Hihi! I've been mucking about with this idea for a while-but I haven't stopped working on Stolen Child! I just had to get this out of my system. The definition of a Chimera is a mythological beast- a combined form of lion, goat and serpent. I saw it used recently (Jan. 2005, National Geographic) to describe experimental animal/human hybrids.
So, I stole it for this story, using it to mean the later, an animal/human hybrid. In this story they were created and bred as slave labor. The world this is set in has some resemblance to our own in the 1600, 1700s. Low tech, in other words.
( So, chimera were created by shadowy magical means rather than cloning. Which spares you my mangled attempt at a scientific explanation, aren't you glad?)
Warning for …well, the usual, yaoi, violence, I don't think anything too shocking. Fluffiness? Of course. Angst? Some. Romance and humor? I hope so.
I hope you enjoy this first chapter. More to come. Thanks,S.
Ailen listened to the droning voice of the aristo while his mind worked on other things. He was good at appearing attentive, he'd been doing this a long while and he could pick up little tonal clues without subjecting himself to the slow mental deterioration that would occur if he actually had to parse every inane sentence.
Like the cue of a rising inflection and a brief silence.
He took a second to unreel the last few moments of conversation and take in the pose of the man before him. One pudgy, well manicured hand flung outward, indicating the decanter on the table.
"Don't mind if I do. I always think that the Australian vintages are terribly underrated. And wasted on the majority, don't you agree?"
The man smiled, showing perfect teeth.
"Ah, always a pleasure to meet a man with a discriminating palate. You must let me show you my cellar later."
(I certainly must, although I doubt that's all you want to show me. Well, you can forget it chubby, some sacrifices are too great.
"That sounds a pleasant diversion, my thanks."
The sudden change in tone was jarring and Ailen let a tiny wince leak through his mask. His host clapped his hands sharply a few times and then bowed his head in apology.
"My sincere apologies, my latest servant is regrettably lax. I should never delegate the important purchases but one knows how tedious the job is. Boy!"
A young chimera entered the room at a deliberate walk. His hair was mussed and his ears hung rather lopsidedly, one arched a bit higher than the other. His tail was held at an anxious semaphore, unmoving.
Ailen let his glance skim over the boy, taking in details as fast as possible.
A dog chimera, just what he didn't need. Heads would roll over this.
"New, is it?"
He noted the slight droop of the tail at his words and resolutely forced himself to continue, his tone light.
"Well, training is always a trial, isn't it?"
The boy poured the wine with ill grace while the host nodded in agreement.
"Pain apparently isn't enough for this one, stubborn as they come, he is. Dim specimen, I don't know what possessed Dalan to buy it. Well, it should do well enough for yard work once its attitude is improved. I'm told gelding works wonders. Shame to go to the expense but it's nonreturnable The next house servant will be hand picked though, that I can promise you."
"Well, even ill pouring can't spoil good wine, for that we can be grateful."
This brought a smile for Ailen and an ineffectual back handed cuff for the chimera. He watched the boy sway with the blow, managing to make it look much more hurtful than it could have been while also avoiding most of the sting.
Food for thought there.
He was still thinking while the host ranted half heartedly about the lack of proper regulations of the chimera industry, the ineptitude of servants in general and who knows what else.
He had tuned out again and was discretely studying the servant. He had a half sneer on his full lips but his eyes didn't match the expression. There was a touch of …something, not anger exactly and not self pity but something akin to both. Bitterness? Perhaps.
But something else was lurking under the bitterness. He looked away, whatever it was; it was no concern of his.
"Hard day at the office dear?"
Ailen aimed a fake punch at Diarmad and laughed when he dropped his outrageous camp act to leap into defensive stance.
"Like you care. It was grueling I tell you, absolutely grueling."
"Tell all, details, details."
The other two drifted in and settled at the battered table.
He took a second to look them over, his team, his gang, his family.
Eman, slim and tall with a shining cap of auburn hair and golden eyes, a pencil and paper at hand for notes He had wandered into their ken after a relentless campaign of stalking Diarmad. Diarmad had given himself up as lost in short order and didn't seem to regret it. Eman brought his mania for order to the team and an eye for detail. He was also good with anything sharp or pointed when needed, an eventuality that Ailen always tried to avoid.
Blood was so…vulgar.
Caomh was in one of his up moods, practically bouncing in his seat and grinning at all and sundry. His dark eyes were shining with good humor and his long wavy hair gave him an innocent air he didn't deserve. He was the latest member, a street kid orphaned young. He was tougher than he looked and could carry his weight just fine, regardless of his feckless demeanor
And Diarmad, his oldest friend.
Black eyes under slanted brows, hair as red as heart's blood, a smile that could warm you straight through to the soul.
Diarmad had taken him in when he'd been flung from his comfortable childhood into a stark and penniless, as well as perilous, adolescence. He'd shown him the ropes, watched his back and taught him how to survive.
