I stretched groggily, moaning. My chest hurt, but I couldn’t let Lion see; he’d have me bedridden for days, if not longer. I can tell he wants me to stop moving around so much anyway, but I can’t do that. I’m the only battle-trained mage in the company; I couldn’t abandon them during a war, letting them fight so many mages in the Vardik Empire’s armies. It’s hard, but I manage to keep on my feet and not look too pitiful.
Lionel put an unexpected hand to my chest, and I yelped in surprise. I felt his magic seep in, fast as lightning, and heal it the equivalent of a couple weeks worth of normal mending. I blocked him out as fast as I could, but I was still sleepy. “Ha!” I heard him say in triumph, and I slit my eyes to glare at him. “Not nice.” I muttered, and he pursed his lips at me. “Actually, you making me a nervous wreck every morning is the thing that’s not nice, Nio. And not letting me heal you when you are wounded, making me feel absolutely helpless!” He said, getting louder. He would have continued, but a lantern flew across the tent and crashed to pieces. He blushed softly, and immediately shrunk into himself, seeming to grow shorter, less broad across the chest. “Sorry.” He said, and I hauled my ass out of bed so I could put my arms around him. He was worried; I knew that, but I had taken an oath that if I could stop it I wouldn’t be healed. Pain was good; it let you know you were alive, still breathing even if it hurt like hell. I felt even worse though, knowing the one thing he hadn’t shared with anyone else; He had broken his own vows to his tribe to come with me and help in the war. He had vowed never to atone pain or violence, to associate with people who dealt it, to heal people who dealt it. I was all of the above; I had brought him here, to this place of death. I knew each death stung him like a knife in the back. He felt worthless here, unable to fight and unable to save everyone. They didn’t teach death-magic in the Nevari. It was all they taught in the Korani.
“I’m sorry. I lost my temper.” Lionel repeated, and I held him closer; even when he was angry he was careful of my wound, and was sure not to touch it. I kissed the top of his head lovingly, my heart reaching for him. “It’s all right, lover. I should be sorry. I took you here, I made you break your vows. I still follow mine like a loyal sheyna.” Sheyna was the Korani word for warrior. “No! No, they mean so much to you, I couldn’t ask you to break yours. Ours are like…guidelines, I suppose.” He said, and even when he was trying his hardest I could feel the lie like acid in my mind. “Don’t lie to me, Lion. Anything else I can take, but not lies from you. I hear lies left and right from everywhere. I don’t want to take it from you too.” I pleaded, and he nodded silently.
His hair, like shined silver, gleamed in the light of the magefire I used to light the tent. It turned that color if you went into deep healer-trances often enough; Most of his tribe elders had silver hair, but his was by far the brightest, and he was the youngest to even have the silver hair. This didn’t mean he was more respected; in fact, he was considered a freak in his homeland. I was considered fairly strange myself, taking a healer for a mate, but I wasn’t shunned as long as I followed my vows. Kill when you have to, eviscerate the enemy, or die trying to do either. There were plenty of very fine points to our code as well, but those were the main ones. I could still maintain contact with my family, my tribe; Lionel couldn’t. They treated him as if he didn’t exist when he did come upon them; I could see his desperation to connect, but there wasn’t anything I could do.
My own identifying mark was the tattoo on my arms. Simple rings around my upper arms, two on each arm. The red rings, the highest up, were the ones that said I was a warrior of the tribe. The gold said I was a war hero. On my left arm there was a slightly more intricate weaving of wire, naming me as a mated elf. Most people didn’t suspect that I was mated to another male; homosexual elves were so rare they were almost unheard of. There were some major pairings in history, but never of different tribes, and never two tribes who differed so violently in their beliefs. I felt like a royal prick, but Lionel had offered to leave his tribe; I couldn’t have turned him down. The need to fight was in my blood; with every fiber of my being I felt the longing. I got abusive of anyone near if that need wasn’t satiated regularly, but I have never laid a hand on Lionel. Even in my worst nightmares of losing control I couldn’t lay hand on him. He was too precious to me.
“How is Shenn doing?” I asked to change the subject, and he sighed. “She’s tired, overworked, and she won’t admit a damn bit of it. Fairly like you, I’m afraid.” He said, and I pressed my lips into a thin line. “That’s not good.” I said, stating the obvious. “No, it’s not. For either of you. At least I can spell her to sleep; you won’t even let me heal you.” He said, loving acceptance in his voice even as he complained. I opened my mouth, but he put a finger to my lips. I closed them, and he drew my head closer as if to kiss me.
