So, in the story our heroes await the arrival of Yarath of Om, a legendary king and warlord of the Realm—also Jordan's father. With Thommas unable to bring him personally back to the Real, Jordan is at the mercy of Yarath, who could demand fealty of his son, or deny him access to the one person who holds a route home. Because with the arrival of Yarath of Om comes Janice Blackmun, Jordan's mother, who carries with her the locket that can return Jordan to Brian's side. But will he take it? Or will Thommas be forced to defend them all against the might of Om?
Find out in Chapter 28 of The One That Feels!
What do you mean you're not caught up? There's 27 previous chapters of fantasy goodness... complete with alternate realms, sword fighting, monstrous villains, and a man torn between a love he wants to be true and the romance that stirs with a prince of the Realm. Don't miss out, read it from Chapter 1!
Yarath of Om entered the chamber. I didn’t need immense power to sense the nervousness of those of us who had assembled. Yarath filled the door, his massive antlers rising toward the arch of the door and for a moment I wondered if even the great doors of the hall were too small. And yet the man was no ogre or giant. Simply a very large man, his antlers arcing gracefully up from his forehead amplified that size.
His eyes were the green of the forest, as though all the greens of a mountainside had been swirled together to form them. His flesh was as translucent as Jordan’s, and beneath streams of gold, flowing like rivers in paths below the skin. He stepped forward and gazed at the table, and at us, assembled behind it.
One eyebrow arched in apparent surprise. He’d seen Jordan then. But did he know what it meant? He strode forward a man all in black following behind him. That man’s clothes were simple, but finely cut, and they clung as tightly as a second skin to a frame that was only muscle and bone. From behind me to one side I heard the slight gasp, hidden quickly. For myself, the man’s appearance presented no surprise. As any sovereign, Yarath had been permitted his personal guard.
Finally, a nervous woman entered. Garbed in finery that she clearly had no idea how to wear, she stumbled, only to be caught, carefully, lovingly, by Yarath himself. Jordan hissed softly. “Mom,” he whispered, so softly even I, who was closest, could barely hear it spoken.
When they reached the table, Yarath gently kept her from sitting, whispering quickly words we could not hear, and Janice took hold of the back of the chair to his left. To his right, the other man grasped the back of his seat, staring daggers at Janice his face assumed the customary emotionless mask. Yarath looked to either side, then took hold of the seat in the center.
The king held his head high and waited.
I nudged Jordan softly. We’d agreed, at the bitter objections of the captain, that Jordan should have the center seat. We were observers and interested parties; these negotiations were his, and his alone. Jordan glanced at me and gulped, biting at his lower lip, then he took hold of the back of the center seat.
“What is the meaning of this!” It was Yarath’s guard, the fabled Hunter. “Only one of the true blood can—”
“Silence,” growled Yarath. He looked at Jordan curiously, and then to me. His brow wrinkled. To Jordan’s left, the Lady of Garuth took hold of her seat, and beside her the Guardian. To his right I took hold of mine, and beside me Nem. When we were all in our place the Lady spoke.
“Welcome, Yarath of Om, to the Duchy of Garuth. I am the Lady of Garuth, and this is Garuth’s Guardian.” Her voice rang, quietly powerful, echoing through the empty room. “I am given to understand you have already made the acquaintance of Lord Thommas of Ashe. He is joined by his mate, the Prince of Zaharoth. We stand witness for young Lord Jordan of Om.”
Hunter’s eyes darted to Yarath and then to Jordan. Before he could speak, Yarath raised a hand to forestall him. “Lady of Garuth, I hear your greetings. Before you I stand, Yarath of Om. I give you my name, for I fear nothing. My right hand is Hunter, who needs no introduction. To my left is Janice of the Real.”
“Your mate,” I said quietly.
Janice’s face blanched white as Yarath’s attention fixed on me. His eyes narrowed and it took only a moment for calm to settle over him like a blanket. “She is of the Real, and eschews such honorifics.”
“It is best to be plain,” I said. My voice did not echo as the Lady’s had, but it filled the room in a quiet way of its own.
Yarath looked at me for a moment, then held his chin high. “I will not force her to consent. Long ago, I gave her a choice. I am still awaiting my answer.”
Jordan looked at both of them for a moment, then at me. Uncertain, his eyes asked questions I could not answer. And he was not the only one with questions lurking behind his eyes unasked. Hunter was also looking, his eyes on Janice and Jordan. But his question was easy to read.
