Change of Feathers
It was over. The blood pact was broken, the Goddess Ashera subdued and her 'medusa'(1) spell broken. Tibarn had found out why Naesala had betrayed them and -upon realizing the curse of the blood pact- had forgiven him. Not long after, both Kings had issued the declaration of unity between the bird tribes and the renewal of their alliance.
By then, the wolf Queen, Nailah, had joined the Laguz alliance alongside the hesitant Dragon Tribe. Soon after, the leaders of the Beorc countries began to estipulate laws for the Laguz to be treated as equals; the first step having been the abolition of Laguz slavery. Sanaki, Micaiah and Elincia had warned their people that sale, trade and the hunting of Laguz would be punishable by death. If everything proceeded as hoped, Beorc and Laguz were soon to become equal in all terms.
Yet, though these rules signified the desire to live in peace, the change was not embraced by all. Discontent raised in both races. Sanaki, foreseeing it, took it upon herself to set the example of how even royalty would abide by the law. So once order had been restored to Begnion, she called the three remaining members of the Heron Clan and, in front of all the court, asked their forgiveness. Furthermore, as a sign of good will, she declared that the Serenes Forest would be theirs again.
So it was that it came to happen.
Rafiel returned to the forest and sang to awaken his father whose eyes welled with tears at realizing that only four Herons -albeit happy that they were his children- were left. Tibarn, unwilling to leave Reyson but knowing the Heron prince wished to return to his forest, had been the one to suggest that which changed the King of Kilva's life forever.
Tibarn wanted the bird tribes to merge and forget their differences. This was, they all knew, the only way to live, forgive and evolve. "Birds can change their feathers," he had said when hesitation had assaulted the eyes of those around him. To him, it was time for the birds to stand together through love and the breaking of taboos. Not to mention, that the only way to keep the Herons from extinction was to make it easy for them to mate with other birds.
Truth be told, unifying the tribes was a good idea and because of that fact, Naesala had no way of dismissing it as unconceivable. How could he? His dearest friend, Reyson, was thrilled with the suggestion and so was his father, brother and the lovely Leanne.
It had been a shock to his tribe to learn they would all be living in the Serenes Forest under the rule and leadership of Tibarn, the first King of the newly created bird tribe. Naesala's agreement to this had quelled any doubts they'd harbored and had made them accept the change without much choice. And how could Naesala do any different? How could he asked to be consider for the throne when he had been so easily deceived into signing a pact that almost wiped the Hawk Tribe and endangered his own people? He couldn't.
Naesala had left the tribe in search for redemption by way of helping break Laguz and Beorc disputes. Though he stayed, for the most part, away from the bird tribe, he got a full report once or twice a week from Nealuchi, who –to his surprise- still acted as escort and bodyguard of the Heron Princess.
It was thanks to the old crow that Naesala often got more detailed reports about what she was doing, what she talked about, what she liked and disliked, among other things. Naesala tried to keep things official and almost casual, but Nealuchi had soon noticed how eagerly he waited for any news of her.
And here is where our short story begins…
Naesala flew close to the ground when his house came into view. It was barely dawn and he was already tired. Today had been long and fruitful. He'd managed -with his charms alone- to break a fight between a Laguz settlement and a Begnion village before it had escalated into full out war. Sanaki had rewarded him with a considerable sum of money which, he was sure, would have lasted him a while if he'd not bought an expensive ring he saw in the market on his way out of the capital. What had caused him the urge to buy the ring eluded him even now…
Naesala landed gracefully in front of the entrance to his house. The place was by no means grander than was his castle in Kilvas, but it was cozy and isolated enough to bring comfort to his solitary soul. Here, he could reflect about what he'd done and could, at times, even ponder about the future.
"Home, sweet home," he murmured, opening the door which he rarely took the trouble to lock. He threw his things atop the kitchen table and moved towards the sink. He washed his hands, filled a glass with water and drained it in two gulps. He noticed a flutter of movement through the corner of his eyes. He was not alone. Whoever the intruder was, Naesala had the impression that he or she embraced no ill intentions.
"I know you're here," he stated casually.
He heard the hesitant steps of someone moving from behind the door that led to his room. Naesala turned around and almost dropped the glass. From all the people, she was the least expected!
"Leanne? What are you doing here?" he asked, surveying the house in search for her guard, "Is Nealuchi with you? Where is he?"
Leanne seemed to hesitate between smiling and lowering her gaze in shame. She settled for a sheepish smile, "He is not… here. I… 'escape' him?"
