This is Torrant--wearing Ellyot Moon's name, seen through Eljean's eyes. Thanks for the input, everybody--it made choosing this passage very easy:-)
Eljean was bored.
He sat on the stone steps outside the regent’s apartment in the chill of the morning, closed his cat-green eyes and tilted his face up towards the late summer sun. The sun was warm enough to make his hair sweaty on his shoulders, so he shook back the thick black curls, repositioned his hat, and still, kept his face towards the sun.
He was dressed as had become fashionable this summer, in a light cloak about his shoulders and a wide brimmed hat with a flourish and a pair of black breeches, tucked into his boots…and nothing else. He fenced regularly at the local club, and his chest might have been narrow, but it was wiry with muscle, and his long stomach was tight and trim; he was justifiably proud of his body, but mostly he just followed this fashion for the same reasons that had led him to keep company with the witty and subversive Aerk and Keon: it irritated the Consort even if he hadn’t put a voice to it yet, and the rebellion would send his father into a fit of hysterical hyperventilation if he ever cared to know about it.
Either reason would have been more than enough to put Eljean out on the steps in the morning, working on his tan, but a third, unspoken, terrifying and attractive reason was now walking down the stairs towards him. His heart started beating fiercely in his throat, and he worked hard to even out his breathing as he closed his eyes and kept his face towards the sun.
“Merciful Dueant, Eljean! Dimitri’s nowhere around, go put on a shirt!”
Eljean opened one eye irritably. Here he had been, throwing himself at Ellyot Moon as blatantly as he possibly could without ending up crucified over the eastern gate, and Ellyot still thought he was harboring a crush on Dimitri?
“Dimitri is a sniveling arse-licker who would sell his mother for the Consort’s hand on his prick,” Eljean said succinctly, and knew that he flushed from the appreciation in Ellyot’s laughter. “What are you doing here?” He kept the irritation on as cloak to hide his inward preening. “I thought you were off in secret, with all of the sots who used to be my friends.”
And this was, of course, the reason why Eljean was bored. The first rest day used to be their day to fence, and then to loiter along the marketplace, making dry observations about the world at large and mocking the poor people who caught their notice. Eljean was not necessarily proud of how they spent this day, but since he was spending it with a social group that didn’t examine too closely how he liked to spend his time after dark—and with whom—he had just been grateful for the company.
That had changed in the last month or so, and the beautiful man next to him with the hazel eyes and deadly curl to his upper lip was the reason why.
The deterioration of the social group had started with Dimitri—but this had been their fault. As a whole, they had simply stopped talking to him, stopped acknowledging his snide remarks, stopped letting him intimidate Djali and bait Eljean and as a whole, he had gotten the picture. One day he had shown up for breakfast at what used to be their favorite stall for muffins, and the whole lot of them had been at another stall. They didn’t even wave to him, and he’d never tried to join them again.
But that had been fine—in fact, once Dimitri had disappeared from their midst, Eljean realized how pleasant it was to not always have to duck when his erstwhile crush fired a sally off from his vicious tongue.
It was not so fine, however, when Keon and Aerk had told them that they wouldn’t be meeting to fence on a rest day, and then the next, and then Marv and Jino had joined them and two weeks before it had been Djali. Djali! The Consort’s son had been chosen before Eljean? What was so trustworthy about Djali? Was it his complete social ineptitude? His struggling aspirations towards being a poet? His ability to stammer to a halt in five seconds a conversation that had been tripping along for an hour before he spoke?
Eljean’s resentment screwed up his face as he thought about it, and he sent Ellyot a disgruntled look, only to realize that Ellyot was looking at him kindly, with complete understanding.
“We didn’t mean to exclude you, Eljean,” he said gently. “We just had to make sure your attachment to Dimitri was over. It’s very important that he not know.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Eljean replied, yawning for show.
Ellyot, with his characteristic humility, dropped to his haunches and was suddenly, disturbingly, eye-level. Eljean blinked several times, and resisted the urge to back away on principle, like a cat from an overzealous, overfriendly dog.
