It had raged for days, far out on the horizon of the sea, but it had been blowing steadily toward Musaklys Isle, and the Phelk had begun to worry its wrath might pass over them. Fortunately, the storm blew itself out before reaching their island, as Elder A'net had claimed it would. She never worried, never seemed bothered by anything, any possible news of disaster- -she just sawed away at the strings of her cello in fun, its deep tones resonating from the conch shells lining every shelf in her home as she smiled.
Elder A'net claimed the wind whispered what would be through the combination of conch shells and her whimsical music, claimed that was why she was never surprised. Claimed she had known the storm had blown a human ship off its course, of course it had been wrecked, washing flotsam and debris up on the Isle's shore. She had even claimed not to be surprised when Evergreen had swam up to shore supporting a human survivor, a young man of fair skin and medium-coloured hair, his eyes an amazing shade of pale green.
The poor thing didn't remember his name; must have hit his head, Elder 'Valon claimed, but Gilera pointed out he had no wound. Elder 'Valon said the man was a warrior, must have a hard head, because he was wearing leather armor. Elder Wa'ter scoffed and put an end to the discussion, pointing out that the man had to be a priest, because he was wearing a fine, brass holy symbol on a chain around his neck, though none of them knew what symbols or names the humans worshiped the gods by, and the poor man couldn't remember. Evergreen fussed over the man, telling him he would be fine, be taken care of until his memory returned, or someone came looking for him who could tell him who he was.
Spears knew that wasn't likely; unless they swam far out to sea they almost never saw human ships, only when they were blown off course, like the priest's had obviously been by the storm before it was destroyed. She had a feeling Evergreen was perfectly aware of that too, but maybe he didn't want to dispirit the man by telling him so. After all, he had no memories; it would be cruel to make some of the few he was now building depressing. Or perhaps Evergreen hoped no one would ever come for the man so that he would never leave; Evergreen was quite clearly smitten with the man, and the man seemed equally appreciative. His curious green eyes had played over all of their bodies, true, because Phelk didn't wear clothes as humans did, but they had strayed over the lines of Evergreen's musculature more than once. Spears didn't think it was just appreciation of the fact that Evergreen had rescued the man and was caring for him that motivated the man's admiration.
And he was such a pretty man; were all humans so gorgeous? She had never seen one up close before, just sailors in the distance when she and Gilera or Goslin would swim half the day out to sea to look at the humans' ships going by, laughing when the sailors pointed at them and hollered and called them "mermaids", which of course annoyed Goslin to no end, silly gull that he was. Not like the humans could see more than their tiny heads from that far away, anyway. The tiny sailors she had seen in the distance had all been brown and swarthy; this priest man was pale but still pink and warm-looking, not bluish or greenish like Phelk. He had removed his leather clothes or armor or whatever they were because they were waterlogged but stiffening as they dried out, and his build was more lithe than that of Phelk, as well. Of course, Phelk could swim for miles and miles and hold their breaths for almost as long as a dolphin, and their stocky builds kept them warm beneath the waves, so perhaps that was the difference. But even if humans weren't built for the sea as Phelk were, the lithe lines of the man's torso were delicious, and Spears wished he had removed his leggings as well, for his ass looked positively scrumptious. When he had gone to sleep, Evergreen had quietly come out and told them in a breathlessly excited whisper that the human's skin was so soft and warm to the touch, even though it was lacking the oils that coated Phelk and insulated them in the water, that let their eyes see in the depths.
Then Evergreen had slipped back into the hut he shared with Moris, to watch his recuperating guest sleep, the lucky bastard.
Spears could admit it, to herself, anyway: she was jealous. She wanted a human of her own to love.
So she set out to find one. There had to have been other humans on the ship; they couldn't all have died, could they?
Spears was smirking with pride when she swam back to shore at sunset and carried her human up to the village. He was even younger and more golden than Evergreen's, and although he hadn't woken up yet, she had carefully peeled up an eyelid and saw that he had eyes that were a deep blue like the eastern sky at sunset or waters that were deep but not too deep. Certainly, Evergreen had dark green eyes, and Gilera and Goslin and many Phelk had blue eyes, but theirs were blue like the sky in various shades of daytime, not dark like the sea yet bright, like her human's eyes were.
Even Elder A'net had been surprised by a second human being brought into their village.
Spears had been thrilled to be the center of attention, grinning at the envy she could see on Keruss and Gilera's faces, the disapproving scowls on Goslin and Luca's. That had lasted until the Elders had bustled her inside Elder Wa'ter's home; the last she saw of her peers was The Dragon's dark glare.
He was generally an angry young man, the youngest of their generation, but older than his years and filled with the determination to prove it. His given name was diminutive and his mother had called him "her little paddle" or "Paddling", like it was a name instead of an action, but he would have none of it. He had worked hard, very hard indeed, to become The Dragon of their generation, and he would no longer respond when addressed any other way. Generally, Spears admired that, for she was a determined Phelk herself, had worked to become Consort, though she never thought of herself that way nor made anyone address her as such. She liked her name; Spears were weapons, fighting off dangers and providing food for their village, were tough, good things. But she could see why he didn't like his own name, insisted on being recognized as The Dragon. As The Dragon and Consort, they would go out into the world, see the humans and all the things Spears dreamed of, the sea far and wide and away from just Musaklys Isle, as The Dragon wished. But the look he had been giving her as the Elders led her inside had been dark, like he thought she might want to stay on the Isle forever with her human, the way Evergreen obviously wanted to with his.
Which was ridiculous, of course. She was proud her human was even more golden than Evergreen's, and hers was certainly a warrior, he had knives hidden under his clothes, so he would be exciting and interesting to spend time with, but she wouldn't want to spend forever with him. Didn't The Dragon realize that? Well, if he didn't, didn't realize that the work Spears had put into becoming Consort was just as valid and important to her as the work and interest he had put into becoming The Dragon was to him, she certainly wasn't going to explain it to him. He could figure it out for himself, or he could ask, which Spears knew would happen when fish climbed mountains. Humility was not an issue The Dragon's character struggled with. . .he ignored it altogether. Besides, their Departure was in just a over a week, once the summer's storm season had passed. The storm that had destroyed the humans' ship had probably been the last of any significant size for the year.
Spears was considerably sobered by her meeting with the Elders. There had been a great deal of 'what have you done' and 'do you know what this means' and 'you realize your destiny lies away from the Isle, as does his, but not necessarily together' and other such questions she had huffily replied to. She hadn't realized the humans could leave the Isle unless another ship did miraculously show up, all it meant was a pleasant diversion from the ho-hum life they lived on the Isle until their Departure came, and what had she done? She had saved a life, hadn't she? Found a companion for Evergreen's human, one who surely knew him, at least in passing? Wasn't that what was important?
The Elders had sighed in sync at her question, startling Spears, then Elder A'net gently explained that humans could not know about the Phelk, not while The Dragon and Consort were present. The magic of the gods made it so; they would not remember anything of their past lives while she or The Dragon were there, and would forget everything they had learned, everything they had experienced on Musaklys Isle including their time with Evergreen and her, when she and The Dragon Departed. The humans would regain their memories then, and could decide for themselves what they wanted to make of their futures.
Spears had asked if she and The Dragon could not come back at that point, perhaps take the two humans back to their lands, if they wished? But Elder A'net had smiled sadly and shook her head, and Elder Wa'ter had gently said that such would not be possible, though she was noble to offer to do so.
Then Spears had pointed out that her human was a warrior, the knives beneath his clothes, and that had sparked off a ridiculous amount of discussion amongst the Elders. Elder 'Valon insisted he must be dangerous and should be locked up, even though he apparently would have no idea he was dangerous when he awoke. Elder A'net had opened his satchel to see if he had any identifying documents that had survived his dip in the sea, and she laughed and said he was a musician, a bard, for he had a small lyre and juggling clubs in his satchel. Elder 'Valon had insisted the human was dangerous; Elder A'net had countered that he was an entertainer, they were probably throwing knives for his act. Elder Wa'ter had moved forward to examine the unconscious young man, raising an eyebrow and twitching aside the torn cloth of his shirt and looking at the tattoo on his upper arm.
