31 - The Heart That Rooted Itself in the Forest

Do you know, I actually manage some real sleep for what might even be several hours?  The sensation is so unfamiliar that I almost wake up from the shock of it.  I even have a dream, though I don't remember it, like happens with most of my dreams.

At some point, though, I rouse from true rest and into traveling.  At least I have some idea of where I mean to go, or was going to go - well, okay, I'm trying to explain away the fact that I just end up in here.  Outside the bars, true, but still, I'm crouched on the floor outside Faun's cell.  I look up and into the prison.  He's asleep, now, but not very deeply.  He looks troubled, and he keeps twitching.

"Faun?"  I keep my voice low, even though I know I can't be making any real sound here.  Still, the Peacock King hears farther than the boundaries of the physical world, and he's not the only one that can do so.  Faun shakes awake and tilts his head to face me.  His eyes open, deep and dark in this light, like amber.  It's like being studied by an owl.

He smiles.  "Lyric.  Come in.  I've missed company."  He gestures inward, and to my surprise, the door does open.  He laughs at my confusion.  "Your dream has different doors than my reality, Lyric.  You should be free to enter, much as I am not free to leave, even in the world of my own dreams."

I walk in slowly, waiting for some alarm to go off, my nerves set on a hair-trigger.  When nothing happens, I settle down, sitting just outside the range of his chains.  "Your own dreams?  Even in those, you're chained down?"

Faun's eyes narrow, and the corners of his mouth draw back.  It's not really a smile, more like the reaction to biting into a lemon.  "The Peacock King's collars bind on all levels, Lyric."  He cocks his head at me, and his eyes look hazy for a moment.  It's like he's trying to see something that's not quite there.  Perhaps that's exactly what he's doing.  "What...I don't understand.  You can't be wearing one.  You can't be here, Lyric, if he's collared you."  He looks at me in the eye then, trying to see if I'm telling a lie just by dreaming myself into his cell.  "...How are you doing it?  More importantly, are you okay?  I...I can see...smell what he's done."  He's so confused and so deep in thought that he's forgetting to speak very clearly.

I look away from him.  "Ebrellin-i...he...he did try to collar me tonight.  He did give me a pet-name."  I shiver.  I don't want to think about it or acknowledge it, but I have to face what happened, if I'm to keep myself from being fully bound.  "I'm not sure what he did wrong.  He's been very careless lately, and I think he didn't take the time to cast the proper spells.  He's failed to put me to sleep before, and I saw..."  I swallow the words down.  I don't want to talk about it.  That would make it real.  I want to forget that, too.  I want to forget so much.

"Lyric."  I barely meet Faun's eyes.  He's still studying me, looking deeper than I'm prepared for.  How much can he read from me?  It's creepy to think about.  "Did he bring you under someone's power?"

I shake my head.  "I've...seen him...under someone's power, though.  He doesn't know.  He thought he'd sent me to sleep, and then he was asleep too, and then I watched him sleepwalk..."  The images dance before my eyes again, just as Ebrellin-i danced for the Jherent Nul, and I banish them away.  "Faun?  You were going to tell me, once, of the Peacock King.  Is he...is he really with them?  With Nul?"  I don't want to believe it, as much as I've already seen of it.  I want to un-see that night so badly, wipe it all away, but I can't.

Faun is the one to look away, then.  "...It isn't something anyone would want to believe, as hated as the Peacock King is in some circles.  I...I don't know.  But I can tell you a story of him that no others have heard."  He sees he has my attention.  "I've valued my forest and my animals far too much to tell it before my imprisonment.  He keeps a tight grip on any information about his past.  He...he could have attacked, you know, if I had crossed him in that way before.  Now it is too late for those concerns."  He looks so pained and desperate, like his leg is stuck in a bear-trap.

"I'll listen.  Must I keep it secret?"

Faun shakes his head.  "It is past the time that this can remain secret, and almost too late for it to be of any use.  It's fortunate in ways I can't convey, Lyric, that you are able to hear it, and that I am not completely alone now."  I remember the story of Rapa Nui, and the desperation on his face, the pallid tone, strikes fear into my heart.

"...Faun?  Are you okay?  I've heard stories about what captivity can do to your kind."

He shakes his head, but he still looks like someone in great pain.  "I will survive, Lyric.  Don't waste your energy worrying about it."  He looks out at the bars.  "I miss the sight of my forest, all the same.  Can you imagine trees, Lyric?  Trees instead of shining steel bars, rough bark running all over their sides like mud-clotted fur?  Little sprigs peeking out along the trunks where leaves sprout and branches might soon grow out?  The sun in drops that manage to fall through the tiny holes in the bright green glowing canopy above?"

