anaan brushed his hands down his tunic, regretting once more that he hadn't saved his old one. It had been darned in several places, had a stain or two, but at least it had been made from a single piece of leather and cut down to fit him by his father, who knew what he was doing. He'd made the new tunic himself from scraps left over from new outfits and scavenged from discarded old ones--including his old tunic. The sewn patches were intended to form a pattern ... but it didn't begin to match his imagination. What it looked like, he thought glumly, was a joke. Like someone who couldn't sew. Like someone who has no way to kill an animal and claim its hide; and nothing with which to barter. He could always ask his family for help, but how could he, at least right now? His mother and older sister were pre-occupied with the latter's first pregnancy, his brother was wooing a lovemate, while his father was busy making clothes for his younger sister Morningstar, who'd be making her first venture ashore come spring. Danaan fought against a surge of bitterness. Everyone gets away except me, he thought. Even Tinar got ashore last season for the root gaTharolg. I said I could handle all the far-sendings myself, and I did ... but it'll never be my turn. Not unless someone else like me is born--but how can I ask them take my place, just because I used to dream of being like my brother?
Drawing a deep breath, Danaan forced his emotions under control, picking up the roll of braided belt. At least his weaving wasn't too bad. And Chekaia -- Cliffclimber -- was a friend of his. She'd complimented his cooking, even if he had left the bird on the fire a little too long. And she wasn't sharing a bed with anyone right now.
The main gaTharolg room was lit by two hearths and various clusters of clear-crystals. Halting in a shadow, Danaan scanned the room. Seeing Cliffclimber, he swallowed a sigh of relief, plotting his course to keep away from the various clumps of elves. He knew his friend would accept this proposal, but he didn't want everyone watching. At least, not until she said yes.
Uncertainty stabbed him as he drew closer and noticed the new fur draped over her shoulders. At least, he thought it was new. But, then, why shouldn't she have a new fur, since she was already a pretty good hunter? He just hadn't seen it before.
Cliffclimber looked up as he approached. "Hello, Danaan." Her light green eyes fixed on his tunic for a long moment. He felt his cheeks warming. A smile danced at the corners of her mouth, until she bit her lip. The amusement was still in her eyes when she looked up, but--mercifully--she did not comment. "Want something?"
Despite himself, his blush increased. "Um, well ... yes, well ... I-I-" Abruptly, he held out the belt. "For you."
Sitting up, Cliffclimber took the present and unrolled it, revealing the pattern of gold and red. "Very pretty," she said, tilting her head to look at him sideways. "But why give it to me?"
"Well .. I ..." he swallowed, then continued with a rush, "I-I was wondering if you would like to share furs with me tonight."
He felt attention abruptly focussing on him. Cliffclimber stared at him, as if his offer were utterly unexpected. "Share furs?" she echoed. "In your room?" she added dubiously. The room which he shared with his sister and parents.
"Ah ... I ... was thinking ... your room."
Cliffclimber continued to stare at him, her oval face showing puzzlement as her hands absently rolled the belt back up. Danaan felt his stomach falling with the presentiment that he'd made a horrible mistake. "Firetop," she said finally, "it's very nice that you like me enough to want to share my furs, but aren't you a bit young yet? I mean, you haven't even gone ashore for first season, let alone gained shore-freedom." She placed the belt back in his hands, patting them. "And, well, besides, someone else's already asked me..."
"And who'd turn down a fur wrap for a simple belt?" asked Starcloud, sliding into the seat beside Cliffclimber, putting her arm around the younger maiden. Narrow, silver eyes laughed at him from under curling locks of midnight-black hair, glancing measuringly down his torso. "And who'd want to touch that--what do you call that thing you're wearing?"
Guffaws and giggles rose from the elves around him. Eyes fastened on the belt held in his clenched hands, the young lad closed his mind shields as firmly as he could, the thought of 'overhearing' the remarks undoubtedly being sent unbearable. "I-I apologize for intruding, Cliffclimber, Starcloud," he said stiffly. "I--I hope you have a nice ... night." Turning on his heel, he forced his hands down to his side, looking up just enough to be able to see his way out. Part of him wanted to run out of the room, but he resisted. He wasn't a child. He couldn't run away.
Hands grasped his arms. "You didn't answer my question, little Firetop," murmured Starcloud. "What is this thing you're wearing?"
He stared at the floor. "A tunic," he said. "A badly-sewn, stupid-looking tunic."
She laughed. "That's the best you can do when wooing a bed-mate? Don't you know you're supposed to wear good stuff--not cleaning rags?"
"Yes, I know," he managed to get out, through jaws that wanted to clench tightly together. "Please let me go."
"If that's your good clothing, I'd hate to see what you wear for the dirty stuff," said Starcloud with a laugh, echoed by several snickers. "I know!" One hand fell away, as he sensed her turning. "Let's have a dress-Firetop party! We can't let our would-be lover wander around dressed in rags, now can we?" Several giggles and 'no's rose, along with one bored-sounding 'yes' from one of the older lads. Starcloud pulled him around to face her, and pressed her finger under his chin to lift it. "How would you like that, little Firetop? Wouldn't it be nice to have some new clothes?"
The condescension sparked a flare of rage. With a jerk, he pulled away from her. "I am Danaan," he announced loudly. Silence fell. "Not 'little Firetop.' Not 'child.' Not 'boy.' Danaan." He stared hotly into Starcloud's astonished face for a long moment, then turned on his heel and stalked towards the exit. No one tried to stop him.
aerrain watched the slender lad leave, hiding laughter. She'd been wondering for the past three years when the lad was going to rebel against the unstated assumption that he was still a child. He looked so pathetic. That horrible tunic! Admire the lad for wanting to do things on his own, but why hadn't anyone noticed what he was up to, and given him--at the very least--a few words of sensible advice!
But the situation was just perfect. Danaan would be so grateful for her invitation. She'd have to teach him, of course, but that shouldn't be difficult, given who his mother was. And when he had learned what she had to teach ...
