To New Beginnings and to New Friends (Rei Ginsei’s Saga, ch. 11)
January 10, 2018
There’s conflicting information about the age of mer in general. I kind of mashed what I’ve read together to get my numbers re: Tauryon.
I met a woman.
She had a mouth like yours.
She knew your life.
She knew your devils and your deeds,
And she said, “Go to him.
Stay with him, if you can,
But be prepared to bleed.”
-Joni Mitchell, Case of You
Sabrael had run out of tears long ago, but he hadn’t moved from his spot in the tent since Rei had gone back to see Vile and to “hunt”. He had been gone a long, long time; when he initially left, it was mid morning, but now the moons were high in the sky. Whenever a wolf would howl, he’d jump and curl into a ball under the covers. He was hungry now, and the hunger mingled with the worry and the fright to create a fantastic form of sickness. He wished more than anything he could swim, but they had camped far away from any suitable body of water.
Then, out of nowhere, Rei’s shadow materialized on the tent wall. Sabrael wanted to run out to greet him, but the state in which he left made him reconsider. Instead, he just sat up, pulling the fur cover up to his chin. Eventually, after another period that seemed like an eternity, Rei poked his head through the tent flap.
“Stop cowering,” he said as he slipped into the tent and sat on his side of the pallet. “You’re acting like I’d hurt you.”
The truth was, the overarching emotions he was feeling from his love were resentment and anger. It was hard not to worry about being hurt in some way when face-to-face with Rei’s brand of anger. “It’s just…I’m sorry I made you mad.”
Rei didn’t meet his eyes, just continued to look down at the ground as he shrugged.
“What do you want from me, Sabrael?”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“It’s just that you said you’d try to change.”
“And you know what? I discovered that I really don’t want to. It’s always been a part of me. When I was a child I’d be mean to other children and knock them about if I felt they needed it. This isn’t something I just picked up one day on a whim. It’s not like I bought a canvas and some paints and could just drop it whenever I felt like it.”
“But I don’t like the way I fe-“
“You didn’t even have to feel it this time!” Rei shouted, his sentence ending with a mirthless laugh.
“But you hunted a person!” Sabrael insisted. His hands were shaking, and he noticed Rei’s were, too, so on reflex he tried to reel in his hurt and his fear.
“I’ve hunted lots of people. This is a game we play, my master and I. And this time it was brilliant, being able to feel the anticipation and the rush.”
“I don’t understand why you like being mean.”
“I don’t understand why you like to swim!” he answered.
“It’s not the same.”
“Sabrael, here’s the fact of the matter. You saw me one day and decided, based on nothing but my looks, that you were desperately in love with me. You claim to have kept an occasional eye on me since, but I guess somehow you managed to miss all the things I did.”
“I just thought it was so easy because Clavicus stole your soul.”
“No, and to be perfectly honest it became a chore,” Rei said. “I’m not good for you, Sabrael. I love you, I do. I know I do. But I can’t love you the right way.”
“Yes you can!” Sabrael protested.
“No, I can’t. Having most of my soul back means most of my self is back, and I think sometimes that the fragment you have isn’t mine, anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s…it’s mixed with yours, and it’s different.”
Sabrael swallowed. Rei’s emotional state was in all sorts of turmoil, such that he couldn’t properly differentiate between them. It hurt his heart. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t love me.”
“I said the right way. Something I enjoy hurts you, and I know I’ve said I don’t want to do that. And I don’t, honestly. But I can’t stop myself from doing it, and I don’t want to stop. That’s not something somebody who really loves you would say. And that’s not something you should have to deal with. My parents didn’t love each other. I could more easily count the times they weren’t fighting in the twenty-five years I knew them. It drove me absolutely crazy. Why would you want that, Sabrael?”
“Forgive me for saying so, but you don’t know what it’s like living this long in love with someone the way I am with you. How could I finally be with you and just give up?”
Rei ran a hand through his hair and sighed.
“I think…” Sabrael took a deep breath, gathering his courage. “I think Clavicus is a bad influence.”
“What did you say?” Rei snapped.
“It’s just that before we met his dog you were more open and loving. When we left Haemar’s Shame you were calm, but I could feel so many clouds inside you.”
“Forgive me for saying so,” Rei sneered, “but you don’t know what it’s like living this long in service to someone who’s taken care of you in every imaginable way and being unable to appreciate it.”
“Let’s be honest, Sabrael, I’ve known you for two weeks. And the very second I found you I was smacked in the face with love. I don’t know love, Sabrael, or at least I didn’t before you showed up. Can you imagine? I love my master because he’s taken the time to know me, and because he does things that show me that he knows me and that I’m important to him. Why do I love you? I honestly don’t know. I spend money on you and I protect you and I try to make you happy, and what do you do for me? Bitch at me when I want to do something I like to do. I guess you do blow me, so there’s that.”
Sabrael’s heart was properly racing. His hands were both aching and numb. “Rei, what can I do?”
“I don’t know,” he said quietly. “If I’d known having my soul back would cause so many dramatics I’d have just stuck with being Vile’s little automaton.”
He couldn’t help it. A giggle bubbled from his chest.
“What’s funny?” Rei asked. He wasn’t annoyed, and it seemed all those viciously fighting emotions were finally quieting down.
“It wasn’t funny, really,” Sabrael admitted, “it’s just for some reason ‘Vile’s little automaton’ struck me that way.”
