the moment. Breaking the kiss, he allowed the other man to pull away.
"Thank you Brin't," he whispered, letting his expression say the rest.
"For what? Trusting you? That I have always done," Brianhet muttered. Not waiting for Damon's reply, he besieged the open mouth, plundering it, feeling the Atlantean's unquestioning response as he gave himself completely.
The sun had barely risen when Brianhet found himself dragged from his cocoon of sleep. Watching his lover through half open eyes, he found tunic and underslip were thrust at him, his mind irritably recalling Damon's words of last night. Shaking off sleep, Brianhet dressed quickly, grimacing at the faint red discoloration of the white tunic. Damon smiled briefly at him as he shoved their belongings into a bag.
"Do you still sense danger?"
"Yes," said Damon with no hesitation.
"But last time the quake hit only moments after you spoke." It was a question that had been playing at the back of Brianhet's mind since the night.
"I know," Damon admitted, looking up from what he was doing. "But last time my mind was somewhat preoccupied so I didn't recognize what I was sensing till almost too late."
"We have little time," was the frank reply.
Without further talk they collected their belongings, which fitted into two small bags, and left the room. Brianhet looked back for a moment. He would always have fond memories of that bed.
Entering the food area, Mirabeth was startled to see them both so early, having grown accustomed to their late rising time. She was saddened to hear that they needed to leave but pressed them to take some fresh food. Giving her an extra gold coin, Brianhet thanked her and followed the preoccupied Atlantean out. He was not surprised when round the corner they literally fell over Tellac who was sleeping in some dried hay for the horses.
The boy sprang to his feet, disappointed, sorrowful and angry when they told him, large tears welling in the corners of his eyes. He had come to treasure their friendship too dearly and had been unprepared for their hasty departure. Brianhet started to doubt Damon's awareness of their surroundings as the man fidgeted slightly behind him. Feeling sad to part with the young African, he almost invited Tellac to accompany them before he remembered they had nothing really to offer the lad. He was better off remaining where he was.
"Tellac, we need to buy some horses...good, strong animals...quickly. Do you know where we can get them?"
"Yes, I can show you."
"Good." Brianhet turned to his companion. "I will get the horses, you speak to Brynnene and leave word for Andreas."
Green eyes gleamed with gratitude and affection. "I will meet you where?"
"Let's say the large outer gate on the north wall."
"Yes. Be quick." Damon gripped the Egyptian's forearm strongly in a parting gesture before he turned and was lost in the streets.
Brianhet shook his head fondly, hoping that Brynnene was an early riser. Somehow he doubted it.
Damon came to a halt outside the beautiful gardens, his nose picking up seductive perfumes. Ignoring them, he made his way quickly to the main palace courtyard. He recognized one of the guards from his first visit due to the man's immense size. The man stood by the King's colorful banner, the vast cloth moving sluggishly in the breeze. For the first time Damon realized that he could not hear any birds singing, and chilled by that fact, he shivered. The silence swamped him and he clutched his sweaty tunic to his body, hurrying to the guard.
"Sir, my name is Damon of The Hawk, and I need to speak with the King's lady, or at least get a message to her." He spoke half Atlantean and half African, remembering a few phrases he had heard Tellac use.
The guard gave Damon a look of near disgust. "The King is not to be disturbed." The guard spoke clearly in his own dialect, then proceeded to ignore Damon. It was his standard reply to all visitors.
Not understanding the language all that well, Damon learnt more from the closed face. It was obvious he wasn't going to find Brynnene this way. He would try once more...at the temple, as she seemed to spend a lot of time there. He glanced at the sky but everything appeared normal, yet still his nerves danced. He looked again at the guard but the huge man paid him no attention. Turning, Damon hurried to the temple.
It was larger than the palace and wonderfully decorated, the outside covered with intertwined figures, half in love, half in war. Vines of flowers clung to the majestic archway and Damon peered around curiously, intrigued and awed by the beauty. He was caught by a desire to explore so great that he almost forgot the urge to run. A half-hushed voice drifted over to him from the right and he followed the sound on light feet, respectfully aware of the holiness of the place. Bowing his head, he came to another sculptured arch. Driven by a need to touch, he leant closer but, unwilling to displease the temper's Gods, did not. Feeling unaccountably uneasy, he carefully looked around the corner of this entrance. The passage was darker and a cool draft hit him, filling his senses with a strong smell of herbs--the place was deserted. At odds with himself, Damon carefully removed his laced sandals, leaving them out of the way to one side as he went forward, looking for somebody to ask.
The herb scented air was not unpleasant, even though it hurt his nose and stung his eyes. Another entranceway loomed ahead, divided into three more passages. Feeling out of his depth and more apprehensive with each passing step, he backed away, intending to abandon the whole idea. He would find Brianhet and they would leave, they would somehow contact Andreas later.
His senses were starting to swim, a deep pain settling in the middle of his head. Putting out a hand, he encountered ice cold walls, their chill lancing his brain. Running a moist tongue across his top lip, he started back the way he had come. Again a hushed voice stopped him but this time it was closer and of a different tone and pitch: it wasn't words, more like a subdued cry. Probing with all his senses, fear started to eat at him as he made out a half closed door in the gloom, a small light escaping it and he was pulled forwards, shaky and apprehensive. He was teetering on the brink of withdrawal when another muffled sound decided him. The entranceway was partially blocked by a heavy blanket smelling of stale dust. Eyes smarting from the sudden torch light in the small room, he blinked repeatedly to clear his vision. What he saw made his skin crawl and Damon recoiled, steadying himself with a hand on the nearest wall. Again, its coldness pierced him and he snatched his hand away, tangling it in his tunic.
A child of seven or eight stared back at him with unseeing eyes, small hands fiercely gripping the base of her cage. Dried tear trails marred her cheeks, but apart from that her face was as expressionless as her eyes. She was naked, sitting motionless on the straw floor, completely unaffected by anything. Two other children were in similar condition; a little boy of about the same age, who neither spoke nor moved and a second girl, curled in a tight ball in the corner of her prison, whimpering occasionally but even she was unaware of him.
Numb with disbelief, Damon felt his knees start to give as he stared fixedly at the children in the flickering light. Remembering where he was sickened him even more. He must be mistaken, no Gods would do this. He shook his head as if to clear his vision, blocking out the dark, sightless eyes of the small girl.
Shuffling backwards towards the blanket, he released a shuddering breath, realizing his own cheeks were wet with tears. A biting grip on his shoulder made him jump in startlement and he turned large, frightened eyes on a darkly robed man. Gleaming white teeth smiled at him from under the covering cowl and Damon gasped, instinctively pulling away. The other man followed him, the dark eyes watching him with a knowing expression as the robed priest ran a light knuckled hand down the Atlantean's smooth cheek. Flinching under the cool touch, Damon steadied himself against the wall.
The priest placed his other hand over Damon's thinly covered shoulder, moving until he towered over the auburn head.
"A small, white man-child, the Gods will be pleased."
The manner was so seductive that Damon faltered as he tried to slide out of the firm grasp, feeling hemmed in by the other man's closeness. The old remembered fluttering of his heart fought the African's words pounding in his head, his breathing quickened as he pushed ineffectually at the swamping black robe surrounding him.
"I'm sorry but I must go." Even to himself his words sounded desperate.
The all-seeing eyes frowned at him before glancing briefly at an unused cage.
"No!" Damon half gasped in Atlantean, his suffocation growing with the thought of being caged. Wildly he fought the weight enclosing him, maddened beyond reason as he saw the amused glint in the priest's eyes.
"No one ever leaves, little one."
While Damon didn't understand the words, their sense was unmistakable. His eyes widening in startled realization, he lashed out in panic-stricken terror.
Not prepared for the fierce assault, the African lost his grip momentarily, catching only a shoulder of the thin tunic before the Atlantean slipped out of his grasp. Blind to anything but escape, Damon fell through the heavy blanket, his momentum almost tearing it from the doorway. He half staggered, half ran towards the light coming through the archway, tunic torn across his back and shoulder, he didn't stop or look back as he fled from the temple. He could hear a shout going up behind him as he tried to lose himself in the red streets.
Completely disorientated, he stopped on a street, panting and clutching at his ribs. Eyes round and frightened, his gaze darted around nervously as he searched for a familiar landmark. Standing a little straighter, his legs trembling slightly, he urged himself forward.
A dog on a tie was going berserk down the lane, running in circles and whimpering, but Damon didn't see it, his mind still too preoccupied with the images from the temple. Almost by accident he turned into the main street and saw Brianhet and Tellac ahead with two horses.
Brianhet was talking softly to the animals as they pranced around, agitated and nervous, an elderly man pleading with the Egyptian. Tellac, standing to one side, looked dejected and unloved.
"Brin't!" Damon gave an urgent gasp, clutching the other man's arm as he came to his side.
Fed up to his back teeth, Brianhet cast a quick look at the out-of-breath Atlantean, the flushed face, eyes wide, wild and red.
"Damon?" The open terror in the normally clear, green eyes made him slacken his grip on the leather bridles. Immediately the horses started to pull away, whinnying as they tossed their heads. Swearing in Egyptian, Brianhet was pulled forward by their restlessness.
"Really sir, they are normally very good horses." The elderly man was babbling in a mixture of his own language and Atlantean. The gold he'd been given was generous and he didn't want the tall Egyptian to think he was being cheated. "I don't understand this." He shook his head in amazement.
Brianhet didn't have time to listen, even if he had been able to understand him. All he knew was that they had lost half their provisions and unless they could settle the animals there was no way to ride them. Damon's persistent clutching of his arm was restricting and he half glared at the other man.
"Well that's it...we'll lead them," he said in annoyance, looking with displeasure at the elderly man who scampered away. It wasn't really his fault, it had just been a bad morning for Brianhet.
"Oh please, take me with you." Tellac's voice assaulted his senses and he took a deep breath to squash his exasperation.
"Tellac, I'm sorry but we cannot," he repeated for about the tenth time. Watching the fine boned, young face crumple again as fresh tears spilled, he relented slightly and handed the boy two more gold coins. At least that way he could survive better, Brianhet reasoned.
The boy stared at the gold in his hand, it was more than he'd ever been given at one time and he still had two gold pieces from the previous day.
Turning back to Damon, Brianhet thrust a rein at him, trying to get the Atlantean to take it. Damon jumped when he touched him. Brianhet bit off a cry of frustration as he took back the rein, glancing from the nervous horse to the distraught Tellac and the vacant Atlantean at his side. It was only then that he noticed the beautiful tunic was torn and that his lover wore no sandals. Lifting an eyebrow in question, he was interrupted by Tellac...again.
"Please, I will go with you for nothing!" The swollen eyes pleaded with him as the boy gave him back the gold. Sighing, his shoulders slumped, Brianhet closed his eyes for a moment, only to be pushed off balance by Damon as he cannoned into him.
"Egypt, we must go! NOW!" He took a few steps forward before grabbing the larger man's arm. "Egypt!" he begged as he nervously looked back over his shoulder.
Confused, Brianhet was not surprised when he felt a slight tremor under his feet. Tellac stopped also, looking up, frightened. The trembling sensation only lasted a few breaths and everything was curiously still after it, only Damon seemed oblivious to the quake.
"Brin't, come on!" The Atlantean was desperate as he grabbed the reins, trying to drag both Brianhet and the horse forward.
"Damon, a quake," Brianhet spoke in Egyptian, "an earthquake!" He stared in amazement at the other man. Tellac, behind them, had dropped to his knees and was muttering a litany in his own language.
Knowing enough about quakes, Brianhet decided it would be best if they left while they still could. Noise had erupted around them as people appeared, confused and shaken. Many had dropped to their knees, facing the blazing sun. Praying, Brianhet supposed. For someone who had been raised in the priesthood, he had little faith in such things, but he was still amazed at his Atlantean. Normally Damon would be reacting by now but still he seemed unaware of the distress around him.
Concentrating on getting them out of the city and away from the noise, Brianhet promised himself he would find out the real reason for his friend's unease later.
They had gone no more than ten steps or so when an even stronger quake rocked the city. Buildings around them crumpled and the ancient gates toppled over. The ground shook for longer this time and Brianhet lost his grip on the horses as they bucked in the panic. A scream pierced the rumbling echo and Brianhet saw Tellac fall to the ground, whether in an act of submission or sheer terror he was no longer sure. His main concern was the man in front of him, who stumbled and tried to keep his balance with a look of utter disbelief and despair.
Stretching out to grab a flailing arm, Brianhet attempted to drag them both to the ground. Damon fought him, still locked in his own world of horror, only feeling the restraining hands trying to drag him lower. People were milling around, jostling each other in their desperation and Brianhet's only link with Damon was the strong grip he had on his arm. The air became heavy with the red dust and breathing was difficult. How long the quake lasted Brianhet would never know as he was thrown to the ground by a crashing stone wall.
Standing alone on the upper deck, Dymon watched through narrowed eyes as the Sea Sprite approached the large harbor. A vast, red cloud sat malignantly over the land like a vulture. For the last hour or so the sea had been very rough, the Sea Sprite riding out the large swells, her heavily laden hold keeping her steady in the water. It had taken the Captain a week to sail from the now nonexistent homeland to this nearest harbor of trade. His cargo was ripe for trade and his crew desperate for land, it had been a long trip from the Westlands. Dymon lifted his head towards the sun, trying to come to terms with his loss. In all his imaginings that had been one constant certainty he'd been able to rely upon. Never in his wildest dreams did he think Atlantis would fall. It was a land so proud, beautiful and gentle, yet strong and resilient that its destruction seemed unspeakable. It had also been his salvation.
He would have returned wealthy and prosperous, plenty for his family to be proud of. He had gone out to prove he was a man and worthy of his father's blessing, not his scorn. Even that had been snatched away from him now and his wealth meant nothing. He would disembark here and see what this land had to offer as he could not return to the Westlands and had nowhere else to go. Besides, sea travel sickened him.
"Sir, I would come away from the rail as the sea is angry, an accident could befall you." The Captain stood a short distance away, watching him through lined eyes and yellow, shaggy hair. Taking the man's practical advice, Dymon moved to the lower decks, feeling the heavy vessel toss around as she dipped in between the big swells, riding out the worst of the conditions. Most of the ship's crew avoided him, finding Dymon an uneasy companion if truth were told for his moods, it was just because he disliked sea travel. Besides, they spoke a barbaric dialect which through necessity he had learnt, but the crew didn't have to know how well he knew it.
So here he was heading towards a new land and a new future. He had known Lan five or six summers ago by reputation as a shrewd trader and politician. Lan had been the oldest son of the ruling house then, waiting for his father to die before taking over. The old man had a knack for hanging on and no one had been surprised when he reached a hundred summers. Their trade alliance was prosperous and both nations had benefited. Dymon decided to present himself to the palace and see what followed.
The vessel rocked violently from side to side and he held on tight. Steadying himself as the ship evened out, he was again plagued by an intense apprehension. A vague uneasiness had started the previous morning, strong enough to register its presence and just enough to distract him. It was a feeling he very rarely experienced, touching him briefly almost as a reminder, before vanishing. But this heavy fear and dread left him breathless as it washed over him in waves and it didn't seem to recede at all. Clutching his sea-damp tunic, his eyes darted over his shoulder, ridiculous he knew, as he was perfectly safe and well able to defend himself.
He could guess at its origin and that terrified him even more. Damon, his naive twin brother. He felt the familiar mixture of tantalizing joy and resentment as he recalled the one and only time they had almost met.
Lowering his head, Dymon smiled at the memories. He'd only been about eight summers and consigned to the outdoors with his tutor. He'd been so angry with his mother for sending him away that he'd spent little time concentrating on his studies. She had just come out of confinement after giving birth to his little sister and the whole family was in an uproar. The way his mother behaved you would have thought it was her first child. Dymon had felt hurt and rejected because he had been sent away to study. No longer was he the center of his parents' world and he had hated his sister for that.
He had been unhappy and miserable the whole summer, moody and bad tempered, until not even his tutor wanted to talk to him. When the disturbing uneasiness had started, Dymon had taken no notice at first, too wrapped up in his own unhappiness. It was only as the feeling grew and he was swamped by fear and confusion that he had started to notice. He had woken up one night in tears, terrified for the first time in his life of the dark. He had not tried to control the grief, huddling on his bed, rocking slightly and allowing the feeling to take him completely.
Red-eyed and still slightly tearful, he'd been ignored at breakfast and sent to his studies with a single gesture. He had slipped past the tutor that morning, something he'd never done before, and gone into the lower city. He knew by now that he was feeling someone else's distress--it wasn't just his unhappiness over his sister's birth. If he closed his eyes and dwelt on the pain he could almost picture the place it radiated from. Of course, that had not helped much because he didn't know the lower city very well.
It had taken him most of the morning and early afternoon before he found the old abandoned well shaft. Not a sound could be heard when he looked over its old stove-in lip but just the same he had known it was the right place. The frayed strands where the rope had snapped were clearly visible and he quickly looked around. His dirtied tunic, missed lunch and his father's anger seemed unimportant as he set about searching for a new rope. Adventure singing in his veins, he found some twine and tied one end securely, as he'd been taught, then lowered the other into the dark well.
Suddenly unsure what would crawl out, he had hid in the bushes to watch. He had to wait some time before a sniveling, filthy, scrawny, tousle-haired little boy climbed out. Limping slightly, the boy looked around with wide eyes as he sniffed again, pushing heavy curls from his face. Dymon had remained transfixed, speechless with shock as he stared at a mirror image of himself. Desperately curious, he had watched the boy leave and followed him to the harbor village. There he was enfolded by a big, angry woman and hugged and petted until Dymon had felt slightly envious. It seemed he was obviously well loved and had been missed.
Pleased with himself, but also sad, Dymon had returned home to find his tutor asleep in the afternoon sun, his family hadn't even noticed his absence at lunch. Hurt and feeling betrayed, he had cried for himself that night. During the season that had followed, he had often spied on his mirror friend, he felt a special kinship for the boy who was about his age, but he never made contact. It wasn't until later that he discovered who the boy really was: his twin, his replacement, his punishment if he failed his father. How quickly an object of love, longing and freedom could turn into an object of hate and resentment.
And here he was now, sitting on the Sea Sprite with the cool sting of sea salt in his face, experiencing the same dread and fear of all those summers ago, and still helpless before them. Damon was close and in some kind of trouble, he knew. But now, as a man, would he find it any easier to approach his twin than he had as a boy? Maybe this was fate's fortune, but would either of them survive it?
The Sea Sprite drew sluggishly into the harbor. Two smaller vessels had overturned and lay three-quarters sunk while the many loading jetties littered the choppy water with their drifting wood and cargo.
Anchoring well away from any other vessel, the crew stood and gazed in horror at the destruction. Many of the visible houses lay in ruins as mothers and wives mourned their loss and the dead. Even the immaculate palace showed some damage, the only building which looked unaffected was the towering temple behind the palace. Seeing enough and deciding not to stay the Captain gave orders to leave harbor.
Almost certain of what he would find in that city, Dymon hesitated for a moment, his clear, green eyes hard as he watched the activity on shore. He indicated to the Captain what he wanted, and the large, broad man looked at him in disbelief.
"Are you mad? The city is ruined. We will go to a far better port."
"No, I desire to remain here," Dymon said, his cool, steady gaze remaining on the Captain, who threw his arms up in exasperation, muttering to himself. Dymon gave a half smile as he heard the other man refer to him as a barbarian.
Gathering his only possessions, two small trunks, Dymon climbed into the bouncing rowboat which sat on the port side. It took two of them to navigate the restless sea and reach shore safely. Disembarking, Dymon watched the boat return to its mother vessel before turning away.
The docks and markets were swarming with people trying to salvage what they could. Unconcerned, Dymon casually stepped over the fallen rubble, making his way steadily but slowly towards the palace. The closer he got to the palace the more people stopped to stare at him. It was puzzling and he wondered when an Atlantean had become such a rare sight. Holding his head higher and ignoring the looks, he continued at the same pace.
A woman at his back gasped and drew away, an expression of fear widening her eyes. Frowning, he shot a quick glance around and saw everyone whimpering and pulling away from him. It wasn't until he saw the two huge guards approaching with speed and a grim determination that he realized he was in trouble. Knowing he had nothing to conceal, he drew his shoulders back to meet the guards. If they had come to take him to the palace they could carry his trunks.
Refusing to be intimidated, he shrugged off the heavy hand and pointed to the palace, indicating that was where he wished to go. Blinking at this dominating personality, the guards reluctantly obliged him.
Dymon had never visited Red City before and he was suitably impressed with the delicate carvings he saw decorating the outer walls of the palace. Maybe his uncle had been right in cultivating a trade agreement with this city and its ruling house. Walking through the labyrinth of lengthy passageways he was finally presented in an oblong, light room which invited thought. One piece of furniture dominated the simple but beautiful room--a gigantic, white, carved marble throne. Its seat was vacant but an immaculate, slender female leaned casually over its side.
Frowning, Dymon studied her carefully and covered his shock expertly as his mind identified her as Brynnene. Walking forward with the ease of true breeding, he left the guards at the door as he approached the throne, his eyes narrowing but never leaving the woman. How stupid of him to think she would have waited for his return.
Brynnene was as regal as ever, her flowing gown complementing her beauty and highlighting her blue eyes. Stopping a small distance from the throne, Dymon looked around, wondering when the King would join them.
At the movement in front of him, he turned his attention back to Brynnene. She was studying him closely and Dymon was hurt that she showed no recognition. Absently his hand raised to his broken cheekbone and he wondered if his features had been altered so greatly. Still Brynnene continued to study him with open hostility and he felt his own temper rise.
"So, again you prove your presence only brings sorrow and unhappiness." Her voice mocked him as she moved away from the throne, trailing her fingers over its white smoothness. "Well this time you shall not escape so easily." Walking behind him, she watched his back muscles stiffen and smiled in satisfaction.
His brow creasing further, Dymon compressed his lips as he swung round to meet her, his eyes hardening as he saw her raise her chin in triumph.
"Since when have you grown so big, little girl, that you no longer respect the order of your own heritage." His words were concise and cool as he returned malice for malice and contempt for contempt.
Brynnene recoiled a step, her eyes widening in anger. Her small hands clutched at the silky material at her thighs as she glared at the man in front of her, her nostrils quivering in fury.
"How dare you!" she said in an outraged tone, only to be stopped by his stalking presence.
"I dare." The words were spat out quietly as he noted the movement of the guards at the heavy doors.
Meeting the bright green eyes squarely, Brynnene faltered for the first time. The fire of his suppressed anger assaulted her defenses as her mind supplied the missing pieces. Never had she believed her dreams could turn into reality. "Dymon?" she mouthed, starting to note the small changes. Somehow she had always pictured the differences between the brothers to be greater. Now all she saw was a darkly tanned young man, a perfect double except for an oddly shaped cheek and shorter curls. But even the cheek hadn't been noticeable until he had turned towards her.
"By the Gods, Brynnene, who else did you think it was," he demanded, throwing his arm up and turning to walk away a little.
The guards glanced nervously between their lady and the prisoner, waiting for instructions.
"I finish a long sea voyage to find my homeland destroyed. Then I have to search for my people and when I do find them I am treated like a common thief!" He threw his hurt at her. "What has happened to our gentle yet majestic race--are they all dead?"
"Dymon? You are alive?" She moved forward quickly, entwining her long fingers in his tunic, her face raised as tears welled in her sparkling eyes. "I thought you dead all these years, I never expected to find you alive."
"And now?" Dymon cut her off coolly, unmoved by the tears.
"Now?" she asked puzzled, half smiling, blinking at him.
"Yes, when I walked in here you had revenge planned. Surely you can't have forgotten?" His word still held a bite.
She removed her hands from his tunic and smoothed them over her gown, looking down. "Yes, but not to you," she answered softly before turning to the guards behind, speaking to them in African. They left the chamber chastised, glancing doubtfully once more at the Atlantean. Beckoning to Dymon, she hurried to another door.
"Come, I'll show you where you can stay. But you must promise now to keep out of the city for a few days."
His anger giving way to curiosity, he followed her. "Why?"
"Just trust me Dymon, please. It is for your own safety."
His brow creasing again, he cast a look over his shoulder. "And what of the guards?"
"Guards?" Her expression affectionate, she turned back to him.
"Yes, what did you tell the guards?" he demanded, standing still and refusing to go any further.
"Just that they'd made a mistake." She shrugged, unconcerned. Pushing another set of doors open, she motioned him through.
He went reluctantly, still waiting for a better explanation. "What sort of mistake?" he persisted, gritting his teeth. He had a very good idea but wanted to hear Brynnene say it.
Without answering, she unbarred another door and led him into an even lighter room.
"Brynnene," he growled out, not interested in the view or the bed she was thumping.
"What?" she asked in all innocence. Playful and mischievous, she gazed at him, very much the old Brynnene he remembered from summers ago. Lifting her hand, she brushed his cheek lightly. "How did this happen?" She was standing close, too close, her expression soft as she moistened her lips.
Groaning in exasperation, Dymon pushed her away, no longer susceptible to her spell. "Who are the guards hunting?"
"Just a man." She was non-committal, recovering quickly from his rebuff.
"A man who happened to look like me." It wasn't a question, his voice flat as he looked over her shoulder, remembering his twin's face as he'd last seen him six summers ago.
"An Atlantean," she hesitated, "yes." Grabbing his hand, she tried to pull him forward. He resisted her.
"Damon, perhaps?" The name fell heavily between them and he saw her mouth drop in shock.
"You know him?" Her face was a picture of disbelief.
"Of course I know my twin, I just don't know what it is he's supposed to have done." Closing in on her, he gripped her by the shoulders and sat her on the bed. "And that, Brynnene my dear, is what you are going to tell me."
Helpless before his persuasive charm, she did so.
"Foolish little idiot," he mumbled without heat a short while later, able to picture all too clearly his twin doing something so stupid. "And what will your husband do when he finds him?" He watched her pale face as she considered the answer.
"How?" He had heard a few rumors while living on Atlantis about the eastern religion and Gods, and he hadn't failed to notice the huge temple behind the palace.
Brynnene just shrugged again, swinging her leg in unconcern. "The people will decide." Pitching forward, she gazed up at Dymon through her long lashes, smiling sweetly. "But let's not talk about him. Tell me where you've been?"
Seeing her purposefully seductive expression, Dymon turned away. How did you explain to someone who was still a child that you'd left to prove yourself a man? You didn't. Besides, he was more interested in his other half. Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, he turned back to Brynnene. "When will you know if the guards have found him?"
"He'll be brought here, as you were," she said puzzled, not used to being ignored. The old Dymon had never ignored her.
He stood up and walked slowly to the open doorway, looking out over the city below, seeing the destruction after the earthquake. Maybe, just maybe he could find his twin first. Why he needed to see him Dymon didn't know, he only knew that he did. Unhappiness was still bombarding him and he knew it originated from Damon. He also hoped a lot of other things would be explained once they finally confronted each other. He was not used to this irrational fear he experienced every time he got close to his brother and it was something he was determined to conquer. The resentment was still there but now it was balanced with an emotion even stronger that he refused to name. Something had to give and he was determined it wouldn't be him.
"I doubt they'll find them today, more likely tomorrow, when the guards search the outer city," Brynnene said matter-of-factly from behind him, gliding up to lean elegantly against the wall at his side.
Dymon missed her calculated posing and picked up on the one word which interested him. "Them?"
"Damon and his Egyptian," she stated flatly, as if it was obvious, getting really annoyed with him now. No one, in her mind, could be so willfully callous.
"Which Egyptian?" he emphasized the last word, a tightness pulling in his chest.
"His friend, lover, companion. I don't know," she said in near exasperation, standing straight as she forgot about presenting her best features. "They're always together."
Lover. The single word struck Dymon and for a moment he forgot to breath. A slow, white fury built in him as he dwelt on the idea. There was no doubt left in his mind now, he wanted to find Damon before anyone else did. Needed to.
Damon sat beside the brightly burning fire, numb from head to foot, eyes unblinking, his hand clutching the boneless, cold fingers of his friend and companion.
Kireva watched worriedly as she prepared a warm drink for him. A very old lady in her own right, having out-lived two men, her movements were slow as her joints protested.
Living as she did on the outer boundaries of Red City, she'd been amused at first, then oddly touched, as she had observed the smaller man carrying his companion away from the confusion. What had convinced her to help the two had been the open grief on the dust stained face as he had labored, clutching the other man in a desperate hold.
Intervening, she'd soon learned that neither could speak her language adequately, the curly headed man gasping out half gibberish, until she took control, ushering the two into her small dwelling. Apart from everything being covered in heavy dust, her home still stood, a little damaged but with only a few possessions smashed in their fall to the floor. Her first man had built the house strongly in their young days.
Giving the young man a cloth and water, she had watched, first interested, then fascinated, as he carefully sponged the other man. This man was very white, his skin soft and Kireva was almost spellbound by his contrasting features. His hair was short but matted with blood and she had quickly hurried to bring clean, dry cloths for his head. On her return, she had seen the other man's long, delicate fingers tremble as they smoothed back the dark hair, the light, clear voice soothing the unconscious man.
The Egyptian's head wound still bled sluggishly and Damon helped wrap the cloth tightly around Brianhet's skull. The black lashes lay motionless on the pale cheeks, Brianhet did not even quiver under the somewhat rough bandaging.
A pair of very green eyes looked back at Kireva in abject misery as Damon wiped a filthy hand under his nose, distributing more dirt and grime. Shoulders hunched and curls hanging limply, he looked a pathetic picture.
Kireva's instinctive protectiveness sprang forward and she gave him a huge toothless grin. Pushing the bowl of cooling water and cloth back at him, she indicated he should clean himself as well.
Washing sketchily to remove the worst of the dust, Damon's eyes never left his lover's face. Still too stunned by the quick turn of events, he was slow to take in their new lodgings. The old woman muttered non-stop as she shuffled around the room and Damon was a little in awe of her, his eyes following her meanderings.
Having swallowed the warm, sickly-sweet drink she had given him, Damon received another beaming grin. In her presence it would have been easy to relax, even if they couldn't talk, but he was still worrying over Nebrianhet.
The Egyptian's eyes were puffy, the left rather bruised and with the cumbersome bandage on he looked like a half-wrapped mummy. But he was alive and Damon kept his fingers lightly over the great pulse in his neck, caressing the skin as he studied the pale features. Biting his bottom lip till it almost bled, he could not help thinking that it was his fault. He had known and yet he'd still been unable to protect the other man.
A soft groan heralded Brianhet's return to consciousness and both Damon and Kireva were at his side instantly. The restless man turned his head towards the movement and Damon breathed a sigh of relief as he stroked the rough chin.
The dark lashes lifted marginally as the injured man grimaced with awakening pain, his hand uncoordinated as he reached for his head. Damon intercepted the attempt and kissed the searching fingers as he whispered his lover's name.
"Brin't..." Leaning forward, he scanned the face. "Brianhet?"
Kireva muttered something in African as she placed two lighted candles on the bed table. Ignoring her, Damon leaned closer still as his grip tightened on the imprisoned hand.
Again Nebrianhet moaned, his lips trying to form a silent word, a frown deepening between his eyes. Pressing the hand close to his chest, Damon caressed the frown lines with his lips.
"Come on Egypt, wake up. You're frightening me," Damon whispered with feeling. A hot, dry hand touched his cheek in reassurance and he doubtfully looked up into old and understanding eyes.
"Damon?" It was a tentative question which warmed the Atlantean and he gave a breathy half laugh, half sigh as he observed the rapidly blinking eyes.
His face twisting in discomfort, Brianhet's grip tightened over the cool fingers clutching him, still blinking as he tried to regain his vision.
"Oh, Brin't..." The voice was heavy with emotion and longing, banishing a little of the pain.
Opening his eyes a little wider, Brianhet was still unable to sort the blurred shadows out. From the half images his brain received, he would have imagined them in a dark room. He could make nothing out, everything was a mismatch of dark patches.
"My eyes, Damon, my eyes!"
"Ssh, my love. They are swollen and sore." Damon moved his thumbs to glide softly over the side of the too straight nose as he tried to reassure the other man.
The lashes lifted as far as they could, the eyes extremely bright in the candlelight as they stared past Damon in blind terror. "No! My eyes, I can't see."
Speechless for a second, Damon's fingers stilled, his mouth falling open as he stared into the vacant, blue depths. "Brin't?" his voice broke slightly in disbelief.
"I can't see." Tears ran from the corners of the now unblinking eyes, their roundness a deep, empty void.
Trembling, Damon watched the Egyptian's face close in anguish. "It will come back. It has too," he tried to reassure him, as he added silently, 'it must!'
The thick lashes swept down, covering Brianhet's thoughts as his hands reached out, searching for his one security. Tangling his hands in the silky tunic, Brianhet dragged the smaller man into a bruising embrace, hands finding the Atlantean's face and roughly tracing its unique outline.
"And what if it doesn't?" Brianhet's voice was shaky as his fingertips skimmed Damon's moist lashes.
"It will," Damon said with conviction, convincing himself as much as Brianhet. He closed his eyes, allowing his lover freedom of touch, delivering his every essence to the other's need.
Calming, Brianhet re-opened his eyes. The black images remained, yet he could sense light as well. It was not a complete darkness and from that he took hope.
"Where are we?"
Turning his head into a cool palm, Damon kissed it gently before answering. "Still at Red City. You have a nasty cut over the head and I was so worried and scared for you!" His hand came up to cover the one cupping his cheek. "A lady named Kireva has given us shelter and bandaged your head."
"Are you wooing to break another heart, my little lover?"
"Not I." Damon smiled against the hands. "It was you she wanted to help."
Sighing, Brianhet closed his eyes again, trying to block out the throbbing pain. Sensing his distress, Damon felt helpless. Glancing round he found the old lady busily removing a warming jug from the fire, pouring a small amount into a cup. His sense picking out the sweet herbs, he suddenly stiffened as his mind unblocked a memory. Pushing the chilly thoughts aside, he went to get up and help Kireva.
Two desperate hands grabbed at him, tearing the soft fabric of his tunic with their frantic grip as Brianhet half sat up.
"Don't go. Damon, please don't go."
Thrown completely off-balance Damon collapsed on the broad chest, pressing them both back on the furs. "I wouldn't leave you. Brin't, please believe I won't leave. I love you."
The biting fingers relaxed a little but Brianhet refused to allow Damon to move out of reach, keeping a firm hold over one slim hand. Kireva had reached the bed by this stage and although she didn't understand their speech she had guessed a little as she eyed the possessive hold the beautiful Egyptian man had on his friend.
Resting the cup and steaming cloth on a small table, she slowly lowered her weary bones into a comfortable chair. Giving the cloth to the curly haired, young man she indicated what he should do with it, touching her forehead; Damon got the idea. A small, pleasurable moan escaped the white lips as the warm cloth eased a little of Brianhet's discomfort. But it was not enough to ease the pain enough for him to sleep.
"Brin't." Turning his face towards the voice, Brianhet squeezed a lean thigh in response. "I am going to help you sit up a little. Kireva has made you a hot drink and I want you to drink it. All of it."
Supporting the dizzy and pale man, Damon took the cup from Kireva, pressing it to the tight lips. It took a long time but eventually Damon settled his precious lover down, covering him with the furs as he settled into a herb induced sleep.
Studying the now relaxed features, Damon tried to remind himself that sleep heals: in this case it had to. Hearing a few mumbled words beside him, he turned a little to smile thanks at Kireva. She was a wonderful lady in his eyes and he thanked his Gods for her kindness.
Watching him with shrewd eyes, she returned his smile.
Deciding Brianhet was sleeping quietly, Damon moved to stretch his legs. Immediately the sleeping man mumbled a protest and his grip tightened on the Atlantean.
Resigned to an uncomfortable night, Damon smiled happily as he glanced at the large, square hand hugging his thigh in a possessive manner. Let his Egyptian heal, that's all he wanted. They had both survived the odds again, and the impending dread which had filled him was gone. Only a vague uneasiness haunted his senses but he chose to ignore that, his mind refusing to think about its origins at present. Besides, he needed all his energy to help Brianhet over the next few days. Turning his uncomplicated smile on the other occupant in the house, he saw the old woman was fast asleep, head resting on the stiff chair back, her mouth hanging open a little as she snored gently.
Resigned to his solitary watchful state, Damon leaned back to get more comfortable so he could watch his Egyptian sleep.
Pacing the room like a caged tiger, Dymon watched through silted eyes the sun finally sink beyond the calm ocean. The faint breeze which touched his skin from the open balcony made him shiver as he heard voices raised in unison from the temple. Priests lay prostrate on the inner courtyard while the King stood majestic and dominating in their circle, arms spread wide as he recited a litany Dymon had no wish to hear.
He had little faith in any religion, he'd seen and done too much in far lands to be awed by simple rituals. Any faith or love he'd had for the Gods of Atlantis had been shattered over five years ago. The memory was still bitter. No, he could do without religion.
A single piercing voice captured his attention and he found his eyes drawn to the spectacle. Lan still stood, arms outstretched high above his head, hands clasped and head thrown back as the ceremony reached its peak. An intense orange glow seemed to spread from the white alter and envelop the King completely, its tentacles reaching across the pure marble floor entwining with each of the other monks at the High Priest's feet.
His mouth falling open in disbelief, Dymon rubbed his eyes before checking the courtyard again. Now all he saw were ordinary monks in a subdued light as the sun's glow disappeared. It had to have been a trick of the light, he reasoned with himself, studying each monk minutely from his safe distance. The ceremony had ended and Dymon watched curiously as each figure came forward to touch Lan before leaving. There was nothing extraordinary in the gesture and Dymon was slightly disappointed. But then what had he expected from this small, uncivilized race?