Elder Wa'ter had smiled like he saw something hidden within the patterns of the tattoo that even Spears could recognize as a symbol of the heavens, then he announced that whatever else the young man was, entertainer or warrior, he was a gypsy. And gypsies tended to be both entertainers and warriors, as well as thieves, mystics, and heroes, so perhaps they would just relieve him of his blades until his memory was returned and they could determine his intentions with them, and refer to him as a bard. A pity he would not remember any of his songs or stories to tell them until after The Dragon and Consort had left.
Spears had been saddened that she would be unable to witness her human's talents; she was willing to bet they were impressive.
There had been more discussion, and then Spears was allowed to rejoin her friends and Evergreen's guest for the evening meal, after having been pressed into keeping silent about the nature of the humans' memory loss and her own destiny. Her own guest should be fine, although he did have a head wound, a bump hidden by his amazing golden curls, like nothing any Phelk could grow. But he had not breathed too much sea water and was resting peacefully, so he should be well enough when he woke, hopefully come morning, or so Elder A'net claimed.
Spears had returned to her friends, telling them the human she had rescued should hopefully wake from his injuries come morning. She could tell Evergreen's guest wanted to go see the young man, just to see someone he knew he must know, even if he couldn't remember him. She felt sad for the priest, knowing how disappointed he would be when the bard didn't know who either of them were, either. But then again, he would be able to help the bard adjust, had a day's more experience dealing with the situation, and wouldn't that be something a priest would want to do? Help a friend with a difficult situation? Or even a stranger, though technically everyone was a stranger to him now, and he didn't remember he was a priest.
She put that thought aside and enjoyed the meal, telling her friends and their guest that their newest visitor seemed to be a bard, according to the Elders. The priest seemed thrilled with the idea, or perhaps it was just that he knew what a bard was, that they sang songs and told stories to entertain, so maybe he would know stories of where the priest came from. Spears hid her sadness at the disappointment she knew was sure to come, and brushed aside her friends' questions about why she had been meeting with the Elders alone, telling them it had simply been to impress upon her that her duties as Consort had to come before taking care of a stranded human. It was ridiculous; her duties didn't begin until Departure, anyway. But they shouldn't talk about that, wouldn't want to confuse their guest with things he didn't know.
That brought up the question of what did he know, since he didn't remember anything. How could they talk about anything at all, then? Spears replied that he certainly did know things, even if he didn't remember himself. He remembered language, obviously. He remembered what a bard was, had told them bards sang stories and told songs. The priest had laughed and said it was the other way around, and Spears had smiled back, pointing out that he had just proved he did remember. Evergreen had asked what else could he tell them, and they had spent much of the night listening to the priest's tales, Evergreen watching with rapture as the priest discovered some of the depths of his own knowledge. They all retired a number of hours after sunset, Moris choosing to sleep out beneath the stars, and Evergreen and the priest exploring some more of his knowledge inside Evergreen's hut.
"Good morning," the woman said when he opened his eyes, smiling gently at him. She had strange eyes, and even stranger skin. It was dusky with sun yet still looked pale, the shadows under her cheekbones and chin almost making the skin there look blueish. And she looked older, he'd almost say middle-aged, but her hair had not a strand of grey and her skin wasn't the slightest bit wrinkled. It was very strange.
She was naked as well, but somehow that didn't seem nearly as strange as he thought it probably should.
"Are you well?" she asked as he stopped looking at her and looked around her abode instead, frowning at the surprising number of seashells aligned on every horizontal surface.
The young man raised a hand to his head and prodded it tentatively, wincing at the sensation.
"My head hurts a bit, but I don't think it's bad," he answered. His voice was raspy, dry, and he eagerly took the cup of water that she offered him with a knowing smile.
"Where am I?" he asked after drinking the water, still peering about her home and cocking his head to listen to the sound of the surf rolling onto the shore outside. "And thank you," he added as he handed the cup back to the woman.
"And so polite. You're very welcome," she said with another smile, this one larger, pleased and showing teeth. "You are on Musaklys Isle, a home of the Phelk," she answered him.
"Phelk?" he questioned with a frown, not knowing the word.
"My people," she replied. "We build our villages on islands and sleep there, but we are a people of the sea, not of the land, like humans," she explained.
"Oh," he replied, unsure what to think of that, but accepting it readily enough as he listened to the sea outside. Then he looked at her again. "Who are you?"
"I am A'net, Elder A'net, one of the Elders of the Isle," she answered with another soft smile. "I help guide our people and am a Keeper of our music."
Her smile widened again at the perk of interest he showed when she mentioned music; his roving gaze spotted her cello in the corner, and he looked intrigued.
Then he looked back at her, a puzzled frown on his face.
"Who am I?" he asked.
It was explained to the golden young man that he had been aboard a ship that had been caught in a terrible storm, blown off course and destroyed. He was told they believed he was a bard and shown his satchel with its lyre and clubs, but he could not remember any music. He had eyed the calluses on his fingers, touching them to the strings of his lyre, but he could not remember. The young man had frowned in disappointment and frustration at that, a sensation that had felt even less familiar to him than everything else had, then he had picked up two of his wooden clubs. Frowning that they had not felt correct, he had picked up a third, then proceeded to begin juggling them, his hands remembering what his mind did not. He had grinned and laughed, pleased, and Elder A'net had shared his joy.
The young man had been addressed as "Bard" or referred to as "the bard" since then. He had been introduced to the priest, Elder Wa'ter explaining the Elders' theory that something horrid must have occurred on the humans' ship, forcing the gods to destroy it. Obviously a priest and a bard tattooed with a sign of the heavens were not evil people, so they had been spared, serendipitously rescued by the Phelk. Perhaps whatever they had witnessed was too horrible to be remembered; perhaps their memories would return in time, when the gods felt it right.
Evergreen's green-eyed priest had fingered his holy symbol at that suggestion, unconsciously touching it as he stared off into the distance and murmured a single word. None had been close enough to hear it but the bard at his side as Elder Wa'ter spoke to them; the younger man had been fairly certain the priest had said the word "revelation" under his breath, possibly not even conscious he was saying it.
The bard had asked which Phelk had rescued him, and Spears had proudly introduced herself to him, introducing him in turn to Evergreen and the rest of her peers. She had been delighted when her human had taken one look at The Dragon's scowling frown and simply smiled hugely; the bard's grin was like the sun on the clearest of days, and The Dragon had returned the smile, unsure why he even felt anything at all besides resentment for this human of his Consort's, much less friendship, but he could not deny that he did. Perhaps because the golden young man was his Consort's; perhaps it was good they had met, good that the humans' ship had been destroyed near Musaklys Isle. The Dragon and his Consort could learn something of humans before the time came for them to Depart into the world by interacting with these humans, surely.
A few days passed, the humans learning the Isle and talking with one another as well as the younger generation of Phelk, trying to discover what else they knew, as the younger Phelk had done with the priest around the campfire his first night. They learned little, much to their disappointment; they both seemed to possess similar knowledge, spoke with similar accents and speech patterns, so they assumed they knew each other and were friends. They both seemed to know various things about both towns and forests, though the priest seemed to know more of the former and the bard more of the latter. They agreed that made sense, for temples were generally in towns and cities, and bards traveled from place to place, so they must pass through forests to get there.
This led to a discussion of what other sorts of places the bard might know, garnering a small amount of excitement when they discovered he also knew things about grasslands and meadows and valleys, and even swamps when they were investigating the strange water creatures trapped in the tide pools. They were further surprised to discover the priest knew things about mountains, which the bard did not, as well as about dungeons and fighting and weapons when the bard had mentioned Spears' pride in her name. They came to the educated guess that the priest must travel to cities to speak with violent prisoners in castle dungeons, or perhaps he was a vicar in an army somewhere, maybe he had traveled mountains with a military troupe, which would explain his leather armor. They ended the day frustrated though, because they knew lots of vague things, but nothing that meant anything significant. That the priest knew something about combat told them more than realizing the bard was well-traveled, but it still didn't tell them much.