She waited awhile until the other elves' attention drifted back to previous pursuits. Faking a yawn, Vaerrain rose from her furred seat. With languid stride, she began to walk towards the exit. Halfway there, a sending snarled into her thoughts. **And just where do you think you are going?**
Vaerrain winced from the furious sending, setting her jaw as she strengthened herself against that raging blast of white-hot fury and suspicion. **What concern is it of yours?** she retorted, with what flippancy she could muster.
**Stay - away - from - him.**
Vaerrain snarled curses in the private part of her mind at Tinar's all too-accurate guess. She had hoped to avoid an argument. **Why should I?** she responded, continuing to walk. **He wants a fur-mate--I'll be happy to give him what he wants. And I'll give him a much better time than young Cliffclimber can.** With malice aforethought, she added, **I'll even give him some nice clothes.**
A flash of embarrassment momentarily colored the anger, until Tinar checked it. **I want you to stay away from him. Danaan's too young to handle a self-centered, vain, uncaring fur-mate who'll drop him the moment she gets bored.**
She bristled inside at the stinging remarks. **And how are you going to stop me from asking him?**
Silence roiled for a moment. A second voice spoke in her mind, causing Vaerrain to start. **Daughter, I ask you to leave Danaan be.** Haliil's sending was whispery soft, edged with the sadness that never went away. **Var never willingly hurt Liria. Please don't do anything that might hurt a boy as sensitive as she was.**
Just outside the entrance, Vaerrain halted, both disconcerted and angry. It was rare for her mother send so directly, let alone try to interfere. For Haliil to even mention her father--but by the Palace, they were trying to ruin her pleasure, just because she never saw any reason to tolerate and dissemble with a bed-mate who couldn't take a hint. And she was good in bed, and lavish with her gifts to those who pleased her. They didn't usually make this much fuss when she teased a youngster to her bed.
A smile touched her lips as Vaerrain realized the weakness in their argument. **Tinar, mother,** she sent, **How is Danaan ever going to grow up if you protect him all the time? I'm not going to force Danaan into my bed--but isn't he old enough to decide for himself? I'll even be considerate enough to tell him exactly what you think of me and what you think will happen, before he answers yes or no.**
Tinar reacted with a wave of surprise and anger, abruptly cut off. Haliil sighed and vanished from Vaerrain's awareness. Vaerrain waited, her thin smile widening as the silence lengthened. It was Aerva, Tinar's lifemate, who finally replied.
**I thought Tinar had learned by now never to directly forbid you to do anything,** the Eldest remarked with wry regret. **It's true that over-protecting Danaan will be more harmful than letting you humiliate him. But, please ... remember that Danaan is a very special young lad. He gave up a great deal to help protect us, at a very young age. Part of him regrets that decision. We believe he needs someone who genuinely cares about him, who can be lovemate, and not just fur-mate.** Aerva paused for a moment. **Just remember one thing, Vaerrain.**
**Which is?** Vaerrain was finally forced to ask.
**Danaan is as sensitive as Liria, and he'll pick up every single emotion you feel, whether you want him to sense it or not. Remember that.**
Leaving Vaerrain without a smile, chewing on her lip, wondering why that statement made her so uneasy.
anaan huddled in the corner of an empty storeroom, mind tightly closed so that no one would pick up his feelings of humiliation. How could he have been so stupid? he wondered, as hot tears rolled slowly down his cheeks. Wearing that horrid tunic, not paying any attention to the interest flowing between the two maidens, making a fool of himself in front of half the Isle! And when his brother found out, he'd have to endure Whlen's concern for his 'little brother,' and his hurt that his 'little brother' hadn't turned to him. Not to mention how his mother, and his father, and his older sister, would all feel--wondering why he hadn't asked them for help, at least for decent clothing, none of them realizing that he only wanted to prove himself, that all he really wanted was for everyone to stop treating him like a child! And if they found him here, that's exactly what they would see--a little boy with hurt feelings, running away to hide and cry, though he was trying not to cry--if only he knew what to do! He didn't know what to do, and it was too late to ask. It'd be years before they'd forget what happened, years before he'd be accepted as old enough to be part of the gossip and games and joining--
A whisper of leather on stone surprised him. Danaan tensed, dropping his barriers enough to identify who had entered the room. The next moment, his head snapped up in shock. **You?!** He stared up at the tall figure. **What are you doing here?!**
The clear crystals set in the ceiling winked into life, glowing just enough to reveal details and clothing. Her golden-brown hair curled loosely around her head and shoulders and down her back, complemented by the ankle-length, fur-trimmed, deep-gold dress. Ice-blue, dark-lashed eyes were shadowed as she tilted her head to study him, but her emotions were an odd swirl he didn't really want to decipher. "I came to invite you to my room for a bit to eat, and a talk."
Danaan stared up at her, non-plussed and oddly disappointed. "Talk?"
A smile curled one side of her mouth as she sensed his second reaction. "Oh, we might end up doing more than talk, if that's what you want." The slight stress on the final word brought a blush to his cheeks. Her smile widened, dimpling. **I wouldn't turn you down.**
His face warmed even more. **Why ... why do you want to talk?** he asked. **I mean, if you want to share bedfurs, why not ... just say so?**
Her smile twisted with something less than pleasure. **Let's just say some people don't trust me where the feelings of a certain red-headed lad are concerned. I happen to think that he's old enough to figure out what he wants for himself.** She held out a hand. **Come with me?**
Danaan stared up at Vaerrain, color ebbing in surprise. For a moment, he felt uncertain. He wanted a furmate; his body was driving him to distraction, especially in his dreams, no matter how much he succeeded in hiding his reactions from others. But Vaerrain? He'd been thinking of a friend, of someone he liked. He'd hardly even talked to Vaerrain before, except when passing messages. And Tinar didn't like her at all. Which ought to mean something. But then he thought about what she had said. And felt a stab of resentment. She'd said they didn't trust her. But it also meant that "they" didn't trust him. That someone felt he was too young to know what he was doing, too young to make his own decisions.
None of his "friends" were standing around offering.
He took her hand.
aerrain watched Danaan over the rim of her cup. He was visibly tense, flicking quick glances around her small but sumptiously decorated room. He hadn't touched the small bowl of out-of-season fruit on the table, though he had picked up the cup almost as soon as she had poured the tea. When his eyes met hers, she smiled. "What would you like to talk about?"
