"Are you sure this will work out, Eve?" Airyn Cisela looked up at his older brother, baby blue eyes wavering in nervousness.
Evander smoothed a loose strand of Airyn's long black hair into place and smiled warmly. "Don't worry, Air. Pandala wouldn't make you marry a man who wasn't suitable for you."
Airyn made a weak attempt to smile back at his brother, but he knew it wasn't convincing. Evander's words did little to soothe his fears over his impending marriage. He knew, logically, that the High Goddess would have chosen wisely for him. Indeed, he was extremely fortunate to be one of the lucky few who could say their marriage had been arranged by the Goddess herself. Even so, he had doubts about his compatibility with the stranger chosen to marry him. Airyn knew little of the other man beyond his name and profession. Laers Ghelan, Blademaster from the Sakano village of Khyden in the Eastern Hills. Anything more the priests had been unable to tell him; they didn't know the man either. All of the specifics of the marriage had been planned by the Goddess and relayed to both villages through her priests.
Airyn turned away from his brother, his smile fading completely as his thoughts took a darker turn. What if his future husband turned out to be violent, the kind of man that hit before he thought? Or would he think Airyn inferior because of his status as faradhim, a man who turned away from the warrior lifestyle to live as a woman. The guilt could also lie in Airyn himself. What if he wasn't aesthetically pleasing to Sir Ghelan? What if he couldn't fall in love with this strange man? What if his own personality didn't mesh with that of his chosen husband? Doubts and questions bounced through his head in tremendous quantity.
Airyn turned his head slightly backwards as Evander wrapped his arms around him from behind and nuzzled his shoulder lightly. He was reminded of the many times Evander had done similar actions when they were children. It seemed to him that Evander was always the one comforting and soothing him. He had always been the weaker of the two, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Airyn marveled that after living together for over seventeen years, they still looked remarkably similar. Their faces were nearly identical, round frame offset by twinkling blue orbs and jet black hair. While Airyn's own hair fell well past the middle of his back, Evander's was cut within an inch or two of the roots. Older by over two years, Evander was the brawns and brashness that offset Airyn's subdued slenderness. Their roles in the family had been defined long before Airyn had decided to become faradhim and join the village women in their work. Evander was Airyn's assigned guardian, a warrior trained to defend his weaker brother. But Airyn wouldn't have his brother to rely on much longer. Shortly after the wedding was over he and his husband would begin the five day ride back to their new home in Khyden. Airyn didn't know when he would be able to visit Evander afterwards, or if his husband would let him visit. A shiver ran through his body and he turned in his brother's embrace to cling to Evander's chest as he considered the possibility that his husband would never let him see Eve again.
Airyn couldn't hide his fear from his brother. "Trust in the Goddess. Everything will work out." The words were whispered quietly in his ear, though spoken loud enough that he couldn't help but catch them. Airyn's own response was whispered in a similar volume, his voice wavering on the words.
Evander squeezed him in a light hug and tilted Airyn's head up to face him. "Pandala would not have demanded for you to marry an inferior man. She knows you needs better than you do yourself, even those you keep locked away in the deepest part of your heart and have never given breath to. Besides, you know from Heyla and Darin that the couples She arranges can't help but be happy with each other."
Airyn sighed and nodded his agreement. His brother's words were a comfort, but Airyn suspected nothing his brother could say would fully remove the fearful doubt that lay in his heart. He simply had to have faith in the Goddess. She would see that everything worked out alright. Airyn had the fortune to be doubly blessed with the Goddess' favor, once as a faradhim protected by Her mercy and again as shev'ardra, one graced with Her intercession in arranging his marriage the man that would be his perfect mate. Evander's words were true, those who married by the Goddess' will always found happiness with their mate. Their neighbors Heyla and Darin Park were prime examples of that. Wedded nearly three years ago as two of the first shev'ardra, they still had the air of newlyweds about them.
