A Voice on the Wind (part 2)
Napoleon Solo leaned on the railing and looked out over the blue ocean - still blue today, although word was they would soon be reentering the influence of the Dome. Then the water would darken, and the skies would begin to take on the wild poisonous hues he remembered so well. But for now dolphins paced the ship, white clouds sailed overhead, and the air was fresh and clean. He inhaled deeply.
He was alone. Charles was talking to the captain, confirming the arrangements for their homeward journey. Alcott Solo - if they could persuade him to accompany them - was too old and frail to live below, as he and Illya had done, as he and Charles were doing now. Charles had some private funds, and Napoleon had put his own towards that, and they had paid in advance for a cabin. It would be crude, and small, and would no doubt horrify the old man, but it would be better than a bench in the hold.
Napoleon smiled, remembering that first journey, nearly a year ago now. He had been fearful of the unknown, fearful of what lay ahead, fearful even of the changes he could see in his Companion. He had lost his past, and faced an uncertain future. All he knew for certain was that Illya was at his side, and Charles was waiting for him. It made him wonder at the courage of the men and women who came alone, with no promise of a welcome.
He looked down at his forearms, resting on the rail. They were muscular and brown, marked with scars from adventures. Here were the claw marks the wildcat had left on him as he drove it from their store of venison. He had fought it off with a club and his bare hands because they needed that meat, they had to have it. And he had won. Napoleon laughed a little, remembering. After all that Illya had taken a whole hind leg and tossed it to the wildcat, still snarling in the bushes. When Napoleon had reproached him, Illya had looked at him with those blue eyes and said that the cat's dugs showed she had nursing kittens somewhere, and needed the meat as much as, if not more than, they did. Napoleon had tousled Illya's hair and said no more, but he had spent the next several days building a stone enclosure for their supplies.
These burns were from the green firewood he had carelessly tossed onto the hearth. It had popped and sent sparks flying everywhere, igniting two small fires which he had beat out with the hearthrug. Napoleon regarded his arms with pleasure. They were the arms of a man, a man who hewed wood and hauled brush, who shot his dinner with a bow and arrow and dressed the game himself.
It had been a lovely summer, that first one in their new home. He and Illya had worked hard, but there had been time for romps in the surf, too, and walks through the forest. They had talked long and earnestly into the night, made love in their cozy loft, danced in the town square with their friends, and put their roots - their joined roots - deeply into the earth of their community.
Charles had not forgotten his desire to add the Others' blood line to their own, and when he had put it to Illya again, Illya had come to Napoleon and discussed it with him.
"It seems I should," he said. "It seems it is more than my decision to make, that my mother and my father and my brothers would urge it on me. Else our line dies with me. And from what I hear it is not so onerous a task."
"No," Napoleon answered, thinking of that long ago party, that long ago girl. "But I don't like it. I'd forbid it, if I thought that would do any good." He said this almost petulantly because sometimes it was still hard to get used to, this idea that Illya would not obey him as a matter of course, that Illya would weigh his options and make his own choices, even when they went against what Napoleon thought best.
"Would you?" Illya eyed him. "Why? Do you agree with your professors, then, that those of my race are a vermin to be exterminated, and that their seed - my seed - should not contaminate your pure blood lines?"
"No! Illya - surely you cannot think that of me. Of course not! I see how fine you are, how good and how ... how noble. How can you say that?"
"It just doesn't seem right. It seems ... I mean ..." he couldn't put words to it after all and when he stumbled to silence and turned away, Illya laid a hand on his shoulder.
"This would not touch what we have together, Napoleon. I would do my duty -"
"And enjoy it," Napoleon said bitterly. But he didn't shrug Illya's hand off, and it tightened.
"Perhaps. But when it was over I would come back to you. And be glad of it. And you need not wait for me all alone," he added, and a mischievous tone entered his voice. "Susan says that ..."
"Susan? Is she the one Charles has in mind for you?"
"She wants a child, but not to be bound to any man. Susan says -"
"Hmph." Napoleon thought about it. Susan. She was a snub nosed red headed laughing girl with a full, buxom figure. Somehow being able to put a name to her, and moreover the name of a girl he knew and liked, made her less threatening than the nameless faceless seductress he had been picturing. Illya would mate with Susan, would pierce her as Napoleon had pierced that long ago girl, then would return to him. And when Susan was pregnant, it would be over. He became aware that Illya hadn't finished talking, that he himself had interrupted, and that now Illya was waiting for Napoleon's attention to return to him. "Yes?"
"Susan," Illya repeated, "has a sister."
"Yes. Alexis and Susan think it would be pleasant for the two of them to share this experience. To carry their children together, to give birth at the same time, to raise them together."
"You mean you would be with both sisters? Isn't that ... well, it seems ... unseemly." He flushed because not only was he stammering like a schoolboy but Illya was laughing at him. He looked away.
"Alexis wants your child."
"Mine? She expects me to ... wants me to ..." wholly unbidden his organ stirred at the thought of Alexis, a sunny freckled blonde. "Won't you mind? Because I will. About you and Susan, I mean." And if you say that you won't mind, that you don't care, he thought with sudden desolation, what will that mean? Have we come this far together for me to lose you now? Were you only and ever with me because you felt you had no choice, and now that it has been brought clearly to your attention that your choices are wide, will you leave me behind? He couldn't say any of this, but he couldn't look at Illya either.
"Oh, I'll mind," Illya said, and there was no laughter in his voice now. "I'll mind like hell. You'll be doing with her what you do with me -"
"Close enough. You'll touch her, and you'll kiss her, and hold her, and I'll want to kill her. Or you. Or both of you together. You'll probably like being with a woman, it's what you wanted way back when your father bought you me instead. You'll -" and that was as far as he got when Napoleon grabbed him by the shoulders and kissed him. He kissed Illya hard and Illya kissed him back just as hard and they rolled about on the floor of their cabin with a ferocity that was as much like fighting as it was like making love. Inside Napoleon was exultant. Illya was jealous too, yes he was! It wasn't some pitiable aberration on Napoleon's part after all! He tried to pin Illya on his back and Illya shoved against him hard and he shoved too. They strove together until the end, when their wild cries were silenced in one another's mouths and then they lay panting, twined in one another's arms, bruised and sore from the battle. It was hard to get up the ladder that night, to their great mattress in the loft, but they managed, and then they did it again.