Together they'd graduated from simple grab and snatch to pick pocketing and confidence games. They'd used Ailen's aristocratic background and manners to good effect, setting up the over bred and over funded for some involuntary donations.
Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch, from his point of view.
He joined them at the table, sighing a bit as it shifted under his elbows.
The one short leg needed shimming again, he rocked the table a little more and Caomh leapt up and retrieved a book to shove under it.
He tried again, much better.
"Before we get to the details of the day, who was supposed to weasel their way in with the servants?"
Caomh raised a hand.
"Is there some reason why you neglected to mention the recent purchase of a chimera? Because I'm thinking that could be a major complication."
Caomh slid his chair closer to Eman's and cleared his throat.
"I just found out last night and you were gone this morning before I could tell you. And it's not going to be a big problem, Dellie say's it's not trusted with security and they keep it caged at night."
"And where exactly is it caged?"
Ailen's tone was pleasant but something about the look on his face sent Caomh a few inches closer to Eman. Eman gave him a cold stare to no effect.
"In the cellars."
Diarmad broke in:
"Hey, leave the kid alone, it's not that big a deal."
"It wouldn't be if we weren't going to hit the cellars, some of that wine is worth a fortune."
"I still don't see a big problem, if it's caged."
He rubbed his eyes wearily and Eman spoke up:
"Can it speak? Is it intelligent? Can it identify us by scent or not? Will it raise an alarm? How…."
Caomh stopped him.
"Okay, okay! I don't know, I do know Dellie feeds it after it's caged for the night. I thought I could just put a little something in it's meal. Nothing deadly, just sleeping potion or something. Won't that work?"
Ailen smiled at him.
"Probably. Good idea, if you can pull it off. Sorry to be so touchy about it, I just don't like surprises. Or chimera, creepy things. As to Eman's questions, just in case the dope doesn't work, I don't know if it can speak, it's intelligent but I don't think it would feel an overwhelming need to protect it's master's property. It was bought as an adult and besides, it's slated for gelding."
Three sets of legs crossed.
"That was my reaction too. Any road, good to know where it's going to be. Eman, let me see the house diagram."
He handed it over and Ailen made some quick notations on it.
"There is a rack here that holds some nice vintage, worth the taking I think. Upstairs there is a safe here, a hidey hole here; the jewelry is kept in this drawer. I'll make a list of the good stuff. Anything else?"
Diarmad rose and looked over his shoulder, one finger tracing the diagram.
"I thought we could go in here, the side entrance is the easiest, nicely shielded by the hedge. Caomh is going to hide inside to let us in, as he's so "close" to the kitchen help.
The servant's quarter is on the third floor and it's likely that no one will hear anything. "
Ailen's slight grin widened and Eman leaned toward him.
"What? What are you hiding?"
"There will be few servants there in any case. If we can hold off a few days, that is. I've been invited to a sea side holiday by the charming fool and most of the staff will go with him."
There was a few seconds of clapping, whistling and general rejoicing before Eman got back to business.
"How long will you be gone? How does this affect the meet up? Will there be a watch on the house? When…"
"Whoa, hold on! I'm not sure how long I'll be gone; probably a week is all I'll have to stick. I'll come up with an excuse of some kind. The meet can just take place later, in Stoll? I'll check in the inn and we'll go from there. I don't know whether they'll be an extra watch, Caomh can find out when he talks with Dellie next. So, good to go?"
Diarmad clapped him on the shoulder.
"Better than good. Was the holiday your idea?"
He tried to look humble, a look he didn't pull off well.
"I may have mentioned it in passing."
Caomh rose and found a half full bottle in the cupboard and a few glasses.
He put them on the table and there was a silent toast, a ritual that they held to before every job.
The ritual hadn't always been a silent one, when it was just Diarmad and himself they had experimented with various toasts, trying to outdo each other in wit and outrageous bravado. It had been fun. But then Eman had joined them and they began letting him take his turn at toasting. He had many good points but a way with words wasn't one of them. He usually managed to work in some romantic sentiments toward Diarmad, a nice touch but one that left Ailen out in the cold.
And then of course, when it was Diarmad's turn he had to reciprocate. Ailen began to feel like a distant relative.
Then Caomh had joined in.
While he was enthusiastic he hadn't known what to say and never quite got into the spirit of the thing.
When he was prompted to just "speak his heart" he did his best.
But somehow "please, please, please don't let us get caught" lacked a certain something in the way of inspiration.
So Ailen had suggested silence, much to everyone's relief.
It was still comforting, a wordless reminder of companionship shared and he cherished it.
The sea side visit passed with painful slowness. Trapped with a small number of worthies none of whom he could stand for more than fifteen minutes together rather detracted from the fine weather and lovely view.
Someday he would have to come here with real friends.
