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Chapter 12

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Kaven slept through most of the next day. Thorne stayed by his side, for the most part, except to allow Katha time alone to examine him--and, Thorne rather suspected, time to simply be with his son. He knew Katha was right, that Kaven needed time to heal before he had that news suddenly presented to him, but he really hoped Katha would tell him soon. Kaven had struggled for so long, trying to discover who he was, and why he had never fit in with his father; this would, Thorne was almost certain, remove an emotional burden Kaven had carried so long he probably didn't even realize it was there.

Of course, he would then have to live with the fact that his father had never tried to find him, never sought him out--and while Thorne knew Katha couldn't have done so--would never have made it past the guard--he was also fearful that Kaven would turn it into evidence that even his own father hadn't wanted him. He sighed, as he headed back into the sickroom after Katha had left. He loved Kaven, he truly did, but the larger naga had a real tendency to turn everything into another reason to feel sad or guilty or inadequate. He'd gotten much, much better, in the months Thorne had been with him, but he still slipped into the cycles of self-blame more often than Thorne would have liked.

What would you have been like, my princeling? he wondered to himself, as he approached the bed where Kaven was still sleeping peacefully. If you had grown up here, unmarred by tragedy or Othalion's malice, who would you have been? Would you have been happy?

He reached out and stroked Kaven's hair, then smiled, slightly, when Kaven's eyes fluttered then slowly opened, blinking up at Thorne.

"Good morning," Thorne said, smile growing to a teasing smirk. "Or should I say 'good evening'?"

Kaven blushed, wrinkling his nose. "Is it that late?" he murmured, stretching carefully and wincing a little.

"Unless the sun moves differently here, yes," Thorne replied, still lightly stroking Kaven's hair. "You've slept the day away, but I'm sure it was good for you. You look better." And it was true. Kaven's skin was not so pale--where it could be seen between the bruises--and his eyes were much clearer.

"I feel better," Kaven admitted, pressing into the touch. "A bit like I've been trampled by an angry centaur, but better."

Thorne's eyes darkened. "That's probably what they were going for," he muttered, and Kaven winced.

"Sorry," the prince said. "We don't need to talk about this. Where are the others?"

"It's all right, we can," Thorne replied, blushing slightly. "I'm just still angry. And...I don't actually know. Close, I think, but I haven't gone further than the garden outside this room."

Kaven smiled up at him. "You haven't, huh?" he murmured.

"You asked me not to," Thorne reminded him, leaning down to kiss him softly. "But I wouldn't've, anyway. Want to keep an eye on you, soldier-boy."

"I did?" Kaven cringed. "Well, apparently I need an eye kept on me. I tend to get in trouble when I'm left to my own devices." He grinned again. "Fortunately you're there to bail me out of it, more often than not."

Thorne supposed he should be glad Kaven was making jokes, even if he couldn't appreciate them yet himself. "I hope I always am, and you can do the same," he said, stroking Kaven's hair softly. "And yes, you asked me to stay with you. It hasn't exactly been a hardship..."

Kaven sighed, sobering a little. "I'm sorry," he said, catching Thorne's hand and holding it gently between his own. The larger naga's hands, calloused from weapon use, engulfed Thorne's smaller ones easily. "This hasn't been easy for you, huh?"

Thorne bit the inside of his cheek, trying to keep himself under control. Kaven needed him to be strong. "I'm all right..."

Kaven shook his head. "No, you're not," he said. "And that's all right, Thorne--you don't have to be. Hey--come here." He released Thorne's hand and opened his arms.

"I don't want to hurt you," Thorne murmured, hesitating, feeling his eyes start to prickle. Fuck, he was not going to cry...

"Then move slowly," Kaven said, smiling softly. "I'm just bruised, Thorne, I'm not broken. C'mere."

Thorne bit his lip, but slid down, resting very lightly against Kaven's side, trying to to put any pressure on the other naga's bruised skin. "I'm sorry..."

Kaven drew him closer, shifting carefully and wrapping his arms around Thorne's shoulders. "Why on earth are you sorry?" he murmured.

"Because...b-because you need me, now, and I'm..." Thorne shook his head, hiding in Kaven's arms, curling around himself as much as the larger naga would let him.

"I need you, yeah," Kaven said gently. "I don't need a guardian, or a soldier, or a warrior, or a stone statue. I need you. And you have had a hard time of it, and if you weren't a little upset I'd probably be worried."

"I threw up," Thorne admitted, softly. "Earlier. I dreamed about it all again, and I...I tried to kill them, I really did. I wanted to."

"So did I," Kaven said. "I would have, if I could've."

"Have you ever killed before?" Thorne asked softly, realizing he didn't know for certain.

"Yes," Kaven replied, very quietly. "Once. One of the centaurs who attacked my outfit, before you found me. He was trampling one of my soldiers, and I drove my sword into his side, then into his chest."

Thorne snuggled closer, sighing. "I just wanted you to be safe...Brilara said it'd get easier, if I remembered that. Remembered why I had to do it. But I'm definitely no soldier."

"I still wonder about him," Kaven admitted. "The centaur that I killed. What his name was, if he had any family. Why he hated us so much. Why fate had carried him safely through every other danger he ever faced only to die by my hand." He shook his head, stroking Thorne's hair. "It never really gets easier. But you learn to accept it, in time; learn to accept that there are things you're willing to die for, and to kill for. Honestly, it's when it doesn't bother you that you should worry."

