On Saturday (before the tummy bug of all tummy bugs), an old friend and I went to see the Albany Symphony Orchestra perform the Firebird Suite, and several other pieces at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. We ended up having seats in the third row, which made for an incredible experience, given how intimate the music hall already is.
If you ever get a chance to see the Albany Symphony live, please do. This has been my fifth experience with them this year, and it always seems as if they cannot out-do their last show, but somehow they manage it. Even people who say they dislike classical music (like my friend, who somehow has been eager to go to the last two and has made plans with me for the next show) can find themselves delighted.
And on that note, I’m off in moments to another concert starring Megan Muthersbaugh at the piano as soloist, in a smaller venue at St. Paul’s Troy. It should be delightful.
Before I go, let me include the next segment of my Nameless Story. I hope you are all enjoying it. So does anyone else like ‘Listii as their favorite character?
They walked through the halls in silence, presumably to not disturb the rest of the House.
‘Listii knew better.
Something had changed. He wasn’t sure of when it had changed, whether it had happened during her long absence or today. He was fairly sure it didn’t involve Alanii. She’d never had a problem discussing her relationship with his sovereign with him.
Definitely not Alanii Vestimiir. Val?
He cast that thought aside as well. If she’d spent a moment from her life discussing her ‘tianii, she’d spent years discussing Val: screaming about him, crying, laughing, puzzling over him, dreaming. It wasn’t unlikely that Val was involved in some way, but it wasn’t what had changed.
It struck him as a cold shiver creeping along his spine, verified by a sideways glance at her. She’d been looking at him rather than where she was going. As soon as she noticed his glance, she looked away.
Him. Whatever had changed, it concerned him.
Given that, he considered her behavior for the day. Anything longer wouldn’t be likely to have affected things this strongly, this fast.
Most of what struck him about her behavior….
He pursed his lips together as they arrived at the main dining room entrance to the kitchen. He reached inside the door to run his hand across the light sensor, then stepped back so she could enter before him. Inside, he headed them to the left and the servant’s dining area.
She’d been more aware of him today than normal. He’d already noticed that. But was it more aware of him, or perhaps, he considered uncomfortably, she’d been more aware of him versus his brother.
That would fit the way she was acting, attracted and upset by the attraction.
He eased out a chair for her to sit in while he went to the brewer to make them some tea. Whiteflower bark and imported pekoe, he decided. It was going to be a long night.
While he poured water in the unit, he considered other pieces of the puzzle. It was clearly more than she’d finally realized that he was his brother’s identical twin.
Val’d been three weeks into his meditation. Three weeks of guastu…. ‘Listii thought about it. He remembered his experience with the drug. Any Guardsman would remember that nasty taste, endured in training sessions on how to detect additives in food, particularly slow killers and mind-altering substances such as guastu.
He’d had less than a spoonful of the drug at the time, and it had made him sick for days with nausea. The average weekly cup of guastu was rumored to be ten times what he’d taken.
Suddenly everything fell together: Atyr’s attraction to him, her distress, Val’s lack of contact….
Val had finished three such cups.
He had to make a conscious effort to make sure that he didn’t drop the water, and the effort needed to finish pouring it was greater than he’d ever imagined. He set the pitcher down as soon as there was enough for the tea he’d put in.
Then he leaned against the counter.
Behind him, he heard the chair move, the faint swish of fabric. Her hand, trembling as much as his own were, touched his shoulder.
“I’m sorry, ‘Listii.”
“Why for? You didn’t do it to him.” He didn’t look at her. “Does he have a chance?”
He could have accepted Val’s death if that was what his brother had truly wanted. But to accept it now, knowing how much the man hoped to live and wanted to stay? He’d felt the determination through the filia, Val’s intense desire to grasp the chance in front of his eyes.
“I don’t know.”
If anything, that answer was more upsetting than hearing “No” would have been from her. He’d seen her perform things barely short of miracles, things that still confounded modern science in its attempts to achieve the same results. For her to not know meant there was no relief, no chance to resolve his feelings.
