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Authors: Storm Constantine

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BOOK: Thorn Boy and Other Dreams of Dark Desire
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I shrugged and
made to pass him. ‘I will see you later.’ He let me kiss him on the
cheek, but made no move to return it. Clearly, my sharp remark had
offended him, but I had no fear I couldn’t cajole him out of his
bad humour later on.

The next
evening, I received no summons from the king, but that was not
unusual. I did not expect him to call for me every night, and
looked forward to a relaxing evening on the terrace with my
beloved. I had the servants prepare a sumptuous supper for us and
went out to wait in the starlight. Soon, it would be too cold to
eat outdoors at night. The Cossic summers and autumns were long,
but once winter marched in, the transition was brief and
brutal.

I went to
stand against the balustrade, wrapped in a light cloak. Akaten’s
puppy licked his paws on the tiles beside me. Presently, I became
ill at ease. Akaten was very late. Where was he? I went to where
the supper lay waiting for us, and poured myself a cup of wine.
Once this was consumed, I drank another, then another. After that,
I must have dozed for a while.

It was the
laughter that woke me. I sat up, with the echo of a dream in my
head, some memory of when Akaten and I had first made love beside
the lake. My mouth was dry, my head muzzy with the heavy wine. Then
I realised the laughter was real, that I recognised it, and that it
came from the garden below.

In a daze I
flew to the balustrade and looked over. I saw Akaten running across
the yellow lawns, which were bleached in moonlight. He ran between
the dappled shadows of the trees, scattering peacocks before him. I
thought at first he’d gone utterly mad and was about to call out to
him, because my voice always seemed to bring him back to his
senses. Then I realised he was not alone. Another figure pursued
him, someone who also laughed. Akaten dodged around the trees, his
hair swinging. My heart, which at first seemed to have lurched
unbidden to my mouth, now sank to the very pit of my belly. It was
Alofel who was running and laughing with Akaten in the garden.

I was incensed
at once. How dare he! What was this game, when he should be here
with me? My fingers curled around the stone beneath my hands.
Akaten spun around on the seared grass, leading Alofel a hectic
dance. I saw the king’s hands lash out to grab the spinning boy,
always clutching at nothing. Then, as I blinked, he caught up and
took Akaten in his arms. Akaten did not try to break away but stood
there, motionless. His arms went about Alofel’s neck. They stared
at one another for a few moments, then kissed.

The heat of my
anger chilled within me. I was made of ice. I was winter.

I don’t know
how I endured that long night. Tears blurred my vision before I saw
them leave the garden. I crouched against the balustrade,
shuddering with cold. At some point, I must have fallen asleep, for
when I opened my eyes again, it was morning. The puppy had eaten
all of our supper, and scraps were spread about the scattered
plates. After a moment’s stunned contemplation of this forlorn
sight, I collected myself and jumped to my feet. I did not want
Akaten to find me in this state, and hurried back to my own
rarely-used rooms, past Akaten’s curious servants who were already
seeing to breakfast.

The air in my
bedroom was stale, and I threw open the window. Then I bathed
myself with care, and tidied my appearance. Wezling fussed around
me, sensing my distress, but too polite to comment on it.

Akaten
appeared about an hour later, sauntering into my rooms with a smile
on his face, as if nothing had happened. The moment I saw him, an
arrow of pure hate lanced up through my body, but it was feathered
with bewilderment and grief. Never had I loved him more.

His smiled
faltered. ‘Good morning, Darien. You seem in bad spirits.’

I wanted to
shout and accuse, but realised the folly of it. Only honesty would
do. ‘You forgot our appointment last night.’

He frowned a
little. ‘Oh, were we supposed to be doing something?’


Only
the same as we have done every night for months.’ I fixed him with
a steady stare.

He had the
audacity to return my gaze with unfaltering eyes. ‘I did not come
back from the king’s chambers. So what? Most nights I am left
waiting alone for you.’

I did not
bother to remind him that I always came to him eventually. ‘I saw
you in the garden.’

His gaze
flickered only slightly. ‘Did you?’ He bent to investigate my
breakfast, which lay mostly untouched on the low table before
me.


Yes. So
you have betrayed me and given yourself to him!’