“I know it’s hard,” Ellyot said quietly, “Having to disguise a thing like that, having to pretend that you don’t feel the way you do, having no one to confide your broken heart to when the person that you’re not supposed to care for at all turns out to be a wanking git. But those things can either make you mean or make you strong. We need your help—in fact, we’ve missed you with us. But we needed to see which it was going to be, right?”
“It was a crush,” Eljean rasped from a suddenly raw throat. “It was over before it was real.” Oh gods…could he, of all people, pray to unforgiving gods? The oath he wanted to swear right now had nothing to do with Oueant’s honor or Dueant’s pride because Ellyot Moon was right there staring into his eyes, and the lines of his face were so clean, those brackets at his cheeks so deep, and that cleft in his chin and sinful, wicked mouth…
Eljean swallowed, closed his eyes, willed his breathing not to quicken, and by the time his eyes were open, Ellyot had moved away and was leaning against the step railing, twinkling a smile at Eljean as though the dumb arse hadn’t just turned his world upside down by a close conversation.
“Good!” Ellyot was saying, and his grin was infectious. He held out a hand for Eljean to grasp, and as Eljean propelled himself up he was hit square on with what looked to be an old, mended peasant’s shirt. “Here,” Ellyot told him, turning and moving towards, of all things, the Regent’s apartments, “You’re going to need that. You could put an eye out with those things before the sun heats up!”
By the time Eljean realized that Ellyot was referring to the little pebbled nipples, hard on his chest, they were in the lobby of the building, and Ellyot was swapping pleasantries with the guard who took the night to morning shift, watching over the precious young rulers of the kingdom of Clough.
In the past, Eljean had breezed right by the old relic—he was nothing but decorative, a remainder from a past when the regents had first forced the principle ruler of Clough to give the other landowners a voice, and the woman who had ruled at the time (some two hundred years ago) had kept trying to have the dissenting landowners killed in their sleep.
Ellyot seemed to think differently. While Eljean struggled out of his cloak and into his shirt, the old man and the young regent discussed everything from the old man’s grandchildren to the chickens his wife liked to raise to how to find the best minstrel group in the city. Suddenly the older man twinkled up at Ellyot, and his next words both floored Eljean and made Ellyot blush.
“Oh, you go ahead and talk about that lute player like I haven’t heard about you…sneaking away at night to play at the The Amber Goose.”
“Lies,” Ellyot shrugged, his grimace saying otherwise. “Lies, lies and damned lies…what I do at The Amber Goose can not possibly be considered lute playing, not after having heard Triane’s Kiss playing there last…” he stopped abruptly, and grimaced again, this time for another reason, and old Jems gave him a shrewd look from the wooden slatted chair he sat in.
The concierge, who sat up higher at the raised desk caught the exchange and said mildly, “Some madness was meant to pass, young Ellyot. Life is too short to worry if you’ve heard pretty music from the wrong people or not.”
Something indefinable passed through Ellyot’s eyes then—a terrible mixture of emotions, that Eljean certainly couldn’t define, although he thought that, perhaps, one of them might be rage. But Ellyot’s expression stayed genial, and he put his palms together and bowed slightly.
“Excellent advice, as always, gentlemen, and I thank you for the conversation as well. Now, if you don’t mind, Master Eljean and I have things to attend to, right Eljean?”
Eljean nodded, fastening his cloak around his shoulders over the shirt. It was loose in the shoulders and short at the waist, making him think that it had been tailored expressly for the wide-chested Ellyot, and it was soft from repeated washings. Eljean tried very hard not to think of ways to keep that shirt.
“Well you make good and sure to sneak out the back, young sir!” Jems called after them as they turned to leave. Eljean recovered from his trip just in time to hear Ellyot complete the thought of what was obviously a common exchange between the two of them.
“What else is being young good for, if it isn’t to sneak about!” He called, and Eljean hurried to catch up.
“What was that about?” He asked, trying not to frown at the old concierge and the even older guard, who apparently knew more about Ellyot Moon than he did.
