Torshael and Tayne's Story: Between Missions

Chapter Twenty-Seven


The invitation came at last, and Fluniarlii was both excited and, uncharacteristically, a little apprehensive. Mouthing off to Tayne's overbearing relatives was one thing; she found that she didn't like a lot of them, though his mother was sweet and she had a fun conversation with one of his cousins, and she positively in awe of his older sister Valariel, who was as strong and tough a character as anyone could want to be. She rather wished she could have met his closer brother and sister, but to Tayne's intense disappointment, both had disappeared. But that had been easy, and now, now, she was going to meet a god, and that seemed a little different, enough to make her a little nervous. Some of that might have been Tayne, because he was uncharacteristically nervous, too, and for similar reasons, but she knew at least some of it was her own.

At the same time, though, she was determined to be her "unexpected" self, as unexpected as possible. She wasn't going to let a god dictate how she did and did not act, after all! Not even her bond's god.

"Lii, I know what you're thinking."

"No, you don't," she said firmly, with a click of her beak.

"Lii, please. I know you've been having fun today, and yesterday. My family and friends could use a little shaking up. But this is the High One. Can't you try to at least be a little polite?"

Her bond's pained tone made her feel a little bad-- but only a little. "He's a god, right? So he'd know if I were lying, right?" She spoke over his protest, "And isn't being someone who's-- not me-- isn't that lying?"

"He's also my boss, and-- important to me," he managed, voice tight, even a little strangled-sounding.

"I'm not going to be stupid or anything," she huffed at him. "Just me. And if he sent you to bond me, he's probably going to expect me to be me. I'm not going to be somebody else just cuz he's immortal or powerful or anything, Tayne."

"I know, I know, I just...." He trailed off, and Lii took pity on him long enough to lean over and nuzzle his cheek, perched on one side of his forehead again. He tried again, privately, ::He's the closest thing I have to a father, now, and he doesn't seem like he's angry with me for... being different, and all. I just want it to stay that way.::

::He's not going to be mad at you because of me,:: Lii told him, trying to be reassuring. If all else failed, after all, he'd just be mad at her-- but she liked to think that a deity who loved her bond the way she thought he did could be a little more understanding than Tayne seemed to think he might be. Maybe he'd even have a bit of a sense of humor. Wouldn't it be dull living forever and being all-powerful if you had no sense of humor? No ability to laugh?

"Here we are," Tayne said, interrupting her contemplation of such a sad fate, and she looked up and, despite herself, gaped a little. "The palace of the High One."

The rest of the city had seemed sort of pretentious, and Lii had made no secret of the fact that she thought so. Tayne's mother's house had been a bit better, but only because it was so girly and homey that it couldn't be pretentious. The High One's palace, though it somehow fit with the rest of the public buildings in the city, somehow seemed to deserve its grandeur. There were gardens, and fountains, and a great wall with great gates, and a long, broad stairway up to the massive doors leading inside. Other supernals and even a few human and elven bonds wandered amidst the flowers, paced along the path, sunned themselves on the stairs, laughed quietly or held pleasant conversations. The air was sweet-smelling and the breeze was gentle, stirring plants, wind chimes, fur and feathers alike. It was... well, it was beautiful.

It was also vaguely familiar, in the way something reminded Lii of a dream. It took her a minute of slightly disturbed confusion before she figured out that she'd simply seen it in Tayne's memory when she first settled on him as a bond, one of many brief impressions that flitted through her mind in the seconds it took to get to know him well enough to make that choice. He loved this place, too, more than the rest of the city. And as he sensed that she liked it, too, despite her certainty that it would be stuffy and too formal, he smiled.

Inside wasn't quite as nice, but it still wasn't stuffy. The formal part, maybe; Lii would have been afraid to touch anything, lest she break it or tear it. But it was still pretty and not nearly as pretentious as she'd expected it would be. There was a lot of it, though... they went through an entry hall first, then a gallery of ancient and somewhat fraying tapestries, then they had to speak to a priest-looking fellow with slender gold chains dangling from his horns at the end of a long hallway. That wasn't even the end of it, for there was a ballroom they had to cross, Tayne nodding carefully to the few supernals loitering in there, and at last stand for a few minutes in a comfortable but rather boring receiving room that, according to Tayne, was actually right outside the room that held Court and the High One himself. By that time, Lii was tired of pretty things and wanted to get things moving.

::Not much longer, don't worry,:: Tayne's thought soothed, and she responded by kitten-kneading the bridge of his muzzle, making him wince slightly at the repeated, if light, clawing.

