"I have been a multitude of shapes,
Before I assumed a consistent form.
I have been a sword, narrow, variegated,
I will believe when it is apparent.
I have been a tear in the air,
I have been in the dullest of stars.
I have been a word among letters,
I have been a book in the origin."-The Battle of Goddeu
"You need to come to New Orleans." Nathaniel did not phrase it as a request and Andre felt a spike of annoyance as he held the phone to his ear. He was standing in the terminal at LAX, about to take a cross country flight back to New York and he was far too tired to deal with Nat's bullshit right now.
"No I don't believe I shall," he said tersely. "I just spent a week coaxing a vengeful spirit out of a six year old girl. I'm going home, Nat. Goodbye, Nat."
"Wait. I wouldn't have called you if it wasn't an emergency."
He rolled his eyes. "You're not helping your case. I much prefer people who seek out my company for non-emergencies." He had studied under Nathaniel Roberts, been his apprentice for almost two years, in fact, and they'd fucked on more than one occasion, but he wouldn't exactly call him a close friend. He usually did just fine with his southern genteel prissiness, hell rile him the right way and that could be a good time, but there was an ice in the man's heart that left Andre unsure sometimes, made him want to keep his distance.
"There is a family matter I must address. I expect to be abroad for at least six weeks."
"Okay." He knew vaguely that there was a London branch of Robert's clan and they could get up to trouble, but he'd never bothered asking for the details. " What does that have to do with me coming to New Orleans?"
Nathaniel sounded mildly annoyed at having to explain himself. "I need someone to watch the house and water my plants. You have experience with managing my affairs and I trust you to leave well enough alone with things that don't concern you."
Andre let out an incredulous huff. "Seriously? Hire a gardner. You don't need me to fly out there for six fucking weeks for that."
"There is also the matter of Taliesin." A chill ran through Andre, as his heartbeat kicked up a notch, blood thudding in his ears. "I need to focus on the problems at hand and taking him...would be a distraction."
The first time Andre had seen Taliesin he was kneeling on a cushion in Nathaniel's greenhouse workshop, a slim figure with its head down and a curtain of shockingly red hair obscuring his face. He was so still and quiet, so artfully posed that he almost seemed like just another curio object in the witch's eclectic collection-not a flesh and blood thing.
Nathaniel favored alchemy and he had been explaining to Andre the principles of his distillation apparatus, with its spiderweb of flasks and copper tubing when he had looked up and nearly jumped out of his skin to realize they were not alone.
"Who's that?" he'd asked, hairs on the back of his neck prickling.
"Ah yes that would be Taliesin." Nathaniel had looked pleased. "He's a spirit, a witch's familiar. They take a great deal of skill to conjure and bind. Especially this one. He is the Ariel to my Prospero so to speak. Have you ever met one before, my dear?" Andre had shaken his head no, curious and apprehensive. "Come here pet." Taliesin rose, movements fluid as he crossed the room. He wore only a black robe, a slippery fabric embroidered with roses that cut off at the knee, his alabaster feet bare on the stone floor.
When he reached them he once again dropped to his knees at Nathaniel's feet, eyes downcast. "Master," he murmured. Andre's stomach lurched, compelled by his beauty and strange mannerisms, the blankness in his expression, doll like. He wanted to both touch him and flee from the room.
Nathaniel ran fingers through his hair, humming, a small smile on his lips as Taliesin leaned into his touch. "They are feral, wild things from an other worldly plane. Always remember, Andre, he may look like a boy, but there is nothing human about him and he is dangerous. Not unlike petting a tiger, hmm?" The boy had simply blinked and said nothing.
Andre would learn that Taliesin's powers were indeed no small thing. With an incantation he could call storms. He sometimes had visions of the future and he could change form, lurking around the estate grounds in the form of a bird or an orange cat. And if Andre had gotten used to Taliesin's timid, infrequent speech, his tendency to appear as if from the wallpaper itself at Nathaniel's bidding, he never could come to any satisfactory conclusion as to what exactly Taliesin was: a mythical creature? Some automaton formed from the ether by Nat's own will and magics? If he truly was a spirit, was he as broken and random as the ghosts that Andre now spent his days trying to send on?
