During his final trip to Sorrows, Stefen thinks back over the past years and remembers one of the last nights he spent with his love.
Considering I didn't even know these books existed until a few months ago I hardly think I own the rights to them. I own… the interesting image that just popped into my head of Yfandes singing the song "My Guy" at a karaoke bar. Weird… Anyway. Rated PG-13, for um… thematic material. Yeah. Written to the tune of Beethoven's "Violin Concerto in D," which I was introduced to as "Immortal Beloved," though it is neither the only song of his to bear that name nor the most famous.


"Immortal Belovéd"

The sun was warm. He focused on that. Yes, he should focus on something concrete like that or he might float away with the feeling in his heart. Home, home, his heart sang. I'm going home! Because to Stefen there had only ever been one place that he could call home- wherever his Vanyel was.

The palfrey whickered softly, and he stroked her neck with a trembling hand. It was hard to keep from singing out loud with the joy he felt in his heart. Focus, he told himself, and locked his eyes on his mount's ears. Nightstar reminded him a great deal of Melody, her distant relative. The only difference was her coloring- pure black with a perfect white star on her forehead. He wasn't sure what it was, but since the first time he had seen her there had been something between them- a circle that needed to be closed. He had taken one look at her, had rubbed his wrinkled, calloused fingers over her distinctive marking, had met her warm brown eye, and had known that she was the one; the one who would carry him on his last journey.

He'd expected the promised call to be one clear, clarion sound that he'd recognize in and of itself. Instead, it was a building up of smaller things, to a blinding climax that he could not ignore. He supposed it started with Medren's leaving him; Medren who had stayed with Stef for so long, aiding Stef in his quest in any way he possibly could, had finally heeded his own call- to the warmth and rest of Haven. Stefen woke one morning to hear the Death Bell tolling greyly in the predawn, and had felt such a loss within himself that he knew it was not just the death of a Herald that was sounding, but the death of someone close to him. In actuality, the Bell had not rung for Medren, for he was not a Herald. But Medren had gone with Herald Todros on an assignment to the eastern border; it was no fault of the Bell's if they had died at the same moment, and not really its responsibility if Stef chose to believe that the inanimate piece of metal honored his friend. He held Medren's wife through her tears, as Medren had held him many years ago in a situation not so very different, and spoke to her softly of reunion after the fulfillment of duty.

It was not much later, not long after having first seen Nightstar, that Stefen was walking through one of the upper, back corridors of the Collegium and recognized the haunting strains of a song he had not heard played in a very long time. He followed the unmistakable sound to a side-room, where he found Jisa's rather wayward youngest grandson picking slowly but skillfully over an antique gittern, and singing softly in a pleasant but untrained voice,

"For with you I shall come home again-
In your arms I shall not fear the night.
Shadow-Lover, lead me into light."

The all too familiar words, the boy- who, by all the gods, looked just like his great-grandfather- leaning lovingly over the worn instrument… Stefen knew. Like when he had looked into the mare's eyes, he knew. The time was no longer drawing near, it had arrived. This was the call Van had promised him, all those long years ago.

Wasting no time, Stef grabbed the startled boy by the arm, dragged him straight down to Tedra, and had the young man, now practically incoherent with excitement, play for her. The illegitimate offspring of Jisa's less-liked son, the lad had been politely ignored by mostly everyone, including, he was ashamed to admit, Stefen himself. But before he left, he was going to make sure that never happened again; he sponsored the boy fully into the Bardic Collegium in his name. Gazing up at him, absolute hero-worship almost oozing out of his eyes, the boy reminded Stef even more of Vanyel, though the actual physical resemblance was slight and there was really more of Jisa and Treven in those eyes. But those eyes were such a soft silver, and though his hair was chocolate brown he had the Ashkevron nose and the stubborn spirit to go with it. He'd make it, Stef thought, now that he had a chance.

Rolling softly with the palfrey's smooth gait, Stefen let his musings give way to sleep and the deeper recollections of dreams. His mind led him back further in time, and he smiled to remember.

~

Stefen lay on his bed, actually a pile of animal furs, running his fingers over his find. It was a feather, almost as long as his forearm and pure white but for three streaks of silver near the end. He'd had to explain to Aroon why his eyes had lit up when he had seen it, and the kyree had smiled. Aroon had recognized the Tayledras custom Stef remembered Van mentioning and said that he felt it appropriate and the time right. Yfandes agreed, but now Stef wasn't so sure. What if Van wasn't ready? That last thing Stef wanted to do was push him too fast. He'd been taking it so slow, taking his cues from his ashke on when to move on to the next step. It had been several days now since Van had come to him that night, seeking warmth and comfort; at least a week, he was pretty sure longer. It was hard to tell, measuring days only by the eating of meals rather than the passage of the sun.

Stef heard a sound at the entryway to the space he called his room; he glanced up, startled out of his reverie. Van peered at him, and even in the dim light Stef could see his eyes were troubled. Wordlessly, Stefen held out his arms to his lover, and Vanyel slid into them. He murmured soothingly against Van's hair, gathering from scattered, broken words that the mage had had a dream- a nightmare Stef dispelled with tender thoughts of devotion through their bond. It was only a short time later when, eased and relaxed, Van noticed Stef's prize, forgotten and now held absentmindedly in one hand. Mutely, Stefen held up the plume, offering it to Van. His ashke met his eyes, amusement warring with desire and a faint terror in the back of his own. Feeling Van's fear, Stef drew back; he placed the feather to the side of the bed, out of the way and apart from them as he eased back down into the nest of furs and offered Van his arms with no other conditions. But Vanyel paused, and, taking a deep breath, picked up the white feather. Meeting Stefen's eyes he offered it back to him.

Hardly daring to breathe, Stef closed his hand over Van's and looked him back in the eye. Yes, Van was scared, but he knew the memory wasn't going to leave him by itself. Stefen leaned forward, never breaking eye contact; bringing his hand, Van's still wrapped inside of it, to his mouth he brushed it against his lips, turning it slowly around till his lips touched the mage's own hand. He could feel Van trembling, and whether that was from fear or anticipation he could no longer tell.

He moved his mouth up until it closed over the stem of the feather, and he slid it from their combined grasp; their hands twisted until their fingers were intertwined. Slowly, Stef drew Van closer to him; slowly drew him down beside him. Leaning on his elbow, he took the quill from his mouth with his free hand and lightly brushed the feathery tip across his lover's face. Van's lips twitched in a smile, and he reached up to bat away the annoying tickle. Halfway through the gesture, he shifted and his hand turned to caress the side of Stef's face. Stef leaned forward, his lips hovering questioningly over Van's face, and it was Vanyel who reached up to draw his lover's face down to him. They spoke not a word.

But then, there had never been a need for words between them.

~

"Bard Stefen?"

He cracked an eye open slowly, almost reluctantly, a smile lingering around his mouth. He glanced up at the Herald, not really seeing him or the trees behind him; eyes still focused inward, backward in time. Pulling himself to the here and now, he scolded himself gently. Didn't really succeed in keeping my mind out of the clouds now, did I? He focused his eyes on the Herald, smiling absently.

"Dozed off again, did I?"