Thorne nodded, staying quiet for a long time as he thought this over, deciding Kaven was right. Finally, he let out a shuddering sigh. "I was so scared I was going to lose you."

"Me too," Kaven said, tightening his hold just a little bit. "It...I couldn't bear it, knowing you would die, and the others, just because you were with me. Just because my father and Ipson wanted to advance a political agenda that's probably going to get more nagas killed than all of the Great Clan Wars combined. I was so furious..." he paused in his stroking, and drew a deep breath. When he spoke again, his voice was calmer. "But it didn't happen. None of it happened." He drew back a little, looking down at Thorne. "You're quite a shot with that sling."

Thorne smiled slightly. "I used to hunt with it, and rabbits have smaller heads. I still can't believe...Well, no. I can believe they'd do this, but it still makes me feel ill." He sighed, shaking his head. "I suppose...we can't go back, now. Not unless something changes..."

"We'd be killed if we tried," Kaven agreed softly. "We'll have to change things before we can think about going back. But if you write your songs, and we can get the centaurs to sign a peace agreement..." He shrugged. "Not even Othalion and Ipson can stand up to the centaurs and the nagas who join our cause, which, if we can spread the word fast enough, should be all but a very select few loyal to my father and the king."

Thorne swallowed hard and nodded. "I suppose not. Looks like we're revolutionaries after all..."

Kaven glanced down at him again. "Hey," he murmured. "You all right?"

"No," Thorne replied, pressing closer. "But I will be. This is just...more than I know how to deal with, Kaven. I sing songs about things like this, I don't...I never expected to live them. I don't want to lose you."

"I don't want to lose you either," Kaven said, reaching down and urging Thorne to look up at him. His eyes were very serious, brow furrowed, as he searched Thorne's face for a long moment. "We'll have to do our best to keep each other," he said at last, fingertips stroking the side of Throne's cheek. "It's the best we can do."

Thorne leaned into the soft touch, letting his eyes close. "It is. And we're safe, for now...I've already started work on a couple songs, and Makah and I can head down to the valley when they're done. I know at least two bards who make their home in Ketra, and there'll be others staying there."

Kaven nodded. "See?" he said, smiling gently. "We'll make a legend of you yet. The farmboy who saved the kingdom."

"What?" Thorne asked in surprise. "No, I'm just...just doing what I've been trained for."

"Oh, come on," Kaven said, lifting his eyebrows. "You don't see it? The farmer who rescues the wounded stranger who turns out to be a prince, then saves the prince's life yet again when his own father orders his soldiers to kill him...you've already done more than half the so-called heroes of those ballads you sing. Surely you must know how amazing you are--how proud of you I am."

"You're proud of me?" Thorne wriggled slightly, realizing to his own surprise that Kaven was right. It did make him sound like a hero from the outside, even though he really didn't feel like one. "And...yeah, I suppose it does sound like something from a ballad." He made a face. "I'll have to write it myself, though, and make sure no one gets all the facts wrong. I mean...I don't feel like a hero."

"I don't think anyone ever does," Kaven said, shrugging. "But you do the best you can, and it just sort of happens, you know? Besides..." he grinned, looking down at his lover. "You've been my hero for ages. Why shouldn't you be all of Ophidia's?"

Thorne poked him lightly. "You're very silly this evening, princeling. Are you hungry at all? You should eat. And how's your head? I'm supposed to let Katha know if you need more of the headache tea."

"I'm fine, farm-boy," Kaven said. "But I wasn't kidding, you know. You are my hero. Not in that simpery damsel in distress way, but...you are."

Thorne ducked his head. "I love you," he murmured, not sure how else to respond, and kissed Kaven quickly, before sliding free to go ask about food.

They ate together, Kaven managing a bowl of broth and a couple pieces of bread before settling back with tea. Thorne would have chastised him, but he could see that Kaven had gotten a little paler, and decided not to push it. He'd eaten, after all, and that was something, after all he'd been through.

They also learned the fate of Tash and the others; the mountain clan had taken them in, given them food and shelter, and were now, apparently, teaching Tash archery.

"He's getting good," Katha said when he came in to check on Kaven again, and Thorne asked after them. "He's got a lot of strength for such a small child."

"Probably from carting around trays of food and buckets of hot water," Kaven said, making a face, and Katha chuckled.

"Whatever he did to serve you, lad, he clearly doesn't regret it," the older Naga said. "He can't wait to show you how he can become one of your soldiers."

Kaven blushed a little, and Thorne laughed. "And a fine little soldier he'd be indeed," he said. "But I think he'll be better off staying here. I don't think a naga child will be able to do much against a centaur warrior."

"Perhaps not," Katha said, shrugging. "But good luck getting him to stay behind."

Thorne smiled slightly. "I suppose there is that...I wouldn't want to be left behind, either. He's still awfully young..."

"Let's cross that bridge when we get to it, I suppose," Kaven said, sighing softly. "I'd rather no one go, but...well, I really can't do this alone. Besides," he added, grinning again and casting Thorne a sly look, "I imagine I'd be in more danger from you than the centaurs, if I tried to give you the slip again."

"I'd haul you back and sit on you," Thorne said firmly, crossing his arms and glaring.

Kaven burst into laughter, shaking his head. "You realize I've worn armor that weighs more than you, right?"

