By UnfailingTwilight (2008)
After traveling with Selendrile for nearly two and a half years, I have changed. We have traveled miles, met many unsavory characters, lodged with kind families and explored cultures I'd have never thought existed. I dinned with the emperor of the orient, tasted spices of the middle east, and admired the graceful cats of the jungles. I know I have changed for the better. I do not believe in just the world around me like those who lived in my home village. I know there is more out there, more to be seen, heard, tasted. But no matter how many people I meet, no matter the places Selendrile and I go, there will be no one else. No one who makes me smile, who makes me laugh, who frustrates me more than him.
I awoke to a warm breeze rushing over me, the wind whistling in the one ear exposed to the air. I was curled against Selendrile's claws, my right side tucked securely against his golden hide. With eyes heavy-lidded, I tried to scan our surroundings, but failed in the waining light of twilight. I shifted slightly to let Selendrile know I was awake and was content to wake slowly as we traveled away from the setting sun, heading northeast. The last thing I saw before the sunlight gave out was a field, freshly harvested hay sitting in neat piles for more than five acres below us. I opened my mouth to protest, knowing what was coming, but the only thing that was able to come from my mouth was a startled shout as I fell to the earth, heading for the largest pile. As my rear hit the dry grass, I gave a muffled cry of indignation, but quickly shut my mouth, not wanting to choke on the brittle stuff. It took me several minutes to dig my way from the center of the stack and to fresh air, free of the thick dust.
"What was that for?" I shouted, looking around for the large dragon. I saw a shadow swoop over me then disappear as Selendrile shifted to human form, completely naked and still unashamed as he appraised me. I rolled my eyes and reached into the pack strapped to my back. Handing him his clothes, I stood and brushed as much of the dirt and dust off as I could.
"I wasn't sure if you had woken up or if you were still dreaming," he answered, pulling on his shirt.
I looked up at him, bewildered. "I wasn't dreaming. At least, I don't remember dreaming."
"You were. It was actually quite interesting. Let's go before someone comes to see what our noise is about." He started walking away, not bothering to see if I followed, as usual. I don't think he knew just where I would follow him. Anywhere.
As we came upon a small shed, Selendrile went in first, then motioned for me to follow. My curiosity peaked as we skulked about. We hadn't done this kind of stealthy movement in nearly a year. We had been welcome guests, honorary invitees to teas and dinners, in people's homes. We had been given many gifts and people longed to hear of our journeys. And now I found the two of us not wanting to be seen or known of. How odd. We hadn't done this since...
"Selendrile, where are we?" I asked, watching him move things to the side and out of the way in our tiny shed. He cleared a space big enough for the two of us to sit comfortably, but not much else. I grew worried when he ignored my question. "Selen--"
"We are about half a days walk from the nearest town. Maybe a few hours slow flight."
"Oh, please don't--" Dread bubbled up near the pit of my stomach.
"We are near the old St. Toby's-By-The-Mountain."
I could barely breathe, but was able to find my voice to hiss at him, "How dare you bring us here! Are you dumping me off here? Have you tired of me? Why didn't you just leave me with the court in the orient? They loved me!" My brain caught up with my mouth then, making me add suspiciously, "What do you mean, the old St. Toby's?"
Selendrile looked at me like he was talking to a simpleton, like a girl who he had foolishly saved from dying tied to a stake. "The town you once knew has been rebuilt and renamed. Only a handful of the original villagers remain. They are all too old to remember you. The village's name is now Moonlight Path and a whole new group of people live there." I blinked at him as he sat, having gently taken my pack from me as he distracted me with talk. He rummaged through it as he continued. "The new population boom there is thanks, in part, to the rumors of a dragon and his mistress burning the evil old village to cinders, making the land more fertile and successful than before." He eyed me as he mentioned the bit about a dragon mistress, then bit into a wedge of cheese. His nose wrinkled as he swallowed it and handed it to me.
I sat and finished the wedge and a hunk of bread silently, absorbing this information. Questions rolled unbidden through my head, making me fidgety. It had only been about three years since we'd left St. Toby's for good. Who exactly was spreading this kind of tall tale? "Where did you hear this from?" I asked, trying to be nonchalant.
"People like to talk in Griswold," Selendrile shrugged, unconcerned, and stood.
"Wait! When were you in Griswold?!" I tried to scramble to my feet, but there was no room with Selendrile's tall form taking up the rest of the room.
"A few days ago, when you slept. Stay here. I will be back, okay?"
