Hayden manages to gain an ability that turns beliefs into truth, but the knack for making things turn out the way he wants them to is a lot more elusive.
At the widow’s cozy house near the spicemarket we were each rewarded with little overnight tarts of the sort she was well-known for throughout the keepverge, and we sat on a wall overlooking the tradesmen’s quarter and enjoyed our treats, feet dangling carelessly over the hundred-foot drop. All the while was I stealing glances at Kendrick, determined to get my cart back on the track after my little mess-up with the “plenty strong” idea. I’d proved my gift worked, admittedly, but it had been a total accident. I hadn’t asked for something and gotten it, and I had to make sure that worked because that was the only path to the true seduction of the one man I never stopped thinking about.
Something about that hairy chest, I decided at length. Maybe I can get him to keep himself shirtless to let the air flow through it. Or that letting your friends run their fingers through it is good for the skin.
Finishing my snack and licking my fingers, I looked over at Kendrick and decided to get at the shirtless angle through the heat of the workshop. “What’s it like being apprenticed to your dad?” I asked. “Ever get tired of him? Or, you know, rugs?”
Kendrick swallowed the last bite of his tart and chuckled. “Naw,” he said. “I love rugs. And me dad.”
I eyed him. It was true he and his father got along great, even better than my own dad and me, all the more so once Kendrick stayed and took up the craft after his older and younger brothers went off to join the army and the merchant marine respectively. “You do love your dad,” I agreed enviously—not realizing that I had unconsciously let my own sort of love for my own father sift into the words until that cold shiver ran up my back again, and Kendrick’s expression turned wistful and ever so slightly heartbroken. I recognized the look, and winced.
“Aye,” Kendrick said softly after a moment. He was staring off into the wispy clouds inching over the north fields, and it was obvious what he was seeing: Kirron of Isda, Carpetmaster, strong, garrulous, handsome, as strapping and hairy as his sons, always ready with a smile and a hug. One glance, and I could tell. He had it bad.
Gods’ balls, another fuck-up. I should make this right, I thought. I nudged him with my shoulder. “You know,” I said, very deliberately, “he loves you too.” I tried consciously to put as much of that undercurrent of desire and need into this statement as I had inadvertently done with his side of things, and it must have worked because he had turned his head to smirk at me before I was done feeling the shiver.
I saw the mutual lust and love his eyes, and I thought back to the last few times I had seen him and his dad together. I’d seen them hug and joke with each other, and—I’d seen those same scenes before, but… was my perspective different, or had things shifted slightly, making the smiles and manly embraces that much more intimate?
Suddenly I wanted to see their interactions in person, right then. “Hey, let’s head over to your workshop,” I suggested quickly. “I’m sure he misses you!”
No cold flutter up the spine that time, so I guessed what I’d said was already true. Kendrick arched a dark, knowing eyebrow at me and shoved me with his own shoulder. “I’m sure,” he said, in that deep silky voice of his. “But I’m nae bringing ye to intrude just so ye can watch us embrace and maybe catch us making out.”
My expression must have been pretty comical, because Kendrick actually laughed. “Aye, Hayden, I know ye enjoy watching us,” he teased. “It’s cute of ye, but also a bit distracting.” He lifted his chin and added with a sly grin, “Though I understand your jealousy. Not everyone can be as well-equipped as we of Isda!”
“Hey, I’m plenty well—” My face turned instantly hot, and I looked away. “—equipped,” I finished, incredibly discomfited at having tricked myself into changing my body twice.
“Aye, we all know that!” Kendrick said, nodding at the big bulge of my fist-sized balls and the hefty lump running conspicuously down my left pants leg. “Ye ought to wear looser trousers so we don’t have to know!”
My face flushed even hotter, and Kendrick just laughed again.
Now, it just so happened that there was an old saying among Kendrick’s people that embarrassment makes you float. I’m not sure where it came from—maybe that heat rises, and so a hot face should lift you up, face-first; or maybe it was the fervent desire to be elsewhere that would render, perhaps for some ancient figure of fable, the desperate ability to float away in escape. Whatever the origins, that was what Kendrick was referencing when he teased, “Hah! Ye look like you could leave this wall and float all the way to the north gate!”
“I totally could,” I muttered, unthinkingly—and completely convincingly.
“Grand,” Kendrick said, even as I registered my own alarm at the familiar icy jolt up my back. “Let’s see it then!” And then, with an almighty shove that bastard garbage-spawn of a sea-imp threw me right off the north wall.
I screamed, even though I was at that point mostly being propelled forward by the force of Kendrick’s shove. I was, in fact, floating, and weirdly it did feel like it was a product of the heat of my face keeping me aloft. The only trouble was that my ability to float as I soared over the tradesmen’s quarter was explicitly a function of my embarrassment, and it became very obvious to me over barely a few seconds that my embarrassment was rapidly dissolving into terror, seeing as I was quickly shifting from forward-propelled floating to uncontrolled plummeting.
