The streets of the city-village of Ahkshen were quiet this late at night, with only the less than reputable taverns still well lit and going strong with music and dancing. If it were any other night, he’d be slipping in and out of each one, networking with favors and services, building a reputation befitting his position within the Eighth Army and as personal guard to Xitlali on behalf of the Qishir he served.
But not tonight.
No, tonight he was seeking out the Temple that butted up against the docks. Sought out the calm peace stripping himself of his weapons and sandals at the doors brought him. Sought out the feeling of home that he always had when surrounded by that much pure magick.
Because he needed peace. He needed to perform the genuflections to the High Ones like his mother had taught him when he was a fledgling. He needed to seek counsel in the way only a supplicant could.
Prayed that since he was in Anglë World, the only World the High Ones were said to have created with Their own hands, that perhaps They would Hear him better. That if his prayers were spoken in a Temple dedicated primarily to Them that he be able to reach Them better. That They would see him forgiven for praying solely to the Old Ones since his mother had died.
Because he was out of options, adrift and confused, shaken in a way he had never even thought to be prepared for.
“Take care of him,” Xitlali said flippantly as she walked to the throne to collect her cloak and swing it about her shoulders. It wasn’t nearly chilly enough within the castle, despite the winds coming off the Uthiel Sea carrying a hint of winter’s bite, to warrant it. But given her clothes were covered in blood and they hadn’t vetted all of the staff at this safe house? Clearly she didn’t want to draw too much attention to herself for once.
“Living or dead?” he asked, sliding his eyes away from her to where Jerald lay in a heap on the floor, clothes torn, blood oozing from open wounds and other places, bruises already blackening across his face and down his neck.
The fact the Alphenian was still alive was likely due solely to Xitlali preferring him above any of her other slaves. Though likely the difficulty inherent in trying to kill an Alphenian played a part, too, but not quite as large of one.
Xitlali stared at the side of Eiod’s face but he didn’t look away from Jerald, knowing that if he did he wouldn’t be able to keep his face blank. But the Qishir didn’t look away, if anything her stare intensified as though she were trying to look beneath his masks and read what his private thoughts were. But for all that Lulphé had been a clairvoyant of exceptional power, her daughters hadn’t inherited that.
Thank the gods aplenty.
“Living,” she answered at length, shrugging her shoulders so her cloak settled better, hands holding it closed in front of her. “Though if you’re so inclined to play with him, feel free.”
I would rather eat my own testicles whilst they were still attached, he thought with a bitterness strong enough that he was sure she had to hear the words even without a touch of clairvoyancy.
“Aye, my Lady, I shall see that it is done,” he inclined his head, letting the corner of his lips quirk in a small sadistic grin. “And my thanks for such a gracious offer.”
She snorted shaking her head as she did so, her energy settling out as whatever suspicions had made her stare at him with such intensity slipped away.
“Enjoy yourself, Eiod. You have earned it,” she made for the doors, pausing with one hand wrapped around the ornate handle. “And when you’ve finished with him? Rest and get checked by a Healer.”
“Aye, my Lady,” he answered.
He hadn’t known what to do with himself once she’d left. Hadn’t be able to move for long moments because it was the first time she’d left the handling of her favorite slave’s Healing up to him. It had been the first time that he had seen what had caused the wounds Jerald bore with a grace that Eiod doubted even himself capable of. Seeing the aftermath and what had led up to it, how flippantly Xitlali had offered the slave to Eiod should he be so inclined? It had shaken him to his core.
And that was after centuries of battle, nay millennia of battles, both on Fields and off them, of intrigue and nightmares, of growing up a pariah in the eyes of the races he hailed from, of watching his mother killed by the very Dhaoine who enslaved him against his will while no one stood up for him. Several millennia of watching horrors he often didn’t have words for and it was Xitlali’s treatment of Jerald that had finally shaken him.
It had taken watching the Alphenian push himself to his knees then to his feet where he swayed only a little, brown eyes bright with wound-fever when they looked at him and then away to make him feel like the only way to bring honor back to his name would be to take his own life.
It had taken watching the other male wave a hand at him in clear dismissal, voice soft as he said, “Go, my Lord. I can handle myself,” just before he collapsed back to the floor stained with his blood and their Qishir’s bodily fluids to make Eiod speak the High One’s Prayers for the first time since he had been first taught how to say them properly, the memory rising strong and unbidden.
It had taken running to Jerald’s side, gently lifting him into his arms, and seeing the look of abject gratitude that shown up at him while he slipped into the servants’ corridors to break his heart in ways that even Lulphé’s death hadn’t been able to do.
Because in the centuries since Jerald had lost his freedom to the Mad Qishir, Eiod could tell that no one had done the male any sort of kindness. And he was disgusted with himself for being counted among the lot.
So he walked the streets of the city-village, feeling the sea-salt caress his skin on the breeze that never seemed to stop blowing among the buildings that dotted Ahkshen’s streets, because he had needed to get out of that castle. Had needed to do something other than pretend that he was honored to be there, that he was still on Xitlali’s side.
Needed to do something, anything, to forget even if for only a few minutes the thousands of scars that had littered Jerald’s body when he’d helped the Alphenian strip off his ruined clothes and stand for the Healers Eiod had called for. Because those scars were all that remained of the mistreatment the male had suffered at the hands of his mistress, a Qishir who should have done everything but what she had. And it sickened him because Eiod had believed wholeheartedly that he had made the correct decision pledging himself to her like he had all those centuries ago.
But he knew now just how naïve he had been.
With a heavy sigh he scrubbed a hand over his face and approached the open doors of the Temple, pulling out his sword and dagger as he went. The warrior that stood guard took them with a bow and waved a hand to show where Eiod could place his sandals. Returning the bow, Eiod did as instructed and stepped inside, shivering as the nearly wild magick that wove through and around every Temple across the Worlds slipped along his skin and tasted his magickal signature.
Walking across the main foyer and into the open air main room, feeling the lush thick grass that grew wild from wall to wall, he looked up at the stars that spread like scattered ink droplets across the dark heavens. Sinking to one knee, he touched his left index and middle fingers to his sternum then his lips before curling them behind his thumb and pressing his thumb against the center of his forehead, and spoke into the deep quiet of the Temple.
“High Ones, Hear Your wayward son. I come seeking guidance.”