I really enjoy reviews, and I always make it a habit to reply to those individuals who take time out of their busy day to tell me their thoughts on the stories I write. I won't know how to improve unless others tell me what they like and do not like about a story. A good chunk of why I write is because I wish to improve my skills, not just write a story that pops into my head. And this story's got some themes that some people find squicky, I get that, so reviewing may not come as easily, or finding the words to explain your thoughts might not be coming either, I totally get that. If I had a penny for every time that happens to me, oh I'd be a rich woman. But if anything does come to mind, please feel free to share, I'd really appreciate it. Ya'll are what keeps me writing on a story, because the story's already written in my head, I already know where everything is going and how it will end, but the drive to actually put it down for posterity fades when there's not much input. Okay, wait, that sounded whiney. Sorry! But I mean that it's kind of like, if people don't like it enough to indicate they find certain things worthwhile (or not worthwhile as the case may be) how am I to know how to improve? So...yes...Crap, that sounded ranty. Dangit.
Title: The Taste of Perfection
Summary: A temptation, that craving for the knowledge of what true completion was - it all nearly broke him, because of the simple taste of perfection.
Disclaimer: Me no own, you no sue.
AN: An idea that popped into my head. Pre-creation of the Golden Army. As per Lei's request, I'll add a squick warning, and there's also some major UST on Nuada's part, even if he does get laid... Ties into A Darkness Rises Beneath but takes place about two thousand years beforehand, and spans to just after Nuada's self-imposed exile. I'm operating on several assumptions, one is the fact that the Morrigan is a triplet goddess, two the Greek belief that twins were of two fathers (one godly, one mortal), three that Nuada and Nuala are as the gods made them and since their mother is a god, as per Juliette Louise's Fear Me and Fear Her mythos, that the Morrigan knew exactly what she was creating. Anyone familiar with various mythos is aware that hubris of man causes grief, and ignoring the (frequently unclear) dictates/desires of gods incurs their wrath. In this chapter they are about 140ish, the war with humans has begun but not progressed to its culmination. Again, remember that these are a series of scenes that add up to the eventuality that we all know is coming.
At this time unbeta'd, briala and I are swamped with NaNoWriMo at the moment.
"Walk with me my son," Balor approached him, gesturing for him to follow.
Half-wary, Nuada worried that he would receive recriminations for the time he had spent with Nuala the other day. "Yes, Father."
They walked the great stone hallways of the inner palace, tapestries of eras past hanging from the walls. Their footfalls echoed oddly, picking up the nearly soundless tread and throwing it back. It was a strange sort of music, the cadence nearly that of a march.
"I wanted to tell you that I am proud of you, my son," breaking the silence.
Startled, Nuada glanced sharply at him. "For what reason Father? I've done nothing in particular."
"Blanaid did not visit your room then?" the look was faintly amused.
Blinking momentarily as he sorted his memory for the woman's name he admitted his failing. "I never did ask after her name I believe. It did not seem important."
His father paused, halting mid-step before letting out a deep laugh. "You'd best not let a woman ever know that!" Nuada nearly stumbled from the force of his father clapping him on the shoulder. "And that is a vital lesson any young man needs to know - all cats are quite grey in the dark, but you had most certainly remember their names. At least for a time."
Smiling weakly, Nuada tried to look chagrined. "As you say Father, your experience in this is much more than mine."
"Indeed it is," nodding once.
They continued, and Nuada barely noted the familiar surroundings, wondering how he could flee this conversation as quickly as possible. He wanted no more reminders of what he had done, wanted nothing to do with the memory of what he had gone through. Still, it was gratifying to have returned to his father's good graces.
His thoughts were interrupted by Balor's suddenly serious tone. "I trust that it assisted you in dealing with your issues pertaining to your sister, and that you will be able to keep yourself on a tighter reign?"
Sucking in a deep breath, he made himself nod agreement. "Of course Father. As you say, all cats are grey in the dark, and it does not matter much which one it is I deal with."
"Good, we understand each other," Balor halted before his quarters. "See that you continue to quench your blade elsewhere and far from Nuala and I will not have to send her to another court to keep you from temptation."
"Of course Father, I will make sure that it is not necessary for you to do so." Forcing himself to stop his father before entering his rooms. "Father, I wished to know if...if it was acceptable to take her for a picnic Above. Not far, but she requested that I show her the sky. Must I deny her?"
Balor pursed his lips, staring at him for a long time. "Will you control yourself?"
"Yes Father. It is for a picnic, nothing more. I only wish her to be happy and well," it was a struggle to not shout and rail - for that was always all he wanted, he would neverdo anything to do her harm. Ever.