That was when the doors to the Court opened and the herald stepped out. She wasn't, as Lii had expected, a Favored, but a pretty cream-white color with a deep gray mane. "The High One will see you now," she said with a smile, and Lii drew herself up as best she could in preparation. Tayne called it her "white act", when she made herself pretty and proud and then spoiled it by making a funny face, saying something rude, burping, or just laughing because she couldn't hold it anymore. She liked the name well enough, and called it that, herself, in her head.

::I thought you were going to just "be yourself"?:: Tayne sent unhappily.

::I will-- once we get up to the High One, anyway. He might not be fooled, but I bet anybody else in there will be.::

Tayne sighed, but followed the herald inside. Lii promptly forgot about her "white act", though, in favor of looking around with her beak wide open again. If she'd thought the rest of the palace was pretty, the Court was just stunning. She wished they had time-- and patience-- to investigate everything closely, because she expected it would take a very long time. She ignored the courtiers clustered by the doors and the guards posted at regular intervals along the walls, and only spared the priests to either side of the dais a brief glance. The room had her full attention, first, and then the High One snared it, himself.

Tayne hadn't described the High One too her-- though he had told her a little about the Court, so she'd know what to expect-- and she had basically expected to see a bigger Favored supernal, maybe with different eyes or different feathers or an extra head or something. Well, maybe not an extra head. But she hadn't expected what she saw. Enthroned on the dais was not a supernal at all, but a lion as dark as the sky, and speckled with stars just the same. His mane was aflame, smokeless tendrils of flame curling and licking harmlessly at his starry fur, and his eyes were a soft gold.

"Wow," she breathed, not loud enough for anyone but Tayne to hear her. Tayne did, of course, and chuckled very softly.

::Yes, he is impressive, isn't he?::

Lii just nodded.

The walk from the door to the foot of the dais was enough for her to shake herself out of her awe, thankfully-- just barely, but still-- so she managed not to fall off when Tayne lowered his chest carefully in a bow, spreading his wings respectfully. Lii had known he'd do that, and had planned on doing something similar, since she'd been planning on still being "white" at that point. All she managed, though, was the not falling off part, and a belated flutter of her own tiny, unfledged wings.

"Welcome home, Tayne." His voice was gorgeous, all warm and deep and resonant and enveloping and soothing and... everything; it gave Lii a little shiver. Though Tayne expression was as calm as it usually was, Lii could feel the pleasure the words gave him. The High One's gaze lingered fondly on her bond, then shifted to her, and it seemed just as soft there, too. "And welcome to my Court, Fluniarlii."

Oh, good, he'd saved Tayne from possibly tripping on her name again.

"May I present my bond, whose name you obviously already know?" Tayne said wryly. "From the Abstract Destiny, just as you suggested she'd be."

The corners of those eyes even crinkled a little in a smile. Lii, all her planned things gone quite out of her head, said the first thing that came to mind, and said it loudly: "Bloody hell, but you're pretty!"

There was a tense-feeling pause as the courtiers and guards and priests-- who had obviously heard that-- held their breath in shock. Tayne groaned, but at least it was an amused groan. "Never let it be said that she doesn't speak her mind," he said, "with as colorful language as she can think of."

Lii refused to be embarrassed.

"Thank you for the compliment, child," the High One said gravely. "Though I believe you have given my Court the worst shock it's had in hundreds of years."

Encouraged by the reception-- and the lack of scolding!-- Lii went gape-beaked again, only in a grin this time. "It's what I do best," she told him.

"So I hear," the deity chuckled gently. "I look forward to seeing how else you manage it in the future. Just be careful that what you say shakes up rather than hurts."

"I do try not to hurt," Lii nodded, a little abashedly, feeling obscurely bad for every little unintentional insult just because of the compassion in those gold eyes. "It just happens sometimes." At his tolerantly expectant expression, she added, "I'll work on it."

"Good child," the High One said with a smile. "Be welcome here whenever you or Tayne wish to see home again. I know you will not be long in my City, for now, but I hope to see you again in the future."

"Yessir," Lii chirped, pleased and a little relieved that he wasn't going to pursue that. Tayne, after a slightly awkward pause-- he felt much like he would have liked to touch the deity somehow-- sank again into a bow. Seeing it coming, Lii ducked down, so that when he straightened again, he met the High One's sparkling paw, which patted his mane and caressed his cheek on its way back to the couch-throne-thing, the way a hand would. Tayne smiled at the touch, then backed away and left with a light step.

::See?:: she said as they withdrew, to much scandalized whispering and shocked expressions from the courtiers. ::That didn't go so bad.::

::No,:: Tayne chuckled affectionately back at her, listening to those same whispers and seeing those same expressions, and she fluffed happily that he wasn't annoyed with her for not being polite enough. ::It didn't.::


Chapter Twenty-Eight

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