The bells outside rang high noon and Airyn felt his stomach twist with their chimes. Before the last bell's chime had fully faded the priests were knocking politely on the door. Airyn followed his brother into the hallway, and they followed the priests down the short hallway to the temple proper. He gave his fringed dress a few last tugs to make sure it was settled in place. Evander took his left arm as they reached the sunlit opening that marked the entrance to where the ceremony would be held. In two short steps they were around the corner and moving into the sunlit grotto that was the temple's inner sanctum, nervous butterflies fluttering in his stomach as he walked.
Sunlight streamed down onto the wedding guests from a sparsely clouded blue sky. The few trees lining the outer rim of the grotto were filled with colorful birds, their voices crying out in a wondrous song for the holy Lady in their presence. Airyn's eyes were drawn immediately to the High Goddess Pandala, her shining figure the center of the grotto's luscious greenery. The small party escorting him bowed respectfully at the same time as he executed his own graceful curtsy. The Lady smiled at him and nodded, giving the signal for Airyn and Evander to proceed along the aisle between the seated guests. Flower petals were scattered across the grassy path they softly tred and small bouquets of wildflowers were fastened to the end of each stone bench on which the guests sat.
Airyn's eyes were drawn magnetically to the man standing to the Goddess' left. Laers Ghelan was tall and handsome, his partially bare chest showing a muscled physique that still maintained a sense of litheness. He was not a large man, though he was considerably thicker in limb than Airyn himself. Dressed in a brown hide vest and a pair of similar trousers, the man looked ready to step into a hunting party. Fringe fell from the edges of his vest and down the outer side seam of his pants. Waist and ankles were similarly fringed, with hints of black embroidery creating an animalistic pattern on his clothing. Short red hair fell loosely around his ears, his hazel eyes watching Airyn the instant he entered the room.
Laers seemed to take in Airyn's appearance in the same way that the body takes in air, inhaling the image of Airyn's close-cut white dress in one long breath. The dress was handed down from his mother, altered slightly to fit his more masculine frame. The sleeveless dress was cut with a moderately low neckline, clinging tightly to his chest and hips before flaring out in a skirt that fell to a few inches above his knees. Double layers of fringe hung from every edge, two lines of it circling his waist and down his sides. His black hair was entwined with colorful bird feathers of all the shades of the rainbow. A string of blue gems borrowed from his mother hung from his neck, sparkling the Goddess' colors into the sunlight.
The other man, his soon-to-be husband seemed aware of the equal scrutiny and smiled gently as Airyn approached the Goddess. Airyn found himself smiling back sincerely, the look on Laers' face enough to dispel his worries over the compatibility of their match. He was barely aware of Evander handing him off to his future husband. The absence of his brother's presence was engulfed by the sudden warmth of Laers holding on to his right arm, their eye contact remaining unbroken still.
A small cough from the Lady before him brought his eyes forward. A small blush creeping across his face at the realization of how sappy they must look to the wedding guests, staring into each other's eyes like a pair of lovesick puppies. With a slight nod the High Goddess began to speak the words of the wedding ceremony. Her voice was soft and kind, nearly human except for the musical lilt that softly echoed her words.
"I have gathered you, My children, to this holy place consecrated in My name to honor the two children who stand before me. Laers Ghelan and Airyn Cisela have been Chosen by My grace to be wedded through the custom of shev'ardra. Laers Ghelan, child of My body and heart, what do you bring as offering to this union?"
Airyn answered in accordance with the ritual, voice steady as he repeated the words he had heard from the priests and knew to be true in the presence of the other man. "He is a Sakano Blademaster, fighter of the highest degree. He has fought bravely to protect the lands under Your control and protected Your children from the invading forces from Hyden three years ago. He is a strong and noble warrior who will protect me when needed and cherish me more than all else in this lifetime."
The Goddess nodded her approval before continuing the ceremony. "Airyn Cisela, child of My body and heart, what do you bring as offering to this union?"