Eyes narrowing in the darkened room, Dymon cast a glance over the City; even the sight of that was unremarkable. The earthquake was already a thing of the past as Red City quietened down for the night. Somewhere out there was his twin: alive. There was nothing more certain than that simple fact. And his perfect twin was no longer his mirror image. Dymon fleetingly raised a hand to touch his damaged cheek in regret. The injury was a souvenir of his frantic trip out of Atlantis, over the years it had ceased to worry him.
A light tap on the door refocused his attention on the present.
"Yes?" he called, waiting for whoever it was to answer.
"Dymon?" The query was hesitant as the small figure stepped around the door, long tresses of dark hair tumbling around her shoulders.
"Brynnene," he drew the word out, allowing his eyes to wander over her trim figure, playing her at her own game. Her sexual allure no longer blinded him as it had done years previously and he wasn't above a little provocation himself. Watching her calculated and flawless movements as she approached him, he leant back against the stone wall, pushing his hip forward, assessing her through his lashes.
"Did you watch the ceremony?" She stood a hand's distance away, keeping her voice soft, inclining her head to study him.
"Is that what it was?"
"You know it was." Her voice gained an edge to it. Stopping, she looked down before pinning on another smile. "I have come to invite you to the King's feast, which will be held in the main hall."
"Ahh." Dymon lifted his brows knowingly.
"I have informed my husband of your arrival and he is expecting to see you."
"Well I have other plans for tonight."
"But you cannot." Again her voice took on a hard edge.
"I can and I do."
"But you do not understand." It was a half demand, half plea as she moved closer to rest both hands on his chest. "No one disobeys the King."
He studied her face for a minute, seeing the sudden tension and fear there. "And what happens if they do?"
"Dymon, please. For my sake if not your own."
Closing his eyes, he let a breath out loudly as he considered her words. He'd known that a meeting with him would be coming but he had also hoped that it would be the following day. He had just spent all afternoon steeling himself for the possible confrontation with his brother, only to lose the moment again. But Brynnene was right for once, it was foolish to invite Lan's anger.
He had learnt quickly on the Sea Sprite, that as a King and ruler most sea traders respected the man, but nobody liked him, or anchored long in his harbor.
"Alright," he capitulated, "I will change and meet you downstairs."
Brynnene hugged him in relief, drawing back only when he made no attempt to return the embrace. Clearing her throat, she looked everywhere but at his face as she pushed her hair from her shoulder. "I will leave a guard outside to escort you down when you have changed. Do not be long, the King does not like to be kept waiting for his food." Drawing her narrow shoulders back she spun on her heels and exited, leaving Dymon suppressing an amused smile.
Pushing a slow hand into his short curls, he started to laugh as he considered the ceiling. "Oh yes, my dear Brynnene, and the games are just beginning," he murmured, thinking of the next few days. Stepping away from the wall, he started to dress for the feast.
He was warm from head to foot and the tingling sensation travelling through him was not unpleasant, in fact it was wonderfully exciting. Stretching again in unfocussed pleasure, Nebrianhet felt at peace, untroubled and content to savor the feeling. The pain he had experienced was now just a distant memory, as was everything else. Nothing seemed to matter except his little cocoon of pleasure. He drifted in warm, dim surroundings, an uncomplicated smile adorning his features.
Turning, he sighed aloud, his mind picking out an increasing bright, warm glow. It danced in his mind, vaguely erotic as it seduced him closer, filling his mind with awe and beauty. The brightness intensified, its heat something to be savored as he stumbled uncontrollably towards it, needing to touch its magnificence, to let it enfold him until they were one. Knowing he was almost there, his whole being cried out in joy as he took the final lunge.
"Egypt." The sharp voice matched the stinging pain as Damon slapped him again.
"Da...mon?" Even to his own ears the word sounded slurred.
"Watch what you're doing." The Atlantean's voice was filled with annoyance as he leaned across the prone man to rearrange the beside table. "What were you trying to do, burn the entire place down?" Setting the two candles back in place, Damon pushed them out of Brianhet's reach.
"Burn?" He latched on to the only word which penetrated his clearing senses.
"Yes, burn." Damon still sounded angry. "In another moment the furs would have caught fire. If you wanted anything, all you had to do was wake me."
Hearing the distress behind the anger, Brianhet tried to sort out his muddled thoughts. All he recalled was an immense sense of wellbeing and an intense brightness. He'd wanted that light but now he couldn't remember why.
"I was dreaming," he said, almost to himself.
"Dreaming?" Damon still sounded confused.
"Yes, about light. Damon?" He held out his arms, asking a silent question and was relieved when the other man came into his embrace.
"The light was calling me, I didn't realize...I'm sorry, my love." He said the last into the abundant curls tickling his nose.
"I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have fallen asleep." A warm mouth caressed his neck as Damon relaxed. "You frightened me, that's all." He offered a fleeting kiss.
Brianhet smiled and turned his head, intending to kiss the curls but stopping abruptly as a pain knifed through his head at the movement.
Feeling the sudden tension, Damon sat up and looked into the pain filled features.
Pain receding as he lay perfectly still, Brianhet managed to open his eyes, only to shut them again as a brightness assaulted him.
"Brin't!" A little panic crept into the voice.
"Just the light...it hurts my eyes." Realizing what he had said, Brianhet stopped and opened his eyes cautiously again. The brightness was intense and stung his eyes. He felt Damon reach across him and take up something from the table.
The intense light faded and Brianhet was able to open his swollen eyes further.
"I have put out one of the candles," the quiet voice told him.
Trying to focus on the voice, Brianhet found his sight unimproved. One dark shape sat to the left of his vision and he knew it was Damon, a flickering brightness haloed his dark outline.
"I still cannot see you." He reached out a hand and felt it taken in a secure clasp.
"It will come back." The words were positive and Brianhet smiled at him.
"Lie down with me."
"You can, I'm sure there is enough room for two."
Damon cast a hesitant look at the old lady still asleep in the huge wooden chair. She had not moved the whole time and he was sure she would sleep through to sunrise now.
"I'll move over a little." Brianhet proceeded to edge over in the soft furs. Only when he moved his head did the pain jar at him and he fought the nauseating effect.
"Brin't?" Warm hands rubbed his bare shoulders. "I will get you some more of Kireva's drink."
"No--" Brianhet reached out to stop him.
"But it will reduce the pain."
"And make me dream again. Just let me lie still and the pain will go by itself." He felt Damon resettle beside him as he waited for the throbbing to ease. It took only a few moments before he felt his head was his own again and he ran a hand blindly up his companion's thigh. "Come and lie beside me."
"But your head..."
"I will sleep better with you against me." Still he felt the Atlantean hesitate. "Please, Damon."
He heard a capitulating sigh as the man stretched out beside him.
"No, lover, under the fur, and take that tunic off."
"Egypt, may I remind you we are not alone." The tone was indignant as Damon cast another look at their sleeping hostess.
"I need to feel you beside me."
Hearing the plea, Damon looked at his lover with open affection, knowing the words to be true for both of them. Teeth catching his lower lip in thought, he spared the old African another quick glance. Drawing the torn tunic over his head, he frowned at his bare feet, wondering what had happened to his sandals. Not dwelling on the thought, he lifted the fur and settled beside his lover, sighing with pleasure as one of the Egyptian's arms slipped under his head. Settling on his side, he draped a careful arm over the injured man, watching his chest rise and fall as they both drifted back into sleep.
Dymon leant back elegantly on the firm velvet seating, eyeing the brightly decorated, yet beautiful room, so different from those rooms he had been first shown. As the throne room had been majestic and virginally pure, this was bright and joyous, seducing the visitor to celebration.
Dymon guessed the rooms were designed to project the image Lan wished to show the world, depending on the visitor. He would be very interested to see the true man stripped of all his props. So far the King had not said more than a bare, courteous greeting to him as he led his stunningly clad wife to dinner.
Brynnene was every inch the Queen in Lan's presence; tall and regal in her white, silk gown, she remained passively at Lan's side, not giving him a second glance. Lan, on the other hand, was studying him through lowered lids, assessing and measuring his worth, until the small hairs on the back of Dymon's neck stood up under the chilling gaze. A small, dark boy played a long, carved flute behind Lan, creating an atmosphere of luxury and contentment.
Dymon refused to be fooled, fixing a pleasant smile on his face as his discerning green gaze picked out possible flaws.
"Dymon!" The loud bellow drew his attention back to his host and he visibly straightened under the dark, mocking stare.
"Come up here and tell me about your travels." Lan's Atlantean was understandable but by no means good. Dymon got slowly to his feet.
Seating himself carefully across from the royal couple, he inclined his head, delivering what respect was required of him. Lifting his eyes, he attempted a pleasant greeting.
"I am honored to be shown such hospitality." The black, unswerving gaze was like a vacuum, sucking all traces of warmth from the atmosphere between them.
"Do you mock me, Dymon? Why, after so many harvests, do I suddenly get both Antoneas' sons visiting me?" Lan's narrowed eyes challenged the younger man.
"Our joint arrival was unconnected and unintentional. My brother and I have never met." His tone flat, Dymon met the openly hostile look head-on, ignoring Brynnene's rigid presence beside Lan.
"Unintentional?" Lan rolled his tongue around the word, as if testing its sensitivity.
"Yes, your Majesty. My arrival is by chance, I have been travelling in warmer waters for more than five summers now."
"The Westlands..." Lan smiled inwardly: a private smile. "I have heard much of that land. Tell me Dymon, is it as bountiful as everyone says?"
"I would say wild and untouched, but yet, rich in many aspects."
Lan nodded, fingers knitted in his lap as his heavy, dark lids lowered in an unseen pleasure. "And you have brought some of these riches with you?"
"Only what I've earned. They were to be for my father." He felt himself enveloped by startled blue eyes but kept his gaze firmly fixed on the man in front of him.
"I need wealth if my kingdom is to grow. You must tell me more." Lan's tone was seductive yet a bitter, cold chill seeped through, sickening Dymon.
Lan's self-importance, callous greed and vicious maliciousness reminded Dymon of another force he had not long escaped: Nedommerik. During his often adventurous travels, Dymon had been unfortunate enough to be ensnared by the Egyptian. Inheriting a large prosperous estate, Nedommerik had latched onto the Atlantean, making his life a misery, wanting to own, dominate and break his spirit. The corrupt, twisted evil of the man had forced Dymon to leave the Westlands a little sooner than he had intended. It was only through cunning and skill that he had walked away a wealthy man. Walked away, leaving behind a furious and impotent Egyptian whose memory still made him shudder. Dymon saw the same traits before him now but magnified. He risked a quick look at Brynnene and wondered at her life.
Knowing himself to have been dismissed, he rose and bowed his farewell, preferring to return to his room rather than remain in the hall so alive with laughter yet devoid of pleasure.
Damon awoke with heavy limbs to the sound of unconnected mumbles and bright, piercing sunlight. Raising his head, he found Brianhet still fast asleep, chest rising and falling steadily. Smiling crookedly at their closely entwined bodies, Damon ran a gentle finger over the dark stubble of his lover's cheek. The fact he could have lost him numbed his whole brain with terror, knowing that he couldn't survive without the other man. But his dreams of late had shown him a life without Brianhet, filled with loneliness and pain. He didn't want to dwell on them in case they came true. Moving forwards, he buried his face in the warm junction of Btianhet's neck and shoulder and he breathed deeply, relaxing his tense nerves.
Suddenly the mumbled words behind him rose a little and he turned in alarm to place the sound, falling off the narrow bed and dragging all the furs with him. It was Kireva singing.
At his undignified sprawl on the floor, the old lady held her cheeks as she chuckled, shuffling over to them slowly, her eyes lighting up in welcome.
Getting hastily to his feet Damon dressed, trying unsuccessfully to straighten his twisted and torn tunic, the emerald Atlantean colors discolored by blood and red dust. At the sleepy enquiry behind him he glanced back, doing a double take at the inviting stretch and half erection of his naked lover. Without ceremony, Damon dumped all the furs on top of the waking man before Kireva stopped to regard the patient.
With only minor niggling aches and pains and a throbbing head, Brianhet felt alive all over, his body still slightly damp from where Damon had lain plastered to his side. Opening his eyes produced an instant pain, and his memory dropped back into place. He reached out for his anchor.
Capturing the hand Damon tried to sit on the bed with some measure of dignity, too aware of Kireva's gaze.
She spoke in a merry voice but even with clearer senses, Damon couldn't understand a word. He shook his head and she patted him on the shoulder knowingly, indicating she wanted him to follow her.
He nodded. Throwing an uncertain glance at his companion, Damon saw the tension in him and felt it through the grip of the large hand. Leaning over, he gently kissed the small, upturned nose.
"Brin't?" he spoke in Egyptian, noticing that some of the tension disappeared in a long released breath. "I'm still here...I'll always be here."
The grip slackened but Brianhet refused to release the warm hand. Reaching out, Damon allowed his fingers to speak for him as he smoothed the dark hair back. The eyes remained closed and Damon moved closer, seeking for a more positive response.
"That's better. How is the pain?"
Lifting his lids very slowly this time, Brianhet found the Atlantean's form blocking most of the light. "Not too bad, just the brightness which hurts."
Damon watched the squinting contortion and had to smile. Moving a couple of inches closer, he kissed each eye. "Just take it slowly," he warned, eyeing the red and white bandages. "I'm going to help Kireva...won't be long." Disentangling himself he straightened the fur.
Brianhet endured the organizing hands, knowing what lay behind it, only insisting on having one of those hands again before Damon left him in his world of blurred shapes. Lifting the fingers to his mouth, he kissed the warm palm. "Don't be long."
Squeezing the hand in response, Damon padded quietly over to the low burning hearth. A mixture of corn bread and sweet melon lay already chopped on a long narrow board, and Damon's nose twitched as he caught the tangy scent of herbs poured out into stone cups. Casting a worried glance at the coils of steam swirling from the mugs, he heard Kireva give a snort of laughter as she picked up a mug and rubbed her head, showing her intention.
He forced a weak smile, still feeling off-color and uneasy, as if a subconscious force was tugging at his mind. It wasn't a particularly bad experience, more like an annoyance which he couldn't explain or shake off. It left him stripped, as if all his inner thoughts were exposed and being read. A chill crept down his spine and he shivered uncontrollably, glancing around nervously. He was not given time to complete the action as warm, dry hands pushed food at him, showing him she wanted him to eat. He tried to look grateful as he battled to eat the dry bread. More food came at him as Kireva pointed at Brianhet. He willingly returned to where the Egyptian rested.
Brianhet was lying on his back, rigid, his eyes open wide as they became accustomed to the light. His knuckles whitened as Damon sat gingerly on the bed beside him, turning his head to watch the blurred images of his companion.
"Brin't?" Damon's own voice sounded less than confident, still tight and dry as he swallowed the last of the bread. "Can you sit up a little as I've brought you something to eat."
Glad of the action, Brianhet slowly sat up, finding his head not too painful. He accepted the food without comment, even drinking half the herbal brew, much to Damon's amazement. He watched with pleasure as his Egyptian ate slowly, testing the distance to his mouth by touch and not spilling a drop. Brianhet seemed to have gained his appetite while Damon had lost his.
Quickly helping Kireva to tidy up, Damon returned to the waiting man. They sat in silence until Damon asked the question which had been plaguing his thoughts.
"Is your sight any better?"
Brianhet had to smile at the hesitancy. "No, I still cannot see you, but I can see where you are." As if to prove the point, he lifted a steady hand to the curly head. "Nothing is clear, everything runs together, but at least I can pick out objects now." When Damon said nothing, he tried to gather the smaller man closer. "Honest, Damon, it will return. My eyes are better than last night."
"I know, just ignore me." Damon felt ashamed of his hesitation and he soothingly ran a finger down Brianhet's cheek.
Needing to be close to reaffirm his lover was real, Brianhet pulled the Atlantean into a tight embrace. Not caring if they were observed or not he sought the warm lips, exploring the offered mouth thoroughly. Releasing Damon eventually, he became conscious of the slight tremble in the other man and tightened his hold.
"Need you." He buried his face in the longish curls, kissing the exposed neck, smiling at the instinctive response.
Damon, knowing deep down that they both needed this, glanced around, half expecting to find two round, black eyes observing them. But the room was empty and the blanket in place across the entranceway. Wondering how long they would have alone, he breathed a sigh of relief and cuddled closer.
Feeling restraint leave the slim body, Brianhet placed a gentle lick bite on the tender skin, drawing the other man down with his weight to lie on the furs. He pulled back a little, keeping his eyes closed and picturing in his mind what Damon would look like sprawled beneath him. His breathing caught and his pulse quickened as he searched for the moist lips below him. The kiss was deep and demanding as vice-like fingers held him closer, a slender, taut leg trapping his lower body in near desperation. His senses swimming, all thought of his painful head and blurred sight vanished as he responded to the open need and raw emotion.
Breaking the kiss, Brianhet gasped for breath, urgently pushing the crumpled and stained tunic up to the Atlantean's shoulders, not bothering to remove it as he explored the exposed chest.
Warm lips touched Damon everywhere, devouring his sensitive flesh and he suppressed a whimper. Biting his lower lip until it bled, closing his eyes as tears ran down into his hair, he lay passively under the strong hands. Wanting, needing everything Brianhet could give, he raised his hands, resting them above his head, basking in the knowledge of his lover's possession.
Sensing the slight withdrawal, Brianhet lifted his head and skimmed a hand up the silky chest. The Atlantean was quivering and he suddenly realized it might not be from repressed passion and desire but from grief.
Quickly moving up, he clasped the round face between his own trembling hands, wishing fervently that he could see to read the distress on his lover's face.
Blinking up at the open worry in the pale features, Damon bit his lip harder, unaware of the pain. Brianhet's beautifully slanted brows were drawn together as the bright sapphire eyes struggled to see him. Gentle thumbs stroked the side of his face, noting the moisture and the brows drew closer together.
"Please. Talk to me."
"I..." Damon sucked in a short breath, eyes watering again, feeling he would burst with the joy and love he felt for this Egyptian.
"...just love you, that's all." His voice was croaky and sounded lame but he saw relief flood the other man's face.
"Oh, Damon, of all the fools, I thought I'd hurt you." Relief and exasperation colored Brianhet's voice as the simple reason sank in.
"You could never do that." The admission was quiet and sincere. Placing a gentle but firm hand over the back of the bandaged head, Damon encouraged the larger man closer, resuming the exploration. Their lips met, the contact tender, urgency gone as Brianhet tasted the blood, careful not to damage the lip any further.
"You're bleeding," he whispered into the open mouth.
"It will stop. Love me, Brin't."
Sitting up, Brianhet drew Damon with him, removing the torn tunic and underclothes, gliding his hands over well remembered and loved contours.
Freeing himself, Damon started his own exploration of the smooth chest, luxuriating in the feel of the well muscled torso, urging Brianhet down until he was completely covered by the strength of the Egyptian.
Unease and detachment had vanished from the smaller man, and Brianhet's senses sung in triumph and affection as he thrust his hips down, encountering the electric touch of welcoming flesh. Damon pushed up against him, intensifying the maddening sensation, parting his thighs to grip Brianhet's, pressing their erections together. The sweet sensation surged through them both and Brianhet muffled a moan in the damp neck, feeling the brush of springy curls against his cheek.
Fingers and nails raked his back, increasing the intimacy as Brianhet latched onto the much cherished mouth, feeding the growing need, increasing the rhythm and friction of flesh against heated skin.
"Egypt--" It was a half gasp. "Come in me?"
The thought alone almost finished the Egyptian as he thrust down harder onto the welcoming body, pressing Damon into the furs.
A single finger slipped down his cleft which was moistened with sweat, and rubbed his anus.
An insistent mouth covered the Atlantean's, stopping further speech, answering the half question as Brianhet poured out all his desire. The lips traveled to an ear and whimpered hotly, "too late." The words were unclear as Brianhet surged down again on the verge of climax. "With me..."
"No--" The cry was almost desperate and the green eyes opened wide, hands clamping on the sweaty flesh above him, trying to deny the other man's climax. "No!"
"Can't...almost there." It was a dazed sigh as Brianhet pushed down again, needing just a little more friction to trigger his climax.
"Brin't..." Damon tried to ignore the insistent stimulation, fighting his own body, knowing that he needed a more intimate contact, his whole being crying out for the possession. Raising his knees higher in an unconscious demand, he gripped the clenching backside, halting the persistent movements.
Only knowing that he was being denied, Brianhet's loins ached for completion and he raised his face, determined to drive his lover over the edge with him. Warm, short breaths caressed his skin as he breathed in the scent of the man beneath him.
"Damon?" His mind clearing a little, he rolled his hips, feeling the man quiver beneath him in response.
"In me, Brin't...please." It was a drawn out plea.
Cursing his failed sight yet again and wishing to see the beautiful, flushed face Brianhet bent down, kissing the side of the open mouth, biting the top lip. He knew the Atlantean was close and savored the warm, tingling pleasure running through his nerves. Picturing the open sexuality offered to him, he drew away a little and felt the legs slacken their grip marginally. Running an exploratory finger down the flat stomach he felt it quiver. They were both drenched with sweat and Brianhet drew back, letting his erection drop between the parted legs, feeling his way by instinct as a strong hand clutched his shoulder.
The slim hips lifted in desperate encouragement and Brianhet found himself seduced by the movement as his erection slipped forwards, slowly engulfed by warm muscle.
Groaning his pleasure, he was unable to halt its progress and pushed all the way inside as his groin muscles tightened in response. Hands bruising the narrow waist he pushed down hard, driving Damon along the furs as he buried his throbbing shaft deep in the hot warmth.
Demanding more, Damon arched off the bed, dragging the broader frame down, touching lips as he tried to open further. A deep growl heralded Brianhet's climax as he spasmed strongly in the tight channel, pushing Damon over the edge as well, until they lay in an exhausted heap. Regaining his senses, hot, sticky and immensely satisfied and happy, Brianhet slipped easily out of the captured body. Not possessing the inclination or energy to move, he waited until Damon had straightened his legs before snuggling closer, smiling blissfully into the other man's shoulder.
Damon lay still, waiting for the same waves of contentment to flow over him, feeling the loss acutely as his lover withdrew. The loving had been beautiful yet still he was plagued with an empty, hidden despair. The feeling was buried deep and he pushed it aside, trying to relax in the open embrace.
He felt as if he had been given a forbidden fruit, to be tasted only rarely, its sweetness addictive, only to have that joy and pleasure stripped from him. Holding the sleeping man even tighter, Damon fought sleep, scared for no explicable reason, oblivious to the silent tears running down his face.
Dymon leaned heavily against a stone wall in the shade, a hand bracing himself as he held his heaving chest, fighting a swamping panic and despair. Eyes darting nervously around, he tried to place his unease, uncommonly scared.
Controlling his breathing, he examined the cause. Very little frightened him, and even less caught him unawares, but the reaction must have originated from somewhere. Its intensity was so great that it had left him helpless and reeling in shock. Searching his surroundings again he was satisfied that the emotion had not stemmed from himself, which only left his twin. Lowering his mental barriers again Dymon felt a surge of lonely despair engulf him anew and shuddered. Damon must be very close, only once before had he felt his twin's distress so keenly. The reason for that distress then still plagued his dreams; he had never discovered the reason Damon had become trapped in that well so many summers ago.
There was only one possible cause for Damon's present distress in Dymon's mind, it had to be the Egyptian, for he knew the palace guards had not located his brother yet.
What puzzled him the most was why Damon had not even tried to escape from the pompous Egyptian. Everything Brynnene had said about the man indicated he was partially civilized--at least Damon was not kept in chains. Well, that didn't really count as Nedommerik had never chained him either, but then he had never expected Dymon to walk away, no doubt his attitude would have been different otherwise. Brynnene had displayed an extraordinary liking, even longing, for the Egyptian when she spoke of him, but then Dymon knew she would fuck anything on two legs.
He'd watched her this morning, unsteady on her feet, her eyes wide and glazed, she'd been all over Lan's personal aide. Luckily Lan hadn't been present, from the impression the aide had given, it seemed her behavior was nothing unusual.
Shrugging off the thought Dymon straightened, pulling his dignity around him as his eyes searched the surrounding buildings. An old African woman was to his far right, approaching slowly, puffing away as she half dragged a bag behind her. Her face was flushed and she looked ready to keel over at any moment, Dymon had to suppress the unconscious urge to help. Her face was kindly in appearance, white hair wrapped in a tight knot on the top of her head. Moving with patient determination to the house opposite, she rested often. A few children were running across fallen rubble, obviously enjoying themselves.
The sun was high and he squinted at its brightness, finding it to be early afternoon. He was on the opposite side of town, well away from the palace and ocean and the humid atmosphere was exhausting. Glancing down at his Atlantean clothing, the only tunic in his nation's colors he had left, he grimaced at its red tint. It would be better to wear something else, the palace wardrobes were extensive. While admittedly he didn't like Egyptians, they did make nice clothing. He'd change later, first he wanted to find his brother. Just needed to see him, satisfy a personal curiosity so he could dismiss him from his thoughts. If the reason was any deeper, Dymon refused to acknowledge it. He had survived till now without his twin, proving he didn't need him and would never need him. Why he concerned himself with Damon's whereabouts he didn't know, he should have been trying to secure a passage out of this little kingdom. He would, he assured himself, after he had seen Damon. Instinct had led him to this area, now all he had to do was wait. Maybe, just maybe, he'd see the Egyptian as well and settle the questions in his own mind.
Knowing he was going to wait, he settled on a small, stone ledge shaded from the sun's heat and watched with faint interest all that went on around him.
One child had succeeded in pushing another too far and there was a loud wail and flood of tears. Tunic trailing, the child ran into the waiting folds of a woman's skirt. No one else took any notice as they continued their daily comings and goings. The old woman was bent over, adjusting her sandal, as she leant the heavy bag against the wall of her house. Straightening, she seemed to consider a moment before leaving the sack and shuffling in through the hanging blanket.
A man obstructed Dymon's view for a moment as he led a horse along the road. Red dust clouded the air as the horse and rickety, old cart rolled slowly past, drowning out the noise of the still crying child.
Across the way the old woman re-appeared, a young man with riotous curls trailing behind her. Dymon had to look twice before he sucked in a startled breath. Damon, it had to be.
The old lady pointed at the bag, then made a sweeping gesture with her arms, the curly head nodded in understanding. Leaving him to it, she returned inside.
Finding himself standing and staring in open disbelief, Dymon had to check himself from moving closer. Damon looked bedraggled, his Atlantean tunic torn, stained and rumpled oddly at his waist, showing bare thighs. As if noticing his half undressed state himself, Damon tugged at the garment, pulling it down with uncoordinated hands. One hand strayed to wipe nose and cheek. He walked forward a few paces on bare feet and stopped, looking down. His expression was not clear to Dymon, who watched through widening eyes as Damon reached around and wiped the back inside of his thigh, lifting his leg a little.
Fists knotting at his sides, Dymon swore under his breath in Atlantean. The dishonor to their house hit him first as he saw all his suspicions confirmed. Damon looked like a bed slave who had obviously just been thrown out. An unwilling one at that, Dymon reminded himself as he thought of the tear-streaked face. His anger rose along with his indignation and protective instincts. They were twins yet he had always considered Damon to be the younger and incapable of looking after himself. This only reaffirmed the thought.
Eyes still locked on the untidy figure, he watched as the unsteady fingers tried to straighten the ruined clothing before lifting the bag and carrying it towards the doorway.
Dymon's lips peeled back in suppressed fury, his fists clenched at his side, incapable of moving. The old woman appeared in the doorway again, the grin on her face was obvious to Dymon even at this distance. It seemed clear to him that his brother was ordered around not only by the Egyptian but by the old lady as well. Well now, at least he had his answer to why he was bombarded with such strong emotions from his younger half.
His peace of mind and curiosity were no way appeased as he set brooding eyes on the blanketed doorway. He wanted a word with his brother, if only to knock some sense into that unruly head. This moment had been a long time in coming and there was no way to put it off any further. Next time Damon walked through that door he'd grab him. Dymon breathed a little easier as he finally accepted the unconscious desire, sitting down, he glared at passers-by.
Damon lowered the bag with obvious relief beside the open fireplace, wondering how Kireva had managed to bring it so far on her own in the first place. A toothless smile greeted him and she mumbled something in African before hurriedly starting to unload the goods, removing household items: some were broken, others looked in reasonable shape. No doubt she had visited the markets, buying items looted after the earthquake. It was a way of life here in Red City which Damon didn't want to ponder on.
Brianhet was propped up in bed, sipping a cool drink carefully and Damon went to sit near him, still needing to be close to his lover.
Kireva had found them wrapped tightly around each other and had not even blinked an eye, too excited in her purchases Damon guessed, as she literally dragged him out of bed. He assumed her haste was to stop other looters running off with her new possessions. Sitting on the bed, he arched his back, trying to ease the slight ache in his lower spine, smiling as he remembered its cause. Reaching over impulsively, he touched a still naked leg, reaffirming his presence to Brianhet. The smile he received was reward enough.
Brianhet rested his head gingerly on the stone wall behind him as he sat up in bed, gathering the top fur around his nakedness. He'd jerked awake from a pleasant doze to sit bolt upright at Kireva's intrusion, having forgotten her presence entirely until then. Covering his embarrassment had been difficult, made even worse by the fact his vision was blurred and out of focus and he couldn't understand a word she said. Damon seemed to though, for he had calmly climbed out of bed to do what it was she had wanted. Remembering the morning's events, he frowned. Their loving had been intense and wonderful but it was Damon's reaction that still troubled him. Nothing had seemed to go right for them since Andreas had left and Damon's moods had become unpredictable. The Atlantean seemed tense and edgy, making Brianhet nervous as he imagined Damon slipping away from him and he being unable to hold on to his lover. It was only a feeling, an impression, but still it nagged at him.
He had meant to talk to Damon, not fall asleep on him, maybe he could broach the subject when they were alone again.
Cool fingers caressed his leg and he was struck with the urge to gather up the smaller man and flee from whatever was troubling him. He felt Damon fidget and placed a hand over the one on his leg, keeping it there. Eyes directed at the blurred shape in front of him, he fought to pierce the haze and study his lover's face. The images were no longer black, grey and white but now splashed with brilliant colors which all ran together, confusing his mind even more. The channeled concentration made his head ache with renewed vigor, closing his eyes, he rubbed them with his free hand.
Damon remained at his side, but neither of them spoke and Brianhet found his own nerves were being affected by the Atlantean's moods. Kireva prevented any attempted communication Brianhet might have tried by wanting Damon to accompany her again.
His sight picked out touches of red gold as Damon leant towards him, warm lips touching his nose, then his mouth.
"Kireva has something she wants me to carry for her again. I won't be long. Will you be alright for a little while?"
"Of course. Just don't wander too far or lift anything too heavy."
"I won't. Besides, I need to find a new pair of sandals. My old ones have disappeared," Damon said reflectively.
Recalling the bare-footed man before the earthquake, Brianhet decided not to comment. If Damon couldn't remember then he didn't want to remind him. "Just don't be too long as I'll need to move around soon."
"Alright." Damon kissed him in parting again before joining Kireva at the door. She looked him up and down critically, clucking over what she saw. Frowning in disapproval, she handed him a coarse African tunic. Taking the point of her gaze, Damon obediently swapped his torn Atlantean tunic for the thick African one, trying to ignore its abrasive hardness against his skin. With one backward glance, he followed Kireva into the warm sunlight.
At the sight of his twin, Dymon rose, determined to confront the smaller man, and his mouth dropped in disbelief at the picture of Damon dressed in unflattering sackcloth. Gone was the small piece of identity he'd had left, replaced by a common beggar's garment. The degradation and shame immobilized Dymon and he spat out a series of Atlantean curses.
No one paid him any attention, Damon least of all, being occupied in pacing after the old lady, carrying an empty bag.
Beyond reason or willing understanding, Dymon promised himself that someone would pay for the humiliation and disgrace placed on their name. Watching his twin depart with smoldering eyes, he suddenly realized that confronting his brother would settle nothing. He grudgingly admitted that Damon probably knew no better, having lacked the education he had received. Eyes swinging back to the blocked doorway, a slow, malicious smile twisted Dymon's face. Maybe he could still redeem both of them a little.
Putting out a hand on the cold wall, Nebrianhet steadied himself. The floor was also cold to his bare feet and his legs trembled slightly as he balanced his weight. Squinting around, he tried to ignore the dizziness, determined to stay upright. He wanted to show Damon a little confident independence when he returned or his lover would continue to fuss around, treating him like a delicate bloom. Bracing his legs against the back of the bed he took two deep, calming breaths, glad when the nausea finally subsided and the flashing sparks in front of his eyes became less frequent. Pleased with himself so far, he carefully moved his head, trying to pick out objects, mainly his clothing as he felt very conscious of his nakedness. He should have asked Damon before he left but his mind had been occupied with other concerns.
The room appeared in muted shadows, darker than he had originally perceived it and with a jolting shock he realized he could only see out of one eye. Raising his free hand in instant panic he encountered the cloth bandage falling across half his face. With almost hysterical relief he removed the whole wrapping, dropping it on the bed behind him, feeling with gentle fingers the stinging wound on his forehead.
The pain was tolerable and only covered his scalp he realized with some relief. The deep throbbing ache inside his head had left him.
A white, piercing brightness assaulted his senses and he gazed through half open eyes towards the doorway, accustoming himself to the light. Fuzzy outlined images gave him a picture of the room's size and furnishings and he felt a wash of relief, knowing nothing stood between him and the doorway's occupant.
Haloed by the warm light, the man in front of Brianhet looked magnificent. The muted redness of his hair and whiteness of his sun-highlighted skin shone beautifully, commanding Brianhet's complete attention. Knowing instinctively by the stance and hair who it was, he relaxed utterly, smiling with loving affection towards the immobile man. Still conscious of his shaky balance and the cold, crumbling wall under his steadying hand, he raised his free hand, palm first in warm invitation to his lover.
Shocked by his first sight of the decidedly unsteady figure, Dymon stayed in the entrance, clutching the blanket. Being confronted by this tall, pale, well muscled man in front of him was the last thing he had expected. Even the flaunted nakedness had a stirring appeal and Dymon's scowl deepened a notch as he concentrated on re-establishing his anger. The simple beauty of the Egyptian's unpainted face was marred by hard concentration as the piercing, blue eyes searched him. Ignoring a sudden doubt, Dymon lifted his head, preparing himself for any foul-mouthed Egyptian obscenities, reminding himself that just because this man did not resemble Nedommerik, it did not mean he was any better. No Egyptian he had ever met or heard about to this day, seemed to possess any redeeming feature and Dymon's eyes narrowed to slits, knuckles whitening as he allowed suppressed hatred to consume him.
Preparing to take a step forward, he faltered as the outstretched palm opened to him in gentle invitation, mirroring the smiling, blue eyes. The short, black hair was untidy and at odds with the overall picture.
"Damon?" A faint uncertainty crept into the voice and across the gentle expression, stunning Dymon completely as it was spoken in Atlantean. Damon? But how could the Egyptian possibly think he was Damon? The callous insult hardened his wavering resolve as he remembered his twin's ratty appearance. He glared with renewed dislike and annoyance at the man.
"Little one?" His palm lowered, Brianhet sank back to sit on the edge of the bed, all his senses reaching out to the still silent man. "Lover?"
It felt like Damon yet why didn't he respond? Sudden doubt seized Brianhet and he cursed his blurred vision.
Dymon was speechless with outraged shock, more from the possessive tone and implication than the words. The Egyptian clearly believed him to be his twin, while his tone implied a deeper commitment than servant. He knew his stance and glare were having no effect, falling around the Egyptian as if he were blind. A building frustration drove Dymon forward and he advanced, waiting for the realization to hit the Egyptian.
Catching the blurred movement, Brianhet relaxed completely, releasing an uneasy breath, grinning lopsidedly. His own nerves were jumpy he knew, so he could imagine what Damon's would be like. Even so, he had never felt this distanced from his Atlantean before and it scared him. Leaning forward he felt for his lover's hand, becoming aware of the tension in the slim arm. Not releasing his hold, he ran his fingers lightly down the smooth skin to a tightly clenched fist.
"Damon? What has happened?" His face was open, his worry obvious as he tried to gather the rigid man closer. "By the Gods, but you are so tense. Tell me, please!"
His control slipping, Dymon let out a frustrated cry, snatching his arm and hand away from the gentle touch. Eyes alight with smoldering green fire, he stared in growing confusion and horror as he watched the poorly hidden hurt strike the other man at his withdrawal. The dark head lowered as large hands clasped painfully tight in the naked lap before the Egyptian looked up again, schooling his features. The projected compassion and understanding only added to Dymon's inner turmoil as he realized for the first time that the man's vision was indeed impaired. His angry response slipping into nothing he studied the hazed blue eyes, trying to ignore the panic he saw growing in their depths.
"I think it's time we talked, lover." The voice was unsteady and Dymon felt the effort and strain behind the words. "Something has been bothering you for a while and I just wish you would share it with me." The Egyptian faltered and stopped talking, taking a calming breath.
Speechless, Dymon did not move.
"I know I am useless to you at present with my sight gone but if you need to leave, tell me and we will go. I promise." The pain behind the words was almost tangible as a trembling hand reached out again in silent appeal. "Damon, you said once that this was a feeling you couldn't explain. I accept that but please, love, don't let it destroy us." The plea was heartfelt as the soft, husky voice caught on the last few words.
