Conversations with Christopher: Peter

Troubled by Paul and Hebe’s words about Peter, Christopher walks into ever-darkening mist, sensing his own desires are guiding him as much as the Cauldron’s next guest’s. 

The darkness doesn’t abate. He finds himself in an enclosed space yet space is all around him, filled with rows of seats and a stage standing before him. 

Lights illuminate the theatre, the single wall of crimson damask which forms the set. Peter paces in front of it, wearing a high-necked yellow shirt, a loose cravat, a red waistcoat, and matching breeches. He pauses next to a marble bust of man wtih a stern, frowning face. 

Christopher stops in the middle of the aisle, looking across the empty theatre. There’s no one here, but Peter and himself. 

Christopher: That’s a new look for you.

Peter: (not looking at him) I was trying to figure out what to say to you. Trying to rehearse the words as if they were lines in a play. Behold! (He spreads his arms wide and does a little spin.) I found myself here, on stage! (He pats the bust upon the head.) Quite the amusing little turn of the surreal, isn’t it, you old rogue?

Christopher gives the bust a wary look. You never know who or what might speak in the Cauldron.

The bust remains silent, all dour frowns. That doesn’t mean it…or he…isn’t listening.

Christopher takes a seat in the front row. 

Christopher: Who’s that? (waving at the bust)

Peter: A liar. Or a historian. (He shrugs.) For Suetonian, they were one and the same. It wasn’t about painting an accurate picture of the past for this particular record-keeper. It was about telling an entertaining tale which would be passed from listener to listener. Embellishments were welcome, especially if they suited his needs. 

Christopher: Why is he here?

Peter: Old Suetonian? (He let out a strained giggle.) Strange to hear myself speak of him thus. How I admired him when I was younger! Paul thought I was mad to do so. Now he’s nothing more than a prop, a reminder of my own compulsion to tell a pleasing tale with only enough truth to make it nourishing. 

Christopher: Is that what you want to tell me, Peter? A pleasing tale?

Peter: Someone has to do it. I’m sure Paul won’t. 

Christopher: He’s worried about you. Worried about what he might do to you, what he might have done. 

Peter: (letting out another strained chuckle) A little late for that. 

Christopher: He’s also worried about what I might do to you.

Peter: What you might do to me? (He throws his head back and laughs.) 

Christopher: (flushing) He’s right. At least he is about me. I have a bad feeling he’s right about himself, too. 

Peter: The shadow and the hunter, oh no! (He raises a hand in a mocking gesture of stage fear and swooning.) 

Christopher: It’s true. 

Peter: Oh, yes, it’s so truthfully one side of the truth! (He paces across the stage and make a turn.) If there’s one thing you and Paul have in common, it’s a tendency to shy away from everyone else out of fear of how scary you are. I’ve never been scared of you. Either of you. 

Christopher: Maybe you should be. 

Peter: And maybe there’s a gentleness, a vulnerability in both of you you’re unaware of. A certain tenderness that puts you in as much danger from me. 

Christopher: Is that what you think?

Peter: I’m the one that lures you into Once Upon a Time’s mouth.

Christopher: I have a bad feeling that was a spoiler. 

Peter: He’s the beginning of all stories so it should be expected. Stories involve conflict, even outright hell. Hell has at times been a mouth. Why shouldn’t Once Upon a Time, everyone’s beginning be a mouth ready to swallow them?

Christopher: It’s a frightening image. I much prefer to think of Once Upon a Time as a Door opening to a path which takes us where we wish to go. Even if it’s the wrong path. 

Peter: That, too. It’s all metaphor, only metaphor, yet metaphor means more than anyone realizes until it’s too late. 

Christopher: (sighs) I’m afraid that’s true.

Peter: (pacing back until he returns to Suetonian) All my lies are true. Unlike this old fellow. (He pats the bust on the head.)

Christopher: (smiles, shaking his head) There you go again. Distracting me from your contradictory words with a joke. 

Peter: My dear Christopher, I’ve never met a more contradictory child than you. (He makes a sweeping bow to his audience of one.) Everything you do is a contradiction. 

Christopher: (frowning) How so?

Peter: You feed on the living, you feed on other shadows. You feed on life, vitality, passion, memory, and thought. All the while you scheme to give those things back. 

Christopher: Scheme?

Peter: Carrying the stone, the egg, giving life to those delectable twins. That was quite the mythological scheme worthy of an old god. Or godling. 

Christopher: (squirming uncomfortably in his seat) Not my scheme alone. 

Peter: No, it was quite collaborative. You helped a lot of half-empty people achieve their own dreams, get at least a piece of them back in the process. Stealing Myself From Shadows, indeed! 

Christopher: (straightening his shoulders) Perhaps I define myself differently than you do. 

Peter: Don’t be so sure of that. We were were both happy in the Navel, giving people what they didn’t even want back. 

Christopher: Are you saying you’re like me?

Peter: Yes and no. I’m not sure if I’d give as generously as you, although I may have to be brave enough to try. 

Christopher: Why?

Peter: For my wish to be granted. Like I said, you were entirely too generous, but I want more. 

Christopher: Generous? I don’t remember giving you what you wanted. 

Peter: Yes, you did. You and Paul are alike in this as well. You’re willing to give away everything you have, everything you are, yet you’re hungry void ready to swallow everything

Christopher: Which is why we’re dangerous to you, no matter how gentle or generous you believe us to be. 

Peter: No matter how gentle, generous, or hungry you might be, you’re no match for me. 

Christopher: What do you mean?