When the younger Phelk found out the priest knew something of combat, Spears insisted he show her what he could, what he knew of her namesake. Ostensibly "going fishing", Spears had Evergreen fetch a spear along with her, and the two of them led their humans away from the village, inland toward the bubbling brook that flowed out to the sea. The rapids were an ideal place to go spear-fishing, but Spears was more interested in the clearing nearby, where the priest could demonstrate combat. The Dragon followed along, curious despite himself. He wondered what the priest might show Spears, and he certainly didn't want her to learn things about humans that he didn't. He was The Dragon; she was his Consort, after all. He followed along with Spears' human as she pestered the priest with questions, Evergreen watching with a smitten smile. The Dragon and the bard exchanged knowing glances, snickering quietly together at the amusing sight.
"Come on, then," Spears insisted when they got to the clearing, grinning when Evergreen gave the priest his spear. "We all know how to fish; show me how to fight with a spear. How would you fend off an attacking animal with it?" she asked, then dropped low and bobbed from side to side, growling and pretending to be an angry beast as she scowled at the priest and flapped a claw-like hand at him.
The Dragon couldn't help but smirk at the rather ridiculous sight Spears was making of herself. His smirk spread into a delighted grin when the bard laughed at his side, the golden youth smiling gleefully as he watched. Evergreen was also watching the priest and Spears, avidly waiting for the priest to do something impressive, as Evergreen was certain he would. For his part, the priest was merely standing there holding the spear in an unsure grip, a puzzled frown on his face as he watched Spears.
Frustrated that the priest wasn't doing anything, was showing her nothing whatsoever, Spears declared "Roar!" and charged the priest, still scuttling low to the ground like an animal. The priest's frown shifted to an expression of amusement, and he suddenly changed his grip on the spear, snapping it into position to point at Spear's oncoming form, which made her jerk to a stop with a surprised gasp. Evergreen gasped as well, at the sudden grace the priest's body had exhibited when he moved. His stance had smoothly shifted to support the spear as he lowered it, poised and ready to brace against the impact of a creature running into the spear or ready to spring aside if the spear's head were evaded.
The bard was still smiling, watching with excited delight, and The Dragon grinned again as Spears frowned with a glare he knew all too well. Spears was a headstrong and determined Phelk, qualities which had fueled her drive to become Consort, and The Dragon knew she was not about to give up. She gave a much more convincing snarl as she ducked backwards a step, then sprang forward to one side, springing again the instant her legs were folded beneath her in landing, directly at the priest.
Spears' leap had her flying at the priest from halfway between his front and his side, coming at him at an angle. Moving only one foot, from being a half-pace ahead of the other foot to a half-pace behind instead, the priest re-oriented himself to continue facing Spears. Pulling the shaft of the spear flush with his hip with one hand, a circular motion using the priest's other forearm sent the spear's head darting at Spears' hurtling form. The Dragon gasped a sharp inhalation, seeing the weapon's head pointed directly at Spears' heart for an instant as she drew close to the priest, but there was no cause for alarm. The head of the spear continued the large circle the priest's arm was directing it in, swooping under Spears' outreaching arm and rising up again to hook beneath her underarm, the spear's point safely past her ribs.
Turning as he braced the spear's shaft against his hip, the priest lifted the spear with one arm and shoved with the other, using Spears' own momentum to throw her leap off course and send her flying to one side. Spears flew past the priest with a startled squawk as she was flipped in mid-air, landing on her back in an ungainly sprawl. Her hair and limbs were strewn about her prone body, her stunned face staring upside-down at The Dragon and the bard in utter surprise.
Both young men turned their heads just far enough to meet one another's gazes, then howled laughter at the look of complete shock still on Spears' upside-down face. The Dragon, who knew Spears as a fiercely competitive individual and had never before seen her defeated with such complete ease –to make no mention of in such an amusing fashion– lost his composure completely. He laughed so hard he nearly collapsed himself, hanging onto the bard to keep from falling and laughing uproariously into the bard's shoulder and chest. The bard merely grabbed The Dragon to keep him from falling, holding him up and grinning like the sun as they laughed together.
Blushing and sputtering, Spears rolled onto her front to get her hands and knees beneath herself, then quickly stood.
"Well, you certainly know what you're doing, even if you're not aware of it!" she declared, giving the priest a measured look and ignoring the amusement of the bard and The Dragon behind her. "But I couldn't see anything, how you did that! Show me; use Evergreen!" she insisted, shoving the other young Phelk forward. Evergreen had been standing motionless, staring in wonder at the priest and his combat prowess; he sputtered in surprise when Spears volunteered him, glancing from her to the priest and blushing when he met the young man's gaze. The priest returned Evergreen's look, both of them pausing as Evergreen stumbled to a stop a few paces closer to the priest. They both merely stood there, looking into each other's eyes and contemplating Spears' instruction that the priest should "use" Evergreen. After a moment, Spears cleared her throat loudly, causing them both to jump, and the bard and The Dragon, who had only just managed to mostly compose themselves, brayed laughter anew, the both of them collapsing to the grass.
One morning the priest was sitting on an outcrop overlooking one of the bard's and his favorite tide pools, the one where they had discussed swamp life, watching the sunrise. He had discovered being in the sun and watching it rise or set filled him with a sense of peace; Elder Wa'ter had nodded and said that he was most likely a priest of the sun goddess, the Brightmother, whatever name the humans knew her by. He had once heard the sun goddess was the patron deity of humanity, as well as her being the head of the Council of the Heavens. Perhaps it was her human symbol the priest wore around his neck.
The priest had tipped his amulet back and forth in the sunlight, watching it glint from the well-kept brass, and decided Elder Wa'ter must be right. Elder A'net had then slipped past him, whispering that the sun goddess was also the goddess of revelation, that it was the winds of her weather that Elder A'net listened to in her conch shells with her cello. The priest had considered that, wondering aloud about it to the bard later, and he blinked in surprise when the bard had simply nodded. The bard pointed out that the priest's bass voice matched the tones of Elder A'net's cello and the wind blowing through her seashells, so it made perfect sense to him. The priest wondered about that, and about the bard's strange logic, wondering if it were something the bard just knew, much as the priest seemed to know combat.
He sat watching the sun rise, squinting as it cleared the horizon enough to begin to hurt his eyes, then turned to see the bard approaching him, naked as a Phelk, as the day he was born.
"I may not remember my name, or yours, but I do seem to recall that people wear clothing," the priest called out dryly.
"Not on Musaklys Isle, we don't," the bard replied with a self-satisfied grin as he drew near. "I haven't seen you don a shirt since I got here, and you've been here for a day longer than I have," he continued. "You look ridiculous wearing leggings when no one else is, you realize."
The priest frowned up at the golden bard as the youth sauntered around in front of him, blushing slightly as the bard stood with his hands on his hips and grinned down at the priest.
"And now you're embarrassed," the youth teased. "What's the matter, do you have reason to keep yourself covered? Is it your priestly modesty? Because I don't remember anything about priests who walk about shirtless or snog handsome young men, be they Phelk who rescued them from drowning or not. So what sort of priest does that make you?"
"Well, you're a bard who doesn't remember any songs or stories, so what kind of bard are you? An exotic dancing one, perhaps?" the priest replied snappishly.
"Well, if you can't remember being a priest any more than I can being a bard, then there's nothing holding you back from removing your leggings, just like it's not stopping you from getting interesting bruises from Evergreen," the bard countered. "Unless there's a physical reason you don't wish to follow everyone's example. Is that why you're embarrassed?" the golden youth asked overly-sweetly, grinning. He wasn't actually being malicious in his teasing; it was more that he was curious but disguising it as bravado. Nonetheless, the priest was a bit angered, so he defiantly stood and stripped off his leggings, planting his fists on his hips as he stared at the bard and silently dared him to find the priest wanting.
The bard raised his eyebrows in surprise; he most certainly could not say he found any reason for the priest to be physically embarrassed. Not without lying through his teeth, anyway.
Spears whistled appreciatively as she and Evergreen approached them from behind the priest; he spun around in surprise and blushed harder, but he knew there was nothing to do for it at that point. Evergreen walked right up to the priest and kissed him, wrapping his arms over the priest's back.