He looked up
at me. ‘Darien, cast your mind back to the day when you told me I
must speak to Menefer. You have taught me well. I am merely
ensuring my own survival. Didn’t you tell me to do that? Why are
you so distressed?’


You
kissed him!’


Yes.’


And
what else besides?’

Akaten sighed.
‘It was just a kiss, Darien. A game. Most nights, you give yourself
to him. You have no right to accuse me.’


But I
have no feelings for him. It means nothing. It’s my
job.’

He
shrugged. ‘I know.’ Then he reached out and put his hand on my
knee. ‘Oh, don’t be angry. It’s senseless. Alofel knows the way I
feel, but I have to give him
something
in return for his tolerance and
generosity. If you and I want to remain together, it’s essential.
Come now, change your face. I’m here now.’

I wanted to
believe him and allowed myself to be convinced. I blotted from my
mind the memory of their laughter, the pause before the kiss which
must have meant so much. Even now, I have no doubt that Akaten was
merely putting on a performance designed to please Alofel, but he
had deliberately advanced their relationship, allowed things to
happen that would only encourage Alofel’s obsession. During those
moments on the lawn had Akaten thought once of me? It was unlikely.
Yet every time I went to Alofel’s bed, I dreamed of him. It was the
only thing that made the experience bearable.

Alofel did not
summon me for two days, and I began to worry. Akaen assuaged my
fears, saying that the king was unwell. ‘Don’t fret. He’ll call for
you soon. What’s the matter? Are you missing him?’

His teasing
scored my heart.

On the third
evening, a royal servant came to summon me, and I belived that all
must be well. Alofel did seem rather frail and distant, but treated
me kindly, and afterwards, gave me a present; a jewelled pin for my
jacket.

Things
progressed in this fashion for a couple of weeks. Akaten spent more
time with king, but took care to return to me each evening. Or, at
least I
supposed
he took
care. Perhaps it was just coincidence. Representatives from a noble
family were visiting the palace, so Alofel might not have had as
much time as usual for amorous dalliances.

Then one
night, Akaten did not make an appearance. I was waiting for him in
his chambers, and we had definitely agreed to be together that
night. It was one of the girls’ birthdays, and a party would take
place in the women’s quarters. We had planned to go there together.
By the tenth hour of the night, an hour after the party had
started, Akaten had still not come back from the king. Seething
with suspicions, I wrapped myself in a dark cloak and crouched upon
his balcony to watch the garden, although it was unlikely they’d
wander out there now. The autumn rains had started, and each
evening the lawns were soaked. After over an hour of huddling in
the depressing drizzle, I went back into his rooms. I paced around,
lifting objects - all of which were presents from the king - my
head afire with torturing thoughts. Porfarryah’s face swam before
my inner eye; her hard expression, the words, ‘He will
damage
you, Darien. Take care.’
Servants bustled invisibly in the rooms around me, their ears tuned
to my frantic movements. I sensed their delighted whispers, the
exchange of intriguing information, which had no doubt already
fluttered its way into the women’s quarters, spicing up the
conversation at the party. It felt as if the whole palace was
buzzing with gossip about me. I could imagine what was being said:
I had been betrayed. Akaten had used me in a scheme to take my
place at Alofel’s side. I had been fooled by love and beauty. Soon,
I might be sent to the court of some lesser nobleman, because my
continued, useless presence in the palace would be an affront to
Alofel’s sensibilities.

Then Akaten
would lounge like a great tawny cat in my place, his exotic face
wreathed in an enigmatic smile.

I could stand
it no longer.

My feet seemed
to drag my agonised mind out of Akaten’s rooms. I walked slowly,
and with purpose, towards the chambers of the king. Around me, the
echoing halls seemed immeasurably high. Banners of gold and purple
swayed in a distant breeze, miles over my head. I seemed to shoot
out my body to hang among their dusty folds and look down at the
small figure striding along the ancient corridors, his cloak blown
out around him like dark wings, his head surrounded by a halo of
black flames.

