So, our intrepid heroes are fleeing the agents sent by Nem's father to capture his son and bring him to heel. This week, Thommas and Nem reach the border of Garuth. Will the deal struck with the knights hold if they seek to leave the border of Zaharoth? Find out this chapter in The One That Feels!
What do you mean you didn't read the beginning yet? Why not? It's free! New chapters are posted twice a month. Go read chapter one and get caught up.
The river stretched before us, the vast expanse so wide the other side disappeared into the darkness. Even in the dark of the falling night we could see the bridge. It was hardly possible to miss it, towering even over the ancient trees of the wood and stretching across the full width of the river, a cold soaring silhouette lit by the burgeoning light of the rising moon.
I took a deep breath as I watched the river, raging in the night. Rivers so wide did not often rage, but this one did, water crashing against rock, furious with some unknown anger. Nem settled next to me nervously.
“Are you sure?” I asked quietly.
Nem leaned his head against my arm. “You know I am.”
“Will see this as deserting him. I know.”
“You promised me a chance. How can I claim it if I walk away from you?” asked Nem. He stepped forward, forcing us close. “You know what I want for us to be.”
I leaned in to kiss him, a smile on my lips. “Yeah, you sorta gave that away,” I said as we parted. I glanced back into the woods. “We should go. Tellok may rethink the whole falling behind bit when he realizes we intend to leave Zaharoth.”
Nem’s face fell at the mention of the trailing knights, but he nodded and walked with me to the bridge. Reaching it took a long time, its closeness an illusion enforced by its size, and the night was half over by the time we stood before the massive stone walk. Beyond and into Zaharoth was the road, the one Nem had admonished us to stick to before we entered the wood. Nem moved to step onto the bridge but I held him back.
“That bridge leads to Garuth. It is not unguarded.”
He looked at me oddly and then again at the bridge. “A toll?” There was fear on his face, and I could not blame him for it.
“After a fashion. Let me go first.”
Nem embraced me, brief but fierce. “Be careful.”
I pulled Nem’s cloak closer around my body and stepped onto the bridge, motioning for Nem to follow. “Not too close,” I cautioned. Once on the bridge my steps were quick until we approached the center. I stopped and motioned for Nem to stay back. Slowly I drew myself up and stomped three times with my right foot.
The wind over the bridge got louder and blew harder, as though seeking to drive us back. I stood firm against it, my cloak fluttering wildly in the wind and then after a moment I stomped again three times. Thunder cracked overhead as the wind whipped around us, cold and threatening, echoing over the river. Where only moments before the sky had been clear, the stars glittering with the moon overhead, now the sky was a dismal blackish gray and the moon’s light caused barely a glow. Lightning flashed behind the clouds and thunder trailed after it so loud that the massive bridge shook from its might.
I shuddered from the wet cold as the sky opened and drenched us with rain in a sudden deluge. Thunder roiled overhead and light flashed still behind the sudden clouds, but at the appointed time, I stomped again. Three times my foot pounded into stone. The bridge shook and the wind rushed and the sound of the river grew louder and closer as from beneath the bridge a presence woke and spun itself from water and air and rock to stand before me on the bridge. And when the form of the creature fully coalesced, lighting again struck, and left within the creature the essence of fire burning deep within.
It looked at me and spoke in a voice that froze the soul. “Who seeks to enter the Duchy of Garuth?”
I gazed up at the creature. It was a true troll, not the grotesque twisted goblinoids that usually received the name. This creature lived by the grace of the elements and because it was the air and the stone and the water of the river, only the total desolation of the realm could destroy it. That was why trolls were called upon to guard bridges; they were implacable guardians. “Travelers,” I said, “seeking passage by the grace of the Lady.”
It glared at me. “A prince of the blood?” It hissed at me, looking past me to peer at Nem. “And you claim to be merely—”
“We are lovers,” said Nem, stepping forward to grasp my hand, “seeking to elope before my father learns of it and binds me to a loveless marriage.”
“You seek to bind yourself to this thing?” said the creature, glaring first at Nem and then back to me. “A creature that drips with everything that is Real?”
“I feel him,” said Nem, squeezing my hand in his, “and it is right.”
The creature faltered and stepped back, looking closely at our hands, our fingers laced together, holding each other. It peered deeper. “Why summon me? Why do you not seek simply to cross?”
“I am of the Real,” I said softly. “And I could lose my freedom to be with him if I were to enter without leave. I paid my price to Zaharoth freely. And now I ask of you that permit us entry, and in the name of what we feel, protect us from those that will follow.”
“You are pursued?” asked the creature, squatting down to look at us, its massive head resting on the bridge so that gleaming eyes burning with the crackle of lighting could peer directly at Nem.
“Tellok, at least, of my father’s knights follows. And with him Luella. We fought them off once already and managed to flee,” said Nem, looking down at the hand he held and squeezing. “Please. My father flayed the flesh from his back last time. I can’t… I can’t let that happen. Not again.”
The creature’s great eyes looked up and down Nem and then turned to me. “Name yourself and I will let you enter.”
