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Authors: Storm Constantine

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BOOK: Thorn Boy and Other Dreams of Dark Desire
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Akaten,
what are you doing?’

He ran his
fingers down both sides of my face. ‘I don’t know. I just wanted to
walk with you.’

This was what
I wanted. It had to be, and yet, my insecurities flood my mind. I
should have taken him in my arms then, but a cruel spirit took hold
of me. I desired him, yet in my confusion wanted to hurt him. My
words were unforgivable. ‘Think of your dead Khan!’ I shook his
arm. ‘Only a short while ago, you wanted to die for him. What’s
this all about now? How can you be so fickle?’

He pulled away
from my hold, rubbing the flesh where I had touched him. ‘Don’t,
Darien! Don’t say that!’ I saw his shoulders move. I heard him
weep.


What do
you expect?’

He turned on
me then, angrily palming away his tears. ‘Expect? Understanding.
Was I so mistaken about you? I expect comfort, warmth. I always
believed that’s what friends were for.’

His anger
pierced my heart more than his grief could ever do. ‘Are we really
friends, Akaten? You see life as a simple process, but it is
not.’

He sighed, all
the rage drained out of him. He was not a creature disposed to
anger. ‘My life before seems unreal. I can hardly remember living
it. Sometimes I think someone only told me about it. It’s hard to
recall how I felt.’ He laughed uncertainly, clawed his fingers
through his hair. ‘It was the philtres they gave me. I think they
did something to me, something permanent.’ He laughed. ‘Akaten is
dead. Yes, that’s it!’

I disliked the
gleam in his eyes. It seemed dangerous, a return to the territory
of self-destructive grief, despite his words of feeling nothing.
‘Take hold of yourself,’ I said. ‘You sound mad.’

He was still
laughing, and staggered away from me to lean his forehead against
the tree. I saw his long fingers flexing against the bark. I went
to him and put my hands on his shoulders. ‘What am I doing here?’
he murmured. ‘What’s happening to me?’

I turned him
round. His eyes were black, full of pain. I could resist no longer,
and wound my arms around him. ‘Akaten, you have suffered, and it
takes time to get over that. You mind was dulled, yes, but it was
for your own safety.’


I am
destroyed by grief,’ he said, ignoring my remarks, ‘and that is why
I’m so confused. If I loved Harakhte above all others, why do I
want you?’

I couldn’t
answer, but pulled him closer, expelling a groan of need. He could
be no more confused than I.


Yes,’
Akaten murmured, as if coming to a decision, and then we were
kissing in the night-shadow of the branches. A voice whispered in
my head, You’ve come home,
come
home
...

After some
minutes, Akaten broke away from me. ‘Water,’ he said. ‘I need to be
near water.’

I took his arm
and led him towards the lakes. He staggered at my side, his fingers
digging into my flesh. I took him to a place where thick evergreens
shrouded the edge of the water, and here we sat down. Akaten took
off his shoes and put his feet into the lake. White birds stood
sleeping around us, like statues.


Can we
swim?’ Akaten said.

I shuddered.
‘No! This place is not for swimming. It’s full of weeds and
mud.’

Akaten sighed.
‘I should have known you’d say that.’ He got to his feet and began
to undress himself.


Don’t,’
I said. ‘You’ll regret it.’


Perhaps.’ He stood before me unashamedly naked. ‘Come with
me, Darien. Be daring.’ Without waiting to see whether I’d comply
or not, he stepped into the water and began to wade out to where it
became deeper. I watched him splashing around, wondering how long
it would take for the guards to hear him and come investigating. I
was thinking about whether he’d come back to my rooms, whether we
could make love.

Presently, he
came back to the bank and lay shivering beside me, his skin striped
with slimy weed. ‘That was wonderful,’ he said. ‘You should have
joined me.’


Your
teeth are chattering,’ I replied. ‘Perhaps we should go back
now.’

He smiled, and
stroked my thigh with his damp fingers. ‘No, Darien, if you want
me, you must have me here.’

I remember
uttering an anguished cry, and throwing myself against him, taking
his cold, wet body in my arms. His shuddered in my embrace with
silent laughter, wound his legs around my own. ‘Take me, Darien!’
he said. ‘With Alofel, you have to be a dutiful boy, but I want you
to be a man for me.’