Rei snorted once, a sharp jet of air expelled quietly through his nose. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”
“Do you have to do anything?”
“At some point I will.”
“Then can you just put it off?”
Rei looked over.
“Can I at least love you?”
“Why do you say it that way?”
“Well, I don’t want you to feel like you have to love me if you don’t.”
“Sabrael,” he sighed, rolling his eyes. “If I didn’t love you, I’d just dump you in the nearest pond.”
“Can you do that anyway?” Sabrael asked. “I’m getting a little homesick for the water.”
Rei laughed almost inaudibly and held out an arm. Sabrael almost leapt across the tent to snuggle into it, letting relief crash into him.
“We’re off to Solitude first thing,” Rei said. “If the water’s not too cold I’m sure we could find a place for a kelpie.”
“Oh, Rei!” he almost squealed. “Why are we going to Solitude? Does it have to do with the Star?”
“Clavicus felt it was best to put the Star aside for a bit. I wasn’t up for planning, and he thinks perhaps I should slow down while I finish adjusting to this whole soul business. So I’m hoping to freshen up my wardrobe and enjoy being in a proper city for the first time in weeks.”
“Maybe not having something like the Star on your mind will help you be calm. It has been kind of constant since I met you.”
The journey had been an easy one. Rei’s emotions were unusually fuzzy and hard to read, but he was calm. Not a lot was said, but it didn’t have to be. Sabrael welcomed the silence and enjoyed his love’s warmth. They passed through woods so quiet Sabrael could hear the creak of snow-laden branches and over roads that took them around a marsh where patches of land stood proud of the shallow water like a patchwork quilt. Just beyond was a bridge built into the shape of a roaring dragon’s head, and beyond that, perched out on a stone outcropping overlooking the Sea of Ghosts, was a grand palace.
“Is that it?” Sabrael asked.
“Couldn’t be anything else,” Rei answered. “Put your hood up before we pass through this town. I don’t feel like putting up with guards.”
“It’s so pretty,” he said, obeying his love’s instruction.
“It’s also properly cultured, from what I understand, which is nice as we’ll likely be staying here a while waiting on our clothes.”
“Yes, of course,” Rei laughed. “The clothes Signe tailored for you are fine, but I told you then that you need clothes that suit your features.”
Sabrael felt his cheeks warm. “You really think I look like someone high born?”
“Weren’t you the one who said that if I say something, that’s what I mean?”
Sabrael smiled and leaned back against Rei until he was told to lean forward to help Baku more easily climb the rather steep hill towards a farm on the outskirts of the city. They had set out early enough that the sun was only now reaching its peak, and its brightness emphasized the odd clarity of sea air. Sabrael liked that phenomenon, where shadows were positioned just so, and the lack of any sort of haze gave everything a two-dimensional, storybook quality.
With Baku boarded at the farm’s stables, they walked up another, steeper hill towards the great metal gates separating Solitude from the rest of the world. The guards eyed them warily, and one issued a warning about minding their p’s and q’s, but they passed through with no issue.
Sabrael’s eyes widened as they set foot into the city. It was huge, with cobblestone roads, and gardens, and shops, and more people than he could remember seeing in one place, ever. People who, for the most part, seemed to be gathering around a stage just to their right. As if on some reflex, he took Rei’s hand, grateful to feel his love’s fingers twine with his.
On the stage were an array of men: Two guards clad in the crimson livery of Solitude stood at the back, one in an Imperial uniform, another in rags standing with his head down behind a wooden block, and the last, an imposing figure in black, and in his hand one of the ugliest axes Sabrael had ever seen (although, he had to admit, there hadn’t been many).
“Rei, is that-“
“Never mind,” he said, dropping Sabrael’s hand and nudging him forward with his fingers. “The inn’s over there, let’s go.”
Sabrael looked over at him curiously as he was shuffled along towards a large stone building. Rei had certainly been interested, but for once it seemed he was looking out for his feelings. He opted not to ask questions, though.
They had gotten a very nice, large room in the inn, but they were only stopping in to lay down their belongings, however long that took; Rei bought Sabrael a glass of sweetened milk and would periodically check outside to see if the execution was over.
“So what shall we do first?” Rei asked when it was safe to venture back out. “I was thinking to look around a bit.”
“That sounds good to me,” Sabrael smiled.
Things were settling. Slowly, but they were. He took Rei’s hand and they began their trek, taking in the sights and the sounds and the smells of a real, bustling city. Merchants in their open-air stalls hawked their wares, the sounds of soldiers practicing floated down to them from the castle courtyard. The number of people was uncomfortable, but overall, Sabrael was happy to be out and about with his love.
As they stepped into what looked like a residential district, there was an aging Altmer dressed in black walking the opposite way with a definite purpose in his step. Auburn hair cascaded down his back and over one shoulder, probably to show off the brooch that was pinning his cape on the opposite one. It was highly polished gold, an odd shape like an abstract bird. He may have been old, but he was in remarkable shape and very handsome.
Sabrael bit his lip.
Rei stopped suddenly, and Sabrael looked up at him. There was a sudden jolt in his emotional state, one of excitement.
“Tauryon?” he asked sharply.
The old elf stopped and looked suspiciously at them. “I’m sorry, do I know you?” he asked condescendingly.
Rei laughed once and pulled his hood down. “I might look a bit different.”
