The Hunting Book One, Part IV
A draught of cold air woke Bodie, stirring him from the depths of exhaustion, and the unfamiliar smells of the place brought him properly to consciousness. The only familiar element at hand was the body which lay snug against his beneath the weight of furs and skins; Raven, he would have known anywhere. His heart quickened as bleak, cruel memories of yesterday interrupted the peace of this haven.
Flight, fear, the unthinking terror of the hunted thing. Cold, despair, the helpless agony of watching Raven slide down into the last sleep of his life. Bodie dragged his fingers through hair grown long, for the moment ignoring the dim, firelit room, his attention bound up in his mate.
Raven was merely asleep now, and had been so for a long time. Bodie's fingers scratched through a three day stubble, reminding him that he also had slept a long while. He lifted the skins aside to look at the elf, seeing brown limbs, sleep-soft and warm, his cheeks faintly flushed, his body at peace. The drug that had felled him would still be rich in his blood, Bodie knew, but he would simply sleep it off in safety. Amber knew his trade well. The trade of the healer.
The shaman. The weaver of much magic. Bodie tugged the skins back into place and rested his weight on sheepskin pillows to examine the room properly for the first time. There had been too much fear, when he had brought Raven to the fire, and then exhaustion had overtaken him with all speed, plunging him into a sleep little lighter than that of his mate.
Tapestries hung everywhere, on almost every square foot of the walls, but between them he saw not bricking but bare rock. There were windows but heavy wooden shutters held out the world, reducing the entire cosmos to this cocoon. The room was wide, its floor strewn with animal skins, and in the centre of the floor the fire burned brightly in a sunken hearth, producing heat and light without smoke. Brass lamps hissed to themselves about the walls, casting soft shadows from the few items of furniture: table, chair, iron-banded chest, shelves.
But it was the ceiling which fascinated Bodie, for it had been carved, the loving work of many months, reliefs of elven legends he had heard from Raven's lips. There, the tale of Shivan and Abelard, the Creation myth; there, the story of Bandar and Ariel, who found their way west to join the gods, transcending the limitations of mortals.
There were other figures beyond the scope of Bodie's learning, images from older times, and these were more intriguing. Creatures out of dream and nightmare writhed in the shadows, figures embraced, seeming alive in the firelight. The reliefs were coloured, Bodie saw, but years of hearth smoke had blackened them until little of the original brilliance remained.
Who could do such beautiful work, in this place? And, Bodie puzzled, where indeed was this place? He and Ray had run, heading upward from the forests into the jagged, cliffside ledges in search of some vantage point, some crag to defend, the painted people snapping at their heels. Then, Ray had gone down, stayed down, and when the savages left there had been only despair until --
Amber. Bodie frowned deeply. He remembered carrying Ray, small and light in his arms, remembered stepping into womb-like darkness, then finding his way into the light and warmth. Amber had been close by. This was obviously his home, filled with his things. Bodie wondered idly if the shaman would be the artist responsible for the intricate, beautiful work on the ceiling; but no, even an outlander such as the human could feel the antiquity of the place. It was in the air like incense, the tangible odour of the past.
Pleasantly tired whereas he had been mortally weary, Bodie was content to lie still and watch his mate sleep. Ray was thin and hard, his bones close beneath the skin, but he was heir to the elven fountain of health. His people did not suffer sickness and, injured, they healed any wound in the briefest time. Bodie's fingers stroked across Raven's chest, disarranging auburn hair as he traced the places where, not long before, there had been welts, the punishment Ray had earned to protect a girl.
The Kith honour was sometimes costly, Bodie thought with a smile, remembering also the night they had shared with that girl. Rhiannon had wanted Raven with a hunger Bodie understood all too well, and Raven had worked hard at her pleasure. Bodie felt no pang of envy or resentment, for it was something all three had shared and, spent, Ray had offered himself for his mate's pleasure. Bodie's wilful body stirred as he thought back on the act, and loved Ray all the more.
He was drowsing again when a rush of cool air swept across the room, the same draught as had woken him, and he stirred to watch the stranger appear, ushering in his dog, a huge creature nearer wolf than hound. Tapestries went back into place, concealing the door and keeping out the cold, and as fox furs and leather mask were cast aside Bodie saw Amber's face.
His hair was as yellow as ripe wheat, his eyes nearer gold than green, his face angular, pale, alight, with good humour. The wide mouth smiled as he saw that his guest was awake. "Ah, so you have returned to us! How do you feel, human? And what of your mate?"
Bodie stretched and mirrored the smile. "I feel fine," he said softly, "and Ray is warm. Resting. Will he sleep for long?"
"You have already slept the sun across the sky, and the moon after it!" Amber told him. "It is not much short of a new dawn; I have been collecting night blooming herbs, reading the stars --" He laughed. "The mystic's trade. Forgive me the mummery."
"Mummery?" Bodie shook his head. "Ray would be dead but for your arts, and I with him. There was no way down from that crag, short of shooting our way through every last warrior of the painted ones, and our chances in that folly were not good." He sat up as the other man poured boiling water into two cups, adding herbs and honey. "What is this place?"
"My home." Amber handed a cup to him. "And the home of our ancestors -- Raven's and mine, not yours, human. No human has ever set foot here, and, like as not, no human ever will again. You will see, on the morrow; beyond the windows there, is a valley, locked by the mountains, long forgotten. No one comes here now, no one knows the passes but me, for, since I am fey the darkness means nothing to me."
"So I was right." Bodie took a sip of the scalding tea, gesturing at the ceiling. "There is a feeling of antiquity, as if the past is all around us."
The shaman nodded deeply. "Aye, so it is. Yonder --" a gesture into the east "-- is a city carved into the living rock, many a wonder, relics and marvels. Not a necropolis, Bodie; there are no tombs here. Save one, and that is less a tomb than a chrysalis."
"Chrysalis?" The human's brow crinkled. "Forgive me, my knowledge of your language is not as extensive as it could be. A -- chrysalis?"
"The Chrysalis of Tomorrow, nested within the Tomb of the Past," Amber affirmed. "Oh, more mummery. Pay it no heed if you've a mind to ignore it. Maybe it would be safer if you did. It is not wise to know what the morrow will bring, often as not." Amber stirred, finishing the tea and setting aside the cup. "And now, I think I should like to look at your mate, if you will allow it."
"Look at him?" Bodie shuffled over in the hearthside bed to make room as Amber came to kneel at Ray's side.
"As a healer, with a physician's intent," Amber added. "He has been hurt, and badly, in the past, I know. Even we are not beyond hurt, human. To be used as this little one has been used is an abomination."
Bodie blinked at the shaman's angular face. "I have said nothing of that to you, unless I am loose lipped in my sleep!"
"Mm?" Amber smiled and shook his head. "Do not concern yourself. You will understand, when the time is right. For now, it is enough that I know of his pain. There is a sharing, when a shaman touches the soul of another, and Raven was willing to give his youth, if not his life, for you, which necessitated such communion. Oh, you humans have much to learn; your folly is that you would conquer the world before you have conquered your own hearts!" He lifted the skins aside and looked Bodie in the eye. "May I touch him?"
"As a physician," Bodie allowed, at a loss to follow the shaman's words.
"As a physician, then," Amber said, chuckling richly.
First, he checked the tiny wound where Raven had been hit by the drugged dart, next the larger wound where a poultice of bitter herbs had been strapped to his forearm, there to enter his blood. Then, Amber looked at his eyes and ears, satisfied that there was no damage from drug or injury. He searched out every bone, manipulated every joint, nodding in satisfaction before turning his attention to velvet-soft genitals. A little bemused, Bodie watched a thorough examination that was probably long overdue.
"Hm," Amber murmured as he worked inside with one exploratory finger, "He is well used! But gently, eh? For all your indulgence, human, he is perfect, and what damage was done by his masters when he was a captive is well healed. He is quick to respond to pleasure, Bodie?"
The human was scarlet, trapped by his alien morality, mildly scandalised and totally flustered. "He outpaces me with ease," he muttered in discomfiture.
"So there is no pain left in his heart," Amber concluded, turning Ray's inert body onto its back. "You have exorcised it, I should think." A warm smile for Bodie, and then the physician's fingers continued, stroking and petting to produce a palm full of cream which was held to the firelight.
He was looking for any trace of blood, Bodie guessed, and swallowed the sharp words of resentment. The man was a physician not a lover, and Ray had long been due for such attentions. "He has not complained of any ache," he offered.
"No, nor would he," Amber agreed, washing his hands at ewer and basin. "He is in fine health, but it is wisest to be sure when one has been used so ill." He looked up quite sternly. "You are careful with him, I trust."
Bodie's colour rose another shade. "He is my life. Good enough?"
"I meant no offence," Amber said quickly. "But I have little experience with humans and their ways. I know only that elves captured by your people are treated badly, as was Raven."
"Not my people," Bodie growled. "I bonded with him. I am of the Kith."
"I know." Amber cocked his head, seeming to listen for a moment. "It will soon be dawn. Forgive me, I have much to do. If you wish to make tea, or food, all you need is to hand."
Donning his fox furs and mask, he held aside the tapestry which hung over the door and stepped out into the darkness, the wolf on his heels. The air was a freezing draught, slicing across the room, and this time Bodie heard a quiet snuffle from the bed beside him.
Blue-black lashes fluttered on Raven's sleep-flushed cheeks and Bodie smiled down into dark sea-jade eyes. "I wondered if you'd sleep forever."
An enormous yawn, and Raven stretched luxuriously. "I dreamed," he said languidly, both hands passing lightly over his own chest and belly. "I dreamed that I came in your hands, my body still tingles with the memory."
"Does it?' Bodie saw no reason to tell him the truth, in that moment wanting him very much. He stooped to kiss him deeply. "Must it be only a dream?"
The elf smiled against Bodie's mouth. "Touch me, then."
Had Ray been human, he would have been more difficult to arouse so soon after he had spent himself for the physician, but Bodie knew his elven lover better than that. Delicate touches filled his cock with blood and this time there was nothing clinical about it. Bodie was fiercely aroused as Ray surged up toward climax, and when slender hands tugged him over to lie heavily upon his mate, the human was pleased to oblige.
Wet heat, a lush groan from Ray's throat, and they were still, adhering stickily, kissing with languid satisfaction. At last Bodie lifted his head. "You seem to have returned to the realm of the living, little chuck. Would you like tea, or do you hunger?"
"Tea," Raven yawned. "I am light headed and cannot face food."
Feeling a little light headed himself, Bodie got stiffly to his feet, padding first in search of a cloth to mop away the cooling semen before he dressed and rummaged among Amber's ingredients. "Ah, rosehips and honey." He inhaled the scents and smiled at the elf. "The aroma brings back many memories, sweeting. Good and bad, eh?"
"All good," Raven argued. "Where you were, there was no room for sorrow." He yawned again and for the first time noticed his surroundings. "This is -- a cave, but not a cave," he said slowly. "Where are we? You found help?"
"Rather, help found us," Bodie said aridly, returning to the bed with cups and putting one into Ray's waiting hand. "Our host has gone out to attend to his business; it is not long before dawn; and your Kith honour seems to be appeased, after all! His name is Amber, sure enough."
Raven jerked awake, almost spilling his tea. "Amber? Are you sure?"
"Unless he has lied to me," Bodie mused. "But why should he lie, after saving us both from the painted people and the cold? I believe him, but..." He shook his head in puzzlement. "He knows too much. Our names, our business, where we are from." He paused and took a breath. "And what befell you in the humans' camp. How he can know that is beyond me, and I am troubled, I'll admit."
"He is a shaman," Raven murmured. "A great shaman knows much, without the need for the learning of it." He sipped the rosehip tea and stretched. "I feel well, Bodie. Somehow content and happy."
"You have just been loved," Bodie said glibly. Twice -- after a fashion, he added silently. "And you are alive! There was a time I would not have wagered a single coin on our chances, must less gamble on the odds that the man who snatches us to safety would be the end of your hunting." He sat on the side of the bed and hugged Ray with his free arm. "You can salvage your honour, take the Kith a shaman, go home."
"If Amber will go," Raven sighed. "To say that we have found him is not to say he will leave this place, even though he is my kinsman."
"Your -- kinsman?" Bodie echoed. "You never told me that!"
"I did," Raven retorted. "Amber is of the Kith tribe by one of his forefathers, and we are all related. He is not of my clan, but back along his line and mine there will be a common sire or dam. It is why we do not usually wed within the tribe." He gave a lopsided grin. "We are a little inbred as it is."
The human laughed. "Inbred, eh? So they were happy to admit a little human blood, if the donor was so gentle a creature as your mother, eh? Feyleen is human by a fluke. It is a mystery to me how so vulgar a creature as Garth could be her father." He reached out to cup Ray's cheek. "Or your grandsire. I wonder, if he knew you were his kin, would he take pride in you?"
"He hates elves," Raven whispered, turning his face toward the warmth of Bodie's hand. "He told me so, often, while he used me. He called me a wore, weak as a woman, ugly as a pig, and said he would keep me for his amusement, gelded with his house girls, when it pleased him to cut me."
"Then, thank all your numerous gods it did not please him to do so before I returned," Bodie said quietly, "for I do not think even an elf could mend so grievous an injury!"
"The gods had nothing to do with it," Raven said bitterly. "A whole man can be tormented in many ways a gelding cannot, he is more amusing that way."
There was a pain beneath Bodie's heart and he swept Ray into an embrace that stopped just short of endangering his ribs. "Why have you never spoken to me of the ills done you? You have never let me share them, help to mend them."
"I have my pride, even now," Raven said hoarsely. "You have loved me, and it is more than enough. And as for Garth, if his blood is in my veins, it dishonours me. Would he cherish me as his kin, if he knew?" His tone was scornful. "I doubt it!"
Bodie kissed the straight, perfect nose and sat back to look at his love in the firelight. "Garth's hatred of elvenkind stems from the theft of his daughter, remember. Oh, I know Feyleen ran out of love for Wulff and despair at the marriage arranged for her by her tribe, but Garth has never known that. If he knew that his daughter wedded a prince, that his grandson is a prince also... Here." Bodie teased the long, auburn hair forward, concealing Raven's beautiful ears. "You could pass for a human, just barely, and among my kind you would shine and listen to the minstrels dying for want of your love."
Now Raven laughed, a husky snort of humour. "Minstrels are an irritating breed, though some have their uses!" He stretched, innocently flaunting his body and Bodie passed a deliberate caress from chest to knees and back again, bestowing a tender pat to soft, warm genitals. "Bodie?" Raven purred softly.
"Hm? Oh, I ache for what befell you sometimes, and wish you would let me share it, speak of it without fear. I shall think no less of you for knowing your pain, and mayhap to speak of it would ease your heart."
But Raven merely smiled. "My heart has been at peace since you spoke love to me. Do you remember the first time you said that? In a cave, high in a cliff, the hiding place. I had been blind and when I saw you I --"
"Spoke unwarily of your love, then regretted it," Bodie said ruefully, "as if you thought I could look at you, touch you, and not feel the same. Sweet idiot', I called you then, and will call you the same now."
"Why?" Raven demanded. "What have I done now -- or not done?"
Bodie cuffed his head gently. "You ask me if I remember the first time I spoke love to you! Human I may be, infirm and weak of mind I am not."
"Infirm?" Raven bit off an earthy chuckle, casting a glance at Bodie's well muscled and well endowed form. Then he wriggled, frowning in self-preoccupation. "Why does my body feel tender, as if you have possessed me? Did you mate me in my sleep. I feel none of your seed escaping me, but I would swear --"
Faintly scandalised, Bodie cuffed him again. "Mate you in your sleep? I would do no such thing!" A sheepish smile followed the words. "I would wake you first. No, it is just a little tenderness left over from Amber's search of your body. He was very thorough in his examination."
"Oh." Colour flushed up like roses in Raven's cheeks. "I see he was. You were here, Bodie? You were with me, all the time?" The question was urgent.
"Of course." Bodie smiled. "I gave my permission for him to touch you as a healer. You were past due for such ministrations."