"Then you may," acquiescing. "But do not tarry long Above, else I may suspect you of impropriety."
And here he had thought he was returned to his father's graces. At the heart of the matter, his king believed him a monster, without honour, without self-control. One who would do harm unto the one person he loved above all others, honoured above all others, needed above all others. His nature may be bestial, his nature may be dark, his nature may be all things of force - but he was not without honour. He was not without control or discipline. Searching his father's familiar and loved visage, he sought desperately to find some sign that his father trusted him at all.
And found no comfort there.
The knowledge that his father could deny everything that Nuada had done over the years to keep himself from doing anything to his sister left him bitter. Even as he was what the gods and his father had made him, he was still lessor, still not enough. He despaired of ever proving to Balor he was fit and sound to his satisfaction. Hoping that another sacrifice of self might sway him, Nuada stilled the quivering wail in his lungs before it had any breath to be born.
Bowing, "I will see to my needs before and after if that will satisfy you."
Balor grunted in surprise, "More than. See that you do."
Steeling himself, Nuada warned Nuala that he was going to seek to silence their bond for a time. Of course there was her pleading, but he again reiterated that he must do such for it was their natures to be as they were. Since his was to guard her, and hers was to be connected to him, it was a struggle that neither could win because of the dictates that constrained both. Taking a deep breath, he released it slowly, ignoring the ache of the silence in his mind and heart as he opened the door to his rooms.
Bladain was there, the woman who was not Nuala, would never be Nuala. He had expected her to be dressed, he had also expected her to be in his bed. Instead she was on the couch, nude, eating bites of winter melon as she lounged. It was purest relief that she was there and not invading his bed, or expecting anything of him beyond what they had shared last time.
Shutting the door behind him quickly so that there was no chance of some prying eyes seeing her, "I am glad you answered my request, Lady Bladain."
The smile she quirked around the finger she was sucking clean was amused. "So you doknow my name, Your Highness? It appears I lost the bet I made with myself."
Taken aback, Nuada's brow creased. "A bet? With oneself?"
"Hmmhmm..." Another nibble, her lids were hooded. "If you knew it, then I would treat myself to a nice soak in the springs."
"And if I did not?" moving to take the goblet she held out to him.
"Then I would treat myself to a nice soak in the springs!" her laughter made no sense to him.
Confused, Nuada sought to cover it with a deep drink, emptying his cup of wine far too quickly for his tastes. "And so either way you win."
A piece of melon was pressed to his mouth as she leaned close, "Of course. Never bet when you know you might lose. Now, what might you like?"
Once more he was startled by the direction Bladain took, thinking that the question was fairly odd considering it should be obvious. "I would like to lay with you."
"I guessed that already Your Highness," the softness of her mouth touched his cheek while she spoke, the sweet of melon on her breath as she whispered. "I meant what would you like to partake of? Do you have time for fun, or are you in a hurry?"
Cocking his head, he shrugged. "You are better versed than I am, I do not know what would take less or more time. I would not say that I am in a hurry, however I would also not say that I have all day." He took a deep breath before forging on, "I do know that I would appreciate it if you were available after my engagements later on today to spend a greater amount of time with me."
Bladain quirked a brow, sucking on her bottom lip. "Fast now, and slower later then. I will await to attend to your pleasure here after we are done now." Nuada tensed, and she let out a throaty laugh. "I will merely take a nap - here. On the couch, Your Highness, for that is clearly where you prefer me."
"That is acceptable," releasing a sigh of relief.
Hands were at his belt as soon as he finished agreeing, and he found his manhood quickly brought out into the open as she slid from the couch, kneeling between his legs as she spread them. Gasping when she took his soft prick into her lips the wet suction and fluttering of her tongue over his member caused him to harden in short order. Swirls and suckling, the twisting of her hand around his shaft pulled groans from him until he had to clench his hands and his head tipped back. It had been long enough since he last sated his body - in truth, since he had given Bladain his virginity - that it took nearly no time before he was spilling, and she was swallowing around him. A kerchief was wiped over his groin until the stickiness was gone, and her deft fingers were retying his belt and straightening him up as he regained his wind.
Rising slowly, he dipped a bow to her. "Thank you."
Bladain returned to picking over the platter of finger foods on the low table. "You are welcome Sire. I will await your return patiently, so please, take your time and enjoy your picnic with your royal sister."
Stiffening, Nuada shot her a hard look that she obviously took no note of as he fastened his armour's ties. "I'll do just that."