Tauryon’s features softened as he narrowed his eyes to study the being addressing him. Finally, his eyes widened, and a grin split his face. “Celedaen? By the Eight, is it really you?”
“Yes, it’s me!”
Sabrael watched as the two men pulled each other into a rough embrace.
“You look amazing,” Rei said.
“Oh, gods, please,” Tauryon answered, reaching up to pull down on one cheek with the tips of three fingers. “My face looks like a road map of Cyrodiil. Meanwhile, you haven’t aged a day. Perhaps I shouldn’t have backed out. Frou-frou aside.”
“You get used to it. Certain people seem to like it.”
“There is a certain something about it. Now who is that lurking just behind you?”
“Ah, this is Sabrael,” Rei answered. Once again Rei’s hand was between his shoulder blades, nudging him forward. “Sabrael, this is Tauryon Camorin. He was the only person I could properly tolerate back home.”
Sabrael reluctantly lowered his hood and looked into Tauryon’s dark amber eyes. He was always nervous with new people, but handsomeness made it so much worse. His heart was beating so hard, he thought his breastbone might snap.
“I never thought I’d see such a pretty little daedra,” the old elf chuckled. “But there’s no reason to be shy around me. I cut an intimidating figure, but it’s only something to be worried about if you’re in my interrogation chambers.”
“Oh,” Sabrael squeaked.
“Well that explains the pin,” Rei said.
“Hm? Oh, yes. Sanctioned violence is much easier for me to handle. With you gone, I had no nerve, which was probably for the best. It should go without saying that once you disappeared and all the random deaths across the big island stopped occurring, everyone knew it was you. You’re a legend, now.”
“I assume you mean the sort kids tell each other to scare themselves?”
“More or less. Your family’s former estate is haunted and such nonsense,” Tauryon paused and grimaced before adding, “I’m sorry to say the Aedeus name is a bit of a dirty word.”
Sabrael felt a small jolt of shock.
“I don’t suppose my parents had it in them to replace me?”
“If you’re asking if the name died with your disappearance, then yes.”
“Just as well.”
“Look, I’m sorry to run; I have business to attend to at the embassy. How long are you here for? Do you have a place to stay?”
“We just got a room at the Winking Skeever,” Rei answered.
“Oh, no, no, no. I can’t in good conscience let you stay there with the rabble.”
“I suppose that’s an invitation?”
“Of course it is! We have so much to catch up on, after all. Should you choose, I’m renting a town house just down that street there. All the way down, last door on the left. Come around at seven? I’ll even reimburse the room fee at the Skeever.”
“See you then,” Rei smiled and offered his right hand. “And don’t worry about the room fee.”
Sabrael watched the old friends grasp each other’s arms firmly. It seemed that Tauryon perhaps thought more of Rei than Rei did of him. The excitement he’d initially felt from Rei had cooled considerably once they’d begun talking.
“I’m looking forward to seeing you, as well, Sabrael,” Tauryon smiled, offering a small, polite bow. ” ‘Ta!”
Once he was a good distance down the street, Sabrael said, “You don’t seem very thrilled.”
“Yes, I could feel that particular brand of nervousness.”
“Are you upset?”
“Of course not. Tauryon’s always been nice to look at. If you fancy male Altmer you’d have to be blind.”
“You just seem kind of distant,” Sabrael said. “I can barely even feel you.”
Rei swallowed. “Thoughts of home, that’s all. No use getting lost in nostalgia, hm? Let’s see about our clothing, and then we can find a place for you to swim. What do you think?”
Sabrael smiled as his love slid an arm around his shoulders. “Sounds good,” he said.
Clothes shopping was an ordeal. The two seamstresses, Altmer sisters, were very unpleasant and spent the whole time grousing over everything and nothing. He and Rei were at a point where they would just have to cope with the inconvenience of being recognized for what they were, but if the sisters took specific issue with fitting a pair of daedra, Sabrael wasn’t sure if he could tell. It all just seemed like petty nonsense.
They didn’t like Rei because he was too tall, his torso was too short, and his arms were too long. Sabrael knew they liked him even less. He was too short and too stocky, and he chose a couple of more feminine outfits, at which point, thankfully, Rei stepped in and stopped them harping. Rei himself was especially vexed, Sabrael could tell, that his willingness to spend lots of money amounted to nothing.
Finally, mercifully, the measurements were complete, cloth had been chosen, they were told it would take two weeks, and they could finally leave. Sabrael could barely contain his excitement at finally being able to swim, and he struggled not to set off running and cause a scene. Out the gates they walked, and down the hill past the stables and the farm. The afternoon was waning, giving everything, even the air itself, a warm, orange tint.
In spite of everything, though, Sabrael couldn’t get over the fuzziness of Rei’s emotions. There were moments, as with Tauryon, where one was strong enough that it stood out, but overall, since waking up that morning, there’d been a veil. An idea struck him.
They walked over the archway that overlooked the docks and down the road still further until they came upon a path that had been lightly beaten into the sparse grass. It led them to a small cove that seemed more or less unnoticed except by the few people who’d trod just enough to bend the beach grass. A rowboat sat partially beached, its planks suffering dry rot. It was perfect for a kelpie to be himself.
While he bounced ahead, unbuttoning his shirt, he noticed Rei had stopped long ago, leaning nervously against a boulder.
“Aren’t you coming?” Sabrael asked.
“I don’t like the sea.”