And how
would you behave with Alofel?’ I couldn’t resist asking.


He
waits for me to ask for his love,’ Akaten replied. ‘He will wait a
long time.’


Don’t
ever go to him,’ I said harshly. ‘If you do...’ I couldn’t finish.
I meant that I did not want to have to look upon him as a rival,
someone against whom I would eventually have to take
action.


Give me
a reason not to,’ Akaten said and pulled my face towards his
own.

We are all so
many people; a hundred burgeoning personalities confined within a
single body. I am weak, I am strong. I am afraid, I am courageous.
I am a vessel, I am the fluid that fills it. Akaten was languorous
beneath me, and I was not the person who had swooned in the arms of
the stranger in the shrine. I felt powerful, twice as tall, capable
of anything, but entirely tender. My love-making was as gentle as
the dew falling around us. When I slid into him, he opened for me
like a flower. He was a lily on the water, and I rode him slowly,
so slowly, to the shore.

From
that moment, we became one. In the days that followed, we never
spoke of love, although I was sure that was what I felt for Akaten.
From a young age, I had been trained to suppress my feelings, and
never to speak of them. Therefore, I had no way of knowing whether
Akaten returned my feelings, or was simply comforted by our
closeness. I was obsessed by him, wanted to
be
him, be absorbed by his flesh, sucked into
his mind, so that we would be utterly inseparable.

We tried to
keep our alliance private, but it is impossible to keep secrets in
the palace, and soon it was common knowledge that we spent most of
our nights together. I was unsure as to how Alofel would react to
this news when it finally came to his ears, but he never mentioned
it to me, and his attitude towards me remained unchanged, even
though he must have known I left his bed at midnight to go to
Akaten’s chambers.

Alofel
continued to shower Akaten with presents and now, because it was
obvious that Akaten was no longer stricken, Alofel commanded his
presence. Every day, in the late afternoon, my lover would go to
the king’s rooms and talk with him for over an hour. Several nights
a week, they ate their evening meal together. I did not feel
jealous exactly, but could not entirely eradicate the sense of
unease that these visits conjured within me.

Porfarryah was
scathing of my relationship with the foreigner, and I felt myself
cooling towards her. Our friendship became brittle and fragile,
although we were careful not to let it break entirely. We still
needed to be allies at court.

The summer
passed like a hazy dream. I can still recall the flavour of it; the
endless days in the garden when Akaten would gaze at me smiling,
his long eyes hooded with promise, and the hot nights when we lay
together in the moonlight, our sweat fusing our bodies together,
wrapped in the heavy perfume of night-blooming flowers and sexual
musk. I should have known that nothing ever remains the same. As
Harakhte had once said to Akaten, life is a dynamic process and
change is inevitable.

The Mewts had
accepted their Cossic conquerors only grudgingly, and Alofel’s
advisors had been busy constructing a new government in Mewt, and
making promises to the people in order to keep them tractable. Near
the end of the summer, when the gardens were baked dry and the
lakes almost rancid, a delegation of Mewts came to Tarnax to engage
in talks with the king. Among them was Menefer, the younger brother
of the Khan, whom Alofel had installed as his puppet governor in
Mewt and needed to keep sweet. Alofel had taken advantage of a
family feud. He had learned that Menefer and Harakhte had had their
problems. Perhaps recognising some ignoble trait within his
brother, Harakhte had never given him status within the army or the
government. Now, Menefer was being offered the throne of Mewt, but
there was a cost.

Akaten was
disturbed by Menefer’s presence in the palace, and kept himself
hidden. He told me that Alofel should not under-estimate Menefer.
Whatever grudges might have existed between him and Harakhte, his
loyalties would still lie more with the dead than with the
conquerors. ‘Menefer has had to learn to survive,’ Akaten told
me.

I would not
let the implication slip. ‘Did Harakhte treat him badly?’


They
hated each other as much as they loved each other. The relationship
was complex. You’d have had to witness it to
understand.’

I guessed that
he thought his dead lover’s brother would consider him a traitor,
because he had slipped into life at Tarnax so readily. I hoped the
visit would not be protracted.

