When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw of this strange new place was you. Not the pastel sky, nor the water I could hear breaking against the shore, but you: your golden eyes, softened by the years and nestled in wrinkles that seemed chiseled from the fine stone of your visage; your hair, silver streaks at your temples, cascading waves drawn back with a simple tie; and your mouth, your smiling mouth, the corners only barely daring to lift as you stared back at me. I hurt—breathing hurt, moving hurt, and yet as I looked up at you I cared little if the foggy and distant world of my senses ever resolved itself to my new reality, because you were there, and you were with me, and had I the strength to lift my arm I would have reached up and touched your cheek to assure myself I was not dreaming.
You do not need me to recount the events that followed, and I confess that I remember little. Spare sensations, flashes of color and light, all resolve into nothing. I remember you cutting into me, opening me up and exorcising as much of the invading greenery as you could — you told me after that even your most sacred tools could not remedy the corruption of my intrinsic selfhood, that I had been fundamentally altered by this transmogrification, but that I would learn to live beside it—and you pieced me back together, held me closed while I trembled apart.
I long held together as Hieron crumbled, but now I am in pieces, and you are still so naïve as to think that you can hold what you love together, against all circumstances, by sheer force of will.
Writing is still tiring, so I will set down my pen for now, but... well, another time.
A knock on the door—three taps and a playful pause, then one more tap—and Samothes feels a memory dislodge from a dusty shelf deep beneath his sternum and float into his vision. A different office, a distant time, and the same knock: three taps and a playful pause, then one more tap that seems to hang itself in the air and stay suspended in the humid night air of Marielda. But now, here, in the morning sunlight of Aubade, Samothes clears his throat and calls out come in, and Samot pushes open the door and walks in.
“Samot, welcome.” Samothes rises and goes to offer Samot his hand, not allowing himself to linger in the hesitation that has plagued his every move around Samot since his arrival three week ago. Samot takes the offered hand in his own, but Samothes can feel the tension in his fingers, how Samot’s free hand seems to hover in the air above his own, not daring to put the full weight of his touch on Samothes.
Samot settles on the couch with a sigh of relief, leans his cane against the side table, and gathers himself for a breath before he pulls his posture up and rearranges his sprawling limbs into something more dignified, crossing his knees and propping his elbow on the arm of the sofa, wrist loose and fingers floating in the air. He’s a vision of casual grace—trained nonchalance, if not genuine relaxation.
Samothes sits opposite him, resting his elbows on his knees.
“Can I get you something to drink? Some water, juice, wine?”
Samot’s eyebrow shoots up, a smile pricking the edges of his lips. “Samothes.”
Samothes chuckles and pulls out the wine, already feeling lighter, glad to have a break from reading reports, glad to see Samot. Still, the uncertainty lingers, the novelty of his presence. Based on Samot’s posture, the shadow of discomfort is mutual. He offers Samot a glass.
“I thought it worth asking. I wasn’t sure what you felt up for.”
Samothes leans back, his own glass in hand. “Now, what—well, the usual question is ‘what can I do for you,' but I’ll admit I don’t know where to begin.”
Samot swirls his wine nonchalantly, pale eyes focused on the legs, then looks back at Samothes. The bruising has gone down, the new eye he crafted for Samot moving smoothly in sync with his old one— no, not now, listen.
“I’d like to have a house of my own.”
Ah. He should have seen this coming, really; Samot has been staying in palace quarters while he stabilized, and now that he’s moving around on his own, his wounds mostly closed, none of the desperate triage of the early days—and while he is not the only doctor on the island, he was certainly the only one equipped to handle Samot’s wounds—it was an arrangement of convenience, nothing more.
“Of course. I didn’t...” Samothes considers his words, “It’s only natural you would want a space of your own. Is there a location you have in mind?”
“I was hoping for something close to nature, with room for a garden. Not in the city proper, if possible.”
Samothes smiles warmly. “Anything is possible, dear.”
Samot’s eyes go wide, his shoulders tensing, and Samothes feels his face flush.
“I’m sorry, that was... it just slipped out,” and it was going so well.
Samothes opens his mouth but pauses, focuses on Samot. He’s still looking at his wine glass and his cheeks flushed, but his posture has relaxed. Another try, then.
“There are some lovely cottages up at the edge of town, on the far side from the docks, surrounded by trees.” He watches Samot’s eyes light up, sees his mind beginning to bring into being the cottages and their landscape. “Would that be to your liking?”
Samot nods, his eyes still bright with the spark of creativity, and Samothes drinks in how the corners of his eyes wrinkle, how his forehead purses. He’d tried to hold on to the small things about Samot, the subtle ways his expression shifted, the tones of his voice, but over the thousands of years he had found himself grasping at air where memories once were. Oh, how much he’d missed him.
“I’ll make it happen, then. Is... is there anything else you request, right now? My door is always open, for everyone and especially for you.”
Samot breaks out of his reverie and smirks. “And here I thought you had built a society where the old systems of favor had no place.”
Samothes can’t help the smile that pulls at his cheeks. “I meant—I just want to make sure you are happy here, Samot.”
Samot looks down at his wine again, but nods. His hair is just long enough to curl past his earlobes, and the flowers growing from the fresh scars on his scalp peek out between loose gold and silver curls.
“I’ll see to a cottage, then. But please, know that you are always welcome in the palace.”
Samot smiles and reaches up to tuck a lock of hair behind his ear. “Thank you, Samothes. And thank you for the wine.” He pauses, then sets down his glass. “I won’t keep you from your work.”
Samothes wants to protest that he would prefer to sit and chat with Samot instead of reading reports by a wide margin, but he recognizes the tacit request to end the conversation, and so he nods, sets down his glass, and stands, offering a hand to help Samot off the couch, not allowing himself to savor the cool touch of Samot’s slim fingers against his own.
They walk to the door, and Samothes moves to grab the handle, then turns to Samot.
“Thank you for coming to speak with me, Samot. I always appreciate the respite from my duties, and...” he struggles to form his soaring emotions into words, desperate to articulate the unspoken sentiments of his heart: “I enjoy seeing you.”
Samot holds his gaze, and Samothes is again struck by the fine details of his eyes, the flowering scars that dapple his face and neck. His gaze softens, and he murmurs back, “I enjoy seeing you, too. Until next time, then?”
Samothes nods, “Until next time,” and opens the door. Samot walks across the threshold and closes the door behind him, and Samothes stares at the grain of the wood and listens to Samot’s retreating footsteps.
The cottage you have provided me with is simply lovely, but it does not yet feel like home. Nothing on this island yet feels like home, but I do not think the problem is the island. I do not feel like myself, I feel unsettled, off-center, unbalanced, askew. It is as if my entire life, I’ve been counterbalancing a great weight, shifting my posture and my stance so as to stay upright without conscious intent, and now that weight is gone. The analogy ends there—I have no convenient assignation of such a burden’s nature or source. Perhaps it was not a burden at all but a gift, tethering me to the ground so I did not lose my footing in the relentless forward march of history.
Ah, I meant to detail the cottage, not attend to the spiraling tendrils of my tired thoughts. It’s a beautiful cottage, and I know that I will shape it into a home for myself. It is surrounded by fruit trees, orange and lemon and persimmon, and the sitting room opens onto a view of the ocean, and each morning I awake to the song of birdsong and sit up slowly, gathering my physicality before I move into the kitchen and prepare breakfast. I spend the days resting in bed, reading the books you have brought me, pacing my thoughts back and forth when my body cannot, and when I feel up for it, I walk down to the town and sit by the fountains and watch people pass.
What a strange position to find myself in: so long the life of the party, and the party dedicated to me, and now I must start from scratch in my relationships. A chance to start anew, yet I confess that I am uncertain how I want to approach such a chance. For so long, I was overdetermined by my godhood, but here... here I could be different.