I looked up at him. I had hoped it would not come to this, and so in despair I tried bluster one final time. “I travel with a prince of the realm. You would—”
“You said you would let us enter. Swear it. I am of the Real, but I know what that means.” I closed my eyes. I could hear the shouts at the base of the bridge. Tellok and Luella had been following closer than we knew. They would never let us walk into Garuth. “Swear it.”
“If you name yourself, child of the Real, I will let those that love pass and protect them with my might. And I am mighty.” Lightning struck the river and thunder rumbled after, as though in demonstration. “Speak your name and pass into Garuth.”
I met the creature’s lightning gaze and held it. “I am Thommas of Ashe,” I said quietly, “lord of the plains of fire and keeper of the tower at Egelbaroth. I am the Guardian of Garuth, named so by the decree of the Lady herself. I am the One That Feels.”
The creature rose up suddenly and the thunder that followed shook the realm. “You were banished,” came the anguished scream of the creature. “Banished from the sight of the Lady!”
“Banished from her sight, but not from Garuth,” I said. “You swore, Corakh.”
The sound of armored feet could be heard behind us.
“Speak, prince of Zaharoth,” screamed the creature. “Truly you wish to wed this one? The traitor of Garuth?”
“I feel him,” replied Nem, glancing back at the knights behind us, but his hand still holding tight to mine. “And I can only trust that it is right.”
“And you?” The creature snarled at me.
“I am marked as his. Surely you sense that.”
“I feel him in my soul,” I said softly, “and it scares me.” I turned to look at my prince. “I love him.”
Nem’s eyes grew heavy and wet with tears of silver and he moved into my arms and held me tightly against him. He looked up at the creature. “Please….”
There was a groan as the creature stepped over us, a foot of swirling water and rock stamping before the knights of Zaharoth. The creature turned to us. “Enter, traitor of Garuth,” its voice echoed in the cracking thunder. “I will keep my word, for I feel that which does not lie. But be wary, for the Lady, she has not forgiven you.”
Nem grabbed hold of my hand then, and he ran, not looking back as lightning crackled on the bridge and the clang of metal rang behind us. He did not look, nor did I. I held his hand and did not let go, my steps following quickly behind Nem’s as he ran, pulling me toward the far side.
Thunder rumbled and the river crashed over the bridge, and still we ran. Nem slipped and fell and I tumbled down after him. I pulled myself to my feet and dared a glance behind at the storm of the troll’s anger. Nem stumbled, wincing in pain as he tried to put weight back down on his foot. I kissed him briefly on his forehead, lifted him into my arms, and carried him the rest of the way. The battle raged behind us and I could hear the angry shouts of Tellok as he screamed at the troll. But this was not like any troll the knight had faced before, and I knew that he had met his match.
The river had breached its banks, its fury matching Corakh’s anger and I had to wade from the far bank to dry land. When I finally reached the shore I carefully set Nem on his feet. He leaned heavily against me. It was for support, but I smiled anyway. It felt good for him to lean on me, for him to know that I could feel his heart beating in my soul.
We glanced backward at the bridge and Nem started to say something. I silenced him with a kiss. “You were brilliant,” I said. “It was your words, not mine, that convinced him to let us pass.”
“You didn’t tell me. You… a lord of the realm?”
“I gave those things up to live in the Real. To be with Brian,” I said. I stroked Nem’s hair. “I told you the truth. I am the One That Feels.”
“Tell me you feel it, Thommas. Not for the guardian. Let me hear it from your lips, said to me.”
“You would let him sow doubt?” I asked, seeking in his eyes.
“I feel you,” I said, making sure to look him directly in the eyes. I cast off the shackles of power that held my emotions in check and let the feeling of my heart blossom in my eyes, looking at him, at his face and his chest and the pain that I’d felt when I saw his father whipping him. I let him see the stutter of my heart when he kissed me and warmth of holding him from behind. And I let him see my fear, my fear of parting, my fear of losing the shadow I held with Brian, of risking that to be with him. “Don’t you know,” I whispered. “Can’t you feel it?”
He gulped as he stared in the vision of my eyes.
I held his hand, holding it tight between both my palms. “Please, Nem, do not doubt. I need to know that you are sure of this, at least. Please don’t.”
“We made a vow on that bridge. You know that.”
I nodded. “It is what you wanted?”
Nem wrapped himself against me. “I think you know.”
I leaned down to capture his lips in mine, and he opened to me, letting my tongue explore his mouth and returning the kiss with near desperation. He whimpered as we parted and leaned in to catch my lips again so that my lower lip had to be dragged back out of his mouth. He tasted sweet and I wanted to lean in for more, but I held myself back. I let my eyes flutter back open from the kiss and found myself staring into the love in his silver eyes. Quietly I held his gaze and whispered to him softly, the barest breath that only the two of us could hear. “It’s what I want too, sweet prince.”
And then his arms were around me, clutching me, holding me and he was whispering thanks to gods long forgotten. He held me for a long time before he loosened his grasp long enough to whisper. “I love you.”