"I dare say," Raven agreed drily, and then frowned. "Is that why I woke feeling as if I had been handled? Did he touch me so?" Bodie nodded, and Ray gave a shiver. "Forgive me. It is a long time since any man has touched me but you, and I have learned to dislike the hands of others."
An upwelling of tenderness took Bodie unawares and he pulled the elf against him. "It was just an examination. Had you been awake I would have insisted you submit to it, for the sake of my peace of mind if not your own."
"For you, I would have done it," Raven said reluctantly. "But not enjoyed it!"
"Embarrassed?" Bodie teased. "After all you have been through, it cannot be!" He yelped as Ray bit him.
"It is another's touch I dislike," the elf said sharply. "My body belongs to you, it is not for another to know it."
The words brought a tiny shiver to Bodie's spine; Ray spoke the truth candidly, but somehow hearing what they both knew spoken aloud was not the same as the instinctive knowledge. And if Ray's body belonged so completely to Bodie, then the human belonged to his mate in the same way. He lifted his head from its pillow of coppery curls, looking down into forest-green eyes that were serene. "Then, had you been awake I would have touched you for your seed and spared you Amber's hand, though he was as gentle with you as a mother with her child." Bodie leaned forward for a kiss. "You will be pleased to know that you are perfect, outside as well as in."
Ray gave a snort of disgust. "I could have told you as much without the prodding about. Is there anything to eat, my love? I am hungry now."
There were eggs, cheese, dried fruits and leftover vegetables. Bodie hashed the whole mixture together on the griddle as Ray got unsteadily to his feet and stood swaying, trying to find his balance. Little by little it returned and he pulled on breeches and tunic, coming to the fire to eat.
Outside, a cockerel crowed and Bodie nodded toward the shuttered windows. "A new day. Amber says there are wonders undreamed of in the valley yonder. When you are strong enough perhaps we can explore."
The food was hot and Raven wolfed it down, barely tasting it. "This high in the mountains there is nothing. Just crags and needle pines and goats."
"Then explain this place," Bodie challenged, "and the feeling of antiquity that makes the air sultry. Oh, this place is old. Look there, on the ceiling. A man with the face of a wolf, a woman with the head of an eagle, and there, embracing beneath the tree, two couples. A man and a woman, and -- are they two men?"
The elf looked up at the reliefs carved overhead and nodded. "There was a time, long since past, when we were kin to the forest folk and bred with them. We were less than elven, they more than animals; there was no shame in it and the offspring were sound and beautiful, so goes the legend. Then we began to think, as the forestkind never did; we came to understand greed and vice, sin and shame, and separated ourselves forever from the past. Still, there is hope for us. The tree is the symbol of life to us, for it dies each winter and is reborn each spring in greater glory. Beneath it, the couples?" He shrugged eloquently. "Lovers. Love is our only saving grace, all else is false."
"Your myths have a beauty ours do not," Bodie observed. "I wonder - --"
As he spoke the door opened, admitting a crack of daylight and cold air which prickled their skin. Amber swept off his furs and came to warm his hands, smiling down at Raven with a fondness that was undeniable.
"Ah, little Kith, you are awake and eating! Welcome to my home, son of my heart. I have waited for you a long time."
Raven blinked in surprise. "Shaman," he murmured, "what do you know?"
"Everything." Amber sat by the hearth, wrapping his arms about white robed knees and gazing at the fire. "They have cast you out, Raven, taken your birthright and your honour. Were they wrong to do this?"
"No." Raven shook his head readily. "I killed Falcon --"
"That is less than true," Bodie interrupted. "If either of us killed Falcon, it was not Ray's doing but my own, and if you want honesty fro me, I would do it again if it meant buying Ray's life."
"And you understand what it means to kill a shaman?" Amber pressed.
"I do." Bodie lifted his chin. "And if there is a price to be paid, let me pay it. My life? So be it, so long as Raven is at peace."
"Foolishness," Raven whispered, his eyes glittering. "Be at peace without you? How? No, Amber, I took full responsibility for my mate when I took him into the clan. I knew what I was about, and the sin of Falcon's death weighs heavily on my shoulders."
The shaman nodded deeply. "I know it does. But I was unsure of the human and wished to hear his mind. Love is a kind of madness, and Bodie is insane, as you are. Woe betide anyone, anything, that comes between you -- shamans included!" He laughed, a deep-voiced rumble of good humour. "In any event, it is of no consequence."
"No consequence?" Bodie echoed. "Falcon is dead and my Raven has been made to labour like a peasant lad! If such labour is part of our penance, so be it, for the death of the Kith shaman weighs as heavily on me as on my mate."
"Aye, I see that it does." The golden eyes slitted on Bodie, overtly appraising him, before Amber shrugged. "Still it is of no matter, nor has it ever been, though you would not know that any more than the Kith elders who expelled you." He stirred, poking the embers with a black iron rod. "Time for truth, I would say, before you are confused beyond all hope."
Bodie had been itching to understand for what seemed like a century and grasped at the offer of a few straights words. "Please!" He slipped one arm about Raven as the elf finished his meal and stretched. "Explain before I due of curiosity."
"Curiosity," Amber said darkly, "is not a virtue. You will have wondered how I know you, all that has become of you, and why. I know how Raven was blinded and violated, how you found him and brought him home, and how you were bonded on a night of much joy before a gathering of the clan. I was there; I shared your joy on that night as I shared Raven's wounded soul, later. He came to me, offering everything he possessed. His youth, strength, the ability to love as a youth, even his life, had I wanted to take it."
"You?" Raven asked thickly, his fingers gripping Bodie's tightly enough to bruise. "You?"
"I have had many names down the years," Amber said softly, his voice light and bewitching. "I have been many men in countless lives, and joined with those who were in need... I heard a voice, calling in the wind, a distant kinsman seeking succour before all was lost. He came to me -- oh, it is not the first time I have been such a host, merely the first time it has been required of me in many years.
"We grieve for your pain, both of you, and your loss, and have waited for you. We knew you would find your way here. Raven, sweet child, your honour will be your undoing."
"I..." Bodie swallowed and began again. "I do not understand."
"Do you not?" Amber merely smiled, then reached across to kiss Raven's lips and tousle his hair. "This one does."
The green eyes were hazy, glittering, and as Bodie watched his lover pulled away and fell into the shaman's embrace. He was helpless, caught in the grip of some emotion Bodie could not name; was it grief, or relief? "Ray? Please, Ray." He rubbed Raven's back soothingly, his heart turning painfully in his chest as Raven went to him to be held. "What is it, Ray?"
It was the shaman who answered. "Oh, human, you have much to learn! Close your eyes and look."
The words made no sense but Bodie had gone beyond the point where he expected to understand and did as he was told, frowning in concentration as he tried to see'. There was a feeling, a mental aroma' he noticed at once, and it was unmistakable. Before his mind's eye swam an image and he started in surprise. "It is -- Falcon?"
"Aye." Amber laughed quietly. "We are one, and will be as long as it is needed. My kinsman came here out of love for you, Raven. He touched you when you went to give him your life, knew your heart and your every memory... It has not be pleasant for you, has it?"
"Falcon," Raven murmured, holding out his hand, his voice thick with emotion. "I killed you."
The shaman's wide shoulders lifted in a shrug. "What will be will be. I had read it in the stars for years, had every reason to expect it." The voice was not Amber's.
Bodie caught his breath. "You sound..." Suddenly he was trembling. "How can you forgive me? I took your life."
"I gave it," Falcon's voice said mildly.
"But --" Bodie swallowed. His heart beat heavily against his ribs and he clutched at Raven, his only anchor to reality. "I have confessed, I would take your life again, commit every crime once more, for Raven's life!"
It was Amber's voice again. "You are troubled, human, and rightly so, but be at peace. We bear no grudges. What was done took place in all innocence; most elves do not understand the secrety ways. You merely put your hand on your mate, and that was enough." He chuckled unexpectedly. "It was hardly deliberate, and it is not as if you took an axe and slew your shaman!"
"But --" Bodie began again.
"Shh," Raven hushed. "Enough for now. Think on it and speak later. Our shamans are wiser than those of humans, for they have inherited the wisdom of many more years. Save your pain, my love, there is no need for it." New tears glistened on his lashes. "We are forgiven -- not by fickle, vindictive elders, but by the one done wrong at the outset, which means so much more." He caught Bodie's face between his hands, absently running his nails through the human's beard stubble. "Absolution is not a gift of honour, but it is a beginning, and I yearn to begin again. Bodie?"
Bodie's eyes cleared of their bewilderment as he looked into Ray's face and smiled faintly. "I trust you," he whispered. "I do not understand, but I trust you. I am human, remember. You must forgive me my foolishness."
"Forgive you?" Raven kissed his mouth lightly. "Rather, forgive me for all that has become of you!" He let go Bodie's face and turned back to the shaman. "What shall I call you? Amber? Falcon?"
The golden eyes were laughing. "As you choose. Or call me Naryr, perhaps." He laughed at Raven's astonishment. "You have the right, child."
"I --" For the first time, Raven was speechless. "I have?"
Long fingers reached out and tugged the auburn curls in admonition. "Must you always question what I have just said. Now, be off with you, both of you. The morning is warming and the air is sweet. Go and sun yourselves while it lasts."
It was Bodie who pulled Ray to his feet and ushered him to the door. Their furs lay in a heap beside the tapestries that held out the draughts, and they scrambled into them, eager for the open air after the uterine cocoon of the room carved out of living rock.
Sunlight washed down off the mountainsides, fragile and beautiful, and the air was like sparkling wine, fresh and invigorating. Bodie took a breath of it, waiting for his eyesight to adjust to the brightness, and as he began to see properly muttered an oath of surprise.
They stood on a narrow plateau above a sheer drop; the broad ledge ran about the face of a granite cliff, its edge protected by an old iron rail running red with rust. The valley dropped away sharply at this, its southern end, but became gentle toward the north, and it was there, perhaps two miles away, that they could see the walls of buildings cut out of the feet of the mountains which guarded this sanctuary.
Below the balconied edge were wooded hills, deer and rabbits running wild, a stream chattering down off the slopes. Above the narrow plateau was a rock face, as sheer as a wall, stretching upward until its crown was wreathed in cloud. The valley was haven or prison, Bodie realised; if one knew the pass through the rocks, it could be a paradise, a retreat from the savagery of the world. If one did not, paradise became imprisonment.
Would it be so bad to be imprisoned here? He wondered, watching Raven's astonished face. Food aplenty, water, herbs, timber, flax and flint -- everything was to hand, the only missing element, companionship. He reached for the elf, hugging him and kissing his forehead. Companionship? Raven nibbled his ear and tongued within it, a comfortable, intimate caress.
"That name," Bodie asked. "What was it? He said you had the right to call him by it."
"Naryr," Raven affirmed. "It means Old Father'... I never knew, but it does me honour. There is a shaman in my line!"
"So," Bodie mused. "These fey looks of my little lover may be fey after all. Have you the sight, Raven?" He was teasing now.
Raven heard the teasing tone and drew away with a profane expression. "The only sight I have that I know of is with these two eyes." He grabbed Bodie's hand. "Come, I want to explore while the weather holds."
The way down from the balconied ledge was by a treacherous, winding path. It was slick with mud and shale, and Bodie laboured in the elf's wake. Raven was sure-footed as a goat, as were all his people. It seemed to be a gift they were born with; humans were less at home on the high trails but Bodie had learned how to manage in the Fen mountains. There, the paths were barely wide enough to admit a horse and the passes given to the treachery of mud slides. Only the Fen and the painted people would live in such lands and call them their home.
The scents of humus and pine were lush, reminding Bodie of other forests in other lands, and when Raven paused to rest at the foot of the trail he caught his lover against him. "There was a time I mated you in a glade dappled by the moon," he whispered. "You lay beneath me and your skin was like pale velvet, you were wild and hungry for me."
Raven's eyes darkened as he watched, and the sensual curves of his mouth smiled. "You followed me out into the night," he whispered. "I left you sleeping and had not thought to see you before dawn. It was Llar, which I thought would mean nothing to you, and I went to observe it alone. How did you know of Llar?"
"I didn't," Bodie admitted, remembering the scene as if he was still a part of it. "You were naked in the moonlight, bathing in it, I think. Beautiful. There were flowers in your hair and you knelt in the grass... I thought you were praying until I saw that you were aroused."
Raven closed his eyes. "Llar is a time when we commune with the earth. With the past, our past. My seed was for the earth, not for you, that night. The earth was my lover; but he wore your face. I lay in the grass as I have always done, and dreamed of the past. I was less than wakeful when I heard your feet. You stood above me like a godling, white and strong, big with desire, and I thought the earth had taken your shape to love me. Perhaps it did for that short time, for certainly, I was mated!"
"I was wild with the sight of you," Bodie admitted. "Wanton, nested in lemongrass and primrose, wreathed in your musk." He shivered. "How could I resist when you knelt for me? I had no notion of Llar, or that you were keeping some ancient covenant... I took you selfishly, didn't I?"
"It was -- energetic," Raven chuckled, "but I had expected as much. My seed washed into the earth, as I had intended, and I was filled with yours. Did I sleep? I dreamed that you carried me home."
"I thought I'd killed you," Bodie said ruefully. "There was blood - -- the only time I have ever hurt you! I was terrified when I could not wake you. I took you home --"
"And held me," Raven said gently. "Oh, Bodie. I was exhausted and had drunk too much wine the evening before. If I fainted, blame Feyleen's celebrations!"
Bodie kissed him. "I would, save for the fact you walked like an old man the next day, and disappeared for half an hour with our rose oil. There was blood on our sheets," he added, "and the servants looked at me as if I was a barbarian. I swore then never to touch you unless I was my own master. You can make me wild, Ray. Insane, if I let you." He tugged the long auburn hair sharply. "So I will not let you, as you have no doubt noticed of late."
"You make me so wild I barely notice whether you are your own master or mine," Raven admitted. "Stop punishing yourself for our mating at Llar. I am not afraid of a little pain, and as for blood -- I am elven, not human, and we fear the sight of red less than your people." He stirred, kissing Bodie lightly. "Now, let us explore, before it rains and drives us indoors again. See, in the crook of the slopes there? Buildings cut into the rock. Some of them have been cleared of the underbrush. It must be Amber's work, for he is alone here."
A stream bisected the valley and they held to its bank for ease of passage. The woods were full of deer; the only man the creatures had ever seen was Amber and they gazed in startlement at the strangers but were not frightened. Bodie thought back on the wildlife on the human side of the Black Hills, and shook his head. Hunted things, afraid of their own shadows, fearing the bow and the spear.
It was midmorning when they approached the buildings and, at the closer range they saw that for every frontage cleared there were a dozen overgrown. A whole settlement, Bodie saw, long deserted, forgotten. "Who lived here, Ray? This place is -- I don't know -- strange. It makes me shiver."
"I feel it too," Raven agreed. "There is a feeling of power, it tingles in the air, in the ground. Amber has been at work here for many years; see how he has worn a path smooth?"
The buildings were no more than front walls and windows, their interiors dug out of the mountain; hollow sockets of windows and arched doorways gazed into the sunlight, blind and forlorn, and Bodie took Ray's hand, leading the way up Amber's smooth-worn path. Yew thickets grew haphazardly about the ancient dwellings; good bow timber, he thought absently, preoccupied with the sense of antiquity that seemed to emanate from the still, silent buildings as if they approached a shrine.
"He said this is not a necropolis," Bodie said, hushed. "There are no tombs, saved for one he called a chrysalis."
Raven did not answer for a time, hesitating with his fingertips on a smooth granite surface, barely sun-warm. "There is nothing of death here," he whispered, "but I feel something odd. Do you notice, there are no animals here. Even the birds stay back."
"So should we," Bodie growled.
"Chrysalis?" Raven glanced at Bodie curiously. "Are you sure of the word?"