Having gotten Kaven to laugh--his intended goal anyway--Thorne hid a smile and grumbled a little, shifting his tail. "I imagine I could get Makah and Mikkel to help me. Tash, too."

"Well, I doubt I could overpower four of you, so together we stay," Kaven said, and though his word were teasing, his voice held a sincere note of gratitude.

Thorne reached over to lightly squeeze his hand, smiling. "Don't you forget it."

There was a knock at the door, just then, and they looked up to see Tash holding a large bowl of water, a couple towels draped over his arm. "Kaven!" the boy cried, sliding forward, though he was careful not to slosh the water. "You are awake!"

Kaven smiled gently. "Hey, Tash," he said. "I'm told you're the one who woke up Thorne. Thanks, buddy. I owe you one."

"You were gone for a very long time," Tash replied, with a worried smile, though it quickly faded into a grin. "But we're all safe now, and the wall is really big and the city is hidden and I'm learning to fight! Brilara said I'm very promising with a bow."

Kaven chuckled lightly. "That's wonderful," he said. "I was never very good with bows. I'm better with my sword and daggers. Maybe you could teach me."

Tash's eyes went wide. "Really?"

Katha laughed softly as the prince nodded. "Lad, the water?"

"Oh!" Tash blushed, and slid closer to set it down, getting a good look at Kaven for the first time. His face went pale, as he stared down at the bruises across the older naga's chest, before catching himself, flushing. "Forgive me, sir..."

Thorne put a hand on Tash's shoulder, squeezing lightly, exchanging a glance with Kaven. He hadn't thought of it, before, but the page probably didn't have a lot of exposure to healing wounds. Thorne had been used to it from an early age, with his mother the healer, and of course Kaven had trained as a soldier, but Tash was rather sheltered, and was set to live his life as a servant, away from actual battle.

"It's fine, Tash," Kaven said gently. "I'm really all right. It looks much worse than it is." He nodded toward the water. "What do you have, there?"

Thorne smiled at the obvious effort to change the subject, but it seemed to work. Tash calmed some, and looked into the bowl. "Brilara and Telitha said you might like to wash," he said. "There's soap in it, and oils."

"That's a good thought," Thorne said, squeezing Tash's shoulder again, and looking up at Kaven. "After all, any longer and he'll start to stink." He winked at Kaven, who looked appropriately pouty, making Tash giggle. "Katha, do you have any shears? Because if you actually want to cut your hair, Kaven, it'd be easier to do that first, before we wash it."

Kaven looked hesitant, but only for a moment. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, let's cut it."

Thorne frowned slightly, hoping he wasn't encouraging Kaven into something he didn't really want to do. "You sure?" he murmured.

Kaven nodded, looking determined, and a little angry. "Yeah, why not?" he said. "It drives me crazy. Let's cut it off."

Katha sent Tash slithering off for the shears, as he and Thorne got started on cleaning the rest of Kaven's body first. "You're due to shed soon," the healer observed, carefully running the cloth over Kaven's wounded tail.

Thorne looked up from washing Kaven's arm, where he'd been fending off the prince's wandering fingers with soft giggles. "Do you go lighter every time?" he asked curiously.

Kaven glanced at his tail, shrugging. "A little, I guess," he said. "I don't really pay that much attention."

Thorne shook his head, grinning, soaking the cloth again before moving it lightly over Kaven's bruised skin, chattering to distract him. "Lady. If I looked like you, I'd be unbearably vain, and you don't even notice. Well, then, I'll let you know if you're going lighter. What do you want us to do to your hair? Could leave it long enough for the coil, if you want, or take it all off..." He didn't give any indication that he'd miss Kaven's waterfall of hair, but he would. Still...much better for Kaven to take the stand and be comfortable in himself than for Thorne to have long hair to play with.

Kaven shrugged again. "I don't know. Manageable." He looked up at Thorne, eyeing his hair, then said, "Your length looks nice."

Thorne ran a hand back through his own hair, nodding slowly. "All right. Yours isn't as thick as mine, so it shouldn't look as wild, either. Ahh, Tash, thank you." He took the shears as the page held them out, looking incredibly interested. "Well, love. You ready?"

Kaven nodded, taking a deep breath and pushing himself up, turning his back to Thorne to give him easier access. "Yeah. Cut it."

Thorne leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss against Kaven's shoulder, feeling tense muscles beneath his lips. "All right." Gently, he brushed Kaven's hair back from his face, gathering it in a long tail just above his shoulders. "Here goes." Quickly, he snipped across the top of the tail, letting the shorter strands fall free as he held onto the thick mass of severed hair.

Kaven didn't react, save to shudder just a little, as Thorne drew away still holding onto the hair. "Done," he said. "I mean, we'll want to even out the ends, but...well, here." He held out the hair, as Kaven turned slowly to stare at it. The prince reached up slowly, touching the hair in Thorne's hand, then reaching up and touching his head. He followed the hairline, moving his hand down past his ears, until the hair ended, just at his shoulders. "Wow," he said, very quietly.

Tash giggled, but shushed himself quickly, taking the long tail of hair from Thorne with his eyes wide. Thorne set the shears down, to gently touch Kaven's shoulder again. "Are you all right?"