“But you got close when we were on your island.”
“The sea on Clavicus’ plane isn’t the actual sea. I don’t like the water, Sabrael.”
It wasn’t exactly what Sabrael was hoping for. One emotion was clear now, at least, even if it wasn’t one he wanted to feel.
“You should swim with me,” he offered.
“No. Absolutely not,” Rei protested. “And besides, that water is undoubtedly freezing.”
“Did you not feel my aura when you were with me in my natural form?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Obviously we have our limits, but kelpies are so good at adapting to cold water that our warmth kind of surrounds us. If you held onto me, you wouldn’t be, well, as cold.”
Rei took a shuddering breath and crossed his arms. “Be that as it may, I’m not setting foot offshore. Not by an inch. Lakes are one thing. The sea has currents.”
“Didn’t I save you before?” Sabrael pressed. “I wouldn’t let you get hurt.”
“Why are you so insistent on this?”
“Well, ever since last night you’ve seemed upset and distant. When kelpies are sad or upset, we just swim and play and everything is okay again.”
“I’m afraid I’m not a kelpie, Sabrael.”
“Look, I…” Sabrael began, trying to fight against the tell-tale tightening of his throat. “I thought maybe it would help us be closer.”
“We can’t just make love?”
“Would that make you less distant?”
Rei sighed and closed his eyes. “I get it, okay?” he said. “I really do, but I would sooner gouge my eyes out with a rusty spike than venture back into the sea.”
“I don’t need to swim!” Sabrael said quickly, wondering just how long he could go before that proved to be a lie.
“Sabrael,” Rei said softly. He held out his arms. “Don’t worry about me. Please. I’m fine.”
Sabrael fell gratefully into his embrace.
“I want you to swim. I know it’s something you need. Please don’t take this…this distaste for the sea as a personal slight.”
“Yes, my beauty?”
“Can you feel me? My feelings, I mean.”
“As clear as day. Why?”
“Because I’ve been having trouble feeling yours. Or reading them, anyway.”
“I’m just trying not to think for a while,” he said.
“Can I help?”
Rei laughed quietly. “There’s nothing to be helped.”
Sabrael nodded, then raised up onto his tiptoes. Rei met his lips and pulled him close, and when they separated, Sabrael leaned into the slender hand that stroked his hair.
“Go swim, beauty. It’s enough to watch you,” Rei said.
Sabrael returned his smile reluctantly and finished undressing. His heart and his mind were restless and in pain, and it seemed impossible that even swimming would be able to help, but the very instant his feet touched the frigid water, he let go of his humanoid trappings, becoming almost nothing for a moment before reforming as his true equine self.
Rei’s kirin…a word he hadn’t used since returning from Vile’s realm…
Even that thought, depressing though it was, couldn’t dampen the wondrous feeling of relief at returning to his true form. No water daedra of his sort liked to shift very frequently, and many would never shift at all. It took effort to maintain, and served no real purpose for many of them. Sabrael had spent most of his life trying to reach a point of being able to maintain his humanoid form for extended periods, and it was a very long and difficult road to travel. It was exhausting to continually maintain the mental image of his other self and will it into being.
Rei’s feelings of betrayal hurt worse than anything, but he couldn’t understand. For so long it was all an exercise in seeing how far he could go before he would need water, and, as he got farther from his lagoon, an exercise in trying to always keep water nearby. He couldn’t die. He would be reborn, of course, but Rei’s soul would be relinquished, and he couldn’t bear to think of living without it. And so he pressed on, going farther and farther, trying to wean himself from the waters of his lagoon. If he came close to failing, when his strength was almost completely sapped, he would will himself back into Oblivion, to the plane where all water elementals come from. He would gather what strength he had there, then return to his lagoon, and then it all would start over, always with the mainland in sight.
Finally finding Rei had made it all worth it, and for all the hurt he’d endured since meeting his love, it was a relief to know that there was comfort to be had within himself. His feelings weren’t erased or replaced, but their grips were loosened and overshadowed by the comfort of the water and the rest he could give his mind.
This water was nearly too cold, but that was okay; he only needed a few minutes. He splashed out, hauling himself forward with his webbed front feet, deeper and deeper until he could paddle, and then, finally, to dive. The water here wasn’t clear as it was back home, but it had a nice color, and it was deep, so much deeper than that lake. He twirled and flipped as he descended, reveling in the way the water smoothed his fur and combed his mane, how the currents moved over the scales of his tail. At the bottom, he settled onto the seabed and simply lay there for a while, eyes closed, resting. Rei was too far away, and that was okay for now.
He dozed for a while; he’d hoped to play a bit, but he supposed he was more tired than he’d thought. He didn’t know how long he’d been down, either. Kelpies could stay underwater for very long periods of time, but Rei didn’t know that, and he didn’t want to make him worry. There was no need to rush, though, so he ascended gradually, heading more parallel to the seabed than perpendicular, lazily undulating side to side, internalizing the rhythm. The ever-important rhythm of a kelpie’s day-to-day life.
“It’s about time!” Rei called, jogging over to meet him. He still stopped a good bit away from the shore, though. “Are you okay?”
“Sorry,” Sabrael answered in his mind. “The seabed was so soft, I guess I took a bit of a nap.”
“Don’t worry me like that.”
Sabrael lowered his head and let Rei scratch his ear. “How long was I down for?”
