The courtyard was cool after the day's heat, the plants and trees there providing a sense of lushness and serenity much needed by the Nazarians. The bare plains and vast sweep of the land where the town of Cewa lay were foreign to them, barren of beauty in their critical eyes.
They took respite in this almost familiar landscape, stretching tired muscles and quietly speaking among themselves about results of the talks, the responses, and topics they would need for the next day.
Vanyae ignored them; with hands behind his back, he wandered slowly about the area, listening to the water in the small waterfall built into one wall.
He was as aware of each of the Melanian guards ranged discreetly about the courtyard as he had been of the guards who had been in the meeting room and those who had trailed them here. They did their jobs well. Always watching but never too close for comfort or to the point of insult. These men would have orders to retain their posts and report anything unusual in the Nazarians' behavior or words. Tanyan was good with his training, it seemed. More reason to admire the man as much as an enemy could.
Vanyae came to the waterfall and stood there with eyes closed, letting the faint spray cool his face, wishing he were home. This little re-creation was as close as he could get right now, so he endured with a soft sigh. Soon this would be over.
The faintest rustle of wing feathers alerted him, and his eyes snapped open, his hand going to his sword instinctually.
His eyes locked with golden ones, and he froze, prepared to lunge...and then restrained himself with difficulty.
Gradually, his heart slowed, and he straightened with expressionless calm, realizing what had happened.
One of the guards had been posted by the waterfall apparently, and in his abstraction, Vanyae, not even seeing the man in the shadows, had come uncomfortably close. He could not get used to the Melanians' damned coloring, but this one was even more different, a creature of shadow rather than light.
He had never seen true black wings before, though he had seen very dark ones in Melanian captives.
His second perusal took in that this guard was very young and trying hard not to show it, but his nervous breathing showed inexperience and alarm at this situation and the overly close presence of his enemy.
Vanyae noted something else, though.
There was no hatred in this one as seethed through the others in such degree that Vanyae could almost taste it. This one held many emotions in those strange eyes, but not the most common one.
Intrigued, Vanyae turned away and, sitting on the bench provided at the base of the waterfall, let his wings open fully and rest along the back, so the flight feathers almost brushed the young guard's thigh.
He let his eyes fall almost shut again, though he could see the Melanian clearly enough out of the corner of his eye.
The young man gradually calmed from his tenseness, discreetly rubbing his right hand down his breeches to wipe away the clammy sweat before returning his fingers to the hilt of his sheathed sword in the standard stance.
Vanyae smiled inwardly, amused, as the guard's eyes dropped almost against his will to the white wing so close to his left hand. The boy, for he was little more than that in Nazarian eyes, seemed as fascinated with Vanyae's coloration as Vanyae was with his.
Those fingers twitched, and slowly, so slowly, they tentatively touched a white feather, then quickly curled away. The boy's face flushed as he snatched his curious gaze away and stared into the distance as a good guard should.
Vanyae's brow rose in faint wonder.
That had to be the first time in history that a Melanian had touched a Nazarian in anything but anger.
He let his discreet gaze rove the guard in curiosity. The lad was tall for a Melanian, though he would only come to Vanyae's shoulder. The envoy let his eyes follow the line of night black wings from where they stood a foot over the young guard's head down to where they ended just above the boy's boot heels. The wings themselves were broad and wide, strange to Nazarian eyes. They had learned that Melanian wings were weapons in themselves, and this boy had a prime set of them. The buffet from wings that large would easily send a grown man to the ground. They were some of the largest Vanyae had seen, making the boy look almost fragile in their shadow, and he wondered if they marked how he would be in adulthood, large and powerful.
Hair as black as the wings was cut short, offending Vanyae's eye. He had always wondered why the other race seemed to ruin their looks so deliberately by butchering their hair. Nazarians never cut their hair unless to trim, and Vanyae's own hair curled down to his buttocks, providing a tantalizing sensation when he walked naked.
He grinned to himself at the thought, wondering how shocked this young guard would be if he knew what the enemy was thinking. Thoughts of sexuality brought his eye back to the young man, and he idly roved the fine features.
Golden brown skin, so different from Vanyae's own whiteness, stretched over high, taut cheekbones and down to a gentle mouth, one not drawn in a tight grimace of disapproval as the other guards carried permanently. Vanyae's body reacted, and he felt stunned amazement that he could feel a jolt of lust for an enemy. Still, he could appreciate beauty, surely, wherever it might be found, and this boy was beautiful. As shown by the sleeveless tunic, his body was slender and coated with the muscles of a natural athlete, not the harshly defined musculature of the hardened soldier. He had not yet had time to develop such a thing. He was clearly as nature had intended him to be, not carved from necessity and strife.
