Authors: Steven A. Tolle
“Introduce me, my son.” Arelia said to Marcus, indicating Norlan and his family.
“Mother, this is Mastersmith Norlan, his wife Mistress Madalin and their daughter, Cherise.” Marcus told his mother.
“Master Norlan, please accept my apologies for the boorish behavior of my son.” Arelia said, voice calm and level. “I will see that he is suitably punished.”
“Thank you, my lady.” Norlan replied, voice steady, but Jake could still see some anger in his eyes.
“Do not worry, lovely child.” Arelia said to Cherise. She knelt down next to Cherise and cupped her chin in her hand. “You will find that men often act foolishly. You must not allow that to ruin
your enjoyment of a lovely party.” She looked up at Marcus. “Surely you can assist her in this, my son.”
“Yes, Mother.” Marcus replied.
“Again, my apologies.” Arelia said as she stood. She looked over at Jake. “To you as well, Jake Thomas.”
Jake was decidedly uncomfortable with the way Lady Arelia was looking at him, her eyes studying him. He felt like he was puzzle that she could not figure out. He bowed his head, breaking the stare. “Nothing to forgive, my lady.” Jake said properly.
Arelia stared at Jake for another moment, then turned and left the hall, going to the door through which Rolas had departed.
“May I have this dance, Cherise?” Marcus asked formally, bowing slightly and taking her hand. Cherise, a large smile on her face, nodded happily, drama forgotten. Marcus escorted her to the dance area.
Jake sat back down, drinking some water and watching Marcus and Cherise dance, Cherise’s face alight with joy. When the music paused, Marcus motioned for a blond-haired young man in Royal Guard finery to come over, introduced him to Cherise, and left them to dance. He came back over to Jake’s table.
“With your permission, Master Norlan, may I have this dance with your wife?” Marcus said, holding out his hand to Madalin. With a pleased smile, Madalin took his hand and they were soon dancing near Cherise.
Norlan leaned over to Jake. “While I appreciate what you did, Jake, you must be careful with these nobles.” He said quietly. “Don’t let your sense of honor get you into a situation that will only end badly.” He patted him on the shoulder and returned to watching his wife and daughter dance.
After Madalin finished her dance, she came back over to the table while Cherise continued to dance, again with Marcus. With a smile, Madalin gestured at Norlan. “Come, husband.” She said lightly. “You will not get away with just sitting there. We have to dance.” She glanced at Jake. “Will you be alright by yourself, Jake?”
“I will be fine.” Jake replied, nudging Norlan to stand up. “Have fun.”
While Jake was sitting and watching the dances, losing
himself in the music, a servant came up to him and spoke. “The king requests your presence at his table.”
Frowning slightly as he wondered what this was about, Jake nodded and stood up. He made his way over to the king’s table. Keria’s chair was empty, as she was out dancing.
“You wanted to see me, Your Majesty?” Jake asked politely.
“Yes, Jake.” The king replied. He gestured at Keria’s chair. “Please sit.”
Once Jake was sitting, the king leaned over and spoke quietly. “Is there not any reward that I can give you for your role in freeing Keria?”
Jake thought about asking to see Keria, his gaze drifting over towards her, where she was dancing with Marcus, smiling and laughing. Before he could speak, the king followed his gaze and shook his head.
“My prohibition still stands, Jake.” The king said firmly, though his eyes were sympathetic. “Keria has a responsibility to the kingdom. She will be a queen someday and she has to marry someone who can stand beside her, challenge her privately when needed, and lead this nation.” He paused, then asked. “Do you wish to be a king, Jake?”
?!” Jake exclaimed. The idea seemed so outlandish that he almost laughed.
“If you do not wish to be a king, then why pursue Keria?” The king pressed, face serious. “Besides the fact that you are a stranger and the nobles would not accept you, if a way was found to return you to your world, would you forswear your home and family to remain here?”
Jake was caught off-guard by the question. He was embarrassed that he had not thought about it that way. He thought of his family and friends and of all the familiar things of home. He finally shook his head, saying quietly. “No. I would go home.”
“Jake, I recognize that Keria is a beautiful young woman.” The king said kindly. “When I was a young man around your age, I pursued a beautiful woman, only to have her become unattainable. However, in spite of what I thought was a devastating blow, I met and fell in love with Keria’s mother. I consider myself to be a lucky man for it.” He paused. “Do you understand what I am trying to say here?”
“I think so, Your Majesty.” Jake said, unable to keep the disappointment out of his voice. He gazed longingly at Keria, savoring her beauty, but, with a sinking feeling in his chest, knew the king was right. It would not be fair to Keria for this to continue, especially if he could find a way home.