Naesala frowned, "You mean you snuck up on him?"
Leanne nodded and, for a second, Naesala felt the urge to congratulate her. Even if Nealuchi was old, he had by no means lost his skills and to have been able to escape his gaze was a deed to be applauded. Yet, his protectiveness kicked in, reminding him of the risk she'd taken.
"Leanne, you shouldn't have done that! Do you know the number of people who would love to get their hands on the last female Heron?" he stepped forward; worry etched in every line of his face. "What if something had happened to you? How would you think I- everyone would feel?"
Leanne's eyes moved from his intense gaze to her hands, "I… I wanted to see you… I miss you, Naesala."
It was as though someone had punched him square in the face. That's how surprised he felt! She wanted to see him? Him, the one who had single handedly almost annihilated the bird tribes? Naesala knew he did not deserve such caring, but he could not help the tender smile that split his face in half.
"How did you know I lived here?" he asked, aware that none, except for Nealuchi and himself, knew of this location.
"I follow Nealuchi," she explained, fingers twirling a lock of her hair nervously.
Naesala smiled with pride. Who would have thought the innocent and sweet Heron Princess could be as sneaky as the shabbiest crow.
"We must take you back to the tribe," he said, gathering his bag, "I'm sure Nealuchi, Reyson and Tibarn will soon discover you're missing and they'll go crazy."
"You… you want me to go? You do not… want to be… with me?" she asked haltingly, tears forming in her eyes.
Naesala had not seen this coming. If someone had warned him of this he would never have thought it even remotely possible. Did the white Princess really enjoy his company? Had she come all this way because she truly missed him?
"I-I didn't meant it like that, Leanne," he assured, moving closer to her but still leaving proper distance between them, afraid that if he were to move closer she would sense what he concealed within his heart.
"You never come," she whined, closing the gap that separated them and giving him one of those puppy eye looks which he could never resist, "I… want see you… Naesala I miss you… very much."
He smiled charmingly –or so he hoped. But he doubted his smile wasn't boyishly silly! His heart skipped a beat when she graced him with a radiant smile of her own. He had to fight the overwhelming urge to take her in his arms and kiss her.
"You want to hang out, then?" he asked, receiving an eager nod of confirmation. "Okay. Where would you like to go, Princess? I'm at your command."
Leanne's eyes sparkled with happiness. "I want… to show you something," she admitted, struggling for the right words of a language she was still trying to learn. "You follow me, okay?"
Naesala signaled her to go first and followed close once they were on the air.
"Where are you taking me?"
"A… special place," she answered cryptically, taking his hand and dragging him through the darkening sky. They were going to a place inside the Serenes Forest, but in a part where he had never been.
"Where are we?" he asked when they landed in a small clearing where a square-like rock protruded out of the ground with a flower bed lying atop its surface. Around them floated brilliant fireflies, creating the illusion of standing in an ocean of twinkling stars.
Leanne pulled him towards the rock and, letting go of his hand -a thing Naesala quickly missed- she laid down on the flower bed and closed her eyes; her hands resting on her stomach as the full moon bathed her in a mystic, purplish light.
"What are you doing?" he asked, towering her with a curious smile on his handsome face.
"Elincia… said me a… story of a… girl who sleep for many years…" she answered without opening her eyes, "just like me…"
Understanding flashed through Naesala's eyes. Indeed, Leanne had slept for many years on this same rock just after her clan was massacred. But what was the purpose of showing him this? A story she had heard…
Naesala retreated to his thought. Nealuchi had once told him of a story that had interested Leanne. It was, if he remembered correctly, a tale that was told to Beorc children just before they went to sleep. But, what was it called? The sleeping something… He opened his eyes and found Leanne lying there, her lips partly opened and… she looked so… so beautiful…
"Sleeping beauty," he mumbled, remembering Nealuchi's words.
Her lips twitched slightly, her breath ghosting past her lips, creating a puffy cloud as the night became colder. Naesala's heartbeat accelerated, propagating a tingling sensation down to his toes. What did Leanne want him to do with this information? He sighed, massaged the back of his neck, bit his lower lip and, though he tried not to, focused back on her lovely face.
His eyes moved towards her lips which were still parted almost as if… in invitation? Naesala cursed inside his mind. He could take it no more! The temptation was too much and, against all reason, his emotions expanded and spilled out of his heart.
Gods, he wanted her! -No, not even that… he 'needed' her!