“The better part of twenty minutes. And I couldn’t feel you, either.”
“I’m sorry, Rei, I didn’t mean to. Could you step back, please? I don’t want to get you wet.”
Rei did as he was asked, and Sabrael wound up, lifting his feet off the ground, and shook the front half of his body free of excess water. With a calm sigh, he closed his eyes and pictured his secondary form, letting himself become ephemeral and willing his humanoid flesh into being. He took the coarse towel Rei offered him and dried what little there was to dry, but then he just stood there, hands up by his neck, letting the towel dangle.
Rei’s face was impassive. but it wasn’t without small tinges of things. Melancholy. The fuzzy feelings Sabrael had been feeling were either less so, or some were being allowed acknowledgement. They were many and uncomfortable.
“I don’t know what’s going on, Rei,” Sabrael said, stepping closer. “But you know I’ll help however I can.”
He sighed as Rei wrapped his long arms around him and drew him close. He pressed his cheek against his chest.
“Whatever happens,” Rei said, finally, in an unusually quiet voice, “you are my kirin, and I will love you.”
“Whatever happens?” Sabrael repeated.
Rei didn’t answer and simply placed a hand over Sabrael’s head to pull him closer.
“I love you, too, Rei,” he said after a moment.
“Come on, then,” his love said. “Time’s burning, and we need to clean up and gather our things for our visit.”
And, as was becoming the usual, their walk back to the city was quiet. They went to the inn, Rei paid the keeper a small sum, and soon they found themselves in a bathing room. Sabrael undressed, but before he could kneel down to slip into the freshly-heated water he felt Rei’s hand on his left shoulder, pulling him back and around so that he was looking up into his face.
“I don’t want you to be sad,” Rei said.
“I just wish I knew what to do to make things the way they were.”
“That can never happen.”
Sabrael just sighed and wrapped his arms around his love. Already the fresh slate swimming had provided was being scribbled upon with no real regard.
“I’m willing to admit seeing my master with open eyes changed things,” Rei said, “but things are what they are.”
Sabrael reluctantly let him go as he broke free to slip into the tub. To his relief, Rei turned and held his arms out again. As soon as he put a foot into the water, Rei picked him up and pulled him close into a kiss. Gratefully Sabrael held his head, trying to lose himself.
Long fingers wrapped around him gently working him to hardness. The warmth of Rei’s hand felt unspeakably good after all the turmoil, and he laid his head on his love’s shoulder, allowing himself to be pressed back against the waist-high wall where he raised his legs to rest on Rei’s hips. His muscles tensed as he clung to his him, ankles crossed at the small of his back. Rei’s thumb moved over the tip of his cock on every stroke, sending exquisite shivers all over.
“Rei,” he moaned quietly.
I’m here, my beauty,” he replied, slowly speeding his pace.
Sabrael felt his hips push forward and the head of his cock press against Rei’s stomach. The pressure grew as his sac tightened.
“I love you, Sabrael,” Rei whispered.
He came hard, hard enough he thought his ears might pop. As thick, pearly ropes of his come painted Rei’s stomach, Sabrael bit his tongue to keep from crying out too loudly.
“Good boy,” Rei breathed, pulling Sabrael’s head close to rest under his chin as he shuddered from the aftershocks.
Sabrael kissed his love as he let his legs down back into the warm water. He hadn’t felt anything from Rei throughout the entire short act, and it worried him such that it overshadowed the relief of his orgasm. But Rei wasn’t entirely flaccid…
He lowered himself to his knees as he held the thick rod, moving his hand slowly along its length before sliding his tongue along the underside, base to tip. He felt Rei’s hand begin stroking his hair gently, and finally there was some flicker of arousal. Even so, he hadn’t even properly begun fellatio before Rei pushed him away and helped him to his feet.
“What’s wrong?” Sabrael asked timidly.
“It’s just not happening.”
“But I haven’t even tried.”
“It’s not you, Sabrael. Please, let’s just clean up and get ready to go.”
Sabrael lowered his head and sniffed as his eyes began to burn. “You miss Clavicus, don’t you.”
“Does it matter?” he answered, scooping some of the cream-colored paste from the wooden jar he carried with him. He knelt down and ducked his head under the water before working the paste through his hair. “If I don’t want someone to touch me, I don’t want them to touch me.”
“But that’s why your emotions have been so dull to me.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, Sabrael.”
“You’re heartsick,” he said. “You’re heartsick not even a day after being with him, and you’re trying to hide it.”
“That’s enough,” Rei said. He was calm, but there was a definite edge to his voice. “I’ve enough to think about without you putting my name to your thoughts.”
Sabrael looked down at his fingers.
“I haven’t seen Tauryon in four hundred years, and, frankly, I’m surprised he’s still alive, never mind looking as good as he does. I want this to be a nice evening, so let’s not taint it by having a quarrel just before.”
Everything after moved silently and mechanically. He watched Rei don a crimson silk shirt and tight tan breeches, watched him scrub his hair one more time with a towel before studying himself in the mirror while he applied his pomade.
“Why aren’t you dressed?” he asked eventually.
“I don’t know what I should wear. I don’t have anything very nice yet.”
Rei rolled his eyes. ” ‘Nice’ is relative. So long as your clothes aren’t motheaten and filthy you can make them nice by carrying yourself well. I’ve seen plenty of scullery maids who could manage to not look dead common even as they worked.”