Dymon's mind was completely numb, hit by the powerful idea he was trespassing on very personal ground. The man before him was trembling with fear, holding desperately onto his hand as if it was the last fragile link between them. If Dymon pulled away now he knew he could--no, would--destroy the person in front of him. Abruptly his whole perception changed and he wondered, doubtfully now, who really controlled this unusual relationship, Damon or this Egyptian?
They were lovers, Dymon was positive of that, and the Egyptian's need for reassurance screamed out to him. But he hesitated, unsure how Damon would respond.
Relaxing his muscles, Dymon opened his fist and watched with almost detached fascination as their fingers entwined. The other's large, capable hand grabbed his waist and pulled him forward as the neatly sculptured head buried itself in his stomach with a mutter of relief. Uneasy and awkward, Dymon hesitantly touched the top of the black hair, finding the healing wound. Again he was struck with a sense of voyeurism as the Egyptian hugged him close.
Rethinking the situation, panic suddenly seized Dymon as he realized with a jolt that he didn't even know the Egyptian's name. Had to be Ne...- something. He frantically searched through his memories, recalling everything Brynnene had said. But it still left him blank.
The smooth head turned on his stomach, kissing his clothed flesh, sending odd sensations through him.
"What is it you sense? What has frightened you so?"
The calm, distorted voice did nothing to reassure Dymon.
"Damon, please. It cannot have been only the earthquake. Was it something Brynnene said?"
Dymon frowned down at that, listening to the mounting panic behind the words and wishing he was someplace else.
"Or Andreas? Damon, what aren't you telling me...were you warned...on The Hawk, or...Tellac? Was it him and his religion?" Brianhet continued, his words getting faster and more jumbled in his need to get everything out. "Just let me share it with you." The final words were forced out, Brianhet willing to accept anything as long as it would keep Damon with him.
Knowing he had to comment soon or draw suspicion on himself, Dymon tried to imagine what his twin would say, and failed dismally. Deciding to ignore the question about Brynnene, as he could not imagine what Damon would know about her, he picked up on the only other safe topic...Lan's pet religion. Opening his mouth to speak, he hesitated as he felt the naked man shudder in his arms. Alarmed, he looked down as two muscled arms snaked around his body, crushing the breath from him.
Brianhet clutched the slim form desperately, too aware of the rigid muscles and the quick withdrawal in the other man. He was scared, terrified in a way he had never experienced before as he failed to breach the mental and emotional barriers Damon had erected around himself. Not knowing the reasons he floundered, unable to understand how he could help, only knowing that his Atlantean was poised ready for flight as he stood jittery in Brianhet's arms. All his will was concentrated on keeping him there, wanting to stop him from leaving but helpless to prevent it.
He could feel Damon already running and Brianhet sensed the widening void growing between them, opening up to consume him in a bleak emptiness. If only he could reach just a small part of his lover maybe they could prevent any further damage before they were both lost.
He deliberately recalled the morning's loving, reliving the beautiful moment when he felt Damon deliver himself so completely into his arms. He also remembered the silent tears his lover had been unable to hide.
"Oh, little one, what went wrong?" His voice was lost in a private despair as Brianhet tried to bring them physically closer, rubbing his face in the softness of the Atlantean's tunic. Raising his head, he stared up with pain-filled eyes that were too bright, demanding a response: any response.
Confronted with such overwhelming emotions, Dymon's own face twisted in helpless anguish. Closing his eyes, he tried to focus on his brother but found himself unable to concentrate as the Egyptian pulled him forcibly onto the soft furs. Eyes flinging open in startled shock he read the other man's intention in the striking blue eyes as the parted mouth moved forward. He tried to pull further away but the Egyptian blocked his movements, firm, determined, yet gentle hands cupped his face as the handsome face moved closer, eyes closing.
Dymon froze in disbelief as the soft lips pressed against his, a wet tongue caressing his bottom lip. It could not be happening, he told himself. He had come in here with the sole intention of taking the Egyptian apart verbally, only to find himself pinned to a hard bed, probably in much the same manner as Damon had been earlier. It was with that thought that he managed to move.
Using his not inconsiderable strength, he pushed the Egyptian away and turned his head, needing to regain his own balance and perspective.
Brianhet only felt the rejection but he was beyond hurting, determined to keep Damon no matter what. He knew his little Atlantean, all he had to do was break the first barrier and he would be in with a chance. He was risking everything he knew, but Damon was far too precious to be allowed to slip away without some sort of a fight from him.
He felt Damon wriggle further away and get off the bed, no doubt starting to walk away. Without a second thought, Brianhet launched himself off the furs, staggering from his loss of balance, grabbing the man in front of him, holding him for support and a far deeper need.
"No--" It was a growl of frustration as Brianhet wrapped himself around the smaller man.
Dymon looked up, seeing the flared nostrils and realized for the first time how much bigger the Egyptian was as he felt his nose shoved into the other man's throat.
Sensing a slight victory, Brianhet sought the other man's mouth again, needing to taste the Atlantean. A movement behind him didn't even register as he concentrated completely on the man in his arms.
Dymon on the other hand saw Damon standing in the open doorway, eyes widening in disbelief and his own mouth slackened in momentary shock. It was then that the Egyptian kissed him.
Staggering at the sight of the naked back presented to him, Damon watched in puzzled betrayal as Brianhet kissed the stranger.
Wide, startled green eyes met wide, confused green eyes in a frozen moment.
Dymon broke the kiss and straightened, challenging Damon to comment.
A numbness consumed Damon, his heart fluttering in his constricted chest, an unvoiced denial dying on his lips.
Pushing against Brianhet's tight hold, Dymon was immediately on the defensive, focusing all his concentration on his twin. His brother's expression was completely empty, save for shock, and Dymon glanced at him, challenging a response. The skinny frame looked small in the lighted entrance, with hair overlong and the eyes extremely wide. The grey sackcloth hung loosely from the narrow shoulders with feet still unshod. A very unappealing sight to Dymon and he wondered how they could possibly be twins as he looked him up and down in contempt. He raised an eyebrow in malicious delight as he saw the now expressive face change from shock to disbelief, confusion, anger, then pain.
Damon's whole face crumpled as he half hiccupped a breath, watching through tear-filled eyes as the green eyed man in front of him slowly wrapped his arms around his lover's neck. It was a deliberate provocation which Damon felt he had lost the right to challenge when Brianhet tightened his hold with a sigh of relief.
Tearing his stare away from the entwined bodies, his wild gaze encountered Kireva making her way towards the house. Abruptly he threw himself from the doorway, running blindly, unnoticed moisture staining his cheeks. As a hurt animal would...he cried.
Kireva had watched curiously--for the first time in complete silence--as the two men had faced each other. Even to her failing vision she had thought at first she was seeing double, only recognizing little differences as she looked closer. The young, slim man in her doorway radiated depression and despair, yet maintained an openness she had found endearing; the other man was half blocked from her view, but the head of unruly hair and wide eyes were identical, only the openness was different--a fierce quality to it.
A touch of worry swamped her as she saw her pretty, young man flee and she shuffled after him, almost tripping over the heavy, marble board he had dropped in the dust outside in his haste to escape. Cursing loudly, she peered around, shading her eyes.
The byplay surrounding him was completely lost on Brianhet as he gratefully enfolded the suddenly willing man in his arms. Maybe now they could start to get somewhere. He buried his face in the warm neck.
Working so hard to provoke his younger twin, Dymon was momentarily thrown off balance at Damon's clumsy exit. Having forgotten the Egyptian still in his arms, the wet kiss to his neck startled him.
"Ssh, it's alright, just relax love." The soft whisper of sound caressed his vulnerable neck and he shivered involuntarily. Unable to disentangle himself without a fight, Dymon cast wide eyes back to the door but it remained stubbornly empty, not even the heavy blanket moved.
Never having been so closely intimate with a man before, Dymon tried to control his rising panic as his pulse raced and a light sweat covered him. In Atlantis there had always been so many women waiting on his pleasure that he had not even considered male loving until he traveled away from his home. Nedommerik had wanted him he knew, but he had never permitted the fat, heavily painted and overweight Egyptian too close. The one and only time Nedommerik had forced the issue, making Dymon lie with him, the Atlantean had fled, using Nedommerik's own personal knife to wound him, in pride more than anything. He remembered snatching the large, solid crystal from around the grotesque neck, breaking the fine, gold chain as he claimed that as payment for the Egyptian's insults. And now here, he found himself in much the same circumstances, only this time the urge to kill and run were gone.
Unconsciously he lifted his chin, closing his eyes as the moist lips continued to explore his jaw line, Dymon could no longer deny the pleasure of it.
With no warning at all they were both thrown off balance as the earth beneath their feet shook. Earthen pottery dishes crashed to the ground and heavy, red dust from the ceiling choked the air. Coughing on the dust, Dymon just avoided a heavy chair as it toppled over to lie still beside him when the tremor stopped. Climbing weakly to his knees, he blinked rapidly, trying to see around him. The dimness appeared even denser than before as he stood, uprighting the fallen chair to sit on it. The Egyptian moved even slower, sneezing a few times as he felt his way with his hands, searching the floor around him as if he had lost something. It was only then in the complete silence that Dymon heard his mumbled words and he winced, reaching forward to stop the blind man's search.
"Here." In the dust his own voice sounded muffled and he was glad, not wanting this man to find out his deception.
Strong fingers clutched at slender ones and Brianhet breathed a sigh of relief. At least they were both still alive and safe. Rising up on his knees, he felt for the bed and used that to lever himself up, insisting on pulling the other man to sit with him. Another quake, not as strong as the last one, but it was totally unexpected.
Is this, he wondered, why Damon was still so uneasy. Was Red City only now starting to suffer the after-shocks of the earthquake which had caused so much destruction. If so, these little tremors were leading up to something big, he concluded. His sight still poor, he tried to study the man beside him. The normally alive hair was covered in dust and Brianhet could just make out the side profile and he had to smile. Damon could be so stubbornly close-mouthed at times, panicking when he thought Brianhet would not understand. The lovely, little fool was probably still worried about his head injury. If that was all it was, they would leave.
"Is this what you keep feeling?" His tone was gentle but demanding attention and he saw the curly head turn towards him. His only regret was that he could not see the expression. "There is still more coming, isn't there?"
Dymon just regarded him with raised eyebrows, wondering if the Egyptian had received another bang on the head.
Sighing heavily, Brianhet rubbed at his strained eyes, wondering if Damon had lost his tongue. Now, finally understanding more of the problem, he could only hope his partner would return to normal when they both left the city.
"We were leaving before this whole thing started. If you could find me my clothing in this mess I'll see if we have enough gold left to buy a couple of horses."
Only knowing that he had been released from the possessive grip, Dymon quickly stood and surveyed the mess inside the room. The dust was clearing and he went to tie the heavy blanket back, seeing the people running and yelling outside. It looked like mass confusion, although there was little damage to be seen this time. Turning back, he saw the Egyptian standing and feeling his way slowly around the bed, cursing to himself as he stepped on broken dishes.
Going to him, Dymon pushed the other man back to sit on the furs as he quickly found what looked like the Egyptian's tunic. He also handed over the heavy belt with the leather purse.
Struggling into his tunic, Brianhet's voice was muffled. "We should be able to get horses from that old man again." His head emerging through the opening, he struggled to straighten the garment.
It was the first thing Brianhet had heard Damon say since he had come in and he stopped what he was doing to look up at the man poised in front of him. He still sensed an unease about the Atlantean but now it was tinged with a self-assurance which settled Brianhet's immediate worry.
"Alright," he said slowly. Before he could add anything else his lover had turned away towards the door, his outline lost in the brightness. Frowning, Brianhet had the vaguest of feelings that he had missed something important.
Running blindly on bruised and cut feet, Damon was unaware of anything around him as his mind whirled in painful confusion. He was having difficulty in separating reality from his nightmare world as washes of conflicting emotions kept bombarding him, eating away at his mind. Even now he was no longer sure if what he had just seen was real or if he had seen himself in a dream image.
Stumbling over the suddenly unsteady ground he fell to his knees, his confusion such that he didn't register the earth tremor. Oblivious to the pain in his legs he tried to stand, mind blind to everything but his grief. Pitching forward again, he collided with the ground, this time hitting his head. Momentarily stunned, he lay where he was before rising to his knees, shaking his head. Red dust distorted his vision as confusion broke out around him.
Two women in long tunics and skirts tripped over him and he was buried in a sea of bodies for a few breathless minutes before everyone untangled themselves. Standing on shaking and bleeding legs, Damon felt utterly and completely lost as he looked around with wide, unblinking eyes, pushing a heavy curl out of his face.
The red blanket of dust lay thick in the air, half suffocating him. Turning towards the nearest building he could see, Damon headed for it, needing something solid to lean against. Getting closer, he saw that it was not so much a stone building but a gathering of town folk, who seemed to be swaying in front of his eyes. A gigantic black man in a solitary loin cloth blocked his way. Staggering closer, Damon realized the man looked like one of the Palace guards.
Palace! Brynnene! Damon stopped dead in his tracks, a sudden chill driving through him as he remembered his lover. Brianhet! Where was his Egyptian? Swinging around abruptly, he started to backtrack.
"Brin't--" he called in a hoarse voice. There was something missing, it was like a vacuum in his mind and for the life of him he couldn't remember. Shaking his head harder, as if trying to bring the memory back, he only succeeded in increasing the pain.
A hot, sticky hand latched onto his upper arm and almost lifted Damon off the ground.
Half turning towards his attacker he met a black, dusty face. Struggling to get away from the restraining hand, he found himself being dragged backwards as his other arm was seized in an equally strong grip. Panic bubbling up in him, he kicked out desperately at his two attackers, trying to wrench his arms free, but to no avail. Yelling a string of Atlantean curses, Damon continued to fight: it was useless. Catching one of the guards painfully in the shin almost won him his freedom until the man backhanded him, sending another shaft of pain through his already tender head. Damon blacked out.
Grunting under the suddenly lax form, the guard easily lifted the smaller man putting him across his shoulder, letting the Atlantean's hands fall down his back. His friend just shrugged at him, hoping they had collected the right Atlantean this time. Following the smaller man from the market place with the old lady had been easy and they knew their King would be pleased with them.
His eyes immense black pools, Tellac jumped at every passing shadow. Crouched as he was in a cold, damp doorway, he eyed every figure suspiciously. The last few days had been a nightmare for him as the world literally shook and exploded around him. The Gods were indeed angry; he had only heard the Gods being this violent in old legends Mirabeth used to tell him. Everyone was now muttering in half-excited, hushed voices of the coming celebration and burning.
It was an exciting time for the City, heralding the time for replanting and rebirth; everyone could then relax and enjoy the cooler sun and warm rains. While most people looked forward to the celebrations, Tellac did not as he was forced to hide again, wondering if this would be the celebration of life when the Gods would call him forward into their fire. It was in uncertainty and shame that he hid, sniveling quietly to himself, watching everyone with an evil eye. It was also a time of starvation again as he had been robbed of all the Egyptian's lovely gold when the shaking earth had knocked him out. Waking to disorientation, he had found himself stripped of everything but his baggy, torn tunic, his new garments also taken.
Alone and feeling very sorry for himself, Tellac hugged his knees closer and tried to ignore his rumbling stomach. The sight of two beefy Palace guards made Tellac back against the cold, hard stone and he lowered his eyes, avoiding any possible contact with them. It wasn't until they had passed that he raised his head to glare at their muscled backs. His mouth fell open when he recognized the figure hanging down one of the broad backs.
It was Damon, the Atlantean. It couldn't be anyone else as no Atlantean traders were in dock and none of his people had such abundant red hair or such pale skin. The figure swung sluggishly, hair tumbling down, exposing a white neck and naked back. Shivering again, Tellac hoped the pretty Atlantean wasn't dead. Rising for the first time, he moved cautiously forward, driven by a curiosity which was greater than his fear. He trailed the men through the back streets of the city but it was only when they reached the Palace and Temple area that he stopped, watching from the shadows as he saw Damon taken to the back of the Temple's most holy area. Frowning in puzzlement over that, he carefully made his way back to his hiding place, wondering where the Egyptian could be. He was probably dead, Tellac thought sadly, recalling the first morning he had seen the two together in bed. He was sure nothing else would have separated them.
Leaning his head against the cold wall of his Palace room, Dymon breathed a sigh of pure relief. Never had any one person shaken him so completely before. The Egyptian was almost addictive and Dymon was equally appalled and ashamed at his own reactions. Even his tingling memory was pleasant, abruptly he thrust himself away from the wall, refusing to think about the man.
Straightening his disarrayed tunic, he realized how grimy he was and decided to wash and change. By the setting sun he knew dinner would be soon and he needed to be presentable. Besides, he reminded himself, he was the only surviving member of a wealthy Atlantean house. Damon didn't count.
Crossing to the water basin, his attention was caught again by the monks' ceremony in the Temple courtyard. He had seen the same thing for the last two nights but this evening something seemed different. Not being able to place the reason immediately, he stepped closer to his balcony. The sun was almost gone and all the dark robed monks bowed forward on hands and knees, their song growing louder as it approached its end. Abruptly Dymon realized that the central figure was absent. Lan was not standing in their midst, the round stone he normally stood on was vacant. Relaxing his concentration, Dymon breathed deeply as he placed the oddity, this was the first time he had even noticed the large stone. Studying it, he inhaled sharply as he saw the orange/red glow bathe its surface. Blinking, he wondered if it was a trick of the sinking sun's light. But no, it still shone, flaring up to rise above the stone in a powerful beam before vanishing.
Caught unawares, Dymon's mouth dropped open and he pressed further back against the shadows of his balcony. The monks all stood as if nothing had happened while the sun disappeared, taking what remaining light there was with it. Engulfed in the darkness, Dymon felt naked and he looked nervously back at the Temple courtyard, it was empty of monks and light. Leaning forwards slightly, he peered over the ledge and saw movement below. Two Palace guards stood at the side of the Temple's back entrance and a monk appeared. As the guard unloaded his burden at the monk's feet, Dymon felt a twinge of worry as he recognized his brother. Burying the feeling instantly, he looked away. He could not afford to involve himself in Damon's problems, he had enough of his own. Turning back into his bed chamber, he was annoyed to find Brynnene standing against his doorway. Swallowing his immediate angry retort he crossed the room to stand in front of her, hand on his hips.
She held a lighted candle before her, the single orange flame illuminating her face. Eyes extremely large and dark blue, she regarded him with a twisted smile. Her whole stance was eerie as she remained completely immobile, hair tied back tightly, emphasizing her gaunt features.
"So, you return." Her voice was utterly flat, the spoken words only disturbing the burning flame.
Watching its pattern Dymon nodded, trying to judge her mood.
"I suppose I should consider myself lucky that you didn't run off with that Egyptian." She tossed her head. "That is where you went, isn't it."
"I went to see my brother," he said slowly.
"You went to see Nebrianhet." Her eyes sparked suddenly before dulling again and she reached out a hand to him. He ignored her, thinking of the Egyptian, Nebrianhet. "It is of no matter now as you have returned to me."
Dymon avoided her fingers, seeing her as she had been that morning, fondling Lan's aide. His own mouth hardening, he glared at her.
Withdrawing the hand, she put it to her mouth and laughed, shaking the candle with her movement. The laughter was bubbly and uncontrolled, Dymon automatically took a step backwards, distrusting her.
"Oh, Dymon, do you think you could leave me, that I would let you?" She shook her head again, stepping forward. "I was betrothed to you by our fathers at birth."
"Times change," was all Dymon said, recognizing a trace of madness in her eyes as she stared at him.
"Never that," she said with conviction, smiling sweetly. "Besides, now I can give you my baby." She splayed her fingers in front of her abdomen in an unconscious gesture.
Dymon frowned at her with growing unease. Gone was the Brynnene he had known and talked with only the day before and he wondered at her change. "Your baby?"
"Yes. Two moons now. And I feel so alive." She threw her hand out, laughing again and Dymon caught the candle, setting it down. Icy fingers gripped his wrist and he turned to see disturbed, dark eyes. "You must take them. Back to Atlantis where it is safe. I do not want Lan to have them. You must promise."
"No, do not say it. Mother is always saying it. Don't you see?" Her expression opened even further and Dymon felt he was looking into a void and he had to draw back. Pushing her away, he tried to break her grip.
"Dymon, please." Her laughter had turned into open pleading and Dymon's senses swam with her mood changes. "Mother won't listen either," she said almost angrily.
"Sorrella?" Dymon watched the rapidly changing expression and shuddered in distaste. Anger overtaking him, he wondered what had been done to Brynnene that had so changed the fresh, carefree and spirited girl he had grown up with. She was like an empty shell, no longer the person he once knew and he wondered if it was only drugs which had stolen her mind and wits. Latching onto the only clear thought, he tried to regain her attention as she stared blankly at him.
"You spoke of your mother, Sorrella. But she is...dead on Atlantis." He hesitated about mentioned the point.
"Oh no, not yet. Not just yet." The words were strong with conviction as Brynnene moved her head in a slow negative. Dymon frowned as she stared at him, her eyes intent, forcing him to believe her.
Numbly he said the first thought in his head. "She's here?"
"But of course, with her Captain."
Well that was true enough, Dymon acknowledged. Sorrella had never gone anywhere without her personal bodyguard for as long as he had known her. "So why are you worried? If your mother is here then you have nothing to fear." Dymon remembered Sorrella's possessive behavior over her only child to her second marriage.
"You don't understand," the frowning woman almost wailed, hitting him with her fists. "She wants them too."
"What?" Totally lost, Dymon fended her off.
"My babies!" It was just short of a scream.
Dymon cast a quick eye over her figure, not seeing any indication of a child swelling in her tight gown. "Brynnene, this is child's play. Stop it." He raised his own voice. Stilling her movements she sagged forwards to lean on him, complete innocence on her face. "You cannot be with child, so stop this talk." Grabbing her bony wrists he held her away from him.
"But I am. I know the feeling, this will not be my first."
Shocked, all he could do was freeze as the knowledge fed into his brain. Wanting to question her further to discover the truth, he was not given time as Lan's arrival broke them apart.
The King's bulk was draped in silks, his brooding gaze settling heavily on Brynnene, totally consuming her. Raising a jeweled hand, his posture demanded her obedience.
Giggling to herself she went to him like a moth drawn to a flame, clinging to his hand for support and guidance.
"Come," was all he said. Turning, he swept his icy gaze over the immobile Atlantean.
Feeling burnt to his soul by the penetrating eyes, Dymon found he could not look away from the images those eyes inspired.
Lan ushered his wife away, leaving the Atlantean trembling slightly in the empty room, eaten up with a mixture of curiosity and fear. Knowing he had no real choice, Dymon tried to follow them quietly, his progress stopped at a guarded door and he returned to his own room, a thoughtful expression on his face.
Brianhet sat rigidly in the high backed chair, his watering sight glued to the doorway. It was too dark outside for him to see movement but still he waited for Damon to return. How long it had been so far he had no idea, the small earth tremors had thrown his timing completely. Kireva was nearby, mumbling to herself as usual--a low monologue of African that the Egyptian had grown accustomed to. He was worried that Damon was in trouble, or that he had run away. All his certainties were crumbling around him and the one person Brianhet could rely on no longer seemed to be there.
Wiping his eyes again, he strained to see but only blurred images remained. His focus shifting even more, he found Kireva standing in front of him, holding something.
She spoke to him slowly but still the language was unclear. Unable to watch her face, he could not even guess at the words and meaning.
Sighing impatiently the wrinkled hands pushed the object under his nose, causing him to draw back. Comprehension dawned and he grasped the stone mug firmly, sniffling its contents. She patted his shoulder but did not move, obviously waiting for him to drink.
The brew smelt sweet with a faint essence of herbs. Sipping cautiously, he found it very pleasant and finished it quickly, which pleased the old woman. Mildly amused, she left him sitting there with his confused thoughts.
His last clear image of his lover had been amidst the final moments before the first quake. Working his way back through the morning's events, he knew that Damon had been anxious and jumpy but that had been all. It had only been after his lover had returned from leaving a message with Brynnene that things started to go wrong. Maybe he had never made it to Brynnene, Brianhet pondered, scratching at the healing scab on his forehead. But no, he shook his head as if to mentally dislodge the thought, Damon had been everything he remembered when he had wakened without his sight later that same day. Mentally chasing the ideas and doubts only exhausted Brianhet more and he found his lids closing. Screwing his eyes shut, he tried to concentrate on his lover.
A hot hand under his elbow helped him to stand and he was stretched out on the furs before he knew it. Frowning over the sudden heaviness in his limbs, he vaguely saw the outline of Kireva's bulky form as she pulled the thick blanket across the doorway, blocking out the night.
Tiredness consuming him, he turned restlessly towards the bedside candle, its single, perfect flame almost hypnotizing him so that he didn't notice the elderly woman's presence at his side.
With what sounded like a muttered curse, she put out the flame with her fingers and his brain was left blank. With his eyes closed he could still remember the flame's warmth but now he could ignore it. Moving to get comfortable, he felt his lover's absence keenly and tried to recall why Damon wasn't by his side. Knowing there had to be a good Atlantean logical reason, he promised himself that he would sort it out in the morning. Right now he was far too relaxed and tired, the soft bed lulling him into sleep. Vaguely he wondered where Cressie was, usually the big cat hogged most of his bed. Falling into an uneasy dream world, he was chased by howling cats and a crying Atlantean.
Deciding to dress formally and present a totally self-assured front, Dymon rubbed his wet hair dry. Standing in front of the polished silver plate, he studied his sober features, trying to relax his racing pulse with slow, deep breaths. Knowing he must meet Lan at the evening dinner, he had discarded his filthy Atlantean tunic for a garment out of the King's own wardrobe. A servant had brought him a fine-textured, gauzy, white Egyptian robe which fell almost to the floor when worn. Examining the cloth Dymon was impressed, pulling it over his head and wriggling, watching the gauze folds fall elegantly into place around his tanned shins. The fabric draped his slim form to perfection and he chose a beautiful gold clasp from his trunks to fasten at his throat with a matching headband.
Dressed, he allowed the guards to escort him to the main dining area. The King and Queen were already present and Dymon bowed his greetings before he sat opposite the royal couple. Lan had his face painted this evening and had obviously changed since Dymon had last seen him. He shuddered as the heavy, silvered lids lifted to observe him. Brynnene was sitting next to Lan, clear eyed and alert as she smoothly handed food to her husband. No traces of the madness Dymon had seen in her eyes earlier remained and the puzzled Atlantean switched his gaze back to Lan. The King's mouth twisted at Dymon's confusion and he pinned the wide green eyes with no effort at all. Leaning towards the paralyzed Atlantean his thick lips lifted in a menacing snarl, revealing decaying teeth. With strong fingers he unclipped the finely crafted, gold clasp Dymon wore, rubbing his thumb over it in an almost sexual manner.
Bile rising in his throat, Dymon hid his distaste for the man and attempted to school his expression.
Brynnene just looked at him from behind Lan's back and smiled seductively from under her heavily painted lashes.
Lan remained leaning forwards as he fondled the gold, licking his lips, but never taking his eyes from the seated Atlantean.
"An item from your travels perhaps?" His tone was persuasive, his expression fierce and Dymon's fists knotted in his lap under the table. "A pretty piece, worthy as a gift to my wife." Withdrawing, Lan gave the gold to Brynnene but kept his attention on the silent Atlantean.
Watching him, Dymon was struck by the image of a python, coiled and waiting to strike. Having learnt politics from his father, he knew he had to remain outwardly calm and endure Lan's backhanded tactics.
"Yes, a worthy gift indeed, my Lord." His tone was even.
If Lan was disappointed in his response, he didn't show it. "Such wealth and with no kingdom to return too. It was truly..." he paused to look side on at Dymon through slited eyes, "a pity that your home was destroyed."
Dymon's teeth were clenched but nothing betrayed his response except perhaps the whitening around his mouth. "Yes," was all he said.
"But I expect you'll still want to be leaving soon, won't you?"
"I expect so," Dymon replied woodenly.
"Good. The Temple celebrations start on the next moon and I wouldn't want you to be caught up in them," again Lan stopped for emphasis, "accidentally." His smile never reached his eyes and Dymon read their message all too clearly.
"No, I'll inform you as soon as my arrangements have been made."
"Good." Lan relaxed back and reached for a goblet of wine. "Now, have you tried our wine?"
Presented with the sweet smelling drink, Dymon could only shake his head. "No." Sweating profusely, he rose to his feet. "If you'll excuse me, your Majesty, I will now return to my room." Bowing, he backed out of the large chamber as Lan dismissed him, and returned gratefully to his cool room.
Waking was painful and Damon groaned his way back to consciousness. Pushing himself on his elbows he blinked around at the enclosing gloom. A torch burnt low on the opposite wall and the room smelt damp. Confused and disorientated he tried to sit up and found the room spinning dangerously, his head pounding. Falling back onto his straw bed, he closed his eyes and swallowed against rising nausea. After a moment he cautiously lifted his lids, puzzlement outweighing his discomfort.
He was in a small, stone room. Sitting up straight, ignoring his head and nausea, he stared around with widening eyes. Reaching out a hand he touched the cold walls: it sent a shock of panic shooting through him. Shakily he stood and went to the door but found it tightly closed. He pushed against it with all his strength but it didn't move and he collapsed back onto it, pulse and breathing quickening, shuddering with unwanted memories. The nightmare of a cold, dark and damp well in the earth and being trapped forever in the changing shadows and eerily amplified sounds haunted him. Succumbing to the childhood terror, Damon whimpered once as he raised an unsteady hand to protect his face, sliding down into a corner. Huddling further into himself he refused to look up in case he saw those same huge, claw-like hands reaching down for him, crawling around him, smothering all the air.
Two solid weights landed on his shoulders and Damon exploded in uncoordinated shock, fighting the claws and mounting suffocation. A soothing voice didn't even penetrate his consciousness as the enfolding arms restrained him easily, lifting him as effortlessly as a child to sit back on the bed. Still lashing out in panic at unseen objects, Damon's mind was slow to return to reality; it wasn't until a stinging slap rocked his head that his vision cleared. Looking into the black cowled face, Damon tried to pull away, reality proving worse than any childhood nightmare. The other seductive voice was still speaking to him and Damon's head whipped around, searching for escape as the gentle, but firm hands restrained his trembling body on the bed.
"Calm. Relax little one. You are treasured by the Gods and have no need to fear."
Regaining enough of his mind to place the language as African, the words still meant nothing to Damon, falling on deaf ears. But the tone and small smile agitated him even more: the reason why suddenly hit him, crippling his movements as he recognized the smiling monk's face.
"No." His lips formed the shape of the word but no sound came out, his mind and body frozen as he stared into the dark eyes.
"Good, good," said the voice soothingly as a warm hand stroked Damon's face and hair before clamping over one shoulder, holding him firmly. Reaching into his robe the monk produced a small pouch tied with a narrow chain. Taking a small pinch, he placed it in a cup of water on the floor, stirring it slowly with one long finger.
Unable to suppress another shudder, Damon's eyes widened further. "NO!" his mind screamed but no more than a strangled cry emerged.
He jerked free of the restraining hand, struggling to untangle his legs. Unnoticed tears of fright stained his skin as he lashed out again, unable to escape the octopus-like embrace which pinned him to the black robed chest. Fingers biting and bruising, he pushed uselessly at his captor, his desperate struggles becoming weaker as hysteria crept closer.
"Brianhet!" he yelled, his lover's name coming from nowhere, startling him more than the monk as another piece of his confused memories fell into place.
Immobilized as he was by the stronger man, Damon felt the cold edge of a cup pressed to his lips. A firm, insistent hand on his face tipped his head backwards as his nose was pinched and he had no choice but to swallow the bitter fluid. The tangy taste of herbs caught at the back of his throat choking him but the liquid was forced into him until his mouth was numb and senses starting to swim. Gradually he lost all thoughts of resistance and lay sluggishly in the lap of the robed monk, fingers falling from the thick fabric of the monk's garment as his eyes closed.
He was positioned on the straw bed on his side, a gentle hand playing through his curls as the monk muttered something. Mind blank, Damon was oddly untroubled as he forced his lids up, watching the monk stand and move towards the burning torch. Taking something from the silken pouch again, the monk threw it in the flames causing the torch to flare briefly before dying. The air became heavy with herbs and Damon fought the seductive sleep, his eyes now wide as he stared into the pitch dark room. For a moment he felt nothing but a warm lethargy but slowly the walls started to creep in on him again. Trapped and trembling, he curled into a tight ball.
Brianhet awoke and felt remarkably relaxed and refreshed, until he opened his eyes and memory returned to him in full. Sitting up, it was a moment before he noticed that his sight had improved. It was not perfect but images were no longer blobs swimming in front of his eyes. Colors seemed exceptionally bright and he could not suppress his relieved smile.
He was alone and felt grateful for the old woman's absence, yet had to admit grudgingly that if it had not been for her last night, he wouldn't have slept at all, not with Damon still missing. That knowledge darkened his mood and he rose cautiously to his feet. The alarming tendency to over-balance and fall had vanished and he quickly found his sandals where Damon had dropped them yesterday. Putting them on was still a matter of trial and error but he eventually finished tying the soft leather.
Suppressing the questions hammering through his brain, Brianhet walked to the door with grim determination, first to find the Atlantean alive, then to drive some sense into that curly head. Pushing the blanket aside, he squinted out into the bright sunlight, lifting a hand to shield his eyes.
Not recognizing his surroundings he resigned himself to a long walk back towards the docks. Turning his back to the hills in the distance he headed for what he hoped was that area. The sun was already extremely hot and under its heat Brianhet started to sweat.
Dymon paced his room, stopping by the balcony. As his level gaze traveled between the Temple and the docks, he bit his finger knuckle in thought. No large ships were anchored at present and the one small vessel there, looked hardly sea-worthy, so he was stuck in this tiny kingdom with its pompous King. The thought made him feel better, even though he knew it to be inaccurate. There was more behind Lan than words, there was a tangible force and its implication both frightened and excited Dymon. He claimed no great knowledge about different religions, having grown up in Atlantis, but he knew power when he saw it. It was a tempting and seductive commodity and he was just as drawn to it as any other educated man would be. Power was power and Dymon envied any ruler with it; in this instance the balance felt wrong and made him wary. There was a definite aura surrounding Lan when he performed his religious rituals and Dymon hesitated to put a name to it. Also, Lan seemed to have the most peculiar effect on Brynnene. Dymon was certain he had seen madness in her eyes the day before, yet today and at dinner last night she was perfectly normal: almost too normal. In fact, everything she did reminded him vaguely of someone else.
The concept was outrageous but Dymon had the chilling suspicion he was right. There was too much going on in this city and he wanted none of it. He was also undecided about his brother. Lan made his skin crawl and for that simple reason alone Dymon decided he should help his twin. Not that he believed his brother deserved help, it was more a matter of the family honor. If the reason went any deeper he refused to think about it.
Lowering his own barriers he tried to think of Damon but for some reason could not feel him. Troubled, he tried harder but still the link remained dead. Startled and worried, he looked back towards the Temple. Its tall towers lay bathed in sunlight and beyond it Dymon could just see a gathering of people placing what looked like wood and straw in the center of a field. No doubt this would be for the ceremony Lan had mentioned last night. Swallowing, he breathed a slow breath, trying to work out why now, after all these years, he could no longer feel his twin. Refusing to think of the most obvious reason, Dymon tried again.
Waking with a pleasant tingling in his nerves, Damon tried to burrow deeper into the mattress. Cramped muscles prevented his continued sleep and he grimaced in pain as he straightened his legs. He was wonderfully warm and quite prepared to drift, if it hadn't been for the tickling sensation across his face. He brushed it away with his hand, only to have his hand captured and held down lightly by his head.
Eyes snapping open, Damon blinked up at a grinning monk. Remembering all at once he froze momentarily before lashing out with feet and fists. The monk just laughed at him, his eyes gleaming as he subdued the violent protests with ease. Resting on top of the heaving chest, the man studied the angry, green eyes and flaring nostrils with interest.
"I have never had a green eyed man-child before." The African words meant nothing to Damon but he did not care for the tone. "You are definitely worthy of the Gods." The comment was whispered as a long finger traced Damon's cheek and mouth.
Damon turned away from the caress and renewed his struggles to free himself but it was useless. Falling back onto the mattress, breathless and aching again, he glared up at his tormentor. The monk simply shook his head and smiled.
Looking for some other means of escape Damon craned his neck. He was still locked in the small cell and his mouth suddenly went dry. The torch was burning again: seductive, it held his attention, the small, grimy cell seeming less important all of a sudden. Eyes growing greener as his pupils contracted in the light, he felt the firm grip release one of his hands. But the torch's flickering flames were too fascinating for him to be able to concentrate enough on moving his freed hand.
The flames spiraled and danced, holding him prisoner in their spell. Strong hands lifted him until he was sitting and he sagged heavily against a warm object. His fear of cells seemed only minor now, as did the reason for his being here.
A cup was pressed to his lips and he frowned, smelling the herbs and tried to connect the thought. A warning in the back of his mind was screaming at him and he sluggishly recalled the previous night. Turning his head on willpower alone, his eyes still followed the flames as his hands pushed feebly against the heavy fabric of the robe as the monk's gentle fingers cupped his chin, forcing him to drink.