“Visiting,” Ellyot replied briefly, looking surprised. “They’re nice old men—and they know a surprising amount about the lot of us—it’s good to have them on our side.”
“But…” Eljean grimaced. How could he say, But they’re old? without sounding like a shallow, self-centered ass? Apparently there wasn’t a way, because he was still sputtering for words when they blew through Ellyot’s room, coming out on the patio side, and before Eljean could even ask Ellyot what they were doing or comment on the décor of his room (lots of small, personal items, he noted in his hurry—small wooden figures, a battered child’s doll--things other people had given him that he seemed to like keeping) Ellyot put two hands over his head at the edge of the wooden fence, gave a heave and an agile swing of his legs, and disappeared into the alleyway behind the apartments. Eljean, who was tall enough to see over the edge of the fence just standing, gaped at his fellow regent for a moment with his mouth open.
Ellyot grinned up at him expectantly. “You can make it, can’t you? I mean, I can help you, but it’s going to be a lot more difficult going over that,” he gestured at the stone wall that bordered the alley, “and we’ve got a long day ahead of us.” The wall was a good three hands over Eljean’s head, and Eljean could only stare at it, perplexed. Weren’t the guard’s barracks over there?
But Ellyot was waiting, so Eljean gathered his wits—and his muscles--and heaved and grunted his way over the wooden fence, wondering what folly ever led him to believe his body was in good shape. When he landed on the ground beside Ellyot, he barely had enough wind to gasp, “Are we really going over that?” before Ellyot took off at a trot down the alleyway.
They were indeed. When they reached the end of what Eljean took to be the guard’s barracks, Ellyot crouched and gave Eljean his linked hands as a vault. Eljean found himself awkwardly hoisting his body over the edge of the white-painted stone, and about the time he was hanging from his fingers, wondering how long the drop was if he let go, Ellyot had vaulted to a crouch at the top of the wall. Eljean was so surprised he let go and landed on his arse, and Ellyot sighted a spot about eight feet down on the ground from where he crouched. Before Eljean could even ask, Ellyot started running along the foot-width of the stone wall, and with a hop and a handspring off the edge, he tumbled twice in the air, landing on his hands in a small spot of springy grass, where he collapsed his elbows and tumbled into a roll to his feet.
The look of freedom, of unfettered joy on his face as he bounced up from the roll and did a handspring forward was enough to break Eljean’s heart. He didn’t have the wherewithal to even chide his friend for showing off as he himself struggled to his feet and brushed off his stained black trousers.
“Damn!” He muttered, trying to be casual even when his heart was pounding with the exultation of just seeing something like that so close. “You make that look simple!”
“I’ve practiced most of my life,” Ellyot said easily. “Yarri and…” he stalled then, and something so profoundly sad crossed his expression that Eljean almost whimpered. “Yarri and my brothers, we grew up doing that, off of the pipes and hay bales and stable doors in the barn.” He flashed a broken grin then, as though pretending those brothers hadn’t been killed in that very barn. “We taught our cousins when we got to Eiran.”
“Oh,” Eljean replied, feeling inadequate. It hit him, then, that there was an entire world to Ellyot Moon that he, Eljean, would not have any experience with. The thought depressed him.
“Hurry, Eljean—we’re late!” Ellyot urged, and Eljean was forced to actually run a little, as Ellyot’s purposeful trot took them pelting through the rough cobblestones of the Goddess ghetto. If anyone had asked Eljean fifteen minutes before, he would have said he had no idea how to get to the ghetto unless it involved going through the marketplace and going from there—his way would have taken an hour, at best. If he hadn’t had to watch his feet quite so avidly so he didn’t break an ankle on the terribly crooked stones, he would have allowed himself to just gaze at Ellyot with his jaw dangling in awe of where this intense, magnetic man had taken him on what had once promised to be a lonely sort of day.