“Yes,” I said softly, looking directly at Hunter. “The answer is yes. Jordan of Om is Yarath’s son. He was born in the Real, to the mate of your king—the truest proof that they are mated.” I turned to Yarath. “As I said, it is best to be plain about such things.”
Janice gulped back a sob, turning her face away.
Yarath glanced at Janice and then at Jordan. “Perhaps I have hidden things for too long.” He looked across the table at the Lady. “I think we have a great deal to discuss.”
“Then let us sit and discuss,” said the Lady, taking her seat first, as was custom.
Each person at the table took their seat in turn, save only for the captain and Hunter. As personal guards, they were to stand, ready to defend if necessary. When everyone was seated, Yarath of Om looked at his son. “It is time to come home, my son.”
Jordan looked back at the man. “You ask me to come home, but I don’t know you. I see my mom, looking more fragile than I’ve ever seen her, and I know from looking in the mirror that I resemble you. But home? You mean Om, which I guess is a place. My home is in what I’m told is called the Real. That’s where I belong.”
Yarath closed his eyes. “I marched. I heard you were in trouble, son. I marched my armies to come protect you. To fight for you. To free you. I don’t have words for what it means to see you.” Yarath opened his eyes and looked at Jordan. “Years ago I heard rumors. That a child of Om had been seen in the Realm. I knew what that meant. I knew my beloved Janice had borne you in secret. I searched for you.” He clenched on hand into a fist. “I searched. And when I didn’t find you here in the Realm, I searched what we call the Real. And I watched you. But I could not see you like this, with it so evident in your features that you are my son.”
Yarath paused for a moment. “I could never get close. You were always with a creature of the Real, an anchor of that place who sapped everything that I am away. I could never get close.” Yarath looked at the table. To admit weakness was shame. I could scarcely admit the words had come from him. “I thought you were a prisoner of Garuth. I came to free you, son. You must believe that.”
“I was a prisoner,” Jordan said. “And maybe that was okay, because I had to figure something out. And the way I was held meant that Thommas came for me, as he has before when I came here and couldn’t get back. He made me see some things I hadn’t allowed myself to consider.” Jordan sighed. “You don’t understand. What it takes for me to be here? I don’t think we’re meant to touch this place. And I can, and I think that has to do with this.” Jordan grasped one of his antlers. “But to touch this place, what do you call it?” He looked at me.
“The Realm,” I supplied.
“To touch this ‘Realm’ of yours,” Jordan said, “for me it requires a push. A dangerous push.”
“It has killed him,” I said. “More than once.”
“I’m so sorry, Jordan,” Janice said.
“It’s not your fault, Mom. I liked the drugs.” He said it defiantly. “I liked how they made me feel. And I got to explore this place. In the Real the drugs I took are dangerous. I’m alive now, if I understand it right, because Thommas did something.”
Yarath looked at me, then Janice, then back to me. “If the Prince of Zaharoth is your mate, what is my son to you that you would take the little deaths of the Real from him?”
“Perhaps he was just in need, and as one of the few who walk freely between worlds, I felt it necessary.”
“I thought we were going to speak plainly,” demanded Yarath with a glare. The greens in his eyes merged into something dark and foreboding.
I arched an eyebrow. “Your son is in love with that man, that anchor of the Real.”
“That does not tell me why you helped him. I know what it is to suck the little death out of someone newly dead. I know what it does to you. It is something only those of the blood can know. It is something you should not have been able to do.”
“I have given much to the Realm. In return, the Realm permits me much that no others can do,” I said.
“Still you obfuscate,” Yarath said, his fist slamming onto the table.
“He helps because he loves Brian,” Jordan said, looking at his father. “Because he knows Brian loves me, and Thommas loves Brian. Enough to stop the drugs from killing me. Enough to search me out here when I got too lost to find my way home to Brian. Enough to find me in the dungeons of Garuth when a madman planned to... to rape me and claim the power of my blood.”
Yarath’s eyes screwed shut. “I was on my way! I would have saved you.”
“You came too late,” I said. “You would have known. When Rakibak laid claim to the boy and possessed him like a toy, used him to usurp the Lady’s place as he had planned to do, you would have known. But by then Jordan would be a used thing, broken and tormented.”
Janice cried out and Yarath’s face grew pale.
“I called for speed, out of desperation. I was a prisoner in the dungeons, knowing he was there and I called for Janice to use her key and go to you.” I looked at Janice. “How many days did you argue with Brian before you yielded and walked into the Realm?” My glare moved to Yarath. “How many days did you waste, amassing an army to march?”
“I marched quickly!” Yarath insisted.
“A day too late. Even one day was too many. You were needed,” I said.