"I..." The young elf looked away, then back, fingers tightening on the shaped-rock cup. "Why--why do you want me?" Color surged up his cheeks, and he looked away again, scarlet lashes obscuring his eyes. "I mean ... it's not like I know how to give you a good time and ... and almost everyone else seems to think that I'm still just a boy -- too young to really be interested."
Vaerrain chuckled. "I know you're no child, even if you still look like one, my lad. I keep track of numbers, and so I happen to know that you've seen two-eights and five world-turns this season. That's more than old enough to be interested in joining."
He looked a bit non-plussed, then shook his head. "But why do you want me?" he persisted, this time meeting her eyes. "I'm only a youngling, I don't know anything." He looked away again, adding, "I don't even know how to make a decent tunic."
Vaerrain kept from laughing at his last, folorn statement, it not being her intention to do anything to hurt the lad's feelings. "Not knowing anything is easily mended, Danaan--learning and practice are what you need. As for why I want you..." The elf hesitated, fighting down the resentment that she'd let herself agree to this. She should look at it as experimenting with a new strategy, she told herself. "You're young," she said, with a toss of her hair. "Inexperienced. Dlen's son. As sensitive as Liria, if Tinar's correct. I like all that--I can teach you what you need to learn, and you'll learn quickly. And you'll be very good once you learn." Leaning on one elbow, she gave him a slow smile and a smouldering gaze. "I'm only interested in the best, Danaan--or someone with the ability to be the best."
His face flamed. For a moment, his gaze wavered, then steadied--terribly young and terribly earnest. "But ... you don't want me, because you like me? Or--or feel sorry for me?"
Vaerrain tilted one eyebrow in disdain. "Danaan, Tinar will tell you that I'm a selfish, cold-hearted tree-cat, who tends to turn on her mates as soon as the action's over. Don't look to me for a lovemate, if that's what you want. I can teach you everything you need to know to have fun and to attract your share of fur-mates. If we find out we can be friends along the way, well and good. Just don't expect me to keep you around indefinitely."
His midnight-blue eyes glittered too brightly beneath a furrowed brow. "I-I want--someone," he said slowly. "I dream ... everytime I sleep, I dream about joining, but I never see a face ..." His shoulders slumped as he looked down at his cup. "I thought Cliffclimber was a friend ... but she saw me as a boy. A child... do I even have any friends, who see me as me, and not ... little 'isn't he something' far-talking Firetop?"
The melancholy in his voice unwillingly touched a chord of sympathy in Vaerrain. "There may be only truth in sending," she mused, "but if we don't send and if we don't look with our hearts, eyes and mind may lead us astray." Danaan looked up through several scraggly locks of hair. She smiled. "I'm not entirely the cold-hearted tree-cat, you know."
Dark-blue eyes blinked once, studying her for a long moment. "No," he said softly. "You care about others, more than you want to show, even to yourself. I think Tinar doesn't like to remember the heart-pain he felt when Taiva died, so he forgets you were her soul-sister--I'm sorry!" he exclaimed, as Vaerrain visibly flinched at the mention of her long-dead friend. "I didn't mean to upset you--I-I'll go--."
Vaerrain closed her eyes a moment, fighting a stab of uncovered pain. "Don't." The lad froze, back to the table. Rising, Vaerrain moved to face him. Soothing a thumb across his high cheekbone, she slid her fingers under his chin, meeting his eyes, searching their indigo depths, willing herself to see with more than eyes.
"No," she murmured. "You are not a child--not after eight-and-six seasons of sending spirit across the lake and 'listening' for any cry of need. Your body tarried behind your mind, but now its maturing needs demands attention ... You see others more clearly than you see yourself, I think ..." With an abrupt shake of her head, Vaerrain broke the spell and stepped back. "You." She pointed a finger, half-amused and half-annoyed. "Go sky-deep on me too often and I will throw you out. This was supposed to be about simple fun and games, and maybe proving to certain people that they can't see what's in front of their noses. No more long faces and no soul-seeking, understood?"
Danaan looked at her for a long moment, then dredged up the tiniest curl of a smile. "Yes. I'll try."
"Good." She looked him up and down, once. "Let's start with your clothes."
ow he begins to look like a lad worth pursuing. Don't you think so, elder sister?"
"Just let me finish this last corner ... there." Cutting the last thread with a tiny knife, Diirla straightened and backed away, absently pushing the fine needle into a cushion tied around her upper arm. She gave the lad a long, slow gaze up and down that brought a slight blush to his cheeks. "No question, little sister," she said with a low chuckle. "I might wish to seduce him myself, had you not already laid claim."
Vaerrain chuckled herself as Danaan's cheeks pinked further and he started to hunch his shoulders, before visibly reminding himself to stand tall. The dark blue outer robe (and such luck, to have had a ready length of cloth in that rare color) matched his eyes and brightened his hair, and added heft to his figure without overwhelming his slenderness. Dark red embroidered with gold-- taken from a worn feast garment --decorated the hem and shoulders, matching the dark red sash that fastened the full-sleeved, white blouse and matching pants. A thin gold headband held his neatly-trimmed, shoulder-length hair out of his face, save for one small, rebellious curl. "He looks good enough to have stepped out of the Palace," she said. "Sister, I owe you."
Diirla unwrapped the cushion from her arm and grinned back, green eyes twinkling. "If you insist on owing, I won't object, Vaerrain, but it's worth it just to see Danaan dressed to fit his age and responsibilities." Dropping the cushion into a basket of scraps, she picked up the basket and headed towards the entrance. "I don't expect to see much of you two for awhile," she tossed over her shoulder. "Have fun."
Vaerrain laughed softly. "Oh, we will." Waiting until the footsteps faded, she circled the lad once, slowly. "Yes--very nice. You'll surprise a few people, when they see you again." The lad smiled faintly, his blush starting to fade.
