Eric sat in bed.
He was still too weak to be up for too long, even though it had been weeks since he helped Terra and since that devastating night when he had been fool enough to cross a line with her.
His body had taken a lot longer to heal than he had thought.
His mind was sharp as ever though.
This meant he could sit there and go over every agonizing detail of his conversation with Terra that ended with her flying from the room in tears. At the time it felt like the right thing to do. He needed to tell her how he felt. When he thought she was dead it was the worst feeling he had ever experienced. He didn’t know what the future held for them. He knew he was her guard, and that he would do anything to protect her.
Having that monster in the basement wasn’t helping much.
He had to tell Terra how he felt.
Then when she was sitting there, looking so beautiful, crying for him. He felt this rush of emotion and he had kissed her.
Everything seemed to go downhill from there.
Beating his head against the headboard Eric cursed his own foolishness.
She barely knew him.
He barely knew her.
He didn’t know what he was thinking, or even if he had been thinking.
It must be that damn bond! Ever since they had bonded with each other their emotions had gone from one crazy extreme to another. It wasn’t possible to feel about someone the way he thought he felt about her. It had to be the bond. Well the bond and the fact that she was beautiful. She also struck him as very brave. There was also a lot to be said of her kindness and . . .
He shook his head frustrated.
He had trained a lot of men in his time and he had a pretty good sense about people. It’s part of the reason he had been promoted through the ranks so fast. As he would train people he would get this sense of who was cut out for it and who wasn’t. Every so often he would also get a sense about people who wanted the power of the military for something else.
Eric wondered suddenly if that was part of the reason he felt so flustered and off kilter. He could always tell about people. Except when it came to Terra.
Where she was concerned nothing made sense.
That’s how long he’d known her on a personal level. Just three days and already he felt like he couldn’t live without her. This bond may be good for keeping her safe, but it was hell on his emotions. With it weak the way it was now, he thought it might be best to take a moment and really think about how he felt about the princess.
The weeks of his recovery had been spent in bed going back and forth over every single interaction he and Terra had. After going over every minute, every second of their time together, he felt more and more certain that it was the bond that had forced him to act that night.
“How are you feeling?” Bell asked, entering the room.
“Oh . . . fine,” Eric said, surprised he hadn’t heard the man approaching. Today he was meeting with the Master Wizard to discuss his returning to work and to Terra.
He’d hardly seen her in the three weeks he’d been out. The first week he’d seen her twice and then once more the second week. Never alone.
She always had Mammy in tow.
Terra would walk in and stand a few feet from the bed. She would ask how things were going and how we was feeling. Eric would answer but all the while he would stare at her. Willing her to understand his need to be alone with her through their bond. It was no good of course. Their bond was weak because he was weak.
Last week though, he’d gotten lucky.
Terra and Mammy had brought him a bottle of mead to strengthen him while he healed, (a gift from Jenny and her mother in the kitchen.) Mammy had reminded her as they were walking out the door. She had turned and set in on the table next to his bed. Just before she could turn and walk away, the door had closed and it was just the two of them.
Eric reached out and grabbed her arm. “Wait,” he said quietly eyeing the door.
“Eric . . .” she started.
“Please,” he said again, annoyed by the hint of desperation in his voice. “I have to talk to you.”
“Mammy’s waiting,” she said leaning toward the door.
“Terra you have to understand how sorry I am. I never should have done what I did. It wasn’t right to put that on you and I’m sorry. But please, don’t avoid me.”
Terra stopped pulling on him, trying to get free. Instead she seemed to slump where she stood. Her head hung down and she sighed.
“I can’t see you right now,” she whispered.
She sighed again. “I can’t put you in harm’s way like this. Not again.”
“I’m your guard,” he said simply. “Putting myself in harm’s way for you is my job. But more than that, I care about you and I don’t want to see you get hurt. If that means I have to put myself in situations like this than so be it.”
Terra turned suddenly to face him. “Tell me you’ll stop,” she demanded, eye’s wide and brimming with tears. “Tell me you’ll stop going down this road, a road you know we can’t go down. Stop now, promise me, and I’ll be here to see you every day until you’re well enough to resume work.”
He opened his mouth to speak and then thought better of the comment he was going to make. Initially he wanted to lie to her, say whatever she wanted to hear so she would come back tomorrow and not be mad at him anymore. Then he realized that caring about her meant that he should be honest with her. He cared and there was nothing wrong with that. He wanted her to know he cared.
Finally he said, “No.”
“No?” She asked confused.
“I told you before. I care about you and I won’t stop. I can’t stop.”
Quicker than he could react, Terra pulled her arm out of Eric’s grasp and walked out of the room without so much as a backward glance at the bed.
After that Terra hadn’t been back.
Not that he blamed her.
“You don’t seem fine,” Bell said, his sharp eyes taking in Eric’s thoughtful expression. Eric came out of the haze of the past few weeks to see Bell looking down at him like a man who already knew what plagued the young guard.
“Can I be frank with you Master Wizard?” Eric asked, feeling grateful for someone to talk to. Someone without the power to take his head off.
“Of course Guard Reynolds, you may speak with me about anything.”
“Well,” Eric said taking a deep breath, “I think this bond thing I have with the princess is starting to mess with my head. I’m having a really hard time getting a read on people the way I used to. Not to mention the emotional turmoil it seems to be causing. I’ve never been so loose lipped about my emotions before. Especially when I don’t understand how and why the emotions I’m feeling are there in the first place.”
“So we’re talking about you and the princess,” Bell said smiling. “Tell me, what kind of emotions are you feeling? And how strong are they when you feel them?”
“I feel like I’ve never felt before,” Eric said, struggling to explain. “I’ve never looked at a woman and cared about her the way I feel like I care about Terra. She’s in my mind every minute of every day. When’s she’s close to me I feel like I can’t see straight. When she’s in trouble or when someone threatens her, my vision goes red. I don’t know what’s going on with me anymore.”
Bell smiled knowingly at the man. “Well I’m afraid there is very little I can do in this situation.”
“Whatever you can do to help would be greatly appreciated Master Wizard.”