Peter: I was happier than I’ve ever been in my life with Paul. The closest I’ve come to that happiness was with you. At the same time I wasn’t satisfied. 

Christopher: Why not?

Peter: (taking a deep breath, pausing center stage) I want to make everyone happy. I want to make everyone love and worship me. 

Christopher: (sighed) I’ve tried making everyone happy. Or perhaps I’m going to try making everyone happy. I’m not happy with my chances of success. 

Peter: Neither am I, but it’s what I want. No matter how small my chances of success are. 

(To be continued) 

#RainbowSnippets: A Symposium in Space

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

Every Saturday or Sunday those participating post and share six sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction on our blogs. Those sentences can be from our own stories. They can be from someone else’s. They just need to be LGBTQIA+.

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One last word from Phaedra for my own in A Symposium in Space

“I hope you’ll be there.” I laid my hand on the door panel, a bit of the modern amidst the archaic. Touch sensitive, it made the wooden barrier slide open. “For my sake, if not for your own.”

I stalked out of our home and into the world. 

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#QueerBlogWed: A Tale of Tayel

On February 2, 2022, P.T. Wyant offered at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a shadow, a superstition, a tradition.

I do love it whenever she does a prompt involving shadows and nothing too clearly tied in this particular world. (heart) It’s an excuse to head for Omphalos. Any of the versions of Omphalos which you might find behind a Door. Or a place where an Omphalos was or is going to be.

Like the lonely cottage Tayel lives in, trying to pretend things aren’t going to change. Trying to pretend he can’t sense things in the shadows reaching out for him.

He’s not fooling anyone.

Seeing things in the shadows was just superstition.

“From superstition comes tradition.” Map muttered this between her pipe, puffing on it. A faint scent of rose petals, cloves, and something else rose in the air along with a hint of color only Tayel could see. “Bad tradition.”

“What do you mean?” Danyel had to ask. Had to look closely at Map’s tunic, the grayish-green, high collared garment with its half-silver, half-gold clasp of two dragons circling each other. A tunic she always wore over her homespun skirts. 

“You start seeing things in the shadows, you start chanting things to keep them away.” Map fixed her fathomless dark eyes, gleaming out of her weathered face upon Tayel, not Danyel. “Before you know it, it’ll become a prayer. A ritual you use to keep whatever you fear at bay. That prayer will feed your fear.”

Tayel flushed. Map knew. Somehow she knew about the little chant he’d started saying whenever the shadows started to move in the bedroom. Especially when they crept closer to Danyel and himself. 

“Light of the moon

Keep them at bay

Smile bright and broad

Keep the shadows at bay.”

The crescent moon did look like a smile. A slightly mocking grin which might grace a handsome face very like their brother, Leiwell’s. 

“I thought prayers were meant to summon something which would chase away what we fear?” Danyel crossed his arms, gave Map’s clasp a pointed look. “Even if it’s just our own courage?”

“Hah!” Map snorted, removing her pipe. “Your courage doesn’t need to be summoned. It’s already part of yourself. Anything else you might summon is more trouble than he’s worth.”

Tayel swallowed, dropping his head, allowing his hair to fall forward in a wave to shield his expression from scrutiny. 

He’d revealed too much already. He didn’t want Map or even Danyel to guess his fancies about the man in the moon. 

“He?” Danyel leaned forward, intent on that slip. “Is there someone in particular you’re worried we’ll summon, Map?”

“Just be careful.” The problem with pinning your hair up in an untidy bun was Map couldn’t hide her expression. The way her mouth turned down, her gaze shifted away to avoid Danyel’s. “Words have power. You never know you might be listening.”

“We’d know more if you’d tell us.” Danyel wasn’t about to let go of this. “Who might be listening, Map? Who are you afraid of?”

“There’s nothing or no one to be afraid of. Don’t let your imagination run away with you.” Map got up, moving away from the table, turning her back to the twins. 

“Don’t offer my imagination a carrot, encouraging it to run!” Danyel retorted, standing up from the table.

Tayel couldn’t help but giggle. They’d seen a picture of a horse in book recently, a horse with a carrot. How the horse strained after the fat vegetable dangled in front of it. The idea of Danyel’s imagination being that horse, trying to get to that carrot was only too apt. 

“Here I thought I was offering it a stick.” Tayel heard the smile in Map’s voice, even if she didn’t turn around. “Trust you to see it as a carrot. I’m going to bed.”

She trudged across the floor in the direction of her bedroom, never looking back until she’d opened the door. She offered the twins a tired, almost sad smile before shutting the door behind her.

Danyel gazed at the door with an open mouth. “She didn’t even try to pretend she was hiding something.” 

“It’s tiring, holding up a mask when you constantly seek to knock it off.” Tayel shook his head, pushing his hair out of his face. “Map has reasons for not explaining herself.”

“Why did she try to warn us against praying?” Danyel shook his head. “Map was herself part of a religious order. She’s never pretended she wasn’t.”

“Maybe that’s why.” Tayel shifted, glancing at the closed curtains. “Warnings about superstitions becoming traditions soften tragic truths.”

“You know what she meant.” It wasn’t a question. Danyel gazed at him, a troubled frown tugging at his lower lip. “You’re keeping secrets again. From me.”

“Superstitions become traditions. Traditions become a thicket of thorns.” Tayel wouldn’t look at his twin’s pleading face. “We may bleed if we brush our hands against them, but they’ll keep peril out.”

“Or you could stop the superstition from becoming a tradition.” Danyel reached out to take his twin’s hand. “You could tell me what’s making you superstitious. We could face it together.”

