Ulick and Cliona
From Chronicles of Chaos, Book One
by Cliona in Dark Ages
Laughter rang in his ears as Ulick stroked his hands along Cliona's sides, laughing with her as he slid his fingers along the fine silk of her gown. Half closing her vibrant green eyes, her body shaking with laughter, she laid her head back upon the ground, gasping.
Ulick smiled and reached out one hand to stroke her red-gold hair, wavy with natural curl and long enough to hang only fingertips from her smooth round flesh. Clio opened her eyes and smiled at her lover, one hand reaching out to touch his chin. Smooth with shaving and unblemished by nature, he was, in her eyes, the most beautiful man in Temuair. His eyes, dark brown, were the darkest that anyone in Mileth had ever seen. In the neighboring towns, Abel, Piet, Undine, and Rucesion as well, no one knew of eyes like these.
The pair of them had come through these woods for the noble purpose of traveling to town to buy food, for their families that lived on the outskirts near Abel. Instead they now lay upon their backs in a field of grass, sheep occasionally coming to nibble at their toes, gazing at the clouds overhead, one hand clasped around the other's.
Ulick and Clio had been friends since the very beginning.
As the plague wore down and the last people were dying, some heard of the peace that reigned in Mileth and hoped that the healers who remained, descendants of the Hy-Brasyl, could take away the disease which captured them. Piling themselves into boats and setting sail for parts unknown, they had unknowingly orchestrated their own deaths. For if a single person united under Ealagad got on that ship with them, their fate was sealed and within less than a week, the ship would ride the waves a ghost, unmanned and with nothing left of humanity but their strange black blood, tainted with the darkness.
Ulick's parents had come aboard one of these ships in the hope of finding refuge for themselves and their newborn son. Even after the others had died aboard their ship, Ulick survived, found after three days of hunger by Clio's father, a sheepherder named Owen.
Owen took Ulick home to his wife to be nursed by her, for she had only given birth to her first child, Clio, days before. From then Clio’s family adopted Ulick, and they both called Owen and Niamh their pàrant.
The two young people became lovers shortly after Clio came of age at sixteen years old. Their relationship, forbidden by the elders, led to a controversy the likes of which Mileth had never seen, before or since. After being taken to the elders of the town for judgment, the two swore up and down that never again would they engage in contact which could be construed in any way as anything more than the actions of an average brother and sister.
That evening, they went into the forest and made love for the first time. They rationalized their relationship to one another saying that they had done nothing. Ulick was not a blood relation to Clio, and she was not one to him. Their relationship was nothing more than the eventuality of a young man and woman in a lifetime friendship.
Now, the two lay quietly on their thick green carpet, weak with their tickling, calm and contented in their own quiet world. While Ulick lay silent, his gaze turned to the sky and his mind focused upon clouds in the shapes of the same woolly sheep that grazed only a few strides away, Clio remained deep in thought. One hand crept up toward her neck, her fingers lightly brushing a smooth red stone in a gold setting that hung forever around her neck.
She considered the first time they lay in this field, during the summer when the sheep went into the summer pastures in the hills to the east. They had come here in the night, under the full Growing Moon, their skin creamy and soft in the moonlight. Clio lay upon Ulick's bare, strong chest, filled with the life of him, her face bared to the stars as Ulick's lips poured soft kisses along her shoulders.
Ulick, meanwhile, reveled in the intimacy he found that night in the empty pasture. Always treated by his father as the farmhand, never the son he saw in Clio's two younger brothers went hunting with their father, tending sheep and sharing family secrets worthy only of those with the family name. Ulick, meanwhile, split wood and cleaned up after the sheep, all the chores that no one else cared to do for themselves.
When Clio first let Ulick touch him, it was the simple brush of a fingertip across a smooth side. If he remembered correctly, it was only earlier that summer, when the two were sitting up in the branches of the oldest nut tree on the farm, wondering about what lay beyond Mileth. Nothing more than lazy afternoon fantasizes, until a wasp no larger than Ulick's fingernail threatened Clio's fair skin and she fell to the ground in a heap. Ulick had scampered down the tree after her, his hands running along her body, searching for broken bones or abraded skin.