She stepped around and leaned up against the counter next to him. “He’s eating slowly. Not nearly enough, but at least he was able to keep what he did take down. If I had my way, I’d have him in a hospital. But I’m not his priest. He has to finish the week even though he’s left the last cup.”
“The Goddess still has the right to claim him,” he whispered, filling in the words if only because he needed to have everything in the open now. There had been too many secrets in the family.
Out of the edge of his vision he saw her nod.
“I can’t change that, ‘Listii. Gods above, I wish I could. But I can’t.”
He realized she was looking at him now.
“And that’s why I shouldn’t sleep with you. It’s not fair to you or him. I shouldn’t use you to hide behind my fears for him…or the fact that he’s not physically what I want,” she ended wryly.
He snorted. Before answering her, he checked the tea. Then he looked at her, forced calm settling into something more substantial. “Fair has nothing to do with life, Atyr. I’d never bothered to waste the time convincing myself that any time we spent together would be more than my replacing Val physically when he couldn’t be with you. I’m not expecting more. If you wanted more, you’d have sought out Alanii.”
She blinked and started to protest, possibly deny his words. “‘Listii, I didn’t mean–“
He shook his head. “Atyr, I’m not upset. I dealt with it long ago. Val’s the one you love, not me. That’s the way things are.” He fought the urge to wince. It wasn’t her fault, he told himself.
She reached out a hand toward his face. “I’ve always cared for you as well, ‘Listii.” Her fingers lit on his cheek. “You’ll never be what your brother is to me, but I meant what I said all those years ago when your brother first shoved us together for comfort. Maybe you don’t remember?”
He smiled, wry humor chasing tails with a memory recently come to mind. “I remember, Atyr. One doesn’t forget things like that.” One might doubt them, toss them off as fool fancies, question they had ever happened. One didn’t forget them.
Atyr’s gaze lowered. “I don’t want to hurt you, ‘Listii.” She stepped closer to him. He was certain she did.
Or, maybe it was him.
“You won’t, Atyr. Not if you care as much as I see. That’s not like you.”
He was practically hovering over her now.
“I wouldn’t want to, ‘Listii, but I have hurt people I care about. I don’t–“
“They hurt themselves, Atyr.” One of his hands was on her hair now, toying with a tangle. The other was running down her shoulder and arm. “My brother, ‘Mara, Alanii…. They’re so caught in their own concerns for others, they hurt themselves. You do it too.” He tilted her chin upward toward his face.
Her neck drawn up at an angle that he could only imagine was uncomfortable, though she made no complaint. It only enhanced her dancer’s grace. Her response was only a whisper. “I know.”
“Hush,” he breathed, his lips only just missing hers.
Then they weren’t.
She couldn’t swallow. Oh, how she wanted to, but her neck was drawn up to the point that she couldn’t do so even indiscreetly. She couldn’t sigh, couldn’t do much, except respond.
Unlike the young father and husband she remembered, there was no nervousness, no awkwardness in ‘Listii’s touch. There wasn’t even a ghost of the hesitance he’d shown earlier.
His breath was sweet, with a faint tang of mint, either toothpaste or mouthwash. Very pleasant. His lips were seductively gentle, no frantic pressure, no sense of fear or rush as she’d expected from him. First he nipped her upper lip, then her lower, sucking lightly on each.
Thank the Goddess she could still breathe. Short, tense gasps but breaths no less.
Then a whisper of a sigh escaped him, or maybe a purr. His lips covered hers.
There was no arrogance, though self-assurance flowed through his touch. There was no desperate grasping at a long hoped for opportunity. There was intense passion and desire.
Long ago she had accepted the fact that Val had never been given the innocence and naivete that she’d had when they’d met. She’d never asked, but she fully believed that he’d taken his very first partner with surety and expertise.
Then, of course, there was his brother. ‘Listii had been the almost perfect opposite. Camp tales constantly recounted his misadventures, being caught in compromising positions when the majority of the Army and Guard could know what he’d been about.