Such purity made Vanyae's breeches suddenly feel tight, and he cursed under his breath. So intent had he been on this mission that he had not seen to his needs before he left Nazar. Surely that was the only reason he could feel such things here, now, at such an inappropriate moment.
He tried to steer his thoughts away from such dangerous channels. He let his eyes slide to the other guards some distance away and noted other differences. The others tended to keep their wings up high behind their shoulders, slightly up and out in an almost unconscious display of aggression, while the young guard kept his clamped tight against his body--a sign of uncertainty, or was his coloration strange here too? Was he mindfully trying to hide his own wings?
Vanyae mused lightly over the matter, his fingers drumming on the wood of the bench. Slowly his fingers stopped as a thought entered his mind, a small thought that grew. This young guard made his lust rise as it had not in many years, and would it be so difficult to...? At first he resisted the thought, but his father had wanted a second hostage, someone to keep Tanyan in line. Why not this boy?
He rose to his feet, but only after completely committing the young guard's face to memory. He would make sure Serin and Sindin saw him also. If the opportunity should arise...
Anticipation made a smile grow on his lips, and he felt lighter in himself, interested in something personally for the first time in far too long.
* * * * *
Anyar watched the Nazarian walk away and breathed a sigh of relief mingled with reluctant admiration. The man was beautiful in a deadly, frightening kind of way, the way you admired a predator from a healthy distance and with wary respect. His sudden response to Anyar's unintentionally hidden presence had been that of a warrior, and Anyar could only be thankful the Nazarian was experienced enough to hold his attack. The results if he had followed through on his startled defense would have been disastrous indeed, yet another incident between the two races causing ill feeling.
Fortunately they had been shielded enough by the trees that none of the other guards seemed to have noticed his error in standing in the shadows and startling the envoy so badly.
He swallowed hard, chastising himself. His inattention to detail of such things had almost led to the very failure of himself he so feared. He would be more careful from now on. He would make himself be someone Commander Tanyan could rely on.
* * * * *
Vanyae greeted the morning with relief, stretching as he rose, and made use of the facilities both to relieve himself and then bathe. The heat was already rising off the plains, and he longed for home, for lush coolness and beauty rather than this barren desolation. Soon, he assured himself, soon.
Serin and Sindin joined him in the bathing chambers, and they discussed the day's activities, both planned and unplanned. They were cautious about his mention of the boy; they had hoped to take the second hostage as someone simply in the vicinity when the kidnapping took place.
Vanyae only shrugged. He would do everything he could to ensure that his new plan was seen to, but he would not endanger the original for his own wants. He rose from the water. After he dried himself off he shook his wings. After dressing with care for appearance and effect, he then walked out onto the balcony and spread his wings to dry. On the ground, to the right and some distance away, the guards were already out and practicing, and Vanyae watched idly, aware that his own guards were watching every nuance of the Melanians' moves from elsewhere on the huge balcony. He was not terribly interested until he caught a flash of black wings; then his attention sharpened, and he leaned over the stone railing, intent...
Cautiously circling Meel, Anyar held his dagger out and to the right. The other man was well-known as the best knife fighter in Melan, and he had come with Commander Tanyan's forces.
Anyar knew he had been forward, and perhaps out of character for himself, by approaching the great man and shyly asking if he had time to show them several practice moves, but he had been desperate to learn. Besides, Meel had been standing close by Tanyan himself. The chance to be that much closer to his idol had driven Anyar to lengths he would never have ordinarily considered.
Meel had actually smiled at him, not in the least taken aback by his request, and Tanyan had actually turned then and looked, truly looked, at Anyar, his blue eyes flicking up and down the young guard's body with a hint of interest.
It had been all Anyar could do to retain thought and back away properly and with some form of grace.
That Meel had asked Anyar to help him in the demonstration had completely stunned him speechless, and he prayed desperately that he not make a complete fool of himself in front of the others, many of whom thought him less than worthy of his new place in the guard's ranks. His uncle had taught him how to fight with a knife, and although he knew he had much to learn, he was not a complete novice in the art.