The journey
through the palace seemed endless. I was dazed, perplexed by the
eternal flights of shallow steps that made me feel like a tiny,
crawling creature negotiating a fallen pack of cards. From every
shadowed corner, rampant stone lions and gryphons leered down at me
with lolling tongues. Ancient swords clashed upon the walls around
me. I walked in a sick delirium, my mouth full of the taste of
blood and shit, a cruel reminder of my lover of the shrine, who
might or might not have been Akaten. If it had been, how apt his
actions now seemed. He had forced me to taste myself, the most
bitter gall of my inner being, and now I retched upon it, again and
again.

Then the final
flight of stairs were before me: smooth grey stone, carpeted with
velvety red plush. Motionless guards stood to attention before the
great doors that led to the reception room of the royal chambers. I
heard clarions blare, and the howls of victory. I heard the stamp
of many horses.

One of the
guards shifted position a little as I approached. Usually, I was
escorted to these rooms and never came alone.


It’s
all right,’ I said, laying a feverish hand on his armoured arm. ‘I
am expected. Akaten and the king.’

The guard
peered down at me suspiciously through the translucent scales of
his visor. He looked like a legendary bird, wings furled at his
back. But it was only the shift of draperies against the wall.

The
second guard said, ‘Let the boy in,’ and by the secret tone of his
voice, I knew he did not care whether I was expected or not. These
were
my
people. They would
stand behind me.

I inclined my
head to him as I passed through the doors. For a brief time, I
wondered whether I would ever come out again.

I passed
through the dimly-lit rooms like a phantom, drifting through skeins
of woody incense smoke. Luck was with me, for I came across none of
Alofel’s staff. Then, at the door to his bed chamber, his steward
Capronel appeared from a side door. The steward’s eyes almost fell
from his head when he saw me. He rushed forward and took hold of my
arms.


What
are you
doing
here?’ he
hissed.


Let me
go,’ I said calmly.

He shook his
head, speaking in an urgent whisper. ‘I can’t, Darien. You must
know that I can’t.’

I tried
to prise myself from his grip and spoke in a low, clear voice. ‘I
have to
see,
Capronel.
Please, let me see. I’m not going to do anything rash, but I have
to know. My future is at stake.’


What is
the point of seeing?’ he asked sadly. ‘It was inevitable. Come, let
me take you back to your rooms. I will find
Porfarryah...’


No!’
Because I knew I was on the point of being marched out of the royal
chambers, I summoned all of my strength, and broke free of
Capronel’s hold. I threw myself at the doors ahead of me, flung
them wide.

The room was
low-lit by guttering candles. The lovers were sprawled on the wide
bed, among the tangled sheets, apparently well-sated. Akaten lay on
his back, his head resting on Alofel’s lap. He held a goblet of
wine upright on his chest, while the king played with his shawl of
hair. Akaten was talking, gesturing with his free hand. Alofel
gazed down at him like a moonstruck doe. My arrival interrupted
their conversation, and both of them looked towards the door.
Alofel didn’t seem to recognise me at first, probably because it
didn’t occur to him I’d have the audacity to walk in on him, but
Akaten knew me straight away. His expression was unreadable. I
wanted to think it was shock, but mostly I think it was empty.


Darien,’ Alofel said eventually. His voice held the
beginning of censure. Before he could call for his guards, I
slammed the doors shut quickly. I had seen what I’d come here to
see. Behind me, Capronel made an anguished sound, half scolding,
half sympathetic. I brushed away his fluttering hands and went back
the way I had come.

I could have
gone to Porfarryah; she would have been pleased and relieved to see
me, and for my sake, would have kept any smug sense of vindication
from her manner and voice. But I could face no-one. I went back to
my rooms and drank myself unconscious, waiting for the knock of
doom upon my door.

By morning,
the entire palace must have known what had happened, because
Capronel would have told everyone. I had never experienced the
feelings that surged through my body. Such anger, such indignation,
such pain. I had no idea what Alofel would do, but guessed he would
not let the matter pass. I had acted above my station, as if I were
his equal, bursting into his private room like a scorned lover. At
the very least, I could expect a beating, but what I feared most
was dismissal, exile to the house of an ancient noble-man. At any
moment, the guards would come. I paced my chamber, trying to think,
to plan.

BOOK: Thorn Boy and Other Dreams of Dark Desire
8.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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