"Shiver in Awareness"
Leta was happily married
with her soulmate Eanmund.
They'd met at a Bond Seekers party
where he spoke the Words that had
been written over her heart for years:
Love is a thyng as any spirit free.
Wommen, of kynde desiren libertee,
And nat to been constreyned as a thral;
And so doon men, if I sooth seyen shal.
She had replied with a psychology quote:
Where love rules, there is no will to power,
and where power predominates, love is lacking.
Smiling, he'd shown her the back of his hand
where her handwriting displayed the Words.
The two of them made a comfortable couple,
with Eanmund teaching literature classes
at the Oregon State University and Leta
working at a counseling center in town.
They were both happy, and everything
was rolling along smoothly enough.
In the summer of 2016, something changed.
Looking back, Leta couldn't recall if it had
started in June or in July, the change
was so subtle when she noticed it.
At first it was nothing more than
a smudge of color on her left wrist.
Leta thought that it was a bruise
from bumping something, though
she couldn't remember a bump.
Then she thought it might be dye,
rubbed off from something she touched.
By August, the truth was undeniable:
she had a new soulmark coming in.
They were usually shades of brown,
sometimes reddish; bright colors were
known, but rarely appeared on fair skin.
She stared at the swirl of cornflower blue,
now tinted with turquoise and yellow.
There were no Words yet, but then
there didn't need to be; she knew.
Typically the Words came all at once,
but sometimes took time to emerge.
Leta went to her husband Eanmund
and showed him her wrist. "It looks
like we have a surprise coming."
Eanmund's eyebrows went up.
"How remarkable," he said.
It was true. Triad bonds
were known to exist, but
they were rare, mostly found
in cultures that had a tradition
of plural marriage arrangements.
Eanmund feathered a touch
over the mark still shyly hiding
whatever Words it had to say.
Under his fingers, a flush of violet
brightened the quieter blues.
"I think it likes me," he said
as they watched the swirls
blend like watercolors.
Leta was bemused, but
not frightened or offended
by the appearance of
It wasn't that much
different from what she
had experienced with
her first soulmark.
She hadn't known
anything about who
had made it -- not sex
or looks or personality --
except that apparently
her bondmate knew
enough Old English
to use it in a greeting.
It turned out that Eanmund
chose that deliberately
to enhance the clarity
of the connection, and
it had certainly worked.
Leta wondered what
the shy swirls and
bold colors could mean
about the new bondmate.
Leta took a leave of
absence from her job
at the counseling center,
moving to the university
where she could research
unusual bond phenomena.
She'd taken a few classes
about bonds during college, and
even one on uncommon dynamics,
but hadn't touched the topic in a while.
As Leta dug into the library, she
learned that multiple bonds,
while rare, were gradually
becoming more common.
Most of them formed
with people meeting at
the same or similar times.
However, there were also
some cases of soulmates who
joined an established relationship
years or even decades later.
As in other unusual phenomena,
it tended to follow life changes
that shifted compatibility and
the chance of meeting up.
Leta wondered what had
happened in her soulmate's life
to make such a dramatic change.
Then there were the birdcatchers,
people who kept gaining new marks
over time, some of them sexual
but others platonic instead.
It tended to start in adulthood,
but a few had multiple marks early.
Leta and Eanmund wondered if this
was the beginning of bigger changes
for them, or if they'd stay a triad.
As with so many things about
soulmarks, there was no way
that they could know for sure.
Leta watched the watercolor display
as the mark slowly changed and matured.
When the Words finally came clear, they
were sultry carmine and deep pink
against the pool of cool colors:
There are THREE of us?
Leta still had no clue about
the gender or personality.
All she knew for certain
was that the triad would
be a surprise to their third.
That seemed like something
a responsible person should
prepare for, since Leta and
Eanmund knew in advance.
So she tried to research
the phenomenon, only to find
that little had been written about it.
Really, they needed more research
on unusual bond events -- though
she could understand why people
might not want to talk about theirs.
Instead, Leta turned to other cases
where people learned unexpected things
about themselves or their significant other.
Sometimes sexual orientation shifted,
or gender identity, and some people
simply didn't realize theirs until
much later in life than usual.
Leta had always thought of
herself as heterosexual and
monogamous, and meeting
Eanmund had seemed
to confirm those traits.
Now she reconsidered
how she might feel about
adding another soulmate.
Just the thought of having
one man touching her and
the other watching made
her shiver in awareness.
Another woman? That
was more nebulous, but it
didn't seem awful to her.
She didn't feel jealous, but
she still took the precaution of
looking up exercises just in case.
As Leta worked, she compiled
resources, figuring other people
in the same situation would
probably appreciate those.
She got so engrossed in
her studies that she wasn't
even particularly paying attention
to the people moving around her.
Leta was meeting with a group of
graduate students when young man
pushed up his right sleeve so that
he could show a friend his tattoos.
"That's my husband's handwriting,"
Leta blurted, recognizing the script.
"There are THREE of us?" he said.
