Story Content Notes: Story Content Notes: suicidal character, dubious consent (nonsexual situation)
Long minutes after Abdal road ahead, Lilah was still reeling from eir revelation — revelations? — that Abdal was also a monster. That there were more of them, that Lady Bethania knew enough that Abdal would release eir beast where Bethania could see… that eir beast was no uncontrolled monster, that while wearing the face of the beast Abdal could talk normally and recognize Lilah and…
While Bethania didn’t know exactly what Lilah was thinking, ey was astute enough to realize some of what was racing through the cub’s mind. Ey wanted to give Lilah time to come to terms with everything ey had just learned. But Bethania, too, had things that needed to be said.
After several more minutes silence, Bethania cleared eir throat. “I know you need time to recover, pledged. But I need to learn about you before we get home.”
“Lady?” Lilah asked.
“I was rash in accepting your pledge, Lilah.” Bethania said, “I still believe I did the right thing, but I also know you didn’t intend to pledge and I didn’t — don’t — know anything about you to know if I could trust your pledge.”
Bethania spoke plainly, but eir tone and stiff stance on eir horse betrayed eir nervousness. Eir uncertainty.
“Lady Bethania, I… If you hadn’t taken my pledge, as you call it, I would have… acted rashly myself. I’m glad that you ‘took my pledge’ and gave me a chance.”
Bethania nodded and started to speak, then stopped. Ey didn’t know quite what to say.
Lilah kept turning eir words over in thought. It took em some time to work through things because Lilah had been so focused on eir own fears and hurts. So much had happened, in so short a time, that ey had no time to even recognize half the things ey felt, never mind deal with them.
In truth, Lilah still focused on eir own fears and hurts. And among the least of those fears (though ey had the awareness to recognize that it would later loom very large indeed) was Bethania. Lilah wanted Bethania to be trustworthy, but that didn’t mean ey was right to trust.
Still, as ey turned over Bethania’s words, ey realized ey wasn’t the only one who feared. True, trusting Bethania, especially after ey had tricked Lilah’s ‘pledge’ from em, was a risk. But Bethania had given many signs that ey was trustworthy — from saving three strangers to the proven truths ey had already given Lilah.
But Bethania had taken a risk as well. Ey had given Lilah incredible power over eir home and people. And what reason did ey have to trust?
Bethania was, in truth, terrified. Knowing that ey had done the right thing didn’t change the risk they had taken. A noble could take steps to protect eir people from a poorly chosen pledge. But they were not… good things, nor things Bethania wanted to do. And a great deal of damage could be done before a noble realized such action was necessary.
“Bethania?” Lilah reached a hand toward the noble. Bethania urged eir horse forward to ride a long side the wagon and took Lilah’s hand. “I didn’t know what I was asking for when I begged you to take my life.”
(Sherzod, still laying quietly, bit back a gasp and squeezed tears out of eir eyes.)
“I have learned — not just what it meant for me, but what risk you were taking yourself. You saved my family; you’ve given me hope that I can be saved. My life is yours, lady. I screw up as much as the next person, but I will do everything I can to be worthy of your trust.”
Bethania urged their horse closer and raised Lilah’s hand to eir lips. “Thank you, my pledge.”
In that moment, their eyes met over the back of Lilah’s hand. Awareness flashed between them — awareness of attraction, of what a pledge could be if they wished it, of desire, and hope, of curved lips and necklines and futures that were not to be feared but sought and embraced and loved.
And then Bethania’s horse stumbled, and the moment was broken. They glanced at each other, then laughed. There would be time for all that was not yet said.
And Lilah said the one thing that needed to be said then: “I am called ‘he’.”
Bethania’s smile lit up the night, and they journeyed on: first home and then onward through their lives together. Never forgetting that first came trust.
A week later, they crossed the border into Allule. One of the Pack members had run ahead to bring word, so some of the Pack was waiting for them at the border. They waited in human skins, as Lilah had not yet told eir siblings the full truth.