"You've decided to join us!" Evergreen declared happily with his chin over the priest's shoulder. The priest continued to blush as he nodded, but he was smiling happily. He didn't know what sort of priest he was, but he thought maybe he could fall in love with this fine young Phelk man, and he didn't think the heavens had any problem with love. The sun warming their bare skin certainly didn't feel disapproving.
Spears smiled happily for them, but inside she was sad. There was only a few days left before her Departure, and then the priest would remember who he was, would remember his life before Musaklys Isle, before he had met Evergreen. Worse yet, he would forget the days he had spent with Evergreen, and worse still, Evergreen would not. He would still remember, but the priest would become a stranger, even if he became one with a name.
She understood now why the Elders had been upset when she had brought a second human into the village. The bard had somehow become the best of friends with The Dragon, perhaps because he did not treat or see The Dragon as different from anyone else. Spears was sad to think of The Dragon gaining the friend he had spent all his life looking for only to lose him, but perhaps it was for the best. She and The Dragon would be Departing anyway, so she supposed it didn't make any difference that The Dragon's friend wouldn't remember him, because he would never see him again anyway.
Spears was no longer happy to have found a human of her own to love.
She wasn't even sure she loved him, certainly not as Evergreen loved the priest. But it was all so pointless, seemed that it would only cause problems in the future, heartbreak after their Departure on all sorts of fronts and surely confusion for the poor humans. No wonder the Elders had despaired of her timing. And poor Evergreen was only going to have his heart broken, through no fault of his own, and he didn't even understand why, as Spears did.
It was monumentally unfair.
For the briefest of moments, Spears wondered what would happen if she changed her mind. If she turned her back on her destiny, shunned the responsibilities of being Consort and refused to take her place, if she did not Depart. The humans would never regain their memories, but was that so bad? They had not known who they were for a week now, and they weren't really suffering for it, were they? They were happy, here on Musaklys Isle with the Phelk, and they made Evergreen and The Dragon happy, as well.
These traitorous thoughts fled Spears' mind when she turned away from the laughing bard and the smiling priest and Evergreen, seeing The Dragon approaching from the shore. His dark gaze shifted from the priest and Evergreen's embrace to meet Spears' eyes, and she could see regret hiding behind anger in them. He also knew the problems that their Departure would cause, the emotional suffering they would leave in their wake.
Acting on an impulse she did not allow herself to take the time to examine, Spears turned away from Evergreen and the two humans, stepping forward to meet The Dragon as he reached them and embracing him fiercely. He hugged her back with one arm, holding her close and watching the humans as he bent his head slightly, to speak softly into her ear.
"They will have their lives back," he whispered, tightening his one-armed embrace when her frame trembled in response. "They'll be free to figure out their own fates, with the knowledge of what those fates should be," he continued, keeping an eye on the bard to make certain the golden young man remained distracted by the priest and Evergreen and did not turn to see Spears' distress or The Dragon's own stoic resignation. "Just as we know ours. We must Depart, and Evergreen will go on."
The Dragon shifted to bring his other arm up across Spears' back, not holding her quite as close but bending his neck to place a soft kiss on her forehead as the bard turned toward them.
"Who knows, they might even love each other more when the priest remembers," he finished under his breath as the bard bounded over to the two of them, his young face still alight with happiness.
"Good Morning!" the bard cried joyfully as he collided with Spears and The Dragon, throwing his arms around them both in an impromptu group hug, grinning when The Dragon boggled at him. "Sorry, everyone else is getting hugs, so I helped myself!" he declared, glancing down to smile at Spears as well. She quirked a corner of her mouth in feigned wry amusement, shaking her head slightly at the bard's antics and hiding her inner turmoil once more.
"And of course you decide to join us today, of all days," Evergreen told the priest with a mock sigh of exasperation. The priest quirked a confused eyebrow at Evergreen, still held close within his arms. The priest's cheeks were still a bit pink as he stood in a nude embrace with the handsome young Phelk, but he had to admit, it was enjoyable. Pausing to consider, the priest decided the experience was. . .freeing, rather than uncomfortable.
"What do you mean, today?" the priest asked, blinking his way back to Evergreen's statement.
"Only that I can't spend the day with you today," Evergreen explained, saddened disappointment on his face. "I'm part of the group to go diving for kelp today. I should have started yesterday, but Luca took my place. I can't shirk my duties a second day," he said apologetically.
"Well, no, you shouldn't shirk your duties," the priest replied with a frown, suddenly realizing that his presence had of course disturbed the lives of his hosts and rescuer. "Not just because of me; I don't want to be a cause of trouble," he insisted, hastily. "And the bard and I should probably spend most of the day in the shade, if we're joining you Phelk," he finished with a chuckle, smiling when Evergreen blinked at him in confusion. "Humans burn if we stay in the sun too long," he explained, pointing out the difference in tanning between the back of one hand and his pale thigh. "Sitting down would become very difficult if we do not, as would. . .other activities," the priest finished, inwardly moaning and scowling as he felt his embarrassed flush renew itself.
Evergreen laughed and kissed the priest again, briefly.
"Well, the two of you should do that, then," Evergreen said with a smile. "I'm sure The Dragon and Spears will be busy preparing for their Departure, as are the Elders. I think Keruss and Luca are free today, but they'll probably be spending it somewhere private," he finished with a shrug, then pulled the priest close into a firm embrace once more. "I'm so glad I found you," Evergreen murmured into the side of the priest's head, just above his ear, smiling as he said it. "I have to go, but you and the bard have fun!" Evergreen insisted, holding the priest close for another moment before turning away to leave. He waved to the bard as he trotted away down the beach, and to The Dragon and Spears as well.
The priest frowned after Evergreen's departing form, confused.
Late that morning, the priest and the bard were indeed relaxing in the shade together. They were just inside the treeline, watching the beach and waiting for Evergreen and his peers to emerge from the ocean for the midday meal. The two of them had made their through the Phelk village, asking if their help was needed anywhere, perhaps aiding in the preparation of the mid-day meal? But they were merely thanked for their offer and sent on their way; two more mouths were not so much to feed, particularly since humans did not eat as much as Phelk. And so they were left with little to do; the Elders were busy, just as Evergreen had said they would be, so the priest and the bard found themselves alone in the shade, chatting as they awaited their friends.
"Do you know where Spears and The Dragon are going?" the priest asked, wondering if either of them had mentioned it to the bard. Evergreen's mention of their departing that morning had been the first the priest had heard of it, but Spears spent much of her free time with the bard, and the bard was staying in the Dragon's hut, much to the other Phelk's surprise, so the priest thought he might have heard something.
"I think they're with the Elders, some kind of rehearsal for something," the bard replied absently, squinting into the distance to see if he could spot any of the kelp-harvesting Phelk returning. The mid-day meal would be served any time now.
The priest rolled his eyes, deciding he shouldn't have expected the bard to either know or care. The golden youth was rather amazingly carefree, considering he had no idea who he was or where he belonged. Apparently, his form of art was living in the moment, and he was prodigiously gifted at it.
"Well, why is he called The Dragon, then?" the priest asked, trying to appeal to the bard's whimsical attention. "It seems to be a title, 'The' Dragon, not just 'Dragon' like 'Evergreen' or 'Spears', but I've never heard anyone call him anything else."
"Of course it's a title!" the bard answered with a grin, laughing as he looked at the priest with amusement. "It's something he earned, though I'm not sure how or what it means. I do know his name, though. He told me just last night, as we laid awake talking instead of sleeping. I was saying how I wished I could remember something, how frustrating it is to know these random things, but not know anything about myself. He said I may not know my name, but I could know his. I gather it's a rather big deal that he told me, since he makes everyone else simply address him as 'The Dragon'. He sounded odd when he said it though; I probably shouldn't have told you."
The priest frowned at the bard, wondering both about how the youth's mind worked and the fact that the bard apparently did have more character depth than the priest had been giving him credit for; he just hid it well.
"So, you shouldn't have told me you know The Dragon's name, but you did. Does that mean you're not going to tell me what it is?" the priest asked, simultaneously both amused and bemused. The bard was certainly interesting, whether he was shallow or not, and the fact that the priest couldn't be sure which only made him more so.