He and Meel circled as the older man explained out loud the various distinct maneuvers he was showing. He did them in slow motion, then faster and faster, until they were real time. Anyar focused utterly on the instructions, and when Meel began to incorporate the moves into sequences and patterns, he followed the other man's lead, soon finding he had the rhythm and losing himself in the dance of steel. When Meel finally called a halt, he was startled to find himself back in reality, sweat streaming from his brow, several small cuts on his arms that he never remembered receiving.
Meel clapped him on the shoulder, his eyes warm and admiring. “Well done, young man. You have the makings of a first-class bladesman. You have the mind-set and the grace. Well done.” The quiet words filled Anyar with a pride he had not ever felt before, and he smiled a little, nodding in reaction, face flushed.
Meel moved off, calling for other volunteers, and several guards clapped Anyar on the shoulder with some pride; others ignored him or sent calculating, cold looks his way.
They could not pierce him this time.
He rode out the rest of the practice in a haze of happiness, and as the others dispersed at the end, he held back, wanting time to himself to try out a few moves he had not gotten into his head yet.
When the yard was quiet, he moved from the shadows and began to try out what he had learned, talking to himself in low tones as he worked out how each move could be made into something that suited his own style.
Sure of his solitude, his heart near stopped when another blade met his own and stopped it in mid-maneuver. His wide gold eyes stared into amused blue ones.
Immediately he stepped back and bowed, heart pounding.
“C-Commander Tanyan...” he stuttered, cursing the flush that heated his cheekbones.
“Anyar, is it?” Tanyan asked with a small smile.
“Yes, sir.” Anyar wondered if he might choke at this unexpected proximity to his hero. This close, Tanyan's presence was beyond description, a sliding of awareness along the younger man's nerves.
“You are good with the knife. Meel is pleased, and it is not often he is provoked to praise.” Tanyan's smile widened as Anyar's flush deepened. “Come now, show me what you have learned.”
Sparring lightly with this man of legend, Anyar thought he had to have slid into a dream. The older man corrected him in several things, getting him to try again until the moves smoothed into cohesiveness in his mind and body. When at last Anyar could no longer keep up, exhausted, Tanyan called a halt and they walked companionably together to the drinking fountain.
Anyar was dazed, sure this must all be an illusion, and that was heightened when he raised his head from drinking and Tanyan came closer, one hand reaching out and gently wiping the moisture from his bottom lip with one finger.
The young guard froze, eyes wide and startled, unable to react when the commander came even closer and pressed Anyar's body up against the post behind him as the taller man slowly framed his face, leaned closer, and brushed his lips with his own. When there was no protest, only the sound of his shocked gasp and heightened breathing, then Tanyan slanted his mouth fully over Anyar's, gently at first, then more roughly as he felt the utter surrender under his hands.
Anyar moaned with sensation as a tongue penetrated his mouth, claimed his own. This could not be happening; this could not... He felt hands leave his face and trace downward over his bare chest, through the dampness of sweat, pausing to rub his nipples teasingly.
He thought he would sink to his knees, so potent were the sensations. Oh gods... The commander, the subject of all his intimate dreams and fantasies, was touching him, kissing him, taking him...
One large hand went down to his hip, pulled him into Tanyan's body, and let him feel the commander's desire pressing into his own rising need.
He trembled like a reed, rising passion eclipsing all sense of right and wrong, all realization of where he was.
Voices cut into the moment, and Tanyan immediately thrust the boy back, straightened his own clothing, and smoothed his expression into neutrality. His eyes took in the young guard, lips kiss swollen, eyes huge with desire he had no knowledge of. His very innocence was an aphrodisiac to the older man, and Tanyan cursed under his breath at the interruption.
“Come to me this night, Anyar. Let me teach you other things than knives.” His voice was gentle, at odds with the raging desire that made his body ache.
The boy nodded dumbly, unable to speak, unable to deny Tanyan anything at that moment.
Long fingers stroked the flushed cheek, claiming...
“I will meet you in the waterfall courtyard. I will ensure we will not be interrupted again.” The commander's voice purred with sensuality and purpose, and Anyar could only nod again, mute, watching in dazed amazement as Tanyan turned and walked out of the practice yard.
He stood where he was for a long time, hardly aware of the servants who had come to clean weapons and put them away. He shook with thwarted desire, unsure what he had missed, but only knowing he wanted more, much more.
Finally gathering his senses, he moved from the yard and away from the town for a small distance, needing space to think, to make sense of what had just happened. A great happiness rose in him, and he looked around him, ensuring no others were close before he spread his wings.