He was tired of the on again, off again war with humans. For every five years of relative quiet, there was an entire one of war. The seasons passed and Nuada found a rhythm to abide by, grating as it was. Pulling his dark navy gloves off and tucking them into his sash, Nuada strode purposefully away from his father's quarters where he had briefed him of the battles he had partaken of. His manservant Turlach met him halfway, holding out a wineskin.
As Nuada took long, deep pulls from the skin, Turlach released a sigh. "Sire, Lady Aine has refused to attend you today."
Pausing, he let his hand fall from the position of dispensing the strong wine. "And what of Finea? Or Caireen?"
"Or any of the other women that you have entertained of late? Not a one has chosen to go to your quarters." Turlach shook his head. "One could suppose that General Colin's daughter, the Lady Muirne would be happy for Your Royal Highness' company."
Making a face, Nuada grunted once, taking another long pull. "Unsuitable. The General wants too much a match for she and I, and she wants what I will not give her. Find me another." Seeing his manservant's unease, he waved his hand. "What is it? Out with it man."
"Her Royal Highness is also in your chambers." Turlach was older than him by at least a century, and had been his personal servant for nearly all of his life, and as such Nuada was able to read the tightness at the corner of his manservant's mouth as disapproval. "She has been there since the evening before last."
Halting Nuada turned to him in full. "Turlach, I have known you for how long?"
"Over a hundred years, Sire," the answer stiff, nearly nervous.
"Has serving me been so truly terrible that you cannot fulfill my fairly low expectations?" asking as he capped the half finished wineskin.
Surprise altered the other man's features. "My Liege, I live but to serve you."
Grunting, Nuada pursed his lips and cocked his head. "No, you serve firstly my father whom you spy upon me for, which I have tolerated all these years. Secondly you inform the servants when my frequently neat room might need cleaning. Your third service is to relay any requests I have for baths or food that I make. Fourth is to see to my weapons and gear, which I have never allowed you to, as between us, I am the warrior and my gear is vital for my life. My fifth, and only true personal service I have ever asked of you is to find me suitable female companionship when I require it. These are not difficult tasks, to be sure, even a human could do it. So, why have you failed me, and why have you allowed my sister to take up residence in my quarters when it is so unseemly?"
Turlach flushed at his accusations. "Your Highness I -"
Cutting him off, "No more. Find someone else to serve so faithfully. I will even give you a letter of commendation. Your last service for me will be to send a meal for my sister and to inform her I will be indisposed."
Not waiting to see if he would do it, Nuada spun on his heel to return to his father's quarters. If he was to have any respect as the Heir and Warleader outside of the battlefield, it was time for such charades to end. Barely sparing the guards at his father's door a sliver of his attention, he strode in unannounced. It truly didn't matter - he was Heir, Warleader and chiefly his father's son. No one would stop him, even if they whispered behind his back.
Balor rose quickly, "Nuada, what is the meaning of this?"
Glancing behind his shoulder to be sure the door had closed, he stared long and hard at his father, treating him to the same examination the King had given him so often. "Next time you wish to know of my personal activities - ask me instead of my valet. I will be having Turlach replaced forthwith. The games end now."
His father held up a hand, nodding. "You are a man now, that is correct. Your business is your own and having a handpicked man would be good for you."
Nuada inclined his head with the barest of twitches at the acknowledgement, but it did not satisfy. "If you feel you must have spies set upon me, Father, at least have the courtesy to make sure they are not so obvious. I have known for years what he was, but as he did what little I asked of him well enough, I let it be."
"He failed his duties to you?" Balor sat heavily in his chair, gesturing for Nuada to come and sit.
Ignoring the offer, he jerked his chin up. "My needs are simple, and he failed in finding me a suitable woman and allowed Nuala to take up residence in my rooms before I was...fit enough company."
"Ah... Nuada, my son, sit," another gesture to the chair.
Hiding his grimace away, he did as bid finally, claiming the edge of the chair for while in his midnight blue armour and with his sword at hip - it was uncomfortable. "Since I will be delayed, it behooves me to find a necessary companion before I am allowed to see Nuala in a somewhat timely manner Father. I've little time for this."
His father combed a hand through his beard thoughtfully. "Allowed you say? And who has put such a constraint on you my son, for I certainly have not."
Scoffing, "Have you not? I was under the impression these last decades that I had best 'quench my blade elsewhere' so as to not put her at risk of catching my illness. Nothing else would satisfy you, and I can see that you are still not mollified." Continuing flatly as though musing aloud something he had just realized, "Then again, nothing likely ever will, for if I could find whatever it was, I would do it to silence your disapproval and regain your trust. However, I am man enough to know when such battles are lost. And at this point it is no longer worth my time when there are far more pressing matters to deal with than the worries of a paranoid man incapable of trusting his own Heir and offspring."