"Oh, it's Wade," the bard answered nonchalantly, having gone back to staring out at the shore. "Everyone knows it; it's just that he won't respond if anyone calls him anything other than The Dragon. Apparently it takes a lot of work to become The Dragon, so he won't let anyone forget that he did it. The youngest one ever, apparently, though I know he wasn't supposed to tell me that, so I'd appreciate it if you kept it to yourself. Even though everyone must know that, too; I've no idea why he wasn't supposed to tell me."
The bard turned when the priest failed to respond, blinking in confusion at the wry look the priest was giving him.
"What? As I said, everyone knows his name. He told me, so you were the only one who didn't know; that hardly seems fair. Apparently it's an unfortunate name because the Phelk are water people, though it makes no sense to me, seems a prefectly good name." The bard frowned at the priest, considering. "But if you let him know that you know, he'll probably realize I told you. So I'd appreciate it if you didn't; I was just doing you a favor, to make things fair."
"Okay," the priest replied with a chuckle, shaking his head. He wondered if the bard would make any more sense if he could remember the younger man, or if the golden youth had always been so strange. It seemed to be a natural state of being for him, so the priest figured he probably had been just as unusual when they knew each other before.
Just then, the meal-bell rang over the firepit in the middle of the village, and the bard caught sight of figures emerging from the waves at the same time.
The priest would have brought the subject of The Dragon and Spears' mysterious departure at the meal, at least asking Evergreen to explain what he had meant when he mentioned it, but both the priest and the bard were distracted when they caught up with the jubilant kelp harvesters, who were dragging their morning's work behind them.
All six of the Phelk youth who had been on the harvesting detail were shouting and laughing, taking turns clapping Evergreen on the back or shoving him playfully, cheering him on as he blushed and grinned from one prominent ear to the other. Even the older Phelk leading the harvesting detail was smiling and shaking his head, which caught the bard's attention as he and the priest joined the group, wondering what was going on, what had happened. It looked to him like their celebration would be even more frenetic except for the fact that each of them was dragging an enormous bundle of seaweed along.
"It was amazing!" Moris called out when he spotted the priest approaching, apparently not minding the priest's uninvited presence in his home at that moment. "You should have seen it; I did see it, and I can't believe it!" he exclaimed as the priest and the bard joined them, the two humans getting caught up in the moment and dying of curiosity.
"What was amazing?" the priest asked, meeting Evergreen's eyes for an instant before Goslin threw an arm across Evergreen's shoulders and yanked him off his feet, laughing as he whirled the darker young Phelk in a circle.
"It was just a shark..." Evergreen said quietly as his peers continued to cavort around him, blushing in embarrassment as he picked up the strap to his load of kelp again. Goslin just laughed harder as he grabbed his, and Moris joined him.
"As if a shark is nothing!" Goslin declared, shaking his head. "You really should have seen it, Priest, we were all focused on the kelp, not paying attention, but Evergreen was swimming to a new stalk. He saw the shark coming, right for Guilera's back, she's the smallest, only a mouthful..." Goslin broke off, grinning, as Guilera scowled and punched his shoulder, but then she grinned.
"He did," Guilera confirmed with a nod, turning her beaming grin on Evergreen before facing the humans once more. "I was just turning away from my stalk when Evergreen goes swimming past me, and there was a huge shark coming at me! He swam right up and hit it in the nose, and it swam off!"
"He did exactly right," the elder Phelk, whom the priest and bard had not been formally introduced to, said as he clapped a somber hand to Evergreen's shoulder and gripped it proudly. "Sharks do not breathe air, as Phelk and dolphins and humans do. They can smell the water they breathe, just as we do the air, and they would smell your fear. You swam up to it showing no fear and struck its sensitive nose, driving it away. You did very well."
Evergreen merely ducked his head in embarrassment, everything from his chest up to the tips of his broad ears flushing a bright red, but he was still smiling at the compliment as the Phelk all dropped off their loads of seaweed at the work shed.
"You saved Guilera's life, surely," the priest said, stepping forward and taking Evergreen's hand after he dragged his load into place and the group walked into the village proper. Evergreen looked up, surprised, then smiled again at seeing the priest, a broad grin of happiness. "But weren't you scared? Was the shark confused because you smelled of fear but were approaching it?"
"I've no idea," Evergreen answered bashfully, still grinning. "But I was scared, terrified I'd be too slow and it would have torn into Guilera. I wasn't even thinking about myself, other than berating myself to swim faster," he explained as they followed the others toward the firepit.
"That sounds like bravery, to me," the priest answered quietly, looking into Evergreen's eyes.
Evergreen might have stopped at that moment and simply grabbed the priest to kiss him, but the other young Phelk had returned to the village from their various duties, and Goslin and Moris and the others were swarming to tell all their peers of the morning's adventure. Guilera grabbed her hero's arm to pull his embarrassed form forward, insisting at the top of her impressive lungs that it was true and had been the most amazing thing she had ever seen. Spears and The Dragon joined the rest of the village at the firepit for the mid-day meal along with the Elders, and Spears bemoaned the fact that she had missed the excitement She spent the duration of the meal alternating between sulking and asking every member of the kelp harvesting expedition for every detail they could remember.
The priest and the bard spent the afternoon helping clean up after the mid-day meal, then learned how to start preparing the kelp that Evergreen's group had brought in at mid-day. Neither of them remembered anything even remotely similar, and they were both fascinated by the number of purposes the Phelk could use kelp for. After the sixth description of how kelp could be used, the bard had protested and said it couldn't be possible, and the Phelk were just making up busywork to keep the humans occupied. The old woman showing them what to do had laughed and laughed, then asked if the bard thought Evergreen and his friends had made up the shark story and dragged all the kelp in front of them into the village just to tease him?
The bard had blushed even brighter red than Evergreen had earlier, silently going to work. The priest grinned.
That evening Elder A'net quietly drew Evergreen aside as the kelp detail entered the village, before the priest had seen him. He wondered when he saw Goslin, Guilera, and the others but not Evergreen, frowning when Moris shrugged and said Evergreen had returned with them, perhaps he had gone to the hut for something. The priest went to Moris and Evergreen's hut –that he had secretly begun thinking of his and Evergreen's hut, though he would not admit such even to himself– to check, but Evergreen was not there.
Worried, the priest returned to the firepit where the evening meal was about to be served, but he still could not find Evergreen, and no one had seen him. Frustrated, the priest began looking for Elder A'net, thinking she would know where Evergreen was since she seemed to always know everything else, but he could not find her either.
Debating between alarm that they were missing and confidence that Elder A'net must have summoned Evergreen for something, the priest was just wondering if it would be out of place for him to excuse himself and go check Elder A'net's home when they appeared. The meal was just getting underway, the Phelk politely not mentioning two of their members' absence, when Elder A'net approached the firepit, Evergreen quietly following behind her. Elder A'net walked up to the meal bell and lifted it off its hook, then rang it in three quick notes. Everyone had of course noticed her walking past the fire, and all dishes and utensils had been put down before the third peal of the bell had finished ringing. There was a strong sense of anticipation to the Phelk as they waited for their Keeper to speak, and the priest found his curiosity shifting to excitement.
"Good Phelk," Elder A'net began, then turned her head slightly to nod in the direction of the priest and the bard, "And our human guests, I'm sure you have all heard the story of what happened with our kelp harvesters this morning. If there are any who have not, or who are not clear on the details, Hear Me As The Keeper. Let It Be Known, that today the young Phelk Evergreen saved the life of Guilera from a vicious shark attack. He did so with no thought of himself, saving her and most likely several of their companions, who would have been injured trying to drive a shark from its meal trying to save her after the fact. Raise your drinks, My Friends, and give Evergreen Three Cheers of Honor!"
All in sync, the Phelk raised their cups to Evergreen and cried out in once voice: "Honor! Honor! Honor!"
The priest and the bard had hastily raised their cups as well, and the bard had opened his mouth and been about to cry out something, cutting himself short and looking around in surprise when the Phelk chanted "Honor!" three times.
