Trumpeters began a dynamic fanfare and the wedding procession commenced. Our ostentatious carriage followed twenty guards on horseback led by Devin, my constable. His elegant armor dazzled the crowd lining the street, and riding side-saddle behind us were my servants, Ashelle and Trixie.
“They love you!” Ashelle shouted.
“I wasn’t prepared for all this fanfare.” Riley said as we waved to the spectators.
It had been forty years since The Land had a King. For the first time the thoughts of my people emanated unity.
“You’re what they have been waiting for, Riley. We won’t have to do this again.” I said while squeezing his hand.
The moment was happening, and I stared at my chosen King. No more suitors, no more searching for the one being I loved more than anyone. Riley had been my protector and then my servant. He lost his immortality because of me. I had been so consumed by the prospects of making him my King that the world around me barely existed.
Riley’s fight with the formidable challenger three days ago made him a shining star, a beacon to guide us. People shouted “King Riley!” as we made our way through town. Villagers who had witnessed the match between suitors in the grand hall must have embellished Riley’s skills as a knight, although the sight had been truly remarkable. The chanting that filled the grand hall after the fight was back and in greater force. We sat at my table for dinner the night after he defeated the suitor and he explained how he had overtaken his opponent with such agility.
“Before I was made mortal by the protector’s potion I would transform only when necessary. But, every time I did my clothes would fall to the floor. I had to constantly re-dress when studying humans, so I wore the simplest clothes. In the woods when you discovered I could read your thoughts, you left on Sesha and I transformed to stop you. I knew I had to explain who I was.
“First, I transformed into a barrian bat. It’s the biggest species of bat and I picked up my clothes while searching for you in the dark. When I flew over you I transformed into a panther. I wanted to stop Sesha, but instead she reared and you fell. I changed back into Riley and put on my clothes. That’s when I saw you passed out on the ground. I knew the protectors were searching for me, but I didn’t care. It was my fault you were hurt.
“Moments later I was injected by the protectors, but somehow the potion trapped certain traits of the bat and panther in my body. I’ve discovered while lying in a dark room that if I click my tongue like this,” Riley made a simple sound with his mouth. “I can form an image of the entire room within my mind. By using echolocation, I can see in complete darkness.
“Then, when fighting with the suitor, I remembered during practice how my body seemed very flexible, allowing me to maneuver faster than most of Devin’s guards. I began jumping, flipping, and seeing my opponents movements quicker than humanly possible. The agility of a panther had been trapped into my form as well.”
This revelation of his newfound skills surprised me and everyone who had known him. The person who was most amazed was Martha Weston, the old woman who had tried to run Riley off when he was my servant, positive he would distract me from taking a suitor. She stared in disbelief as we rolled by waving.
Devin had the power to unite us according to law, and the ceremony did not take long. I read the thoughts of the spectators. Visually we appeared transcendental in our wedding attire. Emotionally I sensed relief and a renewed admiration for our Kingdom. Even though we would be back to our normal clothes the next day, this moment was a show for everyone in town, a sight to remember.
After the ceremony, we greeted the townspeople as King and Queen. Devin and his guards watched the event carefully as people bowed to us and kissed Riley’s hand. Riley was quite uncomfortable with this new admiration thrust upon him.
Devin announced that the celebration would continue, but the new King and his Queen would retire to the castle. We relished a moment alone and were escorted to my chamber, man and wife for the first time. Everything had happened so quickly that I had not given much thought to what it meant to be man and wife, or even King and Queen. My role as Queen would change and I would have fewer decisions to make. The King would take over many tasks although I would have to remain an integral part of running the kingdom for Riley’s sake.
We looked at each other when my chamber door shut. A thought suddenly came to me, one that Riley, with his lack of understanding humankind, had unlikely entertained. We were to have intimate relations and I assumed that he had never experienced the act of lovemaking as a protector.
We sat on my bed and I removed my veil. I attempted to explain what we were supposed to do, but found myself struggling to make sense.
How can I explain this? I felt like an inept adult describing animal instincts to a young child.
“I remember witnessing reproductive acts between numerous animals during my travels, though I never experienced them.” Riley explained. “There was no need for protectors to acknowledge the act of reproduction since it had been regarded as primal and beneath immortals.”
“We’re supposed to…” I took his hand while stuttering, “per…perform that act since it’s a part… it’s what humans do when married.” He was uncertain what to do next.
I undressed and helped him do the same. He stood in front of me with anxious anticipation. My king was ignorant about most aspects of human life, despite following people for years. Although we had kissed passionately before, he did not yet understand the connection between love and sex. He knew only what animals did to replenish their kind each year.
I sat Riley on my bed and asked him to lie down. I lay next to him and prayed that I would know what to do, but I found my first time with Riley difficult. My own experiences with intimacy were very limited. I was a virgin, too.