“Don’t be sorry, just get dressed. What about…What about those dark leather pants, hm? Put those on and a linen shirt if one is still clean, and that jacket you haven’t worn since I bought it.”
Sabrael nodded and began pawing through his things until he found everything Rei called for.
“See?” Rei said. “Very nice. Now just pull your hair back, take some of my cologne if you want it, and we’ll pack and be on our way.”
“You really think I look nice?” Sabrael ventured.
“Of course I do. I think you’re beautiful, just as always. And don’t worry about selling it to Tauryon, if that’s your concern; he’s already bitten.”
“He fell for you right from the start.”
“How do you know?”
“The way he looked at you, the way he spoke. He’s quite taken.”
Sabrael swallowed and turned his attention to his bags.
Tauryon’s townhome was, at least on the outside, treading a pleasant line between ornate and austere. The lantern by the stoop burned orange against the dying pink of dusk, and a planter full of blue alyssum sat by the door to welcome them. Sabrael wasn’t soothed, though. His muscles ached from the tension, and as Rei rapped on the door with the brass knocker, his heart skipped about two beats.
“Yes?” a small Bosmer girl in a neat black dress and shoes greeted them. “Oh, you must be Master Tauryon’s friends. He’s just up in his study. Please, come in.”
Sabrael looked all around in awe. There was marble everywhere, lots of plants, books upon books…
“You’ve come!” Tauryon called from the staircase. “Excellent. Have you eaten? I haven’t.”
Sabrael was suddenly aware that they hadn’t eaten in quite some time.
“Actually not since breakfast” Rei said, letting the maid take his bags. “It’s been a bit of a day.”
“Well let’s see about remedying that,” Tauryon said, leaning around to call after the maid: “Tirwyn? Whenever you’re able, dear.”
“Yes, Master Tauryon.”
Tauryon led them into the small dining room where a square table, with three places set, sat beneath a glowing chandelier. Sabrael took one of the seats next to the empty one, with Rei at his left, and Tauryon straight across. Tirwyn was quick, and the first thing she did was fill everyone’s goblets. Sabrael chewed his lip and looked at the cup nervously.
“What’s wrong, dear Sabrael?” Tauryon asked. His hand was under the bowl as if he were about to raise a toast. It was a tone of genuine concern, even if it was spoken with his lofty cadence.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he ventured with a voice he himself could barely hear. “Alcohol doesn’t sit very well with me. It makes me sick.”
“Sabrael,” Rei chided.
“Hush, Celedaen. I won’t be known for making my guests ill. What would you prefer? Do you like tea? I have a brilliant jasmine I just brought in from the Gold Coast, can you imagine?”
Sabrael shrank back as he smiled, trying not to giggle as he answered, “No. I mean, no, I can’t imagine. I’d love to try it, if you’re offering.”
“Of course I insist,” Tauryon smiled. “And you’re right about the plant. Seems it grows all sorts of places now than it used to. Tirwyn?”
In a moment the little Bosmer reappeared, looking a bit more harried. “Yes, sir?”
“Put the kettle on. Brew some of that jasmine tea, for Sabrael here, if you would. And make it for him the way you do mine.”
“Right away, sir.”
“He won’t know what to do now with two men spoiling him,” Rei smirked as he took a drink.
“Does he spoil you, Sabrael?”
A warmth filled him as he contemplated the truth of it all. “He likes to see me happy, is all,” he answered shyly.
“My, my, what has gotten into you, Celedaen?”
“Who’s to say? I suppose I should mention that my name is Rei Ginsei. Celedaen, at least in name, is no longer among us.”
“My, how dramatic! So is that a first-last sort of situation, or…”
“Vile would tell you in no uncertain terms that my true and proper name is ‘Rei Ginsei’, and that you would do well to address me as such. But if you find it saves time, I personally don’t mind ‘Rei’.”
“To think it actually worked,” Tauryon mused quietly. “All this time I thought it’d gone wrong.”
“Well, you vanished! The only likely explanations I saw for your disappearance were your having run afoul of Clavicus Vile or having fled the island via boat, which I thought was beyond unlikely, given your fear of the water.”
“That’s what I did, though. I stole a few sleeping potions from my mother’s alchemy lab and spent as much time as I could aboard that merchant ship asleep.”
“But why leave that way?”
“Well, look at me,” Rei said. “I’ve made do on the continent, but that’s only because I’m not the son of two nobles.”
“You left quite the hole in our society, Rei. Whether people hated you, feared you, or loved you, there were few ruckuses I ever witnessed like that which followed your disappearance. Your parents, gods rest them, if you had ever wanted to see a peace treaty in your household that was the way to have done it.”
“Purely out of parental love, I’m sure.”
“Nothing else,” Tauryon insisted. “Your poor mother, especially, went nearly mad. She was convinced until the day she died alone in that old manse that one of those who suspected you had managed to kill you. Your father took care of her as best as he could, but his health failed before hers. She held on for a remarkably long time until it seems she was reaching up from her chair to grab a book off the mantle and pulled a marble bust down onto her head in the process.”
Sabrael felt his stomach turn, and his hands went to his mouth.
“It was as much as she deserved, that old bat,” Rei said coldly as he looked into his wine glass.
“Rei!” Sabrael protested. “How could you say that?”
