When Julien woke up the following morning it wasn't a need to urinate that propelled him into wakefulness: there was someone between his legs engaged in an activity that probably nobody could have slept through. Apparently his young sleeping-partner was anything but selfish: as a well brought-up young Dvârian he knew that receiving pleasure without reciprocating was the height of bad manners, and he was now doing his best to make up for falling asleep too quickly the previous evening – and he was doing so with great enthusiasm, too. Furthermore, he was displaying a technical prowess that reflected very well indeed on whoever had taught him.
Afterwards it took Julien a good five minutes to recover. Once his breathing was back to normal and he was able to think straight again he pulled the boy on top of him and hugged him.
"Thank you, Dillik," he said. "That was very nice of you."
"It's only fair," the boy replied. "Last night I fell asleep."
"Well, so did I. I fell asleep right after you did."
"You mean you fell asleep without... well, doing anything?"
"Yes. I felt comfortable as I was, just holding you."
"Do you like me?"
"Well, yes, of course."
"But you're still going to leave soon, aren't you?"
"I have to. I've got to get back home."
"When are you going to leave?"
"Tomorrow. I'm going to buy passage on the Star of Kenndril."
"Can't you stay a bit longer?"
"No, I'm sorry, I really can't."
"Will you come back one day?"
Julien hesitated. He had too many memories of promises made to him by adults that had subsequently been broken, and he didn't want to do the same thing.
"Listen," he said, "I promise to come back if I can. I'm not sure that I'll be able to, but I promise to try. Will that do?"
"You're really going to try?"
"Yes, I am."
"Then yes, it'll do. And since we're still a bit early for breakfast, would you like to...?"
Julien decided that he would definitely like to.
They ate a magnificent breakfast together in the nearly empty dining room of the inn. The innkeeper was smiling a lot and Julien was afraid that she was going to ask him how the night had gone, but fortunately she didn't. But she did offer the blushing boy (and Julien wished he could find a way to stop himself from blushing all the time) the use of the family's own private bathroom, on the grounds that he was now 'a member of the family, in a way.' Julien felt a bit awkward, but he accepted all the same, relieved that at least this meant that he wouldn't need to put up with the touching (in every sense) attentions of the bath-master at the Public Baths again.
Dillik really wanted to stay and keep his idol company, but his mother reminded him firmly that he had to go to school in the morning and help to serve the guests of the inn at noon - "but if the Young Master doesn't mind putting up with a tiresome brat in the afternoon," she went on, "that is his business and I won't interfere."
So after breakfast Julien left the inn and made his way in the cold morning sunlight to the North Quay, where the Star of Kenndril, with all its cargo hatches open, was being loaded. It was a two-masted vessel about a hundred and twenty feet long, whose longitudinal rigging allowed it to sail close to the wind, something that was essential for any vessel that had to journey between Dvârinn's innumerable islands without having to rely too much on favourable winds. A busy First Lieutenant managed to find a moment to speak to him, adding his name to the passenger list and informing him that for a further ngul tchoung and twelve sangs he could use a bunk in a shared cabin, or alternatively he could sleep on deck or in the fo'c'sle with the crew for free.
Julien chose the cabin. The officer told him that the ship would be departing with the morning tide and reminded him that 'time and tide wait for no man'.
The lieutenant went back to his work and Julien strolled off into the town, where he spent the rest of the morning wandering round the shops. He found one that had a large array of strange items in its window and went in for a closer look, and he came out with a tightly-wrapped roll under his arm which contained a magnificent silk kite in the form of a haptir. He also had a small bag which contained a beautiful, if rather expensive, doll, which the merchant assured him would delight any little girl.
He waited until after he had eaten the midday meal to hand out his presents. Dillik not only served him and hovered round him while he ate, eager to get him anything he wanted, but he also jealously kept his sister from coming near the table. But the appearance of the wonderful doll quickly dispelled the growing sibling rivalry, and the kite won him a kiss on the cheek and an insistent demand from Dillik that they should go up the hill to try it out straight away. Naturally he also got a telling off from Mistress Nardik – really, she said, he shouldn't be spoiling her children like that...
So Julien and Dillik climbed up to the top of the hill above the town where the cold wind sent the shiny haptir very high indeed, its long tail snapping in the wind and combining with the faint jingle of the three tiny silver bells attached to the kite.
"He's beautiful!" declared Dillik. "I'll call him..."
"Call him Xarax," said Julien. "Please – I'd like you to."
"That's a funny name!"
"It's the name of a friend of mine."
"I wish I could see a real one – a haptir, I mean."
"Who knows? Maybe you will, some day."
"No, I'd have to go to Kretzlal for that. And they're really dangerous, too. Nobody can kill a haptir! So... have you ever seen one?"
"I've never been to Kretzlal," Julien told him.
"Obviously – it's only the Noble Lords who get to travel between worlds."
"Is that what you think?"
"That's what my dad says."
"I'm sure he's right, then."
"But he also told me that sailing on the ocean is even better than travelling to another world. "
"Is that what you want to do when you grow up?"
"Yes. I want to be a trankenn captain. That's why I have to work hard at school. I go there nearly every day. I can read, and write too. And... can I sleep with you again tonight? You don't mind, do you?"