Certainly Nathaniel was diligent in his control of his strange creature, demanding absolute obedience and correcting any infraction. He also doted on him, using endearments and offering indulgences, sharing the master bedroom with him. It was perhaps an eccentricity to be expected from their kind, to have these little obsessions with the supernatural.
There was also the other thing , the thing that had seared itself somewhere in the dark shadows of Andre's mind. That time with Nat when they'd been drunk on Sazerac Rye and the hour late, falling into bed as they sometimes did. Nathaniel, grey hair mussed and glasses askew, had called to Taliesin with a knowing smirk and he had seemed real enough then hadn't he? His body had been warm and smooth, trembling under Andre's hands, shadows cast under sharp cheekbones as absinthe green eyes watched him place his palm to the young man's chest and feel the very real heart that beat there. "You're so beautiful together," Nathaniel had said as he trailed kisses across Taliesin's shoulder, stopped to suck up a mark on the pale column of his throat, making the boy's eyes slide shut. "Such a pleasing contrast to have you both in my bed don't you think?" It had only happened the once, the memory blurred by alcohol, and Andre could never decide if he was thoroughly ashamed of himself for it or if he simply regretted never asking for more.
He cleared his throat, mouth feeling suddenly too dry. "You want me to babysit Talisin?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes. Maybe you could think of it as a bit of a research project? I have added some significant texts to my library since the last time you were here and as far as matters concerning your ghosts go, I'm sure Talisan could be of assistance. He is far less attached to his corporal form than you or I. You're more than welcome to make use of him while you're here."
The house was up town on Prytania Street, only a short walk from Lafayette Cemetery No 1, just another of the many Italianate Victorian monolith in the Garden District, as pink as a conch shell with its prim moldings and white row of columns obscured by a garden heavy and wet with tropical vegetation, the broad fan of palm trees, climbing bougainvillea, Japanese Magnolias, and the old oak tree that dripped with Spanish moss. Nathaniel's people had arrived in New Orleans from New England shortly after the civil war and the house had been in the family ever since, eventually going to Nathaniel after his aunt had died. He'd made good use of it, turning the glass conservatory attached to the back of the house into a workshop and converting the neglected upstairs study into a respectable library.
Talisan had lived here for six years now and he knew most of its secrets, the hiding spots, the little dark things behind the walls even his master didn't know about, the ruin markings under the floorboards, the body buried in the garden with its white skull grining beneath the the soil-artifacts left by generations of witches far too clever for their own good.
When he was sure that his master was asleep, his breathing deep and even, he slipped from the bed, pulling drawstring pants and a loose top over his nude form, although in the tropical heat he was hardly cold. Designed for the climate, the ceilings were high throughout the house to catch the heat, thick bladed fans suspended low, but this also meant that the widows tended to be narrow, giving the rooms a dark isolated feeling, especially with the ornateness of the moldings, the copious fireplaces, veined marble mantles and rich colored walls.
Talisan padded silently down the grand staircase and into the front parlour, a room with a motif of dark blossoms printed across the furniture, rabbits and their pursuing hounds scattered across the wallpaper, red as blood and as dense as a tapestry. He stood there a moment, mind slipping into the blankness it often went to when he feared pain or humiliation, a place it was certainly well trained to go these days, for the master never missed an opportunity to reinforce his compliance. He sighed, head swimming, wishing he could go wash the smell of Nathaniel from his skin, his mind, his soul, that he could go out into the garden and lay under the night jasmine, let the humid evening air gather around him until his sheer garments clung to his skin and his hair was full of twigs and cobwebs. But first there was the task that must be done.
Dropping to his hands and knees he pulled back the bit of baseboard behind the sofa, pale, shaky fingers reaching into the crevice there to pull out the familiar needle and roll of paper. He pricked his finger without hesitation, watched the droplet of red pool up before using the tip of the pin to transfer it to the paper, carefully scratching out his words in his old tongue, for he had been a sacred poet once and it was in his prose some of his power still lay. His hands shook, his own raw magic butting up uncomfortably with the bond that held him here. It made cold sweat break out across his back and forehead, a seasick feeling low in his belly, but he persisted with careful concentration.