“Firstly let me tell you this, the bond only amplifies the emotions of the people caught in it. So if you’re feeling thoughts of love and caring, it’s because they existed before the bond. The same can be said with thoughts of fear and hatred. All are amplified by the bond.”
“So I already cared for Terra, but the bond made that stronger,” Eric pondered, more to himself than to Bell.
“Yes. So not all of what you feel can be blamed on the bond. Secondly, while your bond is weak I can help you assess what is bond and what is you. It is however a fairly difficult task to do. You would have to delve into your own heart and see what secrets lie there.”
“Will it help me to differentiate between real emotions and the bond in the future?”
“Then sign me up.”
“Very well,” Bell said. “Lie back on the bed and close your eyes. I want you to be completely comfortable. Very good. Now relax.” Bell placed a finger on each temple and sent out a small wave of energy. He found the spot where the bond resonated very easily.
It was, as he assumed, surrounded by emotion. Some of it made sense, while some of it was well beyond what it should be. Bell could easily see what Eric felt for Terra without the bond, and what the bond amplified. He did care for her quite a bit. More than he probably realized and it seemed that’s what the bond was playing off of. Bell just needed to rein that in.
Try as he might, Bell couldn’t manage to manipulate the bond. It had never been a problem before. He’d helped many people with troublesome bonds in the past. He had never encountered a bond so stubborn. After another couple of tries Bell decided he would leave a little magic here and let it set for a while. See if maybe that would help.
Bell checked to make sure Eric was sleeping soundly before he pulled away. He walked quietly out the door and closed it behind him. Eric would need some time to work through the issues the bond was causing.
Terra slammed the door to the prison closed. Frustrated beyond words she didn’t even notice when the guard jumped at the sound. Grey had been especially nasty this afternoon when she’d brought him lunch. He had seen something of Eric in her head and had let into her about him, not stopping until she had reached the door and slammed it closed.
She was so sick of the back and forth with him. She felt like she was losing her mind.
Terra had gone to the kitchen, returned the tray and had wandered until she found herself outside her parent’s door. She thought about walking past and hiding in Mammy’s room. Until she realized Mammy would question why she was so upset and what was wrong with her and then before she knew it she would be crying and spilling her guts to Mammy. Who would, in all seriousness, chase after Grey with a broom threating to beat him into next week if he ever upset her again.
Then things with Grey would get worse and Terra was almost certain that if things got any worse than they were now she would scream and run as far and as fast as she could.
She really wanted to go to her room and hide.
Except her room was still . . .
She couldn’t go to her room.
So she thought that she would see if her father was around and if he knew when she could go back to her room. It had been more than long enough now. She needed to get her privacy back. She loved Mammy, more than she could say. Having her around every minute of every day was more than she could really stand.
She knocked on the door and heard a group of voices quiet down. Footsteps approached and the door was open by her father’s page.
“Hello Markus,” Terra said.
“Princess,” he replied saluting.
“Is my father available to talk?” Terra asked.
“Of course I am,” King Sol said from somewhere behind the door.
Markus bowed again and swept back, opening the door as he went.
“Good Afternoon Father,” Terra said formally, dipping into a deep curtsy. “Does the day find you well?”
“Indeed it does,” King Sol said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “How does it find you my dear little princess? Are your scars healing?”
Terra reached back and swept the few loose curls Mammy had left down off her shoulders so her father could take in the sight of her wing like scars as he so often did when she was around. She watched as his face fell again. It hurt him to see his youngest daughter hurt so badly.
“You seem to be healing,” he remarked quietly.
“I am father.”
“What of your young guard? Is he still out of commission?”
“Yes, He should be back up and around soon.”
“It’s been weeks hasn’t it?” The King asked. “Was he truly injured so gravely?”
“Yes. After the attack I was badly hurt, and more than that, I was near death due a lack of energy. Guard Reynolds stepped in and put his own life on the line to protect me. It nearly killed him to save my life the way he did.”
“Quite a hero that young man,” a man from behind King Sol offered.
“Indeed,” the King said. “Tonight we will honor him with a grand dinner. And to follow up we’ll have a ceremony right after to announce his promotion and to reward him for his outstanding service to me and to the kingdom.”
“Thank you father,” Terra said, so happy for Eric she could almost burst.
“Was there anything else my dear?” King Sol asked.
“Yes father,” she hesitated. “I hate to be a bother but I was wondering what we were going to do about my . . . my room.”
“Oh yes,” he said, “I’ve given that much thought to that over the last few weeks. It seems to me that now that you and your sister are older and perhaps in need of rooms that aren’t quite so small, and also in light of recent events, I have decided to move all of our sleeping chambers.”
“To where?” She asked.
“The old west wing,” King Sol announced. “Ever since the remodel it has sat useless and idle. I’ve already started the renovations. They will be ready in less than a week.”
“I suppose that’s good,” Terra said. “But is it safe there?”
“Don’t worry my dear,” King Sol said. “It is deeper in the castle, where the walls are thicker and harder to penetrate. It will be much safer for all of us. Just you wait and see my little princess. Now run along. We have many things still to discuss here.”
Terra leaned over and saw three of fathers closest advisors circled around a small table. There was another man who was pacing back in forth in front of the fireplace. It took her a moment but she eventually recognized him as Lord Howe. He had a son name Richard that was always chasing after Diana. She couldn’t remember what he looked like but it seemed Diana liked him. Or at least she tolerated him.
She couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong. Everybody seemed to be carefully tiptoeing around him. Something terrible must be going on somewhere. Not wanting to delay her father any longer, she said quickly, “Where shall I stay until then?”
“You’ll have to speak to Mammy dear, she’s making the arrangements. Now I’m afraid I must go.”
“Of course father, thank you,” Terra said curtsying again. She stepped backwards, careful not to show her back to her father until he showed his to her. Then she walked out into the hall again. She had very much wanted to be alone, but there didn’t seem to be any hope of that, so with a defeated sigh, she walked to Mammy’s room.
Eric opened his eyes.
He was still lying in the Master Wizards room. There was still a faint bit of light coming from the windows. It was dusk and that meant that he had been in bed all day. Carefully he sat up. He could feel his bond with Terra, still going strong. Although now there seemed to be something different about it, something changed.