So they went to Susan, and to Alexis; went several times, and afterwards they swam in the creek behind their cabin and ate voraciously of their simple dinner and slept in one another's arms. First Alexis, then Susan, had conceived, and Napoleon found himself far more intrigued by the prospect of fatherhood than he had imagined. He had thought his involvement would end with the pregnancy, but it had deepened, and he was thankful that both girls were cheerful and fun loving, that they were intelligent and strong. Alexis moved into Susan's house, so neither would be alone at this time, and the four of them spent many pleasant evenings together. Just last week, the night before Napoleon and Charles sailed, Napoleon had felt his child stir under his hand, the hand laid flat on Alexis's rounded belly, and joy had flared inside him.
Winter had proven unexpectedly delightful. Crops were in, game was hard to find and they lived on the stores they had set aside. There was plenty of time to talk, and to just be quiet one with the other. There was plenty of time for love.
Napoleon and Illya woke every morning to water frozen in washing basins, to their own breath floating out before them. They hastily built up the fire, and shoveled any fallen snow off the roof and off the path. There were community gatherings, there was ice fishing - and oh, the horror of seeing Illya fall through a treacherous spot in the ice, the stomach clenching teeth grinding suspense of groping for him, seeing his hands claw futilely at the smooth ice, pulling him up. Illya had shuddered and sweated and moaned with fever for three days afterwards, coughing and wheezing while Sarah dosed him with willow bark, and Napoleon cursed their lack of basic medical supplies.
Medical supplies were on their list of items to try and procure. With a cabin on the ship there would be room for a few boxes and they had laid their plans accordingly. Antibiotics, fever reducers, pain relievers. Salt and sugar and thread. Coffee ... "for the love of God" Dillard had said hoarsely and several others had nodded agreement. Metal tools - nails and screws and saws. Goats, to supplement their meager milk supply. And a few carefully chosen dogs and cats, because cats would help keep vermin away from the food stores and dogs would stand watch and be both guardian and companion to lonely people. Susan and Alexis would dearly love a dog and Napoleon suspected that Illya would too, although with so many putting in their requests he had not asked. "They'll breed," he had said when Napoleon had pressed him. "I can wait."
Yes, life was good. It was very good. He had never known such joy was possible for him. But he often thought of his father with a sore heart. The old man had been kind to him, after his fashion. He hoped they could persuade Alcott Solo to come with them. Charles's second daughter had been born in late summer, a tiny mite with great dark eyes, and his eldest was a lovely little thing who would sit on Alcott Solo's lap, and twine his hair around her finger as she did to Charles, and fill the old man's empty heart with pleasure in this growing family.
"Well Napoleon, you look deep in thought." Charles laid an arm across his shoulders, and they watched the water together.
"I'm thinking of Father," he answered. "What will we say? How will we even present ourselves to him? He might bar the door against us."
"My plan is to be there when he returns from work. To be sitting in the library when he walks in."
"The shock may kill him."
"I doubt he is so frail as that, and if he is then this voyage is not for him. I think his first emotion on seeing us alive and well will be joy. That will be a good starting place."
"I hope so, Charles. With all my heart, I hope that the next time we see the sun ..." for clouds were moving in, the wind was picking up, and the dolphins had abandoned them ... "he will be here to see it with us."
"That is my hope as well, little brother."
It was strange, this reversal of their original voyage. They had to abandon the deck and retreat to the hold below when the sky darkened and the winds howled, and when the air was no longer fit to breathe they donned their suits.
There was landfall, and suddenly a troop of white suited men was running in carrying loads, and Napoleon and Charles were stripping off their brown suits, exchanging them for white, lifting containers and hastening into the carrier. And then there they were, sitting on the long row of benches, faces concealed from one another, rising to urinate, rising to eat, rising to defecate. Napoleon had nothing to do but think, and remember, and what he thought about, and the things he remembered, all had to do with Illya.
Illya, running down a forest path, light footed and agile as the deer he pursued. Illya, diving into the waves off shore, as often as not getting slammed into the sand, coming up scraped and laughing. Illya, sitting by the fire of an evening, its flickering light sparkling in his eyes, turning his hair into golden flames of its own. Illya in his arms, kissing him, wrapping arms and legs around him - arms and legs that were now strong as Napoleon's own. Napoleon sighed and Charles poked him.
"Are you well, Napoleon?"
"Yes. Thank you. Charles - do you miss Sarah?"
"Oh yes," Charles said fervently. "I miss the sound of her laughter, the touch of her hand - every morning when I wake, even in this strange place, I turn my head and expect to see her by my side. Instead," he laughed, "I see you in this outlandish garb."
"Oh." Napoleon felt better. He'd worried that it was a weakness in him, that he missed Illya so intensely. He had been taught that a man should never depend upon anything or anyone beyond himself. Charles seemed to read his thoughts.
"No one person can be strong in all the ways that are needed in life. When you have two, with differing strengths, these combine and create a force greater than either can know alone. Take you and Illya, for instance. You are strong in the controlled, steady, focused way of our family. We are driven men, fixed on our goals. And that is good. But Illya is wild. He will take on any challenge just because it is there. He throws himself into danger without thought for his own safety, and he is quick to take offence."
Yes Illya was. One of Dillard's friends had made the mistake of saying "Fetch me that platter, boy," and Illya had hurled himself at him, knocking him to the ground, pummeling him with such fury that it had taken Charles and Napoleon both to pull him off. "But," Charles went on, "sometimes that is what is needed. It takes both. I would not share this with anyone but you, little brother, but I get down in the depths of despair at times. Sometimes the weight of all these people, the necessity for bringing in enough food for all, the danger, the loss of life ..." for seven people had not survived the winter; two victims of exposure, three of pneumonia, one of appendicitis, one of snakebite ... "crushes me into the ground. And then it is that Sarah lets me rest in her strength until I find my spirit again. I do miss her, Napoleon. I miss her sorely."
"I miss Illya sorely too."
"And Mary, my little wood nymph." Charles smiled, and Napoleon smiled too at the thought of his niece. "I miss her little hands patting my face, the warmth of her head on my chest. You have a great joy ahead of you, Napoleon. A child is a whole other source of strength."
"Well, he will mainly be with his mother ..."