"Aye, I questioned it," Bodie affirmed. "The Chrysalis of The Future, he said, to be found in the Tomb of the Past. I do not understand your mythology well enough to follow it."
"There is a legend," Raven said slowly, "only a story told to pass away a long evening... A mirror in which can be seen the future, as surely as you see your own face; a deep well into which the past has drained, like a river, to be stored there, fetched out a bucket at a time as it is wanted or needed." He shook himself. "Children's stories, nothing more."
But Bodie was less sceptical. "And would you have believed, my dove, that a Fen shaman could make an eagle of me? Or that an elven shaman could remake that eagle as a man? Be not so quick to disbelieve, till you have seen the evidence!" he gave the cleared buildings a frown. "Will we go on?"
"I..." Raven took a deep breath. "There is no fear, merely apprehension. I have faced all men can offer in the way of hardship, and have survived, but this -- there is little of mortal work about it, I think."
Bodie shook his hand. "Where is your courage?"
Where the underbrush had been cleared the ground had gone back to smooth rock, and the uncanny, tingling aura drew them to an arched doorway about which seraphs and serpents coiled in the endless battle, good against evil. Within, all was darkness, but a torch stood in a bracket by the door and Bodie brought his tinderbox from his pocket, quickly setting it alight.
The shaman had been here, his presence was everywhere. Here, discarded tools, there a cloak, a woolen rug. The torch illuminated a chamber of small size, its walls alive with reliefs, each of which was brilliantly coloured. Bodie took the colours to be paint at first, but Raven, knowing the classical artists of his race's past, knew better.
"See how the light shines in the jewelling," he whispered. "The work of years, Bodie. Come closer and see."
Slivers of ruby, emerald, amethyst, Bodie saw, and whole stones, set into the reliefs to colour them -- a king's ransom on one wall alone. Raven followed the murals avidly, reading the stories told there. They led him about the chamber and to an arched inner doorway. "Ray?" Bodie was on his heels, his skin prickling, every nerve alive with an odd mixture of elation and foreboding.
"Bring the torch," Raven said softly, any sound at all echoing in the confines, seeming intrusive in the darkness.
Bodie was not so keen to go on. His human heart called him back and he yearned to follow its advice. "Ray, enough is enough."
"But Amber has been here," Raven said, pointing to the tools left on the ground before them. "The way is even swept clear and the air is fresh. We must see what he has been doing."
"Curiosity has been known to kill cats," Bodie said darkly. "I wonder, are elves more fortunate?" He stepped through the inner doorway abreast of Raven, holding the torch aloft.
Rubble was strewn on the ground; at first Bodie assumed it was the result of a cave-in, but the ceiling was intact and in a moment more he realised the tumbled bricking was the remains of a wall that had been taken apart. Amber? A chill settled in his bones, prickling along his spine, and he reached for the elf.
A step ahead of him, Raven, with his elven eyesight, was murmuring in astonishment. "What is this place? By all the gods, the riches of an Empire are cast on the floor like grain for winnowing! Look Bodie, silver and emeralds, gold and the glitter of diamonds."
The gems and precious metals were tossed uncaringly over the side of a marble chest, ropes of stones and chains, cast aside as if they were of no value. Bodie stooped to run his fingers through them, trying to assess their value by human standards. Enough to own every tuath east of the Black Hills, to be sure, he thought; he had never dreamed such riches existed. Kneeling, he sorted piece from piece, a gold collar inlaid with rubies, a network of silver chains, hung with emeralds the size of quail's eggs, bracelets and anklets, each item crafted by a master and worth more than a man's life --
"Bodie." Raven had gone ahead and his voice sounded off, echoing back off the walls. "Bodie!" A trace of fear, a tightness of his throat?
The sound brought Bodie to his feet, his eyes searching the dimness for his mate. He saw Ray's back, saw the stiffness with which he stood, and his heart quickened. Of all the stupidity -- he was unarmed. "What is it?" He hissed, stepping quickly to Raven's side and thrusting the pitch torch before them, partly to brighten the darkness, partly as a weapon.
There was no foe in the lightless recess but a sheet of metal, polished like glass, perfect as a mirror that has never seen the light. Raven reached out, his fingers clawing into Bodie's arm. "I saw - -- I saw things, Bodie."
"Things? What things?" Bodie turned, frowning at Ray's pale face. "Ray! What things, and where?"
"There." Raven gestured toward the sheet of polished metal with a lift of his chin. "My eyes will serve me in the dark, remember, and... The mirror, Bodie, look!"
The Sheet of metal could have been steel, nickel, silver, or an alloy of all three. Bodie did not recognise its lustre, nor did he have time to puzzle over it, for as Raven spoke, and as he turned to survey his own reflection, he saw the image waver and distort. He saw himself and Ray, two dishevelled and travel-stained figures whose leathers had seen better days, and then there was a swirling luminescence, disjointed forms, a nothing in which objects could be perceived.
"The mirror," Raven said hoarsely. "Amber tore down the wall that entombed it. Bodie, the legend."
A mirror where the future may be seen as surely as one's own face, Bodie thought, taking a step nearer the sheet of luminescent metal. "Ray, is it real? We both see it. I -- I can touch it. It is cold."
"Bodie, don't! Don't touch it," Raven hissed, pulling his hands away. "It is enough to look. Is this the chrysalis?"
"Amber's work," Bodie whispered, his eyes drawn to the light which was steadily growing in brightness until it eclipsed the torch. Within its frame the misty halos of nothing were coalescing into definite shapes. Images. They stood, transfixed, not daring to watch, not daring to look away. "Raven?" Bodie said softly, almost soundlessly.
"I think it is the future," Raven murmured, his voice taut with fascination and dread. "I do not want to see, but I must. Oh, Bodie --"
The nebulosity was gone as Raven spoke, the scene in its place sharp and clear. He saw himself, clad in silk and seated upon a great chair, carved like the back of a griffin, its wings swept up to either side; on his brow was a golden circlet, at his throat a heavy, golden torque. His face was serene, unchanged, and it was not his own image which troubled the elf, but the torque. Wulff had worn it, and all his forefathers, and Garth had owned it since it had been torn from his neck on the day of his capture.
The scene held them in mute thrall for some minutes before it was gone, breaking up and reforming, replaced by another, grim picture. A funeral pyre, blazing brightly against a crimson, sunset sky. Bodie caught his breath at the sight -- his pyre? Raven's? There was no way to tell, and the ignorance was agony. He groaned, felt Ray's hand reach for his and gripped the cold fingers tightly.
Again the image shifted, the pyre dissolving away to show them the picture of a child, a girl-child with long, red hair and enormous green eyes smiling out of Raven's face. Bodie heard Ray murmur in surprise and gripped his hand tighter. One of us lives, he thought feverishly -- at least long enough for us to win a foothold in the future.
The child's face was gone, breaking up into a welter of red. At first Bodie saw only the blood, recognising himself a moment later as Raven's throat choked back a moan. The awful redness was everywhere, spattering the fair, human skin and pulsing from so many wounds, cut across his back by the lash. Raven's stomach turned and he sucked in a breath, holding it and blinking his vision clear --
The red faded and they were looking at Bodie again. Dimness, the flickers of firelight, a smoky tavern filled with half-drunken people. Humans, Bodie saw, lumbering and grotesque after the elves to whom he had grown accustomed. He wore a bitter face, his hands tight about a pewter tankard, and he looked tired. Older. Hag-ridden. Raven's fingers clutched at his but he could not tear his eyes away, dreading the next image.
It was innocent enough; a house with red brick walls and golden thatch, smoke curling from its chimney, a dog sunning itself on the door sill. Although Bodie had never seen the house, he recognised it. Home. Someone's home -- Raven's, he prayed, oh, let it be Raven's, even if I am done for! The prayer was barely complete when the image shifted again, and for the worse.
The mirror showed Raven once more, but the fine garments and gold were gone. He knelt by a hearth, naked, his head a little bowed, and Bodie breathed a oath as he saw the collar locked about his neck where the torque had been, a sturdy leather collar from which extended a length of fine steel chain. The elf's hands were confined at his back and he was bruised, his face merely resigned, as if he was waiting. Waiting to die, Bodie guessed, and could take no more.
Turning, he fled from the mirror, not stopping until he stood in the outer chamber where daylight fell in over the threshold and chased the goblins from him at last. He buried his face in his hands, unaware of Raven's presence, or his voice, for a long time.
"Bodie! My love, they were only nightmares," Raven was saying. "They could not be true, they could not!"
"No," Bodie said hoarsely, pressing his face into Ray's chest. "Why do you think they entombed the cursed mirror behind a wall inside a mountain? Because no one can bear to see his future -- enough to live it when there is no escaping it at last. Oh, Ray, what is to become of us?"
The human sank to his knees, held captive by the nightmare images, unable to escape them until Raven shook him, hard. "Listen," the elf whispered close by his ear. "Who is to say if the visions were displayed in correct order? Think, Bodie! If the house is our home, and the child is mine, we will win through in the end, even though we may be hurt along the way. I saw myself in silk, wearing my father's torque --"
"I saw a funeral pyre, and myself drinking among humans while you whored in chains," Bodie whispered, shaking. "I saw myself scourged until I could not stand. Which is the final image? Whose is the pyre, yours or mine?"
Raven knelt beside him, holding him. "I don't know," he said quietly. "But I cannot say I am sorry to have seen what the mirror had to show us, for it may be we were shown events we can avert. I have no knowledge of the merchants of fate, but if we can avert those awful things, we will have the mirror to thank for our lives. Perhaps that is its purpose."
"How?" Bodie asked dully. "How can you escape your own fate?"
"By writing yourself a different fate," Raven suggested. "If that torque I wore was my father's, and if the drunken humans point to Garth, and if I am again a whore in chains, all that is easily averted... We must never cross the Black Hills, Bodie. Never. Or you will forfeit the skin of your bank, and I my body, for so long as I can live. What images are left, then? Home, Bodie, and a child with my face."
"Aye, a child by a lover who would lie with you," Bodie said huskily. "A human woman, as no elven girl would bed with you. And the first image -- the torque is your own, and you wear your silks proudly. Torque, home, daughter, a human woman to wife. Where am I? Dead, mayhap, flogged, yet granted a warrior's pyre. You would give me that honour, Ray? If you had won your freedom in time?"
There was a long, uneasy silence in which they felt the cold keenly, and then Raven stirred. "I do not believe that the future is preordained. The mirror shows what might be, if we were foolish enough to let it happen. Be hanged to my father's torque -- aye, and the Kith honour too! We will never cross the hills, Bodie, you will never drink in a human tavern and I shall never wear my father's torque. The house will be ours, the girl child as much your kin as mine, by a human woman who has come among us like Feyleen. There -- we do but choose the images we would bring about, and spurn the rest."
But Bodie's face was still white and taut. "I hope you're right, little chuck. I hope you know the elven magic better than I."
"I know little of it," Raven admitted reluctantly, "but Amber will know. Oh, Bodie, do not fear. Listen to me, my sweetest love." He took Bodie's head between his hands, threading his fingers through the long, black hair. "We have found Falcon, and he will return to the Kith to teach Lilith all she must know. But there is no need for us to go back there, Bodie." He leaned forward to kiss the human's mouth. "We ride west, not east, far, far from all that is human. I will forget that I was ever a prince or a warrior. I will sing in roadside taverns by night and fletch arrows by day while you roll your dice with that unholy skill and earn us a fortune by dishonest means. The house can be ours that way, and as for the rest... I do not dream of children, Bodie. My heart lies elsewhere."
"Where?" Bodie asked very softly as the lilting, husky voice balmed his sores and, as the daylight and Raven worked on him, he began to believe.
"With you," Raven told him. "What makes you think that I would care to live and sire brats by some human woman, if I had set a torch to your pyre? I would more likely ride to battle to avenge you and quickly follow you. There is space in the halls of Avalon for two more, I think."
Bodie slid both arms about him and crushed him. "You believe that, don't you? That there is a life after this."
"Aye; I believe as any warrior must," Raven told him. "Or, how would we have the courage to face battle so often? If there was nothing but this single, brief and tawdry life, we should be afraid of the slightest skirmish."
"And it is not merely our own wishful thinking?" Bodie crooked one brow at his lover.
Raven shrugged. "If human skeptics wish to think so, they are entitled, but we elves know better. Ask Amber, and he will tell you of many lives he has lived. I would warrant, we have lived as many, you and I. And together." He buried his face in the curve of Bodie's strong neck. "You told me once, you were born loving me. You were, Bodie, as I was born loving you." A lick-kiss, and he stirred. "Take me where it is warm, and ravish me. Amber will be about his chores in the valley, and I have the yen to be mated for love, not for lust."
"As have I." Bodie got his feet under him. "Take me instead."
But Raven shook his head. "Perhaps later. You have greater need to own me, Bodie. Be sure of who you are, and that I belong to you. Prove it to your heart. Take your mate to bed and possess him -- energetically, if you will. I am not afraid to be hard ridden."
"Shh, enough," Bodie crooned. "I will do no such thing. You are no one's whore, Ray, and I would not ride you hard even to please you! There has been too much of that in your time, too many crimes upon this sweet body."
It was the truth and Raven did not seek to deny it. He let Bodie lead him from the place Amber called a chrysalis, wandering back up the valley toward the steep, winding trail. They saw Amber, far away on another slope, attending to the sheep that grazed along the stream, and he waved. The wolf was with him, leaving the newcomers the freedom of the shaman's home.
The sky was low, mist and cloud wreathing the mountain heights all about the valley, and the wind had a cutting edge like broken glass. Bodie slammed the door on it, pouring scented wine for them and heating it with the poker. Raven wrapped chilly hands about his cup, drinking the potent alcohol too fast. His cheeks pinked and he chuckled throatily. "One day I will remember that wine and I are not ideal partners."
"Unlike the two of us," Bodie said, smiling at him. "Are you warm now?"
"Rather too warm," Raven admitted, taking off his jacket and tossing it down by the door. "I cannot drink, Bodie, as well you know. You have seen me try!"
"I have seen you rosy and affectionate," Bodie agreed. "I love you all the more in those times." He caught himself against him, breathing in the scents of his skin and hair.
It was some time since either man had bathed. Bodie smelt the tang of Raven's sweat as well as the musk that rose from his groin as he became aroused in his lover's arms, the two scents familiar and intimate, entirely masculine and oddly pleasing. Bodie undressed him slowly, working with diligent, studied caresses, and Raven stood by the hearth, stretching and purring like a big, supple cat, murmuring endearments as Bodie stroked him. He was cool to the touch, his skin tingling, hands and feet chilly, and Bodie wrapped him in a rug, going to rummage through Amber's things for some salve or ointment, as their saddle bags were not to be found.
Feet in the hearth, rug wrapped loosely about his lean frame, Raven watched his lover with an indulgent smile. "Ah, this will do," Bodie said at last. It is not quite what you are used to, but it will suffice."
"I like rose oil," Raven said huskily. "Let me see what you have found... Bodie, that is for cooking."
"It will do," Bodie said, kissing the elf's nose. "Are you warmer?"
"Roasting like a potato in its jacket," Raven said expansively.
Bodie wormed one hand inside the rug. "You are barely even warm! Never mind, you will be warm in bed. Up with you, little chuck, and kiss me."
In fact, Raven dropped the rug and undressed him with the same studied, languid sensuality, kissing and caressing over every inch of Bodie's skin. At last the human fended off the pampering hands. "Oh, enough, before I come in your hand and it is all over!"
"Aye, that would be a pity." Raven knelt back to survey his handiwork. Bodie was achingly aroused, his cock proud and dark with the pressure of his blood, his balls stirring with a life of their own. The elf looked up with a smile. "I think you will do as you are."
"Oh, indeed?" Bodie cuffed him gently as Raven dropped a single kiss on the head of his lover's shaft and turned away toward the bed. "Lie down, Ray, and let me love you," he whispered, gratified and moved as Raven complied without question. His long legs spread for Bodie to kneel between them, and he waited patiently, letting Bodie look his fill. "How beautiful you are," Bodie observed, shaking his head, as if it was still difficult to credit that another should move him so. He bent to kiss Raven's belly, avoiding the steel-hard, arrogant thrust of his cock as long as he was able. Ray's fingers clenched into the sheepskins as he arched his back, mutely pleading for Bodie's mouth.