Ellyot practically skidded to a halt in front of a neat, rough wood building with a sign hanging from the eves that read The Amber Goose. The building looked familiar, and he caught his breath, his eyes darting to another tavern a few doors down the newly built boardwalk. It was just as neat from the outside but somehow to his mind seedier and full of foul desires. That other tavern he’d been in before, but he tried very hard to keep that knowledge from the young regents he’d learned to think of as friends.
A golden god was restlessly pacing the in front of the tavern, and he gave Ellyot a long-suffering look as they rushed up.
“This? You’re late for this?” The god with the curling yellow hair shot Eljean a disgusted look and Ellyot thumped him on the shoulder good-naturedly.
“Be polite, Aylan. It wasn’t fair—I pretty much kidnapped all his mates and didn’t tell him where they went. I thought since Stanny was showing up today, he could help us out.”
Aylan gave Eljean another grudging once-over, and Eljean felt free to return the glare. Besides curling yellow hair that was scraped back into a haphazard queue, Aylan was onlybarely an inch or so shorter than Eljean himself. He had bluer-than-blue eyes, a sculpted mouth and cheekbones that could cut steak. He also had a possessive air around Ellyot that was surprisingly hard to read.
“I’m Eljean, from the house of…” Gamely he extended a hand.
“I don’t care.” Aylan folded his arms, and if anything, his glare intensified. Ellyot leaned over, grasped Aylan’s arm at the shoulder, and aimed a finger at the golden god’s midsection. Aylan gave a yelp and a smothered giggle before he caught Ellyot’s finger, and Ellyot danced backwards, laughing as he dodged a wrestler’s grasp.
Aylan gave up, holding his hands up and rolling his eyes. “Fine, fine, you bloody wank—he can stay if he can be useful. Your hordes are waiting, oh Regent Healer of Clough.” Abruptly the laughing concession on his face stalled and the air around the three of them sobered. “It’s going to be a hard day, brother,” he said at last, gently. “I hope you’re ready.”
Ellyot drew a deep breath, and assumed a face that was almost frightening in its calm assumption of competence. “Right—you know I’m always ready, brother. You give Eljean a job, and we can start. Anybody critical?”
Aylan’s mouth tightened, and he nodded. “The guards found a safe house for the girls last night…the two worst cases are prepped and in the back room, but you’re going to need to stitch.”
Ellyot cursed foully, lines of pain etching themselves into the corners of his eyes. “Triana and Arue are back there?” He asked softly.
“Yes—and Torrell brought in that anesthetic/aloe concoction that works so well.” Aylan clapped a sustaining hand on Ellyot’s shoulder and Ellyot sighed grimly, pushing at the swinging double doors from the brightness outside to the cool tavern within.
“Let’s get busy.”
“Eljean!” Aerk looked up from where he sat, surrounded by children with a book on his lap. “Good! Ellyot said he was going to bring you in today—we can use some help!”
Eljean looked about him in quiet wonder. Although the building was most obviously a tavern on other days—there was a bar counter with stools and rough-wood tables with folding chairs, a rack of shelves with sweet glass bottles filled with sweeter poisons, and an ale tap—on today, it was most definitely a surgery.
Women thick with child waited on the chairs, and some thoughtful soul had given them crates on which to prop their feet. Mothers sat on stools and cradled children with runny notices and flushed cheeks, and children played at Aerk’s feet while looking anxiously at parents resting on make-shift pallets against the back wall. There were others too—men with bandaged limbs from a job gone wrong, young girls who would meet no one’s eyes, young men cradling strained shoulders or bruised knuckles. The tavern was reasonably large for such a place, but on this day, it was full to bursting with people looking for succor.
Keon was moving from pallet to pallet, offering folded parchment cups of water to those resting, and refreshing the cool compresses on the foreheads of some of the sick. Jino was moving among the pregnant women, asking them how they were feeling, and keeping track of their answers on small sheets of parchment fixed on a board in front of him. Marv and Djali were talking to the mothers of the sick children. Marv was feeling tender foreheads and keeping notes as Jino was, and Djali…Djali, helpless, hapless Djali who couldn’t say two words in a group without stumbling over both of them, was smiling gently at the children. He would reach under his cloak for each one and pull out a sweet—something medicinal, if Eljean had to guess—and a toy. There were tiny sewn poppets for the girls and little wooden horses for the boys, and the way the children smiled or spoke to him, it was clear that they knew Djali well, and that he was their favorite uncle, cousin and big brother rolled all into one.