"No. He ... or she ... is yours as much as hers. And if my wife is any example, Alexis will be glad enough for you to share the burden. It is a shame that you will be away for the birth."
"Yes. But Illya is there."
"Yes." They said no more, sat and waited, and after a while they rose for their meal.
They bought their supplies first, before going home. Neither said it aloud, but the possibility that their father would denounce them, would call the authorities and send them on the run, was in both their minds. Best to have this necessary business finished, before exposing themselves to such risk.
So they bought coffee and tools, sugar and nails. They bought medicine in a wide assortment. They bought from furtive men in back streets, and from big bellied grocers behind their counters. They left the livestock for last, and it was while they were on their way to the market that they found the bookseller.
They looked at one another. "Books," Charles said and his voice sounded like Dillard's when he had asked for coffee. "Real print books. It wouldn't matter that we have no power for an EED. What do you say?"
"Yes," Napoleon answered simply and they went inside. The store wasn't at all what he had expected. He had expected texts, and the fatuous romances that women read. He had expected something to while away the hours, nothing more. Instead they found thick tomes written by men and women neither had ever heard of. Long strange names, like Shakespeare and Franklin, Thackeray and Dickens, Thoreau and Orwell and Jefferson. Women's names, like Austen and Bronte and Graham and Rand. Books for children and young people as well as for adults. Napoleon browsed some of them and was caught by the flow of language, the topics that could have come from yesterday's news broadcasts instead of centuries long past. A thought struck him as he set aside his selections.
"Do you have anything in the language of the Others?" he asked, and the storekeeper raised his eyebrows.
"Not much call for that," he answered cautiously.
"Reconnaissance missions are being planned," Napoleon said. "My uncle thought it might be useful to have some idea of what the enemy say among themselves, if indeed they still live. But if you haven't got any it makes no matter."
"No, there are some. Here" He went into the back room and returned with a small assortment of battered volumes. Napoleon opened them and stared, baffled, at the strange backwards looking print. He had no idea which were important, if any, so he bought all seven and added them to their growing stack, all wrapped up to be delivered to the carrier, which was already waiting for their return journey.
Next came the noise and odor of the animal market. Charles and Napoleon selected goats and cats and dogs. The cats, sleek yellow eyed creatures, all looked the same to both men, so they had to take the word of the merchant as to their ferocity with rodents. The dogs were easier. They had decided to purchase large dogs, dogs that could guard a farm from bears and wolves as well as pull small carts. They wished for horses, but that would have to wait for another voyage, when they would be the only cargo. "They're large and skittish," Charles had explained. "The captain will only take them on a specially designed ship with no other animals to worry about."
"Get out of here!" the dealer snapped, aiming a kick at a small prick eared brown dog who had been nosing around. It dodged his foot, but couldn't avoid the rock he threw, giving a sharp protesting yelp of pain. In a moment Napoleon felt it behind his feet, pressing against the backs of his legs in an attempt to hide. The little body was trembling.
"Would anybody want this one?" Napoleon asked casually. "Maybe one of the women, as a pet?"
"She can catch rats good as any cat," the dealer allowed grudgingly, but Charles shook his head.
"No. The others will make equally loyal pets, and can give safety and security as well." Then a slow grin crossed his face. "Unless you want her, Napoleon. Do you?"
"Well ..." He picked the little animal up. It sat on his lap, looking about alertly. When the merchant made a move to swipe it off, it growled softly. "If it wouldn't be depriving somebody else."
"Illya can have her and welcome," Charles said drily and Napoleon, who had thought he was being subtle, reddened. The merchant snorted.
"Take her for nothing," he said. "Always underfoot and in the way."
"I thought you said she killed rats," Napoleon protested.
"The cats do that just as well and I need take no notice of them."
"Yes, Napoleon." Charles's mouth was twitching. "The cats can do it just as well. And where would she travel? Put her in an enclosure with the bigger dogs and if they didn't tear her to pieces she'd still get no share of the rations. She'd never survive the voyage."
"She can travel with us," Napoleon said defensively. "There might be rats in the cabin."
Charles laughed, and waved a hand and when they left the animal trader's the little dog trotted by Napoleon's side, a length of rope knotted around her neck. How pleased Illya would be with the results of this day, Napoleon thought, and smiled. The books, and now this bright little creature to share their home ... oh, life was good. Life was very good.
Miss Giraud fell on their necks, one after the other. "Master Charles! Master Napoleon!" She wept a little in her apron, then beamed at them. "This is a good day, lads, a good day indeed! I never thought to see your dear faces again. Ah, what sweet little boys you were, and then gone who knew where! Oh, your father was angry when you did not come home that day, my lord Napoleon. He cursed your Companion up and down and himself, too, for bringing him here. Did the lad go with you? Is he well?"
"Yes, Illya went with me - or I with him. And yes, he is well. It is good to see you too, Miss Giraud. Is our father home yet?"
"Not yet. I expect him within the hour."
"We'll await him in the library," Charles said. "Please don't tell him we are here. His first response is very important."
"All right. And what is this?" She bent down and patted the little brown dog. "He won't like to see it in the house. I'll keep it with me. No sense in borrowing trouble."
"No sense at all," Napoleon agreed, and handed her the end of the rope. Then he and Charles went into the library - an odd word for a room with no books, Napoleon thought as they came inside, his mind still holding the impression of the full shelves at the bookseller's. Instead there was a desk, and several computers, and a large view screen. But it had always been called the library, because a gentleman had a library, and, like so much else, he had never thought to question it.
He and Charles sat on the sofa and waited in silence. Napoleon wondered if Charles were as uneasy and apprehensive as he himself was, but he didn't like to ask. Charles appeared just as usual, ankle propped on one knee, hands steepled at his chin, dark eyes taking in his surroundings. It had been even longer for Charles than for him, Napoleon reflected. The last time Charles would have seen this room was the day before he left for college.
"Did you know, when you went away to school, that you weren't coming back?" he asked when the silence finally became too much for him. Charles shook his head.
"No. I had no thoughts beyond having a good time in school, far from our father's dour influence. I wondered what sorts of Companions the other boys would have, and if they would be agreeable to a trade. Honey didn't mind," he added, in response to whatever he saw in Napoleon's face. "She liked a change. She had the attention span of a butterfly - a beautiful butterfly, flitting from flower to flower. As long as she was well treated, and well rewarded for her time, she was well pleased." A pause, then, "Father certainly strove to do differently by you."
