This is another older short story (the newest edit of the file before today was dated in 2002) that I wrote as a side piece to CTSS to try to explain some of the dynamics of my characters’ relationships. I’d never intended this to be more than an exercise to play with things I saw happening between Atyriia and Valistii (I definitely never planned to publish it in any form). But, because of this story, I realized so many more conflicts that I had not known about were laying there, not just the mystical ones involving Atyr’s powers, but I suddenly realized that ‘Listii must have powers of his own. I realized that there was more going on that simply Valichii being off on a family mission and that if such events as these happened frequently, perhaps I needed to consider the social and political impact of the Hastor family further. Which, of course, opened up several more cans of worms and has led to two more complete reworkings of Courting the Swan Song and an abandonment of the majority of Release as the whole world of the Antianii and Wanderer people changed according to the actions of this seminal family.
As you read this, realize that I no longer consider this story to be canon. Even the non-canonical Unnamed Story I’ve been posting in the Tuesday Snippets which uses this as part of its inspiration does not draw fully on it.
A First Last Evening
If there were any other way, he’d told her. There wasn’t. It was duty like any other.
Atyr stared bleakly around the small common room of their suite. Their last night here before they moved to Korfiir as its Lord and Lady and Val had been forced to leave her. Val had managed to trade his duty night with one of his uncles, so that he might spend that night with her at least. That would be the one sure night they would have as their own until their wedding. Love and romance did not have a high priority in a vassal’s duties.
But in trading that night, he’d been forced to leave her for a duty that made her near want to die.
Rationally, she knew Val had no interest in the whoring. It was simply a fine way of gathering information. It didn’t always mean the men slept with the women. Val put them off as long as he could. Unlikely as it seemed, her betrothed lord was far from a womanizer.
But it might happen, she thought grimly. ‘Listii, Val’s twin brother, had met his wife on such duty. What if Val found himself another lover? She was already carrying his child. Could she accept it if her betrothed found his soul-mate elsewhere?
She was about to cry herself to sleep when there was a gentle knock on the suite door. She’d, by force of habit, bade the knocker “enter” before she had decided whether she wanted company of not.
‘Listii and Riia, his she-ox of a wife, came in. The burlish ti-Hastor carried an ewer of drink and three mugs. “Thought you might need for something to make the night pass faster,” the Hastor son said quietly.
Both husband and wife looked to her with sympathetic brown-eyed gazes. The experience was not new to them. ‘Listii still had to leave his wife’s bed for duty to his family every once in a while and play court to some lord’s serving wenches.
Riia set down the tray and filled a mug for her. “Poor little lamb,” the woman cooed. “You look as lost as all that an’ more.” The large muscular woman leaned down and kissed her brow as a mother would her child. “Drink hearty. It’ll be over soon enough.”
Atyr looked at the brew in her glass grimly. By the smell, it was some of Venor’s private stock heady and strong and now spiced with cinnamon and honey.
They drank the ewer down rather swiftly. Of course, with the company she had to help her imbibe, things could have gone no other way. Riia and her husband were noted for their celebratory nights, where they spent most of their time in loud drinking contests. The servers dreaded those eves, with the singing of the pair floating behind them as they scurried down the halls in search the kitchen so they could return with newly filled ewers of ale and mead.
Valichii had been the one blessed with a singer’s voice of the twins. Valistii was the one that liked to sing. Indeed, the two were an incredible combination; nearly identical (Valichii was older by a glass), they were fair opposites in all other aspects.
Val was quiet and retiring. ‘Listii loved a crowd. Valichii had made his life in the military, focusing his mind on strategy and numbers. Valistii didn’t enjoy the battlefield or the dance of swords.
Val had sung for her once, the eve they were betrothed. He played a mandolin that night. There hadn’t been time since then due to his duties as Army Commander, though he’d promised to let her dance to his lute some eve before their wedding.
But if he found himself another love… Without realizing what her tongue was doing, she spoke aloud her fears to the pair companying her.
‘Listii gave a derisive snort. “As if it were possible. I knows my brother, Atyr. T’ain’t likely he’ll even notice what he’s with, all for wishing he were back here a-laying with you.”
“But you and…”
The younger twin’s hand slid fondly to rest on his wife’s knee, but he still laughed at her fears. “Mouse, my brother is so fool in love with you, Myékis Herself wouldn’t catch his eye if she walked up to him with no scrap of cloth to hide Her Glory and kissed him full on the lips. And there t’ain’t many wenches can compare even on their best days and your worst…”
“But…” She sighed. “I know that,” she conceded finally. “My heart knows that at least. But I’m scared, even so. And…” She stopped herself short from boldly stating her thought.
Not that it wasn’t echoed in ‘Listii’s gaze. The man’s hawk dark eyes were as frank as his twin’s in their appraisal. For the moment, they were full of gentle understanding.
The younger twin glanced over to his wife. Atyr saw the woman nod quietly. Then Riia gathered up the mugs and ewer and leaned down to kiss her husband, before the woman walked out the door.
