“How do you do it?”
Azriel blinked, looking over at Adïmshyl who had stepped up beside where the Anglëtinean stood watching Rhyshladlyn guiding warriors through fighting dances that were a mixture of the swift, clipped motions of the Sinner Demons’ Anjiirt style and the flowing motions of the Anglëtinean’s Eil’hael style. He had finished his own dances not too long ago, having elected to wait around for Rhyshladlyn to finish his own before venturing to get a late dinner from the mess tent.
“Do what?” he asked, far more curious than was probably healthy. If I’m not careful that’ll get me into trouble one of these days.
“Let him fight knowing there’s a chance he will not return to you,” the Lupherinre elaborated, green eyes taking in every tiny movement Rhyshladlyn made and Azriel didn’t doubt the male was memorizing every movement, learning the fighting style that the Qishir had created all on his own by mixing that of his people and Azriel’s simply by watching. Hmm, perhaps I didn’t give him enough credit initially.
“Easily,” Azriel replied, pausing to think over his next words as he turned his gaze back to the training, doing just as Adïmshyl was, watching as Rhyshladlyn moved like water made flesh, each movement precise and calculated to deliver deadly results. “I know that even if he doesn’t walk off those fields, I’ll see him in the After or in the next lifetime.”
“And that’s enough?”
Azriel turned to fully face the Lupherinre who was still watching the training, but he knew that he had the male’s attention even if his gaze was elsewhere. Slipping his hands into the pockets of his loose trousers, Azriel took the opportunity to take in more about the mate of the Dreamweaver that Rhyshladlyn had brought back with him when he had answered Bayls Qaeniri’s call.
The other male was nearly of a height with Rhyshladlyn, burly in that way that while he carried himself like he was rather overweight Azriel knew it was more of a cover to throw off those around him. He had extra pounds, for certain, but it was all muscle and he was no stranger to war or fighting given the way he favored his right leg over his left after standing and walking for several hours around the camp, but he never once complained, never asked for help; that was an injury that one didn’t receive from a farming accident or a slip as a fledgling. He wore his shoulder length copper hair in a traditional braid that began at his hairline and marked the centerline of his skull going down towards his spine, the ends clinking as the two green, one grey, and three brown beads woven into the strands there fell against each other. He wore a simple brown leather jerkin over a green tunic that matched his eyes, and leather breeches over boots that came to mid-calf. He was a warrior just as anyone else in the camp was, but he didn’t exude the same banked potential violence as the rest of them did. But it was there, if one knew how to look for it.
It was there in the way he stood with his thick arms crossed over each other resting on the top curve of his belly, the muscles of his forearms twitching almost imperceptibly as he counted the seconds between one dance and the next. It was there in the way his neck muscles clenched as he shifted his weight until he was better balanced with his feet planted shoulder width apart. It was there in the way he carried his forearm length hunting knife on his right hip, opposite of his dominant hand because he knew he was proficient enough with both that he could chance trying to land a punch with his stronger side before drawing his knife. It was there in the way his eyes took in everything while looking at nothing, just as Rhyshladlyn’s did. It was the way he remarked on things only when it was necessary, otherwise content to just watch and catalog. And Azriel knew then that the fact Adïmshyl had come to him, had asked what he had, admitting to a sort of weakness of being bothered by Thae’a fighting, of her learning to wield anything with steel on it, had taken a lot; and the fact that the Lupherinre had chosen him to bring it to spoken volumes more than the male had actually said in the nearing on two weeks they’d been present in the camp.
“It has to be,” he answered just as the male was beginning to fidget under his scrutiny. Turning to face the fields again he watched as Rhyshladlyn corrected one of the younger warriors on her form before moving back into place. “I’ve seen what he’s capable of, I’ve seen the horrors he’s survived. I know already what it feels like for him to die. So him dying for real, with permanence? It’s not new to me. Will I still mourn the loss of him? Yes, a thousand times yes. Will it likely see me following him? Yes. But I cannot make him be something he’s not. He was born to be a warrior, he was born to be a weapon. And while it took me nearly seventy years to grasp that, now that I have?” he shrugged, a sharp-edged, sardonic smile twisting his lips. “It makes it somewhat easier. He was destined for this, even if I wish vehemently and pray to whatever gods are still listening to us that he weren’t.”
