November 25, 2000
Disclaimer: Anackire and its characters belong to Tanith Lee. The first part of each section is taken directly from the book.
Rem has some issues to work out.
Once of Am Xai
Where the wood ran down the hill was a wide brilliant pool. Before he quite knew it, Rem found himself swimming across it with the boy. The light meal was no trouble, but after a while each of them turned on his back, floating on the buoyancy, staring up through the leaves to the day and, blinded, shut his eyes.
"That wolf," said Raldnor, "he must be somewhere near. We'll come on him before sunset." But then, "I never yet killed anything and liked it. The chase, yes. And it has to be done. But not to be liked. I'd suppose it's that way, killing men."
"Men are easier to kill," Rem said.
"More stupid than a beast, do you mean?"
"No. But easier."
After a long while the boy said, "To you, perhaps."
It would almost be possible to sleep in this water.
Presently, Lur Raldnor, less life-weary, swam for the bank. Rem watched him, the tanned body like a stripe of gold against the darker stripes of the trees.
The responses of his own flesh set Rem swimming again, up and down, efficient clockwork. He had no intention of coming out of the pool, watched in turn, and the evidence of Zastis on him like a blazon. One could blame changes of temperature and element only for so much.
When he did wade out, Raldnor was lying on his belly, head on his folded arms, eyes shut again. Then, as Rem walked to his clothes, there came an oath worthy of the mess hall at Istris.
"---*Anack*! Who did that to you?"
"There are whip lines across your back. A whip with teeth."
Rem had forgotten. It was a long while since someone had thought to comment or inquire. Not since Doriyos .
"Asleep on duty eight years ago, in the service of my King," he said, startled by his own paraphrasing bitterness.
Without prelude, for he had not heard Raldnor stir, he felt the boy's hand gracious yet firm against his spine. It was not an invitation, one sensed that. It was the magnetism of compassion. Before he could control the reflect, Rem shrugged him away. "No."
"I'm sorry. It can't still hurt you, can it?"
Rem dressed. Raldnor had stopped talking, standing naked at his back, clothed only in blamelessness.
His clothes clung damp to his skin, thick with the river's scent. The sun, glittering cold and distant through the trees, gave little warmth.
Lur Raldnor slept behind him on a patch of grass. Unable to doze, Rem looked out to the water, to the bright fence of trees beyond it. Lan was a place of silver pastels: uncivilized in pre-dawn youth. The foreignness of geography and landscape became palpable; he had a brief, unwanted thorn of longing for dark Karmiss.
"There are places in town ."
Not asleep, then. Rem's jaw tightened, then relaxed. He turned his head so that he could see Raldnor's face, blurred at the corner of his eye.
" where you could go," the boy finished uncertainly. He was propped up on one elbow, the shirt that covered him slipping off his shoulder.
"For what?" Rem said, dancing on the issue, his thoughts already moving forward: to make his apologies to Raldnor's father, where he would go; a map of Vis unfolded in his mind, blank in all directions.
Lur Raldnor said nothing, catching Rem's eyes for a moment then glancing away. "Nothing."
Rem's relief was not untainted. "The wolf," he said in reminder, but he didn't move to get up.
The touch on the back of his neck startled him, though he had caught the boy's movement. Lur Raldnor's fingers pressed against his skin through the damp chill of his shirt. If he shook him off again, Raldnor would not condemn him for it. But he struggled to be still.
"Your king ." Raldnor began.
His king, his prince. If it had been Kesarh kneeling behind him, the touch would have been more sure, the prelude to either possession or death.
("You can choose, soldier. Seek my sergeant and ask for ten lashes. When you have recovered from them, return to my service. Or else surrender your issue-weapons and the clothes I put on your back and lose yourself in the alleys or whatever other hole you were dug up from.")
Lur Raldnor's fingers left the back of his neck to cup the side of his face, tracing the line of his jaw.
Doriyos had known.
("You're in love with him, then. I mean, with your lord. Your Prince."
"Wake up. Stop talking like some coy girl. That was what I had you to avoid.")
There would have been daylight coming through the high arched windows of the palace room. A few minutes spared from the day's schedule to mark its inconsequentiality. Bright, not so Kesarh could see Rem's face, but so that Rem could see his.