Napoleon smiled a little. "Yes, he certainly did. There was never any question of trading Illya about. I knew without even asking him - knew by the next morning - that he would hate it. I hadn't the heart to impose it on him. And it seemed wrong. He was so proud, even then, even in his humble station. And the more I got to know him, the more unjust it seemed, that he was property." He stopped, then went on. "Father said I would learn about myself through owning him. He was far more right than he knew." The sound of the front door opening silenced him, and in a moment Alcott Solo stood in the doorway, gaping at them.
He tried to carry it off. He lifted his chin and demanded "Well, sirs, what ..." then he broke. His face wrinkled up and tears ran down his cheeks. Without another word he held out his arms and both men went to him. They embraced, together in a tight knot, and Alcott Solo gasped "My sons, my sons. Charles, and Napoleon. I thought you gone from me forever. I thought I would go into my dotage and my deathbed alone, a man with no sons. And here you are." He hugged them fiercely to him. "Fear not, I will settle things with the authorities. Now you have seen the error of your ways, now you have returned to my home, all will be well. I guarantee it, I will see to it. We will not speak of this time again. Youth will ... youth can be excused. You are back, and that is all that matters my sons, oh my sons." He wept bitterly and briefly and Napoleon met Charles's eyes in dismay. What to say to this weeping father? How to explain ... but Charles gave him a small smile and a wink. Leave it to me, the wink said and Napoleon felt better.
Charles gently disengaged from the embrace and led their father to his chair. He drew up a chair of his own to face him, and Napoleon perched uneasily on the edge of the sofa.
"There is no error in our ways," Charles said, and Napoleon's stomach clenched as he saw his father lift his eyes to Charles in disbelief. "All should be equal, and all men deserve to live as men. We have found a new world, father - or should I say we have found the old world. Outside -" here he was interrupted.
"Outside! You have been Outside! But it is forbidden, it is death! How can this be?"
"Do we look near death to you?" Charles asked cheerfully and Napoleon saw his father's eyes travel from Charles's sun darkened face to his own, and back again. "Once well away from the Domes it is a glorious world, father. There is sun and clouds and stars and creatures long believed extinct. We have built lives for ourselves there, hard lives but lives as free men. We have come ..." he reached out, enfolded his father's hands in his own large strong ones ..."to bring you there, father. I have a wife, and two daughters. Napoleon also has a child on the way. We would fill your remaining years with family, and love, and joy. Please ... please come with us. You can trust me. You can trust us both. We have arranged safe passage for you, and a home awaits you. A daughter awaits you, and grandchildren."
And another son, if you wish it, with yet another grandchild, Napoleon thought, but didn't say. He and Charles had agreed that the subject of Illya was a potentially explosive one and should not be raised. Time enough later, to discuss it. So he put out his own hand to cover his father's, still enfolded in Charles's. "Please," he said hoarsely. "Father - the only flaw in our joy is your absence, is the thought of you alone here in this city. We have missed you greatly. Charles has built an extension onto his own house where you can live - surrounded by loved ones yet with space of your own. Please come with us. Please." He heard tears in his voice, and wasn't ashamed.
There was a long silence. Then Alcott pulled his hands free and rose. He pointed towards the door. "No!" he thundered. "How dare you come here, with your lying promises and false portrayals of a life that cannot be, trying to lure me from the path of duty! Go! Leave me before I call the authorities down upon you!"
"Father - would I lie to you?" Charles sounded near tears as well. "Would I ask you to come, returning here at great risk to do so, unless a better way had presented itself?"
"You would turn from your family honor, so I no longer know you! Nor do I know what you might do, what twisted motives you might have for drawing me away! Leave this house, and never return!"
Although they had tried to prepare themselves for this, now it had come it was terribly hard. Napoleon and Charles looked at one another, and then Charles shrugged. "We can do no more, Napoleon," he said, and his voice was weary. "It was worth the effort, worth the trip. I am sorry, Father. So much joy awaits you and you turn it away."
"Lads." It was Miss Giraud, standing in the doorway. She still clutched the end of the dog's lead in both hands, and they were raised to her breast. Alcott Solo turned to glare at her.
"No one has summoned you, woman. You grow impudent, and above yourself. Return to your kitchen duties else I will turn you out of doors!"
"Is there a place for women in this new world?" she asked, ignoring their father. "Is there? Are there other women there? Do you not need a good cook and seamstress? I would - I would very much like this life you speak of."
"What!" Alcott Solo's face grew so dark that Napoleon really feared he might have a stroke. "You would dare! You would leave me, after all I have done for you!"
"You would turn me out of doors after all I have done for you!" she flashed back. "Young lords, there is nothing for me here, just a room that is not mine. Please take me with you. I'll be no trouble and, indeed, in a raw new land you might be glad of me. I have delivered many babies, I have nursed the sick back to health. I can ..." her voice broke and Napoleon, without even waiting for Charles, went to her and embraced her. This good woman, who had raised him as if he were her own, and he had never once considered bringing her along! He would have taken Alcott Solo and left without a thought for what would become of her! He was bitterly ashamed.
"Of course you may come with us," he said and heard Charles murmur assent. "There are many women there and they are as free as the men. We will be very glad of you, glad of your skills, and glad of your loving heart and open arms. Can you leave right now?"
"You may fetch a few things," Charles said. "Hurry." She turned without a word and ran towards the stairs. Napoleon cocked an eyebrow at Charles.
"How will she manage on the transport vessel? She can hardly ..." in his mind he saw the long lines of white suited men, sitting and rising and walking and urinating and eating as one.
"No, she cannot travel as we travel - as you would travel, Father, if you would but change your mind. But there are accommodations. It shames me, that I had not thought of it on my own."
"Me too. Father ..." he turned again towards the old man. "Please come with us. Think of how happy you would be, sitting with Charles's daughter on your lap. She is an enchanting little pixie."
"A girl and therefore worthless," his father snarled, and Charles sighed.
"If that is truly how you feel then you are correct. This new world is no place for you. Goodbye, Father. I am sorrier than I can say that our journey has ended like this. Come, Napoleon. I hear Miss Giraud on the stairs."
