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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Unexpected - Part 2 - Homecoming

Homecoming

Failina (F-eye-lina) plastered her poutiest puppy dog expression on her face, and whimpered pleadingly.
“No!” Gavin denied emphatically. “We are almost there!”
“That’s exactly why!” Failina insisted. “If we don’t make love now, we may not find time to do so for days!
“She has a point,” Cedric agreed.
“It’s been 7 years since I’ve been home, and besides… we made love this morning,” Gavin pointed out.
Failina accepted defeat with a sigh, and then smiled. “You never did tell me why you were cursed.”
Gavin grumbled a bit. He wasn’t the type to talk about himself or his feelings, but he figured that she deserved to know what she was getting into. He gestured for them to sit under a tree.
“I’m the eldest son of a minor Lord. My family has some wealth, but we’re not considered rich by any means. Our neighboring lands are owned by a man who was appointed Duke relatively recently. The holding is small, and doesn’t fit his image of a Duchy at all. He has a daughter, and my parents agreed to marry me to her.
“This was considered good for a couple of reasons. First, their vast wealth and lofty title would be passed down to my children. Also, we could combine our lands and the Duchy would look more like a Duchy should.
“I honestly loathed the idea, and decided to rebel against it by eloping with a willing woman I had no feelings for, but thought would suit me just fine. The Duke’s daughter found out about my plans, and threw a jealous fit. She cursed me – the night before I was to elope, in front of my entire family and hers – that I would never be able to step one foot onto my family’s lands unless I fell in love with her. It was no longer enough to agree to marry her, which I would have considered at that point, no… I had to give her my heart.
“I just couldn’t,” Gavin shook his head and allowed a small shudder. “I tried, but while she is physically beautiful, her soul is just too horrid and ugly. I beat on the invisible barrier surrounding my land in frustration, and screamed my rage. I vowed to break the curse by breaking her neck, but she thwarted me by staying where I could not reach her.”
Failina wrapped him in a comforting hug, and Cedric squeezed his hand.
“What about you?” Failina asked Cedric. “How did you get your curse?”
He responded by taking a deep breath, and then exhaling loudly. “Mine’s not nearly as painful as Gav’s. My parents were both sickly all their lives. They managed to conceive children, but they all died before their second year of life.
“In desperation, my parents found a woman with the power to fix the situation, and her solution was to make it impossible for me to die – no matter how close I got – but in exchange, I would die on my 30th birthday. My parents figured that this was much better than dying by age two, and agreed. After all, I could live a full life by the time I died.
“About five years ago, I finally grew strong enough that I could get out of bed and really start to live my life. That’s when my parents told me what they had done, and urged me to settle down, get married, and have children before my time was up. I was sorely tempted to agree, but I realized that if I did as they suggested, I would die while my children were all still fairly young.
“This did not seem fair to me, so I decided to go look for a way to break my curse,” Cedric continued.
“Hmm,” Failina thought this over, a finger on her bottom lip. “So, now that I have broken the curse, you could get married today, conceive a child tonight, and die tomorrow. Usually, no one ever knows when they’ll die, but you had a guarantee. Oh well, you reap what you sow, I guess!”
“It sounds a bit ominous when you say it that way,” Cedric shivered.
Gavin leaned over and kissed Cedric, and the three of them made love after all. Gavin had specifically chosen this uninhabited and fairly secluded route to his lands so that if the curse wasn’t broken after all, he could slip away before anyone spotted him. This gave them the freedom to take their time, and make as much noise as they wanted.
As they lay – curled up – in the aftermath, a thought occurred to Failina. “So, when did you two meet?”
“Not too long after I left home,” Cedric answered. “I had found a valuable old book, and unfortunately, someone else decided to steal it the same day I did. I was running for my life, and I had practically no stamina back then, so they caught up to me easily. Suddenly, Gav swooped in and saved me.”
“For me, it was love at first sight,” Gavin practically whispered. “I saw his beautiful silver-blond hair and big green eyes, and I was lost. Of course, I was confused, and still full of rage, so I didn’t act on my feelings.”
