Image description: A digitally-painted portrait of Arkady, a dark-haired, light-skinned young man in a black cloak, with a mysterious golden flame in the background. Art by Amanda Grace Shu.
That ends today. In honor of pride month, I present you with a short coming-out scene, narrated by Arkady (twelve years old when this takes place) and featuring Sebastian, whom you may remember from A Winter's Ball. Enjoy!
The Man Who Is Revealed
Arkady was miserable. Half an hour’s worth of archery practice and not a single arrow of his had reached the target, or anywhere near it. Clumsy fingers or ill-timed muscle spasms or wandering thoughts drove them all right into the ground. Arkady might have snapped the bow in half out of sheer frustration had there been any strength left in the aching muscles that had been drawing the damn thing over and over again. “Damn it,” he hissed, staring at the ground to avoid having to meet Sir Sebastian’s eyes. “Those were beginner’s mistakes, I know it. I’ll go get the arrows—”
“Stop.” Sebastian placed his hand on Arkady’s shoulder, gently turning his student around to face him. “Is something wrong?” he asked. “You don’t seem like yourself today.”
I don’t feel like myself any day, Arkady wanted to reply. Instead he gave the standard, safe response: “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”
“Yes, and I’m the Empress of Yenoui.” Sebastian rolled his eyes, then added in a softer tone, “Why don’t we end practice for today? You don’t have to go back to Court. If you want, we can get something to eat, or just stay here and talk.”
Arkady tried to shrug noncommittally, but the tension in his muscles must have betrayed his nervousness, because Sebastian frowned a little and said, “We don’t have to talk, either, if it makes you uncomfortable.”
“No, I…” Arkady bit the back of his lip. “Can we go somewhere else? Where no one could overhear us?”
They left the archery range and headed for a more secluded spot.
“You and Lord Grigory… you’re lovers, aren’t you?”
Sebastian smiled. “Yes. But Grigory doesn’t like to make it known. He thinks it would turn public opinion against the King.”
“And what do you think?”
“I think that’s ridiculous, but I respect his wishes.”
Arkady smiled a little before falling silent again. With his foot, he traced circles in the dirt, staring at the ground to avoid meeting Sebastian’s gaze. Finally, he just said it. “I think I’m like you.”
“You mean, you… like girls?”
Arkady shook his head, then stopped. “Well, maybe. But that’s not what I meant.”
“Do you mean you feel like you’re a boy?”
Arkady’s breath caught in his throat a little. He hadn’t been expecting what it would be like to hear someone else say it. Until now, the idea had only existed as a thought, pushed to the back of his mind as he tried to play the part of the lady he was supposed to be. Now it was out in the open. Now it was real and undeniable and what if he’d made a terrible mistake, what if Sebastian thought he was a monster now—
“Hey,” said Sebastian softly, and when Arkady looked up he saw only kindness in the man’s face. “There’s nothing wrong with that, and nothing wrong with you. If you feel like a boy, then you are a boy. If you don’t feel like a boy or a girl, or you feel like you’re somewhere in between, then that is who you are. I will support you no matter what.”
“I’m—” Arkady’s eyes began to tear up. He closed them tight so no one could see and leaned closer to Sebastian, his whole body trembling. “I think I’m a boy,” he whispered. “I think I’m a boy who likes boys and girls and I don’t want to wear dresses or be called Princess.”
“I don’t know if I can help with the dresses, but I won’t use your title if you don’t want me to,” Sebastian said. “Do you have another name you’d prefer I use?”
“Arkady,” he said with a little smile. “It’s close enough to my old name, and it means—”
“— the man who is revealed,” Sebastian said, grinning ferociously now. “Your name states your gender and doubles as a pun. I’ve never been more proud.”
“Do you really mean that?”
“I do.” He paused. “Did you know, where I come from, everyone chooses their own gender? It has nothing to do with how we look or whether or not we can give birth. Our gender is a part of our soul. Of course, not everyone agrees with our ways—a woman I once knew had to put up with a lot of boorish prats insisting she was a man and calling her all kinds of awful names. It was horrible.”
Arkady’s eyes widened. “What happened to her?”
“She became the most powerful mage I’ve ever met.”
Magic. Just the thought of it made Arkady’s heart beat a little faster. With magic, I could change my shape. I could make everyone see me the way I want to be seen. I could disguise myself and run away from here and live my life with nobody telling me what to do.
A new thought occurred to him. “You said ‘where I come from’. Where is that? Can you take me there?”
Sebastian put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“But—” The tears threatened to well up again. “But it’s the only place I can be free.”
“Hey. Hey. Listen to me.”
Sebastian put his arm around Arkady, and just like that, the tears went away. For the first time in months, Arkady felt like he could breathe. He looked up at Sebastian, whose smile had faded a little. There was something dark and serious in the archer’s expression.
“Freedom exists wherever you make it,” he said, “whether that’s out in the world or just inside your own head. You want to be free? Then fight for it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the struggle. And if someone tries to order you to be someone you’re not, fight back twice as hard.” He chuckled. “You’re a stubborn one, Arkady. The boorish prats of the world have got it coming to them.”
Someone was calling for the Princess. It was time to rejoin Mother in the council hall. Arkady stood, gave Sebastian a grateful smile, and headed back toward the Citadel, breathing just a little easier than before.