Adïmshyl frowned, turning those almost creepily intelligent eyes to him.
“He has died before?”
The Anglëtinean nodded.
“What happened?” Adïmshyl blushed immediately after he finished the question, pale skin showing it obviously even with night having fallen and torches having been lit around the training fields, green eyes wide. He rubbed at the back of his neck sheepishly, looking for once a bit like anyone else, touchable, capable of making mistakes and Azriel smiled gently to see it. “Forgive me, that was very forward and rude.”
“No, no,” Azriel interjected with a slow wave of his hands. “Not at all. My Qishir’s story is known by many and I had assumed that Bayls had spoken to both you and your mate, but I should have known better than to assume.”
The Lupherinre laughed, the sound sudden in the hush of the camp as it settled in for the night, the baritone rumble of it pleasant to hear.
“Assuming always makes an ass out of you and the ones involved,” he said through his laughter.
“Unless you’re assuming that your opponent on the battlefield is capable of incredible acts they may or may not actually be able to perform,” Azriel countered and Adïmshyl laughed harder before sobering.
“Aye, unless that,” he replied before letting out a deep breath, scrubbing a hand nearly as large as Azriel’s own over his face. “I just do not like the idea of losing her. My kind… we mate once and only once, for life, y’know. And we are dying out, slowly mind you, but quick enough. Our reclusiveness didn’t do much to slow that process. I wandered for awhile, my particular village didn’t really like me all that much so I left it when I was still rather young,” he effected a shrug then as though it didn’t bother him one way or another but Azriel saw the way the skin round his eyes tightened showing that it did bother him. He didn’t comment on it though, it wasn’t his place to do so. “I wandered for so long alone, that I began to wonder if I’d ever find a mate. And when I found Thae’a? It was like the gods had smiled on me, I had hope for the first time in longer than I could remember,” he smiled, the act fond, eyes soft. “By the Webs, that female made me work for her affection for forty godsdamn years. Like I earned that shit. And when I did? It was like everything was clearer; suddenly I could smell and see and hear and feel, like until that moment when she accepted me entirely I hadn’t actually been alive, just living in this muffled bubble. It was as though until I met her I didn’t really know what it meant to live, only exist.”
“So the idea of losing the one that allowed you to truly feel alive is far too terrifying to even consider,” Azriel offered when he trailed off.
“Yes, exactly,” Adïmshyl agreed, nodding his head with a crooked smile. “That’s exactly it.”
They lapsed into silence for a few minutes and in that companionable silence, Azriel thought back on the years he’d spent as Rhyshladlyn’s personal guard. Thought back on coming to love him slowly over time, offering every year on his nameday to be his partner for the night and feeling bereft when he went to bed alone each time, watching as he grew and strengthened with each new year and each new hardship thrown his way by Anislanzir. Remembered watching him mature as the years turned into decades, watching as he grew more confident in himself, in his abilities. Remembered this first time he saw him truly smile, remembered the first time he heard the Qishir laugh genuinely. Remembered how when he first saw him on the training fields of the Palace that he felt like he could take a deep breath for the first time in centuries, like a weight had been lifted off his chest even as Rhyshladlyn had knocked the breath out of him by taking his feet out from under him moments later.
He hadn’t actively courted the Qishir, not even when he felt the qahllyn awaken that night when he was called to follow Azhuri to a set of rooms to help Rhyshladlyn through the awakening of his Qishir nature. But yet, somehow, despite not actively doing so, he’d been doing it all the same and Rhyshladlyn had circled and courted back in his own way, insofar as he was able to handle given everything else that had gone on. So when he spoke Anglë’lylel the day Azriel had gotten in the carriage to leave for the Eighth Palace and his tribunal? It felt like he was seeing the Worlds in a whole new light, no longer blind. Because that had been the first time Rhyshladlyn had actively acknowledged what was between them. And when he had arrived at the Palace after feeling him die and come back, when Rhyshladlyn had breathed his name like a prayer? That was the day that he vowed that no matter what it took, no matter how hard it was, he would not abandon him, would do his damnedest to make sure that he didn’t lose this mate.
