This week, I chose this prompt because it's spooky and I love hooded figures with staffs. It's a shame he didn't take a bigger part in the story. However, the Guardians will appear later in the story
The beasts of burden are enormous and I avoid then as much as I can. They frighten me and I do not want to show anyone, least of all Tian, how afraid I am. The horse I am to ride is small compared to the great beasts my father and Tian will ride. Tian is fearless and clearly an excellent rider. I am neither. Ah well.
“Do you require assistance, My Prince?”
I lean back into Tian’s embrace. We are very close to the side of the horse, hidden from view among the caravan’s stamping beasts, but still I shouldn’t reveal my feelings in this way. I reluctantly pull away glancing over my shoulder with a smile to temper my action. I see in his eyes that Tian understands.
“I can manage, thank you.” My mounting is inelegant but effective and I reign in my horse fairly competently. Tian leaps into his saddle with a grace I could never achieve.
It seems like only moments before my father’s call rends the air and we move off. My voice will never be as deep or as loud as my father’s. How can I hope to lead and army when I sound like an adolescent?
Stop being so negative about yourself. You’ll do just fine. You spoke to the Council didn’t you? You achieved what Father could not.
I can almost hear Tian’s voice chiding me. The words echo in my head. The self doubt is not entirely dispelled, but I feel better; stronger as I spur my horse to ride beside Tian, a little behind my father. Jandra steps back from where she has been speaking to him. Am I a bad brother that I am so relieved she will not be accompanying us? She is not pleased.
Jandra smacks the flank of my horse as it passes, making it dance. I desperately reign in it and gain control quickly. Nevertheless my cheeks burn and her smile is cold. Once we were close. I don’t know what happened to make her despise me so.
This is no time for such musings so I bring my mind back to the moment and concentrate on keeping up and riding straight.
We ride through the day, then make camp. My bottom is sore and my bones ache. Worse, I am not able to seek refuge in Tian’s arms although I put my foot down and insisted he sleep in the royal tent. I may not be able to embrace him, but we are able to entwine our fingers in the darkness.
Day after day repeats in the same way. There are grumbles on all sides and I fear the Council members who have insisted on accompanying us will be even more set against Tian’s people before we arrive.
Finally, we arrive at a cool tunnel of trees, shading the road from the relentless sun. We travel through for half a day until we see daylight ahead. Outlined in the entrance is figure dressed in a hooded robe, holding a staff. Tian urges his mount forward and dismounts to speak to the figure. After a short conversation the man inclines his head and steps aside allowing us to pass.
It is immediately obvious that we are in a different land. The forest spreads around us on both sides, like giant wings embracing rolling green plains through which a wide, clear river meanders. We follow the river beneath a gentler sun. Sometime during the afternoon clouds gather and rain falls, gentle at first but harder as we travel further, pelting us with slivers of ice.
“If we push on,” Tian says, “we might reach home a little after dark. However, I would advise to strike camp in the lee of the hill and move on in the morning. The rain will not let up tonight, but I believe the morning will be clear.”
“How can you know this,” Chander, a dour Council member spits. “Striking camp in this weather would be madness. Everything will be soaked through.”
“It will be warm inside the tents. The bedding will be dry.”
My father is clearly of two minds but acceded to Tian as the expert on the territory.
Tian is right. It is much warmer inside the tents, and the bedding is mostly dry. I strip off my wet clothes and dive under the skins and blankets. They are damp. Everything is damp. But at least I was warm – eventually.
Tian seems less affected by the weather and creeps beneath the skins to warm me with his body.
“We should not do this.”
“We are in my kingdom now. You will see a change. No one will persecute us here. Relax. I am simply warming you. We will fall asleep in each other’s arms and wake to start the day together. Tomorrow you will meet my father and he will bless our union.”
This startles me a little. “What do you mean? I-I’m not ready to join as life partners. Not yet. I need to know you first.”
“Ssh, do not be afraid. We have no such ritual. We are bonded and that is all the joining we need. My father will simply give his blessing and then no one will challenge us.”
“O-Okay.” I am still nervous. I am still new to the whole bonding thing. It seems so formal; so…permanent. It frightens me. I chuckle to myself. Everything frightens me.
“Don’t be afraid,” Tian whispers into my neck. “Everything will be alright.”
“Are you reading my mind again?”
“No, but I am coming to know you well, and I smell fear.”
“You can smell my fear?”
“That and…other things.”
I turn in his arms and gaze into his eyes. It is dark in the tent, lit only by a small brazier. His eyes glitter, their colour obscured. I must gaze into them more often because when I do my fear melts away.
Now check out the other awesome flashers