With reason overthrown, he leaned towards her and -without further hesitation… without thinking about the consequences or the reality he would later have to face- he pressed his lips to hers. What had begun as a feather-like kiss, soon turned into a kiss of passion which deepened when her reaction to his touch led her to pull him towards her.
It was the most strange and yet amazing thing he had ever experienced. He felt a storm of passion -which before this he had been able to keep at bay- exploding inside him with uncontrollable force. For a moment nothing existed saved for her and them together. The kiss ended and they finally broken apart. He hated his need to breathe. He smiled dreamily down at her beautiful face. Leanne was blushing madly, a grin marked the fact that she was just as satisfied.
Naesala's smile widened even more when he saw her emerald eyes switching from his eyes to his lips again and again. Playfully, he raised a perfect eyebrow and tilted his head slightly in question.
Leanne's blush intensified, "I… like your lips," she said, grabbing the collar of his jerkin. She pulled him down so that she could kiss him again. Naesala allowed himself to be handled any way she wished, and answered her kiss in kind.
When they parted, she asked, "What… you like… about me?"
Naesala flashed his killer smile, "May I kiss that which I like the most?"
Her blush deepened and, unable to deny him anything, she agreed with a sharp nod. Naesala dipped his head but directed his lips to the spot in her neck right below her ear. She giggled as she felt his lips brushing her sensitive skin and moving, with feather movements, towards her the crook of her shoulder.
Then… madness. That was what had followed. Sweet madness. Their desire for each other had evidently been concealed for too long. So that now that they been given the opportunity to act on their desire, they'd wasted no time. It had been a beautiful experience, one which Naesala would never forget. His lips had explored every part of the Princess' body minutely, always careful to keep his touch gentle and slow.
It was only when it was over and they laid side by side, with Naesala's cape acting as a blanket, that he began to think about the strangeness of it all. How odd that Leanne would have chosen him above all! Naesala knew about all of Leanne's marriage proposals, thanks to Nealuchi's reports. Of course, her father was eager to find her a suitable husband considering she was the only female Heron left -and a Princess at that! When Nealuchi had first breached this issue, Naesala had feared Leanne would pick someone from the Hawk tribe… that someone being Tibarn.
Oh, but what a sweet surprise to find that, from all of them, she had chosen his black soul. The same soul that, after all this time, still searched for redemption. They were opposites, him and her. Black and white. She was a ray of the sun while he was a shadow of the moon. She was the breath of life while he was the keeper of death. She would fly through the skies following the laughs of life, he would fly through the skies following the screams of war… Yet, how well they fit together!
She completed him. She was that missing part of his life. She was his purpose for living… and perhaps it was in her he would find his atonement and ultimately his happiness.
As if to mock him, his mind wheeled onto less exciting matters such as how would he ever explain all this to the Hawk King and her Heron family… He was quite sure he was not her father's ideal choice for marrying her. And he doubted that Tibarn would even vouch for him in that specific department (or in any at all)…
Of course, he could always argue that it had been Tibarn who had suggested that the bird tribe unite. It had been him who had stated they should all 'evolve'; that the difference between their races be ignored and erased. Hadn't he said they should change their feathers?
Leanne turned to him and must have noticed his frown because she rolled over so that she was on top of him; her hands resting on his chest. Automatically, his arms closed around her waist; his fingers just above buttocks. This pleasant surprise snapped Naesala from his worrisome thoughts.
"What… were you… thinking?" she asked, her gaze so intense he knew she would know if he lied.
He flashed a smile, "I was thinking of how best I should… explain this to Reyson and your father."
Leanne pouted, "Why you… thinking about brother and father… when you must think about me?"
Naesala laughed at this. Gods, she was right!
"What… is funny?" she asked slapping him playfully on the chest.
"For you, Leanne," he tightened his embrace, "I will gladly change my feathers."
She frowned, "I don't… want you change your… feathers! What… you mean, Naesala?"
His eyes became tender and he pulled his bag close, searching for something inside it. He took out the ring he had bought on the market that very day, and unceremoniously slipped it on her finger.
"It means I love you," he whispered.
She smiled, kissed him again and said almost in echo, "I love you… I loved you since… a long time…"
Leanne smiled inwardly. If not for Nealuchi, who'd turned a blind eye to her following him to Naesala's house and to her subsequent sneaking out, she would have never 'pushed' the dark youth into action… And oh, she knew now that she would forever be happy…