It was still just as strong as it was before, but now when he thought about Terra, he didn’t get that same strange feeling in his chest. He didn’t feel like his heart was fluttering around inside him like a caged bird. He still felt her; she was just up the hall, most likely in Mammy’s room. She was feeling some kind of dread. Being that it was close to dinner time he understood that. She was in no immediate danger. She was safe and that pleased him.
It didn’t make him feel so happy he thought he might cry. Not like it had before. Before it felt like everything hinged on her. How he felt, what he did. All came down to her. Now he was glad she was safe, as she was his charge, but nothing more.
Whatever the Master Wizard had done, had worked. He felt like himself for the first time in weeks. He would have to thank Bell wholeheartedly the next time he saw him.
Eric stood, glad to see that his weakness had passed, and started to dress. He would need to meet with the King and discuss what happened that night with the princess. Then he would have to hand in his Captain’s uniform and get fitted for a Royal Guards uniform. He would have to find out from Terra what colors her magic was. She wasn’t old enough to have a crest of her own, for letters and legal business. So his uniform would have to be colored in the colors of her magic. As a Royal Guard his uniform would have to be matched to the person he protected.
If he recalled correctly it was purple and sliver maybe?
He would have to ask.
Aside from that he would have to put in a recommendation for the next captain of the guard. He would need some time to think about that. Greggor maybe, or possibly Jones, although Smith was a hell of a fighter and scrappy when he need to be.
Dressed, Eric pulled on his boots, still deep in thought over who would make the best Captain of the Guard. He would have to be trustworthy and loyal. Not to mention that Eric would have to have no doubts about the person at all.
Standing, he crossed the room, filled with more books that he had ever seen, and opened the door.
“Well it’s about time,” A man at the door remarked.
“Jones?” Eric said, startled to see the man hovering in the hall outside. “What are you doing up here?”
“I came to find you of course. The King sent me. Wants to make sure you aren’t late to your own dinner.” Jones stood about half a head shorter than Eric with dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes. He was older than Eric by nearly four years, but looked much younger. Eric often called him the kid guard.
“My dinner?” Eric asked. He exited the room and pulled the door closed. He and Jones started walking down the corridor toward the main hall. “What do you mean my dinner?”
“Do you really not know?” Jones asked disbelieving. “Everyone has heard about how you saved the princess from the rapist, and then later that night how you nearly died saving the princess again. All anyone can talk about is how you saved the princess and bonded with her through magic and got promoted. It’s been a rumor goldmine for the people of the town.”
“Wow,” he said, “I didn’t realize people had heard about all of that.”
“It is literally all anyone can talk about.” Jones laughed as the made their way from the main hall to the grand dining hall.
“So then this dinner?”
“It’s to honor your service to the King and the country and announce your promotion.”
“I wish someone would have told me about all this,” Eric said, not enjoying the thought of being praised openly in front of so many people. It always made him feel a bit like a dog.
“Well regardless,” Jones said, “the tailor has almost completed your new uniforms; he just needs to know what the princess’s colors are so they can be finished for dinner.”
“Well than, lead on my friend,” Eric said. “Let’s get this over with.”
Mammy had finally finished fixing Terra’s hair. It was so thick it seemed to have a mind of its own. After much manipulation, she finally had it in pile on her head looking beautiful. She had made sure to dress Terra up for tonight. It was a promotion ceremony, for her very own royal guard. It was important to look the part of the lovely young princess.
Terra had suggested wearing something simple so she didn’t outshine Eric, who the ceremony was really about, but Mammy would have none of that. She had chosen for Terra a deep violet gown with green trim. In a lot of ways it was similar to the dress Mammy had bought her. Only this gown featured sheer capped sleeves as opposed to the long flowing ones she had so enjoyed.
Terra sat in front of the looking glass staring at her reflection. Mammy had used some strange pencils and powders and made her look much older than fifteen. It was beautiful to be sure, but to Terra it seemed heavy. Especially when she remembered that she was only going to be at the ceremony for five minutes before she would have to leave and take dinner to Grey.
A knock at the door announced her father’s arrival. With a final glance at the looking glass, Terra stood, grabbed the silk shawl and wrapped it around her nearly bare shoulders. It was a beautiful dress, and the low shoulders would have been beautiful, if it hadn’t been for the scars she now bore.
Fading from the pink they had been when she woke up to a slightly off colored white. Terra was becoming more and more accustomed to them now. It had taken nearly three weeks for her to not be startled by the sight of them in the mirror.
She rushed to the door and opened it. Her father stood, dressed in a fine new coat, flanked on either side by her sister and mother. Both looked stunning in their matching red dresses. Terra truly did pale in comparison. Still, she smiled at her father and curtsied. As her family passed she took her place in the back. Together they walked to the grand dining hall.
Terra had stood and watched for less than five minutes before the striking of the clock told her she must go. King Sol was still busy explaining all the changes that were being made and all that had transpired the weeks before. He hadn’t even had a chance to bring Eric up to the dais where they King’s table sat.
With a nod from her father, Terra stood quickly exited back to the kitchen. Jenny had the tray ready and waiting for her. Thanking the maid for being so prompt, she grabbed the tray and headed the long way round to the west wing.
When she got the bottom of the stairs she found only one guard waiting there. It was a man named Lewis, she thought. Tom Lewis if she remembered correctly. He had been in the service for a while now. Every time promotions came up there was always some reason why he was passed over. A good number of the maids in the castle talked of cover ups. But Terra didn’t have much of an ear for gossip.
“Good evening princess,” he said, eyeing her, “my don’t you look lovely tonight.” He formally saluted her and bowed. As his head went down so did his eyes. He raked in every inch of her. Not in a good way either.
“Good evening, Lewis isn’t it?” Terra asked. Over the past couple of weeks they had changed the guards at the door several times, trying to find a suitable person for the night watch.
Somehow they’d decided on this man.
“I’m flattered you remember my name,” he said. He was a good looking man, tall and strong, with a well chiseled face and strong brown eyes. His hair was golden like Diana’s. A fair number of women flirted and fawned over him. All Terra could really see when she looked at him was his wandering eyes.