Balor met his stern gaze with a long, silent and imperviously blank mask. It was similar to staring into a mirror in some ways. They were at an impasse, and both knew it - or Nuada knew it. There was no going back any longer, the silent war of wills was now far more than lines in the sand. Nuada knew it was a war with no victor, only losers, but would not give in and roll over like a meek puppy showing its belly. He was man enough now, and spent nearly all of his time Above during war-years, the handful of 'quiet' ones usually times he used to find and train more troops, that this situation was no longer tenable. It was about time that his King knew that.
"You have gone through many women in such a brief time, as though they were plentiful," the topic was the same, the underlying issues still present even if it was no direct answer to his statements. "Can you at least pretend to be a more...regular man?"
Standing though he was not dismissed, "It is better to appear to be a monster than actually be one and raise their hopes that I might desire more of them." Sketching a bow, "Was it not you who taught me that one cannot have it both ways, Father? And so I go, as you know I must, for some sad attempt at appeasing you."
He didn't wait for his father's response, nor did he care about it. Resolving to go find Bladain as that was a woman who knew his needs, and was friend enough to grant him mercy, Nuada exited his father's chambers. As the door closed, he knew his adolescence was truly at an end.
His muscles were stiff, but it was of no import. Nuada was used to it at this point, these stretches of time when there were always wounds healing, pain to mute and muffle from Nuala, and had become just normal items to do during his days. He didn't let it hinder his activities, or the time he spent with her. They had taken to dancing in the gardens, not just walking or picnicking, and grace was a necessary thing to maintain. Nuala of course felt no effects of any shared wounds, so he had learned to hide his stumbles and winces until it was all locked away behind the mask of comfort and ease.
Their meal was spread out and they had finished their paces after he did a grand spin with her in his arms, just to hear her laugh. Her arms were wrapped around his shoulders, and her hair whirled out, laughter ringing in his ears like music. His heart lifted with each peal and as he set her down both of them were breathless with it, and she half stumbled to the blanket falling upon it with a giggle. Chuckling he sank down beside her with a bit more reserve. Their music-less dances were something that kept him sane while on the march, their picnics all he looked for when it came to returning. Otherwise, there were days he had considered never returning, finding little enough to truly hold him other than duty to Underhill. He could survive Above and Without, could find some place where no humans were so plentiful, some place where a man could have a shadow of peace and a bit of land to call home.
Propping himself up on an elbow as he lay on his side, "It will be nice once winter comes. The war season will pass, and I will be able to take you Above to see snow again."
Nuala lit up like a flash, "Snow? It's almost that time? Really?"
"Yes," laughing at the fact that she so easily lost track of time. "Mounds of the stuff, it is everywhere. You will have to dress very warmly, sister. We would not want you to catch cold."
At some point he found himself brushing and braiding his sister's hair, combing his fingers through the silken tresses, the sensation tickling between his fingers. Their conversation had gone in all directions as their long talks usually did, meandering through everything large and small except the few areas he kept her from. But those were things she no longer pressed him on, finally, to his heartfelt relief, accepting that there were times when he had to shut her out. Part of why they were able to spend such long hours like this was due to those times, and partly to assuage his guilt at hurting her in that manner. As well as reward for himself for having to swallow bitter medicine.
"I want to see where you are hurt, my brother," her head tilted to one side as he tied off the herringbone braid he was weaving.
Stroking his hands over her shoulders as he leaned in to press a kiss to the back of her head, "I am fine."
Nuala took the hem of her dress, lifting it to show the bare and curled leg beneath, "No you are not. I've the stitches to prove it. Now let me see!"
He was glad her back was to him so she did not see how his eyes locked on the expanse of marble white skin, marred with matching scars to his and by a neatly stitched gash. Moistening his lips, he struggled for an even tone, "Nuala, I'm wearing trousers."
"So?" a puzzled frown furrowed her brows as she twisted to look up at him, leg still dangerously bare.
Gritting his teeth Nuada forced his gaze to find a different direction to stare as his entire body came alive with the hunger to touch her skin. "We are in a garden, private as it may appear, it is still a place where just about anyone could come upon us."
She waved a hand dismissively, "You are my brother, and everyone knows that. Any who came past would know that. Besides, what is wrong with it? You've nothing I have not seen before."
