VIII.

Horatio didn’t wait for the iron gates to swing shut to cut across the wayward grass, meeting the physician that had just emerged from the cells.

“How was he?”

Athlem took his arm and allowed the advisor to steer him onto a convenient stroll into wilderness, “He is exceptionally well, if not too well…I suspect foul play.”

“You forget that he’s not human.”

Athlem shook his head, “Still…besides, I know already two felons.”

“Pray tell.”

“We can talk more of that later…there is a more curious thing though: he does mumble a few syllables here and there…‘Eridan’ and ‘denyi’. The rest I could not quite make out.”

“Nokshae, you think?”

“What else could it be?”

Horatio listened to the crunch of his thoughts and dead leaves beneath their feet filling the silence while Athlem dared to lean dotingly against him, “I’ve not a clue what the first word might mean, but the second sounds quite familiar…does it not mean, ‘return’?”

“I believe so,” The physician started. “Aldebaran Xacur…he’s from the Taurian Clan of the Nokshans, correct?”

“Xacur is a name attributed to that clan. What of it?”

“If I am not mistaken, Eridani must be a fellow clans person. Maybe a relative, judging from the Taurian Nokshans’ history of adopting titles based on stars within the Taurus constellation.”

“…I’ve never thought about that…aren’t you quite brilliant?” At that, Horatio slipped his arm free and took a few steps forward as though to ditch his companion for the favor of the pond before them. “Now, can we talk about the ‘two felons,’ as you called them?”

Athlem, originally hiding both disappointment that Horatio shrugged him off and a grin for the advisor’s genuine praise, frowned as the latter of the objects he hid lost its value, “Don’t flatter me to get information out of me. I’m not another one of your pawns now, am I?”

The imperial advisor turned, returning to the physician with his dark eyes fixed to his contemplative steps, “I am sorry, but I’m in a bit of a rush: I have an entire Empire to run now.”

Leaning against a trunk smoothed by the elements, Athlem crossed his arms, “Lyra has an Empire to run, not you. But, remind me, Horatio, isn’t sustaining an enemy…unlawful?”

“As unlawful as disguising yourself as a man with a false identity, yes.”

Athlem scoffed, annoyed, “That’s irrelevant to this discussion: you gave the assassin the cure to the poison”

Athlem jolted when a palm slammed against the bark hair lengths above her head, a hushed whisper tickling her ear, “What if I did?”

“Then if I was anyone else that strike just now would’ve been at my throat and snapped my spine…but you wouldn’t do that to me,” Light touches crept up Horatio’s arms to rest on the nape of his neck. “Would you?”

Horatio tilted the doctor’s taunting chin up, “Would I?”

A flare of dismay crossed the physician’s features, a hand slipping off their cozy perch at her lover’s neck to the left shoulder that the physician had treated not too long ago and squeezed.

Caught in the unawares and renewed pain, Horatio sprung back, “What was that for?”

“Who knows, perhaps you shouldn’t joke about killing me?” Athlem walked off until an arm locked her in a gentle embrace from behind. “Stop that, Horatio: unlike you, I’m no instrument, so don’t play me and perform.”

“…I won’t,” The simple promise was so convincing whispered in his baritone…Athlem indulged the tickle of Horatio’s words against her ear.

Unanswered questions returned her resolve, prompting her to ask, “Why did you save the Nokshan, anyway? He would kill you once he has the chance.”

Horatio rested his chin upon Athlem’s shoulder, “Two reasons: first, for your study. Second, for Lyra…she needs all the power she could possibly have…”

“Why, thank you,” Athlem sighed, surprised to find the angle of the advisor’s jaws and cheekbones sharper than she remembered as playful fingers traced the edges of the face buried against her neck. “I suppose it would work for Lyra…she seems to be fond of the Nokshan.”

“Oh?”

“I caught her slipping some spirit water — some of the previous Priestess’s finest work, judging from the bottle — to Xacur’s cell. I’ve confiscated it from her, obviously.”

“…And here we have our second felon.”

“Driven by guilt.”

“She’s killed a man before, Athlem.”

“Still, had she ever hurt a man who protected her?”

“I suppose…” Horatio was perplexed. “To think a heart softer than silk should be forced to train a tongue to be sharper than a flame…isn’t the Creator cruel?”

“Yes…but, what could become of her if she speaks her heart?” Athlem broke her staredown at the pond’s dead reflections, slipping out of Horatio’s arms to take his hands.  “Would she not catch aflame and be nothing but a shell of cinders?”

The advisor met Athlem’s gaze, the depth reflecting and infected by his own concerns, “I…honestly don’t know what to do. I thought I could merely think ahead and plan and outwit adversaries as I always had…yet where on this blessed piece of earth did this Nokshan came from? He could’ve killed Lyra…”

“Yet he chose not to: his eyes were set for the Emperor’s head.”

“Oh Ath, but she had to carry the faults and sins of her father now…yet another misstep of mine.”

“You’ve done enough, Horatio. Breath. Let her know that you will be there to catch her when she tumbles and trust her to know what’s best…she’s just like you, after all.”

“…What am I to do without you?”

“We’ve had enough reminders of my mortality today, don’t you think?”

Horatio scoffed, “I suppose.”

With that Athlem smiled, tugging at her lover’s arm for them to go back the way they came. She squeezed the warm hand one last time before dropping it reluctantly, returning to put up the usual show.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s