If this week proceeds as the prior did, I expect to see you tomorrow evening, a basket of food and books and wine in your arms (my old domain, I see), and we will talk of mundane things: how I’m adjusting, if I need anything, the weather and the upcoming festival days and places you think may interest me when I have recovered more of my energy. I have not yet had the strength to tell you the full story of the events of the months between when we spoke through the mask and my ultimate demise, and they hang heavy over me. I know that soon we will need to talk about these more serious matters—we cannot let wounds fester, we must be open and honest if we want to lay the groundwork for... Oh, I cannot even write it, superstitious that voicing it prematurely will make it unable to come to pass.
If I were not so proud, perhaps I could confess to missing you.
Yours in sickness and in health,
“Can you not find someone else to make these deliveries?”
“It sounds like you’re feeling better, then,” Samothes chuckles. “May I come in?”
Samot moves aside with a warm smile, and Samothes takes in the entryway, the woven rug, the single pair of shoes by the door, the potted plants Samot has arrayed on either side of the door. Samothes slides off his sandals and follows Samot into the main room, the couch and the reading chair and the wide kitchen table. It’s only been two weeks since Samot took up residence in the cottage, but already Samothes can see the beginning traces of a life. There’s a coffee cup in the kitchen sink, a book open on the table, a half-eaten loaf of bread wrapped in cloth on the cutting board.
“May I set this...?”
“On the table, please. Would you like something to drink?” Samot’s tone is light, but Samothes recognizes the unspoken question: will you stay?
Samothes smiles and declines his head in a gentle nod. “Some water would be lovely, thank you.”
He catches the hint of a smile before Samot turns and pulls a crystalline glass from the cabinet, and Samothes takes a closer look at the light stone floors, the woven tapestry on the wall, the medicines and poultices lined up next to the bowl of fruit, and considers how the angle of the sunlight and the sound of the birds outside recalls in him another kitchen in the woods, when they were a family of four.
“Ah, thank you.” He takes the offered glass and follows Samot over to the couch. Samot settles himself down on the couch, pulling his feet up and leaning his elbow against the arm closer to Samothes, and gestures for Samothes to take the chair.
“How has your day been?”
Samothes exhales. “Long. Tiring. But I feel confident in the projects I have in the works, and... well, I try to remind myself that so many meetings means that I am doing well at soliciting input from the citizens of Aubade.”
“Is that what you’re here for? Soliciting my input with a basket of fruit and books?” Samot quips.
Samothes chuckles, “No, no—though I do always welcome your thoughts. I wanted to see how you were settling in, and I know that no matter how much you might want to walk down to the market yourself, you’re still healing.”
“So it’s a house call?” Samot takes a sip of his water, his expression carefully neutral, but Samothes can see the corners of his eyes threatening to crinkle into smile lines.
Samothes sighs and inclines his head toward Samot. “In one sense, I suppose it is. But you must know that I want to see you, regardless of the care you require.”
Samot takes a sip of water. In a trick of the sunlight, he almost looks to be blushing.
“I was telling you about the town they built around my old university, if I remember correctly,” he starts, his tone careful, testing the waters for Samothes’ comfort.
“Please, continue, I want to know more of the details.”
When they had spoken through Samot’s ancient mask, Samot had narrated in broad swaths, the rise and fall of oceans and not rivers, of the turn of history and the threat of the Heat and the Dark, had spoken of their father and their son only in metaphor, both deaths still open wounds. But now, months later, Samot has been painting with a finer brush, though still avoiding the most painful subjects.
As the sun sets over his shoulder, Samot speaks of the farms and the fields of the Last University, of their new library in the light of the old, of his arrival and the Ordennan attack and his convalescence, of Hadrian and his son, of the struggle against the Wizard Arrell, of Samol and the Dragon Hieron and the dragon’s great skeleton and the way the sun had transformed into a blood-red ruby and dripped down over the lands, of Adelaide and her pearl-encrusted knight and their hard-fought triumph over the Solarch. He tells of their triumphant return, of how he had sat up for nights on end to watch over the reinterment of the Dragon Hieron’s bones, and then he goes quiet.
Samothes lets the silence stretch—he has learned to let the stories of people’s lives before Aubade emerge when they are ready, or never at all, and so he sips his water and keeps a soft gaze on Samot.
“I did...” Samot seems to choose his words carefully, “I did want to discuss with you some of the... events that brought me here, in the end.” He pauses, considers, “But I don’t know that tonight is the night, for I do not want to spring such a harrowing tale on you without time for you to prepare yourself.” He stops again and looks down at his hands, “And I expect it will be a hard story to tell.”
Samothes nods, waiting for Samot to continue, and when he does not, Samothes speaks. “Then let us not dwell on it tonight. Would you like to find a time to share it more formally, perhaps with outside support? I can arrange for a counselor or a priest, if you would find what they offer valuable.”
Samot considers it for a moment, then shakes his head, staring back at Samothes. “No, I... I would prefer just you. If you’ll hear it.”
“I promise I will.”
Samot smirks and murmurs, “Haven’t you learned by now not to make promises you can’t keep?” His tone is mincing, but there is a deep sadness in his eyes that makes Samothes’ heart ache. As soon as possible, then, he’ll clear his schedule, anything for Samot. Still, Samothes smiles and chuckles.
“All your long tales of history and yet you think I’ve learned nothing of my own? I’m wounded, truly.” He pauses, sips his water, then continues. “Would you like to continue tomorrow night?”
He’s not expecting the rush of blood to his face, or the way his lungs seem to burn at his held breath, in anticipation of Samot’s answer. Samot tilts his head to one side as he considers, and Samothes can still see the wolf in his bones. Another house, another forest, another world—
“I would appreciate that, yes.”
“If that will be enough time for you to prepare yourself, as well.”
“I’ve already cleared my schedule.”
Samot manages a smile, and together they sit, grasping for a few more moments in each other’s presence. The sun is nearly below the horizon, but they speak again of mundane things, of the weather and the landscape of Aubade and of Samot’s plans for his garden. Samot tells of his investigations into the strange plant matter that appeared all over Hieron, of the halfling Fero’s strange new creations, of the life he hopes to cultivate here and the ideas he hopes Samothes can help him realize.
Samot breaks off mid-sentence to yawn, covering his bloom-bisected mouth with a thin hand, and as he yawns in sympathy Samothes realizes with a start that night has fallen. Not that he had anything planned after his visit to Samot, but - well, it’s infrequent that he loses track of time like this. In his workshop, perhaps, but... he picks up his empty water glass and moves to stand. Samot waves him back down, but is cut off with another, even longer, yawn before he can speak. There’s a warmth behind Samothes’ sternum at the sight.
“I shouldn’t keep you up, you need rest.”
Samot chuckles and moves to stand, shuffling forward on the couch until his feet are steady on the ground. Samothes extends his hand without a second thought, and Samot seems to take it in much the same way.
“You’re right, unfortunately. I lost track of time.”
“As did I,” Samothes murmurs.
They walk in silence to the door, Samot clutching Samothes’ elbow as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, and Samothes slides on his sandals, then opens the door and feels the night breeze.
“Thank you for the basket, as always.” Samot’s hand is still on his elbow.
“Of course,” Samothes smiles, “And thank you for the story and the conversation.” He doesn’t say the rest, the I’ve missed this, the I’ve missed you, the you make me feel like a young man in love all over again. There are things he cannot say yet, out of respect for Samot and the boundary they must maintain.
“Until tomorrow, then?” Samot drops his hand.
Samothes nods. “Until tomorrow,” and strolls back to the castle still feeling the pressure and temperature of Samot’s fingers on his arm.
You came yesterday bearing cheese and fruit and books and wine, and while I have enjoyed all your gifts, I will admit that improving the quality of our wine will be one of my first projects. It certainly passes as wine, but there is so much more room to grow, beginning with the grapes and the soil. The variety you have created here—or can the citizens shape the world as we do, in their own kind of divinity? Regardless, the whole process needs work, and I am looking forward to offering my expertise.
Today was warm and sunny, and I spent the afternoon on a blanket under a grove of trees overlooking the harbor, taking in the scenery and letting my thoughts form, writing and journaling as my mind desired. I’ve nearly finished the book you left me last week—a fascinating treatise, though not one that meshes remotely with the philosophical tradition I left behind in Hieron, and I can sense that I will need to familiarize myself with more texts before I can fully appreciate the conversation. After a beautiful day outside, I returned home for my body work, then prepared a simple dinner of cheese and bread, and now I sit at my desk and wait for the evening to fall, that I may see you.