"At least I won't feel as stupid I did last night," he said shyly. "And I do really like what you and Diirla are doing for me ... though ... I was really wanting to ... ah--"
"Start learning the fine art of wrestling in the bed furs," she finished for him with a grin. Walking behind him, she slid her fingers through his ultra-fine, fiery-red hair. "But some things are worth waiting for, you know." Lightly nuzzling his ear, she let her hands work down his sides. "Think how much more pleasant woven plant-silk is to the skin than leather." One hand eased inside the open shirt: Danaan shivered. Then let out a small, inarticulate sound of embarassment as his stomach rumbled -- loudly.
Vaerrain froze for a long moment, forcing herself to laugh as the lad's ears turned brilliant red. "It seems your body thinks your first lesson should be on the art of wooing with food," she said lightly, moving back to face him. She wrinkled her nose at him as he gave her a look of desperate embarrassment. "Don't be silly, Danaan--how are you going to keep your strength up, if you don't eat?"
He sighed. "Just don't tell me how much I should eat, all right? When Mother came in last fall, she was half-convinced I'd not eaten at all while everyone was ashore--I had to beg father to ask her to stop nagging me."
"I may cajole, but I never nag," Vaerrain promised. "Shall we venture to the Hearth Hall and see what may be found?"
anaan tried to ignore the nervous flutter in his stomach as they walked slowly down the last stairway. This wasn't going to be like last night, he kept reminding himself. He was not clumsily trying to woo a fur-mate, he had a fur-mate. And not just anyone. Vaerrain might be like a tree-cat in her mating habits, but she was, nevertheless, much sought after. And she had asked him.
Vaerrain's pace abruptly faltered. Glancing sideways, Danaan sensed the sending directed at her. He resisted the temptation to eavesdrop, though it was difficult. Especially when Vaerrain scowled.
"All right, all right - enough!" snarled Vaerrain. "Just tell those rockheads not to expect any favors from me anytime soon!" She whirled about, then half-turned back to look at her would-be paramour. "Curse it -- I'm sorry, Danaan. I once made a promise to Vrayl, in a moment of weakness, and he's decided to hold me to it. Apparently the rockshapers have finally agreed where to put in the new bathing room, and Vrayl wants me to check their plans before they forget the details. And hold the merge, of course."
"But they've been arguing for over four years!" protested Danaan, dismayed. "Why did they have to decide now?"
"It's been over seven," she corrected, "and you'll have to ask our peerless leader." She hesitated, anger flashing in her eyes, before shaking her temper down with a toss of her head. "Never mind." She managed to dredge up a smile. "You go on in and surprise everyone who laughed at you last night. Just remember -- you're lovely, you're going to be very good, and --" catching up his hand, she kissed his fingers, sharp eyes on his face, **--you're my fur-mate.**
She was in the air and vanishing around the curve of the corridor before Danaan could think of any reply. He stared after her. His stomach hurt, though whether it was due more to hunger or tension he wasn't sure. No one would dare laugh openly at him with Vaerrain at his side. But on his own? Especially after Starcloud's spurned suggestion? Would they believe him when he claimed Vaerrain had asked him?
But if he didn't go in, might not Vaerrain think of him as no more than a scared boy? Straightening his shoulders, Danaan took a deep breath, told himself not to be nervous, and strode forward.
aerrain walked slowly towards her room, exhausted. She could not remember a mind-merge ever being as tiring. Granted, a gravid Brownstone had not been present to lend her unmatched strength and skill. The shaping had involved several of the Isle's weight-bearing walls and the existing drainage tunnels, requiring a focussed yet wide-spread awareness of the stone. But she'd helped with equally complicated work, and not come out half this drained. If she didn't know better, she'd think--
The flakes of clear-crystal embedded in the corridor walls sparkled softly into light, adding to the dim glow of a single lamp. Slipping through the red and gold drapes which cloaked the entrance to her room, a slender figure touched her arm. "I felt the merge dissipate, and started some tea brewing," said Danaan quietly. "I asked Diirla what you liked."
Vaerrain let the youngster guide her into the room and seat her in her most comfortable chair. The shaped-stone cup he gave her was just barely cool enough to hold, the contents hot and heavily-dosed with honey. Eyes closed, she slowly drained the cup, feeling the warmth spread through her. "Thank-you," she said with a sigh, leaning back. "I--" she paused as she caught sight of a bundle next to Danaan, who was sitting cross-legged on her bed. "What are those?"
"It's for you--if you want them." Danaan watched her with anxious eyes. "When I went inside the hall this morning, after you left, it was as if I was suddenly the most desirable person in the Isle. I had four offers to share bed-furs before I could even sit down. I told them I already was with you, and I wasn't interested in their offers right now. Skyclear backed off, but the rest didn't. They kept telling me I shouldn't consider myself obligated to you because of one night, that you'd thrown your last five lovemates out of your room, and that I deserved better."
Her fingers sank into the generously-padded armrests of her chair. "And so do you deserve better?" she asked coldly.
He did not flinch and look away, or blush, as she half-expected. His level, indigo gaze hinted at hurt and more than a bit of anger. "I think I deserve a fur-mate who doesn't lie to me." Vaerrain stiffened, but before she could vocally react, Danaan nodded towards the gifts. "Skyclear was the only one who was really being honest."
Vaerrain's hands relaxed as she leaned back. "So why did you accept the gifts, if you didn't want them?"
This time he did look away, hugging himself. "I did try to refuse them, but they kept insisting. When Tinar sent that if I wanted to play adult games that I'd better learn to play by their rules..." His lips thinned with an expression of distaste. "I wish now I had been more insistent, but I was so surprised--I just didn't know what to do."
"And you want to give them to me."
Shifting his gaze back to her, he nodded. When she said nothing, he bit his lower lip, then launched into an explanation. "I don't--I don't want them, Vaerrain. I'd give it all to Morningstar, but then I'd have to explain everything to my parents, and they'd give me a lecture on being grateful, and make me keep it."
Vaerrain shook her head slightly, starting to smile. Annoyance gone, the situation began to amuse her. Her smile widened. "So who were the importunate, would-be fur-mates?" she asked.
He sighed, body relaxing. "Fireleap, Moonthistle, Starcloud and Tharol."