Laers' voice was full of kindness as he spoke, the sound of it making Airyn's body warm with delight. "He is a faradhim by Your grace, protected from harm by an oath of non-violence. He has served You well through his oath to You, applying his heart to whatever task You set before him. His strength is of a quieter kind, that of the heart and soul. He is loyal and honest, fair and true. His loving presence will warm me to the end of my days as an equal partner in this lifetime."
Pandala nodded once more before gathering their free hands in each of Her own. She clasped their hands together and they turned to face each other for the culmination of the ceremony.
"I deem thy offerings sufficient proof of your worthiness for each other. From this day forth none shall call into question the bond you two share with each other. Let those gathered here bear witness as you seal the promise of love between yourselves."
Laers gently tilted his chin upward, their lips meeting a second later in a chaste kiss. The brief contact sent sparks of fire coursing through Airyn and tinged his cheeks with a light pink blush. He was held lightly in Laers' arms, shivering with the overwhelming emotions that filled him. The kiss ended long before his thirst for the other man was even remotely quenched, only serving to ignite the beginnings of a new desire inside of him.
"My word is the law of justice. None shall call it into question without evident proof. By My law I pronounce thee wed."
Cheering broke out among the crowd and they were instantly surrounded by a multitude of bodies expressing their hopes and good will. The wedding ceremony broke down into a boisterous celebration, Laers' presence as much a constant at his side as Evander's light teasing over how infatuated they were with each other. They left two hours into the party, staying long enough for every guest to greet them personally and converse a little with each other. Airyn found himself coming to like Laers increasingly more as he got to know the other man. Right before they left Evander pulled them into a large hug.
"You're welcome to join us in Khyden any time, my brother." Laers said as he mounted his horse.
Evander nodded his acceptance and hugged Airyn a second time, holding him tightly for a few moments before releasing him again. "Be sure to come back and visit as well, both of you."
Airyn smiled and nodded before extending his hand to let Laers help him up onto the horse. He settled behind the other man on the large saddle, entwining his arms around Laers' waist as the horse slowly trotted out of the village. Airyn turned partially around in the saddle to wave at his brother. He continued watching the village fade from view as they entered the forest trail that lead to the Eastern Hills, not turning to face forward until the village and its occupants were completely blocked from view by the surrounding trees. They rode quietly through the forest for several hours. Airyn felt at peace in the dimming forest, gentle birdsong reminding him of the avian serenade that had prefaced the ceremony earlier that day.
A few hours before full night fell Laers led the horse off the main path to a well-kept cave located not far off the side of the road. A small pile of firewood stood in a far corner, next to a pot and stand for cooking over an open fire. Airyn guessed the cave was one of the many rest stops set up for the frequent travelers along the forest route. Laers dismounted outside the cave and helped Airyn down from the large horse as soon as his own feet touched the ground. Their eyes met as Laers grasped his waist, twin smiles emerging on their faces simultaneously. Laers didn't release him immediately, instead seeking out Airyn's lips for a quick kiss. They pulled away reluctantly to prepare the camp, their eyes never straying far from each other.
The work was done efficiently, and it was only a short time before they had a small fire going. The situation seemed entirely domestic to Airyn, and he blushed slightly as he watched Laers cook a small slab of meat. Even though they'd only been together a short time, Airyn had high hopes that their marriage would work out. He still was nervous and a little worried when he considered their future, but Laers was the kind of man he would have fallen for on his own. His earlier fears now seemed foolish. Laers exemplified all the qualities he admired in other men: strength, kindness, and a gentle demeanor.
Laers' voice speaking his name jerked him out of his thoughts. Airyn hastily brought his attention back to his surroundings and took the plate of meat and vegetables Laers was holding out to him, blushing in embarrassment at being caught lost in thought as he did so. Laers sat next to him, a plate of the same food balanced in his lap. Airyn lightly picked at the food and tasted it.