Kaven turned to look at him, and Thorne's eyes widened a little at the change. Without the sheets of it that Kaven generally brushed back into the tail, the prince's hair fell forward, parting naturally only slightly off center. Strands of it framed his cheeks, falling down to his collar bone, and as Thorne watched, Kaven reached up automatically and tucked one side of it back behind his ear. The prince's eyes were worried, watching Thorne watch him; he bit his lip, raising his eyebrows questioningly. "Does it look...bad?"

Thorne couldn't manage to find his voice, as he shook his head. Kaven looked...well. He was still himself, but he looked younger, and much more approachable. And attractive, even considering the bruise at his temple, another on his cheek. "You look wonderful," he managed, finally, the sincerity obvious in his voice.

Kaven's face relaxed, then, and he smiled, making him look somehow younger still (and more attractive). "Thanks," he said softly, eyes flickering briefly to the mass of hair in Tash's hands. He chuckled soundlessly, turning his head from side to side. "It's...light," he said, sounding almost surprised. "Feels really weird, not having it all there."

Thorne giggled, though he was faintly pink and very glad he was still wearing his loinplate. Kaven looked good. "I think I left enough to keep your neck warm, but you might still get chilly. Leora said she was for weeks, after she entered the temple. Turn around again, I'll even up the ends a bit, and we can wash what's left of it. It'll dry so much faster now, too..." Keep chattering, keep chattering, try not to think of how good he looks...

Kaven nodded, obeying, as Tash tied and braided the ends of the hair Thorne had cut, and Katha finished checking the stitches on Kaven's tail. "They're looking good," the healer murmured, mostly to himself, but Kaven thanked him, which made Katha look a little abashed. Thorne took a comb from the nightstand and brushed through the now short white locks, using the comb to help even out the edges, a process which took a little more of the length along with it. Shorter, Kaven's hair had some body to it, and instead of hanging heavy and flat it fell in a gentle curve that curled under at the ends, serving to further frame the prince's face. Kaven was smiling softly, eyes half-lidded, as Thorne finished up, and when the minstrel was finished he set aside the shears, reaching for the bowl of water. "Shall we wash it, now?" he asked, trying to keep his voice light, casual, and wondering why he suddenly felt so shy. After all, Kaven was the same person--and he was his.

But damn...

"Yeah," Kaven said, glancing over his shoulder and smiling at Thorne, catching the hand that rested on his shoulder and giving it a squeeze. "Shouldn't be such a production, anymore."

Thorne smiled down at him, feeling somehow shyer. "I suppose not. If you can just scoot this way...there. Now you don't even have to get up. For now, at least. You can return all this spoiling later," he added, smiling as he settled the low table right beneath Kaven's head, pouring water over his hair with a small cup, keeping it carefully out of his eyes. In all honesty, he was rather enjoying spoiling his lover, but he didn't want Kaven to be made uncomfortable by it. "Tash, hand me the soap? Thank you..."

"I've washed your hair before," Kaven reminded him, though he sighed under the gentle feel of Thorne's hands massaging his scalp. "When you got back to the palace, after...remember? Not that I'll mind doing it again...ah, that feels really nice."

Thorne laughed, keeping up the soft massage, working the fragrant soap through his hair, out to the ends and back. "I know you have. Just saying you can spoil me for a bit when you're up and about again. Lean back again..." He rinsed Kaven's hair, smiling to see the shining white emerge from the dirt of the road.

"Fair enough," Kaven replied, and groaned softly. "Lady, it feels good to be clean again."

"Nice to see you clean," Thorne replied with a cheeky grin, taking a towel and soaking the extra water from Kaven's hair before releasing him to dry it himself. "All done. Tash, thank you for the water and everything. Could you bring us a snack of some kind? I'm still hungry, even if Kaven isn't, and I've writing to do."

Katha looked up, eyebrows raised. "You're a writer?"

Thorne shook his head. "Not exactly. I'm a bard. And if the true story about all this is to get out, I need a couple songs finished quickly."

Katha nodded. "I see. I'm a writer, myself--herb lore and ancient runes, mostly. That won't start many revolutions." He lifted an eyebrow and smirked.

Kaven laughed, though he leaned forward just a little. "You're a writer?"

Katha glanced at him, looking surprised at his interest. "I am," he said.

Kaven smiled, blushing just a little. "I always wanted to be one," he said. "But father said it was for weaklings. I got in trouble if he caught me at it, or reading..."

"Would you..." Katha looked nervous, but pushed on. "Would you care to read my books?"

Kaven's eyes lit up, and he looked up again, grinning broadly. "I'd love to," he said softly.

Thorne grinned, himself, all but bursting with his knowledge. Lady, but he hoped Katha would tell Kaven soon. He wondered suddenly if Aeriana had named her son, giving him at least part of his true father's name. And had Othalion known? It would explain a good deal, if he had. Thorne found himself almost hoping it was so, and that the general hadn't been willing to put his own son to death to advance a war. But then, that he'd do it to anyone was reprehensible...

Shaking his head, Thorne dried his hands one last time, rubbing a soft balm into them and fetching his lyre, listening to Katha and Kaven talk animatedly of writing and research and scholarly practices. I won't lose him, here. I won't. He still has ties to the rest of Ophidia...

But he couldn't help but worry. After all, apart from his mother, Kaven had never had someone else who cared about him for something more than the fact that he was a prince. Maybe what the prince had thought was love was actually just gratitude for the fact that Thorne didn't treat him like a prince. Maybe now that he was among other nagas--and nagi, he reminded himself--maybe he'd decide there was someone better for him. A pale nagi with whom he could have the younglings Thorne suspected he wanted.