“I resisted mine. I was nearly certain that I would rather die than love a man.”
“Ohhhh, so then neither one of you actually prefer men, you just happened to fall in love with each other,” Failina stated as if she had just had an epiphany.
“Yes,” Cedric confirmed.
“I don’t know, Ced, now that I’ve tried it, I find that I really like having sex with another man,” Gavin informed them, unexpectedly honestly.
Failina chuckled. “Well, you both know about me. I never knew anything at all about sex before I met you, and now that I’ve tried it, I’m addicted!”
“We noticed!” Both of her lovers laughed.
“Come on,” Gavin urged with a sigh. “Let’s get going before it gets dark. I’m getting hungry.”
“As you wish,” Cedric replied, and stood to help them up. It was still fairly new to him to be able to do so. He hadn’t been kidding when he said that he’d pretty much been too sickly to leave his bed until he was almost 20 years old. To think that he now had the stamina to walk, run, and make love all over the countryside made his decision to leave home all the better in his mind.
But still… seeing Gavin this excited about returning home made Cedric feel a bit homesick as well. He smiled, and pushed that to the back of his mind. This was Gavin’s homecoming, not his.
They dressed, and then walked for about an hour. Suddenly, Gavin stopped. He looked around, and walked in circles, wiggling his feet as if he expected them to get stuck in one spot. He grinned, and swept Failina into a tight embrace.
“It’s true! The curse is broken!” He swung her in a circle, and then set her on her feet so that he could kiss Cedric. “It took me a while to be certain, but I am firmly on my family’s property!” He immediately started to swagger as if he owned the place, which was only about half true.
“Oh… he’ll be insufferable now,” Cedric muttered a warning to Failina.
She laughed softly. “I don’t mind.”
Twenty minutes later, they finally spotted the manner. There appeared to be a small gathering on the lawn, and even Gavin was hesitant about approaching them so unexpectedly. After 7 years, he could hardly expect to walk right in the front door, and be welcomed back as if he had only been gone a few hours.
“What if they don’t want me back?” Gavin wondered. “Maybe my leaving was the best thing. Maybe my return will just cause them all pain and suffering.”
Failina and Cedric both placed a hand on Gavin’s back, and sent him energy. Hopefully, he would gather his courage, and finish his walk home. If not, they’d support his decision to leave.
A man pointed at them, and through they couldn’t hear what was said, Failina was sure that he had whispered Gavin’s name as if he were seeing a ghost. “Gavin!” The man roared happily when he was fairly certain that he was correct.
Gavin stood as if rooted to the spot while the man raced to them. The next moment, Gavin was enveloped in a relieved hug.
“Brother,” Gavin whispered, and then returned the embrace. By this time, other people had arrived to throw their arms around him.
“Oh, my baby!” A woman cried, and Failina rather assumed that this must be his mother. Everyone pulled him to the long wrought iron and glass table that had been set up outside for this gathering. Cedric and Failina followed at a hesitant distance.
“So much has happened while you were gone. Knowing that you could never return, you were ‘disinherited,’” Gavin’s brother started explaining at top speed. “And I was named the official heir. Then I married Janet, our estates were combined, I have kids now, and-”
“You…” Gavin paused in surprise, and to make sure that his brother was listening. “Married Janet?”
“Yes,” his brother confirmed. “I simply adore her!”
Gavin,” an utterly gorgeous woman greeted, her voice dripping with venom smothered in honey. “How shocking to see you here.
“Janet,” Gavin grunted almost civilly.
“However have you managed to return? Did you finally decide to give me your heart?” Janet asked, causing everyone to tense up.
“No,” Gavin stated firmly. He looked around at the rest of the people here, and realized that every one of them was happy to see him, except Janet. He smiled, rather surprising everyone, since he wasn’t the type to smile even before he was cursed.
He faced his brother once more. “Jeremy, this is my good friend, Cedric. When I met him, he was also suffering from a curse, and we teamed up in an effort to break them both.”