“Well, if you would be so kind as to get the door,” she asked awkwardly. “I have to take dinner to the prisoner.”
“Of course Princess,” he said. He pulled the door open just a crack and stood so near to the opening that Terra had to squeeze past him to get in. It was uncomfortable the way he seemed to watch her. She had never before been so glad to be in the prison.
“If you could hear the things that man is thinking about you princess, your hair would curl. Oh wait it has,” Grey joked mockingly.
Terra, still not exactly happy with Grey after the way he had treated her earlier, tried to smile and brush it off. Sadly it came across as more of a grimace. She sat the tray down and started to separate the food.
“Oh, not still mad about earlier are we?” Grey asked sarcastically. “Can’t take a little fun being poked at you, eh princess? Or do you not like hearing about your guard that way?”
“Enough,” she exclaimed, slamming the tray down on the table and spinning to face the cell. “Enough! No more of this!”
“No more of what?” He asked, still looking wholly entertained.
“No more of this you treating me like I’m your own personal whipping boy!” Terra shouted. “You demanded that we treat you as your station dictated, so here I am, serving you dinner. But now I have some demands.” The last three weeks dinning down here and been a nightmare. Some days he was kind and treated her like a dear friend, other days he was every bit the monster she knew him to be.
“Demands,” he asked, enjoying the sight of Terra losing her temper. “What kind of demands could you have?”
“For one, if you want to be treated respectfully, so do I. I am a princess of this realm and I will be treated as such by you at the least. For another, not picking on me like we’re in a school yard somewhere. If you cannot be nice then I will simply stop coming. Word or no, I will not be treated this way.”
Once she had started, there was no stopping the words from coming out of her mouth. She wanted to turn and run for having been so bold with so monstrous a man. Deciding there was nothing for it, she raised her chin and stared him down.
“Well, well princess. Look who finally found a voice.”
“Are you going to take me seriously or not?” She demanded.
“Very well Terra, I will be civil, or as close as I come to civil. Understand this though; I am not a civil man. So don’t expect much.” Grey’s voice took on a strange and, if she wasn’t mistaken, evil quality. Even the room around her seemed to grow darker as he leaned on the glass. He was a great deal taller than she was. She’d never noticed before since he was always stalking around the back of the box whenever she was near the front.
Now she could see he was taller than Eric, maybe even taller than her father who stood at an impressive 6’2. As she stared at him it seemed like all the light was being sucked out of the room. She couldn’t place it, but she felt something in the air. Not darkness exactly, but something very close.
It occurred to her then that one of the ways they kept Grey in the box was by the constant amount of light in the room. If the room was suddenly plunged into the darkness she wasn’t sure what would happen, but she knew it wouldn’t be good.
Terra spun around quickly. Most of the magelight torches were still on as far as she could tell. As she spun a torch to her left sputtered and went out. Confirming what she had been afraid of.
Grey was trying to put the lights out.
She looked up at him as he was staring down at her, his eyes twinkling with something dark. He was doing this somehow, he was taking away the light. Not sure what else to do, Terra rounded on him. She grabbed the chair from the table, dragged it over to the cell, and stepped up onto it. Now she and Grey were at eye level. She placed both hands on the glass and leaned in until her forehead was nearly touching glass too.
“Enough,” she said using her magic to power her voice. “You’ve had your fun, now stop.”
A light started to emit from Terra. It originated somewhere near her heart and very quickly enveloped her and then the entire room completely. Lastly the light hit Grey. He grunted angrily for a moment before he finally backed off the glass.
Once he had taken a step, the room returned to normal. No more impending darkness, no more torches going out and no more strange light emanating from Terra. Same prison it had always been. The only thing slightly out of the ordinary was that Terra was still standing on a chair. She looked around the room one last time, letting her eyes linger on Grey who was standing away from the wall of his cell not looking at her. With a final glance around, she decided it was finally safe to climb down. Not taking the extra fabric of the dress into account, she stepped on her hem and tripped.
She went careening to the ground. There was just enough time to bring her arms up to protect her face before she hit.
Seconds before she met the ground, Terra felt two arms encircle her and she was pulled back and away from the floor. She was suddenly being held by somebody, protected. She had closed her eyes when she realized she was falling and found now that she couldn’t open them.
Someone was holding her. She felt two arms around her and her face was resting on someone’s chest. She just couldn’t open her eyes to see who.
It had to be Eric. He must have felt her fear when the room went dark and rushed down to see what was wrong. He had come running in when she fell and that’s why she didn’t hear him. She reached out with the bond and found that Eric was still quite far away. He was in the dining hall. He hadn’t even come to see what’s wrong yet.
Terra reached up to force her eyes open. Then, as if moving suddenly broke some spell, her eyes flew open. She was kneeling on the ground, alone. She looked around frantically; the only other person in the room was Grey. He was up against the glass next to her on his knees, looking at the princess as though he hated the very sight of her.
“What . . . what happened?” She asked, confused.
There was the briefest flash of something in his eyes, possibly concern but maybe not. It was gone before Terra could be sure what she had seen. He stood suddenly and stalked back to his table. “You fell out of your chair,” he said forcing his voice to sound mocking. “It was quite hilarious.”
“But I didn’t fall, did I?” She asked more to herself than to Grey. “I tripped on the dress but I didn’t hit the ground. It felt like someone grabbed me.” Slowly her brain tried to force the pieces together.
“That’s impossible,” Grey said. “I’m the only other person here and I’m stuck in this glass cage. Now if you’re done trying to fly, perhaps we can eat?”
“Of course,” Terra said, feeling foolish. There wasn’t anyone here; she must have imagined the whole thing. Or maybe her magic had saved her? It wasn’t like her magic hadn’t stepped in before to save her without her knowing.
“Anyway,” she said, eager to not have to think about her magic out of control. “Care to explain what that was earlier?”
“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about,” he said walking back up to the glass.
Terra stood slowly, making sure nothing was hurt in her quasi-fall, grabbed the tray off the table and started passing it though the cell. “You know exactly what I mean. Before, when the room went dark and I got up on the chair to yell at you. That was you and I know it.”