Julien laughed. If nothing else, the kid had a wonderful talent for a non-sequitur.
The sun was already low on the horizon by the time they got back to the inn. Mistress Nardik again offered him the use of the family bathroom, and although this was nothing like as big or as luxurious as the one in Bakhtar Tower, Dillik quickly demonstrated that it could just as easily be used for fun and games as well as mere washing. By now Julien was coming to the conclusion that boys in this wonderful land were expected to indulge themselves in sexual entertainment whenever the opportunity presented itself, and so by the time he sat down for his evening meal he was both famished and at the same time completely happy. Once again Mistress Nardik gave the concept of a shared bed her blessing, although this evening's cuddling was almost chaste – apart from the last ten minutes or so.
Xarax made another nocturnal visit as he he had promised. This time he actually had to wake Julien up: Julien was deeply and happily asleep with an angelic-looking Dillik in his arms The only light in the room this time came from a thin crescent moon.
Xarax has come to tell you that everything is fine. Yol is starting to get used to the wilderness.
Give him my best wishes and tell him that I'm looking forward to seeing him again. My ship is supposed to get to Ksantir the day after tomorrow. It's not so very far, just one night at sea.
That will cheer him up. At his present speed it will take him two more days to get there.
I'm sorry – it must be really difficult fighting his way through that forest.
Xarax notices that the boy is still here. It would seem that he likes you.
Yes. And he dreams of one day meeting a haptir.
Does he? Unfortunately we cannot grant him that wish, can we? But if you wish Xarax can still do something for him.
Can you really? That would be amazing!
If you agree, Xarax will lay a hand on him and do as he did with your parents. Xarax will show him the world as Xarax sees it. He will be a haptir. That will certainly be a dream that he will not forget for a long time. But to do that Xarax will have to wake him. He will think that he is dreaming, and afterwards Xarax will slip away. That is why Xarax must say goodbye to you now.
Xarax moved across the pillow, breaking contact with Julien and then keeping still for a minute or so. Then he seemed to vanish into the air like a ghost.
"Anhel! Anhel!" said Dillik. "Are you asleep?"
"Huh?" said Julien, trying to sound like someone just woken up from a heavy sleep. "No, I'm not... well, not any more. What is it? Are you sick?"
"No! No!! I had a dream!"
"What, a nightmare? Are you scared?"
"No! It's the most wonderful dream I've ever had in my life! I was a haptir!"
"Yes! And I was flying! It was a very long dream. I did acrobatics in the air and I could actually feel the wind beneath my wings! And I was flying over the Emperor's Palace!"
"Wow! What was it like?"
"It was incredible – it was so beautiful! I can't really describe it. You've seen pictures of the Palace, I suppose?"
"Of course I have."
"Well, it was a thousand times more beautiful than any picture. I'm sure that's what the Palace really looks like."
"Do you really think so?"
"I'm sure. It's like I've really seen it. And in the dream I was flying between the towers of the Palace. Do you think I dreamed it because of your kite?"
"Who knows? But... I'll tell you what I think. The man who made it lived on an island far away, on the other side of the world. He was very old, and a true Master Craftsman, and he was especially good at making kites in the shape of a haptir because he'd actually met one when he was still only a boy. A haptir had fallen to the ground right in front of him, struck by a falling star. Of course such a thing is virtually impossible, but in this case a powerful Black Sorcerer who had a grudge against the haptir had caused it.
"The haptir was half dead. He had fallen from a great height and one of his wings was almost completely destroyed. If it had just been one of the little wings they use for speed he could still have flown, but it was one of the great wings that they use for gliding, and without it he would never be able to fly again. He was doomed to spend the rest of his life just crawling on the ground, and there could be no worse fate for a haptir. But the boy, who had always dreamed of meeting a real haptir, instead of running away like most kids would have done because they'd be scared of the haptir's poisonous teeth, took him and hid him in a secret place, a place he often went to when he wanted to go and invent stories without being disturbed.
"But the boy wasn't just good at making up stories: in fact he had a Gift. Not just a talent, but a real, magic, Gift for making kites. Even though he was still only very young people used to come from the villages round about to buy them, because every child in the area wanted one of his kites. So when the haptir began to recover from his fall the young boy started to try to repair the damaged wing. Nobody else could possibly have succeeded, but his Gift was so powerful and he so much wanted the haptir to be able to fly again that, just as he stuck the final tiny piece of silk into the final fold of the wing, his work came to life. It wasn't a construction of wood and fabric any longer: it became strong, supple bones and the colourful skin of a haptir who had been restored to full health at last.
"Of course the haptir became the boy's friend, and to thank him for restoring his wing he gave him a gift: he taught him how to weave a spell into the fabric of his kites so that any boy who truly loved haptirs, who wanted to meet one even though they are really dangerous, would once – just once! - have a wonderful dream, a dream far more real than anything he had actually done in his life, a dream so vivid that he would remember it for ever. And in that dream he would really be, for a few unforgettable moments, a real haptir of Kretzlal.
"So I think that, entirely by accident, I must have bought you one of those kites – possibly the last one that still exists – and that you truly love haptirs so much that the injured haptir's magic spell actually worked for you."
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