“I’m pleased to meet you,” Cedric greeted formally, even giving a slight bow. As a sickly boy, charitable ladies had often come to visit him, and they insisted that he show them proper manners, as much as he could. Hence, he was quite the gentleman when he wanted to be.
And?” Janet demanded impatiently. “How exactly did you break my curse?”
Gavin looked to the sky as he sorted through his recentish memories. “I guess it all began when I almost died.” He paused again to let his mother and sisters gasp in horror. “Cedric rushed me to a healer, and – as it turns out – she was located fairly near some ruins that contained the right book of ancient magic.”
“Otherworldly magic!” Failina corrected him in a singsong voice.
“Bah!” Gavin brushed that aside. “Ancient, otherworldly, what’s the difference? Magic is magic.”
Failina and Cedric laughed at that.
“He would say that, since he can’t use either,” Cedric muttered to Failina in an aside.
Gavin’s mother examined Failina curiously. She gestured for Gavin to finish his introductions, and even prompted, “And who is this?”
Gavin cast Failina a fond smile. “This is Failina. She is the healer that refused to let me die.”
“Of course not, this guy here was oh so adamant that I save you,” Failina pointed to Cedric – who was next to her – and then pinched his cheeks, wiggling his head back and forth. “And who could say no to such an angelic face?”
Cedric rolled his eyes, and brushed her hands away.
Gavin laughed. “I see your point. Anyway, as I said, we found a book at some ruins, and that was that! My curse is broken, and I have returned.”
“He says as if we haven’t walked the last three months just to get here,” Failina muttered to Cedric, who smirked.
Gavin shrugged. “What’s three months compared to the last seven years?”
“Enough about that,” A new – older – man interrupted sternly. “Now that you are back, do you intend to fight your disinheritance?”
“There’s no need to worry about that, father,” Janet replied smugly. “I can simply curse him again and be done with it.”
Gavin’s expression hardened, and he crossed his arms as he shifted his weight to one leg. “Try it,” he dared menacingly.
“Hmm!” Janet smirked, and prepared to do exactly that. Cedric jumped in front of Gavin, and cast a protective shield. The curse bounced off the shield, and caused a nearby large flowerpot to explode.
Cedric chanted a counter-attack spell, and Janet gasped in surprise. “Wait! It looks like we are evenly matched. Why don’t I challenge Gavin to a duel instead? I’m quite the accomplished swordswoman too, you know.”
Gavin laughed, genuinely amused at the idea. “Sure, why not?”
“Now wait just one minute!” A man that looked like an older version of Gavin protested. “Just exactly why must there be a duel?”
“To ensure that Gavin does not try to ruin everything, of course,” Janet stated as if it should be obvious.
“That makes no sense! Everything has been done legally. There’s no practical way that Gavin could contest his disinheritance and the merging of our two properties. Therefore, there’s no need for a duel,” the older version of Gavin insisted.
“I’m just happy that I can come back, I really don’t want to ruin anything,” Gavin confessed.
“Liar!” Janet accused. “You say that now, but just wait until you get married, and have children to provide for. You’ll want what’s ‘rightfully yours’ then.”
Gavin cast a quick smirk at Cedric, who shook his head, quaking with silent laughter. He finally released the spell he had been holding onto in case he needed to use it.
“Let me explain this simply so that hopefully even you can understand it: I don’t want to get married. I discovered that I really enjoy a life of travel, and I’m not planning to stick around too long. I just wanted to verify that my curse actually is broken, and see my family again,” Gavin explained.
He drew his broadsword, and twirled it expertly. “But if you still want to fight…”
Janet held her hands up, and shook her head.
Gavin nodded, and resheathed his sword. He turned to pass out hugs to his sisters, and Janet used the opportunity to toss a dagger at him. No one realized this until it was too late.
Cedric felt his face turn white as Gavin fell to the ground. His gathered sisters all screamed, and Cedric rushed to pull him in his arms. The dagger had just missed his heart, but was still potentially fatal.
Failina saw red. “How dare you?!” She began to chant in her other native language, and the entire sky went black. “You dare hurt one I love? My parents taught me to do anything to help my loved ones, and protect them even at the cost of my life!”