"This is good. Thank you." The words seemed somewhat idiotic to Airyn's mind, but he couldn't think of much else to say to dispel the silence that had settled over them. He was nervous and he wasn't sure why. Maybe it had something to do with the proximity in which Laers was sitting, their thighs pressed against each other and spreading a kind of fuzzy warmth through Airyn's body with the contact. Or it could be his own slight worries reasserting themselves to nag in the back of his head, reminding him of all the problems that could arise between the two of them.
Laers nodded in thanks for the complement. The silence festered as they both slowly ate, seeming to grow more emotionally charged with every passing moment. It felt heavy between them, almost becoming a palatable substance in the air between them. Airyn was the first to finish, and he set his plate to the side as he quietly waited for Laers to finish.
"Are you worried?"
Airyn looked up at Laers in confusion. "About what?"
Laers gestured to the two of them, staring at Airyn intensely as he spoke. "About whether our marriage will work out?" Laers must have misinterpreted the shocked look on his face because he placed his hand on Airyn's shoulder and resumed speaking almost immediately. "It's not that I don't like you or think you're not a wonderful wife. I do. Truly. But... Well, it's just that I'm not used to a relationship progressing like this and..."
Airyn smiled gently and placed his fingers lightly over Laers' lips. His husband's slightly frowning, confused face amused him, not from any comedic value, but because Laers' fears were so similar to his own. He removed his fingers and leaned forward to place a light kiss in their wake before moving forward to sit himself in Laers' lap. Curling himself against Laers' chest, he ran the tips of his fingers up and down his husband's bare chest as he spoke. "I was worried about that too, and to some extent I still am. Just this morning I was beside myself wondering whether you and I would make a good couple and what would happen to me after I married you. I was afraid of leaving my family for the first time and moving to a strange village. I was frightened that you might turn out to be a violent or cruel man. There were so many things I was afraid would happen." Airyn tilted his head up so that his eyes met with Laers' and held them. "Then I walked into the temple grotto and I saw you standing before the High Goddess Pandala. And my fears went away when you smiled at me because I knew you to be gentle and kind and all that I wanted in a man. I chided myself for a fool because I thought that I was being silly worrying, and that you must be confident and sure of your course in this." Airyn's words prompted a light chuckle to escape from Laers' throat, and he smiled in concert with it. "But I realized something after we started talking about our worries."
Laers' eyes followed him intently, wrapping his arms around Airyn is wordless support. "What's that?"
"The Goddess married us but She didn't make us love each other. That's something we have to do on our own. So it isn't a question of whether we're able to love each other and make things work out, but whether we want to make our marriage work. She can't affect who we fall in love with. That's something we have to build between us."
Laers' left hand reached up to lightly brush against his cheek. Airyn's eyes closed at the touch and he leaned into the movement of Laers' hand. "I already love you, Airyn Cisela. Even the High Goddess' power can't change that. I loved you from the moment when you walked down the aisle towards me. Speaking with you afterwards merely firmed what I felt for you, strengthening my love until it had a secure hold on my heart." Laers sealed his words with a deep kiss that sent shivers tingling along Airyn's spine.
They parted a long moment later. Airyn's head felt light and dizzy, his body racing with barely suppressed emotion. Airyn's words were nearly breathless, his lungs still not recovered from the stirring kiss. "And I love you, Laers Ghelan." Airyn nuzzled Laers neck with his nose, grinning uncontrollably from the warmth of emotion surrounding him.
Laers's hands began rubbing his back, their movement relaxing him completely in his husband's embrace. He felt as if he could fall asleep in Laers' arms, his head resting on the other man's shoulder and his body curled up in Laers' lap. A warm mouth descending on the tender skin below his right ear caused him to gasp slightly, his hands clutching tightly to the fabric of Laers' vest. His eyes drifted closed as the mouth suckled the skin of his neck, a series of short, even moans escaping from slightly parted lips. One of the hands on his back was wandering now, following the curve of his back down to his knees before slowly trailing upwards again. The hand found the hem of his dress and continued it's upward progress underneath the fabric. Airyn's entire body shuddered as Laers caressed the skin of his hip and thigh under the fabric. He twisted slightly in Laers' grip, trying to bring his skin into closer contact with Laers' own at the same time as he started to tug Laers' vest off.