The scent of musk was strong, rising from skin that was warm now, and Ray's aching erection was hot against Bodie's lips, smooth, its salt taste long ago familiar. Bodie sucked the long, slender shaft, first softly and then demanding response, drawing him up toward release and lifting his head away the moment before his balls would have drawn up tight.
"Ah, Bodie," Raven mewled, "help me, I am hurting now."
At last Bodie lifted the leanly muscled legs over his shoulders and dipped his finger tips in the oil. Ray cried out as first two, then three fingers entered and withdrew, and he wriggled in frustration, craving their joining. Bodie slid inside in one smooth stroke, filling him and hearing the husky curses that told of the elf's helpless pleasure. The long legs slipped from his shoulders, locking about his waist, and Raven pulled his human's head down to a kiss.
"You are mine," Bodie whispered against Ray's open mouth.
"I belong to you," Raven murmured. "As you belong to me."
"Mine to possess," Bodie hissed, thrusting harder.
Raven caught his breath at the deep, hard caress across his prostate. "Ah -- yours, only yours." He twisted as Bodie thrust into him again. "Take me, and know it for the truth -- I love you."
"I -- love -- you," Bodie moaned, in time to the slide of his hips, unable to hold back as the glorious heat and friction of Raven's body jumbled his thoughts and overrode his control. He came in vast, languid waves that drained the strength and life out of him along with his seed, going down onto Raven's chest and dizzily aware that the elf was coming too, wet heat splashing onto his belly.
"Bodie?" A murmur, an eon later, breathed into Bodie's tangled hair.
"Hmm?" The human tried to stir, found himself held tight by arms and legs, his softened cock still embraced by Raven's body. "I am too heavy, my dove, let me move and attend to you."
At last Raven relaxed every muscle, splaying his legs to release his lover. Bodie knelt, feasting his eyes on the wanton sprawl of the elf before bending to lap at the semen which lay cooling on his skin. The lapping aroused Raven again, as he knew it would, elves being as they were, but he ignored the new need while he set to rights the old, lifting Raven over and passing a cloth through his cleft to mop away the oil before it got everywhere. Raven giggled as the caress tickled, and Bodie gave his buttock an expression of admonition with the flat of his palm. "Keep still!"
Raven curled up on his side and relaxed again, smiling as he felt the warm trickle of Bodie's seed at his thigh, the tickle of the cloth again, a kiss for the buttock still stinging from Bodie's playful chastisement. He cupped his hands about his groin, touching himself carefully, until Bodie lifted him onto his back, finished with his ministrations. The human's dark head bowed to his chest, teeth fastening onto Ray's left nipple and tugging; a little, sharp pain arrowed like lightning from chest to belly, centering in his cock, and he moaned, needing Bodie to touch him.
The human captured Raven's hands, one in each of his own, nibbling from breast to navel and letting his whiskery chin just barely graze the smooth, hot skin of Ray's erection. The breath caught in the elf's throat and he arched his back helplessly. Bodie kissed the throbbing, rosy crown, lapping at it, blowing across it until Raven felt as if he had been turned to ice and pleasure bordered on pain. He spread his legs beseechingly and Bodie nuzzled his balls with his nose, kissing behind them, smiling as Raven gave a throaty curse and began to buck.
"Like a horse with spirit," Bodie observed, barely able to speak, but the comparison brought uncomfortable memories, the bone-jarring fear Raven must have lived with, that Garth would be as good as his word, and geld him when he tired of the games that could be played with a whole man. He looked up, saw Raven's face twisted with frustrated desire, wondered what torment he had known, and could not deny him any longer. He had waited long enough, almost silent in his patience, waiting for his lover to take pity.
He came only moments after Bodie offered the haven of his mouth, just a little semen tingling in Bodie's throat, and was limp in moments. Bodie held him, stroked his hair and watched him doze, drowsy himself and beset by troubled thoughts. It was the image of his lover, naked by some stranger's hearth, his hands caught up behind him, his neck imprisoned by the kind of collar that held dogs captive, that haunted him. If he had seen that picture, looking into the well of the past, he would perhaps have put it from him, cruel as it was; but the mirror bespoke the future, and Bodie was in pain, an ache in his heart that grew worse as he watched his lover sleep in peace.
In half an hour Raven stirred, turning over in Bodie's arms and heaving a yawn. "I feel wonderful. My body is alive -- every nerve sings love for you," he murmured, licking Bodie's chest between phrases.
A long, contented silence, and then Bodie lifted Ray's chin to look into his face. "Why won't you ever tell me, sweeting?"
"Tell you what?" Ray's brow crinkled. "I keep no secrets from you."
"You won't let me share the bad times," Bodie argued. "I have ached to ease the pain of it by sharing it with you; now and then you say a word, unguardedly, and then your tongue is still and I am left guessing. When I returned to Garth's camp you were hurt, bruised and sore, both in body and heart. Amber asked me, before you woke, if you are responsive to pleasure, as if he wondered if the pain remained inside you. He said I had exorcised it."
"You did," Raven agreed. "There is no cause for you to know."
"Not even to chase the ghosts from you?" Bodie pressed.
"My ghosts have gone," Raven said levelly. "Sometimes I dream, but you are there in the night to hold me, so I have no fears."
"Still, I wish you would not even dream of it," Bodie hissed savagely. "Raven, are you mine?"
"Like a chattel, like a thing you own," Raven said softly. "As you know."
"Then tell me." Bodie held him tightly. "It is past time you let me share the dark days with you. I am no coward to be affrighted."
But Raven wriggled away. "No. I have my pride, as I have said. It is not for others to share, not even you."
Bodie sighed, exasperated. "But if you are mine, you are mine!"
"And you would take advantage of your ownership?" There was an edge of something a little like anger in Raven's voice. "Order me to tell the dishonours of my heart? I will not, Bodie." He wrapped his arms about his thin chest. "If I were a chattel proper, you could beat me for the insolence, but I am a warrior, even as you are, no matter that I belong to you."
"Beat you?" Bodie blinked in astonishment. "I will wheedle, cajole, bribe you, trick the words from you, pour wine into you to loosen your tongue, but -- beat you? Or do you jest with me?"
At last Raven allowed a faint smile. "Half jest. Seriously, my love, there are wounds within that have yet to heal. Oh, not physical wounds, I am well and strong; scars on my heart. If you knew the secrets of my dishonour I could not lift my head before you. So let it rest, Bodie. Please." He yawned, his eyes growing heavy. "Do you mind if I sleep again? I am exhausted; I think there is much of the drug still in me, and the morning was nearly as tiring as this last hour has been."
"Sleep, then," Bodie said softly, pulling the rugs up about his mate and reaching for his clothes. "It is nearly afternoon. Amber will be back shortly, I expect, and we will eat." He stood, pulling on his leathers and watching Raven curl up like a hibernating squirrel, falling deeply asleep in moments.
Sleep should have brought peace but there was a line of a frown between his brows and Bodie sighed, wishing for the thousandth time that Raven was not such a slave to his honour. He yearned to soothe away the frown, with words or deeds, but Raven would never permit it. The past was locked away, inaccessible, save within the elf's wayward heart, which still hurt him.
"Only let me help," he begged almost soundlessly, knowing Raven could not hear, knowing what the answer would have been if he could. With a deep sigh Bodie left the Shaman's home, his eyes crinkling in the sudden brightness.
It was crisp and cold, early afternoon, and the sky was a roiling mass of cloud which made the valley seem deeper, greener, more secret. Bodie sat against the rock face, just out of the wind, not seeing the view and oblivious to time, so imprisoned was he in his thoughts.
The shaman's voice started him. "Bodie? Have you seen ghosts, human? You look like a man who has walked through a nightmare, when I had imagined you brought your mate here to pleasure him!"
"I -- I did," Bodie said, seeing no sense in lying. "But thismorning we walked to the other end of the valley and found your excavations."
"Oh." Amber sat on a boulder, hands clasped between his knees, and studied Bodie's profile. "Then you found your way to the Chrysalis, I assume. You saw the mirror, and in it beheld -- what?"
A shudder coursed through Bodie's nerves and he related what he had seen, detailing each image as nearly as he could remember. At last he looked up at the blond elf's angular face. "Tell me, shaman, does the mirror show what must be, or what may be?"
The wide shoulders lifted in a shrug. "I do not know," Amber admitted. "I uncovered the tomb ten years ago but did not find the inner chamber until recently. There is a great treasure left there, did you see it? It was brought here, a piece at a time, by men brave enough -- or foolish enough, to want to look into their future, and by those who had need to replay the past like some drama on a stage. The keepers of the tomb did not charge any toll but rich men thought to buy favours, as if the ancients who watched over this could order up the images to suggestion! At last, in despair, when it could not be destroyed it was walled up. I, in my own foolishness, have uncovered it." He stirred and cleared his throat. "I think I shall wall it up again before we leave."
"You will come with us?" Bodie asked quietly.
"My name is Falcon," Amber said, smiling. "And many other names beyond. My place is with the Kith, until Lilith has attained her capabilities. Then... Oh, then Falcon will pass on and I shall be Amber, alone again, and I will return here. This is my home, this is my work." He frowned deeply at Bodie. "You have seen dreadful things and they trouble you, but it is possible the mirror merely forewarns you."
"So Raven said," Bodie agreed. "He is wise, is my Raven, as wise as he is beautiful. But... He is troubled also, and so am I." He turned to the shaman with an entreating expression. "You touched his soul, Falcon, when you were to take his youth from him?"
The voice that answered was not Amber's. "I did."
"Then tell me, do you know his secrets?"
"Aye, it is unavoidable," Falcon's voice said sadly.
"Tell me," Bodie asked. "Let me share his dark times. He will share only the light with me, and the rest is still inside him, twisted beneath his heart. Oh, he forgets for long stretches, but he dreams too, and sometimes will speak an unguarded word that betrays the pain he feels. If he could only share the weight of it with me, know that I know, he would be free of it. Tell me."
But the shaman shook his head. "It is not for me to speak of such things, human, they are Raven's secrets, not mine. I can tell you nothing."
"Will not," Bodie retorted.
"What difference?" Amber's voice asked. "Raven's heart is his most private possession. Perhaps the only possession that belongs to him alone."
"And it hurts him," Bodie added savagely. "When he remembers, when he dreams. Oh, not often, but often enough. I would help him forget, or if not, make light of it."
"Make light of the humans' abuse?" Amber gave a derisive snort. "Bodie, I know you mean him only well, but I will not help you. The past is gone, like a river flowing into the sea."
"Or into a well," Bodie said darkly. "The mirror showed me the future, Amber. I know how to see the past." The sudden determination to look into the well as he had looked into the mirror was frighteningly strong, and he stood.
Amber's hand on his arm drew him back. "Bodie, no. It is unwise."
"You would stop me?"
"Your own nous would stop you, if you had any!" Amber followed him to his feet. "Why do you think the shrine was walled up? Shamans, ages past, created something they could not destroy, but which could so easily destroy them. Oh, human, do not let it destroy you too!"
Bodie studied the shaman's face, looking into intense golden eyes. "I have to," he whispered. "Raven is my life. I can bear it no longer that he will not share his dark times, as if I am not man enough to face them as he had to. I am a human, not a coward," he added fiercely. "He is all that I am, all that I want, and I will know, if not by his own lips, then this way!"
He was moving as he finished speaking, and Amber knew better than to try to hold him back. Bodie spoke and acted out of a love that was consuming, an insanity at the nexus of which was one small Kith whose beauty had shown him hell as well as paradise. Amber turned his eyes to the sky, praying to any god who would listen to stand beside the foolish human. The Chrysalis was not a blessing and had never been. It was a curse on those who created it and used it.
Bodie ran, his feet nimble on the loose shale, slithering on mud here and there. The winding trail led him to the valley floor and the stream bank, and before him, a mile ahead, was the rock face into which had been cut a whole settlement. He knew the way, driven by goblins he neither understood nor cared to understand. Raven's sleeping face haunting him, spurring him on.
How long had he ached the share the dark times? The Kith honour had never allowed it, and Raven, locked in the prison of that honour, paid his price alone. No more, Bodie thought as he lit the pitch torch, striking flint to steel, and plunged into the uterine cave where the ancients had entombed their creation.
There was the mirror, waiting, like a spider in its web, but this time, he ignored it, casting about to left and right and finding a passage leading into nowhere. A chamber, deep, dark, cold, barely illuminated though the torch burned brightly. Bodie's heart hammered painfully against his ribs like a bird in a cage, and he turned slowly about, feeling the prickle of his skin, the tightening of his joints. It was here.
Before him was a dense darkness that resisted all light; a wind blew from it, strangely warm and sweetly inviting, like the lure of the dark places of a lover's body. Bodie stepped toward it, felt the warmth embrace him, his eyes dilating as the torch flickered lower and expired.
There was fear but before it could put out roots startlement replaced it. A light welled out of the darkness, reaching out, circumfusing him until he was part of a three dimensioned image. He knew he stood in the entombed well, could feel the dead torch in his hand and the rock beneath his feet, but his eyes played him false, and his ears too.
There was a room and he recognised it. It was one of Garth's halls, smelling of the kitchens and feasting chambers. The chief's bedchamber was to one side, his public rooms to the other. Snoring told Bodie where the old man was as surely as the draught from the kitchen; it was late and after a night with his wine he would have whored while he was able and would now be abed, sleeping it off.
Doorskins were swept aside and three men entered, laughing, half drunk, carrying a burden between them. Bodie's heart leapt in his chest like a startled doe as he watched Raven tossed haphazardly onto the floor. He was limp and groggy -- drugged, as he had been the night of Bodie's arrival; loose thongs dangled from wrists and ankles and his genitals were ringed with the kind of device applied to slaves who must mix with freewomen but not breed. He was swollen and sensitive, Bodie saw, but release was impossible.
Somehow he sat up, blind and silent, his chest heaving, arms and legs curling about himself protectively until he was spread wide on his belly and tied by thongs to the cornerposts of the bed in this, Garth's guest room. They took him in turn, used his mouth to grow hard once more, and took him again, three oafs with the ways and manners of swine. Sometimes he was conscious, sometimes not, and Bodie shared his moans as if the pain were in his own loins.
Spent, the humans collapsed, pushing Raven off the bed to make resting space for themselves. He curled up on the floor, his legs slick with semen and blood, his face wet. Bodie reached out to him in agony, forgetting that it was just an image, nothing more than a vision of something long past.
And there were other visions, games played with relish as Garth and others made sport with a man, where a gelding could not be used so. Bodie watched his mate fed a drug that plunged him into mindlessness, his body rutting like an animal, mounting anything that moved. They gave him a girl, and sweet, gentle Raven raped her; they gave him a goat and his maddened body knew no difference.
It was the price of Raven's being whole, ten days after his capture; Bodie tried hard to remember that as he saw Ray dragged off the girl and raped in his turn, clawing like a wild thing on heat as Garth's bloated body laboured over him and the rings about his genitals denied him any release of his own. He fainted at last, before Garth finished in him, and Shon, the healer came to look at him, releasing him from the rings and swabbing healing oil onto him. Any more, said the healer, and he will die; and Garth believed him.
Bodie felt the nausea and spinning senses wash over him too, and could not hold his feet to the spot. He stepped back from the brink of the well, and the world darkened once more. In his hand, the torch fluttered feebly, no more than embers, and before he gave his innards license to spill he tended the pitch. Sickness overwhelmed and emptied him, and he dragged himself back into the sunlight until he could see and hear again.
The shame Raven felt was unwarranted, but he understood. They had made him a whore, even an animal, and nothing would undo the past. Bodie dragged both hands across his face, shaking like a leaf in the wind, his heart a confusion of rage, pity, tenderness, sorrow. How long he sat there he did not know, but the afternoon was no longer young when he came back to his senses.