He sighs.  "That is home, Lyric.  The Peacock King has been there, though it was not the first time I met him.  He was a child, that first time, and I was not welcome in his house, but they let me come in, all the same.  None could stop an animism from walking where it wished to tread.  The Law, as always, has been on our side."

* * *

The Xaillyndesse family.  Yes, I know you've heard of them.  Everyone's heard of them - well, that's what they'd like to think, in any case.  If you ask any other animism, it might get chancy.  The dryads and other nymphs, yes - but only because the Jhe o'Audiva Rocale is so well-known among them for taming so many of their kind.  With him among them, and the Jhe 'hLogos among them, the Xaillyndesses are quite the powerful family, wouldn't you say?  But they're not famed for the amount of royalty in their ranks.  Those of that line can cause trouble and intrigues without all the ugliness of attending a throne.  The Peacock King and the Poet King are exceptions to the line.

But their status as exceptions was already confirmed before they ever rose to power and took their crowns, Lyric.  Perhaps I started it all for Ebrellin-i.  Perhaps not.  But I met him before he even earned that accolade.  When I met him, he was Ebrelle-heni, the heir, and that additional title of heir-to-be wasn't even allowed to be spoken aloud yet.  In speech and address, he was only Ebrelle.  What right he had to the throne he'd later take was not enough to raise his status in Court, or keep him safe from the criticisms of his conservative family.

Yes, I do suppose he was an exception even before I met him.  He saw, Lyric.  His younger brother did too, but at that time the later-to-be Jhe 'hLogos, Eleth-travente, was too young to draw attention or scorn for his differences.  Too small a child for anyone to take proper notice of his abilities.  Ebrelle, however, was already a rather ancient seven years old, certainly enough for the Xaillyndesse family to scrutinize him in every way possible.

He talked to plants, Lyric.  He spoke to them, and they would speak back.  He was making friends with the dryads and the tinier spirits, with individual blades of grass.  He saw many things, and heard many more, and all those things liked him because he would stop and watch and listen to them.  His parents were worried that word would get around of their now-elder son's eccentricities, and tried to quiet them, to no real avail.  He was quiet in his own way, talking most times in the garden, with no other humans in sight.  But he was so blissfully unaware of anything strange about his behavior that he brushed his parents's admonitions away like so much pollen off of his sleeve.

When I came walking onto their property they scowled down at me like I was some mongrel dog who'd shat on their lawn.  I did consider it, at that, but first I wanted to visit their son.  They couldn't deny me that, because of what I was, and the Laws.  But I could feel their hatred all the same, and I knew they'd soon look upon the boy as truly strange.  They had been right, though.  Word had spread, though not among the humans and their precious society and Courts.  Word whispered through the grass and the leaves, trickled along the streams and brooks, until it came to me by birdsong.

So I came to him, as was only right.  I was the one to visit humans, most times.  Of my kind, I knew the human ways better than most.  He needed to be spoken to by one of us, one of his...kindred.

It burned the Xaillyndesses to think of my kind as kindred to one of their sons, you know.  But it was true.  Ebrelle was, in many ways, closer to my kind than theirs.  Perhaps...no, I know for fact that his mixed-heritage Mother feared that her pact with a Dragon for a new son to replace her first would result not in a powerful child, but in a wild-touched one.  As if her own purposefully-mixed blood wouldn't be enough to put the feral into his veins.  She'd been born with a quarter-heritage of something fae, and before she'd borne any children she'd made one of those pacts with some supernatural creature.  She was famed for her pacts.  And she wondered why her children were so much more than the normal humans in her society!

Such an interferer, she was, and utterly insane to boot.  Of course, being aristocracy, she had the privilege of such madness as being just 'her way'.

Ebrelle was a very special child.  Brilliant, attentive, and very caring.  He had a beautiful mind, and wanted to communicate with those of my kind very much.  Most of all he wanted to learn of the true wild, of nature uncaged and untamed, outside his castle walls.  When I finally had to leave he wanted to follow me out, but I couldn't very well pull the heir to a crown from his castle and into the wild at the tender age of seven.

Well, I could, but I didn't, something I've come to regret since.

It got back to me on the wings of a pixie.  A very rumpled, very sad pixie.  Following her were a few other spirits that had been driven from Ebrelle's home.  I went there myself, to see, but didn't come close to their land.  I could feel from there that she'd done something to the grounds, something maybe to the gardens as well.  Like fencing, or wards.  Something none of us liked, and hurt us to be around.

It hurt me that Ebrelle was inside that, but I had to accept that there were some things I couldn't change on my own.  I wouldn't enter the grounds.  It could cause harm to me, or one of his family might be insane enough to attack me.  I would not endanger my animals like that.

So, instead, I wrote.