Rei lifted his free hand into a shrug, looking positively perplexed. “In twenty-five years, the best she could do was tell the help to swat me when I’d misbehaved. Why should I care that she brained herself decades after she decided I was worth something to her besides an heir? I swear, if she could’ve replaced one of my horses at show with me, she would have.”
“I’m sorry,” Tauryon interjected, raising one hand against the upset. “This wasn’t the time, and I shouldn’t have gotten into the gruesome details. I only meant to say, Rei, that you were missed. Even if it was by only a few people, in the end.”
Rei raised his glass in a sarcastic toasting gesture, rolling his eyes petulantly. His emotions were still a bit murky, but they were intensifying enough that Sabrael could feel the resentment and the anger.
Thankfully, Tirwyn returned with the tea tray and poured a cup for Sabrael.
“One lump or two, sir?” she asked.
“Um. Two,” Sabrael said against the lump already in his throat. “Two, please.”
She poured some cream into the cup and stirred it before handing it over. Sabrael smiled at her, and was happy to receive one back. He wondered if she knew what shyness was like.
“Excellent,” Tauryon chirped. “Now, let’s pretend all that nastiness never happened and drink to new beginnings and, Sabrael, to new friends!”
The rest of the evening went well. Most of it saw Sabrael just listening, and oftentimes drifting around in his own mind as two ancient friends caught up. He wasn’t part of their world, and that was alright for now. Rei cradled him in his lap when they all retired to the study, although it seemed more like something he would do out of habit. He could smell his cologne, though, his pomade as it mixed with the shampoo he used, and when Sabrael tightened his embrace, he was happy to feel Rei’s arm tighten around him. He and Tauryon smoked pipes filled with rich Khajiiti tobacco, and drank whisky that smelled of sweet wood. By the end of it all, he was almost asleep against Rei’s chest. When they retired for the night, Sabrael was quick to undress and slip between the fine sheets of the large guest bed, but Rei only sat cross-legged on top of the covers once he’d disrobed.
“What’s wrong?” Sabrael asked. The turmoil was back, and it hurt worse than before.
Rei shook his head. He was chewing the thick claw of his thumb, something he never did.
“You’re so upset, Rei, I wish you’d let me help you somehow.”
“There’s nothing you can do.”
“I can love you.”
Rei looked over, and Sabrael nearly jumped. He didn’t need to be linked with him to know the state of his heart. His eyes were bright in the way a frightened animal’s grow bright, but they were intensely ambitious and eager, as well. What he had to be either ambitious or eager about, Sabrael felt it best not to think about. In any case, he let Rei take his lips in a long kiss.
“I need my master,” he said.
“I won’t be long.”
Sabrael didn’t know what else to say, and just watched Rei appear to shut down, head bowed, hands on his knees, until, finally, he faded from sight.
Before he laid down, Sabrael blew out the candles. He would have preferred them lit, but he supposed it was rude to let someone else’s candles burn down. He climbed back under the covers and lay there, hoping that “won’t be long” actually meant what it sounded like. His stomach was in knots, and all of his muscles felt like they were on fire. He tossed and turned, his mind racing, until a knock on the door startled him.
“C-Come in,” he called, sitting up.
It was Tauryon who opened the door, holding a candle and clad in a plum-colored bathrobe. “I heard crying. Is ev- Where’s Rei?”
“Rei went to see his master,” Sabrael said. “Clavicus Vile.”
“Well that’s awfully rude. And he just left you behind?”
“Vile’s jealous of me. He doesn’t want me around.”
There was silence for a moment while Sabrael licked his lips and looked down at the bump in the bedspread which marked his crossed ankles.
“May I sit?” Tauryon asked.
Sabrael nodded and scooted farther up the bed, mindful of where the covers were in relation to his genitals.
“I don’t know how much you were paying attention, or if you even could have figured it if you were, but did you know that I was madly, madly in love with Celedaen?”
“I suppose I could have guessed,” Sabrael sighed. “Did he know?”
“Oh, my, no,” Tauryon chuckled. “One of the worst mistakes one could ever make was to profess love to him.”
“He told me about that stable hand.”
“That poor boy. He wasn’t the only one, though.”
“How did Rei keep getting away with it?”
“Well, nobody cares about the help and peasants are peasants. Other nobles were more or less protected from him by virtue of their station, but that was only until he discovered that, not only did he have the stomach for murder, but he liked it, too. He was quite good at hiding the evidence, although some had their suspicions.”
“I guess that wasn’t enough.”
“Not for a young man of his breeding.”
Sabrael looked down at his hands, suddenly interested in the way the orange light of the candle faded as it crossed them. “You seem so nice,” he said finally, “but you apparently helped him, and earlier you said you hurt people.”
“I couldn’t tell you what drew Celedaen to me, in the first place. Twice a week the few noble children from the three neighboring villages would gather in one of their parents’ homes for tutoring. These were all about etiquette and decorum, you see, with a healthy dose of nationalistic indoctrination. Things that aren’t easy to teach one-on-one. There were four girls, and three boys, and one pair of those were brother and sister, so for exercises involving pairs, things could get awkward.”
Sabrael smiled a little at the image.
“The girls all wanted to be with Celedaen, and who wouldn’t, honestly? Especially after he hit that first growth spurt. Two feet over the course of one summer! He was handsome, and so quiet! It was that air mystery, and when he got that title, whoever gave it to him: The Serene Silver Star! Who could resist?
