I was 14 going on 15 when October came. October is always a magical time of year, when all the world turns to blazing red and gold, as if the Lion of Winter roars in the distance, and all the trees suit up to meet him.
In the Fall of 2004, I asked Lask an important question: “If your job is looking after me, where do you go when you’re not with me?”
For years he had been teaching me to ask questions. It was like some sort of sacred meditation, or mind tai chi that he loved. I always knew when I’d asked a good one. He would flash that sunshine grin, and his eyes would spark. He’d glance at me with that slightly raised brow, and praise me for a question well asked.
I could tell I’d asked a good one.
“What do you mean?” he countered.
“Don’t be coy.” I rolled my office chair closer to where he sat under the window in the study. “Where do you go when you’re not here?”
“My island.” He grinned up at me, trying to look innocent, but for him it was impossible.
“An island?” I echoed. I lined my toes up with the tips of his black leather boots, folded my arms across my knees and leaned down at him.
“I live on an island, in a river– a Light river– in a lovely place of stained glass and tall turrets. You’d like it.” He winked at me.
“So you don’t live in Etheria.” It was a statement, not a question. At the time, I had just finished my first novel upon his request about him as an immortal adventuring to Earth in pursuit of a certain griffin.
“No. Etheria is a creation,” he said. “It’s something we made. I didn’t make the island. I was placed there.”
“I see.” I pulled my knees up to my chest, considering him. The afternoon sunshine beamed through the window above him, making his dark hair glint those sharp raven colors I liked. I always wondered, and found myself wondering aloud, “Why do you always look so wind tousled?”
“It’s windy on the island,” he replied. “Many trees, rolling hills, a winding brook that springs from a tree.”
“It sounds familiar.”
“Our worlds mirror each other. That’s the point.” He raised his hand in the air, splaying his long fingers, as if they had suddenly encountered a pane of glass.
I smiled at him, at his playful grin, and the glint of the sun in his hair. I reached up to meet him, and closed the gap with my own hand, splaying my fingers to match. I could never hope to reach the span of his tapered hand. It seemed to unfold like a strong white fan. (Like the tail of an eagle or the talons of a hawk, I thought.)
He rose a bit toward me, like the swell of a wave, or a billow of cloud. The wind blew in the the trees. I was glad I’d opened the window earlier. I could smell the sunshine. I heard a low rumble and realized he was chuckling at me. I found I had turned my head away and was gazing out the window at the trees in the wind. He remain poised, like a statue in the garden, awaiting a gardener. I turned a bit red, and his grin widened.
“You were saying?” he crooned, lacing his fingers with mine. I smiled at him.
“That island,” I said. “You live there?”
“What do you do there?”
He grinned, silent.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Can’t answer that one?”
He cleared his throat, glancing up at me in guilty, hopeful, innocence.
“I see.” I reached out and brushed back a wild lock of his hair, watching it shine in the sun, a galaxy of subtle colors. Lask froze at my touch. I found I had shifted very close to him. I looked at our hands, and pulled his hand closer, brushing my lips over his knuckles. He was very still, a statue– no, a man before Medusa, bowing in terrified hope away from that stony gaze.
“What is it you whisper when you think I’m asleep?” I asked him, holding his hand against my cheek. His skin was soft, cool, like crisp wind.
He glanced sidelong at me, his head cocking into wary, sharp profile. I smiled at the sunlight on his white beak of a nose. The sun reflected briefly, seeming to spark in those crimson eyes as he watched me. He reminded me of a fishing heron.
“What do you mean?” he murmured.
“Those words,” I said. I thought carefully, summoning them back from a sleepy mind. I shifted, using the advantage of wheels and a swivel chair to place myself face-to-face with him again. “What is it you say to me?” I asked, watching his eyes. I recited them back: “E amiel se.”
