Nights and the Sun

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Chapter 9

Colin works steadily. His hands moving quickly to cut the meat into manageable pieces to cook. The knife he is holding slices through air and flesh with ease. In his hands the knife is the equivalent of a sword. Few dare bother the chef as he works. Colin had taken over his guardian's job after the old man had retired. The large kitchen is suffocated with heat. All doors and windows are closed, an order the dark haired man had given when he started preparing the meal. Sweat pours down his face and back. Even having a half fire elemental as a friend had not prepared him for this heat. But he pressed on. The only other person in the room in the room with Colin is a young woman, only a couple years younger than him. She watches the meat as it cooks in the fire beside a pot of warming water. She, too, is sweating, despite wearing a thin white blouse and skirt. Her light brown hair is pulled tight against her head in tight braids. Her light gray eyes narrowed in concentration

"Two more," the nineteen year old coughs out. His voice is forced in the stifling heat of the room. His breath adding even more heat. The girl nods. She moves a few pieces of the thick meat form the fire and takes the new slices as replacements. They continued to work, the only sounds coming from the roaring fire.

Sparks stands outside the kitchens closed doors. He can smell the meat smoking within. His stomach growls. His nose twitches at every wave of the delectable scent. The fire within him churns in happy anticipation. Cassidy laughs at his guardian's antics. He is sitting at the oak table closest to the kitchen doors. The bench was moved, dragged across the stone floors to allow Cassidy to sit even closer.

Colin lets out a long sigh. His breath cuts through the light billows of smoke raising from the fire. He smiles at the woman. She gives him an easy smile back, her gray eyes shinning with pride form a recent accomplishment.

"Thanks for the help, Natie," Colin breaths. His golden hazel eyes sweep over two plates nearly overflowing with steaming meat. Four cups rest beside the filled plates along with four empty plates.

"Of course! It is always fun to cook without a deadline. What is this for?" The woman's voice is light, airy, and friendly. Colin grins somewhat sheepishly.

"No reason. Just felt like it. Sparks only ever eats meat when he eats, er, human food. And Cassidy loves smoked pork so I thought why not! Cooking meat is fun, too." He laughs. The woman joins him.

"Why the fourth plate, then?" she asks. Colin blinks.

"It's for you! You helped, the least we can allow is for you to join us!" The woman blushes.

"Me, eat with the prince? I couldn't!" Colin snorts and rolls his eyes.

"You could. He's friendly. He likes people. So long as they aren't mean to Sparks." The woman tries to protest again as Colin moves to open the door.

"Just relax, Natie. They're both good people. All they want is food," Colin chuckles. He pokes his head out and smiles at Sparks and Cassidy, who are staring at him expectantly.

"Hungry?" he asks. He gets his answer when Sparks pushes him away and stalks past him. Sparks inhales the smell of meat and heat. He hums in approval. The fire moves towards him. Encircling the half elemental. He absorbs it. Cassidy follows his guardian in a more subdued manner. He grabs Colin's arm and drags him back inside.

Sparks stands staring at the woman. His head tilted to the side in curiosity. The woman stares back at him with wide gray eyes filled with fear and unease. Sparks makes a questioning noise in the back of his throat as Cassidy arrives at his side. At seventeen the young prince is finally taller than his guardian, by about an inch. They both stand roughly three inches, minimum, taller than the woman, and Colin. The height difference only serves to intimidate the young woman more.

"Guys, this is my friend Nathalie. She'll be joining us, if that's alright," Colin speaks up. Sparks blinks, humming again, this time in understanding. He shrugs his shoulders and turns away from the woman. He sits down at the table and begins to fill his plate.

Cassidy continues to stare at Nathalie. He remembers her. He had seen her two years ago, briefly, during their mad dash through the castle. She had spoken to Colin, then but Cassidy hadn't thought to ask about her. A smile spread across his face. He greets her by extending one of his pale hands, palm facing upwards.

"A pleasure to meet you," his voice is kept carefully even by years of training. Nathalie flushes. A flattering pink dusting the golden skin of her face. She smiles shyly, the slight upturning of petal like lips.

"The pleasure is mine," she responds softly. Her voice is barely above the crackling of the dimmed fire. The two young adults continue to stand, smiling and staring at each other. Sparks watches them from the corner of his eye as he rips through slice after slice of the burnt slices of meat Colin had prepared for him. Colin sips his tea, eyes closed and mouth set in a blissful smile. The picture of contentment. The meat sits on the oaken table. Untouched by the two youngest in the room. The steam lazily rolling off of it fades over time. Sparks doesn't move to warm it.

The moon shines brightly down across the Kingdom's sprawling eastern fields. The wheat growing here sways in easy wind. No torches shine here, save for one or two marking the occasional farmer's house. A wall surrounds the outermost fields, keeping the spiders of the southern plains at bay. Staring at nothing, Sparks stands at a distance, far out of earshot from the couple whispering in the fields. Nathalie's parents work in these fields. They had moved to the Kingdom a decade ago from one of the Empire's smaller towns lining the border between them. They allowed their only daughter to make the short commute from the fields to the castle's kitchen while they and their sons worked the wheat. They in the sun while she worked near the flames.

The young couple are enjoying each others company. It is new them both. All their lives they have only spent it with family and a few friends. The wind pulls a stray lock of Nathalie's hair from behind her ear. It flutters between her and the prince. Cassidy brushes the fine brown strand back into its previous place. His fingertips graze the top of her ear. She blushes, the flush barely noticeable in the light of the moon. Cassidy smiles at the sight of it. A blush begins to creep over his own cheeks in response. The continue to whisper in the familiar shadows and stalks of wheat.

The isolation Sparks stands in reminds him of his time in the dungeon. Only now he is exposed to open air. The sharp chill of the autumn night doesn't hurt him and the darkness means nothing to him now, both kept away by his health. The silence isn't the same. He can hear many things. The rustle of the grass as the wind passes through it. The hooting of owls and the screeching of bats as they hunt. He lets out a breathy sigh. Expelling a small grouping of flames. The flames hang in the air in front of him. They reach out for him, twining together as they brush over his open eyes. They split in two and move to either side of his face. The caress his ears,whispering condolences and excuses on Cassidy's behalf into them. Sparks dismisses the flames with barely a thought. He knows Cassidy does not mean to remind Sparks of these feelings. Knowing doesn't stop the memories from coming. He hears the noble woman's voice again and, like he had many times before, he finds himself agreeing with her. Ever since that day Sparks knew he was going to be separated from his charge in some capacity. He has raised the boy since he was born, true, but that means only that their inevitable distance will be all the more painful. While he has largely come to accept this. Sparks shakes his head. No, he hasn't accepted the looming fact. Ignorance, Sparks thinks bitterly, is bliss. Sparks straightens as he sees Cassidy moving towards him. His eyes brighten marginally, catching the prince's attention.

"Ready to go?" Cassidy asks. His voice remains a whisper. As if to preserve the sanctity of the evening. They walk back in silence. Their boots crunch the withered grass into the soil. Sparks reaches out a hand to his charge. A silent question. Cassidy's lips quirk upward in a faint smile. He bats at the hand playfully before taking it. Sparks smiles in relief. At least, Sparks thinks as his glowing eyes raise to the moon, for now he and his charge will remain together.

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