He managed to spit the first mouthful out--a small victory--but then found his head tipped back and his nose held again. Spluttering achieved nothing except to hurt his throat more but he still fought every inch of the way until he was incapable of even remembering why he was fighting. The darkness of sleep was welcome.
Stumbling for about the fifth time in succession Brianhet conceded that he was tired, lost, fed up and his head ached. The task he had set himself that morning had seemed easy and uncomplicated, but as the day wore on he was still no nearer his objective.
The dock markets as he had known them no longer existed; half the dock area had vanished into the sea, a point he was glad someone had mentioned to him, otherwise he might have followed it. He had also discovered that the sun's glare had not helped his returning sight, everything was not only out of focus but shimmering white as well. Disorientated and unsure as to which part of the city he was actually in, Brianhet confronted some of the traders when he came upon the market. Speaking in slow Atlantean he asked about his lover, receiving either no response or a jumbled African negative. Patience slipping, he felt frustrated and hard done by.
Damon had to be around somewhere, it was impossible for a man, particularly an Atlantean, just to disappear. Even finding by chance the old man who had originally sold him the horses had not helped; he had denied knowing them both.
Sitting heavily on a small stone ledge, Brianhet glared at his surroundings. His knees were sore from where he had fallen and the fruit he had bought earlier that afternoon was squashed. Extremely worried and apprehensive he decided the best thing to do would be to go to the Palace and ask for the King's help.
Nothing, he reassured himself, should happen to Damon here as they were well away from his father's influence. His protective instincts still sprang to life when he remembered how far Sir had gone, almost killing his lover three times. But Red City was free of that, maybe he was just getting himself worked up over nothing.
Damon might have returned to the old lady's place by now, looking for him. It was a pleasant thought but even if Brianhet believed it, he doubted he could find his way back there. Standing, he ignored his rumbling stomach, deciding to go straight to the Palace. If things came to the worst at least he should be able to spend the night there. The night streets of Red City with its whores, thieves and homeless were not something Brianhet desired to experience even for one night.
Straightening his shoulders he took a few steps forward, his hand straying to the concealed pouch at his waist. At least he had some gold left to buy lodgings if the worst came to the worst. That was not his main concern however, Damon was, and he was quite prepared to continue searching for his lover for as long as it took.
He strode through the Palace courtyard with a face like thunder, all the servants avoiding him. He was in a fine rage, eyes glittering cat-like, face flushed with anger emphasizing his damaged cheekbone. Long steps carried him rapidly through the sun warmed area. The setting sun touched his hair making it appear even redder.
Lan had gone too far this time and Dymon's quick temper had snapped. No longer did he think of the niceties and courtesies drummed into him as a child, he conveniently buried his instinctive fear of the man, allowing his temper full flood.
Returning to his room that evening he had found his personal trunks raided. That was enough of an insult to begin with and it had taken Dymon a moment longer to discover a few of his precious stones to be missing: one in particular that he wanted returned immediately. He had quickly cornered Lan's personal aide, learning nothing from him, except his sudden and convenient lack of understanding of the Atlantean language. That had only frustrated Dymon more and he had pushed the irksome, smelly man away as he'd spun on his heel, determined to confront the King himself. Mind furiously reacting, he navigated a corner too sharply and cannoned into a solid figure.
Only looking as far as the simple white tunic of the Palace staff, Dymon thrust the man back.
"Get out of my way," he snarled, dismissing the figure rudely. It wasn't until the vice-like grip clamped onto his arm that Dymon swung round with a vicious retort. The words died quickly as he saw the man restraining him. They shared the same Atlantean coloring and Dymon was startled to see it was Sorrella's bodyguard.
The other man released him, smiling lopsidedly as he saw the wide, green eyes widen further in recognition. "Dymon. Not expecting to see me were you."
"Captain..." he blurted stupidly, vaguely remembering Brynnene mentioning something earlier about her mother being here.
"Yes, well it has been a long time," the man continued, a small twinkle playing in the clear eyes: eyes that were wrinkled in a tanned face.
"Over five summers," Dymon said absently. "But yes, Brynnene did mention something about her mother being here."
"Did she now?"
Dymon only nodded, seeing the open amusement and not liking it.
"Well, if you'll excuse me." He half turned away before stopping to add one more thing. "Do give my regards to Sorrella." It gave him some satisfaction, knowing it would get right up the woman's prying nose.
The older Atlantean just shrugged and paced after the slim figure as Dymon strode away. They walked in silence for a few seconds and Dymon felt the Captain's knowing eyes on him. He clamped his teeth, sure the questions would be coming.
"So what's activated your hot temper this time?" The voice was mild with only a hint of curiosity coloring it and Dymon found it easy to resurrect his anger.
"Lan." The word was closer to a growl as Dymon increased his pace, hoping the guard would leave him. He should have known better.
"Ah..." the word was drawn out in amused understanding, in a way that never failed to irritate Dymon, something Sorrella's personal bodyguard had been capable of doing to him since childhood.
Stopping abruptly, he turned to face the older man, ignoring the polite innocence he saw on the round face. "What are you doing here anyway?" he demanded changing the subject.
"Sorrella wanted to oversee her daughter's wedding. I escorted them both here."
"But that was seasons ago, why didn't you go back." Even to his own ears his voice sounded accusing. He had been sure as a child that the Gods had sent the Captain to be his personal demon and now he found the man alive and here again in Red City.
"Brynnene wasn't...well before the voyage." The guard hesitated, ignoring the acid tone as if he was used to it.
Dymon frowned at the hesitation and queried: "Wasn't well?"
"Mothers will be temperamental."
Dymon snorted at that understatement. Sorrella was one of a kind, manipulative, scheming and power hungry. Everyone had said her second marriage to the rich Lord Bryman had been solely for his money and she had only given him a child to keep the rumors down; Brynnene her last child and the most cherished--if Sorrella's other children were to be believed. Andreas, her second eldest son from her first marriage, had preferred a life at sea after his father's death, choosing to spend seasons away rather than returning home. Doric, her first son had inherited everything, which had been a bitter pill for Sorrella to swallow at the time as she was left with nothing under the Atlantean law when Doric junior turned fifteen summers.
Being a widow with four young children had not been her plan, especially a poor widow, so she had married again. It had taken her many long summers to convince Lord Bryman of marriage--or so Dymon's mother used to say.
Dymon had grown up, five summers older than Brynnene, knowing that one day he would marry her. It had been their fathers' wish. That had been fine, until Sorrella had made his life a misery. The dislike was mutual so Dymon considered it a personal insult to find Sorrella and her personal bodyguard both in Red City. Her death had been his only consolation in the tragedy of Atlantis' destruction. Now he learnt it had been mere wishful thinking.
"So, do you know where Lan is?" He scowled at the guard, daring him to make another telling remark, but the Captain remained unaffected by the green-eyed glare.
"In his Temple. He spends most of his time there."
"I might have known," Dymon muttered. "Why haven't I seen you before now?" I've been here several days and not once has Sorrella attended the evening meal."
"She has not been herself recently."
Dymon's eyes narrowed. "That's not unusual."
"I know, but I'm not saying anything that she hasn't already said about me," he finished acidly, facing the guard squarely. "Do give her my fondest wishes," he continued with heavy sarcasm, knowing it would not be lost on the older man.
"Dymon, this feud between you two is not good and I do think that it is up to you to end it, as Sorrella won't."
"Me," he spluttered in outrage, cutting the quiet words off. The Captain nodded seriously.
"Why? I didn't start it. She's the one who accuses me."
Finding himself shouting, Dymon stopped, gathering his control back around him. The memories were still bitter and painful and he doubted if he could ever forgive or forget. Looking up, he found the older man watching him with a mixture of sympathy and understanding; he ignored both emotions.
"I'm too busy for this Captain. Besides, it's an issue that doesn't concern you." He drew himself even straighter, hardening his voice. "I won't say it was a pleasure seeing you again." Turning away sharply, he stalked off, leaving a very thoughtful man behind him.
Dymon walked until he knew he was well away from Sorrella's loyal guard. Seeing him had been a shock, bringing back a host of unwanted, bitter memories. Fighting to expel the depression they brought, he forgot about his anger as he sought refuge in the small, beautifully blooming Atlantean garden, seeking its calming effect. It was pitch dark when he reopened his eyes and realized he was cold and that he had probably missed dinner.
Damon shivered as the cooling water dripped from his hanging curls onto his still damp shoulders. He was sitting naked on a flat ledge, rocking slightly, a small smile playing across his lips. The torchlight in front of him was seductive as it lay temptingly out of reach and his mind weaved impossible plans, filled only with the single desire promised by the flames. Around him he could hear voices but he paid them no heed, ignoring them as easily as he ignored the dark robed figures. Nothing existed except the loving touch of the light and his pupils remained dilated, unblinking in their worship and surrender.
A heavy, white cloth landed on his head, falling in front of his eyes, it took a moment before Damon stilled. The darkness was oppressive and terrifying and he screamed, pushing at the cloth as firm pressure was applied to his head.
Trying to jerk away, he was immediately held tight and the cloth lifted, flooding him in the warm brightness again. Taking a shuddering breath he calmed. Gentle fingers stroked his cheek and along his jaw and Damon started to rock again, mind blanketing out the abrupt panic. The dark monk crouched in front of him, cupping the smooth face as he wiped the fresh tears away. Damon did not even look at him, hugging his chest with pale, thin arms.
It was easy to ignore the words spoken to him and the heartfelt sighs as the monk carefully began to dry his hair with the coarse cloth.
The flame's glow softly caressed his mind and Damon's body responded, trembling as he was engulfed in the feeling of completion and love. The emotion conjured up a face in the firelight and Damon's rocking faltered. Frowning a little he tried to pin the memory down, his mind automatically searching for an answer. It was there on the edge of his conscious memory but the light was too strong--blinding--and he lost it again.
The cloth was removed from his hair and rubbed over his body before long fingers returned to untangling his curls. He obeyed willingly as the hands encouraged him to stand and he was dressed in a brief loin cloth, before being led to sit on his soft straw bed. Everything seemed unreal to Damon, but pleasant; he had lost track of where he was, how long he had been there and even whether it was day or night.
A sharp voice to his right pierced his clouded mind and again a spark of recognition struggled to surface. The voice was familiar, but even that failed to break the spell of the drug and alluring light. A firm pressure on his shoulder massaged his neck and Damon dismissed the talk around him as he lifted his knees, hugging them. Slowly he started to rock again.
"He is ready." The comment was an observation, Lan's thickly painted face studying the swaying man. The look of docility amused him and his mouth twisted with evil delight. Linking his fingers, he rubbed his thumbs slowly together.
"Almost, my Lord." The tall monk's cowl was pushed back, showing his face clearly in the muted light. His own excitement and anticipation mirrored that of the King and High Priest.
"It will be full moon at our next sunset, everything has been prepared. If he is not ready then, kill him Narkann. Do not fail Suitur." Lan's black eyes speared the monk who showed no outward sign of anxiety, except the tightening of his fingers in a possessive gesture on the warm flesh of the Atlantean's shoulder.
"He has had three doses already, I will give him his fourth at sunrise. He is yours completely to control, only the dark holds a faint memory for him still. But even that shall be destroyed before sunset."
"Good." The King nodded with satisfaction as he drew his black, satin robes further around him. "I will leave it for you to plant him in the crowd at the ceremony of cleansing and rebirth. Do not take any chances, make sure he goes into the fire." The hooded eyes closed once before their gaze resettled on the slender young man. His Atlantean features were serene, face and body lit a warm honey color in the firelight; Lan was oddly reminded of his wife. Casting the vision from his mind he swung his cape out, its billowing causing the flames to dance in an agitated manner. The Atlantean moved restlessly but Narkann's hands soothed him quickly.
"It is as Suitur wishes." His voice was toneless as Lan turned away, his mind already looking past the ceremony.
The people needed the sacrifice, he had heard the whispers of his subjects and knew they somehow blamed the Atlantean for the earth's trembling. He had not hesitated in making it known that Damon had violated the Temple and the Gods were angry. It would please the people to see the God Suitur call him into the flames. It would also please Lan as the young man had already seen too much.
It had been his intention when sending The Hawk trader away that the Atlantean and his Egyptian friend would leave also. Brynnene had been disturbed by their visit and with Lan's plans so close to completion he could not tolerate any outside interruptions. Brynnene had been difficult enough to control without another shipload of Atlanteans arriving to destroy it. Of course it had not all gone wrong, the old woman had been an added bonus.
Carefree, wild and hooked on pleasure, it had been easy for Lan to seduce his young wife with the drugs of Red City. A herb unique to this part of the desert had been used many times in the past to capture foreign vessels docking here. But now he used it for a different purpose. Brynnene had become quickly unstable under its effect and the resulting insanity lurked in her eyes. If it hadn't been for the old woman, Lan could have lost her completely to madness by now.
Sorrella... Thinking of the half crippled woman Lan paused on the stone steps leading to his holy courtyard. Bitter, cunning, manipulative and clever, she had caused him a few initial worries. He had sought her death not long after her enforced stay but her personal bodyguard had proved too resourceful, so a compromise and terrible bargain had been made, draining Lan of his power and Sorrella of her mind.
Leaning heavily on the stone wall, Lan peered up into the lightless sky. It would be sunrise soon. He started to climb the stairs again, considering his plan. The drug Brynnene took was addictive and only a little different from the one used in the Temple but just as fatal in its own way, but while using Sorrella's willing mind Lan was able to keep his little Queen sane and whole, until he had from her what he needed. It had been easy to promise the older woman a new life through her daughter as it was what she so desperately wanted, the process of transfer killing her body a little more each time, until only her shell would remain. What she didn't know was that once she was dead nothing could halt Brynnene's slide to insanity and her own implanted mind would be swallowed whole in entombing madness.
Reaching the empty courtyard Lan laughed. He would only need them for a few more moons, then the next ceremony of cleansing and rebirth would find Brynnene going into the fire.
Throwing his head back he laughed harder as he tiredly stepped up onto the rounded center stone. Raising his hand high above his head he was rewarded with the thrill of excitement and the renewing power surging through him, refreshing his soul.
Nebrianhet rubbed the final remains of sleep from his eyes as a sour-faced woman placed corn bread and sweet water rather more heavily than was necessary on the small table. Having already parted with two gold coins for this lodging the previous night, the Egyptian was less than enchanted with the woman's manners or service. Not bothering to comment because he knew it would fall on deaf ears, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed, searching for his sandals.
It had been a horrible night, restless dreams waking him to worry about his lover. Nothing, he swore, after this was going to keep his Atlantean out of his sight again. He laughed, mocking at his own thoughts and rubbed his eyes again, waiting for his vision to settle. It was marginally better but he still longed for the clear crispness of sight.
Rising slowly to his feet he massaged his stiff back, missing more than anything the soft mornings of waking he usually shared with Damon at his side. Clamping his jaw shut tight he refused to allow the emotion to engulf him, closing his eyes, denying the tears so close to the surface. He hurt, the deep, constant ache stubbornly remaining in the center of his chest, his only companion for the last two nights.
Having failed to see Lan the previous day Brianhet was determined to speak with the King today. He was sure to find the Palace this morning and learn something: anything would help. It was the utter lack of knowing that terrified him most as his imagination was not slow in providing possible reasons for Damon's disappearance.
Finding his hunger lacking, he pushed the bread aside and sipped the tepid water. His coordination and balance were improving but he didn't dwell on the fact as he left the crumbling establishment.
Squinting around once he was in the open street, it was not hard to distinguish the Palace and Temple. They were the tallest and most magnificent buildings. He remembered when they had first arrived how the city had held an exotic beauty; now its sight only sickened him and he longed to be as far away from Red City as possible. Feeling his nose tingling he reached for the square of cloth he kept in his belt. He untangled it just in time as he sneezed repeatedly. He hated dust. His mood changing, he felt distinctly disgruntled and more than ready to have a few words with Lan. Now all he had to do was navigate the illogical streets.
Tellac jumped then relaxed, falling back against the wall and wiping the sweat from his dirty face. The shadow was his own but still he couldn't help cowering in the half hidden alcove. He had recognized the all too familiar activity of the gathering people, there would be a feast soon. Even at the thought his stomach convulsed--and not from hunger. The burning would be that day, as soon as the bright fiery sun sank over the blue seas, as blue as that beautiful Egyptian's eyes. Where the thought had come from Tellac had no idea and he shook his head in disbelief as that same man appeared around the corner of the house in front of him. Clutching the torn rags he was wearing tighter to his chest, Tellac's eyes almost fell out and he shrank further into the shadow. He was terrified that the Gods could produce the object of his thoughts so easily. Shaking in growing horror, he hid his face, his mind filled with the single burning truth that the God Suitur would call him that night.
Only half masking his muffled sobs of anguish, Tellac missed seeing the Egyptian trip over a low stone ledge, falling to his hands and knees.
Swearing and cursing loudly, Brianhet climbed angrily to his feet, his face set in a hard scowl as if challenging anyone nearby to comment. Not hearing anything, he glared determinedly at the still distant Palace. His frustration boiling over, he knew himself to be no closer to it. Exasperated, he sneezed again. Stubbornly he continued on his way, grimly set on getting to the Palace one way or another.
Dropping his hands Tellac tried hard to accept his fate, knowing he had no real choice. If the Gods wanted him he would be unable to refuse. Still, it did little to appease his anguish and chilling fear.
Looking around, half curious to see if the Egyptian was still there or whether that had just been his overworked imagination as well, Tellac was not surprised when he couldn't see him. Fighting back new tears, he peered hesitantly around the stone wall he was leaning on, his dark eyes rounding further as he recognized the back hobbling away from him. He wondered if the tall man knew his Atlantean had been taken by the Palace guards. The image of the two men entwined that first morning rose to haunt him and impulsively he got to his feet. Flinching back as someone else walked past, Tellac fought his fear. Maybe the Egyptian could help him if he asked. His mind made up he started running on shaking legs to catch up to the broad figure. Dodging in front of him, Tellac looked up at the grim face and faltered.
Looking briefly at the figure by his side, it took Brianhet a moment to recognize the Atlantean word before he placed the dirty face: Tellac.
"Tellac!" He gripped the young boy's shoulder. Just the person he needed. "Tellac, am I glad to see you." He softened his tone as he sensed the boy was poised for flight. Pinning on a crooked grin, Brianhet tried to appear relaxed.
"And where have you been hiding, my little friend?' He felt the African boy almost jump at his words but ignored it, keeping a firm hold on the skinny shoulders.
"The burning is at the sinking of the sun," was all Tellac said by way of explanation.
His own mind still too full of his own problems, Brianhet didn't place the relevance of that remark, dismissing it as he leaned closer to the upturned face. His sight wasn't perfect but at least this close the features were recognizable.
"Tellac, listen," he paused, licking his lips, "I'm looking for Damon. You remember Damon, don't you?" At an enthusiastic nod, he continued: "I need to find him, have you seen him?"
"The King's guards took him to the Temple," Tellac said immediately.
As Tellac began to repeat the words, Brianhet placed a restraining hand over the open mouth, stopping him.
"Why?" He did not expect Tellac to answer that thought but he felt a thin shoulder shrug under his hand. "Take me there."
Brianhet only just stopped the boy from escaping his hold, gripping his arms in an unbreakable hold. "Tellac!"
"No!" The boy was struggling to pull free, repeating the word over and over again.
"Tellac, stop!" When that had no effect Brianhet shook the boy hard, unbalancing himself in the process, they both ended up on the ground.
"Tellac?" he demanded. Large, black eyes stared at him in fright. "Tellac, please, I need to get to the Temple."
"No." Tellac started to shake again.
"Why?" asked Brianhet more gently, forestalling a repeat of the previous outburst.
"They'll take me!" It was a pleading wail.
"Who?" Brianhet was totally lost.
"The Gods!" Even through his anguish Tellac sounded indignant.
"Oh." His mind suddenly supplying details from previous conversations, Brianhet tried a different approach. "Well just take me as close as you can. Please Tellac."
The young boy looked decidedly unhappy, his mouth turning downward.
"I can't see properly Tellac. I've lost my sight so I can't get there by myself. I need you. Damon needs you."
Rubbing a filthy hand across his eyes and nose Tellac reminded Brianhet of another time when he had watched his lover do the same thing. Feeling a sudden despair overwhelm him again at the memory, his face must have mirrored his thoughts.
Tellac came to a decision. "I'll take you some of the way."
Breathing a sigh of relief, Brianhet allowed the boy to lead him.
Dymon remained in his rooms all morning, watching with a mixture of apprehension and unease as the city's peasants gathered in the barren fields beyond the Temple. Rising early, just after sunrise, he had seen Lan briefly in the Temple courtyard, arranging some items before leaving. But the Temple stood silent, even the few monks he had become used to seeing were absent but an air of expectancy hung around its walls.
Wrapping his arms around himself he shivered and worried his bottom lip in thought. Something was terribly wrong but he was unable to place what it was. Running his glance back to the gathering people, he watched the spiral of straw and wood grow; already it was the size of a small house. He had tried asking one of the servants what was going on but could learn nothing of relevance. All he knew was that there was going to be a religious ceremony. Lan had mentioned a festival two nights ago and Dymon's suspicions grew.
Remembering Lan's cryptic warning he wondered what it had meant. Skin prickling in a cold chill he remained standing in the warm pool of sunlight as his eyes turned to scan the ocean. The ship he had seen on rising was still there and it was getting closer. By the speed which it was traveling Dymon guessed it would reach Red City by nightfall. If all went well, he would be gone by dawn tomorrow. Even that thought failed to warm him. For the first time in days he wondered about his twin.
Brianhet stopped and peered around the stone wall at the street Tellac indicated.
"At the end of that way, you'll see the Palace."
Brianhet looked again but all he could see was a jumble of stone and mud houses. He couldn't even see a road. "Where?" he asked, turning back to his nervous guide.
"Over there," Tellac stressed, trying not to raise his voice. He gave the Egyptian a push.
"I can't see anything," Brianhet protested. "Tellac..." he warned as he felt the urgent push. Having gathered that his young friend was genuinely terrified, Brianhet had tried to remain patient but it was difficult when he knew himself to be so close to his lover yet so far distanced by his inability to see properly.
"I must go now."
"No." Brianhet made a grab for the boy again, holding him more by luck than judgment. Restraining him with ease, he waited for Tellac to stop struggling.
"I can't go any closer, I can't!" the child wailed, pleading through big, tear-filled eyes with the Egyptian to understand.
Brianhet made out the face close to his but failed to see the tears. "Just tell me why," he said slowly and calmly. "Maybe I can help."
"You will take me with you," Tellac said in a sort of wonder. "Now." All his struggles stopped, his face filled with new hope and he hung onto the Egyptian's tunic.
"Eh?" Bewildered by the sudden change, Brianhet fought to keep up with the shifting mood and stilted Atlantean speech.
"Come, we must go."
"Hold on," Brianhet dug his heels in as the urgent hands tried to pull him forwards.
The excitement in the young voice was clear. "No." Brianhet's voice was firm as he gently restrained his companion. "Tellac, I have to get Damon first."
"But he's been taken." Tellac's voice sounded dejected.
"That's why I have to go to the Temple."
"Now show me, please."
"It's at the end of that way." Tellac pointed again, dispirited as his new hope was destroyed.
"Tellac," Brianhet closed his eyes and counted to ten.
"No!" he said, adamant in his refusal.
"Dammit, why not?"
"Because they'll take me!"
"Who's they?" asked Brianhet, throwing his arms up.
"The Gods," said Tellac, as if stating the obvious.
"The Gods?" Brianhet stopped, confused, not having expected that reply.
"Yes," Tellac sobbed, in tears again. Collecting his shattered feelings tightly around him he glanced over his shoulder but no one was paying them any attention. "I'm for the burning, the Gods have called me."
The mumbled words were so quiet that for a moment Brianhet thought he had not heard correctly. Then he remembered the words of many nights ago when Damon and Tellac had talked about the city's religion. The images came flooding back and he could almost feel the small Atlantean cuddled up against him. The memory was so pleasantly real that it took a moment for him to realize the African boy was shaking his arms.
"Sir. Bree-on-et? Sir?" His name was impossibly drawn out and even that held a twinge of hidden pain as he recalled them telling Tellac their names.
"Sir--" The boy's insistence won through and Brianhet opened his eyes.
"When is the burning?" he asked, not really expecting an answer as he reluctantly buried his own painful memories.
"What?" Fully alert he stared at the black face intently for a moment. "Tonight, are you sure?"
"When the sun disappears the fires will start and the people will have a feast."
Brianhet's own thoughts were so frantic with the implications that he missed the distress in Tellac's voice. All at once a surprising number of questions were answered and the Egyptian found his head almost spinning at the possible conclusions and reasons.
"Tellac, you must show me to the Temple, now," he commanded desperately, crushing the bony shoulders.
"But I told you, I can't." Tellac's fear and desperation matched his own as the boy moved restlessly under his hands.
"Just a little closer, so I can see the Temple better. Please," he pleaded. Receiving no answer, he tried again. "For Damon, if not for me. You remember him, don't you." He saw the dark head nod before the young man took a shaky step forward, stopping almost at once. "Don't worry, I'll be right behind you."
The words did not reassure Tellac but now he felt he had no choice; to pull away and run would cause more attention here in the open, than to go forward. Silently he led the Egyptian along the winding pathway until they came to the edge of the stone houses, this time when he stopped, Brianhet knew he would get Tellac no further.
Squinting, he could see the far side of the Palace and directly behind it the looming towers of the Temple. Even at this distance, with his failing eyesight, it gave him the horrors. Swallowing a curse, he smiled weakly at the intensely worried young face, offering his thanks.
Tellac darted quickly out of sight, back the way they had come, and Brianhet spared him only a fleeting glance. All his energies and concentration were focused on the buildings ahead and the possible confrontation he might face.
Crossing the busy area, he was surprised at how easy it was to enter the Palace grounds; there were no guards around that he could see and the soft, spongy growth underfoot made his passing silent. Walking under a very old archway covered in a creeping vine, Brianhet was struck by the fact that it was more than just the absence of guards, the whole area was too silent, the atmosphere tense, as if something was about to happen. Edging forward, his nostrils were assaulted by a sweet, exotic pollen and he rubbed his nose as it started to itch. His clearing vision was bombarded by splashes of vivid colors, but he refused to be lulled by the surrounding beauty, diligently keeping the Palace on his left as he tried to get behind it and enter from the back. He was totally unaware that he was going deeper into the Queen's Atlantean garden, the entrance also being the only exit.
Feeling trapped and locked in by the increasingly oppressive atmosphere Dymon let out a frustrated growl, running his fingers roughly through his short curls, he impulsively left the sanctuary of his room.
He moved quickly through the Palace corridors, keeping his head down, not wishing to meet anyone. He just needed to get out, to breathe, to escape this mindless prison that Lan was holding him in. He would swear that his mind was functioning rationally, yet his consciousness kept wandering. A number of times in the last day he had found himself in an inexplicable daze and the loss of mental control had left him shocked and shaky. The physical pain was the least of his problems compared to the headaches he was experiencing.
He looked briefly at the burnt fingertips of his right hand; he still could not recall how it had happened.
Pausing in the entrance hall, he saw Brynnene out of the corner of his eye, leaning over a figure. Not wanting to talk, he hurried out into the fresh air, drawing curious glances from the guards at the main gates.
Collecting his dignity and composure, Dymon left the Palace ground, intending to visit the dock areas to see if he could find out where the vessel would anchor.
Being surrounded so long by a deadly silence, Brianhet stilled at the sound of voices. Both were female: while one was raised in obvious agitation, the other was low and soothing. He listened for a moment until all that was left was a muttering monologue. Deciding to avoid any possible meeting with those causing it, Brianhet edged away slowly, but before he knew it, he was on top of the woman.
"Taemon! Taemon!" The words carried an angry demand as the woman leaned forward on her soft seat. "Come out this instant! Taemon!"
Pulling himself free of a clinging bush, Brianhet found himself standing in front of a scowling old woman. She lifted a long elegant hand to shield her eyes against the brightness as she studied him. Her features were not clear, but even Brianhet's unfocussed sight picked out her obvious elegance. She was a striking figure with white hair tumbling down around narrow shoulders, giving the illusion of softness which was instantly dissolved by the glaring eyes.
"Who are you?" Her voice was strong and vibrant and Brianhet easily recognized it as the agitated voice he had heard earlier.
"A visitor." Thrown, he said the first thing that came into his head, realizing afterwards that the words were Atlantean.
"But you're not black."
"No." He decided he didn't care for her manner at all.
"So, who are you?" She continued to glare at him and Brianhet wondered if she ever blinked.
"Nebrianhet from Egypt."
"Oh, so you're the Egyptian." Her eyes widened even further.
Brianhet didn't like the way she had said that at all, and he scowled at her. It didn't seem to perturb her in the least.
"I've heard about you but now I've met you, I can't see what all the fuss was about." She dropped her head to the side, looking at him through calculating eyes.
"And who, may I ask, are you?" he said woodenly, meeting her look with one of his own. Or at least he hoped he did.
Rocking to lean on the back of her chair, she let out a raucous laugh, slapping her knees. Brianhet felt he had missed the joke entirely.
"So, Nebrianhet, she was not wrong in saying you were straight-forward. Welcome to my garden."
He saw the vague gesture of her encompassing hand but still wished he could see her face a little clearer.
"I still do not know to whom I am speaking," he pointed out with a small smile that did not reach his eyes.
"Lady Sorrella from Atlantis: Brynnene's mother. Why don't you sit down on the seat behind you, young man."
Stopping his mouth from falling open, Brianhet complied as his mind recovered from the news. Brynnene's mother? His first thought was to wonder if Andreas had known.
"I see I've shocked you. Why, do I look so unlike my daughter?" Her tone was brittle and he could almost picture the expression.
"No, I just had no idea you were here."
She watched him shrewdly for a moment before speaking again. "Tell me, when you look at me, what do you see?"
"Ah?" He directed his best frown her way.
"What do you see?" Again she gestured to herself.
"I..." he hesitated, sensing a trap of some sort.
"As I thought, you've lost your sight." It was an acknowledgement and Brianhet couldn't help but feel a mild respect for the woman. "It is a new development, so tell me how it happened."
"Are all Atlanteans so nosy?" he countered in a dry voice.
"You travel with Dymon," she paused over saying his name, speaking it slowly, "you tell me."
Refusing to fall into her trap again, he covered his surprise at her words. "Let me alter that and ask if all Atlantean women are nosy?"
The comment fell dead between them before Sorrella laughed again and Brianhet found his own sense of humor rebelliously threatening to join in.
"What a delightful creature you are, but tell me anyway about your eyes," she asked curiously.
"Nothing to say, my sight is recovering slowly," Brianhet replied.
"Good, because you have disarming blue eyes."
Not quite sure how to take that, Brianhet cleared his throat and looked away. "Um thank you, but why Lady, did we not meet when we first arrived?" he asked, changing the subject.
"I was..." again she hesitated but her voice held a little laugh, "occupied."
"Too busy to even see your son?" he asked incredulously. He missed the involuntary stiffening as she sat speechless for a moment, her eyes narrowed into dangerous slits as she tried to discern his meaning, waiting for his next damning remark.
Totally unaware of the tension in the slight form across from him Brianhet continued, hardening his tone: "Andreas would be warmed by your excuse."
Eyes closing briefly to mask a hidden relief Sorrella slowly relaxed, answering in a neutral tone, "Andreas ceased to be my son when he left home to make his life at sea."
Wondering at her meaning, Brianhet was mildly surprised that he had received an answer at all.
"I'm sorry," he replied awkwardly, feeling suddenly uncomfortable in the lengthening silence. He sensed he had stepped into a very private and touchy matter and judging by Sorrella's still immobile figure he thought it best to leave. Standing smoothly, he inclined his head a little in respect for her years if nothing else, even that did not produce a response.
"Lady?" he asked quietly, hoping that she was alright. He was rewarded by the lifting of her head. He could not read her expression properly but he could feel the cold, assessing gaze on him and felt reluctant to speak again. No, there was a slim possibility that she might be able to aid him and for that chance alone he had to ask.
"I am looking for my Atlantean...friend. Have you seen him?" It was obvious she knew something for he heard her give a sharp laugh.
"That boy is nothing but trouble, Nebrianhet." Her words had a touch of venom behind them. "Nothing but disrespect and disobedience from him. Of course, some of the blame can be put on his weak family life, but not all." she snapped. Looking up under long painted lashes that were thinning with age, she could easily read the confusion in the blue eyes. "But in time you will learn. Last I saw of him he was in one of his fine, hot tempers again, and looking for Lan."
Brianhet's frown deepened if anything and he wasn't sure if they were talking of the same person. "Da..."
She laughed throatily, cutting him off. "Obviously your...friendship is still too new and you haven't experienced one of his wild outbursts."
Brianhet's eyebrows disappeared into his neat black hair as he tried to imagine Damon in a hot temper. In the two summers they had been together Brianhet had seen nothing of this wild, fiery side of his lover. The idea brought a glaze to his eye and a tingling throb in his groin--he was sure he would have remembered the experience.
Not looking past the twitch of a smile on the Egyptian's face, Sorrella snorted in disgust.
"No doubt his curiosity has overcome his anger and common sense by now, so he's probably at the Temple."
That only confirmed Brianhet's fears and a bubble of irrational urgency threatened his outer calm again.
"I just hope he's alright." He wasn't aware he had spoken out loud until he heard Sorrella's answering remark.
"With Dymon that's one thing you don't need to worry about."
Hastily leaving, Brianhet didn't consider the remark until he was safely away from the too discerning gaze. The woman was filled with a bitter resentment and Brianhet didn't care for her company or her vicious speech about his lover. It was the way in which she had said Damon's name that puzzled him the most. Diamon or something. Maybe it was just the way it was pronounced in the Atlantean language. Yet he couldn't remember Andreas saying the name in that manner. He must ask Damon about her later, when they were both well away from Lan's city.
Pushing his way through a clinging shrub, Brianhet was determined to escape this garden. The Temple lay temptingly close and the more he thought about what Sorrella had said the more he knew she was wrong. Damon was in trouble--in danger, and Lan was the cause. He refused to go back the way he had come, for that meant going past the old female and he didn't feel up to enduring her questions again. He could still hear her raised, irritated voice calling for someone but he paid it no heed as he finally pushed free of the clinging branches.
Suppressing a sneeze, he brushed leaves from his tunic before straightening. He walked head-on into a solid figure: a man.
"What--" he started, as he collided painfully with the immobile figure. Stepping back, he made out a half smiling face in a white Palace robe.
His face betrayed his shock as he heard his name spoken in Egyptian and saw that the man's skin was as fair as his own. Drawing on his own upbringing, Brianhet regained his composure. "I am. You're Atlantean," he blurted out.
"Yes," the guard said slowly with a warm smile, watching the various emotions fly across the younger man's face.
"How many of you are there?"
"Atlanteans?" the Captain asked in amusement.
"Yes." Brianhet scowled.
"I thought..." he trailed off, realizing too late that it wouldn't be tactful.
"We had all died in Atlantis," the Captain finished for him. "No, a few have survived but only because we were in Red City at the time."
Brianhet nodded, a little ashamed for his thoughtless words. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be, there was nothing that could have been done to prevent the fate of Atlantis. But maybe I can help you now."
Brianhet lifted his eyes at that, searching for a motive behind the offer. "Help me, Sir?" He tried to remember if he had been given the man's name.
"Call me Captain, please."
"Captain," he acknowledged.
"I could not help but overhear your talk with Sorrella. She is prideful and stubborn and therefore unwilling...to remember and help."
Waiting, Brianhet heard the other take a deep breath.
"You must get Dymon away from Red City before Lan has a chance to act."
Brianhet frowned at the strange pronunciation of his lover's name but dismissed it as the Captain continued:
"I know he is ungrateful at times and bitter but that is not really his fault." The words were spoken in a mixture of regret and pain but Brianhet's brain failed to pick up on it as he fought to understand his own confusion. "I heard Sorrella mention that your sight was affected, so I will take you to where Dymon is already waiting at the harbor."
"Damon?" Brianhet struggled to make the point clear, feeling as if he was sinking in quicksand.
The light grip on his arm tightened painfully as the Captain stopped him, swinging him around so they stood face to face.
"What did you say?"
"You said Damon's at the dock." It was a half question and Brianhet waited coiled, knowing he was missing a vital fact. The silence extended until all he could hear was the short breaths of the man opposite him. Frustration at his inability to understand what was happening added to his worry until he felt he was ready to explode.
"No," the breathy answer came, "Dymon is at the docks." The words were very quiet and calm, failing to answer his own questions and with that Brianhet's control shattered.
"Who in God's name is Dymon? And what is going on around here?" he demanded in a furious voice.
"Dymon is..." the Captain stopped and looked puzzled. "You don't know?"
"No," Brianhet answered forcefully through teeth clenched in exasperation and saw a fleeting look of comprehension sweep the other's face. Standing as close as they were, his sight wasn't too bad.
"And you're looking for Damon?"
The Atlantean covered his face for a moment with his hand, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. "I had believed Damon safe with Andreas." The comment was so soft that Brianhet had the feeling it was not meant to be spoken aloud.
"No, Damon and I stayed behind when Andreas left on the King's bidding," he said, hoping to get some answers to his own questions.
Looking up, serious now, the smile left the Captain's face as he placed a hand on each of Brianhet's shoulders. "So tell me, my friend, where do you think Damon is now?"
"I don't know for certain, but I believe at the Temple," he said slowly. "Who is Dymon?"