Still, the challenge made it enjoyable in an edgy way.
He had played this game before of course, in other places. The young lordling from distant lands was a sure fire hit with the bored aristocracy. The fact that he was exotically attractive and amusing didn't hurt either. He would drift languidly into the golden circle, entice and tease and then drift off again with the communal coffers considerably enriched.
They had evolved a good system, Eman dealt with the background and all the minutia of the local circle, Diarmad worked on the physical details of the targeted manor and the best ways in and out while Caomh found an obliging servant to sweeten up.
The whole thing worked like a charm.
Now though he was in the anxious period, the time after the job and before he could meet up with the others. It wouldn't do to run off the same day and even when he was safely away he couldn't head straight to the meet.
Eman and he had devised a number of side trips, double backs and general confusing of the trail; just on the off chance he had raised suspicion. Better safe than sorry, after all.
So his journey had entailed an overnight stop at a seedy inn, a short trip up river on a barge, a day on a coach and a few days trip on a newly purchased horse. Every leg of the journey saw his appearance changed until the last, when he had stripped the last of the disguises away in preparation for arriving home.
While they leased property in many cities under a variety of names the one they called home was in Stoll. The city where he and Diarmad had met, a place of middling size and lax law.
It was always a relief to get home, although he rather hated to part with his satin and lace. He didn't mind a bit washing the dye and pomade from his hair though, and getting out of the high heeled shoes was a wonderful treat. As much as he enjoyed the added height he was much happier in his comfortably low worn boots.
He stopped at the usual inn first thing, the agreed upon place to leave any message. The stable lads were always glad of an extra coin and if there were trouble ahead he'd have his horse handy when he heard of it. Tonight though the message was the hoped for "all clear" and he left his horse and a sizable tip and strode off with a light heart.
Their house was in a shabby but fairly respectable area, a place where people minded their own business but it wasn't a risk to life and limb to walk the street at night. The house was plain but sturdy and well built with a small fenced yard.
The door was flung open upon his approach and a grinning Caomh waved him in.
"Good to see you! Everything alright?"
"No trouble at all, a peaceful trip. Let me drop my bags and we can catch up."
He ran up the stairs and into his room, a nice enough place that covered most of the attic. No one else had wanted the climb but he loved being up here, the low eaves on either end gave the place a cozy feel and it was warm no matter what the weather outside. One wall had a bank of low windows that let in a nice breeze and gave a lovely view of the sky.
The hard wood floors gleamed and the furnishings were spare but well chosen. A few storage chests held most of his clothes and were sturdy enough to provide seating if needed. His bed was an old four poster, a solid and comfortable piece of furniture, high off the floor and made higher still with thick mattresses and down comforters and pillows. He sank onto it with a happy sigh, took a few seconds to just enjoy before rising again and taking the stairs back down.
The others were gathered around the kitchen table, waiting for him. What was it about a kitchen table that made it the focal point of any conference? At least this one was stable, made of light wood and polished to a deep shine.
There was a tea service set out and a steaming cup at his place.
Home, really home.
There was also a strange figure in the room and it brought him to a halt in the doorway.
Huddled against the far wall, in a nest of blankets filling the corner.
"What the hell? "
He let his gaze settle on each of his comrades in turn. Eman looked pensive, which wasn't anything new. Diarmad looked a little embarrassed and Caomh was fidgeting nervously with his tea spoon, eyes on the table.
There was another moment of silence and then Caomh spoke without looking at him.
"There was a minor glitch."
"Would that minor glitch be sitting on the floor?"
"Kind of. Yeah."
He dropped into his seat and waited for more.
Eman spoke in a slow and reasoned manner.
"Caomh dosed the evening meal, nothing major but enough to ensure a good night's sleep. The maid fed the chimera before the rest of the servants and then they ate and went to bed."
"Unfortunately he wasn't hungry. Caomh was upstairs with Diarmad and I was in the cellar when I noticed. He didn't raise the alarm but he was awake and alert. So we decided…well, seemed the thing to do."
"Yes. Leaving him there when he might be capable of speech and able to describe us wasn't a chance I wanted to take. Killing him and trying to dispose of the body wasn't a good option either. So, we brought him with us."
"How? He's not hard to spot and I know you're not lax enough to drag him about as is and hope for the best."
"We improvised a turban and some robes for traveling. With his ears and tail covered he can pass well enough. He didn't resist either, although he doesn't seem to really grasp the situation. He hasn't spoken so perhaps he's mute. I am beginning to doubt your estimation of his intelligence; he may be closer to animal than human in that department."
Ailen rose to examine the chimera more closely. He was facing into the corner, his posture loose. He looked up when Ailen approached his gaze tranquil and vacant.
He was in an outfit borrowed from Caomh, by the fit, and now that he was closer he could see the hobble between his ankles. He remained motionless when Ailen checked the tightness of the restraints, but his breathing sped up a bit. His face remained devoid of expression.