Nathaniel could bind him and put him on his knees. He could assign him arduous tasks, use his gifts for his own stupid whims. He could beat him until his body was nothing but one mindless agony lost in its own suffering. He could fuck him, but as long as Taliesin kept his words, fed them with life-blood, he couldn't make him think he liked it. He couldn't make him forget who he was, strip him of the last of his personal dignity and if the only person who could ever know it was him, so be it. It was a small, hollow victory in the face of so much lost, but it wasn't a concession he was willing to make.
Bum cledyf yn aghat
Bum yscwyt yg kat
Bum tant yn telyn.
He grit his teeth, eyes stinging as the renewal spell took, making his heart ache. And so he had both the lack of power to change his circumstances and the sharp ability to suffer the full of it. Nathaniel was a damn fool and curse his bones anyway. Taliesin wiped tears from his eyes with the back of his hand, angry at himself for his sudden weakness. If he gave into tears, they would never stop. And then where would he be? Pretty damn hard to convince even an idiot witch that you're in the thrall of his power when you're blubbering like a child. Besides he'd rather dig himself a spot next to the corpse under the oak tree than give Nathaniel the satisfaction of seeing him defeated. Suddenly there was a prickle down his spine, a shift in the air that frightened him. He tensed, hastily putting away his supplies and pulling himself to his feet, eyes darting around the room. There was a knock at the door and Taliesin considered for a moment before going to answer it.
Andre was standing on the poarch. He smiled when he saw Taliesin, looking apologetic. "Sorry to arrive at the witching hour. My flight got delayed. Your master is asleep I assume?" The man had a large duffle bag thrown over his shoulder, dressed casually in a light blue shirt that was striking with his dark complexion.
"Yes, sir. He is." Taliesin stepped aside to let Andre into the house, head bowed. What in the ever loving fuck was he doing here? Nathaniel's student had always watched him more closely than he liked, eyes lingering, and Taliesin hid his wariness with his usual mask. Andre carried the witch magics of his West African ancestors, ghost whisperer, death walker, child of Baron Samedi with the scent of tobacco and rum on his breath. The spark of his gift brushed past Taliesin now, so very different from the feel of Nathaniel's own earthy magics of zinc and iron, of blood and fermentation. Andre's arrival curled through the house, making its haunted corners shiver and the bones in the garden rattle.
"What are you doing up then?" The question was asked conversationally, but it still made Talisen stiffen.
"Letting you into the house." He held his tone neutral. He hardly needed this little ghost witch telling tales to his master about his night time habits.
Andre blinked, seeming surprised. "Well, yes of course. Thank you. I apologize for dragging you from bed, Taliesin." His hair was shorter and he was more clean shaven than the last time Taliesin had seen him. Maybe a year ago? Had it been that long?
"No apology necessary, sir. Are you hungry? I could fix you something to eat."
He shook his head. "Oh, no don't trouble yourself. I know where the guest room is. I plan to make good use of it immediately."
"Of course, sir." He swallowed, eyes cast down as Andre regarded him. "Please let me know if you are of need of anything else."
"Just happy to have somewhere to rest my tired ass." He pat his shoulder awkwardly. "It's nice to see you again. You look well."
"Thank you, sir," he said watching Andre's back as he headed up the stairs, more unnerved than he would like. He felt jittery, the part of him that felt premonitions foreboding something coming, something he was not prepared for, something that threatened and promised in the same breath.
Oh my gosh I really don't need another WIP in my life, but I can't get this one out of my head so here it is begging for your thoughts. My question is...do you think this could be a cool short story or does it need to be a full sized novel thing to be successful? I'm hoping for a little feedback if possible. Also .com is my writer blog where I whine about these sort of things often
*translation of the ancient welsh:
I was a sword in fist
I was a shield in battle
I was a string on a harp