Notes: I last edited this January 30, 2005, and so it has been almost two years since I've read The Seventh Tower series. I don't really remember much about it. Originally, this was going to be part of a larger story, and I was going to show the gradual change in Tal and Milla's relationship as they grew up and came to have more adult feelings for each other. However, I didn't get enough ideas for a plot (I had plot idea, and Tal/Milla was going to be a subplot), so this sort of just "sat on the shelf gathering dust". I was going through my files today and thought, "I might as well post this, I'm not going to write the story. It's been too long since I've read the series." So I fiddled around with the beginning (so it'll probbly seem disconnected, out of character... whatever) just to set up the main part of the story, which revolves around the dancing.
Also, I wrote this with Carlos Gardel's Por Una Cabeza playing in the back of my head. Those who have seen True Lies would recognize it as the tango piece Arnold Schwarzenegger dances to at the beginning, with Juno Skinner (one of the antagonists), and at the end, with his wife. The specific names I bring up in regard to dances and steps were completely made up. I know absolutely nothing about dancing. Only that it looks beautiful and I wish I could tango. Heh.
Hope you enjoy.
The Summation of Dancing
In the Castle on the Mountain of Light, the people were preparing a welcoming celebration. Milla Talon-Hand, War-Chief of the Icecarls, was returning after a year's absence.
One particular occupant of the castle was anxiously anticipating said return.
The Emperor of the Castle whirled around and spotted Gill approaching him. A grin graced her face. An evil, malicious, scheming grin, Tal noted, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.
"Hardly an appropriate way to address an Emperor."
Gill smiled innocently at them. "Then I suppose you don't want to hear my news?"
He sighed, then said, "Fine, fine, out with it."
"Milla's just arrived…"
Gill didn't even finish before Tal left the room, presumably to meet his old friend.
Five days had gone by since the welcoming celebration, and Milla had scarcely seen Tal. Not that I need to, she told herself, surprised and annoyed that she even needed to reassure herself on that issue. I am an Icecarl warrior. Dependant on no one…
He had been there when she arrived, and at all the meals, and conferences…
But something had been bothering her. Over the past six years, her relationship with Tal had changed… and yet not changed. What changed about it? she asked herself. All through dinner, she asked herself, What has changed about it? What has not? Why do I feel … impatient? Unsure?
Her thoughts and feelings bothered her, for surely she had other more important things to think about – like her people, for instance. But at the same time, she felt that she must get this matter sorted out quickly. Distractions were bad.
Distractions like how she felt Tal's eyes on her, yet when she turned to meet his gaze it was gone. Distractions like how this bothered her. She should not be bothered – she should be in control of her emotions.
Yet, no matter how much she thought about it, she could not come to an answer. Being alone, she let out a cry of annoyance and aggravation. Emotions… it was better to be without them.
"Tal is in the Crystal Wood."
Apparently not so alone. She turned slowly to find Ebbitt standing casually behind her.
"Why would that be of significance to me?" she responded icily, but only because she feared the crazy old man could read her thoughts. He said a lot of suggestive things about her and Tal's relationship, and she could never tell if he was just joking, or if he actually expected there to be something more between them than friendship.
Ebbitt shrugged. "You seem stressed. Nothing like a bit of music to calm the nerves. Or dancing? You and Tal always made good dancing partners…"
"We only danced together because you forced us to take lessons. There was nothing calming about."
"Good politicians always need to be good at dancing around each other…"
The comment made no sense, so Milla ignored it and turned to look out the window. After a few moments, when Ebbitt did not say anything more, Milla glanced over her shoulder to see he had left. Her blue eyes closed in thought.
Fifteen minutes later, she entered the Crystal Wood. Tal seemed to have been waiting for her, for he spoke only seconds after she entered.
"Join me for a dance, O Gracious War-Chief of the Icecarls," Tal requested, beckoning to her with open arms. "I can't seem to find a worthy dancing partner in all the castle."
"And now you search the Icecarls for one?" Yet she took a step forward. "Do you expect to find a dancer among warriors?" One blond eyebrow arched up. For Milla, it was an expression which was totally out of character for her. Tal felt the tips of his ears begin to flare ('is it getting hot in here?' – the answer was no, of course, for the Crystal Wood was kept very cool) – luckily his long hair covered the red glow that would have given the game up early.