"Dymon," the Captain said reflectively, "Dymon and Damon." He looked out over the Egyptian's shoulder, what he saw, Brianhet had no idea. "Come, we will find Dymon and I will let him tell you." Bewildered and apprehensive now, Brianhet started to follow before stopping in his tracks. He looked back at the Temple as it stood so close and it was only a restraining hand on his arm that stopped him from moving towards it.
"No." The command was strong, like the grip, as the Captain moved to stand in front of him again, blocking his view of the Temple. "No," he continued gently. "There is a penalty of death for entering the Temple as an unbeliever."
"We will find him. If anyone knows where he is, Dymon will."
Still fighting his own impulses, Brianhet considered the words.
"Trust me, Nebrianhet."
And for some reason he found he did.
Tellac sat hunched under a half demolished wall, well concealed from view. He had returned there immediately after leaving the Egyptian, needing a better hiding place to re-gather his nerve. He still felt a twinge of guilt at having run from his friend but at the moment it was a response he could not control.
Crouched as he was, he had a good view of the crowded dock markets as he watched the activity in front of him. None of the traders had missed the approaching ship and were extra busy preparing for its arrival. Tellac's sharp eyes puzzled over its unusual design. Smothering his natural curiosity, he remembered again the approaching burning. There was a likelihood he would never learn the new ship's origin. A mixture of emotions warred in him: relief and a kind of excitement that he had finally been chosen stained with fear and a nightmarish horror of what was going to happen.
Riding out his stomach's painful contraction from lack of food and building anxiety, Tellac eyed the market place. At least they could let him have a full stomach.
Moving quickly before he could change his mind, he advanced a little closer into the market area, letting his eyes travel he soon saw the old man whom he normally was able to steal fruit from without him noticing. He didn't appear to have his son with him so Tellac felt a little safer. Hunching down behind a sack of grain he watched the old man's movements. They were slow but sure as he carefully set out his small stock of fruits, watching potential buyers shrewdly. Tellac smiled fondly, as he had no intention of being seen. Eyeing the fruits he had already picked out as the ones he wanted he rested, poised on his toes, waiting for his opportunity.
A heavy, rumbling sound flattened him further between the grain bags in fright before he realized that it was only a horse and cart passing. The man leading the animal didn't give him a glance and Tellac watched him suspiciously as his pulse slowed. The man proceeded without looking back, leaving Tellac to frown after him. It had only been his own quick reflexes which had saved him from being seen.
Dismissing him, Tellac turned back to the fruit stall. At least his piece of fruit was still there. Licking his lips in anticipation he made ready to spring again, only this time he was stopped by a figure walking into his line of vision.
The slim, elegant man stood out like a beacon, the beautiful, auburn curls and pale skin marking him out as Atlantean. Catching his breath Tellac stared, and not just from curiosity this time but shock. It was like seeing the Atlantean for the first time--as he had a few days ago on the docks--the perfect profile as he stood squinting out to sea, chin slightly lifted. It took a moment for Tellac to realize he was standing amongst the grain bags, in full view of everyone.
It was Damon, but how? Standing only an arm's length away his quick mind was unable to work it out as he remembered watching Damon being carried into the Temple by guards.
Becoming aware of his vulnerable position, Tellac started to search for cover when the clear, green gaze swept over him. Waiting for the Atlantean to say something Tellac was startled when he saw no recognition in the emerald depths.
Numb and shaking in reaction he backed away, hurriedly returning to his hiding place. Shivering in hurt fear, he wondered why Damon hadn't seen him. He had been standing so close that the Atlantean could not fail to recognize him. Maybe he was dead already, he conceded miserably.
Dymon frowned over the African boy's hasty withdrawal, watching the stumbling figure's retreat. Dismissing the incident as unimportant, he studied the approaching vessel with interest. He recognized the design of the ship as coming from Westlands but hadn't known they traded or traveled this far from their own shores. Most Westlands' sailors were friendly and easy going and Dymon was sure he would be able to buy passage from this place with no problem.
He moved further in amongst the market people, looking for a better place to sit and watch the approaching ship. He was amazed to find some of the people move away from him in fear. It was similar to the reaction he had received on his arrival to this kingdom and again he wondered at it. He knew it must have something to do with his twin and the mystery of it troubled him, so did the empty feeling he had inside every time he reached out for Damon. Still refusing to accept what might have happened to his brother, he smiled nastily back at the shrinking people. Maybe he could buy passage for two, but who was he really considering taking, his brother or the Egyptian?
Laughing at his flight of fancy, he turned at the sound of his name being called. Looking in the direction of the voice, he was not surprised to see Sorrella's Captain pacing after him. What did give him a few moments of apprehension was seeing the Egyptian close on his heels.
Remembering in time as the two men approached that the striking looking Egyptian had imagined him to be Damon last time they had met, Dymon told himself that he had no need to worry; his secret was safe.
"Dymon," the Captain said heavily, obviously from the exertion of hurrying. The Egyptian stood slightly behind him, betraying no signs that he had rushed at all as he studied the man in front of him with growing horror and confusion.
"Dymon, I'm glad we have found you. This is Nebrianhet and he needs your help."
Dymon hardened his expression as his blood raced, fighting the urge to run from the assessing blue eyes. They were very clear and he wondered how much of the man's sight had returned.
Brianhet could not believe it and he briefly wondered if his sight was still playing tricks on him. They were standing close enough to the young Atlantean for him to see his features and his resemblance to Damon was remarkable.
"Help? How could I help an Egyptian?" Dymon demanded, trying to keep his tone and face from betraying him.
"Dymon, are you alright?" The Captain reached out a hand and felt the young man trembling under his touch before his hand was pushed away and Dymon glared at him.
Knowing the Captain could read him all too well, he glared at him even more. "Of course I am, why shouldn't I be?" he snapped, unable to control the response.
The Captain just raised an eyebrow before looking at the Egyptian, then back to Dymon with a curious expression.
The whispered word dropped between the three men like an anchor chain, Brianhet unaware he had spoken aloud as he continued to devour the man in front of him with his eyes.
"No," Dymon protested, eyes widening as he took a small step backwards, just stopping himself from flinching. He was furious with himself for responding and his anger only intensified as he saw the Captain's growing smile.
"This is Dymon, Nebrianhet, Damon's twin," the Captain said helpfully to the stunned Egyptian.
Dymon's eyes narrowed to bright green slits as he looked at Sorrella's bodyguard in pure loathing.
"Twin?" Brianhet mumbled numbly as even his mind was starting to note the small differences. They were identical in everything but mannerisms and he saw the wild temper Sorrella had mentioned stamped across familiar features. Not knowing whether to laugh or cry he dropped his head.
"How did you know I had a twin?" Dymon speared the Captain with his words as the shock of his declaration hit home. "No one knew, or was supposed to know," he amended.
Floundering for a reply, the Captain's uncertainty showed on his face under the accusing and murderous stare of the young Atlantean. He tried for a non-committal reply.
Oblivious to the by-play in front of him, Brianhet cut across their speech. "The Captain said you would know where Damon is." The green eyes swung back to him and Brianhet was relieved to see they lacked the warmth his lover's held.
"Why should I know?"
"Dymon, this is important," the Captain interrupted him.
"I've told you before to..."
"I know what you've told me before but right now your brother is missing somewhere in this city and we need your help to find him."
Dymon just turned away from the elderly guard and Brianhet saw for the first time a small flaw in his lover's twin. His right cheekbone was oddly dented and Brianhet wondered if it had been broken in an accident or fight.
Dymon looked back at the two men with a hunted expression, refusing to meet the Egyptian's gaze.
Seeing the slightly widened eyes, Brianhet suppressed the urge to hug the slim man, reminding himself that this wasn't Damon.
"I don't know how I can help you," Dymon said quietly.
"But you know where Damon is, don't you?" The Captain kept up the pressure, watching the younger man closely.
Before anyone could react Brianhet had reached across and grabbed Dymon's arms, holding him tightly. "You know where Damon is?" Ignoring his senses, which insisted this was Damon, he looked into worried green eyes. He smelt vaguely familiar too but Brianhet noted with regret that his hair was noticeably shorter.
Seeing Dymon's trapped look the Captain wondered at it. He had never seen Dymon so off-balance before and his brow drew down in thought.
"Please, just tell me," Brianhet begged.
"He's at the Temple," Dymon muttered with a poor grace as he freed himself from the brutal grip.
"What?" The Captain looked suddenly pale.
"How do you know?" Brianhet pushed.
"Saw him being taken there, night before last."
"Is he still alive?" the older man asked in a hesitant voice.
"Yes," Dymon nodded.
"Thank the Gods."
"How do you know?"
Dymon looked accusing and annoyed all at once as he regarded the two anxious men in front of him.
"Can you still sense him?" the Captain persisted, not put off by Dymon's scowl.
Feeling as if his entire private world was being trampled, Dymon refused to answer, not liking any of the questions or the knowledge the Captain was revealing about him.
"Dymon, you said he's not dead," the Captain began in a more reasonable tone, perceiving some of the younger man's anxieties.
"You can sense him?" Brianhet cut across him again as the realization fell into place.
Seeing the dawning understanding on the open, expressive face Dymon sucked in an involuntary breath, rapidly trying to erect all his defenses.
"Brianhet..." The Captain turned to the broad Egyptian in order to tell him to be quiet a moment when he saw the slow realization creep across the pale features of the young Atlantean.
"Yes," Dymon admitted reluctantly.
"Then you would have sensed everything Damon was sensing," his eyes looked far away, "wouldn't you?"
"Some of it," said Dymon, still reluctant as he watched the Egyptian's face intently for another memory.
"Nebrianhet?" cut in the Captain.
"He was scared, terrified, and it was by more than the earth tremors." He hesitated, unsure of what it was he wanted to say.
"He knew Lan wanted him," Dymon finished. For the first time he identified his own unease; he knew why Lan wanted his twin, the thought was so clear that he shuddered in reaction.
"Dymon," the Captain grabbed him to steady him. "What is it?"
The firm grip remained as Dymon tried to work out why he hadn't guessed earlier.
Brianhet just held his breath, half knowing already what the answer would be.
Looking up into the vivid blue eyes for the first time, Dymon saw the worry and fear hidden in their depths and tried to smother his own responses.
"They'll sacrifice him tonight." His voice lacked any emotion and for the first time in his life he was grateful for the Captain holding him up.
"The ceremony of cleansing and rebirth," the older man said with distaste.
"The burning," Brianhet corrected with a renewed hatred for Lan and his mock religion.
"Well, we'll just have to get him out," the Captain stated, his own anger just as real but carefully controlled.
"Why not?" the older Atlantean demanded in a soft voice.
"Why?" Brianhet's voice was strong.
"I no longer know where he is."
"Dymon," the Captain began in a dangerous tone.
"He's not dead, you just said so," Brianhet countered.
No," Dymon said slowly not quite sure how to say this, "but I can no longer sense him." Looking at the two close and angry faces he continued: "He could be anywhere."
The Captain understood what he was being told immediately. It took Brianhet a little longer.
"Nebrianhet," Dymon said slowly and precisely, "I only saw them take him there. He could have been moved five times by now."
Realizing the truth behind that did nothing to appease his growing frustration and anger. "Then we'll just have to wait for the ceremony tonight. But somehow I can't see Lan waiting for us."
"He'll have to," Dymon said with a sure smile. "His religion demands he waits."
"I don't follow." Brianhet looked confused.
"All sacrifices must go into the fire willingly," the Captain explained.
"So all we have to do is stop him from going into the fire," Dymon finished, sickly wondering how he had let himself be involved with such a plan. He reminded himself that Damon was a dishonor to the family name and that he shouldn't care what happened to him but somehow the words no longer had any effect on his heart.
"But if they can't force him into the fire then how will they make him go willingly?" Brianhet asked, having tried to puzzle this out when Tellac had first told him of their religion.
"I don't know," Dymon said vaguely, looking down with a frown at his own burnt fingers.
The Captain saw his action and took hold of his hand, turning it over to show the blistered fingertips. "How did you do this?" he asked sharply.
"Don't remember. Woke up this morning with it."
"Did you leave your candle burning last night?"
At the Captain's words Brianhet had a sinking feeling as he vaguely remembered his own experience with a candle at Kireva's place.
"I thought I had. Found it in the water bowl beside my bed this morning."
"Drug?" Brianhet asked, already knowing the answer.
"I've avoided all the Palace wine and refreshments, except for running water," said Dymon indignantly.
"But what have they given Damon?" the Captain asked.
All the blood drained from Dymon's face as the implication hit him. "By the Gods," he muttered.
"So we can assume Damon will be drawn to the fire tonight."
Both young men nodded at him.
"So somehow," the Captain continued in a determined voice, "we have to make our light brighter."
"What, to draw him away from the fire?" Brianhet questioned.
"But how?" Dymon sounded as surprised as Brianhet. "Have you seen the size of the altar yet, old man."
"I have." He set shrewd eyes over the twin for a moment and smiled for the first time.
"Why don't we just grab him," Brianhet suggested as he thought what he would do to Lan after he had Damon away in safety.
"The people would turn on us and we would all burn," Dymon said. He bit his bottom lip as he looked again at the Captain.
Brianhet looked from one to the other in mounting outrage. "So what do you suggest we do then?" he asked in a half sarcastic tone.
"As I said before, make a strong light and get it close enough to Damon..."
"But how?" asked Dymon.
They all looked at each other for ideas but none came.
Behind them the Westlands ship dropped anchor as its captain surveyed the docks in front of him. If his information was right, he should find what he wanted here easily. The place didn't look inviting and he already longed for home waters.
Tellac sat huddled miserably in his dark corner, hugging his knees. He had decided shortly after he arrived back in his hiding place for the second time that he didn't like anybody any more. His head throbbed, his stomach ached and he had cut his foot running from Damon. Life just wasn't enjoyable any more he thought as he sniffed hard before rubbing his runny nose. What had hurt the most was that Damon had looked right through him as if he wasn't even there. He had thought at first that the Gods had already taken him and that he was only a spirit now, but spirits didn't bleed. He scowled again at the open cut, nor did spirits feel pain--or so Mirabeth had told him. It also destroyed his chances of getting some fruit as the old man would be able to catch him now he had a limp.
Looking up at the afternoon sky he glared at the heavens, thinking unhappy thoughts, it took a moment for him to feel the ground shaking. Sitting in an even tighter ball he waited for the horse and cart to pass. When they didn't and the earth continued to tremble, Tellac got a sick, guilty feeling that maybe he really had offended the Gods this time.
Leaning forward on his hands and knees he coughed in the thick, red dust, peering out of his hideout. People were running everywhere, clutching at belongings and falling to the ground as the earth shook. It lasted longer than the one before had and when it stopped the red dust hung heavily in the air again, choking everyone.
Unable to see much of his surroundings, Tellac sat back and waited. It wasn't until the second round object rolled past his feet that he took notice and frowned in curiosity. Two more round things rolled past and he was still unable to make them out. Stretching out a hand to stop the next one, the warm round object hit his hand sluggishly and he picked it up in open mouthed shock and wonderment, it was a large honey fruit; was this the Gods' way of feeding him? he wondered. Before he could complete the thought he was literally swamped with honey fruit, apples and some farm vegetables. All he needed now was some corn bread, but Tellac decided that was too much to ask for.
Arriving back at the Palace gardens just before the earth tremor hit, the three men breathed a sigh of relief.
"It was longer that time and the tremors are becoming more frequent," the Captain said in a matter of fact tone.
"You mean this happens all the time?" Brianhet asked in horror.
"No," he said, slowly. "It's just that I get the feeling they are leading up to something big."
"A big quake." Brianhet's mouth had gone completely dry as he remembered the last big quake in Knossos. Knowing that was the quake that had destroyed Atlantis he didn't say anything further as he saw both Atlanteans look away to cover their thoughts.
"Well at least we have a torch." Changing the subject, he held up the wooden base, trying for a light tone.
The urgency that had gripped Damon days ago now clutched at him but for a totally different reason. Brianhet looked forward to leaving Red City. He wondered if Dymon was sensing anything, but the young man had remained stubbornly silent on the subject.
"Everyone will have torches tonight, Nebrianhet," the Captain cautioned, watching the Egyptian's face drop. "What we have to do is intensify the light at the right moment and distract Damon's attention."
"I don't suppose any of you have some of that phosphorous used by ships in distress?" Receiving two blank looks he knew the idea had been too hopeful. "No," he rubbed his chin in thought, "well, what we need is something similar, just to spark a small flare."
"I remember..." Dymon started, then stopped.
"Just that when I was watching Lan in his courtyard he threw something into the flames and they flared up before dying."
"Yes," the Captain muttered as he recalled something similar.
"It was almost hypnotic."
Staring at Dymon as if he held the answer in his face, the Captain's eyes widened as he captured the elusive thought.
"That herbal drug!" he exclaimed as if it was obvious.
"Which herbal drug?" Brianhet demanded with a frown.
"It's sweet and it also gives you a reaction to light."
"The one Brynnene takes?" Dymon interjected.
"No," the Captain replied sadly. "No that one is addictive and...fatal."
"Fatal?" Dymon blurted out.
"It drives the user insane eventually."
"Then why is Lan giving it to Brynnene?" Dymon demanded, suddenly beginning to understand the little Queen's rapid mood changes.
"I don't know," the older man admitted worriedly. "I found out too late to prevent it."
"This drug," Brianhet cut in, upset as he was to learn Brynnene's fate he was more concerned with getting Damon back, "will it cause a flare, and how do we get it?"
"No, not that one." The Captain shook his head.
"Then which?" Brianhet threw up his hands in confusion then sneezed, which spoilt the effect.
"The sweet herbal mixture which is placed in wine and hot water. It relaxes the user completely and makes them sensitive to light. Only in continual strong doses can it be harmful."
Brianhet digested the information, not wanting to dwell on the obvious conclusions of what Lan might have given Damon.
Dymon was also quiet as he looked at his blistered hand again, finally understanding the cause.
"How do we get some?" persisted Brianhet.
"I've only seen Lan use it openly at the Temple," Dymon supplied, shrugging.
"But you said it was in the drink and wine in the Palace."
"Yes, but Lan controls its supply," the Captain said with regret.
"So how do we get any?" Brianhet sounded exasperated. But even as he spoke he remembered his own experience with the candle after Damon had woken him that first time. "Kireva," he muttered.
"Who?" the Captain asked.
"The old woman Damon and I were staying with gave it to me after I lost my sight," he told them excitedly.
"How do you know it was that drug?" Dymon asked a little tightly, not liking the way the Egyptian's mind was working.
"I almost burnt the bed until Damon rescued the candle," he said, remembering the night, and Damon beside him.
"Has to be it," the older Atlantean nodded.
"We must be able to get it here in the Palace," Dymon insisted, trying to look casual.
"No." Again the Captain shook his head. "Nebrianhet, do you think the old lady would give you some of the herb?"
"Yes." He was confident he could get it from her.
"Good, well that's one problem solved. You go and get the herb, as I have some duties to perform here," the Captain said with a rare smile and a twinkle in his clear eyes.
Dymon was fidgeting next to him, muttering about having something else to do himself.
The relief at finding an answer to their problem was short lived as Brianhet remembered he didn't know where Kireva lived. Taking a couple of steps he grabbed the two Atlanteans, halting them. The Captain cast him a questioning look.
"I don't know where Kireva lives," he explained in growing anguish.
"Why not?" the Captain frowned, his smile dying.
"I was unconscious when Damon took me there, and sick with worry and loss of sight when I left."
"You must remember Nebrianhet," the older man insisted.
"It means Damon's life," the Captain ended, emphasizing the last word. He held Brianhet by the arms as he looked into pain filled eyes.
Dymon remained silent beside them, his head lowered as he bit his bottom lip. Guilt and self-preservation knifed through him and in the end he knew he had no real choice. Lifting his head and opening his eyes, he saw two sets of blue eyes boring into him. Taking a small step backwards he met one suspicious stare and a confused look from the Egyptian.
"I might know the way," he said lamely, he waited for the Egyptian to realize why.
"You might?" the Captain asked in disbelief, becoming aware something was going on here that he didn't know about.
Dymon gave a reluctant nod. "I...followed Damon," he ended, lifting his chin and challenging anyone to say otherwise.
"Followed him?" Brianhet's voice was sharp with disbelief.
"Yes!" snapped back Dymon, eyes wide and very green.
"So if you knew where he was and that he was in trouble, why didn't you help?" accused the Egyptian, remembering it was Dymon who said he had seen Damon taken into the Temple.
"That's none of your business," Dymon spat back, his hackles raised.
"You callously turned your back on your brother when you knew full well Lan would kill him." Brianhet bore down on the smaller man, his hands clenched into fists, finally finding someone to vent all his fear and frustration on.
"What I do is none of your concern!" Dymon shouted back, his face flushed.
"But, he's your..."
"Doesn't matter what he is," Dymon overrode him.
"...twin," Brianhet finished in a furious tone, his hands reaching for the other man.
"So what?" Dymon slapped the hands away, ignoring the Egyptian's dangerous expression.
"You selfish, little...."
"That's enough," the Captain cut in, stopping the all-out fight. Gentlemen, this isn't getting us anywhere, least of all helping Damon." He managed to capture their attention with that. "Right," he said calmly, taking a breath but still holding the two men apart. "Nebrianhet, Dymon might not have helped before, but he is helping now so let that be enough for the time being." Turning to the still angry Atlantean, he continued. "Dymon, go with Nebrianhet, show him the way for all our sakes." Again, he stressed the last few words.
Brianhet pulled away and straightened his tunic as he glared at his lover's twin in dislike. Dymon was slower to pull away from the Captain, but his eyes showed his own displeasure.
"You'll show me?" It didn't quite come out as a question as Brianhet tried to bury his still fresh anger and contempt.
"I can go alone, Egyptian," Dymon shot back coldly.
"No," he said forcefully.
"Why not?" Dymon's anger surfaced again.
"Because you don't know Kireva and she'll know you're not Damon," Brianhet finished nastily.
Closing his mouth on his automatic reply, Dymon fought his anger and fear as he remembered the old woman's startled expression at seeing the twins together. Somehow he knew she would remember.
Having expected a reply, Brianhet saw only that the Atlantean had backed down and wondered why. He had a nagging suspicion that something awfully important was being missed. Then again, Dymon was not reacting as he had assumed he would, giving in too easily while at the same time fidgeting and nervous in his company. But again, he had to remind himself, he did not know Dymon that well. He had no desire to learn about him either.
"Good, that's settled." The Captain's words broke him out of his musings. "Return as soon as you can and I'll meet you in the gardens. I have obligations to Sorrella and already I have been away too long." Nodding his farewell to both men he turned and disappeared into the maze of undergrowth.
Well," said Dymon sharply, "shall we get this over with." He smiled tightly, but it didn't reach his eyes.
"After you," responded Brianhet curtly.
Kireva's shock at seeing them was short-lived and she gave Brianhet a hug of welcome, muttering and nodding her approval at his head wound. Pushing them both into chairs she patted Dymon on the head.
Feeling acutely uncomfortable, Dymon couldn't meet her accusing eyes and avoided looking at Brianhet as well.
"Do you speak African by any chance?" Brianhet asked him sweetly.
Dymon shook his head.
Only just able to see that in the dim room Brianhet muttered in disgust, "Figures."
"Well, do you?" Dymon shot back, his anger still close to the surface.
Before Brianhet could answer, Kireva had returned: she gave Brianhet a slender, gold wrist chain. It was Damon's, he recognized it immediately, the one given to him by the Goddess at their first dance in the ring. But why had Kireva given it to him? Those words he had spoken to Dymon about Kireva not knowing him had been just that, only words.
Again a nagging doubt hit him and Brianhet frowned as he wound the slender chain around his fingers. Raising it to his lips, he kissed the chain gently before closing his fist tightly around it. He could hear Dymon talking with Kireva but even that wasn't enough to intrude on his thoughts as he recalled the slender wrist the chain adorned, and remembered the graceful movements of his lover in the bull ring with Petro. He wondered if Dymon was as gifted, somehow he doubted it.
"Nebrianhet! Nebrianhet!" A warm hand shook him and he snapped back to the present with a jolt.
"I have it, we can go."
Dymon stood in front of him, holding a small earthenware pot. The smug look on his face only increased Brianhet's annoyance. Standing, he saw Kireva sitting opposite, a huge toothless grin on her face, stiff fingers slowly weaving straw into a basket.
Going to her, he took her hand and kissed it. "Thank you," he said slowly in Atlantean, hoping she would understand.
She just muttered something and continued with her weaving.
Dropping the blanket back in place behind him, Brianhet found Dymon waiting for him outside. "How did you get it?"
"Thought you'd fallen asleep there for a while," Dymon said with a casual air.
"How did you get it?" Brianhet repeated.
"She seemed to know what we wanted," Dymon said, not worried about the oddity of that.
"Are you positive it's the right thing?" Brianhet asked patiently.
"Yes," Dymon snapped, shoving the pot under his nose.
Brianhet made a face, remembering the sickly sweet smell all too well, he pushed Dymon's hand away. "Alright, I believe you." He stifled a sneeze as he rubbed his nose. "Let's get back to the Palace and your Captain."
"He's not my Captain," Dymon shot back more forcefully than he intended.
Brianhet gave him an inquiring look but didn't pursue the point, for which Dymon was grateful.
"What's that she gave you?" he asked a short while later, just for the sake of conversation.
"Nothing that would interest you," Brianhet replied shortly.
"Oh," said Dymon curtly, letting the silence grow. The rest of the walk back was in silence as Brianhet worriedly watched the afternoon shorten: the sun would set in a few hours.
Warm spiraling light-filled daydreams danced through Damon's mind as he lay curled on his straw bed. There was no start and no end to the continuous delight his mind saw, no name to the blurred images playing in his head. He was completely unconcerned by the surroundings, experiencing no pain or fear, just a blinding delight of sensation.
Cool hands urged him to sit up and he did so obediently, feeling the coarseness of the monk's robe brush against his thigh.
"Almost time, my pretty one."
The words were unknown, the tone soft but Damon no longer cared about their meaning as he felt his throat and shoulder caressed with gentle fingers. The touch had become familiar and sent a tingle through his nerves and he moaned silently as the exotic flames danced in his mind. The fire had become the ultimate in sensations, a sensual lust which ate at his mind till nothing else existed.
Narkann smiled knowingly as he watched the sensual being in front of him through hooded eyes. This was the first young man he had prepared and his reactions were totally different to the children's, he was magnificent to watch. The pale skin shone a honey color and the wide green eyes stood out vividly in the warm light.
Running his fingertips under the back of the long, silky curls the monk watched the slim Atlantean shiver in reaction. Overwhelmed by the response he ran knowing hands over his back and chest, sending his captive on an electric, erotic trip.
Grinning evilly at his prisoner's uncontrollable reaction he observed the fine sheen of sweat that broke out to cover the lean body. He continued to torture the young Atlantean with pleasure, his larger hands skimming the silky skin again, pleased to see the slim thighs part at his touch. Head thrown back, the green eyes narrowed to slits as the tempting mouth opened in short, rapid breaths.
"My, but you are a delight. So responsive. It is almost a pity that you have to go to the Gods," Narkann whispered as he dropped a possessive hand over the growing erection, holding it firmly.
Damon trembled under his possession, tormented by the knowing hands, feeling everything more keenly as the drugs pounded through his system. Whimpering, he seemed to hang on the brink of destruction as the clever hands played with him, his mind plundered and raped of its reaction as he was violently denied release.
A hot mouth fastened onto his throat and he felt the biting pain shoot into him, while steel fingers tightened on his erection. The border between pleasure and pain was so fine that Damon's mind was unable to distinguish between the two as the biting mouth continued to ravish him. Slowly, through tightly coiled nerves, Damon realized the pain had left his throat, just as the biting fingers had left his groin. Held, trembling on the peak of release, he was abandoned and he jumped visibly, startled as a single finger traveled from chin to navel.
"You will be for the Gods to take, my pretty one, not I." The whispered words tickled his ear but still his mind was blank to their meaning. Tottering dangerously on the edge of the void, helpless to act or understand, Damon's daydreams become tortured nightmares of hot, licking flames.
Left sitting with his nerves strung out, Damon continued to tremble. Movement at his side alerted him again to the monk's presence and he flinched under the coarse brush of the monk's robe on his hot, sensitized skin. The surge of promised release only lingered in his mind.
Narkann enjoyed his captive's involuntary jerky spasms as he brushed oil over the sleek flesh.
It was the final preparations for the fire.
Brianhet cursed as he watched the sun start its slow descent into the ocean, wondering what had happened to the Captain. Both he and Dymon had been waiting in the garden for some time now and he was becoming anxious as he noted the sun's position.
Dymon for the last half hour or so had become very quiet as he sat completely still on the ground in front of Brianhet, a pinched expression on his flushed face. His eyes were vacant and his mind was far away; Brianhet wondered what he saw.
"Where in the Gods' name is the Captain!" he exploded for the second time. Dymon looked up at that but he lacked an answer.
Standing up shakily he handed over the small earthen pot that Kireva had given him. "I'll go and see if I can find him," he offered.
"No," Brianhet said forcefully, grabbing hold of the smaller man's arm. Dymon jumped as if he had been stung, backing away from the suddenly bewildered Egyptian.
"I won't be long," Dymon finally said.
"But what if you don't come back," he persisted, not seeing the hazed expression clearly.
"I will," Dymon said in a subdued voice, fighting his tingling nerves and the compulsive urge to grab Nebrianhet and fuck him senseless.
"Dymon," Brianhet snarled suspiciously, missing the look the Atlantean gave him as he watched the man back away.
"I need to get something from my room." He turned and almost fell over his feet in his haste to leave.
Never before had Dymon been overtaken so completely by such a strong sexual response. He knew it had nothing really to do with his closeness to the Egyptian, rather it came from the emotional outpouring of his twin. Having been unable to reach Damon for the last few days, the emptiness of his feelings had scared him; he had purposely lowered his guard to his brother's emotions, hoping for a small response. What he had received just now had practically destroyed him, leaving him shaking and extremely turned on.
If he could feel such strong sexual reactions from Damon--that left him incapable of thought--he wondered how his brother's emotional overload at death would leave him.
The very idea left him numb with horror as he acknowledged he had no choice about helping the Egyptian. After that, he promised himself, he would get as far away from his twin as possible, even go back to the Westlands if there was no other choice. Anything had to be better than this sort of pain he was feeling. Raising all his protective barriers, he found it only blocked out some of his brother's distress, failing to fight off all the effects. Going back to Nebrianhet was going to be difficult but he had no alternative as he had something that might prove useful in getting Damon away tonight.
What was really irritating Dymon was why the Captain needed to be involved. The two of them had never got on and as far as he knew the Captain should not have known who Damon was. That he had known was still a shock and Dymon was determined to uncover the answer before he left Red City.
Shutting the door to his room he went over to his trunks and carefully uncovered a valuable crystal he had kept in the lining of the lid. He was glad Lan had not found this one as it was special to him: it was a large, white prismed crystal which absorbed light and then reflected it back. Hanging it carefully around his neck, he hid it under his tunic. On the verge of leaving he saw the sun sink slowly from view. In the fields beyond the Temple most of the people of the Red City had already gathered, waiting for their King and High Priest to give the final word.
Sensing the need to hurry, he ran from the room.
Brianhet saw Dymon's stumbling figure and made to follow, annoyed at what he regarded as the Atlantean's callous and selfish behavior towards his brother.
Quickly losing sight of him Brianhet found, too late, that he was lost in the garden again. An angry, raised voice off to his right caught his attention and he followed it. Before he got too close he had identified the voice as that belonging to Sorrella and as he listened he knew she was very angry with someone.
"...to leave me sitting out here until I developed cramp!" The already high-pitched voice rose another octave in outraged disbelief. "You are my Captain and I thought I could trust you. Rely on you."
"Sorrella," the voice was loaded with patience, as if the speaker was accustomed to these outbursts.
"No!" she snapped back. "What am I to think, you cut me out, running off without a word."
As Brianhet moved closer he saw Sorrella turn away from the rigid man at her side, unappeased.
"Me! You're the one who has been cutting me out, holding secret meetings with Lan. What am I supposed to think?" the Captain threw back, sounding very angry to the listening Brianhet.
"That is none of your concern," she countered icily.
"No, I keep forgetting, I am only your personal bodyguard--nothing else," he ended bitterly.
She pursed her lips, looking up at him as if considering the words, her blue eyes regarding him carefully.
"No, Sorrella, don't say anything," he cut her off before she could speak, "I probably wouldn't like what you had to say anyway."
She looked down at that, her face taking on an unhappy look. Seeing the hurt he had inflicted, he sat down gently next to her, taking one small hand in his own.
"I..." he faltered, before meeting her eyes, "love you. But you have known that for years, and I cannot help worrying when you lock yourself away with that madman."
"Lan is not mad," she objected.
"No? Then do you call what he has done to Brynnene sane?"
"That is only temporary," she soothed.
"Temporary?" the Captain spluttered in disbelief.
"Yes," she continued, choosing to not notice his outburst. "We are both helping her now."
"He's destroying you," he insisted.
"No," she smiled, "he is giving us both life."
Wrenching himself away from her patronizing gaze, the Captain banked down his fury at her blindness. "Open your eyes for once, Sorrella." Taking a few calming breaths he looked at her pleadingly. "Please, love, just look around you and see what is happening to you and Brynnene."
A lean form slunk up to Brianhet and he jumped, almost giving away his hiding place. Laughing green eyes looked back at him in silent amusement as he cocked his head to one side, asking an unspoken question. Unable to help himself Brianhet smiled at the Atlantean and nodded in the direction of the small clearing.
Drawing his brow together, Dymon looked on the scene with growing interest, wondering if he would learn something he could use against Sorrella at a later date.
Turning back to the duo himself, Brianhet wondered if he should break in and remind the Captain of their earlier plans. The light was getting dimmer and soon it would be fully dark.
"...and I have known that for a long time. Besides, I always have control of the situation," Sorrella finished hastily.
"Is that why you panicked after Lord Bryman's death when you fell heavy with child," he accused, sick of listening to her self-righteous tones and wanting to hurt as he was hurting. He stared into her suddenly bloodless face, knowing he was trespassing on a forbidden subject. "Were you in so much control that you sought only the easiest way out and had to give the two boys away." The Captain paused, remembering his anger still burning too close to the surface. "No, you sold one, didn't you." His eyes narrowed, "to Lord Antonreas' wife."
Brianhet felt biting fingers clutch at his arm and watched in puzzlement as Dymon faltered beside him. Gripping him under the elbow the Egyptian steadied the smaller man as his knees almost gave way.
"Dymon?" he whispered, frowning as he felt the man tremble beside him. "Dymon--"
The Atlantean just shook his head numbly, fighting the consuming shock. "No!" It was a moan of denial.
Brianhet tried to see into the wide, sightless eyes. "Dymon," he said fiercely, abruptly afraid that he had somehow fallen under the same spell as his lover.
The Captain came crashing through the bushes, startling both men; he looked at the young Atlantean with a mixture of worry and guilt.
"Nebrianhet, what's happening here?"
"Who is it?" a high pitched voice demanded from behind them.
"We came looking for you and Dymon just...almost collapsed," Brianhet ended, not willing to reveal they had been standing there for some time eavesdropping.
Shining eyes locked onto the old Captain. "No! It's a lie," Dymon said suddenly. "You lie!"
"Now listen, boy," he started calmly, steering Dymon away from the woman behind them, "That is all a long time in the past."
"Take your hands off me," Dymon commanded as the bigger man bundled him roughly out of the gardens by holding tightly onto his arm and the back of his tunic. Brianhet followed silently behind, a puzzled expression forming.
"Captain--" Dymon hissed the word, finally managing to pull free. He spun cat-like to face the bodyguard. "What is this all about, what are you hiding?"
"Nothing? Don't give me that, I heard what you said."
"And it was all in the past, best forgotten by everyone," the Captain replied, stressing the last two words. His efforts were useless and he closed his eyes, exasperated by Dymon's scowl.
"Forgotten," he half shouted, "you just said that, that--woman, is my mother!" He waved an accusing finger back the way they had come.
"Dymon." The Captain laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, aware of his agitation.
Pushing the hand away, Dymon's anger only increased. "Just tell me the truth, old man. Is this another one of Sorrella's games?"
The prolonged silence vibrated around the two men.
"No." The Captain's flat response was almost inaudible and Brianhet thought for a moment he was imagining it.
Dymon's face twisted in a vicious denial as he visibly fought the truth in his own mind. "I don't believe you," was all he said.
The old Atlantean turned, frowning at the quiet man and saw the anxiety on his pale face. The Egyptian looked gaunt in the fading light as he clasped the unlit torch hard against his chest.
"Yes," he nodded at Brianhet's unasked question, "we must go, all the people will have gathered already and the fires will be lit soon." Looking back at the still furious face, he continued in a gentler tone, "Dymon, please let us talk of this later."
Brianhet was already moving forward, urgency gripping him.
"No," Dymon said, refusing to move.
"Leave it, lad."
"No." Dymon just shook his head.
"They're lighting the torches," Brianhet called from a little way ahead. "I'm going. Hurry--" Brianhet started to run, fighting to see properly in the shadowed light.
"Nebrianhet, wait--" the Captain called, starting after him. "Dymon, come on."
"I'll meet you there." With that, Dymon turned away, disappearing in the opposite direction.
