Chapter Twenty–Two Magic, Crystals, and Family
It was springtime in Jzamneh Forest, evident not only in the vibrant colors — the pinks, greens and oranges of the new leaves and blossoming flowers — but in the crystals as well. Spring’s warmth woke the magic of the forest, and the crystals, in their small, hidden places, stirred. They grew, just and the trees and grasses grew.
This time of year was perfect for collecting crystals of all kinds. Some would be crafted into jewelry, others horded away for safe-keeping. Some would be hidden for treasure-hunters to seek out, and some given to other kingdoms as gifts. Lovers saved crystals to give to one another at the height of spring: the evening festival. In fact, Shu-Giri had collected quite a number of crystals to give to Vénes during the celebration, between cheering him up and meeting with leaders from other villages.
The day before the festival, Shu-Giri was feeling particularly gleeful. He had made a decision to present the sorcerer with a distinguished and uncommon request, and was eager to express it in time to receive an answer during the festival. He was strolling cheerfully through the hallway, his arms full of books, when he nearly knocked over his maid. Phiare stepped back deftly, nearly spilling her tray of tea.
“Oh, Phiare. Excuse me.” He eyed the tray. “Vénes is keeping you busy again?”
She nodded, her curls of mandarin and lime hair bouncing on her shoulders. “He is sweet, like you, so I do not mind it.” The she noticed one of Shu-Giri’s books, and read the title from the spine. The Text of Rrandah… Are you really going to ask him?”
“Yes, Phiare,” he replied, hoping that he wasn’t blushing. “I cannot teach him everything, and he will no doubt leave Jzamneh eventually, so I want to be there to help him.”
Phiare beckoned him into a room nearby, where she set her tray down on a table. Sighing, she looked at Shu-Giri earnestly. “The Rrandah promise… Shu-Giri, it is nearly as solemn as the pact between k’hurin and k’haarana.” She paused, waiting for him to acknowledge the importance of her words. When he nodded, she took a breath and continued, “I know how much you love him, but you still have not told him about Faolan?”
Shu-Giri nearly dropped his books. He set them on the table, then plopped onto an armchair, staring at his maid in disbelief.
“Wh–what do you mean by that?”
“Are you never going to tell him?”
“You wouldn’t tell him in my stead, would you?”
Phiare sighed with irritation. “I respect your wishes, Shu-Giri. Still, I have come to respect Vénes as well. He is very sensitive, and I think he would be hurt if he found out about Faolan after you became his Rrandah.”
“It is a pact of magic,” the chieftain scoffed. “What is there to be upset about?”
“Again: he is sensitive. It is a pact that takes a lot of devotion, and you are asking him out of love. Shu-Giri, you are one step away from asking to be his k’hurin. Imagine if he said yes, and then learned that your child is hiding in my home?”
Shu-Giri’s eyes widened, and he shushed the girl urgently. “What if he hears you?”
“I am only bringing this up because you want to have Faolan living with you some day. Vénes needs to know.”
“You promised that you would not make a scene of it,” Shu-Giri grumbled.
Phiare chuckled. “This is no scene, my friend. I am keeping my word by reminding you in private. Bringing it up at the festival would be making a scene.”
Shu-Giri let out a weary sigh. He had been searching for weeks for a way to tell Vénes about the boy, but gave up every time he tried to introduce the topic. He was well aware that the longer it took him, the harder it would be on Vénes, and that only added to his frustration.
“Most of the people in the village know that Faolan is your son,” Phiare said, laying a hand on his shoulder. “If you cannot tell him, then he will eventually hear about it. With the festival tomorrow…”
“Very true,” the treasure-hunter conceded.
“He’s been asking for you.”
“Indeed,” he replied, hanging his head. “Can you forgive me for spending all my time with Vénes? I really believe that we can stay together for the rest of our lives.”
Phiare nodded. “You always have loved unconventionally– and deeply!”
“What with Sihlphan and Gelkrem?” Shu-Giri chuckled. “Vénes is more complex than the two combined.”
“You do love a challenge,” the girl responded with a giggle. “Shu-Giri, Faolan looks up to you. He said that he wants to be chieftain one day, too.”
“Of the village? That is certainly his birthright.”
“No,” she laughed, shaking her head. “Of Jzamneh, like you. He wants to be keen enough for the council to vote him in.”
The treasure-hunter grinned widely. “Fantastic!”
“Oh– on that note…”
“Well… Your time is nearly over. Are you leaving Jzamneh with him after the festival?”
“I hope I can,” Shu-Giri answered, uncertainty in his voice. “If I can be his Rrandah, then I would follow him anywhere. His brother and Mearrk’hal are already in Onsira, and he plans to head there in good time..”
“If he refuses?” Phiare pressed, worried that he had placed all his hopes on the best possible outcome.