“What do we do?” asked Riley.
I struggled for an answer. Finally, I turned to face him and took his hand. I placed it on my body and told him to just touch first. He was used to me being clothed, so I figured that touching our skin would be a start. I touched his skin and he watched carefully to see if he could gather information from me.
“It’s more of a feeling. Don’t try to rationalize our actions. Remember when I first kissed you?” He nodded and slid his hand along my side, watching his palm touch my bare skin. “You touched my lips as though you had felt my kiss. You did that again when you found me lost in the woods. Tell me your thoughts from those moments.”
“I cannot explain it very well.” Riley paused and thought. “I did feel something inside me. Your lips were soft and my lips were soft. Inside your kiss went through my body, both my mortal and immortal forms. I guess I wanted to touch you the way I’m touching you now.” He smiled after explaining the feelings he did not yet understand.
On sudden impulse, Riley leaned forward to kiss me. We touched more and gradually became comfortable with exploring each other’s bodies. Before long we were learning what it meant to be husband and wife. The moment was by no means perfect since it was our first time together, but we were happy despite our inexperience. Riley said he never really understood the mating rituals of mortals, mainly because he had never witnessed one. He was amazed by the encounter and so was I. I too had not really known what to expect. Our sexual explorations increased after that moment and we began practicing together, looking forward to each time. We rested for awhile until I heard a knock on my door.
“Queen Crystal.” Devin’s voice came through the door, touched with concern.
“Just a moment,” Riley stayed naked under the sheets. I sprang out of bed and covered myself. I walked into the hall to see Devin and closed the door behind me. I knew that everyone in the castle was aware of what Riley and I had done as man and wife. I was embarrassed.
“My Queen, they found him.” Devin whispered.
“Your father. He was discovered wandering the town of and the guards arrested him. The ruler of Farmoore, Sir Lawrence Williamson, wondered if you wanted him executed for his crimes. I told them to send him here.”
Fright washed away any embarrassment. I had forgotten about the evil protector roaming the Continent trapped in the form of my deceased father. Even worse, I never told Riley about my trip back to the protectors’ fortress.
“Good. Thank you, Devin,” I struggled to remain calm. “There will be many who want to kill him, but make sure he is not harmed. Please inform me of my father’s arrival. I must tell Riley about this.”
It would take at least two days for the protector to arrive at The Land and I was afraid of how the townspeople would react. Originally I had debated hiding his face from the crowd although later I had foreseen his open arrival. This “ghost” needed to be seen by my people.
I walked back into my chamber and noticed Riley had dressed. He asked what Devin wanted.
“I have forgotten to tell you something important. You may not want to hear it.” I did not want Riley to be angry with me, not now.
“What? What happened?”
I sat on the bed and Riley sat next to me. He took my hand and asked politely what had happened. Though hesitant, I explained to Riley how I had gone back to the protector’s island while he was still sick. He was shocked.
“How did you get there and back, and so fast?”
I told him the entire story, from traveling with the vultures, to my “invisible” suit, and finding the protector who intended to destroy all humans.
“He discovered me in his laboratory, and I knew from my visions that this one protector would play an intricate role in our future. Then he probed my mind to discover what I feared most. He transformed into my father and I managed to inject him with the same potion that made you sick.”
“You mean the protector is now in the mortal form of your father?” I nodded and he continued. “How is it that he did not die?”
“I don’t know. But my visions made it clear that he would survive and come here to find me.”
“He’s here?” Riley did not want anything to do with the protectors. If they discovered he had survived the transformation, he would be destroyed for his affinity with humans.
“He’ll arrive in a few days from Farmoore. He’s important to our future needs, though I’m not sure what role he will play. And more has been kept from you because I believed that you were just my servant.” I looked gravely into his eyes and continued.
“Over a month ago, a knight traveling from came to inform me about a plague that has been spreading through the continent. He described the plague as “recluse,” affecting humans only outside of towns and away from villages. This illness has killed humans in the same way you were made ill.” I paused. Riley’s thoughts were racing.
“When I went back to the fortress I discovered the source of the plague. Once in the evil protector’s laboratory I concentrated and shared a vision of his memory. He had injected a woman alone in the woods with the same potion.
“Riley, the protectors have been killing us. They’re using the potion tested on immortals to destroy humans. Whenever we are alone they strike, the same way you were injected when we were in the woods. I don’t understand why I was not targeted, but luckily they never assumed I was a threat.”
“I can’t believe that this has happened. Why didn’t you tell me?”
I did not know what to tell him. Making Riley my King took precedence over everything else and in the excitement, past events had just fled my mind. I shook my head and sighed.
“I’m sorry. Lately my thoughts have been about you, about making you my King. I guess I wanted to be with you for so long that nothing else mattered. I just wanted you to be part of my life.” I struggled to say more but was at a loss for words.