Yes. This would be the most direct way to face the problem. Only Tayel was afraid. Not just for himself, but for his brothers. Especially Danyel. 

He didn’t want Danyel to see what lay in the shadows. He didn’t want him to reach out for them, to try to get to know them. 

No, better to keep them away. Even if it meant embracing superstition instead. At least it was just Tayel. 

“Tradition becomes superstition when infused with too much fear.” Tayel shrugged, allowed himself to press his twin’s hands. “Summoning courage may be exactly what I need to do.”

“Do you really need to summon it?” Danyel studied his face intently. “Is there a particular source of courage you need to draw upon? Outside of yourself?”

Tayel cursed himself for being a fool. All this talk of summoning courage had aroused his twin’s curiosity. 

“No.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. “I shouldn’t need to.”

Danyel studied him and nodded slightly. It wasn’t clear if his twin believed him or not. 

Too many things lay unsaid between them. 

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Paul

Quartz stumbles out of the fog, batting away a twig which landed almost directly on his nose. 

Quartz: Ruddy Shadow Forest. Makes me almost miss the Forest of Tears. No matter. Whatever trees loom over me, the twigs are rude. 

Paul: I’m sure the twigs regard you with equal courtesy. As for the trees, they are not part of the Shadow Forest, even if they have a similar nature, due to their shared mercurial creatrix. As you are well aware. 

Quartz starts at the voice, the youth sitting lotus style in the clearing by the river and at the golden dragons crouched on each corner of the temple’s blue roof. 

Quartz: Right. Now there’s ruddy dragons.

Paul: It’s not as if you haven’t made the acquaintance of dragons before. (He takes a sniff of the air without turning to face Quartz.) There’s a trace of brimstone still clinging to you. 

Quartz: Of course there is. (sniffs his own sleeve warily) Can’t say I smell it. What’s your dragons’s story?

For a moment the golden dragons seem to snap playfully at Quartz before settling down upon the roof. 

Paul: You said it yourself. There are mine, a manifestation of part of me. I couldn’t let seductive shadows and doubtful dwarves be the only ones with draconic allies. These may be small, but they’re young and fierce, stirring when I say. 

Quartz: Right. (He gives the dragons on the roof a sharp glance. They don’t respond.)

Paul: Either that or they’re simply part of the achitecture, animated by the strange nature of this Cauldron.

Quartz: So which is it?

Paul: Far be it from me to spoil your fun. I’ll let you decide.

Quartz: Right. And who are you anyway?

Paul: A secondary character. That’s what you do, isn’t it? Talk to secondary characters?

Quartz: Among other things, aye. (He smooths his beard.) Got something to say, do you? 

Paul: I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.

Quartz: Not very pleasant, are you? Coming from me, that’s saying something?

Paul: I’ve lost my more pleasant half. Peter was the one who wanted to please people. Without him, I grow increasingly unpleasant. 

Quartz: That what you want to talk about?

Paul: Among other things. You know the little shadow quite well, don’t you?

Quartz: There’s more than one little shadow running around in our scribbler’s scrambled imagination. You’ll have to more specific. 

Paul: The one who hosts this Cauldron when you’re not doing it. 

Quartz: Aye, Christopher. We’re from different worlds, he and I. Different stories. We meet here from time to time. Not sure if that’s the same as knowing him well. 

Paul: You have talked to him more than once. And he’s talked to you about the people from his world. 

Quartz: Aye, from time to time. 

Paul: What does he want with Peter?

Quartz: Why don’t you ask him yourself?

Paul: I’m asking you. A shadow’s words are as insubstantial as his memories. 

Quartz: (snorts) Got a low opinion of shadows, eh?

Paul: Am I wrong?

Quartz: Want keeps a shadow lingering beneath the trees in that Forest of theirs. From what I’ve seen, it gives them substance.

Paul: Right. (He turns his head to offer Quartz a humorless smile.) And what does Christopher want?

Quartz: From what I’ve heard? (He gives Paul a vicious grin.) Damian. Or the twins. He’s never mentioned Peter.

Paul: Of course not. (A flicker of sadness softens the beautiful mask of his face for a moment.)

Quartz: (his manner a little gentler) Just what do you want to know?

Paul: Shadows lure dreamers off their chosen paths to devour them. 

Quartz: Aye, if they can catch them. Makes me glad I’m just visiting this weird dreamworld of yours. Or a shadow of it. 

Paul: (nodding his head at the irony of this) Peter is one of the most hopeless dreamers I’ve ever met. (His full lips part in contemplation of a vision of something or someone far away.)

Quartz: Huh. Ever think it might be the other way around?

Paul: (dark eyes sharpening as they fix upon his companion) What do you mean?

Quartz: Maybe you’re the hopeless dreamer. 

Paul stares at him for a long moment and begins to laugh. 

Paul: Maybe you’re right. Peter certainly thought I was. 

Quartz: Here’s another thought. Maybe you should be asking what Peter wants with Christopher. Not what Christopher wants with Peter.

Paul: (turning his head back toward the river) I already know. Peter thinks Christopher is the key to his dreams, to opening a Door to the Shadow Forest.

Quartz: A shadow key to a Shadow Forest, eh? 

Paul: (grimacing) That and Peter always had an eye for a pretty face.

Quartz: Not a great beard. No accounting for taste.

Paul: (almost smiles and stops himself) I’m inclined to agree with you even while I disagree with you, dwarf.

Quartz: So your Peter wants Christopher and you’re worried what Christopher is going to do about it. 

Paul: I suppose I am. 

Quartz: What are you going to do about it?