Raising an eyebrow, she chuckled softly. "Not exactly my close friends, are they?" When he gave her a puzzled look, she chuckled again and moved over to the bed. "Fireleap's the lad who landed on his rump in front of the Eldests when he wouldn't take "no' for answer," she elaborated. "Tharol thought he could woo someone else while still sharing my bed. Moonthistle was greedy, while Starcloud seemed to think she's the High Ones' gift to whomever she condescends to notice." The lad started to look uncomfortable. "Don't worry, Danaan," she murmured, sliding an arm around him, "you're not going to be one of those I throw out." She stroked the outside edge of his ear with a finger. "I accept your gifts."
He turned his head slowly to look at her, unfolding his legs. "Thank-you." After a momentary hesitation, he lifted his hand and very lightly brushed her cheek. "I know you're tired," he continued in a voice barely above a whisper. "I -- if you need -- I'm ... willing to wait ..."
Two kinds of pride fought. "You deserve my best, I am tired, and since you're not one to tell, I accept." With a long, gusty sigh, she stood up and stretched, pulling on muscles which had spent all too much time that day doing absolutely nothing. Slender hands touched her shoulders.
"Father's taught me a little," Danaan offered softly. "He gives mother backrubs all the time. I could try, if you want..."
Looking around, Vaerrain gave him a smile that had nothing of artifice in it, only a weary pleasure. "That would be wonderful, Danaan."
aerrain fell asleep quickly, but such surcease eluded Danaan. He was acutely aware of her breath stirring the fine hair on his neck, and even more conscious of the arm draped across his chest and the breasts against his back. He felt -- odd. Frustrated. Who would believe he could spend two nights in Vaerrain's private quarters and not join with her at least once? And if they believed, what would they think?
Better not to think about that, he told himself, closing his eyes firmly against the flickering shadows cast by the single flame Vaerrain had considerately left lit. Think about the morning. Think about getting up before Vaerrain, and flitting down to the hearth room to fill a tray for the two of them. They'd have a nice, leisurely breakfast, alone, and then a refreshed Vaerrain would take him and teach him all of the things he had only half-guessed at--
A sharp sending startled him awake out of vaguely pleasant dreams. Who? Yawning, he reached a hand out from under the warm covers to rub his eyes. The call came a second time.
**Mother?** he responded, recognizing the caller, sitting up. **Is something wrong?**
**Nothing wrong. Brownstone's birthing and she wants you up here.**
**But--** Still half-asleep, he couldn't hide his dismay. **--why...?**
Irritation in the sending clawed the drowsiness out of his mind. **Are you forgetting your promise to your sister?** demanded Dlen. **Does your pleasure mean more than your word and her need?**
**Of course not! It's just--** Danaan stopped himself, not wanting to try and explain his dismay. **I'll come up as soon as I'm dressed.**
Dlen's final touch stung. Scowling a little, he slid out of bed and reached for his clothes, having gotten the distinct impression that Dlen did not approve of his being with Vaerrain. He didn't really understand why she shouldn't, anymore than he understood Tinar's disapproval. So what, if Vaerrain had thrown some of her ex-furmates out through the draperies? They'd probably deserved it. Especially Starcloud. The way she'd acted towards him, two nights ago--
"Unh ... Danaan, what ...?"
He turned. Vaerrain was awake, sitting up on one elbow. "Why are you getting dressed?:"
Danaan sighed. "Mother sent: Brownstone's birthing, and I made a promise last summer to be there."
"Why ever did you do that? I know she's your sister, but still--"
"Since it wasn't Recognition, Brownstone's afraid Chases Moons' spirit won't have a strong enough bond to share the birthing with her and their child. I said I'd hold a sending link for them."
"A sending link," she echoed, sitting up. "For a birthing. Whose idea was that?"
"Mine," he said shortly, hand tightening on his shirt. "Is there a problem?"
"Oh, no." She let herself flop back down to the bed. "Danaan, you're a sweet lad, but don't you think you let yourself be taken advantage of?"
He glared at her. "What was I supposed to do?" he demanded. "She's my sister, she was hurting, I wanted to help!" Pulling on his shirt, he grabbed his robe and stalked towards the entrance, angrier with every moment. How can she not understand--
"Danaan." He refused to stop. **Danaan. Please. I'm sorry.**
He halted. Waiting. Behind him, Vaerrain sighed. **Danaan, sometimes my tongue runs ahead of my mind. And I'm really not very good at thinking how others will react to what I say and do -- I don't want to remember how many times I hurt Taiva's feelings, and she was my dearest friend in all existence. It must be wonderful to be able to help your sister ... please ... don't go away angry at me.**
Staring blindly at the wall, Danaan chewed his lip, indecisive. After a bit, he forced himself to turn around. Vaerrain was leaning against the wall-screen that partitioned the sleeping area from the rest of her room. Her face was in shadow, hair and body limned by the light behind her. **I'm still angry,** he told her, **but I think it's partly because I'm -- dismayed -- that Vessa's coming out now. It's just getting so frustrating -- I want to help my sister, but why did it have to be right now? And ...** his shoulders hunched a little as he acknowledged another reason. **... I guess there's a part of me that wants to be selfish...**
Vaerrain chuckled softly, walking forward. "Am I corrupting the most selfless youth in the Isle?" she asked, bantering. Fingers twitched: a brush darted from a shelf into her hand. "It never hurts to be a little selfish, furmate," she continued, smoothing the snarls out of his fiery mane. "You go keep your word with your sister. I'll have the tea ready on your return, and then I'll give you reasons to be very selfish for the next few days..."
anaan gasped as full awareness returned to him. Vision he had not realized he had lost returned to him; blinking, he sensed Moon Chaser's contented spirit hovering over Brownstone and their newborn son. The new mother glanced at the air above her with a weary smile, then back down at her dozing son. Handing the baby to her sister--whose face promptly lit with joy and wonder as she was granted the chance to hold the precious newborn--Brownstone accepted Zariil's assistance to climb to her feet. He folded a robe about her shoulders as she found her balance.
"A fine little boy, daughter," he said, hugging her gently. "Why don't you clean up and get something to eat, before he awakes? Morningstar is more than happy to hold him."