He stood, stiff and cold, and stretched cramped limbs. Impulse took him back into the entombed shrine, where he knelt beside the marble chest, selecting the finest of treasures, all he could stuff into his pockets, emeralds, rubies, jade and amethyst, pink diamonds and silvergold.
The way back to the shaman's home was a long, weary trek and fatigue grabbed at him, dragging his feet as if he carried a great weight of chain. The wind was razor-edged but he barely noticed it, sweating with effort as he climbed the steep trackway, one thought rampant in his mind.
And yet, any hunting after vengeance would lead him across the hills into the human tuaths, and the mirror had shown him images he could forget no more easily than those displayed by the well. A flogged back, funeral pyre, failure? Or, did he ride for vengeance alone, and did Raven follow, finding his way to that stranger's hearth, a collar about his neck? Bodie's human heart screamed with its lust for vengeance while he knew that to cross the hills would surely bring disaster.
Torn in two directions, he felt himself ripped in half. He was on the narrow plateau before Amber's home before he became aware of his surroundings, and he swallowed, desperate to hold Raven, ravenous for his kiss, as if he had not touched him in weeks. He slipped in through the door, dropping his jacket in the sudden warm as his eyes grew accustomed to the firelit gloom.
Amber was gone, and Raven sat on the foot of the bed where they had slept, his face turned away, refusing to look up as Bodie appeared. "Ray?" Bodie whispered the name like a prayer, but the elf ignored it, his shoulders rigid, arms crossed tightly on his breast. "Raven? I have been --"
"I know where you have been." The words were no more than a hiss. "I woke and wondered at your absence. Amber told me. Oh, Bodie, how could you?"
"I had to," Bodie whispered. "I have seen --"
"No more!" Raven said sharply, his voice breaking.
Bodie reached out, one hand on his mate's thin shoulder, but Ray jerked away from him. "Please, Ray."
"Don't touch me," Raven said, his tone one of desperation. "Don't ever touch me again, I can't bear it."
The human was silent for a long moment, searching for words. "Sweetheart, come to me, I love you!"
A sob passed Raven's lips and he turned at last. He was weeping, flushed and frightened. "You cannot, if you have seen. No one who knows could love me. I have done things that would disgrace a wild beast, and been treated as no wild beast was ever done by. Oh, Bodie, why did you betray me?"
"To know," Bodie said tenderly, reaching for him, but Raven stepped away. "To share it, to understand. I saw only your pain, my dearest love. Let me help."
Raven shook his head violently, hugging himself. "I want none of your pity. I am a warrior, for all they did to me. I basked in your love, Bodie, lived for it, but I will not have your pity -- don't touch me!" He writhed away as Bodie tried to caress his shoulder. "Did you see how I raped the girl?" He flayed himself alive with the words. "Did you see how I was mated to a goat? Even as I mate you, I had the animals. Did you see them sweat over me, pounding into me like so many studs upon a mare? Aye, as you have ridden me." He shuddered, trembling from head to foot. "How could you want the body that has opened for so many? How could you wish to be mated by the man who was bred to an animal?"
"That was none of your doing," Bodie remonstrated. "I had to know, there can be no secrets between us. I love you. Knowing that I know, you are free at last, there is no need to hide it away in shame. There is no shame and never was." Again he reached for Raven, succeeding in touching his face before Raven fled."
"Don't touch me! Never touch me!" He flung the words brokenly as he grabbed his jacket and bolted, leaving Bodie staring at the slammed door.
Stupor lasted almost a minute before Bodie could get his feet working. He almost tore the tapestry as he opened the door, going out into the chill and finding himself wreathed in cloud that was coming down off the mountains with evening. "Raven! Raven, come back! Ray!"
There was no answer, but there was also only one way down from the plateau. The mist was thickening with every moment and he clung to the rock face, fear speeding him, but Raven was faster, and gone. He called out more times than he knew but there was never any answer.
Thunder rolled on the other side of the crags; the sky sheeted out with lightning, and suddenly it was very cold indeed. The chill stabbed into Bodie, who had run out without his coat, and he hugged himself, casting about in the mist and knowing that he would die lost in another hundred yards. Still, Raven would not answer and Bodie forced his wilful mind to think.
Blundering about was not the way to find him, merely the way to get lost and die of exposure; night was falling quickly. He turned back to the trail, hurrying up the rock face, exertion warming him a little. The shaman was on the plateau, heavily cloaked in his fox furs and wearing a deep frown.
"I heard you calling. Bodie, what is amiss?"
"Raven has gone," Bodie panted, shuddering with cold and fright.
"Gone? Gone where?"
"I don't know -- away. There's nowhere to go," Bodie snarled, "just into the mist. I called, but he won't answer. He knows what I saw in the well. I have betrayed him, he says. I tried to touch him and he fled."
The look on Amber's face was one of fury. "You barbarian," he whispered, a sigh above the breeze. "If you have caused him to come to harm I shall have the price out of you, human!"
Bodie barely heard. "If you are a god cursed shaman, find him! Rail at me later, curse me if you will, I have been cursed before this, but find him!"
"I am a shaman, not a magician, fool," Amber sais tersely. "But my wolf will find him. Put your coat on, for the gods' sake, before you freeze. In fact, hie you to the hearth and stay there. He will not answer to you, you can do no good crashing about with your soldier's feet."
"I come with you," Bodie said stubbornly. "I'll fetch some of his things so the hound can get the scent."
Darkness fell with frightening speed and the mist was a solid well, wet and freezing. Bodie pulled up his hood, hands thrust into his pockets, marking time as the dog found the trail, lost it, doubled back and began again. Raven must have run, for he had covered a lot of ground. They came upon the bank of the stream, and it took the dog some time to pick up the trail on the opposite side.
Amber was furious. "His blood is still thick with the drug, you know," he told Bodie. "His body temperature is high because of it, and he is not strong. This cold will punish him before we even notice it, especially if he has had to rest. Oh, Bodie, you would not listen to me. I warned you."
"I know," Bodie growled. "I am a barbarian, you told me."
"You are a fiend," Amber corrected angrily, "and I --"
The wolf interrupted, barking furiously, and Bodie did not wait to hear what Amber thought, fighting through a tangle of nettle and briar to find the heap the dog had seen. He had fallen over a gnarled root, Bodie guessed, fatigued and blind with anguish, and he pulled himself into the shelter of the split hole of a great owl pine, knowing when he could go no further.
A trickle of blood ran from his temper and he was far from consciousness. Bodie waited for Amber with a vast impatience. "Is he hurt? Shaman, tell me!"
"Then hold your tongue while I see," Amber snapped. His large, capable hands passed gently over Raven's small body, and he grunted. "He has done his right leg no good, and knocked his head, but neither are bad. The leg will be right in a week, the head by morning. Ah, you fool, you human, you barbarian! Get out of the way. I must carry him out of this cold before he is as far back as he was when I found you beyond the pass!"
"I carry him," Bodie growled. "Amber, stand aside, he is mine."
The shaman gave him a bleak look. "You mean you love him. Whether he is yours any longer, I cannot say. I feel his hurt without touching him. You have taken his heart and sundered it, and it is not bound to mend."
"What do you mean?" Bodie whispered, stooping to lift the elf's light body and cradle it against his own.
"His hunting is complete, he has found Falcon, he can end now," Amber said sadly. "You were his life, your love was all he had, and all he wanted. Now, he has nothing. He may choose not to live."
Bodie's eyes stung and he turned away, blundering through the thicket. "You know the way back, lead me or I shall be lost." To Raven's unhearing ears he murmured a litany of love, meaningless, as old as either species, as he toiled in the shaman's wake, labouring up the cliff trail, every step an agony of fatigue and part of his penance.
The door slammed shut on mist and lightning and Amber went to tend the fire, stoking it until it burned fiercely. Raven's clothes were damp and Bodie tugged them off, lifting him into bed and stripping quickly so that he could share his own body heat as he slid in between the sheepskins with him. He glared at Amber as the shaman left the fire. "I will be with him, and I will give you fair warning, if it will offend you to see me mated, look elsewhere, for it will happen. He will have me as soon as he has the strength, and know that I love him all the more for sharing his pain. If your delicate shaman's sensibilities will be affronted, do not watch."
For the first time, Amber smiled. "You are a fiend," he observed. "But a loyal one, and your heart is true, no matter how you stray from sense. Oh, be silent and warm him. He is only stunned and exhausted... And hurt, Bodie. You cannot know how hurt."
"I could," Bodie said hoarsely. "I saw it all. Everything that hurts him is within my own heart now, I feel it. I am his as never before -- his chattel, his owned thing." He gathered Raven closer and rolled them tightly in the sheepskins. "Give me wine, I will soak his mouth in it. He cannot drink, when he does it makes him hot and dizzy, and that would serve him well now."
Red wine trickled slowly into Raven's mouth, and Bodie set the cup aside, ignoring Amber as he wrapped his love in a fierce embrace. Raven was warming a little at a time, sharing the human's body heat until he began to stir at last. Bodie drew back to see his face, loving its every angle, its perfect nose and lush mouth, the fans of blue-black lashes and high forehead.
A moan, and he was awake, groggy and unthinking. He burrowed closer, tucking his head under Bodie's chin and holding on as if he knew there was trouble but had lost track of it for the moment. Bodie held his breath as he waited for memory to filter back. When it did he felt the spasm jerk through Raven's nervous system, felt him try to wriggle away, and tightened the embrace.
"Shh, you're safe, you're not hurt, you only twisted your leg," Bodie whispered, "be at peace, be still."
Raven tried to fight but even at his best Bodie's strength would have easily overcome him. He struggled for a time, growing weaker and at last sobbing like a child, his face buried in the pillow, his chest heaving. Bodie held him tightly, rubbing his back and buttocks in a long, soothing massage, speaking softly and repeating every phrase many times, aware that Ray was barely listening. "Ah, sweetheart, how could you think I cannot love you? Ah, my sweetest love, don't cry, there is no shame. I did not betray you, I shared your pain, no more than that. I ache with you now. What pains your heart pains mine. I know everything, there is nothing to hide. I love you, Raven, I belong to you. Your chattel, a thing you own. Use me, break me, discard me, I am yours."
Slowly the sobs stilled and Raven was quiescent, no longer trying to escape the embrace he had dreaded, hearing the words and yearning to believe them. Bodie's hands rubbed his back and, almost against his will, he was soothed. At last he lifted his head, huge, troubled eyes looking at his mate.
"Bodie? But you saw." His voice still shook.
"I saw." Bodie kissed his mouth; it tasted of sweet wine, beautiful and irresistible, so he kissed it again. "I love you."
"You want me?" Raven was puzzled.
"Fiercely." Bodie affirmed, nuzzling his ears.
Quiet and docile now, Raven turned over and presented. "Take me. I can still whore for you, and do it gladly."
"No," Bodie said very gently, kissing his nape, beneath the long auburn curls. "You're no one's whore, no one's owned thing. If I possess your body, it is for your own joy as much as mine, and tonight you will mate me instead."
Raven turned over again. "I have been bred to an animal," he whispered. "I raped a girl. I should never have mated you, either. I am not fit for it. I have been so ashamed."
In answer, Bodie kissed him again. "You are the gentlest lover I have ever known. And the silliest. I saw the wine forced into you, Ray, I all but smelt the bitter herbs that made you rut like a beast." He held the elf while he shuddered. "Had I been given the same herbs, I should have been as wild, and maddened by the rings that denied me release."
"I was," Raven murmured. "I am not human. Elves are not the same, as you know, and the pressure nearly killed me. Only the old healer knew. Garth would leave me to him and he would rub me with oils while I spilled my seed, half hard and grateful for ease." He buried his face in Bodie's neck. "I was dishonoured completely and had lost my spirit when you found me."
"I know," Bodie said tenderly. "I watched you kneel on my bed and make yourself ready to be possessed, remember. I could only guess at what they had done to you, and I have longed to share it, to ease your heart, every day since. He did not geld you, Ray; if the price of this was a girl's comfort and your own pride, broken when you mounted some poor creature, so be it. The goat took no harm from your lovely body, and the girl... Well, she was a slave and expected it. I saw no blood, Ray, she must have oiled herself knowing what was to be. So set aside this guilt and tell me, are yo well?"
"Tired only," Raven murmured. "My head hurts, but it is nothing, and my leg is stiff. I will be mended soon."
"And well enough to mate me after you have slept," Bodie said, kissing him. "So sleep, for I am eager to give of myself. I love you with all the savagery you would expect of a barbarian and want you constantly."
"I have been a fool," Raven sighed. "I have misjudged you, haven't I? I should beg your forgiveness for my smallness of mind."
"No, no such thing." Bodie licked Raven's eyes, nose, mouth, tracing their shape. "It is the Kith pride I could not grapple with. I could not make you understand that I wished to share your dark times as well as your light. Now, sleep, then take me. Take me hard, know how much I am yours."
"I will sleep," Raven whispered. "I love you. I have never doubted that I love you, only that you could want me, knowing what I am, what I have done."
"Sweet idiot," Bodie scolded, but Raven was already asleep.
He woke as the wind rattled the shutters, waking Bodie as he stirred, and the human stretched comfortably, casting a glance across the fire to see the shaman sound asleep in his own skins. They said nothing, looking long at each other in the firelight before Bodie reached for the little bottle of oil, carelessly left by the bed late the previous morning. He presented without preamble, accepting Raven into him with a deep, breathless satisfaction, riding out the storm of passion with him until the elf came with a breathy sigh.
They parted, and Bodie wriggled around, a little sore, a little stiff, ignoring both as he cleaned Ray's sodden groin with a scrap of linen and sucked him hard once more. A kiss for each testicle, his navel and anus, and Bodie knelt. "Again," he whispered, a demand rather than a request, and the second time it was even easier as Ray moved languidly into a passage already open and filled with his seed. Bodie groaned with the heat and bulk within him, an agonized pleasure beyond compare, coming long before Ray was ready to climax.
"Bodie? Shall I withdraw?" Raven whispered as the human stilled.
"Don't you dare," Bodie told him. "Let me give you pleasure, as you have made the gift of it to me. Move, will you? Ray!"
The elf was exhausted when he finished and lay cradled on Bodie's chest to sleep again. Bodie lay awake, gazing into the fire and meeting Amber's golden eyes as the shaman shrugged awake at dawn, slinging his cloak about his shoulders.
"He is well?" The question was quiet but shrewd.
"Well enough to have made a thorough job of me," Bodie said with a wry smile. "Twice. Were you asleep, or discreet?"
"Asleep the first time." Amber chuckled richly. "You woke me when you groaned like a cow in labour and I pretended to be a sleep for the sake of your ridiculous human modesty." Amber reached down to tousle Raven's hair. "I am glad. In a way, he is free now."
"Which is what I intended," Bodie said ruefully.
"And you almost finished everything!" Amber gave a scornful snort. "Next time, human, will you listen to advice?"
"Probably not," Bodie admitted. "But it is of no matter as we will be gone from this place as soon as Ray's leg is mended. A few days, a week."
The shaman had crossed to the window, opening the shutters a crack, the tapestry lifted aside, to watch the sun climb above the mountains, and as Bodie spoke he laughed aloud. "Oh, you think so, do you? Come here, Bodie. Come on, he won't miss you for a minute, and when you have seen you will have a good excuse for returning to bed for -- oh, for a long time."
Bodie slid out of bed, padding naked and shivering to the shaman's side. At the window, his jaw slackened. The sun was just up, its light shimmering, glittering, on endless, unbroken fields of white. During the night the storm had brought the snow. Amber laughed and slammed the shutter. "Welcome to my home, human. You are my guest till spring, whether you like it or not!"
The bang of the shutter produced a groan from the bed and Bodie turned back to see his mate stirring fitfully. Already frozen, he slid back into the warmth and reached for him. "Goodmorning, little Kith. You look rested and at peace."
"My leg," Raven muttered. "It has gone and they have nailed a piece of wood in its place. Ow! It has stiffened while I slept."