“The Race also mates for life,” he offered into the silence, figuring he may as well share something of equal value to what Adïmshyl had revealed. Tit for tat and the like. It was only fair. “If we lose our partner, we will take others after the mourning period has ended, but they are sought after for the release sexual companionship provides. It means nothing, there is no connection. If one of my people finds a second life partner it’s an extremely rare occurrence and one seen as a gift from the High Ones.”
Adïmshyl was looking at him with a mixture of sympathy, shock, and awe, as though he knew exactly what Azriel was getting at but Azriel didn’t look over and meet his gaze. Instead he kept his own riveted on Rhyshladlyn, drawing strength from simply being in the vicinity of his Qishir, feeling their link pulse with life and vitality; using that connection as an anchor to provide the strength he needed to continue speaking.
“Rhyshladlyn is not my first partner though I do not doubt that if — when — this life ends for him, he shall be the last I have until we next find each other,” he continued, voice softer, throat feeling tight. “I know too keenly what that type of loss feels like; I watched my wife and son die… I was too slow getting to them to save them. Their deaths were my fault even if I was not the one that dealt the final blows that took them from this realm. And after feeling Rhyshladlyn die, albeit for only a few minutes, just before he committed matricide and we ran from the City?” He chuckled, the sound short and mirthless. “I don’t have to fear it because I know what it will feel like so I’m prepared. But I also know he is strong enough that he doesn’t need me to fight his battles for him, merely stand with my back against his, merely move in tandem to him as an equal for that is what we are. He can hold his own, he can defend himself, and that makes it far easier for me to handle him stepping onto the fields. I don’t have to worry about being able to save him because he can save himself.”
The silence that rose up after his words was thick but it wasn’t uncomfortable and Azriel let it stretch. He knew how Adïmshyl must feel, alone in a situation where the only true ally he knew and trusted was his mate, worried sick about what the future held for them all. He had been there, long ago now yes, but he still remembered what it felt like. So he did what he had wished someone would have done back then and extended his hand in, not necessarily friendship, but an acknowledgement of sorts. Like saying, I See you, I am here, I will be an ally so long as you wish for me to be.
“So, that’s how you handle him putting on armor and stepping into battle,” Adïmshyl said at length.
“Faith isn’t just for the gods, Adïmshyl Xh’taphïrd,” Azriel answered.
The Lupherinre huffed a sound that may have been a laugh but didn’t have enough sustenance to be called such.
“Fair enough,” the male replied. “Thank you… for speaking with me,” he added.
“I am easily found,” Azriel said, smiling kindly.
Adïmshyl bowed, both hands curled into fists and pressed knuckle to knuckle in front of him, before he walked away, humming softly under his breath as he went and Azriel smiled, shaking his head.
Across the sands Rhyshladlyn was calling an end to the training for the day, giving compliments where due and criticism where needed. When he turned and his eyes found Azriel’s, the smile that lit the Qishir’s face made his heart thunder hard in his chest as the male strode quickly towards him, warriors moving to get out of his way without him needing to say anything or even seeming to notice.
“You didn’t have to wait for me,” Rhyshladlyn said when he was within earshot, tone and smile clearly showing he was happy that Azriel had stuck around regardless.
“I know, but I figured we could walk together to get dinner,” he replied, humming happily when Rhyshladlyn stepped close and pressed a kiss to his neck just under the bolt of his jaw. “I have missed you,” he added in a whisper, hands coming up to cup Rhyshladlyn’s face, thumbs running along his jaw, his own lips lifting in a responding smile that he couldn’t hold back even if he wanted to.
Rhyshladlyn’s smile softened, dimming slightly, guilt lacing his voice, “I am sorry we haven’t had a lot of time to each other, Az.”
“Can we make up for that tonight perhaps?” he asked as they made for the mess tent, walking hand in hand, making it clear with his tone that he understood.
“I think that is doable,” Rhyshladlyn teased, orange-amber eyes reflecting the torchlight and light given off by the camp fires they walked past.
As they walked Azriel realized just how true his words to Adïmshyl had been even though he hadn’t really thought them through before speaking them. Faith really isn’t just for the gods.
And he found himself thankful beyond words that he had found something, someone, to have faith in when everything else was crumbling down around them.