Indeed her flying feet were approaching, and when she stood again in the doorway she carried a small valise and wore her sturdiest shoes, her warmest coat. The dog waited quietly at the end of its rope. "I am ready, young masters," Miss Giraud announced. "And if you were not such a stubborn old fool you would be putting on your coat as well," she said to Alcott Solo, whose mouth opened and closed in speechless outrage. "Live alone then in this grand house, telling all who inquire that you have no sons! I hope your spite will keep your empty heart full." She turned, and stomped out the door. More slowly, Napoleon and Charles followed her.
It was as Napoleon was swinging the heavy door shut that Alcott Solo cried out, in a terrible voice. "My sons! My sons! Do not desert me! Charles! Napoleon!"
They stopped, but did not turn. There was another long silence, then that dreadful sobbing began again behind them. Charles turned back and went inside. Napoleon waited, hand on the door. Miss Giraud and the dog were on the steps. "Father," Charles said and Napoleon had never heard such pity in anyone's voice. "It is not so hard. Just come. One foot in front of the other. You have nothing to fear. We are strong and young - I have a high position in our new community. You will be respected and looked up to. Come." His voice had changed, from pleading to a note almost like command. "Come, Father. I cannot leave you like this. I will not. Come with us." And then, incredibly, Alcott Solo did indeed move one foot, then the other. He came to the door and Napoleon took his other arm. Together, they walked out the front door, closing it behind them. Together they went down the steps. Charles hailed a taxi, and Miss Giraud got in the front, the dog on her lap. The driver began to protest and Charles handed him a folded bill which silenced the protest before it was uttered. He tucked it in his pocket and Charles handed Alcott Solo in. Napoleon went around the other side and got in too and, with the old man sandwiched between them, they were driven to the station.
It wasn't until the sun came out that Alcott Solo spoke again. He had wrapped himself in silence and scowls and a dark brooding anger. They had donned the white suits in silence, sat side by side in silence, rose, walked, ate, used the latrines, all in silence. The little dog stayed with Napoleon - the thickness of the wad of bills Charles had handed over testimony to the irregularity of its presence - and Miss Giraud had been led away by two white suited men. She had cast one frightened look behind her as she went, and Charles smiled and nodded firmly. She had nodded back, and they had not seen her since. "When ..." Napoleon had asked, and, "When we arrive," Charles had answered, and they said nothing more. It was as if their father's gloom was contagious.
When the carrier stopped and they rose, there was no grabbing and running for their little party. The ship's captain met them himself, and escorted them to a small cabin on deck. He smiled at the dog, and rubbed her ears. "Can she spend some time in the storage hold to hunt up rats?" he asked. "We will close the doors so she cannot get lost. We tried it with cats, but they tend to disappear inside, only to reappear later on with litters of unwanted kittens. We tried only putting one sex in and they fought one another more than they fought the rats. If this works out I will purchase some little dogs for my own use." Napoleon had agreed, so every morning after breakfast a sailor came and fetched Brownie, as Napoleon had somewhat unimaginatively named her, and carried her away. He returned with her before dinner and she always looked very pleased with herself, and the sailors were pleased with her too. Napoleon could have sold her many times over. But she leapt onto his lap with such evident joy every evening that he couldn't do it - indeed, had no desire to do it.
It was very different traveling thus, and despite the greater comfort Napoleon found himself missing the camaraderie of the men below decks. There were no storms on this voyage, and day followed day in the silence and the unspoken rage of their cabin.
But when the sun's rays first poured through their little porthole, Alcott Solo lifted his face to it in disbelief. He said nothing as yet, but when they brought him out on deck, when he stared out over the sparkling blue water, and up into the depths of the cloudless sky, he ended his silence at last.
"Forgive me," he whispered, and reached out both hands. They were trembling, and Napoleon took one while Charles took the other. "Why should I think you would lie to me? I just ... I could not conceive of it. But there it is. There it is. And ... but what is this? What ... Charles! Napoleon! Defend yourselves! I am an old man, and now I have seen the sun. I do not fear death. But you are young ... back, you treasonous dog! Back!" He brandished his fists at the sailors who were throwing men into the sea all around them. Napoleon put an arm around his father's shoulders.
"Fear not," he said. "It is an initiation for those who have never seen this sight before. They will not treat you so. Charles and I have both been through it. See, already they are bringing the men back up." But he shuddered as he said it, thinking of the sharks and other monsters swimming just below the surface.
"I too thought it was treason, when it happened to me," Charles said, and his voice was warm with laughter. "I thought they would sail away and leave me to drown. But they didn't."
"I too thought so," Napoleon said. "I was terrified. But Illya saw them drawing the others up ..." his voice trailed off as his father spun around to glare at him.
"Illya! You mean that wretched boy I so foolishly purchased for you? I should have known better than to bring one of the Others into our home! Do not tell me he traveled with you! Do not ..." he nearly choked on his fury. "Do not say he too is in this new world! That I will see him again ... I will thrash him if I do! I will flog him to death! I will flay him, I will -" Napoleon put a hand over the old man's mouth.
"Illya is there," he said and his voice was hard now. "And you will not lift a hand to him. He is my Companion still, and I am his. We are together. We share a residence, we share our work, we share everything. And he is not yours - or anyone's - to flog. We do not treat one another so in our new home. This is not how I meant to tell you, but I am glad you know. I love Illya, father."
"Faugh!" His father spat over the rail. "Might as well say you love that four legged creature which shares our cabin. Better say it - at least a dog is true to its nature!"
"Well, I think Napoleon does love Brownie," Charles said wryly. "And Illya is true, father. He is strong, and brave, and honest and hard working. He is a credit to our new community. He will be a credit to you, if you will allow it. Another son for your hearth."
"Another ..." abruptly Alcott Solo turned on his heel and left them. Napoleon looked at Charles ruefully.
"Well, that could have gone better."
"Just as well to have it out in the open. He has more than a week to grow accustomed to the idea. Better certainly than having him find out by seeing Illya standing on the beach, and possibly attacking him with the nearest stick!" And, when Napoleon groaned and put his head down on the railing, Charles patted his back. "All will be well," he said confidently. "I am sure of it. He is with us, and that is the important thing. Wait until he sees the women speaking up for themselves and working alongside men! That shock should put the matter of Illya on his back burners, brother."