“Lion!!” Shenn shouted, bursting into the tent, and she saw she had interrupted a moment. She spared a moment to blush. “We have a… A Nevari in the front lines. He says he carries a message for you.” She stuttered out, looking away. He looked at me a moment with apology, and then tossed me my robe; it wasn’t really a robe, though. It hung around my waist and went to my ankles, but it left my chest and arms bare. Lionel’s went to his knees, and was a deep blue. Mine was red and stained with the enemies I had felled. He grabbed my hand as soon as I had slipped it on, and I could see the eager look on his face as he dragged me to the front lines. He dropped my hand and wrapped his arm around my waist just as we could be seen; it meant a lot to me that he wanted to advertise our togetherness. I put my arm around his shoulders.
The Nevari had three silver hairs, but the rest were a dull, dusty brown. I could see surprise fly across Lionel face before it cleared to unreadable, even to me. He clung closer, but that was the only indication I got, whatever he felt. “Jerne.” He greeted, his voice breathier, younger. The Nevari split into a wide grin; “Lionel. Little brother.” He said, and came up as if to touch him. He shrank away from the contact, and I heard a frantic voice in my head that repeated just one word: No.
I dragged Lion behind me, snarling, spreading my feet, acting to defend even before I thought. The Nevari stepped back franticly, and my eyes snapped red warning sparks. “Nio, it’s all right. I’m sorry, I’m fine.” I looked at him critically, my mind sending an echo of what I had heard from his head, mixed with a feeling of confusion. “Nio, really. I was just… Well, yes, I was frightened, but that was because he is my brother. I haven’t seen him in a very long time, and I was afraid of him. It’s okay Nio.” He said, stroking my face until it cleared. “Very well, lover. If you wish it, I will allow him to touch you.” I said, and he cried out an emphatic, “No!” Before he could stop himself. I drew him closer, but allowed the Nevari to look at him. Jerne looked frightened, but it was of me, not of Lion, so I didn’t think he would fight with him. I kissed his hair, and he spared me a smile before looking to the Nevari.
“Well, little brother, I didn’t believe the stories. They said you had run off to join the war, and taken up with a sheyna. Guess it’s true.” He said, looking at his brother critically. He shot me a hateful glance, and I sparked white, neutral sparks at him. Our eyes, when they spark, are the things that tell people when to back off or come near; it was how we communicated in the Korani. “But I didn’t suspect it was a male. I never figured it for you, little brother. But I suppose it makes sense.” He said conversationally, ignoring me pointedly. I didn’t care; this Nevari was not the breed I cared to talk with.
“Brother, this is Niolas. He is my mate. This is my company. I am their healer. Niolas is their war-mage.” He summed up, and Jerne gave me a cold look, like a frozen brook. “Well, I never took you for the kind that would take up with a monster.” He snarled, and I sparked blue; when they hit him his skin turned black. They were cold, and gave him small points of frostbite. It happened too fast for him to feel it, but he yelled anyway. “You want a monster, I can give you one, you annoying little piss ant.” I threatened, and Lionel looked at me in shock. And then his face cleared. “Lover, you haven’t fought in a few days. You need a battle, and soon.” He whispered softly, and I counted the time since my last fight. “I know. I don’t have a match for me, and I fear I would kill someone. I cannot…” I trailed off, and Lionel thought for a moment. “I have an idea. There is a bear in these woods; he is rabid, and I would have normally put him down myself, but I feel you need it more than I.” My eyes widened, and I arched my eyebrows. “Love, I cannot have you flattening the camp to the ground.” He said logically, and I nodded my acquiescence mutely. “What do you mean, you can’t have him flattening the camp?!” Jerne cried, and then Lion cooed softly. The bear came tearing out of the forest in a rage, snarling, foaming at the mouth. I spread my feet, putting my hands in front of me; I would do this bare handed. A sword wasn’t a battle; it was a massacre. “Fight well.” Lionel wished softly, and I grunted in response, sneering. He stepped back, giving me a wide berth, and dragged Jerne along with him. I braced for impact, getting ready…