Eljean recovered from his complete surprise—this is what his fellows had been doing on the rest days without him? Caring for the sick? Minding their children? Why would they worry about…
A sudden, sick sensation dropped Eljean’s stomach to the floor.
This was illegal. He had voted on the issue himself—people in the Goddess ghetto were not allowed to congregate for any reason that involved their gifts or ‘foul practices of medicine’. There were no hospitals or midwives in the Goddess ghetto because, according to the headmaster of Dueance University, “The medical practices of the Goddess followers come into direct conflict of the beliefs of the sacred followers of the gods.” At the time, he hadn’t cared—the bill had been proposed by the consort, and all of the younger Regents had simply followed his lead. The only thing father demanded, actually, was that he not displease any of the elders in the hall. And this—this—facility is what he had voted against.
He himself had been a tool to make it illegal for a people to care for themselves.
Apparently Ellyot Moon had taken it upon himself to care for them.
“Eljean?” Aerk prompted, and Eljean swallowed and met Aerk’s eyes. The same sort of self-recrimination was in Aerk’s gaze that he knew was in his own.
“Absolutely,” Eljean murmured dazedly. “Whatever I can do.”
Aerk set him to work questioning the children with the sick parents. “When was the last time you ate? Was it tasty, or too old? Are you cold at night? Why—are you needing blankets or firewood?” For each child or set of siblings, a package was produced with clothes or food or blankets—whatever was needed that the ailing parent couldn’t provide. Some of the children, Eljean was told, would not be going home with their mother or father. Many of the adults were sick with hunger or exhaustion, and would be cared for in other homes while the children went to the safe houses that hid them from the guards.
“Safe house?” Eljean had questioned when he’d first been told where the dark-eyed little boy on his knee was going. “Why do they need to be kept safe?” Aylan had mentioned something about a safe house being discovered by the guards, as well—and stitches.
Keon looked away, obviously disturbed, and the boy on Eljean’s knee burrowed his head into Eljean’s arm. “What do you think, Eljean?” Keon asked roughly. “They can’t defend themselves, the priests have spent years telling the population that any sort of sexual deviation is their fault—what do you think the guards do if they find unprotected children?”
The child made a little keening sound, and Eljean, who would have said he didn’t care for children, wrapped his arm around the boy’s shoulders in protection.
“Did we do this?” He asked in quiet horror.
“No.” Keon shook his head. “I asked Ellyot, the first time I was here. Ellyot said…” Keon looked away. “He said this wasn’t our fault—but now that we knew it was truth, we had an obligation to change it.”
Eljean looked over to the curtained taproom. He’d heard muffled sobbing and moans coming from the room periodically for past hour. Two girls who would need stitching—the thought of where they needed to be stitched made his stomach churn. “How could we not know, and we’ve been living here. And he just…shows up, and he knows exactly what we’ve done?”
Keon shook his head and shrugged. He looked tired, and his dark, cynical eyes were bloodshot. They had been in session late the night before—how early had he had to awaken to perpetrate this act of kindness?
“Have you seen him, here?” Keon asked after a moment when he scowled at the flowered curtain. Eljean shot him an evil look, and Keon grimaced in apology and continued. “You know how most of the times he just sits back and watches us, and smiles when he approves or looks thoughtful when he doesn’t?”
“Mm.” Eljean nodded.
“You won’t see him like that here.”