Lask blinked, and I felt suddenly breathless, as if I had unknowingly spoken something far too… much for my naive human tongue. I wasn’t sure whether to apologize or say it again. I reached for him with my free hand, cupping his face, as if to soothe a slap I didn’t mean to deliver. I watched his eyes carefully. I slid my hand along the smooth plane of his cheek, my fingertips curious, then my fingers found their way into his thick mane of dark hair. His breath escaped, and he looked surprised, as if he hadn’t realized he’d been holding it. His shoulders relaxed. I ran my fingers through his hair, watching his eyes, not breaking from his sharp gaze.
“E amiel se,” I said again, with more confidence. I gave a slow nod. “Tell me what it means.”
He gazed across at me. I held his left hand close to my heart, and stood, pulling him with me. I kicked the chair to roll away. His height unfurled. He seemed to arch over me as he rose, but I didn’t let go of his hand. I held it firmly against me, keeping my other hand toying with his dark mane.
“Are you sure–” he began.
“Tell me,” I begged.
“I love you,” he said.
I grinned up at him. My breath too rushed out. He breathed deep of it.
“That’s what it means,” he whispered. “E amiel se… I love you.”
“You’ve said it a long time.”
“Tavero…” He murmured. His voice trembled faintly, like the wavering note of a chime. I knew he meant Yes.
“It’s ok,” I whispered. We seemed so closed to each other. I pressed myself to him, holding his hand, and his head captive. “It’s ok.” I brushed my cheek against his. “E amiel se.”
I felt his eyes snap to look at me, but I closed mine before he found me. I nuzzled my way along his jaw, and suddenly found his lips. His breath hitched, like the hush of the wind in the sudden crags of the cliffs, and I felt him gather me. I released his hand, and let him envelope me in his arms. I spoke unknown things to his lips, exploring the smooth curve of his smile, winding my fingers into the midnight cascade of his hair.
“It’s only ever been easy to love you,” I told him when I pulled back.
He looked down at me. “Kava saneth?” he breathed. How so? I knew he meant. His intent seemed to vibrate along a thread between us.
“You are the picture of loyalty, faithfulness, grace, and steadfastness.” I placed my hand on his chest. “You have only ever been good to me.”
“You’re so young, my Sunflower,” he whispered. “What if–”
I shook my head. “I’ll never doubt loving you. You’ve only ever been good to me, even when the tempests roar.”
“You don’t know.” The toll of his voice rang with regret and sorrow.
“I don’t care.” I didn’t open my eyes. I seemed to see him better that way. “I’ve felt this thread to you forever. Have you not?”
He could make no denial.
I pulled his head back down. He pressed the point of his nose to the gentle slope of mine. “Then,” I said, “Why do we pretend to each other as well as the world? If it must be this, let’s at least… have each other’s company.”
He chuckled, and smiled at me. His scarlet eyes seemed to radiate with warmth, like the glow of a hearth. I pressed myself to him, and pulled his head closer. He closed his eyes and yielded to the draw of my lips. His arms tightened around me, pulling me up to him. I felt the tall strength in his body, like a pillar of poplar. I felt the point of his nose press against my face and smiled into his lips. He kissed me with such care, as if he thought I were made of glass, or perhaps I were a sharp edge waiting to cut him.
“Tell me your name,” I whispered on his lips.
He went very still again.
“What do you mean?” He echoed.
“You know,” I said with a smile. “You have a name. Everything has a name, you told me.”
His back straightened, and his gaze sighted down the sharp edge of his nose. That dangerous black brow arched high in wary and proud indignation.
“You taught me to think,” I countered, smiling at his expression.
“I did,” he crooned, softening.
“Your name, then,” I insisted.
“As you wish, my lady,” he whispered. He stepped back close, bending down to rest his head on my shoulder, nuzzling through my hair, to whisper, “El me nomiel Al–”
I smiled at the feel of his warm breath on my ear.
“That’s why your name is Lask,” I said, “And Alastair… How many names do you have?”
“Many,” he replied, and I felt his lips brush the gentle curve of my neck.
“Will I ever know them all?”
“How many names do you have?” he countered.
I looked up at him, a bit startled at the question. “I… I don’t know,” I confessed.
“Then what makes you think I do?” he asked. He smiled “Does it matter?”
“No.” I smiled, and wrapped my arms around his neck, glad to embrace him.