You made your equipment too damn big, some stray thought in my head snarked. it’s weighing you down!
Then all sarcasm was torn away in tatters, and I shrieked my throat raw as the buildings rushed toward me. Desperately I remembered my gift. I remembered that I had already proven it worked on me as well as others. I had no one to convince, though—no audience, no “anyone” to believe the “anything” I told them but my own self. With seconds to live I put everything I had into convincing myself of the only thing I could think of that would get me out of this alive.
“I can fly!” I screamed. The wind seemed heartlessly bent on whipping my words away, so I said it again. “I can fly! I can fly!!”
The noisy smiths’ bazaar was racing madly up toward me. I squeezed my eyes shut—
Felt the cold tingle—
And spread my wings wide, instinctively banking up away from the buildings and the hard, Hayden-smashing earth and into the sun-warmed sky.
I opened my eyes, blinking a few times to accustom them to the rushing of the wind. I arced up and around and then, again without knowing how I did it, began to flap. My heart was pounding as hard as a smith’s hammer, somewhere high up in my throat, but the exhilaration of flight stole through my insides and possessed me utterly, and in spite of the terror that had not fully ebbed I laughed and whooped as I glided in a wide curve over the city, my long hair whiffling in the wind, my whole being thrilled beyond anything I could have imagined.
I looked over at my wings as I beat them to keep my speed and altitude. They were vast, nearly man-height in breadth on either side, the feathers a rich brown that complemented my russet-brown hair and mildly tanned coloring. The uncanny strength I had gifted myself with meant that beating my wings was almost effortless and produced incredible lift and thrust, and I quickly discovered that I had acquired not just the mechanical ability to fly but the knowledge of how to fly with deftness and agility. As I reveled in the rush of air over my skin I noted that I was feeling it on my arms but not my torso—it seemed from what I could see and feel that while I was still wearing the same fitted sleeveless tunic, it was now specially adapted in back to fasten around the long, thick scapulars where the wings connected to my body and the muscles driving them.
I hadn’t just “popped” the wings out of my body, I realized in amazement. Like the growing affection between Kirron and Kendrick, like my own inhuman strength, this change had receded backward from the moment of my announcing, and believing, my ability to fly. Convincing my audience of these truths—first Kendrick and then, in desperation, myself—changed my world enough to make it so that these truths were true.
Still, I thought as I swooped slowly lower, thinking about where I could land, I couldn’t believe that I had changed the world in any massive way. The earth resisted change. People did too, as a rule. Ripples in a pond dissipated with distance. The ideas I convinced people of probably changed the world the minimum amount for my new truth to make sense. I gathered more evidence of this conservation-of-change feature of my gift almost immediately.
I was near the palace keep, so I decided to alight in the mostly empty back courtyard where I had room to land with a minimum of worry about eaves and street traffic. Just as I was dropping to my feet and carefully retracting my wings, all done habitually as if I’d done a thousand times, one of the washerwomen—a jowly, middle-aged woman I did not recognize, though I knew many of the palace staff and servants—came out of one of the nearby buildings lugging a large, covered wicker basket the size of a cauldron. When she saw me she cried out in shock, dropping her basket and causing a cascade of clean linens to spill onto the stone. “What are you!?” she screamed. “Fae? Are you here to steal our babies?”
I was barely settled in the grip of gravity again, so I took a step toward her and I almost stumbled. “No! No! It’s okay!” I said to her, hands out in a placating gesture. Fae? How had that been the thing she thought of? “I’m not fae, there’s no—” I stopped myself abruptly, practically cleaving my tongue to my palate to abort the statement in time. If there were fae, and I wiped them out with a few words, I would never forgive myself.
The washerwoman had snatched up the wicker lid to the basket and seemed ready to use it as a defensive weapon. “What are you?” she demanded shrilly. “What do you here, creature? Begone!”
Other concerned faces poked out of the building she’d come from, and from the smithy on the other side of the courtyard. This could spread and get out of control quickly. I could be strung up or burned at the stake in an hour’s time—we of Weia were nothing if not briskly efficient in the face of danger. I had to fix this, now, and not just with her.
I took a slow step toward the woman. Was she new? Would that help? “It’s okay,” I repeated calmly. “It’s just me. Everyone here knows me, the boy with wings.” I took another step, feeling a rush of frigid cold up my back—in my panic I was laying it on pretty thick. “It’s okay,” I assured her. “Me having wings, it’s normal, everyone’s good with it. With me. Okay?”
My spine was throbbing with the truthmaking chill, but I held in my shudder and kept my eyes on my truth-audience. Belatedly I realized the smarter course would have been to get rid of the wings altogether, but it was too late now, and fuck an angry ox if I was going to give up flying anytime soon.