And Lady knew Thorne wanted them, himself, but he'd spent years looking and found no one who suited him better than Kaven, and he was willing to forgo them, or find another way, to be with the prince. But there was no guarantee Kaven felt the same. He'd said himself, months ago, that he barely knew who he was. Now he was in his ancestral home, with his father, whether he knew that or not.

Thorne looked down at his tail, so brightly, stubbornly red and orange together, so different from the pale perfection all around him. Maybe...maybe he should go with Makah to teach others his songs, and not come back. The war still had to be stopped, Ipson overthrown, but Kaven didn't have to return to the world he'd never wanted to be a part of...

What are you thinking? Have you gone mad yourself? He's a prince, a leader, it's in his every thought. Of course he'll want to come back, to help end this. And if he doesn't want you at the end of it, you can live with that, just like you told Ilyria. Buck up and stop worrying about things that haven't happened yet. Thorne's inner voice sounded very much like his master, and he suddenly missed the older naga fiercely. But he let out a soft breath, and firmly resolved to take his own advice.

And then looked up, realizing Kaven and Katha were both staring at him. "What?"

"I said you were wanting something decorative, to go with the royal insignia tattoo," Kaven said, looking faintly worried. "And Katha said he'd be willing to show you a collection of runes he's translated, if you were interested. Where were you, farmboy? Your mind must have been miles from here."

Thorne thought quickly, giving the first excuse that came to mind. "I was thinking about my family, hoping no one's been sent to tell them I'm dead," he replied, the worry popping full formed into his mind to go with all his others.

Kaven's eyes suddenly softened. "I don't think you need to worry," he said. "Other than me and Makah, no one else knew where you were from, or who your family even was. And besides..." he made a face, looking rather bitter. "King Ipson never much troubled himself with those in his employ. Chances are they'll say I was killed, and if any of you were mentioned at all it'll be a footnote as 'my attendants.'" His face clouded, then, and he looked up sharply. "Though...your family will know that was likely you, won't they?"

Thorne nodded, running his fingers over his lyre. "They will. And Mum will worry when we don't arrive to visit her, in any case, even if an announcement isn't made right away. I'd better hurry on those songs even more..."

"I...I could go," a tentative voice spoke up from the doorway, and they looked up to see Tash standing there, Kaven's hair now draped over his wrist, braided and washed. "I mean, I...I could find them, I've been there before, and no one will think to look for a child, anyway."

Thorne exchanged a glance with Kaven, suddenly hoping. Tash was young, but he was right, no one would be looking for a child on his own, and the boy had proved himself more than once. "Are you sure, Tash?"

Tash perked, looking eager to help. "Yeah!" he said. "I'm not marked, see?" He displayed his bare left arm, free of the tattoo of service he wouldn't receive until he was of age. "I could go, they'd just think I was an urchin or a novice looking for a master, and I could take a bow and arrows and hunt--I'm really getting good!--and I could show them your hair so they'd know I was telling the truth. And maybe if you teached me your songs before I go? Or one of them? I could sing them in the inns."

"Taught, not teached," Thorne corrected absently, thinking it through. "It's risky, but I think it's a good idea," he said to Kaven. "Tash, you can stay with my family after you get there, they'll be glad to have you, and having another minstrel to spread the word would only help..." He nodded slowly, looking at Kaven. "What do you think?"

Kaven hesitated. "Within our borders he should be safe enough," he said slowly. "I should have a good deal of silver put away--he can afford food and inns. Though you'll have to be very careful not to let on you have it," he said, turning to Tash with a stern frown. "If someone suspects a child alone is carrying a lot of money, you might be in danger."

Thorne nodded slowly, still thinking and reckoning up the time in his mind. "Tash, if you can get to Tikara within the week, my old master will be there, at The Red Serpent. His name is Karesh, and he can be absolutely trusted, I promise you. Here..." He hesitated only a moment, before pulling off the pendant around his neck, handing it to Tash. "Show him that, he'll know you come from me. He'll get you safely to my village, if you need the help, or give you whatever aid he can. And he'll be able to help spread the word, he's well connected with the other bards."

Tash nodded vigorously, accepting the pendant with wide eyes and slipping it into the small leather pouch at his hip. "Karesh," he said softly, clearly committing the name to memory.

"That way you don't need to wait around for me to write the ballads," Thorne added, as the thought struck him. "You know the tale. Tell it to Karesh, and if nothing else, he can compose one or two himself before he moves on."

Tash nodded again. "All right," he said. "I'll leave tonight! I'll do a good job, I promise," he said, still very wide-eyed, chest puffed just a little with the importance of his task.

"I know you will," Kaven said softly, and Thorne realized his voice was ever so slightly higher, tight with some unnamed emotion. He turned to his lover, brow furrowed, but Kaven wasn't looking at him. The prince gestured for Tash to come closer, and the boy did, sliding forward cautiously. "You be careful, lad," Kaven said, leaning over the edge of the bed and wrapping one arm awkwardly around Tash's shoulders.

Tash hugged him back carefully, mindful of Kaven's bruises, and nodded, pressing his eyes to Kaven's shoulder for a second.

"I will," he said softly. "I promise, sir."