"You wrenched it," Amber told him as he hung the kettle over the fire to make tea. "A little gentle exercise every day and it will soon mend. It is time we looked to the animals, however. Your horses need attention. They are rested after the rigours of the journey here but growing stale in confinement."
They were stabled in an open-fronted cave, not far from Amber's home, fetlock deep in straw, a mound of oats and hay for feed, a wicker windbreak keeping out the worst of the weather. Soon they would need exercise, but Bodie was frowning over Raven's knee, which was swollen and inflamed.
"Hm, you have hurt yourself. Can you stand?"
"I'll try." Raven hoisted his weight onto his left foot and put his right sole to the ground. A step, and he grunted in discomfort. "I shall need a prop. Have you a stick I can use, Amber?"
"The only prop you need is my shoulder," Bodie scolded.
"But I'm afraid nature is calling rather loudly," Raven said ruefully.
Bodie chuckled. "Now, there is a novelty. Here." He swept his cloak about the elf's thin shoulders, pulling on his own clothes and boots. "Lean on me and walk steadily."
The arrangements of convenience were natural and perfect, a crevice in the rocks, one cave back from Amber's home, a short walk, torch-lit, across a sandy floor. The crevice was a foot wide and seemed a mile deep, beside it, a pile of soft hay and a bucket of fresh water. Bodie supported Raven as he found his balance, chuckling a little. "You'll be glad it's all under cover when you take a look outside. It's winter out there all of a sudden. We're snowed in."
"Oh, no." Raven dragged his hands through knotted hair, irritated by it. "It will be months before we can leave."
"We can use the rest," Bodie said with a shrug. "We have been running, you and I, for too long. Look, this place is warm and dry, there is plenty to eat, on nice days we can still explore for exercise - -- snow never kept the humans indoors! I rather like the bed we've been given, and I like nothing better than lying in the warm with you, listening to a storm outside and watching the firelight make patterns on your skin."
"You may have something there," Raven admitted. "I'm hungry, too, so I must be healthier than I feel just now."
"You feel unwell?" Bodie's tone was sharp. "What hurts? Just the leg? Amber examined you quite thoroughly --"
"Bodie, don't fuss!" Raven kissed his mate's cheek and turned away to satisfy the demands of a bladder too long neglected. Bodie leaned on the rock beside him, idly watching, which made the elf laugh. "Have you no shame?"
Bodie shook his head with a smug expression. "Nothing your body does displeased me. But you're going back to bed to rest the leg, no more hopping around. Come, lean on me."
"You're worse than Feyleen for fussing," Raven grumbled good naturedly. He shook himself dry and pulled the cloak tight about him against the cold. "Hibernate with me," he invited. "We can sleep the cold away, and love when the fancy takes us."
"Mm." Bodie hugged him, eyes closed dreamily. "That sounds a fair proposition. For now, come and eat while I untangle your hair."
"Cut it," Raven suggested, tugging at the tangles.
"I will not," Bodie said tartly. "Who is it who labours over it to comb it, you or me?"
"Who is it who endures the pulls and yanks when it is being combed?" Raven demanded. "Oh, very well, if you wish. But for every yank, you will kiss me."
"You lips will be sore," Bodie laughed.
"I did not mention where I wished to be kissed," Raven growled.
Bodie swept him up off his feet, carrying him easily in the crook of one arm. "That's enough for the knee. Gods, you must eat, you weigh like a child." He smiled into the soft green eyes. "And love like a man. Last night was beautiful. My body remembers and -- sings love for you." Raven kissed him, both arms about his neck for support. "Better now?" Bodie asked throatily. "I never meant to hurt you."
"I was frightened," Raven admitted candidly. "You're all I have, Bodie. If I lost you, what would I be? I have no home, no trade, no rank, only a name that gets me reviled wherever I go. You are my life. Without you, I think I would quickly perish."
The words were spoken huskily and honestly and Bodie did not seek to rob them by belittling them. Raven had never been made to learn how to conceal what he felt, that was not the elven way. Amused, he laughed, saddened, he wept, and aroused, he was unafraid to seek loving.
"We ride west when we leave here in spring," Bodie said gruffly, feet scuffing the sand on the way back to the shaman's hearth. "Amber can take one of my horses, he knows the way to the Kith heartlands."
"I would like to visit Ash one last time," Raven mused. "To let her know, the hunting was successful, that we have found Amber, and with him, found Falcon. Then, aye, we ride west, away from all that is human."
"Just so," Bodie agreed. "Ash cares for you, which says much of her discrimination! And incidentally." He nuzzled the ear closest to his nose until Raven gasped. "You are a very wealthy young man."
"Wealthy in your love, perhaps," Raven admitted.
"Wealthy in more than that," Bodie corrected. "Wealthier than you have ever been, because the fortune is your own, none of it inherited and merely held in trust, entailed for your child kin."
The elf frowned deeply. "What are you talking about? I own nothing!"
"Come and see," Bodie laughed. "I cannot wait to see their luster on your lovely skin." He ignored the protests, silencing Ray with a kiss.
The shaman was gone and Bodie whisked his mate back into bed without much ado, putting a plate of food into his hands and fetching his ivory comb. And his jacket. From the deep pockets he brought one piece at a time, enjoying the murmurs of astonished appreciation. There was a heavy necklace of four gold chains, each one thick and twisted, connected by filaments, the spaces between hung with emeralds as big as Raven's thumb. It alone would have bought a tuath. For his wrists, a pair of gold bracelets engraved with sea dragons, their eyes inset with blood red rubies. For his left bicep, a circlet of silvergold trimmed with a fringe of diamonds that looked like little icicles. Onto his fingers Bodie slid several rings, one set with an enormous emerald, another made of red gold and studded with amethyst, a third made from three twists of gold, white, yellow and red. For his calf, a band of pure argentiferous gold, engraved with runes so old neither of them could read them. Two anklets, matching, made like coiling serpents, their eyes flashing emerald fire, their heads lying intimately on his skin. For his ear, an enormous ruby on a wide gold clasp.
"There's more, but I cannot reason where to put it all," Bodie mused, tipping the remainder into Raven's lap. "Idiots brought these treasures as bribes, hoping to buy the images they wanted to see. They have been waiting, entombed, for you." He leaned forward to kiss Raven's astonished face. "They look the more beautiful for adorning your body."
"And we can take them?" Raven asked, fingering the emeralds that were warming on his breast.
"When we have gone, this place will be unknown -- and well it should be, for it is dangerous beyond credibility. See, it took us and set us at each other's throats -- us! What would enemies contrive? You ran from me, forbade me to touch you, and the mirror's half-truths haunt me every moment."
"I was frightened," Raven said for the second time. "Forgive me."
"Forgive you?" Bodie smiled. "I love you, with all that means." He made a rueful face. "Now you are as rich as a dozen chiefs, you will probably cast me aside like an old boot and look for some young beauty," he teased.
"I shall certainly shout at you if you ever say anything like that in earnest, not in jest," Raven said sternly. "Or mate you thoroughly to proclaim my ownership -- or brand you with my name on your rump, so no one shall see that part of you and not know whose you are!"
Bodie blinked, and then guffawed. "Tattooed," he amended. "Branding burns and I have no masochistic streak. But, if you have the fancy to label me so, I shall not complain. No one will see the mark but you, and if you laugh gently I can bear it."
"Oh, sweet fool," Raven said tenderly, wanting Bodie's embrace and getting it. "I spoke in jest."
"And I in earnest," Bodie said mildly. "Your mark would not offend me. I am yours, so it would be only a truth. Now be still while I untangle this hair!"
The world beyond the shuttered windows was hushed and calm, and soon they were drowsy again. Too much fear and running lately, Bodie thought, working slowly through Raven's hair. It needed washing, and he said so.
"I told you, cut it," Ray said tartly, chewing on the bread and cheese pressed into his hands. "Or failing that, there is a remedy of my mother's. If Amber has spirits of the witch hazel shrub, that seemed to freshen her hair without the need for washing, somehow. I never took much notice, never needed to. My hair was never this long before." He dug Bodie in the ribs with one sharp finger. "It is for you I endure it! Ow -- that hurt," he added as a knot pulled.
A kiss for his mouth, and Bodie returned to work, purposely tugging another knot so as to kiss him again. Amber was back a moment later, his wolf with him, a basket of eggs over his arm and a bag of herbs in his hand. "Your horses are happy enough. I have just seen to their needs... Ah, very pretty, little Kith! I see your mate has found the baubles! But more importantly, let me look at your knee." Ray peeled back the sheepskins and exposed the swollen knee, and Amber tossed a bottle of liniment at Bodie. "Rub it until it is hot, as often as you like. Move it a few times a day, but don't walk on it till tomorrow at earliest."
"And kneeling?" Raven asked shrewdly.
Amber gave him a sidelong look. "Not if you want it to get well. I have not indulged in these sports in many a long year, but it seems to me that there were a good many other positions. Are young people so lacking in imagination?"
The two young men blinked and then laughed. "We shall improvise," Bodie said with mock sobriety. "It does not offend you, that we bed together, here?"
To their surprise, Amber gave an earthy snort of humour. "As a lad I lived with a family of seven brothers, all with mates, some male, some female, and all domiciled in a house with three rooms. I dare say I have seen more mating games than you will ever see, and of all kinds. No, I am not offended by what is natural, so do as you will."
Raven smiled up at the bigger man, an expression of gratitude. "You have been alone a long time, Amber. Why?"
"I buried the only person I have ever loved," the shaman said slowly. "When she died, I wanted no other. I love her still. It is one reason I came here in search of the Chrysalis; I can look into the well in search of our happy times, replay the past whenever I choose. I knew the well and the mirror were in these mountains somewhere, though at times I despaired of ever finding them. It was a joyous occasion when I did."
"And have you looked into the mirror?" Bodie asked softly.
A shake of the blond head answered him. "Never, and nor will I. See what it has done to the two of you! I am wiser than to tempt fate."
The images haunted them but the solution to the riddle was simply to ride into the west and leave humankind to themselves, and for all the savage hunger for revenge that burned in Bodie's chest whenever he thought back to what he had seen in the well, he put a greater price on life and the future. Raven still spoke little of what had been but, a week after the first snows, when he dreamed and woke in fright, he whispered the truth. His horror was helplessness, to be tied down, denied the ability even to defend himself, as had often been the way in Garth's camp. Bodie remembered that, storing it away to remind him never to play power games, never to wrestle in earnest or confine his mate.
Winter deepened with a vengeance, the snow drifting against the rock face and piling against the door until they had to dig their way out each morning. The horses did poorly for exercise, but as the snow packed down with its own weight they could walk the length and breadth of the narrow plateau. The winding path to the valley floor was too treacherous for them, though Amber made the trip daily to see to the sheep which provided his wool, lanolin, and the occasional sheepskin when one of the animals came to grief.
Raven's knee mended quickly, giving him no trouble after a week, and he and Bodie chanced the pathway to scout along the stream in search of amusement. Daylight was brief, often grudging and the wind drove them in again before long; there was little to do and they slept much out of inactivity, telling stories and swapping yarns. Amber knew little of the outside and was eager for the news.
The war with the humans was no surprise, for the heliograph had brought news of each battle and he often stood on the crag above the pass to watch the signals. But social news and family gossip were unknown to him, and Falcon had chosen to offer up little, no matter that Amber was his host. Raven told scandalous stories about his family, who was having an affair with whom, the adulterers, the gamblers, the bastard children. Bodie did not believe half of them and Amber laughed, outraged.
Some of the stories were true; the Kith were a big, eccentric people, passionate and unorthodox. Bodie thought back to Ash and her brother, the man who had tried to kiss Ray when he was a child, and got more than he bargained for. He chuckled over that story often, picturing an outraged child with quick, accurate feet. Raven should have been asleep but heard the humour and wriggled closer while the night wind howled outside. "What's so funny?"
"You, assaulting your cousin over a kiss," Bodie said against one pointed ear. "Were you were so innocent as to not know what he wanted?"
"I knew exactly what he wanted," Ray said aridly, "which is why I kicked him. Lerrad is hung like a shire horse in season, and I had hips like a bird. I was terrified. Also, I was --" He laughed. "Saving myself for love, so I thought. But even if I had had no thought of love, he would have panicked me at that age. The thought of that size, in me, or in my mouth was more than I could tolerate."
Bodie was overtly curious. "Would you still -- that is, do you... I'm sorry. I shouldn't ask."
The elf chuckled again. "Would Lerrad still panic me?" He bit Bodie's shoulder. "As a warrior, I could fell him with a single blow, and as a lover? I have been used by humans, and loved by one of them. No, Lerrad is not your match, if that is what you are trying to ask politely! But we are made more finely than many humans -- which is not to intimate you are coarse. You are fortunate, my love. Many humans are less attractive to the eye in their masculinity."
"Oh." Bodie knew he was flushed and hid a smile. "I have noticed how your men are made, since elves attach no importance to modesty. You are a slender people in every sense of the word, and some of you --" A kiss for Raven's nose --"are beautiful beyond compare."
"Some humans also," Raven added, caressing Bodie's chest. "You, with your blue eyes and skin with the grain of fine marble. I love your scars, they tell of honours won in battle. To look at me, you would think I had never ridden to war, and yet I have been wounded countless times. I have seen sights that would astonish even you. Sea pirates came up the river to Osiri, where I had gone to buy swords. I was twenty and not long a chieftain. There was burning in the night, the screams of women and boys violated, of men killed, the war cries of such few warriors who were on hand. I fought beside Kieron, who was my lover also, and killed two of them before they put a javelin in my thigh. I fell into the river and would have drowned if not for an old fisher woman who threw me a net to clutch onto. Kieron also was wounded, his sword arm crushed, and for a year, while it mended, I fought with a woman called Tarra.
"She was taller than me and loved me in her way. She would share my bed but not make love with me save with her hands. There seemed to be little I could do in return for her... I have not much knowledge of women, as I have had so few. She taught me a little; that they are part of the ocean, running with the salt of the sea and drawn by the moon, that they are brave and strong as well as soft and warm, that I could trust her to guard my back by day and pleasure me sometimes. She laughed at me when I was shy, because I barely knew how to bring a woman pleasure -- I had never been with one before. But she laughed kindly and taught me. When she died I lit her pyre and Kieron was waiting for me.
"He died not long after and I was alone once more. There was another, a girl called Grelda, barren as a brick, I have told you of her. She was a silly child, too young and too soft, but she shared my bed a few times before she saw the warrior, Ferar. Now, Ferar, there was a warrior, my height with a mane of hair as black as night and eyes as golden as Amber's. She was fierce and beautiful, and I was not surprised when Grelda went to her."
"And you were alone," Bodie said softly.
Raven made a dismissive sound. "I rode to battle with the humans next, and was in your bed before long! I have not been alone since, and have begun to forget what loneliness means." He searched for a kiss, found one and wriggled closer, one leg between Bodie's, his chest tickling the human's smooth one.
Outside, winter grew deeper yet. Amber had stories to tell from lives past, shared over the fire as they ate; he had been a stonemason in Osiri, on the river, cutting marble for the craftsmen to shape into icons, columns, gargoyles for a chief's cenotaph. A long and eventful life, he said; he saw the building of the fort which guarded the river port and in the shadow of which Raven had done battle with his pirates; he saw the funerals of three chiefs, the weddings of as many more, and sired four daughters before he was killed in an upset at the quarry. In another life he had been less fortunate, a slave among the Fen. Bodie frowned, knowing well what the Fen were like, and hoped Amber would speak little of it, for details would awaken too many bad memories for Raven. As if he knew, Amber spoke only in generalities, the sting of the lash, the weariness of hard labour, the hours of delight stolen in the night with other captives.