“What are your plans now?” Riley asked, not dwelling on my response.
“We have to go to and speak with the rulers about the plague they’ve been investigating. I must tell them about the protectors. If we don’t bring this information to others, we won’t survive. I also believe that changing the evil protector into human form has given us time. Perhaps we’ve even slowed the spread of the plague.”
“You know,” Riley said. “Changing the one evil protector won’t stop the rest.” He wiped his brow and continued. “There are many who don’t want humans in this world and they’re not willing to accept change. Protectors were once the keepers of balance in this world and most fear that humans will take their place. There was often discussion about a person who would bring humankind together in order to keep the balance and many knew that if true, such an event would change this world forever. That’s why they fear your kind. Yet, the ancient lore written by humans was often regarded as untrue.”
Ancient lore written by humans? Then I thought about my great-grandfather, Christopher Farmoore, and the book he wrote for me. What did Aunt Kathleen call me? She said something to me the day she died although I could not remember her words.
I got up off the bed. “Bring humankind together. Bring balance to the world.” I muttered to myself before talking directly to Riley. “Your words trouble me. They’ve sparked a memory I had forgotten. I never understood what it meant, but I think my family can offer some insight.”
The Prophecy was set up the same way I had discovered it in . The book, written for me by my great-grandfather Christopher, presently rested on a pedestal in a corner of my room. I walked over to it.
“I know it’s in here.” I grabbed the book and started flipping through the pages.
“Remember the night I set my brother’s soul free from the Farmoore paper?” I asked Riley. “You came to me and I called you Christopher?” Riley nodded. “It was in honor of my great-grandfather and he wrote this book. I almost forgot something I read years ago. Yes, it’s right here.” I read aloud.
“I have seen the future that is your present, and once the pages of The Prophecy fall upon young eyes, so begins the balance of good and evil. As the Bringer of Balance grows, a talent to foresee the future will increase with the wisdom of advancing age.”
“Great-grandfather Farmoore was referring to me as the ‘Bringer of Balance.’ That’s what my Aunt said. She called me the Bringer of Balance, and the trip to I’ve been seeing in my dreams, it’s the journey we’ll make.” I closed the book, placing it back on the pedestal, and I turned to Riley.
“It’s begun.” I said while disjointed visions began to slip into place. “By finding you, I have discovered the source of the plague. I’ll travel across the continent in an effort to bring together the rulers of this land. We will have to confront the protectors and fight for the balance of our world. But this can’t be. How can I be this Bringer of Balance?”
I instantly became nervous. My stomach cramped and it felt as though hundreds of birds were trying to fly out of me. My sight became fuzzy and white, and I staggered toward the bed. Riley grabbed me before I fainted.
“Are you all right?” He held me gently.
“No,” I said. I could not believe that I was the one meant to defeat the protectors by bringing together the rulers of our world. “It can’t be me, Riley. I’m just a girl! I can’t do this.” Riley sat me on the bed and held my hands.
“You will do this,” he said, “and you won’t be alone. We’ll be together.
“The protectors had been warned about one who would change the world. They read the stories written by mortals like your great-grandfather who saw the changing of times. At first they didn’t believe them, though after investigating humans they discovered many accurate predictions. Immortals became quite concerned, especially when one book mentioned the protectors as the ‘old’ keepers of balance. It said that mortals would take the world from immortal beings and all that was would be no more.
“It was also written that an old keeper of balance would set in motion the changing of times by interfering with your kind. I did this by communicating with you, then saving your life. It seems our two destinies have been intertwined for a long time.” Riley smiled, yet his eyes could not hide his concern. We embraced tightly, and I tried to grasp the future we would share. The enormous challenge that lay ahead was a responsibility that I did not want.
All too soon Devin announced that the Farmoore guards had brought the evil protector into town. My people were very upset. They spat on him and tried to throw rocks, but the guards escorting the ill man managed to subdue the crowd.
That evening, a new group of townsfolk gathered at the castle gates to protest the arrival of the man who looked like my father. I rode out to meet them on Sesha, but explaining his miraculous reappearance would be difficult. I could not speak the truth, for that would surely sound like a lie, so I had to find a plausible explanation for the arrival of “my father,” an evil magician whom my people had thought dead and unable to harm them ever again. I had an idea and hoped my people would trust their Queen.
“The man that entered the castle grounds is not my father,” I shouted to the crowd from atop Sesha. “Rather, he is General Elderbee’s brother, an identical twin. My ailing uncle has no magical powers and he’s weak and dying. Due to my father’s lack of compassion for The Land, he was banished from Farmoore.