I must have had a panicked look on my face, because Selendrile suddenly had my face held securely, but gently between his two hands. I put one hand on his wrist and looked up at his amethyst eyes. "I will return," he said, more gently than before. He held me a moment longer, then walked gracefully out the shed door, reminding me of one of the cats we had seen in the jungle.
A large creature with black stripes that artfully marred their orange coats of fur, I had been entranced by them and their powerful all black cousins. When I asked Selendrile what the cats were, he said the stripped ones were called tigers and the solid black ones were panthers. We had sat in a tall tree for a night watching them and as we'd climbed down the tree near sunrise, I'd remarked to Selendrile that his graceful and powerful movements made him look like the fierce and playful panthers that had frolicked in the small pools of rainwater.
"I remind you of an oversized kitten?" His brow was raised in question, but his eyes held a sparkle of amusement.
"Not necessarily. Right now, you look harmless, like the panthers while they are in pool frolicking with each other. But when they are stalking their prey, as they walk, they are powerful and look so...in control." I ended my explanation, breathless from conviction.
It had been in the last two months that we'd spent in the jungle, in the nine months we'd left the mountainous area of my home, that I had taken my slow decent. My decent felt like heaven within the depth of hell. A sin that felt full of pleasure. I had no right to take this leap. Especially without Selendrile's permission, but I took it, selfishness aside. I fell in love with a dragon. Who obviously felt nothing but ownership towards me. And I didn't care. Just as long as I could be with him.
Even though I knew that I could never be with him, as a woman is with a man.
He even told me so one day, before I had come into my epiphany. I looked at him like he was crazy and told him so. I asked him where that idea had come from and listened, perplexed as he told me something that a lesser fey had mentioned to him a few nights before. "And what made you think it applied to me? Perhaps that fey was just being nosy?"
"Perhaps..." Selendrile muttered, lost in thought. Two weeks later we arrived in the jungle and I then realized that that small sprite or faerie must have seen my feelings coming. How transparent was I?
I had started to doze again while I waited for Selendrile. And he found me there, kneeling against a broken wheelbarrow, tucked into myself, snoozing softly. "Alys," he whispered, stroking my cheek. I leaned into his touch for the warmth. "Wake up. Our home is ready."
I sat up, startled when he said 'our home'. "Huh?" Selendrile looked at me with uncharacteristic patience. "Let's go. Unless...you want to stay with the tools and broken gardening things?" He scratched a spot on his arm that was a little red, no doubt from touching the iron in the shed earlier. Immediately, I wanted to take his arm in my hands and sooth the irritated area with my hands, and possibly with some well-placed kisses, like a mother does for her children's injuries, but with a more amorous intent. Instead, I stood and followed his lead.
Together, we walked what must have been a half a mile or so before we came upon a farmhouse. It was there that we ran into the occupants of the home. Standing in the front yard were an elderly couple, holding hands lovingly. I saw no children, but rather a prim dairy cat who sat at the woman's feet. I snuck a glance at the washing cat, feeling something odd, but saw nothing. When the couple saw us, they smiled large and waved to us. Without warning, Selendrile took my hand and gave me a look that told me to shut up, but quickly transformed the look to one of love and admiration. I was confused and breathless from the look. I must have had stars in my eyes, because the woman gave me a wink when she saw me look back to her.
"Welcome, welcome. The two of you are welcome here for as long as you need!" The gentleman's voice boomed loud, but was gentle. It reminded me of my father.
"Thank you so much, sir. I can't express to you how grateful we are." It was Selendrile who spoke.
"That 'sir' stuff won't work around here, boy. You can call me Valek. And you can call my wife Yellena." Valek shook hands with Selendrile, who had finally released my hand. But both of mine were immediately taken up by Yellena.
The two of us were about the same height, but the similarities between me and the older woman stopped there. Besides our ages, her skin was tanned while mine was pale like porcelain, despite the amount of time I spent outside on our travels. Her eyes were almond-shaped and a warm blue, her nose pert and small, and her body showed of her multiple births. My own eyes were large and dark and my body still held the youth and attributes of a maiden. I blushed at the words she whispered in my ear as she held my hands.
"You've picked a fine boy, lass. Despite the nonsense he is trying to tell me about the two of you being brother and sister." She patted my cheek in a motherly motion and took a few steps back. I stared at her, dumbfounded. The brother/sister plot was his plan again? I wondered if he'd forgotten about what had happened last time, but I kept my mouth shut. I tuned my attention to Selendrile and Valek, who were talking about the upcoming storm for the night. Valek saw me watching the two of them and nodded at me, which sent Selendrile's attention to me. He smiled and took a step toward me.