(I circle back and see that I wrote “our wine.” Our wine... perhaps I do feel more at home here already, and that settling-in simply has yet to percolate to my consciousness.)
Tonight you are visiting again, and we will walk to a secluded beach, and finally I will tell you of the events that led me here, of my failed plan, of my death. I told you yesterday of the fight against the Advocate and the Solarch, and of the reinterment of Hieron’s bones, but I did not tell you of the continued unspooling of Hieron. With our father’s sacrifice, Hieron had lost what vitality it had left, discarded to save me from the Heat and the Dark’s corrosion, and the Advocate and Solarch were simply two outgrowths of a long struggle against those of us who sought to drive away that burning emptiness. There would be no storybook end to the world’s self-unmaking, there would be no miracle.
I wish I could say that I am not preparing myself for the worst: for condemnation, for rejection, for you to never speak to me again. This world is another chance that I did not ever hope to receive nor feel like I deserve. Perhaps that is why I have resolved myself to tell you what happened to Hieron—no, what I did to Hieron. I cannot continue to abstract the situation from my actions, must hold the blame and carry the burden.
The sun has begun to paint the sky lilac when Samothes’ toes sink into the warm sand of the cove. The inlet is small, on the far side of Aubade from the city, and tonight it is populated only by azure crabs that skitter under the sand as he offers Samot his hand to help him down from the rock-cut steps onto the beach proper. He watches as Samot finds his footing in the sand, his cane tip digging in for purchase while he adjusts, and when he offers an arm Samot takes it and grips tight.
Samothes certainly doesn’t want Samot to feel as if he’s reliant on Samothes’ arm for balance, doesn’t want Samot unable to leave on his own if he so desires, and so he broaches the subject, “If you find it uncomfortable to walk here, I have other places in mind, we could—”
“Oh, no, I—” Samot cuts him off, “I’m not having too much trouble, I just appreciate the... added support.”
Samothes nods and follows Samot’s pace as they set off down the beach, continuing to speak of simple things, and Samothes allows himself to savor the moment, the casual comfort they have with each other, how Samot turns to watch a shorebird foraging for food amidst the driftwood, his eyes bright and attentive. While not yet the effortless companionship of days gone by - and that peace was contingent on external stability, he reminds himself, for they never did know how to speak of the unpleasant topics—while not yet effortless, it feels nice to have Samot next to him, to chat of gardens and the theatre and his inventions and both their petty grievances and annoyances.
“I’ve been meaning to work on an enchantment that would allow those in need to walk on sand with more stability.”
“Oh, I would certainly be interested in that. Would it be held in shoes, or a cane of some sort?”
“Well, I thought so at first, but what of people walking without either? Could I enchant all the sand to adjust for the life around it, perhaps...” He trails off, lost in thought, then jolts back. “Which reminds me, how are you finding your cane?”
“Helpful,” Samot begins, biting his lip as he thinks. “An adjustment that I don’t... it’s just so plain right now. I’ve been sketching ideas for decorations, have I shown you those?”
Soon they reach a driftwood bench and sit turned towards each other, and as Samothes listens to Samot catching his breath, he realizes that he’s doing the same. What a minor detail, and yet it strikes him how they’ve both aged in all these years apart.
“I suppose there is no use waiting any longer.”
Samot pauses and looks out toward the sea, and Samothes can feel his heart ache at the bottomless mourning in Samot’s expression. His physicality may have stabilized, the Spring pruned and held in check by Samothes’ healing will, but such memories threaten to burst from his still-beating heart and flood his pale eyes with loose-petal tears.
“Yes?” Samot is staring at him.
“This won’t—I need you to promise to not interrupt me.”
“I promise.” What does he have to tell me, what has this all been leading to?
Samot nods, his hands fisting in his long skirt. And then, his voice trembling—
“I brought down the Stars.”
And he tells Samothes how he sat day and night in his tower room at the Last University, planning the end of the world.
Oh, Samothes. You asked me why I would have desired to create a world incompatible with my divine makeup, a world fundamentally opposed to the seed of nothing that forms the core of my heart. You did not see how simple the answer was: a world without me was the entire point.
In another place, in another time, Samothes would have his voice raised in anger, his fist clenched around his sword, his armies on the march. But now he paces around his rooms, the turmoil he feels after Samot’s disclosure raging inside him, and he responds in a new way, learned over the eons he’s spent in Aubade: feeling the anger, letting it run over and through him, not bottling it up. It will never be easy, and how his shoulders burn with the heat of it, how much effort it takes to channel his rage into something less harmful, even productive.
He rubs his hands over his face, trying to slow his rushing thoughts, Samot and Samol and Hieron and the stars. He can see the image his mind created as Samot spoke: the stars—brilliant, fierce, apocryphal, blinding. Samot—in the porcelain armor he’d washed up in, but whole, glowing, righteous. Hieron—burning away at the edges, overgrown, soon to be reborn into something terrible and new.
“They chose to send me here. It was more than I deserved after what I did.”
Samot had begun to cry then, tears streaming down his face, but Samothes could not seem to reach out and comfort him. Why couldn’t he? And still, there was a disconnection—Samot had told him all the events that led him to Aubade, and his actions had been regrettable, but Samot was so insistent on self-flagellation—what piece was Samothes missing, why was Samot so unconsolable? He was not angry, or he didn’t feel angry—he felt numb, feels numb as he recalls the conversation yet again, feels disconnected from his body, from the sand and the ocean that are extensions of his body, but he cannot place what about Samot’s tale has upset him so.
“I’ve wanted to tell you ever since I arrived, but I could never find the right time, because there would never be a right time, and I... I don’t deserve your forgiveness.”
“Why would you not deserve my forgiveness? Do you think that Aubade is some paradise, that all who are here except you are blameless?”
“Do you not see how I squandered our father’s gift, Samothes?” Samot had sobbed, “Do you not see what I was given, and how I wasted it?”
And oh, there it was: the anger, cold and empty and marked more by absence than emotion. How Samot had wasted Samol’s life, the life he’d been gifted, and how he’d been so selfish and shortsighted to think nothing of the citizens of Hieron, and for a moment he freezes in his pacing as the piercing rage anchors him to the ground like a javelin through his torso. Breathe in, breathe out, don’t let it consume you, just acknowledge it...
Then, on the beach, he’d been more subdued, better able to hold his anger than when Samot had last spoken to him face-to-face— “We are both gods, endowed with power and foresight, and I am sure you thought your decision the best possible. I don’t envy your situation, I just wish you’d been able to come to a different conclusion, and that—”
“I don’t want your pity!”
It was clear to him that Samot did not know how to react to his apparent lack of anger, and oh, how that had made his heart hurt even more. That Samot was ready for a fight, his fangs bared, and then when Samothes had not even raised his voice—oh, they’d been so young, and so in love, and so cruel to each other in their love.
He was so ready to believe in their happiness again. He’d thought things were going so well in Samot’s recovery, and yet Samot had been holding in this terrible secret for weeks, afraid of Samothes reaction? No, that could not be it all—he must have been keeping it from himself, too, known that telling it would make it material and real.
“It seemed like the only option, it still feels like the only option, and I, I tried to destroy it all, so a better world could take its place.”
As he often does, Samothes thinks of their son, but this time the events of that day seem only just passed, the age-old scar over his sternum new and tender and the story still traumatic, not yet narrativized into manageable memory. How cruel the world had seemed, how he’d spend decades cursing the universe for their hubris and their bitterness and their faults, and now that he’s been given the chance to try and heal his relationship with Samot he is not sure it will ever be healed. How can he forgive what Samot did, how Samot squandered their father’s gift? Must they continue to circle each other, indelibly attracted yet unable to careen anywhere but tragedy?