Paul: Put a stop to whatever hold that little shadow has over my Peter.

Quartz: How’re you going to do that?

Paul: The moment Christopher lures Peter across the threshold of a Door, entering the Shadow Forest, I’ll snatch Peter. 

Quartz: Sounds like you’re a shadow yourself. 

Paul doesn’t reply. 

Quartz: Also sounds like you’re jealous as well as worried. 

Paul: (turning his head again toward Quartz with a bitter smile) Many monsters are jealous. Does this surprise you?

Quartz: Can’t say it does. 

He waits, half-anticipating Nimmie Not to pop out and say something. For once his kobold is silent. 

Something about this particular secondary character makes Nimmie Not uneasy. Too uneasy to make his usual claims to Quartz. This does not reassure Quartz.

Christopher and Peter had better be careful. 

#RainbowSnippets: A Symposium in Space

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

Every Saturday or Sunday, those participating post six sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction on their blogs. It can be your own. It can be someone else’s. It just needs to be LGBTQIA+.

To sample various LGBTQIA+ snippets, go to…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowSnippets

For my own, Phaedra makes the decision which spurs her forth into the rest of A Symposium in Space. This is a little longer than six sentences, but they’re very short sentences.

“I’m going to Agathea’s symposium.” 

I didn’t turn around. If I looked into Pausania’s eyes, I might still yield. I could end up apologizing and falling into her arms. Again.

Not this time. 

Like what you’ve been reading? Want to read more? Here are buy links…

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Conversations with Christopher: Hebe

Silence falls into the clearing. Shadows gather around Paul’s face, making his eye gleam. He doesn’t bat them away. He parts his lips as if he savors the taste of the darkness as much as it savors him. 

The nearby greenery rustles. Christopher feels eyes watching them, wanting to come closer, to approach the temple and the stream, but whomever is there doesn’t. 

Paul: (closing his eyes and smiling) She cannot enter holy ground. (He swivels his head to look away from Christopher.) Go on. Talk to her. That’s what you do. Isn’t it?

Christopher: (backing away) Yes it is, although I wonder what cannot enter this place while I, whom you’ve called a monster can. 

Paul: You should know the answer to that. If not, go and find out. 

Christopher circles the clearing, giving Paul a wide berth. He plunges into the bushes. 

He is seized by two strong hands, swept within a billowing cloak. 

Hebe: What are you doing, talking to him? Come away at once!

She pulls Christopher through the thicket which is softer than he expected toward a shimmering patch of air. 

He doesn’t resist. He recognizes the rippling the sensation in the air of an opening between worlds, what he calls a Door.

The rippling sensation surrounds them, swallowing them until there are elsewhere. 

Hebe and Christopher stumble into another clearing with a very different temple. Smaller than the green one with the blue roof and golden dragons, yet taller and a completely different design. Open air, supported by four pillars, and a domed roof, a white marble statue graces the center. The statue is of a naked youth who looks very much like Paul.

Christopher: There’s always a statue, isn’t there? At least this one is really a statue. 

Hebe: Of course there’s a statue. He is beautiful, that creature you were speaking with, beautiful and terrible. A legendary beauty, although too few see the terror until it’s too late. 

Christopher: You mean Paul?

Hebe: Is that what he calls himself? (She smiles bitterly.) When he seduced my father and took my position, he had a different name. 

Christopher: He seduced your father?

Hebe: (frowns) Well, that’s what my father says. My mother agrees. She feels he betwitched my father into forgetting me, my family, and his obligations. 

Christopher: You don’t sound convinced. 

Hebe: He said he was kidnapped. That my father turned into a beautiful bird that carried him away. 

Christopher: Do you believe him?

Hebe: It wouldn’t be the first time my father has turned into a bird to seduce someone or ravage them. He got to my mother in that form. 

Christopher: Did he?

Hebe: Personally I think the shower of gold form is more seductive. Who’s going to say no to gold? 

Christopher: Yes, but a shower of it? Particularly if it’s melted down into a molten form which sears you when it touches you. Or if it traps you in a mold, turning you into a statue of gold, unable to speak or move. Slowly killing you in a beautiful, motionless form, or cursing you with eternity within the shell. 

Hebe: You and your sinister view of statues! One would think you had a close encounter with a gorgon. 

Christopher: A gorgon? 

Hebe: Hmm. Snakes for hair. Sometimes immortal, but not always. Even the ones that aren’t immortal retain their power after death. Even if you hack off her head, a gorgon can still turn you to stone just by looking at you.

Christopher: Like and unlike an arachnocrat. She has to do a lot more than look at you to turn you to stone. And she’d need your consent. 

Hebe: Sounds like a more convivial relationship for both the arachnocrat and her victim. More convivial than any you’d have with a gorgon, whether the gorgon wished it or not. 

Christopher: You sound like the Lady Duessa herself.

Hebe: Is she an arachnocat? (She rubs her throat. There’s a petal-shaped scar upon it.)

Christopher: Yes. (He gives the scar a pointed look.) I thought you knew.

Hebe: I’m not sure how much I knew or know. I’m not a statue.

Christopher: You weren’t a Marriage Feast.

Hebe: No. I was feasted upon, but marriage wasn’t offered. 

Christopher: I don’t think the Lady Duessa could have. The Marriage Feast is always a boy, selected by an arachnocrat as her Marriage Feast, something my sister, Vanessa never stopped reminding us of. 

Hebe: Us?

Christopher: (straining to recall something, someone who’s become like the faded part of a dream) Damian, myself…and Melyssa. Yes, Melyssa. How could I forgotten her? I think…(his cheeks color)

Hebe: (raising an eyebrow) You think?

