Slowly, however, as respect and lust grow, both Andy and Nubes find out that they can no longer survive without one another.More info →
Andy sat at his desk. His brothers, Tian and Hans, sat in two armchairs across the room. In an effort to look relaxed, Andy sat backward in his chair and folded his arms atop the uppermost rung. It was a comfort having his younger brothers with him after so many years apart, but he couldn’t shake the thought that they were all together one last time.
Not for any fatalistic reason but because he would be wed in a week’s time. His brothers were already married and he hadn’t seen either of them in years. It took months for letters to traverse the distances between the United States, Ireland, and Greece, although letters kept him apprised of the large things in his brothers’ lives. The births of first children and the dying of elders. Felimid, Hans’s husband, was now king of all water demons, his father having passed away two years ago. Water demons, like Andy’s own race of kelpies, were long-lived, but that didn’t make them immortal.
Andy smiled at his brothers. “I am so glad to see you both.”
“You won’t be saying that by the end of the week,” Tian pointed out.
Hans smiled, a little thing.
Andy shook his head. “Probably I won’t be saying it about you, Christian.”
“Call me Tian or I’m leaving.” He grinned and asked, “So, what’s his name, this king you’re marrying?”
Tian snickered “King Noobz? Doesn’t that mean something disrespectful in a version of the humans’ English?”
Andy sighed, and when he saw Hans’s smile grow, he made a face at Tian for good measure and for Hans’s further amusement. “Noo-behs. You will address him by his proper name.”
Hans put in, “Felimid says King Nubes’s name means clouds in Spanish.”
Andy nodded. “Well, that makes sense. He’s the king of all sylphs.” Which meant all air beings.
Tian scoffed. “I don’t care if he’s the king of all the world. With a name like Noob…”
Andy rolled his eyes. “Christian…”
“Yes, big brother?”
Hans said quietly, “Andy, you’re pacing.”
When had he gotten up? Hans was right; he was covering the same space in the floor like a caged thing. Andy colored.
Hans asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Besides Tian?” Maybe he could pass it off as less than it was.
Hans smiled. “You know it’s not just that. What’s wrong?”
Even Tian was looking at him now and not making any comments. Andy hesitated, but the concern in Hans-a-la’s eyes was palpable. “I’m… nervous… about meeting King Nubes. And about… marrying him.”
Tian snorted. “Now you know how I felt when Mother tried to unite me with Felimid.”
Hans snapped, “Not now, Tian,” displaying more testicular fortitude than Andy had ever seen out of his youngest brother except via letter. “Andy,” he went on, “what scares you?”
This was less definable, but Andy took a stab at it. “He’s a king. He’s so much more than I’ll ever be.”
“Just because of his title?” Tian demanded. “Andy, that’s crazy.”
He struggled to defend himself. “Not just because of that. It’s more…” He shrugged. “Marrying him means the completion of Mother’s prophecy, and I don’t even understand what that is.”
Hans said, “None of us understand it beyond who we were supposed to marry.”
Tian suggested, “So, don’t marry him. It’s that simple. You don’t love him. You haven’t even met him.”
Andy frowned and said the dutiful thing. “I will this evening. And he’s coming all the way from the Mediterranean to meet me and wed.”
Tian said, “If you don’t believe in Mother’s prophecy –”
“It’s not that I don’t believe; I just don’t understand it.” Andy moved toward his closet, thinking to put an end to this conversation. “I need to start getting dressed. And so do the both of you.”
Hans said, “Give him a chance. He may turn out to be someone wonderful.”
* * *
Nubes caught his consort by his single wing and dragged him close. “Kiss me.”
Un-Ala struggled free. “No.”
Nubes frowned. Although Un-Ala was allowed to disagree with his king, he rarely exercised that privilege. “Just a little play,” he said, trying to make his voice teasing rather than needy. He doubted he succeeded.
Un-Ala smiled, but the shake of his head was firm. “No, my king.”
Frustrated, Nubes fluttered his white wings. He demanded, “Why?”
“Because you need to have your mind and heart pure and ready for this new one if you want any chance to love him.”
