Love is War 03:00:01:07
– 03:00:01:07 –
There were many warm mornings for Figo in the northern climes. He’d wake up and find Veskur nestling beside him, the madness that drove her in waking banished when fatigue finally overtook her and sleep became her only option. Typically when he visited, she would break from her reading and theorizing and testing to spend time with him, discussing esoterica with him that seemed somehow counter-intuitive, but whenever he thought of a question she had an answer.
He knew she barely slept and didn’t eat when he wasn’t there. Her manservant, Mika, told him so whenever he could free himself from the various engagements that held him away from Veskur. Mika always looked relieved to see him, always slunk off and collapsed in an exhausted heap. Figo could understand why; Veskur was very intense, sometimes too intense even for him. She didn’t understand the concept of the rhetorical query – everything was a challenge, a question to be answered. He could understand why her family had set her up here, in the middle of nowhere.
Nevertheless, he loved the woman, loved her intensity and her madness, loved the way she smelled and the way she moved. He loved the way she thought, the quizzical expression that claimed her features when she discovered some new question and the glee that danced through her when she figured out an answer. He loved the way she clung to him, the way she held him when he woke up whimpering and told no one of his weakness, whispering secrets in his ear.
At her word he could almost believe himself strong.
She understood when family matters called him away. Where the lovers he had taken before her would have pleaded to go with him, Veskur preferred to stay in the north, letting him to his life. Moreover, when he returned to the battlefields of his youth he had to smile at the sight of those boys and girls he found there; none of them knew how to handle themselves. Veskur had no military training but she somehow still managed to fit right in, a natural in a crisis.
Given the explosions that sometimes rocked her keep this was hardly surprising.
Veskur was a cynic, however, and refused to see the rightness of the Vanir cause. She called certain commanders bullies and would put up with not a single slight. She also fought on Figo’s behalf, refusing to let anyone make him less, though her definition of what that meant was different than anyone else’s would be. It was a bit of a relief to not have to deal with her sometimes, especially in front of others, especially in front of his old friends.
All of them questioned him about her, wanting to know about the woman that was too much a freak for even the strange House Wyrd to deal with. They saw her as craven and insane and sometimes, in the darkest hours when he had been away from her too long and he was in his cups, he could see what they meant. She was mad, completely out of any head that was not her own. He would resolve himself to ending things with her but then he would see her, see her happiness at his presence and remember the way she had walked over Jesam and taken him in her arms and he would melt into her warmth, her comfort, the solace that she and she alone could give him.
My beautiful, she would whisper, cradling him.
Your beautiful, he would agree.
You’re beautiful, she would murmur, and he would believe her with everything he was.
How could he do anything less?
Lately, she had been conversing with a distant noble that River Megru had introduced her to. Figo knew River mostly by reputation and didn’t much care for him, finding him spiteful and arrogant in story and casually insulting in person. This mysterious noble River had put Veskur in contact with was a young boy named Thea Raido, and he studied some of the same things that his lovely devoted so much time to. Worse, the boy had read all of Veskur’s works and commented on them, Veskur herself claiming that his words and insights had helped her with some of her most recent discoveries. Figo had tried to read Veskur’s tracts but had been unable to separate the cold writing from the woman he knew, always setting the papers aside with a sigh and promising himself that he would see to them later.
He never did.
Veskur had told him that Thea was planning a trip to the north to work with River, as he planned to do something similar to whatever it was that River did. The idea of this young boy from Raido seeking to become as much of a whore as River was strangely amusing, but Figo was uncertain as to how comfortable he was with Thea spending any amount of time with what was his. Veskur was blind to the affections that most people paid her but that did not mean that Figo was so ignorant – he knew exactly what Thea wanted and what River had planned, he just wasn’t certain what he could do about it.
Sighing, he had to admit that there was little enough at present. Family business had once again seen him dragged to the south, though far enough away from the Coeecian borders that the night terrors couldn’t find him. His brother, Nicu, wanted his help settling a treaty with House Ihwaz.
