Read Deathless Online

Authors: Belinda Burke

Tags: #Erotic Romance Fiction

Deathless (2 page)

 

* * * *

 

The tribe was in a furor, shouting and crying, confused over what had happened to the vanished body they had been carrying. Listening carefully, Myrddin learned that the reunion he’d witnessed had been nothing more than a single moment of stillness for them, just a flicker in time. Once, he would have laughed at their confusion, but tonight it only accented his own difference.

He retreated alone to the round, thatched silence of his mother’s empty hut. It was the last night of autumn, and as he’d done every year on this night for sixty years, Myrddin readied himself for his long sleep. This time, as he did so, he wondered. What was he meant to be, or do, remaining as he did, alone now, unchanged in a changing world?

Sixty years more, and no one living would remember who he was or where he had come from. Another sixty after that and his name would gain less notice than a ghost.

Even if I choose to stay with them and be with them, they’ll die too, all these mortals.
Still. Where else could he go? He had never bothered with building his own place outside the tribe. He had always returned
here
, to his mother’s place. The world and its silences were friendly to him, and in spring he could never keep himself from the wild, the heart of the wood, but what of every other time? What about the winters? What about his hibernation?

Sleep
.

If he closed his eyes, he thought he should be able to taste it already, coming for him with the moonrise, but he lay alone in the dark and remembered instead. Sleep wouldn’t come—as if it were spring instead of autumn’s last night, spring instead of awakening winter.


Your mortal roots have left this world. Do you miss your winter sleep as well as your mother, my son?

As if his thoughts had summoned it, the voice came through the window, the sound mossy, shaded, overgrown, as was the aura of power in Myrddin’s soul.
Father.
His father’s presence woke more of the spring inside him than was already moving untimely, but Myrddin remained motionless despite those summoning words.

It wasn’t grief that restrained him but the instability of his being. He was the son of a mortal woman, now departed from this world, but he was also the son of this immortal and unearthly power, this wild God whose words echoed still inside him.
Mortal roots? Sleep…my winter sleep.

Once, twice, Myrddin blinked, then sat up and met his father’s eyes. He was outside the window, then by Myrddin’s bedside with no sign of motion, no transition, presenting not even the illusion of flesh.

“Father…” He heard his own voice faintly, as if it too crossed some border of reality previously untouched. “Mother’s gone. You took her away, and now something’s happening to me. Or—not happening.”


Consequences.

Consequences. Again, there was an echo. Myrddin closed his eyes once more and thought his whole being was
ripe
with consequences, ripe as the end of the spring, the flowers falling into fruit. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, but there was no silence inside him. No winter hibernation, no slumber falling over him like the first flakes of snow.

Since he’d been born, that was the way of it, the way the balance was kept within him. Sleep through the winter, wake with the first touch of spring, run wild in the joy of the growing earth. Explore his power as the green turned summer gold, explore a thousand shapes and shades of being while autumn wore down his endless energy into winter sleep. But now…

Sleep.

No more. Run. Wild. Grow. Green, greengreengreeen.

Sleep?

No more. No more! Wild run, wild grow, out, outoutout.

Sleep!

The inner argument was over before it had even begun. Myrddin sucked in air, realized he hadn’t been breathing, opened his eyes and looked up into the graven glow of his father’s face. “I don’t.
I don’t sleep
. Am I broken?”


Not yet, not yet, but soon… Yes, soon, you must be.

“I don’t understand—”


Your mortal roots have left this world. Now, from the tree of your mortal life, the leaves fall. The branches crumble. What has withered will vanish, and in its place too much of what you already possess will spread outward. The wild, immortal, wants you. It
will
have you, my son. Unless…”

“Unless? You mean—because my mother is gone the power I got from
you
is going to consume me? No!”

“You need a rite. The Rite of Spring.

“Really. And was this your purpose, the reason you fathered me? You’re here. You’re talking to me. You don’t do that without a reason, you never have. Are you finally going to tell me—?”