She nodded agreement, wordlessly accepting her brother Whlen's assistance. Danaan watched them leave, feeling oddly detached. He remembered curiously little after he had located Moon Chaser's spirit and invited that being to share his senses. It hadn't been very much at all like the times he had "spoken' with the dead. Perhaps because Moon Chaser was more recently dead, retaining more of his memories and personality? Or had it been Moon Chaser's need to be with his lovemate and son, which had caused that spirit to take over more than either had intended? Perhaps he should speak with the Elders about his experience--
"Son? Are you all right?"
Danaan looked up as Zariil interrupted his thoughts. Before he could gather his wits enough to think of a reply, his father pulled him up, then gathered him into his arms. "Let's put you to bed, son -- you look tired."
Surprise held him motionless for a few moments, before indignation broke through his detachment. "Let me go!" he exclaimed. With a wriggle and a touch of gliding, he pulled free of Zarill's hold. His landing was a bit unsteady, but he skipped backwards to avoid his father's instinctual gesture of aid. "I'm fine!" he said, with a touch of defiance. Remembering what was waiting for him, he added, "May I go now?"
"Not until your mother finishes cleaning up. We want to talk with you."
About what, he didn't need to guess. "But--"
Zarill's hands closed on his arms, gently but firmly, pushing him backward until he ended up next to Morningstar. "Now stay there." Danaan opened his mouth to protest, then subsided under his father's midnight-hued glower. Zarill watched him sternly for several moments, then turned away.
Silently fuming, Danaan dropped his eyes to his fisted hands. Were his own parents going to try to interfere with his dalliance with Vaerrain? It wasn't fair! He wasn't a boy anymore--they couldn't tell him what to do! Just because he had never had--
Oblivious to his sullen mood, Morningstar poked him in the ribs with her elbow. "Isn't he beautiful, Danaan?" she asked, holding Vessa closer to him. "Isn't he wonderful? I think he has Moon Chaser's hair and father's eyes! Isn't he the most beautiful baby you ever saw?!"
Danaan glanced at Morningstar's glowing face, remembering his own excitement years before. He smiled, not without effort, unwilling to spoil the event for her. "I'm prejudiced," he told her lightly. "He's a nephew, but you are my sister. When you were born, I just knew you were the most beautiful baby I'd ever see."
"Oh, Danaan!" She giggled. His smile loosened, feeling more natural.
"But let me take another look ..." He leaned over. The baby's hair was a barely visible down, unlike the thick black thatch his sister had been born with. The thin strands were gilt, pale enough to hint that Vessa would inherit that feature from his father's side. The closed eyes, he assumed, were his family's midnight blue. The infant's features were too unformed for him to guess what the adult would look like. But, of course, like all infants, Vessa was utterly adorable. With a sigh that was half-yearning (would he one day be blessed enough to hold his child?), Danaan reached out with a fingertip to stroke the round, pink cheek.
He gasped as something like a spark crackled within him at the touch. For a mere moment, the infant's eyes flicked open, hazy blue. Danaan snatched his hand away, then physically jumped to his feet as his senses reeled. He could see Vessa, as he could sometimes see the Valley. See Vessa as spirit, fresh and new, glittering with slumbering potentials. All that the child could be, he knew.
"Danaan." Hands gripped his upper arms, then shook him. "Danaan, snap out of it!"
The vision faded, but not the knowledge. Blinking, he stared into his father's face. "What happened?" demanded Zarill, black eyebrows pulled low, scowling. "Why were you in trance?"
"I -I--s-saw -- Vessa," Danaan stammered. "It just -- happened. Vessa is ... Vessa -- he's going to be a glider. Very strong. A shielder. But not a shaper. It's not in him, except to pass on. No shaping. None."
Zarill stared at him, disbelieving. "Danaan, how can you know that?" asked Dlen, coming up beside her lifemate. "Vessa's parents are both rockshapers--you know that means he'll probably be a shaper himself."
But Danaan shook his head. "He isn't," he insisted. "Mother, I touched him, and -- I saw!"
She studied him intently for a few moments. "Let's take this to Vrayl," she said. "If your talents are still growing ..."
nkles crossed on top of a padded hammock, elbows resting on her chair's arms and fingers laced underneath her breasts, Vaerrain scowled at her floating counting-box. She had been waiting for over two days for the youngster to return. Or to send. Or something.
She didn't like waiting.
She liked being ignored even less.
Vaerrain sent the open rectangle of four tightly-strung rows of beads spinning, fingers separating into fists. A crisis in the Isle -- or his family -- she could excuse. Even she accepted that there were more important things than pleasure. She'd proven that often enough. Granted, it would be useful to know a newborn's talents, if only to avoid trying to teach what couldn't be learned. But spending two days in exhaustive practice on a talent of such limited application, with no foreseeable use for at least two years, in preference to being with her? If that was the way the boy tended, why bother with him? If she wanted a forever-distracted, duty-ridden fur-mate, she'd go after Tinar.
Feet pattered on floor in the hallway and did not pause to allow fingers to strike the exterior chimes before running into her room. Vaerrain looked through the vertical threads of the stilled counter-box at the face flushed a shade of pink that was most unbecoming against the tousled red hair. "Vaerrain, I didn't mean--I'm sorry I didn't get back sooner," he said, panting. "Everyone was wanting to know what talents they might have, and when I couldn't, mother insisted I try again with her help, and I didn't realize how long it was until Starcloud decided she wanted me to touch her and I was tired, and I didn't mean it, but I heard her snickering in her mind and she was thinking about the betting on how long before you kicked me out and I didn't mean to not send or anything, it-it just happened and please don't make me leave, please, I'll do anything you say just don't kick me out.."
The irritating babble finally died, leaving the boy staring at her, looking as if he might start crying. At least one other fur-mate had given her such a look -- Fireleap? -- no, Ayshra. It hadn't been any more attractive then, than now.
"They always bet on how long I'll keep my new fur-mate," Vaerrain noted cooly. "You should learn to be more observant, little one."
He flinched a little. Still looking through the beaded strands, Vaerrain added the statement that she knew would bring the tears. "And I don't bed little boys." She waited.