Bodie told his own stories, tales of a boyhood spent in the forest, training to be a warrior, of a love denied him when his father realised the boy was pining for another lad called Kevin. Bodie could smile at the memory now, Raven's hand in his and drowsy after a little too much wine. "It was all so innocent. He was a year my elder and had eyes the colour of slate, deep and grey. I loved him, I think, a real infatuation. He wanted me, but I had little idea of what he wanted to do with me, as I had never been with another lad. I had had a girl or two, a quick tumble for fun in the fields, but outside of crude jokes made by the solders, what did I know?
"Kevin touched me one summer's evening, just touched my face, and I knew I wanted him to hold me. He even kissed me, and --" He laughed. "I was desperate for something I did not even know existed, until he explained what was possible. I will admit, I was startled and even shocked... So many of those crude jokes made sense now! And some odd songs, too -- you know, Across the river is a boy with a bottom like a peach, but alas I cannot swim'."
The shaman laughed. "We have a version of the same song here."
"I have heard it," Bodie said, "and it could have been written for my Raven." He paused and peered at his mate. "Is that a blush on your cheeks?"
"The fire is too warm," Raven growled, and had the grace to laugh. "Tell me about Kevin. He was kind to you?"
"Insofar as he got the chance to be," Bodie said drily. "He was quite adept at kissing, this I discovered before our fathers heard a tattletale who had seen us in the woods... It was utterly innocent, I promise you. I was not ready to do more than kiss, but my father assumed I had done it all. He called me a soldier's whore', which means a lad grabbed by the hips by some passing soldier, tossed to his knees and swiftly used before the soldier is gone. It often happens, sad to say."
"Not in our lands," Raven said indignantly. "There would be a warband on the trail, and the soldier who used a lad in that way would be handed to the boy's family for whatever chastisement they cared to hand out."
"Which would be...?" Bodie asked curiously.
"In their fury, the brother and uncles, and his fathers all, would most likely take him until they were past rising and his knees were worn to blood, as well as his insides." He shrugged. "As an elf, he would heal in a week, but, oh, what a week it would be for him! And deservedly so. No one should mate another without consent."
"Mm," Bodie agreed, wishing it were that simple in the human tuaths. "My father assumed I had given that consent. He dispatched me to the physician to be pumped full of medicinal oils, to undo the shame of buggery, and I was slippery for days. The physician told my father I was too tight, still, to have been recently buggered, but would the old man listen? They sent Kevin to one place and me to another, and I never saw him again. I devoted myself to the arts of war, perhaps to make myself forget what had -- and had not -- been.
"Before my Raven, I never loved again, although I married." He looked levelly at Ray, troubled, wondering if he should speak at all of this, but Raven was smiling gently. "Beth was just a girl, Ray. Fourteen years and bright with new life, when they gave her to me. A child -- she did not even know what a man looked like without his clothes!" The elves were astonished and Bodie nodded ruefully. "She had an intuition that we would be a little like dogs and horses, and I let her undress me with caution." He laughed, the first time he had laughed while thinking of Beth since she had died. "She had seen horses mate, thank the gods, or I would have had a wonderful time of it, explaining to her what I was getting hard for!"
The story was fondly told, but the memories were still painful and Bodie spoke only in passing of Beth's demise, and that of the son who never drew breath. They were in bed, late that night, when Raven asked, "Bodie? Did you want that son she bore you?"
"I don't know," Bodie admitted. "Perhaps. It is not important. I have seen a girl child with your face. That is the child I want to hold."
"I want to hold your child," Raven said quietly. "When we have a home, we will look for a human woman who will bed with us. A year from now, or two, or five. But I want to hold your son in my arms."
"And your daughter," Bodie added. "I have seen her in that mirror. I want your son to ride with us, too."
"My son?" Raven looked up with a smile. "The mirror showed no such child."
"It did not show you my daughter, either," Bodie said, smiling, "but it is a safe guess that we will both get girls before boys, nature being herself! It does not matter, either way. In your tuaths they will all be warriors. Your women are free and fierce." He tugged Raven into his arms. "I shall miss you when you go to bed our girl."
"Then there will be three in our bed, as on the night you and Rhiannon shared me," Raven yawned. "Oh, Bodie, I have just thought -- could I have got her withchild? I don't know much about these things, but I had her as you had me. Is once enough?"
"It can be," Bodie mused, "and if the day, even the hour was right, it is possible. Oh, don't fret yourself, little chuck. You would be vastly unfortunate to have possessed her at the very time of her flowering! Or do you want her to have your child?"
"I --" Ray hesitated. "I don't know. Would you mind, if she did?"
"If she bears that girl child we saw in the mirror, I would love her a little," Bodie said thoughtfully. "Kiss me and have done with this. If I know women correctly, they keep a count of the phases of the moon, and when the time is right for conceiving children they will kiss you and flee with laughter if you invite them to bed. Rhiannon must have known this. Was she a virgin that night?"
"I don't know," Raven whispered. "How can you tell with a girl, since she is made differently?"
Bodie was startled by the elf's innocence and merely smiled. "Don't worry your head about such things. Rhiannon was learned and eager, she was no virgin. Remember, how she held you, when you knelt for me? That was no silly child who kissed you, but a woman who knows about loving, for all her youth. And if she knows about that, she knows about counting out her days." He hugged Raven hard. "So much more fortunate are we, we have no need of counting!"
"I love you," Raven told him, cupping the human's groin in gentle hands and cherishing him with the caress. "Do you want me?"
"A question you know better than to ask," Bodie said scornfully, and gave his mate all Raven could have wanted.
It was a time Bodie guessed he would always treasure as long as he lived. Amber's home was like a cocoon away from the world, and for the first time since his childhood the human knew he was absolutely safe. No enemies knew of them, no one hunted them, there was no need and no opportunity to work, and many opportunities to love. Raven was his joy.
The winter solstice passed over and they marked it with wine and a feast. Amber brought out a scroll so old its parchment was almost faded away, reading from it in an arcane language even Raven struggled to understand. It was a statement of life, Bodie knew instinctively, an affirmation of life in the midst of the little death of winter. Finished reading, Amber kissed each of them, Raven responding deeply to the shaman's mouth, Bodie responding with a little surprise as he felt the other's lips warm and alive against his own. Then, finishing life's affirmation, Amber pushed Raven into the human's arms for them to kiss, and sent them to bed to do what came naturally.
Despite the cold and confinement, Bodie felt reborn, alive in every nerve, and he knew as surely as the elves when the wind shifted a degree and warmed. A robin sang in the snow one day; the sky showed a patch of clear blue, and without warning the snow began to thaw. On the mountain slopes the ice broke with cracks like thunder, snow avalanching into the valley as the wind warmed again and the trees shook off their white.
The meltwater swelled the stream until the valley floor was a quagmire, and they watched it slowly dry in sun and wind. Amber was packing much and sealing much more into chests and boxes, to be stored till he returned.
"You will come back here," Bodie observed, drinking honey tea by the hearth after a morning chasing Raven and the deer in the woodlands below.
"Of course, this is my home," Amber said mildly. "And if I am not to wall up the Chrysalis, it needs a keeper. I will seal the pass to keep out intruders, for I cannot say how long I will be gone, but I can find my way in these mountains blindfolded." He looked up with a smile. "The well is here, and with it, the one I loved... I ask you, Bodie. If Raven were dead, and the well would show him to you, where would you live?"
Bodie's vision misted as he thought back to the frightening reality of the images he had seen in the tomb. He could have easily desired images of their time in the Kith homelands, and been given them. If Raven were dead, Bodie knew, he would spend the greater part of his life at the well, reliving all that had been. He smiled sadly at the shaman. "I'm sorry, Amber. For all you have lost."
"It is the way of life," Amber said softly. "Where is Raven?"
"Exercising Lightfoot," Bodie guessed. "The horses are soft after a winter of indolence and have a hard journey ahead of them, and I should be exercising my animals too... You will have Wind for your own. Take care of her, Amber. We will ride with you as far as the road to the market town of Riverside. Then, you ride east, and we go on west. We have no hunting, now that Falcon is with you, but the mirror showed us much that must not come to pass. I will not have my mate in a collar and chain, not for any man, so -- westward for us both."
"Aye." Amber squeezed Bodie's shoulder. "Take care of him," Falcon's voice said, unexpectedly, for he rarely spoke with Amber's throat. "I will tell the Kith elders they have been unwise and too harsh in their treatment of him. If I can repair a little of his honour, I will." Amber smiled and coughed. "I will get used to that, no doubt! Away, Falcon, he was but your friend, he is of my own sons, remember! Go and see to your nags, Bodie. We wait only for the passes to dry, and then we leave. Oh, and if you want to ransack the Chrysalis for its baubles, do so. I think perhaps the old keepers left them there with a young man's lost birthright in mind! Not a silly thought, when you remember the cursed mirror. The keepers may have watched you and Raven, and thought to leave the ridiculous bribes for you to collect."
Bodie gaped and then nodded. "It is possible, I'll grant you! It is also a license for me to take all I can carry. I warn you, Amber, I am human, and avarice is basic to the human soul."
"Good." Amber slammed the lid on a chest and buckled it down. "Then you will make the son of my heart a prince again, and be damned to his elders. Raven deserves better than his life has given him. Go and see to your horses, Bodie. There is not much time now. It will soon be time to leave."
In any event, Bodie's half-practised eye picked out the best of the treasures; he took the gems and discarded the gold, stuffing a saddlebag with all he could reasonably take. Raven laughed hard, but did not argue the decision to innocently loot, for no one else had need of the baubles, and Amber's logic could not be denied.
"Besides, you are more wealthy than your richest chief," Bodie told him as they saddled the horses, early on the day they must leave.
The sky was high and clear and Raven was watching an eagle, high over the crags. Gold glimmered at his wrists and throat, and among his fingers, as befitted a prince. He had tied his hair against the lively wind, human fashion. "I feel no different... Perhaps I will begin to feel like a chieftain when we have our home. What was it? A house with apple trees, a knot garden and an arbour with a big swing seat where you can sleep, or even..." He smiled. "Home sounds nice. I will miss this place, also. I don't think we shall ever see it again, this valley, forgotten by the world and untouched by its pain."
Bodie tightened Jasmin's cinch and straightened. "The wind will have dried the passes, and time is wasting. Come, catch Lightfoot and let us go." He kissed the elf's mouth in passing as he saw Amber at the door of his home, a hammer and nails in his hands.
The door was sealed thoroughly and the shaman turned his back on it, whistling for the wolf as Raven saddled Lightfoot and took the horses's reins in his fingers. "Farewell to the valley," the shaman said wistfully. "And farewell to my love, till I return..." He gazed down the length of the mountain-locked wood and then stirred restlessly. "Follow me. The pass through the caves has many twists and turns, but I know it well."
Bodie had made the journey through the suffocating darkness once, Raven's weight in his arms, but he had been sensible of none of it, his mind bound up in his mate. Now, Raven walked beside him, even his phenomenal eyesight barely serving him. He took Bodie's hand tightly as the human stumbled. "Stay close to me and take shorter steps, for the ground is uneven."
And then, an eon later for Bodie, who had begun to feel blinded and entombed, daylight. The entrance to the pass was concealed with rocks to which Amber applied his shoulder, moving them one at a time and with considerable effort. Before the space was wide enough to admit the horses their eyes were comfortable in the light, and Raven and Bodie put back the boulders while Amber gazed down off the crag.
The river was running fast and deep with meltwater, its thunder audible, its spray casting rainbows over the forest of needle pines. Bodie remembered the river gorge through which they had passed, and caught Raven's sleeve. "The chasm will be a torrent at this time of year. Do you know the way back?"
Raven's slitted eyes gazed at the haze of mist over the river. "Aye, the gorge was but a shortcut as the year was fast closing in. Trust me, my love, I know the way -- and so does Amber."
They rode by the sluice where the old prospector and her people had been after the gold the autumn before, but there was no sign of life. Bodie supposed the people to be at the trading post, or elsewhere at work, but Raven's sharp eyes picked up the signs of struggle. Charred woodwork, broken glass, tumbled stone. "There has been fighting here," he said under the sound of the wind in the forest. "The painted people must have come for them when they were turned back at the crag and could not take us. See, the walls are breached there, and there."
So they are dead, Bodie thought bleakly. And there but for the grace of the gods go we. He urged Jasmin after Lightfoot and Wind, hugging his cloak about him for warmth, for spring was still young.
The passes were dry, the mud slides like sculpted terraces, and they made better time coming down off the mountain than on the journey upward. In a week, as the weather warmed, they paused among the deciduous trees showing a snowstorm of blossom, and made camp to rest the horses since they were safe, beyond the high passes where the painted people were at their most dangerous.
Everywhere, life sprang up afresh; a new generation of animals filled the forest, the woodland was carpeted with blue bells, redolent with wild garlic and the earthy smell of humus. Raven was in high spirits; Bodie had never seen him so full of life, so eager to play for fun. He dared the icy waters of a pool to bathe and wash his hair one afternoon when the sun was trapped by an outcropping and the air just warm enough; Bodie would not be coerced into participating and snorted with amusement as he shivered, wrapping him in sheepskins to warm him while Amber wandered in search of fresh herbs.
"It's n-not f-funny," Raven stammered, teeth chattering.
"No, but it's your own fault," Bodie said unkindly. "Nobody tied you up and threw you in." He was shaving in a mug of hot water, seated by the fire while Raven shuddered, feet in the ashes.
"I was f-filthy," Raven insisted.
"And now you're frozen." Bodie wiped the last of the oil away with a rag soaked in hot water and put the lethal blade aside. Hands on hips, he looked down at his mate with mock disapproval. "Well, your colour is returning! A rub with liniment will warm you. Let me at you, little icicle. I can bear these chattering teeth no longer."
Raven lay on his belly, slowly uncurling beneath the human's hands and occupying his fingers with a chain of flowers as his hair dried into a fluffy, copper halo. Bodie had him glowing pink over almost every inch, and kissed his nose in parting, settling the plaited flowers on his head. The elf grabbed him before he could escape, dumping him onto the sheepskins and straddling him, and Bodie was content to subside, smiling up at his lover against the canopy of cherry blossom and crisp spring sky. "I loved you when summer was full blown, and when she died," he said, hands on Ray's sharp hip bones. "I loved you twice as much when autumn was a fire on the land, and more yet when the world was hushed and soft with snow. Springtime." Bodie's hands wandered from the muscular little buttocks to Raven's brown-pelted chest and down to his flat belly. The elf's eyes hazed with the pleasure of touch and he dropped his head back to savour it; pagan, sylvan, flowers in his hair and a man's arousal stirring beneath Bodie's palm. "Springtime," Bodie whispered, "and I fall in love again. Lie with me."
The wind scattered cherry blossoms from the trees as Raven lay down, nuzzling Bodie's face, which was as smooth as a boy's so newly shaven. It was nothing elaborate, just a pressing and rubbing, one body on the other, the elf lying sweetly on Bodie's chest, his back littered with blossom, his mouth captive to a kiss, his buttocks kneaded and caressed by possessive hands.
They slept that way after coming, Bodie's knees like a cradle about the smaller body, Raven's hair spilled across their faces, cherry blossom caught in the hollows of the elf's back, one strong human arm holding him, one white buttock palmed. Amber found them like that, dead asleep in the sun, and did not wake them, merely leaving their lunch of wild roses, honeycomb and cheesebread and going back into the woodland about his trade.
The nights were very cold; all three men and the wolf pressed together beneath the sheepskins, as close by the fire as was safe, and still they were chilled. Bodie placed Raven between himself and Amber, reluctant to bed even so abstractly with another, hoping Raven would not mind separating them as Amber was his kin. Raven guessed and said nothing, indulging in Bodie's mouth when the shaman's steady breathing betrayed his deep sleep.
Like chips of ice, the stars charted the passage of time, and about the day they saw the forest's new green, they rode by the outlying farm where Bodie had once cut firewood to pay for their breakfast and lodging, and found their way to a tavern. The human made a show of relief. "A proper bed, a proper hearth, and decent food. Such perversions should be forbidden!" And then, digging through his pockets he discovered a truth and gave Raven a sheepish smile. "There is no money. We spent the last of it on our way out."