He rejoined the others at the table.
"So, the plan now is?"
Caomh echoed in a puzzled tone.
"The plan. We steal things, we sell things. That's the standard operating procedure. So, the mines? They don't ask questions and there are doctors who can make damn sure he's mute if necessary."
Caomh sounded as shocked as if Ailen had slapped him.
"What then? We can't keep him bound in a corner for the rest of his life."
Diarmad took over.
"No we can't. We don't now actually; he's hobbled during the day and only bound at night. He doesn't seem inclined to run and he has nowhere to go in any case. He's biddable; perhaps with a slight change in appearance he could be useful."
"Yeah, you know, house work and stuff. Or he could be a good asset for your cover; a personal servant could add authenticity."
"And you think you can trust him with that degree of freedom? And alter his appearance how? It's ridiculous; we should unload him as soon as possible."
"Don't be a bastard about this Ailen, hardly his fault he was in the wrong place at the wrong calm down and deal for a few days; we can talk about it more then."
"Oh, we'll talk, we will definitely talk. Would you mind telling me where you keep him at night? Just so I don't stumble over him or something?"
There was a long moment of uncomfortable silence.
"You didn't. Tell me you didn't keep him in my room."
"Well, it was empty. The basement is cold and dark and Caomh …well, you know, he felt bad so…it's not like he was doing anything there but sleeping. He's quiet and really, you'll hardly know he's there."
"You don't mean you think he's still going to be there now that I'm home?"
"It's the biggest room, come on, there's loads of space, it's not like he's going to be talking in his sleep."
"Right. Fine. Would anyone mind if we put him to bed early? Before we go over details? Probably not much point now but still, humor me."
"Okay, no problem."
Caomh helped the chimera to his feet while Diarmad unlocked the hobble. They had turned and headed toward the stairs when Ailen called to them.
"Hey, aren't you going to take his blankets?"
Eman rose and gathered them up.
"Sorry, we hadn't thought about it, hadn't needed them until now."
"You didn't need them? My bed, you put him in my bed?"
"It was empty. And it's not like he doesn't bathe every day. Ailen, what the hell is wrong with you? You're acting like..well, your behavior is more than a bit bizarre."
He took a deep breath and shook his head.
"I know. I'm sorry, it's not logical. Or fair. I know that. Just get him settled down for the night and I'll get a grip. Eventually."
Eman gave him one last glare and went up the stairs, leaving him to his thoughts
By the time they returned he was calmer, sipping tea , his hands steady around the cup.
They went over the details of the deals they'd made with various fences, exchanged stories of the trip home and finally Ailen rose.
"I'm for a long soak and sleep. We can talk about our guest in the morning."
He went upstairs before they could comment. He started the water in the bathroom off his bedroom. He didn't look in on his new room mate before slipping into the hot tub. He usually loved this time, the old claw foot tub was deep and wide and he'd put sky lights into the roof over it. Lying back in the water, gazing up at the sky was usually a sure route to total relaxation. But not tonight.
He got out, toweled off and wrapped his robe about him. He paused at the bedroom doorway to steel himself and then walked in.
They'd put him by the far side of the bed, making him more or less invisible from the doorway. Ailen heard nothing from him even when he walked around to stand no more than six inches away. The chimera appeared to be sound asleep, curled on his side with his back toward the room. He toed him lightly in the back and got a sleepy stirring but no sound. He backed up a little and cleared his throat.
"You can stop your shamming now, I know you're awake."
The chimera rolled over to face him, his face expressionless.
"Give it up; I know damn well you're not a fool."
He felt a shiver up his spine as awareness bled into the creature's eyes and a small smile formed on his lips.
"And vice versa."
The voice was a little raspy, as though he were out of practice using it. He cleared his throat and licked his lips. Ailen went to the bath and ran a glass of water. When he came back and handed it to the chimera he got another wan smile.
He drank and his voice smoothed out a bit.
"What's your name?"
"It was Riagan but it's been a while since anyone used it."
He spoke without pathos and Ailen felt a touch of admiration for that.
"Riagan. I'm Ailen but you know that already. Want to tell me what you hoped to gain by the dumb show?"
"My life may not be great but I'd like to keep it. I thought that playing dumb would be my best bet. Can I assume that I'm off to be muted first thing in the morning, on my way to the mines?"
"Of course not. I wanted to see if I could scare a reaction out of you. You're good, I didn't see a twitch."
"Thanks. What can I expect in my future?"
"I'm not sure. We won't kill you, and we can't sell you. I don't like you but I'm not about to murder you in the night, you can sleep soundly. We'll thrash it out tomorrow."
"I don't like you either. Good night."
AN-I like to pick names based on their meanings so, in case anyone is interested-
Thanks for reading!