“Then I respect his wishes. I may still go with him, or I may wait here.”
Phiare took her tray, and headed towards the door. “Will you at least consider my advice?”
“Of course,” Shu-Giri replied. He got up and gathered his books together. “Let me go with you. I was just on my way to see Vénes.”
As they walked back through the hall, Phiare said to him, “You should tell him tonight. He may need until tomorrow to take it all in.”
“He might need weeks,” Shu-Giri added, suddenly nervous.
“How do you think he will react?”
“Well… He said the idea of being a father sounded dreadful. I hope he meant that if he were to conceive a child with someone.”
Phiare stopped outside his bedroom door. “Good luck,” she whispered, then pushed the door open and stepped into the room.
Shu-Giri’s chambers were at times warm from the fire, and at others cold from loneliness. Vénes had gotten used to not being alone; the pain of losing his former lover had been so deep that somebody had always seen to it that he was kept company, whether its another sorcerer, or his brother, or even his young niece. Being in Shu-Giri’s house, where Phiare came and went, and the treasure-hunter often left on various duties, took some getting used to.
He was glad, therefore, when the playful elf popped into the room, his arms full of books, to disrupt his reading. Phiare followed him inside with tea enough for them both. She set a tray beside him, then left as quickly as she’d come. Shu-Giri watched her go, biting his lip until he realized that Vénes was watching him.
“Good afternoon!” Shu-Giri announced with a grin. He snuck a kiss onto Vénes’s cheek when he came to help him with the books, then sank onto his couch.
“Have you prepared everything for the festival?” Vénes asked him.
“Nearly all is ready,” Shu-Giri replied. “But….”
He took a shaky breath before going on. He had planned how he would ask the sorcerer his question, but Phiare’s advice had made him doubt himself, and his nervousness threatened to overwhelm him.
“What is it?” Vénes queried. His ignorance made Shu-Giri all the more tense, but he forced himself to ask.
“Vénes, I have to ask you something. It’s very important to me, and it could make me very happy. The problem is… I have to tell you something first, so that you know what you’re getting into. And I– you may not like it.”
Slowly, the sorcerer nodded, trying to get an idea of what was going on.
“Is it for the festival celebrations?”
Shu-Giri thought this over for a moment, wondering if he should ask something else in the end. Glancing at his stack of books, he regained his resolve. “Not quite. I wanted to ask you today, so that you could answer me during tomorrow’s festival. You might need the time. But if you agree, I would certainly celebrate.”
“I see. What is it, Shu-Giri?”
Taking Vénes’s hand, the Jzamneh elf looked into his green eyes and pushed the words from his lips. “I care for you, Vénes. I fell in love with you, and I want to stay by your side. I want to help you learn more magic, and support your endeavors. If you could live here with me for the rest of your days, I would be so happy, just as I would be if you took me with you on your journeys. Never before have I healed someone like I healed you, and I want to keep making you feel happy. Whatever you think, I need you, Vénes.”
When the sorcerer nodded, Shu-Giri went on. “Before I ask you, there is something that you should know. I–“ He sighed, his heart pounding, his eyes out of focus. “I am not alone in this life. Besides the village, and the forest, I have someone who depends on me.” Looking away from his lover, he sighed, “I have a son, Vénes. His name is Faolan.”
“You–” Incredulous, the sorcerer shot up from his seat. “But…”
Shu-Giri dared not look up, and only stared at his hands.
“You have a son? And only now do you tell me?”
“What does it matter when I tell you? Isn’t it enough that we are in love?”
Furious, Vénes stormed across the room.
“Is this why you asked me about children? And women? You said that you never loved a woman, Shu-Giri! Why would you lie to me?”
“I didn’t–” But Shu-Giri could hardly get his words in.
“What did you expect of me? To raise your child like my own? To give up my spells and forget Lysander so you could have me and a child? Which is it that you want?”
“No! You deceived me, Shu-Giri! What did you expect to gain from it?”
“Listen to me!”
“What were you going to ask me?” Vénes demanded, he eyes glowing with his anger.
Shu-Giri sighed, picking up the top book from his stack. “I was never deceiving you, Vénes. I was only looking for the right time.”
“Just ask it!” Vénes screamed, wiping his cheeks dry from his sudden tears.
“I was going to ask you,” he stood, the book in his arms, and faced the sorcerer, “to let me be your Rrandah. I truly love you, Vénes. That is all I wanted.”
His jaw agape, the sorcerer shook his head. “My companion in magic? My supporter?” He scoffed. “And what of your child? Why form a bond with me when you have a son to look after?”
The words bit at Shu-Giri’s heart, and he held back the pain. “My magic is strong enough. As is my heart. There is no reason that I could not go with you and see to his care.”