No.”
He
laughed.
Myrddin scowled and glared at him. “
I have come to tell you to
go
, my son. You must leave this little grove, this little people. You must find that which can take from you the flood that overwhelms your mortal soul. You will know it when you find it, just as you know that you will never sleep that sleep again, never know the still of winter, the way the cold creeps clinging to the bud.
” There was a strangeness in the words, in their arrangement, but his father was smiling and that had never meant anything bad. “
Go
.”

“But—”


Go.”

“But what am I
looking
for?” His frustration panicked his voice, sharpened the tone more than he’d ever dared with his father before, but he got only more laughter in return.


What? No. Who.”

“Who? Who am I looking for, then?”

The light of the sunset and the rising moon were caught together in the glow of his father’s eyes as he turned—star-black, nut-brown, greens pale as corn-silk and dark as pine. There was a substantial pause, perhaps a hesitation, before he answered Myrddin again.


The end of it all, my son. The one who will kill you to heal you, kill you to bring you to life.

It made no sense, no sense at all, but that was nothing but expected in any encounter with his father.

“Which way should I go, then?”


Over the land bridge. South of the glacier and east into the darkest wood. Now. Go!”

It was no longer a suggestion, but an imperative command. Myrddin was startled to his feet by the strength in the words, the sting of them, and stood swaying while the impenetrable aura of his father’s power receded. In its wake, the quiet of his lodge gained resonance with that final instruction. He took a breath, stepped out through the door and into the village.

He didn’t want to encounter anyone, didn’t want to deal with or alleviate the inevitable results of his own strangeness, but there wasn’t a single figure in sight. The world was quiet, softened by the drifting silence that came over everything mortal when winter woke. His footsteps rustled the last of autumn’s leaves beneath a dusting of snow, cracked the frost between them, and his passage out of the village and into the wood was the only noise other than the crackling of ice in the tree branches.

It was the first time he had stayed awake long enough to see more than the first snow, the beginning of ice in the curves and corners of things. He moved across a land made still by cold.

Only the winter hunters were in open motion, wolves chasing the specter of their own breath as they crossed the new snow, foxes in their white winter coats leaping up to run away from him, or straight down into the powder after their prey.

He wandered without much hurry but always toward the east, as he’d been told. Myrddin made his way out of the wood and onto the narrow land bridge that connected his almost-island to the mainland, then back into an unfamiliar forest of white skinned birches that stood out leafless against the sky.

 

* * * *

 

Deep in the winter’s dark promise, as far from spring and his own country as he had ever been, Myrddin finally encountered something completely beyond his experience. Slim, naked, wild-haired, beautiful, a stranger was crouched by the water of a trailing spring, black as the night, black in the chill. When he turned at Myrddin’s voice, the wide of the stranger’s black eyes was the wide of the startled deer.

“Hello—” Myrddin paused, heard something riled, whispering, but it came from the air all around him and not from the stranger he had spoken to. “Where did you come from? Where are you going? Will you let me stay a while? Will you answer my questions?” He took two steps closer, then three. “I’ve been looking for someone. Someone to help me with a rite of spring. To invent something beautiful and take away the power overflowing my soul. Someone… Do you know anyone?”

He was answered by nothing, and at the same time by a myriad of silences, one quiet that became many voiceless truths. The wildness was fading out of the dark eyes that confronted him. The voice that answered him was soft, but it only spoke his own words with the intonation of some other power heavy behind them.

“Some…one. Anyone?”

The words were halting, the sound of them almost swallowed, more a questioning echo than real speech. Myrddin took one step closer. The stranger took one step back. “Can’t you answer me? Who are you? What’s your name?”

“Your name?”

“Myrddin—my name is Myrddin. And you?”

“You…”

“Do you not have a name? Do you not know words? Who
are
you?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Myrddin!” But this time he started laughing and couldn’t stop. It really was like talking with an echo. Maybe this stranger
didn’t
know how to speak? But he was gorgeous, and the dark of some terrible, magnetic power leeched out of his skin like rain from clouds, soaking and unavoidable.