Maybe I can at least do something right.
He thought as an idea came to him.
“As to my reward, I would ask that you consider Marcus for Keria.” Jake said haltingly, feeling this was the toughest thing he had ever done. “He is in love with her.”
The king looked over at Marcus, a slight frown on his face. “I cannot promise you that, Jake.” He said, sighing heavily. “He may be good for her and I acknowledge his feelings for her, but I must also consider the wishes of the royal council, which is often driven by politics and position.”
The king held out his hand. “I know that this is not what you had hoped for, Jake. I hope that a way can be found to send you back to your rightful world. When you return there, I hope you will think kindly of me.”
“Of course, Your Majesty.” Jake said respectfully, shaking the king’s hand. “To be honest, I have been treated better here than I had any right to expect.”
“I will let you get back to the celebrations.” The king said. “Enjoy the night.”
Jake nodded and went back over to his table. He could not bring himself to look over at Keria as he passed the dance area. Norlan was sitting at the table, sipping some wine. He noticed the look on Jake’s face.
“What happened?” He asked, concern in his voice. “You look like you got some really bad news.”
“I’m fine, Norlan.” Jake said. “I’m just tired. I think I will have the carriage take me back to the house.”
“Let me get Madalin and Cherise and we can leave.” Norlan said, standing.
Jake saw Cherise dancing with a boy about her age, smiling and clearly enjoying herself. Madalin was dancing with the blond-haired young man, laughing at something he said. “No, Norlan.” Jake said. “Let them enjoy the party. I can make it home by myself.”
“Are you sure?” Norlan asked.
“Yeah.” Jake said. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
Jake slowly made his way to the exit, his mind distant as he considered what had just happened. The grooms quickly had the carriage brought around and Jake gratefully climbed in. He stared out of the window, watching the city pass by, the sounds of the carriage echoing off the nearby buildings as it wove its way back to Norlan’s.
Jake thanked the driver after he had stepped down from the carriage, the main gate to the house only a few feet away. Jake made his way into the yard as the carriage left to return to the palace. He went over to Maxis’ enclosure and let the dog out. Maxis seemed to sense Jake’s mood, staying calm and remaining close to him. Jake went to his room, Maxis curling up at the foot of the bed while Jake removed and hung his swordbelt on the wall. Jake quickly undressed and climbed into bed. He thought about Keria and what the king had said. He released his magic, hoping that he would quickly drift off to sleep.
Instead, his emotions and thoughts continued to roil. He tried to calm his mind, but sleep was a long time in coming.
Jake awoke at the light knock on the door. He called up his magic and shifted into a seated position just as Norlan entered his room. Norlan looked like he was somewhat unwell, with a slight pallor to his face and some bags under his eyes.
“Good morning, Jake.” Norlan said pleasantly, despite his condition. “Are you able to join us for the morning meal or should I have Madalin bring you some food?”
“I will come inside, Norlan.” Jake replied. He gestured towards Norlan. “Are you feeling well? You look a bit under the weather.”
“I’m fine, but I don’t think I should have had so much wine.” Norlan said with a light smile and a rueful shake of his head. “I still enjoy drinking a good wine, but every year that I grow older, if I drink too much, the next morning gets a bit more unpleasant.”
“I understand.” Jake said, remembering his hangover from the party at Matt’s house. He swung his feet out and stood. “I’ll be in as soon as I get dressed.”
Norlan nodded and left. Jake put on his clothes and stepped out onto the patio. He saw that the sky was cloudy and a cool wind was blowing. The clouds were not very dark, so Jake hoped that that meant no rain. He headed into the house and found the family already at the table.
During the meal, Jake listened with an amused smile as Cherise excitedly recounted all of the dancing at the celebration. She spoke almost non-stop, pausing only to take a bite to eat at the prompting of her father. Madalin listened with a contented look on her face while Norlan shook his head at Cherise’s gushing account of all of the attention that Marcus had shown her.
Looks like Marcus has another admirer.
But after what she went through, I’m glad she was able to have such a good time.
After breakfast, Jake returned to his room, settled back onto the bed and released his power. He lay there, lost in thought. The good mood that came from seeing Cherise happy faded as he considered what happened last night. He replayed his conversation with the king in his mind several times, trying to determine if he should or could have said anything different.
Thinking about Keria made him depressed. Visualizing her in his head was almost painful as she was so beautiful. He remembered the feel of her body next to his as they had kissed, the fragrance of her perfume and the smile she gave him like it was for him alone. He was giving her up and, to make the situation worse, he felt that out of respect for what Marcus had done, he had to promote the idea of Marcus and Keria to the king.