“I can understand if you don’t want to see me again,” Samot had said, looking anywhere but Samothes, and Samothes had nothing to say. He’d stood up, then, and walked the ten paces to the edge of the water, and felt the waves lap at his toes, then his ankles, then his knees, felt his feet sink into the sand with each rush of water out into the sea, felt the sea spray on his face mingling with—but no, he hadn’t been—had he?
When he turned back, Samot was gone.
Samothes breaths out, centering himself in the here and now, and finds himself on the balcony of his suite, looking out on the eversame sea, the night sky stretched dark above him, and he cannot help but think of the Stars, bright and righteous and falling, Samot in their lead, and the blooming pain of the Spring crawling into his veins and cracking his body like pottery as it falls to— no .
He digs his fingernails into his palms and forces himself to feel the sandstone tiles beneath his feet, smell the salty air and the perfume of the vines that curl around the railings. He’s angry about what he’s been told, yes, but each layer only adds to his discontent: he’s angry at Samot for the horrible actions he described, but he’s furious with himself for not realizing how Samot was carrying this inside him, and he’s livid at his past self that Samot would be prepared for an explosive reaction to the full story, and frustrated with himself for being angry about it all, for how strongly he feels things, that all he’s learned about putting his raging thoughts into words cannot reduce the turmoil of anger with thousands of years of history behind it.
Leaning forward on the balcony, Samothes puts his head in his hands. They need to talk about this. He is determined to not repeat the silences that tore them apart last time. But first he needs time to process what Samot has told him and his reaction to it, and he imagines Samot requires the same. Tomorrow, then, he’ll send a letter asking to speak further, asking for a chance to apologize for his abrupt behavior and explain his reaction. If nothing else, it will be a start. He does not dare allow himself to ask where that start might lead.
I see that you could, in fact, find someone else to make your deliveries.
I received your letter, tucked in with a basket of bread left on my doorstep by some anonymous messenger, and my response waits on the kitchen table for tomorrow’s mail, unless I choose to walk it to the castle tonight, I suppose.
Your letter indicates that you recognized my surprise at your reaction, and indeed I think some part of me was expecting the explosive anger of a you from the distant past... before the war. How long ago that was, yet how close it still feels. Barely a day goes by where I do not think of it, where some passing scent or whiff of air on my skin pulls my heart back to you. I know it is past, and yet some part of me expects it to repeat infinitely into the present. I suppose that is why, without conscious intent, anticipated a reaction to my confession that I did not receive. And when no fight came, when you nodded and turned away and walked to the edge of the ocean and stood there shaking, I could not think of a biting retort, nor was there a place for one.
I could spend all day analyzing each of the emotions and thoughts that flooded me, but my concern is with what comes now. In truth, I did not expect to still be welcomed in Aubade, but your letter confirmed how much you’ve grown. I do not want to linger over the unsavory parts of you I ignored so long ago—your anger, your controlling tendencies, your unwavering belief in your own superiority and the inferiority of your subjects. And yet you wrote to me of forgiveness, of open conversation, of emotional honesty and communication and the flaws that pervade even the gods, and my heart grows light with the confirmation that what I’ve seen of your rule in my weeks in Aubade is not a fluke of benevolence but proof that you’ve changed.
When I awoke on the beach to your face hovering over me, I wanted nothing more than to pull it down to mine and kiss you, feel your lips on mine for the first time in thousands of years, but I could not. And in retrospect, I know that we cannot pretend that our time apart was anything but. I know that when I kiss you again, and feel that I deserve to do so, and trust that we can be together again and make it work, I will savor the sensation and commit it to memory. We are different people now, in a different place, and I can see you sowing the seeds of new beginnings in fertile soil.
You may wonder why I address these journals to you, these letters—but what is the difference between journals and letters, really. In truth, I cannot remember when I began to address my writings as such, but over the centuries I have found that it opens me to reflection and honesty—I can lie to myself, but as soon as I am convinced that I could be sharing my deepest self with you, I feel compelled to excavate and interrogate my emotions. How ironic that this painfully honest communication did not extend to our relationship in times past... but I am holding on to the hope that this time, by work and effort and not by chance, will be different.
I love you. I miss you.
Your love, evergreen,
Neutral ground is difficult to find in Aubade—after all, the entire island is an extension of Samothes’ divine will—and so they meet in the afternoon in a quiet courtyard of the palace grounds, surrounded by buzzing bees and hibiscus vines. Samothes occupies himself with a book while he waits for Samot, poring over the lilting lines of a new collection of poems from one of Aubade’s preeminent poets.
Awake for the night is spent.
In the well of the sky the dawn
Dips her vessel of stars
To the sound of birds at their morning-song.
The young leaves
Are a veil, swaying.
How soft along the vine are the buds of Spring.
The sound of footsteps draws him back to the courtyard, and he looks up to see Samot approaching, his cane tapping on the flagstones. His expression is pleasant, if guarded, but Samothes cannot blame him for that. It would be hyperbole to say that he is dreading this conversation, for he is not, but the uncertainty of its outcome is enough to set his stomach churning. Still, he must be optimistic.
Well. Samothes can’t help but laugh as he replaces the bookmark and sets down his book. “Yes, reading glasses. I could have perfect eyesight, I suppose, but as I’ve aged it’s felt more comfortable to let certain things go. Besides, I’ve been told they suit me.”
“They do... you look very handsome.”
Samot nods and meets his eyes briefly before he scans over the surroundings, and Samothes takes a moment to savor how well the false eye blends with Samot’s face, how the violet iris catches the light just so, how his handiwork captures the inner spark he had so missed seeing in person—it cannot provide anything close to sight, at least not yet, but the Spring had grown so deeply into Samot’s eye that there was no hope of saving it. His eyes—oh, Samot is looking at him.
Samothes summons cups from the places where gods store their necessities and pours Samot a cup, and watches as he wraps his fingers around the porcelain and brings the steaming tea to his lips. His cheeks and ears are brushed with pink; it seems the Aubade sun has done him some good. He watches Samot sip the tea, savoring the bright flavor, before clearing his throat.
“How are you today?”
Samot hums, tilts his head to the side slightly, and considers the question. It’s something he’s always appreciated about Samot: he knows when Samothes means it.
“Alright. I woke up with some aches, but they subsided by midday, and I spent the afternoon reading in the garden. I’ve been... anticipating our conversation.”
Samothes inclines his head. “As have I.”
“How has your day been?”
“Relaxing, all things considered. I spent the afternoon in my workshop, hammering out blueprints for a new terraced garden and then working on some jewelry designs I’ve been developing. Pearl inlaid in gold, very light.”
“So you’ve gained the patience for such delicate work?”
“I always had the patience!” he chuckles, “But I’ve certainly gained an appreciation of the process that I do not think I possessed when I was younger.”
Samot laughs and relaxes back into his chair, brushing a curl behind his ear.
“That you did not... that you did not.”
They lapse into silence, and Samothes soaks in the warmth he feels sitting in the sun with Samot. How gentle the breeze feels on his skin, how fair the perfume of the hibiscus.
“This is a beautiful garden, Samothes.”
Samothes inclines his head, “Thank you, but I cannot take credit for it. The only portion of the castle that is mine is my suite; the rest is public space, open for all to shape. A city closer to your City of First Light than my Marielda.”
“What you’re really saying is that it took you thousands of years to finally see the value of a library.”
They both laugh, and Samothes takes another sip of his tea. It’s a beautiful blend, fruity without being cloying, and he hopes Samot’s tastes have not deviated such that Samothes’ pick is no longer to his liking. He seems to be enjoying it, and, well, Samot could never resist a chance to pointedly tell Samothes how poor his taste was, so he’ll assume the best.
“What are you reading?”
“A book of poetry—have you had a chance to meet Atella Joy? This is her newest collection, a selection of aubades. I felt a special need to read it, given my personal attachment to the genre.”
“It sounds delightful.”
“It really is; she has such a way with words. I will pass it off to you when I finish, if you’re interested.”
“I would appreciate that, thank you.”
Another pause, another sip of tea. Samot taps his fingers on the table, anticipating the conversation that they both know is coming. Well, he cannot put it off forever, so he takes a deep breath and looks Samot in the eye.
