Thommas has found and joined with his mate, Nem, the Prince of Zaharoth, but he still has oaths that bind him with the power of the Realm. Oaths to find Jordan. Oaths to see Jordan and Brian reunited in the Real. The only problem? Jordan is beginning to fray and decay—a mad and tormented, beautiful young man who is being gifted to the scheming Rakibak, the Lady's chamberlain and first adviser.
Can Thommas keep his promise? Will the legacy of Guardian win out over the Lady's hatred for the Traitor of Garuth? Find out in Chapter 19 of The One That Feels.
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I stood before the gates of the palace. There were no guards. They’d not been needed since the Guardian... since I placed the protections on this realm. I closed my eyes and pressed a hand against the gates. The natives of Garuth watched. Everyone knew the palace was impenetrable. And yet there I was, my hand upon the gates. Futile. Goblins pointed at me and laughed; pixies flitted about. A grim ogre called me a name best not repeated. But I stood, my hand upon the gate and I spoke to it.
They gasped as the troll I’d bound into the gate to protect the palace stepped out of the stone. This one was a creature not of water but of stone and air and a life beat that was the fire of molten rock. It towered above me, its step shaking the realm, looked down upon me and roared.
The crowd fled in terror. Some, no doubt, remembered the legend that towered above them. But this one, this troll of the true blood of that race, he stared down at me and nodded once. Then he retreated back into the wall, sliding into the stone as if it was the very air itself. The gates creaked, a line that was not there before ran down the wall from top to bottom, and the massive portal swung open, just wide enough, just long enough, to admit me. And then the gates slammed closed with an ominous clang.
I stopped and tilted my head just slightly, so my voice would carry and be heard. “By what right do you seek to stop the Guardian of Garuth?”
“By R-rakibak’s order, sir. I m-must ask you to d-depart the realm!”
I laughed. “Rakibak’s order?” I turned and looked at the soldier and he shrunk backward, his gaze darting to the ground.
“That order is countermanded. In times of war, the right of the Guardian outranks even that of the Lady’s chamberlain.”
“Go!” I said, my voice iron. “Leave my sight at once.”
The guard gulped, and looked up at me, and what he saw terrified him. He dropped his weapon and ran.
I glared at the other guards. “See that he is found, and this returned to him.” I gestured to the fallen halberd. I looked at the guards, each one, then I spun and strode deeper into the palace grounds.
The elite guards met me next. These had been trained well, and no easy words would cow them or make them back down. The captain of the guard himself stood there, waiting.
“My lord,” he said firmly, holding out a hand. “You are not permitted.”
“Garuth is endangered. I have my duty,” I said.
“You were named a traitor.”
“But not by the Duchess,” I replied. “There is a danger. I am here, Captain. I am in the Realm. That should be enough to tell you the danger is real.”
The captain looked down the ranks of guards, to his left, to his right. “Please, my lord. I also have my duty. The elite guards were handed by right to Rakibak, and his word is law.”
I closed my eyes. Of course he had. In defense of Garuth my word had great power, but these were the Lady’s guards and Garuth’s defense was not their first duty.
“And you, Captain?”
“I serve Garuth, as I always have.”
I kept my smile hidden.
“Rakibak has named you traitor and your fate is sealed,” said the captain. “It’s out of my hands.”
“Then do your duty, Captain.”
“Seize him!” said the captain and my arms were seized roughly from either side as the guards closed in, swords pointed at me warily, six guards moving in step in a circle around me, while two held and guided me roughly out of the main corridors and down—so very far down. The guards never let their swords waver, six lengths of deadly steel pointed at me as I was shoved and dragged down stairs until we stood deep beneath the palace at a door.
One guard from the rear moved carefully around the others to speak to the guard, and the massive locks were turned and the bars lifted by two ogres straining against the weight, and then I was taken inside, thrown against the walls of the cell. The guards kept their swords drawn and pointed at me until the ogres guarding the cell had me in shackles, chained to the wall, and the door was locked behind them.
And then they were gone and I was alone, great cold iron shackles around my wrists and ankles, chained to the wall. The cold iron was for the folk of the realm, and to them, the shackles would be agony, a fire against their skin that would burn and blister and impede all sense of their power. For once being of the Real was a blessing.
I waited. He would not make me wait long. He’d be too curious for that. Why had I returned? He would want to know. Indeed, I had little doubt that it was solely for that reason that I had not been taken to the deepest of dungeons and thrown in an oubliette.
So I waited. And, true to my predictions, I did not have to wait long. The chamberlain appeared at the door to my cell and stood there for a long time, his eyes boring into me. He was a hawkish man, rail thin and almost skeletal, his body hidden in expensive robes of black and silver. He wove a brief piece of magic. I felt the shackles tingle, and then the door opened and Rakibak stepped into the cell.
He didn’t say anything for a long time, watching me, looking at me, moving to check from a different angle. And like clockwork, every few minutes, his fingers would twitch and I’d feel the tingle in the shackles. Finally, he pulled a chair up from within the stone floor, forcing the stone to flow upward and harden into the shape he desired. It was impressive little piece of magic for someone from the Real, but I’d seen it before.