“Maybe it was,” he offered, taking his tray and sitting down. “Or maybe it was you. Seems to me that of the two of us, you have hardest time controlling your magic.”
“Grey,” she explained, trying not to look annoyed at the fact that he was, once again, pilfering around in her mind. “I realize that being fifteen somehow means I must know next to nothing. But, please do not be so foolish as to think that I cannot tell your particular type of darkness when I feel it.”
“You can do that?” He asked, suddenly keenly interested.
“Of course,” she said, a little annoyed that he was still treating her like a child. “Your aura, even though it’s dark, is unique to you and you alone. Just like my aura and magic are unique to me,” Terra spoke slowly, like she was explaining to a child. Partly because she wanted to prove that despite her lack of schooling on the subject, she wasn’t a complete idiot. “Everybody’s magic is different. I haven’t been formally trained, but I’m not an idiot either.”
Grey paused for a moment and then said, “Terra, I’m not trying to belittle your intelligence, I am simply pointing out to you that most people cannot differentiate between two magical auras without a good deal of training.”
“What?” she said laughing, “That’s ridiculous, I’ve always been able to do that.” The princess waited for a moment, sure that there was some kind of joke coming. Knowing Grey, it would be a joke at her expense.
Grey was silent as he stared intently down at his dinner. He had never before heard of anyone who could do the things this girl claimed to do. It seemed to him that the more he got to know these two princesses, the less and less confident he felt about moving forward. He would have to move his plans along rapidly if he wanted to get to Terra. As she grew stronger it would become increasingly harder to crack her. Since she was instrumental to his plans, things would have to be expedited.
“Well I guess that means you’re quite the talented little shadow,” he replied finally, still not looking up.
“Not even ten minutes have passed and you’re already getting snarky,” Terra said smiling. She wasn’t precisely sure why Grey was reacting the way he was to her ability, but she was certainly enjoying the effect it had. It was a rare for the Princess to be able to get under the prisoners skin so effectively. When these fleeting moments came, she was sure to enjoy them to their fullest.
“I’m not snarky,” he countered before he could stop himself. “I don’t snark.”
“If you say so,” she commented off-handedly.
Grey was not the kind of man to be condescended to by fifteen year old, stuck up, uneducated, overly sheltered princess. He was the King of the Shadows! He had legions of monsters and damned creatures at his every beck and call since before he could remember. He would be damned if some girl managed to get his goat so easily.
“So how are things with your young guard?” He asked sweetly.
Just as he had hoped, Terra froze. Her mind raced with thought and memories from the past weeks. All of them centered on her guard and the awkward encounters they’d had since the night Terra was scarred. Instantly any smugness and self-appreciation vanished. Her mood fell faster than she did off the chair moments ago.
Terra looked down at her shoes as she shifted uncomfortably under Grey’s knowing gaze. She had been so happy a few seconds ago, having bothered him so easily. Now, with her thoughts turned back to Eric and the growing fear she had about their next meeting, all her happiness vanished.
Things with him didn’t appear to be getting any better. Every time she had spoken with him since the accident he had been adamant on not stopping how he felt or even trying to deny his feelings as she was constantly struggling to do.
As Terra’s mind drifted through thoughts of Eric and their future, a strange thought wondered into her mind.
“You just said that to make me sad,” she observed quietly, looking up at Grey.
As she had surmised, he was sitting back in his chair, a cocky smirk spread across his face as he watched the thoughts play miserably through her mind.
“I did no such thing,” Grey said. “I’m simply concerned about your wellbeing.”
Terra scoffed. “I don’t think you have the capacity to be concerned about anyone but yourself,” she whispered hurt.
“Another stipulation then,” she stated, gathering her few remaining scraps of dignity.
“More rules?” He asked with a sigh. “What’ll be now?”
“Our conversations,” she replied simply. “What you see in my mind is not there for your viewing pleasure. Especially things between myself and my guard.”
With an overly dramatic sigh, Grey pushed himself out of his chair and waltzed over to the wall of his cell. “What are we supposed to have our civil conversations about then?!”
She smiled for a moment, pleased to see him so upset about a lack of conversation topics. Checking herself, Terra cleared her mind of such thoughts before he could see them and lash out again.
“Well we could have civil conversations about normal things like how the kingdoms are faring, the weather, books, or magic,” she answered. “Oh! We could talk about you and what you do when you’re not out terrorizing the world!”
Grey stared at her in a way that made her want to burst out laughing.
“What a lovely conversation that would be!” She exclaimed, not letting his clear displeasure bother her. “What does the Shadow King do in his down time?”
“You’re hilarious,” Grey sniped sarcastically.
“I wasn’t trying to be funny,” Terra admitted, still laughing at the mental image of Grey in a great chair sipping wine from a fine goblet in front of the fire with a pipe in the other hand. “I’m honestly curious. So little is known about you personally.”
“I like it that way,” Grey said. “I’m a private fellow.”
“Well, what if I promised that nothing we said here left here? If everything you said to me and I said to you stayed in this room?”
“Meaning what, exactly?” He asked, his eyes sparkling with curiosity and something else Terra couldn’t name.
“Meaning that I promise not to tell another soul what we talk about here. I understand that the way the world perceives you is important to you. So you can tell me all about yourself and I won’t tell anyone else. That’s my promise. No matter what you say. It stays here.”
“You do understand that I’m your enemy right?” He asked. “I’m set to face your sister in a battle to the death? Foretold by the last of the great sages and the deciding factor as to whether or not darkness with overtake the light?”
“I know,” Terra answered seriously. “I know what the prophesy outlines. I could recite the whole thing for you if you wanted. Or well, the general meaning of the thing anyway. You don’t have to remind me of the fate that awaits my sister and this world.
“All I’m suggesting is that until that day dawns, I don’t see the harm in us being civil and discussing things privately. You are a prisoner here, that is true, but you are also a guest in my father’s keeping. As a princess I have been taught to be gracious and civil to all guests of my household. No matter the reason for their stay.”