Eljean raised his eyebrows, but Keon had moved on with purpose. The conversation stuck with him though, especially about an hour later, when he had moved back towards the taproom to get another packet of blankets and food for a family that had just arrived. The curtain had been pulled aside—the girls who had been treated had apparently been taken out through the back way, and he heard Ellyot’s voice from surprisingly near. Turning around, he saw Ellyot through a gap in the curtain, facing a tiny, barely-adolescent girl wearing a boy’s tattered breeches and a man’s overlarge shirt, and with dark brown hair that looked as though it had been cropped with a belt-knife.
“Arue…” Ellyot was saying softly, taking the girl’s hands in his. “You were so very brave in there, helping us. You must let me know if it ever hurts too much, helping the girls who have been…injured…violated the way you were.”
The girl shook her head, and looked down. “Feels better,” she said gruffly. “Would rather help than sit and watch them bleed.”
From his position, Eljean had a clear view of Ellyot’s face, and the pure empathy that passed over it turned a knife somewhere in Eljean’s middle.
“I know you would, precious,” Ellyot said, stroking her hand gently. “But I need you to watch them too. Make sure they take care of themselves.” His hand moved up to the girl’s forearm, which were covered with even slice scars that appeared to have been healed over for several months. “Make sure they don’t do any of this.”
“Sorry.” The girl studied her feet, but she apparently trusted Ellyot to keep up his gentle touch on her arm, and Eljean’s breath caught tightly to realize how deep that trust must have run.
“Don’t be sorry, sweetheart,” he murmured. “It’s not your fault. Just be well.” Somewhere from the depths of his toes, Ellyot pulled up a grin and his gentle hand went to the girl’s shorn hair. “And let your hair grow—short hair cannot keep you safe, but your beautiful hair can bring you pride and joy.”
The girl shrugged, but the corners of her mouth were turning up shyly, the compliment having clearly found its mark.
“Now tell me,” Ellyot continued, “Do you still guard Aylan while he sleeps?”
And suddenly the girl’s eyes were no longer at the floor. “Oh yes—he makes me feel safe.”
“Good girl—I sleep easier knowing that you’re there. And you’re right to feel safe around him--he’s the most honorable man I know.”
A grin crossed the girl’s face that was so sudden and so impish, that Eljean’s heart ached for the child she should have been. “You know, he says the same thing about you, Triane’s Son.”
There was a pained laugh, and then Ellyot’s voice took on a conspiratorial tone. “Well, you know that even Oueant lies sometimes.”
The girl burst into a peal of impish laughter at the irreverence, and Ellyot asked her to go fetch his next patient.
And Eljean was left standing in the corner with his heart beating in his throat, a thousand suspicions behind his bright eyes, and a terrible, terrible longing burning in his chest.
The day continued, and before lunchtime even, Eljean was exhausted. However, since none of the others seemed to be stopping and resting, he continued with his tasks until a young woman wearing a bar-maid’s apron came up to him with a tray of sandwiches and a jerk of her chin to indicate the counter full of pitchers of water.
“You all need to eat,” she said softly. “Tor…Ell…Regent Moon told me to make sure you took a sandwich and a moment off your feet. He said you were looking knackered.”
Eljean whipped his head around to see if Ellyot was actually outside of the taproom to be making these observations, but a very young woman who was very heavy with child had just lumbered through the curtain, and Ellyot was nowhere to be seen. Eljean called his attention back to the shy barmaid and he smiled, but his mind was still chewing over the things he’d heard—including her own stumbling over Ellyot’s name.
“Why do you call him Triane’s son?” He asked through a mouthful of sandwich, settling his bottom down on one of the stools up by the bar.
The girl flushed, and she cast a furtive look towards the closed curtain.
“No, you didn’t say it—I heard someone else use it. Why?” He swallowed gratefully—the food really was terribly good.
“Triane’s the Goddess—she looks after the gifted, the healers, the poets, the dispossessed…isn’t he all of them?” She asked at last, and Eljean almost choked on his sandwich. Did ‘gifted’ mean what he thought it did?
The girl caught his amazed look and realized she might have said something untoward. With an awkward curtsy, she was suddenly at Djali’s side, and Djali, with another amazing turn of grace, was smiling at her with such beauty that his round, dreamy face was abruptly handsome and capable. His clumsy fingers were now deft as he took the tray from the girl and placed it on the bar and then assisted her to a nearby stool, bending his head solicitously to her conversation and answering her with complete seriousness shining from his sweet, sloe eyes.