"Sister, Valek and Yellena have offered us the loft area in their barn for tonight, since their spare room is filled with unused things. Tomorrow, you and I can clean it out if we want to sleep indoors." Selendrile's voice was matter-of-fact, but his eyes told me to play along. Was he really not aware that Yellena saw right through our ruse? I followed his line of sight to the right and saw the aforementioned barn. It looked dry enough, but there must have been a look on my face, since Yellena laughed.
"Don't worry, sweetie, we don't keep animals anymore, now that our sons are grown. We harvest hay for other farmers and sell it. We just keep the stuff in the barn now. No animals, promise."
"Have you eaten, Alys? We fed Selendrile earlier..." asked Valek as we all walked together towards the barn. For a moment, I had no words. Why had Selendrile used our real names?
"I finished our rations while Selendrile was gone, actually," I said before Selendrile could say anything. "Thank you, though."
We reached the barn and Valek showed us how to get up the ladder that lead to the loft. He handed us some blankets I hadn't noticed he was carrying before and bid us goodnight. Yellena winked to me, which made me blush some more, and went off with her husband to their home several hundred feet away.
After we had climbed to the loft, Selendrile finally spoke to me. "Wise of you to keep your mouth shut, for once. Though, I guess I did miss your opinion..." His face held no expression, but his voice was full of humor.
I, however, wasn't truly in the mood to joke. I was full of too many questions. "Why? Why our real names? Why here? And why the brother/sister plan?"
Selendrile took a moment, like he knew he needed to weigh his words carefully. "There was no real point in hiding our real names. We always slip in the end, anyhow. There is no other plan to use unless you want to chop off your impossibly long hair and dress as a boy. Though, that wouldn't even work, since you actually look like a real woman with breasts and curves now. And we are here because it is time you settled down. Anything else?" He settled against a pile of hay and waited for my comments, which were, of course, inevitable.
I stared at him in disbelief. He had noticed my breasts? I mentally shook my head, shooing aside my lusty thoughts and concentrated on the last part of his explanation. "What do you mean, time I settled down?" My voice was full of indignant confusion.
Selendrile sighed. In the back of my mind, I suspected that he had rehearsed this before in his head. "Alys. It isn't normal—isn't prudent for you to live and be around me. I am fey—a dragon! You are human. You need to be with your ilk and me my own."
"But I have no one! And there is no way for me to live on my own without becoming a harlot!" I hissed the last word at him, ashamed to even say it. But the thought had crossed my mind many a time. I thought of how, if I had run from the site of my supposed death, I would have become a beggar on the street until a Mistress would have called on me to her brothel. I shuddered, and hugged myself.
"I would never leave you without something, Alys," Selendrile murmured. "That's why I brought you here. Valek and Yellena would obviously love and care for you like their own. You would most likely earn a part of their inheritance and I would also leave you something so you can take care of yourself until you married. To someone who could care for you and give you children."
I gaped at him for a moment. "Wha—what are you saying?" I crawled over to Selendrile and gripped his collar in desperation.
"We can't go on, Alys. Not like this. It isn't fair to you." He looked down at me, eyes sad, face unreadable. His hands went to unclench mine, but before he could move me, I lost control in my anguish and planted my lips on his.
I hadn't kissed him to change his mind. Not to seduce him. But to see what it would be like, for surely he had plans on leaving me within a week at the most. I wanted to feel what kind of passion a dragon held for someone like me. A tinsmith's orphan who followed him like a tarnished copper. I had thought that he would immediately pull away, wrench me to the side and change shape. Take flight and leave me for good, so I put my weight into the kiss, which sent the two of us tumbling into the haystack.
His hands bypassed their original destination of my own and one went to my neck while the other traveled to the small of my back. I sucked in air as he started kissing me back with nearly as much passion as I held for him. The hand on my back drew circles lazily while his other hand held me firmly to him, not allowing for space between to two of us. We both pressed into one another and a shiver went through me as I heard a moan escape Selendrile's lips. I let out a breath of surprise when I felt a hand move my skirt up my legs, caress my skin gently, then hitch my thigh around his.
"Alys," Selendrile hissed onto my lips. "This is what you do to me. Do you see? See what I mean?" But despite his attempt to make a point, he went right back to assaulting my lips, which were beginning to swell from our activity. My hands, unlike Selendrile's, which knew what they wanted, were everywhere. One moment they were in his long, silken hair, the next they grasped at the fabric of his shirt, trying to remove the obstructing material from my goal—his beautiful skin. I felt him smile when we both heard a noise, a sigh of want—which came from me when the hand that had been at head found a way to untie my bodice and snake its way in.
