After, Lord Rahl rises and leaves. Abrupt and brisk as his arrival: a knock on the door, the demand in his eyes, the blunt force he used.
The depression in the bed where he'd lain is still warm but the space is empty. Giller watches as Rahl's shadowy form moves through the doorway and the door closes, sealing off light from the corridor, leaving him alone in the dark.
It's been like this for years now. Giller allows himself a few moments in bed. When he rises the pain radiates up and down the length of his body and he has to lay back down.
He falls asleep, briefly, and wakes up when he hears Denna. Her shrieks echoing through the walls of the People's Palace. Even the low hum of Rahl's agiel. When Rahl breaks her again, she'll weep like a small child weeps for her mother. Rahl won't stop.
Giller rolls over and out of bed, ignoring the pain now. He lights a few candles to illuminate his bed-chamber and dresses. Then he pours water from a pitcher into a basin and absently washes his face. It's a purposeless activity, as so many things in his life are, but it's something to do. As he washes, he hums a nursery rhyme his own mother sang over him and his sisters, trying to block out Denna's screaming.
He runs a shaky hand through his black hair. What others didn't know – and only he and Lord Rahl knew anymore – was that he used to toy with his hair. Run his fingers tenderly through it and tease the ends. He liked to run it against his lips, a strange yet endearing habit that had made Giller fall in love with him.
He dries his face. He hasn't had a mirror in years. He knows well enough what he'd see: shadowed eyes. Someone whose life has withered around him over time. Someone who allowed fear, like a fist, to slowly close around him, keeping him rooted here. He can't leave. He can't do anything else. Both ideas are inconceivable. The escape fantasies he used to have were long ago extinguished by the reality of what Lord Rahl would do to him – the one man who knew all of his secrets, magical and non magical – were he to try and leave.
He squares his shoulders and pins a smirk on because it's what he has and what others expect to see. He is Lord Rahl's most powerful wizard and trusted adviser.
He decides to go for a walk to the Palace gardens. He won't, at least, have to listen to Denna as Rahl breaks her again.
He continues humming as he goes, a figure loitering palely and unnoticed through the Palace. He doesn't much dwell on the present, except in doing what Lord Rahl demands. The only past he dwells on is distant to him now.
He walks down long, cold corridors and finally through a doorway and out onto a parapet. A flight of crisp white stairs leads him into the garden. Green so bright it hurts his eyes. Everything neatly trimmed and groomed. Rahl hates disorder, even so much as a dead leaf on the clipped grass.
Giller sits under an apple tree, allowing the dappled sunlight and the smell of new apple blossoms to cascade over him. He leans into the tree and closes his eyes. The smell of dampness in the earth mingles with the apple blossoms; a clean, new scent.
The past he reaches for, which, were he honest with himself, allows him to survive in a secret, private way Lord Rahl cannot reach or decree, is golden as the light through the tree limbs. It's a cooling waterfall on a hot summer's day. The sweet curve of Darken's shoulder and laughter like the rustle of bird wings.
He smelled so young, then, and the memory makes Giller ache. Like silk and sun warmed skin and the vague trace of a rare cologne.
They were both young, mere striplings. Giller all limbs and bony joints, awkward as a colt at times. Darken a softer and more slender version of himself now, facial hair more fuzz than bristles. His movements were light, with a certain agile grace and his eyes were wild rather than cold.
And he was impatient then, as he is now. This thought makes Giller smile. Darken wanted to know all there was to know about magic, and after that, all that was not yet known about magic.
At the time they met, Giller lived and served a small village in the Midlands, bordered by thick and fragrant woodlands. They were referred to as "the woods" by locals, Tanglewood on the maps. They were considered sacred, saturated in some kind of magic from a time before written or spoken memory. Creatures like night wisps were rumored to live in the heart of the forest. Witches and wizards were said to have gone into the Tanglewood and come out wielding previously unknown and extraordinary powers. And the ancient Order of Ashtar had practiced rituals and magic within the woods.
Darken had come to the village, of course, to explore Tanglewood, discover the wellspring of her magical energy. The Order of Ashtar especially intrigued him. He told Giller he'd spent hours pouring over books and manuscripts reading about them and found nothing but the vaguest references. Certainly nothing specific on their magical practices. It irritated and frustrated Darken.