"None of that," Kaven said, pulling back with a gentle smile and wiping quickly at his eyes. Then, reaching suddenly toward the bedside table, he scooped the gold snake coil he used to hold his hair. "This should stay with my hair, I think," he said. "It'd be lonely without it." He paused for a moment, smiling, while Tash giggled, then said, "It should buy you a good apprenticeship with a master, if you like. You've shown a real knack for the lyre."

Tash's eyes went wide again, and he lunged forward, hugging Kaven around the neck. Kaven winced, inaudibly, but it softened quickly enough into a smile, and he squeezed the young page gently, lowering his head so his hair curtained his face.

"Thank you, Kaven," Tash whispered, sniffling before drawing away and wiping clumsily at his face. "Thank you, Thorne."

Thorne drew him into a close hug, as well, finally releasing him again. "Tell my parents I'm safe, and that I'll stay with Kaven. And that I love all of them, and hope I can see them soon, but that I won't put them in danger by coming home before it's safe to do so. And Tash...you'll do well. I have faith in you. We all do."

Tash beamed up at him, lunging forward and hugging him tight for a moment before drawing away. "Thanks," he whispered again, tucking the snake coil into his pouch along with Thorne's pendant. "I'll go pack."

"I'll join you, lad," Katha said, rising and moving carefully forward. "And Brilara will accompany you to the foot of the mountains, after dusk. Come along."

He led the young page out of the room, casting a quick glance back at Thorne and Kaven before he pulled the door closed.

"Are we doing the right thing?" Thorne asked, swallowing hard. "He's so young..."

"But it makes sense," Kaven said, though he himself looked worried. "Brilara will be with him until he's back out of the mountains, and the roads from here to Tikara are safe enough. And Ophidia needs to know the truth," he added, voice softening. "Ipson and father can't win. If they get a war, Tash will die anyway, because once they kill the invading army the centaurs won't leave the rest of us alone, you can be sure of that."

Thorne nodded, sighing. "I should still go to Ketra myself. The more versions of the same story, the better. But knowing my family will know we're safe, and knowing Tash is well out of this...It's worth it. I hope."

"Uh-huh," Kaven said. "So. What was really bothering you, before?"

"What do you mean?" Thorne asked, playing with the end of his tail, not meeting Kaven's eyes.

"Oh, sure. That's convincing." Kaven sighed, when Thorne still didn't look up. "You don't have to tell me," he said softly. "But you can, if you like. I'd...I'd like it, if I could help you the way you helped me, by listening when I needed to talk."

Thorne smiled wryly. "I usually make you drag it out of me, don't I? Figures, when there's nothing real to say I can't shut up, but when there's something actually wrong, I can't talk about it..." He sighed, and shook his head. "I'm being silly, Kaven, that's all, and I know it. It'll pass."

Kaven studied him for a moment, then sighed, looking down and nodding. "All right," he said. "But if you...if you change your mind, I'm...I'm here."

"I'm afraid," Thorne said, as soon as Kaven looked away.

Kaven looked back up at him. "About Ipson?" He sighed. "I am, too, but we're going to fight him; the bards will spread the truth, and we'll get to the centaurs--"

"That, too, but...no, that's not what I meant," Thorne said, curling his tail around his hand and back, in a nervous motion. "I'm afraid of losing you, now that...that you've found where you belong."

Kaven was silent for a very long moment, but Thorne couldn't bring himself to look up, too afraid of what he'd see. Pity? Regret, maybe? He heard Kaven shifting, heard the soft creak of protest of the wicker frame, but when Kaven was suddenly right before him, he jumped, startled.

"Look at me," Kaven murmured, voice low and solemn.

"You're not supposed to get up yet..." Thorne did as he was told, though, slowly raising his eyes to meet Kaven's.

"Shut up," Kaven said, and moved forward to press his lips to Thorne's.

Thorne whimpered, softly, kissing Kaven back, eyes closing as his hands came up and buried themselves in the other naga's hair. "Oh..."

Kaven drew back a little, gazing down at Thorne. After a long moment, he said, "I already found where I belong."

Thorne searched his eyes, knowing Kaven believed it. For now. Who knew what he might think, once Katha told him the truth, once he got to know his cousin, his aunt, his whole family better? But for now...Thorne would be content with what time they had, and try hard not to think about the future. So he merely pressed forward again, kissing Kaven once more. "You should still be in bed, you know," he said when he pulled back, hoping he looked more himself.

Kaven studied him carefully, but finally nodded, easing himself back toward the bed. Thorne helped him up into it, and Kaven settled back with a sigh, looking a little pale. But when Thorne started to pull away again, Kaven reached for him. "Come here," he said. "Please? For a little while?"

Thorne hesitated for a moment, before sliding carefully in next to him. "Let me know if I'm hurting you," he said softly, snugging himself carefully in against Kaven's side.

Kaven just shook his head, tugging him closer. "You're not," he whispered. "I love you," he murmured. "Thanks."

"For what?"

Kaven shrugged. "For coming back. For staying. For saving my life, for helping me figure myself out." He bent forward, pressing a kiss to Thorne's brow. "Take your pick."

"You gave me the life I always dreamed of. Only seems fair to help give you the same." Thorne sighed, snuggling close again, and very gently placed Kaven's hand on his hip. "

Kaven's hand was still for a moment. Then, slowly, it trailed over the scales of Thorne's hip, down to his belly again, then below. "So you really like my hair, huh?"