“Well aren’t we a perfect little princess,” Grey mocked. “Now tell me the truth.”
“Ah, yes,” muttered to herself. “I forgot you can read my mind.” She smiled sheepishly at being caught.
“Not just minds,” he said, “I can see into your heart too.”
“Then you tell me,” she asked, feeling bold. “What do you see?”
Grey smiled wickedly. He could see so many things in the princess’s head. Her heart, however, remained quite difficult to read. Knowing that she was instrumental to his plans, he decided to see for himself if she could in fact be trusted.
He scanned through her unguarded mind. As far as he could tell, she seemed to be genuine in her promise to keep his secrets. Other than that, she was overly curious. With her green eyes and dark hair she much resembled a black cat stalking around the castle, meddling where it wasn’t wanted. He theorized she had to be at least half cat.
“My, my so curious aren’t we?” He asked.
Terra balked at the subject. Her mother was constantly telling her that curiosity didn’t suite a princess. It wasn’t for a woman to ask questions so frequently. She should be silent and still.
“Don’t listen to that,” Grey said, seeing the memories flash through Terra’s mind. “You shouldn’t let people make you small that way.”
“She’s not making me small.”
“No, I suppose you do that all on your own.”
Terra didn’t really want to talk about herself. So she forced a smile and started to eat quietly. She didn’t like discussing herself or her relationship with her mother, or her sister for that matter.
“Well I suppose so long as you can keep a secret, I can answer a few questions about me. So long as you agree to answer my questions as well,” he decided after a few moments of silence.
“You can read my mind,” she asked confused. “What kind of questions could you possibly want to ask?”
“I can mostly read your mind,” Grey answered, finishing with his dinner. “Your bond with Reynolds makes it harder to see what’s going on in there. And, as much as it pains me to admit it, when it comes to you it’s a bit harder to see much aside from what you’re currently thinking.”
“So you can’t read my mind as easily?” Terra asked.
“Something like that,” Grey said irritably. “So do you agree?”
Something flashed in Grey’s eyes then. Happiness maybe, or possibly victory. “Very well then ladies first,” he said smiling wickedly.
Terra smiled hesitantly, something in his face gave her pause. Just as she was ready to ask her first question a sensation from her bond drew her attention.
“It would seem our dear Mr. Reynolds is coming,” Grey remarked.
“Yes, he is,” she said offhandedly. There was something so strange about the bond. It was still Eric on the other end, but now there was a different feeling around him. Not bad of course, just different. For a moment Terra wondered if her rejection of him was why the bond felt so different now. Maybe her telling him to stop caring actually made him stop caring.
If so, that was a good thing, right?
She wanted Eric to stop caring. It wasn’t safe for him to feel for her that way. Not just because of the whole princess thing, but because she could hurt him if she wasn’t careful. There was no way to tell if the darkness that surrounded Grey would corrupt her or not. She couldn’t take the risk.
“Heh, you really are too much,” Grey said as the door behind Terra opened.
Eric walked in wearing a fine new Royal Guard uniform. It was beautifully done in dark silver, almost grey, with purple trim. He now wore a dark blue sash across his chest denoting that he guarded the royal family. Pinned to that new sash was a sun cast in solid gold with a pentacle inside. Each of the star’s points bore a different jewel; the different gems denoted whom the medal had been issued from. At the top point there was a sun stone, a rare and hard to come by gem in the kingdom. It was used primarily for the King and his decorations. Very few medals like this had ever been made, let alone handed out to anyone less than a lord.
Eric puffed his chest out when he caught sight of Terra staring. He strode in the room like a big colorful bird, chest out, head held high. He walked to the table where she stood and formally saluted her. He hoped that things would be different now he was on his feet and that it had been a week since their last encounter.
“Good evening Princess,” he said.
Terra heard it then and everything fell into place. He was colder, more distant. It wasn’t that he was trying to be respectful and not care for her; it was that he simply didn’t care about her at all anymore. She was more than shocked to look up at him and realize that everything he had felt for her, all the things he had said to her all of that was just gone.
“Eric,” she asked, “are you alright? You seem . . . different.”
“I’m better than alright,” Eric said. “I feel clear again. Oh and I wanted to talk to you about what happened before and the other day when we get a chance.” He looked up at the monster in the box, sitting back in his chair and staring intently at the two of them. His overly wicked smile broadened when he saw Eric looking at him.
“Oh don’t mind me,” he said throwing up his hands. “I’m just here for the food.”
Terra stood and brushed the food from her dress. “Eric what you have to say to me you can say here. I don’t have a room right now so I don’t have any privacy. I’m the only person Grey sees so he’s not going to be telling anyone and I don’t really like having a personal discussion . . .”
“Grey?” he interjected.
She walked over until she was standing just a few feet away from him. “Yea, uh, that’s his name.” She spoke softly, she knew Grey could hear no matter what she said, but she didn’t want to announce what they were talking about. Not to mention she could feel something shift in Eric at the mention of his name.
“Since when do monsters have names?” He spat as he glared at the man in the cell.
“Since your little princess there gave it to me, or didn’t she tell you? She gave me a name so we could have pleasant conversations, like people.”
“You really named him?” Eric asked, sounding disgusted.
“I didn’t know what to call him,” she explained, honestly. “I have to be down here every night for dinner. And I didn’t want to have to keep referring to him as the Shadow King or King of the Shadows. I asked for his real name he said he had none so I gave him one.”
Eric stepped back, away from Terra, as she tried to step forward. He looked at her with something similar to abject disgust. “I don’t know what I was thinking before,” he muttered. “You are not the person I thought you were. Everything I said before, the kiss all of it. Forget it.
“I don’t know who I thought you were, but I was wrong.”
He stopped and for a moment it seemed like he wanted to say something more. Deciding it wasn’t worth it he shook his head and said, “I’m sorry princess; I’ll wait to escort you outside. You and your friend can finish your conversation.”
Terra felt every word he said like a slap to the face. He was leaving and she had to stop him. She had to explain to him what was going on and make him see that it wasn’t that bad.
She reached out to grab Eric’s hand to stop him. He pulled his hand away like she had burned him. He looked down at her and shook his head. Without another word he turned on his heel and strode out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Terra stood frozen, her arm still outstretched.