When Myrddin stopped laughing, he took a startled breath. The stranger was closer now, bent over him, his fingers reaching out to touch Myrddin’s parted lips. This time, testing, the rough, low voice came close enough that Myrddin felt the warmth of his breath on his cheek. “You…know words.
Myrddin
.”

“Yes, I do. Do you want me to teach you? And maybe you can help
me
.”

“Teach me?” But it was not the question that Myrddin had expected. It was rich with laughter that made him shiver, intensified that darkling power. He could feel it pulling at him—
pulling at him
—and knew suddenly that
this
was the one his father had sent him seeking. No mortal, no god, no
sidhe
…just this stranger.

The end of things is in him.

“Words for me. Myrddin—words for me.”

Myrddin stared, blinking, reached out a hand to echo the fingers still touching his lips and traced a soft, pale mouth with tingling fingertips. “Words for you… You mean, talk to you? I can do that, I suppose. But I need your help. Do you understand what I said?”

More laughter.

“I understand. Talk to me. All your words for me. Rite…” He licked his lips, and at the same time Myrddin’s fingertips. “Yes. You need me for help. I can do that, I suppose.” It was an echo again, but the tone was faintly mocking, and Myrddin closed the last of the distance between them. He touched pale cheeks, slipped the fingers of one hand up into the wild, dark, hair. He wanted…to touch, to kiss. Was there any reason not to?

“If you understand me, I can ask you. Can I kiss you? I
want
to.
Much
.”

“Kiss me?” The stranger shook his head, and Myrddin sighed, shrugged then felt himself being pushed back. Warm hands seized him by the shoulders, and he looked up into black eyes glittering with mischief and desire. “Kiss
you
.”

A hot mouth claimed his lips, and Myrddin’s sigh slipped into a soft groan. That black feeling—he could taste it now, darkest action, deepest void.
Death
. Everything in opposition to him, that was it. Autumn and silence, the slow fading of the living world as it came to its time. The tug of that power against his mortal-self was rich and fervent, but he gave up immortal power instead. As it slipped free, it eased the overwhelming pulse of green and gold inside him.

When Myrddin finally drew away he was almost gasping, short of breath. His lips were cold for no reason he could explain, and the stranger didn’t let him go, but rocked against him. Myrddin felt hardness prodding his belly, then gave in to another kiss…and another.

Each time, utterly breathless, he pulled back only to be dragged closer again. Was this all? Was this all he needed? Just to find this one, this stranger, and be taken by him, broken by him?
A kiss. A rite? Is this who my father sent me for,
what
he sent me for?

Because he
was
breaking, felt his power slipping away just as it needed to, even as his flesh was giving in to the sensual demands of the lips against his mouth, the tongue tangled with his tongue, the fingers creeping under his clothes.

“Mmm…thought…I thought…words. You wanted…words and… I thought—you—” His lips were numb with cold and nips and kisses. His tongue stumbled over speech, lost the thread of it between one swift kiss and another.

“Yes. Words, and you. You, first.
Enough words for you first
.” And then, demanding, stubborn, “Kiss me.”

“Oh…
yes
.”

Slick, sharp talons seized hold of him as he reached up again and gave in to that embrace. He
felt
them, though he knew it was only power, deepening its hold on him.
Death.
He said it out loud against the heat of the lips pressed against his mouth, a fervent mutter. “Death…
death
.”

Myrddin felt his clothes falling away, somehow—bits and pieces of decorated leather that went to dust before they could reach the ground. The air was cool against his skin but everywhere,
everywhere
the stranger touched him was hot.

The moment was moving faster than he wanted, faster than he understood—not that he didn’t desire, not that more wasn’t on his mind, but this was
not
how he was used to seducing his lovers…not how he was used to being seduced. “Oh—stop—
wait
—”

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