Bolt after – thankfully tiny – bolt of lightning struck the grass around Janet, oddly careful not to hit anyone else. Janet screamed, and flung herself to the ground. Failina prepared to shout her spell – obliterate! – but Cedric stopped her.
FAILINA! He needs you NOW!”
Failina took a few purposefully deep breaths, and called her magic back. With nowhere to go, it danced on her skin, causing her to shimmer with a malevolent black aura. She strode to Gavin, breathing in a way that purified her magic.
Cedric cradled Gavin in his arms, his face streaked with the tears that poured from him. “Please don’t let it be too late!”
Failina gently leaned over the nearly dead man, and pressed her lips to his. Her power flared brilliantly, and everyone shielded their eyes. When the light faded, Failina held him tight, nearly sobbing herself.
“It worked. He’s saved,” she cried happily. Cedric still half cradled his lover, and flung his arms around them gratefully.
“Get…off…” Gavin groaned, their enthusiasm making it hard for him to breathe. They immediately laughed, and gave him some room.
“Hey Gav, Failina said that I could die tomorrow,” Cedric joked. “You really need to stop trying to beat me to it.”
“I agree!” Gavin grunted. “And now I’m starving! Ced, Fai, get me something to eat!”
“At once!” Failina agreed happily, leapt to her feet, tripped on her way to the nearly abandoned table, and snatched the first full plate she came across.
“Don’t forget a fork!” Cedric reminded her in a singsong – I don’t even need to look to know – tone of voice, and she abruptly backtracked to the table, almost dropping the plate in the process. By the time she returned to Gavin’s side, he and Cedric had shifted to a more comfortable spot. Cedric still supported him, but it was obvious that he was going to be fine in no time at all.
His family wasn’t quite sure what to do as they watched Cedric and Failina fuss over him. The way they bickered – “I can feed myself, Fai,” “I don’t care, I’m going to help you anyway!””I’ll find something sharp and pointy for you if he continues to resist,” – made it abundantly clear that Gavin had no need of any other tender loving care. Yet… they were worried about him too, and wanted to show their support.
Gavin saw his parents watching him uncertainly, and gestured for them to come closer. “Let me tell you all about my life since I’ve been gone.”
They nodded, smiling, and got comfortable on a blanket an extremely quick thinking maid hastily spread out. Gavin’s sisters and other younger brother joined them, as did Jeremy after he made certain his wife was ok. He respectfully asked her and her father to leave until later, and then promised that he wasn’t too mad at her for trying to kill his brother. The Duke and his daughter left, and all was nearly silent as Gavin talked. With the help of a maid, Cedric kept Gavin supplied with water.
“And there you have it,” Gavin finished some time later. He was obviously exhausted by this point, and Failina was tempted to tell everyone to leave them the blanket, and let Gavin rest, but it was downright chilly, and she was afraid he’d catch a cold if he slept outside on night like this.
Wow,” Failina remarked airily. “He even properly explained us.”
“Yeah, he must be tired,” Cedric joked.
Not too long after that, Gavin’s mother tucked him into a bed. It was offered up by Jeremy – who didn’t need it tonight anyway because he was going to go visit his wife at her father’s. Even knowing that her son treasure both of his companions, she still found it strange that they insisted on staying by his side, though they were respectfully occupying chairs rather than the bed while she was in the room.
She caressed her son’s cheek, and kissed his forehead. He was already fast asleep, and she cherished the opportunity to gaze at him. “I am not sure I understood everything you said earlier,” she whispered. “But it sounds like you found true happiness. I’m glad.”
She nodded to Cedric and Failina, and left the room. She silently waited two full minutes before soundless opening the door to take a quick peek. All three of them were curled up in bed, asleep, and it was obvious that they were used to it. She nodded slowly, her curiosity satisfied. A couple other family members took a quick peek, all of them also dying to know if Gavin had been telling the truth earlier.
“Sleep well,” they whispered.

Go To Part 3 

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