They did so again, "Honor! Honor! Honor!" and the bard glanced at the priest, glad when the priest slightly shrugged one shoulder in return. He too had almost called out "Hip-hip, Hooray!" but apparently that was a human custom, not a Phelk one. They both joined in on the last cry of "Honor! Honor! Honor!", the bard's powerful voice ringing out and the priest's impressively deep one also carrying clearly. Evergreen had blushed again, quite visibly even in the reddish light of the sunset and the glow of embers from the firepit, but he smiled happily when the humans added their voices to the chorus, looking in the priest's direction.
The priest could see how discomfited Evergreen was by the attention, how much he felt it was unnecessary, maybe even that he did not deserve it, so he decided to act. He was still embarrassed to be nude in public, but he had stopped thinking about it, and it wasn't as if anyone were taking any notice, since they all were as well. He was also embarrassed displaying his emotions so obviously, but if Evergreen could stand before people who had known him all his life and be embarrassed by their being proud of him, the priest could certainly tolerate a little personal embarrassment. He rose as the Phelk put their drinks down, many breaking into applause and whistling cheers for Evergreen, who only blushed harder. The priest circled around to the firepit, pulling Evergreen close and kissing him even as he felt his own blush rising.
Evergreen was stiff and tense beneath the priest's arms, and he did not kiss the priest back. His deep green eyes softened when the priest pulled back in surprise and looked into them with his own pale green ones, and Evergreen stroked one hand up and down the priest's back slightly, nodding his head forward to press his forehead against the priest's. "Sorry," he whispered. "And Thank You. We'll talk tonight."
He then seemed much more himself as he gave the priest a quick kiss, just a press of the lips, then let go of the priest and stepped back, rejoining Elder A'net. Elder A'net nodded to the priest in acknowledgment of the confusion she knew he was feeling, then turned away with Evergreen and led him to the Elder's table. Apparently, part of the honor Evergreen was being awarded was dining with the Elders; the priest considered that to likely be a reason Evergreen hadn't wanted the honors in the first place as he returned to the table shared with the bard and some of the young Phelk.
After the evening meal, Evergreen and the rest of his kelp detail were kept busy by Phelk after Phelk wanting the whole story told yet again, Evergreen smiling a transparently strained smile and telling his tale once more. And once more, and once more. And once more again. By the end, even Guilera was getting tired of repeating the day's events.
The priest had remained at Evergreen's side throughout the hours after the meal, silently offering his support through his presence. Evergreen had offered the priest a few smiles of thanks in return, but his eyes had grown more bleak each time, although Spears didn't think the priest knew that. She had remained to hear the story, no matter how many times it was told, because it was thrilling. It was the sort of thing she hoped to do as The Dragon's Consort; surely exciting things happened to dragons of all things, certainly! So she had stayed to listen, as had The Dragon, and the bard remained with them, but the humans did not have the Phelk's ability to see in the dark. Whether the dark of night or of the ocean's depths, they could still see clearly in very little light. She saw Evergreen's bleak eyes and the priest did not, but she suspected he saw the growing tension in Evergreen's shoulders and frame every time he saw the priest offer him a smile.
Spears feared she knew what that was about.
She and The Dragon had been with the Elders all day, preparing for their Departure, which was at noon the day after next. They had of course been released shortly before the evening meal was served, free to go to the shore and refresh themselves in the ocean, since they had not been in the water all day. Spears had seen the kelp harvesters return, and she had also seen Elder A'net draw Evergreen aside and go back to her home. She was familiar with Talks With The Elders, knowing that simply praising Evergreen for his actions that morning and preparing him to join the Elders at their table would have taken no time at all, certainly not until after the meal had been served. Therefore, she must have had something else to tell him.
Spears was afraid that Elder A'net had told Evergreen the truth, that the priest would regain his memories and forget the time he had spent with Evergreen when The Dragon and his Consort Departed. Evergreen was pulling away from the priest because he knew he was going to lose him anyway in less than two days, Spears was just sure of it.
And it was all her fault.
Catching sight of the priest's face in the moonlight as he and Evergreen stood to leave, bidding the bard, The Dragon, and Spears herself goodnight, Spears could see the hurt in the priest's expression. He knew something was wrong, but he didn't know what. Consumed with guilt, even though the gods' magical protection of the Phelk's secrets was not her fault, Spears took the bard's hand before he could turn away to head for The Dragon's hut and leave him to bid Spears goodnight in private.
"Spears?" the bard asked in surprise, squinting as he tried to see her face in the almost non-existent moonlight. The moon would be new the next night; she and The Dragon would depart at noon the following day. "What is it?" the bard asked, even more ignorant of the situation than the priest was. He hadn't been watching Evergreen's and the priest's reactions all night, growing bored with the story after a few repetitions and trying to compose a poem using it instead.
"Meet me in the trees by the beach at dawn; it's important," she told him quietly, then moved to The Dragon and hugged him goodnight before the bard could ask any questions. She turned her back to both of them and headed for Guilera's and her hut, hoping that either Guilera would already be asleep or that she could compose her facial expression in the few moments it would take to get there.
The bard quietly entered the stand of trees closest to the beach just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. He had seen the priest on his favored outcropping of rock, but he had not hailed the older youth. Spears had said seeing her at dawn was important, and she certainly hadn't sounded like she wanted anyone else to know about it. She had made sure The Dragon hadn't even noticed her message, had thought that she was just bidding him goodnight before he had left the two of them alone.
"Oh good, you've come," Spears said with relief when the bard reached her. Her face looked pinched and anxious, and the bard wondered what was wrong, how he could help.
"Spears?" he asked, about to ask what was wrong, what was so important, but he was distracted by her peering past him. He turned to look behind him, turning back to Spears with a confused expression when he saw nothing. "What?"
"The Dragon didn't come with you?" she asked, seeming somewhat surprised. The bard supposed that was natural enough; he had spent most of his time on Musaklys Isle with the two of them together, practically every moment they hadn't been retired or the two Phelk hadn't been in a meeting with the Elders.
"No, he's still asleep. We were up rather late, talking," he answered.
"Again?" Spears asked with surprise. "Isn't that what you did the night before?" she asked with a frown.
"Yes, well, that was my turn, complaining about how difficult knowing things but not myself is. Last night was The Dragon's turn to talk, to vent some of his concerns to me. He's never really had anyone to talk to before, not in private confidence. As The Dragon, he gets his own hut, but I think that's more of a drawback than a benefit, and I think he agrees," the bard explained.
"I know he hasn't. And I agree with you both," Spears answered, then bit at her lower lip, mentally struggling with a decision before forcing herself to continue. "And now I need to tell you something, Bard, because I can't keep quiet any longer. And I'm not supposed to tell you, but I don't care, because it's not fair, none of it! But you have to promise me you won't tell anyone else, that you won't spend the day trying to make a tragic song of it or anything..." She broke off, her eyes watering, then turned furiously and snatched a rock up off the ground, hurling it out of the trees and all the way into the sea with her furious strength as the tears rolled down her face.
"Spears, what is it?" the bard asked, his concern climbing into alarm. "I promise, I won't tell anyone if you don't want me to, but please, tell me!" he insisted desperately, anxious to help, to repay the Phelk who had saved his life in whatever fashion he could.
"It's me," she said quietly, sniffling, suddenly seeming smaller than she ever had before. Spears was normally so full of life, vibrant and forceful, powerful in her own unique way, that seeing her look so diminished was startling. "I'm the reason you and the priest can't remember yourselves. Because I'm the Consort, and Wade's The Dragon." She looked up to meet his eyes with her own streaming tears but wide in alarm, regardless.
"I. . .I didn't mean—" Spears cut herself off with a choked laugh that had nothing to do with amusement. "–I didn't mean to tell you his name. Here I am intentionally revealing secrets of my people to you, secrets that my Elders have stressed upon me to keep from you, and I accidentally reveal a secret that a friend expected me to keep, instead!" She choked out a bitter sob, lowering head in shame and turning away from the bard.
"Spears, it's alright," the bard said gently, softly grasping her shoulder and turning her back around to face him. "I already knew Wade's name; he told me the night before last. Everyone knows it; he just doesn't allow anyone to say it. That's no big deal," he told her with an understanding smile.
