Andar and I spent much time together over the next few days, and I gave him the courtesy of listening to his explanations of things as we walked the camp or sat at evening meals. I did not often answer. But I thought about what he said, and he knew it, did not push me to believe.
Vlar sat beside me at these meals but did not push either, though I felt his eyes on me constantly. I ignored him as best I could, though his presence was like a flame, burning into the edges of my consciousness.
The first time I saw my…the warlord, after the incident between us, I found myself staring at the bruises on his throat and looking away with a sense of discomfort, though I could not comprehend why I should feel shamed.
On his behalf, he seemed not at all put out by the attack, seemed almost proud of it in some twisted way I could not understand. He brought it up now and then when asked about the bruises, and he would laugh, saying the males of his line were strong.
I could not understand him at all. Sometimes I would watch him surreptitiously, trying to see me in him or him in me. I could find nothing. He was confident, powerful, with a natural air of a leader. I could find no similarity in my lean form, in my tense surety of insult and resulting pain. Or in my ever-present consciousness of my inferiority that had been so drilled into me. I felt like I was a fraud, sitting at the ornate table, dressed in borrowed clothing much finer than I had ever worn before, eating an opulent repast full of things I had never tasted before. I felt like I should be with the servants, serving the food, not eating it.
When the meal ended, Andar came to get me and we walked through the camp once more, watching the sun set and the torches being lit at the onset of dusk.
He steered me to large rocks that sat high on the riverbank, and we watched the water swirling below for some time before he spoke.
“There are many things about our culture that you do not understand, Gaven, many things that will affect you. I would explain them the best I can, if you would like.”
I looked at him in silence, then nodded warily.
“I know that you were raised by a very superstitious, backward group of people, Gaven, and that has given you some ideas that are going to make things difficult for you.”
I listened without comment, but he knew I had heard and was mulling his words over, as usual.
“We are warriors, Gaven. We often spend our whole lives amongst other men. It is not so strange then that we pick our closest companions, our lovers, from those around us. We have not time to court women or spend time being their husbands. Often marriages are made for the begetting of children and, once those children are born, the man and woman may well never see each other again. Ours is a very military society, and we are surrounded by other very warlike people; we are never at peace long enough to raise families. Yet we are but people, Gaven. We need love, we need caring in our lives, and it is totally accepted that men can love men with great intensity, even onto a lifetime. This is not strange to us, and indeed it is encouraged and expected. When a boy comes to the army, he is given to an eraman
, an older warrior who will introduce the boy into being a man and lover, and also be his trainer and mentor as to the arts of war. It is considered an honor, and a ceremony is held when the boy is taken as lover. It is the beginning of his new life, a symbolic giving of himself to his mentor in all things.” He paused then, gave a small smile that made me look at him more closely. He turned his head and met my eyes squarely. “I am your father’s lover, Gaven. Have been for many years. We are bonded, which means a true commitment as great as any marriage.”
I stared at him in disbelief, then flushed and looked away, shifting uncomfortably on the stone. The thought of these two strong men…naked in each other’s arms…it made me think of Micael and the occasional thoughts that had crossed my mind. I flushed more deeply and bowed my head. Thank the gods that Micael, in his innocence, had never known of those thoughts. Now I knew why those terrible things had crossed my mind, though I had always cast them aside in haste and horror.
“Gaven, there are things you need to know…” Andar’s tone was serious and I looked at him in trepidation.
“Vlar is your eraman.”
I stared at him, though without great surprise. Vlar’s words from before now made sense. My father had given me into his second-in-command’s training; according to Andar, a great honor…
I shuddered, looked down at my clenched fingers.
“I do not want this, Andar. Surely there must be another way.” My voice was low and pained.
“There is not, Gaven, though I understand your reluctance. You are your father’s son and someday may hold a position of power. You must be seen to hold to tradition, to be one of us. It is important that you train with the army, let them see your abilities, your progress. This is your chance for a better life than you have known, Gaven. You have been told you are nothing. This is your chance to prove otherwise --”
I looked at him, fighting to remain calm and reasonable. “I am too old, Andar. You said boys go through this ceremony; I am almost eighteen. It would be a farce.”
“No, Gaven, it would be proof to the army that you accept Vlar and will be respectful to his training. They will see nothing strange in that. It would be strange if you did not.”
My fingers clenched tighter. “I hate him,” I whispered fervently.
“You fear him; that is quite different, my boy. Whatever it is you feel toward him, it is fierce and bright, and that in itself can lead to other emotions.”
I stared at him in disbelief. “I could never feel anything for him but disgust and revulsion. To suggest otherwise is madness.”
Andar smiled. “You are innocent in this, Gaven. You know not of what you speak. You will see.”
I shivered, set my jaw against useless argument. “He is not even human…”
Andar shrugged. “No, he is not. Should that make a difference?”
“What is he, then?” My tone was harsh with the fear I tried to hide.
“He is Finnarian.” My blank look brought a small chuckle from him. “Finnarians live far to the north. They are great mages and powerful warriors. He became friends with your father’s father and has been part of the family ever since.”
“My father’s father…he is not that old,” I said disbelievingly.
“They do not seem to age, Gaven. He still looks the same as the day he arrived, apparently. He has been a great trainer of men and he is an experienced eraman, which is why your father has given him this task: to see you brought to the pinnacle of what you can be. Many vie for this honor; few are accepted.”
“It is no bloody honor,” I growled under my breath, then paused. “His teeth --” I faltered, fear rising even from the very words.
“Finnarians eat raw meat and blood gives them strength. It is not uncommon for men to offer themselves to them for that purpose, to give them blood. It is said to be a very sexual experience, a pleasure beyond words.”
My jaw sagged. “He would not do that…to me…would he?” Shuddering at the mere thought, I swallowed hard, feeling sick.
“Only if you wished it, Gaven,” Andar’s tone was soothing and I slowly got my breathing back under control.
“I cannot do this thing, Andar, I cannot. I am not one of you. Why can I not just train to fight? Why this…?” I could not even finish.
He put a comforting hand on my shoulder. I did not flinch away, too sunk in despairing thought to move.
“It is not as bad as you think, Gaven. You fear what you do not understand. It will work out in the end. You will see.”