“This man has done nothing to harm us. He will stay guarded at the castle until he is well enough to leave this place. Please, trust your Queen. I would never let anyone threaten your lives. Go now to your homes and I will keep the guards well informed so they may answer your questions.”
Devin rode up beside me and leaned out in his saddle. “Brilliant!” he whispered in my ear, though I did not feel brilliant. Every day I faced one challenge after another, and my evasive behavior was taxing.
The crowd gradually dispersed, however the situation remained precarious. My answers had thus far made sense, but doubt and suspicion were among my people that night. I was walking a fine line.
The weak protector had been brought to the castle on a stretcher. I ordered that the lower chamber, where my family had perished almost three years ago, be reopened and the protector placed there. I assigned guards to watch him, even though he was too ill to move.
Riley and I went down to see this image of my past. He had now become the ironic victim of his own evil. It seemed that death summoned him at any moment, but surprisingly his body struggled to heal itself from the potion. I wondered how he had fought such a battle for so long. We were about to find out.
I walked over to the evil protector where he lay on a makeshift bed hastily constructed by servants. I placed my hand on his arm. Unlike Riley when so afflicted, this protector had a battle raging inside of him. Riley had succumbed quickly with nothing to help him fight the transformation; later it was merely my healing power against the potion. But when I directed my healing now, I did not need to work so hard. I was helping to push his own considerable strength. How can this be? Was he so much older and more powerful than Riley? I did not have to give part of my life as I had done for Riley. Anyway, I would never suffer so much for such a despicable slayer of humankind.
Once the protector regained much of his awareness I asked how he had come to have this battle within him. He did not answer and stared at my King. Riley returned his gaze fiercely. With both of them now in mortal form, I could read their thoughts easily. The protector viewed Riley with disgust, regarding my King as a traitor to his own kind. At the same time, Riley was furious that he had to hide for so long from the protectors. He hated being trapped by their codes and wanted to live his immortal life the way he wished.
This man, who was now the uncle I had never known, had followed the way of iron tradition, while Riley sought change – an endless quarrel with no meeting point.
“How did you survive?” I broke their glacial stare and the protector remained silent although he was already answering my question in his mind. He did not know my powers so his thoughts raced out.
“Hemoglobin?” I asked. “I do not understand. What is it?”
“How did you know that word?” The protector asked in a rough voice.
“You told me.”
He lay there more confused than ever. I began to see in his mind what had happened the night I impulsively injected him with the potion. I closed my eyes and Riley grabbed my arm, holding me steady.
“, what’s wrong?” I did not respond and remained deep in the protector’s memory.
After leaving the cave, the protector lay naked on the floor, quickly losing consciousness. He took a syringe off a rack behind him. It was labeled “Human male.” He injected himself with the syringe, which contained the blood of a human not infected with the plague, though it was not enough. He was looking for another syringe when the others found him. The protectors showed no mercy and dumped him on the west shore of the Continent.
“Ah! It’s blood,” I said.
The protector was bewildered. “How do you know what is in my mind?” he blurted angrily.
“You underestimated me. Now that you are a mortal you can no longer shield your mind from me. You injected the blood of a mortal man into your arm after I left you in the cave. Why would you do such a thing?”
The protector knew his defenses would not work. He sighed and told his story.
“What you call ‘blood’ is tainted when a human form is injected with the potion. Within its tiny cells the clear areas are a natural defense against the potion. I needed fresh human hemoglobin to replace the tainted cells in this form; without it I would not have made it here. I found another syringe before they took me, and the second injection was enough to sustain this form.” The evil protector became angry again. “Why did you come back to our territory? How is it you were not discovered?”
I turned and walked away without answering, I owed this architect of the plague nothing. Guards remained at their post while servants tended to the protector. They had been instructed to warn me in case our prisoner became ill again.
“We must find a way to do what the protector has done.” I said to Riley as we left the chamber. “We have to take blood from people to help fight the plague, but I have no knowledge of how to collect blood. When I heal someone it is performed internally. I can see what’s happening inside the body, yet I can’t explain what I’m doing, nor do I know how our bodies work. Do you understand what he has done?”
“I know little about mortal medicines.” Riley confessed. “Normally, protectors won’t spend time learning such things. Disease and death are not a part of their world, so they rarely study the internal functions of living beings.”
“We’ll need the protector to help us understand this potion he’s created. I know no other way to cure it.” Riley nodded and we went to Devin to ask if he could find a way to duplicate the syringe I took from the fortress. We needed to gather samples of blood from people in the castle and test the affects of human blood on the fatal potion. Unfortunately, this task was beyond my abilities.
Although relieved to know that blood could possibly cure humans infected with the plague, I was at a loss to act on our new findings. I could toss trees like twigs, read the minds of many, and heal someone close to death, but my magic could not make things that I did not understand. I needed the help of those who understood medicines and the workings of microscopic living things.