"Lesson, guardsman. Never want something that someone else is in a position to give."
Lur Raldnor had not spoken. Rem could feel the tip of one finger at the corner of his mouth.
The shadow of Kesarh loomed behind him, but he could not sustain the image. Dark hair traveled the spectrum back into light; Kesarh's terrible beauty melted into soft flesh: the boy.
"Your father would not approve," Rem said roughly.
"Of what?" Lur Raldnor threw back at him, but Rem ignored him.
"Of this." He turned his head, leaving the hand in mid-air; then he shifted his body on the ground--toward Raldnor but only to gain room. Raldnor looked even younger, and Rem paused on the ground, his muscles geared to rise but stilled for the moment.
"I " Rem began, the guilt in his face apparent to Lur Raldnor, whose eyes hardened at the coming rebuff, already withdrawing. He stared at the boyish mouth, pale pink. Kesarh would have kissed him hard and unyielding: giving nothing, but with a darker promise beneath it that Rem could not imitate with Raldnor.
Rem drew away, and Lur Raldnor looked grave.
"Rem," he said, but Rem was already up and walking away; over the crest of hill into the trees.
"Come to Anackyra, Rem," said Lur Raldnor. "It isn't just the war. It's everything else. That place is--like no other place on earth, because of what it was, what's happened there. You have to see it. Walk over it. You were the first-born; by Dorthar's laws you don't threaten Raldanash. It wasn't even legal--forgive me. But you're part of the legend, still here in the world, as he is."
Rem damned the legend, garishly.
"In any case," said Lur Raldnor, "I never did get that knife-to-sword pass as it should be."
"The passage to Hliha could take a quarter of a month. The crossing of Xarabiss is six days. The land journey to Dorthar is a deal longer than either." Rem looked round and confronted him. "In all that time, just suppose I can't keep my hands off you? We may end the most perfect of enemies."
Lur Raldnor looked quizzical.
"I thought the premise was I didn't know."
"If your father knew, he'd make sure you did. So you could be ready, how did he put it? To say 'No' loudly enough."
"I love my father," said Raldnor, "and I even revere him. A lot of the time, he can speak for me. Not all the time."
"You're saying you'd lie on your face like my whore?"
"No. I'm not saying that."
Humiliated by his own responses, Rem looked away. The boy said:
"When my mother was younger than I am now, she killed a man. He--your father--made her do it. By telepathy, willpower. It was when they broke Amrek's occupation of the ruined city in the Plains. She's never forgotten."
"That has something to do with this."
"This much. None of us know what there is in our blood, or souls, or minds. But what we are, what we can--or cannot--do, these things *make* themselves known. We don't need to always struggle toward them. Or away. It's like breathing, Rem. If we need it, it happens, without thought. Better, without thought."
The fireflies hung in the bushes, flaming.
Far off, the boy said to him, "Come to Anackyra, Rem."
They stayed the night in Olm and were invited to dine with their hosts, a proposition that left Rem brooding. The guests were left to themselves before then, and Rem, exploring with a need to separate himself if only for these few hours, found himself in a crumbling outbuilding attached to one of the outer gardens. Floor mosaics cracked into dust, the pillars at the corners dinged grey.
There was no statue of Anackire to mark it as a temple, but he thought that it must have been at one point, the statue perhaps removed to some other, more convenient location. He could smell the goddess here, the dust-scales of the snake.
"Longing for home already?"
He had known, with a soldier's knowledge, that Lur Raldnor had followed him; still, the words rang loudly in the room.
Rem had not been thinking of home, wherever he considered home now, but of the fleet that approached Lan's borders. At Amlan they said the King was commanding the fleet himself. Kesarh, once of Am Xai, now of all of Karmiss. The citizens of Lan may be unworried at the prospect of invasion, but Rem knew Kesarh too well.
"The ship leaves in the morning," he told Lur Raldnor, though it did not need reminding. "Six days to Xarabiss."
Lur Raldnor came up to next to him, where Rem had been standing at the far, cracked wall. There was a space of jagged air between the stones that looked out on another garden, overgrown and neglected.
Raldnor turned his too- friendly face to Rem's, catching his eye. "Are you troubled by it?"
"The travel?" Rem asked lightly, shifting very slowly away so that it would not appear as a slight.
