Gaven learns that being Vlar’s pupil in all things is a mixture of pain and pleasure. He hates his Finnarian teacher...doesn’t he? Yet his body betrays him time and again, especially when he experiences the sexual ecstasy of a Finnarian bite and the giving of his own blood.
There seems to be so much more in their relationship than either of them can understand, so Vlar calls in his father, a Finnarian prince. What he tells them shakes Gaven to his core and he fears he cannot possibly live up to what Vlar wishes of him. Then when they seem to be on the edge of truly discovering each other, a shadow from Gaven’s past comes to shatter it all to pieces.
* * * * *
Supper was loud and boisterous. I sat with mug in hand, brooding as I watched the other men. Teaser and Weasel were in fine form tonight, bouncing humor off each other and creating a raucous atmosphere around them.
They seemed so happy together, so right. What made it so? How had they found this? How did they keep it?
At this moment, I missed my old friend, Micael, even more than usual. The simple camaraderie the two men showed and the deep bonds among the Eight made me feel excluded. I stared down at the reflections in the wine, a frown on my brow. Everyone here was so close; years of fighting had bonded them into a tight-knit unit.
I felt like an intruder, and time had not seemed to lessen the sensation. I felt no more like one of these men than when I had first come here, felt no closer to being what the warlord wanted me to be.
As to Vlar...
My hand tightened into a fist, and I took a deep drink of the wine to quell the many emotions that coursed through me at the mere thought of my eramon.So many things had changed between us. Even his appearance was not the same as when I met him; his hair, which I had learned was not dark at all, was in truth various shades of blond. It had been dyed when I first met him, apparently due to some ceremonial coloring due to grief at the death of a friend. He had seemed like a creature of darkness then, and now he was all golden, all beautiful.
Across the room, I could see Vlar; the Finnarian laughing with some of the more experienced warriors, and my breath hitched. My body tightened, heat pooling in my groin.
I hated that my body reacted so easily to a mere glimpse of that powerful form. The way my very skin tingled and my mind seemed to want to force me to accept that this man almost owned me, could do with me as he wished.
Of the many emotions churning within me, indifference was not among them.
* * * * *
The king himself had ordered that I also receive teaching in reading and writing as a noble’s son, and this I found much more difficult than the fighting. I am a physical person. Sitting and listening to my tutor drone on and on was a far heavier burden than taking bruises from a sword blow.
I tried though; it seemed to make my uncle Sarin -- the king -- happy, and I had begun to quite like the man. He was very little like his brother, my father. Despite his burdens and responsibilities, he displayed a lighter hearted, more compassionate nature.
To my surprise, my uncle was obviously trying to forge a relationship of some sort with me. I could not imagine why, but I could not repel the advances without being rude. I am not good at being rude. This relative, at least, had never done me harm.
The king’s attention seemed to draw notice to me, and more people seemed willing to make conversation with me. I doubted their motives and trusted them not at all, but still... It was nice not to be ignored or, worse yet, taunted as I had been during my childhood.
On this particular day, I sat staring at the sunshine, trying to focus my mind enough to practice my writing. I startled as a hand came down on my shoulder, and guiltily I looked up at my long-suffering tutor, Philas.
“Gaven, my boy. This is enough for today. I am not so cruel as to expect you to be enthused over letters when such a beautiful day calls you. Go enjoy it. We can continue tomorrow. I am sure that one day won’t make a difference either way.”
I could have hugged him as I leaped up, almost falling over my own feet.
Philas shook his head, apparently amused. “My boy you are like an overgrown colt, all legs and energy.” He looked at me for a long moment, a certain seriousness appearing in his eyes. “You are far more intelligent, though, than you give yourself credit for, Gaven. Believe in yourself. A lot of your father is within you. Gareth is brilliant, almost too smart for his own good, but with an attitude as large as his brain. You are a pleasant surprise; there is no arrogance in you, only a wish for kindness, and you are deeply empathic to others. I see you often sensing another’s emotions before that person knows themselves. I feel that, one day, if you work past your own insecurities, Gaven, you would make a great leader, perhaps even better than Gareth himself.”
I stared at him in mute astonishment, then blushed fiercely, scarcely knowing what to say to such things. I had no idea how he could witness these things within me, when I saw nothing at all.
He smiled then, a little ruefully, perhaps. “Go, my boy.”
I bowed with respect, then lunged out the door eagerly on the way to a respite of freedom.
* * * * *
The heat rose throughout the day until, in the late afternoon, it was nigh unbearable. The men sought ways of cooling off, and the favorite method was a swim in the nearby lake.
I ventured there tentatively and was relieved when I saw Teaser waving at me. It was easier then, and I stripped down, keeping my eyes averted so I would not see if anyone was watching me. It was still difficult for me to get past the modesty that had been so instilled in my earlier years.
I had no sooner set foot in the cool waters, trying to slowly acclimate myself, than I was tackled by Weasel. We landed in a great splash of windmilling arms and legs. I gave a choked yell that almost got me drowned; then I twisted in the older man’s hold like an eel and ended up pushing Weasel under the water in retaliation.
Soon Teaser came to rescue his lover, and that set off the other six, so that it turned into a free-for-all. Whoops and yells called in any other guard in the vicinity; soon it was hard to tell where the brawl began and ended.
I managed to extricate myself by swimming underwater for a ways, getting past the combatants. I popped up with a grin, watching the antics from a safe distance as Weasel slapped the water around him, looking for a rematch.
I escaped to deeper water and swam lazily, keeping an eye on the action in case it moved in my direction. I had no warning before an arm came around my waist, and I went under. I splashed to the surface, ready to fight, only to face Vlar.
I became flustered then; very, very aware of his hands resting on my hips, very aware of the close proximity of my very naked eramon.
Vlar grinned at me, a slow tilting of the lips that made my blush heat even more.
“We will make this another training session, Gaven. One in trust.”
The mere word made me tense up, my breath coming harder with an effort to stay afloat.
“Lie back; let me tow you through the water. When you relax in trust, you will float. When you resist, you will sink. This is the test.” Vlar’s tone indicated he knew full well that I was going to sink quite a bit.
Having opened my mouth to argue, I snapped it shut and gritted my teeth. Damned if I would act as Vlar so obviously expected. Without a word, I lay back, trying desperately not to tense as Vlar put one large hand around my chin and began to tow me through the water.
Copyright © J.C. Owens