Jordan shook his head. “This is not about blame. It’s not, Thommas.” He gulped. “It’s about what happens next.”
“You come home,” Yarath said. “You are a prince, my son. You belong in Om.”
Jordan shook his head. “She does,” he said very softly. “Fragile as she looks, as afraid as she is.” His eyes turned to Janice. “Mom, he’s your mate. God! I know what that is Mom. I know how that feels. How can you.... you denied it for all my life? Don’t you feel it here?” He pounded a hand against his chest.
“Janice must make her own choice,” Yarath said. “I love her. How could I demand that of her? To leave all she knows. I was asking about you.”
“But you think it’s okay to ask me to leave everything I know?” Jordan demanded.
“But you are here, my son. You entered the Realm of your own accord.”
“I need to go home!” Jordan shouted. “Don’t you understand? Brian is alone! He misses me. He needs me. I’m not there and I’m dying inside. I need him! I need to touch him. I need to hold him. And most of all, I need to tell him how much I love him.”
“What do you know of need?” Yarath asked. “For decades I’ve waited. With real need. For my mate.”
“The need is the same,” I said softly, looking at Yarath. “All it would take is a whisper, and Brian would be here and the Realm would be dust. But if Brian comes to Jordan that way, it will leave your son a broken shell, everything from this Realm that’s a part of him ripped aside with everything else. Jordan is your son. He needs your help.”
Yarath’s glare grew dark. “He’s my only heir.”
“He is mated. You know what that unhappiness is. You’d ask it from a son the world does not even know you have? For him to give that up out of duty? For a kingdom he doesn’t even know?”
“I ask nothing of him that I have not given myself,” Yarath said sadly, glancing at Janice.
“You gave her a key. A way to come to you. But did you ever ask her? Did you make her feel needed?”
“Brian didn’t just ask. He’s sat at Jordan’s bedside in the Real for months, begging Jordan to come back to him,” I said.
“You ask too much!”
“Not him,” Jordan said. “Me.”
“You don’t understand what you’re asking.”
“Please. I miss him so much. You know”—Jordan’s glance skirted to his mother—“I think what that means. How much it hurts. How empty life is when you love someone that much and suddenly they’re not there.”
“Even if I freed you of your fealty to me as my son,” Yarath said. “You have no way home.”
I looked at Janice. “He does.”
“And you... you’ll leave me again?” asked Yarath, tears flowing down his cheek as he turned to look at Janice. A drop of silver hit the table, bouncing. A perfect tear.
“That choice must be hers,” I said, looking directly at Janice.
“But I’m needed to take him home!”
I shook my head. “You have his gateway home around your neck. Brian is waiting for him. Praying for him to return. But you do not have to return with him.”
“But he needs me!”
Jordan closed his eyes. “Mom.”
Jordan raised his eyes to look at Yarath. “If she comes with me can she ever come back to you?”
Yarath shook his head. “She used the key. There was only one.”
“Mom!” Jordan turned to her. “This is your mate. If you let him, he could be like Brian is to me. He could love you that much.”
Another silver tear fell, clinking against the table.
I nodded. “He would. But you have to let him, Janice.”
“your husband? He gave up searching for you after weeks. Yarath has waited for you for decades. Time here does not pass in the way it does in the Real.”
Janice shook her head. “I’m so afraid!” she shrieked and turned away.
“Mom. Look around you. You used to tell me that as a little girl you dreamed of being a princess. But that when you grew up you learned what was real. But, Mom, this is real. It can be real for you. You can be that princess. You just have to let yourself.” Jordan held out his hand. “But you have to decide now. Brian needs me.”
Janice pulled out the locket and stared at it for a moment. Slowly she set it down. “He changed the picture. So you would know that he loves you—that he’s setting aside Thommas.” She heaved a great breath. She looked at Yarath and then at Jordan. “It’s everything I know,” she said.
“You can learn.” The voice was gentle, soft. Nastasia looked down the table at Janice. “Thommas came to us first as a little boy. So playful. So innocent. He wandered into the Realm and sat at my feet and he taught us so much. The love that Yarath shows you, it is not common in the Realm. We feel moments of intensity, but emotions that last, that stick with us, those are rare. Yarath of Om has refused every courtship offer of every eligible maiden of the Realm.” Her eyes grew icy for a moment, her voice cold. “Including mine.”
“It’s real, Mom,” said Jordan. “Don’t lose love again. I’ll miss you, I will. But I’ll understand.”
Janice got up and turned away. “Do it now, Jordan,” she croaked. “Please. Before I—”
But Jordan Blackmun was already gone.