The Mewts have
an almost holy regard for beautiful boys beloved of kings, and
Alofel was aware of this. Mewtish folklore was plump with tales
about the mysterious, sacrosanct relationship of male lovers,
whereas the Cossics were far more casual about these liaisons. Most
Cossic noblemen had wives and boys, but there was really little
distinction between them. So, in order to demonstrate to the Mewts
that we Cossics were equally capable of homo-spiritual
relationships, Alofel decreed that while our visitors remained at
court, I must be present at all state functions, silent and
enigmatic at his side. No mention was made of Akaten putting in an
appearance; an arrangement that suited everyone, except perhaps the
Mewts. The situation amused me, because I knew that both sides
regarded the other to be barbarians.

One night,
soon after the Mewts’ arrival, a banquet was held in honour of the
visitors, and Cossic dignitaries from around the land were invited
to attend. Alofel wanted me beside him on the top table, much to
the chagrin of Queen Mallory, whose place I temporarily usurped.
She knew that the Mewts would note how far down the table she’d
been placed. This was unprecedented. In public, when the queen was
present, I was never seated closer to the king than her. At the
time, I did wonder whether Alofel was doing rather too much to
please our visitors. I had no love for Mallory, but we were not
Mewts. We had our own traditions, and should stick with them.

Menefer was a
striking individual, honey-dark of hair and skin like Akaten. His
demeanour was courteous, he had a dry wit and a quick intelligence.
He was clearly wary of Alofel, and would only commit himself to
plans that he deemed were designed to help his people. Honour,
beauty and intelligence; a sickeningly noble combination of traits.
I found it hard to credit that Harakhte had refused this man a
place at his side. It pained me to hear that Menefer was considered
but a shadow of his dead brother. How could Akaten love me if this
were true? I was a pampered plaything, pale and thin; a sickle moon
to the memory of Mewt’s slaughtered sun king.

We sat down to
eat at sunset, I at the head of the table next to Alofel, with
Menefer on his other side. Further down the board, Queen Mallory
sat glaring at us from among her company of women.

Menefer
complimented Alofel on the gracious hall, the wine, the food, the
efficient service of the servants. Then his eyes turned to me. ‘And
your companion delights the eye, a moon child. I have never beheld
a youth so pale and lovely. Such magic must refresh your very
soul.’

Alofel smiled
thinly, perhaps sensing in which direction the conversation was
about to head. ‘Ah yes. Darien is my consolation.’

I bit into a
bitter fruit, mistrust coursing throughout my body, and smiled
rather coldly at the Mewt.


There
is one matter,’ Menefer began delicately, ‘which has been causing
consternation at home.’


Yes?’
Beneath the table, Alofel’s thigh pressed gently against my own in
warning. I returned the pressure. We were both
suspicious.

Menefer
touched his mouth with his finger-tips, made an abrupt gesture. ‘It
concerns my brother’s lover, Akaten.’

Silence fell.
I detected ears around the table tuning into the conversation.
Alofel said nothing, but waited for Menefer to continue.

The Mewt fixed
Alofel with wide, guileless eyes. ‘The truth is, my lord, we want
him back.’

Alofel laughed
politely. ‘That is a matter to be discussed with my advisors.’

Menefer
blinked slowly and shook his head. ‘No. With you. I understand why
you want him near you, but Akaten is a legend in our country. The
people feel he is a prisoner of war and that, to promote good
feeling between our countries, he should be released. My brother is
dead, but Akaten still lives. The people want to honour him. He
must come home.’

Alofel took in
a long, deep breath through his nose. His fingers tapped the
table-cloth with dangerous economy of movement. ‘I do not want to
get into dispute,’ he said. ‘This is not the time nor the place.
Again, I feel this is something that our diplomats should
discuss.’

Menefer leaned
back in his seat, shrugged. ‘I must warn you I am unprepared to
leave here without him. My people would be very disappointed in me
if I did.’ He gestured languidly. ‘I have a reputation to live up
to - my brother’s. You want and need me to be your hand in Mewt,
but you must give me weapons and power. Give me Akaten, to return
to his people, and their respect for me will be enhanced. I will be
honest. Not everyone in Mewt is happy that I am here now. Some
still talk of resistance and war.’

BOOK: Thorn Boy and Other Dreams of Dark Desire
13.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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