He closed the distance between them.
"Yes," said he, his breath swirling in a mist before her lips. "I expect to find you."
He seized her hands, and before she could say another word, they had begun the simple box step Tal's father had taught him.
Milla's mouth curled into a smirk, "And you find no partner to match you at this?" She followed his steps with ease.
"No, Malen is quite good at the box step," he admitted. For a second Milla's eyes flashed with a dangerous emotion Tal could not name. "But it's been a year, and I wanted to give you a warm-up."
At that, he broke the pattern and began something more complex. Milla struggled to keep the rhythm at first, but then –
"Benamel's Step," she declared, tilting her chin approvingly. "To think an Icecarl would recall the name's of obscure dance patterns."
"Indeed." Tal was watching her lips, and his eyes were far too close for comfort.
"But what about Rynardí?" she asked – more like challenged. Rynardí was infamous for complicated twirls. As Tal adjusted to the change, he found himself swinging Milla away from him. But after a duck under his arm, she was back beside him. He'd misjudged the distance, though, and their chests collided with a dull thump. Tal felt his heart race and was sure Milla could feel it pounding against his ribs as well.
"Or the tango?"
When the words left his mouth, music flared up. Ebbitt had entered, and was conducting from the central stone. Tal's sunstone shined a deep violet-red: the color of passion fueled by a deep, understanding love.
Neither of them noticed.
They locked gazes, and the only color Milla saw was Tal's devoted brown eyes. And the only color Tal observed was the cool blue of Milla's distant gaze.
"Let's dance," Milla breathed, and for once she feared the exuberant beating of her heart would give away… everything.
Little did she expect – her smile had done so already, four years ago.
Their feet did the work for them, and in fact, it came so naturally they did not need to bother concentrating on their footsteps. They simply fell into place.
A crowd was gathering in the pews around them, though the place had been empty minutes before. The War-Chief of the Icecarls wore a simple white dress – how odd, they thought, to see her without her furs and armor.
"They compliment each other so perfectly," Malen noted from above. "…but they do not realize it."
"Yet," Gill amended. "Yet. But who can tell? They whisper now – speak only to each other."
Tal twirled Milla once again, but this time the step required their bodies to meet, and so they did. Milla closed her eyes in an attempt to overcome her feelings and shake herself from this trance. The problem was, her feelings had already succeeded in doing so. She could lie to herself no longer. She must say something.
But he beat her to it.
"It is not easy, wooing the Queen of Ice."
"Oh?" Milla started. "Is that what this is?"
They swung around in a circle of steps before he answered.
"To sum it up in a word."
The beat carried on. Around them colors swirled – all deep, and pure. Vibrant red cast itself out and white fluttered in and then the two met in a splash of pink. Yet the movement remained fluid.
"And it is not easy," she stated, her voice steady and clear, yet subdued to a low tone only her partner would hear, "to be wooed by the Emperor of Light."
He grinned, dipping her low and then raising her back up.
"What a pair we'd make."
At the thought, Milla felt her cheeks burn. Who knew a warrior's heart could be sought and taken?
Clovil joined Malen and Gill in the risers. He had come to tell them something, but when he reached them they seemed dazed. He followed their gazes, and could not stop his jaw from falling.
"When did Milla learn to dance like that?" he blurted.
"With Tal," Gill replied, unblinking. "Last year. Ebbitt taught them."
"More like forced them to listen and obey," Malen corrected.
"It seems to have worked." Gill blinked, and finally turned to acknowledge Clovil. "What was it you needed?"
"I…" his voice faded. He shook his head. "I can't remember."
His eyes had become entranced as well as colors swirled below – for they stood at the top of the arena.
He murmured, "I didn't know either of them were… so…"
"…graceful," finished Gill.
"It is like watching the mating patterns of Selski," Malen commented. Gill and Clovil nervously turned to face Malen. "Um, not that I've seen it," she added hastily. "But watch how they sweep around each other. Touch each other. It is… suggestive. Yet beautiful."
"Dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire," came Ebbitt's voice from the central stone.
Milla didn't even glance in his direction.
"If Milla heard that," Clovil warned, "You would be dead…"
Ebbitt's eyes glinted mischievously. "She's put up with worse."
No one dared question him further.
Instead, they turned back to the 'show' to see Tal fling Milla towards an indigo crystal tree. In perfect form, he caught her fingertips and daintily she fell back into his arms. Gently, those arms then proceeded to lower her towards the floor. Her back arched as her head fell, inches from the floor. She did not for a moment worry of being dropped.
Then the crystal flashed white, and the music ended. Though both Tal and Milla carried the beat on with their hearts.
Slowly, Milla rose and faced Tal straight on.
He was taller than her only by a few inches, but still she had to incline her eyes to view into his. He was smiling, and in his face she saw all their moments together, like she had four years ago. All the times she had thought him stupid and immature, only to be outsmarted by him. No normal person would stand for it. But then Milla had never been normal.
His lips were parted slightly, and she heard a sharp intake of breath. She thought it was his, but she would never know for sure.
She would always remember, however, how it was she who closed the final distance between them.
The tension between them broke like a Selski crashing through a veil of ice. And, like ice, their composures shattered.
Tal responded to her kiss immediately, his mouth pressing into her as if he'd been holding it for years. Desperate longing draped his arms around, and pulled her closer. She never felt smothered; instead, she threw her arms around his neck. Suddenly her feet left the ground. Surprised, she pulled away, and heard heavy gasping. Her own.
"You make me someone else," she said. It was difficult to understand her between her raspy grasps for air, but Tal was paying complete attention.
"You've changed me, too," he admitted, setting her down. "But it was the best change a person could need."
She did not respond, but neither did she leave his embrace. She was afraid she'd collapse if she did. Her knees felt funny. Weak. They would not support her.
"I fear the consequences of these – " her throat closed up, and she had to swallow several times. "…feelings."
"Do not run, Milla," Tal pleaded. "Isn't that the Icecarl way?"
"I do not know the Icecarl way for dealing with… with…"
Tal interjected, "With passion?" He poked her nose with his. "Passion is not – is never – 'dealt' with."
"Passion?" Milla choked. "Is that what this is?" She closed her eyes and swallowed – again.
"To sum it up in a word."
He tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear. "I've never seen you so peaceful. Even during your Rovkir breathing exercises."
She opened her eyes and found him grinning.
"Impossible," she said simply.
"Quite possible," he answer back – smug. He pulled Milla close, and let her head rest on his shoulder. And then, out of a sudden, he was on his knees, holding her hand ever so delicately. "I would be so honored, Milla Talon Hand, to take you for my wife." His eyes never left hers.
"And do you think my heart is so easily taken?" But a flutter stirred in her breast, and overwhelmed, she breathed out a hot puff of air that rose from deep within her. Until that moment, she had forgotten to breathe. For she had asked herself the same question moments earlier, and had startled herself with a positive answer.
She gazed down at him, her eyes a fury of amusement and … something else. Something Tal was hesitant to name, and yet he already had.
"I want you, my lady," he replied regally. She waited.
"You want me…?" she asked, impatience gripping her.
"I want you," he repeated, continuing only with care, "to be… that is to say, I think I have found a good dancing partner."
"Is that so?"
He had never heard someone speak so soft and light.
"And," he plowed on, "I intend to keep – her. If she shall keep me."
"An Icecarl is no easy person to keep. We are nomads. We follow no map."
His rise from a kneel to a stand was slow. Milla felt his hands grow cold and sweaty. Yet his eyes stilled pulsed with the steady beat.
"It is the males who seek possession and commitment," Malen recited, her voice hushed, "for unlike most creatures, that is the Selski way."
Clovil, Gill, and Ebbitt shushed her. Tal and Milla remained oblivious.
"But," Milla continued, "We follow, when it seems right to do so, our hearts and intuition. Though those are rare times," she nodded, pointedly, licked her lips, which had gone dry, and continued, "But love is one of those times."
"Love?" Tal murmured. "Is that what this is?"
"To sum it up in a word."