"Well of course that's not the important part!" she exclaimed urgently, desperately, throwing her hands up into the air in frustration. "Your memories are, you and the priest—–"
Spears was silenced by the tips of the bard's fingers softly pressing against her mouth.
"You don't have to say," he told her softly. "Just what you did, how it works," he continued gently, giving her a small smile. "I already know; I found out from Wade."
His smile spread into a grin at the look of surprised shock Spears gave him.
"That's what he spent last night telling me. That it's unfair he finally got the friend he never had and always wanted, that Evergreen found his soulmate, and we're going to forget tomorrow at noon."
Spears mouth worked a few times, but she couldn't force any words out.
"I'm concerned for the priest and Evergreen, Evergreen especially, but I can't be too upset about it," the bard explained, cupping Spears' chin with his large, gentle hand to stop her shocked mouth's movements. "After all, I feel badly that The Dragon is losing his friend, but he'd be losing me either way, right? The two of you are Departing and can't return, so he'd never see me again, whether I remember you two or not. I don't exactly what's going to happen, how the priest will feel about Evergreen when he meets him for the first time with his memories intact, or how I'll feel stuck on a strange island of naked people and unable to go home, but I'm confident it will work out for the best. We'll certainly go on, regardless."
"But. . .how can you say that?" Spears demanded, closing her eyes and shaking her head as she tried to force herself to understand. "How can you possibly be so accepting of that, so confident?" she asked, honestly perplexed. Did the idea of losing his memory a second time not bother him when he had barely a week to lose? Was the confidence in knowing he would gain his original self back?
The bard shrugged in response, as if he couldn't see any other way to respond to the situation.
"Well, it's always been this way, right? That people forget, anyone who's not Phelk? That's what Wade said, what Elder Wa'ter told him. If it's the gods' magic that makes that happen and it's always been that way, then who are we to question? The gods must want it to be that way," he said, nodding because it made perfect sense to him. The bard cocked his head as he met Spears' eyes, wondering if she could see his perspective. "Shouldn't that be good enough for us? And the priest is, well, a priest. So he should certainly understand, once he gets his memory back. Maybe we should tell Evergreen to ask the priest to explain it to him when they meet again. Except I guess the whole point is that he and I won't know about you and The Dragon, so maybe he's not allowed to ask."
The bard frowned as he considered the logistics of that.
"Except, if that's how it is, the Elders would have to tell Evergreen that, make sure that he knows he can't reveal The Dragon and Consort to the humans, explain that that's why the gods are changing our memories at all."
"I knew it!" Spears moaned, heartbroken for Evergreen all over again. "Evergreen was upset last night, and the priest was only making him more so! Elder A'Net was talking to Evergreen before the evening meal; that must be what she told him, that the priest will forget him and he's not allowed to bring us into his explanation!" she snarled, tears of frustrated anger rolling down her face once more.
Spears turned away from the bard and dashed out of the trees, sprinting for the beach with all the speed of her swimming-strengthened legs and diving into the water long before the bard could catch up with her. She swam out into the waves, disappearing beneath them before the bard had even reached the shoreline.
Fearful for Spears' state of mind, the bard paused, wondering what he should do. After just a moment, he turned and sprinted back to the village, intending to wake Wade and send him after her, hoping The Dragon would know where his Consort might swim to in her distress. Or maybe they had some divine link through the gods' magic and he would be able to find her anyway. It would be nice if some good came from their silly interference. What did it matter if humans knew the Phelk named two of their youths The Dragon and his Consort and sent them out into the world, anyway? Sighing in frustration, the bard ran back to the hut he was sharing with Wade, sweat streaming from his naked body even though the sun was barely risen.
Sitting atop his outcrop of rock just a short distance down the beach, the priest frowned as he squinted into the newly-risen sun.
The sun goddess was the Brightmother, the patron goddess of humanity and ruler of the Council of the Heavens. As the goddess of the sun and sky, of how its warmth caused the air of the planet to move, she was also the goddess of the weather.
She was also the goddess of revelation; the dawn winds had carried every word of Spears and the bard's conversation to her priest's ears.
The priest entered Moris and Evergreen's hut, thankful that Moris was still absent and Evergreen was just rising. He was fairly sure Moris was staying with Goslin, but that was unimportant.
"Good Morning," the priest told Evergreen politely as he entered. He tried to force warmth into his voice, but he couldn't quite manage it. He did not want to make things worse, but he was too unsure of where they actually stood. For his part, Evergreen froze in surprise when he heard the priest's voice, having expected to stay out in the early-morning sun, as was his custom. He then looked guilty for freezing up, which only made things worse, which made him feel more guilty...
The priest smiled sadly, taking pity on the poor young Phelk man. It wasn't as if any of the situation was his fault, after all. Perhaps they should be praying to the goddess of love, instead. Evergreen could certainly call her by her Phelk name, even if the priest could not currently remember her human one.
"You said last night that we would talk," the priest told Evergreen gently, coming over to sit beside him on the bed, but not putting a comforting arm across the Phelk youth's shoulders. The priest had a feeling the gesture would not be comforting at all, even if he intended it to be.
"But we didn't, not really," he went on, still gently. He did not want Evergreen to think he was being accusing. "You only said you were warn out from the day, and as true as I know that was, I also know when I'm being lied to, Evergreen. Even if I can't remember how I know that."
Evergreen turned to face the priest, his dark green eyes wide.
"Please, Evergreen, please tell me. Whatever it is. My goddess spoke to me; I think I already know, but I need you to tell me. Please, I know you love me; you proved that so sweetly last night, without words. I love you, too, even if I hardly know anyone else. It's not because you rescued me or have cared for me this past week. I love you because you love me. Do you think that will change with Departure?" the priest asked, his pale green eyes tense with concern.
Evergreen threw himself across the space between them, wrapping his muscular arms around the priest's back and clenching them tight, burying his face in the priest's neck and chest.
"But you're going to forget me!" Evergreen cried, tears of anguish, sorrow, and frustration making his voice rough. "I know you love me now, but what about the real you, who will return when The Dragon and Consort Depart? Who has never met me? What reason will he have to fall in love with me, as you did? You're not a priest, you don't even know your goddess' name, much less any of her human faith, but he is! Are not human priests celibate? The sailors deride them for it; we've swum up to their ships and eavesdropped at night!" Evergreen swallowed harshly, forcing the lump in his throat down so he could continuing barking out his pained words.
"And even if those sailors, or pirates, are crass and unreliable, how could the real you love me? You're too handsome, too wonderful a person, you must have a love back wherever your home is..."
Evergreen bit back a choked cry and leapt from the bed, turning his back on both it and the priest, taking a step away as his frame quaked with the force of the anguish he was holding back.
The priest rose and stepped forward, placing a calm, reassuring hand on the back of Evergreen's shoulder.
"And how do you know you'll still love me, the real me?" he asked softly. Evergreen took a deep, shaky breath and slowly released it, shakier still, before turning his head just enough to meet the priest's concerned gaze with one eye. "Do you think you'll still love me, when I remember me?"
"Of course I will!" Evergreen insisted back, forcing his voice through his sealing throat.
"Then I will still love you," the priest answered, his own voice just a whisper as he turned Evergreen around to face him. "I told you, I love you because you love me. If your love does not change, neither will mine. I'll just have to rediscover that fact," he finished, sliding his arms behind and across Evergreen's back, pulling him close and kissing him softly, gently. "Have faith. I worship the goddess of revelation, and she showed this much to me. I doubt it will be any great effort for her to reveal to my former self that I already love you. And I'll be able to see it in your eyes that you already love me. Can you have faith in that? In me?" the priest asked gently, raising Evergreen's chin with one finger so that he would meet his eyes as he answered.
"Yes," Evergreen said with confidence, then kissed the priest again, proving he meant it.
The day passed quickly, the priest going to meet the kelp harvesters and explaining that Evergreen did not feel well, that he had been upset by the attention he did not feel he deserved the night before and hardly slept at all. The elder Phelk captaining the day's detail nodded in understanding and asked the priest to let Elder A'net know; she would decide who to send to take Evergreen's place. The priest agreed and hurried to report to the Elders before the last lingerers after the morning fast-break finally left the dining area for their responsibilities or free day and the Elders went on to Elder Wa'ter's home and the day's meetings.