“Samot, I wanted to apologize for my behavior yesterday. I should have been there for you, and instead I stormed away without any explanation. I cannot imagine the pain I must have caused you, and I— ”
Samot puts a hand up to stop him, and Samothes pauses to listen.
“Samothes, thank you, but you don’t need to apologize.” He pauses, takes a breath, “The person who should apologize is me. I should have given you more warning, I should have... I don’t know what I should have done, but I feel awful for having hurt you.”
“And I for having hurt you.”
“Samothes...” Samot reaches forward and takes Samothes’ hands in his own. His hands are cool against Samothes’ skin, and Samothes hesitates a moment before pulsing his grip. I’m here . He watches Samot take a few breaths, centering himself, before the other man speaks.
“It seems we both are hurting, from our actions towards each other and from the shared knowledge of what I’ve done.” Samothes nods, and Samot continues. “I wish I was not hurting. I wish I had made different decisions, or that I had been more able to make different decisions.”
“Fate has been cruel to you.”
A wet laugh bubbles from Samot’s chest, “Fate has been cruel to us both.”
Samothes nods, his eyes stinging with tears yet unshed. “Neither of us can change the past, not anymore. And so I—I want to help you move forward, not to disregard the past, but to continue to live in spite of and because of it.”
Samot nods, tears beginning to slide down his green-slashed cheeks. “I want to move forward, Samothes, with my life here and with my life with you, but right now the past feels so all-encompassing, so overwhelming, and I do not know how I will ever move on.”
Samothes squeezes Samot’s hands in his own. “It’s alright to not know how... you have a community behind you, and all the time you need.” He’s seen people arrive in Aubade in all states, with all histories, all variety of violent death, and none have been unable to find peace here. He cannot allow himself to consider that Samot might be the exception to the rule.
“How can you forgive me so easily?” Ah.
“It’s not a question of forgiveness, Samot, for I don’t think I have truly forgiven you. I still...” he rubs circles on the back of Samot’s hands with his thumbs, “I still feel such rage when I consider what you have told me, and I know that it will fade with time and work. I’m sorry I cannot simply put it aside.”
“You don’t—don’t apologize for having emotions, Samothes.” Well, Samot isn’t wrong there.
“I—you’re right. But I stand by what I have said about time.”
“There are some wounds even time cannot heal.”
Oh, how it breaks his heart to hear the resigned sadness in Samot’s voice. “All I ask is that you allow time the opportunity. Some wounds never heal—I will not promise otherwise - but there are still ways to live full and happy lives in spite of their lingering presence.”
Samot nods, looking down at their joined hands. “Alright.” He pauses, considering his words, before he raises his face to Samothes, “I don’t want to repeat the silences that tore us apart.”
“I don’t either,” Samothes nods, “and with that said, I... I think about you every day, and marvel that you are here with me again. I still love you so much, but I don’t think it wise to pursue a relationship just yet. You’re still getting settled, and I’m still adjusting to your presence here.”
“I was going to say as much.” Samot sighs. He looks down at his hands, searching for words. “I want little more than to be with you again, to return to the bliss before it all fell apart, but we’ve both changed since then, and I do not want history to repeat itself.”
“If our history has taught me anything, it is that no amount of attraction can be the basis for a stable relationship. We cannot cloak our problems in desire and hope they disappear.”
Samot laughs weakly. “But that’s the best part!”
“Samot...” Samothes puts on a stern face, but he can’t help beginning to chuckle in chorus with Samot’s laughter. He’s missed this, and he says as much, and Samot’s eyes grow bright with such tentative love that he feels his heart soar.
He takes another sip of his tea, then returns to a serious tone, “To tell you the truth... to have another chance is beyond what I could have ever hoped for, and I still worry that I will wake up one morning and find this all a dream.”
“Sometimes I wonder if this is all in my head, if my punishment for my actions in life is to think myself so near to you and yet be unable to be with you again.”
“Oh, Samot...” he starts, but his words catch in his throat. He feels wetness on his cheeks.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“No, no, please don’t apologize, I’m glad you told me.” He sniffs, composing himself, determined to continue the conversation, “I want to learn to be honest with you, and you with me. But first... I was wondering if we should make clear that we want to take time apart, and let things proceed as they will when we are ready.”
Samot nods, twining his fingers through Samothes’ own. “Yes, that sounds alright,” he chuckles, “Imagine how differently history could have gone had we realized sooner how to communicate like this...”
In any other circumstances, it would have been humorous, but Samothes just tightens his grip on Samot’s hands, and Samot does the same. They sit, savoring the connection, for several moments, and Samothes is overcome with the desire to hold Samot close, to never let him go. It’s an old impulse, long dormant, but where used to be rough intensity is the slow pulse of an enduring ember.
“Can I... may I hug you?”
Samot nods, and Samothes stands and helps Samot to his feet. Samot extends his arms, and Samothes pulls him close and buries his face into Samot’s shorn curls. Samot holds himself tense, not yet allowing himself the comfort of relaxing into Samothes’ embrace.
How strong he’s been, how long it’s been.
Samothes breathes deep, tracing the tension in his body, how Samot’s arms feel wrapped around his torso, chest against chest, and as he exhales he imagines lighting a fire with the energy he pushes out on his breath. As he relaxes, Samot responds, leaning more of his weight into Samothes’ arms, and Samothes thinks of nothing but how natural it feels to hold Samot in his arms. His curls smell of lavender and the ocean.
How long he’s been strong.
A breath, another, and then Samot shakes apart in his arms. He pulls at Samothes as if to make them one, to merge flesh with flesh and heart with heart, and Samothes rubs circles into the small of his back. How long he’s been strong, indeed.
In the well of the sky the dawn / Dips her vessel of stars / To the sound of birds at their morning-song.
If the birds sing around them, Samothes does not notice, rocking back and forth, murmuring soothing nothings, his heart aching as Samot’s sobs slowly fade, and soon they stand together, quiet and still in the golden sunlight.
The embrace grows uncomfortable, as embraces do, and Samot untangles himself from Samothes and tilts his head back, his eyes red and his face damp. Samothes is sure he doesn’t look much better. Samot sniffs once, twice, his lip quivering, then—to Samothes’ surprise—laughs, and leans his face against Samothes’ shoulder, facing away from his neck.
They sway for several seconds before Samot sighs, with a wet laugh, “How are we ever going to make this work?” His tone is hard to place—not optimistic, no, but not resigned to his fate. Hopeful, but wary of the tragedy that’s always seemed to come.
“Time, and effort, and... and we’ll see.”
Samot nods, his cheek rubbing against Samothes’ shoulder. “And we’ll see.”
The young leaves / Are a veil, swaying. / How soft along the vine are the buds of Spring.
“I won’t keep you, but would you like to sit with me while I read? I have the whole evening clear.”
Samot nods, and they part, and Samot settles opposite him and retrieves a sketchbook from his bag. Samothes picks up his book and finds the poem he’d been reading, and the golden light turns pink and cool as he finishes:
Awake for the night is spent.
Your lips hold life in a stillness;
Your hair entraps the south-wind.
Ah, you are asleep with the night-song full in your eyes.
Awake. The night is spent.
Night settles in.
The high tide season gives way to the low tide, then back again. The garden flowers grow, the vines spiral up their trellises, and the air takes on the sweetness of nectar. Shoes gather inside the door, books gather dust on the shelves, birdseed gathers on the windowsill, and the routines of life become everyday, rituals leaving traces in the objects they encounter. One smudge of pen ink on the desk, then several, as sheets of writing pile up on a corner. Wood shavings and finished carvings—relics of a lifetime ago, of a wolf-turned-boy sitting at the feet of Hieron himself—and tubes of paint and finished canvases. The walls of the cottage coated in dust, then rinsed, then dusty again, and gorgeous carved-wood canes join the first by the bed.
Nothing in Aubade is still for long, yet Samot finds his footing in the ever-shifting canopy of activities and spaces. Sipping coffee in a small café, walking the beach with a newfound friend, exploring the coves and inlets of the beach. Soon enough he finds himself retracing his steps, settling into the grooves of routine. He attends services in the Temple District, finding solace in the ritual and community. He reads in the library, flirts with the librarian. Soon the harvest comes, and all of Aubade picks up baskets and ledgers and pitches in, and Samot tallies ears of corn until his eyes blur, revelling in the work, and rises early the next morning to do it again.