Christopher: I think Melyssa might have asked Vanessa to be her Marriage Feast if ladies could take other ladies, but Van was shocked by the idea. 

Hebe: Shocked and unwilling?

Christopher: I’m not sure. Strange, that such a thing would be shocking, but the Gardens were a strange place. 

Hebe: Yes, strange. Almost as strange as the Tower. 

Christopher: What? What do you know of the Tower? 

Hebe: Never you mind. I wasn’t warning you about the Tower or the Gardens. I was warning you about Ganymeades. 

Christopher: Ganymeades?

Hebe: The one you call Paul.

Christopher: Actually it was Peter who called him Paul. They used to be together. 

Map: What? Our Peter? Our sweet, silly flirt at the Navel had a relationship with that creature?

Christopher: One that’s not over, judging from Paul’s attitude. 

Hebe: Well. First my parents, now Ganymeades. Our Peter has a way of enchanting everyone. 

Christopher: Yes, he does.

Hebe: I’m surprised to hear you agree. You were the only one who seemed immune to his charms. 

Christopher: I’m not immune. I’m just less…responsive to his charms. 

Hebe: I suppose we vary in responsiveness. Peter and Paul, eh? Now that I think about it, they would look lovely together. 

Christopher: (looking at his feet) Yes.

Hebe: I wouldn’t trust that one, if I was Peter. He may have been a victim when he lashed out at the gods after being unwillingly turned into one…

Christopher: Unwillingly?

Hebe: Tricked into tasting the ambrosia in my father’s cup, the way the lady of the underworld was tricked into tasting pomegranate. Only the effects of the drink may not be as everlasting as we thought. Given none of us are what we were. 

Christopher: I see, I think. 

Hebe: I’m not sure how he did it. He had help in stealing my father’s thunder. He might argue he had to do it, to get away from my father and the heavens, but he’s gotten a taste for the hunt. He likes to get close to his victims before he drains them of their power. 

Christopher: I don’t think Paul sees Peter as a victim. You and I, yes. Your parents and the other gods, yes. Not Peter. 

Hebe: I see. We’re monsters, gods and shadows alike. Peter is the fool who just wandered among us. 

Christopher: Is he wrong?

Hebe: No, I fear he’s not. 

#RainbowSnippets: A Symposium in Space

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

Every Saturday or Sunday, those participating post and share six sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction on their blogs. It can be their own. It can be someone else’s. It just needs to be LGBTQIA+.

To sample various LGBTQIA+ stories, go to…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowSnippets

For my own, Phaedra wrestles with a painful decision in A Symposium in Space

I needed to step back and let her do so. 

I stared at the archaic wood greaves in the portal to our home. So hopelessly old-fashioned.

One of the things Pausania and I had in common was we both loved ancient, traditional things for all their connection with a patriarchal past. 

Why did those connections have to be so bitter?

Curious about what you’re reading? Here are buy links…

Nine Star Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/a-symposium-in-space/

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#QueerBlogWed: Omphalos Neighbors

On November 24, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted a Wednesday Words prompt involving a brown feather, a family gathering, and bones.

This freebie Tale of Omphalos was the result…

The feather falling from the sky wasn’t white or black. It was brown.

Danyel caught it, gazing it with wonder. 

“Muddy with ambition, he cannot even manage to be a raven,” Tayel muttered under his breath, refusing to explain himself. 

“It’s still a proud feather,” Danyel murmured, extending his arm along with the feather. “It might have been a quill or a wand.”

“Don’t let my brother-in-law hear you say that,” Aggie muttered under her breath. “It will go straight to his head.”

“Exactly what will go straight to my head?” 

Gryluxx sashayed out, wearing a cloak of brown feathers over red robes. Something rattled in his robes. 

The effect was striking, Danyel had to admit. The tailor knew what suited him. 

Aggie didn’t look at all impressed. She rolled her eyes as if the display was too tedious for words.

“Something bothering you, sister-in-law?” Gryluxx asked with the sweetest of malice. He chose the seat one over from Aggie. The empty space was probably meant for Meggie.

“The usual, brother-in-law.” She didn’t smile back. “You.”

“Ah, the lack of fraternal affection between us wounds me. Especially when it’s mingled with ingratitude.” Gryluxx snapped his fingers. “Do bring out those custard tarts you’re so fond of, wench. Sweets for the sweet and all that.”

“Hmm, just a moment,” Meggie called from the open door of the cottage, utterly oblivious to her husband’s sharp tone. 

Aggie wasn’t. She leaned forward, cracking her knuckles. “Don’t call my sister a wench. She’s your wife. At least pretend you have some consideration.”

“Oh, I have the utmost consideration for my wife, but a wench is a wench.” Gryluxx grinned at Aggie. “You ought to know.”

“What was that?” Aggie growled. 

“Stop that!” 

Danyel didn’t realize he’d leaped out of his chair. He felt the anger,  the violence prickling in the air. He reached out with the feather, waving at it, trying to get it disperse. 

Aggie settled down in her chair, some of the anger leaving her furrowed brow. Gryluxx sniffed at the air, at the feather in an almost disappointed fashion. 

“You don’t seem to understand how things work around here, little one.” He snatched the feather out of Danyel’s hand. “You serve me. I’m the one who gives the orders.”

“Why?” Danyel looked straight up in those hairy nostrils, the whiskered lips twitching. “Why do you goad Aggie, taunting her, enjoying her anger so much? Did you invite her here just to torment her?”