The woman was now looking at me with chagrin. “I’m so sorry, Master Hayden,” she said. I blinked at her use of my name, but then I remembered the truth I’d convinced her of—that everyone knows me. “I was forgetting. Of course it’s you.” She shook her head and bent to collect her spilled linens. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
I looked around. Everyone was returning to their work, rolling their eyes at the unnecessary fuss. It was just Hayden. I quickly knelt and helped her refill her basket. “It’s no problem at all,” I said, fitting the top and hefting the basket for her—it felt so light to me I was afraid I would overplay the act of lifting it and launch it at the sun. “I’m sorry I caught you by surprise. What’s your name?”
“Margie,” she said, and she was talking to me normally now, as if boys dropping out of the sky and helping her with her washing were as commonplace as bread and supper.
We walked together toward the main building of the keep. I held the basket held casually against my hip, the tips of my massive, meticulously folded wings almost, but not quite, trailing on the courtyard stones. “I’m sorry I caught you by surprise, Margie,” I said, offering her my most winning smile.
“It’s all right,” Margie said, her cheeks pinking, “a lad as handsome as you can get away with most anything!”
Unsettlingly, I felt a new brush of ice slither up the middle of my back the moment she’d said it. What in all the hells? I hadn’t offered anything for her to believe, but somehow, I’d convinced her anyway. Something about—my demeanor? My body language? Something about me had triggered my gift of convincing people of things without my even having had to say a word.
My stomach fluttered, and my wings shifted uncertainly behind me. That was… that was not good.
As we passed through the back hallways of the keep toward the ceremonial halls, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone’s eyes seemed to catch on me, like my presence drew their gaze. Young women, matrons, pages, guards—everyone looked up as I passed, Margie at my side gabbling away about her newborn and the nightmare she’d had about a fae taking it and how that must have caused her moment of shock at seeing me, about how the guards talked about how I should be up in the air flying over Kordish forts gathering information instead of flirting with apprentice carpetmasters, all sorts of things I barely heard. I was too busy watching myself being watched.
At first, I thought I was getting all this attention because of my wings, but the more people we encountered, the more stares I saw, and the more I recognized the singular fire in their eyes. It was lust.
Margie had made me “handsome”—and able to “get away with most anything.” That part I wasn’t even going to think about. But the handsome thing, that was clearly coming into play in spades. I was almost certain that all of my ideas were being not just fulfilled but fulfilled with extreme potency; and when applied to masculine attractiveness, that level of effectiveness might just make me—
“There you are,” said a familiar voice. “I was hoping I’d see you this morning—on the ground, that is.”
I turned and saw my father smiling at me from a wide doorway. In my state of distraction I hadn’t noticed that we were passing near the royal workshops. He nodded toward my hair, which I realized must be a little windblown. “Been out roving, I see,” he said dryly. There was an adorable spot of cerulean paint on his left cheek.
All at once I was overflowing with happiness, at the memory of flying and at seeing him now, my rock when all else was changing around me. I smiled widely back at him, and to my amazement he visibly caught his breath. It was barely noticeable, and probably only to me because I knew him so well, but—he had reacted to me. I was irresistible to everyone. Even him.
We stared at each other for a second before I realized Margie was trying to relieve me of the washing basket. “I’ll just take that, lad,” she said, and I forced myself to turn to her.
“Are you sure?” I asked her. “I’ll be happy to take this up for you to—”
She was shaking her head. “It’s all right,” she said, her expression soft as she took the basket from me. “You two handsome fellows have your moment. You’re lucky to have a father who loves you as much as he does!”
The cold tingle again. I swallowed. What was it with this woman? My father had already loved me, but now I had convinced her of something new… “You-you’re very lucky, too, Margie,” I stammered. “In anything you could want.”
She winked. “I know it,” she said, then turned and tottered off with her burden, humming happily to herself.
I turned back to my father. He was closer now, and almost without my being aware of how it happened we were embracing. At the last second I remembered my strength, and I cradled him gently as he squeezed me close. Unable to help myself I let my hands move slowly over his elegantly sculpted back, and he hummed against my neck. He was warm and strong and everything I wanted.
I can get away with anything, I thought indecently. I could kiss him on the lips, right then and there, and I could get away with it. I was so afraid of what I would do I thought I might throw up. My mammoth dick twitched against the whole length of my thigh, prodding me to act, to speak.
Oswin showed no sign of letting me go. “Dad—” I said, uncertainly.
“You can hold me like this, you know, any time,” he said contentedly. “It’s good. We should do this—”
I felt the truthchill, this time combined with the rush of fire from his own prayers-granted gods-touch gift, and I shuddered, hard. I almost kissed him just to shut him up. Instead I shushed him, holding him close as he tightened the embrace. “Shhh,” I said, my breath gusting across that spot on his tawny neck under his left jaw I’d stared at for years. “Don’t speak.”
He hummed again, and we held each other like that for a long time. And, yeah, he was right. It was good.
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