“What are you saying?!” Vénes grabbed the book from the other’s hands. “Why would I agree to that?” He threw the book across the room, where it landed with a loud noise and knocked against the gate around the fireplace. “Who is his mother, Shu-Giri?”
“Why do you need to know?” Shu-Giri’s body shook, and he felt himself begin to sob.
“Just tell me!” he shouted back, holding back none of his fury.
“I just wanted you to know because I love you, Vénes. Can’t you leave her out of this?”
“What is it? Does she act as though she never bore your child? That you never took her to your bed? Answer me, Shu-Giri!”
“It was…” He paused, wishing that he could name someone besides the child’s true mother, someone whom Vénes would never meet. But she was the only woman he’d ever lain with. Besides, what would be the point in lying? He was trying to be honest. “Phiare is his mother.”
“Her?!” Vénes screamed, ready to assault the treasure-hunter. “Your own maid?”
“Say what you will, Vénes, but you must let me explain it.”
“I will hear no more from you,” Vénes replied. “I will not dwell with you, nor your son, nor his mother.”
With a last cold stare, Vénes gathered up his cloak and staff, and rushed through the doorway. He nearly ran down the stairs, only to meet Phiare at the bottom, whom he glared at coldly.
Seeing his expression, she understood what had transpired. “He told you…”
“And why didn’t you? I have seen your child, Phiare. He has been in this house with me, though we have not properly met. You brought him with you just a few days ago, complaining that you had nobody else to watch him. Why would you let him wait until he asked to be my Rrandah before he said that the child was his?”
“I promised him,” she answered, not sure what else to say.
“Why? Do you love him?”
She shook her head fervently. “He is but a friend–”
“Too close a friend for you to bear his child,” Vénes scoffed, and hurried out the door.
Watching him leave the house, Phiare sighed. This was the reaction that she had feared from the over-sensitive man. She had decided already to let the sorcerer sort through his thoughts alone, rather than inflame the wounds by chasing him down and trying to talk to him. Instead, she climbed the stairs to do what she could to comfort Shu-Giri.
Vénes set out across Shu-Giri’s village, determined to find some refuge where he could not be located. During his time there, he had met many of the villagers, who had all been welcoming and friendly towards him. Liam, in particular, had been kindest to him, and Vénes saw him as somewhat of a friend. He hesitated to visit him, though, because he lived with Phiare’s cousin, Diase, and he was angry with Phiare.
Instead, Vénes wandered the village roads, watching the preparations for the coming festival in the last of the daylight. As Ser descended past the trees, the crystals dimmed from bright pink and yellow to glowing lavender and blue, lighting the otherwise shadowy woods.
At length, he decided that he could best confide in Liam, and made his way to his home at the western edge of the village. When Diase answered his knocking, Vénes cursed himself and hesitated as he searched for something to say.
“Vénes, you look dreadful!” she cried, and she rushed outside to take his hands. “Come inside, dear, sit down. Have you been crying?”
Diase pulled him inside her home, which smelled of herbs and vegetables, as well as warm cider. Gushing words of concern, she led him to a place to sit, and took his cloak and staff. She sat beside him and patted his cheeks with her kerchief.
“Look at you… so red. Will you tell me what happened?”
When he shook his head, Diase frowned. She called out for Liam, but still urged Vénes to say something to her. “Is Shu-Giri all right?” she pried. When he only glared her, she sat back, trying to think of what else might have been amiss.
“Good eve, Vénes,” a deeper voice announced. Liam steeped out of the kitchen and walked over to his friend. Seeing the state he was in, he sat down, watching his face. “What is it?”
Diase hurried from the room, knowing that he preferred her beloved’s company to her own. Friendly as she had been to him, he refused to warm up to her, and if she was correct on what she suspected had hurt him, he would not want her present. As she checked on the cider, she could hear sobbing from the next room, followed by Liam’s comforting words.
“What happened that is so terrible?” he pleaded Vénes to tell him, worried even though he knew him to be emotional in general.
“He…” Vénes sniffed, and accepted Diase’s cloth from Liam. “He has a child!”
Liam nodded slowly, not sure how Vénes was hoping for him to react.
“How could he do that?!” he wailed furiously.
“Vénes, the boy is four years old. Shu-Giri could not have planned against you years ago. What did you expect him to do?”
Vénes shook his head. “He could have told me!”
“But…” Liam gasped. “You mean he didn’t? Then how did you–”
“No, Liam. He told me, but only today. Why did he wait so long? Why did he wait until I…”
“Until you were in love with him?”
Vénes glared at his friend until his face softened and gave way to a new rain of tears. Liam pulled him against his chest, where he let him cry.
“You do love him now, do you not?” Liam whispered. “He cares for you so much. He loved you from the moment he met you, from what I hear. You’ve done him a lot of good, actually, just like he’s done for you.”