"You didn't notice?" Leta said.
"No, look --" He pushed up
the other sleeve. His left arm
had her phrase in bold colors,
while Eanmund's was hidden
in the black-and-white tattoos.
"I thought we'd be talking about
a manuscript. I'm an artist."
Leta smiled. "Well, I guess
that explains the colors. Yours
was just watercolor swirls for weeks."
"This came in all at once, but I wasn't
expecting these colors," he said.
"That's rare on fair-skinned people,"
Leta said. "I've been doing research."
"Ah," the student said, enlightened.
"I'm Bern Engelbrecht, and I'm
White South African. Some of
my ancestors were black."
Leta looked at him. He had
fair skin and blue eyes, but
his blond hair was tightly nappy
and so was his short red beard.
"That's a good hypothesis," she said.
"You may have gotten the potential
for the more colorful marks that way.
I wonder if it applies to other people?"
"It should," said Bern. "If you've been
researching soulmarks, would I have
seen anything you published? I've
taken a couple of classes on bonds,
but I'm nowhere near an expert."
"Oh, neither am I," she said. "I'm
Leta Scholler; I'm a psychologist."
She hesitated, and then added,
"My husband and first soulmate is
Eanmund. He teaches literature here."
Bern gave her a shy smile. "Are you
willing to introduce us?" he asked.
"Yes," said Leta. "We've been
looking forward to meeting you,
ever since my mark appeared
this summer. Were you doing
anything unusual at that time?"
"Yeah, I went back to South Africa,"
said Bern. "My family left when I was
little because it wasn't safe there, but
it's settled down some. I learned a lot
about where I came from. Then I took
a tour of art spots around Europe."
"That could do it," Leta said.
"Eanmund will be fascinated
by the change in my mark."
As she tilted her wrist,
light caught the flourish
of gold at the end of it, like
gilding on a line of calligraphy.
Normally a settled mark took on
a faint metallic sheen at the end,
not this florid concentration of gold.
Bern twisted his own arm to look.
"Yeah, mine did the same thing."
Delicate threads of gold highlighted
the last few letters of the phrase.
"At least we know the marks
are settled," Leta said. "Let's
go find Eanmund so that
the two of you can meet."
"Does he -- does he have
my mark too?" Bern asked.
"Not that I've seen, and we've
been looking," Leta said. "That
doesn't necessarily mean you
don't match. You hadn't noticed
his mark on you until I spotted it."
"Yeah, good point," Bern said.
"His hid itself pretty well."
"We thought you might be shy,
given the way your mark
behaved," Leta said.
Bern said, blushing. "Is
your husband shy too?"
"Not so much shy as
discreet," Leta said.
When they found him,
Eanmund greeted both
of them with a smile.
"This is my new soulmate,
Bern Engelbrecht," she said.
Eanmund replied with
a quote in Old English,
"Wyrd oft nereð
þonne his ellen deah."
"I don't know what that
even means," Bern said.
"Fate often saves
an undoomed man,
if his courage is strong,"
Eanmund translated, then
held up his wrist to show off
the line of writing. "This
just showed up today."
"Wow," said Bern. "I've
always wondered how
a bond would turn out for
me, since I'm bisexual."
"I didn't even know that
I was bisexual, let alone
polyamorous," Eanmund said.
"You were a complete surprise."
"You're bisexual?" Leta said,
turning to look at him. "I've
been exploring my sexuality,
but I didn't know you were."
"It seemed like a good idea,
not knowing who we'd meet,"
Eanmund said. "I can feel it
more now with the bond settled.
I confess that I'm ... curious."
"Well, that beats terrified,"
Bern said. "You two already
know each other, and I kind of
feel like the third wheel here."
"A tricycle is more stable than
a bicycle," Eanmund said promptly.
"My college vehicle was a cargo trike."
Bern gave a shy smile. "I, uh,
have a cargo trike," he said.
"I can't afford a car, and I can't
carry all my art supplies on a bike."
"Another sign that we'll make
a good match, once we get to know
each other," Eanmund said. "I'm
looking forward to that process."
"Yeah, that's ... I'd like that,"
Bern said. "I don't know how
we'll fit together, though."
"Well, I'm planning to stick
with the university for a while,"
Leta said. "I've discovered that
there aren't many scholars of
unusual bond phenomena. Not
only are they rare, they make
most people uncomfortable, but
I've really enjoyed studying them."
"I don't mind helping," said Bern. "I
took a class on illustrating bondmarks,
and I thought about that when I was
visiting South Africa and I saw folks
in plural marriages. I didn't mean
to make that happen, though."
"You didn't make it happen,
you just opened yourself to
the idea of it happening,"
said Leta. "That opened
an opportunity for us too."
"I'm glad for it," Eanmund said.
"It taught me new things about
myself, and that's always exciting."
Leta looked at her two men and
imagined them enjoying each other.
It gave her a pleasant shiver in awareness.
* * *
This poem is long, so its character and content notes will appear elsewhere.