But, despite the sense of loss, he knew in his heart that it was the right thing to do. He was not looking to be a king and, if the way home appeared, he would take it without hesitation. It was not fair to Keria, or Marcus for that matter, for him to continue to chase after her. He had to harden his
heart against such attachments and stay focused on finding how to get back to his own world.
I will be tough.
He thought resolutely, though it did not make him feel any better.
Focused on his thoughts, he was startled by a soft knock on his door. As he embraced his power and sat up, he heard Hailyn’s voice.
“May I come in?” She asked.
“Sure, Hailyn.” Jake replied. He watched as she entered his room, dressed in her white apprentice robes. She seemed to be in good spirits, giving him a smile and came over and sat at the foot of his bed. He pulled his knees back towards his chest to make sure that she did not accidently touch him.
“How are feeling, Jake?” She inquired.
“Fine.” Jake said casually. “Not much has changed.”
“That is better than things getting worse.” Hailyn said lightly. “Did you enjoy the celebration at the palace?”
“It was ok.” Jake said. He was struck by a sudden thought. “How come you were not invited? You had as big a role in Keria’s rescue as me or Marcus.”
“I was invited, but my duties at the Temple kept me from attending.” She said, shaking her head. “I think I would have enjoyed seeing if you could learn the dance steps in a night.” She finished with a gentle laugh.
“I stayed away from the dancing.” Jake said hurriedly. “I was not about to trip over someone’s feet trying to keep up.”
“You should dance, Jake.” Hailyn replied with an amused look in her eyes. “It is good for the spirit and the body. Besides, women like a man who can dance.”
“Maybe, once I am healed, I will have you teach me.” Jake said with a chuckle. “I think I need any help I can get in the women department.”
“Why do you say that?” Hailyn asked, tilting her head and giving him a curious look.
Jake told Hailyn everything that happened the previous night, including the conversation with the king. She seemed sympathetic for the most part, offering him words of support as he tried to explain his feelings about it all. However, when he told her about his desire to be tough and focus on getting home, she was less than accommodating.
“I understand your desire to return home, but you cannot simply ignore your feelings or those of the people trying to help you.” She said directly, a displeased look on her face. “To do so means that you are simply using people to get what you want. That is what the demons do.”
“Wait a minute, I’m no freaking demon.” Jake said with some heat. “Just because I don’t want to get too attached doesn’t mean I don’t care.”
“I know that.” Hailyn said, holding up her hands. “I was just trying to point out that you are a person, like we all are, and you can’t give up on happiness, caring, compassion and the other emotions that the One has given us to enjoy this life.”
She reached for him,
then pulled her hand back with a frustrated grimace on her face. “You can still enjoy friendship, fellowship and love until you return to your home.” She paused for a moment, then continued. “Surely, you know that Norlan and Madalin love you. Would you disregard that?”
“No.” Jake sighed, then taking a deep breath and releasing it, not wanting to fight with her. “I appreciate what all of you have done for me and I understand what you are saying, Hailyn. It just pisses me off that it can be so unfair.”
“Things will work out the way they must.” She replied serenely. “Trust in the One, Jake, and don’t let the disappointments stand in the way of happiness.”
“I’ll try.” Jake said as he stared into those unusual brown eyes. He gave her a smile, which she returned. “You are a great friend to have, Hailyn. I am so glad that-“ He was interrupted by another knock on his doorframe.
“Come in!” He called out, expecting to see Norlan or Madalin.
He was surprised when Marcus entered his room. He was dressed in a fine, but plain, white shirt and black pants with his sword belted on. Like Norlan, he appeared to be suffering from a hangover. Marcus paused when he saw Jake and Hailyn sitting on the bed.
“I am sorry if I am interrupting.” Marcus said smoothly. “I can come back later.”
“No, please stay, Marcus.” Hailyn said as she stood. “I need to get back to the Temple.” She looked down at Jake. “Think on what I said, Jake. I will try to see you tomorrow.” With a nod to Marcus as she passed, she pushed the curtain aside and left the room.
“What brings you by?” Jake asked. “You look like you could use some sleep.”
Marcus shook his head slightly, rubbing his temples. “My friends dragged me to the taverns after the celebration ended.” He said with a weak grin. “I don’t drink much and there seemed to be an endless supply of ale. I feel like someone is pounding on my head with a hammer from the inside.”
Jake chuckled at the description while Marcus went to retrieve the stool and move it near the foot of the bed. He sat down, sighing contently, then turned his attention back to Jake.
“I came by for two reasons.” Marcus said quietly. “The first is to apologize for my brother’s behavior last night. You left before I could speak with you.”
