That's a lot of The One That Feels, and it's an exciting time in our serial adventure. When we last saw Thommas, he had ventured into dreams in an effort to warn the Lady about the doom her Chancellor Rakibak was courting—only to be yanked from the dream by the villainous knave himself! He's been left hanging, literally, from shackles of cold iron in the dungeon cells deep beneath the island city.
Will Thommas escape? What's going on with Nem? With Jordan located, can they stop doom from claiming Garuth? Find out!
Are you confused? Did you start the story late? Fear not! You can start at the beginning!
I hung there for a while before the guards got complacent. Days, perhaps. Rakibak did not return to gloat, and that alone made me wonder, despite his outbursts, if he’d learned wisdom while I was away. Even for the prince of Zaharoth, it would take time for Nem to ease past through the bureaucracy of Garuth to reach Nastasia. It would take time for diplomacy to work to get him access to me. And even then, as the Traitor of Garuth, my freedom to leave with him was far from assured.
My guards watched me. And at first their gaze was unsettling and focused. Elite guards they may be, but they were young. To them I was an impossible legend, and so complacency came. Slowly, inexorably, it came, until their glances were casual and brief, until they laughed and joked with each other around me. Until the spells upon my shackles had spent too long fighting with cold iron to survive.
I closed my eyes and whispered a prayer. I love you, my Nem.
A glance upon metal that belonged only in the real and a thought teased open my shackles. I needed the guards only to be close. And then they were. One step, two, a sword born of feeling and dread and the silence of loneliness that swallowed all sound and my blows were frantic against their own. They screamed for help only to find the loneliness I bore as a blade devoured their words, made them frightened and alone. Their swordplay was skilled, their strikes precise, but mine was something they had not seen before. With each blow I pushed them back, fighting not with grace but with the power my size afforded, and they stumbled, and fell, and finally grasped at the bars to keep on their feet.
My strikes were swift and sure and followed by emotion seeking into their minds with one purpose—to overwhelm completely. They fell back, their eyes open, staring without seeing, mouths wide to scream. There was no sound. And then I bound them that way, with fear and dread and the loneliness that had been my blade, and I wrapped them in it, sealing the wounds at their hands where the unraveling had been halted, at a price. Then I kicked them both to the center of the cell, far from where any cold iron might touch them, and I left them there.
The enchantments upon the door had lasted no better than those on the shackles, and when I shut it securely behind me, I knew the span of time I had was brief. I could only hope that the key that Yarath had given to Janice brought her to his side quickly. That she understood what she would have to tell him. That Yarath would marshal his forces for his mate and his son, and turn the eyes of Garuth to the river, turn the eyes of Rakibak from this dungeon, from the boy he intended to claim, to the might of the one army even the trolls had never dared oppose.
I kept to the shadows with a grace that belied my size. Stealthy, quiet, unnoticed, I crept through the dungeons. A whisper and a stir of air and moment of fear in this place were more potent than skilled swordplay. Eyes could be tempted thus. Ears could be fooled. One guard enticed to creep just far enough from an entrance to slip by, another convinced by a moment of jealousy to argue with his partner until their focus was on something other than me. And in this way I moved past the guards, until I was in silent unpatrolled corridors, listening to the cries of those made mad. Listening to the forgotten who dwelt within the oubliettes.
“He knows you’re gone,” said a voice behind me.
I stopped, but did not turn. I shrugged. “He couldn’t be kept ignorant of it for long,” I said.
“You said doom comes to Garuth. But it is you who brings it, isn’t it?”
“No,” I said, my voice very quiet. “It is only that I’m here that gives any in Garuth a chance to live.”
“I should be taking you into custody,” the Captain said. “Because I remember you, I give you one more chance to convince me.”
I turned to look at him. “Rakibak’s prince. He has a mate. The rumbling you hear, what you mistake for the doom of which I spoke. That is but the wrath that walked with me upon the Plains of Fire when I retook what was mine.” The Captain backed away. “You know that wrath well. You watched it do its work. I am the One That Feels. Unspoken is the fervent hope of all that what I feel is never that wrath.”
He gulped. “I remember.”
“That is only a shadow. What remains is desolate, but there is something that remains.”
“I don’t understand,” the Captain said. “You said he had a mate. Why isn’t the mate here?”
“Because Jordan of Om’s mate is an anchor of the Real.”
The Captain’s hesitant steps back became a stumble, and then only a quickly offered hand kept him from falling to the ground.
I nodded. “His mate is here. All I need do is whisper. We were lovers once, the young prince’s mate and I. We were lovers. All I need to do is whisper, and he would be here. Walking the Realm. Unmaking with his touch. Garuth would not be like the Plains of Fire, Captain. There was something left there, in the desolation I wrought—there was still something left. Garuth would be gone.”
“Tell me why. You came back to the Realm. I was there when Rakibak cursed your name and tainted everything you had worked for. I saw your anger then. But you turned and you walked away. Faded then and there from the Realm. And since, there were only whispers of you. A legend. You’d appear, and disappear. But never in Garuth, my lord. Why?”
“What did I have to return to?” I asked turning away. “I was reviled. The Traitor of Garuth.”
“The Lady loved you.”