“What’re you thinking of?” Nicu asked, smiling lazy on his side of the carriage. It was the first time in a while he had spoken, his use of narcotics leaving glazed eyes and a slurred tongue. “Your far-away lady love?”
“More or less,” Figo admitted, resting his hand on his levl. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen her.”
“Is she really that good?”
“Perhaps you should let me try her,” Nicu giggled. “We’re family. We should share pretty baubles.” Figo said nothing, knowing that it was the addiction speaking and not his sibling. Nicu had spent far too much time in the company of men like River as a youth and, Figo knew, had always wanted the rewards he thought came with power without wanting to do any of the work to get them. It was far too common a fault within her House.
Figo steered the conversation to other topics, keeping Nicu’s mind on things other than his lover until they arrived at House Ihwaz. The entire city stank of horse, a smell that wasn’t terrible so much as it was present in everything. The Ihwaz had been impressed with the skill of Zaerm cavalry, the military force of another nation with a history nearly as rich as that of the Vanir. The nobles of Ihwaz had taken to keeping horses although they were not, in Figo’s opinion, any good at riding them.
They had other uses, though. No House offered scientists so ready for battle, so level-headed and calm in the midst of chaos. They also traded in the best venison in all of Midgard, soaking their fine meats in sweet and spicy sauces that made the long Vanir winters bearable. One of their green-coated nobles came out to greet them, a pretty woman with long silvering hair and deep blue eyes.
“Greetings, nobles of House Jera,” the woman said. “You are welcome here.”
“We both thank you for your kindnesses,” Figo answered, pausing to meet the woman’s eye. “And your hospitality.” The woman smiled, was about to voice some response when the Coeecians attacked.
It wasn’t a large assault, but even so Figo found himself terrified, a second too late drawing his levl to completely parry the attacker that came for him. He drew a dryw and slashed at his attacker, heart racing as the nobles of House Ihwaz lumbered out of their city to attack with their favored noble tool, the saer – a heavy block of metal attached to a long stick. Such tools were meant to destroy structures or force things together, but the damage they inflicted on the human body when in the hands of Ihwaz’s giants was terrifying to behold.
The Coeecians fell back, tried to regroup, giving Figo a chance to breathe. He remembered the things that his lover had told him: the Coeecians are cowards at heart, he heard her whisper. They require gods to justify themselves and protect them from their terrors, and one another to goad themselves into doing anything. Find their leader, kill him, and the rest will scatter.
Figo scanned the small group. Even now they were retreating from Ihwaz in a tight pattern while causing as much damage to the city as they were able, forcing some of their victims to stop and deal with what they left in their wake. He remembered the lessons that Hekro had given him regarding the Coeecian placement of troops, how their chaos only appeared as such. A single man stood in the center of the chaos, untouched by the madness happening all around him.
Running with all the strength in him, Figo edged ever closer to the Coeecian raiders, flanking them from the left. He hopped up a barrel, leaped up and caught the roof of a house, ran across the structure and jumped off it and into the midst of the Coeecian swarm. The leader had time only to blink before Figo’s levl lashed out and caught the man in the throat, crushing his windpipe. The man clawed at his neck, fell to his knees, keeled over when Figo booted him in the face, and then lay still.
The Coeecians broke and ran.
Something slammed into his spine.
His knees lacked the ability to hold him upright; he fell. He heard a woman scream in anger, the same woman that had greeted him earlier. Gentle hands spun him carefully, fingers cradling his neck. A giant, looking embarrassed, stood over to one side, cradling his saer, as the woman looked down at him and tried to say something that Figo could not quite understand. He tried to nod but couldn’t, his body tingling but otherwise without sense.
Nicu was nowhere to be seen.
He was placed back in a carriage and lost track of time. He knew he was being taken east but he did not know for how long he traveled. He heard himself ranting, sometimes, and felt himself uncomfortably hot. Blessed cold cut through the haze of that burning and, in his more lucid moments, he realized that someone was placing wet rags on his forehead. His fever broke at some point. He thought he might die anyway. He wondered what Veskur would do when she found out.