Gryluxx took a step back, opened his mouth and closed it, flushing. “How dare you accuse me of such things? Angharad may only be family be marriage, yet she’s still family.”

“Is that what family does?” An image of Leiwell pale and sweating rose from his memories. “Torments each other? Or do they try to protect each from being tormented?”

“You cannot sound the depths in the shallows,” Tayel murmured under his breath. 

“Now, now, not everyone can be deep.” Meggie emerged, carrying a tray of custard tarts. “My raven is a fragile creature, boys. The reason he flies at others, trying to peck at them is because he’s fragile.”

Aggie chuckled. “Maybe, but he takes advantage of that far too often.”

“I can see these twins are as bad an influence on the both of you as their mothers and their brother.” Gryluxx wrinkled his nose and mouth as if he’d breathed in something which disagreed of him. “Do not let yourself be beguiled by the residents of the Old Cottage for all their beauty.”

“Hm, funny coming from you, dear.” Meggie smiled blandly at her husband and took a seat next to her sister. “You talk about them more than any of us.”

“Nor can you blame them for my attitude. Not about you.” Angharad placed a protective hand over her sister’s, baring her teeth in a parody of a smile at her brother-in-law. “I detested you the moment I met you.”

“And I was the one who rescued your sister from the abyss these boys’s mother cast you into.” Gryluxx regained some of his smugness, lifting a custard tart to his lips. He devoured it in three bites. “I did something you couldn’t after your precious master destroyed you. Again.”

“What are you talking about?” Danyel felt his brother shake his head slightly, but he couldn’t help asking the question. “What did Ashleigh do to Meggie?”

“Hmm, it wasn’t Ashleigh.” Meggie picked up a tart with utter unconcern as if they were talking about the weather. “It was Map. Not that I’d expect to remember. It took me a long time to do so.”

Flash of fire from torches, a night of fire. Fleeing, feeling a heavy unfamiliar body settle around him. Screams of anger became screams of anguish. 

Danyel raised his hands to his face. Much of what happened beyond the Door was like a dream, but he’d been Map for a brief nightmare. 

Tayel leaned closer, not touching him, but gazing at him with concern. 

This is how he felt all the time. Tayel saw things he doesn’t want to, learned things he’d rather not know, yet his greatest concern was whether any of it would hurt his twin.

Danyel reached out to touch his brother’s shoulder, sending the silent assurance that he was all right. Even though he wasn’t sure if he was. 

“It was another lifetime ago.” Aggie gazed down at her folded hands, not looking directly at either of the twins. “Back when Meggie, Mel and I were all Sisters of Seraphix, terrified of anything which might disturb our isolated idyll.”

The Sisters of Seraphix. Seraphix. 

Danyel shivered at the name, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck quiver. 

“Isolated idylls are raised from pits of darkness by sacrifices of others.” Tayel gazed at one of the tarts, not touching it. “Sometimes you catch a glimpse of their ghost in the sunlight.”

“Our ghost was something we’d learned to fear.” Aggie lifted her head to fix an angry green eye upon Gryluxx. “Just what do you know? What do you want?”

“I was curious to see how you’d react around the twins, given their closeness to your former master.” Gryluxx rubbed his hands in anticipation. “We are all neighbors again, in spite of all which transpired between us.”

“Just what did transpire between us?” Danyel leaned forward, gazing at the neighbor he’d much rather not have. “Just who are you, Gryluxx?”

“This lump called me a raven.” Gryluxx sniffed at his wife. “It’s true. I’ve been one. I caught a glimpse of you before you were an egg, a mere stone Christopher decided to carry.”

“Christopher?!” Danyel stood up, nearly dropping his chair. “You know Christopher?”

“Child, I know everything.” Gryluxx sniffed in Danyel’s direction. “Christopher was a creature of the Shadow Forest. Like everyone here.” 

Silence fell around the table. Aggie dropped her head. Meggie began moving her lips rapidly. 

Danyel reached for Tayel’s hand, gripping it. “Including yourself?”

“Of course!” Gryluxx pouted a bit. “Why should I deny it? The Shadow Forest is a place of power and potential. As is anything which slips out of its Doors.” 

“And you can never get enough of power,” Aggie said with utter dryness. “Watch yourself. The price may be too high.”

“Only for those too cowardly to pay it.” Gryluxx bared his teeth at his sister-in-law. “Are you such a coward, Angharad? I’m not surprised.”

“Is there some purpose to this conversation?” Aggie rolled her eyes. “Or do you just want to insult us?”

“He does enjoy insulting everyone.” Meggie smiled at her husband indulgently. “Don’t pay it any mind.”

“Don’t speak for me, you addle-brained wench.” Gryluxx glowered at his wife. “Think I’m just this amusing little man, don’t you? Of no consequence at all?”

“Why, yes.” Meggie’s smile widened, showing no malice whatsoever. “I don’t mind. I love you anyway. Not everyone can be great.”

Danyel started to giggle, nearly choked turning it into a cough. Tayel raised a hand to cover a grin. 

Aggie chuckled, not bothering to hide her amusement. “Guess you’re lucky, Gryluxx, to find someone who loves you, no matter how small you are.”

“Small?” Gryluxx glowered at his sister-in-law and the twins. “I’ll show you just how small I am. When Seraphix grants my wish, you’ll see.”

He stalked away from the table, muttering to himself, robes rattling more than ever when he entered his cottage, slamming the door behind him.

“Bones,” Meggie answered Danyel’s unspoken question about the noise. “He sometimes carries bones around with him. A way to ground himself to reality, for he is telling the truth.”