He settled into the stone chair, and casually lifted a leg over one arm of it, leaning back casually. “So, the traitor returns.”
I arched an eyebrow at him, and remained silent.
“How did you enter Garuth?” he asked. “The ways are all sealed.”
“Is it not enough that I am here,” I said. I did not gratify him with a struggle against my bonds. It’s what he wanted, for me test them and find myself wanting. “Garuth stands at a precipice, waiting to fall into a doom of its own making.”
“How quaint,” Rakibak said, and he laughed. “You think I’m a doom?”
“Still so full of yourself,” I said. “But no. You are a pestilence, a boil on the behind of the realm. But you are not its doom. Yet it is in your power to steer the realm away from it.”
“And what is this doom?”
“You know. You court it openly. Play with the fire of the Real.”
“I am not the only child of the Real in the realm of Garuth,” I said.
“You are lying,” said Rakibak, standing and dismissing his chair in disgust. “Why are you here?”
“I swore an oath, witnessed by the Realm. I must be here.”
His hand stung as he struck me hard across the face, his near skeletal hand bolstered by the weight of rings, and long practice at causing pain. “Tell me why you are here!” he growled.
“I came to speak the Lady. To warn her of the doom that approaches. I returned to the Realm, Rakibak. Do you not think I have cause?”
Rakibak looked at the door. “You may. But your motives were always in a cloud, inaccessible, impossible to predict.”
“Garuth is in danger. Will you not at least hear why?”
Rakibak looked at me. “In a week’s time, I will be lord of Garuth. That’s how long you have to live. As lord, I can dismiss you as Guardian, and then the Realm will permit the things I intend to do. Seven days and Garuth will be mine, as it should always have been.”
“And still you court doom. Why won’t you lis—”
Rakibak’s hand struck. “He is useless. Mute and touched in the head. But he is a prince of the blood. And I will claim him as mine. And when my claim is made, my blood will be as noble as yours, as noble as the blood of the Lady, and the council will support my rule, as they should have done long ago.”
“As you knew I must. Did you really think I’d allow you to stop me?”
“Go then, Rakibak. Go to the doom you’ve decreed for yourself.”
“Seven days,” he snarled at me. “I will enjoy hearing you scream.” Then he turned, and he strode from the cell, slamming the door shut and weaving enchantments upon it. “Seven days.” And he left me there, hanging from the chains, my feet barely skirting the ground.
I closed my eyes and thought of Nem. My Nem, waiting for me. I needed to get Jordan free. I needed to be with my mate. Had Rakibak not recognized that Jordan was a child of Om? Could he possibly not see the danger? Or was his ambition so great that he’d risk it anyway?
I looked casually at the shackles holding me in place and I whispered a word. The locks in the shackles clicked and they fell from my wrists and ankles, sending me tumbling forward, flailing my arms to balance.
“So graceful.” A quiet voice from the door.
I looked up and smiled. “Never was.”
“I remember,” said the captain. “A giant of a man, almost an ogre in your size, but tripping frequently over your own feet.”
“You were a private,” I said. I remembered him. He had been so much younger then. It was easier to remember the ones who lived.
He nodded. “At the Plains of Fire, before they fell. And after, when you took them again and bound the trolls to their service.”
“And you serve...?”
“Garuth only,” said the captain. “Not the Lady or her chamberlain. My duty is to my country, to the Duchy of Garuth.”
“I will listen only. You must convince me.”
“I am the Guardian.”
“And I trust your vow, or I’d be calling the guards. Speak, traitor of Garuth. Tell me what I have need to hear. What threat is so dire that you would risk return. He was not joking, he will wait the seven days, and then he’ll kill you. If you’re very lucky, it will only be that.”
I took a breath. “You know of Rakibak’s plans?”
“It is unfortunate that those of us who serve Garuth are not permitted the ear of the Lady. She would know, at least, of his hopes.”
“Will it work?”
“The Lady has been guided into decisions that were not wise. Guided by counsel. Most of it his, but his own hands are deliberately clean. It looks as though his advice was sound, and yet she somehow managed to bring Garuth misfortune. He is very clever.”
“So the council would support him?” I asked.
“If he had the blood. This prince he spoke of is real?”
“A prince of the blood, born in the Real.”
“That is an unfortunate mix,” said the captain.
“To be gifted to Rakibak for his service and use.”
The captain’s eyes widened. “A slave?”
“That appears as he does in the Real, yes. Without the aspect that would make him known. Without the confidence to make it show. He is here, somewhere,” I said, gesturing to the cells outside my own. “And I must find him.”
“That’s why you came,” said the captain, looking away. “You came to find him.”
“I came to save him. His body did not enter the Realm with him, it is a shell created by the mind of a prince of the blood.”
The captain looked me in the eye. “He will decay....”
I nodded. “And die. And when he does, his father will take revenge upon Garuth.”
“Yarath of Om.”