Jealousy surged up and he smothered it before he showed any of it as he summoned a politely interested voice. "And where might you have seen what all a man has?"
"Whenever you are in the bath," she shrugged, twisting around more, the hem of her dress going with her, hiking up even higher, making his mouth go dry and his hands shake.
He swore he could feel his left eye twitching in its socket, and he ground out as best he could in a stern fashion, "Speaking of which, you truly should stop doing that you know. I am an adult, there is no need for my sister to go about washing me as though I were an invalid. It is not as if I barge in on you," Nuada had to pause as he thought his voice might crack when the image of Nuala, nude, in a tub awaiting his hands to clean the dirt of the day from her body burst into his mind's eye, "when you are bathing."
Nuala rose up on her knees, hands going to his shoulders, "You could, I miss when you used to wash my hair, brother. Oh, that would be lovely, it has been so very long."
"Yes. Well. Never mind that, it is unimportant." Clamping his hands on her waist for the simple need to still their fine trembling, "I am not taking off my trousers simply so you might see a few stitches."
He realized his mistake too late as she came in to kiss his cheek, her svelte form pressing against him. "You are quite impossible, dearest Nuada." When she leaned away, he knew he was heated and flushed, he had felt it wash over him head to toe at the compound of contact, imagery and how his head had suddenly filled to the brim with her scent. "Are you quite well? You've turned gold and you are much warmer than a few moments ago."
Gently he pushed her away from him so that there was space between their bodies in the hopes she would not notice his erection. "I am fine, my sweet sister, no need for concern."
She stared at him for a moment, her head canted to the side. "I am not comforted. You had best let me see your wound, it likely needs to be examined if you are taking a fever so quickly."
It took every scrap of discipline to still his racing heart. "No, no that is not necessary. At all."
"You always wish to check over my wounds, brother. I expect the same courtesy of you," steel entered her countenance. "It is not right for you to tell me no in this. I will not be swayed. If you are hurt, I know about it, and I wish to check you over myself, to ensure that you will be healthy and well, for I love you far too much to risk losing you." Her full lips firmed, and she sat back on her heels, once more lifting her dress to show him the wound that was twin to his own that spanned from her outer thigh to just above her knee as it curved towards her inner leg. "Check mine as you always do, and I will check yours. I know mine always heal so much faster when you do so. I think it has something to do with our link, so we must be sure to apply our energies to helping the other."
Tested to the limits of his ability, Nuada grabbed the hem of her dress, yanking it down to cover her thigh. "Please Nuala. Stop that, we are children no longer!"
"Well of course we're not!" She yanked the material from his grasp, "Now see to me, so that I might see to you."
Desperate, he searched for something, anything to end his torture. "We are in a semi-public place!"
"Well then let us retire to your room and we can see to each other properly," it all sounded so reasonable, and so unbearable said like that, and it forced him to begin shutting her out for fear of having his thoughts spill over too much. "That is a very odd look, brother, and - oh! You stop that this instant!"
Turning from her he quickly put their picnic away, "We do as we must, sister."
Her aggravation was like a cloak thrown over, and into his mind, Nuada, why do you do these things? Your constant protests are rude and unkind to someone who loves you so much. I would never deny you anything, and yet you deny me constantly.
He almost responded, but she was rising, and he felt how much her heart hurt, for he had not shut that out, only closed the door on his thoughts so she could not feel him. Normally she was so graceful, normally she was so calm, even when upset or hurt, but he must have touched a nerve for Nuala stumbled. With a soft cry she landed even as he was diving forward to catch her. Hissing as he felt his stitches strain, and his knee burned as the skin split.
Nuala let out a word he had no idea that she even knew let alone would ever use, as she lifted her hem once more. Moving to her he checked the small wound, relieved that her stitches had not come undone, and that it was nothing more than a skinned knee. Massaging the area, Nuada dipped his face to kiss the insult to her body, the taste of cloying sweet blood on his lips licked away before he rose his face.
"I'm sorry, brother, does it hurt you overly?" spread fingers reached out to touch his own knee. "Here I have caused you to bleed."
Summoning a smile for her, Nuada picked her up as though she were a babe. "It is alright, however, I believe it best to not trust you on your feet at the moment."
Arms wrapped around his neck, face burrowing into his throat, "It does not even hurt." Her hold on him belied the words that followed, "You do not have to carry me."
"Maybe for you, but I've no inclination to trust my head to your fumbling, else I might wind up with a goose-egg to join my other many dings," he softened the sentiment with a kiss to her brow as he snorted while reminding himself to send a servant to clean up the mess of their picnic.