Aggie wrapped her arms around herself. “No. I am real. I feel real. No matter what happened in the past, I am real.”

“Aggie, we died.” Her younger sister fixed round hazel eyes upon her, shining. “Our master killed us all, yet somehow we’re back. Gryluxx brought me back.”

“How?” Aggie dropped her arms to clasp her hands together in entreaty. “I begged that man to help me bring you back, yet Gryluxx somehow succeeded where I failed.”

That man. It took a moment for Danyel to realize Aggie wasn’t talking about Gryluxx. 

“Oh.” A faint blush colored Meggie’s cheeks. “You might say bringing me back was our marriage ceremony. One we often renew. Together.”

“Oh.” Aggie echoed her words. 

Tayel flushed as well. 

Danyel looked at their faces, unsure what they were talking about. 

“I suppose that’s one way to ground yourself,” Aggie murmured, shaking her head with a bemused little smile. 

“Well, you have Jupitre, even if he’s Juno’s husband.” Meggie tapped a finger to her temples, gazing in speculation at the sky. “If he’s not enough for you, you could try Gryluxx.” 

“What?” Aggie spluttered and started coughing. 

Tayel turned even redder. 

“Just what are you talking about?” Danyel was unable to bear it anymore. 

“Never you mind!” Aggie growled before turning on her sister. “That’s your husband you’re offering!”

“Well, yes, which is why I thought it would be best to offer.” Meggie nodded, considering her words. “He is my husband, but you’re my sister. If you’re worried about not being grounded in reality, you could try him out.”

“No, thank you!” Aggie growled. “The way your mind works, sometimes I think I’ll never understand.”

“Thank you.” Meggie smiled with utter sweetness. “It’s good not to be too predictable.”

Tayel let out a strangled giggle, still blushing. 

Danyel glowered at his twin. “I wish you’d let me know what was going on.”

“Really?” Meggie gave Danyel a surprised look. “For all his insults, I know he thinks you’re one of the most beautiful creatures he’s even seen. If you’d like to try Gryluxx for yourself, you can.”

“Meggie!” Aggie snapped, sounding scandalized. “He’s a child!”

“Is he, really? He looks small and slight, but we’re not sure how old the twins are.” Meggie gazed contemplatively at Danyel and Tayel. “They might be older than any of us.”

“No.” Tayel said before Danyel could ask again what they were talking about, why Aggie was so upset. He took Danyel’s hand firmly in his own. “Thank you.”

“Don’t be jealous.” Meggie smiled at Tayel as well. “You’re welcome to try Gryluxx, too. He might be nicer if you do.”

“Niceness happens only if a creature wishes to cultivate it.” Tayel, cheeks still very red, looked Meggie straight in the eye. “Your husband has no taste for niceness.”

“I’m not quite sure what you’re offering,” Danyel ventured, “but if Gryluxx isn’t nice to you, his wife, why would he be nice to anyone else? Especially considering everything you do for him?” 

“Yes, I was nice to him when you first came to visit us, wasn’t I? To try to put him in a better mood.” Meggie tapped her temple again, eyeing the door thoughtfully. “Guess that doesn’t work.”

The squeals and grunts from behind the closed door returned to Danyel, bringing a hot flush to his cheeks. 

Oh. That’s what they were talking about. 

“Well, I offered.” Meggie smiled in utter pleasantness. “Here I was hoping if I offered you my husband, you might offer me your handsome brother.”

“Meggie!” Aggie shot her sister a scandalized look. 

“I don’t offer my brother to anyone. Either of my brothers.” Danyel tried to keep his voice even. “Even if you and your husband regard us as creatures of shadow, we’re people now. People with our own will. If you want something of Leiwell or Tayel, you ask them.”

Tayel squeezed his fingers in response, shooting him a private smile.

“Well said,” Aggie nodded in approval. “Gryluxx has been a bad influence on you, Meggie. I know you mean well, but you shouldn’t go offering people to other people as if they were a comb or a book.”

“Shouldn’t I?” Meggie widened her eyes. “Our lord offered me to my husband. I seem to remember an elegant lady with many arms asking for a beautiful youth, a youth a lot like Leiwell. Oh, what was his name?”

Tayel let out a hissing sound. Danyel shivered again, unsure why. 

“Just because someone is a lord or elegant doesn’t mean their ways are right.” Aggie sighed, shoulders slumping. “Young Danyel here is right. We’re trying to be people. Let’s treat each other as people.”

“Of course. I’m sorry.” Meggie turned to Danyel. “I didn’t mean to insult you or your brothers. You’re very beautiful. I’d like us to be friends.”

“So would I,” Danyel let out another sigh. “Meggie, I don’t understand why you let your husband treat you the way you do.”

“Don’t you?” Meggie looked puzzled. “Guess it doesn’t bother me. I don’t listen to his insults. He’s very good at certain things.” She winked at everyone present. “Guess I didn’t want to be greedy, even if I am his wife. I wanted to share.”

“We’ll keep that in mind, if Gryluxx ever, ah, says anything to us about this,” Aggie said, waving her hand as if to will this entire conversation to disappear. “Given how we feel about him, it’s not something we’re interested in. At all.”

“All right.” Meggie reached out for a custard tart and began eating it with no discomfort whatsoever. “He does like you. That feather wouldn’t fall into your hands if he didn’t.”

“Does he?” Danyel looked down at the feather he was holding. “It’s more likely he wants something of me.”

“That, too,” Meggie said with her mouth full of tart. “Who wouldn’t?”

Danyel felt himself flushing again. 

Conversations with Christopher: Paul

Tayel turns to run through the flowers. Danyel with a backward glance, follows him.

