Welcome to Wednesday Briefs, where authors post free fiction of 1000 words or less each week.
I’m continuing the story of Willem and Torrey, who are being torn from each other on an alien world. This week the prompts were: "Enter at your own risk" or use a viper's nest or use a rock n' roll theme or "Wrecked 'em? Damn near killed'em!" or find a creative use for a Sharpie or use a Shar-pei or "In this case, two plus two equals something rotten in the state of Denmark!" or use a fraternal lodge in your story, such as the Elks or the Knights of Columbus or the Fraternal Order of Water Buffalo.
This week I opted for one of the photo prompts because it was perfect.
Sealed in Stone #7
Willem stayed on the wall until the kumbharanim returned. He’d thought there was still a chance the Queen would not accept Torrey, that his friend would come back to him. That the women returned at the head of a train of wagons—further gifts—hit him so hard his legs buckled and he slid down to sit upon cold stone, knees to his chest, letting the pain roll over him. The sun had dropped behind the mountain and the cold turned his breath to frost.
Torrey was gone, really gone. All Willem had left was a cot in the men’s hall, a stone amulet for remembrance, and a lifetime of hard work that stretched before him like a punishment.
When the cold grew so deep it bit through his clothes, Willem climbed down from the roof. One of the kumbharani, Parra, met him in the courtyard.
“Come with me,” she said.
He followed. Torrey had told him not to let bitterness take root, and Willem was trying with all his might to keep it at bay. Torrey had also talked about choosing battles. Perhaps his fight was still to come.
Parra led him into the residential quarters. He expected her to turn to the left, into the Men’s Dormitory, and was doing so when her hand shot out to grab his sleeve and pull him toward the stairs. He never went up the stairs, where the kumbarani and other members of rank lived with their families. The times he’d visited Torrey’s room, he had climbed the century old starflower vine outside his friend’s window.
The room he entered next had elegant carpets and chairs of dark wood polished to a rich sheen by frequent use.
“Sit,” Parra directed.
The chair she pointed to had chitin inlays of deep, shimmering emerald. In their own way, the beautiful bits of arthropod exoskeleton were as priceless as jewels.
A door hinge creaked and he looked up. His heart jumped when he saw Jayn Bhesari Prim. He wanted nothing to do with Torrey’s mother. If he thought he might survive the attempt, he would leave the kumbh tonight to seek his freedom. But only idiots left the protection of kumbh walls at night.
“Thank you for coming, Willem.” Jayn took a seat on a cushioned bench in front of shuttered windows. Scenes of the Indomitable Ones, the first women to lead the exodus of humans from captivity in Eshuun, covered the venerable panels.
He held his tongue. He wasn’t here by invitation. She noted his silence and a trace of sadness crept into her expression.
“You resent me. Of course you do. Winning you over will take time.”
“As if you care. Last we talked, you threatened to barter me to the Lohakarim.”
“Now why would I do that?”
He snorted. Why did Jayn do anything? “You wanted to get me out of Torrey’s life. Oh, wait… no, I bet it was better than that. Threaten to send me away, right? Then you could promise him not to do it, or even get me back, if he went along with being chosen.”
She settled back against the bench’s cushions. “That was the idea. I didn’t follow through after you vowed to damage this kumbh’s good standing with Lohakarim.”
“Still will, if you try it.” His jaw tensed at the prospect.
“I won’t. You’re quite secure here… now.” With a sigh, she studied him. “I’ve decided you will live here, with me. I’m giving you Torrey’s room.”
No. That would be… “I don’t want it.”
“I’ll have it cleared of his belongings, if that would be better.”
“No, that’s… what the hell are you trying to do?” Torrey’s room? Torrey’s things? “You can’t make up for sending him away by—”
“I’m not trying to atone for taking my son away from you, only you from him. I’m keeping a promise. From this day you are a member of my household.”
A member? Or a prisoner? Willem wondered what she’d promised, and to whom. Torrey, he reckoned. Jayn had tested Torrey’s and his relationship… then decided her purpose was best served by keeping Willem near.
His decision was no longer between leaving or staying to face life as a stoneworker. It was between leaving—or staying so Jayn could continue to use him against Torrey.
* * * *
Torrey stared at the canopy of his bed. The silk was embroidered with winged, flying things that suggested a freedom he would never know. Had never known. His whole life had been ordered. Had he not ended as the Queen’s Chosen, he would have been bartered to some lesser queen who sought an alliance with his kumbh. He’d been born to be mated to a queen, not a man.
So why had he fallen in love with one? Why had he allowed that to happen?
Because Willem was human, everything Torrey could never be. Born from working men and women, Willem was strong and tall and raised to be honest about everything. Between the two of them, only Torrey had kept secrets.
He’d been the greedy one, wanting to have Willem while he could, for as long as he could, allowing his friend to cling to more hope than he’d clung to himself. Whether that was kindness or cruel beyond forgiveness, he couldn’t decide. Didn’t love justify anything that allowed it to flourish?
Flourish… not damage. Torrey couldn’t bear to think what they’d shared might hurt Willem in the end, that if Torrey hadn’t wanted Willem for himself, his friend might have found someone else, someone better, someone with whom he could enjoy being in love.
He sat up and found the slippers he was to put on for his visit to his Queen. He muttered a curse when he dropped one on the floor. He was reaching for it when he saw something crawl out of the silken depths into which he’d almost put his right foot.
The black scorpion lifted its tail…
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