As his eyes widened and his mouth drooped open, Vaerrain waited with a thin edge of scorn for what would happen next. She waited for him to protest that he wasn't a little boy, to wail that it wasn't his fault, and she wasn't being fair.
The slender lad's hands moved up, closing into fists, as he began to splutter a reaction. Barely into his third word, however, he stopped, mouth snapping shut. He stared at her, eyes blinking slowly, before he shook his head.
"You're right," he said with a voice laced with annoyance and chagrin. "I've been playing "yes-mother, yes-father" the last two days without even thinking about it. And when I realize how long it's been, I act like a child who's been caught running the stairs. No wonder I can't get treated like an adult. I don't act like one."
His chagrin surprised a small chuckle from Vaerrain. "Tinar would tell you I act like one, sometimes." She let the box drop into her lap. "It takes time to outgrow old habits."
"Mmph." Danaan rubbed his face with both hands. When he pulled his hands down, he gave her an entirely sober look. "Vaerrain, I hope you'll forgive me, but I have to go off and think about this. I can't quite see Mother and Brownstone conniving on birthing Vessa early, but we're getting interrupted too often to be coincidence. There's too many people around here who seem to think you are trying to bed a "little boy.' And it's up to me to prove them otherwise."
He turned and left, leaving Vaerrain staring after him, for once not knowing at all what to think.
nce more seated in the corner of the empty storeroom, Danaan removed the gold hairband and sighed, running his fingers through his hair. Pulling the ragged fur over his shoulders, he leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes. It might not have been a good idea to walk out on Vaerrain, he mused. Yet once her words had made him realize how he was acting, how could he have stayed? Vaerrain had been rightly annoyed at his absence. How could any apology make up for that, with no way to prove that it wouldn't happen again?
**Danaan, where are you? We need to talk.**
He grimaced as he recognized his mother's sending. Answering anyone he did not want to do right now. But Dlen would physically search for him if he didn't answer.
**What do you want, mother?** he asked, trying to keep his sending nuetral.
**Zarill says you were very rude to Starcloud and the others a while ago, and then you ran away. I think you need to come back and apologize.**
Danaan scowled, since he didn't have to hide his physical reaction. He forced himself to wait several moments before replying, and tried to word his thought carefully. **I acted without thinking, and my actions could be considered rude. I will consider apologizing -- later.**
He felt her surprise. **Later? Danaan...there are there are still several people waiting for you to come back...**
**I don't care,** he snapped with a surge of resentment and anger. **They can just for once wait!**
**Danaan!** Dlen's surprise quickly shifted to displeasure. **Danaan. I will not have you breaking your word. You said you would tell them what their potential gifts were, and--**
**Did I?** he snapped, interrupting. **Or did father say yes for me, while I'm too entranced to notice what's going on?**
**What? Danaan, you--**
With a surge of irritation, Danaan pushed Dlen's sending out of his mind, then jumped free of his body. There was only one elf even capable of following him "here,' and a still-tired Tinar wasn't going to make the effort just because Dlen was angry at her younger son.
After all, he had to go back 'inside' eventually.
His aggravation bled away, as his emotions usually did on the 'outside.' Ignoring the bright sparks of elvin life, Danaan cast his awareness towards the life of the Valley itself. Most of it was barely perceptible, dormant with winter sleep. The largest gaTharolgs of life-sparks were probably deer species, grouped into small herds. A faint sense of hunger and blood-lust suggested that the southern wolf pack was on the hunt. Danaan sighed mentally, wondering if the gray wolf with the white left-forepaw was still leading the pack. He'd spent a good part of one winter several years ago projecting his awareness right into the middle of the pack. He hadn't been able to actually link with any of the wolf minds, but he'd perceived quite a bit of what went on. The experience had been more than fascinating enough to make up for the effort. But when Dlen found out, she had had a fit and kept after him until he'd agreed not to do that again.
**I felt you get angry at that daughter of mine.**
He wasn't surprised to find the spirits drifting towards him as he 'turned' to face the faint sending. He no longer feared their presence as he had as a boy. In fact, he'd grown to appreciate the company of those 'awake' enough to converse.
**Hello, grandmother,** he greeted the spirit in front of the others.
She grinned at him. **'Grandmother' makes me feel I should be among the sleepers.**
**And disappoint your father?** he retorted. **If Vrayl couldn't feel you peeking through his eyes at least once a moon, he'd have me out here to ask you why, Maka.**
**I suppose he would. So why are you angry at Dlen?**
For an answer, he extended his spirit hand. Maka's fingers brushed his. **Ahh. Young bird wants to fly, and his parents are holding onto his wings.**
**Something like that.** He eyed her wispy figure. **Any suggestions?** he asked hopefully.
**The dead tell the living how to live? Really, Danaan.**
Danaan shrugged. **At least you accept me for what I am. I'm still just a child to most elves.**
**Not to Vrayl. He's worried.**
**You think I should talk to him?**
She shook her head at him. **Stop seeking answers outside of yourself, spirit-walker.** She whipped past him, followed by the others, attention drawn by another's spirit. His sister, he guessed. Vessa, being willed-born, would not draw spirits to him as one born of Recognition would. But Brownstone was Dlen's eldest of her Recognition to Zariil.
Shrugging off the abandonment, Danaan projected his awareness towards the western mountains, sensing the storm driving toward the Valley. Taking in the sense of the storm's energy and fury, Danaan wondered how soon the more restless hunters would demand permission for a winter hunt. It happened every year. Vrayl and the other elders inevitably resisted their demands, and it was always a tossup which side would win. Danaan wondered who would win this year. At least he didn't mind the extra spirit-walking. Unlike Tinar, who flatly refused to even try during the winter moons--
**You half-witted, inconsiderate, careless -- Firetop! What in the name of the High Ones are you doing out here?! Or don't you care that your mother is half-hysterical because she couldn't 'find' you!**
Danaan 'spun' to face the contradiction of his thoughts. Tinar 'glowered' at him, the oldler elf's spirit image glittering two-eared and whole, unlike his physical self.