Figo was somewhat lucid when they reached their destination – an outpost of Suwilo healers.
Time passed; Figo was unsure how much. The moon had been dark when he had arrived at Ihwaz and it was almost entirely light now. His back felt sore and his throat felt dry but he could think again, was himself again. He tried to move, feeling soft hands press against his bare chest.
“Stay.” The voice was conversational, the tone one used when addressing animals. Figo tried not to feel insulted. “I am Sahr Eri of House Suwilo and I have been healing you. The idiots that brought you here kept your spine together but neglected another wound that, given the slightest bit of attention, would have been nothing. They ignored it and it poisoned.
“You should be glad they brought you to me. A lesser healer would have had to sever your arm. As it stands you will spend a moon and a half longer here and then you will have full motion again. You will feel stiff in that time. This is because I have had to rebuild your spine. The liars of Ihwaz tried to pass responsibility for your more serious injury to the Coeecians, but I know the sort of impact that an Ihwaz saer can have on a Vanir body.
“With a lesser healer you would be paralyzed for the rest of your days. With my aid you can move, though you will have to re-learn your body and you will experience a crippling agony sometimes – perhaps once a season. I will teach you to make a salve that will soothe that pain, though you will have to get someone else to apply it. I hear you have a lover. Perhaps they can do this for you.”
“Thank you,” whispered Figo. He felt the other man’s arm wrap around his shoulders, lift him up slightly while cradling his head. A cup was placed against his lips and he was commanded to drink.
He did as instructed. Moments later he was asleep.
When he awoke again he was introduced to Sahr’s young son, Endrall. The beautiful boy was meant to take care of him and guide him through his convalescence, but there was something to the boy, some echo of distant Veskur in the way the boy held himself, in the way he spoke and fell into quiet repose. He was lovely in ways Veskur was not and Figo felt his heart a traitor when he kissed the boy, when he drew the boy to him and found his passion matched and overcome.
When both were sticky and spent and silent, Figo felt safe and warm, experiencing the same sense of belonging that he had when wrapped in Veskur’s arms. The boy even spoke like Veskur, using a similar cadence and turn of phrase, turning to similar topics that Figo understood but had not considered the full depth of. Like Veskur, Endrall thought too deeply about things, was driven to subjects that others would have thought without passion.
And, like Veskur, Endrall was alone.
There was sadness to him, a quality that Figo feared that only he could see. He sent word of the boy to his lover, confessing everything. If Veskur was hurt by his dalliances with Endrall she kept that pain to herself – and, in fact, seemed supportive of Figo’s wandering affections. She expressed an interest in meeting Endrall, a meeting that Figo felt was only fair; if Endrall and Veskur were echoes of one another, well, perhaps they could help one another come to terms with the individual passions that drove them.
Figo sent back word that he would make that meeting happen, fingers tracing the elegant scrawl that Veskur had sent back. The last portion of her words spoke of her love for him, the language much more flowery than he would have expected and the declaration of her feelings terrifyingly intense. Before it, however, was a note about the boy Thea Raido of that distant House. The boy was going to be working with River, but the boy did not want to travel or stay with his mentor due to River’s unsavory reputation; he had asked, instead, to stay with Veskur two days out of every seven.
He could see Thea’s plan. It was this bit that troubled him, as he had read some of Thea’s notes to his love and even spoken with him on a handful of occasions. The feelings the boy felt for Veskur were wild and uncontrolled, a burning sense of possession that refused to acknowledge any thought of failure, any doubt that Veskur belonged with anyone but him. Figo could not believe that Veskur could be ignorant of the young noble’s intent and here she was, inviting that noble into her home.
There was only one thing that he could think of to do, all things considered. His heart was healed, his courage certain. He had stood against the Coeecians and was now nearly hale once more, his passions sated in strong gentle arms during his recovery. If Veskur desired someone else, Figo had no choice but to accept that desire, his letter back the only permission that Veskur would ever require: a promise to be an absence in her life from that moment forward.
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