All he had found was a small wedge-shaped rip in her bodice, out of which peeked creamy skin, burnished pale gold by the sun. Ulick reached out one finger and brushed it gently across her skin, eliciting a gasp from Clio's lips. When he jerked up his head in fear, horrified he had brushed against some hidden wound, his eyes had not even reached hers before her lips, softer than the breath of the summer's afternoon, pressed against his.
Ulick's most treasured pleasures of theirs was the few moments while Clio lay upon his bare flesh, surrounding him in ways he had never before imagined, holding him close and warm, as comfortable in the amber twilight of evening or the blue dawn or the pitch blackness of his bedroom, hardly more than an adjoining section of loft on the second floor of the barn. So far removed by his family, Ulick's only human comfort lay in Clio, whom he treasured more than life itself.
Most young people in Mileth, upon reaching a coming of age, found themselves in training for their future career path. Clio was to undertake apprenticeship to Mileth's leading priestess, Devlin, educated under the fae, her future set in healing, in caring for the people of the town after their eldest priestess' succumbed to inevitable, incurable death. Clio's three younger brothers, mundanes like her family, had been in training from their father, educated in the world of handling, breeding, and shearing sheep.
While they took care of such things, Ulick took care of the remaining chores, never once offered the tutorial given to his adopted brothers by their father. In essence, Ulick was nothing more than their slave. Even the maternal bond he shared with Clio's biological mother, the result of his being raised off her milk, was stunted by the influence of Clio's father.
While Clio was prepared for her upcoming entrance into the Priesthood, Ulick found himself denied the rights of passage, forever locked into this world of mundane servitude, never allowed into the Temple of Choosing.
Long tutored in the customs of the people he had come to accept as his own, he did not feel compelled to try to argue this situation. Of course, it tore him apart to be left alone, particularly by Clio, but no one had ever challenged such a predicament before. It was accepted.
Clio, on the other hand, was very much disturbed by the knowledge that not only her lover, but her brother, was being denied the future everyone else she had known had been privileged to pursue. She saw the spark in his eyes, she had seen him commit feats of agility she had never experienced in any one else she had known, save for one rogue who came to Mileth from Rucesion for healing. Very often even she, who had known him longer than he had known himself, could lose him in a crowd or people or a grove of trees, only to have him step aside deliberately, revealing a hiding place so clever no average human could have discovered it.
His mind, to her, was forever a puzzle. And hers was no less to him.
Once, they strayed from the streetlights as while walking from the fields, and came upon a wolf as it stalked its prey in the night. The animal made a single pounce for Ulick, the closer of the two, only to fall short of his quarry. The animal had somehow caught afire, struck down by a bolt of hot white light that materialized out of nothing but air. When Ulick turned to see if Clio was all right, she stood with her palm outstretched, her chest heaving with the effort of what she had done. She had been the one to set that animal aflame. No one did that, save for the wizards in training for their whole lives.
And yet now Ulick was faced with a future of slave labor and Clio to one of devotion and healing.
Niamh, daughter of Siva, mother of Cliona, sat quietly beside the stove, watching her youngest daughter set the table, eight place settings in all, while Clio, the oldest and nearly ready to choose her path in life, sat quietly in the windowsill, brushing her red-gold hair and watching the boys gather the sheep from the fields.
The three youngest boys worked lazily, their minds set on no particular task, moving with only the most vague semblance of intention. Meanwhile, Ulick, dressed in only a pair of dusty work pants, threw his back into the effort, calling the dogs and watching them run, poking the sheep into their pen with a long staff, watching intently as every-so-often one of the dogs ran by. The dogs were the only companions he had outside of Clio; they shared his bed at night, curled up at the foot, more friends than working partners.
Ulick looked up from his work a moment and caught Clio's eye, absorbing her smile and returning it in kind, complete with a friendly wink which almost seemed to say "I'll take care of your secret". Clio sighed softly and nodded and gave her hair a careless toss over her shoulder, then looked back to see Ulick standing with his hands perched atop his staff, his eyes gazing dreamily towards Clio, his mind far away.
Quicker than could be perceived, Clio's father came up behind Ulick and knocked the staff out from beneath him with his own, throwing the boy off-balance and then taking that split second to deliver a fierce blow to his back, along the line of his fragile ribs. Ulick fell to the ground, gasping and trying to curl in tighter around himself, his prayers dealt toward Danaan that he could only shield his soft, unprotected belly.