Raven sighed, sliding the bracelet from his wrist. "We could trade."
"Not the bracelet," Bodie argued. "I like it too much... Not the ring, either. Oh, and not the --"
"What, then?" Raven demanded, exasperated. "Or would you have me sing for my supper, and yours?"
"Would you?" Bodie asked shrewdly. "I can roll the dice, too, though pickings will be lean here, as there are few patrons. Amber can read palms. It is his trade."
"But we are carrying a king's ransom!" Raven protested.
"All the more reason," the shaman said wisely, "to say nothing of it, or thieves will be upon us, light fingers and rapacious! Oh, sing, Raven, it is easy enough work. I don't mind casting a fortune or two, so long as your human does not simply lose all we earn with those dice."
"Bodie is more adept than that," Raven told him as they drew rein, late in the afternoon, and passed the tired horses to a stable lad.
"Really?" Amber sounded skeptical. "Two rooms, three dinners and as many breakfasts. How many songs and palms, do you think?"
The tavern filled with farm hands and labourers as the moon rose, and the taverner, a man of more than ample girth with a hooked nose and one ear torn from a duel, made Raven the loan of an old harp, long unplayed and thick with dust. Bodie watched him sit by the hearth and tune it, plucking chords that were obviously familiar, though Bodie had never seen him play.
It seemed that he and Raven had been together a whole lifetime, but in reality it was much less than a year, and Bodie was still occasionally surprised by something his mate said or did. The elven harmonies were strange and sweet, a confusion of lilting quarter tones no human ear could properly follow, though fascination was inevitable. Raven sang of love, and his songs were unashamedly for Bodie. Cross legged by the fire, he held his lover's eyes and smiled, his fingers wandering over taut gut, his voice husky and dead in tune.
They tossed coins onto the hearth stones and begged him to sing again, beckoning Bodie closer as they realised the songs were for him. Self-conscious but delighted, Bodie seated himself on a bench at Raven's side and nodded his consent for his lover to embarrass him anew, grateful for the firelight, which would conceal the flush on his fair skin.
It was a very old song. Bodie had heard Feyleen sing it while he had lived as Raven's tame barbarian on the Kith estates. She had sung it for Wulff, but the words had not meant so much, then. Now, they were for him, and he could not look away from the huge, smoky eyes, despite the tavern crowd feeling the pangs of desire and not ashamed of them.
Coins rattled on the hearth stones again and, dreamily, Raven collected them, pressing them into Bodie's palm. "Roll your dice now, and win, for I am tired," he whispered. "I would to bed, and soon."
Playing well was difficult when Bodie was preoccupied with his drowsing lover, but he won far more than he lost, contributing his share to the evenings' endeavour. The taverner seized a tithe of one tenth and showed them to his best rooms, over the stable. Bodie pounced as soon as they were alone, Raven becoming a writhing, giggling bundle of mischief, slippery as an eel and wanton as the wind. Bodie yearned to mate him but the human would earn his pleasure tonight, grappling and tickling until they were both exhausted.
Eventually, Bodie put a stop to it. Trapping Raven beneath him with his full weight, he captured the point of one ear in his teeth. Raven yelped, although Bodie knew full well there was no more pressure on him than a caress, but the wriggling stopped at once, replaced by a helpless climax that showered his seed over Bodie's hip. Raven moaned, his body trembling, eyes closed as Bodie tongued the same ear, sucking it delicately about the point and licking deep within it to arouse him again.
Then Bodie lifted his head and sat back on his heels. "You sang like an angel and made me desperate to have you," he said ruefully. "Can I?"
"Have me?" Raven wrinkled his nose affectionately. "You have to ask?"
"Kneel for me," Bodie purred, watching Raven turn over and present himself with a swift pain about his heart. Sometimes love was as near to pain as could be endured. It was the first time since leaving Amber's home that he had entered Ray's body; a quick caressing or a few kisses, and once, lying together in the sun, had been their only close contact, and Bodie was hungry for the tight, hot welcome of his mate's willing surrender. Raven moaned as he was pierced, hips lifting and rotating to drive Bodie deeper and increase the friction on his shoulder in an unconscious declaration of possession, as if it was needed.
The bed springs squealed in a rhythm that would have been obvious to anyone listening outside, but Bodie had learned not to fret about such things, and concentrated everything he had on the coupling until Raven was wild with need. Pleasure burst out of them, Bodie coming a few seconds before his mate filled his hand with cream.
The green eyes watched dopily as Bodie lapped at his palm, and the kiss that followed was lush, salty. Raven pulled up the bedding with an elaborate yawn and fluffed the pillows. "Have you a cloth? Or I must go and wash."
A scrap of linen was pulled from Bodie's jacket, by the bed, and Ray let himself be attended to, almost asleep as he felt the cooling stickiness mopped away and kisses fall lightly where he was tenderest. Bodie yanked up the counterpane and buried his face in soft, brown curls. "Sleep well, my love, we have far to go."
Far to go, but the road was easy now. A tavern here, a cottage there, gave them shelter, and too soon they stood at the crossroads bisecting the forest of Morhod. To the west, freedom and safety; to the north the mountains; to the east the Kith heartlands, the farm where they had laboured at the harvest; and to the south, Riverside, and Ash's farm, where Lightfoot had been foaled. The parting of their ways.
Bodie stroked Wind's hard, bony face with a fond expression. "This is farewell, then. You follow Jasmin no more -- no more battles, no more journeys. The the Kith have sweet grass and good water and you will be the happier for being with Amber." A pat for her neck, and he stood back to give the shaman his hand. "Our thanks go with you, Amber."
It was the voice of Falcon speaking in answer. "And our well wishes with you. We will listen for news of you."
"And if you have need of us, send a rider into the west," Raven added, his hand in Amber's in farewell. "We promised to return if Feyleen had need of us, and we will. Two warriors have their uses, and both of us know the human tuaths well. The passes are open now and the rivers going down, so the humans will be on the war trails, and as we told you, their scouts escaped Morhod, taking dangerous knowledge of our tuaths with them."
"Leave word of where you go with a farmer or taverner," Amber said gravely, "and if we have need of you -- you will most certainly hear from us!" He stooped to kiss Raven's mouth in parting. "And now, I must make the most of the daylight we have left. Farewell, little Kith. And you too, Bodie."
They stood at the crossroads, dappled in sunlight, to watch Amber ride away, and Bodie slid his arm about Raven's waist. "You know where we sleep tonight? The inn where we bedded with Rhiannon! I have a yen to know that bed again. There are some fond memories of it."
The elf gave him a tender smile and put his boot to Lightfoot's stirrup. "Then we too must make the most of our daylight! Time to play turtle doves later, when we have put some miles behind us."
The forest was alive with spring, and its people bright with the optimism of a new year. They waved as they saw the riders go by, and Bodie was gratified to realise that, fined to bone and muscle and with his hair grown long, concealing his ears, he was taken for an elf from a distance. He was too tall to be elven -- Ray was very tall among his kind, because of his human blood -- and his blue eyes would be his betrayal, but from some little way off, or if he was seated, those things were not obvious.
The tavern was busy with carpenters, hammers ringing on the roof where gutters had collapsed under the snow. They passed Jasmin and Lightfoot into the care of a farrier to be stabled, guarding the saddle bags in which was their liberated fortune, and once again sang and gambled to pay their way so as to keep the cache a secret from tavern thieves, which abounded along the road.
The bed brought back many a nice memory and they slept well, starting out early after an enormous breakfast of eggs and hearth toast. "We won't stay long at Ash's," Raven said thoughtfully as they rode over a hump-backed bridge, the stream beneath it swollen and choked with debris. "Lerrad will be at home, like as not, and if he lays one finger on me I will break it off."
"I'm sure you would," Bodie said, stifling a guffaw. "But you have your own lover now, and I doubt he will seek to anger the one legally bonded to you."
"You don't know Lerrad," Raven said darkly.
It was early twilight when they crested the rise and saw Ash's property, a patchwork of paddocks and meadows, the new season's foals everywhere. Lightfoot was scenting the breeze and Raven pulled his ears affectionately. "Yes, you know where you are, don't you? Come, then. You stable at home tonight."
Hearth smoke was heavy on the breeze as they rode through the rain swollen gates and up to Ash's door, and the air was growing chill with evening. Bodie swung stiffly from the saddle and applied his knuckles to the woodwork, looking forward to seeing Raven's beautiful cousin again; but it was a man who answered.
He was a Kith, Bodie saw, but not a prime example of the kind. His features were blurred and red, betraying too great an affection for his wine, and his eyes were sunken in wrinkles. Silver streaked his hair and he was portly, a large belly hanging over his belt. He was not tall beside Raven, looking up at the younger Kith with astonishment and, Bodie observed, amused, a rush of lust he could not disguise at first. Lerrad.
"Good evening, cousin," Raven said coldly. "Is Ash at home? We have news for her." There was no answer as Lerrad transferred his gaze to Bodie, appraising him rudely. Raven sighed. "All right, pass on a message for us. Say simply that we are safe and that our hunting was a success. She will know what is meant by it. Tell her also that now we ride westward, and will listen for news from home, if Feyleen needs us."
At last Lerrad stirred. "You had better come in," he said cryptically.
Bodie shot a glance at Raven, seeing his mate's surprise: clearly, Raven had expected to be forcibly ejected from the property. They left the horses hitched to the rail by the door and stepped inside. Lerrad raised his voice, calling Ash's name, and footsteps rang on the stairs as the woman appeared.
She had not changed, but her smile of greeting was brief. A hug for Raven, another for Bodie, and she looked up into her cousin's face. "What are you doing here?"
"We came to tell you that our hunting bore fruit," Raven said mildly. "I thought you would have been glad to hear it."
"I am," Ash said quickly, "but -- you have not heard?"
"Heard what?" Bodie asked.
The woman's face was deeply troubled. "A rider brought the news from the east two days ago, and it was old news even then, for the place is a shambles. There has been fighting, burning, many are dead. The humans swooped as soon as the snows cleared, there was no time to think, let alone plan. No one knows how many are dead, but -- Raven, your sister. Willow died in the battle."
A hiss passed Raven's lips as he clutched at Bodie's hand. "How?"
"They said she died as a warrior," Ash said sadly, "a good death, if any death can be good."
"Then who is their chieftain?" Bodie demanded. "Raven's other siblings are too young to take command, and Feyleen --"
Ash caught the human's sleeve to silence him. "Feyleen has gone. Old Dermot saw the humans make off with her and lived long enough to tell of it before his wounds finished him. Cuillin is alive, but he is wounded and will be healing for some time, which means --"
"He is almost always asleep," Bodie concluded, remembering how Raven slept and slept, when he was hurt.
"Aye." Ash nodded, her face twisted with grief. "They killed a good many humans, there were too many. We think they came to take Feyleen, but in so doing they killed so many more, and burned I don't know what. Cuillin sent word to me with the rider and I have prayed that you would come here soon."
"To what end?" Bodie growled. "What do you expect us to do, Ash, after the fact? We are warriors, not magicians! If Garth's men have stolen his daughter away, what can we do about it?"
"Fetch her back," Ash whispered. "All the Kith love Feyleen for her beauty and gentleness. There are few men of fighting age left, and the humans looted as they went. We are broken, Bodie. We were never rich, and what little we had has been taken. Garth has it all. We could not even afford to pay an army of mercenaries, and our warriors are dead."
It was beyond Raven's ability to comprehend the facts for a long moment; he stood, frozen, his fingers digging into the sinews of Bodie's wrist, while the truth of it found its way, a fragment at a time, into his understanding. "If we rode to war with them in their lands, we would be cut to pieces," he said hoarsely. "There are too many humans."
"No," Bodie said quietly, grimly. "There are ways and means. I used to lie awake at night, planning strategies for the aimless amusement of it. There are plans that would work, but --" He broke off, causing Raven to look into his face, see its sudden pallor.
"Bodie, what is it?"
A sudden frailty about the knees sent Bodie to a nearby chair and he dragged both hands across his face, composing his expression before he looked up at Ray. "We cross the Black Hills," he said slowly, levelling his voice. "Alone and in terrible danger. Raven, the mirror."
The two men said no more for a long time, leaving Ash and Lerrad groping after their meaning. At last Ash touched Bodie's shoulder. "I don't understand."
"And I am not about to explain," Bodie said, very quietly. "Will you see to our horses, Ash? I want to be private with my mate now. There are... many decisions we must make."
"Aye, I'll bring your saddlebags up to you in a moment," Ash said quickly. "The lads have retired, I'll stable the nags myself. Come with me, Lerrad and make yourself useful for once in your life!" At the door she turned back. "The room you used last time is aired out, you may have it again."
Like two old men, blind and deaf, they climbed the stairs, shut the world out behind a closed door, and lay down. There was nothing to say; Bodie merely held the elf tightly, waiting until the chaos of his thoughts found an evenness that permitted reason. Raven was quiescent, still and cold, only a dampness at Bodie's shoulder betraying his grief for Willow and the Kith dead.
Darkness fell quickly and at last Bodie spoke. "Feyleen will not be harmed, I should think. She is one of them."
A rustle on the pillow, and Raven shook his head. "She will stand up proudly and tell him how she ran with Wulff, how she lived as one of us, and how she bore elven children. In her fury, she will like as not tell him how he abused his grandson, and he will refuse to believe her, save that she has committed the worst kind of treason, betraying her race utterly. I know your human ways and laws." He stirred, sitting up, shoulders bowed. "She is my mother, Bodie. Two could steal into the human tuaths like thieves, unnoticed, and escape by the same means with their prize."
"The mirror," Bodie said hoarsely. "You saw as well as I what will come to pass if we chance the human lands once more, and Feyleen will still be dead."
Raven turned back and set the weight of his body on Bodie's chest. "There will be danger, but I believe the mirror showed what might be, not what must be. Forewarned, we can nip disaster in the bud. The mirror may buy our lives for us, give us cause to bless it, not curse it." He threaded his fingers into Bodie's long hair. "We must. I am as terrified as you, my love, but we have no choice. It is Feyleen's life, and the honour not just of my clan or tribe, but of my race."
"Honour," Bodie snorted. "I have had enough of that word! Quote me anything as a reason to risk all but that!"
"All right." Raven kissed him softly, lapping at his mouth. "We will do it for love. Tell me you do not love Feyleen, if you are able."
"Aye, I love her," Bodie admitted. "She is my kin, since I bonded with you. And I cannot bear the thought of her in Garth's hands. Oh, Ray, it will be the death of us."
From somewhere Raven found a smile, ragged, frayed about the edges. "That is for the gods to decide. I have lived on borrowed time most of my life. If I died tomorrow, I could not complain. I have seen so much, and had every gift life can give me. I have had my due, Bodie." He stirred restlessly. "But I cannot give you marching orders. I must go, but I cannot and will not order or beg you to go with me."
Bodie held the elf's head between his hands, thumbs stroking his temples. "You would go, even if I argued against it, wouldn't you?" A nod. "Then I go with you. Live or die, Ray, we do it together." He reached up with a kiss. "I do it for love. For love of you, not Feyleen. Damn the gods to hell. I will bring you out of there and nest with you in that house we saw, I will hold that girl child, and be damned to the mirror." He kissed Raven fiercely. "We will mate until we cannot walk, in the swing seat in our arbour!"
"Aye." Raven breathed his words into Bodie's mouth. "I believe it."
"Just as well," Bodie hissed savagely, "for it is the truth!"
The elf got his elbows under him. "I'll go and tell Ash what we have decided. Light the hearth and I will bring a meal back with me. Then we will revel in each other and forget the world, for tonight." He got to his feet, pulling Bodie up with him. "Love me until you are unable."
"An order?" Bodie whispered.
"I should be disappointed if it had to be," Raven admitted. He caressed the human's face and stepped away toward the door, turning back for one moment before he was gone. "Tonight is our own, my love. Tomorrow we ride to war."
Bodie shivered as if a cold wind had blown across his soul. Without a word, and with hands curiously steady, he set about tending the hearth.
-- THE END --