And the one time he’d been her partner for a night…. His endearing uncertainty and shyness around her she’d been able to verify later with his wife as his usual manner. Atyr considered it the manner of one so concerned with how he was performing that he’d lost all sense of just enjoying the experience.
Riia had laughed about her ‘sweet, little boy’ saying that she’d been lucky to have found herself a man who wasn’t convinced of how good for women he was. ‘Listii’s wife had continued with some disparaging insinuations about Val’s belief in his own ability, suggesting that it was a bad thing.
Some of the Hastor women had called Riia a controlling, near castrating, bitch.
Atyr had never thought so. It had been very clear to her that ‘Listii and Riia had been happy together and much in love. But clearly the woman had consciously stifled one aspect of her husband’s maturity.
She couldn’t breathe now. It would take too much effort to disrupt the relaxed, easy going sensuality of his mouth upon hers. She settled, letting his hand cup her chin, his thumb and fingers making lazy strokes along her jaw.
She felt lightheaded, felt unable to respond. She snagged his shirt with her fingers as her other hand clutched at his short hair, as if to pull him away, or press him closer. Neither stopped him. His lips moved smoothly over hers, his tongue teased hers as it danced over her teeth, dodging her own.
Then, just as she felt her legs start to waver beneath her, he drew back, drawing out her lower lip lightly with his teeth. The rush of oxygen was as heady as the deprivation.
And ‘Listii, the bastard, hadn’t even gotten short of breath.
He smiled at her, sweetly, his expression not at all proud, but rather a blend of tenderness and enjoyment. More lightly, he placed another kiss on her lips. A fond one, quick and sweet.
“You interested in that tea now, Atyr?”
She nodded, still short of breath.
She waited as he started to pour two more traditional cups of tea than she’d had earlier, placed them and a small pot he filled from the brewer on a tray.
“Let’s bring this to the lounge,” he said.
“Your room will be fine, ‘Listii.” It wasn’t worth pretending she didn’t want to be with him. He knew she did and why. If he could accept her reasons the way Val clearly had, then she would be little short of a fool if she refused the comfort he offered.
His brow rose almost imperceptibly, then he nodded. “Could you get the lights, Atyr?”
She obliged, making a point to hold the door open for him as well. He smiled, thanking her and waiting for her to get the next one as well. The smooth stride he used while they walked the halls didn’t even disturb the small cup covers.
“You were on Palas duty recently, I see,” she commented, glancing at the tray. She hadn’t watched his preparations closely, but now she saw he’d done a very quick, but formal arrangement of for the tea.
He nodded, a move that contained no excesses in motion. “I’m on emergency leave actually. My tour wasn’t supposed to be over for another three months.” He smiled, not happily, not unhappily, rather blandly in general. “Not that I’m not on call, of course. Alanii can’t have his captains out of reach.”
She felt her brow rise, no doubt the reaction he’d been looking for. “Captain? You’ve been promoted?”
“Ten years ago actually, but I know no one told you. I’m on my second bar. You did know that Lan retired to take over the Academy?”
She nodded. “Alanii mentioned it when he told me about Lauren getting his first bar. Congratulations.”
His fitness made sense now. For all that a second bar captain was one of the top ranking officers in the Royal Acarian Guard, it was not a paperwork position. It required a large amount of diplomatic and combat experience to round out command.
‘Listii’d once hated combat.
“Though,” she added with a smile as they cleared the stairs. “It is hard to believe you’ve acquired a taste for soldiering.”
“I haven’t. I’ll never be the fighter my brother was. I’m in charge of our operatives.”
She allowed herself the luxury of another raised brow. “Are you sure you should be telling me this, ‘Listii?” Not that she would use the information against him if at all possible, but her people were not exactly at peace with his.
“Probably not.” He didn’t add anything, certainly no explanations.
They’d arrived at his room.
Have a great week. Next week’s post will have to be dealt with a bit differently, due to the under/over 18 issues. Any suggestions of how you would prefer to read it?