Thorne looked up at him, smiling widely, running his fingers through. "Lady, yes! Very much. You look younger, and not so sad, somehow..."

"I don't think that's my hair, love," Kaven said softly, pressing against Thorne's sheath with the palm of his hand.

Thorne let out a soft breath of noise, pressing up into Kaven's hand. "Oh..."

"Though I suppose it could be," Kaven added suddenly, his voice taking a note of mock consideration. "Maybe when I pull it back it pulls on my eyebrows and makes me look perpetually sad, when really, it's just my hair..."

Thorne giggled, then gasped when Kaven's hand moved again. "Are we really talking...talking about this now?"

Kaven shrugged. "We could talk about something else," he offered amiably. "So tell me honestly: should I start shaping my eyebrows?"

"Kaven!" Thorne giggled again, wriggling. "Your eyebrows are fine, princeling. And you are incurably silly."

Kaven chuckled. "Doesn't seem to bother you," he pointed out, wrapping his fingers around Thorne's emerging erection.

Thorne groaned again, his head falling back. "Yes, well...he doesn't care what you say as long as you keep doing that..."

"Ah. Not much of a conversationalist. I see." Kaven gave Thorne a gentle squeeze, then set to stroking him lightly. "Well, that's all right. You're usually more than willing to take up the slack."

"Uh huh..." Thorne stopped paying attention to what noises he might be making, pressing into Kaven's touch instead.

Kaven chuckled again, but abandoned talk, pressing close and stroking Thorne gently, feeling him quicken and grow harder beneath him. After a time, he released him, swallowing the muffled cry of protest with a kiss and pressing forward, rubbing his own slick erection against Thorne's.

Thorne cried out, pressing up, tail curling around Kaven's to tug him closer, grind against him. "Mmm..."

"Good?" Kaven whispered, reaching down again and taking both their erections in hand, stroking them together.

Thorne giggled, a gasping laugh that choked off into another groan. "You have to..oh!...to ask?"

"Just making sure," Kaven defended himself, squeezing their heads together and running his thumb over the tips. "Don't want to...ah!...to do anything unwanted...fuck you feel so good..."

"I'm...oh Lady...I'm inexperienced, not ignorant," Thorne returned, his head falling back. "Do whatever you want, it's you, I want it, too."

Kaven growled softly, pressing closer, releasing their cocks and using his hands to grab Thorne's hips and drag him close, crushing them together. "Ah, Lady..." his head tipped back, shorter hair falling from his face as his brow furrowed and his eyes rolled up a little. "That...oh, that feels...Lady, Thorne...!"

Thorne wrapped his tail around Kaven more firmly, using it to move his hips in counterpoint, rub himself against the other naga, gasping with every breath. He didn't want it to stop, this was...was incredible. But already, he could feel himself nearing his release.

Kaven pressed back, making little whimpering noises as he ground them together, pressing tight against Thorne. The larger naga leaned in, nipping at Thorne's shoulder, then soothing it with his tongue, all the while moving his body in short little jerks.

Thorne cried out, bucking up against him, groaning deeply. "Oh...Oh, Kaven, I'm...oh fuck..."

Kaven growled again, reaching between them and taking them in hand again, though none so gentle as before, and stroking them hard and fast. That was all it took for Thorne; he arched and spilled, crying out as he spurted over Kaven's fingers and cock. Kaven reached between them, capturing some of it and bringing it to his lips, tasting; his eyes rolled up and he bucked, hissing as he came as well, spurting up onto Thorne's belly for several long seconds before collapsing, limp and covered in a light sheen of sweat, back against the blankets.

"Oh wow," Thorne murmured, laying where he was, blinking, still panting softly. "Oh wow..."

Kaven turned his head, gasping. "Yeah," he whispered, then cringed, brows furrowing as his face tightened.

Thorne frowned, and pulled himself up, ignoring the quaking aftershocks in his limbs. "Kaven, are you all right?"

Kaven opened one eye and peeked up at Thorne sheepishly. "I'm all right," he said. "Just...maybe got a little more energetic than I...really should have..." he broke off, and gasped a little, then relaxed once more, chuckling breathlessly. "Worth it, though," he added.

Thorne giggled, resting his head against Kaven's shoulder for a moment, before kissing it softly and pulling himself up. "Katha left some tea for you, I'll get it made. And I should scold you, I suppose, but you obviously enjoyed yourself, so...I'll let it go, this time."

Kaven nodded. "You could tell, huh?" he asked, lifting his arms and bracing them behind his head, grinning sleepily up at Thorne from beneath his lashes. "What gave me away?"

Thorne laughed. "The explosive orgasm?" he suggested, pouring water from the kettle over dried herbs, before wetting a cloth to clean himself, and then Kaven, gently pressing kisses over the other's skin and scales, his cheeks lightly pink as he did so.

He felt a hand light softly on his hair, stroking, and when he looked up, Kaven wore a touched expression, a half-smile on his face. "Love you," he said. "Thanks for taking care of me."

Thorne smiled, turning his head to kiss Kaven's palm, before sitting back again. "You're welcome. I've found you need a lot of looking after," he added, teasingly, fingers skating over Kaven's belly, across the sensitive join where scales met skin, just exploring the other naga's body with light caresses. "I love you, too," he added, more softly, meeting Kaven's eyes, his own shining.