(Dalma had by then had time and more time to interrogate Lady Bethania, an interrogation that Lilah tried to disrupt whenever possible, and Sherzod, to Dalma’s dismay, refused to participate in. But Bethania, knowing that Lilah had not revealed eir truth to eir siblings, was careful in what ey said and Dalma came away each time unsatisfied. Ey could not deny that Lilah seemed not only satisfied with this ‘pledge’ thing but to enjoy Nobility Bethania’s company. So eventually, Dalma agreed to adopt Sherzod’s ‘wait and see’ attitude.
Dalma was beginning to suspect that Sherzod, too, was keeping secrets.)
Lilah felt the beast within em still as soon as ey saw the gathered strangers. Several dozen in all (not the full Pack, but they knew better than to overwhelm a new cub), they sat or stood or sprawled by the road. Abdal dismounted, gave eir reins to another, and ran ahead to greet them, to fill eir senses with the comfort of home and Pack and belonging that ey had been denied too long. Others that Lilah had only started to know ran with em.
Lilah was riding by then, several days out of the wagon and mounted next to Bethania.
Bethania looked a question at em, and Lilah nodded. Bethania called a halt, and Lilah slid out of the saddle, handing Bethania eir reins. Lilah glanced toward eir siblings, and Bethania said, “Go meet the Pack, then come talk. I think the time for secrets has passed.”
Lilah nodded, walked slowly out to meet the strangers.
Dalma called out to em, but Sherzod, tense and fearful and somehow knowing what this was, laid a hand on Dalma’s arm and shook eir head. Dalma glared at Sherzod but subsided.
Some of the Pack, seeing Lilah’s slow approach, started to run to em, but Abdal and the others who knew Lilah held them back, allowing em to approach in eir own time.
The closer Lilah got, the slower eir steps became. Ey had expected to be afraid, meeting so many strangers who were also beasts. To eir surprise, it was shyness that held em back, made it hard for em to look at those who waited eagerly to meet em. Ey finally came to a stop a few steps away from the waiting Pack.
Tension mounted as Lilah and the Pack and those watching all waited, not knowing who should move or what would happen next. Finally, one of the Pack stepped out from the group: an old person with thin white hair. Eir steps were the careful movements of one who suffers aching joints — especially after travel. Ey smiled and held a hand out to Lilah.
“Welcome, cub,” ey said, “I am Elder Aishah, one of the leaders of this Pack. I cannot tell you how pleased we are that you have been able to join us.”
“Thank you,” Lilah said quietly.
“I know you have been through much,” Elder Aishah said, “and have no reason to trust us. But I ask you to give us a chance. We are not what you have been told, and we can help you if you let us.”
Lilah hesitated a moment, then took the offered hand. “I trust Bethania and Abdal, and they trust you.”
Aishah squeezed eir hand and led em into the group. For the first time, the beast within Lilah relaxed, and suddenly Lilah was at peace and content in a way ey had never experienced before.
“Welcome home, Lilah,” Abdal said, and Elder Aishah echoed: “Welcome home.”
Lilah looked back, over eir shoulder to Bethania and said, “Thank you.”
Okay, short story this time. Sometimes that seems to happen. Though I expect we’ll be back sometime next year for Sherzod’s story and to learn how Dalma reacts when the full truth comes out.
Next week we’re starting our last new story for the year. (I expected it to be the first new story of next year but, eh, these things happen.)
Mighty Hero Force Epsilon
There are certain rules a sentai team is supposed to follow. They’re supposed to have matching uniforms, and a theme. And they ALWAYS have a guide or mentor. Someone who gave them their powers and can tell them how to use those powers. Someone who tells them what their team name is supposed to be and the history of their enemy.
The rules have been broken. They have no team uniform, they have no guide. They have magic powers and an unknown enemy taking over random cities.
At least they get along, right?
First Came Trust (E1)
First Came Trust (E5)
Bound by His Oath
Digital Garden Home