August 21, 2015 by Lyn
Girl you’re beautiful, you’re ’bout near perfect
But I bet somebody’s already told you that
By Wednesday, it had become routine to wake up in Emrys’ bed, to sit at his table with his horrid friends – with the horrible Agatha, the slightly less horrible Dysmas, their creepy pets, and the relatively nice Anatoliy – for meals, to time her conversations so that no-one really noticed that she didn’t speak unless she was spoken to.
She missed Yngvi and Aelgifu horribly. They still talked to her in class – and Vi had almost stopped being righteously indignant about the whole mess – but she felt guilty, as if she was abandoning Ayla to her worst fears. Almost worst than the guilt was the jealousy she tried to stifle when Ayla showed up at class laughing and joking with the lovely, sleek, orange-haired girl who had to be Ioanna.; even Yngvi seemed to like the girl.
What could she do? It was too much to hope that they’d wait for her patiently, that they’d still be her friends when this week was over. It had been a stretch to hope they could be friends in the first place. She sat in her chair and smiled, glad Ayla was happy with this girl, wishing she was part of it, outside the pale once again.
When Emrys met her outside of class, for a moment, that all faded away. He was there, and his arms were around her; she wasn’t alone. For a heartbeat, everything was all right.
But she was too much, too strong, to be able to trust that for more than a moment. And when she breathed again, and remembered that he was just human, just demi-human, like her, she missed her friends all the more.
She held his hand anyway. She was his, at least for a few more days, and, without Vi and Ayla, he was the only bulwark she had against the ice.
He’s not a bulwark, a little voice suggested, he’s the fire that’s destroying your cool. You’re too besotted to realize you’re being destroyed.
Not destroyed. She was arguing with herself, but that was not all that novel. I’m still me, here. In her core, that no-one ever touched.
Ever wonder why that is? Look at the other slaves. They’re broken puppets. They haven’t even heard of free will. And you… You’re still Shahin. Still sassmouthing him. Still proud.
She glanced over at Emrys, wondering if he saw any of that. Wondering if it displeased him that she wasn’t as compliant as his friends’ slaves.
Let it displease him, she thought smugly, ignoring the little worry that trickled down her spine. I’m not a lapdog.
As if reading her mind, he lifted her onto his lap at the table, snuggling her firmly against him. She stifled a sigh, and leaned against him. If he wanted her to eat, he’d feed her. She didn’t have much appetite, anyway.
Lunch was well underway, and she’d settled into the comfortably blank trance she used to deal with Agatha – ignoring her worked so beautifully, and required no dancing around Emrys’ restrictions – so settled that it took a moment for her to realize the table had fallen silent. She twisted, looking over Emrys’ shoulder, to see what they were all looking at.
There was a man striding across the Dining Hall, a larger-than-life man in a black leather jacket, his grizzled once-blonde beard and hair both in braids reaching almost to his waist. He looked older than any of the teachers except possible Solomon, and seemed older than the rocks, older than myths.
He seemed to be looking for something, pausing momentarily by every table to look over the stunned students. A few seemed to lease him – pretty girls, all of them, though Addergoole had very few non-pretty girls – and he’d stop and say something to them, his voice echoing against the Hall ceiling.
“Hello, darling. How’s the day finding you?” She’d squeak an answer, and he’d move on to another girl. To one of them, Marjolaine, he introduced himself – Aelfgar. The name seemed to fit him.
Shahin was fascinated. This sun-weathered old biker had more presence in his little finger than anyone she’d ever met could pull off. He was stunning, and a little intimidating.
He was heading straight for Ayla.
She was on her feet before she knew what she was doing.
“Shahin?” Emrys asked mildly, looking up at her with deceptive calm. “Is something wrong?”
“Ayla,” she said, not turning to look at him. “He’s going to…”
“Well, hello, you pretty little thing,” the man boomed.
“…do that,” Shahin said unhappily.
“Is that a problem?” He arched a brow curiously. “I doubt he’s going to throw her over his shoulder right here and carry her home.”
“He’s going to make her miserable.” Indeed, Ayla was stepping backwards into the protective shelter of Yngvi and Ioanna. “She doesn’t like that sort of thing.”
“She seems to have good cover, there. Unless you expect him to ignore her if you walk up?” A faint smirk crossed his features as he regarded Ayla and then Shahin in turn.
She shot him a withering look. “She’s my friend. I want to help her.”
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” Aelfgar boomed. Shahin stepped in that direction, one step, two steps…
“Sure… go ahead.” Emrys chuckled softly, rising to have a better view.
Shahin sped across the hall, just as Ayla was stammering out “Ae… Aelgifu. Sir.”
“Aelgifu!” He chortled loudly. “Wonderful. Hello, Aelgifu, aren’t you a beautiful one?”
Shahin slipped up next to her friend, and slipped her gloved hand into Ayla’s, squeezing it softly. Ayla was still stammering, not really coherent, so Shahin took a step forward, putting herself in between the large laughing man and her friend.
He looked her up and down, still chuckling. “Aren’t you a tiny one? And ready to rip my heart out, too, I can tell.”
“What do you want here?” The part of her that still remembered she was a slave was gratified to find she could speak; the rest of her was busy trying to skewer the man with ice and words alone.
