46. The Weight of the Past

Another episode of Man Raised by Spiders, the coming-of-age story of Valentine Shelawn.

When he gets back to the townhouse, he finds Valykria alone in Sieia’s sitting room, as he hoped he would. She’s holding a novel in one hand, and staring into the fire. She looks a bit tired and sad. When she sees him, he face brightens. “Valentine! Where were you?”

“I had an errand outside the city. I just got back. I wonder — once we’re married, would you like to travel back to visit Aramil? Marcus and Penelope are wondering how he’s settling in, and I feel I should go.”

“Oh, yes! I’d love to be back on the road again.”

“I thought you might be missing it. I know I am. We’ll goof off and shoot game and practice our swordplay and take our time on the road. It will be a kind of honeymoon.”

She gives a delighted laugh. “That would be perfect!”

He pulls her close, kisses her soundly. “I’m glad. Valykria, you make me very happy.”

She pulls back. “Sieia will be back in just a moment.”

“I don’t think she’d be shocked to see me kiss you.” He pauses, cocks his head at her. “Honey, let’s go up to my room, burn candles to Corellon Larithian and look out the porthole at the stars. We don’t have to do anything. I just want to be with you, okay?”

She looks indecisive, bites her lip.

“Come with me, darling.”

“Okay.” He takes her hand, leads her down the corridor, up the back stairs, back to the French doors on the third floor. He locks the door behind her. She looks around. “What a pretty little lair!”

“Isn’t it? It used to be Inglorion’s, apparently. He built the shrine.”

She walks over and examines the rows of flickering votives, the statue of Corellon Larithian, the silk draperies and heaps of dried flowers: white roses, golden strawflowers like tiny suns. The room is chilly, but the bank of candles warms her face and hands.

As she examines it, he lays a fire in the fireplace and lights it. Presently she asks, “What’s this?” He glances over. She’s picked up the Jack of Hearts.

“It’s a Theates calling card. Inglorion left it here months ago. It’s personal to him — the crossed longswords behind the beholder, the fasces for a noble family. He’s portrayed as the Jack of Hearts. His mother uses the Queen.”

“He left it here?”

“Yeah, it’s a Drow thing. I placed a calling card at a site near here, a Xyrec Ace of Spades. I hand-drew it — I don’t carry them anymore, obviously. He found it and replied.”

“You’re still connected to them, aren’t you?”

“To the Drow?” He hesitates. “The Xyrec wouldn’t think so. But, yeah, in a way. They’re still my people, and of course Inglorion’s family, even if only Sieia and I recognize it. His story determined the course of my life. I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.” He finishes up with the fire, rinses his hands in the washbasin, joins her by the shrine. “It’s part of why I left, though — the sense of the past always determining my future.” He takes her hand, leads her towards the bed, which is very grand, with its indigo silk draperies and profusion of down pillows. He pulls off his boots, lies down, pats the space next to him. “Join me.”

She glances at the door. “What if…?”

“The door’s locked. And what can they do anyway? Say we have to get married? If one more person says that, I’m going to tell them to produce a magistrate. I’ll do it here and now.”

She chuckles, takes her boots off, snuggles up next to him. “It’s so strange — the whole thing.”

“Isn’t it?” He looks into her eyes, hopes the Shelawn gaze is working its magic, and kisses her. After a moment he pulls back, looks down as her. “Sometimes I wish I didn’t want you so much.” He kisses each of her fingers individually, the palm of her hand. He feels her melt slightly, as if tiny bits of pleasure are filtering through. There’s so much noise around the insistent, repeated signal of his desire — fear, anger. She looks puzzled, apprehensive. He says softly, “Valykria, I don’t know if you want me — if you’re just forcing yourself to do this because you’re courageous and tough and stubborn. I would admire even that, but….”

“No, I do.” Her voice is so soft it’s almost inaudible.

“What, honey?”

Her voice drops even further. “I do. I want you.”

“I wish you would show me that.”

She snuggles up to him abruptly, buries her face in his neck. “I’m afraid.”

He strokes the soft, dark cloud of her hair. He’s struggling to keep his head clear. She’s so close, and her body is taut with fear, but also with excitement. “So am I.” He says.

“Why do you keep trying?”

“Because you’re a prize worth winning. And the only way out is through.”

She sits up, begins to kiss him. She strokes his jaw and throat, unbuttons his shirt, pulls his shirttails out of his belt. Her fingertips roam downwards over his collarbones, the tattoo on his chest. They skim his nipples, which causes a sharp intake of breath and a dart of pure, hot desire. He’s been half-hard ever since he got her alone in his room — really, since he rode back imagining something like this. Now he’s painfully aroused.

“Be careful,” he breathes. “I don’t want to do anything you won’t like.” She keeps going, though, past his navel to his belt line. She traces the contour of his cock through his breeches, and he can’t help but press against her palm. She unbuckles his belt, takes his cock out, starts to kiss it. He tries to issue some kind of incoherent warning: “If you do that —” She pins his hands by his side ruthlessly. Surely she knows. At one point he tries to warn her that he’s very close to climax, and she sternly covers his mouth with her palm. Soon after, his climax blots out everything but pure sensation, and he’s helpless to save either her or himself.

After a time, he’s aware of her wiping her mouth on the back of her hand, swallowing. She rests her head on his chest, and he feels the soft drift of her curls. He strokes her face, shoulders. Incongruously, he feels his cock, which is still sticky, pressed against her shirt front. She’s still dressed.

As awareness returns, he feels oddly shy. It’s as if she’s serviced him, but remains unmoved. He draws her close, kisses her on the forehead, lips. He tastes himself on her lips, and feels his excitement surging all over again. He pulls back because he’s confused, too disoriented to monitor her response properly. He wants her desperately, but feels that he must come down.

He studies her. Her lips are swollen, she’s flushed, and her gaze has a faraway look, as if she’s heard distant music that’s both troubling and sweet. He can’t tell if she’s happy — if he’s pleased her in any way — or if she’s simply proven something to him and to herself. He returns to the simplest, easiest and truest refrain: “God, you’re beautiful. I love you so much.”

He adds silently, Please forgive me. Please love me.

They lie there in the light of the votives. Presently she says, “I should go.”

“Of course, my dear.”

She slips away. He gets up to lock the door behind her, strips off his clothing, burrows back under the brocade coverlet. He gazes at the votives, slides into trance swiftly, as if he’s being pursued.

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