You might think his parents would prevent such a thing, but they had no idea that I was even literate, and could not tell from my letters that I wasn't someone just as 'well-bred' as them.  I even had access to fine stationery, quill and ink.

Ebrelle answered immediately.  He missed me very much.  But it wasn't possible for him to leave and meet me again.  Not until he was older.  Not until he had enough power in the Court to grant him that clearance.  And not until, it seemed, he had managed something quite difficult, and requiring quite a few strings to be pulled.

Yes, I know you're wondering.  Sorry, but I wanted to give a proper dramatic pause, like a Poet would do with this story.  He wanted to pass on heirship from himself to his sister.  He didn't want the crown.  He didn't care about it, and wanted his own life instead.

He...almost managed.  Yes, he really did pass it on.  But to his young brother, Eleth-travente, instead.  His sister...well, she's a separate story, all on her own.  

He came into the wild to join me, Lyric.  He wanted to learn of himself.  Of his forest-heritage.  He wanted to truly live up to the dragon's blood in his veins.  And he did come to my forest.  He did learn.  He took a strange path outside of it, one day.  Then he disappeared.

A year later, he reappeared in the Royal Court of Lyianneth and forcibly took back his crown inheritance from his brother. It was then that he declared himself the Peacock King and changed his name from Ebrelle, the heart of the forest, to Ebrellin-i, the dark in the soul of the forest.  He bore the marks on his face that so many associate with his signature animal.  I know you know by now that those marks are more than paint.

That is the story I have dared not tell to another.  His parents would never dream of leaking it. They preferred Ebrellin-i to Ebrelle, after all.  His siblings...who knows what things happened back then to them to silence them?  Ebrellin-i himself would be the only other to know, and he would never let such personal details about his past slip, especially ones questioning how the crown came to him.  I have kept silent on the matter, out of fear for what retribution might be had from the Peacock King...or the Xaillyndesses.  It has never been important enough.  The past most often stays in the past.

But sometimes that changes, especially when Poets come into the scene.  I always wanted to know what happened to him, when he left my forest and a year later showed his face as the Peacock King.  What happened to the Ebrelle I knew, and where the person that came back wearing his face came from.

* * *

"You look afraid."

That brings me out of the haze of concentration I was in.  I blink, look up at him.  The chains on him catch my eyes and I have trouble actually focusing on Faun himself.

"You're tired, Lyric.  Maybe you should go to sleep."  My eyes manage to focus on Faun's face.  The animism looks concerned.  "Sleep, Lyric.  I imagine you don't get enough of that."

"But...there's so much to talk about...so much to do!  Gerald's being held in the Peacock King's labs now, and I...I just don't want to go back, Faun.  I don't want to wake up with him!"  That's the real core of it, isn't it?  I'm putting off going back to the waking world...where I'll have to deal with all of this.  My skin crawls.  "I...I have that collar on.  I don't understand why it's not controlling me like it could, Faun."

He nods.  "Mine can only drain my energy, as the Peacock King cannot make me his pet without breaking what I am.  For some reason, he refuses to do that, which admittedly is a relief to me.  As for yours...I could be wrong, Lyric, but it seems as if something is shielding you."

I feel the hollow metallic echo of a laugh behind my ear.

"...The Arms.  Gerald's Guns.  They made me take protection under the Law.  Something about how the King would try to take my will soon.  I...I guess they were right?"

Faun tilts his head, weighing it.  "Well, it sounds right enough.  Can't you tell by yourself?"

I blink.  'I...I guess I could ask you?'

'Nay, it's too funny watching ye guess at everything and flounder.'
'Ye're sort of like a baby duckling who's gotten 'imself stuck upside-down in the water.'
'Distressing, but too amusing to correct it.'

Faun watches me glower at what seems like nothing, then barks out a laugh.  "It must be the Arms, then.  You almost look like a proper Armed, with that expression."

"What?"  Now I'm just annoyed at everyone.

Faun giggles, the sound strangely like a snarl.  "They're always looking at their weapons like that."

I let out a deep sigh.  He watches me for a moment more.

"Go to bed.  I refuse to talk to you any more until you get sleep.  You're too cranky right now."

I mumble something in response and do the mental equivalent of rolling over to let the other side of the mattress cook.  Soon enough I'm in real dreams again, something about dumplings being stuck upside down while I'm trying to cook them for the Peacock King's brunch.  Gerald's revolvers are the only utensils I have, and they just keep laughing at me.

1 comment:

  1. 'Nay, it's too funny watching ye guess at everything and flounder.'
    'Ye're sort of like a baby duckling who's gotten 'imself stuck upside-down in the water.'
    'Distressing, but too amusing to correct it.'

    That's awesome. :D "They're always looking at their weapons like that."