Eric had been cold, not just that, he had been cruel.
She fought back tears as she made her way slowly back around to the table. She sat down and stared blankly off passed Grey and his box, at the wall across from her. Her eyes glazed over and she slumped down in the chair.
Grey stared at her curiously for a while, before he finally stood and walked to the glass. “Hey can you pass me that last roll,” he asked, taking a chance on an assumption. If he was right he had found the way to break her.
“Of course,” she replied meekly. Her mind was racing with thought after thought about what Eric had said and assumptions she was making about herself based on those words. Her body got up and started moving without her thinking about it.
She picked up the roll and walked to the glass wall. Without a thought she pressed her hand against the wall and pushed. Her hand, roll and all, slipped through the wall and into the cell. Grey walked up and stopped short of grabbing the roll.
“You did promise to keep everything that we do and say secret, right” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered. “It’s not like I have any friends to talk to about it now.”
“Good,” Grey said. He grabbed Terra’s wrist and pulled her though the glass. Still stuck in her own thoughts, the princess didn’t have time to react. Grey held on to her wrist until she was completely through the glass. Then he used her loss of balance and momentum to spin her on her heels and pull her in close. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her.
“I swear to your creator if you ever tell anyone I did this I will decimate you,” he grumbled into the top of Terra’s hair. “But I had the unfortunate luck of looking in your heart when that charming young man made his exit.”
Terra, who had been too shocked to move or even speak until then said, “I . . . I don’t understand. Grey what are you doing?” She tried to push against him but he held on tight.
“I am offering you a onetime only chance to use my shoulder to cry on. I can see in your head that you’ve got no one else to talk to and your heart wants to cry. So one time only, white flags up. Let it all out.”
“Grey,” she whispered, pushing back so she could look up and see him. “How did you know I would come all the way through?”
“Lucky guess. Now hurry up before someone comes in here and we have a lot more explaining to do.”
Terra was so unsure what to do. Eric had just treated her like she was some kind of monster. What he said and the way he reacted to her trying to touch him made her feel like maybe she was. Eric was supposed to be her friend. He was the one person she was supposed to be able to talk to about anything and he had just treated her like something less than dirt. In fact, now that she thought about it, Eric had actually treated her worse than her mother.
Then there was Grey, her enemy whom she was forced to dine with every night. He had seen what Eric’s words had done to her and acted to comfort her. Even though the two of them were on opposite sides of the coming war, he pulled her in and held her like he was her oldest and dearest friend. Giving her an opportunity to cry like she so desperately wanted to.
Regardless of her overwhelming need to cry to someone about what happened, Terra didn’t know that she could trust his word. Using her contact with him she sent her magic out to try and sense what his intentions were.
“I’m going to try and not take offense to that,” Grey said feeling her magic wash over him. He was surprised at how warm her magic felt. It was like he was suddenly wrapped in warm blanket next to a fire. Comfortable, warm and completely at ease.
“Can you blame me?” She asked.
“I suppose not. Satisfied yet?”
She nodded. As far as she could tell he was being completely honest about his offer of a momentary truce. She rested her head on Greys chest and he held her, although somewhat awkwardly while her tears ran silently down her face. She was careful not to make any sound; the situation was awkward enough without her blubbering like a baby on her enemies shoulder. As strange as it sounded in her head, it was actually kind of nice to have someone to lean on.
Grey shifted slightly and put his back against the glass. Terra, too caught up in her own thoughts again, leaned back with him. He slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor, carefully taking Terra down with him.
“What’s going on?” She asked.
“Just got tired of standing is all,” he replied, looking out the glass to his left. He kept his whole head turned away from her. When she didn’t look away he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She was half kneeling half lying next to him leaning against his chest. If she shifted just a little to her right she would be in his lap.
Needless to say, she was very close. Grey didn’t get close to people. He never had. Proximity seemed to make quite a difference.
Terra returned to resting her head on his chest and slowly waited for her tears to stop flowing. She was oddly comfortable in the box. She could still see everything, but the walls protected her from anyone getting in. More than that, inside the box the bond seemed to be weaker. She could no longer feel the disgust Eric felt toward her.
After a while she could feel Eric’s frustration mounting. He wanted to get going and he wanted her to hurry so he could take her back to Mammy’s room and be done. She might have been reading into it too much, but she was in a mood. He didn’t wait too long. Maybe five minutes later he was getting further away and heading up the stairs.
He had left without her.
“Don’t think about that,” Grey whispered, seeing the thoughts in her mind. He was still looking off to the side but he kept his arms around her. “Don’t think like that either. I’m only being nice so you’ll stop crying.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well in that case I’m feeling better now.”
“Are you sure?” He asked, finally turning to face her.
She was really close, maybe half a foot away or less. Her green eyes were huge and sparkling with tears she hadn’t finished crying. Grey stood suddenly, not sure what else to do in that situation. He brushed off his dark black pants and carefully checked to make sure Terra wasn’t angry that he jerked away so suddenly.
When she stood to face him she was smiling.
“Thank you Grey.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” he said. “I told you, it’s a onetime only thing and if you ever tell anyone I’ll destroy you.”
Terra laughed and said, “I’m so glad you told me not to tell anyone, I was going to go and shout from the rooftops that I was having a bad day so I crawled into this glass prison and cuddled up with the monster that stalks children’s nightmares. You know, for laughs.”
“Look whose snarky now,” he commented.
“I’m not snarky. I’m grateful. You said it yourself,” she explained, “We’re enemies. But despite all that, you saw that I was hurting and needed someone, so you volunteered. Even though you’re trapped in this cell, you showed me kindness and compassion. Not traits one would attribute to a monster or a creature comprised entirely of darkness.”
“Just stop right there,” he countered. “I told you who and what I am upfront. Don’t get those kinds of ideas now.”
“It’s too late for that now,” she teased walking to the wall Grey was leaning against. “I see who you really are.” She put her hand on the glass, ready to walk through when a thought struck her. She turned to Grey, he was leaning against the glass in such a way that he was only slightly taller than she was. Before he could see her thought and stop her, Terra leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek and ran through the glass.