For a second Atyr stared at the door in confusion. Then as the reason for the woman’s retreat became obvious, she paled. “Oh, dear…”
“She’s not angry, Atyr.”
She looked over her one remaining visitor ready to deny his words swiftly. He shook his head gently, raising his hand slightly to break off her protests. “If you must know, she and I planned this with my brother last eve.”
“With Val?” Atyr blinked. “He…”
Valistii nodded quietly. “He’s done the same for me on occasion. I don’t like leaving Riia alone nights. And since this is your first night, Val wanted you to have company–that is, if you wish,” he ended softly.
She blushed, seeing the interest in ‘Listii’s gaze. Wish? She certainly didn’t wish to be alone. She only blessed the fact that she was not tied by life or soul to her betrothed. If she’d had to feel the man’s tryst…
Or if he knew she was accepting his brother into their bed.
‘Listii helped her undress. His hands were light, sometimes trembling, as if this were something he’d prayed for, for a long time. Val’s normally steadfast hands did that regularly while they prepared to gain their bed.
She started from her thoughts by his rough voice. “Yes, ‘Listii?”
He hesitated, holding the laces of her bustier. He looked at his hands for a moment then met her eyes uncertainly. “I know I should not ask. But…but would you be angry if I kissed you?”
Even knowing where the question came from, she could not help but feel that it should have seemed absurd. Still, for a family that allowed–Hell, required–their sons to violate the sanctity of marriage oaths, she appreciated knowing there was a way for the women to know their men’s true feelings for them. For a Hastor man to kiss a woman was to give her the highest compliment and to say that he loved her beyond all else. ‘Listii wasn’t asking her permission to begin the caressing. He was telling her that he loved her.
She blinked. “Riia won’t–“
His sandy brown hair fell into his face when he shook his head. “Riia knew I wanted to.”
“And?” she pursued.
“She asked me not, but…” He sighed, raising a hand to caress her hair gently. “I can’t deny how I feel. I am in love with you, Atyr. I know you are Val’s lady. I know you love him. But for this one night, at least, I would like you to be mine.”
She looked down slowly, wondering if Val knew his brother’s thought. And Riia… She’d asked her husband to not do this. ‘Listii was only supposed to be giving her comfort, perhaps even share her bed as a lover…as long as there were only the caring of sibs between them.
Valistii’s forehead leaned down on her hair. His voice was taut and impassioned. “Please, Atyr. It can’t be wrong for me to love you and my wife both. I won’t try to take you away from my brother, if that is what you fear. I love him more than anything. But–I can’t just bed you, Atyr. I need to love you, if I am to stay here.” His breath came hot, rapid and tense. He shivered as he tried to pull her close to him. “Please don’t make this less than it should be.”
“And what should it be, ‘Listii?” she asked gently, easing herself away enough to see hope fail in his dark eyes.
They were scared and worried. A small tear formed in his right. “It should be a sharing between two people who love each other. But even if you don’t…”
She sighed, reaching up a finger to close his lips. “I do, ‘Listii. Not as much nor as deeply as I do Val, but…” She moved a hand to caress his face. “It would be an honor if you would kiss me.”
With no hesitation his lips fell upon hers, only pausing for a second as she caught her breath, for him to murmur, “Thank you, my lady. Ni nassil.”
His most beloved?
He was beyond gentle with her, lifting her in his arms and carrying her to the bed, before he undressed himself. He did so slowly, looking often at her, his gaze soft and appreciative.
She watched equally interested, though for a lesser purpose. In her mind, the inevitable comparisons arose. She watched as he fumbled with the laces on his breeches, studying the lines of his muscles. Val’s body was more scarred, his muscles more defined and harder. ‘Listii’s movements were lighter. When he eased next to her, he was gentler than warm water flowing over her body. Val’s manhood leaned up and to the right. ‘Listii’s pointed straight out.
Even after he’d entered her she felt differences. His manner was very different, thought his lips touched hers with no less frequency. Desperation and amazement was echoed in every caress he gave her, whereas Val’s manner was reassured, calm and content. Her betrothed acted as if each time they made love it was a delight to make last as long as possible. ‘Listii acted as if at any moment she would force him away from her side for failing her. She felt nearly ready to scream from his frantic hard thrusts.
He kept murmuring things like “Dear Goddess, I love you, Atyr” and “You are so beautiful.” He was crying. His kisses tasted salty with tears. When she finally begged him to slow down, to be more gentle, he flinched like a beaten puppy, as if the pain were his. From then on, he was so careful to hold back his passion she had to tell him it was fine and not to worry.
“But I want you to enjoy…”
“You want a lot of things, love,” she teased gently, easing herself from beneath him.
“Your pleasure with me?” he asked quietly. “Is that a sin to wish?” Hesitant for a moment as she made her intentions clear, he helped her gently straddle him. His hands touched her breasts, tracing their lines until one had moved up to touch her chin. He pulled her down to kiss again. “As it is, beloved Atyr, I will be leaving this bed a broken man. Allow me the pleasure of knowing the sacrifice was not a vain one.”