Nubes made a rude noise. “I do not need to love him. And I cannot. He cannot participate in the soaring rituals.”
“Then why are you marrying him?”
As if Un-Ala didn’t know. Still, if it would keep him talking and perhaps reduce his resolve… “Marriage isn’t about love, Un-Ala. It’s about the safety of the world. Joining myself to Lord Andrew will give that.”
Un-Ala said, “I can’t believe you would give up on the chance of love because of a little thing like a mating custom.” He frowned. “It certainly didn’t stop you from bedding me.”
Nubes made a face. “You were different. Your spirit lives on past your, er, condition.”
Un-Ala sighed. “If you can see my spirit, have hope for Lord Andrew. Besides –” he grinned wickedly “– it is time you dressed. The dinner will not wait.”
“You will sit at my left hand?”
Nubes was glad to see it. Rare were the times he could make his consort show his emotions unless they were in bed.
Un-Ala agreed, “Every night until the wedding.”
Nubes tried one more time even though there was not much time before he needed to be at the banquet. “I love you as I thought I could never love a consort.”
Un-Ala turned away and hid his face with his single wing. “You know I’m still looking for true love, Nubes. Do not put me on the spot like this.”
“True, it isn’t fair. I was only trying to bestow a compliment.”
“I know, which is why I am not angry with you. But have a little compassion for yourself. At least view Lord Andrew as a potential love.”
* * *
At dinner, Andy found himself sitting across from King Nubes. Intimidated by the king’s slightly upturned chin, Andy shifted uncomfortably in his chair. And when King Nubes struck up a conversation with Andy’s mother, Lady Weinberg, leaving Andy feeling like the odd one out, he turned his attention to his right. Maybe Tian would be able to provide good dinner conversation.
But Tian was taken up with his husband, Alastair. Helpless and not wanting to interrupt, Andy scanned the other side of the table, laying eyes on a sylph with only one wing who sat beside the king. From the richness of his clothes, and the fact that Nubes was supposedly an only child, Andy guessed the invalid sylph was a high-ranking courtier, not unlike the Weinberg court composer, Matthew.
In other words, he is closer to my position than the king. Andy smiled at the sylph. “I’m Andy,” he said. “Your king’s future husband.” Perhaps that wasn’t the best way to introduce himself, but Andy was at a loss as to how else to explain his proximity to the Lady as well as to Nubes.
“My name is Un-Ala.” The sylph’s voice was moderately accented with the roundness of Spanish.
One wing, Andy translated silently. What sort of parents would name their child after his deformity? “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He shot a glance at his mother and Nubes, noted they were still in deep discourse, and returned his attention to Un-Ala. “How long have you known His Majesty?”
“Nearly forty years, since he took the throne at age twenty.”
That meant King Nubes and Andy were relatively the same age. At least there was that much to be grateful for. Kelpies, like their grander cousins the elementals, aged slowly. Andy knew he resembled an eighteen-year-old human. “That’s…” He struggled for something to say. “That’s a long time.”
Un-Ala smiled. “Please don’t be so formal or nervous with me, Lord Andy. I’m a glorified servant.”
“Compared to your king, so am I.”
“Ah, but the difference is, he wants to marry you while I am simply his consort.”
Andy blushed. Kelpies didn’t have consorts. Outside of marriage, they had partners. But those couplings weren’t given such formality. “You know the king intimately?” he blurted. Then he glanced around, sure everyone was listening. They all seemed to be involved in their own conversations. Still, he caught Un-Ala’s eye and mouthed, “I’m sorry. That was too loud.”
“Quite intimately.” Un-Ala murmured. He winked. “As you will at the end of this week.” Then he changed the subject. “I enjoy your palace. There is an excellent balcony on the second story from which Nubes has already taken pleasure.” He colored. “Ah, but now I am being the formal one. I meant, from which he has taken flight. Nothing more intimate than that.”
His admission calmed Andy. He smiled genuinely. “It’s all right. Formal speech is a protection.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “I have often dived off that balcony.”
“In what season? Surely the loch was frozen over in winter?”