“What is his problem?” Jake asked. He paused, then continued when Marcus did not respond. “I know that you two are brothers, but, really, he’s a total dick.”
Marcus sat there quietly for a moment,
then spoke. “Rolas has always felt that I was a threat to his position. He has claimed, for as long as I can remember, that our father favors me, the younger brother, over him, the rightful heir. He believes that I am trying to undermine him and cheat him out of his inheritance.”
“You would think that he would get beyond it.” Jake said. “You’ve been away from home for a while, right?”
“Yes, but he does not see it like that.” Marcus replied. “He is now afraid that I have influence with the king and will use it to take my father’s title and lands when he passes. Nothing I say makes any difference.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, Marcus.” Jake said. “Really, I’m sorry.”
“Thank you, Jake.” Marcus replied, nodding his head.
“What is the second reason?” Jake asked.
“I wanted to know what the king said to you last night.” Marcus stated directly. “After you left, Keria went to speak with her father. I did not hear what was said, but she was in a mood afterwards. She would not tell me what had upset her, but I gathered it was what the king spoke with you about.”
Jake considered for a moment on what to say, then sighed, shaking his head. Marcus deserved to know. Jake told him what the king had said, as well as what he said to the king. Marcus simply looked at Jake once he finished, reflecting on what he just heard.
After a few tense moments for Jake, Marcus spoke. “I appreciate your honestly. I think that Keria sees it differently, but I believe that you made the right decision.” He held up a hand before Jake could say anything. “I don’t say that to be cruel or to applaud my good fortune, but because I think that you have a long road ahead of you before you can return to your home.” He paused briefly. “I know something of being separated from home, so I am sympathetic to your plight.”
He stood and came over to Jake, extending his hand. “I seem to find myself getting further in debt to you.” Marcus said, a smile appearing on his face. “I would like any hard feelings that existed between us to fade away. I accept your offer from the road and want you to consider me a friend.”
Jake slowly stood and shook his hand. “Thank you, Marcus.” Jake said. “Just take care of Keria.”
“With my life.” Marcus said seriously. He tuned to leave. “You should continue to gather your strength.” He paused at the door, looking back. “If you need my help for anything, send a message and I will come.”
After the curtain closed behind Marcus, Jake heard a murmur of voices from the yard and glanced out the window to see who it was. Madalin and Cherise were at the foot of the steps talking with Marcus while Norlan looked on from the door. Jake watched as Marcus took Cherise’s hand and kissed it as he said something to her. Jake saw Cherise absolutely glow with delight as Marcus turned to give Madalin a formal bow, Madalin with a pleased smile on her face.
Marcus does have a way with women.
I think I need to ask him for some pointers.
Jake thought sardonically.
As Marcus nodded to Norlan and left, Madalin turned to go back inside. Jake saw that she blushed slightly when she saw Norlan looking at her with his arms crossed and a cocked eyebrow and crooked smile on his face. Madalin went to
him, laying her hand on his arm and whispering something to him that made him throw back his head and laugh. They went back inside while Cherise released Maxis from his enclosure and they ran around in the yard.
Jake, feeling a little cooped up, went outside and joined Cherise and Maxis. The day was still cool and cloudy, which made the exercise pleasant. He was amused by, but did grow slightly tired of, Cherise extolling the virtues of Marcus. He was glad that he and Marcus were no longer rivals, but it sucked a bit to get reminded of what a great guy he was.
Jake thought to himself,
I am not all that bad a guy either.
After a while, he claimed to be tired and returned to his room.
He climbed back into bed, sitting up with his back against the wall, and released his power. He stared at the fall wall, lost in thoughts of Keria, Marcus and home. He pondered on how he could possibly return to Earth, since everyone here seemed to be at a loss on what to do. He lost track of time, with all of his focus inward. Before he realized, it was late afternoon. Without his power, he began to feel weak and was considering lying down for a nap before dinner when his door curtain pulled aside and Keria came into his room. She stopped and stared at him, her beautiful face a mask of anger.
“Keria!” Jake exclaimed as he called up his magic, sitting up straighter. “What are you doing here?”
“How could you agree with my father’s idiotic decision
?!” She snapped, her green eyes like hard emeralds. “And without even speaking with me?”
“Keria, I can see that you are upset.” Jake said, softly and cautiously. “I didn’t know how to tell you, but your father is right. You will be Queen someday and I can’t be a king.”
“How do you know that, Jake?” She replied, voice softer but anger still plain on her face. “You are the most unusual boy I have ever met. You risked your life to save me, but you wouldn’t even argue for the chance to find out with my father.”