She leaned down to kiss him again. “A broken man?”
He drew back, letting his hair frame his face gently on the pillow. “When my wife and brother see us tomorrow, they’ll know.” He took one of her hands in his and kissed it. “I’ll never have the chance to hold you again.”
She knew he was right. For a moment there was nothing to say. Finally she sighed, laying herself down next to him. “And if we had not kissed?”
He shrugged. “Who knows?” He stroked her hair from her eyes lightly. “Val probably would not have forbidden me to be your solace when he was away. Riia would likely be accepting as long I did not choose to be here every time. We’d be lovers–I’d have many moments with you alone.” He sighed, pulling her to him tightly. “But I cannot do that. To treat you so would be damnable. My feelings for you are very real. I cannot deny them, public or private. I’d rather have a single night of real love in your presence than a thousand of lies and denial.”
“I understand, ‘Listii.”
He stared into her eyes a moment, then nodded. “I know you do, Atyr. Yes, I know.”
Somewhere amid tender kisses and touches, they fulfilled each other. Then satisfied and weary, she nestled in his arms. He gave her a final kiss, thanking her, and they fell asleep.
Morning found him gone. Her betrothed was sitting at the edge of the bed next to her. His expression was one of hesitance, his gaze unfathomable.
“I sent him back to Riia,” he whispered in a voice laced with weariness. It seemed he’d not found any sleep that night. She heard one of his boots fall to the floor and then the other. He stared at the door. “Would you care if I joined you, little mouse?”
“Nothing would make me happier,” she replied. She watched his eyes as he looked down at his scarred hands.
Despite his request, he made no move to take the place she’d created for him. He stared at the floor. “Was your eve pleasant, my lady?” he asked finally.
“Yes.” She took his manner to heart, his hesitance, his awkwardness. Had he known how much ‘Listii had wanted to bed me? She decided he hadn’t and had not found the discovery pleasant. To draw his thoughts away from his brother, she inquired if he’d enjoyed his eve as well.
It got an answer, the one she’d hoped for. “Not at all,” was his blunt response. “The woman was dirty, an ill-tempered, loud bitch. She demanded I treat her as a love.”
He glared at her. “Of course not. Even were my life dependent on it, I would never kiss another woman. I’d rather die.”
She took that with a wince. Certain he knew what had ensued between ‘Listii and she then, she dared neither acknowledge nor deny the truth. Finally he sighed, meeting her gaze. His hands clutched at the blankets, though whether from anger or fear, she couldn’t tell.
“My brother kissed you, didn’t he?”
She nodded, looking at the sheet to avoid him. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know if he was angry or hurt.
He sighed. “And you? Did you, Atyr?”
No sigh this time, just a short hiss of intaken breath. A tense moment passed. “Did you mean it?” he asked finally, barely over a whisper. When she hesitated, he took her hand, raising it to his cheek, but not kissing it. “I’d rather the truth, Atyr.”
She sighed and met his gaze, seeing only sadness. “I know. It just isn’t…”
“Easy?” he asked calmly. “No one said that love was easy. Do you love ‘Listii, Atyr?”
She nodded slowly, knowing it wasn’t worth a lie. The brothers loved and cared for each other more than all else. To hurt one was to hurt both. To lie to one… “Yes.”
He dropped her hand, looking away. “I was afraid of this.”
“Afraid?” she asked quietly, trying to meet his eyes.
He nodded, his eyes glued to the wall. “I knew I wasn’t enough to hold your heart. But I love you,” he said slowly, finally turning to look at her. “If it means you won’t leave me, I’ll willingly share your attention.”
She blinked. “You aren’t mad?”
“Of course I am,” was his grim answer. “I’m mad at ‘Listii for stealing your heart from me. I’m mad at the Seir for damning me with this duty, mad at that wench for being in bed with me instead of you–of course, I’m mad! I’m fur–“
She stopped him, sitting up and raising his chin so that he had to look directly at her. “No, Val. ‘Listii didn’t steal my heart. I sent it with you, so that hopefully you wouldn’t find someone to steal you from me. I gave it to you the day we became betrothed. Val… Valichii Miniira, you are my lord. I love you. I love ‘Listii as well, but not the same way. He is dear to me, as dear as kin, but I don’t want to be his lover.”
Her betrothed looked at her for a moment. “He loves you, Atyr.”
She nodded. “I know. And he loves Riia. He doesn’t want to be my lover either..not in his heart. He found what he wanted, the knowledge that I cared. It’s enough. And I think you’ll find out he’ll agree.”
Val looked at her for a moment, then smiled weakly. “He’s already said as much, Atyr. We talked before he left.”
“I should have suspected.” She sighed, meeting his gaze admonishingly. “So why were you afraid, Val? Did you truly think that you mean so little to me that you could be replaced so easily?” She knew the answer and before he could give it, she laughed, pressing him to the bed beneath her. “Foolish love. There is no man who can replace you. Not even your twin.”
She kissed him. And this time he was not hesitant in responding.