Christopher wishes he could chase after the twins, but the mist rises beneath his feet, swallowing the floating flowers, cutting him off from the way Danyel and Tayel have taken. There’s a bite and a sting to this haze. 

Christopher closes his eyes and walks forward. He opens them, seeing a little green clearing with a stream trickling over rocks. A small green temple with a curved blue roof sits amidst the grass. Four golden dragons poke their snouths out of the four corners of the cerulean tiles. Small and silent, they spy out the land below. 

Christopher presses his hand to his breast, feeling more than hearing Crowne hiss within. 

Paul: (not that Christopher knows who he is, not yet) Calm yourself, little shadow. I have no intention of hurting you. 

A young man sits, shapely calves curved in the lotus position, a position Christopher recalls in a memory flash he doesn’t remember. The young man’s curly russet hair reminds him of Peter, only it’s darker, less red, and curls of his ears and the nape of his neck, rather than falling to his shoulders. 

The young man looks at him with soulful dark eyes which again make Christopher think of Peter. Only there’s a flash of gold in those eyes akin to the silver triangles which glitter within Tayel’s.

Christopher: Who are you?

Paul: (without looking at him, smiling without mirth) I’m certain Peter mentioned me at some point. 

Christopher: (recalling Peter’s rare moments of seriousness when he mentioned the lover who left him) You’re not Paul?

Paul: Peter might question that, but I am. I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me, considering the reckless way he wandered off into the mists, only to seek shelter at the Navel of all places. 

Christopher: Why wouldn’t he seek shelter with us? You broke his heart, didn’t you?

Paul: And you’ve stolen at least one of the fragments of that broken heart, haven’t you? For all I’ve tried to keep the pieces safe. 

Christopher: Just how have you tried to keep any part of Peter safe?!

Paul: By breaking his heart rather than getting him involved in my dangerous existence. By sending him away. Only he’s willingly walked into greater peril than he would have faced at my side, I fear. 

Christopher: If you feared this, you shouldn’t have sent Peter away. You should have protected Peter. Every part of him. 

Paul: A far more difficult task than you realize, little shadow. Peter is drawn to dangerous objects of desire. Like me. Like you. Like the spider lady you once worshipped. 

Christopher: You mean the Lady Duessa Ashelocke? I didn’t want Peter to go with her. I tried to warn him.

Paul: You needed to do more than warn him. If I had an arachnocrat in my Place of Power, I would not permit an arachnocrat to walk in. Let alone walk out with anything or anyone I deemed precious. 

Christopher: The Navel isn’t that sort of Place of Power. Anyone can walk in if they need to. 

Paul: You’re saying my Peter needed you?

Christopher: He needed the Navel. As for he knew, he wasn’t yours anymore. 

Paul: He’ll always be mine. I can feel his pain, even from afar. His longing to be loved by everyone. (He wrinkles his nose.) An impossible thing to do unless he shatters himself into many pieces. 

Christopher: (shivers) Impossible is possible in some places.

Paul: Yes, you’ve done is, haven’t you? This is why Peter is so drawn to you. You’re the embodiment of his wish. 

Christopher: No, I’m not. No matter what he thinks.

Paul: So you say. So you draw away from Peter. Driving him to seek a Door to the Shadow Forest.

Christopher: That’s not my intention. The last thing I want is for Peter to be lost the way Damian was.

Paul: If you mean that, stop him. Is it too much to give him what he wants? To be who he needs you to be?

Christopher: I might ask you the same thing.

Paul: So that’s your answer, little shadow. (He smiles grimly.) Neither of us can give him what he wants. We have both failed him.

Christopher: Just because we’ve failed him doesn’t mean he has to fail himself. 

Paul: Oh? You’re saying we cannot help him. Or we shouldn’t. 

Christopher: I’m saying that Peter found the Navel. There’s a reason he came to Omphalos.

Paul: Or a reason he came to you.

Christopher: The same reason he came to you?

Paul: Don’t speak as if we’re alike, little shadow. One night I’ll come for you as I come for every monster.

Christopher: I thought you wouldn’t hurt me. 

Paul: Here and now, no. Not during this conversation, but you are still a shadow. A creature that hungers for the memories, dreams, and desires of your victims. Just as I hunger for you and other predators. 

Christopher: You sound like a monster yourself. 

Paul: Perhaps it takes a monster to hunt other monsters. Peter, however, is not a monster. 

Christopher: And yet he’s drawn to monsters if he’s drawn to both of us. 

Paul: That makes him a fool and an innocent. It would be only too easy for you to hurt him. You will hurt him, little shadow, if you haven’t already.

Christopher: Haven’t you?

Paul turns his head to look at Christopher for the first time. For a long moment, they just gaze at each other. 

Paul: Even monsters can care about their victims.

Christopher: Funny. I was just about to say the same thing. 

#RainbowSnippets: A Symposium in Space

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

Every Saturday or Sunday; those participating post and share six sentences of LGBTQIA+ on their blogs. It can be their own. It can be someone else’s. It just needs to be LGBTQIA+.

To sample different LGBTQIA+ stories, go to…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowSnippets

For my own, Phaedra will continue on, even if it means away from Pausania in A Symposium in Space

I took a step away from Pausania toward the door. 

Part of me wanted to turn back. Part of me wanted to take her bleeding hand in mine and kiss it. Part of me wanted to apologize, to offer anything that might soothe her hurt. 

I was beginning to wonder if anything I did would ever soothe Pausania’s hurt. Perhaps the only one who could heal Pausania was Pausania. 

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