“Not in winter,” Andy agreed, loving how Un-Ala knew to say loch rather than lake. He always appreciated when someone took the extra time to learn a word or two in his dialect. “But the rest of the year? The cold doesn’t bother my people.”
“Nor mine.” Un-Ala shifted; his single wing stirred fitfully.
“Have you and your… the king found the baths?”
“Not yet, having only just arrived two hours ago. We washed up in our rooms. There were ewers of warm water courteously left for us.”
“You will have to partake of the baths. They are…” He glanced at King Nubes, caught himself all but drooling over the sylph’s ebony hair and olive skin, and blushed. “Relaxing.”
Un-Ala smiled. “I will encourage Nubes to enjoy them.”
Feeling slightly more relaxed, and a great deal happier, Andy watched as the first course was distributed down the table. If nothing else, he’d made a friend.
* * *
Nubes walked with Lord Andrew — Andy, according to Un-Ala — at his side, the kelpie’s arm in his. They walked together along the beach not because they had struck up some conversation during the latter part of dinner, but because they were expected to start bonding.
They’d only been down by the water for five minutes, but the sky called to Nubes. He wanted so desperately to fly that he hurried his steps a little.
Andy kept pace.
“Un-Ala is wonderful,” the lord said presently. “His English is beautifully accented like a cake perfectly iced. He also has a sense of humor and doesn’t mind displaying it even in formal settings. I like him a great deal.”
Nubes blinked. Was he jealous that someone else had noticed his consort? Yes, and yet, no. Yes, he was feeling something, but it was more protectiveness than jealousy. He asked, “You talked during the banquet?”
Andy nodded. “He was able to relax me, which was much needed.” He blushed a little in the failing light of the sinking sun. “I am intimidated by you, but he helped me see at least a little light in the tunnel of my panic.”
“You speak formally still.”
“It is my curse.” Andy grinned. “I cannot help myself, apparently. Or that is what my brothers say.”
Here was a safe topic of discussion to pass the time. “I like your brother Hans. He makes me laugh.”
“Did you talk to him tonight? I missed that.”
“I did not have the pleasure. But I have visited Prince Regent Hans and his husband, King Felimid. They have many beautiful children.”
“Much to Felimid’s relief,” Andy said.
Nubes smiled a little. “Yes, he was lucky to find a kelpie to fertilize his wives’ eggs and so carry on the water demon race, even slightly diluted.”
“All of Hans’s and Felimid’s children seem to possess the traits of both parents.”
“As do the children of the princes Christian and Alastair. I never thought the blending of races would carry off so beautifully.”
“Will it be the same with our children?” Andy blushed. “I meant, if you wish to –”
“I do.” Nubes wrapped his arm around the kelpie lord’s shoulders. Stopping his fast pace, he gazed up into the star-dusted eastern sky. “It is my understanding that kelpies are one gender only?”
“We have males and females,” Andy answered, sounding surprised. “How else would we perpetuate our race?”
Nubes laughed. “True. But what I meant was that each of you only holds one gender within your bodies? As in, you are male only?”
Andy nodded. “Sylphs are… both… like all elementals?” He seemed embarrassed to be discussing such a fact.
“Like all others,” Nubes agreed. “So I would become female during the pregnancy. Would that disturb you?”
“No, but…” Andy shuffled his hooves. “I wish I knew how Tian — Prince Christian — handled it when Alastair shifts to female.”
“I cannot answer for him. Have you ever been with a female?”
Andy shuffled his hooves again. “No.”
“Then perhaps I should shift now to make sure you like it.” He wasn’t asking — he wasn’t even serious — but Andy seemed to take it under honest consideration.
“I will not back out on our contract no matter whether I learn to love your female form or not. I am honorable.”
I never doubted it, Nubes thought, even though he had wondered. “Let me shift then.” He stepped away from Andy and crossed his wings over his front, hiding him from heel to head. He closed his eyes, finding the change easier to will that way, and transformed. All elementals had two genders within their bodies, but some didn’t make a full shift. Some only changed below their waist.