"And the girls being schooled with the boys."
"And every laborer having an equal voice in community decisions. Yes, he has a very large pill to swallow, and Illya is only one portion of it. Time will take care of it all."
They said nothing further, just stood and watched the sunset. Once Napoleon cast a glance towards the cabin and saw his father, face pressed against the porthole, watching the spectacle with them. It cheered him. His father was stubborn and rigid, but the wonders of the new world would surely win him over. He wondered how Miss Giraud was faring. The women had a large section of the below decks to themselves, and he pictured her there, also watching the sunset. How glad he was that she had asked to come with them! He thought about his new child. It didn't seem real to him, even though he had felt its motions within its mother's belly, but everyone said it would be there when he returned so he supposed it would be. Strange to think of it. And Illya's child as well. And Charles's new little one would have grown. How happy Miss Giraud would be, to have the care of them all!
He missed Illya. He wished so much that Illya were here with him. It seemed if he just put out his arm he could wrap it around those slim shoulders, feel Illya's hard strong body against his. He sighed heavily and Charles snorted.
"Not much longer, little brother," he said and the laughter was in his voice again. "Not too much longer."
"No," Napoleon agreed. "Not too much longer at all."
Illya was indeed on the beach, waiting for them. His hair caught the sun's rays and shone white gold, making him easy to spot even if Napoleon had not nearly tipped the rowboat over twice looking for him. He had resolved to make this a dignified greeting. The way he and Charles had embraced on his arrival here had been ... well, dignified. Loving, yes, but manly too. He would not make an unseemly display, especially in front of his father. He would smile at Illya, and greet him warmly, but he certainly would not ...Illya lifted a hand to push his hair back from his face and Napoleon's heart nearly burst within him. With no more thought for his dignity or what was or was not seemly he leapt over the side of the boat, landed chest deep in water and half ran, half swam to shore. Illya met him in the shallows and threw himself into Napoleon's arms.
It knocked him over and they fell, rolling over in the water. Illya was laughing down at him and Napoleon tangled both hands in his hair, pulled his face down and kissed him. He kissed Illya like a starving man with a loaf of fresh bread, of fresh, warm, sweet ... a wave washed over them and he couldn't breathe, he was drowning and he didn't care, he would die like this, Illya in his arms, Illya's mouth on his, Illya, Illya, Illya ...
But he didn't, of course, he sat up and sputtered, coughing and choking and then he rose to his feet. Illya still sat in the water, and the happiness on his face, uplifted to Napoleon's, undid him all over again. He pulled Illya to his feet and kissed him some more, Illya's arms twisted around his neck, Illya's body, cold and wet and yielding, against his. A hand clapped him on the back and reluctantly he lifted his head. Charles was smiling at him but there was a warning in his eyes. Looking over his shoulder, Napoleon saw his father, face black with wrath, hands ... yes, actually unfastening his belt! Napoleon moved, putting Illya behind him, and shook his head.
"No," he said firmly. "That is not our way. Leave your belt where it is." Without waiting for an answer, he took Illya's arm and waded ashore, bringing Illya with him, still keeping his body interposed between the two of them. But then, unexpectedly, Illya pulled free and came around to stand before Alcott Solo. Then he dropped to his knees.
"Lord Solo," he said. "I ask your forgiveness. You bought me, you clothed and fed me, and it was a poor return to flee from you. I have worked hard and saved what coins came my way, and I now have my purchase price plus extra in the form of provisions ... meat, fruits and vegetables, with a cask of our homebrewed ale. I ask that you accept what I offer, so that we may live in peace with one another from this time on."
There were so many things wrong with this speech that Napoleon gagged on it. True, his father had purchased Illya but that wasn't right, for Illya to be bought and sold like the goats and dogs they had brought back with them. True, his father had clothed and fed Illya, but only in return for services rendered - and they had been rendered. Napoleon remembered Illya filling his bath water, scrubbing his back, turning over onto his stomach. Illya owed nothing, certainly not the precious few bits of real money that circulated in their settlement. But Alcott Solo was nodding slowly, and his hands stopped fumbling at his belt.
"Very well," he answered coldly. "I will accept your apology and your price. You may rise."
"Yes, Lord Solo." Illya did so and for the first time Napoleon became aware of their audience, a crowd of men all scowling and glaring openly at the pair on the beach. Charles saw them too, and moved forward, putting both arms around his father.
"My father," he said, loudly. "My dear father, who has made this journey despite being so far advanced in years." He is an old man, Napoleon could feel him telling the crowd. He is a very old man, and he is my father. "You have much to learn here, father, but the first is that there are no lords in this new land. Illya misspoke. I am Charles. Here is Napoleon, and here is Illya. To honor your advanced years, and your position as head of a growing family, all will call you simply Solo. It is an honorable name."
Napoleon stepped away from Illya and he too embraced his father. "My father," he said. "Come with us and meet your grandchildren. Your granddaughters, and ..." he floundered. "Illya? What did Alexis have?"
"You have a son," Illya answered, and he smiled at Napoleon. "A black haired boy with a chin just like yours. Healthy and thriving. Everyone is waiting for us at the dining table, and a feast awaits there too." He turned to Alcott Solo. "Come, Solo," he said and something in the way he said it, something perhaps in the accent, or in the almost imperceptible pause that preceded it, implied the `Lord' he could no longer say aloud. "A place of honor awaits you." Another murmur arose behind him and he whirled. "Age deserves honor!" he shouted, face flushed with anger. "You will be old yourselves one day, and unable to hunt or follow a plow! Shall we cast you aside, then? Brandon? You speak often of bringing your parents here. Do you wish them treated with less than the utmost respect for their years?"
"He dares raise his voice ..." Alcott Solo murmured, but without much conviction. Charles chuckled and they began to walk towards the forest trail.
"Illya dares much," he said. "There is no man here who has not come to know and step carefully around his anger. It is quick, and hot, and he does not forget. He is an ally worth having, Father. His words are heard, and listened to." Indeed, a path had opened for them through the crowd of men, and greetings were being given.
"Solo. Glad to have you here."
"Trust it was not a difficult journey, Solo."
"Your sons have made you a fine home, but you are welcome in ours any time."
Alcott Solo didn't answer them, but he nodded courteously enough, and went arm in arm with Napoleon and Charles along the path and to the common area.