Grey, caught completely off guard, slipped from the glass and fell over. He jumped up and spun to face the princess who was standing on the other side of the glass, smiling ear to ear.
“Are you insane?” He demanded, hand on his cheek looking like he might lose his mind at any moment. “You can’t just go around kissing people you don’t know!”
“But I do know you. I named you,” she said, in serious way that gave the Shadow King pause. “You know Grey you may be the only friend I have right now.”
There! Grey could feel it. A crack. Not a very large crack, but a crack none the less. He could feel it in the room, he could sense the break. He just needed to slowly pour darkness into it until it got wider. If all it took was for him to be nice, he could do that. He could be the nicest idiot the world had ever seen.
He would still need Reynolds though. He could corrupt him easy and use him to drive Terra closer and closer to him. There would be very little anyone could do to stop him now. He just had to sit back and wait for the perfect time to make his move.
Terra could feel something in the air shift, something change. She wasn’t sure what it was but it seemed to her that there was something different about Grey. Not just the way he was standing there, but the way he was looking at her and even the smile on his face was different. Not wanting to think of what might have changed when he could so easily read her mind; she decided it was time to go.
“Well, thank you again and don’t worry I won’t tell anyone. But I think I should be getting to bed. It’s been a day.” She tried to pull random thoughts in her head to make a kind of fog around the thoughts that were important.
Grey stared at her. She had a lot of really random things going on in her mind, some made sense, and some were as odd as cats at the river begging for fish. She was covering something, and whatever it was he couldn’t get to it. Deciding to test his theory he smiled at her and nodded.
“It has been a long day. With everything that’s been going on you need rest.” He looked around awkwardly for a moment and then said, “Will you be able to stay long at breakfast tomorrow?”
He was right, Terra was caught completely off guard by the way he was staring at her. She blushed up to her eyes and glanced around awkwardly. “Um I don’t know if I can. I missed breakfast yesterday because of this stupid fight with Diana and I know my mother probably doesn’t like having to make excesses for me. But I’ll see what I can do. Oh can I get your tray before I forget?”
“Of course,” Grey said. “Here.” He held the tray up to the glass. He had a thought that would prove his theory once and for all.
Terra put her hand to the glass again and pushed through. Before she grabbed the tray, Grey pulled it back and took her wrist. He bowed to her and kissed the back of her hand. Her heart skipped a beat and all the thoughts in her head stopped. All she could think about was his lips on her skin. She was still just a child. Despite all of her talk and he demands, she was a child who wasn’t able to recognize genuine emotion.
As he hoped, he could feel that crack again. It didn’t widen but it did seem to weaken. He couldn’t tell if it was her heart, or very soul that was cracking, either way, it was all he needed to get in.
He straightened up, careful not to let go of Terra, and handed her the tray.
“W . . . what was that for?” She stammered.
Grey could have laughed. Women were so easy to manipulate. “Just returning the favor,” he replied tapping his cheek. He handed the tray to Terra, it took everything in him not to laugh at her face. She was red up to the dark roots of her hair.
Her face was so red in fact that her freckles disappeared. She had fallen for his more than obvious fake chivalry.
Getting her on his side would be so much easier than he had thought.
Terra walked slowly up the steps to Mammy’s room. She was so tired she was actually afraid that if she stopped moving she would fall asleep standing up. It was late by the time she had gotten out of the basement. Lewis had stopped her on the way out and was pestering her continuously about why her face was red and what had happened between her and Reynolds? He had stormed out so mad. Was it a lover’s quarrel? Were they lovers?
It had her so flustered that she had simply turned and walked away. She had too much on her mind to sit and deal with this man’s questions. So she walked away. As much as it pained her to admit, she was princess and she could do that without being questioned.
After that she made her way to the kitchen and dropped the tray off where she was supposed to. Then she was finally able to make her way up the long staircase to Mammy’s room. She was so tired that it felt to her like she had been walking though the castle all day. She wanted sleep.
She got to Mammy’s door and looked around. Eric was nowhere in sight.
Terra hadn’t really expected him to be, but it was still disheartening to think that he wasn’t even going to wait to make sure she got to her room ok. When she had asked him not to care about her she had wanted him to not love her. She had still wanted him to be her friend. She needed someone to talk to, someone who would listen to all that was wrong and tell her it was ok. Even if they didn’t know it was going to be ok.
She needed a friend.
Maybe she should have sat down and explained to Eric better what she meant. Maybe if she had told him not to love her but to still be her friend things would be different.
She knew she could reach out through the bond and find out where he was and what he was thinking. It would be easy but if she found him somewhere else with someone else, she would be devastated. Frankly, she’d had enough devastation for a while.
She pushed the door open to find Mammy asleep on the bed and her shift laid out for her. Terra smiled, Mammy was so kind to her. She really was like a mother to the young princess. Terra undressed quietly and then pulled her shift over her head and braided her hair. Careful not to wake Mammy, she climbed into bed and pulled the covers up. Comfortably situated, she sat up and blew out the candle on the nightstand.
For a moment the room was completely black. Then her eyes adjusted and the light from the moon cut through the darkness. It made her think about Grey. He had always seemed so cold and angry, and that was ok. He was the enemy and he was supposed to be that way. Honestly she was surprised he was as decent as he was. She was prepared to have to face an evil enemy every day until the end.
An image of him bending to kiss her hand flashed in her mind.
Tonight was so strange. He was so different. He had been kind to her when she needed kindness the most. He had held her for a long while as she cried through her problems. She knew it made her weak to have to cry like that, but something about Grey made her feel stronger. Maybe it was just that he was her enemy and he was kind to her. Or maybe it was because the way he looked at her when he was kissing her hand.
Either way, Terra was starting to think that maybe Grey wasn’t all bad. Maybe somewhere in all that darkness there was still a little light, fighting to keep going? Perhaps if she tried hard enough she could find that light and make it brighter. If she could do that, if she could chase the darkness away from Grey’s heart, then maybe he could be saved and maybe there would be no need for a fight between Diana and Grey.
Maybe she could save them both.