They live separate lives. Samothes oversees Aubade as he has for millenia, and Samot tries everything the land has to offer, then makes his own way, writing and painting and planning for all he wants to create, the community spaces he wants to develop, the wine grapes that will take decades to finesse. He opens a salon, edits the literary magazine, hosts authors and essayists and thinkers and students, and stays late into the night speaking with friends and lovers about the ways of the world.
They live separate lives, and yet—a heady glance at a festival, a conversation at the market. Samothes visits the salon for a celebration of a new issue of the magazine, and toasts to the continued blossoming of the arts in Aubade, and nobody catches what he says to the host when he pulls him aside. Samot performs with the theatre and Samothes sits in the front row as always, and presents all the actors with three-stemmed lily bouquets as always, and if Samot asks him to wait by the door as he gets out of costume so that they may walk to Samot’s house together, the history books do not record it.
I do not miss you so much anymore—well, that is not entirely true. I miss you with every fiber of my being, but I do not feel as if an integral part of myself is missing in your absence. I have a life again here, a life I never thought I would have, a life that more days than not I am happy to wake up to. I find myself noticing the details: how the birds move in the trees such that their tail feathers flash violet in the sunlight, how the foam of the surf clings to the sand after each wave breaks, how the stones that pave the city streets are flecked with reflective crystalline grains.
I miss you, but I am my own person again, and I’ve come to see that I do not need to be with you to live and to thrive. Each month that goes by brings new friends, new conversations, new pleasures, and when I see you in the city I long to be with you, as I have longed to be with you since time immemorial, and yet I can separate that desire from my sense of self. For so long I defined myself as your widow, and now I feel as if some great weight has been lifted, some wound finally scabbed over.
I love you. I miss you. And still my life blooms anew.
Yours, under the sun,
The tides rise, recede. The year turns over, and they go home together after a festival night, to talk and nothing more, and Samothes wakes when the first rays of sun stream through the windows and illuminate Samot’s living room with their lazy fingers, yet he does not feel the urge to leave in shame, and he occupies himself with a book until the sun is high in the sky and Samot trudges downstairs in a silk bathrobe, his hair loosely braided over one shoulder as he rubs the sleep out of his eyes, and when their eyes meet Samot blinks once, twice, then mumbles an offer of breakfast. They break bread in the garden, Samot coming to awareness with each sip of his tea, and speak of nothing in particular.
Samothes shows up with flowers for their first official date, his robes casual in cut yet trimmed in gold, and he offers Samot his arm as they walk to the theatre. They sit together in the front row, Samothes’ usual seat and its pair, and when the show is over they walk down to a quiet beach and sit, arms wrapped around each other, until the sun dips below the horizon. Then they rise and meander back towards Samot’s cottage, and they linger at the gate, then on the doorstep, then in the doorway, before Samothes finally kisses Samot’s cheek goodnight and makes his way back to the castle.
Soon their weekly dinners turn into near-daily lunches, and at noon every day Samothes leaves his office to stroll down to the shopping district and meet Samot in their favorite café. Samot begins making excuses to visit the castle, and Samothes finds his solitary evening walks lead him past the forest cottages more often than not, then that his walks are solitary less often than not. A few weeks later, a dinner date runs late, and Samot stays the night, and they fall asleep with their fingertips touching and wake up holding each other tight.
Oh, how full of love I feel as I sit to write this morning. You have just departed for the castle, and I can still taste your lips on mine, feel the traces of your fingers on my hips and thighs, feel the echoes of how we moved together, relearning the planes of each other’s bodies. There was no fanfare to mark the occasion, but when I awoke this morning to see you staring back at me, I had to hold back my tears, for all I could see was your smile, hazy with sleep and full of blissful affection, and I was able to savor the moment, my whirlwind mind quiet in the early-morning light.
Still, one thought kept crossing my mind, so I voiced it. “Does it cheapen our happiness,” I said, “if I say that I knew we could be happy again someday?”
And I will forever remember your reply—“My love,” you murmured, “the fact that you thought that at all means we’ve come so far.”
Yours, now and forever,
Awake. The night is spent.
—And Samot awakens to morning sunlight spreading golden fingers on his pillowcase. Next to him, Samothes’ pillowcase is cool, the sheets rumpled, and Samot finds himself tracing his fingers along the ridges and whorls Samothes has left in the bottom sheet. What a wonder it is, to be able to reach out and touch the marks of his love’s presence. He imagines Samothes sleeping next to him, imagines him stirring, sees how Samothes sat up and pushed the covers back and rose to greet the sun, how he stretched and padded downstairs without waking Samot.
Blinking the sleep out of his eyes, Samot sits up slowly, pulling his legs into a crossed position and raising his arms over his head. Sleepy muscles stir from their slumbers, crocus veins turn towards the rising sun, and Samot yawns long and slow. A smell is wafting up from downstairs: warm, sweet, buttery... breakfast . Something to look forward to after his bed exercises.
As he runs through his morning exercises, Samot’s thoughts drift towards the day ahead. It feels open, full of possibilities. Full of hope. Some time in the garden, perhaps, before they retreat inside for the hottest part of the day, and then painting in the afternoon. No need to decide now, even... Aubade moves like honey. There is no need to move any faster, and so people savor time, knowing that there will always be tomorrow.
His exercises complete, Samot stands, one foot and then the other, and traces a hand along the wall to steady himself as he heads down the stairs of their cottage. Their cottage. How novel it still feels. Their cottage.
“For the love of—”
Speaking of theirs. Samot rounds the corner into the kitchen and finds Samothes at the stove, muttering to himself as he scrapes at something with a wooden spatula. Samot can’t quite make out sentences, but the snippets alone tell him enough, as does the bitter scent of charcoaled breakfast. Samothes doesn’t seem to notice him come in, fixated on the task at hand, until Samot steps into the kitchen proper and leans against the table. At the squeak of the table leg against the floor, Samothes’ head shoots up, a warm smile overtaking his face, the wrinkles between his eyebrows vanishing as the smile lines crinkle at the corners of his eyes.
“Good morning, love.”
“Good morning,” Samot yawns, reaching out to Samothes, and Samothes heeds the beckon. A kiss, short and sweet, and Samothes looks back over to the stove, his eyebrows furrowing as he stares at the blackened lump in the pan.
“I turn away for one minute, and it’s burnt!”
“Mm-hmm.” Samothes’ shirt is unbuttoned, as usual, and Samot traces his hand down Samothes’ chest, combing his fingers through the soft down that covers his pecs.
“I just went to fill the kettle, and the batter wasn’t even bubbling when I looked away!”
“Uh-huh.” Samot trails his hand up to where Samothes’ neck meets his shoulder, rubs small circles into his sun-gold skin. His beautiful husband.
“You aren’t really listening to me, are you?”
Samothes leans forward and plants a warm kiss on Samot’s forehead, then pulls away and returns to the stove. Samot sits down at the kitchen table and watches Samothes grab the burning cast-iron pan with his bare hand—a silly trick, one he’s always been able to do, and yet such mundane and domestic details always fill Samot with fondness—and slide the offending pancake into the waste bin.
“How did you sleep?” Samothes asks.
“Oh, well enough... though I wish you’d been next to me when I awoke.”
Samothes dollops another scoop of batter into the pan with a buttery sizzle. “You missed me already?”
Samot laughs, “No! Well... maybe a little. The bed was cold without you.”
“What a hard life you lead, really. It’s a miracle you’re still alive.”
“Oh, stuff it,” Samot sighs.
Samothes moves in front of the window right as the sun emerges from behind a cloud, and the sunbeams catch the side of Samothes’ face and illuminate his curly hair in a gentle halo. How lucky he is to be able to savor the little things, he thinks, how beautiful his husband is, how unexpected a future is their domestic bliss, and yet he says none of it, just sighs and whispers, “I love you,” and reaches out for another kiss.