Growling his frustration over Dymon, the older man threw up his hands and quickly followed the Egyptian. Dymon had a right to be upset, but at this moment in time his twin's needs outweighed his.
Dymon had a dull, tearing ache in the center of his chest that had nothing to do with pain but rather the fear of loss of identity. Pushing his way carelessly through the lovely garden he kept telling himself that this was just another of Sorrella and her Captain's little games.
"Who's that?" a haughty voice demanded as Dymon pushed his way into the small clearing.
"Dymon," he said in a low voice, watching the seated woman carefully for a reaction. There was none.
"Well, you'll do," she continued, resigned, ignoring the thunderous expression he wore. "Go tell my servants I want to be carried in now. I have never enjoyed sitting alone in the dark."
"What?" Outraged, she glared at him.
"No," he repeated precisely, meeting her glare with one of his own. "I am not your servant or anything else, Sorrella." Moving closer, he stood directly in front of her. "All I want from you is some straight answers."
"I have nothing to say to you." She turned away, dismissing him. "Seric!" she called. "By the Gods, where is that boy," she added angrily when no-one replied.
Gripping one frail shoulder painfully, Dymon easily brought Sorrella's attention back to himself. "Now, I want the truth," he snarled, pausing a moment. "Who was my mother?"
"What?" It was Sorrella's turn to be thrown off balance.
"You heard me," he snapped. "And don't give me any stories, I heard what your Captain said to you earlier and I want the truth, now."
"I..." Her face had visibly paled but the gloom covered it. "That's none of your business," she said, recovering a little.
"I think it is," he emphasized dangerously. "Who?"
The air around them suddenly became lighter and a faint sweetness filled Dymon's senses, but he ignored it, concentrating only on the old woman.
"Dymon, really. You're behaving..."
"Shut up," he commanded. "Is it true then, what he said? Did you really sell us--were we that grotesque as babies?" he asked in growing disgust.
"The times were hard and I had no choice. Besides, I do not regret what I did," she stated just as flatly, knowing her words would hurt the man in front of her. Even now that thought did not worry her.
Dymon was speechless for a moment, shaking in reaction to her emotionless words.
"You whore!" he spat at her in fury as he fought back tears of anger. "May the Gods forever curse you." He pushed her roughly away, unconsciously wiping his hand on his tunic.
"Our Gods are dead, Dymon," she said mildly, as if unaffected.
His eyes widened momentarily, shocked by what she had said and he took a step back. "You speak evil, Sorrella. You are no longer an Atlantean."
She laughed at that.
"Just tell me who my father was?" he asked as he took another step away, sickened by the sight of her.
Sorrella watched him in amusement now, drawing the moment out.
Hundreds of voices raised in a shout startled Dymon and he turned, seeing the light of the fire filling the night sky behind him. His pulse and breathing quickened, Damon's name forming silently on his lips. He gave the woman behind him one final look of pure hatred before abandoning her to her dark seclusion. Pushing his way through the bushes, her whispered reply filled his head.
"Why, Taemon, of course," echoed in his mind along with her harsh laughter.
Standing on the edge of the crowd as close to the fire as possible, Brianhet tried to control his nerves. He was anxious and tense as he held the lit torch a little in front of him, searching the crowd for any hint of his lover. The Captain stood next to him, steering them a little closer so they had a good view of the people around the blaze.
The old Atlantean bit his lip in frustration, realizing they were going to have little chance of spotting Damon until he was clear of the crowds, and then an even slimmer chance of distracting him. He glanced briefly at the Egyptian beside him and saw his rigid control; he cursed Dymon again for his selfishness.
Lan walked through the center of the crowds and stood before them with his back to the fire, letting his eyes travel slowly around his subjects.
The Captain pulled Brianhet back a little, a sixth sense warning him against detection.
The black robe Lan wore shone magnificently in the bright blaze and he smiled seductively at his people, assessing their response through cold eyes.
"We offer the Gods worship and ask forgiveness at this cleansing and rebirth." His deep, powerful voice penetrated through the whole gathering, sending a shaft of fear through the Captain as all the people around responded.
"What did he say?" Brianhet's furious whisper assaulted the Captain's other ear.
"Lan's making speeches, that's all." He settled a reassuring hand on a broad shoulder and was not surprised to feel the coiled tension quivering through the thick muscles.
"Try to relax, my friend."
"Relax?" Brianhet said in disbelief, his voice unsteady. "He's going to sacrifice Damon, how can I relax?"
"I know." The Captain patted his shoulder again.
"Just let Damon be alright or, I swear, I'll kill Lan," Brianhet finished fiercely.
"Shhh," the Captain whispered as he watched Lan raise his hands above his head, muttering a litany. A few monks in full length robes joined him to stand in front of the crowds. Slowly all the people took up the refrain, muttering the haunting but chilling words.
"What's happening now?" Brianhet whispered.
"I'm not sure but I think they are praying." The Captain studied the people surrounding them and saw their heads all upturned, some with eyes closed, as they muttered a strange combination of words.
"Praying?" Brianhet stressed in disbelief.
"Yes, so look submissive."
"Captain--" Brianhet warned, sounding outraged.
The ritual seemed to go on and on and no one in the crowd moved. The eeriness of it began to get to Brianhet and he battled with his growing fear. Suddenly everyone stopped and a heavy silence fell over the whole area. His mind staggering under the effect of the abrupt change, Brianhet concentrated on listening to the noises of the hot fire. Then Lan and his monks moved, going to the people, touching and murmuring a blessing.
The Captain drew them further back into the crowd as a dark cowled figure reached through the press of people, touching whoever it found. Shrinking from the long fingers, both men held their breath, trying to hide their faces behind other Africans. Only when the monk passed on did both men remember to breathe again.
Just as mystically as Lan had appeared, he and his monks vanished into the crowds. The people began to move around then as a slow, catchy song was started somewhere in their midst. Soon its rhythm and words spread until the entire body of people were singing; the words, although alien, sounded beautiful to Brianhet and he remembered Tellac's voice their second night here. The excitement was addictive and he fought the urge to sing himself as the sweetness in the air intensified. Just stopping a sneeze in time, he felt the Captain press a cloth into his hand.
"Place this over your mouth and nose."
"What is it?"
"They're placing some more herbs in the fire and I suspect its effect is more than just to sweeten the air."
Brianhet nodded and complied.
"Have you got the old woman's herbs," the Captain asked suddenly.
Brianhet patted his leather pouch in confirmation.
"Let me hold it." Quickly the Captain removed the small earthen pot before he and the Egyptian moved closer to the front of the crowd again. It was easier to move now as everyone was intermingling as they sang.
The sea of bodies circled the huge fire as the two men jostled forward, swept along in the movement around them.
A high pitched scream pierced the air and Brianhet froze beside the Captain as the crowd's song peaked and everyone cheered.
"Shh." The Captain's fingers were numb as he held the Egyptian's arm tightly. They fought the movements of the people around them, circling the wide, flaming altar. Nothing could be seen. Eyes watering, they searched the bright flames but still nothing showed. Desperately they moved further around the circle, knowing that the area was just too big to watch all at once.
The crowd's movements intensified and the song quickened in pace, the atmosphere building. Beside the Captain, Brianhet was saying something but he didn't catch what it was as his eyes searched the crowd. Too many bodies were moving and he was unable to distinguish any faces. The Egyptian coughed and the Captain turned towards him. Tears lined the smooth face and the Captain felt his own panic threaten to overtake him. It was hopeless. Unless they saw Damon come through the crowd they were powerless to stop him, and the Captain doubted if the spark of the herbs Kireva had given them would capture and maintain his attention. Maybe Brianhet's first idea was the only way--grab him and take a chance, but even that seemed a faint possibility.
Holding onto the Egyptian even tighter, for his own reassurance as well as Brianhet's, the Captain studied the milling people again.
A single, stationary figure drew his attention in a flare of hope, until he saw the tall, young boy was African. He just stood a little away from the crowds, staring into the flames, crying. His face was shattered and his skinny arms hugged his chest; he looked broken-hearted.
The Captain returned his gaze to the crowd before glancing back to the weeping boy. It was too late, the child was gone. Frowning, he dismissed the incident from his mind. Nebrianhet was pulling on his arm again and the two men moved restlessly around the crowd. A small naked figure pushed out between the older man's legs and he glanced down, seeing a little girl of about seven summers. Her face was not visible and he ignored her, looking back into the crowd. A moment of fear hit him as he saw a monk standing only a few paces away, half hidden by the other Africans. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the dark expression was not locked on him but something else. Urging Nebrianhet to follow the crowd, he was halted as a clear, loud scream vibrated in his ears. Swinging towards the fire he was just in time to see the outline of the little girl gleaming before she was consumed by the flames.
Shocked and sickened by the sight he turned away and saw Nebrianhet do the same. Shooting a look back the way they had come, he saw the monk had vanished. The sudden realization hit him.
"Nebrianhet, look for monks," he half shouted as the song around them quickened even more. People were laughing, crying and singing but the Captain determinedly ignored them all.
"She was only a little girl." The Egyptian's voice was marred with horror and disgust.
"I know. Look for monks."
"Because I'm sure a monk released her into the crowd."
The Egyptian just nodded, wiping his face with the cloth.
"Damon!" The word was clearly shouted in Egyptian, shocking the Captain as Nebrianhet jerked forward.
Not releasing the man, the Captain fought with the herb pot, searching the crowd for what Nebrianhet saw.
Roughly pushing some dancing Africans aside, he saw the young Atlantean. He was standing on the edge of the crowd, seemingly watching the flames.
Brianhet literally cannoned into the smaller man, almost knocking him off his feet, embracing and clutching him desperately close.
Their elation was short-lived as a furious voice demanded to be released.
"Nebrianhet!" Stepping back the Captain saw the Atlantean's features clearly in the bright orange light.
Dymon scowled at them both.
"Dymon." The Egyptian's voice cracked in defeat and he pushed the cloth up to his eyes, rubbing them.
The Atlantean just nodded, trying to ignore the Egyptian's distress.
"I haven't seen Damon yet." The Captain gestured. "Is he...?"
"No," interrupted Dymon quickly and he paused to take a calming breath. "I was just trying to sense him. The link is dull but not empty."
The older man nodded, breathing a sigh of relief as he licked dry lips.
Dymon frowned, looking around. Catching the movement the Captain's eyes darted around too.
"He is close, so close." Dymon shook his head as if to clear it. "I feel..." Again he stopped. Reaching out a hand for no reason he touched Brianhet and his eyes widened suddenly. "He will come from over there." He pointed the way the other two man had just come.
The three struggled around the frenzied dancers. Dymon lifted his tunic's collar to cover his nose and felt the heavy stone thump against his chest. "Here," he called, stopping.
Brianhet spun around, eyes almost maddened in his desperation. The torch shook in his trembling fingers but he refused to allow the Captain to take it from him.
Reaching under his tunic Dymon carefully removed the large, white crystal, taking it from around his neck. "This should help," he half shouted at the Captain.
Sparing the tightly held stone no more than a quick glance the Captain asked, "What is it?"
Dymon didn't comment, only smiled knowingly.
The Captain didn't pursue the subject as he was watching two monks as they approached; he nudged Brianhet, indicating with his head.
Brianhet had difficulty in picking out anything as his eyes stung and kept watering in the intense light. He felt Dymon move closer as well and tried to see into the thick crowd.
The two dark cowled monks moved very slowly, which puzzled Dymon. They were some distance from the monks and as Brianhet made to approach them the Atlantean stopped him.
Oddly, the two monks stepped back a little from the edge of the crowd; the taller of the two stood directly behind his companion. They stood there unnoticed by the dancing crowd and Dymon held his breath, probing for his brother and losing his balance as he felt a surge of confused emotions. Fighting his own mind, he found himself turning towards the flames, drawn by the seductive invitation and warmth. Terror crawled through him but he was helpless to stop. A strong hand halted him and he saw the Captain's angry face swim into view as he was shaken fiercely.
"Dymon, snap out of it." The Captain shook him again.
"What?" he mouthed.
"Block him--" The word drove into Dymon's mind and he found he immediately had the strength to raise his own barriers.
"Good," The Captain swung around, still keeping a hold on him as he saw Brianhet struggling to hold the torch and empty the contents of the herbal pot into its flames at the same time.
It was Damon and he was so temptingly close as they saw him blindly break through the crowd on shaky legs and head towards the flames.
"No! Damon--" The Egyptian cried as his hands failed to work. He threw the torch down and made to run after the obviously drugged Atlantean.
"Nebrianhet, no!" The Captain held him back as his eyes desperately looked for a solution. The monk was still standing there watching the young man as he walked forward. And as long as he was there they could not reach out to touch Damon or they would all be burned. The Captain's heart sank.
"Let me go," Brianhet struck out at the older man, struggling to break free.
Damon took two more uncertain steps forward, his face blank as he faced the flames. His skin gleamed a beautiful, warm, golden color as he stood nearly naked, bathed in the dancing firelight.
"Damon!" Brianhet screamed at his lover, but his voice produced no immediate effect. That did not stop him and he shouted even louder. The mesmerized Atlantean did falter but whether it was because he recognized his name or not the Captain didn't know. But it was a glimmer of hope.
Behind him, Dymon was crawling around on his hands and knees, shouting up at the two other men, "Help me, Captain. Help. I've dropped it. We must find it." He struggled to keep his mind free of the pressing confusion of his twin's as he frantically searched the dirt for his crystal.
"Thank the Gods," he breathed, rising to his feet at last, wiping the stone quickly on his clothing.
Damon was halfway to the fire, both hands outstretched towards the flames; his head thrown back, heavy curls tumbling down his back.
Shoving past the Captain and the restrained Egyptian, Dymon bit his lips, trying to force his own will forward and onto his brother.
"Dymon!" The Captain made a grab for him, thinking he was overcome by Damon's emotions again.
Shrugging him away with ease, Dymon crouched down and edged away from the crowd to be parallel with Damon. His face ran with perspiration and his hand shook as he focused all his mind on the man in front of him.
Damon had stopped just on the fire's edge and its flames reached out, just failing to touch and enclose his body in its searing heat.
"Damon!" his mind screamed forcefully, eyes never leaving his twin's face.
Lifting the crystal up he turned it to face the raging flames, feeling its heat through the stone, burning his hand. He fought the pain, ignoring it as he turned the stone to face his brother. Its reflective prisms intensified the flame's light and showed its intense white light on Damon's features. Distracted, Damon turned towards the magnified brightness with eyes that were nothing more than wide, rounded pools of green.
Dymon backed away slowly, dragging his twin with him by the pull of the white light. Both Brianhet and the Captain had stilled, holding their breaths as they watched each shaking step Damon made.
"Come on, come on," Dymon commanded through clenched teeth. The intensified light from the crystal could not last much longer and Damon was moving too slowly.
Suppressing a bubble of hysterical elation, the Captain looked towards the monk, still standing in the crowd. He was glancing suspiciously at them and the old Atlantean felt the hair on the back of his neck rise.
Just a few more steps and Damon would be in arm's reach.
Brianhet drank in the unfocussed image of his lover but remained within the Captain's restraining grip as Damon got closer. There was nothing he wanted more than to grab the almost naked man and reassure himself that Damon was alive.
"Wait." The Captain's clear voice cautioned as he kept half an eye on the enraged monk.
The crowd around them were going crazy as their song reached another pitch and they were jostled by moving bodies. Still they kept their attention on the approaching man. Damon took another step and reached out a blind hand to touch the crystal. As soon as he did Dymon captured his hand, holding on tightly as he quickly faced the stone back towards the fire.
Momentarily disorientated Damon started to turn away again but was securely enfolded in a pair of strong Egyptian arms.
Brianhet crushed the slippery man to himself, burying his face in the hot curls.
"Nebrianhet--" The Captain shook him. "Nebrianhet!"
At the Captain's insistence Brianhet raised his head.
"Quickly, we had better go."
Nodding, he felt Damon move sluggishly in his arms as his lover looked with growing fear around him.
"Put this around his neck," Dymon instructed, handing Brianhet the large crystal. Its light was blinding but he hurriedly placed the heavy gold chain around Damon's neck.
Damon was immediately riveted by its brightness and the three men hustled him away as quickly as possible through the shouting crowd.
Another scream pierced the song behind them but none of the companions looked back.
Brianhet tightened his grip on Damon for about the tenth time as they fought their way through the maddened people. The song had reached its frenzied conclusion and now the Africans were just shouting; he assumed it was more words of praise to their Gods.
Damon stumbled again and Brianhet heard the Captain curse beside him. It was hard holding onto the young man as he was covered in some type of oil and it therefore took two of them to support and lead him.
Dymon had refused to touch his brother again after the initial contact so the task had fallen on the older Atlantean.
Finally the bodies started to clear and they could see the Temple and Palace a little way to their right. Everything else was in darkness and the three of them took deep breaths, glad to be out of the claustrophobic crush of people. The entrance to the field lay towards the temple and Dymon quickly spotted the monks standing by the gate.
"What do we do now?" Brianhet demanded in a hushed voice as he stepped back a little, pulling Damon with him.
The people's movements around them still hid their presence and they could remain there, watching the monks.
"Look," the Captain said in a furious whisper. A third monk joined the others and gestured back towards the crowd. They were too far away to see him closely but it wasn't hard to guess what he might be saying.
"So what do we do now?" Dymon's eyes darted around as he repeated the Egyptian's earlier question.
"First, I think we have to get away from this crowd, I think it will be starting to break up soon."
"Oh no, Captain. Look," Brianhet said with a sinking feeling as he pointed towards the gate again. The three man watched as five more monks joined the other three.
"Well let's get away from here," Dymon suggested.
"No." The Captain caught his arm. "Through the edge of the crowd. Circle round a bit, then we can cut across the fields."
Without another word they joined the dancing people, moving steadily away from the gate. Looking back once Brianhet saw some monks re-entering the crowds. His heart quickened and he urged Damon to move at a faster pace.
"They're coming into the crowd," he said.
"I know, just keep moving," the Captain growled back.
They circled until they could no longer see the gates or Temple then broke from the crowd again and headed across the fields into the darkness.
Wanting to put a lot of distance between the celebration and themselves the Captain half lifted Damon, quickening the pace. The ground was soft and uneven with loosely turned soil and it slowed their progress as they kept losing their balance in the darkness. Damon did not utter a sound the whole time but neither did he aid them as his hands religiously palmed the warm, shining crystal held close to his face.
"Gods," Dymon cursed, "I can't see anything. I hope you know where we are going, old man."
"Just a bit further then we should be able to turn into the city again."
"Where?" Dymon sounded put out. "I don't see any lights."
"No doubt everyone is probably at Lan's celebration." The Captain's voice was a little breathless as he struggled with Damon's weight. "Nebrianhet, hold Damon. Lower on the waist, that way we can lift him."
Brianhet complied but found his hand losing its grip repeatedly.
"He's too slippery."
"Well put his arms around our necks, that way at least we can move faster."
"Hurry up," Dymon hissed to them from somewhere ahead in the darkness.
"He won't release the stone."
"Make him," said the Captain with finality.
Damon gave a small whimper as his hands were pried loose and he started to tremble.
"Sshh," Brianhet soothed. He kissed the side of the smooth face but it had no effect.
"Come on," Dymon hissed again.
Behind them more monks moved into the crowds as they half carried the drugged man across the remainder of the field. Resting, they stood beside an uneven stone wall, looking into the dark streets of Red City.
"Where to now?" Brianhet asked heavily.
"We can't return to the Palace. Let's see if we can find a quiet lodging."
"What about the old woman's place?" Dymon said as they walked silently through deserted back streets.
"No." Brianhet shook his head. "I think it would be too easy to find us there."
Dymon shrugged and turned away, muttering to himself.
"Look." Brianhet stopped. One or two single lights burned and could be seen from under blanketed doorways. "It seems no everyone celebrates tonight."
They were at the end of the City, near the outer gate and they quickly found a large dwelling with a little light burning.
"Wait here," the Captain muttered as he brushed the blanket aside to enter.
Damon shivered in Brianhet's embrace and the Egyptian held him closer. His immediate fear had left him and not even the searching monks really bothered him as he ran gentle hands along his lover's back.
Damon sucked in a loud breath and shifted a little nearer to the pleasant touches. That was all Brianhet had been waiting for and his face broke into a magnificent grin as he gathered and held Damon tighter. Damon wriggled a little more in his arms.
Dymon snorted in disgust, his scowl deepening, thinking unhappy thoughts.
The blanket parted again and the Captain poked a smiling face out. "There is a room here. Come on in."
The companions filed in quietly and the African woman just nodded courteously at them. Not stopping, the Captain led them to the back of the kitchen and through another blanketed entrance. The room was not over large but looked to be warm and comfortable.
"How much?" Brianhet asked as he sat Damon down on what looked like a bed.
"Only two gold pieces," the older man said, shaking his head as Brianhet reached for his leather pouch.
A suppressed moan from behind them drew their attention back to Damon who was curled into a ball, whimpering as if in pain.
Reaching out a tentative hand Brianhet was stunned to feel the other man shaking violently; at his touch Damon visibly flinched from him.
"Damon," he whispered worriedly, shocked and a little hurt by the rejection. "It's me, Brianhet." His words had no effect and he tried to protect the smaller man in the circle of his arm. Damon's struggles increased, becoming more frantic.
"Oh, little one, what have they done to you?' he murmured, more to himself than anyone else.
"Nebrianhet, the crystal, look--" Dymon pointed towards the dull stone in his twin's desperate grip.
"Well let's get a light in here so we can see what's going on," the Captain decided, leaving the room before either of the other men could comment. He was back quickly with a lit candle and its changing light threw the room into overly long shadows.
"I don't think it would be wise to light more than one tonight." His steady voice seemed to have a calming effect and both Dymon and Brianhet nodded their agreement.
With the introduction of a new light source Damon stopped shaking as he stared towards the flame in innocent adoration and wonder.
Brianhet let his arms fall away from the still figure as he watched his lover's reactions carefully, so he was prepared when a slender finger reached out towards the flame.
"No, love." Brianhet captured and held the hands protectively, mentally judging the distance between them and the flames.
Dymon stood a little distance away, arms crossed tightly as he looked around with a disgruntled expression.
"Watch and protect him, Nebrianhet," the Captain said softly, reaching forward to touch the dazed Atlantean's face almost hesitantly. "Don't give Lan a second chance."
"Don't worry friend, I won't," Brianhet said earnestly, watching Damon intently, scarcely believing himself that he had his Atlantean lover sitting beside him.
The silence was awkward for a moment before the Captain straightened and took a step back.
"I must return to the Palace," he said abruptly. The Captain's words intruded on both men's thoughts.
"But why?" Dymon's question was half accusing as he pinned the other man with his gaze.
"I still have...responsibilities there," he said. "You will be safe enough here for tonight."
"Then I'll come with you," Dymon stated.
"No." The Captain shook his head. "I'm afraid that is no longer possible."
"No," stated the Captain coldly.
"I will not stay here."
"Yes, you will," the older man countered, forestalling an angry outburst. "Do you think Lan particularly cares which of you he sacrifices at present?"
Numbed by the thought, Dymon closed his mouth over his immediate response.
"Exactly," the Captain said, seeing the realization on the younger man's face. "Think about it." Turning back to the Egyptian, he saw his troubled expression. "Be careful, my friend," he said simply.
"And you," Brianhet smiled.
"I'll get the woman to bring some food and drink. I'll see you both after sun up." He turned his gaze to Dymon who deliberately ignored him.
Left alone, there was complete silence in the room as Brianhet helped Damon to sit up, holding him gently but firmly as the other man started to rock. His eyes hooded, Brianhet watched with growing annoyance as Dymon paced the room.
The African woman they had seen earlier entered quickly and left sweet meat and water on a low stone table. She also dropped some extra clothes and a fur on the floor, then turned to leave without a gesture or word.
Looking from the extra items to the still pacing Atlantean, Brianhet glared at him in growing frustration. "Well?" he demanded finally.
"Adequate," came the quick response.
Not being able to read the other man's expression due to his still blurred sight, Brianhet ignored the comment. "Would you please bring those things closer!" he snapped. He saw the other man stop and felt his angry glare rather than saw it. "I don't want to let go of Damon yet, just in case he decides to burn us both down," he explained in a sarcastic voice.
Muttering a string of Atlantean curses that Brianhet only half understood, Dymon stalked over to the low table and swept the clothes and furs, water and mead up angrily and deposited them with a little more force than was necessary near Brianhet.
"Why thank you," Brianhet said with biting sarcasm. "But was it necessary to spill so much of the water?"
"Back off!" Dymon snapped instantly.
Turning away, Brianhet lifted the half empty stone cup with water and pressed it to Damon's lips. "Come on, that's it," he encouraged as he stopped Damon from backing away from the cup. "All of it." He refused to let the other man go until the cup was empty. "Good." He placed the cup with care on the table, almost missing its top as his vision suddenly blurred horribly and the faint pain behind his eyes intensified. Placing an unsteady finger against his eyes he rubbed them tiredly. He was exhausted as he hadn't slept for almost two days. Only sheer determination and willpower, plus the worry and fear over Damon's life had kept him awake and moving. Now he was sitting still with his lover beside him, the numbing tiredness swamped him. If only he could sleep but he knew that Damon still needed him and he knew he couldn't rely on Dymon's help. Maybe he could just close his eyes for a moment...
"By the Gods...."
The sharp exclamation snapped Brianhet awake and he turned groggily towards Dymon. The man looked startled and confused as he shook his right hand painfully. "Damon, stop!" the Atlantean demanded, lifting wide, astonished eyes which almost looked through Brianhet. "Nebrianhet," he hissed angrily as he took a step forward.
Blinking in confusion at the other man, Brianhet shrugged off his sleepy feeling and looked at Damon beside him. He was still rocking gently, his face half frowning in confusion and disappointment as the finger of his right hand tried to hold the single brilliant flame.
"No!" Brianhet grabbed the outstretched hand urgently, turning the fingers over to see the small blisters already forming on the sensitive tips. Glancing back at his lover's face, he saw Damon still looking at the flame, biting his bottom lip as his face almost crumpled into fresh tears. And they weren't tears of pain, Brianhet realized with a jolt, but rather tears of disappointment.
"Sshh, love." He held him a little tighter, kissing the burnt fingers gently.
"What in the Gods' names were you doing allowing him to touch the flame!" Dymon's outraged voice demanded.
Lifting his head, Brianhet was not surprised to see the other man standing in front of him, holding his sore right hand.
"I only took my eyes off him for a moment," he explained, trying to be reasonable, although why he should explain anything to this hothead was beyond him.
"A moment?" Dymon stressed disbelievingly. "You were sleeping."
"I'm tired," he snapped back, his headache returning with full force.
Dymon's scowl intensified and his lip curled in distaste as he regarded his twin. Sucking his sore fingers he turned away again, dismissing his own heavy limbs as he continued to fight the babbling confusion of thoughts his brother subconsciously threw at him.
Looking at the retreating back with dislike, Brianhet felt awake enough to attend to another necessity. Reaching forward, he hooked one of the cloths from the floor and started to rub the oil off his lover's body. It was everywhere except in his hair but it rubbed off eventually. Much to his amazement, Damon started to squirm under his touch, stretching and almost purring with pleasure.
Amused by Damon's reaction, Brianhet smiled affectionately but he kept the contact firm, not allowing it to become teasing. He had practically finished when Dymon's voice shattered the silence again.
"Nebrianhet, will you stop that!"
Turning to glance at the man, all Brianhet saw was the Atlantean standing rigidly on the edge of the light in the small room. His expression was unreadable but Brianhet got the impression he was holding his breath. More curious than angry he wished his eyes were better. "Are you alright?"
"Will you just stop that." The words were spoken through clenched teeth as Dymon remained completely still.
"What?" Brianhet looked back at Damon, confused. But Damon hadn't moved and the look of ecstatic pleasure still shone on his flushed face.
"What you were doing," Dymon stressed patiently, his own pulse rate beginning to slow. "He doesn't like it."
Brianhet's eyebrows lifted. "He?" he pushed incredulously.
"Yes, but I haven't got time to explain it all now."
Brianhet was not listening, his mind already racing as he remembered snatches of conversation between Dymon and the Captain back at the Palace. The Captain had believed Dymon could sense his twin's emotions.
"So it's true," Brianhet said to himself, before looking up at the other man again. "You've known all this time that he was in trouble, haven't you," he accused.
"I don't know what you mean," Dymon said flatly, starting to relax tense muscles.
Brianhet turned back to Damon and ran a hand smoothly up his inner thigh to his groin. Damon's eyes closed to almost slits and Brianhet heard the sharp intake of breath that Dymon was unable to suppress.
"It's none of your business," Dymon spat at him, trembling as much from his brother's pleasure as his own anger. "And stop that," he snarled.
Brianhet smiled at him sweetly but his blue eyes remained cold. "Why do you hate your brother so much?"
"That also is none of your business." The hard tone was final.
This time it was Brianhet who turned away, his mind disturbed by the thought. He could remember Damon talking about his home, Atlantis, the people, places and adventures there. But never in all those stories had he mentioned a brother. Two sisters, yes, but not a brother. For some reason that bothered Brianhet. Standing up, still lost in thought, he pushed Damon onto the furs, settling him before he sat down again himself.
He didn't believe Damon was the sort to callously forget about a brother, especially a twin, and he tried to think of possible reasons for his silence. The problem kept his mind alert enough to stay awake and he watched over his lover with a curious frown. If Damon slept, Brianhet wasn't aware of it as the smaller man kept his gaze rigidly on the flames, a small doubting awareness touching the green depths as the night wore on.
Not trusting himself near the Egyptian, Dymon immediately and easily blamed his brother for his confused and desire-driven thoughts as he sank into a high raised chair in the corner of the room.
Nebrianhet still sat with his back to him, Damon lay on the bed, well out of reach of the candle. Dymon took another calming breath, studying his fingers. They were still sore but no mark could be seen. Damon's screaming emotions had also settled, yet his treacherous heart continued to flutter in his chest at the thought of the Egyptian.
It was impossible, he reminded himself, he could not feel this way about another man, especially an Egyptian. He quickly squashed his memory of the man's lips and studiously tried to think of something else. Anything else that would kill the fire in his veins. Pressing his hands over his face, he deliberately conjured up the one image that would destroy all pleasure and turn his blood to ice: Sorrella.
The loathing and hate he felt for the woman only intensified with each meeting. The hideous suggestion that she had mothered him turned his stomach. It had to be a lie, yet even as his mind denied it his heart wept at its truth. He could not forget the knowledge now but he fervently wished he had never heard it. He had always believed himself to be of noble birth, not the indiscretion of a whore and...what had she said: Taemon? His mind puzzled at that. He had never heard of a Lord Taemon before but there again he had not known all the wealthy houses on the east coast of Atlantis. The simple fact that his father had to be a Lord comforted him a little, as he knew Sorrella would not involve herself with anyone less. But still, even that was only a hollow comfort and his inner anger swelled to the brink of explosion. He was so tied up in his own anger and hurt that his mind missed the tentative touch on his senses as Damon started to return to conscious awareness.
Brianhet awoke with a start as an unnecessarily rough hand shook him.
"You fell asleep again," was the cryptic explanation.
Rubbing his neck tiredly Brianhet stared daggers at Dymon. The sun was high in the sky and Brianhet for the life of him could not keep his eyes open. Whether the other man had slept at all the previous night he did not know as he had maintained the silence set by the Atlantean. He had struggled to stay awake and watch over his love, finding himself dozing off only to be woken when Damon became restless.
Now looking at the open face of his lover he saw the green eyes had finally closed and it looked as if he had fallen asleep at last. That in itself was a blessing.
Dymon had recommenced his pacing behind Brianhet and his constant movement was starting to eat away at Brianhet's already raw nerves. Throwing a glance over his shoulder he snapped at the irritating man.
"Why don't you go and see if you can get us both some more water?"
"Why me?" Dymon threw back peevishly.
"Why not?" he half shouted turning, "besides, you have all this energy you might as well do something useful with," he added dangerously, glad for the first time that his eyesight was not perfect; he had no desire to see Dymon at this moment.
Muttering another profanity about Egyptians, Dymon stormed out of the room, just avoiding taking the heavy hanging blanket with him. A short while later, with both men still nursing their tempers, the Captain arrived.
"At last," Dymon's voice hovered on the verge of desperation and relief as he stopped pacing to face the older man.
"Dymon, Nebrianhet," the Captain nodded formally to both men before he went straight to the bed, examining the still sleeping man. "How is he?" he asked anxiously, not taking his eyes off Damon.
"A little better," said Brianhet slowly. "At least he's sleeping now."
"He feels hot," the Captain observed, touching his face gently.
"Could it be the remainder of the herbs," Brianhet suggested.
"What's happening out there?" Dymon's voice cut in, his impatience clear.
Standing straighter, the Captain took a deep breath. "Lan is in an uncontrollable rage. He came back to the Palace last night and went through it like a storm, then had the guards burn the old woman's house down."
"No...Kireva?" Brianhet asked, visibly shocked, his face paling.
"The Captain nodded gravely.
"Is she alright?"
"I don't know. I'm sorry."
Brianhet was grateful that Dymon didn't open his mouth to destroy the silence which had fallen.
"You must all leave immediately," the Captain continued gently.
How?" Brianhet sounded mystified, already seeing Palace guards everywhere.
"Horseback?" Dymon suggested.
"No," said the Captain and Brianhet simultaneously.
"Then how, old man?" asked Dymon dryly, ignoring the Egyptian completely.
Dismissing the belligerent tone, the Captain looked at Nebrianhet. "There is a foreign trader in dock. I should be able to buy all passage. It would be quickest and easiest for you all."
"Andreas?" Brianhet knew his voice betrayed his hope, but he couldn't stop himself from asking.
"No." The older man shook his head. "It's an unusual vessel, not a design I have seen before."
"From the Westlands," supplied Dymon in a flat tone.
"You know this one?" the Captain asked, astonished.
"No," Dymon took a deep breath and lifted his chin. "But I saw it come into the harbor yesterday."
"Of course," the Captain smiled faintly. "I was forgetting that you recently traveled from there."
"Something like that," was all Dymon said when he realized they were expecting a reply.
Sensing more behind that, the Captain's frown deepened.
"But will he take us?" Brianhet wanted to know.
"Maybe," said Dymon casually, but his eyes had a far away look to them.
"I'll ask him immediately."
"Don't be surprised if he refuses," Dymon warned, a touch of viciousness entering his tone.
Watching him carefully the Captain nodded once.
"But what of you, my friend?" Brianhet asked quietly.
"Me?" The older man sounded genuinely surprised.
"Will you be coming with us?"
"No. My place is still by my Lady's side."
"Lady? Sorrella?" Dymon's outraged voice almost overrode Brianhet's question.
"But what of Lan?"
"What of him?" the Captain shrugged. "He thinks I was in the Palace last night." Pausing, he licked his lips. "He is obsessed, Nebrianhet. Though with what, I'm not quite sure yet."
"Then why do you stay?"
"I stay because my place is still with Sorrella," he ended simply.
"And you've been with her long?"
"I have known her since childhood, when I first trained to be her personal bodyguard."
"This is getting us nowhere, Captain," Dymon interrupted, ignoring the penetrating glare from the Egyptian's blue eyes.
"You're right," he grudgingly admitted. "I have to go to the markets for Sorrella, so I will speak with the Captain of the vessel at the same time."
"I'll go with you," Dymon interjected.
"You might need me. At least I speak some of their language."
"No, Dymon," the older man was adamant. "Lan will have you killed outright now if he sees you."
"Then we will just have to be careful, won't we," Dymon insisted.
"You can either take me with you or I'll just go by myself," Dymon threatened dangerously.
"Why are you insisting on being so stupid?" Brianhet asked.
"Mind your own business, Egyptian," Dymon cut back.
"This is my business. Your foolishness will get us all killed," he said heatedly.
"My foolishness!" Dymon widened his eyes incredulously. "If I may remind you Egyptian, it was your lover's stupidity that got us into this mess in the first place," he pointed out angrily.
"Your brother you mean, whom you continued to ignore when he needed help," Brianhet snarled back, taking a step forward.
"Don't snarl at me, just because you were too inadequate in the first place to prevent the danger," Dymon snapped viciously.
Brianhet paled, knowing the word held a measure of truth but wondering how Dymon knew.
"Please," the Captain broke between them. "We can't afford to fight amongst ourselves." Seeing that both men were still poised, he continued, "Against my better judgment I will take Dymon with me, on the condition," he turned, pointing a finger at the smaller man, "that you do everything I say." He waited. "It's important, Dymon."
"Alright," he said ungraciously, casting a nasty look at Nebrianhet once more before turning away towards the door.
"How do you put up with him?" Brianhet snarled through clenched teeth after Dymon had left.
"I have had a lot of practice. Besides, he had a trying childhood."
"For whom? His parents?" said Brianhet sarcastically.
The Captain said nothing but patted the taller man on the shoulder. "I won't be long, my friend. Try and get some rest yourself."
"Now maybe, but Damon will need you later and you'll need to be refreshed."
"We will see," Brianhet said stubbornly.
Chuckling, the Captain turned and went to join his impatient companion at the door.
Sinking onto the furs again, Brianhet breathed a sigh of relief as the two men left. Damon still had not stirred and Brianhet finally gave into his body and lay down beside his lover. The room was light enough now without the candle so he felt he could relax a little, knowing the African woman would not disturb him.