Laers pulled his arms back to help Airyn remove the vest, flinging the piece of hide off to the side before quickly lifting Airyn off the ground and carrying him over to the bedrolls Laers had set up earlier. The reverent way he was placed on the fur blankets surprised Airyn and he delighted in the gentleness of Laers' actions. Laers' mouth quickly captured his own with a light kind of aggression, the hands on him and under him delighting Airyn with their touch. His back was lifted gently from the blankets until he was half sitting up, Laers positioned between Airyn's parted thighs so that he practically straddled the other man's lap. Airyn's hands found their way around Laers' neck to entwine in his short hair. Muffled sounds of enjoyment spilled from between their lips, originating in both men's throats with equal frequency. Laers' hands were busy efficiently undoing the lacings on the back of Airyn's dress, a task not overly easy but managed with laudable skill. Loose fabric fell around him and Airyn was laid once more on the fur covers, his hips lifted by strong hands so that his dress could be removed completely.
Airyn blushed a deep crimson as his husband stared down at his naked form for several moments, the other man seemingly trying to implant the memory of every curve of Airyn's body into his mind. The scrutiny of the other man's gaze made him nervous for what was to come, his body tensing slightly in response to his worries. He only had a few brief seconds to think before Laers was upon him, the mischievous smile that flashed across Laers' face his only warning of what the other man was planning. Warm lips sucking greedily at his bare neck and lithe hands tickling the sides of his chest worked in tandem to drive concise thought from his head. His body shook with laughter as he writhed beneath the suddenly playful warrior, the sounds emerging from him soon interspersed with breathless moans as Laers bit down lightly on the sensitive skin below his ear. His own hands fell to bury themselves in the blankets beneath them, twisting the cloth roughly as he tried to simultaneously move away from Laers' tormenting hands and closer to the hungry mouth at his throat.
The hands on his body slowly shifted back to their original purpose, adding electric caresses in between short boughts of tickling. Airyn was lost in the flood of emotion coursing through his body, his attention so focused on the hands touching him that he failed to notice the removal of the final layers of clothing that stood between them. Moans fell unrestrained from Airyn's lips as Laers' mouth and hands moved to explore his naked chest. He let one hand bury itself in Laers' hair once more as he watched the progress of his gloriously naked husband, his own stiff erection matched between Laers' legs. One of Laers' hands trailed upwards from the underside of his knee, causing Airyn's hips to buck upwardly into Laers' reflexively. He bit back a startled cry as the contact brought their two members together, fire coursing through his entire body with the friction of the impact. His hips arched upward once more in supplication, asking wordlessly for the other man to relieve the straining pressure between them. A whimper escaped him as Laers' hand brushed between his legs, the lack of firm contact driving him mad with the need for satisfaction.
Laers pulled away slightly to reach into his nearby pack and rummage through its assorted contents, his hand continuing to brush against him sporadically. He returned quickly with a small vial in hand, instantly claiming Airyn's mouth as a means of further distraction. Airyn's arms and legs wrapped themselves fully around Laers as he tried to bring their bodies into closer contact.
The hand between his legs stopped its ministrations, its absence not long missed before wet fingers found their way between his legs. Airyn's body shivered in delight, a small moan escaping his mouth in anticipation. Whispered endearments and encouragements echoed in his ear as the fingers pressed forwards and inside of him. He arched into the touch, spreading his legs wider so Laers could have better access. His breath came in irratic spurts as he forced his tense body to relax into the touch, Laers' free hand working into his long hair and combing through it. His husband's touch and voice calmed him, the love found in Laers' actions filling him with warmth and a feeling of comfort.