**If mother is upset, she's only herself to blame,** retorted Danaan. **She knows I don't restrict my spirit-walks to watching over shoreside elves.**
**She has a right to be upset when her son throws her out of his mind and then runs away and 'hides.'**
Danaan felt his temper rising. **Hiding, am I?**
**Your mother wants you back inside now.**
Folding his arms across his chest, Danaan matched the elder glower for glower. **Then you may go back and tell her I will return when I am ready to return.**
**I don't think so--**
Something slammed into him. Utterly surprised, Danaan found himself catapulting back into his body. I didn't know he could do that! Abruptly, he was inside himself again, gasping for a breath of air, and finding himself oddly constricted.
What?! Opening his eyes, Danaan realized that he was lying in his own bed, with the furs tucked firmly around him. While he had been out of his body, someone had found him, picked him up, taken off his clothes and put him in bed. Standing beside him, his mother looked down at him, blue-green eyes concerned and angry at once.
"I know you're upset that Vaerrain threw you out, son," she said, scoldingly, "but that's no reason to run off and sulk." Reaching down, she pulled the furs closer to his neck. "Now be a good boy and go to sleep. In the morning, you can go apologize to Starcloud and the others."
The flash of anger he had felt 'outside' with Tinar returned as a full-born fire. "By Var's curse I will!" The furs flung themselves to the foot of the narrow bed without a hand touching them as Danaan lunged upright, glaring down at his mother, hands fisted and toes barely touching the grass-filled pallet. "Vaerrain did not throw me out; I was not sulking, and I am not a boy!"
"You're acting like one."
Danaan whirled to face his father. Zarill matched his gaze with narrowed eyes and arms folded across his chest. "Do what your mother says, Danaan."
Drawing one long, fulminating breath, Danaan held in most of his temper, letting only enough of it show to sting in his sent reply. **I will not.**
His parents both started. Stepping down from the bed, Danaan cast a quick, hard glance around, and expected what he did not see. **Where are the clothes Vaerrain gave me?**
"They're too fine for everyday wear, Danaan," replied his father. "They're in my cedar box."
Which, not being a plantshaper, Danaan could not open. He kept the glower from his face with difficulty. They were, after all, no finer than what many elves wore inside the Isle. **I will decide which clothes I wear, Zarill,** he sent. **Please open the box.**
"You don't need clothes to sleep in, Danaan. Go back to bed -- that's an order."
Danaan forced himself to take another long, steadying breath as he gazed at his father. Turning, he walked towards the entrance. "Just where do you think you're going, Danaan?" He didn't bother to answer. "Danaan! Get back here!"
He continued to walk.
The strong, young 'voice' jerked Vaerrain out of her brown study. Danaan?! What was that lad up to now?
A moment later, she began to smile, sensing the rising bubble of tumult. So this was how he was going to make the Isle take him seriously? Oh, this should be interesting!
Gliding into the Isle's largest room, Vaerrain found it filling rapidly. Danaan stood on the second-highest level of a tier of padded seats, wearing only his skin, arms across his chest. Standing on the floor, clearly held in position by Vrayl's hands on their shoulders, the lad's parents projected a sense of wrath. Flitting towards a shadowed niche along one wall, Vaerrain laughed to herself. This was going to amusing.
The hall was shadowed, barely lit by the hearth and a few candle bowls. As Danaan continued to stand in perfect, motionless silence, the crowd also began to quiet, the whispers and snickering laughter fading. When silence reigned, still he did not speak. Starcloud finally broke the silence with a derisive shout. "So why'd you call us here, little Firetop? Showing off your new clothes?"
Laughter started, but before it could become general, light flashed from every single clear-crystal pendant or flake in the entire fall with eye-searing brilliance. Vaerrain winced and shaded her eyes as cries of surprise and pain rose. The brilliance dropped abruptly to a more comfortable level. Dropping her arm, Vaerrain looked with wide eyes back to the lad. No one had ever tried to 'light' all the clear crystals at once. She would not have guessed anyone had that much power.
He was not finished. Though his body was still standing, his spirit-image formed in front of him, taller than the physical form, and seemingly dressed in dark blue robe she had given him, his bright hair held back by the gold hairpiece.
**I am Danaan Farseeker,** he projected, into a silence Vaerrain knew everyone was too stunned to break. **I have gained no shore-freedom, been granted no Name-Feast. I am not permitted to even try to gain shore-freedom, no matter my desire. But last summer, I held contact between Isle and shore, elf and elf--alone. I walked the paths outside my body by myself, with no advisor by my side. Is there anyone here who dares deny that this responsibility would not have been placed on a child?**
No one spoke, or even moved.
**Thank-you.** The spirit image vanished. The slender, naked form was not ridiculous, now. **Since I have proven my ability to accept adult responsibilities, I now insist on the same privileges given any youth who has earned shore freedom. I require a room of my own. I require that I be called by my chosen nameFarseeker. And I require that I be allowed to be with my choice of furmate, without hindrance.**
Vrayl stepped up to the first level of the lounge. "In my judgement, you have earned the right to expect those privileges, Farseeker." He turned to face the crowd. "Is there anyone here who cares to challenge my judgment?" He smiled thinly as no one spoke. "Good. Wallmaker, I'll speak with you and the others in the morning, about where we'll locate the room. Anyone else who wants changes, let me know and we'll consider it." Turning, he glided up to stand by Farseeker. "Soon enough?"
"Yes, thank-you, Vrayl."
"Good." The Isle's leader gripped Farseeker's shoulder and chuckled. "I suspect I know who you're going to ask, lad. Go to it, and have fun."
Farseeker flashed a gamin grin, then turned and leapt into the air, aiming directly towards Vaerrain. Half a length away, he stopped, pulling himself to a vertical stance. "Will you be my furmate, Vaerrain? I can't offer you the delights of my own room and furs, or even the skill of an experienced lover. But I do promise to be the most willing and eager student you've had in a long, long time."
Vaerrain met the eager, hopeful, so-lovely dark-blue eyes, and smiled, choosing not to tease this one. "You honor me, Farseeker," she said, slipping out of her niche and extending her hand. He took it, smiling. "Shall we go?" she asked. "I promise to make this a winter to remember."
He laughed, and pulled on her hand, gliding towards the nearest exit, letting the light vanish. Side by side, they flew from the room, going to make their promises come true.