A boy! Napoleon turned the thought over and over in his mind as he walked. A boy! He had a son! And Illya? He turned back, using the increasing narrowness of the trail as an excuse, and put an arm around Illya's shoulders as he had so often longed to do. "And Susan?" he asked, suddenly worried. Perhaps something had gone wrong at the birth, and that was why Illya had said nothing about his own child. "Is all well?"
"I have twin girls," Illya said and laughed out loud at whatever he saw on Napoleon's face. "Alike as two peas in a pod, with Susan's hair and my eyes. Our homes are full now of an evening when both mothers come to sit with Sarah and her two. Your father ... I hope he will be happy here."
"Illya, you owe my father nothing. It is wrong for you to buy yourself back from him as if you were ... oh!" A dog, he had been about to say, and was horrified to realize he had forgotten about Brownie. Where was she? He turned and ran back to the beach. All the way here he had pictured Illya's reaction to his gift, and here he had forgotten! Illya ran behind him, calling out.
"Napoleon! Wait! Are you angry with me? I only thought to ease things! I didn't want to be a blot on your family's happiness. It seemed worth it to -" he ran into Napoleon's back. Napoleon had stopped abruptly on meeting the sailor who had rowed them ashore. He was standing holding the end of Brownie's rope, foot tapping impatiently. Napoleon thanked him, and turned.
"Here," he said, and put the rope in Illya's hands. "She is yours. Well, mine too now - I have grown attached to her, and she to me, but I bought her for you."
"What ... but ..." Illya stared at the little dog, clearly confounded. "I thought ..."
"Nobody else will want such a small dog, Charles assured me. But she is bright and affectionate and ..." his voice trailed off. "Do you like her?" he asked anxiously. What would he do if Illya didn't want Brownie after all; if he, like everybody else, wanted a large dog to guard their home? "She is a good ratter," he added defensively. "And ..." but then Brownie took matters into her own hands - or paws, Napoleon supposed, and leapt into Illya's arms. With one bound she was there and reflexively Illya caught her. She licked his face, and he laid his cheek on her soft head.
"Oh, Napoleon," he said, and looked at Napoleon with shining eyes. "Oh, Napoleon. What a lovely - but what ... what are you doing?"
Napoleon had knelt in the sand. "You knelt before my father," he said hoarsely. "I ... it did not anger, but it troubled me. So now I kneel before you, to honor you, your courage and your wonderful mind that often leaves me so far behind I can only watch you in awe. I honor your honesty and your kindness and ... you, Illya. I honor you."
Illya knelt too, then, and put Brownie down. He put his arms around Napoleon's waist, laid his head on Napoleon's shoulder. "I honor you as well, my lord. And I have missed you so much." He kissed Napoleon's neck. "So very much."
"I have missed you too." He cupped Illya's face in both hands, tipped it up to his, and kissed him again. They kissed for a long time there, on the beach, with the sound of the ocean waves behind them, with the red glow of the setting sun around them, with the fine white sand under them, and Brownie, finally free of the rope, frisking about them; chasing a crab here, digging a hole there, dashing forward to bark at the incoming waves then bounding back. And when they finally got up and walked, hand in hand towards the forest, she followed them.
It was a raucous tumultuous dinner. The food kept coming, roast venison and wild pig, bowls of apples and pears and cherries, platters of fresh hot bread. Napoleon ate ravenously after the weeks of shipboard rations, and Charles did the same. Alcott Solo ate, too, clearly surprised at the bounty around him. He said something about it and Charles smiled, putting another piece of tender pork on his father's plate.
"It is summer," he said. "Game and fruit are plentiful, and we saved the grain from last year. In winter it is not so, but we manage to get through it. But you look weary, father. Sarah and my two girls are at the house. Come. It has been a very long journey, and it is near its end. Napoleon?"
Napoleon was regarding his son. Susan had put the baby in his arms as soon as he sat down, and he had eaten with one hand while supporting the infant with the other. "Edwin James," Susan had said when he had asked the name. "Edwin James Solo. Isn't he wonderful?"
Napoleon agreed heartily that he was. The baby's dark eyes studied him and, as Illya had said, his own face in miniature looked back at him, cleft chin and all. He smiled, and smoothed the downy hair. "Yes he is. But he grows restless ... what does he want?" The baby squirmed, pushed his face into Napoleon's chest and then wailed. Sarah took him and unbuttoned her shirt. The baby rooted around, then contented sucking and small grunting sounds ensued. "Oh," Napoleon said. He looked over at Illya who, plate cleaned for the third time, now relaxed with a baby on each arm. They were, as he had said, alike as two peas in a pod, with brilliant red curls and great blue eyes. Napoleon smiled and reached for one. Illya yielded her willingly and they sat side by side, a baby on each lap.
Napoleon thought his heart would burst. Further down the table he could see Miss Giraud, who had fallen on Illya with joy and kissed him soundly on both cheeks. Now she held a tiny, fragile looking infant, coaxing it to suck from the milk soaked rag she held. She had wrapped it snugly in a warm blanket, and its mother, a very young girl, was listening intently to whatever advice she was giving out. Charles had arranged for her to share a home with the mother and child while her own was being made ready, and already the girl was leaning against her, clearly relieved to have this new resource. Napoleon smiled.
The animals had been unloaded, and the dogs given out. Now they roamed the clearing, pouncing on any scraps that fell, being patted and stroked by all. The cats too had been unloaded, and had as quickly vanished. Half wild already, Napoleon thought, and probably all wild by summer's end. The books - all but the box of strange foreign volumes - had been received with great joy by some, and regarded with bewilderment at the waste of space by others. Charles had a thick tome tucked under one arm and was clearly impatient to get home to his own wife and children. Sarah, as was her way, had not joined the noisy group. Even as Napoleon watched him Charles rose, and helped his father come to his feet.
Napoleon handed the baby back to Susan, and Illya did the same. They had to hurry to catch up with the other two men, but it was slow going on the forest trail and they did.
"You live out here?" Alcott Solo asked, looking about him with some trepidation. Mindful of roots underfoot Charles kept a firm hand on his arm.