Kaven grinned. "When this is over, I promise I'll settle into a boring, calm life of writing or reading or planting herb gardens, and the worst you'll ever get from me is a paper cut or a splinter."

"I'll hold you to that," Thorne said firmly, before kissing Kaven lightly and getting up to fetch his tea. "It needs to cool a bit, but it's ready."

Kaven accepted the mug Thorne poured him gratefully, sipping with caution and relaxing just a bit. "Smell is soothing," he remarked absently. "When do you think you'll leave for Ketra?"

"Now that you're awake and healing..." Thorne shrugged. "A few days. I want to have at least one song finished before we leave, in case there's an opportunity to sing it along the way. I'd go to a closer town, but Ketra's the only one where I can be sure of meeting with friends."

Kaven nodded, running his index finger over the rim of the mug and gazing down into the brown liquid. Then, voice carefully casual, he asked, "How long do you think you'll be gone?"

"Ten days," Thorne replied, sliding carefully in next to Kaven. "Maybe two weeks, if the roads are bad. Longer than I want to be, but..."

"Yeah," Kaven said softly. "I know. And I know it's necessary, but...fuck, I wish it wasn't, you know?" He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, looking suddenly very tired. "But I guess there's nothing for it, really. Father and Ipson are mad, and we're the only ones who know the truth about them. We can't hide up here forever."

Despite Kaven's words, however, there was a wistful quality to his voice when he spoke of staying, and Thorne swallowed hard. "We really can't, not with war coming. Even if it passed us by, here, it...I'd have to leave to help my family."

"Oh, of course," Kaven said, waving his hand. "I wasn't really thinking of staying, not while the rest of the kingdom is in danger." He sighed, looking thoughtful. "I suppose there's no sense in trying to stage a peace treaty now," he said. "The centaurs will likely have heard of our so-called assassination, and they'll know something's up. I suppose we need to seek them as allies in the revolution--Lady willing, between the nagas we can get on our side and the centaurs, if they'll join us, we can amass an army large enough to intimidate Ipson into a peaceful abdication. I'm the appointed heir anyway..."

Thorne nodded slowly, supposing he should've been relieved that Kaven was still planning to be king. "We can hope. When he sees he can't win..." He shivered, slightly. "Lady, I never thought I'd be a part of something like this, even if it is the only way."

"You don't have to be," Kaven said, very quietly, turning to look at him. His face was very serious, eyes intent. "You can still return to safety, Thorne; return home, and wait this out with your family. I would not think any less of you--in fact, it would be quite a relief, to know you weren't in danger."

"I'll be in danger wherever I am, and I'm not leaving you to do this alone. I can help, Kaven, and I'm going to. Even if I am scared to death. You're involved, so I am, too. That's all there is to it." Thorne hoped his voice sounded steadier than he felt.

Kaven sighed, then tried one last time: "You're a minstrel, love," he murmured. "You're not a warrior. I am. Please...consider staying behind, at least, and spreading the word? You needn't risk yourself, coming into Equestria..."

"I'm going with you, Kaven. Or I'm following after, if you try to leave me behind. So it'd be easier to have me with you in the first place." Thorne made sure his tone was matter-of-fact. "I can take care of myself, and I think I proved I can be of help if things go wrong."

"I didn't mean to upset you," Kaven said gently. "Nor to imply I have any doubt in your abilities. It's just..." he hesitated, then sighed. "You are not responsible for any of this. Othalion is my father, and I'm the heir to the throne, but you..."

Thorne smiled slightly, and pressed in against Kaven. "I love you. And I live in this kingdom, and I have family who'll be called up to fight, if Othalion and Ipson have their way. I may not have as much of a personal stake in it as you, no, but I have a stake and I'm in the unique position of being able to do something about it. I can't give that up just because I'm frightened."

Kaven was silent for a long time, curling the very tip of his tail gingerly around Thorne's. Then, finally, he nodded. "I knew you'd say that," he said softly. "But I love you, too, so I had to try."

"You tried very hard," Thorne assured him, biting back a grin and running his fingertips lightly down Kaven's chest, which made the other naga shiver. "I'm just of stubborn stock."

Kaven chuckled at that, sending a ripple of warmth through Thorne's heart. "You are that," the prince agreed. "I certainly can't deny you there."

Thorne rose slightly and kissed Kaven's chin. "We'll make this work," he said, voice serious again. "We'll have so many on our side--the people love you, they really do, and you've done so much for them already...they'll stand with us, Kaven. It'll be all right."

Kaven nodded. "I hope you're right," he said.

Secretly, Thorne hoped so as well.

* * *

Previous Chapter * Next Chapter

Comments

<3 They're so ridiculously cute.

Oh I found a typo :) He heard Kaven shifting, heart the soft creak of protest of the wicker frame
So much love in this chapter. It makes me so happy I'm not even worrying about the future even though I know I should.
Lovely chapter. I can't wait for the next :)
I always love this story, and I'm glad to see a new chapter up! :D

Just a note, found a typo: Thorne sighed, snuggling close again, and very gently placed Kaven's hand on his hip. "
Very fond of this... but when will the next one come? :(

(Anonymous)

please post more!!

we all want to know what happens next!!!
I miss this story. Update!!
Wonderful twist a couple chapters ago, with Kaven's true parentage being revealed.

Looking forward to the song-spreading! And I'm especially curious to see how the centaurs react to being asked for help by nagas.
bridge

October 2009

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