At the sight of this unprovoked cruelty Clio screamed, slipping off of the windowsill and running barefoot across the field dressed in only her simple silken shift, a gown appropriate only for an evening at home, nothing like running through fields where any person walking by may see her. Clio ran to Ulick, throwing herself upon him, her hands running over his battered body while her glare remained fixed upon her father.
In an effort to protect Clio, Ulick forced her hands away from him, pushing her aside, trying to get her to stop trying to heal him. Without even realizing it, Clio knelt, muttering incantations and spells, her hands cool and burning at the same time. Ulick moaned softly with pain and laid his head back, one hand upon his chest, his eyes closed.
Clio stood, her hands clenched into fists, her small frame quivering with pent-up fury. She stared her father in the face, rage stilling her features into an unreadable mask.
"How Dare You."
Owen glared at her, his expression, if anything, slightly bemused.
"How DARE you raise a hand to him! Do you not see that he is the only son you've got who even cares whether or not this job gets done? Do you not see that he would gladly be taught everything you have to give while these three children care nothing for it?! This young man is an Aisling, but you refuse to acknowledge that! You can't even see this young man; so blind are you made by your indifference!"
In a single motion, Owen raised his staff and forced it against the side of Cliona's head, knocking her to the ground.
Her first sensation, in the darkened haze of growing consciousness, was of something cool and wet against the side of her head. When she turned away from it, pain exploded in her skull and she cried out, which didn't help the pain much. She settled on a whimper but relaxed, suddenly, when a warm hand came down upon her shoulder, holding her still. Soft words, spoken in her ear by a voice no louder than a breath, set her into a world of peacefulness she knew only in the arms of one man. The faint taste of berries remained upon her parched lips and she realized how close she had been to entering the beyond, lost to Temuair and all the world.
When she finally opened her eyes, all she saw was Ulick, silhouetted against the pale dusk sky, gently wiping blood from her hair. He reached over her from her left side to minister to her, and his face lay tantalizing close to hers. He smelled of sweat and something indescribable, something she could only label as purely him.
When he finally noticed the pale emerald eyes watching him, he sat back on his heels and sighed softly, shaking his head with discontent. "Why do you do that to me, Clio? Why can't you just leave me alone to get what I deserve? You only get yourself in trouble..."
She shook her head ever so slightly and sighed, sitting up slowly, Ulick's hands strong around her back, supporting her nearly dead weight. "I do it because I love you, Uly."
"Clio..." He shook his head, stroking her hair. "You can't stop him."
"I hate to hurt you, love, but my father is not the final authority on how to live."
He lowered his eyes, turning from her gaze as he slowly rinsed out the torn cloth he had used upon her fevered skin.
Something deep inside Clio clenched tight, forming a hard ache within her chest. She reached out a fingertip and lifted his chin. "Love, I'm telling you, you are worth more than the way my father treats you. You're an Aisling."
He shook his head and glanced toward the house before carefully lifting himself to his feet. Carefully reaching down to help Clio up beside him, he kept his eyes upon the ground. "They're watching us." Clio lifted herself to her feet, her eyes, too, downcast. Her voice was suddenly weary.
"Take me to bed, Uly."
He nodded and stroked one large hand over her hair, smoothing out bits of grass and leaves that clung to her curls. Ulick walked her to the house, his arm around her as he led her passed the family, who sat in quiet domestic bliss in front of the fireplace, each absorbed in their own activities.
Her father sat sharpening the small dirk Clio carried with her into town as protection, while her mother sat stitching a satin gown. The three boys amused themselves with games of stones and pebbles on the floor before the fireplace, and the three large shaggy dogs lay in a heap beneath the window.
Ulick led Clio to her room and laid her down in her bed, tucking the covers up around her, pressing a loving kiss to her forehead. He turned to leave for his own room when her quiet voice sought him through the darkness.
He turned. "Yes, love?"
"Can you stay with me for a bit?"
He smiled and walked back to her bedside, lying beside her on the bed, wrapping his arm around her belly. "It'll be all right, love. I'll always be with you..."
"I love you, Ulick."
"I love you, Clio." He bent his head down to kiss her softly. "Get some rest."
With a soft sigh, she fell asleep.