Glancing sideways, he found Damon's face very close. It was then that Brianhet realized he could actually see him. It gave him a thrill of pleasure and he gently used one finger to lift the heavy curls from Damon's eyes and sweep them away. Watching them spring back into place, he gave a small smile of absolute happiness, breathing deeply, savoring the unique smell of the man beside him. Closing his eyes for a moment, he fell asleep almost instantly.
A groaning beside him woke Brianhet and he was horrified to realize that he had actually fallen asleep. The brightness in the room had not changed so he was not sure how long he had slept, but at least he felt a little fresher.
The groaning continued and he sat up to look down at the man writhing on the bed beside him. "Damon?" he said tentatively, reaching out. His only reply was another moan.
The Atlantean's face was tightly closed, persistent tears escaping from the corners of his eyes as he drew his knees up, clutching his stomach.
"Damon," Brianhet said, alarmed by the obvious signs. He touched the damp brow and felt the heat there. Trying to soothe the other man, he was startled when two, extremely bright eyes flew open to stare at him.
"Damon?" he tried again but the gaze remained vacant.
Forcing the other man to sit up, Brianhet remembered the Captain's caution about plenty of water. Bracing Damon against his own chest, feeling all too clearly the violent chills which racked the slim body, he raised the cup to Damon's lips. He had to pries open the teeth before he could get Damon to drink. How much fluid he actually swallowed Brianhet would never know but at least the violent tremors subsided a little.
After what seemed a long time, he lowered the exhausted man back onto the bed and leant over him, examining his features as best he could.
Not sure he had understood the half groaned murmur, Brianhet gently rubbed his lover's cheek. "Damon?"
"You're cold?" He frowned. Looking around, he remembered the extra fur the African woman had left with them, it was still on the floor by the bed and he carefully laid it over the agitated man.
"Is that better?" He rubbed Damon's arms and shoulder, trying to gain a hint of awareness from the other man.
"Damon--" But it was useless, he had fallen into a restless sleep again.
Brianhet sat by anxiously, there each time Damon awoke, trying to help as the other man was hit by violent chills and muscle cramps. Each time Damon remained awake a little longer and mumbled words that Brianhet failed to understand.
He felt helpless as he watched, forcing water into the man at every opportunity. He was also worried about the Captain and Dymon. The day was far advanced, the sun sitting low in the sky and still they had not returned. Not knowing why was the worst part as he watched Damon's damp face, waiting for a sign of wakefulness. Hungry himself, Brianhet had eaten the sweet mead and sipped only a mouthful of water, leaving the rest for Damon.
"Nooo. . . " Another groan heralded Damon's restlessness and Brianhet held him, hoping to ride out the pain this time. It was as much pain of the mind as pain of the body Brianhet knew, but he felt angry as he studied the bruises across Damon's neck.
"No. . . " The word was a little less slurred this time and the small whimper that followed it almost broke his heart.
"You're safe, love," he murmured, offering reassurances the whole time now, hoping that a few would get through the fog still clouding the Atlantean's mind.
Brianhet stopped his rocking, tensing. "Damon?" He dare not hope for too much.
"Bn't." It was so quiet, mixed with a sigh of relief as Damon sagged in his arms, that Brianhet just sat there, unable to move. Then he gave a tremendous grin, fighting to contain his hysterical relief and happiness as he turned the other man gently in his arms.
"Damon," he said, with more confidence.
There was no reply but he didn't let that worry him. "Come on love," he coaxed, "open your eyes."
Slowly, two red rimmed eyes opened and looked at him before falling shut again.
"Oh, Damon love." Laughing, he hugged the Atlantean hard, swaying back and forward, his own tears too closely held in check until now, escaped.
Stopping, he looked down into the exhausted face. "That's even worse than before. You drop any more syllables and I won't have a name left."
Damon frowned at that, as if he had difficulty in following what was being said.
Still smiling foolishly, Brianhet continued more slowly. "How are you feeling?"
"Sore," said Damon, his voice slurred as he closed his eyes and dropped his head back to rest on Brianhet's shoulder. Then, as if having second thoughts, he started to frown and reopened his eyes. "What happened?" It was no more than a mumble as he took another breath, trying very hard to concentrate. "Another quake?"
Shaking his head a little sadly, Brianhet wondered if the memory would return in time. "Not this time love," was all he said before he kissed his lover's face all over, until he had succeeded in rousing a faint but affectionate smile from the man in his arms.
It was just turning dark when the two men returned and Brianhet breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank the Gods," he exclaimed. "I had begun to imagine Lan's guards had found you."
"No," replied the Captain.
Dymon snorted and stamped over to the high backed chair, sinking into it moodily.
Raising an eyebrow, Brianhet saw the young Atlantean's black expression and decided to ignore him. "So tell me what happened."
"In a moment," the Captain cautioned. "I'll get us some food first."
Impatient to learn what had happened, Brianhet nevertheless bit his tongue over his urgency.
Returning, the Captain divided the food, handing Brianhet his share and leaving Dymon's sitting on the low table. There was silence while he ate and Brianhet waited expectantly.
"How is he?" The older man's question startled him for a moment.
"Recovering, though he's still weak and confused, but each time he awakes he is a little more aware."
"Only to be expected."
"So tell me, when do we leave?"
Taking a thoughtful breath, the Captain placed his cup gently on the table, his expression grave as he met Brianhet's eyes.
"It will have to be in the next day or so, three days at the most, but my friend, it won't be by sea."
"Why, what happened?" he asked anxiously, swinging his eyes to Dymon's still motionless figure, already blaming him for it.
"Nothing," the Captain dismissed. "It appears that the Westlander's vessel is not a trader and so the Captain won't take passengers."
"Not a trader?" Brianhet found that hard to believe; every sea-worthy vessel had to trade something.
"No, he is taking on fresh water and food from what I can gather from the people in the markets, but he isn't selling or trading," the Captain said ruefully. "He has also only allowed himself and a few other men ashore for some reason, yet they appear in no hurry to leave."
That doesn't make sense," Brianhet stated flatly.
No," the older man mused, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "But he will not take passengers I learned--the man spoke a little Egyptian. Very poor speech patterns, mind you, so I really cannot be certain of everything he said."
"But if we can't go by vessel..." Brianhet's voice trailed away.
"I still say horseback is the quickest and safest way," Dymon interjected from his corner.
"But Damon can't travel that way, he's too weak yet," Brianhet shot back half accusingly.
"Then we will just have to take it slow, won't we?" Dymon said with strained patience.
"No," Brianhet snapped, feeling his temper resurfacing far too quickly.
"Nebrianhet, there may be no other way," the Captain said calmly.
"But he's still too weak," Brianhet insisted quietly, sensing the compassion in the other man.
"We still have a bit of time, my friend."
"Not much," Dymon muttered disgruntled.
"Lan has locked himself in his Temple and Brynnene is useless without his direction," the Captain continued, needing to explain to Brianhet. "It will be another day at least before Lan intensifies the search and by that time you should be out of Red City."
"How near is the next city?"
"A seven or eight day ride if you take it slowly and there you should find it easier to buy passage."
"What with, old man?" Dymon demanded, his green eyes furious as he looked directly at the two men--"magic?"
The Captain sighed, lowering his head; Brianhet clamped his teeth together as he regarded the irritated man coldly.
"Lan has coveted all Dymon's possessions, leaving him penniless, and he's none too thrilled about the fact," the Captain explained as he recognized the Egyptian's building anger. Unable to help himself Brianhet's face twisted into a telling smirk.
Muttering another choice Atlantean curse, Dymon stood abruptly and stormed from the room,, his face set in an unforgiving scowl.
"Dymon--" the older man called after him, but the impulsive Atlantean had already gone. "I had best go after him Nebrianhet." The Captain climbed wearily to his feet and for the first time Brianhet realized he was seeing the older man's face clearly; heavy lines of worry marring an otherwise flawless face that was deeply tanned by constant exposure to the sun. "Some advice to remember, my friend," he added, his voice low and serious, "Dymon is just as worried about Damon as you are even though he doesn't show it."
Stunned, Brianhet stared at him.
"I'll see you in the morning."
It was a good minute before Brianhet realized he was alone in the room again. Staring open-mouthed at the blanketed doorway, he considered what the Captain had said. The idea of Dymon being concerned about anyone but Dymon was fading. Not feeling in a very charitable mood towards his lover's twin anyway, he refused to entertain the idea seriously, deciding eventually that the Captain was blind and biased towards his countryman.
When Dymon finally returned, he was still in a foul mood and resumed his pacing almost immediately.
"Will you stop that and sit down," Brianhet snarled after a prolonged period of silence.
"I don't like this place," Dymon snapped irritably back at him.
"Neither do I if it comes to that but you don't see me inflicting my bad temper on everyone else," said Brianhet in a sharp, cutting tone.
"No?" Dymon said with disbelief.
"No." Brianhet's voice held a finality that did not invite argument.
Dymon muttered a few more selective curses, adding Egyptians to his list. He threw himself into his chair again and glared at the broad back.
Brianhet just gritted his teeth harder and resigned himself to another long and tedious night.
Morning saw the two men both studiously ignoring each other as Dymon continued to walk restlessly around in circles, casting the occasional resentful glance at his twin, who continued to sleep peacefully. Nothing had woken him all night and eventually the Egyptian had fallen into an uneasy doze, leaving Dymon wide awake and unable to sleep. His nerves tingled as a heavy sense of dread settled on him just after sunrise.
The hidden jealousy that had eaten him all his life as he grew up watching Damon, plagued his mind and emotions still; unrealistically, he blamed Damon for everything he was feeling now. He kept telling himself that no one was worth this much personal anguish yet at the same time he was both drawn and repelled by Damon's closeness. He steadfastly refused to consider the Egyptian's closeness.
Riding another bout of cramping stomach pains he eventually admitted he was hungry. Approaching the bed with care he picked up his portion of sweet bread and fruit from the previous night. Unfortunately, the movement woke the Egyptian and he groaned silently.
"What?" Brianhet's eyes were wide as he swung around.
"Nothing, go back to sleep," Dymon muttered, looking away quickly from the wide, blue eyes.
"I wasn't asleep," the Egyptian denied.
Dymon just cast him a look, choosing not to answer, it was an argument they had each time Nebrianhet fell asleep. "No, of course not."
Brianhet's eyes narrowed suspiciously as he followed the Atlantean's departing back.
"How early is it?" he asked eventually as he glanced at Damon's sleeping face, frowning slightly as he gently touched a dry lip. Surely, he thought, it was not natural to sleep so deeply for so long.
"Just after sunrise," said Dymon absently.
Nodding briefly, Brianhet concentrated on Damon, seeing if he could coax his lover awake. "Damon," he said gently in Atlantean, brushing a warm cheek.
It took a while but eventually the other man seemed to emerge from the deep sleep. Moving a little, not really awake, his eyes remained closed.
"Damon," Brianhet insisted again, expectant and hesitant at the same time.
The Atlantean released a little groan of annoyance at being disturbed before opening his eyes, blinking repeatedly to clear his vision.
"Morning." Brianhet smiled down, feeling a little uncomfortable as he saw a number of questions fly across his lover's face.
"Bri'het?" came a croaky voice.
"Yeah," he responded, still smiling. He heard movement behind him but forgot Dymon as the large, green eyes reopened to settle on him. "How are you feeling?"
For some reason the question seemed to puzzle Damon until he moved, then he pulled a wry face. "Sore and stiff," he admitted, sounding confused. "What have we been doing?"
"You've just been a little bit...ill. But you're over it now," Brianhet supplied quickly.
"Yeah." Brianhet touched his brow, smoothing out the frown. "Something you drank I think."
"Oh." Damon stopped to think about that. Hearing a sharp snort, Damon tried to lift his head.
"It's alright." Brianhet pushed him back down.
"Who's that?" Damon insisted.
"A...friend," Brianhet evaded lamely.
"Andreas?" Damon sounded all too hopeful.
Brianhet hesitated, seeing Damon starting to sit up again. Forestalling him, he said, "Dymon."
"Dymon?" Damon frowned at him, puzzled. "Who's Dymon?"
Taking a deep breath, Brianhet tried to think of the best way of telling his Atlantean about his brother. Just on the verge of spilling the truth, he saw his lover's face drain of color as sick comprehension hit him.
"Dymon," Damon said again in a shaking voice, this time he ignored the Egyptian's hands and sat up looking for the other man, seeing the face of the man who had haunted his dreams and nightmares for the last few years. 'Dymon,' he did no more than mouth the word as his eyes traveled over the stationary figure sitting opposite him.
Mind racing, Dymon felt the fleeting touch of panic as Damon awoke and he fought with the automatic response of running. It was stupid, ridiculous that he should now discover this fear of his twin. Remaining completely still, he carefully constructed a cold, hard expression as he watched his brother sit up. The exciting jolt when the wide eyes devoured him for the first time almost broke his calm composure. Damon was looking at him with a warm sense of wonder and dawning belief that unnerved Dymon; he had to clamp his jaw tighter to stop himself responding.
Brianhet was looking at Dymon now, recognizing all too easily the arrogant set of the face, unconsciously he placed a protective hand on his lover's naked shoulder.
"You know him?" he asked gently, looking back at Damon.
"I was told...before I left for the caves," Damon answered absently, still staring at his twin.
Casting his mind back, Brianhet remembered that it was on the trip to the caves that Damon's vessel had been wrecked and he had been sold as a slave: just before they met.
"Told?" he queried.
"My..." he hesitated for a moment, looking at Brianhet this time, "my mother told me. It was very complicated and involved Atlantean politics..." he trailed off again, his gaze resettling on the other man still sitting in the chair. "But we have never actually met..."
Pushing himself from the chair by a mixture of nerves and irritation, Dymon found himself scowling all the harder at his brother's continued delighted astonishment. The wide, green eyes made him extremely uncomfortable and his tension only tightened another notch as Brianhet's piercing, blue glare settled on him in challenge.
Meeting the look briefly, he turned back to Damon and forced a smile. "I'm glad you have recovered," he muttered with as much enthusiasm as he would have addressed a heap of sand. The word 'brother' caught in his throat and his sick dread increased as he saw Damon smile back at him sweetly.
"So glad you are able to be civil." It was the tone of Brianhet's voice rather than the words which caused Damon to frown for the first time as he blinked and looked a little closer at the two men.
Dymon smiled tightly at him, sensing his brother's changing emotions. Unable to read his twin's mind, Damon's change of emotions and facial expression were all too easy to understand.
"If you'll excuse me I want to get something to eat."
Biting his bottom lip in thought, Damon tried to capture the vague image and impressions hovering on the edge of his mind. Dymon stood in front of him, his eyes direct but Damon suddenly saw a totally different picture as his memory clicked into place with a surge of remembered pain.
"Well?" Dymon stressed impatiently at the door, his eyes a little wild.
"No." Brianhet shook his head. "But Damon might..." he trailed off abruptly as he saw his lover's expression. "Damon?"
Dymon saw the look as well and he froze as the bright eyes widened further, an angry glint darkening them.
"You!" Damon accused suddenly. He started to tremble in the remembered betrayal and hurt.
Dymon raised his hand in instant defense. "It was not what it seemed," he said, trying to reason quickly.
Baffled, Brianhet's vision swung between the two identical faces. "What wasn't?" he asked, puzzled.
Damon's eyes seemed to brim with tears as he continued to stare at his twin. "It was you!" Damon repeated loudly, as if he was trying to reinforce the point in his patchy memory.
"Damon," his brother warned, his eyes flashing to the Egyptian's face, seeing the curiosity there.
"What?" demanded Brianhet, hearing the accusation in his lover's voice. He pinned the other man with a penetrating stare, noting the defensive anger.
"All awake, I see. That's good." The Captain's cheerful entry dispersed the building tension as Dymon turned to him in badly concealed relief. "What's going on?" the older man faltered, feeling the unease around him. "Have I missed something?"
"No," Dymon cut in too quickly. "We were just wondering when you would get here."
"Oh," he said, unconvinced.
"So tell me, good Captain, what's been happening? When do we leave?" Dymon rushed on with a false cheerfulness.
The Captain's eyes narrowed marginally as he studied the eager man in front of him. "Alright, Nebrianhet," he said, turning to him, "what's happened?"
Unsure, he shrugged. "Nothing...yet," he said slowly.
Even more baffled the Captain decided to drop the subject as his eyes fell on the man sitting in bed. "Damon, it is good to see you awake."
It was said with such sincerity that Damon found it difficult not to respond to this man.
As if reading his lover's hesitation, Brianhet performed the introduction. "Damon, this is the Captain. He came to Red City in Brynnene's wedding party as Sorrella's bodyguard."
Another door in his mind opened and Damon could place the Captain's face in a sea of unhappy memories in his mother's house. "Forgive me for not remembering," he said formally.
"Sorry to interrupt but aren't we leaving?" Dymon's lucid tones cut in like a sharp knife.
"After I've purchased some horses."
"Fine," said Dymon. "I'll go with you."
Dymon looked back blandly.
"Oh never mind," the Captain muttered. "Just remember to stay out of sight, Lan's guards are still around."
"Whatever you say, old man." Dymon's voice was sweet as it dripped sarcasm.
Scowling, the Captain's reply was cut off by the heavy blanket as the two left the room.
"What was that all about?" Brianhet asked Damon.
"Huh?" Damon replied vaguely, his eyes still locked on the blanket, deep in thought.
"Between you and Dymon," he pushed, as if the topic was obvious, compelling Damon to answer.
"Oh, that." Again Damon's expression changed, his eyes glittering with renewed fire.
"Yes, that." Brianhet tried to curb his exasperation.
"It was just a horrible nightmare I thought to be my imagination. Seeing him I realized it was no dream," Damon ended bitterly.
"From Atlantis?" Brianhet asked gently, touching his lover's tense shoulder again, offering reassurance.
"No. Here," was the curt response.
"What was it?" Brianhet's own expression hardened as he immediately imagined the worst.
As if suddenly realizing the trap he had set himself, Damon lamely shook his head, his own anger draining away. If the memory was painful for him what would Brianhet's reaction be?
"Don't shake your head," snapped Brianhet in annoyance, "I want to know. What did Dymon do? Did he," he paused, "offend Lan and arrange to have you taken instead?" He was searching for answers as he recalled with a sinking feeling that he still didn't know why Lan had wanted Damon so badly.
"If not that then what?" He watched the troubled face as the Atlantean bit his lip. "Come on love, tell me," he coaxed.
"It was before that," Damon said eventually.
"Before Lan's guards caught me." Damon toyed briefly with the idea of lying.
Making a jumbled sense out of that, Brianhet was still none the wiser. "Alright," he said mildly, "what happened?" He watched Damon intently, determined to get to the bottom of this.
"I'd seen him," he said in a rush, waiting for Brianhet to understand and dreading it.
"Where?" Brianhet felt he was getting somewhere but it was like trying to get water from a stone.
"Me?" Brianhet squeaked incredulously.
Damon nodded, seeing the Egyptian's abruptly puzzled face.
"But when? I don't remember. Come on, Damon, tell me," he pleaded, getting angry himself now.
"I came back from the markets with the old woman, Kireva, and he was wrapped in your arms. You were kissing him," Damon said in a rush, needing to get it out, half accusing as he refused to look up into the blue eyes.
Brianhet's face dropped as the half known thoughts slid into place. All along there had been something disturbing in Damon's reactions, now he knew why. It hadn't been Damon at all.
"That scheming, manipulative, nasty, arrogant, treacherous, malicious....."
"Bri'het--" Damon was shaking his arm and Brianhet looked down into an extremely worried face.
"Just let me get my hands on that..."
"No," Damon half cried. "No." He took a breath. "Please, love, let's just forget it."
"How can I forget?"
Damon didn't let him go on. "I'll deal with Dymon," he said evenly, with more confidence than he felt. "Please, my Egypt, trust me."
"But we..." this time Brianhet stopped.
"I know," Damon acknowledged, shivering at what he imagined had happened.
"I believed it was you," Brianhet ended simply.
"It's over and I'm here now."
"Yes." Brianhet drew him into a desperate hug. "For that I thank your Gods." His lips touched an ear gently before finding Damon's mouth and he kissed him deeply.
Lying back on the fur covered bed, Brianhet fought to relearn his lover while Damon tried to gentle him with soft touches. Breaking the kiss, it was just a matter of removing the Egyptian's tunic as Damon was already naked. For some reason Brianhet seemed to be in a frantic hurry and Damon just smiled at him reassuringly, trying to calm him as he cupped the pale face so deep in concentration.
"How are your eyes?" he whispered as strong hands snaked under him to cup his backside.
"What?" Brianhet muttered vaguely, lost in sensation.
"Your eyes." Damon smiled, kissing Brianhet's face as his thumbs lovingly caressed the tender flesh under the half closed eyes. His own nerves were already singing in sensation but he needed to slow this loving.
"My eyes?" Brianhet sounded puzzled as he tried to focus on the happy face under him, breaking his desperate rhythm.
"Mmmm," encouraged Damon, running his fingers through the dark hair, noticing how long it was getting.
"Fine," Brianhet acknowledged, frowning a little. "I can see you perfectly."
"Good. Then come here." Smiling seductively, Damon drew Brianhet back down into another prolonged kiss, this time exploring the Egyptian's mouth possessively. Running his hands over the firm muscled back he allowed his eyes to close, savoring the sensations as Brianhet's strong hands gripped him firmly. He knew how badly they both needed this but was unable to slow the pace so they could enjoy the contact longer.
Suppressing a moan of pure pleasure, Brianhet drove his sex urgently into Damon's belly. Undulating, the Atlantean clutched his lover's arse compulsively, arching his own back to increase the slippery contact between them as he slid his finger teasingly between the clenched buttock muscles.
An almost animal groan of intense pleasure exhaled hotly in his ear and he smiled in triumph as he easily slipped his finger past the tight anal muscle. Brianhet's grip on him increased as Damon caressed the hot channel walls. The Egyptian's thrusting became wild and frantic and he buried his face in Damon's neck. Just knowing he was pleasing Brianhet so much brought Damon to the peak and he could feel the other man's climax through his own as Brianhet stilled, taut above him, his erect sex spasming across Damon's abdomen.
Groaning in relief, Brianhet collapsed bonelessly on top of Damon, enjoying the tingling, sliding sensations on sensitive skin as Damon wriggled beneath him to get comfortable. He could have easily fallen asleep except for Damon's insistence that he move. Complying, he sluggishly moved half off the other man, kissing his cheek in apology.
Sighing, Damon kept hold of his hand, kissing his palm as he turned his head to watch the satiated face next to him. For some reason, he felt wide awake and more alive at that moment than he had felt for a long time: he wanted to share this feeling with his Egyptian.
Blinking through heavy eyelids, Brianhet saw the sweet smile of uncomplicated happiness directed at him and found it hard not to respond.
"Love you, Bri'het," the low voice whispered softly.
Raising himself up onto one elbow Brianhet stared down at the man by his side, slowly reaching across to kiss him warmly on the lips.
"And you," he said, serious now.
Letting his eyes travel the length of his lover's relaxed sprawl, Brianhet thought again of what he had almost lost. Catching sight of the darkening marks over Damon's neck and shoulder he touched them gently with his fingertips.
"How did these happen?"
"What?" Damon tried to see what Brianhet was referring to but was unable to focus on the marks.
"Small bruises," Brianhet said, frowning. "They look like..." he stopped as he identified what they were and his fingers stilled on a particularly large bruise bite.
"Look like what?" Damon was still twisting his head around to try and see the marks and so missed the other man's expression.
"Who did this Damon?" Brianhet demanded, his hand unconsciously tightening on the Atlantean's shoulder.
"What? I didn't even see them."
"Do you remember what happened to you in the Temple?"
"Temple?" Damon's mouth went dry at the thought.
"When Lan's Palace guards took you there," Brianhet supplied, his eyes still on the livid bite marks.
Shaking his head Damon managed to say: "No." He remembered the children but that was before he had been captured. And the monk, there was something about a monk but he couldn't pin the memory down. "All I remember is that it was cold and extremely dark," he said with a shiver.
Brianhet didn't say anything as he continued to trace the small marks with his fingers, imagining too well what might have happened.
"How did you meet...Dymon?" Damon spoke the name with a little effort, "and the Captain?" He was honestly curious but at the same time needing to change the mood.
"Eh?" Looking up, Brianhet missed the question; he shook his head to clear his disturbing thoughts.
"Dymon and the Captain, how did you meet them?"
"I was worried and went looking for you. The Captain sort of found me. He thought I was looking for Dymon. Never did find out why he thought that," he added absently. "When I told him it was you I was looking for he took me to Dymon. I found out he was your twin." Brianhet half shrugged as he remembered, his fingers still gently touching the marks.
"But how did the Captain find you?" Frowning, Damon was still puzzled by that fact.
"Don't know. I suppose he overheard me talking with the old woman."
"Sorrella?" Damon literally screeched, sitting bolt upright and dislodging the other man in the process.
"Yeah." It was no more than a mumble as he noted the alarm on Damon's round face. "Well that's what she said her name was," Brianhet defended.
Damon remained speechless, lost in another world as he stared through his Egyptian lover.
"Small, pale, with a round, pinched face and long, greying white curls. Definitely of Atlantean origin. Looks older than I would say she is but her speech marked her as well schooled and arrogant." Brianhet tried to catalogue the female in a neutral voice but found it extremely difficult. It seemed you either liked the woman or you hated her.
"Sounds like her," Damon commented with a measure of disgust. "What's she doing here?" he added absently, not really expecting Brianhet to answer.
"She came over with Brynnene for her wedding as far as I know and was forced to stay when...when," he hesitated, knowing the destruction of Atlantis still pained his Atlantean friend.
"When Atlantis fell." Damon nodded coldly. Fate could be a cruel master, he thought bitterly.
Seeing Damon's expression, Brianhet immediately revised his thoughts, worried: Damon very rarely showed this degree of hatred for someone and it startled him.
"You know her from Atlantis?" Brianhet asked carefully, not wanting Damon to brood too long on his private thoughts. "How did you meet her for she would have been a Lady of the courts?" he added tentatively, careful not to demand any answers.
"My mother introduced us," Damon's voice held a measure of contempt.
"Lord Antonreas' wife." Damon's tone betrayed his displeasure as he almost spat out the words.
"But I thought..." Brianhet stopped as he saw the dead eyes look up and meet his for the first time.
"My last summer in Atlantis shattered my childhood." The memory itself was painful but Damon was determined to explain it to Brianhet. "Quite suddenly, in the middle of one night, I learnt I had another family and a twin brother. My birth mother, Lady Cassceopia explained it to me very patiently." Damon's voice was horribly controlled as he studied his hands and Brianhet was afraid to interrupt or touch him as he listened, first fascinated, then horrified, to the slowly revealed facts.
"First born twins were considered bad luck in wealthy families, or so she explained, and that is why we were separated. Somehow I never did believe her. When Dymon, my twin, had been banished, for a reason I never learnt after my father, Lord Antonreas died. Cassceopia decided to use me as a substitute for Dymon so the family wealth would not be lost. At first I didn't understand but slowly all the pieces fell into place." Damon's voice was cold and vicious. "I was to marry Lord Brymon's daughter; by joining our family fortunes we would have controlled most of the western sector of Atlantis." He stopped to shake his head.
"I was horrified and tried to get away but all the family kept insisting it was my duty. No one was supposed to know I wasn't Dymon but somehow Sorrella knew." He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts. "She took one look at me and was livid. She and my mother argued for days but I could never understand why until I found out that Brynnene, the girl I was supposed to marry, was Sorrella's daughter."
Brianhet's mind was whirling as he listened to the slowly unraveling story. Suddenly the memory which had been nagging at him slipped into place and he gave a gasp of shock, looking quickly at Damon; the Atlantean was still lost in his own memories and didn't notice. He continued to stare at Damon with worried eyes as he recalled Dymon's reaction to the news that Sorrella was actually his mother. Even the Captain had said it was true. Knowing that his lover's reaction would not be any better, he closed his mouth and listened to Damon's revelations with new insight.
"I had supposed at first that Sorrella just didn't like me but her obsession went beyond that. Brynnene and I had slept together only the once but Sorrella found out. It was her, I'm sure, that had Symon killed and me sent to the caves." Damon ended viciously.
"Symon?" Brianhet prompted quietly.
"A childhood lover," Damon said simply but his eyes were still haunted by the memory...and unforgiving.
"So you were supposed to marry Brynnene?"
"No, Dymon was," Damon cut in sharply. "I was just a convenient substitute."
Brianhet looked at him steadily, biting his bottom lip as he thought of the truth. He could understand why Sorrella didn't want any of the marriages to take place but he disapproved of her methods intensely. She could have literally destroyed three lives with her deceitfulness. Might already have done, he thought with a stab of fear. Reaching out, he softly touched the other man, needing permission to do more.
Damon turned wide, pain filled eyes on him and Brianhet quickly gathered him into a protective embrace.
"So tell me, how long have you known Andreas?"
Damon glanced up at him, puzzled for a second. "All my life." He studied the Egyptian's face. "Why?"
"Just wondered because he's supposed to be Brynnene's brother," Brianhet explained. And that would make him your half-brother, he thought silently and Brynnene your half-sister. Storing the information away safely he concentrated on the man in his arms.
Seeming to accept the reason Damon relaxed again. "I met him as a child. I used to hang around the docks, watching the big traders. He was always friendly." He shrugged in the encircling arms, burrowing closer to the warm body.
"He must have been from Sorrella's first marriage," Brianhet said a little uncertainly, curious and fishing for more information.
Damon didn't seem to pick up on his hesitation as he nodded, the springy curls tickling Brianhet's chin.
"Yeah. Second oldest son, I think, from what I can remember. One of the servants told me. His father had died early and Andreas had gone to sea as a young man, leaving his older brother and two sisters behind with Sorrella."
"You're not wrong," Damon snorted, his previous anger ebbing away slowly in the loving contact.
Brianhet lifted a questioning eyebrow. "Why?"
"Andreas won't talk about it but I think it is because Sorrella's first husband left everything to his first born son, leaving her with control over nothing." He gave an unamused laugh.
"So that's why she remarried?" Brianhet half guessed.
"I would say so." Damon wriggled a little, closing his eyes. "Lord Brymon was very rich and he lacked a heir."
"So?" Brianhet didn't get the connection.
"So," said Damon patiently, "he was old and had already lived out two wives. He was desperate for a child. Sorrella conveniently fitted the bill and gave him a child a summer later."
Brianhet frowned harder, his mind rapidly turning over the facts. "Two wives?" he muttered incredulously.
"Yeah." Damon smiled into his neck, letting his hand slide over the smooth back. "Everyone apparently thought he was unable to sire offspring until Sorrella came along."
"Hmm," Brianhet muttered suspiciously. "Don't you think that seems a bit strange?"
"What?" came the sleepy response.
"That none of his other wives could give him a child?"
"He could have just been unlucky," Damon mumbled, unconcerned. He yawned expansively, gushing hot, moist air onto the Egyptian's neck.
Brianhet shivered and dropped the discussion. It was a moot point considering Atlantis no longer existed. Turning his mind to the immediate present he slowly lay down, taking his lover with him. They were both warm, safe, relaxed and alone and that was a circumstance Brianhet intended to take full advantage of.
Tellac sat brooding, staring out into the harbor at the foreign ship as he chewed his bottom lip miserably. Nobody loved him or wanted him, he kept repeating to himself in an unhappy and very disillusioned voice. Not even the Gods.
He had gone to the fire and had stood before the flames, waiting to be taken by the Gods and made to feel happy and cherished. But he had felt none of those things, only an overwhelming desire to run and hide from the intense heat and terrifying walls of white-flamed pain. Heartbroken and sobbing he had fled, taking refuge in his favorite hiding place. Nothing seemed the same any more. He was cursed, he was sure of that and a bubble of misery fluttered through his belly again.
There was only one thing left he could do and that was to leave Red City before everyone else found out about his shame. But how? He had no gold and no traders were in harbor that he could ask for work on their vessel in exchange for his passage out.
His spirits sinking even lower he sniffed a long shuddering breath and wiped his nose on the back of his hand. Only a few market people were around and he ignored them. The rest of the people were either still celebrating or recovering from the festival; just the thought of that stabbed through his heart like a cold knife.
Movement on the still waters of the bay drew his attention as he saw a small rowboat leave the big foreign vessel. It had three men on board and Tellac watched its progress with interest as it moved closer to a waiting man on the wooden dock.
Wrapped in his own misery he found himself studying the vessel again, an exciting idea beginning to form.
All he wanted to do was get away from Red City: he could get off at the next port of call. Before he knew or considered what he was thinking, he had made up his mind. He could hide on the ship until they reached another harbor. He had already convinced himself there would be plenty of places to hide; besides he was an expert at remaining unseen.
Before he could change his mind, he padded silently to the wooden dock edge and climbed down the wooden supports until he reached the sun-warmed water. Having learned how to stay afloat in water from living so intimately with traders on the docks, Tellac was able to paddle slowly towards the anchored ship.
Halfway there he believed he was going to drown; he had never tried to stay afloat and paddle for such a length of time. He was closer to the ship rather than the dock now so he had no choice but to make for the closest solid object.
The sun was starting to sink and its rays threw weird shadows over the water that scared Tellac until he realized it was the shadow of the trading vessel in front of him.
Finally reaching its side he found himself unable to get a firm hold on the slippery underside of the vessel; he was forced to paddle further around, out to the heavy chain of the anchor. Panting for breath and panicking he clutched the chain, staring with horror-filled eyes at the huge ship. It hadn't looked that large from his hiding place at the docks and he wondered if he had made a terrible mistake.
Glancing back at his home he knew he would not make the distance back to the shore without drowning. And he didn't want to die, he was very positive about that fact. 'Maybe that was why the Gods rejected me,' he thought absently. Not bothering to dwell on the idea he looked up with apprehensive eyes at the long chain, wondering if he could make it as he slowly started to climb.
It seemed to take forever but eventually he reached the huge round hole the chain emerged from and tumbled inside, his muscles shaking with strain. Knowing this probably wasn't the best place to remain for long he decided to wait until his strength and breath returned before finding a more suitable hiding place on the massive ship.
Embarking on a new adventure, he didn't have time to mourn the home he was leaving behind.
Lying uncomfortably entwined Brianhet knew the exact moment Damon drifted from sleep to wakefulness. Skimming his hand over the smooth but bony contours of his lover's shoulders and back, he waited patiently for Damon to wake properly.
A mumble into his chest brought a shiver of delight as well as a smile to the Egyptian's face.
Lifting his head, Damon focused on the smiling face, the blue eyes alive and twinkling at him again.
"What are you grinning at?"
"Nothing and everything," Brianhet said as he continued to beam at the sleep-heavy features. "You, me, us."
Damon just gave him a disbelieving glance of mock concern but found himself responding to his lover's happiness. Sitting up, he stretched and sighed deeply before bending down to deliver a quick kiss to the Egyptian's irresistibly parted mouth. Sitting back again to watch the effect he shivered, unconsciously tensing.
"What's wrong?" Brianhet was immediately sitting up.
"I don't know," Damon said slowly, "but I think we should get out of here as quickly as possible."
Nodding, trusting the man in front of him, Brianhet squeezed a slender thigh and kissed the pale cheek. "What do you feel?"
Frowning, Damon tried to pinpoint the vague sensations. "Just a heaviness and unease, as if something is about to happen. A building pressure." He tapped his head.
"Alright." That was enough for Brianhet and he climbed off the bed to pull on his discarded tunic.
Standing beside him, Damon looked for his own clothes but could not find them. "Where are my...?"
"Here." Brianhet handed him a soft tunic which fastened at the shoulder. "You'll have to wear this. It's Dymon's, but I'm sure he won't mind," he ended with a small smile.
Dressing quickly Damon studied the strange garment. Its design was identical to some of Brianhet's clothes but the colored patterns along its hem were distinctly odd. Looking up, about to ask a question, he found the Egyptian almost dressed, bending to tie his sandals. Deciding to do the same, Damon looked around for his own.
"Um," Brianhet's voice brought Damon's head around to face him.
"What's happened to my sandals?" he asked, puzzled.
"I don't know." Brianhet was just as puzzled but for a different reason. "You returned without them that first afternoon."
Whatever Damon was about to say next was cut off as the stocky Atlantean Captain returned, pushing into the room, obviously out of breath.
"Good, I'm glad you're both dressed," he said by way of greeting as he leaned against a solid table, trying to catch his breath. "I think it would be best if we left immediately."
"We're almost ready, just need some sandals for Damon."
"Forget them," the Captain said. "There isn't time. Besides, he won't need them to ride." Then, as if remembering something, he turned to look at the Atlantean. "You will be alright to ride, won't you?"
"Fine," Damon responded, eyeing the man up and down, seeing him clearly for the first time.
"What's happening out there?" Brianhet asked, belting on his leather pouch, which was almost empty of gold coins now.
"Nothing yet but it's hard to explain," the Captain said honestly, "I think there will be another quake soon."
Looking up sharply Brianhet frowned, studying the Captain's face for a moment before turning to regard his lover. Damon just shrugged but a hint of wildness had returned to his eyes.
"Let's go then." Brianhet reached out his hand to clasp Damon's. "Where's Dymon?" he asked, realizing the other Atlantean wasn't present.
"With the horses, at the east gate."
"Where are we going?" Damon's quiet question stopped both men for a moment until they realized he would not know. "Cuthmore," the Captain supplied. "Here, Nebrianhet, I think you might need them." He handed the Egyptian a cloth map, which showed only the basic outline of the countryside, plus a handful of gold coins.