Equine screams, metal on metal, shouts of the dying, and the struggling filled the air. Nuada fought with all his might, but he saw his men crumbling around him in twos and threes. What thoughts were in his mind were implacable determination to find out why General Colin had not come in immediately to join the fray. The sun was long since risen, and he felt the elixir that protected his light sensitive eyes wearing off slowly. There was no time to take a swig of the water he had laced with it, he was too busy defending himself and his last men. They were in a tight knot, a space barely big enough around them to maneuver. His fighting was reduced to nothing but weary hacking, slashing, and shoving, coupled with the occasional kick to try and unbalance a foe.
With little room, muddied and trampled ground beneath his boots and the remnants of his men were enough to trip even the most nimble of men. That and the human bodies, some even somewhat alive, moaning and clutching his ankles or the hem of his battle coat, the heavy material weighted with thin chain sandwiched between the thick fabric, and sodden with sweat and blood. It was all he could do to keep his feet, as he bled from many wounds, his mind opened wide along with his senses to the battlefield. While everyone appeared to move so terribly slow in comparison to him, he was still only a man, and when the arrow came, there was no room to move. No room to dodge.
The agony was distant, and he felt Nuala scream. Taking the pain in both hands of his mind, Nuada yanked it away from her, into himself, until it was him screaming out. He was echoed by triumphant humans as they descended, and he was dragged down and down to blackness.
Nuala, my sister, my love, I am sorry... his last thoughts as the field was covered in ravens.
Swallowing the dry parchment pain in his throat, his eyes released precious moisture. A great pressure in his chest compressed his lungs as he fought for air, and the sky, the beautiful blue sky was so intense he thought his retinas would burn. Cruelty of cruelties, the croak of death and battlefield harbinger beside his ear, a raven flapped and ruffled its wings. He was not dead, no matter the impossible agony in his body, and Nuada struggled to catalogue his wounds for some hope of distraction for the inevitable living feast his flesh would provide. It was to be ignominious and insulting to have the battle-fiends of his mother eat him alive, however since he was not crumbled stone, he was still a warrior and would not give up.
In the background he could feel and hear Nuala, her fear buffeting him like a gale wind. Terror at why she was so weak, why there was blood all over her, why she had no strength to find him. For her sake he hung on, but had nothing left to reach out and comfort her. But the croakers only hopped about his body, shading him from the vision of clear blue skies. It was a beautiful day, what little he could see of it, but for the buzzing of flies, indistinct moans of humans left to die by their own kind.
Nuada's mind drifted in and out, taking note of how his left leg was nearly hamstrung, the taste of blood burbling from his throat into his mouth. A weak wracking cough jerked him head to toe, but his mother's beasts only cackled to themselves, wings flapping. Ribs were broken, at least three, two piercing a lung - the source of blood in his air. Fumbling with the ties to his armour, he wanted nothing more than to relieve some of the weight that crushed his chest, but there was no nimbleness in his long fingers to do so. His dirty hand flopped back to the field, glued there by the filth of once lovely and lush green fields.
...I would clothe you in the sky...
...My sweet brother, they come for you, whispering hope he dared not cling to, but dared even less to relinquish.
Delirium, a madness of vision, sound and touch. Nuada thrashed as healing magics and poultices ripped him asunder. Sidhe magic was a subtle thing, not prone to grand revitalization, and to push it to such moulds was dangerous and costly. Distantly he thought he heard healers driving themselves and himself on, ripping years - decades, centuries - away from their own life threads to force such power into his flesh. On the other side, too far away, was Nuala, the same treatment making her writhe and scream for him.
She-he-they had never felt such pain, and while he was clinging to it, desperation flogging him to take it in and fill his soul up with it, even he could not contain all. Nuala-Nuada-them were too far separate. In twin voices they screamed and raved, nearly doing more damage to their body-bodies as they fought to end the separation. Incomplete, ravaged and un-whole, seeking and grasping for completion until relief suddenly came.
A voice beat at the haze and fatigue Nuada felt a brief sense of own self came, "You look at her my son, you hold on for her." The hand was strong that turned his face upon a pillow? to face his beloved sister and see her gasping for breath as she lay there dying if he gave up. "You hang on to protect her my son, you hang on and you do not let go!"
"Enough, my King, please, leave the children alone!" a voice, Rhiana, healer-mother figure-protector, daring to raise itself against a king.