Elder 'Valon was wringing his hands and fretting over the fact that The Dragon and Consort were missing, but Elder A'net merely smiled inscrutably and reassured him it was fine. The priest delivered his message, and Elder A'net nodded, flashing him a wink when Elder 'Valon turned away to pace the other direction in his fretting.
The priest blushed and returned to Evergreen's hut.
The Dragon and Spears returned just in time for the evening meal, as Elder A'net had said they would. They ate quietly, apart from the other younger Phelk and the bard, but the priest quietly made his way over to them as the dining continued. It was a quiet meal, the last evening meal before Departure, and most Phelk were not speaking of it, especially since The Dragon and Consort had not been seen all day. This caused Spears to jump in surprise when the priest suddenly crouched down behind where she and The Dragon were seated, Wade's eyebrows also rising in surprise. Neither of them had heard the priest approach, even though the meal was quiet. . .he was as skilled at stealth as he was at combat.
"I may not remember her worship, but my goddess still moves me," he said quietly, conversationally. The Dragon and Consort exchanged a confused glance. "She is the goddess of revelation, and her winds carried the words of the bard's and your conversation to me," he went on, nodding reassuringly when Spears gasped softly. "Evergreen did indeed know, and we discussed it. The bard was right, our memories come and go at the gods' will, but it was my goddess' will that I become aware of this. I am at peace with it, and Evergreen is also. All will be well; please prepare yourselves properly tonight and do your duties to the best of your ability tomorrow. I will be honored to witness your Departure, even if I immediately forget it."
Giving them both a nod of respect and placing a warm hand on each of their shoulders as he rose, the priest went back to the table he was sharing with the bard, Evergreen, and some of his peers. Spears watched him go and retake his seat, smiling in relief when Evergreen met her eyes and gave her a tiny smile and a nod. She shifted her gaze and met the bard's eyes watching her; she gave him a nod and waved him over to The Dragon's and her table, wanting to apologize for her scene that morning.
The night ended well, and everyone on Musaklys Isle went to bed and sleep peacefully and content.
The day of The Dragon and Consort's Departure dawned brilliant and clear, all of Musaklys Isle rising well before the morning fast-break. Voices were as bright as the day and anticipation rising, excited chatter flowing amongst all the Phelk throughout the morning meal and all morning long until noon drew near.
As the sun approached its zenith, the Phelk gathered on the beach with their backs to the shore, facing the village. The priest stood hand-in-hand with Evergreen, wearing absolutely nothing at all, and Evergreen wore the priest's holy symbol around his neck. Evergreen was grinning, knowing the priest's plan was a good one.
During their discussions the day before, the priest had pointed out that he had not worn a shirt in over a week, but he had never removed his holy symbol. Though it did sometimes move, he often basked in the sun, lying motionless as he absorbed its rays, and his chest had tanned to a deep bronze, with a pale outline of the holy symbol over his heart. When his memories returned, he would be holding hands with a fine young Phelk man who had love in his eyes and was wearing the symbol of the priest's office. The priest would be naked, as was everyone else, but he would have only to look down (which he would most likely do upon realizing he was naked, or at least to check if he in fact was since everyone else was) to see that he had obviously been there and at least shirtless if not naked for some time, meaning he knew the young Phelk wearing his medallion, even if he didn't remember him.
Evergreen had been thrilled with the priest's plan, with how clearly he had stated it, making it obvious how his thought processes operated and that they would do so the same way when his memories returned. Evergreen was ever so urgently desiring to ask the priest what his name was, and learning what his favorite color was, where he was from, what he truly knew about religion and combat and where he had learned those things. . .he already loved the priest, but he was delighted with the idea of getting to know him.
As the sun was only moments away from high noon, Elder Wa'ter took his place before the shoreline.
Elder 'Valon approached from one side of the village, The Dragon following a pace behind him. The Dragon was wearing a headpiece made of lizard skins, that had horns attached to the reptile-leather strap across The Dragon's forehead, giving him the appearance of having horns himself. The rest of the headdress was fluttering strips of sparkling, scaled skin, glittering in the sunlight as the breeze coming from the ocean blew across it. The Dragon had elaborate symbols painted on his body, tracing his musculature and giving the appearance of both sinuous runes, living fire, and scales.
They took their places in front of Elder Wa'ter on his right side, and the crowd of Phelk turned back to face the village, their buzz of excitement swiftly silencing.
Music began playing, the resonant tones of Elder A'net's cello producing a melody that was both somber and joyous. As she stepped into sight, moving towards the other Elders and the Dragon at a stately pace, a simple, happier tune was heard, being plucked on short strings. The bard danced into view, playing the few notes of the vibrantly happy tune over and over on his lyre. Elder A'net had obviously taught him the tune, but he played it skillfully, intuitively understanding the rhythm and how it flowed in harmonious counterpoint to the deeper melody of her cello. The bard twirled as he danced and played, proudly shimmying his hips. He wore a curious belt with a basket at each hipbone; the baskets were filled with brightly-coloured and fragrant flower petals, which fell in a sprinkling path behind Elder A'net as they approached.
Just as the crowd realized the bard was spreading flower petals as well as playing music, The Dragon's Consort stepped into view and followed in Elder A'net's wake.
The priest gasped soundlessly; Spears was wearing what could only be described as a body-length veil, a shimmering, gossamer piece of fabric that he suspected might have been made of spider's silk. There were more gorgeous, tiny flowers braided into pseudo-jewelry all over her body, bracelets and anklets and rings and a necklace and a headband of brilliant color contrasting the shimmering white draped over her form. The priest had gasped because he had suddenly realized The Dragon and Spears' Departure was in fact their wedding. He supposed they might swim out to sea for their "honeymoon", the Phelk not needing boats, but it would seem a shame to destroy their elaborate costumes.
"Good Phelk, and our human guests, we are gathered here today for the most joyous occasion of the current generation's Dragon and Consort's Departure!" Elder Wa'ter announced, and all the Phelk of Musaklys Isle watching cheered. Spears was grinning broadly and tears were dampening the sheer silk over her face, and even The Dragon's eyes were wet. He would be leaving in moments, never to see his people again, but he and his Consort would venture out into the world, seeing its people and finding a new home, a new Isle for Phelk to live on.
"My children, you have worked long and hard and proven yourselves to be worthy of this honor, from both a young age and in recent days," Elder Wa'ter continued, smiling at first Spears and then The Dragon. "Are you ready, to leave your people, to start anew and carry the Phelk to a new land?"
"We are, Sir," The Dragon answered respectfully and confidently, taking Spears' hand as he said it. She merely nodded, fervently but not unbecomingly quickly, unable to speak.
"Then Depart!" Elder Wa'ter declared, and the Phelk cheered wildly.
Justin gasped and Lansten's jaw dropped as Wade threw his head back and raised his arms, Spears' hand still clasped in his. The headdress melded with his skin and the symbols on his nude body coming to life, writhing and flowing over him, transforming him into a literal dragon. He grew in size as the wings sprang from his back, one tremendous and muscular arm depositing his Consort on his back, her legs over his shoulders and straddling his serpentine neck. Spears screamed for joy as The Dragon flapped his wings once in a powerful downstroke as he sprang into the air, the repeated motion of his wings carrying them up into the sky and away from Musaklys Isle.
The Phelk were going mad for joy, all jumping and cheering and hugging one another left and right, all except Evergreen. He turned to face the man he knew as the priest, a question in his loving eyes.
"My name is Lansten," the priest told Evergreen, his smile widening into a grin of joy as Evergreen gasped in surprise at the knowing look in Lansten's. "I am a follower of the goddess you Phelk call Nessa, the Brightmother, Ruler of the Heavenly Council, and goddess of the sun, humanity, and Revelation." Lansten's grin grew wider. "She has revealed the truth of my lost memories to me, and to Justin the gypsy bard as well, I believe. And I Love You," he finished, pulling Evergreen close and kissing him with all his heart.