"You can," the Captain corrected him. "I don't need them here but you will when you reach the harbor. Take them and don't argue. Come on." With that he turned away, starting for the door. Brianhet quickly put the gold into his purse and folded the cloth map under his belt. Giving one final glance around the room he followed the Captain.
"Wait!" Damon's voice stopped him and he turned.
The Atlantean was holding the white crystal stone delicately between his fingers and he looked at Brianhet, frowning. "I seem to remember," he started, then stopped, unsure, tracing the stone's cold surface with a long finger.
"It's Dymon's, you'd better bring it." Taking a step towards Damon, Brianhet removed the stone from the cold fingers and looped the chain over the curly head. "There."
Watching Brianhet through his lashes Damon gave a small, lingering smile. Leaning forwards Brianhet kissed the seductive lips and felt Damon touch his chest.
"Come on," The Captain's exasperated command broke the lovers apart and they both followed his departing back obediently.
Outside, the older man motioned for them to follow him and they quickly weaved their way through the back streets. The sun was going down and Brianhet guessed they had only a little over an hour of light left. He let the grip on his left hand increase and smiled reassuringly over his shoulder at Damon. Damon's hand was narrower than his and he felt the strong bony fingers bite into his palm possessively.
Moving through the streets silently Brianhet recognized the market area but paid it no thought as they kept to the shadows. Just in front of him he saw the Captain half stumble and lean against a wall, rubbing his temple. Brianhet watched him with growing concern as he felt Damon's warm body press tightly along his side and back.
The evening air was still and not an animal, insect or bird could be heard. Feeling growing apprehension himself, Brianhet watched his two Atlantean companions closely. He had believed Damon was unique but now he was beginning to wonder if all Atlanteans were able to predict danger.
"Come on." The Captain's voice started them forwards again and they kept close together as they rounded another corner.
With no warning they were faced with three tall white men, dressed in leathers and cloth, their hair long and tied back tightly. The two groups regarded each other in startlement for a heartbeat before long sharp swords were drawn and the companions found themselves trapped between the metal and a stone wall.
The man in the middle, tall, broad and with blonde shaggy hair, muttered something angrily as he raised the point of his sword. The other two men stepped forward, their faces twisted in aggression, one man pointing at Damon, who was standing behind Brianhet.
"Dymon," the blonde man snarled, then said something else.
The man to his right roared in frustration as none of the companions responded and he leapt forward, snatching the large white crystal from Damon's neck in a painful tug, snapping the solid gold chain.
Gasping in shock, Damon half fell forward and Brianhet went to retaliate, stopped only by the threatening sword raised higher.
"Don't," the Captain snapped, "let them have the stone."
"Robbers!" Brianhet spat.
Without another word the man closest to Damon lifted his sword and floored the young Atlantean, knocking him senseless.
This time Brianhet's temper snapped and he stepped forwards only to have a sharp, cold blade pressed to his throat. A trickle of blood ran from the small wound as he was pushed back against the wall by the blonde man. The Captain cursed angrily beside him.
Again the man spoke angrily, none of which speech Brianhet understood except when he heard Dymon's name clearly the second time. His eyes narrowed as he met the equally cold, blue eyes of his captors.
Damon was lifted on the shoulder of one of the men and carried away. Fighting his panic, Brianhet tried to get loose but found the biting edge of the sword at his throat again. After what seemed like hours the other two men withdrew the same way their companion had gone.
Cursing, Brianhet started after them but was hindered when the Captain fell heavily to the ground beside him.
"Help me up," the older Atlantean said hoarsely.
The man was shaking and Brianhet was surprised to see blood staining the front of the white tunic. He hadn't realized that the Captain had been caught by a sword as well.
"I'm alright." The Captain brushed his hands away. "Damon, quickly."
Brianhet needed no second urging.
Finding themselves in the dock market area almost immediately they searched around.
"There!" At the same time Brianhet spoke, the ground started to tremble under him; the Captain stumbled, toppling them both to the ground. The quake was mild and didn't last long but it panicked the Africans around them so that both men had to fight to stand, pushing their way through the terrified people to reach the dock's edge. The small rowboat had reached the foreign vessel and Brianhet watched with mounting anger and frustration as he saw Damon lifted aboard. Looking at the water beneath him, he judged the distance.
"No lad." The Captain restrained him, reading his thoughts clearly. "Not that way."
"Let go," Brianhet snapped, freeing himself from the restraint.
"No." Again the Captain held him back. "Think Nebrianhet. They will kill you if you tried to board."
"What do you think they'll do to Damon?" he demanded unreasonably, seeing the rowboat being raised onto the long deck.
"If they wanted him dead they would have already killed him."
Grudgingly, Brianhet had to agree he was right. Remembering the blonde man's speech he turned to his companion with murderous eyes. "Dymon," he snarled, his voice soft and deadly.
"Yes," the older man admitted reluctantly. "We'll talk to him."
Turning back to the vessel again it was all too obvious the ship was preparing to leave. Every instinct cried out in Brianhet to follow: to swim out to the ship, fight for Damon's return. His whole mind and heart demanded that action, yet logically he knew the Captain was right, although the admission left him shuddering in pain. Throwing his life away would not help Damon and he knew Damon was still alive. With that thought he looked once more at the foreign ship and turned with a hard expression back to the other man. His eyes were lifeless as he punched the word out:
"Show me where Dymon is."
Hearing the deadly tone the Captain sighed but understood the need which now drove the Egyptian. "This way."
They weaved through the still anxious Africans left in the market place and re-entered the maze of narrow back streets. The east gate was close to the sea front and when they arrived there they saw Dymon battling with the restless and panicking horses. He was flushed in the face, his features alive with anger; and Brianhet just stopped himself from flattening Damon's twin.
"What took you so long?" Dymon demanded as the horses continued to prance around nervously. His green eyes glittered brightly in the twilight and Brianhet growled deep in his throat as he made a lunge at the slim Atlantean.
Completely thrown off balance by the charging weight, Dymon found himself propelled backwards and slammed painfully against a wall.
"Why?" Brianhet snarled in a vicious fury. "Tell my why, you treacherous, scheming little whore. Tell me or so help me I'll kill you myself." His voice steadily rose in volume as he shook and pressed the winded man callously against the uneven stone of the wall.
"Nebrianhet!" Dymon cried in startlement, his eyes glazing in pain as he was slammed roughly back again, almost jarring the teeth from his head.
"Nebrianhet." This time the shout came from the Captain.
Brianhet ignored it, concentrating all his angry will on the traitor before him. "Come on, how much did your friends pay you?"
Looking up into the wild blue eyes, Dymon knew a moment of pure panic as he fought to understand the jagged speech. "What friends?" he asked, trying to stall for time. He wondered vaguely where the Captain and Damon were and why they weren't pulling this over-sized brute off him.
"You Westlands friends," Brianhet stressed roughly, jolting the slim man again; he watched Dymon wince in pain.
"Don't have...any Westlands...friends." Dymon closed his eyes tightly, suddenly seeing stars. He gasped for breath, all the fight knocked out of him.
"Don't lie," Brianhet said unpleasantly. "They're here, anchored in the harbor. We've just come from talking with them."
Brianhet shook him again, rattling him. Dymon tried to pry the hands loose on his arms but was unsuccessful, tasting blood from his bitten tongue.
"They spoke your name quite clearly," Brianhet insisted, his temper only rising at the lies he believed Dymon was feeding him.
"What?" the other man croaked.
"Nebrianhet--" The Captain came up beside him, panting and out of breath and he tried to break the Egyptian's hold on Dymon.
"Keep out of this," Brianhet snapped, effectively pushing the older man aside. "You've been playing with us from the start, haven't you?" he accused, not releasing Dymon. "Playing your twisted little games." He saw the bemused expression in the glazed eyes but didn't believe it. "Don't give me that look, Damon told me all about your little visits when he wasn't there."
"Ohh Gods," Dymon moaned, closing his eyes as real pain closed over his heart, stripping him and leaving him empty. It was worse than he ache in his head and body and he fought against irrational tears.
"Nebrianhet, stop it." The Captain was elbowing him roughly out of the way and this time his own anger matched the Egyptian's.
"He arranged all this," Brianhet snapped.
"Of course he didn't," the Captain shot back. "Dymon, Dymon," he slapped the round face, removing the dazed Atlantean from the other man's reach in a single movement.
"You can't just..." Brianhet began in a dangerous voice.
"And you can keep quiet," the Captain commanded, ignoring the angry man. "Dymon, snap out of it." He shook the younger man gently. "The Westlands trader, did you recognize it?"
"Of course he did," Brianhet snapped.
"Shut up," the older man shouted, losing patience completely.
"Westlands trader?" Dymon mumbled, confused.
"Yes, the one we saw yesterday, anchored in the harbor."
"I don't believe this, they take Damon and you're..." Brianhet walked away, infuriated, his whole body quivering in anger.
"Dymon, it's important," the Captain stressed.
Dymon shook his head. "No, why?"
"They took Damon, thinking it was you," he said simply.
"What?" Dymon's brain started to work again as he caught onto the facts.
"Good act that," Brianhet fumed behind the crouching Captain.
Looking up, Dymon could just make out the tall Egyptian; he felt the leashed anger and fear radiating from him.
"The Westlanders recognized Damon and thought he was you. They took the white crystal and your brother and threatened to kill Brianhet and myself if we followed."
Dymon struggled to keep up, his mouth falling open in shock. "The crystal," was all he said through numb lips.
"Yes," said the Captain with more patience than he felt as he watched the stunned man, all the time aware of the brooding menace behind him. "Tell us about the crystal."
"Crystal," Dymon repeated in a faraway voice.
"Where did you get it from?" the older Atlantean persisted.
Brianhet growled behind him, knotting his fists.
"The crystal, what have you done with it?" Dymon looked up abruptly, glaring at the Egyptian who stood behind the Captain.
"The Westlanders took it," said the Captain.
"He knows that," said Brianhet in exasperation.
"On the Westlands trader?" Dymon asked in disbelief, just now regaining his swimming senses.
"Who does it belong to?" the Captain pressed.
"An Egyptian," Dymon said a little uneasily as he glanced up at the towering man.
"Egyptian?" the Captain uttered in disbelief.
"Yes. In the Westlands. He thought he..." he paused, trying to judge if it was wise to continue. Seeing the two stern faces Dymon ploughed on. "He thought he owned me, so I humiliated him and took the stone as payment."
"And he sent a ship after you and the stone," the Captain concluded, still puzzled.
"No, he would only want the stone back," Dymon corrected. "He's very rich," he added, almost as an afterthought.
"They took Damon thinking he was you," the Captain said, watching the face opposite his own growing paler at the news.
"Come on," Brianhet muttered, impatient now. "This is getting us nowhere." He looked at Dymon in disgust but the murderous intent was no longer present.
"Why would he want Damon?" the Captain asked as he rose, pulling Dymon up with him. He judged Brianhet's mood to be safe again.
"Revenge is all I could guess," Dymon said quietly, looking at his twin's lover nervously, understanding a little better his uncontrolled fury.
"Revenge?" The word turned bitterly on Brianhet's tongue as he glared at Dymon.
Behind them a deep rumbling shook the whole area, almost deafening them as they stumbled on the trembling ground, holding their ears. The noise grey louder, echoing all around them until everything was completely shaken. Dropping to his knees, Brianhet tried to stop the shooting pain and pressure behind his eyes; it took him a while to realize the noise was subsiding.
"What the Gods was that?" Dymon's voice shook as he looked around frantically.
"Volcano, look!" The Captain pointed.
All three men could see the thickening cloud of black smoke rising from a distant mountain. They stood in awe as it seeped slowly across the sky, devouring all the light as it crept closer towards them.
"Go now, hurry," the Captain urged them, pushing them towards the tethered and extremely nervous horses.
"But where?" Brianhet demanded, no longer interested in just getting out of Red City. He intended to go after Damon.
"Dymon?" the Captain turned to the other man.
"They'd take him to Nedommerik in the Westlands," he replied seriously, looking directly at Nebrianhet, a dread seeping through him as he remembered the fat Egyptian.
Brianhet nodded gravely, already thinking ahead. He would find Andreas; he knew his friend would be only too willing to help. Going up to the horses he forgot about the other two men as he untied one animal. Swinging into the soft saddle he felt the horse's nervousness and absently tried to calm it, his mind totally committed to his plan.
"Nebrianhet, hold on." Dymon's angry voice stopped him and he looked down, surprised to see him holding onto his leg as he turned the horse away.
"Where are you going?" he demanded when Brianhet didn't answer him.
"To get Damon back of course."
"Not without me you're not," Dymon protested strongly, suddenly completely sure what he wanted--no, needed to do.
"What?" Brianhet looked stunned.
"You're forgetting, I can find him, so you need me," he pushed, challenging the other man to argue.
After a moment for thought Brianhet had to admit Dymon could be right. The decision made, he nodded and saw the fleeting smile which crossed the so familiar features. It was necessary but that didn't mean he had to like the idea of Dymon's company. It's only until you get Damon back, he reminded himself. Turning to the Captain, he saw the indecision and longing on the older man's face.
"Be careful, both of you," he said, clasping Brianhet's hand as Dymon swung up onto his horse.
"Come with us," Brianhet said, nodding towards the third horse. The Captain's features twisted in battle and Brianhet could see he was tempted to do just that.
"I can't," he said eventually, with painful regret. "My place is still here."
"With Sorrella," Brianhet concluded.
"For as long as she needs me," he acknowledged.
Joining them, Dymon nodded once in begrudging respect to the older Atlantean but he did not make any attempt to take his offered hand.
"Fast journey," was all the Captain said as he stood back.
A little uneasy at leaving the kind, old man behind, Brianhet turned back. "Can I at least know your name so I know who to thank when I find Damon?" he asked.
As if considering the question, the Captain suddenly smiled warmly. "Taemon, my name's Taemon." Lifting a hand, he hit the horses' flanks, sending the two animals forward with a jerk.
All Brianhet could remember seeing before the barren countryside took all his attention was Dymon's mouth dropping open beside him in shock and sick realization.
-- THE END --
Published as a zine novel, Tanglewebb Press, 1991
by Tessa Rae
Hesitating on the brink of the grassy hill, the warmly wrapped Atlantean paused for breath. Pulling the heavy cloak tighter around himself, he ignored the wind whipping in his heavy, blond curls as he desperately searched the grasslands. Far behind him, the lights of the outer villages of the eastern ports of Atlantis twinkled in the cold darkness. Walking slowly forward, he checked his impulsive urgency, carefully searching the tangled grass, trying to imagine what Sorella must have been thinking when she was up here earlier. But even guessing a little of her irrational actions didn't seem to help. Deciding finally, more on impulse than sound logic, Taemon headed away from the obvious trail to the Lovers' Spring at the top of the hill and its looming trees, and turned instead towards the wider banks of the fresh water stream.
With a growing sense of panic, he frantically tore each bush back, hunting for the one precious object he knew had to be there--somewhere. Only Casseopia's quiet words driving him on until he was practically on the brink of a hopeless empty sorrow, when he breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief as his fingers touched soft cotton.
Gingerly, he freed the blanket wrapped child from its enclosure, pushing the warm cloth from its face with trembling hands. Tears fell silently from his eyes as he felt the tiny, moist breath against his large finger, almost caressing it as he clutched the child possessively to his breast. He had been in time and he thanked the Gods fervently.
Recovering from his own shock and panic, Taemon found the child warm and securely wrapped and had to shake his head again over his lover's rash, unexplainable and desperate behavior. As much as he dearly loved Sorrella, he could not stand back and allow her to kill one of their children--no matter what the circumstances.
Looking fondly at the cocooned little bundle, he touched a cool, soft cheek tentatively with an awkward finger, not knowing what to expect as this was the first time he had ever held a child so young and intimately. He was surprised and delighted when the little face turned towards his hand, mouth open in search.
Sobering slowly as the warm, little mouth sucked on his long finger, Taemon chewed on his bottom lip, trying to decide what to do next. It was obvious that he couldn't keep the child no matter how much he wanted to, as it was just as obvious that he could never tell Sorrella about this.
She was unstable enough at present, and he was just thankful that Casseopia at least possessed some sort of conscience.
Knowing that he didn't have a lot of time, as Sorella would be waiting and wondering where he was, Taemon made a swift decision.
Settling the child more comfortably in the crook of his arm under the heavy cloak, he rapidly made his way back to the small village on the coast. The streets were quiet in the subdued light of the road torches and Taemon was fortunate not to encounter anyone as he quickly navigated the stone paved streets, going to the only house he remembered and knew.
Knocking lightly on a wooden shutter, he prayed the horse and carriage he had left at the other end of the village would be safe for a while longer. A low, deep voice answered him almost immediately and the creaky wooden door was opened. Blinking in the sudden light, Taemon entered the small dwelling with a tight smile. The man, who Taemon knew to be a stone cutter, was a big man, thick set, well muscled and with eyes that regarded him warily.
"And what may I do for you at this hour of the night, Sir?" The tone was purposefully light as the man lifted the candle higher, showing clearly the classical Atlantean features. Taemon opened his mouth to explain, realizing suddenly that he was still dressed in his Captain's uniform, and that the man before him had no cause to recognize him.
"Pardon me for the late interruption to your night, but I have an urgent favor to ask you and your wife." Lifting his cloak back, he repositioned the child looking up in time to see a slight, pretty woman approach to stand by her husband's side, touching his arm as she frowned at their visitor.
"It's alright," her husband reassured her.
"My lady." Taemon inclined his head slightly, smiling gently at her. "You may not remember me, but I am Helesia's..."
"...brother, Taemon," she finished for him in growing surprise, "I remember only too well, you have changed."
"That was the Baron's doing," he shrugged.
"It was a mistake. Your sister had never wanted you to join his household."
"Mistake or not, it is all in the past now."
"How may my wife and I help you?" the other man broke in, reminding Taemon of his earlier words. Following the couple further into the warmth of the room, he wondered where to begin.
"It is...a long term favor I need to ask." As he spoke, he held out the child which wriggled slightly, and suddenly Taemon was stabbed with a touch of sadness at having to relinquish the hold on his small son. The child was so warm and alive in his grasp and already he felt a special bond with this, his youngest child; the only child out of all his children he had ever held.
With a face full of wonder, his sister's childhood friend took the small bundle in firm hands with fingers automatically seeking out the tiny, pink face in amongst the ruffled cotton.
"To whom does it belong?"
Taemon's heart almost spilled out his pride but he clamped his mouth shut, stopping himself blurting out the child's identity. It was too dangerous and he knew he wanted his son to live more than anything, even if it meant never telling the secret.
"Nobody," Taemon eventually managed to say, knowing that he was giving up any right to this baby he might have wished for.
"Nobody?" came the shocked demand as two sets of startled eyes looked at him in disbelief.
Taemon just shook his head, not able to meet the searching eyes. "I...I found him abandoned by the roadside, and could think of nowhere else to bring him."
"A boy?" Both husband and wife investigated the fact, cooing as the delighted, little bundle wriggled in their arms.
"What mother would not want such a beautiful boy?"
Taemon shut his eyes against the horror in the soft words, a pain building under his heart. What mother indeed?
Thinking back, he recalled all too easily the events leading up to this night......
"Sorella? What did you say?" Taemon stood amazed in the center of the large bedroom as Sorella paced the room in long, angry strides.
"I said I'm with child. Again." she hissed at him, seeing the delighted expression and hating her lover and companion very much at that moment. They were alone in the vast room and completely private, and as long as they were discreet they were able to spend much of their nights together. It was something they had done since childhood.
"But that's wonderful," Taemon exclaimed a little unwisely, not noticing the approaching thundercloud until Sorella stood rigidly in front of him.
"Wonderful?" she spat the word back at him, for the moment lost for words in her fury. She clutched her heavy black robes of mourning and shook them fiercely under the Captain's nose. "Wonderful?" She was so angry that tears of rage spilled from her wide, blue eyes. "I am still in my first year of mourning for my dead Lord and you say it's wonderful?" she half shouted.
"My love," soothed Taemon.
"It is an embarrassment to my name, Taemon," she insisted in outrage. "No Lady falls with child when in mourning--and especially no widowed Lady."
"Do you know what they will say in the upper houses?" she demanded, lost so far in her own rage that she no longer saw the softening expression on her lover's face. "Especially when they find out who the father is, and they will," she stressed.
"Sorella," he said, louder this time.
Spinning on her heels she glared at him. "And it's all your fault," she accused.
"Now wait a minute," Taemon tried to cut in, getting angry himself now.
"I said we should have waited until I was married again--at least that way it would not matter if I fell with child, but no! you wouldn't listen."
"Will you just shut up for a moment."
"Had to have it all your own way," she continued in bitter tones. "This will ruin any chances I might have had of re-marrying, just because you could not think beyond your..."
"Shut up." Taemon grabbed her by the upper arms and shook her hard, finally stopping the angry flow of words. "It was no-one's fault," he reasoned, more gently, his tone milder as he suppressed his own fury that her words had inspired. "You wanted that night some moon's back as much as I did, so do not start blaming me now, besides, if you are so worried about gossip--marry me." He watched her mouth fall open in shock. "I love you, Sorella, and I know you love me, so what is wrong with the two of us marrying like I've always wanted us to. Your father is dead now also, so there is no-one to stop us this time." Taking a breath, he wet his dry lips. "Marry me please--make me the happiest person alive."
Sorella just continued to stare at him numbly for long moments. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity she spluttered the words out. "I can't."
Releasing her instantly, Taemon took a step back and regarded her through sad eyes.
"Taemon...please don't ask me." She hesitated, reaching out a hand but drawing it back at the last second, suddenly unsure of her reception.
Not being able to comment, Taemon turned away, shutting out the sight of her beautiful face as he tried to ease the burning hurt in his heart. It was a dream; a foolish fantasy, that he had hoped one day they could fulfill. It had been his sole comfort through all the long years of Sorella's marriage to the elderly Doric, that in the end they would still have each other. Not even the four beautiful children Sorella had given him while married to the old man had eased his precious fantasy dream-world, but as everything else had been slowly smothered, this one single hope was now snatched from his hands before he had even started to savor it.
"Taemon, please." Sorella's voice behind him cut into his thoughts. Turning, he found her staring at him in concern as she clutched her hands tightly in front of her. "You know it is not possible. I can't...it is just a silly dream, one that neither of us can hope to live out."
"I see that now." Stupid of me not to realize, he thought bitterly, unable to keep the hard bitter twist out of his voice, but it was lost on the woman in front of him.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Sorella's hand touched her abdomen unconsciously, a thoughtful frown starting.
Seeing it, Taemon looked away, if he couldn't marry the woman he wanted, even to save his unborn child's life, then it was up to him to find an alternative. Pausing mentally as a memory slid into place, an idea started to form in his mind. Looking back at his Lady, his eyes softened slightly at the sight of her pacing worriedly as she chewed unconsciously on a long strand of auburn hair.
Know her usual drastic solutions to problems, he decided to speak. "Sorella, I may have the answer to this little...dilemma."
Eyes burning with a strange intensity, she regarded him carefully. "Why, do you know a trustworthy doctor we could bribe?"
"No," he said flatly, but with finality, "no Sorella, it is your decision not to wed me--and I accept that," he said slowly, choosing his words with care, "but I will not allow you to murder my...our child."
If anything, her expression hardened, eyes narrowing as she opened her mouth for a stinging retort.
"Please--just listen," he said louder, imploring her. "Just a week ago Cassceopia, Lord Antonreas' Lady, lost him yet another child, the fifth, and the whole house is in despair of her ever giving him an heir--maybe, privately, we could offer them our child in return for their silence." He waited, hoping.
Sorella's face took on a dazed look and a small smile started to twist her full, sensual mouth. "No, I have an even better idea," she said after a moment, eyes glancing back at her bodyguard and lover as she slowly gave him a shrewd and calculating smile. "Thank you Taemon--as always you manage to find an answer."
"What are you planning this time?" he asked with growing suspicion, not trusting the twinkle in her wide, blue eyes.
"Oh, nothing that need concern you," she dismissed him easily, walking past him.
"Sorella . . . " he warned.
"Oh, don't be tiresome," she chided reprovingly, opening the bedroom door. She indicated that she wished him to leave as she called for her personal maidservant. "Sarah!"
Looking extremely innocent, she smiled sweetly as Taemon stood in the open doorway, his eyes hard.
"If you even think for one moment that I'll let you harm--" he started in a low menacing voice.
"All is in hand Captain, and I would thank you in future to leave me to my own affairs."
Curbing his renewed anger, he spun on his heels just missing colliding with the little maid as she entered Sorella's bedchamber. Seething, Taemon glared at the closed door before returning to his own quarters.
But he did not have to wait long for his answer. Within the next full moon Lady Casseopia, Lord Antonreas' wife, happily declared that she was with child again, and this time she wished for complete seclusion away from the rest of the house, its social life and worries. Lord Antonreas was more than happy to agree as he was getting desperate for an heir to his wealthy estates. Having found all this out, Taemon was not surprised to learn that Sorella was going to keep her 'good friend' company and help her through the difficult months. So, accompanied only by two trusty servants, both Ladies withdrew from the social society of Atlantis to enter seclusion; a custom some women of Atlantis chose to follow as it was said to bring good luck from the Gods.
The city around them rejoiced while Taemon seethed slowly in growing apprehension as he anxiously counted off the moons, knowing almost the precise time when his fifth and youngest child was born. It gave him little joy knowing he would always be denied the sight of this child growing up. Even with his four other children he at least had the opportunity to be with them from time to time, and now they trusted him enough to come to him with various problems. But this would be different and the loss continuously ate at him as he anxiously waited for news. It was two full moons after his calculations before the news spread down into Eastern Atlantis that the Lady Casseopia had produced a healthy male child, and with the news, many elderly and wise astronomers immediately started to plot the child's future; a future Taemon knew would always be wrong.
Traveling to the small, secluded house without being summoned, Taemon waited in a mixture of tense longing and uncertainty. Eventually it was the maidservant, Sarah who greeted him, informing him in careful tones that the Lady Casseopia wished to leave and would he please inform her Lord immediately. On edge and knowing why, Taemon rashly decided to collect an open coach from Sorella's household and transport the Lady and child home safely himself. Arriving back outside the house once more, Taemon gritted his teeth against Sorella's anger and possible refusal of his plan as he waited, driven by his need to see his youngest son just once before he was spirited away into the wealthy household.
Having braced himself to be turned away, Taemon was rather astonished to hear raised, angry voices emitting from behind the large closed door. Unable to catch the words, he frowned and was startled when the tall, slim Lady hurriedly exited and rushed towards the waiting carriage.
"Casseopia!" Sorella's all too familiar tones followed the retreating woman's back, and Taemon refused to look at his mistress as he gently helped mother and child up into the padded seat--all too aware of the peaceful, little baby cradled in her protective grasp.
"No, Sorella," replied Lady Casseopia, "I have made my decision--may the Gods forgive me," she ended, muttering more to herself.
Her voice held tears as she hugged the small child closer and Taemon frowned at her words, not understanding them. "My maid will return with the rest of my belongings presently. I thank you again Lady and wish you peace of mind in this life." Casseopia gestured for them to leave not wishing to hear a reply should Sorella give one. Sitting closely beside her, Taemon did as he was bid and started the slow journey back to the upper city on the other side of the port. All the while aware of the growing anguish and hesitation in the woman beside him.
Glancing up at last, her round eyes assessed her driver. "You must be new to the household," she commented quietly as if looking for conversation to break the heavy silence.
"No, Lady," Taemon answered easily.
"No?" she queried, "but did not my Lord send you?"
"No," he smiled, "I am from Lady Sorella's household."
"Oh." She seemed taken aback. "I had assumed my Lord would have wanted to meet me or at least arrange my affairs."
"I have a small confession to make, my Lady, as yet your Lord is unaware of your speedy return," he admitted, "I have taken it upon myself to deliver you and...your child safely home."
"Oh," she said again, quieter this time, thoughtfully. "You are Lady Sorella's coachman?"
"I am the Captain of her guard, my Lady."
"I see, and you know your Lady quite well?" she pushed.
"To a degree," he cautiously admitted, wondering where the questions were leading to.
Again she was silent as she looked down at the sleeping child in her arms, biting her inner lip as she wrestled with a disturbing thought.
"Are you alright, My Lady?" Worried, Taemon tried to see the bowed face in the dim torch light.
"Tell me, is your Lady as ruthlessly determined as she appears?" Casseopia asked hesitantly, not looking up.
Having to smile at the description, Taemon nodded slowly. "That she most certainly is."
"Ohh." Again she bit her lip, closing her eyes in such anguish that Taemon feared she was in some sort of pain. Stopping the horses, he lay a hand gently on her arm.
"My Lady?" he asked worriedly.
"I do not know what to do," she said, turning frightened eyes on the startled Captain.
"About what, My Lady?" he asked, already wondering if she meant to reveal the identity of the sleeping child she held so firmly in her arms.
"I...I have a confession of my own to make. Can I trust you Captain? Will you give me your sworn word never to reveal this terrible secret?"
"Yes, My Lady." With his heart sinking, Taemon made the promise solemnly.
"May the Gods forgive us all this night," she spoke, closing her eyes briefly. "This child..." she started hesitatingly.
"Yes?" he encouraged looking into the open blanket surrounding the little, pink face trying hard to hide his delight at the sight.
"He...he is one of two," she eventually said in a faltering voice, a sense of guilt compelling her to speak, to share the burden of blame.
"Two?" Taemon asked, puzzled.
"Twins, Captain," Casseopia clarified in a stronger voice. "Twin boys." She straightened her shoulders as if bracing herself. "They were born together; one following the other...holding hands almost." She lifted her hand briefly for emphasis, her words held sadness as she remembered.
Taemon's mind whirled as he fought to absorb the facts.
"As first born sons to a wealthy house it is considered unlucky and a curse to bear twins. I...I dare not take both." She pressed her eyes tightly shut against the remembered pain and regret. Determinedly she continued speaking, convincing herself as well as wanting to share the burden. "So, I chose the largest and the healthiest of the two to return to my husband, to my Lord..." her words trailed off.
"And what of the other?" Taemon was almost afraid to ask, his chest constricting in a blinding pain.
"Other?" She seemed lost still.
"The second child." He had to know, dreading the answer he held his breath.
"I could not...risk...taking him," she said apologetically as she shifted the sleeping child closer to her breasts, subconsciously protecting it against unknown fears.
"But what was done with the second child?" Taemon insisted, knowing all too well the way Sorella's erratic mind sometimes worked.
"Sorella, your Lady," she corrected, "mentioned something about a Lovers' Spring?" She glanced up, and for the first time in the conversation looked squarely at the Captain. Seeing his frozen expression she quickly reached out and touched his arm lightly. "I am sorry, I should never have told you."
"No, you were correct," he assured her, thinking rapidly, already knowing what he had to do. "I thank you from the bottom of my heart kind Lady, that you had the courage to tell me."
Only seeing his fierce look, she implored him worriedly, "please, you promised, not a word to anyone."
"I promise, not a word, this shall remain our secret," he paused. "But I cannot promise not to act."
Casseopia breathed a sigh of relief. "And what will you do?" she asked, needing to know in her own mind that the second child would be saved.
"I will do everything in my power to make sure that the child grows up as healthy and strong as the one you now hold in your arms, My Lady." Having said these words, he realized with a jolt that he had never meant anything more in his entire life.
Feeling reassured by the words, Casseopia gave him a little smile. "I thank you Captain, the Gods did truly smile this night when they sent you to be my escort."
Taemon just nodded not knowing what to say to that. Starting the horses again, he quickened their pace, his mind still hurling ideas and half formed plans and fears at him. He knew that he needed to find his other son quickly before the wolves of the grasslands found him.
The rest of the night ride was conducted in silence and Taemon was relieved to reach the vast house of Lord Antonreas. The footman and some servants greeted them and the news of their arrival spread swiftly throughout the house; Lady Casseopia was home with the new heir.
"I thank you Captain, for everything," she added with a secret smile as he released her hand.
"No, it is I who thank you." Taemon returned with a half smile as he turned away, stopping to look back briefly. "May I know what name you have chosen for the child?" Curious as to what his son was to be called, he waited.
"He will be called Dymon, sir, his name is Dymon."
Smiling, Taemon turned away leaving the lavish house, content in the knowledge that at least one of his sons was safe. His smile disappeared quickly though as he hurried back towards his own home. Knowing the spring Casseopia had mentioned as the one he and Sorella had run away to as children, he prayed his lover had not done anything foolish.
With the warmth of the sun almost completely gone, he quickly traveled through the streets that were already full of the news of Lord Antonreas' son, the night traders passing the word. No doubt, thought Taemon, the whole of the Eastern port would be celebrating by morning and many other Ladies and common folk would name their sons after the Lord's in honor. Imagining many little Dymons running around the paved streets in a few years time, brought a small grin to his face.
Going back to where Sorella waited, he still held a little bubble of hope in his heart that Casseopia's words were wrong, and his second child was safe and warm. Entering the second archway, he called out softly, and was not surprised to find it was Sarah who greeted him.
"My Lady will be with you presently, Captain," she spoke in an even tone, but Taemon sensed her hesitation as the pretty, little maid refused to meet his eyes.
"Is everything alright?" he cautiously asked.
"My Lady has asked you to wait," was all she said as she backed out of the room. Frowning, Taemon felt a chill crawl up his spine as he studied the spot where the young maid had stood, wondering if it was just his imagination or if he had just read too much into the maid's words. Sarah was completely loyal to Sorella and he knew the girl would not speak out if he asked her.
Waiting for what seemed like half the night, his growing impatience was finally rewarded when Sorella appeared, heavily wrapped up in a warm cloak. She looked immaculate and radiant as she regarded Taemon levelly.
"I see you have only brought the small coach with you again," was her first comment as she looked out towards the night. "Never mind, you can take me home first and then return for Sarah and Casseopia's maid," she spoke tiredly, glancing back once at the subdued maid. Sighing, she gave Taemon a small smile before proceeding out to the carriage.
Following with a deepening concern and anger, he said nothing until they were well under way. Knowing no matter how intimate their relationship was, he still knew he had no right to question her outright. Only when they were near home did he manage to ask a mild question, clamping down on his immediate concern and fury.
"Did all go well?"
She cast him a long side look, watching his face carefully from beneath lowered lashes. "Naturally," she replied off-handedly.
"Did you get the price you wanted?" Infuriated by her calm, the words came out before he could stop them.
"Taemon, I will tell you this once and once only. What I do...did...was best for us all; you, me, Doric, Andreas, Hellena and Dorcas. Also, this night never happened, and you will never refer to it again," she ended icily.
Unable to speak, Taemon could only nod as the murderous emotion to destroy Sorella fought within him. Never before had he been so consumed with so great a feeling, especially towards the woman he loved and it scared him. They arrived home in total cold silence and Taemon mourned the small part of his heart which had died with the deceit and callousness of her actions. Hating and loving her in almost equal measures now, he refused to look at the woman beside him, preferring to remain in the carriage as Sorella went inside.
Leaving again, he sped the horse along the cobbled streets, heading towards the open woodlands where he had spent most of his childhood. He was compelled by a single burning thought--he must find his other son, and all other considerations were unimportant. Casseopia had given him his only clue, a lifeline which he now pursued in mounting desperation.
His icy resolve hardening, there was only one thing he was totally sure about now, and that was that it would be a long time before he would agree to willingly give Sorella any more children, if ever.
Stopping at the base of the small grassland escarpment, he secured the horse and started up the hill. If he remembered correctly, the Lovers' Spring was not far...
A warm, insistent hand shaking his arm brought Taemon back to the present with a hard jolt.
"We thought you were going to pass out," the kindly woman's voice was full of concern and it washed over him like a balm as he made the effort to snap out of his memories.
"No...I was just thinking...I am alright."
"Are you sure this sweet, little baby has no mother?" The deep, throaty voice at his side seriously asked.
"He is so small and beautiful," his wife almost purred.
"No mother," Taemon heard himself say through numb lips, but a father, he added silently, and one who already loves him dearly.
"Oh, I would be delighted to have him," she laughed, tears of joy running from her wide eyes. Watching her already protective expression in the muted candle light, Taemon wordlessly handed all claim of his child over to her, wondering as he did, why Sorella was never able to love her children like this. A little envious of the couple and the love they shared, Taemon started to back out of the room, close to tears himself.
"I must leave," he said awkwardly, avoiding the shrewd gaze of the other man's eyes, whose expression regarded him both with sorrow and sympathy.
"I thank you Captain, we have two beautiful daughters already but no son, and we both longed for a son for many years now." As she spoke, the woman lay a gentle and reassuring hand on his arm before she went to stand with her husband, smiling up at him in barely subdued pleasure.
"I am glad, but it is I who thank you," muttered Taemon, "now I really must go, may the Gods be with you and your children."
"You must come back, and visit with us," the woman encouraged.
Hiding his immediate impulse to do just that, Taemon purposely tried to harden his resolve but failed. "Maybe...one day." At the door he turned just once to look back, knowing that he should never return and trying to comfort himself with the knowledge that at least both of his sons were safe. He would guard them both secretly and cherish the memory of holding at least one of his children in his arms as precious for always.
"What will you name him?" he found himself asking at the last moment.
A brief look between the two huddled lovers spoke volumes as the stone cutter reached down a large finger to touch the baby's smooth cheek.
"We will honor Lord Antonreas and name our son after the new heir. Yes, we will call him Damon."
Choking back the rising lump of pain in his throat, Taemon left the family, stumbling out into the empty night alone.
-- THE END --