“I love you, too. Now sit still and let me make you breakfast; I’ll give you another kiss when I’m done.”
“Well, if you insist.”
Outside the open window, the birds cackle in the trees. It’s warming quickly—or perhaps he’s feeling the heat of the stove—and the night clouds are dissipating as the sun climbs higher into the sky. Soon Samothes brings him tea, then a plate of warm pancakes and ruby berries, and they speak of their plans for the day.
When they’ve finished, Samothes clears the plates away and turns on the sink. He’s only made it through a fork when Samot leans against his back and wraps his arms around his midsection with a heavy sigh. Samothes is sturdy and warm, and Samot is owed a kiss.
You asked if I missed you already, and the truth is that I did, and I did beyond your absent heat. I did not fear that you were gone, or that this has all been a dream, and I did not reach for the knife that was no longer under my pillow, but I felt your absence all the same. Yet I could feel your presence in the bed — so different from Hieron, where I would find a relic or footprint or blade and hear the echoes of your distant touch, faint and full of lost potential and sorrow — for now, even when your scent fades from the sheets next to me, I can always find another reminder of your love, eternal and continual and everburning. So many words to conceal a simple fact: I smelled you cooking breakfast, and I felt so full of love I thought I might be projecting it all around the island. And all for the scent of warm butter and the distant, imperceptible sound of your humming. Perhaps I’ve constructed that last detail in my head; but I like the tenor it gives the image, and so it stays.
What a glorious few months it’s been since we stopped circling each other like young lovers. I could never recount all the details, strive as I might to commit every moment to memory: how the sunlight illuminates your face as you turn towards me, how your hands feel in mine, how your lips feel against my skin, the scent of the salt air as we walk along the beach. How the sand filters between my toes. The way you bend to bury your hands into the soft soil of the garden. The angle your shoulders make with your neck and your neck with your chin. How your hair curls. The exact shades of gray at your temples, and all their permutations with the sunlight.
My pen has gotten away from me, but I cannot seem to tell of the first few months of our new relationship without first cataloging each sensation, each touch, before I assemble them into a history. Our narrative has not yet resolved, is still full of soft edges and sunlight. In broad strokes, then: our first official date, reacquainting ourselves with each other’s bodies, and a new cottage by the beach with space enough for us both. The days blend together, full of joy and love. Some are still dark, my mind and body overwhelmed by the weight of history, and I stay in bed or fasten on a mask and go through the motions outside. But soon enough the light breaks through and peace returns. I am finding the dark days less and less frequent now, though on occasion something hurls me back into the past. Healing is nonlinear, they say, and so I heal in concentric arcs that return back to you.
I must go. The evening breeze calls me to the salon - a young author is speaking tonight, and I must prepare myself. To think that it’s been three years since I opened the salon; it seems like yesterday. I will see you there, and if not there, then when I return home to your arms.
Aubade has a small graveyard for those who choose its form of remembrance before their deaths. Samothes controls death here, has since here first crystalized into existence, but his citizens sometimes find comfort in the physical traces they can leave behind, and so the graveyard stretches up a green hill behind several houses of faith, simple stones interwoven between twisted olive trees that in the high tide season drop midnight-purple fruit on the yellow grass.
And when Samot disappears one morning—Samothes finds him there, standing at the gate, the summer wind threatening to separate his broad sunhat from his golden head. He doesn’t turn when Samothes stops several feet behind him, just stares up the hill at the green trees and the yellow grass and the gray stone graves, silent and still.
The wind quiets, then picks up again. Samot stands, swaying almost imperceptibly in the breeze. Samothes listens to the distant sound of waves crashing and the rustle of the olive tree’s thin leaves, and waits. Nearby, a bird trills a sweet song, then takes off in a clutter of feathers.
The wind quiets again.
“You know, there were about this many graves in the graveyard of the university when I showed up.” Samot’s voice is airy, his tone too light. Samothes feels his breath catch somewhere behind his ribs. In the months since they’ve been back together, Samot has filled in the Hieron he left behind, but... no history is ever complete.
“Is that so?” he answers, careful.
Samot nods. “And that was over ten years, in a town not half the size of this island. So many graves.”
He pauses, then points up the hill, towards the far corner. "And that's where they buried him. Your father. Under a tree.”
Samothes feels any words he had evaporate.
Samot continues, his arm still aloft, “I couldn’t walk... Hadrian had to carry me to the funeral. I couldn’t even walk to his funeral. I couldn’t even do that...”
He trails into silence again, then turns to face Samothes. His cheeks are rosy from the sun, his hair gold and silver as it cascades from under his sunhat, but his eyes are focused on something Samothes cannot see, something far away yet overwhelmingly close. The need to comfort Samot is overpowering, and Samothes steps forward until he’s an arm’s reach away.
If Samot notices his approach, he does not acknowledge it, his arm still outstretched.
“His wife spoke.”
Samothes waits a breath, until he’s sure Samot is done, then ventures, “She did?”
Samot makes a small noise of agreement. “Hadrian’s wife... Rosana. Rosana spoke.”
Samothes hums and takes a step forward, then another, until he can reach out and take Samot’s hand lightly in his own, barely daring to touch lest Samot lash out or pull away, lest he hurt Samot without realizing, lest he topple the relationship they’ve build in the years since Samot arrived on the beach. This time we have built our house on solid ground , he reminds himself, but still...
As soon as his fingertips brush Samot’s palm, Samot’s thin fingers twine loosely with his calloused ones, though Samothes isn’t sure if Samot realizes he’s doing it. He gives Samot’s hand a light squeeze. Samot drops his outstretched hand and squeezes back, though his eyes are still seeing something Samothes cannot, something far, far away.
Samot’s next words are nearly lost to the breeze as he whispers, lips barely moving, “I wonder if she realized she was reading a eulogy for all of Hieron.” He crumples to his knees, sobbing, still clutching tight to Samothes’ hand, and Samothes kneels next to him, wraps an arm around his quaking shoulders, and thinks of his father, of warmth and vitality and the hearth and the sound of guitar strings, and of a barren tree on a wind-lashed hill.
I love you. I know that you know this, I know that you have known this before, and yet this morning I feel as if I might burst with the force of my love for you if I do not yell it out to the world.
Oh, Samothes, my sun-god. In our love I watch you glow. You radiate joy for all to see, clear as salt air. I want to consume you, pull you so close to me that we become but one. I want to feel your skin against mine. I want to breathe your air. I stare at your visage and it burns me, and you soothe my blistered skin with your tongue, and I save each kiss and crush them into a poultice for when we are not together. My greenery turns toward your sunlight, and in your heat I bloom.
If the floral metaphor is overdone, forgive me. Your love compels me to delight in repetition.
They’re relaxing in the sunroom one sleepy morning when Samot puts a hand on Samothes’ sternum and traces his fingers over the knot of tissue that burrows deep into his flesh.
“This is from that day, isn’t it?”
Samothes nods against the pillow, clasping his hand over Samot’s. He knows Samot has noticed it before. The puckered skin is light against his tan stomach. Here, on the divan, a year of days and nights soon to be behind them, Samot has seen it in moonlight and sunlight. But only now has he brought it up.
“And you kept it?”
Samothes nods again, feeling his cheek brush up-down against the silk pillows, warm with the heat of their bodies.
“I had no choice,” he replies.
“No choice?” Samot’s hands are cold against his chest, but he cherishes the burn.
“No choice,” Samothes clears his throat, “because it is the scar that brought me here. Wounds inflicted by the Blade in the Dark bind us here. To reconfigure is to change history, and to remove the killing scar is to weave a history incompatible with the history that brought you to Aubade.”
He pauses, watching Samot process the information. The sun is still low, the day still new, their minds still dawning. Samot is memorizing each whorl of the scar with revenant fingers. Samothes knows how deep the scar goes—through skin and cartilage and muscle and vein, resting deep inside his body, and only barely missing his heart.
“In your case, it’s unlikely we would have been able to undo the scars you received from the Ordennan attack, even though they do not bind you to this land. The Spring made itself integral to you.”