Airyn's head rolled back against the pillows as he gasped for breath between throaty moans of pleasure. His hips thrust in time to Laers' questing fingers, hungry for increased contact. The slow speed at which Laers prepared him soothed his tense body, the other man moving slow enough to avoid causing him even the slightest bit of pain. Three fingers moved inside of him, stretching and caressing one of his most intimate places. Their search was quickly rewarded and Airyn cried out with pleasure as one of the fingers prodded a delicate spot buried inside of him. He whimpered desperately as Laers' fingers continued their prodding, their master's eyes glued to the enraptured creature below him.
Airyn's whimpered pleas for more were soon answered as Laers replaced his fingers with a much thicker organ. Again Airyn cried out, his voice ricocheting off the stone walls as Laers pushed his way deep inside. His lover's mouth covered his own and Airyn joined it in mad frenzy, sucking on the invading tounge while half-formed moans escaped from between their meshed lips. His hands gripped Laers' shoulders fiercely as if his hold on the other man could give him a grip on his lust. Their mouths broke apart as Laers quickened the thrusts of flesh into flesh, the air in the cave filling with gasps and moans as they moved together. Each man frantically sought closer contact than they currently had, not satisfied until their bodies could meld together to form one fiery whole. Laers' thrusts lifted Airyn's hips off the ground, each hit striking his pleasure spot with delicious accuracy. He moaned wildly, carnal passion raging unimpeded throughout his body. He felt alive with fire, every point of contact between their bodies sparking new waves of heat to coarse through him and override his tenuous control on sanity. Airyn wanted nothing more at this moment than to be filled by his lover's seed, to feel waves of heat crash over him as he was most thoroughly claimed and possessed by his heart's true love. He was so close to achieving that goal, teetering on the brink of passion, his consciousness wavering with each thrust.
Screams filled the air as Laers' hand grabbed between his legs. One quick jerk was enough to send him into bliss, his body shuddering violently with release. Two more sharp, quick thrusts prolonged his raging emotions before he was filled to the brink with a burst of warm liquid. Airyn's name fell from Laers' lips as he came, their bodies intertwined completely in their shared passion.
Laers rested lightly on top of him as they both panted for breath, their locked eyes conveying the depth of emotion they didn't have the capabilities to yet vocalize. They were content to lay there for a long while, wrapped in each other and the soiled blankets. Slowly, Laers pulled himself free of Airyn's body. He grabbed a rag from his pack and used it to wipe the testament of their union clean from their bodies. His motions were slow and jerky, visible evidence of the tiredness Airyn knew they both felt.
Airyn aided Laers in maneuvering the two of them under the covers. The instant Laers was settled, Airyn was curled next to him, lazily wrapping his body to fit against Laers'. He nuzzled the hand that suddenly resumed stroking his hair, purring softly as they settled against each other. Airyn was warm and content. His earlier doubts had fled now that he knew Laers was with him in his hope for the future, now that they had manifested the linking of their hearts through the linking of their bodies. He knew that not all their problems were solved. They would continue to doubt themselves and each other. Hardships would come their way, along with petty arguments. Those were merely parts of living that could be overcome and incorporated into their blossoming love. For now, he was satisfied with the direction his life had turned. Airyn knew that no matter what happened to them, he would never regret his marriage to Laers. In his husband he had found a kindred spirit who had understood him before completely knowing him. Their hearts were linked by the many bonds they shared, none of which could be severed by external means.
His drowsy thoughts were interrupted by a light kiss being placed on his forehead. "Goodnight, my darling Airyn."
Love and compassion filled Laers' voice as he spoke, echoed in Airyn's own as he replied. "Goodnight, Laers my love."
Airyn drifted to sleep, secure in his lover's arms and steadfast in his belief in his chosen love.