Bitter smiles grace his-her-their face-faces, mocking the stupidity of men before the bitterness quickly fled in being held by familiar gold eyes. The lines of self were so blurred, he-she-they were not sure which was who, connected in that way they had once been so long ago. A thought started and ended simultaneously between them, his-hers-theirs hands entwining in spite of the pain, palms pressed tightly, heel to meat, fingers clutching the backs of knuckles and nearly-wrist. Faded away world around them, arguments between frazzled man and woman, frightened and stressed, needlessly and needfully angry, but that was not him-her-them.
Are you mine? she-he-they asked.
Yes, the only answer there was.
Always? hopeful and sure, still asking for confirmation.
Always, the always truth that was unending.
Scared... a thrill of it at the weakness and pain.
I am here...you-me-we are not alone.
Mental separation and full-recall of self built slowly until Nuada was able to understand his surroundings in full. His own person once more, no matter how entwined their minds and hearts were, he knew that his limbs were actually his. The bed was his, he could smell himself all over it far more than Nuala. Cracking a lid, the great bastion of pelt and silk and linen was where he was of a certainty, for his ceiling was high overhead, rounded like a womb, emerald green like the grass that covered the Hill paths. He was thankful it was not blue of sky like her room, else he might give up and will them to death, forgetting that it was not sky above with no ravens ready to pluck his eyes from his skull.
Releasing a croaked sigh, his head twisted of its own accord towards Nuala. She was asleep, exhaustion painting what he could see of her face. A stab of realization that there was a thick hardened paste spanning from one cheek to the other and over her pert nose, and as his face twitched he felt the cracking of a similar treatment on his own features. Sighing anyway, Nuada summoned up the strength to roll onto his side, ignoring how things shifted and stabbed internally. If he was not dead already, he would not be dying any time soon, so the pain was nothing but a needless message of nerves, organs and muscle telling him that something was wrong. Situating himself gingerly, a bandaged hand came up to stroke a lock of hair that had fallen over her brow into her face, away.
"My child, you should continue to rest," a gentle touch on his shoulder spread ease into the muscles of his back slowly. "She is well as can be, as are you."
Murmuring, "Why is she in here?"
His bed dipped and his old nurse, now more of Nuala's companion and governess, sat on the edge, smoothing the blankets with one hand. "You both would have died otherwise. Your bodies resisted the healing arts in your needs to be beside the other. I have never seen such a thing before, though there are stories of same-sex twins having links, but not ever on this scale."
Nuada had no desire to roll over and face her, his world was held in his eyes and wrapped around one hand, yet he had questions in need of answers. "You have theories."
"Of course, Your Highness," the bed shifted further and he felt the woman leaning over him to hold a small cup to his lips as she lifted his head enough so that in spite of the awkward pose he could moisten his parched lips. "There have always been theories. But whether they are correct or not, I do not know."
In her sleep, Nuala mewled barely, just under her breath, and he gingerly curled her closer, forcing an arm under her pillow so it could curve around her back. His hand encountered skin and bandages, and he sucked in a sharp breath. He hurt, but he was alive enough to take notice of such tiny details.
Hissing, "She is undressed!"
Rhiana let out a faint laugh, "And the two of you bathed together until you were nearly ninety. She is your sister, what could be wrong with that?"
He nearly sputtered, his vocal cords tightening along with every muscle in his body. "Put some clothes on her."
"And some for yourself as well?" Rhiana was very mild as she moved away.
"Yes, before Father finds out!" growling as he scooted away, pushing at his covers enough to mound some between himself and Nuala.
Rhiana came near once more, on the other side of the bed, a robe in hand. "He is well aware of your states of dress. His arguments are moot, you are as the gods made you."
Nuada gritted his teeth and clenched his eyes closed when the mystic pulled the covers back, revealing a glimpse of Nuala's nudity that he shut out as fast as he could. "The gods made us brother and sister, and that is how it is."
"Then you too believe this is some test set to be passed?" The motion and tug of covers let him know his sister was at least somewhat attired.
Gathering his wits and his will, Nuada rolled from the bed, to stumble upright, only to have Rhiana meet him halfway, a pair of loose pants over her other arm. "What else could it be? We are tested by the gods and must show strength otherwise all is lost. It does not matter what I believe anyway."
She 'hmm'd at him as she assisted him, then pressed him back to the bed. "Your mother, the Morrigan, she created both of you and carried you in her womb of wombs. She knew what she wrought. And we have evidence now that is clear that you are both incomplete without the other in all ways."
"And that matters not at all in the face of a King's order, Rhiana, I am a soldier and beholden to him," growling as he scooted back under the covers. Swallowing down the ache as Nuala's hand quested for his even in near catatonia. "All I can do is what I already do."