Giller didn't tell this beautiful and strange man much on the onset. Only that he was a wizard and would be happy to help in any way he could. Not that it pained him, spending time with Darken Rahl, drinking his fill of those broad shoulders, listening to his of voice rich, dark wine. Sometimes he even laughed in those days, a happy noise which echoed in the small space of Giller's little cottage. Sitting by the hearthside, feet propped on stools or logs, they talked into the night, faces glowing in the ruddy firelight. They talked until the stars faded from the sky and eastern horizon gave off a faint gray gleam.
A night with a few extra bottles of wine, Giller stretched his long legs into Darken's lap and waited to see what the other man would do. Darken smirked and crooked and eyebrow, but said nothing. He'd mentioned little about his sexual preferences, save that he'd bedded women now and again. But his words were taut when he said it and his face became hard. It was beyond discussion, Giller knew.
Instead they discussed the mechanics of magic. Darken said several things about how magic made him feel powerful and extraordinary. Special, even. This made Giller smile. It sounded sweet and naïve to him then, like a boy who has discovered masturbation for the first time and is both pleased and amazed with the secrets his own body contained.
Giller's teacher had told him magic was nothing more than the ordinary amplified, distilled into pure energy. It adds, it subtracts, just like people. You can add coins to your pouch, or subtract them. This is all a wizard ever really does, but with elements, energy. Giller agreed with this. But Darken thought magic was something that could be used to alter the fabric of this world and the next, for any who wished to.
They digressed to the topic of the Order again and Darken grimaced with annoyance.
"What's so special about sex magic anyways? Anyone can fuck. Even animals do." Darken said. He tossed a strand of dark hair out of his wild, wild eyes and Giller, watching him, wet his lips and thought, just how little you know. The wine coursed through him, hot and reckless.
"I could teach you," he said quietly.
"I could teach you," he said, more loudly.
Darken's eyes turned dark; it frightened Giller. Darken stared at him with an expression which has now become too familiar to Giller. A way of gazing right through a person's flesh and bone as if they were nothing, down into the soul.
"You know something of the Order?" A tone of incredulity hung upon the words.
Giller shrugged. Even in his prime, he knew people did not look at him and think him sensuous or erotic. But he'd always been a creature who knew his own desires. He nurtured them carefully and was nurtured by them. He was careful in his choice of lovers, though. He was shy and reserved as well.
"I know a little," he said. "I learned from a man who used to be a priest of the Order. One of the last. He left a few years ago though. I don't know where he went."
Darken's face turned dark.
"You didn't tell me," his voice low and sharp.
"I didn't know you. It's not something you tell just anyone, Darken."
They stared at each other the space between them fairly vibrating. The firelight lapped over Darken's face in strange, twisted patterns that made him both alluring and grotesque.
Darken relaxed with an indulgent smile.
"I guess you should, then. Teach me," he said and his voice had a quiver which surprised Giller.
"We don't have to."
Darken glared at him and shoved Giller's legs off as he stood. His shoulders and spine were stiff and proud.
"Show me." A command, not a request.
Giller stood up. They gazed at each other, circling closer until Giller felt Darken's breath puff against his cheek. His eyes were wide and dark, vulnerable. Giller pressed his lips into Darken's cheek and enjoyed how the corners of his eyes and lips wrinkled in confusion. He was a straightforward man, this Darken Rahl, and it would be fun to play with him a little.
Darken looked more confused and angry. He pushed them apart.
"What does this have to do with it?"
Giller shut his mouth with kisses. The kisses went from unsure to bruising desire rapidly. Giller was pleased that Darken let himself be lead to the bed. He became unsure, though, as Giller took off his clothes. He glanced at the floor or ceiling rather than Giller, running his fingers over his lips. Giller took Darken's hand in his and pulled it towards him. First he licked Darken's fingers, then sucked them. Slowly, stopping to nip the sensitive finger tips, then drawing his fingers slowly back into his mouth. He could smell Darken's precum, thick and salty, even before he noticed the erection welling against the inside of his thigh. Giller's own cock twitched in anticipation. Darken's breathing quickened and his pupils dilated. He sighed, noise between whimper and moan.
"Take your clothes off," Giller said. Leaning in, he pushed one hand against Darken's erection, squeezing lightly. Darken groaned and bucked a little under his hand. With his other hand, Giller reached under the hem of his shirt, splaying his palm over his stomach. The skin rough and puckered. Darken jerked away. He covered his face in his hands, crouching at the edge of the bed.