"Selendrile," I said breathlessly when he moved his mouth to my neck, easily finding a tender and sensitive spot right away. I was well aware of how I was straddling Selendrile, but the moment my hand was able to touch the skin of his chest, he took control and rolled us so that he was on top of me, grinning down at me with a feral lust in his eyes. He put his forehead against mine and watched me with his bright eyes as his hands treated the skin under my shirt as a playground. My eyes grew heavy and I bit down on my lip.
"Alys, do not play games with me," he growled, wrenching himself away from me. I found myself cold without his warm body atop mine and sat up shakily as he stalked the length of the loft.
"What are you talking about?" I demanded, ready to pounce on him the next time he stalked his way back to me. I wasn't done yet and my blood was still pounding rapidly.
"I am no fool. I am not some foolish human boy," he spat the word out as if were poison, "Do not attempt to trick me with wiles to make me stay. Especially when there are not real intentions behind your motives." He stared down at me with contempt in his eyes, but I saw lust clawing at the edges. I realized why when my hand touched my legs, which were bare to mid-thigh. I stared at him, unashamed when I didn't bother to cover myself.
"Who said anything about tricks and fools? You are an idiot, though. You really haven't seen the love I carry for you? How I'd follow you anywhere? Do you remember the week I didn't see you in China? What the servants and the Princess told you when you finally did return? How I had barely spoken or eaten past the first day? How heartsick I was?" Selendrile was quiet, listening with concealed rage. "I thought you had left me for good. The moment I knew you weren't going to come back for me, I was going to die, Selendrile! Better to live with my mother and father and Risa than to not be able to travel and learn and love with you!" I was standing at that point, pushing against him in anger. I had started to cry, but I was past caring. "If you really haven't seen how much I care for you, how much I have fallen in love with you in the last two years, then leave! Go!"
I gave Selendrile an extra shove and went to the haystack. I lay down on it, skirts in proper place, back to the dragon-man, face to the wall and hugged myself. I heard nothing but the gentle movement of hay several minutes later. But the movement was on the other side of the stack and I was alone as I fell asleep to my own tears.
I woke up to thunder at midnight.
Even to my own rational, being afraid of thunder storms was childish and unfounded. Even more so while being around Selendrile. So I curled myself into a ball and tried to keep my cries as quiet as possible, so he wouldn't hear me. But as arms snaked around me, bringing me close to him, I found myself anxious to be with him, to be comforted. He held me tight and shushed in my ear, telling me it would be okay. And once, just once, he kissed my temple, telling me not to be afraid because he would always be there to calm me down. Even if he was lying, it was nice of him to say at the time. The storm ended, leaving just a light drizzle near dawn. And I knew Selendrile was about to leave me.
I pretended to doze fitfully as he shed his clothes, laying them in a pile next to the pack. And tried to be a convincing sleeper as he knelt near my ear and told me he would be back by sunset, the liar. Touching my cheek once more, he jumped from the lone window in the barn and I couldn't help but to watch as he transformed into a beast tales were made of.
Seeing as I was wide awake, I went ahead and changed out of my traveling clothes and into an outfit that was more suited to special wear. It was a type of dress worn in the orient, without a bodice and was just one long piece of cloth. It was made of pure silk, a thread made from little bugs and was a demure, yet lovely pattern of green holly and vines on a black background. While it wasn't the exact style of the China women, it was definitely something exotic. They had made the skirt wider, so that it was easier to move in and the top half less snug so that it didn't reveal all the curves I had. I pulled my hair back with special sticks like I had been shown and started down the loft ladder and out the barn to the house where the obvious smell of breakfast was waiting.
"How lovely." Were the first words from Yellena's mouth. I had to catch the few eggs she held in her hand before they fell to the ground in her surprise. She stroked the fabric and marveled at the craftsmanship. "Just where did you get this, Alys?"
"My brother bought it for me when we went to orient for a few months," I answered unabashed. "We have been traveling for quite some time."
"Selendrile got you something as rare as silkworm fabric? Alys, he must love you!" The confusion on my face must have done the same to her. "Dear, even in the orient, silkworm fabric is expensive. Here, it costs two cows for enough fabric to make that dress you're wearing. There, it would be a month's wages for a normal working man." My eyes must have been wide, since she laughed gaily. "Where is that man of yours? It is almost time to eat and if you want to be in that room by night I'd start as soon as breakfast is complete."
"He went to see if he could find any other belongings of ours on the path. We had to leave some behind and hide them because they became too much to carry." I was disturbed by how easily the lies flowed from my lips.
Then again, less than twelve hours ago my lips had nearly been devoured by Selendrile, an admitted liar. I shiver ran down my spine, remembering the events of the night.
