Short story: The Heart of a Poet (Elsanine/Arcturus)

This was written in response to a prompt on Tumblr, but it also rather fits February’s theme of ‘Anew’ for the Short Story Challenge on the official forums, so I’m submitting it for that, too. It’s really more of a tranche de vie—a slice of life—than a fully-contained story, but it has a beginning, middle, and end, so since it fits, it sits ;)

Please note: There is only one screenshot—that of the header image—for this story, so it’s rather text-heavy. Since you can’t see Elsanine’s face in that image, here’s one of him taken from a photoshoot that I did for Tumblr:

And, since this is a sidenote to an existing story, I’m going to give a little context for those who may come to this via the challenge without having read my main story:

The Veil is the supernatural realm: an alternate plane of existence which mortals cannot enter. All supernatural kin have a home there, whether they choose to use it or not. The realm has four seasons (akin to our own, but with different names) and three season lengths: Short (7 months), Long (7 years), and Resting (70 years). During the Resting season, any and all supernaturals may enter the Veil, but outside those times only the Witch kin and the Fae (who are the de facto rulers of the Veil) may enter.

At the end of the Short and Long seasons (7 years and 7 months in total) on the first day of Resting, the Return happens. All supernaturals go back to the Veil and there is a ceremony wherein a member of the Fae or Witch kin welcomes a representative of the returning supernaturals (chosen by lottery from all the races). It’s a renewal of the Veil’s welcome to all supernaturals, hence why it fits the theme of the challenge. This story takes place on the day of that Return.

Elsanine is the Veil’s healer. He is many thousands of years old, and has taken Arcturus—a vampire who is himself several thousand years old—as his lover and Aeternus (a Veil term for the concept of the ‘soulmate’). This has earned him the disapproval of his kin—all the way up to the Fae King himself—since the Fae are sworn to uphold and honour life, and vampires must kill to survive.

The Return is an emotional moment for them both, since it’s their reunion after being parted for 7 years and 7 months.

Valois (mentioned in the story) is the Veil’s most powerful and senior witch, and one of the two main characters in The Madness of Mr Goth.

Finally, for reference, ‘Elsanine’ is pronounced ‘EL-sa-neen’ and ‘Arcturus’ is pronounced ‘Ark-TOUR-us’.

And that’s about all the context you’ll probably need, so let the story begin!

THE HEART OF A POET

The ceremony was over, the Return complete, and Elsanine looked around with a sinking heart. Every Returning supernatural had been present–a huge crowd of all kindred–but of the one person he wanted to see so desperately there was no sign.

The crowds had faded away, some to rest at the insulas, others to dance and make merry all night after seven years and seven months away from the Veil. Arcturus had always come, always been close to the front of the throng, his gaze fixed on Elsanine’s face. Every Return, for thousands of years, he had been there. Waiting. Just waiting to hold his lover again once the ceremony was complete.

But now?

Now the clearing was empty. Everyone had left, and Elsanine stood there, still waiting, still alone.

He held back a shuddering breath. He knew there were dangers for any vampire in the mortal world. He knew that the dangers for Arcturus were even greater, since he could only hold back his nature by entering a deep, unconscious hibernation that put him at great risk. His hiding places during those times were difficult to locate, but not impossible, and if he should be found…

A hand rested gently on Elsanine’s shoulder, and he spun around.

Oh. It was only Linfala, softly smiling at him.

“What are you doing here on your own? Come join us in the dancing,” Linfala murmured. “You and– Wait… where is…?”

His vision blurring, Elsanine just shook his head. No dancing tonight. No merriment. He needed to be alone, and so he shrugged off Linfala’s hand, walking briskly away from the clearing and heading for the insulas.

Had it not been for the King’s disapproval, Arcturus could have hunted and kept himself safe. Had it not been for the love he held for Elsanine, he could have unleashed his true nature and not put himself in such danger.

He held back for my sake. For the knowledge that I am Fae and sworn to cherish and uphold all life. Lover of a vampire, who must kill to survive. He held back for me, endangered himself for me, and now…

Almost sightless, Elsanine walked into one of the small rooms of the vampire insula. Arcturus’s room. Or, at least, the room he always preferred to use on the night of each Return. The worn old leather couch. The dusty glass ceiling lamps that filtered dim light into the room. The ancient tomb slab up against the wall. Everything was as Arcturus had left it. Elsanine could still feel the echo of him here, still sense the faintest shadow of his presence.

He sank onto the couch as the sounds of music and laughter drifted through the walls. His heart heavy and full, he slowly lay himself down, curling up and closing his eyes. Silent tears coursed down his face: a mournful stream down the stitching of the couch seat, ending in a small puddle of sorrow near the arm.