Raldnor shook his head. "No," he said, but did not elaborate. He moved forward, brushing his hand along the cut and cracked stone of the wall, pulling away mortar chips in absent, tactile exploration.
"Why were you never with him?" he asked, with deceptive nonchalance; he was not looking at Rem.
Rem felt his face grow stiff, and his throat closed briefly before the reaction passed. Lur Raldnor did not wait for him to answer but was moving again, behind him now. Rem felt his hand on his shoulder.
Rem's breath caught in his throat and his chest burned. Lur Raldnor was just a boy. He could not trust him to do what he needed him to do.
Lur Raldnor's hand pressed harder and he found himself kneeling.
"Why did you love him?" Lur Raldnor whispered, high above him.
Love it wasn't love; it wasn't any kind of emotion. The tiles on the floor dug into his knees, and the pain ached warmly through the rest of him, his face flushing and his hands gripping tightly into fists.
Kesarh would have toyed with him. ("What do you want, guardsman?") Reclining on the bed, perhaps, or leaning by the window so his minions could stand at attention in the center of the room, stripped of protection and open to attack from all sides.
Lur Raldnor had moved to stand in front of him, and the smell of his arousal--rich tones of youth and barely-awakened lust--anchored in Rem's gut. His nostrils, overwhelmed, flared in useless defense. Rem's hand shook faintly when he raised it to work at the ties in front of him.
He felt a brief irritation at the boy's manipulation, but he was already too far into the play.
Kesarh would have told him what to do. ("Open your mouth. Take it. There. Along the base harder, guardsman." A laugh. "Tell me: how do I compare with your pretty whore in the city? I've seen him--very pretty. Does he do this for you?")
Choked, he could not breathe. He thought he would gag, muscles convulsing in their search for breath. His mouth was filled, relentless bulk driving into him; his brain could not delineate the different tastes of Lur Raldnor nor decipher which was his own, particular taste.
("You don't have a soldier's mouth. Or is this what all of my guardsmen do when not on duty?")
Rem struggled to take it, unwilling to let him go before Lur Raldnor's last, final convulsion.
Lur Raldnor withdrew and began to refasten the ties of his pants. Rem did not look at him. His face burned, his entire body burned with a fierce, glutinous pressure that threatened to break with every heartbeat. He could not speak, and wished fervently for the boy to leave.
But then he found himself pushed further down with Lur Raldnor's hand between his shoulder blades; down, until the dust from the floor burned his throat and his eyes, his arms splayed out on either side. The movement reawakened the pain in his knees and he gasped, breathing in crumbled tile. Coughing, hopelessly exposed in a position that, as a soldier, he never would have allowed himself to be in.
He could have protested, and Lur Raldnor would have let him go. So he said nothing.
Kesarh would have enjoyed this. ("Lovely, guardsman." Another laugh. "You can't help yourself, can you? We're all slaves to something." Perhaps a note of disappointment: "You don't hide yours very well.")
"As you know, Kesarh." The unexpected thought nearly broke the image, and he was further distracted by what Lur Raldnor was doing, his hand between Rem's legs now, reaching through his thighs from behind him and pressing harder against the knot of his pants, laying his own claim.
The pain in his knees and elbows receded; he could feel the tile imprinting his cheek, but it was distanced as well. Afloat, he was held up only by Lur Raldnor's hand, which had grown suddenly cruel. He wanted it, the cruelty. He could see Kesarh behind them, surveying the scene with perverse curiosity. It would not have surprised him. He thought very little would surprise Kesarh, just as there was very little he would not do. It had been comforting, in a way, to know that.
He did not know when his body first began to spasm; his awareness of it broke in swiftly, cutting off thought as life surged through him, a futile beat against the constriction of cloth and Lur Raldnor's warmth. He felt, as always, the shame of it, and a brief flicker of love that he knew was false, only an automatic, emotional response.
("Baffled by it all, my Rem?"
"As baffled as you require, my lord.")
He did not hear Lur Raldnor leave, only felt the lack of his presence as thought returned. He lay face down on the floor, embracing it, eyes still watering from the dust.
Kesarh's fleet would soon be in Lan, and Rem across the sea in Xarabiss. He would have liked to see the fleet come in, and Kesarh at the helm.