My head bowed, my hands folded within the sleeves of my cloak, I hummed along with the Prayer of Death as I followed the procession. I kept my head down, even though I walked behind Oren. As long as I didn't look at him, I didn't think about having to bear seeing him in mourning, didn't have to think about how the minute I'd catch the sorrow in his eyes, my feet would be taking me to him, my hands would be reaching out. I couldn't let myself lose control. He wasn't mine.
I didn't even look up when Oren suddenly stopped. I chalked it up to nerves, emotions. Any minute now, we would round the corner to lead Haram's body through the center of the village. There, everyone could wish his departed essence farewell one last time before we led him to his pyre.
The shuffling of Oren's feet seemed at odds with his mood, though, and, in the end, I just had to look up. I only barely kept my jaw from dropping. Oren had taken his shirt off. Before I had time to process his actions, we moved on. With great reluctance, I dragged my sight away from Oren's gorgeous, broad back. I had no right. He wasn't mine.
My resolve lasted as long as it took for us to reach the center, and a collective gasp greeted us. Everyone looked away from Oren. Everyone but me and Oren's sister, Ajuna, who walked next to him, her hand firmly planted in the small of Oren's back to support him. I swallowed, clenching my hands within my sleeves. As much as I wanted to reach out, I couldn't. He wasn't mine. Ajuna would have to be the pillar Haram had always been for Oren.
The Guide, a tall, slender cloud elf, preceded us with wings folded, head bowed, his long, white hair bound back, and his voice dark and clear in the unnatural silence. He didn't look around, didn't look up, he merely led the way, ignoring the reactions of our peers.
I looked at Oren and couldn't help but smile. Walking shirtless and proud as he led his lover's body to his pyre, showing his love for Haram for all to see, was a sign of respect for the bond they shared.
The ones who looked away didn't understand, couldn't grasp what he was showing them. I could see it in their averted eyes: their shock, their disdain. They thought abuse, but I knew better. I saw the wonder of the art he carried; Haram's art, my art. Oren's bared upper body showed a mass of ridges and bumps, all carefully placed, creating a beautiful picture.
I couldn't deny it; Oren was a gorgeous tree elf—tall and built like a sturdy tree, with messy, short, golden curls, and the most beautiful blue eyes. Those eyes always reminded me of the sky on a sunny day...