Samot hums and moves one hand down to his own chest, the tangle of morning glory that bursts from over his heart, “And it healed over the wound that brought me here.” He breathes in, out. “The wound that brought me back to you.”
Samothes shifts forward and kisses Samot’s gentle forehead. “And I will be forever grateful for it.”
Samot smiles soft and wide into the pillows, and continues stroking his fingers against Samothes’ scar. Samothes can feel the sunlight falling from the window, warming their shared divan in a square of pink, can feel how his lover’s hand moves gently forward and backward as his chest rises and falls with each breath.
“Do you still think about him?” Him.
Samothes sighs, heavy and wet, like rain clouds. “It would be a lie to say that not a day goes by where I don’t think about him. Because I don’t, not anymore. I no longer feel it as if it were yesterday; and it was not yesterday, but—”
He pauses, swallows the ache rising in his throat, “I still see him in the crowds sometimes. A flash of blond hair, of dark freckled skin, a soaring laugh. Each child born here reminds me of him. They have his eyes, or his laugh, or his exuberance, or his bright intelligence, or the recalcitrance I wish we’d taught him. So yes, I do still think about him.”
And oh, there are the tears, welling up behind his eyes and tipping over his eyelids, the sadness a surprise as its wave breaks against his stoic facade.
“Oh, my love...” Samot reaches out a hand and cups his cheek, wiping away the tears with the pad of his thumb, “I didn’t mean to make you upset.”
Samothes sniffs. “I’m not upset, I promise. I just... I’ve never been able to talk about it with you. And I’ve wanted to for so long.”
Samot hums and pulls himself closer to Samothes. His breath is warm and sweet in the space between their bodies.
“What do you miss the most about him?” Samot’s thumb is brushing over his scar, sending half-sensations and phantom cool vibrating through his body.
“I miss his laughter. How he lit up any room he walked into.”
“I miss his laughter, too,” Samot murmurs, “and I miss the way he asked questions without any preamble. How he would burst into our room and voice his thoughts without realizing we lacked the context.”
“Remember when he came home with a fist of earthworms and offered them to Samol as guitar strings?”
Samot laughs, his eyes damp. “Oh, I do. And Samol sat him down and together they wrote a serenade for the earthworms, and then released them in the garden.”
Samothes chuckles, “I’d forgotten that part.”
“Memory works in strange ways.”
Samothes nods. “I know that I miss him,” he murmurs, “but I wonder if I’m really just missing the times when we were happy together, and the world felt open and uncomplicated. It’s like... I’m missing Maelgwyn, but what I’m really missing is that stability. They’re so close together in my mind.”
Samot goes quiet and considers his words, still cradling Samothes’ wet cheek in his hand. “Samothes,” he starts, cautious, “you’re allowed to just miss him, and to mourn, you know. You don’t need to have a good explanation.”
“I—oh.” But that is what he’s doing, isn’t he: justifying his sorrow over their son’s life by abstracting it away into the grand sweep of history. Oh, he’s been so alone in this, for so long.
“Hm? I’m sorry, I was lost in thought.”
Samothes breaths out long, and focuses on releasing the tension from his body. The patch of sunlight on their divan has gone from pink to amber, the day beginning in earnest.
“You know, I’ve been thinking that I could start lighting a candle in his memory every week. I can’t... it wouldn’t fix anything, but it might... help me. It might help us. To have a space to remember him.”
“I’d like that. I’d like to do that with you,” Samot murmurs.
Samothes sniffs, feeling finally the weight of his husband next to him. History may not have treated him kindly, but the years have, and Samothes runs his hands over the skin of his hip, thinner than in their youth, blue veins visible in the burgeoning sunlight and interrupted with budding crocuses. The wounds have long closed, the scars alive but stable, blending more effortlessly into his body. His lover, loose and warm and glowing in the morning sun.
“Thank you,” he starts, feeling Samot’s attention on him, “I didn’t realize how long I’d been holding that inside.”
“I’m glad,” Samot replies with a watery smile.
Samothes clears his throat. “Breakfast?”
Samot hums and shimmies up against Samothes, burrowing his face into Samothes’ chest. “Lie with me a little longer?”
“Well, I can’t say no to that,” and he runs his fingers through Samot’s platinum curls and feels the salt air on his skin. The ocean breeze carries the sounds of an Aubade morning, clatter and bustle and birdcall. For a moment, he thinks he hears a child’s lilting laughter.
After your death, I filled my life with plans and goals and wants. I sought satisfaction: in people, in my duties, in my grand ideas. I lived, and I lived, and I lived, and you were not there at all. And now it seems what I was searching for all along was you. I still hold the memories of lives lost, of potential histories burned in the bud, of the necrotic paths we cut through Hieron to further our goals. Of our son. Of our mistakes. But I find myself moving—not moving on, but moving forward, despite our history. When I asked about your scar from that fateful day, I had hoped you kept it intentionally, that you had been able to heal. But a perfect body is not a body without history, and I know that together we will find more peace than we did alone.
I do not think I will send this letter. I left behind hundreds of letters at the University, left behind hundreds more in the City of First Light, but I had the excuse of writing to a ghost—for even when you were still alive after our parting, I knew I would be writing to a you that had gone, a you that I wanted nothing more than to speak to once more—and now that you and I are separated only by our mismatched schedules, I cannot bring myself to send my words away, to bare myself without seeing how my words land with you and how your expression shifts with each sentence. It’s a selfish impulse, I know, but I spent so long losing the memory of the minutiae of your movements that now I want to study each and every one. And so I will keep this letter, tuck it away with my papers and journals, and tell you in person, a kiss sealing each word.
The sheets changed, their muscles rubbed out, the lights dimmed, and Samot settles into bed next to his husband with a contented sigh. In another life, they would have awoken the next morning with sticky sheets and the detritus of the night before all around them, but there is a certain pleasure in clean sheets and in not waking up with leg cramps, and so Samot breathes out a long sigh and melts into the fresh sheets next to Samothes.
“I love you.”
Samothes chuckles and turns over to face Samot. “If you keep saying that, I’m going to get tired of hearing it.”
“Have you yet?”
Samothes’ smile softens. “No.”
“Thought so.” He pecks a kiss onto Samothes’ lovely lips, then another, before he dips his head and nuzzles into his warm chest. Samothes slings his arm over Samot’s waist and hugs him tight, and Samot exhales gratefully. Samothes laughs above him, and Samot can feel the vibrations.
Soon Samothes goes still around him, breathing deep and even, and Samot feels himself drifting on waves of sleep, half-asleep in the low light. His body is sore from their day and their evening alike, and Samothes smells of musk and jasmine and cedar and him.
He’s nearly asleep when Samothes begins to hum low and soft, then build to a melody, then whispered words. It’s an old song, an even older tune, in a language he knows like a tickle at the back of his mind, not spoken in Hieron since before the Erasure, before the Heat and the Dark, before it all. A lullaby from when Hieron was new, a simple song about all the lush life of the world settling down to sleep.
Samothes’ voice is smooth and deep as he murmurs each verse, never rising above a whisper, and Samot closes his eyes and floats in the sound. When was the last time he heard Samothes sing? Before his death... before the war... he would sing to Maelgwyn, would sing lullabies like this, and Samot would stand outside the bedroom and listen to Samothes sing old songs into the bedroom’s twilight, off-key and full of love and hope.
Samothes reaches the last cycle and begins to lower his voice, rubbing slow circles into Samot’s back, until he’s humming again, so quiet that Samot can only feel the resonance deep in his chest.
Soon he begins to stroke Samot’s curls, then gently brushes aside the hair that has fallen in front of his face, and Samot can’t resist the smile that bubbles up inside him at the sensation. Samothes freezes, then huffs a silent laugh, and Samot opens his eyes and peers up at his husband.
“Hi.” Samot’s voice is thick with sleep.
Samothes breaks into a smile so tender that Samot feels his insides ache, and he leans forward to kiss Samot’s forehead.
“I love you,” he murmurs.
“I love you, too.”
Samot closes his eyes and curls closer to Samothes, and sleep carries them away on the sound of the waves.