"Don't," he said into his hands.
"I'm sorry," Giller said at length.
Darken put his hands down and there was a wetness around his eyes.
"I have – scars," he said. "From burns. Wizard's fire. It killed my father. I saw. I was standing next to him. I was burned too."
"When?" Giller asked before he could consider.
"I was a six. Maybe. I don't."
He wrapped his arms around himself and looked at the blankets on Giller's bed. No amount of training in magic, sexual or otherwise, could provide Giller with instructions here. He felt a sharp sorrow and anger that a child would have to watch his own father die and then suffer through months of pain.
"I'm sorry," he repeated.
Darken laughed and it was a sickening sound.
"You don't have to be," he said, words barbed.
Giller listened crickets outside of his cottage and the fire burning low in the hearth.
"I hate my scars."
Darken looked up at Giller. A light wind could crush him, he seemed so tiny in the dim light. Giller looked at him tenderly, reaching out to traced his fingers along Darken's jaw. He kissed his throat, caressed his sides and back with broad, soothing strokes. Darken sighed and relaxed into Giller and they lay back in the downy folds of the bed. They fell asleep, breathing in each other's smell.
In the morning Giller would tell him: That was something of what the Order of Ashtar liked to practice. A kind of magic. The way I took the pain in you and cradled it in my own body by just holding you and touching you. It was subtraction. Or addition, depending at how you look at it.
Darken would look nonplussed. But he grabbed Giller around the waist anyways, pinning him and attacking him, voracious and open mouthed, erection a burning line between them.
"I can give you addition," he hissed into Giller's ear. "To whatever orifice you like." Sucking on Giller's neck until Giller cried with pain and pleasure.
In the weeks and months which followed, they poured their desires into one another until they were raw with it and each other. Darken's touch, scent, voice, could arouse a white, tight heat in Giller. For once in his life he had a partner who sated him through and through, strange though he was. He seemed to grasp the notion of pain well too, something not many could.
Sprawled together, misted over by a fine dew from a waterfall, Giller stroked his bare and scarred shoulder.
"Pain can be a useful tool," he said, tracing the pink rim of Darken's ear. "It awakens and pushes the body and the soul. It can give new kinds of pleasures and make old pleasures seem new again." He leaned down and bit a mark into Darken's shoulder until a red welt appeared. Darken moaned and his whole body rolled towards Giller's mouth. Giller released him and ran his fingers lightly over the mark.
"It's a skill, using pain precisely. With the intent of pleasure, of course."
"Pleasure," Darken mumbled.
"You wouldn't want to do lasting harm, though."
"Mm." That small sound which rang in Giller's memory, a noise of both contentment and warning.
He opens his eyes. The sky above the People's Palace is stark and bare, so pale it's nearly the same color as bone. The sun is blotted out by tree leaves and apple blossoms. He can hear chanting in the distance: Lord Rahl's Devotional. He mumbles the words until they ebb from his lips, the same way sweetness and Darken's kisses had ebbed from his lips over time. Giller couldn't remember the last time they laughed together and it felt good.
They never discovered the magical secrets of Tanglewood, though they wandered its depths. There were no night wisps and no secluded temples were the priestesses and priests of Ashtar practiced their ancient sexual magic. But there were stars strung from the tree branches and moonlight caught in Darken's hair. A low symphony of whispers and moans. Sweat pouring off bodies and mingling them with each other, the earth below and the air above. Maybe they even said they loved each other. Silly nonsense. Giller wouldn't remember.
"It's not magic," Darken said once, when they woke one morning to the soft cooing of doves.
Giller tried to argue with him but Darken interrupted.
"It's not, Giller." He looked at Giller with that absent, icy look. "It's not."
Giller might have known then. Might have predicted that the pain from his childhood scars yet burned. Would drive Darken into a kind of madness which would transform him into Lord Rahl. But he didn't allow himself to dwell on it at the time, of course.
A light tread, gliding down the white steps. Giller looks up. Lord Rahl frowns at him. He is wearing red, as usual, so Giller doesn't see the blood on him until he comes closer. He is wiping blood from his hands with a cloth. The blood can only be Denna's.
They share a look. Lord Rahl smirks down at Giller. Slowly and painfully, by force of will, Giller returns the smirk.
Lord Rahl turns and walks quickly away, footsteps echoing after. Giller is alone in the garden and no birds sing.