He just laughed louder. There was nothing smooth about the man, but he was still impressive.
As they were walking, Emrys approached the group, but maintained a bit of distance between them; he was close enough to interfere but not directly thrusting himself into their conversation. Shahin ignored him as much as she could, fixing Aelfgar with her coldest gaze. He was way too old to be bothering Ayla like that.
“I’m just passing through, sweetie.” His giant hand patted the top of her head, but pulled back prudently as her glare began frosting the air. “I thought I’d see what beautiful women Regine has around this year – and I found this beauty.” He chuckled again, an evil Santa Claus laugh. “Aelgifu. It means ‘Elf gift,’ you know. Kind of my private joke.”
She didn’t mean to, but she looked up at Emrys, watching the wheels started turning in his mind as the thought went through hers. Aelfgar… Aelgifu… his private joke. She saw the faint glimmer of understanding light his eyes, and then his lips as he smirked.
She could have slapped him for that smirk, but she had more important things to worry about. The thought had gotten through to Ayla, too. “Your joke?” she said softly.
“Come back to my room and I’ll tell you all about it, dear.”
Emrys caught Shahin’s eye and shook his head, just once, nearly imperceptibly save for the close-forged link between them, but definitely there.
Duh. Of course it was a bad idea to let her go off with the stranger. But Yngvi had beat her to it.
“Why don’t you tell us all, here?”
Aelfgar just boomed out another jolly-old-aelf chortle. “And are you the pretty lady’s boyfriend, then?”
“That would be me,” Ioanna said, her hand possessively on Ayla’s shoulder.
“Ah-ha.” He laughed all the harder, and Shahin wished for the ability to freeze him slid with a glance. He settled on her expression, and his eyes shifted quickly to the pale, mortified Aelgifu. “No surprise,” he said, and it seemed he was trying to be a little quieter. He sounded more gentle, at least. “I told Regine that would happen. Half of those of my line turn out queer.” He turned to Yngvi. “And you?”
It was the first time she’d seen Vi really taken aback. He stammered out a chilly, uncertain “What about me?”
“Who are you, son? If you’re not her boyfriend…”
Vi blushed, but recovered quickly. “I’m Yngvi, sir.”
Emrys chuckled under his breath and stood watching them, arms akimbo. Shahin spared him a glance before looking back to her friends.
“Of course you are,” Aelfgar said, but his voice was more somber now. “I should have seen it. I saw it, after all. Yngvi, son of Amanda. A serious woman, very intent. Very firm.” He smirked. “In personality, I meant. Strict, I suppose.” He inclined his head, the bone beads set in his yellow-grey braids bobbing. “A pleasure to meet you again, my son.”
They had to have a thousand questions. Shahin had a thousand questions, and he hadn’t just called her his child. She knew neither of them knew their father – they’d told her as much, in the airport their first day here:
“…explaining that, no, you’re not immigrants, or at least your mother’s not…” “Though you’re not sure about your father,” “‘Cause you’ve never met him, and your mom won’t talk about him,” “And all he left was this unwieldy name even your mother doesn’t like…”
But they just stared at him, and Yngvi mouthed some polite response. The grizzled old man – their father? – bowed low over Ayla hand, kissing it. “Daughter of Marienne, and as lovely as your saintly mother. A pleasure to meet you again.”
Ayla squeaked softly, and Aelfgar looked over her shoulder at Ioanna. “Take good care of my daughter, girl.”
Then his eyes settled on Shahin, and there was no mistaking the mischief or the fire in his expression now. This man came from a far older myth than any jolly elf.
“You,” he began with jovial hunger, “are not my daughter. My line doesn’t run that pale, nor that dark.”
“She’s not,” Emrys agreed in a guarded tone, stepping up behind Shahin and setting a hand protectively – possessively? – was there a difference? – on her shoulder. She didn’t lean into the hand, but it was pleasant and warm against her skin.
“I’m not your daughter,” she agreed blandly.
“Ah-ha,” the man chuckled.
“Aelfgar,” Emrys said, extending his other hand to indicate the man and then gesturing towards Shahin by way of introduction, “Shahin oro’Emrys.”
The man kissed her hand politely, his cheeks dimpling under the beard as he grinned, clearly amused. “A pleasure to meet you both. And now I shall be going.”
He headed for the back of the cafeteria, the tension levels dropping in his wake. Ayla smiled shyly at Shahin.
“Any time,” Shahin said with feeling. “You’re my friend, Ayla, I couldn’t leave you hanging.”
Emrys offered Ayla a very slight nod as he watched Aelfgar’s retreating back. Ayla responded with a rare smile. “Thank you, Emrys.”
“You’re welcome.” It was hard to tell if his smile was sincere or merely amused, but at least it was there.
Yngvi, of course, soured the mood, although his tone was more thoughtful than it normally was around Emrys. “Oro?” he asked quietly.
“Of course,” he nodded. “She’s mine.”
Shahin shot Emrys an exasperated glance. Did he have to do this every time they talked to her friends?
He smiled faintly at her expression. “That’s what it means. And probably what made him leave you alone.”
“Aaah,” she said softly. “They have a word for that?”
“They have a word for everything,” Ioanna laughed, “except freedom.”
“Oh, we do,” Emrys smirked. “It’s the same as the word for death.”