Betwixt and Between
Part One: Chapter Four
"Heed above my meter, heed above my fate: can't go back, back again.
Got a reason to be fevered: summer-waking morn, back, back when the boy boy boy was born."
Emmat shook his head with a wry smile, and the story-teller paused, tilting his head questioningly at the expression. "Even crazy, if he is," Emmat explained, still grinning, "he still managed to find himself a pretty girl."
"It wasn't the first time," Tavarez shrugged lightly. "He is at least three hundred years old; he's had plenty of time. Though from what I've gathered, he's usually fairly reluctant. Every woman who I spoke to said it took them weeks or even months to actually get his attention. It's his penchant for submissiveness, I think." Emmat snorted his disbelief, convinced that this Vagrant-- or Nightling, or whatever his name was-- was as much a player as the next handsome wanderer. If he played hard to get, well, that was his angle, that was all.
If Tavarez picked up on that line of thought, he didn't comment on it. "I followed his trail all winter, piecing together what I could of his past. It seemed like every year was the same, for him: he'd come at harvest time, find himself a house to stay and help out at over the winter, then leave again in the late spring, jut as summer was coming. No one ever saw him over the summer."
"That's odd... he left right in the middle of spring planting, then," Emmat mused, "That's almost as profitable a time as harvest. Why wouldn't he work that?"
"I didn't know," Tavarez smiled, "but I was determined to find out. I love a good mystery, you know, especially when there's an interesting answer at the end of it...."
It was one of those winters that both lasted far too long, and flew by far too quickly, by turns. The dreaming was worse, and there were so many moments of time during which he had no idea what had passed; many of those moments, he knew, passed with Yula, but he only remembered a few of the times she kept him to herself. He lived with the fear that Ahern would somehow find out and throw him out into the snow for the rest of the winter-- which could easily have been his death-- or worse, but somehow he never did, though a great number of the rest of the town seemed to know. Thankfully, they also found ways to let him know he was hardly the first pretty face Yula had managed to seduce. That was a relief.
The dreaming stole him more often than usual, and Misha-Anju was usually the Other one who found him in the cavernous world of twilight and song. He even remembered snatches of those meetings, in the world of bread and flour, and suspected it had something to do with Yula's attentions. Or Yula's attentions had something to do with Misha-Anju's... he didn't know which affected which, but he felt there had to be some connection. Summer, he thought, was going to be particularly difficult this year.
When he wasn't dreaming, beset by the seemingly inexhaustible Yula, or working, the Rasha family was a pleasant one to stay with. Ahern didn't ask much, he was steady in his meager pay, and he seemed to like Nightling, in a rough sort of fashion-- though Nightling suspected that he wouldn't be quite so amiable if he knew about the times Nightling had woken up with with his daughter. Both Bristel and Yula had a talent for song and storytelling, which made the long, snowed-in evenings very pleasant. When he remembered them, anyway. That, of all the things summer would bring, was the thing he wanted to somehow keep the most: sitting around the fireplace, bundled in blankets against the cold, listening to songs and stories, even telling a few of his own now and then.
At long last-- and all too soon-- the snow began to melt. Spring birds began returning to the trees, the buds of leaves began to poke through the bark of tree branches, and bushes became carpeted with blossoms. Everything smelled like life and light again, like birth and laughter. It made people around the village smile and stare at the sky, pick flowers for kitchen tables and talk about the upcoming spring planting.
It just made Nightling restless. He wanted to leave, bury himself in the wild of the world, be free and hemmed in by nothing-- but he wanted to stay, at the same time, and maybe be something closer to normal. He watched Bristel, for all his quick tongue and lazy confidence, stumble through attempting to court one of the daughters of the overly-packed house Nightling had originally turned down-- rightly so-- as not having room for him. He listened as Ahern recounted a time when his children really were children, and his wife was still alive. He watched the milking of cows and the chasing of dogs and the birthing of lambs-- he even helped in the latter, once, when he'd woken up to find himself next to the village barn in the early morning-- and wondered what it would be like to live in the same place every year, seeing the same faces and doing the same things every season.
Then Lady Sphiridon would shout at him for being blind, and Misha-Anju corner him and seduce him, and the Others beat him or mock him or tie him up with logic so that he couldn't even move. Then he would forget to wonder, and long for summer so he could escape the battle between dreams, the confusion between waking and sleeping. He wanted sky above him and grass below him, not a roof and wooden floor, not walls that hemmed him in. Summer was simple, even if it was insanity; spring, with its scents and surges and smiles, was anything but simple.
Spring planting began, and that helped a little. Nightling wasn't trapped under a roof during the day, out under the sun with the plow and bags of seeds. The whole village was used to his wandering off, by now, so no comment was ever made when he came back in silent apology to take up again where someone else had picked up his job. There were the occasional knowing looks when Yula had slipped into the trees, after him, and stayed there until not long after he'd returned, but still no one said anything to Ahern.
When he finally could stand no more walls, voices, and obligations, it was raining, in the middle of the night. Hours after the rest of the house had fallen asleep, he finally drifted into nightly dreams after spending those hours restlessly tossing under the single blanket he'd been reduced to in the muggy heat.
"Wake up, beautiful," Misha-Anju was crooning in his ear, and his eyes popped open, blinking in the twilight of the mossy cave she'd found him in, hours before.
"There you are," the fickle Other purred. "You always leave me...."
"I'm sorry," he muttered automatically, still feeling heavy and tired.
"You always apologize," she pouted, and fitted herself against his back, breath tickling the back of his neck. "You never do anything about it."
Mind fuzzy, he actually answered her with truth: "There isn't anything I can do about it." The twilight caves were his home, and even if he wanted to leave, Lady Sphiridon would come to find him as soon as he left the range of her song entirely.
"You can," Misha-Anju whispered enticingly. "I can help you, protect you from that tyrant who keeps you here.... Come away with me."
Come away with me.
Instinctively, remembering someone else who had said those words to him only recently-- in another world, another life, in a dream-- he stiffened and started to sit up, half panicking. "Stay here!" Misha-Anju ordered, but he hardly heard her.
Come away with me. I'm good enough to sing and tale-spin, I could be a bard-- you said so yourself. Come away with me-- we can have great adventures and never have to worry about my father again!
The weight and warmth behind him went from molded to him to smothering him, forcing him back down. "I said, stay here!" the Other snarled, going from sensual house pet to powerful predator in the time it took him to wheeze out his breath beneath her as she held him down with her own body.
Panic went from half to full, and before he could start struggling, the ever-present song surged from a whisper to a roar. Misha-Anju screamed, he was freed, and he promptly passed out, hands clapped over his ears and eyes squeezed shut against the chaos that would ensue.
He woke again, moments or hours later, and it was still dark and still raining. The song was gone, but the edges of panic remained: he was too closed in, trapped, smothered in wooden walls. The blanket, confining and heavy, slumped to the floor as he leapt out of bed, stuffing his extra change of trousers and small bag full of copper coins into a make-shift satchel made of his second shirt-- he'd come off well, this winter, and if he was lucky, he wouldn't lose the treasure in his flight from civilization to autumn again.
That was all he took, and a flurry of silent steps later, he was out the front door and gone, leaving village and mill and Yula behind without a second thought.
Morning came to the tiny town as if nothing had changed. The rain passed, leaving behind a bright, clean sky and crisp, green grass behind it. A single traveler came out of the woods, following an invisible path and looking around with bright, eager, black eyes.
Song borrowed from Five for Fighting's "Two Frogs", on the Message for Albert album
Draclin'geyar are the Creative Property of Silver Midnight; Fleshshifters are the Creative Property of Drakiera