"Yes, and so do you for now. But if you do not like it, Father, we will build you a home of your own wherever you wish." Napoleon went ahead and held branches aside for them, and Illya followed. Brownie had eaten her fill while they did and she trotted along quietly enough, sniffing the ground, sniffing the air, occasionally giving short, sharp barks at whatever that pointed little nose had detected.
Charles's house came in view and, as before, Sarah stood on the front porch, cradling her baby in her arms. Mary stood by her side. One of the missing cats twined around her legs and Napoleon smiled, seeing it. "Help father," Charles said hoarsely and in two strides he had Sarah in his arms, swinging her around, before scooping Mary up and kissing her soundly on both cheeks. Then he took the baby from Sarah and held the door open.
"Here is your room, Grandfather," Mary piped up. Without a trace of shyness she took the old man's hand and led him to a door in the back of the kitchen. When she opened it as cozy a chamber as could be imagined lay before them. All three men had worked on it over the winter and it had a solid board floor, sturdy walls and roof, and a window with a real glass pane. It had taken many hours of labor to pay for that, and right now it showed nothing but the dark beyond, but Napoleon thought that the morning sun would brighten everything. A large bed stood in the middle of the room, with one of Sarah's best quilts covering it. A small bedside table stood beside it and a posy of bright flowers lay on it.
"I picked them for you, Grandfather," Mary said. "Mother said it will be my job to keep this room clean and tidy for you, and I will try to always have something pretty there. Grandfather? Do you like it?"
A girl and therefore worthless, Alcott Solo had sneered and Napoleon hoped with all his heart that the old man would not say anything now to dim the sweet bright smile on the child's face. He wasn't even listening to her, just slowly looking around. Napoleon had a sudden, very clear image of the great house, with its grand rooms and luxurious furnishings. What was his father thinking? Then he did look down into Mary's face, and something strange entered his own. He took her chin between his fingers and stared at her.
"My mother's eyes," he said finally. "I never thought to see them again." He made Mary a courteous bow. "Thank you, child. It is very nice."
"You're welcome, Grandfather. Do you want to see my little sister?" Without waiting for a reply she ran to Sarah and tugged at her. "Show Elizabeth to Grandfather," she said and, wordless, Sarah held the infant out to him. At that moment she let out a wail and Alcott Solo stepped back.
"Perhaps later," he said hastily. "For now I will talk to this little one. Mary, is it? Tell me, Mary, where do I wash my hands and face? I am weary, Charles ... Napoleon. Show me where I can ..."
"Right this way," Charles said and opened a back door. "I am afraid we have to go outside, but as you see we built a roof over the pathway so you will not get wet. We will enclose it this coming winter. In summertime we are too busy for such projects. It was Illya's doing," he added, and for the first time since the scene at the beach Alcott Solo turned to look at Illya. Illya looked back at him calmly.
"You are a good workman," Alcott Solo said finally, and Napoleon frowned a little. It was the praise one would give a servant - and grudgingly spoken at that. But he supposed it had gone about as well as could be expected. Illya bent his head in respectful acknowledgment, they all said their goodnights, and then he and Illya were walking down the path to their home.
Napoleon took his hand, feeling those strong, competent fingers curl around his. He squeezed them. "I have missed you so much," he said finally, and now it was Illya squeezing him.
"I missed you too," he whispered. "They have been long, lonely nights without you."
"Next time you come with me," Napoleon said. "I wanted so much to have you there. We can surely arrange things so that Sarah is not alone."
"Already done," Illya said promptly. "I spoke to Dillard and he will come and stay in our home whenever needed. I do not wish to be parted from you for so long again."
"Nor do I. And here we are - Illya, I am so glad to be home." They went inside and Illya barred the door. As in Charles's home all was tidy and in order. A fire danced on the hearth, something smelled wonderful in the cook stove, and more bouquets of wildflowers decorated every surface. "Mary came over to help this afternoon," Illya said, laughing. "I barely kept her from putting them ... what is this?"
A box sat by Illya's chair and Napoleon smiled, sat down himself. "A gift for you."
"Another gift?" Illya patted Brownie, who was engaged in sniffing out every corner of her new home. "Really?"
"Yes. I hope you like them." Napoleon watched as Illya pried open the box and then there was silence. Illya was lifting book after book, opening them, reading to himself, reaching for the next. When they were all out and he was surrounded by open volumes, he lifted his eyes to Napoleon.
How beautiful Illya was! With the firelight in his hair, with the candles on the table reflected in his eyes, with that slow smile spreading like dawn across his face - how beautiful he was. Napoleon held out his arms and Illya rose, came to him, sat in his lap. "Oof," Napoleon said involuntarily and laughed, remembering the fine boned, delicate youth who had first come to him; so light Napoleon could lift him with ease. The bones were still fine, but a layer of muscle covered them now so that Illya, though whipcord slim, was considerably heavier. Illya laughed too and began kissing Napoleon's neck, his cheek, his chin. Napoleon caught his face between both hands and held it still so he could delve between those lips that parted for him so eagerly.
He lost his mind for a while, then, and everything came to him in a jumble of images and sensations. Illya under him, crying his name. Illya's hair, spread around his face like one of the halos he had seen in old paintings. Illya's legs, wrapped high around his waist. Illya's sudden hiss of pain as Napoleon began entering him. He tried to withdraw but Illya said fiercely "Don't stop Napoleon, don't you dare stop!" and Illya's heels pressed hard against his entrance, pushing him forward.
After a while they staggered to their feet and made their way up the narrow steps to their bed. Brownie scampered up ahead of them, leapt onto the bed, turned around three times and lay down, curled into a tight ball. Illya was walking very carefully and Napoleon began an apology. Illya shook his head at him, eyes sparkling. "No, don't do that. I wanted you to. I couldn't wait. And it was fine after the first few minutes." His mouth curved upward, and Napoleon laughed.
"As long as you're all right."
"I'm fine." Illya stretched out on the bed and held out his arms to Napoleon, who willingly cast aside the remnants of his clothes and came down into them. They wrapped up in one another, and Napoleon felt something loosen in him that had been tight ever since he'd said goodbye to Illya on the beach that morning, that had been tight for so long he had forgotten about it until now, when it released its grip, when loneliness released its grip and he sank into Illya's love as he sank into his embrace, as he had sunk into his body. Together again, their whole family was together again. Illya was pressed against him, Brownie was warm on the backs of his knees, and Napoleon Solo was home at last.
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