Flowers. He could smell flowers. Even with his eyes closed, he knew that scent. Matthiola longipetala, the night-scented stock. His favourite of all the blossoms to ever bless the world. Arcturus had always brought them for him, ensured there was a vase of them in every room of their house.

Slowly, Elsanine opened sleepy eyes… and there, in front of them–practically right under his nose–was a little bunch of delicate lilac petals. And behind them? Smiling, beautiful grey eyes.

“‘Turu?” Elsanine whispered. “Oh, Gaia, not this. I cannot bear this dream.”

“No dream,” Arcturus murmured. “Just my idiotic decision to rest in the deep cellars of a place that mortals took it upon themselves to demolish and concrete over.” He chuckled. “I tried everything that I could to get out. I even dug sideways for hours through dirt, hence my somewhat… ah… filthy state right now. But mortals and their love of acres of concrete… I ended up mentally calling on Valois, waking him from the most comfortable sleep with his boy beside him. By Lilith, I owe him a huge favour for getting me out of there.”

Elsanine took the flowers, burying his nose in them and inhaling deeply, his eyes fixed on Arcturus’s face. “I thought–”

Arcturus grimaced. “I know. I knew you would worry. And, my blessed, beautiful heart, I am so sorry to have caused you such pain.” He palmed a hand to Elsanine’s cheek, and the flowers fell to the soft leather of the couch as Elsanine covered that hand with his own, his lashes fluttering as he closed his eyes.

“You are so cold,” he whispered.

“Well…” He could hear the humour in his lover’s voice. “I am a vampire, my darling.”

His lips curved in a hint of a smile. “I am well aware of that, ‘Turu. But when did you last feed?”

“Hm, now let me think. Possibly all of… two months ago? Maybe three? I have been asleep for a long time.”

Elsanine’s eyes flew open. So long ago?!

Slowly, he raised his hand, turning it to present his wrist to Arcturus. His other hand reached up to undo the magical collar around his neck that prevented Arcturus from feeding from him.

“I cannot,” Arcturus whispered, staying his fingers. “I will not. My thirst is too great, and I have never forgiven myself for the last time.”

He rested his forehead against Elsanine’s shoulder. “I cannot lose you. If you left my life, I could not survive another night. I would give myself to the sun.”

“’Turu–” Elsanine tangled his fingers in Arcturus’s hair, but his lover was determined to continue.

You are my sun, and I am content to burn in your arms. If my heart still beat, it would stop at the sight of you. My love, my guiding light.” Arcturus turned his head to look up at him. “The tender hands that sow seeds of joy in the garden of my heart…”

Elsanine smiled, though tears welled in his eyes once more. “You, my dearest poet, sorely need watering. Such words!”

“Every one of them true, thirst or no. Love…” Arcturus hesitated. “I would ask you something.”

“Ask it. And then you must feed, or else I will worry myself into the ground.”

Arcturus was quiet for a moment, then he said softly, “We are promised in our hearts, but never have we promised to the Veil. In all our years, we have obeyed the wishes of others. Of your kin. Of your family. But I… I am no longer prepared to go on without you by my side in all things. Elsanine, my heart, I ask: will you promise to the Veil with me this Resting season?”

For a brief moment, all that could go wrong flashed through Elsanine’s mind. The disapproval of his kin. The possibility of banishment from his family. The loss of everything he had known for thousands of years.

And everything faded in the hopeful light of those grey eyes.

“Yes,” he whispered, his tears spilling over. “I will promise to the Veil with you this Resting season.”

There was a second of silence, and then Arcturus grinned. “Good, because I’m proposing on one knee and this floor is even colder than I am. Shift along, dear heart, and warm me up.”

Laughing, Elsanine thumped Arcturus’s arm and moved back on the couch, holding out his arms so that his lover could nestle down in their embrace.

“You have the heart of a poet, but the wit of a fox,” he chuckled. “And oh, how I love you for it.”

6 responses

  1. Well, you already know I love this since I asked for it and responded to your Tumblr post. You have such a talent for building worlds that feel real and substantial. I especially love how you’ve crafted the Veil, creating tension between those who are granted full access and those whose access is limited. You also did a great job in setting the stage for readers who may not be familiar with the backstory of Elsanine and Arcturus. The more I read about them, the more I love them.

    • Thank you so much! <3

      I love them, too. I've been pondering their history quite a lot lately as I do more and more worldbuilding for the Veil. One day, I would love to write their story, too.

    • They are! The original request was for a piece of writing wherein Arcturus showed (or spoke of) his feelings for Elsanine, so that’s why it’s so tender and loving. He might possess a wry and slightly sardonic wit, but Arcturus loves Elsanine deeply, and sometimes he melts his lover’s heart by showing it like this.

    • I adore them. Under his dry facade, Arcturus is basically a romantic French poet, and he constantly tells Elsanine how beautiful and beloved he is. <3

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