While Vénes soaked his shirt, Liam rubbed his back, hoping that his efforts to soothe him would be worthwhile in the end. “I don’t know why, but he wanted to wait to tell you about his son. Maybe he wanted to find the right time. I wonder if he feared how you might react.”
“Why would he hide it?” he sobbed back.
“I would not call it hiding, Vénes. Shu-Giri has not been in love for a long time. And what about you? Hasn’t it been longer? If he had told you right away, you might never have given him a chance.”
Vénes looked up, his forest green eyes pleading. “I only came this far for my brother! I did not have to protect this forest, nor receive a piece of his heart, nor–”
“But we are all grateful to you, Vénes. Our lives would be in danger without your powers. The way we live is no good for fighting evil. Shu-Giri saved your life because of what you did for Jzamneh; it was his place as our leader to do that. With the imperial forces gone, we are now safe. Do what you will with your life, but he is in love with you, and if you love him back, why should his son stop you? Hasn’t he the right to an heir?”
“His son is a wonderful child. Everyone in the village is glad to have him around. He is Shu-Giri’s successor, Vénes. He will lead the village some day. We need him. But right now Shu-Giri needs you.”
“Why, though? Why Phiare?” Vénes asked with a weak sigh.
Liam shrugged. “You will have to ask Diase. I was living in another village when it all happened.”
Sniffling, Vénes sat up and stared at the floor. Diase, having heard her name, peeked into the room. When Liam beckoned to her, she brought a tray of cider and mugs to set before the group. Then she sat next to Vénes again, wrapping him in her arms. He could smell the spices and earthy aromas of her locks of cobalt and emerald hair, and fought against rejecting her embrace. She was only trying to be kind to him.
“Did you want to ask me about Phiare?”
When she sat back, Vénes made a point of avoiding her bright eyes, focusing instead on the mug that Liam poured for him.
“I thought he had never loved a woman,” he began.
“Shu-Giri was never in love with Phiare, Vénes. That was the most unusual part of their relationship. The way he explained it to me was that she was there when he was lonely. He had been without Sihlphan for so long, and he needed someone to be close to. Even though they weren’t in love, he brought her to his bed. You see, the Jzamneh like to have fun; our people do this sometimes. It is hard for outsiders to understand, but for Jzamneh, it is part of what we do.”
“But how could they…? After only one night?”
Diase shook her head. “Shu-Giri made a habit of spending time with her, and she enjoyed it ask much as he did. He never intended to conceive a child. Can you imagine his surprise? Phiare came to me when they learned of it, distraught and worried.”
Vénes sighed, hardly understanding what they had done. “What did he think of it?”
“Shu-Giri was shocked. He was in denial until he saw on the astral plane that she really was pregnant.”
Her words shook him, making this new truth more and more solid. His hands shook, and Liam took his mug lest it slide out of his fingers.
“He spent months in awe of what he had done, and made every arrangement for the birth,” Diase went on “Shu-Giri accepted his child, and was ready to take full responsibility, even when Phiare grew angry and stopped seeing him. Can you appreciate that? He is a good man, Vénes. You are lucky to have his affection.”
“He shared none of it with her? She had his baby, and now what?”
Exasperated, Diase sighed. “What do you want of him? He loves you, not her! He makes sure she is cared for, and that his son is doing well. Phiare and Shu-Giri both want to find their own beloveds, Vénes, and he thought he’d found one in you. Was he wrong?”
“I thought he had.” Vénes sighed, “but I may not be ready for it, in the end. He asked to be my Rrandah and told me that he has a son all in one evening, and it was too much for me.”
“He asked you what?” Liam queried, surprise in his voice.
“Rrandah?” Diase asked in turn, a smile crossing her face. “Did he really?”
“That is a real honor, Vénes” Liam told him. “Is that not what many sorcerers aspire to? He trusts you enough to become your supporter in magic!”
Diase nodded. “He cares for you, Vénes. How can you treat him this way just because he has a child?”
Liam took Vénes’s hand and spoke earnestly. “He has shown you all of his love, and respected your boundaries. I have never seen him so patient before. Do not let his son stop you, my friend. You will regret it.” He stood up from the couch. “You should get some rest, Vénes. Is Shu-Giri awaiting your answer during the festival?”
“How did you know?” the sorcerer asked, surprised.
“Lovers do it all the time in Jzamneh. They wait until a festival to share secrets and give answers. He is being affectionate, but also giving you time. You can sleep here tonight, but you should tell him what you decide tomorrow. …Whatever you choose to say.”
Liam began leading his friend upstairs, to an extra room, while Diase headed towards the door.
“I am going to let them know that you are all right. His feelings are probably as hurt as yours. Good night, Vénes.”