Eljean wanted to bang his head against the bar to clear out the confusion of what he had believed he knew, and what was proving itself to be true with every moment in this odd day.
“He wasn’t always this smooth with Triana,” Jino said next to him, also munching on a sandwich.
“That’s Triana?” Then the not-quite adolescent girl must have been Arue.
“Mmm.” Jino swallowed. “She’s the barkeeper’s daughter—they give the place over on the first rest day so we can come in. Aerk and Keon said you should have seen the place the first week they were here. Apparently the guards picked a fight with Aylan there, and they had to work fast to get it ship-shape before people came in.”
Eljean looked at Aylan. The golden god had been everywhere this day, and all of the people in the makeshift little clinic had seemed to know him. The children, especially, had clung to him, and he had greeted them all by name. Aylan’s efforts had brought in most of the stores of supplies for those most in need, and he seemed to be the driving force behind placing the children whose parents were too sick to care for them.
“Where did the care packages come from?” Eljean asked, now that he’d found someone to talk to. He’d been talking to the ghetto denizens all day, and the conversations had been enlightening—but those people had treated him with deference and more than a little fear. It was good to talk to a peer again, someone who wasn’t half afraid he was going to pull out a dagger and knife them where they stood for the white streak in their hair or the person they called ‘beloved’.
Jino shrugged, the gesture making him look young and fragile, in spite of his hard, wiry body. “We’ve been bringing supplies these last weeks, but I understand that before that, Ellyot’s uncle, the one he lived with in Eiran, has been smuggling stuff in here for years. Remember that lace bill?”
Eljean nodded. Ellyot had arrived for the vote just as the last bell tolled, freshly dressed and looking as though he’d never run out of the hall, sick and bleeding and desperate. He’d proceeded to stand up and give an impassioned, fearless oratory that had resulted in one less tax on the people of the Goddess. After the vote he’d promptly disappeared, and hadn’t shown up the next day. When Eljean had seen him after the rest days, he’d been pale and lean, as though he’d spent too many sleepless nights running for his life.
“I remember,” he said now, dryly.
“Well, he told Aerk that he and Aylan had been smuggling wool in for two or three years before Ellyot showed up to claim his place.”
Eljean blinked and looked hard at Jino, who shrugged as if anticipating his next question. “Why the wait?” He asked anyway.
“I asked him that,” said Aerk, coming up beside them after having heard the last part of the conversation.
“What’d he say?” Eljean was feeling restless—he wanted to hear the end of this, but he was looking around the room and realizing how many more people had to be seen, cared for, given to, and he could tell by Jino’s gulping of the last of his food that he was not the only one overwhelmed by the need in this place.
“He said that all he wanted was to be with his beloved and do a little good in the world. It wasn’t until Triannon burnt down that he realized he didn’t have a choice in the matter.” Aerk waited a beat, wile Jino and Eljean digested that last bit of gossip, and then walked forward for his own food with a “Triana, my darling, what culinary masterpiece have you cooked up for us today?” Triana giggled, and Jino broke the silence by going up for seconds, and Eljean sat and nervelessly wiped his fingers on the hem of his shirt.
His beloved. He didn’t speak of her (him?). He had never spoken of a beloved. Eljean suddenly remembered a tattered cloak with a loud gold lining. It had been wadded up on Ellyot’s bed as they’d passed through his room, as though someone had slept with it bunched up in his arms. Her. Ellyot Moon really did have a beloved, and it was a she.
Eljean fought the urge to kick something and cry. Instead, he picked up his little board of questions and names, and went to the newest family that had sat itself down at a newly available table. ‘Do a little good.’ Well, since he was there, he might as well.
Less than an hour later, he got locked in the store room behind the makeshift surgery, and although he really did kick something, he found he had something better to do than cry.
He could listen.