"I know, child, I know," and he found himself tucked in as though he were still a small child, her expression so familiar and maternal. "I just fear what your mother may do."
Frowning, he shook his head, "Nothing of course. She abandoned us, battle is fickle, and a goddess of it would be just as capricious."
"A mother never truly abandons her children if she is remotely fit." He took the proffered cup of water after she had poured drops of some vile brew into it. "Even on the battlefield with all dead, you were alive, shielded by ravens. She knows of you still, and watches over you both."
Downing the contents, he passed the cup back, waiting for the languor to come over him. "Then she has a particularly peculiar way of showing it."
Balor paced back and forth before his hearth. Rhiana was an old friend, a former mistress, and a woman he cared for at one point. But now she was conspiring against him, as was the mystic bitch his son frequented more than any of his other dalliances.
"They are out of danger," he ground out. "It is time for them to return to their separate arrangements, and cease the unseemliness."
Bladain was still an attractive woman, but the eternal youthfulness had fled as she had torn some of her lifeforce away to give to his children, "Sire, I sacrificed not as much as poor, dead Uliarum, but I still did give much to His Highness' life. I felt the threads that bind them, and their healing is not complete. To separate them may put it all at risk, and as much as I value Their Royal Highnesses, to ask me to give up my life simply for your desires is...unjust, Your Majesty."
"Your opinion is duly noted," he said, keeping his ire from his voice only by long habit. "But I want no risk of animal behaviour besmirching my daughter's honour. Already the Court is doing far more than whispering."
Rhiana squared her shoulders, her head coming up, and he could not help but still find her willfulness and strength appealing. "Your Majesty, to think that His Highness would do anything to put Her Highness at risk is unacceptable. You have long questioned him, and forced him to abide by your rules, which he has done without complaint. I, who raised them, know more of their natures than you do. Prince Nuada will do nothing, you have him too afraid to."
Waving a hand, Balor felt himself flush at such accusations of unfairness from someone he held in esteem and still bore affection for. Yet he knew she was right enough, his heart broke for his children, and how the gods had twisted them for their sport. As a father he wished nothing more than to protect them, for them to be happy. But they were born and given tests to show their mettle, and he would do nothing to put them at risk. He could not.
Praying to his long fled wife for the sake of their children, "I am a father, and a king, because of this, perhaps I worry over much." Dismissing Bladain, "You may go, and see to your arts. Rhiana, remain awhile and share your thoughts with me."
Once the healing mystic had left, he held out a hand to his one time lover and still friend as he sat on one of the long couches. She didn't take his hand as she once would have, but sat, her legs tucked to one side, hands folded neatly in her lap. Her bearing was regal, and still moved him, making him wonder where that had gone wrong.
"Balor, you and I have known each other for centuries," she began immediately. "I know your children like no one else. You must give up this...obsession of yours as it is unhealthy for all involved. Nuada will do nothing to harm Nuala, it would be as though he were destroying a part of himself. Those two are bonded more deeply than even I had ever suspected, let alone anyone else, and I can only think that their mother created them so for a reason. Perhaps it would be best if you did not stand in her way. The Morrigan is not one to brook interference without great cost, and we know now that she still watches over them."
That twisted at him painfully - his love still watched their children, but had left him simply for the fact that she had grown bored. And left him with two young ones to raise, a prophecy that was worthless, and a broken heart. The Morrigan was fickle, her loves flighty and meaningless once she was finished with them, her gifts and graces easily taken away. That was what he had seen his beloved children as - gifts she had not yet robbed him of, other than to make a mockery of what was right and natural.
Heaving a deep sigh, "I have found myself having to ask those who bring word to me, 'Are you questioning my son's discipline or my daughter's honour? Do you creep about their chambers to peep and spy on them?' and I have to ask these things more and more. The older Nuada and Nuala become, the more news is brought to me of...peculiar behaviours. One evening, I had no fewer than four Lords coming to me offering scandalous information and worries of impropriety. Nuada had been seen in the gardens he and Nuala frequent with her dress ruched up nearly to her waist. What am I to think, Rhiana? What am I to do? When there are so many bringing me such tidings..."
The cool comfort of her hands taking his came without warning. "Balor, you can only trust in the gods and defend your children. If someone becomes too...vocal...send him to Nuada to deal with. Your son is more than capable of defending against such attacks, you have seen to it."
It was a near thing not laugh outright, and suppress it to a chuckle. "And then I will be less one Lord, hmm?"
"Quite relieved of their head, yes," Rhiana smiled. "Not that one would be able to tell much difference before and after, other than by the fact that the Court might be slightly less noisy."