“The girls would squabble sometimes over pairing. It was me or him; the third boy I suppose was deemed to be outclassed. In any case, nobody could ever know that I wanted him more than anyone or anything. My nights were filled with thoughts of him, and my days were spent pining for the next gathering. I never dared talk to him.
“One day, and even now I couldn’t tell you why, he walked up and began talking to me. Conspiratorial things, you know, like we’d been partners in crime for years. Grousing about the nerve of so-and-so, and what could I do but agree? He would ride over to visit, or I’d go to visit him, and we would complain about this or that. We would plan.”
“Were you two ever, you know, close?” Sabrael asked.
“Intimate? Oh, no,” Tauryon chuckled quietly. “He was so volatile, and I was close to him. I didn’t even want to ask for a kiss lest I ruin what I had, or worse. By the time he was seventeen it was no real secret that he’d sleep with anything that moved, and there were takers, male and female, but it was an unspoken wisdom that one could only hope for his attention.”
“So what role did you play in the murders?”
“Oh, I’d plan kidnappings with him. Ride with him to different parts of the island to stake out new targets. I’d make diversions and concoct alibis in the case that they would be needed. I never directly participated; that was his domain, and I don’t know why it didn’t so much then, but thinking on it now makes me shudder. Taking people’s lives, their souls, was something he saw as a right, and he guarded that right from me very jealously, even though I never expressed any particular interest.”
Sabrael took a shuddering breath. “So what about what you do now?”
“There’s a difference, though I suppose some might call such differences academic. Causing pain isn’t something I enjoy or look forward to; it’s part of my job as a member of the Thalmor and a believer in the proliferation of the Aldmeri Dominion. There are interrogators who see it as a perk; I see it as a last resort, but regardless of the case, it’s a question of safety. If branding a recalcitrant prisoner gets them to tell me something important, it doesn’t really matter how I arrived there.”
“Like a discussion best saved for later, dear Sabrael,” Tauryon interrupted. “I’m relieved to see Celedaen. Rei. I’m relieved that, for better or worse, Vile took him in. But in retrospect, I feel shame at what I did, all in the name of approval from someone that, in the end, only amounted to an infatuation.”
Sabrael swallowed and absently traced the pattern of the bedspread with a finger.
“How long have you been with him?”
“Two weeks,” he sighed. “Give or take.”
“I’m sorry to see he’s hurt you, but I have to say it’s clear that he loves you, and that’s quite a feat.”
“Oh, yes. He’s soft with you. Do you know how many people would have met their end just thinking about being cradled the way you were?”
“I feel like I’ve cheated.”
“How do you mean?” Tauryon asked.
“He said he never felt love before I found him,” he said. “He said last night he thinks the part of his soul I have has been corrupted, that it’s not really his anymore.”
“Ah, the soul bond he mentioned.”
Sabrael nodded, sniffling as fresh tears filled his eyes. “I think he might be right. I’m worried I’m making him feel something that hurts him.”
“You sweet thing,” Tauryon smiled softly. He moved closer and held his arms open, and Sabrael leaned gratefully into them. “Love by itself can’t hurt us. Your Rei Ginsei, well, he has a lot of problems, and he always did. I don’t know about his hobbies, such as they are, but I think his parents played a huge role in his ability to cope with the more benevolent emotions. You saw how he reacted to news of his mother’s death.”
Something occurred to Sabrael. “He never tried to kill his parents?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean he’d never thought of it. If he did, he never said anything. He tried very hard to please them. I think his reaction to being loved speaks to his perceived failure at winning his parents’ affections.”
“I’m so foolish,” Sabrael said suddenly, feeling his chest hitch.
“Why?” Tauryon asked as he rubbed his back soothingly.
“I’m only a couple of years younger than you both, and my entire life has been devoted to being with Rei. A kelpie only has to swim and enjoy life, but I went and did all this, and it took centuries. And now that I’m with him, we only had a few days where everything was nice, and ever since then he’s just been getting more and more unstable, and I know it’s my fault.”
“You can’t blame yourself for someone else’s instability,” Tauryon assured him. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for him, and I don’t know what happens to a soul when it’s trapped for so long. I suppose it’s possible that deterioration occurs and that it could have exacerbated his usual state. And then to add an intense love to it all, it must be overwhelming.”
“I feel like I should leave and at least take that part away.”
“You could do that,” Tauryon said. “Nobody would blame you. If you stay, you’ll just have to be a stronger force than his whirlwind.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Sabrael said. “I’m such a fraidy cat. He’s so scary sometimes.”
“You have time, my dear.”
Sabrael felt a warm hand on the back of his head, and he squeezed Tauryon more tightly. It was so nice to be with someone with perspective and who was in control of his emotions.
“Yes?” he asked.
“Would you kiss me?” Sabrael asked, pulling back from the embrace.
“I’ve wanted to all evening,” he admitted. “But would Rei mind?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to think about Rei.”
Tauryon leaned forward and Sabrael tilted his head eagerly upward to feel soft lips on his. He tasted stale whisky and tobacco, which wasn’t terribly pleasant, but it was new and it was now burned forever in his mind as Tauryon’s taste.
“Would you…” he asked timidly, “would you love me? Just this once?”
Tauryon smiled softly and brushed his hair back. “Let’s go back to my room.”
Sabrael smiled and took the hand that was offered to him. The relief of diversion was settling in, and for once, he didn’t feel the need to think too hard about Rei Ginsei.