"Oh, dear. He should have had something to eat first. I hope he'll be back soon. Do you want help with the room. Valek and I have our own chores to do, but we can put them off to help a little..." I thanked her but refused. The heavy labor would help me keep my mind off of Selendrile, the dirty snake.
After the three of us ate, chatting about the day to be, I got started on the spare room, Valek went to bale hay to the barn and Yellena started scrubbing the house from top to bottom. "Spring cleaning," she had said when I took a break for water and watched her scrub the ceiling.
All in all, I had moved stuff from the room, dusted and scrubbed, then rearranged some of the furniture that had occupied it. I ended up with a bed that faced the window in the east, a dresser (a luxury I didn't know this farm couple could afford), a table for a wash basin and pitcher, a rocking chair and a trunk resting at the foot of the bed. The things that I decided had no place in the room were an extra stool, a falling apart table, several crates of empty jars and tools that had been broken for years. I traded Yellena the crates of jars for several blankets and quilts for the bed and Valek the tools for fresh hay in the mattress and pillows. The two had told me to place any of the other unwanted things in the loft of the barn, which Valek had kept empty since our things were still up there.
I got ready to descend the ladder and leave the barn just before sunset when I heard my stomach growl. I rubbed it and reminded myself that there was a hot meal waiting for me in the house. But when I heard it again, louder when I finished the climb down, I felt uncertain that the noise was little old me. I looked around the two stacks of hay next to me and saw nothing. I moved farther into the heart of the barn and gasped when a hand clenched down on my wrist.
"You seem surprised that I am here. Why?" He put his face in the crook of my neck and left a few light kisses along my jawline.
"You said you were leaving," I said harshly, trying to ignore the tingling that played on my skin in every spot that he touched me.
"And now I am back. Like I promised." Selendrile kissed the corner of my mouth. "Have you rescinded your amorous declaration?"
I shook my head. "No. But, still..."
"Still," he agreed. "Still, something should be done. To make sure we are never apart, yes?" His fingers played with my dirty strands of hair. I pulled away, but was brought right back by his strong grip. "Don't walk away now, love," he teased, whispering in my ear.
"Hasn't swallowed our story. Neither has Valek. They will just assume we are out here..." Selendrile kissed my nose, looking deep into my eyes. "Have you really changed your mind?" he asked, taking a step back, but keeping his hands on my neck.
"No. I am just worried you'll change yours. You'll get bored of the human and move on in a few years." Selendrile chuckled. "What's so funny?" I asked, annoyed.
"Dragon's mate for life, love. We only fall in love once, so there's no confusion." He kissed me in earnest, then.
His kiss reminded me of my passion from last night, when I had instigated our activities. But this kiss had a different taste, it was purer, not tainted with desperation. My hands immediately found their place, taking off his shirt and twining themselves in his white gold hair. His fingers teased their way down my spine and back up to the buttons that held my dress together.
"I thought you said fey and humans can't mate," I whispered, gasping for air as he carefully slid off my Chinese creation.
"I lied," he said simply against my shoulder. He kissed it, then added, "We won't be able to have children, though." He brought his eyes up to mine, checking if the new information would change my mind. No way.
I answered him with a forceful kiss that sent us sprawling in the hay.
"You know, I probably wouldn't have been as gentle earlier if you'd been wearing something else." Selendrile tugged softly on my hair as I grabbed his hand.
"And why is that?" I asked. I looked around for the dress and saw it laying at least twenty feel away.
"Because I love the way you look in it," he said simply. "And I don't want to leave here just yet to get you a new one." I kissed him, pulling back slowly as a smile crept on his lips.
"Dinner is probably cold," I said longingly. My stomach rumbled, reminding me that I hadn't eaten since the light snack during cleaning. I sat up with the intent to fetch my dress, but was pulled back fast into the hay. "What?"
"They will leave us something sitting out. For now, we only have until sunrise."
"For what?" I asked, confused.
"To bind you to me. You will live as long as I do and never age, you will be a part of me." His amethyst eyes shone bright in the dark. "You will be mine and I yours."
I looked at Selendrile curiously. "And what does that entail?" I wove my hands in his hair, which was a tangled mess from my playing with it.
"Well," he said, looking at me appraisingly. "Definitely more of this." He planted a deep kiss on my lips and pulled away too soon for my liking. I pouted, he laughed. "And some of this." His hand caressed my abdomen, which clenched in anticipation.
"And..." I whispered huskily.
"And more," he whispered on my lips, kissing me feverishly, pushing me into the hay.