Switching testicles for a uterus wasn’t painful, but it did take a moment. Even as her chest swelled and her ass took on a rounder form, her shoulders drew in slightly and her hips widened.
Nubes opened her eyes and settled her wings away from her face.
Andy gazed at her. There seemed to be nothing but starlight in his eyes for a moment, but then he smiled and his own light filled their golden-brown depths. “You’re beautiful, Your Majesty.”
Nubes grinned. “Thank you.” Her voice had risen in timbre a little, but not much, her male self possessing a light tenor.
Andy offered his arm. “May I guide you now? Or does your kingship — queenship? — still overrule my lord’s title, allowing you to lead?”
Nubes waded through that hampered speech and then curtseyed. “I will take your arm.” Then she turned her eyes to the sky. “Although I confess: I would rather fly than walk this night.”
Andy frowned briefly. Then he asked, “Can you carry me as a female? I would love to see the stars closer.”
Nubes read the fear in Andy’s eyes and called his bluff. “You are afraid of flight.”
Andy shifted back and forth, his hooves shifting the sand. “Yes, but I would still like to see the stars more closely.”
Nubes wound her arms around Andy from behind, spread her wings, and rose into the air.
* * *
Andy wasn’t sure he was going to enjoy being carried, let alone leaving the ground. But both were an unexpected release. He spread his arms as Nubes left the earth. The air seemed to buoy him up, and he laughed aloud at the startling sensation of being so unexpectedly free of gravity.
They headed out over the loch. Andy looked down, expecting to feel dizzy. Instead, he was exhilarated. Nubes had lifted him higher than the palace and was still climbing. When she reached the peak of her ascent, Andy knew what he wanted to do.
He wriggled strongly in her arms and plummeted toward the water when she was forced to let him go. He let out a whoop of excitement before disappearing beneath the waves. Once under the water, he shed his clothes rapidly so he could change into his watery form, switching lungs and hooves at the ends of long legs for gills and a graceful tail. As soon as he was transformed, he bundled his clothes against his chest and shot up to the surface.
Breaking through, he saw Nubes hovering a little distance away, looking decidedly upset. “It’s all right,” Andy called. “I just couldn’t resist the dive from that height.” He struck out toward her, admiring not her small breasts or her larger ass but the gentle line of her wings. I suppose I am not attracted to females. This thought saddened him and he wondered if Nubes, King or Queen, would want him if he confessed.
Nubes swooped lower and said, “Do you expect me to join you?”
Andy shook his head and, unable to read her expression, said, “Will you meet me on the shore?”
She nodded and started that way.
Andy dove. His tail flexed and he shot forward, loving the rough waters of March that coursed all around him. And when he reached the shore, he changed tail for legs and hooves again and walked, naked, out of the water.
Nubes was staring at him. Her eyes were large with either curiosity or shock, and Andy blushed a little to be stared at.
He settled on the ground beside her, sitting with his legs crossed and his hands demurely folded over his sex. His clothes he set on the ground beside him. He wasn’t ashamed or even more than slightly embarrassed. He had been raised to think of his body as a natural thing, to be treated with respect and not to fear.
Nubes settled next to him, folding her wings around herself. “You are handsome,” she said.
Andy smiled. “And you are beautiful.”
She frowned. “Do you truly mean that? I see no change in your…” She gestured at Andy’s crotch.
“Can you see through my hands then?” he teased.
She smiled a little, but it didn’t last long. “I saw you when you got out of the water. And unless the water can reserve desire…”
“It can, and does, for some kelpies, but I am not so afflicted.” He paused. “You are beautiful. It is only that I am not attracted to you. I suppose I am only interested in males. I apologize.”
“For being honest? It isn’t needed.”
“But it will make our coupling difficult.”
“Not greatly. There is typically little love in political marriage. Although there is always hope.”
Hearing such a chilling sentence, even if it was followed by a slightly more cheerful one, made Andy uncomfortable. But he refused to show it. “I suppose that is true. So, tell me: do you have brothers and sisters?”
“Brothers that are also sisters, do you mean?” And she smiled.
Andy relaxed, and even managed a small laugh. “Exactly.”
They talked the moon to its zenith.