by torch

Disclaimer: it's all an idle speculation. Not related to any of my other Khayman stories. Do not archive this story without permission.

Season blown

It was a cold country, and for once he wasn't too pale. That was the first thing he noticed, that so many of the mortals had lovely white complexions, the merest hint of blood showing through. And there was snow everywhere. Unbelievable. It hung on the black trees like clotted cream, and poured over the fields in great soft waves. He wanted to run through it, roll in it — and promptly did.

He'd seen snow before, he knew that, and sheets of black ice covering lakes like deep cuts in the granite bones of the land. The way its whiteness lit up the night was still a marvel to him. Snow and a full moon, it was an irresistible combination, wasn't it?

Laughing, he rose and brushed the white flakes away. He loved all this that was so strange, so foreign to him.

But why was it foreign to him? Because, because he had not been born in such cold, had not even known such a thing as snow existed until...


There was a road, he saw, almost snowed over. He might as well take it. Go somewhere.

He hadn't known such a thing existed until he was centuries old.

Centuries. Khayman laughed to himself. He'd been so very young then.

It was a much larger city than he would have expected in this cold and distant land. He approached it from the south, and had to cross a great deal of water. The effortless way he rose into the air and moved almost before he had time to think about going startled him. But then it always did. That was the thing about forgetting. All the rediscoveries.

Even the cold could not kill the stench of this city. Khayman smelled it as he drew closer. This was a place where rotting food and human waste lay in the streets. Old buildings decayed and fell. And all over, the smell of mortals and their unwashed bodies, and their blood.

He was thirsty. Very thirsty.

When he found the inn, he thought he had found the perfect place.

It was lying in an isolated spot, but there were carriages waiting, and horses in the stable. People had travelled out from the city to get to this place. For pleasure, he thought. They seemed very much intent on pleasure.

He walked softly up to the buildings, scanning them for human presences. Many of them inside the inn, some in the stables. And one lone one coming along the side of the inn, staggering with drink; he had been around the corner to relieve himself against the wall, not caring that he'd left a steaming stain on the whitewash.

Khayman moved closer in the shadows. He saw the man quite clearly. In his early forties perhaps, with thinning hair under the wig that sat askew on his head, and many teeth already rotted away. Drink was eating at him from the inside. His clothes had once been elegant; now they were dirty and torn, stained with food and drink. Everything about this man seemed neglected. Even the mind was falling apart the way the body did. Ah, it was from an illness.

Khayman didn't mind.

And then the man saw him, and reeled sideways, blinking watery blue eyes. There was no fear, only surprise and a kind of drunken laughter coming from the man's mind. Khayman was surprised. The man thought him a drink-induced hallucination!

Then he saw himself reflected in the man's eyes: a dark-haired, marble-skinned creature dressed unbelievably in the clothes of a Chinese prince from two hundred years ago. Not that the dates would have meant anything to this man. He had barely heard of China. He only knew that the clothes were strange and wrong, and this was a hallucination.

"No," Khayman whispered gently, "not so. Not your imagination at all." And he reached out and caught the man, and pulled him close, and sank his teeth into the unwashed neck.

The blood of the diseased tasted different. He remembered eating overripe fruit. But that had been unpleasant.

The man died in his arms. Khayman looked thoughtfully at him. Then he carried the body back again around the side of the inn. No windows here. The windows faced the other way. Khayman laid the man gently in a drift of snow. He had frozen to death, slipped and fallen, caught by his drunkenness. Poor soul.

Khayman wanted to go into the inn. He could feel laughter, and music and singing, and great passionate emotions that he needed to investigate. But he'd become aware now that his clothes were utterly wrong for his surroundings. He couldn't steal the dead man's clothes, either. Those inside the inn would be very startled to see a new person inside the old garments.

"Stupid," he muttered to himself.

Then he rose along the side of the house, pushed a small attic window open and slipped inside. Here were boxes of clothes stashed away and all but forgotten among old furniture and chests of linen. Khayman found plenty of things that fit him, in the style that the man outside had worn: kneebreeches, shirt, long waistcoat. No wig, but that didn't matter: last of all he selected a dark shapeless hat he might pull low over his face. Not even when he had just fed did he look anything but cold and hard and white.

He remembered to leave by the attic window again, even shutting it behind him. Then he walked in the ordinary way around the inn, pushed the door open and walked in.

Everyone turned to look at him. He felt almost shy. The singer with the lute fell silent and regarded him thoughtfully. A drunken whore giggled.

Then the innkeeper came bustling up to him and asked something, a question. The meaning was clear enough, what did he want, what could be done for him. The language was full of vowels, and resembled other languages he knew. Khayman spoke back in German. The innkeeper was bewildered, but the man with the lute understood, translated. "Bring him some wine. And let him have a seat by the fire, it's cold outside."

Khayman was seated and served. The noises in the taproom all started up again, the whores giggling and squealing as the drunken men pawed them, loud slurred talk and shouts. How these people did drink! Khayman was amazed. And not just wine; they poured whole glasses of strong spirits down their throats and seemed not much the worse for it.

Of course he loved mortals. But they bewildered him. There was no one left now who thought the way he had once done, and perhaps still did. New concepts had replaced the old, new customs and new languages.

The singer started up again. This was a different song, slow and sad, and Khayman listened hard. It was a lullaby, wasn't it? But lullabies were not so sad. Then he felt the man's mind, his grief. This lullaby, it was for a dead child. The man's son had died, and would never sleep again. Such unutterable grief.

Khayman felt a sudden urge to kill the man, just to make all this sadness go away. The man felt life was meaningless!

That's too bad, Khayman wanted to tell him. Too bad, because you just might be right; but you will get out of it and I will still be here. You are sad that you outlived your child. So did I. I never knew my child. But I know she is dead. And perhaps existence is utterly meaningless, but I don't know what else there is.

And I will never know sleep again, either. Khayman, like the child, was dead and didn't need any lullabies. In this small room stinking of sweat and smoke and spirits, he was a visitor from another world. No wonder everything seemed so strange to him, the people, the snow, the details that made up lives he could touch but not understand. But he would try, again, because he always did.

He decided that he would kill the mortal later, when the song had ended.

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