I nodded. “I know. She always did. From the first time I visited the Realm as a boy. She marked me and treasured me. And she wept when it became clear that my desire was for other young men. I am not the Lady’s mate. I cannot be what she has always wanted me to be.”
The Captain nodded. “Tell me why. You’ve avoided it all this time.”
“Because Jordan’s mate asked it of me. And I love him.”
“There is more,” the Captain said. “I watched as you wrote your wrath upon the elemental forces of the trolls. As you taught them what it meant to feel, and what it meant to fear. If you were just after this prince, you would simply have taken him.”
I glanced over my shoulder and arched an eyebrow. Of all in Garuth, only the Duchess, Rakibak, and this man, this man who had once knelt at my feet and carried my standard, knew my true power. To everyone else, it was just a whisper, a legend that couldn’t be wholly true.
“Because in searching for Jordan, Captain,” I said, “I found my mate.”
The Captain’s eyes narrowed. “The Prince of Zaharoth walked alone into the palace of Garuth. He walked in alone with no guard, and he asked for the Lady.”
“He is very brave, my Nem—so very brave.”
“He is searching for you?”
“He does not need to search. He is my mate. He knows where I am.”
“Because he keeps the eyes and mind of Rakibak occupied. As Yarath’s march upon the river does.”
The Captain gulped. “You ignited the fire of Om.”
“No. But I told him where his son was being held. And I delivered those words on the lips of a mate that he never claimed, only loved. A mate who bore the son who Rakibak seeks to possess. A mate from the Real, who walks the Realm to have hope that she might see her son again.”
I turned from him. I whispered the words, though I knew he could hear every word. “I can stop the march of the mighty, Captain. I can halt Yarath of Om. I can stop the doom that marches on Garuth.” I closed my eyes for a moment. “But to do that, I need to find Jordan.”
“They say he’s mad.”
I sighed. “Then I have little time. His mate sits at his bedside in the Real, and tells him to hold on. But his mind is almost gone. Help me, Captain.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Jordan has a mate, old friend. With his dying breath, you can be sure Jordan will whisper a word. If that word is Brian’s name, Garuth will cease to be.”
“You could prevent that.”
I shrugged. “My oaths are in conflict. I may not be permitted.”
The Captain’s voice hushed to a hissing whisper. “You swore to him?”
“I did not know I’d find love and a mate in the Realm. I knew only the sight of my dearest love in pain. I swore. Love is hard to measure. I do not know which oath would win.”
The Captain sighed. “It is no favor I do you. Rakibak will not let this go, and you will be here to bear that wrath.”
I turned. “You know where he is?”
The Captain nodded his head towards one of the corridors. “If I do more....”
I gulped. “I understand.” I hesitated a moment. “Captain?”
“Yes, my lord?”
“I am not the only lord of the Realm who can take advantage of eyes being elsewhere. Seek out the Lady. Protect her.”
The Captain paused the space of many breaths. “As the Guardian requires.”
I stopped and turned to him. “You swore an oath to Garuth.”
“To Garuth, not to the Lady.”
“And Rakibak would be better? A man who plots to claim another’s mate purely to gain the privileges of blood?”
The Captain’s gaze skipped away from my eyes. “She has not led us, my lord.”
“Perhaps you’ve not shown her a desire to be led, or a need.”
“That’s not fair, sir. You have not been here to see.”
“When I was a boy, she was a voice that brought me comfort,” I said, searching for the eyes that avoided mine. “And I loved her, though I could not love her that way. She gave me a kingdom, and a title, and the right of blood. And for love of her, I marched for Garuth in battle, and you, Captain, you marched with me. I remember an adoration in your eyes.” I reached out and grasped the Captain’s hand, and he hissed and then whimpered as those feelings overtook him. “Feel that, Captain. Remember that. Adoration. Love. You felt those once. You followed me into hopeless battles in her name. Not to follow me. My legend was still new then. You did it for her.”
“She was different then.”
I nodded. “She is colder now. I could feel that in the dream. Rakibak has sealed her away from everyone she needs. From everyone who needs her. That is what leeches away her leadership. It’s a muscle that must be used, and he makes sure that no one adores her enough, anymore, that she has cause to lead.”
The Captain looked away. “What if the cause is hopeless?”
I smiled. “Do you think I would be walking the dungeons if my cause were hopeless?”
“You swore an oath. You know what that means,” the Captain said. “Don’t pretend you—”
“I do it for love,” I said. “Just as you followed her for love. Do you remember so little of how that felt? Let yourself feel it, Captain.”
He shook his head. “It made me weak!”
“Never that. You survived on the Plains of Fire. A standard bearer. And yet you survived to remember. After witnessing that, do you really think feeling makes you weak?”
“We are not like you,” the Captain said. “Feelings make us feel. That’s all. They don’t give us power or strength.”
“But feeling is strength,” I said. “She needs your adoration now. It is harder, I know, to give it. But you must.”
“Why? Why, when Rakibak is going to win!”
I took a deep breath. “Because you are the Guardian of Garuth, Captain.”
He shuddered as power filled the tiny hallway.
“Why?” he whispered.
I shook my head. “Because Garuth deserves to be watched over by one who still loves her.”
“Rakibak will never accept me as Guardian.”
“Then do not give him a choice,” I said, and I turned and walked purposely down the hall, leaving the Captain with his newfound power.